tapestry

In the heart of Missoula...

Jesus

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!
map
Please visit us at 300 E. Main Street.

 

church
star Church services at 8:30 a.m. in the chapel and 10:30 a.m. in the sanctuary

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

sermonby our minister Rev. John Daniels

Sunday Opportunities:
Sunday School: Children ages 3-12 leave the sanctuary following the 10:30 Children's Time
and meet on the top floor.

The Faith and Justice Class will meet in the downstairs Parlor at 9:15.

New adult class April 3, 10, 17 and 24 at 9:15 - God's Dream for this Earth

 

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

MAY EVENTS
May 5 UMW Meeting at Perkins, 11:30 a.m.
May 12 Ruth Fellowship, Parlor, 10 a.m.
May 13 Friday Nite Out, 6 p.m.
May 15 Children's Sabbath
May 15 JuBELLation Concert, 3 p.m.
May 17 Tower Tidings Deadline for June/July edition
May 18 Vespers Circle, 1 p.m.
May 19 Special Olympics meal
May 19 Gems, 6:30 p.m.
May 19 Amazing Grays Trip
May 22 AD Council meeting, following church
May 22 UMW Bake Sale, following church
May 24 Book Group, 11 a.m.

WHAT'S NEW?

crossvideoPublication Notice:  Voices of Reconciling Video Available
Click for more information $ 10 includes shipping, $6 to be picked up at church.

The Missoula Food Bank drive in January resulted in donations of $2,548.49 and 175 pounds of food.

umw-umbrellas
cross UMW Sunday January 24 - brought awareness of the Human Trafficking problem in the world. UMW members gathered with their umbrellas (in a snow storm) to express their concern for victims of human trafficking.

Under an Umbrella, we are shielded from the storm and protected from the heat.

crossSCAM: A church using the address of 306 E. Main is contacting people saying they have money to donate to them. If you have gotten such a notice please click here.

 

New to our Community?

welcome

 

Find out about our church:

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


Reconcilling logo
MISSOULA FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH is a Reconciling Congregation.
We welcome all people into the full life and membership of this congregation.

Accessibility
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.

 

Reaching out with love to our community and the world hearts

Tzedakah Pocket
Family Promise Host
Missoula Interfaith Collaborative & January Food Bank Drive
Host for Homeless Connect
Poverello noon meal 5th Saturdays
Missoula Food Bank and January Food Drive
East Angola Pastor Support
United Methodist Women’s mission projects
SERRV & Fair Trade Products
Intermountain Home
Flathead Lake UMC Camp
Blackfeet United Methodist Parish
(BUMP)
YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter
❤ Cub Scouts
Habitat for Humanity
Salvation Army
❤ UMCOR
❤ U of M Wesley House

 John Daniels
Pastor John Daniels

Staff
Administrative Assistants: Sharon Jackson, Rhanda Johnson and Nancy Eik
Treasurer: Leslie Lindley
Financial Secretary: Kay Duffield

Custodian: John Schaff
Childcare Director: Juliette Viera
Nursery Attendants: Faye Gibson, Audra Clark & Juliette Viera

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

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, Angola Partnership
UMW - United Methodist Women schedule and fellowship group information UMW
UMM - United Methodist Men
Walk to Emmaus - Link to their website

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Choirs
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 - Wednesday practice
FUMC Chancel Choir practices and performs during the school year.  Enthusiasm and love of music a must.  Previous experience is not required.  Choir meets Wednesday at 6:30.  All are welcome.  Please join us!  For more information talk to choir director Greg Boris 239-1828.

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.



JuBELLation Handbell Choir
- Wednesday practice
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. Brynn Bellingham, Director.


bunnyJoyful Noise Children's Choir
- Tuesday practice
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 Tuesdays 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. Classes will meet on Sunday morning, Tuesday morning, and Tuesday evening.

Sunday morning: Faith and Justice at 9:15 in Parlor; and A Short Course on Islam at 11:45 in the Parlor

Tuesday Adult Classes - Covenant Bible Study program on Tuesday mornings at 10 a.m. in Parlor, and the NOOMA series with Rob Bell on Tuesday evenings at 6 p.m. in the Clara Smith Room

New Class begins February 14: A Christianity for the Twenty Frist Century will be at 9:15 in the Church Library.
More information is in the February Tower Tidings.

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 at 9:15 between services 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.

Dec. 6, 2015 Children's Christmas Pagaent Photos:
shepherds angel jesus sheep

 

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 at 5:30 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 Facebook
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.

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

. 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 invited 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.

Chairmen: 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
Stephen Ministers help with prayer requests each Sunday and serve communion.
As a congregation we participate in Stephen Ministries, where trained Stephen Ministers walk with those whose lives are in turmoil for one reason or another. Anyone in our church family can request a Stephen Minister for themselves. 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. More information can be found at:
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.

Membership
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.

Intermountainhttp://www.intermountain.org/
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.

UMCOR
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

 

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Sermons by Pastor John Daniels

4-17-16 Visions of Heaven Scripture:  Revelation 7:9-17

Theme:  John relates to us a tale of transition, from the existence that we know directly here and now, to the time in the unknown future when newness shall reign.  In his vision, he relates this one quality of anything that God is about – renewal.  Renewal of hope, renewal of possibility, renewal of his presence, renewal of life itself.

         Once upon a time, a man was having some very interesting visions, some very interesting experiences, all having to do with the number five.  It began in the morning, when he opened the newspaper to see that it was May 5th, 2015 – 5/5/15.  He thought that was interesting.  Then, his wife made him pancakes for breakfast, and he just happened to see that she had given him a stack of five pancakes without him asking for five.  Interesting.  On his ride to work, he saw five pigeons sitting on the guardrail along the highway – five of them, just sitting there.  Strange.  When he got to work, he sat down at his desk, surprised to see a five dollar bill on it.  Did he leave it there the day before?  He couldn’t remember.  Opening his e-mail account, he discovered he had five new e-mail messages.  Funny.  On and on it went, five of this, five of that, and he began to feel mystical.  Something was up.  Something cosmic.  Something mysterious.  Something important. 
Towards noon, he made a decision – he called his bookie, and asked him what races were being held that day.  His bookie told him about a few, but one caught his ear – the fifth race at Number Five Downing Street.  “What horses are racing?” asked the man.  “Well, let’s see, here’s their names -- there’s Alabama Belle, Juniper, Double Ace, Five-Spot, …”  “HOLD ON!” said the man, “That’s the horse for me!  Put ten thousand dollars down on Five-Spot!”  “Are you sure?” said the bookie.  “Yes,” said the man, “Ten thousand on Five-Spot to win.”  Well the bookie did as he was told.  The man waited around, anxious to see the results of his vision.  Finally the bookie called – indeed, the vision had been true!  Five-Spot came in fifth.
Today, we hear a message about visions – not of the number variety, and certainly not motivating us to gamble, but visions of the future nonetheless.  John, in our scripture passage, tells us what he is seeing in the future – he sees a great multitude from every nation, standing before the Lamb, angels surrounding the throne, giving honor and praise to God.  This has been understood as a vision of heaven, a future reality that embraces the brokenness of the world and works healing, justice, renewal, and peace.  Hunger will end; thirst will be quenched; pain relieved; sorrow comforted; and life will be renewed. 
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  This vision of heaven – but a fine point is made here, perhaps:  it says in verse 14 that this future of peace, healing, and justice is intended for those “who have come out of the great ordeal…who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” 

A very important question arises:  DO I QUALIFY?  DO YOU?

How very much has been made of who will get into heaven and who will not!  How many times have my colleagues in pastoral leadership told someone in their congregation or beyond that they were not going to make it!  And so often the main problem is how we have interpreted what heaven means – and done so terribly subjectively, biased in our favor.
         Some cases in point:  the other night, I googled “heaven” and found out there are several heavens out there – there’s 8-track heaven, screen saver heaven, hypercard heaven, nerd’s heaven, cello heaven, heaven-hill distilleries, and stationary heaven.  Some stranger ones as well – there’s a website labeled “Angelic Heaven;” do you know what you’d find on that site?  It’s a fan website for the 1970’s show, Charlies Angels.  There’s HOG Heaven – any guesses?  HOG stands for Harley Owner’s Group.  And there’s some acrostics that I came across that I thought were interesting – you know, where the letters to the word HEAVEN each stand for a word?  One was Helping Educate, Activate, Volunteer, and Empower via the Net.  Another was Healthier Environment through the Abatement of Vehicle Emissions and Noise.  Yet a third was Hippopotomi Enacting Anticipatory Versions of English Novels. (OK, I made that last one up, but I find it much more interesting!).

And, in fact, aren’t all the rest of these made up as well? 
 
There are many human interpretations of what heaven means, but these perceptions are woefully subjective, and hence extremely limited in what they can tell us, if anything, about God’s heaven. I believe that we have taken the idea of heaven and in many ways cheapened it by reducing the concept to something we can directly relate to.  But the only way to relate to heaven is indirectly – through who God is, through what God wants, and through how God acts.

