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

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Do You Want God to Do When You Pray?

Someone recently asked me a very thoughtful and basic question about the Christian faith that often doesn't get the attention it deserves. The question was, "What do you want God to do when you pray?" Specifically, this person was asking what I'm trying to do when I pray for someone who is in need of physical healing.

My quick and unreflective answer would be that I am praying for God to intervene directly and bring healing to the person who is ill. But I wouldn't be honest if I answered the question that way because that's not the substance of my prayers in those situations.

I notice that in these situations, my prayers tend to go something like this:

"Dear God, we turn to you this day to pray for ______________ who is facing ____________________. You know his/her needs in this moment. Thank you that you care about our bodies and you desire for us to be healthy. Bless the doctors, the nurses, (the surgeon), and the caregivers that they would be instruments of your healing for _________________________. Remind ______________ that he/she is not alone. You are with him/her through the presence of your Holy Spirit. Thank you for your church and for the people who are praying for us even now. We pray for your healing presence upon _____________ this day. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, we pray. Amen."

This prayer reflects my theology that God desires to participate with us (the doctors, caregivers, loved ones, etc.) in bringing to bear God's healing love upon the person. My prayer asks God to bless the skills of all of these people for the purpose of healing. God is still the ultimate healer, but has created us to be a blessing to others.

Yes, I do believe that God has been known to intervene directly and sometimes even in isolation of human aid, but this is not the typical pattern of how God works. I can't explain why this is the case except that from the very beginning of creation, God has chosen to rescue the world from sin and death through the calling and participation of people like Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, the prophets, the disciples, the church, and yes...you and me!

While I long for God to intervene directly especially in those cases where human wisdom and strength fall short and I will never fully know the ways of God, I also believe that a time is coming when God's kingdom will fill this earth completely and sin, injustice, disease, death will be defeated once and for all.

Until that time comes, I continue to pray for God to bless and strengthen the skills of those who are in the medical profession that they would be instruments of God's healing grace and love. At the same time, I seek to remain humble at the mysterious ways in which God brings about healing in our world.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sermon (August 28) "In Your Wildest Dreams: Your Burning Bush"

     Have you ever had a burning bush moment?  Even people who might not know their bible too well will most likely have some understanding of this often used phrase. 
     In its common usage, it’s a phrase that refers to a moment in your life when you felt called to go after some dream.  It’s when you become aware that you are being called to do something significant that will make a difference in the world.
     A burning bush moment is what many high school seniors hope to have so they know what their next step will be following their high school graduation.  A burning bush moment is what the person who has hit a wall in her career wants to have so that she can pursue a new direction that will be fulfilling and life changing.  A burning bush moment is what the person who is in trouble longs to encounter so that he can begin to make better decisions and get on the right track again.  A burning bush moment is what the new church member wants to experience so that he can use his particular gifts and resources to share God’s love with the community and world.  A burning bush moment is what the person who is feeling restless in her spirit is hoping to have so that her faith becomes exciting and new.
     What is your burning bush?
     For the next four weeks, we’re going to spend this time during worship thinking about what it means to go after our wildest dreams.   We’re going to be following the story of Moses as part of our lectionary scripture readings to help us go after those dreams.
     Today, we begin with the Moses and the burning bush story from the Book of Exodus.  As I’ve been reflecting on this story, it seems to me that there are five important elements in any “burning bush” encounter.  And by focusing on these five elements, like Moses, we too can respond to the invitation to live out the dream that God has placed before us.  And it all begins with a burning bush moment.
     Here is the first element that I see from the Moses and burning bush story.  Burning bushes often occur during our everyday activities. 
     When we think of Moses, we usually think of how he did a lot of great things for God, but in this burning bush story, we need to remember that Moses was an ordinary person like us.  When we get to Exodus chapter 3, we find that Moses has settled into a comfortable life in the land of Midian.  He’s married and he has a son, and he takes care of the animals on the family farm.
     One day, as he was leading his flock, he sees a bush that is on fire but it wasn’t being consumed.  A messenger from God appeared from that same bush.  And here’s what I find interesting in this story that I never really saw before in all the times that I have read this story.  It says that when Moses first noticed that this bush was on fire but wasn’t burning up, that instead of continuing on, he turned aside to see what was going on.
     I find that significant because this tells me that Moses had a choice.  He could have ignored this burning bush and just kept on heading the direction he was going.  But it was because Moses turned toward the bush that the Lord called out to him.
     I wonder how many times God reaches out to us during our day to day activities, and instead of paying attention to God, we just keep on doing whatever we were doing.  God puts more burning bushes along our path than we may think.
     Here’s a recent burning bush story that comes to mind.  I was having lunch with Dave Diamond who is one of our retired United Methodist pastors here in the church.  In his retirement, Dave has been serving as a chaplain with hospice and he’s been leading a grief support group in our church.

      So as we’re eating our lunch and talking about Big Ten football, our families, and ministry, I began to sense that God was trying to get my attention.  And as we kept talking over lunch, I continued to feel like God was tugging at me.

     When there was a break in our conversation, I said to Dave, “Dave, I think I’m having a God moment.”  And I said, “This might sound a little strange, but it’s like God is calling for the two of us to visit someone at their house after we’re done eating lunch.  There’s a family who needs to know that God loves them and that somebody cares.”

     And then I said, “Do you have some time to stop by at this house with me today.”  And Dave, having served as a United Methodist Pastor for many years, and knowing that God tends to interrupt our everyday lives like this, didn’t even flinch and says to me, ‘Well, sure, let’s go.’”

     So we go to this house and nobody was home.  And so I stood there at the front door and said a prayer for this family that God would reach out to them and remind them that our church was thinking of them.  I wrote a little note of encouragement on that back of my card and Dave left a card as well.

     I didn’t think too much of that burning bush moment until a couple of weeks later.  I was heading to the hospital to make some visits and for some reason I decided to go a different way to the hospital.  And I ended up driving by this same house that Dave and I had visited.

     And lo and behold, someone in the family was sitting on the front porch step as I was driving by.  Another burning bush moment!  I pulled over a couple blocks down and walked to the house and sat down next to this family member.

    She was glad to see me and she thanked me for stopping by a couple of weeks earlier.  She said, “I’m glad you stopped to see me today because today is when our family is going to meet at the cemetery to see the headstone and it’s going to be very difficult for us.”  This family had experienced a tragic death in their family.

