Tag Archives: resurrection

Another Resurrection Moment

Mom, Dad, and me after my ordination in 2010.

When I was ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church, I had a vision. I wrote about it once. I think of it as a resurrection experience. I was at another ordination recently, and it happened again.

Ordination in the United Methodist Church takes place within regional gatherings called Annual Conference. These are our yearly gatherings of about a thousand people in a huge convention hall where budgets are set, retirees are honored, churches are closed, resolutions and statements are debated and passed, minimum salaries and healthcare for clergy are set, and those joining the guild of clergy within the denomination are brought forward for their final approval and vows.

The road to ordination in the United Methodist Church can take years. I graduated with a three-year Master of Divinity degree in 2006. I was appointed to full-time ministry immediately thereafter, but I wasn’t ordained until 2010.

My official journey toward ordination began in 2001, when I told my pastor that I was interested in exploring becoming a pastor. He, a retired pastor, and I met for lunch to talk about what that meant. From that moment, I was an exploring candidate. Really though, my process started when I was 15 years old and my Mother told me that I was going to be a minister someday. I didn’t’ believe her at the time. The road from that conversation in the backseat of her Honda to kneeling at the railing in front of the Bishop and a thousand fellow Methodists took many twists and turns.

It has been eight years since my own ordination. The service then, as it does now, includes the celebration of Communion. Every year at Annual Conference, the ordination service is a highlight. I always tear up at the vows they take as the gravity of “take thou authority” hits me anew. I can’t help but remember my own resurrection experience from when I was ordained. I love to go to Communion with one of the newly ordained Elders or Deacons. After they have been ordained, the Bishop leads us in the liturgy for Communion, and the newly ordained take the bread and the cup out into the large crowd gathered. Communion is always special, but it feels like a particularly holy moment when they break the bread for the first time as an ordained clergy and say, “This is the body of Christ.”

For years, Annual Conference was one of my favorite weeks of the year. It was a chance to see old friends, gather with fellow clergy and be empowered by fellowship and worship. Yes, there has always been the boring business of resolutions and amendments and (heaven help us) amendments to the amendments. I’m not a Robert’s Rule of Order wonk, but I’ve always sincerely loved Annual Conference.

This year, however, felt different. There has been growing discontent within the church over how we can continue to be the church amid disagreement over human sexuality. Rehashing the history of the UMC’s position on homosexuality would take more time than I care to take right now. It has been done by more prolific bloggers than me. Check out Chris Ritter’s and Jeremy Smith’s blogs to learn more about all that from two different sides of the inclusion debate.

Let me just say though, that this year was tough. There was nothing particularly controversial on the docket. I just felt, for the first time, that I was surrounded by people that kind of wished I wasn’t there. That feeling may have been more in my head, but it placed an inescapable pall over everything I did this year. I have long known many clergy with whom I disagree on inclusion. I have always felt though, that we shared something that would keep us together despite the disagreement. I have always been hopeful, but it is growing more difficult to be so.

I’ve grown skeptical about motivations of interest groups. I’ve wondered about the legitimacy of the process. I’ve wondered about the money trails that lead to voting devices. I don’t like these feelings, but this year on my drive to the conference I felt like I was on my way to a funeral, not a reunion celebration.

So I sat through most of the proceedings with my introvert dial turned up to 11. I avoided small talk. I sat in the corners of the giant room. I participated fully in body, but not in spirit. I had a hard heart, and while singing “For All the Saints,” with 400 other clergy at the beginning of the week felt good, it didn’t move me like it usually does.

Then it was time for Communion with the newly ordained. Once again, I heard the vows to “take thou authority to preach the Word of God, to administer the Sacraments, and order the life of the church.” I reflected on that awesome authority to which I still submit. I thought of the people in my little congregation in Rock Island, a diverse, aging, youthful collection of hopeful and spirited people who want to love the world. They embrace refugees, warmly welcome the homeless and mentally ill in worship, feed thousands every year, open the doors of the beautiful ancient fortress to children and community, and seek creative ways to share the love of Christ. They’ve been through so much as a people, and are still growing and struggling and reaching. By the grace of God I have been trusted with the awesome responsibility of guiding these saints to the Kingdom. I owe them more than a hard heart.

And then it was time to receive the bread and the cup. Slightly thawed by the grace of the people of Two Rivers Church, I went forward. I got in line for one of the young women who had just been ordained a deacon. As I waited for the piece of soft bread and grape juice she came to me again.

