Welcome

Welcome to the scribblings of one Methodist pastor.  Here you will find devotions, sermon clippings, pastoral letters, and other assorted thoughts and reflections.  The most significant categories can be accessed through the menu at the top.  These include:

  • Beyond Sunday: These are follow up materials related to sermons I preach.  If you would like to hear the audio for the sermon, it is generally posted by Tuesday on my church’s website.
  • Open Source Liturgy: Prayers, readings, and sermons series crafted by myself, my team, or posted with permission.  You are free to use and adapt these with attribution.  Pictures or stories of how they worked for you are always appreciated.
  • Faith and Art:  For more than two thousand years artists across the world have produced moving works based on Biblical texts and the stories of the Christian faith.  I use many of these in preaching but often can’t delve fully into them so the extra reflections end up here.
  • Leading: Reflections on leadership, change, and being a pastor.

Enjoy!

Saved for More [Beyond Sunday]

Every Easter we come to the story of the resurrection, and hopefully, we hear it again anew.  This is our central story, the one that makes us who we are as Christian people.  In the account of the resurrection, we discover that not only are we saved from death, but we are saved for a life of abundance.  We are saved for more than we could ever imagine.  [hear sermon audio]

Devotion time is crucial to your growth in faith.  Here are some resources for yours this week:

Read:

Reflect:

  • How does each account of the resurrection differ?
  • What might be most important to each writer?
  • Why is the resurrection important to your life?  How do you live differently because of it?

Do:

  • Bring Life:Look around your life and community.  What is dead or struggling and in need of new life?  Does a garden need to be planted?  Do people need to be fed? Does a relationship need to be restored? Make a simple plan and take the first step this week. 

Share:

  • Many poems have been written about the resurrection.  Find one and share it to our Facebook group or on Twitter and Instagram (tag us @dpumc).

 

You Need Consecration [Beyond Sunday]

 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes

1 Corinthians 11:26

God uses often uses ordinary things for holy purposes.  Baptism uses ordinary water; communion uses ordinary bread and juice; sabbath is ordinary time that has been set aside.  By our participation in these things, we–who are oridinary people– are made holy.

Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:

Confession

Before Sabbath time, choose a quiet place. Come to rest. Allow the heart and mind to speak of things that need to be spoken aloud, if only to the candle on the altar. Say aloud those things for which you feel a need for forgiveness, ways in which you were not clear, honest, or kind. If you feel comfortable, you can share this with another—a priest, minister, or rabbi, a therapist, a friend, a stranger. Notice how much of your grasping during the week is to make these things go away. Notice how they dissolve so much more easily when they are simply spoken aloud.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 198-199). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

A Place at the Table

When we gather for a Sabbath meal, we partake of the spiritual companionship of all who have loved us, all we love, all who have gone before and will come after. Everyone we have touched, those who have taught or held or nourished us all come to the table. It is good to be mindful of our ancestors, our loved ones, our extended family who could not join us in body for this blessed meal. So when you eat, set a place, complete with plate, glass, and silverware, an empty place to hold the awareness of all who join you there in spirit.  For any sacred meal, it is good to leave a place of invitation, mindful of all those with whom we are, now and forever, consecrated family.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 203). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

You Need Wisdom[Beyond Sunday]

Be still and know that I am God!

Psalm 46:10

Sabbath asks us to let go, not only of work, but of the illution that our work can save us.  It reminds us that only God is God, and we are not.  That can be both uncomfortable, and reassuring depending on whether or not we are willing to embrace wisdom.

Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:

Thinning

What can you let go of? One thing, beginning with the smallest thing. A book unread—can it be given to the library? An old postcard on the refrigerator, no longer current? An old appliance, never used? Old clothing, never worn, to the poor? What of projects that feel like responsibilities but bring joy to no one? Pick one thing this week, another the next, and discard something that has become unnecessary. Feel any release as you let it go.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 185). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Cleansing

Sabbath is traditionally preceded by ritual bathing, a cleansing of the old, a preparation to receive the new. This allows a visceral sense of beginner’s body as well as beginner’s mind. Hands are washed before the meal, bodies are bathed before making love. Ritual cleansing, more than the soap and water, opens us to receive anew. Set aside some time for bathing, long and easy, with fragrances, candles, music. Pay attention to your body, wash yourself gently and with care for every inch of skin.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 191). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

You Need Healing [Beyond Sunday]

Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”  He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.  The angel of the Lordcame a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

1 Kings 19:5-8

When we come to that moment at the end of our strength, how often do we stop and allow God to heal?  Rest and restoration cannot happen in the midst of unrelenting activity.  And we need rest and restoration or even our victories will start to feel like burdens and our journey will become too much.

Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:

Create and Altar

Create a space for an altar, nothing elaborate. It can be a small table, even a box with a colorful cloth. Sit quietly, perhaps in meditation, for a few moments, and imagine what belongs there. Allow images to arise, people, sacred objects, things that hold meaning or great love. Then place these things, one at a time, on the altar, noting how you feel to see them so honored. You may want to light a candle, say a prayer. Let this be a place you come to, a Sabbath in your home, whenever you need to remember something precious you have forgotten.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 107). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sleep on It

Think once again of a particular problem that concerns you. Just as in the last exercise, imagine there are forces at work that are already healing what needs to be healed; it only requires your surrender. Let it be. In the evening, turn it over to the care of God, the angels, and all the Buddhas, all the spirits of the earth and sky. When you awaken in the morning, look at the problem again, and see what has grown there, quietly, invisibly in the night.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 170). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

You Need Rhythm [Beyond Sunday]

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…

That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

Ecclesiastes 3:1,15

No amount of hustle will add days to your life or value to your soul.  No amount of planning or work can insulate you from the ups and downs of life.  For some of us, to admit that God is in control is a difficult thing because it means acknowledging that we are not. Yet surrendering the illusion of workism frees us to a healthier rhythm of life.

In observing the Sabbath, we are relieved of the burden of false responsibility for our lives.  Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:

Cadence of Breath

One beautiful form of meditation is to simply follow the breath. Sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Let yourself become aware of the physical sensation of the breath, feeling the shape, texture, and duration of the inhale and the exhale. Do not change your breathing, do not strain or push in any way. Simply watch the breath breathe itself. Feel the rhythm of the breath, feel its timing, the end of the exhale, the readiness to inhale. When the mind wanders—as it will—do not worry. Simply return your awareness to the breath. Silently note each inhale or exhale, mentally noting in, out or rising, falling. Do this for five minutes at first. What do you notice about the rhythm of rest in your breathing? What do you notice about the rhythm of breath in your body?

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 74-75). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Prayer

Prayer is like a portable Sabbath, when we close our eyes for just a moment and let the mind rest in the heart. Traditional Sabbaths are filled with prayers. But we can begin slowly, with a simple prayer, like a pebble dropped into the middle of our day, rippling out over the surface of our life. Like the Muslims who stop to pray five times a day, like the Angelus, we can be stopped by a bell, a sunset, a meal, and we can pray. Something close to the heart, and simple. Perhaps a line from the Twenty-third Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, a short blessing: May all beings be happy, may all beings be at peace. Thank you, God, for this most amazing day. The Lord is my shepherd. Thy will be done.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 86-87). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

You Need to Rest [Beyond Sunday]

As Wayne Muller writes: “For want of rest, our lives are in danger.”  Too many of us have bought the idea that our success, even our worth, lies in what we do and what we produce.   Even people of faith attempt to baptise overwork by saying it is for God.  But God never asked for endless labor.  We cannot be made holy by the work of our hands, or hearts, or minds.

Rest, sabbath rest, is both and command and a blessing from God.  Throughout these 40 days of Lent, be invited to explore the importance of sabbath time for rest, rhythm, healing, wisdom, and consecration.  Sermons from our series can be heard here.

