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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - August 12

Sunday, August 12 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, August 15  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Life of David: How Do You Want to Be Remembered?"

Features - Season After Pentecost

Scripture - II Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Theme - The story of David helps us to reflect on a time in his life when he made bad decisions which led to some very painful consequences. We try to make sense from these sad and tragic stories in the Bible.  Thankfully, God remains faithful in spite of us!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sermon (July 29) - "The Life of David: O, What a Tangled Web We Weave"

     Several years ago, I heard someone offer a terrific sermon that included a story that I wanted to use in one of my own sermons.  I sent a short letter to him asking for his permission to use this story since it was original to him.
     This gracious preacher promptly responded to my letter and in his note he wrote these words, “You always have permission to use any of my stories because the only thing original about me is original sin.”  I laughed as I read this.  “The only thing original about me is original sin.”
     If only we can all be as humble as this preacher and admit that we are all sinners.  Nobody’s perfect.  This is one of the very basic things that the bible teaches.
     Original sin is the doctrine that goes all the way back to the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible when Adam and Eve sinned and ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  God clearly told them to not eat from that specific tree but they did anyway.  And from that point on, every single person has been born into sin.  Sin is like this pull of gravity that seeks to keep us from having a relationship with God and to be the people we are created to be.
     You might recall the man who offered this prayer one day.  Dear Lord, so far today I’ve been doing alright. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or self indulgent.  I have not whined, complained, cursed, or eaten any chocolate. I have not charged anything to my credit card....but I will be getting out of bed soon, and I think I will really need your help!  Amen.”
     A friend of mine shared about a time when he and his family attended an Ash Wednesday service at his church.  This service which marks the beginning of the season of Lent followed the basic format.  It included an opportunity for the confession of sin and an invitation for everyone to become more like Jesus throughout those weeks leading up to Easter.
     My friend shared how his family went to a Tim Horton’s after the service.  As they were drinking their coffees, they began to talk about someone in their church who they couldn’t stand.  And then they began to talk about something else they didn’t like that was going on in their church. 
     Finally, my friend told his family, “Just listen to us.  It’s been less than an hour since we left that Ash Wednesday service and pledged to be more like Jesus, and already, we are gossiping and griping and being very unlike Jesus.” 
     As I thought about what my friend shared with me, it reminded me of how easy the pull of sin can be in our lives.  Before we know it, we’re already in its clutches.
     One of the spiritual disciplines that I try to incorporate in my life is the spiritual discipline of fasting or giving up a meal.  Giving up a meal is not something I enjoy doing.  I would much rather read the bible or pray than I would to fast from a meal.
     I was telling this to another pastor who has much more experience than I do with the spiritual discipline of fasting.  I told him, “The reason I don’t like to give up a meal is because it makes me so grumpy and irritable the during the day.”
     And I’ll never forget what he said back to me.  He said, “Oh, it’s not fasting that makes you grumpy and irritable.  Fasting only reveals what is already in your heart.”  Well, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
     Sometimes, we don’t even realize the ugliness of sin that lies within us.  But when we practice the spiritual disciplines like fasting, reading the scriptures, and prayer, God is able to reveal those parts of our lives where we need transformation.
     When people join the church they respond to some membership questions and one of those questions is pretty heavy.  The question is, “On behalf of the whole church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin”
     The church doesn’t sweep this whole sin problem under the rug or sugarcoat it.  As that preacher told me, “The only thing original about me is original sin.”
     During our summer series on the life of David, we have been learning some positive things in what it means to be faithful in following God.  As we’ve gone through these Old Testament stories, these stories of David have taught us to pray boldly, to be a person after God’s own heart, to allow God to comfort us during times of grief, to seek unity where there is division, to dance and rejoice in God’s goodness and grace, and to be open to receiving the gifts and blessings that God has in mind for us.
     But in our scripture reading for today, the lesson we receive from the life of David is, “Don’t make the same mistakes that I did.”  Today, we get the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba.  It’s a very tragic story that reminds us of this doctrine of original sin.  Even though David was known as a man who was after God’s own heart and he was this great king of Israel, he was still vulnerable to the gravity and the pull of sin.
     When we hear this story, we tend to only focus on David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba, but when we look carefully at this story, we find that David didn’t just break one of the Ten Commandments, he broke at least three of the ten in just this one story!  “Do Not Covet” is one.  “Do Not Commit Adultery” is the second one.  And the third commandment that David broke was the commandment, “Do not kill.”
     This story reminds us how easily one sin can lead to another and then to another.  Walter Scott wrote the famous line, “O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”  This pretty much sums up this sad story from the life of David.
