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

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Worship Preview - April 19

Sunday, April 19 - (9:00 am & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, April 22  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - 3rd Sunday of Easter

Scripture - Acts 3:12-19 & Luke 24:36b-48

Sermon "Use Your Words"

Theme - Following his resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples to be his witnesses. What does it mean to be a witness of the good news of Easter?

Sermon (April 19) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Use Your Words"

    Sometimes Penny has to remind me that she’s not a mind reader so she’ll say to me, “Use your words.”
     I’m probably not the only person who needs to be reminded of this from time to time. It’s funny how we often think that people know exactly what we’re thinking about in any given moment.
     We assume the other person knows our schedule for the day or that we no longer like to eat spicy foods. As much as we’d like to believe that the other person should be able to read our mind, putting our thoughts into words is a much better way to go.
     Many of you are probably aware that Calvin Coolidge, our nation’s thirtieth President, was a man of few words. The story is told of a time when an important hostess demanded that Coolidge speak to her.
     She said, “You must talk to me, Mr. Coolidge. I made a bet today that I would be able to get more than two words out of you.”
     Coolidge looked at this woman, paused for a few seconds and said, “You lose.”
     Sometimes, I think that there are many of us who are Calvin Coolidge Christians. We have a faith story to share, but we don’t use our words.
     Following his resurrection, Jesus encouraged the disciples to use their words. He reminded them about the words he shared with them while he was with them during his ministry.  These were words that told the story of God’s love for the world. These were words that offered hope and good news. These were words that offered a peace that passes all understanding.
     Jesus was telling the disciples to use their words. Words are vitally important. They tell a story about our relationship with God. Why is it that we often get tongue tied when it comes to sharing our faith with others?
     There are probably a number of reasons for our reluctance. Maybe it’s because we live in a culture where religion is viewed as a private matter and something that shouldn’t be imposed on others. Most of us don’t want to come across as a religious fanatic.
     But I don’t think we have to worry so much about that. Let me put it this way. If you’re concerned that you might be a religious fanatic, trust me on this, you don’t have anything to worry about. Religious fanatics are not the least concerned about how they’re coming across. They rarely take the hint that they’re being obnoxious.
     Probably what keeps most of us tongue-tied is that we grossly underestimate what a difference our personal faith story can make in someone’s life. We think that faith sharing is only for people with who have really dramatic stories to share.
     For those of you who do not have a dramatic conversion story to share, welcome to the club. Mine is not that eventful either. I know that most of you think that I was once in a motorcycle gang and carried a switchblade and was always getting into trouble with the law before I found the Lord, but here’s the real scoop.
     I was a boy scout. I never got a detention. And I attended church every week. If my faith story was made into a movie, it would be in the Disney section with a “G” rating.
     My faith story doesn’t include any lightening or walk on the wild side. It all began when I was just a few months old and I was baptized in a Methodist Church located in a small town of south central Pennsylvania.
     Throughout my life, I was surrounded by God’s grace at every turn. My home church surrounded me with a community of love and support. My family, pastors, youth leaders, Sunday School teachers, all provided me with a spiritual foundation from the very beginning of my life.
     Whenever I had doubts or strayed from my faith, people in the church were there to listen, provide guidance, and offer encouragement.  The church also invited me to serve in a variety of ministries and step out of my comfort zone.
     Yeah, this is my faith story, kind of boring, I know. I wish it involved more drama, but it is what it is. What I like about my faith story is that it shows how incredible God’s grace is. God’s grace was present in my life even before I was aware of it. Asking me when I first knew that God loved me would be like asking someone who grew up with loving parents, “When did you first realize that your parents loved you?”
     God was always reaching out to me through a loving church family. For as long as I can remember, I knew that God loved me and sent Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. I can remember key times in my life when I renewed my faith like the time I went on a summer youth retreat and the time when I was struggling with what direction to go in my life when I was in college.
     Our faith stories are not all the same. Some are more dramatic than others. When Jesus tells the disciples that they are to be his witnesses, he’s telling them that sharing their faith with others is important.
     I wonder if the disciples had doubts that their stories would have an impact on the people around them. Fast forward two thousand years. We wouldn’t be worshipping here today if they would have remained silent. They used their words and shared their faith with those around them. They didn’t underestimate the power of their words.
     So I’m a living example that you don’t have to have a dramatic conversion story to be an effective witness. Any story that has God at the center of it will do.
     Since using our words is important, our church has been encouraging people to participate in a small group where we can share our faith with each other on a regular basis. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism liked to ask the early Methodists, “How is it with your soul?”
     What a great question! “How is it with your soul?” When we respond to that question, we are living out Jesus’ invitation to be his witnesses.
     We are encouraging people who are in small groups to answer that question by responding to three other questions every time they meet. Those three questions are:
·       What was your closest to Christ moment?
·       When did you deny Christ?
·       When were you the heartbeat of Christ?
     Let’s look at these questions one at a time. The first question is “What was your closest to Christ moment?” This refers to a time since your small group last met which might be weekly, every other week, or once a month.
     Your closest to Christ moment is when you felt particularly close to Christ. As you think back since you last met, you will probably think of a number of times you felt close to Christ. Share that time with the group.
     The second question is “When did you deny Christ?” This isn’t meant to be a Debbie Downer type of question. OK, maybe it is. But it can be a freeing experience to be able to confess to others a time when you fell short in living out your faith. Don’t worry about being embarrassed by answering that question. All of us fall short from time to time in our walk with Christ. The whole point about being in a small group is that we can receive encouragement from each other.
     And the third question we want each small group to ask is “When were you the heartbeat of Christ?” This refers to when did you serve someone in the name of Christ?
     And again, our individual responses to these questions do not need to be overly dramatic. They can be very simple and ordinary, but also very meaningful.
     It just so happens that we have a small group in our church who have decided to have their weekly meeting right now in the middle of the sermon. They are going to help us see how a small group might answer each of these questions.
    Let’s ease drop on their meeting.

