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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Easter Thoughts - Sharing the Good News

     Last year while on vacation, I met a little four-year old girl who lives next to my niece’s house. She was one of the most outgoing four year olds I have ever met.
     Even though she had just met us for the first time, she engaged us in a conversation that was quite impressive for a four year old. As she was talking with us, her mother told her to tell us about the bug. “Tell them about the bug you saw.”
     The little girl’s face looked really sad as she described in great detail about this bug that looked like it was going to die. We were all wondering why she was telling us this very sad story.
     All of the sudden, her eyes lit up and she began jumping up and down with great joy. “But then it turned into a butterfly! It did! It really did! It turned into a butterfly!” I don’t think I’ll ever forget the excitement in her voice as she told us about the dying bug that turned into a beautiful butterfly.
     As we approach Easter and the good news of the empty tomb, I think of this little girl who was so excited to share her story of life over death with us. May we do the same.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sunday Worship Preview - April 13

Sunday, April 13 - (9:00 &10:30 Services) & Wednesday April 16 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Who Were the Twelve Disciples? Peter"

Features - Palm Sunday

Scripture - Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 & Matthew 14:22-33

Theme During the Season of Lent, we are focusing on the twelve disciples of Jesus. Who were they? What can we learn from them? What does it mean to follow in their example? On this Sunday, we focus on Peter who was able to walk on water because he was willing to get out of the boat.

Dave's Deep Thoughts - A Tribute to Uncle Quinton

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.

It's nice to have snow days,
but what do you do when you run out of them?

During the mother of all winters
in the year of our Lord, 2013-14,
in south central Pennsylvania,
it is now March 26 and we received yet another snowfall.
 Though the calendar says spring,
the thermometer and the white on the ground say otherwise.

I know I run the risk of sounding like an old codger when I say.
"That's not how it was back in the day."

Oh, I am not talking about harsh winters.
We had plenty of them.
I am talking about snow days.

I remember winters when cars disappeared under drifts in the driveway.
I remember when snowcover from December to February was common.
I remember sitting in school during the afternoon after 3 inches had already fallen,
and not being dismissed early.

What I don't remember is going to school till the end of June,

Because we didn't.
Because we didn't have to.

Something has changed.
And I don't think it is just about climate.
I think it is about perspective.

A few weeks ago,
I visited my dying uncle one last time.
There is a sacredness in knowing you are very likely
 speaking to a person for the last time on this side of the river.

We had a wonderful visit.
We chatted about family memories,
about his comfort level,
about his life,
especially about his years before I was born.

Somehow the topic of all the spent snow days arose.
I asked him,
"Uncle Quinton, did you ever have snow days as a child?"

He smiled.

Looking into his eyes,
I knew I was about to venture into a world far removed from 2014.
After all, he was 97 years old.
He was born in 1917 so his school days would have been during the 1920's.
And school meant a one-room school house.

"Snow days?" he said with a half laugh.
"My goodness, we never had a snow day!"

"Well, what did you do when it snowed?"  I asked.

"On days that it snowed, my father would bring the horse out of the stable,
harness a log to it, and ride to school.
All the kids in the neighborhood would follow along in the path
carved out by the log." he said matter-of-factly.
"We never missed school."

I looked at him and said,
"Uncle Quinton, you were the toughest generation."

There was a twinkle in his eye,
that even the cancer could not take away.

My respect for him had grown to even more than what it had been.
After all, this was a man who.......
 had served our country during the war as a pilot  in the Air Force,
who met his wife at a church musical and courted her thereafter,
who dared to make a real commitment to her by marrying her before living with her,
 and through the 68 years of their marriage, his wife never ceased to be his girlfriend.

And he never took a snowday. Never.

Some would say,
times were simpler then.
Yes, they were,
but they were also harsher.

I don't recall ever having to fire up the wood stove in a bone chilling school
before commencing with grammar lessons.

I don't recall only receiving a pencil and an orange for Christmas
and being happy about it.

I don't recall having to light candles in the school house in order to read
because daytime snowstorms made it seem like night time.

But I didn't go to school in the 1920's.
Life was considerably more comfortable by the 1960's,
and even moreso now in the new millenium.

Are we softer as a culture?
No doubt.
Has that helped us?
I'm not so sure......

My uncle had it considerably tougher,
but he didn't have to worry about a gunman disrupting his schoolday and life.

My uncle didn't have computers to assist his learning,
but he learned enough about discipline and hardwork to forge a very successful career.

My uncle didn't have a cell phone to constantly text his girlfriend-to-be- wife,
but he knew how to communicate with her to cause their marriage to last a lifetime.

We think about things differently when there are no snow days left to spare.
I've noticed our children going to school during the last few weeks
when similar conditons previously kept them safely at
 home in front of their videogames and I phones.

