Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Statement on Christian Nationalism

 Hey all - 

Greetings from sabbatical. I agree with the following statement. Please read - and if you want to sign, feel free. Blessings!

Pastor Tim

https://www.christiansagainstchristiannationalism.org/statement

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Love Your Neighbor

 

Ah, February! The month when we celebrate love.

Our culture today seems obsessed with the idea of love. Songs, movies, dating apps, clothing, fragrances, advertising, cars, and entire industries revolve around the promise of fulfillment through the love of another person. The Beatles gave us the promise and hope quite succinctly (and repetitively):

All you need is love, love is all you need.

America has taken this to heart. As pastor Glenn McDonald writes: In our society, true love is the ultimate prize. If the Bible says God is love, America says love is god.

The Bible does, indeed, say that God is love. Not only that, the Bible says that God is the source of all love.

This is love: it is not that we loved God but that God loved us.
We are able to love because God first loved us.
1 John 4:10&19

The Bible also says a great many other things about love, as well, most of them being commands to love and instructions about how to love. This is easily missed by a lot of people.

Perhaps you know that many other cultures often have many different words for our single English word, love. The Greeks were one of these cultures and when Jesus talks about love or Paul writes about love, there are often different words with subtly different meaning that are used – all translated as the same word, love. Eros is sexual love; storge is strong affection for; philios is deep and abiding friendship; and agape is a deep, abiding, unconditional, covenantal love. (The Greeks had others, but these are the ones used in the New Testament.)

The one most used to describe how God loves us and how God calls us to love him and others in return is agape. It was a word that was rarely used in Greek culture, maybe because it was so rarely seen or thought possible. When Paul writes about love in 1 Corinthians 13, this is the word he uses. Agape is the love we are called to show one another and the world. This can only be done if we recognize that the one and only source for this love in all the universe is God. And when God is the source, there is always more than enough love to go around.

There was a song written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach that was recorded and made popular in 1965 by Jackie DeShannon. Perhaps you remember it – What the World Needs Now Is Love. I don’t know whether Mr. David had the idea of agape love in mind or not when he wrote the lyrics to this song. I do know, however, that the idea expressed in this song has never been more relevant than it is right now.

The world needs the agape love of God more than ever, needs to hear the message that God loves them unconditionally. More importantly, the world needs to feel God’s agape love through the love of those who claim to know and follow him.

To that end, Second Presbyterian is excited to partner with other houses of worship along Kingston Pike for the third year in a row in the Love Your Neighbor 2022 event on the weekend of February 11-13. On this weekend, faith communities of various denominations will share an uplifting, affirming message that is centered on the power of love. We hope it will serve as a powerful signal to Knoxville that our diverse faith communities always have more in common than we have that divides us.

We have a limited number of yard signs available, should you like to place one in your yard to advertise the event. There will also be a sign in front of our church on Kingston Pike advertising our participation in this event. I hope that you make plans to join us for worship that weekend – even if we are still virtual – as we proclaim the power and the unity of God’s love. I can’t think of a more important message for our world right now.

 


Thursday, December 30, 2021

Epiphany

 

On Sunday, January 2, we will conclude our sermon series for Advent/Christmas, Making Room... The theme for that Sunday is Making Room for the World and is built around the traditional text for the Sunday closest to Epiphany, the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem. Even though we will celebrate Epiphany on this Sunday, the actual date of Epiphany is twelve days after Christmas, January 6.

The date celebrates both the visit of the magi to Jesus shortly after his birth and Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. The word "epiphany" comes from Greek and means "manifestation". It symbolizes the revelation of God in his Son Jesus Christ to the world beyond Israel. In the West, Christians began celebrating Epiphany in the 4th century. Up until the 19th century, it was more important than Christmas Day.

In other parts of the world Epiphany is still an important day in the church calendar, observed with a special worship service in which the lights are turned off, candles are lit, John 1 is read, and Christ is invited into the lives of those who have gathered. There are many Epiphany traditions that are observed by families in their homes, as well. Often families do what is described above, except they go from room to room in the house, inviting Christ to fill every space in the home. Chalking of the doors of the home is also a common tradition. Families take chalk of any color and write on or above their doors a formula:

first 2 digits of year + C + M + B + last 2 digits of year

(so for this year: 20 + C + M + B + 22)

The letters have two meanings. First, they represent the initials of the traditional names given to the magi - Caspar, Malchior, and Balthazar. Second, they abbreviate the Latin phrase, Christus mansionem, benedicat: "May Christ bless this house." The "+" signs represent the cross. Taken together, this inscription is a request for Christ to bless the homes so marked and that he stay with those who dwell there throughout the year.

