Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Biggest Winner

Lectionary Reading: Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)

As I continue in my sermon series, "Juxtaposed: The Paradox of Faith" we will begin to look at Luke's Gospel lectionary readings starting with this Sunday.

We open with Luke's account of the onset of the ministry of Jesus among the people of Galilee.  He has been baptized and successfully withheld temptations.  Now he is ready to begin preaching, teaching, healing and embodying the mystery of God.  While John's Gospel begins with the miracle at Cana, Luke begins with teaching in the synagogue in his own hometown.

Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 which is speaking to a people that have been exiled in Babylon and have returned home to Judah.  They are trying to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem which had been destroyed by the Babylonians in the time of their grandparents and great-grandparents.  


President Bush received flack from this banner which 
served as a backdrop to a speech in 2003.
Sometimes the narrative told is an attempt
to bind reality to the vision being cast.
Isaiah speaks of good news to the returned.  It would have been good to hear and yet many would have felt that it may have been a bit premature.  It was good to hear that the Lord had released them so that they may return home.  Yet there were now people occupying their ancestral lands.  Would these distant cousins make room for them once more?  

Or would they more likely see how Babylon had rubbed off too much on these exiles seeking to move in with them?

There is a paradox in that they were free and yet at the same time still captive to the culture they thought they had escaped.

Jesus reads this same word to a people bound by Rome.  They also longed to be free and longed for someone to free them.  

How does this message of Jesus set with the people of God?  Is it too soon to declare this?  Would the people accept it?  It may be especially difficult in that Jesus speaks this word to his hometown!

Today, we see Jesus speaking to the poor, the captives and the blind.  What does that mean to the rich, the free and the sighted?  It is also paradoxical to us today in that we are both at the same time: rich and poor, captive and free, blind and sighted.  How does our faith allow us to hold these things in tension?  How do we receive good news in a way that we can incorporate it?  

We'll continue to explore this on Sunday - I hope you'll join us in some fashion!

In Christ,

Sam


Photo used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Are We Missing the Point?

Lectionary Scripture: John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

It is fascinating to me that the first miracle recorded in John's Gospel is where Jesus turns water into wine.  I find it interesting because while we have Jesus attending a wedding banquet, he keeps the party going when the wine runs out.  Not only that, but his mother is the one who asks him to intervene!

At some point in US history, many Protestant churches began to be associated with the temperance movement to curb the use of alcohol.  Within Methodism, founder John Wesley wrote about abstaining in his explanation of what it meant to "do no harm" saying that we should avoid 
"Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in the cases of extreme necessity."  (2016 Book of Discipline, 78)   
Of course the "unless" in this sentence leaves "extreme necessity" up for interpretation!  Later, Francis Willard, a famous Methodist laywoman, was the leader of the Women's Christian Temperance Union which led the charge for prohibition.

Even today, the official United Methodist stance is
"We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol as a faithful witness to God's liberating and redeeming love for persons." (2016 Book of Discipline, 124)
Yet today's text can be an interpretational hurdle for the stance of abstinence.  John's Gospel indicates that the wedding guests had already been drinking as they had consumed everything available!  So even moderation may take a hit here.  At least no one was driving home in that day.

For those who struggle with alcoholism, this may be a very difficult text indeed.

Jesus produced wine to the equivalent 
of about three of these barrels.
Maybe we get so stuck on our modern-day issues with the abuses of alcohol that we miss the point of the miracle.

In Jesus' day, the onset of the abundance of wine signaled the eschatological age - the end of time when God would step in and make all things right.

Amos 9:13 reads, "The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when...the mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall flow with it." (NRSV) and Joel 3:18 mirrors Amos.

So if we shift the topic away from whether or not one should drink wine (and whether or not Jesus advocated either way with this miracle), we could shift toward the idea that in Jesus we find our abundance and joy.  The difficulty is that this is not any less controversial - just for different reasons.  If we celebrate God's abundance over scarcity, what does this mean for those that are going hungry?  Where is God's abundance for those who don't have enough to eat?

On Sunday, I will be starting a new sermon series for the season of Epiphany entitled, "Juxtaposition: The Paradox of Faith."  I hope to look at how sometimes our faith seems to hold or lift up two contrasting ideas.  For this week's text, how can we preach God's preferred abundance for humanity when there is measurable scarcity in the world?

I will wrestle with this on Sunday - I hope you'll join us if you are in town!

