Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A MId-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lenten journey has come now to an end.  We have arrived in Jerusalem and have entered the very center of the reasons for Jesus’ criticisms and objections.  Jesus now brings to bear all his strength and focus on God’s vision of the Kingdom.  But, of course, he is arrested, tried, convicted, tortured and executed.  That brings us to this weekend—Easter weekend.  All four Gospels in the New Testament report what happened after Jesus was crucified.  The report we will hear this weekend will be St. Mark’s report.
It is important to note that all four of the Gospels report the events after Jesus’ crucifixion a little differently, at a different angle as it were.  Matthew’s report carries much joy; Luke’s seems more focused on disbelief; John’s gospel seems to reflect confusion and disbelief.  Mark’s report uses words like “alarm,” “terror,” “dread,” and “afraid” in the verses that will be read this weekend.  Biblical scholars and other people of faith have noted more than one “ending” to Mark’s gospel.  There seems to be general agreement that verses 1-8 of chapter 16 were likely the original conclusion of Mark’s story.  For many people this is a most unsatisfactory conclusion.  At some time more concluding verses were added—verses 9-20.  This weekend’s reading concludes with verse 8.
With this conclusion, we are told that the women who came to the tomb found it absent of Jesus’ corpus.  Instead they saw a young man and, upon hearing his message, fled in fear and terror.  And so the Gospel ends in fearful disciples and in silence.  We who claim Christ as Lord and Savior know quite well that not only does the story not end, it goes on for 2000 years!  Indeed, as you read this, it is still growing and going in God’s world.  The Easter season lasts 50 days every year and the Church takes n the task of proclaiming the resurrection truth.  We seek to offer the joy of new life; to dispel the fear those first disciples felt in Mark’s Gospel.  We strive particularly to counter the disbelief and confusion found in Luke’s and John’s stories.  We will spend the next 50 days focused on those things that are wrapped up in this amazing, life-giving mystery of God called the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
It is not our need to explain this mystery.  We are called to proclaim it and witness to it.  The struggles with proclamation and witness those first heralds encountered, we still encounter.  Yet we are unfailing in our task an can only trust God to give the gift of faith. 
Blessed Easter!

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Someone said to me this morning at the Dale Howard Family Activity Center, “How’s your Super Bowl week going?” It made me laugh. This is indeed Super Bowl week in the church. Or Super Soul week, as the case may be.

This is Holy Week, the week that we focus on the final events of Jesus’ life. These events become for us a template, a guide, a model for walking through our own suffering. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our hero, who shows us the Way and is with us each step of the Way.

One of the most poignant moments in scripture is Jesus’ betrayal by his friend Judas. Judas walks up to Jesus and betrays him in the most intimate way possible – with a kiss. Anyone who has ever been betrayed by a friend, by someone they love, can feel that punch to the gut. Betrayal is painful and shattering. Betrayal by someone you have trusted is devastating.

So what can we learn from the Way of Jesus? Jesus doesn’t say or act like betrayal is acceptable. In fact, he speaks honestly to Judas. “Betrayal with a kiss? Seriously?!?” (My paraphrase from Luke 22:48). To speak our truth in love is essential.

The Way of Jesus in response to betrayal, however, does not include violence. One of Jesus’ followers drew a sword and cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest. “Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51). Speaking the truth in love is not violent or insulting or vindictive. It is not plotting revenge or engaging in physical violence. The Prince of Peace does not respond to betrayal with violence. Nor do his followers.

Jesus has taught his followers to love enemies and pray for those who persecute. From the cross, Jesus shows us how that is done. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:32). He never says what they are doing is okay. He asks for forgiveness for them, releasing them from the punishment they deserve and releasing himself from all desire for vengeance. Sometimes, when I have been deeply hurt by the betrayal of others, it comforts me that Jesus says, “Father, forgive,” rather than “I forgive.” I may not be yet able to forgive another, but I can indeed pray for God to forgive them. Not for them. For me, and the healing of my soul.

This is Super Soul week. Walk with Jesus to the cross. Learn from his Way. And trust that, in ways that you can’t anticipate, God has something wonderfully unexpected in store for you.

