A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - August 4

Sunday, August 4 - (9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, August 7  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "License Plate Sightings:  ENUF"

Features - 11th Sunday After Pentecost & Holy Communion

Scripture - Luke 12:13-21

Theme - Vanity license plates are popular because they send subtel or not so subtel messages to other motorists. On this Sunday, Jesus is sending us a message on the importance of sacrificial giving.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Getting "Discipled"

During my run today, a coach was walking toward me on the bike path. As we were passing each other, he said in a very clear voice, "Good morning!"  It sounded very genuine and intentional as if he wanted to make sure I heard him.

About a hundred yards up the bike path, a group of what I suppose were his field hockey team were fast approaching me as I continued my run. Call it a sixth sense or chalk it up to past history playing sports, I thought to myself, "I bet when I run by these players they will do the same thing."  And sure enough, one by one, they said to me, "Good morning!" just like their coach had said to me.

It became very obvious at that point that this coach had intentionally taught his players a life skill. Greet people you see with a positive word.

I don't know if these players realized it or not, but they had been "discipled." They were doing what their leader had taught them to do.

On this St. James Feast Day, we remember this faithful disciple of Jesus. He, along with the other disciples followed Jesus' every move and in many ways they lived out his teachings. Jesus modeled what it meant to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. James had been "discipled" by Jesus.

How do we allow Jesus to disciple us today? By reading scripture, praying, worshipping, giving, and serving on a regular basis? May each day be a day that we allow Jesus to disciple us.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why I Love First - First Community Kitchen Ministry

We shared this inspiring video of our weekly Community Kitchen lunch ministry during our July 21 worship services. This video is part of a district wide contest which includes about nine other videos submitted by various churches. A big thanks to our Director of Creative Ministries, John Coen for producing this video. To vote, go to this website, www.umcommin.org beginning, noon, Monday, July 22 and look for the videos link to view the videos and vote. .

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sermon (July 28) - "License Plate Sightings: NOK2OPN

