Planting Trees Under Which We Won’t Sit

I Must Be Getting Older!

I thought I’d be a lot older by the time I got to this age. I have a hard time believing that pastors who are younger than my daughters look at me the way we looked at the “old guys” in the Conference when I came in.  Reality hit when I met a young seminary grad at Conference this week. I said, “I knew your father.  He was my District Superintendent.”  He replied, “That was my grandfather.”

I really enjoy hanging out with young clergy.  They energize me and give me great hope for the future.  I’ve also had the privilege of making the journey with some of them.  18951180_10158850413035596_6568699819153713580_nLast week when Jennifer Potter Buff was ordained, she placed her hand on the bible I signed and gave to her when she was in third grade at Hyde Park United Methodist Church where she was surrounded by a congregation that kept the promises they made at her baptism. She is a living witness to the truth that it takes a church to make a minister.

Planting Trees

Watching these young men and women take their place in leadership, I was reminded of words that are attributed to Ernest Campbell, the Senior Minister at The Riverside Church in New York City from 1968-1976.

To be young is to study in schools
we did not build.
To be mature is to build schools
in which we will not study.

To be young is to sit under trees
we did not plant.
To be mature is to plant trees
under which we will not sit.

To be young is to dance to music
we did not write.
To be mature is to write music
to which we will not dance.

To be young is to worship in churches
we did not build.
To be mature is to build churches
in which we will not worship.

It is possible to get old without becoming mature. We can be so focused on our own generation that we fail to plant trees for the next one — funding seminary scholarships, paying taxes for better public schools, mentoring underprivileged students, stepping aside for younger leaders to emerge, and allowing some things that were important to us to become the soil and manure in which new things can grow.

So, with apologies to Robert Browning, “Grow mature with me!  The best is yet to be!”

Grace and peace,

Jim

Warning: Fire Danger Very High Today

Fire Warning!

Growing up on the edge of the Allegheny National Forest one of my childhood heroes was Smokey the Bear. I’d see him on road signs leading into or out of the forest announcing the fire danger for that particular day.images

If we really believe the Pentecost story (Acts 2:1-21), we ought to put a sign like that in front of the church this Sunday.

Luke says that when the Holy Spirit moved into the lives of Jesus’ first disciples it was like fire dancing around the room setting each of their hearts on fire. He was drawing on imagery from the Old Testament that declares, “Our God is a consuming fire.” (Deuteronomy 4:24)

British poet, T. S. Eliot, reflected on the Pentecost story while incendiary bombs were falling on London during World War II.

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire…

We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

I looked up the word “suspire.” It means to “breathe from below.” It points to things we most deeply long for, aspire to, or set our hearts on. But don’t miss the Smokey the Bear sort of warning in Eliot’s words and the choice he places before us.  It’s the “choice of pyre or pyre…Consumed by either fire or fire.”

Living in Fire-Risk Times 

We are living in a dangerously fire-prone time. It’s as if we, our nation and our world are positioned on pyres of dry wood that are ready to flare up at any moment:

…fires of anger, frustration, resentment;
…pyres of racism, bigotry, and perverted patriotism;
…fires of repression that threaten the very things we value in Bill of Rights – freedom of religion, freedom of the speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition the government;
…and now even more than a week ago, the fires of an environmental crisis that threatens to incinerate the earth itself.

But Eliot said we get to choose the fire that will consume us.

We can be consumed by the flames of narrow self-interest or we can be on fire with the self-giving love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

We can set the world ablaze with the fires of jingoistic nationalism or we can gather around the flame of shared values that break down barriers and build bridges of understanding.

We can burn on the pyre of persistent racism or we can be ablaze with the hope and promise of reconciliation.

We can be incinerated in the flames of narcissistic greed or we can glow with the warmth of God’s extravagant generosity.

We can feed the fires of consumption that destroy the environment or we can ignite the energy of a biblical stewardship of creation.

We can add fuel to the fires of polarization that separate us by or we can stoke up the fire of divine love that unites us in one family of God.

We can burn on the pyre of hated or we can be aflame with the fire of Christ-like love.

Ablaze with Love 

Charles Wesley prayed that the same Spirit who came like fire on Pentecost would burn be ablaze in his own heart.

Pure baptismal Fire divine,
All thy heavenly powers exert,
In my deepest darkness shine,
Spread thy warmth throughout my heart;
Come, thou Spirit of burning come,
Comforter through Jesus given;
All my earthly dross consume,
Fill my soul with love from heaven.

Love in me intensely burn,
Love mine inmost essence seize,
All into thy nature turn,
All into thy holiness!
Spark of thy celestial flame,
Then my soul shall upward move,
Trembling on with steady aim,
Seek and join its source above.

Pentecost is the constant reminder that our God is a consuming fire and that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we like those first disciples, can be set aflame with the fire of divine love.

So, which pyre will we choose? Which fire will consume us?

Grace and peace,

Jim