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, January 28, 2015

Dave's Deep Thoughts - For the Sake of the Green Bean Casserole, Love One Another!

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.

We can have differing opinions on many things,
but can’t we at least unite over the green bean casserole?

I have a very loving and supportive family.
That doesn’t mean we agree on everything.
There are certain subjects  that are better left alone…..
religion and politics to name a couple.
Football makes it a trifecta

If any of those subjects come up when gathered at table,
we all agree that we just aren’t going to agree……

We are made up of liberals, conservatives, and moderates,
we have Protestants, Catholics, and Non-Demominationalists,
and we have those that root for the right team,
and those that root for the wrong team,
and  (gasp!) those who could care less about football,
all waiting for the food to be passed.

Anyone who knows me,
knows that I am passionate about
music, faith, and football.

As to football………..
I have license plates,
mugs, ketchup & mustard dispensers,
blankets, shirts, hoodies,
coats, socks, bowling ball cases,
framed tickets from notable games, 
picnic paper ware, tablecloths,
souvenir photo albums, playing cards,
lawn flags, hats, soda cans,
kites, Frisbees, footballs,
Christmas ornaments, dog collars,
seat cushions, golf balls,
mouse pads, beanies, and jerseys,
to name a few things
that all proclaim my loyalty to the best football organization
ever assembled in the history of mankind.

The problem is holidays.

When I host family,
I do my best not to turn the house into a pep rally,
but I don’t hide my light under a bushel either.

I don’t put away things that are ordinarily on display.
But neither do I offer a family member who roots for the wrong team,
condiment dispensers of the right team 
when they are dressing their hamburger.

I like to think of myself as sensitive and compassionate
towards those who are on the wayward path toward football calamity.

But sometimes right and wrong are on inevitable paths to collide,
and it is the innocent that pay the price.
Such was family Christmas at my home in 2012.

It is in the kitchen,
where there is usually the greatest traffic
as the meal is being prepared.

At the oven
casseroles cross paths with side dishes.
It is also where football good meets football evil
in a culinary showdown of apocalyptic proportions.

In the frantic scramble that occurs 
minutes before the turkey dinner reaches the dinner table,
potatoes are being mashed,
gravy is being wisped,
turkey is being sliced,
and side dishes are in transit  to and from the oven.

As my sister of the wrong football team 
attempted to put a dish into the oven,
the cookie sheet upon which sat the 
beloved green bean casserole shifted
and began to slide.

In a moment of panic,
my sister cried out,
Quick, I need some potholders

As I looked around me,
all I could find were a pair of oven mitts,
that would be oven mitts of the greatest team on earth.

I quickly handed the mitts to my wayward sister.
“I’m not putting those things on!” she cried.

And in that moment where good met evil,
the green bean casserole,
the most beloved of all holiday casseroles,
slid off the cookie sheet and onto the floor.

As the dog was gratefully scarfing the onion rings,
and with the steam of the casserole arising from the floor,
our eyes met and in a moment of new found self-awareness.
We might as well have burst into singing
the finale of West Side Story…….

“Somewhere, we’ll find a new way of living,
we’ll find a way of forgiving.
Somehow, someday, somewhere……..” *

Sometimes in our disagreeing,
we forget that we have much more in agreement.

All communities have times of disagreement.
The church is no exception, it’s been true for 2,000 years,
and it will be true for however long till Christ comes again.

It isn’t disagreements that weaken the church,
it is how we respond to them that ultimately
build or erodes community.

Paul describes who we are to be during such times.

“Love is patient, love is kind,
and is not jealous;
love does not brag, and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
it does not take into account a wrong suffered
it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
Love bears all things hopes all things
endures all things.”    I Cor 13:4-7

Insert one’s name wherever the word love or it is found in the scripture,
and one begins to see how well one does during times of disagreement.

Cultivating a proper heart attitude
is the start of living through disagreements.

It recognizes that no one has a corner on the truth,
that what we have to lose, is worth far more than what we seek to gain,
that even those not involved in the disagreement may be affected by our pride.

Continuing to love especially when it is not easy,
is at the core of our faith.
It is what brings us to the altar.
It is what brings us to  the communion railing,
It is what brings us home.

And when you are home,
it brings you to the table 
where there is a big platter of love,
and Lord willing,
the green bean casserole  as well.

Now, enjoy the feast,
and the game too!


Monday, January 26, 2015

Sermon (January 25) by Rev. Cheryl Foulk - "Following Jesus"

A man told about his life: “ I made a commitment to follow Christ when I was fifteen. Time has passed and I am a grandfather now and I continue to learn how to live as his follower. One crucial decision has led to thousands of others.”

Jesus says “Follow me”  and the adventure begins!

. In our Gospel story from Mark, we only get the plain  facts. Jesus invited some  fishermen of the Sea of Galilee, Simon , Andrew, James and John  to come and follow him, to be his disciples. They left their boats , their  routines, their families, and accepted the invitation. They spent the rest of their lives trying to be faithful to that initial response.  When we say “Yes”  to God's invitation, the path that we will take is not predictable.

A  pastor  was preaching on this same passage at a university chapel. He was emphasizing that when Jesus calls, a definite response is needed. Afterward , a young woman came up and told him, that while listening to his words, she had decided to drop out of school and go and work with migrant farm workers.

The pastor was alarmed by her response, and immediately tried to persuade her to not make such a drastic decision. She needed to finish her schooling, and besides,she  could still serve God in her chosen major. (  He had to be thinking  of what he would say to her  upset parents...)  Her decision made him uneasy.

This student  was firmly convinced that she was doing what she should. She was imitating Simon and Andrew by  leaving her former life behind. Like many others, her decision to follow will affect her family and life plans.

Persons have felt  called to extraordinary life changes as followers of Christ:
they have left the familiar and gone to live in another country in mission; they have chosen to make their homes in the inner city;  they have sold their  possessions, and adapted a much simpler lifestyle; they have  run for office;  they have changed careers; they have spoken out and worked  for the dignity of  others; they have put themselves in danger, gone against the norm, and gotten in trouble.

For most of us , we are disciples who attempt to live faithful lives right where we are. We don't have faith stories of  crossing deserts, or being arrested, or leaving all we have behind.

We try to follow Jesus  in our weekly routine.

 A question that arises from this passage has stayed with me: “How is my life different because I am choosing  to follow Jesus?”

  How would you answer?

Thousands of people have tried to follow Christ in a great variety of ways.
How do we know that we are on the right track, that we are where we should be?

 Trevor Hudson has written a book about discipleship where he identifies  some common characteristics of all those who  have been Christ followers.                               

1. First common point : Jesus is the focus of their lives, the ultimate point of reference. Followers want to learn of him and love him, study his words, listen for  his leading. 
It has been said that what you love will affect everything- what fills up your calendar- whom you know- what breaks your heart- what makes your day.  For his followers, Jesus is the focus of their love.

Some years ago I left a meeting in the Dayton area, (before GPS, Google maps- )  and I thought I knew how to get back to the Interstate to travel to Lima. As I drove, I realized that I had made some wrong turns and I was lost. To compound the situation,  I noticed another car had followed me from the church parking lot, and was right behind me. They were following me because they thought that I knew the way!    I had no clue where I was going. I finally had to turn around and retrace my route . At that point, the other car gave up on me!  I hope that they found their way home...

It is important who guides our way.

If we  are endeavoring to be his disciples , then our  daily decisions and actions   need to reflect our faith in Christ.

 In your life, whom  or what are you following and where is it  taking you? 
2. Second common characteristic:  For followers of Christ, what they value most in this world is people.  Jesus points out that connection in the Gospel story: if you follow him , you will become fishers of people. Your passion will be the welfare of others. Every human being becomes valuable.  You care about and interact with all kinds of people like Jesus did.

Desmond Tutu,  retired Anglican priest and leader  in  South Africa, shares that a spiritual turning  towards Christ  happened  in the 1940's when he was 9 years old. He lived in one of the segregated  townships  and his mother worked as a maid.
One day he and his mother were walking down the street and the local priest passed by them. The pastor was a white face among a sea of black faces; as he met them, he didn't turn away, but  tipped his hat in greeting.  Desmond Tutu was startled by this show of respect, and he thought to himself  as a child: there must be something to this Christian faith! 

Followers take time to listen and see others; to respond to their situations with compassion.  Disciples react to their neighbors as Christ might .

3.Third  common note among Christ followers: When we follow Jesus, we want to  be changed  on the inside.  We want to be  transformed “into what we are not yet but are called by God to be.”  ( Trevor Hudson)  We want to be reshaped so that our hearts become more like  the heart of Christ.

Followers want to be honest about their lives. They know how imperfect  they are and want to be  cleaned up, restored  thru God's power every day.

No matter how many times you have felt that you have failed at following;  or you didn't quite understand what it meant to follow in the first place.
No matter if you have felt that you have disappointed God- the call from Christ  will continue for your entire life: follow me.  Every day we have another chance to leave  the fishing boat and  follow!

Bishop Reuben Job recently died at the age of 86. From the farmlands of North Dakota, he has been a UM pastor, a Bishop,  the editor of the Upper Room, and an author of several great books.  In his writings, he always attempted to help other followers  to live out their calling in simple and honest ways.

Just a few years ago he said:

 “While I retired from an appointed ministry many years ago, the call of God I sensed 65 years ago continues today. "I now believe that God calls and sends everyone who responds to the call of Jesus to ‘Follow me.’

Some may sense a call to a specific task or vocation. However, the highest calling anyone will ever receive comes first, ‘Follow me.’

When we say yes to that call we offer ourselves to God as completely as we are able  and God accepts and blesses the offering we make in remarkable ways.”

Wherever we are and who ever we are, God blesses our lives as we
focus on Christ, love other people, and allow our hearts to be changed.

The invitation never goes away.

Jesus words of love seek to claim our hearts today: Come and follow.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Worship Preview - February 1

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

Features - 4th Sunday After the Epiphany & Holy Communion

Scripture - I Corinthians 8:1-13 & Mark 1:21-28

Sermon "A Church for All People"

Theme - The church is called to be a place where people with may differences can come together to be God's people. The Apostle Paul helps us to see how we can be a church for all people.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

If All Dogs Go to Heaven then Why Can't They Join the Church?

Meet Lulu, also known as Boo-Boo Bear. She is our baby girl. And yes, this makes her a PD, a preacher's dog. Therefore, imagine my disappointment when I learned that the United Methodist Church does not consider her a candidate for baptism or church membership.

What?! This is a joke, right?  Wasn't it Mark Twain who said that if going to heaven was about doing good works, his dog would get there ahead of him!

I can't tell you the number of times that I have practiced my sermon during our "walkie" time helping me to refine my delivery. She has scared away a couple of thieves who were trying to break into our church building early one morning. She also lets little children pet her after church on Sunday morning as long as they make an appointment ahead of time and mommy is there with her. Here we are during one of our afternoon bible story times.

[Lulu listening to her afternoon bible story.]

Do you know how many times she has to smell delicious covered-dish casseroles making their way into our church building. It's torturous for our Boo Bear to be subject to this kind of exclusion. Aren't we a church of open hearts, open minds, and open doors?

So here is her church directory picture. Doesn't this count for something?

Lulu McDowell

If dogs ever become eligible for church membership, we will need to change the name of our membership process from "Confirmation" to "'Cat'echism" for obvious reasons. This move will also necessitate that we do a better job of teaching "'dog'ma."

In the meantime, maybe we can offer "Dog's Church" or "Moments with Dogs" during worship. I told Lulu that we are at least allowed to have a pet blessing but that it would have to be outside the church building. I could tell by the look in her eyes, that she felt patronized.

I swear I could hear her say, "Doggonnit!" No pun intended.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Look Up, Music Man!

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

When the parade passes by,
would someone please point the bass drummer
in the right direction?

During the summer,
we staged the musical, The Music Man.
As part of our publicity for the show,
the cast, crew, and staff formed a marching band for the town parade.

Since I had been a drummer in high school,
I found myself in the percussion section,
and by the luck of the draw,
I ended up with a bass drum in my hands.

Now I don’t dislike the bass drum.
It is one of the most important instruments
in a marching band.
It keeps the beat
thus keeping the entire group together while marching.

But every percussionist will tell you
that it is the snare drum
that is to be envied.

The snare drum fits conveniently in front of the body
whereas the bass drum awkwardly juts out
and puts considerable strain on the back.
It’s as close to a pregnancy experience
that I will ever come.

Although my  high school days are well into my rearview  mirror,
it seemed like it would be fun to
recreate some of those marching band memories.

That was before they dropped me, my bass drum,
and my fellow marchers off at the bottom of the hill……
that would be the enormous hill where the parade formed.

Not that I am complaining…….
but carrying a bass drum up a gigantic hill in the summertime
is like running a race while carrying a watermelon.

By the time I reached the top of the hill,
my heart rate was the equivalent of
a high intensity workout video.

As I was gasping for breath,
I gazed at my empty 20 ounce water bottle
and sadly wondered why I hadn’t opted
for the 32 ouncer that was chilling in my refrigerator.

Then the whistle blew.

That would be the whistle to tell the band to form line.
Between gasps, I quickly reached for the harness
to strap me into the monster drum.

As I  snapped the last buckle
I realized that beyond my hyperventilating and overheating,
I was in serious trouble.

The bass drum was mounted too high.
I couldn’t see anything in front of me except the drum.

There was no time.
The band was moving onto Main Street.
I was marching blind..

To make matters worse,
I couldn’t hear the drum major’s whistle,
which meant I had no idea when the band needed to come to a halt.

This was made painfully evident
to the snare drummer in front of me
as I bullishly plowed into him on more than one occasion.
You can only apologize so often……

Since I couldn’t see the ground,
and I couldn’t see in front of me,
I only had one option……
I looked up.

By doing so, I was able to see the electric power lines
that lined the streets.
By using them as a guide,
I stood a much better chance that I wouldn’t careen into the crowd
and maim small children who were scrambling for candy.

This worked well until we had to turn a corner.
Another apology to the snare drummer
who after this latest assault,
was thinking about using his sticks for an entirely different purpose.

It’s not easy marching through a parade blindly.
It’s not easy marching through life blindly either,
never knowing what’s around the next corner,
never quite sure when the next whistle will  blow.

Sometimes people leave us.
Sometimes we get a pink slip.
Sometimes we don’t make it to our destination safely.
Sometimes we get a diagnosis we don’t want.

Even though we can’t see the future,
it doesn’t relegate us to spiritual blindness.
It is in fact, trusting through what we can’t see,
that we develop our spiritual vision.

How do we start?

It’s never a bad idea to look up.
Look up and trust that even though
we don’t know where the next step is,
we know that we are headed in the right direction.

I made it to the end of the parade.

I did so without seriously impairing anyone
and without running into any telephone poles.

I couldn’t have done it without looking up.
I highly recommend it.

As for re-living high school days……
well, that’s another story.

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With Him at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.”
                                                 Psalm 16:8