    Have you seen any interesting vanity license plates recently? Many of you have been sharing some of the plates that you’ve seen out on the roads. The messages on these plates are not always easy to decipher but they’re fun to figure out what the driver is trying to convey.
     During these summer Sundays, we’re following Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel of Luke and thinking about the message that he wants us convey to us. What is the vanity license plate for this Sunday?
     Many of you have figured this out. It’s “Knock two open.” By the way, I have never spent more time on figuring out sermon titles than I have by doing this series on vanity license plates.
     The message Jesus has for us today comes from when he was teaching the disciples about the importance of prayer.  And in this scripture reading, Jesus encourages us to pray what we call, “The Lord’s Prayer.” 
      Now, a lot of us know the Lord’s Prayer or at least we know what somebody means when they refer to The Lord’s Prayer. 
     Maybe you have heard of the two Christians who were trying to outdo each other. The conversation came around to prayer. One said, “I’ll bet you $20 you can’t even say the Lord’s Prayer.”
     The other replied, “It’s a bet.” And so he began. “Now I lay me down to sleep…”
     The first man interrupted him and said, “OK, here’s your money. I didn’t think you could do it!”
     Has this prayer become so familiar that we have forgotten its meaning?
     The gospel writer, Luke is known to be interested in two things more than any of the other three Gospels and both of those two things are included in our scripture reading for today – Jesus’ prayer life and the Holy Spirit.
     Jesus not only teaches about the importance of prayer in our scripture reading but he models it.  Notice that the only reason the disciples asked Jesus about how to pray was because they saw him doing it. 
     Even better than having religious vanity license plates is when we practice our faith. When we practice our faith, people become curious. When they see us praying, they become more interested about prayer because they can see that it is a priority in our lives.
     Several years ago, William Hendricks noticed that thousands of people were leaving American churches every week and never going back.  And so he investigated why this was happening.
     In his book entitled Exit Interviews: Revealing Stories of Why People Are Leaving Church, written back in 1993, Hendricks shares that two-thirds of people who attended church said they didn’t experience God on a regular basis in the worship experience of their church. They attended these churches hoping that somebody would teach them to pray and they left feeling very empty and disappointed. 
     Fifteen years after Hendricks wrote his book, Julia Duin did the same kind of research.  And she discovered exactly what Hendricks had found. She found that the worshippers who had given up on attending church wanted to know how to pray and nobody was doing it in an authentic and meaningful way.
     We may feel a little clumsy at prayer and that’s OK because like a lot of things in life, the more we practice it, the more natural it becomes. At first, it may feel a little counter intuitive to set aside our calendars, our cell phones, and the TV remote and pray instead.
     Jesus was aware that it can be difficult for us to have prayer become part of our regular daily routine in life.  And so he tells his disciples to be persistent in prayer.  He tells us to ask, seek, and knock.  I like it that he uses these three imperatives, these three action words to help us to start praying.
     If you can ask, seek, and knock, then you can be well on your way to having a very meaningful prayer life. Sometimes, we approach prayer so passively that we never get around to praying at all.
     For example, someone might reason that if God wants me to get that job, then I’ll get it and there’s really no need for me to pray.  Or we might think to ourselves that the last time I prayed about getting something I really wanted, it didn’t happen and that just led to disappointment so I’m not going to pray the next time.
     Jesus is saying that prayer is so much more than us snapping our fingers and hoping that God will give us what we want or think we need. Prayer is about asking, seeking, and knocking so that we can become more attentive to the direction that God is opening up for us. What we think was a prayer that landed on deaf ears was really a prayer that was beginning the process of helping us to listen for God’s voice.
     It’s been said that God answers prayers in four ways which are 1) No, not yet. 2) No, I love you too much. 3) Yes, I thought you’d never ask. And 4) Yes, and here’s more.
     Even the first response, “No, not yet” implies that God is listening and is responding to us. But sometimes we assume that because the answer was no that God just doesn’t care. Nothing could be further from the truth according to what Jesus is teaching us about prayer in this scripture reading.
     And underneath all of what Jesus is teaching us about prayer is this basic theological truth that we find throughout all of scriptures from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation. And that truth is, God loves you and is always offering you good gifts.
     Jesus even uses a wild comparison to get his point across. If your child would ask for fish for dinner, what parent in their right mind would serve up snakes instead?  Or what parent would give their child a scorpion when all he or she wanted was some scrambled eggs for breakfast?
     Jesus is saying that it would be just as crazy and just as ludicrous if God would respond to our prayers by harming us. That’s not who God is. God is a loving parent who wants us to have everything we need.
    Jesus is telling us that if we want to experience an authentic prayer life, all we need to do is ask, search, and knock and the door of God’s love and God’s grace will be opened to us. Ask, search, and knock. Be persistent.
     I like it that Jesus gave us a specific prayer to pray. Not only was Jesus praying which caused the disciples to want to learn how to pray, but he gave them a sample prayer, the Lord’s Prayer.
     Let me highlight four parts of this great prayer that Jesus has offered us. And the first part is how Jesus begins this prayer.  He says, “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom comes.”
     When we knock and open the door of God’s good gifts, it’s good to begin by first acknowledging who God is.  God is our loving parent who wants the Kingdom of God to be made real on this earth. What a great way to begin a prayer by reminding ourselves to whom we are praying and what the goal of our prayer should be which is for God’s kingdom to come on earth.
     The second part of the Lord’s Prayer is to invite God to supply our basic needs. Give us this day our daily bread.  Sometimes our focus is on our wants that we forget to thank God for providing for our needs.
     The third part of the prayer is to ask God to forgive us our sins.  This is the humble part of the prayer because we acknowledge where we have not lived in harmony with God and those around us. “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” God wants us to live in community and you can’t have community without forgiveness.
     And the fourth part of this great prayer. “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Now, we all face different trials from time to time and trials can actually strengthen us and make us better for having faced them. But there’s also a kind of trial that can defeat us. It’s the trial that would take us from our families, our jobs, our self-respect, and even our souls. 
     When we are persistent in praying which is what Jesus wants us to do in this scripture passage, then we will become more aware of the trials that would keep us from being the people we are called to be. Praying isn’t just about getting God to do things for us. Prayer is about reminding ourselves of what it truly important.
     Jesus offers us a lot to think about in his teachings on prayer.  But the main thing he wants us to know is that if we really want to be a people of prayer, then we need to remember to knock and the door will be opened to us.
    Many of us are familiar with Adam Hamilton. He’s the pastor Church of the Resurrection, the largest United Methodist Church in the country located in Kansas City. This past January, Adam was invited to preach at the inauguration worship service at the National Cathedral in Washington DC.
     Even though he speaks to large crowds each week at his church, he was very nervous. There was the president, the vice-president, members of the cabinet, many members of congress, and C-Span cameras broadcasting this event.
     He said that just before it was time for him to get up to deliver his sermon, that he became unusually nervous. All of the sudden, he became overwhelmed by the national spotlight.  He started to think, “What if I trip and fall while climbing up the steps of the large stone pulpit? What if I make a mistake and say something that I will regret? What if my pounding heart doesn’t stop pounding?”
     And that’s when he remembered all of the people who were praying for him back at his church in Kansas City. As he thought about those many prayers that were being lifted on his behalf in that very moment, a sense of peace came over him. He didn’t feel as nervous anymore. He felt God’s presence with him and he ended up delivering quite a powerful and prophetic message to some of the most influential people of our country.
     Jesus tells us to ask, search, and knock and the door will be opened for you. You might not be asked to preach at the National Cathedral in front of the members of Congress, but you may be nervously waiting to become part of a new ministry in the church, or offer devotions in your small group, or walk in for a job interview, or hear the results of your medical test. 
     Whatever it is you may be facing, Jesus reminds us that God has good gifts to offer us. God even offers us a sample prayer to use anytime we’d like.
    Just remember. If you want the door to open, all you have to do is knock.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sermon (July 21) - License Plate Sightings: KISS

