Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Sermon: The Race

I'm like the widow searching for the lost coin, except I'm married and I'm searching for a lost ipod microphone.  Which is a shame b/c I added quite a bit of good stuff to the sermon this week that is now lost in the ether.  Pray that I find that microphone so you can get back to listening with rapt attention to my compelling and captivating sermons.  :)  

Hebrews 12: 1-3
John 20: 1-18

There is so much going on here.  Mary comes to the tomb early in the morning.  Not content to just let him be.  And there she finds the stone rolled to the side and the tomb empty.  She runs back to tell the disciples.

And then you have this curious race between Peter and John.  John tells us that he won the race, of course, but then stops at the opening to the tomb.  Peter plunges right in and sees it empty. 

John spends valuable narrative space telling us about the placement of the burial cloths, and then John comes on in to the tomb, and in so doing he seems to cross over into an understanding as to what has happened. 

I like this idea of racing to the tomb.  They hear the word from Mary as a starting gun.  They race to the tomb, not quite sure what to believe or make of the news.  Then they get there, and they’re not quite sure what to do.  Do we go in the tomb or not, should we take these burial cloths as some sort of sign, or not.  But John writes that it is there that he believes.  He races to the tomb, and then he believes. 

How often is our faith life like this race.  We are running along with a friend in the faith of Jesus, and we sense that we are “ahead of” or “behind” the rest in our progress toward the destination. 

And then, even those who are ahead draw up short and observe the goal.  Sometimes it is those who seemed to be behind the whole time who plunge right into salvation.  But, sometimes pulling up short and taking a moment to survey the scene is what is required for us to come to recognize what has happened in our lives. 

John describes the Beloved Disciple seeing the arrangement of the grave clothes, and then piecing together that this neat arrangement of clothing could not possibly be left by intruders and body-snatchers.  Instead, something more mysterious has happened here, and he believes. 

Raymond Brown, S.J., what characterizes this passage is a "prolonged recognition" of the risen Christ by Mary.

But then, a lesson perhaps from John to the church.  What do Peter and John do after they’ve gone inside the tomb and believed what Jesus had said?  They go home! 

They don’t rush out and spread the word to the other disciples.  They just go home!  What do we make of this?  Isn’t it true that we sometimes approach the aim of faith, then we have the astounding experience that leaves us with sure and certain belief only to then GO HOME and get back to life as usual?  John tells us that’s exactly what the disciples do.  They go back and start fishing again.  This man whom we loved and followed for three years has been crucified and now has risen from the dead and we’re just going to GO HOME and get back to fishing?! 

John shows us the reward of staying and lingering in the garden with the example of Mary.  Mary stays and weeps and is comforted by The Man himself.  Although she doesn’t at first see him as Jesus. 

Race and recognition. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maundy Thursday Car Washing

Wouldn't you know it--no rain all spring, and then having it forecast for the day your preacher has planned to invite you to come and have your car washed as an act of service in the light of the footwashing that Jesus performs in John 13.  Oh well!  If it's not storming on us between 3 and 6pm, come get your car washed for free by your minister! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Worship with us this Easter Season!

We invite you to join us for Easter Week!
First United Methodist Church of Morris
100 years in Morris, and here till Kingdom Come
“Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”
Where-ever you are in the “walk of life,” you will find a friend at the little white bricked church at the corner of Pekin and Hughes.  We are a welcoming congregation who would like to celebrate the Passion of Jesus Christ with you. 

April 17 Palm Sunday Worship Service, Banquet and Egg Hunt 10:55 am, (Sunday School 9:45am),
At this service, children remind us of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the last week of his life by waving palm branches and singing. 
Afterwards, we provide the ham, and members bring the rest for a great pot-luck to which everyone is invited.  The kids always enjoy finding eggs around the yard, as parents and grandparents trail behind with cameras.

April 21: Maundy Thursday Last Supper Reenactment, 7pm
Yes, it’s on Thursday, not “Maundy.”  At this service we remember the last “maundatum,” or “mandate” of Christ to “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Here we celebrate communion (always open to all) by watching a portrayal of that moment captured in Da Vinci’s masterpiece when Jesus reveals that one of his own disciples will betray him.  The cast of characters in this short drama will be:

Bartholomew: Tim Stewart        Thomas: Nathan Mattox

James the Less: JustinVaugn      James Zebedee: Kevin Dellinger
Andrew: John Edmonds.            Philip: Carson Edmonds
Judas: Tim Davis                       Matthew: Anthony Suiter
Peter: Pat Edmonds                   Thaddeus: Carl King
John:     Atticus  Dellinger           Simon: Duane Lester
Martha: Maggie Barnes             Jesus: Shan Edmonds

April 22, Good Friday Tenebre Service, 7pm
In this “service of darkness,” candles are extinguished as the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution are read.

