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, April 16, 2014

Upcoming Easter Sunday Scripture Commentary (April 20)


April 20 (Easter Sunday) Sermon – “Who Were the Twelve Disciples of Jesus? Matthew & John”

Colossians 3:1-4
The Apostle Paul who is most likely in prison when he writes this letter wants the new church in Colossae to know about their new life in Christ because of the good news of Easter.

V. 1 – “Raised with Christ” – This is an obvious reference to the resurrection of Jesus. This also sounds like baptism language where we are buried to sin and raised to new life in Christ. “Seated at the right hand of God.” – This is referring to Jesus who is now ascended. The Apostles’ Creed includes this phrase to remind us that Jesus is our ascended king.

V. 3 – “You have died.” This refers to a spiritual dying to what the world offers apart from Christ.

V. 4 – The revealing of Christ is referring to the second coming of Christ.

John 20:1-10
Matthew and John are the only two of the twelve disciples who have gospels attributed to them. In John's telling of the Easter story, he wants us to see what the disciples saw when they first entered the empty tomb.

V. 1 – The reference to darkness early in the morning continues John’s creative approach by connecting Easter with the creation story when there was nothing but darkness. New life eventually came from the darkness!

Mary Magdalene doesn’t appear in John’s Gospel until the scene at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. She becomes the first “apostle” since she ends up seeing the resurrected Lord and then goes and tells those that she has seen him.

At this point in the Easter story, it is still a mystery as to why the tomb is empty. Remember, we have the advantage of hindsight but we need to put ourselves in the place of those first disciples.

Peter and the other disciple (most likely the gospel writer, John) run to the tomb. The carefully placed burial cloths show that the body was not stolen but was raised according to the Jewish understanding of resurrection in which a body is transformed and is no longer subject to death.


Verses 8-9 – What did the disciples believe? This is a mysterious question. Maybe they simply believed that the body wasn’t stolen or that Mary was right about the tomb being empty. It wouldn’t be until Jesus’ appearance to them in his resurrected body that they would come to full Easter faith.


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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pastor Robert's 1960's Plastic Easter Bunny

Last year, I received a wonderful Easter gift from my brother. He found my childhood plastic Easter bunny hidden away in storage and sent it in the mail to me. He/she now sits next to my favorite bible commentaries on my book shelf throughout the year.

Now, I don't offer this picture of my plastic Easter bunny to show off or anything like that. I wanted you to meet him/her to show that the wonder of Easter never leaves us no matter how old we are. I can still picture him/her lying in my Easter basket filled with jelly beans year in and year out without fail when I was a kid.  Even in my middle age years, he/she continues to remind me of our time together so long ago 

Every year when we celebrate Easter and Jesus' victory over sin and death, we are reminded that Easter hasn't left us. It's a celebration that we can enjoy not just on Easter Sunday, but every day.

If my plastic Easter bunny could talk, he/she would say, "Attend an Easter worship service at a church near you!" If you come to the church where I serve, that would be 7:30 am, 9:00 am, and 10:30 am

So, when I got my Easter bunny in the mail last year, I popped opened his head and noticed that there are 1960's jelly beans still in his body waiting to be consumed. If you want some, hit me up. 

Happy Easter, every bunny!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Thursday & Friday (April 17 & 18) Holy Week Services @ Lancaster First UMC


A shortened drama will also be offered on both days from 12:00 pm to 12:30 pm at the church. Holy Communion will be celebrated at all of the services.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Blast from the Past - Lancaster First UMC (The Last Supper Drama)


Many of you may remember when our church participated in a Last Supper drama based on the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci several years ago when Rev. Jerry Dickey was the Associate Pastor. We will be offering something very similar this year for our Holy Week services on Thursday, April 17 and Friday, April 18 at 7:30 pm in our church sanctuary. I imagine that this year's drama will look very similar to what we see in the picture.

When I was visiting one of our shut-in members yesterday, I noticed this framed picture on the wall and I took a picture of it. Here are the names of the people who portrayed the disciples:

Far Left - Jim Hachtel
2nd from Left - Gary Lockwood
3rd from Left - Ray Finley
4th from Left - Steve Williams
5th from Left - Dave Harcum
6th from Left - Greg Nicholson
Middle (Jesus) - David Lifer
Far Right - Rev. Simeon Brandyberry
2nd from Right - Don Moore
3rd from Right - Rev. Jerry Dickey
4th from Right - Jack Boerstler
5th from Right - Howard Konwinski
6th from Right - David Cutright

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Pre-Holy Week Reflection: Remembering the Sacrifice


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.

