Thursday, January 24, 2008

Meeting Jesus - Finding Forgiveness

I have been speaking on Sundays about what happens when people meet Jesus.

This Sunday, the focus is on a woman who met Jesus and found forgiveness, as described in Luke 7:36-50.

Along the way I found this statment by Reinhold Neibuhr:

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we are saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.
Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own;
Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Meeting is a verb

Sometimes when I tell people that I am pastor of Plainfield Friends Meeting I notice a blank and/or puzzled expression on their face. They know what a "pastor" is and usually know where Plainfield is, but "Friends Meeting" stops them dead in their tracks! Is it a dating service? A civic club? Or maybe a social service agency? Our sign out front tries to help by adding a line that describes us as "A Quaker Church," but I'm afraid that only confuses the issue more. What is a "Quaker?' A jolly man on an oatmeal box? Or maybe somebody who dresses in old-fashioned clothing and says "thee" a lot?

How about changing the name? Maybe make it Plainfield Community Church. After all, it describes where we are and what we are in terms that make sense to most people.

It doesn't work. It leaves out too much about who we are. It's too generic.

So how do we deal with the blank stares, the puzzled looks and the confusion with dating services and social clubs?

Part of the answer is to affirm who we are as Friends and Quakers. There is a history to share about people whose desire has been to worship God directly and live out lives of simplicity, peace, equality and active caring. It is a good history, full of stories that help describe how we got to this particular place and time.

Another possibility is to reframe the word "meeting."

We assume that "meeting" is a noun and often use it as a synonym for "church" (that is what the sign out front seems to be communicating).

What if we reframe "meeting" as a verb?

We could add a comma to the sign out front, making it "Plainfield Friends, meeting" -- as in "these are Plainfield Friends, who are meeting here." However, this would probably only confuse people more.

Here's another way to think about it--
A verb needs an object, so if meeting is a verb, we need to talk about the objects that we connect to that verb. Who are we meeting when we are "Plainfield Friends, meeting?"
-As a Jesus-centered meeting, we are meeting Jesus. As we sing, pray, listen and wait it is Jesus that is our focus.
-We are also meeting each other. Our worship community is meeting in worship, fellowship and service
-We are also meeting the larger world around us, following in the footsteps of Jesus by meeting needs, demonstrating love and giving of ourselves.

Reframing "meeting" as a verb may help keep us understand better why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Problem with "Being Good"

We grow up being told to "be good" in a lot of ways. In fact, part of a parent's task is to help a child learn good behaviors and unlearn bad ones. Being good is encouraged and rewarded in many ways. As children we get privileges and goodies for being good. As adults we get praises and raises for being good.

New Years resolutions focus on being good. We identify a bad habit or behavior that we need to get rid of so that we can "be good." Stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, read more, write more, save more -- the list goes on and on. These are not bad things but they miss the mark.

"Being Good" is good, but not good enough.

"Being good" tends to focus on what we are NOT doing. I'm good because "I don't smoke, I don't chew, I don't go with girls that do." We stay away from bad things -- things that are wrong or hurt ourselves or others -- and that IS a good thing. But it can become a very passive kind of thing. We can be good by not doing anything at all! Where's the good in that?

"Doing good" is better. Doing good means we are actively engaged in positive activities. We look for ways to use our time, energy and resources to meet needs around us. Doing good changes us and our world.

Jesus didn't spend time trying to be good. Instead he focused on DOING good in a world that was and continues to be very needy. And he changed lives and continues to change this world.

Jesus also reminds us that "doing good" is risky. Doing good isn't necessarily rewarded in our world and in fact can draw opposition, as Jesus experienced.

So why should be "do good?" For Jesus' sake.

As we start a new year, let's "be good" AND "do good."