The honest truth is that, in reality, we know very little specific about heaven.  We know very little, but the very little that we know makes all the difference.  For one, we know that, whatever heaven is exactly like, God defines its boundaries and supplies its substance.  God is completely accessible there, more profoundly or more directly or more spiritually or more whatever than God is here.  Words quickly fail, but it’s what John is saying in our scripture lesson when the author states that God shall shelter his people, shall provide for their needs, and shall address their pain.  In other words, whatever heaven is like, God will be in direct relationship with us.  We know this now, in this mortal flesh, through our faith.  We will experience this directly when we have become a part of the heavenly realm.  I like how an author put it – that heaven is "an unknown region with a well-known inhabitant who prepares the region for those he knows."
Secondly, we know that heaven, the new heaven that John describes, will somehow be defined by compassion and mercy.  From verse 16 it says that in heaven “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
It is here that we must be very careful both not to promote heaven by making it conform to our idea of pleasantness, and not to dismiss heaven by pretending it is only wishful thinking.  Let’s take each one of these thoughts in turn.  On the one hand, we often times define heaven pretty narrowly, thinking of it as a place where the saints of this world exist, where peace and light and harmony and love saturate the air.  You can almost see the heavenly hosts, sitting amongst the clouds, playing their harps, dancing, singing, conversing eloquently, floating there in the ether of the cosmos, walking along golden sidewalks.  These are human images, meant to inform but not define what heaven might be like.  As we hold onto these images too strongly, we are in danger of creating our own heaven, and distancing ourselves from God’s.  We forget that, regarding God’s heaven, there will be surprises.
Let me share with you a little poem I like a lot; it goes like this –
I dreamed I went to heaven, and I was quite surprised
To see just who had made it to that home up in the sky:
The ragged, dirty drifter, the kid who rarely spoke,
The loudmouthed woman down the street – was this some kind of joke?
Then I noticed they were staring right at me.  They made it clear,
That all of them were thinking, “What are you doing here?”
(“Heaven’s Misfits” by Ann Luna)
We are told that heaven is where God is, that God is a God of love, mercy, and compassion, and that those who are faithful will join God there.  Most everything else we have heard about heaven reflects human interpretation of what these truths mean.  And whenever human interpretation is happening, we tend to interpret in our favor.  We need to be careful; there will be surprises.
The other common thought about heaven is that it is truly pie in the sky, and not real.  Heaven, this line of reason goes, is simply a creation of our minds of a place to counter our all-too-human dissatisfaction with existence.  It is a fantasy we have created to offset the nightmare of this dark world.   There are many in this camp who would say heaven is no more than “pie in the sky” longing with no substance.
C.S. Lewis has a response to this kind of thinking.  He says, “We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning Heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about "pie in the sky," and of being told that we are trying to "escape from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere." But either there is "pie in the sky" or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or not.”
         When heaven is used as a bargaining chip to threaten people who don’t think, act, believe, or live as we think they ought to, then heaven is misused as a weapon.  When heaven is used to build up a population of self-righteous people who feel superior in the knowledge of their future security, then heaven is misapplied as a bribe.  When heaven is used for any purpose on earth except to continue striving towards God, it is misunderstood.  For in the end – which is what heaven is really all about – it has to do only with the desire to be with God.  Those whose desire results in a faith that guides life, a love that imitates Christ’s, and a heart humbled by grace, will be with God.
         I would like to leave you with something to meditate on – not what is heaven like, but what the desire for God might be like.  It’s one of my favorite poems, framed in antiquated language, but beautiful nonetheless.   

(Compensation by Theodosia Garrison)
"Because I craved a gift too great
      For any prayer of mine to bring,
            Today with empty hands I go;
            Yet must my heart rejoice to know
      I did not ask a lesser thing.

"Because the goal I sought lay far
      In cloud-hid heights, today my soul
            Goes unaccompanied of its own;
            Yet this shall comfort me alone,
      I did not seek a nearer goal.

"O gift ungained, O goal unwon!
      Still am I glad, remembering this,
            For all I go unsatisfied,
            I have kept faith with joy denied,
      Nor cheated life with cheaper bliss."

Desire God above anything else.  Shape your life according to this desire.  This is the path to heaven.  Amen.

 

April 10, 2016 - Guest preacher from Angola
WHY DO BELIEVERS SUFFER?  LIFE AND FAITH  Job 1:6-12, Job 2:6, Job 42:12-16  (TEXT: Job 23:10)
By Rev. Andre Cassule, pastor, United Methodist Church at Caculama, Mbuku in Angola
“But he knows the way that I take, when he has tested me, I will come forth like gold”
Although most of the book consists of the words of Job and his friends, Job himself was not the author. We may be sure that the author was an Israelite since he frequently uses the Israelite covenant name for God (Yahweh; the Lord)
Two dates are involved: (1) that of Job himself and (2) that of the composition of the book. The letter could be dated anytime from the reign of Salomon to the time of Israel´s exiles in Babylonia.
Theological theme and message
When good people (those who “fear God and shun evil”) Job 1:1 suffer, the human spirit struggles to understand. Throughout recorded history people have asked: how can this be? If God is almighty and “olds the whole world in his hands “and if he is truly good, how can he allows such an outrage? The Bible is a mine which Christians should never stop mining as they journey through this sinful and broken world to seek instruction, guidance, information, hope and sustenance for overcoming the billows, difficulties and seeming contradictions of life.

One of such contradictions is the question or subject what we are going to discuss together this morning. Why the faithful or believers do suffers? Most of us might have at one time or the other been pressed to ask this question because of what happened to us or to others we know as faithful children of God compared to others in whose life and living God might not be so apparent to us.
Specifically, in Angola my country, of course,  asked why  are we suffering what’s wrong have we done to pass through all these war?   Why should Mr. A whom you know as a devout Christian have problems and affections, when Mr. B who asserts that he does not believe in God and lives Accordingly, appear to prosper with seemingly less trouble and difficulty-free life?
The story:
The story of Job has been summarized in the passages we have read in the Bible. Listen to how God Himself described Job again.
“”My servant, there is no one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God  shuns evil” (1:8) and yet God allowed him to be afflicted. Satan said to God, “it is not for nothing that Job is your faithful servant. You have given him enormous blessing and protection. But you touch his earthly possessions; you will see a different man”.

“Everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself, do not lay a finger” (Job 12:1). Not only did God allow Satan to afflict Job, God also prescribed the bounds beyond which Satan could not go. Satan went away and four things happened to Job.

  1. The Sabeans attacked and carried away all his oxen and donkeys and killed his servants (Job 1:14-15).  The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants. (Job 1:16)
  2. The Children’s raided and carried away his camels and servants(Job 1:17)
  3. Mighty winds struck the house where his seven sons and three daughters were feasting and marry-making and they were all killed (Job 1:18-19).

In each of the four cases the bearer of the bad news was the only one spared to tell the sad news to Job in great grief and mourning and his complete resignation to God, Job said,  “naked I came from my mother´s womb and naked I will depart.

 The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).  But what is more, in all these, Job did not sin against God by charging Him with wrongdoing.
EX:  MY FATHER WAS A REACH  MEN HE LOST EVERYTHING IN A WAR TIME INCLUDING HIS LIFE. I LOST MY FATHER ,BROTHER AND MY BROTHER IN LOW DURING THE WAR. THEY WERE KILLED BY SOLDIERS. ONE OF MY SISTER WAS ARRESTED. But I am still believing on God.

While God allows all things to happen, we must remember that He is not author of sin or evil. Job had shown tremendous faith and restraint. On a second occasion, Satan came with the angels who came to present themselves before the Lord.

Again Satan, the roamer, came from roaming through the earth, going back and forth in it looking for victims. But at this point, listen to what God said additionally of Job this time, “and he (Job) still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason”.

We should remember that the main purpose of Satan and bad angels and evil human beings who follow him is to destroy the hand work of God. Satan then said something like this to God, “what is property, anybody can lose all his property and still be faithful and loyal to you; but you touch his skin; he will surely curse you to your face” God answered,”. “Very well, then he is in your hands but you must spare his life”(Job 2:4-5)

Job´s wife who advised, “curse God and die” and his three friends who claimed that Job could not be what he would want the world to believe him to be an upright man if he suffered all the affliction. To them, sim could only be the cause of Job´s affliction. Job refused to accept his wife´s advice and he mildly rebuked her as talking like a foolish woman. Wife or no wife, Job maintained his integrity and his cause and course with God.
Job 4:7). Job asked questions and sought explanations. He even sought for mediator between him and God but he remained an upright man who fears and respects God.
He held on to his faith and did not accuse God of any wrongdoing. Job continued to fear God and to shun evil. He said, “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom and to shun evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). Job continued with his good deeds to others. In spite of his seemingly helpless and hopeless situations and his cry of anguish to God, God never abandoned nor forsook him. God maintained His own timetable and agenda. 

Lessons and Application:
In the case of Job all is well that ends well. But the question persists, “why do good people suffer?” no simple or single explanation can be given to this age-old question of good people undergoing difficulties, suffering and afflictions. Let us look at some of the reasons offered in the word of God, the Holy Bible.

1. Testing strengthens our character (James 1:2-3; Rom. 5:3-4). The testing of our faith develops perseverance and painful situations produce character the same way regular exercise builds muscle tone. To every desert of calamity there is an oasis of comfort in terms of improved character. In such cases, trials are meant to improve and enhance our Christian life rather than to impair it. It helps to develop the fruit of the Spirit in us (Gal. 5:22-23).

2. Peter adds that testing proves that our faith is genuine (Gen. 22:1-2; 1peter Our tested faith gives honor to God. Remaining steadfastly faithful despite our agonies, especially unmerited and seemingly undeserved suffering testify to others how much we value God. Life is a laboratory of faith. The strength of our faith and sincerity of commitment to God is tested through trials. 

3. Testing proves we are God´s children (Heb. 12: 6-8). Every parent disciplines a child he loves to help the child develop to useful adult and maturity to the pride and satisfaction of the parent. We are reminded through trials that we are God´s children under discipline.