I have written before about the holy moment of my ordination. When the Bishop laid hands upon me and I took my vows, I had a holy vision of resurrection, and it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. A few moments later I took a loaf of bread and went out into the crowd gathered and shared Communion with all who would come.

One of my strongest memories of that day was placing the bread of life into the hands of my Mother. It was her prophetic word that began me on my path to ordination. It was her love that guided me to find Christ. It was her love that made me into the man I am today, and I miss her terribly. She died nearly years ago. My grief is not as sharp as it once was, but it is still profound. I remembered that moment from years ago when I placed that bread in her hand, looked in her eye and said, “Mom, this is the body of Christ which is broken for you.” I remember her eyes above all else. I could see the tears welling up. I could see the joy in receiving this thing she had received so many times before, but never quite like this. I remember the pride in her eyes as she saw a baptized infant, a confirmed teen, a married man, a new father, and an ordained Elder all in one moment of infinity.

I moved forward in the line as the tears started to flow. Then the bread was placed in my hand and I dipped it into the cup. The Holy Spirit washed over me as I was forgiven by Christ’s blood and was unified by Christ’s body. The sweet and tangy grape flooded my mouth and in one moment of infinity she was there. I knew her joy in sharing this meal with me in this moment. Her pride in the pastor and father I am. Her sadness over my pain. Jesus’ grace for my sin. It was all there. His arms rested upon me. Her eyes fixed on me. Her cool, soft, refreshing hands touched my face and I knew resurrection again. Through the locked doors of my heart, she appeared, and I wept.

I went back to my seat and found an old friend sitting where I had been. She and I share a similar struggle with the church, and I said to her, red-eyed and sniffling, “sometimes I wish I didn’t love this place so much. It would all be so much easier if I didn’t care.” She laughed and agreed.

Then I remembered one of my last conversations with my Mom. General Conference of 2016 was over, and anxiety among Methodists was high. She was in bed, and we talked about it because I needed to know. I needed to know how she felt because she had once made it very clear to me how she felt.

Twenty years earlier she and I had a conversation where she made it clear that she agreed with the likes of James Dobson, who was highly influential at the time. She did not think it was “okay to be gay.” When I first contemplated seminary, she warned me against “those liberal seminaries.” I heeded her warning for a while, and put off seminary altogether for a few years. Later I did pick one of “those liberal seminaries,” but neither of us really knew it at the time.

Me, Adam Hamilton, and my Pulpit Fiction partner Eric Fistler. We met Adam Hamilton at a Festival Homiletics. His book “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White,” was highly influential to my mother. She and I shared many conversations as she read it in her book study at her church.

She changed a lot over the years. We had many talks about the Bible and church and books she was reading. She had a pastor she loved who helped open up the Bible to her in new ways. She called me after she read Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, by Adam Hamilton. She called again after she read Love Wins by Rob Bell. She didn’t always agree with what she read, but she started to see gray. She started to wrestle with her faith, with her old ideas and conceptions of life and death and heaven and hell. Somehow through it all I had helped guide her, which always felt like a tremendous privilege but also a little trippy. So there, literally on her deathbed, I needed to know.

I needed to know for my own heart. I needed to know for the sake of her grandchildren. I needed to know she would celebrate them no matter whom they fell in love with someday, even if she wouldn’t be alive to see it on earth. I needed to know what she thought about the church we loved so much. I needed to know what she thought about the United Methodist Church, which she loved with her time, talents, and treasure for many years. She was too sick to be following the church politics closely, so I explained to her what had happened. I told her there would be a commission to try to figure it out, that it might result in a split. She sighed and wondered, “Why can’t they just love each other?” I pressed her. “What do you think, Mom?”

She answered, “Love is love.” Those were not her last words to me, but they were pretty close. She died only a short time after that. “Love is love,” she said to me. She spent 38 years on earth with me, and I can think of no better final words than those. She taught me so much, but “Love is love” may have been the most important of them all.

So I sat there next to my friend and in the real presence of my Mother, and we all wondered, “Why can’t we just love each other?” I left that service with my heart powerfully warmed. I don’t know what the future holds for the people called Methodists. I do not know what kind of pain lies ahead for the denomination, or even for my congregation. Regardless of what happens in convention centers with voting devices, people are going to be hurt.

You may agree with me about affirming our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, or you may think I am leading people astray. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything with this post. I hold onto my mother’s naïve wish that we could all just love each other. All I can do is be faithful to the expression of love I have found through the Bible and through Christ. I still wonder about what the future holds, but I have seen transformation. I have seen healing. I have seen resurrection. I know that love is love, and I will keep doing everything I can to tell, show, and spread Christ’s love.

