Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.


This weekend is the final weekend of the Easter season for this year.  The passage from the Gospel is again from St. John the Evangelist.  The story is the promise of the Holy Spirit for the believers.  The Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as the Advocate, or the Companion, or the Comforter.  Jesus says this Holy Spirit will be sent by God in Jesus’ name.  The purpose of the Spirit is to “teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you” John 14:26.


This 14th chapter of John is part of what is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.  Last week Jesus tells the disciples he must go and they cannot go with him.  This is troubling for the disciples.  Peter promises to be resolute in staying with Jesus throughout the “crisis.”  Jesus tells him that he will not be able to do so.  Then, in chapter 14, Jesus says those words which are so familiar:  ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…” John 14:1-2ff.  Jesus is still trying to comfort and encourage them as the chapter continues.
Toward  the end of the chapter, Jesus returns to the new commandment he gave them to love each other.  He says whoever loves him will keep his word and it is God’s word that they will be keeping.  Then Jesus says that they will have a holy Companion—the Holy Spirit—to be with them forever and that the disciples are gifted with the peace of Jesus.


It would seem something of a natural progression to go from loving each other, the reception of the Holy Spirit, to receiving peace.  Jesus tells them (and now us) that this peace is not like the peace the world talks about.  That peace is more often the ending of a particular bit of violence which then brings temporary relief.  The peace that Jesus gives is a peace that comes from within ourselves.  This peace is the peace of God’s kingdom—justice, compassion, forgiveness, and, of course, love.  When one keeps Jesus “word,” peace is the result because keeping his word puts you right into the Kingdom of God:  what the Gospel of John calls eternal life.  So keeping Jesus’ word means loving God and neighbor.  That love is the very soul of the Holy Spirit.  And the gift of the Holy Spirit is peace which gives one a recognition of eternal life with God.  Let not your hearts be troubled.

                                                      Pastor Jeff Blackman


 

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet. Judas has left to betray Jesus. The disciples lean in. Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

One commandment. One law. One litmus test for discipleship. Love.

Love is not about an emotion. Love is about words and actions that express concern for the well-being of the other.

There is a story in Isak Dinesen’s book Out of Africa about a boy named Kitau. He appeared at the author’s door one day to ask for a job as a domestic servant. She hired him but was surprised when after three months he asked her for a letter of recommendation to Sheik Ali bin Salim, a Muslim who lived in a nearby town. Dinesen offered to raise Kitau’s pay in order to keep him, but money was not his interest. Kitau had decided to become either a Christian or a Muslim, and his purpose in working for Dinesen had been to see, up close, the way a Christian lived. Now that he had worked for Dinesen and seen the ways of Christians, he would go and observe Sheik Ali to see how Muslims behave; then he would decide. The author remembers how she wished Kitau had told her that before he came to live with her.

What is the message of your words and actions today? Is it love?

On the journey with you,

Carol

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Change a Child's Story

Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ!
 
Change a Child’s Story has developed into thousands of stories all across the Iowa Conference and the North Central District. In significant ways, changing a child’s story through sharing books and the gift of reading together is changing our stories as the Body of Christ.
 
Here’s a few things we want you to be aware of for the NCD Conference and for the Iowa Annual Conference about Change a Child’s Story:
 
At the NC District Conference on May 1 we will be celebrating the stories that you and others will bring about your church’s ministry of giving books and the gift of reading. Be ready to briefly share with others the joy of Change a Child’s Story as we move toward the goal of 1 million books and 1 million hours of reading across Iowa by June, 2017. Be ready to share a bit of what your church has pledged for books and hours of ready, what you’ve received and what and where the books have been given and where the hours of reading have been taking place. No matter where you and others are on the journey of Change a Child’s Story, either getting ready to begin or along the path somewhere, we can celebrate what God shall, is, and has been doing!
 
At Annual Conference every church will be given the opportunity to log the number of pledges of books and hours of reading and the number of books and hours of reading that have already been given. At this point in time, we understand there may be a chart for every church to post this information as a way of visually seeing what God is doing. Plan on coming to Annual Conference with this information ready to share.
 
Go to iaumc.org and click on “Change a Child’s Story.” This will take you to the website link where you can find the pledge information. If you’ve not done this yet, please download it and record the information you presently have. Please note the link on the left hand side of the page: “Churches Pledging to Change a Child’s Story.” Churches who have already logged in their pledge are listed. Note the “suggested goal” listed. This is a figure based upon the average worship attendance of your church in 2014 X 10. This suggested goal will get us to a collective goal of 1 million books and 1 million hours of reading. Your church may have a different goal in mind. The main thing is to share in the goal for the good of a child and God’s love for every child!
 
