Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas 1b sermon, Dec. 28, 2008, My adopted sister

Sermon Text this week was Isaiah and Galatians.

No notes today (I wrote in the car on notecards) But the gist of the sermon is that Paul's "meaning of Christmas" is that we are adopted through the birth of Christ. When we baptize (as we did this day) we celebrate this truth that we are adopted children of God as one human family. My daughter is my adopted sister.
Listen below if you wish

Dec. 21: Advent 4a sermon: I sing because I'm happy

Sermon Text: The two Luke passages: Annunciation and Magnificat

Sorry I didn't record today. Forgot! Here's the notes to give you an idea of what was said. (It was our Cantata.)

Lot’s of singing today. Probably the most appropriate way to prepare for Christmas. It’s what we find Mary and Elizabeth are shown doing. They are carrying the light and the witness to the light within their bodies—and what does it do to them? Fills their lungs with songs of praise.

I like this idea of carrying Jesus. I can’t know what it is like to carry a baby, but I can know what it is like to carry the baby Jesus. This is the one gestation that we men have the opportunity to experience.

Lara always said that she carried Julianna way high and than she carried Wesley. That got me thinking about how we all have the individual gift of carrying Christ in different ways.

Where do you carry Christ? Do you depend on Christ to guide your decisions? Do you feel the Spirit’s involvement in the decisions you make? Do you approach personal and family decisions with periods of prayer, or even fasting?

Do you carry Christ up high in your lungs, where you feel the Christ child just kicking at your diaphragm trying to urge you to say something? Do you feel compelled to speak the good news of the gospel?

Do you carry Christ in your heart, stirring you to act on behalf of those in our midst who are hungry, tired, put down, and abused?

Do you carry Christ in your mind, enchanting you with new ideas and inspiring the wisdom that pushes us into new ways of knowing Christ?

No matter where your “center of gravity,” I believe it is part of our role as creatures of God to carry Christ in our throats, singing the praises of God. It doesn’t matter if we think we have good voices or not. We sing because we’re happy. We sing because the one who comes in a manger comes to set us free.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dec. 14 sermon, Advent 3B, "It ain't me babe."

Texts: Isaiah and John

Sermon Notes: One of my Christmas memories is looking at Christmas lights with my family. I remember fondly having to be herded into the minivan with my sister at my mom’s insistence to preserve this tradition, and the two of us mocking her with synchronized overly enthusiastic “ooooooohs,” and “aaaaaaaaahs” from the back seat when we would see a house with only the most half-hearted attempt at lighting up the house (if you’d like an example of a half hearted attempt, check out my front porch.)

Today’s scripture tells us that John the Baptist came to testify to the “Light” and that he himself is not the light. What would our fiery John the Baptist think of the light display?

There is one line in that passage that leaped out at me this week as he is there being interrogated by the Pharisees: “I am not.” It reminds me of Bob Dylan’s great song, “It ain’t me babe.”

It seems the interesting thing about JB in this text from John’s Gospel is that he is pretty clear about who he is and who he is not. And maybe we are to learn something from JB’s insistence that he is not the Messiah.

Maybe we are to learn to say that about ourselves. Now, of course we don’t think we are Messiah’s…but there is something in JB’s reaction that is helpful. When asked, he quickly points the attention away from himself and toward the One coming – Jesus. And Jesus did this too. He almost always points attention away from himself and toward God or toward the needs and issues of others – to testify to something much greater!
You know, I bet if we were all honest with ourselves for a moment, I expect most of us might have the notion that religion is about the fulfillment of our hopes. We hope to find peace for our anxious lives, help for the journey.

So we come to church hoping that the music, the scripture and preaching will meet our needs whatever they may be – to have our cup filled to overflowing. We hope to hear interesting sermons that we can use for our lives. If we were all completely honest…most of the time…we come to church for pretty selfish reasons. But that’s understandable, and I don’t think God is angry about our natural aptitude toward self interest.

But, bear with me a moment to say that Advent is often a lesson in humility. It is actually one of the greatest times in the life of our Christian faith where we can say – “It’s not about us…it’s about Jesus”. Because that is what we are supposed to be doing – PREPARING for something much bigger than us! We are reminded in Advent that this is actually the shape of our discipleship – to be the body of Christ in the here and now and point to the way or “testify to the light and love” that is Jesus Christ.

But, we still tend to get caught up in the “maybe it’s about us” idea. In church – we want to have our cups filled; get our own spiritual house or everything in our lives in perfect order to be a good disciple. Friends, while there is real truth in that and we do need to make sure we are in good shape spiritually – we can’t wait forever either – gosh we may never get to a place of perfect order. Because the truth also really is – IT IS IN NO WAY ABOUT US! We must claim as JB did – “No…it’s not me, but it is my job to testify and point the way”.
the hub-bud of Christmas preparation – both in the church and personally with all the shopping and preparations are certainly makes it easy to be “all about us”. We make ourselves absolutely crazy this time of year with stuff, stuff and more stuff that we pile on – in the church we are so busy we can’t even see straight and at home is a frenzy too.

We stay so busy with all the things we think we have to do or need to do or should be doing. And you know what – I just can’t imagine that our Savior who came into this world so humbly, lived as a servant, walked around the desert in sandals intended for us to make the season of his birth so complicated and hectic. He would probably say to us … “get over yourselves”

To juxtapose this mentality with what I see some of you doing, especially this week. We have a group within the church that should be celebrated. Who were involved in a flurry of activity and shopping, but it was for the benefit of others.

