Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Check out the tumblr blog, where most everything will now be posted!

Hey there!
So, I'm on to tumblr, which is a great way of blogging that is hyper-visual. If you have a moment I'd invite you to check it out. I've still got a long way to go to catch-up, content-wise, but I really like the visual format of tumblr. I will still post occasional sermon manuscripts, orders of worship, and more text-heavy things on this sight but will primarily be on tumblr. Hope to see you there!!!
Grace and peace,

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sermon Manuscript for the 2011 United Methodist Student Movement Student Forum

This past weekend was amazing! I had the amazing blessing to preach at the 2011 United Methodist Student Movement Student Forum, held at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana. I was a little overwhelmed for a few moments when I read that Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at the Forum back in the 1960's. The event was wonderful: the students were absolutely amazing. The church is going to be in good shape! The text for the sermon was Galatians 3:28. Thanks to Joseph McBrayer for the photo!

Do It Again
The United Methodist Student Movement
2011 Student Forum

Primary thoughts: we are made by God to be in community, connected, to be one body, beautiful in our diversity. When we are able to recognize and overcome with love and grace the things that divide us, the root cause of which is fear, we will become a movement again, we will partner with God to transform the world!


We are going to pray before we hear the scripture proclaimed by singing together an invocation to the Holy Spirit from the Iona Community in Scotland.

Sing "Come, Holy Spirit" read Galatians 3:28, vamp last line.




Have you ever had a transformational experience? One that altered the way you live, or work, or the way that you understand what God is doing in the world?

I'd like to share with you one of those moments from my life. It occurred in my previous appointment at Travis Park UMC in downtown San Antonio, Texas.

Loved serving at TPUMC, downtown San Antonio, first Protestant church in San Antonio, The UpperRoom Devotional Guide was birthed there, as was the Methodist Mission Home. By the time we got there the church was reinventing itself by being in ministry with those on the matins of society. We served 50,000 meals a year to anyone who was hungry, had medical, dental, and vision clinics in the church, employment assistance programs and ID recovery. When Katrina came we had over 25,000 displaced folks living in San Antonio and the city and FEMA gave the church the contract for all of their ID recovery needs.

And the community itself was a slice of the kingdom of God! People of all races, ages, genders, sexual orientations, economic and educational status, and political stripes worshipped together. It was beautiful!

The church was very rewarding and also very challenging. It was, at times, difficult to stay unified with such a wonderfully diverse group of people. The possibility for division was always present.

I was finishing up my ordination requirements when first appointed to Travis Park when I had a transformative experience. I had finished everything for ordination save one sermon that had to be videotaped and turned in to the Board of Ordained Ministry for evaluation.

Now, I'm an associate pastor and, as an associate, we never get the prime preaching times! So, I was scheduled to preach the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the last Sunday in November. Everything for ordination was due the first week of December, so I had one chance to get this right!

I'm preaching and it's going great! I've connected with the people and it's rockin'! I'm wrapping up the sermon on the prologue to The Gospel of John, preaching about how the Kingdom of God ia an "already/not yet" kind of thing when a man stands up in the balcony and yells out "Sir, Sir, excuse me, Sir, I have a question."
Now, its amazing how many different thoughts one can have in a very short time.

Here's just a sample of the things that were running through my head:
I will confess that I'm not proud of this but my first thought was "OH MY GOD! What am I going to do?"
My second thought was filled with sarcasm, "well of course it would go down like this!"
The third thought was, "just keep going, he will stop!". I tried that for about two seconds and it became abundantly clear he wasn't going to stop.
My fourth thought was one based in fear: "My ordination!!! I've worked so hard and it's all about to go down the drain if I can't answer this man appropriately."
Then, I had a spiritual breakthrough. The Spirit said, "Joe, this is not about you. It's about the community and what I'm doing here."
I realized I had a choice: I could continue to make the divide that was occurring in the community worse and suffer more indignnity on this poor man, or, I could get real with it, address my brother with dignity and respect and keep e sanctity of the moment.

