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!

3 Ways to Aid Children and Families in Detention

Greetings friends,

As the crisis created by the DoJ’s “zero-tolerance” enforcement unfolds, many people are looking for practical ways they can help.  There are several good articles floating around the internet, but here are 3 things that captured my attention:

1. Lend Your Voice

Perhaps the single most important contribution you can make to a lasting solution is to call your Senators, Representatives, and the Department of Justice to demand an end to inhumane conditions and family separation.   You can support immigration enforcement and still demand better conditions for those detained.  The ACLU has made it easy.

2. Support Legal Services for Parents and Children

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services provides legal services and representation for those in the asylum and immigration system.  Because migrants are not citizens they have no guarantee of legal representation.  You can financially contribute to their support and reunification fight by donating through Facebook or the RAICES website.

3. Send Needed Items

The United Methodist Committee on Relief has partnered with other organizations to provided toiletries and other items needed by children and adults seeking asylum and facing detention and deportation.  Items can be purchased through an Amazon registry and are shipped directly.

As I write this, we are awaiting a press conference on a possible Executive Order.  Whatever the content of that order, these forms of assistance will be important and helpful.

**Update: Text of Executive Order

[Beyond Sunday] Oh For a Thousand Tongues…

O For a thousand tongues to sing
My dear Redeemer’s praise!
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the world abroad
The honors of Thy name.

He breaks the power of cancell’d sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood avail’d for me

In Christ, your head, ye then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.

-From O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

We are created to praise God.  We praise because of all God has done.  We praise because of all the things God is about in the world.  We praise simply because God is God.  And in singing our praises, we steadily formed in a faith that transcends even words and melodies to become the song of our heart and the rhythm of our lives.    [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

(from Spiritual Classics ed. Richard Foster)

  • How can I enhance the experience of worship for others?
  • In what ways can I guard against the worshiping experience of others?
  • In my life, how can I avoid needless criticism and complaint?

 

Do and share:

  • Make a list of your favorite hymns and songs that have formed your faith.  Reflect on what it is that makes a particular hymn dear to you.
  • Find a video of your favorite praise music and share in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

A Letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions

**Update: for ways to assist families affected, see this post.

Dear Mr. Sessions,

You seem to be having a bad press week, sir.  I can imagine that is frustrating.  You are enduring a lot of criticism for what you believe is doing your job.  To make it worse, much of the criticism is coming from the Southern Christians you have counted on as a loyal base for so long.  It has been pointed out, Mr. Sessions, that you are a United Methodist.  I am a United Methodist pastor, so in this time of struggle, I feel it is incumbent on me to offer a couple of pastoral words.

You gave a speech today in Fort Wayne.  The prepared text is posted on the DoJ website. In that speech, you attempt to make a case for recent actions as right enforcement of established law.  I will leave questions about the logic and politics of your argument to those more qualified to assess them.  But, a little more than halfway through, you invoke Romans 13.  To be more specific, you seem to be referencing Romans 13:1-7

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but too bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

I understand the appeal of these verses for your argument, especially when they are taken in isolation.  However, I fear, Mr. Sessions, that you have not done the best exegetical work possible.  Three things are problematic in the way you are using these verses.

Context Matters

First, context matters, and you have not acknowledged the context of Paul’s letter.   You are attempting to justify the policies of one of the largest and arguably most powerful nations the world has ever known.  Paul is writing Romans to a marginalized, sometimes persecuted, minority trying to survive in the very capital of the largest most powerful empire the world had known to that point.  It is important to remember that is the same empire that would eventually behead Paul himself for his faith.

Paul’s comments here stand in line with the prophet Jeremiah’s call to seek the welfare of the city (even if you are an alien) and the words of Jesus.   When those in power are hostile to the people of God, we have to pick our battles.  However you, sir, are speaking for those in power about those who are the definition of powerless.  These might not be your words to borrow.

Romans 12 & 13

Secondly, if you are going to borrow Romans 13:1-7, you need to be reading it as part of the whole letter.  Stepping back just 11 verses or adding the next 3 verses into the conversation colors the meaning of your passage. For the whole of the letter, Paul has been building an argument about the character of a disciple of Christ.  In Romans 12:9-21, we get a climactic list of marks.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Disciples are marked by love.  Love shows itself in affection, zeal, patience, and hospitality.  Love approaches relationships from a stance of humility and peace, and above all, it holds to good and trusts God to overcome evil rather than taking matters into its own hands.  This emphasis on love is echoed in Romans 13: 8-10.

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Taken between these two bookends, I think it is clear that Paul does not intend respect for political authority to overrule love of neighbor.  You do Romans 13:1-7 a disservice if you read it as a justification for rule of law devoid of compassion.  Part of the reason so many Christians are reacting to the treatment of migrant people on our borders is that it feels utterly devoid of compassion.  It is also worth noting that the reason many Christian leaders are reacting badly to your speech is we’ve read  Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The German government of his day used this exact passage to rationalize many of their most heinous policies to the church.  Now, I am not calling you a Nazi, sir; there is far too much of that nowadays.  But you should be aware you are walking a thin thin line.  I would recommend Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship as well as Hannah Arendt’s On Totalitarianism.  They both have excellent reflections on the risks of co-opting the church into the work of the State.