It was those who participated in the Angel tree project and brought Christmas gifts to 44 people in our community who would have trouble making ends meet. These are the kinds of gifts that do reflect the gifts of the magi. Giving to glorify God. Taking the attention off ourselves and doing it to testify to the light. Many of you participated in this—thank you.

Also, the gift without any request for recognition of the funds that paid for the reroofing. Isn’t it beautiful! We’re set now for another 30 years, thanks to that gift.

And that my friends, is the real meaning of Jesus coming into the world to walk among us and for this time of Advent preparation. In this passage of John’s Gospel, a much needed humility is worked out by focusing on Jesus – the LIGHT to which JB and John the Witness were sent to testify! We are not the light, but we do indeed point to the light that enlightens our lives and hearts
What are you hoping for today? I think John is just asking us to have an open heart. Later in this Gospel, Jesus says more about who He is, but right now at the beginning before we meet Him, John simply introduces Jesus as the LIGHT, while saying he is only a witness – to testify to the light. Because in this busy wonderful season, it doesn’t really matter who has the biggest and brightest light display in the neighborhood. We, like John must be clear about who we are – people called to testify to the love of Christ.

Because as Bob Dylan said, “You say you’re lookin for someone:
Never weak but always strong,
To protect you an' defend you
Whether you are right or wrong,
Someone to open each and every door,
Someone who will die for you an' more,
But it ain’t me, babe.

And during this season, it is about the one who is. Let’s take the focus off ourselves and turn attention toward the one who saves us from ourselves.


Monday, December 08, 2008

advent 2 sermon, dec 7, the wilderness

texts: isaiah and mark


A way in the wilderness.
Salvation traditionally comes from the wilderness.

Moses, Elijah, and David all had to flee to the wilderness (Exod 2:15; 1 Sam 23:14; 1 Kgs 19:3-4). Likewise, Jesus will emerge from the wilderness to begin preaching the good news and will return there several times (Mark 1:35, 45; 6:31-32, 35; 8:4).61

Where is the wilderness for you? Is the wilderness a safe place or a dangerous place? The Greek God of the wilderness was Pan, the little guy with goat legs, remember. You know what word we get from Pan? Panic!

Story about getting wilderness survival merit badge. Made a shelter in the crook of a fallen tree. Had no food, so we caught a frog and boiled it to eat—(think we just ended up boiling the frog and then being grossed out.).

In the end, our boy scout leaders (who got to bring a tent) surprised us with birthday cake for one of the boys who was spending his birthday on the outing. Spent the night cold and jumpy about the things that might be crawling on me in that little nook.

The wilderness is a place that can be dangerous. Perhaps that’s one reason our salvation begins in the wilderness.

The text from Isaiah says “In the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord.” Interesting that the quotation marks are found around the whole sentence, including “in the wilderness,” in Mark’s use of the same verse from Isaiah, he locates the voice in the wilderness saying ……
You would probably have similar stories about the literal wilderness, but what about our metaphorical wildernesses? Those places and times and life experiences that make us feel uneasy, uncomfortable?

Some would say life in the current economy is a wilderness. We are on edge. We are watching representatives from the auto industry begging for money from the government. Things don’t look good. The prevailing wisdom is that we are one or two wrong moves away from a financial depression!

In this “wilderness” how do we heed John’s call to “prepare a way for the Lord?” How do we “make strait the paths for him?”

Bud Reeves, a minister in Hot Springs, wrote in a recent article of the Arkansas United Methodist, that “tithing creates in us a sense of peace and security” amidst a crumbling economy. Tithing helps us straiten out our own priorities, our own “way.”

This is one way we find hope and promise in the wilderness. If you feel the panic of a world of economic instability, put your trust in God’s activity. How literally and physically put our “trust” in God? We can tithe.

During the Holidays, when everything around us says we should be feeling nostalgic and happy and loving, some of us suffer from grief, and stress, and relational discord.

These are also wilderness experiences. These are situations that make us panicked, and angry, and uneasy. Be assured today that it is in these times of wilderness that God’s power can be most effective in changing your life.
When we are feeling good and happy, we tend to put our confidence in ourselves. When we are stripped of these feelings, we are usually more ready to put our trust in God.

If this season holds the wilderness of grief and pain for you for a loss you have suffered, you can find God’s presence in the loving arms of a community ready to help you bear that weight. You can find hope in the strategies and coping resources available to you tonight at the Griefshare “surviving the holidays” event.

If this season holds for you the wilderness of a stressed marriage, perhaps there you will find a renewed commitment to the covenant of marriage in the truth that love is not just a feeling, love is an act of will. Ask for God’s transforming fire to enliven your marriage with passion and dedication.

If the prospect of buying the perfect gift for your loved ones, attending four parties in three weeks, and travelling to two states in the quest to find that holiday cheer instead leaves you in the wilderness of stress—ask God to help you recognize the peace of the Christ child amidst the chaos of a Bethlehem under siege.

Take heart that Mary and Joseph struggled from similar difficulties, and couldn’t even find a place to stay. So God led them to a stable, where the hope of the world could be born. God works in unexpected ways—attune your senses to God’s path.

All of these wildernesses can be traversed with God’s renewing power. John baptized with water for the forgiveness of sins. He proclaimed that one would come after him who would baptize with the refining fire of the Holy Spirit. A baptism that In Peterson’s words, “would change us from the inside-out.”

.We believe this meal we have available every week, this table of communion, is fuel for that fire. The more steady the flame, the stronger the light to guide our way in this wilderness.

You see, it’s a change in us that gives us a straight path through the wilderness. Circumstances may change, but if we are changed and renewed from the inside out, we can make it through anything

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Nov. 16 Sermon: Politics of Domination

Sermon Scriptures:
Deuteronomy 24: 16-22
Leviticus 25: 8-22

Politics of Domination:

One could be schizophrenic if you applied all the biblical injunctions regarding power and domination. To me, it is one of the clearest examples of humankind’s projection of values onto God.

