“Have You Thought About That?”

July 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

The best part of vacation was having my three grandchildren visit without their parents.  It’s not that I don’t like seeing my son and daughter-in-law, because I do.  However, the children behave so much better when they are not around (as did mine when they were young).  We went to the zoo twice, (we missed the penguins the first time); they had pony and trail rides;and we swam for hours.

I also passed down some valuable family songs like, Elsa’s Lullaby, which I sang for her as a baby, (also known as the Hamm’s Beer Song) and my father’s favorite song, The Garbage Man’s Daughter.  Their father can teach them the classics I have tradition to uphold.

The most amusing moments were the comments they made where it was hard to keep a straight face. One such moment was with Miss E, age 5, (whose name is Elsa, but she  allows me, and only me, to call her Miss E). Miss E has an Attitude; a Look that speaks volumes; and great big blue eyes that can melt your heart.  One night, as she sat next to grandpa  playing, she announce that she would make a good pillow.  So of course, the game was about putting his head on the bump and it’s not a pillow, it’s Elsa! The next night he pointed his finger and said, “come over here.”  She said ” No, I know what you’re going to do and I’m not a pillow.”

Now you need to understand that Grandpa can’t multi-task and he was watching the Yankees and a detective show on TV at the same time (it’s hard to image what he did before they invented television channel changers).  Along with that, Grandpa didn’t have his hearing aids in and so the TV was blaring.  Miss E looked sternly at him and said, “OK Mister, I want you to think about that!”  Away she stomped, flat-footed, to make her point.  About five minutes later she came back and asked, “well, did you think about that?”  “Think about what?” he replied. “Well, I guess you need more time to think about that!” and away she stomped again.  Pretty soon she was back.  “Have you thought about that?”  “No, what are you talking about?” “You know and I think you better really think about that before I come back again!”  Stomp, stomp, stomp.  This time she gave up on teaching him a lesson. I wonder where she heard that??

I hate thinking about her starting kindergarten in 6 weeks.  School changes kids.  I love the innocence they have before they start school.  On July 3 during Children’s Time I asked the kids, “what’s tomorrow?”  The answer from a pre-schooler,  “Monday.”  Before they go to school children are so free-spirited and sure of themselves. By the time they’ve been in school for a while their answers change.  I guess teachers don’t find 30 children challenging them in a class room all that funny.  Elsa’s brother,Josh who is 7 years old, spent a significant part of last year in his bedroom after school.  He couldn’t help himself from telling the teacher where she was going wrong. He meant to help (I think). I finally stopped asking my son how Josh was and went directly to, “Josh been out of his room lately?” Madi, whose going into the second grade, is easy to have around.  She’s the first child.  She’s obedient and has learned the rules of growing up – follow directions and  keep some thoughts to yourself. Elsa, Josh, Madi and their parents will be here together for a few days next month.  Add two more to the mix and it’s always interesting.

So goes vacation 2011 – pillows, ponies and penguins. I wish it could last forever – I think.

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Minnesota State Shutdown

July 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m on vacation and proud of myself for not opening my computer and working this week.  Actually it’s been easier than I expected.  Today, however, I received an email with a letter from the religious community addressed to the Minnesota State Government.   http://presbyterytwincities.org/2011/07/07/budgets-and-faith/

I’m usually pretty quiet about my political leanings, but this is an exception.  A shutdown of a state government is a slap in the face of its citizens.  We elected representatives to do the work of governing and they have let us down.  The political landscape is littered with egocentric folk whose goal is, not the care of its citizens, but their own ideological success and re-election.  The State of Minnesota has shut down all but essential services.  Our national government is stuck in wrangling over the deficit.  Mud is already being thrown for an election that is more than a year away and I, for one, am already tired of it. No, I’m more than tired of it.  I’m outraged!

Today’s headlines in the Minneapolis StarTribune: “New plan: Raise taxes for everyone.” “Top earners cool to paying more” (how much more than a million dollars a year does someone need?).  “Millions spent, yet streets crumble.” “Park Gem Ravaged by Storm” (since the government is shut down there is no one to clean up one of the most beautiful parks in the state).  We’ve got trouble and the people we’ve elected to deal with these and many more problems are fighting about who wins.  As my husband said on the television news last week, “they’re sticking their heels in the sand, we’re got four, five and six year-olds who can do that”.

