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, February 27, 2013

Dave's Deep Thoughts - The Beauty of Fake Snow

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 may have heard it said,
"Be careful what you pray for,
you just might get it!"
But what if you get it in the wrong location?
I love snow.
I love snowy winters.
I live in a part of the country
where we often get
cold, wet winters.
Each November,
my heart foolishly races with excitement as I anticipate snowfalls.
By the end of February,
I am usually wallowing in a sea of muddy disappointment.
This winter has been no different.
Storm after storm have missed us.
pounding nearby regions with blizzards and historic snowfalls.
Meanwhile, we have been teased with a few dustings of snow.
Since I haven't been able to spend my time sledding and building snowmen,
I decided to do the next best thing....
renovate my guest bathroom.
Nothing yells winter spirit
like drywalling, grouting, and plumbing.
The project has been drawn out
as I have tried to find spare time
to work on the renovation.
Last weekend,
I had the unusual opportunity of two uninterrupted days
which I earmarked to work on the bathroom.
Although there was a historic winter storm crossing the country,
forecasters were saying that we were going
to receive our usual dose of 36 degrees and cold rain.
When you are given lemons, make lemonade.
When you are given a crappy weather day, I say, make home renovations.
I planned to get a lot done in 48 hours.
It started with shower frame installation..
I pulled the parts out of the box
and slowly began to assemble them.
With great excitement, I placed the base of the frame
onto the shower basin.
Now I am not an expert craftsman by any means,
but I do know enough to know that if the shower frame measures 36"
that is not good news when you have a 42" shower basin.
After 45 minutes of trying to figure out
how my daily shower would not be a reenactment of the Johnstown flood,
I decided that the store had made a mistake in the order.
Off to the store.
2 hours later,
I had returned the shower wall frame,
and the store ordered the correct shower wall frame.
I was cheerfully told that the correct frame would arrive in 10-14 days.
As a child I learned
when plan A doesn't work,
go to Plan B.....
that would be tiling the shower wall.
I open the tile box
anxious to see once again the exquisite tile that I had picked.
The tiles were cracked.
Off to the evil empire of a store once again.
As my luck would have it,
they cheerfully told me they didn't have enough of that particular tile in stock,
but they could get it from a neighboring store in 24 hours.

As a child I learned
when plan B doesn't work,
go to Plan C.....
that would be sanding down the remaining drywall mudding.
We all have lists of things we dislike......
taking out the garbage,
scraping blackboards with fingernails,
Chinese water torture,

High on my list is sanding, drywall, and mudding.
It's tedious,
It's time consuming,
and it's dusty,
very dusty.
By the time that I got to Plan C,
forecasters were still calling for dreary rain.
I turned on the work light,
donned my mask
and started to sand.
5 hours into my day,
I was not in a particularly good mood.
That was,
until I looked out my small octagonal bathroom window.
snowing rather steadily.
Could it be that the forecasters were finally wrong?
I went back to sanding
as I sang a muffled rendition of Jingle Bells under my mask.
My day had been a disaster thus far,
but now it was snowing!
Every so often,
I would glance out the window.
The snow kept coming down.
The spirit of Jack Frost had invaded my guest bathroom,
and this little elf kept working
as if Christmas was only days away.
Three hours later,
I had finished the sanding.
Darkness was descending and
I had had enough for one day.
I anticipated that the disaster day would end
with a long, hot shower,
a hot meal,
and a cup of hot cocoa
as I sat beside the fire
and watched the snow fall.
I went to the front door to see how much snow had accumulated.
I opened the door expecting to be blasted by winter's fury.
No snow.
Not one flake,
How could that be?
It had been snowing for hours.
I went back into the guest bathroom
and looked out the window once again.
The work light that I had been using
had created a reflection on the small window pane
of the dust that I had created while sanding.
It only appeared to be snowing.
I had been tricked.
No Jack Frost,
No bobsleds.
No chestnuts roasting on a open fire.
All I had was drywall dust in my ears
and mud on my face.
we are deceived in this life.
What we think is real, is not.
It might be a snowstorm that is merely a reflection,
a relationship that wasn't what it appeared to be at first,
a counterfeit twenty dollar bill,
a job opportunity that never materializes,
an bogus online business transaction.
Life is filled with deceptions,
but we can be sure that deceit is never
an activity of God.
For those who place their trust in God,
God can and does deliver us
from deceptions and ultimately uses the circumstance for good.
Ask Joseph when he was in the pit before he rose to be ruler of Egypt,
or Noah when it seemed like the rain would never stop, and yet he was key in God's re-creation,
or Paul as he was imprisoned, but would soon see the prison doors fall away,
or Jesus, who hung on the cross in agony, only to soon rip the keys of life out of Satan's crooked hands.
As I took my shower,
I began to think about the the pretend snow.
Actually it had snowed.
It just snowed in my guest bathroom.
And because I thought it was snowing outside,
I was able to finish a very disliked task
with a lot more energy.
I might not get the snowfall that I wanted,
but I will soon have the bathroom completed that I need for my home.
That's how God works.
He takes His children from deceptive situations
and delivers them to where they need to be.
You can come visit my new guest bathroom anytime.
I just wouldn't recommend sledding in it.
It just doesn't work, trust me.
Better yet, trust Him.
If you abide in My Word,
then you are truly disciples of mine;
and You shall know the truth,
and the truth shall set you free.
John 8: 31b-32

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sermon (March 3) - "Unbinding Your Soul: Humble Heroes"

Whenever I hear stories about heroes of the faith, I am inspired. Who isn’t moved by thinking of Corrie ten Boom hiding people in her home to save them from the Holocaust? Or Harriet Tubman risking her life to bring others out of slavery into freedom. Or John Wesley preaching to the masses.

