Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I'm Done with Sin!

Lectionary Reading: Romans 6:1-11 (NRSV)

Okay, I would like to be finished with sin but it seems to creep back into my life at just the wrong times!  Paul addresses this issue with the fledgling church in Rome within this week's epistle reading.  He indicates that our "old self" is crucified with Christ so that we may not be "enslaved to sin."

What does it mean to be "dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus"?

The first vow that United Methodists ask when a person makes a profession of faith is "Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?"

We acknowledge that it is important for an individual to realize that there are forces at work beyond our control.  However, we can control our own actions and we choose to live a different life.

Overindulgence in the self does not lead to life.
Our expectation is not that a person will never sin again.  We understand that temptation will overcome us.  Our goal is perfection in love but it will take a lot of trial and error to get there.

If we overcome sin when we put on Christ, how come it is still so pervasive in our lives?  

What kind of victory is it if we fall prey to temptation at the drop of a hat?

I think that Paul's use of the words "old self" is key for us.  We must recognize a new direction in which we are to walk.  When the self is my idol, God has difficulty gaining a toehold in my life. If I am able to set aside the self and see the world through a different lens, I begin to make headway in my faith journey.

I do not take this to mean that I can never enjoy myself.  It does mean that I shouldn't enjoy myself if it comes at another's expense.

I remember one of the twelve-year-olds I baptized at his confirmation telling his friends that he could no longer participate in their mischief because he was now baptized!  It made a difference in his life and should make a difference in ours.  In the Coen brothers movie, O Brother Where Art Thou, when Delmar is baptized it changes him.  As his cohorts steal a pie from a window, he leaves a dollar in its place to pay for their transgression.  

Delmar is not immune to sin but he recognizes its danger and seeks to overcome it.

As we remain in Christ, this overcoming of sin becomes more and more possible.  It allows us to embrace the life that we are meant to enjoy in the here and now.  If it has been a while since you have worshiped somewhere, I invite you to join with me this Sunday if you are in the Edmond area.  It might just help with a multitude of things!



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


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Being a Worthy Host

Lectionary Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:35-10:15 (NRSV)

The part of this passage that used to disturb me was where Jesus told his disciples to "Go nowhere among the Gentiles" as he sent them out.

If the mission of Jesus was only to the Jews, then we, as Gentiles, seem to be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God.  For me, this lacks congruence with the overall message of "God so loved the world..."  Of course, the latter is from John rather than Matthew.  However, Matthew also has more universal appeal with the parable of the sower who scatters seeds indiscriminately.

Matthew's is the only gospel that includes the curtain of the temple being torn when Jesus dies which indicates that which had separated us from God is now gone.  The separation of the sheep and the goats in Matthew seems to point more toward morals than it does nationality when looking at righteousness.

And so, it is a little confusing to see the distinction Jesus makes here between Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles.

I believe that this has to do with training.

My grandmother always used to have
a piece of pie or cobbler waiting for us
when we came to visit.  I think she
would have understood how to receive
the disciples.
Out of these three groups, which one would have received the proper example of Abraham and Sarah? When Jesus mentions Sodom and Gomorrah, it becomes apparent that this era is being referenced.  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah follows the story of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis as two contrasting examples of how human beings should interact with strangers.

The lost sheep of the house of Israel should know the correct way to treat his disciples who are coming with nothing on them but the shirts on their backs.  So this stipulation seems to be for the benefit of his followers rather than a hierarchy of the worthy.

If this is the case, what does it say about the expectations of Jesus for the church today regarding hospitality?

I'm looking forward to unpacking this passage in more detail during Sunday's sermon which is entitled, "You Know What You Are Supposed to Do."
 

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

We Know Only in Part

Lectionary Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 (NRSV)

Paul's second letter to the Church at Corinth includes the benediction from Sunday's reading that features the Trinity in verse thirteen.  The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday and many churches look at the doctrine of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Trinity is the Christian understanding of how God continues to reveal God's self to the world.

We come to know God in this way but it is difficult.  Human beings are finite and God is infinite.  Can we truly grasp the infinite?  Not yet.

Paul's own reflection in his first letter to Corinth declares in 13:12b, "Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."  He speaks of when we move from this life to the next gaining insight even as God already understands us completely.

I remember being on a young adult retreat at Canyon in the late 1980's (I was probably about 5) and Reverend Guy Langston was our leader at the time.  He was speaking to us on intimacy with God.  As human beings seek true intimacy with one another, there is never a way for us to truly and completely know one another.  Guy was vulnerable in sharing that even in the most intimate moments between spouses, there is never a way for them to become truly one in that we can never know another's mind completely.

The three-leafed clover is sometimes used to describe
the Trinity with three in one.  If using this example,
one must be clear that this is one plant (like one God)
and not three separate plants (like three separate gods).
This easily slips into heresy if you claim that
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each a third
of the Godhead rather than each fully God.  
We can't do Vulcan mind melds with people.