Regardless of your political leanings, this inability to move ahead and find a way to care for this state and this nation is unacceptable.  Politics is the skill of working toward a common goal in the midst of disagreement.  We all do that in our own families, churches and work environments.  So why can’t our professional elected officials do the same?

I remember the disagreement when the Church opposed the Vietnam War.  The discussion was whether the Church should be political.  That’s really an oxymoron. The  Church must be political.  The Church must stand with the poor and those in need.  That’s the very fiber of our faith.  That’s the very core of Jesus’  teaching. Government should never be paid for on the backs of the poor, sick and needy.  Never! If that means I need to pay more taxes then so be it.  I have the great privilege of living in this nation.  Along with privilege comes responsibility, not just to ourselves, but to our fellow citizens.

Now, I don’t want to give the idea that I think people should abdicate responsibility for taking care of themselves. (My father’s first question when he called was, “are you working?”) We must find a way to balance helping people who need help with making people responsible for their own lives.  I understand that it’s a delicate balance.  And so we elect representatives to govern our local, state and national governments.  Now we’ve come full circle – we elect representatives who won’t work together and they allow our country to become quagmired in quick sand. Has anyone ever heard about the decline of the Roman Empire?

And so to those folks elected to serve us – SERVE and do your work.  You shouldn’t get paid unless you do your work.  You shouldn’t get overtime pay when you’ve abdicated your responsibility to those who have elected you. It’s time to hear the voices of the minority who seldom speak about political matters.

Who Is Great?

June 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was recently asked who my favorite theologians really are.  The question came from the sermon I gave at the HLWW baccalaureate service where I said Kermit, Miss Piggy and Dr. Seuss were my favorite theologians.  When asked the question seriously, I couldn’t think of a single theologian.  Not one name came to mind.  In seminary I read great theological writings – Barth, Tillich, Calvin, Bonhoeffer… but I couldn’t think of one of them.  It was embarrassing!  Shouldn’t a pastor be able to quote a variety of great thinkers?  The only person I could think of was Floyd, who tells me each time I visit him about his spiritual journey and how important God has been in his life.  I shared his faith, but it seemed a puny answer.

I’ve thought about the question and  I’ve begun to see the wisdom in my answer.  Many of us have read the great writers of faith, and have appreciated them.  They are the people who taught me how to think theologically.  But equally important are the people we meet every day, who teach us what it means to live out our faith.

I think of Warner, who up until the day he died, did what was best for his family.  I think of Pat and Ray who have made such a difference in the life of our young people.  I think of Matt who will never do many things, but who can give the core of faith in a sentence, “Jesus love me, and he loves you.”  I think of Gram who said she only questioned God once in her 103 years of life.  I think of Vennette who, after the death of her husband said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  I think of so many normal, everyday people, who will never be quoted, or write great epistles, but who have made a huge impact on the world.

There is a certain beauty in thinking being great is possible for all of us.  God doesn’t love us because we’re important, or brilliant, or rich, or well-known.  God loves us because we are God’s.  God uses us, because we are willing to be used.

So the next time I want to look smart, by referring to the great theological thinkers of history, I hope I only remember the people  whose lives I see daily.  They aren’t  footnoted in literature, but their lives continue to teach me how to live today.  And that is real greatness!

June 1, 2011, Baccalaureate Service HLWW High School – “My Favorite Theologians”

June 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

When I was thinking about what I might say today that could be helpful to you, I thought about my own baccalaureate service.  Honestly I can remember being there, but I have no idea who spoke, or what words of wisdom they had to say.

So, my assumption was that you won’t care what I say today.  That assumption was cut down when I met with the students and Mrs. Starr.  The students who planned this service said they really did care.  So then I was under the gun.  What could I say that might make a difference in your life?  Then I got it.  I’ll share the core of my three most favorite theologians.  Sounds exciting, don’t you think?

Well, you may be surprised at who I’ve learned from.

My first favorite theologian said, “It’s not easy being green.”  Yes, my favorite theologian is none other than Kermit the Frog.  He grasps the core of life – the importance of being.

We get so caught up in what we do that we often forget who we are.  We are not what we accomplish, we are not what we have, and we are not who we’re with.  We are important simply because God made us in God’s image.

Now, that’s not to say what we accomplish, have, and the people we are with is not important, because those things reflect who we are.  But never forget that you are important, simply because you are.