On the journey with you,

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

I have been pondering the wisdom of Joan Chittister in her new book The Way of the Cross. Chittister, a Roman Catholic nun, says that the events of the last days of Jesus are our guide, our model, our example for dealing with the difficulties and challenges of life. Jesus, in his suffering, shows us how we can, by the grace of God, lose everything and still win by virtue of going on.

For example, when Jesus is condemned, according to Chittister, he shows us the way of faith in the face of loneliness and abandonment. Everyone will, at some point in time, experience accusation; times when it is difficult to share openly with family; times when people we love don’t understand us. Jesus shows us what it is in those situations to carry our cross (i.e. continue to live our faith through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness) and keep picking ourselves up, again and again and again. Jesus shows us how to keep going on.

Lent is a season of truth-telling about ourselves, about our relationship with God and our relationship with others. Truth-telling is difficult, painful work. As Jesus enters Jerusalem, he knows full well that he is moving toward pain, suffering and death. Yet instead of running away, he continues to move toward the pain. This is the Way of Jesus.

Sometimes we move toward the pain by having difficult but necessary conversations with other people. Sometimes we move toward the pain by getting the counseling we have needed for a long time. Sometimes we move toward the pain by turning away from old patterns that are damaging ourselves and others. (Those old patterns might look like gossip or addictions or overwork or anger issues or spending too much money. You get the idea…) The Way of Jesus is the exact opposite of sweeping issues and problems under the carpet. The Way of Jesus is honest and vulnerable. It takes a great deal of courage. So much courage that we can’t do it on our own.

In the most recent issue of Christian Century magazine, David Keck shares an image that I find strengthening and comforting. He says that several years ago, he was in a cathedral in Manila. There he saw a life-sized crucifix. It was a painted wooden image between 200 and 300 years old that shows Jesus hanging limply from the cross, nearing the end of life. He is clearly suffering.

Keck says that everywhere on the wood, the paint is old and cracked – except the knees. There was no paint there, which made him wonder if maybe the statue had been damaged in some way. Then he saw a simply dressed Filipina woman approach the crucifix and reverently, tenderly put her hand on Jesus’ knee while she bowed her head and stood silently. Then she left.

The Way of Jesus is a promise that even in the darkest days of our lives, God is at work to bring newness and life in ways that surprise us. But in the midst of those dark days, when we are hurting mightily, we bow our heads in silence. We reach out and tenderly put our hand on Jesus’ knee.

On the Lenten journey with you,

Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This coming weekend is Palm Sunday weekend.  That signals the beginning of Holy Week, the last week of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  That week is the most important week of the Christian year as it encompasses the critical events of Jesus’ life.  Those events are two-fold:
1) They clearly were of immense importance to Jesus because of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
2) They clearly were of immense importance to the Church of Jesus the Christ as they are the theological lynch pins for our faith’s understanding and meaning and mission.
Because of their critical importance and because the Church has reflected on those events for about 2,000 years, it is not too surprising to learn that the interpretation of those events have undergone metamorphosis and development over those 2,000 years.  It is safe to say that for Christians that reflective work on the last week will never cease.  Human beings reflect on events like these in conjunction with life experiences.  As life experiences grow, develop,, and transpire, we receive new perspectives to this critical week in order to fully mime the divine mystery we know as Holy Week.
God is still working in our world.  God is still revealing insights and deep awareness to humankind.  That’s why our understanding grows and develops.  God may well be the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but human beings are ever developing and our understanding of everything grows with us.  So, as we develop new awareness, we see (more clearly what God was doing, is doing, and learn to trust even more what God will be doing.
I figure that our growth is moving ever more toward the reality that is God.  We can only hope to see the divine imperative of love for creation.  So Holy Week is experienced in many and sundry ways.  Suffice it to say that Jesus’ actions and purpose were in accord with his vision of God’s claim on his life.  Jesus was heroic, courageous, and faithful.  Holy week is a liturgical re-creation of the painful events of that week.
Palm Sunday tells us of Jesus entering the very center of his enemies’ territory.  Maundy Thursday shows us the way of service and love.  Good Friday is Jesus’ faith and trust in God even in the midst of pain and doubt.  That story is the culmination of Jesus’ ministry and faith.  We observe it with awe, reverence, respect, and love.  And it brings us life.                 
                                                                            Pastor Jeff Blackman

