Memorial Day Prayers 2014

I was asked to pray at our village’s Memorial Day service on May 26, 2014.  Here are two prayers that I wrote for the occasion.

Invocation – Almighty and everlasting God,

Once again we gather to remember those who have died in our country’s battles.  On this day we are reminded of the high cost of war.  With awe, humility, pain, and pride, we invoke their memories.  O God, we implore you to be with us in this time of remembering.

Help us to not make light of their deaths.  Let us not forget the pain, suffering, and horror of war.  Remind us once again the ultimate price many of our fellow citizens have paid in our nations wars.  Ensure that we do not take their deaths lightly.

As the memories of their sacrifices touch our hearts, Empower us not to take for granted the freedoms we enjoy, keep the cost ever present in our minds.  As we remember those who have died, give us the strength to work for peace.  Help us to work for a future that the prophets envisioned, where swords will be turned into plowshares and war will not be taught any more.   Give the leaders of our country wisdom as they make life and death decisions in using our military forces.  Protect our soldiers all around the world.  Let us not take their willingness to serve and die for our country lightly.  May your blessing be on all those who seek to serve a cause higher then themselves.

We pray all this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Benediction – 

May we go forth with remembering those who have died defending our country.  May their memory inspire us to serve a cause higher then ourselves.  May we work for peace in this world.  May the blessing of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with you all now and forever, Amen.

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How can I keep from Singing?

Today, on my sermon blog, I posted the last sermon from my sermon series “How can I keep from Singing?”  The title for the sermon series comes from one of my favorite hymns “My Life Flows On – How Can I keep from Singing.”  I started the series in mid-September and finished in November.

The sermon series was my attempt to wrestle with a subject that is at the heart of what I think is wrong with many United Methodist churches in the United States today.  When I started full time ministry, it was clear that leadership was being lifted up as the solution to our perceived problems as a church.  With books, conferences, speakers all preaching the good news of leadership I got the impression that the leaders in my annual conference saw our perceived problems stemming from a lack of leadership.

Books, conferences, and speakers somehow would give us the solution.  Perhaps if we had the “right knowledge,” or started doing the “right things,” we could reverse the perceived trends of decline.  At first this made sense.  It offered a comforting way of looking at the problems that I perceived existed in the church.  This way of thinking gave me a sense of control and power.  If I know and do the right things, my leadership could save the church.  With so many pastors talking about how they grew local churches and how they turned things around, I had hope.

Overtime though I started to feel uncomfortable with our understanding of leadership in the church.  This narrative of leadership did not seem all that biblical or reality based.  Churches that looked vital when their prized leaders were in power, looked less vital once they had new leaders.  I started to wonder if the problem was more existential.  Instead of worrying about issues of knowing and doing, should we be more worried about being?

I think that our fundamental problem as United Methodists in the United States is that we are not being who God calls us to be.  We too often think of our faith in terms of having the right knowledge or doing the right things.  The early Methodists pursued holiness, we pursue numbers in the guise of discipleship and transforming the world.

Talking about being is hard.  It is philosophical.  We rarely make it the topic of conversation.  For a long time, I struggled with how could I preach on the subject.  How do you make something so abstract, and yet intensely personal, and make it relatable in the context of a sermon?

At church camp this summer, I read Leonard Sweet’s book The Greatest Story Never and an idea for a sermon series started to take shape.  His book gave a framework to explore being that might be understandable in the context of a sermon series.  I decided to use the language and ideas of music and singing to talk about being who God calls us to be.

As I reflect on the sermon series, I am not sure I hit all the right notes.  It is really hard to talk about being without also talking about doing.  In many ways, doing stems from being, but parsing that out is hard.  Whether the sermon series accomplished what I had hoped, I do feel like it would be more helpful to focus on being who God calls us to be as a church than to focus on leadership.

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how can i keep from singing?” ©2006 Copyright Emily Hoyer.  Licensed Under Creative Commons.

Are people resources?

I was glancing through my twitter when I saw a tweet that made me do a double take.  The tweet contended, “We are abusing our most under-utilized leadership resource.  Double Standards, Women, and the Church…”  The author included a link for his blog.  So then I looked at the blog post and got the impression that the author was referring to women as our most under-utilized resource.

I immediately asked if he was indeed saying that women are a resource. He responded by saying “of course.  People are our greatest resource for ministry.  More than resources but certainly not less.” I am not so sure.  Before I attack the premise, I do want to say the tweeter means well.  He appears to be an Assembly of God pastor.  I am not sure of the “we” in his original tweet means his denomination or Christians in general.  In his subsequent tweets promoting his blog post (and there have been many), he has framed the issue differently.

Attacking double standards, sexist comments, harassment are endeavors worth undertaking. At the same time, can you defend women in ministry and refer to them as a resource?  If women are a resource then they are being framed as a means to an end.  They are objects to be used in some larger goal.

Isn’t the problem with double standards, sexist comments, and harassment in part due to women being treated as something less than a full person? A means to an end?  The pastor/blogger’s response to my tweet suggests he believes all people are resources and was not trying to be sexist.  I am not so sure that we, people, are resources.

Now in the business world people are resources.  Companies have human resource departments.  Employees are referred to human capital.  As I often note on this blog, church leaders borrow the language and ideas from the secular business/leadership world. I have a hard time swallowing the idea that God created us to be a means to an end.  People are an end.

God created us out of love.  We are invited to love God back.  Now sometimes there is the imagery of God’s people as workers, but to the extent that we join in God’s work in the world are we a means to an end?  Did God create us because God needed us to do God’s work?  I contend that we were created out of love and invited to love back.  If we decide to join God’s work in the world, it is not because God needs us, but because we choose to join in God’s work.  We have free will, by the grace of God, we can choose to join God’s great work of salvation in the world.

I am all for calling out double standards and attacking sexism.  Yet, if we come from the perspective that people are a means to an end, a resource, we in someway undermine whatever good we are trying to accomplish.  The same systems and ways of being that create double standards and demean women also see women as a resource, a means to an end.  We cannot have it both ways.  There might not be a straight line between the two, yet both are products of the same worldview.  A worldview that I would contend is counter to the Gospel, and more in line with the ways of sin and death.  As long as we view people the way the world views people, we will struggle to be fully engaged in God’s redeeming work in the world.

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