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, January 30, 2013

Lectionary Bible Commentary - For Sunday, February 3



 
Sermon (February 3) – “The Jeremiah Leadership Training Course”

Jeremiah 1:4-10

-       Jeremiah began his ministry around 627 B.C. Babylon had taken over Assyria for control of the Middle East. God called on Jeremiah to be a prophet to the people of Judah (southern kingdom) during very troubling political time.
-       Verse 5 – “Yashar” means “formed.” Like a potter forms clay into pottery.
-       God calls Jeremiah who is without experience or authority to be a spokesperson.
-       This scripture was what led me to accept a calling into the ordained ministry.  When I read that God was placing his words in Jeremiah’s mouth, that gave me
confidence to know that God would do the same for me in my ministry.  What reassurances do you need to say yes to God’s calling in your life?

Luke 4:21-30

-       This picks up from last Sunday’s lectionary scripture from Luke.
-       Jesus gets into trouble with the religious authorities because Jesus is saying that his ministry will go beyond Israel to people who were considered enemies. This was very similar to what got Elijah and Elisha in trouble in the Old Testament.
-       Jesus chose the Isaiah passage to read in the synagogue because he saw himself as fulfilling the call to be a light to the nations.  This was supposed to be Israel’s mission all along!
-       A gospel that reaches beyond ourselves to the greater world will always create a reaction especially from the people who see themselves as the insiders.  How can we guard against an insider mentality?

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Rare Hockey Civility

 
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, your parents go to a tropical island
and all you get is a lousy T-shirt.
 
Sometimes, I go to a hockey arena
and I only get a hockey game.
Let me explain.....
 
There is no other sport like hockey
in that fans go to games expecting to see fights.
 
(Okay, maybe fans go to boxing matches or ultimate fights to see fights as well)
 
Fights at hockey games
are part of the experience.
That's not true in baseball, nor basketball.
or in a rough sport such as football,
where fights lead to ejections from games.
If you are not a hockey fan,
it might be difficult to understand.
When one is on the outside of a culture looking in,
some things just seem strange.......
Eskimos rubbing noses
camel wrestling matches in Turkey
(I did not make that up)
 
Fights at hockey games
are just as much of the game
as tossing a hat onto the rink after a hat trick
(for those in the dark about hat tricks, go directly to Wikopedia......)
or blowing on a cheap plastic horn when a goal is scored.
 
I look forward to going to hockey games
in the winter.
It's a fast paced sport
played in a relatively small space,
which leads to tempers flaring and fists flying.
 
Imagine my excitement
when I realized that for the first time in my proud hockey history,
I was going to have a first row seat.
For the uninformed,
that made me a Plexorite.
 
A Plexorite is one who gets to see the action at ice level,
who gets to pound fists on the plexiglass,
and who gets to yell at players
whose faces are being smashed up against the plexiglass.
 
It is a privilege that is not to be taken lightly.
 
With fists clenched,
I was ready to for the first scrum to occur inches in front of me.
I was ready to cheer on the fighters as they battled on the other side of the plexiglass.
 
But then the strangest thing happened......
The hockey game got nice.
 
Period one ended.
No fights,
not even a scuffle.
I think I heard a player say excuse me
as he bumped into an opposing player.
I'm sure the zamboni driver was even whistling
"zippity doo dah"
as he drove around the ice during the break.
  
I made a mad dash for nachos during the intermission.
The nacho line is always long and filled with
hungry, carb-starved crazies.
 
Not this evening.
 
The line was short
and filled with fans exchanging pleasantries.
The cashier even smiled at me.
That's when I knew I had entered the hockey twighlight zone....
 
I got back to my seat in Plexorville
just in time to get ready to pound the glass.
The home team was down a goal
and the announcer aimed to rev up the crowd.
 
Okay, I was convinced that the 2nd period was going
to be some serious in-your-face hockey.
 
Not so much.
The arena remained unusually quiet.
Fans behind me were talking about what flowers they were going to plant in the spring.
One woman was knitting.
Now I have nothing against knitting.....
it's just not the type of activity usually seen in Plexorville.
 