The Role of the Church

Which brings me to the last point.  In your speech, it felt like you wanted the Church’s support. I know its hard to be out on a limb alone and harder still to field attacks from a quarter you did not expect.  But here’s the thing: it is not the job of the Church to sanction the policies of rulers. It is our job to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  At times we will do this by supporting legislation or advocating for marginalized people.  We will also do it by criticizing laws and policies that violate our principles.  The Church does not solely align with any political party because our first allegiance is to God; our work and our witness are devoted to God.  If you ask us to twist the words of the Jesus to suit the policies of any administration we are going to balk.  The God we serve ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. He welcomed gentiles, and the unclean, and children. He told us we would be judged, not by the prestige of our nation or the security of our borders, but by the way we treated the orphan, the widow, the poor, the alien, and the imprisoned.  It is not our job to concoct justifications for your actions, even if they are lawful.  Law and order, peace and security, those are your job.   It is the Church’s job to proclaim the kingdom of God.  I’m sorry that very little of what you have done lately lines up with that kingdom.

As a fellow United Methodist, I respect that you are trying to ground your moral decisions in Scripture.  I’m told you are a Sunday School teacher, so I suspect at some point you’ve walked through the Wesleyan Quadrilateral with folks.   I see what you’re trying to do here.  Taking a text and reading it with Reason.  But Tradition and Experience are also crucial parts of the process.  I think the pressure you are feeling, is the weight of the Christian traditions of hospitality and grace and brotherhood/sisterhood.  I think the outcry you hear is an echo of the Church’s experience with German concentration camps and Amercian internment camps.  The bishops of our denomination along with other faith leaders are calling to you and our Methodist understanding of community and moral reasoning ought to compel you to listen.

I understand that the policies you are implementing are lawful. (Though that does not make them good)  I understand they are a campaign promise fulfilled.  I understand that you may be acting out of the best of intentions for what you think is right for the country.  So plead your case on law, and politics, and intentions, but I would suggest leaving faith out of it.  Scripture will not support you, sir.  And if you are troubled by the outcry from the Church, then listen, heed our wisdom and relent.

You are in my prayers, Mr. Sessions, along with every family detained and separated at the border and every officer asked to enforce these policies.  I hope that you find both peace and wisdom.

In Christ,

Rev. Walker

 

PS:  Mr. Sessions, you and I both grew up in southern Methodist churches.  So I suspect that you know this truth: you do not cross the UMW.  Even today as a grown pastor I know when the UMW shows up in my office, they will walk away with what they want.  Partly because they are a powerful lobby, but mostly because for generations they have represented our tradition at its best.  They are the beating heart of our mission in the world and have often been the UMC’s voice of conscience.  There are excellent reasons you do not cross the UMW.  So I point you to their words:

We know the harm we are doing to children with this policy, which makes this deliberate separating of children from their parents for the intent of punishing the family particularly vile. This must stop now.

Liturgy of Women’s Experiences

Written by a team in response to the initial failure of UMC Constitutional Amendment 1 (2018)

Leader Copy

Reader 1: Jesus said “Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”  The stories of women are the stories of our faith. And so we remember the mighty women of God and the lessons they have taught us. Along with each, you are invited to name others aloud or in your heart.

Reader 2: In remembering Eve, we rejoice that we are each created in the image of God. We name those who show us God. [silence to name those who show you God]

Reader 3: We remember and rejoice.   In remembering Sarah, we give thanks for the spiritual mothers of churches and nations. We name those who nurture and mentor us. [silence to name those who mentor and nurture]

Reader 4:We remember and give thanks.  In remembering Hagar, we lift up those who have been passed over, forgotten, or cast out.  We name those who are frustrated or have left ministry. [silence to name those who have languished or left ministry]

Reader 5: We remember and lift up.  In remembering Lydia, we celebrate those who heard God’s call and would not take no for an answer.  We name those who opened the way for women in ministry. [silence to name those who opened the way into ministry]

Reader 6:We remember and celebrate.  In remembering Rachel and Leah, we repent for all the times women have competed instead of cooperating and for the times we have been played against one another. We name those women we should have treated better. [silence to name those should have loved better]

Reader 7:We remember and repent.  In remembering Esther, we honor those who take risks and use their power on behalf of others.  We name those who stand up for others. [silence to name those who take risks for others]

Reader 2:We remember and we honor.  In remembering Huldah, we acknowledge all who labored away from the limelight to learn the word of God and restore their communities.  We name those whose diligent work sometimes goes unnoticed. [silence to name those who have been diligent workers]

Reader 3:We remember and acknowledge.  In remembering Priscilla, we give thanks for all the places women’s leadership has been embraced and supported.  We name those places women are welcomed in ministry. [silence to name those who welcome women in ministry]