     Today, we begin a sermon series called “License Plate Sightings.” We’re going to spend the next several weeks through Labor Day Weekend focusing on Jesus’ teachings from the Gospel of Luke. Each Sunday, we’ll focus on a vanity license plate that will correspond with a particular teaching of Jesus.
     Last summer, the Columbus Dispatch had an article about religious vanity license plates.  The article said that over the past six years, a Bloom Township couple has identified 275 religious vanity license plates while out driving.  These include O GLORY, 1 FAITH, & JC FREAK and some that are a little more difficult to decipher.  Some of the plates include scripture references like LUKE 6 31. That’s the Golden Rule in which Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
      So let’s get started. Our vanity plate for today is KISS.  KISS is a shorthand way of saying, “Keep it simple…saint.” You thought I was going to use a different word,didn’t you? Jesus wants us to remember to keep things simple. I like this K.I.S.S. reminder from Jesus because it’s so easy for us to complicate things end get our focus off of what is vitally important.
     The Gospel writer, Luke, introduces us to Mary and Martha who provide a place for Jesus to stay during his journey.   Mary kept things simple.  She simply sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Jesus, something that I hope we do during this entire sermon series and beyond this series for our daily living - listening to Jesus.  The implication in this story is that Martha also wanted to listen to Jesus but felt that she couldn’t listen to Jesus because of all of the things that needed to get done.  Martha was distracted.
    Whenever I read this story, I can always relate to Martha.  I know that we should be more like Mary and listen to Jesus, but do you want your guest to see dishes in the sink, shoes in front of the couch, an unmade bed, an unclean bathroom, and dirty windows?
     And when you know that you’re going to be entertaining a guest at your house, it’s always good to have a little extra help to clean things up like maybe your sister, Mary…hint, hint, someone like Mary, to come and lend a hand or two to get things ready for your guests. Mary didn’t even bother to ask Martha if she could help her. 
     You got to feel for Martha in all of this.  She wants things to be nice and she wants to be a good host.
     So let me ask us this question.  Was Mary lazy?  Was she unaware of the dishes in the sink, the shoes in front of the couch, the unmade bed, the unclean bathroom, and the dirty windows? 
     I don’t think that Mary was unaware of these things.  I just think that she was more aware of Jesus.
     I mean, how often are you given the opportunity to host the Son of God in your home and listen to Him face to face?  Martha, on the other hand, was more aware of the tasks that had to be completed, than she was with the physical presence of Jesus Christ.
     And so Martha allows her distraction to interrupt this holy moment. Martha tells Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?  Tell her to help me.”
     And Jesus tells Martha, “You are distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
     Do you know what Jesus was telling Martha?  Simplify your life.  Stay focused on me.  Don’t let anything get in the way of our relationship.  Arrange your life in such a way that nothing gets between us.  Keep your life simple.
     What kind of distractions do we allow to get in the way of our relationship with Jesus Christ?  I think it all boils down to external distractions and internal distractions.
     What are some external distractions that can get in the way of us having a vital and growing relationship with Jesus Christ?
     External factors are distractions that are beyond our control. 
     If you are ever preparing for a ministry event that will touch lives for Jesus Christ, expect there to be lots and lots of external distractions getting in your way.  The devil will throw distractions in our path just so that we will take our eyes off of Jesus.
     Just think about the Book of Acts in the New Testament.  There were a lot of external distractions that the apostles had to face.  It’s amazing.  They were thrown in prison, beaten, & often misunderstood by the crowds they were trying to reach for Christ.
     Whenever you try to do something good in the name of Christ, expect external distractions to come your way.  But in the midst of those external distractions that are beyond our control, let us also keep in mind that Jesus promises to see us through those distractions.
     Oswald Chambers the great Christian writer from the last century and who has written the great devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, says this about the trials and external problems that we face as Christians.  “If you are going to be used by God, he will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; they are meant to make you useful in God’s hands.”
     God allows us to encounter external distractions so that we can be more useful in His hands.
     John Wesley, the founder of Methodism once commented during a period of time in his ministry that he must have been doing something wrong because things were going so smoothly for him.
     Churches that aren’t experiencing problems and frustrations are probably not being faithful in their mission.  Christians that aren’t experiencing problems and frustrations are probably not being faithful in their mission.  Jesus himself said, “You will experience tribulations in this world.  Count on it.”
     The keys to handling these external distractions are for us to number one, 1) Expect distractions to happen, and 2) Stay focused on what God wants you to do.  If what we are doing is what God wants us to do, then we don’t need to worry about the external distractions. 
