Sunday, December 29, 2013

God Redeems

First Sunday after Christmas
with Matthew 2:13-23 and Hebrews 2:10-18

• Paul Harvey used to tell the story of a man whose cozy evening by the fire was disturbed by some small birds outside seeking shelter from a winter storm. Whenever the man would try to get the birds to safety in his barn they'd flee from him. “If only I could become a bird, then they could follow me unafraid.” And the man realized that that is what God does in Jesus Christ – Christ became human in order to guide humankind to salvation.
• I noticed a few times in the Matthew reading that Joseph was a dreamer... Not the only dreamer Joseph. Two things here: One, it was not convenient to take care of Jesus and Mary... They moved (hear: walked) 500 miles away, lived as foreigners, and shortly moved back. Not convenient, but faithful.
Two: There are other similarities between the story of Jesus and the story of God's salvation of the people through the exodus... That other dreamer Joseph also went to Egypt. Jesus was protected from a king who wanted to kill all the baby boys... Moses was protected from a king who wanted to kill all the baby boys... Moses had to flee his home for fear of his life, and he returned after he was told in a dream that it was okay to go back... same with Joseph.
Again, a few things to point out here: Matthew is demonstrating that Jesus is the real deal, that Jesus is vitally connected to the history of the Jews, and God is going to work salvation through this him. The salvation story which identified the people of God for generations points to a salvation story which will identify the people of God for millennia.

• When I told the story of the man and the birds earlier, I was telling it to you, too... It's a great model of the incarnation, and it connects to the suffering we read about in Hebrews... we have a Jesus who is displaced, exiled and homeless... and guess who can relate to that? Displaced, exiled and homeless people... the kind of people God wants humankind to care for. Poor people, suffering people... God wants humankind to embrace and minister to them, and so be involved in the process of the redemption of the world.
And God is telling us Yes, there will be suffering, and by the way, I'm redeeming it.
• Remember the end of the Joseph story? Not the Jesus-Joseph story but the Joseph-and-his-brothers story? When Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, he tells them You sold me with malicious intent, but God took that suffering and made good come from it. And that's how God works... God takes the suffering of the world, adds human faithfulness and the Holy Spirit, and works good out of it.

• Two words from commentaries:
As followers of Jesus, we have surely been saved from our sin by the grace of our Lord. But unfortunately, being his disciples does not save us from human suffering. Suffering will dog our souls from the day we are born until the day we die, and worry will never leave our minds alone.
The story of Israel is ultimately a story of God’s grace and steadfast love. No matter how many times God’s children turned away, God always accepted their apology and gave them another chance. That's what the gracious deeds of the Lord are: the abundance of God's steadfast love.

God is always working good in the world.
Be a part of God's working.
And God bless you.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

God Works

Christmas Eve
with Luke 2:1-7, a bit of Isaiah, and Psalm 98:1-3

Psalm 98:1-3 Common English Bible (CEB)

Sing to the Lord a new song
    because he has done wonderful things!
His own strong hand and his own holy arm
    have won the victory!
The Lord has made his salvation widely known;
    he has revealed his righteousness
    in the eyes of all the nations.
God has remembered his loyal love
    and faithfulness to the house of Israel;
    every corner of the earth has seen our God’s salvation. 

• One of my favorite Christmas movies is A Charlie Brown Christmas. I'm not sure a move like that could be made today... it's tough to make a movie that's religious, much less that actually proclaims the Gospel. You know, when they come to the end and Charlie Brown cries out: “Isn't there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?” and Linus calmly says, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you. Lights, please.”
And he launches into that reading from Luke that we shared earlier tonight: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the city of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.'” That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
• No, I'm not sure a movie like that could be made today... I think there are a lot of things that have changed about Christmas since Linus answered Charlie Brown's question back in 1965... It seems that a lot of people are hypersensitive about people, especially public figures, even *mentioning* God... Somehow “freedom of religion,” which is rightly protected by the Constitution, has been twisted into “freedom from any public mention of religion that I may find offensive.” Somehow Christmas has become practically synonymous with a season of market frenzy, guilt, and overspending. Add to that the variety of economic stress, social pressure, and medical troubles that always seem to increase, and for many Christians it sure feels like we live in dark times.
• But these are not the only days of darkness the people of God have known, neither are they even the darkest days the world has known. There have been hundreds of thousands of people who have lived entire lifetimes waiting in the darkness for something light. And if that something light were left up to people alone, we'd be waiting in the darkness still.
• But God has done marvelous things. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, we read... those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
• Indeed, the Lord has made his salvation known... The psalmist writes in Psalm 98: The Lord has made his salvation known. Do you know what that word “salvation” is in Hebrew? “Yasha.” Same root as the word Yeshua, the name of Jesus. God saves. God brings light into the world. God enters into a world filled with various darknesses and leads us into light. The Lord has made Jesus known, the salvation of the world.
• And we here at First Church are not afraid to say the name of Jesus. We're not afraid to bear that light into Barboursville and Huntington and beyond, we're not afraid to give God all the credit and all the glory, we're not afraid to say, Yes, the Lord has done marvelous things, the Lord has made his salvation known, and his name is Jesus. He is the light of the world, and it is the light of Jesus we celebrate and that we will shout to all the earth.
• In a moment we will celebrate God's light in a special way. We will pass out candles and then light our candles from the one light, the Christ light; we offer the light to you and ask that you would offer it to your neighbor. While the light is being passed, we'll join our voices together in the timeless classic “Silent Night.”
And at the 11pm service:
Before we do that, we'll take Jesus into our lives in a very special way as we participate in Holy Communion. We will join together with people across borders and centuries and say Yes, there is room in my heart for Thee, Lord Jesus.
I'll now ask some ushers to pass the baskets around. Please take a candle, and take a communion cup – the cup includes juice and a wafer as well, so that we might commune together. After these elements have been distributed I'll lead us in the communion liturgy.