Other Epiphany traditions include: dining on roast lamb; baking Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings Bread) and hiding a small statue of baby Jesus inside (whoever finds it throws a party on Feb 2, Candlemas Day, the celebration of Jesus being presented in the Temple); children leaving their shoes out to be filled with gifts; swimming in the ice cold waters of the local river or lake; and wassailing, going from house to house and singing carols while drinking wassail (warmed ale, wine or cider, blended with spices).

In many liturgical traditions, Epiphany is a season, starting on January 6 and continuing until Ash Wednesday, when the 40 days of Lent begin. Though not as popular in the United States, and especially in the Protestant tradition, Epiphany gives Christians the opportunity after the celebration of Christmas to ask, "So now what?"

In Advent we turn inward and reflect on how we can make room in our hearts and lives for Jesus' coming. At Christmas we celebrate the light of Christ coming into the world. And in Epiphany we are sent out with the light of the beauty of the glory of Jesus in our hearts and on our faces to announce the Good News. Epiphany is where "O Come Let Us Adore Him" becomes "Go Tell It on the Mountain". The light has shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. A new day has come.

Epiphany reminds us that carrying the light of Christ into the world is not for the faint of heart. We are sent out into a dark and weary world. Shining the light of Christ into the world is an act of courage and defiance. Holding up a light in a dark place is a dangerous thing to do - we risk exposure, we can become a target for those powers that thrive in the dark.

Yet we also draw to us all of those who need to feel the hope and warmth the light of Christ brings. As the Apostle Paul wrote: It is the God who said, "Let light shine out of the darkness" who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

God's call to us in Epiphany is to hold up a candle, to radiate the light of Christ in our lives, in our relationships, and as a church. We are being invited to make that move from coming and adoring to going and telling. Both are necessary. To emphasize one over the other is to distort the Gospel.

So in this new year I invite you to think about how we might radiate the light of Christ, as a congregation and in our individual lives. I look forward to hearing your ideas!

Grace and peace...

PT

 

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Fall Colors

 

Last week I was driving to work and noticed how beautiful the fall colors were. Anyone else notice the peak week for fall colors has changed? When I was growing up it was always the 3rd week in October. For the last several years, however, it has been the 2nd week of November. I guess climate change has something to do with it. I told my wife we should call and make reservations in Gatlinburg next year for the 2nd week in November because most people still go the 3rd week in October. If you just thought, "That's a great idea!", you're welcome. Anyway, back to the fall colors.

As I was admiring the deep red and golden yellow leaves, the thing I was most grateful for is that I could see them at all! Most of you know that I had a 2nd detached retina at the beginning of the month and a 2nd retina repair surgery on November 3rd. As you might guess, the whole ordeal has been quite frustrating. It took about 3 months for me to regain the sight in my left eye after the retina repair surgery last February. Because of the damage to the retina, however, my sight was even worse than it was before. As things settled, I got a new prescription, which meant new glasses and new contact lenses. But wait, there's more!

One of the side effects of the surgery is the development of a cataract. So over the summer and fall the cataract was growing, and growing fast. Those of you who have had cataracts know how frustrating they are. By December the cataract was "mature" and I had cataract surgery, which means I got an implanted lens. My sight improved to about 20/35, the best my poor damaged retina could do. This, however, created another problem.

For most of my adult life I have worn both contact lenses and glasses. As my "over-40" vision came into play, I needed readers with the contacts. I had become very dependent on the readers by the time I was 50, so I favor using glasses with progressive lenses whenever I am reading, studying, or working on the computer, which is a lot of the time. The problem was that my left eye had now been corrected to 20/35 but the vision in my right eye was still horrible. The difference between the two was so great that I could no longer wear glasses. My brain couldn't process the disparity. Contacts still worked, but I had to have my readers on all the time.

