Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A loaded boo-fet.

A nightmare on Sesame Street

Boil, boil, toil and trouble

Itsy bitsy spider

Dylan and Jessica engage in battle

Rev. Nathan lands on his duff.

Jessica and Kenley enjoy the evening

Kelsey makes her way down the slide in grace

Dylan scales the wall.

Ross and Ashley in a dead heat

Kenley wasn't expecting the camera

Wesley serenaded by a communion usher

Youth from around the conference worship at Stillwater FUMC

Sunday, October 29, 2006

All Saints day sermon

Isaiah 25: 6-9
John 11: 32-44

Our scriptures today are wonderful and complex. In our Gospel lesson we heard of Jesus’ most significant miracle because he demonstrated his power over death itself. This miracle was the raising of Lazarus. When I think of this scripture, I have in my mind the images from a film that has nurtured my faith—so I’d like to share those images with you. They come from a film that stirred up a lot of controversy and in turn was overlooked by much of the Christian community: The Last Temptation of Christ.
There are several symbolic acts in this scene that I think are very powerful testimonies of Christ’s identity for us as the church. They are powerful because like the rest of the novel and the film adaptation, they speak powerfully to the humanness of our savior Jesus Christ. First, Jesus stands at the entrance to the tomb and thrusts his hands through the invisible barrier between the outside of the tomb, where living is done, and the inside of the tomb—the domain of death. It is a powerful visual symbol for us for the identity of Christ who defeats death. He has set the stage for what follows—a description of how death is defeated by Christ. After Jesus issues his command into the tomb, first a whisper, then appealing to the prophets and heroes of his faith, then finally with a command coming from his own heart, he kneels in prayer at the tomb for what seems to be a while.
He is startled when the rotting hand of Lazarus reaches up for him. Pensive as he contemplates the magnitude of his actions, Jesus then reaches his hand into the tomb. Death’s hand at first re-acquaints itself with the living, then with desperation grasps hold and pulls Jesus into the tomb with him. For me, these are powerful and imaginative additions to the story we have in our scriptures. They speak to Jesus’ identity because they describe for us how Jesus came to defeat death for all of us.
God, in Jesus Christ, defeated death by taking it on himself. By being pulled into the tomb to experience all that we experience….and then—embracing us even still. Did you notice that? Instead of turning away in fear and repulsion to the corpse that is pulling him in, Jesus embraces Lazarus in the tomb and pulls him back into the living! Jesus gives us new life because Jesus embraces us and pulls us out of our tombs and into life again. In life and in death and in life beyond death, we never leave the loving embrace of our savior.
Fortunately for us Methodists, most of the images of the life to come in the Scriptures are feasts. God knows we Methodists like to eat! Isaiah paints the picture of rich food, well aged wines—white and red! And rich food filled with marrow—YUM! As we all sit at the table with the rest of the human family, God provides the dinner entertainment—a great shroud or sheet symbolizes our death—it is as if the table is set on it as the tablecloth. Like a magician, God strips the tablecloth from under the feast without a glass of that well aged wine spilling on the table. Then, he takes the shroud and swallows it. We all applaud. He wipes away every tear and fills our hearts with gladness—he wipes disgrace from the ends of the earth.
This week we celebrate the continual life of those saints who have gone before us. It is All Saint’s Day this week. The first of November was in the old calendar the beginning of the year. The harvest came to completion and great feasts were held. During these feasts, those who had passed away in the previous year were uplifted, celebrated, and preserved in memory.
It is also in the tradition of this church a youth Sunday, when young people are lifted up, celebrated, and involved in the worship leadership of this congregation. It occurred to me that it would be greatly symbolic for our youth to lead the congregation in its remembrance of its departed. It is symbolic to me because God holds us as precious in our infancy, in the early stages of our walk of faith, all through our lives to our deaths and finally beyond our death. God’s power and presence is made most manifest when we worship as a family—old and young, vibrant and tired. We worship a God who sets a feast for all. And our worship is the participation in that feast of life.
During our great thanksgiving today, we will lift up the names of those who have gone on to the next life during this past year. After each name is read, the bell will toll. A bell makes sound because it is hollow in the middle. The hammer strikes the inside of the bell, and then the sound reverberates out of the hollow opening, emitting vibrations in the air that continue to issue forth even after the hammer has struck.
Our lives have the same effect on the world around us. If our whole lives are symbolized by that brief strike of the hammer against the bell, then the meaning and influence that our lives bear on those around us echoes on long after that original strike of the hammer. The Good News of our Scriptures is that in the ear of God, that ringing never stops. We are loved to the extent that we are resurrected into a new life in the presence of our Maker.
Imagine a Savior who loves us so much that he embraces us even if we are repulsive to the world around us. Imagine that he personally pulls every one of us out of our tombs of self-doubt and sin and death and into new life in the light. Imagine that God desires our fellowship like a great dinner host that gathers all at a common table. Can you see those pictures? You don’t have to imagine—because that is what God is—that is indeed what Christ has done for us, and that is the reality that we celebrate as we come to the table of communion.
Because the reverberations of life are still fresh in our ears, and we are shaped not only by those who are members of this congregation but also those whom we know in other walks of life, I would invite you to name aloud others who have passed away in the recent past after we name aloud those who have touched your lives as well.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