• Friends, the light of the world is not ours to keep to ourselves, but to share with all the world. We nurture the light and allow it to grow in us and through us. Though we blow these candles out, we carry God's light in our lives.
• Joy to the world!
• And now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, now and always. Amen. Merry Christmas
Please join us for Worship 11am Sundays
We will begin the year
with John Wesley's Covenant Renewal Service on January 5,
and Sunday School for all ages at 9:45am

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

One Sign Fits All?

Fourth Sunday of Advent
on Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25

Advent, season of preparation for the coming of the Lord.
Time to remember the birth of Christ
AND to look forward to the return of Christ...
live in such a way that you represent and resemble Christ,
and so increase His visibility in the world.
The context of Isaiah and Ahaz is that Judah (Ahaz's land) has foreign armies advancing on three sides. God is telling Ahaz that those armies will be no more in a matter of months/years... 
In the midst of war, God says TRUST me, I am with you in real time and in real issues...
On to Joseph, God says TRUST me, I am with you in real time and in real issues... Joseph's commitment was not a one-time thing. By not dismissing Mary Joseph took on the public scrutiny of suspicion or ridicule... either he was a liar that he'd not slept with Mary or he was a fool for believing nobody had... Joseph's “yes” (combined with Mary's “yes”) was a lifetime, year by year, month by month, by week, by day, raising a child.
God says TRUST me, I am with you in real time and in real issues...
The sign Isaiah related to Ahaz, Matthew revived 700 years later as a sign of God's presence with Joseph 2000 years ago, and it remains a sign for us 2000 years later... for Ahaz is dead, Isaiah is dead, the woman and child that were signs to them are dead... Joseph is dead, Mary is dead...
and Jesus is alive.
The witness of scripture is that God is with us and God is for us.
It is God's desire to be with us in real time and in real situations.
On Friday I saw FB friends from Hershey posting about the death of a senior from the high school... a young man named Mark took his own life. I don't know Mark or his situation, but between 30 and 40,000 suicides per year... that's every 15 min. Tenth highest cause of death in the nation.
D'ya know the highest risk group for suicide? Men, 70+.
God is with them. And we in the church need to pay attention & be present.
We in the church need to let them know that God is good and life is worth living.
I thought it might be teens. (3rd highest cause of death for teens, btw)
D'ya know that gay teens are 4x more likely to attempt suicide than straight teens?
God is with them. And we in the church need to pay attention & be present. We in the church need to let them know that God is good and life is worth living.
And answer me this: when did God send Jesus for the salvation of the world? When they were sinless and with their act together? When did God embody love? When was God with people? God blessed the undeserving world while it in sin and darkness lay...
In times of emotional distress... God is with you.
And sometimes people respond to God by reaching out to the distressed.
In times of national distress, like war (a la Ahaz)... God is with you. & with vets.
And sometimes people respond to God by reaching out to those torn by war.
In times of economic or political distress... God is with you.
And sometimes people respond to God by reaching out to the distressed.
In times of medical distress... God is with you.
And sometimes people respond to God by reaching out to the distressed.
Like Laney Brown, who turned 8 on Friday... Laney has leukemia and last night THOUSANDS of folks gathered outside her Reading PA home to sing Christmas carols...

God is with us and God is for us.
It is God's desire to be with us in real time and in real situations.
& that's a sign for all times... one sign that fits all.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sing, Sneetches!

Second Sunday of Advent
from Isaiah 11:1-10 and Romans 15:4-13

Advent, season of preparation for the coming of the Lord. Time to remember the birth of Christ AND to look forward to the return of Christ... live in such a way that you represent and resemble Christ, and so increase His visibility in the world.

• "I love you and there's nothing you can do about it."
Tell someone that.
How's it feel to say?
How's it feel to hear?
Not everyone hears that every day.
Not everyone says that every day.

• Looking at the passage from Romans 15 what do you notice? Paul's repeated reference of the Gentiles, and praising. Four times, from the Law (Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah), and from the writings (Psalms).
"Gentiles" has to do with "outsiders".
What would cause Gentiles / outsiders to praise or rejoice?
Well, what would cause anyone to rejoice?

We rejoice at freedom from burden or grief or pain.
We rejoice at feeling of belonging or of being loved.
We rejoice at feeling of peace or unity.
These are conditions that come as Christ increases in the world.

Sneetches loved their own kind, happy to have defined “in” and “out” kind. But Sneetchdom was broken. Not all Sneetches could sing. Not all were loved. There were Gentile Sneetches, "outsider" Sneetches. They longed for love, longed to belong, longed not to be judged. 
And it took a breaking in to Sneetchdom for change to happen, and happen it did... and their worlds were expanded.

