Category Archives: Religion

Resting in confusion

Three weeks into a rest period, I find myself in confusion.  I am so used to operating on a schedule and knowing my goals, this pause in that life is very uncomfortable.

I am so fortunate to have family and friends–personal and professional, who know how confusing this time is for me and know that I want to race through rest to the next step.  This set of family and friends just keep telling me to rest.

This morning a second visit to Rev. Jim Downing’s church filled me again.  True it is a 30 mile drive, but going in and feeling comfortable among no one I know is evidence of how the Holy Spirit can make it feel like family.

For the past 10 years, I have organized my life around my work.  First I was a teacher, especially in an alternative setting; but then I added in part time pastoring.  The pressure to maintain all that I needed for both jobs just seemed natural.  Then I retired from the teaching profession.

Now retiring from one’s lifetime career is stressful enough.  I have now realized retirement really means being “really tired.”  I still had the church as a part time job, but I was used to full time work.  I probably used as much time now for the part time job, and worked hard to rest in the evenings.  Not easy

Speeding forward through the past three years, I am now trying to rest.  Not really retired, just working at resting.  And naturally, resting leads one to see all the daily household chores and postponed projects now have no reason to put off.  So, I am finding that rest can still be elusive.

In our Midwestern lifestyle, there seems to be a sense that one must work every day in order to achieve their goals.  I did not grow up knowing how to ‘play.’  Life on the family farm meant there were always chores.  We did stop on Sunday, though, and rest.  Even this concept is lost in our farming culture today–now farming is 24/7.

Rest.  I am learning that to rest, I have to give myself permission to rest.  I have to close off my ears to the internal yelling about all the work there is to do.  I also have to turn off the clock.  I have no reason to rush ahead, but my internal clock says I have such a limited time frame to use for rest even though I have NO time frame at all.

So here I am in week three of my rest, and I am confused.  Thank goodness my family and friends know me well enough to accept my confusion in this time of rest, but also know me well enough to reprimand me when I start tressing out over the timeframe.

One of my personal goals in this time of rest is to figure out how to listen to God.  I must quieten myself enough to recognize his voice.  This week I read a book by Adam Weber, Talking with God.   I started it and could not stop, finishing it in one day.  I separated myself so much from my typical day that I heard God.  I found energy.  I recognized Mom’s voice, too.

Thank you, Adam Weber, for such a clear discussion of talking with God.  I know what it is to be exhausted.  I know what it is to have unconditional love.  I know how hard it is to wait.  Your work spoke to me and speaks for me.  I know God speaks through your words, too.

One of the results of reading this is a driving desire to share this understanding from Adam Weber with others.  I wanted to buy a case of the books and start sending them off to others who I wanted them to know/experience this conversation.

Maybe this is what rest is.  Maybe I need to give myself permission to read–without a highlighter in my hand or note papers to record on.  Maybe I need to share what I read via the blog or Twitter.  This is all part of my process.  Rest in the moment also means being alert to how God can use me in those moments.

I may be assigned a period of rest, but my confusion still needs to be decluttered.  I guess I must remember that there is no timeline other than God’s.  Thank you to Rev. Downing, Rev. Weber, and my family and friends for helping me make my way to refreshment and renewal during this extended, uncertain time of rest.

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Americans: Happy Birthday! Happy 242nd!

Dear Americans,

I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday.  I know getting older sometimes makes us want to skip a birthday, but let face it–no one really wants to be ignored on their birthday.

This year it is difficult to celebrate, I know, because the America we have today has developed into a “happy July $ rather than a July 4.”  Just look at that, the dollar sign is a capped 4.  Rather ironic, isn’t it.

America today does not seem to reflect the face of the America in 1776.  A time when unjust taxing and a monarchy-style government did not meet the needs of the Americans living in an entirely different setting facing different challenges than those leading across the Atlantic.

Today’s America does not seem to be reflecting the images that founders developed in the Declaration of Independence read on July 4, 1776, nor the United States Constitution approved in 1787.

What makes America great is not the dollar sign currently driving decisions, rather it was people.  The foundations of this country were built on individual freedoms, on a representative form of democracy, on a government that was kept balanced through the checks and balance.

This July 4–not July $–needs to keep the focus on celebrating the very principles that our founding fathers established in these two documents.  Each government official needs to read each of these documents carefully and then evaluate each decision, each vote, through those two filters.

Each voter must consider who they elect, what they approve through the filters of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

Each educator needs to make sure that students are introduced to these principles and taught them.

Each immigrant that arrives to make their lives American, need to study these documents and then proceed to become voting citizens who have adopted the principles our founding fathers designed (immigrants who do proceed to earn citizenship do have to pass a test that far exceeds the required tests for students in the public school system).

So happy July Fourth, Americans.  Stand proud, but remember your responsibilities.  Then celebrate.

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In the end, no dry bones. . . just the lion, the wolf and the lamb

This is the final sermon after 10 years in the pulpit.  Sunday, June 24, will also be the last sermon that I have threaded together the images of the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawood, KS).  This has been such an interesting six months as I have studied the window and considered its creation as a visual sermon.  There is so much to share concerning God and his story that the ideas never seem to run out.  Ending 10 years does not mean an ending to ministry, just an ending to this pulpit at this time.  I will do my best to rest for a bit, but my mind continues to spin out ideas.  Thank you for reading and following these sermons.  I do not plan to end blogging, just the postings may be different.  Only God knows what will appear on this site at this time.  Please be patient and continue to follow.

 

Sitting at the desk with the funeral of the two KCK police officers in the background, I struggle to pick up the task of writing this final sermon.  I am reminded that evil lurks in every community and that as Christians we are to be God’s eyes, hands, and feet.

Looking at the COS window, there is one more image that cannot be overlooked:

 

#31  THE LION, WOLF AND THE LAMB—In the Restored Paradise, all of God’s creatures live together in peace and harmony.  The healing salve of God’s kingdom extends beyond humanity to include all of creation, raised to its highest pitch of existence.  (Read Isaiah 65:25)

 

I was familiar with the image of the lion and the lamb and was surprised to see the wolf included still the scripture does include all three animals.  Understanding the significance of all three broadens the message even though most religious art includes just the lion and the lamb.