     And after we prayed there on her porch, she couldn’t stop thanking me and our church for reaching out to them just when they needed it the most.

     Friends, I believe in burning bush moments.  And I notice that they often happen while you’re eating a tuna melt sandwich at a local restaurant or while you’re driving through town.

     Here’s the second element from the burning bush story.  Not only do they often happen during our normal day to day activities, burning bushes also remind us that God knows who we are.  Moses might not have known who God was, but God sure knew who he was.  God knew that even though Moses was brought up and raised by the Egyptians, that he was really a Hebrew and part of God’s family.
     Notice in verse 6.  God tells Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  And then we’re told that after God said this that Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  Sometimes, it catches us off guard when we realize that God knows us better than we think.
     So remember, the One who calls you from the burning bush is also the one who knows your strengths, your weaknesses, and the real you.
     Let’s look at the third element of the burning bush story.  Burning bushes lead to serving in a specific way.  When God calls Moses from the burning bush, God doesn’t just call him in a general way.  God has a specific task in mind.  God wants Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. 
     We live in a world that is filled with injustice, oppression, sin, and despair.  And since God is the one who created the world and called it good, it only makes sense that God also has specific tasks in mind for us to help bring about transformation in our community and world.
     Moses didn’t leave from his burning bush experience wondering what God wanted him to do.  He knew that God wanted him to free his people.  Like Moses, God calls us through burning bush moments to offer God’s freeing and rescuing love in specific ways to the people around us.
     Here’s a fourth element of the burning bush story:  Burning bushes lead to the making of excuses.   And this is related to the third element that we just looked at about burning bushes.  Since God gives us specific tasks to do, it will be natural for us to feel inadequate for the task that God has in mind for us.
     It’s unfortunate that Moses is known in a negative way for the many excuses he expressed to God in the burning bush story.  But remember, anything worth doing is going to lead to doubts and uncertainties.  Here’s Moses, living a comfortable and quiet life, and now God wants him to do the unthinkable – convince the powerful Egyptians to release the people who are supplying their slave labor.  That’s probably not going to go over too well!
     So Moses has his excuses ready and they are many.  I counted five excuses that Moses thought of right there as the bush was still burning.  Here they are: Verse 11 – “I’m a nobody.  They won’t listen to me.”  Verse 13 – “They’re going to want to know who sent me and I don’t even know your name.”  Chapter 4 and verse 1 – “They won’t believe that you appeared to me.”  Verse 10 – “I’m not a good speaker.  I won’t be very convincing.”  Verse 13 – “I’m not the most qualified person for the job.  Send somebody else.”  Excuses go with the territory.  We might even say that if you don’t voice any excuses, it might not be a true burning bush moment.  Excuses often accompany God’s calling to go after our wildest dreams.
     One of the reasons that Methodism was so successful was because John Wesley trained and equipped lay people to serve in ministry.  Some of those lay people served as preachers.  Even though many of them were uneducated and felt unqualified, Wesley encouraged them to respond to God’s calling in their lives and to use their gifts in ministry.
     On one occasion, one of these lay preachers preached from Luke 19:21 which says in the King James Version, “Lord, I feared thee, because thou art an austere man.”  “An austere man.”  This lay preacher, who had never heard of the word “austere,” before which is an adjective meaning “simple” and “plain,” mistakenly thought this Bible verse was referring to “an oyster man.”  Austere and oyster, they sound alike.
     And so, this uneducated lay preacher proceeded to mistakenly preach a sermon about the work of people who retrieve oysters from the sea bed and it went like this…“The diver plunges down from the surface, cut off from his natural environment, into bone-chilling water.  He gropes in the dark, cutting his hands on the sharp edges of the shells.  Now he has the oyster, and kicks back up to the surface, up to the warmth and light and air, clutching in his torn and bleeding hands the object of his search.  So Christ descended from the glory of heaven into the squalor of earth, into sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven, his torn and bleeding hands a sign of the value he has placed on the object of his quest.”
     Because of his passionate preaching on Jesus as our “oyster man,” twelve people ended up giving their lives to Jesus Christ that evening.  Afterwards, someone complained to Wesley about the inappropriateness of this lay preacher who didn’t know the difference between the word “austere” and the word “oyster.”
     Wesley replied, “It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is the Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.”  Good for Wesley!
    Sometimes we can even let our excuses get in the way of seeing how God is using us to make a difference in the world! 
     Pastors are supposed to be the ones leading the way, right?  But not always.  I remember facilitating a task force at a church I was serving.  We must have met at least 20 times for several hours, praying, and collecting data on whether or not the church I was serving at the time should take on a new ministry outreach in the community.
     It was very controversial because if we would pursue this outreach, it would mean that our church would have to realign our ministry structure, raise additional funds, change our staffing, and discontinue some of our ministries that weren’t having the same impact they once did.  After several meetings of discussion, planning, and prayer, it was becoming very apparent that this new ministry direction was where God was calling us to go as a church.
     We were excited about this new direction and we really felt that this was a burning bush moment.  But I was also aware that there would be many people in our church who would not appreciate all of the changes we would need to make for this dream to become a reality. 
     So toward the end of one of our several meetings, I said to the task force, “Well, when do you want to schedule our next meeting?”  And God bless them.  They said to me in so many words, “What do you mean another meeting?  We already know what we need to do?  What are you waiting for Robert?”
     Sometimes, we pastors win the prize for having the most excuses.  So whenever we start making excuses about how God can’t possibly be calling us to go after our wildest dreams that just might mean that we’re having a burning bush moment. 
     And then this fifth element that I see in this story of Moses and the burning bush.  Burning bushes will include God’s reassurance.  Notice that after Moses offers his excuses, that God provides a reassuring word.  In verse 12, God reassures Moses with these five very important words – “I will be with you.”
     Those words remind me of the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples just before he sent them to make disciples.  He said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  The God who meets us in the burning bush and who calls us to a particular task is also the one who promises to always be with us.
     And this is important because if left to our own strength, we will find it extremely difficult to go after our wildest dreams.  But with God, all things are possible.  God will provide the people, the resources, and the strength that we will need to accomplish great things for God.
     William Wilberforce was a devout Christian and member of the British Parliament from 1780 to 1825.  He is best known for abolishing the slave trade and slavery itself in all British territories.  His burning bush moment came on May 12, 1787.  Sitting under a large oak tree, a friend challenged him by saying, “Wilberforce, why don’t you give notice of a motion on the subject of the Slave Trade?  You have already taken great pains to collect evidence, and are therefore fully entitled to the credit which doing so will ensure you.  Do not lose time, or the ground will be occupied by another.”  Wilberforce’s response is not recorded, but he later declared in old age that he could distinctly remember the very knoll on which he was sitting near Pitt where he made his decision.
     It took William Wilberforce 18 years to get his motion to abolish the slave trade passed.  And then just four days before his death, Parliament finally passed a motion to end all slavery in the British territories.  A year after William Wilberforce died, almost one million slaves were set free from the evil force of slavery.
     One of the reasons why Wilberforce didn’t give up during those long 18 years was because of a letter of encouragement that he received from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.  Wesley wrote that letter of encouragement just before he died.
     To go after our wildest dreams, God provides us with a burning bush moment.
     What is your burning bush?

