Sunday, May 31, 2015
Sunday, June 7 - (9:00 am & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, June 10 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)
Features - Music Sunday
Scripture - Revelation 5:9-14 & Luke 7:31-32
Theme - Our Music Sunday celebration will be highlighted by a jazz theme as we celebrate the good news of our faith.
Several years ago in a community where I was serving as pastor, I became a member of a gym. I made a commitment that year to begin exercising after several years of not exercising.
During my tour of the gym, I remember feeling a little intimidated by all of the guys pumping iron in the weight room that day. Even during this quick tour, I was feeling out of my league. I was beginning to second guess myself if I should become part of the gym scene.
I decided to go out and buy some fancy gym shorts, some running shirts, expensive running shoes, a water bottle. It was really important for me to at least look the part, if you know what I mean.
Since this wasn’t the largest gym, you had to wait your turn to get on one of the running treadmills. This meant that you sometimes had to wait fifteen or twenty minutes for the guy ahead of you to finish his work-out. Standing around made me feel even more self-conscious.
But, at least I looked the part. I head the really cool Nike clothes. I think I even had sweat-bands. Does anybody even wear those things anymore? Back in the 90’s, that was part of the whole work-out look.
So it was my first day at the gym. There I was all decked out waiting my turn to run on the treadmill for the first time.
Oh, the other thing about this gym was that all of the walls had floor to ceiling mirrors to make the gym look bigger than it really was. The mirrors were also the gym’s way of reminding you that you were totally out of shape.
Well, finally, the guy in front of me got off the treadmill. Now it was my turn to shine in that gym. So I start running on that treadmill.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I was feeling a little winded the first couple of minutes but not too bad. I started to feel a little more confident so I made the treadmill go a little faster, and then a little more. I was now running at a pretty fast pace.
I looked in the full-length mirror at my reflection and I thought to myself, “Robert, you are looking really good my friend.” I was becoming more and more confident by the second.
As I was starting to break a sweat, I decided to look back at the mirror to admire myself just one more time. That’s when I noticed a dryer sheet coming out from underneath my Nike shorts, and it floated in mid air for an incredible long time before it finally landed on the person who was running on the machine next to me.
I quickly turned away to act like it wasn’t my dryer sheet. It was in that moment that I had been brought down a peg or two. Instead of feeling like a world class athlete, I now felt like I had been put in my place. I had been humbled.
There’s nothing wrong with being humbled from time to time. Humility is what keeps us grounded and keeps things in perspective. It’s what helps us to not take ourselves so seriously.
The Prophet Isaiah experienced one of these humbling moments from our scripture reading this morning. Isaiah was an incredible prophet who God called to speak a word of truth to the people of God.
It was during the beginning of Isaiah’s prophecy, that God gives him a vision. All of the sudden, Isaiah finds himself in the Temple, that sacred space where it was believed the God of Israel resided.
He sees these heavenly creatures flying around and they are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The singing is so powerful that the foundation of the Temple shakes and the whole place is filled with smoke.
As Isaiah takes in this incredible out of body experience, he feels so humbled and all he can do is say, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
There are times along our faith journey when we experience these humbling moments that point us away from ourselves and toward a God who is holy and awesome. These humbling moments often take us by surprise.
I got a call at the house late one afternoon. A family who I had never met but had an indirect connection to our church called me to see if I could make a trip to the hospital to visit their father who was a patient there.
When I arrived, I made my way to this person’s room. I was in full pastor mode, ready to visit a few minutes and offer a prayer, my customary routine. I’ve done this before so I was feeling confident.
As I was walking down the hallway toward the room, I knew that this wasn’t going to be a typical visit. Several family members were standing in the hallway outside the room. Some looked lost while others were wiping tears from their eyes.
As I made it to the door of the room, the oldest daughter of the family took me by the hand and guided me into the room while everyone followed behind us. We gathered around the bedside of the person who I later would discover was her father. His breathing was labored and it was obvious by their reactions and the situation that he was in the last moments of his life.