While Kermit may have grasped that it’s not easy being green, it’s also not easy to be human.  Relationships, as a friend of mine puts it, are complicated. We each have physical, emotional and spiritual needs that are influenced by a myriad of factors.  What we want; what we think; what we think others think; the culture around us; and the choices we make, all are a part of the complicated journey we call life.  There is only one thing that you can truly depend on and that one thing is God.

As you move into a larger world, you will be faced with more choices than perhaps in any time in history.  What you make of your life is up to you.  God will walk with you, but you are the only one who can do the work of life.

You are not your family; you are not your friends; and you are not your school, or town, or country.  You are responsible for making your life what you want it to be.  From here on out you can’t blame your parents, teachers, preachers, friends or anything else.  It’s you who will make your life what it becomes.  Never forget that!

You will most certainly make decisions that don’t turn out as you would like them to, but in the end it’s how you deal with what happens that reflects who you really are.

It’s not easy being green, but it’s also not easy being human.  If you don’t want to stumble and fall let God hop through the pond of life with you.

My second great theologian is a woman who’s a bit smitten with herself.  Well, in reality she is an ego maniac whose famous word is “Moi.”  (mo-ah). Yes, folks my second favorite theologian is indeed Miss Piggy.

The reality is you will meet many Miss Piggy’s on the road of life, people who are so egocentric that they think that the world revolves around them.  Sometimes you will see them for who they are right off the lily pad.   At other times they may be more subtle.   And as much as we all would like to think otherwise, we appreciate Miss Piggy so much because there’s a bit of her in all of us.

At one time or another we’ve all thought that we were better than, or less than, someone else.  Miss Piggy reminds us that we are all equal in the eyes of God.  The talents we have are never better, or worse, than someone else – they are simply different.  A little humility can take you a long way, and trust me; you will be humbled by life.

But along with her egotistical personality, Miss Piggy also has a very real understanding of who she is and what she wants.  None of us who know her would ever imagine her being a follower.  She’s a woman who gets things done; a woman who won’t deviate from her high standards (such as they are); a woman who isn’t willing to accept anything but the best from herself and the people around her.  And, while she takes these things to the extreme, she teaches us how important it is to develop a sense of self that can survive the ups and downs of life.  It’s also important to surround ourselves with people who challenge us to be the best that we can be.

None of us are the center of the universe.  We’re all in this life together.  As you move out into the world you are going to meet a variety of people.  Some will be from small towns; some from big cities; some from our country and some from other countries; some will be Christian and some will not be.  Be open to learn from all of them, because their perspective will open you up to the magnificence of God’s people.  Don’t take what they say as gospel, but think about what you can learn from them that can enrich your life and your relationship with God.

My third theologian has a lot to say about everything that is important.  He’s a prolific writer, he critiques culture and he points out how we should live together.  We all know him by a stove pipe red and white striped hat on one of his characters.  Who is he?  Of course he’s the one and only Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss has been teaching us how to live for as long as I can remember.  He challenges us in “The Lorax” to take care of the world.  He taught us to read with his 225 word reader, “The Cat in the Hat.”  He teaches us about kindness, trustworthiness, perseverance, and faithfulness in “Horton Hears A Who.” He finds what is really important in, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”  And perhaps the most important for today is opening up the world to you in, “Oh, The Places You Will Go.”

Of course there are other theologians who can teach you about life too:

“The Velveteen Rabbit”, “Curious George”, “The Giving Tree”,

Mr. Rogers, Big Bird and Ernie and Bert and my very favorite of all times –

“Teddy Bear of Bumpkin Hollow”.

My favorite theologians may sound a bit strange, but they repeat the faith that we hope we have given you.  You can hear Jesus’ words echoing through each of these folks.

But the most profound and meaningful statement of faith I have ever heard came from a former student from this school.  His name is Matthew Berg.  How many of you know Matt?

He says something to me that is far beyond the faith most of us have.  His is a simple faith; a trusting faith; a deep faith.  It’s not complicated with big words or long sentences.  It’s not written in some book he read, but in the faith he carries in his heart.

His statement of faith is:  “Jesus loves me, and he loves you”.

If you remember only one thing for the rest of your life remember that, Jesus loves me, and he loves you.  That’s enough for a lifetime.

Carry it; Live it; and Look for it in all you do.