With the recent "hit" our website got in Egypt, we have now been accessed on every continent in the world. Want to see for yourself? Scroll down to the counter at the very bottom of the page, click it, then look around at our "viewer stats" on the sitemeter. You can view our visitors by world map by clicking "world map" on the left sidebar, then clicking "last 100" in order to see where our last 100 viewers accessed the site from. You can also view "by location" to see a list of all the places our website has been accessed. Most exciting to me is not that we have been looked at worldwide, but the frequency of use in Oklahoma. I'm glad you're finding this site useful!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Forklifters for Jesus

In case you or someone you know is interested, a school for forklift certification at the Muskogee Indian Capital Vo-Tech will be running for 4 days. Enrollment is $32.50 and opens Oct 23rd. Classes are Monday Oct. 30th through Thursday, Nov. 2nd from 5:30 to 9:30. (During the Camp Gruber Hurricane Katrina period last fall, it is my understanding they had a hard time finding people certified to drive forklifts.)

(A message from your DS)

Scripture for this Sunday

This Sunday we will celebrate All Saints day a few days early. We will also celebrate communion on this day. Instead of the normal lectionary readings, we will be using the lectionary readings for All Saint's Day. You can find them by clicking the Bible Study Link at the left, then clicking on "All Saint's Day."

The Big Fun Thing--Youth Event in Stillwater

Hey Youth!
The event is from 2:30-7pm on Sunday. We can be fashionably late if we leave here at 1pm. That'll give you time to get a bite to eat before leaving. Bring 8 bucks for cover charge. It'll be great, so join us and bring a friend. If you haven't already let me know you're coming, attach a comment below.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Job 38: 1-7, 34-41
Psalm 104

