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My heart beats for love. I want to be different. I want to be who I am called to be. WORTHY and LOVED!

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

“Traveling with Ruth: New Beginnings” Ruth 2: 1-23

What would it feel like to arrive in a place where you know next to no one, had no way to provide for yourself, and no food for your next meal? What would you do? How would you react? For many of us, this situation is hard to fathom. We may have found ourself in a new place before or without a job, but perhaps have never been quite this shaken in that which we hold dear. But that is exactly where Ruth finds herself in this mornings scripture lesson.
Last week we began our three week journey have traveling through the scriptures with Ruth. Ruth, widowed, made a vow to her mother in law, also widowed, to go where ever she goes, make her people and her God important to Ruth, and to die wherever Naomi dies. A beautiful oath in its wording, but I have to wonder how Ruth felt now that those words became actions, as she and Naomi made the harrowing journey back to Bethlehem in hopes of finding Naomi’s kinsmen to take care of them.
Ruth, hit the ground running. She knew that she and Naomi needed food to eat. There was an ancient custom called gleaning, where God commands folks working the fields and vineyards to not collect produce to the very edges. Instead, they are to leave some of what they have grown for the widow, the foreigner, the marginalized in society that had no other way of be provided for. So God made a way for them.
Ruth may not have known the exact scripture where God made this provision, but surely she had learned about the God of compassion, mercy, and justice from her years in her husband’s family. So she picked the field a kinsman, Boaz.
Boaz noticed her right away and asked who Ruth belonged to, to which he was told Naomi. Like most families, word in ancient families traveled fast. Especially of Naomi, now calling herself Mara, or bitter life. They were also probably whispering about Ruth, the foreigner, that Moabite. The one who didn’t belong, but who clung to and cared for their kinsman better then they were at the moment.
Boaz, struck with compassion, told Ruth not to glean anywhere else. To only come here to collect her grain. To glean. Here the men are told to leave more for her. Here the men are ordered away from harassing here. Boaz made a way. 
This was a strange act of loving kindness indeed! While Boaz knew and was living into Leviticus 22: "'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.’" - he was by no means obligated to leave her some of the best barley and wheat. In fact, Boaz goes on to tell his men to let her glean amongst the standing sheaves. In other words not whats left behind, but that which was meant to be harvested by the reapers. 
Whenever I think of the story of Ruth, one of images that comes from my mind is from Sight and Sounds production of Ruth - a musical portrayal of this amazing story. When Boaz speaks of allowing Ruth to glean on these terms, others were shocked as well, yet Boaz clearly stated why he was doing what he was doing -because he had heard the good things that Ruth had done for Naomi. 
Here is Ruth, her life shattered, trying to make meaning out of what had happened to her. How many of us, when faced with tragedy are people who get so caught up in the whys that we get stuck there? Ruth didn’t have time to get stuck. She was trying to protect and provide for Naomi above all. 
Ruth was a person of hospitality. Often when we think of the word hospitality we think of what we have to offer. Getting out good food and setting the table nice for guests. Friends, Ruth couldn’t offer this type of hospitality because she didn’t have anything to offer beyond her pledge to be there for Naomi no matter what.
Hospitality has become a buzz word for some churches. But I think Ruth calls us to examine what is behind our hospitality. Think back to last week. When Elimelich and his family left Bethlehem to enter into a foreign country, Moab, they are dependent upon strangers hospitality from the very beginning of the story. They were dependent upon other people to offer them food, shelter, and jobs. They were dependent upon other people befriending them.
For that is what is truly at the root of all hospitality, befriending. Hospitality isn’t just inviting someone to your home once so you can check it off of a list of good deeds or offering a place to meet after church where we only catch up on the lives of those we know. No. Hospitality is pouring our very lives into strangers in hopes that they will become friends. And not just those like us, but those who are not like us at first glance. 
Naomi also shows hospitality in this portion of the story. At the end of the chapter, as Ruth is sharing about the kindness of Boaz, she offers advice for her daughter in law’s safety. She is just as concerned about Ruth as Ruth is for her. 
Ruth also makes us our own assumptions of fidelity. Who are the people that we stick with through all circumstances and why? Boaz recognized in Ruth a fierce fidelity to Naomi. Not because she had to, but because she chose to. In Naomi’s grief she didn’t just offer to come over once in a while. She cared for Naomi with all she was and all she had.
Recently a friend was sharing a story with me about some of her church members. One church member  who was single became ill and needed surgery. Following that time of intense illness, another church member moved in for months to care for her. She cooked, cleaned, and tended to her. That is fidelity, brothers and sisters.
I also think of a friend from high school. She and her husband moved to Ohio where they are part of a loving church. As she prepared to give birth to both of her children, folks from church stocked her freezer with pre-made meals. That is fidelity. 
What does fidelity look like in our church? It may not look anything like these two examples, and that is okay. But we need to ask ourselves how we are a church that embodies and lives into being there for one another, especially during difficult times.
Lastly, the story of Ruth reminds us that God sticks with us. Once again, in this chapter, God isn’t mentioned by name, but God can be witnessed at work. At work through Ruth seeking out the fields of a kinsman. At work in Boaz going above and beyond for Ruth. God works in unlikely ways and even through unlikely people, if only we open our eyes and hearts to sense God’s presence.

