Monday, December 28, 2009

Dec. 27 Sermon, Christmas 1, Losing Jesus

Texts: Colossians and Luke

Story about losing Wesley in the house:
It was one of two 911 calls we’ve made here in Morris—the other being a time that a skunk came through our open garage and through our cat door into our house. But that’s another story. This time, we were calling 911 because Wesley had disappeared. We were at home. We had all our doorknob thingies that make it hard even for an adult to open a door from the inside of our house installed. But somehow, Wesley had disappeared. We searched high and low with increasing anxiety. We knew something had to be wrong because Wesley always knew when we meant business that when we called to him, he had to answer, “Here I am!” But this time nothing. We were frantic, looking in increasingly ridiculous places. I remember looking in one of our endtables, and thinking. “He couldn’t even fit his head in there!” We had looked out in the garage, in both cars, in our storage room, and we were on our 3rd or 4th sweep around the house, looking everywhere we’d already looked. Lara was on the phone with the police department trying to explain what had happened. I was beginning to question whether or not all those hippies we had met in Sedona, Arizona were on to something with all their talk about vortexes. Then I saw him, crouched in the storage room off the garage, under a table behind a bookshelf, clutching a red can of Coca-Cola in his hands, and literally looking like the cat that ate the canary.

It was a far cry from Jesus being in the Temple with the scholars, listening, learning, and teaching, but boy it’s what I think of when I hear Luke tell this one and only story of Jesus’ childhood. You can taste that acrid anxieity that Joseph and Mary feel in your mouth, especially if you’ve ever lost a child, can’t you?

My parents have a similar story of losing me in a mall, hearing me described over the intercom, and then going to the store where I had been discovered only to hear that I had already been picked up by another man, and then really flying into a frenzy only to find that it was my uncle that had picked me up. Oh, the days before cellphones.

This is the only story from the gospels about Jesus’ childhood, and it is one that paints him and his family in a very familiar and human light, doesn’t it. Luke follows the majestic scenery of the nativity, with all the angels ushering people around, with this story about two parents on a dusty road and seemingly no one to help them find their son. You’d think that if angels would point the way for shepherd strangers, they’d at least give mom and dad a hand, huh?

I’ve always loved this story—and I particularly loved it as a teenager. Mom and dad come storming in, and Mary lays into him. And then he gives this answer that they can’t even understand. I totally heard this story from Jesus’ perspective until I became a parent and had the experience of losing a child.

The Bible is always like that. It sheds different light depending on where you are standing when you read it. I wonder what those children who have been lost to their parents because their parents have neglected them hear this story? They probably wonder what it must be like to have parents who drop everything and journey to go find them.

Today, you have an opportunity to contribute to our children’s home, which takes these children and gives them a home where they know they are loved and sought—if not by earthly parents, then for certain by their heavenly parent.

Perhaps during this holiday season, it has seemed to you as if Jesus has been “lost in the shuffle.” Perhaps you are at a point in your own life where you feel like you’ve lost sight of Jesus. You’ve been travelling along, and you didn’t even realize it, but Jesus just doesn’t seem to be alongside you anymore. You search around in all the customary places, you check with your caravan, but no-one seems to know where he is.

If that is true, then do as Mary and Joseph do and go back. Mary and Joseph and Jesus were in Jerusalem observing the sacred day of Passover and participating in what the Lord had commanded.

Think back to the last time that you experienced with certainty that Jesus was with you, and retrace your steps from that point. As Jesus says to his mother and father when they find him in the temple. “Why were you searching? Did you not know that I would be in my father’s house?” If you’re having trouble finding Jesus, then you should search a little more deeply here, at his father’s house.

Jesus’ presence here in his father’s house is not contingent upon me or my sermons, whether they are uplifting to you or not. His presence isn’t contingent upon how well the choir sings or how well Patsy plays. His presence doesn’t depend on how active our youth group is, or how many pot-lucks we have. IN short, Jesus Christ’s presence here at this church does not depend upon how you FEEL about being here at church.

Twice, Joseph and Mary are said to be "seeking" Jesus. This puts Jesus' parents, Joseph and Mary, in the same position as the rest of us. Later, "multitudes" also seek Jesus (6:19). Later, Jesus will also say that those who "seek" will find (11:9) and that we are to "seek" the kingdom of God, or the reign of God on earth (12:31).

Christ’s presence is partially about you seeking Christ. It is partially about how open your heart is to the possibility of finding Jesus. Jesus presence here in this place is a birthright. It is a gift given to us by God. You may question it all you want, but that does not negate the FACT that he is here. It is because of God’s grace that Jesus can and will be found here in this place, among you. He may be listening to you or he may be giving astonishing answers for you, but he is here, just like that 12 year old boy sitting in the temple.

Did you know that Luke bookends his story of Jesus with two stories of people on a journey who loved Jesus and grappling with their anxiety about losing him. These two stories are only found in Luke, and in both stories the time between Jesus and finding him again is specified as 3 days. In the second story, Jesus actually joins the travelers on their way, even though they don’t know it is him. In their grief, they tell Jesus, “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. [20] The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; [21] but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. [22] In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning [23] but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. [24] Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

When they invite Jesus into their home, and he joins them for a meal, they recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

Dec. 20 Sermon, Let it Be

MIcah and Luke

What is Christmas about? If we were to rely on a sampling on the street we may hear a number of things. We should probably excuse a child for latching onto the excitement surrounding Santa and presents under the tree. It wouldn’t surprise me if my own son, despite a steady diet of hearing about the “true meaning of Christmas” and playing with nativities, said that Christmas is “about” Santa Clause.

That doesn’t bother me coming from a four year old. I can understand, can’t you. After all, Christmas—what we call Christmas, is perhaps MORE about Santa than it is about the Christ child born in a stable.

I don’t have a problem with pop-culture Christmas. I love it. I love “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Here we go a wassailing.” I enjoy seeing Christmas lights and Dept. 56 Christmas villages of all sorts. I sort of enjoy finding new presents for my family and trying to think of something I’d like to receive. I’m no Grinch.

I’m not bothered by people saying “X-mas” or saying “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas, and may I suggest that if that is the deepest source of your “ire” about some kind of secular culture hijacking the holiday, you might do better to dig a little deeper. For one thing, the X in Xmas is merely a conflation of Greek and English, and no, it’s not an “X” indicating some kind of meaningless, non-defined integer, such as x=y/z X stands for the greek letter Chi, which is where we get the letter X and looks like an X, and in Greek is the first letter to Christ. Secondly, Happy Holidays does not deny that the days are holy, but instead it affirms it. A Holiday is a holy day. And if you’re bothered by the plural of “holiday” referring to anything other than Christmas, there are other faiths’ holy days at this time of year, but still, if that fact bothers you and you want to pretend that you live in a “Christian Nation,” (which the USA is most certainly NOT, by virtue of our Constitution) then you can just think to yourself that those people wishing you “Happy Holidays” are simply referring to the 12 days of the Christmas Season. If you fail to grasp that there are 12 days to Christmas, then you are probably confusing pop-secular-Christmas with the Holy season known as Christmas.