Funny how circumstances can influence perspective,
especially when you are down to your last snowdays, let alone last days.

As we were reminiscing with my uncle,
we  were talking about the challenges of aging.
I mentioned that I wished there was a cure for aging.

We the twinkle still in his eye, my uncle said,
"There is,
it's called passing on."

Now there is someone who knew how to live,
so that he knew how to die.

My uncle was not overly verbal about his faith,
but his life spoke volumes about what it meant to live
as an obedient child of God.

Thanks for teaching me so much Uncle Quinton.
I will think of you each and every snow day.
I'm sure you aren't having those where you are now.
Oh wait,
you wouldn't anyway.

Toughest generation ever......

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary (March 30)

Sermon (March 30) - “Who Were the Twelve Disciples of Jesus? James the Greater”

Acts 12:1-5
Our New Testament reading from Acts chapter 12 describes how James the Greater became the first of Jesus' disciples to die for his faith.

Who was King Herod who killed James the Greater by the sword? He was King Herod Agrippa I who was the grandson of King Herod the Great who tried to kill the infant Jesus in Matthew chapter two. He was also the nephew of King Herod Antipas who killed John the Baptist in Matthew chapter six and he was also the father of King Herod Agrippa II who would end up hearing the Apostle Paul’s defense while on trial before Festus in Acts chapter twenty-five.

Since Herod wanted to keep in good standing with the Romans by quelling any possible political disruption in  his region, he sought to stamp out the new Christian movement and keep the status quo. This is why he had James the Greater, one of the disciples killed. This chapter marks the last that we hear about “the twelve disciples” as a group. As the book continues, another James, James, the brother of Jesus, becomes the focus since he is the leader of the Jerusalem Church.

Matthew 20:20-28
The mother of two of Jesus' disciples, James and John asks Jesus to offer her sons places of prominence in his kingdom. In response to this request, Jesus explains what it means to serve in his kingdom.

James & John (and their mother) were making a power play. They were positioning themselves for greater power in Jesus’ kingdom.

Jesus responds by referring to “the cup.” This comes from the OT in which the cup was seen as a symbol of the pain and suffering that will result from God dealing with sin and death in the world. See Isaiah 51:17,22

This scripture shows that Jesus’ understanding of the Kingdom of God was very different than the disciples’ understanding of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom is in line with Isaiah 53:10-12. Jesus will give his life as a ransom for many.

We are to remember this story when Jesus is on the cross with one on his right and one on his left. These are the “positions of power” in Jesus’ kingdom.

[Note: The resources used for these scripture reading commentaries are based on the Everyone series by NT Wright, The Wesley Study Bible, and the “Montreal-Anglican”lectionary commentaries.] 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sermon by Rev. Cheryl Foulk (March 23) - Who Were the Twelve Disciples of Jesus? Andrew & Phillip

I  have been thinking about names for baby boys lately because our daughter Esther is expecting her first child. I was surprised to find that the names of seven of the disciples are still in the top 100 for most popular male baby names of  2013  in the U.S. The name  “James” leads the way at  #19.  One of our disciples for today  “Andrew” comes in at #40.  And “Philip” is  in the top 300 names at the place of #295.  The influence of  the disciples is still seen in the way we name our children.  How else  have  the disciples Andrew and Philip  changed our world?   How can their lives change us?

Most  of the stories about Andrew and Philip are found in the Gospel of John. They were fishermen  from Bethsaida ,a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  They stand out in the group of disciples because they both had Greek names, not Hebrew ones.

At some point in his life, Andrew had left his home and had traveled down to the Judean wilderness and had become a follower of John the Baptist. Through John's introduction, Andrew  has  encountered Jesus.  Andrew spends a day with Jesus and decides that he will follow him- he is the first disciple to make that decision.

 The next thing that Andrew  does is to go and find  his brother , another fisherman who we will know as Peter.  Andrew tells him the exciting news:  “We have found the Messiah.”

Philip also has traveled to the region where John the Baptist is preaching . Jesus notices Philip and invites him to come and learn and be his disciple.  Philip in turn encourages his friend Nathaniel (Bartholomew) to “ come and see” all that Jesus is doing.

Andrew and Philip both were actively seeking God; they had left their daily routine of fishing in order for their faith to grow.  Jesus recognized their spiritual longing  and included them on his team.

Descriptive words for these two disciples are “seeking and sharing.”
 Andrew told his brother about Jesus and  Philip told his friend.
Two disciples now have become four disciples.  What they had received they also wanted to share. 

Pope Benedict wrote a book about the disciples a few years ago.  In it he says this about Philip: “ (this) apostle encourages us to become closely acquainted with Jesus.” 

We can't pass on our exact faith experience to someone else, but we can encourage them to get to know and to love our friend Jesus.  We can plant the seed, we can open the door.

