The First Sermon I Remember

Mark’s fifth chapter includes a long stretch of verses, depicting* Jairus pleading for his daughter’s life and an unnamed woman boldly seeking Jesus’ help for her illness. Those ancient words invariably time-travel me to high school. I am suddenly in the balcony of the church I attended until leaving for college. There, alone with others on a long pew, I listened to a sermon.

I cannot tell you the first sermon I heard.

But I can tell you the first sermon I remember.

Treasured.

Wondered about.

It was the first sermon that shared words and images that felt like it was only for me. Did I lean forward in the pew? Maybe. Did my heart race or did I hold my breath? Maybe. Nonetheless, I can still sense the shift, the amazement within, as the preacher portrayed an ill woman’s faith. In his description (or his tone of voice, or how he paused, or other inexplicable actions the preacher conjured) I sensed her faith. Her hand reaching. Her desperation for healing. Her hopeful selfishness mingling with humility.

Who among us doesn’t need healing? Continue reading →

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Retired, Still Foolish

I’m taking some PTO today from hospice . . . personal time off. Not long from now, after walking the dog and munching on breakfast granola, I’ll aim the car north on Highway 99 for a church meeting.

This year, the Annual Conference for the California-Nevada region of the United Methodist Church, will gather in lovely Modesto. A nice little city.

I will attend for a few hours.

Today, in the last calendar hours of spring, I will be at the Modesto conclave so that I can hear my name read as one of the newly retired clergy. This gray-haired old coot will do the official deed, shifting from an “active” to a “retired” minister.

No bells. No whistles. No parade. Rumor has it that I get a swell medallion for a keepsake. The church is nothing if not generous.

Maybe forty-five years ago, I had my first wade in the water of denominational gatherings where ordination was discussed. At some hazy point in the past, I declared my candidacy for the ministry and a group of men (yeah, it was mostly men then) had to ask me a few come-to-Jesus questions and either recommend or not recommend that I move on to some other committee for more approval or disapproval. I was ordained a deacon on a hot June night in Redding, California in 1977. The rest is history and mystery, rural churches and campus ministry, hospice and new church starts. Oh, the failures I had. Oh, the joy I shared. Continue reading →

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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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