In Christ,

Sam


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


Monday, January 7, 2019

Homecoming

Lectionary Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7 (NRSV)

I like the sense of celebration that occurs following the Christmas season.  The Advent-Christmas cycle finishes with Epiphany and then moves into these wonderful Sundays of light, knowledge and revelation.  This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and as we are in Year C, we have Luke's account which kind of just mentions that it happened although it does give the detail of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation from God.

Our reading from the Hebrew Bible is a scene from Isaiah which grants the allusion of baptism in verse 2 when Isaiah speaks on God's behalf, saying, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you".  The actual text is speaking to a people in exile.  What do those in exile want?  To go home!

I've not experienced homesickness very often in my life.  I've seen it from children and youth at camp.  I would say that I'm not as sympathetic as I should be due to the fact that it doesn't effect me like it does some people.  But I do remember once when I had a wave of just wanting to be home wash over me.

I was in Houston over Labor Day weekend for the World Methodist Conference back in 2016.  I had a tooth ache come over me something fierce.  I can remember thinking that there wouldn't be anything available to me to provide relief.  I found the University of Texas Dental School that would see me.  Unfortunately, this meant that I would be seen by students while the instructor oversaw the treatment.  

At first, they thought I needed a root canal and deadened my mouth.  Then they discovered that it was a back molar that needed to be extracted.  Could I come back in the afternoon?  Since I had arrived by Uber, I decided to stick around and eat lunch on site.  Of course, my mouth was still numb so this was a little bit of an adventure!  

When they started in again after lunch, it took several hours with my jaw open just wider than what seemed possible for the tooth to come out - they said that I had really strong roots!  It seemed like a compliment but I would have traded my roots for some weaker ones at the time.  During the extraction, one of the students broke the molar.  The instructor demoted him and I thought, "Now he will show them how it's done and I can get out of here!"  But he simply put another one up to bat.  They started in with what sounded like some kind of buzz saw and eventually relieved me of the rest of my tooth.  I then walked over to a grocery store that had a pharmacy so that I could get some pain medication for the night as I was pretty sore.  


Most preachers don't need a device to keep their 
mouths open but sometimes life throws a curve ball!
After I got the prescription and some groceries, I went back to the motel.  Only my Uber app wouldn't take my credit card and I couldn't get a ride.  Eventually, I was able to get a cab and finally got back to my motel room.  I can remember just wanting to go home.  It had been a long day and I was exhausted.  I missed my own bed and a family that would help take care of me.  

When we are isolated, it takes more effort to get well.  When we are in exile, the world doesn't seem as friendly.  Since today's passage in Isaiah speaks to the theme of baptism, I would say that Christian baptism is like a homecoming of sorts.  It is through baptism that we are adopted into the family of God!  In baptism we find that we are home!  I've been at churches that are warm - even though I was a stranger - and I've been at churches where I felt pretty anonymous even in the midst of a crowd.  Perception means a lot and I would think that anything we can do to create a sense of warmth and home is helpful to what God would like for people to encounter when they worship.

This Sunday, we'll explore the theology of baptism - how do these sacramental waters help us to navigate the waters of life?

In Christ,

Sam


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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Christmas is Holy Time


Are there any places that you find holy?

As I ponder that question, I find that my mind returns to places of my childhood and youth.  Growing up at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, my images of holy places revolve around this sanctuary and building.

Some of my holiest moments growing up were during the Advent and Christmas seasons in that church.  There was one particular Christmas Eve that was bitterly cold.  The wind would blow the heat right out of your body.  Our youth group had made luminaries out of paper bags, sand and candles.  Lucinda Scheldorf, my youth minister, recruited me to light the luminaries on that cold Christmas Eve.


These luminaries look nice and straight - 
I don't think the wind was blowing for this picture!
I did get some of them lit.  Most of them stayed dark because the wind kept blowing out my light!  One of them actually caught on fire making it interesting for me as well as those trying to hurry from the parking lot to the church!  But even amid my failure, I still felt that this was an important job for me.  It was a distinct way for me to share in the Christmas message.

The youth choir would sing at the 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service.  The choir loft was decorated with greenery and the college students returning home for Christmas break would also sing with us.  It was always fun to see them again.  They seemed to add to the special quality of this late night service.  One year, one of the youth dropped a hymnal off of one of the top spots in the choir loft.  It made a very large thump as it hit the ground - probably when Dr. Biggs was trying to make an important point!  We knew that we were leaders in worship but this only made the accident that much funnier!  All through the service, one of us would make eye contact with another and start cracking up all over again!

