Alleluia! Christ is risen! Easter is not just a day, but a season of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The Gospel passage for the 2nd week of Easter (this past Sunday) was John 20:19-31, where Jesus mysteriously showed up twice through/behind a closed door to be with his disciples who were gathered together. The first time, they were all there except for Thomas. The second time, however, Thomas was there along with the rest.

A week (or so) separated the incidents, and I can’t help but imagine that that week must have felt like an eternity for Thomas, who wanted no less of an encounter with the risen Jesus than what the others were afforded, but was merely told it was true that Jesus was no longer dead. Underneath the surface, there is something quite wonderful, however, about that week and the relationship between Thomas and the other disciples. That is that despite Thomas’ struggles, his doubts, his defiance at demanding further proof, the others did not cast him out, condemn him, shame him, or beat it in his brains to “just believe!” No, they sat with him in his doubts, broke bread with him (surely more than once in the course of the week), allowed him to struggle and waited with him until the Lord graciously and peacefully returned in their midst. And sure enough, Jesus showed up again.

Though there’s no record of a meal with his disciples in these two gatherings when Jesus appeared, there is, nonetheless, something beautifully sacramental about what takes place and our senses and minds can be drawn to the holy mysteries of Jesus’ resurrection and the meal we celebrate as we await Christ’s return in final victory where we will feast at the heavenly banquet.

In those two encounters, Jesus’ presence was real in the midst of his followers, who were gathered together. He gave words of peace and reconciliation, and offered his body and the marks where he had bled to not just be seen, but even to be touched by those seeking the truth. And he breathed on them the Holy Spirit, sending them into the world as the Father had sent him. If you listen carefully to these parts of the story, you will notice that each of these aspects is integral to our understanding of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.

Jesus offers his scarred body to Thomas (credit: Joel J. Miller's blog on

Jesus offers his scarred body to Thomas (credit: Joel J. Miller’s blog on

Christ is really present in the shared meal when we are gathered together for Communion. In confessing where we had abandoned and/or failed in our design to faithfully follow Christ, we are forgiven our sins and hear the pardoning words in the name of Christ and then share words and signs of peace and reconciliation. Christ invites us and offers his body and blood to us, not just to see, but to touch (and in the sacrament, to partake). The Holy Spirit is poured out upon those gathered and the elements to make it so. We invoke the Holy Spirit to enable us to bear the scars and be the body of a crucified and risen Lord for the world around us. Even the final prayer reiterates this plea for the Holy Spirit’s empowerment for mission: “Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that in the strength of your Spirit, we may give ourselves for others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

“…As the Father has sent me, so I send you…”

I am picking up here where I left off in the “Infant Baptism and the Bible” series. For the first part, see this. Or for more, just click on the “baptism” tag on the right hand side of the page.

When Carrie and I lived in Wilmore, there was one Sunday morning that I turned on the TV and watched the first few minutes of a sermon given by a preacher in Lexington that was broadcast on a local channel. In a sermon on baptism, the preacher opined a great deal about how infants “don’t know what’s going on in a baptism like those who are able to make a conscious decision are” and how wrong infant baptism is. He even suggested that infant baptism had pagan roots and declared that it is a “heathen practice.” And as if his lack of doing serious homework about the history and tradition of infant baptism wasn’t enough, I suppose he hadn’t considered that what he was about to say next went directly against the logic that he was spewing. In the very next sentence he began to make a connection between the practices of circumcision in the Old Testament and baptism in the New. He said, “just as circumcision was the outward sign of an inward change in the old covenant, so was baptism the sign of the same in the new covenant,” drawing on the connection Paul makes between the two practices in Colossians 2:11-12. (Ummmmm…Maybe he didn’t know about the practice of infant circumcision?)

Of course, opponents of infant baptism typically do not appeal to such a strong connection between these two practices, but the analogy between them is worth exploring and is part of the reasons why United Methodists baptize infants (see more in this official document of the UMC). The connecting point between them is that they are the distinguishing signs, or seals, of the covenant(s) God makes with God’s people. In making covenant, God initiates the relationship and agreement, through giving grace and making promises that would be unattainable through mere human effort or merit. Nonetheless, there are expectations of the covenant people to maintain their end of the covenant, which involves obedience to divine commands, living holy and loving lives in response to God’s gracious actions in claiming and redeeming the lost or enslaved people.

