Food for Thought-The 5 “I Will” Statements

The 5 I Will Statements

Richard Bryant

1. I will love as unconditionally as I am able to love in this moment.
2. I will listen to you as if you are the most important person in my life.
3. I will look for reasons to invest in the idea of hope for tomorrow and beyond.
4. I will labor for things of value and meaning in my life and the lives of others.
5. I will live this day in a way congruent with the understanding it will not be repeated.

Make tomorrow count!


Food for Thought-Sunday Evening Shakespeare Fun

As You Like It,
I take,
Measure for Measure,
Of sweet sugar in my tea,
While I eat my supper with,
Julius Caesar
Romeo and his friend
For dessert,
We sip fine Italian wine,
With Two Gentleman from Verona,
Who upon them,
No Love’s Labour’s Are Lost,
And for this we are grateful,
Says I,
Richard the First,
Methodist Parson on Howard Street.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-5 Ways For the Pastor to Get Noticed During a Boring Service

5 Ways for the Pastor to Get Noticed During a Boring Service
1. Pass out during the children’s moment
2. Turn off everyone’s microphone but the pastor’s so they only hear you sing, loudly
3. Have a conversation during the middle of the sermon with your space overlord “the Bishop Orson”
4. Ask before the offering, “this is to pay for today’s covered dish lunch, right?”
5. Scream, “the Bells, the Bells, the Bells”, at the start of each service.

Food for Thought-Yes, I’m the Crazy One-More Stuff that Happens to Me

I was in the check-out line at the shop with my customary Ginger-Ale and a Whatchamacallit. Please notice the capital letter. I really was buying the candy bar, it’s not that I can’t think of the name.  Anyway, the people in front of me were purchasing an assortment of goods, among them “pickled garlic cloves”.  Our local shop sells a smattering of pickled items and among the pickles and artichokes are garlic cloves.  I had never seen these on the shelf and they caught my eye.  I’ll be up front:  I like garlic in moderation.  I said to the people (I like to chat to strangers, part of it is my job, part of it is my nature), those look great, I’d bet they’d be wonderful on a pizza or in a salad but I bet the heartburn would be horrible.  “Oh,” the woman said.  “We were going to put them in a Bloody Mary.”  She said they had never considered any other usage for the garlic at all.  This is what got me; it was the total incredulity in the woman’s voice.  She seemed honestly shocked and appalled that garlic might go on a pizza and not in a Bloody Mary.

Crazy man with Ginger Ale and a candy bar suggests alternative uses for garlic on Labor Day weekend.  Dear God, what will people do next, put chili on hot dogs?

Food for Thought-Upon the Reading of Dylan Thomas Whilst Traveling from Ocracoke to Hatteras

Upon the Reading of Dylan Thomas Whilst Traveling from Ocracoke to Hatteras

Chalky days of grass covered sand,
Blown along this uneven strip of land,
Your abruptness takes my left hand,
As if to say,”would you, could you, perchance to see,”
A means to stand upon this ill-defined promontory with me,
While under the fig tree
On Howard street
The webs of mortal profundity
Are woven ever so cleanly,
Amid the dust, holes, and obsidian smelling rocks,
Where the small people hide,
Away from prying eyes,
Surrounded by living oak trees,
But never free,
Just below the meniscus,
Where they curse us for our cleanliness,
And because we are we.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Does the Cross Make My Butt Look Big? A Sermon on Matthew 16: 21-28

Does This Cross Make My Butt Look Big?

A Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28

By Richard Bryant

Sometimes it seems (just from reading the Gospels) that we are more into evangelism, witnessing, and sharing the Good News than Jesus is.  I’m not kidding.  Just look at how last week’s gospel lesson ended.  (Now remember, even though it was only week ago these events only occurred seconds before what you just heard.)  “Then he (Jesus) sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone he was the messiah.” Now, I don’t know about you, but Jesus sounds like he needs to go back to discipleship school.  Jesus is not sounding very Christian.  He’s not coming across like he wants to “win” anyone over to himself.  Get with the program Jesus.  It’s all about the quarterly statistics we have to turn in to the conference office.

This is exactly the problem Peter sees.  Peter isn’t cool with Jesus not living up to the “winning” image of a Messiah who is capable of bringing back the dead and feeding thousands of people.  To put it mildly, it disturbs Peter that Jesus is being so negative and not riding the wave of his own popularity.  In addition, it’s not just that Jesus is keeping his Messiah-ness on the down low and under wraps, he saying that he’s going to die.  And it’s not that he’s simply referring to the end of his natural life.  Jesus is saying he’s going to be killed; he’s going to be killed, by the chief priests, elders, and scribes.  It’s going to be a gruesome and painful death.  It’s going to amount to serious suffering.  In conventional terms, the way we define the word, there is no way you could define it as winning.  In fact the world would collectively define it as loosing.  Then, on top of all of that, Jesus tells them that this suffering business doesn’t just include him.  No.  Not by a long shot.  It also includes his followers.  They will be subject to the same level of suffering. They too face this ill-defined punishment called “the cross”.

This is too much for Peter to bear.  The son of God isn’t supposed to talk this way  We’re winners.  Surely you’re just a little burnout, Jesus.  Maybe you just need some prayer.  Jesus please don’t be so negative.  Jesus, clearly you don’t get your own message.  Jesus, you’re supposed outgoing and positive, winning people to you and to our movement.  You’re never going to convince people to follow us with this level pessimism.  You can’t tell people this Jesus?  What will people think?  We can’t ask people to make this kind of commitment?  Death, suffering, following you, bearing a cross? Have you lost your mind?

