Monday, February 20, 2017

The People Person!

                                                                   Matt. 5:21-37
First Movement:
            Much of my experience with the study of history in grade school, Jr High, and High School had to do with memorizing certain things in history and dates and being able to cough them back up on the test.  I had to learn the presidents, the order in which they served, and the years they were in office.  We’ve had several presidents since I memorized them, and now I would have a hard time cranking any of them out to you.  I remember a few here and there, but for the most part, most of those memorization activities haven’t stayed with me. 
            In those years, we did very little that I remember about interpreting what happened in history, maybe it was because it would be too political and they’d get too many calls from parents that didn’t agree with them.  After I got in college though, I had one professor that would tell you what it meant.  When he tested, you had to kick back what he had told you.  You were graded on whether you were able to repeat back what he said and what the book said, including the footnotes in the book!  Still there wasn’t much room for thinking.
            I had another professor that taught history, and he was the one I tried to get my classes with.  He would give you the dates, and he would lead a discussion in his lectures about his interpretation of why things happened and what it means for today.  He interacted with us more and was more of a people person; he listened to what you had to say.  When he got ready to test, he would ask about three essay questions that you would need to show a knowledge of the facts of history but be called to interpret them.  When he graded though, whether you agreed with his interpretation or not, if you supported it with facts and he could tell you had put some thought into it, he would grade you well.

Second Movement:
             Our scripture today again comes from the Gospel of Matthew and begins Jesus’ instructions for conduct for His followers.  Matthew is the only one of the gospels that sets up the dialogue as we have it here, “you heard it said…, but I say to you….”  Matthew is setting it up in a way that is intended to present Jesus’ teachings of God’s will in a way that contrasts it with previous teachings; Jesus’ teachings here are to be seen as an authentic interpretation of the Word of God over and against all previous teachings (Interpretation Commentary).  It is with the authority of the Messiah, the son of the Living God.  Jesus is an interpreter of the law much like the history teacher that I liked, except Jesus interprets with the authority of the Messiah!  Jesus is making the law come alive for His hearers and bringing it to a personal level.  Jesus is a people person!  Remember Matthew’s gospel is arranged topically rather than chronologically, thus all the teachings of Jesus are grouped together in Matthew’s gospel, so Matthew is very intentional at placing this teaching here.    Remember, he writes to convince Christians that genuine faith in Christ must be demonstrated in daily obedience to Christ’s teachings. 
Third Movement:
            The first teaching has to do with anger; Jesus say, “You heard it said you shall not commit murder, but I say to you ….   “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, You fool, you will be liable to hell fire.” Jesus steps it up.  The basic cause for murder is anger, but he says anger can cause other actions that are also worthy of the judgment of God!   It is clear that both of these statements condemn abusive language!  It matters how we treat each other, what we say about it other, and what we call each other!  It our modern day, it matters what we post on Facebook;  it matters what we call each other on Facebook. It matters what we tweet about each other!  It matters what we call each other in tweets!  That is a part of our conversation!  Jesus makes no bones about it; we will be “liable to hell fire!”  It matters how we live!

            Jesus said, “you’ve heard it said not to commit adultery, but I say to you if you look at a woman with lust, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart.”  The Hebrew word here for lust is not just an “idle envy,” but it is an intentional planning to obtain something for oneself (Interpretation).  There is nothing new here about a prohibition against sexual sin; Jewish law had much of this in it.  We are to live in monogamous relationships!  What is new is the context with which Jesus is saying this.  Women were being welcomed into the fellowship of the Church as sisters and in many ways as equals.  Men would be working side by side with women; this was a new thing in that society.  Jesus is intentionally using a word that separates just looking at women and looking at women to lust after them (to intentionally plan to do something about it).  In this setting, men would look at women, but they weren’t to look at women to lust after them.  “The new relationship with women among Jesus’ followers required of men a new kind of self discipline.”  (Interpretation)

            The next thing Jesus mentions is divorce.  God’s ideal for us is that we live in monogamous relationships, but there are numerous cases where the marriage is no longer real: infidelity, neglect, abuse, failure to communicate, and etc.  God or Jesus doesn’t intend for us to continue in an abusive relationship to avoid a divorce; God is a God of new beginnings!  What Jesus is addressing here as much as anything is the unfair position divorce put on women in that society.  If you divorced a women, you forced her to have to remarry for support from another man, so you were at fault here!

            Lastly, Jesus addresses Oaths!  The concern here is that we shouldn’t have to swear to keep our word!  Our word as Christians should mean something!  We should live our confession!  Jesus was concerned with the free use of God’s name, heaven, and our head to prove we were going to be truthful.  It was more than an in court occurrence for them; it was an everyday thing!  I swear by God this is the truth!  If Jesus was concerned about their free use of God name for this, how much would Jesus be concerned with how lightly we throw around God’s name as a by-word today? 

Forth Movement:
            In Concluding, Matthew is writing his gospel out of a concern that Christians are not living their confession.  Jesus has interpreted the Law for us here; he has gotten very personal.  Jesus has given us a lot of stuff to digest here; the way anger plays out in our lives, dealing with lust, guilt from divorce and maybe the desire for a new start, and keeping our word and using God’s name in ways that honor God!  As we have considered Jesus’ teaching, are you feeling convicted that you need to come up and pray and ask God to help you better live your confession in some of these areas of concern today?


Monday, February 6, 2017

The Keeper of the Spring!