I waited......
waited for the first scrum in front of me,
waited for the first fisticuffs,
waited for the first faced flattened up against the plexiglass.
 
Nothing.
Absolutely nothing.
 
Nope,
all I got was skaters skating by,
enjoying a nice cardio workout.
There weren't even many penalties called
for players to enter the "time-out" chair.

I had come to see a hardcore hockey game
and instead had been transported to Niceville.
 
Second intermission
The dirigible was circulating the arena dropping cash coupons onto the crowd.
This usually incites a riot as people scramble
for a piece of falling paper that will give them a free small fountain soda
at a local convenience store.
 
Not this evening.
Children were seen surrendering coupons to wheelchair bound fans.
One polite fan instead of snatching the coupon out of the air,
looked at a nearby fan and said, "after you."
 
In the bizarro world that I had entered,
the Stepford Wives had invaded a hockey game.
 
Third period.
The refs call several questionable penalties against the home team.
Okay, I thought, now we are going to see some hockey angst.
 
Never happened.
The visiting team scored to go up by two.
Normally diehard fans started to file out of the arena.
As the seconds ticked off the clock,
I hoped for one fight,
one bloodied nose.,
one black eye.
 
What did I get instead.........
a hug,
A hug from Coco the mascot.
 
Nothing says hockey mania
like a furry bear offering a warm embrace.
 
Sometimes you don't get what you are expecting.....
A surprise rain shower on your outdoor event.
A new job that turns out to be quite different than you had hoped.
A relationship that doesn't develop into what you expected.
A situation where you spend time with those you don't particularly like.
 
We don't always get what we hope for.
It's called life.
And life should not be equated with God.
 
Christians are no more guaranteed a rosy path in life
than non-believers.
In fact, the more faithful the believer,
the Bible tells us to expect to be rejected,
to receive harsh criticism,
and to encounter difficulties.
 
Sometimes you expect a sunny day,
and you get rained on.
 
I expected a rough tough hockey game
and instead was given an exercise in etiquette.
But, I was still given a night out
with a great friend.
 
No matter what our expectations,
we are still given each day to savor.
There is something of value in each experience.
There is something to be learned in each challenge.
 
It has been said,
when you are given lemons, make lemonade.
I say,
just hit the concession stand.
On a night like I had,
you'll probably get a free glass with your purchase of nachos.
Here's to making the most of each day.
I'll just save my fist pounding for another day......
 
That you may be children of your Father who is in heaven;
for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good,
and sends rain on the just and unjust.
Matthew 5:45

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sermon (January 27) - "Been There, Done That!"


