Tag Archives: Lord of the Rings

A New Scene Begins

72214504_10157395131336063_6548324250078412800_nA New Scene Begins
Micah 6:1-8
Matthew 5:1-16
13 October 2019
Installation of the Rev. Eric Koenig
Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

I will never forget the day that Eric returned from a youth conference and gushed: “Mark Lomax is a great preacher!” After he said that several times, my poker face must have failed me, because he quickly added, “But Dad, you are OK, too.”

The Rev. Dr. Mark Lomax is pastor of the First Afrikan Presbyterian Church in Lithonia, Georgia. Professor of homiletics and worship at the Interdenominational Theological Center. He is a friend. A faithful follower of Jesus. A superb preacher. But he is somewhere else today. And I am here. And that’s OK.

We gather today for the installation of an associate pastor. Remember our context as we do. Presbyterians believe that all who follow Jesus are called to serve Jesus. We witness to Christ in all we do and say wherever we may be. God requires that corporately, and individually, we do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Jesus summons each of us and all of us. Jesus invites us to live as he lived as well as we are able and to trust in God’s grace when we fall short. Jesus calls us to love as he loved and to establish the justice which, as Dr. Cornell West reminds us, is love in public. “Will you – singular you and plural you – will you come and follow me?”

Presbyterians further believe that from the midst of God’s people, some are called to ordered ministries. These are roles within the Church that allow the ministry of the whole people of God to flourish. We ordain the people who fill those roles. We do so not because they are superior followers of Jesus but to recognize the specific role they play in the life of God’s people.

Of ordered ministries in the Presbyterian Church there are three. Three are the number of ordered ministries. Deacon. Elder. And … to be honest, we have had some question about the language to use for the third ordered ministy. We have used “ministers of the Word and Sacrament.” We have used “teaching elders.” The Book of Order has a passage that covers all the bases: “teaching elders (also called ministers of the Word and Sacrament).”

By whatever name, the church ordains people to the role. Ordained individuals are then installed to specific positions and tasks.

In response to the Holy Spirit and discernment by Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church, the Presbytery of New Castle, and Eric, with significant input from Essie, we gather today to install Eric as associate pastor.

As we do, I offer some insights I have gleaned through the years about ministry.  In the words of those classic theogians the Beatles, I so with a little help from my friends. Ginger, Babs, Mac, Bunty, Fowler, Nick and Fetcher.

Well they could be friends. If we had met. If they were real.

They are castmembers of a movie called Chicken Run – a claymation movie involving chickens, rats, dogs, and some humans.

Chicken Run is set in 1950s Great Britain on the Tweedy’s chicken farm. The chickens live ringed by barbed wire fences and guarded by large, nasty dogs.

The chickens are there to make money for the Tweedys  by laying eggs. Hens that fail to lay eggs soon make their final appearance. On the Tweedy’s dinner table.

The chickens, led by a hen named Ginger, become fed up with this life.  Ginger knows that the chickens deserve better – a life free from the demand to produce eggs, free from the threat of death, and free from the farm.  She shares her vision with the other chickens and convinces them to begin living out the vision in the only way possible – escape.

They devise a plan for escape and put it into operation. And they fail. Again. And again. And again. Every attempt fails and the chickens are caught. And every time they are caught the chickens attempt another escape.

Two events break this cycle. A rooster from the United States named Rocky arrives. He brashly promises to teach the chickens to fly across the fence that traps them. At the same time, Mrs. Tweedy decides that eggs are not profitable enough. The farm will produce chicken pies. This makes escape essential. As one chicken profoundly says, “I don’t want to end up as a pie. I don’t even like gravy.”

I will tell no more of the story so as not to spoil the ending for those who have not seen it. But what does it say about ministry?

The Tweedys said the chickens’ role was to live on their farm in the conditions they established and produce wealth for the Tweedys.  Led by the prophet Ginger, the chickens had an alternative vision. They envisioned a world with no barbed wire, no dogs, no huts, and no quotas. Instead there would be freedom and abundance and sunshine and sharing.

Jesus proclaimed and lived an alternative vision. In the face of the domination of empire and the division of the human family along lines of class and gender and sexual identity and age and nationality, Jesus taught a vision of radical inclusion, expansive love, and unfailing justice. He envisioned a world turned upside down. And he calls us as his followers to live in that world.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Whether we use the traditional translation of “blessed” or whether we ride with the Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer’s translation of “greatly honored,” the Beatitudes proclaim a radical disruption of the status quo. They contain an alternative vision for reality. Jesus lived and died and was raised for that vision. He summons us to live in it. We are invited to work together to bring that vision into reality. And we are freed to know that we will fall short and when we do, we can seek and accept forgiveness, and pick ourselves back up and trying anew. Vision is where we start.

Part of that vision involves recognizing who we are and whose we are. The chickens refused to accept the way in which they were assigned worth by the dominant culture. To the Tweedys, the chickens had worth only as means of production. Once they ceased to be productive they had no value and they were disposed of. The chickens knew that they were more than that. They knew they had value simply because they existed. We are talking some profoundly self aware chickens here.

