The Pastor's Buzz

Pastor Buzz Trexler's blog for God's people in The Meadow.

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Name: Buzz Trexler
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Journalist for 29 years; married to Donna for 28 years; parent of David, 27, and Elizabeth, 24; pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa since 2002.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Journey Through The Desert: Who Are You?

Who are you?

If you’re South Korea's Kim Yu-na, then you are also “Queen Yu-na,” and perhaps rightly so, given that Thursday night she scored 228.56 points, winning a gold medal and beating dthe previous world record by more than 18 points – a world record held by Queen Yu-na, who is a mere 19 years old.

Who are you?

If you’re Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, it’s a bit more complicated.

Part of his identity is wrapped up in a pretzel-like maneuver called the Hurricane that he does while soaring some 50 feet in the air on skis. It netted him a silver medal Thursday night.

But four years ago he was the guy who finished seventh at the Olympics in Turin, got into a street fight and was sent home.

He was also the man who watched a friend commit suicide in front of him; a victim of sexual abuse; an abuser of alcohol who fought depression and thoughts of suicide; and someone who lost his 5-year-old sister to a drunken driver.

Speedy Peterson, who prior to Thursday night was defined by triumph and tragedy, is at this point at the pinnacle of triumph for him, having won the silver medal: Peterson says he may even retire the Hurricane.

At 28, it seems he is ready to embrace a new identity: The overcomer.

Listen to what he told a reporter for The Associated Press, as tears streamed down his face:

“I know that a lot of people go through a lot of things in their life, and I just want them to realize they can overcome anything. There's light at the end of the tunnel and mine was silver and I love it.” ("Peterson lands a Hurricane, wins a silver," Eddie Pells, The Associated Press; February 26, 2010)

Who are you?

If you’re Nicodemus in today’s text (John 3:1-17) , you come into the story as a Pharisee. You’re a teacher of the law. You’re a member of the Jewish religious leadership; the Sanhedrin. The name Pharisee means “the separated one,” because Pharisees “were those who had separated themselves form all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the law of the scribes.”

It’s believed there were never more than 6,000 of them. ("The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Vol. 1," 1975, William Barclay, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Ky.; pp120-124)

If your name is Nicodemus, you weave your way in and out of the Gospel according to St. John.
In the 3rd chapter of John, you come to Jesus slinking through the dark of night, but affirming Jesus by saying, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.” (Most Scripture citations are from Eugene Peterson's "The Message." Exceptions are from The Revised Standard Version)
“Jesus said, ‘You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to — to God’s kingdom.’”

And then Nicodemus — the Pharisee, the teacher, the religious leader — engages Jesus in this wonderful discussion about childbirth, when the Rabbi is talking about something totally different.

He’s talking about spiritual rebirth, not physical rebirth.

The last words we get from Nicodemus are, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?
Jesus replies, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics?”

Who are you, Nicodemus?And that’s the last we hear from Nicodemus … that is, until the 7th chapter of John. Turn on over to Chapter 7, verse 45, if you like.

In between this Chapter 3 discussion about physical and spiritual rebirth with Nicodemus and Chapter 7, Jesus has fed 5,000, walked on water, and explained, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

He tells his disciples, "no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."

And some of them leave him.

Some in the crowds identify Jesus as a “good man.” But others are saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.”

“Who are you, Jesus?”

And the possibilities of his identity are thrown about:

“This is really the prophet.”

“This is the Messiah.”

“No, he’s merely a Galilean.”

And many call for his arrest.

Then here, in Chapter 7, Nicodemus the teacher of the Law becomes the defender:

“Does our Law decide about a man’s guilt without first listening to him and finding out what he is doing?”

And then the chief priests and Pharisees ask Nicodemus, in effect, ‘who are you’:

“Surely you’re not also from Galilee, are you?”

Who are you, Nicodemus?

Let’s move to John 19, because that’s where Nicodemus surfaces again.

Jesus has been crucified.

He’s said, “It is finished.”

And Scripture says, “Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

The soldiers have pierced his side.

Look at verses 38-42.