Thanks be to God, the Spirit saw it fit to give me the grace to choose the latter. We had a brief exchange and agreed to talk about it after the sermon.


After I had a chance to debrief the experience I felt some shame, i will be honest with you, in that my initial reactions were motivated by fear.

Fear is a powerful force: it can create division amongst us and it can enslave us.

There is something in the human condition that, when left unchecked, has the potential to want to label people and things in order to compartmentalize and marginalize them. Why do so many of us seem to have dualistic, binary thinking as our default setting? Many of us have sold out completely to Greek dualistic thought.

Why is it that we, in our darkest moments feel the need to unravel the rich tapestry that God continues to weave so and to take those threads and use them to create separate, homogenous banners that proclaim "us" versus "them."

Some politicians seek to divide us with fear, some members of the media seek to divide us with fear, some religious leaders, in all traditions, instead of using our common ground of love and compassion as tools of unity strive to separate us from one another using fear based tactics. is the lingua franca of the day. Fear can pollute individual hearts, heads, families, churches, communities, governmental policies, cultures and ultimately all of creation.

This proclivity for divisiveness caused by fear is prevalent in our day and as we have heard, it was clearly prevalent in Paul's day as well.


But...our Creator has given us a powerful command regarding fear.

You know what the number one imperative in the Bible is, don't you? 


Do not be afraid. Every time something divine connects with humanity in the Bible we hear the same phrase repeated over and over again: do not be afraid.

Sisters and brothers, fear-filled insular creatures is not who God intends for us to be!

God’s dream for us is so much richer and deeper and more connective than that! I say again to you, "do not be afraid."

God is calling us to love and to be united, to be in community: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear!

The Biblical Record

In Genesis we see God creating the world. The artist in me loves that the first trait we see in God is that God is creative. Since we are made in God's image it means that each of us is fundamentally creative as well!

God calls all that God has made, the cosmos, from the smallest sub-atomic particle to the largest whirling and swirling galaxies and God, with an admiring smile pronounces it good,...except for when God made us. God looked at a symbolic Adam and said, “Wow! You are not just good, you are very good.”

You, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and me, everyone in this room God calls very good, you are precious and beloved to me! God made us for good out of God's goodness. In Zephaniah 3:17 God says to us that God take great delight in us and rejoices over us with singing! What an amazing, transformative and radical thought! Why would we ever give into fear?

And after pronouncing all of this goodness, God looks at Adam, in Genesis 2:18, and says, for the first time, that something is not good. God sees that Adam is by himself and God says, “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." 

Do you see what God proclaims here? God MADE us for community, God made us for Godself and for one another and God calls us to be in community with each other and with God, just as God is in community with Gods-self in the Trinity.

God says to us: "do not be afraid of anything!". Especially, do not be afraid to be how I have made you to be.

Recall Moses, who was rightly terrified of leading a liberation movement and of confronting Pharaoh. God said to him, "Do not be afraid, I am with you."

Think of the prophets, who every time imperialistic forces or desires encroached upon the Israelites, God asked the prophets to call the people back to themselves with the assurance that God would always be with them and to not let fear rule their actions.

Remember Jesus, sleeping on the boat in the midst of a terrible storm. The storm was so bad the apostles thought they were going to die! They wake up Jesus and he says, "Why are you afraid?" Can you imagine? The implication being that they shouldn't be afraid, because He is with them. Jesus' promise to his disciples, that he would be with them to the end of the age is his promise to us as well.

God calls us not to be afraid!

Consider Paul. In Romans 8 Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, therefore we should not be ruled by fear

The apostle Paul’s world, was, in some respects, very much like our own. In the letter to the Galatian Church, Paul was addressing the issue of division, a division that was rooted in fear. Paul spent much of his life fighting divisions.

The Galatians church was divided between Greeks and circumcised Jews and their social standing and cultural heritage was being used to divide them from one another.