So, those things don’t bother me. I’m fine with Santa and Jesus. And I hope you are too. But, if we did want to be the Grinch, and strip everything away from the season, as he does in Dr. Seus’s wonderful Christmas special. After we pulled all the Christmas trees up chimneys and took down the garland and lights, What would be left? Would we “whos” be standing in a circle around some glowing light singing

Welcome, welcome, fahoo ramus
Welcome, welcome, dahoo damus
Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp

Well, maybe Christmas, after all, doesn’t come from store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

And here’s something perhaps a little more difficult: As we reconstructed Christmas around the simple notion of Love breaking into the world, as the Who’s helped the Grinch do, how soon would Mary’s first Christmas Carol find it’s way into our celebration with its jarring speech about a world turned upside down? We must remember that this season is about the hope of the poor and oppressed. Love is like water, it first fills those places that are most empty. And it has to wear away at those places that are “high things in its way.”

If we are already full, we will not stomach anymore. If we have already filled our lives with all the things we think make us rich, then there will be no room for the actual “good things.” We will find, in time, that “riches” are really “emptiness.”

The bigger the ego, the more solid the false notion of security in our own victories and our own fleeting material possessions, the longer the waters must erode. But make no mistake, water is stronger than rock. Water will crumble rock.

Mary did not set out to tackle the principalities and the powers. She agreed to have a baby. In the words of the Beatles, she did not “say she wanted a revolution.” She said “let it be” with me according to your word.

Mary believed that God could change the world through the child that she was asked to bring into the world, but she certainly believed there would be more to it than her simply having a child. It’s not that having a child and being shunned by her community was a small thing, but it was what she could do.

God didn’t ask any more of her than she was capable of. If God had said, “one day this son of yours will leave home and never come back. In fact—when you see him, he will say, “you are not my mother.” And then, shortly thereafter, you will watch as he is nailed on a cross and raised up for all to see and mock.” Would Mary have said “Let it be?”

Mary agreed to follow God’s path for her and trust that the path would be shown to her as she walked it. She trusted God enough NOT to ask those questions about what would become of this son of hers. She sang the song of the Messiah, and she had heard what the prophets had said about the Messiah. She sang out in a prophetic hope about what this child would accomplish. But she had probably heard Isaiah’s prophecy of a suffering servant as well. She’d probably heard these words: Isaiah 53: 2-5
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
So, Mary’s faith was one of trusting that God can use what she was willing and able to do, and she didn’t need to know the outcome.

So, perhaps Christmas is all about the gifts after all. It is about the gift that we give to God: an open heart, willing to “Let it be with me according to your will.” And when that gift is given, we receive the greater gift: the chance to live life to the fullest—the joy of being part of God’s grace, which shines across the universe.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dec. 13 Sermon, John the Baptist: Hatchet Man or Burier of the Hatchet

Sermon Texts: Zephaniah,

Philippians, and Luke

John begins the passage by speaking about a severing of identity. The people of Israel had grown so accustomed of being God’s people, they had grown lazy and unappreciative.

Have you ever had that experience of realizing how incredibly lucky you are? I was raised in a great family. I had support and encouragement and discipline and all my physical needs were met.

I never feared for scarcity. I never doubted my parents’ love. I never felt out of place. When I meet others who have experienced these things, I sometimes feel an intense insight into my own fortune.

Israel hadn’t remembered their fortune. They had stopped living like it meant anything to be the children of the Living God. They weren’t bearing fruit. They had nothing to show for their connection to the tree.

he speaks about the axe at the root of the tree. Israel is threatening her own rootedness in God. They are in danger of forgetting who they are. Without that connection to God, they will certainly bear no fruit.)

The youth camp curriculum this past year was very good. It was called “Rooted” and it focused on our life in God’s family. I was in charge of worship design, and so

John spoke about rocks. He assured the people who had come to be baptized and reborn as children of God that God could raise up the rocks into children if they failed to start acting like God’s children.

So, the Gospel writers tell us about God finally sending his own child to live among them and show them how to bear fruit.

John gave them the jumping off points.

John answers questions from tax collectors and soldiers and crowds. Gives them practical advice. Live an upright life. Jesus will come and minister to tax collectors and soldiers, who are mentioned in the scriptures and even join Jesus as disciples.

Tax collectors and Soldiers, both have prominent places in the story. Think about what they represented to the first hearers of this story. Think about how despised both of these groups were in that society.

It would be akin to us hearing about Jesus attracting and making his disciples out of pimps and gangsters.

Would you follow a man who healed a pimp’s prostitute or hung out with gangsters based on the truth that he spoke?

This is the kind of man John is, and it’s the kind of man Jesus is. He embraces the despised

John gives practical advice, and then Jesus comes and shows them the spiritual path. It involves the same kind of practical advice that John gives. It’s something akin to what John Wesley called the “three simple rules: Do good, Do no harm, and stay in love with God.” (Actually Wesley says, “attend upon all the ordinances of God.”—but that takes some explaining.)
But it involves more than practical rules of conduct. It also involves a spiritual opening.

It involves that kind of feeling of gratitude that I mentioned earlier. I take caution here, because we all “feel” differently and have a variety of connections to our emotional and spiritual lives.

John hopes for a refiners fire. My children love it lately when I take them out of the bath and get them dried off as quick as I can and then hold them under the heating vent, which dries them off completely. They’re ready to step out into the cold-feeling house.

Perhaps this is a good way for us to think about the work of the Spirit, which Jesus comes to baptize with. It makes us ready to go out into the cold-feeling house and live as children of God, bringing warmth and light of the Christ child.

The youth camp curriculum this past year was very good. It was called “Rooted” and it focused on our life in God’s family. I was in charge of worship design, and so over the course of the camp, our worship area included a large king sized sheet that on the first night, the youth stamped their hand in green paint, and then stamped them on that sheet. That night they spoke about identity. The next night they heard about Christ as the "vine" that gives our identity meaning and Real Life by showing us the Way of Grace. The Way directed us to the Ground of all Being, God our Maker. That night, the youth watched as their handprints were connected by small twigs and then larger branches to a great full trunk. Christ is the Tree Trunk. The next day's theme spoke about being rooted, and we oriented small group discussions and that night's "Catacomb worship" service around the sacraments, which we believe root us in the God who gives them to us for that purpose. At worship that night, I'd painted in some roots that wove together and spelled "Rooted." The following day we spoke about the practices of faith as being the fruit that we are told to bear. The youth cut out what kind of “fruit they were” and wrote why on the back of the fruit. Then they positioned that fruit around where they had stamped their hand.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Dec. 6 Sermon (Advent 2) "Preparing the Way"

These are very rough notes: We recorded the sermon on Lara's cellphone (still haven't found ipod) but haven't put that on the computer yet. Will amend when we do.

Perhaps use “When the Man comes around.”

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: disparities will be brought to an end. God will equalize the world. God is as much in the business of shaming the proud and arrogant and self-serving as God is lifting up the weak and powerless.

Placing this passage in history. Attention to who was ruling, who was high priest, etc. Attention to detail in order to convey the actuality of this event. It’s not a fairy tale that will make us feel better, it is a pronouncement about God’s salvation being seen by “all flesh.”

Kate Huey writes,

this is no story from someone's imagination but a real, historical, flesh-and-blood, look-these-names-up-in-a-book account that confirms that God is at work in this world, in our real situations of pain and need and injustice. This is a God who hears the cry of the people, knows the longing of their hearts, and responds to their need

Words of a prophet are full of metaphor.

