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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Where are the Mashed Potatoes??

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.
What if you could have it all?
But more importantly,
what do you do when you don't?
I love Thanksgiving.
It is by far,
my favorite holiday.
No pressure to find the right gift.
No hours of putting up (and taking down) decorations
No schedule filled with a million events.
Thanksgiving for me is 2-3 days set aside
to be with family,
to enjoy time playing games and watching movies together,
to enjoy a wonderful feast,
and to slow down and ponder just how much I have for which to be thankful.
When I was invited to a pre-Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's home,
I was doubly excited.
It felt like the holiday had been extended another day.
My favorite moment,
has always been the moment when everyone sits down
at the table.
For anyone who takes time to let it all soak in,
it is a holy moment.
Lit candles,
linen tablecloth,
beautiful floral centerpiece,
quiet music in the background,
the look of anticipation on each person's face,
and all the delicious aromas wafting through the air....
There is that moment when everyone
gazes to see all that is on the table.
I am no different.
stuffing/filling/ dressing or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods..........yup
sweet potatoes (with or without raisins)......awesome
cranberry sauce.......not out of a can
creamed corn.......bring it on
that awesome green been casserole with the onion rings on top........love it
rolls & butter..........yessirreee homemade!
gravy.......of course
the obligatory jello salad made by some great aunt......hoping it doesn't have nuts in it
Then the call to ask the blessing.
"Where are the mashed potatoes?"
Everyone bows their heads.
"They have to be somewhere....."
The prayer is being offered
and all I can do is think about the location of the spuds.
"Dear Lord....."
"Maybe they are hidden behind the roll basket."
"We thank you for all that you have given us...."
"Maybe the host kept them in the kitchen to keep them warm........"
"Thank you for all your blessings...."
"Maybe, maybe........"
I had run out of maybes.
An amen is sounded and confirmed by all at the table.
Someone picks up the roll basket to pass.
No mashed potatoes in sight.
The host returns from the kitchen .........with jam.
I had never before eaten Thanksgiving dinner without mashed potatoes.
A myriad of thoughts when through my mind.....
Maybe my friends were anti-taters?
What was I going to mix my corn into?
Where was I going to put my reservoir of gravy??????
What if you could have it all?
But more importantly,
what do you do when you don't?
I must admit,
it took me until the second helping of Aunt Gladys' jello salad
to accept that I was going taterless that day
(with all due respect to the yams.....)
Part of me of me began to feel guilty,
that I would allow the absence of a vegetable to influence
the wonderful gift of table and friends that I had been given that day.
By the time the pecan and pumpkin pies were circulating,
I realized just how ungrateful I could be when sitting at the table of gratitude.
I had been given a feast,
and the thought that dominated me
was of the one thing that I couldn't have.
It is a side of myself that I don't like
If we are honest,
we can all be like that.
Whether it be a menu,
our lifestyle,
our possessions,
our worship.....
How easily our feathers can be ruffled
if things don't work out exactly they way we think they should.
Have I learned something?
I hope so.
What if you could have it all?
But more importantly,
what do you do when you don't?
I hope that my answer is.......
to give thanks with a grateful heart.
May it be so with you.
In everything give thanks,
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus
I Thessalonians 5:18

Bishop Palmer's Initial Thoughts of the West Ohio Conference


November 27, 2012

Dear Friends in Jesus Christ:

Today marks my 88th day among you. On yesterday I completed the last of my first visits to the eight districts of our conference. In every case you have welcomed Cynthia and me with open arms and lavished us with hospitality. We couldn’t be more grateful and appreciative. Thank you.

I have spent these first several months listening and learning from you and about you. Travelling the conference via the districts has been an important lens through which to see who we are. Other indispensible means of learning for me early on have been the cabinet and staff of the conference, lay and clergy leaders who serve through the structures of the conference, visits to local congregations, cluster leaders, staff and boards of United Methodist institutions. I have also met dozens of people one on one and in small groups in my office who have helped me deepen my learning. While the proverbial First 100 Days will soon be over I do not expect to stop learning and growing in this new relationship.

