A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary - March 8

Sermon (March 1) - "Different Robes of Jesus: Seamless Robe"

Psalm 22:1-18

v. 1a This is the Psalm that Jesus quoted when he was on the cross.

vv. 12-13 - The Psalmist's detractors are acting like savage animals.

v. 18 - While the Psalmist is dying, his neighbors are already dividing his property. The soldiers divided Jesus' robe which ties in with this Psalm.

The theology of Jesus' quote of this Psalm on the cross - Even though Jesus is asking why God has forsaken him, it's important to remember how Psalm 22 concludes. It ends on a positive note in offering praise to God.

John 19:16b-25a

Of the four gospels, this gospel best describes the tearing of Jesus' robe in the story of his crucifixion. This scripture reminds us of the tearing of clothes found in Psalm 22.

The Romans were experts at using crucifixion to deter people from challenging the authority of the the King. Pilate places the title, "king of the Jews" overtop as a way of mocking what people had been saying about Jesus.

Caiaphas in John 11:49-50 had made a comment about one man dying for the people. John obviously wants us to see that callous statement in the theological context of Jesus offering his life for the whole world by dying on a cross. John 12:32 also hints at the cross as well as Peter when he said he would be willing to lay down his life for Jesus - John 13:37-38.

The sign above Jesus was written in three different languages - Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. John is helping us to see that Jesus is the true King of the world. Even though the political and religious powers of that time didn't recognize Jesus' kingship, it was who he truly was.

John describes the gambling of Jesus' robe at the foot of the cross. He does this to point us to Psalm 22.  Jesus, like the Psalmist is the righteous sufferer on behalf of others.

[Note: The resources used for these scripture reading commentaries are based on the Everyone series by NT Wright, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, The Wesley Study Bible, and the “Montreal-Anglican”lectionary commentaries.]

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday Worship Preview - March 8

Sunday, March 8 - (9:00 am & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, March 11  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - 3rd Sunday in Lent

Scripture - Psalm 22:1-18 & John 19:16b-25a

Sermon "Different Robes of Jesus: Seamless Robe"

Theme - During the Season of Lent, we are focusing on the different robes related to Jesus and his ministry leading up to his death and resurrection. Today's focus is on Jesus' seamless robe and when the Roman sliders gambled for it.

Sermon (March 1) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Different Robes of Jesus: Serving Robe"

     Much has been written and preached on this passage about Jesus washing the disciple’s feet.

     It is John’s telling of the last supper story, or the Passover meal. The big difference is that in John’s account, there is no bread that is broken and no wine that is served.  In John’s story, the action revolves around Jesus washing the disciple’s feet and how he explains what he has done with his disciples.

     This scripture about the serving robe teaches us about what it means to serve others in God’s kingdom. It teaches us about a new commandment that Jesus gave the disciples which is to love one another.

     These are themes that are almost always covered on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week, because this is the appointed gospel reading for that night in the church year.

     We’re using a little different approach during this Lenten season.  We’re combining the choir anthems and the sermons, and taking a look at how the different kinds of robes that Jesus wore can teach us some important lessons about Jesus, that can then draw us into a closer, deeper, and more personal relationship with him.

     As I was thinking about what Jesus’ robe might teach us from this story, it hit me that we can learn some things more from the actions of Jesus with his robe, than from the robe itself.  The first thing is, Jesus took off his robe.  He served the disciples by washing their feet.  And then, he put his robe back on.

     I’d like to use this story today to think about how we can become more like Jesus through what we take off, and by what we put on.

    The disciples were probably pretty shocked when Jesus took up the basin and the towel and began to wash their feet. He was Jesus.  He was their teacher.  He was their Master.  He was their Lord.  Foot washing was not something that masters did.

     Imagine your surprise if you saw a King shining someone’s shoes.  Or, what would you think if you saw the Queen of England giving someone a pedicure?  Either of those two scenes would be out of place. You’d never expect to see either one of those things happen.

     In the days of Jesus, foot washing was done by the servants of the household.  And it was no more glamorous of a job in Jesus day, than it would be today!  People’s feet get really dry and dirty and calloused and cracked when they walk around for miles wearing sandals. To wash someone’s feet was an act of hospitality and care.  It was also an act of servitude and humility.

     No wonder Simon Peter told Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.”  Not Jesus.  Not his master.  Not ever.  Still, there Jesus was with his wash basin and his towel.  He knelt in front of them one by one and washed their feet, calluses and all.

     When he was done, he told them why. He said, “I’m setting an example for you.”  “You also should do what I have done to you.”

     Just what did Jesus do?

     Well, John tells us that when the festival of the Passover had come, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.  He had loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

     So, he got up from the supper, took off his robe, and tied a towel around himself.

     What an act of humility that was!

     There is almost nothing more humbling than to feel underdressed in public when it is out of place.  Ever since the Garden of Eden when the man and the woman realized they were naked, human beings have had a fear of “being naked” both literally, and metaphorically.

     We feel much more in control and like we have more authority when we’re dressed for success, when we look the part of being in control and having authority.

     Jesus has authority and control, yet he laid it aside.

     He set aside the glory and eternal praises of heaven, to come to earth where people would reject him.

    He set aside his outer garment at the supper so he could fill the role of a slave and wash the disciple’s feet.

     And all of this is to foreshadow the ultimate laying aside that Jesus would soon demonstrate…willingly laying aside his own life, and dying on a cruel, hard, cross.

     Being a servant is hard.  And being a slave?  It’s a repulsive idea to us. Yet that is what our scripture says.

     So, what attitudes must we willingly lay aside or take off, if we are going to follow the example of our Lord Jesus, and serve?

     How about our ego?  We can’t think about how good we are, or that we’re above serving.

    How about a lack of compassion for others and the needs of others?

     Here’s another piece of clothing we need to set aside - being judgmental.

      We need to take all of these attitudes off, if we are going to be able to serve with same mind that Christ served. 

     On that night in the upper room, as Jesus washed their feet, in that moment, I wonder if the disciples finally ‘got it’. They had been hand-selected by Jesus from the crowds.  From the smelly dregs of farms and boat docks he had called them, and given new meaning to their lives. With him they were something special. He had elevated them above the plow and the fishing net… or so it seemed.

     The disciples were special. Jesus called only twelve of them out of everyone he could have chosen.  But Jesus didn’t call them from the crowds of farmers and fishermen so that they would enjoy a greater status. Jesus called them to serve. He called them to teach them so they could carry on his ministry of loving people after he departed.  

     And we can almost imagine the disciples asking after Jesus was taken up to heaven, “What in the world are we going to do now?”   Throughout the rest of their lives, as many rejected them, persecuted them, and eventually killed most of them, can’t you just hear them asking, “What do we do with these people now?”

     It reminds me of a story I heard several years ago about a man who was awaiting the birth of his first child a couple of generations ago.  This story happened in the days before dads were allowed in the delivery room with their wives.          

     This new dad stood there in the hospital waiting room, nervous as he could be, and finally after what seemed like forever, a nurse called him back into the nursery to meet his newborn son…

     Only it wasn’t a son. It was sons – twin boys! Of course, back then they didn’t really have ultrasounds and sonograms.  This dad found out he was having twins the minute he looked them right in the face!  

     The nurse let him hold them both at once.  He said he remembered standing there with a tiny bundle in each arm, asking God, “What in the world am I going to do?”

     And, in that moment he imagined what God might say back to him. The answer was, “Just love them.” “Just love them.”

     When I think back to the births of my children, I remember holding each little bundle in my arms and seeing them face-to-face for the first time.  Suddenly, I was a father.  And holding each softly swaddled newborn, the world had suddenly changed for me.  

    While certainly overcome with joy and elation, I also had a healthy dose of anxiety and uncertainty mixed in.  How would I be a father to this child?  Each of those amazing events was one of those moments when I asked God “What in the world am I going to do?”  And once again, the answer came: “Just love her. Just love him.”

     I think that’s really Jesus’ message to his disciples, too.  He’s preparing them for a time when he will no longer be with them, and they’ll be the ones doing ministry.  They’ll be the ones standing in front of the crowds of people, staring right into the faces of sinners of all shapes and sizes, all suffering from their own brokenness and longing to be made whole by God’s grace.  

     When Jesus left them, I’m sure the disciples had plenty of those “What in the world are we going to do?” moments.  But then they will remember Jesus, with his wash basin and towel. They’ll remember his example of how he expects them to treat other people. It’s like he’s saying, “See? It’s simple. I’m sending you out into the world, into those crowds of people from whom I called you. What are you to do?  Just love them. Just love them.”

     After Jesus finished washing the disciple’s feet, he put on his robe, and returned to the table.

    Just a few verses later, In John 13:15, in the same scene with this story, Jesus must have astounded the disciples yet again.  He had just finished being a servant to them, and calling them to be servants like him. But then he said, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my father.”

     No longer servants, but friends.

     Peter found it difficult to let Jesus be a servant to him.  But Jesus told Peter that if he wanted to have a share with him, he had to let him wash his feet.

     To have a share with Jesus is to have fellowship with him.  It is to participate fully in his life.  What he does, who he meets with, where he goes.

     A person’s share with Jesus is the gift of full relationship with him and of friendship with him.

     In order to have a share with Jesus, we are called to accept the gesture of love that Jesus has demonstrated through the washing of the disciples’ feet.

     In order to have a share with Jesus, we must willingly take off the attitudes that prevent us from being like Jesus, and then put on friendship with Jesus. And this is a friendship that helps us to become like Jesus and to serve like Jesus served.

     One of my favorite spiritual books is Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.  One of the spiritual disciplines which Foster writes about in the book is the discipline of service.

     He contrasts the serving from selfish motives, versus serving authentically like Jesus.  Listen to what Richard Foster says:

     Self-righteous service comes through human effort.  True service comes from a relationship with the divine “other” that comes from deep inside us.

     Self-righteous service is impressed with the "big deal."  True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service.

     Self-righteous service requires external rewards.  True service rests contented in hiddenness.

     Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service is free of the need to calculate results.

     Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.

     Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims.  True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.

     Self-righteous service is temporary.  True service is a life-style.

     Self-righteous service is without sensitivity.  It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive.  True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it.
     Self-righteous service fractures community.  True service, on the other hand, builds community.

     Jesus told the disciples that night, after washing their feet, “I am with you only a little longer.”

     Then he gave them a new commandment. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

     As we go through our day to day living, we encounter pain and brokenness in our community and world. There are people who have lost hope, who are discouraged, and who are struggling to make ends meet. We wonder what we can possibly do in these situations.

     And once again the answer will come.

     “Just love them.” “Just love them.”

Living Room Worship (Lancaster First UMC) - Sunday, March 1

Welcome & Announcements:
[Click here & here for the announcement sections of our March 1st bulletin.]

Call to Worship
L: Come and touch the robe of Jesus.
P: It is a robe that is used to serve and love all people.
L: Come and touch the robe of Jesus.
P: It is a robe that reminds us of who we are called to be.
L: In this Season of Lent, may we serve and love in the name of Jesus.

Prayer of Confession & Words of Assurance
Lord Jesus, forgive us for our selfish ways. We confess that we are slow to bend our knees and serve others. Teach us to wash the feet of others in faith and love. Teach us what it means to be your servants. With Christ as our example, help us to follow your new commandment to love one another. May we be know as your disciples at home, at church, and wherever we may be. Lead us in your ways of humble service. Amen.
L: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
P: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
All: Thanks be to God!

Gospel Lesson - John 13:1-17

[Click here to go to today's sermon.] Sermon                     Different Robes of Jesus: Serving Robe

The Different Robes of Jesus: Servant’s Robe
Pastor Robert McDowell
Sermon Outline

The Different Robes of Jesus Lenten Focus

Different Robes of Jesus Lenten Series:

February 15 – “Shining Robe”
February 22 – “Healing Robe”
March 1 – “Servant’s Robe”
March 8 – “Seamless Robe”
March 15 – “Spreading Robes”
March 22 – “Burial Robe”
March 29 – Palm Sunday Cantata “Come, Touch the Robe”
April 5 (Easter Sunday) – “Rolled Up Robe”

The Servant’s Robe

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come form God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. - John 13:3-5

What Do We Need to Lay Aside So that We Can Serve?

The Story of the New Father

  “Just love them.”

The Spiritual Discipline of Service

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. – John 13:14-15

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pre-Easter Thoughts - Rev. Robert McDowell

Dear Friends, 

Recently, I was flipping through the pages of N.T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope. It’s a book that explores the connection between the resurrection of Jesus and what this good news means for our everyday living. 

I offer the following quote from his book to help us prepare for our upcoming celebration of Easter: 

"Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of His creation; 

Every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow non-human creatures; 

And of course, every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching,every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world;

– all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make." - 1

In short, I think this quote is reminding us to keep living out our Easter faith through word and deed. We are an Easter people! 

Pastor Robert 

1 – N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, Harper-Collins, 2008, p. 208

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Never too Cold to Serve

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

No man is an island.
But what if you are the last man standing?

It has been a brutal winter.

Since the holidays,
we have seen only 4 days with temperatures above freezing.
We have set record sub-zero lows on 8 days,.

