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, October 31, 2011

The Reformation & Methodism

Today is Reformation Day (Oct. 31.)  On the Eve of All Saints, Day, October 31, 1517, Augustinian Father Doctor Martin Luther, professor of Scripture at the University of Wittenberg, Germany posted an invitation to debate on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. The invitation to debate contained ninety-five points, or theses, concerning the sale of indulgences. Luther chose this date for posting his theses because the coming holy day would bring many of the community to services, ensuring that his statements would receive wide exposure.

Throughout my pastoral ministry, I have always included a reference to Reformation Day on the last Sunday of October to remind us of this significant part of the history of the church.  We always sing the hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" and I try to include a reference to the Reformation in my sermon.  Yesterday, I had a quote from the great Lutheran pastor/theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

United Methodists have an interesting relationship with the Reformation.  The Reformation in which Protestantism led to the beginning of new church denominations took place during the 1500's.  The Anglican Church was influenced by the Protestant Reformation and sought to continue their Roman Catholic heritage.  King Henry VIII didn't want to be under the authority of the Roman Catholic Pope.

John Wesley who was a Priest in the Church of England which was a mixture of Roman Catholic and Protestant influences has sought to embrace both of these significant influences in the history of the church.  Even though we are a Protestant denomination, we need to remember that Roman Catholicism has a significant part in our Methodist heritage.

When Methodism spread to America and became it's own denomination, separating itself from the Anglican Church, we increasingly gravitated more toward our Protestant roots because of the democratic spirit that led to the birth of a new country.  However, our official Book of Worship includes liturgy that comes from our Roman Catholic heritage through the Anglican Church.

So, while it's important to celebrate Reformation Day as United Methodists, let's not use this as an opportunity to widen the chasm between Protestants and Catholics and mistakenly separate ourselves from our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.   The Protestant Reformation reminds us that the church needs to continually be reformed and shaped by the Holy Spirit and Roman Catholicism reminds us of the long standing history of the church and the rich liturgy of our faith.

While the United Methodist Church doesn't have an official "Reformation Day" prayer, I think this prayer for the church out of our Anglican/Episcopal prayer book, is very appropriate for the spirit of this day.  Happy Reformation Day!

Prayer for the Church:
Gracious Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior. Amen.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sermon (October 30) - Transformed Living: Filling the Bucket to Overflowing

