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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TV Season Finales & Our Faith

This is one of my favorite times of year for TV. A lot of shows have their final episodes of the season this week. This year, I have not missed too many episodes of American Idol, The Following (I know this is a pretty sick show), The Office, & Parks & Rec. Soon, we'll be forced to watch reruns which I usually don't like to do unless it was a really, really, really good episode.

Coincidentally, a lot of our activities wind down around this time of year. Schools are concluding their academic year, graduations are just around the corner, and we have finally made it to the NBA playoffs!

Season ending TV shows remind me of our faith. Even the church's liturgical year has a feel of transition as we only have a few weeks left in the Easter Season. Soon, the church will begin its longest season of the year called Ordinary Time which will last from June through November. The liturgical color on the altar typically stays green during this entire time signifying steady growth.

A lot of the scripture readings during Ordinary Time feel a little bit like TV reruns because they don't feel all that flashy and new. Even so, these familiar biblical stories still speak a fresh word to us because our lives never stay the same. To varying degrees, our experiences and circumstances have changed over time which is why it's important to read familiar scripture readings with a new openness. 

One of the reasons that it feels like the bible frequently repeats itself is because life doesn't stay the same.  We always are in need of a fresh Word from the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

Yes, the exciting episodes of Christmas and Easter are feeling more and more like distant memories, but our faith continues on. God still speaks challenging and reassuring words to us even during the long rerun season.

I have a friend who still watches past episodes of the long running TV series, MASH. One day, I asked him if he ever gets tired of seeing the same episode seven or eight times. His response? Every episode of MASH has a truth that relates to my life in some way. I never get tired of watching MASH reruns.

As we near the end of the Easter Season and prepare for Ordinary Time, may we be able to say, Every scripture in the Bible has a truth that relates to my life in some way. I never get tired of reading the Bible.

May it be so.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sermon (May 12) - "Real Power"