Paul, in addressing this division, does something brilliant! He cites to the Galatian church a baptismal liturgy saying there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female in God’s family.

There can be no social divisions in God's family, all are more than equal, all are sister and brother, all are children of God. Paul was reminds them of their unity in their baptism!

And though Paul’s words sound to some of our 21st century ears as conservative and antiquated they were actually revolutionary in the Graeco-Roman world that Paul lived in.

And, as we realize this, if we believe that the Bible has something to us to say today, we must use Galatians 3:28 as one of our cornerstones for theological reflection on what it means to be a community of little Christ’s, to be the body of Christ, made beautifully and wonderfully diverse yet united in our baptismal identity!

Paul had a vision for the church: it was to be a movement in which all are one in Christ: a church united at one table.

As Richard B. Hayes has said, the church is to be “an alternative community that prefigures the new creation in the midst of a world that continues to resist God’s justice.” (repeat)

God is calling us to be different and to live in the light of God, open to what God is doing in the world and the future to which Christ is continually pulling us into.

The Arch and Ubuntu

One of my heroes in the faith and one of my theological teachers is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He has given the world a great gift by introducing us to the African theology of Ubuntu.

In essence ubuntu means this: We can only fully become what God made us to be when others are able to fully be what God has called them to be. (repeat)

We can only experience the fullness of God's dreams of true community, when we recognize Christ in the other and our mutual need of one another.

I am completely convinced that this is part of God’s dream for us: to be people who live together in unity, in wholeness, in harmony with one another and also dependent upon one another. There is no such thing as a self made person. You and I would not be here on this beautiful campus tonight without the help of other people.

God made us to be family. When the body of Christ is at its best we treat one another as beloved sisters and brothers, united in our baptismal identity.

We need each other, because we depend upon one another for many things, one of which being the work that you are doing this weekend. Everyone here has a way of seeing the world and separate set of gifts. We need each other! You have gifts that I don't have and I have gifts that you don't have. The body of Christ needs all of it's eyes to be eyes and its feet to be feet and for all of it's systems to work together.

Ubuntu is a liberating theology: How can I know who God has called you to be unless I KNOW you? We can only know each other by being in dialogue with one another such as we are this weekend and by sharing at the Lord’s Table together, by being in the presence of the Risen Christ and by loving and listening to one another.

And when we are able to see the Imago Dei, the image of God in each of us, we can see that the false, binary thinking that we so often fall prey to is really unworthy of God, unworthy of the Beloved Community, and unworthy of the future that God is co-creating with us right now.

We are to live and to love and to serve now as a sign to the world as to what it looks like to be citizens of the Reign of God. We are to be what it looks like when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven!

We are to be a community who celebrates the diverse ways that God has created us and weaves a rich, united tapestry of life together in God’s Kingdom!

And when we do that, we will become a movement again. But the church cannot become a movement without you.

Becoming a Movement Again

You have to help bring us forward, for you are the hands and feet of Christ. God has no one but us! We need you to be you, the way God made you, with all of your unique gifts and graces. Especially if you are feeling a bit maladjusted towards the situations that are unjust in this church and in the world. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

History is filled with progress and regress. The progress seems to come fastest when the church behaves as a movement!

Remember Francis of Assisi, who after receiving a calling from God to repair God’s Church, partnered with God to live a life of love and service and who challenged a generation of church leadership and has inspired Christians for hundreds of years and who founded a movement based on love and service to the least of these.

Remember Margaret Fell, who partnered with God while in prison in 1667 to write Women’s Speaking Justified which helped paved the way for many movements who have worked tirelessly to make Galatians 3:28 a reality.

Remember Martin Luther King Jr., who though only 26 years old, some of you here tonight are about that age if you are on the five or six year program, at the urging of his colleagues decided to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott, despite the threats and attempts against his life and the life of his family. He partnered with God to lead the American Civil Rights movement which proclaimed liberation and peace and justice for all of God’s children.

