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, February 1, 2015

Sunday Worship Preview - February 8

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

Features - 5th Sunday After Epiphany & Boy Scouts Sunday

Scripture - Isaiah 40:21-31 & Mark 1:29-39

Sermon "Look Up!"

Theme - When life hits us hard, it's easy to lose perspective and question if God is by our side. Our scripture reading from Isaiah calls for us to look up and God will renew our strength.

Sermon (February 1) by Rev Robert McDowell - "A Church for All People"

     Have you ever stopped to think about how unique the church is supposed to be? The church is meant to be a place where everyone is welcomed and where we can live out what it means to be the people of God in the world.
     I love this heart shaped picture of our congregation that we took this past September out at our Crossroads facility! Just look at how beautiful you are! Look at how you’re smiling. We’re all bunched really close together like we like each other!
     Isn’t it interesting that we didn’t divide up into political parties or favorite sports teams? We just found a spot in that heart and stood next to whoever happened to be standing next to us for that picture. We are quite the eclectic group aren’t we?

     You know, I think the same can be said for this group photo of our church taken way back in April of 1915. This year marks the 100th anniversary of this historic picture. Our church won the World’s Largest Men’s Bible Class that year. 1,316 men showed up for this picture! 1,316!
     Truth be told, our church padded the numbers quite a bit to win this contest because we had put an ad in the Lancaster paper for all of the men to come to be in this picture. Some might say that we cheated. I just think it was creative evangelism!
     As you look at this old, old photo, just think of all the different people who had gathered for this picture. Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Catholics, and maybe people with no church affiliation at all. All of these people gathered together to be in this once in a lifetime photo.
     Actually, this is one of my favorite things about the church. It is a place where people from a variety of backgrounds can set aside their differences and be the people of God.
     Evidently this idea of unity over personal differences was lost on the Corinthian Church. Their battles didn’t stem from disagreements over politics or what color the new carpet in the nursery should be. Their biggest battle was over what meat should be served at their covered dish meals.
     This was a real problem for the people of that church. The Corinthian Church was made up of people who had recently been worshipping the gods of the Roman Empire. They would have sacrificed meat to these idols on a regular basis as a symbol of their devotion to these gods.
     Now that they were Christians, they didn’t want any part of any meat that had been sacrificed to these gods. Even though they knew in their minds that their new faith in Christ had freed them to eat any type of meat, the memory of their former religion was difficult to leave behind.
     There were other people in the Corinthian Church who looked down upon these other Christians who were still struggling with eating meat that had been sacrificed to these Roman gods. They were not very patient and empathetic with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
     Paul is cautioning the Church in Corinth to not become judgmental toward each other over these types of issues. Instead, Paul encourages them to focus on loving each other just as God has loved them.
     This is why five chapters from this passage of scripture we arrive at I Corinthians which is known as the love chapter. Paul really drives his point home there when writes, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I have nothing.”
     Sometimes, it’s not about being right in an argument. It’s about seeing things from the other person’s experiences and perspective that might be very different from our own. It’s during those times, that we are to offer greater grace and understanding.
     Several years ago, I served in a church that hosted several retreats for youth called Chrysalis weekends. You might be familiar with these weekends.  They are designed to help youth experience God’s love in a very real way.
     Some of the youth who attended were from the church I was serving but many of them were from other churches.  There were also youth who had no church connection.
    The board that was overseeing this ministry at the time had a disagreement about a delicate issue. Some of the youth who attended the retreats liked to smoke. There were some people on the leadership board at the time who didn’t want to allow smoking at all, even outside of the church in a designated smoking area.
     There were others on the board who agreed that smoking was bad, but didn’t want this issue to prevent youth who wanted to smoke from coming to these weekend retreats. They were in favor of the outside designated smoking areas.
     This debate kept coming up at several of the board meetings. After a lot of discussion and prayer, it was finally decided to allow for the designated smoking areas. They erred on the side of grace because the board members kept hearing how these weekend retreats were having a life changing impact on these teenagers, many of whom had very little connection with the church.
     It’s not easy to be a church for all people. It means that we will sometimes need to rethink our rules and expectations. It means that we will need to constantly ask ourselves if we truly are a church of open hearts, open minds, and open doors.