So after a lot of discussion with my ophthalmologist, I decided to have Lasik surgery in the right eye, which took place in June. Since then, I have not needed contacts and have been able to wear my glasses any time I needed to read anything, like my Sunday sermon! But now I've had another retina repair, which means another cataract, and eventually another implanted lens. So the money I spent on the Lasik surgery was pretty much wasted. Such is life.

The reason I tell you all this is that I want to tell you that, in spite of all these eye troubles, I am SO thankful to be living in this time! Had I lived when my grandfather lived, or even when my father lived, I would be blind right now. Retina repair surgery has been around since the 1930's but with limited success. The retina repair surgery I had was not invented until the 1960's and really not perfected until the 1980's. The surgeon who did mine studied under the man who invented it. Today it is done with great success. What a blessing!

Thanks to God's gifts of curiosity, ingenuity, and intellect, human beings have found a way to consistently repair detached retinas, perform Lasik surgery, remove cataracts, and implant lenses to correct vision. And because of this I can see the beauty of the fall colors this year! (Albeit with only one eye right now.) In a few months, God willing, I will regain my sight in the right eye, then have another cataract surgery a few months later, and receive a new implanted lens. How incredible is that?!?! Then I will be able to see with both eyes, at least as well as my poor damaged retinas will allow. For that, I am truly thankful.

The Apostle Paul says to give thanks in every situation. (1 Thess 5:18) It isn't always easy, but it is always possible. Gratitude is a choice we make. And the more we make the choice to find things to be grateful for, the easier it becomes.

Grace and peace...

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Fun-size!

In case you don't read the newsletter, here's my On Second Thought for November 2021...

Other than Easter and Christmas, Halloween has always been our family’s favorite holiday. It’s just so much fun! I think we probably have more Halloween decorations than any other holiday, with the exception of Christmas. Friendly ghosts, funny witches, pumpkin lights, and Pirate Pete adorn our front porch this time of year, welcoming Trick-or-Treaters to our house.

When the kids were little we would dress up in our own costumes and walk the neighborhood with them on Halloween night. Mamaw and Pap would come visit so someone was at home to hand out the candy. Now that the kids are too old for Trick-or-Treating we no longer dress up. But we do sit on our porch and welcome the children as we “ooh” and “aah” over their costumes and put candy into their already bulging bags of sweet treats.

When I was a child and went Trick-or-Treating, candy bars were regular, full-size bars. That’s all that was available back then, I guess. Sure, sometimes I got a popcorn ball or some candy corn. One lady in our neighborhood gave out small bunches of grapes in little Ziploc bags! Mostly, though, it was candy bars - full-size Snickers, Hershey bars, Almond Joys, Heath Bars, Mars Bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Milky Ways, 3 Musketeers, or Baby Ruths.

Now, however, there are several different sizes of candy bars for Halloween (and I guess other times of the year, too). There are king-size, full-size, fun-size, and bite-size of just about every major brand. We always get variety bags of the fun size because, well, fun! The king-size ones are out of the question; who does that? The bite-size ones are too small; they just leave you wanting more and they make you look stingy or cheap. The full-size ones are too big; they take up too much room in the bag, have too much sugar and calories for little ones, they are expensive, they force you to commit to only one brand, they make the neighbors look bad, plus, while the kids might like them they make the parents wonder what kind of old kook you are!


Fun-size candy bars are just the right size. They have all of the flavor of the full-size bars without all the calories, carbs, and sugar. The chocolate to filling ratio is smaller, so they are healthier. You don’t have to commit to just one kind of bar. You can put four different ones in the bag and it’s the same as giving out a full-size but the kids get to sample a variety of treats. It’s a win-win!

A lot of you have told me you are worried about the size of our congregation. There aren’t as many people here as there used to be. We can’t do all the things we used to. The sanctuary just feels so empty. No one comes on Wednesday nights anymore. We need to grow or we are going to die. I have heard variations on these statements for the last 5 years and I think it’s time to change our mindset. I think instead of thinking of our congregation as “no longer full-size”, it’s time to start thinking of our congregation as fun-size!

