Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Coming Soon: Stay Tuned!


Have you ever been watching a great TV show, and suddenly it ends on a cliffhanger? The dual feeling of disappointment that it's over and resolved and the anticipation for what happens next resounds suddenly out of the sound of a gasp or the throwing up of our hands. Our minds begin to wander and wonder about the possibilities of what is to come for the characters, the story, and how we may feel about it.

Or what about the feeling you get after a trailer/preview for a movie? You see the characters on screen again, you remember the plot that surely will tie up loose ends and take the story further. You begin to anticipate the continuation, or the beginning, the end, of a story, a journey, a life...

Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of the Church in which the birth of Christ is anticipated. The Church does not simply wait to celebrate Christmas, but prepares itself for the breaking in of God in flesh with us in a newborn baby. It is kind of like a movie trailer or preview. Advent provides the means to prepare, to anticipate, to wait...

I love the season of Advent because it is counter-cultural to wait. It seems nowadays, with the world at our fingertips, we have become impatient; we have lost the beauty in preparing, anticipating, for waiting. The season of Advent allows me to build up my excitement for Christmas! The words that we reflect on in the Church--hope, love, joy, peace, Christ--help me to wait well. This kind of waiting does not yield questions (like the ones I used to utter in the car on road trips) "are we there yet?" "why is it taking so long?" "can't you go any faster?" No, Advent yields questions like "what beauty lies in waiting?" "how is God preparing me to receive Christ" or "what will I do once Christ is here?"

The gospel lesson this week is Mark 13:24-37. Take a moment to read it...

The passage talks about the second coming of Christ; when Jesus will come again in all of his power and glory. In a preview scene of the coming of Christ, a fig tree's branch becomes tender and puts forth it leaves, and summer breaks through...

This passage is not about Jesus being born at Christmas, but it is about God coming into this world in a new way. We are waiting for that day, and we can anticipate, prepare, and wait for that day just like we wait for Christmas in Advent. In this way, our life is an Advent as we purposefully wait for Christ to come again. And the best of all is that God is with us...we have this hope.

*Prayer:

Come thou long-expected Jesus,
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Amen.

*Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, United Methodist Hymnal, 196.

In Christ,

Jack

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christ is King


Happy (early) Thanksgiving! Recently I was having a brief conversation with someone here at the church, and we were reflecting on how Thanksgiving does not get much publicity. We want to rush straight towards Christmas. In our stores, and even our churches and homes, it's already beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

#SaveThanksgiving is a trend I am seeing online-maybe there is hope yet!

Thanksgiving is a great holiday. The gospels, especially the gospel of Luke, share quite a bit about Jesus also joining people around tables to share a meal. There are at least 8 occasions in Luke alone! (5:27-32, 7:36-50, 9:10-17, 10:38-42 [implied], 11:37-52, 14:1-24, 19:1-10 [implied], 22:14-38, 24:28-32, 24:36-43)

He ate with tax collectors, sinners, followers, crowds, pharisees, lawyers, apostles, and many others who were guests at these tables.

Jesus recognized the power and influence of gathering around a table for a meal and a conversation. These were not simply occasions to fill the belly, but to fill souls. He offered himself at these tables in different ways--for healing, guiding, teaching, leading, and simply to be a guest in someone's house. So as you gather around your tables of thanksgiving, know that you are doing one of the things that Jesus loved to do, and thought it was important to do!

This Sunday in the life of the church, also known as the liturgy, we Christians observe Christ the King Sunday. This image of Jesus Christ as King does not really match up well with him dining at tables in other people's homes, does it? When I picture a King eating, it is at some banquet hall in a palace, not at a wooden table next to someone else's porch or living room. In Jesus Christ, we have a complete picture of what a King is: he lays down his life for those who loves, he works for peace and justice in the world, and he calls his people to model his behavior, so that we may find life and purpose here. So, that's why he eats with people in their own homes and places. That is why he died on a cross. And that is why he has the heart, and the authority, to ask us to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22: 37-39).

Our gospel focus will be Matthew 25: 31-46. Take a moment to read it...