4.Trials can lead to increased blessing- the story of Joseph ending up as prime Minister of Egypt, Job having his possession doubled and Daniel prospering in captivity under King Darius (Dan. 6:28) we take the sweet and the sour and blend them to honor and glorify God (Job 2:10).

Conclusion:
Let us remember that all of this broken world suffering can be traced back to one tragic event – the disobedience of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:6-7). Consequently, sin and its results – suffering and evil entered the world. Although, God is not the author of sin and evil, He allows suffering to discipline us and if necessary, punish us and us to repentance. Pain, affliction and suffering can be effective tools to raise our sights to God´s level and cause us to live more like Christ.
For believers, Christians and children of God, no matter how they come, suffering and difficulties are meant to make us better and not bitter. All things happening are known by God and allowed to happen by God for His purpose (Amos 3:6). Through suffering, God teaches us lessons that we would or could not learn any other way (Psalm. 119:75).
Jesus did not promise His followers easy life or problem – free existence in this world, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In a sense God allows pain and affliction in order to display His power (John 9:3) while Satan’s aim is destruction, Jesus came to tear down Satan´s work (1John 3:8).  And God receives glory and honor when people manifestly endure their suffering through the power of God´s grace. And surely, an affliction becomes blessings when blended with ready and prayerful acceptance. Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy (Psalm 126:5).

         May our Lord Jesus bless these words in our hearts.  Amen

 

4/3/16   Truth’s Demonstrative Nature  Scripture:    John 20:19-31
Theme:  Many times, we demand proof before we believe.  This belief is still valid in the eyes of God, yet the greater, deeper faith depends not on sight, but on trust, which may not yet be demonstrated to us.

         This morning, I would like to play the game of free association with you.  You know how this goes – I say a word, and you repeat the first word or thought that comes to your mind.  For example, I say “hot” and you say (“cold” or “weather” or “water”).  Let’s begin:

Fast  (slow, lane, car)
Black (white, night, humor)
Sun (moon, warm, heat)
Syria (refugees, ISIS, violence)
Winter (snow, cold, gone!)
Politics (yuck, ugly, frustrating)
Spring (warm, life, renewal)
Motorcycle (cool, great, awesome)

Now, I want to become more specific in the subject matter.  I want us to do this “free association” with people in the Bible.  Let’s begin:

Noah (faithful, boat-builder, two-by-two)
Paul (apostle, epistle-writer, woman-despiser)
Ruth (devotion, patience, commitment)
Judas (judge of Israel, wisdom, leadership)
Abraham (patriarch, very-old father, sacrifice)
Peter (rock, fisherman, stubborn)
Mary (mother of Jesus, blessed, saint)
David (king of Israel, slayer of Goliath, psalms)
Thomas (DOUBT)

        
There it is.  For many of us, the first thing that comes across our minds when we think of Thomas, the disciple of Christ, is doubt.  We call him “Doubting Thomas” and have characterized him as the one who had to see before he believed.  We sometimes label him a person of weak or inadequate faith for this reason.
         But a careful reading of this text reveals otherwise, I believe.  We often chastise Thomas for his doubting, but did you notice?  Christ did not.  Again, from the story, once Jesus has reappeared to Thomas, he proclaims “My Lord and my God!” – he has been moved to the most faithful proclamation possible for a Christian.  Jesus then responds, “Have you believed because you have seen?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (vs.29)

Nowhere does Christ say, “cursed are those who will not believe until they see.”  Christ does not condemn Thomas for his doubt.  He encourages Thomas to move beyond his doubt, but there is no chastisement towards Thomas.  We are the ones who tend to read condemnation into the story.
         This is very good news for us, for I believe that Christ addresses us in the same way as Thomas.  Christ does not condemn us for our doubts.  Like Thomas, I believe Christ wants us to work through and move beyond our doubts, but we are not condemned for questioning God.

         Let me ask you perhaps a strange question this morning – do you have faith in your doubts?

         What I mean is this:  are your doubts useful to your life and your faith?  When you doubt something, does it cause you despair, or is it the beginning of a journey towards the unknown?  When you are uncertain about something essential, do you spiral down into hopelessness, or start searching for solid ground?
         We’re approaching a very key point that addresses the nature of questioning.  Why do we doubt?  Why do we question?  We doubt and question because things are not clear.  Doubt occupies the middle ground between certainty and dismissal; doubt stands between knowledge and ignorance.  And although we want to believe that we have a lot of answers and know a lot of things as a human race, I believe that we find ourselves in that middle ground most of our lives.

An astronomer who was known to be quite critical of religion approached a minister at a party. “Pastor,” the astronomer asked, “wouldn’t you agree that all of Christian theology could be summed up in this simple song, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so’?”
“Yes,” the pastor replied, “if you would agree that all of astronomy can be summed up in this song, ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are!’”
Things aren’t so simple; things aren’t so clear.  There is plenty of room for doubt in a world where black and white clarity is seldom achieved. 
But the question raised by Thomas is this:  what do we do with our doubts?  This is the main point that separates those who would grow in the faith from those who work against the faith.  It’s what separates Nicodemus, the Pharisee whose heartfelt curiosity drove him to seek out Christ in the hiddenness of night, from Herod, who brazenly questioned Christ as to his ability to do signs.  It’s what separates Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue whose daughter was dying, who sought out Christ to heal her, from Pilate, whose questioning of Christ was motivated by politics and concerns over social stability.
         Motivation is everything!  The answer to the question “what motivates our doubt?” means everything for Christ’s accessibility to us.  For those who doubt because they shun the difficulty of the Christian life, or because they don’t like the idea of something or someone calling the shots for their lives, or because they want to be lord of their own lives – for these persons, doubt provides the doorway out of God’s dominance – and also out of God’s grace.
         There was a story told about the famous attorney, Clarence Darrow, in a moment of rather un-religious sentiment.  It seems that Mr. Darrow, made this statement:  "They tell me there is a God; but I have never seen him, I have never touched him, I have no personal acquaintance with him."  Within that same context, another person replied, "They tell me that Mr. Darrow has a mind, but I have never seen it, I have never touched it, I have no personal acquaintance with it."
         If our desire in doubting something is to push it away from ourselves, we will almost always succeed.  We, as human beings, are quite capable of criticizing, questioning, and doubting anything to the point that we can justify dismissing it completely.  Our world regularly does this with religion, faith, and God.
         But for those whose questions are heartfelt, soul-centered, and honestly searching, God is inescapable.  That is the beauty of the story of Thomas – as we approach God with our doubts, God promises to respond on the level we need for belief.   
Doubt is the beginning of a deeper life, a deeper faith that insists on truth beyond the limitations of our own understanding – in other words, on God’s terms.  Faithful doubting is reaching out into the darkness, trusting that a hand is reaching back to us, and will indeed reach us despite our inability to see.
Frederick Buechner said that “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don't have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving. -- Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking.

Our faith is in a God of revelation and mystery.  We do not know all.  But we can know more.  Doubt, questions, inquiry, testing, exploration, trial and error – all can be vital to the increase of our faith.  These are the “ants in the pants” of faith that keep it alive, that keep it from both the arrogance of self-righteousness and the emptiness of dismissing belief.  We are never condemned for our doubts, but are invited to see our doubts as a pathway towards deeper and more substantial faith. The doubting process carried Thomas to the point of making the greatest statement of faith anyone can make – “My Lord and my God.”  May we each employ our doubts, to similar effect.

 

 

3-27-16 Stranger than Fiction – Easter Sermon
Scripture:  John 20:1-18
Theme:  Easter—strange story?  Essential story?  How to understand the strangeness of God’s revelation – only possible through the understanding of love.

         In looking at our scripture lesson today, there’s a lot of strange things going on.  Mary Magdalene, a woman, is out and about before daylight, heading toward the tomb of Jesus.  Strange there were no men with her.  The stone had been rolled away.  Strange, for freshly occupied tombs were taboo, were to be avoided and not messed with.  Mary runs to Simon Peter and the “other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.”  Strange that he wasn’t named.  Peter and that disciple began running towards the tomb, but that other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  Strange to point out this fact.  The text says the other disciple did not go in, but saw linen wrappings lying there; then Peter arrived, and entered the tomb.  Strange detail about their arrival.  Peter saw the cloth from Jesus’ head rolled up by itself, separate from the other wrappings.  Strange information that seems to tell us nothing significant.  Finally, the other disciple entered the tomb, and without explanation, he saw and believed.  Strange that there is no mention of what he was feeling or thinking to move him to belief.
         THAT’S ONLY THE FIRST PARAGRAPH OF OUR SCRIPTURE LESSON, the first ten verses, and it gets stranger yet.  Two angels in white, one at the head, one at the feet.  Jesus himself appearing in the tomb, apparently in some quasi-physical, semi-spiritual state.  Mary mistaking him for the gardener, whoever he was.  If we read the text carefully, almost every single verse carries an unusual amount of mystery, a high degree of strangeness that scholars and theologians intensely debate to this day.
         Behold the Easter story, the strange tale of God’s revelation in Christ.  It truly is stranger than fiction, full of twists and turns that are hard to comprehend, hard to put together.  Many have pointed out that it is these twists and turns that make the Christian faith so hard to swallow.  Why all the mumbo-jumbo?  Why all the idiosyncrasies and abnormal jostling? 

Why such a strange story, when, if God is truly God, all-powerful and all-knowing, God could have made it so much more straightforward, so much less strange?  Is this only about something we can’t really understand – the possibility of life after death?
I like how this thought was described once in a cemetery.  Upon a tombstone was written the following inscription: 

“Remember man, as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you shall be, so be prepared to follow me.”

