Thursday, March 27, 2008

Paintball On Sunday?

Youth have planned an outing to Paintball Adventure Games in Sapulpa this coming Sunday afternoon, but we need to find sponsors. Are you willing to help? Nathan has a commitment at Camp Egan that evening, and can't go. Sponsors get complementary paintball supplies at the course, and we'll be travelling up there and back with the Okmulgee First UMC youth. We'll meet at McDonald's right after church. Youth will need $15 and the Youth group checkbook will cover the rest of their fee. If you are going, you'll need a signed release form you can download here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Exodus Bible Study Postponed

Our last session of the Exodus Bible Study originally scheduled for March 30th is postponed until the following week, April 6.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Sermon: "It's How you Believe."

Sermon Text: Colossians 3: 1-4
Matthew 28

Sorry, no transcript this week either. I'm preaching in more of an extemporaneous style now. If the manuscript sermons have been a big help to you, leave a comment, and I'll look into getting an ipod or something that I could put podcasts of the sermon on the website. If I don't hear from anyone, I will keep giving you the talking points of the sermon and what I can remember of it. (and some improvements I've made in the past 24 hours. :) )

My earthquake experiences have been unextraordinary.

Leaning back in my chair during seminary during one, asleep during the other.

Quite possibly, this earthquake that Matthew recounts was not that extraordinary too. After all he's the only writer to remember it.

Perhaps this was just indicative of a resurrection that kind of "flew under the radar," anyway. John tells of the disciples going back to their fishing after the encounters with the risen Christ.

So, no hard feelings if you merely think of Easter Sunday as a day to go to church in pastel colors and have an egg hunt.

Our ultimate antagonist to having a life of faith is the disease of apathy. Apatheism, some call it. (Here, some of the teenagers in church were busy texting each other, and made a good illustration about apathy and the Easter story.)

But perhaps we are apathetic because we believe that the Easter event is just another event that we are supposed to believe "happened" so that we can "believe the right things" and "get into heaven." Once we've gotten the story down, and believe that it has happened, we're "okay."


Perhaps all this talk of an earthquake and an angel and the clunky narrative about guards being placed at the tomb is just Matthew writing in a convenient explanation as to why the Romans and Jews keep dismissing the early Christians talk about a resurrection by saying that they had stolen the body.

Or, if you watch the Discovery or History Channel, you can learn about all other theories about how Jesus might have "come back from the dead." Some say Jesus was drugged, feigned death, and later escaped from the tomb. Others say the disciples just got so worked up in their grief that they made up the whole thing.

So, that "story that we have to get down right" in order to "believe the right things," isn't so simple after all, is it. The gospels sure don't help us, they each tell the story in different ways. Which one am I "supposed to believe" preacher?

Well, what if Matthew, with all this talk about guards at the gate, is trying to communicate to us the idea that it's not what you believe, it's how you believe.

The guards at the tomb witnessed everything the women did! They surely "believed the right things." They were right there so scared they couldn't move! They got the information, because they took it back to the authorities.

The difference was "how they believed." They were content to be paid off to change their story. They sold out while the women shared the good news.

Bishop Will Willimon points out. "There are so many ways to "explain" the resurrection. The point is, we can't explain the resurrection. The resurrection explains us!"

This past week, we recounted the stories about how Jesus was "there for us," but how his disciples failed to be "there for him." They deserted, they shrunk away in fear. They lied about their association with him. They betrayed him. Now an angel who "has the appearance of lightning" is telling us this man is back. Uh-oh.

But notice what Jesus tells the women. "Greetings! Tell my brothers to meet me in Galilee." My brothers! The two most important words of this story. My brothers. The women become not only missionaries of the resurrection message, but also agents of reconciliation.

Resurrection faith isn’t just a matter of believing that a dead body came back to life. The soldiers and the priests believed this as well, and were quick to work against the resurrection. Resurrection faith is knowing that this event heals a relationship between you and God. It is the understanding that you are a “brother” or “sister” being summoned to go and share the good news with others. Dear friends, Matthew tells us that it’s not about “believing.” It’s about what you do with that belief that identifies you as a child of the Resurrection.