A fun-size congregation has all of the flavor of a full-size one without all of the baggage. You know, a big staff, high administrative costs, anonymity of members, the so-called sacred cows, only one “right” way to do things, and so on. In a fun-size congregation everyone knows everyone and is invested in each other’s lives, the pastor to member ratio is smaller, and there can be more room for variety among its membership. A fun-size congregation can experiment, try new things, find what works, and let go of what doesn’t. A fun-size congregation can be healthier, it doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all, it can find more room for difference and diversity.

I once read this unique and interesting definition: Fun is the feeling of finding something new in something familiar. In a fun-size congregation everything is still familiar, but there is the possibility of finding something new as we find new ways to answer God’s call to be his witnesses. Even by just by making small variations to things we’ve always done we can experience them in new ways.

I would like to challenge you to find the fun in being a welcoming, faithful, and hopeful community, to find the new in the familiar. Let's think of new ways we can follow Jesus and serve him in the world just as we are right now. Let’s be who we are rather than who we think we are supposed to be.

The Christian Church in America isn’t the same as it was 50 years ago. We are not the same congregation we were 50, 25, or even 10 years ago. And that’s okay. After all, fifty years ago very few people gave out fun-size bars; now it’s the #1 choice for Halloween candy. There’s a reason for that. Come on – it’ll be fun!

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Covid is Still a Problem - Despite What We See in the Community

 Hey everyone - 

This is just information for those who may not be following recent trends. We have been following the Percent Positive Tests for Covid in our community. Monday was the highest number since December with 41.32% positive. Tuesday was 28%, a number not seen since February with the exception of Monday. September's 7-Day Rolling average was a plateau between 20-25%. We went below 20% at the end of September and have been sitting at another plateau between 15-18%. However, this week saw a sharp uptick and we are once again just under 20%.


All this to say - despite what we see in the community, with very few people masked indoors, groups choosing to gather together indoors, full football stadiums, and people going about their business as if Covid is no longer a thing, this is not the case. Don't let what you see create a false sense of security. Yes - we have a growing awareness that Covid will always be with us in some form and we have to live our lives. However, when the numbers are this high I believe we should be doing more to mitigate the spread of this disease. We should be taking as many precautions as we can right now. Once we get down below 10% - or even better - 5%, then will be the time to relax. That time is not now. Please take precautions. Wear a mask. Stay home if you can. Get vaccinated. Get the booster if you are eligible. Think of others at all times - even if they aren't thinking of you.

Grace and peace...

Tim

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Promoting the General Welfare

This post doesn’t have much to do with theology or the life of 2nd Presbyterian Church, but I just feel the need to say this. Please feel free to not read it, or to stop reading if you don’t like it.

I have sometimes been accused of not being patriotic or not loving our country due to my criticism of what I perceive to be things we should be doing better. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. I love America and am grateful to have been born here. I am grateful for the freedoms and rights we enjoy as American citizens, freedoms for which many have fought and died. I was taught in my youth that one of the most patriotic things we can do is to hold our country, its people, and its leaders to the high ideals our Founding Fathers set for us, and to be critical when we are falling short of those ideals.

These ideals are laid out in our founding documents – The Declaration of Independence, The United States Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. I don’t believe they were “God-ordained”, but I do believe they were “Spirit-inspired”, and I do not think it is hyperbole to say that these documents are some of the most important documents ever written by human beings. After each of my children completed the 5th grade, I took them for a week-long trip to our Nation’s Capital so that they would have an appreciation of our country’s history and polity. One of the highlights of each trip was going to the National Archives and seeing these documents in person. I wanted my children to revere the philosophies contained in these documents and the high ideals to which we should aspire as Americans, even if we have not always, as a nation, lived up to them.

We’ve been hearing a great deal lately about freedoms and rights. Those who do not wish to be vaccinated or wear a mask claim that they have the freedom not to do so and that it is an infringement on their rights to mandate that they do so. Essentially, they are saying that they have the right to do what they wish when it comes to their bodies, their health, and that of their children. (Interestingly, those same people seem not to honor the “my body, my choice” argument when it comes to abortion, but that’s a different blog post for a different time!) Their claims for these freedoms and rights appeal to the founding documents that are so precious to us as Americans, and they are not wrong. The Constitution and, especially, The Bill of Rights grant great individual freedoms to the citizens of our country.

