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


Monday, May 25, 2020

Sunday Pastoral Prayer (May 24/Ascension Sunday) Athens First UMC


[A letter was sent to our congregation last week informing us that our church building will remain closed for the foreseeable future because we want to protect our congregation from the coronavirus. We will continue to monitor the situation, provide online worship services, and offer prayers for our world during this challenging time. For Sunday’s online worship service, click here.]

God of resurrection and ascension, thank you for reminding us today that you have ascended to your heavenly throne where you rule over all creation. We can’t think of a better King than you. You are a King who rules justly. You are a King who loves fully. You are a King who provides graciously. You are a King who loves deeply. You are a King who forgives completely. You are a King who cares infinitely. And you are a King who reigns eternally.

You rule over all earthly kingdoms, all political systems, and all earthly powers. In response to your heavenly rule which knows no end, we offer you all our praise, adoration, and worship this day and every day.

As citizens of your heavenly kingdom, we seek to make this world a better place by pledging our allegiance to your kingdom over any political party or economic system that would threaten to harm your creation. Forgive us for when we confuse our political worldviews with your kingly rule. Thank you for Ascension Sunday, this day on the church calendar that reminds us to keep our focus on the King of kings and the Lord of lords rather than on the latest political ad or conspiracy theory. We don’t have time for such silly things as citizens of your kingdom.

In this world where there is so much pain, brokenness and disease, we continue to pray for all of those who have been impacted by the coronavirus. We pray for the skills of all of those who are providing medical care and who are searching for a vaccine. Bless their work, O God. 

We pray for those who are recovering from surgery, those who are facing medical challenges, those who are unemployed, and those who are facing difficult decisions. May your loving care and guidance surround them and may their hearts be strangely warmed this day.

On this Memorial Day weekend, we are especially thankful for all of those who have served in the armed services and who are no longer with us. Thank you for their sacrifice and service to our country. 

And now as citizens of your kingdom, we join in praying the prayer you taught your disciples and now teach us to say together…

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Online Worship (May 24/Ascension Sunday) Athens First UMC

Welcome to our (May 24/Ascension Sunday) online worship @ Athens First UMC!
2 S. College St., Athens, OH 45701



Greeting From Pastor Robert




Call to Worship (Based on Psalm 47)

L: Clap your hands, all you peoples;

P: Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

L: For the lord, the Most High is awesome,

P: A great king over all the earth.

L: Sing praises to God, sing praises;

P: Sing praises to our King, sing praises!


Hymn       Christ the Lord Is Risen Today




  1. Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
    Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
    Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
    Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!
  2. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
    Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
    Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
    Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
  3. Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
    Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
    Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
    Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!
  4. Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
    Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
    Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
    Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Welcome & Passing the Peace
[Today, May 24th is the anniversary of when John Wesley had his heart-warming experience on Aldersgate Street in London England in 1738. Jack and Cathy Bigger’s dog, Stan is sitting in front of their fire place to remind us that we are a people of warm hearts. Stan invites us to greet one another, not by rubbing noses, but by barking out, “May God’s peace warm our hearts today.]



Prayer of Confession & Words of Assurance

Heavenly Christ, come down from on high to be with us, even in our darkest hours. As you share in our suffering, share your love in the midst of our shortcoming and our failings. Raise us to new heights with your forgiveness and mercy, that we may glorify you in all that we say and in all that we do. Enter into our sorrows with grace and hope, that we might be overwhelmed with joy. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

L: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

P: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

All: Thanks be to God!


Children’s Moments - Kathy Mangen



New Testament Lesson -  Acts 1:1-11         
Jan Miller-Fox  
[Luke, who wrote the book of Acts describes Jesus’ ascension into heaven with Jesus telling the disciples that they will continue to be his witnesses once the Holy Spirit comes upon them.]



Gospel Lesson - Luke 24:44-53 
Jan Miller-Fox
[Our Gospel reading not only offers us the account of Jesus’ ascension, it also tells us that the disciples worshipped him. This is the first time we are told they did this. After Jesus ascended, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy. What a wonderful way for Luke to conclude his Gospel!]



Special Music        Jesus Loves Me      Jeff Daubenmire



Sermon        Need a Lift?     Rev. Robert McDowell


Testimony of Being Lifted in Faith - Michelle Shively



Sermon Discussion Questions

When have you felt lifted in your faith?
How have other people helped you to have a warm heart and be lifted in your faith? How does your small group help you to have an assurance in your faith like Wesley experienced in his “heart warming” experience?
In our Ephesians scripture reading for Ascension Sunday, the Apostle Paul refers to, “the hope to which God has called you and what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”
How does this thought give you a lift in your faith?
One of our church members, Michele Shively shared her testimony of how she has been lifted up in her faith. Below is the video of her testimony.
What part of Michele’s testimony speaks to you the most?

Hymn                 Pass It On

Pastoral Prayer & The Lord’s Prayer



Church News
[The following announcement slides below are to help us stay connected as a church especially since we are unable to gather in our church building for weekly worship. Please scroll down through the announcements, and our online service will continue with another video.]



















Offering Our Gifts


Thank you for your gifts!!!
“Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all.”  1 Chronicles 29:12


Closing Hymn    Leaning on the Everlasting Arms



Benediction
[In addition to our beautiful benediction that we say each week that lifts our faith, we also offer this sung benediction performed by several different churches in the UK. May God’s favor be upon you this day and lift you up!]





Join us back here next Sunday (May 31/Pentecost) for our online worship service.

[For previous online worship services, click here.]

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sunday (May 17) Online Worship Athens First UMC

Welcome to our (May 17) online worship @ Athens First UMC!
2 S. College St., Athens, OH 45701



Greeting From Pastor Robert



Call to Worship


L: Come close and listen!

P: The One who made heaven and earth sings a song of life!

L: Come close and listen!

P: The One who raises us from the dead sings a song of love!

L: Come close and listen!

P: The One who walks with us through fire and water sings a song of hope!

All: Alleluia! God’s song goes on and on!


Hymn      Christ Is Alive




Welcome & Passing the Peace
[This is the Sweeney’s adorable dog, Fiddich. Mike got him soon after his first cancer surgery in 2013 and he continues to be a blessing to them. Fiddich invites you to greet one another in your homes and remember that the peace of Christ is with us.]



Prayer of Confession & Words of Assurance

Author of Life, you gift us with breath, enfold us in love, and bless us with your presence. When we feel lost, remind us that you are always near. When you seem far away, show us that you are closer than our breathing. When we are lonely and afraid, send us your Companion to offer comfort and courage. Forgive us for whenever we take our eyes off of the surprising good news of Easter that offers us hope and new life. Remind us on this day that your unstoppable love abides with us always. Amen.

L: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
P: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
All: Thanks be to God!

Children’s Moments     Martha Sloan   



New Testament Lesson - I Peter 3:13-22
[Our baptism font is in the shape of an octagon to help us remember that God saved eight people in Noah’s family from the flood. Listen carefully to this scripture passage as the author makes this connection. The good news of our faith is that God saves!]



Gospel Lesson - John 14:15-21
[This is part of that long section in John’s Gospel in which Jesus is preparing his disciples for when he would be leaving them. They are confused and can’t imagine a future without Jesus by their side. Jesus calms their fear of the future by telling them that he will be sending them the Holy Spirit to help them continue his ministry. Even though they are anxious about the future, Jesus is reminding them that they will continue to be his disciples.]



Jarjisian Musical Blessing - Jack & Cathy Bigger 
[We offer our gratitude and blessings to our Director of Music, Dr. Peter Jarjisian and his wife Judy as they begin a year long sabbatical in Washington D.C.]



Special Music       Stand Up for Me – Storm Large
Melissa Brobeck, soloist (Recorded November 17, 2019)



Sermon             The ‘United’ Methodist Church?
 Rev. Robert McDowell



Sermon Discussion Questions

In what ways has our denomination been united even though we have very different opinions regarding human sexuality issues?
Share some examples of how Athens First UMC has been an inclusive and welcoming community of faith. In what ways can we become more inclusive and welcoming?
Why do you think that there are many people like Pastor Robert’s friend that he mentioned in the sermon who have conflicted views about these issues? 
In what ways has God provided you with encouragement and reassurance as we approach a potential historic transition in our denomination? Where do you sense the Holy Spirit leading you and our church during this time of uncertainty?

Hymn                And Are We Yet Alive?

Pastoral Prayer & The Lord’s Prayer
[In celebration of our church’s 220th anniversary, Rev. James Quinn, our founding Methodist circuit riding pastor from 1800 leads us in our pastoral prayer. Welcome back to Athens, Rev. Quinn!]




Church News & COVID19/Church Building Update

[The following announcement slides below are to help us stay connected as a church especially since we are unable to gather in our church building for weekly worship. Please scroll down through the announcements, and our online service will continue with another video.]













Offering Our Gifts


Thank you for your gifts!!!
“Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all.”  1 Chronicles 29:12

Closing Hymn                     Blessed Assurance
Associate Music Director, Jeff Daubenmire



1. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

Refrain:
This is my story; this is my song:
praising my Saviour all the day long;
this is my story; this is my song:
praising my Saviour all the day long.

2. Perfect submission, perfect delight,
visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
angels descending bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

3. Perfect submission, all is at rest;
I in my Saviour am happy and blest,
watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with his goodness, lost in his love.

Benediction



[A big thank you to our founding Methodist circuit-riding preacher, Rev. James Quinn, who looks a lot like our own Rev. David Maze for offering our pastoral prayer this morning. He was surprised by the four church buildings that we have had in our history since he was here 220 years ago. It is amazing that for the first 15 years, we didn’t even have a church building. Members met in their homes for worship, study, and prayer. Sounds a lot like what we are going through now due to COVID19. Happy 220th anniversary, Athens First UMC!]

Join us back here next week (May 24/Ascension Sunday) for our online worship!

[For previous online worship services, click here]

Monday, May 11, 2020

Sunday Pastoral Prayer (May 10/Mothers’ Day) Athens First UMC



[This is a new large sign that will be placed on the wall along our education hallway in the Lower Level of the church. Thank you, Christian education team for this wonderful addition and creative way to help us remember our church’s weekly benediction that we are all a “blessed, beloved, and beautiful child of God.” For the May 3 online worship service, click here.]

Risen Christ, thank you for the good news of Easter and the empty tomb. Thank you for the many signs of your presence during this Easter season. A mother goose leading her young baby chicks gently down the Hocking River. Freshly mowed grass on a warm spring day. A young couple kissing along the bike path. A violet azalea blooming alongside our church building.

As we wait upon your Holy Spirit to fall afresh upon us, we are reminded of when the disciples were called to “stay at home” in the Upper Room. Like them, help us to continue to “stay at home” knowing that wherever we are, we are always at home with you. Thank you that in your Father’s house there are many rooms especially for those who feel left out and excluded. Remind us that we are all invited to take up residence in your mansion where there is more than enough room for all.

On this day, we make room for others by especially praying for those who are in the hospital, those who are grieving the loss of loved ones, those who are struggling financially during this pandemic, those who are searching for a vaccine, those who are treating patients, those who are making difficult decisions about reopening the economy, and those who are feeling anxious during these uncertain times. 

On this Mothers’ Day, we especially lift up to you our mothers who have given us life and love.

We pray for mothers who have lost a child through death, that their faith may give them hope.

We pray for women, though without children of their own, who like mothers have nurtured and cared for us.

We pray for mothers, who have been unable to be a source of strength, who have not responded to their children and have not sustained their families.

Loving God, as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children, so you watch over each and every one of us. We are always at home with you. And we are always invited to pray to you as our heavenly parent…

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sunday (May 10) Online Worship Service Athens First UMC

Welcome to our (May 10/Mothers’ Day) online worship @ Athens First UMC!
2 S. College St., Athens, OH 45701



Greeting From Pastor Robert



[This is a new large sign that will be placed on the wall along our education hallway in the Lower Level of the church. Thank you, Christian education team for this wonderful addition and creative way to help us remember our church’s weekly benediction that we are all a “blessed, beloved, and beautiful child of God.”]

Call to Worship
L: Welcome home, people of God.
P: We have come to find refuge in the shelter of God’s care.
L: Come and sit down. There is room for everyone in God’s house.
P: We have come to be nourished by God’s word.
L: We are God’s own people, and are precious in God’s sight.
P: We have come to give thanks for God’s inclusive and faithful love!

Hymn      O Church of God, United



Welcome & Passing the Peace
[Lulu and Blu, the McDowell westies love their mommy! They invite you to greet one another in your homes, not by rubbing noses, but by simply barking out, “The peace of Christ be with you!”]


Prayer of Confession & Words of Assurance
Holy One, we confess that we are often more focused on boundaries that exclude people rather than upon your boundless grace. Through the strength of your Spirit, widen our capacity to embrace all people and affirm their worth and dignity. As we proclaim the dawn of your reign of justice and peace, remind us of your promise that in God’s house there is always plenty of room. Teach us to widen your circle of love that welcomes all into your kingdom. Amen.
L: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
P: In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
All: Thanks be to God!

Children’s Moments Kathy Mangen & Sarah Mangen (Mother/Daughter)


Mother/Daughters Song      Peace Like a River
Laura Brown & Daughters, Morgan & Caroline



Scripture Lessons I Peter 2:2-10 & John 14:1-14 
Laura Brown & Daughter, Morgan

[Our I Peter reading offers one of the most profound statements about who we are as God’s people. We are a royal priesthood and have been called to leave the darkness and live in God’s marvelous light! Our Gospel reading is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse in preparing his disciples when he would be leaving them. Jesus is assuring them that there is plenty of room in God’s kingdom.]



Special Music  I Choose You, Deborah Governor
The Cathedral Choir of Hyde Park UMC Cincinnati, OH   
Brenda Portman, organist; Neil Hamlin, director



Sermon             More than Enough Room
 Rev. Robert McDowell




[Pastor Robert during his tour of the Stan Hywet mansion in Akron, OH this past summer. This tour made it into today’s sermon. “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions.” There is truly more than enough room for everyone in God’s kingdom.]

Testimony  Logan Waldie, Leadership Board
(Recorded for October 5, 2019 Worship Service)


Sermon Discussion Questions
Share your reflections about Logan’s testimony in which he shares about his personal faith journey regarding issues related to human sexuality. Why do you think there are so many different views about this important issue?
Why do you think that Jesus was telling the disciples that there is more than enough room for them? Have you ever felt like there wasn’t enough room for you to be included in God’s kingdom?
Do you know of anybody who feels excluded by God or the church? Why do some people feel excluded by God?
Share some examples of how you see the church including people and welcoming all.

Hymn                In Christ There Is No East or West


Pastoral Prayer & The Lord’s Prayer





Church News
[The following announcement slides below are to help us stay connected as a church especially since we are unable to gather in our church building for weekly worship. Please scroll down through the announcements, and our online service will continue with another video.]














Offering Our Gifts



Thank you for your gifts!!!
“Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all.”  1 Chronicles 29:12

Closing Hymn                     When We All Get to Heaven



Benediction


Join us back here next week (May 17) for our online worship!
For previous online worship services, click here.

Church Toys & Mothers Pictures













Happy Mothers’ Day!!