Sunday Worship Preview - September 4

September 4- (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, September 7  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "In Your Wildest Dreams: Your Passover"

Features - 12th Sunday After Pentecost, Labor Day Weekend, & Holy Communion

Scripture - Exodus 12:1-14

Theme - This four-part sermon series on Moses and the exodus story will help us to pursue the dreams that God has in mind for us.  On this Sunday, we focus on the Passover and how God's salvation through Jesus Christ can help us live out our wildest dreams.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Preparing for Upcoming Sermon Series on Exodus

Beginning this Sunday, I will be preaching a sermon series on "Your Wildest Dreams" based on the exodus story and the life of Moses.  I'll begin the series with the story of Moses and the burning bush and conclude it with the Israelites in the wilderness. 

One of the reasons why it's important to focus on the exodus story is the prominent role it plays throughout scripture.  Much of the New Testament includes references from exodus and puts it into the context of Jesus and his ministry.  As we saw in the Book of Romans sermon series this past July, the Apostle Paul brilliantly explains the good news of Jesus Christ with scenes from the exodus story.  Without a good grasp on the exodus story, we would easily miss what Paul is conveying in his letter.

For example, in Romans chapter 6, Paul uses twelve references to slavery to make the point that just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, so we are slaves to sin.  The good news is that just as God rescued the Israelites, Jesus Christ rescues us from our sin.

In Romans 7, Paul refers a lot to the law which again is to remind us of when God gave the law and the Ten Commandments to Israel during the exodus/wilderness story.  And in chapter 8, Paul refers to the Spirit and connects it with the cloud and the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness.

Many bible scholars point out that Jesus' own baptism is a pointing back to the miracle of the Red Sea when God allowed the Israelites to cross the sea to freedom from the Egyptians.  Through the waters of baptism, God rescues us from sin and death and sets us on a path of new life in Jesus Christ.

Probably, the ultimate connection between the exodus story and the New Testament is the passover meal when Jesus reinterpreted it in light of his pending death on the cross.  Just as the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts of the homes of the Israelites to protect them during the plague of the killing of the first born males, so does the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) protect and save us from the enemy of sin and death.

The New Testament writers are making the point that to understand who Jesus is, we need to have a good understanding of the exodus story.  It will be good to spend the next four Sundays, exploring four important events of Moses and the exodus story which include the burning bush, the passover, the Red Sea and the wilderness. 

As we explore these exodus themes over these next several weeks, I invite us to think about how all of this relates to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And even more importantly, I invite us to think about how all of this relates to us and God's desire to rescue the world from sin and death through Christ.

Here are the scripture passages for each Sunday of the series:
August 28 - "Burning Bush" Exodus 3:1-15
September 4 - "Passover" Exodus 12:1-14
September 11 - "Red Sea" Exodus 14:19-31
September 18 - "Wilderness" Exodus 16:2-15

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to School Prayer

Eternal God, bless all schools, colleges, and universities, that they may be lively centers for sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom; and grant that those who teach and those who learn may find you to be the source of all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

When You're Stuck in the Mud

Yesterday, one of our adults in the summer new member class took me seriously when I said, "Instead of being baptized next Sunday when you join the church, maybe you should get baptized in the mud-pit."  I was referring to the youth group's annual mud-pit fun at our Crossroads facility where a small plot of land is tilled and the fire department waters it down making it nice and muddy.  Our youth love it! 

Throw in a garden hose and a plastic tarp to serve as a slide into the mud-pit and you have created a Disney World/Cow Pasture.  The mud-pit reminds me of the local swimming pool where I grew up.  It was a nice pool but it was located in the middle of a cow pasture.  I always wondered what it would have been like for me to take my towel to the other side of the fence and roll around in the swampy mud.  Now, I know. 

Back to the adult in our new member class.  I jokingly mentioned that being baptized in the mud would be very symbolic of how the water of baptism cleanses us from all the mud and yuck in our lives and that God meets us right where we are - in the mud-pit.  This theological description captured her attention and she looked back at me and asked, "If it's OK with you, I'd like to be baptized today when the youth group meets for the mud-pit." 

And so, with about twenty-five muddy youth surrounding this new member who was covered in mud, not to mention yours truly who had made a snow/mud angel, I asked her the baptism questions from our ritual and then taking the garden hose, I baptized Connie Marie in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In the process, I washed off the mud from her head and her clothing and the youth layed hands on her and we prayed that God would continue to lead her in her faith journey.

There are eleven occurrences of "mud" in the bible.  The prophet Jeremiah had been thrown in a cistern and sank in the mud.  I told the youth that while playing in a mud-pit can be fun, that it wouldn't be fun if we stayed in the pit all the time.  Baptism and entry into the faith through baptism is how God cleanses us from our sins and pulls us out of the pit.

This mud-pit baptism was a first for me, but I shall never forget it, and I'm sure Connie won't forget either!

"I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God." - Psalm 40:1-3a

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - August 28

August 28- (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, August 31 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "In Your Wildest Dreams: Your Burning Bush"

Features - 11th Sunday After Pentecost, Receiving of New Members, & Holy Baptism

Scripture - Exodus 3:1-15

Theme - This four-part sermon series on Moses and the exodus story will help us to pursue the dreams that God has in mind for us.  On this Sunday, we begin with the burning bush story.  What is the burning bush (dream) that God wants you to pursue?

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Quick Video Summary of the Good News of Jesus Christ

Rob Bell offers an excellent ten minute summary of the Christian faith and particularly how it parallels with the language of the Roman Empire of the 1st century during Jesus' ministry and the birth of the church.

