Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mind the Gap

Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 16:21-28
Jesus tells followers to pick up their cross and follow him

• One night a man had a dream...  Jesus said I want you to be my disciple and the man agreed eagerly. Jesus gave man cross to carry, selected specifically for him. About 8 feet tall, and heavy and rough. The man's eagerness fades. After carrying it for a while, the man asked Jesus, "Can you do something about the splinters?" Jesus looked at the man with compassion and made it smooth. The man was pleased that Jesus was so kind to him.
 Now it’s smooth, he carries it for a while, but it's still very heavy... Jesus, could you make my cross lighter? Jesus looked at the man with compassion and made it lighter. The man was pleased that Jesus was so kind to him.
Now it's smooth and light, but still about 8 feet tall. The man says, "Jesus, my cross keeps dragging on the ground, and it makes me hunch over so. Could you make it smaller?" Jesus looked at the man with compassion and made it smaller. The man was pleased that Jesus was so kind to him.
 They come to a chasm, about 8 feet across. Jesus takes his own cross, still large and heavy and rough, and it perfectly spans the gap, allowing him to cross over safely, but the disciple’s cross, which had been exactly what he needed, has been rendered useless.
• Last week’s reading from Matthew gave us Peter confessing Jesus as the Christ, and this week Jesus points out that there is a cost to being the Christ and there’s a cost to being a disciple: Whoever would be a disciple must deny themselves and pick up cross and follow Jesus, and Jesus’ path is going to crucifixion.
• Being a disciple means trusting that God knows what is best for you, and submitting your will to his. It means being a student of Jesus, studying him and learning from him and seeking to be like him.  Being a disciple means letting Jesus set your priorities – what you do with your time, your resources, your energy.
• In two weeks we’re going to receive several people into the membership of this church. Several folks will stand before you as we all confess our faith, and together we all commit to participate in the life of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.
That means that as a disciple in this congregation, we’re asked to be in active and regular prayer for our church, for its members, for its leaders, for its ministries, for our vision.
We’re asked to show up, be present!  Not only at worship services, but at events and meetings...
We’re expected to participate in the life of the church financially. Methodists together with many Christian denominations teach and uphold that God asks his followers to tithe... The Church expects pastors to "teach and model generous Christian giving with a focus on tithing as God’s standard of giving."  The ways in which we choose to earn, give, save, and spend money are really spiritual decisions. When our first decision is one of giving, we place a greater level of trust in God. We begin by saying, "Thank you God! All that we have received is a blessing from you." We acknowledge that we worship God and not money! Giving frees us from the bondage that money can have over our lives. Tithing encourages us to focus on God as the source of our strength, rather than our own achievements or financial assets. Tithing leads to spiritual growth.
As disciples, we’re expected to participate in the life of the church through our service, offering ourselves and our talents to the ministries and missions and maintenance of the church.
And as disciples we are representatives of God wherever we go...
• Hymn 358 I Am Thine O Lord

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20
Peter answers that Jesus is the Christ

  There's a story about Elvis, whose fans shouted out "You are the King!" And Elvis responded “I sing for the King, and his name is Jesus Christ”  In front of fawning fans and unashamed of his faith. Who do you say that I am?
  I'm doing a wedding on Friday... when that man and that woman say “I take you as my wife / husband” they are agreeing to order their lives by that relationship. It means they’ll make decisions together, or with their partner in mind, decisions about finances and activities. It means they’ll control their urges and desires and take care to be in frequent communication with each other. They will live as representatives of each other. They commit to each other.
  When you move you give over ALL your house keys, and expect former owners to do the same.
      So it is when we confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
      We invite Jesus to be Lord of life, we say I surrender all, I give you control, I give you the keys not just to some of the rooms of my life but ALL the rooms. There is nothing I will keep hidden from your influence. I will seek your will in the choices I make, in the words I say, in the company I keep and in the activities we undertake, in the way I use my money and in the way I treat other people, in the way I drive and the way I text, the way I wait in line at the grocery store and the way I order my life. I will submit my life and resources and decisions to thy control.
      I will be in frequent communication with you and I will live as your representative. I will align my passions and desires with yours. Without shame I will confess you as my Lord.
  Jesus asks Who do you say that I am? Peter: The Christ, the Son of the Living God. The Anointed One, the Messiah, God’s prophet, priest, and king
  After this passage Jesus lets disciples know two things: what the Christ will do (suffer and die and be raised again) and what disciples will do (deny self, pick up cross)
      (but that’s next week)
Prayer (Lord, reign in me... over all my dreams, in my darkest hour... over every thought/word, may my life reflect the beauty of my Lord)