     This morning, I want us to think about what real power is. Since today, is Mothers’ Day, I think of the power of a mother’s love. This will be the first year that I won’t be able to call my mother to tell her “Happy Mothers’ Day.” These past few days, I have been thinking a lot about the power of a mother’s love.
     Last June, my brother, two sisters were able to be by our mom’s bedside before she passed away. And during those four very difficult days together, we were able to tell mom how much we loved her and we thanked her for being a wonderful mom to us.
     We told stories about how you couldn’t get away with anything when mom was around, maybe with dad, but never with mom. We remembered how hard she worked on the farm and the many years that she worked third shift at a factory to help us go to college. Our mom had always been a powerful presence of love in our lives.
     The day before she died, we gathered around her. We thought that maybe she reached a point where she didn’t know who we were because of her very weakened condition.
     As the four of us were by our mom, my brother, pointing to one of my two sisters asked her, “Mom, do you know who this is?” My mom said, “Teresa.” Then my brother asked her, “Do you know who this is?” My mom said, “Dena.” Then he pointed at me and said, “Do you know who this is? And my mom said, “Robert.”
     We were all surprised that mom still knew who we were. And then my brother who is the musician of the family said, “And mom, do you know who I am?”
     For the next few seconds, my mom’s eyes gazed intently at my brother and then with a mischievous smile she said, “Bing Crosby.”
     Even in her very weakened condition, our mom knew how to make us laugh. Now, that’s real power!
     During worship one Sunday morning, you’re surprised when someone stands up in the middle of the service to read an important letter to the entire congregation.  You wonder what important message this might be so you lean forward in your seat to not miss a single word.
     And this is what you hear:  “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason, I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.  I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.  God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”
     As you hear these words, you can’t help but to look around to see the reactions of the people.  Surely, they will be overjoyed and stunned to hear such overwhelming news of hope and promise. 
     But when you look across the room, what you see is a man dozing off as his bulletin falls to the floor.  You look the other way only to find someone making out their grocery list.  You look to the front and are surprised when you see the pastor fidgeting with his watch.
     No one seems to be listening, or if they are, they’re certainly not hearing this letter as a word of good news meant especially for them.
     When this letter was first read to the various churches located in the greater Ephesus area around the middle of the first century, it must have been startling for these congregations to hear these words.  Here, they were living in or near a city which at that time, was a very powerful city, a city which was home to powerful Roman leaders, and a pagan religion which used powerful displays of magic to impress it’s followers.
     This was the kind of city that would give a new religious movement an inferiority complex.  What power do they have?  Certainly not anything that can rival the glamour and prestige of a progressive major city that is adopting Roman culture and customs at a fast and furious pace.  In writing his letter for the churches located in or near the city of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul, is reminding these congregations that what they have been given in Jesus Christ puts them head and shoulders above anything their surrounding culture can ever hope to offer.
     Paul doesn’t want them to ever forget what they have received through Jesus Christ.  It’s an impressive list:  Wisdom, hope, a glorious inheritance, and power.
     Power.  Paul uses this word four times in this short passage of scripture.  Obviously, he wants the church to not only know about this power, but to live out this power through their ministry.
     One of the reasons that we may find the pastor of a church fidgeting with his watch, or a man dozing off, or someone putting together a grocery list during the reading of a scripture like this, is because the church has at times, misused its power.
     One only needs to mention the phrase, “Spanish Inquisition,” and all kinds of negative thoughts about the church come to mind.
     Or think of more recent times.  What about people who bomb abortion clinics in the name of Jesus Christ or who use their religion as a way of bullying people into accepting their point of view?
     You have probably heard of a small church located in Topeka, Kansas that sends its church members to protest at military funerals to show that the deaths of our soldiers are a sign of God’s judgment against America.  Their website is filled with hate language all in the name of the Christian faith.
     While many would say and rightly so that this church really isn’t a true Christian church because of its very unChristlike beliefs and behavior, there are others who see this church as an example of the bigotry and judgementalism of the Christian faith in general.  Unfortunately, we can point to other negative examples that include greedy televangelists and abusive church leaders.
     Certainly, the church has a spotty history of how it has used power.  But let’s also not forget of all the good the church has done whenever it has lived out the power of Christ in ways that bring transformation and God’s peace and justice.
     Think of many of our institutions that we often take for granted today, like hospitals, clinics, and schools, many of which were started by churches who knew that it was their responsibility to make a difference in society.  I think of a little country church which was responsible for getting the first public school started in the County.
     Think of people like William Wilberforce in Britain and John Woolman here in America who joined together in ending the slave trade just two centuries ago.
     Think of Dr. Martin Luther King during the 1960s, whose passion for justice cost him his life.
     Think of Desmond Tutu, the Anglican leader, who in more recent memory, helped end Apartheid, the racist government of South Africa.  Most people predicted such a change would cause lots of bloodshed, but thanks to this man and his faith in Christ, it was mostly a peaceful transition.
     Think of Oscar Romero.  Oscar Romero was a Christian who was shot by an assassin because he was speaking out on behalf of the poor in El Salvador.
     And thankfully, there are many other shining examples from our history of how the church has made an incredible difference in the world by living out the power of the risen Christ in ways that bring about God’s loving kingdom to earth.
    Several years ago, I had lunch with a member of a rapidly growing church.  He told me the fascinating story of his church.  About five years before our conversation, his church was going to close its doors because it had dwindled down to just a few members.
     Located in a strategic and growing area, over the past several years, this church had lost its vision and passion in reaching the people of its community.  Just when they were about to close the church, a denominational official decided to give this church one more shot. 
     Over the next five years, this church grew to over 500 people.  So I asked this church member over lunch, “What’s the main reason why your church has turned things around in a short amount of time?”
     His eyes lit up and without even thinking about it, he said, “It’s because we pour ourselves out and share the love of Jesus in our community.”  And for the next sixty minutes he proceeded to tell me several ways that their church is pouring themselves out.  One of the ways they are pouring themselves out is by partnering with the local school district to help children and families in need.
     After our lunch and on my way back to the church, I couldn’t get that phrase out of my mind.  “Poured out.”  I thought to myself, “That’s a great image for what the church is meant to be.”  We are to be poured out for the sake of the world.
     Out of curiosity, I did a google search to find this church’s website.  I clicked on their mission statement and here’s what it says:  “We are committed to building a church that is real, transformed, connected, and poured out.”
     No wonder he used that phrase over and over again.
     Today is Ascension Sunday, the Sunday in which the church remembers when Jesus ascended to be seated at the right hand of God forty days following his resurrection.  Ascension Sunday reminds us that when Jesus ascended, he literally ascended to his throne as King of kings and Lord of lords.
     The Apostle Paul refers to Jesus’ ascension in our Ephesians scripture passage this morning when he writes that God’s power was at work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.
     But remember the events which preceded this King’s ascension.  This King gave it all.  This King gave his life.  This King was poured out for the sake of the world.
     So when we hear scriptures like this one from Ephesians which talk about power, we’re not just talking about any power.
    On this day, we are invited to remember what real power is. 
     Think about Jesus, the Son of God, being placed in a manger.  That’s power. 
     Think about Jesus telling the disciples to love their enemies and to do good to them.  That’s power.
     Think about Jesus hanging on a cross to take upon himself the sin and pain of the world.  That’s power.
     Think about the resurrected and ascended Jesus, now seated at the right hand of God, victorious over sin and death.  That’s power.
     Think about some folks going to their cars following a worship service on Ascension Sunday.  They aren’t the same people who first entered those church doors.  They can’t wait to go into the community to be the “poured out” church of King Jesus; through humble service, unconditional love, bold witnessing, and risk taking mission.
     Now, that’s real power!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - May 12

Sunday, May 12 - (7:30, 9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, May 15 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Real Power"

Features - Ascension Sunday & Mothers' Day

Scripture - Ephesians 1:15-23 & Luke 24:44-53

Theme - In our Ephesians reading, the Apostle Paul reminds us to receive the power of Christ in our ministry as a church. How can we make sure that we use this power in ways that are pleasing to God? On this Ascension Sunday, we are invited to think about what the Apostle Paul means by "power."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lectionary Bible Commentary for April 28

Sermon (April 28) – “One Small Step”

Acts 11:1-18

Context – This relates to the story of Peter having a vision to go to a gentile city (Caesarea) to offer the good news of Christ to a gentile, Cornelius. Jews were careful to not enter a gentile city because of purity laws. The people in the home of Cornelius received the good news of Christ and were baptized by Peter.