I'm always looking for summaries of the Christian faith in short segments to help us reflect on the contextual understanding of the meaning of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Rob Bell has a unique gift of being an excellent communicator for people of all ages and levels of biblical understanding.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sermon (July 31) - "The Greatest Letter Ever Written: Romans 12-16"

On July 31st, our church was blessed to host Rev. Jolita Pieciaite Erbele who is concluding her studies at Asbury Seminary and will be returning to her home country of Lithuania.   She provided the concluding sermon in our Romans sermon series.  Her husband, Andrew led a Sunday School class and spoke about their ministry in Lithuania. 

We have enjoyed a long partnership with the United Methodist ministry in Lithuania making this a special gift to have Jolita share with us.  Here is the link to her sermon.  It's an audio version.

A big thanks to our Global Missions Team for providing them with lodging, meals, and for taking them to the Lancaster Festival Beach Boys concert!

Please continue to keep Jolita and Andrew in your prayers as they prepare to pastor two United Methodist Churches in Lithuania.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sermon (August 14) - "The Story of Joseph: Part II"

     As I was preparing this message and thinking about how a lot of our young people are getting ready to go to college, I couldn’t help but to think of how famous people got their start.
     For example, the memo from the testing director of MGM, shortly after Fred Astaire’s first screen test, read: “Can’t act!  Slightly bald!  Can dance a little!” 
     Come to think of it.  That sounds a lot like me!
     An older “expert”once said of another younger coach, “He possesses minimal football knowledge.  Lacks motivation.”  This younger coach was referring to Vince Lombardi, who went on to become the great Green Bay Packer’s coach.
     The parents of Enrico Caruso believed his teacher, who said he had “no voice at all – he just cannot sing.”  And so they urged him to be an engineer instead.
     Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because they felt that he had a “lack of ideas.”
     Thomas Edison’s teachers gave up on him.  They actually wrote in an evaluation these words – “He’s too stupid to do anything.”
     Before he succeeded, Henry Ford failed and went broke five times.
     The author Scott Peck begins his book, The Road Less Traveled with these depressing but true words, “Life is difficult.”  And he goes on to say that once we accept the fact that life is going to be difficult for each and every one of us and once we begin to incorporate important disciplines into our lives, then we will be well on our way to maturity.
     And so it’s a good thing, that we have stories such as this story from the Book of Genesis – this story of Joseph and his brothers.  Because this is a story of disappointment and failure.  This is a story of setbacks and unexpected life changes.  But it’s also a story of how God is always faithful and how God is always present in our lives as we go through these difficult times.
     Last Sunday, we began looking at the story of Joseph and his brothers.  And this morning, we look at the second portion of this incredible story as we conclude our sermon series on the Book of Genesis.
     We left church last Sunday with seventeen year old Joseph being taken away as a slave to Egypt.  His own brothers, all eleven of them, had sold Joseph to some traveling Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.
     They did this because they were sick of Joseph’s ego and how their father, Jacob had given him special treatment.  We are told how their father had provided Joseph with a colorful robe which didn’t go over too well with the brothers. 
     And Joseph didn’t help matters any by telling his brothers about the dreams he was having at night.  You know, there are just some dreams that are better kept to yourself.  Joseph told his brothers about his dreams one day.  “I had a dream that we were binding sheaves in the field one day, and suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, and your sheaves gathered around my sheaf and bowed to it.”
     And Joseph, not picking up on the negative body language that he was receiving from his brothers over the telling of that dream made matters even worse by telling them this 2nd dream.  “And that’s not all brothers.  Let me tell you about this dream I had.  I had a dream that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
     If you would look up the word “naïve” in the dictionary, you will read these words, “See Joseph in the Book of Genesis.”  How can anyone be more naïve than this?  I mean, who in their right mind would ever think that this would have gone over well.
     Once in a while, I will run into a colleague of mine, a United Methodist Pastor, someone I know.  And we enter into this one sided conversation in which he tells me all of the wonderful things that are happening in his ministry and in his church.  And he never pauses to take a breath.  It’s one success story after another.
     And this happens every time we meet each other.  I find it hard to believe that he hasn’t faced any adversity or setbacks in his church and in his ministry.  Sometimes I wonder if he lives on the same planet that I do.  Every time I see him, I know that it’s going to be another one sided-conversation of one success story after another. 
     I am reminded of a tongue in cheek comment that the famous comedian, Jerry Lewis once said when he said, “People hate me because I am a multifaceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius.”
     This ego gets seventeen year old Joseph into a lot of trouble.  His brothers almost kill him and they end up selling him to some Ishmaelites who are on their way to Egypt.
     Just listen to this list of misfortunes in the life of Joseph as we pick up the story from last Sunday.
     1) He is almost killed by his brothers and ends up sold into slavery.  2) Separated for years from the father he loves, Jacob, thinking that his son, Joseph is dead, grieves his loss everyday.  3) Framed by the wife of a high ranking Egyptian, Joseph is falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown into prison.  And 4) Joseph helps one of his fellow prisoners escape by interpreting his dream but after this fellow prisoner is released, he does nothing to help Joseph get out of prison.
     Scott Peck may begin his book with “Life is difficult” but is life supposed to be this difficult? 
     John Wesley who is the founder of the United Methodist denomination was an 18th century priest in the Church of England.  John Wesley could have settled into a life of comfort in the Church of England, but he felt called by God to help the church reach people that were outside of the church – people that the Church of England were neglecting in their mission and ministry.
     John Wesley was drawn to the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ.  That’s when the troubles really began in Wesley’s life because many church members in Wesley’s day did not want to reach people for Christ.  They wanted to stay comfortable.  And so Wesley’s sermons were often about taking our faith seriously and reaching out to people who weren’t already part of the church and to go to where the people were.  Just listen to several of his personal entries that he put in his diary.  Our new member class heard these last Sunday during our class sessions.  Here are Wesley’s entries:
     Sunday, A.M., May 5 – Preached in St. Anne’s.  Was asked not to come back anymore.
     Sunday, P.M., May 5 – Preached in St. John’s.  Deacons said “Get out and stay out.”
     Sunday, A.M., May 12 – Preached in St. Jude’s.  Can’t go back there, either.
     Sunday, A.M., May 19 – Preached in St. Somebody Else’s.  (By the way, isn’t that an interesting name for a church?  St. Somebody Else’s?)  Wesley then writes, “Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return.  (Are you sensing the pattern here?)
     Sunday, P.M., May 19 – Preached on street.  Kicked off street.
     Sunday, A.M., May 26 – Preached in meadow.  Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service.
     Sunday, A.M., June 2 – Preached out at the edge of town.  Kicked off the highway.
     Sunday, P.M., June 2 – Afternoon, preached in a pasture.  Ten thousand people came out to hear me.
     Life is difficult.  Joseph’s life was difficult.  Our lives are difficult.  How do we handle those difficulties so that we can remain faithful to God’s calling in our lives?
     The story of Joseph begins in Genesis chapter 37 and concludes with the end of the Book in chapter 50.  What do we learn from Joseph in how to handle life’s difficulties and disappointments?  As I’ve thought about these chapters, it seems to me that Joseph teaches us to never ever stop dreaming.
     The word “dream” or “dreams” appears thirty times in the life of Joseph.  Dreams were a big part of his life and how he handled adversity.  It’s pretty obvious that he didn’t help matters by sharing his dreams with his brothers leading them to become jealous of him.  But even those early dreams as a seventeen year old helped Joseph to see that God had a special plan for his life.