On that same stone, someone had taped this note:

         “To follow you is not my intent, until I know which way you went.”

         We want heaven; we don’t want hell.  But we also want to know what is worthy of life here and now; we want to know what is right and wrong; we want to rise above subjectivity; we want to discover truth in all of its forms; we want to experience and share love that is life and world changing.  Faith is where we ask God about these matters.  Faith is where we ask God regularly and intentionally, what is relevant for meaningful life? 

         I wonder, probably like you do, about such matters the time.  Of course, the most direct answer is “we don’t know.”  God is God, beyond our comprehension, beyond our direct access in a way that settles all questions.  God is, in a word, strange. 
         But isn’t it the strange things that are often more real?  That which is strange becomes an object of inquiry; the longer the inquiry, the more becomes known, and the greater the knowledge of something, the less strange it becomes.  Who knows -- it can even become a part of us, to the benefit of our lives.
Years ago, a community was facing a great controversy.  The city government announced that they were going to begin adding fluoride to the drinking water.  This was strange, adding a chemical to water that would be used for cleaning, drinking, cooking, and washing.  There were meetings and forums to discuss the situation, and many people were against this strange new substance being added to their water.  Well, against the wishes of many in the community, the decision was made; fluoride was to be added to the drinking water on the appointed date.
The date came, and so did the complaints.  Letters to the editor poured in, complaining of stomach pains, of headaches and nausea, of dishes not getting clean, of the wash losing its brightness.  Grass was dying, pets were becoming weak, goldfish were floating belly up.  It was chaos, it was bedlam, it was catastrophe – and it was all in people’s heads.  After a week, the city wrote a letter to the community, apologizing for still not having the equipment in place to begin the water treatment.  They had never added any fluoride to the water.  Things quieted down, the equipment finally got installed, the fluoride was introduced – and the people’s teeth were never better.

It’s the strange things that sometimes hold the greatest promise and garner the greatest attention – but may also raise the greatest doubts and fears. 
Thirty years ago, if someone told you that one day, you’d use your phone to type messages and take pictures more than to make phone calls, you’d think it a strange thing to say – but today, it is true.
One hundred years ago, if someone told you that polio and small pox would someday be practically eradicated from the face of the earth, you’d think it a strange thing to say – but today, it is true.
One thousand years ago, if someone told you that the world was round and not the center of the universe, you’d think it not only strange but dangerous – but today, we know these things are true. 
Two thousand years ago, if someone went around embracing untouchables and caring for the poor, taught people to love their enemies and turn the other cheek, and spoke regularly about a different kingdom, not of this world, but yet in this world, and known through God – you’d think it not only a strange thing, but a dangerous thing, perhaps even worth the cross – but today, we believe it is true.
The strangeness of God is what gives the world meaning, what enables the world to become more than it already is.  Faith is the initiative that invites that strangeness into the center of life; faith is the trusting in God more than our knowledge, abilities, or comprehension.  Faith is the trust that places everything in the embrace of the unlikely, the improbable, and the impossible reality of the cross – for it is in the cross that we discover the power and simplicity of love, in its ability to face the worst and rise to the best.
I remember hearing a story about a company attempting to start a new pension plan, which required 100% participation. Every employee signed up except one. No amount of argument or persuasion could get this person to change his mind. Finally, the president of the company called the man into his office. "Here is a copy of the proposed pension plan and here is a pen," he said. "Sign up or you're fired." Whereupon the man immediately picked up the pen and signed his name. The president of the company then said, "I don't understand why you refused to sign until now. What was your problem?" The man replied, "You're the first person who explained it to me clearly."

“For God so loved the world, that he gave us his only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16) 
This is the Easter message – that God has, in Christ, given himself to us.  Back then.  Today.  Tomorrow, and beyond.  God has made himself accessible to his people.  God has not, and never will, abandon those whom he loves.  There is no stranger truth than this – “For God so loved the world, that he gave us his Son.”  There is no more wonderful truth than this – “For God so loved the world, that he gave us his Son.”  Amen.

 

3-20-16   Checklist for Proper Glory -- Scriptures:  Luke 19:28-40, Isaiah 50:4-9a

Theme:  Jesus’s approach to Jerusalem highlights elements of the kind of glory that should motivate us onwards towards the fulfillment of God’s desire in our lives, in our world – those elements include constant awareness of the long-range goal, a tempered respect for enthusiasm, and a willingness to suffer for the right things.  These elements were coming to Jesus outside of Jerusalem, and his model serves as our guide.

         Recently, I read an article that talked about the incredible energy that surrounds the Academy Awards which happened on February 28th.  The article talked about the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the incredible extremes that stars go to in order to be dressed fashionably and be prepared (or fashionably unprepared) to make that acceptance speech.  It’s a kaleidoscope of the famous, the notorious, the image conscious, the popular, the outrageous, the scandalous, the scantily-clad, the eloquent and the vulgar.  And there, to take it in, are the crowds – photographers, critics, journalists, interviewers, paparazzi, adoring fans, glowering cynics, but in general, crowds that are there because they are tremendously interested in the famous or the infamous.  They reflect how interested, even how obsessed, we are regarding other people’s lives.  There was a powerful quote that ended the article, however, that put all this in perspective regarding all the glitz and glamour of not only the Academy Awards, but of Hollywood in general.  Here’s the quote:  
“People in Hollywood are always touching you – not because they like you, but because they want to see how soft you are before they eat you alive.”
I think this quote has a bearing on what’s going on in our scripture passages for today.  Jesus is approaching Jerusalem on the back of a colt; there was the crowd, shouting their praise, waving their palm branches, throwing their cloaks on the roadway, dancing in the streets, proclaiming their adoration to this figure, this famous person, this Messiah, this man of power and influence.  And, I can’t help but wonder, if Jesus wasn’t thinking all the time, about how all these people were praising him, acclaiming him, worshiping him, touching him, not because they liked him, but because they wanted to see how soft he was before they ate him alive.
         For that’s what’s coming, and Jesus knows this.  The glory of that moment outside the city gates would not last; it was a shallow reflection of the hopes and dreams of a people that knew what they wanted to hear, what they wanted to believe.  They were captivated by their own idea of glory, their own definition, that tried to point to God as an instrument of their will, rather than the opposite.   Holy Week would find glory redefined, and that new definition would shape all subsequent Christian faith, up to this day.
         What is this new definition of glory?  What, as the sermon title suggests, is proper glory?  Or, if we want to be technical, what is proper CHRISTIAN glory?  We can start with what it is not.  It is not glory as defined by most of human history.  Indeed, we can here find this understanding explicitly given by Webster’s dictionary, where glory is defined as “exalted honor, praise, or distinction accorded by common consent.”  There was a lot of such common consent going on outside of Jerusalem that day, but it was a shallow thing that wouldn’t last the week.  It was a fleeting glory based upon the good feeling of the crowd – not upon a grasp of the divine intention.
         Glory has got to mean something more than the world’s definition.  Our scripture lessons give us a model in both the suffering servant of Isaiah and in Jesus himself.  If we look to these two images, these two models, we see that Godly glory, glory defined by faith in Christ, arises in those who pursue God’s will regardless of external influences.
         It’s as simple as that.  It’s as impossible as that.  To glorify God means to minimize the distracting affects of our environment so that we can re-engage that environment on God’s terms and not our own.  This is modeled by Christ, one moment heralded as the new King with shouts of acclamation, the next moment scourged as a criminal.  He was able to place the pressures of his environment in proper priority behind the will of God, and, hence, engaged that environment on God’s terms, God’s terribly harsh, yet incredibly redemptive, terms.  And his model is to be our own.
         I read something awhile back which spoke to me about this proper glory.   An author named Nancy Guthrie, in her book Holding on to Hope, which came out in 2002, tells about her experience of actually, physically holding on to Hope.  Hope was her daughter, who was born quite ill, and was not expected to live very long.  Here’s her story in her words:
We had Hope for 199 days. We loved her. We enjoyed her richly and shared her with everyone we could. We held her during seizures. Then we let her go.
The day after we buried Hope, my husband said to me, "You know, I think we expected our faith to make this hurt less, but it doesn't." Our faith gave us an incredible amount of strength and encouragement while we had Hope, and we were comforted by the knowledge that she is in heaven. Our faith keeps us from being swallowed by despair.
But I don't think it makes our loss hurt any less.
Early on in my journey, I said to God, "Okay, if I have to go through this, then give me everything. Teach me everything you want to teach me through this. Don't let this incredible pain be wasted in my life!"
God…allows good and bad into our lives and we can trust him with both.…Trusting God when the miracle does not come, when the urgent prayer gets no answer, when there is only darkness—this is the kind of faith God values most of all….
I believe that the purpose of Hope's short life, and my life, was and is to glorify God.
Nancy Guthrie, Holding On to Hope (Tyndale, 2002); submitted by Gary Smith, Ft. Myers, Florida
Nancy talks about the purpose of Hope’s short life as being to glorify God, but listen to how she sees this process – that “God allows good and bad into our lives and we can trust him with both – trusting God when the miracle does not come, when the urgent prayer gets no answer, when there is only darkness, (when the crowd cheers you on, and then fades away, eventually calling for your destruction) – this is the kind of faith God values most of all, the kind of faith that brings glory to God.”
         That’s what glory means – staying the course, retaining the focus, maintaining the purpose regardless of external influence.  It is being stubborn in our faith to the point that, if it be of God, it consumes us, commands us, and constrains us.  It is choosing to be shaped by God before the world, to understand our direction is not to be set based upon what is more or less difficult, more or less pleasant, or more or less acceptable to our family, neighbors, community or world.  It is to base our direction, our action, upon what God expects of us, and to follow through regardless of the cost.
         That’s where we so often stumble – when the degree of challenge reaches the point of discomfort.  We like things to be a certain way, with an acceptable amount of risk and danger, and a much greater amount of security and prediction.  I came across a quote I love that reflects how we think life should be in just one simple sentence; this was shared by Pastor George Vander Weit, who said, “When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather did, not screaming like the passengers in his car."
         Death should be peaceful.  Life should be satisfying.  Prayer should be comforting.  Virtue should be rewarded.  Accidents should not happen.  People should behave well.  Government should be honest.  Worship should get out on time.  Christ should be honored as king.  Christ  should not be betrayed.  An innocent man should not be crucified.  Should, should, should.
         It has been said that the should’s of life are the corrosion of hope and the limitation of life; when we get so preoccupied with what should happen that we do not pursue what could happen, we stifle and begin to die.  Only by moving from should to could to will to do will we ever get to did.  Did you get that?  Only by putting the should’s behind us, and embracing what we can do, will we accomplish anything worthwhile.
I’ve got a parable that expresses this truth.  I’m sure you’ve heard this parable before, but it deserves retelling, and I found it in the format of a poem.  It’s entitled “Keep Kicking”, and it goes like this:
Two frogs fell into a can of cream – or so I’ve heard it told.
The sides of the can were shiny and steep, the cream was deep and cold.
“Oh, what’s the use?” said Number one, “’Tis fate – no help’s around –
Good-bye, my friend!  Good-bye, sad world!”  And weeping still, he drowned.
But Number two of sterner stuff, dogpaddled in surprise,
The while he wiped his creamy face and dried his creamy eyes.
“I’ll swim awhile, at least,” he said – Or so it has been said –
“It wouldn’t really help the world if one more frog was dead.”
 An hour or two he kicked and swam – not once he stopped to mutter,
But kicked and swam, and swam and kicked, then hopped out, via butter.
Only by putting the should’s behind us, and embracing what we can do, will we accomplish anything worthwhile.  And this is especially the case laid out by Christ, who should not have been thought of as a military Messiah, who should not have been betrayed, who should have been able to turn the crowd, who should have been able to avoid the cross, who should not have been crucified, should not have fallen into that abyss – Christ put all of those should’s behind him, and did what he could to glorify God.  Things solidified in the resurrection; our salvation is the result.
         Jesus did what he could; we are to do likewise.  We are to set our sights not on what we want life to be, but what God wants our lives to be.  We are to set our course not based upon the influences around us so much as the Godly influence within us.  We are to put aside the should’s in favor of the could’s, regardless of the cheering or the jeering of the crowds.  In this lies the glorification of God.

