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