This week, try one of these practices and embrace some sabbath for yourself:

Light a Candle

Three generations back

my family had only

to light a candle

and the world parted.

Today, Friday afternoon,

I disconnect clocks and phones.

When night fills my house

with passages,

I begin saving my life.

—MARCIA FALK

 

Find a candle that holds some beauty or meaning for you. When you have set aside some time—before a meal, or during prayer, meditation, or simply quiet reading—set the candle before you, say a simple prayer or blessing for yourself or someone you love, and light the candle. Take a few mindful breaths. For just this moment, let the hurry of the world fall away.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (p. 21-22). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

Observe Silence

Sabbath time is enriched by some period of intentional silence. Choose a period of time or an activity—such as a walk or hike, alone or with someone you love—when you will refrain from speech. Notice what arises in silence, the impulse to speak, the need to judge or respond to what you see, hear, feel. Notice any discomfort that arises when you are not free to speak.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (pp. 55-56). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Imperfect Reflections on General Conference 2019

In the days leading up to General Conference 2019, many of my friends and acquaintances used the phrase “just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you hate them.” I hereby invoke that umbrella, because the last few days would have been much easier if I did not profoundly love people who disagree, and I am not sure I have the perfect words to say at this moment.

I’m not sure there are perfect words.

But this is what I have. Our first rule as a Methodist people is Do No Harm. Yet deep and egregious harm has been inflicted on the body of Christ and especially on our LGBTQAI+ siblings. Their lives, loves, and calls were debated as legislation. Many mourn today because, while they are welcome in our pews, they will still endure sideways glances from brothers and sisters. They mourn because one of the holiest moments in their lives cannot take place in their place of worship and cannot include the pastor who loves and shepherds them. They mourn because they feel a calling to serve and are denied a path to follow. To all who grieve, I see you, I love you, you will always be part of my family.

Many believe the prohibitions left in place by the Conference represent a loving response. For if you love God, you live a holy life, and if you love your brother or sister, you encourage them to do likewise. To these, I honor your faithfulness even though we disagree. And I would remind you, you cannot lecture grieving people on theology, or doctrine, or polity. They cannot hear you. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar knew when they came to Job in his grief, that the first thing they had to do was sit with him and listen and mourn what was lost.

So here we are. Four days later very little has changed. The Traditionalist Plan passed and has been referred to the Judicial Council for review. Based on my reading of previous reviews, what they found to be constitutional was an expansion of the definition of “self-avowed and practicing,” a stricter complaint process, and a requirement that Bishops not put forward candidates they know to be “self-avowed and practicing.” An exit plan was passed. It permits (again my reading) the lifting of the trust clause between now and December 31, 2023, provided a church pays unfunded pension liabilities, apportionments for the current and next year, and other liabilities owed. However, its constitutionality is in question. We will not have final answers on either until April.

That doesn’t mean nothing has changed. The full effect of the outcomes of the General Conference will take months to play out. However, the process has damaged our witness. I’ve had too many messages from friends outside the church and seen too many articles focused on our infighting to pretend otherwise. We are called to be a city on a hill. I believe we can be a light of hope and graciousness in an era of dark distrust, but we have some work to do.

Part of that is to focus on the work of making disciples. Not as a blithe thing, not a return to business as usual as if nothing has happened. Rather we ought to focus on making disciples through a serious consideration what we mean by discipleship, of who needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in our local area, and of how the church helps and hinders that work. We need to learn from this moment without overrunning it or getting stuck.

As my congregation has tried to balance concern about the General Conference with the need to keep working for the future, I have often cited the story of Jeremiah buying a field as Jerusalem was falling. I returned to that text last night with fresh eyes. What I had not fully appreciated before were Jeremiah’s grief and confusion. In chapter 33 he says:

After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah, I prayed to the Lord, saying:… Yet you, O Lord God, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city has been given into the hands of the Chaldeans.

