Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This weekend brings a change of some of our normal patterns for worship events and places.  First UMC will have its Saturday Nite Alive (SNA) service as normal but without Holy Communion; that will be celebrated next weekend.  On Sunday morning, First Church will have worship in Estes Park at 10:30 am as part of the community worship service for Riverbend Rally Days.  There will be no 11:00 am service at First.  Alden UMC will have worship at its normal time and place and we will celebrate Holy Communion that day.
That being said, the readings for SNA and Alden will contain a passage from Galatians and one from the Gospel according to Luke.  The Galatians passage (Galatians 6:1-16) speaks to the difficulty of living out the life of faith in the Church and in the world.  In this passage Paul names a number of problems that the Church faced in that time 20 centuries ago.  He names 1) doing something wrong; 2) spiritual restoration with gentleness; 3) temptation; 4) bearing one another’s burdens; 5) humility; 6) comparing ourselves to others; 7) personal responsibility; 8) gratitude for a teacher’s efforts; 9) reaping what you sow; 10) selfishness; 11) weariness at doing good; 12) working for the good for all of society and especially for those in the household of faith.
Paul likes to make lists of characteristics and traits both ofgood behaviors and of not so good behaviors.  The list he has made here in the sicth chapter of Galatians demonstrates just how hard it is to live this life of faith.  This life of faith is called many things.  It has been called a crucified life, a life in the Spirit, living in eternal life, living in the kingdom of God, a new creation, life in the resurrection, life in the Kingdom of heaven.  There are other terms that have been applied to this sort of living in the Spirit of Jesus.  But all of the words funnel to one basic idea—love:  love God and love neighbor.

As we look at what the Apostle Paul has written in the sixth chapter of Galatians it becomes very clear that, if we tried to do this sort of living on our own, we would soon grow very weary and fail.  Only through God’s presence of the Holy Spirit can we ever hope to live such a life of love.  I believe that Spirit can only be felt in the faith community.  That is where we can find loving, compassionate support and strength.  Yet it is clear from Paul’s writings that, even in the community of faith, the Church, it is still hard because of our temptation to take care of ourselves first and second and third and so on.  This is what Paul acknowledges about all of us:  All have sinned and fallen short of the love of Christ.  So he encourages us not to give upon the life of love.
So, what Paul wrote to the members of the church in Galatia almost 2,000 years ago is profoundly applicable to us here and now at any church, anywhere in the world.  God has made us a new creation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul offers peace and mercy to whoever follows this way of the “new creation.”  As do I.
                                                                                                         Pastor Jeff Blackman

