Scripture for October 8th, 2017: Matthew 21.33-46
Focus Verse: John 15.8
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become[a] my disciples.
This old building is sitting in an clearing on the Coleman family farm. It is called the "Tenant House" because, well, it was a house that tenants lived in.
I am not sure of the exact history of the house, but I know that people lived in it that didn't own it. The Coleman family owned it. I am not sure if those living in this old house were expected to take care of the land in exchange for rent, or if they were paying rent to live in the house and simply working the land, or if they were working the land and being paid to work it. Perhaps it was a sharecropping type situation where the expectation was that the tenants could work the land in exchange for sign the owners some of what their work and the land produced. I really don't know. I just know that it was occupied by tenants.
In Matthew 21, Jesus tells a parable about some tenants who lived on and worked some land that belonged to someone else. And the expectations were clear - they were leasing the land and owed the landowner some produce off the land at harvest time. The amount the landowner expected is not clear, but collection of it doesn't go well. How does the parable end? And more importantly, what might be the message for us today?
Come on Sunday at 11:00 am to find out the ending and maybe some surprises for you in the message.
Grace and peace,
Scripture for October 1st, 2017: Exodus 17.1-17
Focus Verse: Exodus 17.7
7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"
Above the threshold in the living room is a crafty, wooden sign that says, "Home is Where Your Story Begins". I have always appreciated the thought that our story really does begin at our home, and I was blessed to be born in a home full of love and family. My story of who I am began at my parents' house. From the traits I inherited to my family of origin dynamics to the opportunities I had growing up, my story began at my home.
Or so I used to think. My story is unique yet it is part of a larger story - a narrative that more accurately describes who I am and whose I am.
In our newest bible study, we are using Adam Hamilton's "Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture for Today." In this study, we have been reminded that the Bible "is first the story of the people of Israel and their faith in God. It is also a story about God and his will and purposes for his people" (pg. 29, Hamilton). The narrative continues through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the power of Holy Spirit in the first century of the Christian church, and the anticipation of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of the God with Christ's return. We learn in the Bible, in the Story, about who God is and who we are called to be as God's people.
That is really where my story, and your story begins - in the collection of books known as our Scriptures. And this Sunday we will visit with God's people who are wandering in a wilderness and who ask a relevant, universal, and timeless question of their leader, Moses: Is the Lord among us or not?
To discover the answer to the question, and to hear your story retold through the lens of the Israelites and a faithful God, come tomorrow to worship service at 11:00 am.
Hope to see you there.....
Scripture for September 3: Matthew 16.21-28
Focus Verse: Matthew 16.24
24Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
We pulled up outside Smith and six students in bright, fluorescent green shirts converged upon our truck. They said "Hi. Welcome. What room number?" Katey told them the room number and they proceeded to unload the truck. Which was full of college "essentials". Within five minutes, the truck was completely unloaded, and Katey's stuff was sitting outside the door of her room, her new home for the next nine months. I carried nothing into her room except my purse, and a heart full of excitement and anticipation.
This was a much different experience than when I moved into Bowling Green State University a mere 29 years ago for my freshman year. We parked the vehicle outside Darrow Hall and proceeded as a family to carry my college essentials up 3 flights of stairs. The elevator was working but it seemed always full and a long line had already formed. So we opted for the stairs. It was 'only' 3 flights we kept telling ourselves.
The goal was to unload as quickly as possible and with as few trips up the stairs as necessary. That meant everyone carried as much as possible so the car could be moved out of the fire lane and be parked elsewhere.
I remember trying to carry as much as I could but inevitably dropping something before I made it to the third floor. Just one more item on top of the pile in my arms, or put that little bag on my pinkie finger. But I typically over-estimated my load.
And You always knew when someone dropped something. Especially the Dad. A crash that echoed in the stairwell or hallway, and then usually a string of expletives. In our haste to move in and fueled by anxiety, we families carried too much for too long a distance. Until something had to give. Might we have been better off to make more trips with fewer items?
