Holy Huddle for a Holy Day

Andy Griffith made a stir when he released a recording called “What it Was ….Was Football”.  He portrays a country boy seeing his first football game.  He pictured the field as a cow pasture, which somebody ruined by painting stripes on it, and planting posts on each end.  He thought the referees were escaped convicts; running the field; and blowing whistles. He decided the ball was a pumpkin so tough no one could break it despite repeatedly kicking it.  He sums up the object of the game saying: “It involves two bunches of angry men who huddle up together and take a vote on how they are going to try to get that pumpkin from one end of the cow pasture to other without falling down or stepping into something.”

I think Jesus would have told a football parable if he had lived in our times in order to convey an eternal truth about the Kingdom of God.  I can see him pointing to a football game and alluding to the huddle and the play.  The huddle may not be the most exciting part of the game, but it is where a team comes together for instructions how to run a successful play.

Jesus called his disciples to huddle.  He huddled often with the inner circle of Peter, James and John.  They huddled together on the other side of the lake, up on a mountain, or in a garden, to name a few.  This text of Jesus transfiguration records one of those huddles.  The word transfigured is hard to translate into English.  Literally it means “what he/she was”.

The texts say his clothes turned whiter than white, which is a rare sight in his day outside a palace, they didn’t have new and improved detergents.  The disciples must be in sensory overload; catching a glimpse of his glorified presence as he stood by Moses and Elijah, whom they had learned about in Hebrew School.  The scene would lock up any person’s brain and freeze everyone’s wit, but Peter’s mouth still worked.  Peter declares this is better than any temple experience, and suggests they build three shelters and stay.  A cloud enveloped them and a voice from heaven rings words loosely translated, “This is my son, listen to him!”  The disciples are prone on the ground, afraid to look until Jesus says, “It is time to go!

This story is recorded in all gospels as Jesus is reaching the heights of popularity.  Jesus thinks it is necessary for the inner circle to see the rest of the story.  Peter, James, and John had “kairos” moment; a privileged peek into the significance of Jesus, his mission, future, and their lives too.  They get to read the last page of the book.  This experience changed and prepared them for the work of the coming days as Jesus made his way to Calvary.  They could follow him, even as his popularity waned, while he suffered the shame of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  The privileged peek reassured them the road of suffering would lead to greater work.

It was time to get out of the huddle, so they leave that Mount of Inspiration.  They walk down into the valley among the other nine disciples who were trying to unsuccessfully run a play; heal a young boy.  We identify with the feelings of the valley of ineffectiveness.  Jesus religious critics were giddy at their ineptness in running a holy play; some things never change.  Jesus said nothing to them.  He spoke to the parents, healed the boy for the sake of glorifying his Father.  Don’t miss that Jesus showed up to help when it is difficult running a play after leaving the huddle.

Jesus took this group to another huddle days later and they fell asleep.  While they slept, Jesus received the big play.  He did not immediately embrace the assignment; asking if there was another way.  Ultimately, Jesus ran the play because it is the will of the Father and also so we might be able to join the huddle and run other plays in the kingdom of God.

The huddle has grown day by day since that last huddle of Jesus to include those who went before us.  In our huddle is the early church, who gave birth to Christ’s church after his ascension.  What if they had fumbled the ball?  In the huddle are believers of every flavor who flung themselves over the globe for the sake of the gospel.  What if they would have grown tired in in the game?  In our huddle are those who shaped First Methodist, Irving in her formative years.  What if they would have taken a knee and decided not to run another play?  We are in the huddle because of them and Jesus; the team on the field for this time.  The huddle nourishes us; but our life is sustained when we leave the huddle and run a play.

This is a crucial time; this last decade has been a difficult time in history of Christendom and particularly for the Western church.  I shared a video of Diane Butler Bass, an American church historian, describing our religious landscape with some young adults who are forming a new class.

She reminded us how at the end of the 1990’s the church was poised to do great things.  Worship attendance and membership was increasing for the first time in several decades.  Then the 21st century rolled around and we have experienced what she calls “the worst decade in American religious history ever”.  The church along with all other institutions, (education, government, markets, etc.) have spiraled downward and lost their bearings in the last ten years.  Our church is a snapshot of this reality.

Fear based panic is expressed in huddles in churches of every size, flavor, or kind.  Many different plays are being called.  United Methodists are huddled up readying to run: “A Call to Action”.  Catholics are running a play they call: “Come Home”.  Southern Baptists called their play “The Decade of Evangelism”.  Our plays feel like Hail Mary’s; acts of desperation to me.

Bass has spent recent years looking beyond the institutions to find signs of hope.  Signs of faith are always emerging; God does not slumber or take a day off, much less a decade.  She has gone to margins to listen to longings of people on the street.  She has recorded her findings where she observed people looking for God, connecting with others who have similar dreams to serve neighbor and discover themselves.  Bass is not sure these longings will be met by the conventional forms of church.  Yet, she doesn’t think churches are going to go away; they are just going to have to change the plays they run in order to be the church in the 21st century world.

I learned this week of a new play run by a church led by Rev. Danieley, Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Tower Grove near St. Louis.  In 2007, she was feeling these same things and wondered what it would be like to take Ash Wednesday to the street.  A coffee shop owner nearby allowed her to set up on their property.  The shop owner provided a tent and coffee to people who came for ashes.  It became known as “Ashes to Go”.

The movement has grown so much that in last year the Episcopal Bishop of Chicago took to the streets in full vestment along with 26 other congregations.  This year forty churches are breaking the huddle in Chicago along with churches in St. Louis, San Francisco, New York and who knows where else; running the play of taking the liturgy of the church to the people on the street.  The most common reaction of those who received ashes (besides being caught off guard it was Ash Wednesday) was pleasant surprise.  Most told stories of a longing to experience more church, but were not sure they would be welcome in the church.

This year, I think the Methodists in Irving, Texas should run the same play.  I have invited a small group of young adults that I am working with to help me prepare to run this play near the South Irving Transit Center.  I will working with the staff in the morning making additional plans and the Program Council tomorrow night.  I know it is last minute, but I just learned of it this last week, and there is no time like the present.

Maybe this is a Hail Mary, but I think not.  We were not given the gift of the church to keep for ourselves.  We give it and us away like Christ who gave up his life for us, so we might have real life.  This feels more like what our Lord might have done as he passed through the Galilee offering graceful touch to those who least expected it.  This feels more like what Christ might have done as he passed through the Sheep’s Gate and offered a healing touch to a man who had longed to be made well for several decades.  This feels more like what Jesus meant when he told his parents in the temple and Pilate at his trial: “I am about my Father’s business”.

I invite you to join me in running this play.  Not every person can run every play.  If you feel called, here are some ways you can do so.  We need signs made and materials to pass out.  That means creating and printing what is needed.  We need persons to be present Wednesday morning from about 6:30-9:30 a.m. and/or that afternoon from about 3:30-6:00 to help set up and perhaps move tables if we have trouble finding the right spot.  (I am not sure if we will do both times or one or the other until after we do some planning tomorrow), I will also need people to assist me in administering the ashes or visiting with people who want to talk.  If you want to help in these ways or others that come to your mind, write your name, email, and phone number on sheet of paper and give it to me on the way out the door.

It has been good to be in this huddle on this day.  I think we are ready to run a play.  On three, Ready, Set in the name of the Father Son, and Holy Spirit we have gathered and we shall scatter.  All God’s people say: AMEN!

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Published in: on February 18, 2012 at 2:05 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Rev. Russell, I feel a need to serve in some capacity. Although I do still work fulltime and can only do light lifting I am willing to serve someway somehow after 5 and weekends.


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