How could an “unchanging God” advocate the slaughter of the Canaanites and the provisions for Sojourners found in Deut. 24: 16-22?

This is a problem with prooftexting with scripture. If we’d like to advocate systems of dominance such as patriarchy, slavery, and invasion with clear and concise scripture, they are there for the taking: Ephesians 6:5 “Slaves, obey your masters.”

This is why taking a “narrative approach” with the Bible as sacred scripture is an important witness for us to advocate. A “narrative approach” to scripture recognizes the over-arching trajectory of the Scriptures.

It takes into account that there is a scriptural “movement toward love and compassion” even though the individual verses are sometimes filled with blood, severed limbs, and the bashed skulls of infants.

The abolitionists had to appeal to the “Spirit of the Bible” in their theological disputes with the preachers of the slave-holders. They didn’t have that many scriptures to go on.

The Spirit of the Bible advocates a Politics of compassion even though the individual scriptures sometimes advocate a politics of dominance.

Notice that the Politics of Dominance occur when participants are high on the ego strength level, low on the relational level.

Perpetrators of the politics of dominance are not necessarily acting out of malice and sadism, but because they focus so much on their own needs, interests, and desires.

In the case of Israel’s conquest of Canaan accounted for in Joshua, the people moving into the promised land where so focused on their own sense of promise, their own needs and interests, and desires, that they perpetrated a politics of dominance on the inhabitants of the land.

Interestingly, the account in Joshua is seemingly an exaggeration, because we get to the accounts of the Judges, and the people are still existing alongside the Canaanites, even though Joshua tells us that the Israelites were faithful in carrying out the commands of God in Deut. 20: 16-18.
There are still Canaanites around after Joshua.

Reading between the lines, we see what actually happens when the Hebrew people land in Canaan is syncretism. That’s what the ethnic purists in the Bible lambast the people for throughout the prophets and historical books. It’s the problem with Solomon.

So—a politics of domination is discouraged in a nuanced way in the Bible. The domination of debt and landlessness is assuaged by the commands by God to observe a Jubilee year in Leviticus 25.

Despite advocating an annihilation of the Canaanites in Deut, God also advocates for the “aliens in your midst,” and the “sojourners (immigrants, migrants, transients) by leaving food on the vine and in the olive tree for those unfortunate people to have for food.

If God was so interested in setting up a pure society of ex-slave Hebrews, why would these instructions for mercy be included? It is part of the arc of the story of scripture that confounds the proof-texters of hatred: God undeniably calls toward a society of compassion and peace.

Executing a person for their own sins is an improvement over executing a person’s whole family for the sin of one in the family. Holding life as a sacred gift always redeemable by a God who turns murderers into saints is another step in the direction of compassion.

Though it is not spelled out in the letter of scripture, with the exception of The Bible telling us that it is God's will that no one perish but that all come to faith (2 Peter 3:9). But it seems clear that the absence of capital punishment is where the “Spirit of the Bible” leads.

We have all encountered a politics of dominance in our relationships—you have all met people who dominate a conversation, who insist on their own way, who seem unyielding or even blind to the concerns of others.

We must be agents of reconciliation—we must recognize the string wills of these people in our midst and help them come to an understanding of the value of others.
What the dominating personalities in our midst need is to be drawn toward intimacy with others an to have more concern for them.

Trying to force people into this point of view doesn’t work. Coercion is the operating method of the politics of domination, and will only reinforce that in their hearts. Instead, we must give them opportunities for broken hearts.

This is how the Politics of Compassion practiced by the martyrs exposed the politics of domination practiced by Rome. It was by the steady, willing, loving witness of those who died in the arenas of the politics of domination.

Nov. 9 2008 Sermon: Politics of Resentment

Jonah 3 and 4
Luke 15: 11-32

Sermon Notes:
Politics of Resentment:

Bible chock full of stories of people relating to one another in resentment:
Cain and Abel
Joseph and Brothers
Mary and Martha

Parable of the Laborers is a good example of how resentment is on the grid of low ego strength/low power, not low on the relationship.

They complain to the hirer—that takes some relational

In our Jonah story, we see Jonah complaining to God—telling God he’d be better off dead—when he sees his warnings to the Ninevans heeded. He resents them for repenting and for God changing his mind.

God uses the shade vine to teach Jonah about his own resentment.

.Ending of the prodigal son story is thought by some to be tragic, I think it’s beautiful. There’s God the Father, pleading with the resentful brother to join them at the banquet table. Jesus leaves the parable unfinished so that we can answer it.

You will notice if you look at Hand and Fehr’s diagram in your bulletin notes that exiting the resentment quadrant is not by connecting better to others, although intuition says so. A person in the bottom right quadrant is alre4ady a strong relater.

No--Leaving resentment requires growing in self perception, it requires gaining ego strength—it means coming to love yourself more.

When we do feel resentment, we should first admit the problem.
-Illustration: Rick Warren has a slogan: Revealing your feeling is the beginning of healing.

Focus on the fact that you are beautifully and wonderfully made

“All I have is yours.” Ask for love.

Humility is not a characteristic of low ego strength. It is a characteristic of high ego strength. Don’t confuse humility with low ego.