     David’s sin is great.  He commits adultery with Bathsheba while her husband was out fighting a battle for Israel.  He tries to cover up his involvement in Bathsheba’s pregnancy by having Uriah come back from battle to be with Bathsheba.  This plan backfires because of Uriah’s vow to not be with his wife until the battle is over.
     David tries to convince Uriah again by getting him drunk but that plan doesn’t work either.  So David sends Uriah to the front of the battle where he would definitely end up being killed.  And this is pretty much the end of this sad story of David’s sin.  “O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” 
     This story is included in the Bible to help us see that because of original sin, we are all prone to sin against God. Even this man who is known to be one of the greatest people in the entire bible made these terrible decisions that led to tragic consequences.
     This story of David is a story about power and how power can sometimes lead us to sin.  Early in this story, we get a hint that something is going to go wrong when II Samuel tells us in verse one that “It was in the spring of the year, the time of the year when kings go out to battle.”
     Even to this point, Israel has been at war and David’s job as King was to continue to lead the people in battle.  Instead of doing what a king should do, David sends Joab to wage war instead while he stays back in Jerusalem and takes it easy. 
     David, who had been such a great leader is now beginning to let power go to his head.  He thinks that he can handle things his own way.  He no longer has his focus on God.
     One of my favorite hymns is the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” which was written by Robert Robinson back in the 1700’s.  Robert Robinson was born in Norfolk, England.  His father died when he was only eight and at the age of fourteen, he was sent by his mother to London to learn to be a barber. 
     He became associated with the wrong crowd and was living an immoral life.  One day, Robinson and the people in his gang went to a meeting where the great Methodist preacher, George Whitefield was preaching.  He ended up giving his life to Christ that day.  He became a Methodist preacher.  He then became a Baptist preacher and wrote many theological works as well as several hymns.
     Even though Robinson did all of these great things following his conversion, he also was known to backslide in his faith and fall into sin.  The story is told that he was on a stagecoach one day when he noticed a woman who was humming from a hymn book that she had in her hands.
     She asked Robinson who was sitting near her what he thought of the hymn she was humming. It was the same hymn I mentioned earlier, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” which he had written.  Robinson began to cry and said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy many who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.”
     In his hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Robinson penned these words, “Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let they goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee.  Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart – O take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.”
     Like this great hymn writer and David in our scripture today, all of us are prone to wander and leave the God we love.  The pull of sin can keep us from being the people God created us to be.
     Maybe instead of just being born again, we need to be born again and again and again and again.  We need to be born again every day.  We need to receive God’s grace moment by moment, kind of like we need to breathe again and again and again.
     The Christian faith is not a sprint.  It’s a long journey that includes ups and downs and detours and zigzags.  But it also includes wonderful and unforgettable moments where God’s grace is present for us just when we need it the most.  All we need to do is receive it.
     You know, when new members join the church, they also respond to this question which is an important one for us to always remember, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”
     We don’t have to give into sin and we don’t have to allow the pull of sin to lead us down the wrong road.  God’s grace is always reaching out to us to help us be the people we are called to be in any given situation.
     About a year ago, a friend of mine who’s a pastor was sharing with me about a situation he was facing in his church.  One of his church members was undermining his ministry by always speaking negatively about him and his family. 
     Another member of the church agreed to serve as a mediator between them.  So late one night, the three of them met in the sanctuary to work things out.  My friend said that before that meeting, he had been praying all day long to remain calm and to take the high road no matter what this member of his congregation might say in that meeting.
     Unfortunately, the meeting did not go well at all, even with the help of a mediator.  This person made accusations about my friend that just weren’t true.  I asked him, “How did you respond to her?”  And he said, “I just listened the best I could and when it was my turn to speak, I calmly pointed out that what she was saying about me just wasn’t true.  But she would interrupt me and didn’t want to hear what I had to say.”
     And then he said, “The worst part of the meeting was at the end when the mediator, sensing that this other person had no interest in working things out, said, ‘Well at least, I want to close in prayer together.’  But this person refused and said, ‘Oh, I’m not going to pray with him.’”
     And the mediator making sure she heard this correctly said, “I’m sorry, did I hear you correctly? You really don’t want to share in a prayer?”  “No,” she said in a huff.  “When I do pray for him, I pray that he’ll leave the church or something bad will happen to him.”  The mediator’s jaw dropped in disbelief at what she just heard, especially since they were sitting in front of the sanctuary altar for this meeting.
    My friend said that he was shocked as well, but surprisingly remained calm and didn’t react.  And I asked, “How on earth did you manage that?” And he said, “Oh…It was all I could do to not reach over and…”
     Praise God that we don’t have to give in to sin.

