The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
I confess that I began listening to Christmas music about two weeks before Thanksgiving. Perhaps it is an occupational hazard. Or, perhaps, like some of my neighbors who were outside hanging up their Christmas lights that same day, it was simply an opportunity to claim joy when things have not gone as we expected this year. One of the Christmas songs that frequently plays across the radio waves is “Grown Up Christmas List,” in which a woman considers how her Christmas wish list has changed from the time she was a child. Rather than toys and childhood games, she now wishes for things like: peace, friendship, healing, justice, and love that never ends. As she has matured, her desires have changed and her expectations have shifted.
In our Gospel reading this second Sunday in Advent, we will be introduced once again to John the Baptist - prophet, eater of locusts, and cousin to Jesus. Like the narrator in the Christmas song, John also has a way of shifting our expectations.
As he preached in the Judean wilderness two thousand years ago, John challenged people to confession, to repentance, to renewal, to baptism. He also pointed beyond himself to the One who would follow, the One who is the Son of God.
Rather than ask what is on our “grown-up Christmas list,” John might ask us, “what does God want for Christmas?” Another way to ask that is, “What does God want from us?” What do you think might be on that list? Let us prayerfully consider this question as we continue to prepare the way and journey toward Christmas.
In Christ’s Love,
Acts 20:35 (MSG)
35 In everything I've done, I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You'll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, “You're far happier giving than getting.”
Maybe you’ve heard the story of the one-dollar bill that met the twenty-dollar bill and said, “Hey, where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you around here much.”
The twenty answered, “I’ve been hanging out at the casinos, went on a cruise and did the rounds of the ship, back to the United States for a while, went to a couple of baseball games, to the mall, that kind of stuff. How about you?” The twenty-dollar bill asked the dollar bill.
The one-dollar bill answered, “You know, same old stuff . . . church, church, church.”
As most of you are probably aware, it takes more than a few one-dollar bills to maintain and expand the ministry of the Body of Christ at First United Methodist. Everything we do at First United Methodist is about people, their transformation, their growth as disciples, their healing, and their wholeness. We help people who are searching, lost, and hurting. We guide and nurture children and youth. We are not only involved with people’s lives in the church and community but also with people around the world.
We cannot forget the impact we have and continue to make on people’s lives. Imagine what would happen if First United Methodist suddenly ceased to exist. It would be devastating to thousands of lives! Your giving makes the mission and ministry of First UMC possible. Without it we have to make difficult decisions about what we will cut or what cannot happen. Your gifts make a difference.
In Eugene Peterson’s book, Run with the Horses, he told how he saw a family of birds teaching their young to fly. Three young swallows were perched on a dead branch that stretched over a lake. The mother swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end of the branch. The first one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water four feet below, its wings started working, and the fledgling was off on his own. Then the second one took off the same way.
But the third chick was not to be bullied. At the last possible moment his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, then tightened again, bulldog tenacious. Mama bird was merciless. She pecked at the desperately clinging talons until it was more painful for the poor chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. He let go, and the inexperienced wings began pumping. Mother swallow knew what the chick did not—that it would fly—and there was no danger in making it do what it was perfectly designed to do.
Peterson said, “Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully, and beautifully.”
For me, there are two points to Peterson’s illustration. First giving is what we do best. It is what we were designed to do. Some try desperately to hold on to themselves and what they have and are miserable in the process. We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried.
Secondly, there are people who are desperately hanging on to a troubled life. They can only let go if we are here as the Body of Christ to provide guidance and support through the love and fellowship of this community of faith. The two work together. There is our need to give and the desperate need of those in the world to know Christ. It’s a match made in heaven and I know you want to be a part of it.
You should be receiving a stewardship packet in the mail soon. (Please contact the church office if you do not receive the mailing). In the packet is your Estimate of Giving card supporting our 2021 church operations. Please return it to the church or go to our website and fill out the estimate of giving form and submit it electronically.
Thanks for all you do.
Judges 4:4-9 (NRSV)
4 At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, "The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you, 'Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.'" 8 Barak said to her, "If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go." 9 And she said, "I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.
In 1977, the year of my high school graduation, Oscar Romero, a quiet, traditional cleric was consecrated Archbishop of San Salvador. Deemed a safe bet by the government authorities, his installation service was used as an excuse for more government-sanctioned murders. The killings stirred something in Romero prompting him to agree with the sentiment circulated by the priests aligned with the poor of San Salvador: “The church is where it always should have been: with the people, surrounded by wolves.”