When the Resurrection compels us to be agents of reconciliation, that's letting Easter shape "how" and not just "what" we believe.

Easter means you have another chance to be the person God created you to be, and you can start doing that at any moment, even after you think it's too late. The disciples whom Jesus called "brothers" and "sisters" learned that it was never too late.

This is "how" we believe. We believe in the resurrection by believing in the possibilities for redemption and reconciliation that happen every day. We believe in the resurrection by making those moments happen.

But, if you think being a child of the resurrection means you have everything figured out, then think again. When the disciples meet Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, Matthew tells us "but some doubted." That's okay. The resurrection is big enough to handle our doubt. "Thus the same elements of worship, doubt, and little faith inhere in the church after Easter as before. Whatever the nature of the resurrection event, it did not generate perfect faith even in those who experienced it firsthand. It is not to angels or perfect believers, but to the worshiping/wavering community of disciples to whom the world mission is entrusted." (New Interpreter's Bible)

This is the good news. This is what is exciting. The resurrection hasn't ended. It is still going on in your life and in mine. We have the opportunity to participate in it by our life lived in the name of Christ. That's why it is so beautifully fitting that we had a baptism today and added another sister to the community of faith. We've added a witness to the resurrection. She will be brought up in the faith.

And it won't be what she believes that makes a difference to Christ. It will be "how" she believes that witnesses to the resurrection.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What is the Seder?

If you are wondering this--go here to find out all about the Passover meal that we will adapt for our use on Maundy Thursday. Children are encouraged to attend--actually, the service will be quite hampered without the presence of children, since the Passover meal has traditionally been the occasion where the children were handed down the story of the Exodus.

"Being there" for Jesus, Palm/Passion Sunday Sermon

Once again, I didn't really "write" a sermon. But here's my best account of what I said.

Scripture Readings:
Matthew 21: 1-11
Philippians 2 5-11
Matthew 26:14-27:66

I hear it all the time: "Jesus was there for me." We lean on Jesus in crucial times, and Jesus is happy for us to do this. He wants us to count on his presence and depend on him for comfort. Today is the story about how he was "there for us" in an ultimate way. He was there for his disciples, and by miraculous extension, for us, at the last supper, when he said, "This is my body. This is my blood." He was there for us as he stood before the priests and before Pilate, taking accusation after accusation in noble silence. He was there for us as he was whipped and beaten. And he was there for us hanging on the cross, mocked and desperate.

We believe that through all of this, in all of this, Jesus is there for us. He is there bearing our sin for us and giving his life as a sacrifice for our sinfulness. Any time we have a feeling of conviction for our sin, we may picture in our minds some of these events that we heard about today.

But what we heard was also a story about how Jesus' closest friends and disciples failed to "be there" for him in his hour of need. This is perhaps most poignantly described in the account of Jesus praying in the garden, and finding his disciples asleep when they are supposed to be on watch. After the Romans arrest Jesus, the disciples scatter. Later, Peter is almost outed as a disciple of Jesus and he denies any affiliation with him. In a last utterance of abandonment, Jesus cries out words from the 22nd Psalm. "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me." It seems that while Jesus is there for all of us, no one, not even God, is there for him. Why is this?

Perhaps the Gospel writer is wanting to accentuate Jesus' abandonment to give us the resolve to stand by Jesus. And the good news of the Gospel is that we can be there for Jesus.

Any time we encounter bigotry or sexism or racism, you can "be there" for Jesus. Any time you encounter someone suffering or hurting, you can "be there" for Jesus. Jesus told his disciples, "whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me." So we have an opportunity to stand in for the disciples who deny and run away and instead be there, witnessing to the Jesus who is "there" for all of us.

Thanks be to God!

