Archives For Dennis Perry

This weekend Dennis Perry and I shared the sermon, dialoguing on John 20.24-29 about doubt and the shame of the cross, faith as obedience, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Here’s the sermon:

If it were a metaphor, we should worship the universal principle behind the metaphor instead of Jesus Christ. Or so I argue. For Easter, Dennis Perry and I did a dialogue sermon for all 5 services. Dialogues aren’t really my forte but I think this one turned out solid. You can listen to it below. You can listen watch the live stream of the 8:30 service here.

Book Launch Roast Notes

Jason Micheli —  December 16, 2016 — 1 Comment

15350442_903671816401166_318112112921664168_nTwo friends in my congregation organized a Friar’s Club Roast of yours truly at the local country club to kick-off my book’s release. It turned out to be a hilarious evening.

As part of the night, Dr. Tony Jones, author of Did God Kill Jesus? and the one who first encouraged me to start this blog, to launch our podcast, and to write the book, came from the Twin Cities to be a featured roaster. Also on tap, Dr. Jeffrey Pugh, author of Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times and Professor of Religion at Elon University, was another guest roast master. Along with my friend and mentor Dr. Dennis Perry and a host of others.

The Roast Master for the night was my dear friend Brad Todd, a frequent guest on Meet the Press who runs OnMessage Inc and is one of the architects of Trumpocalypse.

I’ll post the video when it’s edited, but here’s the manuscript of my roast of all the roasters at the end of the evening. Obviously the humor here is blue and the language profane so be warned.

social-media-buytickets

I want to thank you all for coming out to tonight to Mt. Vernon Retirement Home, for this occasion where you numb yourselves with alcohol while listening to me talk about myself nonstop. Or, as my wife likes to call it, marriage. Who knew when I arrived at Aldersgate Church over 11 years ago that one day you’d be willing to sling back liquor and cough up $75 a head just for the privilege of hearing me get mocked and ridiculed and raked over the coals.

The jokes on you. You could get that for free after every 8:30 worship service. Well maybe not quite as biting as the jokes have been here. Some of the teasing from you all tonight has cut pretty deep, so deep…I almost don’t have the heart to tell you I found out just yesterday I’ve only got a few months to live.

Oh, come on. Knock it off or I’ll let Dennis have the mic again.

In this whole process of writing and publishing my first book, I’ve had a lot of highs- and not just from the medicinal marijuana Steve Larkin sold me at his discounted geezer rate. I’ve had a lot of highs during this publishing journey. Tonight’s not one of them, but it’s is an experience.

But seriously, if I’d known that Megan and Libby Todd, the Immelda Marcos of Old Town were going to go to all this trouble, I never would’ve pretended to have cancer. Now I feel bad. With Dennis taking a sabbatical every time Donald Trump gets a new wife, cancer’s the only way I could get a little time off.

Let that be a warning to you Karla. You’re probably going to have get AIDS in order to get a vacation.

[This is where Ali wanted me to add the disclaimer that ‘AIDS isn’t funny.’ However next fall Tony Jones is publishing a book by that very title, AIDS is Funny.]

First, I think I need to say it’s not easy to be the final speaker at such a dud of an event- especially when you consider that as a preacher I’m used to speaking at church, not the Mt Vernon Nursing Home, and most of the time at church the only person who’s been drinking is Steve Larkin.

Dr. Tony Jones, Dr. Jeff, Dr. Dennis Perry, Dr. Maureen Marshall…just looking at a lineup of pretentious prefixes like yours, I think I speak for everyone when I say…I expected you guys to have more talent. All you had to do is make fun of me. How hard is that? That’s easier than making Melania Trump jokes at a MENSA meeting.

I’m like the Gallager of the theological world. I’m my own punchline. Tonight should’ve been like shooting fish in a barrel.

You all gave up your Friday night for this? I mean, Giada Hot-Laurentis is at a Cooking Festival at the Washington Convention Center right now, tonight. I appreciate the sentiment but if this were the first and only good Matrix movie, Giada was the smokin’ hot red pill and you, by being here tonight, chose the blue one.

Of course, Dennis has been chewing those little blue pills for a while now but for the rest of you…

I want to thank Brad Todd for being the Roast Master tonight. Even though tonight was a dud, Brad’s a good guy; in fact, my brother-in-law, Mike, dates Brad’s wife.

When I heard Brad was the MC  for tonight I got excited. This event should be good, I thought. After all, Brad does political advertising for Republicans. Bullshit is his job.

You might recognize Brad from his gigs on Meet the Press where he somehow manages to make Chuck Todd look well-tanned and camera ready. Brad was excited to MC tonight too; in fact, Brad is happy to have anything to do these days besides pretending he’s happy the Donald got elected President.

But he did get elected and people like Brad convinced people like you to elect him. You just remember that…when you order drinks tonight at the open bar on Brad’s tab.

Of course, I have to thank Megan Gianchetta for brainstorming and spearheading this event tonight. Megan’s a great friend and because she’s a friend I know how happy she was to have something to do other than breastfeed for a change (she’s gluten free).

Seriously though, it’s no exaggeration. I know Megan’s breasts better than my wife’s or the future first lady’s. Maybe you didn’t notice but Megan delivered their 11th son in between cocktails tonight.

