Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

We have been hanging out with Paul as he writes to the church in Ephesus, and to you and me. Paul is adamant that divisions have been overcome in Jesus Christ. In our reading for this upcoming weekend, Paul sounds like a chiming bell as he says, “You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all, who is over all, through all, and in all (Eph. 4:4-5). Hear the rhythm? One. One. One. One. One. One. One.

So, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?” How is that working in your relationships? In the life of our church? In our state and national political conversations among people who virtually all profess to be Christians?

We have been taught by our culture and by bullies on the playground that the way to get what we want is by force. Brian McLaren in his book A New Kind of Christianity says that our approach to people who are different or threatening is to assimilate, dominate, eliminate, persecute or distance ourselves. We create an army of us, with all goodness and truth, against the army of them, who are evil and wrong.

Contrast that to the way of Jesus. In 1944, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a German concentration camp. His reflections on God revealed in Jesus Christ are these: God lets himself be pushed out of the world onto the cross, evidence that God is weak and powerless. God’s weakness and powerlessness is the way, the only way, in which God is with us and helps us. God’s power is suffering. God’s omnipotence is vulnerability. This is the God of the cross.

The hiddenness of God is not a cloak of humility temporarily covering powerful glory in a sort of Clark Kent/Superman act. God is determined to relate to the world through vulnerability, through non-coercive love, through suffering service rather than through domination and force.

Do you get it? God unites all the divisions of the world in the broken body of Christ. Paul reminds us that God is breaking down the walls between people, but God doesn’t use a wrecking ball. God uses vulnerability and non-coercive love to change us from the inside out.  When we choose vulnerability with others, when we speak our truth in love, when we forgive, when we work for the well-being of others, we are allowing ourselves to be broken in the name of Jesus Christ. Out of our brokenness comes Holy Spirit healing for the world.

This is so difficult that when it happens, it is clearly by the power and grace of God. And perhaps whenever it happens, if we listen closely, we can hear a bell chiming softly: One. One. One. One. One. One. One.

On the journey with you,
Carol



Monday, July 27, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The author of Ephesians writes, “I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God” (Ephesians 4:1).  The writer then goes on to describe the conduct of which he is referring:  humility, gentleness, and patience.  He continues to list more characteristics and then interpret the “what” and “how” of a life in the Lord, to align your behavior with God’s desires or reign.  He writes of unity in our diversity.  It seems that sort of unity can be achieved only if we mature in Christ.  Or, to put it a more bluntly, the author of Ephesians wants us to grow up, like in “O, for heaven’s sake… Grow up!”
The Ephesian’s author writes to encourage reconciliation and unity among those who claim life in the Spirit.  Many of our denominations and churches struggle mightily over the issues of division.  They are the social issues of our day.  All of those churches, denominations, and members claim to be people of God’s Spirit and followers of Christ Jesus.  Yet a pretty good percentage work not for unity and reconciliation but division and schism.  I had some folks say to me, “If it doesn’t go my way, I’m done here!” a threat to enact a little personal schism.  I think this behavior is the exact opposite of what Ephesians is encouraging.  In effect it says “I am the Christ” or I know best and will not trust in God’s Spirit that shares truth and faith with all believers.
The unity Ephesians describes does not require lock-step conformity.  It celebrates diversity.  We are united not in slogans or like-mindedness, but are united because of Jesus.  Faith in Christ unites.  So the author of Ephesians writes that we are already one in faith because of Jesus’ call to us to follow.  This is the life worthy of his call to us, trusting not in our spirit, but in the Spirit given to all believers.  This is spiritual maturity and it is difficult to live in to because divisiveness is the spirit of today’s world.  Ephesians asks us to grapple with the walls of separation created by spiritual immaturity and pleads for us to grow up and accept what Christ has already created for us and in us.

                                                                       Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

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

This weekend’s readings from scripture hold at least two very familiar stories. The Hebrew reading continues stories of King David.  This week’s story is the infamous story of David and Bathsheba.  The Gospel reading is from St. John and is his story of the feeding of the 5,000 people and walking on water.

The story about King David is a sad story even thousands of years after the events reported.  David gets tangled into a situation of power for personal pleasure and then tries to cover up his wanton disregard from God.  King David is somewhat reminiscent of King Herod of John the Baptist’s time.  David, like Herod is controlled by his sense of privilege and power and an innocent person is murdered as a consequence.

We can easily observe how corrupt this behavior is.  We condemn it as immoral and inexcusable.  We can also look at it as a part of who many of us seem to be-we want what we want when we want it.  Fortunately, most of us don’t get so entangled in criminal activities with such dire consequence that seem immediate.  Many people do, however, ignore negative consequences because they “want it.”  The origin of the behaviors are similar.