The window’s image is based on the ultimate goal God has where evil is overcome by good; where all live in harmony.  God’s ultimate goal needs to be the same for each of us.  The concern is how do we reach that goal, even if just in our own church, our own community.

Reading the lectionary provides a structure for all Christians regardless of denomination, nationality, age, gender, or any other identifying label.  Even though I have used the images in the window to prepare sermons since Christmas, the lectionary provides a foundational connection to all Christians and often fits right in with the images in the window.

Reading the lectionary included Ezekiel 37 a few weeks ago, and that scripture provided me the foundation for today’s reflection. It does not connect directly to the image of the lion, wolf and lamb, but it does speak to this church family facing the next transition in leadership.

Let me share Ezekiel’s story.  The Israelites were captives of Babylonia, and Ezekiel was a trained, young priest and a contemporary of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah ministered to the Israelites in Judah, but Ezekiel prophesied to those exiled in Babylonia.

Consider the exiles.  They were forced out of their homes and living in a culture that was foreign to them.  They must have felt hopeless.  They must have felt abandoned.  And Ezekiel was a “street preacher,” as study notes labeled him.  He was a prophet who had to feed hope to the Israelites.  He had to guide them through prophecies and scripture to remain faithful to God.

Ezekiel’s words recorded in the Old Testament were written about 571 B.C., yet the words are timeless and his message is as important today as it was 2,500 years ago.  Hear his vision of “A Valley of Dry Bones”:

The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”

    Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

    So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.

    Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

    10 So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

    11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone.Our nation is finished.’12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live againand return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’”

 

Continuing the reflection:

Certainly we do not live in exile as the ancient Israelites did when Ezekiel was prophesying, but the truth is that we are living in a valley of dry bones.  We live in exile because evil continues to thrive.  We cannot ignore how close evil is, especially this week as we have lost two more police officers to evil and as we watched children ripped from their parents in the name of federal law enforcement.

Evil places you in exile in your own community.  And you become tired.  You become the dry bones Ezekiel saw in that valley.  You lose hope.  Yet, you return to worship each week because as Christians that is part of your lifestyle.  But, even sitting right here in your very own sanctuary, in your own spot on the pew, you are at risk of being the dry bones Ezekiel saw in that valley.

God asked Ezekiel if the dry bones could be brought back to life.  Ezekiel, the priest, answered, “O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”  He placed full faith in God.  Do you?

Today, even I feel like dry bones.  I stepped into the pulpit ten years ago with a vision. The community is not a valley of dry bones, but it is a valley of lives who desperately need to know God.  God can breathe new life into the dry bones, but it takes a community of faithful who can see the community through God’s eyes and rely on God to breathe life back into dry bones.

Ezekiel’s vision of a valley filled with dry bones did not end his story.  He was encouraged by God’s demonstration of bringing the dry bones back to life.  Can you say that God’s Holy Spirit is keeping your bones alive?  Or do you feel that you are nothing more than dry bones?

As you make the change from one pastor to another, remember that God can bring a valley of dry bones to life to continue the work he assigned to the faithful.

God told us to be good stewards of this earth.  God told us to love one another as we want to be loved.  These are not commands that can be ignored.  These are the simple instructions God has to keep evil away, to keep peace, to keep the lion, the wolf, and the lamb lying peacefully together.

As this month closes out, July brings a new beginning for this community of faithful.  God lives within each and every one of you, but you must do your part to keep it alive.  To avoid becoming a valley of dry bones, you must follow the discipline of the faithful.

  • You must read scripture.
  • You must pray.
  • You must participate in a community of faith.
  • You must remember your baptism.
  • You must serve one another in love.
  • You must see the world through God’s eyes—all the world, not just your own household.
  • You must listen to the Holy Spirit as he guides you to serve as God’s arms and feet in this community, part of God’s entire world.

If you do not, evil will win and the valley will be filled with nothing more than dry bones.

Concluding the reflection:

            In the book of Ezekiel, God assures Ezekiel that he is able to revive the dry bones:

    11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone.Our nation is finished.’12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again. . .

Today I tell you, God does reside within you as the Holy Spirit.  You do not have to be dry bones.  You must follow the discipline of the faithful and God will keep you alive.

The Church continues its work.  It depends on the entire network of congregations to serve as God’s agents defending against evil, seeing to the needs of all God’s children, and finding ways to keep dry bones alive.  In our denomination, the United Methodist Church, we have so much to do, so many tools to use, such a faith community to serve in so many ways.

Today we follow the Methodist tradition of serving in ministry, too.  We change roles as we are called to do.  We stand together to serve as we are called to serve.  We know that there are lions, wolves, and lambs surrounding us, but if we do our job the best that we can, they, too will be able to lie down together in peace.

In Isaiah 65:25, we hear these words:

The wolf and the lamb will feed together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow.
But the snakes will eat dust.
In those days no one will be hurt or destroyed on my holy mountain.

 

Each community that fails to love one another as they want to be loved needs God.  My prayer for the community, here and globally, is that with the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s work can lead to all working side by side to minister to others in need.

 

Sharing of the Missouri Methodist’s 2018-2019 mission goals:

            During annual conference, three mission goals were identified through special offerings.  I have asked Sharon, Vada and Tamera share them with you at this time. When the local church is tired and at risk of becoming a valley of dry bones, connecting with others in mission is one more way to be alive:

 

  1. Mozambique Sustainability Reboot (Sharon)

This offering will relaunch the Mozambique Initiative’s efforts to create opportunities for church-going entrepreneurs through sustainability projects. In 2012, the Mozambique Initiative added sustainability as a key component to our partnership. After reviewing projects completed during the 2012-2017 program, we believe the best way to reboot is by focusing on smaller projects ($400 or less) for individual entrepreneurs. Our goal for this offering is to provide microloans for at least 25 entrepreneurs in Mozambique.

 

  1. Pathway Out of Poverty (Vada)

Gifts shared in this offering will be distributed for the work of administering our Pathway out of Poverty initiative focused on literacy. Your gift to this initiative will help us equip local churches to connect with schools in their communities and provide them with relationship-building resources. Research shows that children who struggle to read in first grade are 88 percent more likely to struggle in grade four. And those who struggle in fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Give generously today as we seek to break cycles of poverty by connecting with our schools.