The lesson begins in a grand way: the Son of Man will come and judge the nations on his throne with the angels surrounding. Everyone will be there, and the Son of Man will begin the final judgement. This sort of imagery and language was quite similar to what those gathered have heard. It echoes some of the psalms and passages in Ezekiel and Daniel.

But then Jesus starts saying things they have never heard before. He begins talking about who will come into the Kingdom of God, and it won't be the righteous that they expect. It will be those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the lonely. Jesus says that when you do these things for God, God will welcome you. These are the "least of these" that Jesus speaks of. They are the people in need around you. They are your neighbors. When you see them, Jesus posits, you see the face of God. "But when did we do this for you?" they asked. "You did it for me, when you did it for those in need." Christ is the King. Amen.


*Prayer:

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.

Neighbors are rich and poor,
varied in color and race,
neighbors are near and far away.

These are the ones we should serve,
these are the ones we should love;
all these are neighbors to us and you.

Amen.

*The United Methodist Hymnal, 432.


In Christ,

Jack


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Filling Stations



Here at GMUMC, we are wrapping up a sermon series about what it means to be the C/church. This week, we are learning from Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the ten bridesmaids. Take time to read it...read it here


One of the messages of this parable is about timeliness, and what we are to do while we wait. And we hate to wait. Whether its on the phone for the next customer service representative, in our cars as we slow to 20mph through a school zone, to endure a slow internet connection, or at the doctor's office for our never-on-time appointment, waiting is hard.

Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of God. It will be like this...ten bridesmaids wait for the wedding, but the foolish ones ran out of oil for their lamps, while the wise ones were prepared for the delay.

Jesus is teaching us to embrace the waiting, not by twiddling our thumbs, but actively "filling our lamps." We become filling stations of oil for our lamps. The wise bridesmaids also keep their light shining for their community around them. They provide the light by which others may actively wait.

As a metaphor, these bridesmaids model active discipleship as the waiting continues for the coming fullness of the kingdom of God. To be like them is to shed light on the kingdom that is already here, although not fully here. We are able to pursue God by following Jesus--seeking God through studying the scriptures, loving our neighbor with acts of mercy and justice, and worshiping God with our life. We can't do that without being filled. That is something we can do! We can be prepared for the kingdom by being ready to be filled by God through prayer, worship, service, by pursuing God now, not just waiting for Jesus to come again. This is the essence of life of discipleship, and it actually makes a difference in the world. By our light, others may see God at work in the world.

Let's face it, waiting is awful. When I have to wait, I get anxious. I start thinking about what could go wrong, about what I may have forgotten. I get distracted, worried, and over time I may even lose hope in what I am waiting for. Jesus tells us through this parable that it doesn't have to be this way as we "wait" on God. We can be prepared, and share our light with the world. We can live our life in hopeful anticipation that God will use us and prepare us.

Fill yourself up. Let your light shine. Have hope. Be at peace.

*Prayer:

O let me feel thee near me!
The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
the tempting sounds I hear;
my foes are ever near me,
around me and within;
but Jesus, draw thou nearer,
and shield my soul from sin.

*O Jesus, I Have Promised, The United Methodist Hymnal Number 396

In Christ,

Jack

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Accidental Saints

This image represents the communion of saints. It seems to me that this may represent heaven, but doesn't it also look like a hopeful vision about life on earth?



Bob Ross was a painter. He had a TV show on PBS called "The Joy of Painting." His specialty was painting mountainous landscapes full of trees. Oftentimes, he would make a mistake and turn it into a tree, a bird, or another part of the landscapes. He called these mistakes "happy accidents."

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran (ELCA) minister in Denver, the founding pastor of House of All Sinners and Saints. She is awesome, not just because of her cool haircut and beautiful tattoos. She preaches and teaches an amazing theology of sainthood. One of her books is called "Accidental Saints." If you can get passed her language (she is brutally and beautifully honest), it is a great book.

As we approach All Saints Sunday, I'd like to share some of what she says with you in the book and reflect with you about what makes someone a "saint." 

But first, let's start with scripture (always a good idea, right!?).    

