This past Sunday, Pastor Don continued his vacation (first time in f-o-r-e-v-e-r he had more than a week off, so good for him!), and I led worship once again. This was the culmination of our sermon series on Questions–the ones that people ask, about God and about faith. And this week was the mother of them all: if God is God, then why do bad things happen?
Here’s the link to the sermon itself; below is the picture that was displayed at the beginning of the sermon (so you can see who these people are), and here’s the link the Switch’s song, Symphony, that I reference at the end.
When we think about what Jesus did on earth, we come up with a pretty good list: healed the sick, fed the hungry, healed the blind…but on that last one, interestingly, in Mark’s Gospel, there are only two occasions in which Jesus is shown healing a blind man. What does each of those episodes teach us about Jesus, and about how we’re supposed to follow him as disciples?
That was the topic of my second sermon as Associate Pastor at Sydenstricker UMC. This weekend coming up, I’ll also be on duty–and addressing the tough questions that get asked in the aftermath of an El Paso or any of a host of other situations: if God is God, then why does this happen?
Anyway, that’s for next week. Here’s this week’s sermon: click here to listen and then leave a comment–what do you think?
This morning, I picked up two slugs on my way to work. For those not from northern Virginia, “slugging” is the practice whereby a driver (me) picks up two volunteers from a designated place and thereby forms a carpool that can use the carpool lanes in rush hour. There are longstanding rules to slugging: the driver controls the radio station, no money ever changes hands, no smoking or eating…and, the slugs do not talk, out of respect for the fact that this could be the driver’s one and only quiet time of the day.
This morning’s slugs broke the last rule–and it didn’t bother me. Here’s what happened. They clearly knew each other, as they were discussing their weekends before we really ever got out of the parking lot. The man had been to a garden center over the weekend for season-clearance plants, and the woman expressed an interest in doing that…but then allowed as how this might not be the year to do that, as she’s beginning the process of getting divorced and will be moving.
The rest of the drive was spent with the two of them talking about her situation. Evidently there’s a pre-teen child involved, and a trial separation has been underway, and whether her child would need counseling, and her need to find new friends. It didn’t sound like any significant degree of abuse was taking place, which is a relief, but of course there is always emotional trauma in these situations. I was silent, but my heart went out to the family, especially that child. You see, I was 12 myself when my parents separated; it’s not a stretch to say the effects of that lingered another couple of decades, and affected how I related to women throughout college and into my marriage.
So what’s an Associate Pastor to do in that situation? Do I speak up and offer a word? Or maintain silence and just be in prayer for them all? Clearly, from her voice, there is pain about what’s happening; just as clearly, “it’s not my place” comes to mind. If our church had a robust divorced-persons ministry that could be a resource for her, I could have offered that–but we don’t.
What I wound up doing was, when she exited the car downtown, thanking her for coming along for the ride (as is customary), and then adding that I wished her well in her situation. But also left with a nagging feeling–was that enough? I’m supposed to bring healing into the broken; did I fall short?
“I won’t get down. They couldn’t hit an elephant at thisdist–” (Gen John Sedgwick)
“I’ll show you, it won’t shoot.” (Johnny Ace, before losing at Russian roulette)
“You’re right, it’s time. I love you all.” (Michael Landon)
Some people, such as the above, have some very famous (if occasionally ironic or even amusing) last words. This is something I was thinking about after attending the always outstanding Dave Alvin concert Tuesday night at the Birchmere; I absolutely love his shows and this happened to be the tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of his iconic album, King of California. The title cut is the story of a young man who leaves his love “east of the Ohio River” to head west and make his fortune, promising to “return to claim your hand as the King of California.” Unfortunately the song ends poignantly with the young man dying of a gunshot wound after killing another man in a fight; his last words are recalling his promise, left unfulfilled on this side of life.
It’s said that people on their deathbeds sometimes catch a glimpse of what’s to come; some report seeing angels up by the ceiling over their bed, for instance. Steve Jobs’ last words were, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” I can only imagine what he saw that impressed him so much. I can’t remember my dad’s last words to me; my mom’s were, “I’m tired.”
Not that I have any plans to need any last words anytime soon, but just as an amusing thought experiment, what last words would one have on coming into the Kingdom in its fullest? Some thoughts (add your own in the Comments):
“Huh, it’s bigger on the inside” (Nice Doctor Who reference)
“They’re all wearing Astros jerseys.” (Said of those ceiling angels; because heaven will be a home game for my beloved Houston Astros)
“What are you doing here?” (And let them wonder whom I’m seeing…)
This weekend marked my debut weekend leading worship at Sydenstricker UMC as its newest Associate Pastor. I was thrilled and honored to share the story of how it is I come to be in the ranks of the clergy now, and what Jesus meant in the Great Commission, with everyone at SUMC. Click here to give it a listen and let me know what you think.