     For there would be a day when Joseph, through his powerful position in Egypt, would end up saving the lives of his family from a terrible famine which had extended from Egypt to the land of Canaan where his family lived.
     It was through Joseph’s God given ability to interpret dreams that helped a fellow prisoner to be set free.  It was through Joseph’s God given ability to interpret dreams that led Pharaoh to release Joseph from prison and appoint him to oversee the land of Egypt.  And it was through Joseph’s God given ability to interpret dreams that he was able to save countless numbers of lives from the terrible famine during that time.
     Joseph reminds us to never ever stop dreaming.
     Joseph could have easily given up on dreams.  His own father criticized his dreams.  It was because of his early dreams that led his brothers to almost kill him and sell him into slavery.  And his own brothers sarcastically said as they saw Joseph approaching them one day, “Here comes this dreamer.”
     Why do people stop dreaming?  Sometimes people give up on their dreams because they don’t have anyone encouraging them along the way.  It’s a lot easier to pop someone’s balloon than it is to fill it.  Have you noticed that?
     Someone shares a new idea, a vision for a better future, a dream – and it’s so easy to take out a pin and just pop that balloon.  “Oh, that will never work.”  “Do you realize how much that will cost?”  “I know of somebody who tried that and it didn’t work.”  “Why don’t you try something else, something more practical?”  “We’ve never done it that way before.”
     I think it’s interesting that following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, one of the early disciples of the church was given the nickname, “Barnabas,” which literally means, “son of encouragement.” Barnabas was not his real name.  His real name was Joseph.
     Why was he given this nickname of “son of encouragement?”  During a time when the early Christians didn’t want to have anything to do with a man named Saul who had been persecuting Christians, Barnabas was one of the very few people in the early church who was willing to give Saul a chance following his conversion on the road to Damascus.
     While most Christians wanted to keep their distance from Saul, Barnabas went out of his way to find Saul, speak with him, and introduce him to other Christians.  If the early church wouldn’t have had Barnabas, they might have missed out on one of the greatest ambassadors for Jesus Christ who ever lived, because Saul, or the Apostle Paul as we now know him, went on to spread the good news of Jesus Christ all the way to Rome and he went onto write through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, much of the New Testament.
     Encouragement and dreams go together.  God wants us to encourage each other, not discourage each other.
     Joseph did not let the tremendous adversities that came his way discourage him in his walk with God.  Joseph kept dreaming.  Without the dreams, Joseph would have sunk into despair.  But he kept on dreaming.
     This past spring, a friend of mine sent me an e-mail that shared how he was going through one of the worst times in his life.  It was related to his job and how people were treating him.  I could tell he was really down and I was really concerned about him. 
     Instead of sending him an e-mail reply, I decided to call him on the phone which I did.  I left a message on his voice mail telling him that I had received his e-mail and that I wanted to talk to him on the phone.
     I didn’t get any response for the next few days, so I called him again.  Same thing.  He didn’t answer the phone so I left another message.  There was still no reply over the next few days, but I didn’t want to give up.   So I called his wife and told her that I was concerned about him. 
     She was surprised that he hadn’t returned my call.  But then she told me about some of the things he was dealing with and why he was so down.  And then I asked her why he hadn’t returned my phone call.  And she said, “Oh, he’s just being stubborn and he knows you’re busy so he doesn’t want to bother you.  I’ll tell you what.  After you hang up, I’ll call him and tell him to give you a call.”
     Sure enough, later that morning my friend called me and told me what he was going through.  He said how he was getting a lot of criticism at his job and that he was feeling pretty low.  I listened to him and when he was done, I simply reminded him of all of his many good qualities and assured him that he was going to get through this difficult time in his life.  And then I prayed with him over the phone.
     Now, I didn’t do all that much, just a few phone calls, some encouragement, and a prayer.  But just that little bit meant a lot to him and helped him through a very challenging time.
     This past spring out of the blue, someone here in the church sent me a personal note of encouragement.  It took me by surprise when I saw this hand written envelope in my home mail.  This person was just offering some words of encouragement and thanking me for being her pastor.
     Now, I can’t say that I was down or depressed at the time, but when I received that letter, it lifted my spirits to a whole new level.  I was reminded of God’s love for me and that through God all things are possible.  Guess what I thought about the rest of that day; that letter of encouragement.  Even just a little bit of encouragement from others is how God helps us to keep dreaming.
     This past week, I was with over 100 pastors from our West Ohio Conference for a week long retreat at Mohican State Park.  Randy Stearn who was the District Superintendent of the Ohio River Valley District and who is now the assistant to the Bishop, felt called by God to put this retreat together because he wanted to provide a holy space for us to experience a time of renewal and encouragement in our faith.
     Now, I had never been to Mohican State Park, and when I think of a park, I’m thinking of leaky cabins in the middle of the woods with some bunk beds.  So I brought my sleeping bag and some pillows, thinking the worst.  I get there, and it’s actually a resort with a large room, cable tv, a queen size bed that has like a hundred pillows on it.  It has an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, an exercise room, a game room, a state of the art conference room.  Friends, I was really roughing it this past week.
     It was a wonderful week of inspiration and encouragement.  During our sessions, we had a very gifted New Testament scholar encourage us with some teaching from I & II Peter.  We had another speaker talk about qualities of being a spiritual leader.  And a clinical psychiatrist spoke to us on the importance of self care and how that relates to our pastoral ministry.
     One of the highlights of the week for me was when we concluded our sessions by praying for the pastors and the District Superintendents from each district.  And we also had time in between our sessions to take walks on some of the trails.
     On the screen, you can see a picture of the pastors from our Capitol Area South District in front of a beautiful sunset this past week.  The pastor who is third from the left is our new District Superintendent, Barb Sholis.  The pastor on the far right is Ben Foulk, Pastor Cheryl’s husband who is now serving as pastor of Marne United Methodist Church but is still in our district.  And that’s me next to Ben.
     You probably notice that we represent only a small fraction of the many pastors in our Capitol Area South District.  The purpose of this retreat wasn’t just for us as pastors to find encouragement and renewal for our own souls, as wonderful as that was.  But the other purpose of this retreat is to help us serve as clergy cluster leaders and to offer encouragement for the United Methodist pastors in our local areas as we meet on a monthly basis for prayer, study, ministry planning, and mutual support.
     This is just another example of how God’s dreams and our encouragement of each other go hand in hand.
     The story of Joseph concludes with one of the most heart warming stories in the entire Bible.  The brothers go to Egypt to receive food during the time of famine.  And this is when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers as the brother who they had sold into slavery.  What a scene that must have been of reconciliation and forgiveness.
     God was there all along for Joseph.  God was in that waterless cistern with him.  God was in the prison cell with him.  God was with him all the way keeping Joseph’s dreams and hopes alive.
     And it was those dreams and it was those hopes that led Joseph to inform his brothers at the end of our story that God had remained faithful in the midst of all the adversities, disappointments, and setbacks that he had faced.
     This is the theme of the Book of Genesis.  God is faithful in fulfilling his covenant.  Even with all that life has to throw at us – don’t despair.  Keep dreaming.  Keep trusting.  God is faithful!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - August 21