The word for "saint" translated from the Greek is "ἅγιος" (hagios). It derives from the verb ἁγιάζω (hagiazo), which means "to set apart", "to sanctify", or "to make holy." The word is used 229 times in the New Testament! 

Second, let's look at how the Church thinks about saints in a traditional sense. Officially, Christians believe that all people who are "in Christ" are saints. All believers are saints. Cool, huh!? Whether living or in heaven, your faith in Christ makes you a saint. But what about Saint Augustine and all of them? What's different about them? Well, the Catholic Church "venerates" or "honors" or "canonizes" some saints over others over and above as exemplary followers of Christ. 

Protestants (like Methodists or Baptists or Presbyterians or... Lutherans!....) are all over the map about what it means to be a saint--but it comes down to believing in Christ and modelling Christ-like behavior and Scripture...and it doesn't matter if you are alive or in heaven. 

OK, back to Nadia. Her book is amazing. Here are some things she says:

“Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of  holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting.” 

“Sometimes the fact that there is nothing about you that makes you the right person to do something is exactly what God is looking for.” 

“it has been my experience that what makes us the saints of  God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners.” 


― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

So, if you STILL don't think you're a saint...consider those people in your life, you WOULD consider one. Were they perfect? Were they the best Christian ever? Did they fall short? Did they get angry? Were they a sinner? Did they love God? Did they follow Jesus?...


Like a "happy accident" in one Bob Ross's paintings, saints are accidental. They are not perfect, but they are known and created by a God who loves them. You are part of God's picture. I think God tries or hopes really hard for a relationship with all of us. All 7 billion of us happy accidents. When we try back, we become saints. And by the way, God does not make mistakes ;)


*The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord;
we are his new creation by water and the Word;
from heaven he came and sought us that we might ever be
his living servant people, by his own death set free. 

Thank you, Jesus. May it be. Let it be. Amen.

*United Methodist Hymnal, 547.

In Christ, 

Jack

Monday, October 23, 2017

Lawyer Up


Ten Commandments, illustrative wood relief,
from a Catholic Church in southern Poland, 
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.



If Christianity were a table or a chair, something that needed "legs" to stand on, the words that were spoken by Jesus in Matthew 22: 37-40 could be one of them. As the religious leaders attempted to piece together a case for Jesus' arrest, Jesus was tested several times. He was questioned about paying taxes to the emperor, about his future resurrection, and then about the law. "Which commandment is the greatest?" a lawyer asks Jesus (lawyers were experts in religious law and also teachers of it). He answers confidently and succinctly: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment." But he wasn't done yet: "And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” These are the legs in which the entire law (stemming from the Ten Commandments) stands on.

This year marks the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation. The movement of reform began around this time in 1517, when Martin Luther hung a list of 95 theses (originally called the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences) on the door of the Wittenburg Castle church in Germany. Martin Luther was an aspiring lawyer. After enrolling in law school, he was changed by a dramatic encounter with God during a storm. This is an interesting story for another time, but suffice it to say that this proved to be a moment in his life where he was changed. He left law school, sold all of his books, and entered a monastery and began his studies of theology and philosophy.

Back to these theses: they contained a template for discussion and debate, written in a rather tame and academic form. The foundations of the theses centered around 2 propositions standing in opposition to the Catholic Church, which sparked the reform of it: "that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds" (Martin Luther, 95 theses). The Catholic Church gave much authority to their leadership and did not believe in salvation by faith alone.

The book of James (2:14-16) makes the claim that "faith without works is dead," a motif that John Wesley (the "father of Methodism) would adapt as well. In his sermon "On Faith," Wesley asks the question: "But what is the faith which is properly saving; which brings eternal salvation to all those that keep it to the end?" He answers, saying: "It is such a divine conviction of God, and the things of God, as, even in its infant state, enables every one that possesses it to "fear God and work righteousness."

It is faith that saves us, and the response to such a faith is how we work towards holiness and righteousness. It is not our work that saves us, but our faith, but how we live in the world and treat one another is evidence of that faith in God.