Back in Judea where the Jewish believers were assembled, they questioned Peter for his association with the gentiles. After Peter explains what God has done, they realize that this is the work of the Holy Spirit that began at Pentecost (chapter 2) where people beyond the Jewish faith will receive the good news of Jesus Christ and be part of God’s covenant community.

This scripture raises all kinds of challenges for us! In what ways can we reach out beyond the barriers that separate the church from the community and world? If the Holy Spirit is reaching out to the whole world, why do we sometimes want to limit the work of the Spirit?

John 13:31-35

Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. This is where the Last Discourse of Jesus begins and will last through the end of chapter 16!

The Last Discourse is considered by many to be the most intimate portion of scripture because of the personal words Jesus shares with his disciples.

Imagine the feelings of the disciples as they were hearing that Jesus would be leaving them and they still had so many questions about their new faith in Christ. We often feel that we don’t have enough information, knowledge about Jesus, experience, and yet, Jesus still believes that we are ready to follow him.

Later in the discourse, Jesus will explain that the Holy Spirit will continue to be with the disciples in Jesus’ absence.  We are never alone!

Jesus’ new commandment of love reminds us of Leviticus 19:18. The addition here is that Jesus wants us to follow his example. This is why he has washed the disciples’ feet.

If we are always waiting to have all the information or all the experience, we will never begin to step out on our own to live out our faith. Jesus teaches us to fly out of our nest!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Kimes Chapel Dedication - Sunday, April 21

[From Left to Right: Charlie & Diane Eversole, Dave & June Harcum, & Rev. Bob Kimes]

Lancaster First UMC was well represented at today's chapel dedication at Wesley Ridge Retirement Community located in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. The chapel was dedicated in honor of Rev. Bob and Bettirae Kimes. Bob served as Visitation Pastor at our church several years ago.

A very generous gift by Dave and June Harcum helped to fund the new chapel and a very creative sculpture above the altar of praying hands stretching toward the sky was made by Charlie Eversole. The sculpture of metal hands was patterned after the hands of people of all ages symbolizing the diversity of God's people.

Bishop Judy Craig who served the West Ohio Conference from 1992 to 2000 offered an inspiring message of God's presence with us through all of the transitions we face in life. Part of the litany of the dedication included these words:

May this place be a holy meeting ground where body, mind, and soul find nurture. May we feel the Hands of Fatih-Seeking the Eternal in the Chancel Wall Sculpture in the opening of the childish innocent hands, to the gnarled hands opening to the Eternal on the aging journey, evidence of work, play, devotion and sacrifice.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sermon (April 28) - "One Small Step"

