[Beyond Sunday] The Way We’ve Come

Image:  Gathering to Build the Tabernacle  by Yoram Raanan

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
tell of all his wonderful works.

1 Chronicles 16:8-9

For millennia, people traveled the world without Google Maps or even physical maps as we know them.  Wayfinding refers to a class of ancient arts that allowed our ancestors to navigate seemingly impossible expanses.  Today, when we find ourselves disoriented or unsure where God is leading next, we too can pause, assess and read the signs to find our own way forward.  We begin by remembering all God has brought us through to reach this point.    [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect on where God is leading you.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Describe a time God carried you through a situation.
  • How did you celebrate that victory?
  • How have you seen God at work through DPUMC (or your faith community)?

Do and share:

  • Write a thank-you note to God for the way God has been active in your life or church.
  • Make a video testimony of something God has done for you and share it on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #Wayfinding

 

Mark with Ash

photo from: JOEL AUERBACH/AP

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday for many Christian communities.  It is the day we remember our mortality and repent of our sins before beginning a season of discipleship, Lent.  During our service, I shared a devotion about when I was in high school and how strange it was to see teenagers get ashes in the middle of the day.

In general, mortality is the last thing on teenagers’ minds is mortality; at least we think it should be. Most teens do think they are 10 feet tall and invincible; it is a gift of the age. What I didn’t know while I was preaching, was that 17 students and teachers lay dead in Florida. They were victims of the 18th school shooting on record this year. It is February.

As I read the news last night, an image captured by an AP photographer stood out. Two women grieving, one marked with the Ash Wednesday cross. Ashes are meant to remind us that all things die. From dust we come, and to dust we return. The cross reminds us that mortality doesn’t mean futility. Christ has died and been raised, so repentance and life are possible for us.

The hope in this image is so important for all the families and friends grieving today. But for the rest of us, the ash should not be overlooked. We are currently averaging 1 school shooting every 60 hours. Something is broken in our country, and we need to do some repenting.

Repenting is not “thoughts and prayers”. All who mourn of course have our prayers. But repentance is grief that leads to change.

Sometime today the talking head chorus will start singing the old refrain “we shouldn’t politicize a tragedy”. A gunman murdered a group of people in a public space; like it or not, it was a political act. It should not be used to forward partisan agendas, but to patently reject the political nature of what has happened, what keeps happening, is to refuse any hope of redemption.

Because we are afraid of the optics (or the negative opinion polls) we choose argument over action.  We debate the cause:  there are too many guns, not enough mental health resources, the culture glorifies violence.  We are paralyzed by a never ending  game of laying blame.  Are we really comfortable with our children continuing to die because we cannot agree on the proper gradation of our sins?

The truth is everyone is a little bit right, and it’s time to stop arguing and do some things. Firearms are too readily available; we need common sense restrictions. The mental health system in this country is woefully inadequate; we need better access and more affordable care. Our culture does glorify violence; we need to teach our children that service, and sacrifice, and compromise are better than fighting at all costs.

Every Ash Wednesday, the prayer of confession in our church is Psalm 51, but a modified version. I find myself sitting this morning with the verses we skip:

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Today I will pray for those affected; I will also call my Senators and my Congressman. I will tell them it is time for grief to lead to change. I will ask them to take up the cause of repentance.

[Beyond Sunday] Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto

After a few days, Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them.Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed. They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying.When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”

Mark 2:1-5

Who are the people that can and will take you to the feet of Jesus when you are too tired, or hurt, or broken or distracted to go yourself?  We all need people.  More than that, we need people who will encourage, motivate, and hold us accountable.  Without real connections, we will find ourselves adrift and miserable.  God made us for community. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect how you are seeking happiness through Christ.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • What relationship has had the most significant impact on your faith?
  • When you are unhappy, how do you let people help you?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to invest in other people?  If difficult, what makes it hard?

Do and share:

  • Write a note to someone you are grateful to have in your life.
  • Share a poem or quote about relationships on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #happiness2018

 

[Beyond Sunday] Living Distracted

The tragedy is that we are indeed caught in a web of false expectations and contrived needs. Our occupations and preoccupations fill our external and internal lives to the brim. They prevent the Spirit of God from breathing freely in us and thus renewing our lives.

Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Making All Things New (Kindle Locations 109-111). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The modern era brought a host of solutions and devices to not only make work easier but also give us more to do in our free time than ever.  So why are rates of depression, anxiety, and dissatisfaction on the rise?  Why are mental health issues among children and teens skyrocketing? Being busy does not lead to happiness.  But focusing on meaningful work does.  Rest, and quiet do.  God did not intend for us to live our lives distracted  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect how you are seeking happiness through Christ.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • When are you in silence? (not even background noise)
  • How do you respond to being still?
  • What is your favorite distraction?  Does it always make you happy?

Do and share:

  • Notice the moments you are tempted to fill up.  Make a note every time you reach for your phone, or social media or other distraction.  At the end of the week tally how much time you spend on these things.
  • Make a list of your questions about happiness.  Share one on the Resolution: Happiness Event on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #happiness2018

 

[Beyond Sunday] Resisitance is Expected

 But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.

-Exodus: 14:13-14

Seeking happiness often requires change and no change happens without resistance.  But even when we feel like giving up, when we don’t know the way forward, God is always there.  God is prepared to fight the battle when we cannot.  And the end of the story has already been written. (spoiler alert: God wins) [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect how you are seeking happiness through Christ.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • How do you feel when things around you change?
  • Have you ever found yourself resisting a change, even though it was a good thing?
  • Where do you see God working for change in your community?

Do and share:

  • Make a list of your questions about happiness.  Share one on the Resolution: Happiness Event on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #happiness2018

 

[Beyond Sunday] Happiness and Expectations

 On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times.  And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city.  …  So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it.

-Joshua 6

Happiness does not come from immediate gratification.  It is the satisfaction that comes only with long effort and accomplishment.  Becoming happy requires us to learn to love working the plan, even when we are unsure of our purpose or how God will finally work things out. [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect how you are seeking happiness through Christ.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • How did Rahab become apart of God’s plan for the Israelites?
  • Imagine waiting in Rahab’s house as the Israelites marched around the wall.  What do you think she and her family felt in those 7 days?
  • How might God be calling you to be a part of God’s work in your community?
  • What is difficult about strategic waiting?

Do and share:

  • Identify something you feel called to do, a goal you want to work towards, and make a plan.  Pray about each step and as you accomplish things, journal about your feelings and how you see God at work.
  • Make a list of your questions about happiness.  Share one on the Resolution: Happiness Event on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #happiness2018

 

[Beyond Sunday] Happiness and Expectations

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”

-Acts 8:14-24

Happiness is more than a passing feeling.  It is a core desire; the sense of security that comes when our psychological needs are met.  Often people talk about God wanting us to be happy.  But do we understand what that means? True happiness cannot be bought or made or earned.  As Wesley put it: “In this alone can you find the happiness you seek; in the union of your spirit with the Father of spirits; in the knowledge and love of Him who is the fountain of happiness, sufficient for all the souls he has made.”  (John Wesley. Sermon 77 “Spiritual Worship”) [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect how you are seeking happiness through Christ.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • When was the last time you felt truly happy?
  • Looking back, how do you see God active in that moment?
  • Have you ever tried to earn or bargain for happiness?  How?

Do and share:

  • Go out of your way this week to do one small thing to make someone else happy.
  • Make a list of your questions about happiness.  Share one on the Resolution: Happiness Event on our Facebook or tweet @dpumc with #happiness2018

 

[Beyond Sunday] The Gifts We Bring

 “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

 

-Matthew 2:11

The three wisemen have only a brief appearance in Matthews gospel.  But those verses have spawned a myriad of traditions about who they were, why they brought their gifts and what the visitation means.  Behind all of it is a simple idea: the birth of Christ was a momentous event and this King is worthy of honor and due the gifts of our own hearts.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect on the meaning of Epiphany for your own life.