And my friend Andreas Barrett is here tonight. You might not know- after my wife, Andreas was the first person to mouth kiss me while I lay in the hospital. You also might not know that Andreas Barrett is a huge fan of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, which just proves the liberal media elites don’t produce any real news. If Andreas had heard anything but fake news from Rachel Maddow the last 8 years there’s no way he’d still be wearing his Cosby sweaters out in public.

Speaking of lesbians, my assistant Terri Phillips is here tonight too. Not only does Terri make our church hum, she’s also the only straight person to have ever worked at the Walt Disney Store.

My mother, Sue, is here tonight from Richmond. Her on-again, off-again foot on the gas only made her carsick four times during the trip. Truthfully, without my mom, I wouldn’t be nearly narcissistic and dysfunctional enough to have written a book.

Over the years, some of you ladies at Aldersgate- I’m thinking especially of Juanita Csontos and Val Gass (bless your hearts)- I’ve told you how you’re just like a mother to me. Well, here she is. Talk to her for a few minutes and you’ll see what I mean.

Megan had wanted me to roast my wife, Ali, tonight too. But I’ve only recently recovered from the chemotherapy drugs that rendered me impotent and I don’t want to push my luck tonight.

But, I digress.

In between child deliveries, Megan told me that I was supposed to roast my roasters. So here goes:

According to the late Steve Allen, the “art of the comic roast lies in the speaker’s ability to hug the line of what’s appropriate and clean without going over the line.

I think we can all agree that’s a skill I have in spades.

Rotation of Roasters

Jeff, you are the greatest contemporary theologian in America. Dr. Jeffrey Metaxas of Elon College, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Jeff, you are a great man, as you told me yourself right before we started tonight.

I asked Stanley Hauerwas- a mutual friend, who recently preached at Aldersgate, what I should say about you. Stanley rubbed his bald head and told me: ‘Jeff is an asshole.’

If any of you have read Jeff’s new book on the End Times you know that back in the day Jeff was a follower in a batshit crazy end-times cult.

Jeff my mom read your book and she asked: ‘He was a follower in an End Times cult? Why not a leader?’ And then she sighed and said ‘That’s a shame.’

He never got to be a leader of that batshit crazy end times cult so he left it…for the United Methodist Church, which was an easy transition, requiring only that he give up most of the illicit drug use.

Jeff you are the most foul-mouthed, vulgar, profane, and inappropriate United Methodist Elder I know. In other words, you give me something to aspire to.

Dr. Maureen Marshall– I hope you’ve had your rabies shots.

Just kidding, I love Maureen like that TSA Agent who winked at me once.

For those of you who don’t know, Maureen is the Polit Bureau-approved principal of Stratford Landing Elementary School. Thanks to her inspiration, communion will now be levied by a meals tax.

This June, I drove all-the-way, non-stop to Ft. Apache, Arizona with Dr. Marshall. And Laura Paige Mertins and Karli Eddinger went with us because that’s a 70 hour drive, that’s way too long a drive for just one designated driver.

Except, her taste in road trip music could lead you to drink that much. You try listening to CC and the Music Factory and Barry Manilow on an endless shuffle loop and see if that endless array of Jersey walls across Oklahoma don’t start looking like Elysian Fields to you.

Kelly Wolschlager I mean Garr – I’ve known Kelly longer than anyone else here, including Dennis and my wife. In those terrible Social Darwinism years of Middle School, Kelly has the distinction of being the only- the only real live, human style- girl who was always nice to me.

And as a Nurse Practitioner, Kelly was there for us several times during my illness. In those sad, neutropenic times, I routinely would say to Kelly “I don’t want you to see me like this.”

And Kelly would always say “I’ve seen worse.” I always thought Kelly meant “I’ve seen worse cases of cancer.” But now that I’ve seen the pictures she’s shown, I realize she meant “I’ve seen YOU worse.”

And I have no idea how many other pictures from my Middle School years Kelly might posses so I just want to say tonight…Kelly, you are the nicest, kindest, warmest, most compassionate and beautiful person I’ve ever known…

Andrew DiAntonio – I’m glad to see you decided against the sweaty crotched stained basketball shorts and flip flops that was your Aldersgate employee “fashion.”

Andrew, our former Youth Minister. Andrew, I never got the chance to tell you before but you earned every penny the church hardly paid you. It’s funny timing- tonight- only yesterday we finally received all the parent permission slips for your last youth mission trip.

But, Andrew, we were so close. I thought I knew you. We worked so closely,  planned confirmation together. We traveled together and slept together in Guatemala. We ministered together through some pretty tragic times. We knew each other well. And I’ve always been perceptive. I’ve always had really good radar (or so I thought).

I don’t know how I missed all the clues: the fake spray-on-tan, the fastidious man grooming and neatly trimmed beard, the man jewelry, the love of Jersey Shore, HBO’s Rome, the Cher poster in your office.

I don’t know how I missed it. And it makes me sad the church was never the open and affirming space where you could come out of the closet and let us all know that you were in fact…an Italian-American.

