This is where Pastor Ken Barnes shares his thoughts on our church life together. Think of it as a sort of on-line coffee hour. If you want to add a comment or ask a question, just click “read more” then scroll down to the comment box below the post and start typing.
Joy to the world! the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing
Lots of ink has been used in the past two millennia to discuss the meaning of joy. What can I add to this conversation?
It’s good for a minister to remember that my calling is to preach the event. Revisit it. It is not to re-invent the wheel. Sometimes it is enough to simply kick the tires, make sure they’re not flat, or to remove the hubcaps and replace them with something different, perhaps a bit more shiny.
You could revisit the oft-discussed contrast between happiness and joy. I like the idea that whereas the opposite of happiness is sadness or sorrow, the opposite of joy is anxiety, worry or fear.
To say that with the birth of Jesus joy entered the world is to say that when Jesus entered the world, those who cradle the Christ child in their arms, and carry him in their hearts, are liberated from anxiety. And in the absence of anxiety and worry, how can one not face each day with unmitigated joy?
A wise person once said to me, “Joy is what’s left over when fear and anxiety are removed.”
We can manipulate our situation to be happy. But joy is something else. You can’t be worry-free by telling yourself not to worry. Freedom from anxiety is a gift that comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ. And when that gift is received, we experience it as joy.
When we hear the birds singing outside our window, it sounds joyful. Do birds worry? No, they build their nests, look for their daily food, fly to a higher perch and warble without worry.
During this Advent Season let us recall all that the coming of Christ means to us, it certainly means the promise of joy. I need not remind you that in our world these days, those who possess joy, though they may be poor in the eyes of the world, are rich— beyond compare!
Let us enter this Advent season, proclaiming Joy…singing Joy…and living Joy in our hearts.
Sitting in my back yard with the warmth of the sun, the caress of gentle breezes, the smell of fresh-cut grass, rustling leaves. I know that I am blessed.– it’s ALL of it! I’m enjoying the wonderful peace that comes with feeling connected with something much bigger than I. I care about these spirits, whether they be divine, human, or natural. And I know that they care about me. This is the feeling of being blessed.
I’m reliving the ceremony of “Commissioning of the Search Committee”. That’s what our U.C.C. procedures manual calls it. To have the nine members standing in a circle and then to have the rest of us, moving forward and doing a “laying on of hands” was especially moving. They have the challenging, difficult and demanding task ahead of them. One person shared with me, “What a wonderful blessing that was!” I started to correct her…”commissioning” not “blessing”. But as I thought of it, the more I accepted what she said.
Blessings are an important part of Judaism, Christianity, and every religious tradition that I know of. They are key to a quality life, far more than the typical “Bless you” that we hear when we sneeze. (If you don’t know the history of that phrase and its and origins back to Pope Gregory and the bubonic plague, I encourage you to do a quick Google search.) But we tend not to talk much about blessings, and we certainly don’t engage in giving or receiving them as we might. (Read more . . .)
As some of you know, I was recently away for a United Church of Christ Pension Board Meeting. I am part of a group who are “annuitant visitors.” We call annually on U.C.C. clergy who are retired. I have now 40 on my list.
As I was sitting with a number of other clergy, we figured that, added together, we represented about 1000 years of parish ministry. We got started sharing what we learned or didn’t learn until it was too late, and how we paid for our mistakes and lack of understanding.
We started to tick off a list of stuff we have to deal with every day that we wished we had learned in seminary. Theological education is important, but most of what we need to know on a daily basis in parish ministry isn’t offered on your typical seminary campus. Let’s just say that if we were seminary presidents, these are some of the courses we’d make sure were in the catalog:
- Finance for Liberal Arts Majors: Learn how to translate all those balance sheets from the church treasurer in order to determine whether you should worry or ask for a raise.
- Contemporary Plumbing Fixtures: Discover the joy of emergency sink, toilet and sewer maintenance in the 10 minutes before worship.
- Do You Hear What I Hear? The Church Sound Board: All those buttons, knobs and lights must do . . . something. Learn how to tell the difference between feedback and an over-tuned hearing aid.
- The Parking Lot as Sacred Space: Conventional wisdom says that the sanctuary is the most important space in the church — just try telling that to people who can’t find a place to park on Sunday morning, or eavesdrop on complaints not appropriate for the fellowship hour but which are voiced in the parking lot!
- Fire Alarms: A Colloquium: Learn the answer to the question, “What’s that beeping noise?” (Read more . . .)
One of the challenges clergy face when bringing the Bible to you every Sunday is your tendency to hear the text filtered through our 21st century, highly individualistic, pluralistic and (if I can make up a word) me-istic culture. The biblical writers, of course, lived with a very different set of cultural values. Reading and interpreting an ancient text through a postmodern lens can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and misinterpretation unless we spend some time explaining what it meant to those who cracked open the original scrolls and read them for the first time. When we first know what it meant to them, then we can start discerning what it might mean for us as we look over their shoulders some 2,000+ years later.
In Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Randy Richards and Brandon O’Brien have given us a primer on some of the key cultural differences between our contemporary Western worldview and the cultural worldview of the biblical writers. “We can easily forget that Scripture is like a foreign land and that reading the Bible is a cross-cultural experience,” they write. “To open the Word of God is to step into a strange world where things are very unlike our own. Most of us don’t speak the languages. We don’t know the geography or the customs or what behaviors are considered rude or polite.”
For Richards and O’Brien the subtext of the culture(s) of the biblical world are as important as the text itself. “The most powerful cultural values are those that go without being said” is the key thesis of the book. To read and study the Bible well means that we need to understand the subtext of the culture within which it was written. (Read more . . .)
As we prepare for our all-church “Day of Discovery” on June 29, I’ve been looking for fresh, challenging thoughts on what makes a successful church today.
Michael S. Piazza and Cameron Trimble are UCC pastors who have experience in renewing churches and starting new churches, and with this experience they have formed a consulting group called Center for Progressive Renewal (CPR). Their book, Liberating Hope!: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church, reviews studies done on renewing, revitalizing, and growing churches, and makes the information in these studies accessible. They believe there has been a paradigm shift. Are we aware of some of the innovative ways churches are addressing the needs and concerns of our current culture?
Have you thought about who is our “customer?” Piazza and Trimble say, “A critical lesson that must be integrated fully if our churches are to reverse their decline is that our customers are not our members; our customers are those who need God. One of the great challenges pastors and church leaders face is teaching the congregation that we are the Body of Christ, and hence we are called by God to serve, not to be served. We are producers, not consumers; we are hosts, not guests.” (Read more . . .)