Finding Peace Within Denominationalism from Stephanie Cramer

Finding Peace Within Denominationalism

          Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a beautiful example of attempts to keep the early churches united while internal disagreements prompted fighting and threatened permanent division. Paul encouraged the church of Philippi to be “of the same mind, having the same love, united in spirit, with one purpose” (Phil. 2:2). Do Paul’s words speak against Christian denominationalism; the purposeful split of one church into two or more separate churches? Reality is, denominational splits that run so deeply within the many streams of Christianity actually began long before Martin Luther and John Wesley. We find our first crippling denominational schism, the Great East-West Schism, around 1054 A.D. The divisive issues were many and the two sides had had enough of trying to remain as one. When the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches split their theological differences became the driving force behind a general lack of tolerance (and even hatred) between the two Christian communities; and that lack of respect is maybe what Paul was trying to address. Paul wanted the church of Philippi to find peace among their many differences. Only recently ecumenical conversations between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew have attempted to bridge the isolation between the two venerable churches who both claim direct routes to the original disciples of Jesus. Though they may never again become one, they are moving closer toward full love and respect of each other; a lesson that Paul repeated time and again and a lesson that we should pay close attention to as 21st Century Christians who worship in diversity.
As Protestants we have inherited a denominational mess, or so it might seem. Ecumenical conversations between the many Protestant streams are simply overwhelming. How does one even begin a conversation on salvation, baptism, or marriage between groups so diverse? Picture the conversations between Pentecostals and Mennonites, or Old German Brethren Baptist and Emerging churches! There are strong reasons why the Protestant branch of Christianity has so many denominations and they are not likely to stop splitting anytime soon. As I type this, my sister-in-law’s church in South-Eastern Pennsylvania is seriously considering splitting into two over the issue of marriage. Sound familiar? It just never seems to stop. Honestly, the denominational chaos we find ourselves in kept me from officially joining any church for the past 10 years. I had had enough. The differences were too great. I felt overwhelmed trying to pick a church that fit all my beliefs. I was confused on the theological differences each church supported and even more confused as to which denomination was closest to the “correct” answers. I simply could not find Paul’s same mind, same love, and same purpose between any of the Christian churches, especially since so many Christians I knew criticized the other denominations. Maybe some of you have felt this same frustration. For me, it was debilitating and it kept me from finding unity within Christianity. Over the past 10 years I have worshiped in many different churches; Presbyterian, Methodist, Evangelical, Catholic, Pentecostal, AME Zion, Mennonite, Old German Brethren Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran. All wonderful expressions of God’s love and all welcoming to a stranger who just wanted to sit with them and feel communion as one in Christ. As wonderful and welcoming as all of them were, they all fell short of the full glory of God. My search for the perfect denomination taught me instead to search for personal peace within the great cacophony of Christianity. And once found, it is a truly deep and cleansing peace within denominationalism.
So here I am writing a blog for the First United Methodist Church of Iowa Falls; a church I officially joined on June 19, 2016. As with all churches, the Methodists aren’t perfect and certainly do not have all the answers. But the Methodists do respect theological differences and that is what allowed me to finally join a church. I have followed Paul’s words to unite in mind, love and purpose at FUMC. I have found peace within my chosen denomination while embracing the full diversity of humanity. It’s no longer about correct theology or correct worship style; it is about correct respect and a sense of the full Body of Christ at work; a respect I believe God affords us through Christian diversity. What I saw as Christians unable to agree on worship styles might just be God encouraging humanity to shape their worship style into something they find personally inspiring. What I saw as Christians spitefully arguing over theological issues might just be God allowing humanity to define faith in terms that each group can comprehend. What I saw as Christians growing further and further apart might just be God allowing humanity to work out our salvation in fear and trembling before He pulls us back together again through ever increasing ecumenical conversations happening across the nation and across the globe.
Denominationalism is difficult on everyone involved. As Christians we are reminded that our one holy and apostolic Church is divine, greater than humanity, and it will always thrive. And though we may scar ourselves through separation, we can also be stronger through our unity within diversity. Denominationalism isn’t something shameful. It is a reminder that we are human. We are not our own salvation. We need to find unification at the cross and perhaps leave the rest up to Christ. So hold your head up high, embrace Christian differences, and find peace within and between yourself and your brothers and sisters in Christ. Christian denominations are not the problem. Full respect and love for each denomination is the way to find peace within denominationalism. Paul knew this and now I do too.

With full love and respect for all who struggle,
Stephanie Cramer

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

The risen, living Christ calls us by our name;
comes to the loneliness within us;
heals that which is wounded within us;
comforts that which grieves within us;
releases us from that which has
dominion over us;
cleanses us of that which
does not belong to us;
renews that which feels drained within us;
awakens that which is asleep in us;
names that which is still formless within us;
empowers that which is newborn within us;
consecrates and guides that which is
strong within us;
restores us to this world which needs us;
reaches out in endless love to others through us.
The risen, living Christ calls us by our name.
                                                                                                     Flora Slosson Wuellner

This is a beautiful picture of what it means to live fully into discipleship. Come learn more about moving from membership to discipleship on July 9 and 10. Hear Katharine Yarnell preach at any of the three worship services, and then stay for lunch and a two hour conversation. The risen, living Christ calls us by our name!

