Tuesday, January 26, 2010


An Inkling
We’ve all been around someone who is slow to catch jokes.  While everyone else laughs, he or she looks around with puzzlement, or tee-hees nervously to keep from being obvious.  Such folks add to the delight of the moment, for when the humor finally penetrates their innocent sincerity, they typically laugh loudest of all – which multiplies the mirth.  The “Oh, I get it now” moment is often even funnier than the original amusement.
G.K. Chesterton wrote, “I’ve often thought that the gigantic secret of God is mirth.”  It’s a secret not because it is hidden, but because we don’t get it – which is funny in itself!  And we’re definitely not missing the punch-line because of an innocent sincerity.  It has more to do with taking ourselves too seriously, which inevitably veils us with grimness.
One of the gospel’s great gifts is the “Oh, I get it!” moment, when Jesus removes the veil.  Then we begin to see life as it really is – both tragic and funny, the latter spinning forth from this gigantic secret of the Master of Mirth.
And part of the joke is that the secret’s been in plain sight all along!  Look at the mirth in the creation around us.  For slapstick behold the platypus, porcupine, and skunk. For the farcical consider the arrogant Siamese cat or the ferocious Chihuahua.  Then for absurdity, check out the elephant and the donkey.  (And by the way, could there be any better symbols for political parties who take themselves ever so seriously?)
After laughing with creation, look to the center of the good news.  When humanity had soured God’s mirthful world, God’s response was to send his Son.  To Nazareth?  Are you kidding?  Picking twelve clowns as disciples?  What kind of slapstick is this?  Who alone brings salvation, and yet is rejected?  This comedy can be very dark.  Whose murder provides life?  Ha!  Who now conveys this great good news through the church?  Ha!  Ha!
Could it be that heaven’s mirth grows yet more gigantic when one of us who hasn’t gotten it finally does?  Indeed it does.  It’s not just “hallelujah” up there, but the profoundly silly children’s song, “Ha!  Ha!  Ha-llelujah!”
Get it?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Learning to Tell the Difference

An Inkling
Webster’s Dictionary defines “wisdom” as “accumulated philosophic or scientific learning; insight; and good sense.”  Good enough.  But what it all boils down to is the ability to tell the difference.  We make dozens of choices daily between good and evil, greater and lesser, and so on.  The trouble is, it’s not always easy to tell the difference.  That’s where we need wisdom.
For example, we need wisdom to tell the difference between:  feasting and glutting; greed and prudence; faith and credulity; rest and laziness; drive and driven-ness; luxury and necessity; frankness and brutality; gentle words and insincerity; righteous indignation and self-important rage; true patriotism and blind loyalty; political posturing and high ideals; the preservation of tradition and the fear of change; genuine tolerance and moral laxity; the call of God and the call of ambition; zeal and fanaticism; stubbornness and persistence; pride and self-respect; assertiveness and selfishness; hope and fantasy; indulgence and forgiveness; busyness and vocation; the enduring and the temporal; the valuable and the expensive; justice and charity; and paradox and contradiction. 
Wisdom is not the exclusive preserve of religious gurus or PhD’s.  It is a gift of God, available to all who follow Jesus.  Thus James boldly promises:  “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”  What greater gift could God give than a wisdom which can tell the difference? 
But unlike pudding, there are no instant versions.  Thus, with our wisdom always incomplete, we inevitably make mistakes.  But that’s okay, for God does not require that we be wise, just that we be wising up.  He is able to capture up even our foolish mistakes into his plan to teach us his kind of wisdom.  Our part is to be willing and attentive students. 
Wise up, O men of God,

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

You Had to Be There

An Inkling
Have you ever been telling someone about some hysterical event, only to realize in mid-telling it that it’s no longer funny?  Such realizations usually end with the explanation, “Well, I guess you had to be there.”
Context counts.  We understand that readily enough with humor.  The Aggie jokes they tell in Texas don’t elicit many laughs here in Virginia – unless you tell them as West Virginia jokes.
Context counts in worship too.  You can tell someone about a song you sung or a sermon you heard, but it usually leads to the same blank stare that greets a joke out of context.  You have to be there.  As wonderful as audio and video recordings are, they don’t even come close to capturing the reality of worship.
Why?  Hearing words is one thing.  But it’s another thing entirely to hear those words together with the people to whom you have been joined by God’s calling, and with whom you have shared much joy and sorrow.  Hearing music recorded in a service is one thing.  Experiencing such music with your partners in faith is another altogether. 
Besides, the most important element of worship cannot be recorded at all:  it is the presence of God.  He shows up for worship in ways that are never predictable, nor even fully describable.  But his presence is always life-giving.  Yes, God is present everywhere, but his presence becomes dynamic when the Spirit joins us in worship.
“Well, I guess you had to be there.”  We won’t try to explain last Sunday.  We’ll just invite you to join with us this Sunday! 
See you then!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Names and The Name

An Inkling
What a joy!  I had the privilege of baptizing my grandson on December 27.  That’s Hilton Robert Sherrard in the picture with me, freshly baptized.
Part of the baptismal ritual is the naming of the child.  I felt a bit silly asking Lindsay and Matt for Hilton’s name.  And yet it was important for them to speak his name, for it was about to be paired with The Name, and as the ones who had named Hilton, it was well that they named him then and there.
People choose names for lots of reasons – they like the sound, or they admire someone of the same name (either famous to all or familiar to the parents), or they value the meaning of a name.  Some choose family names.  So it is for Hilton Robert, his maternal grandmother’s family name, and his paternal grandfather’s given name.  I like that – he’s unique, yet rooted.
All of which is fine.  But his name is now all the richer with promise because it has been paired with The Name:  “Hilton Robert Sherrard, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  Far more important than family roots is a rootedness in the One who is his Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. 
Sometimes we talk about someone “living up to his name.”  Hilton Robert Sherrard is a moniker worthy of such pursuit.  But it’s not enough to build a life around.  The Name is enough – more than enough.  Hilton’s identity and purpose will be found in the pairing of his name and The Name – along with the power to fill out his identity and pursue his purpose.  All of this and more was signified in just a few seconds in his baptism.  God does very big things in very simple ways.
How about your name?  How were you named?  What does it mean?  Whatever the meaning of your name, its pairing with The Name now gives a promise far greater than your parents could ever have imagined when they first dreamed up your name.
Here’s to Hilton,