     My best friend growing up used to play a trick on his dad for his birthday.  One year, he and his mother gave him a birthday card.  He very quickly glanced at the front of it, opened it, and set it aside not even reading the entire message.
     So my friend and his mom decided to be a little sneaky.  Noticing that he didn’t really pay any attention to the nice card they gave him, they grabbed the card while he wasn’t looking and tucked it away for safe keeping.
     The next year for his birthday, they gave him this exact same birthday card.  They even put it back in the same envelope.  And guess what?  He did the same thing as the previous year.  He quickly opened it, pretended that he read every word, and set it aside never realizing that it was the exact same card they had given him a year ago.
     They did this for several years and I’m not sure if he ever recognized that he was opening the same birthday card.  Just think how much money they saved on not having to buy birthday cards!
     Maybe you might want to try this on somebody who isn’t here today. Give them the exact same birthday card each year and see if they notice.
     You know, I think we’re all kind of like my friend’s dad to some degree.  We see something but we really don’t see it.
     I read about a pastor who preaches a sermon series every year called “Summer Reruns.”  Every summer, when the attendance goes down, he preaches his most popular sermons from the previous year.  He figures that the congregation probably didn’t listen the first time so he might as well preach them again.
     I think that this is one of the biggest dangers for those of us who have been part of the church for any length of time.  We have heard these stories from the Bible so many times that we forget to hear them in new and fresh ways.  We can develop a “Been There, Done That” attitude and it can keep us from growing in a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
     This is why I am so impressed with the people of Israel from our Nehemiah scripture reading this morning.  They didn’t have a “Been There, Done That” attitude.  To help us understand this scripture reading, it’s important to know that the Jewish people had just returned from being in exile.  They are now living in Jerusalem.  They have come home.  But they are a little rusty in what it means to be God’s people in their new setting because they have been in exile.
     We are told in our scripture reading that Ezra who was a scribe and a Priest of Israel found the Book of the Law which was probably what we know today as the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament.  The people who had been without the scriptures for many years gathered at the city square and asked Ezra to read God’s Word to them.  And so Ezra stood on a wooden platform which was really probably a tower and he read God’s Word to them for several hours.
     There was such an excitement to hear these words of scripture, that we are told that the ears of all the people were attentive.  I like that word.  Attentive.  They were attentive to what was being read to them.  It was like they were hearing these words for the very first time.
     And I like it that Ezra didn’t do all of this by himself.  Ezra was very wise.  He had scholars and priests on hand to explain what was being read.  I’m glad that we’re not the only ones who need a helping hand in reading the bible.  Even God’s people who were living during biblical times needed support in understanding the meaning of the scriptures.
     Here’s a way to confirm how important it is to have other people help you understand the bible.  If you think you know everything there is to know about a passage of scripture, go to a bible study or a Sunday School class and listen to some other perspectives.  I guarantee you that there will be some new insight that will help you to see that passage in a new way.  The reason for this is because we all have our unique experiences and personal stories and this shapes the way we hear and understand the scriptures.
     In our own Methodist tradition, we have what is called the quadrilateral approach to the study and understanding of scripture.  The bible itself is the first part of the quadrilateral. The second part of the quadrilateral is tradition where we explore how the church has interpreted the scriptures for the past two thousand years.  We can see how church councils, theologians, and bible scholars have approached various issues from a biblical perspective. Even though the church hasn’t always agreed on how to interpret various passages of scripture, it is to our detriment to not be aware of this incredible resource of tradition.
     The third part of the quadrilateral is reason where we are called to use our minds in thinking through what a scripture passage is trying to tell us.  By using reason we know that when we read a verse like Matthew 5:30 where Jesus says, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” we know that it doesn’t literally mean that we are to perform an amputation.  Jesus was using the literary form of hyperbole to make an important point that living a life of holiness is extremely important.  When we read the bible, we need to be aware of the many different kinds of literary devises that the biblical authors use such as parables, proverbs, letters, stories, and poems.
     And the fourth part of the quadrilateral is experience.  How you have personally experienced God at work in your life and in the world is incredibly valuable in our approach to scripture. Here’s an example of how experience helped someone to understand familiar scriptures in a deeper way. 
     A member of a church I was serving went on a mission trip to Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world.  When she got back from her ten day trip in which she cared for the dying and saw people eating out of the garbage just to have something to eat, it gave her a totally new perspective on the scriptures, especially the prophetic books of the Old Testament that talk so much about not forgetting the poor and those who are in need. Every time she read those scriptures, those images from Haiti came to her mind.  That mission trip experience was transformative.  I remember when she called me on the phone after returning from Haiti.  There were deep sobs on the other end of the phone as I listened to her tell me how her trip to Haiti gave her a totally new perspective in what it means to live out her faith.
     This is why bibles studies and small groups are so important.  Not only do we get to hear other people’s experiences, we can also share our unique perspectives and together we can have a more well rounded view of the scriptures.
     By applying the quadrilateral, the scriptures become alive for us because there’s always new insights even if we have heard these same stories over and over again.  This is what helps us to not have a “Been There, Done That Attitude.”
     This focus on the time when Ezra read the scriptures to the people after they had returned from Exile gives us an opportunity to reflect on how we can become more rooted in the scriptures.  If you want to have a better understanding of the bible, here are some very practical ways to move in that direction and ways that I have found extremely helpful in my own life.
     The very first thing is to have a bible that you can understand.  It’s important to know that there are many, many translations of the Bible.  If you go into a bookstore, you’ll see shelves upon shelves of many different translations.  I personally prefer to use the New Revised Standard Version.
     It’s the same bible translation that we have in our pews and one that many bible scholars recommend.  It’s a very readable translation and one that you can also use in bible study.  Knowing that we were going to be focusing on the importance of reading the bible on this Sunday, we have several copies of the Wesleyan Study Bible in the parlor for purchase at our book table.  Many of you have this particular bible.  Not only do you get a readable translation of the scriptures, it also comes with study notes to help explain the more difficult passages of scripture.
     The second thing after making sure you have a readable bible translation is to read it.  That seems obvious but sometimes we don’t read the bible on a regular basis because we don’t know where to begin since there are 66 books in the Bible.
     There are all kinds of resources to use to help you read the bible on a daily basis but here are a few ideas I’d like to share.  We have what is called the Upper Room devotional which has a very brief daily reading for each day.  Our church provides these in our information rack in the parlor and you can pick up a copy today.  Great resource.  It always has a scripture passage to read, a short story, a closing prayer, and a closing thought for the day.
     You can also simply choose a book in the bible and read it for several days.  I like to use the Daily Office approach which offers a short Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel reading each day over a two year cycle. After two years, you will have read most of the bible.
     A third way to have a better understanding of the bible is to attend a Sunday School class, bible study, or small group. 
     A little less than a month from now, our church will begin a four week church-wide small group bible study focus during most of the Season of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday.  We did this last year and we had forty groups that met at different times and locations throughout the Season of Lent.  Many of you have told me what an incredible impact that had on your spiritual journey.  By studying the scriptures with others, it’s amazing how much we can learn together.
     And then this fourth way is to worship on a weekly basis because it’s in worship where the scriptures are read out loud and how they can help us grow in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
     Notice what happened after Ezra read the scriptures and Nehemiah, the governor, along with the Levites explained the meaning of the scriptures with the people.  It says that the people wept like the church member who went to Haiti wept as she shared her experience with me over the phone.  The people wept and they worshipped the Lord.
     But then it says that Ezra gave this benediction and sending forth to the people, “Now go, and celebrate because this day is holy to our Lord and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
     Whenever we spend time in the scriptures at home, in a bible study, in a Sunday School class, or right here in worship, God speaks to us through his Word and we are reminded that the joy of the Lord is our strength.

