Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

We have been hanging out with Jesus as he teaches us from the Sermon on the Mount. This season between Epiphany and Lent is a time of considering what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. For those of you who worship on Saturday or Sunday, that consideration has been through the lenses of our emotions. Jesus, both fully human and fully divine, experienced the same passionate emotions that our ours. It is from him that we can learn what emotions deeply felt and healthily managed look like. It is from him that we learn what it is to be fully human. Many theologians down through the centuries understand that when we are fully human, we are then touching upon the divine.

Next weekend we will celebrate the Transfiguration. That’s all good. But we are leaving the Sermon on the Mount before we get to one of my favorite passages: Matthew 6:25-34. Jesus tells us not to worry but to trust God, who provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and who also provides for you and me. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matt. 6:34). Yeah, right. Easy for him to say.

These verses are a powerful exhortation to live fully in the present moment. Living fully in the present is a spiritual discipline. It means noticing when we are obsessing about incidents in the past and bringing ourselves back to the present. It means noticing when we are worried about what might happen in the future and bringing ourselves back to the present. We can bring ourselves back to the present by paying attention to what our senses are telling us. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell or taste or touch? Noticing your breathing, including intentional deep breathing, is also a way of focusing on the present moment.

I am slowly learning that when my emotions are negative, it is often because I’m stuck in the past or in the future. To become aware of that tendency and to continue to bring myself back to the present has a way of diminishing my fear. I feel myself relax into the presence of Emmanuel, God with us. Life is much more manageable in the present moment than dwelling on the past or future. Typically, I have found, in the present moment, all is well and I have much to give thanks for. And if that is not the case, I deal with what I must – in the present moment.

My kids call it being zen. Some writers call it being conscious and others call it mindfulness. I think that Jesus would call it being alert, waking up, paying attention. He might even call it abundant life!

On the journey with you,

P.S. Speaking of emotions, here is a good sermon on anger in light of our current political climate. When I read it, I thought: I wish I’d written that.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Last week’s writing from me was not accurate.  This is technically the final weekend of the season after the Epiphany (called Ordinary Time).  This is the weekend (Feb. 25-26) of the Transfiguration of the Lord.  This week’s primary passage is Matthew 17:1-9.  In the story Jesus, once again, ascends a mountain and there is seen in a vision with Moses and Elijah.  Jesus comes down from on high and, for the Church, Lent begins.
Jesus is changed by God—transfigured as it were.  This story tells us two critical things.  The first thing is about Jesus and the second is about us.  We see Jesus as he is spiritually—God’s chosen one who brings together the teachings of God’s Word—Torah—and the direction for God’s people—prophecy.  God’s teachings are represented by Moses and God’s direction (kingdom of God) by Elijah.  Both of these aspects bring us God’s salvation and are combined by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The second thing it tells us is that we are to transfigured as well.  How?  By God, of course!  Transfigured by the teachings of God found especially in the Hebrew Bible (amplified by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount) and the prophecy of the Kingdom of God, also a part of Jesus’ great sermon.  As we work to follow Christ Jesus we become more and more the “Light of the World.”  As we embrace the ethics of God’s realm of love of neighbor we are the salt and the light—we become transfigured by allowing he light of God so to shine in a way that people see God’s love, God’s justice, God’s compassion in us and so praise our God who creates both heaven and earth.  That’s Transfiguration!
                                                        Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This weekend brings us to the conclusion of the season after the Epiphany of our Lord.  The next weekend is the Transfiguration of the Lord and the following Wednesday (March 1) is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  This weekend brings the end of chapter five of Matthew.  The Sermon on the Mount in scripture continues on for about two more chapters.  Jesus tells us this weekend to love our enemies and pray for them.  He tells us that we are not to seek revenge but, rather, we are not to oppose them.  These ethics of Jesus put most of us far beyond ourselves, our comfort or, even in some sense, beyond what is “right.”  Loving enemies?  Where did Jesus get all this?
One possible answer is that he got “it” from Moses who said that he got “it” from God.  The Hebrew reading (Old Testament) for this weekend is Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18.  Leviticus is part of the Torah and, thus, basic teaching of God to God’s people Israel and now to us as well.  The critical phrase is “You must be holy, because, I, the Lord your God am holy…”
In this reading we are told what holiness is: 
1) Because God is our God, we must care for the poor and immigrant (vv. 9-10);
2) Because God is our God, we must not steal or deceive or lie to each other or oppress your neighbor in any way or rip off a worker or humiliate someone with disabilities (vv. 11-14);
3) Because God is our God, we are not to be unjust but to be fair to the all powerful and the powerless, nor are we to slander people or refuse to come to our neighbor in time of need (vv. 15-16);
4) Because God is our God, we are not to seek revenge or hold a grudge or be uncaring about our neighbor’s struggle (vv. 17-18);