What this passage means to society

What this passage means to the inner life.

John baptized in the wilderness at the Jordan river. He drew people to the boundary line of Israel. Perhaps he baptized specifically at the Jordan since it was the boundary. The boundary is where you enter or re-enter. The first time the Israelites had crossed the Jordan river with Joshua leading the generations of wanderers out of slavery, God caused the river to part so the Israelites could cross on dry land. God reminded the people of the miraculous beginning of their journey at the Reed Sea as a symbol that their wandering was over.

John brought people back to the Jordan. The people of Israel needed to be washed from that journey out of slavery and wandering. Though the dry passage over the Jordan allowed the Israelites to remember their salvation, it did not afford them the opportunity to be washed of their past. The people of Israel were still living like slaves in their own land. They were wandering without a leader like Joshua. So, he washed them in the Jordan. He washed them of the residue of slavery. He poured water over their head, and got the dust of the wandering wilderness out of their hair. He proclaimed that they were free and that when they left the water of the Jordan, they were coming forth from their mother’s womb. A new Joshua would come and would lead them.

When the new Joshua came, he told his people how deeply enslavement had pervaded. This Joshua saved them from the slavery to sin and death. He led them toward a promised land that would not and could not be conquered or colonized.

erhaps the pairing of this reading with Zechariah's exquisite canticle helps us to pull together the themes of hope and longing with the need for self-examination and preparation.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Children's Advent Litany

Dear friends,
I can't find my ipod, so the sermon will be here as soon as I can find it!

IN the meantime, I noticed a nice children's advent litany from the online upper room devotional for kids: Pockets.

Also, if you're interested in why we have one pink candle in our advent wreath, just ask the internets. Or, more about our season called Advent?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christ the King Sermon: Roman Peace and Jesus Peace

Our service also included a promotion of the Advent Conspiracy, and we watched the attached video. I think it puts the Christ the King theme and sermon in another light not really spoken of in the sermon. Well, if I were to preach it again, I'd probably tie those two things together a little more. Thanks to Annette for suggesting the video, and her words during the service about Advent Conspiracy.
Another "anti-consumerist" group I have found compelling (though somewhat more "hard edge") is Adbusters, and their "Annual Buy Nothing Day" which happens on Nov. 27 (Friday after thanksgiving) every year. Give it a look

Christ the King Sunday Sermon notes:

John 18: 33-38

Breaking down our common saying the Jesus Christ is Lord.

“Jesus Christ is Lord” means something to us today, but it meant something very specific in the ancient world.

To say “Christ is Lord” was to challenge the Roman empire. A common greeting in the time was “Caesar is Lord” There was also a cult of the emperor, a belief that the Roman Leader was a god on earth.

The imperial cult was strong in many of the cities that our that are the birthplaces of Christianity. Cities that had an imperial cult were given special status and benefits in the empire.

The cult made sense to the Roman mind. Who but a god would be able to achieve the things the Roman empire achieved? Jesus lived and the church was born during something historians have called the “Pax Romana,” the Roman Peace.

It was a time when the Roman Navy made the seas safe and clear of pirates and robbery The Roman legion patrolled the various regions of the Empire and were kept free of “inter-tribal” wars lawlessness.

Technological improvements were blooming, and roads were being built to serve the population. The average person, the average Jew, was appreciative of the world the Romans had created.

Rome’s goal was to bring about peace on Earth enforcing a peace on earth. Who but a god could bring about this reality?

This is why someone who rebelled against the Roman rule was called a Zealot. Zealots had let their zeal for the ancient prophecies of God cloud their rationality. It was so clear: The Romans had things pretty well under control. This is why the Sanhedrin (the Jewish sacred leadership approved by Rome) was threatened by rumors of his Jesus’ “Kingship.”

So, Pilate’s question to Jesus, and Jesus’ response should be heard in this context. Pilate was concerned about any threat to the Pax Romana when he interviewed Jesus. This is why he was interested in suppressing any “so called king.”

A new king would mean “inter-tribal” battles, (headaches for the Roman legions in the area assigned to keep the area peaceful.)

This is also why Jesus’ response is also to be heard in this context. “My kingdom is not of this world—this is why my followers do not try to stop you from arresting me.”

“My kingdom is not of this world.” I am not here to threaten the earthly rule of Rome. I am not here to invalidate the peace that has been created. I am here to qualify that peace. It is a temporal peace. I am here to establish everlasting peace.
I am here to proclaim a spiritual peace that only God can give.

Jesus had never made any claims to power. He took the opposite route. He made claims to service. He said he’d be the servant of all and if we wanted to follow him we’d take the lowest positions—the positions of slaves.

To display the rule of his kingdom, he got down on his knees and washed his disciples feet. What he was displaying was that everlasting peace—the peace that transcends space and time—is won through gentle acts of serving others.

It comes through opening your eyes to the holiness of those who are rejected by even the most gloriously peaceful empire that had been known.

This is why Jesus’ ministry was among those who had “fallen through the cracks” of the Pax Romana and the Jewish society upon which it encroached.

He defended an adulterous woman from being stoned. He put his arms around tax collectors (who though served the Roman empire, were shunned by their own communities for doing it.) and zealots (who were marginalized by the powerful and “polite” society). He lifted up children, and said they possessed the truth about the Kingdom of God.

Though temporal peace was and may be won by “enforcing the peace,” as the Romans did, Jesus shows us that everlasting peace is achieved through becoming vulnerable.

Vulnerability is finding humility. Vulnerability is taking the role of a servant. Vulnerability is opening up to someone else in love and covenant. Vulnerability is asking for forgiveness.

Jesus went to the cross in the ultimate display of vulnerability. As Paul says in Phil. 2, “He made himself empty.”

This is the ultimate expression of Kingship. Jesus showed that he is the King who brings everlasting peace by pouring out all the power that he possessed. He made himself completely vulnerable, and thus displayed supreme power.

What king has more power, the king who has to guard his power or the king who is so secure that he knows he can pour out his power among his people?

It is our heritage then to serve in the task of creating everlasting peace through acts of service. We pour ourselves out to those who have fallen through the cracks of the Pax Americana. We proclaim the greatest King when we get on our knees and wash feet.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Christ the King and Thanksgiving Sunday

Don't forget that this week after worship we will host our annual thanksgiving luncheon. UMW supplies all the turkey, and members are asked to bring a side dish. Guests are welcome to simply come and eat! The Sunday worship will be devoted to our observance of Christ the King Sunday (the last Sunday of the Christian calendar year, Advent begins a new year) and that evening at 7pm we will gather at the school auditorium with Christians from other traditions in our community for the Ecumenical Thanksgiving service.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nov. 15 Sermon: Signs of the Times

Texts: Romans 8: 25-29
Mark 13: 1-8


Contending with the “2012 Phenonmenon” that some churches in the area seem to be instilling in their unfortunate adherants.

Mayan archaeologist Jose Huchm complains that, "If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn't have any idea. That the world is going to end? They wouldn't believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain."[21]

I worked at a bookstore in W. Hollywood where many books were sold that have posited theories of a “new era of consciousness” that will begin on Dec. 21, 2012, when the Mayan Calendar ends.