I want to share with you a few early learnings and observations from where I sit:
  • We are a leader-full Annual Conference. At every turn there are skilled, passionate, faith filled servant leaders lay and clergy, compensated and volunteer;
  • There is a growing sense of alignment between the mission of the church, making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, the structures and initiatives of this conference and the core ministry of local congregations;
  • I see signs everywhere of United Methodist Christians and congregations that are faced out to their neighbors, communities and the world. What you are doing to engage in mutual ministry with the poor and vulnerable is inspiring;
  • The aspiration to create a culture of call and generosity is becoming a reality;
  • Our commitment to be true partners in mission and in the mission globally is giving life and bearing fruit.
It is a privilege to partner with you in God’s mission which is nothing less than new creation. As we move forward together please know that I will be guided and driven by at least two unwavering convictions:
  1. We already have everything we need to take the next faithful step in ministry;
  2. “It does not yet appear what we shall be.” (1 John 3:2).
Be encouraged in Christ Jesus,

Gregory V. Palmer

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sermon by Sandra Yerian, Youth Director (November 25) "A New Kind of King"

Will you pray with me?
Father God, as we gather here today we thank you for all the blessing of our lives, and the freedom ewe have to worship you in this place. As we together explore your Holy word, we ask that you open our hearts and mind, and that you guide these thoughts and meditations. May they be pleasing to you. Amen

It is interesting to me that there are many days in our year, both secular, and liturgical, that we observe, without much thought as to the origins, or purpose of the day.
Some are wrapped in a blend of history, religion and commercialism - I'm thinking about Valentine’s Day here or maybe if you’re Dutch or German, St Nicholas day.
Some celebrate our heroes- Like Veterans Day & Memorial Day. Some are days that celebrate our national history; Presidents' Day, 4th of July and Martin Luther King Day.
We have Mother's Day, Father's Day, Pastor Appreciation.....
Other days are devoted to significant days in the life and ministry of Jesus, and dedicated to remembering God's action in our world. Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Ash Wednesday, Passover... are just a few.
Today is the Celebration of Christ the King- It is always the last Sunday in the liturgical year. Next week we begin a new year with the first Sunday of advent.
Why has a Sunday especially set aside for Christ the King? Doesn’t Easter and the resurrection story cover this?

The feast day, Christ the King was inserted into the liturgical year in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. It was decreed that at time when men in general had in thrust Jesus Christ and his Holy Law out of their lives, a return must be made to submission to the kingship and rule of Jesus.
Peace in that day, as now, was tenuous at best. Politicians and rulers operated under their own advisement rather than in prayerful deferral to God, and evil abounded. As we know, the first war was barely over, and the horror of the rise and rule of Hitler lay not far in advance

Pope Pius declared that lasting peace on earth could not be achieved without a return to submission to the kingship of Jesus Christ. It was hoped that having a special Sunday to honor and celebrate Jesus as king, would spark a keener interest in Christ and His church as the sole source of salvation. A return to a life of faithful submission to the rule of Christ would surely bring about a better world.
This idea is worthy of our consideration today too. Dangerous leaders threaten innocent lives, greed and corruption bring about war and the instability of global economies.
Setting apart this day to focus on Jesus, on Him as the king for all time will help us today to renew our commitment to serving in the spirit demonstrated by His leadership, and refresh our spirits in the process.

Originally, Christ the King was observed in October prior to the feast days of All Souls & All Saints. Its placement here on the last Sunday of the liturgical year seems to me to be a wonderful link joining the ends of our scripture journey into a seamless, infinite circle. And I love the juxtaposition it gives me pause to reflect on.
The sanctuary looks lovely this morning with these richly colored beautiful banners and paraments. The crown sparkles elegantly. We celebrate Jesus as King, victor over sin and death. Redeemer. We can think of the promises of the glorious second coming. The imagery of revelation is magnificent!
Then next week we begin the humble journey towards the birth of hope on Bethlehem. No Fanfare, no luxury linens or team of expert physicians and midwives. The king of king slips quietly into the lives of God's beloved, though wayward, children. Almost unnoticed until the angels burst into song.  
Scripturally, references abound highlighting the rightful kingship of Jesus, and the many characteristics of a heavenly king, most of which are in sharp contrast to an earthly king particularly those we read about in ancient times.

What are the characteristics of a king; those of the heavenly king born of a simple peasant girl with the sole purpose of leading us back int right relationship with God the father, so that we might dwell in his kingdom for all eternity?