Sunday Worship Preview - August 5

Sunday, August 5 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, August 8  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Life of David: Seeing the Real You"

Features - Season After Pentecost & Holy Communion

Scripture - II Samuel 11:26-12:13a

Theme - It's not easy for us to see who we areally are.  Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that we are someone other than who God created us to be.  Thankfully, God provides ways for us to see who we really are so that we can begin anew with God.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Joe Paterno & King David

So far during our summer sermon series on the life of David from the Old Testament, we have learned a lot about this man after God's own heart.  As we prepare for the home stretch of this sermon series, David is a great example of what it means to be a faithful follower and leader for God. 

David has taught us to not allow outward appearances to get in the way of serving God, to know that there is no giant in our lives that is too big for God and for us to handle, that when we experience a loss we can grieve with hope, to do whatever we can to seek unity among God's people, to express our appreciation of God's grace through dance and celebration, and to know that anything we give to God is in response to what God has already given to us and will continue to give us.

This Sunday, will be the first time that David will teach us what NOT to do because of his adulterous affair with Bathesheba and the killing of Uriah.  Since David did so much good but also sinned greatly, how do we reconcile these two sides of who David was?

It's interesting that the news about iconic football coach, Joe Paterno's concealment of Jerry Sandusky's crimes has surfaced almost exactly when this sermon series begins to focus on David's very poor decisions.  I will do my best to not highlight more than what is needed between these two prominent figures but there is an interesting comparison to be made.

Timothy McGettigan, a professor of sociology at Colorado State-Pueblo helps makes sense of the rise and fall of iconic figures by stating, "What we do in a lot of cases - and mass media helps with this - is if people do noteworthy things, they tend to get a great deal of media attention, and that builds on itself and creates what is known as a cult of personality.  What we do in a lot of ways with the mass media is take people who have done exceptional things and make them a larger than life character, and then we do things like naming things after them that sort of enshrine their uniqueness."

The problem is that when they don't live up to this image and we have statues made in their honor during their lifetime, the more outrage we will feel at the events that have transpired.  Statues that were meant for eternity will be abruptly torn down.

Even with David's many sins as we will begin to see in our sermon series, King David's statue still proudly stands in a museum in Florence, Italy.  I wonder if the casual observer of that statue is aware of David's terrible sins when they gaze upon it.  The statue stands because David also did a lot of good for God and for God's people.  But it also stands because it was built centuries after he died!

This is why professor McGettigan offers this advice: "The best rule for naming any physical thing is to make sure that they are dead and gone, and some universities have rules that you have to wait five years after a person passes away before you name anything after them. I think that's a good idea."

I am one to agree that Paterno's statue needed to come down immediately.  It would be a mistake to take it down only to satisfy our own feelings of hypocrisy due to how we have fed into the cult of the Joe Paterno personality.  I hope the statue was taken down to help in the healing process, but also as a sobering reminder that every human being is flawed and we all need to be accountable for our actions.

And the good news is that God's grace is available for all who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

You're a Peach!

A very kind couple in my church who live on a farm dropped off perfectly ripened peaches at our house this week.  Peaches are my favorite fruit.  The problem with fruit is that there is usually a small window of shelf life in eating them at just the right time before they go bad.  Or you can have the opposite problem and eat them too soon when they don't taste very good.

I've been thinking how fruit is a very biblical image.  We are called to be fruitful by living out our faith so that we can see tangible results of God's transforming work in our community and world.  Just like I can't imagine not having any fruit in my diet especially during the summer months, it's difficult to imagine the church not having any fruit since we are called to live out our faith and make a difference in our world.

When we don't live out our faith, we miss out on being the fruitful people that God has called us to be.  Without a little patience, we are sometimes like that hardened peach that still needs to soften.  It takes time to be the people we have been created to be.  And sometimes, we wait way too long to step out in faith.  The time is "ripe" for a new ministry and to take on a new spiritual opportunity, but we wait too long and miss the opportunity, kind of like eating a peach that has started to spoil!

In the heart of the summer, God calls us to be fruitful.  We are invited to allow the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23,) love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to be evident in all that we say and do.  Remember, you're a peach!  Be fruitful!

And that's not just a warm and fuzzy thought!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - July 29

Sunday, July 29 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, August 1  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Life of David: O, What a Tangled Web We Weave"

Features - Season After Pentecost

Scripture - II Samuel 11:1-15

Theme - David is viewed as a great man of faith but today’s reading reminds us that David had another side that was resistant to being the person God had called him to be.  When faced with temptation, are we open to receiving God’s grace to help us make the right decisions?