Sometimes, you are lucky
that the answer has been right in front of you.

They had their first date in 1948.
Even though they both went to the same
very small rural high school,
they didn't know each other very well.

That changed very quickly
as they married in January of 1950.
Everyone knew them as Norman and Janelle.
I just called them Dad and Mom.

They grew up on farms separated by only 3 miles,
but in the 1930's, the distance seemed much farther than that.
If you were a child growing up during the Great Depression,
you learned to be grateful for everything you had,
and to be content in all the things you didn't have.

Those austere years shaped and molded them.
By the time they were young adults,
they had learned the meaning of hard work,
sacrifice, and commitment.

They understood that life wasn't about obtaining all the wants,
but was instead, working together to meet the needs.

Neither went to college,
but one went to cosmetology school,
 in those days a fancy word for learning to become a hairdresser.

Their marriage produced four children......
two daughters and two sons.
It wasn't easy to earn a living off of a small farm,
but like everything else, they found a way.

LIfe was about sacrifice and days filled with work from sunup to sundown,
Life was putting four children's needs before their own.

When the house wasn't big enough for four children,
Dad found time to build an additional bedroom,
sometime in between farming the land and feeding the livestock.

When one of us needed clothes,
mom went to the sewing room instead of the clothing store.

Eating out meant having a picnic under the maple tree
and going out
meant visiting family or friends with a glass of iced tea in hand.

Getting a haircut
meant going to the upstairs bathroom
otherwise known as mom's beauty shop
and taking a field trip,
meant riding the tractor with Dad.

Vacations did not include Magic Kingdoms or cruise ships
but brief trips to mountains or shore.

As the four of us grew older,
each of them took on additional work outside the home.
Dad studied to become a mold maker,
and Mom became an inspector at a plastics factory.

Schedules became more complicated
as Dad worked into the evening
and Mom worked through the night.

The 5pm supper hour was moved to midafternoon
so the family could still sit down together to eat.

Meals were home cooked meals,
with produce coming from a well cared for garden.
"Take out meals" meant "take out of the freezer,"
and yes, all were items raised on the farm.

Sports teams and school events had six days,
but Sunday was reserved for worship and family time.
Non-negotiable and wonderful.

As grandmothers became less independent,
there was never a question that they would be cared for at home.
For Mom, a good night's sleep meant a three hour morning nap on the sofa
while "toe touching" a grandmother who would quietly watch television.

For Dad, providing for the family
meant farmwork in morning and early afternoons,
and 8 hour workshifts into the night.

That's what needed to be done
if there were to be presents under the Christmas tree,
birthday gifts four times a year,
and money in the college tuition savings account.

Dad died too early.
And Mom didn't live long enough.
That's how you feel when you have parents
who have lived sacrificially for their children.

That's why it is not that difficult for me
to understand a God who
feels the same way.
Sacrificial love didn't need to be so much explained to me
because it was exampled to me daily.

I realize that everyone isn't given the same circumstances in life.
Not everyone is dealt the same cards.
We approach God differently because our life experiences are different.
And yet it is the same God,
same story of amazing grace,
amazing sacrifice,
amazing triumph.

And the choice to embrace it is ours.

Next week the church journeys through Holy Week.
It is the week where we have the opportunity
to reflect on a Divine Parent
who would choose to die for us
rather than live without us.

Many in the faith community have no problem showing up en masse
for the Sunday morning celebration.
It's easy to celebrate empty tombs, life, painted eggs, and anything covered with chocolate.

But it is the darkness of the week
that prepares us for what happens on Easter Sunday.

Where will your spirit be on Palm Sunday 
when Jesus weeps for the city as He enters on a donkey? 

Where will your spirit be on Monday when we remember Him
cleansing the temple of robbers and cursing the fig tree?

Where will your spirit be on Tuesday
as His authority is challenged by the Pharisees?
And as He passes by the now withered fig tree,
a tree that represents the withered spirituality of the people of God? 

Where will your spirit be on Thursday
as He washes His disciples feet and observes the Last Supper?
And as He goes to the garden to pray and to be arrested?

Where will your spirit be on Friday
as He is mocked, falsely put on trial, scourged, and nailed to a tree?

Where will your spirit be on Saturday
as the women prepare the spices for his burial
and guards are set at the tomb to watch for body snatchers?