 

3-13-16 Christian Efficiency Scripture: Philippians 3:4b-14
Theme:  Value is largely subjective in life.  We associate value with what’s important to us.  When we see things from the perspective of faith, things become more personal (hence, our personal relationship with God) and hence more backwards to the world’s way of thinking.  With the ultimately personal step of repentance, forgiveness, and sanctification, we begin to have our value systems changed – spiritually, mentally, and physically.

         A few years ago there was a man in New York City who was kidnapped. His kidnappers called his wife and asked for $100,000 ransom. She talked them down to $30,000.
         The story had a happy ending: the man returned home unharmed, the money was recovered, and the kidnappers were caught and sent to jail.  But, can you imagine what the negotiations on that phone call were like?  "$100,000 for that old guy? You have got to be crazy. Just look at him!  Look at that gut!  You want $100,000 for that? If you only knew what I had to put up with in living with him – he doesn’t pick up his socks, never washes the dishes, doesn’t ever listen to me.   $100,000?  You've got to be kidding.  Give me a break here.  $30,000 is my top offer."  I wonder what conversation ensued once the man was returned to his wife, and discussed her negotiating a discount for his ransom?
        
         This true story makes a very good point, which brings us to the issue raised in our scripture lesson today -- Just how much is a person worth?  Or, drawing upon the message of Paul from scripture this morning:  what is it that makes a person valuable?
         The world certainly has its answers.  Wealth.  Power.  Success.  Fame.  And I believe that, often, the Christian perspective has its answers as well – what makes a person valuable is believing the correct doctrines or creeds, membership in the right church, obeying the ten commandments, or doing good deeds.

         Paul is in a position to give us some particular wisdom in this area, for Paul is what the world might call an unqualified success. 
His list of credentials is amazing – born into a proper and influential Jewish family, born of the tribe of Benjamin (which was the number one tribe for religious leaders), not only a member in good standing, but a leader of the Pharisee sect, and a leader that held enough power to order or even oversee the persecution of any group deemed unorthodox or heretical.  His record was unblemished; he obeyed the law perfectly; he did all the right things, and he knew all the right people.  He had it all.
         Yet he counts it all as loss!  He considers all of his vast achievements, positions, influence, and power as nothing compared to something he has received through no power of his own, no accomplishment of his life, no position he has held.  Paul counts this tremendous resume of his past glory as nothing compared to the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” 
This perspective invites a reversal to our normal way of thinking about ourselves in light of faith.  Usually, we talk about leaving past regrets behind for the sake of more effective, efficient living right now.  But here, Paul challenges us to consider leaving even our past positives behind for the sake of “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.”  The cliché that comes to mind is “do not rest on your laurels.”  Perhaps Paul would rephrase this:  “do not rest on your religious virtue.”
Awhile back, Alan Alda, the television and movie actor perhaps best known as the lead star in the TV series “MASH” wrote a book of memoirs with the kind of title that grabs a person.  The title of the book is  “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed.”  In an interview, he explained the significance of the title:

“I was 8 years old. My father was trying to stop me from sobbing because we were burying the dog, so he said, “Maybe we should have him stuffed.” We kept it on the porch, and deliverymen were afraid to make deliveries.
There are a lot of ways we stuff the dog, trying to avoid change, hanging on to a moment that’s passed.”

Let me ask you:  have you ever stuffed the dog?  I think you know what I mean.  It’s the kind of question Paul puts before us today through his own example. 
Do we hold onto the positive past too tightly?  Do we rest too much on our laurels?  Do we worship what has been to the detriment of what is or what shall be? 

Years ago, I remember pastoring a couple whose marriage was in great jeopardy.  It turns out that the wife had been caught in an affair.  The husband was filled with rage, the wife was feeling condemned, and our conversations, pastor and couple, were extremely intense.  As we continued to meet and talk about how to repair this situation, if possible at all, it came to light that the husband had recently had an affair as well.  Pain after pain was shared – and then, I remember one meeting where they both said to me, each in their turn, that they had been members of the church for all their lives.  Good, upstanding members.  Attended church, did the right things, volunteered, studied the Bible, led Sunday school classes.  WE DID ALL THE RIGHT THINGS – I heard them saying. 
And there, I believe, we faced the problem.  Doing the right things is no guarantee of having a righteous life.  We need help – help beyond ourselves, beyond our weakness and temptations and confusions and errors.  We need help that we cannot find by formula, doctrine, attendance, or good works.  We need the help that God offers in Christ – who modeled forgiveness beyond transgression, compassion beyond pain, love beyond condition.  This may sound trite, this may sound like what a pastor would, of course, say – but that couple’s healing did not begin until they invited God into their center, to do what they could not do themselves for their relationship.  That’s when things began to heal.

Often, I believe, the negative past weighs us down – when we did wrong, when we failed, when we missed something important.  But sometimes, Paul reflects, the positive past does this as well.   Having done all the right things, being righteous and blameless before the world and before God – these things do not guarantee the life of substance God intends for us all.  It is only in relationship with Jesus that we find ourselves as our fullest selves – regardless of past failures or successes, in spite of past vice or virtue.

I remember reading a story of a young Naval Academy graduate, who after completing his first overseas cruise, was given an opportunity to display his talents at getting his ship underway and out of port. The young officer's efficiency established a new record for getting a naval ship underway. He was stunned, however, when a sailor approached him with a message from their captain. "My personal congratulations upon completing your underway preparations exercise according to the book and with amazing speed. In your haste however, you have overlooked one of the fundamental rules -- make sure the captain is on board before you leave."  -Bobby Ives, "Greetings," Boat Notes, The Carpenter's Boatshop, Fall 1999 Newsletter, 1.

How often do we leave port, confident of our sailing skills, only to discover the captain of our lives was left behind?  No skill, no righteousness, no worship, no theology, no doctrine or creed or ritual or works, can replace a relationship with God that lets God be Lord of our lives, in all ways, great and small.

“Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”  Let us not be controlled by what lies behind, be it good or bad; let us instead strain forward to what lies ahead in the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord.

 

3-6-16  The Movement from Judging to Witnessing Scripture:  II Corinthians 5:16-21
Theme:  We often see people from certain human points of view:  as competition, as conformative, or as complementary.  But God desires that we see each other through a Christian point of view – worthy of love, necessary for faith, to be served by us, never to be judged by us.  This goes for non-Christians as well as Christians.