Matt. 5:13-20

First Movement:
This story has been attributed to the late Peter Marshall, former chaplain of the United States Senate.

There was once an old man who lived high above an Austrian village along the eastern slopes of the Alps. He had been hired by the village council many years ago to clear away the debris from the pools of water up in the mountain crevices that fed the lovely stream flowing through their village. With faithful, silent regularity, he patrolled the hills, removed the leaves and branches and wiped away the silt that would otherwise choke and contaminate the fresh flow of water. By and by, the village became a popular attraction for visitors. Graceful swans floated along the crystal clear stream; picnickers gathered along its banks; and the view of the water from local shops and cafes was picturesque beyond description. 
Years passed. One evening the council met for its semiannual meeting. As they reviewed the budget, they noticed a small amount that was being paid to the "keeper of the spring." The village treasurer asked, "Who is this 'keeper of the spring'? Why do we keep him on the payroll year after year? No one ever sees him. Have any of you ever met this man? For all we know, he is simply taking our money and doing us no good whatsoever. In my opinion, this person is no longer necessary." 
Everyone agreed with the treasurer and the council voted unanimously to dismiss the old man. 
For several weeks, nothing much changed. The village went about with its business as usual. But by autumn, the trees began to shed their leaves. Small branches snapped off and fell into the pools that fed the stream, hindering the rushing flow of sparkling water. One afternoon, someone noticed a slight yellowish-brown tint in the water. A couple days later the water was much darker. Within another week or two, a slimy film covered sections of the water along the banks and a foul odor was soon detected. The swans left the village, as did the tourists. The economy of the village was in serious peril. Likewise was the health of the village, as many were getting sick from drinking the water. 
An emergency meeting of the village council was held. After much discussion, they realized their error in judgment and they hired back the old "keeper of the spring." And within a few weeks, the beautiful stream came back to life. The swans and visitors gradually returned, as did the vitality and well being of the little village in the Alps. 

Second Movement:
Our scripture today again comes from the Gospel of Matthew and follows the beatitudes and comes directly before instructions for conduct for Jesus’ followers. Matthew gives the most complete account of this Salt and Light metaphor with just a slight echo of it in the other two synoptic gospels: Luke 14:34-35, Luke 11:33 and Mark 9:50. Remember Matthew’s gospel is arranged topically rather than chronologically, thus all the teachings of Jesus are grouped together in Matthew’s gospel, so Matthew is very intentional at placing this teaching here. Remember, he writes to convince Christians that genuine faith in Christ must be demonstrated in daily obedience to Christ’s teachings.

Third Movement:
I’ve preached from this text before and talked about the salt being used as a preservative and us being lights to point others to Christ. Because of the placement of this passage in Matthew before his teachings that tell us how to live and because of Matthew’s concern for us living our faith, I want to talk to you about the idea that the salt is salt not for itself but for others and we being light not for and in ourselves but for the purpose of reflecting the light of God! “These versus are an anticipation of the missionary imperative with which the gospel will close (28:18-20).” (Interpretation Commentary) All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (NRSV)

We are salt not for ourselves or for a closed fellowship but for the world. We are Salt for the world and we are reflectors of the Light for the world. We may be the only Bible some people read! Interpretation Commentary makes the point that salt has been “naturalized” in our language to describe something in and of itself that is especially good, and because of that, says maybe we should say “You are red hot pepper for the whole earth!” We are not in and of ourselves good but we are meant to function as something that adds “zest to the life of the whole world.” (Interpretation) We are not light in and of ourselves but are meant to function as reflectors of the light of God. When we as a people and as a church forget to function as salt and reflectors of the light, we cease to be the Church! The purpose of the Church is to exist for those on the outside. We function as salt and light without bringing attention to ourselves as we proclaim Christ as Lord and let his Love live through us.

Forth Movement:
Just like the story of the Keeper of the Spring. The Old Man quietly did his job, and because of that, the town flourished. The Spring was clean. Sight see-ers and visitors came! He did it so discreetly that the towns people didn’t even know he was doing it. We are to be salt to spice up the world. We are to influence people for the good! What the "keeper of the spring" meant to the little village, we Christians mean to the world. Jesus called us "salt," which is to say that we are "preservers" of what is good and true in the world. Like the old man in the mountains, we are called to serve--and to be faithful. We may not get a lot of recognition or appreciation for our efforts, but we have the power to change the world. That's what Jesus wants us to do. He put us here to serve, and in a very real sense, the well-being of the whole world is dependent upon us. We do make a difference! 

Matthew wants us so to live our confession in the world that we function as salt and reflectors of the light. Remember we function as salt and light not for ourselves or a closed group, but we function as salt and light to the world! The Church is the only organization that functions not for itself but for those on the outside! As we encounter Christ at the table this morning, ask Christ to help you function as salt and light for those you come in contact with this week. Amen!

Prayer of Confession

Service of Communion

Monday, January 30, 2017

Oh, the Happiness Of!

