July

July 9, 2009


Dear Centenary Friends,

So tell me ? Why do we love people? 

It is a serious question ? Is love offered for the sake of love or is there an agenda to the offering of love?

On Sundays at Centenary?s morning breakfast I try to greet everyone in line for breakfast, then I sit down and visit with at least one table of people eating sausage, grits, and eggs.  Sometimes I am welcomed.  Other times it is clear to me that I am not particularly welcome.  I think there is a built in fear that I am going to lay some sort of expectation on them for the free food they are eating.

So, I talk about non-threatening subjects ? How about those Lakers?  Are you surprised by the Braves? winning streak?  Who do you like in the Final Four?  How do you think the Falcons will do this year?  And occasionally I make a little progress.  When it becomes apparent that I am not going to lecture or pray or give them a sermon, then my friends around the table might open up a little bit. 

On one particular Sunday, I sat with a guy who crawled up under a porch of an abandoned house on Saturday night to sleep off the buzz that came from being drunk.  He has little prospect of work.  If he has children, he probably does not know where they are and if he knows where they are, they probably don?t want to see him.  This guy I am sitting with has little to no self-esteem.  That was lost years ago when someone told him that he was a ?stupid, no-good, count-for-nothing? child.  In all likelihood, he is simply repeating his father?s life.

So, tell me ? Why do we love people?

My breakfast companion smells.  His eyes are bloodshot.  His hand shakes a bit as he lifts the plastic fork filled with scrambled eggs to his mouth.  He looks at me blankly.  Here I sit a little embarrassed ? for I have on a clean shirt, and a tie, and I took a shower before coming to church.  His life is completely different from mine.  I suspect he looks at me and wonders, ?Do you think you are better than I am??  But he does not say it because he is hungry and he sees me as at least a meal ticket for all the breakfast food he can eat.

So tell me ? Why do we love people?

Does he wonder if I am concerned for his soul?  Is he afraid?  He can?t read and does not want to go to a small group where he might be embarrassed.  Hope died for him a long time ago.  He cannot even remember what it feels like to have hope. 

So tell me ? Why do we love people?

I need my friend with blood-shot eyes.  For a brief moment he looks at me with a hint of recognition.  ?You the preacher at this church??, he gruffly asks.  ?Yep?, I respond.  There is a moment of awkward silence.  Then he says, ?Good eggs?, and nods his head at me.

And that, my friends, is enough to make it all worthwhile.  I want him to feel that just for a moment someone accepts him right where he is.  Whatever decisions he needs to make, I cannot make those for him.  My love for him should not be conditional, for if it is, then it isn?t love anyway.  Maybe he will sense something ? a spark or a spirit ? in this community that will cause him to return.  Maybe the community will become more important than the eggs and grits.  But maybe not.  God only knows.  But for right now ?Good eggs? is good enough for me.   ?Good eggs? just might signal the beginning of a friendship and further conversation.

So, tell me ? Why do we love people?

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Mark your calendars:  Friday, August 7, 7:30 at Centenary UMC.  Friday night at the movies at Centenary.  We are showing Clint Eastwood?s most recent movie, Gran Torino.  The movie is filled with theological metaphors and spiritual implications.  After the movie we are going to talk about it.  BUT the movie is also not for children.  Be forewarned ? the language is VERY rough at points and there are some difficult scenes.  However, if you are willing to plow through and not be offended, the theological depth is profound.  If you enjoy this sort of movie interaction and discussion, you are invited.

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I am preaching about a highly unusual encounter between a person of power and a person with no power this Sunday.  The story comes from 2 Kings.  Hope you will be present!

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.

www.centenarymacon.org   

 

 July 29,2009

Dear Centenary Friends,

I have a friend who is experiencing an almost inexpressible burden.  You know the kind of burden I am talking about here.  Oppressive.  It wraps itself around your innards and squeezes to the point that you cannot breathe and it feels like your heart can?t beat.  At some points you can name the burden.  Other times the name of the burden is cryptic and cannot be named, but it is heavy?. A darkness visible.

How I long to relieve the pressure under which my friend suffers!  But because I care deeply for my friend, I refuse to give simplistic answers.  We Christians have been too quick to offer shallow and quick answers to the suffering of people.  While those answers may be well-meaning, they are misguided.  Christians who give answers too quickly and easily are not firmly grounded in the God who is at work in the world.  They also don?t know how to live with the mystery of God as revealed in the Bible.  The Bible, rather than being an unfolding and open-ended story/revelation that ends with a comma, is viewed as a heavy-handed prescriptive text that ends with a period. 

Some of us have the mistaken notion that, when our burden is heavy, the burden itself is a sign of distance or estrangement from God.  This perspective may be the most pervasive of all Christian distortions.  This rather complex conversation goes something like this:  If things are going well, then it means that I am in God?s will.  If things are going poorly, then it means that I am outside of God?s will. 

I no longer believe that.  Good things happen to bad people sometimes.  Bad things happen to good people sometimes.  And sometimes stories do not have happy endings.  God is in the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The lack of a happy ending, or the carrying of an inexpressible burden, does not mean the absence of God.  God does not control us like puppets and does not plan every nuance of our lives.  It is a glorious mystery? one I am willing to simply live with. 

Sometimes we bring suffering and burdens on ourselves? other times they occur for no reason at all.  Why does this happen?  I don?t know.  It is a mystery? one I am prepared to live with.

To my friend I say this:  You are a child of God.  When you were born God whispered a secret in your ear that no one else knows. No one in the whole world can take your place.  Your burden is not a sign of God?s absence.  Will I pray for the alleviation of your burden?  Of course.  But I will do more than that ? I will pray that in the midst of your pain, you will glimpse the face of God.  When will your pain end?  I don?t know.  But I promise to listen to whatever you want to tell me, and I will simply stand by you when you are overwhelmed.  Will everything be ok?  Short term, I don?t know.  But ultimately with all that I am I believe that ?All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.?  I can live with that.  And I think you can too.    

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Mark your calendars:  Friday, August 7, 7:30 at Centenary UMC.  Friday night at the movies at Centenary.  We are showing Clint Eastwood?s most recent movie, Gran Torino.  The movie is filled with theological metaphors and spiritual implications.  After the movie we are going to talk about it.  BUT the movie is also not for children.  Be forewarned ? the language is VERY rough at points and there are some difficult scenes.  However, if you are willing to plow through and not be offended, the theological depth is profound.  If you enjoy this sort of movie interaction and discussion, you are invited.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This Sunday I will be preaching a sermon I have titled ?REVELATION and CELEBRATION?.  I hope you will be present.   

Grace and peace.

Tim Bagwell