Friends, I would invite us to pray this week about three things: one, who has God put on our hearts to offer hospitality to? Not just kindness, but befriending for the sake of the Gospel? Two, how can be stick by one another? Recently while visiting a shut in, we prayed that as a world we learn how to encourage one another more. How can we show encouragement to one another during tough times? Lastly, let us pray that God opens us up to the presence of God. Let us pray. Amen. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Traveling with Ruth: Moving Ruth 1: 1-18

When I was in seminary, one of my professors wanted to try something new. She invited a small group of us to be part of a Bible Study we called Wisdom’s Table - a different way of doing Bible Study that invited not only a deep study of the text, but the incorporation of poetry, paintings, and plays to help us see how the text has been used throughout a period of time. Then we would end with a discussion of what the text was speaking to us about today.
One of the first texts we looked at during this Bible Study was Ruth. Ruth is a different type of text inside of Hebrew Scriptures because the heroine is so unexpected. She was a female, foreigner, and widow. Moab was considered to be an enemy of Israel in may ways, yet it is exactly out of this place that Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, was raised up.
The story of Ruth does not begin in a positive way. In fact, the first chapter of the book of Ruth seems to be filled with tragedy after tragedy. It is set in the time of the rule of the Judges. I’m not sure if you ever took time to read the book of Judges in the Bible, but if you have not, I would invite you to sometime during the month of September as we explore the book of Ruth. The time of judges was also not a happy time. There is a refrain that keeps coming up again and again: “All the people did what was right in their own eyes” and as a result, there was often chaos, until the end of the book, where there is a transition from killing people deemed to be enemies of Israel, to where the tribes start having war amongst each other. 
In this time of over-arching political chaos, the family of Elimelech was having their own struggles. Bethlehem, the place where they lived, was known as the House of Bread and yet there was nothing to eat due to a famine. So his family packed up and headed to Moab, because it was rumored there was food there. Once there, they settled down. They chose to live in a foreign place for the sake of their family.
While there the two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, took Moab wives, Orpah and Ruth. Prior to their marriage their father had passed away, and a short ten years after their marriages, the sons had died also, leaving all three women, Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth, as widows.
Being a widow or widower in any time and place is devastating. It involves re-aligning your life and grieving the loss of someone so precious to you. But in the time of the book of Ruth it was downright dangerous. Women could not hold property. In fact, the did not own anything, as possessions and property were passed down from male to male in a family lineage. So here are three women, with absolutely nothing, trying to figure out what to make of their lives now.
Naomi had heard a rumor that Bethlehem no longer was under a time of famine. She had decided that she was going to head back that direction and hope that some family member took pity upon her. Her daughter in laws started to follow her to the land of Judah, but before long Naomi turned to them and told them to go back. To turn around and go back to Moab. 
Why in the world would Namoi tell her daughter in laws to leave her and go back? Maybe because she wanted an excuse to leave them because their presence was a painful reminder of what had happened? Maybe because she was fearful of what her kin in Bethlehem would say about her bringing foreigners with her? Or maybe because she realized how dangerous the journey truly was and she didn’t have enough to eat, let enough food to feed these women as well?
Whatever the reason may have been the women protested. They wept. But Naomi was insistent. Eventually, Orpah honored what her mother in law was saying. Sometimes Orpah get’s a bad rap for not being as loyal as Ruth, but really Orpah was obedient, doing what Naomi requested of her.
However, Ruth launched into a speech about how she would never leaver Naomi. First, she asked Naomi not to press her to go back or to turn away from her. Ruth was declaring her loyalty to her mother in law. She is absolutely determined to be with her. Even though her life would change, and she would face barrier after barrier - since the people she was going to weren’t here people, it wasn’t her culture, and they didn’t worship her God, Ruth was willing to face all of that in order to be there for Naomi. 
She declared that where Naomi stayed or lodged, Ruth would be right there. Her people would become Ruth’s people. Ruth would worship Naomi’s God. And where Naomi would one day die, Ruth would be buried right next to her. Here’s the thing: people did not voluntarily leave their people and their gods. It was sort of unheard of. Moving like Emiliech did at the beginning of the chapter for the sake of food was one thing, but moving to a whole new place to be with someone who could make no promises of provision - that was another. 
Yet, Ruth so deeply loved her mother in law that she was willing to go wherever Namoi went and offer her care and support, as best as she could. She was willing to risk her entire life for the sake of another person, even moving into the unknown.
What about us, brothers and sisters? Who are the people in our lives that we so deeply love that we would move heaven and earth in order to love them? In order to care for them? What I love about the story of Ruth is that Ruth didn’t try to talk her mother in law into staying where Ruth was most comfortable. Even though Ruth was working through her own sense of loss and grief, she went with Naomi. She was present to Naomi.
What can the church learn from Ruth, friends? How often do we expect hurting people to come to us, to meet us where we are comfortable, inside of our doors instead of meeting people where they are at? Are we so determined to be present to folks who do not yet know the love of Jesus that we are willing to risk our comforts for their sake?
The thing about the story of Ruth is that God’s name isn’t used very often, but the Spirit of God seems to have fingerprints everywhere. God is the one guiding Ruth and Naomi. God is the one walking right beside them on the dangerous journey back to Jerusalem. God is acting in a mighty way, giving the women the gift of each other along this journey.
A few months ago I went to workshop that totally changed my understanding of being the church. I have used and will continue to use the very pertain and distressing statistic that eighty percent of folks in our area do not regularly attend church. But this workshop reminded me that not everyone in those eighty percent of folks have the same situation or can be approached in the same way. Some of those folks are just waiting for someone to invite them to come. Others already consider themselves to be active, even if they haven’t been in church for a long time. But others, others are hesitant to enter into the church building because of past hurts or because they don’t know what it could add to their lives. These last two groups - we need to be willing to be on the move and go to them. Be like Ruth, meeting them in their time of need. 

Are we willing to be Ruth’s brothers and sisters? Are we willing to go where we may be uncomfortable all for the sake of another person? Are we willing to be with and go to people for the sake of the Gospel? Amen. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

“Time with God: Partnership” Mark 11: 11-26 James 4:2 John 15:7

I was recently at a training meeting where I was struck by the words that presenter lifted up in prayer. “Lord, we thank you that you trust us to be partners with you in proclaiming your Kingdom.”
Have you ever taken time to really consider that we are partners with God in proclaiming the Kingdom of God? We some what skirt around that fact when we say things like ‘we are the hands and feet of Jesus’ and ‘the local Church is God’s tool in the world’, but the truth is, starting back with Adam and Eve, God invited humans to participate in the  Kingdom of God. Think of Adam, given the opportunity to name the animals and be a steward of the land. That was God entrusting unto Adam, and us as his descendants, something that was precious to God - creation, which had time and creativity poured into it and was pronounced to be “very good.”
Today we are also invited into partnership with God in some amazing ways. The first way we are a partner with God is through prayer. We are called to be a people who persist in prayer. Over the years I have been asked several times why we even bother praying if God already knows what we are going to say, but John and James both have something to say to us today about the power of prayer. John says if we abide in Christ then what we ask for in the power of Christ’s name will be done. James takes it a step further saying that we do not receive because we have not came to God in prayer and asked. 
Prayer, however, is not just about asking God for something and expecting it to happen. Prayer is about a living, breathing relationship with God. I love how author Klau Issler describes our different attitudes and approaches to prayer in his book Wasting Time with God. Issler says that too many Christians treat prayer like going to a restaurant. They look at a menu. They order what they want. And if it doesn’t come back exactly how we expected then we send it back. There is no relationship in this particular context. We don't know the people taking our order or the people making the food. We simply go to get what we want.
However, when we make food together there is a relationship. When I was in college I studied abroad in Australia. The college I attended had most students living on campus where you were required to have a meal plan. So when we got to our new school in Australia and realized that we were living in cottages with no meal plans it was a bit of a shock. But then we thrived. Some of our favorite things to make were tomato sauce, honey glazed fish and homemade pizzas. We didn’t have any recipes, so everything made was a little different each time. There was laughter in the kitchen. Stories were shared. And then we sat down around a table together and shared in what was created. Cooking was deeply rooted in relationship.
How would you describe your prayer life with God in this example? Are you creating something in the kitchen of life with God, sharing life together, or are you ordering off a menu and then are disappointed when it doesn’t meet your expectations? 
Prayer is meant to be rooted in relationship - a friendship with God. One where we not only talk, but where we also listen. When we have our eyes open and realize that sometimes the way that God chooses to answer our prayer doesn’t meet our expectations, but is actually even better. 
We are also invited to pray for those things that are burning in our spirits. When we pray Church, change happens. When we pray we are partners with God, praying God’s Kingdom into existence. We are listening for the voice and leading of our Savior, and then going where he sends us. 
Two beautiful examples of what can happen when we pray as partners with God. Bishop  Jane Allen Middleton, the former resident bishop of the Central Pennsylvania and Susquehanna Annual Conference used to pray like this. “Lord, I have a desire in my heart, if its from you let me increase in that desire, and if it is not from you, let that desire decrease.” Bishop Middleton used discernment and if that desire was confirmed she worked to make it happen for the glory of Jesus’s Kingdom. 
The Quaker time of is very different then ours. There isn’t a designated order of worship, scripture passage, or even a pastor to speak. Instead, followers of Jesus gather and sit in silence. If something is placed on the heart by the Spirit, anyone can rise and say it. After they are done, the silence continues. Sometimes people who aren’t used to this type of worship ask when the service is going to start, and the answer is when they leave to go and serve the world based off what they have heard for God. 
Which leads us to the second way we partner with God, by actually going and perhaps even more importantly, knowing why we go. The story in the Gospel of Mark of Jesus and fig tree is odd. Jesus walks by a fig tree that wasn’t producing fruit and cursed it. However, the time of year when this story took place, Spring, wasn’t fig season. What was Jesus trying to teach his disciples? 
The fig tree was thought to be a metaphor for teachings that weren’t bearing fruit. Teachings that were dying. To be clear, Jesus wasn’t against religious teachings or ritual, however, he didn’t want a misuse of those rituals and teachings that lead to death instead of life abundant or where we miss the point of ministry.
When we go out and proclaim the name of Jesus, it isn’t about getting people to come to worship or join this particular church. It is about folks coming to have a relationship with Jesus. At a previous church, I started a ministry whose sole focus was to bring the good news of Jesus to folks who may never come to a church, and it was difficult at times for folks to catch the vision that yes, we love our Church, but we love Jesus so much more. We want folks to come to that relationship with Jesus. If they come to us later, fantastic, if not, because there is a different church that better fits their needs, thats okay too, because we have been partners with Jesus in building up his Kingdom. 
Partnering with Jesus is about being concerned with the things that Jesus is concerned about - injustice, poverty, spiritual decay, and inequality. Partnering with Jesus is about being creative in the ways that we bring the message of Christ to those who may not come to us, come to the church building, first. And above all partnering with Jesus is about his Kingdom. 

When we pray and when we go, we are subjecting ourselves to God. We are asking that God lead us and guide our ways. We are humble that we were invited to be part of this task in the first place and are amazed that we have a place and role in proclaiming the Kingdom! Let us thank God for the gift of partnership and help usher in the Kingdom of God! Amen! Amen! Amen!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

“Time with God: Apprentice” Hebrews 5:8 Hebrews 12: 10-11

We don’t talk very much in terms of apprenticeships any more. An apprentice is someone who is learning the skills of a particular trade. This is different then an intern who works in order to simply get work experience. An apprentice works directly with a master in the occupation they are called to, an intern can be the low person on the totem poll, running errands and perhaps spending little to no time with the master.
When you are called to be a pastor there are several different forms that apprenticeships take. During seminary you have a year long supervised ministry program where you work with a particular pastor in a particular place, getting a chance to hone your ministerial skills under their leadership. You also meet with a committee of lay people who are a source of encouragement and another group of students at the seminary who you debrief your experience with.
Then once you enter into the local church, the journey does not end. I am an ordained elder. In order to be ordained you have to at minimum work in the local church for two years, with a mentor you can ask questions to, a conference committee called the Board of Ordained Ministry helping to emulate your work, and meet with a group of others going through the ordination process to learn together. Some call this residency. Others call it probationary membership. Its a blessed and grueling time of learning from so many amazing ministers around you in order to help you be the best pastor for God’s Kingdom possible.
But the truth in apprenticeships aren’t just for pastors or craftsmen and women. Have you ever taken time to consider that we are all called to be apprentices as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are called to learn from the master, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, about how to connect the needs of those that Jesus deeply loves with the Kingdom of God.
If we are honest for a minute though, apprenticeships are not always fun. They often involve learning hard lessons. One of the first difficult things I remember learning during the apprentice phase of ministry is that I cannot be all things to all people. I remember the United Methodist liaison at my seminary saying to us “The first thing that I tel my congregations is that I’m going to disappoint them. I cannot be all things to all people.” I learned that early on as I balanced serving a church part time with being a full time student, including a ten week live in residency in chaplaincy training in Hershey. I could not meet everyone’s perceptions and needs. 
What are some of the hard lessons that we learn from Jesus? Well they make my hard lessons as as pastor look extremely easy. One of the things that Jesus teaches us is that as disciples we are going to suffer. Hear again the words of scripture from Hebrews 5 “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through suffering” Suffering can be the end result of different things. The first place suffering can come from is sin. 
Think of the story of Joseph. Joseph was the most beloved son of his father Jacob and was shown favoritism, especially by receiving a coat that none of his siblings received. So his brothers kidnapped him and threw him into a ditch to die, before realizing that it would be more profitable to sell him into slavery. The brothers then returned to their father and told him that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Take a moment and think of where the sin was in that story. It abounded!
Where there is much sin, there is much suffering. Jospeh found himself as a slave to Potiphar, an important leader in Egypt. When Potiperh’s wife tried to suduce Joseph and he said no, she made up a tale that ended up in his imprisonment in jail. There however, things started to change. Joseph’s time of suffering became redeemed by God. He interpreted dreams for others in jail, which made him well known to the point where the Pharaoh of Egypt asked Joseph to interpret his dreams and by doing so, Joseph was able to help lead the nation into a time of prosperity, even when famine hit. 
When Joseph was eventually reunited with his brothers years later, he spoke these words, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve numerous people, as he is doing today.”
Part of our discipleship is realizing how sin and suffering are linked, but also to proclaim that God can redeem suffering for the glory of the Kingdom. Trials that we go through can help us get to know God better as we grow close to God and are more attuned to the voice of the Spirit. 
Two, apprenticeship teaches us the hard lessons of forgiveness. We have all been deeply hurt by other people during our time in life. When Jesus is teaching us about forgiveness, he is not doing so in a way that tells us to put a happy face on and pretend that everything is okay. Instead, the deep forgiveness of Christ, the forgiveness that he modeled for us on the cross, is releasing those people that hurt us into the care of God. And that is hard work. It is not something that comes naturally to us and therefore, is something that we need to learn. Human beings tend to respond to being hurt by other people with a slant towards revenge, not forgiveness. 
Three, discipleship teaches us to be obedient to God. The verses we read from Hebrews 12 today spoke of God discipling us when we go astray in order to bring obedience. But often we can misunderstand the role of discipline in the life of faith. A few weeks ago I was in Panera bread and overheard one women explain to another why God sometimes has to discipline us. She explained that when we have children we care about in our lives, we want the very best for them. We don’t want them to get hurt. So we try to discipline them in order to help them learn what will harm them from that which is safe. God sometimes disciplines us when we engage in sin that will harm us in hopes that we will cease that activity.
But God doesn’t want to discipline us for the sake of discipline alone. God wants us to choose to be obedient. God wants us to choose to love God voluntarily. God wants us to be obedient in order to remind us of our dependance upon God. God wants us to trust God alone.

Here’s the thing about apprenticeships. Yes, they are often required to enter into certain professions but we have a choice. We can choose to give our all, and follow the call on our life, by living as an apprentice, or we can walk away, saying that its too hard. My hope and prayer is that we freely and willingly accept being apprentices of Jesus. That we desire to learn from him how to live into the abundant life, even if it means that things will not always go our way. May we be known as people who are learning from the ultimate master and led by the Spirit. Amen. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

“Time with God: Faith” Hebrews 11: 6, 27 Hebrews 12: 1-3

One of my passions for the local church is spiritual formation - conversations about how we can grow in our faith journey. It is my belief that we are never done growing closer to God. I enjoy having conversations with people about how it is with their soul. For the next four weeks we are going to join together in a conversation about how it is with our souls and how we can continue to grow deeply in our relationships with God.
There is a Christian Band, Jonah 33, that has a powerful song “Faith Like That”. The chorus goes like this: “I want a faith like that. To see you pass by, or to see the dead rise. Oh I want a faith like that, whatever the cost, I’ll suffer the loss. Oh I, I want a faith like that.”
We talk a lot about faith in the church, but I’m not sure we all have the same starting place when using the word. For some of us faith in a personal belief in Jesus. For others its talking about amazing things that Jesus did long ago. For others its hoping for what will come. But I think these lyrics steer us perhaps in a different direction. Faith is confidence or trust. Its a belief in someone or something, that leads us to be loyal. Faith is that which we sink our roots down into. It defines who we are and effects how we live our lives. 
We all put our faith into someone or something - that which we build out lives upon. What are some of the things that people put their trust in? Health. Wealth. Family. While we may have faith in God as the people of God, that isn’t automatically true for the world around us. Many people outside of the church don’t outright attack Christian beliefs, they just don’t think they are for them. Or they think its something you eventually outgrow. 
Here’s the thing - some people do live their lives as if God doesn’t exist. But I want you to take a moment to imagine what life would truly be like if God didn't exist. God created everything. From the tiniest particles to the largest planet and everything in between. Until we start to grasp the fact that God created all we have, its hard to have faith in God.
I spend a lot of time reading obituaries. It’s simply part of the job. I read them each morning to see if people who are related to folks in the congregation have passed away so I can reach out to them. Have you ever noticed that obituaries touch on usually a mixture of three things. They always talk about relationships - who was important to this person, lists of names that represent family and friends. They also talk about things of interest to the deceased - organizations they belonged to and what their vocation was. But there are other things that rarely make it into obituaries, but I celebrate when they do - character and deeds. I want to know who this person was at a deep level. One of my favorite things to read was “so and so was a person of deep faith.” It makes my heart sing. I also love it when that sentence is followed by examples of how they lived out their faith in their daily lives- because friends that’s what matters most. 
Hebrews 11 is considered the hall of fame of faith. It tells the stories of countless folks from the Hebrew Scriptures who were champions for God, people like Abraham, Moses, Rahab, and so on. Whenever I read chapter 11 in Hebrews I see broken people who lived lives that pleased God. All the people listed weren’t perfect. In fact in many of their cases, scripture includes stories of how they screwed up along the way of serving God. But at the end of the day, they were still considered folks who pleased God because they had faith in God. 
At the beginning of this great list of saints we find the words “and without faith it is impossible to please God.” Friends, at the end of all our lives I want us to be people who the first thing family members think to put in our obituaries is that we were people of faith who tried to live a life pleasing to God. 
In Hebrews, chapter 12, the author goes on to tell us what a life of faith looks like. First, when we are part of a life of faith, we know that we don’t go through life alone. We are bing cheered on by the cloud of witnesses - the Saints who went on to glory before us -  who are cheering us on.
When you think about the Saints who taught you about faith who comes to mind? I think of Alberta - who for the entire time I knew her she was homebound either in a bed or a chair. Yet, every time I saw her she had a story about how God had been good to her and what God was revealing to her through scripture. I think of Cheryl, home on hospice as cancer claimed her life far too soon, who kept telling me that the only thing getting her through this time was her relationship with God who she was going home to be with. I think of Seymour, who fought a hard battle with heart disease, but knew that his heart was clean before his Lord. These are just some of the saints who touched me, brothers and sisters, who do you think about?
Pastor Theodore Wardlaw said, “memory is not just a recollection of the past, it is a way of preparing for the future.” When we think about these Saints from our lives and what they taught us about living a life of faith, we see how they also have encouraged us to carry their legacy into the future by how we live our lives.
Second, in order to live a life of faith, we need to get rid of that which is weighing us down and holding us back. Let’s be honest for a minute folks, there is still a lot of sin with in the church, is there not? Selfishness. Quarreling. Greed. Gossip. Just to name a few. Lord forgive us, for it is weighing us down in our walk with Jesus. When we care more about what the person sitting next to us in the pew thinks then what Jesus thinks, forgive us, we are being held back. When we care more about getting our way, then what honors and glorifies God with who we are and what we have, Jesus forgive us, for we are being weighed down. In our faith life, we need to shed what is unnecessary in order to stay the course. 
Third, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, our high priest, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. The one who modeled for us what endurance looks like. How do we cultivate endurance in the faith? Through spiritual practice. Two I would like to suggest today are watching for God and fasting. When we watch for God we take time to notice what God is doing in our lives. Doing so helps us realize that we are not alone in our lives and that God is always with us. A great place to start is looking for those things that you would consider a coincidence at first glance and recognizing if the hand of God is present. 
Fasting allows us to intentionally set aside things - food, entertainment, etc. - in our lives in order to focus on God. Sometimes we can get distracted by other people and things in our lives that make us take our eyes off of Jesus and stray in our faith journey. Fasting helps us get our focus and priorities back in the right place as we move forward following God.
Friends, how is your faith walk going? Where are the places where you need to focus more on Jesus? What are the sins you need to shed that are weighing you down? How are the Saints encouraging you and cheering you on? May we all cry together “I want a faith like that. To see you pass by, or to see the dead rise. Oh I want a faith like that, whatever the cost, I’ll suffer the loss. Oh I, I want a faith like that.” Amen. 

Time with God: Faith Devo

August 6th, 2017
Time with God: Faith

A Brief Introduction:
During the month of August our weekly parish devotional is going to be a bit different. Instead of a daily scripture passage with reflection and questions, there will be one devotional with a spiritual practice you to engage for the entire week. As we focus on spending time with God, the hope and prayer is that these spiritual disciplines will lead us deeper in our relationship with the Holy One. 

Scripture: Hebrews 11:6 and Hebrews 12: 1-3
Read the scripture daily. Read it slowly. What is God bringing to your attention through this passage? 

Questions to consider: 
  • What does the word faith mean to you?
  • How have you grown in your faith in God?
  • How would you describe the link between having faith and pleasing God? What does this look like in your own life? 
  • Who are the people in your life who exemplify walking in faith? What can you emulate in them?
  • What prepares you to walk in faith daily, for the long journey of life?

Spiritual Discipline. Fasting
Fasting – to give up something for a set period of time in order to concentrate more fully on God. This can be food (for a set period of time such as a meal or a day), TV, reading, etc. 
Scripture: "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
Spiritual Practice: 

  • Abstain from food, drink, shopping, desserts, media, etc for a set period of time one day a week. During this period of time focus on God. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

“The Gospel in Storybooks: Stone Soup” Romans 12: 4-5 Matthew 18:20

We are now in the final week of our sermon series on finding Gospel truths in storybooks. This week is another favorite book of mine, Stone Soup. Stone Soup by Marcia Brown tells the story of three soldiers who found themselves to be very tried and very hungry one day as they were walking through the woods. As they crested a hill, they saw a village and wondered if it would be a good place to eat and sleep. But the villagers saw the soldiers coming and they became fearful of them. They hid all of their food and as the soldiers went from place to place, home to home, asking if they had anything to eat they came up with creative lies all emphasizing that they didn’t have anything to offer. 
So one of the soldiers came up with an idea. He called the villagers together and told them that they were going to just have to make stone soup. They were intrigued. They had never heard of stone soup before. So a large kettle was brought, water put to boil, and three stones added to the pot. The solider started to call out ingredients that would make the soup even better, and one by one those ingredients were brought forward. 
When the soup was deemed perfect the table was set and the people feasted together, bringing even more food from their homes to go with the soup. The villagers and soldiers danced, laughed, and shared stories around the table well into the evening.
Sometimes we remember the first time that we hear a story. Other times we remember engaging it in a different way at various points in our lives. While this story was read during my elementary school years, I remember it most fondly from some of my first years pastoring. In seminary, I had been trained as a faith-based community organizer. One summer, my job was to go down to Texas and work with connecting church and the community together for the sake of serving those in need. While I was pastoring in State College, I continued my training in order to train others in these types of intentional partnerships for a week in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. There folks gathered from around the globe to figure out how to build up communities using scriptural principles to do something more amazing together then they could ever do apart. While at that training we heard again the story of Stone Soup. As a child a game we would sometimes play was “what are you bringing for the stone soup?” where you went around the circle and had to remember what each person was bringing. But here we asked a different question - what gift do you bring that helps build up your community?
The apostle Paul writes in various place in his letters about folks having different gifts for the sake of building up the body of Christ and sharing the good news. “For as in one body we have many members, not all members have the same function.” Part of being in the body of Christ is learning what our gift is and using it and part of being in the body of Christ is honoring the gifts of others.
How do we go about finding out what our gift is? There are inventories that you can fill out, online and in books, that speak to what your spiritual gift is. You can think about areas that you are passionate about - like being generous or evangelism. You can take account of the places where you are most fulfilled when serving the church - those places where you know that your gift and the need come together in a beautiful way.
Part of knowing your gift is not getting caught up in the gifts of others. At a retreat I attended, the pastor speaking says folks always want to come up to her and talk about the gift of tongues for example. And she always asks them if that is their gift. If they reply no, then she encourages them to spend more time discovering and cultivating their particular gift then being worried about the gifts that others have.
We cultivate our gifts by using them. Using them inside the church and outside. If you have the gift of mercy, wanting to care for or help others, have you considered using that gift to help with the new congregational care ministry visiting and uplifting our homebound members? If you have the gift of knowledge or teaching, connecting life to the scriptures, have you considered teaching a Bible Study class? 
Like any gift we receive, it is meant to be used, not set on a shelf for a different time in life. We are given a gift not so we can say that we have it, but so we can use it!
The other side of spiritual gifts are honoring the gifts of others. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Individually we are members one of another.” How can we honor one another? Have you ever thanked someone for using their gift in the church? Or have you encouraged someone to discover what their spiritual gift is?
One of the best ways that we can honor the gifts a person has is to use our gifts and our gifts only. There is a tendency in churches to see a need, be it in a committee or facility or as a volunteer, and even though we know that is not our gift, we rush to fill it. We don’t like to see vacancies, so we rush in to help. The problem is when we fill in a spot where we know that it isn’t our gift, we are denying someone the opportunity who does have that gift to serve in that way. When we rush in because we are uncomfortable with letting things simply be for a while, we could be taking away the Holy Spirits opportunity to work on some folks heart and bring to their mind that this is really what they are supposed to be doing to use their particular gift.
We also need to build each other up in our gifts. I’ve shared with some folks before that when I was younger in the church I loved to sing. Then, probably around middle school, we got a praise team coordinator at the church who made an offhanded comment about me singing off key and needing to be quieter. He may have thought he was being helpful, but the way he said it actually resulted in me not singing for years in public. Part of honoring one another gift is walking the line between what needs to be done and how we want it done, and knowing the difference.
The beauty of the story of Stone Soup, is when the people came together, each offering their small gift, they made something that they could have never imagined making on their own. The annual conference’s theme for the next four years is Better Together. Do we truly believe that we are better together? Better when we find and use our gifts together? Better when we put our energies together to make something new? 
In my last parish we did this out of the box thing where five United Methodist Churches felt a calling to come together, for what they weren’t quite sure yet, but to pray for the community and figure out how they can serve better together. Here, when we came together for cluster worship we showed was it looks like to be the body of Christ together to lift up God’s name. 

The age when we can silo off in churches based off of our individuals gifts is over. The time when we can do our thing and you can do your thing and then we can try to see if it fits tougher is done. The years of each church insisting on doing their own thing without working with other churches is no more. We need each other. What we do effects one another. And we honor and glorify God best when we come together, for in the words of Jesus, “Where two or three are gathered in my name. I am with them.” Let us use our gifts to honor Christ. Amen.