Jesus Found Me

 

When God finds you, do you even know that you’ve been found?  Doesn’t it usually take us a moment to realize that God was in the area?  Is it, in fact, so subtle of a finding, you may miss that fact that Christ has crossed your path? I think so.  I believe God finds me multiple times a day and I rarely notice or only become aware after the fact.  “That was God,” I’ll say.  “Was that Jesus?” I’ll ask.  To which no one else is able to reply in the affirmative or negative.  I’m the only one who can answer.  I know before the words leave my mouth.  God was in the place, across the counter, in line, around the corner, by the car, and standing over there.  Jesus of the improbable and unlikely, as Jesus has always been, came and pitched a tent in my neighborhood.  I was too busy looking for the right kind of rice and a birthday card to notice.  Here’s the God’s honest truth:  even a guy who knows that Jesus isn’t confined to humanity’s stereotypes drops the ball.  If we’re looking for other stuff or just plain distracted, it’s easy to miss Jesus and the Jesus-like opportunities trying to find us.

I  do not think of myself as lost, in the directional or theological sense.  This is School Road, the St. Peter’s Square of Ocracoke Island.  I’m sitting in a United Methodist Church before a portrait of John Wesley.  Over there is the Coffee Shop and the Book Store. I know where I am.  Nonetheless, I am in need of being found.  Jesus is still striving to find me in the likely places which populate my day.  In the midst of my journey, Jesus comes to tell me to look, listen, and be found.

Our church’s exterminator came this morning.   His wife has been out of work for five months.   We prayed for her job search.  She was interviewed this morning and I could tell he was a little down.*  We also talked about the weather and bugs.  Guess what?  Jesus found me.  Why do I bother being surprised?

Jesus is the king of the drop in.  I didn’t have to do anything special. No candles were lit, nor music was sung.  My robe is still hanging on the back of the door.  Like countless times before, Jesus showed up, asked to be heard, and made to feel welcome.  These seem to be his priorities.  It’s kind of funny that Jesus found me at church.  He has a habit of seeing me on the ferry, at the grocery store, Wal-Mart, and places other than recognized houses of worship.

Jesus is trying to find you.  You don’t have to be lost to be found.  That’s one of the biggest myths in Christianity.  On the other hand, we’re all lost to one degree or another.  Lost is a relative term.  Does anyone really kick the sin habit?  The important thing is that Jesus is going to walk by, unannounced, and almost unnoticed (if you’re not careful).  Are you going to listen and make Jesus feel welcome?

Richard Lowell Bryant

*He called back later in the day.  She got the job.  He asked me, “Why do we get surprised when God answers our prayers?”  I don’t know.  I’m still working on that one myself.

 

Advertisements

Keeping Religion Out of Politics

It is important to speak,
Because in my Biblical bag of topics,
There are stories about Sarah and Abraham,
Not James Dobson and Franklin Graham.

When Joseph saved Egypt from famine,
Religion became Political,
When God sent Moses to Pharaoh,
Religion became Political,
When God told Moses to receive these laws,
Religion became Political,
When Job asked God why,
Religion became Political,
When Elijah picked a fight with Jezebel,
Religion became Political,
When Isaiah said “Here I Am”,
Religion became Political,
When King David murdered Uriah,
Religion became Political,
When Mary sang the Magnificat,
Religion became Political,
When Herod killed innocent children,
Religion became Political,
When Jesus said it would be hard for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom,
Religion became Political.
When Pilate interrogated Jesus,
Religion became Political.
When Jesus questioned God’s intentions in the Garden of Gethsemane,
Religion became Political.
When Constantine made the Church a part of the Government,
Religion became Political.
When Henry decided he wanted divorce after divorce,
Religion became Political.
When the Methodists became Methodism,
Religion became Political.

–Richard Bryant

We Have No Adjectives

If you listen to the Weather Channel, which is all I seem to do of late, adjectives have taken over the scientific forecasting of weather.  The next hurricane, Michael, is perhaps more fear-inducing than Florence. Beyond the terms to which we have grown numb; such as “storm surge” and “eyewall”, we listen for increasing hyperbolic adjectives to modify the strength and category of the storm.  For example, Michael is a “massive Hurricane,” a “strong Category 4”, a “dangerous storm,” and a “deadly formation.”  Fear is traded like currency, like bitcoin or the dollar.  The more alarming the fear, the higher the value of fear becomes.  Fear takes on a priority greater than preparation.  The greater the fear laced images; the more hopeless and helpless people become.  Fear paralyzes and distorts reality.  On a good day, fear can cripple an individual’s ability to respond rationally to stressful situations.  Imagine what happens when you’re told non-stop, on channel after channel, the world is about to end, one adjective at a time?  People stay where they shouldn’t, they place themselves in the path of deadly storm surges, they risk their lives and the lives of their family because the ability to be rational died the moment fear became the dominant metaphor in explaining nature.

When push comes to shove, the church has no adjectives.  The more adjectives we use the more watered down our message becomes.  We are not like the Weather Channel or the broadcast meteorologists.  We have one word, “hope” and there are no adjectives for hope.  All we have is hope.  There is no “massive” hope, “firm” hope, “dangerous” hope, “awesome” hope, “abundant” hope, or “living” hope.   Hope need not be modified.  Hope is hope.  Hope is enough. Hope is what gets you through concentration camps.  Hope brings victims and oppressors to the same table in a Truth and Reconciliation process.  Hope is not wishful thinking.  Hope is Christian living.

Hope is not easy.  Two massive hurricanes in a month’s time do not offer hope.  Encountering the empty tomb was not a hopeful experience.  Had Jesus’ body been stolen?  Before there was hope, there was fear and doubt.  Living into the Resurrection challenges the very notion of hope.  Our hope grows from the darkness of Easter Sunday morning.  Hope begins to take shape in the Resurrection even before we’ve arrived at the grave.  God has gone ahead of us, in the darkness, amid the ruined remains of our flooded lives to start resurrecting Hope.

We don’t find hope on our own.  Hope finds us.  Hope dwells, grows, and is nurtured in community. Through our Baptism, we are brought into a community orientated toward hope.  A compass always points north.  We always look toward hope.  A hopeful community is the antidote toward fear being traded on the open market.

Be safe, evacuate when told, and live hope.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Confessions of a 44 year old Still United and Still Methodist Curmudgeon

I like to read from my Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible.  I’m pro-NRSV.  I’ll tell you this.  You’ll never find a themed NRSV translation such as the Beaver Hunting, SideCar Racing, Goat Riding, American Idol, Lacrosse Coaching, Pet Grooming NRSV devotional Bible.  You’ll never locate one.  They don’t make them.  Why?  Bibles ought to be Bibles, not lifestyle accessories.   I’m old enough to remember when people knew that instinctively.

I don’t have a cover on my iPad.  Why would I put one on my Bible?

I don’t like to read hymn lyrics off the wall.  If you’re my optometrist and a worship leader who uses song lyrics to test my failing vision, I’ll make an exception.  Otherwise, pick up a book. Books built western civilization.  Do you know where we read about people who wrote on walls (i.e. cave painters)?  In books.

Jesus didn’t use tiny plastic shot glasses. If you want to do communion right, you use the big cup.  Sip and dip.  We call it “intinction.”  It is 2018, ride the wave back to 1st-century Eucharistic authenticity.

No one uses the term “Last Supper” except to describe paintings and what convicts eat on death row.  Methodists have Holy Communion or celebrate the Eucharist.   Maybe the last supper people are the ones holding on to the little shot glasses?

I’m the one leading the worship service, and sometimes I lose my attention span.  Keep it balanced (between sitting and standing) and don’t go over an hour.  Sometimes it can’t be helped.  On most occasions, preachers start repeating themselves because they’re afraid to sit down and shut up.  Thus, extended services can be prevented.

Go to the bathroom before the service begins.  Do you realize how distracting it is to be preaching when you see people just get up and leave?  You don’t know if they’re mad or have to pee.  If you do have to go, leave by an unobtrusive exit.  Don’t march down the center aisle in the middle of the sermon.  Honestly, what are you thinking?

Turn your phone off.  God called me and said to tell you to put your phone on silent.  Who calls people while they are in church?   Apparently, more than I’ve imagined.  People won’t talk to their friends or relatives all week then suddenly, sometime after 11 on Sunday mornings, the phones start to ring.  Reach out, reach out and touch someone.  Just not on Sunday morning between 11am and 12pm!

I would love to talk to you about planning your wedding at 10:55 on a Sunday morning.  No, the congregation will wait.  That’s the best time to ask me anything.

From where I stand, I see everything.  Did I mention gum chewing?  Grown-ups, adults, chewing gum in church.  Spit it out.  What is this, some Disney special where you’ve switched bodies with your children?

I don’t care who lights the candles just as long as they’re lit.  It’s great when the acolytes show up and the schedule is followed.  In the end, are they burning when the first hymn is sung?  That’s what matters.  We need contained fire in the church.

The 44 Year Old Still United and Still Methodist Curmudgeon

(Putting the Protest back in Protestant)

No Reason To Doubt (A Poem)

We judge each other’s politics.
God judges our religiosity.
That’s what the prophets say,
If that be the case,
And I’ve no reason to doubt,
How sincerely they prayed,
Micah, Amos, and Hosea
Are talking about us,
This very same day,
And we’re in trouble,
Too privileged to see it,
Too angry to hear it,
Because we can’t believe,
Lord, God Almighty,
Nothing like this should happen,
To someone who looks like we,
It seems we are lacking,
unable to be what we claim to believe,
a collection of I’s and you’s,
a malformed community,
searching for they’s and them’s,
anyone not like us,
so they may be judged,
on the altar of American greatness.

–Richard Bryant