Whole Life Challenge: Day Six

I have been struggling for the past few days. My chest has been sore and healing from the muscles I worked out earlier this week. Today I was scheduled to work out my upper body. I had a great deal of apprehension about working out.

Psalm 27 speaks about fear and trust. The third verse says: “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” (NRSV)

I did not wake up very confident about my chances against the army of weights. I still worked out despite my concerns. I not only worked out, but I completed every set I began. It was close, but I succeeded.

People are often afraid of things they really need not fear. There are good reasons for concern, but fear as an abstract emotion is something that usually can and should be conquered.

If God does truly love us, then God’s love can help cast out our fear. This is my hope as I go to lie down for the evening: that I would face the night without fear of cramps and with confidence that I will rise to meet the challenge of “leg day” tomorrow.

Let us Ramble: Pursuit of Smokiness

Yesterday was Independence Day in the United States. For most folks Independence Day is marked by celebration with a barbecue of chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, or any other number of delicious foods. Tradition usually lends itself towards children staying up late to see fireworks and to listen to patriotic music.

The day celebrates the Declaration of Independence being ratified by Congress in 1776. The day celebrates a far different time in our nation. A lot of the celebration would probably be considered obtuse, strange, and irreverent to most of the folks who lived through the events of 1776. I must admit that I am less concerned with the historical tension in this holiday than with many of the religious holidays which normally pique my interest. I happen to like Independence Day.

One of the reasons I like Independence Day is that I like to grill. I enjoy using our grill. This year I did a bit of minor surgery on my charcoal grill/smoker with a dremel to add a rotisserie component. I woke up very early, set the fire smoking, and watched a turkey spin around and around on the spit. We were invited to a wedding renewal ceremony and picnic about noon. The turkey hit the perfect temperature right on time to head out to the party with a smoked bird. Here’s the bird about an hour before she was finished. The tiny yellow bits were part of an olive oil baste with thyme, marjoram, and garlic. When finished the turkey was deeply colored and extremely fragrant.

My smoked turkey about an hour before completion

I was really proud of the turkey, but I refused to put pictures online. My wife knows that I love to share bits of my cooking adventures, so she took a picture to post on my behalf. I almost stopped her from posting the picture. What was my reasoning? What if I had made a huge mistake and the turkey was awful? What if people saw the turkey and told me I had messed it up?

The turkey was decimated at the party. The turkey was just torn to shreds by people who had spent a good half hour smelling the fragrant meat while waiting for the guests of honor to arrive. I’m glad my wife saved me a piece when carving because the turkey was just destroyed. I understood why immediately upon tasting the meat. The meat was deeply flavored, deeply delicious, and tasty in a way that only smoked meat can taste. This turkey wasn’t just store-bought turkey. The bird had been prepared carefully, slowly, and it was absolutely delicious.

It raised a question in my mind. Why am I so afraid of failure? I have good gifts, I have talent, and I practice my craft. I cook dinner regularly in my house and I have never been afraid to attempt new things. I should believe in myself, but I regularly look in the mirror and assume the worst about myself. What if my fear really is just fear that should be put aside?

The situation reminds me of FDR’s first inaugural address in 1933. President Roosevelt stated “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Facing a nation in a fiscal crisis with a vast imbalance of population and resources, FDR approached a dangerous situation with the belief that the nation must advance or perish. While my concerns are not nearly so dire, I will say that my own fears in life are often unreasonable and unjustified. President Roosevelt said later in that address:

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”

If true happiness lies in the joy of achieving things, then why am I so terrified of failure? Why do I fret about money, resources, and future criticism when happiness will not lie down those paths? Why do any of us live in such fear? I smoked a turkey that I filled with herbs from my own garden, basted in an oil I infused with my own instincts, and then slow roasted in a smoker that I altered with my own hands, My wife was right to be proud of me. Smoking a turkey is not rocket science, but the turkey was something that I enjoyed creating which I brought together through my own efforts in cooking, gardening, crafting, and patience. What’s more, I took that gift and shared it in a place where people could enjoy it without price or cost. I used my talents to bless others.