We’ve had an exciting time these past several weeks looking at what it means to live a transformed life. Six weeks ago we began by discussing the importance of commitment. Today, we have an opportunity to make some commitments. We began this series with the idea of commitment as a means of priming the pump so the water will start to flow. We’ve talked about our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.  And today many of us are going to celebrate and turn in commitment forms on which we’ve indicated our personal and specific commitments in these areas.
In keeping with our water metaphor during this sermon series, my prayer has been for each one of us to have buckets that are overflowing.  Jesus, in using a reference to water said that this is possible by going after a pearl of great price.  Now is the time to go and buy that pearl—whatever the cost—or else never possess it. It’s one thing to see the pearl or to acknowledge that it exists; it’s another thing to actually make the commitment to purchase it.
As we prepare to return our commitment forms, I want us to remember that we make a commitment because God has first made a commitment to us.  We’re not initiating this commitment.  God has already done that through Jesus.  John 3:16 tells us this.“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”
The psalmist David said, “He always stands by his covenant / the commitment he made to a thousand generations” (Ps. 105:8). When God makes a commitment, God stands by it.
God expects us to be committed to him.  God sent Jesus into the world with the expectation that we would respond.  We don’t have to respond; we could choose to reject God’s covenant, but God really expects us to respond and receive what God has in mind for us.  Let me share five things detailing what that kind of commitment means.
First, commitment involves establishing priorities.  We’re assured in Matthew 6:32–33: “Your heavenly Father . . . will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” 
We might wonder, “Is it really possible for me to be generous in my financial giving.” Well, the truth is that you and I can’t possibly out-give God.  The more you give to God and the work of God’s kingdom through the church, the more we will experience lives that are overflowing.  Or maybe God’s calling you to serve in some specific area, and you might be questioning “Can I do that?”  God never calls us to serve unless he also supplies everything that we need to be a good steward of that responsibility.  You might be considering a bold commitment for worship attendance for this upcoming year, or a commitment for praying on a regular basis.  God will make a way and provide. You make these things a priority, and God will provide everything you need to carry them out.
Let me share a quick story about someone in our church and their commitment to prayer.  About a week ago, Pastor Cheryl told me that she had visited one of our elderly homebound members.  This member loves our church and she wanted Pastor Cheryl to know that she prays for our church every day.
And she then pointed at this prayer card which many of us received about a year ago.  These cards were included in the bulletin on a Sunday morning and this homebound member had received this when she got her bulletin in the mail that same week.  This is a prayer that we have been encouraged to pray each day throughout this year.
It goes like this: “Dear God, thank you for First United Methodist Church.  Strengthen us through the power of the Holy Spirit to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, and extravagant generosity.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.”
It’s a great prayer and it’s been an important prayer for me to use throughout this past year. But to be real honest with you, there are many days that I have not prayed this prayer.  And I’m the one who encouraged all of us to pray this prayer on a daily basis.
 Pointing to this prayer card, this homebound member told Pastor Cheryl, “I’ve been praying this prayer every single day.”
 When Pastor Cheryl shared this story with me, I thought, “Wow, this woman in our church is reminding me of the importance of not only making a commitment but keeping a commitment.  Her commitment shows just how much she loves Jesus and her church.”
In Luke 14:26, Jesus said: “If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”  Now that’s making God a priority. Commitment helps us establish what our priorities are. 
Second, commitment involves sacrifice.  Today is Reformation Sunday.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a person who was from this Reformed tradition was a 20th century Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis during World War II.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about the problem of what he referred to as “cheap grace.”  That is, we want something that doesn’t cost us much.  Real commitment, however, involves sacrifice.  Jesus said:
If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. (Luke 9:23–24)
  Commitment involves sacrifice.
Third: commitment involves planning ahead and looking to the future as members of a church family.  The church is the greatest institution in today’s world.  I believe it is the means by which God brings transformation to our community and world.  For this to happen, we need to plan ahead. Commitment helps us to plan both individually and as a community.  In Luke 14, Jesus says, “Don’t begin until you sit down and count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if there’s enough money to pay the bills?” (Luke 14:28).  Planning ahead allows us to know where we’re going. 
God will provide everything that’s necessary for us to follow through when we follow his direction in how he wants us to make that commitment. It helps to plan ahead.
If we fail to plan, then we plan to fail.  When a church knows who’s going to serve, what the financial commitment is, that it has people praying, and that it can depend on people being present for worship, powerful things happen.  All we have to do is just push back the boundaries that sometimes have limited the church, and God’s Holy Spirit will work through it.  Commitment involves planning ahead.
Fourth, commitment involves making some choices.  We have to choose what is really important.  Every Sunday morning when we get up, we’re going to make a choice as to whether or not we will go to worship.  If we’ve already made a commitment to be in worship, say forty-eight times during the year, then we don’t really have to make that choice when we get up in the morning.  If we make a commitment to be generous financial givers, then when we receive a paycheck, we already know what to take off the top.  We have already made some choices.  And this is what today is all about; planning ahead.  
    Jesus put it this way.
“You can enter God’s kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.” (Matt. 7:13–14)
          Today is all about making good choices. Here’s a thought worth pondering.  A year from now, the degree to which we will be growing in our faith, will be directly related to how bold our commitments are today because every choice has a consequence.
The sixth chapter of Romans says: “Don’t you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master? You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval” (v. 16). We’re going to be making some choices with our 2012 commitment forms. They’re going to provide a great opportunity for each one of us to make good choices together.  They also offer great opportunities to teach our youth and children about choices.
Fifth, commitment also involves finishing the task and staying the course. Paul encourages us to persevere when he says in II Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me” (2 Tim 4:7-8).  Earlier, he wrote: “This is a true saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him” (2 Tim 4: 11-12).  Commitment ensures that we grow in our Christian faith.
So, commitment involves establishing priorities, sacrifice, and planning ahead.  It involves making choices and then staying the course.  It’s what God expects of us.
There’s another side to all of this.  God expects us to be committed to each other.  If the local church is to be the greatest institution that God will use, we need to be a team.  Commitment helps each of us join hands together, encouraging and offering accountability as we’re told to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “encourage each other and build each other up,” and then in Romans 15:7, “accept each other just as Christ has accepted you.” Scripture admonishes: “stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so that there won’t be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose” (1 Cor. 1:10).
And we are to “live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Rom. 12:16 NIV).
In the church, everybody is different.  No one shares the same interests or the same gifts.  But we are a team when the whole group comes together and each person is able to use his or her resources and gifts to be a blessing to others.  When that happens, the church comes together as a solid unit.
We’re told in the twelfth chapter of Romans to “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (v. 10).  Our congregation is going to be so much stronger.  We’re going to reach out in new and exciting ways.  People are going to come into relationships with Jesus Christ like they’ve never experienced before.  Our youth and children are going to grow as disciples.  If we are responsible to our commitments of prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness, we’re committed to each other.
Let me conclude by saying that God blesses commitment. Throughout the Bible, we see that when we’re faithful, God honors our commitment.  That’s why the transformed life is possible to have.  It’s possible because of the commitment that we make in response to who God is and what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
Peter said:
“We have left our homes and followed you.”
“Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you, everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, as well as receiving eternal life in the world to come.” (Luke 18:28–30)
I challenge all of us today to just say, “God, what do you desire for me to do, and how do you want me to pray?  What kind of commitment should I make regarding attending worship services?  How do you want me to give of my financial resources?  How and where do you want me to serve and be a witness to others?”
God is about to bless our lives and our church a hundred times over.  How’s that for an overflowing life!  If I said, “Hey, I’ve got a valuable treasure that I want to give to you,” everybody would want it, right?
What’s being offered from God is far more valuable than monetary treasure; it’s life.  It’s the abundant life with a capital L, and it involves not only this life but all of eternity.  It’s a deeper relationship with God.  It’s a deeper relationship with your spouse, your children, your friends, your church. It’s freedom from fear. It’s the satisfaction in knowing that our generous financial gifts are making it possible for our church to make a difference in our community and world.  In short, what’s being offered is the MORE that we’ve been thirsty for, the MORE that is “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20 NKJV).
What a great day to be a part of the church!

