“Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16, Common English Bible)
In an episode titled “Greater Good,” from the first season of the drama-comedy Boston Legal, Alan Shore (James Spader) and Denny Crane (William Shatner) represent a large, drug company in a civil suit. The two lawyers disagree on a key ethical issue surrounding the lies about a clinical trial for a new drug.
The doctor who participated in the clinical trial is conflicted. Shore wants her to be truthful about the potential harm the new drug may have caused its patients. Crane, on the other hand, wants her to be quiet about it. Shore reminds the doctor that when she testifies in court, she will be under oath. Mr. Shore’s intention, of course, is to persuade the doctor to speak truth.
When I was a kid, in the cold of winter, we heated our home through a wood stove – a fireplace. One of our chores during those cold months was to bring firewood up to the house so that there would be wood near by in the cold of the night.
The firewood chores, however, started well before winter. Sometimes as early as the summer, but always during the fall. Any trees that had fallen during a summer storm, or that just needed to come down, were fair game. Dad would cut the trees with a chain saw, and then the splitting would happen with an ax. We would be responsible for hauling the split wood to the wood pile and stack it just right.
It was sometime in 2008, while working at Lebanon United Methodist, I got a phone call about firewood. There was someone in our community without firewood to heat their home in the cold winter days. In the county over there was a church who had a firewood ministry, and as such they had a stock pile. They allowed us to use their wood. I called the United Methodist Men‘s president, Claude, and we rode out to load up a trailer full of wood and deliver it to the home in need.
Our favorite spot in the new house is quickly becoming the sunroom. This enclosed porch with sliding doors all around, gives us a postcard perfect glimpse of our backyard. It is more perfect when birds, squirrels, rabbits, and other friendly critters occupy the space.
It is a peace-filled space.
The other day while eating lunch on the sunroom, Toddler J and I watched as a squirrel hopped through the yard. As the squirrel started climbing the tree, Toddler J’s eyes lit up and a broad smile spread across her little face. She pointed up as the squirrel climbed the tree. When the squirrel was long out of sight, she was still pointing with excitement and mumbling what I believe was her attempt at saying,”squirrel.”
The following is the note I wrote for Peakland Pages, the monthly newsletter at Peakland United Methodist in Lynchburg.
In a seminary class we were asked to identify five theological rocks that grounded our ministry. These “rocks” were to be the things behind why we did what we did in ministry. I could only think of two: love God and love each other. For me, this is the bottom line of the gospel.
Here is the audio of my sermon from May 29, 2016 at Peakland United Methodist Church. The text was Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10, and 1 Kings 18:20-39. You can also listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.
Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, William H. Willimon, Abingdon Press, 2016.
True to form, Bishop Willimon approaches theological themes in a no-nonsense and gutsy matter. This little book (less than 100 pages) is the Bishop’s response to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. “If not for them,” Willimon writes, “I would not have been asked to write this book.”
Willimon shows no fear in addressing current social topics. He covers it all. The desire for a bigger wall across the border to keep out Hispanics. The call to keep Muslims out of the country. The exclusion of LGBT individuals in the life of the church. And, he even takes on Jerry Falwell, Jr.
Here is the audio of my sermon from April 24, 2016 at Peakland United Methodist Church. The text was Acts 11:1-18 and Revelation 21:1-6. During the sermon, I washed someone’s feet. You can listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.
Love Kindness, Barry H. Corey, Tyndale, 2016
“We need to keep remembering that we don’t beat an idea by beating a person.” (Barry H. Corey)
There is a deep polarization in Christianity today. Thankfully, it is not around the doctrine that Jesus Christ is Lord. It mostly centers around social issues, and how we respond to them. Barry Corey, the president of Biola University, has a suggestion: Love kindness.
He writes in his Introduction:
In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme or the other, soft centers or hard edges. I’m proposing a different approach, a third way. Rather than the harshness of firm centers and hard edges, and rather than the weakness of spongy centers and soft edges, why don’t we start with kindness? Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges.
How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity, Morgan Guyton, Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.
I first met Morgan Guyton about five years ago at a required event for soon-to-be clergy in the Virginia Conference. We, and dozens more, were gathered at a college campus for a week for what I like to refer to as “Pastor Bootcamp.”
The distinct memory I have of Morgan was from an evening at a Mexican restaurant (one of many during the week). Over beer and chips and salsa, a group of us found ourselves in a deep theological conversation. For anyone who knows Morgan, you will not be surprised that he was at the helm of this conversation. In between scoops of salsa, Morgan would raise yet another question. Not to be argumentative, but to authentically seek more knowledge.
Here is the audio of my sermon from Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016 at Peakland United Methodist Church. The text was Philippians 2:5-11. You can listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.