Building Booths

I know what you're thinking - two posts in one day?  Get outta here! 

I know, I know.  I haven't been to regular lately, but I'm sermon prepping today and I've got alot to say.

This Sunday is, liturgically speaking, Transfiguration Sunday.  It's the day that Mark 9:2-9 falls on the lectionary schedule.  This is a challenging text that isn't like anything else that Mark writes about.  It's purely experiential - God transfigures Jesus, Elijah and Moses appear, Jesus doesn't say a word.  After writing it, Mark probably should have said, "Well, you just had to be there."  Sometimes words just don't do justice to the story.

I've been focused on what Peter said as he witnessed this event.  He wanted to build shelters (or booths according to some versions).  Huh?  I've witnessed some great things, but I don't recall the urge to spontaneously construct a shelter to commemorate the event.

After digging into the background of the text, I found a reference to the Feast of the Tabernacles from Leviticus, also known as the Festival of the Lord.  If you're from certain parts of the country, picture a traditional campmeeting.  The Hebrew community would gather once a year, in the seventh month, for one week.  They would construct booths/shelters/tabernacles and stay in them for  eight days.  This was after the harvest had come in and the week would be a community sabbath. 

On the mountain, Peter wanted to build shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses to provide them a place to stay.  He wanted not only to commemorate the transfiguration, but prolong it.

We do the same.  This story is why we often refer to our holiest moments as "mountain top experiences."  We try to prolong the heightened experience and even try to artificially recreate it later on.  Unfortunately, those intentions are always futile.  Eventually we all must come down off the mountain.

This is where true disciples are separated from the rest though.  When we return to regular life, can we remember the divinity of Christ and what that means for our faith?  Can we continue to be obedient even when not in the midst of the transfiguration?  It's simply not enough for Jesus to be a friend to us, a teacher, or a historical figure except for when we're on the mountain.  Jesus is still the Christ, whether we're in an intense, spiritually overwhelming worship service or in the shade of the valley, facing the challenges of life.


On my last post, Mezzo Forte left a great comment - much of which I agree with.  She commented on one thing that I'm not sure quite how I feel about.  That topic is of church splits.

I believe that at any time in church history, since the time of Martin Luther, you can probably find someone, somewhere talking about the need for or possibility of a denominational split.  Lately, there has been some talk about it in the United Methodist Church as well.  No, it's nothing serious right now.  I don't think that the thought has gained any strong sense of support, though the idea has lingered.

Some Methodists talk about the widening chasm of thought on some topics (namely ordination and/or marriage of homosexuals) and speak as if all hope is lost.  To some, the only option is for United Methodists to simply be Methodists and give up on the whole "united" thing.

I'm torn.  If a decision was being made tomorrow, I don't know that I could vote, knowing what I know right now.  Maybe that's why there's not a significant push for a denominational parting-of-ways?

As a pastor, I'm not a fan of divorce.  However, I acknowledge that the solution to eliminating divorce isn't the prohibition of it, but closer scrutiny of a couple to be wed and tools for building a stronger marriage.  For the modern marriage that has been poorly developed, where issues seem irreconcilable, divorce might actually be advisable.  Are churches exempt from this way of thinking?

At the other end of the discussion, I believe that dialogue amongst United Methodists is a cornerstone of the denomination.  If we've become so embittered by the difference of our opinions that we can't constructively discuss them, then we've forgotten what it means to be United Methodist.  I certainly don't have a lock on everything theological - nor does anyone else.  I know that for each of these issues and what I believe about them, there is someone else at the other end of the spectrum.  I believe that we provide balance for each other.  We keep the conservative from becoming immovable and stubborn and we keep the progressive from abandoning thousands of years of tradition and theological development.

What do you think?


No Future

I have a habit of printing off interesting articles and allowing them to pile up on my desk.  I was going through my stack yesterday and found an article entitled "No Future for Methodists Unless Change Occurs, Say Leaders."  It's an older article, from March of last year, but the message is one that needs to be heard by every leader and member of the local church.

I'm a first-generation United  Methodist.  My mother was raised in the Catholic Church and my father in the Southern Baptist Church.  Ever wondered what happens when you mix those two together?  You get a United Methodist!

I believe myself to be very ecumenical in my approach to ministry.  Jesus is Jesus, whether you're Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, or Presbyterian - or non-denominational for that matter.  I also see value in the denominational structure because there are just some issues that we, as Christians, will never come together on.  I will always struggle with the Baptists because I believe in baptism as a sacrament that needs only be done once and infants are eligible.  I will disagree with Catholics because I believe that we should observe an "open table" in Holy Communion - that it is offered to all, just as the grace of God is offered to all.  You get the idea.

Back to the article.  It talks about how membership in Protestant churches has been down over the last several decades (since the 1950's actually).  United Methodists are the second largest denom to Baptists and we're still 8 million strong, but the only places we're showing an overall increase in numbers is in parts of Africa and SE Asia.

Half of Gen-Xers and Millenials have left the denom and some have found homes in other churches while others haven't found a need for the Christian community at all.  The UM's that remain are getting older and whiter.  Younger people aren't coming in and the future, according to the Council of Bishops, is looking bleak.

I sit in church meetings regularly and I have frequent conversations with church members.  Everybody's concerned with where the young people have gone.  Average age at Mt. Bethel is probably around 60 with very few young adults, youth, or children.  Survival is going to be painful for the long-time members of churches like Mt. Bethel.  In the first half of the 20th century, if you built a building with a steeple, people would miraculously appear and they would attend faithfully.  They'd put up with bad preaching and watered-down missions and evangelism.  Times have changed.

The churches that are growing don't wait for people to come to them, they are reaching out to people.  And they're not doing it in a way that promotes faded-out traditions but focuses on meeting the needs and interests of people that have either never been a part of the Christian faith or were once a part of the traditional church and were wounded or left unfulfilled.

Things will have to change.  No, not every church will need to convert to contemporary worship and not every pastor will have to figure out how to sport the untucked striped shirt and gelled hair (thank God).  We will have to take a look at our structures though - go from a hierarchy approach to a team approach.  Every member has to figure out how to be a minister to others, looking to the pastor for leadership (discipleship) and inspiration and encouragement.

People come to church because they're looking for something and their options are wide ranging with more churches in communities that offer more ministries.  People are hungry for what's missing.  If we refuse to feed them for the sake of tradition or for the sake of our own comfort or power, then we have a problem.  If that's the Methodist way, then I don't want to be Methodist.


In the same vein, kudos to those pastors out there who are pushing limits and helping their people reach others.  Grace to the pastors that are planting new churches with the sole purpose of reaching the unreached.  And to the lay leaders that hear this call and have the desire to see things change, feel free to visit Mt. Bethel anytime - we have others who have the same desire, but you can never have enough voices.