Sermon (July 22) "The Life of David: Trading Places"

     Like many of you, I sometimes struggle with what to buy for people when it’s their birthday or for Christmas. There’s a feeling of accomplishment when you think of that perfect gift to give to somebody. 
     But isn’t it disheartening when you forget to buy someone a Christmas gift?  Or if somebody buys you a gift and they give it to you like a couple of days before Christmas and then you’re left with a dilemma.  “Would it be tacky if I buy this person a gift?  Obviously, they’re going to know that any gift I give to them is only because they bought me a gift.”    And we wonder what we’re going to do in that situation.
     Gift giving isn’t always easy.
     Someone in my family used to always get me something religious for my birthday and at Christmas.  And there’s certainly nothing wrong with religious things.
     And yet, how many praying hands book ends does a pastor need?  Or how many bible verse wall plaques are one too many?  I think I have every Chuck Swindoll and Max Lucado book that’s ever been published.
     And then we have the problem of buying for someone who seems to have everything.  These are the people who tell you, “Oh, you don’t need to get me anything.”  They think they’re being modest and polite, but it really just makes it that much more difficult for you as the gift buyer.  It would be so much easier if that person would just say something like, “You know, I could use another set of praying hands.”
     What do you get for someone who seems to have everything?
     And what can you and I possibly give to God?  Have you ever thought of that?  What appropriate gift can we give since God is the creator of everything there is?
     About 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, King David had a tremendous desire to give God a gift.  He was living during a period of Israel’s history where things have really settled down and the nation of Israel was at peace with her enemies.
     David was aware of God’s goodness and love.  And he wanted to express his gratitude to God for all of these blessings.  And one day, he thought to himself, “What would be a nice gift for God?  What does God need?”
    As he looked around at his beautiful house of cedar, the thought came to him that the Lord should have a nice house like this.  And so David consulted the prophet Nathan that he wanted to build the Lord a Temple.
     Nathan likes the thought of this, and tells King David, “That’s a wonderful idea.  I suggest you begin working on getting that gift idea right away.”  But there ends up being one important snag in this whole new home for God idea.  The Lord tells David and Nathan, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
     Why would the Lord turn down such a nice gift?  If you know the rest of the story, it ended up being David’s son, Solomon who built the Lord a Temple.  But why didn’t the Lord want it to be David?
     Our scripture reading from II Samuel tells us why.  It was because the Lord still had another very important gift to give to David.  Instead of a house for the Lord, the Lord wanted to give David a house, not a house of cedar which he already had, but a house or a kingdom that would last forever.  How’s that for trading places?  The gift giver, David, becomes the gift receiver! 
     And this gift of an everlasting kingdom was not only to bless David and his family, but was also a gift for the whole world, because it would be through Jesus Christ, a descendent of David that God’s kingdom would be established forever, a kingdom of God’s love, grace, and righteousness.
     David’s desire to build the Lord a Temple was well meaning and from the heart.  But it didn’t come close to the gift that the Lord wanted to give David.  It can be a struggle to think of what gifts we might give to God, the God of all creation.
     Many of us put an offering in every Sunday morning.  Does God want our financial gifts?
     Or maybe we attend worship and serve in a ministry through our church.  Wouldn’t these be considered our gifts to God?  Does God want us to offer our time and our physical presence as gifts?
     Well yes, but…
     I heard a Christian once say, “You know, my wife and I follow the biblical principle of tithing our income and giving it to the church.  Since we both make decent incomes, that check to the church each week is a pretty big chunk of money.  Ten percent of our income is bigger than our car payments and we have nice cars.”
     And then he went on to say, “But when I stop to think of who God is and how Jesus Christ has changed my life, it makes my check to the church look so puny  in comparison.” 
     I think this person is on to something.  Our gifts to God and the church are meant to be expressions of our gratitude for all that God has done.  Our gifts to God and the church are never meant to earn God’s favor or to pay back what God has done for us.  We can never do that.
     When we put our offering in the plate, I often feel like the man who, in a hurry to go to the church picnic, quickly grabbed a bologna sandwich and ran out the door.  Each family was asked to bring their own food to eat.  The man with the bologna sandwich sat next near a family who had this incredible spread of fried chicken, potato salad, and apple pie.
     And here, this man sat with this meager bologna sandwich all by himself.  The family, noticing this man sitting by himself said, “Hey would it be ok if you share your sandwich with us and we’ll share our food with you?”  This man came with a bologna sandwich, and received so much more.
     On a beautiful fall day, just about the time when the leaves were finally beginning to turn colors, I went for a run on the bike path.  It was a memorable autumn day with  blue skies and sun rays shining through the leaves of the trees.
     It was just one of those moments that I’m sure you have experienced as well, where you just say to yourself, “God is so unmistakingly present in this moment.”  And as I was running, I couldn’t help but to think of how God is so gracious to us.
     What gift could I give to God in that moment as I was taking in God’s beautiful creation?  I smiled as I thought about the absurdity of trying to write a personal check to the church as I was running, even though it’s what I felt like doing in that moment to show my appreciation to God.
     I even thought about the impossibility of signing up to serve in a ministry area as I ran on the bike path, but I usually don’t carry a church commitment form with me when I work-out.  After I was done humoring myself, a more serious thought came to me.
    There was really only one thing that I could realistically do as I ran through that splendid display of God’s beauty.  I whispered some psalms of praise to this wonderful God who blesses us again and again and overwhelms us with his grace even when all that we have is the sweat on our brow and our running clothes.
    Bob Buford, the author of a best-selling book, Half Time, tells the story of receiving a phone call from his brother, Jeff on the evening of January 1987.  His brother called him to let him know that Bob’s son, Ross, along with two of Ross’s friends had attempted to swim the Rio Grande River.
     “I think we have serious trouble,” Jeff told him in a voice that meant it.  “Ross is missing in the Rio Grande.”  He told him that the Texas Rangers were coordinating the search for Ross. 
     And so Bob flew down to the Rio Grande Valley to join in the search, arriving by daybreak the next morning.  Bob, a very wealthy man hired airplanes, helicopters, boats, trackers with dogs, anything money could buy.
     By three o’clock in the afternoon, Bob looked into the eyes of one of the trackers and knew that he would never see Ross again in his life.  He remembers walking along limestone bluff perhaps two hundred feet above the muddy and treacherous river, as frightened as he has ever felt.
     He thought to himself, “Here’s something you can’t dream your way out of.  Here’s something you can’t think your way out of, buy your way out of, or work your way out of. This is,” he thought, “something you can only trust your way out of.”
     And then he prayed, “Dear God, somehow, give me the ability to accept and absorb whatever grace people might bring to me at this terrible time.  Amen.”
     As the search for Ross continued, God’s grace surrounded Bob.  The search team ended up finding his son four months later about ten miles down-river.
     As horrifying and sad as this experience was, Bob also experienced the gift of God’s grace and in ways that he had never experienced before.  Close and silent embraces from friends, letter and phone calls of concern and empathy, and gifts of meals prepared and brought to his home were much-needed signs of God’s love.
      In that moment when Bob was at a loss for what to do, God’s gift of grace is what got him through that very tragic time in his life.  Even with all of his wealth and fortune, that was nothing in comparison to the gift that God provided Bob and his family in their darkest hour.
     God offers us gifts that money can’t buy; gifts of forgiveness, grace, guidance, comfort, love, beauty, and salvation.  Like David, we offer to build God a house.  We bring our offerings and the best that we have, even if it’s only a bologna sandwich. 
     We bring it all to God.  And he gives us so much more.  David teaches us that you just can’t out-give God.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Meet the New West Ohio Area Bishop Gregory Palmer

Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer was assigned as Episcopal Leader of the Illinois Area of The United Methodist Church Sept. 1, 2008.  He will become the Episcopal Leader of the West Ohio Area on September 1, 2012.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pa., Bishop Palmer is a “child of the church,” the son of the Rev. and Mrs. Herbert E. and Charlotte Sue Hewitt Palmer. Bishop Palmer’s father is a retired United Methodist pastor; his mother (now deceased) was a school teacher in the Philadelphia Public School system. Rev. Herbert Palmer and his wife Peggy reside in Philadelphia.

Bishop Palmer received his undergraduate degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and the Master’s of Divinity degree from Duke University Divinity School, Durham, N.C. Baldwin-Wallace College, Iowa Wesleyan College and Simpson College have all awarded him honorary degrees.

Ordained a deacon and probationary member in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference in 1977, Palmer was ordained an elder in full connection in the East Ohio Conference in 1981.His pastoral career includes pastorates at Granville-Vance UMC’s and Durham Asbury Temple UMC in North Carolina; East Glennville UMC and Werner UMC in Cleveland, Ohio; James S. Thomas UMC in Canton, Ohio and the United Methodist Church of Berea, Berea, Ohio. Palmer also served as district superintendent of the Youngstown District of the East Ohio Conference.

In 2000, Palmer was elected to the episcopacy by the North Central Jurisdictional Conference. He was assigned to the Iowa Area where he served until assuming responsibilities in the Illinois Area. Bishop Palmer served as president of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry from 2004 to 2008 and president of the Council of Bishops from April 2008 to May 2010.

Bishop Palmer and his wife of 34 years, Cynthia, are the parents of two grown children – Monica, a middle school Special education teacher in Charlotte, N.C. and Aaron, who is employed at a financial planning software company in Charlotte, N.C.