Wow, it thrills me to think of these giants.  And with them being giants and all, it can make me feel pretty small.

Elijah was a prophet. He had done some pretty big and bold heroic things like confront the Queen. He actually told the Queen she was living an immoral life and God was not pleased with her. That little bit of unsolicited advice went over about as well as you’d think it would - not very well.

Elijah is running for his life at this point in the story. And Elijah is tired of sticking his neck out for God. He just wants to rest for a little while. But God finds Elijah hiding in the wilderness.

God wants Elijah to know that God isn’t quite finished with him yet. God needs Elijah to pass on his faith to a new person. God wants Elijah to teach a new prophet the ropes. So to encourage Elijah, God tells him that God will reveal the divine presence to Elijah.

“Go stand on that mountain,” God says. “I will show myself to you.” So, Elijah goes to stand on the mountain. And he waits. There’s a big, blustery wind. Trees are breaking and Elijah himself is shaking, but God doesn’t say anything.

Then, the earth starts to rumble, and a full-scale earthquake breaks out. But Elijah doesn’t hear anything from God in that either. Finally, there was a brushfire that swept the plains coming up against the hem of Elijah’s cloak. But Elijah did not see anything of God in the fire. Then, there was nothing. All Elijah could hear was sheer silence.

Elijah covered his face. He could tell he was in the holy presence of God. And at last, God spoke. What God said was, “What are you doing here?”

Sure, sometimes God does big and bold things, like parting the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross. But other times, God does small, nearly imperceptible things, like speak in silence.

Or slip down from heaven into a manger in a remote village called Bethlehem. God may reveal more of who God is to us in a big, brash way, but honestly, it’s not nearly as likely as God working through us in small, simple ways. And God may use us in highly heroic ways, but it is much more likely God wants to use us in humble, quiet moments of faithfulness.

“Great occasions for following Jesus come seldom,” Mother Teresa has said, “but little ones surround us daily.” She would know.

Martha Grace Reese who wrote our Unbinding Your Soul lenten devotional book puts it this way: “None of us is particularly impressive, but God can do amazing things with us if we’ll ask what God wants us to do, and then ask God to give us courage to do it!”

John was driving home from work one day. He was disgruntled with what was going on in the town where he lived. The local economy was getting worse as more and more businesses were closing.

As he drove by yet another empty storefront, John said, kind of as a prayer, just under his breath, “God, why don’t you do something about all of this?”

And at that moment, John said he noticed a school bus pull up to a pretty low-end motel. He thought it was unusual so he watched the bus for a moment. Soon, he saw a dozen or so kids get off of the bus and go into motel rooms there. “What in the world is going on?” he wondered.

John was compelled. So he parked his car, went into the motel manager’s office, and asked why the school bus stopped there. The answer from the manager, of course, was that kids lived there in the motel rooms with their families.

John stewed about this all the way home. He couldn’t sleep that night. It bothered him the next day in the office. Why were kids living in a motel in his own town?

Finally, he told a co-worker about seeing these kids get off this bus and go into motel rooms to live. At the end of the day, his co-worker handed him a wad of cash. She’d collected it from other folks in the office. “Here,” she said, “We want you to bring those kids dinner tonight.”

And suddenly, not in flashes of lightening across the sky, not in loud bells ringing, but in a small, significant way, God spoke to John. “Okay, I’ll bring them dinner,” John said to his co-worker. “But you have to go with me!”  John’s church soon joined him in serving meals at the motel every Monday night.

And his co-workers too. If you have ever asked God, “Why don’t you do something about this?” and heard silence as your answer, think about that. Could it be that silence is God’s way of answering?

It may be that God’s soft voice is asking you a question: “What are you doing here?” Just like God answered Elijah. I’m guessing that God is answering in a smaller way than you might have expected.

A beloved pastor named Fred Craddock once said that when we become Christians, we feel like we’re giving God this one million dollar check. We’re turning over our whole lives and saying, “Here, I want to follow Jesus.” But Fred says that’s when God surprises us. God gives us back the check in quarters. Then God tells us, “I want you to follow me one quarter at a time.”

God wants to use you in an amazing way, and it will start small. Like noticing a school bus at a motel. People in our church have been inviting their friends and co-workers to be in an Unbinding Your Soul small group with them.

This takes an amazing amount of courage―to simply ask someone to come. Don’t try it without prayer. Even if your prayer is like John’s, under your breath, a half accusation, “God, would you help me out here?” You’ll be amazed at the shifts prayer can make.

God will make a small opening. You just need your quarter to put in the slot. Your church is giving you a quarter today. It’s so you can remember to look for God in the small things, and to ask God to use you in small ways.

When you come forward to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, someone will be handing you a quarter. You might want to put this quarter where you keep your driver’s license in your wallet.

I heard of a mother who prayed for her children. She asked God to help her elementary-aged son and daughter have Christian friends around them. One day, a girl from school was over at the house playing. She heard her daughter ask if the girl went to church. “No,” the girl said. “My mom works on Sundays.” “Well, no problem,” the daughter said. “My mom will pick you up every Sunday!”

“Okay, God,” thought the mom. “Didn’t know we would be creating our own Christian friends. But I can at least pick this kid up one Sunday.” So the mom figured out how to squeeze that pick-up in the next Sunday morning.