These are the kinds of things Peter said and thought on that afternoon in Caesarea Philippi.

In case you’ve forgotten, let me tell you what Jesus said to Peter.

“Hey Satan, stand over there.”  You’re in my way, jerk.

That’s my translation.

Clearly, that’s not a sentiment or idea that Jesus is not too fond of.

So why does Jesus not want to let the cat out of the bag?

It’s what I call the “dancing with Richard theory”.

He didn’t want the idea of a savior to get ahead of the actual work of being savior.

Say I got to a club and I start dancing out on the dance floor.  I really show my moves to the hit songs of the day.  I demonstrate my ability to do things with my arms, legs, and hips to Beyonce, Jessie J, and the other first ladies of Pop.  People will be enthralled with my dancing abilities.  They will say, where, per chance did that fellow learn to move in such a rhythmic and seductive like fashion.  No one will be interested in my philosophical insights on Kierkegaard or Schleiermacher.

It’s the same thing with Jesus, if the word spreads that he is the Messiah and is just a miracle worker who makes tons of bread, do you think anyone is going to be interested in hearing the real heart of the message; the Good News about the coming kingdom of God, helping the poor, feeding the widows and orphans, and treating your neighbor as you treat yourself.  No, I say!  They are going to want Jesus to do it again.   That’s all he’ll be hearing.  Do it again, Jesus.  Do it again. Make more bread, Jesus.  Bring this person back to life Jesus.  I’m sick Jesus.  My foot hurts, Jesus.  And so on, and so on.

Now let me ask you a question.  Do you see why Jesus got upset?  Do you see why he became frustrated enough to compare his best friend to the prince of darkness?

Now let me ask you a second question.  We wouldn’t do that to Jesus, would we?  We wouldn’t bring him some long laundry list of concerns and lose sight of the bigger picture, the main message just so we could get our needs met?  We wouldn’t do that, would we?  Is there any degree of familiarity at all?  Isn’t this exactly how we treat our relationship with Jesus?  At times, don’t we regard him as some kind of divine vending machine?  Give us what we want, keep doing what we want, going the direction we want, saying what we want, regardless of your plan, Jesus?

The disciples were very insecure people, a lot like us, in some ways.  Never quite sure where they stood in and around Jesus and they were in physical proximity to Jesus.

We get so caught up in the style; i.e. trying to figure out what we need to do please Jesus (Jesus love you this He knows, he is pleased)-for Jesus, it’s about the substance of what he’s doing-not trying to us trying to prove how much we love him.  That’s why the message is more important than the miracles or even the titles for Jesus.  That’s what this passage is about.

For Jesus, the substance of the message and the embodiment of his message will ultimately define what makes a follower.  Let me say that again.  It is the substance of the message (the content) and the embodiment of his message when it comes in conflict with the power structures of this world that will define who becomes one of his followers.  I can’t stress enough how crucial that is.

The substance of the message is pretty clear by now.  Being God’s anointed means that you love the unloved.  That’s a given.  You make good on those promises you made in that first sermon, the one they ran you out of town for preaching, the one you did in your home synagogue of Nazareth.  You stood up and quoted from Isaiah.  You said you were here to bring a freeing, liberating news to the poor, to unbind those who were held in all forms of captivity, to restore sight to those living in the darkness caused by our world, and bring an overall sense of wholeness and restoration to everything which was broken and needed mending.  Chief among those things which need mending are human hearts.  The way to mend human hearts is through love.  That is the substance of the message.

How do you get love, show love, display love?  Now is where it gets hard.  He says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Peter didn’t understand Jesus nor did the other disciples.  We rarely do.  We water down this expression.  We sanitize the cross.  To be blunt, we don’t want to go anywhere near following Jesus on the cross.  What does he mean?  Here’s what it means to me.  Here’s what I’ve come to understand.  Following Jesus means freely loving until it hurts.  It means forgiving Judas.  It means forgiving the people who crucify you.  It means loving until it hurts.  It means being willing and able to say Mr. Roman, please hit me again, I forgive you.  It means loving the thieves and criminals hanging next to you. It means extending compassion to those around as they watch you suffer.  That’s what it looked like for Jesus.

What does that look like in your life?  Brokenness and the need to love are still as relevant as ever.  It’s going to look different but there are going to be places and people where it hurts to love, especially freely and without reservation.

Being a Christian is not about being a religious, pious, or devout person; it’s about being a loving person.  Some of the most religious people I know, people who call themselves Christian, are also some of the most loveless, miserable human beings I’ve ever met.  In fact, I would rather have no religion than bad religion any day of the week. You can be religious and have no love in your heart.  Being a follower of Christ is all about living a life of sacrificial love. This is what Jesus is saying.

Why do you think Paul put such emphasis on 1 Corinthians 13?  Do you think he was just writing letters to churches and thought he’d write something that would be used at every wedding under the sun and loose all connection to Jesus’ message about the coming kingdom of God?  No.

The values created by love never fade, that’s what Paul says.  Jesus is saying that getting from here, to where those love values are permanent, is a difficult journey but a journey worth the effort.  Paul couldn’t make it any clearer-Everything that is not rooted in love will fail; that’s why the journey toward the kingdom like the one Jesus describes is so painful at times.  It’s not pretty as we bear the crosses called poverty, racism, sexism, and war (just to name a few).

So the question for today, for me, isn’t so much can you bear the cross?  It’s this.  Can you live the life of love?