We all just stood there in silence, nobody saying a word for what seemed like the longest time. I finally broke the silence and assured the family that God was with their loved one and that God was with us.
I read a couple of verses that seemed appropriate and then led in a prayer where we offered this dear man to be with the Lord. Each family member either gave me a hug or shook my hand and thanked me for my visit.
As I started on my way down the hallway to go toward the elevator, I was overwhelmed by the thought that I had just experienced a holy moment in a way that I wasn’t expecting when I left my house that day. In the midst of that unexpected pastoral visit, I felt God’s presence in such a real way. I felt so humbled to think that God called me to be part of that family’s holy moment with their loved one.
Sometimes, holy moments take us by surprise and humble us in a good way.
A young homeless woman stumbled upon a United Methodist Church one Sunday morning in St. Louis. Not a church-goer, this woman felt she had run out of options.
With nothing left to lose, she decided to give God a try. She quietly crept into the back of the church and sat huddled all by herself.
She listened to the service, not fully understanding what was happening. Panic set in as she heard the preacher talk about something called, “Holy Communion.”
She listened to the words of liturgy that are spoken before the Sacrament is offered and the invitation for all to receive this holy meal. She decided that she was not going to share in this meal. She felt unworthy to receive the bread and the juice along with everybody else in that church.
She liked the ideas she heard but she knew in her heart of hearts that she was an unclean person and that Communion wasn’t for people like her. As she was thinking about these things, she was startled and alarmed to see a man and a woman heading toward her with holding the bread and cup.
She gripped her hands together and shook her head from side to side. She politely refused to receive.
“What’s the matter?,” the woman usher asked.
“I’ve never been here before. I don’t belong here. I don’t know what’s happening,” the young woman stammered.
Both the man and the woman smiled. Then the man said, “You don’t have to belong here. Holy Communion is for everyone.”
“Not for me,” the visitor replied. “I’m not a good person. That’s not for me,” she said, nodding at the bread and cup.
“This is especially for you,” the woman said. “No one here deserves it. It’s a gift to us from God. You don’t have to get ready for Communion. Communion makes you ready to receive God’s love.”
This young woman sat there with tears in her eyes, speechless. Still clutching her hands together in front of her, she clenched her eyes shut and opened her lips.
The woman dipped a piece of bread in the cup and placed it in the young woman’s mouth. As the sweetness of the juice and the rich flavor of the bread mingled on her tongue, the young woman broke down, sobbing, “thank you, thank you” over and over.
This is what it means to be humbled in a good way. It’s not that we are evil or overly mean or hurtful. We are human beings who sometimes do incredible and wonderful things, but who also can be hurtful, neglectful, short-sighted, and misguided.
We are as God made us, desperately in need of love and forgiveness and second chances. Not one of us is worthy of the grace of God, but it is denied to none of us. It is a gift that cleanses us and changes us and makes us the people God wants us to be.
But this isn’t the end of the story. One week later, the young woman returned to that same church with five of her friends. She noticed the woman who had served her Communion the week before and she waved her over. “When’s Communion?” she asked.
“Oh, well, we only serve communion once a month,” was her reply.
Eyes wide, he young woman said in a shocked voice, “But we need it. I haven’t felt anything so good in years, and I want my friend to have it, too!”
Forgiveness, acceptance, healing, and love – we all need these things. We need these things because like Isaiah, we are a people of unclean lips, and by God’s grace, we have been given enough love, healing, kindness, acceptance, and forgiveness that we can share it with everyone we meet.
Last year, I attended a clergy meeting. Toward the end of the several hour meeting that morning, another pastor came up to me and began to fix my shirt collar. Evidently, it had been turned up and I didn’t realize it. That whole morning, the people who were sitting behind me probably wondered what kind of absent-minded pastor I must be. Situations like this humble us and remind us that we are in need of God.
Whether it’s a dryer sheet falling from our clothes, a turned up collar during a meeting, the gathering of family in a hospital room to say good-bye to their loved one, a chance visit to a church on a Sunday morning, or a vision of angels in the Temple singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” these moments of humility remind us of who we really are and of God’s love for us.