Tony Jones – Tony, I’ve never said this to anyone before but you are the greatest  contemporary theologian in America. Or, as his wife says, Tony’s narcissism has prepared America for the Trump era. Speaking of his wife, you might not know that Tony trains and raises hunting dogs. It’s true. He gave it up though when his wife complained that you can’t mount Christian Orthodoxy on the wall nor can you grind it into sausages.

In case you didn’t hear it in his voice, Tony’s from Minnesota. Whenever you wonder how heartland, midwestern Minnesota goes blue every year just consider that Tony Jones is to the left of Garrison Keillor. Tony is my editor, publisher.

Just yesterday a number of you who’d pre-ordered my book forwarded me the emails you’d received from Amazon telling you that my book which released yesterday would get to you in February. It speaks for itself, Tony’s great at what he does.

And not just with me. I don’t want to spill any secrets, but Tony’s also the editor of other forthcoming titles like ‘Zika is Funny,’ ‘Gonorrhea is a Giggle,’ ‘Herpes is Hilarious,’ ‘Leukemia is a Laugh,’ ‘Testicular Cancer is a Tickle,’ and ‘Syrian Refugees are a Riot.’

(It’s a niche market.)

Finally of course there’s Dr. Dennis Wayne Perry, a man whose name will go down in history with names like Michael Scott, Gomer Pyle, and Roscoe Peco Train. I think I speak for everyone at Aldersgate when I say:

‘Huh, I completely forgot that worked here.’

Over the years, nearly every day Dennis has actually worked I’ve spent with him, which is to say: Holy Week.

I’ve known Dennis for over 20 years, and the only thing I think when I look at this man is ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

Megan asked me in between breast-feedings, but why would I roast Dennis tonight and tempt the providence of God to afflict incurable cancer-stricken me as he’s afflicted this man?

Why would I tempt God to reduce me to a humorless, passionless, useless husk of my former self, haunting the halls of Aldersgate Church like some walking, talking VH1 Behind the Music cautionary tale of former potential wasted.

Many of you know that the church world is littered with ministers whose success eventually went to their heads: Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggert, that lady with the purple hair on TBN.

But not Dennis Perry. I’ve worked with this man for 11 years, and I can assure you this man has never overreached. He’s never attempted to do anything that was in any way different from the last thing he did.

And that kind of unchanging sameness is just so refreshing in a church.

Instead of roasting Dr Perry, I should close tonight by honoring him.

Sure, what bankruptcies and sexual assaults are to the President-Elect, sabbaticals are to Dennis Perry but, I can assure you, this Rev works hard for you. Any one on staff can tell you, Dennis is working on the same thing on Thursday that he was working on on Monday.

He never gives up. He never throws in the towel even though he types like a stroke victim relearning the use of their limbs.

Dennis Perry works hard. He’s not a quitter.

Not like that quitter Hillary Clinton. Conceding?! When Donald and Brad Todd both sharted in their pants when they found out they’d won?

I can tell you Dennis Perry never concedes in the face of reality.

Here in the Beltway Democrats whispered for months that Hillary Clinton was too old to be President.

Nonetheless, Dennis Perry doesn’t let his worn-out body, rapidly fading mind, and prehistoric job skills stop him from showing up to work at least a couple of hours a week to take credit for our work.

No sir, he’s not a quitter like Crooked Hillary.

And instead of closing tonight with a roast of him I should honor him. After all, Dennis interrupted one of his sabbaticals to come visit me when I was in the hospital and here he’s interrupted another sabbatical to be here tonight.

For that, we should honor him, not lampoon him.

In these hyper-partisan times, Dennis Wayne Perry is perhaps the last remaining bipartisan citizen among us.

He expresses his ‘reach across the aisle’ spirit by sharing the same hair stylist as Gov. Mitt Romney. And in his work ethic and career achievements, Dennis strives to perfectly embody Barack Obama’s famous line: ‘You didn’t build that.’

We should honor this man, not ridicule him.

Because Dennis Wayne Perry- he’s not just a great man. No sir. He’s a great boss too.

Having Dennis Perry for a boss is almost like not having a boss at all. You have the freedom to do anything- just ask our most recent Bishop.

All it takes is telling Dennis Perry: ‘Remember, we talked about this two days ago.’ And Dennis will agree, pretending to remember the conversation we did not have two days ago. He’s a great boss.

He doesn’t deserve for me to finish tonight with a roast of him. I tried to tell Megan but she was too busy open-air breast feeding their 14th son. I tried to tell Brad but he was too busy preemptively taking our civil liberties away.

I tried to tell them that Dennis Wayne Perry doesn’t deserve for me to rebut his roast. He’s a sensitive guy. He’s not Andreas Barrett sensitive, but he’s a sensitive guy.

Dennis has been sensitive- some might say touchy- ever since his twin brother made millions by recording ‘Islands in the Stream’ and starting a successful franchise of Fried Chicken Restaurants.

You all know how much I love Dennis, but you might not know that I harbor some unresolved anger towards Dennis Perry too. You see Dennis Perry wouldn’t perform my wedding to Ali, 10 or 12 years ago. I’m not sure which.

Dennis wouldn’t perform my wedding, which is preposterous because we all know Dennis Perry will marry anyone. He’s the Johnny Cochran of the wedding industry. From drive-by I-Do’s to Destination Nuptials, Dennis Perry will marry any biped with a faint heartbeat and a damp, sweaty roll of quarters.