May our traditions inspire and encourage us to reach out to others for the glory of God, that there may be no outsiders, that others would look at the church and see hope and help instead of judgment and division, that more would praise God, and that none would feel unloved.

Read from Advent Calendar for today, LIGHT first candle, candle of hope, and second candle, candle of Christ the WAY.
Pray thanks for salvation, strength for bearing light, increasing Christ light in the world

Childrens' Special Music

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What's New?

First Sunday of Advent (Year A)
from Isaiah 2:1-5 and Romans 13:11-14

• Happy New Year! (Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar, so the first Sunday of Advent is like the first day of the calendar year).
What do folks often do at New Years? Make resolutions... typically having to do with some kind of personal discipline. Perhaps you'll join in a personal discipline for Advent.

• On the one hand (OTOH), this Advent season is a first for us, (my first Advent here in Bville), and on the other hand (OTOH), here we go again, getting ready for Christmas. Just a few days ago we celebrated being thankful for what we had, just hours before unmatched shopping frenzy for things we don't need. (Black Friday 2013 included a shoplifter shot by a cop in IL, a shopper pepper-spraying a WM manager in NJ, a stabbing in VA over a parking space. On our way to 3.9% increase in holiday spending over last year.)

• What's new? OTOH Ecclesiastes 1:9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun. And OTOH, “I am making all things new” (Jesus in Rev. 21:5, see also Isa 65:17 “I create new heavens and a new earth.”

• Advent, season of preparation for the coming of the Lord.
Time to remember the birth of Christ AND to look forward to the return of Christ.

• We celebrate the forward vision in Isaiah that God has a beautiful plan in place... the midst of the darkness LIGHT is coming, the midst of depression and desolation, there is HOPE for RENEWAL.

• Any crafters here? There's a certain pride to making something... Counted cross-stitch, woodwork, maybe you're a gardener or decorator.
Did you ever start a project and not finish it? I've got cross-stitches I started twenty years ago that remain unfinished...

Here's the thing, God finishes God's projects.
God finishes God's projects, and I daresay God delights in the process as well. 
And we are a part of God's project, and God delights in us.

There's a word for God's finished project and that's “shalom” – it has to do with the ideal, the complete, the perfect, the whole, and yes, peace, and that is what we hope for and anticipate especially in Advent. In fact right now our unlit Advent wreath is both a reminder of the unfinished work of the Lord and a way of watching the light come into the world. We'll light one in a few minutes, as we begin or rather take a next step in that journey.

• Of course as you prepare for a journey you gotta dress appropriately. I'm a runner, and I'm thankful that as I prepared for a Thanksgiving Day run I had my winter running clothes because it was 20 degrees out. You gotta dress appropriately, and our passage from Romans not only says It's time for the journey to begin – you know what time it is, the night is almost over, the day is near – it's time for the journey to begin, now get dressed properly. Dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ (LJC), don't be selfishly indulgent (hello, Black Friday), do live as light – live in such a way that you represent and resemble Christ, and so increase His visibility in the world.

• There's a sense about Advent that is like the season of Lent, in that preparation is a discipline of sorts. The way to “dress yourself with the LJC” is to plan time with Him, for study and devotion and prayer, to live in a way that others will see Him and will want to know more.

• One other thing about Advent, this season of increasing the light of Christ in the world while discarding the ways of darkness... it's easier to see in the dark if there's someone with you or near you who has a light. Some of you may be that light – you have been able to overcome darkness in your life... SHINE that light so that others may see. Walk with those of us who need to hear how Christ has been with you in overcoming temptation and adversity. Some of you may be the light, and others of you may NEED the light. That's why we're the body of Christ, and that's why it's great to worship God on your own but we NEED to prepare the way of the Lord together. It's easier to see in the dark if there's someone with you or near you with a light, and ultimately we have Christ with us. Let's help others to see.

• I have devotional calendars for everyone – enough for everyone as individuals, but I'd encourage you to do as family. Reading from the first day:

God is not asking for ALL of your time, but He is asking for 100 percent of the time you are able to give to Him. Don't rush through a Bible verse while you are eating breakfast and listening to the weather report. Don't wade through a devotional reading five minutes before you fall asleep from a frenzied day... Ten minutes of completely undivided attention and time will give you a better spiritual journey than thirty minutes of squeezed-in time...

Doing this will get you to Christmas prepared instead of surprised, ready for the Christ-child.

• LIGHT first candle, candle of hope

We light this candle as a symbol of Christ our Hope.
May the light sent from God shine in the darkness to show us the way of salvation.

• Pray thanks for salvation, strength for bearing light, increasing Christ light in the world
• Into Advent Communion liturgy (responses on UMH p. 13)

Isaiah 2:1-5 Common English Bible (CEB)

1 This is what Isaiah, Amoz’s son, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of the mountains. It will be lifted above the hills; peoples will stream to it.
3 Many nations will go and say, “Come, let’s go up to the Lords mountain, to the house of Jacob’s God so that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in God’s paths.”
Instruction will come from Zion; the Lord’s word from Jerusalem. 4 God will judge between the nations, and settle disputes of mighty nations. Then they will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.
5 Come, house of Jacob, let’s walk by the Lord’s light.

