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, January 31, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - February 7

February 7 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, February 10 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - “Cross Training - Soul"

Features - 5th Sunday After Epiphany

Scripture - Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138; I Corinthians 15:1-11; & Luke 5:1-11

Theme - We conclude our “Cross Training” sermon series by giving thought to what it means to care for our “soul.” John Wesley, the founder of Methodism would often ask those early Methodists, “How is it with your soul?” Together, we will look at four key areas of cross training for our souls.
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Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 3rd Sermon - "Faith, Films, & Fiction - 'August Rush'"






Dave's Deep Thoughts


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.

The old joke is
I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.

Well last week,
I went to a hockey game
and a circus broke out.

If you have never been to a hockey game,
it is somewhat akin to a meeting of some secret society.
Unlike football, baseball, or basketball,
hockey is a subcultural gathering of people
that in any other setting,
might be subject by the police to a breathalyzer test or search warrant.

Don't get me wrong.....
I have nothing against hockey fans,
after all,
I am a once a year member of the club.

It started with the hockey horn.
You know what I mean......

Those three foot plastic horns,
found in the toy section
of any below grade store.
Grown men buy them for $2.95.
(Mine is gold)

The horn appears to incite grown men to
return to their Viking roots,
as they sound the battle cry before, during, and after the game.

Goal scored by the home team......sound the horn
Great defensive play by the goalie.....blow the horn
Fight breaks out (either on the ice or in the stands).....sound the horn
Buy nachos at concessions.......blow the horn

The bellowing sound emitted from this piece of plastic
only comes in three sizes: loud, louder & loudest.
The Vikings, which were scattered throughout the arena,
were well received and applauded for their efforts.....
except for the old lady
who was sitting directly in front of me.
It wasn't until the end of the game
that I grasped the body language of what
her hands covering her ears meant.

The old lady sitting next to her,
(who was knitting)
didn't appear to like it either
Who knits at a hockey game???

I knew things were getting pretty crazy
when during the first break,
they brought a gigantic hot dog gun out onto the ice
and preceded to shoot what appeared to be hot dogs
into the crowd.
(even Vikings need to eat)
What was disappointing was that they didn't launch any condiments .....

If you think the hockey game was crazy,
the restrooms weren't much better.

It was there that I met alien Elvis.
You know who I mean.
He has the signature Elvis hair
but also has antennae coming out of his head.
He also wears a cape over his hockey jersey.

Men have a rule in restrooms...
Don't talk....ever.
Even Vikings abide by this rule.
As much as I have wanted to talk all my life to alien Elvis,
I abided by the code of silence, and exited the restroom

It was out at the concessions
that I ran into ANOTHER alien Elvis.
Much like discovering two Santa Clauses
at neighboring department stores,
I knew that I had been had.

That was, until the concessions alien Elvis
explained that he had an evil twin.
He assured me, as he munched on his el grande nachos,
that he was the good alien Elvis.

Going to a hockey game
can make you feel like an alien, an outsider.
After all, who normally cheers for fights to erupt?
Who normally walks around blowing on a cheap plastic horn?

The apostle Paul said that if we are walking in the light of Christ,
then our response to the world is that we feel like aliens,
like we don't belong here.
That there is another world much better suited
to those who are arrayed in the light of Christ.

Much like alien Elvis was caped,
so we are caped in Christ.
And yes, we appear as strange and peculiar to a world
that lives wearing the cape of another.

If you feel right at home in this world,
like you belong here,
you might ask yourself,
whose cape am I wearing?

By the way,
both alien Elvises made the jumbo-tron.

And yes, the home team won, 8-3.
My Viking lips were dead by the end of the game.

So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens,
but you are fellow citizens with the saints,
and are of God's household.

Ephesians 2:19
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Best Sermon Ever Preached?


John Chrysostom, (4th & 5th Centuries) was a towering leader in the church of his day. One of the best preachers to have ever lived, he gave what some argue as the best sermon ever preached, his Easter sermon. It's always good to be at your best on the most important day of the church year!

