About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Am I Good?

Am I Good? How do I know?

Today I must feed the dog. I must open the door when he scratches at the door, and let him out the door, after allowing him stand in the doorway and sniff the air for a satisfying length of time. When he barks to come back in, I must open the door. I must reward him for his biological work with a treat, that must be broken in two. I must scratch him behind his ears. I must tell him he is the best dog in the whole world.

If I do these things, will I be good? In the eyes of my dog?

Today I must fix the shelf in the closet. I must re-hang the clothes that fell. I must fold my laundry and put it away. I must answer the emails. I must check the bank balance and pay some bills. I must remember to pick up the kids from the right places at the right times. I must be thoughtful and considerate. I must smile and be loving to all my family and to everyone I meet throughout the day.

If I do these things, will I be good? In the eyes of those around me?

Today I must not break any of the Ten Commandments. I must love my neighbor as myself. I must write a sermon. I must check on someone in the hospital. I must think first of others. I must not let my pride overtake me. I must not fall victim to guilt or depression. I must remember that love is the greatest power.

If I do these things, will I be good? In the eyes of God?

Will I ever know? How can I really know the mind of God, the minds of those around me, or even the mind of my dog?

In Matthew 23, in the parable of judgment, the ones who are righteous say, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?'

They were righteous, but they didn't know.

(Conversely, the unrighteous thought they DID know.)

So much of what we do for others, for God, even for the dog, is done not for the sake of goodness, but for the sake of knowing. We want to know that we're righteous. We fear the absence of knowing if we're ever righteous enough. Our yearning to know drives us, compels us, motivates us, haunts us. We want to know.

What if we never know? What if we never know if we're good, or righteous? Would we still do and care and work and try?

It's not about the goodness. It's about the knowing. It's about knowing that we're truly known.

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

   you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

   and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

   O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

   and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

   it is so high that I cannot attain it.

It's not about the goodness. It's about the knowing.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

What Good is Church Membership?

What Good is Church Membership?

Several years ago, a family joined our church. Their son, around the age of seven, watched as his parents proclaimed that they were followers of Jesus Christ and that they desired to be faithful members of this congregation. He watched as the session voted, "Aye!" as Presbyterians do. Then, the son got a rather disgusted look on his face and asked, "What is this? Some kind of a club or something?"

Um, actually, no. It's not a club. Although in similar definition a church is a group of people joined around a particular purpose. But, unlike a club, the church isn't our organization. Jesus Christ is the Head of the church – all churches – whether they're Presbyterian, or Roman Catholic, or Russian Orthodox. All churches belong to him, and none has it exactly right. If anything, we're more like the club's custodial staff, keeping the place in order until the real members – the One – shows up. In one way or another, we all feel called to this place, to this work, to this service, this steward-ship.

Because we're Presbyterian and because Presbyterians tend to like things "decent and in order," our Book of Order spells out what membership – or, maybe more correctly, serviceship – means. It says,

A faithful member bears witness to God's love and grace and promises to be involved responsibly in the ministry of Christ's Church. Such involvement includes:

  • proclaiming the good news in word and deed,
  • taking part in the common life and worship of a congregation,
  • lifting one another up in prayer, mutual concern, and active support,
  • studying Scripture and the issues of Christian faith and life,
  • supporting the ministry of the church through the giving of money, time, and talents,
  • demonstrating a new quality of life within and through the church,
  • responding to God's activity in the world through service to others,
  • living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life,
  • working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment,
  • participating in the governing responsibilities of the church, and
  • reviewing and evaluating regularly the integrity of one's membership, and considering ways in which one's participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful.

Do we always get church membership right? Um, actually, no. It's always up for review. But sometimes it works. Sometimes we get it, often in spite of ourselves, and always by the gift and guidance of something beyond us, in communion with other imperfect people, perhaps, at its best, through the Holy Spirit.

So, club? No. More like a purpose, a cause, a movement toward the ideal of being the hands and feet and mind and heart of Christ for the world. When we get it right, that's the good of church membership.

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