Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ed Wingfield Concert this Saturday

Saturday, December 1st at 7pm, we will host Pastor Ed Wingfield as a musical guest as he share with us gospel selections and some Christmas hymns. Ed is related to the Moshier family of our church and area, is a Baptist minister, and has a beautiful voice. Please come and enjoy his gift!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Nov. 18 Sermon: The Proper Attire

Philippeans 4: 4-9
Matthew 22: 1-14

Sometimes the Good News sounds fine and dandy until Jesus tweaks the story just a little bit. We have come to expect the Kingdom of God to include the last and the least. This is a familiar refrain in the stories of Jesus. It makes us feel really good about ourselves since we have claimed the invitation, and are on the inside. Today’s lesson follows the general rule to Kingdom parables. That is, until the end—when we perk our ears up and wonder if we had accidentally fallen asleep and made up the ending.
The King sends out the messengers to tell of the wedding banquet for his son. If we interpret the story as Matthew’s followers probably did, we hear in the symbols the familiar setup. God is the King, and the Good News of Christ is the Banquet for his son. The messengers are the prophets who have been sent by God to his people—to spread the news of the coming of Christ. The people refuse, and so the King, feeling somewhat rebuffed, sends out the messengers again, in order that they have sufficient notice of the announcement. This time they kill the messenger/prophets, which is a common accusation of Jesus against the people of Israel, especially in Matthew. Think for instance of Matthew 23: 37, where upon arriving at Jerusalem for the first time in his ministry, Jesus utters the famous phrase, “"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Matthew was writing his gospel in the midst of the downfall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70AD, and he believed this was a punishment for the people of Jerusalem’s unbelief. This aspect of the story is different from the perhaps more familiar version of the story in Luke 14:15-24 where the King is simply rebuffed by the townspeople and therefore sends invitations to the people in the highways and the hedges.
Also unique to Matthew’s version of this parable is the King’s response to the wedding guest who is not properly dressed. This being so unique, it caught my eye and became the focus of my preparations for today’s sermon.
Why in the world would Jesus tell us that God cares about what clothes we show up to the banquet in? Doesn’t Jesus usually tell us that God accepts us no matter who we are or what kind of mess we usually show up to the banquet of his Grace in? Doesn’t this seem to chafe against our common understanding of the Gospel? What could this possibly symbolize, that could justify the King telling his servants to “bind this man hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?” Matthew clearly thinks there is something more to the Christian life than just “showing up” to the invitation. Contrary to the Jesus of our popular conceptualization, Matthew tells of him reporting that “many are called, but few are chosen.”
So what do we do with this text? Do we move it over to the category of scriptures that may have had some use at some point, but clearly don’t belong in our repertoire of favorite scriptures for “making disciples.” After all, how many “Matthew 22:14” posters have you seen at football games. Perhaps this scripture just belongs with the Psalms about bashing babies’ heads against the rocks, or the Levitical laws about selling your son or daughter into slavery for misbehaving. Or perhaps we should try and parse out what it may be saying to us behind all the rough veneer.
Perhaps instead of always focusing on why we are accepted to the party, we should pay attention to what kind of attire we are wearing.
The Bible speaks quite frequently about clothing. In the Genesis story, we are told that God made “garments out of skin” for Adam and Eve after they ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Joseph draws the jealous rage of his brothers for wearing the “many colored coat” that his father gave him. Jesus is said to have worn a seamless robe that the soldiers gambled for at the foot of his cross. A woman was also healed by touching his garment.
So what about these wedding robes that seem so important to the host of the banquet? In this story, the “wedding robe” is a symbol of something. Isaiah 61:10 tells us about “garments of salvation, and robes of righteousness.” In 1st Thessalonians, Paul tells us to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of hope and salvation. What is it that a wedding robe symbolizes anyway? This is a symbol that has been somewhat lost to us because we no longer observe the practice of wedding robes. A wedding robe was given by the host to all who attended the banquet in order to “level the playing field.”