Mrs. Palmer is an honors graduate in religion of Duke University. She is a Senior Sales Director with Mary Kay Cosmetics. She has served as a Director of Christian Education, as staff of several Community Action Agencies focused on Welfare to Work projects. She is an outstanding student and teacher of the scriptures and has a strong interest in women’s leadership development.

Preparing for a New Bishop

Tomorrow, the new Bishop of the West Ohio Conference will be announced.  Bishop Ough, who has served our conference the past twelve years has finished his third term and will be assigned to a new area in the North Central Jurisdiction.  Bishop terms are four years and Bishop Ough has served us for three terms.  The Book of Discipline does not allow for a fourth term.

Bishops oversee an area such as West Ohio and have the responsibility of appointing each United Methodist Charge with a pastor to provide leadership in equipping the people to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Bishops are aided in their responsibility with District Superintendents who are appointed to geographical areas in the conference.  Pastoral appointments are on an annual basis and begin on July 1st.  Typically, decisions on pastoral appointments are made between January and May of each year.

The Greek word for Bishop means to oversee and so Bishops oversee the spiritual direction of the conference they are assigned.  One of Bishop Ough's distinctive changes for our conference over the past twelve years has been to equip pastors to share in the ministry of overseeing the spiritual needs of our conference through the formation of clergy cluster groups.  Every pastor is expected to participate in a clergy cluster in which pastors support one another in their ministries.

My clergy cluster consists of pastors in the Lancaster and surrounding area.  This geographical cluster allows us to not only support each other in our individual ministries but to also find ways to share in ministry together.  My cluster serves as my small group.  This past January's Marty Ford Concert to raise money to help prevent and treat drug addiction was sponsored by my cluster.  Our plan is to find more ways for our churches to share in ministry together.

Recently, I was at a United Methodist Church located in a different conference and like our conference, they will be assigned a new Bishop September 1st (the starting date for Bishop assignments.)  Speaking with one of their District Superintendents, I asked him if he was ready for this transition.  He said, "Our present Bishop has worked hard to encourage the local church to be creative in starting new ministries to reach more people for Christ.  We're a little worried that our next Bishop will take us in a totally different direction and wipe out any progress we've made over these years."  I could sense his nervousness as he shared this concern with me. 

Just like congregations are concerned who their next pastor will be, pastors are on the edge of their seat waiting to hear who our new Bishop will be.  Regardless of who is announced, we are called to pray for our Bishop to lead us in our church's mission.  I have already invited whoever the new Bishop will be to preach at our church on Sunday, October 21st.  If the Bishop's schedule allows for this to happen, our congregation will have the opportunity to offer our welcome and words of encouragement that day.

Visit back tomorrow when I provide a blog post on who our new Bishop will be.  I type this as I sit on the edge of my seat.  :)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - July 22

Sunday, July 22 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, July 25  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Life of David: Trading Places"

Features - Season After Pentecost

Scripture - II Samuel 7:1-14a

Theme - II Samuel 7 focuses on David’s desire to build God a house.  God has other plans.  God wants to build a house for David instead!  God’s gift of grace is always more than we can ever expect.

Sermon (July 15) "The Life of David: Dance, David, Dance!"