Texts to read:

  • 1 Corinthians 12
  • Romans 11:1-7
  • Numbers 24:15-19 (chapters 22-24)

Questions to ponder:

  • What gifts have been given to you?
  • Who in your community could be helped by your gifts?
  • What part does fear play in the gifts we give and the gifts we withhold?

Do and share:

 

[Beyond Sunday] Covenant of the Heart

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

 

-Jeremiah 31:31-34

[hear sermon audio]

In 1663 Richard Alleine, a Puritan, published  Vindiciae Pietatis:  or, “A Vindication of Godliness in the Greater Strictness and Spirituality of It”. In 1753, it was again published in John Wesley’s  A Christian Library. Wesley used one chapter, “The Application of the Whole,” on Monday, August 11, 1755, in what probably was the first real celebration of the Covenant Service in the Methodist movement.

 Wesley found the service rich and meaningful, as expressed in his Journal: “Many mourned before God, and many were comforted” (April 1756); “It was, as usual, a time of remarkable blessing” (October 1765). “It was an occasion for a variety of spiritual experiences … I do not know that ever we had a greater blessing. Afterwards many desired to return thanks, either for a sense of pardon, for full salvation, or for a fresh manifestation of His graces, healing all their backslidings” (January 1, 1775). In London, these services were usually held on New Year’s Day. Around the country, the Covenant Service was conducted whenever John Wesley visited the Methodist Societies.

This week, consider John Wesley’s 4 admonitions for covenant renewal.  How might you keep each of these in 2018?

First, set apart some time, more than once,
to be spent alone before the Lord;
in seeking earnestly God’s special assistance
and gracious acceptance of you;
in carefully thinking through all the conditions of the covenant;
in searching your hearts
whether you have already freely given your life to Christ.
Consider what your sins are.
Consider the laws of Christ, how holy, strict, and spiritual they are,
and whether you, after having carefully considered them,
are willing to choose them all.
Be sure you are clear in these matters, see that you do not lie to God.

Second, be serious and in a spirit of holy awe and reverence.

Third, claim God’s covenant,
rely upon God’s promise of giving grace and strength,
so you can keep your promise.
Trust not your own strength and power.

Fourth, resolve to be faithful.
You have given to the Lord your hearts,
you have opened your mouths to the Lord,
and you have dedicated yourself to God.
With God’s power, never go back.

From Wesley’s covenant service of 1890 as found in the United Methodist Book of Worship found online at: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/covenant-renewal-service

 

When Christmas Comes with Sorrow

Tonight will be the longest night of the year (meteorologically in the northern hemisphere).  And for some, these nights close to Christmas are long for more personal reasons.  As the holidays approach all the world fills with carols and lights and joy.  Yet when we wrestle with disease or infirmity, we may not fee like singing.  When we have lost loved ones, the lights can blur behind tears.  When depression weighs us down, joy seems like an emotion for other people.

If the Christmas season is more blue than bright for you, know that you are not alone.  And you are not out of step.  The child born in the manager came to comfort the afflicted, heal the broken, and to conquer every darkness, even death.  In 1930, as shadow gathered in his native Germany, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was visiting Cuba.  While preaching to a German-speaking congregation he said this:

We all come with different personal feelings to Christmas festival. One comes with pure joy as he looks forward to this day of rejoicing, of friendships renewed, and of love…

Others look for a moment of peace under the Christmas tree, peace from the pressures of daily work…

Others again approach Christmas with great apprehension. It will be no festival of joy for them. Personal sorrow is especially painful especially on this day for those whose loneliness is deepened at Christmastime…

And despite it all, Christmas comes. Whether we wish it or not, whether we are sure or not, we must hear the words once again: Christ the Savior is here!

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Havana, Cuba, December 21, 1930

The solstice’s proximity to Christmas ought to remind us that Christ did not come into the best of times and circumstances, but at a difficult time and to the people who needed Him most.  Like St. Augustine, I pray the Lord would keep watch over all who wake or watch or weep in this longest night.  That the saints and angels would tend the sick, rest the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering and stand with the afflicted.  That joy would be a shied for all who celebrate and that all of this would be so for the sake of the Love that is soon to be born.

May God rest ye merry this Christmas.