As I got older, I remember hearing our adult choir perform Handle’s Messiah.  This soon became the highlight of the Christmas season for me.  My favorite year was when I got to sing with them as I returned from college.  I sat next to Dad in the tenor section.  My brother Bob was a row away and Mom sang with the altos.

All of these memories combine to accentuate the holiness of the sanctuary for me.  When I walked through the doors earlier this fall for my Dad's funeral, God gave me a very real sense of calm and peace.  My hope for you is that you have already built memories in a sanctuary that add to the serenity and reverence of the season.  If you are away from home and near Edmond, we have special opportunities for you to worship with us.  On Sunday, December 23, our choir along with instrumentalists and Spirit Act will be presenting The Voices of Christmas in the sanctuary at 8:30, 9:45 and 11:00 am.  For those that are not as inspired by music as I am, I will be preaching in Wesley Hall at Worship on Hurd at 10:50 am.  In fact, we would encourage our folks to attend both if this works for your schedule!  Then on Christmas Eve, we will have four services available for you to worship at 4:00 pm (labeled family friendly because we feature a shorter service that is geared more toward children), 7:00 pm with full choir, 9:00 pm in Wesley Hall for a more contemporary feel, and 11:00 pm with our handbell choir.
Whether you have worshiped with us many times or if this will be your first, I hope that you will be able to create new memories of the holy to cherish for years to come!

In Christ,

Sam

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


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Cultivating Joy

Lectionary reading for Sunday: Philippians 4:4-7 (NRSV)

Don Vaught mentioned the other day that between the two schools, OSU and OU now have 8 Heisman trophies together.  Of course, he was referencing OU winning another Heisman trophy on Saturday night.  Interestingly enough, this is OSU's 30th anniversary of our lone contribution to the conversation.  I was fortunate enough to watch Barry Sanders when I was in school.

This season has been more dismal than that one.  We won 6 and lost 6 and will play Missouri in the Liberty Bowl to determine if our season is in the winning or losing column.  While many talk about how bad this is, it is certainly not their worst season.  I sat through all of that one as well in 1991.  The Cowboys were still on probation and didn't win a single game.  They had one tie with Iowa State and we didn't even get to see this highlight as it happened in Ames.

So I think about that season and how it correlates to today's scripture reading.  When Paul writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always" I know there are some times when life is not going my way.  How can I be expected to rejoice in the middle of an 0-10-1 season?  


Yet, I did have a good time at the games.  I came back for all of the contests even though I was already a year removed from graduation.  Sheryl was still a student and we attended the games together.  Somehow this took the sting off the losses!

At this point, I can remember just looking for a good play and celebrating it.  Any touchdown was a big deal and we acted as if we had just won the game!  Lots of consecutive losses can really change your expectations and your perspective.  It also seems to bond the fans together.  Something about shared suffering can do that!
Here I am participating in a dunk tank
for Founder's Day in Piedmont in 2004.
Sometimes we can find joy even 
when we are cold and wet!

As I watched the ups and downs of this season, I was up when we won but down when we lost.  I had to ask myself about setting my emotional fortunes on the backs of 18 year olds.

This begs the question, "Is our joy dictated by circumstance?"  

On one hand, if we are honest, we have to answer, "Absolutely!"  And many of us have much more consequential suffering than watching your team lose a football game.  

But on the other hand, we also know that circumstance doesn't have to set our emotional agenda.  Joy is a spiritual fruit according to the apostle Paul.  How can we cultivate this fruit in our lives?  How can it crop up even when others would tell us that it shouldn't be anywhere in sight?  

As we prepare for Christmas, I hope you'll join us for worship on Sunday as we seek to discover how joy can be as spiritual for us as it is emotional!  

In Christ,

Sam

Monday, December 3, 2018

I Would LIke to Be Blameless...

Sunday's Lectionary Reading: Philippians 1:3-11 (NRSV)



Growing up, I was taught to watch my mouth.  Cussing was especially prohibited.  There were lots and lots of words that I was not allowed to say.  One time, I ventured into some verbal country that was restricted.  In response, my mom washed my mouth out with soap.  For our younger readers, this meant my mom put a bar of soap into my mouth and made me rub it around until it started to create suds.

Of course, this tastes awful!  Even after rinsing your mouth out with water afterward, you can still taste the soap for a while.  It is considered harmful today and I am not advocating this as a disciplinary method (just to be clear). 

Of course, I professed my innocence!  I was being subjected to an injustice!  I didn’t even know that word was bad – I was just trying it out!

Except that this was not true.  While I wasn’t 100% sure the word in question was on the naughty list, I was probably 90% sure.  I was pushing my luck.

Later when I was in college, I went through a profanity phase.  It was my little rebellion as I was trying to figure out who I was as an adult.  I can remember offending other students in my classes.  They must have been too sensitive!  I was just toughening them up!  My intrusion on their ears was actually good for them, you see.

Essentially, I was putting my own desires (I can talk any way that pleases me) above the common good.  There was no personal responsibility to check myself or to make sure I was not harming someone else.

At the time, I wouldn’t have considered myself guilty of anything wrong. 

Except that I never spoke that way to my parents or grandparents. 

So there was some semblance of knowledge of right and wrong or I would have trod over their feelings as well.  Eventually, I matured and realized that words hold power and some words have the power to offend or hurt.  I (mostly) try to use my language to help and heal now which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

As Paul writes to the church at Philippi in Sunday’s epistle, he wishes for them that their love would overflow with knowledge and insight that would lead to discernment toward the correct action.  In this way, they will be blameless.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be blameless?

To have a “Get out of jail free” card?

In today’s society, it sometimes feels like we are moving away from personal responsibility and replacing it with the outright denial of guilt.  If you are wrong, just don’t ever admit it.

Except somewhere inside you know.

This Sunday, we will look at Paul’s encounters with the church at Philippi.  These certainly influenced his letter and how they read it.  As we prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas, “doing no harm” would certainly keep us from blame better than outright denial.  I hope you’ll join us for worship as we figure out what to get Jesus for his birthday this year!

In Christ,

Sam

Monday, November 26, 2018

Growing in Love Together

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 (NRSV)

One of the blessings for me this year was on Mother's Day.  Mom was living in Bradford Village and was close to the end of her life.  We gathered around her after church and she knew each of us.  She was happy to eat the candy that we brought her!  As we continued to visit, I could see her getting tired.  She and my dad were sitting on the couch together and she leaned over against him and fell asleep with her head on his chest as his arm was around her.  You could see that both of them appreciated this quiet moment when they could just be near each other again.  They were companions for the majority of their lives.

They had ups and downs.  There were times when each was exasperated with the other.  There were times when they asked themselves, "Who have I yoked myself with?"  But there were also times when they celebrated the joys of life together that reminded them why they had married in the first place.  Over the years, they grew in love with one another.  After Mom passed, Dad didn't quite last 5 months.  I think it was that when she died, he was ready to go too.  After 63 years of marriage, he may not have been able to adjust to life without her.

As we consider romantic relationships, we hope to have someone that we grow to love completely - someone who really knows us and loves us anyway!

As the Advent season arrives, we find ourselves waiting on Christmas once more.  We may be searching for Christmas gifts for those whom we love.  There are some we love and know quite well but still are not sure what to get!

But if we move to a more spiritual understanding of Advent, we would think about our relationship with Jesus.  It is an odd season as we await the birth of Jesus because he has already been born!  He is with us as the risen Christ even as we look toward celebrating Christmas again.


So much of the time, we hear lamenting over the commercialization of the season.  Sometimes we are the ones doing the complaining!  How could we focus more on Jesus during this Advent?

Does Black Friday shopping ever help us 
in our good will toward others?
As Sunday's reading indicates, Paul bids Jesus to make us "increase and abound in love for one another and for all."  I think about my parents' marriage and how they grew in love with one another through their lives.  I believe that my own marriage is moving in this same direction.  But what about my love for all?  Do I love others more completely than I did last year?  Have I grown distant in how I feel about others - maybe as a result of the polarization that on the rise?

If we are reluctant to answer or are unsure how we feel, I think this is a good time for us to re-examine what we can do to remedy this.  How can we approach our relationships with others like we would a marriage relationship?  The failure of a marriage is when it ends in divorce.  This is a painful ending that I wouldn't wish on anyone.  So how can we weather a relationship when we find it difficult so that we can find our good will deepening rather than lessening?

If nothing else, this would be a good gift to offer Jesus this year.  Join us on Sunday as we strengthen our resolve to follow the apostle Paul's will for our lives for our love for others to abound!

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Craig Dugas vis Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.