*This sermon is based on the resource, Treasures of the Transformed Life, Abingdon Press, 2006.

Sunday Worship Preview - November 6

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

Sermon - "What's In a Name?"

Features - All Saints' Sunday & Holy Communion

Scripture - I John 3:1-3 & Matthew 5:1-12

Theme - The writer of I John reminds us of one of our names as followers of Christ.  On this All Saints' Sunday, another name we are given is the name, "saint."  By remembering the names God has given us, we are reminded of the hope that a day will come when all of God's people will be reunited and we will feast at God's heavenly banquet.

Friday, October 28, 2011

UMC Ministry in Lithuania Update

This past summer, Jolita and Andrew visited our church to share with us about how God is at work through the United Methodist Church in Lithuania.  At that time, Jolita was finishing her degree work at Asbury seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky and preparing to move back to Lithuania to be the pastor of two churches.

A portion of our Thanksgiving special offering goes to support the United Methodist ministry in Lithuania thanks to the partnership we have shared over the past seveal years.  Here is a letter I received from Jolita and Andrew about how they are doing since their move back to Lithuania.    Please keep our Lithuanian United Methodist partners in your prayers.

Erbele Updates

October 2011

The month of October has the leaves change here in Lithuania. The weather is turning noticeably cooler and we are waking up to frost on the ground. We are very thankful for the warmth of our apartment and we praise God for the kindness of people.