I wonder how much of us carry too much until something has to give? We strain and fuss and jostle and struggle to carry our loads through our world. What might we need to set down or leave behind for the time being? Because when our arms are full of stuff, our lives are packed with anxiety, and our hearts are filled with fear, we cannot pick up the cross we are called to carry. It simply isn't possible.
Jesus tells the disciples to take up their cross and follow him. What do we need to drop to be able to pick up the cross? And what does 'pick up your cross' mean for us disciples?
Come and explore Jesus' words from Matthew 16 on Sunday. Maybe, just maybe, we will come with empty hands and open hearts, and leave with giving hands and full hearts.
See you there,
Scripture for August 27: Matthew 16:13-20
Focus Verse: Colossians 1.15-18
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything
The birth of a baby is often news that people want to share. The news used to be shared in written correspondence via the postal service. And then Alexander Graham Bell expedited the sharing of the news with the invention of the telephone. People could know within a phone call the news of a tiny human entering the world. Some folks still sent birth announcements to relatives and friends. Now, the announcements of birth are shared instantly through social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc..
No matter the method, it seems people ask the same three questions upon hearing of a birth: 1) Are mother and baby doing well?; 2) Is the baby a boy or a girl?; and 3) What is the baby's name? Even with today's technology of knowing the gender before birth, and the creative ways people share that news with gender reveal parties, folks still want to know gender and name immediately. I am not sure if it is simple curiosity that drives us, or if the answers come with certain expectations.
In the ancient near east, also known as Jesus' time, names for children were meaningful and relevant. For instance, Isaac, which means 'laughter', was named so because his mother, Sarah, laughed when she heard that she would conceive in her old age. Abraham, who was promised by God that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars, means 'father of many'. And David, the revered and beloved King of Israel, means 'beloved'. Names give meaning and identity to a person.
When Jesus asks the disciples, "who do people say that I am?" he is not asking for a name - even though the disciples give him some names. His question is more about identity and purpose. Then Jesus asks, "who do you say that I am?" and he begins to go deeper with the disciples. Peter gives an answer that earns him a "gold star" for the day.
What does Jesus' question mean for us? And what possible answers could we give?
Come on Sunday, at 11:00 am worship, to hear some answers, And maybe some more questions.
See you tomorrow,
Scripture for August 13: Matthew 14.22-33
Focus Verse: Isaiah 41.10
do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Laughing and giggling, she walked through the door. Everyone turned to look at her. She was delighted to be here and her excitement showed on the big smile on her face. As she looked around the space, you couldn't help but smile back at her.
Her chronological age was probably mid to late twenties. Her emotional age was much, much younger. She obviously had some intellectual disabilities, but her exuberance for life was obvious and contagious.
She had arrived to receive a pedicure, and it was a treat for her. This was not her first time, because she walked straight to the chair and stuck her feet in the water. She exhibited no fear or hesitancy. Her mother took a seat next to me, and the girl was on her other side.
As the pedicure progressed, the girl kept up a steady stream of chatter and giggling. At one point, I heard an intake of breath and I looked over. With a look of concern on her face, she had leaned over and was offering her mom her hand. Her mom grabbed her hand and smiled.
The girl had noticed that her mom was having a bit of discomfort. The mom's feet were apparently sensitive and the girl had noticed her flinching. She responded by holding out her hand to her mom. The gesture said, "Take my hand. I am with you." The girl had learned the comfort and reassurance of an outstretched hand.
Jesus had stretched out his hand to those in pain, those on the margin, and those in need of a reassuring touch. He offered his hand, one that would soon be scarred with nail holes, in invitation to the crowds and the disciples. Jesus stretched out his hand to Peter, and Peter grabbed hold of the Messiah. The same hand that is extended to us.
What does it mean to grasp Jesus' hand? Come on Sunday at 11:00 am to explore more from Matthew 14.