Holy Week Activities

Thursday, March 20: Maundy Thursday Seder Meal. Come and participate in the Passover Seder as Jesus and his disciples would have shared it the night he was arrested by the authorities. 6pm

Friday, March 21: Good Friday Tenebre Service. The Tenebre is a sparse and somber "Service of Darkness." We hear the passion story read by candlelight, and end the service by stripping the sanctuary of all decoration. This symbolizes the spiritual emptying of our hearts so that we may be filled with the joy of the resurrection on Easter. 6pm

Saturday, March 22: Easter Vigil: Easter begins at sundown on Saturday evening, and this service celebrates the "first light" of Easter visually with the first lighting of the Paschal candle, and a candlelight carol and processional into the sanctuary. We'll celebrate the night by singing our favorite hymns. 6pm

Sunday, March 23: Easter Sunday Worship: Come and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ at this festive worship service. 10:55am.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

House bill and canyon camp

TO: All United Methodists
FROM: Joseph Harris,
Assistant to the Bishop/Director of Communications
The Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church
March 12, 2008

UPDATE: State legislative leaders have responded to citizens’ concerns expressed about House Bill 2774, relating to swine-feeding operations in the state. United Methodist church leaders believe that a new draft of the bill, presented as a House floor substitute, adequately addresses our concerns, especially in relation to Canyon Camp near Hinton.

Thus, this department is notifying you that the Oklahoma Conference leadership no longer opposes HB 2774, as it has been revised.

Randy McGuire, Conference director of Camps, stated this morning (March 12, 2008), “This substitute addresses the two items of particular concern for the protection of recreational and camp facilities that we noted in earlier forms of the bill. Namely, the term ‘groundwater’ was replaced with the original term ‘water,’ and a grandfather clause was removed. With these changes, it is my belief that the bill adequately protects recreational and camp facilities, including Canyon Camp.”

Two meetings, today and yesterday, at the state Capitol helped bring together groups with various perspectives on the proposal, to share and seek illumination and agreement. Attending the meeting this morning were state Rep. Lee Denney; state Rep. Dale DeWitt; J.D. Strong, chief of staff of the state Department of the Environment; Rev. Ed Light, chairman of the board of Conference UM Camp and Retreat Ministries; Rev. Craig Stinson, Conference UM director of Connectional Ministry and Congregational Development; Rev. McGuire; and representatives of the Pork Council and various lobbyists. Inquiries from citizens helped initiate the Tuesday meeting, when Rep. DeWitt, Secretary of the Environment Miles Tolbert, and members of the Pork Council met to look more in-depth at the language of HB 2774.

This department also believe it is important to note that United Methodist leaders realize all perspectives are worthy of study as we search together for common accord. United Methodists hold in common our faith amid diversity, in that we are citizens, consumers, farmers, legislators, environmentalists, and much more--especially, the people of God.

Oklahoma Conference leaders are extremely grateful for the level of concern expressed about this matter in recent days by United Methodists in response to our e-mail news releases. A number of people, including legislators who are United Methodist, have raised questions about the proposal. Your voice has been heard.

Joseph Harris
Department of Communications

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Oklahoma Legislation that could affect our Methodist Camp Canyojn

TO: All United Methodists
FROM: Joseph Harris,
Assistant to the Bishop/Director of Communications
The Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church

UPDATE: We continue to provide you with further information about House Bill 2774, a proposal to change existing state law about swine-feeding operations. If passed, the measure threatens the future of Camp Canyon, the United Methodist campground southeast of Hinton. A swine-feeding facility operates near the camp.
This bill continues to advance at the state Capitol. We continue to ask you to contact legislators, expressing your opposition to HB 2774.
This request for your action is time-sensitive. A full House vote on the measure is possible on Monday, March 10. House author is Rep. Dale DeWitt; newly listed as Senate author is Sen. Richard Lerblance.
Title 82, the current law, puts certain restrictions on all swine-feeding operations that are near recreational facilities in the state, including the one located near Camp Canyon. HB 2774 would change parts of the law.
HB 2774 has moved through First and Second Readings of the legislative process and was listed under “General Order” as of March 5. The original proposal was considered, a substitute version was presented and amended, and the Natural Resources Committee recommended it as “Do Pass.”

