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Welcome to the website of a retired United Methodist pastor! This corner of the Internet continues nearly fifty years of a weekly column in a church newsletter, on topics ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. The opinions expressed are the author's and represent no institution, although it is hoped that within these pages you will find a reflection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who, in his own borrowed words, insists that we love God with, along with all the rest of what we are, our minds. "Critical" as used in the title does not mean being nasty or grumpy; it means using intellectual faculties in the service of God. Your reactions, rebuttals, comments, and questions can be addressed to: BobHow9846@comcast.net.

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Recent Postings

August 17, 2014 - Essays: Octogenarian Ignominy

Septemer 1, 2014 - Essays: Faith in Ordinary Time Faith in Ordinary Time

Faith in Ordinary Time

The longer I live the more I have pondered: what is the work of a Christian over the long stretch of time, years and years beyond the promise of confirmation to be faithful to Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

Some claim to know.  They present themselves as soul-savers, heaven-bent to convert the world to Christ, which is to say, to their way of thinking.  Their way of thinking, strongly individualistic, moralistic, and (please forgive my sarcasm) simplistic, does not, however, match what I read in the Gospel.  Jesus is nothing if not open and tolerant in his relationships.  He leaves it to the Pharisees to insist on the rules, while he always gets the big picture. 

And there are those who constantly search in the name of Jesus for worlds of evil and ignorance to conquer.  Faith has more meaning for them in the heat of battle, standing up for God’s side. 

At the beginning of my fifty years of labor in the Lord’s vineyard I spoke with another fledgling preacher.  He aimed for the mission field and pictured himself (romantically, I thought) riding in a Jeep in the African bush, maybe dodging bullets or spears taking Jesus to those who had never heard of him.  While I (perhaps just as romantically) pictured myself as The Parson in a settled community dispensing wisdom from the pulpit and compassion in counsel. We shared the conviction that our faith was to be active and transformative. Maybe it was, but, in my case, not in any way I had imagined.  Sometime ask me, if you haven’t already gleaned the answer from this website, what was the action and transformation I never imagined. 

 

For now the point to be made is that in ordinary time being a Christian isn’t doing battle for Jesus in extraordinary circumstances.  Please don’t get me wrong. There are still plenty of wrongs to be righted, injuries to be healed, hopes to be elevated… well, just sing the Man of LaMancha’s “The Impossible Dream.”  And, then, think of the figure he cut in his own time, as admirable as he was, still a buffoon.

I’m seventy years past that Palm Sunday when I took the vow of church membership at First Methodist Church, Stamford CT, pledging my allegiance to Jesus and his kingdom.  Talk about the long stretch of ordinary time!  I report my conclusions on what it means to be a Christian.

First and foremost, it means to be a follower of Jesus… or, better, one doing his level best to follow him.  If pressed, I might even declare with a rhetorical flourish that I love the man. 

Secondly, the Christian is one who matches Jesus’ vision for the world.  That, his vision, can be quickly and simply explained according to the next-to-greatest commandment, Leviticus 19:18b, loving your neighbor as yourself.  That’s the only way the kingdom comes.  The Apostle Paul says his “Amen” in I Corinthians 13, that love (agape in Greek, self-giving love, as in the cross of Jesus) is the indispensable ingredient in a faithful life. 

Thirdly, but really a sub-category of secondly, the Christian is generous… to a fault.  Money, of course.  But time and effort too… on behalf of others, just like you would like for them to do for you (an echo of the golden rule?).  Mind and spirit too, being generous sometimes to a fault, as in giving the benefit of the doubt.  Like the title of my favorite devotional book, “Love Is a Spendthrift.”

Fourth, the Christian is grounded in the reality of the world. No pining for a different one, a holier one, a more spiritual one, as if our destiny on earth is to ascend to heaven.  Remember, “God so loved the world…” therefore a Christian shouldn’t be so quick to despise it. 

Finally (though there never really is a finally; there’s always more, much more, to say), this Christian believes his mission from Jesus is to fulfill Jesus’ ministry which he described in John 10, that he came that we and everyone else might have life and have it more abundantly. 

 

 

A postscript, because the forgoing fails to be explicit about my certainty of the cross’s centrality to my faith.  But those two crossed beams of wood are implicit five times. Consider for one what Jesus said about following him and what it means.  Consider for two the supreme evidence of God’s love for the world. Consider for three the utter extravagance of God’s mercy, to share our living and our dying. Consider for four the mirror of the cross in the devastating brokenness of our world.  And for five, celebrate what issues from the cross and no way else, life, new life, abundant life.


© 1990 - 2014 Bob Howard