We have been calling on the youth of Kybartai at their homes after youth group in order to better understand how they live. We have learned a many things over the course of our visits. A significant number of our young people come from broken and dysfunctional homes. As we have listened to the parents tell their stories our hearts are almost in shock. We have not found a family with two parents living together. So much pain can be heard, yet they are willing to share with us just a little of their story and the cup of tea. The youth want to know us a better. Also they are showing their parents that we are treating them well and are not drawing them into a cult. This has led to interesting conversations for Jolita. We know that Christmas is coming and we hope we can prepare at least a little gift for every kid. If you would be interested in helping us with it please let us know. We need about 60 gifts total.

Andrew is not able to keep up with all the Lithuanian that is being spoken, so other little details stand out to him. One of the most striking is that every one of the people we have visited in Kybartai still uses a public outhouse. Kybartai is a town of about 5000 people. It has two medium sized grocery stories. It is up to date in many ways, yet they are the poorest of the poor who are coming to our church. With the cold weather coming, we have subtly been of looking for the heat source in these homes. All but one is using chimneys. The youth of the church often are living with three generations in a two-room apartment (two room not two bedroom).

We have noticed signs that we are reaching them. They are inviting us into their homes and their lives. Jolita receives text messages on a regular basis asking questions about life. The youth come early for youth group and stay late to talk. The most exciting thing is how the Holy Spirit is moving in their lives. This month two girls in the youth group asked to be baptized. As of this writing one has been baptized while the other hopes to be soon. We have nothing to credit for these girl’s step of faith except the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Below is a photo from the first baptism and the church of Kybartai.

This month we have also focused on settling into a pattern of life for the three of us. It is interesting to note that Jolita is doing most of the youth work while Andrew is doing most of the preaching. This is not quite how we envisioned ministry together yet it is working well for right now. Emma is doing well. As any three year old would, she is speaks an interesting mixture of Lithuanian and English. Only Jolita seems to understand a full sentence because Emma switches languages mid thought.

We would like to thank all of you for your prayers and encouragement. Knowing that you are in ministry with us means a great deal.

You can reach us by email at: pieciaitehope@hotmail.com; Andrew’s blog: www.erbele.org.

Jolita, Emma and Andrew Erbele

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bible Study Summary - Upcoming Sunday's Scriptures

October 30 Sermon – “Transformed Living: Filling the Bucket to Overflowing”

II Timothy 4:1-8

-         Paul writes this letter to encourage a young, timid, but gifted pastor to live out his sacred calling.  The 1st letter of Timothy defines a faithful congregation.  This 2nd letter defines a faithful pastor.
-         V. 2 – making things clear with patience – This verse shows the importance of not just giving people “information” about Christianity but to also share the “why.”
-         V. 3 – People want teaching that suits their interests and worldview.  We need to continually lift up the message of the gospel.
-         V. 5 – When we became disciples, it didn’t mean that this new way of life would be easy!
-         V. 8 – By using the word, “reward,” it reminds us of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6.  The reward is the joy of serving others and receiving God’s love in return.
-         At the end of our life, God will look at how we lived our whole life.  What we do now in this life matters even though we are saved by grace and not by works. In other words, through the strength of the Holy Spirit, we are to work with God in living out our faith.  The reward is when God’s new world appears, we will know that we have had a hand in participating with God in bringing about God’s kingdom.  That will bring us great joy.  That joy will be our reward.
-         V. 6 – Paul uses a worship/sacrifice metaphor.
-         V. 7 – Paul uses an athletic metaphor. 
-         V. 8 – Paul uses a law court metaphor.
-         V. 8 – Paul uses a “greeting the Roman emperor" metaphor.
-         In these four metaphors, Paul is saying, being poured out as a sacrifice while winning a race and being pronounced not guilty in a law court and being ready for the coming emperor (Jesus) is what are calling is all about!

Luke 18:18-30

-         Rich young ruler.  This is in contrast to the little ones who were just brought to Jesus in the previous passage.  The RYR did not come to Jesus with the same openness and vulnerability. 
-         In order to inherit God’s inbreaking kingdom, he needed to abandon the old and trust the new. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

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.
Sometimes the problem isn't the real problem.
Let me explain.....