You might have picked up on this from some of my other sermons—my favorite sanctuary is the outdoors. I don’t think I am that uncommon when it comes to this. I have spoken to many people who have a keen sense of God’s presence and power when they are attentive to nature. St. Augustine, one of the most influential Christians on our religion in all of history, wrote, “Some people, in order to discover god, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead he set before your eyes the things that he had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?”
I have had many great encounters with God in nature. My experiences have led me to a great interest and activity in the bridge between theology and ecology. When I was in seminary, I received a grant that allowed me to study and experience faith communities around the country that were involved in some kind of ethic or worship practice that incorporated the natural world around them.
I used some of the grant to travel to central Wyoming for a two week workshop retreat in the Wind River Range of mountains along a glacial lake called “Ring Lake Ranch.” The two weeks were spent horseback riding at 7 and 8 thousand feet, hiking, exploring petraglyphs, and attending lessons by a man named Belden Lane who wrote a book called Landscapes of the Sacred and The Solace of Fierce Landscapes.
On one occasion, I remember sitting in a little cleft in the rock that I had found that overlooked the glacial lake. The glacial lake had been formed thousands of years ago as the glacier had cut through the valley and left deposits of water sitting along its path. All of the lakes were connected by little streams, and the locals called them “string of pearls” lakes because of their beauty. My vantage point overlooked the lake and up the valley to the remains of the glacier that still covered the tops of some 10,000 foot mountains a mile or two up the valley.
As I took in the scene, I started to notice that the water would ripple in front of me, and then I would feel the cool breeze of the wind coming down the valley. As I focused closer, I began to notice that the lodgepole pines on the sides of the mountains in front of me also whistled and sang as the wind passed through their needles, and then when I turned to look further down the valley I could see the wind passing further and further along the valley.
In the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is called Ruach, and it means “breath,” or “wind.” In today’s Psalm, the songwriter says of God, “You ride on the wings of the wind, you make the winds your messengers.” On this day, that scripture was burning on my heart. I felt God’s presence and power. The message that God gave me was, “I created all of this—all of this worships in its own way. The trees, the water respond to my breath—Do you?”
How do we respond? As a youth minister in Bartlesville, I planned and led two “environmental mission trips,” and while I was in seminary I created a student group called “Community of Faith for Healing the Earth.” The Psalmist also observes the breath of God animating all of life on Earth. The psalmist writes, “when you send forth your breath, they are created…when you take away your breath, they die and return to their dust.” Our scriptures tell us that what gives us life is the spirit, the breath of God. When I hear this, it causes me to want to do so much more with my life. It makes me want to live my life as praise to God. As the Psalmist says, “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.”
The authors of the Bible are certainly attuned to God’s presence in and through the world around us. The Psalmist this morning paints imagery of God entwined with creation. We are told that the wind is God’s wings, that the sunlight is God’s garment. The world around us is infused with God.
I imagine that many of you who hunt and enjoy recreation in the outdoors have witnessed moments of great peace and inspiration as the Psalmist records. Many of the hunters I know are interested in the process of being outdoors and observing the world around us as much or more so than the actual felling of an animal.
An appropriate response to God’s grandeur which is observable in the overwhelming expanse of the world and universe around us is humility. Haven’t you ever looked up at the stars with the understanding that the light you observe now was actually emitted thousands and even millions of years ago and simply been overwhelmed, humbled?