                                                                    Matt. 5:1-12
First Movement:
             When I was at Steele, we had a community food pantry that my predecessor had been instrumental in starting, and I went there with the understanding I would support it and work in it to make sure it kept going.  I did that, and the two Methodist Churches in my charge were very active in it.  Many times, I was the only pastor there on packing or distribution days.  As a part of the ministry that we called CDHS We Care Ministries, we also had a fund where we would help people with gas, utilities, etc, much like our benevolence fund here.  I was also the main pastor that people would call when they needed that help, not by my doing, but the other pastors would send them my way, saying they didn’t know what to do.  It wasn’t that complicated.  We had a voucher system that I made sure they had.  They just didn’t seem to want to do it, and I was the pastor that people saw at the food pantry.  I was in Cape one day and we had left our kids at home.  Wesley was in High School and Amanda was probably in 7th or 8th grade.  Wesley called us and someone had just dropped someone off at the house, telling him he could get help there.  They had of course answered the door and told him they couldn’t help because we weren’t home.  The person didn’t leave but was just sitting on our front porch.  Luckily, I was able to call one of the other pastors and explain the situation to them and get him to reluctantly go and pick him up.  He wasn’t real keen on the idea; it was his day off!

            It seemed like people would come for help in groups.  I don’t mean they’d all come  together, but someone would come in my office on a Monday morning with a story about their mother being in the hospital in Cape and needing gas to go see them.  If I helped, I’d have an influx of people showing up during that week with similar stories since that one had worked for the first person. The word had a way of getting around!  You wanted to help, but sometimes you wondered if they were taking advantage of your goodness.  I know I was a push over.  I’d rather err on the side of grace, and they learned that, but Christians are suppose to help, right?  I appreciate what Jo Ann does here in that regard.  I know the job is not easy!

Second Movement:
            Our scripture today again comes from the Gospel of Matthew and begins the teaching section that Matthew was setting up in our scripture last week.  Matthew gives us the most complete account of this part of Jesus’ teaching that we call the beatitudes.  Our scripture today can only be paralleled with one other of the synoptic gospels, which is Luke, and it is found in Luke 6:17-26.  Most scholars agree that Matthew was the second gospel and that Luke is the third gospel written, Luke being written possibly as much as a decade after Matthew.  Again, value is found in comparing the two and asking ourselves why the differences.  Remember, Matthew is a converted Jewish tax collector.  He is writing mostly to Jewish Christians.  His gospel is arranged topically rather than chronologically, thus all the teachings of Jesus are grouped together in Matthew’s gospel.  Remember, he writes to convince Christians that genuine faith in Christ must be demonstrated in daily obedience to Christ’s teachings. 

            Luke is a Gentile physician.  The gospel of Luke is the first of a two-part writing on the history of the church, the second part being Acts.  Luke writes to show how the good news of Christ was spreading across the known world and was overcoming barriers.  Luke is concerned with the state of the poor.  Luke is concerned that we are given a more chronological account of the life of Christ. 
Third Movement:
             The setting of this teaching session of Jesus gives us our first notable difference.  Luke says, “He came down with them and stood on a level place” (6:17).  Matthew says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain: and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak and taught them, saying” (vs. 1-2).  In Matthew’s gospel, this is the first important act of Jesus.  The mountain is significant.  He wants his Jewish Christian audience to associate this teaching of Jesus with the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.  To Matthew, Jesus is more than a prophet: He is more than Moses, but Matthew wants his audience to make this connection.  Moses receives the Law; Jesus is going to interpret the Law!  It is also significant that Jesus sits and the disciples approach him and he opens his mouth to speak and teach.  This is an endorsement of Jesus as Messiah.  He “sits” like a King sits on his throne, and his subjects approach him like subjects in a royal court to hear what he has to say.  As he speaks, Jesus lays out what it will take to live in his Kingdom and what it will be like to live in his Kingdom!         

Forth Movement:
            A couple of years ago, I did an entire series on the Beatitudes, so I am not going to go through each of the beatitudes here and look at them individually as I did then.  From that series, if you remember I told you that blessed could be translated happy, but there was one notable difference from that understanding.  In happy, the root world hap denotes a happiness that is by chance and depends on the situation.  This is a happiness that is not by chance but is continual happiness because of our relationship with God that doesn’t depend on the circumstances.  There are several of the beatitudes that are absent from Luke’s account, and there is a section of woes present in Luke’s account that are not present in Matthew’s.  We aren’t going to look into that today, but maybe they just remembered the ones that impacted them the most; maybe they just recorded the teachings that most accurately supported their purpose for writing.   I want to concentrate this morning for a few moments on three beatitudes that are mentioned in both and examine their differences.

            Matthew says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Vs. 1).  Luke says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (6:20).  Again, you notice Matthew says kingdom of heaven and Luke says kingdom of God.  This isn’t a real significant difference.  Matthew is a Christian Jew writing to Jews; Jews didn’t believe they should mention the name of God.  He is probably just paying respect to that.  More significantly, Matthew says “poor in spirit,” and Luke says “you who are poor.”  Remember I said that Luke is concerned with the state of the poor.  In Luke’s gospel, it is a blessing to be poor.  The poor have a special place with God!  You really get the idea that the rich do not have a place in the Kingdom of God, if you just read Luke’s gospel.  That should cause us to heed a word of caution!  That should cause us to take care of the poor, realizing how important they are to God.  It makes us aware of how important all people are to God, no matter their social standing.   We need to figure this out on how to help the poor, because God loves them!  On the other hand, Matthew is concerned that Christians live as Kingdom people, that they live their confession.  Matthew is also concerned with the poor; in the Great White Throne judgement he says “when I was hungry you took me in, when I was thirsty you gave me drink …” etc. (Matt.  25:35-36).  Matthew does not want to exclude anyone, so Matthew says, blessed are the poor in spirit.  We can all be poor in spirit.  Being poor in spirit means to realize how poor and miserable we all are compared to God.  It means to realize our utter dependence on God!  We might even interpret Matthew’s gospel as saying, “Blessed are the poor and affluent who regard themselves as if they were poor, remembering humbly their utter dependence on God and their subservience to his will” (modified from Interpretation Commentary).  Matthew says to us, no matter how well off you are or how little you have, remember how much we need God.  Remember that we are nothing without God!  Remember how much we all need God’s grace!  Matthew’s gospel speaks to all of us but calls us to realize our need of God.