Weddings weren’t an opportunity for the wealthy guests to show off their wealth and the poor guests to feel bad about their shabby attire. The host of the wedding provided beautiful robes so that everyone in attendance would be focused on the joy of the festivities instead of who had what. Viewed through this lens, the person who took off his wedding robe is trying to draw attention to himself. He is accepting the generosity of the host, but he is trying to do so on his own terms.
I believe today’s epistle lesson fits quite nicely with today’s Gospel lesson. Paul repeats over and over again in his letter to Phillipi to “Rejoice in the Lord, Always.” As I’ve mentioned before, this is Paul’s happiest letter, and it is written from a prison cell. Paul has tapped into the well of Christ in a way that he is now overflowing with the peace and love. He declares that this joyful exuberance surpasses all understanding, yet it guards our hearts and minds.
At the beginning of today’s reading, he pleads with two women, Euodia and Syntyche, to put their disagreement behind them and “be of the same mind.” Perhaps Paul is familiar with the “wrong attire” and is assuring his fellow banquet guests of the proper attire. Perhaps we can also hear Paul beckoning us toward the life of the light today. Perhaps when we let grudges over hurt feelings or petty jealousies stand in the way of joyful fellowship, we are wearing the wrong attire for God’s banquet! Perhaps when we allow our disagreements about the particularities to blind us to the larger truth of God’s grace, we are wearing the wrong attire to God’s banquet! Perhaps when we infect our church family with spite against someone we have a personal disagreement with, we are wearing the wrong attire to God’s banquet!
Christian friends: showing up to the banquet with an invitation in hand is a wonderful first step to accepting God’s grace. We as Wesleyans however, believe that grace continues to grow and bloom and bear fruit in our lives through the miracle of “sanctifying grace.” This is the art of living lives of personal and social holiness to be a joyful witness to the world about God’s grace and salvation. It is basically “donning our wedding robes” for the entire banquet, not taking them off after we’ve made it through the door. The idea that “many are called, but few are chosen” is Jesus’ way of telling us that the work of salvation continues in our life even after we’ve accepted the invitation.
Church membership means we are accountable to one another, and we have the privilege to be so. It is about choosing a life of reconciliation and love over gossip and grudge matches. Sisters and brothers, I will tell you as Paul told the church at Philippi, if there are two of you who are harboring feelings against each other, please put away your ill feelings for the sake of the Gospel! Paul tells us to “be of the same mind.” This mind is the mind of Christ, and Paul assures us that “we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.”
Did you know that in the early church, when converts to the faith were being baptized, they removed all their clothing and went down into the water, then after being baptized in the name of the Trinity, they walked up out of the baptismal chamber, stomped on their old clothing, and were given new bright white robes?
The act symbolized shedding the constraints of this world and even participating in the death of Christ. The waters were entered naked to symbolize our rebirth into the Kingdom Life. The new white clothing clebrated the purity of Christ that Christians were then privileged to put on and wear with joy and righteousness. New Christians stomped on their old clothing as a symbol of rejecting the sin they had left behind on the other side of the baptismal waters.
We are invited to a great feast - a wedding feast. Let us not make light of the invitation and refuse to come. We are not required to provide our own gowns and tuxedos. It is not up to us to fashion our own garments. Instead, we are to look to God, who saw to the needs of Adam and Eve, who covered their shame, and made them to shine like the sun. We have a tailor of awesome reputation, one who, quite literally, fashions the stars and clothes the lilies of the field. In giving us Christ Jesus, God fashions for us a garment of great praise, a robe of eternal worth. We ought not be so proud as to insist on clothing ourselves, but rather humble our hearts, put on love, and clothe ourselves with Christ!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Our Biblical "Hair" itage