5 Comments

Filed under Christianity

We are left to finish the story

easter

1 Comment

April 20, 2014 · 7:44 am

Walk of shame, interrupted

When I was a sophomore in high school I was kicked out of a football game for kicking someone.  It was a stupid.  I was near the bottom of a pile, and I felt like the guy on the other team that was on top of me was taking his sweet time in getting up.  Instead of just waiting for the guy to get off, I got mad, and started kicking.  I don’t think I actually kicked anyone.  I wasn’t aiming at anyone in particular.  I was just mad and reacted.  Unfortunately the ref saw me and said “You, 62 – you’re out of here.”  I couldn’t believe it.  So I stormed off the field in anger and sulked on the sideline for the rest of the game.  Strangely, none of the coaches even said anything to me.

After the game, none of the coaches said anything to me.  When I was back at school, had changed and was ready to go home, none of the coaches had said anything to me.  I was a little perplexed, but also pretty nervous.  I knew I wasn’t going to escape punishment.  They must be letting me stew.  I figured that at the next practice I’d be running laps around the field for the duration.  I started to walk home, despondent.

I didn’t get far when Mr. Selke pulled up and asked me, “Do you need a ride?”  Mr. Selke was an intimidating guy.  With his hair slicked back and suit on, he looked like he could have been cast as an associate of Joe Pesci.  He didn’t give sophomore football players rides home.  He was not a coach.  He was the Athletic Director.  I lived about a half mile from school.  I didn’t really want a ride.  I just wanted to sulk my way home.  “No thanks,” I said.  “No, let me give you a ride,” he said.  I realized that this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I’d say we had an interesting conversation on the short ride to my house, but that would imply that I said something.  He didn’t raise his voice.  The power of his words did not need volume.  “You will not do something like that again,” he said simply.  “Your family is too good for that.  Your Mom, Dad, brother, and sister have given you a good name.  And you will not do anything like that again.”

I didn’t run laps at practice on Monday.  None of my coaches ever said anything to me about it.  It was like it never happened.

When I think of that interrupted walk home, I am reminded of another interrupted walk of shame.  In Luke 24 we find the story known as “The Walk to Emmaus.”  The walk to Emmaus was a walk of defeat.  It was a walk of devastation, confusion, and anger.  Two men were going home – back to Emmaus.  They were leaving Jerusalem after a tumultuous week.

They were devastated, because the man that they thought was going to redeem Israel had been crucified.  We don’t know how long they had been following Jesus.  We don’t know how much they had given up, but we know that as the walked home, they were walking in shame.  they were walking in confusion, despair, and anger.  Their walk to Emmaus was a walk of shame.  And then they were interrupted.

They were interrupted by the living Christ.  They were interrupted in their despair, and at first, they were annoyed by this stranger that didn’t understand their pain.  “Haven’t you been paying attention?” they ask him.  “Have you been paying attention?” he responds.  He does two things for them after their encounter.  He allows them to tell their story, then he tells them his version.  Their version went like this:

“Because of [Jesus’s] powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.” (Luke 24:19-24, Common English Bible)

It was a story of despair, loss, and confusion.  Jesus responds by telling them the story again.  This time he starts with Moses.  He tells of God saving the people from slavery.  He tells of the giving of the Law.  He tells them about the Land that God provided the people.  He tells them about the Prophets that spoke the truth to power.  He reminded them about the God that saves.

Eventually it was time to eat.  So they gathered at a table, and Jesus broke the bread.  When they saw him break the bread, it all came together.  They knew that were in the presence of Jesus.  They knew that Jesus had risen.  They knew everything had changed.

While they gathered at the table, their story was no longer one of despair and fear.  Their walk was no longer a walk of shame.  It was a walk of triumph.  In the breaking of the bread, this act of friendship, companionship, and relationship, they knew that they were in the presence of the living God.  He re-framed the story.  He re-presented the bread.  He re-newed their hearts.

Like Mr. Selke did for me during my walk of shame, Jesus reminded them of who and whose they were.  All of us need that reminder every now and then.  All of us take long walks of shame.  We take a wrong turn.  We veer off the path.  We forget who and whose we are, and suddenly we find ourselves someplace we never intended to be.  We find ourselves on a path of shame – somewhere God never intended us to be.  It is in the midst of such walks that Jesus has a funny way of showing up.  We may encounter Jesus on our path when we are least expecting him to show up.