     I have really been enjoying our focus this summer on the life of David.  David, who is this larger than life Old Testament figure has so much to teach us.  After just five weeks of our summer study of his life, we have already learned a lot about this great man of faith.
     The life of David has helped us to explore what it means to pray boldly, to not allow outward appearances get in the way of serving God, to know that there is no giant in our lives that is too big for God and us to handle, that when we experience a loss we can grieve with hope, and to do whatever we can to seek unity among God’s people.
     So what does David have to teach us today?  Are you ready for this?  David teaches us that it’s OK to dance.  So consider me your dance instructor this morning!
     But first, let me quickly set the scene of this time in David’s life and then we’ll see how important it is to learn how to dance in our faith.
     Last Sunday, we learned how David had become king over all of Israel which included the northern tribes as well as the southern tribes.  And to help these two geographical areas of Israel begin to feel a sense of unity and common purpose as the people of God, David strategically made the city of Jerusalem the new capitol.  It was a neutral place that allowed both the southern and the northern tribes to claim as their capitol city together.  And because of David’s heroic efforts to take over the city, Jerusalem became known as the city of David.
     In our scripture passage today from II Samuel, David decides to do something else to help all of Israel know that they are one people and that they are God’s people.  He brings the ark of God, which is a symbol of God’s presence, to now stay in this new capitol city of Jerusalem.
     The ark of God is what the Israelites carried with them during their wilderness journey to the Promised Land.  In the Book of Exodus, this ark of God is described for us.  It was four feet long, two and a half feet high, and the box that surrounded it was made out of acacia wood.
     This ark meant everything to the people of Israel.  It was a symbol of who they were.  Whenever they went to battle, they took this ark with them to defeat their enemy.  And since Israel was always on the move and battling the people around them, the ark was on the move as well. Up to this point, the ark had no true home.
     And so, to help symbolize the new unity of God’s people, David has decided to retrieve the ark from where it was last located and bring it with great fanfare into the new capitol city of Jerusalem.  This was a bold move on David’s part because something like this had never been done before. 
     To add to the drama, as the ark was being carried to Jerusalem, it began to shake, and one of the men did a no-no.  By instinct, he tried to steady the ark by touching it and because of this, he died, right there on the spot.  This just goes to show how holy and set apart the ark was for the people of God.  You didn’t treat it casually.  It was a matter of life and death.  So the fact that David had decided to move the ark to a new and permanent location was a very bold thing for him to do, but one that he believed would help the people to serve God as one people.
     You might think that all of this was done in a very solemn and subdued way, but it was really the opposite.  And this is what is so surprising to me about this story of the ark making its way to Jerusalem.  What we have is loud and joyous music with lots of lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals.  This was a celebration.
     And to top it off, we have David leading the way and they’re all dancing!  David and the people were dancing!
     Several years ago, I remember taking the dogs for a walk in our neighborhood.  It was a neighborhood that had a lot of families with children.  During the walk, I began to hear someone singing and it was getting louder and louder.
    As I turned to head down a different street, there, standing in front of this house was a shy seven year old girl holding a toy microphone and singing out as if she was performing at an outdoor concert.  She was wearing a pretty dress and was showing off some well choreographed dance moves.
     Now, I had often waved to this little girl and to her parents during walks in that neighborhood, and this little girl would always look away because she was so shy.  She was singing and dancing to her heart’s content.  That is until she spotted me coming around the corner.
     She didn’t expect to see anybody on that quiet day in the neighborhood.  I caught her by surprise.  In a matter of just a few seconds, she went from singing in front of hundreds of adoring fans at a make believe outdoor concert, to being that shy seven year old who I would often see outside playing with her mom and dad.
     As soon as she saw me, she ducked behind one of the bushes that was in front of her house.  In an instant, this rock star phenom had become a hidden statue, frozen in time.  I could tell she was embarrassed.  As I passed by, I told her, “You have a great voice!”  Surprised that I had spotted her, she smiled back.  I often wonder if she resumed her concert.  I hope she is still singing and dancing today.
     I feel so bad for Penny that she ended up marrying a non-dancer.  But that’s the way it goes.  If I could have two wishes come true in my life it would be to be able to dunk a basketball and to be a really, really good dancer.
     You’ve all seen that guy on the dance floor at a wedding reception, right?  That guy who has all those awesome dance moves and looks really cool.  I want to be that guy!
     A little over a year ago, I officiated at a wedding that was held in Cincinnati for the daughter of my best friend.  The reception was held at a beautiful park and I knew I was in trouble when I saw a huge empty space that was obviously reserved for dancing. 
     People from the wedding party pushed me on to the dance floor.  They were playing the song, YMCA where you have to form those letters.  I totally couldn’t do it.  The twenty year olds who were up there with me did great but I was always behind a couple of letters.
     But here is what I learned from that experience.  I actually didn’t care how bad my dancing looked.  We were all having fun.  My best friend and his wife were happy.  His newly-wed daughter and son in law were having a great time.  It was a wonderful day of celebration.  And it was OK to look a little silly.
     What keeps us from being like David where we feel free enough to dance and sing?  The great writer, H.L. Mencken once said that “a Puritan was someone who feared that somewhere, someone was having a good time.” 
     The reason that David let loose as the ark of God was being brought into Jerusalem was because he was celebrating the new thing that God was about to do in the midst of the people.  God was coming to dwell in this new capitol city.  God was coming to unite a divided people.  God was coming to be the true king of all of Israel.  David was celebrating the new way that God was present in their midst.
     Several years ago, I attended a community ministerial meeting.  The host pastor led the morning devotions.  And I’ll never forget what he said.  He invited us to remember that time in our lives when we first knew just how much God loves us.  And then he shared his experience.
     He said, “I’ll never forget it.  I experienced a peace in my life like I never felt before.  I knew that my sins were forgiven and that I wasn’t alone.”  And then he looked at me and all the pastors around the table and he encouraged us to never forget.  “Don’t ever forget,” he said.        
     Always remember that time when you first realized just how much God loves you.  Don’t let the demands of ministry ever get in the way of remembering what God has done for you and continues to do in your life.   Jesus loves you.  Never forget.  Rejoice in God’s love for you.
     I don’t exactly recall what specific thing I was going through when he shared that thought with me that day, but I needed to hear that message that morning.  I left that meeting rejoicing because this pastor had helped me to remember who I was in Jesus Christ.  I didn’t dance like David, but I had a spring in my step the rest of that day.
     Friends, I’m going to do the same for you today.  I want you to remember when you first realized just how much God loves you.  Do you remember?  Never forget!  Don’t ever let the demands and challenges of life get in the way of remembering when you first experienced God’s unconditional love.  And when you remember, it’s OK if you want to celebrate your relationship with God in a fun way.  Rejoice in how much you are loved by God.
     Several years ago, Christian speaker and author, Tony Campolo was invited to preach at a Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, near my home area.  A few days before, he had been the speaker at a nearby inspirational music festival, and some of the young people who were at the festival decided to travel to Lancaster to hear Dr. Campolo preach there as well.  And so, because of all the people who had traveled from the festival, the sanctuary was packed with a lot of young people.
     When the Lutheran pastor began the service, he called the people to worship by saying, “Let us make a joyful noise unto the Lord! Let us come into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise!”
     Imagine that Lutheran pastor’s surprise when someone in the balcony actually jumped up and yelled, “All right!  All right!” and started clapping.  Before long there were several hundred young people on their feet shouting praise and applauding wildly. 
     “I don’t know what the pastor was expecting when he told the people in the pews to make a joyful noise to the Lord,” said Dr. Campolo later, “But I do know that the last thing he expected was that anybody actually would!”
     But it’s not just about Lutherans because back in the day, we were known as the “Shouting Methodists.”  That’s hard to believe, especially when we often have debates over whether we should clap in church or not. 
     Back in 1807, here’s what one new Methodist convert said about the shouting Methodists.  “At length I went amongst them, to hear them groan and shout.  I thought they were distracted, such fools I’d never seen.  They’d stamp and clap and tremble, and wail and cry and scream.”
     We are fools, aren’t we?  To dance, to shout, and to express our joy in such inappropriate ways, like David who danced all the way into the city of Jerusalem.
     Thank you David, for reminding us that God is present with us in a new way this day.  Thank you, David for teaching us to dance.