Sunday came and they were running late as usual, of course. When the mom got there, this girl and her three brothers were all there, waiting for the ride to church. Let’s just say there were some seat-belt laws temporarily violated.

The next week, as the mom rushed into the front door of her home from the grocery store, bags balanced everywhere, the phone rang. She started not to answer it, but a very subtle sense told her to answer.

It was the mother of the children she had taken to church last Sunday. And she wanted to know, Could she get her children baptized in their church? And she said that she had never been baptized herself. Would they maybe baptize her also?

The mom sat down on the porch, cell phone in hand, groceries all around. And she heard the very quiet sound of God.

Friends, during this season of Lent, let’s pray. Ask God to use you. Do the very smallest thing that comes to mind. Follow Jesus one quarter at a time. This is what it means to be God’s humble heroes.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - March 10

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

Sermon - "Unbinding Your Soul: God Sightings"

Features - 4th Sunday of Lent (3rd Week of UYS Small Groups & 4th Week of Daily Readings) & One Great Hour of Sharing UMC Special Offering

Scripture - Exodus 3:1-12 & John 1:35-39

Theme - Jesus offers us the invitation to "come and see." Each day offers the possibility of seeing God in our midst. Where do you see God at work in your everyday life?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sermon (February 24) - "Unbinding Your Soul: Connect the Dots"