[Small Group Simulation]
     So how easy it can be to be witnesses. By answering these three questions on a regular basis, it helps us to then share our faith with those outside our small group as well.
     It’s no coincidence that today is what we are calling our small group emphasis Sunday. You’ll notice in your bulletin that there is information on how to become part of a small group or to start your own small group.
     Jesus tells us to use our words and to be his witnesses. It doesn’t matter if we have a dramatic story to tell or if you’re more like me and have a non-flashy but meaningful story to share with others.
     The point is that you and I have a faith story to share, a faith story that has God at the center of it.

     Today is about using your words. Next Sunday, our focus will be on using our hands. Go and be a witness!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Driving Miss Daisy

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.

I have heard of driving Miss Daisy,
but  driving Miss Crazy???

A friend’s mother was moving
and needed help loading and transporting
her furniture and household supplies.

Two things concerned me immediately……..
it was raining, 
and with the exception of two other people,
everyone else involved with the move was substantially older.

I inwardly accepted that I was going to get soaked,
and when it came time to
move a sofa up a flight of steps,
it was going to be me, and not Mary, providing the muscle.

Mary was a friend of the woman we were helping..
She had brought her Suburban van to help transport goods.
When it came time to make the drive to the new home,
she insisted that I drive her vehicle.
She didn’t feel comfortable driving  the van when it was loaded.

I was going to have 40 minutes of uninterrupted time to get to know Mary.

I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers,” she said.
Oh” I said.

“You’ve never heard that before?”
That’s from Arsenic and Old Lace.
I can’t believe that you’ve never heard that before. Fiddle-dee-dee
What a great picture!”

I’m not sure if it was the reference to a movie that was 70 years old,
the “fiddle-dee-dee,” 
or that she referred to a movie as a “picture” that concerned me the most about the next 40 minutes.

“Now turn the wipers on” she said as I started the van.
I suppose she thought the downpour wasn’t enough of a clue for me.

“Don’t lose sight of the moving truck.
We don’t want to get  lost.
I am not familiar with these parts.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I put the address into my smart phone.
It will tell us how to get there  if we get separated,” I said.

“I don’t like those things. Too complicated.
I liked the days when you called the operator,
and she would help you with what you needed.”

The better part of restraint suggested that
explaining Siri to Mary might not be wise.

Are the lights on? Make sure the lights are on.
Such a dreary day.”

“Would you like some coffee?”
she said as she pulled out a thermos.
“I percolated it this morning.”

I think that was the first time I had heard about percolated coffee
since my grandmother died………….twenty years ago.

Turn right onto Route 851 West”  Siri said.

When I was your age, we had party lines,” Mary said.
None of this talking to strange people.”

Are the lights on?”

At the risking of talking to a strange person,
I quickly said, “yes, Mary.”

During the next 35 minutes,
I learned that vacuum cleaners cost $39 when Mary was a child
(as low as $34 if one used green stamps),
that Saturday evenings were reserved for radio shows,
that Gary Cooper was the best thing since sliced bread,
that Elvis started this country on the road to hell,
and the worst thing about World War II is that woman joined the workforce.