The murder of a rural priest furthered Romero’s transformation as an advocate for the least, last, and lost. Against official policies, Romero began to support new liturgies and worship services relevant to the poor and oppressed. He called for the church to become the voice of those who were being oppressed. Romero quickly became a thorn in the government’s side.
On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero celebrated mass in the Chapel of the Divine Providence. As he raised the elements and proclaimed, “This is my body given for you . . . this is my blood shed for you,” a single shot was fired. Romero collapsed; his heart pierced by an assassin’s bullet.
Speaking out against injustice and oppression, following God’s path is not always easy. It is also true that actions, more often than not, speak louder than words. Deborah seems to understand this as she leads Barak and others into battle against Sisera and his army. Christ’s presence on the cross speaks louder than any words. Romero’s actions among the poor of San Salvador speaks volumes. It is our actions that will ultimately bring down evil and injustice in the world. Think about it.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Of all the ways that we spend our time, waiting is not the most popular choice. It does not even make the top ten. Yet, we are often called upon to wait. According toe The Huffington Post, Americans spend an estimated 37 billion hours waiting in line each year. We do not enjoy it, and we try to avoid it as much as possible. With each new technological development, we lean further into a desire for instant results. When it comes to the internet, we are even less likely to be patient. Computer Scientists have found that people are willing to be patient, on average, for two seconds, while waiting for an online video to load. After five seconds, the abandonment rate is 25 percent. That rate doubles after ten seconds. No wonder we often feel ill-equipped for life’s more significant and serious waiting periods: waiting for results, answers, diagnoses, forgiveness, love, etc.
During times of waiting, we are somewhere between where we have been and where we will be. The scriptures have a great deal to say about being “in between.” This Sunday, we will focus on the above parable from Matthew 25, the bridesmaids who were waiting for the arrival of the groom, and consider what our faith has to say to us during those “in between” or “limbo” seasons of life. I look forward to worshiping with you via livestream!
In Christ’s Love,
Matthew 5:1-12 (NRSV)
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
When I read the Beatitudes, I hear Jesus saying that we need to see the world as God sees it. In other words, we need to meet people where they are. Reggie McNeal gives a wonderful illustration of this in his book, Missional Renaissance. He writes:
I received a series of emails a couple of years ago from a guy who had attended a conference where I laid out my typical challenge for people to go out and intentionally bless people. He first informed me that he had decided to bless the baristas at Starbucks, since he went there every day . . . His second email told me that the staff at the coffeeshop thought it was a little strange when he asked them, “How can I ask God to bless you?” . . . Even though they were initially reluctant to talk to him, the employees began to seek him out on their breaks, sit with him, and open up their lives to him . . .
Other people in the gentleman’s church got involved and before long, they were covering every Starbucks within a thirteen-block radius of the church. Again McNeal writes:
Visiting a Starbucks that he didn't normally frequent, he asked his standard question when the barista handed him his cup of coffee, whereupon she pulled the cup back and said, "Are you one of those blessing people?" When I read this, McNeal writes, my spirit cried, "Yes, yes, yes!" That's exactly who we are. We are the people of God. We are the blessing people!
Jesus' desire, I believe, was to get people looking in the right direction and from a right perspective. If we look in the right direction and come at others from a correct perspective, then the way we live our lives will take care of itself. It’s possible that if we do the right things and look in God’s direction that no one will ever be invisible or marginalized in any way. All people will be of sacred worth. Think about it.
Matthew 22:34-46 (NRSV)
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." 41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." 43 He said to them, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet" '? 45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?" 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
One of my favorite movies is Groundhog Day. In the movie, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a cynical, self-centered television journalist who is sent to the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to do a story about Groundhog day. He despises the assignment, the town and its people. When he awakens on the morning after groundhog day, he discovers to his horror that it is still Groundhog day, February 2. Every morning he wakes to the same day, having to live it over and over again.
He tries to explain the problem to his producer but she laughs it off. He tries everything to break the pattern—getting angry, being nice, killing himself—but nothing works. Eventually, he relaxes into appreciating the present. He opens himself up to the town and Rita the producer. Only when he learns to love with his heart, soul, mind and strength does he wake to a new day and a better future.
Like Phil Connor, we get so caught up in holding on to our plans, identities and truths (like the lawyer and his 613 laws) that we forget to relax and love with our heart, soul, mind and strength. The more we love, the better future we open up for ourselves and those around us. Think about it.