 

  1. Puerto Rico Disaster Response (Tamera)

The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico continues to rebuild following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017. Thirty-eight churches were damaged with 10 nearly destroyed. Yet, the people of Puerto Rico have remained strong. Your gift will help rebuild a Methodist health clinic on the island of Vieques. This clinic will be the primary point of care for the island’s population of 12,000 people – care that is desperately needed as residents wait a projected two years for electricity to be fully restored. Join us in standing with the people of Vieques; your donation will make a difference today!

 

The United Methodist Church is not a valley of dry bones. The church is an army of Christians who are equipped to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

You are part of God’s army here in this community, but you are part of a global community, too.  Let the Holy Spirit loose to serve here, but also to join with others in any way that you can so the lion, the wolf and the lamb can live peacefully together.

Closing prayer:

            Dear God Almighty,

You created a world filled with good,

And evil found its way in.

You commanded each of us

To take care of this world and each other

Yet evil continues to exist around us.

Breathe into these dry bones

New life, new energy to do your work.

May the Holy Spirit fill up your children.

May your children see dry bones come alive.

In the name of you the Father,

the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Do you know your theological father?

Sermon given on Fathers Day 2018.  This is again loosely connected to the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawod, KS) that has woven the sermons together since January 6, 2018.  There is one more planned before stepping away from the pulpit for a time of renewal. 

The calendar and all the media remind us that today is Father’s Day.  Certainly one might consider that this is an appropriate day to focus on the father figures that fill the scriptures, but in the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window, the inclusion of five men connects The Church to Father’s Day by looking at how The Church continues to adapt especially through the fathers of the evolving church.

This Father’s Day, I ask whether or not you can identify the father-theologian figure of your own faith.  What we believe today is the final product of all the influences that shape and continue to shape your spiritual journey—just like your earthly father influenced your own life whether genetically, physically, mentally, emotionally, or even professionally.

As a Methodist, you might automatically assume that your theological father was simply John Wesley, but that really is not as simple as you may realize.  Why even John Wesley struggled to understand his own theological foundation—remember, he reported that he was afraid he did not have salvation until his Aldersgate experience.

Teaching students Greek and Latin roots, the definition of theology boils down to just two elements:  theo meaning God, and ology meaning study of.  Simply theology is the study of God; but that places theology at a distance from our daily world.  Theology in our real life experience is much broader and applies to each individual differently.  One’s personal theology is a philosophy or mindset, as explained on Bible.org, theology is “. . . a belief system that is built upon intellectually and emotionally held commitments concerning God and man.”  Even those definitions really do not fully develop what theology is.  The article concludes with this statement:

In short, theology is a set of intellectual and emotional commitments, justified or not, about God and man which dictate ones beliefs and actions.  Neither the word itself is irrelevant, nor the concepts which it seeks to articulate. It is the first pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.  [Accessed on June 12, 2018 at https://bible.org/article/what-theology%5D

 

Maybe you do not think it is important to know your theology.  I think it is.  In fact, the artist must have understood that Pope John XXIII (#10), Martin Luther (#26), John Wesley (#8), C.S. Lewis (#28) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#16) each contributed to the continued growth of The Church or they would not have added.

To begin identifying who is the father of your personal theology, one begins with the Old Testament, but even there, the list is tremendous as many characters could be identified as a theologian.  I argue that all those who are listed as prophets would be considered theologians, not to mention other leaders such as David.

David became a king, he was a political leader, but God chose him for his faithfulness.  The psalms he wrote reflect his theology, and two verses specifically connect God as a father figure:

Scripture:

            In Psalm 2, David is speaking on the occasion of his coronation as God’s chosen king of Israel.  He begins the psalm with an explanation of the battling nations and establishes his relationship with God, especially in verse 7.

Psalms 2:1-6

Why are the nations so angry?
Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
the rulers plot together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
“and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”

Psalms 2:7   

The king [David] proclaims the Lord’s decree:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son.
Today I have become your Father.

 

David’s relationship with God continued to grow during the trials and tribulations of his reign.  Some of the psalms are filled with pain and anguish, questions, and even anger, but throughout the prayers and songs, David’s relationship to God is described as that of a son to his father.  The confidence in God’s reach is outlined in Psalm 68:

Psalms 68:5-6         

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

 

Psalms 89:26is a psalm written by Ethan, the Ezrahite, explaining the relationship of King David to God and the promises that God had promised to make David and his descendants reign forever.  He writes:

            And he [King David] will call out to me [God], “You are my Father,

My God, and the Rock of my salvation.’

 

The relationship pictured through the words of Psalms is the relationship of a father to a son. David’s theology is clearly based on that premise.

Today is Father’s Day, developed to honor our earthly parent like we honor our mothers in May.  I was surprised to learn that Father’s Day was not made a holiday until 1972 even though Mother’s Day officially became a holiday in 1914. Wikipedia summarizes Father’s Day:

Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. The tradition was said to be started from a memorial service held for a large group of men who died in a mining accident in Monongah, West Virginia in 1909.  It was first proposed by Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington in 1909.  It is currently celebrated in the United States annually on the third Sunday in June.  [Accessed on June 14, 2018.]

Understanding the purpose of Father’s Day supports making today a good time to consider who your personal theologian is, especially since so much of the scripture and even church curriculum is based on a father-like relationship with God.

The Church that began developing after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection grew as disciples began sharing the good news.  These disciples were the first Christian theologians and identified their relationship with God as that of son to a father.

The gospel according to John also continues to develop this idea.  John shares the story of the woman at the well and reports that Jesus said:

John 4:23

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.”

 

Jesus also talked to the Pharisees about his relationship with God.  They were trying to disprove his authority, but Jesus defined it:

John 5:17-20

17 But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” 18 So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21 For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22 In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23 so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

 

Explaining his relationship to God as that a son to his father should have made the Pharisees clearly understand Jesus’ message, but accepting the truth defies what we as humans understand.  Theologians have and continue to explain the relationship humans have with God.           The Church lives and grows because theologians continue to find ways to share understanding of this relationship.  They are the fathers of our own faith.  The fact that the COR’s stained glass window artist chose just a few shows how God’s story continues despite all the human challenges.