Many of these “new age” books are “channeled” from “extra-terrestrial beings” among other things. And no, they’re not thinking of Jesus as an “extra-terrestrial” being.

I just can’t understand why any church would take their cues on the coming of the Kingdom of God from the end of the Mayan Calendar (which was developed by a culture with no knowledge of what an “apocalypse” is) and Hollywood.

Yes, many people “in the industry” shop at the Bodhi Tree, and it would not surprise me if the screenwriters and producers of the upcoming “2012” movie, which is fueling this hype, were inspired by the movie by one of the books at the Bodhi Tree, such as

This show proved popular and was followed by many sequels: 2012, End of Days (2006), The Last Days on Earth (2008),Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (2008), and Nostradamus 2012 (2008).[62] Discovery Channel also aired "2012 Apocalypse" in 2009, suggesting that massive solar storms, flipping of the magnetic poles, earthquakes, super volcanoes, and more may occur in 2012. [63]
On November 12, 2008, the studio released the first teaser trailer for 2012 that showed a megatsunami surging over the Himalayas and interlaced a purportedly scientific message suggesting that the world would end in 2012, and that the world's governments were not preparing its population for the event. The trailer ended with a message to viewers to "find out the truth" by searching "2012" on search engines. The Guardian criticized the marketing effectiveness as "deeply flawed" and associated it with "websites that make even more spurious claims about 2012".[83]
The studio also launched a viral marketing website operated by the fictional Institute for Human Continuity, where filmgoers could register for a lottery number to be part of a small population that would be rescued from the global destruction.[84] The fictitious website lists the Nibiru collision, a galactic alignment, and increased solar activity among its possible doomsday scenarios.[85] David Morrison of NASA has received over 1000 inquiries from people who thought the website was genuine and has condemned it, saying "I've even had cases of teenagers writing to me saying they are contemplating suicide because they don't want to see the world end. I think when you lie on the internet and scare children in order to make a buck, that is ethically wrong."[86]
Fred Craddock once said, "Maybe people are obsessed with the second coming because, deep down, they were really disappointed in the first one."

Stones thrown down our world and our idea of greatness will crumble, when compared with the New Reality of the Kingdom.

Earthquakes, Wars, Rumors of Wars: These are but the birthpangs: and perhaps the birth involves our response to the pangs. Perhaps we are to be midwives of the Kingdom of God.

There is also "birthpangs" imagery in Romans 8: 22 that I may link to this text, to speak about "Creation herself, groaning out in birthpangs for her redemption." And the lectionary choice of Psalm 113 also has childbirth imagery as well. "He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!" We are those who are called to minister to the suffering, to stand in the midst of wars and famines and cataclysms and "share the gospel." (As Jesus says in Mark 13 must happen.)

I'm not referring to "sharing the gospel" as simply telling people about Jesus, I'm referring to it as showing people Jesus, showing people the gospel. "Faith without works is dead," says James.

So, in short, the idea of the apocalypse shouldn't prompt us to sit around and obsess about all the speculations that are proffered by the latest con artist preacher. (I say "con-artist" since preachers should know that stoking the flames of people's fears and anxieties about the End of Days is a cheap trick for cheap faith.

If Jesus says that even he doesn't know the day nor the hour, then what would prompt a preacher to have the gall to believe that he or she does. Jesus himself warns against these kinds of cons in the passage. I admit, speculating about the apocalypse has an allure. It is mysterious. It is fun. It is intoxicating. And some people who are intoxicated on speculation about the apocalypse spew out some of the most hateful and anti-Christian things I've heard.

The idea of the apocalypse should instead prompt us to action for the sake of Christ. Jesus says "Be alert!" (Mark 13: 33) Being alert doesn't mean alert and alarmed about latest prognostications about an occasion that we can't possibly fathom, let alone predict.

"Alert" means "awake" and "about the tasks that we were left with." That's the summation of the whole passage, in the parable about the man leaving his house to the care of his servants. We don't want to be caught sleeping or daydreaming.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Zach Zink approved for ministry candidacy process at Paul's Valley UMC

We're proud of you Zach!

Nov. 8 Sermon: The Widow's Might

Sermon texts:
Philippians 2: 1-11
Mark 8: 38-44

No podcast again today--sorry, once again it messed up as I began to preach. In my opinion, you didn't miss much though.

Here are the notes:
Nov. 8 Notes:
A mother wanted to teach her daughter a moral lesson. She gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church "Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself," she told the girl. When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. "Well," said the little girl, "I was going to give the dollar, but just before the collection the man in the pulpit said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I'd be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did."

This passage of scripture is as familiar as it is celebrated. IN our annual conference each year, we even present a church or a person with the “widow’s mite” award, which honors some church or individual who has “given everything” for God’s glory.

We are all fond of the message that “it’s not how much you give, it’s how you give it.” We like thinking about God taking our seemingly insignificant gifts and holding them up as the most impressive thing of all.

It seems the lectionary designers have churches and their inevitable stewardship campaigns in mind when assigning this story from Mark in mid November, when churches are all considering their plans for the coming year and how they will achieve those plans.

I noticed a speed bump though this year as we cruise into this story and scoop up the inevitable and seemingly obvious “moral of the story.”

We have this description of Jesus observing the religious leaders and calling them out for their long, drawn out prayers and long flowing robes. There is one word for the scribes: pretentious. They live on the pretense that everything is about them.

On another occasion, Jesus compares the very loud and ostentatious prayers of a scribe to the prayers of a simple man, saying “Lord, I have sinned.” Here, Jesus lauds what is genuine and from the heart. Luke 18: 9-14

I think the widow’s mite is comparable to that short, simple prayer.

Some may say, “well, there isn’t much that two pennies is going to do for you anyway, so you might as well give it away.” Perhaps this is why God so loves the poor. The poor haven’t accumulated so much insulation between themselves and Him. The poor widow who has nothing to her name is more awake to our ultimate destiny than the rich fool who builds himself a bigger barn to keep all his stuff.

As Mother Theresa said, “If you give what you don’t need, it isn’t giving.” Another luminary of the 20th century, CS Lewis, said I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.
If our place in life isn’t so crowded—if we live a simpler life, as Andy was preaching about a couple of weeks ago, we are more reliant upon God’s grace. The more room we make for God’s grace in our lives, the more we get. God fills us to overflowing with grace.

Have you ever been waterlogged? You just feel full and slow and uncomfortable, right? This is what happens when we think all the good that comes into our life is for our own consumption, and we consume and consume instead of being filled and then overflowing.

The true might of the widow isn’t “mite,” it is the might that she expresses when she takes the bold stance of hanging on to nothing in her response of gratitude to God’s grace. This is the kind of might that displays the power of God.

God’s power can be felt through such expressions of might. Instead of being waterlogged with the things that do not last, like wealth and presteigue, if we are mighty like the widow and let the sustenance of God flow through us into a world that needs it.

The Philippians passage is known as the “Kenosis Hymn” because Paul is here referencing a hymn known to the early church. “Kenosis” means “emptying” in greek, and it refers to this passage where Paul is proclaiming that Christ “emptied” himself so that we could know God through him.

Jesus sacrificed all he had and all he was for us. And this, says Paul, is the “same mind which should be in us.”