Mark 10:17-31 (NRSV)
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" 20 He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." 28 Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." 29 Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
We all want to be members of the Jesus fan club. Like most fan clubs there is plenty of paraphernalia to enhance and support our enthusiasm. There are t-shirts with Bible verses on them, bumper stickers, and jewelry. Jesus wants more than just fans because fans can be loyal to Jesus and other things as well. Jesus wants faithful disciples. He wants cross bearers and contagious Christians.
There’s a story from the sinking of the Titanic that seems appropriate. Mrs. Isadore Strauss was one of the few women who went down on the Titanic in 1912. She died because she refused to leave her husband’s side. Mr. and Mrs. Strauss were calm and collected throughout the frenzy of loading the life-boats. Both aided frightened women and children. Finally, Mr. Strauss, who had been urging his wife again and again to seek safety on one of the boats, forced her to enter one. She wasn’t seated long before she sprang up and returned to the deck of the ship. Her husband could not stop her. She put her arm through his, snuggled up to his side and said, “we have been together many years. We are old now. Where you go, I will go.”
That’s what Jesus needs to hear from the rich man. Jesus wants us to set aside our other loyalties and choose Him. Jesus wants to hear us say, “Where you go, I will go.” Jesus doesn’t need a fan club. Jesus needs faithful disciples who will speak His name and spread His Word. Jesus wants more than a few minutes of your life. He wants your whole life. Think about it.
Dear FUMC Family,
It has become very clear that the seasons are changing! Temperatures are cooling, pumpkins adorn our porches, leaves are turning vibrant shades of red and yellow and then crunching under our feet, and the sky has become a glorious shade of blue that is unique to the fall. Nature is demonstrating for us God’s great internality and beauty in creation. This is truly my favorite time of year.
As the heat of the summer fades away and the blooms in our gardens fade, it seems as though the earth is taking a deep breath and preparing to rest. As they drop their leaves, the trees model a healthy practice of letting go. Nothing about it is haphazard or accidental. The dropping of a tree’s leaves is a scientific process as well as a form of self-care and protection. Not only will those leaves not be a hindrance during the winter, but releasing them will allow the tree a fresh start in the spring and even create fertilizer that will nourish the next leafy generation. What a beautiful example for us!
This Sunday, our primary Scripture will be the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. It may be a story you have heard before. Even so, I invite you to read it again in preparation for our worship together. As he encounters Jesus, there are some things that Zacchaeus must let go of: self-interest, dishonesty, pride, and possessions…to name a few. However in letting go of these things, Zacchaeus makes room for newness and renewal in his life.
As we hear this story, and begin to rake leaves again this year, lets consider: are there practices, attitudes, possessions, grudges, or other things in our lives that need to be let go? Perhaps this is the perfect season to prayerfully begin the practice. Zacchaeus shows us that when we do, we open ourselves up to Jesus’ invitation to abundant life.
In Christ’s Love,
Psalm 19:1-14 (NRSV)
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; 4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, 5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. 6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat. 7 The law of the LORDis perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults. 13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
I love this story: A group of scientists were discussing which one of them was going to tell God that they didn’t need Him anymore. One of the scientists volunteered and went to tell God He was no longer needed. The scientist said to God, “God, several of us scientist have been thinking that we don’t need you anymore. We’ve been coming up with some great theories and ideas lately, we’ve cloned sheep, and we’re on the verge of cloning humans. So, as you can see, we just don’t need you anymore.”
God nodded understandingly, “I understand. No hard feelings. But before you go let’s have a contest. “Sure,” said the scientist. “What kind of contest do you want to have?” God replied, “Let’s have a man and woman making contest.” “No problem,” replied the scientist. So, the scientist bent down and picked up a handful of dirt and said, “Okay, I’m ready!”God replied, “No, no, no . . . get your own dirt.”
Albert Einstein once said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand in rapt awe, is as good as dead.” When was the last time you stood in awe of God’s creation? How is your sense of wonder? A good exercise to refresh our perspective and revive our faith might be to sit back and stare at the wonder of things we cannot explain. Take a drive in the mountains or along the coast, look into the night sky at the heavens, the stars. There are so many things, even in the twenty-first century, that we cannot comprehend or compete with. Maybe that was what King David was thinking when he wrote Psalm 19.
David closes his Psalm with a simple request. “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14, NRSV). God’s work speaks to us if we’ll listen. When we do listen it declares the depths of God’s love and the heights of God’s grace. David must have hoped that his words did the same. Think about it.