It is said of him that those who gathered to hear him preach ran the risk of being pick pocketed because they would be mesmerized by his powerful and articulate preaching.
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Today, the church calendar recognizes John Chrysostom. Enjoy reading the best sermon ever preached. And even more importantly, allow the good news of the Easter message to fill your life and overflow into the the people you see today.

Easter Sermon by John Chrysostom

Christ is Risen!

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival. If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord. If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!

"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?"

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.

To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.
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Monday, January 25, 2010

A Week of "Cross Training" - Additional Reflections on the Mind & Christian Discipleship

Yesterday, at both our morning worship services and the evening seminar, legendary basketball player, Jerry Lucas, reminded us that the key to learning is to simply use a gift that God has already given us, the gift of being able to use tangible mental images to help us remember things.

Using images as a tool for learning and remembering information is why I'm glad that most of the bible is in a narrative (story) form. Think of how many times Jesus used stories, parables, numerical associations, or simply pointed to everyday objects to convey spiritual truths.

A lost coin, a farmer sowing seeds, a loaf of bread, a wasteful son and a welcoming father, lilies of the field, a house built on sand, a garbage dump, a widow pleading with a judge, a father giving his son a snake, stars falling from the sky, a stone rolled from a tomb, a towel and basin, a banquet, twelve disciples/twelve tribes of Israel, keys, a camel fitting through the eye of a needle, etc.

In a visually oriented ancient world context, the bible uses the medium of pictures/stories to communicate the story of God's love for the world.

Periodically, I'll hear someone say that they wish the bible was more straightforward, meaning that instead of stories and word pictures, that it would read more like an encyclopedia. While encyclopedias are helpful resources for further research and study, the use of stories and words pictures are more reflective of our everyday world.

The church has continued the use of this biblical medium in helping Christians to grow in their faith through the use of symbols, stained glass windows (especially during eras of high illiteracy,) art, video, and drama.

As you read the scriptures this week, keep in mind the symbols, word pictures, and stories that can help you remember the spiritual truth God is conveying.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - January 31

January 31 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, February 3 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - “Cross Training - Body"

Features - 4th Sunday After Epiphany

Scripture - I Corinthians 6:19-20 & Matthew 15:10-20

Theme - As we continue our three-part sermon series on the theme, “Cross Training - Mind, Body, & Soul” our focus moves to a biblical perspective of what it means to take care of our bodies.
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 21 - A Thankful Day

Today would have been my parents' 60th wedding anniversary. Every January 21st, I'm particularly thankful that God blessed me with two wonderful parents.

After mom and dad arrived home from their honeymoon in 1950, they had to decide on which church to begin attending as husband and wife. My mom was Presbyterian and my dad was Methodist.

My mom, thinking that dad would stick with my mom's church (after all, that's where they were married) surprised her by saying, "Well of course, we'll be going to my church from now on." (See picture.) And so they did. And the two of them raised four little Methodists, I being the last of the litter.

Maybe this is why I'm one of the few people who don't mind meetings (a Methodist speciality!) and I have a fondness for home cooked casseroles. But even beyond my ingrained Methodist quirkiness, I'm most thankful that mom and dad raised me in a church that helped me to grow in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Happy anniversary, mom and dad! January 21 - A thankful day.

In loving memory of Norman George McDowell; November 7, 1928 to June 1, 1989


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dave's Deep Thoughts


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.

The question always is

So what did you do on your vacation?

One can usually be expected to be peppered
with the question for a week upon return to work.

Did you go skiing?
or
Did you go to California to visit friends?
or
Did you have a relaxing week?

no......No........NO!

No, not me.
I chose to do something far more exotic ....

like DESTROY MY HOME.

I am at the beginning of a large home renovation
which will continue through the year.
The last days of the holiday season
and then the first week of the new year
were 10 days that became my launching pad
for this project.

The addition includes a new kitchen and dining room
so the old ones had to go.

Let me say that there is nothing like
spending an hour of your vacation
collating spices.

Will I need my whole cloves during the next twelve months?
How about nutmeg?
Cinnamon? Oh yes, you can never have
enough cinnamon in your life....

And then there's the utensils.

A tear came to my eye as I boxed up my wisp....
I can't even talk about saying goodbye to my spatula.