     Maybe you have heard of Nadia Bolz-Weber who is a Lutheran Pastor in Denver, Colorado. The name of her church is “House for All Sinners and Saints.”
     Nadia has an interesting background. She is a former drug user and alcoholic.  She gets a lot of attention for her colorful tattoos, cropped hair, hipster glasses, and edgy preaching. She also has a best selling book entitled, Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint.
    Before becoming a Lutheran pastor, Nadia was a stand-up comic. She gave the eulogy for a fellow comedian which is where she felt a calling to enter the pastoral ministry. From there, she went to seminary and founded a church.
     The church consists of married couples, young families, baby boomers, and a few folks in their 70’s. It’s mostly folks who are between the ages of 22 and 42 and single. A quarter of the congregation identifies as being Lutherans while the rest are Methodists, agnostics, Reformed, Episcopalian, and which she terms the ever popular “nothing.”
     Nadia’s church is reaching people that many of the more established churches have not even attempted to reach. Her unorthodox ways provide a bridge between her church and people who have never attended any church worship service at any point in their lives.
     In addition to reaching people who have never been to church, her congregation is also strangely attracting conservative soccer moms from the Denver suburbs. Nadia writes that it’s pretty easy to look around on any given Sunday and think, “I’m unclear what all these people have in common.”
     Now, before you get any ideas, Pastor Cheryl and I have no plans on getting any tattoos. We feel like we are already hipster type pastors.
     Tattoos or not tattoos, we want to be a church for all people. We want to be a church of opens minds, open hearts, and open doors. We want people to feel welcomed in this place and to not feel judged or looked down upon. Like Paul writes, we want to be a church that builds people up with love.
     Every time we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we are reminded that we are family.  Rich and Poor. Young and Old. Married and Single. Gay and Straight. Liberal and Conservative. Long time member and First Time Guest.

     All are welcome in this place. All are welcome in this place. Thanks to Jesus Christ, we can be a church for all people.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dave's Deep Thoughts - For the Sake of the Green Bean Casserole, Love One Another!

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.

We can have differing opinions on many things,
but can’t we at least unite over the green bean casserole?

I have a very loving and supportive family.
That doesn’t mean we agree on everything.
There are certain subjects  that are better left alone…..
religion and politics to name a couple.
Football makes it a trifecta

If any of those subjects come up when gathered at table,
we all agree that we just aren’t going to agree……

We are made up of liberals, conservatives, and moderates,
we have Protestants, Catholics, and Non-Demominationalists,
and we have those that root for the right team,
and those that root for the wrong team,
and  (gasp!) those who could care less about football,
all waiting for the food to be passed.

Anyone who knows me,
knows that I am passionate about
music, faith, and football.

As to football………..
I have license plates,
mugs, ketchup & mustard dispensers,
blankets, shirts, hoodies,
coats, socks, bowling ball cases,
framed tickets from notable games, 
picnic paper ware, tablecloths,
souvenir photo albums, playing cards,
lawn flags, hats, soda cans,
kites, Frisbees, footballs,
Christmas ornaments, dog collars,
seat cushions, golf balls,
mouse pads, beanies, and jerseys,
to name a few things
that all proclaim my loyalty to the best football organization
ever assembled in the history of mankind.

The problem is holidays.

When I host family,
I do my best not to turn the house into a pep rally,
but I don’t hide my light under a bushel either.

I don’t put away things that are ordinarily on display.
But neither do I offer a family member who roots for the wrong team,
condiment dispensers of the right team 
when they are dressing their hamburger.

I like to think of myself as sensitive and compassionate
towards those who are on the wayward path toward football calamity.

But sometimes right and wrong are on inevitable paths to collide,
and it is the innocent that pay the price.
Such was family Christmas at my home in 2012.

It is in the kitchen,
where there is usually the greatest traffic
as the meal is being prepared.

