Monday

This is the first in what will hopefully be a 7 part series for the church newsletter on the rhythms of my week. I am not writing about a specific day but how I would sum up my Monday over the course of a month. If I talk about people I will change the names and circumstances. The goal of these reflections is not to put everything I do, or remind you how busy your pastors are, but to call attention to rhythms we all live in and how I see God at work in my world, so that hopefully you can see God at work in yours.

My week begins in stillness. Some Mondays I am the only person in the church building. Other Mondays I see multiple visitors, or hang out with fellowship commission while they cook the birthday dinner. But there is always some stillness when I show up at the church and it is completely empty, everybody gone from Sunday worship living the gospel out in the world.

On Monday I typically try to frame my week. What day I am going to get this done, what meetings do I have, how I am going to be in three places at once? But, the most important part of Monday is the time I spend in prayer, study, and work.

For many people prayer comes naturally, but for me it requires intentional time and words. I would say that during my day I am constantly aware of God, and speaking to God, but the real time I spend in prayer is a time of listening and of opening myself up to what God is saying or doing in my world. Sometimes I come away refreshed, other times with nothing, but through the ritual of opening myself I feel I become more aware of God’s work. This Monday I prayed the Psalms, and go through one of the prayer books in my office. As I pray and reflect I consider this quote from C.S. Lewis:

· Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctu­ary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.

Monday is also the one day I try to set some intentional time aside to study. This first begins with study of the Scriptures. Typically I try and follow some sort of Bible reading plan. Right now the youth and I are reading a chapter a day in the New Testament, 5 days a week (we will finish the whole NT at the end of year). On top of studying the Scriptures I study some theology, biblical studies, or read a commentary. If I am preaching the following Sunday this is the day I begin to add other sources in considering what I will say about a particular text.

Work is the final thing I do Monday. Here work doesn’t mean “work” like yours or my jobs. What it means is intentionally getting into the work God is doing in the world. This means I wrap up my Monday office hours at 4:15 and ride my bike to soup kitchen. Normally I have to talk myself into going and sometimes I don’t want to go, but at the soup kitchen is where I put flesh on my prayers for the world. While serving I recall the words of the Psalmist:

You make grass grow for cattle;
you make plants for human farming
in order to get food from the ground,
and wine,
which cheers people’s hearts,
along with oil,
which makes the face shine,
and bread,
which sustains the human heart.

(Psalm 104:14-15)

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January Newsletter

“Will you pray for us tonight Mark?” She asked the room.

Silence.

“Are you asking me to pray for us tonight?” I responded.

“Yes.”

“Ok. But before I start I want to say my name is Matt.”

This was the scene this past Monday as I prayed before the meal at the Lebanon Soup Kitchen. It hadn’t been long since I started serving every Monday and it is understandable that my name was lost in the shuffle that is Monday night. Normally I arrive at 4:15pm to the wonderful smell of food that has been cooking all day and begin to help by pouring the milk for the diners to grab after they get their food. After doing this we all stand around in clumsy circle and wait for Janet to pray for our meal, our service in community, and for those who will partake in the food the volunteers have prepared. Janet, the soup kitchen coordinator, wasn’t there this week so the praying instantly fell to the pastor in room. Except only one person knew I am a pastor and she was the one who asked. Normally I like to put thought into my prayers, but I was caught off guard so I led us out in a feeble short prayer, nothing like the one Janet offers.

Afterwards, we broke into our jobs, worked swiftly but efficiently for the next hour as people poured in from the cold rainy conditions, grabbed something to eat, and enjoyed the warmth within the church hall. This week a young man from church played Christmas hymns on the piano as people ate and I couldn’t help but sing along looking at the people whom we were serving, people who might know more intimately what a “Silent Night” feels like when there is no room in the inn. I couldn’t help but imagine what side of the table we might find Jesus on in this situation. Of course Jesus fed the poor so he would be helping right? But he also was without a home, an itinerant preacher, who seemed to wander with people like the ones I was serving. Would he be outside waiting to be invited in while I offered up a feeble prayer within the empty hall? And I remember the words of Matthew 25 in which the those gathered ask “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” only to have the response be, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Lost in the wondering of what it all means, I can forget that answer. Christ is here amongst the poor and that even in feeble prayers before a short time of volunteering I have a chance to do something for the least of His brothers, and in that sense, I am doing it for him.