I was traveling home from our family cottage.
It's about a 2 1/2 hour trip.

30 minutes into the trip,
I decided to stop at a convenient store
to pick up a soda.

I have greatly reduced my intake of sodas
the last 6 months to improve my dietary habits.
But I had a craving for one as I was driving.

I was in an out,
as is the flow in such a store.

90 minutes later,
I needed to make a phone call.
I pulled over and stopped
and realized my phone was nowhere to be found.

I had made a call in the first 5 minutes of the trip,
so I knew I hadn't left it at the cottage.

It had to be at the convenience store.
It was my only stop.

I tried calling my cell phone.
No one answered.

I didn't have time to return and retrieve it.
Since I was planning a trip back up to the cottage the next weekend,
I figured I could call the store,
have them hold the phone,
and pick it up in 6 days.

Like most people,
I have become very dependent upon my phone,
but I decided I could survive without it for a week.


I couldn't remember the name of the convenience store.
I have a pastor acquaintance who lives in that town,
so I planned to call him and ask him the name of the store.

I didn't have his phone number.
So I called directory assistance
They found someone who had the same last name
and same first initial listed in that town.
It must be him, I thought.

When I called,
an older lady answered.
This is not good, I thought.

I gave her my name and asked for my friend.
It was a bad connection
Who is this? she said
I repeated my name and asked again for my friend.
Her voice was raising to an uncomfortable level.

You don't know me,
but I just drove through your town,
and need to know the name of the convenience store
on the south side of town.

What? Who is this?

This was not going well.
In the background I heard an older man's voice.
It was definitely not my friend.

He said,
Erma, it's a scam artist.
Hang up!

Wait, I pleaded
I'm not trying to scam you,
I pulled out my ace and said,
I'm a pastor.

And I just need to know
the name of the convenience store on the south....
CLICK.........dial tone.

So much for my ace.
I was at a loss.

all I needed was the name of the store.
And I couldn't find anyone to help me.

I dialed directory assistance again.
Thinking if I could talk to anyone in the town,
they would know the name of the store, I said
Please give me the phone number of any business in town

I just realized that it was Labor Day.
Most businesses were closed.

I explained to the operator my dilemma.
She had no solution.
I was getting desperate

Wait, I said
There's a grocery store in that town
It was open today.
Can you get me the number?

She was able to find it.

I called the grocery store.
A woman answered.
I explained my problem,
and asked her if she knew the name of the convenience store.
She knew of the store, but couldn't recall the name.
She started to ask other employees.
No one could recall the name of the store.

I was beginning to feel that my phone had been sucked into the twilight zone.

I was so desperate, that I was about to ask this kind lady,
if someone from the store could walk
the two blocks to the convenience store
and return my call with the name.
Suddenly someone in the background
shouted out the chain name of the store.

That's it! I said.
Could I possible impose on you to look up the number in the phone book?
They looked it up.


The store wasn't listed in the phone book, at least by the chain name.
My frustration level was going sky high.

I thanked the kind lady and the crowd of employees
who had tried to help me.
And then I hung up.

I had run out of options.
But I remembered the source of all information..........the internet.
I looked up the convenience chain
to find the number of that store.

There was no listing of a store in that town.

So I called the closest store in that chain.
Once again explained my dilemma to a complete stranger.
I asked the store employee if they had a listing of all the stores in the area.
Oh yeah, he said.


It's not listed, he said
That's strange, because I know there is a store in that town.

Double Arrrrrggggghhhhhhh!

I hung up the phone.
I couldn't think of anything else I could do
besides driving 2 hours to pick up my phone.

Then my phone rang.
It was the kind lady at the grocery store.

We found the number for the store.
It's listed under another name.
The number is.....

I think heard the Hallelujah Chorus,
and bottles of champagne popping in the background.

I think I was crying tears of joy as I thanked the kind lady.
She could have easily ignored
the strange request of this stranger.
But she didn't.

Not only did she try to assist me,
but she continued to go the extra mile after she had hung up the first time.
It certainly wasn't convenient for her to call me back.