• Song Lord Reign In Me

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Have a Heart

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 15:10-20
Jesus speaks about what makes a person clean or not

(I showed this clip from Meet the Family, Ben Stiller saying grace)
  On saying grace. No right or wrong, don’t get me wrong, but grace for sake of grace is lacking life.
Are you thankful? How do you show it?
Children show it well...

  Actions speak louder than words. Actions reveal heart.

God is interested in heart, therefore God is interested in combination of how we live our lives and why.

  in fact it can’t simply be HOW because then adherence to the LAW would be sufficient

  Jesus was new & upset some standards that had been carefully set up but which lacked relationship... grace for the sake of grace, instead of grace out of thanksgiving.

Without relationship the Law is devoid of life.

Actions reveal heart

  We are 9 years away from centennial (8/29/20)

It will be our ability to indicate our heart with our actions,
Our ability to live in relationship (w/ God, w/ eachother, w/ community)
That will take us with strength into 2nd 100 years

  & as we move forward we must consciously examine our practices and how they reveal our heart – our decisions as individuals and as a congregation must connect to our heart, our reason for being the congregation of CUMC

What practices? Prayer force, missions, choirs, ministries, vbs...

Reveal what about our heart? Love & thanksgiving to God, service to community

  Jesus’ message is clear: if we are participants in kingdom of God, God conforms our hearts and our hearts inform our actions. Lives transformed.  Hearts right.

May the actions we undertake reveal our hearts, continually molded shaped conformed to God.

• Hymn 271 Standing on the Promises

Worship attendance: 150

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Jesus Fish

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33
Jesus and Peter walk on water

  Sometimes the gospel stories tell us what to do.
(Good Samaritan: show mercy radically.)
(Prodigal Son: Forgive radically / repent.)
(Sheep&Goats: Be charitable, especially to those who can’t pay you back.)

Sometimes the gospel stories tell us what Jesus did.
(Healed the blind & lame. Fed the multitudes. Preached the good news.)

Today’s story is one that tells us who Jesus is, and it does it a few ways.

  Some of you know I had a death in the family last week.

As is often the case, the family gathered photos together, trying to select the ones that best represented Tish.  I heard the comment several times “See this one where the three of us are together? There were five pictures exactly like that. (click click click click)”

  Today's scripture has three different pictures of Jesus in one story.
1 - The Gospel of Matthew, the big picture: From its genealogy to its stories, identifications, and even self-identifications, Jesus is the Son of God (8 times) and the Son of Man (28) (a term distinctly identifying Jesus as a divinely chosen prophetic agent of God), the promised Messiah (20) (anointed one, set aside king and savior) of Israel, the Savior of the Nations.  Today’s reading ends with one of the GoM’s identifications of Jesus: Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!” – Matthew 14:33

2 - Within the Gospel of Matthew, the Story of the disciples in the boat at night on the stormy sea: Jesus is the one who calms the fears of his followers... “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid”.                        
He is supernaturally powered and present, and he is incarnational and invitational.
(also, Jesus is not warm&fuzzy, he’s terrifying. Miracles are scary because they’re unnatural)

3 - Within the story of the disciples in the boat at night on the stormy sea: the personal interaction with Peter. We get a picture of Jesus who simultaneously invites (Come), rebukes (You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?), and saves Peter (Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him).