In this week’s story from St. John, we see almost opposite behavior.  Jesus gives of himself so profoundly that the people “were about to come and force him to be their king…” (John 6:15).  I’m guessing that Jesus knows the corruptibility of power.  Certainly there were and are god rulers, but power, particularly absolute power, like with ancient kings, corrupts absolutely.  Jesus has fought that temptation in a different venue in the synoptic Gospels when he was tested in the wilderness after his baptism.  Here in St. John’s Gospel we see a similar testing.  Jesus survives again the test to take on temporal power by seeking refuge in God or, as scripture says, “alone on a mountain” (John 11:15c)

There are many directions one could move with these observations.  I, for one, would see that from Adam and Eve, to David, to Herold, to Jesus himself, all are tested.  It is the nature of life.  Most of us fail in one way or another when we come up against such testing.  To be scornful of those whose fail is to be untruthful about ourselves.  To judge failure in other is to deflect judgement from ourselves.  Rather to `Judge not lest we be judged` seems a graceful position.  Learning from the mistakes of others seems a good approach as well.  To trust in God as the source of our moral strength is even better.  The tests will not stop, nor will God’s steadfast love for each one us who fail.  The writer from this weekend’s Epistle reading from Ephesians puts it this way:

I ask (pray to God) that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit.  I that Christ will live in your hearts through faith.  …I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth… I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God”
                                                                                    (Ephesians 3:16-19 CEB)

May it be so.


Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

We have been focused on the work of the Holy Spirit this summer. Guess what? The Holy Spirit has shown up – and in a big way! The word inspiration literally means Spirit-breathed. The people who have shared in worship how God is at work in their lives have been inspired by the Spirit and have inspired us all. (If you didn’t get a chance to see the delightful DVD that Mitch and Holly Meyer and their children made, let me know. Everyone in worship was smiling broadly by the end!) The Holy Spirit has shown up in the inspiration of one of our members who asked if more FUMC knit shirts could be ordered because “we need to be wearing our church shirts as we deliver Meals on Wheels and at the community meal and our other ministries in the community.” What a great idea! The Holy Spirit has also nudged another member of our church to explore the possibility of weekly prayer meetings. (Wow – what will that look like?) The Holy Spirit caught me off-guard by moving us to a blended service on Sundays during the month of August and Labor Day weekend. The Holy Spirit sometimes works like that!

That means that there will be no 11:00 a.m. service on Sundays from August 2 through September 6. The second service will resume on September 13. We will have our regular Saturday night service at 5:30 p.m., our regular Wednesday chapel service at 5:30 p.m., and one service at 9:00 a.m. on those Sundays.

What can you expect? You can expect a variety of song-styles, from traditional to contemporary. In many ways, it will be a more simplified traditional service that incorporates elements of the 11:00 service. One of the most meaningful parts of the 11:00 service is the lighting of prayer candles and the celebration of Holy Communion around the altar. Prayer candles and Holy Communion will be available at the blended service, but they will be optional. This means that during a praise song toward the end of the service, you can either head to the Garden Room for refreshments, or you can stay to celebrate Holy Communion. The choice is yours. Either way, you will leave knowing that you have experienced God in meaningful ways.

Our wonderful staff has been instrumental in the planning of the blended service. As we talked there was Holy Spirit enthusiasm for this Great Experiment! (The word enthusiasm literally means Spirit-filled!) This is an exciting opportunity to see your friends who typically attend a different service. This also gives faithful Jane and Francis a much-needed breather. Most of all, we are following the movement of the Spirit, breathing fresh air into our summer worship services and strangely warming our Wesleyan hearts.

Won’t it be exciting to see what the Holy Spirit is going to do next?

On the journey with you,
Carol


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Last weekend, I talked about how the Holy Spirit enables us to witness to our faith. The Nike slogan “We Are All Witnesses” is true! All our words and all our actions are our witness. The challenge becomes: what are we witnessing to in our words and in our actions? Are we witnessing to the fear and power struggles of the world that see others as expendable? Or the faith and the kin-dom ways of God that offer healing and hope to others, including the most vulnerable among us?

This is hard work, being a witness for God’s kin-dom. It is always risky business. It can feel like sticking your neck out. There is always so much more that can be said in a sermon and there is always a time factor when it comes to preaching. So I didn’t share a recent time when I had an opportunity to witness – and didn’t.

The community worship service was over. All the equipment had been picked up. I was starting to walk back to the church where my car was parked. A young couple was sitting on a park bench near the sidewalk, feeding their children. The father told me that he appreciated what I shared during the worship. I smiled and said thanks and walked on.

It wasn’t until later in the afternoon that it hit me. Why didn’t I stop to talk long enough to find out if they already had a church? If not, I could have easily invited them to ours. I didn’t even think of it until it was too late.

