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, February 28, 2018

Staff Update @ Athens First UMC

This has been a big week for our Office Manager & Communications Director, Jenaye Hill. A couple of weeks ago, she was commissioned as our new Stephen Ministry Leader which is our one to one peer support ministry. Jenaye completed her week long Stephen Ministry training in Florida last month and has already started meeting with our Stephen Ministers on a monthly basis. She takes over for Sharon Stoltzfus who faithfully served as our leader for the past ten years. Sharon and her husband, Ben continue to lead our church’s Tuesday morning prayer team gathering.

In addition to being commissioned as our new Stephen Ministry Leader, Jenaye has also been appointed to serve as pastor of nearby Union UMC & New Marshfield UMC. Her first Sunday leading worship in her new appointment was February 25. She has just begun her local pastor licensing process through the Foothills District. Jenaye will continue to be our church’s Office Manager/Communications Director & our new Stephen Ministry Leader. Below is a picture of the churches she is now serving as pastor.

Please keep Jenaye in your prayers as she begins her new appointment and as she prepares to begin her process in becoming a licensed local pastor.

Top: Union UMC
Bottom: New Marshfield UMC

Monday, February 26, 2018

Pastoral Prayer (Feb. 25) Athens First UMC

[When disaster strikes, the United Methodist Church is always ready and willing to do all the good we can to all the people we can. More rain this past weekend meant more flooding in southern Ohio. Our church has a goal of providing 15 flood buckets to help with relief efforts. We are receiving donations of flood buckets and supplies throughout this week (Feb. 25 to March 3) at our church. See list of needed bucket items at bottom of page. We will be assembling the flood buckets at our monthly Athens First Saturday outreach this Saturday, March 3, 9am to noon at our church. The sermon and the pastoral prayer below include information about our flood bucket relief.]

Before we enter into our time of prayer, I want to share with you some really awesome news from last Sunday’s prayer time. Last Sunday, we invited people to come forward during worship as part of our focus on healing, to pray for Todd Bradford, our maintenance person.

Todd has been in the Cleveland Clinic with a spinal chord problem that has caused paralysis throughout most of his body. We learned on Monday, the day after that prayer, that Todd had been experiencing a high level of pain last weekend.

Around 11 am last Sunday, while we were praying here for Todd, one of the top doctors at Cleveland Clinic visited Todd’s room and was able to make some changes to alleviate his pain. Long story short, Todd started feeling better soon after that doctor visited his room.

A little later that week, they were able to wean Todd off of the ventilator and for the first time in a long while, he is able to talk. Friends, I think we have all been part of what we have been calling, a thin place moment, that moment where heaven and earth connect in a mysterious way and where healing takes place.

I know that the answers to our prayers are not always that dramatic and Todd still has a long way to go, but I just want you to know that we were all part of something special last Sunday when we came forward to pray for Todd.

Your willingness to come and touch the healing robe of Jesus on behalf of Todd last Sunday was another way that we are seeking to serve and step out of our comfort zones. Thank you for being a Holy Spirit empowered and faithful church. 

Let’s join together in prayer again this week, and see what other thin place moments happen as a result of our prayers this morning.  

Thank you O God, for answering our prayers in such a powerful way. Thank you for bringing relief to Todd this week and for helping him to speak again. We are humbled to know that in some mysterious way, beyond what our minds can fathom, we were somehow part of your healing presence this past week. 

And if that happened for Todd, we can’t even begin to imagine the many other ways that you have been offering your healing love to the people we lifted in prayer last Sunday. We’re excited about how you will use us again this week to be a blessing to those who are hurting, to those who are in pain, and to those who are going through a difficult time in their lives.

As we touch your serving robe this week, use our church to bring healing to the people of Pomeroy, Marietta, and other communities who are recovering from all of the recent flooding. Use our church to bring healing when we gather for our Athens First Saturday outreach this Saturday morning. Use our church to feed the hungry through Good Works Outreach. O God, you have reminded us of all the good that can be done through the prayers of your people and through humble service.

