16 April 2010

Let's See What's Out There!

Everyone knows that yesterday was Tax Day, a day that just about everyone dreads. Ditto for me. I hand-delivered my return to the good folks at the Frisco post office at 5:37 p.m. Contrary to what I say around the house in the days leading up to April 15, I really don't mind paying taxes so much. Sure, there is much waste in government, and I know lots of folk spent yesterday protesting that. Fair enough. But if I ever have to pick up the phone to dial 911, I know that folk will be there to help me, and it'll be because of tax dollars. The same goes for public parks and schools, a military that protects us, and so many other things. Like the space program.

President Obama spent part of yesterday not running to the post office at the last minute, but at Cape Canaveral in Florida, sharing his vision for the future of the space program. Originally there was much concern over the proposed 2011 budget, which called for the elimination of certain manned space programs, including plans to return to the Moon by 2020. This upset many folk in Houston, who would be facing job cuts and an overall weakened economy. A letter written by astronauts concerned about the plan was sent to the President last week. Their concerns ranged from America losing its prominence in space exploration to losing one of our most successful recruiting tools for reaching future scientists-- astronauts doing things in space.

The President yesterday said total spending for NASA would increase $6 billion over the next five years, which was reassuring to many. But it was the vision of the program-- not the budget-- that interested me. The goal is to send astronauts to orbit Mars in thirty years, and hopefully land them soon after that. My exposure to NASA has been limited to the Space Shuttle program, visits to NASA and the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., etc. I was not around in 1969 when Neil Armstrong took those famous first steps on the Moon. I'd love to witness an even greater achievement than that. Yes, the program is expensive. But it's also ambitious. It sets the bar high. It aspires to move us in a new direction, further than we have ever been.

It's the word Aspire that I want to focus on today. When we aspire to do something, it's not just a goal, something to be checked off a list. Aspire is defined as "to be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value." At their best, NASA, the government, the Texas Rangers, the Boy Scout Troop 289, and even Prosper United Methodist Church aspire to be something they are not-- yet. With a huge amount of hope, ambition, motivated people, and vision, people can achieve amazing things. On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy challenged the USA to land a person on the Moon by the end of the decade. Neil Armstrong took that "one small step" July 20, 1969. That's aspiration to its highest level. If we can send teams of astronauts to the Moon-- and in three decades to Mars-- what else can we do? I mean the scale is different, sure; but you see the point.

Our church needs to aspire to be more than it is today. We don't aspire to do something next week or even next year-- aspiration is so huge it takes years of thoughtful and prayerful debate, discussion, listening, and acting. What could PUMC be in five years? Ten years? Not to be like other churches in town or Plano or wherever-- but to be this one, special, unique, one-of-a-kind place God has in mind for it. As they said on Star Trek, we should boldly go where no one has gone before. We just need to reach out toward the stars and grasp what might be out there.

I hope I live to see the Mars mission, because I was not around for the Moon. As awesome as it would have been to return there again by 2020, the truth is: we've been there several times, and there's more "out there" to see. Our church could also duplicate past successes, but let's reach higher and further. Let's aspire to greatness.

08 April 2010

Easter Made Easy? I Don't Think So!

I've been using the word "spectacular" over and over again recently, and it's the best word I can think of when I remember our Easter services last weekend. Saturday night was a joyous hour of worship, with great music provided by Hannah, Mike, Craig, Austin, and Daniel. Sunday morning was very special. In my mind the highlight of the day was the mini-cantata for Easter performed by our Choir. Brian, Melinda and everyone else offered inspiring voices in praise of the Risen Christ. Thank you!

We also had great attendance-- 325 people over three services, including many new faces. I have heard many positive comments from members and friends about Easter worship. Thanks to everyone for doing their part to make it happen-- whether that was welcoming new people, working at KidsZone or in the nursery, reading a call to worship or serving Communion-- it was a team effort in every way!

Yesterday I went to the store to pick up some things, and as I walked in the door I noticed all the leftover Easter candy marked for clearance sale. This is how the world views Easter-- one day on the calendar, then it's over. In other words, Easter is made easy! The Church does not understand Easter in this way. To get to Easter, we spend six weeks preparing ourselves spiritually-- the season of Lent. Then we participate in Holy Week services: Palm/Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday (thanks to our friends from St. Paul's Episcopal for joining us!). Then there's Easter Day services. But here's the thing: Easter did not end after the 11:00 service last week. It continues-- for another six Sundays!

That's right: Easter takes up 12 of the 52 weeks of the year. Whether we're preparing or continuing to celebrate, the empty tomb is on our hearts and minds for almost a quarter of the year. And that is a good thing, as Easter is the pinnacle of the Christian experience. Now check this out: recently I read the results of a Barna survey of 1,005 adults. Seven out of ten describe Easter as a religious holiday, but only 42% link it to the Resurrection of Jesus. It was described as a Christian holiday, a celebration of Passover, or a special day to go to church. "The specifics of it are really fading in a lot of people's minds," said David Kinnamon, Barna Group president. United Methodist Reporter, April 2, 2010.

All of this reminds me of Mary Magdalene at the tomb. She had gone there that Sunday morning to honor Jesus, was shocked to see an empty grave, had conversations with angels and disciples, and then saw the Risen Christ herself. Jesus gave her a mission: "Go and tell [others] that I am alive." We've had our special time at the cross and at the empty tomb. Now Christ sends us out into a world less and less familiar with the Easter message: "Go and tell. Go and tell." Many people shared with me the inspiration they experienced at church last week. Wonderful. Now Christ sends us in to the world to share our Easter joy. Mary and the other disciples were faithful to their mission. Now it's our turn!