Let's consider some of them:

In today’s OT selection from second Samuel we poetically LEARN that a just King /ruler is like the light of morning. Justice is pleasing to God. Scripture also tells us that the king to be raised up by God will be righteous,fair, wise, and ccompassionate.
Jesus was moved by the needs of others. For example, when he encountered blind Bartimaeus in the road out of Jericho, Jesus takes the time to listen, and grant the deepest needs. In this case, sight. When the parent of a desperately ill child approaches, Jesus heals Jesus felt the pain of others, and responded in love.
Colossians tells us that we are rescued and forgiven.  Even in His agony at the Cross, Jesus forgives the criminal at His side, comforting the now repentant man and offering hope.

Hospitality and Humility were very important traits Jesus lived out daily:

Jesus instructed his followers not to take places of honor for themselves, but rather to humbly assume a lower place. He further instructed them (and us) to welcome to the table the poor, hungry, widow and orphan.
No matter the size of the crowd, the inconvenience of the location, the lateness of the hour, Jesus took the time to meet basic the physical human need for food. Even when he himself lacked a place to lay his own head.

Being God, Jesus of course knew the wants and needs of each person who came to him. Before they said a word He would have known exactly what they needed: spiritual healing, relief from illness, freedom from guilt, and yet he always, in his humanity and humility gave them a chance to speak. Repeatedly in the gospels he asks “What do you want me to do for you?”

Truthful- in today’s gospel, when questions by Pilate about his Kingship and the accusations against him, Jesus lets us know that he, our King, is here to testify to the truth.

Finally, let’s consider the characteristic of service.

Jesus taught that a king serves his people. In Luke 22:26 as the disciples dispute who is greatest, Jesus declares “the greatest among you must become as the youngest and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves”

We see this further illustrated in John’s gospel when Jesus washes the feet of His disciples. Imagine that!! The King of Kings washing your feet! And he tells them: “so if I, your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, which you should also do as I have done to you”
In selfless service, Jesus went to the cross for us, so that we could be reconciled to our heavenly father.

One of my favorite images is of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a colt, as related in the Gospel of Luke, greeted, celebrated and embraced by a people with renewed hope in salvation- rescue from a life of tyranny and oppression. Jesus, beautiful, humble Jesus approachable in their midst; even as he knew that this same crowd would soon turn on him, and that this road led to the cross.
Think about that image. 
In Jesus day, a king would enter the city with an armed, mounted and frequently brutal guard unit surrounding him. The common man would be pushed aside, not allowed near enough to touch him, or, might even be carelessly trampled by a horse. The royal procession might be impressively equipped, with wealth and power on display.
Deference demanded. Your future and mine, were we there, would not have been of any consequence what so ever. Are you a perceived dissident? If so, maybe as the procession went along you, your family or home might be harmed in retribution. Maybe your lovely daughter, would catch the eye of the king or a member of the entourage, and be snatched up for their amusement, only to be carelessly discarded later. Valueless.
Then picture Jesus. Jesus who gently held children in his lap. Jesus who cared that the crowd that came to hear his words had no food. Jesus who wept over the death of His friend. Jesus who refused to condemn the adulterous woman, and who was outraged at the commercial activity in the temple. Jesus who dared to touch the lepers, and dine with the social outcast. Jesus whose feet were dusty and hands dirty from walking alongside you and me, and reaching out to those in the lowest of low stations in life. 
This Jesus, who spoke truthfully and plainly so that all could grasp the good news, who taught using simple stories so we could remember and understand. This King Jesus comes riding in to the city on a simple donkey. Slow enough that you can really see him. Slow enough that He can hear your chants of joy- they are not drowned out by the thunder of hooves.

What do you think of when you think of a Christ-like king? One who is humble, just, compassionate, a servant? Who is your ideal?  Who walks among us embracing these qualities?

When I told my son that I would be speaking today about Christ the King, and that my intent was to highlight the servant nature of Jesus' kingship, he immediately said “Gandhi- I see him as a servant king and leader.”
Who comes to your mind? Mother Theresa? Missionaries? Hospice workers? Who do you know who has cultivated these Christ like traits?

Who do you know who has the attitude of service so ingrained that they can’t forget it - ever?

