Tuesday, November 24, 2015

God's Party for the Poor

God’s Party for the Poor”
Thanksgiving Day or the First Sunday of Advent
Deuteronomy 14:22-27, Luke 6:27-38
By Bill Cotton 

“If the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to bring the tithe...you shall turn it into money, and bind the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord chooses, and spend the money for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves; you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.”
Deut. 14-27

The frost is on the pumpkins and the maple trees have a fire in their hair. And for the most part, the harvest is finished. The corn crop is so great that it is piled on the ground as the grain bins overflow. And we approach Thanksgiving—a national holiday not somehow related to war and violence—for that alone, I give thanks. Let’s face it, we may overplay the noble Pilgrim, but the facts of that time cannot be ignored. Ten years following the landing at Plymouth, here is what Gov. Bradford said:
“They had no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain them, or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or towns to repair to...Savages when they first met them were ready to fill their sides with arrows...”

Persecuted in England, unhappy in Holland, the pilgrims walked up the gangplank of the Mayflower and sailed to a place they would name Plymouth. Within six months after arriving, half the passengers were dead. In the first spring the Indians taught them how to grow maize (corn), and fertilize it with fish. They, in turn, invited the Indians to share the food the Indians had taught them how to grow and the wild turkey they had taught them to hunt. The story is true and we ought to give thanks for the folks who never gave up or gave in.

The Pilgrims sometimes get a bad reputation. Despite H. L. Mencken’s defining a Pilgrim as a person haunted by the fear that somewhere, someone might be happy, there is also the rest of the story. 
Those of us who are busy building budgets and collecting pledges should follow the Pilgrim notion of the tithe. They took literally the Hebrew notion that the tithe is given so that God may throw a party for the dispossessed.  See Deut. 14:22-27.
I read this passage with new eyes for the first time this year and was indeed shocked. So here is the deal: God wishes for the poor to be included in the celebration of life. 
Think of the tithe as something of the tip that you provide in order that the underpaid waitress who works two lousy paying jobs might have a bit more—indeed, the poor who are always with us need a party too.
We United Methodists need to be about the business of including everyone at God’s Party because that is the real meaning of Thanksgiving. After you fill out the pledge card this year in your church—add a tip—ten percent is a good start. I note on the financial sheet that my church treasurer sends there is a place for extra giving—that could be for God’s Party with the Dispossessed.
Prayer: God, I still spend too much time trying to figure out how much of our income belongs to you. But I have also discovered that I never miss the money that I give away. Where are you leading me, Lord?  Amen
 Please Note:  I found some of the material for this MEMO  on pages 379 ff. The Collected Sermons by William Sloane Coffin, Vol. 1.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

On this day before Thanksgiving, I want you to know that I give thanks for you, the people of First United Methodist Church.

Thank you for your commitment to Christ lived out in the many ways you participate in our church. Thank you for showing up for worship, and for engaging your faith in small groups and for your ministries within our church and in the community and beyond.

Thank you for giving the money that makes those ministries possible. Thank you for the time you give to our church. Thank you for sharing your talents. We have an incredibly gifted church.

Thank you for the experience of watching a dream of Lyn Evan’s become a reality beyond our wildest dreams. There are many, many wonderful ministries in and through our church, some of which I know about and many that I will never know about. All of them are important and I thank you for each and every one. I name the community meal because I think that God surprised us all in the ways this has impacted so many – especially us!

I think that we have a great staff. Thank you for the ways that you support and care for our staff. And to each of you staff members: thank you with all my heart. You are amazing.

Thank you when you are willing to disagree without being disagreeable; when you have the courage to love alike even when we don’t think alike. Thank you for welcoming people who are different than you. Thank you for forgiving each other and for forgiving me. Thank you for persevering when times are difficult and faith is challenging.

Thank you for hugs and teasing. Thank you for laughter. Thank you for words of encouragement. You will never know how much that means to me.

Thank you for being the church. I can’t think of a better group of people to journey with.

Happy Thanksgiving!


A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have arrived at Advent and a new Christian liturgical year.  The primary Gospel text for this year (December through November of 2016) is St. Luke.  Advent is four weeks long or at least four Sundays long.  The theme of this liturgical season is “Prepare.”  Prepare for what?  The coming of the Lord in power to reclaim the world back into the Kingdom of God.  So, this week’s Gospel reading from St. Luke (Luke 21:25-36) tells us to “be alert” and to “be on guard.”
For most of us, we think of this as “Christmas time.”  That is pretty understandable given the needs of our economy and culture.  To rail against that is a waste of time and energy; yet it is a part of the “be alert” idea.  Be alert to what we are told by culture Christmas is about and what our faith tells us Christmas time is.  As very much a part of this culture of “Christmas” we know what preparations are needed.  We need to be on guard that we not succumb to the idea that’s all it is the only preparation that matters.  What we do to celebrate the “Season” is important and valuable.  Family, friends, co-workers are all valuable and important.  It is good we make a time during the year to thank them, be with them, gift them in some way.  John Wesley reminds us “all in moderation.”  All of that adds to the goodness and pleasure of life.  I think life is God’s sweetest blessing to us.