Matthew 21:23-32 (NRSV)
23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" 24 Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' 26 But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." 27 So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 28 "What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' 29 He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Abigail Van Buren, known for her “Dear Abby Columns, once said that “The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.” United Methodist Bishop, William H. Willimon told this story:
Once there was a hospital that decided it was losing money and having great difficulty with some of its patients. Some of those who came to the hospital for treatment left the hospital no better than when they came. Some of them were demanding and difficult, as people in pain sometimes are. So the hospital decided to stop admitting persons who were ill. They would now only admit those who were in good health so that the hospital could be sure that they would profit from the treatment that was offered, that they would go away stronger than when they arrived.
Of course, that is absurd. A hospital exists for those who are in need. All of the staff at the hospital prepare and work hard for those on the outside of the hospital, those who have yet to show a level of health need that is commensurate with the core values of the hospital.
This is a parable for the church. We are an outpost for the Kingdom of God. We are here as insiders for the sake of those on the outside. We don’t put up barriers between people and Jesus who invites all. We must be careful that we don’t act like a religious club with Jesus as the mascot. Jesus’ criticism of the religious authorities comes from the fact that they failed to reach out to everyone, and especially the least, last, lost, sick, hungry, and hurting. It’s the reason Jesus said that the tax collectors and harlots would enter the kingdom before the good people. Think about it.
Matthew 20:1-16 (MSG)
1 "God's kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work. 3 "Later, about nine o'clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. 4 He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. 5 They went. "He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o'clock. 6 At five o'clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, 'Why are you standing around all day doing nothing? 7 ' "They said, 'Because no one hired us.' "He told them to go to work in his vineyard. 8 "When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.' 9 "Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar. 10 When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. 11 Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, 12 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.' 13 "He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we? 14 So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. 15 Can't I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?' 16 "Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first."
Maybe you’ve heard the story of the fellow who fell off a cliff. On the way down, he reached out in desperation and managed to grab hold of a branch. As he was precariously hanging on, trying to figure out how to keep from falling into the canyon below, he shouted out, “Is there anybody up there?” To his amazement, a voice replied, “I am God. Let go and I’ll save you. Trust me. Let go and I’ll take care of you.” The fellow thought about it for a few seconds and then yelled back, “Is there anybody else up there?”
I think we can all agree that God is full of grace and mercy. Amazing Grace might be your favorite hymn. Without a doubt, God’s grace is amazing. God is present in so many ways. God is there in the good and the bad, in our times of illness, loneliness, and helplessness. God is there in our crossroad moments, at weddings, baptisms, loss, and death. God is present when we worship, pray, and study His Word. God loves us and forgives us.
Sometimes, though, God’s amazing grace is exasperating and hard to understand. At times, God’s grace feels less than gracious depending on what your circumstance might be. The case of the fellow who fell off the cliff is an example. Sometimes we feel like Catherine Steward in the novel, The Watch that Ends the Night, who screams at her husband in the midst of an emotional crisis, “We need God, and He doesn’t care!”
Jesus’ parable is about a gracious landowner but not everyone sees the landowner as being gracious. For some, paying the laborers who were hired later in the day the same as those hired first seems unfair. And, yet, that is how God’s grace works. It is available for all. It is the same for all. As we grow in our discipleship journey may we know that we have received and are receiving the generosity of a merciful and gracious employer/God. May we learn to share God’s grace as the vineyard owner did. Maybe we need to let go and let God. Think about it.
Romans 14:1-12 (The Message)
1 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. 2 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume all Christians should be vegetarians and eat accordingly. 3 But since both are guests at Christ's table, wouldn't it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn't eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. 4 Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God's welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help. 5 Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience. 6 What's important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God's sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you're a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. 7 None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. 8 It's God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. 9 That's why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other. 10 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I'd say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we're all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren't going to improve your position there one bit. 11 Read it for yourself in Scripture: "As I live and breathe," God says, "every knee will bow before me; Every tongue will tell the honest truth that I and only I am God." 12 So tend to your knitting. You've got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.
Someone said that our judgement of another person says more about our character than the character of the person we are pointing to. The problem that Paul brings up with the Christians in Rome, is that Christians think they have a right to judge. From a Christian perspective, no one has a right to judge. Only God has that right. Only God can judge correctly. Part of our spiritual growth is learning to approach every person we meet with the understanding that Christ is in them.
