Monday, October 31, 2016

Remembering Those Who Have Preceded Us in Death

The final scene in Titanic always bugged me.  Rose, the 101 year old main character, dies at the end of the movie after a full life with career, children and grandchildren.  As she makes her way to the afterlife, she enters the ship again and it is transformed its former glory while those who died aboard her are all waiting for her to join them.  Jack, her love interest aboard the ship, is there to greet her and they embrace and the movie ends.

Now this romantic end shows that Rose and her true love do find each other even if they were kept apart for the past 80 years.  This is sentimental and it is kind of nice to think about them ending up together since we really skipped her eighty years without him.  What bugs me about this is that her life with her husband, children and grandchildren seemed to pale in comparison to the few days that she spent with Jack. 

In reality, we know that infatuation can come quickly but true love that lasts over a lifetime includes dealing with conflict, overcoming difficulties and continuing to get to know each other as we grow and change throughout life.  Love at first sight might be romantic but love that builds over a lifetime is actually more substantial. 

This film ending may also cause some to wonder about Heaven and what will it be like.  What If a person is widowed and then remarries?  Which person will you encounter?

The Sadducees inquired to Jesus about this very question in this week’s lectionary passage, Luke 20:27-38.  Jesus responds that the next life will be very different.  This in itself is not a very comprehensive answer and begs more questions.  Will we recognize our loved ones?  Will they know us?  Will we look like we did when we were younger?  Or more importantly, will we look like we imagine we did when we were younger?  Do we continue to experience the five senses that make up so much of our input? 

As Christians, we believe that a person's light
continues to shine in Christ after death.
This Sunday, we will also observe All Saints Day which occurs every November 1.  We will light a candle in worship for those church members who have died in the past year.  We will also have time in the worship service to remember those loved ones who were not members of our church but who remain near and dear in our hearts.  The sermon title will be “Children of the Resurrection” and if you are in town, I hope you will join us at 8:30 or 11 am in the sanctuary or at 10:50 am in Wesley Hall.  It should also be available online if you can't join us in the flesh!  

In Christ,


Photo used from via Creative Commons license.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What if Jesus Was Short?

This Sunday's lectionary reading for the Gospel is Luke 19:1-10 and is the story of Zacchaeus.  Within this story, Zacchaeus is a tax collector who is already on the outside of polite society from his profession.  He was trying to see Jesus but couldn't because of the crowd surrounding Jesus and also "because he was short in stature" (verse 3).  Then he climbs a sycamore tree and they have a conversation when Jesus passes by.

But what if Jesus was the one "short in stature"?  The crowds surrounding a shorter man would make it just as hard to see him.

Does this idea make you uncomfortable?

This face of Jesus was the result of the forensic science of
Richard Neave.  It is an average appearance of men
during the time and region of Jesus.  It also goes
against the grain of most of the paintings we see today.
I remember first discussing this in seminary.  We've so long attributed this to Zacchaeus that it becomes almost impossible to question.  After all, those who grew up in the church likely sang "Zacchaeus was a wee little man" at some point in childhood, permanently cementing his height in our minds.

We often unconsciously designate height with leadership.  If you are shorter, you must command a greater charisma in order to lead others.  This is not fair but seems to be the way human beings operate.

If we are uncomfortable with a short Jesus, what does that say about us?  If we look at the average height of people in Galilee during that period of time, an average man would have been a couple of inches above five feet.  So regardless of which person the adjective describes, Jesus would still be short by today's averages.

If this makes us question our assumptions (or our difficulties overcoming them) in what we imagine Jesus to have looked like, this may help us understand this particular passage.  After all, he sees something in Zacchaeus that others do not.  This often translates personally to the idea that Jesus understands us more fully and can see our potential.

We can find hope in this and strive to be more than we currently are from a spiritual, moral and ethical standpoint.  But we can also seek to look at others with this optimistic gaze of Jesus.  Can we see potential within each person - even those we would normally write off?

I'm looking forward to preaching on this text.  If you are available on Sunday morning, I hope you'll join us at First United Methodist Church of Edmond at 8:30 and 11:00 am in the sanctuary or at 10:50 am in Wesley Hall!

In Christ,


Photo from an article of Popular Mechanics magazine from December 2002. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Humility Shows Strength

This Sunday's lectionary passage for worship is Luke 18:9-14.  It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and Jesus tells it when the righteous were looking with contempt upon others.

Within the cultural realm of Jesus, Pharisees would be seen as righteous because they were the ones who knew scripture.  They interpreted it and followed it.  Their interpretation brought about expectation.  If they followed it, they expected others of their faith to do as they did.  Woe to the one who fell short of their ideals.

As you can see by the picture,
Tax Collectors are still not
a popular lot.  Imagine if
they were collecting them for a
foreign occupying government!
Conversely, tax collectors were those people who knew the community and worked for the occupying gentiles.  They profited at the expense of their fellows while helping to fund the soldiers that were often viewed with suspicion at best.  They knew the community but wouldn't have been welcome in the community.

So when Jesus lifts up the tax collector as justified in the parable even over the Pharisee, this would have been a reversal over the common thinking. What lifts him above is not his devotion to scripture.  It would not be his occupation or how he lives his life.  What elevates him in the eyes of Jesus is his humility.

Real humility is a source of strength.  One who is insecure has difficulty giving credit where credit is due.  One who is humble can see and identify the gifts present in others.  This is how God sees us. God continually uses flawed people in scripture to accomplish great things.  God uses them in spite of the flaws.

Each of us has our problem areas.  We each have our strengths.  Being self-aware of both allows us to thrive because we rely on what we do well and look for help to compliment those places that are not as polished.

I know that I need to practice my own sense of humility more often - especially when my insecurities rear their ugly heads.  But when I do place myself on an equal playing field, I am acknowledging God at work in the world through all kinds of people.  And when we can see this, we may be closer to the Kingdom of God.

In Christ,


Photo by Stephen Melkisethian via, used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Heart Faith and Head Faith

What does it mean to be in relationship with Jesus Christ?
Kneeling before God in prayer
is often a private experience.  Sometimes it
is difficult to relate or explain.

This means different things to different people.  I suspect that if you were to ask ten different Christians what their relationship looked like, you would get ten different answers.  All of us share many similarities as human beings but we are also unique. 

Most people have relationships with their parents.  There are similarities with each of these relationships that you could identify but each one would also have its own imprint that would mark it as different from others.  It is not surprising that we should have different, unique spiritualities.

When my mother was eleven years old, she went down for an altar call with about seven others in her church.  They were praying at the altar, seeking to be saved.

She told me, “We were on our knees in the front row.”  I asked her if they had kneelers but she said they didn’t back then.  Mrs. Downey was their lay pastor who led the services in that little country church in Houston, Missouri.  Preacher Howard would come around once a month but the other Sundays were led by Mrs. Downey.  Mom recalls the account:

“We were praying the prayer that Mrs. Downey taught us and eventually everybody got up but me.  I didn’t feel any different after I had been praying and I was disappointed.  It was embarrassing to be the last one left.  Mrs. Downey talked to me and told me that sometimes you don’t feel it – sometimes you just have to take it on faith.” 

Then she said, “I wasn’t satisfied which was why I had stayed there praying so long.  But that came later.”

According to Myers-Briggs, people have a preference for being more of a “thinker” or more of a “feeler”.  Those that are more thinkers would respond more to their relationship with Jesus Christ as a profession of belief or faith.  It is something to which they logically assent.  Feelers are more likely to have a change in their hearts come over them.  They feel different and this experience is their assurance.  Neither is better than the other.  Neither is more authentic.  God reaches us in different ways because we are each made differently.

This Sunday, we will examine Jeremiah 31:31-34 which is a famous passage on God’s New Covenant with God’s people.  This passage speaks of “write it on their hearts” which indicates speaking to the feelers but it also states, “they shall all know me” in reference to teaching which may indicate speaking to the thinkers.  We’ll explore how we are “Connecting our Lives” in worship together.  I hope you’ll join us at 8:30 am and 11 am in the sanctuary or at 10:50 am in Wesley Hall.  As we come together – thinkers and feelers and those somewhere in the middle – we make up the rich tapestry of faith that transforms us and transforms the world.

In Christ,


Photo by Jess Robinson, used under Creative Commons via

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Recognizing the Blessing

It’s early October which means that Thanksgiving is the day after tomorrow.

Okay, time doesn’t quite go by quite that fast. 

Or at least it shouldn’t!

In Germany, Erntedankfest is a harvest festival
 that includes worship services.
Thanksgiving is an original American holiday but other countries also observe festivals where gratitude is the emphasis.  The Koreans have a similar holiday known as Chuseok that pre-dates our Thanksgiving.  It is actually also similar to our Memorial Day in that Korean people seek to honor their ancestors on this day and often visit the grave sites of family members. 

My own family traditions for Thanksgiving have changed through the years.  When my grandparents were living, we would gather there for the holiday feast with uncles, aunts and cousins.  My mother’s mother lived on a farm and before they retired, the vegetables came from their garden.  The milk was fresh from the cow.  It was much richer than what we normally bought at the store!  My grandmother always prepared multiple desserts too.  Her rhubarb cobbler was my favorite – I liked the tart flavor and you couldn’t get it just anywhere.  I also enjoyed her green beans.  They tasted so good and were different from any others I’d ever had.  When I finally asked my mom about how Grandma prepared them, she told me that she boiled them with sugar!  No wonder they had a distinct flavor!

At Thanksgiving, my Grandma would always pray.  As a child, I appreciated the vigor in her prayers much more than the length.  But I miss her and would be happy to hold off on eating to hear another one.

This Sunday may be a little early for thinking about Thanksgiving but it is never too early to think about gratitude.  The lectionary reading for the Gospel is Luke17:11-19 which contains the story of Jesus healing ten lepers.  Only one returns to give thanks and that one is a Samaritan! 

I often hear that people vehemently oppose (in others) the sense of entitlement that we sometimes develop.  Nobody likes it when someone assumes too much.  No one thinks highly of the person that doesn’t acknowledge the help they received in hard-fought success.  So how do we keep this from creeping up in our own lives?
On Sunday, I will be preaching a sermon entitled, “Connecting our Orientations” as I continue the series, “Connecting MORE people with God and Neighbor”.  I will seek to show that when we orient ourselves in gratitude, life and spirituality become more fruitful.  If you are unable to join us, I hope that you will think about those who have shaped you for the better in your life and give thanks to God for their influence.

In Christ,


Photo used under Creative Commons via