A Comment from Stephanie Cramer

Begin The Healing

            The horrific events of the Orlando massacre have certainly dominated the media and almost every American mind for the past week. One of the main driving issues in most articles is the fact that the shooter was Muslim. It was an act of terror and hatred by a Muslim against the community of people who frequented the Pulse nightclub, those of the LGBTQ community. Yet, while perusing through the news and online social outlets I continue to come across many public demonstrations of solidarity, from specifically those two unlikely partners, Muslims and LGBTQ; each attempting to rise above divisive hatred and labeling of any one group at fault. The LGBTQ community is speaking out in support of Muslims. Muslims are supporting the LGBTQ community. The healing process for them has begun. In fact, healing began extremely quickly this time and in a unique 21st Century grassroots method. Amidst continuingly heated arguments against Islam in America, homosexuality, gun control, and the many other problems that plague our sense of morality, two highly marginalized groups have taken a very public stance in support of each other and they didn’t lose any time waiting to begin. They speak of love and respect across the divisive labels that do nothing to heal society. Labels that society has decided cannot be tolerant of each other. Jesus himself spoke of love, only love, no labels. I am inspired by what I have seen. The marginalized are in support of human solidarity, regardless of religious, sexual, political, or any other isolating label, yet the label of Muslim still takes precedence as the main reason for the Orlando shooting. Why? Maybe it is an over sensitivity to the specific label of Muslim.

            Labels separate. It’s their job. Labels help us identify, understand, and categorize everything in a human’s life; from important tax papers that need to be filed and kept, to understanding a new neighbor who has moved in from another part of the United States, or even another part of the world. Humans use labels such as: male or female, child or adult, doctor or mechanic, friend or stranger, interesting or boring, in order to regulate and understand our daily lives. While these labels are not typically used in negative ways other labels such as: Christian or Muslim, straight or gay, normal or unstable, native or immigrant, are so often used to build walls between humans who otherwise might prove to be wonderful partners. Although labels in and of themselves are not bad, and we certainly need labels in order to comprehend our complex world, as Christians we are called to rise above the misuse of labels. Jesus used labeling in order to understand the woman at the well in John 4 before he even spoke to her (she was alone, at a well, at high noon in the hottest part of the day…she must be of questionable character, not to mention she was a Samaritan!) and Jesus understood fully the label of Pharisee and the theological oppression it carried. The label of first born is at the center of the Prodigal Son and the label of criminal follows him all the way to the cross. The difference with Jesus? In all of our examples throughout Scripture Jesus quickly rises above the stigmatization of labels in order to work on healing the individual, the group, and all of humanity in specifically the way that works best with each group. Jesus didn’t stop his argument at just one label, rather he shows us that labels are only the beginning. It is what follows the identification that matters. This is what our friends who are brave enough to speak out in solidarity are demonstrating for us, if only we can learn to put aside our prejudice for or against certain labels. Love, just love. No hate. No separation. No walls between us.

Labeling the Orlando shooting only as a hate-filled Muslim act of terror while ignoring the rest of the shooter’s personality is a misuse of the label Muslim. The fact that the shooter was Muslim, even proclaimed his allegiance to ISIS, quickly took all the emphasis from the rest of his personality, and the rest of his internal struggles. There is not a person alive who can be described by just one label, such as Muslim, male or American.  Human personalities, formed by unique personal experiences, are better represented by the multiple sides of a diamond. Each side of one’s diamond is unique and carries its own label. The labels from each side come together to form the whole person. When we look at the whole person we see the multiple sides of the diamond blended together as one unique piece of gem. Each human is a gem with many sides to his or her diamond. Some of the sides might be a little rough, but the rough sides do not outshine the diamond as a whole.  Hatred, and especially prejudice, forms when we focus our attention on only one side of a person’s diamond. When the media so quickly highlighted only the shooter’s Muslim label it was decided that this side of his diamond was the sole reason for the attack. But now we have learned that the shooter had frequented the club for at least the past 10 years. His father was filled with hatred toward the LGBTQ (many Christians also speak out against this group). The shooter had made multiple attempts to have some sort of intimate relationship with many men through the club, through various dating apps, and even with friends as far back as 2006. Does this mean that the shooter himself was gay? Maybe. Does it even matter? If so, what does it say about his diamond of personality to know that he shot and killed so many people who have fought the same stigmatizing label as he most likely was fighting? Maybe the emphasis should never have been on his religious affiliation. Maybe the real emphasis for this shooter, and all the others from our shared past, is that of psychological health. Maybe that is the single label that can even begin to explain why someone would open fire on so many innocent lives in such a way as he did (or the shooter in an elementary school, or a movie theater, or even in a small Amish school in rural Pennsylvania). Psychological health, or more specifically psychological illness, must be moved to the front of this conversation and all others of like manner. We all struggle with varying degrees of psychological illness. Most of us handle our inner struggles quietly. Some of us don’t have that same inner strength, or enough loving friends, or the right balance of chemicals in the brain in order to avoid carrying out an act of such grave effect. I am blessed to be one of the people who can handle my personal difficulties and at the same time my heart hurts for those who cannot. I pray that God blesses them in ways that only He can.