Three women were having coffee one day, when the conversation turned to their children.  “My son,” said one of the women, “is a state supreme court judge.  When he walks in the room, people say “your honor.”  “That’s nothing,” said the next woman, “My son is a bishop.  When he walks in the room, people say, “your eminence.”  “Oh, that’s nothing,” said the third woman, “My son is 6 foot 8 inches tall, weighs 280 pounds, has tattoos over his arms, wears a Mohawk hairdo, and scowls all the time.  When he walks into the room, people say, “My God.””
Today, we are challenged by scripture to consider how we see each other – how we understand the significance, substance, and value of other human beings.  Paul has something challenging to say to us regarding this; he says: “Once we know Christ, from this point on, we regard no one from a human point of view.”   We are told not to regard any other person from a human point of view.  But just what is the human point of view?  Just how do we tend to see each other as human beings?
I think there are three major ways that we tend to see each other.  The first is perhaps the most obvious regarding sports, but is very present in subtle ways almost everywhere ego is present – we often tend to see others as competition.  Often masked as criticism, gossip, cynicism, insult, insinuation, blame, or accusation, its basic characteristic is a sense of me against them.  And the goal of competition is to look better than the other guy. 
Once upon a time, there were two evil brothers. They were rich, and used their money to keep their ways from the public eye. They even attended the same church, and looked to be perfect Christians.
Then their pastor retired, and a new one was hired. Not only could he see right through the brothers' deception, but he also spoke well and true, and the church started to swell in numbers.
 A fund raising campaign was started to build a new assembly. All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the new building.
"I have only one condition," he said. "At his funeral, you must say my brother was a saint."
The pastor gave his word, and deposited the check.
The next day, at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back. "He was an evil man," the pastor said. "He cheated on his wife and abused his family."
After going on in this vein for a small time, he concluded with, "But compared to his brother, he was a saint."
Often, we try to shape human perception in this way – to look better than others, to look better than we really are.  This is a very human point of view.  And one that ultimately never works to make us into better human beings.  
We also tend to see others from a human point of view when we see them as proper conformists; this is the practice of measuring persons by how well they conform to our ideal.  Do they conform to our sense of right and wrong?  Do they think like we do?  Do they heed our advice?  Putting it into today’s language, are they good Republicans?  Are they good Democrats?  Are they good Christians?  Are they good Americans?  Are they good investors, good property owners, good landlords, good tenants, good baseball fans, good cooks, good parents, good children, good teachers, good preachers, (how did that one slip in?)   DO THEY CONFORM TO WHAT WE THINK ALL NORMAL, HEALTHY, RIGHTEOUS, GOOD-HEARTED PEOPLE SHOULD?  Or, in other words, are they just like us? 
Barry Bailey, pastor of a mega-church in Fort Worth, Texas, tells of his experience with two of his closest friends, Jean and William Tucker. William was Chancellor at Texas Christian University.  An article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram featured their coming to terms with the fact that Jean's oldest nephew had died of AIDS. Rather than try to hide the tragedy, Jean said, "I am going to make this public. " The nephew was an artist. The Tuckers had some of his paintings in their home. They loved him dearly. But what made Jean decide to tell the story was that following her nephew's death, someone came to her, trying to bring comfort. The person said, "I am so sorry." Jean thanked the person. Then the person asked, "What did he die of?" Jean replied, "He died of AIDS." Then the other person said, "I'm sorry, ... anyway."
Can you hear the judgment in that “anyway”?
Often, as human beings, we discover that we are not the same – we have different experiences, different realities, different orientations, different challenges.  And sometimes those differences produce automatic judgment.  This can also be a very human point of view.
Lastly, another human point of view has to do with how much another person complements our lives.  Sometimes we look at people and measure their value in terms of how much they add to our lives.  Not only do they think like us, look like us, or sound like us, but do they like us, do they like to do things with us, are they interested in who we are as persons, do they contribute value and meaning to our lives?  We trust them, we express emotion to them, we share more with them.  They are our friends.  But this, too, can be problematic towards those whom we do not see in the same way.
I remember an experience when I was in second grade.  Under Mrs. Foss, my teacher, we had a system in place; for those students who kept an “A” average for a month, there was given the great and honorable privilege for one week of dismissing one row at a time for recess.  I had proudly achieved that grade for a month, and had come to my week for dismissing the rows for recess.  I was supposed to choose rows that seemed quietest, most orderly, most attentive.  I thought that’s exactly what I was doing, until Thursday came.  When I came up to the front of the class as usual, before I began, one student rudely said, “You’re not being fair!  You’ve dismissed the third row first every day!”  I began to protest, when the student behind him said, “That’s because Pat’s in that row.”  Everyone knew Pat and I were best friends.  And I realized that’s exactly what I had been doing – dismissing Pat’s row first because Pat was in it.
It was a childish display of favoritism, but it followed me, as it follows all of us, into adulthood.  We treat some people better than others—because of what they can do for us, what they contribute to our lives.  But this can be a tricky thing if it results in treating others as of lesser value, judging them as somehow inferior or less worthy of our attention, because of what they can or cannot do for us. 
When we see others from a human point of view, there is always the problem of self-interested myopia – we tend to color our view of their significance and value with respect to our own significance and value – and this can be a problem.  It can be a problem because of our tendency to judge people by their differences from us – and where there is judgment, love is diminished.
Paul outlines a better perspective for the Christian – “Regard no one from a human point of view.”  Regard no one from a perspective of judgment or condemnation – leave such matters to God.  Instead, our place as followers of Jesus is to seek out the potential of all to rise to their God-given fullness of life, to be, as the scripture states, “reconciled to God.”  Our message, our work, is to be about the reconciliation of the world to God’s reality, practicing love for all, regardless of differences.  Our work is to regard everyone from a Godly point of view – we are, as the scripture says, “entrusted with the message of reconciliation; we are Ambassadors for Christ, and God is making his appeal through us.”  Our work is to love beyond reason, beyond judgment, beyond differences.   
Dr. Ronald M. Patterson from Shiloh Church in Dayton Ohio wrote about an experience that taught him about this work we Christians are all called to.  He tells about the time he was assigned to work at Boston City Hospital as a chaplain's assistant.  He writes:  “I was assigned to a prison ward, and one of the prisoners there was a big-time drug dealer. It was my duty to visit him because he was very ill. Well, with the half-hearted pseudo-compassion of the typical do-gooder, I did my duty. Later, I confessed this to the Roman Catholic nun who was my supervisor. I said, 'How can I go and pray with this man who was ruining the life of this city? He deserves his illness and a whole lot more.' Do you know what she said to me? 'Patterson, who died and elected you God? Somewhere deep within that man, covered by the layers of pain and denial and every rotten thing he has ever done, there is the kernel of God's image. Your only job is to see that spark; and the only way you can ever see it is to forget everything else about whatever anyone else has told you about right and wrong and believe with your whole heart that the spark is there. He, too, just as much as anyone you will ever meet, is a child of God's love."'--Recalled and preached by Dr. Ronald M. Patterson, Shiloh Church, Dayton, Ohio)

We are to seek out the kernel of God’s image in every person – to trade our human point of view for the way God sees us all.  May it be so; amen.

 

2-28-16  What God Offers -- Scripture:  Isaiah 55:1-9       
Theme:  God wants everyone – everyone! – to come to Him, to receive what He wants to give, with priority given to those of lesser existence – the thirsty and hungry, the homeless and the refugee, the lost and afraid.  And we are invited to be the agents of delivery for the graciousness of God.  A step in the right direction is the redressing of the things that keep God’s children in the shadows of life – fear and hatred being the most insidious, indifference perhaps the most widespread.  We, as followers of Jesus, are called to interfere with the better motivations of compassion.

         I don’t know if you realize this, but, have you noticed – we live in a beautiful place?  My wife and I were walking early one morning before the sun came up, and witnessed the absolute beauty of the mountains around us illumined by a full moon.  Walking along the Clark Fork river near the down-town area is always a delight.  Just a month ago, we saw something beautiful in our church, when Homeless Connect took place in our facility—to me it was a beautiful sight.  I traveled down to one of our churches in the Bitterroot, joining with my clergy colleagues for study and fellowship; they are a wonderful group of faith leaders, a beautiful time together; on the way, I took in breathtaking peaks dusted with fresh snow and playful clouds that danced this way and that.  We live in a very beautiful area of beautiful places and people.
         But recently, some things have come to my attention, and perhaps yours, which are not so beautiful.  Which are, in fact, unpleasant, ugly, and even dangerous.  There seems to be a rising tide of animosity, prejudice, and hatred moving into our area. Angry speeches made against the possibility of refugees settling here in our area.  Threatening e-mails and phone calls made to representatives and leaders who are exploring the issue.  Hostile rallies where only like-minded opinions are welcome, and opposite opinions are shouted down without respect or civility.
         Can I ask a question:  WHAT’S GOING ON?
Shouting matches in Hamilton.
Letters to the editor full of prejudice and isolationism.
Courthouse rallies where blanket generalizations are made, like “refugees rape, kill, and destroy,” and “refugees hate Christians, Jews, women, and gays.”
Legislators crafting a letter to the Governor, asking to block all Syrian refugees from entering our state.
Nationally, 31 governors stating that they would block, oppose, or fight refugees moving in.
And I don’t even want to mention some of the political rhetoric hitting the media.
So, again, I ask:  WHAT’S GOING ON?
I believe it’s the same thing that’s been going on throughout human history – namely, that we are being tempted by our lesser nature, our lower character.  We are letting our thoughts and actions be guided by two of our greatest adversaries, fear and hatred.  And it’s making things ugly.
I had thought about changing the scripture lesson for today based upon the rise of hostility in the air, but when I read and read the lesson from Isaiah 55, I discovered it fit very well.  The passage has something very important to share with us regarding this ugliness – namely, that it is not God’s will.  Listen to the scripture again, where it says from the mouth of God, “Come, everyone who is thirsty; come, you who have no money (can we hear God saying “Come, you who have no home; come, you who have no rest; come, you who have no hope….”?), here is water!  Here is food!  Here is life!”  Almost like God is addressing especially those who are cast out and adrift…. Listen again to the scripture, where God says “Now you will summon foreign nations, at one time they did not know you, but now they will come running to join you!  I, the Lord your God, the holy God of Israel, will make all this happen.”
Could it be that the Lord our God, the holy God of Israel, will make this happen – through us?
About two months ago, we had a visitor to our church from another state, traveling through.  He happened to have attended our church on the Sunday when I happened to place the picture of a presently-prominent politician running for the presidency, and mentioned in the sermon that I found the statement by this political figure that “we need to ban all Muslims” profoundly problematic.  This gentleman caught me after church, in order to let me know that he disagreed with my perspective, stating that “you know, all Muslims really are terrorists.”
That’s when I grabbed him by the shoulders, gripping him in a half-nelson wrestling hold, threw him over my shoulder onto the floor, and pinned him there until he agreed with my perspective.  NO, I DIDN’T DO THAT, OF COURSE, but I must admit a very slight feeling along those lines.  Here’s my point:  SUCH FEELINGS ARE TO BE FOUGHT.  Or, better yet, SUCH FEELINGS ARE TO BE CHANNELED, AWAY FROM HATRED AND TOWARD UNDERSTANDING,
AWAY FROM FEAR AND TOWARD HOPE.  Fear and hatred work division between those of differing perspectives, opinions, and circumstance; hope and understanding work relationship with all.