August 21- (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, August 24 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Who Do YOU Say that I Am"

Features - 10th Sunday After Pentecost & Special Guest Musician, Craig Heath

Scripture - Matthew 16:13-20

Theme - One of the most important questions for us to answer is who we believe Jesus is and what this means for our lives.  Jesus asked the disciples this question in Matthew's Gospel. The answer to that question can have make a profound difference in your life.

The Missing Link in the Ten Commandments/Court House Debate

The Ten Commandments has made the national news yet again, this time in Florida.  Christians in this local community are upset that a statue of the Ten Commandments could be removed from their court house.

There's a quote in this article in which someone complains that the world has gotten worse ever since prayer and spanking have been removed from public school.  What those two things have to do with the Ten Commandments, I'm not sure, but that's not my main point here.

Based on these types of news stories and quotes from Christians, it saddens me that the church has lost the meaning behind the Ten Commandments.  We now only see them as rules that we pluck from their biblical context, place them on a public wall or a statue and smugly say, "Hey heathens, follow these rules like we do and this world would be a better place."

Now, I know that not all Christians have this "holier than thou" attitude when it comes to displaying the Ten Commandments, but this is the perception that many in our society have about us.  I'm all for sharing our faith in our community and world, but I think we're missing the point if we think that a simple listing of the Ten Commandments will reflect the heart of the Judeo/Christian faith.

Moses gave the Hebrew people these commandments (and many others) as a way for them to remember the love and graciousness of God and how God had freed them from slavery in Egypt.  And secondly, these commandments were ways for the people to respond to what God had done for them.

In other words, the Ten Commandments are to be seen in the context of God's love and grace.  We tend to screen out the opening verses that lead up to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.  "Then God spoke all these words: 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." - Exodus 20:1-2

The Christian faith isn't primarily a rules following faith as much as it is a covenental faith in which God has acted on our behalf and we are called to respond to God's love and grace in our lives.  There are quite a few Christians who for whatever reasons focus on rules following to such a degree that God's grace is left behind or not even mentioned.

While the ACLU probably won't change their tune if verses 1 & 2 were added, maybe it's Christians who need to pay more attention to the biblical context of the Ten Commandments and rethink what we're attempting to do when we seek to display them in public settings.

Bill Hybels/Willow Creek & the Homosexuality Debate

Recently, Bill Hybels responded to a gay activist group which had circulated a petition calling for the CEO of Starbucks to cancel his scheduled talk as part of the annual Willow Creek Association Leadership Summit.  The CEO ended up not speaking at the event and Bill Hybels explained the situation to the summit participants.

Included in his remarks was his dismay that this activist group never contacted him or Willow Creek regarding what they perceived to be their anti-gay stance.  Hybels went on to explain that that his church is open to all people but reiterated his theological stance that marriage is only for a man and a woman and that all non-married people should remain celibate.

I'm surprised by Bill Hybels' assumption that if this activist group would have called him before the petition that this kind of answer would have changed their minds.  The issue for this group wasn't about gay people being welcomed into his church for worship services.  The issue is that Willow Creek has a history of seeking to change someone from being homosexual to heterosexual through their ministries. 

What would have been more helpful than each side stating their case a part from each other would have been for Bill Hybels and representatives from this activist group to actually meet face to face to sort out the issues.  Even though a face to face meeting probably wouldn't have led to any significant compromise, it would have helped Bill Hybels to respond in a more helpful way when he addressed the Leadership Summit participants.  Instead, we are left with these two sides (Willow Creek & the activist group) not hearing each other and responding to the wrong questions.

One of the big challenges facing the church in discussions and dialogue around homosexuality is that we rarely have opportunities for different viewpoints to meet face to face to think through this topic.  While minds may not change over this issue through dialogue, at least people might be able to leave from these discussions with a deeper understanding of the other person's viewpoint. 

In the recent situation involving the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, it would have been more helpful for Bill Hybels to have said, "Our church and the activist group are operating with two different understandings of the meaning of 'anti-gay.'"


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I & II Peter & Their Relevance for Today

New Testament scholar, Ruth Anne Reese of Asbury Seminary led our clergy leader group this week in a two session study of I & II Peter and how the introductions of these letters offer good news to our unchurched culture.

She explained that we are now living between two dominant cultures which are modern and post-modern.  The culture of modernity doesn't take the problem of evil seriously and the culture of post-modernity doesn't offer any hope.