Romans 13:11-14 Common English Bible (CEB)

11 As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. 12 The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light. 13 Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. 14 Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires. 

1 Thess 3:12-13 - May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ the King

I have been leading this Christ the King service for 6-7 years, tweaking the scripture readings and the songs, but keeping the basic format. Every year I wonder, "Should I do this again?" and every year people tell me they appreciate this service. Glory to God!

Christ the King Sunday

• Hymn 715: Rejoice! The Lord is King!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. – Revelation 1:8

• Today we remember the Christian calendar, the liturgical year, in scripture and song. Each season or holiday has a liturgical color (although many of the holidays are “white or gold”).

No sermon today, but a verse, reflection, and hymn representing each season of the Christian year.

Advent. Purple or blue.
The Christian year begins with the anticipation of the arrival of God’s Messiah, the fulfillment of the promise. We often sing Christmas carols, although some say we should wait until Christmas to sing the Christmas carols, and sing songs of anticipation before Christmas. We light the Advent candles to mark our waiting. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas (12/25).

Today's Advent Scripture reading: Luke 1:26-33, the Annunciation
Today's Advent hymn: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Christmas. White or gold.
The birth of Jesus Christ. God’s promised light comes to earth. Christmas is a 12-day season, going from December 25th to January 6th.

Today's Christmas Scripture reading: John 1:1-14 the Word became flesh...
Today's Christmas hymn: Joy to the World!

Epiphany. White or gold.
Celebrated in the Eastern churches as Christ coming to the world. In the Western churches (that’s us) it’s when we ‘remember’ the “wise men” who traveled far to worship the King. God revealed His light to all nations. January 6th is the day of Epiphany, and the season of Epiphany lasts until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Often about five weeks.

Today's Epiphany Scripture reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
Today's Epiphany hymn: Once In Royal David's City

Lent. Purple.
The 40-day (minus Sundays) season of preparation for Easter. Often marked by repentance, prayer, fasting or self-denial, Lent (which is named for the lengthening of days in springtime) is also a time of Christian instruction. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (46 days before Easter) and goes through Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

Today's Lent Scripture reading: Mark 8:31-38
Today's Lent hymn: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

We have an additional reading and hymn for Holy Week, the week that includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Today's Holy Week Scripture reading: Hebrews 10:16-25
Today's Holy Week hymn: What Wondrous Love is This?

Easter. White or gold.
The celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, his victory over sin and death. Though the date of Easter changes, it is always the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox (March 21). The season of Easter lasts fifty days, including Ascension Day (forty days after Easter) and ending at Pentecost (fifty days after Easter).

Today's Easter Scripture reading: Acts 10:34-43
Today's Easter hymn: Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Pentecost. Red (for the day) and green (for the season).
Pentecost was a Jewish harvest festival (50 days after Passover), and is now celebrated by Christians as the birth of the Church, the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost marks the beginning of “ordinary time,” the season that spans from the end of the Easter season until Advent. In “ordinary time” (aka “Kingdomtide”) the actions of the early church are remembered.

Today's Pentecost Scripture reading: Acts 2:1-6
Today's Pentecost anthem: Holy Spirit, Truth Divine

Christ the King. White or gold.
The “New Year’s Eve” of the liturgical calendar, Christ the King Sunday celebrates, well, Jesus Christ the King of Kings. Thus the Christian year begins, revolves around, and ends in celebration of God’s gift to the world in Jesus Christ.

Today's Christ the King Scripture reading: Revelation 1:4-8
Today's Christ the King hymn: Crown Him with Many Crowns

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Demonstration of Power

26th Sunday after Pentecost
on Luke 21:5-19, Isaiah 12, and Isaiah 65:17-25
Ten days ago Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the east coast of the Philippines. Perhaps the strongest tropical storm to make landfall in recorded history, 10-min sustained winds of 145mph, 1-min sustained winds of 195mph (3.25 miles/min... half a mile in ten sec).
Perhaps the second deadliest for Philippines,
with 3,600 dead (over 5K in Thelma, 1991).
It's hard to conceive what 195mph is. NASCAR cars race in the neighborhood of 215mph, maybe capable of 250, 260. Wind record is 253mph (maybe 318, according to one internet search). Japanese Maglev train 367mph (1mi in 10s). Land speed record about 400 for wheel-driven vehicle. Commercial planes travel about 500mph. Sound barrier 768mph, broken by Chuck Yeager in October 1947. He more than doubled that speed 5 years later. 20 years later Pete Knight set the manned plane record now a stunning 4,519mph (more than Mach6).
Powerful stuff people have done but back to Typhoon Haiyan's sustained winds of 195mph, not man-made, just happened by heat and pressure.
The Great Red Spot on Jupiter has winds of 2-3 times that, 430mph, and 620mph gusts. Three times size of earth, storm has been storming for over 400 years (since telescope invention).
Amazing demonstrations of power, don't hold a candle to the power of God, who commands winds and seas and indeed created the earth and the planets and the forces within. But that's not where I'm going with a demonstration of power.

