21 January 2011

Chili is a Means of Grace!

Every church has a lost and found.  A place where everything left behind at the church is stored: jackets, shoes, hats, whatever.  Only at our church have I ever seen keys or cell phones left here.  There are no vacant cars on the parking lot-- so whose keys are these?  And the phones are long dead.  What do we do with them?  Such are the questions on the heart of this preacher on a cold Friday morning in an empty church!

Every church should be a lost and found.  This should be the place where all people-- whether they were raised in the church or not-- are welcome and find a deeper relationship with God through our various ministries, from worship to study to fellowship.  I consistently hear feedback from guests that PUMC is a friendly place where they felt welcome.  Great!  Then begins the real work, which to me is very exciting: helping people plug into the broader ministries of the church.  For example, this year in Disciple Bible study, two couples began the class before even joining the church-- they joined soon after.  Everything we do should be about making sure the back door of the church is closed-- just as much as the front door is open.  Invite people to worship and fellowship.  Plug them in so they can form meaningful relationships with others.  And for the most part people will stay of the path of discipleship.

This puts Sunday's Chili Cookoff into a whole new context.  Yes, chili is delicious.  Yes, It is fun to see whose chili wins.  Yes, there is great fellowship.  But there is more-- an invitation to further relationships with other Christians.  We often talk about the grace of God conferred on to us at Communion.  Have you ever thought of chili as a means of grace (I had not either until I saw someone's long-abandoned phone in the church office!)?  Well, it is!

Let's think of the Chili Cookoff-- and everything else we do-- as an invitation to discipleship.  Sometimes all God needs is for someone to crack open the door to their heart.  We can be that person this weekend.  Invite a friend to worship with you and stay for lunch.  Don't just sit with your church friends this Sunday-- seek out guests or others you don't know so well.  Spread the word about the event through Facebook or Twitter.  That couple that just moved in down the street: wouldn't they love an introduction to Prosper UMC hospitality?  Or the couple who has been absent for a while-- give them a call?

Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few."  The laboring part is not always as difficult as we suppose it to be.  All of us, at one point or another, are lost and found.  It can be frustrating looking for that thing you've lost.  Keys.  Phone.  Remote control.  Jesus told of a woman who lost a coin and a shepherd who lost a sheep.  Both were recovered and a celebration followed-- not just at the person's home but in heaven as well!  Maybe there will be celebrations this Sunday as someone draws closer to God.  Maybe you can help make that happen.  And while you're making a list of friends to invite, please-- PLEASE-- check around the house.  Have your keys or phone been missing for a while?

See you Sunday!  Bring a dessert to share!
Pastor Frank

09 January 2011

In Response to the Tragedy in Arizona

 I was to begin a new sermon series this morning, "Life in 140 Characters or Less-- Relationships in the Days of Facebook and Twitter".   In light of yesterday's events in Arizona yesterday, I offered this reflection instead.  The Facebook/Twitter series will begin next Sunday, January 16.

