Sunday, February 26, 2017

Be An Advocate

• Be An Advocate
On Job 31   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk
• There’s two times to praise God:
when you feel like it, and when you don’t.
Current Bible reading plan, Job 31
Why do you serve / obey / worship God? Why would anyone?
Some people see creation and/or relationships and conclude
There is a Maker who is good and is worthy of awe and is not fickle like humankind.
Some people see unexplainable suffering and conclude
There is no God or that God is not good.
The story of Job examines the life of faith
and whether human virtue depends on circumstance.
Kind of an anti-Sermon on the Mount. 
SOM: Jesus says live like this.
Job 31: Job says Look how I’ve lived!
Job’s insistence that he has done no wrong – and indeed, in chapter 1 we’re told that Job is “blameless.” Job’s thorough and searching moral self-inventory may cross the line of annoying though, and his peers consider him self-righteous.
• PK’s loose paraphrase of Job 31:
I know that God sees me and that my life’s reward is from him. I keep myself pure in mind and action. If I have strayed from God’s path, let me bear the consequences. So be it. If I have entertained adultery, may another man be as a husband with my wife. If I treat my slaves badly, do I think I can fool God? No! My slaves and I are equally flesh and blood creations.
If I’ve been stingy, unkind, and uncompassionate – and I’ve always been generous, kind, and considerate – if I’ve been cold-hearted and selfish and rude, may my arms be broken! I can’t stand the thought of being found displeasing to God.
If I’ve been drawn aside by wealth or even by nature’s splendor, count it as an offense to God. I do not even curse my enemies. I have always shown hospitality.
If I have hidden my sins… How I wish Almighty God would acknowledge me! If I have abused my land, may its fruit show it. I’m done.
• Some possible conclusions of Job:
• the workings of God are beyond human comprehension
 • “bad things” happen without “a reason”
 and that is not an indication of any injustice or malevolence or impotence of God.
• it is good and right to aim high and live in righteousness
and it is important to advocate for victims,
to be a voice and a force of good (of God) against wickedness…
to live with kindness and compassion and generosity,
to be considerate of others… 
in short, to live blamelessly.
• Job’s faith is not based on how well God has treated (“blessed”) Job
and his faith is not based on fear of hell.
Job’s faith is an unwavering trust that God is, and that God is good.
• Hymn 512 Stand By Me

Selections from Job 31
5 If I have walked with frauds or my feet have hurried to deceit,
6     let God weigh me on accurate scales; let him know my integrity.
7 If my step has turned from the way,
        if my heart has followed my eyes or a blemish has clung to my hands,
8     then let me sow and another reap; let my offspring be uprooted.
16 If I have denied what the poor wanted, made a widow’s eyes tired,
17     if I have kept my bread all for myself, and not shared any with an orphan
(18     for from my youth I raised the orphan as a father,
        and from my mother’s womb I led the widow);
19     if I ever saw someone dying without clothes, the needy naked;
20     if they haven’t blessed me fervently,
        or if they weren’t warmed by the wool from my sheep;
21     if I have lifted my hand against the orphans,
        when I saw that I had help in the city gate—
22     may my arm fall from my shoulder, my forearm be broken at the elbow—
23     for God’s calamity is terror to me; I couldn’t endure his splendor. 
24 If I’ve made gold my trust, said to fine gold: “My security!”
25     if I’ve rejoiced because my wealth was great, when my hand found plenty;
26     if I’ve looked at the sun when it shone, the moon, splendid as it moved;
27     and my mind has been secretly enticed, and threw a kiss with my hand,
28     that also is a punishable offense, because I would then be disloyal to God above.
33 If I have hidden my transgressions like Adam, concealing my offenses inside me
34     because I feared the large crowd; the clan’s contempt frightened me;
    I was quiet and didn’t venture outside.