There are many things that cause us to view life differently……
Gender, age, culture to name a few.
During those 40 minutes, I learned a lot about how Mary 
saw the world, saw life, and saw faith.

As Christians, we have a great challenge
in sharing the gospel with a world 
that increasingly sees and hears things differently than we do.
Does that change the story? 
No, but it might change how we express it.
Our method has been changing for the past 2000 years.
The New Testament epistles are filled with episodes where
the faith had to be defined in new ways as it encountered a diverse and reluctant world.

When in Athens, Paul spread the news of the gospel
by starting with what the Athenians understood.
Eventually, the unknown God became known.  (Acts 17:16-34)

In England, John Wesley spread the gospel in a way the church could not,
to the poor and marginalized,
to those who had every reason to feel God had passed them by.

In  21st century America,
we live in a time of post-Christendom,
where we no longer can claim that our nation is Christian,
and that many other religions dwell in our midst,
as do less defined movements of “spirituality.”

So what are we to do?
What others have done before us.
Find what is common and start from there.
Eventually, that takes us to what is distinctively different about us….

that the tomb was empty.

Our God holds full authority over death
and promises that resurrection is not only for God, but also for His children.

As the day of Easter fades into last month’s calendar,
let the spirit of Easter live with each of us daily
so that we can share it with a world who has yet to believe
that a tomb marked “occupied”
can indeed be empty.

Mary thanked me for driving.
As she got out of the van she said,
You are one good egg.”

I looked at her and said,
Frankly my dear, I don’t give a @%#!”        *

She smiled and said,
Now make sure those lights are off!”
I think we finally connected.

“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone,
I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach
a wide range of people:
religious, non-religious, meticulous moralists,
loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized-whoever.
I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ-
but I encountered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.
I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life.
                                                             I Corinthians 9:19-22   (The Message)

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary - April 19

Sermon (April 19) - "Use Your Words"

Acts 3:12-19

The reason that Peter and John were able to heal a man wasn't because of them but because of Christ's healing power working through them!

V. 13 - Why does Peter refer to God as the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? This comes from the story of Moses and God in Exodus chapter 3.  Peter is saying that just as God used Moses to free their people from slavery centuries earlier, God is rescuing his people in the present as well!

Peter also lists some important aspects about who Jesus is in this passage:
1. Jesus is an innocent servant. He was put to death for our sake even though he was innocent.
2. Jesus is the Holy One. This title is used throughout Acts. See 4:27, 30; 7:52; & 22:14. Jesus was totally God-centered throughout his ministry.
3. Jesus is the Prince of Life. The word "prince" means "initiator." Jesus is the one who initiates life and this was most evident through his victory over sin and death on the cross.

Peter emphasizes that new life is possible through the name of Jesus. Jesus makes it possible for us to be made whole.

Luke 24:36b-48

This is a passage to help us know the mission of the church.  We are to share the good news of Jesus' resurrection with the world.

What does this mean? Repentance & forgiveness - This is what leads to wholeness and love. This is what can literally change the world! This doesn't just happen at an individual level but at a larger level like in the area of race relations and other national and global injustices.

V. 48 - We are witnesses. Being a witness means sharing our faith. How has God been active in your life? Where has God provided forgiveness, healing, and wholeness? Share these holy encounters with others.

V. 53 - Notice that the Gospel of Luke begins (1:8) and ends in the Temple! Creative!

[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.]

Centennial Anniversary of World's Largest Men's Bible Class (Lancaster First UMC) - April 15, 1915

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sermon (April 12) by Rev. Cheryl Foulk - "Come and Have Breakfast"

We have had a few days of sunshine , and so I have been thinking about summer vacations.

As a child, my family went on a yearly vacation,  and that was to go camping (with many extended family members)  at a state park called Carolina Hemlocks. Located on the Toe River in North Carolina, the park  was a paradise for us kids : beautiful woods, rushing river water, and numerous cousins with which to play.  Some folks slept in campers or in their cars and some of us slept in a gigantic tent that my uncle had made.  Early morning mountain air was cool , and it was difficult to get out of your sleeping bag . However there was one thing that drew us out:  the smell of breakfast being cooked on an open fire! Scrambled eggs, bacon, coffee perking in a kettle, homemade biscuits  brought from home  heating in a pan.
Eating breakfast together  was a delight.

