The Towel and Basin
A common gift when someone is ordained an elder in The United Methodist Church is a chalice and paten (a communion set, in other words). The staff gave one to Colin last summer, for example. It is a reminder that as an elder one is ordained to administer the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.
When one is ordained a deacon, however, as Alice is, a common gift is a towel and basin. The towel and basin are symbols of service, a reminder of the towel and basin that Jesus used to wash the disciples’ feet on the night before his death (see John 13:1-16). Deacons are ordained to ministries of service to the church and the world.
[As an aside, you may find it interesting to know that back in the “old days” William and I were ordained deacons before we were ordained elders. So, he and I, and those of our generation, carry both sets of orders and both responsibilities. But, I digress.]
I was thinking of that this week as I was preparing for Sunday. This week on our discipleship journey, we will be discussing what it means that disciples of Jesus are servants – to one another and to the world. That’s obvious when it comes to the ordained, but is it as obvious for the ministry of all the baptized? I wonder.
Then, I began to reflect on what we give people when they “join” the church. If you come to us by transfer from another church, we give you a copy of Three Simple Rules, a recent interpretation of the General Rules of the Methodist movement (altogether now, the rules are: do no harm; do good; stay in love with God). There is implied in the second rule, especially, a service command. Do we make that clear enough?
If you join by confirmation and profession of faith, we give you a certificate…and a cross. The latter should clearly communicate that there is a serving to be done as a follower of Jesus. But I’m not so sure.
Perhaps we should give everyone, and not just deacons, a towel and basin when they step up and say they want to follow Jesus. I don’t know. Join us Sunday and we’ll talk about it.
Grace and peace. rcf
And Now … For The News
The world has a new pope – and the news spread fast. I don’t know where you were when you heard. I was in the car, driving back from a lunch meeting in Raleigh and heard it on NPR. I was able to get to a television in time to see his presentation on the loggia. My daughters and I were texting like it was a ball game (as someone said on Facebook, “This was like the Super Bowl for church geeks.”)
I don’t know where you were when you heard, but I suspect you can remember where you were, especially since it was literally yesterday. And I suspect that this is one of those things that you talked about at some point with someone. It was a main point of conversation around me at Fellowship Feast last night. Even Methodists are interested in the pope.
There are some events that are momentous enough that we all connect to them. We remember where we were when we heard, how we heard, what we were doing, and what we felt. Such events seem important enough for us to discuss with others in the various places of our lives. We have news. We share news. We know something and we want to tell someone.
Curiously, that is a mark of discipleship – telling someone what we know. Disciples of Jesus witness to Jesus, tell what they know, share the news. We do have news, you know. It is news that is 2000 years old and as fresh as this morning. It is the good news (the evangel) of what God has done, is doing, and will do in Jesus Christ. And we, as the church, should be as excited about that news as we are the ACC tournament.
Perhaps we have forgotten that someone had to tell us. We weren’t born knowing the love of God or the experience of God; Christian faith is not innate. Someone – a parent, a Sunday School teacher, a pastor, a friend, a spouse – first told us what it meant that God loves us. We were witnessed to. And we are called to be witnesses. It may well be the mark of discipleship that tests us the most and at which we feel the least capable. Yet, it is a simple as telling a story.
This Sunday, as we wrap up our conversation about discipleship and what that looks like, we will talk together about being witnesses. We will remember that Jesus commanded and commissioned us to be his witnesses (Acts 1:1-8; Matthew 28:16-20). We will consider what that might look like in our lives and our world.
I hope you’ll be present Sunday. I’ve got some news for you.
Grace and peace. rcf
There were memorable trees in my grandparents’ yard on the farm. There was an oak – tall and stately; as ancient, it seemed, as my grandfather himself. There was a crepe myrtle. It had been around for a while and had some height and heft, just enough for little boys to climb into it and make it a fortress against The Kingdom of All That Is Dark and Evil. There was a pecan tree, the bane of my existence every Thanksgiving week when the pecans it dropped to the ground had to be picked up and shelled (the pecan pies on the other end of that experience, however, is another story).
And sitting quietly beyond it all, over to the edge by itself, in the southeast corner of the yard was the peach tree. A good portion of the year, it was just there, watching and waiting its turn to be noticed. Then, in the spring we would begin to pay attention. Buds would appear, the first hints of fruit. Peaches would begin to take shape and grow. My grandmother would have to caution us. Picked too soon and the peaches would not be ready. Picked too late and they would be no good. So, we would watch and wait – sometimes eagerly, sometimes impatiently, always with anticipation. There is no greater taste than a fresh peach. Or a fresh peach cobbler. Or homemade peach ice cream.
Summertime would move in and peaches would ripen. Anticipation and patience would be rewarded as the peach tree yielded up her treasure and my grandmother would work her magic. The two in partnership – the peach tree and my grandmother – created a taste and an experience that lingers with me to this day and is recalled each time I touch or taste or smell a peach. I am transported back to that tree, in that yard and that time of possibility.
Which makes me wonder. Is the world watching and waiting for the disciples of Jesus to bear fruit? Do we hold with us the potential of reminding others of a tree, a garden, a time of possibility? Is there something in the life of discipleship that is fruitful and evokes a memory buried deep within? Is there a partnership between the Holy Spirit and disciples that creates a space of grace for others? Is that what Jesus calls us to do? Even more, is that what Jesus calls us to be?
We’ll talk about it Sunday. In the meantime, I’m off to find a bowl of peach ice cream. It won’t be the same, but it will be a reminder.