And so, like last Sunday, hear our prayers as we pray for those who are in need of you. Bless those who are facing medical challenges, those who have been in the hospital, those who are struggling with the flu and other illnesses. Bless those who are feeling lonely and depressed. Bless those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Bless those who are struggling to make ends meet and those who are in need of new direction in their lives.

O God, since you made it very clear last Sunday that you do hear our prayers and our prayers do make a difference, help us to be even more aware of how you are always bringing new life and transformation.

We pray all of this in the name of Jesus who not only stooped to wash the disciples’ feet, but who also humbled himself by dying on a cross for the sake of the world. It is in his name that we pray together…

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”


Item Cost (Dollar General)

Four Scouring Pads $3.00
Seven Sponges (inc. one large) $4.00
One Scrub Brush $2.00
Eighteen Reusable Cleaning Towels $4.95
One 50 oz. or Two 25 oz. Bottle(s) Liquid Laundry Detergent $2.00
One 16-28 Bottle of Liquid Disinfectant Dish Soap $1.75
One 16-28 Bottle Household Cleaner (to be mixed with water) $1.00
One package 44-50 Clothespins $1.00
Two 50 ft. or One 100 ft. Clothesline $3.50
Five Dust Masks $1.00
Two Pair Heavy Duty Waterproof Dishwashing Gloves (latex free non-surgical) $2.75
One Pair Work Gloves Cotton With Leather Palm or All Leather $7.00
24-28 Heavy Duty Or Contractor Type 30-45 Gal. Trash Bags On Roll and Removed From Carton $4.50
One 6-9 oz. Bottle Non-aerosol Insect Repellent $3.95
One 5 gal. Bucket With Resealable Lid TBD Total $42.40

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sermon (Feb. 25) by Rev. Robert McDowell "Come, Touch the Serving Robe of Jesus”

     Much has been written and preached on this passage about Jesus washing the disciple’s feet.

     It is John’s telling of the last supper story, or the Passover meal. The big difference is that in John’s account, there is no bread that is broken and no wine that is served.  In John’s story, the action revolves around Jesus washing the disciple’s feet and how he explains what he has done with his disciples.

     This scripture about the serving robe teaches us about what it means to serve others in God’s kingdom. It teaches us about a new commandment that Jesus gave the disciples which is to love one another.

     These are themes that are almost always covered on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week, because this is the appointed gospel reading for that night in the church year.

     We’re using a little different approach during this Lenten season.  We’re combining the choir anthems and the sermons, and taking a look at how the different kinds of robes that Jesus wore can teach us some important lessons about Jesus, that can then draw us into a closer, deeper, and more personal relationship with him.

     As I was thinking about what Jesus’ robe might teach us from this story, it hit me that we can learn some things more from the actions of Jesus with his robe, than from the robe itself.  The first thing is, Jesus took off his robe.  He served the disciples by washing their feet.  And then, he put his robe back on.

     I’d like to use this story today to think about how we can become more like Jesus through what we take off, and by what we put on.

    The disciples were probably pretty shocked when Jesus took up the basin and the towel and began to wash their feet. He was Jesus.  He was their teacher.  He was their Master.  He was their Lord.  Foot washing was not something that masters did.

     Imagine your surprise if you saw a King shining someone’s shoes.  Or, what would you think if you saw the Queen of England giving someone a pedicure?  Either of those two scenes would be out of place. You’d never expect to see either one of those things happen.

     In the days of Jesus, foot washing was done by the servants of the household.  And it was no more glamorous of a job in Jesus day, than it would be today!  People’s feet get really dry and dirty and calloused and cracked when they walk around for miles wearing sandals. To wash someone’s feet was an act of hospitality and care.  It was also an act of servitude and humility.

     No wonder Simon Peter told Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.”  Not Jesus.  Not his master.  Not ever.  Still, there Jesus was with his wash basin and his towel.  He knelt in front of them one by one and washed their feet, calluses and all.

     When he was done, he told them why. He said, “I’m setting an example for you.”  “You also should do what I have done to you.”