35 Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
    mark my words, they are my own;
    let the Almighty respond,
    and let my accuser write an indictment.
36 Surely I would bear it on my shoulder,
    tie it around me like a wreath.
37 I would give him an account of my steps,
    approach him like a prince.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

God of Dogs and Catfish

God of Dogs and Catfish
From Jeremiah 1-11
with readings from chapters 1 and 2 and 4   @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk

My current Bible reading plan has me in Jeremiah 1-11.
Eleven emotional chapters, God’s heart for the people.
• Are you a dog person or cat person?
Most of US states have more dog owners than cat owners.
There are around 80 million dogs in US, and maybe 85 million cats.
Some general personality traits of dog owners: iphone, conservative, outgoing. Cat owners: android, introverts, reserved/cautious.
(from a 2015 study of 222thousand pet owners.)
I don’t know if it means anything but I began to think of God as more like a dog than a cat. God, who desperately longs to be with you, delights to please you, is sad when you’re sad. We see this God in Jeremiah 1-11.
Also consider God the lover, God the spouse, who loudly grieves that his spouse cheats on him. God’s heartbreak at the peoples’ infidelity. That’s the context of these chapters.
• In the midst of God’s heartbreak, God calls a prophet.
God’s call is not based on qualifications, but God qualifies the called.
God’s call is for the rescuing of humankind. No borders.
God is more powerful than circumstances.
• Jeremiah is great love story of God and people,
God who is able to save and who won’t quit.
• 2004 story of catfish in Kansas (check out
In 2004 Bill Driver witnessed a 50# catfish choking to death on a basketball. He was able to rescue the fish.
It’s a gospel story with these points: we choke on something we shouldn’t be eating, and it will kill us. There is a power with the desire and the ability to save us.
• Jeremiah 4:3 break up your hard rocky soil,
your unplowed ground.
What is your unplowed ground but that lifestyle God asks you to live and that promises blessing? 
We were created to live in relationship with God in the world. 
We can do so through grace of Jesus.
• Keep focus on God. Word, pray, fast, confess, commit. Return.

• Hymn 140 Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Jeremiah 1:4-10   (CEB)
4 The Lord’s word came to me:
5 “Before I created you in the womb I knew you;
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I made you a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Ah, Lord God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak
    because I’m only a child.”
7 The Lord responded,
    “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’
        Where I send you, you must go;
        what I tell you, you must say.
8 Don’t be afraid of them,
    because I’m with you to rescue you,”
        declares the Lord.
9 Then the Lord stretched out his hand,
    touched my mouth, and said to me,
    “I’m putting my words in your mouth.
10 This very day I appoint you over nations and empires,
    to dig up and pull down,
    to destroy and demolish,
    to build and plant.”     

Jeremiah 4:1-4   (CEB)
41 If you return, Israel, return to me, declares the Lord.
    If you get rid of your disgusting idols from my presence
        and wander no more,
2     and if you swear by the living God
        in truth, justice, and righteousness,
    then the nations will enjoy God’s blessings;
        they will boast about him.
3 This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to the residents of Jerusalem:
Break up your hard rocky soil;
    don’t plant among the thorns.
4 Dedicate yourselves to the Lord;
    don’t be thick-skinned,
        people of Judah and residents of Jerusalem,
    or else my anger will spread like a wildfire.
        It will burn, with no one to put it out,
        because of your evil deeds.    

Sunday, February 12, 2017

For the Love of God...

On 1 Corinthians 8:1-7, with Deuteronomy 7:6-9 and Psalm 103

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” – 1 Corinthians 8:1
“An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.” – John Wesley

This section of 1 Corinthians 8 expands on Christian action in community, specifically with respect to purchasing in the public market  food that may have been sacrificed to idols.
The argument Paul makes is that WE know that there is one God only (read verse 5 and 6) therefore eating meat that has been sacrificed, say, to the flying spaghetti monster, doesn’t matter, because if there is no FSM, then it makes no difference if meat has been sacrificed to it.
But not everyone has this knowledge – some get stuck on the notion that it would be an offense to God to eat something that’s been sacrificed to something else – and it is important that we who have knowledge not lord it over others. People with expanded knowledge should take care that they don’t exhibit superiority over others.
I’m part of a clergy discussion board on FB. Not too long ago a new pastor asked for advice about how to handle a situation where a church member wanted their baby dedicated – something The UMC does not do; in The UMC we baptize instead of “dedicate”. (please email me if you have a question about The UMC and baptism). Another clergyman replied a little curtly: “This question comes up all the time. Shouldn’t our clergy be just slightly better informed?”
His response had a sharp edge.
I would not be comfortable asking him a question.
I replied to his response that when people ask, we should answer, and that I would encourage people to ask, rather than discourage them from asking. Yes, I can wish that the question didn’t come up because our clergy had all their stuff together, but I’m not going to shame the one who asks; I’m going to help the one who asks.
Knowledge puffs up; love builds up.
An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.