Today’s Catholic church continues to be fathered by the Pope.  Pope Francis demonstrates a more inclusive church today that is adapting to cultural shifts while preserving the New Testament foundation:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

The COR window does include Pope John XXIII (#10 in the window) identified as “. . . one of the most popular popes of all time (reigned 1958–63), who inaugurated a new era in the history of the Roman Catholic Church by his openness to change   [Accessed on June14, 2018 at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-John-XXIII]

The popes are theologians, but The Church did not remain Catholic, and other theologians have lead to major reforms, especially Martin Luther (#26), a practicing priest who became upset about the methods The Church, now known as the Catholic Church/denomination, used to absolve one of their sins.

Luther publically posted on the church door the 95 concerns he had with The Church.  The action is accredited with the establishing of the Protestant branch of The Church.  His actions lead to The Church continuing in different forms of leadership.  Luther was a theologian who saw no separation between God and any individual person, there was no need for a priest to act as a mediator for salvation.

Luther lived in the 1500’s, and John Wesley (#8) was one who continued the reformation process about 200 years later.  We are familiar with his story as Methodists, but do we understand his theological base?  In our denomination, God teaches us to love one another through service. We are one family with God as our father and all others as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Do you really know your theological father?  Do you know that God is your father?  The centuries that separate us from Jesus’ human experience can separate us from God, too.  This Father’s Day we honor the fathers of our earthly life, but The Church can also use this as an opportunity to remember the theologians of the church.

The Church continues to grow and to reform thanks to the men and women who have sought to understand and to act on that understanding of their relationship with God.  Each of us has a responsibility to do the same, to read scripture, to remain in conversation with other believers, and to live faithfully the best way that we can.

Two other images in the window are known theologians who continue the work of the earliest disciples.  Both are 20thcentury figures that some may not even realize are listed among the theologians who continue to strengthen the work of The Church, regardless of the denomination:  C. S. Lewis (#28) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#16).

  1. S. Lewis is an author who wrote the children’s fantasy books in the The Chronicles of Narnia series as well as over 30 other books that share his apologetic theology of God:
  • I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
  • You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.
  • Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.
  • Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
  • God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

 

Admittedly I do not know the actual work of Lewis, but I am eager to learn more.  He tried hard not to be a believer, but life taught him that he has a father-son relationship with God.  His written work reportedly teaches readers of all ages the reality of God, creator, and parent.

Bonhoeffer may be familiar to us, especially in relation to World War II.  His life ended by execution at the hand of the Nazi Regime.  A Lutheran pastor in Germany, he was also a social activist. His theological work was to live one’s Christian faith actively in the secular world.  His political resistance to the Nazi Regime modeled his theology:

  • God’s truth judges created things out of love, and Satan’s truth judges them out of envy and hatred.
  • The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.
  • Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.
  • We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.

 

The list of theologians simply includes these individuals mentioned today, but the list continues to grow.  God depends on the father-child relationship we have with him.  The Church is the result of his faithful children working together to continue God’s work.  The Church is a living reflection of God’s children working to strengthen the father-children relationship throughout humanity’s time.

Today, Father’s Day 2018, as God’s children we have a responsibility to know our theological fathers and to remain faithful to our heavenly Father.  The Church grows because the theologians have studied scripture, have led others to know God personally, and have served one another in love in an unending list of ways.

You are asked to know God, just like you want to know your own biological dad.  How do you do it?  You study scripture, you join in Christian conversation, and you live your faith out loud demonstrating the value of God in your life.  You are to model your theology in ways that others may be transformed, too.

Closing prayer:

Happy Fathers Day, God,

We are so blessed by the gift

of life you have given each of us

of your Son, Jesus Christ;

and of your Holy Spirit within us.

Thank you, too, for all those who wrote scriptures,

Who read scripture,

Who took the time to explain your love,

Who risked living their faith out loud.

Guide us in our own work to learn more of your love.

To share your story with those unknown;’

And to serve one another in love, too.

May we be your hands and feet for others

May we know your love within our own hearts.

May we grow The Church as others have.

In the name of you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,

Amen, Lord, Amen.

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Turning swords into plowshares

Sermon given on Sunday, June 3, 2018 and loosely connected to the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window.

Leaving college and my farm life, I moved to Lexington, MO, and stepped into a new community that seemed so far away from my roots.  One facet of that new community was its historical connection to the Civil War and that of the military academy.  Through the years, I also learned that during World War II a prison camp for Germans had once been located in the area.

Now these historical pieces never really made me uncomfortable and I did teach at the academy for nine years, but I honestly never considered any connection between those pieces to my theology of loving one another.

In my mind, these facts were just glimpses into the history of the area, and working at the military academy was a teaching job about which I was passionate.  Teaching in that environment hinged on establishing relationships with students who were not living with their families.

But there is another connection between the images of war and theology that has become a focal point for me this week.  I literally was surprised to discover image #32 in the stained glass window and equally surprised at the mental picture that immediately jumped into my mind.

In Lexington, one of my church family always wore a lapel pin that fascinated me.  She had a miniature sword that was turned into a plowshare.  I was so intrigued that I asked her about it, and she explained the significance.  She was a respected science teacher in our community who always emitted a special sense of peace.

Nowhere else in my memory have I come across that image nor had anyone really develop a discussion around that concept.  As I studied the list of images in the stained glass window, I discovered that #32 was of a young person holding a sword that had been hammered into a plowshare just like the image of Pat’s lapel pin.

The paperwork for the puzzle provides this explanation:

 

Two times in the Old Testament we catch a glimpse of a restored paradise, where enmity and warfare have ceased and an abiding peace has come to stay.  In this vision, instruments once used for destroying one another will no longer be necessary, and instead will be converted into peaceful, useful, and productive tools for the sake of creation.  This image corresponds to, and signals the end of what began with the killing of Abel by his brother Cain in the first section of the window.

 

The two Old Testament references are Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3:

 

Isaiah 2:4–The Lord will mediate between nations
and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.

