The Good News of Scars

Reading Craig Barnes’ The Pastor as Minor Poet, and reflecting on Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule, I collapsed some thing said by each to become something neither said, but I'm always glad when authors make me sit down and think.

Along the line of St. Paul’s reasoning, Gregory writes of the wounds that we bear as good and humbling for us, creating and maintaining dependence, and Barnes discusses what he calls the “attractiveness of a scarred soul.” Barnes argues that the still bleeding wounds are often overwhelming and unhelpful (and ultimately repelling) to the congregation. In my own thoughts around this, I've called this a "therapeutic pulpit," those places you get the sense that the preacher isn't standing up to address God's people as much as he is lying down on a couch for catharsis. It's less proclaiming event, and much more therapy session, except that the congregation is not paid by the hour to listen and take notes. But, I digress...again. When Barnes discusses the scarred soul, he writes that scars are attractive, in so far as they not only humanize and make the pastor relatable, but they show that the word preached has been at work on the preacher as well.

In my own reflections around these ideas and images, scars add a humanizing texture, but they do far more than that. Scars preach an additional feature of the gospel that needs highlighting for both the pastor and congregation. Scars don't come for every wound, only the serious and deep ones. And they provide more than just the evidence that these deep and serious wounds occurred. Scars exist only after serious and deep wounds are seriously, deeply, and thoroughly healed. Scars are the testifying trophies. They tell us that grace and healing more serious than our wounds. Scars last longer than the wound. Many become permanent reminders that grace was sufficient not only to stop the bleeding in the wounded season, but grace regenerates with greater strength than was there before.

When we see each other's scars, we do see important evidence that we share pain & history. When we see each other's scars, we're reminded that God's love for us is stronger and more permanent than the thorns of the curse. Scarred souls aren't naïve, but they do hope.

Braces & Tourniquets

The writer to the Hebrews discusses this need to run wild and free, and as I think of running two powerful images come to mind: Phoebe & Forest.

Phoebe; not Paul's commended friend, Phoebe, in Romans 16...Phoebe Buffay from the '90's. "Didn't you ever run so fast, you thought your legs were gonna fall off; like when you were running toward the swings, or running away from Satan?!"

It's a great picture of running wild and free, but freedom is more than a choice in the moment, more than personal fiat. It requires liberation. And liberation for us is Christ's ongoing, good & joyful work within the community of saints - the church. 

Liberation to Run in Hebrews 11 & 12

Remember that scene in Forest Gump? It's the famous, "Run, Forest, Run!" and "You may not believe me if I told you...but I can run like the wind blows!" scene. If you don't remember it, watch it here, and get ready for all the feels. If you haven't seen the movie, stop what you're doing, and go watch it.

Run, Forest! Run!

Run, Forest! Run!

There's more here than just that lump in your throat. Forest's braces are a perfect visual of what should happen for our communities over time. Our hobble, should become and awkward gate, and that gate, should become a side-swinging jog, but if we're going to run, the braces need to fall off. 

But his braces weren't always encumbering. In fact, earlier in his life, they helped him stand up straight, at a time when his back was a "crooked as a politician." The braces actually helped him stand and walk, but only at first. Eventually, he outgrew a need for them. Over time the braces intended to help him began to hold him back. His braces had become shackles - encumbrances - and they had to be thrown off.

The same thing is true of tourniquets - they are essential in the very short-term to help slow or stop bleeding. They are essential to survival and healing, but their returns are diminishing. If left too long, they would strangle and leave us with gangrene. Essential in the moment; deadly over time.

Braces often address needs we have while strength increases, and tourniquets handle triage. In our spiritual lives, we may have needs for one or both at different points. Young in your faith? You may need a brace to help bolster you while you grow into things. Blindsided by some deep struggle with sin? There may be tourniquet measures of accountability and control to help "stop the bleeding" in the short term.

Neither of these should become our long-term hope or rest. Both should be employed with a view to depending on them less and less. They may be gifts from your Savior that he uses to move you to greater strength and freedom, but they will become destructive, if trusted to be surrogates for him.

Let's look forward to casting them off and running to follow Christ.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Maundy Thursday Moves Us Past the Frame

Edmund & Lucy Dawn Treader Last Supper.png

Liturgy & Dramatic Enactment

In his book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis’ describes children, who don’t just have their imaginations captured by a vivid picture of a ship. The image actually captures them, …as it becomes larger and more alive, and pulls them in.

Our redemption is like that picture.

