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

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sermon (Maundy Thursday) - "A Very Unique Meal"

     Maundy Thursday is an important day during Holy Week.  It’s a time for us to remember when Jesus shared in a last supper with his disciples. Soon, he would be arrested by the Roman authorities and crucified on a cross.  This last meal has become a meal we continue to receive to this day to help us reflect on what Jesus’ suffering and death mean for us.
   This is why the Apostle Paul spends time writing about the Lord’s Supper in his letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth.  They had forgotten why the Lord’s Supper is a very unique meal.
     In Paul’s day, the Corinthian Christians would have met in homes to worship, eat a meal together, and receive the Lord’s Supper.  The bread and the cup were part of that much larger meal they would have had together.
     Somewhere along the way, they forgot the reason why they were gathering for a meal in the first place.  They forgot why the loaf of bread and the cup were part of that great spread of food.  This holy meal that was meant to remind them of their oneness in Jesus Christ had become just another meal.
     And so Paul reminds them of the meaning of this meal by saying how it was Jesus who offered his body and his blood for us so that we will always remember what he did for us when he died on the cross for the world. Paul is saying that whenever you see the bread and the cup on that table of food, to remember that this is why we have gathered in the first place.  We have gathered because of what Jesus has done for us.
     In my first church where I served as pastor, I was celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion one Sunday morning. We were serving by intinction where people come forward to a communion station, take a piece of bread, dip it into the chalice of juice, partake, and then return to their seat. I was serving at one of those communion stations.       
     One of the beautiful things about the intinction method is that it is a very personal experience as people come forward one by one to receive the Sacrament.  It is also a very meaningful time for me as pastor because when I offer the bread and the cup, I can make eye contact with each person as they receive the Sacrament.
     So anyway, I was serving Holy Communion at one of the stations and one of my older members who was in her 90’s was in my communion line. As a life- long member of the church, she was seen as the matriarch of our small congregation.
     When it was her turn to receive, I lovingly looked into her eyes and said, “Florence, this is the body of Christ broken for you.”  She received the large piece of bread but then accidentally dropped it on the floor.  So I offered her another piece of bread which she received. 
     Then I offered her the cup and said, “Florence, this is the blood of Christ shed for you.”  She then dipped the bread into the chalice and ate. And then she did something that I will never forget. 
     She looked down at that large piece of bread that she had accidentally dropped on the floor.  I assumed that she was going to gently bend over and pick it up since it would be in the way of the person behind her.  To my great surprise, she quickly swung back her foot, and with all of her might, she kicked that piece of communion bread as far away as possible. As she started to go back to her pew, she gave me a little smile as if to say, “Problem solved.”
     I know she thought she was doing a helpful thing but all I could think about was, “I can’t believe dear Florence just kicked the consecrated loaf of Christ.”
     The Apostle Paul wants us to know that Holy Communion is a very unique meal. He sums up the meaning of this meal in the last verse of our scripture reading when he writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
     The Sacrament of Holy Communion has a past, a present, and a future dimension.  When we receive the bread and the cup, we remember the past and how Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the world.  When Jesus died on the cross, he allowed all of the pain, brokenness, and sin of the world to rest on his shoulders, so that he would be able to defeat its power once and for all.
     The cross reminds us of how deep our sin is.  It also reminds us of how costly love is.  Jesus was willing to do for us what we were not able to do for ourselves.  He broke the power of sin and death.
     Whenever I get discouraged or experience disappointments, all I have to do is think of the cross and I am reminded of God’s great gift of love through Jesus Christ.  Approximately two thousand years ago, Jesus, an historical figure, the one who was the visible expression and true embodiment of God gave his life for you and me. What Jesus did is rooted in human history.
     But Holy Communion also has a present dimension.  The Apostle Paul writes that we are to receive the bread and the cup.  By receiving Holy Communion, it’s a way for us to know and experience God’s saving love in the here and now. 
     We believe that the Sacrament of Holy Communion is one of the means of grace in which God offers his love and grace to us anew.  Every time we receive the Sacrament, we can have an assurance that God will be present with us just as he was present with Jesus and the disciples in the Upper Room 2,000 years ago.
     And Holy Communion also has a future dimension.  In the last verse of our I Corinthians scripture reading, Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  Those last three words are so important in helping us to understanding the meaning of this Sacrament.  “Until he comes.” 
     Whenever we receive the bread and the cup, we are reminded that there will be a day when Christ will return and all of God’s people will feast at his heavenly banquet.  This is the ultimate hope of our faith, that one day God will make all things new and it will be a time when there will be no more suffering, sadness, mourning, sin, and death.
     Every time we receive this Sacrament, it’s a time for us to look forward to that time in the future when there will be new heavens and a new earth. And until that time, we are called as the church to live out our faith and share this hope with others.
     Somewhere along the way, the church at Corinth forgot that this was a very unique meal.  Maybe it was good that they forgot or we wouldn’t have this scripture from Paul to help us understand the meaning of this meal.
     During church camp one year for elementary age children, a pastor noticed that that one of the children was always misbehaving, even during their worship time in the evening.  One of the counselors explained this boy’s story with the pastor.
     This boy whose name was Adam and his brother were staying with their grandparents because their parents had recently divorced.  The grandparents thought that it would be good for her grandchildren to attend church camp.  The boys had never attended church so all of this was very new to them.
     To help the situation, the pastor and this counselor partnered Adam with a high school counselor whose name was also Adam.  Big Adam was to help explain to young Adam why they were doing the camp activities and why they had closing worship each night. This high school counselor helped changed little Adam’s behavior.
     On the final evening of worship, they all celebrated Holy Communion.  Each camp family picked two persons from their group to serve Communion to the other members. As young Adam’s group came forward, the pastor asked for the two persons to come and join him at the altar to receive the communion elements to serve to their family.
     Little Adam was one of those chosen. The pastor served him and the other student, and then he handed the elements to them to serve their camp family.  Tears filled this pastor’s eyes as he watched this young student serve the bread and the juice and share the words of communion to his group. This young boy who was going through a very difficult time in his life was experiencing transformation and newness of life, all because somebody took time to come alongside of him.
     On this Maundy Thursday, as we prepare to receive the Lord’s Supper, let’s remember that this is no ordinary meal.  It can change your life.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lectionary Bible Commentary for Sunday, March 31 (Easter Sunday)

