Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Response to Grace

On Monday, our staff discussed bad experiences with church giving or pledge campaigns.  

It was mentioned that some congregations engage in 2nd or 3rd offerings.  In other words, the ushers counted the offering and if there wasn’t enough, they passed the plate again!  This practice assumes that people held something back the first time.  On the positive side, it recognizes that the congregation covenants together to support the church budget.  But woe to the visitor who attends and finds themselves in a kind of offering ping pong between the pastor and the congregation!
Other bad experiences happened through the pony express pledge drive.  The tradition of this is to pass the pledge “saddle bag” from family to family until it comes back to the church.  However, it had always gotten held up at one house or another.  And so, this person had instructions to wait at each house until the pledge was given and then they moved on to the next house!  Needless to say, it was a little awkward for the delivery person. 

One old practice I had heard of was that the congregation posted what each family gave on a bulletin board in the church.  Another person had heard that only the top five givers of each week were posted.  This can quickly devolve into power politics in the church.  Our giving becomes a kind of merit where we count ourselves better than others before God.

So what is a theology of giving that fits with Wesleyan theology?

Our giving is not to make us feel guilty.  Our giving is not to earn a seat at the table.  Our giving is certainly not to show up our neighbors in the congregation!

When we pray before a meal, it is from
thankfulness that we have something to eat.
It is a response to what we are receiving.
Our giving is ultimately a response to the grace we have received. 

It is done out of thanksgiving.  It is done out of the realization of blessing.  It is done through the sense of being caretakers and stewards of this world with which God has entrusted us.
And so, within the church, we pledge an estimate of what we will give to God because of the grace we recognize that we have been given.  It is a healthy response.

A pledge drive for a church is healthy.  Some antagonists to pledging say that we should take whatever we get on faith.  However, as United Methodists, we are methodical.  We appreciate data.  We believe that making informed choices is smarter than making uniformed ones.  God gave us our brains to use to bring about the transformation of the world!  We often pray something about “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

A pledge allows the church to more greatly fulfill God’s mission.  We make it in faithfulness as a percentage of the income we expect to receive in the coming year.

This year, First United Methodist Church will celebrate the theme, “Connecting More People with God and Neighbor”.  This celebrates our vision and acknowledges our growth.  We’ll look at the Gospel reading for this week, Luke 17:5-10, and the specific theme will be “Connecting our Expectations”. 

I hope that you’ll join us at 8:30 or 11:00 am in the sanctuary or at 10:50 am in Wesley Hall and we'll trust that you gave what you intended the first time!

In Christ,


Photo used through the Creative Commons license through Flickr.com.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Looks Like Wheat to Me...

Is it part of a fairy ring or a noxious fungus?  We do
look at mushrooms in a variety of ways.  
Our lawn is slowly going Oklahoma native.  We don't put any kind of pesticides on our grass and we don't fertilize it either.  And if I am being totally honest, I don't water it either.

I allow the natural rainfall and the dew that likely comes from our neighbors watering to slake the thirst of our lawn. Nature has begun to take its course.

We have some interesting weeds coming up and a great variety of grasses.  This gives the lawn an unkempt uneven look.  If you look at our street, one of these things is not like the other!  As a concession, we do try to keep it short so that it at least looks manicured.

Merriam-Webster defines a weed as
a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth; especially: one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants 
 So weeds are really about perspective.

Jesus told a parable about weeds and wheat.  It is really a story about people.  In the parable, we are told to leave the weeds alone and that God will decide which one is which.  In our zeal to pull up the weeds, wheat can get pulled up right along with it.  What this means is that when we make a strong effort to punish or exclude the "wrong kind of people", innocent people accidentally fall under our wrath.

Interestingly enough, Merriam-Webster also defines a weed as
an obnoxious growth, thing, or person
It really is about perspective.  We are more likely to tolerate obnoxiousness if we know or love the person.  Sometimes it even becomes amusing.  Most of the time it is still boorish but we are more likely to cut them slack.

From a Christian perspective, we wonder how we can extend greater perspective (and thus greater hospitality) to those we encounter.  Not just to those visiting us in the pews (which I would hope that we would be really nice to) but to those outside the church walls as well.

It becomes routine for us to accept the neatly manicured lawns because of expectation or societal norms.  But what if God looks at that weed differently?  What if we look again and see that it really is wheat?

In Christ,


Monday, September 12, 2016

But Jesus Wants Me to Cheat!

Okay, I really don't believe this and I would guess you don't either.

But if you took a literal reading of the parable of the dishonest steward from Luke 16:1-13, this might be your conclusion.  This parable has a manager of accounts who is being dismissed from service because of his incompetence.  He then proceeds to cheat his master by reallocating the accounts so as to provide himself favor among colleagues after he is let go.

Having a story about someone who cheats to procure favor is not that unusual in the human experience.  What is unusual is the reaction of his boss in the story.  He is actually praised for his craftiness!

Jesus then sums up the story with a real head-scratcher in verse 9 (NRSV):
"And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes."
Jesus is not telling you to acquire ill-gotten gains but that would be the literal interpretation of what he said.

This story shows us as much as any verses in the Bible that all of us bring a lens of interpretation to scripture.  United Methodism gives us a good tool in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral for theological interpretation.  While John Wesley did not actually use this term or express it systematically like this, Wesley scholars such as Albert Outler in the 20th century noted that these were the methods that Wesley employed for his own interpretation.

So to interpret this scripture by using the Quadrilateral, we would use scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

An obvious scripture reference might be "Thou shalt not steal."  As one of the ten commandments, this sets in our minds that Jesus must be talking figuratively here.

Christian tradition refers to the teachings of the Church throughout history.  We might look at Wesley's notes on this particular passage as a part of our tradition.   Wesley's take on verse nine is more spiritual in nature rather than a literal reading.

Our reason allows us to see that taken as a literal story, it makes no sense.  No business owner would ever praise a servant for embezzling from him.  And those with whom he cut a deal wouldn't hire him because they know he's dishonest.  It would also likely keep them from being able to do future business with the rich owner.  So our reason moves us to look for a deeper, more subtle meaning.  We can see at first glance that this is not as cut-and-dried as the Good Samaritan.

Part of the common folklore concerning education
is that when we cheat, we are only cheating ourselves.
This could be seen loosely as tradition or
one might also say it falls under reason or experience.
Finally, our experience refers to Christian experiences that we've had of God's grace in our lives.  However, since we are believers in preceding grace, it becomes difficult to separate secular and religious movements in our lives.  I know what it is to be cheated.  It was not an experience that I would seek to emulate toward others as an ethical or moral person.

So we can surmise that this parable means something deeper.  Jesus doesn't want us to cheat.  Many think that this parable goes in line with those from chapter fifteen: lost sheep, lost coin, lost son/brother.  We see from these that God's economy of grace is based on God's generosity rather than merit. What if we interpret this particular parable in this light?

I'll be preaching on this in worship this Sunday (for better or worse)!  If you can't join us at 8:30, 10:50 or 11 am, you can catch it online through Facebook live at 11 or find the video on our church page after the service ends.

In Christ,


Picture used under the Creative Commons license via Flickr.com.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The World Is My Parish

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed this to be true.  His efforts at strengthening the faith in both those who professed Christianity as well as those who claimed no relationship with God surrounded the globe.  Much of this work was done following his death by followers who took up his methodical approach to Christian discipleship.

At one of the services, we
were told to take a selfie and
share via social media, "People all
over the world, join hands, start
a love train!"
Today the largest expression of Wesleyan faith, The United Methodist Church, spans the globe with churches in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. Our global gathering happens every four years at General Conference which happened earlier this year in May.  Our membership is at about 12.5 million members worldwide.  However, there are other Methodist denominations that are Wesleyan that are not a part of our denomination.  All of these make up over 80 million members worldwide and truly span the globe with churches in all of the six populated continents.

These Wesleyan churches began to gather in conference in the late 19th century and continue to meet for the World Methodist Conference once every five years.  I just returned from the 21st World Methodist Conference hosted in Houston, Texas where the theme was One: God, Faith, People, Mission.  It is always rewarding to meet new brothers and sisters who share similar ways of being Christian around the planet.  I had decided to attend this conference following the wonderful experience I had in Durban, South Africa in 2011 where the last one was held.  The next World Methodist Conference will be in 2021 in Sweden.  If you are interested in joining me, I would love to share more information with you.

The World Methodist Conference is overseen by the World Methodist Council, a body that is made up of 80 Wesleyan denominations from 134 countries.  For this quinquennium (a period of five years), I will serve as a delegate on the council.  I attended my first meeting on Sunday and Monday and look forward to sharing ideas with others from such a variety of cultures and places!

Of course it is good to be back to my local church.  I will be preaching on Luke 15:1-10 from the lectionary and my sermon title will be "An Economy of Grace".  If you miss it, you should be able to catch it on our church's Facebook page as we have started using Facebook live and our services are archived there.

In Christ,