Where will you be?

How I remember the vacations, the holidays,
and family celebrations.
But now that they are gone,
it is the sacrifice that I remember most.
Because without the sacrifice, there would be nothing else.

No matter the conditions in which you grew up,
this is your chance.

Take time to ponder the sacrifice,
so that your celebration on Sunday really means something.

Greater love has no one than this,
that one lays down his life for his friends.

                                                                 John 15:13

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary for April 13

[Painting by Conrad Witz, 1444]

April 13 Sermon – “Who Were the Twelve Disciples of Jesus? Peter”

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

When the crowd waved palm branches at Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, they were probably thinking of this Psalm of thanksgiving.

Verses 1-2 – It’s a call to thanksgiving.

Verse 19 – “Gates of righteousness” might refer to the actual name of a gate leading into the Temple.

Verses 21-22 – The New Testament uses this in reference to Jesus. God has allowed the King to enter the Temple.

Verses 22-29 – The people acclaim the person who enters the Temple as King.

Verse 25 – “Hosanna” means “save us!”

Matthew 14:22-33

There are several scriptural references about the disciple Peter. One of these is when Peter got out of the boat to walk on the water toward Jesus.

Famous painting of this scene – Conrad Witz in 1444. This painting and this scripture help us to envision a life of faith mixed with doubts.

We are like the disciples. We are in our boat thinking that we have everything that we need but when a storm appears, we realize that we are dependent on outside help.  Just when we get out of the boat to trust in Jesus, we start to sink. This is less a story about proving a miracle of being able to walk on water and more of a story about seeking to live out our faith in the everyday world.


Sometimes, it feels that Jesus asked us to do the impossible and we question if we can walk toward him. If we look at the waves crashing into us, we will allow doubt to sink us. The key is to keep our focus on Jesus in the midst of the storm.


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

Sermon by Rev. Robert McDowell (April 13) - "Who Were the Twelve Disciples of Jesus? Peter"

     

     We have been focusing on the twelve disciples during the Season of Lent and today we take a look at the disciple, Peter.  This is the week that we hear the story of when Peter denied Jesus three times, which is why I chose this Sunday for him.
     In The Last Supper painting of the disciples by Leonardo da Vinci, Peter is the fifth disciple from the left as you face the painting. He is between Judas Iscariot and John.
     As you can see in the painting, Peter is leaning in and he’s pointing at someone. He also has a very intense look on his face as Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him.
     You might also notice that Peter is holding a knife. This was Leonard da Vinci’s way of reminding us that soon, Peter will be cutting off the ear of Malchus who was one of the servants of the High Priest when they came to arrest Jesus in the garden following this meal.
     The symbol that is used for the disciple, Peter is the cross and keys. The keys refer to Matthew 16:19 when Jesus asked the disciples who they believed him to be. And Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus then told Peter that he will give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
     The gospel accounts tell us that Peter was from Bethsaida which was located in the northern part of the Sea of Galilee. The town doesn’t exist anymore but this is where most scholars believe it was located.
     Peter had a brother, Andrew who was also one of the twelve disciples and they were both fishermen. Andrew was the one who introduced Peter to Jesus.
     Peter’s given name was Simon and when Jesus first called Peter to follow him, he gave him the new name of “Cephas” which is the Aramaic word for “stone.” Jesus would later give him the name, “Peter” which in the Greek language means “rock.”
     The meaning of names was very important in biblical times and by giving Peter the name, “Rock” he was giving him a prominent role as one of his disciples. Whenever Peter was weak in his faith, Jesus would refer to him as Simon as a way to remind him that he wasn’t living out his new identity as a solid rock.
     Peter eventually lived in Capernaum where his mother-in-law lived. Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law very early in his ministry in their home.
      Church tradition tells us that Peter ended up dying for his faith around the same time as the Apostle Paul which was in 64 AD in Rome. Peter was crucified upside down on a cross because he didn’t believe he was worthy to die in the exact same way that Jesus did.
     Since Peter and the Apostle Paul ended up being key leaders in the early church and were crucified around the same time, they share the same date of June 29 on the church calendar. Peter was known for his ministry to people who were Jewish and the Apostle Paul was known for his ministry to people who were outside of the Jewish faith, the Gentile world.