But she did.
And because of her,
she made my life a lot easier.

I learned a lot that day.

#1 Sodas are really bad for you, in more ways than one.
#2 Being a pastor doesn't make you sound less scary to older ladies
#3 The internet does not have all the answers
and most importantly,

#4 People who step out of their convenience to help a stranger,
know the heart of God.

It made me examine how hospitable I am to strangers.
How willing am I when it is not convenient for me.
How gracious am I when I don't know the other person.

You see the PROBLEM IS not about convenience or familiarity.
It is about recognizing that a stranger is just as important as a brother,
because according to Jesus, the stranger IS my brother.

Thanks you kind lady.
Someday on my way through,
I will stop by your store to thank you in person.

I just won't buy a soda.

Whoever compels you to go one mile,
go with him two.
Give to him who asks of you.
and do not turn away from him
who wants to borrow from you.
Matthew 5:41-42

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Operation Street Smart - The Church & Reaching Out to Those Struggling with Addictions

Our church hosts a weekly AA (Alcholics Anonymous) meeting.  It's an important way for our church to be active in making a difference in our community.  Illegal drug use is becoming an increasing problem in our communities.  There are several families in my congregation who have loved ones who are destroying their lives because of problems with addiction.  It's heart-breaking. 

I am so thankful for a couple members here at Lancaster First UMC who have taken the lead in bringing an excellent program, "Operation Street Smart" to our community.  It will be held on Saturday, December 3 at the Fairfield Medical Center. 

Recently, I met with someone in the church who is seeking support and guidance in knowing what to do regarding an adult family member who is taking drugs.  It's a sad story of how their family member is not only destroying his life but also deeply hurting his family emotionally and financially.

Here's a prayer that I pray each week on Tuesdays.  I prayed it again today.  It's a prayer for those who struggle with addictions.  What I like about this prayer is that it also remembers those who work with people who have addictions.  They definitely need our prayers, too!  Here's the prayer:

Blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thank You, Martha Pool!

Here is my poem I shared at our Martha Pool Party staff lunch today.  To help understand the poem, Martha is known for her many sneezes, a time when she accidentally locked herself in her bathroom and the staff was very concerned, how she likes to quickly walk from room to room in the church, and how plants that don't have a home somehow make it into her office.  The names that appear in the poem are staff members. 

Martha is leaving our staff after twelve and a half years to take a full time position at the ADAMH Board here in Lancaster.  Some of her noticable responsibilities have included preparing our Sunday bulletin and monthly newsletter.  Her last day of work with us is Tuesday, October 25.

A Martha "Office Pool"
By Robert Vincent McDowell

I know we work in a Methodist Church, I’m no fool.  But let’s make our bets in an office pool.

How many sneezes does Martha have per day?  Cheryl says ten.  Pam says, 7.  I say, thir-tay.

Will she lock herself in a bathroom again?  Clarence says maybe. I say, It’s not if, but when.

What will she say when she answers the phone - that’s the test.  Peg says, “ADAHM Board” I say, First United Methodist.

How fast will she go since she just can’t keep still? Jill says superman fast.  I say, I agree with Jill.

Are we as fun as the ADAMH Board staff?  Deb says, let’s hope.  John says, nope.  I say, about half.

Will she agree to take all of the unwanted plants?  Hank and Sandra think so.  I say, not a chance.

And last but not least, who will most miss Martha?  I say it’s a tie.  But Sandy says, duh!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sermon (October 23) - "Transformed Living: Offering a Drink to Others"