April 23, “Into the Tomb, Into the Darkness” Caving and Discussion at Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas 9am
This finale to our confirmation will give us the chance to go into a “tomb like” setting and prompt the discussion, “what does the Resurrection mean to you?” 

April 24 Easter Worship Service, 10:55am (Sunday School 9:45) Communion served and open to all. 
The most important Sunday of the year holds our most important message: God brings new birth and Grace fills the world! 

Easter Season Continues with celebration of new birth as we mark the days with these special occasions:
Confirmation Sunday: May 1st, 10:55am: Our young people make a profession of faith and celebrate their baptismal covenants.  Afterwards, we will volunteer at the Okmulgee Homeless Shelter to live out that profession. 
Mother’s Day Service: May 8th, 10:55am: Certainly those who give birth should be honored in the season we celebrate new birth!
 Honoring the Graduates: May 15, 10:55am: Finishing high school education is a big accomplishment.  This service focuses on achievement and wisdom.  
Centennial Sunday School Round-Up: May 22: 9:45am
This is our 100th year of ministry in Morris, but we’re a new church every time someone commits their life to Christ in our midst.  Oftentimes the relationships that nurture this commitment are found in Sunday School.  We’ll celebrate our 100th year of Sunday School by gathering together as we used to at the beginning of our church in Morris: arriving on horseback and meeting under the trees! 
Memorial Day Service: May 29, 10:55am: Sacrifice and new birth go hand in hand.  Sacrifice is required for new birth to occur.  At this service we remember the veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made.

April 10 Sermon: The Preview

Sermon Texts:
Ezekiel and John

Sermon Notes:

Perhaps one of the most poignant passages of scripture is the one we just heard.  We hear the grief of Jesus for a friend, a grief that he shares for all of us—for all of our deaths, and motivated by which he comes into all our future tombs and calls us out. 

Come out.  Breathe the air again.  Breathe the air of a new kingdom in which I am king and I have banished sin and death.  Be raised and live life fully now.  Love one another as I have loved you.  By this, others will know you as citizen of this kingdom. 

I’m reminded of my grandmother’s funeral, for which my father and I gave eulogies.  Over the previous ten years, we accepted my grandmother’s descent into oblivion as she succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.  We accepted something that Mary and Martha just wouldn’t accept with Christ in their lives.  They ran up to Jesus with sorrow and perplexity in their voice.  “Why weren’t you here?  If you had been here, this wouldn’t have happened.” 

Jesus’ answer to them was baffling, I’m sure.  “I wasn’t here so that the world may see the gift that I bring.” Is essentially what he said.  

But why, Jesus—why couldn’t you have just been here and spared us the fear and trembling as we watched our brother die.  As your friends, don’t we get preferential treatment?  Shouldn’t there be some “perk” to following you?  Shouldn’t we be saved the pain that you can so easily remedy with your healing power? 

What if his answer to us is the same as his answer to Mary and Martha.  What if enduring the pain and suffering of this life with the firm hope in the power of Christ to bring us all back to life is one way that the power and glory of God can be shown to this world?  Do you believe it?

The last bit of my grandmother’s personality to ‘go’ was her musical ability.  It is amazing to me how our brain stores information, and how so often the musical mind is untouched by strokes or accidents that effect the rest of our minds.  I’ve read a couple of books by Oliver Sacks, the author and neuroscientist who wrote the book that the movie “Awakenings.”  In “the Mind’s Eye” and “Musicophilia” he gives many accounts of people who have drastically debilitating diseases of the mind which cause them to even lose a sense of recognition of every day objects, family members, or even their own reflection.  Some of these people have difficulty deciding what in the world pants or spoons or car-keys, or anything really, are for, and yet, when they “sing” the instructions to themselves for, getting dressed, for example, they can still accomplish tasks like these. 

My grandmother played the piano, and I remember about 2 or so years before she died, we went and visited her in the nursing home, and she played amazing grace for us on the piano.  She added a little comedic flourish at the end, and I was amazed that a bit of her sense of humor still lived there in her musical mind. 

At her funeral, I shared my belief that she has been made new in the Kingdom of God.  That she has received a new celestial body that is complete—that is physically and spiritually as God intended it to be. 

In the raising of Lazarus, John not only gives us a preview of the resurrection of Jesus, he gives us a preview of our own resurrection, when Jesus calls us all beyond the grave, and in that story is the seeds of the good news which might grow through our daily lives, as we live in light of the resurrection, and as we pour out our selves to God as Mary pours out the expensive burial nard all over the feet of the one who brings the Good news of God. 