1. Wording has changed yet again in the proposal, and this is creating inconsistencies between sections of the measure when it is read in full. This raises questions as to how closely the measure has been examined and implies a rush to floor action without thorough review.
2. Rep. Dewitt said the purpose of HB 2774 is to change jurisdiction from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to the Department of Agriculture, and he said it is part of a larger move to simplify the functions of state government, according to Randy McGuire, who directs all camping ministries for Oklahoma United Methodists. State residents appreciate efforts to streamline government, but the proposal contains extensive language changes that do not seem limited to that. For instance:
a. Dates have been added in the proposal, distinguishing between new and existing operations. Why? The existing law does not include a grandfathering date.
b. Water terms have been changed in the proposal: “groundwater” and “surface water” permits seem to get separate consideration in this new version. Both are crucial to water safety and quality for human consumption.
c. Title 82, in use for about 10 years, has seemed satisfactory to all parties. The procedures are well established.

BACKGROUND: The existing law includes protection for the water sources and environment of Canyon Camp, which has existed more than 50 years. The camp is located in one of a series of canyons near Hinton--including the state park Red Rock Canyon--which contain rare and fragile ecosystems, according to environmental scientists who have studied the area.
Recreational use of Camp Canyon continues to grow. Annually, it serves more than 10,000 people, from a wide spectrum of groups, and its utilization is not restricted to United Methodists.

WHAT TO DO: E-mail and phone contacts are crucial, due to the timeframe on this measure.
To contact Rep. Chris Benge, Speaker of the House: 405-557-7340, Express your opposition to HB 2774 and ask Benge, who as Speaker controls the agenda for the House, to decline to schedule the bill for a hearing.
To contact Rep. DeWitt: 405-557-7332,
To contact Sen. Lerblance: 405-521-5604,
For other legislators’ contact information, go online to:

YOUR VOICE IS POWERFUL. You can make a difference. Express your opposition to HB 2774, and ask that the legislation be dropped. Title 82 has proven its effectiveness for all parties involved. We ask you to particularly contact Speaker of the House Benge, Rep. DeWitt, and the legislators who represent your area of the state.
This Department of Communications will produce further updates as we follow developments on this issue.

Joseph Harris
Department of Communications

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

March 2 Sermon: Brought to Light

This isn't really a transcript from my sermon on the 2nd, more like my notes that I used to prepare. I didn't really talk about eating disorders in the sermon, but you can still follow the link.

Brought to Light

I remember vividly my one and hopefully only experience with blindness. While working on my “handicapped awareness” merit badge, I had the opportunity to get to know the woman in my church who ran the local “group living” home for people with mental handicaps. We worked together on the requirements for the merit badge, and she helped me create day long simulations of being blind, deaf, mute, and wheelchair bound.

I remember specifically walking around downtown with her with big gauze pads and a blindfold over my eyes. At the end of the day, after my eyes had adjusted to the dark of the blindfold, taking it off was an overwhelming flood of light.

The gospels tell the story about the overwhelming imparting of the light of grace to humanity. Some are unblended and tentatively at first, walk out into the life of light, and others grimace with the discomfort of the light and grab the blindfolds and put them on.

Past few weeks during season of Lent, we have focused on the senses. We have heard the call of Abraham, we have felt the saving grace of God in a story of new birth, we have quenched our thirst with life giving water. In today’s story, we are given sight with the man blind from birth.

Today we’re reminded of the scripture we heard earlier, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”j

The healing miracle of John 9:1-41, then, is not simply a story that shows the revelation of the works of God in Jesus’ gift of sight (v. 3). Rather, the Fourth Evangelist uses this healing story to portray the world changing truth of Jesus’ incarnation palpably and poignantly. Light and darkness are no longer merely concepts, but are embodied in the characters of John 9. In the blind man’s journey from physical blindness to spiritual sight, the reader is able to watch as someone comes to the light and is given new life. In the Jewish authorities’ journey from physical sight to spiritual blindness, the reader is able to watch as they close themselves to the light and place themselves under judgment.

