Tuesday, March 30, 2010

view from the pew.

My parents recently visited us in Seattle. It was a great time of being together. While they were here, we ate at some amazing Seattle restaurants and enjoyed each other's company. They thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Phineas.

Throughout my life, arguments with my father were a regularity. We would argue about everything from basketball, school, church and theology. A few years ago (since I moved to Seattle) we came to an unspoken agreement – to not talk about church. It's a weird agreement since both of us are ordained elders in the same denomination. But it is what it is. We tend to get frustrated with one another as we discuss church practics and theology. Perhaps we are too similar while being so different.

Over the past 2 weeks since my parents returned to Southern California I have been thinking back to a church conference I attended five years ago. The conference was at my alma mater MidAmerica Nazarene University with guest speaker Brian McLaren. The conference was fine. Nothing earth shattering and to be honest, nothing I disagreed with. It all seemed pretty common sense that day.

Following the conference as I walked out of the auditorium talking with a former professor, his comment to me was somewhat startling. "Wow, a lot to think about!"

How is it that those who raise you and those who teach you can have such different world views? How is it that my thoughts and processes shine glaring in the eyes of those I've learned under?

I'm not one to put on labels. And so I've really wondered over the past few months what labels are at times placed upon me based on my affiliations. Specifically the labels I think most about are: conservative, liberal, and evangelical. I am a member of a "conservative" "evangelical" church in a liberal city working in what some consider a liberal ministry. And so, what do these labels, which some are adamant about proclaiming mean?

According to Dictionary.com the definitions of the above stated labels are:



  1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
  2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
  3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.
  4. (often initial capital letter) of or pertaining to the Conservative party.
  5. (initial capital letter) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Conservative Jews or Conservative Judaism.
  6. having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative.
  7. Mathematics. (of a vector or vector function) having curl equal to zero; irrotational; lamellar.


  8. a person who is conservative in principles, actions, habits, etc.
  9. a supporter of conservative political policies.
  10. (initial capital letter) a member of a conservative political party, esp. the Conservative party in Great Britain.
  11. a preservative.



  1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
  2. (often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
  3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
  4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
  5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
  6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
  7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
  8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
  9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.
  10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation.
  11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
  12. of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts.
  13. of, pertaining to, or befitting a freeman.


  14. a person of liberal principles or views, esp. in politics or religion.
  15. (often initial capital letter) a member of a liberal party in politics, esp. of the Liberal party in Great Britain.



  1. Also, e·van·gel·ic. pertaining to or in keeping with the gospel and its teachings.
  2. belonging to or designating the Christian churches that emphasize the teachings and authority of the Scriptures, esp. of the New Testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself, and that stress as paramount the tenet that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ.
  3. designating Christians, esp. of the late 1970s, eschewing the designation of fundamentalist but holding to a conservative interpretation of the Bible.
  4. pertaining to certain movements in the Protestant churches in the 18th and 19th centuries that stressed the importance of personal experience of guilt for sin, and of reconciliation to God through Christ.
  5. marked by ardent or zealous enthusiasm for a cause.


  6. an adherent of evangelical doctrines or a person who belongs to an evangelical church or party.


I've wondered about these words enough over the past few weeks that I looked them up. There are aspects which I agree with and others which I don't. I don't holistically claim Conservative or Liberal. One thing I find interesting is that you can look up conservative evangelical, but there is no definition for liberal evangelical.

My father I believe would claim conservative without a blink of an eye… and be abhorred by the thought of a liberal son. However, a neighbor, in casual conversation – called me a liberal pastor.

And so, I can't help but wonder about these labels, their implication on our lives and how we can differ in our world view from those we have learned and studied under.

Monday, March 8, 2010

3.7 Mourning to Celebration - Esther

This morning we are looking at the book of Esther. For service this morning, I thought about just having us watch the Veggie Tales video of Queen Esther. It’s a pretty good illustration of the biblical story. But, I figured we’ve all seen it – either as children, with our children or grand kids. So, we won’t watch the film, but we’ll revisit the story.

Are you familiar with the book of Esther? Are you familiar with the story? If not, I really suggest reading it. It’s very interesting, and one of the best parts is that it’s only 10 chapters long!

