Susan Buchanan

God Will Find A Way

In Ministry on December 16, 2013 at 1:53 pm
Gary's Ordination

Ordination service for Rev. Dr. Gary Brewton. Photo by Joe Brewton

My friend, the Rev. Dr. Gary Brewton, M.D., honored me by asking me to preach at his ordination service on Saturday, December 14, 2013. It was with great joy that I was able to participate with all those gathered to celebrate, affirm, and confirm this particular call of God to ordained life and ministry. The text of the sermon (with a slight revision) is below.

After Gary’s ordination as Deacon he and Troy were reflecting on what it meant to them that the Orthodox Catholic Church would affirm their calls with ordination. Troy noted that, “God will find a way.”

I want to focus on the Jeremiah text that Marilyn read, and I feel a need to step back a few verses, to verse 27…

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:

“The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

The focus in this service is on the new covenant, the covenant written on the heart, the promise that as Dr. John Holbert notes, will one day put preachers and teachers of the gospel out of a job. No one needs to be taught about God when their hearts are so connected, right?

It’s a covenant that you, Gary, hold tightly and are held by that you have continued in faith to follow, trusting in God’s promise for you, trusting in the words of Jeremiah in chapter 29, “I know the plans I have for you…plans for a future of hope.”

But I have to admit, I got some sour grapes.

One of the difficult things in my work with seminary students is the number of them I have to see rejected in the ordination process of the United Methodist Church. I see gifted and talented students, award-winning students, who must leave the denomination that raised them in order to follow God’s call to ordained ministry. Sexual orientation isn’t the only reason we’re finding to reject people from ordination as we choose policies of prejudice over true discernment. So, yeah, I got some sour grapes.

That’s why I wanted to step back a little because Jeremiah is telling us that for the Rev. Dr. Gary Brewton, those sour grapes are in the past. Today is the day of a new covenant, a new promise, for a future of hope. God has found a way for you to answer the divine call on your life, for you to serve as a minister of the sacrament and a preacher of the gospel in God’s Church, the catholic, universal Church with a capital C.

Our friend, the Rev. Lynette Ross is now a pastor in the United Church of Christ, and she has noted what it means to her that they acknowledge all of the families and communities that have brought her to where she is today. If we believe in one holy catholic Church (and we say we do), then we can affirm the Methodists for bringing you to this day, and celebrate the ministry you now have with your new covenant of clergy colleagues. As Troy said, “God will find a way.”

That’s Jeremiah’s focus in these last chapters of the book, “God will find a way.”

There is a time for the prophetic word, and he has delivered it, but now is the time for hope, now is the time for crazy optimism, the kind of faith and trust that in the next chapter lead Jeremiah to buy a field in the middle of the abandoned place, to proclaim that houses will be built, fields will be plowed and harvested, families will return.

It may be 100 years before that happens, but “God will find a way”.

As Christians, we say that the new covenant written on the heart is “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Is that not another way of saying, “God will find a way”?

The Beloved of God may be rejected and abused and hung on a cross to die, but “God will find a way.”

The Savior of the world may be battered and broken and lying in a tomb, but “God will find a way.”

The followers of God may be heavy-burdened by sin and guilt, but “God will find a way.”

And those called of God may face persecution and prejudice, but “God will find a way.”

We give thanks that on this day, for the future of God’s church and its ministry, God has found a way. Amen.

What makes a “teen expert”?

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2013 at 10:12 am

@caseorganic and the motivational speaker

Drug addiction. Traumatic childhoods. A paralyzing accident. Natural disaster.

Combine that with humor and basketball or skateboard tricks, and you can make a good living as a teen motivational speaker. Thsi isn’t discounting that survivor stories are often inspirational. There’s no denying that it’s helpful for struggling teens to hear that it’s possible to survive hardships. But as Richardson High School in Texas and the Rio Rancho Public Schools in New Mexico found, these speakers need to better vetted. What are their qualifications and what is their message?

Public schools pay $3500 – $5000 or more per event to bring in motivational speakers to talk to students about overcoming challenges, sex, dating and relationships, and drugs and alcohol. What do these speakers offer that the usual curriculum does not?

As motivational speaker Jeff Yalden explains:

The reality is that we are nothing more than a teacher, but we can get away with a lot more than a teacher can.  For example:  There are a lot of teachers that have to be careful about how they relate to their teens and how they teach.  They have to follow an outline or a syllabus.  As a speaker, we have a message that through word of mouth or advertising, someone has thought enough of the message to want us to share this message with their teens.

Note that Yalden doesn’t say qualified or trained. It’s all about the message. Is it inspirational, motivational, cautionary, but most importantly entertaining? Most schools are sensitive to church and state issues that bar speakers from explicitly religious messages. Even if God isn’t mentioned, how does a speaker’s religious beliefs inform her or his message to students? As speaker Justin Lookadoo learned from Richardson High School students with access to websites and social media feeds, the message begins before one arrives on campus. Richardson High School parent, the Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles, raises questions about Lookadoo that should be asked of all public school speakers:

The issue is that he has not been vetted and credentialed by any professional body to address issues related to child development. If the school wanted to address dating relationships and gender issues, why didn’t it bring in a credentialed professional, such as a licensed counselor or a [pediatrician]?

Other questions that need to be asked: Is $3500-$5000 per event a good use of resources for educating and motivating students? Is there any research on the initial and lasting impact of such speakers? How are speakers vetted and evaluated? How are parents and students informed?

I thank my God for all the memories I have of you

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2013 at 9:49 am

This message on memory from Dr. Fred Craddock, one of my preaching professors, is especially poignant after a nursing home visit I made yesterday. Memory is vital to ministry with people in the later years of their life, and as Dr. Craddock says, even for those who are losing their memories through Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s the short-term memory that goes first, but there are memories that are grafted into people’s souls. When I visit with an older couple for the first time, I ask them to tell me how they met, about their first date. I did this in the nursing home yesterday with a family whose mother has Alzheimer’s. When I asked if she had a favorite hymn, we sang Amazing Grace together. She didn’t remember all the words (neither did the rest of us), but my new friend remembered the tune and sang every note. Then her family started to talk about how she was always singing as she went about her day, and they remembered that she loved How Great Thou Art. So we sang that one, and again my friend remembered every note.

Touching those soul memories is vital to care of the soul. Dr. Craddock says in the video that it’s our job to help people remember. We remember not just our own lives, but we touch the ongoing story of God in the world by remembering the saints before us. Those memories shape our future, and the futures of those who follow us.

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