The New Mars' Hill

            I confess I am not a good Face Book person.  I have a page, but I rarely post anything.  I view it mostly when someone includes me in one of their posts.  I have viewed it enough however, to develop a perception of that electronic community.   
          While many people use it as a way to stay connected with the happenings of their friendship circle, I see a surprising amount of people who regularly employ it as a sort of philosophical forum.  You know the ones I mean—those persons who set forward religious, political, cultural, and/or ethical viewpoints that are important to them.  The more extreme examples can become quite strident in their denunciation of “those other people” whose views differ from their own. 

           In some ways, these ideological face bookers remind me of the story in the biblical book of Acts. Paul arrives in Athens and discovers that a regular gathering takes place on “Mar’s Hill”. The gathering is a free forum of new ideas and radical positions.  Mar’s Hill may have been something like “Speaker’s Corner” in London’s Hyde Park. At Speaker’s Corner today, anyone with a point to make may draw up their soap box and proclaim their message. The catch, (perhaps with both settings) was and is that everyone listening has the right to “get in your face”.  They did so with Paul, and do so today in Hyde Park.

            So what is the point?  As Face Book demonstrates, our culture is a large arena of competing ideas in many different arenas.  Whether as a Christian or otherwise, do you and I know what we believe and why?  Have we established considered opinions that we may articulate (hopefully graciously) when the occasion demands?  

             Let me encourage you to give your deepest convictions some attention.  What do you believe?  Why do you believe one thing as opposed to another?  Could you offer a cogent summary of what you believe, and even more importantly why you believe it?  This ability strikes me as pretty important in our present day with its complex culture.


The Church Year and Spiritual Growth

I have often found that persons are unfamiliar with the concept of the “Church year”.  In many  
congregations, including Methodism, we see and take for granted certain practices without fully understanding them.

The practices I am referring to include the changing colors on the altar, the pulpit and lectern, as well as choir robes and other features.  Also, we often see or hear terms that we may not fully understand; Advent,  Lent,  Eastertide, Kingdom tide, and others may not translate meaningfully. There are even special days that may seem strange, such as All Saints Day, Christ the King Sunday,  Epiphany, Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. What is it all about?

The Church year is about reliving the life of Christ in an ongoing seasonal manner.  The year begins with Advent when the promised coming of the Messiah is remembered through specific readings, music, and acts of worship. Advent climaxes with the Christmas celebration of the nativity. The year proceeds with Epiphany in a manner that walks the believer through the public appearance of Jesus, his life and ministry. With the arrival of the Lenten season believers recall his passion, death. The climax here is Easter when we experience the resurrection of the Christ. From Easter we move towards Pentecost and the birth of the Church.  The balance of the year explores the important themes of what it means to be the body of Christ in our world. 

 And in general terms, the cycle begins again as we approach Advent.

So, as they say, “What’s the point?”  I believe that correctly understood, the Church year can be a valuable tool to allow us to grow spiritually as we meditate upon and study the major movements of our faith.   

The early church understood the Christian faith as both an organized set of beliefs (credens) and a vital condition of the heart (fiducia).  One played into the other.  We too may find that by reliving the seasons of the year with their focus upon the Gospel message, our own faith will be more completely informed and more deeply felt.

As we approach the Advent season, be on the lookout for resources that will be displayed around the church to aid you and your family in mining this treasure trove of the Church year.   Then as you note those dates, places, events, and activities for the coming year, include these built in times for your own (and your family's) spiritual growth.  


You Feed Them?

Perhaps one of the most familiar stories of Jesus’ ministry is the feeding of the five thousand.  Most of us probably know it well.  A large audience had spent the day listening to Jesus teach about the work of God upon the earth and as the late afternoon drew on, his disciples approached him with the words, “ It’s very late, send the people away so they may go to the surrounding villages and buy food to eat.” (Mark 6:35)  However, Jesus shocks the disciples with the direct command, “You give them something to eat.”   

There is the first lesson. 

 It would be so much more convenient if we could just send people with needs away somewhere.  Send them to DHS, or the Salvation Army, or some other church, or day I say it…to the pastor.  But Jesus does not give his disciples that option.  “You feed them!” he says to the twelve.  As believers, that instruction echoes to us this very day.  Are we alert to the situations in our community that may call for us to meet the needs of people for food, shelter, or even emotional support?  

Now it is not difficult to understand the consternation of the disciples with this command.  Twelve ill prepared people not told to feed five thousand?  No wonder they said, “That would require eight months wages to do. Do you expect us to come up with that much?”   

Now here is the second lesson of Jesus. He responded, “What do you have? They responded “Five and two fish”. Jesus said, “Give them to me.”  The message is clear. The answer lay in, first, our being willing to give what we have and second, to give it first to Jesus.  Too often, we do not give because among other reasons, we perceive that we have nothing adequate to the task. What will my five dollar bill accomplish? What will my small bag of staples really do? How do I meet this great need with only this small sack lunch?  Jesus says, “Let me worry about that.”   

Second, the lesson is also, don’t just give to the need; give to Christ. The disciples were not instructed to go immediately to the crowd, but to bring the bread and fish . In a way, it is God saying to us that it is never about what we can do…it is about what he can do with what we have.  There is an old hymn entitled, “Little is Much, When God is in It.”  That hymn proclaims the message that when we yield our bit, God can do great things. Do you have a loaf or a fish that you could share today?
to him

Poland Music Trip