      It is believed that Peter is buried at the site of what we know as St. Peter’s Basillica in Vatican City.  Approximately 250 years after Peter was killed for his faith, Emperor Constantine had a church built on this site.
     You might recall that this past November, Pope Francis put what is believed to be the bones of the disciple, Peter on display. These bones were discovered from an archeological dig that began in 1939. It’s interesting that these first disciples of Jesus continue to make the news even in our day and age.

     Since there is so much that can be shared about this disciple, I have chosen to summarize who Peter was and what we can learn from him by thinking about the highs and the lows of his life. One of the high moments was when he and two of the other disciples witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain.
     We are told that Jesus appeared on a mountain with two figures from the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah and he was transfigured before them. What an incredible experience that must have been for Peter!
     Now, contrast that high moment with the time when Peter was in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. Jesus had asked Peter to pray because the hour was drawing near when he would be going to the cross. When Jesus came back to check on Peter, he found him sleeping and he said to him, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?”
     Notice that Jesus called him by the name, “Simon,” instead of the new name he had given to him which was “Peter” meaning “Rock.” It was a reminder that he wasn’t living up to his new identity.
     Earlier, I had mention that high moment of when Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”  And Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  This is when Jesus gave Peter his new name, “Rock.”  Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church.”
     Now, contrast that with the scene that happens in the courtyard after Jesus has been arrested and he’s being questioned. Peter is warming himself outside by the fire and someone asks if he is one of Jesus’ disciples. And Peter denies that he knows him. When Peter hears the last cock crow, he realizes that he had denied Jesus three times in just that short span of time.
     When Peter denied Jesus those three times, I wonder if he was remembering the time when he had so boldly declared to Jesus, “You are the Messiah. The Son of the living God.” The scriptures tell us that after he denied Jesus, he went out and wept bitterly. This was probably Peter’s lowest point.
     But thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. Several days later, we find Peter back to his old trade of fishing. He’s out in the boat and he hasn’t caught anything. Just after daybreak, the risen Christ appears on the beach.
     When Jesus recognizes that it’s Jesus, he jumps into the water and swims toward the shore. This was now the third time that Jesus had appeared to the disciples after the empty tomb.
     Jesus asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” By the way, notice that Jesus uses the name, Simon instead of Peter. And Peter answers, “Yes Lord you know that I love you.” And Jesus tells him, “Feed my lambs.”
     He asks him a second time, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me?” And again, Peter answers, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” And he says, “Tend my sheep.”
     Jesus asks him a third time, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me.” All three times, Jesus uses the name, “Simon.”  How painful this must have been for Peter to be reminded that he had denied Jesus three times. For this third time, Peter answers, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.”
     Jesus doesn’t ask him the same question three times just to make Peter feel bad. Jesus is helping him to not give up and to be the disciple that Jesus has called him to be.
     Notice what Jesus tells Peter to do after each of those three questions. He tells him to feed and tend his sheep. Jesus wants Peter to know that his discipleship isn’t over. It’s just beginning. He is to help carry on the ministry that Jesus has started. And this time, the Holy Spirit will be there to help him share the good news of Christ. And that’s exactly what Peter ended up doing. He became one of the key leaders of the early church.
     These are the high and low points of the disciple Peter. They show us that even when we stumble and fall in our walk with Christ, we can always begin again. Jesus can help us overcome our past so that we can continue to live for him.
     As we conclude our focus on the disciple Peter, I have one more story that is too important not to mention. It’s the story of when Peter walked on water.

     The disciples were in a boat when a storm hit which was not uncommon to happen on the Sea of Galilee. All of the sudden, they saw somebody walking on the water toward them and they though it was a ghost. But Jesus said, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
     If you remember, it’s Peter who says to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus tells him to come. And it’s this next line that is what I’d like us to remember about Peter. It says that Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water toward Jesus.
      We tend to focus more on what happened later in this incredible story. We remember that Peter became frightened and he began to sink.  But that’s not the part of the story that I want us to remember the most.
     The most important thing that I want us to remember about the disciple Peter is that he was willing to get out of the boat. He was willing to leave the safety and security of the boat in order to follow Jesus. Even after he started to sink, Jesus was able to save him. But the important part was that he got out of the boat.
     There were eleven disciples who stayed in the boat but it was Peter who did the unthinkable and actually began walking on water. Jesus is calling each one of us to get out of the boat of our safe and secure surroundings so that we can serve him. This is what I’d like us to think about during this incredible week that we call Holy Week.  

     In what ways is God calling you to be like Peter and step out in faith?