At the oven
casseroles cross paths with side dishes.
It is also where football good meets football evil
in a culinary showdown of apocalyptic proportions.

In the frantic scramble that occurs 
minutes before the turkey dinner reaches the dinner table,
potatoes are being mashed,
gravy is being wisped,
turkey is being sliced,
and side dishes are in transit  to and from the oven.

As my sister of the wrong football team 
attempted to put a dish into the oven,
the cookie sheet upon which sat the 
beloved green bean casserole shifted
and began to slide.

In a moment of panic,
my sister cried out,
Quick, I need some potholders

As I looked around me,
all I could find were a pair of oven mitts,
that would be oven mitts of the greatest team on earth.

I quickly handed the mitts to my wayward sister.
“I’m not putting those things on!” she cried.

And in that moment where good met evil,
the green bean casserole,
the most beloved of all holiday casseroles,
slid off the cookie sheet and onto the floor.

As the dog was gratefully scarfing the onion rings,
and with the steam of the casserole arising from the floor,
our eyes met and in a moment of new found self-awareness.
We might as well have burst into singing
the finale of West Side Story…….

“Somewhere, we’ll find a new way of living,
we’ll find a way of forgiving.
Somehow, someday, somewhere……..” *

Sometimes in our disagreeing,
we forget that we have much more in agreement.

All communities have times of disagreement.
The church is no exception, it’s been true for 2,000 years,
and it will be true for however long till Christ comes again.

It isn’t disagreements that weaken the church,
it is how we respond to them that ultimately
build or erodes community.

Paul describes who we are to be during such times.

“Love is patient, love is kind,
and is not jealous;
love does not brag, and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
it does not take into account a wrong suffered
it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
Love bears all things hopes all things
endures all things.”    I Cor 13:4-7

Insert one’s name wherever the word love or it is found in the scripture,
and one begins to see how well one does during times of disagreement.

Cultivating a proper heart attitude
is the start of living through disagreements.

It recognizes that no one has a corner on the truth,
that what we have to lose, is worth far more than what we seek to gain,
that even those not involved in the disagreement may be affected by our pride.

Continuing to love especially when it is not easy,
is at the core of our faith.
It is what brings us to the altar.
It is what brings us to  the communion railing,
It is what brings us home.

And when you are home,
it brings you to the table 
where there is a big platter of love,
and Lord willing,
the green bean casserole  as well.

Now, enjoy the feast,
and the game too!


Monday, January 26, 2015

Sermon (January 25) by Rev. Cheryl Foulk - "Following Jesus"

A man told about his life: “ I made a commitment to follow Christ when I was fifteen. Time has passed and I am a grandfather now and I continue to learn how to live as his follower. One crucial decision has led to thousands of others.”

Jesus says “Follow me”  and the adventure begins!

. In our Gospel story from Mark, we only get the plain  facts. Jesus invited some  fishermen of the Sea of Galilee, Simon , Andrew, James and John  to come and follow him, to be his disciples. They left their boats , their  routines, their families, and accepted the invitation. They spent the rest of their lives trying to be faithful to that initial response.  When we say “Yes”  to God's invitation, the path that we will take is not predictable.

A  pastor  was preaching on this same passage at a university chapel. He was emphasizing that when Jesus calls, a definite response is needed. Afterward , a young woman came up and told him, that while listening to his words, she had decided to drop out of school and go and work with migrant farm workers.

The pastor was alarmed by her response, and immediately tried to persuade her to not make such a drastic decision. She needed to finish her schooling, and besides,she  could still serve God in her chosen major. (  He had to be thinking  of what he would say to her  upset parents...)  Her decision made him uneasy.

This student  was firmly convinced that she was doing what she should. She was imitating Simon and Andrew by  leaving her former life behind. Like many others, her decision to follow will affect her family and life plans.

Persons have felt  called to extraordinary life changes as followers of Christ:
they have left the familiar and gone to live in another country in mission; they have chosen to make their homes in the inner city;  they have sold their  possessions, and adapted a much simpler lifestyle; they have  run for office;  they have changed careers; they have spoken out and worked  for the dignity of  others; they have put themselves in danger, gone against the norm, and gotten in trouble.