Find a practice that is life giving. Resentment is a toxic element of low ego. The Ken Burns PBS series on jazz music has a terrific quote by jazz great Duke Ellington. Duke was asked about his feelings at not being able, as a black man, to stay in the guest rooms of the hotels he and his band performed in because of segregation. He said, "I took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.";

It happens in group politics as well—people under the thumb of the oppressors so long that they’ve swallowed the stigma and can’t seem to let go of the resentment. They try to buy respect by claiming that they’ve suffered more.

It won’t work—we’ll never be free that way. God loves us all the same—early to work, late to work. God gives us all the same reward.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

All Saints Day Sermon and Liturgy

The Scriptures for the All Saints Day sermon were: 1 John 3: 1-3 and Revelation 7: 9-17

Listen Here

And follow along with the notes if you wish:
Speak about ongoing sermon series, how it is interesting that in this Sunday previous to our voting Tues, we turn our attention to the politics that encompass this life and the next.

In our scripture readings, we see consistently that though it is impossible for us to comprehend the nature of our relationships with one another and with our God in the life after death, we are assured that there is a great peace, a great reunion, a great communion with God and with the Saints.

We use the term “saint” rather loosely compared with our Catholic brothers and sisters. We don’t ask that any earthly body approve who is a saint and who is not because we believe that if we are not sanctified before death, we are certainly sanctified at the moment of death,

If you aren’t familiar with that term, “sanctified,” what I’m referring to is that pinnacle state of grace when we are given the gift of returning to that original image that God created us in—displaying a “perfect love” for God and neighbor.

Our founder, John Wesley believed this state of grace was possible in our lifetime, and we celebrate that.

Living a “politics of eternity” is living with that goal as our primary focus—loving God and neighbor perfectly. It puts us in touch with the fact that even those who have gone before us continue to shape us and guide us through the love and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Many of us may have experienced that sense of presence and assurance from our loved ones after they have passed on to the next life, and if you take the assurance and peace that you have received from those encounters, and you apply them to your daily life—to the encounters and the relationships that you have on a day to day life, you are living inside this “politics of eternity.”

Living within this “politics of eternity” gives us a mandate to be open to others of different cultures and races and tribes. Notice the first line of our passage from Revelation, when John notices that those saints innumberable are from every “nation, tribe, people, and language, gathered there robed in white before the throne with palm branches in their hand.”

Living within the politics of eternity, living toward that goal of sanctification: perfect love, means living beyond the walls and boundaries and safety zones that we draw around the short sighted definitions of race, culture, nationality.

If you’re not ready to accept someone else because of their color or their culture, then you aren’t ready for heaven, because John sees that we are all gathered together in one place. Stretch yourself—be ready love those who you don’t know and can’t identify with as fully and capably as you love those in your own family or circle of friends.

But, on the other side of that same coin, living the politics of eternity means giving thanks and praise for those lives who have crossed our own, from whom we’ve grown with and discovered a new dynamic of love and devotion.

The lives of those have gone before us should be lifted up as a tribute of thanksgiving to the God who put that life together and loved it perfectly.

We give thanks today for the lives of all our brothers and sisters in creation—all the children of Earth and God. And we thank God especially for gifting us with the lives of those whom we have loved but lost only in a physical sense.

We thank God that through the politics of eternity, we have not lost those lives in a Spiritual sense, and will one day be in fellowship once again, in some way beyond our comprehension.

And so now as a reflection of that perfect communion and fellowship that surrounds God, we remember the meal that Christ offered us to preserve that Communion with him and the saints forevermore.

Oct 26 Sermon: Love of God by Pat Edmonds

Our Lay Speaker Preached on this Sunday--take a listen!
Scriptures are: 1 Corinthians and Mark 12: 28-34

Sunday, October 12, 2008

October 12 Sermon: Faith and the Spirit of Politics 1: Politics of Compassion

Introduce Series: What we mean by

1.Faith: 2 meanings—beliefs of a particular religion or denomination. And Trust in a transcendent center of value and power. Difference between the two is that skeptics can practice the 2nd.

2. Spirit: a. Energy, vivacity, enthusiasm, ardor, courage. “A spirited person.” B. a temper or disposition of mind and heart, or a group. German GEIST

3. Politics: social relations involving authority and power.

4 kinds of person:

top right corner high ego strength and a high ability to relate to others in a mutually beneficial way.

Bottom left low ego strength and a low ability to relate to others: they are withdrawn and unable to form close relationships. Sometimes they are self harming as well. Jonah.

Bottom right: self deprecatory and dependent persons. Low ego strength and a strong connection to others, and thus tend to be clingy.

Top left: narcissistic and self-aggrandizing types, high ego strength and little ability to relate to others; or at least little concern for doing so.

A few verses before our Romans passage today, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” He then goes on to elaborate on this renewing of the mind by talking about forgiving one another and treating each other with love and hospitality. This is how our minds are renewed.

The Politics Of Compassion

Compassionate Leadership

1. What can leaders do to increase their capacity for compassion, spiritual maturity, and sense of self worth?

2. What can churches do to support their pastors in these endeavors?

3. Read Mark 12:28-34 for some guiding principles.

Sermon Notes:

As far as our ________ ___________ go, we as Christians have an advantage in knowing what God would recommend for us, since we believe our Gospel is the record of how God lived in ____________ with others.

On a social dimension, which includes ________ ___________ though, things get __________, which is one reason religion and politics is such a ____________ ____________.

Reinhold Niebuhr, the founder of the school of “Christian realism,” stressed that in the interpersonal dimension of ethics, Christians strive to avoid ____________, beause of the radically loving, self-surrendering example of Jesus upon the cross.

But in politics, some degree of _________ may be required to _________ ____________ and ________ ___________.

Examples of two societies that have experienced a Politics of Compassion: _____________ __________________

End with Story of man holding candle outside white house during the Vietnam war. Reporter asked him one rainy night as he stood there getting wet, holding his little white candle, “Do you really think you will change the policies of this country by standing out here every nite w/ that candle? “Oh I don’t do this to change the country, I do this so the country won’t change me.”

Thursday, October 09, 2008

New Sermon Series to Begin Oct. 12: "Faith and the Spirits of Politics"

Hopefully the title of the Sermon Series gets your attention, but to clarify: No, I'm not going to be preaching about partisan politics, or endorsing any candidate from the pulpit--instead we're going to be focusing on five "spirits" of politics that characterize our human condition. We will be using the term "politics" in a general way, that is "social relations involving authority and power." The politics that will be covered are a politics of compassion, politics of isolation, politics of resentment, politics of domination, and on All Saints Sunday, we will remember our loved ones who have passed away during the year and hear about the politics of eternity. So, yes, this is hopefully a timely sermon series due to the fact that we are in a presidential election season, but no, this isn't a sermon series that will encourage partisan politics.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Vision Planting Sunday

Click on title to be taken to the internet archive, where you can download the podcast--or just listen here!

Here are the sermon notes, and you might also appreciate a photo of the altar setting. The scriptures are 2 Corinthians 9: 5-15 and Psalm 1

1 cor. 9
Story about coming across two people chiseling marble: I’m carving stone, second says “I’m building a cathedral.”
This day is about holding that second perspective up, trying to take it on if we don’t naturally think that way.

We are building a cathedral—our lives are a testament toward God—that should be the aim and focus ever before us. When we plod through life, that should be our theme—we are doing what we’re doing today because our lives matter to God.

To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.
Edward R. Murrow

We must be persuasive. We have a life changing message of hope, and it must be shared. At the root of our persuasiveness will be our truth—and our truthfulness must be accountable.

Explain visual significance. Place our pledges as we would be planted by the water. We yield our fruit in season—we will prosper.

Giving of ourselves roots us in the promise of God’s goodness. We are like vessels for God’s grace.

Experience of being “poured through.”

Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, whosoever sows generously reaps generously. If you are having a lackluster experience as a Christian, if you’re wondering “well, is this all there is to it?” If you feel like a “social club Christian” then ask yourself—“what have I sown? What am I giving?”

This is why Wesley invented a methodology to discipleship, why he emphasized disciplines and accountability. He knew that we work better when we have a routine. But he knew that this routine, forming people in this way, could be detrimental to the Methodists in the end. He said….

"I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches."

The more you free your mind and heart from the grip of Money, the more you will exalt in the riches of God.

In a shaky economy, this is one thing you are guaranteed. This is the economy of God. The more we loosen ourselves from the grip of the worldly powers of money, the more we taste and see the goodness and richness of God.

Giving nothing, giving a token amount, giving less than we should, is planting ourselves in barren soil, giving abundantly comes through being planted by the water. You will be fed and nourished by God’s grace. You will have more than you need—you will bear fruit for others. You will never thirst.

I want to assure you that the failure to give is a failure to trust. A failure to trust is a failure to receive what God is overflowing for us.

If you are unhappy with your level of giving—if this exercise of planning for 2009 has caused you to face an unspectacular record thus far—then set a percentage that you will give, and ask God to grow you toward the tithe.

Set some goals for your own discipleship, and let us as a community be in a covenant relationship with God and with one another so that we may become more and more worth to bear the name of the Redeemer.

Ask God to pull you up by the roots and move you close to his heart, so that you may discover the joy of yielding fruit in more and more abundance.

All the gifts that we possess aren’t ours. All of those skills and abilities and finances. They are on loan. We are asked to employ our gifts for the living God—Employing those gifts for God’s glory is a way of bearing witness to the Living God.

As Christians, we are called to give to God "what is right, not what is left," as the popular quote from a church marquee states. God calls us to offer our "first fruits," not the "leftovers."

First fruits giving requires the theological premise that our possessions and assets ultimately belong to God. All that we have in life is a gift from God! Faith-filled, first fruits giving is our opportunity to return to God a small portion of God's abundant blessing in our lives.

Moreover, these blessings are not limited to financial assets or possessions. Most of us can examine our own lives and find numerous blessings, perhaps even some astounding miracles.

Today all Christians in the world who participate are celebrating communion. Remembrance of Christ giving everything so that we might have life.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sept. 28 Sermon: LIke a Mighty Wind

Sermon Text: Acts 2: 1-12

Spirit doing a new thing. Scriptures speak of the “rush of a mighty wind.”

With all the changes going on in our society, with the decreasing amount of importance people seem to be placing on church, we may be tempted to think that the only sound of a mighty wind in our age is the sound the church emptying out.

You hear a lot about this these days. You hear about the church dying out. You hear about the church losing relevance, as people seek out personal encounters with God without having to be bothered by God’s people.

But I’m hear to tell you that regardless of how dire things may look, the Spirit can and will do something new. The Spirit will revive and re-birth this church as She always has.

A new and vibrant church has always been born out of strife. Birth comes with labor pangs—The early church was borne out of persecution, as we see here in Acts, with its recounting of disciple after disciple being accused and killed for their faith. The early church persevered an Empire that caught followers and tortured them for entertainment.

The church was re-birthed out of a lapse into excess and corruption through the Reformation.

The Wesleyan revival was birthed out of classism….political revolution….religious laze-faire.

Can the Spirit birth something new and bold and meaningful out of the current difficulties that we face? Can the Spirit birth the church out of decreasing attendance and relevance in the lives of the people who claim the name of Jesus?

Can the Spirit birth the church out of a society where our once-thought-impenetrable economy seems to be slipping and falling?

Can the Spirit birth the church out of materialism and greed and short-sightedness?

Well, the Spirit has worked with all these difficulties and more to bring something beautiful and powerful and meaningful into existence.

Our Creation story shows the Spirit sweeping over the primordial chaos of pre-existence itself to bring forth and birth the universe and what we know as reality. If the Spirit can work with primordial chaos, the Spirit can certainly work with mortal chaos!

We must expect something. The scripture says that the first Christians, the followers of “The Way” were “all gathered together in one place.”

We must gather together not just out of some obligatory sense of duty and the shame of not being here—we must gather to expect something.

Phyllis Tickle, a contemporary theologian and historian of the church, believes we are living in the midst of something called, “The Great Emergence,” when the church is being birthed again as something new and different.

This new and different thing includes church being structured in ways and conducted in places that we may find unusual. Then again, it seems unusual to see a family having dinner on their front lawn and inviting a stranger waiting for the bus, doesn’t it?

The church will be caught up in “The Mighty Wind,” that is mentioned here in this scripture, but perhaps we must first “go outside,” in order to feel the breeze!

What do you imagine when you hear those words, “our church must “go outside?” Picture that with me for a moment. Is it something “outside your comfort zone?”

This coming Thurs. we will host our district superintendent for a dreaming session, of sorts. Among our business that we report to our DS as a matter of accountability, we’ll also hear of a charge from our bishop to begin dreaming up ways to “get outside.”

We’ll also hear about some tools that we will be using over the next couple years for self-examination.

The following Sunday, we’ll gather here together once again with expectancy. Here, we’ll ask the Spirit to bless our commitment to this church. NO matter what we yield to the Spirit’s use, it will no doubt be part of the recipe for something great that the Spirit is cooking up for and through us.

We have a charge to keep! We can be part of the Spirit’s work, the Church’s new emergence as something new and bold and meaningful instead of something played out and weak and meaningless.

Stewardship Program for 2009

They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. 

In all that they do, they prosper.”  Psalm 1:3


Dear Members and Friends of First United Methodist Church, Morris


October 5th will be an important day in the life of our church.  On this “Vision Planting Sunday,” we will express our intended investment in the church for the coming year by pledging our support of the 2009 vision of this congregation.  We know we have been planted next to the River of God’s grace and provision—now it is the season to yield fruit.  Included in this letter is a card that represents your plans for fruit-bearing in 2009 that we ask you to prayerfully consider and complete by yourself or with your family and then place on the altar on Sunday, Oct. 5.  We are each asked to support the church with our presence, prayers, service, witness, and gifts.  As a way to encourage each other along the road of discipleship in 2009, the pastor and financial secretary will mail you a copy of your commitment at the end of each quarter during 2009.  During October and November of 2008, they will give a total of the combined pledges to the finance committee to help them prepare a budget.  (A 2008 “Missional Budget” is printed on the reverse so you can see what we have achieved over the past year.)  Perhaps we will achieve a more expansive ministry with your  pledged commitment.    


As this day approaches, I ask that each of us make our offerings to the church a matter of prayerful consideration.  That way, whatever commitment we decide to make on the fifth of October will be a faith venture between God and our families.


In uncertain financial times, many of us hesitate to increase, or even state our commitment.  Yet I believe that God gives us the strength to do what God leads us to do.  Sometimes, the discernment of what we shall give to God through our community of faith’s ministries compels us to examine our priorities.  Lara and I have already decided to maintain giving a tithe (10% of our income) to God through this church.  If you are not able to give a tithe, try to designate some percentage of your income that you will give.  We have faith that you too will find that pledging your commitment to support this church through your presence, prayers, service, witness, and gifts will reflect what the Psalmist sees when singing about “a tree planted by the river.”   As Paul also says to the Corinthians, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” 




Grace and Peace,



Rev. Nathan Mattox                                         Duane Lester, Chair of Finance



Ken Morris, Chair of Church Council       





Missional Budget 2008

First United Methodist Church, Morris


United Methodist Mission Statement: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” 

Local Church Mission Statement: “Sharing the love of Christ by offering resources to persons in our church, community, and around the world who are in need.” 


It is important for us to keep in mind that the finances of the church are collected and distributed solely toward the aim of realizing the goal of our mission.  We collect our worldly resources to provide for this body of faith so that this body of faith can distribute the divine resources with which we’ve been gifted: Word, Wisdom, and Love.  In our mission statement, we commit ourselves to “offering resources.”  We offer these divine resources through the practices of the church. This budget is constructed so that you might see anew how what we do at church is cultivate and share the Divine gifts of God.  Each gift is linked with a portion of our financial budget that we feel is committed to cultivating and sharing these gifts. 


Offering the Resource of Word: We gather each Sunday to worship, where the Word of God is shared and reflected upon.  We believe the Word of God is the nature of Christ (John 1), and when we gather, Christ is present.  Our facilities which shelters us, minister who guides us, and volunteers who empower us help us offer this resource to our community (through worship) and the world (through our website, which has received 13,000 hits from all over the world).


(Includes worship supplies, insurance apportionment paid to conference, percentage of utilities budget, percentage of minister and staff salary packages, and percentage of administrative costs.)   $29,025


Offering the Resource of Wisdom: Through the educational life of our church, we gather each week to study together and keep in covenant.  Proverbs says that “An intelligent mind acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”  Our local church provides Bibles studies, fellowship groups; our connectional church provides workshops, retreats, and scholarships.  Through what we provide for the church, we offer this resource to the community and world. 


(Includes educational supplies for children, youth, and adults, percentage of apportionment, percentage of utilities budget, percentage of minister and staff salary packages, and percentage of administrative costs)



Offering the Resource of Love:  Through our mission and care and hospitality groups, we provide love and service to our neighbors-whether it be the reminder that you are being prayed for in a bouquet of flowers at the hospital, the kind of care the Good Samaritan provided (Luke 10), counseling for those with addictions, ministry to those in prisoner (the last are two of many service and mission ministries provided through the apportionment.) The friendships fostered in this community of faith reflect the friendship we find in Christ.  Along with ministries funded with this area of our budget, we also occasionally solicit special fund drives for particular emergencies. 


(Includes mission budget, percentage of apportionment, percentage of utilities budget, percentage of minister and staff salary packages, and percentage of administrative costs)                           $31,535


Total funds needed to make disciples who will transform the world in 2008:          $95,118




Sunday, September 28, 2008

New Book Study beginning second Sun. of Oct.

I've been awaiting the publication of this book, which has received great reviews (pasted below).  If you'd like to read along with a small group and discuss, please join us!  The books are $13.  We'll discuss the first chapter on Oct. 12 at 5pm.  See you there!  Also, if you're interested, this book is the focus of an event in Memphis in December--check it out!

Product Description
Rooted in the observation that massive transitions in the church happen about every 500 years, Phyllis Tickle shows readers that we live in such a time right now. She compares the Great Emergence to other "Greats" in the history of Christianity, including the Great Transformation (when God walked among us), the time of Gregory the Great, the Great Schism, and the Great Reformation. Combining history, a look at the causes of social upheaval, and current events, The Great Emergence shows readers what the Great Emergence in church and culture is, how it came to be, and where it is going. Anyone who is interested in the future of the church in America, no matter what their personal affiliation, will find this book a fascinating exploration. 

From the Inside Flap
"The Great Emergence offers a sweeping overview of church history and locates us in a moment of great opportunity and challenge. To some, this analysis will come as a rude awakening, and to others, as a dream coming true. My hunch is that this will be one of the most important books of the year, and will shape the conversation among a wide range of Christians for years to come."--Brian McLaren, author/activist "Without exaggeration, I say this book is a masterwork, and it will be cited for decades to come as the most pointed articulation of the church and Christianity that is emerging from the compost of Christendom. I don't know which I admire more: Tickle's erudition, her brilliant writing, or her faithfulness."--Tony Jones, national coordinator, Emergent Village; author, The New Christians As an internationally renowned expert on religion, Phyllis Tickle has incisive perspective on the trends and transformations of our time. Here, she invites us into a conversation as she shares her reflections stemming from not only personal faith but also decades of observation and analysis. The result is a work that meets the challenge of chronicling a pivotal time in the church's history so we might better understand where we have been and what the future holds. Tickle clearly lays out the gradual steps leading up to this transformation, including the influences and effects of Darwin, Freud, Einstein, the automobile, and technological advances. She then sets her sights on where we're going, leaving us with a vision of an exciting future for the Church. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sept. 21 Sermon: Kingdom Vision

Sermon Text: Matthew 13: 32-33

Sermon Notes:
Acts 2: 1-12
Matthew 13: 31-32

Seed growing into a tree.

Orders meeting: last place you’d expect to be inspired for a sermon:
Kingdom vision: planting a seed with the vision that great things will come of it. In the Lord’s prayer, we say “as Earth as it is in heaven.”

We’re cognizant of the full grown tree in heaven, in fact it is what John saw in his vision recorded in Revelation…read text Rev. 21?

But, we’re not living with our bags packed. Jesus doesn’t ask us to shut out this world, he wants us to live with garden gloves on. We should live bearing the fruit of that tree.

Christ makes it clear that this life is what religion is about—give us this day our daily bread. Help us forgive—why because forgiveness makes the life you are living better and bigger and deeper.

We bear the fruit of that tree pictured for us in heaven, and the first followers of “the Way,” mentioned in acts. They understood that community embodies God, and that’s why they made the commitment to a radical life of community.

We live with the hope and the knowledge that the kingdom that is present in our midst, even if it is as subtle as a mustard seed, it is as potent—that seed, that hope, contains God’s designs for the world.

I would encourage us to think of ourselves as seed-nourishers, as gardeners, but the truth about mustard seed is that it grows whether the farmer wants it there or not. Mustard plant spreads and flourishes, sometimes despite the best efforts of the farmer, that’s why while we work for it, we also wait for it.

The Kingdom is coming—it is assuredly coming—sometimes the point of faith is re-orienting ourselves to the perspective that we “want” it to come.

We need kingdom vision and bird-hearts. We need to think of ourselves as beings who will find the Kingdom to be shelter and home. This may sound easy—after all who doesn’t like the idea of the sweet Buhlah land that we sang last week.

The Kingdom isn’t lollipop land. The kingdom involves us putting away much that we have grown comfortable with. We are “transformed by faith divine, we gain that perfect love unknown, bright in all thy image shine, by putting on the Son.” As Charles Wesley said in one of his poems—(which was part of our readings this week.)

Part of this transformation involves putting away distrust and self-centeredness. As I read to this couple I married yesterday, Paul says Love always trusts, it always hopes, it always perserveres.

Video, Nat’l geo photographer, story about him reading “random acts of kindness” and then wanting to pay the toll for someone on the golden gate bridge. Finally decided to do it, turned out that a shiny black porshe. Toll booth operator, you don’t know that person, do you? Made her day, porshed zoomed by, and the guy pumps his fist in the air, “woo-hoo.” Deciding to take a chance on hope and trust are the best “bets” we can make. This is living with Kingdom eyes. This is treating a stranger as if he were a brother. It’s living “as if” what we believe is true.