Grace and Peace,
Scripture for July 16th: Matthew 14.13-21
Focus Verse: Matthew 14.20
And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
I have witnessed God's mighty power through the feeding of the multitudes. Or really the feeding of seventeen. Every weekend.
In the fall of 2016, I met with Mrs. Williams, the principal of Boonsboro Elementary School, to establish a partnership between the school and Boonsboro United Methodist Church. After all we are practically across the road from each other. And we are both interested in serving the community.
As we were discussing the community we mutually served, it became apparent to me that there was one way we could possibly help both the school and students by simply being the Church: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking care of "the least of these".
Based on a model at the previous church I served, I suggested we provide meals to identified students - grocery bags of food they could take home each weekend. The bags would include individual servings of pasta, protein, cereal, fruit, snacks. Mrs. Williams began identifying and contacting the families most in need. I met with a group of folks at the church, and we began organizing our ministry as Boonsboro Buddies.
Folks shopped for items - and one box of pasta servings, turned into a shelf full of meals. A few cups of fruit became another shelf full of snacks. Little boxes of cereal and granola bars took up another shelf. Until a month later, we had to designate a room with shelves around its walls to hold all the food. A dollar given became five dollars, and then twenty and we now have a designated Boonsboro Buddies account. . And six students were receiving bags of food each week, and then nine, and then twelve, and then seventeen. Every week.
Tennis shoes of all sizes and socks and panties were needed. One pair of shoes then four, then twelve, then twenty. And socks and panties and shoes were stockpiling in the nurses's office. There was some left over. Similar to twelve baskets.
This month begins our second year of the Boonsboro Buddies ministry, and we anticipate feeding twenty children each week. Which is really the work of God multiplying small offerings. In a congregation that averages 56 people a week in worship, it is a miracle, a sign of God's work in the growth of the ministry. The feeding of the multitudes, indeed.
Come and hear more about the story of five loaves and two fish, and the God of abundance that we serve.
See you tomorrow morning at 11:00 am.
Grace and Peace,
Scripture for July 16th: Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23
Focus Verse: Matthew 13.23
But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
On our trip to Ohio last week we drove through West Virginia on the West Virginia Turnpike, and I am always amazed when I spot them: trees growing out of the rocks on the side of the mountains. As we drove by, you could look up and see a tree as green and as hearty as any other in a forest yet growing out of meters of solid rock. This image seems to contradict what was learned in elementary school about plants needing soil and water to grow. Rocks don't seem like they would provide those elements. Plants need to grow roots to get nutrients so how do roots grow in hard rocks?
There are scientific explanations about decomposition of minerals and fissures in rocks that could explain this, but I like to think of the persistence of the seed, the heartiness of the sapling, the determination of the growing roots to reach sustenance the impossibility of a tree growing out of a rock, yet it does. Not only does it grow, it thrives. Against all odds, contrary to common sense, a tree appears on a rock.
Sometimes God's grace works like this - showing up in the most unlikely of places and against all odds. Spirits not only grow but people thrive. In hardened hearts, grace takes hold and roots dig deeper.
Our Scripture reading this week talks about a sower spreading seed onto different kinds of ground and how each seed grows or fails to grow. Rocky, thorny soil doesn't produce a crop. Perhaps, though, the story doesn't end there. Perhaps there are still some seeds growing in unexpected places. After all, God's grace persists.
Come on Sunday to hear more abut soil, seeds, sowers and hope. See you at 11 am.
Scripture for June 18th: Matthew 11.25-30
Focus Verse: Matthew 11.28-30
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, adn you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Gerda and Kai lived next door to each other. After the passing of winter each Spring, they loved to play in the rose garden together. While playing among the beautiful roses, the girl remembers a hymn about roses. She sings to the little boy: "Where roses deck the flowery vale,There, infant Jesus, we thee hail." And the children took each other by the hands, kissed the roses. and rejoiced in God's bright sunshine, and spoke to it as if the Child Jesus were there. The story continues with a raging battle between good and evil surrounding the two children. A queen, elves, magic, reindeer, supernatural elements, the defeat of evil, and the triumph of good make up the bulk of the story. At the end, the grandmother opens her Bible and reads from Matthew 18.