 

Micah 4:3–The Lord will mediate between peoples
and will settle disputes between strong nations far away.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.

 

Resuming the reflection:

 

Why would the image of a sword turned into a plowshare be included with the images of The Church?  The scripture connection is from the Old Testament, before The Church became established.  Historically, the ancient cultures fought wars to gain more land.  Battles were horrific, hand-to-hand conflict.  The outcome ended with death, dismemberment, and slavery.  The weapons included swords, spears, clubs, maces that were hand held and brought the warriors face to face—angry and fearful.

God never intended for humans to treat each other like this.  He designed a world that was to meet all the needs without conflict.  His human creation was to care for the world and all its creatures.  His human creation was to live in peace and in relationship with each other and with him. War was not part of his creation.

The Church is the tool that Jesus’ disciples created to establish relationships with one another and to care for this world through the one simple rule:  Love one another.  The Church continues to work establishing relationships that heal, protect, provide for all God created.  Swords destroy.  Plowshares cultivate.

Consider the context of the two verses from Isaiah and Micah.  The Jewish people populating the region along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea had split into two separate countries Israel and Judah.  The geographical area continues to be riddled with battling cultures. This warring attitude is far from what God teaches through his son Jesus Christ.  The swords today are so much more destructive and The Church struggles to develop peace.

One of the key words in these verses is “mediate” or “judge” as used in other translations.  God is the only one who can mediate or judge between peoples, as the scripture state.  The prophets wanted the faithful to understand that only God has that final power, humans do not.  The Church cannot judge, either, instead it is to spread the word that we are to care/love one another as we want to be loved.

Two different prophets, who were basically contemporaries, wrote these verses.  Interestingly, Micah’s role as prophet is identified as 742-687 BC while Isaiah’s prophecy began in 740 BC.  The two prophets even lived in nearly the same area as Isaiah was in Jerusalem while Micah was from Gath about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Surely the two prophets’ messages were heard by many of the same people.  But as we all know, we can hear the same message from two different people or in two different settings and not recognize that the messages are the same. Through the millions of years and the hundreds of translations the message from these two prophets are still as important as they were in the 8th& 7thcenturies before Christ’s lifetime.

The Church has continued to share the same message:

  • The Lord will mediates between peoples—not humans
  • Hammer swords into plowshares—get rid of weapons, turn to tools for feeding the people
  • Do not fight between nations—end war, do not even train for war

 

The Church preserved this message as it canonized the writings from the prophets into the Bible. The Church has turned the words of scripture into actions encouraging each of the faithful to do exactly what the prophets asked.  The Church has worked to develop the very peace-loving, nurturing practices that God asked Adam and Eve to do when he created this world:

Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.  . . . Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it. . . .”  [Genesis 1:26, 27]

 

Certainly God’s original plan was changed, and is noted in the stained glass window by the battle of the brothers Cain and Abel. Ever since creation, the battle between good and evil continues.

How, then, do we keep up our personal responsibility as Christians?  We are The Church regardless of denomination, congregation or community, what matters is whether you do all that you can do to carry out the message God has sent to us in so many different ways.  What matters is that you work peacefully to love one another just like you want to be loved.

The image of turning swords into plowshares is a concrete message to each of us.  The scripture introduced the mental picture, but the window shows us a visual picture.

Isaiah’s prophecy, written hundreds of years before Christ, includes the prediction that God was sending a messiah to teach the methods needed to shift from warring cultures to loving cultures.  And the work continues, must continue.

Creating the United Nations may be one global effort to turn swords into plowshares, too.  There is an interesting irony of how the prophets’ words have been artistically translated.  On the bulletin’s cover is the statue of a blacksmith beating a sword into a plowshare. That statue is at the United Nations headquarters in New York City; but the irony cannot be ignored.

The artist Evgeny Vuchitech was Soviet and the statue was a gift from the USSR (Russia) presented on December 4, 1959. The explanation provided by Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s website under the article “Art in the Christian Tradition” explains the bronze statue:

The sculpture, depicting the figure of a man holding a hammer aloft in one hand and a sword in the other, which he is making into a ploughshare, is meant to symbolize man’s desire to put an end to war, and to convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of mankind.

 

The irony of the statue does not end, either.  While searching for more information on the artist, one learns that a step-granddaughter is an Israel politician Ksenia Svetlova.

Add to this the timeframe that the statue was donated to the UN.  The Secretary General of the UN was Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden.  He was known for his work to develop peace, to mediate between warring peoples.  His notable quotes reflect the message behind the prophets’ words and the artists’ statue:

Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each of us. To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear. To build a world of justice, we must be just.

 

The Church is global.  The Church is tasked to make every effort it can to return this world to God’s original plan:  a peaceful world where all is provided to meet our needs and we are the stewards of this world.  Hammarskjold also said,

We’ve got to learn hard things in our lifetime, but it’s love that gives you the strength. It’s being nice to people and having a lot of fun and laughing harder than anything, hopefully every single day of your life.

 

You are The Church, right here in this community working with this Church family.  Yes, it can be difficult, but life in God’s eyes is one that is peaceful, love-filled. You are not to judge, you are to love. Through love, unconditional love, you can do all that you can to create a peaceful world—at least in your corner of the world.

Closing prayer:

Dear God of all people,

As we listen to the words of ancient prophets,

Open our hearts to their peaceful message.

As we stop for these moments to think about The Church

Open our minds to all the possibilities God offers.

As we work together to serve all in our communities,

Open our doors to make plowshares, not swords.

 

Move us forward to share the messages of the prophets

To demonstrates Jesus’ love-filled actions.

Move us forward through these times of transition

To keep Jesus’ work alive in our community.

Move us forward to discover new, exciting ways

To hammer out swords of differences into plowshares.

 

Thank you for the guiding words of scripture.

Thank you for the unexpected messages of peace.

Thank you for the unconditional love you provide.

 

We can do all that we can through the your gifts.

We can do all that we can because Jesus teaches us.

We can do all that we can through the Holy Spirit.

Amen, Lord, amen.

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Cloud of Witnesses lead by faith

Sermon for Memorial Day Weekend Sunday, May 27, 2018.  Another connection to Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window.