The story begins with King Xerxes throwing a big party. It lasts days. And near the end of the party the king requests for the Queen to come out and show off her beauty before the people. And, surprisingly, she says no. She doesn’t come out to greet him, and strut her stuff. She stays in her room with her friends.

The king, he’s not used to this and he gets upset. He’s gets offended, and as was his custom he asked advise from his council. As they discussed the situation, one of them suggested he expel her, and not permit her to ever be in his presence again.

At this point we are introduced to Esther; an adorable orphaned Jewish girl, being raised by her uncle Mordecai.

After the queen was removed from her place, the king's personal attendants proposed, a search be made throughout the kingdom for beautiful young virgins for the king. That all these beautiful girls be brought into the harem and given the proper beauty treatments; twelve months of beauty treatments, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. And then the young woman who most pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti. This advice was right up the king’s alley and he followed it.

So, this takes place, there’s a search through the kingdom for the beautiful young women, and our Esther is among them. All the young virgins were taken to the palace and given their pampering. And when it was Esther’s turn to go to the king he was attracted to her more than any of the other girls. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen.

A little while later King Xerxes elevated a guy named Haman by giving him a seat of honor higher than everyone else. All the royal officials at the king's gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, as the king had commanded. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.

This infuriated Haman, and when he saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai's people were, he did want to just kill Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all of Mordecai's people, the Jews.

Haman went to the king seeking to rid the Kingdom of the Jews. The King agreed to the plan set before him and sent word throughout the kingdom that on a specific date the Jews would be annihilated. This brings us up to chapter 4.

If you have your bible, I want us to read together from chapter 4. 1 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 2 But he went only as far as the king's gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

Sack cloth… Why Sackcloth? Why Ash? Historically being clothed in sack-cloth and rolling in ashes has represented our mourning over evils and falsities. So it makes since why Mordecai would go and get his sackcloth and ash. They also represented humiliation, and repentance.

When Mordecai gets his sackcloth and ash, he is displaying three things to the people: his mourning, his own humiliation, and the repentance he seeks. Mourning, humiliation, repentance.

What are we mourning today? What are we so passionate about, that we are willing to display our humiliation for the world to see? What are we willing to put on Sackcloth and ash for? What are we willing to do, in response to the atrocities taking place around the world; The evils effecting our families, friends, neighbors – our brothers and sisters?

Sackcloth and Ash represent our mourning over evils, over the falsities of our world.

My question is this: Are we willing to put on our Sackcloth and Ash? Are we willing to put on our Sackcloth and Ash for those in Haiti? Are we ready to mourn those who have lost their life, lost their livelihood, lost their hope? Are we ready to mourn? Are we willing to put ourselves in the face of humiliation?

Are we willing to put on our Sackcloth and Ash for those caught in civil wars across our globe? Are we willing to put on our Sackcloth and Ash for the children, abducted, and stripped of dignity and sold into slavery? Today, I wonder if we are willing to mourn the loss of innocence! I wonder if we are prepared to step into the face of humiliation – for our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews, our children who are trafficked across state and country lines. Are we willing to get up and step away from our easy chair, putting on our sackcloth and ash, for those caught in human trafficking and sexual abuse?

Are we aware of the bloodshed in Darfur?
Are we aware of the unrest in Sudan?
Are we open, like Mordecai, to the need for putting on our Sackcloth and Ash – for social transformation?

But why? What does mourning do?

Historically the sackcloth and ash carry with them the potential for social change. Both historically and today, when we are willing to mourn, repent, and accept the humiliation our Empirical structure sets us up for, I believe we can be agents of change. We can be proponents of restoration. We can have a voice. We can have a voice for the speechless. We can be strong. We can be strength for the weak and life to the dead.

We must, during this season – during Lent, remember our own sorrow and allow it to motivate us. We must allow it to motivate us to alleviate the pain and hurt of others – and offering hope to those in distress, as we strive for change. We are called followers of Jesus Christ, the one from Nazareth for a reason. We are situated in the midst of the city for a purpose. We are on this corner – in this urban center – offering the hope of the one who is FOR the broken, FOR the hurting, and FOR the disenfranchised. We are, during this journey through Lent, we are called to mourn. We are called to put on our sackcloth and ash. And we are to seek repentance, justification, and I believe reconciliation.