Jesus has written us into his story of redemption, and our participation and benefit is inevitable for people that receive his grace, and yet, we may not always smell the salt in the air, and feel the wind pushing us forward, or the roll of the mighty ocean of his Sovereign Presence…

Special liturgies and services like Maundy Thursday are meant to be a chance to climb past the picture frame, so that we can not only be aware of God’s grace, but touch and feel – smell and taste it.

 God of the Vulnerable...Why We Walk in Public –

I felt it last year, and I felt it again this year – I felt silly walking around in public, wearing a robe, with a big group of serious people. Not silly in a “this is ridiculous” kind of way. I felt conspicuous and on display – It feels vulnerable to me. It feels out in the open…EXPOSED.

This is part of climbing past the frame and into the story with these first disciples. They have felt exposed at a few points so far:

When Jesus explained that one of them would betray him, only Judas had actually made arrangements, but they all felt exposed in the weakness of their own devotion.

When Jesus was arrested, they all felt exposed to the danger that came by association, and without hesitation or thought, they panicked; they all left him and fled.

It hasn’t always been this way, BUT this is the refrain for most of the human experience…

Exposed & Vulnerable –

Adam & Eve – Naked & unafraid & unashamed – nothing to hide and no need to guard: Their entire existence was nothing but being known, secure, loved.

After the fall, humanity wanders through strategies & failed attempts. Suddenly known, secure, and loved becomes suspect, vulnerable, & ashamed.

And these things lead us to cover, hide, & protect.

Jesus Steps Into Our Frame –

Tonight’s service might be about helping us climb past the frame, but redemption was accomplished as Jesus stepped past the frame and entered our picture, becoming not just sovereign observer, but saving participant.

He left safety and comfort behind to be vulnerable and exposed – not only WITH US, but IN OUR PLACE!

He didn’t just see our judgment, he climbed onto our cross.

He didn’t just understand our estrangement, his Father abandoned him instead of us.

Jesus didn’t just grieve our death, he locked himself in our grave.

And tonight and tomorrow Lent culminates as we climb past the frames of our routine comfort.

At a distance, the picture he pulls us into looks like one of suffering, it looks like vulnerability more than salvation…but pulled in close, we’ll see it’s a picture – not of our death - death and suffering are just the frame. Jesus is pulling us into his picture of resurrection.

But first, we let him pull us in… past the frame…

To feel some of the weight of these things this evening, we will end by reciting the Apostles’ Creed only so far as Jesus suffers, and then we – like his first friends – will scatter and leave the park in silence…to be re-gathered & reunited by the light of his resurrection Sunday Morning.

The Places You Will Be From

As always, Mad Men is brilliant. In 75 seconds, they touch on so many edges of what we're considering in our Advent series on Recovering Place.

Don ever searching for the good life, a better woman, a deeper pleasure, a stiffer drink, or higher honor. Inside the show, he is described at times as a man without people, past or place. This clip is taken from season 1 episode 6, pregnantly titled, "Babylon." Every character has been exiled to some extent, and in their wandering they cry for roots.

They get wrong the origin of the Utopia pun (no real evidence that it's actually Greek; Thomas Moore seems to have created the word for the sake of the pun in his 1516 work Utopia...but I digress). They miss the etymology, but they nail the substance - I're referenced it a couple of times in our sermons: EU-topia, "the good place," and OU-topia, "no place/ nowhere, or the place that is not."

Rachel's explanation of the ideal you can imagine without committing is revealing and a delusion, but you can watch her cynicism open Don's eyes to the self-defeat of his own wandering. Of the show's many premises and recurring themes, Don's incessant wandering and detachment is key to his character. As the show unfolds season after season, it becomes clear that Don's placeless existence has chosen him in many ways, long before he started choosing it for himself. And regardless of who's driving things - whether Don or his circumstance - his uncommitted smile is hollow.

"I'll visit, but I don't have to live there..."

 

You May Not Be Religious, but tell me you love Bob Dylan.

Song to Woody is fantastic, and if you haven't heard it, you need to find it. Google, Spotify, YouTube, vinyl; find it.

"...I wrote you this song.
'Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a'coming’ along.
Seems sick, and it’s hungry;
It’s tired and torn.
It looks like it’s a-dyin’ 
but it’s hardly been born."

Commending Bob to a friend earlier today, while thinking about the incarnation and the practices of Advent. Couldn't help but appreciate the beauty and longing here.