Jesus and the Temple (the Second Temple) in Luke 21, you think this is impressive? Not only “you ain't seen nothin” but this is dust and will return to dust. There's only one thing you can see here that you can put your faith in and that's me. This Temple has been destroyed before and it will be destroyed again. It may be the place where God is most closely identified but it is not God.
Jesus talks about the end of life as they know it and includes a gem in verse 13: “This will provide you with an opportunity to testify.”
You won't have control over what happens to this city, this world, what happens to you, but you can forever testify to the power of God and your trust in him. The one that made the earth, the planets, the sea monsters and storms, there is no power can out-power God.
And even that's not exactly where I'm going with the power of God.

We read in Isaiah 65 God saying I'm creating new heaven and new earth, the former things won't even come to mind. You like this Temple? It's a shack compared to what I've got coming. What you see now is a shadow of what is to come.
We read in Isaiah 65 God saying No longer will babies live only a few days, No longer will you hear the sound of weeping or crying, No longer will you be hungry or oppressed. No longer will any of the things that cause you sorrow or grief come to mind any more. I am making things new.

Sorrow or grief. This is so much of the world we live in, so much of what we see, and when that's what we look at, it can get us down. I have a friend who is taking a medication that causes deep depression for a day or so. What gets him through is knowing it's temporary, knowing it's not real. Gives him appreciation for folks who suffer with the real stuff. Testify that God's power is greater than powers of depression or addiction or darkness. (btw remember we have a mission statement “to share the love of God with people in a hurting world”).

I attended a clergy gathering on Friday at WV Wesleyan in Buckhannon, got to be introduced as the new guy, got to meet Pastor Judy and Pastor Mark. Pastor Mike Estep spoke about ministry in exile – when things are not going your way, when you're not at home, you're not comfortable. Drawing on the story of Daniel Pastor Mike gave us three points: God is still sovereign, pray without ceasing, and don't be a lone ranger. That is, don't make the mistake of giving troubles more power than God, don't forget to prepare yourself and to appeal to God in prayer, and do reach out to brothers and sisters in Christ along the journey.
We heard a word from Pastor Barry Ball, husband of Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball. Barry spoke from Psalm 137 (which I shared my first Sunday here, how can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?) and shared with us that we have three choices for responding to exile: blame God, complain, or sing a new song. While holding fast to God remember that God did not abandon the people to exile but was there among them, and that God desires that we worship God in spite of circumstances. THAT is a powerful demonstration, when in spite of horrific circumstances, people choose to worship God. We saw it after the World Trade Center buildings fell – people went to church to connect with God. We see it after tragedies and disasters, people reach out to connect with God. We see it in response to typhoons – people give money and resources and time for relief efforts, they give for people they've never met and will never meet, people of different language and culture and skin color and belief, people reach out and give, THAT is a powerful demonstration.
One final thing from that clergy gathering, in our worship we sang a classic Charles Wesley hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” 363. We sang it slow. A little too slow for my liking, but instead of stewing about it I chose to soak in the words. Where I saw another demonstration of the power of God: God's power to free us from our sin... my chains fell off and I was free (repeat). That's power.

Pray for freedom, courage to testify, thanks for salvation
(we pray to the Lord, Christ our faith is in you)
The temple we have faith in is Christ

Hymn 559 Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Kill it, Waste it, Pass it, or Make it?

25th Sunday after Pentecost
from Haggai 2:1-9

There are only two times when you should worship God: when you want to, and when you don't want to... When it's convenient, and when it isn't convenient... When you feel like it, and when you don't. 
Title of message inspired by The Phantom Tollbooth (Norman Juster, 1961) 
(“For Milo, who has plenty of time”) (It's bad enough wasting time without killing it) … 

God is interested in how we handle the resources we're given.

Haggai context: 520 BC, post exile return to Israel, to Jerusalem, to devastated land and Temple, but Temple remains in ruins as people devote their attention to their own things.
But we read in chapter 1:9, “Because my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house...” your crops fail, you remain hungry and thirsty, you lack fullness...
The people respond to the word of the Lord, and they begin to work on the Temple, and we come to today's reading, where the Lord says, “Be strong... work, for I am with you... Don't fear... I will fill this house with my glory... I will provide prosperity in this place...”

God requires that God be a priority in our lives, not second or third... and God promises that blessing will happen – shalom, peace, wholeness is the fruit of God-prioritizing in life.

There's something of a “reap what you sow” feeling in this. If you live your life apart from God, your life will be lacking something, will be wonky, off-kilter. You may not be able to fully identify what's wrong, but you'll know that you're missing the mark somewhere.
But, if you prioritize according to God, God will be in your life, and shalom is sure to follow. Keep in mind, of course, that shalom is not wages... it's not an even exchange where you earn favor by being faithful – it's more like you grow God-fruit by nurturing relationship.

There's a flip-side to the “reap what you sow” feeling, and that is that you can't fake prioritizing God. You can't live by God 80% of the time and expect 100% shalom... you can't hide/deny sin and expect God to pretend it's not there, too.
I'm in Weight Watchers, have been for a few years. You may look at me and say "Why?" and what you see is the fruit of being in WW for a few years. WW principle: here's a system to help you eat disciplined. Do this faithfully and you'll lose weight. Cheat the program and you're cheating yourself and you won't lose weight.

