Monday, May 25, 2020

Enduring Beyond this Present Age

Pentecost Sunday, Year A

Lectionary reading: Psalm 104:24-35 (NRSV)

Pentecost is of course, the celebration of when the church began as recorded in the Book of Acts by Luke.  We have seen almost 2,000 years of history since that day and the church has undergone lots of changes due to cultural shifts.  We may be in the midst of another.  We often speak of the current isolation effecting the world's economy but if we drill down a bit, we can see that it will also effect the church.

There is an economic impact that individual churches are facing.  Most churches already operate without a lot of cushion to their budgets and this will be difficult - especially for the smaller congregations.  While the coronavirus has touched church members around the world, we have also experienced higher than average death rate for other causes as well.  This may be from the heightened stress breaking down immune responses.

Some congregations have a season of faithfulness
and later close.  This is a normal cycle of life.
If you take churches in the United States, they are more likely to be made up of membership that would be considered vulnerable due to the average age of congregants.  This would mean that many individual members may stay home as churches begin to open their sanctuaries again.  I would guess that it would be worse in urban areas than in rural areas where counties may not have any cases.

As we offer online worship, it seems that our participation may, for some churches, be higher than when they were meeting in the building.  Of course, gauging a good number for this is difficult and the standards seem to vary depending on who's doing the counting.  But there is a possibility that Christianity will reach more people through this health crisis.  What may be hard to determine is how many of the larger churches are reaching viewers from smaller churches that aren't able to access their own church.  Even though modern technology makes it possible for all churches to broadcast worship, the training or expertise for such endeavors is not equally distributed.

When churches begin to meet again in their buildings, we will likely see less people present physically which will hopefully be offset by people continuing to worship online.  One possibility would be that some people won't come back after the hiatus.  Lots of things cause people to fall away but with this pause, it may be that more people than usual will decide they won't be returning.  As we see American society move away from regular worship as a whole, will this accelerate the decline?

The Psalm reading for Pentecost doesn't mention anything really about the church (of course any Old Testament nod to the church is Christian extrapolation) or even corporate worship.  It is more individually spiritual as the human spirit witnesses to the Creator among all the outdoor observance.  There is a sense of gratitude that comes when we experience the mystery of God's creation.

Even with the ebb and flow of church participation through the ages, people feel a sense of the sacred through a variety of experiences.  As the psalmist declares, "I will sing praise to God while I have being," we can recognize that we often have a desire to gather with others to share the mystery we find in the whole of the created order.  As Paul writes to us through Romans 1:20, we are reminded,
"Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made."
This reminds us that God touches people all around the world.  God can be experienced simply by walking in the woods.  The church will undergo changes as it always has but it will come through this coronavirus.  Some individual places will close but as a whole, the expression will continue.  Some churches will grow after we begin to meet in person again.  And the church will continue after we're gone.  But how we respond today will make a difference to future generations. 

It's exciting to be on the cusp of something new.  What will God do with us as we celebrate this latest birthday of Christ's church?  Join us online as we continue to explore our future together!

In Christ,


Photo by Forsaken Fotos via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Witnesses to the Ends of the Earth

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Lectionary Reading: Acts 1:6-14 (NRSV)

We have kind of a holdover for Acts from the day recognizing the Ascension of the Lord which is May 21st this year.  This is always recognized on the fortieth day of Easter.

It seems strange that it has been forty days since Easter because all of that time (and some prior to it) has been spent in social isolation from one another.

I was scheduled to go to General Conference as a delegate earlier this month but that has been pushed to an as-yet undetermined time in 2021.

While most Americans recognize this Sunday as part of Memorial Day weekend, clergy families in the Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church recognize this as the Sunday before Annual Conference starts.  Last year we got to celebrate Trey's ordination at this event.  Now our Annual Conference has been pushed back to June 20th (which will probably be held online) with some additional days possibly coming in November.  At this point, Trey is glad that his ordination wasn't scheduled for 2020 since we're not sure when that service will occur.

Our Jurisdictional Conference was scheduled for July but was also canceled.  We're not sure when we will gather.  We elect bishops at this conference and we have three that would like to retire this summer.

Oh, and our local church also hasn't been meeting for worship in a physical location although the Holy Spirit joins us together as we share online with one another.  Some are wondering, when are we ever going to meet again in our sanctuary?  Others are thinking, even if they open up again, I'm not going to chance it yet.

Governor Stitt has allowed churches to begin meeting again for Sunday worship since May 3rd.  Some have asked the question, "Why are we waiting?  There are other churches that are already meeting."  Our Annual Conference has asked us to wait until June 7th to meet and only after a long list of guidelines are met.

It may be a while before we get to publicly engage in this manor.
But to be fair, some introverts may think "Passing of the Peace"
looks like this each Sunday!
We are having lots of conversations on how we can meet again safely.  We are fortunate that Oklahoma has not suffered the caseload of other states.  It's likely that our population's low density has been working in our favor.  Still, we have church members that have lost loved ones and we recognize that the danger is real.  Even though it is less likely to become sick in Oklahoma as it would be in New York, we are still cautious because of the possibilities.

As the Senior Pastor, I would hate to re-open our campus for worship too early and end up officiating at the funeral of a member we infected.  And yes, I recognize that people are capable of making their own decisions and taking their own risks but my pastoral care sensibilities tend to look for the maximum care of the congregation.  United Methodists have been taught to observe Wesley's General Rule, "Do No Harm."

At this point for Edmond, we are looking toward Father's Day on Sunday, June 21st to begin to worship in person again.  Conversations have led us to the Christian Activity Center and possibly Wesley Hall rather than the sanctuary for our initial gathering.  In-person gatherings such as Sunday school will probably be longer in coming.  Nursery and children's church will not be available at the beginning.  Hymn singing may also be suspended.  We may be able to offer a sooner timeline for Guthrie since there are less people and will communicate when we know.

Fortunately, we will continue to offer worship online.  This has been a blessing and we have reached people (including members who have moved away) across the United States and beyond.  It is encouraging to see the comments and reactions in our Facebook feed each week.  I've heard others tell me this helps them to feel connected.  The online portion of our reach truly allows us to engage in the command of Jesus to the disciples in this week's reading where he tells them "you will be my the ends of the earth."  So while we wait to meet in person, your connection to your church has allowed you to give courage and lift the spirits of many beyond our normal reach.

This Sunday, we will continue to consider this wonderful passage and the responsibility of being a witness to our faith.  Our ability to witness has changed and like all change, there are usually positives and negatives.  We tend to see the negatives first as with any change but I am reminded that the Easter season is all about resurrection.   And so in the midst of all this response to the pandemic, how is God doing a new thing with you?

In Christ,


Photo by Erling A via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Spirit of Truth

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Lectionary Reading: John 14:15-21 (NRSV)

These verses appear in the Farewell Discourse of Jesus within John's Gospel.  Much of chapter 14 is featured in readings at funerals and within Sunday's passage, verses 18-19 may sound familiar:
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live."
This is likely featured during the Easter season because Jesus projects the resurrection onto not only himself but his followers as well.  We also see a projection into Pentecost as Jesus lifts up the Holy Spirit as an Advocate.  Sharp divides are made between the world and the Christian community.  This doesn't mean that non-Christians can't come to the faith.  Rather, it speaks of a distinction in world-views. 

Those who follow Jesus have a difference in how they see. God's reality varies from the world's reality.  Ultimately, this has to do with what is valued.  Jesus ties this to love.  If we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments.  This allows us to dwell in the Spirit.

So which commandments are we supposed to keep?  Are there some that we should pay more attention to than others?

Within the Gospel of John, we see that Jesus has just lifted up the new commandment in the previous chapter in verse 34:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
The context of this love is that Jesus has just washed his disciples' feet.  This servant leadership is not the leadership of the world.  The world's leadership in that day climbed high so that they could have others wash their feet.  Let the less appealing duties be done by lower castes!  Not much has changed in that regard.  But we have made strides toward the equality that Jesus implies.

