Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blessings Abound

I enjoy reading Eugene Peterson's The Message, a modern English paraphrase of The Bible.  When I do scholarly research, I prefer the New Revised Standard Version, but for devotional reading, I sometimes turn to The Message to get a fresh perspective.  To be clear, it is a paraphrase - it was not put together by a team of translators but by an individual.  With that in mind, it can be a very helpful read.

This Sunday, I will be preaching on The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.  I turned to Peterson's offering on these and found a delightfully different take on how we find ourselves blessed.  Give a read:
"The Sermon of the Beatitudes" by James Tissot
 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

                                       Matthew 5:1-12 (The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Sometimes it is good to compare these to a more familiar translation and see if you agree with the differences.  How do they speak to you?

This Sunday, we'll explore the Beatitudes in worship.  They can be confounding and many of them don't sound like the normal characteristics in which we would find ourselves feeling blessed.  If you are in the Piedmont or Cashion area and are unaffiliated, come and join us for worship!

In Christ,


The song of the blog - does anyone know why "Salt of the Earth" would follow a post about the Beatitudes?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Following the Light

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.

                         Isaiah 9:2 (NRSV)

This text is part of the lectionary reading for Sunday, January 26 which features Isaiah 9:1-4.  If it sounds familiar it is because Isaiah's ninth chapter is also featured for the Christmas Eve readings.

The theme of light fits well with the season after the Epiphany where we see the light of Christ shining into our lives.

Within the Gospel text for Sunday (Matthew 4:12-23), this passage from Isaiah is also quoted.  We see Jesus gearing up for his public ministry and he begins to call disciples to follow him.  

As I considered what it would mean to follow Jesus within this theme of light, I was reminded of a trust walk our small group took at camp this summer.  An ordinary trust walk includes a blindfolded individual and their sighted partner.  The seeing person then leads the "blind" person around the camp, calling out obstacles and obstructions.

This is not a simple trail when you can see!
Since we had seniors in our group who had already experienced this at camp, we decided to increase the level of difficulty.  We took a tougher trail (off path) up the side of the hill to the cross.  It was not easy and we came to a place where we had to step across a small chasm.  Each of the youth that were sighted had to work together to ensure a safe crossing for those that couldn't see.  I gave those blinded an out but each of them chose to continue to the top.  It was an achievement for the entire group and it felt good when we finished the hike.
Coulton Parker helps
Morgan Wilson up the trail.

Was this what the first disciples who followed Jesus felt like? They may have been in the dark in the beginning but felt that they trusted Jesus enough to drop their lives and follow him.  Just as my journey with Jesus has included highs and lows, I believe that the same was true for the disciples.  In fact, the disciples may not have really seen the light until the resurrection.

How does following Jesus for modern disciples today reflect our trust and our willingness to work with others to ensure we all reach the mountaintop?

This Sunday's worship at Piedmont and Cashion United Methodist Churches will be looking at what it means to follow the light.  Join us if you don't have a church home!  

In Christ,


Sunday, January 12, 2014

No Depression?

I am a fan of the Coen brothers.
The language is a little
salty for a church

Joel and Ethan Coen have made some of my favorite movies including Raising Arizona, Fargo, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?  They also did a pretty good job remaking True Grit a few years ago - not an easy thing to do.

I was looking forward to seeing Inside Llewyn Davis which is their latest production to hit the screens.  While it was interesting, it will not be included in their best.  The main title character is a folk singer in 1961 before folk music really took off a few years later.  The movie follows Davis through an unsuccessful life and seems fairly miserable as we see him fail at his relationships as well as his career.

Ever make one bad decision after another?

Maybe even worse, sometimes it just seems we're not getting the breaks we need to make it.

This sense of being on a bad roll can move us into a depression and we may even self-destruct.  This seems to be what's going on with Llewyn Davis in the film.

What do we do with depression and what does God have to do with it?

Sometimes we may seem like failures at our spiritual lives as well because if we were more faithful, wouldn't we be over the depression by now?  And so many people suffering from depression also quit attending church.

This week's scripture reading is from the Psalms: 40:1-11 to be exact.  The psalmist seems to be self-declaring steadfastness and faithfulness and is now waiting for God to reciprocate.

"I've been faithful, God.  How about you?"

"How Long, O Lord?" will be my sermon title for Sunday as we look at how we respond to real depression in our lives.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Remembering Our Baptism In Christ

Much of the time, when I sign my name as a pastor, I do not write, "Love" or "Sincerely" but I use the words, "In Christ".  

This refers to the letters of Paul, chiefly when he states, "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (2 Corinthians 5:17, NRSV).

It also refers to Paul's statement, "There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1, NRSV).

As a book I recently read stated, "...participation 'in Christ' is also a sharing in the way of the cross." (p. 116).

So for me as a Christian but especially as a pastor, "in Christ" is a reference to not only my identity but our shared identity together.  We are new creations without condemnation as we share in Christ.

This Sunday, we will celebrate the Baptism of the Lord Sunday in worship.  This is always the Sunday following the Epiphany where we remember and celebrate the Baptism of Jesus and may recall our own baptism and respond to the grace we have received.

Some have asked me about my parking space at the far corner of the parking lot by the recycling bins.  It was given to me by the church on my 10th anniversary as Piedmont's pastor.  It's a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that this is where I always park on Sunday mornings even though I am one of the first to arrive and have my pick of spaces.  

In doing so, I preserve the closer parking for those who aren't yet a part of us.  As an able-bodied disciple of Jesus, I am perfectly willing to walk a little ways to worship God.  As I give up a little for someone else, I am remembering my baptism - I am remembering that participating in Christ means to share in the way of the cross.  I give so that others may have life - even if that is something as simple as giving visitors a closer place to park.  

This doesn't diminish me - in fact, if anything, it allows me to be a stronger person.  As we consider new year's resolutions, maybe one should be that we'll look for ways to share life with others.  This Sunday, we'll remind ourselves of the baptism of Jesus as well as the faith commitments we have made.  If you are near Piedmont or Cashion and don't have a church home, I've left a space for you to join us for worship!

In Christ,