     Cicero once said, “The greater the difficulty, the greater the glory.”   William Shakespeare said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
     In our scripture from Luke’s Gospel, Martha allowed an external distraction, the need to get the house ready for Jesus, to get in the way of her main mission which was to be with Jesus and grow in a personal relationship with Jesus.  She allowed an external distraction, the need to provide hospitality, to get in the way of her relationship with Jesus Christ.
     But in addition to external distractions, we also have to deal with internal distractions.  Unlike external distractions, internal distractions are things that we can control more or less.  For example, even though Martha was dealing with the external distraction of needing to get the house ready for Jesus, she didn’t need to interrupt Jesus and Martha when she did.  In trying to avoid a social faux pa, Martha actually committed one when she interrupted them.
     A good friend of mine served on staff at a large church and he was telling me that his church bought over a hundred devotional books for people in the church who wanted to intentionally read scripture throughout the year. When I talked to my friend a few months later, I asked him how things were going with the devotional books.  And he said, “Most people had let the discipline of reading the scriptures every day go by the wayside.  Most of the people were not even reading the devotional book anymore.” 
     Sometimes, it’s just a matter that we don’t follow through with our commitments.  We allow internal distractions to get in the way of our walk with Jesus Christ.   Why did people in my friend’s church stop reading the devotional book?  They found other things that they wanted to do with their time.
     It takes a real commitment for us to keep things simple in our Christian faith.
     John Wesley had three simple rules for the early Methodists.  Three simple rules. 1) Do no harm. 2) Do good. 3) Stay in love with God.
     That sounds simple enough.  But it’s not always easy is it?  We have to deal with internal distractions all the time. Martha, let her own internal distractions get in the way of that sacred moment.
     Twenty-three years ago, as the sun was setting, I was standing with Penny, our two kids, my mother, my brother, and my two sisters in a cemetery in southeastern Pennsylvania.  We were all standing at the grave of my father one year after he had passed away.
     It was the first time that all of us were together at the grave following the funeral.  We got out of our cars and we talked with each other as we walked across that cemetery until we reached the grave where my father was buried.
     When we arrived around the tombstone, it was an awkward moment for us as we looked at his name on that marker.  There was silence.  Nobody knew what to say.  By the way, silence is sometimes very appropriate, isn’t it?  In our noisy world, we don’t know what to do with silence, but it is a gift when we finally spend some time in silence.
     And so, we stood there for a few minutes without saying a word.  Sometimes we would look toward the west at the beautiful sunset and at other times we would look down the valley at the rolling farmland and housing development that was just beyond those fields.
     And then, just at the right time, just at the right time, my brother broke the silence, by inviting us to pray, and he led us in a beautiful prayer giving thanks to God for dad and for the many good memories of how he shaped and molded our lives, and then he prayed that God would comfort us in our grief.
     It was the perfect prayer at the perfect time.  And that became a very sacred space for us in that moment.
     I needed that prayer.  As a family, we needed to not only stand at the grave, but we needed to experience that sacred moment.
     We hugged each other, we talked for a little bit, and we returned to our cars sensing that we had once again received God’s healing touch in the midst of our grief and loss.
     Jesus is always ready to meet us right where we are, even during the most awkward of times, to bring healing, to bring a word of comfort, to offer His teachings, or to simply surround us with His divine embrace. 
     And this brings me to a final thought about Mary and Martha’s encounter with Jesus – in the midst of distractions both external and internal, we are never separated from the eternal.
     After Martha interrupted Jesus and Mary, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
     Jesus wants us to choose the better part – that is to be always aware of the eternal, to be always conscious of the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives, to not lose our focus on what is really important in our lives.
     This is what Jesus wants to tell us today.  As we go through each day, and face countless numbers of distractions, both external and internal, remember that Jesus is with you and he is the better portion by far.
     And so throughout each day, take some time to be with Jesus.  Invite Jesus to be at the center of what you’re doing that day.  Invite Jesus to put the things of your life into their proper perspective.  Keep a bible handy and focus on a verse or two.  Let Jesus be your focus for the day.  Not the distractions of life.
     Sometimes, if things are feeling a little crazy for me, I just get on my knees and say a simple prayer to help me to keep my focus on Jesus.  It’s a simple prayer from the Russian Orthodox Church that continues to provide inspiration for countless numbers of Christians throughout the world.  Here’s the simple prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the living God:
Have mercy on me, a sinner.
    That’s a great prayer to help you and me to keep things simple when things get a little crazy.  Just three lines that are easy to remember.  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God: Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - July 21

Sunday, July 21 - (9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, July 24  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "License Plate Sightings: KISS"

Features - 9th Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - Luke 10:38-42

Theme - Vanity license plates are popular because they send subtle or not so subtle messages to other motorists. On this Sunday, Jesus is sending us a message from a particular time he spent with two of his followers, Mary and Martha and the importance of simplicity in our daily living.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sermon (July 14) - No Toolbox is Complete without One

     “Do you even know what a plumb line is,” she asked in a surprised tone of voice.  “Well of course I know what a plumb line is.”
     “Well, do you know that it’s a string with a weight at the bottom of it to make sure that a wall is straight?” 
     “That’s what I would have told you if you wouldn’t have interrupted me.”
     Penny just doesn’t get it.  She thinks that I’m not up on my tools.  But the truth is, I’m not as bad as she thinks.
     Never mind, that the one tool box in our house is her tool box.  Never mind that she is the one who remodeled our kitchen.  Truth be told, I know a thing or two about tools.
      When we were first married, we bought a cheap kitchen table and chair set that needed to be assembled, so I got out the tool box and went to work.  Several hours later and with sweat dripping from my forehead (it was in the middle of a hot and humid June day,) I finished the project. 
     There.  See?  I know a thing about tools.  Well, that’s not the whole story.  When my dad visited our apartment for the first time, he took one look at those chairs I put together, and he said, “You put the seats on backward.  Go get the toolbox.”
     I guess that could explain why those chairs didn’t feel very comfortable.
     One year, Penny bought me my own toolbox.  Here’s a picture of it. I keep it in my office.
     Can you imagine, if instead of the prophet Amos, it was me standing there before the Lord in our Old Testament reading?
     Amos, chapter 7, verse 8.  “And the Lord said to me, ‘Robert, what do you see?’  And I said, ‘that thing that you use to make sure that walls are straight.  Not the bubble thing, but the string and the weight thing.’”
     I don’t even think the King James Version would have been able to make that exchange sound better.

     Thank goodness that it’s Amos and not me.  Amos says to the Lord, “Sure, I know what that is.  It’s a plumb line.”   Amos got it right.  But he must have been wondering, “What’s a plumb line have to do with my preaching ministry up here in the northern kingdom of Israel?”

     And that’s when the Lord points out that the plumb line is a symbol of judgment upon the people of Israel.  The Lord has used his plumb line on Israel and has found them to be off-centered in being the people the Lord has called them to be.
     And of course, this message from Amos went over like a lead weight.  Pardon the pun.
     Amaziah, a Priest in the northern kingdom, ends up telling Amos, “You might as well catch the next plane back to the southern kingdom because we don’t want what you’re selling.  Who invited you here anyway?  You can talk till you’re blue in the face about the drug problem in Lancaster, the high percentage of people living in poverty, or how half of the  population around here has no church affiliation, but get real, Amos.  At some point, people need to help themselves.  And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
     Again, if it was me instead of Amos, I might say something like, “Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.”  And leave it at that.  But no.  Amos just doesn’t know when to stop.
     He goes on to tell Amaziah, “Oh, by the way.  I may be from the wrong side of the tracks.  But that didn’t stop the Lord from giving me another message to tell you.”
     We as the readers are saying, “Don’t say anything else, Amos.  You’ve said enough already.  Don’t say what we think you’re going to say next.  Don’t do it.  Oh no.  He’s actually going to say it, isn’t he?”
     Amos says, “Oh yea.  There’s one more thing.  Your wife is going to become a prostitute and your sons and daughters are going to die by the sword.”
     We cringe and we want to say to Amos, “OK,  Amos.  Way too much information.  But we gotta hand it to you.  You stood up to them.”
     Can you believe these prophets?  The Lord gives them a word of judgment and they don’t back down.
     They call Amos one of the 12 Minor Prophets, but there’s nothing minor about this mouthpiece of God. 
     Prophets by their very nature scare us to a large degree.  I was speaking with a member of another church and he was telling me about his involvement on the staff/parish relations committee of his church.  And he said, “Yeah.  We had a problem with one of our pastors years ago and we asked for a new minister.”  “What did he do,” I asked, not knowing if I really wanted to hear this.  “He upset a lot of our people because of his anti-war sermons and our congregation is very patriotic.”
     Sarcastically I wanted to respond by asking, “By any chance, did he go by the name of Amos?”
     Amos wasn’t telling Amaziah something that he didn’t already know.  He would have known that the God of Israel was a God who cared about the poor and the marginalized.  He would have known that the people of Israel were meant to be a light to the world, and not a light unto themselves.
     The truth is – we can know something to be true and yet live in a way that defies that truth about God and ourselves.
     So what Amos is actually doing in his role as prophet, is reminding the people of Israel of who they are called to be.  A people who are called to be faithful.  A people who are called to change their ways when they fail to be the people God has called them to be.
     That’s why we need people like Amos who will get out that plumb line and show us where we have gotten off centered.  
     You know.  It’s not easy to stay centered without the help of a plumb line.
     We Methodists have a built in plumb line methodology in our history.  They’re called classes or small groups.  John Wesley knew that unless we had other followers of Jesus assisting us in our journey of faith on a regular basis, we might not realize that we’re off centered until it’s too late.
     “How is it with your soul?” those early Methodists would ask each other every time they met in those classes.  And depending on how each person would answer that question, the Methodists in that group would either celebrate that person’s strong faith, or they would offer encouragement and hold that person accountable to stay faithful in their walk with Christ.
     Some historians have claimed that if it wasn’t for those Methodist classes reaching out to the people on the fringe and bringing transformation and hope to their communities, 18th century England would have been ripe for a political revolution.
     One of our modern day prophets is a man by the name of George Barna, a Christian research expert who studies the trends and patterns of the Christian faith for our own day and age.  Whenever I see an article or a new book put out by Barna, I am often tempted to put my head in the sand, because I know that what he will say, will force me to rethink what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ in the 21st century. 
     Unlike little known Amos who was from the single traffic light town of Tekoa, located just south of Bethlehem, Barna has for many years been a well respected and well known researcher respected by a multitude of Christian faith traditions.
     One of his books is entitled, “Revolution,” in which he uses several years’ worth of data to foretell a Revolution he says will impact every Christian in America.
     Here are some of the highlights from his book.  He claims that there are 20 million people in America who indicate that they want God to be a top priority in their lives but who do not find the conventional church as the best way for them to express their faith.  They’re not into going to church just for the sake of going to church.  They want to be the church.
     They make this distinction by saying that they want to be part of a community of faith filled with other church members who share their same depth of commitment as followers of Jesus Christ. 
     Based on his research, he speculates that by the year 2025, just twelve years from now, the majority of conventional churches will see the number of people attending church cut in half, unless we make a commitment to reach people through the use of media, arts, and other cultural forms in the context of a deeply Christ centered community of faith.
     Sounding much like a prophet, Barna predicts that the established church will by and large, not respond to this opportunity.  And he drops a plumb line right next to our church here at the corner of Wheeling and High Streets and offers five reasons why: 
     First of all, it’s a different way of going about ministry. 
     Second of all, it requires a change in thinking and behavior. 
     Third, it threatens the present model of the conventional church.
     Fourth, it places more power and authority with the people and less with committees. 
     And the fifth reason is that decision making within the church will need to happen at a much faster pace which the present day church is often not prepared to do.
     Barna’s advice to conventional people like me?  You don’t have to like it, but you’d better understand it and begin shaping the church to meet these new trends.  This isn’t about a revolution in theology.  It’s about a revolution of hearts and methods.
     The good news is that surprisingly, I don’t find myself wanting to pull an Amaziah and slam the door on Barna and say, “Thanks but no thanks.”
     Why?  Because what Barna is telling us is not new information.  Just like Amos wasn’t giving Amaziah any new information.  What Barna is telling us should be leading us to say things like, “Oh yeah.  He’s right.  That’s how we Methodists got started in the first place.  Let’s be who we’ve always been called to be.”
     Those early Methodists were nothing less than revolutionaries.  They were able to reach people that the established church wasn’t even trying to reach.  In its early years, Methodism was a movement,  not a church.
     Frankly, I’m glad to know that God cares enough about the church that he goes to all the trouble to send prophets like Amos and Barna our way.  Who doesn’t like a good challenge now and then?  And our challenge is this:  To be a vibrant and growing church.  To be disciples and not just members.  To take the church into the community and not just take care of our own.
     Amos forces us to take a good and hard look at ourselves.  He drops the plumb line right before our eyes to show us if we really mean it when we say that our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
     After swaying back and forth, the plumb line finally comes to a stop.
     This week, I invite us to think about where our church stands in relation to Amos’s plumb line.  And what kind of church is God calling us to be over the next 12 years? Share your thoughts with at least one other person before the end of this week and then here’s the real challenge.
     I challenge us to take the necessary steps to be the church God is calling us to be.  Let’s ask ourselves, “What do we need to be doing now so that we can continue to be a growing and vibrant church for the future?”  And then, let’s do it.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sermon by Rev. Cheryl Foulk (June 30) - "Next in Line"

Who has influenced your life in a positive way?

Who has  helped you to become the person that you are? 

If they had not taken time for you, would your life have been the same?

Fred Rogers, of  the children's television  program, “Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood “, was giving a speech at the White House and he asked the audience a similar question. He had the people assembled there to spend  a minute  in silence. He invited them to remember someone who had made a difference in the person that each of them had become.

After wards a young military guard that was present thanked Mr. Rogers.  He explained that he hadn't thought about his  grandpa's brother in years, but he is the one who gave him his favorite fishing rod.  He realized that's why he liked  to fish so much now, and why he liked to show neighborhood kids how to fish. He was grateful to Mr. Rogers for affirming that memory in his heart.

Have you thought of someone?  In my life, there have been many people

Who have mentored  me along the way. I would like to share with you about two of them. When I was eight years old my grandmother died and I missed her very much. There was a woman in our community ,Granny Scott , who had many grandchildren, and there were usually several grandchildren living with her .  She invited me to  come to her house and I would stop after school. Around her large kitchen table, we would sit with cake warm from the oven and there would be kids coming and going  and laughter and chaos and lots of love. I learned that she accepted everyone who sat at her table.

When I was in fourth grade , our pastor was Rev. George Smith and he was a reserved man who always wore a starched shirt and suit. He even mowed his lawn in his suit, minus his jacket! Even though there was a formality about him, he was accessible, and he listened to my questions. Most importantly he let me borrow books from his church study. He was an avid reader and had a full library. I especially liked the ones  about  Dr. Albert Schweitzer who was a medical missionary  to west Africa.. I would pour over the photos of the people of Gabon and the clinic that Dr. Schweitzer  operated. I learned there  are people in trouble in this world and God may call us to go and help them. God might even be calling me...

We are influencing people all the time. Your actions make an impression on someone else. It is not “whether” we will influence someone but “how.”  It has been estimated that we could influence 10,000 people in a lifetime  (which comes to  about three people a week.)

We are looking at Elijah again this morning. This is our fourth Sunday to study him and we'll do a quick review of his life. He is considered  one of the greatest Hebrew prophets. He spoke out against the wrongs that he saw in his society. He won a showdown against the prophets of Baal and then had them killed. Consequently, he was on the 'most wanted list' of the king/queen.  Elijah ran away depressed and afraid.  In the midst of a storm, Elijah sensed God's presence in the silence.  Whenever he was in danger or in need, God provided for him. His faith in God never wavered, and he wanted the people of Israel to trust  God as he did. Elijah is a person who could teach you about fear and courage.

He became a teacher and a mentor for a young man named Elisha.  Elisha was a farmer out in the field plowing and   Elijah invited him to  come and be his assistant, his servant.  Elisha watches and listens to Elijah as  Elijah lives out his faith .  He hears Elijah speak the truth even to the king. We have little details of their time together.  We have the story of how they met and the story of how their relationship ended (which was our O.T. reading for today).

Walking along together, the two come to Jordan river. Elijah touches the river with his cloak  (mantle)and the river parts so that they can cross. (Reminds us of Moses and the Red Sea )   The mantle symbolizes that Elijah has authority and power from God. 

Elisha realizes that his teacher's  mission is ending.  Elisha wants to be a man of God as Elijah has been.  He wants to have the presence and power of God with him as Elijah has had.   

The Scriptures describe a fantastic goodbye scene between the two.A chariot of fire and horses swoops down and Elijah is spirited away  to the heavens  Elisha cries out  to Elijah in sadness; he has been like a father to him!

As Elijah disappears, his mantle drifts to the ground.  Elisha picks it up , puts it on,and begins his ministry. The mantle has been passed on. He has learned and been encouraged from Elijah and now it is his turn to lead.

Elisha will  also have a long life of being  God's spokesperson . Even though he has dealings with kings and a military commander,  Elisha 's main focus is on helping people in his local community. The Scriptures record 18 encounters where he restores life in some way to his neighbors.  He has taken Elijah's place and does it in his own style.

A  mentor is an encourager, a motivator, a supporter, one who inspires. A mentor can be older or younger or a peer.

Tony Dungy, football coach and sports commentator, has written a book about  mentoring (The Mentor Leader) . In the book, he describes persons who influenced his life.  When he was a scrawny kid  of 13  there was a guy in his neighborhood who was 18,  Allen Truman.  Allen  had been his Little League coach.  He  would play basketball with him, took him to college basketball games, encouraged him to make good choices, hang out with wise people. Allen told him that he could do great things and that he believed in him.  Tony's teen years were greatly affected by Allen Truman, his hero. We see the the power of an eighteen year old's guidance!

It  amazed Tony that Allen  took the time to befriend  him. Many years later their friendship continues.

Where is your arena of influence?   Your neighborhood, at work,home, here at church?  What can you share with someone else?   It ias as simple as giving  yourself:  sharing your knowledge, your  wisdom, your values, your experiences,your faith in Christ.

 A key factor is our  willingness to  help develop people, to make it a priority.

Mom Burghur and her husband owned a restaurant in  Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. The grill was a place for good food, and  a place where  students were noticed, listened to, and their dreams were encouraged. The Burghur home was filled with photos of all the students they had befriended for over 50 years. Mom Burghur had great satisfaction in seeing someone grow and blossom. Besides cooking, to develop people was tops on her list.

Who are you passing the mantle to?  Who can you encourage to do what you are doing?   It is  exciting to know that you are making disciples for the kingdom, that the baton will be passed, that ministries will continue!

Old Elijah asks Elisha  “What can I do for you?”   That is a question that we can also ask. How can I support the people around me?  Do I need to write  a note, send a text, make a call, invite someone to meet for coffee where they can talk about their lives? Do I need to invite someone to join me in a ministry that I love?

What do we leave behind us?  Our greatest legacy is people.

People with gifts and talents and purpose who are prepared and will take our places.

James Earl Jones is known for the beautiful rich  bass tones of his voice.  He has used that voice in theater, movies, television,  voice overs.  ( The “this is CNN” guy) When he was a child, he stuttered to such a degree that he would not talk .  In high school, his English teacher, Mr. Crouch discovered that James Earl had a gift for writing poetry. He insisted that James Earl recite  a poem everyday in class.  When he recited his poems, he would not stutter.   His teacher helped him to find  his voice,  his life,  his vocation!

Who can you help find their voice?

What will you do with the influence that you have?

I'll close with these words from Coach Dungy:

“There is always someone whose life you can affect for good.

Do it! It's not about us, it's about everything that God can do through us for others.

At the end of it all, if even one life is better because we  lived, our lives have significance.”     The Mentor Leader   by  Tony Dungy,    p. 203.


Resources on Mentoring:

The Person Who Changed My Life  ed. by Matilda Cuomo, 2012

The Difference You Make : Changing Your World Through the Impact of Your Influence by Pat Williams, 2013