God responds to Job’s interrogation with a lesson in humility. Particularly offensive to God is no doubt Job’s curse of his own day of creation in the third chapter. Job is so carried away with his own misery that he curses the day of his own conception. He utters seven curses in a symbolic attempt to undo the creation of the whole universe which is also symbolized by the number seven.
God says to Job, “were you there when…?” God’s intention is to remind Job that there is a large, full world, and that God’s design and vision are utterly transcendent and mysterious. We may question God’s fairness when we suffer, but when we do we must also remember the vast size of God’s intentions. We typically behave and live in the world as if we are God’s only creation. Our depletion of natural resources and our short-sighted pursuit of material goods and gratification are indicative of our arrogance as members of Creation. If the scriptures proclaim that God can be perceived by us through the majesty of the world around us—what does it mean when we damage our environment for our own short-term gain?
While I was in Wyoming, I also took this picture…. In this picture, you may notice that the bare tree and the cloud in the sky give each other a sense of completion. When I saw this sight, it inspired in me the notion that God’s creation is interconnected in strange and mysterious ways. Ecosystems that have carefully entwined processes and delicate balance remind us of this truth.
While the vastness of God’s grandeur apparent in the night sky or Grand Canyon or the sheer power of the Pacific Ocean may easily inspire us to feel small and humble, God asks us to also be humbled by the intricacy of life. In God’s response to Job, not only does he mention the sky and mountains and leviathan, God also draws Job’s attention to the composition of mud, to the appetite of the lion cub, and his own provision for the common raven. God intends for us to respect the balance of Creation and to live as a harmonious member of creation.
Because we do worship a God who is attentive to all of His creation, and we do worship a God who charges us with the responsibility to be stewards of the Earth—I would ask us a faith community to come up with some creative ways that we can celebrate this covenant in our own community.
I have noticed that we do not have a recycling facility either in this town or in Okmulgee. Why not? Is that a need that can be addressed by the faith community, or a partnership between communities? We might also ask ourselves if the ease of use of Styrofoam is really worth the impact that these materials have on our environment. Our town is next to the Okmulgee landfill. Do we want the longest remaining evidence of our community here to be our coffee cups and plates? Our trash? In my own private estimation of easily addressable steps we could take to be better stewards of the earth—this is one that I see.
We live in a community that is easily traversed by bike or by foot. I would encourage everyone who is able to walk or bike when weather permits to church or on your daily errands or to work. I have found that you see a lot more of your community when we view it from this vantage point.
We worship God through our attention to our personal lives, our morality, our love for neighbor and those in need. We worship God through our celebration of Jesus Christ. We also worship our Creator by living as faithful stewards of the Creation. God has blessed us with unique power—the faculties of reason and skill. With these faculties and without the inspiration of God we have developed a way of life that is not sustainable because it is destructive to the world around us—destructive to our human and non-human neighbors. God gives us gifts of reason and skill, God creates us in his image with these tools—but we must be attentive to God’s word as we use these gifts. We are asked to be caretakers of the earth—our lives and the delicate balance of God’s creation depends on it! In Costa Rica, wildlife preserves contain human communities as well as wildlife because the government realizes that humans are part of the ecosystem and can be a benefit to it if they live within their niche.
How can you live as a steward of creation? How does God communicate with you through the world around you? How do we, as children of God, share our faith in God by our engagement with the ecosystem in which we live? Throughout the scriptures, we are reminded of God’s power and majesty in the beauty and intricacy of Creation. Furthermore, We are blessed with the ability to share in God’s act of creation. Let us use this ability with humility and with celebration of God’s presence in our lives. Amen!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Give input on new UMC website. Clink link to the side, or the stained glass pic of Jesus