Wearing a mask in public epitomizes
the new commandment because not
everyone is equally resistant.
The truth of the equality of humanity was dimmer in the first century than it is today.  This Christian value has infused itself in the worldview which is a blessing.  But in many ways, there is still a struggle to maintain what we have accomplished.  Genocide still occurs in the world today.  Racial injustice still occurs in our country recently highlighted by Ahmaud Arbery's murder or Dameon Shephard's encounter at his own home with an armed mob.

So how does the Spirit of truth of which Jesus speaks shine forth in the world today?  Is the world capable of hearing it?  I think it is.  But I think it is slow to do so.  And I think that sometimes I can't hear it because the volume of the world is up so high.  But we do recognize that what we are told is truth is not always consistent with the Spirit of truth. 

Worship reminds us to turn down the volume of the world so that we can hear what our Advocate may be trying to say.  I hope you'll continue to join us online as we worship together.  YouTube is featured on many smart televisions today.  Facebook can be accessed through the Edmond and Guthrie sites.  We go live on Sundays at 11 am but you can worship at your own time if you prefer.  And unlike being there in person, you have the ability to mute the pastor!  I've heard from lots of people that they appreciate your comments on Facebook so they feel connected to the congregation.  I would encourage you to share a comment on either medium so that you impact others worshiping as well. 

Blessings to you and know that our staff continues to pray for your safety and recovery during this time.

In Christ,


Photo by Umpqua via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 4, 2020

God is my Refuge

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Lectionary Reading: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 (NRSV)

We can see that this Psalm comes to us in the Easter season because Jesus quotes it while dying on the cross.  Only Luke gives us these words from Jesus in 23:46:
Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.
Of course, we know that these were not the last words that Jesus says in Luke's account because Jesus is resurrected and appears again to the disciples. 

Originally, this psalm is seen as a lament where the troubles of the day are given over to God.  Hope comes through this trust that God will see us through.  When Jesus quotes from Psalm 31:5, he may have included more of this Psalm in that sentiment as verse 16 states:
Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
This is a reversal of the idea that to gaze upon God's face would be deadly.  God says as much to Moses in Exodus 33:20:
“you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”
While the mystery of God gives us pause, the Psalmist declares to us that we ultimately have no place to go but to God.  What does it mean for God to be our refuge?  What does it mean to put ourselves in God's hands?

Sometimes larger hands hold onto the faith
for us as we grow.
I remember being ill with a migraine headache as a child.  My mother was away on a trip to visit my older sister to help with my new nephew.  I awoke and cried out and my father came into my room.  He was not normally the caregiver - that role went to my mother.  But he was there for me in my time of need.  He lay down in the bed next to me and held my head with his big hands.  He put just enough pressure on my head which relieved the pain somewhat.  He held me like that until I went back to sleep.

That image of comfort and love in a time of distress is what I think about when I read this Psalm today.  We certainly have some anxiety at this point in our lives with all of the isolation due to COVID-19.  I hear lots of stories about sleeping schedules being erratic.  Sometimes we may feel ourselves angry toward things that normally wouldn't be that big of a deal.  Even as we begin to return somewhat to society, there is still the need to remain apart so that the vulnerable are not infected. 

It's a lot of weight to carry.

This Sunday, we'll continue to explore the theme of "God is My Refuge" in worship.  You can join us through YouTube.  We reached 100 subscribers so feel free to jump on and add to the interest!  This milestone gave us an easier way to reach our page - you can find it at which should give you the option of subscribing.  Many people have told me that they prefer YouTube because they watch on their smart televisions on the YouTube app in their living rooms with their family on Sunday mornings. 

Of course, we are still available on Facebook and the advantage there is getting to check in with our friends - it feels more like we are at church when we see others we know commenting or liking the post.  This Sunday, being Mother's Day, we will invite people to post a picture of your mother - either a new pic or one from your past in the feed. 

On Sunday, we had some technical difficulties in that our internet went down while Jake was broadcasting the service from our church.  So only about half of it went out on Facebook.  Fortunately, most people switched to YouTube where it was previously uploaded.  We hope to find a solution of streaming "live" on Facebook at 11 am on Sundays from the cloud rather than our servers from the church.  This will hopefully keep these kinds of things from disrupting worship in the future.

My prayers are with you and I look forward to seeing you in person when we are safe to gather again!

In Christ,


Photo by Eric Chan via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.