A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Sunday Worship Preview - March 9

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

Sermon - "Who Were the Twelve Disciples? Bartholomew & Simon"

Features - First Sunday In Lent

Scripture - John 1:43-51

Theme During the Season of Lent, we are focusing on the twelve disciples of Jesus. Who were they? What can we learn from them? What does it mean to follow in their example? On this Sunday, we focus on Bartholomew and Simon. They teach us to have an open mind to who Jesus is and to be zealous for God.

Sunday Worship Preview - March 16

Sunday, March 16 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday March 19 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Who Were the Twelve Disciples? James the Lesser & Thaddeus"

Features - Second Sunday In Lent

Scripture - Psalm 121 & John 14:18-24

Theme During the Season of Lent, we are focusing on the twelve disciples of Jesus. Who were they? What can we learn from them? What does it mean to follow in their example? On this Sunday, we focus on James the Lesser & Thaddeus They teach us to be forgiving toward others and to know that we are never alone because the Holy Spirit is always with us.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Paying Attention to Crazy Signs

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.

Most  of us look for signs throughout life,
but what if the sign is all crazy talk?

I drive by it almost everyday.
The property that captures every passerbyers attention.

It's a residential property
on a highly trafficked road.

It is a junkyard where a lawn should be.
There are so many things stacked on the lawn
that you can barely see the house.

I know that one man's junk is another man's treasure.
If that is the case,
then call this owner rich beyond his wildest dreams.

Let's start with appliances.
washers and dryers circa 1980?
Oh, he has them.... stacked on top of each other,
and no, I am not talking about designed stackable units.

How about the magical world of the abandoned refrigerator?
Plenty of them too.
At least the safety for the children of the neighborhood has been considered.....
by thoughtfully having the doors removed from each of them.
Those doors can be found scattered throughout the property.
Now if we could just protect our children from the rodents hiding underneath them.......

gas? electric? coal? wood?
He has them all.
Too bad none of them work,
which makes them all 100% eco-friendly.

Need a gas grill that is rusted out???
Oh, they are a dime a dozen.....
well, maybe thats a bit extreme,
lets go with twelve for a dollar.
That includes the snakes
that are likely coiled up inside them.

Lawn mowers.
Now that is something that you just can't get enough of........
Somewhat ironic, considering there is so much junk on the yard
that the grass never had a chance.

Let's talk lawn ornaments.......
gnomes, ducks, squirrels, dutchmen, windmills,
butterflies, leprachauns, lawn orbs,
and my personal favorite....
the lady bent over with her rear end that looks like a mushroom.
Nothing says "bring on spring" more than that.
All there.
Now if we just had a lawn.

And let's not forget who is watching over us,
or in this case, from the underside of a rusted out hot water heater.....
all kinds, sizes, and shapes.
Or the Ten Commandments tablets hanging from an old mattress frame.
Feel the blessing......

Rusted advertising` signs?
just know that the Pepsi Generation is to the left,
and the Coca-cola peeps to the right,
and never the twain shall meet,
unless its under the Budweiser sign in the middle.

Assuming the children don't get trapped inside any of the rusted appliances,
there's plenty for the little tykes to do.....
Toy tractors,
large stuffed animals
(Yes, they have been sitting out in the elements for years....)
and perhaps the gem that captures any child's fancy......
the horsie from the abandoned carnival carousel.

Now it's not all work for the adults either.
When it's time to rest, there are several options.....

Try the rusted exterior table & chairs with a cup of tea
as you overlook the remains of a 1960's jeep.

If it's comfort you want,
choose from a variety of vinyl car seats
with enough rips in them to harbor a colony of both poisonous and non-poisonous mammals.

But if it is style that you seek, look no further.
Rest on a bathtub that has the side cut out
to create a stylish outdoor sofa
complete with throw pillows.
Nothing says style like converted bathroom appliances.

Perhaps the gem of the junkyard though
is the herd of plastic deer
which majestically look up through the collection of condemned dishwashers up to the hills,
I especially favor the deer that has a ceramic turtle on its back.

But back to the sign.

On the side of a dilapidated pickup truck is a business sign that says.......

"Clean Up and Out"

I'm not quite sure what the business is,
but whatever it is, it is anything but clean.

Most of us look for signs in life,
but what if the signs don't make any sense?
Here are some other senseless signs that I have encountered......

Garbage Only, No Trash

10 hour Parking   10am-6pm

Caution! Water On Road During Rain

Not A Through Street.....Evacuation Route

Genuine Fake Watches

No Pets Allowed...All Pets Must Be On Leash

and my personal favorite found poolside......

 Do Not Breathe Under Water

Jesus spoke of many signs that would usher in His second coming.
Here are a few of them......

Wars, famine, false prophets,, earthquakes
(Matthew Ch 24)

Scoffers of God, Those who reject God's truth
(II Peter Ch 3)

The coming of an anti-Christ
(I John 2)

Signs in the moon, sun, and stars,
nations in anguish,
the roaring and tossing of the seas,
terror that causes people to faint
(Luke Ch 21)

Do any of these signs make sense to you?
Or does it sound like crazy talk?

Make it a bit more personal.... declining moral conditions

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money,
boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to parents,
unbgrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving,
slanderous, without self-control,
brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited,
lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
  (II Timothy Ch 3)
and Timothy is talking only about religious people in this context!

Still sound crazy?
Perhaps, or maybe crazy enough to be true.
Crazy enough to believe that these things must happen
before we get to a world where craziness is banished,
 the new heaven and new earth,
restored to God's intentions.

I might be crazy,
but I believe in crazy signs,
that is, when they are announced by the Lord of the universe.

Now excuse me,
I need to get back and see how much the junkman wants

for the deer with the turtle riding his back.......

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary for March 2

March 2 Sermon – “Bright Light Stories”

Exodus 24:12-18
This scripture has been chosen for this day because it reminds us of when Jesus went up the mountain and was transfigured before his disciples. In this scripture reading from Exodus 24:12-18, we read how Moses went up the mountain and also entered into the cloud of the glory of the Lord.

Moses has ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God. Moses commissions Aaron and Hur to administer justice while he is on the mountain.

vv. 16-17 – God’s glory – a bright light so the people cannot “see” the Lord.

v. 18 – Forty days and forty nights reminds us of Noah and the flood. It was also forty years that the people were in the wilderness. The prophet, Elijah was on the mountain for forty days and nights. Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days and nights. Jesus ascended to heaven forty days after his resurrection.

Matthew 17:1-9
Our Gospel reading from Matthew 17:1-9 is the story of when Jesus went up a mountain with some of his disciples and was transfigured before them. Matthew is showing us that Jesus is like Moses from the Old Testament because he too, experienced the bright light of God’s glory on a mountain.

This may have taken place on Mt. Tabor which is located in central Galilee or Mt. Hermon which is near Caesarea Philipp. Both mountains provide an incredible view of Galilee.

The gospel writers aren’t trying to show us that Jesus is divine because Moses and Elijah also are glowing in this story. The gospel writers are showing that on a hill, Jesus is shining in glory and it will be on a hill that Jesus will die on a cross. Here, Jesus is shining in glory and on Good Friday, darkness will fill the land.

We need to hold these two images of Jesus together – the one that reveals his glory and the one that reveals his suffering. This will be how he redeems humanity.

[Note: The resources used for these scripture reading commentaries are based on the Everyone series by NT Wright, The Wesley Study Bible, and the “Montreal-Anglican”lectionary commentaries.]  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sermon (March 2) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Bright Light Stories"

     Our Gospel lesson from Matthew tells us about an extraordinary event that some of Jesus’ disciples were able to experience. While Jesus and three of his disciples were on the mountain, a bright cloud covered them. Jesus was transfigured so that his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.
     Moses, representing the law tradition, and Elijah, representing the prophetic tradition, appeared with Jesus. Then the disciples heard God’s voice tell them that Jesus was his beloved Son and that they should listen to him. The disciples were extremely frightened and fell on the ground. Jesus walked toward them, touched them, and told them to get up and not to be afraid.
     What do we make of a story like this? Do we find stories like this difficult to believe? Evidently, Peter, James, and John were caught off guard by it. It actually frightened them.
     This story of the transfiguration of Jesus raises the question about miracles. Do miracles like this really happen or was that just something that people in bible times believed?
     This past summer, you might have seen several billboards of a local church that invited people to their summer sermon series on the topic of miracles. The word, “miracle,” gets our attention.
     What do we make of miracles living in our post-modern 21st century world? What do they mean for us today?
     In his book, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense,” former Anglican Bishop, NT Wright offers a very helpful story to help us think about the place of miracles in our own day and age. He writes, “There was once a powerful dictator who ruled his country with an iron will. Every aspect of life was thought through and worked out according to a rational system. Nothing was left to chance.
     The dictator noticed that the water sources around the country were erratic and in some cases dangerous. There were thousands of springs of water, often in the middle of towns and cities. They could be useful, but sometimes they caused floods, sometimes they got polluted, and often they burst out in new places and damaged roads, fields, and houses.

     The dictator decided on a sensible, rational policy. The whole country, or at least every part where there was any suggestion of water, would be paved over with concrete so thick that no spring of waver could ever penetrate it.
     The water that people needed would be brought to them by a complex system of pipes. Furthermore, the dictator decided, he would use the opportunity, while he was at it, to put into the water various chemicals that would make the people healthy. With the dictator controlling the supply, everyone would have what he decided they needed, and there wouldn’t be any more nuisance from unregulated springs.
     For many years the plan worked just fine. People got used to their water coming from the new system. It sometimes tasted a bit strange, and from time to time they would look back wistfully to the bubbling streams and fresh springs they used to enjoy.
     Some of the problems that people had formerly blamed on unregulated water hadn’t gone away. It turned out that the air was just polluted as the water had sometimes been, but the dictator wouldn’t, or didn’t, do much about that. But mostly the new system seemed efficient. People praised the dictator for his forward looking wisdom.
     A generation passed. All seemed to be well. Then, without warning, the springs that had gone on bubbling and sparkling beneath the solid concrete could no longer be contained. In a sudden explosion – a cross between a volcano and an earthquake – they burst through the concrete that people had come to take for granted.
     Muddy, dirty water shot into the air and rushed through the streets and into houses, shops, and factories. Roads were torn up; whole cities were in chaos. Some people were delighted: at last they could get water again without depending on The System. But the people who ran the official water pipes were at a loss: suddenly everyone had more than enough water, but it wasn’t pure and couldn’t be controlled.”
     NT Wright goes on to say that we in the Western world are the citizens of that country. The dictator is the philosophy that has shaped our world for the past two or more centuries, making most people materialists by default. And the water is what we today call “spirituality,” the hidden spring that bubbles up within human hearts and human societies.
     Even in our hyper scientific modern world, walk into any bookstore, and count the number of book shelves that contain books on spirituality. Evidently the waters of spirituality cannot be contained underneath the rock hard pavement of secularism. People know deep down that there is a mystery at work in the world, a mystery that leaves us speechless when heaven intersects our ordinary lives.
     We have heard people share bright light stories of how they had near death experiences in which they saw a bright light which brought them great comfort and peace and then they came back to life. Or maybe there are other dramatic and powerful stories that you have heard that defy explanation.
     While those once in a lifetime stories can be very meaningful, there are other bright light stories that happen to us all of the time in big and small ways. They happen to us in the course of our day to day activities and they remind us of that bubbling spring of water that runs through all of life.
     The Celtic Christians had a name for these moments when heaven and earth intersected in our day to day living. They referred to them as thin places. I like to refer to them as sacramental moments, those times when the sacred overlaps our time and space in beautiful and meaningful ways.
     Where do you see God at work in your day to day living? What are those sacramental moments where God has been made present in a very real way for you?

     Last June, while I was attending our West Ohio Annual Conference up at Lakeside, along Lake Erie, I was able to spend the day with a friend of mine who is a retired United Methodist pastor. I served as his associate pastor several years ago and he has been a spiritual mentor for me over these many years.
     It was the first time in five years that he was able to attend Annual Conference due to his failing health. A friend in his church drove him up from Columbus just for the day. His Leukemia has been taking a toll on him and he now walks with a cane.
     I told him that I would buy him an ice cream cone and take him to the pier of the Lake since it was a beautiful day. He walked very slowly, but we finally made it to the pier and we sat on a bench overlooking Lake Erie and taking in the sunshine and the slight cool breeze.
     As we were reminiscing and catching up with each other, a friend of mine who serves a church in the Dayton area walked by us. I invited Brian to join us and introduced him to my friend.
     Brian asked my friend how long he had been a member of the West Ohio Conference. And my friend said, “It’s interesting you should ask me that question because this year is my 60th anniversary of being a member of the West Ohio Conference.”
     He then asked him how he came to our conference since my friend had shared with him that he had been raised in Philadelphia.  And my friend told him that while he was at Union Seminary in New York, a clergy representative from our conference had traveled to his seminary to recruit students to come and serve in West Ohio.
     And when he shared the name of the pastor who recruited him, Brian said, “That was my grandfather.” My friend then went on to tell Brian what a great person his grandfather was and that if it wasn’t for him, he wouldn’t have come to this conference.
     As I listened to this conversation, I realized that this was one of those bright light moments. This was a sacramental and holy time for all three of us; for my friend because he got to meet the grandson of a dear friend of his, for Brian because he got to hear what a wonderful man his grandfather was, and for me, because my time with my friend that day couldn’t have been scripted any better.
     God works in mysterious ways. There are transfiguration stories like this all around us. And like the disciples, we are reminded that heaven is a lot closer than we may think.
     A couple of years ago, I officiated at the funeral of a young boy who died from cancer. A few months following the funeral, I needed to make some visits at the hospital. For some reason, instead of going my typical route, I went a different way to the hospital.
     This route took me by the apartment of where this little boy used to live. As I was driving by, I noticed that his grandmother was sitting on the front steps of the house, and so I decided to pull over and see how she had been doing.
     This grandmother was so glad to see me. With tears in her eyes, she said that a little later that morning, she would be going to the cemetery to watch them place the headstone for her grandson’s grave.
     Together, we shared a few stories about her grandson, how he had a great sense of humor and how he showed so much faith in facing his death. We laughed and we cried as we sat together on those front steps of her apartment.
     And then the strangest thing happened that I will never forget. As this grandmother was sharing a story with me, a butterfly landed on her arm. We both became silent and then we looked at each other in disbelief.
     Before this little boy had died, he told us that God would send us butterflies to let us know that he was with God and that everything was all right. After a few moments of silence, we looked at each other and started laughing. And then we prayed together, right there on those front steps, thanking God for sending us that butterfly at just the right moment.
     I don’t know what you make of stories like this. All I know is that it felt like one of those thin places where heaven and earth overlapped in a very mysterious way. It was a holy moment that I will never forget.

     The church believes that the Sacrament of Holy Communion is one of those bright light moments when we encounter the presence of the Risen Christ in the here and now. When we receive the bread and the cup, we are reminded that the bubbling stream of God’s presence has been under our feet all along. There is no pavement that can contain it. It springs up when we least expect it.
     These bright light moments can happen at any time.