-Jeremiah 33: 16&25

Even Jeremiah did not fully comprehend what he was doing. He could not see what God was about, but he was faithful to continue following. Jeremiah invested in the future of his people despite the uncertainty that surrounded him. He buried the deeds in an earthen pot so that even if the exile was long, they would survive; his hope would survive.

It was not easy for Jeremiah to proclaim hope, but neither was it hollow. The days to come may not be easy for us either. Even amid uncertainty, we will remain faithful to the hope we’ve known. I believe that hope is open to all. The gospel I proclaim will not change.

Our witness is imperfect, but our congregation will continue to Do All the Good We Can. We will feed the hungry, we will continue to care for and educate children, we will continue to serve our community, we will continue to offer life in Jesus Christ, we will continue to worship, and we will continue to welcome all who enter.

Church, we are imperfect people, and we are beloved children of God. My prayer is that we find ways to live as a body without doing harm to one another. I pray that we do all the good we can for the glory of God. I pray that make use of the means of grace we’ve been given to grow in our love of God and one another. I pray all this because I believe the world needs the witness of the Methodist people. I know the world needs Jesus.

The last few days were hard. This morning I’ve been reminded we are never promised the work will be easy, but that we labor unto glory.

Grow in Service [Beyond Sunday]

 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;  but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

-Mark 10:35-40

All of us have an instinct to shine, to be the best at something, to gain attention for our accomplishments.  But Christ says the way of discipleship is not one of glory, but one of service to others.   [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to dive into these scriptures and questions during your devotion time.

Read:

Reflect:

  • Who in your community is underserved?
  • Who needs to hear about Jesus?
  • What comforts might you have to sacrifice so others can hear the good news of Jesus?

Do:

  • Get uncomfortable: Make a list of changes and opportunities around you that make you uncomfortable.  Ask yourself how your comfort contributes to the needs of others and how it interfers.  Pick one item and do something this week to push beyond your comfort zone.

Share:

  • Find someone who needs an act of kindness this week and do some thing nice for them without recognition.
  • share a story of how someones service to your impacted your life in our Facebook group or on Twitter and Instagram (tag us @dpumc).

 

Grow in Attention [Beyond Sunday]

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing…

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

-John 15: 5, 10-11

Simone Weil wrote: “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” As we explore what it means to live in Christian community we begin with these two things.  That we owe one another our prayers and our presence; we owe attention.    [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to dive into these scriptures and questions during your devotion time.

Read:

Reflect:

  • Where does your attention focus most often during your day?
  • Where does your mind attend when you pray?
  • Who in your life might need your attention either in prayer or presence?

Do:

  • Show up for someone: Make a point this week to schedule time with someone you haven’t seen in awhile.  Come with no agenda other than hearing how they are and asking how you can best show up for them right now.

Share:

  • Hold someone in prayer each day for the week.  At the end write them a small note, letting them know you were praying for them.
  • Take a selfie with someone you show up for this week and share it in our Facebook group or on Twitter and Instagram (tag us @dpumc).

 

Fear of Our End [Beyond Sunday]

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff—

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

my whole life long.

-Psalm 23

It has been said: getting old isn’t easy, but the alternative is worse.  Most people carry a fear of both dying and of growing old.  But, surveys show that older people are usually happier than anyone else.  And as Christians, the core of our faith is that death indeed holds no power.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to dive into these scriptures and questions during your devotion time.

Read:

Reflect:

  • Take a look at the Service of Death and Resurrection in the United Methodist Hymnal (#870) or online at umcdiscipleship.org.  Make a plan for your service.  What scriptures would you like read?  What hymns or songs sung? Notice how you feel during the process.  What questions does it raise for you about dying?

Do:

  • Ask a guide: Invite to lunch someone you consider to be in the “next stage of life”.  Ask them about their experience of aging and what they have learned along the way.  Share your fears about growing older and see how they respond.

Share:

  • Find a song you hope would summarize your life when you die. Share it in our Facebook group or on Twitter and Instagram (tag us @dpumc).