This wasn’t the first time that I have regretted not thinking quickly. That is not one of my strengths. But instead of beating myself up, I decided that I can learn from the experience. The next time I speak publically, I’m ready. I’ll be inviting anyone who seems open to an invitation. It makes me nervous. But I also believe this stuff that I preach. We don’t witness by our own power. It is by Holy Spirit power. The presence of Christ is with us as we witness in his name (Matt. 28:19-20).

Witnessing isn’t just about inviting people, but it includes inviting people. Witnessing isn’t just about sharing your experience of God at work in your life, but it includes sharing your story. Witnessing isn’t just about your actions at home, at work, at church, in the community, but it includes your actions. St. Francis said it best: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”
We are all witnesses. What is yours?



On the journey with you,

Carol

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This week’s reading for weekend worship features two readings about building a temple for God and a reading about Jesus’ compassion for people.
In the ancient world (perhaps like today), building temples was a demonstration of power.  It technically was to demonstrate the power of a deity.  It was also perceived as demonstrating power of human beings who were dedicated to the deity.  In the Hebrew reading from 2 Samuel, King David wants to build God a temple.  In short order the prophet Nathan informs David that building God’s dwelling place, the temple, is for another to do, not for him.  David’s task is to serve God as King and from that service God will create a legacy forever—”I will establish his royal throne forever.”  Solomon was the son of David to build the temple.  We know that. Yet, as Christian interpreters looked at this story, they saw something more.  They started to think of temple and throne as spiritual realities rather than just as temporal realities.
Then we turn to the Epistle reading from Ephesians 2:11-12.  Essentially the writer of Ephesians is working to connect those who follow Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, to the covenant of God’s promises to Israel.  He says that the life and death of Christ brought the two groups together.  This is the work of the cross.  He then moves to saying that all have access to God through Christ by the Spirit.
Now we are changed from strangers and aliens to fellow citizens with Israel.  And, we all belong to God’s “household.”  He says that “household” is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets “with Jesus being the ‘cornerstone.’”  So, now we are a construction, a building that grows into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord.  The writer is intimating that we are the temple that David was not allowed to build for God.  The heir that was promised David, now turns out not to be Solomon but, rather, to be Jesus and Jesus is building that Temple to God.  So we don’t misunderstand the writer’s intent, he writes, “Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).  So we are the Temple where God lives.

 Sometimes this idea of “you are a Temple of God” has been only thought of in physical terms—like don’t smoke; don’t drink alcohol; don’t defile your body in any way.  While not harming your body is a good thing, I think that idea is far too limiting.  What I’m thinking of is more on the lines of God lives within you.  You are a manifestation of God’s Kingdom.  How you behave, how you relate to others can include—must include—the Kingdom values for which Christ was willing to die.  As ‘Temple,” we are the place of God’s domain; we become the presence of God in the world.  Perhaps this is part of what it meant earlier in Ephesians when it says, “We are called to be an honor to God’s glory…” (Ephesians 1:12a).
The whole idea of Temple was very common in the days of the early Church.  There were temples everywhere to all sorts of deities.  Those temples witnessed to those specific deities.  Similarly, we have lots of church buildings in our world.  They too, offer witness.  But the real witness and real power and real virtue is when we as Temple witness to that to which we are dedicated:  Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Meyers

Dear Friends,

I love outdoor worship. I absolutely love worshipping in God’s sanctuary, under the dome of the sky with the Holy Spirit breezes and the towering trees and the warm sunshine. I also, in the tradition of John Wesley, believe in the importance of ecumenism, different denominations working together for the glory of God. Those loves came together on Sunday as we celebrated our Riverbend Rally community worship.

I actually was feeling rather discouraged in the planning. There had been a minimal response from other churches. But our organist and choir director, Jim Hammann, was in charge of the music so I knew that would be inspiring. My spirits lifted when, in visiting with Jim during the piano loading effort, I learned that he had been Grand Marshall in the parade the day before! (Jeff and I had been with our VBS float somewhere in the middle of the parade. I never got to see Jim in all his Model T glory at the head of the parade!)

My spirits lifted more as people began to arrive. The United Methodist contingent lifted my spirits further. People, to my surprise, just kept coming. As the pastors prayed together prior to worship, I was reminded that all we can do is our part, and trust God to do the rest. God did. The music was indeed wonderful. Jim, Susan and the choir brought us marvelous music to the background of birds singing in the trees. There was a sense of connection and fellowship between pastors and among the people who were there. I worshipped with a heart that was filled to overflowing with gratitude – for a glorious day, for churches working together, for faithful people, for beautiful music, for the goodness of life itself.

If you played a role in making the community worship happen, thank you! I was reminded once again of the gift to others in simply showing up. You showed up and gave me the gift of encouragement. I am deeply grateful.

On the journey with you,

Carol