You know your house is under construction
when you reach for the rake instead of the vacuum
to clean your carpets.

You know your house is under construction
when you paint your new cabinet on your old living room carpet,
and you never even think about using a drop cloth.

You know your house is under construction
when you reach into the refrigerator for a soda.....
while sitting on your sofa.

You know your house is under construction
when you write your grocery list....
on the wall.

You know your house is under construction
when the Jehovah's Witnesses
knock on your door
and then run when you open it.

Challenging times to say the least.
But then I turn on the television
and see the misery and devastation in Haiti.

Then I know,
I am blessed to own a home
I am blessed to have running water.
I am blessed with a comfortable place
to lay my head at night.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to
improve my dwelling.

I am blessed.

I am so blessed.

And so are you.

My home may look like a disaster to those who visit,
but it looks like a palace
when compared with the homes in Haiti.

So when I am asked,
What did you do on your vacation?

May my answer be...
I did something to help answer
my prayer for the people of Haiti.

May it also be your answer.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tectonic Plates or the Devil

Why did a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti? While many of us would answer that question by saying that it probably had something to do with tectonic plates and the releasing of waves that traveled through the earth's crust resulting in a massive shaking, others want to offer a more theological explanation.

One of those "others" is American televangelist, Pat Robertson who claims that the Haiti earthquake was a result of Haiti's determination to be freed of French rule and the pact they had made with the devil. The belief is that the devil can cause a natural disaster to happen.

For those of you who remember the line from comedian, Flip Wilson's routine, "The devil made me do it," to understand this theology, just change the line to, "The devil made the earth do it." So the question becomes, is there any theological truth behind what Pat Robertson is saying? Can the devil really make the earth quake resulting in the deaths of thousands and thousands of people?

From a United Methodist perspective, we believe that evil is present in our world and should be taken seriously. Our membership/baptismal vows state this very clearly.

Question #1 - "On behalf of the whole church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?"
Question #2 - "Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?"

We are also known to pray The Lord's Prayer which contains this theological statement, "...lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil."

So yes, our faith teaches us of the presence of evil in the world while also realizing that God's grace is also present in our world! John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that in any given moment, God's grace is available to us and giving us the power to do what is right and good, rather than what is evil and inhuman.

Our membership/baptismal vows remind us that we don't have to be passive when confronted with evil and opportunities to sin. We can accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil. In other words, we have a part to play in the living out of our faith. We don't have to be victims when it comes to evil. We can receive God's gift of grace to help us turn away from evil and sin.

However, if we go with Pat Robertson's theology that the devil can cause an earthquake to kill thousands of people, this means that the people who died in Haiti had no choice or opportunity to resist. The United Methodist understanding of God's grace that it is a gift that empowers us to resist evil, suggests that Robertson's theology gives way too much credit to the devil.

Instead of assigning blame for a natural disaster on the victims, which is bad theology anyway, our time can be better served by sending in our donations, praying, and seeking ways to minister to a people devastated by a massive earthquake and who live in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

So stick with the tectonics plates explanation because the devil didn't make the earth do it.
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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - January 24



January 24 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, January 27 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - “Cross Training - Mind"

Features - 3rd Sunday After Epiphany

Scripture - Luke 10:25-28

Theme - On this Sunday, we begin a new three-part sermon series on the theme, “Cross Training – Mind, Body, & Soul.” We are honored to host guest preacher and basketball legend, Jerry Lucas as he shares with us about the importance of healthy family relationships and how we can use our minds to remember the message he will be sharing with us. Jerry will also lead memory seminars at our Crossroads facility on this evening and Monday evening at 7 P.M.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In Loving Memory of Rev. Sam Dixon, Head of UMCOR


Today, we mourn the loss of Rev. Sam Dixon, head of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) who died from injuries sustained from the recent Haiti earthquake. UMCOR is the humanitarian relief and development agency of the United Methodist Church. Compelled by Christ, UMCOR responds to natural or human made disasters—those interruptions of such magnitude that they overwhelm a community's ability to recover on its own.