At youth on Sunday, we read different Bible passages, and then interpreted them with hair style.

The tower of Babel

Samson and Delila

"I am the vine, you are the branches"

Paul shipwrecked (the entire can of mouse is in my hair)

The burning bush

The parting of the red sea.

The line from Song of Solomon, "Your hair is like a flock of goats."

Workin' hard for their money.

These images are from a few weeks ago, but I just found my camera in the box of rags that I was using to clean the bars we were using for the shelves. Thanks to all the men who helped put our new shelves together for the storage shed!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

11/11/07 Sermon, "Ye shall be changed"

Sermon Texts:
1 Cor. 15: 51-58
Luke 20: 27-38

The Harvest of Life
I’m sure we’ve all been noticing it in the past week. The seasons have changed; we are being enchanted by the colorful spectacle of the fall. I wrote in a little meditation for the experiential worship service a few weeks ago that the colors of fall are one of the most effective evangelists of the natural world. Do you have favorite places to go during the fall? If you’ve never been, I’d recommend the mountains just east of Poteau, on the Queen Willomena highway. It is truly beautiful there.
God’s creation gives us a grand finale of celebration before the leaves fall to the ground and decompose. One day the nutrients that they generate seeps into the very roots of the tree from which they once sprang forth. Do you think the leaves lament their separation from the tree of life? As the chlorophyll drains from them, as their ability to nurture the tree drains, they seem to celebrate to me! The marvelous colors we see in the fall are a testament to the mystery Paul writes about to the Corinthians---“We shall be changed, in the twinkling of an eye—we shall not die, but instead we shall live.”
I read a magazine article about the cellular process of apoptosis. Has anyone heard that word before? In Greek it means “falling leaves” and is a reference to the continuous process of death within life, as natural and necessary as leaves falling from the trees in autumn. During the past 20 years or so, the scientific world has realized that the process of death is a part of every moment. Each day, millions of cells are dying in our bodies, allowing physiological balance and the movement of life within us. We are only 6 weeks in the womb when our cells begin to die, through the process of apoptosis. Our fingers are webbed together, and through the voluntary death of cells in that web membrane between our fingers, our hands take shape with these miraculous little digits that we call “fingers.”
In adult life, the right balance between living and dying cells means harmony and health, while disturbances in this balance are the basis of every chronic disease. Cancer is the failure of cells to die through the natural process of apoptosis. A particular and crucial role of death within life is found in the immune system, where bacteria fighting cells armed with sophisticated biological weapons actually self destruct after releasing their “weapons.” The increased or decreased rate of apoptosis lets the body know if it needs to be on high defensive alert (with fever, cough, sneezing, etc), or if the rate of apoptosis decreases, the body knows that the invading bacteria has been dealt with.
Life and the end of life are such mysteries! We cease to breathe, our brains stop generating electricity, our heart stops pumping the blood through our circulatory system that delivers our breath to our cells. Yet Paul tells us that the mystery is that we do not really die at all. Our perishable body puts on imperishability, our lives become something more than we are quite aware of. Perhaps like cells which undergo “apoptosis,” our life and death contributes to some whole, some greater birth, which we can’t comprehend.
Last week we lifted up the names of our beloved family members and friends who have passed from this world to something we can never know until we get there.
At a preaching workshop I attended years ago, the presenter had a favorite phrase. He’d say, “Preaching the gospel is hard, because we’re standing six feet above contradiction.” Deep in the back of our minds we have some awareness of it—we don’t spend much time thinking about it until it looms at our door like the picture of the “grim reaper,” but our lives come to an end and our bodies are put in the ground or incinerated. What we know of ourselves ceases to be in existence.
Is the Good News that has been passed down from 2000 years ago any match for the cold, hard reality of death? When it comes down to it, do these ideas we subscribe to, these beliefs we keep in our hearts—do they rise to the challenge when we are laying on our death beds? A very wise Indian philosopher named Krishnamurti said, “IF one can find out what the full meaning of living is, the totality of living, the wholeness of living, then one is capable of understanding the wholeness of death. But one usually enquires into the meaning of death without enquiring into the meaning of life.” Normally we are in denial about our mortality. This is not to say that we believe we won’t physically die—we know with our intellects that we will—but the reality doesn’t enter our interior life, our feeling, and our being. The process of death is so uncomfortable that we avoid thinking about it.
Paul tells us that we are resurrected in a new life in a new form. As the harvest of our fields leads to the complex foods we create, our newly created lives will be in the service of God in ways which we can not imagine any more than a grape could comprehend its place in a glass of wine, or a grain of wheat its place in a loaf of bread.
Leon Trotsky, a father of the Russian socialist revolution, said “We only die when we fail to take root in others.” Jesus Christ took root in others, and continues to take root in our lives today, 2000 years after he lived on earth. It is through his “taking root in others” that we believe he continues to live to this day. Through his holy spirit, he continues to live and participate in our joys, our sorrows, our fears, our triumphs, and our salvation. We cannot escape him—he is as inevitable as death. In fact, Christ is more powerful than death, and through his victory through death and resurrection, he takes us on his back to eternal life.
Life and death are woven together in an intricate design. We celebrate death as a part of life, giving birth to a greater whole. We believe death is not the final chapter, but instead the end of the prologue. We celebrate the lives who have gone before us because we believe that in the remembering, in the celebration—their life carries on.
Jesus said in today’s scripture that those ancestors of the faith that Moses knew and recounted at the burning bush were “alive to God.” We hear that our earthly relationships and ways of relating to one another are transcended in the life to come. This is why, when we give ourselves to one another in Christian marriage, the priest blessing that marriage asks each person, “till death do you part.”
Our covenant with one another is bounded by our earthly lives, but our covenant with God is everlasting, and through our covenant with God, we know that we become truly living beings: alive to God and alive to one another. We are alive in a way that can never die. Though this may be reassuring to us on an ultimate level, it may be jarring or shocking to us on a worldly level. We’re used to thinking about our relationships with one another as something that defines us and gives us life. Well, perhaps this difficulty with the passage begs us to dig a little deeper here.
Jesus tells the Sadducees that the cultural and relational structures of "this age" are superfluous in "that age." The notion of marriage to the Sadducees pertains to procreating and giving an everlasting future to men and women through the lives of their children, (because to them, by a reading of the first 5 books of the Bible, that was the only route to immortality, was through the perpetual remembrance of your family line. That is why we see so many genaeologies in the Bible, and that is why the bible commanded a man to marry his brother’s widow.) The Sadducees meant to juxtapose the cultural realities of marriage with the idea of the resurrection to show that resurrection is absurd. Jesus takes their juxtaposition and turns it. In the reality of resurrection, he says, it's your cultural idea of marriage that's absurd.”
In this age of death, the focus is on having children. But for "those who are considered worthy of a place in that age," the focus is on being children, "children of God . . . children of the resurrection." In that age where all are children of God, there is no need for having children or having a partner. The having of people, one by the other, will be finished. All relationships will be equalized, all relationships transfigured.
However, To conclude from this that cherished intimacies on earth will be discontinued in the resurrection has no warrant in the text. A central part of our faith is that at God’s very basic nature, God is 3 in 1. God is a being who is relational in nature. The three persons of the Trinity, probably best portrayed by this icon, are constantly in fellowship.
Friendship and love are elemental to God’s revelation of himself. So, instead of being concerned that those whom we are united within friendship and family in this life will “cease to be connected to us” in the life to come, we should instead look forward to our relationships blooming into a transcendent love—one that surpasses what we have experienced in this life. As Charles Wesley writes in the hymn we will sing together today, “Come, let us join our friends above who have obtained the prize, and on the eagle wings of love to joys celestial rise. Let saints on earth unite to sing with those to glory gone, for all the servants of our King in earth and heaven are one.” I hope that you don’t read this passage and fear that those people who have taken root in us and whom we have taken root in will cease to be connected to us. In the life to come we will see that those interwoven roots, those connections we have made during our lives in this gift of life are more deeply and wonderfully intricate than we can possibly see right now.
This is what we can count on from a God who is Love. Death is overcome, our love is perfected, and we are changed into a new reality.
“Oh what fellowship, Oh what joy Divine, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

Monday, November 05, 2007

All Saints Day Homily: "She Went on"

We lifted up the following people who have "Gone on" during our All Saint's Day Great Thanksgiving, if you would like to add the name of a loved one, click the comment tab below and we can have a sort of "virtual All Saint's remembrance"
Jerry Holland
Dixie Standifer
Esther Moore
Genevieve Ledbetter
Grace Lemon
James Lemon
Nelly Admire
Latricia Phillips
Johnny Shock
Ruth Garrison
Deanna McAlister
Barbara Luttmer
Soldiers and Casualties of war during the past year.

The homily was based on the following Texts:
Romans 6: 3-11
Hebrews 11:1- 12:1-3

She went on….
I’m not quite sure I’ve heard this phrase in this part of the country, but in Arkansas and other parts of the south, this is a way to refer to those who die. We also say, “pass away.” I’ve always been intrigued by the way we speak about death. The word “dead” just has so much finality, it has a muffling effect, it seems. I do think it is appropriate to use the word in a theological sense, but perhaps the words “pass away,” or “went on” communicate better our understanding of death that has been shaped by our religious perspective.
We believe that our departed have “passed away,” and have “gone on to glory,” and thus, death is as much a beginning to celebrate as it is an end to mourn. Because this life is not all that God has in store for us, we live on in a way that our mind cannot quite comprehend, but in a way that God has assured us will bring us great joy. We are born, we live life, we die, and then by the miracle of resurrection, we shall live again. This is an aspect of our faith life that sustains many through trials and hardships, through pain and illness, and so it deserves our focus for at least one day out of the year—and judging by how often this congregation chooses the hymn “When we all get to heaven,” when you are given the chance, I’d bet that this aspect of our faith life is pretty important to you.
On this day, we give thanks for the individuals in our midst who have “gone on” to the great cloud of witnesses. That is a Biblical term that we use to define who the dead have now become to us, the living. They are a cloud of witnesses who surround us, encourage us, and speak to us in a way that is not necessarily detectable to the five senses of this earthly body, but instead to our Heavenly spirits.
Whenever we think of the word “saint,” we most likely have several mental images come to mind. We may think of some of the famous saints of the past, like St. Nicholas or St. Francis. Perhaps we think of ourselves? For me, hearing the word “saint” brings to mind the words from the Anglican communion liturgy, when the saints are weekly lifted up and blessed with the words, “may light perpetual shine upon them.” I don’t know why I like these words as much as I do, but it aptly describes for me the experience of being in the presence of God.
Today I want to speak a little bit about someone many of us think of as a saint, though she has not yet made it through the official “process” of being declared a saint by the Roman Catholic church, still when many of us hear the word “saint” we think of Mother Theresa, who spent the majority of her life working for and among the poor in India.
Though she seems to be universally loved and appreciated by Catholics and Protestants alike, she has been in the news lately because some of her writings have surfaced that may cause some to take pause.
Basically, in a book that recently came out called “Come be my Light,” those whom she came to for pastoral care and corresponded with over the decades have revealed that she felt a deep and abiding emptiness when it came to the experience of God. She privately referred to Jesus as “the absent one,” and wrote about the hardships of “keeping up appearances” while the world watched. What is shocking is that the onset of these feelings of emptiness came immediately after she obtained the patronage and blessing of the church to begin a new order of women dedicated to the service of the poor in India. She felt God pull her toward realizing the goal of beginning a ministry, and then after she had gotten there, it is as if God disappeared from her life entirely.
This darkness did not abate. She didn’t “get through it.” She stayed in it until she died. This is a heartbreaking realization for us, and yet it is also hopeful. It is heartbreaking because those of us who may experience an absence of God’s presence in our lives may take note and assume that it will never get better for us, especially because it never got better for Theresa. It is hopeful for us, because even after 60 years of the felt absence of God, Theresa “went on” with the charge she was given. She stayed faithful to the truth that God cared for the poor and wretched, and that her love for them was showing his love to them, even if she did not experience it herself.
She was willing to stand by her commitments and finish the course that was set before her because that is what she had heard Christ call her to do. Perhaps these revelations about the absence of a felt sustaining presence are a testament to us about the importance of the unequivocal call of God on our lives. Perhaps we privilege the “experience of feeling” too much in our society and need to understand that God stakes a claim on us whether or not we feel “moved” to be a good Christian, or come to church, or give to the poor.
Maybe, especially when the experience of giving to or helping the poor leaves us feeling drained or unsatisfied or even used—perhaps Theresa’s witness to us is that…it does not really matter how it makes us feel---when God calls us to action, we should give it our all to respond as faithful servants of our master!
So, Theresa “went on” with her calling and now she continues to “go on” to us as a member of this “cloud of witnesses.” And those others whom we will name today who have “went on” in the past year to the great cloud of witnesses also push us to “go on,” in our own witness of Christ in the world. As the author of Hebrews has said, “they have died, but by their faith they still speak.”
Listen! Do you hear them speaking? If you can’t hear their voices, then listen with your hearts. If you can’t honor them with your words, then honor our God with the words of your actions. We are called to make complete their faith—let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us—with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. And may we pay tribute to those recent additions to the “great cloud of witnesses” who encourage us to “go on” living for Christ no matter what difficulties face us. And in this way, we too shall “go on” in the life of the community of faith after we have “went on” ourselves.