UMC.org Offers Preview of New Web Site
Online Survey Solicits Consumer Feedback
NASHVILLE (October 17, 2006) United Methodist Communications is asking visitors to UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church, for feedback on a cutting-edge redesign of the Web site.
The home page of www.umc.org offers a sneak peek at a few of the innovative features that will be offered on the new Web site, scheduled for a full launch in early 2007. Six online surveys provide opportunities for users to offer comments and opinions for consideration before the site is finalized.
“Our goal is to make it easier for people to connect to the church and to each other through technology--to provide a digital front door to the church. Throughout the development process, we have sought to listen to what it is that users want in a website and to provide the tools, resources, and content to meet those needs,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. “We want to know if we’re meeting their expectations.”
The sneak peek showcases:
Our People: Meet some of the people of The United Methodist Church and read their stories of faith
Find a Church: Reach out to seekers in your community by showcasing your primary ministries
Living Prayer Center: Send prayer requests to covenant prayer groups around the world
Spiritual Gifts: Discover your spiritual gifts using an online assessment tool
Ask InfoServ : Get your questions answered through the denomination’s official information service
Search: Quickly find the information you are looking for using the Google search device
The sneak peek offers just a sample of what’s to come over the next few months. Users can sign up for e-mail updates letting them know when new features are added.
In addition to providing feedback, local churches are asked to update and personalize individual church listings available at Find-a-Church. Users can search the database of churches by geographic location, congregation size, language and ethnicity. Local congregations can use this feature as an evangelism tool by adding details about their worship schedule and activities, words of welcome, photos of the church and pastor, membership statistics, an interactive map and driving directions, and more.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sermon Notes--Oct. 15, 2006. Laity Sunday

Today's sermon is not a manuscript because we didn't preach with a manuscript. Dr. Pat Edmonds and the pastor each elaborated on paragraph 220 from the Book of Discipline's section on the meaning of membership.