            While you may be convinced the shooting occurred due to one specific label, please keep a healthy respect for the diamond of each individual. Please continue the conversations regarding Orlando with a healthy vision toward unity and love of all people, regardless of their affiliations, proclamations, or even their grave mistakes. Please adapt your conversations in ways that will promote the healing of all of society. We all carry psychological scars and struggles; when will society take this part of our diamonds more seriously? I am in no way justifying the Orlando shooter for his horrific actions, instead I am attempting to love him as a hurt and broken child of God. Let’s take our example from Jesus as well as our bold friends of the LGBTQ and Muslim communities; let’s join in the healing.

With full love and respect for all who struggle,

Stephanie Cramer

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Message from Bishop Julius Trimble

As all of you, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the mass shooting at an Orlando nightspot in the early hours of Sunday morning.  As President Barack Obama said, “We grieve the brutal murder – horrific massacre – of dozens of innocent people.”
The attack at the Pulse Nightclub targeted members of the LGBTQI community, which heightens the tragedy all the more.  Violence, in any form, is unacceptable and when it targets people because of who they are it becomes all the more reprehensible.
That is not our way.  It will never be our way.
Our way is a way of peace.  Our way is a way of grace.  Our way is the way of love first expressed by Jesus Christ and commanded of us as we are his followers, as people who claim His name as our name.
St. Francis’ prayer can well be our prayer today.  “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love…Where there is darkness, light.”  He invites us to be people who console, to express faith in the midst of doubt, to offer hope in the midst of despair.
Bishop Ken Carter and members of the Florida Conference will gather in Orlando this week for their annual conference session.  Even as he wrote on his Facebook page, “I am in awe of the pastors and lay leaders who are already immersed in transformational and mutual ministry with the LGBTQ community within and beyond our churches,” he invites all to pause, in these first 24 hours, “simply to lament, listen, honor the souls of the deceased, and grieve.”
The tragic loss of life reminds us once again that hatred and violence often find a target in those who are innocent, whether in elementary school classrooms in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, or wedding celebrations in India, or a church prayer meeting in Charleston, or villages in Nigeria, as happened in recent hours where a dispute over fish in a pond claimed the lives of United Methodist community leaders.
I invite you to join me in prayer…prayer for those who have died…prayer for those who were wounded…prayer for their families…prayer for the survivors…prayer for the first responders…prayers for the LGBTQI community…prayers for all of us who claim the name of Jesus Christ. 
In the midst of tragedy…
Be Encouraged.

Bishop Julius C. Trimble

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is still on a mission of healing and preaching.  In this weekend’s Gospel reading, Luke 8:26-39, the form of healing is that of an exorcism.  It is the story of the man from Gerasene who had so many demons inside him that his name was, when Jesus asked, “Legion.”
In the story Jesus is shown to have authority over the demons by commanding them to come out of the man and then, later, giving them permission, at their request to enter a herd of pigs.  They were then destroyed by being drowned in a lake.  The healed man wants to become a disciple of Jesus but Jesus invites him to “return home and tell the story of what God has done for you” Luke 8:39a.For many people of our time, the issues of demons and animals being destroyed and “possession” and fear of the “possessed” are difficult things to consider.  The purpose of the story is to articulate Jesus’ authority over the evil spirits which were thought to inhabit the world.  This was more evidence that Luke’s gospel was presenting about the identity of Jesus.
Today’s world is not so different than the world of Jesus’ time.  We have different explanations for the things that frighten or alarm us.  We see people today who rage and then wander over the “tombs” of our cities—the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted.  Are they lost?  From our perspective they seem so.  Do we try to keep them apart and away from ‘our’ world?  Again, it would see so.  In contrast, the world of Jesus is not really all that different from ours.  We do, however, explain it differently.
That being said, are we, the Church, not to do as Jesus did and go across from Galilee to the land of the Garesenes?  Our ministry is to the poor and hurt and hungry and to the alienated and isolated.  Truly we do not have to cross a great body of water to get to the land of the Gerasenes.  They are our neighbors and truly those who need us are legion.

