St. Paul’s is a welcoming and inclusive community of about 280 members who come from all over the greater Milwaukee area.
We treasure the richness and diversity God has given our community, as it enhances our understanding of God.
A millennial theologian, Erin Lane, has a written a book: Lessons in Belonging: From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe. For her and others that means she belongs to God, but hesitates – no, fears joining a church. Her group is disillusioned by the church. We don’t live up to our hype. Lower church attendance these days indicates something is not working so well for us. Maybe we need to pay attention. So this Ash Wednesday we’ll take a page from Joel’s book. “Sound the trumpet. Gather the assembly, invite your neighbors.” Not just individuals, but us as the church – Repent! Admit it, we tolerate sloppy clergy, apathetic members, half-hearted governance and lose sight of what matters to God. To recall initials from the past: WWJD. What would Joel do?
As a pastor in Roanoke, Virginia I would take our staff for a day retreat each year. At Peaks of Otter we’d walk the trail up Sharp Top Mountain, absorb the glory of God’s magnificent creation, then descend to the lodge for lunch and conversations. When I hired new clergy, I took them on a “get-acquainted” retreat to the same place. Once a new associate tells me afterwards, he believed he came real close to God on our trek. Unsure what he meant, yet pleased, I said, “Tell me more.” He says, “I will never again go with you on what you call a walk. I got so scared I needed to feel close to God. You dang near killed me walking that up mountain.”
Jesus’ first day of public ministry starts with a bang. He bags an unclean spirit; heals a woman, all before dinner. The opening of ministry for me started out strong, too. I brought my first sermon, to a close, “Now in conclusion,” and a miracle happened. I raised the dead. Well they looked dead to me. My words brought them back to life, smiles, high-fiving. Hadn’t happened since, though.
When my father graduated from independent to assisted living, he often sat in the lobby to watch people. Dad predictably would warn us when we came in, “Watch where you step. There’re a lot of loose marbles rolling on the floor around here,” as he nodded toward someone. I often wondered how many Teague marbles joined the others rolling around.
What sort of God are you looking for? Did you even know you can create your own? Yep – it’s not only possible, but probable. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once stated: “God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.” Being the gentleman Rousseau was, I imagine he’d now want women to feel included, as well.
Check out the newest Apostle newsletter…just click on NEWS…then click on the Apostle icon.
A Christmas test: Rank, in order, your favorite incidences of the Christmas story: For CPA and IRS fans, it’s tax season in Bethlehem; for the ethereal and other-worldly, you may choose angels; for the agrarians, shepherds; for any of us, a young couple, a manger and their baby; lowing cattle (not in Luke, but in a favorite Christmas carol); a star; wise men. Once they drop off their gifts, adore, and by-pass Herod to go home, Christmas should end. A ruthless, paranoid little king killing babies two and under around Bethlehem has no business in our nice Christmas. These stories give us a bad reputation: “Look at what your God lets happen – sends Messiah and a bunch of innocent children die.” Maybe the church – and your priests, like me, have done a poor job awakening God’s new life in you – nurturing us to be agents of divine love that finally defeats evil – which evidently isn’t that compelling a strategy. God actually trusts and empowers us to battle evil, hatred, violence in this world. So who likely goes missing in this equation – God or us?
What are the memorable parts of the Christmas story for you? Most people follow Luke’s chapters, with a splash of Matthew folded in. Earthy and holy at the same time – a simple pregnant couple, a journey, sharing a room with livestock, a baby’s birth, angels appear to shepherds, who get religion and go see what is going on, magi following a star. It’s beautifully entertaining – inspiration for carols, anthems and Christmas greeting cards, except for the genealogies and that awful genocide thing.
Why do you think so many people attend Christmas Eve services? I’m reading a new book on preaching. I, too, hope it helps. I’ve learned you don’t come to church to hear us preach. Well, shatter my ego – I’m just getting the memo. I can tell by your head nods you already know this – right?