Sermon Texts
1 Peter 2: 1-10
Matthew 5: 13-16

All members of Christ's universal church hare called to share in the ministry which is committed to the whole church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, each member of the United Methodist Church is to be a servant of Christ on mission in the local and worldwide community. This servanthood is performed in family life, daily work, recreation and social activities, responsible citizenship, the stewardship of property and accumulated resources, the issues of corporate life, and all attitudes toward other persons. Participation in disciplined groups is an expected part of personal mission involvement. Each member is called upon to be a witness for Christ in the world, a light and a leaven in society, and a reconciler in a culture of conflict. Each member is to identify with the agony and suffering of the world and to radiate and exemplify the Christ of hope. The standards of attitude and conduct set forth in the Social Principles shall be considered as an essential resource for guiding each member of the Church in being a servant of Christ on mission.

What does this passage from the book of Discipline say to you? Comment below.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Oct. 8 Sermon--Growth and Mutuality

Sermon texts
Psalm 25
Romans 12:1-8

I titled the “Pastor’s perspective” this month “Forgotten Members” They are forgotten because they have become inactive and we no longer enjoy their presence here in the church. We are called by our vows of membership to re-member them here among us. We are called to seek them out, to inquire about their lack of participation, and to usher them into renewed activity and presence here among us.
At the end of this month, we will celebrate the lives of those who have made the journey into the next life. In the act of re-membrance, we bring them close in our minds and hearts and rejoice in the fellowship that exists even after they have left us in this life.
In my article, I told you that we would focus on discipleship and the meaning of membership, and I see no better day to begin this endeavor than today—when we prepare ourselves as a church to meet this afternoon with our District Superintendent and report on the efforts we have made together in the past year to truly be the church and uphold our covenant of membership. This is the purpose of a charge conference.
In my article, I told you that we’d be presenting a list of people that we haven’t seen here in worship or in any other facet of church life in quite a while. This list isn’t generated to point out people who should be scolded or snubbed. Instead it is a list of people we should pray for, a list of people we should welcome and do our best to engage and invite so that they may be re-membered with this body of people!
Let’s take a look at what our collective church has to say about membership—The insert in your bulletin is from the Book of Discipline. I was present in Pittsburg as an observer while this book was being formed two years ago. This is the constitution of United Methodism—and you have as much authority in determining its content as I do as a clergy person. I don’t know too many people who read it though—so it is probably helpful for us to reflect on it together from time to time.
We’ll come back to this from next week—but I want to concentrate especially today on the first two paragraphs you have there on your bulletin.
The first is paragraph 218—Growth in Faithful Discipleship. It reads, “Faithful membership in the local church is essential for personal growth and for developing a deeper commitment to the will and grace of God. As members involve themselves in private and public prayer, worship, the sacraments, study, Christian action, systematic giving, and holy discipline, they grow in their appreciation of Christ, understanding of God at work in history and the natural order, and an understanding of themselves.”
What is the key word of this paragraph? I think one key phrase is “growth.” Growth in a church is not always about growing in number or in sanctuary size or in church budget. Growth also has to do with how each of you, individually, are growing personally. Are you developing a deeper commitment to the will and grace of God?
The Psalm we heard today equates reverence for the Lord with guidance on a path that we should follow. A “commitment to the will and grace of God” involves “private and public prayer, worship, the sacraments, study, Christian action, systematic giving, and holy discipline.” These disciplines make the path clearer. As we progress along the walk of faith, we grow spiritually through these practices. Speaking of growth, I noticed this book at Cokesbury and picked it up, it’s called Growing Spiritual Redwoods. The truth is, I haven’t read the book yet, but I love the title and the picture on the front, so I bought it! Hey it was only a few dollars! I had seen it before at a workshop I attended on the subject of church revitalization and new church starts, so I trust it is good. Just judging by a cursory glance at the book, I can tell that one theme is the idea that strong, visionary Christians don’t just appear out of no-where. They are grown through the nurture and vitality of a vibrant faith community.
When we live up to the vision for church membership set forth in the book of Discipline, we have good foundations for being the kind of nurturing and vibrant faith community that can raise spiritual redwoods. Look around you---who are those people who you see as “spiritual redwoods?” Who has risen above the forest to provide a vision that sees off into the distance? Who has made an impact that will be felt in the lives of this church for years to come? Who has weathered the fires and the storms that have threatened to devastate our community? We should celebrate these people.
Mutual Responsibility—Faithful discipleship includes the obligation to participate in the corporate life of the congregation with fellow members of the body of Christ. A member is bound in sacred covenant to shoulder the burdens, share the risks, and celebrate the joys of fellow members. A Christian is called to speak the truth in love, always ready to confront conflict in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
Here is another aspect of membership that reminds me of redwood trees. Lara and I enjoyed going to the south Sierra Nevada’s and camping among the ancient, giant Sequoyah trees at about 6000 feet. The General Sherman, located in the national park there, is the largest tree in the world. At 275 feet high and 103 feet in circumference at the base, It is awe inspiring to be in that tree’s presence. It is wonderous to contemplate the age of the tree and all that has happened in human history in the 2150 years that Sherman has been alive. When our Christ walked the earth, the General Sherman was already a mature tree of 150 years.
Estimating the Sequoias impressiveness and importance by their age and size is one thing. It is certainly a hopeful sign for us to grow and develop as a member of the body of Christ in the same manner as the Sequoias. But another thing that is impressive about the Sequoias can’t even be seen when you walk among them in the park. It is under your feet.
You see, the Sequoias live only at a particular altitude and climate. At this particular altitude, the soil they grow in is only about six feet deep. Now, have you ever tried to dig a six inch hole for a six foot pole? You know what is going to happen! It will fall over. But the Sequoias have developed a way of life that allows them to exist in this depth of soil and still be the largest trees in the world. The roots, spread out along the rocky surface beneath the soil and grasp on to the roots of the neighboring trees. The trees grow in groves for their own survival. In order for the trees to stand upright and grow to such massive greatness, they must be connected, rooted to each other and mutually supportive.
These trees have learned this kind of behavior to survive in such shallow soil. Isn’t that a miracle? Now—can we learn from the Sequoyahs? Our vows of membership in this church call us toward a vow of mutual responsibility among one another. We are to “shoulder the burdens, share the risks, and celebrate the joys of fellow members.”
We are called to give each other support, to sink our roots into the shallow soil of a culture which no longer values church life, and we are to grasp on to one another at the root level! That’s what these things are that we are asked to share—roots! What is more fundamental to us than our hopes, our joys, our burdens, our risks? In order to share these things, we must be willing to divulge these things to one another. This is why ministries within the church like Griefshare and youth group and UMW and Bible study are so important. These are venues when we are invited to stretch out our roots and grasp ahold of one another.
On another level—it is also why we are asked to share our stories with one another. A church is group of people who know and are invested in each other’s spiritual stories. As a matter of record, our recent General Conference added the record of the Christian Journey into the required records that a church is asked to keep of its members.
Our hope is that as individuals within a community, there is a balance between the two ways of being. If I am in the midst of a crisis of faith—I should not be the only person in my church who knows about it. If I am joyful about a new beginning in my life—this house should know my joy. We are invested in each other. As Paul says to the Romans, “So we who are many are one body, and individually we are members of one another.”
Yet the church is not a place where we strive for conformity. In our unity, we celebrate the uniqueness and special gifts given to each individual, and we seek to foster that.
Finally, take a look at this cone. It’s not the largest cone you’ve ever seen, is it? It is not that impressive really. But, this kind of cone grows into these impressive trees that we have been speaking about. This is what you have to give as a part of the forest. Things that you say and do to give new life to this body are not always memorable or noticeable to you. But like this insignificant little cone—the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. We can be kingdom bearing people!
It doesn’t take gargantuan seeds to raise people with Sequoyah like faith—it simply requires persistence. It may be the contributions that you make in the life of the church that give birth to the kind of ministry that really changes lives of those around you. You have no idea what kind of power is manifested when we live with the faith that our actions make a difference in the world.
Another thing—for these little cones to do what they are intended to do, there is a key ingredient: fire. Forest fires cause these little cones to burst, and that is what leads to new life in the ground. The Sequoyah trees have fire resistant bark, and you notice that they don’t put off much foliage until the crown at the top of the tree. This is so fire can’t catch the crown on fire and harm the tree. For new life to emerge in our forest, we must allow the fire of renewal to burn among us! Many look at a the fires of renewal and are fearful. “Things are going to change!” they say. “My beloved church won’t be the same!” Changes may come and people run away. But if we are to be the forest that God wants us to be. If we are to be a vibrant, living church, we must allow for the fires to renew the forest and make way for new life to take hold.
Have faith! Trust that God will bring the Vision of the Kingdom to our hearts and that the Body of Christ among us will bring that Kingdom into being. We have a part to play! Have faith! Amen.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Oct. 1 Sermon. World Communion Sunday. With us or against us?

Sermon Texts:
Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Mark 9: 38-50

Today is World Communion Sunday. It is a yearly celebration of what we hold in common with Christians of all denominations around the globe. The denominations of Christianity are very different, yet we all confess one God, we all find God incarnate in Jesus Christ, and we all believe the Holy Spirit is present with us, especially in the act of Holy Communion, which we all celebrate. Some of us celebrate more often than others, but it is the common meal that we recognize together, at least on one day out of the year.
World communion Sunday began in the 1930’s by the Presbyterian church as a testament to the times. As Nazi power grew in Europe and that continent was embroiled in the birth of another war that would eventually engulf the whole world, Christian denominations came together to provide an alternative vision for the world. During the 40’s, World Communion Sunday was adopted by the Methodist church and by other denominations involved in the Ecumenical movement as a symbol of solidarity amidst our worldly divisions. Gathering around the table as Christians, instead of as Methodists, or Baptists, or Episcopalians, became a hope for the future—a hope that we one day will be enfolded back into the family of Christ that knows no boundaries or divisions.
In this day and age, with the Ecumenical movement on a budgetary respirator of sorts, and with its influence waning in favor of more divisive Christian voices, what does World Communion mean to us today? How many other churches in Morris are observing World Communion Sunday? Do you know? I don’t! Our community doesn’t have a ministerial alliance that would plan a community wide celebration like this. We now have a cross-denominational youth partnership, and we have worked with other churches on projects in the community, but we are certainly in a different mindset than what might have been envisioned by the pioneers of the World Communion Sunday movement.
Today’s scriptures focus us on two similar accounts of the power of God manifested in those whom the “in-crowd” considered “unworthy.” First we heard about Eldad and Medad. Moses has come down from Sinai to find the Exodus crowd up in arms about not getting any meat. Moses passes the complaint on to God, and adds—“IF you’re going to keep putting me through this kind of torture, just strike me dead now!” God responds that he will indeed provide meat: In fact, in what I think is evidence of God’s sense of humor, God tells Moses to pass on the word for the people to prepare themselves for not just a day of meat, or a week, but a whole month when they shall eat nothing but meat. God uses the phrase—“They will eat meat until it is coming out of their nostrils!” Perhaps God is getting a little frustrated with these whiners as well! I can just see God and Moses in the front seat of a station wagon, with all the people of Israel in the back—“Are we there yet?”
Anyhow, as you heard, God gives Moses the miracle of delegation and asks him to bring 70 leaders to receive some of the “Spirit” that is on him. 68 show up, and are given the Spirit and momentarily lapse into some ecstatic prophecy. When they all go home they notice that two who didn’t make it to the meeting (but were supposed to) are prophecying in the camp, while the rest of the elders stopped while they were still around the tabernacle. Make them stop, Moses! They complain. “If only all God’s people would be made prophets!” Moses says.
The same kind of situation happens with Jesus’ crew. While Jesus is up on a mountain, his disciples are trying to heal people and are unsuccessful. Jesus comes down and, much like Moses, complains to God—“How much longer am I going to be stuck down here among these faithless people!” After Jesus heals those people that the disciples were trying in vain to heal, John comes back to camp with his chest stuck out—“Jesus, I saw some people casting out demons in your name, and I told them to stop because they weren’t one of us!”
The disciples had seen a man casting out demons in Jesus' name; and because he did not follow them, they tried to stop him. More about this strange exorcist is not told us. It may even be that the name "Jesus" was nothing more to him than a magical formula that worked miracles. But if so, it doesn't seem to have been this that the disciples objected to. The problem, in their eyes, was simply that he wasn't one of them, and they were jealous for their rights and privileges.
You may remember that, as the story has come down to us, the disciples had just been debating that most momentous of all theological questions: Which of us is the greatest? They had rank, privilege and exclusive rights on their minds.
High fives are passed among the disciples. “John, you laid the smack down!” his brother James exclaims. “Wait just a minute,” comes a voice from the corner. Jesus has moved outside the circle of self-congratulations. “If they are using my name to cast out demons, they’re not speaking ill of me! Whoever is not against us is for us!”
Jesus, in this story at least, is speaking of an inclusiveness that his disciples don’t understand quite yet. This passage is in marked contrast to what later comes from Jesus’ mouth in Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23: “He who is not with me is against me.” George Bush picked up on this last saying when he was speaking about attacking Afghanistan in November of 2001. I wonder what the world would look like if we adopted Mark’s version of the saying.
Luke actually makes room for both sayings in his Gospel. Also in Luke 9:49-50. Most commentaries point out the seemingly obvious contradiction between these two lines of thinking: but I read one article that seems more compelling to me. B.A. Gerrish, a scholar at Union Seminary in Richmond, VA writes that “The first, "Whoever is not against us is for us," calls for generosity in our estimate of others; the second, "Whoever is not with me is against me," calls for honesty in testing ourselves. By the one, we accept the profession of others; by the other, we try our own profession. One says, "Judge not"; the other says, "Examine yourself."
Gerrish continues, “Why was it, in particular, that the disciples wanted to stop that other man? Not, apparently, because they were greatly worried about his loyalty to their Master, but because he wasn't one of them. And if that is so, then was it his profession of Christ's name that was in question, or theirs?
John told the Master, perhaps expecting to be praised, that he and his friends had stopped the man from casting out demons in Jesus' name; and Jesus replied, "Whoever is not against us is for us." But he might just as well have said: John, are you really with me? Or is there something you value more than loyalty to me? Are you more concerned for your group than for my name? He said: "whoever is not against us is for us." Might he not just as well have said, "John, whoever is not with me is against me"?
And so world communion Sunday reminds us how futile and perhaps how dangerous it is to take the words of Jesus, “either you are with me or you are against me,” and apply it to anything other than our own commitment to Christ. It is not a measuring rod to hold up to others. Christ gave us a different saying for that—“if you are not against us, then you are for us.” With how the world has changed since 2001 as well, I would venture to say that it is also not a good statement of foreign policy. I believe Jesus would have agreed much more with Abraham Lincoln’s question of national self-examination when he said, “I do not pray that God is on our side, but that we are on God’s side.”
When we gather around this table to have fellowship together in remembrance of Jesus’ life and love for us, we can be assured we are on God’s side. When we confess our sins together and forgive one another, we can be assured that we are on God’s side. When we accept God’s work in the outsider—the person on the margins: we can be assured that we are on God’s side. If we draw a boundary line between “us” and “them,” we draw a boundary between “us” and God.
Gerrish concluded his article by writing, “As one of my favorite theologians, Friedrich Schleiermacher, wrote more than a century and a half ago: "All who start from the living word of the Saviour, and from living faith in him, stand on the same ground with us; and there can never be a reason for us to withdraw from fellowship with them." It has taken Christians a very long time to learn that lesson. And perhaps now we can take a second look at our many traditions and ask, not "Which of us is right?" but, "Have they seen something in their encounter with the Lord which we have missed in ours, or not seen so clearly?"