For most of us , we are disciples who attempt to live faithful lives right where we are. We don't have faith stories of  crossing deserts, or being arrested, or leaving all we have behind.

We try to follow Jesus  in our weekly routine.

 A question that arises from this passage has stayed with me: “How is my life different because I am choosing  to follow Jesus?”

  How would you answer?

Thousands of people have tried to follow Christ in a great variety of ways.
How do we know that we are on the right track, that we are where we should be?

 Trevor Hudson has written a book about discipleship where he identifies  some common characteristics of all those who  have been Christ followers.                               

1. First common point : Jesus is the focus of their lives, the ultimate point of reference. Followers want to learn of him and love him, study his words, listen for  his leading. 
It has been said that what you love will affect everything- what fills up your calendar- whom you know- what breaks your heart- what makes your day.  For his followers, Jesus is the focus of their love.

Some years ago I left a meeting in the Dayton area, (before GPS, Google maps- )  and I thought I knew how to get back to the Interstate to travel to Lima. As I drove, I realized that I had made some wrong turns and I was lost. To compound the situation,  I noticed another car had followed me from the church parking lot, and was right behind me. They were following me because they thought that I knew the way!    I had no clue where I was going. I finally had to turn around and retrace my route . At that point, the other car gave up on me!  I hope that they found their way home...

It is important who guides our way.

If we  are endeavoring to be his disciples , then our  daily decisions and actions   need to reflect our faith in Christ.

 In your life, whom  or what are you following and where is it  taking you? 
2. Second common characteristic:  For followers of Christ, what they value most in this world is people.  Jesus points out that connection in the Gospel story: if you follow him , you will become fishers of people. Your passion will be the welfare of others. Every human being becomes valuable.  You care about and interact with all kinds of people like Jesus did.

Desmond Tutu,  retired Anglican priest and leader  in  South Africa, shares that a spiritual turning  towards Christ  happened  in the 1940's when he was 9 years old. He lived in one of the segregated  townships  and his mother worked as a maid.
One day he and his mother were walking down the street and the local priest passed by them. The pastor was a white face among a sea of black faces; as he met them, he didn't turn away, but  tipped his hat in greeting.  Desmond Tutu was startled by this show of respect, and he thought to himself  as a child: there must be something to this Christian faith! 

Followers take time to listen and see others; to respond to their situations with compassion.  Disciples react to their neighbors as Christ might .

3.Third  common note among Christ followers: When we follow Jesus, we want to  be changed  on the inside.  We want to be  transformed “into what we are not yet but are called by God to be.”  ( Trevor Hudson)  We want to be reshaped so that our hearts become more like  the heart of Christ.

Followers want to be honest about their lives. They know how imperfect  they are and want to be  cleaned up, restored  thru God's power every day.

No matter how many times you have felt that you have failed at following;  or you didn't quite understand what it meant to follow in the first place.
No matter if you have felt that you have disappointed God- the call from Christ  will continue for your entire life: follow me.  Every day we have another chance to leave  the fishing boat and  follow!

Bishop Reuben Job recently died at the age of 86. From the farmlands of North Dakota, he has been a UM pastor, a Bishop,  the editor of the Upper Room, and an author of several great books.  In his writings, he always attempted to help other followers  to live out their calling in simple and honest ways.

Just a few years ago he said:

 “While I retired from an appointed ministry many years ago, the call of God I sensed 65 years ago continues today. "I now believe that God calls and sends everyone who responds to the call of Jesus to ‘Follow me.’

Some may sense a call to a specific task or vocation. However, the highest calling anyone will ever receive comes first, ‘Follow me.’

When we say yes to that call we offer ourselves to God as completely as we are able  and God accepts and blesses the offering we make in remarkable ways.”

Wherever we are and who ever we are, God blesses our lives as we
focus on Christ, love other people, and allow our hearts to be changed.

The invitation never goes away.

Jesus words of love seek to claim our hearts today: Come and follow.