            Matthew says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (vs. 6).  Luke says, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled” (6:21).  Obviously, Luke is concerned with the poor who are hungry  I don’t know if the promise for Luke that they will be filled is meant to be a present promise or a promise that God will ultimately take care of them and fill them, but Matthew takes another twist on it; he says blessed or happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness!  This could be a reference to personal goodness, but then you have the problem of works salvation, just trying to be good enough.  More likely, this is a hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness, for God to make us right and for us as a result to be pleasing to God.  If we understand it this way, the distance between Luke and Matthew is somewhat diminished.  God cares for the poor, and if we are seeking God’s righteousness, we will be concerned too.   Again, Matthew’s concern for followers to live up to their confession prevails throughout all of this!

            Matthew says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (vs. 10-12).  Luke says, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets” (6:22-23).  The main difference between these accounts of this beatitude is the insertion of “persecuted” by Matthew.  Some think that Matthew referred to fellow Christian Jews who were going to unconverted Jews with the gospel as prophets, so he includes persecution here because it is pretty well known that Israel always persecutes the prophets!  He says remember how they persecuted those before you!  They were to be happy and blessed if they were persecuted because they were pleasing to God and their reward would be great in heaven!

            So what is Matthew’s gospel saying to us?  If we are going to live in Christ’s Kingdom and have a happiness that is not by chance, first, Matthew says that Jesus’ teachings emphasize for us to live our Confession, to not deny the power of God in our lives, to live what we profess!  Secondly, he would say that we will only be happy when we realize our utter dependence on God!  We can’t live it!  Our righteousness is as filthy rags!  We are poor without God!  We are nothing without God, so realize that and depend on God!  Don’t just depend on ourselves.  That is a big one for us in America!  We are self made.  We don’t depend on anyone!  Matthew says you must depend on God!  Thirdly, we will only be happy when we hunger and thirst after God’s righteousness like someone who is starving and dying of thirst hungers for food and water!  We are hungering and starving spiritually without God’s righteousness!  We won’t do the right things.  We won’t care for the poor!  We won’t treat people fairly and lovingly, unless we are filled with God’s righteousness!   Lastly, we may be persecuted for sharing the gospel of Christ, but we are on the winning side and our reward will be great in heaven!  Thanks be to God!  Amen!

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Kingdom of Heaven!

                                                                   Matt. 4:12-23
First Movement:
            One of my earlier experiences in the church as a young person in another faith tradition was when the church I was attending split over a building program.  The people who left did so because they felt God was leading them to build across town.  They felt the facility we were in was locked in and didn’t give them the room to expand into the ministry that they were envisioning.  The people who stayed in the facility were unwilling to give up the facility that they had helped to build and had served them well for many years; they had their own ways of expanding that they envisioned.  It turned out to be a very bitter split.  There was backbiting and gossip rampant in our small town about each other.  There were hateful things said between people who were both supposed to be Christian!  It was a hard thing for a young person to take, but the reality is that there were a lot of things at play in this that didn’t have much to do with God’s leading.  There were people defending their positions in the church!  There were people defending their pocket books!  There were people being guided by their feelings and not by God’s will for their lives.  Both sides felt all these things threatened by the other side and it left them reacting very unchristian to defend their individual Kingdoms! 