I have tried to keep things in my hands and lost them all, but what I have given into God's hands I still possess.
Martin Luther.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

All Saint's Day Sermon

Revelation 21 and John 11

Have you ever been cried for?

Crying: Tears in Heaven: I think this was the first CD I ever bought. I loved the song and the sound of Eric Clapton singing for his son who had tragically died as a small child.

Don’t cry much.

Complaint belonged to the language of faith in Judaism (e.g., Psalms 4; 6; 13; 22) and does not cast doubts on Martha’s piety. On the contrary, the edge of complaint in v. 21 gives greater impact to Martha’s statement of confidence in Jesus in v. 22. “Even now,” in the face of Lazarus’s death, Martha’s confidence is undiminished. Martha’s words are framed as a confession, “I know . . . ”341 (see also Martha’s words in vv. 24, 27; cf. 9:31) and can be read as her assessment of Jesus as a righteous man to whom God will listen in prayer.342 The truth of Martha’s assertion runs deeper than that, however, because God has given all things into Jesus’ hands (3:35; 10:29).

Tears in heaven. Yes for now, but our ultimate destiny is to have no tears at all. Who is going to shed the last tear? I believe it is Jesus.

The African Slave Song went, Aww, Mary don’ you weep, don’ you moan. Pharoah’s army got drownd’ed! Aww, Mary don’ you weep. God’s grace and power over our slavery to sin and death has been shown again and again throughout history. And Jesus is going to make it right.

Movie example: This is where Revelation passage comes in: like when you see a movie, a thriller perhaps, and then you see it again with a friend, when you see them reacting and worrying over it, you want to say to them, it’s all right—it turns out all right.

From Lazarus point of view:
What graveclothes keep me bound and prevent me
from entering into the new life to which Jesus
calls me?
lack of trust in God
trusting in our culture's assumptions (wealth,
military might, some people are deserving and
others are not...)

Unbinding: Jesus gives the command to the disciples to “unbind him and let him go.” Jesus has freed him from the clutches of death. Jesus has taken the dead man and has made him alive. Now it is for those who witness the great power of this act to unbind the man from those grave clothes.

Do you hear? Are you risen from the grave? Has Christ given you a new life? Are you born from death? I hope so. I hope we can all say that we have found the mighty power of Jesus Christ that frees us from death.

I’m not just talking about the death that we will all experience at the end of this earthly life. I’m talking about the death that traps us, that clutches us, that clings to us, that smells so offensive to the righteous, and yet does not distance us from the one who saves us. You notice that Jesus isn’t fazed by Martha’s concern that Lazarus will smell bad.

But, even if you have been raised from sin and death, are you still bound in the grave clothes? Are you bound by the old ways, the “way things have always been?” The things of the life you had before being raised from the tomb? Are you still bound? John says earlier that “though the light had come into the world, the people loved the darkness rather than the light.”

Why is that? Because their deeds were evil. You can hide in the darkness, see. You can hide in the tomb. But Jesus has come and has called us out of the tomb, and he has commanded us to be unbound from those stinking, hideous clothes

If we get to that point where we can shed our grave clothes, then we have a new command: unbind them and set them free. Jesus likes to put things in the hands of his disciples. He gives them the bread and the fishes to distribute. He also gives them the charge to unbind Lazarus and let him go.

How have we been wept for? How have we been unbound by those saints who have heard the call of Christ to minister to us? How have those who have gone on before us helped us to walk out into the light?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trunk or Treat at the Methodist parking lot this Saturday

It's a lot of fun to transform your car into a spook-house! Come join us at the church on Saturday evening to offer "Trunk or Treat" to the community!

Chili Supper Friday Night

Nothing matches fall weather and football like a hot bowl of chili! This coming Friday, the Family Life Committee will host the annual chili supper before the last home football game of the year. Come by the church this Friday evening for dinner! The chili is always great.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pastor's Perspective: Will the Remember in November?

Pastor’s Perspective: “They’ll Remember in November.”
“The Righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:17
The celebrated football coach and athletic director of the illustrious Arkansas Razorbacks, Frank Broyles, always liked to say to his team, “They’ll remember in November.” His point was that a team could gain the attention and accolades that would get them a bowl invitation if they played the last few games of the season (in November) strongly. I’ve noticed that we as Christians might take the same approach to the end of the year in our faith lives, and I hope it is again the case this year.
This summer, we had many people missing from worship, giving was down, and a general malaise took hold of our congregation. Were we particularly uninspired, or is this the general rhythm of faith life? It concerned the leaders of the church when we continued to see the “slump” continue into September, when things usually “pick up” again, and people resume the schedule that includes attending to faith life. Did we suffer because the habits of summer were harder than usual to shake off? Though our October attendance average of 69 is the highest it’s been since May, it is lower than 4 of the 5 months that began our year, and is lower than our average attendance from last year as well. Our Sunday school average attendance of 28 for October is the lowest of the year. Our district superintendant advised us at the church conference this past month that our report of a general malaise in the congregation reflects what she witnesses all over the district in other United Methodist Churches. While this is a relief in one way (“whew, it’s not just us!”) it is also more deeply troubling in another (“what is the matter with the general church?). It is generally true of us humans that we attend to our faith life and the “big, important questions” when things are troubling and uneasy, but when things are going seemingly well, we tend to put our faith life on the back-burner. If there were a terrorist attack or a natural disaster that afflicted us during the week, it would not surprise me to see the church packed to the gills. It is how we are. We turn to faith in times of crisis. This is why some critics of religion call faith a “crutch.” Just as you stick a crutch under your arm when you’ve suffered an injury to your leg or hip, some stick their church life under their arm only when they feel spiritually injured by the hostile world we live in. With this kind of approach, it is perfectly natural to use your faith to hobble along through the world as long as it takes to get over the injury, then you put your faith back in the closet. Is the declining attendance at church a sign that things are going well with our people? If so, I’m glad that your life is untroubled, please come back to church and give thanks to God in community.
The first Sunday of November is All Saint’s Day. On this day, we remember those who have passed away during the year and honor their memory. We believe that our loved ones are held by God in an eternal life beyond death. On Nov.1st we celebrate this “communion of the saints” that is a powerful reminder of God’s saving grace. This grace saves us from a destiny of decay and finality. As Christ conquered his grave, he also conquers ours, and so “gathers us in” to the great fellowship that transcends this earth and our earthly concepts. I’ve had the blessing of conducting many funerals where I have been given the honor of recounting the life of the person who has passed. Sometimes, I have conducted funerals for people for whom their own faith life was not a priority. Generally, the deceased’ loved ones assure me that though I never saw him or her in church, the person who died was kind and generous and loving, and perhaps even “faithful.” Other funerals I have conducted have been for the family members of people I like to call “spiritual redwoods.” They are those whose faith is literally “in fellowship” with others in their church life. As I prepare for these funerals, no “assurances” are necessary on the part of the family members or close friends. They know that I knew who the person was, as did the other members of the church. Their faith was “obvious.” It was “lived” and not only “recalled.” It was in relationship with others. That is how it grew to be a redwood.
So, this is my sermon to those of you who are connected to this church in some way, and who live in the area, and yet do not participate in our weekly gathering for worship and for tending the spiritual life through education and fellowship. If you want to call yourself a Christian, I hope you can be convinced that there is more to faith than what you believe. If you believe Jesus is the Messiah, then you will follow his teachings. His teachings aren’t just applied in your private life—they occur in the community that bears his name. We will indeed remember in November. We will remember the lives of those who have passed not “away” but “into” the everlasting on All Saint’s. When the pastor who conducts your funeral recounts your life, will he or she need to be “assured” that you were a person who was shaped by faith, or will it be obvious? Will your faith life be remembered? Will it be remembered by a community? Will the church in general be remembered by future generations as a powerful force of love and redemption and grace? Will it be obvious? Making it obvious begins with your participation. Let’s make sure they’ll remember November. Let’s finish strongly.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oct. 18 sermon: Entitlement Complex

Sorry, my ipod ran out of space this week before I started the sermon. Here are the notes:

Texts: Philippians 3: 8-11
Mark 10: 35-45


At first blush, James and John’s request is positively repugnant in it’s overt request for glorification. We point at it and we say, what an entitlement complex. And of course we may be right.