Sermon (March 31 – Easter Sunday) – “Livn’ My Dream”

Acts 10:34-43

-       How do you tell the story of Jesus and the new life that he offers?
-       This scripture serves as a brief “elevator” speech on the Christian faith. It’s concise and to the point.
-       The story centers Jesus in the covenantal language of the Old Testament and puts him front and center as the fulfillment of God’s covenant to rescue and redeem the world from sin and death.
-       Notice that the Holy Spirit came upon the people even though Peter shared this very brief story about Jesus! The sharing of the good news is powerful!
-       The elements of Peter’s story about Jesus: 1) It locates Jesus in the story of Israel and God’s covenant with them. 2) John the Baptist announced the coming of the kingdom of God. 3) Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant through his death and resurrection. 4) Through Jesus, we receive forgiveness.
-       Peter’s message is a message to a non-Jewish audience.
-       Sharing our faith is about sharing what God has done through Jesus Christ.

Luke 24:1-12

-       Jesus had spoken about his own resurrection a number of times but nobody caught on to what he had been saying.
-       In Jesus’ day, the thought was that all of God’s people would be resurrected at the end of the age. Nobody thought that this could happen to someone in the middle of history.
-       The mood of Easter morning is surprise, astonishment, fear, and confusion. Which of these do you experience on Easter morning?
-       The story of Easter is a story of how God has surprised us with the incredible news of the resurrection of Jesus.  How can we be open to the wonder of this incredible event?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dave's Deep Thoughts - The Lost Easter Basket