At the same time, we have this deep desire to be known by others.  We seek to be loved for who we really are. Christianity claims that God does know us and love us for who we really are.

God, in God's infinite capacity is able to do this. We, in our limited capacity, seek to grasp who God really is.

The Trinity is our way of knowing.  It can be somewhat confusing and contains more than a bit of mystery to it.  This is not to be a cop-out but rather an admission to our limits.  And so, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the sharing in the Holy Spirit be with all of you.


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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

United Methodist Annual Meeting-Time

Part of being United Methodist is understanding how we relate to the various other United Methodist churches around what we refer to as “the connection.”  This week, many Oklahoma United Methodists will gather for our annual meeting which we often refer to as “annual conference.”  This meeting will include business such as electing officers and approving next year's budget.  We will honor our clergy who are transitioning as we celebrate retirements for those finishing their full-time work as well as commissioning and ordaining those emerging in leadership at the beginning of their careers.  We also will remember those clergy who have died since the last annual conference.

For clergy, our church membership is within the annual conference rather than the local church.  My wife and children all have their membership at Edmond First but mine is within the Oklahoma Conference.  When I retire (some day long from now), my membership will continue to remain in the Oklahoma Conference but I will be required to have a charge membership at a local church somewhere.  This is to ensure that I am remaining active within United Methodism.  We have quite a few clergy with their charge memberships within our congregation and it becomes a gift to the local church as they share their wisdom with us.

Our church has received the New People New Places grant in order to bring on an additional clergy person on our staff.  This grant was established a few years ago by Oklahoma United Methodism's Annual Conference Council to encourage various ministries within our conference to try to reach people within the community that we are currently missing.  A local church is eligible to receive this grant for up to three years.  Because the cost of clergy has risen in the past decade, we are utilizing the grant to bring on a new staff member with the hopes of receiving a declining award for the next two years so that we might take on the new salary more gently as we grow the church.

This means that the pressure on the new clergyperson is to grow the church enough to afford the additional salary.  We also have pressure to receive the grant funding while we move in this new direction.  Fortunately, our church is already healthy and growing so that we anticipate a smooth transition.

We were told that Trey Witzel would be appointed here June 1.  I was excited that our church would be receiving Trey as I served as his mentor through the candidacy process.  I’ve known Trey since he was in Junior High as he grew up within our district at Village United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.  We saw each other at various district events including summer camp each year.  Trey recently graduated with his master of divinity degree from Boston University’s School of Theology (a United Methodist institution).  His wife Addison grew up in Edmond and will be working at Oklahoma City University (another United Methodist institution).  Trey served Tewksbury UMC as a student local pastor while in Boston and grew the church from 25 to 55 in worship attendance. 

Addison and Trey were married before they
left for Boston three years ago right
after they finished undergraduate studies
at Oklahoma City University together.
Trey will be commissioned as a provisional elder on Wednesday night at 7:00 pm in the sanctuary of Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.  All are welcome to attend and there will be a reception following if you would like to stop by and introduce yourself.  Trey will have a minimum of two years in which he will serve as a provisional member before he is eligible for ordination and full conference membership.  While he is serving in this capacity, he is still allowed to oversee the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion within the bounds of his appointment.  Once he is ordained, he will be able to preside over the sacraments in other locales as well.   

This Sunday will be Trey’s first at his new appointment at Edmond First UMC.  We will also have a reception for Trey and Addison in the Christian Activity Center following worship.  There will be food trucks in the alley which will begin serving at 11 am if you go to the early service. 

We are pleased at how God is leading us into the future.  Many churches are cutting staff positions rather than adding them at this point and so we feel very fortunate.  I hope that if you are in the area (and don’t already attend another church), you will join us as we worship together!

In Christ,

Sam



Monday, May 22, 2017

Adversarial Relationships

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 (NRSV)

At this point in the letter, there is the assumption that suffering and persecution are a part of the Christian life.  It could be that the author is speaking of persecutions directly experienced or of those related by colleagues.  In any event, there seems to be a sense of solidarity in suffering as if it is helpful to realize that you are not the only one in turmoil.

The old adage "misery loves company" helps us to remember that we don't do as well in isolation.

The Christian community works well when it lifts up its various members when they are down.  It does even better when it applies this same helping hand to anyone in its vicinity.  Churches are some of the best organizations at responding to disaster relief. We step up when we see the need staring us in the face.

To be isolated in the midst of crisis is to often face despair.  People working through grief know that it is easier when shared with others.  We instinctively understand that we need to lean on one another from time to time.

The second part of verse 5:8 struck me as it declares, "Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour."  This metaphor is apt.  Human beings have known for millennia that it is easier to get picked off by lions when you stray from the group.  There is strength in numbers - spiritually as well as physically.

All primates are social animals with
the need for interaction and sharing with one another. 
This verse reminds me of the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.  After God favors Abel's offering, Cain is upset and God states in verse 7, "But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it." This particular verse is from the New International Version which makes the metaphor of sin similar to the roaring lion in 1 Peter 5:8.

These metaphors characterize evil as a force that is pursuing us.  In order to overcome it, our best defense is to share in the strength of the Holy Spirit which is most often expressed within the Christian community.

What does it mean for us to share in the suffering of one another?  How do we do this without getting dragged down with those in pain?  In other words, how do we lift them up rather than empathizing so much that we are now the ones needing help?

Prayer for the day:

O God, we have known and believed the love that You have for us.  May we, by dwelling in love, dwell in You, and You in us.  May we learn to love You Whom we have not seen, by loving our brothers and sisters whom we have seen.  Teach us, O heavenly Father, the love wherewith You have loved us; fashion us, O blessed Lord, after Your own example of love; shed abroad, O Your Holy Spirit of Love, the love of God and humanity in our hearts.  Amen.

                                  Henry Alford, Church of England, 19th Century


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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Descent into Hell

Lectionary reading for Sunday: 1 Peter 3:13-22 (NRSV)

This reading starts out a little dubiously when it asks, "Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?"

Could this have been asked a little tongue-in-cheek as we obviously knew what had happened to Jesus?  If this letter was written by a disciple of Peter's, the martyrdom of Peter would already have been known as well.

Every person faces choices from time-to-time.  Sometimes if we choose not to decide, the choice goes away.  Sometimes the choice to do what is right is tiring and takes effort.  We know there will be push-back.

A person who lives with a functioning alcoholic may choose not to make the drinking an issue in order to (seemingly) preserve the relationship.  It is almost always easier in the short-term to go with the status quo.

Sometimes imprisonment is perplexing as we
wonder aloud, "How did I get here?"
The reading speaks of Jesus making "a proclamation to the spirits in prison" in verse 19 immediately following his death on the cross.  This is the doctrine of Jesus descending to the dead or to Hell as proclaimed in the Apostles' Creed. Theologically, this offers salvation to all the souls who died before Christ redeemed humanity.  It seems that God is not content with the redemption of those born after Jesus, but actively seeks all people.

This is a part of the meaning of the resurrection.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live out this resurrection faith.  And that means that we are to do the right thing.  Not just sometimes, but all the time.  This is not meant to make us weary or to find it an impossible task.  As we remain in Christ, our own natures begin to shift toward the desire for compassion for all as we take on Christ's nature.

The difficulty of this is when we run into resistance for our good efforts.  Not everyone wants our compassion and some people prefer to remain in prisons of their own making. When these are strangers, it is a little easier to let go.  When they are people we love, their problems can become fused into our lives.

Ultimately, these are times when we must cling to our resurrection faith.  We remain hopeful in the salvation in Christ that transforms lives not only in the next life but in this life.

Some days that is all we have.  



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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Growing into Salvation

Lectionary Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10 (NRSV)

I like how the author speaks of growing into salvation in verse two.  So many times we speak of salvation as an event done by Jesus on our behalf or we speak of it as a moment in which we cross over from damned to blessed.

While these popular usages attempt to define our theology, they may also be limiting for how God works in people's lives.  Growing into salvation implies a process.  This fits with the Wesleyan idea of sanctifying grace in which we grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

As I consider my own growth as a Christian, much of it stemmed from the narrative my mother would share.  These were stories of my very young childhood that would get repeated as part of the family lore.  I heard them countless times growing up so that they began to shape me through their telling.

For example, once my siblings and I all received full-sized candy bars for a treat (this was unusual and the reasons are now lost).  I gobbled mine down and my older sister Becky saved hers for later.  When she finally got around to eating it (I think it was a Three Musketeers), I asked her for a bite.  She replied, "No, Sam, you already ate yours!"  I paused for a bit and asked her, "Becky, remember sharing?"  Of course, I couldn't pronounce the letter "r" and so it came out, "Becky, wemember shaiwwing?" This was a lesson the older family members were trying to ingrain in me.  She groaned and gave me a bite.

This story helped me to understand that cunning and creativity are better pursuits for getting what you want than whining or throwing a fit.  One could argue that this was more about manipulation than it was about learning to share.  However, it also taught an important lesson from my sister.  The value of sharing is more important than the irritation you obviously feel from a little brother.

Sometimes, we are reluctant to share if
the recipient seems like a pest!
It taught me that sharing is what we should pursue even if a person is taking advantage.  If my fundamental nature is to share, then a person cannot take advantage of me.

This is the very nature of grace that we receive in Christ Jesus.  It is something I learned a little bit at a time through these important women in my life.  I hope that you will take the time to reflect upon the life-giving things your own mother did for you this week as we approach Mother's Day.  I recognize that some have an easier time of this than others but any difficulty with this meditation may end with fruit and blessing for you.

I give thanks to God for my own "growth in salvation" and for my mom's hand in it.  


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