I think of my mom.
Many of you are aware that my mom is slowly slipping away from us into the bewildering maze an Alzheimer’s patient must travel.
Many days, even in her own home, she can’t remember where she is, "John" she'll ask, and “Shouldn’t we be going home now”? "Angelique” he sighs, “we are home”
She’ll stare blankly for a moment, and then try to laugh it off. "Oh, of course..."
Some days she forgets to speak English, an d I am grateful for the relatives and travels that let me master the Dutch language keeping track of what day it is, and even reading a digital watch, and believing it really is that time, are increasingly difficult.
Daily she wants to start peeling potatoes for the family meal, even though it’s only her and dad at home, and she can’t remember how to cook them.
Today her challenges continue to grow as she struggles to comprehend what it means as we explain that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
And yet, in this misty haze, my mother cannot forget the call to serve. To serve God, her family, her community, and particularly the needy children of the world.

As a teenager in Holland at the end of the war, mom left school to serve her family. My Oma, had been widowed in the bombing of The Hague, she was expecting her 12th child at the time. So shortly after the war, mom dedicated her teens to helping at home. She nurtured 7 younger siblings when my grandmother couldn't, and according to them, did the lion's share of the household chores She completed her education at night, and worked one day a week for an aunt who was an "office girl" so as to also contribute financially. This service and devotion was offered even as she was beaten by Oma and her eldest brother. Later this service to others continued as she worked as a councilor in a vocational home for troubled & struggling young women.

Fast forward to my childhood. Mom modeled dedication and service. As as housewife, she was amazing at running a household, keeping the books for dad and unfailingly putting nutritious home cooked meals on the table for 5 kids on the very modest income of a self employed television repair man.

Always active in the church, mom baked and crafted for fundraisers and bazaars, was a Eucharistic minister, council member, and women’s league member.

For 25 years she volunteered weekly with the Special Olympics in our town, serving the community of mentally handicapped bowlers.
Mom sang in a choir called the "resurrection singers", a group who existed solely to sing at funerals. She served luncheons to the grieving families until recent years.
All this she managed while still always being home to eat breakfast with each of us, pack a lunch, and see us off as we left at different times for school. Later, when we were in high school and could come home for lunch, she was sure to be there and sit with us even if we came at 3 different lunch hours. She knit constantly in those days- she didn’t believe in idle hands! Mom could knit beautifully! (She taught me.) Here is one lovely treasure she created.
Inspired by the premature birth of her twin grandchildren, she knit and donated preemie hats and tops through local agencies.
In think mom's favorite service project though may be in support of the work of Dr. Simone, dedicated to saving the lives of, and improving the living conditions and health of Haitian children. For years she and a group of women crocheted sleeping mats out of recycled plastic bags.
She knit hundreds of phenomena vest to be sent to Haiti. To this day, she asks weekly to be brought to the “Haiti group” as she calls it, and continues to attempt to knit. Her efforts no longer produce a vest like she used to, she can’t remember how, and I once the clumsy student, now have to guide her, or make the project disappear so she doesn’t fret endlessly about these unmatched shoulders. (This is the last vest she completed) Yet she never forgets her desire to serve.

Jesus said he who is first must be last, and a servant to all. He served with compassion until the moment of his humiliating death. Comforting the women as he struggled under the weight of the cross. Forgiving and giving hope even as he struggled for His last breath. This is what it means to be King.

I reflect on all of this, and believe mom is a reflection of the kind of devotion to one another that our King, the servant King Jesus, meant when he called us to "love one another as I have loved you"

Let’s reflect on that, and honor those who have so humbly modeled this for us. Then we shall truly be a royal priesthood.

What kind of king are you in your world?
Who rules your heart and attitude?

When I hold this vest in my hands, I am so comforted to know that as she slowly forgets everything, mom won’t ever forget whose she is. It simply isn’t forgettable; it's been tattooed on her heart by the king himself.

Sunday Worship Preview - December 9

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

Sermon - "Out of the Box: Open the Gift of Acceptance"

Features - 2nd Sunday of Advent

Scripture - Isaiah 40:1-6a & Luke 6:32-38

Theme - Even when we venture into unchartered territories, we are challenged to accept the things we cannot change and move forward as best we can. We can do this when we open the Christmas gift of acceptance.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Post Thanksgiving Thoughts - A Grandmother's Diary

One of the treasures that our family has been sharing with each other is my grandmother's diary for the years 1970 - 1972.  Her name was Ida (1895 to 1995) and she was my grandmother on my dad's side. Here are my grandmother's entries on Thanksgiving Day for two of those years. She didn't mention Thanksgiving in her 1970 entry but she does mention getting a turkey on the previous Friday.  Each entry in her diary is very brief.

