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...