“Sam Dixon was a tireless servant of the church of Jesus Christ on behalf of all of us,” said Bishop Joel N. Martinez, interim top executive of the Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent agency. “His death is an incalculable loss to Global Ministries, UMCOR and our worldwide ministry of relief to God’s most vulnerable children. Our directors and staff extend their condolences to Sam’s wife, Cindy, their children, and their wider circle of friends and colleagues.”

For more information on Rev. Dixon's tragic death, click on this article from The United Methodist website.
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For information how we can offer gifts to UMCOR in response to the Haiti earthquake, here's the UMCOR link. Anyone may give to UMCOR directly and if you are part of a United Methodist congregation, you are encouraged to make a check payable to your local UM church with "Haiti Relief" on the memo, place it in the offering, and your church will send a church check to UMCOR to help the denomination keep records of the relief giving of each local congregation.
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Tomorrow, in my congregation of First UMC in Lancaster, Ohio, I will personally offer my Haiti relief gift to the glory of God in loving memory of the people of Haiti as well as Rev. Sam Dixon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Birthday Anniversary - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968)


"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Prayer for Haiti


It's often good to turn to prayers provided for us from the church which help us articulate to God what is difficult to express in our own words. Together, let us pray for the people of Haiti, the poorest country in our hemisphere who were recently devastated by a 7.0 earthquake.


From the United Methodist Book of Worship:

In Time of Natural Disaster Prayer

O God, you divided the waters of chaos at creation. In Christ you stilled storms, raised the dead, and vanquished demonic powers. Tame the earthquake, wind, and fire, and all the forces that defy control or shock us by their fury. Keep us from calling disaster your justice. Help us, in good times and in distress, to trust your mercy and yield to your power, this day and for ever. Amen.

[Andy Langford, U.S.A., 20th Cent.]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Emerging Adults Faith Transition Trends

A big thanks to Scot McKnight for his summary of the excellent book, "Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults" by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell.

This book and Scot's summary back up some of the information we heard from Chap Clark, professor of Youth, Family, & Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, who led a seminar at our church on the same topic. His point was that adolescence is now a much longer process for most young people lasting from age 13 to the mid 20s. It used to be a shorter period concluding around age 18.

This book by Smith and Snell offers reasons why faith for emerging adults can be a difficult time of transition. Here are those reasons.

First, disruptions in life negatively impact religious commitment.

Second, distractions in life negatively impact religious practices.

Third, personal and psychological differentiation (separation from parents) negatively impact religious commitments.

Fourth, postponed family formation and childrearing retard religious commitment.

Fifth, keeping one's options open creates obstacles to making religious commitments.

Sixth, the code of honoring diversity hampers religious commitment.

Seventh, the self-confidence and self-sufficiency, which are vital codes for emerging adults, negatively impacts religious commitments.

Eighth, self-evident morality prevents the need for religious authorities encoding morals.

Ninth, partying, hooking up, having sex and cohabitating block connection to religious groups.

Two other important findings from the book:

First, religion is a resource for stability and recovery

Second, ongoing relations with parents, at least those who are believers, can sustain a connection with faith.

What can the church do to address these trends that emerging adults are facing with regard to their faith development? I'd especially like to hear from our young adults.
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Helping Marriages Stay Strong - An Online Resource

We each took a few minutes to share our joys and concerns in our small group gathering which met recently. One man asked us to pray for two couples in his church who were going through some major marital problems.

"Those of us who know these couples never knew they were having these problems. They have been some of our strongest leaders in our church and their relationships are a real mess right now. Please pray for these couples that they might receive the spiritual help they need."

One of my responsibilities as a pastor is to provide pre-marital counseling for couples that will help them have a strong spiritual foundation with Jesus Christ at the center of their relationship.
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I recently came across "My Marriage Coach," an online marriage resource that has been developed by Rev. Jay Tenney, pastor of Barnesville (Ga.) First United Methodist Church and is free of charge. Each couple responds to statements on the website that cover the topics of respect, vision, values, intimacy, faith, sacrifice, communication, finance, friendship and effort. That information provided is kept confidential and couples are encouraged to share the results of the marriage report with each other to help them build a strong marriage.