 5) Because God is our God, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (v. 18b).  This is a very large part of God’s sense of our call to holiness:  loving neighbor.
Jesus knows Torah teaching.  Jesus says our righteousness must be greater than the letter, but must have the spirit of God’s holiness.
When asked, ‘who is our neighbor/’ Jesus responds with a parable reflecting Torah.  When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus speaks Torah:  Love God completely and your neighbor as well.  We know of some examples of people living out the ethics of Jesus and of Torah, but not an overwhelming number of such examples.  In our time today leaders all through our political system do the exact opposite of what Jesus demonstrates and calls for.  As the public, we are greatly affected by this darkness of fear which leads to uncivility and hatred.  So many of us who claim to follow Christ seem to quit Jesus and reflect the worst aspects of our culture and times.
Be we are a light of the world—a Jesus light, a Torah light.  If our light dims or goes out, God, the great fire, will rekindle it and, again, the darkness will be moved back.  This isn’t easy, much less comfortable.  Never-the-less, the light must shine and we are the flame of hope to a world searching for its way.  Praise be to Rabbi Jesus!  Amen.
                                                                           Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A MId-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This weekend we continue listening to Jesus preach to us with verses 21-37 from the sermon from the mountain.  Jesus has told us that we are blessed when we experience difficult times as we pursue God’s kingdom.  Jesus has declared us salt and light for the world, telling us that we are not going to be salt and light, but that we already are salt and light.
Jesus has also told us that we must remain connected to the Law and Prophets; that he has come to complete them, that they are critical to the way we are to live on earth.  This connection Jesus called righteousness.  Then Jesus said that “unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” we will not experience this deep connection with God that the Law and the Prophets promises.
The natural question is, “What is this greater righteousness?”  Here’s a possibility.  It is conceivable that in the world of human beings that form overshadows substance, i.e., if you look good you must be good.  Seemingly Jesus noticed that the religious authorities were very concerned to live out the letter of the law more than living out the spirit of the Law and Prophets.  I think that Jesus could be saying that just keeping the outward forms of religion with no sense of what are the deeper realities is hypocrisy.  For this weekend as well as the next one, Jesus will offer example after example of what he means (chapter 5:21-48).  This, of course, invites us to consider how we might be living out the outward nature of faith and not living the deeper concerns of loving God and neighbor, an invitation to the kingdom of God.
                                                                    Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus seems to think that we can be salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16).  What, for heaven’s sake, does he mean?  Salt was and is something that creates flavor, even palatability.  Salt is critical for taste which helps us to accept some foods, “good for us.”  So, when he says we are “salt of the earth,” he seems to mean that we can help elicit goodness in the world.  He thinks that we, you who are reading this and me who is writing this, can help create goodness in our often negative world.
The obvious question would be:  Do you help create goodness—valuing those who are highly under-valued, caring for those who grieve, working for justice, having compassion and integrity, working for peace, standing for truth—or do you create pain, destruction, or negativity?  Jesus says we are salt, not that we might become salt.  So, how is your salt?
The second thing he said was that we “are the light of the world.”  The gospel of St. John says that Jesus is the light of the world and the apostle Paul tells us that we are the body of Christ.  So we are the light of the world.  Is that enough?  Not unless we are shining.  Light creates sight.  The suggestion seems to be that our vision can easily be obstructed by many things.  Thus, darkness seems to be an apt metaphor for those obstructions within ourselves as well as outside ourselves.  So, on one level, it is critical to know one’s self in order to shine.  Said another way, it is important to have insight into our behaviors, our motivations for what we do or say.  Without that we can easily have low wattage.
On the greater level is our wattage power as the Church.  When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world,” he is speaking to disciples.  I believe he is saying that our choices as Church is the power of our shine—our ability to witness to God’s kingdom.  Does our corporate behavior reveal God’s love and compassion for all people?  Do our corporate choices shine light on the need for healing, hope, and love?  Does our light shine as a spotlight on ourselves as star-of-the-show or does our light flood the world with awareness of injustice, cruelty, and oppression?  Jesus says “let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory” to God.  This presumes that the flood light which shows us the needs will also lead toward addressing those needs.  And that would be discipleship.

                                                                                           Pastor Jeff Blackman

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Sometimes I’m not sure how to be a pastor.

Our country is in turmoil. Everything is political. Topics that once could be talked about from the perspective of faith are now interpreted from the perspective of a political party. Emotions are running high. Anger and grief and fear bubble beneath the surface and occasionally explode. People want to be assured that their stance on faith and politics is the right one and sometimes get upset if that is not what they hear at church.