This morning as we gather together, in the midst of Lent, we are going to pause. We are going to take a few moments during the middle of the service; hopefully to reflect, hopefully to participate, and hopefully to hear from God.

Around the room we have different ways for you to experience and express. Write a word in the back with the scrabble tiles, write a prayer in the journal, light a candle, sit, kneel, pray. Partake of Holy Communion.

Learn about a World Crisis. In the front we have a station where you can learn about a World Crisis – perhaps you’d like to put on your Sackcloth and Ash, and mourn for their situation by actively being part of it. Perhaps you’d like to begin writing a letter to our local government. Perhaps you can pray for the crisis and wars.

This morning we even have a place for you to come and expressively put on your Sackcloth and Ash – by receiving literal ashes. Like on Ash Wednesday, this morning you can receive Ash. But rather than on your forehead, today it will be placed on the back of our hands. When we have the Ash on our hands, we can see the ash and hopefully it will remind us that we are to participate. Our hands are to be involved. Our lives are to be so impacted by the gift of Christ that we are pouring ourselves into others. The Ash on our hands hopefully will also serve as a reminder of Christ – of his wounds, and the pain he bore.

This morning as we gather we are going to pause. We are going to slowdown and take a few moments right now to reflect, to participate, and to hear from God.

Today’s communion bread is brought to us, prepared this morning, by our Teens. As they bring the bread forward, let’s pray.

The story of Esther doesn’t stop at the Sackcloth and Ash. And during Lent, what happens? On Sunday we celebrate the resurrection! Yes, there is power in the Sackcloth and Ash. If we don’t talk about the mourning, humiliation and repentance during Lent, when do we talk about it? But, the beauty of the Sackcloth and Ash is that we’re not expected to stay in it forever!

The story of Esther doesn’t end with Mordecai in his Sackcloth and Ash at the palace gate. It doesn’t end with Mordecai being impaled on a 75ft high pole. Esther is Queen, Mordecai is lifted up, the Jews are saved, and there is a major celebration. Not only was Mordecai not killed, he was made second in charge. His sackcloth turned to robes of royalty. His faithfulness turned to just leadership.

Check out the end of chapter 9 starting with verse twenty.

20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor. 23 So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them.

I love verse 26: Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, 27 the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. 28 These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out among their descendants.

We are to celebrate the times when there was relief from our enemies and our sorrow was turned to joy and our mourning into a day of celebration. I love the image, especially in this season, of our mourning turning into a day of celebration!

The Jews celebrate the time when they got relief, when their sorrow was turned to joy, and their mourning to a day of celebration. They still celebrate. Actually they celebrated just last week! Last week was Purim. Last Sunday was the day in the Jewish calendar to celebrate the transformation from sackcloth and ash to robes of life.

This day, we celebrate on the heels of Purim, the resurrection of our Lord. This day, through our Lenten Journey, we prepare for Holy Week; when we recognize the betrayal of Jesus, his death and crucifixion, and three days later – our mourning turning into a day of celebration.

Sackcloth and Ash – Mourning to celebration.

This service has been filled with all sorts of emotions and thoughts. We’ve moved from talking about mourning to celebration. But such is life isn’t it. Life is real. Life is hard. Sometimes we need to step up, sometimes we need to be quiet. We have options, we can choose, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Sometimes we are thrown curve balls on good days, and blessings on the bad ones. And it is like this within our faith too. I’m reminded of a few years ago when we played the “Psalms are Right” and the message that day was how our Scriptures provide room for both praises and lament. In the craziness of life, in the midst of Lent, when we focus on the darkness and separation of the death of Jesus, we live with the knowledge of his resurrection. And so, while we put on our sackcloth and ash – we are empowered by the resurrection with hope. For although it may be Friday, Sunday’s a-comin!

Although we mourn, although we might be humiliated, as followers of Jesus Christ we do so in the hopes of healing and forgiveness. We do so, not only for hopes of healing and forgiveness in our own lives, but in our collective lives – as the community of his creation.

I’m reminded of a familiar passage from 2 Chronicles that says: if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

May we put on sackcloth and ash, not in solitude, but in action – allowing our mourning the chance to turn into a day of celebration!

As you go, put on your sackcloth and ash – and mourn. Not in solitude, but in action – giving your mourning the chance to turn to a day of celebration. Go and Love.