Ministry involves accepting our own value and reminding others of their value. We are repeatedly told that our value comes from externals – skin color, wealth, status, gender or sexual identity, age, ability. The list goes on. Elaborate systems and structures are built upon human differences by the powerful for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing their power.

Ministry is knowing and claiming and living the awareness that I am God’s beloved child. And so are you. And so is everyone we meet. We should be treated as such. We should treat each other as such. We should challenge anyone who says otherwise. In the words of the Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, we move from treating people as others to embracing one another in God’s love. And then we work to dismantle systems that perpetuate privilege and inflict oppression.

The chickens created community. They understood that they were in it together. When one hen had problems laying eggs, others would share theirs.  Rocky points out that one or two chickens could easily escape. Ginger replies, “But that’s not the point. Either we all escape or none of us escape.”

Building, expanding, and nurturing community is an essential part of ministry today. Ministry is a corporate practice – a communal art. It is not for the professionals alone. It is for all of us.

The community created in Chicken Run crossed the usual lines.  Nick and Fetcher are rats. That’s not a comment on their character. That’s an identification of their species. They aren’t the brightest rats. They spend a good amount of time waiting for the eggs that Rocky, the rooster, has promised to lay for them. Still the rats become part of the community working together toward the goal of freedom and a better life for all.

Ministry involves reaching out to and serving with people from whom we differ. God creates and enjoys an amazing diversity. Our challenge and opportunity is to build a welcoming, including community. God calls us to create a place at the table for everyone born, to paraphrase Shirley Murray’s hymn. God calls us to break down and reshape, remake, and replace as needed. And to make sure that since everyone has a voice, every voice is heard.

Each chicken and rat has unique gifts to use in the effort. They live out the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero. “None of us can do everything. Each of us can do something.” Each chicken and rat contributes to the effort.

Ministry involves discerning the gifts we each have and then putting those gifts to use for the good of the community and the world.

Chicken Run includes a rooster named Fowler who served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. “644th Squadron, Poultry Division – we were the mascots.” He fondly tells stories about, “Back in my day…” The time comes when his gifts are needed.  When he is asked to help, Fowler begs off. Ginger says, “Fowler you are always talking about back in your day. Well you are here now. And it is now that we need you. This is your day.”

Time has a way of jumbling together. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. We plan and dream into the future. But in the end, today is the only day we have. Today we follow. Today we serve.

Today we begin a new scene in God’s Master Story – a story that began in the act of creation and that will extend until the end of days and the fulfillment of all things. A story of Divine creativity and grace and love in which we are privileged to play a part for a time. It is the story that has brought us to this time and place. It is the story that draws us into the future. We do not know for sure where the story will take us. Members of the Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church who were here at the end of June may remember a long-haired, bearded preacher who referenced advice shared by the hobbits in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings:  “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

We do not know for sure where our part in God’s Master Story will lead us. But of this we may be certain. It will be a story of God’s grace and our response in ministry. And God will be with us. This day. Every day.

Thanks be to God.

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Why the dearth of playlists

Perhaps you have noticed a lack of playlists being posted. This means a lack of exercise has been taking place.

There is a reason.

Plantar fasciitis.

Some days it is better. Some days it is really bad.

I miss the exercise and plan today to do something about that. It may mean small walks. It may mean more stretching. But look for playlists to resume shortly.

In the meantime, check out this shirt that I will be wearing.

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Laundry night in NYC

Frodo walked into Mordor,
even though one does not simply do that,
to destroy a ring of power.

Dorothy followed the Yellow Brick Road
to find the wizard who could return her to Kansas.

A shepherd, left 99 sheep behind
to search for one that was lost.

With the knights of the table round,
Galahad sought the Holy Grail.

I’m looking for a lost sock.

13 October 2018
Manhattan, New York

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The Until We Meet Again Tour – 22 July 2016 – birthday edition

The  Until We Meet Again Tour took an interesting turn on this birthday.

The plan had been to go to the office to do some more cleaning and packing for the move.

Yesterday afternoon, however, my colleagues in the organization Ecumenical Women found themselves without a facilitator for a retreat. Would I help them out, they asked. Of course I said yes. I thought I might go to Riverside Park for a bit after the retreat ended.

The retreat was held at 475 Riverside Drive, right around the corner from the Shire. It ended at 1:00 but conversation lasted until 4:30.

Walking back to the Shire, I realized how oppressive the heat was today, and may be the rest of the weekend.

I went to the gym around 6:00 as planned. After the workout, I decided I did not want to do the heat. I ordered dinner.

And then began watching The Lord of the Rings films. That’s usually a Christmas activity with Tricia and Eric, Sean passes, but we did not find time for it last Christmas.

With the city under a heat advisory most of the day tomorrow, this seemed like a moment when I might have time to watch all three. The Balrog just grabbed Gandalf. We’ll see where things end up.

And there was cake today as my colleagues celebrated my birthday, singing twice.

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See you along the Trail.

 

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Dick Wherley: choices made, choices lived

“We are going to walk across the country as part of a witness for nuclear disarmament.”

I am sure those were not the first words that Dick or Cathie Wherley said to me. They are among the first I remember.