 

As we enjoy the Memorial Day Weekend as a holiday, the purpose of the holiday can easily be ignored—at least in today’s social environment. Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, began in 1868, and its origin may surprise you:

[show CBS video on Memorial Day from You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7ozdFkwHP8].

Memorial Day became familiar to me as a time to decorate the graves of family and friends more than just a time to honor veterans. I remember picking peonies, iris and roses, putting them in aluminum wrapped coffee cans filled with water and driving to at least three different cemeteries, leaving the flowers and sharing some of the people’s stories of the graves we visited.

Maybe the emphasis, or maybe I should say the de-emphasis, on veterans was due to the fact that we did not have any family veterans. My relatives were farmers and very few actually served in the military until my dad and his cousin enlisted at the end of World War II and the beginning of the Korean Conflict.  And none were killed during their service. Instead, Memorial Day honored those who defined our family.

Each of you has your own family history and your own traditions on holidays like this.  I am sure some of you do have family who died while serving in the armed services.  I am sure some of you spend time this weekend visiting graves and decorating them with flowers.  And while you do this, you remember all those who have contributed to who you are in one way or another.

These same family members and friends modeled their faith and helped define your own.  Their lives witnessed their faith in their own ways, much like the Cloud of Witnesses depicted in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window.

The list of witnesses includes Old Testament and New Testament figures.  The window cannot possibly include all the characters in the Bible, but there are 23 images faintly imprinted through the stained glass cloud.  The images visible are:

Old Testament:

  • Hagar–Sarah’s handmaiden given to Abraham to have a child, Ishmael
  • Jachebed—Moses’ birth mother who hid him in the bulrushes
  • Joshua—successor of Moses
  • Rahab—the harlot who sheltered Joshua’s men in Jerico
  • Caleb—founding father of Cabbites and spy with Joshua
  • Samuel—son of Elkahan and Hannah; tutored by Eli, prophet and king of Israel
  • Deborah—Rebekah’s nurse; Israelite judge and prophet
  • King Solomon—son of David & Bathsheba, succeeded David
  • Isaiah—prophet
  • Jeremiah—son of Hilkiah; prophet

New Testament:

  • Zechariah—(four listed) father of John the Baptist, one of the Old Testament minor prophets
  • Elizabeth—wife of Zechariah; mother of John the Baptist; cousin to Mary the mother of Jesus Christ
  • Joseph—(also a common name) faither of Jesus
  • James—son of Zebedee, brother to John and both apostles
  • Lazarus—brother of Mary & Martha; Jesus raised him from the dead
  • Martha—Jesus’ close friend & follower
  • Mary—(seven different ones listed); mother of Jesus is one; another was a close friend & follower who was sister to Martha and Lazarus
  • Joseph of Arimathea—took the body of Jesus from the cross to the tomb
  • Matthew, Mark, Luke & John—the gospel writers.

 

These witnesses carried God’s story forward through history.  They have served as models of faithful living.  They also created The Church, at least the ones in the New Testament who continued Jesus work after his resurrection.  The Church today exists by the faith of a cloud of witnesses.

Scripture:  Hebrews 11:1-3

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

    By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

 

Reading through Hebrews 11, the list of Old Testament witnesses continues.  The author includes many more witnesses, but each one is introduced by the key phrase “by faith”(a sampling Hebrews 11:7, 8, 32):

  1. It was by faith that Noahbuilt a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.
  2. It was by faith that Abrahamobeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
  3. 32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

 

The Church depends on the cloud of witnesses.  The stories filling the pages of the Bible, whether in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, are available to us yet today, in the 21stcentury, because their story is the same as our story.  We face challenges to our faith daily, and the battle of good versus evil can wear one down.  For this reason we turn to scripture to strengthen our resolve, our faith.

Reading on in Hebrews 11:35-40, the author continues the illustration of the Old Testament witnesses:

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

     39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

Over the last several weeks, we have reviewed so many stories of Biblical characters and other historical figures who have kept The Church growing.  These individuals share the common advice in Hebrews:  live by faith.  God’s story and the work of the witnesses have continued Jesus’ message.  The Church has grown and continues to exist by faith.

Hebrew’s author, and experts cannot agree on who that is with only the clue that it could be Paul, Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Phillip or Priscilla due to the reference that the letter includes to Timothy as “brother,” does not list witnesses from the New Testament.  Those we might consider New Testament witnesses would have been contemporaries or peers.  The stained glass window’s references are based on the same criteria, though, they are the ones whose written record show that they lived by faith.

The letter to the Hebrews continues (12:1-13):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[e] Because of the joy[f]awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;[g] then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

     And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children?[h] He said,

“My child,[i] don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”[j]

     As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?[k]

     10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

     12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. 13 Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.

 

The words provide guidance for us yet today.  The scripture is timeless.  The message remains steadfast.  The crowd of witnesses knew God’s story and their lives were as typical as our own.  We are fortunate that we do have the stories.  We study scripture independently and in community in order for us to remain faithful when life challenges us.

Today is an ideal opportunity to add names to the cloud of witnesses that are personal.  I know that you have examples of faith that fills your memory.  They might be family members who lived by faithor maybe a best friend survived a challengeby faith.  I invite you to share the names of those who you would add to the cloud of witnesses (have members share the name and the story that nominates someone to be added to the cloud of witnesses: for example):

  • Betty:pastor’s wife, cancer patient, teacher
  • Kern:assistant superintendent, fellow Methodist, my dyslexia tutor
  • Beth:dairy farmer’s wife, Polio survivor, mother, friend
  • Bill:UMC pastor, son of a manic depressed mother

 

The names we share inspire each of us to live by faith.  The promise of life eternal may be realized by so many of those we consider to be witnesses, and we have so much work left to do in our earthly life.

We are blessed to know the stories of the cloud of witnesses.  We are blessed to know witnesses personally who have provided us guidance in living our own lives by faith.  This weekend we honor those who have served to protect us, who have served as our teachers, who have guided us in our own faith journeys.  May we, too, live our faith out loud so others may know us as part of the cloud of witnesses when we leave our earthly lives.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father Almighty,

 

Daily we are challenged to live by faith.

The news darkens our world

And we need your light.

The chores we work through in our homes

Tire us and we grow weary.