Jesus told his disciples that they hardly knew enough of the human heart to love each other. They certainly did not know enough to judge each other. Compassion, love, and humility sees everyone as a child of God. Our responsibility as followers of Jesus is to drive people towards God’s mercy and grace.
In Thornton Wilder’s book, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Brother Juniper held the conviction that God punished evil people and rewarded the good. The trouble was he couldn’t prove it. All he needed was the right set of circumstances to convince the doubters. He thought he had his proof when the bridge that spanned the San Luis Rey collapsed after more than a century of service. Five people were killed. Brother Juniper spent the next six years collecting evidence about the five people who perished in the collapse in order to make his case that good people receive good things and bad people get that’s coming to them. Guess what he discovered? Every scrap of evidence Brother Juniper uncovered established the fact that each of the give was a mixture of saint and sinner.
We all are a mixture of good and bad. The world and certainly the Church would be getter place if we could hold our judgement of others and let Christ handle it. Grace, it’s a wonderful word. Maybe we should practice it a little more often. Think about it.
Dear FUMC Family,
If you have spent any time around young children, you know that their inquisitive and inquiring minds love ask that three-letter question, “WHY?” "Why do birds fly?” “Why do I have to eat my vegetables?” “Why don’t family pets live forever?” “Why are we doing (insert activity here)?” Their asking such “why” questions is a form of learning and of discovering purpose.
Our sermon text for this Sunday is Exodus 12:1-11, in which Moses and Aaron receive instructions from God for the Passover ritual. These instructions come just before the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt. The Passover ritual will continue to be observed and celebrated generation after generation as the story is passed down and memories of God’s deliverance are shared. Children play an important part in this ritual. Perhaps God was aware that their questions help us to remember who we are, and whose we are!
The annual Passover seder begins with a young child asking that famous question, “WHY?” They ask their adult family members, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” And so begins the telling of the story of God’s deliverance.
I invite you to read this passage from Exodus in preparation for our worship together this week. As Christians, it is also our story. We have been grafted into it. Our spiritual ancestors shared this memory with us, and we are called upon to pass on the story and the faith to future generations.
This Sunday, our FUMC children will help us tell the story of the Exodus as we focus on remembering what God has done and passing on our faith.
I look forward to worshipping with you this Sunday via Livestream at 8:45 and 11 AM!
In Christ’s Love,
Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28 And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29 He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
Our youth group used to go to youth rallies at least once a month when I was a teenager. In these rallies, the speaker was usually a former drug addict or someone who had been in trouble with the law but had turned his or her life around because of Christ.
I remember one rally in particular. It was at Whitnel United Methodist Church near Lenoir, North Carolina. The rally was conducted by a group of former drug addicts who had formed a Christian band. After an hour-and-half of testimony and music they gave an altar call. I remember my friend David Wagner standing up to pledge his life to Christ. I also remember thinking to myself that if David was going to stand, I would too.
Like Peter, James, and John and the other disciples, I decided to follow Jesus. But like the disciples, especially Peter, I didn’t really understand the contract I was signing. Nothing in my life really changed after that evening. The next day at school things were the same.
Jesus said that we have to lose our life for His sake. That means taking up our cross and following Him. It’s a willingness to make the sacrifices necessary in order to bring about His Kingdom work.
I ran cross country track for three years in High School. During my freshman year at Hudson High School, I was the only freshman on the team. I was determined to make my mark but usually ran in the middle of the pack. Most of the good runners graduated that year. My sophomore year promised to be the year I could shine as a runner. At our first match, I started out strong but half way through the race I gave out. I fell to the middle of the pack, the same position I run my freshman year. I was embarrassed and angry.
Our next match was two weeks away and I was determined to do better. I practiced with the team every day but then ran extra miles after the rest of the team was finished. Sometimes I would run until dark. Instead of taking the weekends off like I had done before the first race, I ran ten to fifteen miles on Saturday and Sunday.
Our next race was at Freedom High School. I started out in the middle of the pack knowing that I needed to pace myself. In the last mile I started moving up. I had the stamina I needed to run hard and fast. I started picking off runners one at a time. I sprinted the last half mile and ended up in fourth place. I was never a great runner but I learned that being a good runner takes sacrifice and practice.
Being a follower of Jesus is more than signing up for the team. It takes sacrifice and effort. Following Jesus is not always easy. Too often we want discipleship to be like the algebra student who stumbles on the right answer without struggling through the difficult, painful, equation. Discipleship doesn’t work that way.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his famous book, the Cost of Discipleship, says that we cheapen grace. We treat it like cheap items that we buy at a yard sale. It’s cut rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, and cut-rate sacrament. We treat grace like an inexhaustible pantry available for free whenever we need it. It is grace with price, without costs. Cheap Grace, he says, is grace without discipleship, without cross, without the incarnate Jesus.