Second Movement:
            Our scripture today comes from the Gospel of Matthew.  Some of the events recorded in our scripture today are both recorded in Matthew and Mark, two of the synoptic gospels.  You would think by Matthew being our first gospel that it would be the first one written, but most scholars agree today that Mark is the first gospel written, so Matthew had Mark’s gospel as a source as he wrote, so one would do well to look for differences from Mark’s gospel and ask why Matthew felt it necessary to make the changes in his gospel.  Matthew is a converted Jewish tax collector.  He is writing mostly to Jewish Christians.  His gospel is arranged topically rather than chronologically, thus all the teachings of Jesus are grouped together in Matthew’s gospel.  Some think he attempted to arrange it like the Pentetuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, also somewhat arranged topically. Matthew is concerned with the “mixed state of the church.”  He is concerned that “there are too many in the church whose lives do not conform with their confession,” (Interpretation Commentary)    so he writes to convince Christians that genuine faith in Christ must be demonstrated in daily obedience to Christ’s teachings.  Sound relevant today?
Third Movement:
            Our scripture today sets up the teaching section that will follow.  First, Matthew emphasizes that the Messiah’s ministry will fulfill scripture by bringing light to those in darkness.  He knows that his Jewish readers will be concerned with this, so he is showing Jesus is the Messiah, supported by scripture.  Secondly, he shows the Call of the four fisherman to show that the sermon following is especially addressed to his disciples.  Thirdly, he mentions the Messiah’s healing ministry to stress that although it is important it is subordinate to the teaching ministry of Christ.
            For today, I want to concentrate mostly on the first section, verses 14-17.  Mark’s gospel records this in Mark 1:14-15.  Mark says the “Kingdom of God” is at hand.  Matthew changes it  to “Kingdom of Heaven,”  probably just because of the Jewish sensitivity to mentioning the name of God!  Matthew says the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”  This is a reference to the full establishment of God’s rule.   The verb used for “is at hand” is used to describe the act of ruling rather than the place ruled, so God is about to establish His rule among those who will follow!  Again, Matthew is concerned with Jesus’ followers really living as followers of Christ!     
            The “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” had all kinds of implications for them.  The Jews were happy with how things were.  The High Priests and religious leaders enjoyed a lot of power and influence in the religious system of the day.  They had managed to make amendments to the laws so that they could pretty well do what they wanted and justify it.  One example being, there is the law that you are not to work on the Sabbath.  They had interpreted that in earlier years to mean that they could not walk but so far on the Sabbath or that would be work.  They had amended that with the practice that you could dig up some earth from where you started on the Sabbath and carry it with you.  That way, no matter how far you walked, you were not that far from where you started, thus modifying the scriptures to meet their needs.  There was the practice of selling animals for sacrifices in the temple.  People were getting rich on this one; as a result, Jesus later drives them out of the temple. Jesus would accept the outcasts like the Samaritan woman at the well; he would fellowship with sinners!  The Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus would call them to would run counter culture in many ways to the religion of the day.  Following the unconditional Love of God as Jesus would call them to, would not be easy!
Matthew’s message for us today is, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!  In Matthew’s gospel, Christians are the New Jerusalem.  We are Kingdom people!  Sometimes in our own religious system we are comfortable with how things are.  We have our own Kingdoms over which we reign and protect against those who challenge it, sometimes even hurting people in the process, like in the example I shared at the beginning of the message. Sometimes we too pick and choose our scriptures to make them say what we want them to say.  We sometimes form our own opinions from the news, world events, or just what makes us comfortable and then look for scriptures to support our beliefs rather than really looking into the Word of God to shape our beliefs.  Jesus’ teachings ran counter to the religious world in which he lived and many of them run counter to religious beliefs and practices of our day; do we see it and let Christ’s unconditional love change us, or do we just continue to conform to the views and beliefs around us.   Are we letting God rule in us?  Do our lives conform to our confession or do we conform to the religion and culture of today, which also sometimes runs counter culture to the Love of God that fellowships with sinners and loves the unlovable?  Do we really love the outcasts of our day and seek to show them the Love of God?  Do we love those on the outside of the Church?  Do we do it in a way that does not look down upon them?   We say we are Christians; do we live it?  Does everything we do say we are Christian?  What motivates our actions?  Why do we do what we do?
            What are some wrong motivations for our actions, as far as God is concerned?  If it makes me happy, it is okay and justified!    If it makes me money, it is okay and justified!  If it protects my position in the church, it is okay and justified!  Sadly, this is what motivated much of the religious system in Jesus’ day, and sadly, it is still what motivates many people today.  Things have not changed much.
            The only true and real motivation is realizing that God is God, God’s way is best for me, and letting God rule our lives, to be guided by the unconditional love of God, being motivated by what God would have us do and letting the Kingdom of Heaven come on earth as a result of our allegiance to our awesome and loving God! 
Forth Movement:
So you say, preacher that is easy to say, but how do I know and understand God’s will for my life?  How do I discern what God would have me believe and do about certain things?  Thankfully, we Methodists have a tool for finding God’s will for our lives in what we call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  The Wesleyan Quadrilateral simply states that to find God’s will we can find guidance from four sources: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  It is said that Wesley was (and this goes for us too) a man of one book.  His first source was Scripture, but when he didn’t get a clear understanding from scripture because either the particular thing he was researching wasn’t mentioned in scripture or the scriptures seem to give conflicting messages about it, he said you could then look to tradition.  What was the traditional way that our early church theologians interpreted this, and was their situation similar to ours.  If we still do not feel we have a clear understanding, is what we are thinking reasonable.  God is a reasonable God!  God created us with reason and we should use that reason to think things out.  Is it reasonable that a loving God who offers us a new beginning, for example, would give us a new beginning in most things but require us to never marry again after we leave a relationship where we have been beaten and abused?  If we still do not have a clear understand, what is our experience with God.  This isn’t just talking about any experience; it is talking about our experience with God.  The example I give for this is that I make a commitment to God and experience God in my life.  My experience is that I am growing in God and experiencing the leading of the Holy Spirit in my life.  I encounter another Christian who says that I do not have the Holy Spirit unless I have spoken in tongues; my relationship with God is incomplete!  He/she has scripture to defend the position, but my experience with God tells me that this is a poor interpretation of the Bible because I have experienced the working of the Holy Spirit in my life. 

So people of God, let’s use all the sources that Wesley gave us to interpret God’s will for our lives and let’s go forth and let the Kingdom of Heaven reign through us because of the unconditional Love of God that is guiding our lives!  Amen!

Monday, January 16, 2017

We Have Found the Messiah!

                                                                    John 1:29-42
First Movement:
            A couple years before I answered the call into the ministry, my pastor led us in a study on Evangelism.  There were several books we used: “Everyday Evangelism” by Billie Hanks Jr., “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman, and “How to Win Souls” by (I don’t remember the author.  Seems I did not keep it in my library).  These books laid out a plan where you knocked on the door, asked someone if they were saved, quoted certain scriptures, and led them to pray the prayer of salvation.  As we went through this study, several questions came to mind: “Wouldn’t it be helpful to get to know the person first?”  “Wouldn’t they listen more if they knew and respected you?”  “Is it possible for this to do more damage than good?”  I just didn’t feel like this was the answer!  I just didn’t feel like this was me.  I just didn’t feel like this is what I saw in the Bible, even though these authors quoted scriptures to defend their positions.  There is a time and place for these scriptures, but somehow, pressing a stranger just didn’t seem right!