Nothing disgusts the hard working, salt of the earth types more than an entitlement complex. Everywhere around us, it seems that the world is suffering because of the general entitlement complex that pervades the culture. We see the big banks and the big companies taking billion dollar bailouts and then frittering away the money on fat bonuses and God knows what else, and we say to ourselves, “what an entitlement complex.”

We look at teenage culture today, with kids seemingly sitting around all day playing video games instead of working a part time job while in school, like we did, and then whining when they don’t get this or that, and we say, “entitlement complex!”

Then we look at James and John, and the presumtuousness of walking up to Jesus and saying, “Teacher, we want for you to do for us whatever we ask of you,” and it smacks of an…..entitlement complex.

Perhaps our world does suffer from an overabundance of entitlement complexes, and perhaps that fact puts us alongside the other 10 disciples who berate James and John for asking such a thing of Jesus.

But before we side with the 10, perhaps it does us good to identify with the two for just a moment.

After all, what is so different from the two asking for Jesus to “do whatever we ask of you” and the way that we typically approach Jesus, as a wishing well that we can throw a quarter into and make a wish?

How often do we approach our Lord and master with a request for our own benefit, rather than with a plea to be put to use for the Kingdom?

From Will Willimon sermon
Passed by a church the other day that had a sign out front that proclaimed, "Celebrate Recovery!" Come, celebrate recovery, redemption, joy with us!
Ever seen a church with a sign out front that read, "Come! Be Crucified! We've Got a Cross that Fits Your Back Too!"
And yet, Jesus was upfront. Can't accuse Jesus of false advertizing. "You will drink the cup that I drink; you will be baptized with my baptism."

When I was in campus ministry, a fellow campus minister asked me to participate in a baptism of a graduate student. The grad student was from China. He had been attracted to the Christian faith while a student at Duke. I had met him once or twice before. Well, I joyfully participated in the baptism of the student. And I thought it a bright idea to bring my camera and take a few pictures after the baptism.
"You can send these pictures to your family back in China," I said. "You can share your baptism day with your friends at home," I said as I maneuvered everyone into place for the snapshots. I noticed that the group looked a little shy and awkward, but they all stood together as I took my pictures.

After the baptism the campus minister said to me, "Oh, that was embarrassing, you with your camera and all."
"Embarrassing? Why?" I asked.

"Well, because now that he's baptized, his life has been ruined. His parents say that they will disinherit him. The government will probably take away his scholarship. He can't show those pictures to anybody back home. His life as he knew it is over; he's been baptized into Jesus."
And, you know, when he said that, I thought of today's text. "You will be baptized with my baptism...." (end of snippet from Willimon sermon)

Baptized with his baptism means putting ourselves into conflict with the powers of evil in this world.

We are able, when we say with Paul that “it is no longer I who liv3es, but Christ in me.”

The Christ who lives within us lives to serve instead of to serve. Perhaps this is why Jesus cannot tell james and John about the seats of honor, because Jesus has no thought of the throne to begin with.

Instead of thinking about being “served” and lording it over everyone else, Jesus is thinking about serving.

Interperter’s Bible (818) When we graduate from the passive voice to the active voice……….

‘the Highest achievement in life is to get out of the passive voice into the active. It is the great divide wihich some people never cross.

We all begin, of course, in the passive voice. We are acted upon before we act. We are loved before we love. We are served, in ways beyond count, before we serve.

By how many are we ministered to, all th way from astronomers tand poets to bus operatiors and garbage collectors! Yet a life’s most significant graduation day comes when we graduate into the active voice.

And so few ever do: ever really come to moral maturity. The aim of the grteat ones’ whom jesus repudiated, was to keep themselves in the passive voice, to be waited upon, ministered to, forever on the receiving end, never on the giving end.

It is indicative of the entitlement complex that this emphasis on “being served” infects the brain until we really and truly believe that the highest achievement in life would be to have everything done for us, for us to “get” everything we want.

That is the surest way to miss life in its largest possibilities. Only when we get life across this great divide do we touch its highest glory or its deepest Joy. Christian experience begins in the passive voice. We are called, saved, loved. It must go on to the active voice of those great verbs: call, save, love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oct. 11 sermon: The Sharp, Cutting Gospel

Hebrews and Mark

Start by describing how I pack. Esp. now that we have 2 kids. Seems like everywhere we go, we fill up the back of our car. Memory of lumbering down 3rd street in our packed to the gills, hugest Uhaul. Image or rolling up to Jesus walking along the highway, and rolling down the window of my stuffed Uhaul, “hey Jesus, I’m going to pastor a church, what else must I do to inherit the kingdom of God?”

Why a camel? A donkey or a cat or even a mouse would have an equally hard time getting through an eye of a needle, right? So why does Jesus say “a camel?”

Camels carry water in their back. So, it is a critique against self-reliance and “earning” your way into the kingdom. Also, camels were used by merchants to haul goods. Jesus most likely didn’t intend for us to imagine a bare camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle, but a heavy laden camel trying to squeeze through

When the man says, "Good teacher," is he
not asking for privileges from a privileged broker
of the Kingdom?
Jesus turns him around about that, too. "Why
do you call me good? No one is good but God
alone." Yes, Jesus is the one through whom we
gain the Kingdom. But he refuses to be treated
like someone you can bribe to let you in. If you
do not perceive it breaking in upon you (and not
just you, but the little, powerless ones) in his
very presence, what's it going to take to open
your dead eyes? Something divinely impossible!

The young man wanted to know what he lacked, he
wanted to add what was missing. Instead Jesus told
him to subtract from what he already had, he
already had what he needed, but all that money was
getting in the way. It was what stood between him
and God.

Potential of the man. Willing to come to him reaching out for more. Good material for a disciple.

But, what he says. “What must I do?” Do. The word “do” represents one of the greatest and most persistent fallacies in religion, from the power of which, with its crippling effects, Jesus sought to release people.

Eternal life, the kingdom of God, cannot be won by “doing.” It springs from one’s relationship with God. God offers the man personal relationship, the opportunity to walk with Christ, and the man walks away sad.

But perhaps this isn’t the end of the story for the rich man. Sadness and “Shock” as the NRSV puts it, are sometimes the beginning of a new journey. The story doesn’t say that he hasn’t resolved to sell his things. He doesn’t “scoff” at what Jesus says like the Pharisees do. The question of his reliance on his things has been put to him.

Perhaps Jesus looked inside him and told him to do something he knew he could not do so that he would begin to question his reliance on wealth.

Do we see the “other” in this story, or ourselves. I don’t know if any of us would consider ourselves “rich,” but if you went to the global wealth indicator on the website this past week, you see that the vast majority of us are in the top 3-4% globally when it comes to wealth. I’ve heard it said that if you have enough money to worry about what would happen if you lost it all, then you are rich. Certainly, this is the symptom that Jesus puts his finger on with the rich man.

Jesus knows that “abundance” is an enemy to the “abundant life.”

Our scriptures offer a mixed view on wealth and abundance. In much of the old testament, wealth and abundance is described as a display of the favor of God. This is one reason the disciples are so surprised by Jesus’ teaching here. Jesus is offering a new teaching.

The conventional wisdom was that it was easiest for the rich to inherit the Kingdom of God like they inherited everything else. They had more time to spend with purification rites, they had the means to make better sacrifices. They had the access to the education that bestowed the wisdom of God.

Jesus offered the view that wealth was an obstruction to a person inheriting eternal life. In fact, wealth made it impossible.

The rich man is liable to become like Gulliver: he wakes up on the beach on the island of Lilliput, huge among the pygmies, but bound to earth by a multitude of little strings.

But Jesus offers eternal life with “no strings attached.” Jesus wants to free us from the things that bind us to the earth so that we can jump up and follow him.
Perhaps this is why the author of Hebrews described the the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Salvation will not be accomplished by any mortal.
It will be accomplished for all mortals by God.
"Unfair!" Said the firstborn son to his
father who welcomed his prodigal brother.
"Unfair!" said those who were called to
work since morning and will get paid the same as
those who were called at the 11th hour.
"Unfair!" said Peter and those who feel
they have given up and sacrificed families and

Stop thinking of the kingdom of God, salvation,
eternal life in terms of fire insurance. In the
age to come, God (who is not willing that anyone
should perish) will accomplish what is impossible:
Give eternal life to undeserving mortals.

But when we participate in God's kingdom building,
when we seize the kingdom of God which is at hand,
when we don't wait for the age to come, we can,
over and above eternal life, have this most
wonderful reward: God's provisions for one's needs
and the most rewarding relationships.

I had a thought last night. What if Jesus was
saying to the man, "to earn your way you have
to give EVERYTHING you have, and still that won't
make it. It's impossible for humans. This is
only possible by the grace of God. There is no
squeezing by." And "There are no
minimum requirements that you can meet for entry.
Following Jesus takes/requires our maximum

Ralph Johnston memorial porch

This porch was added to the back of the parsonage this past summer, and now all the grass has grown back, so it was ready to photograph. As you can see, the pastor's family really enjoys the new addition to the parsonage. You may find it hard to see, but the porch is lit and includes a nice ceiling fan. The project was paid for largely by the memorials given in honor of our beloved brother Ralph. He was a pillar of the church, and will not be forgotten.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Global Rich List

Hi Folks,
The lectionary points us to Mark 10 17-31. (The story of the rich young ruler and the aphorism about the camel passing through the eye of a needle) What a text to come on the heels of our stewardship campaign! In any case, the scripture reminded me of this little web device that shows you how you compare to the rest of the world when it comes to wealth. Do you dare try it?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Stewardship Sermon: Living Water

John 7: 37-39
Ezekiel 47: 1-12

“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 4th 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 2010 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 2010 that we ask you to prayerfully consider and complete by yourself or with your family and then place on the altar on Sunday, Oct. 4, which is “World Communion Sunday.” 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 2010 starting at the half year statement. (Your third quarter statement and pledge card from last year is included in this letter.) During October and November of 2009, they will give a total of the combined pledges to the Church Council to help them prepare a budget. (A 2009 “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.

I believe this past year’s stewardship campaign was a great success. Not only did the Church Council get a good idea of what they could rely on when preparing the budget, the lay leadership committee was able to gather information about future leaders in the church. I hope the stewardship campaign helped you focus on your discipleship throughout the year. With the exception of the summer months, every single month of offerings surpassed those of 2008. And for much of the year, we have lived in a depressed economic climate that has received a lot of press! What a testament to the power of focused and prepared giving. Lara and I have already decided to maintain giving a tithe (10% of our income) to God through this church. If you currently do not give a tithe, try to designate some percentage of your income that you will give. If you were faithful to the covenant you made this year, try challenging yourself by adding a percentage point to what you give and growing toward a tithe. (i.e.: If you make $50,000 a year, and you currently pledge $2500 a year, then you are giving 5% of your income. Try growing toward the tithe by giving 1% more ($500) this year.) 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 Roy King, Chair of Finance

Missional Budget 2009
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.) $33,214

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 prison (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, or to finance our mission committee’s budget, which is separate.

(Includes mission budget, percentage of apportionment, percentage of utilities budget, percentage of minister and staff salary packages, and percentage of administrative costs) $33,439

Total budgeted to make disciples who will transform the world in 2009: $103,118

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Big Month, Straight Ahead!

Wow! October is full of things to be involved in at Morris UMC. To help you remember, here is a picture collage:

Coming this Saturday (Oct. 3), clean out your house and get a table at the Garage Sale! By the way, the trustees voted on Sunday the 25th to sell the old heavy folding tables, old orange children's chairs, and old free standing chalkboard that are currently cluttering up the storage room, so if you want them, come buy them at the garage sale!

Then, Sunday (Oct. 4), we'll dedicate our pledges for the stewardship of the church on World Communion Sunday.

Oct. 10, the UMM will have the annual fish fry fundraiser.

On Sat. Oct. 17, the Boy's Ranch will have their annual rodeo near Gore, OK.

On Sunday Oct. 25, we'll have a big day at church--we'll be led by the worship team at NSU Wesley Foundation. Andy Henson, the director there, will offer the message. Right after church, UMW will be hosting a wedding shower (with punch and cookies) for Yvonne Holland and Terry Guthrie. Then at 3pm we have our church conference (aka charge conference)! What a day!

Fri. Oct. 30, the Family Life Committee will host its annual Chili Supper before the last home football game. Sign up to bring your best pot of chili or a dessert, or just come and enjoy the food.

On Halloween, we'll put on our costumes and make our trunks or tailgates spooky for the annual "Trunk or Treat!" Hope to see you at all these great events! (That picture is a good idea if you need one :)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sermon: The Prayer List

James 5 and Ephesians 3

Scripture study on Intercessory Prayer

Confounded by response to prayer list idea.

What are we doing when we pray? When we pray for the health and well-being of others, that is called an “intercessory prayer.” We are asking God to act on behalf of those we name and lift up to God.

There are many scriptures that affirm this method of prayer.

There are also many instances that I’ve heard of where God or children of God are abused because of the reality that not everything we pray for is granted.

We may lose people we love and are holding onto hope that they will recover. We may see our loved ones’ suffer terribly from illness or injury.

If you only go by some proof-text for the un-qualified power of prayer, like And whatever you ask for in prayer, having faith and [really] believing, you will receive.Matthew 21: 22, you will be faced with options that seem to me to be quite troublesome: that there actually is no God, that this God doesn’t actually care about you or your prayers anyway, or that you aren’t faithful enough.