The above story is not a Christian tale. It is not a Family Feature Film on the Inspiration Channel. It is actually a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1844: The Snow Queen.
You likely know the story better as an animated adaptation by Disney in 2013. You know it as one of Disney's most popular films from 2013: Frozen.
The insane popularity of the movie was paralleled only by the popularity of a song from the movie. The song was "Let It Go" sung by Idina Menze. It is a song that children love and adults tolerate. Honestly, though, I can't help but think of this song when I hear Jesus' words from our Matthew reading this week. I can picture Jesus saying, "Let it go, my children. Let go of your burdens and take my yoke upon you." Of what exactly might we need to "let go", and what does it mean to then take up Jesus' yoke, which he says is not heavy?
Come on Sunday to find out what it might mean for you to "let it go" - Jesus style.
See you at 11:00 am at worship service. Don't worry, I'm not singing the "Frozen" song for you, and that is no yoke!
Scripture for June 18th: Matthew 9.9-13
Focus Verse: Matthew 9.13
Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.
Five years ago yesterday God's calling upon my life culminated in the weight of Bishops' hands on my head as I was ordained an Elder in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church. The laying on of hands to ordain for service in the Church is a Biblical tradition mentioned several times in the New Testament. But, I also think those hands were there to hold me in place to receive my blessing. Those hands were keeping me from running once again from the calling God had placed on my life, a calling I avoided with only intermittent success. I finally answered the call and left my teaching career to pursue a Master of Divinity at Duke Divinity School, and began serving in the United Methodist Church.
The calling took me away from my home, my family, and the life I had so carefully planned for myself. I was literally moved by the Spirit in answering that call. A song that I listened to often then and now associate with that time in my life is "You Move Me" by Susan Ashton. (click here to watch video: You Move Me) God's call had moved me to new places, new dreams, new plans and a new life. The moves were something some people questioned, some people understood, and some people affirmed.
This Sunday we read a story about Matthew's calling. Matthew was called by Jesus to "Follow Me" and Matthew answered the call. And we encounter folks who question Matthew's calling, some who misunderstand Jesus, and some who affirm the movement of God in Matthew's life.
We also hear in Matthew's story that God has placed a call on each of you, a call that you will likely avoid, a path that many will question, and yet a way others will affirm. What is that call for you? Come on Sunday to find out more about your own calling and what God desires for your life.
See you at 11:00 am Sunday worship.
Scripture for June 4th: Acts 2.1-21
Focus Verse: Joel 2.28-29
Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
I was at a soccer game last year when my cell phone rang. The name of the District Superintendent appeared on the screen display. It was Spring, and a call from a District Superintendent between February and April usually means only one thing: a new appointment. I answered the phone call and after a few words of greeting, the District Superintendent informed me that I was being appointed to a church in the Lynchburg District: Boonsboro United Methodist Church. There was some discussion about the missional needs of Boonsboro and gifts I could offer in serving there. We ended the call and the work began.
Projected appointees used to ask questions of colleagues and even drive-by a new church to learn as much as they could before beginning ministry there in July. Now, with the help of social media, we can look at websites and Facebook. It is usually a good sign when a church has a social media presence. With Vital Congregation numbers and Annual Conference Journal data, we can begin to create a picture of the context of our future ministry setting. Church members might be surprised to learn that each church has a reputation, a set of stories shared from colleagues about ministerial experiences at various churches. Some churches would like the perception and others would not. Some are accurate representations and others are not.