But he didn’t marry Ali and me, and, truth be told, I’ve always been a little bitter about that, and that’s why I think we should focus on praising Dennis not poking fun at him.

For example, a lot of you give me credit for my ability to use words, like foreskin, to create mental pictures that stick with you long after the sermon ends.

But we should give credit where credit is due. I’m a novice compared to Dennis. Just consider this verbal-visual gem that Dennis once served up in a word picture that sticks in the mind like genital warts: ‘One morning when my daughter was a little girl she snuck into our bed and aroused me.’

Absolutely brilliant! He said that 10 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. I might have just said something wooden and pedestrian like ‘my daughter woke me up.’ But this man, this man is a master wordsmith I can’t possibly ever hope to match.

And Megan should’ve asked me to close tonight by celebrating him for it not roasting him.

I mean- what would a roast of Dennis even look like? Me making jokes about how old Dennis is? How lame would that be?

I guess I could stand up here and joke that Dennis’ life is like a glass that’s half empty, but technically at his age the glass is 9/10 empty, and we all know that last third is always just backwash.

And yes, I know I make jokes on Sundays about how Dennis is old and forgetful and lazy and complacent. But that’s just a preacher’s exaggeration.

I’ve known Dennis for 20 plus years. His forgetfulness and laziness and complacency have nothing to do with his age.

I knew Dennis when he was young and, other than the obvious physical and mental deterioration, he’s the same person today he was then.

The first time I met Dennis was in a worship service my mother forced me to attend when I was a teenager. I’ll never forget that sermon.

At the beginning of the sermon, Dennis had us turn to our neighbors to share something, while he tried to come up with a sermon in his head.

After we shared with our neighbors, he told us he had three points for us and asked us if we were ready. We said yes and he began to preach.

He preached for about 20 minutes and then he told us what his second point was.

That was the first time I met Dennis.

What really matters though is that Dennis was the first person I called when I learned I maybe, probably, had cancer.

What really matters is that Dennis was the first person who showed up.

And when you think that person is probably the person who’s going to do your funeral, you take a good, long look at that person.

What matters is that Dennis was there before I went into surgery. He was there with Ali while I was in surgery, and he was there for us for the 12 months of shit that followed.

And so were all of you. In different ways.

Some in ways I name in the book.

Others in ways I’ll name in the 2nd Edition (if you buy enough copies).

One of the arguments I make in the book is that Christians don’t have an explanation for suffering because any god that can ‘explain’ suffering and evil and tragedy isn’t a god worthy of our worship.

Christians don’t have an explanation for suffering.

We have a community of care.

That’s an argument I could not have made without all of you-

from Terri leaving beer on porch to Teer and Andreas and Karli showing up in my hospital room, to Mikey moving in with us, to James and Paul and LP driving me to chemo, to Megan and Libby organizing events like this to Andrew and Brad and Tony emailing with me and Jeff encouraging me. Shit, this has already gone on too long. I can’t name you all.

I’d dedicated this book to all of you, but then you roasted me.

So, I just want to say from the bottom of my heart: Go to Hell.

 

The Christian blogosphere has been all atwitter lately over the National Cathedral’s welcome of an Islamic prayer service into their sacred space. Living here in DC as I do, I can say that Muslims praying in the cathedral will be neither the first non-Christian activity on the cathedral’s schedule nor will it be as a-religious as much of the silliness which transpires there (seriously, I was once forced to take a ‘Laughter Yoga’ class there).

True to form, my mentor and partner-in-crime, Dennis Perry, was well-ahead of the curve in showing Christian hospitality to our Muslim neighbors when their mosque was under renovation. Fidelity to Jesus, Dennis points out, involves much more than tribal allegiance to him. It requires us to embody his life and ministry, and when it comes how we should offer hospitality to our despised, feared neighbors Jesus even gives us a handy-dandy, black-and-white parable to abide: the Good Samaritan.

Our church welcomed our Muslim neighbors 4 years ago. It was not without controversy. Many church members got angry. Others left. Only one ever actually came to me to tell me they were upset.

In the end, in a denomination whose highest value is most often making members happy, we’re a stronger congregation for welcoming the stranger.

Here’s the sermon I wrote 4 years ago, the Sunday after the Friday we first welcomed our local mosque into our sacred multipurpose room. I preached that Sunday while Dennis sat in the middle of a firing line of questions between services.

As luck would have it, it’s this coming Sunday’s lectionary text.

Also, just for shits and giggle, here’s a bit the Daily Show did about our hospitality.

The Form of God’s Shalom – Matthew 25

A few years ago, before she graduated, I went with my wife, Ali, to a law school party. I hate parties. I avoid them. I go only begrudgingly and when I’m in them I’m tempted, like George Castanza from Seinfeld, to pretend I’m anything other than a minister- a marine biologist, say, or an architect. Nothing stops party conversations in their tracks like saying you’re a minister, and nothing provokes unwanted conversations like saying you’re a minister.

So, there I was at this party full of wannabe lawyers, gnawing like a beaver on celery sticks, desperately trying to keep conversation to superficial things when this Urban-Outfitted guy asked me what I did for a living. And because my wife was nearby I told him the truth.