Remember the Freedom Riders who fifty years ago this month partnered with God to bring courage and inspiration to the same movement that Dr. King worked with.

Remember Mother Teresa, who, after her death, we learned had large doubts about the very existence of God but in spite of her doubt, stepped out on faith and partnered with God to serve the poorest of the poor in India and sparked a movement that inspired the world.

Remember Shane Claiborne, who is partnering with God as we speak to build a movement of New Monasticism that is speaking a vibrant and powerful word to the institutional church.

Friends, you are not alone! You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. But, with the exception of Shane Claiborne, that was then. And this is now.

God has seen it fit to bring each of you here. Each of you has something important and valuable to say to each other, to me, to the church, and to the world.

God is calling and we are responding! We are ready! We are ready to take our place in the line of endless splendor, to take the baton from those who have run the race before us so faithfully, and to lead the church in a new direction for the 21st century.
We live in a new day with new challenges. The church is in the midst of a sea-change, a reformation the likes of which haven’t been seen in five hundred years.

The time to lead is now, the time to speak is now, the time to love is now, the time for reconciliation is now. It is our time, it is our time to be the change we want to see. It is our time to sow the seeds of compassion, and unity, and love, and grace, and justice. Because if we do that, we will become a movement of God once again.

God is calling us, friends, God is calling you and God is calling me.

Lesson from London.
An Episcopalian priest traveled to London last spring for some meetings. He only had one day to tour the city. Because it was close to the hotel he was staying in, the priest decided to go to the City of London Museum. The museum is on Aldersgate Street and sits across the street from the church where John Wesley had his awakening experience.
The museum hosted “London through the Centuries” exhibit. The priest toured through the Mesolithic period of London to the Roman period to medieval London to the 18th century London, wherein a plaque read: “At the beginning of the eighteenth century, London was riddled with disease, crime, grime, illiteracy and addictions of every sort. Without the faithful work of John and Charles Wesley and their Methodist followers, London would have been a far worse place at the beginning of the 19th century. These significantly changed the lives of Londoners for years to come.” The priest was affected greatly by this, finished his tour and made his way back to the Metroplex. As he drove home from the airport, when he passed the United Methodist Church’s lining his route, he found himself praying: “God, please do it again.”
God, do it again! “God, do it again!”
Are you with me? “God, do it again!”
People of love! "God, do it again!”
A people who love God! “God, do it again!”
A people who love our neighbors! “God, do it again!”
A people of love our enemies! "God, do it again!”
A people who work for justice! “God, do it again!”
A people who are letting the Jesus in them shine brighter every day! “God, do it again!”
A people who love more! “God, do it again!”
A people who live more! “God, do it again!”
A people who serve more! “God, do it again!”
A people who don’t take life for granted! “God, do it again!”
A people who are part of a movement! "God, do it again!”
A people who gather around Christ’s table, to be filled with God’s grace and then sent out into the world to love and to serve. God, do it again.

Remember it was college students that God used to get this movement started 300 years ago and I believe that God will use college students again--not the bishops, not the large churches ...YOU.  Charles Wesley, John Wesley and their friends decided to a live a holier life and it transformed not just London, but the world.  Their decision to live a holier life has influenced YOU to be here and live a holier life.  We can shout "do it again" to God over, but here's what you need to hear: God saying it right back to you 'do it it again...I love you my precious child and I can do great things through you..partner with me to do it again!'
In the name of our Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer, let all of God's children say: Amen


Monday, April 18, 2011

Our first healing and wholeness service

This past Saturday night AUMC hosted its first ever Healing and Wholeness service, as part of the Soul Cafe Worship series. The above imagine was taken by Matthew Kelling, our Director of Media Ministries. I learned this particular lighting trick from the amazing Dr. Marcia McFee!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The joys of the remix/arrangement

Tonight, while working on a variety of different projects I've been listening to Jaydiohead and Rodehead...Jaydiohead is the creation of Max Tannone, an artist out of NYC. It's a mash-up of Jay-Z and Radiohead and it is stellar! Rodeohead is just what it sounds like. Good times!