     Yesterday morning, I went through my usual routine of waking up early and spending some time quietly reading scripture.  There are some days when nothing in particular jumps out at me during my reading, but yesterday, God got my attention.
     My Old Testament reading was from Isaiah, chapter 46. Still trying to get myself awake, I began reading these words. The Lord is offering this word of comfort to the people of Israel. These words seemed very fitting on my fiftieth birthday:
     “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn grey I will carry you, I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”
     Now, I could have done without the references to old age and grey hair, but the words were very comforting and reassuring to me. “Even to your old age I am he, even when you turn grey I will carry you, I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”
     It was like God was saying to me, “Don’t worry about getting older. I’m the one who has been with you these first fifty years and I will continue to carry and save you.” For the next few moments there in the quiet of my study, this scripture reminded me of how God has been present in my life over all these years.  I felt a sense of peace in knowing that God will continue to carry me along the way.
     Isn’t it amazing how the scriptures can be so timely and can speak a word of reassurance to us just when we need it the most?
     Each year, the 600 clergy of our Conference gather in the spring for our annual meeting. One of the things that we do at this meeting is recognize the twenty or so clergy who are retiring that year.  At one of these sessions one year, they asked each retired clergy to go to the one of the microphones and they took turns reading a bible verse that has helped them in their ministry career.
     “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13” one pastor said.
     Without hesitating, another pastor shared his verse at a different microphone,“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. – Romans 8:17”
     Another said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, Believe in God, believe also in me. – John 14:1”
     This next one brought some laughter from the rest of the clergy.“If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. – Galatians 5:15” He obviously had served in some tough church appointments.
     One by one, we heard these experienced pastors share the scriptures that have sustained them over their many years of ministry.  Many of those scriptures, I knew quite well.  But on that day, they took on a whole new meaning for me.
     May all of us read, study, and immerse ourselves in the scriptures and the joy of the Lord will be our strength.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lectionary Bible Commentary for January 27


Sermon (January 27) – “Been There, Done That!”