Costly grace is the gospel that must be sought again and again. It is costly because it calls us to discipleship; it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus. It is costly because it cost people their lives; it is costly because it gives us our lives. Bonhoeffer knew what he was talking about. He died for his believes on German gallows a year after completing his book.
Think about it as you prepare to join us for worship via live stream this Sunday at 8:45 and 11 AM.
Christian Artist Twila Paris sings a song entitled, “How Beautiful is the Body of Christ.” Some of the lyrics go like this:
How beautiful when humble hearts give
The fruit of pure lives so others may live.
How beautiful the hands that serve
The wine and the bread to the sons of earth.
How beautiful is the body of Christ.
Today’s culture refers to the church as an institution. Many feel we are an institution that promotes intolerance, hypocrisy and old fashion views. I hope that the church is none of these. There is already enough intolerance, hypocrisy, and misaligned sentimentality for the past in our culture right now.
What the world needs is a church, as Twila Paris sings, which reflects a God of Mercy, hope, and transformation. St. Paul calls the church the body of Christ and gives us an image that better reflects what we should be. Listen to how Eugene Peterson translates Romans 12:4-8:
4 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. 5 The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, 6 let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't. If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; 7 if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; 8 if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
Since we are getting ready to enter the fall football season, maybe you’ll find this paraphrase helpful:
For the Team is one and has many players, and all the players of the team, though many, are one team…Indeed, the team does not consist of one player, but of many. If the defensive end would say, ‘because I am not the quarterback, I do not belong to the team,’ that would not make him any less a part of the team. And if the right tackle would say, ‘Because I am not a wide receiver, I do not belong to the team,’ that would not make him any less a part of the team. If the whole team were tackles, where would the cornerback be? But as it is, the coach has arranged the players of the team, each one of them, as he chose. If all were quarterbacks, where would the team be? As it is, there are many players, yet one team. The quarterback cannot say to the tackle, ‘I don’t need you.’ Nor can the defensive ends say to the running back, ‘we don’t need you.’ On the contrary…if one player suffers, the team suffers together with him; if one player is honored, the team rejoices with him.
Paul uses the imagery of a body. The image of team also works well. In order for the team to do well, everyone must play his or her position to the best of their ability. In teams and in the body of Christ, it is important to remember that it takes commitment, service, believing in the impossible and picking one’s self up and pushing forward in spite of wounds and failures. I like the words Alexander Irvine places on the lips of the heroine in his novel, My Lady of the Chimney Corner:
God takes a hand whenever he can find it and just does what he likes with it. Sometimes he takes a bishop’s hand and lays it on a child’s head in benediction. And then he takes the hand of a doctor to relieve the pain, the hand of a mother to guide a child. And sometimes he takes the hand of a poor old creature like me to give comfort to a neighbor, but they’re all hands touched by his Spirit, and his Spirit’s everywhere lookin’ for hands to use.
So what does it take to be God’s hands of ministry in the world? Think about it and I hope you will join us for worship this Sunday via live stream at 8:30 and 11 AM when we will dig deeper into Romans 12:1-8.
Matthew 15:21-28 (NRSV)
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." 26 He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.
Discrimination and exclusion is a sin and is always harmful to those on the receiving end. In the lesson for this Sunday, the woman is a Canaanite which links her to those who originally inhabited the land of Tyre and Sidon. To the Hebrew people, she was a considered unclean, a pagan.
The plot thickens when you understand that Jesus specifically says to the disciples in his missionary discourse in chapter ten to “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 10:5-6) While Jesus would ultimately change His mind and travel to Samaria, in this particular situation the woman is the interloper. She crosses geographical and cultural boundaries so that she might approach Jesus. She shouts, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; My daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22b) At this point, Jesus’ ministry focus is the Jews but the woman’s persistent cries change everything.
Most troubling and hard to understand is Jesus apparent insult, calling her a “dog.” Isn’t this the Jesus who healed the paralytic and called the hated tax collector, Matthew, his friend and disciple? Is this the same Jesus who taught love, compassion, and understanding? Isn’t this the man who had mercy on five thousand not counting women and children? Is this the same Jesus who gave the Pharisees a hard time about being exclusive and mean spirited with their food laws?