Sometimes I hear people say that politics has no place in the church. I understand why. We want to all get along and we don’t want anyone’s feathers ruffled, including our own. That might be helpful in the short run but would not be helpful in the long run. To avoid politics renders our faith irrelevant. Politics are all about how we live together. For those of us who claim Christ, our faith gives us guidance in the realm of living together. It shows us the Way of loving God and neighbor.

Our sacred scripture is highly political. For me to avoid that aspect of our scripture would be to gut it of its meaning. It would turn sacred words that are rich and challenging and multi-dimensional into a one-dimensional quest for personal, private salvation. Our faith is about so much more than that. Jesus’ vision for the kingdom of God is not personal or private. It is about the well-being of the world.

So here is my commitment to you as your pastor (and Jeff says this is his commitment too):
  1. I will continue to approach faith issues, social issues and political issues from the perspective that none of us has all the answers, including me. I will bring you the best scholarship that I can. I will share with you what the leadership of our church is saying. You are free to disagree with me and you are free to disagree with the United Methodist Church. (In fact, you are probably aware that sometimes I disagree with the United Methodist Church.) Disagreement does not destroy our bond in Christ. We can love alike even if we do not think alike.
  2.  I will listen and engage different perspectives respectfully. I will, if you are interested, share with you why I think the way that I do. I want to know why you think the way that you do. That is what John Wesley called holy conferencing. That is how we learn and grow together by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  3. I think that the best place for these conversations to happen is in small groups, like Sunday school or brown bag group on Mondays or the Tuesday coffee. It is in those groups that everyone has a voice. It is in those groups that we ask hard questions. How should scripture be interpreted for today? Are there passages that are contradictory? Are there simply some themes and issues in the Bible that are no longer relevant for today? If so, why not?
  4.  I will preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the gospel is exactly the word of comfort and hope that we need to hear. Sometimes the gospel is radical and disturbing. It does not always make us comfortable, myself included. You and I can engage the gospel and wrestle with it together because we are the Body of Christ. We are on this journey together. God is with us.

That is my source of strength. I think that I can do this – we can do this – together.

On the sometimes daunting journey with you,

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

I have been thinking about why I follow Jesus. When I was young, I was told that if I didn’t follow Jesus that I wouldn’t go to heaven; that going to heaven was possible only if I had the right beliefs. After years of study, I have concluded that Jesus was much more concerned about life on earth than life after death. His teaching about the kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven, which means the same thing) focuses on our earthly reality, not on an other-worldly reality. I believe that God is good and that we can trust our good God with whatever awaits us after death.

NPR has occasional segments entitled “This I Believe.” With all due respect to NPR, this I believe:

I believe that being a follower of Jesus is not about having right beliefs. I believe that being a follower of Jesus is a way of life.

I believe that everyone needs a center, a model, a paradigm, a teacher, an anchor, a plumb line, a North Star, a core. Jesus is mine. He saves me and heals me as he teaches me how to overcome my fear, my greed, my desire for revenge, my selfishness, my insecurity and my pride. It is a life-long process, this business of becoming who we are meant to be and I don’t think that we do it on our own. We do it by the grace of God, who is continuously inviting and calling and urging us into relationship so that we might be made new, so that we might be made whole.

Jesus shows me what it means to move toward my pain, that which I would rather avoid and run away from. Jesus gives me the courage to be vulnerable and honest and speak the truth in love. When I have hit times in my life when my world has collapsed and I have lost everything, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ reminds me that he knows what the inside of a grave looks like and in him there is resurrection – in this life and in the life to come. I know that because I have experienced resurrection over and over in my life.

Jesus inspires me to care for the least, the lost and the lonely. I look for his face in the hungry and thirsty and sick and imprisoned and nakedly vulnerable because he said that is where I can find him. He gives me the courage to talk back to power and to advocate on the behalf of the powerless. When I refuse to ignore the suffering around me, I am continuing the kingdom work that he was willing to die for. When I wage peace and when I forgive, I am following in his non-violent steps to the cross. This kingdom work is not done through my power but through the Holy Spirit who enables, equips and empowers.

I believe that Jesus reveals God, the creator of the universe who is continuously creating all things new. God loves the world and needs us to love the world as well – not only all people but creation itself. I believe that the way of Jesus, lived out in love, has the power to heal our broken world.

I believe that I am unable to fully engage this journey without the church, my brothers and sisters in Christ. I cannot be fully me without you. This journey of discipleship requires community. I am grateful beyond words that you are my community. We share this journey called life. We encourage one another. We hold one another accountable. We laugh together. We cry together. We eat together. We risk together. We pray together. We learn and grow together. We mess up and we forgive each other and we try again. Together.

I believe that you, First United Methodist Church, are a gift from God in my life.

What a God. What a journey.

With gratitude for you,