We continued our conversation.  He stated that all Muslims are terrorists.  I asked him if he knew any Muslims.  He said, and I quote, “Yes, I know who they are.”  Did you hear it?  The nebulous, enigmatic “they?”  As differentiated from the nebulous, enigmatic “us?”  I asked another question – do you know any Muslims personally?  He said, no, that he himself didn’t know any Muslims personally.  The conversation then turned to the Muslims I had known in my experience, who were leaders in their faith community who worked with me and other faith leaders to construct a service of remembrance for the September 11 attacks; it was the Muslim community who spoke out loudest against the attacks, saying that in no way did this represent the Islam they knew.  The man I was speaking to said, “Oh, I didn’t know they would support such a service.”  I hope I heard in his voice a bit of a changed perspective – a more understanding perspective, a less fearful perspective.
Now, I understand something that is probably the case – that there are many more persons who are not hate-filled, more balanced in their perspective and ready to explore these and other contentious issues with civility.  It is often the vocal minority that gains the greatest attention – and we might be tempted to reduce this to something of a momentary lapse of reason in our nation.  Maybe – maybe not.  History is full of times when radicalism was allowed to run unfettered for too long, giving rise to the darknesses of history that fill textbooks in school.  Nazism, genocide, political coups, oppressive dictatorships, and the like have often been enabled by good people falling into indifference, born out of the sense of things improving on their own, that someone else will speak out, or move for constructive change.
Elie Wiesel said that “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
         Indifference exists when we do not know enough or care enough to understand something or someone personally.  Indifference is the distancing of humans from each other on a mental, spiritual, and even physical level.  Indifference is the depersonalization of human reality.  And what is human reality? 
From the perspective of our God, our human reality is that WE ARE DESIGNED TO BE CONNECTED TO EACH OTHER through a love that is not to be confined.  Shaped, yes.  Pursued, definitely.  Scrutinized, of course.  But not confined to those of our choosing.  God’s love is unbounded, universal, and personal; and, if we say we love God, we adopt that love as our own.  The stranger becomes a brother, the refugee a sister, the mournful a member of our family, the homeless our companion, the victim our ward.  If we are connected to God, we are to some degree connected to each other.  All of us, wherever we live, whatever we face.
Elie Wiesel had more to say about this indifference – he said that “We must take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.  Whenever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”   -- Elie Wiesel, The Night Trilogy:  Night/Dawn/The Accident
This week, many persons of an opposite spirit to this hatred and ugliness are going to interfere.  We are going to interfere in the form of a march of solidarity on this coming Tuesday at 5pm.  We begin at the X’s at the north end of Higgins.  We walk from there to Caras Park together; some leaders in our community will share brief talks about taking a stand against hatred, intimidation, and violence, and for compassion, understanding, and peace.  It is likely that there will be people voicing opposite opinions as we walk; it is probable that not all of us in the walk will fully understand all the complexities involved in these issues.  But we will all be attempting to move beyond what we say we believe, and place those beliefs into action.  This includes praying for the refugees who may or may not find their way here.  This includes praying for those whose voices have been raised in hatred and anger.  And this includes each one of God’s children, as they wrestle with the reality of a God who will not rest, until all have truly heard the invitation we heard in our scripture passage from Isaiah today – “Come everyone, come to me, and you will have life!”

 

2-21-16-Lamentation for Jerusalem -- Scripture:  Luke 13:31-35

Theme:  Jerusalem has been seen by many as a geographical epicenter of sacredness for three world religions – and this has led to the unfortunate and profoundly ironic result of it being one of the most war-torn, violent, and destructive places on the face of the earth!  Is this not a result of each faith system forgetting it’s most central teaching – that God is above, over, and provident over all?  It is basic human nature to confuse the profane with the secular; let us be careful not to do the same.

Today we find Jesus somewhere on his way to Jerusalem, that holiest of cities, established by David, home to prophets and priests and identified with the presence and activity of the divine.  Jesus, however, makes an astonishing statement regarding his destination – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  SEE, YOUR HOUSE IS LEFT TO YOU.”  In other words, you are left alone, without the benefit of God’s direct intercession.
This is a shocking rebuke.  These words sound like Jerusalem is to be pitied, judged, and even condemned as unworthy of God’s favor.  The city seems to be a symbol of everything working against God’s revelation, killing the prophets, stoning the messengers, unwilling to allow God his domain.  Jerusalem, that holiest of cities, is described by Christ as working the greatest efforts against God’s revelation.
 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” cries Jesus – but it’s not a cry out against Jerusalem alone.  It is a cry against the way humanity sometimes gets it wrong, when what is holy is used for unholy purposes.  And as we look to the example of Jerusalem, as Jesus saw it then, and as history has showed it since, we see something of a caution for the practice of our faith – to make sure that we never abuse the holiness of God.

  1. One reason for the tension in Jerusalem over the years has been a

practice that could be called the “Elevation of non-essentials.”  This is seen in the tendency groups have to make land or buildings or ritual or objects more important than people; to emphasize controlling influence over tolerant compromise; to focus on hierarchical leadership over relational leadership. 
Its essence can be most simply put as “making things more important than God and God’s will.”
Now, what does this mean?  I remember, during my three years at seminary, I would spend a few days every now and then at my aunt and uncle’s house in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.   There was a joke about that town, that its real title was “Basking Rich”, for it was a very wealthy town.  My aunt and uncle’s home reflected this wealth – it had around 4,000 square feet overall, and was furnished in all the latest styles.  It was a pretty comfortable, nicely arranged home for their family of four individuals.
But I found it ironic, strange, and confusing that the nicest, most comfortable, prettiest room in the entire house was OFF LIMITS.  It was the living room just off the front entrance; very nicely furnished, a few sofas and chairs that looked brand new, and, this I remember – white carpet.
I remember once when I ventured into that room in order to read my book.  As soon as I crossed the threshold, sirens began to wail; bars dropped down right in front of me; tear gas spewed forth from holes in the wall; a trap door opened up underneath my feet, and I slid down a slide into a dungeon, where I met the skeletal remains of the last person who had dared to cross that threshold.
OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s how I felt when I heard my aunt’s raised voice saying to me, “JOHN, WE DON’T GO IN THERE!”  I thought she was joking, until I looked at her, and saw that special kind of look that says, “DON’T YOU DARE.”  I don’t mind admitting to you that I was incredulous; if it weren’t for the fact that they were providing me with a free place to stay, feeding me excellent food, taking me to movies and treating me wonderfully, I just might have said something.
We sometimes make things too important, and sometimes they way we make them too important is to keep them from being used in the important way they were designed to be used.  THUS, WE HAVE JERUSALEM.  Jerusalem, Jerusalem – the one who is to see the coming of God on earth, who is to proclaim “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,”  instead killing the prophets, stoning the messengers, crucifying the revelation of God made flesh.  How ironic!  How backwards!  And how human.
Any time we make a room, or a building, or a ritual, or a place, or an event, or an object more important than a person or a relationship, we are behaving like those in the Jerusalem that Jesus criticized.  If we are proclaimed beloved by God, if we are carved into the palm of God’s hand as it says in Isaiah 49, then somehow we share in the holiness of God.  God’s priority is our relationship with God and each other; all else is meant to support these relationships, not the other way around.

  1. Another way to think about Jesus lamenting Jerusalem has to do with

what is called “Perceptive exclusivity.”   Born out of people’s sense of insecurity, it is the common practice of identifying oneself by critiquing another.  You make yourself feel superior by showing just how bad someone else is. 
You know how this works.  I have compiled a formulaic expression of this process from my own experience as a parent and when I was growing up as a child. 
Child A does something wrong. 
The parent confronts him or her. 
Child A says, “But Child B did something worse!” 
So the parent confronts Child B. 
Child B says, “But Child A did something else bad!” 
So the parent goes back to Child A. 
“I hit her because she hit me” says Child A. 
“I hit him because he looked at me funny” says Child B. 
“Did not.” Says Child A. 
“Did so” says Child B. 
“You smell bad,” says Child A. 
“You look ugly” says Child B  
“You’re dumb” says Child A.
 “You’re stupid” says Child B. 
And the parent finds himself or herself in the awkward place somewhere between laughter and tears, reaching for extra strength Tylenol.