It would seem that along the way, throughout this journey that we find in the Gospel According to St. John, Nicodemus moves from the seeker in the dark of night, to a disciple who dared to be seen in the daylight.

"Who am I?” Nicodemus now answers, “I’m a disciple who loved my Lord, and I’m here to pay tribute to him.”

Incidentally: We only find Nicodemus in the Gospel according to Saint John.

This man is found in no other Gospel record by name.

There’s another man in Scripture who comes to Jesus.

We find him in Mark 10:46-52.

He’s generally referred to as Blind Bartemaeus and he’s a beggar sitting by the roadside.

Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jericho and Bartemaeus heard it was Jesus who was passing.

And the blind man shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

But the story says, “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more louder.”

To the people around him, Bartemaeus’ identity lay in the fact that he was a blind beggar.
Bartemaeus was anxious, because he had heard of hope.

He wanted a different identity.

The people around him tried to hold him down by telling him to be quiet, but he shouted all the louder.

How many times do we have people in our lives — even family and friends — who pull us back when we try to get to Jesus?

If you are struggling with something, and you’re trying to overcome it — to get well, to break the bonds of some sort of addiction, some besetting sin — don’t you know that there will be people in your life who need you to continue to struggle, to be “sick.”

Maybe it’s because if you’re sick, it makes them feel better about themselves.


Some people need you to match a negative profile — “always the bad boy, always the bad girl, the wild child.”

There are sick family systems that need someone in the family to be the “bad one.”

The bad sister; the bad brother; the bad seed.

And so they send those messages, and you’ll have to pardon me, here, but these the words some people use:

“You’re no good."

“You’re a no good husband."

'“You’re a no good friend."

“You’re a no good wife … son … daughter.”

You hear these messages … these lies … and you’re stuck …

("Tuesdays With Beebes.")

What we believe about ourselves, and what we believe about our relationship to God truly defines who we are.'

And this is one of those yes-and-no statements.

Yes, from an orthodox Christian perspective, in that our relationship to God is defined by our relationship to Jesus Christ.

This is classic atonement theology: We’re separated from God because of our sin, but Christ paid the price for that sin through His death on the cross. Our acceptance of that makes us “at one” with God.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the certainty that he lives, and that we, too, will live in eternity with God.

When we have a healthy understanding of this theology, it has a transforming effect on our life and what we believe about our self.

Granted, there are some sick-puppy preachers, teachers and churches out there who promote some unhealthy understandings and that, too, impacts what we believe about our self if we are in such an environment.

But what we believe about ourselves may not truly define who are. The reason: We are have a relationship with God even when we have not accepted Christ. Like Nicodemus, you may ask, “How can that be?”

Well, it’s not the same two-way relationship as when we have accepted Christ, but it’s a relationship nonetheless. Because God shows God's love for us even before we “know” God.

This is a classic Wesleyan understanding of grace.

God pursues us like a smitten lover, seeking to shower us with a reckless, furious love before we even know God. God is constantly knocking on the door, desperately wanting us to open up our hearts to God’s loving grace and a transformed life.

If in our cognitive self we believe we are no good, it does not negate the truth that our identity is still a loved child of God.

We've merely let someone, or some thing, steal our understanding of the true identity.

If you’re that “bad seed,” it may well be that it’s something that has been imposed on you. It’s your activity; not your identity!

If you’re in that sort of family system, and you come to Jesus, and you get well; if you were blind, but now you see; all hell can break loose in that family because of your wellness. ("Tuesdays With Beebes.")

And so, Blind Bartemaeus shouts all the louder, and Jesus heard him.


Because God always hears the cry.

And so, Jesus called him, asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Blind Bartemaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.”

“Go; your faith has made you well.”

Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Who are you?

“I am no longer blind Bartemaeus; I am now the seeing disciple.

Who are you?

“I am no longer just Nicodemus the Pharisee; I am now a learned disciple.
Which raises the question, “Who are you?”

Come forward and pick up a promise in the desert.