Grace and peace. rcf
This Sunday we will continue to ask the question, ‘What does a disciple of Jesus Christ look like?’ We will examine together the understanding that a disciple of Jesus Christ is one who seeks God’s will in prayer just as Jesus taught us. As disciples, we are lifelong learners and this week come ready to learn about prayer. I don’t know about you, but I am in continual need of help with my prayer life. I have a tendency to fall asleep, my thoughts tend to wander, my mind blanks, and more often than not my prayers end up focused on my own will. Throughout my life, God has sent persons into my life that have helped to teach me how to pray. I remember as a child my parents teaching me to pray before going to bed, always remembering to tell God what I was thankful for and to pray for friends and family members. There was a Sunday School teacher when I was in middle school who made me get used to praying out loud. While working retreats in high school I remember learning to pray with mentors and friends from a Pentecostal denomination, whose prayers sounded much different than the ones I heard in church, something I loved. In college, I had a friend who made it a point to pray all the time be it before conversations, before heading out to surf, about how to spend money. The past few years I have come to love learning from our church fathers and mothers whose written prayers often change me and challenge my own prayer life. As you come to worship this Sunday, who taught you how to pray? Who is teaching you how to pray? What is your prayer life like?
Christ’s disciples weren’t much different from us, after hearing Jesus pray they asked him to teach them how to pray. Jesus’ response was a bit of what many of us now know as the Lord’s Prayer. I have come to find that the Lord’s Prayer is a challenge to the way that I might normally pray. If left without a teacher for too long my prayers become small, self-centered, and all about my will getting done. Will Willimon writes, “The Lord’s Prayer is a lifelong act of bending our lives toward God in the way that God has offered-thy will be done, thy kingdom come.” We have quite enough teaching in the various modes of achieving our will in this world. We build our kingdoms all over the world and the wreckage is all around us…In praying this prayer we become the people God has called us to be in Jesus.” This Lenten season let us continue to curb our desires and our will as we seek after God’s desires and God’s will for our lives and this world. May your journey of following Jesus as a disciple continue this Sunday as we seek God’s will together in prayer. See you Sunday.
Rev. Colin Snider
I’m not sure how it is with you but it seems to me that I spend a good bit of my life in lines. There is the line backed up at the traffic light. There is the line at the grocery store. There is the line at the movie theater ticket window. There is the line to get into church (ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but one can always hope). There is the line at the post office when all I need is one roll of stamps (and, yes, I realize I can buy them “on line.”) There is the line of callers ahead of me when I am calling about some service deficiency with my Internet hook up at home (so that I can order stamps “on line”). There is a line of people waiting to check out a book from the library (only 47 patrons are ahead of me in the “hold” line for the new Thomas Jefferson biography).
I spend way too much time in line.
One of the lines that I am not in any longer that I watch with interest is the line of children from Methodist Children’s Center when they are moving from one part of the building to another. You know how this works. The children line up in a straight line against the right hand wall. Someone is the line leader. What is most striking to me is that the further back in the line you get with the children, the less attention seems to be paid to what is going on in the front – and that is where the trouble begins. The children in the back of the line aren’t watching the front of the line. Frequently, they aren’t even watching the child directly in front of them, which results in bumping, touching, pushing, shoving, and all sorts of recriminations being hurled back and forth.
Somewhere in there is a parable of discipleship. Perhaps the closer we are to Jesus, the easier it is to pay attention to where he would have us go and what he would have us do. In the same way, the further back we are, the harder it is to see and the easier it is for our attention to drift. That’s when the trouble begins.
Jesus seems to say (Matthew 16:21-26) that discipleship is a matter of following, of standing and staying in line behind him. It is almost a game of “follow the leader” where those in line do exactly what the leader does.
We’ll spend some time Sunday considering that as we begin our Lenten discipleship series. “It’s Not a Game.” Come prepared to play “follow the leader.” You may want to try to get as close to the front as possible so that you can pay attention to what’s going on.
Grace and peace. rcf
Let Us Pray
There is no telling how many conversations I have a day. I briefly considered trying to track them and keep count just for a week but gave up at lunch time the first day.
There is the telephone call to go over a meeting agenda; the exchange of pleasantries that occurs dozens of times in a day; the meeting that drones on well past its expiration point; the drop in visit, as well as the pre-arranged counseling session; the workroom chit chat with staff; the “walk and talk” between two places in the building in which a decision gets made and a direction set; and so on. And those are the actual conversations. That doesn’t include the “conversations” that take place on social media, by e-mail, and by text.
At the end of the day, I can’t remember them all. The ones I remember are the ones of substance and the ones in which I listen more than I speak. I recall the person who dropped by to see if I “had a minute” and then proceeded to share a deep and personal pain. I recall the conversation with one of my daughters about something crucial in her life. I am focused on the conversation with Mary-Ellen when we turn phones off and give each other our undivided attention. I remember the “walk and talk” where a member of the staff shares excitement over a new, or renewed, possibility for us as a church. The memorable conversations, the “real” conversations, are the ones that occur when I slow down long enough to listen – and to be listened to because I am speaking from a centered place.
This leads me to wonder about my prayer life. Am I merely exchanging pleasantries with God? Or entering into a meeting with God that drones on pointlessly? Or, am I settling into an unhurried conversation that involves as much listening as speaking? Is my time in prayer memorable or forgettable? Am I invested in as a relationship or do I simply greet a passing acquaintance?
This Sunday, as we conclude our “Choose One” sermon series, we will encourage one another to choose one prayer – one prayer that we can fully enter into in the year ahead, one prayer that will deepen our conversation with God. After we converse about that, we will come to the Table to be met by the mystery of a God who wishes to be our conversation partner.
Hope to see you Sunday for the family conversation.
Grace and peace. rcf