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, May 30, 2014

Sunday Worship Preview - June 1

Sunday, June 1 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, June 4  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - Music Sunday, Holy Communion, Adult Summer Mission Team Commissioning, & 7th Sunday of Easter

Scripture - Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, & John 16:25-17:3

Theme -  Our annual Music Sunday will feature our music ministry teams. Together, we will praise the Lord through the gift of music.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pastor's Letter - June Church Newsletter (Lancaster First UMC)

Following a recent Sunday morning worship service, a young child came up to me and asked, Pastor Robert, are God and Jesus the same? My first thought was to tell her to go see Pastor Cheryl and ask her.
After taking a breath and thinking about her question, this is what I told her. We believe that God and Jesus are the same but we also believe that they are not the same. I then asked her if my answer made any sense. She nodded in approval, smiled, and then gave me a hug. I’m sure that down the road she will want a more thorough response to her question. In that moment, that’s really all she needed to know.
This little girl reminded me that we all have important questions about our faith. I am so glad that she was willing to ask her question. Questions can lead to a deeper faith.
What questions do you have about our faith? I want our church to be a place where we can ask questions and grow in our faith together.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary - June 8

June 8 Sermon – “How We Got Our Start”

Acts 2:1-21
Our reading from Acts chapter two tells us how the church got its start. Fifty days after the first Easter Sunday when Jesus had been raised from the dead, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and the church was born.

Peter makes two very important points in his sermon: 1) The importance of having a relationship with Jesus Christ in order to be in ministry to the world. 2) The giving of the Holy Spirit is associated with “The Last Days” which is a phrase used to describe the beginning of a new era of God’s inbreaking kingdom in our time and space.

Pentecost helps us to remember that God’s new kingdom is already taking shape in our time and space. This is made possible because of Jesus’ resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Where do you see signs of God’s kingdom at work in your life? What does it mean to be “open to the Holy Spirit” in our daily lives?

John 7:37-39

In our Gospel reading from John chapter 7, Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to a river of flowing water. We are invited to drink this water and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel reading takes place during the last day of the Jewish autumn festival known as “The Feast of Tabernacles.” On the last day of the festival, it was a tradition to carry water from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple. This festival was to remind the people of how God had provided their ancestors with water from a rock when they were in the wilderness.

What does it mean to think of the Holy Spirit like a river of flowing water?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sermon by Joe Palmer, Youth Director (May 25) - "Periods of Transition"