So God is interested in how we handle the resources we're given, including our time... 

God requires that God be a priority in our lives. How do we do that?
Same way you prioritize relationships in your life. Married folks, when you first met or started dating the person who would become your spouse, how much time did you spend thinking about them, or on the phone with them, or actually with them? A lot. You may even have sacrificed other things so you could be with that person, may have given up hobbies or habits because that person was important enough to prioritize your life around.

If you have kids, you know that one of the greatest gifts you can give them is your time, your undivided attention. You can do that by making sure that you eat one or two meals together (no electronics) five days a week, or by scheduling 15 minutes one on one every day, it'll amaze you. Once again, when you nurture relationship, you produce fruit.

How do we make God a priority with our time? Spend 15 min a day with God. Read & reflect, alone and with others. Pray. Worship alone and with others. Write a “thank” list.

God is interested in how we handle the resources we're given, including our money... God requires that God be a priority in our lives. How do we do that?

In the UM church we teach that the tithe – ten percent of income – is the starting place for faithful giving, that God receive the first-fruits of our income. It's the first check I write after I receive a paycheck, ten percent of my pay goes back to God through the offering plate, and I believe that not only does God use that offering plate to maintain the church but to fund mission and ministry and outreach, locally and globally, and that when I say with my checkbook that God is number one in my life, God blesses me in spirit, produces God-fruit in my life. It's my hope and expectation that tithing is something you believe in and participate in, or that you're actively working towards it.

God is interested in how we handle the resources we're given, including our time and our money... God requires that God be a priority in our lives, and God promises that blessing will happen: shalom, peace, wholeness are the fruits of God-prioritizing in life.

John the Baptist says in Luke 3:8, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance...” That is, turn to God, put sin behind you, and let the way you live your life, spend your time and money, show that God is priority in your life. Make time for God, who promises to be with you, and who promises amazing things to come. “Be strong... work, for I am with you, says the Lord... Don't fear... I will fill this house with my glory... I will provide prosperity in this place...”

Into Affirmation of Faith 889

Sunday, November 3, 2013

This Is What I Give

24th Sunday After Pentecost / All Saints' Sunday
Luke 19:1-10 Jesus and Zacchaeus 
• Do you know what “Zacchaeus” means? “Pure and righteous.”
(Makes me think about the lesson last week in which a tax collector was justified – made righteous...)
Zacchaeus is a tax collector, and not just any TC, but like a TC supervisor, a big cheese. He's got money & power, and also public disdain (in league with the oppressors, as well as unclean, social outcast). TCs not looked upon favorably. Easy to assume he was corrupt, but no evidence really. We don't know if he was corrupt or not.
What DO we know about Zacchaeus? 
He desired to see Jesus. 
He ACTED on that desire. 
And he was known by Jesus.

And after one interaction with Jesus, Z was repentant and humble (important ingredient, remember?) putting action behind his contrition (which I'd consider a spontaneous act of worship). Jesus has done something remarkable in Z's life, and Z responds with great commitment. “This is what I give: half of my possessions to the poor, plus 4x restitution to anyone I have cheated. This is what I give.” TIWIG is encouragement to act on gratitude at God's action in your life, because without action, repentance is lacking. Don't TELL me you're sorry, LIVE it. Don't TELL me you're a child of God, Live it.
What exactly HAS Jesus done in Zacchaeus's life? One, he addressed him publicly and two he said he'd stay with him. For an unclean social outcast that was a kind of redemption in the here and now... he treated him as a human, as a brother, he restored a level of dignity and honor to his household. And Jesus says Salvation has come to this household – I think Jesus is referring not only to the here-and-now redemption but the invitation to eternal life as well. Jesus says, “This is what I give: my love, my life, my self, my all for you. I came for YOU.”
So now I have two questions: what has Jesus done in your life, and how have you responded?
There's good news here, really at least triple good news: Jesus knows us, Jesus invites us to life now, and Jesus invites us to eternal life. We are not our own, we belong to Jesus, we are bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus, we are covered by him redeemed by him saved by him. There's good news for anyone who feels outcast or unworthy or like they have to earn God's grace or clean up before coming to God. Z's repentance didn't come until after his interaction, and Jesus says in words and in actions that folks like Z – imperfect, messed up, broken, outcast folks like me – folks like Z are why Jesus came. Everybody's welcome, nobody's perfect, and anything can happen.
Today we celebrate Holy Communion, in which we remember how Jesus carried out his mission to seek and save the lost, and today we remember loved ones who have died... loved ones who were known by Jesus, sought by Jesus, saved by Jesus, and who we will see again by the grace of Jesus.
That's a lot to be thankful for. How will you give thanks?