        Today’s topic deals with a very important biblical principal about having a transformed life.  It’s one of the necessary components along with praying, attending worship, and giving.  It’s the topic of serving and witnessing.
        A long time ago, the church was separated into clergy and laity. That chasm was bridged by the Protestant Reformation. Unfortunately, I think we have recreated that chasm to some degree because we tend to distinguish too much between clergy and laity.
        The biblical take on the ministry of the church is that the church is the ministry of the laos, the people of God, the laity. So today’s subject is critical because it’s designed to help both laypersons and clergy live out our Christian faith in significant and meaningful ways.
        I’d like us to think about three important questions from a biblical perspective: Why we are called to serve and share our faith?  Who God calls to serve and share their faith? And how are we to serve and share our faith?
        First thing, why should we serve?  Serving is an essential dimension of the Christian life. It’s not an option.  It’s what we’re called to do. I love being part of our worship services on Sunday mornings. And we talked about the importance of worship a couple of Sundays ago when Pastor Cheryl spoke on the importance of jumping in with both feet.  She talked a lot about how worship and offering our physical presence here on Sunday mornings is an important part of experiencing a transformed life.  But it’s also important to remember that the purpose of worship, the purpose of praying, and the purpose of church is not so that we can simply sit and soak. We are to become stirred to action—to go out and serve and witness.
        Serving and witnessing are such important dimensions of the Christian faith. First of all, it’s part of our Christian faith because God serves us. Jesus came to be a servant.  He said, “For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Jesus serves us, and he expects us to serve in his name.
      Jesus also said, “You know that in this world kings and tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:42–44)
        The expectation that Jesus has for the church is that we are to serve others.
        Now here’s an interesting sidelight to that: when we serve in the name of Christ and reach out to others, it gives us credibility in our community. If we are to become effective sowers of the message of Christ, one of the best ways to fertilize the soil in which that seed can be planted is to serve. Paul said in First Corinthians, “I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ” (9:19). When we serve others, we open the door of opportunity for the message of Christ to be shared.
        Peter pointed out, “Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior” (1 Pet. 3:1–2). The best sermons aren’t preached in sanctuaries. The best sermons are the sidewalk sermons preached by God’s people when we leave the sanctuary and go out into the world, where we reach out and serve those we meet. What we do often times speaks much more loudly than anything we actually say.
        Here’s another positive result when all of us are serving and sharing our faith with others:  It brings us together as church. The New Testament concept of the church is that we are the body of Christ, the community of faith that gathers together and serves together. As different as we are, we all have a common mission, to serve and to witness.
        The love that church members have for one another binds us together and frees us from ourselves and our selfishness. One of the best witnesses a church can give to its community is exhibiting unity in how it reaches out to the needs of others.
        The Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 3, “We work together as partners who belong to God” (1 Cor. 3:9), and in Ephesians chapter 4, he says, “Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts to grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Eph. 4:16).
        Our serving and witnessing give us credibility and it also brings us together as a team. And teams can get a lot more accomplished than individuals.
        The second question this morning is who should serve?  And the answer is that everyone is to serve and witness. There is a place for every person in the life of the church to use his or her God-given gifts to make a difference in our community and world. Here are just a few suggestions of how to determine where we should serve.
        First, we should serve where we can use the gifts and abilities that God has given us.
        The Miami Dolphins were AFC champions in 1983, and played the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl. Miami Coach Don Shula was credited with a great deal of the Dolphins’ success because he evaluated the talents of his players and built his system around those talents. That was different from other coaches, who usually built a system and tried to make the players’ talents fit the system. I like Coach Shula’s approach. I believe we as a church can be successful when each one of us uses the gifts and talents God has given us for the one common vision of sharing the love of Christ with our community.
        Part of the church’s task is to help people discover what gifts they possess and then provide an opportunity for those gifts and abilities to be used.
        In Romans 12:6–8, Paul said:
“God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. . . . If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If your gift is to encourage others, do it! If you have money, share it generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”
        God has gifted each of us in some way.
        It’s still exciting for me as a pastor to see people prayerfully discover what their gifts are. If you’re not sure what your gifts are there are resources such as spiritual gift inventories that can be used to help you discover them.