 Congratulations!

Today is your day

You’re off to great places

You’re off and away.

 You have brains in your head

You have feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself

Any direction you choose.

 You’re on your own and you know what you know

And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.[1]

 In good times and bad

Whatever the day

God goes with you my friend

Wherever you stay

 So focus on God

Wherever you go

And take the right path

May it always be so.

 Yes, you will find God

In some very strange places

So open your eyes

God’s right here in your faces……

May God Bless and protect you,

Celebrate, but stay safe.

Now go out and make the world a better place.


[1] Dr. Seuss, “Oh the Places You Will Go”.

June 2011 The Pastor’s Press

June 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Life is about change.  We are constantly experiencing new things, learning new things, and watching our lives change.  Each change affects how we understand ourselves and the world around us.

The Church changes as well.  People come and go; children grow; staff move on to different opportunities; biblical studies evoke new understandings of scripture; and the Church reaches out in the world to meet changing needs.  As Presbyterians we are a part of the reformed tradition.  Our motto is, “Reformed, and Always Reforming.”  We are being reformed, and transformed, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Most of us don’t like change.  What’s ahead is unknown and the unknown scares us.  We ask ourselves, “WHAT IF…”.  What if this, or that, happens?  I used to have contingency plans in my head for several what ifs.  What I found is that they were rarely helpful when what if happened.  They might have helped some during an immediate crisis, but in the long term they only ruined the present with worry about what might happen.  What if, along with stress and worry, is a killer.

Today there are people who are worrying about the changes to the PCUSA’s Constitution.  No issue is more of a hot button than Amendment 10A, which changed the language of who can be ordained.  It places the responsibility in the hands of the ordaining body.  Every congregation and every presbytery may choose who it calls as pastor, elder, and deacon.  This is one of the basic tenants of the reformed tradition.

I’m not going to try to change your mind on gay ordination.  I can tell you how God’s call to me has expanded my understanding of how God uses people in ways we might never imagine.   I can tell you how I study the Bible to come to the decisions I make.  I can challenge your thoughts and play devil’s advocate for whatever position you hold.  But what I won’t do is to tell you are wrong, in whatever position you hold on this issue.  Change is a process, not an event.  It’s letting God be the final arbitrator of issues as divisive and emotionally laden as gay ordination.

So for now what are we supposed to do?

The session is divided on the issue, but not on our response.  First we need to allow God’s Spirit to blow through the Church as it will.  Secondly we will hold a question and answer session after worship on June 19.  And third we will go on with the mission and ministry that God has called us to do in this time and place.

I am including a question/answer page that was posted at the PCUSA website prior to the final vote on 10A.  I have changed the tense to reflect the vote.   I hope that it will answer most questions you have about how the change will affect our congregation.  Other questions are welcome.  June 19 will not be a time to critique whether the change should, or should not, have happened.  It will not be a time to question whether biblical authority has been interpreted correctly.  It will be a time to discuss how our congregation will move forward in light of the change.

This is an issue where people of faith disagree.  How it will change our congregation will be determined more by how we deal with the change, than with the change itself.  Please feel free to come and discuss any thoughts, or concerns, you have.  My door is always open.

In Christ, Pastor Myra

Frequently Asked Questions

The Change in Ordination Standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

 1. How did the change in ordination standards happen?

A majority of the 173 presbyteries in the United States approved a change in language for ordination standards recommended by The General Assembly in 2010.

 2. What does the change in ordination standards mean?

The ordination standards have changed from “living in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” to “joyfully submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” This removes a national standard categorically prohibiting the ordination of persons in sexual relationships outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

 3. What does the change in ordination standards represent?

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has shifted the authority for applying its ordination standards from the national level to the local presbytery and session level. This represents a de-centralization of the church and puts more discernment in the hands of people at the local level.

 4. May congregations now ordain people who are openly gay?

The previous standards were never based on a person’s orientation, but on their behavior. The new standards do not list specific behaviors that automatically exclude someone for consideration for ordination. Each examining body is responsible to look at all possible factors to determine if someone is being called into ordained ministry.

 5. Specifically, what was changed?

The primary change is the removal of language requiring those ordained “to live either in fidelity in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” It also adds language referring to obedience to Christ, and indicates that fidelity to church standards is judged case by case by the examining body.