Friday, July 13, 2012

My Thoughts on Penn State Moving Forward

After reading through the Freeh's report regarding the sex abuse cover-up over the past several years at Penn State University, here are some of my thoughts in moving forward:

First, the positives out of this very tragic story:
  • This independent report clearly identifies where the university got it wrong.  The people who should have acted in responsible ways didn't, including a legendary football coach.  A lot of blame goes to a lot of people including the Trustees but the focus is on how the president, business administrator, athletic director and head football coach failed the university.  While this is very tragic and sad, at least the cover up has been exposed according to this independent investigation report's point of view.  It's a lot more difficult to make corrections when you don't know or refuse to know all the facts. 
  • The report indicates that the university has been proactive in making significant policy and procedural changes to help prevent something like this ever happening again.  It's interesting that it's often the institutions that have experienced something tragic like this and have learned from their mistakes that become positive examples for others.  I have no doubt that over time, Penn State will become a much stronger university for the lessons that have been learned from all of this.
  • Even though so much harm has been done and the victims will carry scars for life, this tragic situation at least has shined a spotlight on the terrible problem of child sex abuse.  While child abuse is in the news everyday, the shock of this happening at Penn State has reminded all of us that people in power need to always be accountable.
Now for the negatives:
  • The defensive blog posts by biased Penn State supporters needs to stop.  I bleed blue and white, have idolized Joepa since I was a toddler, but there is no longer any room for defensiveness.  The report speaks for itself.  Deal with it.  Move on.  You do the university much more harm by ignoring the facts and not living in reality.  Yes, celebrate the good things that Coach Paterno has done like the high graduation rates and emphasis on academics, but also come to grips that the man failed the university in a big and tragic way when they needed him the most.
  • I agree with my brother.  Take down the Joe Paterno statue in front of the stadium a.s.a.p. and replace it with a plaque that contains the words of the Penn State school song, "May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name, May our lives but swell thy fame, dear old State, dear old state."  Have the plaque be dedicated to all victims of child sex abuse.  Right now, the statue of Coach Paterno is a detriment to future healing.
  • Even with all of the important changes Penn State has made, I still worry that something like this cover-up can happen again.  Appropriate policies and procedures cannot replace human beings making the right decisions in representing the institutions they are serving.  The janitor still needed to tell authorities that he saw a high profile assistant football coach abusing a child.  Coach Paterno should not have encouraged the athletic director to not report Sandusky to the police.  The athletic director, business administrator, and president should have alerted authorities when they first heard about Sandusky's abuse of children.  By not acting, they knew they were doing the wrong thing, but they did it anyway.  Hopefully, the additional policies will help prevent something like this happening again, but it still comes down to people doing the right thing.