I have heard and imagine you have too, stories that make me want to go back to scenarios and slap people in the face, such as when someone is suffering from grief at the loss of a loved one, someone uses that as a “teaching point” to try and convince them that their faith is lacking. “Well, if only you’d had more faith, if only you’d prayed harder, maybe this wonldn’t have happened.”
If someone said that to me with the intention of increasing my faith, I can assure you that they would have the opposite effect.

That kind of insensitive and blasphemous comment has the effect of destroying faith and faithful people, not enhancing faith or building people up.

I don’t see any merit in that kind of behavior. Jesus wasn’t “holier than thou,” Jesus made himself low for our sake.

There’s also all sorts of “Prayer of Jabez” and “The Secret” kinds of mumbo jumbo out there that takes such scriptures as that from Matthew and Mark 11 and other scriptures that seem to say, “You want it? You got it!” and uses them for the sake of assuring people that if you only do things “our way, (the right way),” then God will reward you with everything you ask for.

Preachers in this tradition typically buy all sorts of expensive cars and suits and helicopters with their parishioners money as a testament to the false truth they are proclaiming. “You can be like me if you only believe!”

This is the Gospel of Jiminy Cricket, not of Jesus Christ. No, “when you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you,” isn’t scripture, it is Pinnochio.

Jesus spoke and embodied the idea of suffering with, standing up for, the lost, broken, sick, outcast, and oppressed, not chastising them for being those things. Prayer isn’t wish-fulfillment. Prayer is “entering into the suffering of others.”

\First paragraph of Christian Century

Prayer may not bring us what we want. We may not see an improvement in the health of our loved ones when we pray for them. There is scientific evidence that prayer does have some effect on recovering people who know they are being prayed for, and even those who don’t know they are being prayed for, but how this all works is simply a mystery.

One thing that we can be assured of is that prayer works on the pray-er. Prayer opens our eyes to the good things that God is doing in all kinds of situations. Prayer strengthens our belief. “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,” said the man being healed by Jesus in Mark 9:24.

Prayer, as Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus, helps us “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

This is the truest purpose of prayer. It gives us and those for whom we pray the assurance that no matter what besets us, we are loved and cherished by God to an unfathomable degree.

And so when we pray, may we pray to be reminded of this wholeness toward which God is pulling us. This wholeness that can become manifest regardless of our physical condition.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sept13 Sermon: The Bit

Sermon on Speaking the truth in Love

Texts: Matthew 15: 10-11, 16-20
James 3: 3-12

I drew quite liberally from this article in the sermon.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Aug 30 Sermon: I and Thou, Relationships in the Family

Texts: Hosea 11: 1-4, 1 Thess. 2: 5-12

I and Thou. Martin Buber

Society of Friends referred to everyone they met as Thou. One of the things that people in the culture made fun about…they also called them “Quakers” because of the way they would “quake” when they worshipped, caught up in a holy ecstatic experience.

Our relationship with others is rooted in our relationship with God.

Not everyone has the same experience of God, and we don’t usually have a constant relationship with God because we have different understandings of God. King, Creator, Source of Life.

Most of us probably think of God as a Friend and a helper, so while this isn’t a sufficient understanding of God by itself, let’s dig into that relationship, and how that friendship can influence our relationships with the people in our family.

I think our friendship with God inspires hope, humility, and hospitality.

These three qualities are also modeled by the figure of God in the parable of the Father with two sons, which is perhaps our most striking image of parenthood in the Bible.

The father shows hope in that he honors his son’s request for his inheritance. He gives the prodigal son his inheritance in the hope that it will be put to great use, but when it is not, the Father’s hope isn’t squelched. He hopes for his son’s return, and he hopes for his son’s future.

Relationships, in a way, are all about hope. Building a relationship with someone else is an expression of hope

Fr. 1st Thess. With each of you we were like a father with his child, holding your hand, whispering encouragement, showing you step-by-step how to live well before God, who called us into his own kingdom, into this delightful life.

Using beautiful images of wonderful parenting, the Apostle Paul
describes his first visit to Thessalonica. Like a mother “tenderly
caring for her own children,” Paul and his colleagues, Silas and
Timothy, gently shared “our own selves” with those who “have
become very dear to us.” With “pure, upright, and blameless
conduct” they approached the Thessalonians as a father loves his
children individually, “urging and encouraging you and pleading
that you lead a life worthy of God” (2:7-8, 11-12).

A similar image of good parenting emerges in the instructions
that go with the “greatest commandment” to love God: parents
should not only love God in their heart, but also teach and
practice that love daily before their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-

What Jesus pinpoints as the greatest commandment is followed by the injunction to what? Teach them to the children.

Perhaps this is why in Mark 10, when the disciples are complaining because so many people are bringing their children to Jesus to bless, Jesus reprimands not the children, or the parents, but the disciples for having such a negative attitude. He says, “‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

parents do may very well be the best teaching tool of the gospel,”
“If we want our children to possess virtue, then we must be serious students of our own souls…. If we pray that our children mature to dream dreams worthy of the Kingdom, then we must allow a Kingdom vision to guide our lives.”

A consistent practice of godly virtues does not leave parents
unchanged. “To parent with Christian intentionality opens us to
vulnerability, change, and being forever marked by the habits
we practice,” Johns reminds us. “By parenting with Christian
integrity we can be shaped into new creations and advanced in
holiness by our children.”
the Second Vatican
Council offered a high
view of the contribution
of children to the spiritual maturity of their parents: “as living members of
the family, children contribute in their own way to making their parents
holy.”3 Instead of assuming women and men must attain a high level of parental
competence or a depth of holiness before welcoming children into
their home, the assumption here is that growth in holiness is, in part, one
of the gifts children give to their parents. Parenting can be a context for
Christian spiritual growth and it presents innumerable opportunities for
women and men to increase in virtue by practicing everything from love to
patience, sacrifice, and courage.

He describes three parenting virtues:

􀀗Hope—grounded in God’s grace and love, rather than in us or
even our children—is foremost among parenting virtues. If
we “hope in the Lord” (Psalm 39:7; cf. 65:5), “our perspective
on our own life and our children’s lives elongates,” Johns
writes. “This present moment does not contain all meaning;
and … we realize it is premature to give up on any child,
because their final chapter has not yet been written and God
continues to build ‘a way in the wilderness’ (Isaiah 43:19).”

􀀗Humility challenges the persistent temptation in our materialist
culture to regard children as “consumer items to acquire”
to display our success, provide ‘meaning’ to our lives, or even
help reunite a couple drifting apart. To be “clothed in humility”
(Colossians 3:12 and 1 Peter 5:5) is to understand “that
meaning, significance, and worth are not attainments awarded
to the most industrious, but that these—like children themselves—
are gifts to us from God.”

􀀗Hospitality, or a willingness to welcome the stranger (Romans
12:13 and Hebrews 13:2), may seem like an odd virtue in
regard to our children. Yet parents welcome one who is not
them, but an other, into their lives. Our children are persons
who are always different from our images of who they are
and should become. Moreover, “notions of blood, kin, and
seed are no longer adequate to account for the many ways
that we are in parental or parental-like relationships with
children. Cultivating hospitality will help us learn to embrace
those who do not share our DNA: adopted children, stepchildren,
nieces, nephews, and cousins.”