Our Gospel story describes an early  morning breakfast by the water. But the ones who come to eat are not campers on a weekend vacation.  They are Jesus' friends who have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. They are tired, and frustrated and  uncertain. They have come back home to  Galilee  and are trying to live out each day without Jesus. What are they suppose to do? What will the future  be like for them?

There have been stories of Jesus appearance after his death. Mary Magdalene saw him at the tomb. Twice he  appeared to the disciples when they were gathered in  a locked room in Jerusalem. Thomas saw the wound in his side.  A couple on the road to Emmaus  had supper with Jesus before he vanished. When the risen Christ has appeared, he is not easily recognized. He comes and goes; his presence can be surprising..


    The disciples are back fishing on the lake that they know, the lake where Jesus called them to follow.                                             

On this Galilean morning, the tired disciples in the boat see a man on the shore who asks them “how is the fishing going “and then he suggests that they fish in a different spot. The outcome of fish caught then is tremendous and that is when it is realized by the crew that it is Jesus who is speaking to them. When they all come ashore, they come with a boatload of fish and  incredulous hearts. Could this really be Jesus back in Galilee?

Jesus invites them to come and eat; breakfast is ready. Fish is hot, bread is warm. Around the fire, they eat and listen and  relish  being with their rabbi once again. More than the enjoyment of a good breakfast is happening.

  Jesus is going to replenish their hope.

At this meal, the disciples will be restored. In the past, they had all abandoned Jesus. After Jesus was arrested,  Peter had denied him publicly, swearing he had never met the man.    The disciples had certainly burnt bridges behind them.

Jesus as the host offers them healing hospitality. They are forgiven, they can sit down and eat a meal with him again. Their relationship with him and with each other is not over.

The good news of Easter offers us a new way of regarding one another. We don't have to dwell on others' mistakes or our own shortcomings.
We can begin to see that we are not condemned but loved.

Jesus feeds them, forgives them, and calls them to go and do likewise.  Jesus speaks directly with Peter, and  redirects him  from failure to  a new focus: the feeding of God's sheep.

God's people need care; they need nourishment for their bodies and their spirits. I use to think that  Jesus' words of  “ feed my sheep” were basically about spiritual matters. I now think we can  also interpret Jesus' words to mean actually feeding people.  Several  of our ministries here at FUMC involve food and there is a reason for that. Jesus, in his ministry, cared about those who were hungry.  Our Community lunches at noon give folks a warm meal, and a table of friends.  The Fellowship dinners on Wednesday nights offer a place where  folks can get to know one another as they enjoy their supper.  The  bags of fruit and cookies given out on Second Saturday are reminders to our older friends that they are not forgotten and still have a place at our table.

The meals served so lovingly after funerals are  actions of compassion for those who are grieving. Many of you have also worked to end hunger  through community endeavors . My grateful thanks to all of you who are part of these ministries. God's sheep are being fed.
If you have donated  food to a pantry,  if you have shared  soup with a neighbor, if you have provided a sandwich and a listening ear,  needs are being met.

The person who coordinates the food pantry for eastern Licking County is named Lil. For years, she has diligently worked with Central Ohio Food Bank and with people who come seeking help at the pantry. She has a great dedication to giving them hope.  She willingly shares that her past led her to this ministry;  growing up she was often hungry. She understands what they feel and that  needs  go beyond a bag of groceries.

Where might we find the presence of the risen Lord?

Peter Miano, a UM pastor, has said that we will recognize the  Lord “wherever a helping hand finds the hurting heart”.

Today  we share in Communion. Christ invites us once more to come and belong, to  join together for his meal.  Like the disciples by the lake,  we come needing forgiveness,and needing to be restored.

We  come with failings and  with doubts, with differences of opinion and faith, and God saves  a seat  for each of us at the table.  Christ feeds us and then sends us out in his name to feed others.

Because we know how empty our  hearts can be, how awful it feels to mess up, how we have yearned for  different outcomes,  and then how we have been filled and made new by  God's love, we want to share ,in may ways, that love with  somebody else.

When Jesus  breaks the bread, there is always plenty to share., more than enough for just you and me.  Baskets of left overs.

John sang this morning about us, the body of Christ- how beautiful  the hands are that reach out to others: our hands that  are a reflection of  Christ's hands.

Jesus' instruction to Peter by the lake was simple and one that all of us can respond to.  Jesus said  “Do you love?  Feed my lambs.”

There are hungers of the heart and hunger for food in our community, in our world.   How can you help feed God's sheep?