Sure enough, the first thing he did was discretely move his wine glass behind his back. Then he copped an elitist air and said:

‘Well, I’m not religious, of course, but I do try to live a good life and help people when I can. Isn’t that what Christianity’s really all about?’

And I thought: ‘Wow, that’s really deep. Is that the fruit of years of philosophical searching? I should write that down. I don’t want to forget it. I might be able to use that in a sermon some day.’

Today’s scripture text from Matthew 25 seems like the perfect example of such do-good moralism.

One of the most obvious features of this judgment scene is what’s missing from it. When it comes to the sheep and the goats, there’s no mention of a confession of faith. There’s no mention of justification. Nothing is said here about forgiveness of sins or grace.

There’s nothing here about what we say or believe about Jesus. Many conclude from this text then that our beliefs, our doctrine, our faith are all incidental when compared to our deeds, that this parable shows us that what really matters is what we do, that one day we will be judged not on the strength or sincerity of our faith but on the presence of our good deeds to others.

The only problem with such an interpretation is that its an interpretation that doesn’t require Jesus; in fact, you can forget Jesus is the one telling the parable.

The suggestion that ‘doing good to others is really what it’s all about’ is hardly a novel concept. It’s not specifically Christian or even particularly religious.

There has to be more going on here.

Jesus and the disciples have just left the Temple in Jerusalem where Jesus preached a series of woes against the faithless city. It was while they were there that the disciples couldn’t help but marvel over the impressive architecture of Herod’s temple mount.

And hearing their amazement, Jesus responds by predicting the complete destruction of every building they see, stone for stone.

Then Jesus leads them up to the Mt of Olives. When they get there, the disciples ask Jesus: When will temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of the coming age?

Rather then answer them directly, Jesus responds with a series of parables about what kind of people his People should be in order to anticipate the coming age.

And the setting for all of this is the Mt of Olives, the place where Jews believed God would begin to usher in the new age (Zechariah 14.1-5). Jesus predicts destruction, he takes them up to this mountain that’s loaded with symbolism- so why wouldn’t the disciples ask: ‘What will be the sign?’ That this is the setting for today’s scripture is key to understanding Jesus’ parable.

Because the setting is the place where Jews believed God would end this age, to read this parable rightly you have to go all the way back to the very beginning of scripture.

Every year I spend the first three weeks of our confirmation program drilling into the confirmands’ heads that harmony was God’s intention from the very beginning. Harmony with creation, with one another, with Father, Son and Spirit.

Sometimes we spend so much time praising God for dying for our sins we forget that Sin was not in the first draft of God’s story. We forget that harmony was God’s original design, and we forget that harmony is God’s promise for a

New Creation.

The Hebrew word for that harmony is ‘shalom,’ a word the New Testament translates as ‘peace.’ But it’s not just a sentiment or a feeling of tranquility. It’s restoration. Throughout scripture God’s judgment is against those who work against shalom.

Shalom is not just an abstract theme of scripture; it takes tangible form in the Torah where God lays out Israel’s special charge to care for the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the sick, the poor- whether they’re on the inside of community or the outside of the community because, as Leviticus says, ‘they’re just like you’ (19).

Implied in the Jewish Law is the reality that the stranger and the widow and the orphan and the poor lack an advocate in this world. They are a sign of what’s broken in creation; therefore, God intervenes for them by calling Israel to labor with him in establishing God’s shalom.

This partnership between God and God’s People- this is how God puts creation back together again. This is what the Old Testament is about. Then, in the New, God becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ to model shalom for us. Until God brings forth the New Heaven and the New Earth he calls the believing community to embody in every aspect of their lives the shalom that is made flesh in Jesus Christ.

The works of mercy listed in Jesus’ parable- they’re not just a simple list of good deeds.

It’s a summary of what God’s shalom looks like.

This parable isn’t a superficial reminder to do good to others. It’s a description of Israel’s vocation, a vocation taken on by and made flesh in Jesus Christ.

This parable is Jesus’ final teaching moment before his passion begins. By telling this parable here the Shepherd is passing his vocation on to his sheep. It’s the equivalent of the end of John’s Gospel where Jesus breathes on his disciples and says: ‘My shalom I give you.’

You see-

The point of this parable is not that we will be judged according to our good deeds per se. The point is that we will be judged by the extent to which we embody Christ’s life.

The point of this parable is not that our faith or beliefs in Jesus have nothing to do with how we will be judged. The point is we will be judged by the extent to which our faith in Christ has allowed us to conform our lives to his way of life which is the life God desired for all of us before Sin entered the world.

Ask yourself: who is it that welcomes the stranger, loves their enemy, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, brings good news to the prisoner?

This is a description of Jesus’ life.

The sheep are saved not because of their good deeds. The sheep are saved because they’ve dared to live the life that redeems the world. The sign of the new age that the disciples were asking about? The sign of that new age are a people bold enough to embody the life of Christ. That’s why Jesus tells this story.

Earlier this week a member of the congregation came to me, quite upset, and told me they couldn’t understand why we would allow for an Islamic congregation to hold their Friday Jummah prayer services here in our building.

‘How can we ask our youth to give their lives to Christ when we’re condoning the practice of another religion in our fellowship hall?’

It was an honest question. I don’t doubt the sincerity of it, and it was just one of many such questions I’ve received in the last few weeks.

Implicit in the question is the suggestion that by welcoming the Islamic congregation we are watering down our beliefs in Jesus when in fact I think it’s the opposite.

I believe Jesus Christ is God incarnate. I believe he’s the savior of the world. And because I believe that, I believe his way of life is the form of God’s shalom. And there is no better description of Jesus’ life than as the One who welcomes the stranger, love his enemies, cares for the outcast, heals the sick, and brings good news to the captives.

Do I believe the worlds’ religions are all just different paths to the same destination? No.

Do I believe Islam rightly understands the God of Abraham? No.

Do I believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father? Yes.

But when we say that Jesus is the only way to the Father, we don’t just mean our belief in Jesus is the only way to the Father.

We also mean Jesus’ way of life is the only way we get to the Father’s love.

That we would welcome Muslim strangers into our sacred space with no strings attached is not a reduction of what we believe about Jesus (or a betrayal); it is, I think, the fullest possible expression of what we believe about Jesus.

This isn’t just a relevant question for our congregation. As globalism and secularism spread, the question for the Church in the future is: how do we as Christians engage the stranger?

We do so as Christ, who regarded the stranger as neither darkness nor danger.

Today’s scripture is Jesus‘ final teaching moment before the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel- where Jesus sends out the apostles to make disciples of all nations. What that means, I think, is that the necessary condition for evangelism, the necessary condition for sharing our faith, is the presence of a People who embody the life of the One whom we wish to share with others.

Fundamentally, you can’t share a message about the One who welcomed strangers and loved enemies and forgave sin and conquered the power of Death in a hostile, suspicious or fearful way.

The manner in which we share our faith has to match the content of our message. Otherwise we’re practicing an ideology and not the ministry of Jesus.

Look-

There are irreconcilable differences with how Christians, Muslims, and Jews worship the God of Abraham. Secular culture tries to tell us that those differences don’t really matter. Extremists try to tell us that those differences are worth killing over.

I believe what the Church has to offer the world right now is a gift we’ve already been given by Jesus. What we have to offer the world is a ministry that welcomes the stranger. What we have to offer the world is a community where there is no danger in the Other’s difference because welcome of the stranger is an attribute of God’s own life.

Let me make it plain:

Scripture doesn’t teach that after we welcome them the stranger will cease being strange to us or that our differences are insignificant.

Scripture doesn’t teach that by loving our enemies our enemies will cease to be our enemies.

Scripture doesn’t teach that by visiting the prisoner we’ll convince the prisoner to swear off crime. Scripture doesn’t teach that in feeding the hungry the hungry will show appreciation to us or that in caring for the needy we won’t find the needy a burden to us.

Rather, in a world of violence and injustice and poverty and loneliness Jesus has called us to be a people who welcome strangers and love enemies and bring good news to prisoners, feed and cloth the poor and care for those who have no one.

We do this because this is the form of God’s shalom. This is the labor Christ has given us. I recognize such labor at times can be painful, uncomfortable and difficult. But ask any mother- labor pains always come before new life.

rp_Holy-Spirit-1024x6821.jpgDennis Perry, my assistant pastor (pictured here below on the Daily Show), continued our sermon series on the Holy Spirit by spinning roulette wheel and tackling your questions at random. The first one was a good one: ‘Can the Spirit do anything the Son can’t?’

ImamPastor

You can listen to the sermon here below, in the sidebar to the right,

or download it in iTunes here.

For those of you receiving this by email, you may have to click over to the blog directly to access the audio player.

 

imagesIf you attend my church, read this blog or listen to my sermons then you know I tend to give Dennis Perry, my associate pastor and partner-in-crime, a lot of crap.

Good-natured, ribbing.

You know I tend to talk about how Dennis is old, forgetful, lazy, obvious, boring, tired, uninspired, old, predictable, vain, shallow, past his prime, full of himself, phones it in, takes credit for others’ work….just to name a few things.

As more than one parishioner has expressed with not a little exasperation, we have a ‘unique’ relationship.

He’s my Jerry Lewis to my Dean Martin.

My Kramer or Costanza to my Jerry.

Case in point:

Earlier this summer Dennis and I gave a presentation for a group of clergy at an annual conference. Because we were riffing off of one another’s comments, it was perfectly natural and predictable that I would start to yank Dennis’ chain in the course of our presentation.

He was the only one laughing.

Besides me.

It’s true that clergy in particular and Christians in general aren’t particularly strong in the  funny category, but the silence suggested something else too, I think: how unique our relationship actually is.

Behind the lack of self-seriousness is an actual friendship, a partnership that has no need for competition, oneupsmanship or self-aggrandizing- all of which, sadly,  are rare among clergy.

And it started a long time ago. Right around the time I was learning to drive, I was learning about Jesus.

From Dennis.

He’s not just my Kramer.

He’s my Yoda too.

And that’s not an age joke.

The thousands of books in my office began with one book (on Aquinas) Dennis handed to me as I left church one Sunday morning. I was just one out of 1,000 people he rubbed elbows with that morning but it was an important gesture.

The theological wrestling I’m wont to do on a daily basis began with just one question (Time vs Eternity) to which Dennis sketched an answer on a dry erase board- and suggested still another book, Screwtape– one confirmation class long ago.

The friendship and ministry we share today began back then with mentorship. Quick casual gestures of interest and encouragement.

It was he who boiled down the pained ‘How do you know if you’re called into ministry?’ agonizing to its essence: ‘It comes down to whether you can really see yourself doing anything else and being happy.’

Simple.

This nostalgia has been brought to you by the article I was forwarded from United Methodist Connections, “Why I’m Called to be a Mentor.”

The article, by Rev Melissa Pisco, a pastor in Florida, is the sort of unsurprising institutional promotion you’d expect from any organization, and it’s certainly the sort of bureaucratic PR you’d expect me to mock and satirize.

But I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.

In the United Methodist system, ‘mentors’ are pastors you don’t know- and, chances are, will only get to know slightly better- assigned to tugboat ordinands through the hoops of the ordination process.

You’re not supposed to refer to them as hoops but that’s what they are.

Or, more accurately, that’s how they’re experienced.

As hoops.

Psychological tests, district committee interviews with open-ended questions, conference board interviews with open-ended questions (‘What can you tell me about the resurrection?’), essay questions, interviews about the essay answers.

It’s an anxiety-inducing process. It was for me and I got through without a hitch, and it was for my peers in the process too.

And that’s my point.

It doesn’t allow for the kinds authentic relationship-building that I think makes for fruitful mentorship.

Ordinands, who’ve already invested years and cringe-worthy amounts of debt, don’t feel permission to be themselves in front of ‘mentors’ who’ve been assigned to them by the people who soon will be examining their fitness for ministry.

It’s like asking a defendant to confess to the jury instead of his counsel.

I remember the first time I revealed a particular struggle I was having in my rookie ministry (the lack of anyone anywhere near my age within an hour’s drive).

The response I got from my mentor: ‘Well, I’d recommend you not share that with the board.’

Signal received.

I’m not trying beat up on Rev Melissa Pico or others who serve like her. And I understand that every process has to have…process.

But true mentorship doesn’t happen just because that’s the name you’ve affixed to an institutional process.

Actual, fruitful, vibrant mentorship is relational and while it’s not equal, it is safe; and therefore, much more likely to happen within the local congregation than inside a top-down prescribed process.

I had a handful of assigned ‘mentors’ as I wound my way to being a full-fledged minister and all of them were/are good guys and effective pastors.

But the mentoring that really made a difference in my life and for my call was the relationship I began with my local pastor and continue to this day, the kind that can’t be assigned but must instead evolve.

The same is true, I think- I pray- for the three friends in my own congregation for whom I’ve assumed the role Dennis played and plays to me.

 

This weekend the Rev Dr Dennis Wayne Perry will kick-off our fall sermon series, Seven Truths that Changed the World: Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas. First up, is our belief that not all dead men stay dead.

In anticipation of what I’m sure will be a riveting sermon by our facial hair-challenged assistant pastor, here’s a good account of the Resurrection as historical happening from Parchment and Pen.

Just as we test the historicity of any event, not through emotional conviction, but with historical evidence, I would like to devote some time to laying out a brief historical case for the Resurrection of Christ, the central issue of the Christian faith.

Here is what we need (the tools of the trade):

1. Internal Evidence: Evidence coming from within the primary witness documents, the New Testament.

2. External Evidence: Collaborative evidence coming from outside the primary witness documents.

Internal Evidence:

  • Honesty
  • Irrelevant Details
  • Harmony
  • Public Extraordinary Claims
  • Lack of Motivation for Fabrication

Honesty:
The entire Bible records both successes and failures of the heroes. I have always been impressed by this. It never paints the glorious picture that you would expect from legendary material, but shows them in all their worst moments. The Israelites whined, David murdered, Peter denied, the apostles abandoned Christ in fear, Moses became angry, Jacob deceived, Noah got drunk, Adam and Eve disobeyed, Paul persecuted, Solomon worshiped idols, Abraham was a bigamist, Lot committed incest, John the Baptist doubted, Abraham doubted, Sarah doubted, Nicodemus doubted, Thomas doubted, Jonah ran, Samson self-served, and John, at the very end of the story, when he should have had it all figured out, worshiped an angel (Rev 22:8). I love it! (ahem).

And these are the Jews who wrote the Bible!

In addition, the most faithful are seen as suffering the most (Joseph, Job, and Lazarus), while the wicked are seen as prospering (the rich man). In the case of the Gospels, the disciples who recorded it claimed to have abandoned Christ and did not believe in His resurrection when told. Even after the resurrection, they still present themselves as completely ignorant of God’s plan (Acts 1:6-7). Women are the first to witness the resurrection which has an element of self-incrimination since a woman’s testimony was not worth anything in the first century. If someone were making this up, why include such an incriminating detail? (I am glad they did—what an Easter message this is for us today!)

Irrelevant Details:
The Gospel writers (especially John) contain many elements to their story that are really irrelevant to the big picture. Normally, when someone is making a story up, they include only the details that contribute to the fabrication. Irrelevant details are a mark of genuineness in all situations.

Notice this small segment of the Gospel of John 20:1-8 (HT: Gregory Boyd, but modified):

“Early on the first day of the week (when? does it matter?), while it was still dark (who cares?), Mary Magdalene (an incriminating detail) went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one who Jesus loved (John’s modest way of referring to himself—another mark of genuineness) and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have taken him!” (note her self-incriminating lack of faith here). So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. They were running, but the other disciple out ran Peter and reached the tomb first (who cares who won the race? a completely irrelevant detail). He bent over (irrelevant, but the tomb entrance was low—a detail which is historically accurate of wealthy people of the time—the kind we know Jesus was buried in) and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in (why not? irrelevant detail). Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb (Peter’s boldness stands out in all the Gospel accounts). He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head (irrelevant and unexpected detail—what was Jesus wearing?). The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen (somewhat irrelevant and unusual. Jesus folded one part of his wrapping before he left!). Finally the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went inside (who cares about what exact order they went in?)

Harmony:
The four Gospel writers claim to have witnessed the resurrected Christ. The same is the case for most of the other writers of the NT. The four Gospel writers all write of the same event from differing perspectives. Although they differ in details, they are completely harmonious to the main events surrounding the resurrection, and all claim that it is an historical event. Many people are disturbed by the seeming disharmony among the Gospels since the Gospel writers do not include all the same details. However, this is actually a mark of historicity since if they all said exactly the same thing, it would be a sign that they made it up. However, the Gospel writers contain just enough disharmony to give it a mark of genuine historicity.

Click here to read the rest.

As many of you know, Dennis leaves for vacation this weekend, which means it’s that time of year again when I crack the password on Dennis’ computer (it usually has something to do with Kenny Loggins) and replace his screensaver image (it usually has something to do with seashells) with one of my choosing. This time, however, I’m giving you the chance to choose which image you like the best:

Ok, so many of you participated in yesterday’s beard poll for DP and results were mixed. Some of you said options just didn’t capture DP’s likeness now that he’s into Day #57 of his feeble beard-growing effort. Listening to your feedback, I thought maybe giving you other options would be best.

 

Poll:

Who does bearded Dennis most resemble?

 

 

 

 

Ok, so many of you participated in yesterday’s beard poll for DP and results were mixed. Some of you said options just didn’t capture DP’s likeness now that he’s into Day #57 of his feeble beard-growing effort. Listening to your feedback, I thought maybe giving you other options would be best.

 

Poll:

Who does bearded Dennis most resemble?

 

 

 

 

Now, that I’ve grown my beard back many of you have said ‘You look just like Brad Pitt from that Jesse James movie.’

Which got me thinking…now that Dennis Wayne Perry is in day #36 of his feeble beard-growing attempt, who do you think he looks like? Take the poll below…


It’s Day #18 of the DP Beard-Growing Experience though by all appearances it may as well be Day #4. Having just spent the night with DP at a staff retreat I can attest that he does not man-scape, thereby intentionally keeping it shorn. I thought the following poster might be a good way to encourage DP to keep strong:

Alright, alright many of you mistakenly think Dennis presently has a 5 o’ clock shadow or, at best, you might say an honorary Arvin Sloan  3-day old beard.

In fact, Dr. Dennis W. Perry is on Day #17 of his beard-growing sojourn (confirmed to me by the beautIful Sharon Perry).

Realizing that some of us are more folicly (or testosterone?) challenged, today I recalled a movie that, in addition to possibly being trip down memory lane for some, could offer some beard growing advice for the Rev: The Peanut Butter Solution, a movie that apparently co-stared Col. Saul Tigh from Battlestar Galactica (yes, I’m a loser) and also has the distinction (along with Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fatal Attraction) as a childhood movie that scared the absolute s*&t out of me.

“The movie involves a haunted mansion, a creepy art teacher, kidnapped children forced to make paintbrushes, and a scene that involves pubic hair that won’t stop growing. I have vivid memories of the film from my childhood, including a scene where a bald boy’s wig is torn off mid-soccer game, much to the amusement of his fellow players, who mercilessly tease him.” – Hortense Smith 

Okay, so many of you have probably noticed that our esteemed (by some) and fearless (some of the time) leader, Dennis W Perry is once again growing his beard. Whether this is designed simply to irritate the folks at the 8:30 service, to please his lovely bride, or to make him look like Kenny Rogers we’ll never know. In any event, as Dennis’ journey begins I thought some beard-growing advice would be welcome. Here’s a How-To video from www.beardedgospelmen.com. If any of you men out there- or Eastern Bloc ladies- have advice for Dennis let me know.

Okay, so many of you have probably noticed that our esteemed (by some) and fearless (some of the time) leader, Dennis W Perry is once again growing his beard. Whether this is designed simply to irritate the folks at the 8:30 service, to please his lovely bride, or to make him look like Kenny Rogers we’ll never know. In any event, as Dennis’ journey begins I thought some beard-growing advice would be welcome. Here’s a How-To video from www.beardedgospelmen.com. If any of you men out there- or Eastern Bloc ladies- have advice for Dennis let me know.