1971 - Thanksgiving day. snowed & rained all night from 3 into  12 in york - the snow plow went through tonight.

1972 - Thanksgiving. roasted a turkey for Dot. we were over there for dinner. 22 there.

While these aren't very dramatic entries, these, along with her other daily entries point to the importance of family and hard work.  According to her diary, she was always cleaning, working on her farm, cooking, paying bills, or visiting family.  There are many entries in which she mentions family members.

My grandmother would have been very proud of our family gathering this past Thursday for Thanksgiving.  I thought of her a lot as we cleaned the house and prepared the food for our family gathering this past Thursday.  When we said the prayer before our big meal, it was like our whole family, past and present was right there with us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dave's Deep Thoughts - "What Got Me Through"


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, it's the little things that mean a lot.
Sometimes, they mean everything.
I didn't recognize him.
If you have ever had the experience of greeting well wishers
as they come to the funeral of someone you have loved,
you know how exhausting it is.
There are only so many words of kindness
that can be said to a hurting soul
before they all begin to run together.
You never can be sure either,
of who will come to offer their sympathies.
There is for sure, extended family.
There are friends and acquaintances.
And then there are those few people who you simply do not know.
He came up to the coffin to offer his final respects to the woman that I knew as mom.
He was an elderly man.
He looked like he could have used a shave,
and maybe a change of clothes.
In the few seconds that I had between conversations,
my mind went through an ID check.
I could not place him.
Inside the coffin,
there were various mementos from the family.....
notes, photographs, stuffed animals
Curiously, the old man reached out and touched one of the photos.
It was a photo of Jack.
Jack was the donkey that my mom had purchased years ago
to graze in the meadow and to protect the herd of sheep.
We had to put Jack down a year ago.
The tears began to well up in the old man's eyes.
Maybe he was the former owner of Jack.
Perhaps mom had purchased Jack from him.
I greeted him.
With the most sincerest of expressions, he said
I am so sorry for your loss.
Your mother was a dear woman.
I thanked him for his kind thoughts
and then asked if he was the one from whom mom had purchased Jack.
No, no, he said.
My wife and I would come and visit Jack every few weeks.
We would bring him carrots and apples.
We so enjoyed visiting him.
Your mother would come out of the house
and visit with us.
She would tell us stories about the farm,
the family, and Jack.
We spent many wonderful hours with her and Jack.
My memory was triggered.
I now remembered a car that would occasionally pull into the driveway.
I remembered seeing a couple leaning over the pasture fence feeding Jack and talking with mom.
I also remembered that of late, I had only seen the man.
My wife passed eight years ago, he said.
I didn't think that I was going to make it through.
I have missed her so much.
There were times when I just wanted to die and go be with her.
It was those trips to your farm to visit Jack and your mom that got me through.
I didn't know what to say.
In the midst of my pain,
this man was revealing his,
and thus somehow was helping me.
When I would visit by myself,
Jack would come up to me and let me pet him.
In a strange way, he seemed to know that I was hurting.
He became one of my best friends.
Your mom would come out and talk with me.
She would share how much she had missed your dad over the years.
She understood, and so did Jack.
I just wanted to come today and offer my respects.
Without Jack and her,
I don't think I would have made it.
I thanked the man for his kind words.
He didn't stay for the service,
so I never saw him again.
I don't know his name
nor from where he came.
All I know is that the simplest thing such as a donkey,
and the kind words of an empathetic mother,
made all the difference in this man's life.
Little things sometimes mean everything,
and yet if we are honest,
we often forget to practice them or we take them for granted.
It might be a smile to a stranger,
an unexpected act of kindness,
or taking time to just listen to someone who is in pain.
We are each given 24 hours each day.
24 hours to do all the things that are required of us.
24 hours to be moms, dads, children, employees,
and yes, encouragers.
I believe that my mother lived the way she did,
because she was grateful to God for all that had been given to her.
People with grateful hearts live gracious lives.
People who don't take time to reflect on God's goodness,
simply miss the opportunities that are presented daily
to be gracious to others.
A friend once shared this thought with me......
What if you woke up tomorrow
to only that which you had given thanks for yesterday?
How would you be?
As you approach this season of thanksgiving,
choose to make it a lifestyle of thanksgiving.
If a donkey can help change someone's life,
how much more can you do the same.............
And whatever you do in word or deed,
do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks through Him,
to God the Father.
Colossians 3:17