Whenever we experience these moments of humility, may we respond with Isaiah and say, “Lord, here am I. Send me.”
Friday, May 29, 2015
Top Row Left to Right: Clarence McCoy, Joe Palmer, Dustin Roberts, John Coen, Dan Kemp, & Jill Warner
Middle Row: Lisa Schenck, Sandy Roberts, Deb Silvia, & Judy Tucker
First Row: Penny McDowell, Robert McDowell, & Cheryl Foulk
Penny and I were treated to a fun farewell party at Olive Garden today. They went way above and beyond in sharing their gifts, laughter, and love with us. We had a great time. They even let me have the extra black olives from the salad bowl!
Lots of fun gifts and one of my favorite ones was this gold star trophy! Ha!
During the Easter Season, we made a big deal about how we are God's "peeps" as in the marshmallow treats. I consider it a high honor to be one of our staff peeps!
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism was known for emphasizing that Christianity is meant to be lived in community. This faith of ours is not meant to be lived in isolation. Thank God for that! We need each other. Over these past six years, I have been blessed with a wonderful staff team. I can't say enough about how much I have appreciated their prayers, support, encouragement, and their ministries in our church and community.
As I reflect on the staff picture above, I notice that six of the eleven staff members were added during my time here. Change is inevitable and God promises to always be with us during times of transition. Another change will happen by the end of June when Brian Jones will become the new Senior Pastor. Brian will be a wonderful blessing to this congregation. I'm sure that our church will offer him a warm welcome just as I received six years ago.
To all of my staff "peeps," thank you! May God continue to bless the ministry of Lancaster First UMC through your loving leadership!
Monday, May 25, 2015
Nice words about our church from Cross Pointe Baptist Church. We hosted a fundraiser to help pay medical expenses for those who were part of the recent botulism outbreak.
"My wife and I attended the concert and fundraiser for Crosspoint Church members still recovering and donated an item for the Silent Auction. Pastor Bill told me how grateful he was to First Church for hosting the May 24th event and also for the gas cards provided by First Church to help church members travel to Columbus to be with their loved ones. The family of the woman that passed away was in attendance at the event. There could have been more people there supporting the cause but Pastor Bill was very grateful."
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Sunday, May 31 - (9:00 am & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, June 3 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)
Features - Trinity Sunday & Holy Baptism (9:00 &10:30)
Scripture - Isaiah 6:1-8
Sermon - "Humbling Moments"
Theme - When the Prophet Isaiah encountered the presence of God, he believed that he was a person of unclean lips. It was a very humbling moment. What are some holy moments that have humbled you?
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
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.
Some may want to go back to the past,
others, Back to the Future.
As for me, I just want to get back to living.
It was her 16th birthday party.
The year was 1967.
My sister was six years older than me.
As a young boy,
I had learned to endure parties
where teenage girls invaded the house.
HELLO……..ANYONE HOME, MCDOWELL? *
Answer…..about a gazillion girls were there,
GREAT SCOTT!!! *
For a ten year old boy,
this was a sentence of death.
Marty McFly may have thought he had it bad in 1985
but life for Davy McDowell in 1967 was no picnic either.
I wasn’t the only male child facing such agony.
My brother, five years younger than me, had to endure it as well,
except that at age five, he was less aware of the GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION. *
WHOA, THIS WAS HEAVY! *
As the cars continued to turn into the driveway,
and as the GIGIWATT * level of girlish giggles reached painful proportions,
I did what any ten year old would do…..
I MADE LIKE A TREE AND GOT OUTTA THERE.*
(IT’S LEAF YOU IDIOT. MAKE LIKE A TREE AND LEAF!) *
That took me to the front yard
where I thought I was alone with my baseball bat.
It was there behind a bush that I took my first powerful practice swing…….
a swing that ended up in my brother’s skull.
I had forgotten that as a five year old brother,
he was more like a puppy dog.
He would follow me everywhere…….
That day, 48 years ago, on my sister’s 16th birthday,
he followed me right into a swing of the bat
as I was chasing an imaginary ball over the right corner of the plate.
I don’t remember much after that except blood,
a lot of blood…..
and that the giggles of teenage girls turned to screams.
In the SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM, *
somehow I knew that I had altered history.
What if I had never hit my brother in the head with the baseball bat?
He would have likely gotten better grades in high school.
He never would have had to listen to the
“Boy you had better buckle down and get better grades”
speech from our father.
(translated, YOU ARE A SLACKER, JUST LIKE YOUR FATHER) *
Instead, he would have gone to Harvard,
and then Duke Divinity School
instead of attending the local commuter school.
He would never have transferred from the local commuter school
to Temple University.
He would have never met his wife.
He would have never moved to Ohio
and entertained everyone with his endless selfies and Facebook posts.
He would never have had his two wonderful children,
nor had his cute Westies as pets.
All because of one swing of the bat in April of 1967.
I used to think I should apologize to my brother
for slamming him in the head with a large piece of wood,
but now I realize that he should be thanking me.
That traumatic blow to the noggin
wrote his future.
Doc Brown quoted
“YOUR FUTURE HASN’T BEEN WRITTEN YET,
NO ONE’S HAS. YOUR FUTURE IS WHATEVER YOU MAKE OF IT.
SO MAKE IT A GOOD ONE.” *("Back to the Future" Quote)
I’d like to think that my mistimed swing
paved the wave for my brother to become an excellent pastor.
Theologians and people of faith have for centuries
debated over man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty.
Is life really scripted out for us beforehand and we are merely actors,
or do we really have a choice in determining our destiny?
I would say yes and yes.
When Moses goes before Pharaoh
in that dramatic account of the Exodus from Egypt,
several times Scripture says:
“But Pharaoh hardened his heart at that time also; neither would he let the people go.” (Exodus 8:32)
In the same account, Scripture also says that it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart….
“But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.” (Exodus 9:12)
I believe that our free will can only operate within God’s sovereignty.
Are we responsible for our actions?
Is God in charge?
And because of that, I offer to my brother……
“I’m sorry for not looking to see where you were in that moment” and
“I am glad God purposed me to have a brother who is living out the intentions for his life.”
And as Doc Brown put it,
for those who know and love the Lord,
“WHERE WE ARE GOING, WE WON’T NEED ROADS.” *
And in the meantime,
choose to live out well the purposes that he intended for you before you were even born.
Sermon (May 24) - "Where's the Fire?"
This is the story of Pentecost, the conclusion of the Easter Season, the 50th day after Easter Sunday, and the 10th day after Jesus' ascension.
Peter refers to Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit as the "Last Days." This does not mean that the world will end in any moment. It's a figure of speech that states that this is a significant event in which God's people are being equipped to carry on Jesus' ministry and share the good news throughout the world.
Peter makes two very important points about Pentecost in his sermon to the people.
1) Only followers of Jesus are able to understand and appreciate the gifting of the Holy Spirit. The crowd doesn't understand what is happening. Most of them haven't yet heard about Jesus' resurrection, but this is about to change!
2) Peter's naming of this time as "The Last Days" is showing that the news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is about to transform the world. This is the time that the scriptures have pointed to over the centuries and it was being launched in that moment!
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
This passage offers three important points:
1) The Spirit will testify to the truth. 2) The Spirit will comfort the world but will also bring conviction of sin. 3) The Spirit will bring illumination to the disciples as they carry out Jesus' ministry.
The Holy Spirit is our advocate. The Spirit always points us to Jesus. The Spirit works through the disciples. We do not have to convince people about the good news of Jesus. The Spirit does this! The Spirit also increases our understanding of the work of Jesus. This leads to deeper gratitude and intimacy with God.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Sunday, May 24 - (9:00 am & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, May 27 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)
Features - Pentecost Sunday, Graduates Recognition, Commissioning of Young Justice Advocates, & Memorial Day Weekend Sunday
Scripture - Acts 2:1-21 & John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Sermon - "Where's the Fire?"
Theme - The church was on fire when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. The early church had a sense of urgency to share the good news of Christ with the world. Do we share in that same sense of urgency in the church today?
Sunday, May 17, 2015
I cannot be more proud of the 12 young adults that we have welcomed into our church family this morning. During the last 8 months, I have been meeting with these students and we have been discussing what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a Methodist, and what it means to join the church.
During their last retreat at Geneva Hills, we sat around a table and planned this morning. After they arranged the services, chose the hymns, and wrote the prayers, I asked them if any of them want to give the message. Not a single one raised their hand! Can you believe it! Well you all are an intimidating bunch sometimes and it does take a lot of courage to get up here and read scripture, lead you in prayer, and play musical instruments. So I volunteered to deliver the message for them. However, they sure were opinionated in what they wanted me to say. They gave me their bullet points and approved this message this past Friday night.
The confirmands decided they wanted me to take you through the confirmation year and share with you what they learned and what resonated with them most during this process. Their hope was to help rejuvenate you all in the manner that they have been.
So let’s start off at our first retreat, last October. We stayed in the cabins at the Lancaster Campground and met at Crossroads.
During this week we focused on the voices that we listen to. We constantly have voices in our heads telling us things. Good and bad things. Some of those things were put there by others and some by ourselves. The confirmands worked at sorting out those voices and tried to tune in to the voice of God.
In the middle of the afternoon, we explored different types of prayer.
Traditionally when we imagine someone in prayer, we think of someone with a bowed head. This was the first image result when I googled “person praying.” However, we tried different postures and positions of prayer. We reached towards the sky, we covered our faces, we laid on our backs with our arms spread wide, and then we held our hands open and looked up into the tower at Crossroads.
As we were spending a moment in this position, a large brilliantly white cloud slowly crept its way over Crossroads. The cloud whited out the windows and made the black cross stand out more pronounced than ever. It was in that moment that some of us felt His presence and felt tuned into the voice of God.
Later that night confirmands were blindfolded and lead through an activity where they experienced Peter’s Life with Christ. They experienced the disbelief when there was enough bread and fish for 5000 people. They experienced the terrifying sensation of trusting Christ and stepping out from the safety of our boats and walking to Christ on the sea of Galilei. They experienced the grace of Christ when He washed their feet. Then they experienced the gut reaching sounds of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us. We finished in a catacomb worship service where we prayed for the ability to recognize the Christ presence in our lives, we prayed for the sight to identify the miracles in our lives, and we prayed for the wisdom in how we can respond to His presence.
Later on in the year we traced our United Methodist heritage back, and back, and back. The United Methodist church is a branch on a large tree of faith that is rooted in the Jewish Faith. To better understand where our religious ancestors came from, we visited a Jewish synagogue and Greek Orthodox Church.
At Temple Israel in Columbus we were met by a very welcoming group where we shared a mutual understanding and belief that is seeded in the Torah.
A month later we traveled to the The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Columbus where these 13 year olds sat through a 3 hour service with Greek being spoken 80% of the time. And no one fell asleep. The confirmands wanted to make sure you know that Pastor Robert and Pastor Cheryl have been taking it easy on us! In all honesty, we were all enthralled by the beauty of the cathedral and kept spotting similarities between their service and our own here. The confirmands were able to acknowledge that our Christian family transcends the walls of our church and our own denomination.
During our meetings on Sunday we discussed the many different ways that we can follow Christ. However, with most topics we referred back to this. This diagram is one way for us to chart the four spiritual practices of being a Disciples of Christ.
Devotion is the private activity that draws us into Scripture, focuses our attention on prayer, and helps us to be mindful of God’s presence in our life. Devotion is more than just spending a few minutes each day reading from a daily devotional guide, although these resources have their merit. It also, includes spending time each day in personal prayer; reading, studying, and reflecting on Scripture; and spending time in silence and solitude.
In worship we confess our sins in the presence of God and one another. Worship is something that has happening here for years and will continue after we are gone. We pray for one another as we hear the concerns of the people of God, and we hear the interpretation of Scripture. Then we leave empowered to minister to the world.
Compassion represents practices of caring for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others. Through compassion, we put our gifts, blessings, and talents, to use on a personal level, caring and extending God’s grace to individuals. Acts of compassion are important ways in which we follow the biblical commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Justice is the corporate side of compassion. It involves seeking peace and wholeness for all people and all of God’s creation. When we seek justice, we move beyond meeting the needs of individuals and look at the root causes of social ills, such as poverty, hunger, slavery, sickness, and oppression. The work of justice sometimes means getting involved in politics, economics, and law; and it often involves being an advocate for those who lack the power and resources to make their voices heard. By striving for justice, we honor a God who is just, and who desires the well-being of all people.
These four easy-to-remember concepts – devotion, worship, compassion, and justice – give us, all of us, structure for Christ like living. Jesus spent much time in solitude and private prayer but also worshiped with a community of followers. Jesus met the immediate needs of the sick and hungry but also said that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him to “bring good news to the poor,” “proclaim release to the captives,” and to “let the oppressed go free.” We kept referencing this cross and the specific concepts throughout all of confirmation.
During class we also talked about Joh Wesley’s House of Salvation. He used the different parts of a house to describe salvation and God’s Grace.
John Wesley compared prevenient grace to the porch of the house. When we experience prevenient grace, God had invited us into the house, but we haven’t yet accepted the invitation. We are still just standing outside, loitering on the porch. The idea that of Prevenient Grace is the reason why United Methodists love to baptize babies. The act of baptism is a symbol of God’s prevenient Grace. Even if we are unable to cognitively recognize it, we still are extended the love and grace of God.
Now with justifying grace, John Wesley calls our attention to the door of the house. When we respond to God’s invitation and open the door into God’s house, we are right with God and have assurance that our sins are forgiven. For many Christians this is the most familiar form of grace. Our responsibility is to respond to God’s grace with our participation in the ministries of the church.
Once we enter the house and pass through the door, there are a lot of rooms for us to explore.
Sanctifying grace is the grace that guides us when we are inside. We understand that salvation is a process, not just a one-time event. Gradually, God transforms us into the person God intends for us to be. This gradual transformation is called sanctification. The four pillars of Discipleship are what we can us to help guide us in this process.
It was during the last retreat that 4 of the confirmands were able to acknowledge God’s grace and reach out for that door handle of God’s house. Brittani, Hannah, Kaleb, and Adam were baptized infront of family mentors and friends. These four were able to confirm God’s prevenient grace extended to them.
All of this and more is what has led us here to today. This morning the twelve confirmands, and I find it very fitting that there are twelve of them, stood before you and confirmed their faith. They renounced the spiritual forces of wickedness, rejected the evil powers of this world, and repented of their sins. They accepted the freedom and power that God gave them to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. They confessed Jesus Christ as their lord and savior, putting their whole trust in His grace. The pledged to remain faithful members of Christ’s Holy church and serve as Christ’s representative by being faithful participants in the ministries of the church with their prayer, prescreens, gifts, service, and witness.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of Christ and Carynn / Maggie read for us the Ascension story from Luke. In this passage the disciples were witnesses. They had seen Jesus with their own eyes. They could testify to having seen Jesus after his resurrection and they could also testify to seeing him ascend into heaven. These disciples were charged to go on and testify to what they had seen. They were to tell the story. To tell it not as hearsay, but as of their own knowledge.
These confirmands today have not seen the risen Christ with their own eyes, nor have they seen Christ ascend into heaven. However, they have experienced Christ in their lives. They have confirmed their responsibility to go and tell the story. To tell it not as hearsay, but as their own knowledge.
Along with their vows today, we re-confirmed our responsibility to go and tell our story. We renewed our covenant to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness so that together WE can glorify God though Christ.