Our Pentecost story includes both an accurate and inaccurate representation. The disciples of Jesus, those waiting in Jerusalem for the power Jesus promised them at his ascension, had people talking. And some thought the disciples were simply drunk at the languages spoken and heard. I imagine that Twitter would have been active with tweets about the crazy, drunk Jesus followers. Facebook would have included status updates that questioned the mentality of those preaching in the streets. A crowd gathered and was awed and confused at the work of the Holy Spirit among them. Acts 2.12 says "All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"
When was the last time the work of the Holy Spirit was so evident in the life of a community of believers that people took notice and asked, "What does this mean?" When was the last time a group of people were saying, "What is going on over there with those Jesus followers" as the gospel was boldly preached?
Come on Sunday to hear more about the promise and power of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and how her presence empowers us still to preach boldly and share the gospel.
See you at 11:00 for a Pentecost celebration, and don't forget to wear red!
Scripture for May 28th: John 14.15-21
Focus Verse: 1 John 5.3
For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
I remember when my daughter started school and the teachers saying she was part of the class of 2017. I remember people like my parents, grandparents, and older friends all telling me how quickly time passes with your children. I remember smiling and nodding. And I remember thinking to myself that the year 2017was so far in the future.
Well, I get it now. They were right. The year is 2017 and my daughter graduated this month. And it feels like I just laid her down for a nap last week.
I could spend the next few paragraphs writing about how proud I am of her achievements and even more impressed with the amazing young woman that she has become. But if you have spent any time with me in the last month, or have looked at Facebook ANY, you already know that.
What I have been pondering this last week is the many people who have sent best wishes to Katey and the many who also congratulated me and Katey's father for this achievement. And, truly, it feels like we did achieve something. After Katey walked across the stage Friday night and received her diploma I said to her father, "We did it" And we smiled amidst the tears.
"We did it," I said. And we did, and she did - but the "we" includes many more folks than just me and her father.
We held a party for Katey on Saturday, and among the folks present were people who had helped us raise our daughter over the years: our spouses, our parents and siblings, and our friends. As I surveyed the crowd that had gathered at my house I discovered that among those present, there were many churches represented - churches that I had served or we attended over the years. And for me, that is the Church as its best.
In my vocation, I sometimes see the Church at its worst, and the resulting pain when we forget our mission and nature as the Church - Church with a big "C",as in the "one, holy universal Church." I sometimes see people so focused on their own needs that they forget what it means to be the Church in the world. I sometimes see the ugly of the Church. But this past Saturday, I got to see the best of the Church. And I am grateful.
Katey was baptized at Hillsville First United Methodist Church. There were folks attending her party from that congregation. Katey joined Farmville United Methodist Church, and close friends from that church celebrated at her party. Katey was involved in youth fellowship at Saint Andrew's United Methodist Church and transferred her membership there. Three of their members drove from Richmond to be present for her. Furthermore, she received notes and cards of encouragement and congratulations from other congregations I have served.
This past weekend, I witnessed the Church at its best: the Church taking seriously its vows to nurture and support a baptized child in the faith. These were people who were living out their own baptismal vows as part of the family of God. The presence of so many varied people captured what it means to be a member of the Church. Yep, the Church at its best. And I am so grateful. "We" did it, indeed.
Oh, and it is Ascension Sunday this week, and Christ left an amazing gift for the Church. Come and receive it.
See you on Sunday, Church.
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Scripture for May 14th: 1 Peter 2.2-10
Focus Verse: J1 Peter 2.9
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
I consider myself a Buckeye, as in an Ohio State Buckeye. And some people would have some affirming comments here about me being a nut. Those comments aside, when I say I am a Buckeye, I consider myself part of the Buckeye nation. I did not graduate from Ohio State University, but I did grow up in Ohio. And that was pretty much a guarantee that I would grow up cheering for Ohio State sports.
Since I consider myself a Buckeye, I notice when I am out and about and someone is wearing Ohio State apparel. I can say, "O-H" and that person knows to respond back with "I-O". We share a smile as we recognize are connected by a common thread.
Being a Buckeye is part of my identity - one I share with others who consider themselves Buckeyes. But because I live in Virginia and not in Ohio, I don't always think about being a Buckeye fan and what that means. It is easy to get lost among the UVA and VT fans.