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. 
When you have the best,
why settle for less?
Easter was certainly a notch below Christmas
on any child's most favorite holiday list.
Maybe it was because the date always changed,
a nine year old never quite knew when it was coming.
Or maybe it was because
there was never as much time off from school as Christmas break.
Whatever the reason,
Easter was a fun holiday,
but not the glamorous extravaganza
of December 25th.
But it had its perks......
the arrival of spring,
being able to play outside,
the Saturday evening coloring of the Easter eggs,
plastic green grass,
the early morning Sunday pageant at church
new clothes,
family dinners,
easter egg hunts,
chocolate rabbits,
marshmallow peeps,
and the Sunday evening showing of The Ten Commandments movie
(of which I never made it through awake....who does???)
But the best part of Easter
was the Easter basket.
The Easter basket
was the quintessential symbol of the jelly bean season.
Unlike Christmas,
where 4 siblings engaged in turf wars
over who had the rights to certain unmarked gifts under the tree,
the lines of demarcation at Easter were very clear.
My Easter basket.
Your Easter basket.
My marshmallow peep,
your marshmallow peep.
End of story.
Of all 4 siblings,
I had the best Easter basket.
My oldest sister had this huge monstrosity of a basket
that was large enough to tote groceries or small children.
My other sister had this very ornate basket
that looked like something out of a Baroque art fest.
My younger brother??
He was saddled with this pink, multi-pasteled eyesore
that looked like he had taken a shopping excursion to South Beach.
As for me,
I had the perfect Easter basket.
Understated, yet strong.
Not too big, not too small.
No frills, no ribbons,
just solid wicker.
A young man's perfect Easter basket.
Needless to say,
the chocolate rabbit with the candy eyes
was the crowning achievement of the basket.
But it was what was hidden below the level of plastic grass
that held the mystery of Easter morning for any nine year old.....
jelly beans, chocolate eggs, small windup toys....
Because I had the best Easter basket ever,
I searched for it when we cleaned out my mom's farmhouse
a couple of year's ago.
Mom's attic was a tribute to hoarders everywhere.
Anything and everything could be found in that attic.
Furniture that looked like it was from the civil war era.......
photo albums from 1929.......
ancient golf clubs, bowling balls, & archery sets........
handwritten minutes from church meetings ............30 years prior.
The woman never threw anything away,.....ever.
Except for,
MY Easter basket.
When I found the box of Easter decorations & supplies,
the other three lesser baskets were there.
But my shining beacon of Easter joy?????
Going, going, gone.....
Not a trace.
I struggled with how an
otherwise fine upstanding mother-of-the-year
could have disposed of such an priceless piece of Easter antiquity.
Perhaps she had given it to the poor,
or maybe she had given it to an Easter museum so that the masses could enjoy.
Such thoughts could not soothe my devastation.
Imagine my devastation
when I found the crown jewel of Easter wicker
out in her garage a few days later.
It was tattered and torn,
and it was filled with.......
My larger-than-life mother
had turned my Easter basket years ago
into a flower pot.
The basket was beyond recovery.
Her glory was long since gone.
What was the best, was now the least.
I have thought about trying to replace that Easter basket,
but why try to replace something when you have been given the best?
Yet we do it all the time.
As I thought about my beloved Easter basket,
I began to realize that it represented what Easter is all about.
That is, how the One who created the universe
willingly chose to come to His creation as a man
and sacrifice his life upon the very tree which He had created.
His glory put aside.
His beauty beaten into disfigured flesh.
His sinless life taken ransom,
All so that we could have a portal to eternal life through and with Him.
And the response of much of mankind?
To replace it.
To attempt to find meaning to life
in any other way.
addictive behaviors,
self-soothing lifestyles,
me-first attitudes.
anything but truly following Him as Lord.
We have been given the best.
And His name is Jesus.
As we journey through the last supper,
the arrest,
the scourging,
the mock trial,
the execution,
the splitting of the veil in the temple,
and the day that becomes as night,
take time to let the extravagance of the act
rest upon your soul,
and realize even more deeply.......
why should you settle for anything less in your life,
when you have been given the very best that heaven has to offer?
And that is why,
my Easter basket was and still is,
the best.

The Highs & Lows of Holy Week

It's only Wednesday in Holy Week and I have already experienced God's presence through the highs and lows of these days leading up to Easter.  A pastor once said that every Holy Week has a different feel for him.  This has been my experience as well.  I think of Holy Week as a roller coaster of emotions.  Maybe the reason for this is that when we reflect on those final days of Jesus, we become more aware of who we are, who God is, and who we can become. No wonder that it often feels like a bumpy ride with lots of twists and turns.

Just look at the book ends for this most important week of the Christian year. We begin with hailing Jesus as King on Palm Sunday and it concludes with us feeling numb and grief stricken as we watch Jesus being placed in a cold tomb. And yet, we come full circle as we are awakened on Easter Sunday with the aroma of Easter lilies, white altar cloths, and those wonderful words, "He is not here. He is risen!"

Yes, Holy Week leads us through a wide range of feelings, thoughts, and emotions. The events of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, help us to come face to face with the reality of loss, sin, and death in our own lives so that we can embrace the new life and hope that is waiting for us just around the corner. 

Here are some of the roller coaster emotions I've already been feeling this week.

The Highs:
  • Celebrating Palm Sunday and Jesus' entry into Jerusalem this past Sunday morning!
  • Spending time with our youth group on Sunday night as they learned about the Passover Meal and the meaning of Holy Communion.
  • Driving down to Cincinnati with my wife and daughter to pick up our daughter's wedding dress and celebrate her birthday.
  • Attending an awards ceremony of two physicians at the hospital who helped save the life of one of my church members last year.
  • Visiting with a church member who has recently received good news about his cancer treatments.
The Lows:
  • Visiting with a church member who is in her last hours/days.
  • Finding out that a community member I recently met is also in hospice and nearing the time when he will pass away.
  • Getting a call that a long-term member of the church has passed away at 99.
Even though this week has already felt like a roller coaster, I have been reminded of God's presence and assurance that nothing will ever separate us from God's love. As I was leaving from visiting with the church member who is near death, a nurse asked if I would visit a middle aged man who is nearing the end of his life and doesn't have a church affiliation. She said he has been agitated and she thought a pastoral visit would help.

I entered the room and was greeted by his sister and his wife who were there by his bedside. They were appreciative of my willingness to visit. When they told me his name, I realized that this was someone who had recently served with me on a community board.  As I bent down to speak with him, I told him who I was and thanked him for the many ways he has been a positive influence in our community. I said, "You have done so much good. Thank you for the many people you have helped who struggle with addictions. You have made this world a better place. It's OK to let go and be with God. God loves you and promises to be with you always. Your family is right here with you and they love you. God bless you."

As I left his room and walked out to the parking lot, I wanted to cry. This man was only 59 and has done so much good in our community. I thought of the church member who is also nearing the end of her life. A heavy sense of sorrow filled my heart. It felt more like Good Friday than Palm Sunday. But then I thought about that nurse, who out of the blue asked me to visit a man she thought I had never met. I thought of the prayer we were able to have around his bedside as we were reminded that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, not even death.

It may have felt like Good Friday to me in that moment but for some strange reason, Easter didn't seem that far away.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sermon (March 31) - "Livn' My Dream"

     Several years ago, I attended a week long church conference with some church members.  And before the sessions each morning we would eat at a greasy spoon diner for a home cooked breakfast.
     The breakfast food was wonderful.  And we would often be served by a waitress who had been an employee there for some time.  She seemed to know her customers quite well, calling them by name, anticipating what they might need, and sharing some jokes back and forth.  Even though we were from out of town, she had a way of making us feel like we were her regular customers. 
     During one of those mornings, we came in for breakfast and she came over to take our orders, and someone in our group complemented her on how she had made us all feel so welcomed throughout the week.  And this person in our group asked her if she could see herself doing anything else with her life besides waitressing.
     Her answer was priceless.  As she turned to walk away from our table, she rolled her eyes, and with a touch of sarcasm in her voice and a lot of attitude, she said loud enough for all to hear,
     “I’m livin’ my dream, babe.”  I’m livin’ my dream.” 
     Those of us who were around that table still talk about that great line.  “I’m livin’ my dream, babe.” 
     Obviously, being a waitress or waiter isn’t easy work.  You’re on your feet all day.  You don’t make that much money.  People complain.  And the truth is, there are probably very few of us who will ever have that perfect dream job or that perfect dream life or that perfect dream family or that perfect dream church.
     The question for each of us is, can I honestly say that “I’m livin’ my dream?”  
     The good news of the Christian faith is that each one of us is invited to live out God’s dream.  And it’s because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that God’s dream has become a reality.
     Are you livin’ God’s dream?
     It’s early on a Sunday morning.  Several women quietly make their way through a spacious garden.  A couple of days have passed and they can still remember the sound of nails being hammered into the hard wood.  What started with so much promise had ended in unbelievable tragedy. 
     With spices in hand, they are nearing Jesus’ tomb.  They will pay their last respects.  The dream is over.  They will never get back what they lost.
     Or so they thought.
     The Gospel writer Luke, tells us that Easter came as a complete shock to those women who were visiting the tomb.  Because of an empty tomb and some words from God’s messengers, “He is not here.  But has risen,” these women were able to dream again.  Jesus’ resurrection changed everything for them.
     This morning, the Gospel writer Luke is inviting us to live God’s dream.   What does it mean to live God’s dream in the light of the resurrection?
     First of all, Luke wants us to know that the resurrection of Jesus means that Jesus is who he said he was.  Jesus was the long awaited Messiah who would free the people from their bondage.
     They thought that this would mean political freedom from the Roman Empire.  They thought that the long awaited Messiah would take up the sword and lead them to victory.  But Jesus had something far greater in mind.  Jesus came to free us from our bondage to sin and death.  Jesus came to free us from all that what could keep us from living out our dream of who God created us to be.
     When Jesus died on a cross, it looked like the powers of this world had won.  It looked like Jesus had failed in his mission.  But it was through his death on the cross that he was able to usher in new life and freedom.
     Because of Easter and the empty tomb, we can look back on Good Friday when Jesus died on a cross as a victory and not as a defeat.  Jesus said that he would die and in three days, rise again.  Jesus kept his word.  Jesus was who he said he was.
     The second thing Luke points out is that the resurrection changes us.
     Our Gospel reading begins with grieving women walking quietly to the tomb and it ends with them going to tell the disciples of what they had experienced.  I guess that’s what an empty tomb and a few messengers from God will do to you.  It will turn your life upside down.  But it will also transform you from the inside out.
     Some time ago, a friend of mine who is nearing retirement shared with me about his story of faith.  He said that he would attend church once in a while with his wife but it didn’t really mean a whole lot to him until one day everything changed for him.
     While he was washing the dishes one night, he was watching TV, and the Catholic channel was on.  And a Priest was giving a short devotional message, talking about how we all have a God shaped hole in our lives and how that hole can only be filled by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 
     And my friend said, “I was really interested in what he was saying because I knew that I was missing something in my life.  I had a nice house.  Great job.  Loving family.  But something was still missing.  And then, this Priest on the television program invited anyone who was watching to pray a simple prayer and invite Jesus Christ to come into their lives.”
     And my friend said to me, “I knew that I needed to say this prayer.  And with my sleeves rolled up and my arms submerged in the soapy dish water there in our kitchen, I accepted Jesus Christ into my life.  I started sobbing right there by my kitchen sink.  I felt forgiven for my sins and it was like this huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.  From that point on, our lives really changed.  My wife and I attend church, serve in ministries together, and we put Jesus first in all that we do.  My life has never been the same again.”
     When Jesus died on the cross, he took upon himself all of the sin and pain of the world.  And by rising again, he showed that new life is possible for us as well.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can be freed from my sins.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can lead a new life.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can have endless hope.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I become his new creation.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I can let go of past grudges.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, I am a new person.
     Because of Jesus’ resurrection, all things are possible and I can live my dream.
     And last but not least, the third thing that Luke points out about the resurrection is that together, we can change the world.  Together we can change the world.
     Actually, Luke’s Gospel is the 1st book of a 2 book volume.  He wrote the Book of Acts which tells the story of how the early church, through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, was able to bring transformation and hope to the world.  In fact, if anyone has trouble in believing that the resurrection of Jesus is true, all we really need to do is read the Book of Acts.  Something had to have gotten into those disciples to do what they did.
     They took care of widows and orphans.  They healed the sick in the name of the risen Jesus.  And they told others about the good news of the resurrection.  They believed that Jesus would change the world through them.
     A friend of mine called me a while back.  He called me at a really bad time.  It had been a long day with lots of loose ends.  It was just one of those kind of days.  He begins by asking me if I had received the information about his ministry in the mail.  And I half heartedly said, “Yes.  I did.”
     I’m now thinking, “Here he goes.  He’s going to ask me for some money.  And I really don’t feel like badgering different groups in our church to give money to yet another project.  I’ve got enough on my plate as it is.”  Like I said, it had been one of those days.
     And sure enough, he says, “Robert, I’m calling to see if your church can support my ministry.”  I think to myself, “OK.  Here’s where he’s going to ask me if my church can give them a donation?  You know, that kind of request.
     Instead, here’s what he says.  “Robert, it is unbelievable what is going on in the city where I’m serving.  Through our ministry, people are coming to know Jesus Christ and they’re getting connected with other Christians.  We’ve baptized several new Christians. They’re coming to our bible studies.  These are folks who would most likely never come to church on Sunday morning, but they’re responding to this new ministry.  God is just doing an unbelievable thing and we’re just praising God for it.”
     As I was listening to the exciting news about his ministry, suddenly my stressed-filled day mysteriously disappeared.  And before I knew it, I was writing out a $50 check and sending it his way.  And yes, I also ended up badgering several different groups in our church to give money to this ministry the very next day. When we see how the good news of Easter is changing the world, it can turn a bad day into a good day. 
     We can live out our dream because Jesus is who he said he was.  We can live out our dream because the resurrection of Jesus changes us.  And we can live out our dream because Easter can change the world.
     Four or five years ago, I read an article in a magazine about a grown son whose father had recently died.  They had a stormy relationship as father and son.  The mother had died when he was only 14 leaving his father to raise him.
     This article went on to say how the father would often tell his son to give up dreaming because if he kept on dreaming, he would end up being disappointed again and again.  “Quit dreaming,” this father would tell his son.
     There was one problem, though.  The son didn’t stop dreaming.  In fact, his dreams only got bigger to the point where he was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year back in 2005.  Bono, the leader singer for U2 has been leading a massive campaign to stop the spread of AIDs in Africa. 
     This rock star often visits with politicians, has preached from United Methodist pulpits, and has given commencement addresses at Ivy League schools, shaping each of his talks with a call to embrace Jesus’ vision for a more just world.
     All this from someone who was told again and again to, “Quit dreaming.  You’ll just be disappointed.”
     But dreaming just isn’t for rock stars or celebrities.  It’s for waitresses in greasy spoon diners and it’s for grieving disciples as they walk toward a tomb. 
     It’s for anyone who hears the good news of Easter, “He is not here.  But has risen.” 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sermon (March 24) - "Unbinding Your Soul: Step Over the Line"

Have you ever been on a road trip that you thought would never end? Maybe you had a flat tire or took a wrong turn. Hours, maybe even a day or two were added to the trip time.

The people in the car became impatient. The snacks ran out. Your sister was snarling. You had to peel the back of your legs off the leather seat. You couldn’t wait to get someplace else, anyplace else but in that car.

Forty years. That’s how long Joshua’s road trip was. He and his extended family of Israelites left Egypt hoping for a better life. They had been walking together to a new place to live for forty years. Forty years of being with the same people. Forty years of the same trail mix. Forty years. Are we there yet?

Then, the moment came for Joshua and his family. A chance to move into a new place. An opportunity to live a life he had only dreamed about. A challenge and blessing beyond his imagining.

Joshua and God are looking out on the horizon together. There is the Jordan River. And on the other side of that river is a whole new life for Joshua and his family. All they have to do is cross over the river, just step over the line. And they will enter a whole new world. Looking down at that river, how did Joshua feel? Elated? Relieved? READY? Maybe.

But the text says he was mostly scared. God was about to lead him and all of Israel into a new chapter in their life together. They would receive the blessing of bountiful land. Finally, they could rest from their weary travels and live in peace.

Instead of wandering, they would be settling down. Instead of moving, they would be making a new home. And as much as Joshua and the people had hoped for this, now that it was here, well . . .

They were scared. We know this because in just 9 verses of our Old Testament reading, God has to tell them 3 times to be courageous. God tells them twice that he will be with them. And, God tells them to not be terrified.

Can you imagine? God says, “Here, I have this great life all ready for you!” And they respond with fear?

Seems like no matter how things are going for us where we are, it is scary to leave what we know for a new place. Even if our daily lives are unfulfilling or purposeless we like to stay with what is familiar. So we stick with it. But that’s not what we have to do.

Moments come for us when God says, “I have another option for you. Do you want to trust me?”

Unbinding Your Soul author, Martha Grace Reese writes, “Self-relinquishment is at the heart of (Christian) faith.” Most mature Christians have many moments of this surrender in their lives. Daily surrender keeps us from staying put where we are when we could really be somewhere else with God.

A youth at camp had a Joshua experience. During one of the worship services, she felt this nagging sense that God had something for her to do. It was pervasive enough that she was compelled to go up to one of the adults after worship.

She explained that she felt like God had something for her to do, but she didn’t know what it was. The adult told her that sometimes we need to say ‘yes’ to God before we know what that means. So the youth wrote in her Bible that night: “I say ‘yes’ to you, God. Whatever that means.”

“Be strong and courageous,” God told Joshua. “I will be with you wherever you go.” Today you are invited to say a new “yes” to God.

I have asked Tim Binkley to come and share about a time when he said yes to God.

(Tim Binkley Shares)

Maybe your yes to God sounds similar to the testimony we just heard or maybe it’s more like the experience of the youth at camp who said, “I say ‘yes’ to you, God.  Whatever that means.”

When Joshua and the Israelites were standing on the banks of the river, the Lord was calling them to come to the other side.  They were being called to step over the line.  And because they knew that God was with them, they did, and they finally entered the Promised Land.

Jesus also stepped over the line when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  He knew that he was being called to offer his life by dying on a cross for the sins of the world. Jesus stepped over the line for us.

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week when we relive those final days of Jesus’ life.  We are called to follow him as enters the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, as he goes to the Upper Room on Thursday where he will share a Last Supper and Passover meal with the disciples, and then on Friday through the city streets to a wooden cross just outside of Jerusalem where he will die for our sins. But that’s not the end of our journey because Holy Week will lead us to Easter Sunday and the good news of the empty tomb.

Holy Week is about stepping over the line and taking our faith to a whole new level.  It’s about letting go of the past and moving into the future that God has in mind for us.

This morning, we are invited to come forward to one of the communion stations to receive Holy Communion and remember what Jesus has done for us.  In front of each communion station, you will notice a line that is taped on the floor.  That line is there to symbolize the line that God is calling us to step over so that we might turn from our past and receive all that God is offering us – salvation, new life, forgiveness of sins, hope, encouragement.

Think of this line as your Jordan River. But it is also your place to cross over into more trust in God. Ask God what you need to surrender . . . what you’re afraid of . . . and what might be holding you back. And when you step over that line to receive Holy Communion, may you hear God saying to you, “Be strong and courageous.”

Jesus stepped over the line for us.  What if we step over the line for him?

William Temple was the Arch Bishop of Canterbury in the last century.  In 1931, following a revival service, he led a congregation in the singing of a hymn that is often sung during Holy Week, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

There are four verses of this hymn and just as the congregation finished the third verse, Arch Bishop Temple stopped them and asked them to read the words of the last verse to themselves.

After he gave them enough time to do this he then said, “Now, if you believe these words with all of your heart, I want you to sing them as loud as you can.  If you don’t believe in them at all, then keep silent.  And if you believe them even just a little and want to believe in them more, then sing them very softly.”

The organ played the last verse and the two thousand people who were in attendance whispered the final verse.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

It is said that the people who were in church that day never forgot that powerful moment.

Let’s sing that hymn together.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Time to Hit a Home Run

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA. 
Sometimes you hit a home run,
and sometimes..........not so much.
Celebrating the first day of spring,
means different things to different people.
Some get garden supplies ready.
Some have their lawn mowers tuned.
Others break out the shorts and got o Ritas for a free Italian Ice.
For me, the first day of spring
makes me think of baseball .........
and piano lessons.
You might wonder about
the connection between those two things.
As a child,
I remember having this fear of balls flying towards my head.
I don't know what was the source of this fear,
but I do remember that whenever Dad would play catch with me,
I would always cringe when the ball was launched my way.
My Dad would talk about me playing little league baseball
when I was old enough.
Back in the day, that would be ten years old,
the summer after fourth grade.
But when I was in first grade,
I remember asking Mom and Dad if I could take piano lessons.
My two older sisters were taking lessons
and mostly hating it.
All I knew was that I was fascinated by the piano.
I remember coming up to the piano when they weren't practicing
(which was quite often)
and figuring out how to play familiar tunes.
Then I began to peek inside their lesson books,
and I began to figure out basic music principles.
As each spring arrived,
first grade, second, grade, third grade.......
I would ask if I could take piano lessons.
"You don't want to take piano lessons"
my parents would say,
"You're going to play baseball!"
I never quite understood why my sisters, who hated lessons,
had to take piano lessons
while I, who wanted desperately to crawl up on the piano bench,
was barred from membership to the keyboard club.
All I knew was that in a few years,
I would be playing little league baseball,
and that I would be scared to death
of that little orb flying toward my cranium.
Oh, I left clues about my desires.....
like figuring out how to play "The Frog Chorus" song on page 58 of my sisters' book,
before they could play it
or playing a piano solo at a third grade assembly
and not thinking that it was any big deal
until my unknowing mom almost fell out of her chair
when her son marched up to the piano and nailed Heart and Soul.
Nope, I was going to play baseball.
That's what boys in the 60's did.
When the spring of my fourth grade year rolled around,
my dad took me to Little League registration.
My dad had been a pretty good ball player in his day.
His reputation as ball player in the town was larger than life.
"You're Norm's boy!" the balding, pot bellied man behind the table ellowed.
We're going to put you in the A league.
I guess a middle aged man puffing on a cigar
thought I was the second coming of Babe Ruth.
As I was being shipped off to the A league of Little League Baseball,
sirens were going off in my head.
The A league was the "major leagues" reserved for the really good players.
Inside, I was begging that they put me in the B league,
the league designed for kids who were afraid of baseballs cracking their skulls.
Obviously, they had big plans for Norm's boy.
And obviously, they didn't know about my ball phobia.
Where do you place a boy who thinks every baseball
is like a Scud missile homing in on his head?
3rd base of course.
The hot spot.
I spent two very successful weeks in the A league
before I was put on waivers and sent to the B league,
for a player to be named later.
I felt a bit of relief playing in the minor leagues of little league baseball,
but a baseball is a baseball no matter what league you are in,
and my head was still one of my most valued possessions.
For a ten year old who was out of his comfort zone,
the season seemed to last for about 10 months.
The last game of the season,
our team was trailing by a run and we had a runner on 1st base.
Norm's boy came up to the plate.
Hits had been pretty scarce for Norm's boy throughout the summer that wouldn't end.
That was until that moment.
Norm's boy ripped a weak dribbler
that was botched by the 3rd baseman
(no doubt he was terrified of flying baseballs too...)
The 3rd baseman, in a panic,
through the ball over the 1st baseman's head.
Norm's boy, in a state of shock that he had reached base,
took it to the next level, and headed for 2nd.
The shell shocked 1st basement
who was likely experiencing an adrenaline rush,
launched the wayward ball towards 2nd base,
overshooting it by twenty feet.
The ball dribbled into the outfield toward the left fielder
who was probably studying at the clouds to see which one looked like an elephant.
Meanwhile, Norm's boy, focused as never before,
steamed past 2nd base towards third when he heard the coach
scream something he had never heard before....
"Head for home boy!"
Norm's boy did just that.
He crossed the plate as the cloud surfing left fielder
finally realized that the ball was laying in front of him.
Home run!
Our team took the lead!
Norm's boy had never been high fived before in the dugout,
probably because Norm's boy had never hit a home run,
or as some scorekeepers would call it,
a four base error.
That was the highpoint of life in the B league for me.
After the season was over,
I asked my parent's one more time if I could take piano lessons.
My father,
doing a quick inventory in his head of my baseball skills said,
"Sure, why not?"
Sometimes you know what your passion is.
It doesn't matter how young or old you are.
You know what you are supposed to be doing.
Some people choose to ignore those yearnings deep inside,
others are blocked by circumstances or conditions.
But to those who listen to their heart,
follow their passion.
For some, it is playing an instrument.
For others it is working on car engines or painting.
Some become the surgeons that heal.
Each of has a passion and a purpose.
Spring also reminds me of the One who had as His purpose,
to save the world from itself.
I often wonder at what age did Jesus came into awareness of His divine purpose as a child.
I have a feeling it was before he begged for piano lessons.
At anytime, he could have chosen to walk away from that purpose......
in the desert with Satan,
as he looked upon Jerusalem, the holy city,
before Pilate.
But He didn't.
Because he knew His purpose
and that purpose led to His passion.
Since the Bible makes numerous references to Christ’s death on the cross
(many of which explicitly tell us the spiritual significance of His death)
I sometimes wonder why so many people fail to understand the purpose of Christ, stated in plain language, time and time again?
Could it be that people compromise everything that the Bible says about Christ’s death on the cross,
in a vain attempt to make it agree with God’s law,
and with the delusion that works make us righteous ?(Romans 3:19-20).
If so, what people fail to understand is that the law and gospel are two separate messages
that are intended for two entirely different groups of people.
In other words, because the law cannot make us righteous, its purpose is not to make us righteous,
but to point us to Christ by showing us our sin and need for the forgiveness that He obtained for us by His death (Romans 3:10-20, Galatians 3:24).
That being the case, the law is God’s warning to the unrepentant,
while the gospel is God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ to all who repent (1Timothy 1:9, 1Corinthians 15:1-4, Galatians 3:6-22).
Through the law, God shows the unrepentant their sin, while reminding them that they will someday have to account for those sins.
Through the gospel, on the other hand, He comforts those who are sorry for their sins, while assuring them of forgiveness in Christ.
For that reason, God never intended for the gospel to agree with the law.
On the contrary, the law must be proclaimed in a way that makes it clear that there is none righteous,
while the gospel is preached in a way that makes it clear that salvation is through Christ alone,
without the works of the law (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:10-28 and 11:6, Galatians 3:6-22 and 5:4).  
Eventually my parents understood my purpose, but it took a while.
There are many for whom it is taking a while to understand God's passion for them,
and for understanding God's purpose for their lives.
This spring, and this Easter,
take time to dwell on God's passion and purpose for you.
Take time to share that passion with someone who doesn't understand.
Who knows,
you just might hit a home run.