Peter, in writing his epistles, offers a different worldview that on one hand, takes the problem of evil seriously, and on the other hand, offers hope.  I Peter 1:3-4 states, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for you."

In a nutshell, Peter is offering the good news that we have a living hope because of what Jesus Christ has done for us and this gives us hope for the present as well as the future.

In the opening of II Peter, the focus is on how the good news of Jesus Christ can also help us to be the people we were created to be for the benefit of others.  Ruth Anne Reese pointed out that the virtues that we find in verses 5-7 were highly prized virtues of the Greco-Roman world, but these virtues need to be rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ, rather than in the pagan gods of Rome.  He lists the commonly held virtues of goodness, knowledge, self-control, and mutual affection.

By relating to the culture of his day, Peter is helping his readers to embrace the good news of Jesus Christ so that they can live out these virtues through the strength of God's mercy which is a gift from God.   This is the worldview that the church has to offer our modern/post-modern culture of the 21st century.

Monday, August 8, 2011

John Wesley's Journal

One of the great resources of our Wesleyan heritage is John Wesley's journal which includes Wesley's day to day entries.  It's a wonderful gift to be able to read what Wesley experienced on a given day during his ministry in the 1700's. 

This Sunday, I'll be sharing several of his journal entries to make the point that there are many challenges in ministry.  Thankfully, there are also many joys that accompany our walk with Christ.

Journaling/writing is a spiritual discipline that can help us receive God's grace as we reflect on our day to day activities in the context of our faith.  One of the reasons I started my Nikos blog four years ago was to use it as kind of a personal faith journal.  It also serves as a communication tool of church events so it has a dual role.

There are several ways to have access to Wesley's journal which include a hard copy for purchase and a website that has daily his daily entries corresponding to our present date.  This website is also available through facebook.  If you have an account through facebook (it's free!) just type in "John Wesley Journal" in the search and the daily journal entries will appear everyday.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sermon (August 7) - "The Story of Joseph: Part I"