This online resource looks like it can be a valuable resource for a couple who is seeking to have a stronger marriage relationship.
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - January 17

January 17 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, January 20 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - “Faith, Film, & Fiction – ‘The Lost Symbol’”

Features - 2nd Sunday After the Epiphany & Commissioning of The Bahamas Mission Team

Scripture - I Corinthians 2:6-16 & John 1:14-18

Theme - Today marks the conclusion of a three part sermon series on the theme, “Faith, Film, & Fiction.” Today, we take a look at the recent novel, “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown and think about the power of symbols and transformation from a Christian perspective.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Early Methodism & Colonial American History

Here's a very informative article regarding the beginnings of Methodism in America and our influence upon the formation of our nation's history.

The reporter emphasizes one of the key reasons for the success of Methodism especially in the formative years when we became an official denomination here in America in 1784.

The key? We highlighted two aspects of the good news of the faith in our preaching and witnessing:

1) God's free gift of grace extended to every single person (as opposed to a theology which states that God's grace is available to some and not to others.)

2) Human free will in which God invites us to receive or not receive God's free gift of grace made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (as opposed to a theology that says people have no role in receiving or not receiving God's grace.)

As a personal reflection on this article, when I was in the 6th grade, my home pastor took our confirmation class to Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland, the place where we became an official denomination on Christmas Eve, 1784.

Baptism of the Lord Prayer (Week of January 10)

Baptism of the Lord Prayer:

Living God, when the Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism in Jordan’s water you revealed him as your own beloved Son. You anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy Epiphany Day! (January 6) & Preparing for What's Next

This stretch of the church calendar journey (post Epiphany to Lent) often gets unnoticed, but it is a time in which we can grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Here are some key aspects of this liturgical stretch we are about to enter:
  • Epiphany is a day and not a season (Jan. 6) even though we celebrated it this past Sunday because of the closest Sunday.
  • Baptism of the Lord Sunday (this Sunday, Jan. 10) is the celebration of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry as marked by his baptism. It's also a time to reflect on the meaning of baptism and to give an opportunity for people to renew their baptismal vows.
  • Following this Sunday (Baptism of the Lord) we enter into a new season called "Ordinary Time" which will take us all the way to February 7 (the Sunday prior to "Transfiguration Sunday.")
  • There are two "Ordinary Time" seasons on the church calendar, this one and the one that begins around June and goes through the End of November. Ordinary Time literally means "ordinal" or "counted time." Far from being "ordinary," this season of the church year is a time for us to reflect on Jesus' teachings and to go through a steady growth in our faith. Green is the color associated with Ordinary Time since this is a season of growth.
  • Ordinary Time is another reason why I appreciate how the liturgical calendar can help us find a rhythm of growth in our faith. Think about it. In addition to the big celebration "feast days/seasons" like Christmas, Easter, etc., that are filled with great joy, we also have times of steady growth (Ordinary Time,) and times of contemplation/confession (Advent & Lent.) In other words, the church season gives us the permission to experience our faith from a variety of human emotions and experiences and connects this all with our relationship with God. How much more relevant can the scriptures and the liturgical calendar be?
Collect of the Day: The Epiphany

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Baptism - Renewal, Cleansing, & Transformation


This upcoming Sunday, January 10, is known on the church calendar as "Baptism of Our Lord" Sunday. It's a Sunday in which we remember when Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist and began his public ministry.