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

-       The books of Ezra and Nehemiah form one story. Ezra begins with Cyrus of Persia’s decree, in 538 BC, permitting the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple, a venture in which they are to be materially aided. Cyrus orders that the sacred vessels taken from the Temple in 587 be returned. More than 42,000 leave Babylon for Judah. The altar is erected on the site of the destroyed Temple; the priests again offer burnt offerings. Construction of the new Temple begins: a more modest structure than Solomon’s.
-       Ezra, a scribe and priest is commissioned by King Artaxerxes to return with the exiles teach the statutes of Israel to the people of God.
-       V. 1 – “The book of the Law” is probably Leviticus. (see vv. 14-15)
-       V. 8 – They had to translate from Hebrew to Aramaic for the people to understand what was being read.

Luke 4:14-21

-       What caused Jesus to get kicked out of the synagogue and sent to a cliff to throw him over? (Note that early in Luke, the devil had promised to rescue Jesus if only he would jump off the Temple!)
-       Even while teaching in the synagogue, Jesus can tell that the people do not want to follow him. They are taunting him much like it will be one he is hanging on the cross – see Luke 23:35
-       In response, Jesus identifies himself with the great prophets from the OT and how they were willing to help people outside of Israel! This was not what the people of Israel wanted to hear in Jesus’ day.  They wanted to hear the opposite.
-       Jesus quoted Isaiah in the synagogue which is a picture of the servant/Messiah to come. Jesus interpreted this to mean that God was choosing this time to offer grace to all people.
-       When the Gospel is proclaimed, some will celebrate the message while others will be disappointed and even become angry.

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Swim Meets & Other Complicated Mysteries


Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA. 
 
The Bible says, blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.....
but what if they forgot to turn on the lights?
Or provide adequate acoustics?
 
I was invited to a high school swim meet
a couple of weeks ago.
I am a great fan of many sports
but I had never been to a swim meet.
 
I was anxious to support some young people whom I know
participate in this sport of repetition and endurance.
I was also anxious to learn more about competitive swimming.
 
I think I did okay in the support department,
but not so sure about what I learned.......
 
Okay, I did learn one thing.
Despite the weather outside,
(10 degrees as I write this)
do NOT wear wool sweaters and winter socks to swim meets.
Upon entrance to the natatorium,
I was immediately blasted
with enough hot, steamy air to restore the rain forest.
Some say its not the heat, it's the humidity.
I have news for them.......it's both.
 
I have a strong aversion to heat
so I immediately began taking off layers of clothing,
trying to stay withing legal limits for public attire for most of the continental states.
If I learned anything that day, it is this.....
if you are going to remove excessive layers of clothing
do not do it while seated next to a young teenage girl.
Security officers and parents don't seem to think this is a good idea.
 
I knew the girl through church.
Because she regularly attends meets,
I thought she could help explain the proceedings to me.
 
Second mistake.
Young teenage girls who attend swim meets
are there to talk to their girlfriends, eat candy,
and look at all the boys who are dressed in speedos.
When it comes to knowing the procedures of swim meets.......not so much....
I did learn from her that the swimmers dive into the water
and swim as fast as they can to get to the end of the pool first.
And there are about 20,000 events and I should expect
to break curfew before the meet is over.
 
Lesson learned.
 
The meet had already started.
Unlike other civilized sports,
athletes not participating do not sit on the sidelines during the competition.
Instead, they line the edges of the pool.
This allows them to cheer on their teammates
despite the fact that I doubt that one can hear underwater.
It also allows them to fraternize with swimmers of the opposite gender
(did I mention they were wearing speedo suits?)
It also allows them to block the view of any pastors in the crowd
who are now showing the early effects of heat stroke.
 
This particular natatorium has some issues.
In addition to the poor ventilation system,
(I think there was algae growing on the bleacher next to me)
the sound system was a cross between Charlie Brown's teacher's voice
and a traffic jam in Times Square.
 
I have no idea who was ever swimming in lane 3........
I have no idea who won any of the events..........
I can't even tell you which team won the meet.
 