This month is eating disorders awareness week. You teachers are probably aware of that, but I didn’t know until I was looking at a friends website the other day. I usually don’t pay attention to “national month or week” of this or that, but this subject caught my eye in relationship to the scripture given today.

I have friends with eating disorders, and I would say that it is a blindfold of sorts. Much like me wearing around those patches and blindfold as a Boy Scout, there are young women and men who wear a blindfold toward their own body. They are blind to the beauty that God bestows on each and every child. They look at their own bodies and see only defect. Some are driven by the illusion of control, that we can actually possess it and always apply it. When they feel the tumultuous swerve of the world around them, they seek control wherever they can find it, and it usually ends up being their bodies that suffer.

Christ wants to remove this blindness. He wants to come into the lives of those women and men with eating disorders and all other kinds of disorders and give them the self worth and sense of peace and strength that will pull the shudders back on this illness that is so prevalent in our culture.

If you know of someone who suffers from an eating disorder, there will be a link on the website on this sermon to some professional resources
who can help. I would encourage those who suffer to speak with their pastor or someone. The sense of shame about these kinds of things cause us to bury them deep in our heart, where they can take root and shot up in other aspects of our life.

One thing I liked as a boy about this bible story is that Jesus spits in the dirt to make the mud paste that he puts on the man’s eyes. I liked this passage especially because it came in handy when my mother would get on to me for spitting and then I would come back with, well Jesus spit! If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me, right!

But a connection that I make now that I didn’t make when I was more concerned about justifying spitting is that this passage seems to me to reflect the creation account in Genesis, when God scoops up the mud of the earth and fashions human beings and then breathes into them the Spirit of life. Eugene Peterson, in his translation of the Bible called the Message calls the new creation “mud man.”

We know that in several places, John references Genesis, maybe this is an intentional image for us—the blind man with mud caked over his eyes, so that we may see his gift to the blind man not just being a healing, but a re-creation. And whereas the blind man is astonished and hungry for more creation in his life—he encounters Jesus again and asks him—show me the Son of Man and I will believe—the Pharisees and others who show nothing but contempt and suspicion for the newly re-created man are engaged in de-creating.

Instead of yielding to new possibilities, they become overly concerned with process and policy. Instead of celebrating vision, they are more obsessed with the cause of the blindness. For this they are judged by Jesus. He says they are choosing blindness while the man who had no choice about being blind has chosen vision.
(From Dylan's blog)
But, the most damning point this Sunday's gospel has against Jesus' accusers is one that we easily miss: they did not know the blind man who was healed.
He sat and begged there daily, and every day they walked by him, but when the time came, they couldn't be sure of who he was -- others had to fetch his parents before they could be sure of the identification (again, props to the Social Science Commentary on John). Or maybe they'd identified him solely by the darkness they thought was inside him, as a social problem indicative of how far society had sunk. For whatever reason, they'd never looked him in the eye or really noticed his face.
Are we like Jesus, who goes and seeks the blind man, or are we more like the Pharisees, stuck in the Temple, debating the finer points of this and that? Jesus doesn’t test the blind man to see if he has enough “faith” to be healed. Indeed, he seems to grow in his faith after having his sight restored. This aspect of Christ’s ministry MUST be lived out in our church’s expression of faith and invitation.

We must reach out and invite and get to know others in our community who lack the spiritual vision we believe comes with a relationship with Jesus Christ. If your answer to me is that, “I don’t know who to invite into the life of discipleship, because all my friends are Christian,” then we’re not working hard enough at cultivating relationships with people in our community who can be brought to light. Have you seen the light of Christ? Then I’m sure you would agree that it HAS to be shared. The blind man lives in our community. He’s probably doesn’t expect to receive vision. His whole identity may be built around his “lack of vision.” But Christ wishes to bring him sight.
This is one reason I am so happy our church recognizes the open table when it comes to celebrating the Lord’s supper. We offer this communion to everyone who is in attendance. It matters not what blinds you or what state of the darkness you are in. Like Christ seeks out the blind man and heals him without any declaration of belief or requirements, the gift of sight brought to us in this meal of bread and wine is offered freely and equally.