Easter Peace and Joy, Pastor Frank

01 April 2010

message from holy thursday, april 1, 2010

(CNN) -- An anti-abortion activist convicted of killing a Kansas doctor faces 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced today.
Scott Roeder, 51, was convicted of murdering Dr. George Tiller in January after jurors deliberated only 37 minutes.
Tiller was shot to death in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, as Sunday services began. He operated a clinic in Wichita where late-term abortions were performed.
The hearing is expected to include victim statements from Tiller's relatives, as well as character witnesses for Roeder, who also may also offer his own statement to the judge.
During his trial, Roeder testified he believed he had to kill Tiller to save lives, and said he had no regrets.
"There was nothing being done, and the legal process had been exhausted, and these babies were dying every day," he said. "I felt that if someone did not do something, he was going to continue."
Eventually, the abortion issue took center stage as prosecutors portrayed Tiller as a target of Roeder's anti-abortion agenda, and defense lawyers attempted to mitigate his culpability under the theory that he believed Tiller's death was justified to save the lives of others.
Defense attorney Steve Osburn said after the verdict that Roeder "feels remorse toward the family, but not for what he did."

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

ADRIAN, Michigan (CBS/AP) A Michigan Christian militia group called Hutaree was raided over the weekend as part of a three state, multiple raid action by the FBI, including raids in Ohio and Indiana.

According to a website purportedly run by the group, Hutaree.com, Hutaree are Christian "soldiers" who are arming themselves and training in anticipation of the coming of the Anti-Christ, which they believe is imminent.
A quote from the website reads: "Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment."

“A lawyer came to Jesus to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind.’ This is the greatest commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

They've appeared at military funerals across the country, armed with signs reading "God Hates You" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."
Members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., have outraged family members and communities alike with their antics. They say America's war casualties are God's wrath for tolerating homosexuality.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a lawyer for the church members and daughter of its leader, the Rev. Fred Phelps, said the group was ready for a First Amendment fight.
Phelps-Roper said members of the church believed that Americans had turned their backs on God and that Hurricane Katrina, Iraq casualties, STDs, bird flu and other tragedies were God's payback. She said that America had been "duped" into the war, that it was not winnable, and that she blamed the families for sending their loved ones to fight.
The group began protesting soldier funerals in June 2006 and has been to about 35 states since then, she said. Members gained attention in the past for protesting at funerals of those who died from AIDS and at the service for Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student beaten to death because he was gay.

“Jesus said, ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also ought to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’”

(CNN) -- A group of more than 100 prominent Christians ranging from evangelical minister Jim Wallis on the political left to Nixon White House aide Chuck Colson on the right released a document Thursday calling for an end to the fight club tone of the national political discourse.
Called the "Civility Covenant," the document says that churches have too often "reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ."
"Members of Congress have been calling me saying 'It's never been as bad as it is now, but we can't do much about it because we're not credible to a lot of Americans,'" said Wallis, who leads the progressive group Sojourners. "They said to the faith community, 'please help us.'"
Wallis said the covenant is the result of those conversations. It has 114 signatories from a broad swath of Christian traditions, including the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, a major Pentecostal denomination.
The list also includes plenty of strange political bedfellows, from conservative Christian leaders like Harry Jackson -- who led the unsuccessful fight against gay marriage in Washington -- to Morna Murray, president of the progressive Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which is close to the Obama White House.
"Anytime you have a document with Wallis and Colson signing, you're talking about a pretty unusual situation and a pretty significant marker," said John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. "It shows that there are some issues that transcend politics and ideology."
Quoting the New Testament, the new covenant urges Christians to "put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."
"We owe a certain responsibility to each other as believers," said Colson, an influential evangelical Christian voice. "This doesn't mean I haven't challenged some people's theology. But the document says we're not going to challenge each other's motives or engage in ad hominem attacks."
Wallis, who led the effort to draft the document and collect signatures for it, noted that the document comes at a time when members of Congress are complaining of physical threats against them because of their positions on the health care bill, which President Obama signed into law Tuesday.
Wallis says he'll start collecting signatures from more pastors and rank-and-file churchgoers in coming weeks.

The Apostle Paul said, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil with evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so long as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Part of the United Methodist communion liturgy for this evening reads:
Holy are you, and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ. When we had turned aside from your way and abused your gifts, you gave us in him your crowning gift. Emptying himself, that our joy might be full, he fed the hungry, healed the sick, ate with the scorned and forgotten, washed his disciples’ feet, and gave a holy meal as a pledge of his abiding presence.

Most merciful God, we your Church confess that often our spirit has not been that of Christ. Where we have failed to love one another as he loves us, where we have pledged loyalty to him with our lips and then betrayed, deserted, and denied him, forgive us, we pray; and by your Spirit make us faithful in every time of trial; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ. But Christ suffered and died for us, was raised from the dead and ascended on high for us, and continues to intercede for us. Believe the good news: in the name of Jesus Christ, we are all forgiven!

Paul wrote, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God has also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Standing on the seashore following the resurrection, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter replied, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

So Jesus asks each of us on this night: “Do you love me?” “Of course!, we say. You know we love you!!” “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Love one another as I have loved you. Overcome evil with good. Love your enemies. Forgive one another as you have been forgiven. Just as I have loved you, you also ought to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.