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Showing posts from 2016

Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Service: January 1, 11:00

One of my favorite services of the year is the first Sunday in January, traditionally in Methodist churches a time to renew our covenant relationship with God. John Wesley himself wrote out an annual covenant renewal service, still in use today, and we will place ourselves in that history and tradition January 1. Here are some words of introduction to the Covenant Renewal service from the British Methodist Church Book of Worship:
From the earliest days of the Methodist societies, John Wesley invited the Methodist people to renew their covenant relationship with God. Wesley drew much of his material for the service from the seventeenth-century Puritans and subsequently made changes to it. The Wesleyan Conference revisited it twice during the nineteenth century and other branches of Methodism had versions of it. 
The emphasis of the whole service is on God’s readiness to enfold us in generous love, not dependent on our deserving. Our response, also in love, springs with penitent joy fr…

Christmas Eve 2016

I’m probably not the only one here tonight who is happy to say goodbye to 2016. This year was absolutely devastating. What an emotionally exhausting year. We lost amazingly talented people, suffered terrible violence, and endured an 18 month long election, the ramifications of which we’ll likely feel for many years to come. I compiled a list the other day, which I am sure is incomplete, but you get the idea of how rough 2016 was:
Musicians: David Bowie Prince Glenn Frey of the Eagles Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire Leonard Cohen Sharon Jones
Actors: Alan Richman Gary Shandling Gene Wilder Alan Thicke
National figures: Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court Nancy Reagan Muhammed Ali

A Christmas Invitation and Prayer

Years ago at my ordination my mother gave me a stack of books. She had asked around to trusted pastors what they enjoyed reading, and she purchased several of those recommendations for me. They have informed my prayer life, sermon preparation, and thought formation ever since. Two of my favorites are books of poetry by Ann Weems: Kneeling in Bethlehemand Kneeling in Jerusalem. They are both outstanding: fun, emotional, wonderful, powerful, and creative.

Christmas Eve is only a couple of days away, and I look forward to celebrating our first Christmas at Grace. The following poem is from Kneeling in Bethlehem. I love the line about sitting down to bread and wine with strangers. We'll receive communion at the 7:00 and 11:00 services Saturday night, alongside many pilgrims whose only, or first, journey to Bethlehem is this hour via Grace United Methodist Church.

God So Loved the World

The story of Jesus Christ is this:
The people of this earth waited for a Messiah... a Savior... and …

Abide In Us

Matthew 1:18-25
Romans 1:1-17

I've always been nervous before preaching-- it gives me energy. But when I first came to Grace six months ago (wow, it's been six months!), I noticed the Sunday morning nervousness was amped up. My first Sunday Lynda or Marianna, maybe both, asked how I was doing, and I replied, "Terrified." That feeling persisted for several weeks and months; then I decided to seek out a spiritual director. The first thing he asked was, "How is your prayer life?"

Whoops.

I was expecting advice... hands on tips... not to discuss my prayer life. How does prayer enter in to my sermon preparation? I had to be honest. I said, "Pretty much non-existent." So he challenged me to try some new prayer practices. One I was interested in for many years, but never tried, was praying with beads. I had heard that it was very appealing to perfectionist personalities. So I bought some and an accompanying prayer book. Praying through the beads has been …

Yes, She Knew.

When I was in seminary I took a part-time job at a brand new cinema at Cityplace in Dallas. It's now a gym or a Kroger or something, but then it was a Sony Theatre, which became Loews, which became AMC. Wasn't it beautiful?


Christy even showed up one night with her Dad when we were first dating. You're shoveling popcorn one moment, and then your beautiful girlfriend's Dad is looking back at you. Yikes. Anyway, at Christmas they would play "holiday" music-- you know, the secular stuff, not the religious. Being a Sony cinema, their featured artist that year was Mariah Carey, singing All I Want for Christmas Is You. It's a catchy song, but hearing it over and over again until 3:00 a.m., covered in popcorn oil, the bottoms of my shoes sticking to the floor after spilt soda..

Enough, Mariah!

Yesterday driving through Dallas I heard another popular "holiday" song, though it's more of a borderline religious song: Mary Did You Know? This version was…

Christmas Planning at Grace

Last night a handful of Grace folk began decorating our Celebration Center at the church-- thank you! It looks beautiful, and should provide an uplifting, Christmas-y feeling to your Sunday this week. Those decorations combined with the cold front we're experiencing now show me Christmas is near. So here are a few notes on upcoming Christmas opportunities at Grace-- mark your calendars!