That would be because of the scoreboard,
or should I say, lack thereof.
I know my tax dollars should go first to buy algebra books,
but couldn't the school splurge and at least
get poster board and a sharpie?
 
Somebody set a school record?
Never knew it.
 
Next event up?
Not a clue.
 
Preliminary swim or the finals?
I might as well be guessing heads or tails.
 
There was one effective method of communication at the meet.
That would be the bull horn.
Just when the sauna like atmosphere was causing me to lose consciousness,
the meet director (or maybe a 7th grader with nothing better to do)
would blast the horn thus announcing
that the swimmers who you could not see
were entering the last leg of the event you did not know.
 
This bull horn had the decibel level
of a police siren being sounded inside a small tiled bathroom.
When it sounded, the cheering crescendoed as the swimmers who I could not see
neared the wall of the pool.
 
One might think that the reaction of one team would reveal the winner.
That would be wrong.
Both teams cheer widely at the end of each event.
Perhaps it is because the sport is so mentally and physically grueling,
or perhaps it is because they are no one event closer to being done and going to McDonalds.
 
Somewhere between event #165 and 166,
and several blasts from the bullhorn,
I realized I needed to leave.
Although I really can't say I saw very much,
nor say that I heard much except for Charlie Brown teacher voice,
the crowd noise, and the incessant bullhorn,
I had the satisfaction of witnessing young people give their best for a very challenging sport.
 
Even though I did not have ears to hear, and eyes to see very much that day,
I can say that I was there for young people of whom I am very proud.
Plus, my young friend sitting next to me,
shared her candy with me.
That's a good day.
 
Sometimes my life is like going to a swim meet.
There are things that I see or that I hear,
that I do not understand......
 
violent attacks on innocent peoples,
forces of nature that destroy people's lives,
attitudes that don't reflect love, compassion, nor mercy.
 
2 Corinthians 5:7 says we are to "Walk by faith, and not by sight."
It is a profound thing to have the Word of God revealed in one's life.
Knowing the truth of God is a rock upon which one can build one's life.
But the revelation is not yet complete.
It will only be made fully known at His 2nd coming.
Till then, He has also given us His Spirit to guide and comfort us in the confusing times.
 
We will see and hear things that we do not understand.
And that is okay.
If you are having one of those days, weeks, or years where you lack understanding,
remember that if your eyes and ears are set on Jesus,
you know who wins.
 
As for me,
I opened the sports page the next day to see which team had won.
 
"Results not reported by press time"
 
Figures.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A United Methodist Voice - Rev. Adam Hamilton


When John Wesley, the founder of Methodism died in 1791, the movement continued on thanks to the concept of "holy conferencing." Wesley had put into place a system that would bring the preachers together to make important decisions to help Methodism continue to grow and flourish.

Even with this system in place, everyone continued to look to Wesley for guidance and direction.  After his death, many of them probably had WWWD bracelets made (What Would Wesley Do?) The influence of Wesley goes to show how influential he was as a leader for this rapidly growing reform movement within the Church of England.

As Methodism began to spread into America, there was a need for this movement to become a new denomination due to the unique situation of the American Revolutionary War. Very few of the American colonists wanted to be buddies with a group of Methodist type people who continued to use the Church of England franchise label. Wesley, an ardent supporter of church unity very reluctantly agreed to allow for this separation only because of these very unique and unpreventable circumstances.

Over the course of our Methodist history, we have continued to depend on "holy conferencing" and the collective wisdom of church representatives to make critical decisions related to the issues facing the denomination. To this day, the United Methodist Church is structured in such a way to help as many people as possible have a voice in our denomination.  Our Bishops facilitate in this process and they provide an important prophetic and pastoral voice through their sacred office but we no longer have that singular voice like Wesley to speak for the denomination as a whole.

In the absence of that one voice, Methodism has been blessed with individuals who have "stood out" during their particular era.  Francis Asbury, Peter Cartwright, and in the 20th century, noted Methodist historian Dr. Albert Outler come to mind.

In more recent times, that voice has become Rev. Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of Church of the Resurrection United Methodist Church in Leawood, Kansas, which is the largest UMC congregation.  If you have attended a United Methodist Sunday School or bible study for at least a year, chances are pretty good that you have used some of Adam's resources such as "Confronting the Controversies," "Why? Making Sense of God's Will," and "Christianity & World Religions."