Some first century Christians were exiled away from their people and needed a reminder of their identity. That identity was not as a fan of a sports team but as God's people. Peter reminded them that they were God's people. And as God's people, they were given some tasks and expectations. What were the expectations, and what is expected of us as God's people in the 21st century?
Come on Sunday at 11:00 am to hear more from Peter's letter to God's people.
Blessings (and Go Bucks),
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Scripture for May 7th: John 10.1-10
Focus Verse: John 10.3
The guard at the gate opens the the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
The fourth Sunday of Easter is often known as "Good Shepherd" Sunday, because the scripture is from John chapter 10 in which Jesus calls himself the good shepherd. In this passage are many references to what the good shepherd does for his sheep: calls, protects, guards, and sustains. Psalm 23 is also the assigned psalm for this Sunday to complement this gospel reading of John. Psalm 23, the most recognized psalm, is familiar to many believers and unbelievers alike. God is likened to a shepherd and we are the sheep. Like John 10, tasks of the shepherd are named: sustaining, leading, comforting, feeding, healing, and anointing.
I want to focus on the task of sustaining and feeding from verse 2 - he makes me to lie down in green pastures. These words often evoke images of plush meadows and lush greenery upon which we as sheep can rest and graze. However, Ray Van Derlaan, provides a new image for us that is more consistent with middle east shepherds and sheep. Click the link below for a brief clip of explanation.
Ray Van DerLaan - On Green Pastures Psalm 23
Are you surprised? In worship, we will be exploring some other images of the Good Shepherd and his sheep from John 10.
See you at 11:00 am in the sanctuary,
Third Sunday of Easter
Scripture for April 30th: Luke 24.13-35
Focus Verse: Luke 24.34-35
They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
She approached me in aisle 7 as I was looking at the baking supplies. Her cart had been moving down the aisle and I had made sure my cart was off to one side. She looked at me and smiled, and I was expecting her to continue down the aisle. But she stopped next to me. Perhaps she wanted to see something on the shelf in front of me so I said, "Excuse me," and stepped aside. But she kept approaching me until she was directly in front of me. She said, "I thought it was you" and enveloped me in a big hug.
When she pulled away, she earnestly asked, "How have you been?" I was searching my neurological hard drive to place the somewhat familiar face and voice. But I couldn't place her. So what followed was my inner dialogue of how to kindly tell this exuberantly friendly woman that I didn't recognize her. Do I just bluntly ask how she knows me? Do I try to ask a leading question to get her to tell me her name? Thank goodness that I am by myself so I don't have to know her name to introduce her to anyone. What would Emily Post advise on this type of encounter? Note to self: Google this later.
So, I asked about her family. As she started sharing family news, I began to recognize names. And then the pieces fell into place and I remembered that I had presided at her great-uncle's funeral several years ago. Whew! I recovered, my confusion was not known to her, and we had a pleasant conversation.
We have all experienced that awkward social encounter where one person is not able to place the other in any sort of context. Recognition is just not there. The scripture this week takes us to a road where the resurrected Jesus encounters two disciples whose "eyes were kept from recognizing him." I mean, why would they? Dead was dead, and they were only hearing rumors and idle tales of an empty tomb and post-death sightings.
I have always wondered if their eyes were kept from recognizing him because they were so full of tears from crying. I wonder if the Holy Spirit simply kept them from making the connection. I wonder if Jesus was so changed in physical appearance that they were unable to see anything recognizable in their lost Lord.
I also wonder if just for a brief moment there was a hint of recognition but they couldn't quite place how they knew this "stranger" walking with him. Were they racking their brain thinking, "where have I seen that familiar gait before?" I don't know, but the story goes on to tell us they did recognize Jesus in a very particular moment. What was that moment? How did they know it was Jesus? More importantly, can we recognize Jesus in the same actions and words? Will we recognize Jesus walking with us?