Tricia and I arrived at Noble Road Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights as co-pastors in the fall of 1985. Dick and Cathie served on the Session – the church governing board.

Sometime that winter, they announced their resignations so that they could take part in the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament.

Their faith led them to work for peace in many ways and many places. Seeking racial justice in Cleveland Heights. Working to end gun violence in Cleveland. Advocating for sanctuary for their sisters and brothers fleeing war in Central America. Calling for an end to U.S. arms sales.

Now their faith called them to make another witness for life, the life of the planet. With about 1,200 people they set out from Los Angeles for Washington, DC around March 1. About two weeks into the march, the marchers learned that the supporting organization had declared bankruptcy. The marchers gathered, pondered, thought, dreamed, and planned. On March 28, a smaller group, including Dick and Cathie, started out again.

Dick often drove a support vehicle because of his health. But he and Cathie and the GPM made it to DC. When the march came through Cleveland, about 30 Noble Road members marched with them. A dozen of us went to Washington for the end of the march.

Upon returning to Cleveland Dick and Cathie plunged back into the life of the congregation, the community, and the peace and justice movement. Transitional housing and the inclusion of our LGBT sisters and brothers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) became two areas of particular concern.

The simple reality though, was if people in Cleveland gathered to act in compassion, pursue peace, and do justice, Dick and Cathie were present more often than not.

Dick’s health continue to falter through the years. He appeared in person less often and in the spirit more regularly. His spirit remained strong and true.

This week, Dick died peacefully in his sleep.

My prayers are with Cathie and her children, Joanne, Rick, Tom, and Sandy and their partners and children. May their memories be blessed; may they find comfort in their grief; may the rejoice in love shared and love that binds them together still.

Frodo Baggins, in The Fellowship of the Ring, expresses a wish to have been born at another time, a gentler, kinder, less-troubled time.

Gandalf reminds him that none of us choose the times in which we live. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” the wizard gently says.

Dick Wherley decided what to do with the time he had. Dick chose life. He chose faith. He chose love, peace, and justice. And he lived his choices well.

Thanks be to God.

See you along the Trail.

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Grace Ji-Sun Kim on Consumerism and Overconsumption

Graces BookIn a post that originally appeared in Ecclesio.com and then on her own blog, Grace Ji-Sun Kim shares an excerpt from her book, Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit.

Here are some teasers that may inspire you to check out the blog and the the book:

One of the problems the Western world is facing today is how to live a life so that all of humanity can flourish and not just a select few wealthy people.

When one looks at the world today, an inescapable fact is the vastly unequal distribution of assets, wealth, affluence, and life prospects. We live in a world where a relatively small number of people, about one-sixth the world’s total population of approximately seven billion people, have a preponderant share of the planet’s wealth and resources, while a significant majority of the remaining six billion lead lives marked by insecurity, poverty, misery, disease, and death.

Today, as capitalism and consumerism drive the modern version of colonization known as globalism, the gap between the haves and have-nots widens beyond anything ever known in history. This unequal distribution of wealth is taking a toll on the fragile planet and ecosystems that we all belong to. What drives the rich to consume all the resources is understood to drive the economy, so many of the rich people’s practices are not challenged or even questioned.

After reflecting on the perils that the drive to consume pose to people and planet alike, Kim presents an alternative vision:

The real wealth of a nation is its people, and the purpose of development is to create an environment for people to enjoy long, healthy, and creative lives.  The good life is defined by the use of money to help people have decent, fulfilling lives. The good life is not having “more and more” but “enough” …

Kim addresses the tension within which humans live – a tension between freedom and limits – a tension expressed in Genesis 3. She goes on to explore the human role as a “steward.” She notes that too often humans chose to act, not as the stewards God intends us to be, but as bandits: cue Kurosawa and The Seven Samurai. 

The image of the steward intrigues me. Tolkien plays with the question of stewardship in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In 1992 – as the United States marked the 500th anniversary of the invasion by or arrival of (depending on one’s point of view) of the Europeans in what we now know as the Americas – I preached a sermon contrasting the role of conquistador with steward. As Kim notes,  “It is not easy being God’s stewards, living in a garden where so much more is possible than is beneficial.”

Kim notes the warnings we are receiving about the consequences of our current consumer lifestyle of overconsumption. And she wonders if we will heed the signs and examine and change our ways of “being and living.”

There is much to ponder in the post. There are many topics for conversation. I encourage you to check it out!

See you along the Trail.

 

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Not quite the same

Wandering through the Half-Price Bookstore on Thursday evening, I came across several versions of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. I decided that watching the trilogy – or at least as much of the trilogy as I could – would prove fitting entertainment for what could be my last night in the Shire.

I own the extended versions – they reside in Cleveland and serve as the basis for a family Christmas tradition. I pondered buying another set but, to save some bucks, opted for the original releases. They only cost $2.00 each.

I have enjoyed watching them – about half at the Shire and half at the Shire on the Hudson. Good, good stuff, just not the same as the extended versions.

It has been a good ride. I am glad I got them. I can’t wait to see the extended versions again.

See you along the Trail.

 

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