Humans as a whole are resistant to change. We are troubled by it and tend to shy away from it. We do not usually enjoy it when we are forced to face something that is outside of our routine and realm of normalcy. When I transitioned to being on staff, I was told that the youth director was responsible for leading Sunday Services a couple of times a year. I didn't realize that during the hiring process, but here I am. Change and transitions are something that we must always face in our lives.  While they can be frightening, it is an essential part of life that is inevitable. Transitions can be what you make of it. Albert Einstein once said,
 “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving forward." You don't always know what is around the corner when you are riding through life.  It might be something undesirable but it might be something truly remarkable.
One of the largest transitions in my life, and one that our graduates are about to undertake, is transitioning into life after High School.  I graduated from Lancaster High in 2005. I had plans to attend Kenyon College in Knox County to study Biology and play football.  In the middle of summer I received my room assignment. I was to room in Mather Hall Room 101. My roommate was Terry, a football player as well, whom I had gotten to know fairly well from college visits. It seemed that everywhere I went on a college visit, Terry was there too. It’s really funny that we ended up as roommates at Kenyon.
Around this time as well Facebook had just emerged. For those of you who might not know, Facebook is a way to communicate, find, and keep in touch with friends through social media on the Internet.  Facebook now is completely different than it was when it first went live. Today any one with an e-mail account can have a Facebook account.  When it first went live, you were only allowed to have a Facebook account if you had a college e-mail account. Even though Facebook is very different from then, you could still stalk people on Facebook. So, after signing up with my Kenyon e-mail account, I started looking at who else was going to be living on my floor in Mather. That is when I started to get a little nervous.
My roommate, Terry, was from Poland, Ohio, and wanted to study Biology like me. No big deal. However, most everyone else in the hall was a little different. Dave was our immediate neighbor. He was from New Castle, Pennsylvania, and planned on studying Political Science. He was already beginning to become that Facebook friend that posts a lot of Political things on Facebook.
 Emma was from Sandy Hook, Massachusetts, and wanted to study History. I am not a history person. Lizzy was from Baltimore, Maryland, and wanted to study Economics and was big into Yoga. I don’t do yoga.
Maria was from East Palo Alto, California, and was another history major. Hillary on the other hand was Columbus and was going to study Biology. Yes!
Adam was from Columbus as well and was going to be a Women and Gender Studies Major. In 2005, I just didn’t know what that was. Rafael was from Guatemala and was planning on studying philosophy. Cool? 
Owen and Lizzy were both New Yorkers. Owen planned on studying Political Science and Lizzy was a theater major. Don’t New Yorkers have a reputation for not being the most pleasant individuals?
I was nervous. These were the people that I was going to have to live with for at least a year and they are not really like me at all.   Fall quickly approached and we all moved into the dorms. To my surprise everyone was very outgoing and welcoming, even the New Yorkers. My expectations and thoughts on everyone had been completely off. These were great people. We all seemed to enter the dorm with an open mind and eagerness to get to know each other.
The bonds that we made in that first year were something that I was not expecting to have happen. We would stay up into the early hours in the morning talking about our lives, our goals, our families, our views on society, religion, and politics. We used to draw our family trees on the underneath sides of pizza boxes to explain who everyone in our families were. We hung our pizza trees in the hallways.  Even though we were all different and our views never aligned exactly the same with one another’s, we didn’t care. We respected each other as individuals and learned so much from each other.
Even though our lives have drifted apart, we still utilize Facebook to keep tabs on each other.
Terry is a Physical therapist working in Cleveland. Dave is the Director of operations at the House of Representatives.
Emma works in publications at Harvard University. Lizzy is a yoga instructor in Atlanta.
 Maria is an underwriter in Tampa. Hillary works for Teach for America in Baltimore, Maryland.
Adam works for Ohio Health in Columbus. Rafael is working on his master’s degree in Philosophy at Oxford.
Owen is studying marketing in London, England, And Lizzy is working as an actor in Brooklyn.
That summer before Kenyon, as I transitioned into my life post High School, I was full of anxiety and stress. But it didn’t need to be. That change in my life was coming. There wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent it from coming. I was the one who made it stressful when it reality the change that came was one that was positive and still affects me today.
Tomorrow our nation stops to celebrate Memorial Day. Memorial Day was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in military service. Can you imagine what it must have been like for soldiers during the civil war? What were they feeling? What were they thinking when they were about to go into battle? One soldier summed it up when he wrote to his wife, "Soldiering is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror."
Imaging, if you will, that it is the year 1863. You are 25 years old, the average age of a solider in the war. You grew up on the family farm and have only known farm life.  You were just enlisted in service via Abraham Lincoln's draft that called on all able-bodied 18-35 year old men because you didn't have the $300 you needed to pay to be exempt from fighting. You left your family behind to go fight a war that you thought would only last a couple of months. 
While you are fed well in the service, you see many of your fellow soldiers die from eating the improperly canned meat the union supplies you. More soldiers are dying from dysentery than are being killed in battle. You keep busy by reading newspapers, writing letters to your loved one back home, and by playing cards, checkers and dominos. You swim in rivers and lakes on the hot summer days and organize massive snowball fights in the winters.
On September 30thof 1864, you hear that Ulysses S. Grant has planned simultaneous attacks against both flanks of General Robert E. Lee’s confederate Army in Petersburg, Virginia. Grant wants to attack the opposite ends of Lee’s line to relieve pressure and take control of Fort Harrison. It was rumored that General Lee had removed some of his units giving the Union the opportunity they needed. But can this intel be trusted?
 It’s time. It’s time to march. You lace up your boots, throw on your jacket and button it up. Slip the picture of your wife in your breast pocket. You throw your musket over your shoulder and place your extra ammo and bayonets on your belt, before taking your position in your squad. You begin to march. How do you feel? What is racing through your mind?
The fear of the unknown can be terrifying, but these brave soldiers, that we honor this weekend, faced something that not many of us have ever, or will ever, have to face.
(Harrison / Hattie) read the closing scripture of Luke today for the Gospel.  Thursday is the day that we are to celebrate the Ascension of Christ. The Gospel of Luke comes to a close with Jesus’ Ascension, we realize that it has an open-ended conclusion. In a reality it ends at a beginning. It is a transition. No longer is the story about what Jesus did during his earthly ministry. Now it the story of what he will continue to do through God's people, whom he equipped to carry a message. That message is not one of words alone but of life, love and light. The message is both proclaimed and lived out before a world covered with darkness.
Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, His disciples were charged with continuing to carrying this message to God’s people. What do you think that this was like for the Disciples? Their Messiah left them? They were transitioning.
As the Gospel closes, it is important not to forget the words that came early in this Gospel when both John the Baptist and Jesus were introduced:
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Jesus departed into the heaven from which he came. He did so not to leave us but to guide us, not to disappoint us but to intercede for us. He departed with a blessing. He departed to equip us. For those who know Him, His blessing is always with us. So we worship Him with joy and serve Him with gladness, continually blessing God for the gift of his Son.
Transitions are inevitable in our lives, but if we keep God’s message of life, love, and light, with us, we will not be alone.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Clergy House-Warming Gifts

If you are in need of some house-warming gift ideas for a clergy type person, there is no shortage of possibilities.

What clergy person doesn't need a John 3:16 pillow for their living room couch?

Or a nativity clock on top of the mantle?

How about a leather scripture chair? 

You can't have enough religious mugs for all of that cupboard space.

Here's a practical way of reminding your pastor to pray whenever they pull off a book from their shelf.

And what clergy home would be complete without a door mat that has a mini-sermon on it?

While all of these gifts are great ideas, don't forget just how much clergy like to make a religious statement at the end of their driveway.

On the other hand, a John Wesley bobble head would like nice on the desk in their study.

Maybe, I'll just stick with a more practical gift like fruit and bottles of water. Of course, I'll need to get labels for the water bottles that say, "Jesus is the Living Water" and a welcome to your new home card that includes the "fruit of the Spirit" scripture passage. 

You just can't go wrong with any of these gift ideas.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary - May 25

May 25 Sermon – “Periods of Transition”

I Peter 3:13-18
Tradition tells us that the Apostle Peter wrote this pastoral address to house-churches scattered across five Roman provinces. The letter is to encourage these churches who were living in a non-Christian environment.

This passage focuses on how to deal with unjust suffering because of our faith. How do we know if we are suffering unjustly? We need to have a proper fear of God in the present that is firmly rooted in knowing what is, in fact, our hope.

V. 17 – Doing good is always God’s will even if it results in suffering.

Luke 24:44-53
This is Luke’s story of the ascension of Jesus.

What is the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Answer: So that the church will be rooted in scripture and active in mission. Jesus is the fulfillment of scripture which tells the story of God’s desire to rescue all of creation from sin and death. Jesus is commissioning the disciples to continue to live out this good news.

Jesus promises his followers that they would be equipped with power from God to continue the mission of sharing God’s healing love with the world.

Notice that Luke’s gospel ends as it began in the Temple at Jerusalem. The point is clear. Worshipping the risen Lord is at the heart of Luke’s vision of the Christian life.

Sermon Thoughts

Both scriptures focus on transitions. I Peter touches on the transition of being faithful to Christ in a non-Christian environment and the story in Luke tells the ascension story of how Jesus blesses the disciples as he prepares to leave them.

As we go through life’s transitions, we are to trust in Christ and to carry on the mission of offering God’s healing love in the world.

This time of year (Memorial Day Weekend) is a time of many transitions: Graduation ceremonies, preparing for a new season of summer, etc. How do these scriptures help us to face these times of transition?

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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dave's Deep Thoughts - A Memorable Graduation Ceremony

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.

I think it started with the hurricane warnings,

I think when you are graduating from high school,
the last thing you want to hear in that day's forecast is the word, hurricane.

June 5, 1975.
My graduation day from high school.

It didn't just rain that day.
It poured.

The graduation exercises were moved indoors,
to a tiny auditorium that seated just over 600 people.
Each student was limited to 3 tickets.

This was well before most schools were air conditioned.
With high humidity and tropical temperatures,
the auditorium was about to become a human sweatbox.

Because the conditons were so cramped,
the high school band did not play.
Instead, they used an electronic organ to play the ceremonial music.

This organ was from the 50's and produced a sound
somewhere between  Funeral Dirge and March of the Circus Clowns
I remember entering the room on the processional
as the heat and humidity punched me in the face.
Nothing says comfort like tropical humidity
and graduation gowns.

I think I spotted my parents but I'm not sure
because everyone pretty much looks the same
when soaked in perspiration
and plastered with the dire looks of de-hydration.

I ended up in the front row of seats on the stage.
I was told it was because I was in the honor society,
but it was oddly curious that everone in the "honor society"
were also the shortest people in the class.

It was obviously better than being in the back row on elevated band risers,
as one of the tall "dis-honorable"person's chairs slipped off the back of the riser.

 One paramedic and 15 minutes later
we were back into the succession of cliche filled speeches
that were meant to inspire me and us.

As perspiration poured down my face,
This is what I remember being told,
(followed by the responses I thought in my head)

"I'll look back on these years as the best years of my life"
( "Are you kidding me?" )

"I am to follow my dreams."
( "And try to live on air, because I sure am not going to make any money doing that" )

"I am the future"
( "Well,  duh......")

" Webster's defines graduation  as........."
( "I don't recall the definition including hurricanes, intolerable heat, and gross humidity" )

"We worked hard to get here."
( "I'm not so sure that's true of all the rebels sitting in the back row,
including the one who was now on the way to the hospital" )

"I've made lifelong friendships during these last 13 years."
( "In five years, it will be down to Christmas cards. In ten years, nothing.  Guaranteed" )

And the most outrageous cliche of the evening.........
"This is a bright filled day, filled with hope and promise."
( "Uh, have you been outside today? " )

The speeches concluded with a smattering of  "As we go forths"
and "standing on the thresholds of tomorrow"

And that's when the power went out.

Thank the Lord that the 1950's emergency generator came on to rescue us.
It provided illumination equivalent to that of 4 flashlights.

The principal distributed fake diplomas to us,
because they were using the real diplomas as ransom
in order that we would return our caps and  gowns.
(Who wants 105 sweat filled caps and gowns anyway?)

Keeping with the spirit of the evening,
the principal ran out of fake diplomas at #98.
(Really, no one in administration knew that there were 105 of us???)

Because we were under the cloak of darkness,
and because we wanted graduates #98-105 to matriculate,
the entire front row of honor society students,
willingly threw their fake diplomas back at the principal.
(If we  learned anything in those 13 years, we certainly learned generosity)

By the end of the ceremony, the principal,
who looked completely defeated and exasperated,
realized that the "March of the Clowns" electronic organ
would not work without electricity.

He turned to me and said,
"Since our senior who was voted most musical of the class
is sitting in the front row,
I'll ask him to recess the class out by leading us in the school song."

(and I thought I was in the front row because I was honorable, or short.........)

Well news flash,
Mr. Most Musical of the Class of '75
could not recall how the school song started.

My high school education continued to be the gift that kept on giving.
I learned that night,
that when asked, in public, to lead a song that you don't remember,
just wait. Clear your throat, and wait some more.

Inevitably  someone will come to your rescue.
That someone was one of the dis-honorable students in the back row,
who unabashedly broke forth into Queen's classic
"We will, we will rock you."

And so the class of 1975 walked into their bright-filled  future
which was in reality, a congested, undersized, and dark  school hallway.
I never found my parents that night.
But as the back row of talled people predicted,
the class of 1975 rocked all night.

I remember everything about that evening 39 years ago,
because nothing went as planned.

Our lives are filled with the unexpected.
Things that throw us off guard,
 Things that throw us off-balance.
Things that knock us back.

Things that will eventually cause us to grow,
if we let them.

JOSHUA certainly didn't expect
Rahab, the prostitute to become a key figure
in conquering Jericho.  (Joshua 2)

JONAH didn't expect to find a classroom for repentance
in the belly of a whale. (Jonah 1)

HOSEA could never have imagined that
God would ask him to marry the harlot, Gomer,
as a prophetic act describing God's unending love
 towards an unfaithful people.  (Hoseah1)

The MARYS had no idea that the tomb would be empty
because the Lord could not be held down by death. (Matthew 28)

Life is filled with the unexpected
It is those things that we tend to remember.
It is those things that move us to grow stronger in the faith.

I didn't learn much from the cliche filled speeches that night.
But I did learn at graduation,
that life isn't predictable.

And that it is because, not inspite of life's surprises,
that I can fully become who I need to be in Christ.

Wait, Oh is the first word to my high school song.
Can I have a re-do Mr. Principal ???

Consider it all joy, my friends, when you encounter various trials,
knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
And let endurance have its perfect result,
that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing..
                                                         James 1: 2-3