Come on Sunday to explore the answers to these questions as we walk together on the Emmaus road.
See you at 11:00 am in the sanctuary,
Good Friday 2017
Every Sunday morning at worship service, I can tell who is absent by looking out over the congregation. This is not because I possess any great skill, but simply because folks tend to sit in the same pew each Sunday. For months or years or even decades, they have, or their family has, occupied that same real-estate in the Sanctuary. I doubt anyone knows the reason Mama and Daddy or Grandma and Granddaddy began sitting there- it is just the where they have always sat so it is where they will continue to sit. I have observed when visitors come in and pick a place to sit that they often hesitate because they are reluctant to sit somewhere for fear of taking someone else's spot. And then visitors also tend to plant their backsides at the same spot each week, thereafter.
We are indeed creatures of habit. When we go into a classroom, a sanctuary, a movie theater, an auditorium we will tend to sit in the same place: front, back, side, middle, etc. I will typically sit in the middle on the side. And I like to be near the aisle. I don't know why. That area is where I am most comfortable. I can still be engaged, but not right up front; I am not disengaged in the back, but still safely off to the side to observe and analyze. In a crowd, that is where you will find me.
I suspect that if I had been part of the Good Friday crowd, I would have been walking with the crowd, but off to the side - perhaps several feet away from the jostling throng, but enough on the periphery to still hear and see the main action. I likely would not have been close enough to hear the labored breathing as Jesus struggled to carry the cross beam. I may not have heard the jeers and taunts of those surrounding him. I would have known what was happening, but I probably would have not have spoken up. I would not have wanted to get involved. I would have been gauging people's reactions to this wrongly-accused, beaten and bloodied man who was making his way to his death spot.
I probably would have been close enough to hear the hammer hitting the nails as they were driven through Jesus' wrists and ankles. Or maybe not. I likely would not have heard the last words of Christ, but I would have felt the earth shudder, and the rocks split as he breathed his last. I am sure I would have heard the shouts of victory that a dangerous man had been put to death, and the gasps of disbelief from those who truly believed that this was the the Son of God when he took his final breath. I like to think that I would have been counted among the disbelieving, disheartened, and grieving followers of Jesus of Nazareth. But maybe not. I don't know.
What I do know is that Christ spread his arms wide and far on a Friday we call good, so that he could include everyone in his Father's work of love at the cross on Calvary: those safely furthest away, those gathered right at his feet, and all those in between. So, no matter where you think you might have been in the Good Friday crowd, you were, and are, included in God's ultimate gift of grace. Can you find yourself in the crowd? Because God sees exactly where you are - and he still died for you. And for me. Thanks be to God.
See you on Sunday - and maybe you will surprise me and sit in a new place!
Sixth Sunday of Lent: FINISHED
Scripture for April 9th: Luke 19.29-40
Focus Verse: John 19.30
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." The he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
The day had finally arrived. The months and years of preparation were finally coming to fruition. God had set a plan in motion and God's plan was being fulfilled on that day. In Roanoke, Virginia that day in 2012, God's faithful work and patience would be completed: I was going to be ordained an Elder in the United Methodist Church.
As early as my Baptism as an infant, God placed a calling on my life. In my teens, I had begun to feel the tug and pursuit of that call to vocational ministry. But it wasn't until I was in my early 40's that the vision was realized. My family had traveled many miles to celebrate the accomplishment. The Bishops laid hands on me to confirm my calling, and all gathered in the coliseum that June evening witnessed the powerful work of a persistent and purposeful God. It had taken several years, lots of tears and hard work, much encouragement, and an abundance of the Holy Spirit to attain the calling of ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. On that day, I could breath a sigh, and say, "It is finished."
