Sunday, June 17, 2018

Never Tell Me the Odds

Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 17:32-49 (NRSV)





Recently, our family went to see the new Star Wars movie, Solo.  While it has received mixed reviews, we all enjoyed it thoroughly.  I think for me, it had to do with director Ron Howard’s nod to the nostalgic revisiting of a beloved character.  Han Solo first came alive for me as a child and the bravado that he characterized captured not only my interest but that of the country.  His second big screen appearance (I’m not counting the Christmas special) in The Empire Strikes Back only added to his popularity.  One of my favorite lines in this movie was when they were trying to escape from the Empire in their starship, the Millennium Falcon.  They were frantically working on their engines when they get hit by a large thump.  They find out that they are entering an asteroid belt.  Instead of flying away from it, Han Solo flies directly into it, declaring, “They would be crazy to follow us!”  At this point, the android C-3PO tells Solo that the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are 3,720 to 1 to which he replies, “Never tell me the odds!”

What he means is that he has already made up his mind to do it and doesn’t want any negativity ruining his confidence in his ability to succeed!

In this week’s scripture reading, we have this wonderful story that predates Star Wars by about three millennia.  David and Goliath have transcended the Bible and are a part of our culture.  To be a substantial underdog in a sports contest is often referred to as a David versus Goliath matchup.  We talk about defeating our Goliaths in reference to any large problem we may be facing.

As we re-read the story, we see that David had a certain amount of confidence of his own!  He recounts his own prowess in dispatching lions and bears (oh, my!).  He refers to Goliath as an “uncircumcised Philistine” showing his disdain for the foreigner rather than respect for his size and ability.  And then, like any good hero, he follows through on his promises.

This Sunday, we will revisit this old, old story.  We will see how it continues to live on for us today and how our confidence in taking on problems should have a little bravado in it.  I hope you’ll join us for worship and if you can’t make it in person, join us for our livestream or catch it later on the archives!

In Christ,

Sam

Photo of "Han Solo" is a copyrighted promotional image used under the Fair Use license.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Not the Number One Draft Pick

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 (NRSV)


This passage is rich for a lot of reasons.  I like how at the end of chapter 15, we see God regret some previous decisions.  This may raise a lot of theological questions on God’s knowledge of the future.  It even may allow people to query if God is infallible or not.  There’s a lot packed into that one sentence.

I also like the conversation between God and Samuel.  Samuel is worried that he will be killed for treason if he anoints another man king while Saul is still on the throne.  God works out his cover story for him!  This dialogue would not be available to everyone of that time.  They would have only seen Samuel as the sly old man who is working in a revolutionary manner by throwing his weight behind a new monarch. 

But maybe the best part of the story is the exposure of our preconceived ideas.  God does not look as mortals do (such as outward appearance) but God looks upon the heart.  Samuel and the rest have a good idea who they think will be the next king.  God’s candidate is definitely a dark horse!  But we see that God does know more about the future than we do as David eventually becomes the standard by which all other Israelite kings are measured.

Underdog was also a cartoon character
in the 1970's that evidently is still recognizable!



We all like a good underdog story.
Now that the NBA finals have wrapped up, Thunder fans are looking to free agency and the draft (even though we don’t have a first round pick this year).  My favorite NBA player is probably John Starks.  For full disclosure, this is largely because we are both alumni of Oklahoma State.  However, Starks for me rises ahead of other noteworthy players not because of his talent but because of his story.  Originally from Tulsa, Starks was only at OSU for a year after bouncing around several colleges.  He was not drafted when he finished his college eligibility.  He played during the summer and in the now-defunct CBA which were all minor leagues.  He was bagging groceries in Tulsa between college and the NBA.  Probably, he is most famous for his dunk over Horace Grant and Michael Jordan in the Eastern Conference finals when the New York Knicks were playing the Chicago Bulls in 1993.  Now, John Starks is not even in the same ballpark (so to speak) as Michael Jordan and maybe that is why that particular play was so memorable (to Knick fans anyway).  For many, this seemed like David and Goliath - at least as far as athletic talent goes.

Starks is one more underdog story.  There are lots of them.

They remind us that the most talented or the richest don’t always win.  Sometimes people have something in them that allows them to overcome people with greater ability.  As we think about this spiritually, we would say that God’s grace is available to all people.  This levels the playing field in a way that nothing else does.  It means that we each have the possibility to thrive and succeed.

While not everyone may see your potential, we believe that God does. 

Sometimes that’s all we need.

In Christ,

Sam

Photo by Alicia Griffin via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Breakin' the Law

Lectionary Scripture: Mark 2:23-3:6 (NRSV)

A statue of Robin Hood in Nottingham
One of the oldest vigilante characters in literature is Robin Hood.  In his story, he was forced to go outside the law when injustice was prevailing by those supposed to uphold the law.  We remember that he robs from the rich to give to the poor.  While later legends make him nobility that takes the cause of the commoner, the earliest legends make Robin Hood an outlaw not of royal blood.