The news out of Tuscon, AZ yesterday had a profound impact on me.  US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and several others were seriously wounded.  Federal District Judge John Roll was killed, along with five others, including a nine year old child—the granddaughter of former baseball man Dallas Green—who was born on September 11, 2001.  It appears Congresswoman Giffords will survive, although she is still in a very serious condition.  The gunman, a 22 year old high school dropout and US Army reject, was arrested.  Another man is considered a person of interest.  The shooting happened at a grocery store, a scheduled “meet and greet” many of our elected officials host to interact with their constituents.  Our prayers go out for all who were involved and their families.  May the God of comfort and grace be made real to them in their time of grief and suffering.
Rep. Giffords was a Democrat who supported health care reform.  She narrowly won reelection last November.  The day after health care reform passed, someone shot out her office window.  She had been threatened many times.  Evidently the shooter was a radical, unstable individual whose political views were extreme.
We were meant to begin a new sermon series on relationships in the days of Facebook and Twitter today, but it seems inappropriate to do so in the face of such heinous and evil acts.  But even here we see the power of social networking.  Rep. Giffords tweeted an hour before the event an invitation to the meet and greet.  The gunman posted youtube videos expressing his radical views.  We’ll start the Facebook/Twitter series next week, but in a way it’s already started.  Information, prayers, blog posts, were all over Facebook and Twitter over the last 24 hours.
Public service was once perceived by just about everyone as an honorable profession.  Sure, our leaders make decisions we disagree with.  That does not make them evil or objects to be targeted.  A civilized society cannot tolerate such events as we witnessed yesterday.  Conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, we must come together as citizens—and persons of faith—to say, “NO” in the face of such evil.  In an age of constant commentary, more and more negative emotion and images, speaking louder and angrier to get the attention we feel we deserve, reasonable, thoughtful folk like you and me cannot remain silent in the face of such tragedy and terror.  Disagree with the President if you like.  Vote for someone else.  Don’t like what Congress is doing?  Call, write, or email your elected officials.  I recently did this myself, and received correspondence that was thoughtful.  
Today is traditionally the day to commemorate the baptism of Jesus.  (read the Matthew text).  Jesus came to John at the Jordan river and asked to be baptized.  John protested: “I should be baptized by you!”  Jesus replied: “There will be time for that later.  I must do this.”  As he came out of the water, he saw the Spirit of God descending upon him in the form of a dove.  And everyone heard a voice from heaven: “This is my Son, the beloved.  My favor rests on him!”  At our baptism we hear the same words spoken to us.
Baptism is our invitation to new life, a gracious gift of God.  When we are baptized we are brought into the communion of the church worldwide.  Our sisters and brothers in our particular community surround us with love and prayers, promising to uphold us in our spiritual growth.  We say “YES” to God just as we say “NO” to evil: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil?” “YES I DO!”  So today, on this day of remembering the gift of baptism, we join our hearts and mind, standing for the one we can the Prince of Peace and standing against the forces of evil.  One way to observe the Baptism of the Lord is for those who are baptized to renew or reaffirm their baptism.  And so on today, a day of grief and anxiety not just for those involved in the Arizona shootings but for all who value a society where the free and safe exchange of ideas and actions is valued and encouraged, we join together in this simple act of remembering our “YES” to God.  And listen for the voice of the Lord: “This is my son!”  “This is my daughter!”  “My favor rests on you!”  

The service of remembrance of baptism was then offered, followed by the Lord's Supper.

07 January 2011

Happy Epiphany!

This morning I did some reading on Epiphany.  Traditionally, Epiphany is observed January 6 (yesterday), the twelfth day of Christmas (you know, "partridge in a pear tree," etc.).  In some Christian traditions, Epiphany is a day only.  In others it is a season.  Usually I think of it as a day, but this year is different: because Easter is so late (April 24-- about as late as it possibly can be) I'm thinking of Epiphany as a season.  A nine week season.  Wow.  That's almost as long as the seasons of Advent (before Christmas) and Lent (before Easter) combined.

Epiphany means "manifestation," or "appearance."  We recall the star which led the magi to visit the infant Jesus (not at his birth, by the way-- and the scripture (Matthew 2:1-12) says nothing about "three" or "kings").  The magi followed the star and brought gifts to the Christ child.  They were not Jews-- they were most likely astronomers from modern Iran.  At Epiphany we celebrate the manifestation or appearance of God revealed in Christ and spend the next several weeks learning about his life.  And we wonder: what gifts of great value-- maybe not gold/frankincense/myrrh-- would we bring to Jesus?

I learned literally this morning of a custom for Epiphany that I immediately loved: writing in chalk above the doorway of one's home a code-- a series of letters, numbers and crosses.  The numbers represent the year, the letters the traditional names of the magi (again, the text doesn't say there were three, but that's not the point here).  So I got some chalk, always in plentiful supply at our home, and wrote above the door: "20+C+B+M+11"  2011, Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior.  The C/B/M also notes the first letters of a Latin blessing: Christus mansionem benedicat, "Christ bless this home."  Here's a picture:

You can also see it in real life at the Epiphany Party at our home this Sunday, 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. (come and go).  It's our way of saying thank you for allowing us to be the parsonage family of this great church.  As party favors, we'll hand out chalk for anyone who wants to write "20+C+B+M+11" above their door.  Here's a nice little liturgy to go with it:

One: "Peace be with be with this house and all who live here."
All: "And peace be with all who enter here."
Read Matthew 2:1-12.
Pray: O Lord, God of all that exists, you revealed your only-begotten Son to every nation by a star.  Bless this house and all who inhabit it.  Fill each of us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I invite everyone to observe this nice little blessing for home, family, and guests.  Keep the chalk above your door throughout the season of Epiphany-- all the way through February-- and see how God is manifested within your home.

Peace be with all who enter our homes-- including our church home!
- Pastor Frank

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