Monthly Archives: November 2014

Bridling Anger

Double bridle, with both curb and snaffle bits.
Double bridle, with both curb and snaffle bits. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most days I can control my tongue, but every once and awhile I wish I had a muzzle or at least a bridle.

I said, “I will guard my ways
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will keep a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked are in my presence.”

— Psalm 39:1 (NRSV)

But even that might not be enough. The psalmist continues:

I was silent and still;
I held my peace to no avail;
my distress grew worse,
my heart became hot within me.
While I mused, the fire burned;

— Psalm 39:2-3a (NRSV)

Yes, muzzled anger only intensifies. Instead of flashing out at its perceived causes, it burns within, consuming me instead.

There is a better way to bridle anger, to put it to work.

First, I am learning to recognize that my anger helps no one else. But it can help me as an alert of an injustice I might correct.

Second, ask what have I observed. Specifically, what would a neutral unemotional observer report, what might a camera record. For example not that so-and-so disrespects other people by always arriving late, but that this week he was late 5 minutes and 15 minutes the week before and perhaps occasionally he had arrived on time.

Third, reflect on my values compromised by what I have observed. In the above example, respect for participants in a meeting. Timeliness is merely a strategy for demonstrating respect.1

Now I am prepared to cool my anger. Report what I have observed and the values compromised and to seek new strategies to demonstrate mutual respect.

So then, putting away falsehood,
let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,
for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.
Thieves must give up stealing;
rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands,
so as to have something to share with the needy.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is useful for building up, as there is need,
so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger
and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ has forgiven you.

— Ephesians 4:25-32 (NRSV)

* For more information about this process see: Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger and Theresa F. Latini, Transforming Church Conflict: Compassionate Leadership in Action.

Sermon: “Covenants”

I prepare and delivered this sermon at the installation of a neighboring pastor who had selected the scripture readings for the worship service.

A video of the sermon is available here for downloading.

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 6:25-37

B. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

27-28 — In Chapter 29 Jeremiah warns the exiles to stay for the long haul. Here, perhaps decades later, he warns them to get ready for planting.

27-28 29-30 — Punishment for sin will only be for the sinner and no longer for generations.

27-28 31 — Are the days still to come or have they come and we have yet to recognize them?

27-28 32 — How will it be unlike the Decalogue? Will it be unbreakable? No. But Christ suffered the breaking for us.

27-28 33 — Hearts => wills and minds.

27-28 34 — Is the disestablishment of the church a foretaste of the time when all people will know the LORD? For what Jeremiah predicts is not a knowing about God, but thorough adoption of God’s ways by all people.

F. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

– From among a series of oracles of restoration of Israel from Babylonian captivity pledging the restoration of the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants.

– This oracle possibly begins with a v. 27. vv 27 -30 convey the restoration after destruction and the personalizing of sin and punishment from punishment of children for the sins of their parents.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

– These oracles are presumed to have been collected over Jeremiah’s lifetime and rather than in historical order of the prophetic statements against various countries.

On Being Human

Over the past thirty years each computer I have purchased is a little faster than the previous one. Computer scientists predict that within the next twenty years a desktop computer may achieve parity with the processing power of the human brain. Already research computers can emulate human speech even conversations.

But is there more to being uniquely human than mere processing power? If brain size indicates intelligence, we would be out classed by many larger animals as brain mass is generally proportional to body mass.

When we ordain and install pastors, elder, or deacons, we ask them to promise to “seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?” I believe that imagination and sacrificial love differentiate people from machines and other creatures.

People have a unique ability to contemplate the unknown and then act on ideas about the future extending and creating new relationships. Humans do more than merely build on past trends but envision new possibilities and participate in creation.

And most importantly people have an immeasurable spiritual connection with one another and with God; a connection we can confirm only by its unpredictable indirect effects, by serendipity.

 For what human being knows what is truly human
except the human spirit that is within?
So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s
except the Spirit of God.
Now we have received not the spirit of the world,
but the Spirit that is from God,
so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.
And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom
but taught by the Spirit,
interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

— 1 Corinthians 2:11-13 (NRSV)

Fettuccined Vegetables in Creamy Sauce

This dish developed when we had visited a restaurant that was changing its menu: Several items on their old menu were no longer available and their new menu was not ready. I opted for their fettuccine Alfredo and their sautéed vegetables, which they listed as two separate items. Individually they were fine, but after I mixed the vegetables in with the pasta together they became superb.

A few weeks later I combed Alfredo recipes to find a mild cheese sauce then experimented. In the process I learned that a true Alfredo sauce uses only butter and Parmesan cheese. The sauce described below is mostly cream cheese with a little Parmesan to support the slightly peppery taste of fresh from the garden parsley.

This dish serves four people and can be prepared in about 20 minutes if you can manage three pans at once.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces of fettuccine
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 medium zucchini shredded length-wise
  • 2 carrots shredded length-wise
  • 2 clove minced garlic
  • 1 medium onion, cut in half length-wise then sliced
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 4 ounces light cream cheese
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
  • ½ fresh parsley, chopped
Grated zucchini and carrots, sliced onion, and garlic.
Shredded vegetables ready to sauté.

While the slated water for the fettuccine comes to a boil in a large pot, shred a medium zucchini and two carrots and slice a medium onion. I used a coarse grater rubbing the vegetables nearly length-wise to yield pieces the thickness of the pasta.

In a small sauce pan melt a quarter cup of butter and 4 ounces of cream cheese over low heat.

When the water comes to a boil add the pasta. Then heat a large frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot add 2 tablespoons of oil and the shredded zucchini and carrots, the sliced onion, and the minced garlic, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent. Meanwhile add the milk and Parmesan cheese to the melted cream cheese stirring frequently until the smooth and slightly thickened.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and transfer to dinner plates. Combine the cream sauce in the frying pan with the sautéed vegetables and chopped parsley. Then pour the vegetables over the spaghetti and enjoy!

Fettuccined Vegetables
Fettuccined Vegetables

When I took these photos I had to substitute spaghetti for fettuccine.

Ministry as Sales

As a pastor I do not have to worry about how prayers will be answered. I am confident that Jesus can manage the production process without my input. Similarly I do not have to fret about who will answer prayers. I am confident that the Holy Spirit will coordinate personnel connecting those who can best advance the Kingdom of heaven. And best all I am confident that God the Father will manage the heavenly host bring everything together at exactly the right moment.

My part in ministry is sales, telling people about the greatest product in the universe: forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, and life everlasting!

This week I put my pastoral skills into material sales, selling coupon books to raise funds for a mission project that our congregation supports. In two hours I learned much about ministry as sales. In this practical experience, we had a great product, for a mere $5 the coupon book contained a $10 coupon, an instant 100% profit, plus several other savings opportunities.

Let Some People Go

As much as I might like to talk with everyone who walked past the door where I stood, some people were too wrapped up in their own thoughts to even acknowledge that I had said good afternoon. Their eyes remained focused beyond where I stood. At most they would acknowledge me with a wave of a hand, gesturing for me to stand aside.

I’ve been in those shoes; rushing to accomplish a few errands between appointments. If anyone had even slowed me down, I would have been furthered biased against whatever they might have said.

Someone else might be able to reach those people at a different time with a different approach more suitable to their personality. Let them go.

Make Eye Contact

Before beginning my spiel, as the next person approached, I would look them in the eye and smile. When I could get to the door, I would open it for them.

The written word can communicate much information to many through Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and newsletters, but personal contact conveys more than words. Increasingly I hear that in the not too distant future a few super preachers will present all sermons. These specially gifted and talented individuals will have time and resources to present exceptional media savvy sermons. But I have learned that preaching is best received as a performance art in close communication between the preacher and the congregation. When I preach I watch for changes in body language —arms crossed, smiling, nodding, frowns— and adjust my presentation as I speak.

Making eye contact gave me a few more seconds to deliver the message about what I wanted to sell.

Walk with People

As people walked past where I stood, I did not expect them to instantly stop and listen to me, instead I walked beside them while I told them about the coupon books we were selling.

Walking with people is the essence of ministry. I would like people to believe that I have seen every problem and have all the answers, but I too walk  the path of life, struggling with my faith and its intersection with life. My hope is that I will have something to teach from my experiences and that I will learn from the experiences of those I walk alongside.

Walking with people showed them that I was interested in them and opened a possibility for them to be interested in me and what I had to say.

Know Your Product

The first few times I tried to pitch the coupon books I stumbled over my words and could not find the page with the $10 coupon. My first few attempts were unsuccessful.

Every now and then I look at an old sermon (fortunately I have none on tape) and thank the congregations who listened to me and said they appreciated me. Practice has improved my preaching. Reading a few lines of Scripture everyday continues to improve my familiarity with God’s salvation and presence in life.

Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture,
he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.
—Acts 8:35 (NRSV)