More recently, Adam has completed the third part of a trilogy of resources called "The Way" which covers the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus.  The other two parts included studies on the birth of Jesus and Jesus' death and resurrection.

Adam and his church host annual leadership seminars.  This past fall, our church sent three of our staff members to the conference and came back with a lot of great resources and ideas to use in our own setting.

One of Adam's many gifts in ministry is in his communication/teaching/preaching skills.  He approaches the scriptures and theological understandings with an open mind and utilizes Wesley's quadrilateral approach (scripture is best interpreted by being informed by church tradition, reason, and experience.)  By using this approach, Adam spends a lot of time reading and studying a topic. His pastoral experience also helps to shed light on various issues that face the church today.

This more open minded and centrist approach has resonated with many people who are tired of the old worn out labels of conservative and liberal.  Adam offers this third way that bridges the gap.

For the last couple of years, Adam has been the keynote speaker at several of our Annual Conferences.  He has been sharing key thoughts on what it means to be a vital church in the 21st century.

For all of these reasons, the Inaugural Committee has invited Adam Hamilton to preach the service at the Inaugural interfaith prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. beginning at 10:30 am today. You can watch it live at this site or listen to it when it gets archived beginning sometime tomorrow.

In many ways, Adam Hamilton has become the unofficial spokesperson of the United Methodist Church. We still have our "holy conferencing" structure which is designed to include many voices but sometimes, we need that one voice to speak a hopeful word to a broken and hurting world.

I'm glad that voice is Adam Hamilton.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Lectionary Bible Commentary for January 20


Sermon (January 20) – “A Marriage Made in Heaven”

Isaiah 62:1-5

-       Persia has conquered Babylon and has permitted the people of Israel to return to a small parcel of land round Jerusalem. The land is ravished, and after initial elation, the people feel that God has ceased to care for them.
-       Isaiah was writing after the people of Judah had been living in exile (6th century BC.)
-       Isaiah offers a vision of Zion (another name for God’s people & Jerusalem) that they will once again be a crown of beauty.
-       Verse 4 – Your land shall be married (Hebrew – Beulah.) This is where we get the phrase, “Beulah-land.”
-       Zion is pictured as a bride. This image of Israel as a bride and God as the bridegroom is a metaphor that we find throughout the scriptures.

John 2:1-11

-       Jesus’ first of seven “signs” (miracles) in the Gospel of John. The others are healing a royal official’s son, healing a paralytic, feeding the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, healing the blind man, & raising Lazarus from the dead.
-       The “signs” of Jesus are times when heaven breaks through into our time and space. Where do you see those “breakthroughs” in your everyday living?  The Temple was seen as heaven and earth connecting.  And of course, John tells us that the Word became flesh (heaven and earth touching.)
-       This shows God’s overflowing and gracious love through Christ’s action of turning water into wine.  The scriptures often depict salvation as a feast like the wedding feast in this story. (See Rev. 21:2)
-       We only meet the mother of Jesus twice in the Gospel of John – here and at the foot of the cross in chapter 19.  When Jesus died on the cross, heaven and earth met as God’s glory overcame that terrible event.
-       Running out of wine was seen as a social disgrace.  Mary says “do whatever he tells you.” Jesus brings transformation to us like he transformed water into wine.  What areas of your life need God’s transformation?
      -     What do you think John means by this all took place on “the third day?”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - February 3


Sunday, February 3 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, February 6  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Jeremiah Leadership Training Course"

Features - 4th Sunday After the Epiphany & Holy Communion

Scripture - Jeremiah 1:4-10 & Luke 4:21-30

Theme - There are all kinds of leadership training resources but have you heard of the Jeremiah Leadership Training Course? This course offers incredibly useful information to help you be the leader that God is calling you to be.

Dave's Deep Thoughts - The Cubicles of Life

 
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.
 
You should always pick door #3.
Or maybe it is door # 1,
No, it must be door #2......
wait......
 
The travel agency of which I am a member
is well prepared to help its members.
 