     Just what did Jesus do?

     Well, John tells us that when the festival of the Passover had come, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.  He had loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

     So, he got up from the supper, took off his robe, and tied a towel around himself.

     What an act of humility that was!

     There is almost nothing more humbling than to feel underdressed in public when it is out of place.  Ever since the Garden of Eden when the man and the woman realized they were naked, human beings have had a fear of “being naked” both literally, and metaphorically.

     We feel much more in control and like we have more authority when we’re dressed for success, when we look the part of being in control and having authority.

     Jesus has authority and control, yet he laid it aside.

     He set aside the glory and eternal praises of heaven, to come to earth where people would reject him.

    He set aside his outer garment at the supper so he could fill the role of a slave and wash the disciple’s feet.

     And all of this is to foreshadow the ultimate laying aside that Jesus would soon demonstrate…willingly laying aside his own life, and dying on a cruel, hard, cross.

     Being a servant is hard.  And being a slave?  It’s a repulsive idea to us. Yet that is what our scripture says.

     So, what attitudes must we willingly lay aside or take off, if we are going to follow the example of our Lord Jesus, and serve?

     How about our ego?  We can’t think about how good we are, or that we’re above serving.

     How about a lack of compassion for others and the needs of others?

     Here’s another piece of clothing we need to set aside - being judgmental.

      We need to take all of these attitudes off, if we are going to be able to serve with same mind that Christ served. 

     On that night in the upper room, as Jesus washed their feet, in that moment, I wonder if the disciples finally ‘got it’. They had been hand-selected by Jesus from the crowds.  From the smelly dregs of farms and boat docks he had called them, and given new meaning to their lives. With him they were something special. He had elevated them above the plow and the fishing net… or so it seemed.

     The disciples were special. Jesus called only twelve of them out of everyone he could have chosen.  But Jesus didn’t call them from the crowds of farmers and fishermen so that they would enjoy a greater status. Jesus called them to serve. He called them to teach them so they could carry on his ministry of loving people after he departed.  

     And we can almost imagine the disciples asking after Jesus was taken up to heaven, “What in the world are we going to do now?”   Throughout the rest of their lives, as many rejected them, persecuted them, and eventually killed most of them, can’t you just hear them asking, “What do we do with these people now?”

     It reminds me of a story I heard several years ago about a man who was awaiting the birth of his first child.  This story happened in the days before dads were allowed in the delivery room with their wives.          

     This new dad stood there in the hospital waiting room, nervous as he could be, and finally after what seemed like forever, a nurse called him back into the nursery to meet his newborn son…

     Only it wasn’t a son. It was sons – twin boys! Of course, back then they didn’t really have ultrasounds and sonograms.  This dad found out he was having twins the minute he looked them right in the face! 

     The nurse let him hold them both at once.  He said he remembered standing there with a tiny bundle in each arm, asking God, “What in the world am I going to do?”

     And, in that moment he imagined what God might say back to him. The answer was, “Just love them.” “Just love them.”

     When I think back to the births of my children, I remember holding each little bundle in my arms and seeing them face-to-face for the first time.  Suddenly, I was a father.  And holding each softly swaddled newborn, the world had suddenly changed for me. 

    While certainly overcome with joy and elation, I also had a healthy dose of anxiety and uncertainty mixed in.  How would I be a father to this child?  Each of those amazing events was one of those moments when I asked God “What in the world am I going to do?”  And once again, the answer came: “Just love her. Just love him.”

     I think that’s really Jesus’ message to his disciples, too.  He’s preparing them for a time when he will no longer be with them, and they’ll be the ones doing ministry.  They’ll be the ones standing in front of the crowds of people, staring right into the faces of people of all shapes and sizes, all suffering from their own brokenness and longing to be made whole by God’s grace.  

     When Jesus left them, I’m sure the disciples had plenty of those “What in the world are we going to do?” moments.  But then they will remember Jesus, with his wash basin and towel. They’ll remember his example of how he expects them to treat other people. It’s like he’s saying, “See? It’s simple. I’m sending you out into the world, into those crowds of people from whom I called you. What are you to do?  Just love them. Just love them.”

     Last Sunday, we commissioned Jenaye Hill as our new Stephen Ministry Leader. We have a very active Stephen Ministry here in our church which offers one to one peer support for a set amount of time. Stephen Ministry is especially helpful if you’re experiencing a difficult time in your life or if you are going through some kind of transition in your life and you just need someone who will listen and pray with you.

     Jenaye has been serving as our Office Manager & Communications Director for the past two and a half years, but during this time, she was also praying to be open to God’s calling in her life.

     When Sharon Stoltzfus announced that she felt called by God to step aside as our Stephen Ministry leader and focus more on our prayer ministry, Jenaye felt God calling her to move into this Stephen Ministry Leader role.

     So Jenaye went to the week long and very intensive Stephen Ministry Leader training last month in Florida. While she was there for her training, she continued to feel God calling her to serve, but she wasn’t sure what else that might be. Wasn’t this Stephen Ministry Leader training enough on her plate?

     After she came back, she was telling me that she still felt God was calling her to serve in some way but she wasn’t sure what that might be. Around that time, I received a call from the district office. 

    They wanted to know if there was anybody in our church who felt a calling to pastor a couple of small churches near Athens. Jenaye immediately came to mind because of her shepherding heart.

     I called her immediately and asked her to pray about becoming the pastor of these two churches. It’s not everyday that you ask your Office Manager if she might feel called into the pastoral ministry.

     So Jenaye prayed about it and long story short, today is her first Sunday of worship at Union and New Marshfield United Methodist Churches. A couple of weeks ago, I went to the initial introduction meeting with Jenaye to meet the members of those two churches. They haven’t had a pastor for some time so they were absolutely thrilled when they met Jenaye and heard how God had called her to respond to this new calling in her life.

     They had been praying for God to send them a caring pastor, and God had answered their prayer. Like our own Rick Seiter who is serving at Pisgah UMC, Jenaye is beginning her process toward becoming a license local pastor which means a long process of taking pastoral ministry courses and being in a mentor group.

     The good news for us is that Jenaye’s new appointment at these churches is only a quarter time so she will be able to continue to be our Office Manager and our Stephen Ministry Leader. 

     I wonder if Jenaye feels like a new parent of twins, but instead of two babies, she is now cradling two churches. She wonders, like any new pastor of a two point charge wonders, “What in the world am I going to do now?” And a voice responds, “Just love them. Just love them.”

     God has a way of handing us these babies and we wonder, “What in the world are we going to do now? 

     Like a couple of weeks ago, when we were asked to provide a meal on March 9th for Good Works Outreach because they can’t find a group available on that week. And like this week when we have been asked to donate and assemble flood buckets to help with the clean-up down in Pomeroy. 

     We were handed these two babies and we asked, “What in the world do we do now?”  And the answer came, “Just love them. Just love them.”

     As we go through our day to day living, God provides us with opportunities to serve others like Jesus did when he washed the disciples’ feet.

    We encounter pain and brokenness in our community and world. There are people who have lost hope, who are discouraged, and who are struggling to make ends meet. And we wonder what we can possibly do in these situations.

      And so we touch the serving robe of Jesus. And once again the answer comes to us,

     “Just love them.” “Just love them.”

Come, Touch the Serving Robe of Jesus
Small Group Questions
John 13:1-17
February 25, 2018

John's telling of the Last Supper meal does not include the parts about Jesus lifting the bread and the cup to signify his body and blood. Instead, he chooses to focus on Jesus' washing the disciples feet at that meal, which was something only servants did in that time period. This action by Jesus surprised the disciples. John wants us to see that even though Jesus is the true King of kings, he is also a very loving/humble/serving King.

Share a time when you were surprised by somebody's humble service on your behalf.

In order to serve the disciples, Jesus chose to lay aside his garment during that foot washing.

What is God calling you to "lay aside" in order to serve others in his name?

Pastor Robert shared the story of a father who was surprised when his wife gave birth to newborn twins. Feeling overwhelmed and under qualified to be a dad to newborn twins, he cried out to God, "What in the world am I going to do?" He could hear God answering back, "Just love them. Just love them."

What does this phrase mean to you? "Just love them. Just love them." How can this response help you to serve others when you are feeling overwhelmed and under qualified?

Richard Foster, author of the book, "Celebration of Discipline" offers these thoughts on being true servants of Christ. Take turns reading these in your small small group and listen for the ones that really stand out for you:
Self-righteous service comes through human effort.  True service comes from a relationship with the divine “other” that comes from deep inside us.

Self-righteous service is impressed with the "big deal."  True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service.

Self-righteous service requires external rewards.  True service rests contented in hiddenness.

Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service is free of the need to calculate results.

Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.

Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims.  True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.

Self-righteous service is temporary.  True service is a life-style.

Self-righteous service is without sensitivity.  It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive.  True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it.

Self-righteous service fractures community.  True service, on the other hand, builds community.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Pastoral Prayer (Feb. 18) Athens First UMC

[The pastoral prayer had a different feel this Sunday. As part of our “Come, Touch the Robe” season of Lent worship theme (click here for the sermon), people were invited to come forward to one of several healing stations to receive the anointing of oil. Some people came forward for a personal need and others came forward on behalf of others. Same came forward on behalf of our broken and hurting world including the recent shooting at a school in Florida. We concluded our time of healing by inviting folks to come forward for a closing prayer of thanksgiving which is the photo above. All of this time of healing during worship began after our congregation prayed the prayer of healing found below. 

Prayer for Healing

Almighty and everlasting God, who can banish all affliction both of soul and of body, show forth your power upon those in need, that by your mercy they may be restored to serve you afresh in holiness of living, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sermon (Feb. 18) by Rev. Robert McDowell "Come, Touch the Healing Robe of Jesus”

During the Sundays of Lent, we are focusing upon Jesus' ministry by using the image of his clothing, his robe. Last week, our theme was the shining robe of the Transfiguration. Jesus is a reflection of God's glory and we can also reflect God's love by our actions of kindness.

Today, we are looking at the healing robe. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus is well known as a healer. He is seen as having great compassion for people and a desire to lift them out of their suffering. People are not left in the condition that he finds them.

 Here is a general description from Mark:

“That evening at sundown, they brought to Jesus all who were sick. And the whole town was gathered around the door. And Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases. All who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.”

In the Gospel story for today, we have an unnamed woman who is  part of a crowd that was gathering around Jesus.

We are told a few things about her: she has a persistent  illness and for 12 years she has sought medical help. Her health has not improved. Financially, she has little resources left.

If you have been sick or taken care of someone sick, you know what this means.

One's daily life changes: your schedule revolves around appointments, and medications, and tests, and waiting for answers.  You lose touch with what is happening outside.  People have told me: “the only time I go outside the house is to the doctor.”   

For this woman, because of the nature of her sickness, she would not be welcome in certain places.  Every day she would have to deal with the debilitating fatigue of chronic anemia.  Illness can isolate us from our neighbors, and add to our loss of hope.

A friend of mine told me that during the early 1940's she had an aunt who had tuberculosis  and was sent to a sanatorium in the mountains of N.C.   She was some distance away and her family did not have a means for visiting her.  Her aunt felt very alone and neglected during the many months she was away. 

Even after she returned to her community, she had problems reconnecting with the family. Illness effects many areas of our lives, not just our bodies.

The woman in the story must have used all her energy in order to find Jesus. She has a bold faith. Desperation could have spurred her on but she is courageous.  She doesn't ask for permission but she takes hold of the edge of Jesus' robe believing that something would happen if she could just make contact.

She touches his clothing, and her medical problem is resolved. She may have been known as “that sick lady who lives on the corner” and now she is well! Jesus turns, acknowledges her, and wants to hear her story.

In a very tender way, he breaks down barriers to make her part of the community again: Jesus calls her “daughter.”  

If this woman has been shunned before, she is accepted now by Jesus. Everyone around has over heard the details of her pain, but they have also heard about her faith.

To be well was important to Jesus and it is important to us also.

We offer prayer every Sunday for those in need. Our Tuesday morning prayer team faithfully prays for each and every one of the joys and concerns that we provide through Sunday worship and our outdoor prayer cross. Our children make encouraging cards that are given to our homebound members.

Our Stephen ministry offers one to one peer support for those who are experiencing brokenness in their lives. We offer the anointing of oil whenever we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. And we will be offering a time of healing in worship today as well.

Now, I cannot explain the hows or the whys of our many prayers for healing.

When the outcome is not what we wanted, when we wonder “why not me,” I can't say it was because we did not have enough faith or we didn't pray in the right ways.

I do believe that there are always changes because of prayer: for those who are praying, and for the situation. Even when we are disappointed, we can receive God's peace. Even when we are heartbroken, we can realize that God is still with us. We may not be able to see the many ways that God's love was realized in our lives or in others' lives.
Kayla Mueller was a young woman from Arizona who worked for human rights thru a variety of organizations in many countries. In 2013 she was taken hostage in Syria; she died in captivity three years ago.

Following all of this, her family released a letter that Kayla had written to them.  She stated in the letter her great appreciation for their support.  

She wrote: “I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end, the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator because literally there was no else ... by God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in free fall.”        

To me that phrase “tenderly cradled in free fall” captures the essence of the experience of prayer.  As we pray for someone else, we become part of their story, we offer our love and our support.  We become part of God's wide net of compassion.

We will take time today to pray for ourselves and for others.  Everyone of us hurts in some way or knows of the heartache of another. We may need the healing of a broken relationship, the release from an addiction, the lifting of a burden.

A doctor was writing about this Gospel passage and he commented that when Jesus healed persons, it appears to happen very quickly.  In the doctor's experience, healing may be a slow process, and  patience and prayer are part of that process.

We will have stations up front where we will offer the anointing of oil. When you come for prayer, you will be anointed with oil and a blessing will be offered. 

You may not have a pressing need, but wish to come in recognition of Christ's care for you.  You are welcome to come representing  the need of another person. You may want to pray for a family or a neighborhood. You may feel led to come because of your concern for  a situation in our world that is overwhelming.  There will be no asking of why you came, only a claiming of God's grace for you and for whatever is on your heart.

Just as the woman from our scripture reading emerged from the crowd and touched the hem of Jesus’ robe, we too, are invited to come and receive God’s healing comfort and presence.

As we sing several hymns about healing, come as you feel led. Come and touch the robe.

Come, Touch the Healing Robe of Jesus
Small Group Discussion Questions
Psalm 25:1-10 & Luke 8:43-48
February 18, 2018

Our Gospel reading provides the story that probably best sums up our season of Lent sermon series on the different robes of Jesus. We are told that a woman who had been ill for 12 years, "came up behind him (Jesus) and touched the fringe of his clothes..." During these weeks of Lent, we are invited to come, touch Jesus' robe. 

What helps you to be bold in your faith like this woman who was willing to reach out and touch Jesus' robe? 

In addition to physical healing, Jesus' also offers emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual healing and many times, these kinds of healing overlap.

How has Jesus brought healing in your life? Are you in need of a particular kind of healing now?

The woman in our Gospel reading who needed to be healed probably experienced social isolation because of her illness and being considered "unclean" by the people around her.

Share a time when you felt renewed and strengthened thanks to the care, support, and encouragement from others. Why is being in community and relationship with others an important part of our health and well-being?

Some of our church's healing ministries include our prayer ministry, the anointing of oil during our Holy Communion Sundays, and Stephen Ministry which offers one to one peer support for people who are going through a particular challenge or transition in their lives.

Share any prayer needs for people who need healing in their lives.

Close your time together by offering this prayer for healing:

Almighty and everlasting God, who can banish all affliction both of soul and of body, show forth your power upon those in need, that by your mercy they may be restored to serve you afresh in holiness of living, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.