    When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, my best friend, Danny Herbert came over to my house to hang-out as we so often did that summer together.
     During that particular summer, we were really into building clubhouses.  I lived on a farm and we had plenty of places to build clubhouses.
     My favorite clubhouse was one that we built in a large maple tree in my front yard.  This tree had really big limbs to allow us to build a small floor, four walls and a roof.  It wasn't fancy, but it served us well.
     On one day that summer, we had built a clubhouse in the middle of our spacious meadow.  We didn't do a very good job in building it but it did take us a full day to build it.
     The day after we had built this clubhouse, Danny came over.  And I can't recall all of the details of what exactly happened, but my friend Danny and I got into an argument about something.
     And Danny decided to tear down the clubhouse we had just built the day before.  When I saw Danny knocking down the walls of this clubhouse, it was like I became a different person.  Anger set in and I ran toward Danny and pushed him over.
     He pushed me back and before too long, we were in a fight.  Here I was fighting my best friend.   And we were bruising and scratching each other.
     That little incident taught me at an early age of how fragile relationships can be.  Even the relationship of best friends.
     This morning, we begin a two-part sermon series on Joseph and his brothers from the Book of Genesis.
     Our scripture reading this morning shows us how not to do relationships.  It's a painful verse by verse scripture reading on the lessons of how to have a dysfunctional family.
     One of the reasons why I am convinced that the Bible is true and can be trusted as the inspired Word of God is because it is not afraid to reveal the character flaws of the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith.  One would expect these very obvious flaws to be swept under the rug. 
     Instead, they are hung out on the line for all to see.
     I mean, what kind of patriarch is Jacob in this story?  "Parenting for Dummies" he did not read.  No.  Instead, he just does what feels natural to him.  If you're drawn to one of your kids more than with the others, just favor that one over the others.
     As I read this scripture I just wish an angel would send Dr. Phil to Jacob and ask him his famous question - "And how's that working for you?"  Or wouldn't you just love to hear Dr. Phil say to him, "What are you thinking?"
      We are told up front that we're going to have major problems.  All you have to do is read verse 3.  "Now Israel, (which was the new name for Jacob) now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his children” (keep in mind that he has 12 children total) and it goes on to say that he loved Joseph more because Joseph was his youngest.  Actually, Joseph wasn't the youngest, Benjamin was.  But still, Joseph was very special to his dad.
     Now I'm the youngest of four in my family, and whenever we get together, my two sisters and brother love to remind me of just how much I was spoiled simply because I was the youngest.
     And it's true.  The rules were much more lax for me.  I think my parents were just plain tired of parenting after raising the first three.
     For example, they weren't as strict with me about getting good grades.  This past April, I went back home to see my mom and I ended up rummaging through some of my things that were still in the attic.   And one of the things I found was my elementary grade school cards.  I couldn’t believe that these were still saved in pristine condition and tucked away in a shoe box.
     Just to show you what kind of student I was, here is what my first grade teacher, Mrs. Maddox wrote about me on the grade card.  She used the sandwich approach.  You know what that is right?  You begin and end with something positive and stick the negative part in the middle.  Here’s what she wrote - “Robert is working nicely. He is easily confused on new materials but is not timid about asking about things he does not understand.”  Is that me or what?
     And here’s what my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Umberger wrote about me on a different grade card.  And she did not use the sandwich approach.  She got straight to the point. “Robert’s grade is low because he gets very low grades on his workbook.  He doesn’t take time to read directions carefully.”  Again, is that me or what?
     Every so often my dad would simply tell me his oft quoted line, "Son - you better buckle down."  And that was it.  No repercussions.  No extra chores.  Just – “Robert.  You better buckle down."  I never understood what he meant by that.  Were my pants too loose?  "You better buckle down."
     This was my dad’s way of reminding me to study a little harder, but he was still a lot softer on me than he was on Teresa, Dena, or David.
     I've always been able to relate to this story of Joseph because as the youngest, I guess you could say that I enjoyed my share of privileges.
     I am told by a very trusted authority (namely my wife) that the psychological reason for this family dynamic is because parents don't want their little baby to grow up.  The others grew up so fast and they want to keep the youngest a baby forever.
     And so, right off the bat, we know that trouble is brewing in the Jacob household.
     To make matters worse, Jacob has Joseph wear this pretentious coat of many colors.  And did you catch the little detail that this coat has sleeves?  In Bible times, you were somebody special and set apart if you had sleeves. 
     It was understood back then that anyone with long sleeves would not be expected to do manual labor.  Now, here's where Jacob and my father were very different.  I was expected to bail hay, mow the grass, and work at a factory over the holidays and during the summer months.
     Even though I may have been spoiled and got away with a lot, my dad never gave me a robe with sleeves.
     You want to talk about a recipe for disaster.  Picture Joseph's brothers sweating and dirty out in the fields and watching Joseph all clean and fresh coming toward them in his fancy "daddy loves me more than you" robe. 
     Which is exactly the scene we have in our scripture reading this morning.  And as Joseph approaches his brothers from a distance, the brothers are fuming. 
     One of them sarcastically says, "Here comes this dreamer."  If you recall, Joseph had told his brothers about two dreams in which his brothers had bowed down to him.  Not surprisingly, this did not go over so well with the brothers.
     So as Joseph walks toward his hard working brothers, one of them says, "This is our chance to kill Mr. Dreamer."
     And this story goes from bad to worse.  There's a glimmer of hope when Reuben begs his brothers to not kill Joseph but to just throw him in a cistern that doesn't have any water. 
     They strip Joseph of his long sleeved robe and they throw him into a pit.  And how they managed to eat lunch after this I will never know, but while the brothers were eating, they noticed a caravan of people on their way to Egypt.
     That's when they decide to sell Joseph to this traveling group for twenty pieces of silver.  So Joseph officially becomes a slave and is sent off to Egypt.
      The brothers grab the robe, dip it into some blood of a goat and make up a story that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. 
     Their father is devastated upon hearing this news and grieves the loss of his youngest son, Joseph.  Meanwhile, the band of travelers arrives in Egypt and Joseph is sold to one of Pharoah's officials.
     Let’s stop here for just a moment.  This story of Jacob and his dysfunctional family is just one of many dysfunctional stories that we find in this first book of the Bible.  Welcome to the wild and whacky world of the Book of Genesis!
     You would think that these kinds of crazy stories would be few and far between among God's people.  Sometimes the community of faith doesn't look all that different from an episode of Jersey Shore which I watched for the first time this past week in preparation for this sermon.
     But none of this should surprise us, right?  I mean, the first few pages of the Book of Genesis tell us the story of how sin entered the world.  It was when we disobeyed God and ate from the tree of good and evil even though we were told not to do so.  Even though we got to live in the beautiful Garden of Eden and had everything we wanted, we still chose to do what God had told us not to do.
     Theologians call this decision to disobey God, original sin.  And it’s something we struggle with throughout our life – the temptation to do the wrong thing because of greed or a desire for power or to take the easy way out. 
      Leonard Sweet is Christian speaker and author who actually spoke here some years ago.  He put it so well when he wrote, “The only thing original about me is original sin.”  Is it any wonder then, when new members join the church that they respond to this very heavy question?  And the question is, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?” 
     Because of original sin, we always face the temptation, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to disobey God.  That’s why Israel often strayed away from God.  And the same is true of the church.
      Some people look long and hard for the perfect church where there is no gossip, no jealousy, and where differences of opinions are always handled in loving and mature ways. 
     I came across this piece called “The Perfect Church.”  You might appreciate it.  I’ll just read a portion of it.  It goes like this:
     If you should find the perfect church without one fault or smear, for goodness sake, don’t join that church; you’d spoil the atmosphere.
     If you should find the perfect church where all anxieties cease, then pass it by, lest joining it, you’d mar the masterpiece.
     If you should find the perfect church, then don’t you ever dare, to tread upon such holy ground; you’d be a misfit there.
     Of course, it’s not a perfect church, That’s simple to discern.  But you and I and all of us could cause the tide to turn.
     What fools we are to flee our post in that unfruitful search.  To find at last where problems loom.  God proudly builds his church.
     So let’s keep working in our church until the resurrection.  And then we each will join that church without an imperfection.
     The story of Joseph is a story of how God’s own people struggle in being the community of faith that God has called us to be.  I wonder if the reason the bible is willing to air all of this dirty laundry is to help us come face to face with our own pettiness and hurtful actions toward each other.
     While I was serving as pastor of one of my previous churches, I was having lunch with a couple of parishioners in a local restaurant.  One of the members of our church was also eating in that same restaurant and she came up to our table to say “Hi.”
     And she said to everyone at our table, “Isn’t it great that we voted down the proposal?  That would have been a big mistake if we would have passed it.”
     She was referring to a very controversial vote that our church had recently made at a special Church Conference.
     What this lady who had come to our table didn’t know was that the people sitting with me voted in favor of the proposal.  Her words hurt them deeply.  She had assumed that they voted the same way that she voted.
     It was an awkward moment and I don’t think she ever realized how hurtful that comment was to her fellow parishioners.
     Sometimes, we needlessly hurt one another in the Body of Christ.
     Even though I am not naïve enough to believe that a church can be perfect, I still am amazed at how flippantly we can say things to brothers and sisters in Christ without thinking.  And often, it's not so much the opinions we share because I think we all realize that we are a church of diverse opinions and thoughts.  The problem is in the way we share them.
     And I’m even more amazed that the Bible is so brutally honest with how we fail to be the people God has called us to be.  And so in the New Testament, we read of Peter and Paul, two giants of the faith, two pillars of the church, sparring at one another over a delicate issue which the early church was facing at the time.
     And today, as we prepare to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we remember how twelve other men, were around a table with Jesus.  Twelve men.  Not brothers in the biological sense of the word.  But brothers in Christ.
     One of those brothers left the table to proceed with his plans to betray his Lord in exchange for 30 pieces of silver.  Joseph’s brothers got 20 pieces of silver for their betrayal.
     Another brother who was sitting around that table would end up denying Jesus three times.  And at one time or another, all of these brothers would forsake Jesus during a time when he needed them the most.
     The soldiers stripped Jesus of his garment before crucifying him.  Joseph was also stripped of his robe.
     Fortunately, the story doesn’t end with Joseph being sold into slavery.  And the story of Jesus doesn’t end with him on the cross.
     Today, we, the brothers and sisters in Christ, gather around the Lord’s table to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, to receive forgiveness for how we have intentionally or unintentionally hurt one another.
     It’s ironic that we who have broken Christ’s body because of our hurtful words, our jealousies, and our unloving ways, are the ones who will also be reminded in just a few moments of Christ’s words, “This is my body broken for you.”