Every age seems to tell his story and a new movie is set to be released in November.

There is a romance about someone finding justice outside the law.  It is no surprise that people often feel that they have been treated unfairly in life.  We look to someone to right the wrongs.  After all, what can we do if the system fails us?

Unfortunately, romance aside, vigilante justice often circumvents the rights of people and mob rule often isn't interested in due process.  Innocent people are often hurt and killed when people go outside the law.  So when should we circumvent the law and when should we uphold it?

Jesus finds that the religious law in his day kept people from being helped as they should.  He gives a kind of priority to helping people over and above the religious observance of the Sabbath.  He wants to make sure that the leaders understand this priority and makes an example of a man with a withered hand.  But taking the law into one's own hands is often seen as subversive.  Jesus was breaking age-old traditions and when this was thrown in their faces, they were mad enough to kill him.

This reminds us of how seriously people resist change!

On Sunday, I hope to explore how Christians seek to bring justice to a hurting world.  We do what we can because Jesus did what he could to alleviate suffering.  The difficulty is when systems are set up to allow people to suffer needlessly.  How do we respond and what is the right thing to do?

I hope you'll join us this Sunday at 8:30, 9:45 or 11 in the sanctuary or 10:50 in Wesley Hall!

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Arran Bee via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, May 14, 2018

What if You Threw a Party and Nobody Came?


There are tons of sad stories online about inviting people to help celebrate a birthday and no one shows up.  It is a social scene that causes anxiety – after all, no one wants to live in isolation from friends.

Eeyore as depicted by Disney is one
of the saddest characters written for children.
I try not to emulate him too often!
Some of the reactions are chastising to those that didn’t come.  I don’t think a nice application of guilt will solve the friendship problem.  Others seek to commiserate with an online community that will give sympathetic anecdotes of similar circumstance. 

There are also usually helpful people that give out advice such as: if you are throwing a party, you should make sure you have some guarantees – people you are sure will show up – before you send out invitations.  These should be contacted ahead of time.  While this is sound advice, I’m not sure people who’ve felt abandoned by their friends are ready to hear it.

As we celebrate Pentecost this Sunday, it is the birth of the church.  We remember that Pentecost was the beginning of the gift of the Holy Spirit among the faithful who heard the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ.  It was marked by the baptism of those who came to believe that day.

The church has gone through many changes since that time.  Not all of them have been successful.  I have tried various ministry ventures in my career and some of them have not survived.  There are times we’ve prepared and hoped and prayed and found the turnout was not quite what we expected.  While disappointing, this is not the end of the line.  We continue to strive for a way of communicating the good news that will be effective for a new generation.

This particular year is the 50th anniversary of The United Methodist Church (when the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church combined).  Some would point to the overall numbers in the United States now in comparison to when it started and declare that this has not been the success for which we had hoped.  I would say that we have done a good job of trying to adjust a very large organization of people to a new time.  While the overall numbers may not be up, there are many fresh and faithful expressions throughout the denomination that are very effective in reaching new people.  I believe First United Methodist Church of Edmond is one of them.

This Sunday, we will explore Ezekiel 37:1-14 which is the story of the dry bones that come to life.  This is a reminder that the people of God have previously felt that their brightest times were behind them.  God takes a longer view of working with us!  I hope you’ll join us as we celebrate the birthday of the church this Sunday.  And we would like to count on you being one of our guarantees!
In Christ,

Sam

Monday, May 7, 2018

Whoever Does Not Have the Son of God Does Not Have Life


Today’s title is straight out of the lectionary.   1 John 5:9-13 is the Epistle reading for Sunday and verse 12 makes this definitive statement.

John is not beating around the bush here.  He is telling it like it is.

Truth and lies are important themes that run throughout the letter and we see it in this reading.  It seems rather bold to say that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you are calling God a liar but that is what John says in verse 10.

If you combine that with the title, it seems to draw a line in the sand between believers and non-believers.

It is easier to deride someone
than to love them but it is
not as Christ-like.
This is written to the faithful for assurance in their faith as verse 13 attests.  But the faithful know the whole story – or at least we should.

In our soundbite culture of 140 characters or less, it becomes too easy to pick out verses like these in order to browbeat someone who doesn’t believe the way we do. 

Yet, John’s letter is richer than merely today’s reading and as the faithful, we should take these verses in context with the entire work. 

In the second chapter, verse six states that those who claim to abide in Christ “ought to walk just as he walked.”  Of course, Jesus walked in humility and pulled the outside in and sometimes pushed the inside out.  He turned the world upside down and he was willing to die to do so.  If we are dividing the lines so easily between believer and non-believer in order to hold the latter in disdain, the irony is that we are no longer walking as Jesus walked.