I hear other pastors lately, saying their congregations are on edge, especially with respect to politics in the pulpit. That’s one of the reasons I ask for your prayers, by the way – for the personal discretion and sensitivity to separate my personal views where they may twist my theological interpretation, and for grace if and when I cross a line.
We live in interesting times. The gospel – Jesus himself – is decidedly political. Speaking truth to power, teaching a value system and a practice for interaction with people and powers. These are things that God is interested in.
And people do not want their toes to be stepped on. So much so that 1) they get offended, 2) they may retaliate, 3) they may seek to make toe-stepping-on illegal, but 4) they may be blind to the toes that are under their own feet.
All of this can be summed up in the attitude I am better than you, I am more than you, my opinion is worth more than yours. And that’s wrong, and that’s not up-building, and that’s not conducive to good relationships, and that’s not how I believe a disciple should live.
So in time of political sensitivity, how do disciples toe the line of advocating personal stance while respecting the stance of another? What’s brother John say?
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love like? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” John Welsey

Ask what is beneficial to our community?
And how can we work things out?
Consider your surroundings,
consider the Other in your community.
“But I have rights.”
Yes, you do. Be courteous anyway. Be respectful.
Seek the good of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor 10:33)
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Consider also the love of God.
We read from Psalm 103 at the beginning of the service, and I’d like you to take your hymnals out again, and turn to pages 824-825. How is God’s love described in this Psalm? Take a few minutes, scribble, chat.
Use these as models and guides.
The Lord is merciful and gracious.
Slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Works for justice and advocacy.
Compassionate. Forgiving.
Also see the last verse of our 1 Corinthians reading, “not everyone has this knowledge.”
What does Psalm 103 say about that? (verse 7: the Lord makes God’s ways known to Israel)

The love of a disciple includes these things. Mercy, grace, patience, love, justice, compassion, forgiveness, humility. May they be hallmarks in our lives of love and service.

Hymn insert: All who love and serve your city.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Valentines’ Day. Next week: Jeremiah 1-11.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?

What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?
Matthew 25:31-46 (with Luke 4:14-20 and Micah 6:1-8) @FirstUMCBville @kerrfunk
What do you want on your tombstone?
My first wife Tricia's tombstone:
daughter – sister – friend – wife – angel
For my own: “disciple” might be nice. Circuit Rider...
My hope is to be found a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
My hope is that when people interact with me they'd be drawn to Jesus.
Our public relations policy is based on attraction not promotion.
Today's Matthew passage is the last of Jesus' public teachings. Chap 26 is the pre-passion narrative. (Chapters 5-7 the Sermon on the Mount, and this passage “bookend” the gospel ministry of Jesus).
These bookends have a lot to say about how we treat people...
...with justice kindness and mercy
• “we” are individuals
and First Church
and The UMC
and WVians and Americans
and our actions go beyond us.
Jesus said in Matthew 12 that a tree shall be known by its fruit.
My hope is that through my/our actions other people would be drawn to Christ, who is uniquely able to save (a la Luke/Isaiah passage)
and who bids us to follow.
And who, according to this passage, measures us at the end.
Your tombstone is your fruit.
Be known for what you stand for, not what you stand against.
Henri Nouwen (20th century Catholic priest and theologian from the Netherlands)
Did I offer peace today?
Did I bring a smile to someone's face?
Did I say words of healing?
Did I let go of my anger and resentment?
Did I forgive?
Did I love?
These are the real questions.

Jesus invites us to come to the table

into Communion liturgy

Matthew 25:31-46 NRSV

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”