Philip and Andrew  continued to introduce people to Jesus.  In the Gospel story for today, Jesus was facing the dilemma of feeding many hungry people. A large crowd had gathered to hear his teaching and now it was late in the day. People had become hungry and needed to be fed. It was Andrew who brought  the boy with his lunch of fish and bread to Jesus. He helped make a connection between the child and Jesus. Andrew was not sure where that action would lead; after all there were thousands of people to feed, and the boy's lunch was small.  Andrew enabled the boy to give of himself.
                                                                                                                                                                                   On another occasion, there were  Greeks who wanted to meet Jesus. The crowd was large  but Philip and Andrew  made a way for this to happen. They introduced these outsiders to Jesus. 

Even though Andrew and Philip introduced others to Jesus, they themselves did not have all the answers.  They  questioned and grappled with their faith. We do not have to have all the answers in order to help someone else become closer to God.

When Jesus asked Philip how  were they going  to feed so many,  Philip thought the answer was way beyond their resources.      When Andrew looked at the boy's small lunch , he didn't see how that could possibly be adequate.  Like Andrew and Philip, we want to walk by faith and yet our doubts naturally arise. Will our resources be adequate? We offer up what we have and we trust that God will work through our efforts.
In Leonardo  di Vinci's painting, you will find Andrew on the left side of Jesus seated near to his brother Peter.  Andrew has his hands  with palms out as if he is pushing away Jesus words that someone at that very table will betray him.  On the opposite side we have Philip who is in the threesome with James and  Thomas . Philip's  hands are clutched tightly at his chest as if he is saying “Not me, Lord, not me.”.  Andrew and Philip have known Jesus for the longest time of all the disciples and the painting shows their dismay vividly. 

The book of Acts gives us the impression that the disciples shared the Gospel  with others, but we don't get many details about who went where except for Peter and Paul.
Through the centuries, stories were told to fill in the gaps of the apostles' adventures.
 For Andrew and Philip, there are many extra-Biblical stories and traditions about them, especially within   Orthodox churches.  They are portrayed as people with great passion to fulfill their mission: to let others know about Jesus Christ.

Andrew and Philip did not travel together in these stories but took separate routes.  Andrew is said to have gone on various missionary trips  within the Black Sea area  ( Russia, Bulgaria, Romania) with his life ending in Greece.  Philip is portrayed as going to Turkey and dying there.  There are legends of them bravely speaking out against wrong and fighting against cannibals and snakes and horrendous storms at sea.  They are both said to have died  by the hands of rulers who were upset that their wives had become Christian through the preaching of Andrew and of Philip.

Andrew is said to have died on an X shaped cross which is known today as St. Andrew's cross. ( visible on the flag of Scotland)     How did Andrew ( a first century Galilean fisherman) ever become related to Scotland?  For those of you familiar with golf courses,  no, he wasn't a pro golfer....

There are a variety of stories of how some of  his bones were taken to Scotland  from Greece and how these relics  brought victory in a Scottish battle. Through this,  Andrew became  the patron saint of Scotland .

Some traditions say that Philip was also martyred for his faith  by being  hung upside down on a cross.   The emphasis in both these legends is  that  Andrew and Philip  both chose to die in a different manner than Jesus himself. 

The disciple Philip was in the international news three years ago with this headline: “Philip's Grave Discovered” .  At excavations in Turkey, at the traditional place of his death, (Hieropolis)  archaeologists  believed that they had uncovered the remains of the ancient church built over his burial place . Isn't it amazing  that the interest in his life continues  2000  years later!

Ukraine is in the midst of internal strife and dominates our news stories today. The Ukraine is a land with a long history of Christian  faith and their traditions link them to the apostle Andrew. There are claims that he first brought them the Gospel on one of his journeys in the Black Sea area.

Seeking and sharing, questioning and striving for more faith, obeying Jesus' instruction to go and tell:  this is how Andrew and Philip followed Jesus.

In the Scriptures, these disciples  are remembered by just a few stories. 
What stands out in your life?  If your years of faith had to be described  by one story, what would it be?

One legend of Andrew  is that he had  such eyes of compassion that he saw something of Jesus in  everyone.   Once he  thought the captain of the ship was Christ himself and that is why they sped across the waters, and arrived safely at their destination. Another time Andrew  thought the peddler on the docks was Jesus and so he  treated him with great kindness.

In my own life, there are stories that I would not want to be remembered by. (Smile) And I have not been chased by lions, or shipwrecked at sea,  or have preached to thousands.  But I hope that along the way I have shared some love of Christ, and because of that, someone has wanted to know more about him.  What story would you want to be remembered by?

There is a prayer  that honors what Andrew and Philip did.  It reads “O God, give us grace to follow Jesus without delay and to bring those near to us into his kingdom.”

May that prayer be seen in our lives!