Living “as if.” Integral part of falling in love with what you are doing. At the “vision planning Sunday in a couple weeks, we’ll invest this same sense of hope and trust in the life of this congregation of believers. We are bearing the fruit of this community through accountability. It’s just an idea if we don’t have accountability. We must behave “as if” this church is going to help bring the kingdom into this community.

Story about the two chiseling marble in Italy. “chipping stone” o “building a cathedral.”
That is living with kingdom vision. You treat the seed as though it were the mustard tree. You treat strangers as if they were brothers. You live life with hope and trust.

Pray that God gives you the vision to see things as they are in God’s eyes. Pray for “Thy kingdom come, and thy will be done—on earth as it is in heaven.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sept. 15 Sermon: Claiming The Talent

Click the title to hear sermon. (You may have to download quicktime or some other media player to access sermon)

Sermon Text: Matthew 25: 14-30

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sept. 6 Sermon: Spine, Muscles, and Sinew

Sermon Text:
Matthew 25: 14-30
Romans 12: 4-8

Sorry, no audio-sermon today--something messed up with our gabcast. Here are my notes.

Wesley’s notes:. “So we - All believers. Are one body - Closely connected together in Christ, and consequently ought to be helpful to each other.”

Such a simple idea. Reflects Paul’s metaphor. Isn’t it the case that the different aspects and parts of our body work in concert and are of benefit to one another? Our muscles are woven together, our spine brings electric messages to our hands and our feet in order to move us to where we need to go.

You’ve heard that saying, “So and so doesn’t have a spine,” or “grow a spine!” We all know what that means, right—get some courage! Get some direction!

Right now the lay leadership committee and I are looking for people with a spine to be the spine of our congregation. We need to replace a church council chair, a trustee chair, a PPR chair, among others, who have heard “job well done my good and faithful servant.”

The church must have people who are willing to listen, through prayer and discernment, to the will of God, and then delegate that will out among the people of our congregation—much like a spine carries the will of the mind to the muscles and hands and feet. If our congregation doesn’t have a spine, we will be like that “spineless” person who has no courage or direction.

But I’m not saying this to chastise us, I’m saying this to celebrate the necessity and the function of those of you who have taken on these roles in the past and who are prayerfully considering these roles in the future. Because of you, we are a body of Christ with a spine.

As necessary as the spine are the muscles which take the assignments and the direction of the spine and move the body in the appropriate direction. But what else are your roles in the mystical body? There must be strong bonds between the muscles. We’ve all seen and perhaps experienced, I know of one case at least, a football player end their season with a torn muscle or ligament.

When fractures occur between the people in the congregation, our functioning as a body of Christ becomes hampered by that injury.

We are slowed down, we are impaired—by the fractures that occur in our relationships, especially our relationships with one another in our local congregation—but we can speak of this fracture in a larger church sense too.

The fractures of differing worldviews, different values, can hamper the body of Christ in the same way a torn ligament will restrain a football player. Our opponent has an advantage when the Body of Christ is torn and consumed by its own squabbles and differences.

And what happens to muscles when they are being used and active? They grow—I think this is something we can expect from this body of Christ when we are carrying out the work of Christ. We can and will grow larger, and muscle mass will be added to this Body of Christ.

As well as growing in size, we also grow in depth as disciples. Our spirits, like muscles, become more toned and attractive, as long as we are remaining active and alert to the will of our head—Jesus Christ.
The hard truth is that growth can be painful. We have all felt that soreness of the muscles after working out. A group of people must confront issues and conflict and disagreement when new people join a community and perhaps renew debates that have supposedly been settled.

When our growth is a deepening growth in our spiritual lives, there are likewise inner confrontations and issues that do come up. Spiritual growth incorporates those confrontations and issues.

Not all disagreement or conflict in the body is bad, muscles grow because new there is stress to the existing muscle.

The danger of being sedentary holds the same danger for the Mystical Body of Christ as it does for our physical bodies. We grow weak—unable to carry out the desire of the Christ/Mind. Chances are, we also grow fat, and the fat has a good chance of killing us. What does it look like when a congregation is sedentary? The congregation is most likely myopic and inwardly focused. The congregation cares little for what goes on in the world and community around it. The congregation becomes single-minded and risk averse. We pray that the Spirit stays with us and we continue to resist the pull of Spiritual Couch Potatoism!

That’s the purpose of this Vision Plan that you will be asked to support this month. We stay vigorously aware of why we do the things we do as a congregation, and we hatch new ideas for ministry and relating to our community. We are alert for the signals from our head—and we embody those signals to carry the Body where it needs to go.

Monday, August 25, 2008

40 Days of Purpose--oops

We have started the period of discernment prior to our Church Conference on Oct. 2. This period of discernment, called "40 Days of Purpose" is being carried out by all United Methodist churches in the Oklahoma Conference. In worship, we will be hearing sermons instigated by the scripture that everyone who picked up a devotional guide will be meditating on in the week to follow. If you have not been able to pick up a devotional guide, you can click the link in the previous sentence. If you picked one up from the church, you need to read it backwards--You should begin on day 40, not day 1. (You count down, not up). The conference office sent those to us, and stapled them incorrectly. Sorry! But you can see what it feels lke to be a lefty for forty days!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sermons #15 - Elijah Sermon Series 4: "Make it a Double"

Gabcast! Sermons #15 - Elijah Sermon Series 4: "Make it a Double"

This sermon is based on 2 Kings 2: 1-15, which is the story of the translation of Elijah and the passing of the mantle to Elisha. This sermon concludes the 4 part series.