The relationships in our lives become strained

Yet we continue to love one another.

Evil seems to creep up on us in quiet

And we need strength to defend ourselves.

 

Thank you for the cloud of witnesses

That has walked this earth before us.

Thank you for the Biblical stories guiding us

On how to live by faith

Thank you for those Christians whose stories

Preserve and grow The Church by faith.

Thank you for the Christians witnesses

Who have walked by faithbeside us.

 

Guide us through these examples of faith.

Guide us in reading the scriptures.

Guide us in fellowship growing in faith.

Guide us as we share our own stories

So others may see us living by faith.

 

Amen, Lord, amen.

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The Church: Begins, Grows, Evolves

Sermon given on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018.  What a powerful day to bring together the messages of Pentecost, John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience, and the 50th anniversary of the merger of the Evangelical Brethern and the Methodist churches in 1968.  

Reflection:  The Church Begins:  Pentecost Ignites the Apostles

Pentais Greek for the number five, and pentecostliterally means the 50thday.  Originally this was 50 days after Passover in the Jewish tradition, but after Jesus’ Resurrection, which concluded during the Jewish Passover festival, the term pentecosthas developed its own significance as the birth of The Church.

Today, May 20, 2018, we celebrate Pentecost as the birth of The Church but more importantly the arrival of the Holy Spirit as God with us.  The Apostles were still trying to sort out what they were to do after the crucifixion and the resurrection of their teacher Jesus Christ.  There was no university program designed to equip them with the skills to take a peaceful, service-minded, loving idea and set up an organization to drive the movement forward.  But as they sat in community, the Holy Spirit arrived:

Acts 2 1On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

 

Can you even imagine what the experience must have been like?  The closest thing we could even compare to that is a tremendous thunderstorm suddenly developing, but this happened without the meteorological event—and not outdoors but inside a closed building.

The record in Acts is not the first mention of the Holy Spirit.  The first reference is in Genesis 1:1-2:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.   2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

This event followed the Resurrection, 50 days later.  Bob Deffinbaugh, a pastor from Texas describes the event:

The Day of Pentecost arrived when the small company of believers were gathered together in one place. It was then that the Holy Spirit came upon them in a powerful and dramatic way. The accompanying sound from heaven attracted a large crowd, many of whom were devoutly religious. A large number of them had come from distant lands to reside in Jerusalem (to be there when Messiah appeared?).  [Accessed on May 17, 2018 at https://bible.org/seriespage/4-peters-sermon-pentecost-acts-214-36%5D

 

The event now known as Pentecost for Christians across the world and throughout all denominations marked the beginning of The Church as the Apostles began their work.

Deffinbaugh describes the gathering as a “small company of believers,” but that is a very relative term.  In Wesley’s Study Bible, the commentary states:  “They” probably refers to the 120.  The “one place” may be the temple courts, due to the group’s size and the crowd’s reaction. (p.1324).  That number refers to Acts 1:15 in which it states that Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about 120) . . . The gathering was also in conjunction with the Jewish harvest festival during which the faithful practiced a covenant renewal.

How appropriate was the setting and the crowd for God to send the Holy Spirit in a highly visual manner, or as Deffinbaugh said, “a powerful and dramatic way”!  The prophecies of the Old Testament and of Jesus were fulfilled by the anointing of these Apostles and the earliest disciples with the Holy Spirit. The ability for all to hear the words in their own language demonstrates the inclusiveness of God’s message.  The Church began its work as each one of those Apostles and faithful stepped out to share God’s message of loving one another.

Today’s celebration is global.  The work is global.  The audience is global.  We are just as important today as the very first disciples were on that fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection.  We are The Church.

[Join in a time to talk with God.]

Reflection resumes:  Pentecost: John Wesley’s heart strangely warmed

Pentecost is reflected in the COR’s stained glass window, but the real impact can be seen right here in this sanctuary.  Our own stained glass story is “dramatic and powerful” and we can witness the effect of the Holy Spirit in our own history.

Each one of us knows how the Holy Spirit works in our own lives.  We have met others who are filled with the Spirit as they serve others in love.  We have felt moved to love someone in some manner that may have surprised even you.  We have suddenly turned down a road we did not plan turning onto only to discover we were there to listen to someone in pain or to help someone with a flat tire or to spot a situation that needed immediate help.  We know God works through us in ways we may not even suspect. This is the evidence of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe we have not experienced a life-altering event, or have a “heart strangely warmed” as John Wesley did.  But God is present with us as the Holy Spirit, and it is alive when we serve one another in love.  God’s work is mysteriously done in not so mysterious ways as when Christians actively live out their faith in their daily lives.

Pick any day of the week, month or year, and you can see God alive in this world.  You can see it in your own homes, on the roads you drive, and at the businesses you visit.  Sometimes it is easy to see; sometimes it is more hidden.  At the same time, you can see so many places in which God is needed. God asks us to live our faith out loud. He asks us to respond to the cry of those in need.  He asks us to take care of this world he created.

Pentecost, as an event, occurred on that fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection, but Pentecost occurs each time we experience empathy with another, when we feel moved to act as God would act, when we see through God’s eyes, when we hear with God’s ears, when we step into the sanctuary and feel calmed by his presence.  God is with us all the time.  He is triune—as creator, as Jesus Christ the human son, and as the Holy Spirit that resides within all who believe.

So, happy birthday to The Church that was born when the earliest believers were baptized by the Holy Spirit on that harvest festival day in Jerusalem.  The Church grew from that point in time, that place in the world, to the Church it is today that wraps around this globe.

(Pause for the offering and hymn.)

Resuming the reflection:

Another birthday, so to speak, is included on this day, and that honors John Wesley’s epiphany when he was attending a study group on Aldersgate Street when “he felt his heart was strangely warmed.” This experience was on May 24, 1738, often referred to as the Aldersgate experience.

In an on-line article from UMC.org, Rev. Fred Day explains the experience:

. . . John Wesley was at a low point, having just returned from his disappointing missionary efforts at the colony of Georgia in the New World.

Wesley reluctantly attended a group meeting on the evening of May 24th on Aldersgate Street in London.  As he heard a reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he felt his “heart strangely warmed.”

