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.