Why would Jesus speak to anyone in such a cruel and hurtful way? It’s a difficult question to answer. Maybe Jesus was tired, which is certainly possible considering his activities over the past few days—rejection in His hometown and the constant push back from the Pharisees. Couple that with the fact that Jesus was in constant demand and under continuous scrutiny by the local politicians and religious authorities. Maybe you can understand His frustration.
Perhaps Jesus saw this as a teaching moment. Maybe His remarks to the woman were exaggerated in order to get the disciples attention. Once the woman responded back, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table,” Jesus was able to use her persistent faith to let the disciples know that he came for all people—Jews and Gentiles.
Truthfully, I don’t know whether Jesus was extremely tired or if He was thinking of expanding His ministry. What I do know was this would not be the last time He would call His disciples beyond the expected norms. I also know that Jesus would continue to call us to a new day, a new horizon, and to a new relationship with those around us even if it takes the persistence of a Samaritan woman or derogatory language from the Savior to accomplish the task. Think about it and then join us by live stream for worship this Sunday at 8:45 or 11 AM.
Dear FUMC Family,
Have you ever witnessed a miracle? As people of faith, we believe that miracles are not relegated to “biblical times,” but they still take place today. Perhaps you have witnessed a healing, a reconciliation, a rescue, a birth, or something else extraordinary that strengthened your faith and caused you to think, “Wow! God is at work here!” The Gospels are full of stories about miracles that Jesus performed. Last Sunday, we heard about Jesus’ miracle of abundance, nourishing thousands of people who were hungry for dinner and hungry for the Bread of Life (Matt. 14:13-21). This week our sermon text is Matthew 14:22-33, in which Jesus walks on water.
In the story, we can pick out several miracles: in addition to walking on water, Jesus calms a storm and rescues Peter from almost certain drowning. Yet, the most amazing miracle of all is that Jesus is present. He shows up. When the disciples are alone in their boat in the middle of the night, and a storm is raging, Jesus comes to them. We believe that the miracle of Jesus’ presence still takes place today. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel (28:20) he promises, “I am with you always,” and we trust that he is.
When we find ourselves in the midst of a storm, or feel as though we are in over our heads, Jesus is present. He is present at work, at home, in classrooms, in hospital rooms, at the graveside, on zoom calls, at the dinner table, and anywhere else we might find ourselves. He shows up, and his presence means God’s presence, just as it did for the disciples.
I invite you to read this passage from Matthew in preparation for our worship together and consider how you have experienced the miracle of Christ's presence in your life. I look forward to worshipping with you via Live Stream at 8:45 and 11 AM on Sunday!
In Christ’s love,
My love of cooking probably began in the eighties and early nineties when I started watching the famous chef Emeril Lagasse’s cooking shows on Food Network. Emeril is known for such famous expressions as, “Take it up another notch", "Can’t you just feel the love", "Oh ye!" “Happy, happy", and "BAM!”Emeril is serious about food. So is Jesus. Jesus speaks the language of food and He uses food over and over again to teach, heal, build community, and break down walls of alienation and oppression.
Jesus’ ministry was a revolution that invited people to “taste and see” the goodness of God. Jesus wanted people to eat, to even eat food that was considered “unclean” by the religious establishment. Jesus ate with all kinds of people. He even ate with people who were declared “undesirable” and “untouchable.” Jesus ate good food with people He wasn’t supposed to eat with. He ate with Samaritans, women, Publicans, tax collectors, young children, and sinners. Jesus also enjoyed eating, drinking and going to a party every now and then.
Join us this Sunday at 8:45 or 11 AM when we will learn from Matthew 14:13-21 how Jesus can take something so small and turn it into something extraordinary and wonderful. Think about it, it’s the only picnic where 5,000 or more are fed with so few groceries.
The Franciscan Richard Rohr says,
God is to be found in all things, even and most especially in the painful, tragic, and sinful things—exactly where we do not want to look for God. The crucifixion of the God-Man is at the same moment the worst and the best thing in human history. It validates the central notion of paradox at the heart of Christianity.
Paul says, “If God is for us, who is against us?” It’s hard sometimes to see God in the ups and downs of life, but God is there. It’s true, sometimes our faith falters as it contemplates the challenges of life. As Leonard Sweet says, sometimes we are,
Doubting in the face of death . . .
Weak-kneed in the face of illness . . .
Wimpy in the face of danger . . .
Worthless in the face of adversity . . .
Frozen in the face of confrontation . . .
Apathetic in the face of challenges . . .