Maybe you’ll find a new identity in Christ.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Prayer of the Black Eyed Peas

Somewhere in the cosmos there is an unwritten law of nature that says along about the 12th or 13th year of a child’s life, the adolescent must choose a style of music that irritates the parents.

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was rock ‘n’ roll, a style of music that was loud with sometimes suggestive, drug-fueled, raucus lyrics. It was something of a combination of urban blues, country and gospel music, with roots that can actually be found as early as the 1920s … the, uh, “Roaring 20s.” (Thanks, Wikipedia, for that synopsis.)

Everybody from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to psychologists were being quoted as saying rock 'n' roll was "corrupting" our youth. ("Those Crazy Rockin' Teenagers.")

Some of us cut our teeth on rock ‘n’ roll and couldn’t understand what all of the fuss was about … until we became parents, too, and our own children entered into those pre-teen and teen-age years.

We, however, decided that we wouldn’t be like our parents. We’d give our kids’ music a chance and not be arbitrarily condemning.

Incidentally, last August, on the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the Pew Research Center released a poll on the so-called generation gap. Its conclusion was that while young and old are still not on the same page, the "the differences seem not to matter anymore."

And as for music, The Associated Press story on the Pew study says this: "Rock rules across generations, and the Beatles are high on the list of every age group's favorite musicians."

When it comes to the music scene, maybe giving new styles of music a chance helped. After all, wasn’t it John Lennon and Yoko Ono who sang, “All we are saying, is ‘give peace a chance.’”

In the Trexler household, our kids grew up with different styles of music: Pop, rock, country, contemporary Christian. Still, we had this rule: If you wanted to listen to something different, something new, then mom and/or dad had to listen to it, too.

After all, monitoring media is merely responsible parenting.

Most of the time it was bubble gum music … stuff like Boyz 2 Men.

But then hip-hop came on the scene.

My instant reaction was … “Yeck.”

Working in the media, it wasn’t long before I was thoroughly educated on the negative aspects of that music. Now, lest you think I’m narrow-minded about this, there’s a lot of rock ‘n’ roll that I would have kept away from my kids as well.

According to one account, hip-hop culture was birthed in the early 1970s by African American and Latino youth living in the economically depressed South Bronx. The music was revolutionary in its exposure of social problems like drug abuse, racism and gang violence in their neighborhoods. But somewhere along the way, as often happens, the revolution gave way to capitalism. The music became more about getting more money, getting more sex, getting more drugs and the resulting violence.

As recently as 2008, a University of Washington psychologist noted the growing exploitational nature of hip-hop music:

“Black girls are not seeing positive images of who they are and what they can be,” said Carolyn West, associate professor of psychology and the study of prevention of violence at the University of Washington. “Looking at the sexual imagery really impacts on the functioning of teenage girls.” …

“What's changed over time is the greater sexualization of hip-hop. Initially, it started off as a revolutionary form of music. Now, large corporations produce images that sell, and there is a blatant link between hip-hop and pornography,’ Dr. West said.

“When young black women listen to lyrics and watch images that promote sexual conduct, they take on the persona that is illustrated in the music and treat themselves as sexual objects.

“It sets the foundation for future victimization and causes teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases,” Dr. West said.

When David starting listening to hip-hop while in high school, I took time to listen as well. If I remember correctly, it was a bit more tame as opposed to today’s hip-hop, but I still kept an ear on it.

I really didn’t like that driving, repetitive back-beat bass and drum and would tell him, in true 1950s and ‘60s parental fashion, “I don’t want to hear it coming down the hall.”

One day, David told me he was writing a paper on the life of Tupac Shakur, a rapper who was killed in 1996; in fact, it was not long after Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas that David decided to write his paper.

As a teenager, David was informed enough to be able to tell me the back-story of the hip-hop music industry with its labels like “Death Row Records,” “Flesh Bone Incorporated” and “Gangsta Advisory.”

Royalties were big; and greed was rampant.

Violence would sometimes erupt.

So, we sat down on the Internet and started reading about Shakur and we came across some of his poetry. Check this one out:

“Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it

learned to walk without having feet.

Funny it seems, but by keeping it's dreams,

it learned to breathe fresh air.

Long live the rose that grew from concrete

when no one else ever cared.”

We read that poem together; I looked at my son and said, “David, this guy was an artist. He had talent, but he sold out to the money and the violence … and it got him killed.”

That was probably a lesson to my son, but it was also a lesson to me: Don’t judge an artist by one song or a group of songs, or you may miss a relevant message.

I’m not alone in this parental lesson.

Chuck Cerny is a friend of mine who happens to be a General Sessions judge in Knoxville. He’s also part of the Great Smoky Mountain Emmaus Community.

He served on this last men’s walk with me and gave a talk on changing our world through exercising our Christian beliefs.

Chuck had a similar story concerning his son, Chase, and hip-hop music. Chuck said they were riding down the road and he was getting a taste of The Black Eyed Peas, a hip-hop band that formed in Los Angeles in 1995.

Chuck and Chase had a deal: Chase would start a song, and if Chuck decided it was too risqué for some reason, Chase would have to fast-forward through it.

“You need to fast-forward this song, Chase,” Chuck would say, maybe explaining why.

Chase would start another song; they’d listen for a bit, and then Chuck would say, “Naw, Chase, you need to move past that one, too.”

Chuck said this went on for a few songs and then it came one that he continued to listen to … and at some point, tears started streaming down his face.

“What’s wrong, Dad? Do I need to fast-forward this one?”

Chuck said, “No, Chase, that one is OK.”

Now, all I am saying, as we listen to Chuck’s song and watch this video … well, rap may not be your thing, either, but give Peas a chance.

Take a few minutes and check out the video, "Where is the Love."

“People killin', people dyin'
Children hurt and you hear them cryin'
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questionin'
Where is the love (Love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love The love, the love”

In Isaiah 62, we find the people of Israel returning from exile, living and worshiping in the midst of ruins. They are hungry, discouraged and desolate, crying out, "We are God's chosen. How did this happen to us? Why are you silent, God? Where is the love?"

And the prophet Isaiah comes forth, saying, “For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.”

Israel will be given a new name: “You will be called Hephzibah (which means, “My Delight is in Her”) and your land Beaulah,” which means “Married.”

“As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

Where is the love?

There is the love.

There is the love.

Isaiah speaks words of encouragement, not discouragement to the broken peoiple.

Zion will be Yahweh's treasure, “a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”

“Where is the love?” cries Israel.

There is the love,” says Isaiah.

This is extravagant love poured out upon Israel, the bride.

It’s the same sort of extravagant love that Jesus lays out at the wedding in Cana after the vino dried up. Mary tells Jesus to do something about it, but the Messiah hesitates, saying, "My hour has not yet come."

But mom presses on, and Jesus relents. Still, he doesn't mix up a vat of Boone's Farm, but top shelf wine, lovingly pressed together and poured out for others.

Where is the love?

There is the love.

In a matter of weeks, we will remember that in his final hour Jesus again offered up wine during a final meal with his friends, sharing words that undoubtedly left them puzzled:

“Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

“Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
And within 24 hours of speaking those words, the Savior of the world would pour out the last drops of wine in his body.

Where is the love?

There is the love.

Jesus poured out his life for us, calling us to pour out our lives for others.

Where is the love?

When the ground started shaking in a poverty-stricken island nation, among the tens of thousands who perished, and likely even more who were injured, were those in the family of Christ who were giving themselves for others.

Where is the love?

There is the love.

Broken and poured out amidst the concrete ruins of Port-au-Prince.

And continuing to be broken and poured out as the body of Christ mobilizes in the midst of chaos and ruins.

“I don't know how much longer we can hold out,” Dee Leahy told an AP reporter. Leahy is a lay missionary from St. Louis who was working with nuns handing out provisions from their small stockpile. “We need food, we need medical supplies, we need medicine, we need vitamins and we need painkillers. And we need it urgently.”

Where is the love?

There is the love … as the church responds with prayers, gifts and presence.

Thankfully, the positive response of the church to this great crisis has overshadowed the comments of one TV preacher who reportedly said Haiti has been “cursed” because of a “pact with the devil” in its history.