Into All Saints' liturgy for Alphon C., died 12/12/12; and Leroy M., d. 4/3/13

We bless your holy name, O God, for all your servants who, having finished their course, now rest from their labors. Give us grace to follow the example of their steadfastness and faithfulness, to your honor and glory; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Whatchagot Prayer

23rd Sunday after Pentecost
from Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a parable about two men praying
What's the most important ingredient when you get dressed?
(singing from the musical Annie)
Your clothes may be Beau Brummely, they stand out a mile,
but brother, you're never fully dressed without a smile.
I made a “whatchagot chili” the other day...
(get out beans, beans, tomato, beans, meat)
what's the most important ingredient?
What's the most important ingredient in prayer?
Jesus talks about two prayers today,
and when I say prayers I don't mean the words, I mean the people praying.
It is tempting to pick the Pharisee's prayer apart, but the thing wrong with his prayer is its focus (himself) and his attitude (check me out). The content of his prayer isn't inherently bad. I'm grateful to live in a house. I'm grateful to be married. I'm grateful that I have a job (which I love, by the way). I'm thankful I'm not a robber or evildoer or adulterer. I'm not *better* than those people, and those people are as worthy of God's grace as I am (which, by the way, is not at all. No one is worthy of God's grace; it is an unmerited gift freely given).
• It is possible to give thanks for righteousness in one's own life without presuming self-rightousness, and earned exemption from mercy, and without self-elevation. You just have to have the proper ingredients in prayer, and you can't have a good prayer without humility. Jesus lays it out in the end of the parable: whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14)
Who is Jesus telling this parable to? To self-righteous people who looked on others with disgust. He says, “Hey, if you want righteousness, if you want to be right with God, there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The way to get right with God is to admit that you don't have it together, to admit that real righteousness comes only from God, you can't achieve it on your own. The thing you need for righteousness is humility, and the thing God gives you is grace. You wanna get right with God, let God know that there's only one Number One and it isn't you, it's Him.
So what ingredients will you put in your prayers? Whatchagot?
Humility, thanks, honor & praise, an occasional dash of confession, a plea for forgiveness.
There's another side to this, too, which is to use what God has given you for God's glory. I believe God had gifted that Pharisee with certain things, and God had gifted that tax collector with certain things, and God is pleased when we use the gifts we're given in service and in praise. You can be a terrific musician or athlete, and you can pray Thank you, God, for giving me this talent; I say thank you in how I use it. I believe God would want that Pharisee and that tax collector to be the best Pharisee and tax collector they could be, just as God wants you to be fully you, the you He created and gifted you to be.
So in addition to humility, thanks, honor, praise, those ingredients of prayer, include who you are, your gifts and your resources, as gifts to God.
There's a picture that's been making its way around Facebook this past week, a picture of an actor I'm somewhat impressed with, Sir Patrick Stewart holding a sign that says “Defend rights for women and girls – Amnesty International”. The picture has a caption: “People won't listen to you or take you seriously unless you're an old, white man, and since I'm an old, white man I'm going to use that to help the people who need it.” - Sir Patrick Stewart (73). Sir Patrick has what I would say is a good balance of humility and responsibility... he's using what he has – fame (and he's an old white man) – to elevate others. I'd say that's the sort of thing pleases God.
So. Whatchagot?

Turn to #8 in your hymnals and let us make our confession together

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Last Place You'd Look

21st Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, 10-14

You've heard the story of the psychiatrist, the pessimist, and the optimist... A psychiatrist wanted to help brighten the outlook of a pessimistic child, so he took him into a room filled with toys. Instead of delight, however, the child burst into tears. “What's the matter?” asked the psychiatrist, “don't you want to play with any of the toys?” “Yes,” the boy cried, “but I'd only break them.”
Next the psychiatrist wanted to bring the optimist a little closer to earth, get his head out of the clouds, so he took the boy into a room filled with manure. To his surprise the boy squealed with delight and began digging with his bare hands through the piles. “What are you doing?!” asked the bewildered psychiatrist. “Well,” replied the optimist, “with all this manure I'm just positive there's a pony in here somewhere!”
The way we look at things in life can make a real big difference. And while I don't think God wants mere, simple optimism from us, I am convinced that God is very interested in how we respond to circumstances in life. How do we respond to abundance? And how do we respond to, well, manure?
Our scripture lesson from Jeremiah takes place about 2,600 years ago. The Jews, God's chosen people, have lived in the promised land for 700 years or so (compare that to our measly 235 years). It's been a land of abundance, a time of abundance, a room filled with toys, but in general the leaders and the people have not embraced God, have not submitted themselves to Yahweh as LORD. Despite numerous leaders and prophets and even the judgment of their kindred tribes to the north, the people embrace other gods, and Yahweh says “Enough!” and allows the holy city of Jerusalem to be ransacked, and her people carried away.
How do folks respond to abundance? And how do they respond to manure?

Did you ever notice that when you lose your keys, you find them in the last place you look for them? If we had any smarts, we'd look there first, right?
No, we find things in the last place we look for them because after we find them we stop looking. I put on our church sign “Come to First Church after you've tried the others” as an invitation for this to be the last place people look, because once they come here they'll want to stay, they'll want to stop looking.
Here's the thing. Even though God's chosen people have been taken away from the holy city into a foreign land, God still keeps relationship with them. In the last place they'd look, God says If you search for me with your whole heart, you will find me. In the last place they'd look, God says Settle down. Don't mope and whine, you're gonna be here for 70 years. Build houses, plant gardens, have kids, have grandkids. I will be with you, and I will eventually take you home. Pray for the land where I've put you. Do not abandon hope, do not pray for the demise of your captors. Instead, pray for their well-being. Their well-being is your well-being.
If you want, you can complain and kick and scream and moan, but it won't do anything but tire you out and make your situation feel worse. A lifestyle of complaining is bad for you physically, mentally, spiritually. Don't do it. Might as well make the most of things. I'm interested in how you respond to situations, much more interested in that than what you think you do with your life.