        In addition to using our gifts to serve and witness, God can also use our past experiences. All of us have been through some tough trials, and coming through them has given us a unique faith story to share with others. We’re advised in Galatians: “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that” (6:4 THE MESSAGE).
     Second Corinthians says something similar, “He comforts us all in our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (1:4). I’ve noticed that the people who are most effective at serving in the life of the church are those who have experienced Christ’s guiding hand through some difficult times in their lives. Coming through those adversities has taught them how to serve others who might be walking through similar situations.
        Another reason that we should serve is so that we can meet particular needs.
         In the Letter of James we are told, “Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?”
          If you look at the example of the church in the book of Acts, in the second chapter, that powerful passage of Scripture which begins with verse 45, it says that the people pooled their resources, found needs, and then began to fill them.
        So who should serve?  Every single person in the life of the church.  Why?  Because God has gifted each one of us.  God can use our unique experiences.  And because God can use each one of us to meet particular needs.
        One last question:  How should we serve?  First of all, we should serve enthusiastically: “Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically” (Rom. 12:11). When people are enthusiastic about what they do in the life of the church, it becomes an invitation for others to come. Those who are the most enthusiastic about sharing their faith are also the most enthusiastic about serving.
          Have you heard of the Pareto (Pah-Ray-Toe) Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule?  This rule says that in most cases, only 20% of the people will end up doing 80% of the work.  If you do the math with a church membership of about 1,400 people, that means less than 300 people in our church would be involved and actively serving and witnessing through the life of our congregation.  Now, I think we have a lot more than 300 people using their gifts in ministry.  But can you imagine what it would be like if 80% or over 1,100 of our church membership would be actively using their gifts to serve and share their faith through the life of our church?  What a difference that would make!
          By the way, here’s a side benefit when the majority of people are serving and sharing their faith:  There’s a positive spirit and attitude. As the old saying goes, people rowing the boat rarely have time to rock the boat. When people are enthusiastically serving, they don’t look for things that are wrong, they look for the things that are right.
        In addition to serving enthusiastically, we are also to serve unselfishly. Galatians 5:3 says that we have been “called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13).
        A third way that we should serve is with humility. We serve as Jesus served.  In I Peter, we read, “All of you serve each other in humility for ‘God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble’” (1 Pet. 5:5). The most beautiful mental picture I have of Jesus is of him kneeling to wash his disciples’ feet. In the church we’re not to look for the top, we’re to look for a towel—a place where we can serve in humility.
        And the fourth way that we should serve - we should serve with the intention of seeking to please God alone. The point of serving in the life of God’s church is not to please people or to draw attention to ourselves. The Apostle Paul says that we are to “serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or whether they praise us . . . ” (2 Cor. 6:8). Serving is at the very heart of how we express our Christian faith, opening doors through which we can be messengers of Christ.
        Serving others is offering a drink of the water of life to others. Jesus said, “if anyone gives even a cup of cold water . . . because he is my disciple . . . will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matt. 10:42).
     Notice that serving in the name of Christ can be as simple as offering someone a cold drink.  Just before I moved to Lancaster, I was on a mission trip to Guatemala.  During the trip, we helped to dig a water line trench to help provide clean water for a small and impoverished community.
     I got sick from working in the soil and ended up missing two days of work because I became so dehydrated.  One of the members of the mission team came back early from the work day and knocked on the door of my room and said, "Robert, I have an orange popsicle.  Would you like it?"
    That sounded so good and I yelled back, "Yes!  Thank you!"  He might has well asked me, "Robert, do you want a million dollars" because that popsicle was just what I needed!  Not only did it lift my spirits, but he felt good to know that I appreciated it so much.
     Serving and sharing our faith are essential parts of what it means to live transformed lives.
        Next Sunday, we will celebrate Commitment Sunday. It’ll mark the concluding Sunday of our Transformed Living focus. It’s also when we’ll have an opportunity to specifically commit to how we’ll support our church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness in the coming year.
           Many of us will be receiving this 2012 commitment form in the mail this week.  I encourage all of us to prayerfully fill out this form and bring it to worship next Sunday for a special dedication.  We’ll have extra forms available in the pews if you forget to bring it in.
           It’s going to be a great Sunday for us.  Just think of how our commitments are going to help us to live a transformed life and how our church will experience transformation in the coming year.

*This sermon is based on the resource, Treasures of the Transformed Life, Abingdon Press, 2006.