This tells about the grace of the Son of God who saved a disciple from death before his faith could qualify him for anything. Before Peter could earn favor with God, Jesus granted him mercy, saved him. This tells us that in the midst of Jesus’ grace, Jesus has high expectations for us, and in the midst of Jesus’ high expectations of us, Jesus has grace.

This episode leads Peter in another two chapters to confess
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16).

  The motif in these pictures is that Jesus is God’s Son and the Savior of humankind, and if you take the first letter of each of the words of the phrase “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior” (in Greek) it spells the word “Fish” (in Greek).

  May our lives from the macro to the micro point to our faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior, not by our own merit by but by God’s grace.

• Hymn 409: I Know Whom I Have Believed

Worship attendance: 122

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Eulogy for Tish

Thursday I said the funeral for my best friend's mum, the family I grew up across the street from, who died suddenly and unexpectedly. She was 63 years and 9 months old (23,284 days). It was a great honor to lead the service celebrating her life.

Before the service I gave an introduction of myself and made a plea for grace of sorts, something like this:
"My name is Kerry and I'm a United Methodist pastor in Campbelltown, Pennsylvania. I also lived across the street from Tish's family, from 1975-1990 or so. Tish was like a second mom to me.  Naturally, as a pastor, my faith informs the way I live my life and the way I conduct funerals, and today I'll be sharing a few scriptures common to Judaism and Christianity, from the Psalms and the prophets. I am a person of faith, and if you're a person of faith, I would ask you to pray to your God for grace during this hour, and if you're not a person of faith, I would ask you to extend your grace to those of us who find comfort there."

During the service I read from Psalm 23, Isaiah 40, and Psalm 139. I made uncredited reference during the eulogy to Psalm 121 and to the book of Ruth.

Tish R. was born Patricia Prue P., October 31st, 1947, on Vancouver Island , British Columbia, the third of four children and only daughter of (Lt.Col) David and Prue P. Though she lived more than half of her life in LaGrange, and made numerous treks to, through, and across Europe and the Mediterranean, she was a Canadienne all her life. She was born the year Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier & the year of the UFO incident at Roswell, NM. It was the year the Cold War began, the year the Doomsday Clock was first set. It was the year Princess Elizabeth married the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, and the year the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, leading to the 1948 emergence of the independent state of Israel. You may be surprised to know that the first electronic digital computer “ENIAC” predated Tish by just a year or two, though it was decades before the microchip became so solidly integrated into the fabric of our lives.

She was an excellent student throughout her schooling, and after graduating high school set off to see the world, working odd jobs along the way.

In her 21st year, Tish embarked on a journey that would end up setting the course for her life, when after traveling to Israel she caught the eye of another traveler, Sam. The two journeyed together for a few months and then corresponded for a year or two until in 1971 Tish effectively said “I will stay where you stay, I will go where you go, your people will be my people, your God will be my God, until death do us part.” And nearly forty years ago Tish and Sam made their vows before God and joined together as husband and wife. [aside: Tish chose to convert to Judaism when she married Sam]

It wasn’t long before the family went from two to four as they had a son and a daughter, and they relocated from Connecticut, where they’d settled, to LaGrange, where they’d spend the rest of their days. Although they knew nobody when they moved here, I think there was no such thing as a stranger to Tish, only friends not yet met. A simple trip to the grocery store could take hours because invariably she’d wind up talking to people in every aisle.

Tish and Sam survived a trauma in their sixth year of marriage when their third child David was lost to SIDS in his third month of life. God bless the parents who lose a child. But the family kept on and by their tenth year of marriage they reached their final count as daughter Leah joined the ranks of Joel and Sarah. Three peas in a pod, they were – different sizes, to be sure, but no mistaking it, you could pick Joel, Sarah, and Leah out of a crowd, and they have always clearly been the children of Tish and Sam.

Trauma struck again in the family, a hard blow in 1994 when firstborn Joel was killed in a car accident in Chicago during the Passover holiday. Seventeen years ago I stood before many of you and declared that Joel would still hold the title of Best Man at my wedding two months later.