Is there a “Babylon” feel in your life right now? Do your life circumstances make you feel like God is punishing you, exiling you? Do you feel like life is not the way it should be?
What are you going to do about it?
Could it be that God is there with you, even if you don't see him?
Could it be that God all this is temporary and God wants to see how you'll respond to things? Whether there will be something powerful enough to cause you to curse God instead of embracing him?
I think we see a great example in Jesus Christ, who faced some terrible circumstances but instead of letting them get the best of him, faced them head on and with constant communication with God the Father. Prayerful communication, patient, trusting communication.
What we know is temporary. What God will do will outshine any of the temporary things we count as “negative.”

You've heard the Serenity Prayer...
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
The original, attributed to 20th century American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (circa 1943), is:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
How will you respond to abundance? To manure? May it be with the faith of Jesus Christ, and for the glory of God, who will go through it all with you.
Turn to #883 in your hymnals and let us confess our faith together

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ours and Yours

with 2 Timothy 1:1-14
20th Sunday after Pentecost
World Communion Sunday
PK's first Sunday at First UMC, Barboursville WV

FYI, today is not normal. Normally I'll spend a lot more time applying the scripture to what's going on today, but as this is both World Communion Sunday and the first time a lot of you are seeing me, well, things don't always go according to our plans, and we gotta roll with it.
For example, I haven't set up my computer yet, and for the first time in a long while I'm preaching from handwritten notes. Forgive me if I stumble.
I am Kerry and I'm excited to begin in relationship with you the people of Barboursville First UMC as we chug along together in mission and ministry to the surrounding community and region.
Excited and a little anxious, too, as one of the newest residents of the wild and wonderful state of West Virginia. I believe I am here by an act of God, who is master of rolling with it when things don't go according to the plan. An act of God and an act of a few bishops and district superintendents.
I am a lover and a hoper. A lover of God, my wife, my daughter; a hoper in God's desire and ability to do great things among and through people, and that when folks walk through the valley of the shadow of death there is no reason to fear for God is there.
The title for my message today is “Ours and Yours,” inspired from a time when I began in a new congregation and realized “these aren't my people...” and then a few months later what had previously been 'theirs' was now 'ours'. They were my people.
Hopefully (remember I'm a hoper) what's “yours” in Bville First Church will be “ours” sooner than later.
We don't know each other yet. I know that Barboursville is celebrating its bicentennial, WV is celebrating its sesquicentennial, and that Bville First is about 120 years old. I know that First Church was served by Pastor Monte for about ten years and then by Pastor Judy for about ten years. I know that Brother Brent began here in July and then soon after received a job offer that left First Church without a full time pastor.
You know that I am 41 years old, that I was born and raised in Chicago, that I was ordained in 2005 in Philadelphia and that I've been involved in full-time pastoral ministry for the last 12 years in Pennsylvania. (okay, now you know that)
We don't know each other yet, but we share a few things:
Our heritage and connection as Methodists, and our common mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” (repeat)
(that means everything we do as UMs should have something to do with making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.)
And we share our identity both as beloved children of God and heirs of salvation (not by our works, Paul reminds us, but by the grace of God).
And we're apostles. That's how Paul identifies himself in 2 Timothy 1 (see, I got around to the scripture!)
That word apostle is an important term... one who is sent with a mission, a purpose. Our mission and our purpose? Make disciples!
• “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.”
That is, by an act of God, Paul is an apostle, one sent out with a mission and a purpose, sent out by Christ Jesus with the mission and the purpose of proclaiming that there is life in Christ Jesus.
If there is death in your life, there is life in Christ Jesus.
If there is decay in your life, there is life in Christ Jesus.
Christ Jesus, who abolished death and who gives life eternal, everlasting life to any who will call him Lord.
And Paul is writing to his protege, his student, his mentee Timothy to encourage him to keep on keepin' on, to strive on, to give his all...
Paul's been preaching, telling about the good news of real life in Christ Jesus for 30 years, and he knows he doesn't have much time left, so he uses the resources he has to fan the flames and encourage a young preacher. He knows that there's no greater honor in life than to be an apostle, to make disciples, and that it is worth spending your life for, no matter what.
No matter what your circumstances, you can model the gospel, and encourage others. (knowledge puffs up, love builds up. The road of discipleship leads to apostleship)
Today's reading is from Paul's 2nd letter to Timothy, but I'm reminded of his words to the Ephesians and Philippians – live your life worthy of the calling of the gospel.
Christ Jesus gave all for you, and asks and requires the same.
Oh, and one other thing to mention today: Jesus not only sends us and encourages us but feeds us and unites us with all God's family through the sacrament of Holy Communion, so that, whether we know one another or not, whether we speak the same language or live on the same continent or in the same century, we remember and celebrate the sacrifice Christ Jesus made so that we might have life. We do that today on World Communion Sunday.

And one other final thing that unites us and many: our belief in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let's join together in that old confession of faith, The Apostles' Creed...