 6. What practical changes will we see?

If pastors, elders, and deacons who are ordained in one area move to another location, they shall be examined by that ordaining body before being able to take up their office. That body may choose to apply ordination standards differently from the officer’s previous body.

 7. Is the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians mandated?

No, it is not required, but it is no longer prohibited by specific Constitutional language.

 8. Will a congregation be required to change anything?

A congregation cannot be forced to ordain or receive pastors or elders or deacons of whom they do not approve. The congregation retains the right to determine who will serve as officers.

 9. May a congregation continue to consider sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman as impermissible for its officers?

Yes, as long as the application is on a case by case basis. The authority for ordaining elders and deacons is fully vested in the local congregation. The new language calls the ordaining body to be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying ordination standards to individual candidates.

 10. May a congregation or presbytery now ordain or install a sexually active homosexual?

Yes, if after a thorough examination, the congregation or presbytery believes the person to be called by God to serve as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, elder or deacon and not to be living in violation of the church’s ordination standard, its Confessions, or Scripture.

 11. Does the new language give candidates who are sexually active outside the covenant of marriage between a woman and a man the “right” to be ordained?

Nobody has a “right” to be ordained. Ordination is based on a sense of God’s call as confirmed by the ordaining body.

 12. May a presbytery continue to function with the standard of “fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” when examining candidates for ordination?

Yes, as long as the application s on a case by case basis. The new language calls the ordaining body to be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying ordination standards to each candidate.

 13. Is a presbytery required to receive, by transfer of membership, an ordained sexually active gay or lesbian minister?

No, each presbytery determines which ministers to receive into its membership.

 14. May questions about a candidate’s sexuality be asked or are such questions forbidden?

All questions are allowed during an examination. The acknowledgment of being sexually active outside the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman does not automatically disqualify a person from being ordained.

 15. Is a congregation required to call a pastor who is openly gay or lesbian?

No.

 

 

“There Are Others?” – Luke 10:1-17

May 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tuesday evening the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area cast the deciding vote that changed the constitution of the PCUSA on ordination standards – taking out the chastity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman and replacing it with

 The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003).

Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

 Background and Rationale

When convictions about important issues are so different, and so firmly-held, our long-standing Presbyterian commitment to freedom of conscience and mutual forbearance is vital to maintaining our fellowship.

 As I was thinking about this sermon I couldn’t help but think about how various pastors, with various views on ordination standards, would use this scripture today to support whatever position they have on this issue.

Some will say that the flock has been stolen and is following the wrong shepherd.

Some will say that the flock has finally seen the light and is following the right shepherd.

Some will say the gate’s been closed.

Others will say the gate has finally been opened.

Some will say that God is appalled

Some will say that God is relieved and joyful.

Some will say the Church is richer

Some will say the Church is poorer.

I say, enough already.  We may all be surprised when God votes, because none of us should be sure we have it right, regardless of our positions on Scripture, biblical interpretation, theology, or anything else for that matter.  We’re all sheep, trying to listen to the voice we believe is the Good Shepherd.

Did you catch that part of scripture that rarely gets read?

 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

 At a time when the Church struggles with issue after issue it’s hard to think about who these other sheep might be.

  • They have to be Christian – Right?
  • They have to be people we’d approve of – Right?
  • They have to believe like we do – Right?
  • They have to agree with our conclusions and support our causes – Right?
  • Those other sheep can’t be too different than we are – or can they?

Think about how those other sheep might look.

  • If we’re for ordination of gays, could those other sheep believe they shouldn’t be ordained?
  • If we’re for literal biblical interpretation,  could those other sheep be liberal contextual theologians?
  • If we’re Christian,  could those other sheep be Muslim, or Hindu, or Atheists?

Just who are those other sheep and why does God want them to be in our flock.  We’ve done a good job of isolating, separating, and purifying the church.  Why muck it up with some of those people?

 Effective Leadership

Once there was an ecumenical crusade with every imaginable denomination.  One afternoon all of a sudden a secretary rushed in shouting, “The building’s on fire! The building’s on fire!” Confusion reigned as each church group came together and did what came natural:

  • The Methodists gathered in the corner to pray.
  • The Baptists cried, “Where’s the water?”
  • The Quakers quietly praised God for the blessings that fire brings.
  • The Lutherans posted a notice on the door declaring that the fire was evil.
  • The Roman Catholics passed a plate to cover the damages.
  • The Unitarians reasoned that the fire would burn itself out if just given the chance.
  • The Congregationalists shouted, “Every man for himself.”
  • The Fundamentalists proclaimed, “It’s the vengeance of God.”
  • The Episcopalians formed a procession and marched out.
  • The Christian Scientists concluded that there was no real fire.
  • The Presbyterians appointed a chairperson to appoint a committee to look into the matter and make a written report.