Notice that many churches to date have pledged but have not yet logged in a specific goal. Some churches have not yet set a goal but have already collected hundreds of books and given many hours of reading! Great work, people of God!
 
We encourage you to update your church’s information for Change a Child’s Story as soon as possible, hopefully, before District or Annual Conference. If you need assistance, please contact any one of us; and we will help you as quickly as possible.
 
One more request: Have you found that God had given you a deep passion for Change a Child’s Story? If so, we need a few people to help coordinate Change a Child’s Story on the NC District and work with the Conference Team that is heading up Change a Child’s Story. A member of the Conference Team will be at the NC District Conference on May 1. We can make the connection and you can help us take Change a Child’s Story to a new level of God’s love for children.
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Katharine Yarnell, Alanna Warren, and Harlan Gillespie
 
North Central District Ministry Tream
Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church
 
katharine.yarnell@iaumc.org
alanna.warren@iaumc.org
harlan.gillespie@iaumc.org
North Central District Office: (515) 832-2784
 

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers


Dear Friends,

Once again we watch horrifying news reports of devastation, this time in Japan and Ecuador after being rocked by unrelated earthquakes. If you wish to make a donation to relief efforts, 100% of what you give through the United Methodist Church goes to people in need through United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Just mark your donation accordingly.

To see such human suffering begs the question, “Where is God?” I think that Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian pastor, had it right when he told children that when they are frightened and don’t know where to turn to look for the helpers. It is in the helpers that we see God.

The following poem written, by Maren Tirabassi and entitled “For Ecuador and for Japan” captures that understanding:

God is in the bee and the monarch,
but God is not in the earthquake.

God is in the rescuers
sifting through Pedernales debris,
digging through Kumamoto mudslides,
but God is not in the earthquake.

God is in the child saved
under the hotel,
the car hanging from the broken road
the aid sent, the dogs searching,
and the quirky salvation of social media,
but – not in Ecuador, not in Japan,
not in Christchurch, not in Haiti—
is God in the earthquake.

God is in the prayers of the world
for you, our friends,
for God is never in the winds
or hurricane, tsunami,
tornado, storm,
never in wild fires or war fires.

God walks today
where earthquake has been.
God walks with broken heart
and still small voice.

On the journey with you,

Carol

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes the readings from the lectionary are full of stories or concepts that seem overwhelming in their importance to us of the faith.  This weekend’s readings would fall into that category.  The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 11:1-18.  It is the story of Peter being told in a vision to alter his understanding of some of the food regulations of Judiasm as a medium for the mission of the Apostles to move toward the Gentiles.  Very important directional change for most of us!
The second reading from the Greek (New) Testament is the profoundly powerful story of St. John of Patmos seeing “a new heaven and a new earth, words that come from Revelation 21:1a.  Like last week’s choice of the 23rd Psalm, this passage (Rev. 21:1-6) is also a great favorite passage for reading and comfort at Christian funerals.  Briefly, it is the clear statement from St. John of Patmos that, at the right time in God’s plan, God will live with those who sought to follow Christ.  It is a comforting, consoling, and urgent promise of God’s faithfulness to believers.  The old passes away and God is making all things new.  Death will be no more and all of the pains of life will be gone.  This is the reign of God fulfilled in both heaven and earth as the new Jerusalem comes from God and takes its place on the new earth.  Here in the last book of our canon, the vision, the dream, the hope of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, is fulfilled.  Pretty powerful stuff!
And finally, the third reading, the Gospel text, is once again from St. John the Evangelist’s Gospel.  We are reading in Chapter 13, the chapter traditionally read on Maundy Thursday .  This is the chapter of footwashing and of a new commandment.  The new commandment, the focus of Maundy Thursday; the reason for the footwashing (the strange and unlikely source of part of God’s glory); is “Love each other” (John 13:34a).  Since it a commandment to love and one cannot command emotion, clearly love is understood here by Jesus as a set of the will rather than as an emotion of affection.  For many people, this one word could succinctly summarize the faith of the followers of Jesus.  A pretty major idea!
So, here we have three very significant and important aspects of our faith.  What will the Spirit direct us to focus on in this weekend’s preaching?