The preparation that faith invites us toward is the preparation to be a part of God’s kingdom.  Said differently, we are invited to be a part of God’s salvation and healing of the world.  We are to prepare ourselves spiritually to live and be a part of that kingdom.  How?  To be alert to injustice and move toward justice; to be aware of the great need for compassion for so many people suffering and to move toward addressing needs as we can; to be on guard for the need for forgiveness and its abundant source—forgiveness for ourselves, those we know well, forgiveness for those who scare us.  We are asked to be alert to God’s desire to bring all of us into endemic harmony with all of creation and with God.  We are asked to be peacemakers for we already carry the sobriquet “child of God.”  We are to make peace, first within ourselves and then in every dimension of our own personal world.  Deep within we sense how difficult this is and how much healing is needed.  I believe that is why it takes a lifetime.  Maybe that is the deeper reason that every time Advent comes around, we gird up our loins and embrace the task…again.  Perhaps the greatest preparation of all is to not lose hope in God’s promise to be with us—Emmanuel—and to allow ourselves to be a part of this great generous act of salvation.  God is determined and all of God’s creation is the target of that divine Desire.  Only God is big enough, generous enough, and determined enough to save his world.  Be alert.  Be on guard.  It is happening as we breathe.
                                                           Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

The carnage in Paris was shocking and horrifying. Last week, ISIS suicide bombers also wreaked havoc in Beirut and Kenya. Their brutality in the Middle East is beyond comprehension. Desperate refugees from Syria and Afghanistan have flooded Europe. Now every Syrian refugee is perceived as a threat. What is a Christian response?

Jesus makes it clear that the way of God’s kingdom is the way of peace and non-violence and compassion. “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword,” he says. “Love your enemy,” he reminds us. The God he reveals to us is a God who stands against violence and destruction. To commit acts of violence in the name of God is blasphemy. These acts of violence are to be condemned. They are wrong. They must be stopped.

Let’s be clear that those who commit such acts are not living by Muslim tenets. They are extremists who are perverting Muslim sacred scripture. We know from experience that Christian extremists (think Hitler) can also cause great carnage in the world. Hitler was not a representative of our faith. Muslim extremists are not representative of the Muslim faith.

How we respond to those who are Muslim is important. How we speak of the Muslim faith is important. Muslims are not our enemy. If you want an example of someone who was courageous in condemning violent words toward Muslims, take a look at Aaron Rodger’s response after the Green Bay Packer game on Sunday: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/nfl-quarterback-aaron-rodgers-calls-012211402.html#Bgoq6GB. He’s right: violent language fuels violent actions. It is a living out of our faith to offer people of all religions, including Muslims, respect and dignity. All are made in the image of God.

Currently, my son Christian is in Florence, Italy, for the semester through the ISU study abroad program. His sisters Katie and Alyssa will fly there for Thanksgiving with him. I am working hard to not be anxious over security issues. I can understand why finding a Syrian refugee passport beside one of the Paris suicide bombers has elicited fear and the loud sounds of doors closing here and in Europe. We are terrified. That’s what terrorists do.

Certainly screening and security measures for refugees need to be in place. Yet we as Christians cannot overlook the great suffering of those who have left their country in search of safety and a new life. Over and over and over in scripture, God tells us to care for the stranger and alien, i.e. immigrant. Jesus told a story about the Good Samaritan that makes it clear who our neighbor is – anyone who is suffering. That story was told in the context of obedience to two commandments: Love God and love neighbor. Matthew 25 reminds us that the face of Jesus is found in the hungry, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, the thirsty. Our Christian faith does not allow us to be passive in the face of human suffering. Smart, yes. But not passive.

These are complex issues that demand what John Wesley called “holy conversation.” Holy conversation isn’t about talking at each other. It is about talking to each other, trusting that the Holy Spirit will lead us and guide us. Holy conversation invites us to move beyond a fearful response to a faithful response – together.

May it be so.

On the journey with you,


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Discipleship is a relationship. It is not about fixing people or things. (Jesus never said, “Follow me and I will fix you.”)  Discipleship is about living together in sacred situations. It is about loving God and others, not in theory, but in relationship.

It used to be that the pathway to discipleship was being born into a Christian family and landing on a conveyor belt that carried a person from the cradle roll to involvement in the church that was life-long. Today, the demographics have changed. The old methods and models are no longer effective. So how exactly do people become disciples of Jesus Christ?