Pillars of the Earth

One of the best books I've read so far this year, in my quest to read more fiction, is "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. The book was recommended to me by my dear friends Jackson and Katie Henry. Jackson used an excerpt of the book in a worship service he designed for Lake Junaluska around the theme of silence. I remember worshipping in the service and being very struck by the reading.
The book has been called Follett's masterpiece and I believe it! The work centers around the building of a cathedral in medieval England. The cathedral itself is one of the main characters. Sadly, I've got to run to a meeting but I wholeheartedly recommend the book: it is AMAZING!
Hope you have a great day!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Search for God and Guinness

I had the great blessing to receive as a gift for Christmas this year a Kindle. I LOVE it! Ever since I was a little boy I've loved to read and the Kindle has really been a blessing for me as I can read all kinds of books quickly and it has been a blessing to my spouse because it has cut back on the flood of books in our home!

One of the books I've read this year is Stephen Mansfield's "The Search for God and Guinness." Mansfield provides an overview of the history of Christianity and beer as well as the rise of the Guinness family and business. I had read somewhere else (I can't remember where, sadly) that Arthur Guinness heard John Wesley preach in Dublin and was much moved by the experience. As a Wesleyan I had to know more! Mansfield does a commendable job tracing the influence of Wesley and others and their impact on the development of the exceptional respect that the Guinness family had for its employees. That in and of itself is worth the read. I would hope those who own businesses or have supervisory responsibilities would read this book and take the lessons from the Guinness family regarding the treatment of employees to heart!

At the end of the book, Mansfield draws a few lessons for us from the Guinness family. The lesson that struck me most was this: Think in terms of generations yet to come. This is the theme for this week's posts, from Bach to Guinness to cathedral building. Mansfield says,

"Historians tell us that more than twenty-three generations were required to complete the glorious Canterbury Cathedral of England. We know that men sometimes worked all their lives on a portico or a vault or a series of pillars, understanding their labors as an offering to God. And when they were about to die, they often asked to be taken to the place they had worked in the cathedral. With their family gathered around them, they would pass their tools to their sons and command the next generation to further progress on that tabernacle of God. Then, in peace, they would pass form this life.
It is a vision that is easily lost, this idea of each generation playing a role in a larger purpose, but it has proven a pathway to success time and again."

The Guinness family embodied the idea of seeing themselves and their story as part of a greater story. Isn't it easy to miss this in our own lives? I know how often I get caught up in short term thinking. The tyranny of now. Certainly there are circumstances that require immediate attention but too often I fail to think in terms of generations, settling instead to think in terms of minutes and hours.

As a follower of Christ and one who strives to live as a citizen of God's Reign, (as one who hopes to "further the work on the tabernacle of God, if you will) I think this has huge implications for my life. Perhaps another way of putting it could be this: we must put our story into God's story. Or, perhaps, we need to recognize that our story is a part of God's dreams for the world. Portions of God's dream for the world must unfold through us!

So today I'm striving to remember to think in bigger terms, to not be held captive by email, voicemail, meetings and facebook (and blog posts) but rather to think of my life as a part of God's story and to live not only for now but for the benefit of the generations to come.

How about you?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, J.S. Bach

Happy Birthday to J.S. Bach, who turns 326 today! Seriously, 326! I wonder how differently we would conduct our lives if we believed that our daily life and work would have implications three centuries after our birth? I've been reading a few "for fun" books this year that I will post on soon that will continue this thread of investing in the future. May you see God everywhere today!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

National Launch of "Worship and Song" next week!

Next week the publishing arm of The United Methodist Church will be launching a new supplement to the current hymnal called "Worship and Song." I'm excited to be a part of the launch team at this event. I hope you will be able to join us in Nashville!