No matter where you may be on your path, no matter how lost, no matter how hurt, no matter how bitter, an unexpected encounter with the Divine can bring you back home.  Be open to the Scriptures, and the story of God’s salvation.  Be open to breaking bread with those that might surprise you.  Be open and know that you never need walk this path alone.  You never have to make a walk of shame again.

To follow the Fat Pastor on Facebook, Click here

To follow on Twitter, click here

find home

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Sermons

An Easter Moment

I’m not sure why I have waited so long to tell this story, but on this Easter morning as my overwhelming joy is being converted to tears rolling down my cheek, I thought I’d share.  This is a brief story about my ordination last spring.  But I think you’ll see that it is really a story of Easter.

On that evening at Annual Conference I was ordained by Bishop Palmer.  I was given a Bible and a certificate and the authority to preach, teach and administer the sacraments.  On bended knee I accepted the responsibility, privilege, and humbling honor to be called an Elder in the United Methodist Church.  Bishop Palmer, along with Rev. Keith Zimmerman laid their hands on me and called upon the Holy Spirit.

I do not remember much that Bishop Palmer said to me in those moments.  I remember tears flowing down my face, and I remember the feel of his hands on me.  I felt the loving presence of my family – whom I knew to be standing behind me, in body and spirit, amongst the congregation of those gathered.  I knew that members of my church were there as well – beloved saints who had made the drive to be with me on that holy night.  But there were so many more.

As I bowed my head I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It filled me with an unspeakable joy.  Then I saw something I wasn’t expecting.  It was a woman.  A beautiful woman smiling at me with a radiant glow.  She was so beautiful.  Her brown hair and brown eyes glowed.  Her face was youthful and filled with love and joy and I recognized her in an instant.  It was at the same time unexpected, completely real to me, and somehow no surprise.  It was my Aunt Jean.  Then she sort of nodded in a way that said to me, “Look who I brought.” She wasn’t alone.  Standing there with her were my Grandma Esther and my Grandpa Nick.  And with them were my other grandparents Eugene and Lucile.  The five of them stood there for a moment, looking at me with pride and joy.

When I was a boy, I remember going to the Communion rail with my Mom and Dad at Our Redeemer’s UMC.  We would kneel at the railing and take the bread and the cup and linger a little to pray.  I would always wait there, even if I was done praying, because I knew that if I waiting long enough, my Father’s hand would reach out and grip my shoulder.  Then his arm would wrap around me, and I would feel the power of his love and the love of my heavenly Father wrapping me up.  As I knelt at the railing at my ordination, I could feel the loving arms of my father and mother, my sister and brother, my wife and daughter and all of those that had lead me to that moment.

Then I saw my Uncle Larry and Aunt Janie and more and more saints – until I was completely surrounded.  I could hear them clearly saying, “We love you, Robby.”  There was a golden glow that surrounded them and fully embraced me.  I could feel again my father’s arms wrapping me up in unconditional love.  It was the single most powerful moment of my life because, you might have guessed, none of these people dwelled on earth any more.  I was surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses – the resurrected saints of God who were claiming me.

This was not a dream.  This was a holy vision and it was as real to me as holding my daughter at her birth.  It was an Easter moment.

Today we celebrate Easter and I am reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit to conquer sin and death.  I am reminded of the words that I have read at so many funeral services, “Where O death, is thy sting, where, o death, is your victory?”  I am reminded of the words of Charles Wesley, who wrote, “Lives again our glorious King. Alelulia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alelulia! Once he died our souls to save, Alelulia! Where’s thy victory boasting grave? Alelulia!”

I feel the sins of which I have been convicted.  I feel the sins of which I have been forgiven.  I feel the sin that remains in this world – the sins of war, poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, greed, corruption and the rape of the earth.  I know that the world threw everything it had at Jesus, and that on this day Jesus rose.  And just as Jesus defeated death, so too will God conquer all of these sins. On this day Jesus won the victory.  On this day life won. Grace won. Love won.

All of those that have died are alive again.  All of the battles I fight as a pastor, as a husband, as a father, as a son, and as a man – I fight surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I will surely fail.  I will fall and I will be beaten by temptation.  But I will rise; just as Aunt Jean rose.  Just as Eugene, Lucile, Esther and Nick rose.  Just as Jesus rose.

And so I invite you to rise as well.  Claim Jesus as your own.  Claim the victory that Jesus has won.  Be a part of the fight to redeem the world.  Rise and live in the Kingdom of God.  Rise because Christ is Risen.

 Follow the Fat Pastor on Facebook

Follow on Twitter

2 Comments

Filed under Christianity