One further comment.  Although the passage from Luke makes it seem easy for Jesus to ‘save’ the man full of demons, that would be an unrealistic views.  Jesus, a Jew, traveled to a Gentile world and was immediately met by a shouting, raging, crazy gentile (we told him not to go there!).  Jesus had to negotiate with demons and, after all that, the townspeople hated what he did and asked him to go away! ASAP!!  Even if we understand Jesus as God’s son, he was still a human being with all our struggles at the human plight.  The incident had to have been fully depleting spiritually and physically.  Yet he pressed on and continued to minister.  That’s the hard part for us, I think.  All the strife and effort and misunderstanding in our world, even sometimes  in our ministry of care, can wear us out.  To give healing, one must be constantly allowing God to heal us.  Jesus’ healing of himself cam in the way of prayer, and worship, retreat, fellowship with his disciples, and accepting God’s world as he found it.  The same is undoubtedly true for us.  Let us keep going to the land of the Gerasenes and trust God to heal us all.

                                                                           Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A letter from Bishop Julius Calvin Trimble

Dear Friends,

It has been my pleasure and privilege to serve as your Bishop since September 1, 2008.  I thank you for your faithfulness, generosity and prayers as we together embrace our mission as United Methodists, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” 

People who gathered at the 2016 General Conference experienced vibrant worship, powerful preaching, and a renewed commitment to starting new congregations, while engaging in global missions.

I believe that as a Church, we are more than the issues that divide us.  All of the legislation and petitions proposed to the General Conference related to human sexuality were put on hold by the May 18 action to accept the leadership of the Council of Bishops.  The Council of Bishops’ letter summarizing General Conference from President Bishop Ough can be found at http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/council-of-bishops-follow-tradition-with-letter-to-the-church.

Some of you may have questions about what this means for our upcoming Annual Conference and how we will respect each other and demonstrate our love for all.

The following key points will help you understand the Council of Bishops’ letter:
  • We are committed to the unity of The United Methodist Church and will seek to strengthen it. 
  • We are called to pray for more Christ-like unity with each other, rather than separation from one another. 
  • The General Conference and the Council of Bishops have not found agreement on language concerning human sexuality in the Book of Discipline that many experience as hurtful, contradictory and inadequate. 
  • We will lead the Church in every part of the world in times of worship, prayer and discernment, seeking God’s guidance. 
  • The Council of Bishops will form a commission to study all paragraphs in our Book of Disciplinerelating to human sexuality. 
  • The Council of Bishops will have conversation about how the Church can best live in grace with unity as our aim, including discussions about ways to avoid complaints, trials and harm.  (Look for a follow-up letter from me about what Iowa United Methodist pastors can do.) 
  • All provisions of 2012 Book of Discipline on matters relating to human sexuality remain unchanged. 
  • As a bishop of the Church, I will uphold the Discipline of the Church and seek to be faithful to my consecration vows and lead with love.
We have a great deal to celebrate as United Methodists here in Iowa.  We are helping children to learn to read, one hour at a time, one book at a time.  We are actively engaged in mission around the corner and around the world.  We are starting new congregations and revitalizing existing ones.  In fact, our theme for the 2016 Annual Conference is “Therefore Go and Make Disciples.

As people who model our lives after our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we have one priority, a commission that began at our baptism: “Grow in Christian discipleship…go and share the love of Jesus with others.”

Be encouraged!
Bishop Julius C. Trimble