John’s letter also identifies God as love in the fourth chapter.  As we understand spirituality in broader terms than today’s verses indicate, John states clearly in verse 16, “those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  Even atheists have loving relationships.  Does this mean they approach God as they exemplify love even though they would not name it as such?

If we understand spirituality in this larger sense, we could say that God is most clearly seen when love is on display.  So in this sense, if the Son of God is also understood by love as we see his love for us, then when we do not love, we do not have life as today’s verse states. 

Loving seems to make up life as this epistle defines it.  Those who are not loving are not in Christ.  This seems to be the true meaning of today’s reading whether someone professes faith in Jesus or not.  As those who look through the lens of Christ, we are free to define the world as we see it. 

The faithful abide in God and so we start all conversations concerning truth with love.  This is not a sappy, undefined love but one that is sacrificial and challenging.  It is difficult but when it is realized, we see that eternity has already begun.

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by philippe leroyer via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Kids These Days

This was the common path to both my school
and my house while growing up.
The final piece in the series, "Living a Resurrection Faith in a Post-Christian World" has to do with the decadence we see in society today.  The question becomes, "Are morals in American culture going down the drain?"  As we look at death and resurrection during the Easter season, we answer this with the death of judgment and the resurrection of accountability.  While these two things seem to be similar, the Christian approach should favor the latter over the former.

Human beings have railed on the youth of the times in every generation.  They have always been lazy, self-serving leeches on society who are going to lead us into the abyss.  Their morals are continuously suspect.

In 1816, the Times of London expressed how the waltz was a dance that would corrupt the morals of polite society.  You never changed partners!  Here's a quote from the article:

We know not how it has happened (probably by the recommendation of some worthless and ignorant French dancing-master) that so indecent a dance now has for the first time been exhibited at the English court; but the novelty is one deserving of severe reprobation, and we trust it will never again be tolerated in any moral English society.


It seems that we fear that our morals are constantly being overturned by newer behaviors.  We worry that video games are keeping the youth of today from playing outside.  In 1859, Scientific American published an article on the evils of chess of all things.  They mention:
chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while at the same time it affords no benefit whatever to the body.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/19th-century-concern-trollingchess-mere-amusement-very-inferior-character-180953281/#kXek6w33zOPIwbOK.99
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chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while at the same time it affords no benefit whatever to the body.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/19th-century-concern-trollingchess-mere-amusement-very-inferior-character-180953281/#kXek6w33zOPIwbOK.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
Chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body.
If you substituted "X-Box" or "PlayStation" for "Chess" in the above sentence, you could easily place it in a modern essay on how kids are awful because...

This week's lectionary reading is Acts 8:26-40.  As we look at the varieties of gender today, we see that the church already had an answer for those of difference in its infancy: baptize them.  This definitely went against the grain.  The grace we express in Christ Jesus also puts us in relationship with one another where we allow ourselves to be held accountable.  It is only through being held accountable that we allow ourselves to grow past our own particular blind spots.

But how can we do this without judgment?  To hold someone accountable implies judgment, doesn't it?  We'll look at the difference between these two important concepts on Sunday.  That is, assuming I'm not having to spend all my time correcting my wayward teenagers.

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Mitch Barrie via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Does the Church Have Less Influence Today?

This is not a trick question.  When I grew up, it was very normative to be a Christian.  In fact, it was weird if you weren't.

I had a couple of Jewish friends and when I found out they went to worship on Saturday, I felt sorry for them because that's when all the good cartoons were on television.  If they tried to watch TV on Sunday, all they could see were worship services.  And by worship services, I mean Christian worship services.

There were plenty of things that were closed on Sundays and there was nary a school activity on Wednesday night.  It was easy to be a Christian because our culture didn't allow for much choice in the matter.  Or at least, it made it easy to attend due to lack of competition.

In the Church today, its members are facing a very different reality.  There are loads of options during Sunday morning worship.  In fact, most of the congregation brings the options with them into worship today:

Sometimes we forget the
target audience of the Church.
Cell phones.

These little wonders contain all the distractions one could ask for:

videos

books

games

articles

music

even voyeurism - err, I mean social media.

So people in today's United States must actively choose to turn off the phone and engage in their faith.  And before you text me that your Bible app, prayer app, worship app, faithful living app, church app helps you in your faith, I meant turning off the phone in a metaphorical sense.

This is the sense that we must turn away from the world and try to hear what God may have for us.  I don't mean turn our back on the needs of the world, I mean that we must turn away from the message of the world that constantly cries out, "It's all about you!"

This Sunday, we will continue in the series, "Living a Resurrection Faith in a Post-Christian World" and I will try to address the question in today's blog title.  We'll look at Acts 4:5-12 and see how Peter's word for the elders of the day is still Peter's word for us.

And spoiler alert, the answer to the question, as always, is up to you.

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by harrypope via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.