How cold has it been you ask???

It has been so cold……
that students have had days off school not because of snow,
but because of  temperature.

It has been so cold……
that my dogs have turned my pool into a canine playpen.

It has been so cold……
that I canceled a ski trip because it was too cold.

It has been so cold……
that an outdoorsman decided 
to climb Niagara Falls   (successfully)

It has been so cold……
that a sunny day in the 20’s without gusting winds
felt so balmy that it caused me to drive with my windows down.

It has been so cold……
that when I opened my freezer in the garage,
it felt warm.

It has been so cold……
that my wood pellet stove running non-stop,
has cried uncle.

It has been so cold……
that I saw a youngster riding his bike
on the local lake.

Each day I drive by a local pond
that is a popular hangout for the ducks.

Each day I shiver as I watch 
hundreds of mallards swimming in the artic water.

And each day since the holidays,
I have watched the ice edge, like a glacier
progress steadily across the surface.

Each day, less room for the ducks to swim,
more room to skate.

Finally, during the most brutal days,
the ice overtook the springhead of the pond.
All that remained was one small hole.

One small hole big enough
for only one duck to go for a dip.

And there he/she floated…..
while hundreds of the brethren sunbathed on the ice.

I wasn’t sure  if this was privilege as being monarch of the mallards,
or it was a time-out chair for a disobedient duck.

I wondered why would any creature put itself in such a position?
Especially when they were so many others that could have taken the plunge.
I got my answer that night when I was curled up on the sofa 
under a blanket in front of the fire.

That was when one of my dogs came up to the sofa
and dropped his ball onto my blanket.
And then he sat there with eyes imploring me to do the unthinkable.

The thermometer said “minus two.”
The howling wind said ”I dare you.”
My dog said “please.”

2 sweatshirts, 1 ski pants, 2 thermal gloves, 1 facemask,
2 beanie hats, 3 layers of socks and 1 space age winter jacket later,
I was on the front lawn playing fetch with the boys.

They were having a blast.
Meanwhile, I was getting blasted.

And then I saw my salvation……
The clothes dryer was running inside the house.
Between tosses, I nestled myself up against the house
where the dryer vent was releasing lifesaving heat.

It was in that moment of pitiful desperation,
that I realized I was the one duck in the water.

What makes people do extreme things for others?
The answer in a word,  love.

What do you do when you are the last man standing?

Someone needs a ride just as you are calling it a day.
Someone needs  some help to cover their monthly bills.
Someone needs a place to stay and you have an extra bedroom.
Someone needs……..and you can help.
Last man standing

I don’t completely understand the warm blooded duck floating in the icy water thing.
But I do understand being the last man standing for someone who is desperate.
And I know God understands completely.

There was nothing to be personally gained  by God in journeying to the cross,
except to love those whom He created.
And He chose to do it.

And when we choose to love by reaching out to another,
especially when it costs us,
then we become the last man standing for that person,
and we fulfill the law of Christ.

And God finds the strangest ways to warm our hearts, and our blood.
Who knew, a dryer vent!

Now would someone get that poor duck a blankie????

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need,
yet closes his heart against him,
how does God’s love abide in him.?
Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.
                                                                           I John 3:17-18

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary - March 1

Sermon (March 1) - "Different Robes of Jesus: Servant's Robe"

John 13:1-17

John focuses on three things in telling this foot washing story:

Passover - Whenever Jesus mentions a Jewish festival, he is doing so to apply that festival to Jesus himself. Passover is the greatest of all the Jewish festivals. John's connection with Passover gives us a hint that Jesus will be the passover lamb.

Jesus' approaching death - John prepares us for the approaching cross in the opening verses of this chapter.

The motive of Jesus' actions - This story reminds us of the good shepherd scripture in John, chapter 10. The good shepherd loves enough to be willing to offer his very life for the sake of others.

The foot washing helps us to see who God is. God loves us this much! The next time that Jesus' clothing will be mentioned is when he will be revealed as "the man" in front of Pilate in John 19:5. On the cross, Jesus will be naked, again showing God's vulnerability in giving everything for the sake of the world.

Peter's objection to allowing Jesus to wash his feet reminds us of when Peter objected to Jesus going to Jerusalem and to the cross.

Jesus tells us to follow his example which means that we are to serve in humble ways.

[Note: The resources used for these scripture reading commentaries are based on the Everyone series by NT Wright, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, The Wesley Study Bible, and the “Montreal-Anglican”lectionary commentaries.]