A row of 3 cubicles,
each with an eager staff member
ready to assist you.
 
Though you can't see the people
in the cubicle next to you,
you can surely hear them.
 
I took cubicle #2.
The new year can be a time to plan for many things....
vacations,
trips to tropical places
and......
car insurance.
 
Nothing says "I wish I was doing something else" than
a 34 degree rainy day
while sorting through different insurance plans.
 
Meanwhile next to me in cubicle #1,
a couple had just sat down.
"We want to plan our first family Disney vacation!"
they shrieked with excitement.
 
On the other side of me in cubicle #3,
an equally cheery couple squealed...
"We are so looking forward
to getting away for some beach time!
 

"So we are here to look at car insurance options?"
my host in cubicle #2 said with a cheery smile.
 

Here's how life in cubicles 1, 2, & 3 went that day........
 
#2 Let's talk about deductibles........
 
#3 The cruise ship has 37 restaurants,
including choosing from 18 buffets,
64 cuisines, and 7 smorgasbords.
 
#1 You are going to love the Polynesian
Family Resort. The mangoes are out of this world.....
 
#2 I see that you had a traffic citation 2 years ago.
That will influence pricing.
 
#1 You will love having lunch with Snow White,
Prince Charming, and all the Disney characters!
 
#3 Swimming with the dolphins is such a great option
for you to pick!
 
#2 Let's talk uninsured motorist coverage,
specifically bodily injury.
 
#1 The parade and fireworks show
are such a great way to end your day!
 
#2 It's important to consider combined
personal bodily injury and property damage.
 
#3 I recommend the 24 hour room service.
There's nothing like having your breakfast
served to you on your own personal deck overlooking the ocean.
 
#1 Nothing says excitement like the Action & Adventure Park.
The zip line is amazing!
 
#2 You should be sure to include a work loss benefit.
You never know........
 
#3 If you are into fitness workouts,
we have Tai Chi, Yoga, and Pilates!
You will so enjoy the Full Serenity Spa
and Thermal Suite afterwards.
 
#1 Tee times? All you have to do is say when!
 
#2 You can't leave here without thinking about
the funeral expense benefit.
 
#1 lf you want excitement,
then Spiderman is the man for you.
 
#3 I recommend
the Brazilian Steakhouse.
The food will melt in your mouth.....
 
#2 Big decision time...... limited or full tort options?
 
#3 The tarts in the cabana house are amazing.
 
#1 Scuba in the pool, para-sailing, rock climbing??
Yep, we have all that!
 
#2 Good news! I see that you are a mature driver.
You receive a discount!
 
#3 Karaoke night is so much fun!
 
#1 The couple has now broken out into song.....
"It's a Small World"
 
#2 I'm sorry, this policy does not provide
for extraordinary medical expense coverage.
 
Some days feel like a cubicle #2 day,
trying to keep up with the everyday demands of life,
and also the unexpected bumps in the road....
 
Once in a while we might be favored with
days at cubicles 1 or 3,
when everything feels just right.
 
It is easy to be envious of the people
in cubicles 1 and 3.
But they have had their days in cubicle 2 as well.
 
The apostle Paul
gives instruction about finding peace and joy in life.
It isn't dictated by circumstances,
but on the One with whom you walk this life.
 
This from a man who lived at the  highest levels
of prestige and power,
and who later was shipwrecked and also imprisoned.
 
This is what he says.....
 
"I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
I know how to get along with humble means,
and I also know how to live in prosperity;
In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret
of being filled, and going hungry,
both of having abundance and suffering need.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13
 
Whether your team won or lost,
whether the surgery goes as planned or not,
whether it is sunny and 80 or rainy and 36,
He is there to strengthen.
 
Whether you got the job or not,
whether the tree fell on your property or your neighbors,
whether you were accepted to the university or community college,
He is there to carry you.
 
As for me,
I left cubicle #2 having saved myself $178 annually
and although I may not be squeezing sand in my toes in the near future,
I know that I can do what I need to do,
because I choose to live THROUGH HIM.
 
Whether you are having a deck party,
or painting the deck,
May it be so with you.