“If I can make someone else look bad,” the rationale goes, “then I look better, and I am more set apart from them.”  This is not just a child’s game; we all play it, or are tempted to play it.  And often we expand this to a global scale.  Perceptive exclusivity has a natural progression about it; it moves from tolerance, to animosity, to hatred, to a desire to erase the opposite group from existence.  I believe that more wars are caused for this reason than any other – the sense that one people is better than another, that one people is superior than another, having more rights, more sovereignty, more wisdom, MORE JUSTIFICATION than others.  This perspective sees hatred as justified because of one’s righteousness according to God – but this perspective, at the same time, fails to remember one of God’s most important revelations, in Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, even strains of Buddhism and animism, and so many other world religions – that all humans are God’s children, and are precious in God’s sight.
         Whenever we make things, places, ideologies, cultures, people, races, histories, or what have you – whenever we make these things more important that knowing and following God, we have replaced faith with religion.  This may sound strange to our ears, until we realize that FAITH IS NOT THE SAME AS RELIGION.  Religion is the system of structures, doctrines, practices, and organizations THAT WERE MEANT TO SERVE FAITH, as tools for the construction of meaningful, tangible belief.  We have turned things around when we make those things more important than the things we profess inwardly, spiritually.  Religion absolutely has its importance, but it is in relation to faith as precedent.  Faith is the reason for religion’s existence; it should never be the other way around.  No matter how reasonable, justified, solid, or rational a religion may be, it is to be the servant of faith in God.
         When Jesus laments Jerusalem, he laments all of our tendencies as people of faith to sometimes get it wrong.  Even us Christians.  Even we who follow Jesus to the best of our abilities.  Even we who preach the Word of God to others.  We sometimes think we know enough to condemn others.  We sometimes think we know enough to feel superior to others.  We must be careful.  The call of God through Jesus is one of repentance, one of humility, one of sacrificial love.  There is no room for arrogance, no room for judgment of another, no room for exclusion, no room for hatred.  God’s holiness is meant to prioritize people over places, practices, or possessions; and we are made more holy as we follow God’s lead.

         In closing, we’re going to share something a little different.  Our JuBellation Bell Choir director Brynn let me know that they have a selection to share with us called Song of Peace – once I read the note on the piece, I realized it potentially reflected the sentiment Jesus might have experienced as he lamented Jerusalem.  The note was written by the composer of Song of Peace, Arnold B. Sherman; he says “Song of Peace is a reflection of the way the world has treated peace almost from the beginning of time.  The gentle round DONA NOBIS PACEM is given a harsh and angular treatment, representing the needless violence and senseless acts of terrorism that plague the world almost daily.  In this piece you can hear an interspersion of the psalmist’s cry, “How Long, O Lord, How Long?”, with the dissonance building until it stops; out of the chaos comes the round once more, moving towards a harmonious setting that speaks of eternal hope, peace, and restoration for all humankind.”  Here, then, is our bell choir performing “Song of Peace.”       

 

2-14-16  Challenging our Self-Justification  Scripture:  Luke 4:1-13
Theme:  It is the nature of temptations to only arise when we are faced with something we are free to do yet shouldn’t do.  The essential element is choice, and choice has no chance for expedient result lest the subject retain a guiding influence from a higher source.  Jesus modeled this in his temptation in the desert – the capacity of the human to choose beyond self-interest.

A teen-age boy told his parents he was going to run away from home. "Listen," he said, "I’m leaving home. There is nothing you can do to stop me. I want excitement, adventure, beautiful women, money, and fun. I’ll never find it here, so I’m leaving. Just don’t try to stop me!" As he headed for the door, his father leaped up and ran toward him. "Dad," the boy said firmly, "you heard what I said. Don’t try to stop me. I’m going!"
"Who’s trying to stop you?" answered the father, "I’m going with you!"
Today, we consider something that affects us all in one form or another – TEMPTATION.  Temptation is one of those terms that is played with in different ways, such as being tempted to watch too much TV or eating to excess, but in its root meaning, it is nothing to take lightly.  The dictionary defines temptation as “a fundamental desire to engage in short-term urges that threaten long-term goals.”  I heard another definition that I find helpful in my life – that temptations are doorways that offer lesser alternatives to our better natures.  And yet, another definition that makes a point – temptations offer temporary indulgence for the price of a diminished future.
On this first Sunday in Lent, we have arrived at the first of the Gospel lessons that traditionally are shared on this day – the famous episode where Jesus is tempted by the devil.  After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus is led into the wilderness, where he stays fasting for 40 days, and then is attacked by Satan three times:

“Are you hungry, Jesus?  MAKE SOME BREAD” says the devil.
“One does not live by bread alone” says Jesus.
“Want to rule the world?  WORSHIP ME” says the devil.
“Worship is meant for God alone” says Jesus.
 “Are you worried about getting hurt?  HAVE GOD COME TO YOUR
RESCUE” says the devil.
“Do not test God” says Jesus.
Now, much has been made from this scene, many ideas about Jesus’ humanity and divinity, the nature of the devil, the manners in which we are tempted like God’s son.  But today I wanted to share with you one thought that has always been at the center of this story for me – that Jesus demonstrated his ability and willingness to choose responses that ran against his own self-interest.  Jesus was tempted by his freedom to do or be whatever he wanted to do or be – but that what he wanted most was to be faithful to God.
Tempted by freedom – isn’t this what makes temptation what it is?  Confronted by something we know we shouldn’t do, think, feel, or participate in, temptation exists because we know we are free to give in.  We can eat the entire box of oreos, we can tell a convenient lie, we can look at the pornography, we can share the juicy gossip – and the world continues to revolve, our daily lives do not change very much.  At least for awhile.  We are free to do these things, without great outward impact here in society; but the impact in two other areas – inside our hearts and in the eyes of God -- can be tremendous.  And such impact will eventually translate to the world around us, to the ones we love, to the ones who love us.
Have you ever been tempted by FREEDOM – tempted to deal with reality in our own manner?  And let’s go beyond the freedom to overindulge in eating dessert, or talk behind someone’s back.  Let’s think about the temptation to be free to do what we like, what we want, what makes us feel good or comfortable in our own lives, the only lives we really have a say in ultimately.  Let us think about the world we would be tempted to create if our own preferences justified creation….

I thought about this recently when I heard a politician say  “IF THE GOVERNMENT WOULD JUST LEAVE US ALONE!  We’d manage our affairs by ourselves, and do a better job.”  I wonder.  I wonder if I was just left alone, with my own rational common sense, intelligence, and way of seeing things….I like the idea.  If I was free, totally free to choose what I thought was best for my life, you know it would place a priority on motorcycles, chocolate, and fishing.  I’d have my own personal Jacuzzi in my office for those times of “deep meditation”; the Missoulian would reserve the front page of their paper for my weekly commentaries regarding what’s wrong and what’s right with the world, complete with a smiling photograph of yours truly.  We’d have teleprompters up here for my sermon notes to be projected on, so I would never lose sight of my astounding insights.  I’d have all of you trained as media technicians, dramatic readers, and liturgical dancers, just to spice up worship regularly.  And every year I would have a three-month sabbatical that would take me across the world to visit every holy site, church, cathedral, and chapel in the world, beginning with an obvious destination like the holy beaches of Hawaii or the sacred city of Las Vegas.  All we would have to do is come up with a $2.3 million dollar budget for this church.
WORKS FOR ME – HOW ABOUT YOU?  I know this all too well, and it’s probably what you are all thinking as well – I’M GLAD IT’S NOT ALL UP TO ME!  My complete freedom to justify my life in the way I want to might just work for me – but would be terrible for those I love, for those who depend upon me to do my part on their behalf, who are counting on relationships with me that are not completely one-sided.  I’m glad I have some external constraints upon my life, that I am able to live in the midst of people I love, and need to be responsible to.  I am glad that I am not responsible for determining what justifies my life!  I’M GLAD I HAVE SOME EXTERNAL CONSTRAINTS UPON MY LIFE, THAT I AM ABLE TO LIVE UP TO A GREATER REALITY THAN MYSELF.

There is great power in freedom to lead us astray, whenever it is focused upon self; the devil knew this, and it was the object of his temptation.  But there is greater power in freedom to make this life more of what it was meant to be, whenever it is focused upon God.  It is when we focus too much on things other than God that we are headed for the most trouble.
         A read about one man’s experience along these lines.  He was shopping with his wife at a local shopping mall.  He writes “while my wife and I were examining messages on an advertising kiosk, a shapely young woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. My eyes followed her.
Without looking up from the item she was examining, my wife asked, "Was it worth the trouble you're in?"  -- Drew Anderson (Tucson, AZ), Reader's Digest.
“Was it worth the trouble you’re in?” could be translated into “is the temptation worth risking the future you desire?”  Or, better yet, “Is the temptation worth the future God desires for you?”
 Temptations will always arise; there is nothing unusual about this.  In Jesus we see a clear demonstration that there are things worth resisting in this life, things that sound exciting, enticing, and good on the surface, but lead us nowhere good, that compromise life as God would have us live it, and, if we think about it, life as we ultimately need it.  Temptations will be most effectively handled by making sure we are serving something – or someone -- greater than ourselves.  Someone who is qualified to challenge our self-justifying ways.  Someone who knows us better than we know ourselves.  Someone who always has our best interest – our best eternal interest – in mind.

 

 

 

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

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