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Message from Bishop Julius C Trimble

March 13, 2015
It is time for all of us to respond more vigorously to the mental health crisis in the state of Iowa. 
On Thursday, March 19, the National Alliance on Mental Illness will be at the State Capitol educating legislators about the importance of mental health services and the need for an adequately funded and staffed adult and children’s mental health system. Registration is at 8:30 am and the rally and speakers will be from 9:30-11:00 am.
As I write this, the Des Moines metro area is grieving the loss of two middle school children who committed suicide this past month and the death of a veteran who had requested psychological assistance for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who had been told there would be a several week wait before he could see a counselor. Questions remain as to what more could have been done. There is no question that more should have been done.  
This is just the tip of the iceberg:
•  1 in 4 persons experiences a mental health issue in America1
•  1 in 10 children experience a period of major depression2
•  Approximately 123,000 (4.1%) people in Iowa live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression 3
•  Iowa should have a least 1,500 psychiatric beds for the severely mentally ill; we only have 7504
•  In the past five years, we have closed 80 psychiatric beds, leaving only 10 dedicated psychiatric beds in Des Moines for all of Iowa’s veterans5

There are approximately 80,000 youth in Iowa with Severe Emotional Disorder6; in other words, children who have mental illness. The statistics are numbing: 
•  50% of students over age 14 who have a mental illness will drop out of school7
•  70% of youth in the juvenile justice systems have a mental illness8
•  90% of those who die by suicide have a mental illness 9
•  Only 20% of children with mental illness are identified and receive services10 
Iowa is 44th in the nation for number of psychiatric providers per person11. We are short of not only psychiatrists, but psychiatric nurses, psychiatric nurse practitioners and other psychiatric providers. The care of psychiatric patients will not get better until the workforce problem is taken care of. 
We deplore the fact that with the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, we have traded treatment in mental health institutions for warehousing the mentally ill in prisons. There are nearly 3,000 mentally ill inmates in Iowa’s prisons.12   
In 2013, Iowa recorded the largest number of suicides in our state’s history—445. 13 There is a major crisis of care in Iowa. Mental illness affects all of us. We all need to respond.
The United Methodist Church has a strong legacy of responding to the physical and mental health needs of all people. Our model is Jesus who had compassion and healed those besieged by mental illness.  
It is imperative that we, in Iowa, as a community which seeks excellence in all aspects of health—physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental—put our best efforts into improving our mental health system. Treatment must be available, timely, humane and affordable.  Therapists and counselors must be present in sufficient numbers so that those who are experiencing a mental health crisis are able to receive prompt attention. Psychiatric beds must be abundant to provide safe places for those who need inpatient care.  Insurance and other funding streams need to be adequate to provide needed services for those with mental illness.
We applaud the workers who provide essential care to those in need. We applaud the redesign efforts of the state to move toward community based (regional) mental health services. We encourage all those who are seeking to provide excellent services. We call upon all Iowans to support financially, spiritually and emotionally the people suffering from the variety of conditions we call mental illness.    
May our witness be helpful to legislators as we all seek to do our part to be compassionate and comprehensive in our care for those who need us the most. Please be a part of the solution on Thursday, March 19 at the State Capitol where we can inform legislators about the dire need for adequate funding and staffing for Iowa’s mental health system. Let us unite in facing this crisis together and rededicate ourselves to excellence of care for all with mental illness.
Be encouraged,
Bishop Julius C. Trimble

1U.S. National Alliance of Mental Health
2National Alliance on Mental Illness Des Moines, National Alliance on Mental Illness
3National Alliance on Mental Illness Des Moines, National Alliance on Mental Illness
4Veterans National Recovery Center for Homeless and PTSD Distressed, Inc.
5Veterans National Recovery Center for Homeless and PTSD Distressed, Inc.
6According to the US Census Bureau in 2013 the population of Iowa was 3,090,416 and in 2011 23.6% of Iowa.
7U.S. Department of Education, Twenty-third annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, Washington D.C. 2001.
8Teplin, L. Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 59, December 2002.
9Shaffer, D., & Craft, L. “Methods of Adolescent Suicide Prevention.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60 [Suppl. 2], 70-74, 1999.
10U.S. Public Heath Service, Report to the Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health: A National Action Agenda, Washington, D.C.: Department of Health and Human Services, 2000.
11National Alliance of Mental Illness Des Moines
12Iowa State Senator Rob Hogg - Senate District 33
13National Alliance of Mental Illness Des Moines

