Monday, December 23, 2019

Confirming Christmas

Lectionary Reading for Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)

I think it is difficult to re-read the Christmas story without bringing our own history to Bethlehem with us.  By this I mean that we all have some experience with Christmas - traditions, memories, songs, family, etc.  All of these things color the nativity in ways we may not even realize.

One of our assumptions may be that Mary really had it all together. 

She was the faithful one that responds to the angel Gabriel's announcement of her impending pregnancy: "let it be with me according to your word." (Luke 1:38b, NRSV)

She would have heard of her husband Joseph's dream concerning her child - we are assuming that he told her of it and his confidence in the strange situation.

But even the most prominent of religious experiences have a way of fading. 

We may doubt that we had them at all.

They may seem more to us a "fragment of underdone potato" to quote Charles Dickens than an actual encounter with the divine.

Is it possible that Mary had her own doubts about the parentage of Jesus at times?

I think that with her being human, the answer would certainly be "Yes!"  This doesn't mean she wasn't faithful or didn't also have times of great assurance.  It simply means that the religious experience is not part of our everyday life.  It is difficult to categorize and easier to explain away.

So when the shepherds came and related to her about what the angels had said about her baby, Luke says that she was amazed.  At first glance, we might think, "Well, shouldn't she have expected this?"

But she treasured their words and pondered them in her heart.

It is nice - even for the mother of the Lord - to have confirmation of what she knew to be true.

Their story validated her understanding of who Jesus was for her.  You can almost hear her whisper, "So it is true."

I'll be preaching on this passage at Christmas Eve.  There are lots of opportunities to celebrate with us.  I'll share the story at 4 pm (family friendly service), 7 pm and 11 pm while Trey will be preaching at Guthrie at 6:30 pm and in Wesley Hall in Edmond at 9 pm.  While we can't leave our assumptions completely behind as we come, I would invite you to see the story with new eyes once more.         

As we share in the carols and fill our space with candlelight, may it confirm Christmas once again for you!  And as you leave the church to go home, my hope is that you'll treasure the Christmas story and ponder it in your heart!

In Christ,


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Christmas Spirit in Music

This Sunday, I will be singing my sermon rather than preaching it!

I'll not be singing any solos but I will be joining with our choir to present the Christmas selections of Handel's Messiah.  I have joined with the tenor section of various choirs in my life to give our best effort for this majestic piece.  One of my favorite memories was being home from college on Christmas break and joining my parents and my brother in the adult choir at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church.

The three Powers men sang tenor and my mom was the lone alto from our family.  It was one my parents' favorite pieces to sing and if they were not singing in it each year, they marked a special spot on their calendar to attend.

As I listen to the power of the words sung with such dynamic intensity, I still get chills.  One of my favorite parts is the chorus, "And the Glory of the Lord" where we sing "and all flesh shall see it together" and then respond, "for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."  There is such a declaration in this simple phrase when sung in parts by the choir that it seems to brook no doubt or argument - at least in the moment!

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, wrote in his journal on August 17, 1758:
I went to the Bristol cathedral to hear Mr. Handel's Messiah. I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance. In many parts, especially several of the choruses, it exceeded my expectation.
This was a mere 16 years after its premier.  It has gone on to become very popular and is one of the most performed choral pieces in Western music.  We will share this work in each of our three sanctuary services on Sunday morning at 8:30, 9:45 and 11:00 am.  I know that there are some within our congregation that are just not moved by music and would rather hear a sermon.  Fortunately, Rev. Trey Witzel will be preaching at Worship on Hurd in Wesley Hall at 10:50 and I would encourage those who are in need of some great preaching to worship there this week!

The light shines in the darkness, and the 
darkness did not overcome it.  
John 1:5 (NRSV)
I would also remind you that we will be gathering on December 24th for our various Christmas Eve services.  At 4:00 pm, we will have a family-friendly service in the sanctuary.  Come a little early to view the live nativity before entering the sanctuary (only at this service).  At 7:00 pm, we will have our adult choir singing.  At 9:00 pm, we will meet in Wesley Hall for Worship on Hurd's Christmas Eve service and at 11:00 pm, we will feature our handbells as well as our Spirit choir from 9:45 am.  At Guthrie, we will worship at 6:30 pm.  In each service, we will feature Holy Communion (all friends and family are encouraged to fully participate in the Open Table).  As we partake in the sacrament together, we will be singing the great Christmas carols of the faith.  Each of these services will also end with the lighting of each person's candle as we sing "Silent Night" to close out our worship together.

I hope that you will put these services on your calendar this year - they will enrich your celebration of Christmas!  And we would encourage you to invite someone you know to join you!  I think sharing in worship together by creating memories that last will help the Christmas Spirit to endure for you long after we have finished putting the decorations away!

In Christ,


Photo by c_neuhaus via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, December 9, 2019

But I'm Good at Grumbling!

Lectionary Passage: James 5:7-10 (NRSV)

This is the time of year when I can't believe that we are staring the Third Sunday of Advent in the face.  How could it be?  The season is going way too fast and I still have way too much to do!

As a child, December just crawled along.  It seemed as if Christmas would never arrive.

Now, it rushes along like a freight train and there is no use trying to slow it down.  Best to just enjoy the ride and enjoy the wind in my face!

The letter of James also looks toward the coming of the Lord.  

He is speaking more of the Parousia or Second Coming of Christ rather than the observance of the birth of Jesus at Christmas.  This is sometimes called the Second Advent which is fitting since both have to do with waiting.

Sometimes we put more preparation into the gifts
we give than into our relationships with those we love.
If we apply this scripture to our own waiting for Christmas, the theme seems to fit.  I especially like when James reminds us not to grumble against one another.  Sometimes when I'm stressed, this is what I do best!

When we have anxiety in our lives, we may not have permission to take it out on the source.  If it comes from our boss or our teacher or someone with authority over us, it may not be appropriate to grumble directly at them.  So our grumbling may come out against others we know.  Unfortunately, our family members often get the brunt of our anxiety.

Pastors sometimes experience this during funerals or funeral preparation.  People outside the church that are involved with a loved one's passing may be feeling anger at their loss.  Sometimes this anger is directed at God (often subconsciously so) and the pastor makes for a good stand-in.

Being aware of this and ready to receive it without responding in anger is important.

There are other times when I receive the brunt of someone's anger over something and I may not respond with the same grace.  It could be that this may come more from left field and I'm caught off guard.  Many times when we are attacked, we defend ourselves by biting back rather than taking the time to analyze where this might be coming from.  As we encounter relatives over the holidays, this is a sometimes common occurrence in larger families.

What if we patiently asked ourselves from where their stress may be originating?

Sometimes we need to pray for patience.  This is not necessarily some random prayer.  The way we find our help is to think about those people who try our patience the most.  You likely know who they are and could come up with a list without thinking very hard about it!

So in praying for patience, what if you prayed for each of these people on your list?  What if you asked God to show you what is stressing them out?  What if we tried to understand them better?

It is far easier to grumble about them.  We can readily find allies in this cause.  After all, we are in the right, are we not?

But does this help us capture the spirit of Christmas?  Does it make our holiday bright?  Does it increase peace in our world?

As I step on your toes, please know that this topic has already bruised my own!

I hope you'll join us for worship on Sunday as we worship together online for your convenience or in Edmond or Guthrie.  I believe that you'll find it helpful to your preparation for Christmas!

In Christ,


Photo by Kent Kanouse via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

I See You

Lectionary Reading: Romans 15:4-13 (NRSV)

Even though it seems like The United Methodist Church just had a General Conference (last February), the next one is only five months away.  There is a lot of anxiety within the denomination surrounding what will happen there.

Some of the first business done at The United Methodist Church's General Conference is to perfect the rules by which we will operate during our time together.  Utilizing Robert's Rules of Order, we set certain rules for our time frame by which we agree to abide.

I remember with dismay the opening of the General Conference in 2012 where I served as a delegate.  We had 41 proposed rules on which we were to vote.  Our first evening was spent proposing amendments to all of these rules.  Everyone had some tweak or adjustment that would really allow us to function more efficiently.  It took over an hour just to record them.  Then we were going to begin voting on them the next day.  Of course, each amendment would have speeches for and against.  They may also have amendments of their own which would also have speeches for and against.  

Our time together was limited and we were tying up a large percentage in just debating how we would covenant to spend our time together!  I ended up moving to effectively do away with all of the amendments so that we could adopt the rules as presented.

It passed overwhelmingly.

This ultimately had to do with trust.  Can I trust the rules committee to place guidelines for us that will be fair to all those involved?  And maybe even more so, can I trust my neighbor not to take advantage of me with these proposed rules?  Can I trust enough to put down my amendment?

Can I give my neighbor the benefit of the doubt?

Trust is difficult to come by these days.  It seems that we are constantly looking for an advantage over our neighbor.  Of course, the Christian outlook should be that we seek to advantage our neighbor in a wide variety of ways.  

As Advent continues and Christmas approaches, we see this passage from Romans speaking a lot about Gentiles.  We may forget that the early church would have been populated by Jews who saw Jesus as the Messiah (the Christ).  Gentiles were beginning to be a part of the church and the founders of every church community had to determine if they would embrace them or not.  

Paul seems to be asking them to give the Gentile believers the benefit of the doubt.

This kind of security check is common among large
events today.  We have them at General Conference now.
This would have been difficult as they were so different.  They were raised differently.  Even if they professed faith in Jesus, they still had alternate belief structures.  They viewed God differently than the Jewish Christians.

And yet, Paul reminds the early church that God comes to the Gentiles as well.  Can God be a part of their lives as well?

Today, we say, "Of course" and "Without a doubt" because we are the inheritors of this faith stance.  But it was a hard decision to make in the first century when the church was in its infancy.

The difficulties of the denomination - the lack of trust that we sometimes experience - isn't it reflective of the larger difficulties of polarization that we are seeing in our country and around the world?  Diplomacy is a lost art and we find that allegiance to our own group is greater than any shared sense of common humanity that we may have.

Our time of Advent is a preparation for the birth of Christ once more.  We celebrate anew the peace on earth that Jesus brings.  What does it mean for us to worship in Christ together when Jesus gave us two primary rules to live by: to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves?

Join us for worship on Sunday as we explore this idea through the Romans passage together.  You can find us in Edmond or Guthrie on Sunday morning or at your convenience online for Edmond or Guthrie.  I'll give you the benefit of the doubt as to which is the best option for you!

In Christ,


Photo by Chris Hamby via  Used under the Creative Commons license.