What would the church look like if we were to live out this love together? What if we were more concerned with our ministry to ourselves and to others than with looking at what we can take from the world around us? What if we found joy in our work as a community instead of chasing our own profits to our own doom?

Let us Seek: “Confidence and Pride” or “On Lectionary Usage”

“Why do we use a lectionary?” “What use does a lectionary have for a minister in the church or for the community at large?” “Wouldn’t life be easier if you just picked out all of the scriptures?” One reason we use lectionaries as communities and as pastors is because they force us out of our own comfort-zones into scriptures we would ordinarily glaze over. I have been preaching out of the Narrative Lectionary which comes out of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. I post blog entries based off the Revised Common Lectionary as provided through the library of the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. I use both resources to help round out my teaching as a preacher and teacher of the Good News. I also occasionally wander off and do a series based on a particular book or concept, because even a crazy United Methodist minister like me has freedom of the pulpit and it can be cathartic to exercise that freedom.

For today’s reading I decided to use the complimentary daily readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. In those readings I was struck by the reading from Hebrews. Hebrews 3:1-6 says: (NRSV)

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house.’ Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.”

The first question this passage raised was the obvious question for anyone who studies some selections of scripture. What is the “therefore” referring to in the previous section? The second chapter of Hebrews refers to: (Hebrew 2:17-18 NRSV)

“Therefore [Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

(Sidenote: Hebrews is a logically organized book with a lot of “therefore” statements, so I will allow you to dig into the “therefore” of the previous chapter if you are inclined. Be forewarned that there are two more therefore statements with a significant amount of explanation in the second chapter before this particular “therefore.”)

In my opinion, the content of the “therefore” of the first verse of chapter three brings light into the reading, especially the sixth verse. Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. We are a part of that house if we hold firm to the pride and confidence that come with hope.

Why would we have pride? We are part of a people for whom Jesus intentionally entered creation. We have a merciful and faithful high priest in Jesus. Jesus came in service, sacrificed to bring atonement, and was like us in every respect. We are a people who have lived in futility but Christ has come into the world. We are part of the people which were blessed by Jesus’ presence. We are a part of the household of God due to the faithfulness of our brother and high priest Jesus. While pride is often a word used with negativity in church circles, there is surely some blessing and joy to be found in the reality that Jesus chose to become a part of our human family. There is a pride that does not come with smugness, but with peace. This is the pride that comes with the fulfillment of hope and faith.

The fulfillment of hope and faith are also behind our confidence. The legacy of the Christian worldview is a legacy marked with perfection in creation shaded by sinfulness, tranquility in a garden overshadowed by ejection from utopia, calling into community tainted by broken sovereignty and nationhood, and voices crying out from the wilderness drown out by earthly concerns. Throughout the history of the Christian and Hebrew journeys towards God there has been continual frustration marked by the stubborn refusal of God to give up on the people. We have confidence because Jesus has come to be our high priest.

Ancient promises, hopes, and dreams are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ as our high priest. Furthermore, we are brought into the family of God through the incarnation of Jesus Christ into humanity as our brother. We have pride and confidence because Jesus has willingly done these things with us and for us as a people.

Why do we use lectionaries? I had no intention of writing a blog post on a high priest or on the legacy of hope this morning. We use lectionaries because they lead us out of ourselves into God’s realm where the unexpected can happen. Making a choice to step beyond our comfort zone can be a blessing, but let’s not pretend that taking a risk is always easy. It takes confidence to believe God can meet us out in the wilderness where we relinquish control and it takes humility to listen for a word that we do not expect.

I hope this explains in part why your minister may or may not use a lectionary. There are many other reasons to use a lectionary, but I personally believe that this logic holds well. When I bake bread, I proof the yeast to make certain the yeast is alive and will help the bread rise. The lectionary tends to be full of life in my experience and sometimes the bread we need is not the bread we have in the pantry.