Hearing the Sacrament Flow

Tower Bridge, Sacramento River

The last time I attended my regional Annual Conference for the United Methodist Church was 2006. I’ve been bad, far too happily avoiding the official meetings.

This year, when I officially retire, I’ll go again.

But I recall that prior time.

Hundreds of clergy and laity gathered from the various corners of California and Nevada (as far south as “hot” Bakersfield and as far east as the Silver State’s Ely), headed for Sacramento to engage in worship, work, and fellowship.

When attending the conference, I frequently purloined ideas. I listened to stories told or phrases used by my colleagues that I sought to, ah, borrow for my own use. Christians are sometimes referred to as “the people of the word.” Indeed, from the beginnings, we are people of the borrowed word. We don’t just tell the Christmas story, or Jesus’ parables, once. We keep borrowing them, then telling stories about our stories, and passing them along to the next person or generation.

Even now, when I’m no longer preaching, my story-dar, or idea radar if you will, is at full alert. Yup, I won’t hesitate to pilfer from my fellow pastors. And I hope they’d do the same to me. Continue reading →

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Tell Me a Story


“He did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” (Mark 4:34)

Jesus “did not speak to them except in parables.”

So said Mark’s Gospel.

The sentence’s “them” were the people that followed Jesus around the countryside.

Parables, of course, are stories.

Remnants of Jesus’ tales and teachings appear in every Gospel; some seem complete and intact, others are partial, like shards of broken pots. Compared to a novel—say Barbara Kingsolver’s most recent book or the briefest of Alice Munro’s award-winning short stories—Jesus’ parables are spare. A few could easily be tweeted. Several parables might be page-turners, but only if the first verses began near the bottom of a page!

However, all possess a story’s most basic structure: a beginning, middle, and end. Continue reading →

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Love on a Tennis Court

My 1959 Revised Standard Version (a gift from my parents when I was a young, eager lad) said Jesus talked about the “kingdom of heaven.” The RSV was the first Bible I seriously used to sermon preparation. Newer versions that followed often echoed the RSV’s “kingdom of heaven.”

However, I frequently used “realm of love” in sermons, like . . .

The realm of love is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.

I can more easily tell you why I prefer “realm of love” to “kingdom of heaven” than what it means. Simply, realm is not male-oriented. A king is male. I was raised in an era that started to question male-only words and phrases. In a sense, I was trained to emphasize alternatives to sexist language. Once I thought God was male, bearded, and mostly elsewhere. He seemed a Divine Dude you were obligated to invite to activities, but often wished He’d arrive early and leave quickly.

When I started using “realm of love” instead of “kingdom of heaven,” it was pretty cool that I got reactions from folks in the pews. Continue reading →

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