Despairing in the face of the serpent . . .
Acquiescent in the face of greed . . .
Oblivious in the face of pollution . . .
Heartless in the face of hunger . . .
Self-absorbed in the face of homelessness . . .
Whining in the face of hardship . . .
Knowing that God is with us and for us in all circumstances causes us to proclaim,
In the face of death . . . there is resurrection
In the face of illness . . . there is eternal healing
In the face of danger . . . there is the right arm of God
In the face of adversity . . . there is “blessed assurance”
In the face of confrontation . . . there is confidence
In the face of the serpent . . . there is the gift of the cross
In the face of greed . . . there is the abundant life
In the face of pollution . . . there is God’s redemption of all creation
In the face of hunger . . . there is a legacy of loaves and fishes
In the face of homelessness . . . there is compassion
In the face of hardship . . . there is the promise of goodness
Our texts for this Sunday are Psalm 105:1-11 and Romans 8:31-39. Please join me this Sunday via live stream at 8:45 and 11 AM when we will learn how God is for us and never abandons His children.
Think about it.
Trust is a rare and precious commodity in today’s world. We live in cynical times where we question everything. To trust demands a degree of courage bordering on the heroic. I was intrigued several years ago when I heard the story of twenty-three-year-old Hemant Mehta who put his soul up for bid on eBay. At the time, Mehta was a graduate student at DePaul University and a self-proclaimed atheist. Mehta promised to attend one worship service for every $10 bid by the winner.
The successful bidder was Jim Henderson, a pastor from Settle Washington. While his winning bid of $504 dollars was equal to fifty hours of worship services, Henderson asked that Mehta attend ten to fifteen hours of services of his choosing. Henderson also asked that he write about his experiences in worship and tell him what it would take to make Christianity more interesting and inviting to a non-believer.
The dialogue and conversation between the two men led to Mehta publishing, I Sold my Soul on eBay. Henderson ended up teaming up with another self-proclaimed atheist to visit some of the largest churches in the United States. You can read about their experience visiting churches in Henderson’s book, Jim and Casper go to Church.
I find the story of Henderson and Mehta’s relationship and Henderson’s book rather amazing in this age of skepticism and mistrust. How many of us would bid and then trust that the person would actually fulfill the requirement of attending church? Even more amazing was the thoughtful and respectful dialogue that took place between Henderson and the two proclaimed atheists.
When it comes to the Christian faith, trust is a keystone. It is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship. Without trust, there can be no community of faith. Trust is one of the key components of carrying God’s spirit of love and compassion into the world. Think about it.
Our guiding texts for this Sunday are Psalm 139:1-18 and Romans 8:12-25. Please join me this Sunday via live Stream at 8:45 and 11 AM when we will learn to trust in the one who creates and holds all things.
Parker Palmer is a well-known writer and speaker who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. In his book, The Active Life, he tells about an experience he had while participating in an Outward Bound course. One of the activities was repelling down the face of a cliff. Parker was told to lean back and jump. There were several less than graceful moments but he eventually got the hang of it. Things were going well until he came to a large hole in the rock face. He didn’t know what to do so he froze. Here’s Palmer’s description of what happened:
The instructor waited a small eternity for me to thaw out, and when she realized that I was showing no signs of life she yelled up, “Is anything wrong Parker?” As if she needed to ask. To this day I do not know the source of my childlike voice that came up from within me, but my response is a matter of public record. I said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
The instructor yelled back, “Then I think it’s time you learned the Outward Bound Motto.” Wonderful, I thought. I am about to die, and she is feeding me a pithy saying. But then she spoke words I have never forgotten, words so true that they empowered me to negotiate the rest of the cliff without incident: “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.” Bone-deep I knew that there was no way out of this situation except to go deeper into it, and with that knowledge my feet begin to move.
“If you can’t get out of it, get into it.” What great words for our current situation. The pandemic has rocked our world and literally turned it upside down. While we cannot get out of it, we can get into it with God’s help. This Sunday we will allow a couple of texts to guide us into the future. Deuteronomy 31:7-8 reminds us that the Lord always goes before us. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 tells us that God is a generous and extravagant sower who casts his seeds on all kinds of soil. The story reminds us that there will be a great harvest.
While things are different and, in some cases, difficult, we are reminded that God has not forgotten us and that there will continue to be a harvest as long as we are ready to receive the grace and love that God freely offers. Think about it.
I look forward worshipping with you this Sunday via Live Stream at 8:45 and 11 AM.