Love God, Love Neighbor. 

When we love God, we will inevitably love our neighbor, for our faith is not quiet, but shows up in the way we behave, in our character, and how we love our neighbor.

In this 500th year of challenging the church to elevate the authority of Scripture as well as the role of our faith in our salvation, let us continue to love God by loving neighbor.

*Prayer:

Teach me thy patience; still with thee
in closer, dearer company,
in work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
in trust that triumphs over wrong

*"O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee," verse 3, United Methodist Hymnal, 430

In Christ,

Jack



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Testing Jesus



Have you ever put Jesus to the test? I mean really...who doesn't?

Towards the end of the book of Matthew, the gospel records instances in which the religious authorities wanted to test Jesus. He had been travelling around the region of Galilee, preaching the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God on hillsides, dinner tables, and living rooms. He was not the first person to do this. The gospels tell of a previous prophet who preached the same thing-John the Baptist, who announced that the son of God would come. That is where Jesus is unique in his message-he claimed to be the son of God. In hindsight, Christians believe that he was right. But I wonder if we would have believed him then. 

So, they tested him. The religious authorities wanted to provide ample evidence that Jesus was rebellious towards the Roman government. Since Jesus had built a large following in his years of ministry and teaching, his claim to be the son of God was not enough to arrest him, according to the authorities. They feared that a riot would occur. But, if they could prove that he was a potentially dangerous, rebellious man, they could arrest him.


So, they tested him by asking him a simple question: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” He answered: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He was aware of their ploy. 

Jesus knows when we put him to the test (even if we do not know it ourselves). At the end of this passage, it says "When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away." Jesus' awareness surprised them! Has Jesus ever surprised you in that way? 

Sometimes, when I struggle to find the presence of God in my life, I ask God to just give me a sign, and the discernment to know that it was God. Perhaps you have asked God something similar. Maybe that is testing God...and maybe we will be amazed by God, who is always aware of what we are doing, and sticks with us anyway...


Prayer:

His name is Wonderful 
Jesus my Lord 
He is the mighty King 
Master of ev'rything 
His name is Wonderful 
Jesus my Lord 
He's the Great Shepherd 
The rock of all ages 
Almighty God is He 
Bow down before Him 
Love and adore Him 
His name is Wonderful 
Jesus my Lord


In Christ, 

Jack

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Responding in Relief of Hurricane Harvey



Hurricane Harvey has devastated millions of people since last Friday in southeast Texas and the surrounding areas. My heart aches for those that have been it its path. Some areas have endured 40 inches of rain, and the storm is still hovering. Since last Friday, Harvey has been disastrous, pouring rain, blowing wind, sending entire cities scattering for survival, leaving their homes behind. Still others have been faced with enduring the storm head on, staying in their homes while the rains and winds slam down.

You may be thinking: what can I do to help? As always, I encourage you to pray. Right now. Pray for the victims. Pray for those providing relief. Pray for and end to the rain, the wind, the flooding, the destruction. The following is a prayer that Scott Jones, resident Bishop of the Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, has prayed. Let it guide you...


Oh God, we need your help,
We need the rain to end, the
floodwaters to recede, the damaging
winds to stop. We need fortitude to
cope with this disaster. We need love
to share with our neighbors. We need
strength to endure. Lord, we know
storms come in our world, and
we are asking for your help in getting
through it, repairing the damage and
rebuilding our lives. We pray for
ourselves, our friends, and all those
affected by Hurricane Harvey and its
aftermath. Give us the willingness
and strength to be your agents in
responding to this disaster.

Amen

May this prayer guide you to further action as well. At times like this, I am so very thankful for our United Methodist connection. UMCOR, the disaster relief branch of the denomination, often provide some of the first relief efforts in the world to disasters such as this. A donation now would be timely, you can do so here: UMCOR Hurricane Harvery Disaster Reponse.

UMCOR has also encouraged us to respond in other ways here: 5 Things You Can Do

As the Lord guides you in your response, may we ban together as brothers and sisters during this extremely difficult time.


In Christ,

Jack