Second Movement:
            Our scripture today comes from the Gospel of John.  There are four gospels.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels because they seem to really parallel each other.  A lot of what you find in one you find in the others.  John’s gospel is different.  John seems to march to a different beat.  His gospel has been called the maverick gospel. Robert Kysar wrote a book about John’s gospel called “The Maverick Gospel” because John’s gospel seems to stand alone.  When you look at something in John’s gospel, you do well to look at what is different from the other gospels and ask yourself why John felt the need to record it differently. 
Third Movement:
            Last week, we looked at the baptism of Jesus account from Luke.  This followed the birth account that we’ve been reading throughout Christmas.  Before we look at our scripture, notice the birth narratives from John:  John 1:1-5 & 10-14.  It seems to me that John is more into interpreting what has happened than just recording for us what has happened.  It is from John that we learn that this baby was there in the beginning and was with God and was/is God!  It is from John that we learn that it is through this baby that we are given the power to become children of God!  It is from John that we find some of the greatest theology and understanding that Jesus is God, right here in John’s birth narrative!
            Also, there is no baptism of Jesus narrative in John!  John is questioned as to why he is baptizing if he is not the Messiah . . .  He says “ I baptize with water …. the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”  John doesn’t seem to want us to be confused by the fact that Jesus is even baptized by John, so he does not emphasize that.  Jesus is so much greater than John; the place of John the Baptist is to prepare the way for Jesus, to introduce us to Jesus.  That is his only function in the Gospel of John.  John doesn’t even refer to him as John the Baptist, just John.  In our scripture today, John tells us who Jesus is, and John isn’t mentioned again except in chapter 3 where John again passes the mantle to Jesus. 
            So with John the Baptist’s introduction, what does the writer of John tell us about Jesus in our scripture today? 

First, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  Here is John’s interpretation of what has happened.  Jesus is the Lamb of God.  He will be that eternal sacrifice for our sins that will take away our sins!  Praise God!  There will no longer be a need for the sacrifice of a Lamb for sin; Jesus will be that lamb.  It is from John that we get this theology of the lamb and the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus!

Second, “I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.  And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”  There is not a baptism narrative, but here John seems to allude to it.  He interpretes the Dove as being the Spirit descending on Jesus.  He sees this as God telling who he is!  He says, I didn’t know him, but God pointed him out to me!  It isn’t me, but God!   He is the one I have been called to prepare the way for!  God told me!!

Third, “this is the Son of God.”  Here John also wants us to know that this Jesus is the Son of God!  He is the Son of the creator God!  Again, just like in Luke, John wants us to know that Jesus isn’t an illegitimate child but the Son of God!  He is a God/man!

Then, in the following scriptures (verses 35-42) is the beginning of the gathering of the first disciples.  John, declares, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  Then the two disciples just followed Jesus!  One of these was Andrew, he goes and tells his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah!”  He brings Simon to Jesus.  It seems to me that in John’s gospel there is a drawing power to Jesus.   People go tell their friends, and Jesus draws them in.  The testimony is “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” or “We have found the Messiah!” and people come to see!  People are drawn to Jesus!  It is in John 12:32 where John quotes Jesus as saying, “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  This is referring to Christ’s crucifiction, but John wants us to know that Jesus draws people to himself.  All we have to do is lift Him up! 

            I like this!  We don’t have to pound people with the gospel like in the training I referred to in the beginning.  It isn’t about going to strangers that we don’t know, pounding on their door, and pushing them to make a commitment for Christ.  It is about going to people we have relationships with.  It is about going to people who respect what you say and think.  We just need to say, come to one who has made a difference in my life!   Come to one who wants to help you through whatever you are going through!  And they will come!  John Wesley said it this way, “Offer them Christ.” 
Forth Movement:
            As we conclude today, we are going to have an anointing of hands.  Our part in this evangelism thing is much like that of John the Baptism.  Our part is to tell them, here is one who can make a difference in your life!  Here is one who can give you a new beginning!  Come and see!  Jesus will do the drawing to Himself!  As we have an anointing of hands, won’t you allow God to use your hands as God’s  hands to do this work of introducing the people you know to Jesus?

Anointing of Hands!

Monday, January 9, 2017

A New Beginning!

1st Sunday after Epiphany
Baptism of the Lord Sunday!
                      Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

1st Movement

When I graduated from High School in 1977, I hadn't even seen a Personal Computer.  In the sixties, we had experienced the Apollo Space flights and we had seen the big room-size computers on T.V., and we were taught that this was going to be a coming thing.  Everything was going to go to computer because it made everything so easy.  I think Personal Computers had been made, but they were so expensive that the common person or a small business couldn't afford to own one.  For the most part, everything was still done by hand, by typewriter, or by filing cabinets.  When I started to college in 1992, one of the first classes they enrolled me in was Computing Essentials.  When I sat down behind my first computer among others who had considerable more exposure to computers than I had, I was somewhat terrified.  I do not know what I thought the computer was going to do to me, but I know my heart was beating very rapidly. I probably thought I was going to mess it up unrepairably some way.  The class went well and I learned to use WordPerfect 5.1 on a Dos IBM PC.  When I say it went well, that does not mean it was always easy.  I can remember having a lot of confusion about whether I was in a program or not!  You would exit from WordPerfect.  You would exit from the print screen.  You would exit from the menu that they had set up on the computer.  The teacher would tell us to exit out to DOS, and I didn't know when I was there. Later, some of the computers, you clicked start to shut it down!  It was all quite confusing to this seventies kid who had never seen a computer. 
I can remember two things that really opened my eyes to what was going on.  First, a parishioner I had at the time gave me a 286 PC that had WordPerfect 5.1 on it.  I got a bunch of shareware from the College library and my brother-in-law showed me how to set up a Menu, with bat files in dos, and install these programs.  As I worked in DOS and did this my eyes were opened.  The other time was when I took a programming language called Turbo Pascal.  I learned that files with the extension .exe were executable files and were going to do something (On a side note, those are the ones you have to watch for that come as an attachment to emails).  These were the programs!  My eyes were opened!  An Ah Hah moment!  These were Epiphanies.  That is what an Epiphany is:  an Ah Hah moment. Last Sunday was Epiphany Sunday, and last Friday was Epiphany. This is Baptism of the Lord Sunday, but we still have an Epiphany!

2nd movement

In our scripture today, we have an Epiphany: an Ah Hah moment.  Jesus had been born the cute little baby in Bethlehem.  He had been raised like any other little boy.  He had helped his dad in the carpenter shop.  He had played in the streets with the other kids.  He had grown up in the shadow of being an illegitimate child; after all, only his parents really knew otherwise, and who would believe their story?  In our scripture today, he comes to John to be baptized.  After his baptism, a dove descends from Heaven and a voice from Heaven declares, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."  Ah Hah!  He isn't an illegitimate child but a son of the creator God:  the God of the universe, the God of the Hebrew people!
We shouldn’t miss the significance of the Dove!  This is to be a new beginning to be associated with the time that the Dove came back to Noah with the Olive twig.  This would be a new beginning!  Jesus as the God-man: the Savior of the world!  God is a God of new beginnings!  God wants to give us a new beginning.  This new year is a new beginning; what will we do with it?
3rd movement
Now we can understand!  As we reaffirm our baptisms together today, remember who Jesus is.  He isn't just the cute baby of Christmas, but he is the Son of God.  He is our Savior.  He is God in the flesh.  He is a God of new beginnings!  He is the one in whom we can place our Hope!  He is the one who can help us change for the better this new year!  As we reaffirm our baptism vows this morning, let God do this for you today.

                       Thanks be to God!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Pastor's Report


Marble Hill UMC
Meeting at New McKendree UMC (South Campus) at 2 p.m.
South East District Superintendent Rev. Fred Leist

Nov. 15, 2015


Mike Hargraves

We are still enjoying being here at Marble Hill UMC! Marble Hill UMC is a good church. Marble Hill has a history of paying their district and Conference apportionments in full, and we are on track to do it again this year. This is in part because Marble Hill is a missional church who sees the importance of paying their apportionments as a way of fulfilling Christ’s commission to go into all the world with the gospel. By paying their apportionments, they take part in the connectional ministry of the church in fulfilling the great commission. This missional identity continues in the way that Marble Hill ministers to the community. They see themselves as existing to serve their community, so at the Marble Hill church, many community things happen throughout the week: PEPP (Positive Education Parenting Program), Relay for Life meetings, Red Cross Blood Drives, County Extension Office meetings, Fire Department training, City Meeting for Missouri Rural Waste Water, Hunter Education Classes, Optimist Club meetings, many community baby and wedding showers, and funeral bereavement dinners for people inside and outside of the church. The Marble Hill church sees all of these things as ways to be in the community and offer Christ!

We continue to work on our “Marble Hill Growth plans for 2013 and forward.” This plan provides us with a vision and a goal to shoot for. Some of the highlights of what we have done this year toward these goals are as follows. We continue to work on our hospitality. We have had several first time visitors continue to come and make Marble Hill their church home. One of our members has recently taken on the hospitality/refreshment table as her personal ministry and is doing some great things with it. Our Nursery and Children’s Church ministries have undergone some changes. A couple ladies have taken on the ministry of the Children’s Church, one takes a month then the other takes a month. They are trying to make it more like a Children’s worship time, and they are trying to bring some continuity to this ministry. The Nursery continues to be served by volunteers. We have had a couple more people Safe Sanctuary certified this year to help with these Children’s ministries! A Care Team has been developed to help care for our shut-ins; several folks are calling or visiting our shut-ins, one of which is a retired pastor who has made Marble Hill his home church. It is good to have these resources in the church. The youth went on a mission trip to Sikeston to box up food at the Sikeston Food Bank this year. A trailer has been donated by one of our members to use for emergency response and some work has been done toward stocking it. Some work has been done toward developing a new directory, but this has been put on hold since our county is in the process of getting new 911 addresses. We have three young people who have started leading our Contemporary Song of Praise at the beginning of the service. This has really helped to enrich our worship and help people to participate in this song of praise, making the worship of our awesome God more passionate. There has even been some work toward looking into building the new addition mentioned in Phase IV of our growth plan, but for now that has been tabled until we can grow some more. The people of Marble Hill are eagerly working toward the mission of the church and God’s Kingdom! They are a good group of people! That growth plan is attached to this report!

Marble Hill has a website that one of our young people helped to set up, We have been doing some work to keep it updated and information posted on it about upcoming activities. During this year, someone logged unto it in Utah who used to live in the Marble Hill area. She saw what we were doing with youth in the area and contacted us by an email she found on the site. Since then, she has significantly been supporting our youth ministry on a monthly basis.
Marble Hill’s worship takes place at 10:30 a.m. each Sunday morning. Marble Hill has blended worship with elements of contemporary as well as traditional to meet the needs of all people in our geographic area. The people really begin to gather at about 9 a.m. for a time of fellowship around the hospitality table before Sunday School. The laity take an active part in worship: Marble Hill has a choir that leads us in traditional music with excellence. The choir has experienced some growth; we’ve had one lady move back and join the choir who sings and helps out with the organ as needed. Our Tech team includes a couple of very committed youth! Marble Hill is blessed with musical talent and several people share specials during worship; we have even discovered some new talent this past year! Praise God! Laity lead the Children’s time each week; after which, the children are dismissed to the nursery or Children’s Church which is also served by our laity. Marble Hill endeavors to offer passionate worship where people can encounter God and find their place in the Kingdom of God.

As of the writing of this report, the average attendance since this time last year at Marble Hill is 96 which is down from the 104 reported last year, but we have had some severe sickness in the church this year, and when you look at those who are missing with that consideration and add back those affected by that, you realize we have still grown. There are still people here who were not here last year. I believe that average may increase before the end of the year since many of those folks are back with us. The average attendance for 2013 was 85. We have had a total of 2 professions of faith who joined the church since the first of the year! Praise God! Marble Hill is alive and well, and moving forward for Christ, striving to make a positive difference in our community and the world. Marble Hill participated in Serve again this year with around 50 something taking part in doing service for our community in such ways as a mobile food pantry on our church parking lot, soup and food taken to the elderly and less fortunate, visits in the nursing home by our children’s group, highway and community clean up, and other work projects in the community. Marble Hill is a working church who takes seriously the Wesleyan emphasis on doing something because of your faith! Marble Hill is made up of people of just about any age, from many faith traditions. Marble Hill is really a regional church, having people come as far as Jackson, Patton, and the surrounding areas to worship here!

Marble Hill actively supports many local mission projects. Marble Hill actively supports The Amen Center, a local shelter with the mission of providing a place for people who are trying to help themselves get back on their feet. The Amen Center is housed in an old school building near a neighboring town. Besides supporting the Amen Center financially, folks from Marble Hill went to the Amen center to help paint and fix the property up at its beginning. Marble Hill also supports the local food pantry. Marble Hill sent an increase in food boxes, Hygiene kits, Dental kits, and cash donations to the Festival of Sharing this year! Again, Marble Hill has a heart for mission! Marble Hill UMC is one of the main churches people turn to for help in times of need because Marble Hill has a Benevolence fund and is known as a church who cares and who will help! That is not a bad way to be known!

The United Methodist Men at Marble Hill are preparing for their Annual Fish Supper. It is a big deal and many participate to make it happen. It is a time when I get to meet and invite several people to come and be a part of the church. It is a real good opportunity to get the church into the community! We are again planning for our annual Trunk or Treat. Again, it is a great opportunity to invite people to church and for people to receive information about the church in their treat bags! Marble Hill church had an Advent walk-through and for the first time in several years the Easter Passion Play production on the church grounds. Marble Hill uses all of these events as bridge events between the community and the church. For many, this may be their first exposure to the church. It is my job to work the crowd and meet people. This is another example of how the Marble Hill church is in the community and the community is in the church. There are many other ways, some of which I have surely missed, that Marble Hill is in the community, but hopefully, this is enough to convey the idea of just how vital a ministry the Marble Hill church offers in the Southeast district of Missouri.

Besides being in the community, Marble Hill also supports several missions beyond our community. Marble Hill church is in mission in Africa. Marble Hill has a long history of supporting “Heart of Africa.” Marble Hill supports this mission financially but has also sent people personally to be a part of this mission work in Africa. Marble Hill has supported Gideons International, Mozambique flooding, the PET project, Ferguson Church, Haiti Clean Water Project, Operation Christmas Child, and Heifer international this year. Marble Hill regularly sends out mission teams; one of the plans on the above mentioned growth plan is to prepare an emergency response trailer. Keep up the good work Marble Hill Church as you continue to make disciples in the uttermost parts of the world!

Marble Hill offers several faith building opportunities as well. Marble Hill offers Sunday School classes for all ages. We have four adult Sunday School classes and 4 children’s and youth classes. There are small group Bible Studies that take place from time to time. We have a youth group that meets each Wednesday night called “EPIC” to offer a short lesson, food, and fellowship. We also have a younger children’s group that meets on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday evenings called “JAMS” to offer the same to our children. JAMS has just undergone some changes with new people stepping up to lead this ministry. We have a good group of very creative children and youth leaders! We have a few laity who lead small group Bible Studies from time to time, and I lead Methodist 101 as needed.

My hope in providing this report is that those who read it will get a better sense of the vital ministry of the Marble United Methodist Church in a way that cannot always be detected when looking at stats. This is not a complete report of all the ways Marble has done ministry this year but is meant to celebrate some of the highlights of the year and to give the reader a flavor of the Marble Hill church. Marble Hill is one of a few congregations who are really making a difference in our world today, and I think that is worth celebrating! May God Bless you as we serve together!