     On a very cold winter day several years ago, I was driving on Interstate 75 in northwest, Ohio when I saw a sign for a McDonalds at the Wapakoneta exit and I thought, “A nice hot cup of coffee sounds pretty good right now.”
     So I get off at the exit and turn into the McDonald’s parking lot.  And maybe some of you know which McDonald’s restaurant I’m talking about, because on a wall inside this particular McDonalds’, a New York Times newspaper, dated July 21, 1969 is proudly displayed.
     And the headline reads, “Men Walk on Moon.”  I was standing in the home town of Neil Armstrong who was the first person to step on the moon and the one who said what has become one of the most famous quotes of all time, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 
     Before buying my coffee, I just stood there, reading this article about this world changing event, perhaps one of the most incredible events of our modern era and just thinking how that event has shaped our thinking.  
     It’s not uncommon to hear people say, “If we can send a man to the moon, we can certainly…(and from there you can fill in the blank.)  “End world hunger.  End homelessness.  Stop crime and violence.  Make broccoli taste good.” 
     OK.  Maybe some things are beyond our reach.
     I was only six years old when Neil Armstrong made history on that summer day in 1969, but whenever I look at a full moon now, I can’t help but to be in awe of that remarkable event. 
     As I left that McDonald’s restaurant on that cold and chilly day, I came away inspired by how one small step made such a big difference in our way of thinking.
     Two thousand years before Neil Armstrong made history on that mid summer day, another man is about to take a small step which will literally change the world.  We know him as the Apostle Peter from our scripture passage this morning, who earlier that day was given a vision from God to begin breaking down the barriers that had existed between people of the Jewish faith and people who were outside the Jewish faith. 
     And because Peter obeyed the vision that God had given him to go to a pagan city and to the home of a family outside of the Jewish faith, Peter’s one small step into this home, led to an entire family receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  But unlike Neil Armstrong, Peter will not come back to a hero’s welcome where he will find a plaque commemorating this historic event.
      When Peter arrives home, everyone is up in arms at First Jerusalem Church.  News had already gotten back to them that people outside of the Jewish faith were now joining the church.  They can’t help but to notice all the new faces in their most recent pictorial directory, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, except that a lot of these last names are pagan names like “McDowell” and “McCoy.” 
     “These two guys don’t know Moses from Adam.  How did they ever manage to join the church?  I mean, who’s next?  Let’s just go ahead and allow murderers to join the church.  Oh wait, I guess that guy from Tarsus, Paul joined the church two chapters ago, didn’t he?  What is this world coming to?”
     This is what Peter is facing when he arrives back following his historic mission. 
     And all Peter could tell them was that he had been given a vision from God.  And the vision was a large sheet that had been lowered from the sky containing all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds which were considered ritually unclean.  And this sheet which contained all of these creatures had landed uncomfortably close to Peter there on the ground.
     And that’s when Peter heard a voice, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.”  At first Peter refused because he had always followed the rules of his faith, but the voice kept saying, “What God has made clean, Peter, you must not call profane.”
     And after Peter heard this voice, the sheet disappeared and standing in front of him were three men who had been sent from Caesarea to find Peter and take him to the home of Cornelius and his non-Jewish family. 
     After Peter finished telling his story of how this entire family had become part of their church family through Jesus Christ, the leaders at First Jerusalem Church were speechless.  And then it began to dawn on them that because of Peter’s small step, God’s salvation through Jesus Christ was being offered to the entire world. 
     One of the biggest highlights of my life was when I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land and visit the area where the city of Caesarea was located during the time of Peter. It’s right along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and it was a picture perfect day with blue skies as I stood in that historic area with a friend.
     Our tour guide talked about this same story from the Book of Acts and he said that without Peter’s faithfulness to the vision that had been given him, the church would have very easily kept their faith in Jesus Christ to themselves and within their own Jewish faith.  But because of this story, people with last names like McDowell and McCoy are invited to become part of God’s covenant family.
     And when our guide shared this scripture with us, he had us look out at the beautiful Mediterranean Sea and he encouraged us to not keep the Christian faith to ourselves, but to share it with the entire world, just as Peter did in the city of Caesarea and just as the Apostle Paul would later do by going all the way to Rome with the Gospel.
     Have you ever noticed how bold and audacious our church’s mission statement is?  “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  In other words, our mission as a church will not be completed until that day when the entire world will reflect the love and goodness of the God of all creation. 
     I don’t know about you, but sometimes, just the city of Lancaster seems monumental to me.  And then you think about Fairfield County and you wonder, if we can’t even take care of our own back yard, how in heaven’s name will we be able to change the world?  Peter reminds us that God’s transforming love happens when we focus on taking the small steps.
     This morning, I’d like to think about some small steps that we can take to make a difference in our world.
     The first small step is probably the most obvious small step, but without it, we can’t really even begin to talk about the others.  The first small step is for each of us to ask ourselves, “Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”
     Peter was one of the first disciples to follow Jesus.  And not only was Peter one of Jesus’ disciples, but he was also an eyewitness of Jesus following his resurrection.  Peter saw Jesus in his resurrected body and knew that Jesus was the embodiment of God. He knew that through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus that he was the fulfillment of the covenant that God had made centuries earlier with Abraham and Sarah.
     Peter had taken that small step of being a disciple of Jesus.  Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean that we’re perfect or that we are all of the sudden given a halo to wear around our head.  Remember, it was Peter who often struggled to be faithful to Christ and who had denied Jesus three times. 
     Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean that we won’t stumble and have doubts.  It means that we have placed our faith in the one who promises to walk with us every step in life.
     The second small step is to begin to break down barriers that separate people.  We live in a barrier oriented world where we have Liberals and Conservatives, Methodists and Baptists, Young and Old, Public School and Home School.  We have all of these labels that it’s amazing that there’s any sense at all that we can say we have something in common.
     Brian McLaren is a Christian speaker and the title of one his books is “A Generous Orthodoxy.”  I have never seen a longer subtitle for a book in my life.  Here’s the subtitle of this book.  “Why I am a missional, evangelical, post-protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed yet hopeful, emergent, and unfinished Christian.”
     How’s that for a subtitle?  Even just the title of this book covers most of the barriers that we so often find in the church.
     In order for Peter to take his small step inside a pagan home, he first needed to set aside his own agenda in order to take on God’s agenda of extending God’s gift of salvation to the larger world.
     What small step might you take this week to break down a barrier that divides people from one another?
     And here’s a third small step God may be calling you and me to make this week.  Invite someone to a worship service or a church event.  Three days from now, my phone alarm will go off reminding me that it is the 1st day of the month which means that I need to be thinking of at least two people to invite to church during the month of May. 
     I will write down names of people who come to mind that I might invite to our church. It’s amazing how God opens up opportunities to extend a simple invitation to come to church some Sunday.  Whenever somebody joins the church, it’s usually because someone has taken the time to personally invite them.
     What small step is God calling you to take this week in inviting someone to church?
     As a parent, I can remember how excited Penny and I were when our kids took their very first step.  We called our families long distance to tell them the good news and we made a big deal about that one small step.
     I just want you to know that every time you or I take one small step in having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or breaking down a barrier that separates people, or inviting someone to church, God is overjoyed and heaven celebrates.  Who knows how your one small step will change your life or the life of another person? 
     Your small step might not get you on a plaque in a McDonald’s restaurant.  But that one small step along with my small step, eventually, just might transform the world.

Sunday Worship Preview - May 5

Sunday, May 5 - (7:30, 9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, May 8  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Facing the Future"

Features - 6th Sunday of Easter & Holy Communion

Scripture - Revelation 21:10, 22-27; 22:1-5 & John 14:23-29

Theme - Jesus prepared his disciples for the future. As we prepare for the future, Jesus offers us peace and reassuring words to not let our hearts be troubled or be afraid.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - April 28

Sunday, April 28 - (7:30, 9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, May 1  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "One Small Step"

Features - 5th Sunday of Easter & Holy Baptism (9:00 am)

Scripture - Acts 11:1-18 & John 13:31-35

Theme - In our Book of Acts reading, Peter made one small step insdie a Gentile home that led the church to begin sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with people outside the Jewish community as well as inside. Most of us would not be worshipping in a church today without Peter's one small step. What small step is God calling you to make in sharing the good news of our faith with others? All it takes is one small step.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dave's Deep Thoughts - The "Double Diamond" & Leaning Forward in Faith

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.
So which is crazier......
to snow ski down an Olympic class double diamond slope,
or to snow ski without a shirt on?
It's known by locals as "the beer can."
It is the final lift that takes you to the very top of the mountain.
It's called the beer can because its shape
resembles an aluminum can.
To get to to the beer can,
you have to take the John Paul Tram,
a high speed gondola that wisks you 3,000 feet above the
base of the mountain resort.
When you step off the John Paul tram,
you breathe in the thin air found at 12,000 feet above sea level.....
and you see that there is one more lift to take...
the beer can.
The beer can takes you up the final 700 feet
to the top of the mountain line,
to the Grizzly Downhill.
As you ride the beer can to the crest,
you notice that the incline is significantly more severe......
so severe that trees have given up trying to root into the mountain.
When you get off the beer can,
signs tell you that you can see two other states
from where you are standing.
Then, there is the sign that tells you all you need to know
Double Diamond
In skier terminology,
a green circle trail means "easiest"
a blue square trail means "more difficult"
and a black single diamond trail means most difficult.
Double diamond?
You might as well post the sign from
the Wizard of Oz Haunted Forest....
"I'd turn back if I was you"
There should be a law firm
available at the top of the slope
to allow you to write your last will and testimony.
I'm sure after the spring melt,
carcasses of overconfident skiers are retrieved for burial.
And I'm very sure
that if a skier has never before met Jesus,
he does so, several times,
at the top of the Grizzly Downhill.
The Grizzly Downhill
is the trail used for the men's downhill competition
at the 2002 Olympics.
Olympic caliber skiers launch off the precipice at full throttle,
a 3,000 vertical drop,
to the surge of an adrenaline rush,
and to the cheer of adoring fans at the finish lne.
Good skiers stand perplexed as they strategize
how to navigate slowly down the cliff
so as to avoid the loss of limb and pride.
Average skiers surrender their medical cards to the attendant
so that vital information can be relayed ahead of time
to the local hospital's emergency room.
The Grizzly Downhill is so steep that trees have given up trying to grow sideways.
Squirrels have been seen with high altitude nose bleeds.
Vultures would hover over skiers who don't make it.....
but they can't fly that high.
There is a simple but difficult solution
to the Grizzly Downhill.
Lean forward.
You read that correctly........
lean forward.
A human being's first instinct
when on a steep incline,
is to lean back into the incline.
This is wonderful advice for roofers,
but lousy advice for skiers.
When a skier leans back,
he destroys all sense of balance on the skis.
It is only in leaning forward
that a skier can position himself to allow
his body weight to command the skis to turn.
Leaning back will inevitably
lead to a skier's demise.
Leaning forward
allows a skier to be in control
even when it feels like the last thing he should do.
I wouldn't recommend learning to lean forward on a double diamond.
I think I'd start on a green circle or a blue square.
But everyone has to start somewhere.
It takes practice,
It takes time,
but most of all,
it takes faith.....
Faith, that in this case,
takes prioirty over instincts.
It's the type of faith
that Jesus called for.
Don't believe me?
Listen to the Lord of creation command you to step out onto water.
Listen to the One who feeds your soul tell you to use your
small lunch to feed many.
Listen to the One who is the Truth tell you to share the gospel
to those who don't want to hear it.
It comes with practice
It comes as we trust
It comes so that we can safely navigate
the double diamonds of our life.
It is so much easier to listen to the world say,
"I'd turn back if I was you."
but we grow stronger in faith
as we learn to listen to the One who is the Way.
As for having skied down the Grizzly Downhill.
Yes, I have done so and have lived to tell about it.
As for the skiing shirtless.......
Guity as charged.
Sometimes faith is just plain crazy,
but what a ride........
"Truly I say to you,
Whoever says to this mountain,
'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does
not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him."
Mark 11:23

Lectionary Bible Commentary for Sunday, April 21

Sunday, April 21

Psalm 23

Shepherding is a common image in the Psalms – See Psalm 28:9, 77:20, 78:52, 79:13, 80:1, 95:7, & 100:3

v. 1 – The central theme is that God’s care is sufficient for our needs.

vv. 2-4 – Our shepherd provides us with rest, guidance, & protection.

vv. 5-6 – Our shepherd is a gracious host. We are not afraid of adversaries because of God’s protection and blessings. The psalmist can look back and instead of seeing an enemy, can see God’s goodness and mercy following him.

This Psalm speaks to us in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon terrorist act. The Lord is with us even as we know that there are enemies that seek to do us harm.

My story this past week when I read Psalm 23 to a church member in a nursing home who was agitated and this psalm provided him with a sense of peace.

John 10:22-30

During the Hanukkah dedication, Jesus is on the Temple grounds. Jesus is asked if he is the Messiah, the one who will finally bring about God’s kingdom on earth.

Hanukkah relates to the time when in 167 BC, an empire took over the Temple from the Jews, killed several of them, and began worshipping their own gods there. A group of Jewish people revolted and took back the Temple. Three years after this, the Jewish people purified the Temple and established the new Jewish celebration of Hanukkah to be observed every year. Every time Jewish people celebrated Hanukkah, they would remember this victory over the enemy. But now, approximately 200 years later, Jesus is claiming to be the true King of Israel. Many Jews are beginning to say that Jesus is crazy for thinking such a thing since he has been promoting only peace and an anti-violent type of kingdom. Think of a Quaker trying to promote peace the day after the Pearl Harbor attack!

v. 24 – The godly actions of Jesus show that he is the Messiah.

v. 27 – Those who believe are his sheep.

v. 28 – God’s sheep will be protected for eternity.

Why Does God Hide?

Sheridan Voysey, speaker and author, is one of my favorite bloggers. I like Sheridan because he speaks a refreshing word to people who question God's existence and to believers who struggle with doubts in their faith. Unlike Christian apologists who try to use carefully worded arguments to somehow prove that God exists, Sheridan takes a more biblical approach which highlights hints of God's presence that point us to the reality of God at work in the world.

For some, these hints of God's presence lead to a vital faith while for others, these hints are way too subtle for their liking.  Sheridan reminds us that God doesn't force us into belief. Instead we are left with hints here and there - an unexpected gorgeous sunset, some grave clothes rolled up in an empty tomb, the reading of a psalm that mysteriously calms a man in a nursing home who has been very agitated, a sense of peace for a nervous preacher who is about to preach an important sermon in front of TV cameras, a toddler who lays out two shoes strings on the floor in the form of a cross that helps his father know that everything will be OK, and a pillar of fire providing just enough light for the Israelites to travel by night through the wilderness just to name a few that come to mind.

In a recent podcast which is a sermon he preached at a church in Oxford, England, Sheridan explores the topic, "Why Does God Hide." Below is a short description:

Why is God invisible? Why doesn’t he ‘appear’ in front of us? Even when he does appear, as he did plenty of times to the Israelites, he comes disguised as a pillar of cloud, a whisper, or a burning bush. Even Jesus – God in human form – wasn’t instantly recognisable after his resurrection. Why is so God hidden? In short, God hides so we will seek him. He scatters a trail of breadcrumbs, enticing us to discover who scattered them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Prayer for the Victims at the Boston Marathon

At times like this, I especially appreciate the well thought out prayers of church leaders who seem to be able to express what I struggle to say in my own prayers.  May our prayers surround all of the victims of this senseless tragedy that happened yesterday in Boston.

Presiding Episcopal Bishop’s Prayer for the Victims at the Boston Marathon
via Episcopal News Service

Gracious God, you walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. We pray that the suffering and terrorized be surrounded by the incarnate presence of the crucified and risen one. May every human being be reminded of the precious gift of life you entered to share with us. May our hearts be pierced with compassion for those who suffer, and for those who have inflicted this violence, for your love is the only healing balm we know. May the dead be received into your enfolding arms, and may your friends show the grieving they are not alone as they walk this vale of tears. All this we pray in the name of the one who walked the road to Calvary. Amen.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Capitol Area South District Superintendent - Rev. Kathy Brown

Below is a letter from Bishop Palmer regarding the recent announcement that Rev. Kathy Brown will be our new District Superintendent of the Capitol Area South District effective July 1st. Recently, our present District Superintendent, Rev. Barb Sholis was appointed to serve as the Assistant to the Bishop effective the same date.

Rev. Barb Sholis will be preaching this Sunday, April 21 at our church. It will be a time for us to thank Barb for her service to our district and offer her our support and blessings in this time of transition in her life.

April 15, 2013
Dear Beloved in the Risen Christ,

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Rev. Kathleen Brown to serve as the West Ohio Conference Superintendent for the Capitol Area South District, effective July 1, 2013. Rev. Brown will follow Rev. Barbara Sholis, who will begin a new appointment as Assistant to the Bishop in July.

Rev. Brown is currently serving as the Assistant to the Superintendent of the Maumee Watershed District in Northwest Ohio. Previously she held positions within local church leadership, as an appointed Pastor and as Chair of both the Miami Valley District Committee on Ordained Ministry and the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.

Kathy first heard the call to ministry while serving as secretary at her home church, what is now Crossroads United Methodist Church in the Hilltop area of Columbus. Following that call has allowed her to witness firsthand the transformative power of God in her own life and in others. Her breadth of experience at all levels of local church leadership, district leadership and conference leadership shows a unique preparedness for this new role as a conference superintendent.

Kathy received a B.A. from Otterbein College in 1989 and an M.Div from Methodist Theological School in Ohio in 1993, where she was an Alford Scholar. She was ordained an Elder in the West Ohio Conference in 1995 and served as Associate Pastor at Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church, Pastor at Concord United Methodist Church in Englewood, and Pastor at Belmont United Methodist Church in Dayton. Through all of her appointments and service, Rev. Brown has shown an emphasis on relationships and connection, and her desire to work as part of a team will be an enormous asset.

As Superintendent, Rev. Brown will have spiritual and administrative oversight for 123 congregations and numerous mission sites and projects. She will also become a member of the Bishop’s Cabinet, assisting in the appointment of all pastors in the West Ohio Conference and the leadership of the entire conference. Kathy has shown an impressive caring and experiential understanding of the role of clergy leadership and the power of call in the local church, as well as a depth of faith and commitment to serving Jesus Christ through The United Methodist Church in West Ohio.

Kathy is married to Charles and together they have three grown children and six grandchildren. Their daughter, Amy Wood, is also an ordained elder in the West Ohio Conference, serving as an Associate Pastor at New Albany United Methodist Church.

As Rev. Brown and her family prepare to transition to this new role of service in July, I ask that you be in prayer for Kathy and for all of our leadership as we serve together in our shared mission and ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Your servant through the Risen Christ,

Gregory V. Palmer
Resident Bishop

Sermon By Rev. Cheryl Foulk (April 14) "Like a Good Neighbor"

Like a good neighbor.... 
It has been said that “a bad neighbor is a misfortune, as much as a good one is a great blessing.”  

Neighbors come in all shapes and sizes and stripes.

A man was concerned about the condition of his neighbor's house which was run down. The garage door was coming off its' hinges. Two old cars sat out front.

Obvious that things were not being taken care of.  He called code enforcement ,reported his neighbor and she was ticketed.  He was talking about this with another neighbor who said “Yes she  has been having a rough time. She had to quit work to care for her mom who has cancer. For the last several months, she has been with her mom 24/7.”   The guy had a moment of truth; he had no idea what was going on with his struggling neighbor.

He  is not alone in being out of touch with his neighborhood. For many of us, we are gone to work all day, and then we come home to  retreat behind our front doors and fences in our back yards. 

Let's take a quiz.  Take out your block map. Can you identify the 8 households nearest you? 

In each of the 8 squares on the block map write down their names.  How did you do? 

Generally 10% of people are able to write in all eight names.

If you went on to write down something about your 8 neighbors ( where they work, ages of the kids, for example) only 3% can do that.  And if you are able to write down some deeper  info (dreams, the hopes of said neighbors) less than 1% can do that.   I fail miserably at this exercise. I have lived on Marne Rd in Newark for almost 2 years. I know the full name of 1 neighbor and partial names of two other households. I don't know who the other folks are. But I have my suspicions...

In Jesus teaching  ( called the  Great Commandment) he said to love God  with everything we have and to love our neighbors. What if he meant our actual neighbors ? ( the ones with the barking dogs, the loud music, the odd habits, the ones who return borrowed items broken)    Yes, those neighbors.   Loving our neighbor can be a vague concept until we  really knock on the door and meet face to face. Like  Linus (from “Peanuts” )  we can say we love all humanity, it is people that we can't stand. Jesus' teaching speaks of building relationships with those that we live next door to.  Uniquely, our neighbors are in our path on a daily basis; they don't go away.

This concept of the art of neighboring is being presented  in a variety of churches  here in Lancaster during the month of April. It is a  national initiative as many churches across the U.S. are taking part.

The art of neighboring project began in  the Denver Colorado area where city officials had met with church leaders. In response to the pastors' question as to what churches could do to improve their communities,  the mayor said: “The majority of the issues that our city is facing could be drastically impacted if we could just become a community of great neighbors.”    

He was saying that there would be positive changes if we  actually live out the great commandment.

First challenge is to learn the names of those who live around us. It is not easy  to love someone if you don't even know their name.  I encourage you to start learning names this week.  Put the block map on your refrigerator as a reminder.

Take a walk in your neighbor hood, and speak to folks that you see outside. Introduce yourself. These are basic steps in neighboring that we take for granted.

A young family  (Tom and Angela)made one change that helped them in getting to know their neighbors. They moved their lawn chairs and the swing from the backyard to the front yard.  This action helped them to became more visible to their neighbors. Children and then adults began to stop by. These interactions led to barbecues and potlucks and deeper friendships. Angela said “Many of our neighbors still tend to hibernate during the winter months. But by spending time together every summer, we've developed a level of trust and respect for each other.”

One person that I visit looks forward to warmer weather so that she can sit on her porch and  can visit with her neighbors. She is in her 90's.  Is her expectation of neighboring becoming  a lost art?

What prevents us from reaching out to our neighbors?

Time and priorities- The reality is our schedules are busy. Are we willing to take advantage of an opportunity to relate? A man saw his neighbor working on his car; he decided to leave his computer game and go out and spent time with his neighbor.  They talked about cars and family and got to know each other better.

Are we willing to be available and to let our lives be interrupted?   Young mom felt uneasy when people dropped in because her house was usually in a mess with three small children. She is working on her attitude and said  “If I wait for my house or my life to be perfect before ever inviting someone into it, I just might never let anyone in.”

Lack of trust and misunderstanding:  who are these people, am I safe ?

A new family wanted to meet their neighbors and so they practiced reverse hospitality. They took pies to those around them. Most folks appreciated their gift. However  one neighbor would not answer the door, and shouted that they did not want to buy anything. Even with further contact, it  took awhile before that family would even  return a friendly wave.  Later that family  told them that the only people that ever came to their house were salesmen,and  that is why they didn't respond positively.

Value.  We may wonder : what's in it for me? Why ask for trouble?  I'm content with my own family and friends.

Basically, Jesus has asked us to.

Our attitudes toward our neighbors reveals things about our own faith.  The Gospel passage

(Luke 6:27-38) speaks of loving our enemies, those  who are different from ourselves,  and showing compassion and  giving of ourselves.

When we are more aware of what is going on in our neighborhoods, we can reach out when there has been a life change for a neighbor . ( move, birth, death,illness etc.) These are opportunities, doorways for connecting.We can be on the lookout  to see where we can be part of  God's work in the lives of our  neighbors.

Our goal is to move from  Stranger- Acquaintance- Relationship

Remember the  guy that I mentioned  who had reported his neighbor ? When he learned her story, he got a few other neighbors to join with him and they fixed the garage door, hung up her gutters, and got one of the cars working. They let her know that she wasn't alone, that there were people nearby who cared.

We are not going to become best friends with everyone on the block.  Some folks will not want to know us any better. There are some situations that we cannot be involved in. But through our caring,  there  will be someone who  will become a new friend.

Jesus enjoyed gatherings and  was criticized for  being at parties.  He realized the value of just being together and sharing food.

The art of neighboring includes the fun part of getting folks together to meet one another and share a meal.

The weather will be warming up.  In the next months, could you initiate a block party, a neighborhood gathering by Labor Day ?  It could be just a few households getting together.  Think about whom you could partner with to plan a get together.  I believe that there are others nearby who would join with you.  A neighbor of mine surprised us last night with homemade beef and noodles. I told her about my idea of having a neighborhood picnic. She is a not quite sure of the idea  but we will continue to talk about it. Who knows what the summer may hold!

 Diane  was part of the neighboring initiative and felt  compelled to meet her neighbors. She had lived next door to a lady for 10 years whom she had not gotten to know. So she made a point of visiting with her and then  found out that her neighbor was from Germany. She also found out that she was a Holocaust survivor. All this time she had never known.  Diane said  “ I am learning that there are people right around me that have incredible things to share with me and others. Living next door to a gold mine, but I was too busy to know that there was gold right next door.”   

As followers of Jesus we are called to simply love people. In God's eyes it is a powerful and significant thing to do.

Henri Nouwen wrote in one of his books: “We become neighbors when we are willing to cross the road for one another. (...) There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the road once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might indeed become neighbors.”

What investment does God expect you and me to make in our  neighbors? Does it involve love? sacrifice? service?

Let's pray for our neighborhoods and about how we can love our neighbors.

This sermon is based on the content of the book: The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door  by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon.