In the heart of Missoula...


Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
Celebrating God's love since 1871

"Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" is not just an advertising slogan, but a statement of how First United Methodist Church of Missoula wants to be seen in our community. First Church is a community of open hearts seeking to be a force for God's grace in the "heart" of Missoula's downtown. We are an open minded congregation, respectful of each other yet unafraid of the issues of our time. And we are a church of open doors, welcoming a wide diversity of people to be a part of our congregation. For those who can't manage our stairs, you will find the elevator just inside the street level entrance to the right of the stairs. You will always find a place at First United Methodist Church!
Please visit us at 300 E. Main Street.


Check out our new Facebook page. We hope you enjoy it.

Reconcilling logo
We welcome all people into the full life and membership of this congregation.




star Church will start at 8:30 and 10:30 during the school year.
Sunday School: Children 3-12 will leave the sanctuary following the 10:30 children's Sermon for Sunday School, except for the last Sunday of the month.

Communion is held each Sunday and all attending are invited to God's Table to share in the meal.

sermonby our minister Rev. John Daniels.

2/22/2015 Sermon by Jason Cox and 3/1/2015 Sermon by Daniel Viehland

Nursery care will be available to those 5 and under during the services.
There is always a coffee/fellowship time in the Narthex following the service.

You are invited to join us!


On Sunday Choir practice is in the chapel next to the sanctuary at 9:00 and the Faith and Justice Class will meet downstairs at 9:15. Beginning April 28 Religion and Science on Tuesdays at 10:00.

newsletterfor complete details of all that is happening this month in our church.

New Member Classes - First UMC will be holding new member classes Thursday evenings from  7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Church Parlor starting on Feb. 26th.  These classes will be not only for those interested in becoming members of the church, but also for those with questions about the Christian faith, church life, the Methodist denomination, and why we do what we do in our church.  The class runs for five sessions, with group input shaping potential Sundays for reception into the church (for those who wish to join).  If you are interested in this class, please contact the church office at 549-6118 or e-mail at FUMCMissoula@gmail.com.  We hope you will join us!

April 2 - United Methodist Women, 1 p.m.
April 2 - Maundy Thursday Service, 7 p.m.
April 3 - Good Friday Service, 7 p.m.
April 3 - Easter Prayer Vigil begins, 8 p.m.
April 5 - Easter Sunday. Sunrise Worship at 7:00 in Caras Park, 10:30 service in church.
April 5 - Easter Jubilee Breakfast, 8-10 a.m.
April 6 - Ad Council Meeting, 7 p.m.
April 9 - Ruth Fellowship will assemble health kits for the YWCA Battered Women's Shelter
April 12 - UMW Mission Project - collect food for Choteau Food Bank
April 15 - Deadline for Foundation Scholarships
April 16 - Amazing Grays Trip
April 18 - UMW Spring District Meeting
April 19 - Native American Ministries Sunday
April 19 - Potluck with discussion on building renovation, 11:45 a.m.
April 24-26 - Junior High Retreat at FUMC
April 30 - Missoula Interfaith Collaborative Summit. Tickets, more information...

May 1 - Dessert by Candlelight
May 3 - Stewardship Sunday and ice cream sundaes
May 7 - UMW lunch at Perkins
May 10-17 Family Promise Week
May 15-16 Lay Leader Training, Superior, Registration
May 21 - Special Olympics Team Dine Out dinner, volunteers needed. Opening Ceremonies and Games
May 30 - Poverello 5th Saturday Lunch, volunteers needed.

Our church is handicap accessible through the street level door on the southeast corner of the building. There is an elevator there that will bring you up to the sanctuary or take you down to fellowship hall. We have large-print bulletins with hymns, large print hymnals, and hearing assistance devices for those that are hard of hearing.
We also have video screens for hymns and scripture. Ask the ushers for help when you arrive and they will find what you need.
Office phone and E-mail contact information on the CONTACT US PAGE.

The life of our church includes:
(Click on colored words to find out more information.)
Adult Spiritual Growth - class descriptions, online class information and
links to The Book of Discipline
Children's Ministries - You Tube Christmas program video
Youth Ministries - FUMY
U of M Wesley Foundation - Facebook link
Amazing Grays - Trips for seniors
Choirs - Chancel Choir, JuBELLation Handbell Choir, Children's Joyful Noise Choir
Foundation - donations and scholarships
Membership - joining the church
Stephen Ministers - caring for one another as we journey through life
Information on what a Stephen Minister does and training information.
Social Action - Family Promise, Poverello, Habitat for Humanity, Intermountain, UMCOR
UMW - United Methodist Women schedule and fellowship group information UMW
UMM - United Methodist Men
Walk to Emmaus - Link to their website

Reaching out with love to our community and the world hearts
You can help the campaign to raise money to buy a truck for Ken Koome,
missionary in East Angola more information...
Tzedakah Pocket
Family Promise Host
Missoula Interfaith Collaborative & January Food Bank Drive
Host for Homeless Connect
Poverello noon meal 5th Saturdays
East Angola Pastor Support
United Methodist Women’s mission projects
SERRV & Fair Trade Products
Intermountain Home
Flathead Lake UMC Camp
Blackfeet United Methodist Parish
YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter
❤ Cub Scouts
Habitat for Humanity
Salvation Army
Wesley House

John Daniels Pastor John Daniels

  On July 6, at 9:30 a.m., we welcomed John Daniels as FUMC’s new pastor. Many will recognize Pastor John as the former Western Mountains District Superintendent for the Yellowstone Conference. His July 6th sermon served as an introduction of the new pastor from the DS. You may also recognize his wife Terri, who sings in our choir, and his children Emily, Molly and Ethan. Emily has one year left at the University of Montana, where she is studying music education. Molly is pursuing degrees in journalism and theatre at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Ethan is a student at Sentinel High School. He would like to attend UM and get a degree in a technical field associated with computer graphics.

You Tube video
Retired ministers Hugh Herbert and Barry Padget lead the congregation in singing
Brother Van's Harvest Time. Click on the arrow above to start the video.

Pastor: John Daniels
Administrative Assistants: Sharon Jackson and Rhanda Johnson
Treasurer: Leslie Lindley
Financial Secretary: Kay Duffield

Custodian: John Schaff
Nursery Attendants: Faye Gibson, Audra Clark & Juliette Viera
Junior Nursery Attendants: Sophia Clark, Kade Hedahl, Kayla Leavell, Madison Lightfield and Austin Means

Music Team:
Greg Boris, Music Director and Chancel Choir Director
Peter Edwards, Pianist/Organist
Laura Jacquette, Pianist/Organist 8:30

Brynn Bellingham, Handbell Choir Director
Rhanda Johnson, Joyful Noise Director

hospital **Please let the office know if you or someone in our church family needs a visit in the hospital or at home.
Church Office (406) 549-6118
or Pastor John's cell phone (406) 396-8966.

Office Hours (subject to change - call 549-6118 before coming in or to make an appointment with the pastor)
Monday - Friday: 9 a.m. - noon.

Angolan Pastor Leon Kapumba

Pastor Leon Kapumba is one of the pastors that the people of Yellowstone Conference support.  Your support makes his ministry possible and that makes a difference for many people!

Pastor Leon Kapumba serves God at the Cavungo UMC in Alto Zambezi, which is located in Moxico District.  There are about 115 people in his congregation. 
In the villages nearby, Pastor Leon has started what he calls four missions, what we might call house churches.  He goes to these villages at least twice a year on foot.  He has no transportation.  In each of these ‘missions’ there is a lay preacher. 
     Pastor Leon is married and has 4 children, 3 of them are in school and one is a baby.  He pays school fees for them to attend.  It’s very important to him that his children have an education.  He has finished the 10th grade.  Besides being a pastor, he works at the saw mill.  Sometimes they have trouble getting trees to use for lumber.  He regrets that he does not have the tools he needs that he could do this kind of work on his own. 
     His church, which is made up entirely of subsistence farmers,  encouraged him to become a pastor and attend the Course of Studies at  Quessua.  He is in his second year of studies. 
     When asked how we can pray for him he said: “ I feel blessed that I can serve God and my neighbors in this way.  Pray that I will be able to continue learning and serving.”


First Church loves music and hopes you will come not only to listen but to participate in it! We sing hymns as well as praise songs, often have special music and enjoy all three of our choirs. Choirs practice from September till May.
We love those who volunteer to provide special music during the summer. Call the office if you would like to bless us with your music.

Chancel Choir
FUMC Chancel Choir will begin the fall season on Sunday Sept. 8th.  Enthusiasm and love of music a must.  Previous experience is not required.  Choir meets Sundays only at 9:00 a.m. before service.  All are welcome.  Please join us!  For more information talk to choir director Greg Boris 239-1828.

JuBELLation Handbell Choir

Interested in learning/playing a new musical instrument? JuBELLation Handbell Choir, based at The First United Methodist Church, is looking for individuals interested in learning or experienced at playing handbells this season!  There are several ways to get involved and be part of this fun group!  Openings include: Full Time, Part Time, and On-call positions. During the school year practice is each Wednesday from 6-8. For more information call Joann Wallenburn at 677-4424.

bunnyJoyful Noise Children's Choir

All children from the 1st through the 8th grade are welcome to participate in making a Joyful Noise. During the school year they participate in worship once a month and rehearse on Mondays from 6:00 - 6:45 p.m. Contact Rhanda Johnson in the office (549-6118) for more information.

Adult Spiritual Growth Groups
Do you feel like you are on a spiritual journey? We hope you will allow us to walk with you on this journey and together we will find the answers to our questions. Fall classes will meet on Sunday morning, Tuesday morning, Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening. Click on the blue button below for details.
 adult ed

Interested in online adult classes? Click on UMC classes for more information.
Looking for a specific Bible Verse? Click on Bible Verse Search

The Book of Discipline is available online for your study and review: The Book of Discipline Index, The Book of Discipline Part 1,The Book of Discipline Part 2 and The Book of Resolutions 2012 Part III.

Children's Ministries
Sunday School meets during the worship service, right after Children's Time and is for  Preschool - 6th grade. Our Rock Solid program is a
Bible study that enables children to experience God through Jesus Christ.  Activities will include stories, crafts, music and scripture. 

Call the church office (549-6118) for more information. Nursery care is available for those not ready for preschool. kids christmas 2013

You Tube You can watch a You Tube video of the Twelve Days of Christmas given by the children during church December 8, 2013.
 Click on the You Tube logo.

First United Methodist Youth Fellowship (FUMY)
7th through 12th grade students meet most Wednesday evenings from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. from September until May.
They do service projects, make discoveries about themselves and others, and have fun!

Wesley Foundation - University of Montana Campus Ministry
New to Campus? Connect with us! Campus Connection
The University of Montana Wesley House is located across the street from the campus and Miller Hall at 1327 Arthur Avenue.
College students and visitors are welcomed to stop by for a vis
it. Sunday evenings are family style dinners and Thursday evenings are a Bible Study.
For more information E-mail the Wesley House or Phone: (406) 274-3346.
Join us on facebook
Local Churches: Please send the names of U of M students from your local church to the Wesley Foundation
so they can be invited to join the
Wesley House activities.
Students are welcomed at either First or Grace UMC in Missoula.

UMW logoUnited Methodist Women
Our UMW is part of the Yellowstone Conference, which covers Montana, 1/2 Wyoming and a slice of Idaho.
You can find information on Conference and District UMW activities on the conference UMW web page.
March 6-8 - UMW Women's Event, Fairmont Hot Springs Registration and Scholarship Forms

The National organization of United Methodist Women also have a website full of information, news, and resources

Thank you letter from the Blackfeet United Methodist Parishes for the 2014 Christmas Boxes

. UMWUMW is open to any woman who would enjoy the companionship of other women and is someone who is dedicated to supporting missions near and far. UMW raises money for mission projects locally, in Montana, nationally and globally. UMW meets the first Thursday Oct-Dec and Feb-May. All meetings are at 1:00 for dessert, program and business meeting, unless otherwise announced in the church newsletter.
Other activities include: Ash Wednesday Soup Supper, July picnic for families who will attend a community band concert at Bonner Park afterward, October Apple Pie sales, and December Candy Sale.
Contact President Klairaine Nichwander 396-1663 for more information.

** UMW Fellowship Circles meet once a month. Nothing compares to a small supportive group of women!

All women of the church are invted to visit groups that interest them.
GEMS Fellowship meets the third Thursday at 7 p.m. in the church library Sept-May
This group of working women is particularly interested in the UMW Reading program and are supportive of one another.
Chair: Laela Shimer 721-1960

L.A.N.S. Fellowship meets the second Monday at 11:30 a.m. for lunch at a restaurant from Sept-Dec and Feb-May.
They are women Living Actively in the New Society. They are interested in social action in the community as well as fellowship.
Chairman: Ellie Barnes 549-1384
RUTH Fellowship meets the second Thursday at 10:00 a.m. in the church parlor Oct-May.
They invite you to come and share their fellowship, coffee, a monthly program, and outreach to church members who need a little TLC and support of missions like the YWCA Battered Women's Shelter.

Chairman: Kay Duffield 543-6722 or Judy Whiddon 258-2719
VESPERS Fellowship meets the third Wednesday at 1:00 in homes Sept-May
They have been meeting together for a long time which has led to many long friendships. They invite you to their program and meeting.
Chairman: Kay Norum 721-5750

**Special Interest Groups:
Book Group meets the fourth Thursday at 11 a.m. in the church library
year round.
Co-Chair: Laurie Ball 926-1252 & Jackie Krahn 543-3979
Knitting Group meets on Saturdays at 10:00 in homes year round.
Chairman: Carole Addis 721-1817

UMMen logoMen's Fellowship Group
The Mighty Methodist Men meet 1st & 3rd Saturdays, at 8 a.m. in the Church Library.

Stephen Ministry ChurchSM logo
We participate in Stephen Ministries, where trained Stephen Ministers walk with those whose lives are in turmoil for one reason or another.
Stephen Ministers also help with prayer requests each Sunday and serve communion. Anyone in our church family can request a Stephen Minister for themselves. We hope to offer a new class to train Stephen Ministers. Members of the congregation are encouraged to consider doing the 50-hours of training and helping others in this way. As a Stephen Minister you often find tools to help in your own life as well as nurture your care receiver.
What is a Stephen Minister?
Call Kay at 543-6722 or Peg at 542-1543 for more information.

Amazing Grays
The Amazing Grays are a group of church members who have been blessed with some gray hairs. They get together once a month for companionship and an enjoyable time. They go out to dinner, have a pot-luck and game night at the church, a holiday party or sometimes make a day trip by bus to some place in Montana. Friends are always welcome. Rides will be provided for those who no longer drive. Participants may sign up following church for the current activities.

New Members are received throughout the year. To learn more, please contact Pastor John Daniels by stopping by or calling the church office at 549-6118.
New Member class currently under way.


Missoula First United Methodist Church Foundation:
Donations and bequests to the Foundation are used for charitable giving, scholarships and fulfilling the church's mission. Brochure with more information on charitable giving and bequests to the Foundation is available by clicking on Foundation Brochure.
Foundation Scholarships: The Foundation offers two scholarships each Spring. The Foundation Scholarship is for an active member of our church and The Katie Payne Scholarship is for a woman pursuing a nursing or medical arts career or a career in law, government or public service. Click on the blue scholarship name above for the application.
The packet containing your application, transcript, and two letters of recommendation must be postmarked April 15th or earlier.

Walk to Emmaus Fourth Day groups for men and women also meet at the church. Walk to Emmaus weekends for men and women are held each spring. Please check out the Walk website at: www.WesternMTWalk.com
Members from other Walk communities are welcome and encouraged to help with the Walks, come to Gatherings and join 4h Day groups.
More Emmaus Community Information from Upper Room.

Social Action - Love in Motion

We give of our time, talent and gifts to local agencies such as Poverello and Family Promise, to state agencies such as the Blackfeet Parish and the Intermountain Home in Helena, to national missions through mission shares, and globally we are supporting a pastor in Angola with a monthly check. We are also a Jubilee Church to help poor countries with their debt.

Family promise logoFirst United Methodist Church of Missoula is part of 19+ churches who are working to house 3-4 homeless families with children. For more information or to volunteer please contact Barbara Blanchard Mahoney at 493-6713 or go to their website: http://familypromisemissoula.net/

I was hungry and you fed me...
Come feed God's people lunch 4 or 5 times a year at the Poverello Center.
We work at the Pov whenever there is a 5th Saturday.
Call the church office to sign up (549-6118).

We are a church partner with Missoula's Habitat for Humanity We invite you to join us for a work day! Contact the office at 549-6118 for more information.

Intermountain is a nationally accredited non-profit organization. They provide mental health and
educational services to effectively meet the diverse needs of children and families facing emotional challenges. Their primary services include: residential treatment, community-based services, and community trainings. Operating for more than 100 years, Intermountain is one of Montana’s oldest child welfare agencies.

We care about others. We participate in giving relief to victims of natural disasters through UMCOR. Our church gives generously to those affected by natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis and will continue to support UMCOR when it heads to new disasters.

Special Days. Special Ways. We reach out to the world with Special Offerings

Human Relations Day -February
One Great Hour of Sharing - March
Native American Ministries - April
Peace With Justice - May
World Communion - October
United Methodist Student Day - November
For more information go to: www.umcgiving.org



Sermons by Pastor John Daniels and others

4-5-15 – Easter Message

Christ:  Madman, or Who He Claims To Be?
Scripture:  I Corinthians 15:1-11

Theme:  Either Christ was a madman, or who he said he was.  Easter, then, is either a fantasy moment of earthly pretense, simple a scene in the cosmic play that incorporates no eternal hope but only illusion; or Easter is the grandest statement made by a loving, involved, and determined God that we are worth loving.   I choose the latter.

Are you familiar with the great butter debate?  First, butter is bad for you, margarine is better.  Then, margarine is bad for you, butter is better.  Then, butter is bad for you again, and margarine is better.  Then, margarine is bad for you, and butter is better.  Margarine or butter?  Which is better?  WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?
      You can apply the same argument pattern towards any number of dietary items – eggs, chocolate, coffee – but the debate continues, as to whether or not these items are good for health, or bad for health.  Are eggs good for you, or bad for you?  Is coffee good for you, or bad for you?  And, of course, we know that CHOCOLATE IS GOOD FOR YOU – END OF DEBATE!
      Knowing what to believe is a very difficult thing, requiring study, experience, trial and error, experimentation, and rational inquiry.  And still, there is debate.  People are always going round and round about the different opinions and ideas out there regarding what’s really important to believe – and this is very present in our Christian faith.  So often it is practiced in terms of what are the right things to believe – doctrines and creeds are created to try to clarify the items of belief, such as the virgin birth, the divinity of Christ, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
      I have found in my experience as a follower of Christ that knowing what to believe can be a very frustrating endeavor.  There are so many opinions out there, even inside of the Christian church!  I recently did what any good researcher does to see just how great our diversity of belief is within the Christian faith – I used google to ask “how many Christian denominations are there?” – the answer:  41,000.  That reflects potentially a lot of differences of opinion on what to believe. 
Well, thank goodness Methodists all agree upon what to believe!  Or do we?  At least in this church, we all agree on what to believe about Jesus, about God, and about faith?  No?
      What is it that we should believe?  More important, when we say we believe something, what does it mean for our lives?  Is believing something relevant if it has no bearing upon what happens in our everyday world?  If it cannot be proven, how do we know it is true?  What does truth mean, anyway?  How do we know if something is worth believing in the first place?   Are doubts allowed?  Are questions OK, if we find ourselves not sure of what to believe? 
      I go kind of crazy when I get into such a questioning jumble; perhaps you do too.  All of these kinds of questions are not only allowed – THEY ARE ESSENTIAL IF OUR FAITH IS TO BE SOMETHING REAL.  They provide a sort of continuum of exploration of God’s nature and reality, a continuum that has us engage with each other in pursuit of the answers.  But if these questions are sought to be the foundation of our faith, if these kinds of questions must be answered concretely before we believe, then faith is not possible.
      Here is the point:  faith is less about knowing what to believe, than knowing who to believe in.
I have found much more progress in my faith by making this trade – I have traded what to believe for who to believe in.  There will always be solid debate on the articles of faith; but I believe when effort is given to whom we trust in our faith, and allow that to be our primary motivation, we begin to discover what Christ was about.  Not doctrines and creed, not articles of faith, BUT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN US AND GOD, never to be reduced to formula or law, BUT ALWAYS TO BE PURSUED THROUGH AN IRRATIONAL, UNCONDITIONAL, FANATICAL LOVE THAT WILL NOT DIE, THAT WILL NOT STOP, THAT IS OFFERED TO ALL OF GOD’S CHILDREN, BE THEY CHRISTIAN OR ATHIEST, MUSLIM OR BUDDHIST, SECULAR OR SACRED.  Relationship with the divine is what Christ was all about; why Christ came to the world, taught and healed, preached and performed miracles, moved onto the cross, suffered and died, and rose again – TO SHOW HOW FAR DIVINE LOVE WILL GO IN ITS EFFORTS TO CONNECT WITH THE BELOVED, to connect with  us.  Christ conquered death to show us that nothing can separate us from God; God lives in us, through all that Christ was, and is.

         In his book The Problem of Pain,  C.S. Lewis says this about Jesus:
“There was a man born among the Jews who claimed to be ‘one with’, …[God].  The claim is so shocking …that only two views of this man are possible.  Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type, or else He was, and is, precisely what He said.  There is no middle way.  If the records make the first hypothesis unacceptable, you must submit to the second.  And if you do that, all else that is claimed by Christians becomes credible – that this man, having been killed, was yet alive, and that His death, in some manner incomprehensible to human thought, has effected a real change in our relation to God, a change in our favor.”  C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p.13-14
         Easter is either the greatest foolishness of fantasy, or the greatest gift the world has ever received.  To the Christian, it is simply the most profound expression of grace we can possibly imagine – that God loves us so much, he gave us Christ.  Christ who came on our behalf.  Christ who died for our sakes.  Christ who was resurrected in glory.  Christ who lives with us and in us still.  We may continue to argue about the specifics of this story, we may not agree on precisely what to believe regarding this episode of eternity.  But we may all be united in who we believe in, and why.

3-29-15  Mixing Glory With Despair

Scripture:  Mark 11:1-11
Theme:  Sometimes – oftentimes? – we find the bad mixed in with the good, the harsh with the soft, the desperate with the glorious – and Jesus walks this journey in our lesson for today.  Yet, he continues to walk, knowing what is coming, not stopping for the limited glory of the moment.  What lesson does this have for us, but to walk likewise, even when we’d rather stay secure in life’s glorious moments?  For God is not only found in glory – God is perhaps most often found in our despair.

         Several years ago, I happened to purchase an old boat for $200.  The price was set at around $10 per hole, so you get the picture of what shape it was in.  Here’s a picture of it (slide) – well, OK, it wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty bad – many holes, definitely not seaworthy.
         I spent the next three years working on that boat, and got it into pretty good shape – I resealed the hull, varnished the deck, fiberglassed the cockpit and epoxied the rotten wood, of which there were copious amounts.  Finally, after three years, my boat was finished.
         My son Ethan and I took it for its maiden voyage in the spring of 2008.  We went up to Eastfork Reservoir near Lewistown, brought fishing gear and a sack lunch.  I had Ethan spot the trailer as I backed it down to the water; once launched, Ethan took his place in the cockpit and I parked the car and trailer nearby.
         As I walked toward the boat, my glorious moment was shattered when I heard Ethan screaming something; can you guess what it was?  “DAD, THERE’S WATER COMING IN THE BOAT!”  One word – despair – flooded my thoughts.  That, and the thought that my son might sink with the boat.  I ran over to the boat and Ethan, took a look, and saw that yes, there was water coming in, but at a trickle; we decided to risk it, and we fished and bailed alternately for a few hours.  It turned out to be not so bad of a day.  Here’s what our boat looks like now (slide)– and, yes, it still leaks, but only a little.
         What a bad feeling – when I felt my day move from glory to despair.

         We find ourselves today, with a similar situation after having heard of Jesus entering Jerusalem, for we know what’s coming.  We are not fooled by this moment of glory -- Jesus is heading for pain.  Jesus is heading for the cross.  And we, as the privileged faithful, know the story, and understand that this journey of Christ will move from glory to despair in a few short days.  The crowds will turn; the verdict will be given.  And Jesus will die.
         .  We find this moment mixing glory and despair.    Glory over the moment when Jesus is riding high, entering Jerusalem, with the crowds proclaiming him king, lord, ruler of their lives, master of the masses. Despair over the coming cross, the time when all this joy is drowned out in a fit of fury over this Christ who threatens the status quo, and stands for the truth no one wants to hear.  Palm Sunday has us caught between laughter and tears.
Caught between laughter and tears; mixing glory and despair.  Have you ever been there?  Have you ever not been sure if you were going to laugh or to cry?  Have you ever felt the tug of war inside your heart when facing a situation, a relationship, an event, that caught you off guard?  Hopeful joy on the one-hand; depressing reality on the other?
Glory and despair, laughter and tears, success and failure, joy and sorrow – these kinds of dualisms are often times very close companions.  There is often a very fine line between the two, whether it be because of appearances or understandings that are simply too superficial.
Something I have shared with you before is the fact that I have a younger brother.  I have also shared with you the fact that my younger brother and I used to fight a lot.  There was always a good reason for me to fight my brother, reasons such as:

When we fought over such important matters, I would almost always win, because, of course, I was always right – and I suppose the fact that I was six inches taller than he was helped as well.  But the funny thing was that when I would win, I would usually feel terrible.  I won the point, but was always losing the game, for the game wasn’t about winning points, but being brothers who were there for each other.  It took me a long time to figure that one out.
Winning and losing can be close companions.  Laughter and tears can exist together.  And this is not necessarily a bad thing at all.  When laughter and tears come together, it expresses to me a time when, perhaps, we are more human, more real in terms of the heartache and joy that actually touches our heart, that actually touches our soul.  It’s what makes Holy Week, or any time, a good reflection upon when God laughed and cried, a time when the glorious met with the tragic, for the purpose of demonstrating God’s love for creation, and his unwillingness to ever give up on us.
And this mixture of glory with tragedy is no stranger to our lives.  This is what Christ modeled – that the greatest tragedies can frame the greatest glories.  The tragedy of despair frames the glory of hope when it returns.  The tragedy of death frames the glory of the soul’s release from bondage to decay and sorrow.  The tragedy of the cross frames the glory of the resurrection. 
Palm Sunday takes us there.  Jesus knew what was going on.  He knew that the people were following him, that their hearts were warmed by his presence, his ministry, his teaching.  But he also knew the danger that was present in Jerusalem; he knew the danger that accompanied the human heart.  He knew that the cross was ahead, that the cheering crowds would turn quickly when challenged by his call for change in their hearts.
Why was Jesus so resolute in his journey?  If it were any one of us, with the same knowledge of the story, with the same understanding of what was going on, we would probably say Jerusalem was the last place to go.  Yet, Jesus persisted.  He persisted for the simple reason that he knew what was worth dying for.
Now, there’s an antiquated phrase – “Something worth dying for.”  In our playful moments we talk about something being “to die for.”  Chocolate comes to my mind.  Perhaps the latest fashion in clothes, or a particular ninetendo game, or a certain type of motorcycle, comes to our minds.  But of course, we don’t actually mean that we’d be willing to die for these things.  Or do we?
We are hitting upon one of the great lessons being taught here in the Palm Sunday message, a lesson which strikes at perhaps the greatest problem faced in the world today.  We don’t know what’s worth dying for.
A reading by Dorothy L. Sayers puts it this way:  “In the world it is called tolerance, but in hell it is called despair…the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”
Let me ask you this question, one to ponder in your hearts this day.  What is it that you would die for?  Have you found any purpose, any mission, any goal which you would be willing to lay down your life for?  You see, plain and simple, Jesus did.  He knew that, whatever else was going on, proclaiming the truth of God was worth laying down his life.  Proclaiming the truth of God’s love for his creation, the extent of that love, and it’s unconditional and eternal nature – these were the things worthy of sacrificing everything.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said it this way:  “Even if they try to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there are some things so precious, some things so eternally true that they are worth dying for.  And if a person has not found something to die for, that person isn’t fit to live!”
We aren’t fit to live unless we’ve found something worth dying for.  That’s a strong statement, isn’t it?  This is what is modeled by Christ.  This is the significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, with the confidence to carry on even in the presence of the cross.  Jesus knew what was worth dying for.  Do we?

Victory in Defeat – by Edwin Markham
Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind,
The boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can know the mighty rapture.  Sorrows come
To stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.


3-22-15 On the Edge of Difficult Things

Scripture:  John 12:20-33
Theme:  Facing difficult things usually invites Fight, flight, or engagement.  Christ chose engagement.  This is our place as well. 

         Several years ago, when my children were in elementary school, I experienced what we might call a humbling moment.  I gave my children a challenging task.  There was a tremendous pile of clean clothes on the couch in the living room, and they needed to be folded.  I asked my children to fold them.  The protests began.  “But Dad, I folded them last time; I don’t know how to fold them; I don’t know where they go; I need to clean my own room; I need to do homework; I need to write my sermon.” (er, that last one was my excuse!).  But to no avail.  I held firm, and told them they needed to make sure they folded all the clothes and put them away.  I didn’t want to see any clothes left on the couch. 
One half hour later, I came up to check the progress.  I was impressed!  Not one article of clothing was left on that couch, nor in the living room.  They had done a good job, and I even told them so.
A few days later, I was picking up things around the living room, when I noticed the couch was kind of far from the wall.  I went to push it back, but it wouldn’t budge.  So I looked behind the couch.  Guess what I saw?  All those clean clothes.  Somebody had jammed – and I mean jammed – those clothes carefully behind the couch so that they could not be seen from the front.  I probably should have gotten angry or upset, but it was so well done that I have to admit, I was impressed.  Someone had taken great pains to deal with the difficult, unpleasant task of dealing with the laundry.
And that’s how it is with the human race.  When we face difficult things, we automatically face temptation in many forms, for when we face difficult things, our capacity for free will kicks into gear.  WE CAN CHOOSE IF AND HOW WE WILL FACE THE DIFFICULTY.  As a challenge comes upon us, we are fully able to make choices of whether to face it at all, and, if we do choose to face the challenge, we are fully able to choose attitude, perspective, justification, and methodology.  In terms of anthropology, when facing a challenge, we can choose flight or fight.
         Choosing flight means to escape.  The challenge is too great.  It would destroy us.  It would consume us.  Or, more likely, in this day and age, it would make us uncomfortable.  It would result in confusion, distress, or anxiety.  It would make us change.  So we flee from its presence.  We jam the clothes behind the couch.
         A wife took her husband to the doctor; he was pretty worn down.  The doctor examined him, and then took the wife into another room.  “Your husband is very ill,” said the doctor, “He will die unless you do the following things.  He needs to do no work, not even washing the dishes or folding laundry.  He needs to eat three very healthy meals a day.  You must wait on him hand and foot, see to his every need, and never upset him.  You need to do this for the next year, without fail.  Unless you do, your husband will die.”        On the ride home, the husband turned to his wife, and asked, “What did the doctor say?”
         She turned to him and said, “You’re going to die.”
         Rather than face the difficulty, we can often choose escape.  This is a very human practice, but it is typically the most ineffectual.  The problem, most likely, has not disappeared, but has just been temporarily removed from awareness.  Possibly, and quite probably, the difficulty has grown for lack of attention.  Somebody, somewhere, at some time in the future, will have to do something with it.  And that somebody will probably be the original soul.
         The second option we have when facing a difficulty is to fight that difficulty.  We can go into battle, attack with all our forces, treating the difficulty as an enemy combatant.  After all, difficulties are the plague of humanity!  Difficulties are the unwanted occurrences in life that detract, degrade, profane, and otherwise lessen life.  Difficulties are the corrosion of hope, the embodiment of suffering, and the expression of an imperfect world.  If only we didn’t have such challenges, the blissful life would be well within reach.
         Most likely, you have heard of the “Big Brother, Little Brother” program, whereby adults (the “Big Brother”) mentor troubled youth (the “little brother”), to model good behavior and social skills that might have been missing in a young man’s life.  Many years ago, I had a little brother named Kevin.  Kevin was about 14 years old when I knew him.  We’d get together a couple of times a month for a year.  We’d go to movies, play basketball, go out to eat, go to the amusement park, and that kind of thing.  We’d talk about life, people, the world, manners, relationships, and the past.  In many ways, Kevin was just a normal kid with some problems. 
One thing about Kevin was hard to miss, however – he always carried a wedge of lemon and a piece of sandpaper.  He used the lemon juice and the sandpaper to try to remove a tattoo on his arm.  Now this is not a practice I recommend for anyone, and I tried to persuade Kevin not to do it – his arm looked so raw and red when I took him back to the group home.  The tattoo?  It was a cross.  A Christian cross.  Kevin and I had many discussions that started with that cross.  He wanted it gone with a passion, for, as he told me, “it was religion that put me on the street.”  It seems his family was very strict, religiously speaking.  They set down the rules, they drilled into Kevin what they wanted him to believe, and when he didn’t follow through, at the ripe age of 12 years old, they kicked him out of their home.  At least, that was Kevin’s story of how it went.  All I actually knew was that at age twelve, Kevin’s parents gave up all their rights formally for the bringing up of their child.
I don’t need or want to know all the details or accuracies of Kevin’s story, but we know this kind of thing goes on.  It illustrates the reality that fighting leaves victims.  When we fight difficulties, we find it quite easy to take up sides.  The objective all too often becomes not one of reconciliation or a return to balance, but victory.  Victory at all costs!  Victory against the identified foe!  The difficulty of tension between persons could easily be transferred to the new difficulty of severed relationship.  Fighting often leaves victims.  We forget that the victims are always children of God.
But there is a third option to the flight or fight approach to dealing with difficulties.  It is tempting to call these options “flight, fight, or faith” which works well for me, but I think it is more clearly in line with Christ’s teaching to call our options “flight, fight, or engage” the difficulties that come our way.
         Engaging difficulty – what does that mean? 
A woman had a severe attack of laryngitis and lost her voice for nearly a week.  The doctor told her not even to whisper.
Her husband, trying to help his wife communicate with him, devised a system of taps.  He explained his system to her:  "One tap means "yes."  Two taps means "No."  Three taps means "give me a kiss."  And one hundred and forty-nine taps means "take out the garbage."'
OK, that is a silly example, and maybe not the best for our purposes here.  But it does identify the first part of what I mean by engaging difficulty.  It means involvement.  Becoming involved with the difficulty.  Sitting with it for awhile.  Doing something to search for a first step, a possibility for address, a way to work with it to the maximum benefit of all parties concerned.
  I believe this is what Christ is dealing with in this passage from scripture:  “Now is my soul troubled.  And what should I say? – “Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.”      
In this wonderful, terrible passage, Christ demonstrated his humanness in that he was able to conceive of escape, he was able to conceive of God fighting on his behalf – but was able to see further, to see God’s purpose in the difficulty of the cross.  This is why he was able to engage the cross.
This kind of thing is essential to our faith – that we continually strive to see God’s purpose and presence in the difficulties we face.  It means training ourselves to see God in the dark places of our lives, in the experiences that cloud our understanding, in the moments when difficulties arise that leave us breathless from fear and anxiety.  It takes training because each of us is susceptible to first impressions, easily missing what lies deeper.  We often must search for God below the surface of our immediate experience.

Every hardship provides an education – for those willing to learn.
Every discomfort helps one practice tolerance – for those willing to bend.
Every tension teaches endurance – for those willing to stay the course.
Every frustration shapes character – for those willing to try again.
Every attack forms stamina – for those willing to face the foe.
Every struggle creates strength – for those willing to exercise all assets.
Every sorrow generates depth – for those willing to accept the loss.
Every difficulty motivates faith – for those willing to trust God in all things.

How, then, does one go about seeing God’s purposes in the difficult things we face?  I’ve found three practices or mindsets that help me engage in the difficulties I’d rather flee from or fight against.  For one:

  1. I trust that God is there, somewhere, in every difficulty I face – not necessarily that God causes the difficulties, or that God will present a magical solution to my troubles, but that God is a co-sufferer, that God is by my side, in my heart, a very present figure aware of what I am going through.
  2. I trust that all things are redeemable by God – somehow, someway, God can work some positive end to even the most negative beginning.  THIS WILL NOT ERASE THE DIFFICULTY OR TRANSLATE IT INTO SOMETHING JUSTIFIABLE OR VIRTUOUS; but God can work something out of what we cannot – if we allow God to work in our lives this way.
  3. I trust that God will, in God’s time, help me to see the value and purposes of my difficulties.

I may shatter some pastoral perceptions with what I’m going to say next, but here it goes – RARELY DOES YOUR PASTOR HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS!  Maybe about motorcycles, but rarely, rarely, do I feel like I have sufficient or effective answers to many of the questions that come my way.  Why did God allow this to happen?  How can I forgive?  What am I doing wrong?  How should I pray?  Where will this lead?  Who do I turn to for help?  What should I do now?
         I don’t have ready-made answers for these kinds of heartfelt, soul-searching questions – but I have found that, if willing to be engaged, together, with a sense of God present and involved, some sort of answer arises.  Maybe not complete.  Maybe not crystal clear.  But sufficient for the moment.  Sufficient for this stage of life’s journey.

Theodore Roosevelt said:  “It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out how the strong one stumbles or where the do-er of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
“The credit belongs to the person who knows the great devotion, and spends himself in a worthy cause.”  The credit belongs to those who hold onto God’s purpose in the difficulty.  And God’s purpose cannot be discovered, if it is to be discovered at all in this life, without engagement. 
Many are the people that I meet who are fleeing from difficulty – a bad relationship, damaged pride, a past they’d rather pretend never happened, a lie that lives on, mistakes, anger, dealing with damaging habits, shameful behavior and the like -- and they don’t realize that, no matter how fast they run, they can never get away from themselves.  The difficulty lives on.
Many are the people that I meet who are fighting with everything they’ve got – against family and friends, against a person holding the opposing opinion, against the truth, against themselves, against God – and they are leaving a trail of destruction behind them that resolves little.  And the fighting goes on.
But blessed are those who choose to engage the difficulties of life trusting that God is in there, somewhere, ready to join us in our struggle.   


3-15-15 God’s Prime Directive
Scripture:  John 3:14-21

Theme:  The prime directive in Star Trek is “non-interference” with an alien civilization.  God’s prime directive is “direct interference” through Jesus Christ.  No other way can love be a reality, except by intrusion into live – or make that infusion into life.

         In my career as a human being, there was a time when I could rightfully claim the title of “Trekkie.”  This meant that I was addicted to ST: TOS, which stands for Star Trek:  The Original Series (as opposed to Star Trek, the next generation, Star Trek, Enterprise, and others – there have been six different series made from the original ST:TOS).  The Original Series ran from September 8, 1966 to September 2nd, 1969, and was comprised of 79 episodes of the starship Enterprise scanning the galaxies in search of adventure and discovery.  The series had very noteworthy characters – Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, Dr. McCoy, Lieutenant Uhura, Lieutenant Sulu, Chief Engineer Scotty, and Lieutenant Chekov.   And, of course, the odd crewman in the red shirt, who always died.  Most recently, the world was stunned when it was announced that Spock died (the actor Leonard Nimoy).  I think I have seen each of those 79 episodes about 20 or 30 times.
         There was one aspect of the series that I thought was quite intriguing.  As Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, and the rest of the starship Enterprise’s crew would find themselves in another plot where they came upon a planet to explore, they would often bring up the “prime directive.”  Now the prime directive was high Starfleet law; this directive was gospel, absolute command for all starships encountering alien civilizations.  The breaking of the prime directive was grounds for court martial and capital punishment. 
And what was this “prime directive?”  To put it bluntly, it was “non-interference.”  No space ship was to interfere with alien society.  Many were the times that Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Scotty would don disguises or wear strange clothes to “fit in” with the current civilization they were studying or dealing with.  They didn’t want to disturb any social structure with their advanced knowledge or technological prowess.  To do so was unthinkable, like giving a nuclear bomb to children.  Interference was to be avoided at all costs.  This was the prime directive of the starship Enterprise.  (Ironically, most of the time – THEY INTERFERED!)
         I think that this kind of prime directive is still very operative in our regular, non-science-fiction world today.  It has its form in the idea that the well-lived life does not interfere with others, does not intrude into personal space, does not invade the lives of others. 
Live and let live.
Mind your own business.
Do your own thing.
Don’t tell anybody what to do.
Keep your distance.
Stay out of my way.
Don’t mess around with my life.
To each his own.
Follow your own path.
Here are some Facebook messages I’ve come across:
Let people do what they need to do to make them happy, mind your own business, and do what you need to do to make you happy. – Ritu Ghatourey
When you mind your own business you will never get caught up in all the nonsense.--  Gee Linder
My life.  My choices.  My mistakes.  My lessons.  Not your business. – PrincessAsh248
We don’t like messing about in other people’s business!  And this is largely because we don’t like others messing around in ours.  Privacy is paramount.  HIPA is in place.  Our credit card companies send us monthly statements of their privacy policy to allay our fears.  Assurances are all over the computer screen that our personal information is secure. 
There is a strong emphasis in our day to separate ourselves from others.  We don’t want to interfere with the lives others lead.  Leave well enough alone, we think.  To each his own.  Let a person follow their own path. 

To which the Christian replies – NONSENSE!
         Now you may be thinking that I’m leading up to a great challenge to this ideology, and you’d be right.  But let me be clear – it is important to be careful with our information – we need a degree of privacy, we need to maintain the comfort and privacy of our home lives, we need some space to call our own.
         But today we have this annoying, problematic, profoundly challenging message from scripture today that God has a prime directive too.  It is the exact opposite of what we have been speaking about, and perhaps opposite to a very strong tendency we each have in ourselves.  God’s prime directive is nothing less than direct interference with the world, in the form of the cross born for the sake of love.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17).  God interfered in this world’s affairs!  God would not leave things well enough alone, because alone they were indeed not well.  Love would not leave things alone.
         That’s a powerful statement that I think is at the heart of what we may take home from this passage – LOVE INTERFERES.  LOVE DOESN’T LEAVE THINGS ALONE.  Love, true love, cannot help but be involved with life, with others, with God.  And the heart of a Christian is absolutely a heart shaped by Christ’s love, a heart intent on Christ’s love, a love given for others, a love active in life.  For a Christian without love is like a fish without water, popcorn without butter, vinegar without oil, pepper without salt, politics without tension, flowers without smell, a bicycle without tires, a cow without hay, pancakes without syrup, or a motorcycle without gas.  OK, my analogies need work, but the point is clear:  If Christianity is real, it has love; and if love is real, it is a living, breathing thing that will not live in isolation.  It must be shared, or it is not love.
One Facebook post did catch my eye, however, that seems to be stretching in this direction.  It says, “Never worry about what I’m doing; only worry about why you’re worried about what I’m doing.” (– CV Pillay).  The Christian always has a “why”, and it has to do with God’s love, a love that is needed by the world.  And this love interferes in the lives of others.

One of my favorite stories of this kind of loving interference is the story of Michael Weisser, who was the cantor at his Lincoln, Nebraska, synagogue; this was back in the early 1990’s.  Weisser found himself the target of interest of the local Klan Grand Dragon, Larry Trapp. It seems Trapp took it upon himself to harass, intimidate and threaten Weisser with the ultimate goal of driving him out of town.
 When the chilling, late-night phone calls and the hate mail began to bombard Weisser, he knew where it was coming from and he was afraid. Yet, his response spoke of hope, not hate and fear. Weisser called his tormentor back and got his answering machine. After listening to its pre-recorded anti-Semitic diatribe, he calmly offered to take Trapp, who was confined to a wheel chair, out to the grocery store. For weeks Weisser kept at it, leaving recorded messages of offered help for this Grand Dragon.
 Finally, Klansman Trapp called him back, complaining, "What do you want? You're harassing me." But Trapp soon called Weisser with another question; he confessed, "I want to get out of this and I don't know how." Weisser immediately responded, "I'll bring dinner and we'll talk." His wife brought along a silver ring as a peace offering. When they met face-to-face, the Klansman and the cantor, Larry Trapp burst into tears (reported in Time, 2 February 1992).   A follow-up report on National Public Radio tells that Trapp eventually moved in with the Weissers, who cared for him as his health declined. In time, Trapp converted to Judaism.

WE BELIEVE IN A RISEN LORD WHO WILL NEVER LEAVE US ALONE.  Someone won’t leave us alone?  How awful if it is someone who is our enemy, someone we can’t stand, someone who is out to get us, annoy us, disturb us, scare us, shame us, or hurt us.  We can all think of people we wish would leave us alone (telemarketers come to my mind!).  BUT WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT THEM – WE’RE TALKING ABOUT GOD.  God won’t leave us alone, for the sake of his love.  A love that invades our privacy, not to hurt, but to heal; not to scare, but to sooth; not to condemn, but to save.  This is the love that dies if we keep it to ourselves, which must be shared in order to exist at all.  This is the nature of our God; this is the nature of our faith.  We either love, or die inside.  There is no other choice for a follower of Christ.
C.S. Lewis said that “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin or your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers...of love is Hell. 
As Christians, we’re going to love others.  Love is the breath of our soul.  In this sense, to be Christian means we’re going to intrude.  We’re going to invade the privacy of others.  We are going to interfere – lovingly:

As God has shown us in the gift of his Son, love interferes with life in its normalcy, unconditionally, profoundly, humbly.  As Paul says, “love bears all things, believe all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Love is active, or it is dead.  Love can be no other way, if it be of God.
         In this Lenten season, let us each consider, exactly what is our prime directive?  May it be in line with God’s.


3-8-15  Choosing To Be Foolish

Scripture:  I Corinthians 1:18-25
Theme:  Who hasn’t played the fool?  So many times, we are caught in the frailty of our human disposition – unintentionally, we feel foolish.  Paul, however, invites us to not only accept foolishness, but embrace it, for the cause of Christ.  To be fully faithful means to step into foolishness from time to time – but a foolishness that is wiser than the greatest wisdom the world has to offer.

          As Christians, we realize the value of confessing our limitations and fallibility to God and to each other.  As your pastor, I realize the value of not sharing too much of my own personal fallibility, in the hopes that you may not think me as fallible as I really am.  Sharing too much, you see, might make me look ………..well……………foolish.  It’s not a good move regarding job security.  And yet, here we are in Lent, the season of confession – I find myself trapped!  Am I to preach confession, and yet not practice it?  No, it is necessary; I indeed have some things to confess to you.

As a person, I have:

As a parent and spouse, I have:

Even as a pastor, I HAVE:

In short, I have felt foolish as a pastor many times.
          Life is like this, isn’t it?  Life is an awkward, embarrassing thing many times.  There are plenty of times when we feel foolish, when we wish we hadn’t done, said, thought, acted, or otherwise been a certain something. 
          But what about being foolish in a Godly way?  What about being foolish in the manner of the cross?  What about that part of our faith where by living according to what God has expressed in Christ, we discover ourselves feeling embarrassed, awkward, exposed, or otherwise foolish?  What about when we find a truth being shared by Christ that doesn’t seem reasonable, workable, effective or efficient, or the best way to go about life?
          Let’s get this out and in the open right now:  TO BE A CHRISTIAN MEANS TO SOMETIMES TAKE ONTO OURSELVES THE FOOLISHNESS OF GOD. 
And here, we have our scripture lesson for today:  “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”  This is one of my all-time favorite scriptures, because it does a couple of things toward the establishment and encouragement of my faith. 
For one, this scripture prioritizes faith over reason.  I really like the way Frederick Buechner put it in his book, Listening to Your Life.  He says:  “If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the mad tea party.  The world says, “mind your own business,” and Jesus says, “There is no such thing as your own business.” The world says, “follow the wisest course and be a success,” and Jesus says, “Follow me and be crucified.”  The world says, “Drive carefully – the life you save may be your own,” and Jesus says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  The world says, “law and order,” and Jesus says, “Love.”  The world says, “Get,” and Jesus says “Give.”  In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.”
Reverend Buechner emphasizes the fact that faith does not depend upon reason alone.  It may use reason, challenge reason, even work against reason sometimes, but it does not depend upon reason alone.  Reason is not its basis; God is.  And this is a very good thing, in my opinion, an incredibly good thing, for it actually adds to the strength of faith over reason, as its superior.  It tells us that God is greater than reason.
Many do not have faith in God because they carry more faith in reason.  Reason is, after all, something we possess inside of ourselves, something we don’t have to go outside of ourselves to find, and we like that level of control.  But reason is very limited; it depends upon our innate faculties and original mental equipment, and can go no further.  And, how shall we say it?  --  some are less well equipped that others in the “common sense” department.
Shall we put this to the test?  I would like to share with you my proof that 1 = 0.  Please observe (on screen):
a = 1
b = 0
a + b = a
a/b + b/b = a/b (subtract a/b from both sides)
a/b – a/b + b/b = a/b – a/b
0 + b/b = 0
1 = 0
          (the problem:  THE RULES CHANGE when you divide by zero; MUST LOOK OUTSIDE THE REGULAR REASONING TO UNDERSTAND…..)
Faith is not limited in this way.  It is free to explore life on God’s terms, with God’s possibilities, which are endless – FAITH CAN LOOK OUTSIDE THE BOX OF REASON.  Again, reason depends upon our ability to think, and to think clearly; one glance at our world shows how precarious this is.  But faith depends upon God, and not our own abilities.  Faith, though it may seem foolish, has far greater potential to motivate and encourage life than does reason.  It is PARADOXICALLY a  much more solid foundation for life.
The other thing that this idea of God’s foolishness being wiser than the wisdom of men does is very profound:  it lets me off the hook.  Not the hook of trying to do my best, not the hook of giving my all to the sharing of the love of Christ to all, not the hook of living a Christ-shaped life, but the hook of being or looking or sounding perfect, of having the incredibly difficult responsibility of figuring this reality out.  We do not need to be limited by our own limitations!   I DON’T HAVE TO HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS!  Think of it.  We do not have to live in the sealed off vessel of our own logic, understanding, ability, talent, skill, or effectiveness.  God makes this so, by inviting us to explore beyond these limiting factors – WITH GOD’S HELP AND GUIDANCE.  We go farther by not depending only upon what we alone possess.
I love the story of a father who was working with his son, clearing a field of rocks.  The father at one point turned to his son, all of nine years old, and pointed towards a rather large stone.  “Son,” he said, “would you please move that rock?”  The son thought he was crazy; the stone was huge.  “What do you mean, Dad,” he said, “that stone’s too big for me!  I can’t move that!”  “Oh, I think you can,” said the father, “If you use all the strength you possess, if you give it all you got.”  The son, with a very quizzical look, went over to the stone.  Looking over at his father, who nodded his encouragement, the boy began trying to lift.  He gave it all he had; strained and groaned, but the stone barely moved.  Stepping back, the boy turned to his father, breathing heavily.  “See,” said the boy, “I gave it all I got; I just can’t move it!”  “The problem,” said the father, “is that you didn’t give it all you got.”  “YES I DID,” said the boy, indignantly, “I pushed with all my strength!  I gave it all I got!”  “No, you didn’t,” said the man, “because you forgot that you also got me!  You didn’t ask for my strength to be added to yours.”  Then they both went over to that stone, and, with both lifting, made short work of that rock.
“Never forget,” he said to his son, “I am your father; and that means I am a part of you.  YOU DON’T NEED TO DO THINGS LIKE THIS ALONE; ALWAYS COUNT ON MY HELP.” 
Those same words are spoken by our God towards us – “never forget:  I am your God, and that means I am a part of you; YOU DON’T NEED TO FIGURE THINGS OUT ALONE; COUNT ON MY HELP.”  What a wonderful blessing of life, to be removed from the responsibility to do that which we cannot possibly do alone.  The burden is shared; the adventure is not solitary; the wonder is explored in the company of grace.  Our limitations do not need to limit us in this sense.
Sometimes God seems ridiculous.  C’mon – love your enemies?  Give to those who can’t give anything to you in return?  Love the unlovable?  Sacrifice yourself for the sake of others?  Pray without ceasing?  Do good to those who hurt you?  Return kindness for insult?  Forgive the wrongdoer?  Don’t even think bad thoughts?  FOOLISHNESS!  But this is God’s way.  And God’s way doesn’t make sense to those who don’t know God.  But for those who do know God, know that God does not lead us astray.  In fact, the foolishness of God is so much better than anything else the world can possibly offer.  Unconditional love.  Forgiveness.  Mercy.  Guidance.  Truth.  Compassion.  Redemption.  Salvation.  Acceptance.  Presence.  Justice.  Effective conflict resolution.  Priority for all of the world’s most basic human needs.  Hope everlasting.  A way to live in the world without being of the world. Everlasting peace.  You will only find these things in their fullness as we look to the foolishness of the cross.
So, as a Christian, I have done some foolish things recently:

These are the kinds of things that the world labels foolish – but we know better.  We know that we are to be change agents in this world, and that a little foolishness, PROPERLY MOTIVATED BY LOVE, is precisely what is needed time and again.  Let us strive to be serious in our foolishness, that it may reflect that which is greater than the wisdom of the world.  


3-1-15  8:30 service Rev. John Daniels

The Hardest News to Swallow

Scripture:  Mark 8:31-38
Theme:  Sometimes we are faced with news we’d do anything to change.  Yet, if it is the truth, if it is from God, it is what we need more than anything else.  It shocks us, yes, but it also prepares us for what God intends life to be.  And this is our place – to be recipients of that which is true, no matter what package it comes in.

About one year ago, while I was serving as a District Superintendent, I received some bad news.  It came in the form of an e-mail message to me from a parishioner in one of the churches I oversaw as a Superintendent.  It was a scathing, angry e-mail accusing me of not caring about her church, about caring more for the bigger churches in our district than for a church as small as hers.  This person exclaimed, and I quote, “You would never treat a large church like you treat ours – waiting until the last minute to find a pastor for our congregation.”
I was incensed.  She had conveniently forgotten that they had said “no” to two possible pastors for their church, without a clear reason why.  She had conveniently forgotten our discussion of how her church had explicitly said they could not support a full-time pastor, but wanted a full-time pastor nonetheless.  She had conveniently forgotten that I had met with them every month for five months in order to work out the details of leadership change – I spent more time with them than almost all of the other churches in my district.  And, she had conveniently forgotten that I had told them we had a candidate for them, someone who was willing to come and be introduced, but that it would take awhile longer – but would still have this person in place in time.
So, I wrote out an appropriate response to her, in an e-mail reply.  This is what I said:  “Dear so-and-so, YOU ARE WRONG; not only are you wrong, but you are really wrong, categorically wrong, methodologically wrong, so wrong you  can taste it, so wrong you can smell it.  You redefine the word “wrong” by how wrong you are; if you weren’t so very wrong, it would be laughable.  You are wrong in the sense of being incorrect, off-base, out of alignment, skewed in perception, profoundly delusional, subjectively in error, distinctly inaccurate, and ultimately contorted in understanding.  Thank you for your message; signed, District Superintendent John Daniels.”
(Too strong?)
NO, NO, I DIDN’T SEND ANY SUCH MESSAGE – BUT I SURE FELT LIKE IT AT THE TIME.  I felt like setting her straight in a shocking, angry manner, much like the tone of her message – but I knew that was not going to help.  Instead, I sent a caring message acknowledging the difficulty of waiting for a leader; I reminded her kindly of the good work that we all had done and the progress to-date; and that we had a candidate ready to be scheduled for an introduction.  Her next message to me was very conciliatory, apologizing for her first e-mail, mentioning she hadn’t realized our progress so far, and thanking me for spending so much time with her congregation.  I thusly took her off of my District Superintendent black list (no, there is no such thing!)

Have you ever had such a message, one that shocked and dismayed you?  Have you ever wanted to lash back, to deny and counter what was said, to say, “NO, YOU ARE WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.”?  This, in a sense, was the same kind of thing Peter was facing, albeit for a much more serious bit of bad news.  “Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  THIS WAS NOT IN THE PLAN, Peter must have thought.  This was not the deal they signed up with; this was not in the agreement.  This was God; this doesn’t make sense.  And so, Peter did what probably any of us would do – he began to rebuke Jesus; perhaps not so much Jesus, as he rebuked or resisted the possibility of such bad news coming to pass. Read more...

3/1/2015 10:30 Service Sermon by Daniel Viehland, a delcared candidate for the ministry who is currently working with Pastor Barry Padget. He will be entering a seminary in the fall.

First of all, thank you Pastor John and the congregation for giving me this opportunity to speak.

Often, when I hear the phrase “good Christian” it is used as a synonym for “good person” but with more prayer and church. But when I read this passage, I don't hear Christ calling Christians to be “good people”. It seems he is calling us to be something more, to be Christlike. Christ is asking Christians to “take up their cross”, to “lose their life” for Christ. It is scary imagery, particularly paired with the scenes of torture and death coming a few chapters later.

What I believe Christ is telling us is that being “good” isn't enough. Christ is calling us to something much more radical, much more disruptive. Christ is asking us to put down our swords, our greed and hatred and jealously, and take up our cross. Christ is calling us to abandon our ego and humble ourselves. He is inviting us to walk his path, a path of transformative love.

This isn't a light thing to ask. It is scary. Peter certainly didn't like it. When Christ announced what was coming next, Peter “rebuked” him. We aren't told exactly what that rebuking sounded like, but I have a theory. Peter was likely scared. I wonder if this rebuke may have been one of caution, warning Christ, “Come on Jesus, cut it out. Don't talk that way. Quit your rabblerousing for a minute. Don't give them an excuse.” But Christ didn't just wave this concern away, he equated Peter to the devil himself, chastising Peter for allowing his human failings, his fear, to get the better of him.

We all have the voice of Christ in our minds at times. We all, also, have the voice of Peter, asking us to be cautious, to calm down, to move forward with fear or greed instead of love. Often Peter's voice is much stronger. We are given a chance to feed and clothe those in need and we worry about what we want. We see a homeless person walking toward us and we cross the street. We, and this is perhaps more autobiographical than I would like to admit, prejudge people and separate ourselves from one another based on what country we live in, how we see the Bible, and who we vote for. We are wronged and we react with anger, hatred, and even vengeance. We, as a people, have enough money for torture, for lethal injections, and for an arsenal that can destroy all God has created a dozen times over. Yet the hungry go unfed, the sick unhealed, and Christ sleeps alone in the street. Indeed, Peter often seems to speak most loudly in the halls of power.

In this passage Christ mentions the “Gospel.” We, in fact, call all four of the books concerning the life of Jesus, the Gospel, or “Good News.” Now, so far, this does not sound like very Good News. We are asked to follow the example of a savior who was tortured and killed by the people he came to save. So here's the good news:

Like it did with Christ, something happens after we take up the cross. Christ isn't inviting us to death, he is inviting us to a greater life. He is inviting us to give up the greed and fear that weighs and preys on us and trust in perfect love, in the kingdom that dwells in each of us. He is inviting us to live simply to ensure all have enough. He is inviting us to consider at every moment how our actions affect others. Christ is calling us to renounce our right not just to seek retribution against our enemies but to renounce our right to hate them, to love in the face of unimaginable evil.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu once asked a political prisoner, a victim of an oppressive regime, if he had forgiven his torturers. The victim responded, “Of course not.” Tutu said to him, “Then it seems they still have you in prison, don't they.” Christ knew this truth. He knew that forgiveness, charity, and perfect love sets us free, makes burdened souls light.

I know this well from my own experience. A few years ago, I went through a tough time. I had a falling out with someone I cared for deeply, and I was angry and hurt. It was the kind of anger and hurt that can ONLY be aimed toward someone you care about. What weighed heaviest of all was the guilt I felt for the things I had done that contributed to the break, for all the ways I had hurt that person. At times I found it hard to love myself, and I often would take my frustration out by complaining about all the ways they had hurt me. I focused on it, and let it eat at me for over two years. The anger and hurt was so bad it affected my relationship with God. But during Lent last year I decided that it was time to let go. For Lent I decided to, instead of saying unkind things about her, I would celebrate the positive impacts she had on my life.

As Lent went forward, I noticed something strange. Although I'd been steadily healing for the past two years, that was the moment I truly began to forgive her. In the process I began to forgive myself. The old part of me, the angry, bitter part, began to wither and die. And as Lent drew to a close, I was reborn. I was I felt less and less angry. I was happier. I found more joy in everyday life. I spoke to God more often, and I was able to hear God speaking louder in my life. I picked up my cross, and was reborn to a closer relationship with God.

When John Wesley was a fairly young man he got a job at Oxford University. He suddenly found himself making a comfortable income.

Wesley was paid 30 pounds a year then, and he cut back on expenses. He spent 28 pounds on his own sustenance, and saved two pounds for the poor. As the years went by, his income increased greatly, but his expenses barely budged. Eventually, he was a very rich man, making 1400 pounds a year, a princely sum in those times. But his expenses remained modest, as he spent just enough for his family to live simply but comfortably, and gave the rest to those in need. In the end, he gave a vast percentage of his income to charity. He said, “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”
John Wesley lived his belief, setting down the yoke of greed and taking up the cross of hope.

On the morning of October 2, 2006, a man named Charles Carl Roberts walked into an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. After a short hostage standoff, he started shooting, killing 5 young girls and wounding 5 more before taking his own life.

The Amish families were faced with unimaginable tragedy. But they knew they were not the only one's grieving. Roberts had parents, a wife, and three young children, a family reeling not just from his death but the horror of the acts he committed before he died. Within hours they reached out to the family with a simple message, “We must forgive.”

As Roberts' father sobbed, one Amish man held him, comforting him. When money was raised for the victims of the shooting, the Amish shared the money with Robert’s family. When Roberts was buried over 30 members of the Amish community came to his funeral, and his widow was invited to a funeral of one of the murdered girls. They cast off the sword of anger and took up the cross of forgiveness.

In 2008 I participated in a prayer vigil for inclusion of the LGBT community at the General Conference of the United Methodist church. As dark fell a group of men showed up. They were extremely imposing, with shaved heads and builds like lumberjacks. They began to stand near us, screaming homophobic slurs.

But something incredible happened. Our numbers began to swell. People who walked by us and avoided eye contact earlier in the day saw what was happening, and stood with us in solidarity, praying. The display of ugliness seemed to force people to decide where they stood, and they stood with us.

One woman probably 70 years old and less than 5 feet tall, with a frame that looked like it could be blown away with a strong wind, came shuffling past and gave us a thumbs up. One of the men, who had a good 2 feet and 100 pounds on her, stood in her path. He leaned down, got in her face and screamed, “Do you believe in sodomy?” She looked him in the eye and yelled, “What?”
“Do you believe in sodomy?” he asked again, standing toe to toe with her, looming over her, threatening to engulf her.
“What?” She yelled.
“Do you believe in sodomy?” He screamed.
She looked up at him with an expression that showed no hint of fear, toe to toe with him, eyes locked, gestured at us and simply said, “These are children of God.” With that she shuffled around him and off into the night, rejecting the darkness of fear and taking up the cross of love.

If we mean to Christ seriously, we must take his message seriously. We must pray a little more, and fear a little less. We must seek opportunities to serve, without trumpeting our service to the world. We must seek to understand another's pain, even while we struggle with our own. We must learn to see those different than us not as the enemy but as fellow children of God. We must love and give without questioning the recipients’ worthiness. We must learn to forgive those who wrong us, from the guy who cut us off in traffic to those who threaten our very lives. We must take up our crosses and learn to, in the words of John Wesley, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

So, it is up to us to be the Christ we want to see in the world, to preach the Gospel through our actions, to prove to the world we are disciples of Christ not just through creeds or sweet words but by our love.

Together, we can change the world. We can beat swords into plowshares. We can feed the hungry, free the prisoner, and bring good news to the oppressed. We will carry the light that cannot be overcome with us, chasing away the darkness.

God knew that we are not perfect creations. She gave us free will, the ability to make our own choices. The beautiful thing about God is that she loves us no matter who we are, no matter what we have done, or what we have left undone. But God sent Christ to proclaim a path to a better life, a radical messenger to light the darkness. We must open ourselves to that light, letting it set our hearts on fire until the darkness is chased away and we live up to the Prayer of Saint Francis,

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

February 22, 2015  10:30 Sermon by Jason Cox, who is exploring the ministry and working with Pastor John Daniels.
Thank you all for being here on this, the first Sunday of the Lent season.
During Lent we are called to repent, to pray, to prepare for baptism, and to grow closer to God.
I was thinking about the scripture for today, and I started to ponder the whole season of Lent, and what it means for us as Christians. It’s easy to look at Lent as a time of self-deprivation and it’s easy to look at Lent as a mournful time spent thinking and praying and repenting for our sins.
The scripture talks about Jesus being baptized by John, the holy spirit descending upon him like a dove, and God saying “you are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased”. It goes on to say that this is the beginning of the forty day period of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
Considering the way this is presented to us, it becomes easy to see this as a time of testing, of trial, and of suffering. I think, though, that if we get caught up thinking too much about the things that we’ve done wrong, our failings and the need to punish ourselves for our failings, then we are kind of missing the point. After all, this is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry!
This is a joyous occasion! Jesus has been sent here by God to redeem and save all of us, and his baptism is where it all gets started.

After his baptism, the Holy Spirit compels Jesus into the wilderness where he is tempted for forty days. We can look at this as a test of Jesus’ faith, sure, or we can look at it as God demonstrating what true faith can give to us all. He says “look at this, your shield of faith. Know that when you put your faith in Me there is no temptation you cannot overcome, there is no endeavor in which you cannot succeed, and there is no test that you cannot pass. Put your faith in Me, and I will see you through your times of trial.”
I think each of us can look back on our lives and see times of trial, things we didn’t think we could get through. All of us have suffered disappointment, times of loss and grief, and times where we just didn’t feel like things would ever get better. Sometimes it seems like we just can’t take another step, like we can’t possibly get up and continue to trudge along the path; we’re too hurt, we’re too tired, and we’re too scared.
In my own life, I’ve had times when I felt like there’s no point in trying; I felt like every time I got up, something else came along to knock me down. Honestly, I hit the bottom so hard that in my heart I believed I just couldn’t get back up. But God always held my hand, helped me back up, and told me to get back to it. I did, and I was strengthened by the experience. I learned, and I knew deep in my heart and in my soul that God was watching over me, and that by putting my faith in God, there was nothing I couldn’t come back from. And now here I am today, sharing this message with you, standing here as living, breathing proof that God will see us through, just as he saw Jesus through his temptation in the wilderness.
Jesus comes out of the wilderness, and armed with his faith in God, he begins his ministry by saying “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Jesus is saying that the grace of the Lord is for everyone. If we accept God into our hearts and we put our faith in Him, we are given a gift more precious than anything this world has to offer us. God will bless, strengthen, and guide us.
So when we leave here today and go out into the world, let us remember that we are the children of God.
Let us remember that He is always with us, that we’re never alone.
Let us carry this message in our hearts during this season of Lent.
Let us remember that we have been given grace and salvation.
Let us strive every day to grow closer to God, to hear His word more clearly, to share it more freely, to walk with our heads held high and wear our faith proudly for everyone to see,
and let us share that faith with everyone we meet. After all, this is the beginning of our ministry as well.
Reach out with love to all of God’s children, and share freely that which has been given to us.


2-22-15 8:30 sermon by Rev. John Daniels The Pledge of a Good Conscience
Scripture:  I Peter 3:18-22
Theme:  One of the greatest gifts we can receive in this life is what is called a “good conscience” – in this lies the doorway to true peace, worthy goals, clear discernment.  How to achieve this?  Wonder of wonders, we can work this, it is given to our ability to create a clear or good conscience – we can “appeal for” or “pledge to” or “response of” a good conscience.  And this appeal, pledge, or response is something we can move towards as in the manner and spirit of Baptism – clearing our minds (lives) of what is wrong, filling them with what is right.

         Today is the first Sunday in Lent; we enter a period of forty days of preparation to once again embrace the miracle of Easter.  And Lent means many things to many people.  For us Methodists, Lent means a rigorous period of forty days where we eat nothing but bread and water, spend three hours a day in solitary, passionate prayer; attend at least three weekly bible study classes, give away 20 percent of our money to charity; and go to church seven days a week, for morning and evening devotions.  Right?
         Not right.  We don’t do these kinds of things much anymore.  But as Christians, we recognize that to follow our God, to be the kind of people God intends for us to be, to worship God in Spirit and in Truth, we need to work at becoming prepared.  And Easter is such a momentous event, the pinnacle moment when God not only told us, but demonstrated to us, the extent of his love for each one of us, that we perhaps need more preparation than at any other time of the Christian year.
         And so we have the season of Lent, preparing us for Easter once more.  We take steps to clarify the air of our spirits, to clean our hearts and prepare our minds, in the attempt to embrace more fully the true revelation of Christ.  We confess, repent, humble ourselves, study, worship, pray, and otherwise devote ourselves to the deepening of our faith in Christ.  And today, in our scripture lesson, we hear of a very tangible and relevant aspect of our preparation – we pledge to produce a good conscience.
         That’s a very small sentence – “we pledge to produce a good conscience” – that carries with it a huge implication for starting the Lenten journey right.  In different versions of the Bible it says it in different ways – in the New Interpreter’s Bible it says that in baptism “we pledge, or respond with, a good conscience towards God”, whereas in the New Revised Standard Version, it says “we appeal to God for a good conscience.”  Regardless, the message is clear – in order to be faithful to God, we need to nurture and grow a good conscience.
Why this is important came to me as I recalled a recurrent event in my past.  When I was growing up, my family made annual car trips across the country.  We traveled everywhere – one year, we went to New York, one year we went to Vancouver, British Columbia; one year, we went to Florida.  We made cross country trips to North Carolina, Tennessee, California, Arizona, Texas, and Missouri.  Every trip was full of different sights, scenes, and experiences, except for one.  One experience was always the same.  I think it happened every single trip.
There we were, on the day of departure.  Car all packed, rushing to make an early start somewhere around 8am.  Last minute items were checked, last minute phone calls made, last minute snacks and games placed strategically in the car.  Finally, we were off!  And then, within the first hour of being on the road, it would happen.  My mom and dad would be in conversation up in the front of the car, and one or the other would ask that horrifying, heart dropping question – “DID YOU CHECK THE ______________?”  The blank could be iron, water, lights, furnace, or any number of usually electrical appliances.  “DID YOU CHECK THE _______________?”  And there would be silence.  Deadly silence.  Horrible silence.  Silence that meant the answer was either “No, I didn’t check it,” or “I thought you checked it.”  And it always resulted in the same thing.  After a few of those brief interchanges, brakes would squeal, profanities would be muttered under the breath, the steering wheel would turn, and off we went back to home.  You see, we had to find out if the iron, the stove, the furnace, the WHATEVER was still on.  More often than not, everything was fine at home, but there were a couple of times an iron was left on, or a light was burning brightly.  Letting those things go for a couple of weeks would not have been a good thing.  And once they had checked the lights, the iron, the stove, etc., and knew they were off, our vacation would have its second, much more peaceful start; our journey would begin with that most important of aspects for any journey to be worthwhile – it would then begin with peace of mind.
This was peace of mind for my parents – WE COULDN’T START THE JOURNEY UNTIL THEY WERE SURE THE BASICS WERE COVERED.  It is very much like peace of mind for the Christian – WE CAN’T START THE JOURNEY TOWARD EASTER UNTIL WE ARE SURE THE BASICS ARE COVERED.  And the basics for the Christian begin with repentance.  The acknowledgment of things we’ve done wrong.  The motivation brought to life to do what’s right.  The pledge of a good conscience. 
Now, I think it’s important to deal with this term a little bit deeper, in terms of what people mean by a good conscience in general, and what Christians are to understand, for there is a difference.  Most people, when they think of having a good conscience, think in terms of relativity – “I have a good conscience IN COMPARISON to other people; I haven’t murdered anyone, haven’t stolen, cheated, or been violent; I pay my taxes, I don’t abuse people, and I’m rather a pleasant fellow to be around.  I have a good conscience.”  Well and good; but the Christian “good conscience” is IN COMPARISON to God’s expectations of us.  We are called not simply to refrain from doing bad, but are called to do good.  We are not to kill, steal, cheat, lie, or hurt others, but this is only one side of the coin.  We are to go further, to heal, love, give, share, forgive, reach out to, and care for others.  We are to confess our hidden faults; we are to treat bad thoughts in the same way as our outright transgressions; we are to live according to the spirit and letter of the law, God’s law.  We can never be content by saying we are better than someone else; for we are called to rise to God’s idea of good.
         OK, here’s my question of the day given to you.  HOW IS YOUR CONSCIENCE?  It is totally clear?  Is there anything nagging at you, something in the hidden recesses of your heart, that keeps you from inner peace? 
We’re going to do something along the lines of what we have done before in this congregation.  I’m going to ask you to take a conscience inventory with me this morning.  I want you to do this exercise with me, but understand that what you share will be only between you and God – no one else.  This is one of those exercises where you will get out of it exactly as much as you put into it.  I want you to close your eyes, and recall some things in your mind and heart.  Take inventory of what rests there, in the following way:
I want you, first, to think of any regrets you might have; things you wish you hadn’t done, things you wish had not happened to you.  Search your mind and heart for any regrets you may have.
Now, I want you to think of any grudges you have against anyone.  If you are holding a grudge, or a bad feeling, towards someone, especially if you are convinced that it is justified, recall that grudge now.  Play it over in your mind.
Next, I want you to think of anything you might have done which was ethically uncertain, anything that you have done in which you weren’t sure if it was right or wrong.  It was hazy, it was confused, it was uncertain.  Recall anything of that nature.
Consider now any moment  in time when you weren’t straight with someone, when you told anything from a white lie to a dark betrayal, when you were dishonest with someone who trusted you.  Recall such things.
Lastly, think of things which you knew you probably should have done, but avoided.  A person you detest needed help, but you maneuvered around them; a cry for help which you justified in your mind was too great for you to answer; a moment when you could have, should have, might have, but didn’t.  Bring these to mind.
         Now, open your eyes.  How do you feel?  What’s going on in your mind?  What’s happening in your heart?    Now, it is possible that someone here couldn’t think of any regrets, any omissions, any wrongs, any bad thoughts at all.  Possible, but not likely.  And if you feel uncomfortable doing this kind of thing, be thankful to God.  This is proof that you do have a conscience, and that it desires improvement of the spirit and life.  This is something planted in us by God, something we acknowledge as we call him Lord.  We are unsettled in life if we are unsettled in heart. 
C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, ‘If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realize that this also is God.’  The Christian replies, ‘Don’t talk damned nonsense.’  For Christianity is a fighting religion.  It thinks God made the world – that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story.  But it also things that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.” (Mere Christianity, p.37-38)
         So, let’s practice putting things right.  Let’s practice setting our consciences straight.  There is no magic formula, no special words, no proper terminology or actions that we must perform, save this – SHARE THESE FAILINGS WITH GOD.  Share the enemies of good conscience with God.  Lift them up, BUT ONLY IF YOU’RE READY FOR CHANGE.  For to truly acknowledge the challenges of conscience means to engage in a spiritual wrestling match, grappling with what has been put on the shelf and left alone for too long.  The pledge of a good conscience – indeed, the very existence of a good conscience – depends upon listening and following its counsel.

Let’s practice this.  Let’s close with that exercise again.  Close your eyes, and think along these lines, like before.
I want you, first, to think of any regrets you might have; things you wish you hadn’t done, things you wish had not happened to you.  Search your mind and heart for any regrets you may have.  And speak to God in your heart, “Lord, lift these regrets from my heart.  Help me to learn from them, and to grow from their experience.”
Now, I want you to think of any grudges you have against anyone.  If you are holding a grudge, or a bad feeling, towards someone, especially if you are convinced that it is justified, recall that grudge now.  Play it over in your mind.  And speak to God in your heart, “Lord, help me let go of the things I hold against others.  Help me to forgive, and move on.”
Next, I want you to think of anything you might have done which was ethically uncertain, anything that you have done in which you weren’t sure if it was right or wrong.  It was hazy, it was confused, it was uncertain.  Recall anything of that nature.  And speak to God in your heart, “Lord, help me to move beyond my uncertainty.  Show me your choices in my life; help me to follow your counsel before the world’s and before my own.”
Consider now any moment  in time when you weren’t straight with someone, when you told anything from a white lie to a dark betrayal, when you were dishonest with someone who trusted you.  Recall such things.  And speak to God in your heart, “Lord, show me how to make honesty my center, in all things, with all people.  Where I can make amends, move me.  Where bridges have been burned, forgive me.  Where I meet the temptation again, strengthen me.”
Lastly, think of things which you knew you probably should have done, but avoided.  A person you detest needed help, but you maneuvered around them; a cry for help which you justified in your mind was too great for you to answer; a moment when you could have, should have, might have, but didn’t.  Bring these to mind.  And speak to God in your heart, “Lord, help me to follow the truth you have laid in my heart, and trust more in your will than my own.  Become my motivation when my heart fails; move me through Christian love.”

Dr. B. H. Carroll
Write thy name on my head
that I may think for thee;
Write thy name on my lips
that I may speak for thee;
Write thy name on my feet
that I may walk with and for thee;
Write thy name on my ears
that I may listen for thee;
Write thy name on my heart
that I may love thee; 
Write thy name on my shoulders
that I may bear loads for thee;
Write thy name on my eyes
that I may see for thee;
Write thy name all over me
that I may be wholly thine -- always and everywhere.


2-15-15 Seeing the Glory of God
Scripture:  Mark 9:2-9
Theme:  How do we see Christ’s glory now?  Can we?  Do we?  Today, we hear the injunction from God – not “make sure you know what he looks like” but “this is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”

Back in 1978, a woman named Mario Rubio was rolling out a burrito when she notice skillet burns on the tortilla; to her, the burns resembled the mournful face of Jesus Christ. Shortly thereafter, 8,000 curious pilgrims trekked to the Rubios' small stucco house in rural New Mexico to view the sacred icon.

In 1980, Oklahoma evangelist Oral Roberts spotted a 900 foot Jesus straddling a hospital complex he was building next to his university. Roberts, interpreting the divine image as a plea for financial assistance, appealed to his followers and netted millions of dollars in donations.

In 1981 Christ appeared, crucified, on a garage door in California and drew 8,000 visitors in one weekend.

In 1986, Jesus is found on the side of a soybean oil tank in Fostoria, Ohio.

In 1987, an image of Jesus appeared in the rust patterns on a chimney of a suburban bowling alley in Chicago. Some said it looks like Popeye; others said it was Christ.
In 1988, members of a small Roman Catholic Church in Lubbock, Texas saw visions of Mary and Jesus in the clouds during an outdoor mass.

In 1989 thousands of believers flocked to a home in northeast Harris County in Texas to view a linoleum table top that mysteriously reflects the images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Sources aren't quite sure.

And, finally, the 1991 Chicago Tribune reported that “Jesus made national news as the centerpiece of a Pizza Hut billboard in Atlanta. Joyce Simpson spotted the face of Christ in the advertisement immediately after praying for a divine sign. She couldn't decide whether to stay in the church choir or quit and sing professionally. The shadowy image of Jesus' face in strands of spaghetti hanging from a fork meant she should stay with the choir. John Moody, a marketing director for Pizza Hut, said the picture, one of 35 put up in the area, is a standard food photograph that the Wichita headquarters provides franchises. Moody said several people, however, called his office to say they see other notably less religious images in the picture: deceased rock star Jim Morrison, a puppet and Willie Nelson. (Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1991) The face of Jesus has been seen on...



2-8-15  The Art of Touching Another Soul

Scripture:  I Corinthians 9:16-23
Theme:  Paul describes the extent to which we should be willing to go in order to touch another soul with Christ’s love – becoming as they are.  This entails:  1) putting ourselves on hold [BITING OUR TONGUES]; 2) understanding another’s position [ACTUALIZED EMPATHY]; and 3) making their position our starting point [EXHORBITANT FELLOWSHIP]. – joining them in their journey. 

Somewhere out there in the world of Christianity, there’s probably a course in Christianity 101:  The Basics.  And in this course we would find several predictable areas covered – the Bible, the story of Christ, Christ’s wisdom and teachings, the holy sacraments, worship, prayer, Christian service, how to run a potluck luncheon, hymns that are too difficult to sing, where to find the most comfortable pews in a church (can you guess?  IN THE BACK!).  In general, such a class, such a course, would try to cover the most important aspects of being a Christian.
Somewhere in that course, I believe there should be the lesson Paul outlines in today’s passage from I Corinthians.  It is basic to Christianity; but it needs to be taught.  It does not come naturally.  It is one of those things that we must really work at, and practice, if we are to make any progress along its premise.  Yet, it is an essential part of the Christian life.  It is called the Christian principle of accommodation.
  Paul says, in verse 22, “I have become all things to all people.”  Perhaps we are familiar with this teaching.  Perhaps it’s one that bothers us.  To become all things to all people seems to be speaking about standing for everything, and thus standing for nothing in particular, adopting as our own anything that comes from another..
I remember the story about the two people who met at an art show.  “What do you do?” asked the young woman.
“I’m an artist,” said the man.
“I’ve never met a real live artist before,” she said, “This is so exciting.  I always wanted a personal portrait done.  Could you do that?”
“Oh, sure,” said the artist, “That’s my specialty!”
“That’s great!” she exclaimed.  “I do have one special request.  I want you to paint me in the nude.”
“I’ll have to think about that and get back to you,” responded the startled artist.
A few days later he called his potential customer with his decision.  “I’m willing to do the painting as you requested,” he said, “but with one stipulation.  I want to leave my socks on.  I need somewhere to put my paintbrushes.”
Now there’s accommodation, and then there’s accommodation!  But this is not what is meant, and Paul makes it clear – it is from the position of faith in Christ, retaining the integrity of that faith, that he has become all things to all people.
No, Paul is not talking about watering down his faith at all, but he is talking about how to live that faith out in the context of the world, in the manner of Christ’s demonstrated love – we must practice accommodation. 