                                                                                  Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The psalm that is appointed for this week in the lectionary is Psalm 23.  This may be one of the most familiar of all scripture passages.  Because of that, it is sometimes difficult to look at it for its own particular value and place in the canon.  The psalm is connected to the other Easter season readings from the Gospel of St. John (John 10:22-30) and the book of Revelation (Revelation 7:9-17).  These two readings both have significant imagery related to “shepherd” and to “sheep.”  Earlier in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11a).
The 23rd Psalm is often a part of the liturgy of the Church.  People almost always request that some version of the 23rd Psalm be part of their funeral service.  I know that it is a comforting psalm.  Many folks have the psalm as a part of their memory (often in the King James version) along with the “Our Father….”  So to look at the 23rd Psalm outside of the box we have for it can bring a different sort of picture.
The picture that the 23rd Psalm paints is twofold.  First, who or how is God?  Answer—Trustworthy.  The second question is, who or how are we (i.e. the folks who are God-focused)?  Answer—Trusting and grateful.  The 23rd Psalm says that God is with us no matter what or where we go; that God cares profoundly for us.  So, the picture painted is a portrait of intimate relationship between God and us.
The connection that Christians make to the psalm is that Jesus is the shepherd—remember John 10:11a.  All that the psalm says of God is found in our understanding of Jesus.  So, we see Jesus caring for us as a good shepherd.  We see Jesus walking with us through the darkest times.  We see Jesus preparing the table for us.  We see Jesus healing us.  We see Jesus constantly calling us to relationship with him.
The 23rd Psalm has been connected to the post-exilic period of Israel’s history which is centuries before Jesus’ birth.  The 23rd Psalm was “penned” to describe Yahweh and the faithful believer.  For those of us who seek to follow Jesus as our Way, Truth, and Life, how could we not make so clear a connection?
Happy Easter,

                                               Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
These days from Easter and to Pentecost are called The Great 50 Days.  They are called “great” I think,  because, in the life of the Church, Jesus is teaching his followers more about the life of faith.  This weekend we read again from St. John’s Gospel and it seems to be the “postlude” of the Gospel of John.  Scholars wonder if the same hand wrote the last chapter (chapter 21) that wrote the previous 20 chapters.  Regardless, it is in the canon, its themes are the same, and the story of the early morning beach side breakfast has been found valuable for close to 2,000 years.  So, this weekend, we are invited to breakfast once again with Jesus.
The story begins with some of the disciples again gathered together and Peter goes fishing.  Some commentators feel this is a going back to life B.C. (before Christ).  Those present go fishing with Peter but they caught nothing all night.  A man appeared on the beach and offered fishing advice.   The advice was taken and a huge  catch of 153 large fish.  Possible lesson:  You can go fishing (for people?) but unless you have the Man on the Beach directing you, your work is fruitless, er, fish-less.
The excitement took over and the Man on the Beach was known as The Lord—now the Resurrected Man on the Beach.  My sense is that this man was not recognized by looks as Jesus but, rather, was “known” as the Lord.  This is the part of the story in chapter 21:9-13 in which seeing the Lord is addressed.  Possible lesson:  The Lord doesn’t always look like expectations.  He is known by deed rather than by appearance.
The third part of the story:  Jesus nourishes us for the work of discipleship.  Jesus offers the disciples a meal with overtones of Eucharist (holy communion) and of the feeding of the multitudes from chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel.  After breakfast, Jesus speaks to Peter, but not privately.  Jesus asks three times if Peter loves him.  I’m guessing that this love is the love of commitment to Jesus’ vision of life.  Peter had betrayed Jesus as had all the male disciples.  So, the Lord is asking for Peter’s recommitment in light of his failure to carry through with his promise to not abandon Jesus.  Possible lesson:  Jesus’ love for us, i.e., his choosing us, overcomes our limitations and failures which allows us to continue with Jesus in spite of ourselves.

 The last part of this week’s story is an old part of  the gospel story.  Jesus says to Peter and to the others and to us today:  “Feed my sheep,” and then later, “Follow me.”  Jesus has said in various and sundry ways feed my sheep and follow me through the gospel story.  But in this postlude, we are reminded of these two basic teachings.  To feed the sheep is to lead folks to good pasture and clean, still water.  It is to encourage, support, and strengthen those who find in Jesus the way of life, life abundant and eternal.  To follow him is to imitate him—to see a child of God, to see human hope, and to walk in the Way of life.  Possible lesson:  “feed my sheep” and “follow me.”

Happy Great Fifty Days!
                                                                                   Pastor Jeff Blackman