I can't think of any topic in the Christian faith that has caused more divisions in Christendom than the theology of baptism. With that being said, here are some thoughts on the meaning of baptism from my United Methodist/sacramental perspective.
  • Baptism is the initiation of a person into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ and a particular church family. Baptism is a communal event reminding us that our faith journey is meant to be lived within the community of faith (a local church) rather than in isolation.
  • Baptism is primarily about what God has done for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because baptism is more about what God has done and is doing in our lives and less about what we have done or are doing, the age of the person being baptized becomes irrelevant.
  • OK. Let me qualify the above point. Since baptism is primarily about what God has done, and less about what we have done, infants and young children are invited to receive baptism, provided that a parent or guardian is willing to affirm Christian vows on behalf of the baby or young child being baptized. If baptism is about an initiation into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ (see point #1) then a baby or young child will need to rely on a parent or guardian who is living out the Christian faith.
  • For people who are against infant baptism because they believe each person should be able to decide to become a Christian or not, here are a couple of thoughts on this. 1) As the baby grows with the support of a Christian parent or guardian and the support of a local church, the hope is that this child will one day profess the Christian faith for himself/herself. 2) Since we live in a highly individualistic culture and the Bible comes out of a highly communal oriented culture, infant baptism makes sense only when we place a high emphasis on the role of the community when it comes to baptism.
  • Since baptism is primarily about what God has done and is doing, we believe a person only needs to be baptized once, even if that person was baptized as an infant, or if a person has fallen away from the faith (short of publicly denouncing his/her faith.) If a person would be baptized again, it is like saying that God wasn't faithful in the baptismal covenant. It's not whether or not God has been faithful. It's on whether or not we have been faithful.
  • There are many ways to renew our baptismal covenant without being baptized again. 1) For young people, confirmation is a wonderful process for a young person to reaffirm his or her baptism by reflecting on the meaning of the Christian faith and professing membership vows. 2) Every time we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we celebrate what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and offer ourselves in joyful obedience to continue to live out our faith. 3) Every time the church offers baptism in worship, the congregation has an opportunity to renew their baptismal vows. "With you, we renew our vows..." we say from our ritual. 4) Participate in a baptism renewal service which we will be offering this Sunday for "Baptism of our Lord Sunday."
  • Since Jesus was baptized, the question is often asked why this was necessary since Jesus was sinless. While it's true that Jesus didn't need cleansing from sins as we do, baptism isn't only about the cleansing of sins, it's also about responding to God's covenant faithfulness and responding in joyful obedience. Jesus' baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry in which he would faithfully live out his mission of being the Savior of the world.

Ah! So much more to say but that's enough for now. Have a blessed "Baptism of Our Lord" Sunday!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - January 10

January 10 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, January 13 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - “Faith, Film, & Fiction – ‘Because of Winn-Dixie’”

Features - Baptism of the Lord Sunday

Scripture - II Corinthians 5:16-21 and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Theme - Today marks the middle of a three part sermon series on the theme, “Faith, Film, & Fiction.” Today, we take a look at the film, “Because of Winn Dixie” which is a movie about transformation and reconciliation. How does our Christian faith find connections with this touching movie? We’ll explore this together in worship.
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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Epiphany Sunday Prayer (For Jan. 6 & Observed on Prior Sunday)

Epiphany Day, the concluding 12th day of Christmas on the church calendar is always celebrated on January 6. To help congregations celebrate Epiphany for Sunday worship, churches tend to do so on the Sunday prior to January 6.

In addition to being the last day of the Christmas season, Epiphany, which means "manifestation" is assosiated with the visitation of the Magi (Wise Men) who came to Bethlehem and offered gifts to the Christ Child.

Collect of the Day: The Epiphany
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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Friday, January 1, 2010

What's in a Name?

Today (Jan. 1) is always observed on the church calendar as "The Holy Name." Today is the eighth day following Christmas when Jesus would have officially been given the name, Jesus.

For a 1st century Jew, the name "Jesus" would have been heard as a very common name but in the context of the four gospels, people would be thinking of the Hebrew equivalent name, "Joshua." Remember Joshua from the Old Testament? Joshua was the one who picked up where Moses left off to continue to lead the Israelites into the promised land. The name "Joshua" and later "Jesus" both mean, "God saves."

So it's not surprising that there are frequent echoes of the exodus story throughout the gospel accounts in telling us about the life and ministry of Jesus. Just as Joshua led the Israelites from slavery into freedom in the exodus story, so will Jesus lead us from slavery into freedom through his life, death, and resurrection.

The connection of Jesus' name with the exodus story is another indication among many of how both the Old and New Testaments are intertwined and dependent upon each other in telling the good news of God's desire to rescue the world from sin and death.

Collect of the Day: The Holy Name

Eternal Father, who gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
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