MId-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
On this, the fifth week of Lent, Jesus starts to explain the crucifixion John 12:20-30) to his disciples.  I think that the gospel of John is not easy to understand.  The Gospel has all sorts of subtle meanings that are easy to miss.  In that Gospel certain phrases have particular meaning apart from the obvious.  One example of this is the phrase “the world.”  As I have studied this phrase, it’s deep implications became a little clearer.  “The world” in John’s gospel usually does not mean God’s original creation.  It does not mean nature.  It does not mean love and hope or relationships of love.  Rather, it means, when used in a way of contrast, that part of life has been moved away from the values of God’s kingdom, or what the Gospel of John calls “eternal life.”
“The world” in John’s gospel is that part of life that seeks to exploit and dominate people.  It is that part of life that acts out might, not right.  It acts in selfish determination to keep the status quo because that part of life, i.e. the world, benefits greatly from it.  Some folks have called it “the system.”  Others have used the phrase: “What can you do?  It’s the way it is.”  This part of the way it is, is big, powerful, and has clout and doesn’t care about justice or fairness.  “The world” is that set of values and circumstances that make many people feel that they have no chance to be recognized, much less heard.  Charles Campbell explains this term writing “The ‘world’ is a super-human reality, concretely embodied in structures and institutions, that aggressively shapes human life and seeks to hold human beings captive to its ways.”
The primary characteristic of the “world” is violence, and not just physical violence.  The big story of this understanding of “the world” is the thought and behavior that demonstrates that “the way to bring order out of chaos is through violently defeating ‘the other.’”  Campbell writes, “and the way to deal with threats from enemies is by violently eliminating them—as the System seeks to do to Jesus.”
Jesus didn’t want to die it seems.  But his whole mission from God was to proclaim the Kingdom of God or what St. John’s Gospel calls eternal life.  Jesus’ mission of non-violent life and kingdom values comes smack up against the world.  And so Jesus is crucified because his world, his kingdom, eternal life is not this world. “This is what happens on the cross,” Campbell writes, “Jesus exposes the System, and by exposing it he judges it and casts out its ruler.”  In simple parlance—Jesus is victorious!  “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also (John 12:26a).  And so we march on to Jerusalem right along with Jesus.
                                                              Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
All three of the scripture readings for this weekend are easily tied together.  The first reading is from Torah, Numbers 21:4-9, and tells the story of disobedience and sin of people, as well as of consequences and God’s healing.  The reading from Ephesians 2:1-10 also talks about our sin and disobedience and consequences.  This passage also described God’s mercy and salvation.  The third reading is from the Gospel of St. John (John 3:14-21) and contains the very familiar “John 3:16,” which also discusses sin and judgment.  Many are familiar with John 3:16 for lots of reasons (TV football games not the least of them!) but are often unfamiliar with the context.  The context is the story of a conversation with Nicodemus.  As is typical, Nicodemus misunderstands what Jesus is saying.
The gospel of John connects the passage from Numbers with the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection by equating God’s direction to Moses to put a snake on a pole as a sign of God’s compassion for those who will understand.  The Gospel of John makes the same connection of Jesus crucified on the cross.  The issue is not just seeing the snake on the pole or Jesus on the cross, but understanding the saving power in it.  The Gospel of John goes on to explain that it was not Jesus’ “job” to condemn people or judge them:  people judge themselves by preferring themselves and their desires to preferring the world of God.  John described it as loving darkness more than the light.  Numbers describes it as speaking against God, not trusting.  Even in Ephesians the understanding is that God’s salvation is a gift, undeserved, no accomplishment.  It has to do with seeing what God is about and then living it out.  Seeing the light is seeing God’s compassionate nature and responding in love to being loved.  Sin, separation from God by having a great preoccupation with one’s self, prevents us from seeing and leads us to a path away from God.  For God loved us and calls us; still calls us to see love and have life and it eternal.

                                                                                                          Pastor Jeff Blackman