 Finally the church secretary grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the fire out.[1]

 We’ve already divided Christianity into small elite denominations with idiosyncrasies.  Why muck it up with other flocks?

It’s easy to identify with people who believe the same as we do.

  • It affirms who we are and what we believe.
  • But it doesn’t challenge us to go beyond our own understanding of God and the issues in the Church.
  • When we look for those people in the “OTHER FLOCKS” we open ourselves to the transforming power of God.
  • God never works in isolation.
  • God works through invitation.
  • God invites us to struggle with issues and people who we would rather NOT have to deal with.

There is a song in the musical, South Pacific, “You’ve Got to Be Taught”

 You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught
From year to Year
It’s got to be drummed
in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught
To be Afraid
Of people whose eyes
are oddly made
And people whose skin
Is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught
Before it’s too late
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
To hate all the people
your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

Most of us believe what we’ve been taught when we were 6, or 7, or 8.

  • We don’t want to be taught something different,
    • because it challenges our assumptions and beliefs,
    • and it’s easier to accept hand-me-down beliefs  than to go to the trouble of learning and challenging ourselves to grow and try to understand other perspectives, ideas, and understandings.
    • That’s the easy way out.
      • The road less traveled is the harder road.
      • It’s the logging trail where we walk in the muddy ruts,
      • over the down trees and
      • around the marshy swamps.
      •  It’s the road where we don’t have all the answers.

We want those other sheep to be like us, because it affirms our values, thoughts and faith.  But having those other sheep challenge us to go farther, deeper, and wider than any of us would go without them (whoever they may be).

I’m Not the Shepherd

  • A pastor was taking a group of parishioners on a tour of the Holy Land.
  • He had just read them the parable of the good shepherd and was explaining they would see shepherds on the hillsides just as in Jesus’ day.
  • He wanted to impress the group, so he told them what every good pastor tells his people about shepherds.
  • He described how, in the Holy Land, shepherds always lead their sheep, always walking in front to face dangers, always protecting the sheep by going ahead of them.
  • He barely got the last word out when, sure enough, they rounded a corner and saw a man and his sheep on the hillside.
  • There was only one problem: the man wasn’t leading the sheep as the pastor had said.
  • No, he was behind the sheep and seemed to be chasing them.
  • The pastor turned red. Flabbergasted, he ran over to the fence and said,
    •  “I always thought shepherds in this region led their sheep out in front.
    •  I told my people that a good shepherd never chases his sheep.”
  • The man replied, “That’s absolutely true… you’re absolutely right… but
    • I’m not the shepherd, I’m the butcher!”[2]

I am afraid that often we’re more familiar with the butcher than we are with the Good Shepherd.

  • We’re more familiar with fighting for our position than we are with trusting God to work things out.
  • We’re more familiar with other people’s “sin” than we are with our own.
  • And we’re more familiar with living the past than we are going into the future.

In today’s gospel, Jesus addresses an issue which the churches must deal with.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.

I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.

So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

One flock doesn’t mean that there can be only one denomination;

  • one way of worshiping;
  • one form of ecclesiastical organization;
  • or one theology.
  • It means that we are all  UNITED BY A COMMON LOYALTY TO JESUS CHRIST.
  • We can have diversity, but it doesn’t have to divide.
  •  Rather, it can help us to understand and accept each other just as our Jesus understands and accepts us.

The “other sheep that belong to this fold” don’t live in far-away lands, they live right here, in our community.

  • They are our neighbors, our family, and our friends.
  • They are similar to us and they are different than we are.
  •  Jesus chooses who is part of his flock, we don’t.
  • We may think we know who should be in his flock, but we don’t get to make that decision.

God’s love is wider and deeper than anything we can comprehend.

  • God’s understanding is far beyond ours.
  • God sees things in ways that we could never imagine.

Evidently those other flocks are as loved and accepted by God as we are.

Let’s go and do the same.