Reader 4:We remember and are glad.  In remembering Tamar, we grieve with all those who have told their story of neglect, injustice, or abuse and been discounted.  We name those whose stories were dismissed or disbelieved. [silence to name those who have been dismissed or disbelieved]

Reader 5:We remember and we weep.  In remembering the Levite’s Concubine, we lament for for those who are forgotten or who suffer violence yet remain nameless and voiceless. We name those who we often overlook but who are affected by the actions we take, or do not take. [silence to name those we have failed to protect]

Reader 6:We remember and cry out.  In remembering the women at the tomb, Mary, Mary, Joanna and Salome, we recall the first apostles, without whom the world might not have the resurrection story.  We name those who proclaim good news to the world. [silence to name those who proclaim good news]

Reader 7: We remember and proclaim the good news: Christ is risen and is still renewing the world.  In remembering the whole Church, we declare again our love for Christ’s bride.

Reader 8: Though the Church is not perfect it is being made so.  Though the world is broken it is being made whole. Though we have not achieved the promise of equality, we celebrate what God has done and continues to do in and through us.

All: We remember the stories of our foremothers and take up their mantle. We will run but not grow weary, we will rise on wings like eagles, for the spirit of the Lord renews our strength.  So we will continue to preach the good new until its promised glory is a reality for all. Amen

 

Participant Copy

“Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”  

[during the prayer you are invited to lift names up silently or aloud]

In remembering Eve…[silence to name those who show you God]…We remember and rejoice

In remembering Sarah… [silence to name those who mentor and nurture]… We remember and give thanks.

In remembering Hagar… [silence to name those who are frustrated or left ministry]…We remember and lift them up

In remembering Lydia, …[silence to name those who opened the way into ministry]…We remember and celebrate

In remembering Rachel and Leah…[silence to name those we should have loved better]…We remember and repent.

In remembering Ester…  [silence to name those who took risks for others]…We remember and we honor

In remembering Huldah…[silence to name those who are diligent workers]…We remember and acknowledge

In remembering Priscilla…[silence to name those who support women in ministry]…We remember and are glad

In remembering Tamar… [silence to name those whose stories were dismissed or disbelieved]…We remember and we weep.

In remembering the Levite’s Concubine… [silence to name those we have failed to protect]… We remember and we cry out

In remembering the women at the tomb, Mary, Mary, Joanna and Salome…[silence to name those who proclaim good news] We remember and proclaim the good news: Christ is risen and is still renewing the world.

…we celebrate what God has done and continues to do in and through us.

All: We remember the stories of our foremothers and take up their mantle. We will run but not grow weary, we will rise on wings like eagles, for the Spirit of the Lord renews our strength.  So we will continue to preach the good new until its promised glory is a reality for all. Amen

[Beyond Sunday] What are you Made for?

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

-Mark 2:23-28

Every commandment of God is also a blessing, every duty a means of grace.  When we are called to stop a rest it is for the good of our own souls.  Yet when we turn God into a taskmaster, we limit those who hear the good news of Christ’s love    [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Where do you find rest in the midst of business?
  • Have you ever found religion as draining as it was life-giving?  Why do you think that was?
  • Who in our community needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ?

Do and share:

  • Take a picture of your Sabbath place or practice and share it on our Facebook.
  • Share a your sabbath prayer requests via Facebook or Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] Coming by Night

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

-John 3:1-17

In the night, we stumble.  We struggle to see things as they are, even ourselves.  Nicodemus comes by night, thinking, perhaps that he has all the answers, only to have his eyes opened to a whole new way of being.    [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • What is something you thought you knew that you later turned out to be wrong about?
  • How has learning opened your eyes or changed your faith?
  • What questions do you have today about faith?

Do and share:

  • Pick an object and take pictures of it in the morning, noon, evening, and at night.  Observe how the changing time of day, changes your perception.
  • Share a story of having your eyes opened via Facebook or Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] Pentecost (Confirmation)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

-Acts 2:1-13

Clarity in the midst of chaos makes us brave.  The coming of the Holy Spirit empowers the disciples to unite and spread the gospel.    [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Who in your circle of influence needs to hear the Gospel?
  • What cultural languages do you speak?
  • What would it take for you to be brave enough to share your faith?

Do and share:

  • Find one person this week to tell the story of the first time you remember hearing about Jesus.
  • Share your hopes for our confirmands via Facebook or Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] Mother’s day

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

-John 14:15-21

Christ promises that we will never be left orphaned.  In all our lives, the Spirit uses people to comfort, care for, teach and guide us.  Often we come to call them mothers.    [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Is there a woman in the Bible with whom you strongly identify?  Why?
  • What women in your life have helped you grow in faith?
  • How do you help the women in your life embrace their God-given gifts and talents?

Do and share:

  • Donate to a charity that supports women’s empowerment or maternal health.
  • Share a memory of a spiritual mother from your life on ourFacebook or Twitter (@dpumc).