But it really wasn't finished. The process of ordination was finished. The years of pressing on towards the goal was completed. Yet the work of making disciples would continue. My ministry as a servant leader in the local church would proceed. My gifts would still be utilized to grow the Kingdom of God. It wasn't finished. Not really. My ordination wasn't really the destination, or a faith journey that ended with a dazed view of staring up into the eyes of a group of Bishops. As great as I felt in that holy moment of achievement, and as much as I knew it was the power of God that had me kneeling at an altar with my hands on a Bible and Bishop Kammerer's hands on my head, it wasn't really finished.
And neither was Jesus when he whispered the words, "It is finished," and breathed his last breath. What, then, was finished? His work? The fight? His life? What did Jesus mean, when he said, "It is finished" as he hung on the cross?
Come to worship service at 11:00 this Sunday to hear some thoughts on this next-to-the-last phrase of the final words of Jesus from the cross. WE are almost finished with Lent 2017.
See you Sunday!
Fifth Sunday of Lent: FAMISHED
Scripture for April 2nd: John 19.28-29
Focus Verse: John 19.29
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty."
A few years ago I was captured by the headline, "Hiker Dies of Thirst with Water All Around." Although the headline exaggerated the circumstances of a hiker's death, the hiker did die of thirst while on a wilderness survival hike which was designed to test physical and mental limits of each participant. After hiking nearly ten hours without a drink in 100-degree arid weather, the hiker succumbed to his dehydration and died. And the expert guides had water in their backpacks they could have given him.
Jesus must have been similarly dehydrated after likely not drinking anything since the dinner the night before. Then he was arrested and the next day he was beaten and made to carry a heavy cross. He was crucified during the hottest part of the day and left to die hanging on a cross. Surely he was severely dehydrated and it is not surprising when he cries out, "I am thirsty"
Jesus Christ knows that he is going to die. He was, indeed, already very close to death. Yet he uses his final breaths and energy to ask for a drink of water? It seems that there is more to Jesus' fifth word than a request to have his thirst quenched.
Why might Jesus be using his fleeting breath and transient energy, the last moments of his life, to comment that he is thirsty? Come to worship on Sunday to hear some possible explanations about these final words of our Savior and what they may mean for YOU.
See you on Sunday!
Fourth Sunday of Lent: FORSAKEN
Scripture for March 26th: Matthew 27.45-50
Focus Verse: Matthew 27.46
And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
A sentence often changes meaning depending on which word you emphasize in the sentence. For example, think of the movie, Wizard of Oz. When the wizard is discovered, a phrase is uttered, "You are the wizard?"
- If the emphasis is on the word, 'you' the statement means, 'surely YOU are not the wizard?'.
- If the emphasis is placed on the word, 'are', the statement is less a question and more an affirmation: You, indeed, ARE, the wizard!"
- If the emphasis is placed on 'wizard' then the phrase takes on a new meaning of questioning the role of the wizard: "You are the WIZARD?".
Thus, written words can be challenging without knowing which specific words to emphasize. Jesus' fourth statement from the cross is no exception: My God, My God why have you forsaken me?
WHY - "Why" we cry out in anguish from places of pain, betrayal, confusion and grief. Was Jesus asking God the same: Why this way? Why this course of redemption? "Give me an explanation," demands Jesus.
have YOU - You who are God, who is love and mercy. Why have YOU, who is all-powerful and all-knowing, who can do anything, chosen this way? Did Jesus place that emphasis on his Father in his questioning cry?
FORSAKEN - Abandoned, let go of, leave behind. God is one who creates, sustains, redeems, and saves. Is Jesus' cry one of disbelief in God being able to leave God's son? "Why have you FORSAKEN, when you could have saved?" is perhaps what Jesus asks in his final minutes.
ME? - God's own Son. The one who is with God, and is God. The perfect One willing to obey even unto death. "Why have you forsaken ME?" gasps Jesus from the cross.
Which word did Jesus emphasize in his fourth word before death? What did Jesus mean when he proclaimed, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"
Come on Sunday morning, at 11:00 am, to find out more and hear about Jesus' final words as we continue our Lent journey at the foot of the cross.