Truly disappointing words … words that inspire choruses such as …

“People killin', people dyin'
Children hurt and you hear them cryin'
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek …
Where is the love (Love)

Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love (The love)”

If we’re going to be extremists, let us not be extremists in the form of TV evangelists or Midwestern anti-homosexual preachers who protest at the graves of our fallen soldiers, claiming these things are the wrath of God.

Let us be "extremists of love."

If the church is going to be a prophetic voice – which the church is, indeed, called to be – let it be a prophetic voice calling each of us to acts of mercy, love, compassion, and justice.

If we do this extravagantly, we lessen the chance that the world will question of us, “Where is the love?” but instead point to us, once again, and say as in the days of the early church, “There is the love.”

Where is the love?

There is the love!

On April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama, for taking part in civil rights demonstrations.

While there, King wrote a letter using newsprint and scraps of paper. His audience was intended to be eight prominent Alabama clergymen who had urged King to cease his program of nonviolent resistance.

The audience eventually became the world.

King writes:

“Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’

“Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.’

“Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’

“Was not Martin Luther an extremist: ‘Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.’

“And John Bunyan: ‘I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.’

“And Abraham Lincoln: ‘This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.’

“And Thomas Jefferson: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal ...”

“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

People killin', people dyin'
Children hurt and you hear them cryin'
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questionin'
Where is the love (Love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love
The love, the love …

Where is the love, church?

The love is here, in this community of faith.

And it is there, digging through the rubble of Haiti, pouring out water, pouring out their lives for others.

And it is here, on The Lord's Table ...


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Be-loved of the Father ...

The story goes that on June 16, 2004, David Goldman said goodbye to his son, Sean, at Newark Airport, not knowing that it would be the last time he would see the boy for years. It was the beginning of an international child abduction case.

By nearly all accounts, David Goldman was a caring, loving father. The outcome, though more than six years in the making, was that father and son were reunited on Christmas Eve 2009.

In the midst of that journey, David Godlman told NBC News, “Every day that I’m missing my son, and my son is missing me, is nothing sort of a tragedy.”

Any one who followed this story at all, even the greatest cynic, would know that

Sean is the beloved of his father, David Goldman.

It was seen in the eyes of the father.

And it was heard in his words.

“I love you Sean. I love you. I love you.”

As I was preparing for Baptism of the Lord Sunday, I was struck by the words of one of my favorite conteporary theologians, the late Henri J.M. Nouwen, who was a spiritual member of a community of people with mental disabilities. In his message, “The Life of the Beloved,” Nouwen says he “learned a lot from people with disabilities about what it means to be the beloved.”

“Many of the people that I live with hear voices that tell them that they are no good, that they are a problem, that they are a burden, that they are a failure. They hear a voice that keeps saying, ‘If you want to be loved, you had better prove that you are worth loving. You must show it.’

“But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, ‘You are the beloved and on you my favor rests.’”

As baptized children of God, we need to embrace our belovedness, for as co-heirs with Jesus Christ, we, too, are the beloved.

Nouwen reminds us that it is only in embracing our own uniqueness, our blessedness, and our own brokenness that we can bless others in their brokenness.

In a thank-you statement released on Christmas Eve following the reuniting with his son, Sean, David wrote:

“Please know that my love and the rest of Sean's family's love for him knows no boundaries and we will go to the ends of the Earth to protect him and shower him with every ounce of love that we have.”

That’s what God longs to do for God’s be-loved: To shower us with his unending love that knows no height, nor width, nor depth.

Grace and peace ...


Sunday, November 22, 2009

How would you introduce Jesus Christ as King?

With today being Christ the King Sunday, the question placed before us is this: How can we have any understanding of what it means to claim Christ is King in our lives when we live in a Western democracy without any idea of what it means to live under a monarchy?

In some ancient cultures, kings were seen as divine, or at least serving as agents of the divine. You lived with the understanding that you were in complete surrender to the king. In Western democracies, we do not serve our elected leadership; in fact, quite the contrary. Our elected leaders serve at our will, and if they do not serve us well, we vote them out.

Perhaps the closest thing we have to royalty today are celebrities, which could explain the following introduction of Jesus by Steve Harvey, one of "The Original Kings of Comedy." Harvey is a professed Christian and appears to close his show with the following:


Certainly there will be some who claim Harvey's introduction is irreverant, but the crowd appears to "get it": The One who is coming up next is worthy of far greater exaltation and praise than is given to the various "kings" in the cult of celebrity; for instance, "The King of Pop," "The King of Rock," "King of the Hill" and "The King of Queens." But given our lack of understanding, it may be that this is the closest some of us can get to introducing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to a hurting and wanting world.

So, let us seek a more perfect direction. Let us seek to introduce Jesus as King through our participation in building the Kingdom of God -- through acts of mercy, compassion, grace and love.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

'The Baptism of Rhodyjane' ...

Last Sunday, I went to a river baptism connected to my Moms church, Roan Mountain United Methodist, and penned a column about it. There is also a video, but the date at the end of the video is wrong. It should read Sept. 13, but the video editor and I both missed it until it hit the larger computer screen. We've uploaded a corrected version, but for some reason the errant version is showing most of the time.

Oh, well. Maybe it'll straighten out at some point.

Here are short links to the column, photo gallery and video:

Photo gallery of "The Baptism of Rhodyjane":

Faith Today column of "The Baptism of Rhodyjane" with links to photos
and video:


Grace and peace ...


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

We nurture Christians in training ...

In the Trexler household, you ate one vegetable for every year you were alive — even when you tried to convince Mom and Dad that the veggies would be the death of you.

But veggies are your best friends.

Here's a list of the top 10 reasons, according to The American Institute for Cancer Research, why you should sign the treaty of leafy health and incorporate veggies into your diet:
  • Keep Trim
  • Prevent Heart Disease
  • Control Diabetes
  • Avoid Diverticulosis
  • Reduce the Risk of Certain Types of Cancer
  • Prevent Stroke and Other Diseases and Illnesses
  • Bring Blood Pressure Down
  • Lower Risk of Adult Blindness
  • Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
  • Pure Pleasure
But you know, and I know, that for some adults eating veggies goes entirely against their natures.

We know a man who will not eat anything green.

Despite the nurturing aspect of vegetables, it’s entirely against his nature.

Despite the nurture, it went against his nature.

Two of my favorite subjects in college were sociology and psychology.

One of the common debates among students of psychology and sociology is “nature vs. nurture.” The debate concerns the relative importance of a person’s innate qualities (their nature, which can have biological factors involved) versus their personal experiences (their nurture) in determining or causing individual differences in physical and behavioral traits.

On the nurture side is the view that humans acquire all, or almost all, of their behavioral traits from “nurture.” The extreme of this is we are all born with a “blank slate” and our environment forms our behavioral traits.

Many now agree with psychologist Donal Hebb that our behavioral patterns are molded by a mixture of nurture and nature.

The story goes that a journalist once asked Hebb which contributes more to our personality, nature or nurture. The psychologist is said to have replied, “Which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, its length or its width?”

While nature and nurture can and do work together to influence our behavior, in the Christian tradition we often speak of the “sin nature.”

The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church says this about Original or Birth Sin”:

Article VII: Of Original or Birth Sin
“Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.”

The Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church, which is the sister church we merged with in 1968, puts it this way:

Article VII: Sin and Free Will
“We believe man is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. In his own strength, without divine grace, man cannot do good works pleasing and acceptable to God. We believe, however, man influenced and empowered by the Holy Spirit is responsible in freedom to exercise his will for good.”

In the Christian tradition, we refer to this as “The Fall,” which was the result of Adam’s disobedience.

In his book, "United Methodist Doctrine: The Extreme Center," Bishop Scott J. Jones (2002, Abingdon Press, Nashville; pp51-53) notes the doctrine of The Fall “is the foundation of the whole way of salvation.

“If humanity is not fallen, then there is no occasion for this work in the heart, this ‘renewal of the spirit of our mind.’”

He goes on to explain that John Wesley refers to the doctrine of original sin as the “general ground of the whole doctrine of justification,” of justifying grace. It is, Jones says, an essential doctrine of Christianity; it is understood as the loss of the image of God; and it is a disease that requires the healing of our soul.

Wesley says the atoning application of Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, is the therapy we need for our soul.

It is the nurture that cures the nature.

And this is important as it relates to community because God lives in community: The Community of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

We were made in the image of God, built for community, before The Fall, which created a nature that is counter to community. Our nature is self-centered.

Our nature is, “It’s all about me,” rather than, “It’s all about thee.”

But when we come to Christ, we are again in community with God.

And when we are in community with God, we become God-centered.

And when we are in community with one another, we become other centered.

We nurture one another and are, in turn, nurtured.

And this is an important aspect of what life is like here at Green Meadow United Methodist Church, a.k.a. “The Meadow.

Because, here once again, is our mission statement:

“Our mission is to be an open gathering place to nurture Christians in training who, equipped by the Holy Spirit, go into the world and share the light of Jesus Christ.”

Because I’m a word person and, more importantly, we need to be able to explain what we mean by the statement, we began dissecting it last week.

We started with:

“Our mission is to be an open gathering place …”

And here’s how we broke it down:

We gather and are open to Scripture.

We gather and are open to God.

We gather and are open to others.

Now, if you haven’t already picked up on it, we’re at that next chunk of text in this statement:
“To nurture Christians in training …”

We gather and we nurture.

We gather others into the Body of Christ, nurturing them and helping them -- and ourselves -- to become living, growing disciples of Jesus Christ.

We do this to equip the body for ministry and mission in the world so that through the transformed lives of this community of faith, our community would be transformed.

John Wesley knew the importance of community and accountability in the Methodist movement. He started a network of “class meetings, societies and bands” for spiritual formation, biblical reflection and care-giving.

We have one adult small group and are looking at starting another.

We do this to be a part of the nurturing community of faith. We do this, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:13, with the hopes of attaining to “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. So we are no longer children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, but rather we would grow up in every way into him who is the head, even Christ Jesus.”

But as important as it is — and it is of the utmost importance — biblical teaching isn’t all of what it means to nurture one another.

We nurture one another as we provide a space of healing.

We nurture one another with faith, hope and love.

We nurture one another as we help one another grow as the Body of Christ.

In preparing for this message, I sent out an e-mail to the church, asking for those who were willing to share with me the ways they have been “nurtured” during your time at Green Meadow United Methodist Church.

Here are some of the replies:

“Buzz, I have given your question a lot of thought and I have decided that the way I have been nurtured the most at Green Meadow is learning how to have fun as a Christian. I have found out that I did not have to give up my sense of humor or my zaniness to be part of the flock. I have also learned that the flock openly acknowledges their own imperfections and accepts others as they are. I think that is a rarity that should be celebrated.”

I think that is summed up with something called “unconditional love,” and it is indeed to be celebrated …

Here’s another:

“When I was tired, mentally, physically, emotionally, you took me in. You gave me room and time to rest. The first Sunday (and the second) when Elizabeth joined me so that I wouldn't have to sit alone, I was surprised. It was a warm comforting gesture and one that I would not have expected. Green Meadow was almost immediately “family.” I didn't have to want to be part of the family because you welcomed me in. I was never on the outside. I rested in your love until I was able to begin being a part of the work of the church. I want to be part of everything that you do, and I feel as if I can never ever do enough. The Meadow is the only place in my life I have ever tithed — it is the only place I have ever felt that God's work came first.”

And another …

“It is hard for me to express all the ways Green Meadow Church has influenced my life. I felt welcome from the first time I walked in the door. I have been in church some where since I was 5 years old, but never in a place where I felt so much at home. … (She goes on to say that when she was widowed) “I was left with learning how to manage my life without him and I needed an anchor that I found in the people at Green Meadow. I found strength to go on when things were difficult and knowledge in the selected Scripture that gave me direction. I have seen how willing everyone is to invite others to to be a part of the mission work that is so much a part of the church. … I know my life has become richer because of my association with these wonderful people I call my best ever friends.”

There were many other things that were said about this church, but I wanted you to get the sense of what is of great importance: This sense of community.

We nurture one another through the study of Scripture, being open to one another’s views and theologies.

We nurture one another through the breaking of bread — whether it be the sharing of someone’s herb gardens, or friendship bread, or breakfast, BBQ, or — of huge importance — the Lord’s Supper.

We nurture one another by the sharing of burdens, through prayer and visitation.

And there are times when we have to carry one another along, because the journey here at Green Meadow is not a solo journey.

Of all people, your pastor is most aware of that.

For you have often carried me in ways that a family carries one another:

In prayer, and through a year of chemotherapy.

Through the many ways in which you exhort me, and lift me up, just when I need it -- and I know you do it for each other.

Not too long ago Donna sort of watched a war movie with me. Most of the time I have to watch guy movies alone, but this time she went along — sort of. She worked on some other stuff while the movie was running. The movie was “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young.” It is based on a true story about the first time U.S. forces formally met the Vietnamese army on the battlefield.

What you are about to see is a deleted scene from the movie that takes place back in the states at the Protestant chapel on the base from which the 7th Infantry, First Division, had been deployed in November 1965 to Vietnam.

This scene depicts the families (mostly the wives) of the soldiers, who are in church days after their husbands have gone off to war.

One of the young wives is introduced by the pastor and is to sing the Offertory.

This, sisters and brothers, is a sign of community carrying each other along.

The woman who first picked up after the singer faltered is the wife of the commander of the division, and soon the other wives, and then the entire congregation are singing.

This is a wonderful illustration of how, when we are afraid, or unsure of our faith, or under some extreme trial, the faith community sustains us, and reminds us of the faith that we, by ourselves, may not be able to articulate or even access.

Sisters and brothers, we the Body of Christ are called to be the solid rock for one another, giving each other food for the faith … and strength for the journey.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Grace and peace ...


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What will you find in The Meadow?

Author and illustrator Anne Hunter uses a series of books to educate young readers about nature while they are learning to read.

Books such as “Possum and the Peeper” and “What’s in the Tide Pool,” “What’s In The Pond?” and “What’s Under the Log?” all of which seek to satisfy the curiosity of young readers who are just itching to stretch their imagination and cognitive legs.

While I was perusing her titles, this is the one that really caught my interest: “What’s In The Meadow?”

I tried to find this book at Barnes and Noble and Borders, but discovered that you have to order it online.

In the reviews, I found that Anne Hunter talks about and illustrates 10 creatures that can be found in The Meadow, but I have to settle for only knowing about five of those creatures:
Meadowlarks, spittlebugs, fireflies, eastern moles, and woolybear caterpillars — who can not only be found in meadows, but for some reason like to cross East Tennessee roads. Incidentally, the wooly bear caterpillar carries a bit of Appalachian folklore. Once they arrive on the scene, folks like me check out the color to see what sort of winter we’re going to have. I know it’s superstition, but it’s nonetheless fun.

So, now you know what’s in The Meadow — or, at least five of the 10 creatures.

But what if someone came up to you and asked, “What’s Green Meadow United Methodist Church all about?

“What’s your purpose?

“What’s your mission?”

And as we all know, there are some sisters and brothers who just call us The Meadow — thanks to the Web site — Green Meadow Church of God and Meadow United Methodist Church notwithstanding.

So, “What’s In The Meadow?”

Well, if we did a little more than scratch our heads, some of us might remember this:

“Our mission is to be an open gathering place to nurture Christians in training who, equipped by the Holy Spirit, go into the world and share the light of Jesus Christ.”

Well, that’s a mouthful, and what does it really mean?

It’s broken down this way:
  • Our mission is to be an open gathering place …
  • Our mission is to nurture Christians in training …
  • We are equipped by the Holy Spirit to engage this mission …
  • Our mission is to go into the world and share the light of Jesus Christ.
Having broken it down for a series of messages, I’ll try to encapsulate each in blog form in the future.

Grace and peace ….