Rev. Fred Day: “He writes in his journal, “I felt that God loved me.” I experienced that God loved me. It was no longer something that was in my head, but it’s something that I felt in my heart.”

 

I can remember a conversation with my dad about knowing the truth of one’s own faith.  He said wondered if he really knew God because he had never had an experience that told him he did.  I know Dad experienced times when his heart “felt strangely warmed” because he also said explained that sometimes driving and listening to the news he would just start crying.  Surely these were moments when the Holy Spirit were speaking to him.

The Pentecost comes to each of us in our own way. Today, one of the closest Sundays to May 24, honors Wesley’s Aldersgate experience.  With Pentecost being celebrated today, what better time to acknowledge that Wesley’s personal Pentecost that moved The Church forward through his own work that has resulted in the denomination of which we are part—Methodism.

So today, let’s say happy birthday to the Wesley’s Methodist movement.

(Pause for a small celebration.  Singing and cake are possible additions.)

Concluding today’s reflection:  The Church Evolves:  50years as United Methodists

And The Church continues to evolve.  The Methodist denomination that grew out of Wesley’s ministry has also evolved.  Today the United Methodist Church celebrates 50 years.  In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical Brethren Church.  Personally I can remember that because I had a classmate who was a member of the Evangelical Brethren Church and when the announcement was made, I wondered if she would begin attending with me.  (She did not; but she also lived in another community so I have no idea where she worshipped.)  That merger was 50 years ago:

[Show the UMC.org video on You Tube.}

So, another happy birthday we say to the United Methodist Church.  The Church continues.  Each denomination has its own story.  The heritage is filled with changes because humanity is static, every-changing, too. Therefore, The Church continues to evolve.  The stories in the stained glass window(s) capture the history, but it cannot freeze the evolution of The Church.

The United Methodist Church is currently undergoing another stage of change.  The social and cultural changes that are challenging today’s people are beginning to be addressed by so many organizations and the United Methodist Church is one of them.

The Council of Bishops has worked for several years to create appropriate amendments to the Book of Discipline that reflect the Christian values in today’s global culture.  The Bishops finally submitted five amendments:

  1. The first amendment proposed a new paragraph between current Paragraph 5 and Paragraph 6. This new paragraph would have focused on gender justice. (66.5%)

 

  1. The second amendment proposed changes to the wording in Paragraph 4 in “The Book of Discipline.” If it were ratified, the proposed amendment would have added “gender,” “ability,” “age” and “marital status” to the protected membership groups. (61.3%)

 

III. The third amendment dealt with the election of delegates to the General Conference as contained in Paragraph 34. As ratified, the amendment adds this sentence to Paragraph 34: “Such elections shall include open nominations from the floor by the annual conference, and delegates shall be elected by a minimum of a simple majority of the ballots cast.”  (90.3%)

 

  1. The fourth amendment clarified the time of election of bishops in Central Conferences as contained in Paragraph 46. As ratified, the amendment adds the following words to Paragraph 46: “provided that episcopal elections in central conferences shall be held at a regular, not an extra, session of the central conference, except in the case where an unexpected vacancy must be filled.” (92.9%)

 

  1. The fifth proposed amendment adds language to Paragraph 50 regarding how the Council of Bishops holds its individual members accountable for their work. As ratified, the amendment adds the following sentence to the end of Paragraph 50: “These provisions shall not preclude that adoption by the General Conference of provisions for the Council of Bishops to hold its individual members accountable for their work, both as general superintendents and as presidents and residents in episcopal areas.”(81.2%)

 

The amendments had to receive 2/3 majority to be passed, and much to their own surprise, the first two amendments did not receive the required 2/3 majority (the percentage of yes votes are indicated in parenthesis after each amendment).

This is the reaction by the Council of Bishops:

“While we are not completely clear concerning the motivation that caused them to miss the two-thirds required majority by slim margins, we want to be clear that we are unequivocal in our commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church,” said the Council statement.

 

Another surprise was the expressed by the female bishops who wrote in their letter:

“Like Rachel weeping for her children, so we as episcopal leaders weep for our church. We weep for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harm that is inflicted upon women and girls because of this action. We weep for those who are denied the ability to use their gifts to make a difference in the world. We also weep for those who are not protected from exclusion in the church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.”

 

On May 7, 2018, Bishop Robert Farr, our state’s bishop made the following statement:

I am saddened and disappointed that two of the constitutional amendments related to the right of girls, women, and other vulnerable groups did not receive the necessary 2/3 aggregate vote of all the annual conferences in The United Methodist Church. Please know that as your bishop in Missouri, I am firmly committed to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church. I stand beside the active and retired women bishops’ statement released alongside the announcement.  . . .

 

While I believe we have made progress in Missouri, I know we have miles to go before we realize gender justice in the Church. Both amendments passed handily in the Missouri Conference at 90% and 80% respectively. In fact, it passed in both of our partner conferences in Mozambique, too, by even greater margins.

 

The Church evolves.  We are connectional, but as a congregation we are responsible for carrying out God’s work in all the ways that we can, as best as we can, for as long as we can.  The Church is all denominations and how our community defines itself is by the work of this church family in relation to the community in which it exists.  The Church is much more than its discipline and its connectional organization.  The Church is the action of the Holy Spirit within us.  This Pentecost Sunday is a time to review the birth, the growth and the evolution of The Church since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The story continues. . .

Closing prayer:

Dear All-knowing Lord,

 

Thank you for the Holy Spirit

            Who is your presence within us.

Thank you for the earliest Apostles

            Who established The Church.

Thank you for all the reformers

            Who continued The Church’s growth.

Thank you for accepting efforts

            That keep The Church evolving.

 

Guide us through the Holy Spirit

            To continue your work

            Sharing the story

            Loving one another

Guide us to listen carefully

            In how to work together

            In how to grow the church

            In how to serve one another.

Guide us to see this world

            By the power of the Holy Spirit

            By the vision of Jesus Christ

            By your unlimited love.

 

May our work reflect your perfection.

May our work continue the story.

May our work strangely warm others hearts.

 

In you name, Heavenly Father,

And in your son Jesus Christ’s,

And through the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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