Lost in this discussion, however, is a much more important argument – the reason these rights exist in the first place. With all of the focus on individual rights granted by The Constitution and Bill of Rights, we seem to have lost sight of what is arguably the best and most important part of The United States Constitution – the Preamble. If you’re like me, you had to memorize it in 5th grade. I don’t know that students are still required to do this, but they should be. It lays out the whole reason for the rights enshrined in The Constitution and Bill of Rights in the first place.

You’ll remember it begins, We, the people… Not We the Founding Fathers…, or We, the land-owners…, or We, the elected representatives of the people…, or We, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans… It’s us – all of us, together. The Constitution invites all of us from the very beginning to be part of the Great Experiment that is about to begin. We are in this thing together.

Then come the reasons for everything that follows, In order to… I won’t list them all – you probably know them – but I do want to highlight a few.

form a more perfect union… I love this. How can anything be more perfect? Right up front we are saying that we know we are not perfect but that should always strive to be better, always strive to meet the ideals laid out in our founding documents. We should never be complacent, thinking that we have reached our destination. We can always be more just, more equal, more perfect than we already are.

establish justice, insure domestic tranquility… The reason we have our freedoms is so that justice and tranquility will prevail. Both seem to be in short supply at the moment. I recently saw a TV show with a fictional judge who was fed up with how our justice system treats people of low socio-economic standing, mostly people of color, who do not have the means to manipulate the system as the wealthy corporations do. He said, “Justice isn’t justice if it’s not just.” As for tranquility? Just turn on the news. Or attend a Knox County School Board meeting.

promote the general welfare… This is the big one that seems to have been forgotten. Because it is We, the people who are in this together, the general welfare of the nation and the common good of all the people of our nation should be our primary goal. This means that, on occasion, our individual rights and freedoms must be put aside for the betterment of the whole. It means we have to look out for each other, do what’s best for others, even if that means making a sacrifice ourselves. This is what it truly means to be American, what it really means to be patriotic. A rising tide buoys all ships. This is why throughout the history of our country, public health has always taken precedence over individual rights. I don’t know why people aren’t getting this now, especially when it is our children that need to be protected most at the moment.

and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity… The blessings of liberty aren’t just for us; they are for all who will come after us. What we do now has a ripple effect into the future. If we ignore these ideals in the present, they will be weakened for future generations. We must not only think of the general welfare now, but the general welfare 50, 100, or 200 years from now. All who will ever live in this great country deserve the blessings of liberty that we have received.

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to list all of them, but I only left out one. provide for the common defense… Actually, I think we’re doing pretty well with that one!

The point is this. The Declaration of Independence says we have the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. This is true, as long as my rights do not infringe upon another’s. I do not have the right to take someone else’s life. Nor do I have the right to force my religious beliefs upon others. I do not have the right to drive whatever speed I choose or ignore traffic signals. I do not have the right to imprison someone in my basement in my pursuit of happiness, just because I don’t like something he did or said. These things infringe upon the rights of others so they must be tempered by the general welfare.

So when someone’s right not to get vaccinated or wear a mask infringes on my right to life, or the right to life of our children, or my liberty to freely go where I choose without fear of contracting a potentially deadly disease, those rights have to be tempered by the general welfare, as well. Likewise, if we really want to promote the general welfare, we will do what’s best for the whole, even if that means making a few adjustments to the way we behave for a little while.

We’re supposed to all be in this together, seeking a more perfect union, establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty, not just for ourselves, but for all to come. When we live up these ideals, I celebrate that and give thanks to God that I was born in this wonderful country, one that isn’t perfect but is seeking to become more so. When are not living up to these ideals, however, I believe it is my patriotic duty to point that out. And friends, when it comes to our response to Covid as a nation, we are not living up to them.

Last thing – I realize that if you have made it this far, you most likely agree with what I’m saying. Maybe not, but most likely. Great. I’m glad. But how do we have this conversation with those that don’t agree in a positive way without shaming them? That’s what I’ve been pondering lately. I think the best way is to appeal to our mutual patriotism and to remind people of the Preamble to The Constitution, the reason we have these rights in the first place. I hope I can do it kindly, with love and not anger, with reason and not frustration, but I find it hard these days. I would love to hear your thoughts below.