You’ve heard it said: “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.”
Sounds racy,and exciting. I heard of a minister of a small country church who noticed that about half of her small congregation was missing one Sunday morning. A little investigative work led her to discover three families had taken a trip to Vegas together.
The Sunday they returned, the joke was on them. She ribbed them all by beginning her sermon with a harsh tone. “Last week, you may recall,” she began, “We talked about the demonic dangers of gambling.”
She took a deep breath and gazed intently at the congregation. Then she continued, “This week, we’ll talk about the powerful pitfalls of not giving your Vegas winnings to the church.”
The wayward parishioners squirmed uncontrollably for a few moments, until the preacher stopped staring them down and broke into a grin. “Nah, she said, the sermon’s really about helping kids come to know Jesus.”
After church, one of the Vegas gang teased her, “Okay, so how did you find out where we were?”
Most of us have pretty clear compartments to our lives. Vegas doesn’t usually come to church. And church doesn’t come to other parts of our lives nearly often enough.
We wear different hats ― boy scout leader, businessman, church volunteer, wife, son, nature enthusiast.
Have you had the experience of seeing someone in a grocery store in their casual clothes? Maybe you see your dentist training her dog at the park and don’t recognize her without the white lab coat. Or you’re in the check-out aisle with your kids’ principal who doesn’t usually wear gym shorts to his office. Our faith can pretty easily become another hat we wear.
Colossians is a letter, likely written by the apostle Paul, to the churches of Colossae and surrounding towns. The Colossian Christians were beginning to explore some extra-curricular faith practices.
They were intrigued by different philosophies and curious about practicing astrology. Paul writes to persuade them that Christ deserves our full-hearted, whole-minded devotion. And he uses the analogy of clothing to get his point across.
“When you get dressed spiritually,” Paul writes, “Don’t just wear a little of this and a little of that, a little astrology on your Tee-shirt or a 1-900-PSYCHIC on your baseball cap. No! Paul says, we’re God’s chosen ones, we’ve got to be clothed completely in the love of Christ.”
Paul insists that faith in Christ is not something that is put on here and taken off there; our faith is the hat we constantly wear. No matter where we are! But how often are we wearing our faith?
Jill is a pastor. She lives next door to a woman named Beth. Beth hasn’t been to church more than about three times in her life.
Jill has talked to Beth across the front yard many times. She’s even kept Beth’s daughter when Beth had to work late. They’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. Or so it seemed.
One spring weekend just before Easter, Beth and Jill were standing outside in the driveway chatting. Beth said, “You know, I have never been to church for Easter, and I think I’d like to go this year. Jill, do you go to church anywhere around here?”
Jill’s jaw hit the sidewalk. Her face turned red as a beet, and she stammered for how to respond. Finally, she blurted out, “Oh my, Beth. I am so embarrassed. How is it that I have never told you that I am the minister of the church down the street?”
Oh my, indeed. Oh, my Lord, have mercy. Jill’s Christian hat hadn’t made it on her head to the neighbor’s house.
“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Paul urges the Colossian Christians and us to speak and to act everywhere and every time in the name of Jesus Christ.
Remember dot to dots from kids’ restaurant placemats, where you get the 4 crayons and activities until your pancakes come? You put your pencil to the paper and connect dot #1 to #2, and then dot #2 to dot #3, and so on, pretty soon, a new picture emerges.
As a church, we are asking God for more: more revelation of God in our personal lives, more presence of God in our lives together as a church, more strength, more power, more joy, more love, more God!
More happens when we connect the dots. In your bulletin today on the sermon outline, there is the most simple dot-to-dot you can get!
By dot #1, write down something that you do at least once a week, if not every day. Maybe it’s read the paper, or go to lunch at the same corner cafĂ©, or get on Facebook, or go to the gym. Name your dot.
Now, draw a line between the dot you’ve named and dot #2.  Dot #2 is your faith. Make drawing this line your prayer. Ask God, “Would you show me how to connect my faith to this regular activity in my life? Would you show me more of you while I’m doing this?”
Colossians says, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
When Scripture says “in the name of”, it means “in the presence of.” It means: Whatever you do, do it in the presence of Jesus himself, as if he’s really there. Because he is. He’s right here, and he’s out there in your house, and in your regular life.
In our Tuesday daily devotional reading this past week, it talked about noticing God’s presence in our day to day living.  The devotional said, “We don’t think about it, or see it very often,but people and God give us gifts every day.  Our very lives are gifts. People bless us, and we’re so busy, we just blow by it and don’t even recognize a blessing when someone hands it to us!
People let us cut into a line of traffic. A greeter at Wal-Mart holds a door or gives you a cart. Maybe you don’t get the speeding ticket you earned! Someoine catches your child swiping M & Ms and talks with her! You have a job. You are out of work, but can volunteer at the animal shelter. Someone talks to you at the gym. Lunch with your friends at school is fun. Someone sends you a thank-you note. You get to spend an hour reading.
And then the devotional asked us to carry a 3 x 5 card in our pocket that day. It asked us to write a short note about every time we experienced a blessing from God. But then the next part of that exercise was even more important.  It said to whisper a thank you to God after each of those blessings and to ask God to bless that person.
So I followed through with this exercise and was amazed at the many ways that I experienced God throughout that day.
The first thing that happened was when I met with other United Methodist pastors for our monthly share group meeting.  We met at Pleasantville United Methodist Church and the pastor celebrated Holy Communion with us.
He then gave us a tour of the church and when he showed us the church kitchen, we noticed a wonderful smell coming from two large roasters. And he surprised us by saying, “I have some comfort food that I want us to enjoy today. Homemade chicken and noodles.” And together in the church basement, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch together. I thanked God for those unexpected blessings and I asked God to bless this pastor and his congregation.
I then made some visits at the hospital and one of the members I visited said to me, “You have the nicest smile.” I closed by offering a prayer for healing for this  member of our church.
By late afternoon, my 3 x 5 card was already full of many ways that I had experienced God’s presence that day. As I was reflecting on these blessings, I felt led to call a dear friend of mine, a retired United Methodist pastor whose wife passed away in early January. I just wanted to see how he was doing.
As soon as he heard my voice on the phone, he said, “Robert, I was actually thinking of calling you today.” And for the next several minutes over the phone, he was able to talk about the funeral and how he was adjusting to life without his wife by his side.
And then he blessed me with a very moving story. He said that over the years, his wife would only use cash at the grocery store. And if she didn’t spend all of her cash that week for groceries, she would put the leftover money in a little tin container.  This went on over several decades.
When his wife stopped going to the grocery store because of health problems, they had forgotten all about that tin container. A couple of months ago, when she needed to move into assisted living, they stumbled upon that tin container.  It had been tucked back on a shelf in a closet. She said that she had never counted the money and out of curiosity, wanted him to count it.
And he did. That tin container was stuffed with ones, fives, tens, and even twenties. Over all those years, she had collected $1,000 from unused grocery money.
So he said to his wife, “You should take this money and buy something nice for yourself.” And she said, “No. If I die before you, I want you to take the family out to a really nice restaurant.”
The night before the funeral last month, he took his family to a really expensive restaurant in Columbus.  And that’s when he told them, “You’re mom is paying for this dinner. She wanted us to be together tonight as a family.”
As he told me this story over the phone, he was crying, I was crying. It was a holy moment.
So that was my Tuesday this past week.
Our Unbinding Your Soul church-wide focus is helping me to connect the dots in my life and to become more aware of how God is part of my day to day routine. This is what Jesus helped his disciples to experience as they followed him.  He helped them to see God at work in their day to day living. He opened their eyes to see the more that God has in mind for each and every one of us.
Bill’s church began a summer ministry to children. Lots of the kids in their neighborhood are on the school district’s Free and Reduced Lunch Program during the school year.
The church people realized that these kids were going without those subsidized meals in the summer time. So, they started passing out lunches to the neighbor kids. Pretty soon, they were driving a little bus around, passing out lunches all over the community.
Bill was the bus driver for the program. He would pull the bus up to a low-income apartment complex or trailer park and honk the horn, letting the kids know they had arrived. As the kids came up to the bus, Bill would smile at them. He’d hand them their lunch, and say, “Have a nice day!”
One day Bill came home from his lunch delivery rounds to find his wife in tears. She had been teaching the third graders at Vacation Bible School at their church that morning. Now she was sitting in a heap on their living room floor.
Bill ran over to her, “What’s wrong?’ “Today,” she said, “I asked the kids in my class at Vacation Bible School to raise their hands if they know Jesus loves them. And two little boys did not raise their hands.”
“Okay,” Bill said, still unsure what the problem was. “Bill,” his wife wept, “No one has ever told those boys Jesus loves them!”
A light went on in Bill’s head, and a flood gate burst forth in Bill’s heart. “Oh, my!” he thought. “The children on my lunch route may not know either!” Bill connected the dots.
So the next day on his route, Bill drove up to the apartment, and the trailers, and he honked the bus horn. When the children came out to get their lunches, he smiled at them just the same. But when he handed them their lunches, he did not say “Have a nice day!”  Bill said, “Jesus loves you.”
What if what happened in church didn’t stay in church? What if we let God connect the dots?

Sunday Worship Preview - March 3

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

Sermon - "Unbinding Your Soul: Humble Heroes"

Features - 3rd Sunday of Lent (2nd Week of UYS Small Groups & 3rd Week of Daily Readings) & Holy Communion

Scripture - I Kings 19:1-4, 11-13 & Luke 13:1-9

Theme - When we think of heroes, we often think of larger than life people who have done big and awesome thins for the sake of others. We sometimes forget that heroes are also people who do the small things that lead to transformation and new life. How is God calling you to be a humble hero?

Dave's Deep Thoughts - A Rose Unseen

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.
A rose for Valentines Day
It's was tradition of mine,
given to a mom who had been widowed for several years.

Just a simple way to let her know
that she was loved and cherished.

When I would walk into her home in the days following Valentines,
I expected to see the rose on display in a highly visible location.

I should have known better.

the rose could be found on a table
in a closed off room.

A room closed off
from the rest of the house
in an effort to conserve heat........

a room that she rarely entered.

"Mom, why don't you bring the rose
out into the living space
so that you can enjoy it?"
I would ask her.

I am not sure why I asked a question
to which I already knew the answer.

But I did.

"Oh, it will last longer if it stays in the cool."
she would say.
While I had long understood botany,
and the rose's aversion
to warm temperatures,
I had greater difficulty
understanding the purpose
of a beautiful rose not seen.

But that was my mom.

She was a packer.

No, not the football type.
The storing, put away type of packer

Even in her last season of life,
where dementia was her constant companion,
somethings did not change.

She was a packer.

She put things away.
She didn't live for the moment,
but was always preparing for the future.

Roses were placed in seclusion for longevity.
New dresses were placed in the closet for a minimum of six months before the first wearing.
Restaurant gift certificates were placed on the shelf for a later season.

Perhaps it was something from her childhood,
a child of the Depression Era,
growing up in rather austere conditions on a farm.....
but she believed in getting the most out of what she had.

Her Pennsylvania Dutch roots called it "storing up,"
saving up for a rainy day.

She would spend her summers
canning and freezing every type of vegetable and fruit imaginable,
so that there would be food on the table during the snows of winter.

She would save every penny possible from paychecks,
so that college tuition for her children would be available in its time.

She would store old devotionals
so that they could be re-read in the quiet of later years.

She was a packer.

And so when she received
 a rose on Valentines,
she didn't need to see it to know that she was loved and cherished.
Knowing that it resided in the other room was enough for her.

My mom was a packer.

But she was also a woman of great faith.
She knew that what was visible was not the final answer.
She knew that what was unseen
was even more important than what was seen.

Things like, faith, hope, and love which are measured in eternal terms.

This was the first Valentine's Day
without her.
And so, on February 14th,
I placed a rose on her grave.
I don't think that she saw it,
but that is okay......
she rarely did see any of the roses that I had given her.
But I am sure that she knew it was there.
This was the first Valentines
where she was able to see what was previously unseen.
Heaven, the throne, her Lord.
I doubt that she was very much surprised when she arrived,
for she had known all along that it was there.
After all, she spent a lifetime "storing up" for it.
That is how it is with those who are packers.
Don't hoard treasure down here
where it gets eaten by moth
and corroded by rust -worse! - stolen by burglars.
Stockpile treasure in heaven where it is safe
from moth and rust and burglars.
It's obvious isn't it?
The place where your treasure is,
is the place you will most want to be,
and end up being.
Matthew 6:19-21 (The Message translation)

Lectionary Bible Commentary - Sunday, February 24

NOTE: The Colossians reading is not part of the lectionary readings for this Sunday but the Gospel reading is.
2nd Sunday In Lent
Colossians 3:12-19

·        Colossae was a thriving city with a productive wool and textile industry. It had a large Jewish population. Most of the Christians were non-Jewish.
·        This is one of four letters the Apostle Paul wrote from prison.
·        Would you rather live in a town that behaved like verses 5-9 or 12-17? For some people, they might answer verses 5-9 but its verses 12-17 which provide an authentic community. It also takes much more work to be a community of verses 12-17.
·        The key to living according to verses 12-17 is by keeping our focus on King Jesus which Paul does in this letter.  That’s why this section concludes by talking about the importance of worshipping Jesus who is our king.

Luke 13:31-35

·        Before this passage, someone asks Jesus, “Who can be saved.” Jesus answers by saying that it’s the person who has a relationship with him (who eats with him.)
·        According to Jesus, Herod Antipas who controls the region of Galilee is a politically motivated fox. (Herod the Great had died soon after Jesus was born.)
·        Jesus is on a mission of salvation and it will not be Herod who will cut the mission short.  Jesus weeps over Jerusalem.
·        Jesus hints at Palm Sunday when his mission will begin to be fulfilled with an arrest, a crucifixion, and a resurrection!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Heaven's Jazz Band

This past Friday, Penny and I were standing in front of the historic St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter of New Orleans on a sunny day enjoying our three day get away. With the mighty Mississippi River in front of us and the smell of those wonderful Big Easy beneigt treats in the air, we found ourselves in the middle of an impromptu jazz concert there on the street. This was the New Orleans we were hoping to experience.

The casually dressed five member jazz band was performing a very long version of "O When the Saints Go Marching In." During different times of the song, a band member would step out and offer his unique instrumental solo to the delight of the crowd. One young man who looked to be in his early 20s had a trumpet in one hand and a trombone in the other and he played them back and forth effortlessly during his masterful solo performance.

As the band continued to play, we sat on a park bench and that's when I received the call about my aunt who had been in failing health in Maryland.  This was my mom's sister who just eight months earlier had attended my mom's funeral.  Aunt Isabelle & Uncle Bill lived on a farm in Maryland. My brother, sisters and I loved visiting them because we were able to see our cousins and play all day on their farm. They had a dog named, "Boots" who became my buddy. There's nothing like a farmer's "supper" at the end of the day complete with fresh vegetables and ice cream with all the toppings.

Hospice was now caring for Aunt Isabelle and the phone call was to let me know that she had just passed away. My heart sank as I thought about these two sisters who were very close to each other. Even in the midst of that sad moment, a smile came to my face as the jazz band continue to play, O when the saints go marching in, O when the saints go marching in. I how I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.

I took comfort in knowing that they were  now reunited in that glorious eternal kingdom where there is no more sickness, sadness, dementia, tears, or death. They were in a place of total joy and peace. 

Looking back on that afternoon last week when I received the phone call about Aunt Isabelle, I wonder if that was one of those sacramental moments when heaven and earth mysteriously overlapped there in front of the St. Louis Cathedral. For that brief moment in time, I experienced heaven's welcome of another of God's saints, New Orleans style.

Oh how I want to be in that number.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dave's Deep Thoughts - The Reason We Fast After Fat Tuesday

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.

Perhaps I should have sued my mother. I could have called it reckless endangerment. Many knew her as this kind, loving woman. But I now know better.

Yesterday was Fastnacht Day. For those of you not of German heritage, it means the night before the fast. The day prior to the beginning of Lent. A time to enjoy some final tasty treats, a time to clear the kitchen of flour and sugar before the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter. As I came to work this past Monday, I was overwhelmed immediately by the smell of grease. The memories of childhood began to flood back.

When I was a child, this seemingly sensible, caring woman would bring home these doughy pastries called fastnachts, on the day before Ash Wednesday. She would then place them on the kitchen table. Then she would crouch and watch, like a cat waiting for the mice to take the bait. I thought fastnachts were just funny looking donuts. Little did I know that they were the kiss of death.

As I entered my place of employment yesterday, I realized that someone was making fastnachts in anticipation of Fat Tuesday. The stench was overwhelming. You know a kitchen has become a haz mat site when the bakers are wearing face masks in order to breathe though the haze of grease. You know grandma's fruitcake has been trumped, when you see a potato based dough ball being dumped into boiling lard. I went on the internet and did a little research on these bad boys.

The numbers horrified me. For each one of those fastnachts that slips down your throat, add 1215 calories. For those of you who shriek at the sight of a gravy boat, tack on 33.5 grams of fat. For those watching sodium intake, ring up 883 mg of sodium as you feel your blood vessels constrict. And for you south beach carb watchers, meet your worst nightmare as you calculate in 185 grams of carbs in just a few bites. Do not pass go.....do not collect $200.......just go directly to the fat farm. It ain't called Fat Tuesday for nothing.

You could eat 2 of your favorite fast food biggie burgers with all the toppings as an equivalent march to death. And remember fettuccine Alfredo, the heart attack on a plate? You might as well call it Lean Cuisine compared to these death balls. Eve could have had twenty of those forbidden apples before she began to approach the calorie count of one fastnacht.

To work off the effects of this sugary pill of dough, try bicycling at 12 mph for 178 minutes, or maybe you have 166 spare minutes to walk at 4 mph, or just take a 2.5 hour lunch break and substitute it with 146 minutes of swimming at 50 yards a minute.

Back to my mother. This is the mother who thought I should spend winter afternoons on the couch eating snacks and watching movies, because she thought that skiing might be too dangerous a hobby. This is the mother who thought I might catch a cold because my winter jacket wasn't heavy enough, after I had slept the previous night in an UNHEATED bedroom. Call me crazy, but this woman who could have easily passed for "Mother of the Year" had it out for me, as she said with a motherly smile, "Have another fastnacht!"

There are things in life that just look good, that smell good, that just taste so good. but are not good for us, particularly when taken out of a healthy balance. Food and drink when consumed beyond moderation, finances, when they begin to own us, rather then us managing them, work, when it becomes obsessive and compulsive, sexuality, when expressed outside the Lord's boundaries, hobbies that become addictive rather than re-creative. Sometimes, they seem to come from the safest sources. Eve thought so, and often, so do we, if we are not listening to the Father who truly wishes the best for us.

You have your fastnachts, I have mine. Lent is a time for naming our fastnachts, for surrendering them to God, and inviting Him to fill us instead with those things that bring abundant life....... Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control....... The next time someone comes around with a plate of those deep fried delicacy disasters, I think I'll just say, "Thanks but no thanks" and go climb Mount Everest instead. An endorphin rush and time alone on the mount with God........ now that's a far healthier way to spend Lent! Call it some re-adjusted motherly advice......

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such, there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." - Galatians 5:22-25.

Monday, February 11, 2013

New Welcome to Lancaster First UMC Video

This will be part of the gift package that first time worship guests will receive on Sunday mornings at our two welcome stations.  If you would like to sign up to help at the welcome station, let us know. Sign-up sheets are available at the cart with the balloons in our church parlor. We have two shifts per Sunday. A big thanks to John Coen for putting this video together.

Please share this video with friends who you would like to invite to our church.

Sermon by Sandra Yerian, Youth Director (February 10) "Holy Moments"

Lets pray;

Gracious God, as we explore your word together, we are so grateful for the opportunities we have to do so.  We feel you here in this place, and our longing to know you more is fed.  We ask that you guide us in this meditation, nudge us into understanding and action, so that we might reflect your glory into a world desperate for hope.  In Jesus name we pray. 

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Our scriptures invite us into a couple of very intimate scenes where the veil between heaven and earth becomes so transparent that a glimpse of the divine is revealed.

In the Old Testament lesson from Exodus, Moses returns from 40 days on Mount Sinai in the presence of The Lord.  God's chosen people, as they habitually do throughout history, had strayed far from the commandments The Lord had given. They worshiped false gods, lived impurely and defied the commands of the loving God who had rescued them from slavery.  In frustration , their God appointed leader, Moses, had smashed the tablets upon which the commandments were written. Now, Moses is descending from the mountain after spending 40 days and nights in Gods presence,  new tablets in hand.  God has forgiven the people, and entered into a new covenant.

I pause here in my attempt to understand and absorb scripture, and marvel at God's patience.  I envision a loving parent, firmly explaining to  wayward child: "OK, let me explain this to you again.  You must abide by my guidelines.  The rules are the rules because I love you!  Its dangerous out there. I want to keep you safe. " 

Now, I'm not going to admit here to EVER being wayward, but I do recall a certain conversation with my dad when I was a young teen.  Dad liked to sit up late at night, and watch TV.  Often, together we would watch Barney Miller and then  Sergeant Prescott and his faithful companion King. 

"You just don't love me" I declared, no doubt with angry tears running down my face.

"Yes, I do. " was his mild reply.

 "No you don't!  If you did, you'd say Yes!"

"No, Sandra. If I didn't care I'd say Yes"

"No, you'd say yes if you loved me "

"No, Sandra, yes would be easier than No"  

What kind of logic is that?

"so say yes.."


"fine!!  I'm leaving!"

"ok,  you can have the yellow suitcase"

"AHHHH" at this point I tried to storm off to bed. 

"Good night Sandra"  I tried to ignore him & Keep going. "Good night Sandra"  I kept going and didn't reply.  Now, No matter how angry you were, disrespect and rudeness never flew at our house. Dad rose slightly "GOOD NIGHT, SANDRA!!!"

"Good night dad"

I still have the yellow suitcase, it stores memorabilia.  Its a nice reminder now that God will let us run for a bit, but the safety of home, in his arms is always there.

So the people see Moses returning.  They must be relieved.  Once again he has gone to bat for them. God is willing to take them back, giving them yet another chance.  But wait! Look at his face! its shining.  He has seen God!   Why isn't he dead?

It seems likely that the first, and very natural response to seeing the shining face of Moses, was fear.  Followed by awe.

The radiance of Moses is an expression of his privileged position as a servant close to God.  He reflects God's glory.

What amazes me here, is that we are invited into the exact same position as Moses.  Are we not called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the  world? Servants, helping to bring about the kingdom of God right here and now.

Earlier in this chapter of Exodus, the people are described as "stiff-necked" .  Is this not an apt description of humanity today?  One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.  And yet, collectively, is this not what we do?  Let's do it my way God. My will be done, not THY will be done

Are we not commissioned to guide a wayward and willful people back into right relationship with their creator? back to THY will be done?

Every once in a while,  we come across a person who is radiant. There is just something about them.  They seem to have light in them and about them. There is peace and serenity, but energy too.

 They are joyful, and you feel better just for having encountered them.  I believe that these people have this radiance because they trust  and live  like special, privileged servants, secure in the knowledge that they are beloved.  I can't help but have an image of Regina in my mind at this point.  She had that radiance, and she generously blessed those around her with warm and loving gaze and smile.

I want to be like that too.  What an amazing privilege to reflect God's glory,  his boundless love into the world.

We  do have an opportunity to do just that if we choose to sign up for a UYS small group. 

Simply by inviting someone without a church connection to join us in this study, we reflect God's love onto them... think about it, pray on it.

In Luke 9: 38-36, in a somewhat parallel setting, we witness Jesus on the mountain ; withdrawn from the crowd to pray

 (Note to self- Jesus' mission was  intensely important and urgent yet he regularly spent time in prayer)

Peter, James and John were privileged to accompany him.

While he was praying, the appearance of Jesus' face changed, and his clothes became dazzling. The disciples, who fortunately managed to stay awake , witness this transformation. WOW! talk about a Holy Moment.

Imagine, the Israelites saw the shining face of Moses reflecting the glory of God.  Here Peter, James and John saw Jesus-divine Jesus, son of the most high- IN all his glory! God surrounded by the glory of God.  A peak at the kingdom.  Enveloped by a cloud, surrounded by the voice of the Father himself. A glimpse at eternal life.

Suddenly, images of a person in prayerful ecstasy come to mind; they are so filled with the spirit of God that we can actually see it.  I've never had this experience, but when I really REALLY enter into prayer, when I succeed at quieting the endless loop of tasks, worries and random uninvited thoughts,  when I give myself over into His hands, stop asking and suggesting, and just listen and accept  His presence, an amazing thing happens: I feel his light like sunshine on my eyelids- even if I am in the dark- I feel a warmth infuse my whole being.  I feel drawn as though physically toward him. A peaceful joy fills me and I know Gods presence is in me and around me.  What a Holy Moment!

When the disciples see Jesus in this state they may have fallen on the ground in terror.  They would have believed that anyone who looked upon the face of God would surely die. Undoubtedly they knew in this moment that indeed they were in the presence of the one true God.  The experience becomes even more profound after the death and resurrection of Jesus. They would truly understand then that Jesus is the Son of God, and that eternity is real.

On the Mountain,  witnessing the transformation, Peter, James and John catch sight of the past, the present and the future. They see the prophets with Jesus, and hear the discussion of what Jesus will endure.   They see the future: Jesus Christ appearing in Glory.

This Holy moment co relates  beautifully in my mind with Holy Communion. When we receive the sacrament, we too are connecting with the past, present and future.  Past because we recall the passover meal observed by the Jews, and we also recall how Jesus  instituted the Eucharist at the last meal he shared with His friends, offering the bread and the cup,  His body broken and His  blood poured out for our redemption.

In this act of remembering, Jesus' sacrifice again becomes real for us.  WE believe that God is truly present in the moment with us, as we share in the Holy Supper, and we give thanks-

Our communion connects us to the future too. We look forward to Jesus' return in glory, and to our end of days when we will be with our Heavenly Father for all eternity. The heavenly banquet awaits us together with the entire community of saints.

The Prophet Isaiah tells us:
"thus says The Lord :
Don't fear for I have redeemed you,
I have called you by name,and you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you:
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame will not consume you.
For I am The Lord your God,
The Holy one of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
 Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you.
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life."

When we partake of Holy Communion, we are brought into intimate connection with our God who says this, who loves us this much.  Often when I receive Holy Communion, I am struck in the heart by the truth of God's love as expressed in the passage I just shared, Particularly the verse that says " you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Only I sub in the word son.   Listen again.   " You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.  I give MY SON in return for you, I give MY SON in exchange for your life"

When I really take that in, I am overwhelmed. Holy Communion is not just another tradition or ritual  observed.  It is a truly HOLY MOMENT.  The veil between heaven and earth becomes ever so thin, and I catch a glimpse of divine love.

Holy moments are not restricted to the sacraments; they occur throughout our ordinary daily lives.  Each time we, in a moment of clarity , experience the presence of God, it is a Holy Moment.

Lets consider some of them;

I asked a couple of our youth at breakfast this week if they could recall a Holy moment  in their lives.

One example was at "Sam I Am", a local mission trip a few years ago. Daily the youth, most of whom were sincere in their efforts, would work in the community.  Some kids were though, and I quote, "Jerks"  After the days work was done, the youth would gather in worship. During the worship on this particular evening , which featured live music, many youth were on there knees in prayer.  Suddenly, this young teen knew the presence of God was there; the thought filled her mind and amazed her "God is here, even with these Jerks1"

A Holy moment- recognizing the presence of God. There without judgement for all to experience.

Another example offered goes like this:

Joining the church was a Holy Moment

I don't know why it happens like this, but the worst arguments with my mom always seem to happen on Saturday night.  Then I come here Sunday morning.  Walking into this Sanctuary I feel like I am being hugged.  This is a Holy Moment for me.  It feels like family.

Isn't that beautiful?  YOU- your very presence here creates a Holy Moment in a young persons life. 

If Presence alone can create a Holy Moment where another can feel God's presence,  think of the limitless capacity we  have the radiate God's love into the world- simply by being.

I have to tell you that when I knew that my sermon topic was to be Holy Moments, I was initially really excited.  I envisioned writing an upbeat, joyful sermon ; a collection of inspiring energizing Holy Moments. But its winter in Ohio, it tends to get gloomy.  Like many of you, I'm confronted with many challenges. By December our family was engaged in a third battle with cancer.  This time even more serious and threatening.  One  son is deployed for the better part of a year-we don't even know where he is. The world  and economy are so unstable.   My Spirits sank for a while.  Where were the Holy moments now? Crisis makes them hard to spot. 

Or does it?

In January I was in Canada to care for my mom when she underwent a mastectomy.  I have shared with you that in addition to the cancer, mom suffers from Alzheimer's. Things are pretty bad for her now.

As she struggled to make sense of things after surgery, I held my mother's hand stroking it gently, hoping to provide assurance. Her pale blue-grey eyes  kept staring up at me; filled with fear and uncertainty.   Its okay, I repeat for what felt like the millionth time. I've got you, its okay.  Finally I see the decision to trust in her eyes, and they clear a bit. Her tension eases a little, her eyes flutter open and shut. Then she stares again unblinkingly into my eyes, as I continue to stroke her hand. OK she sighs.  Now her body visibly relaxes and her eyes drift shut.. As she trustingly lets sleep take her, her hand still rests in mine. 

 Its a Holy thing; those old eyes filled with childlike trust, and the privilege of caring for her in these vulnerable moments.  Yes , It's a holy thing indeed

I can feel the circle  of life closing in on us; from infancy we wander through life towards maturity, and then some must return to a child like state. The words from the gospel of Matthew (18:3-4) fill my mind and heart Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."  I wonder as I see this child in moms eyes; is she approaching the open arms of Jesus now? I think so.   What a Holy moment.

God is with us; in the serene beauty of a sunrise, in the frightening moments, and in our frailty.  Holy Moments are everywhere when we open the eyes of our hearts to receive them. Maybe they are even more lovely  in the midst of battles with cancer, dementia and crisis.

I did though find a beautiful upbeat, description of a Holy moment that I'd like to share with you now. Its from book by Elizabeth Canham entitled Ask the Animals.  Elizabeth had followed the life of a humpback whale named Salt for many years.  This passage describes a reunion  of sorts

                              "Slowly Salt separated herself from her companion and came towards the boat until she was lying, full length, alongside just a few feet below where I stood. As I write these words, tears of awe and joy prickle once more behind my eyelids.                 

                   Salt and I were united once again ,  and I sensed a connection far deeper than words can express, or the human mind can comprehend. 

                    It was a holy moment, an encounter with the mystery at the heart of the universe,  and a moment when I felt as Moses must have felt when he knew the presence of God  as he stood beside the burning bush. In this divine encounter, 

                    I stepped out of the shoes of rationality to stand, tears of joy running down my windblown  face, 

                    in the awesome, mysterious presence of God. 

( Elizabeth Canham; Ask  the Animals. p4)

May it be so for all of us.  Amen