These are the questions that are being asked on the district and conference levels of the church. Our district superintendent Harlan Gillespie and our field outreach minister Katharine Yarnell posed these questions at our Charge Conference November 2. Harlan said that for the people of ancient Israel, faith was not understood to be settled. When people get settled in their faith, they start putting their trust in themselves. Faith was understood to be a pilgrimage, a journey, on the move. That is how we learn to trust God. That is how our souls are exercised.

How about you? Do you have a settled faith that is comfortable? Or are you willing to engage the journey? If you are willing to engage the journey, it looks like taking the next step of faith. For example, if you gather for worship once a month, taking the next step might be gathering for worship twice a month. If you gather for worship faithfully unless you are sick or out of town, the next step might be getting involved in a small group. If you are part of a small group, the next step might be doing a mission project together. If you are giving 2% of your income to God through the church, the next step might be giving 3%. If you are participating in a mission project, the next step might be talking with someone about God at work in your life and inviting them to come worship with you. Do you get the picture?

We will wrestle with this question in 2016. The leadership of our church invites us to consider: What does it mean to be a member of First United Methodist Church? How do people deepen their faith in our church? What is the path of discipleship for us? How do we need to be more intentional?

In other words, how are the people of First UMC living out being the church?

You are invited to be part of the conversation – and the journey!

On the journey with you,


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

In the African-American culture, to undertake a journey is to receive sight, revelation or growth. This is a process, a change in perspective, from where the journey began. This change is not just physical. It is mental and spiritual as well. A change in perspective requires openness. It requires a willingness to learn and to be impacted by the journey.

In our readings from Mark this fall, Jesus and the disciples are on a journey. They are on their way to Jerusalem. It is no accident that the journey begins and ends with stories of Jesus healing the blind. (See Mark 8:22-26 and Mark 10:46-52.) This blindness that Jesus heals is not just physical. It is the healing that Jesus offers that brings sight, revelation and growth to his followers. Of course, the same disciples who scold him about what it means to be the Messiah, who chase children away from him, who argue about who is the greatest, will desert him in Jerusalem. Sight, revelation and growth are available through the One who travels with them on the journey. They just can’t see it.

And what is that healing? It is to follow Jesus on the Way. When Jesus says to the blind man, “Your faith has made you well,” Jesus isn’t talking about the embrace of a belief system. Jesus is talking about a way of life; the way of living that reflects Jesus’ Way of living.

What is that Way? What heals us?

By the grace of God, we refuse to let fear run our lives. We refuse to put ourselves and our agenda and preferences first. We refuse words and actions that harm ourselves and others.

By the grace of God, we practice forgiveness, including forgiveness of our enemies, which means in reality that we don’t have enemies. We practice compassion, which is a willingness to see the image of God in all people and all of creation, and to work for the well-being of all. We practice peace within ourselves and peace in our interactions with others. We share who we are and what we have with those in need.

In other words, we love God by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

The United Methodist mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That transformation begins with you and me and radiates into the world. And how are we transformed? We follow the Way of Jesus on this exciting, exhausting, challenging, joyful, life-giving journey through life. In the process, we are healed.

On the journey with you,


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

I want to give you some updates on what’s happening at our church:

We will have Sunday school this Sunday. The Service Master fans and cords are out of the church, hallways are clear and we are back in business. The only Sunday school class that has been displaced is Duane Kruckenberg’s class. They will meet at Les and Diane Meier’s home this coming Sunday. The nursery is temporarily upstairs. Otherwise, all other classes will be in their same location.

The trustees are working hard to get the main floor back in order. In the next two weeks, new carpet will be laid in some rooms, other carpets will be shampooed and the tile in front of the elevator repaired. The repairs on the lower floor, particularly the youth room, will take longer. Our insurance company has been helpful. We have such a capable group of people on the trustee committee and in our church. We are fortunate indeed.

Angela Jass has been hired to do ten hours of custodial work per week. This is for three weeks. At Church Council last night, the decision was made to pay Lori Kahler for twenty hours of work per week so that she has a source of income as she recovers from her illness. (Lori was working thirty hours per week and that is what has been budgeted. Her sick and vacation time has been used up.)  This gives Lori three weeks to see what assistance she qualifies for, as well as find out if she is able to work and, if so, under what restrictions. You might see her unlocking the church in the morning and locking up at night. This gets her out and walking. (Just what the doctor ordered!) She is very grateful for the care of the church. Please continue to hold her in your prayers.

Meanwhile, wonderful ministry is happening. Four young people were confirmed last Sunday amidst beautiful music and prayers and a caring congregation. Wednesday meals feed a community of people. Next Sunday, World Communion Sunday will be celebrated and little Colt Carmichael will be baptized at the 11:00 service. Life in our community of faith has its challenges, but it is also deeply rich and rewarding. I’m so glad you are part of the team!

On the journey with you,