Considering Additional Elders & Deacons

We're looking for some additional elders and deacons; ideally 1-2 new elders and 2-3 new deacons. And the process for identifying, training, examining, and then finally deciding on them is a tandem effort between the session and congregation as a whole. Here's an overview of the process, and a little bit on how to think about the people who serve the church in these ways.

 

The Process

June 2015 - Nominations

We will be accepting nominations from the congregation starting Sunday, June 7, and ending Sunday, June 14. You will be able to submit nominations through this online NOMINATION FORM or by submitting one of the paper forms provided at church.

Summer - Discerning 

Time allowed and spent discussing, praying, and discerning the nominees general readiness and sense of calling to serve.

Fall - Training

Training & Examination of candidates

Winter - Electing

Qualified candidates will be placed back in front of the congregation for election.

 

A Little Bit on Leaders

To lead in the church is to serve it, and for a bunch of followers of Jesus, it's a leading made up entirely of following. For this reason, leaders are not more important, they are not more loved. The good news and transformational redemption of Jesus means that our roles do not determine our nature, status, or value. In the good news of Jesus, our truest self is not chosen; it's created. Our status is not earned; it's given. Individually and communally our character is formed. Our relationships are both invited & built. Our wisdom is cultivated over time. And our various roles are callings. God calls, and we answer and discern as a community.

Jesus built his church out of people - messy, in-the-process people. And it's beautiful, but baffling that he chooses to lead and care for his church through these same members. So, what should we look for, and how will we go about getting additional leaders?

Elders serve the larger church body by caring for people and leading them in the overall mission of the church.

Deacons serve the larger church body by helping to meet needs within the congregation, and then lead people into pursuing the same kind of justice and mercy outside of the church.

For both of these, God has given us qualifications in Scripture. These qualifications aren't separated from the overall calling of the church or individual discipleship. Instead they give us representative pictures of maturity and evidence that the people entrusted with this kind of service are growing in Jesus' image in specific ways. 

At the bottom of this post, you can read the specific qualifications taken from Scripture along with some explanation from The Book of Church Order, but I'll start with my own summary. I'll consider the Elder/Shepherds first, and then the deacons.

In the Old Testament & in the New Testament, God gave leaders to his church using titles and language that invoked at least two dominant metaphors: Elders for the city & Shepherds for the field.

Elders for the City. The metaphor of the elders is rooted in a particular place. It pictures the church like a city with a rich web of relationships and interactions, and at times complex issues for care. In ancient cities, the elders functioned like a council and a court, resolving disputes, and working to design structures that better served the health of the city. When the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus, he instructed him to appoint elders in each city, because they needed to be local. They needed to not only spend time with the particular people of the churches they served, but the towns and cultures in which they lived.

Shepherds for the Field. The metaphor of shepherding is much more directional. Elders are called to shepherd, and this is a call to follow Jesus, our Shepherd Messiah, who leads us into his redemption and out into his mission. Just as Jesus knows us by name, guards us, and leads us out (cf. John 10), shepherds are called to know the people of the church intimately, protect them from harm & attack (whether from inside or out of the church), and to lead us out to follow the voice of Jesus as he calls us along in his own ministry collectively. 

Deacons are called to serve, and repeatedly in Scripture, they are called to make sure that no one is being neglected in the day to day needs and care. 

Deacons for the Table. The language and metaphor of the deacon's work is actually waiting tables, not because their work isn't important - it's vitally important! But their work often addresses very practical needs, at times being the means by which God answers the prayer for daily bread...literally. And all of this, while different than the elder's work of shepherding is spiritual requiring maturity and the wise application of compassion.

 

 

Qualifications For Elders & Deacons

The following qualifications for Elders & Deacons are taken from Titus 1 & 1 Timothy 3, with additional explanatory notes taken from chapters 8 & 9 in the Book of Church Order.

 

Titus 1.5-11

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.

 

1 Timothy 3.1-13

1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

From The Book of Church Order; chapters 8 & 9

Those serving as elders "should possess a competency of human learning and be blameless in life, sound in the faith and apt to teach. He should exhibit a sobriety and holiness of life becoming the Gospel. He should rule his own house well and should have a good report of them that are outside the Church.

It belongs to those in the office of elder, both severally and jointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to his charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein. They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the Church generally when called thereunto. They should visit the people at their homes, especially the sick. They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples. All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation, and are to be discharged as official duties.”

Those serving as deacons bear the duty "to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed..."

Because the ministry of deacons is spiritual in nature, those chosen to serve should be of: "spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment."