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

Monday, October 29, 2018

Sunday Pastoral Prayer (Oct. 28/Youth Sunday) Athens First UMC

[We celebrated Youth Sunday. Our youth led the worship services and our Holy Hands Puppeteers offered a fun skit on the story of Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus. Click here for the skit. Our church is so blessed to have youth who are active in our church and who help us understand the scriptures from their perspective.]

Jesus, come and fill your lambs. Fill your lambs with new sight to help us see our way forward more clearly like you did for Bartimaeus. Fill your lambs with the energy of youth when we begin to feel weary. Fill your lambs with conviction like you did for Martin Luther when he posted the 95 theses on the doors of the Wittenberg Church on this anniversary Sunday of the Protestant Reformation.

Jesus, come and fill your lambs. 

We especially pray on this Youth Sunday for you to come and fill each of our young people with the the full assurance that they belong to you. Whenever they get discouraged, face disappointment, feel lost or experience stress, fill them anew with your love.

Fill us all anew with your love in this world where bomb threats, violent rhetoric, blatant racism, and abusive behavior seem to be an all too common occurrence. Fill us anew so that we can be the change that we want to see in this world that you created.

Fill us anew so that we can continue to be your people who pick up litter along the highway, arrange flowers to bless someone’s day in the hospital, provide meals for the community, pray up and down Court Street, and help build a home with Habitat for Humanity. 

Jesus, come and fill your lambs who are gathered here this morning or who are listening over the radio. We give to you all the things that hold us, all our tears and sadness, and all our years of pain. We give all of this to you silently in this very moment and lift our hands in sweet surrender to you.

(Moments of Silence)

Fill your lambs, dear Jesus and descend upon our lives and make us whole even as we pray the prayer you taught us to pray together,

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Holy Hands Puppeteers Skit (Oct. 28/Youth Sunday) “Trick Or Treat”



Pastor Robert: Well hello children!  Happy Halloween!  Now let’s see what we have here….

Meena:  I’m The Black Widow!

Connor: I’m Thor, the God of Thunder!

Mackenzie:  Ummm… I’m a ghost.

Pastor Robert: Why doesn’t your costume have eye-holes?

Meena: Mom wouldn’t let her cut holes in her good sheets.

Mackenzie: Yeah, so I’m a BLIND ghost.  WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Meena: But mom insists on following us around to make sure nobody gets hurt.

Mom (Kamile): (off stage) Hi Pastor Robert!!  

Pastor Robert: (Waves)

Mackenzie: Parents!!

Connor: I’m the god of thunder!  Nobody can hurt me!

Mackenzie: I wish I could see what is going on.

Pastor Robert:  Well I know about someone who was able to make the blind see.

Mackenzie: Really?  Where is his house?  Maybe he can fix my costume.

Pastor Robert: I’m talking about Jesus.  He cured 2 blind men when he was on his way to Jericho.

Meena:  How would he fix Mackenzie’s costume?  Maybe he could make the sheet transparent!

Pastor Robert: Well, Jesus didn’t really….

Connor: OR he could send lightning bolts from his hammer to burn 2 eye-holes

Pastor Robert: I don’t think Jesus could do that but…

Mackenzie: Yeah, Jesus doesn’t have a lightening hammer like Thor.

Meena: Maybe he could punch him in the head to reset his vision, just like Natasha Romanoff did to Hawkeye in the Avengers.  HAAAAYAAAA!!!!

Mackenzie:  Maybe, he could use a spell like Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme!

Pastor Robert:  I don’t think Jesus would do any of the things like that.

Meena: Well what kind of super hero is he?  What are his super powers?

Connor: Yeah if he can cure the blind he must have some super powers!

Pastor Robert: Well, as a matter of fact, Jesus did have super powers.

Meena: Like what?

Pastor Robert: Well, he could cure the sick, raise the dead and even feed a bunch of people with just a few fish and a bit of wine.

Mackenzie:  WOW!  So he could command an army of the dead.  COOL!

Pastor Robert: No, that is not what I mean.  I mean that he could help people.

Connor: Like the Avengers! 

Meena:  Or Wonder Woman!

Connor: If you’re into that DC universe stuff.

Meena: Helping people is nice, but it’s not really a super power. 

Connor: Yeah Dr. Strange could cure people and stuff.  Pastor Robert, what was Jesus’s real super power?

Pastor Robert: Love

All 3 children: LOVE???!!!

Pastor Robert: Yes, love.  Love is the most powerful force in the universe.  Jesus said “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” It can defeat the greatest of enemies.

Connor: Even Thanos?

Meena: Connor!  Thanos is make believe.  Jesus is REAL.

Mackenzie: I should have dressed up as Jesus for Halloween.  At least then I would be able to see.


Meena: Thanks Pastor Robert.

Connor: Yeah, I like talking to you.

Mackenzie:  But I think you left something out.

Pastor Robert: What is that?


Monday, October 22, 2018

Sunday Pastoral Prayer (Oct. 21) Athens First UMC

[Our church received six people into church membership at our 10:30 service. Left to Right - Lina Blunk, Barb Ward, Sarah Mangen, Sophia, Kathy Mangen, Lewis Mangen. Our worship theme was on the various thirsts we have and how Jesus can use our thirsts to bless others and fill us anew. For the sermon, click here.]

O God, we’re thirsty. We’re thirsty for all kinds of things like love, power, freedom, fun, and security. Thank you for creating each one of us with unique thirsts for life and for people in our lives who know that we can never have enough ketchup bottles stored in our food pantry.

You know our needs. You know our deepest longings. Just like you did for James and John, help us to know when we’re thirsty and what you are calling us to do with those thirsts. 

When we get thirsty, take us to that cold and clear flowing stream. When we need to cool down, help us to feel the mist of a water-fall. When we grow tired, like the Psalmist, lead us beside those still waters.

O God, baptize us afresh in the life-giving Spirit of Jesus.

Living Water, bless our thirsty world; thirsty for justice, thirsty for peace, thirsty for equality, thirsty for freedom, thirsty for the basic necessities of life.

Living Water, bless our thirsty community; thirsty for knowledge, thirsty for hope, thirsty for compassion, thirsty for a loving faith community that is authentic and truly cares.

And Living Water, bless our thirsty church family; thirsty for continued growth, thirsty for life-transforming loving, learning, and living faith ministries, thirsty for your healing presence, thirsty for being a haven of blessing and peace in this university community.

Just as the beautiful autumn leaves begin to fall around us, may we also allow our worries, our stresses, our sins, our brokenness, our unfulfilled dreams, our hurts, and our doubts to just gently fall to the ground.

Replenish us and fill us anew even as we pray the prayer you taught us to say together, 

Our Father, who art in heaven…

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sermon (Oct. 21) by Rev. Robert McDowell “Thirst”


    Our Gospel reading this morning is a scripture about what do we do with our thirst. For what are you thirsty? That’s a dangerous question to ask in a college town isn’t it, especially right before the big Halloween party.

     For what are you thirsty? 

     James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples knew about their thirsts. They were thirsty for power. They wanted to be chosen over the other disciples and rule with Jesus once he established his kingdom. They were thirsty for power. Hold on to that thought, because I’ll come back to James and John and their thirst for power a little later. 

     But for now, I want us to think about for what are you thirsty?

     Every once in a while, my wife who is an avid reader will say to me, “Read this book!” She says that to me because she knows that it will relate to something in my life or in my role as a pastor.

     So during our vacation this past summer, she gave me the book, The Path to Serendipity: Discover the Gifts Along Life’s Journey. It’s actually a book for educators but Penny said that it has value for people in general. She said that it will only take me two hours at the most to read. Two weeks later, I finished the book! It’s actually an easy read but I get distracted.

     So here’s the main point of the book. Everyone has different kinds of thirsts in life. And when we realize this, it can help us understand why people, including ourselves, choose to do the things we do. 

     The book is based on William Glasser’s Choice Theory which involves five basic thirsts that we have to varying degrees. In no particular order, these thirsts are belonging, power, freedom, fun, and survival.

     In her book, The Path to Serendipity, Allyson Apsey invites us to think about these five needs in life as five separate internal gas tanks. By the way, see what I’m doing here? I’m working this book into the sermon just so that Penny will know that I did in fact read it. So, basically what I’m about to give to you is my book report that Principal McDowell assigned to me this past summer.

     We are all born with these five needs or thirsts, but our gas tanks are all different sizes. Someone can have a larger tank for freedom, and another person can have a small tank for freedom. The person with the larger freedom tank will will need more freedom in his/her life to feel satisfied. We’re all wired differently and that’s OK.

     The author of this book goes on to say, “No one can fill someone else’s need tank, but we can help create need-satisfying environments for each other. This is true in a marriage, in a classroom, at work, or at home.” And I would add at church. She then says that, “once we are aware of what other people need, we can help them get it.”

     So, here is a quick summary of these five thirsts or internal gas tanks that we all have in various levels. And remember, these are all valid thirsts. We just have them in varying degrees.


     The thirst of belonging is simply that. Some of us have a higher need than others to feel connected with other people. For people with a high capacity “Belonging Tank,” they tend to be thirsty for relationships, social connections, and feeling part of a group. These are people who don’t want to feel left out from belonging to a group. That’s the thirst for belonging.


     The thirst for freedom is different from the thirst for belonging because this thirst is the need to be autonomous and more independent. If you have a high capacity for freedom, you probably don’t have as high a need for being part of a group. You tend to want to forge your own way.


     Then we come to the thirst for survival. If you have a large tank for survival, this means that you tend to be focused on making sure that you have the basics in life like food, shelter, and safety. 

     So, as Penny and I were reviewing these five thirsts together, she said to me, “Oh this is so you.” And she’s right because one day when I opened the refrigerator door, I noticed that the ketchup container was almost empty. I knew that we had another one in the refrigerator but in my mind, we should always have three extras. So I asked Penny to put ketchup on the grocery list.

     She then took me over to the food pantry and showed me the four large containers of ketchup that I had forgotten about. Ketchup is a basic necessity of life in my book! People with the thirst for survival also tend to be fiscally conservative and that’s me as well so I have a pretty big emotional survival tank.


     And then, there is the thirst for fun. Penny also said, “That is so you as well!” She’s right. I love to have fun! Having a high capacity fun tank means that you like to laugh and play, and tell dad jokes, and post silly things on Facebook. 

     It’s important to remember that all of us have these tanks to various capacities, it’s a matter of which tanks are larger than the others.


     And last but not least because these are in no particular order is the tank or the thirst for power. The thirst for power is when you have a desire to achieve something, have a high sense of self worth, and appreciate it when people recognize your efforts.

     So now I’m going to circle back to those two disciples, James and John when they told Jesus that they wanted to sit at his right and his left in glory. This tells me that based on the five thirsts that we all have, they both had high capacity power tanks. After all, these two brothers were given the nickname, “Sons of Thunder.” 

    And again, there is nothing wrong that they had this thirst for power. Like I said, having a thirst for power can be a good thing because it can be a driving force to help you to accomplish great things. 

     So what were the disciples really saying when they told Jesus that they wanted to be seated next to him in glory? Some people interpret this in more of a spiritual way where James and John were wanting Jesus to know that they desired to be seated with Jesus in heaven some day.

     I think this interpretation is because of the word, “glory” which some people use interchangeably with the word, “heaven.” We talk about going on to glory or to heaven when we die.

     But if you think about the context of this scripture passage, I think the word “glory” is more to do with military/political glory than a heavenly glory. At this point of the gospel, the disciples are still trying to figure Jesus out, his mission, and his purpose. Jesus’ ways are often not our ways.

     The disciples, including James and John were probably hoping that Jesus would lead them to be free from Roman rule which tells me that in addition to power, they also probably had a high capacity thirst for freedom.

     James and John didn’t know how Jesus was going to pull this off. And so, they decide one day to let Jesus know that if he’s wondering who would be willing to rule with him in this new kingdom, that they would be excellent candidates to rule on his right and his left.

    I mean, after all, they had been part of Jesus’ inner circle along with the disciple Peter. They were the big three! Here’s there chance to leave Peter out. That would mean an even bigger slice of the pie for each of them.

     James and John had a thirst for power.

     And what did Jesus tell them? He tells them that they don’t understand what they are asking. In other words, Jesus knows their understanding of power is very different than Jesus’ understanding of power.

     And then Jesus asks the disciples the question of all questions, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?”

     That’s a thirst question isn’t it? Jesus knew they were thirsty and he rightly identified their thirst as a longing for power. And it brings us back to our opening question. For what are you thirsty?

     The cup that Jesus was referring to would be the cup that he would lift at the Last Supper when he would explain to them that he would be offering his very life for the sake of the world.       

     Have you ever wondered why Jesus is so cryptic and mysterious in passages like this? Why doesn’t he just come out and say, 

    “Hey, you have this whole idea of power all wrong. We’re not going to rule over others like the Gentiles do as he mentions later in this passage. The kind of power I’m talking about has to do with sacrifice, humility, servanthood, and even death on a cross.”

     Now, why doesn’t Jesus just hit them straight with what the kind of kingdom and power he had in mind? Why be so cryptic? 

     Well, just like us, it takes time to figure Jesus out and we never really fully do because there is always something new to learn from Jesus, something that challenges us, something that runs so counter to our way of thinking, something that points us to a whole new way of living, thinking, and being.

     And so, we have to take Jesus in doses and like James and John, he reinterprets the true meaning of power in this scripture passage. Power isn’t about overthrowing a foreign occupying empire. Power is about overthrowing our own empire of pride and selfishness.

     And as James and John and the other disciples will find out, the kind of power that Jesus is talking about is a self-emptying, sacrificial, other-centered power that will lead Jesus to die on a cross for the sake of the world. 

     That’s the kind of power that Jesus has in mind. That’s the kind of thirst for power when used lovingly, when used sacrificially, and when used in the way Jesus describes can literally change the world from the inside, out.

     We tend to define power as how can we get what we want or how I can protect what I have. Jesus shows us that true power is in giving. It’s in serving.

     I once heard a very popular rock star say that he loves when his band plays a concert in front of 60,000 adoring fans. He says how that experience feeds his ego. Live concerts feed his thirst for power. 

     But this same rock star has also said that he recognizes the opportunity that this kind of celebrity status gives him to make a difference in the world. And that is why he has been using his power, fame, and accumulated wealth to work toward the elimination of the Aids epidemic in Africa. 

     And it’s not just our thirst for power that Jesus invites us to lay at the foot of the cross. It’s our other thirsts as well, like our thirsts for belonging, freedom, fun, and survival. 

     Well, the good news is that Jesus knows our thirsts even better than we do. He knows what drives us, what motivates us, what inspires us, and what gives us fullness of life.

     James and John thought that they were ready to drink from Jesus’ cup of power, but they didn’t know Jesus’ true meaning of power. Jesus will drink from the cup on their behalf through his death on the cross. He will then be raised from the dead three days later. 

     Eventually James and John will use their thirst for power to tell everyone about the good news of Jesus Christ. They will point people to the living water that never runs dry, the living water that fulfills our thirsts for power, freedom, fun, security, and belonging. Jesus is the living water that quenches all of our thirsts.

    In her book, The Pathway to Serendipity, Allyson Apsey offers this powerful, powerful image of channeling our thirsts in such a way that we will be able to appreciate other people’s thirsts and to use our thirsts to be a blessing for others. And this image the author uses is so fitting since we are in the midt of this autumn season.

     She writes about how she was going through a particularly stressful time in her life. She was constantly going to visit her mother who had been ill. She was feeling guilty that she wasn’t spending enough time with her family. And she was facing the constant demands in her job as a principal of a school. 

     One fall day, she pulled into her school parking lot to begin her day of work. Her heart was heavy with the stress of life. Her thirst for life was depleted. 

     But as she got out of her car, and began walking across the parking lot, she couldn’t help but notice the bright orange and yellow leaves that were falling from the trees all around her. She imagined how each of those beautiful colors represented so many heavy emotions swirling in her mind. 

     They represented feelings of love and gratitude but also feelings of longing, guilt, and inadequacy. She was empty.

     And as she carefully noticed all of those beautiful leaves falling to the ground, she was reminded that it was time to let all of her conflicting emotions fall to the ground as well. Just let them fall. 

     As she got closer to the school entrance she noticed that her perspective began to change. She felt a bounce to her step and she was surprised when a smile replaced the worried look on her face. 

     She writes that as she opened the door of her school, she was emotionally ready to be the best Principal she could possibly be for her students and for her staff that day. 

     Jesus can replenish our thirst for life and uses our God given thirsts to be a blessing to others.

     When Jesus asked James and John if they would be willing to drink from the cup that he would drink, they answered, “Yes, we are able.” 

     But the truth is, sometimes, like the author of the book, we aren’t able to drink from the cup. We overestimate what we can do on our own strength. Our hearts get weighed down with worry, and guilt, and sorrow.  Like autumn leaves falling to the ground all around us, we realize just how empty we really are.

     And that’s when Jesus can take all our many thirsts and do what ONLY he can do. 

     Fill us anew.


Small Group Questions

Mark 10:35-45

October 21, 2018

In our Gospel reading, James and John reveal their thirst for power when they tell Jesus that they want to be in the top two positions of authority in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus responds by asking if they will be able to drink from the cup that he will be drinking. According to author, William Glasser who wrote the book, Choice Theory, human beings have five tanks (thirsts) that need to be filled to varying degrees. These thirsts (tanks) include 1) power 2) love/belonging 3) survival 4) freedom 5) fun. 

Which of these five thirsts (tanks) motivate you most in your life? Which motivate you the least?

Why do you think it can be helpful if we knew which thirsts are most important in each other’s lives? How might this information about our individual thirsts help us to relate to each other in better ways?

When James and John revealed to Jesus their thirst for power, they were probably thinking of political/military power in his kingdom. Jesus had a different kind of power in mind, one that would involve humility, sacrifice, and serving others. 

How have you seen someone use their thirst for power in the way that Jesus has in mind? How can you use the power that Jesus has given you to help build his kingdom here on earth?

Sunday’s sermon concluded with a story of how God wants to fill our thirsts anew. James and John thought they could fill their thirsts on their own.

Share a time when God filled one of your thirsts in a way where you felt renewed and restored. Was it a thirst for power, love/belonging, survival, freedom, or fun?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Sunday Pastoral Prayer (Oct. 14) Athens First UMC

[Our church is concluding a four-week journey on what it means to be a “heart-healthy” church. An announcement was made on Sunday that the congregation will be receiving a letter in the mail this week that will include a 2019 Estimate of Giving card to complete and return. In the cover letter that will be in that mailing, the pastor meant to say that “Our Leadership Board members are serving as “pacesetters.” Instead he used the word, “pacemakers.” In a way, “pacemakers” is actually a better word since our stewardship focus has been about being a “heart-healthy” church. O God, help each one of us to be pacemakers and have stronger hearts for you!]

Generous God, just as you so freely offer your grace to us in every single moment, we want to be the generous people you call us to be. Generous in loving. Generous in compassion. Generous in forgiveness. Generous in giving. 

You loved the world so much that you gave your only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. 

We want to receive that life, O God. We want your everlasting life to not only fill our lives, but overflow into the lives of others. O God, may our church be a church of life. May our church be a church of unbelievable generosity. May our church be a place where people experience vital ministries, authentic relationships, and life-changing hope.

O God, every single day, baptize us afresh in the life-giving Spirit of Jesus. 

Thank you for these past several weeks where we have been growing in what it means to have a heart-healthy church. Help each one of us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world by having a loving faith, a learning faith, and a living faith.

We offer this moment, this day, this week to you as many of us will be making our commitments in what you are calling us to offer you in this coming year. Help us to offer our very best! Help us to offer our financial gifts in such a way that will best serve you and your church. 

Lord Jesus, we saw you heal a man who was blind from his birth and we thought you couldn’t possibly be more generous. 

We were in awe as you taught the people about God’s kingdom and offered people hope and we thought you couldn’t possibly be more generous. 

We saw you feed 5,000 hungry people with just a couple of fish and a some bread and we thought you couldn’t possibly be more generous. 

We saw you miraculously raise Lazarus from the grave and we thought you couldn’t possibly be more generous. 

But then, what changed everything for us is when we watched you suffer and die on a wooden cross for the sake of the world, and we that’s when we finally realized. That’s when we finally realized.

We totally underestimated just how much you really love the world.

Generous Lord, teach us to pray the words that Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Congregation Questionnaire - Heart Healthy Sermon Series

What do you love about our church?

     “The emphasis on prayer and trusting God.”

     “The people.”

     “The many opportunities for church fellowship and our music ministry is awesome!” By the way, several people commented on how much they love our music ministry.

     “Inclusive hospitality.”

     “The worship services and our beautifully remodeled sanctuary.”

     “Members are accepting of other people.”

     “The church is my family.”

     “It is so welcoming and inclusive.”

     “I enjoy and applaud our church’s participation in the community.”

     “All that we do for others. God is here.”

     “Our Growing Tree preschool. The location. Monday Lunch.”

     “Our church’s mascots, Lulu and Blu.” 

     Monday Lunch was mentioned several times.

     “We are made up of very kind, giving folks who truly feel like family.”

     “The first thought popped into my head when I read that question was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’” 

     “The joyfulness of gatherings on Sunday mornings. Our Leadership Board. Friday Email Communications.”

     “I feel at home here. We are a haven of blessing and peace for college students. I love that we can write down prayer requests and know that our Tuesday prayer team will pray over these. I receive so much encouragement here.”

     “I love the people, the staff, and yes, even the pastor.”

     “Our new elevator!”

     “The friendly community, love and support”

     “The refreshments before church! The music ministry!”

     “I love how the church is so open to everyone and so welcome.”

     “Enthusiasm to find ways to display God’s love through engaging the community.”

Who in the church has helped you grow in your faith?

     “Our Trinity Sunday School class and my United Methodist Women’s Circle group.”

     “My small group where we regularly meet to share our faith and discuss the past Sunday’s sermon and how it connects with our daily lives.”

     “My mom – She did the most good she could while living a very ordinary life.”

     “My family, ministers of the church, and the church staff.”

     “Someone wrote this about another church member. This person is always ready to offer support and prayers for us who need them.”

     “I love how this person responded. She mentioned several Christian authors who have had a positive influence and her husband.”

     “Parents & church community”

     “My Sunday School teachers and the youth group have helped me to have lots of faith.”

     “My confirmation mentor and my fellow youth.”

     This church member had a really long list that included thirty-two of your names! He also mentioned several ministry teams that have been a blessing in his life like Telecare callers, choir members, bell choir members, Athens First Saturday volunteers, people on the Missions Team. 

     Someone else mentioned how our prayer team and the small group this person attends has been a positive influence.

     Someone else shared about his father who would read from the Bible every Sunday evening and then they would pray and sing hymns while his mom played an old pump organ.

What are your hopes for the church?

     “That our church continues to be welcoming to all, and to reach out to invite others in the Christian faith.”

     “That is will be the Light of Christ and bring the Light of Christ into the darkness, sharing the love of Christ and his salvation and grow, bringing life, hope, healing, peace, purpose to the broken and lost.”

     “I hope we continue to find ways to reach out to the homeless, mentally ill, and those we see different than ourselves.”

     “Ministries where we can get to know other members more intimately.”

     “That we would proclaim God’s Word and that it would be transformed and renewed into His image.”

     “I hope that we can continue to make students and other newcomers feel at home. I hope our church, and the rest of the denomination can welcome all people regardless of their sexual orientation.”

     “That we remain a loving place. That people feel welcome. That it continues to be a place for community events. And that we continue to have the best potlucks.”

     “A stronger, more interactive youth group.”

     “Have more youth participation in church.”

     “I have hopes that lots of college students notice how nice and welcome our church is.”

     “Continue to be a welcoming and inclusive space.”

     “That we seek to be the church outside of these four walls.”

     Some other more specific ideas included to continue to offer more service projects, ministries with the college students, continue to grow in our emphasis on prayer, add more small groups, focus more on our children’s and youth ministries, continue to reach out to our community, encourage more people in our church to be involved in ministry, share in ministry with the other churches, and continued support of our Honduras mission trips.
     One of you offered this comment which I think sums up what this whole “Heart-Healthy” series is about when you offered this hope for our church…“That our hearts grow bigger.”

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sermon (October 14) by Rev. Robert McDowell “Heart Healthy: Our Commitments”

     I’ve been enjoying our four week church-wide journey as we’ve been focusing on the theme of being a Heart Healthy churh.  So many of you have been sharing personal examples of where you have experienced sacrificial giving thanks to someone who was generous on your behalf.

    I’d like to share a personal story as well.  My dad loved to go deer hunting in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.  He even bought a little hunting cabin in that area of the state when I was still in school.

     It was an annual ritual to head up to the mountains on the Sunday after Thanksgiving so that we would be ready for the opening morning of the new deer season.  I always enjoyed going up to the mountains.  But what I didn’t like was getting up at 4 on that early Monday morning which was always bitterly cold.

     It didn’t matter how many layers of clothing and coats I wore.  I knew that in less than two hours, I would be freezing there at my deer hunting post.  But this one year was the worst!

     We had been walking a long time on the frosty ground, wading across small creeks, and going against the chilly mountain wind.  When I finally made it to my spot to watch for deer, I noticed that my feet were already really cold, bitterly cold.  I was probably wearing three pairs of insulated socks so I knew there was a problem.

     When I found dad, I told him that my feet were freezing.  He could see that my one of my boots had a hole in it.  I took it off and discovered that my socks were soaking wet from walking through the little streams of water during the cold morning hours.

    My dad then switched boots with me.  He gave me his good ones and he wore my pair with holes in them.  I knew that dad was cold too, but he sacrificed so that I would be warm.

     This story always brings a smile to my face because that’s who dad was.  He was always thinking of others first.  To help me remember dad and this hunting story from my child hood, I have kept those hunting boots that he gave to me that day. 

      These boots are a symbol for me of God’s sacrifice for all of us.

      These kinds of examples help us to see that giving is in our nature.  It’s a God given quality from our birth.

     Probably the most well known verse in the bible is a verse about giving.  John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

     The whole mission of Jesus was that he gave himself totally for the sake of the world.  He died on a cross to offer salvation and redemption to the world.  Jesus was always giving.  As the embodiment of God, Jesus was showing us that God is a giving God.  And as the perfect human being, Jesus was showing that we too have been created in God’s image to be a people who are giving and generous.

     Giving is part of the character of God. Bishop Schnase puts it this way in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Living: 
We give because we are made in the image of God, whose essential nature is giving. We are created with God’s nature imprinted on our souls; we are hard-wired to be social, compassionate, connected, loving, and generous. 

     The entire teaching of the 2 Corinthians passage leading to verse 24 is about giving. Paul concludes that giving is proof or evidence of our love of God. God doesn’t force us to be generous. When we truly accept the generous gift of God’s love, our only possible response is to live and to give generously. 

     Rev. George Cooper, the Council on Development Director of our West Ohio Conference shared this story of extravagant generosity with me a while back.  When he was a pastor in the East Ohio conference, he and his wife would eat lunch out after church on Sundays.  They chose a restaurant that was a little out of the way, but it was quiet and they had good food.

     The person who waited on them was really nice, so George and his wife left a really nice tip of $10 for a $14 meal.  When George and his wife returned to the same restaurant the next Sunday, this same waiter gave them a coupon for a free meal.

     When George asked why, the waiter said, “Well, you gave me such a nice tip the last time that my manager wanted to do something nice for you and that’s why I’m giving you this free lunch coupon.”

     So this time, George and his wife gave the waiter a $20 tip.

     Next Sunday, they return to the restaurant and the waiter offers them another free meal coupon.  And George said, “You don’t have to keep doing this.  We just appreciate your service so much.”  And the waiter said, “But my manager wants to keep being nice to you with these free lunch coupons.”

     Here’s the point that George was making in telling this story.  Extravagant generosity is contagious.  When you share generously with others, it has a ripple effect.  Generosity becomes a lifestyle, a way of life.

     Austin Gutwein was a  9 year old boy in Arizona when he saw a World Vision video about  a little girl in Zambia, Africa  (Maggie) who had only one living relative, a great-grandmother, because of the AIDS epidemic. Austin could not forget what he saw, and that he had  to do something for kids who are orphans. That year on World Aids Day he shot over 2000 free throws on his school basketball court. He raised $3000!

     Austin is now 18 years old and the project he began “Hoops for Hope” is participated in by youth all over the U.S and the world. The last I checked, two and a half million dollars has been raised to help children in poverty.

     Austin, in his wisdom, has said that the world is filled with people who are “Maggies” in their own way.  Some are lonely, some are struggling to find God, some are sick or hungry, some just need a friend.

     He continues:  “God wants to use us to make a difference to real people who are in real need right now.”

     Austin reminds us that our commitments really are meant to come from the heart.

     We’re going to conclude our four-week “Heart Healthy” sermon series today by thinking about an important commitment that we can make to Christ and his church for 2019.  During these past four weeks, we have been giving all of our focus to thinking about what it means to have a heart-healthy faith and a heart-healthy church. 

     On the first Sunday, we thought a lot about how God has blessed us with so many awesome heart-healthy ministries through our church. Stephanie Gyasi shared a testimony that morning about how our warm hospitality ministries led her to join the church and how the baptism of her daughter, Laikyn has made them feel part of the family.

     On the second Sunday, we focused on the importance of having heart-healthy relationships in the church. John Dowler offered his testimony about how the many relationships in our church has been a blessing in the Dowler family over several generations. 

     On that same Sunday, we watched a video narrated by his grandfather about the cornerstone dedication of our church building 61 years ago, back in April of 1957. A part of the prayer in that ceremony says, “O God, baptize us afresh in the life-giving Spirit of Jesus.”

     We have been invited to pray that prayer everyday at 4:57 to not only remind us of that prayer said by the people who were at that dedication service, but to help us have a heart-healthy faith in all of our relationships today.

     Last Sunday, we talked a lot about the importance of being a church that is filled with hope. We shared several ways that our church is living into a hope-filled future. Steve Sloan offered his testimony and said how he can sense that our church has a strong heart beat through the many ways that people in our congregation are serving, giving, and blessing others in the name of Christ.

     This has led us to this final Sunday of our Heart-Healthy series where it’s now time for us to offer our generous hearts to God by making commitments for this coming year.

     Many of us will be receiving 2019 Estimate of Giving cards in the mail this week. If you don’t receive one of these cards and you would like one, just contact our church office and we will make sure you get this mailing. This mailing will include the 2019 Estimate of Giving card to help fund our ministries and operations of the church in the coming year. 

     The mailing will also include a cover letter from me about this Heart-Healthy series and the 4/57 prayer card that I mentioned a little bit ago. The mailing will also have a giving statement for this current year.

     Look for this in the mail this week.

     Here’s the important thing for us to remember this week as we begin to make our commitments. These cards are more than accounting reports. The card represents the commitment from our heart to continue to help our church be have heart-healthy ministries, heart-healthy relationships, and heart-healthy hopes.

     During this week, we are invited to prayerfully complete this card and return it to the church. You can send it back in the mail or you can bring it next Sunday and place it in the offering plate during the offering. 

     I want you to know our Leadership Board members have already prayerfully completed their cards and they are praying for all of us as we do the same this week. 

     When you get your Estimate of Giving card in the mail this week, I want you to carefully read my cover letter that will accompany the commitment card. I meant to write that our Leadership Board is serving as our “pace-setters.” Instead, I said that they are serving as our “pace-makers.”

     Some typos are just meant to be. They are like our pace-makers as we will be joining them in offering our hearts to God as we make our commitments this week.

     When you add up the financial commitments of our Leadership Board for the coming year, it totals $63,000! They have gotten us off to a great start as we seek to be a heart-healthy church in our ministries, our relationships, our hopes, and in our commitments.

     I would like to invite our Leadership Board pacemakers to stand so we can thank them for leading the way.

(Leadership Board Stands)

     As we prepare to make our 2019 church commitments, I’m reminded of a story told by famous radio personality, Garrison Keillor. A letter was sent from a church to those members who were not present on Pledge Dedication Sunday and therefore did not fill out their pledge cards.

     Here is what the letter stated:

     "Dear Ann and Joe: We missed you last Sunday which was Pledge Sunday. Since you were not present to fill out your pledge card and to make it easy for you, we have completed a pledge card for you. Thank you for being so generous. Signed, Your Finance Committee"

     Giving generously is part of who we are as people who are created in God’s image.  We give because Christ has given so generously to us.  Thank you, God for remind us that giving really is a matter of the heart.

Heart Healthy: Our Hopes
Small Group Questions
II Corinthians 8:16-24 & John 3:16-21
October 14, 2018

In his sermon, Pastor Robert shared the story of how when he was a teenager, his father sacrificed his own comfort, by giving his hunting boots to him when he noticed that the boots he was wearing had a hole in them.
Share a time when someone made a sacrifice on your behalf during a time you needed some help.
In John 3:16 we hear the good news of how much God loves us. In II Corinthians 8:24, we read that our generous giving is evidence of our gratitude for all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
What helps you to remember all that God has sacrificed on your behalf? In what ways do you show gratitude for what God has done in your life?
Pastor Robert shared a story of a Christian who wanted to show his gratitude to a waiter at a restaurant by offering a generous tip. Each time he did this, the restaurant manager gave him a gift certificate as a way of thanking him for supporting his staff. This showed the customer who was giving the large tips that being generous is contagious.
Share a time when you noticed a ripple effect from an act of extravagant generosity.
During this week, our congregation will be receiving a mailing containing a 2019 Estimate of Giving form in how we will each financially support Christ and his church. Being a “heart-healthy” church means that we are grateful for our church’s many ministries, the people who have enriched our lives, and the positive vision that our church has to continue to be a growing and thriving church.
Before making your 2019 financial commitment this week, offer this prayer:
O God, you made us in your image and loved us enough to give us the best of what you have, your only Son, Jesus Christ. Grant that we who have received so much from you might reflect that love and devotion, living proof of the hope that is in us so that all may know your glory. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.  
In addition to this prayer, remember to pray our church-wide daily prayer everyday at 4:28 pm to remind us of the April 28, 1957 (4-28) date when this prayer was shared at our current building’s cornerstone dedication ceremony:
O God, baptize us afresh in the life-giving spirit of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Location, Location, Location!

     The photo above was taken on October 12, 2018 showing a packed sanctuary of people from our church, our community, and beyond who came to hear an outstanding night of music by the students of the Ohio University Music Department. Several of our church members voluntarily gave of their time by setting up the sound system, greeting people at the door, and cleaning up afterward to get our church ready for our Sunday morning worship. Some of our own choir members sang for a portion of the concert as well. The video below is one of those musical pieces.

     Real estate agents often refer to a value of a property by reciting one very important word: “Location, location, location!” This means that the value of a building isn’t just about the building itself but where it is located. 

     A fire destroyed our church building back in February, 1955. It was located on the same spot as our current building which was built just a couple of years later. Soon after the fire, the congregation had to decide on whether to build on the same location or to move outside the city of Athens to where they could purchase land.

“The best thing to do would be to build the church where we could serve the students of Ohio University.” - John Dowler

     In a video that was recorded back in 1980 telling about the decision of rebuilding, John Dowler who was part of those church discussions (arguments?!) immediately following the fire, describes it this way:

     “There was some talk of going out and getting several acres and building a church that would have plenty of room for everything we would need in the future and parking spaces and so forth, but it was finally decided that the best thing to do would be to build the church where we could serve the students of Ohio University.

    As I was listening to the beautiful music in our newly remodeled sanctuary that was packed with people for this recent university concert, I kept thinking about John Dowler’s words and the reason why we decided to stay in our current location. We truly are here to serve the students of Ohio University as well as the people of our community and we are living out that dream.

    The last song of the concert also reminded me of the wisdom of our congregation to rebuild at this same location. The song, “You Will Be Found” was introduced by a mental health professional who reminded everyone at the concert to know that help is available for anyone who feels alone and going through a dark time in their lives. When I heard this song, I thanked God for a congregation that decided to stay right here where “we could serve the students of Ohio University.”

     Location, location, location!


Monday, October 8, 2018

Sunday Pastoral Prayer (October 7) Athens First UMC

[Churches all around the world celebrated World Communion Sunday yesterday. It is always on the 1st Sunday of October. It was extra special for one of our staff members, Rick Seiter who serves as the pastor of two churches in our Foothills District. It was his first time in celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion since receiving his local pastor’s license. The plate and goblet that he used were gifts from the youth and chaperones who gave these to him during a New Orleans missions trip back in 2009. Rick is making good on a promise that he would use these when serving his first communion. Congratulations Rick!]

O God, on this Sunday we are especially grateful to be part of your church family throughout the world. You have created us to be your people from many different countries, languages, and cultures. Thank you for the unity we celebrate with churches all around the world through the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

You created the church to be your presence in the midst of a broken and hurting world. Help us to be a heart-healthy church in the center of Athens and this university community. 

Empower our church to be a haven of blessing and peace for people in our county who are living in poverty.

Empower our church to be a haven of blessing and peace for students who marched down South College Street in protest of the recent incidents of sexual assaults on campus.

Empower our church to be a haven of blessing and peace for those who are seeking an authentic community of faith.

Empower our church to be a haven of blessing and peace for the people in our community who will be attending the university school of music concert that will be held here this Friday night.

Empower our church to be a haven of blessing and peace for the Korean congregation who meet in our church for worship, study, and prayer.

Empower churches throughout the world to be a haven of blessing and peace.

We pray this in the name of Christ who makes us one and who taught us to pray together saying…

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sermon (October 7) by Rev. Robert McDowell “Heart Healthy: Our Hopes”


    All of us like to dream, to imagine, to think about “what if,” to wonder how our lives, our world could be better.  God works within our dreams, our hopes, and inspires us to act.  The prophet Joel speaks of God's Spirit touching everyone, the old and the  young. We are all dreamers for God! When you think of the year ahead, what are your hopes and dreams for our church?

     I’ve asked to ask Steve Sloan, one of our church members to come and share what his hopes are for our church moving forward. Steve serves on our Leadership Board and he’s someone that I have called on many times to get his opinion about things.

     Steve is also someone who I have found to have a pretty good sense of the pulse of our church. Like, if we’re in a good place, if we’re moving in the right direction, or if we need to adjust something, or do a better job of communicating. I have really come to appreciate having someone like Steve during my first three years here as pastor. 

     Many of you have seen Steve getting his cardio workout by running up and down the streets of Athens, so I know that being heart-healthy is important to him. Often times, I see him running by our church which is fun to see.

     For all of these reasons, I can’t think of a better person to come and share with us his thoughts on the pulse of our church and the hopes that he has for our church moving forward. 

     Steve, come and share with us some of your thoughts about the heart-health of our church and where you see God leading us into the future...

           Baptize us afresh in the life-giving spirit of Jesus.  Each day, baptize us afresh.  You all heard that prayer last week.  I believe that this simple statement says everything about what it means to be a Christian.  Most of you are here today because you want to be in church.  But why is church important?  Why do we want others, friends, neighbors, and strangers we’ve yet to meet to come to church?


           Because we know that church is a place where there is hope.  We all know that life is tough; the world is a tough place.  Particularly in today’s world, it is easy to be negative. The church shows you hope through prayer, through reaching out to one another such as by small groups, through study of the Bible, in all these and more, we find hope.


           We can debate the reasons but we know doing good makes you feel good.  As human beings we need each other.  We need to communicate, interact, show God’s love to each other, pray for each other - these bring hope to our lives.  Pastor Robert mentioned the pulse of this church.


           When our current Capital Campaign began a couple of years ago, I said that we had an opportunity to renew this church and build a stronger church committed more than ever to reaching out to so many who are looking for what is missing in their lives.  And we all have a chance, through prayer and listening, to discover what God would have each of us do.  We’ve gone from being a church with a pulse that at times was hard to hear to a steady, strong, vibrant beat that everyone wants to be part of.  I pointed out when the Capital Campaign beganthat this church has a long commitment of giving to others.  There is and has been Monday Lunch, working with the Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity, the Kiros ministry, and the Trimble backpack program.  I said that I believed those were just beginning.


           Since then, where have we ventured?  Our Mission Team is relentless in finding new, exciting, and challenging outreach opportunities.  First Saturday has blossomed to become an avenue for service to others.  Listen to a few of the things we are presently doing as a church: Angel Tree, worldwide mobility – PET, Festival of sharing (where we recently prepared 80 schoolkits and 54 hygiene kits to help others), bottoms up, CROP walk, winter coat and hat drive, making and distributing food to our student neighbors, rummage sale, visitation at The Lindley Inn, litter pickup, flower ministry, blanket ministry, making greeting cards we distribute to many in the county, work at the Conservancy areas, and many more.  Our music program lets us share with many, who might never otherwise enter this church,the love of God. There is our prayer ministry, Stephen ministry, Telecare, and I could go one and on.


           But what most excites me is that I still believe that theseare just the beginning.  I said it before and I will always believe that each person in this church has a gift.  What is yours?  I want each of us to ask ourselves, what do I want to see this church donext and how can I be a part of this?  Will you be the person who greets someone you’ve never met at Connection Time?  Will you show someone where a restroom is or will you walk a new family to the nursery area?  Will you listen to the person who needs someone to talk to? Will you tell someone about a Bible study class?  Will you explain what the rummage sale is all about and how it can be a form of outreach?  Will you be that member who I saw help a student jump his dead battery after church one morning?  I know you can each think of many moreways to reach out and share God’s love.  


           The pulse of this church is strong and steady.  It shows the tremendous heart that this congregation has. It is your generous gifts that will help this church continue to grow and flourish but more importantly, it’s through our generous giving that we express our love of God and we grow in our faith.  So, what do you want next for this church?  My prayer is that you will ask this of yourself and others as you pray that we all be baptized afresh each day in the life-giving spirit of Jesus.

     Thank you, Steve!

     When I was thinking about the importance of hope, Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip came to mind. Lucy has always been known for being opinionated and wanting to share her opinions with others. 
     In one episode, Charlie Brown seeks guidance from Lucy. Lucy tells Charlie Brown that life is like a deck chair on the cruise ship of life.

     “What you have to decide,” Lucy says, “is whether you want your deck chair to face backward so that you can see where you have been, or if you want your deck chair to face forward so you can see where you are going.”

     Frustrated, Charlie Brown responds, “I'm having trouble just getting my deck chair unfolded!”

     Well, the good news is that I believe that we are a congregation with our deck chairs facing forward!

     What is ahead for us?  What do we hope for in the year ahead?

     In his book, Practicing Extravagant Generosity, Robert Schnase writes that there is a description of people who exhibit such generosity:  “They pray and hope and dream about the good they can accomplish through their gifts.” Our church is going through that process during this fall series on having a heart healthy church.

     Throughout our Heart-Healthy sermon series, we have been thinking and talking about how we can fulfill God's mission for our church. Thank you for sharing your hopes for our church because that is how we get a better understanding of where God is leading us. 

     In reading and reflecting on your responses to this past summer’s congregation-wide questionnaire, what stands out most for me is in how positive we are as we think about the future. Not every church has that sense of hope and enthusiasm for the future. We are blessed to have that king of spirit here at Athens First.

     Here is a sampling of your responses from the questionnaire which asked, “What are your hopes and dreams for your church?”

     “That our church continues to be welcoming to all, and to reach out to invite others in the Christian faith.”

     “That is will be the Light of Christ and bring the Light of Christ into the darkness, sharing the love of Christ and his salvation and grow, bringing life, hope, healing, peace, purpose to the broken and lost.”

     “I hope we continue to find ways to reach out to the homeless, mentally ill, and those we see different than ourselves.”

     “Ministries where we can get to know other members more intimately.”

     “That we would proclaim God’s Word and that it would be transformed and renewed into His image.”

     “I hope that we can continue to make students and other newcomers feel at home. I hope our church, and the rest of the denomination can welcome all people regardless of their sexual orientation.”

     “That we remain a loving place. That people feel welcome. That it continues to be a place for community events. And that we continue to have the best potlucks.”

     “That we seek to be the church outside of these four walls.”

     Some other more specific ideas included to continue to offer more service projects, ministries with the college students, continue to grow in our emphasis on prayer, add more small groups, focus more on our children’s and youth ministries, continue to reach out to our community, encourage more people in our church to be involved in ministry, share in ministry with the other churches, and continued support of our Honduras mission trips.
     One of you offered this comment which I think sums up what this whole “Heart-Healthy” series is about when you offered this hope for our church…

     “That our hearts grow bigger.”

     A little over three years ago, when I first came here to serve as your pastor, our church held six get acquainted sessions. These gatherings were held in people’s homes and here at the church.

     It was a great way for Penny and me to get to know your names and what it was that drew you to this church. I didn’t say a whole lot at these gatherings because I wanted to hear what your hopes were for the church.

     Some of you might remember this pink wand that I brought with me to those gatherings. I invited each person to hold up this light-up wand and then take a minute or two to share a hope that you had for the church. And by the way, this wand was a big hit. It’s kind of fun how it lights up! Watch!

     I took careful notes at those six gatherings. Over the span of those six listening sessions, you collectively shared 78 hopes with me during that time a little over three years ago. Wow! I learned early on that you are a hope-filled church!

     Those hopes gave me something to pray about. Obviously, it would have been a little much to get all 78 of these hopes off the ground, so here is where I put my focus as your pastor.

     My first goal was to make sure we were all on the same page regarding our purpose and mission. It’s always at the top of our Sunday bulletin. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world. Make disciples so we can transform our community and world. That’s sounds simple, but how do you do that? What does that look like?

     And that led us to developing a strategy to help that to happen. And our discipleship strategy is also at the top of our Sunday bulletin. It’s for every single person in our church to have a Loving Faith, a Learning Faith, and a Living Faith.

     A loving faith would be ministries where we love God and love each other. Sunday worship, small groups, and Stephen Ministry are some examples of our Loving Faith ministries.

     A learning faith would be ministries where we expand our thinking about God, about the Bible, and about our faith. Some examples of our learning faith ministries include Sunday School classes, bible studies, and of course our Growing Tree preschool.

     A living faith are ministries where we live out our faith and serve our community and world. It’s where we like someone shared in the recent questionnaire, ‘that we continue to be the church outside of these four walls.” 

     Examples of living faith ministries include our monthly Athens First Saturday community involvement, our Trimble Backpack ministry, and our Christmas Angel Tree ministry.

     So, that’s our strategy in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world. It’s when we are intentional in being involved in Loving Faith, Learning Faith, and Living Faith ministries of the church. It’s all about emphasizing all three of these important dimensions of our faith. 

     Once we had some clarity with our purpose and discipleship strategy, that has led us to realize many of the hopes that you all shared with me a little over three years ago.

     Hopes like increase in worship attendance, an increase in new members, building renovations, new small groups, more college outreach ministries, restarting ministries in a new and fresh way, increasing our giving, and more local outreach, just to name a few.

     And yes, there are some of your hopes that have not taken off yet, like somebody mentioned the hope of having water fountains that actually work. We’re still working on that dream!

     The fun part about naming our hopes for the church is that it reminds us to be open to how the Holy Spirit is always leading us into new ways of being the church that God is calling us to be.

     Here are some of the hopes that have been on my heart as I think about where the Holy Spirit is leading us. And again, any of our dreams need to be a team effort. Let me share six hopes I am sensing for our church.

-Continue to offer generous hospitality in every way possible. Greeting people outside the church and inside the church for Sunday mornings, concerts, and all of the events that we host. Being a church where we all welcome people to experience God’s love in this place. Being an inclusive church. 

-Prayer walking groups for our church events and in our community. Getting out and walking in our neighborhoods, praying for those who live and work there.

-Give more attention and focus to strengthening our family ministries.

-Form more small groups where people have the opportunity to be encouraged and supported in their faith. And particularly invite persons who are not part of our church to be in these groups. The best way to include more people in the church is to help people form relationships and strong spiritual bonds with each other.

-Here’s another important hope for our church. What if each one of us consistently invited our friends, neighbors, family members, and co-workers to join us for worship services or attend one of our outreach events, or another ministry of our church?

-Expand our ministry involvement with college students to help them to become more connected in the life of our congregation and to be a church away from home for them.

     These are big dreams to dream, but not impossible ones.                                 

     We give because we love our church and we want our ministries to prosper. We are aware of how we greatly benefit from the ministries here. We also support this church so that others can receive what we have received, the people who are not already here.

     Today is Bishop Desmond Tutu’s 87th birthday. Many of you know that Bishop Tutu is a South African Anglican Bishop, theologian, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient who has spent his life helping to dismantle apartheid in South Africa.  

     Bishop Tutu has written a small book entitled “God has A Dream.” A book full of hope as he recounts how he has seen God's dreams amazingly come true in his country of South Africa.

     This is a passage from his book:

     “I have a dream, God says. Please help Me to realize it. A dream of a world whose ugliness, squalor, and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into glorious counterparts...where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing...that My children will know they are members of one family, God's family.”

     That’s a good reminder about the importance of hope especially on this World Communion Sunday.

     There are many folks here in Athens County who are yearning to be part of God's family.

     We can share that they can find a place at God's table here.

     Over the last few weeks, we have considered what we love about our church, the persons who have made a difference in our spiritual lives, and today, our hopes for the next year and beyond.

     First United Methodist people, let's work together and be generous so that God's dreams can come true!

Heart Healthy: Our Hopes
Small Group Questions
Joel 2:22-28 & Matthew 6:26-33
October 7, 2018
We are in the 3rd week of a four week series on what it means to have a “heart-healthy” church. We’ve focused on being heart-healthy in our ministries and in our relationships. This week, our focus is on our hopes for the church.
Share one of your hopes for our church.
In the sermon, Pastor Robert shared the importance of our church knowing and living out our church’s mission and strategy to fulfill the mission. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world by having a loving faith, a learning faith, and a living faith. A loving faith relates to how we love God and each other. A learning faith helps us to grow in our faith. A living faith is what helps us to live out our faith. All three of these are important for a healthy, vital, and growing church.
Reflect on your involvement in these three areas of having a loving faith, a learning faith, and a living faith through the life of our church. Which one(s) might need more focus in your life?
In his sermon, Pastor Robert listed several hopes that he has for our church. These include 1) Expanding our hospitality ministry for every event that we host at our church. 2) Offer prayer walking opportunities where we pray through our town, the campus, and neighborhoods. 3) Give more focus to strengthening our family ministries. 4) Form additional small groups where people support and encourage each other in their faith journey. 5) Consistently inviting friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to join us for worship and church events. 6) Expanding our outreach to college students.
Which of these hopes for the church excites you the most and why?
We have been invited to pray what we are calling a “4/57 Prayer” every day at 4:57 pm. This is a shortened prayer from our church building’s cornerstone dedication service that was held in April, 1957. As we pray this prayer as a congregation every day at 4:57 pm, think about how God will continue to help us reach our hopes and dreams for the future.
O God, baptize us afresh in the life-giving Spirit of Jesus. Amen.