When God established covenant with Abram in Genesis 17 (and therein changes his name to Abraham), God says that circumcision will be the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham/his descendants. The commandment given to Abraham was that every male offspring from his line should be circumcised on the eighth day of his life. The covenant seal was to be given to males born in the lineage. Were the infants aware of the expectations they would be expected to meet when they were circumcised? Of course not. But they were taught from the beginning of their lives that they were an already graced and redeemed people in the midst of a dark and broken world. And that there were expectations of being the people of God for those who had been given this grace: expectations including continually turning to God and the ways of God, offering sacrifices for the ways in which they failed to live into their expectations of the covenant, as well as being a “light to the Gentiles.” For Abraham and Ishmael and for the uncircumcised Israelite men about to enter into Canaan (Joshua 5), the ritual signifying and sealing this was done (much to their pain) when they were adults or older youth, as they were about to embark upon the fulfilling of the promise. For every other male born into the lineage, the rite was to be done in infancy.

When God established the new covenant through the death and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus with those who identify as followers of the Christ, the sign and seal of the covenant is baptism. Baptism is the liturgical language used to describe Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-14, Mark 10:38-39 to name a couple). At the birth of the church (i.e., Pentecost), Peter urged the crowds to repent and be baptized that they might receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. His very next statement is that this promise is for the people who respond and for their children. By this, I see already the seeds of where the practice of infant baptism is congruent with this new covenant established by God in Christ. In baptism, we are washed in water and born of the Spirit and this, I read, is not just for adults but for children too. And much of what could be said above re: circumcision can be applied to this new covenant, sealed in baptism. That they (and we) are taught from the very beginning that we are an already graced and redeemed people in the midst of a dark and broken world. And there are expectations of being the people of God for us who have been given this grace in Christ: to live a life of continually turning to God and God’s ways through repentance and confirming or professing one’s faith to the community; receiving the grace of reconciliation and renewal offered through the body and blood of the Lord by partaking in the meal that celebrates the new covenant; and being the “light of the world” that stands in need of this grace.

There are a couple of differences worth mentioning, too. 1.) This sign of the covenant makes no distinction between ethnic distinction. When entering into the waters of baptism, there is no need to attempt to change your appearance, skin color, or ethnic identity. The good news is for all peoples. 2.) This sign of the covenant makes no distinction between genders. Whereas circumcision was a rite only done to males, baptism is for male and female, for in Christ there is no distinction (Galatians 3:28).

For the crowds gathered at Pentecost and for the world who was about to hear about the gospel of Jesus for the first time, the ritual signifying and sealing this was done (without the pain of circumcision) when they were adults as they were to receive the promised Spirit. For every other person born into a family of this faith, the rite could very well be done in infancy. “The promise is for you, and for your children…”

"All ages, nations, and races..." (photocredit:

“…people of all ages, nations, and races…” (photocredit:

Thanks for tuning in. More to come as we’ll look more at the book of Acts next time…but don’t let that stop you from commenting or or raising questions in the mean time! 🙂

In mid-January I went to a training event in Dickson, Tennessee with other young clergy in the Memphis & Tennessee Annual Conferences in the United Methodist Church. That weekend was special in that our bishop, Bill McAlilly, was present with us and led us as he began to reveal more about the missional theme of his vision for the Nashville Episcopal Area. In short, he led us in conversation that centered on two key passages that are often in view when we think of mission and evangelism: Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 28:16-20. It became clear as we shared with one another that it is a rare thing for a congregation to excel in both of these areas. If a local church is vital in the least, it will do well in one (the social justice ministries often associated with what is mentioned in Matthew 25, like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and so on) or the other (experiencing growth through evangelism and discipleship with an eye toward the Great Commission in Matthew 28), but typically not both.

The conversation then began to shift toward what would it look like if we didn’t divorce these two areas of mission (social justice & disciple-making) but integrated them and saw missions & evangelism as two sides of the same coin, so to speak. While we were having these conversations, at some point my mind began to wonder about those two passages and the fact that they both come toward the end of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life. Beyond the missional connection between the two passages, it wasn’t long before I began to wonder what is the literary connection between the two in Matthew? Maybe it was the long time I have spent studying the doctrine of the atonement that drew my attention to the cross and resurrection as that narrative is found between the two passages. So internally I began asking: What is the relationship between Matthew 25 & 28 and the narrative in between them? What does mission and evangelism have to do with Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection?

Let’s let that narrative sink in…what is found in between? The plotting of the chief priests to capture Jesus, the worshiping of Jesus by the woman with perfume, the disciples scandalized by Jesus’ allowance of this, Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus, preparation for and celebration of the Passover, confusion, more worship in the sharing of the bread and the cup and singing, hollow promises of faithfulness, agonizing prayer for another way, betrayal with a kiss, a battle abated, disciples scatter, a sham arraignment, ridicule, adamant denial, deep regret and a failed attempt to undo betrayal, sham trial, speechless lamb, the guilty goes free and the innocent one is condemned to die, washed hands, swayed crowds, more ridicule, beating, more ridicule, more beating, more ridicule, more ridicule, more ridicule, darkness, a cry for rescue, pause, death, a curtain torn in divine grief, earth shook, rocks split, (are those zombies?), identification of God’s Son from an unlikely source (a Roman centurion), women watching and waiting, burial, an attempt to be sure he stays buried…

cross in office

…the attempt fails – Resurrection…

Those 72+ hours between Matthew 25:31-46 & Matthew 28:16-20 are, for the community who follows the crucified and risen Lord, the most intense hours in human history. In those moments are the darkest of hours of despair that bring out the worst in humanity’s capacity to do harm. But in these moments we also find in the Human One’s actions the very best of humanity (Jesus was and is fully human, after all) and the very source of our hope. These hours proclaim that even in the midst of betrayal, sin an darkness there is Eucharist, and that on the other side of suffering and death is their defeat at the hands of Life.

So what sort of relationship or weight do those days of suffering, death and resurrection bear on the missional passages before and after the Passion narrative? Maybe in telling us that when we give food, drink or clothing to those in need or visiting the sick and imprisoned we are doing these acts of mercy to Christ himself, he was dropping a hint that it would not be long before he would be hungry, thirsty, naked, afflicted, and condemned. When disciples of Jesus do these acts of mercy, we’re ministering to the suffering & crucified Messiah who humbled and emptied himself to such a degree as to be counted among criminals. When we clothe the naked, we condemn the criminal actions of Jesus’ torturers who stripped him down and cast lots for his clothing. When we give water to the thirsty, we cease from stopping the one offering a sponge to the dying Jesus with an ounce of water to soothe his lips. When we visit the imprisoned and offer words of encouragement to them seeking to set them free from whatever holds them in bondage, we display our contempt of the fraudulent court system and trial that condemned the Innocent One to death.

And maybe in telling us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them, Jesus is pointing back to what was just before as the content of what it looks like to live like genuine disciples of his. That is, when we are baptized into Christ, we are united with Christ in his suffering, death and resurrection, and lay claim to hope that sin and death’s defeat has been guaranteed in our own lives and for the world. That is, the closer we draw near to Jesus, the more we are genuine disciples who do not betray, slumber, scatter, or deny, but who follow near and are willing to be counted among the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, condemned just as Jesus was. That is, that genuine disciples are not afraid to cry out to God when we feel most deserted by the world, by our friends, and even by the God Jesus called Father, too. And that this movement would be so radical that the world could not stamp it out, but that people of all nations would be drawn to the sacrificial love that is willing to forgive those who betray, scatter, deny, and even those who condemn. And in that, we’re given a most blessed promise…that God’s presence in Christ will be with us as we embark on that mission.

And to me, these are the sorts of things that distinguishes a community who follows a crucified and risen Lord from a mere charity organization who just wants to be kind to others or a country club who just wants to increase in size. The narrative in between centers our missional life in that we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection.

You may have seen an article or two about a pastor who decided that leaving a sanctimonious note along with a failed attempt to erase an already added gratuity was somehow a good idea or taking a stand or something. Plenty of posts have been written and I suppose I could add more here to voice how ludicrous it was to write such a thing, but I’ll leave that be. I think this post pretty well sums up my view on the matter. Apparently, the pastor in question has responded with an apology for the snide comment and that she didn’t intend to erase the gratuity, so there’s that. I hope she apologized directly to the server too. And let us be people of forgiveness, too, for even pastors make errors in judgment and sin from time to time, too. (Shock, I know!)

But as I witnessed news of another embarrassing moment for Christians in the marketplace (often in the restaurant/service industry), I was taken back to my own time of waiting on tables during seminary. And I also considered the livelihood of a dear lady in Camden who passed away this week. She was the sister of a friend of mine at Post Oak. Her name was Joyce and she was a server at a restaurant in Paris (TN). Joyce was loved dearly by those with whom she worked and according to many testimonials by those whom she served.

Reflecting upon these things has me wishing that we disciples of Jesus can somehow overcome or turn around our notoriety for the way we treat those in the hospitality industry who wait on people. It is often a thankless job and unfortunately church-going folk are the biggest contributors to the thanklessness of it. One would think we should know better but perhaps we have forgotten about a crisis that existed early in the life of the church recorded in Acts 6:1-6, which in part tells us of the blessed nature and of those who are called to serving food.

Before Carrie and I got married, her dad asked me one thing: to get a job even though I was going to seminary. Hence, partly out of fear (:)) and partly out of curiosity for how it would be to work at a restaurant, I applied for a job as a server and got it. Little did I know at the time that my tenure as a server would be as integral to my theological education as the seminary classroom. ‘Seminary’ is the English word taken from the Latin seminarium, which means “seed bed.” A seed bed is a place where seeds go to die so that they may bear fruit. Hence, one’s theological education should be in some way, a process of learning how to die. (Morbid, I know!)

In a sense, my experience waiting on tables was just that for me; a part of my process in learning how to die. It was so not only because of the conversations that took place over rolling silverware and in those dead moments where there were more servers than guests in the restaurant, but also in learning how to put others before myself, how to serve, how to give, how to fight, how to multitask, how to ask for help when I’m “in the weeds,” and how to listen. Lessons I’m still learning and haven’t perfected, but lessons that train about as well as any about the art of pastoral living. By the end of my time there, I was beginning to think of my 4-table section like a 4-church charge (for non-United Methodists out there, a “x#”-church charge is when more than one congregation have the same pastor at the same time).

But beyond the tasks associated with the waiting on tables, it was the relationships I formed with my coworkers and my oft-returning patrons that I saw as formative for me. Working in that environment helped me see as E. Stanley Jones described it that we Christians sometime have the tendency to unfortunately “separate the material and the spiritual.” In the process of serving while in seminary, I died to my own tendency to view this as a “less important job.” I died to my own tendency to be heard and instead to listen to the stories of pain, fear, expectations, and hopes of my fellow servers. I died to my own tendency to just do the tasks asked of me and instead help another server in the weeds or to share a few more moments with customers who needed an ear to hear or a shoulder to cry on as much or more than a hand to bring them food or a refill on their drink.

I’m not sure if he was right or not, but E. Stanley Jones viewed that the disciples in Acts 6 made an error in relegating the distribution of food to be done by seven “others” so that they may devote their whole time to God’s word. A casual reading of the passage may not indicate there was a problem with their choice, for God worked through, though we might say in spite of, their decision by adding to their number. Jones said, “They separated what God had joined. In the Incarnation the material and spiritual were one – the Word became flesh. Here the Word became word. The material and the spiritual were separated.” That is, they “turned life into two compartments – the sacred and the secular” (see pages 80-81 of his devotional ‘Mastery’) and the compartmentalization exists to this day, each time we think of feeding hungry people and the mission of making disciples as two separate entities.

But what I learned in the seminary of the classroom and the restaurant is that the two go hand-in-hand, or at least they should. Isn’t it intriguing that one of the seven (Stephen) set apart for distributing food ends up delivering one of the most powerful sermons ever delivered (see the very next chapter for proof)? Maybe the author of Acts was subtly wanting us to catch the irony of Stephen’s doing both food service & the ministry of the word. Stephen’s acts, as they point back to the Christ who both taught AND fed people, who both preached good news AND healed people, who both offered forgiveness AND raised people from the dead, should serve as an important message for us Christians, especially pastors, that even though it is wise to delegate responsibilities, that does not mean you should not participate or follow others’ lead in those activities. That’s why it’s good, for example, when a pastor goes and serves food to hungry people, even being willing to follow the orders of those who are charged to lead in the distribution. That’s why it’s important for me to offer to get a loaf of bread or a tank of gas to someone who is sick or grieving, as well as praying for/with them and offering words or silence of comfort. In this process maybe we can grasp with ES Jones that “all legitimate life has to become sacred again. And all legitimate occupations a manifestation of the Kingdom.”

That’s what waiting tables in seminary taught me.

I want your feedback and/or help on this. I’m still in the early stages of developing this, but am in the process of putting together a “dream team” for each of the two churches to which I am currently appointed. No, I’m not speaking of finding a way to bring the 1992 US men’s Olympic basketball team to Camden, Tennessee.

Probably the greatest basketball team that ever competed. Front row (L to R): Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley; Second row (L to R): Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, Michael Jordan; Third row (L to R): Christian Laettner (ugh, I can't believe I am actually inserting a picture including him into a post on my blog...after what he did to my beloved Kentucky Wildcats on that fateful night in 1992), Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, David Robinson. Photo credit:

Probably the greatest basketball team that ever competed. Front row (L to R): Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley; Second row (L to R): Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, Michael Jordan; Third row (L to R): Christian Laettner (ugh, I can’t believe I am actually inserting a picture including him into a post on my blog…after what he did to my beloved Kentucky Wildcats on that fateful night in 1992), Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, David Robinson. Photo credit:

No, it’s not ^^that^^ kind of dream team I’m speaking of. Instead, I’m talking about putting together a group of 10-15 persons at each church to begin making dreams for the next 5, 10, 20…years.

Last week, 75 young clergy in the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences of The United Methodist Church met in Dickson along with our new(ish) bishop Bill McAlilly. The event was sponsored by the Turner Center for Church Leadership & Congregational Development, which particularly is honing in on training young clergy for leadership as the dynamics of our culture(s) continue to change. At the conference, we explored the tension between the emphases of mission laid forth in Matthew 25:31-46 & Matthew 28:16-20 and how we as leaders could assist our congregations in developing their own identities in relation to their own mission fields. (A lingering question I had but never asked aloud was about the nature of the relationship between the narrative content in between those passages and the missional focus of the passages we did explore. In other words: What, if anything, is the relationship between the Passion & Resurrection narrative and our mission as the Church? I like where that question could take a discussion, but I’ll have to explore that in more detail in another post at another time.)

Although the picture we’ve been given about the status of the UMC is quite bleak, I left the conference hopeful that God has greater things in store for the United Methodist Church(es) in the Memphis & Tennessee Conferences, even as I was unsure specifically how I would begin to steer the churches to which I am appointed in the direction of discovering our identities & visions and how those relate to the mission field around us.

On the day following, Carrie and I took a trip to Jackson to get some much needed household items. Instead of taking the usual way home on Interstate 40, we drove the scenic route of US 70 all the way to Camden. It was nice for a change and only took an additional five or so minutes to get home than the normal route. On our way home, I began to share with Carrie processing through the gist of the conference I attended at Dickson and seeing how I might begin to raise questions to the folks at Liberty & Post Oak about our future. Within minutes we were talking about what it would look like to bring several youth & young adults and an accompanying older adult or two together and dream big about what God might want to do through us.

That was Saturday and I already knew that a council meeting was set for the next day at Liberty, which would be the perfect time to officially pitch the idea to the key leaders. I also went ahead and started planting the seed to a few people before the service at Post Oak and got a council meeting scheduled for a couple of weeks from now where I’ll share more with them there (for those who won’t have read this blog post anyway 🙂 ). I got some good feedback there and then when I got to Liberty for worship, I pulled my lay leader and council chairperson aside to very briefly introduce it and ask for it to be on the agenda, which was warmly granted.

At the council meeting I introduced the seed ideas of what I was wanting to do and the initial questions that I’d like to be discussed in the group. The only question I was asked was, “Are you going to spearhead it?” I answered, “Of course! But I want you to know that I don’t plan on having all the answers. I just want to ask a series of questions that we will uncover together through prayer, discussion, study, and discernment what we perceive God asking us to do.” My desire is for the churches to come up with an answer to this family of questions: What do you want [name of church] to look like in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?

And here’s how I need your help/feedback, which I asked for at the beginning of the post. To answer the main question, there are a number of other questions that will need to be considered. Some big questions that obviously need to be addressed are the theological & missional ones:

  • Who is God?
  • Who are we?
  • How has God created and inhabited our story at [name of church]?
  • Who are our neighbors?

But then there are some more specific questions. Here are some that I see as vital for my churches to be asked in uncovering a vision for how best “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” (as is our mission as United Methodists) in our local context. You’ll notice that the questions provide the opportunity for the people to dream BIG dreams. And for a people who believe in a God of extravagant grace, why not push the limits? So:

  • If you had no fear of failure, what would you like to see done in this church? in this community?
  • If money were not an issue, what changes would you make or things would you add to the life of this church?
  • Is there any unused space on the premises? If so, how can the space(s) be used again?
  • What needs of the community are not being met well or at all?
  • What ways, if any, can we work with area schools, like tutoring, backpack programs, etc.?

Those are just a few. Can you help me think of other questions? Comment below and let me know!