.


[1] Effective Leadership, Illustrations, Esermons.com

[2] The Whole Flock, Kennan Kelsey, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.

“Presbyterians to Allow Gays to be Ordained Ministers”

May 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Front page news in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today – “Presbyterians allow gays to be ordained ministers”.

For those of you who haven’t read Amendment 10A here it is:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

What does this mean for the local church?  It means that you get to continue to choose your minister in the same way you always have.  The foundation of Presbyterian polity remains the same.  A presbytery chooses its membership and a congregation chooses its pastor.

Many people have no idea about the process that is required before a person is ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  It is a long and arduous journey over the course of several years.  Here is an incomplete outline:

  • First the person must go before their home session and ask for the session’s affirmation and support.
  •  The session then refers that individual to the presbytery and is placed under the care of the Committee on Preparation For Ministry (CPM) as an inquirer.  If CPM decides there may be a call to ordained ministry, they recommend that person go before presbytery to read their statement of faith, intention and call.  Questions may be asked of the person from the floor of presbytery.   Then the person leaves while the presbytery asks  questions of CPM.  The entire presbytery votes on whether to allow that person to begin the process toward ordination.  If approved they become candidates.
  • Four years of college and four years of seminary are required.  A person who successfully completes their seminary program receives a Masters of Divinity degree.
  • While in seminary CPM continues to consult with the individual candidate.  This group receives recommendations from seminary and continues to question and challenge the candidate as to their theology and motivation for ordained ministry.
  • Five competency tests, commonly know as The Trials of Ordination, are given – Bible Content, Open Book Bible Exegesis, Theological Competence, Worship and Sacraments and Church Polity.  Both Greek and Hebrew are required.
  • When all this (and so much more) is done, and CPM approves/disapproves the candidate to return to the floor of presbytery where they are again questioned and are approved/not approved for ordained ministry  by the vote of the entire presbytery.
  • Ordination takes place only after a candidate has been approved by the presbytery and is called to an ordainable ministry.
  • If called to a congregation the Committee on Ministry (COM) meets with the individual for questioning.  They also meet with the session of the church they are being called to serve.
  • COM then recommends to the presbytery to affirm/not affirm the call.
  • The call to a particular church must  be voted upon by the entire congregation of that church.
  • Only after all these  requirements are completed may an individual be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

My point is that the process to ordination examines a candidate’s theology, gifts and suitability for the responsibility of ordained ministry over the course of several years. Discerning God’s call to ordained ministry is not something that is done easily by the Church, or the candidate.  All candidates have several committee, session and presbytery votes before ordination occurs.

Amendment 10A does not change any  steps that have been in place.  What it does do is to allow the presbyteries to decide if they believe that a person has been called, by God, to serve in an ordained ministry, without exclusion because of gender, age, race, disability,  or sexual preference.

Does that mean that potentially homosexuals can be ordained to offices (elder, deacon or ministers) –  yes.  Does that mean that any presbytery, or congregation, is required to call a homosexual – no.

Presbyterians believe that we make better decisions together than we do individually.  The question for me isn’t whether I agree, or disagree.  The question for me is, do I take the vow I made to uphold the PCUSA Constitution as an unbreakable committment to trust God, acting through the voice of the Church?

In Old Testament times a broken vow was a matter of life and death. Vows are viewed much differently today.  When God made a vow to love me it wasn’t a vow to love me as long as I did what God wanted me to do.  God’s faithfulness is unconditional.

The issue of ordination is a complex and divisive issue.  Christian people on each side of Amendment 10A disagree.  Churches have within their membership people who have strong views on each side.  But do we have the courage to admit that we don’t understand the mind of God and we may be wrong, whatever side we support? Do we have the courage to admit that our interpretation of Biblical teachings may have  errors? However we interpret the Bible?

As for me, I’m putting last night’s decision in the hands of God to sort out.  Will this end the issue?  Probably not.  Will we have another vote to rescind the amendment in the future?  It wouldn’t surprise me.  Will some churches withhold per capita, or leave the denomination? Undoubtedly.

Now it  the time to let the dust settle and move on to the work of the Church.  We have people to see, work to do and places to spread the Word of God.  We may not all agree with the decision on this issue, but we all have the same desire – to share the redeeming love of God with the world.

May God’s grace, love and forgiveness, empower us to do the work we have been called to do.