There have been so many “firsts” and “official” moments in the last several weeks, I almost lose track. I became officially a member of the clergy of the United Methodist Church on June 20, when I was approved at the clergy session of Annual Conference. I became the “Rev. Eric Kleppinger” when I was licensed on the 21st, and then on the 22nd, when appointments were fixed, I officially became part of the clergy team at Sydenstricker UMC. I’ve had to post a bio and photo and everything, so it’s really real!
Then came this Sunday, June 30. At the 11:00 service, we had a special consecration service. First Mary was consecrated as a new Stephen Minister, to bring her gifts of caring into the lives of those in need of a little extra help. Then it was my turn.
At Sydenstricker, we haven’t had a tradition of “robing up” in full liturgical vestments, except on major holidays. But for this one, I was presented for consecration in my new robes, and our Senior Pastor, Don, was in his, along with my stepbrother, Joel, a Baptist pastor who came down from Vermont to be a part of the day.
All told, I think I can count about 19 people who were there just for me that day: friends, family, you name it, people who were part of my life w-a-a-a-y back in college or even before, and newer friends who have walked alongside me in these more recent journeys. My stepbrother Joel and his wife Aprile from Vermont, my uncle and aunt from Pennsylvania, a dear family friend from when I was in elementary school came from New Jersey… so many loving people. And there were Sydenstricker folk, of course, by the dozens, people who had been there for decades, and people whose lives are just now coming into our circle. I am beyond-words grateful for each person who came, whether from Vermont or Pennsylvania or Springfield. I can see each of their faces in my mind’s eye as I stand at the rail and look out.And it is a beautiful sight, one I will always cherish.
I have absolutely no idea what lies ahead of me…but God does, and he’s called me into something much mightier than I could ever have imagined. It’s exciting, it’s terrifying, it’s humbling, and it’s now a part of who I am.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all I have given you; and I will be with you, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
This weekend was the 237th Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Roanoke–and my first, ever–and the one at which I became, officially, the Rev. Eric Kleppinger.
When I first began pondering this path, nearly two years ago, I had absolutely zero expectation that if I found myself here, it would be this quickly. I thought, maybe in another seven years when I reach retirement age…maybe. But I have been at times blown away by how robustly God is clearing a path for me to “go, therefore, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19).
So how was Conference? Lots of words come to mind. Intense: at one point I was talking about an event that happened only the day before, but it felt like d-a-y-s ago. Affirming: it felt right to be in the clergy session, it felt right to wear the white namebadge of a clergy member, and I was reaffirmed by the presence and love of so many of my licensing-school friends.
Thursday night, the night before the licensing ceremony, I didn’t sleep well. Woke up about 2 in the morning and couldn’t fall asleep for a couple of hours. Kept having memories of various steps along this path brought to mind: Music Camp 1984, Lincolnia and the saints there who helped get me started, etc., etc. At one point I told Jesus, “I get it, you’re excited too. But c’mon, I need some sleep here!”
One of my L-school friends drove directly to the clergy session the first morning, at which we were being officially voted in as local licensed pastors. He arrived in a T-shirt and jeans, not realizing everyone else was a little more dressed up. I gave him my sport coat, and while the fit wasn’t perfect, he could at least go on stage more comfortably. Looked pretty decent, too!
The atmosphere among us about-to-be-licensed pastors in the tunnel under the coliseum awaiting the procession in: it felt like a high school graduation. We’re all excited, taking selfies and pictures, a knot of happy about-to-be-licensed pastors. All the other groups were politely and demurely lined up. I hope we never lose that spiritedness.
The old poli-sci major in me got to geek out a bit at all the parliamentary procedure in the discussion of motions and voting and etc. But not so much that I wanted to engage with it, let alone go back to that world.
I can’t emphasize enough how great it was to have been surrounded at Conference by Mary, David and Sarah, and by Don and Bonnie Jamison and Don Curry. Not only were the Jamisons able to give us tips on conference procedures and the best places to get lunch, but having them present made it special in another way. And for David and Sarah to make the trek down to stand with me…absolutely priceless. I can’t do this without all their support and love.
People kept asking me how it felt, and I have to confess, it didn’t feel overwhelming. Perhaps that’s what they were expecting? It felt momentous, it felt very real, it felt affirming–but in the end, the phrase that kept coming to mind was, #letsgo. Let’s get to it, let’s get going, let’s go and make those disciples.
After we stood on stage and Bishop Weaver blessed us, we headed off and were handed our licenses and credentials as we left the stage. It truly is official now! So #letsgo!