Last week I spoke with the confirmands about how as a church we ordain women and give women the authority they deserve to bring the Good news just as the men do in the church.  I told the young men there that if they are ever questioned about this practice by their friends, that they can say that women were the FIRST preachers, and here we see one of the first sermons.  Mary, pouring out her devotion to the Lord Jesus.  An act of worship.  An act that speaks volumes, and foretells the fate that Jesus has been trying to get across to his male disciples for years, but which they refuse to hear.  This same Mary will be among that group of women who are the first bearers of the Good news of the resurrection in only a matter of days.  And what else is preaching? 

One thing that I imagine is that as God has spoken this creation into being, we will be Sung into recreation in the life to come.  That gift that seems to stick with us even when our brain is struck I imagine has some power beyond the grave.  Is there any wonder that angels are always portrayed as “singing?” 

Our lives are in God’s hands.  NO matter what befalls us, we are instruments of God’s peace and God’s assurance to the whole Creation. “I am with you, always!”   

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

April 3 Sermon: Enjoy the Silence

Sermon Texts:
Psalm 46
1 Kings 19: 8-13

Sermon Notes:
Enjoy the Silence

1 Kings 17 Mt. Horeb

I went to college at a place that was right across the street from a very busy stretch of railroad tracks.  We all got used to the wailing horns and thunderous noise.  I was recently watching an old video of a play that I was in while in college, and it was so funny, that theater was on the side of campus that was closest to the tracks, and trains would just rumble through pretty much every hour.  While the play was being performed, in the recording, I began to hear that whistle, and then it just seemed to get louder, and louder, and louder!.  The funny thing was, we didn’t even react on stage.  It was just part of the background to us.  But watching it years later after becoming accustomed to the intense quiet of Morris, OK, it was amazing that we did it.

My junior year of college, I lived in this apartment that was literally 30 yards away from this bend in the railroad tracks.  Those trains would literally come  through 16 times a day, and through the night too!  One train would always come blasting through at 2am.  It would rattle the walls, and if you were having a conversation when the train was coming through, we just had to sit there and wait for it to pass.  There was no talking over it.  This was before the days of TIVO, so I couldn’t simply pause the TV when the train came through.  I had it plugged into my stereo, and I’d have to turn the thing all the way up just to hear.  But as I  mentioned before, we got used to it.  After only a week or two, I’d just sleep right through the 2am train, though it rattled the walls and caused a deafening roar. 

I’m reminded of that train for some reason when I hear this passage from Kings.  Perhaps God speaks so blatantly that we have just become accustomed to it.  Perhaps this is why Jesus says we must become like little children.  Taking nothing for granted. 

Or, perhaps our lives are so flooded with sound that we are deafened to the “still small voice” of God.  I’m on facebook too—so I’m not judging it as an outsider—but think about it.  You go to a main page and scroll through what is the equivilant of people yammering to anyone in general! 

We say we do it so we can “keep up with our friends,” but do I really need to know that they aren’t that impressed with a particular episode of Scrubs?

Experience of Going into a cave, which muffles the sound. Everything sounds close. And when you come back out, Everything sounds open and clear. 

Sometimes the experience of enveloping ourselves in silence has an effect of opening our ears to God’s voice. 

It seems like much attention is paid in our expression of faith on what we say and believe.  Is important, but as my dad heard an old Cherokee woman say one time, “You can’t be the mouth of God until you’ve been the ears of God.” 

As integral to our religious heritage as “I believe,” is the instruction “Hear, O Israel.” 

But, many of us have trouble listening to God.  Instead, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes in the wonderful short book Tthe Silence of God, “Many of us prefer to speak.  Our corporate prayers are punctuated with phrases such as “Hear us, Lord” or “Lord, hear our prayers,”  as if the burden to listen were on God and not us.  WE name our concerns, giving God suggestions on what to do about them.  What reversal of power might occur if we turned the process around, naming our concerns and asking God to tell us what to do about them?  ‘Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.’” 

When I was studying at Oxford, I regularly worshipped with the Society of Friends.  You might have heard of them before, they’re also known as the Quakers.  If you go to a Friends worship service, be ready for silence.  You see, that’s all it is.  People sit in the silence and listen for the movement of the Spirit.  If they feel moved to speak, the speak the Spirit guided word.  Believe it or not, in the several visits I made to the Quaker meeting house, I never said a word.  It wasn’t that I never felt prompted to say something—it’s just that I felt more a sense of respect and caution for the spoken word.  Even though the whole purpose of the Quaker movement was to free the Word from the pulpit, I sensed a much greater importance on the spoken word, and so I refrained from speaking as a sign of respect.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Sometimes I think we do all the talking because we are afraid God won’t.”  It’s kind of like being on a date, and the person is obviously nervous and so talks and talks and talks.  She continues, “Or, conversely, that God will.  Either way, staying preoccupied wth our own words seemsa safer bet than opening ourselves up either to God’s silence or God’s speech, both of which have the power to undo us.  In our own age, I believe God’s slence is the more threatening, perhaps because it is the more frequently experienced of the two.  Very few people come to me because they want to discuss something God said to them last night.  The large majority come because they cannot get him go say anything at all.  They have asked as sincerely as they know how for answers, for guidance, for peace, but they are still missing those things.  They have heard me talk about God on Sundays and they hope they can make us of my connections. 

Friday, April 01, 2011

March 24 Sermon: Beautiful Feet

Sermon Texts:
Isaiah 52: 7-9
John 13: 1-15, 34-35

Call to Worship
A new commandment we were given:
Love one another, as I have loved you.
In simple acts of service and kindness,
Love one another, as I have loved you.
In repairing the wounds of conflict
Love one another, as I have loved you.
In listening to each others' stories and memories
Love one another, as I have loved you.
In forgiving someone when they have wronged us
Love one another, as I have loved you.
Lord, soften our hard hearts, give us the clean spirits
To Love one another, as You have loved us.

Sermon Notes:
Blessed is this gift of a new floor. What comes into contact with a floor? Our feet. Imagine all the places your feet have taken you. Dr. Seuss Book—Oh the places you’ll go.

Jesus’ feet. I came into the sanctuary this week to ask for a sermon. That’s not that uncommon a thing for me. But, what happened in return was uncommon for me. I went down here to the chancel and I knelt in front of the altar, and the stained glass was glowing, and I just became solely focused on Jesus’ feet there in the window. I knelt there and stared at those feet and I heard this door open and close in the draft that comes through the church. I heard the wind blowing through the shingles, I heard the birds singing and chirping and competing with one another. I heard the wind blowing through the newly budding branches of those sweetgums. I heard. The door thing kinda freaked me out. I kept wondering if someone had crept in the door and then was sitting on the back row of the church or something. But my focus wasn’t broken. I knelt here and my back was straight like I had a string pulling me up from the top of my spine.

Feet, they are taboo aren’t they? This account of Jesus washing his disciples feet is uncomfortable to us, as it was to the disciples, but for different reasons. We are probably just grossed out by the idea of someone touching our feet. The disciples are used to that. This is a common act of hospitality, usually performed by a slave. The disciples are appalled that their teacher and master is the one on his knees with a towel tied around his waist, washing their feet.

But Christ was foreshadowing here, wasn’t he. It was these lowly feet –these fishermen’s embarrassingly hardened and calloused feet and these tax collector’s embarrassingly soft and pampered feet, that had been following the footsteps of Jesus around Judea and Samaria and Galilee. It was these feet that would bear the message of Jesus’ redemptive power from Spain to India and from the Caspian sea to Britain to Ethiopia.

Jesus is giving life to Isaiah’s song of praise, “How Blessed are the feet on the mountains of those who bring good news.” Can you imagine how hard and calloused and grungy these disciples feet must’ve been when they spent their lives walking around on them everywhere they went? How did they cut their toenails? I remember this one guy in college didn’t wear shoes. The bottom of his feet were black. He didn’t just not wear shoes around the brick sidewalks of my college, he didn’t wear shoes at the gas station or wal-mart or anywhere. He challenged those “no shirt, no shoes, no service signs.” Wait a minute-I haven’t seen those signs around here—do we just have those in Arkansas? Heyyyyyy…..

Took a shower the other day after I had mowed the lawn and raked up all the sweetgum balls. Boy, my feet were dirty. Can you imagine Jesus bent down washing between your toes after a hard day’s work like this?

Jesus washes our feet. Jesus is our Mighty God in the flesh. And what does he do? He shows us how to love and how to serve. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he says. We think this sounds like an easy task, and yet it is sometimes so hard. He doesn’t say “Love one another as you have been doing.” He says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Not everything has to be a fund raiser. Sometimes something can be a gift of devotion and glorification. (((((((((Floor?)))))))))) How we treat the poor is part of our judgment day. But sometimes one must just stop and fall on her knees and pour her heart out to Jesus, as Mary does in the chapter preceding. You see, Mary is a prophet. She sees with prophetic eyes that what Jesus just did: step into her brother Lazareth’s tomb and call him out was a sign of things to come. When Judas and the others, with unseeing eyes, castigate her for her action, Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, gives them the word of his impending death.

So, may we be creative in our devotion to our master’s feet.