To accommodate means to see to another’s needs, consider another’s position, to adjust ourselves to the other person’s place, thinking, outlook, or demeanor.  This is the Christian principle of accommodation, and it is expressed this way in the Interpreter’s Bible:  “The gospel, the power of God, always encounters and engages people where they are, where they live, in their social matrix.  Inevitably, the gospel moves them and changes them, but it always comes to them, engages, them, and nourishes them from that very point, as and where they are.”
MEETING PEOPLE AS AND WHERE THEY ARE.  This is the central idea Paul is sharing with us, as an essential aspect of our Christian life – meeting people as and where they are.
          Now, as I was meditating on this lesson, and trying to understand its bearing upon my life, perhaps upon all of our lives, three practices came to mind as very helpful in increasing our accommodation of others.  These three practices, these three habits that we can shape into effective Christian habits that naturally seek to accommodate others are

  1. biting the tongue;
  2. actualizing our empathy; and
  3. engaging in what I call exorbitant fellowship.

[BITING THE TONGUE]  Have you ever bitten your tongue?  And, no, I don’t mean while eating dinner.  I’m talking about the turn of phrase which means holding onto what you’re dying to say because what you’re dying to say would cause a death of sorts – death of communication, death of constructiveness, death of virtue, death of caring relationship.  We bite our tongues when we know that what we want to say shouldn’t be said, needn’t be said, or dare not be said, because of the receptivity, volatility, or vulnerability of someone else.  If you want to put it another way, we Christians choose to bite our tongues when we become aware of their potential to damage ourselves and others.  
I believe there is great wisdom in tactfully biting the tongue.  The story is told of that great artist Michelangelo that illustrates this lesson well -- "When Michelangelo had completed his great sculptural work called "David," the Gonfaloniere Soderini of Florence who had ordered it came to inspect his purchase.  Among his other criticisms he objected to the nose, pronouncing it to be out of all due proportion to the rest of the figure, and added, that he wished some reduction should take place in its size.  Michelangelo knew well with whom he had to deal; he mounted the scaffold for the figure upwards of twelve feet high, and giving a few sonorous but harmless blows with his hammer on the stone, let fall a handful of marble dust which he had scraped up from the floor below; and then descending from his station turned to the Gonfaloniere with a look expectant of his approbation.  "Aye," exclaimed the sagacious critic; "now you have given it life indeed."  Michelangelo was content, and receiving his four hundred scrudi for his tasks, wisely said no more.  It would have been no gratification to a man like him, to have shown the incapacity of a presumptuous critic like Soderini. (Anecdotes, #1101)
This act of biting the tongue can avoid a struggle, put off a fight, keep emotions stable, and allow for another’s growth.  It is an art, for it takes development and experience to know when and where to bite it, as well as how hard to bite down. 


But I believe the biting of the tongue is an essential part of accommodating others – to consider what our words could do to them, to think about how others will hear and understand – or misunderstand – what we might choose to communicate.  Sometimes, it is essential to hold back our speech, for the sake of another.  I like how Dorothy Nevill said it:  “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” (Speaker’s, p.70)  This is the Christian way.
[ACTUALIZED EMPATHY] – The second practice that helps us to accommodate others is what I call actualized empathy, or acting upon the empathy we experience towards others.   Essentially, it means to move from awareness of what another is experiencing to engagement of their experience. 
I remember a story about a young man who was lost.  He was trying to find a remote golf course for a tournament he was scheduled to play in.  It was very far away from familiar territory, but he had received very detailed instructions from his uncle, who knew the area very well.  However, it was night when he got lost, and he had completely lost his bearings.  He had driven all night, even asked a couple of gas station attendants for help, but still he was totally lost.  Finally, as the sun rose, he found himself calling his uncle.  “Uncle,” he said, “I’ve tried to follow your directions, I’ve even asked some gas station attendants, but I have to tell you, I’m completely lost.”  “No, you’re not,” said his uncle.  “Yes, I am,” said the young man, “I have no idea where I am.  I’m lost.”  “No, you’re not lost,” said the uncle.  “You’re just not where you ought to be.  NOW—TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE.”  The young man began telling his uncle of the sights around him – a convenience store across the street, a restaurant called Maggie’s, and a hill off to the north.  “That’s enough,” said the uncle, “I know exactly where you are, and can tell you how to get to the golf course.”  And he did just that.
YOU’RE NOT LOST – YOU’RE JUST NOT WHERE YOU OUGHT TO BE.  TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE.  This is the practice of accommodation – to begin by empathizing with what another is going through, and then consider and take the steps that lead in the right direction.  To move from the emotion towards the life to engagement in the life is the goal.  This, too, is the Christian way. 
[EXORBITANT FELLOWSHIP]  Lastly, another way to consider the Christian principle of accommodation is through the practice of what I call exhorbitant fellowship.  What on earth, you may be thinking, does Pastor John mean by “exhorbitant fellowship?”  I’m glad you asked.  Exhorbitant means “exceeding the bounds of custom, propriety, or reason.”  It means going the extra mile, hauling the extra load, bearing the extra burden, waiting the extra hour.  The key word is “extra.”  To be with someone in fellowship in extra-ordinary ways is perhaps the strongest way we may accommodate who they are and what they are going through.
Mr. Bacchus was my earth science teacher in Junior High.  Let me tell you about Mr. Bacchus.  He was the epitome of a straight-laced, formal, proper, even dignified teacher.  He taught us by the book, kept us on track, he cut no corners, was direct in his directions, and firm in his firmness.  As an example – he would regularly drill us on the proper way to affirmatively acknowledge an aspect of his articulation – he drilled us as a class on the proper way to say yes.  I remember him many times telling the class – “we do not say yeah, or yup, or uh-huh – we say “yesssssss.”  Precise.  Clean-cut.  Direct.  Clear.  That was Mr. Bacchus.
It is here that I must pronounce that I was terribly traumatized in my youth.  It doesn’t show?  You’re not sure?  Well, I hope it doesn’t show.  Anyway, one day, not only I, but my whole earth sciences class was terribly traumatized by, you guessed it, Mr. Bacchus.  Something unbelievable, something absolutely incredible happened one day, and it shocked all of us profoundly.  Like usual, we had come to class that day and taken our places.  As usual, Mr. Bacchus came into the room once the bell had rung.  As usual, he said, “Good morning, class.”  As usual, we started to say “Good morning, Mr. Bacchus,” but I think we only got to “Good morninnnnn…..”  We stopped.  We stared.  Most of our mouths dropped open.  We couldn’t believe our eyes.  For you see, our Mr. Bacchus, our proper, precise, formal, direct Mr. Bacchus…(I can hardly bring myself to share this with you!)  Our Mr. Bacchus was wearing an earring!  How uncharacteristic!  How unusual!  How un-Mr.-Bacchus!  We were literally speechless.
Now you must understand that this was back in the ‘70’s, when such a thing was quite a shock.  In my town, in my school, in my class, this would seem to rank right up there with Watergate, or McCarthyism, or some such national scandal.  Mr. Bacchus could tell we were shocked; our silence was deadening.  But then he did something else out of character – he told us a personal story.  I’ll never forget it.  He told us about his son, and about how the two of them had been struggling to understand each other.  He said that most recently, his son had put an earring in his ear, and that he, as his father, had protested, telling his son that it was something he shouldn’t do.  But then his son had asked him, “how do you know?” and he realized that he didn’t know, that perhaps he wasn’t being fair to who his son was, and what was important to him.  And then, as father and son, they made an agreement – Mr. Bacchus would also wear an earring.  Not that he wanted to, mind you, but that something was more important to him than appearances or properness.  He would try out the earring for the sake of his son.  And he wore that earring for the rest of the year.
Exorbitant fellowship means to do things for the sake of the relationship we desire with another – ON THEIR TERMS.  It means to begin by asking what it is that will help, nurture, encourage, and uplift another, and to really follow through on these things, even if they are distasteful and uncomfortable to ourselves.  We do this out of the premise of Christian love, stretching ourselves for the sake of another.  This is what Paul did for others; this is what we are to do as well.  This, also, is the Christian way…
Sometimes we need to bite our tongues. 
Sometimes we need to move from emotion to engagement. 
Sometimes we need to wear the other person’s moccasins, the other person’s earring, the other person’s life for awhile. 
For the Christian life is a life of accommodation in many ways.  We are not our own possession, says Christ; we are to become that which will further our walk with Christ, and with each other.  Like Paul, we need to “become all things to all people” when it serves the furtherance of God’s will.  And it is in the practice of such accommodation that we, like Paul, may we experience why we do such things – “We do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that we may share in its blessings.”


2-1-15 The Virtue of Forsaking Liberty

Scripture:  I Corinthians 8:1-13
Theme:  Yes, we are our brother’s keeper – what we do does influence others, does impact the world around us, and ultimately affects our relationship with God (God who loves others, whom we are to love, and thus complete the triangle, circle?)
        Awhile back, I got something in the mail that made me think about our scripture passage today.  It’s something probably all of us have seen every now and then.  A credit card company sent me one of those offers too good to refuse.  Sign up and you’ll receive low interest rates, high credit cap, no annual fee, no monthly balance, a cure for warts, freedom from annoying neighbors, a combination hangnail remover and lint shaver, etc. etc.  What caught my eye was on the outside of the envelope, in big letters, by the side of a picture of a man riding a bicycle along the beach.  There, it said, “It’s all about you.” Read More



7-6-14 - A Final Word from the District Superintendent

Scripture:  Colossians 1:1-14
Theme:  The DS has some insights on the new pastor appointed under his watch – and there are concerns!  But not if we remember what God has said to us consistently, constantly, as reflected in today’s scripture – we share in the inheritance of the saints in the light; we are given the opportunities to grow in the knowledge of God; and God is with us every step of the way. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-XElA0vVI98c/UDUjEPHYqzI/AAAAAAAAuQQ/tg42yGZ4X3k/s1600/harley_davidson_2013_breakout_cvo_in_pagan_gold_paint_marks_110th_anniversary_up5af.jpg

Recently, I made a request of our Bishop Elaine Stanovsky – that she would grant an extension to the position of Western Mountains District Superintendent until 10:30am, July 6th, 2014.  She graciously extended that privilege, and so I stand here before you as the Western Mountains District Superintendent for the next 25 minutes.  I felt this was an important request to make, for as District Superintendent overseeing the new appointment to this church, the First United Methodist Church of Missoula, Montana, I needed to raise up to your awareness some things about your newly appointed pastor.  I am uniquely qualified to make commentary, I believe, for I know this new pastor fairly well – we talk on a regular basis, and have done so for over 40 years.  Let me put it to you directly – there are some things you really ought to know about him. Read more of the message


First United Methodist Church of Missoula / Kay Duffield, Webmaster (hart2u2@yahoo.com)