September Newsletter

Many of you asked for the Bonheoffer quote I used in my last sermon and I thought the best way to get that out would be in the church newsletter. The following is from the Cost of Discipleship and I think it is clear presentation of the difference between what we might call “cultural Christianity” and the call to discipleship. As we have gone through the gospel of Luke this year we have preached on several of the harder passages of Jesus and I think Bonheoffer nails how Christ is calling us to a much deeper faith through those passages. If you are interested I would encourage you to read The Cost of Discipleship, but also released this year was a massive, but readable, biography on Bonheoffer by Eric Metaxas. Through reading about him we can come to understand how this distinction between Cheap and Costly Grace was manifest in his life.

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April Church Newsletter

It’s hard to believe it is April already! It means that I have been at Lebanon Mennonite for five months, that summer is just around the corner, and one of my favorite days of the year is upon us: Baseball Opening Day. As many of you know, I suffer the dreaded curse of not just loving a sport that plays 162 games a year, but am hopelessly tied to the Chicago Cubs who have not won a championship since 1908 (but I think this year is the year). As one of my favorite theologians, Stanley Hauerwas, writes about moving back to the Midwest:

I accepted my destiny and again became a Cubs fan. This commitment came at the same time I was convinced by John Howard Yoder that I had to become a pacifist. I like to think that being a Cubs fan and a pacifist are closely-linked—namely, both communities teach you that life is not about winning.

As Opening Day draws near I will most likely take time to watch one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams. Now if you live outside of the world of baseball you might not know that for many people baseball has a kind of poetic nature to it that crosses over from just being a game to being a pastime. Field of Dreams is just one of many movies that exemplifies this kind of mystical picture of baseball.

But none the less, baseball season draws near and that means I get sucked into this thing I would not desecrate. For instance, during the off season stories have been reported that a Toyota sign is being considered to be put up at the hallowed Wrigley Field (where the Cubs play). Now plenty of baseball stadiums have signs and advertisements all over them, but since 1914 Wrigley Field has always been one of the few places that has not been touched by the marketing craze. The ivy in the outfield kept ads from being put there and for the most part the park remains clean of the visual distractions most modern facilities have. Yet as we all know about some of our favorite places, they can’t stay pure forever. Many of us know of a beautiful park that was torn up for a strip mall, a childhood playground paved into a highway, or a remote spot that now has become a tourist destination. And so at some point what was sacred for us becomes exploited and Eden fades as only a faint memory of what once was.

So, why am I talking about baseball in the church newsletter? Part of the explanation for doing so comes from a scene in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. At a luncheon, Gatsby introduces Nick Carraway, the book’s narrator, to a man named Meyer Wolfsheim. After lunch, Gatsby explains to Nick, "He is the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919." Nick is staggered. "It never occurred to me," he reflects, "that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people…" The feelings that many of us share around baseball, running, fishing, quilting, cooking, or woodwork are comparable to a notion of faith. When we participate in these activities or go to these special places we sense a sacred quality that God has connected to these parts of life, a sense of the good that we feel here that shows up rarely, but it is something that needs to be protected and not merely played with. What we see even faintly is a picture of the goodness of God and a peace that aches for Eden.

Recently I read an article in a Christianity Today publication that explored this exact turn in baseball. The article follows the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers leaving for Los Angeles and the turmoil it caused. The article closes with this though:

All fans know that three words, whether spoken by villains or saints, kill the spirit of whatever sport of which they’re said: It’s a business. Baseball is not a business, any more than is marriage, or teaching first grade, or playing four-square. If we want to raise boys and girls who will come, like the aging Satchel Paige, to preach "the sanctity of the double steal and the blessedness of the bunt," we will find ways to preserve and protect this treasure. And chances are, if our children learn to feel the sanctity of the double steal, they’ll come to know other realms of sanctity, too—and perhaps gain the courage to construct ways of guarding them.

I understand that many of you don’t feel the way I do about baseball, but shortly after Opening Day we will celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Jesus. And the question that spurred these reflections is what sacredness do we want to celebrate on that day? Do we want to model for the younger generations among us that our Church is a place among places, that Easter day is just another day, that the communion we take is merely a remembrance of something we know only on the inside? Or, do we want to speak in wonder, poems, and whispers about a secret that is sacred that we are both dying to share and wanting to protect from being trampled upon by the forces that would seek to commodify it, sell it, or turn it to from sacred to profane? So, as excited as I am for Opening Day the day, what I greatly anticipate the most is the day when we celebrate, pray, and tell the stories of the One who defeats the powers that enslave our world and frees us to worship without fear because of Resurrection. Easter is always better than Opening Day.