This Sunday December 11-- the choir will offer several Christmas anthems, we'll sing several hymns, and we'll have a Hanging of the Greens liturgy. Both services this weekend will be identical.

December 24-- The schedule is different this year; and it's on a Saturday, which is kind of complicated.
4:00: A special service for children and families. This will be an informal time where the kids will lead worship through bells and chimes, singing, and scripture reading. We'll sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus and enjoy birthday cake after worship.
7:00 and 11:00: These services wi…

Untangled

Matthew 3:1-13
Romans 15:4-13

I've heard from several of you this morning that you did your daily Bible reading this week. If you were not here last Sunday and have been out of touch with the church, we're reading Matthew during Advent, four chapters a day. It's 28 chapters long so we are completing the Gospel in a week-- four times before Christmas. I'm always surprised when I read the scriptures, even familiar ones, and this week I was struck by the relations Jesus had with the religious leaders of the day. Over and over again throughout Matthew, and the other gospels as well, Jesus is fighting with the Pharisees and others.

The scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and other religious folk were lay people with specific spiritual training and practices. They were not, as they are often portrayed, evil people. And they are never meant to reflect the religious practices of all Jews during Jesus' lifetime. They were fundamentalists who pointed out the spiritual failings of …

Fantastic Beasts and How to Avoid It

I am a Harry Potter fan (books and movies, although I still have not read The Cursed Child; I am determined to finish The Count of Monte Cristo first). I found the franchise fun, exhilarating, even wonder-inspiring. I loved that it inspired such a love of reading in a new generation of kiddos, including my own. Fantastic Beastsbelongs to the Harry Potter universe, but it does not have any source material-- no original novels. It's based on a reference book Harry and the others study at Hogwarts 80 or so years later. JK Rowling wrote the screenplay herself. There will be a total of five Fantastic Beasts movies over the next decade or so, all to be directed David Yates, who directed the final four Harry Potter films.

My biggest question, after seeing the first movie: Why?

Hint: in a couple of weeks it's made roughly $180MM.

The movie looks great, is incredibly loud, but really has no story or plot. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, who will eventually write the Fantastic Beasts

A More Meaningful Advent

Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44



Happy New Year! I know 2017 doesn't start until January 1, but the church's calendar turns over today, the first Sunday of Advent. The word advent means "coming," and during this four week season we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus. As we begin a new church year, you'll notice that our gospel readings each week are different. Last year we read from Luke; this year we'll read from Matthew.

Waiting is a key practice during Advent. Nobody likes waiting. I waited sixteen years for a new Star Wars movie, then after three duds I waited another ten years for a good one. A new Star Wars movie opens in... 19 days. As much as I would love to rush to cinema to see it today, I know I have to wait. We have not decorated the church for Christmas yet-- we want to encourage waiting. We will not forget Christmas, I promise. But first, we wait.

Advent has a sort of dual focus: now that Thanksgiving is over we are excited for Christmas, …

We Did Not Forget Advent.

The other night I drove to church for a meeting and this caught my attention:


Now, this was 40 days before Christmas, and a week before Thanksgiving. But this house in our neighborhood was ready to go. My first reaction was shock, but it quickly turned to a sense of warmth. I thought perhaps this family was sending the rest of us a message: Let's move on from all the tough feelings after the exhausting election. Let's experience some joy instead. Right on.

But you'll notice this Sunday that Grace isn't quite ready for Christmas. November 27 is the first Sunday of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, but the season of Christmas does not begin until December 25 (or 24th). It then continues for twelve days. Advent and Christmas are not the same thing-- they don't even have the same liturgical colors (purple and white, respectively). But many, probably most, churches blend them together. In our worship planning team a few months ago, we decided to wait a cou…

King of Kings, Lord of Lords

Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-44

In the days leading up to the election, on Election Day, and especially the day after the election, I kept seeing the same post show up on social media from liberals or conservatives, depending on the day: "Remember, if nothing else, Jesus is still on the throne!" I actually went to Twitter just now and did a quick search, and there were hundreds of posts between late October and last week. Lots of people find comfort in Jesus' authority, as well they should. But there's just one thing:

Jesus is on that throne forever. That's not going to change. Let's be careful that being on the throne doesn't give us an excuse to abdicate our Christian responsibility. Jesus was on the throne September 11, 2001 and September 12. Jesus was on the throne before the Berlin wall was built, and was on the throne when it was torn down. Jesus will be on the throne whether or not we care for the poor and those who need God's justice. Jesus will…