And life went on. Sarah and Leah matured and went their ways in life, and Sam and Tish celebrated 25 years of marriage with a trip to Europe, one of many trips they took over the last 15 years. I’d list the countries they visited but my math and memory can’t retain that vast information. Countless museums and historical sites, synagogues and churches. Tish would always light a candle for her sons.

Over the course of the last 15 years, Tish survived lung cancer and a hip replacement and maintained her shop in Western Springs, Twigs and Stems, enhancing the lives of business folk and clientele alike, providing exquisite floral arrangements for all occasions. Tish was independent minded and an entrepreneur, an avid reader and gardener, and she made the best desserts you ever set fork to. She was strongwilled and she loved fiercely.

I don’t think there’s a person in this room whose heart didn’t stop from shock when we heard of her death four days ago. The world has been a whirlwind, a roller coaster, a jumbled mess since then as we’ve numbly stumbled together and tried to figure out what exactly is a world without Tish? Why did this happen?

Over the last fifteen years, as Tish and Sam were able to enjoy the fruits of their labors and their empty nest, as they worked and as they traveled overseas and celebrated life, I experienced some life journeys of my own, including the trauma of the death of my wife and the grace of marrying again and becoming a father. In my early twenties I lost my two best friends to untimely death, and at the same time I found the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Twice. During that while I was drawn into relationship with the God I call Father, and I have dedicated my life to His service through ministry in The United Methodist Church. I have found much comfort, much understanding, much love and joy and life in God.

And I have come to the understanding that the question “Why did Tish die” presupposes that God had a reason for her death and the means by which it came, and I just don’t think that’s the case – that’s not my understanding of God, except that death is a natural part of the cycle of life – a world without death would necessarily be a world without birth, for the earth could not sustain or support unlimited growth. But in spite of death and perhaps in close connection with it, God has always for generations and millennia invited people into relationship with him.

The God I know says “I am for you. I am with you in your joys and I am with you in your sorrows. I created you in love and I desire relationship with you. I made you wonderfully and I know you infinitely better than you know yourself, and I want to be with you, I want you to choose me, for in me is life abundant. My heart soars when your choices and actions, your reactions and responses to all of life’s events show the mettle you’re made of; I made you fearfully and wonderfully and there’s nothing in life or in death that can separate you from my great love.”

“And so I will watch you and love you like a parent. I will watch you live and love and grow; my heart will swell with parental pride when you make good choices and when you live as stewards of righteousness and justice and shalom as I made you to be. You are wonderfully made. Live in wonder. Live fully. Live in me. Live in me and live, and together we will weather the storms of life.”

Friends, you’re here today because you’re a lover of Tish. I’m here because I’m a lover of Tish and a lover of God, and it is my hope and prayer that you may receive peace and consolation from God during this time, and that we may walk in love in this life and the next.

I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

I look forward to God’s renewal and reconciliation of all life, to a time when all questions will be answered and all our fears and griefs relieved, when we may embrace once again our dearly departed and celebrate love and life eternal.

This gathering has never before existed and shall be no more, and so I invite you to share if you are willing, a word or brief story of how Tish has touched your life.
[several friends shared memories and stories]

Your presence here today bears testimony to Tish’s life, and to her memory.

Tish R., daughter of God, we honor your life. We thank you for being daughter, sister and friend, wife, Mum, aunt, grandmother, and neighbor. We will miss you terribly because our love for you has been great. Our lives were better for knowing you. We honor you, and give thanks that you are able to reunite with those who have gone before you… Tish, may Almighty God have mercy on your soul, may he forgive your every sin, and celebrate every good and righteous act in your life, and may he welcome you into his eternal home.

[at this point Tish's husband Sam stood up and sang Kaddish, and I read the following translation:]
Mourner’s Kaddish
May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen)
in the world that He created as He willed.
May He give reign to his kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,
and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,
swiftly and soon. Now say:
(Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.)

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,
mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One.
(Blessed is He).
beyond any blessing and song,
praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now say:

May there be abundant peace from Heaven
and life upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:

He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,
upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:

That was the bulk of the service.
If you'd like information on the rest of the service, I'd be happy to provide it for you.