Monday, March 20, 2017

The Over-Comers!

3rd Sunday in Lent!
                                                              John 4:5-30 & 39-42
First Movement:                               
            I have grown up in some ways with a very sheltered life.  The area we lived in St Louis, at the time we lived there, about 1964 – 1974, was largely white.  I remember seeing one black guy in high school when I was walking by from elementary school.  When we moved to Corning, Arkansas, we moved into a county that had the designation of being lily white and dry.  There were no blacks in the school.  Corning had a past with a bad reputation when it came to blacks.  Blacks from Neelyville, in the past knew not to be caught in Corning after dark.  Things weren’t that bad when I lived there and now, but it is still an area with a high rate of prejudice toward blacks. 

            Over the years, I have had more exposure to people of color.  One of those was when I took a seminary class that included an immersion trip to Oklahoma where we spent time with native Americans.  That ended up being an immersion in cultures in more ways than one.  In my class that went out there, we had about 3 or 4 people of color who traveled with us on the van.  They were on the track for ministry just like myself.  I talked to them a lot during our travels together.  One time we stopped at a Walmart, and one of them jokingly and some seriously commented about how clerks would watch them closer than others in our group because they were black and asked some of us to walk with them.  I became pretty close to these fellow classmates on our trip.

            I like to think that I am not prejudice.  I have come a long way, but when I go into an all black area of town, do I think about it.  Yes, sadly I still do.  I push myself to minister there in spite of my reluctance, if it is in my parish, but I do think about it.  Would I be less inclined to stop to check on a car on the side of the road with black folks in it than white, I am afraid I might be.  I have grown to the point I can see this in myself, and in some ways, that in itself is growth.
Second Movement:
Our story today again is from the gospel of John.  This is a story that has no parallels in the synoptic gospels.  Why did John include it, and what does it mean that he did?  Jesus goes through Samaria on his way from Judah to Galilee in the North.  Most Jews, by the way, did not go through Samaria but instead went around.  The Samaritans were a despised people to the Jews. 

When the Southern Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians, they were carted off to Babylon and given an area in which to live.  During this time, they were able to keep some of their Jewish traditions and were able to maintain a large degree of their identity.  This is when the synagogue was developed since they were no longer able to go to the temple in Jerusalem.  On the other hand, when the Northern Kingdom fell (which included the area of Samaria and Galilee) to the Assyrians, the King of Assyria, sent men in to rape their women and do away with the race that way.  They were a nation of half-breeds!  II Kings 17:24 names people from 5 nations that the king sent in to live in the Northern Kingdom.  In the Northern Kingdom, they lost their identity and they lost their Jewish faith.  Later, in the area of Galilee, the Jewish faith had been restored.  They were still half-breeds in that area, but because the Jewish faith had been restored there, they were in good standing with Judah at the time of Jesus.

So Jesus goes into Samaria, in spite of the fact they were half-breeds!  In spite of the fact that they did not share the Jewish faith as they did in Galilee and Judah!  John likes to use metaphors.  We can see that even more in John’s Revelation.  When metaphors are used, there is a hidden meaning that people of the time get.  In John’s Revelation, there was hidden meaning to all the metaphors that the people got and that gave them hope.  Some scholars think there is some metaphoric language used in this story.  Jesus says to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” They would argue that it would be very unlikely for a woman to have actually had five husbands at this time but that this was instead referring to the five nations that the Assyrian King had sent into the Northern Kingdom to rape and/or marry the women.  The sixth man who she was not married to would be the current state of Samaria.  “Knowing everything that I have ever done,” would be referring to Jesus knowing all about this past history of the nation of Samaria.  He knew about their false worship!  He knew about their consorting with Judah’s enemies!  He knew about everything that the people of Judah ever thought the people of the Northern Kingdom was guilty of.  In spite of all this, he still loved them and accepted them!  The living water was still available to them!!  This is a story of overcoming a deeply entrenched hatred and prejudice against the Samaritans.  It is a story of the gospel overcoming divisions between people.      

Third Movement:  
             Christianity has had a long sad history of prejudice and divisions!  There were the Crusades between Christians and Islam.  There was the rift between Catholics and protestants!  Many churches were divided over the slave issue and the rift between blacks and whites!  Jews and Christians have not always been on best terms.  There are still divisions looming today! 

Jesus faced the prejudice of his day by planning a face to face encounter with this Samaritan woman at the well.  You have to come face to face with the “other” before you can ever begin to overcome long standing prejudice.  The enculturation experience I shared about earlier is probably one of the biggest factors for me that has helped me see people who are different than me as people who God loves just like me.  People who are equal to me in God’s eyes!  People who we need to genuinely love and care for as a church!  People who we as a church need to be proactive to include!

Forth Movement:
            Jesus was proactive about overcoming the prejudice of His day and including these despised Samaritans.   As Christians, we are to be over-comers!  We are to bridge the gap between peoples.  Before we can do that, we need to realize our own prejudice.

            As we have our closing hymn, the invitation is two-fold.  First, do you need to come and pray that God would help you with your prejudice towards some group (that the Spirit has convicted you of this morning) and help you to take steps toward overcoming it in your life?  Secondly, do you need to ask God to help you be an over-comer of the prejudice you see in society, just like Jesus?                                      Prayer

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

One Man's Journey of Faith!

2nd Sunday in Lent!
                                                                     John 3:1-17
First Movement:                               
            During my first full time pastorate in another faith tradition, I had two deacons.  Deacons in that tradition were kind of like lay leaders in ours.  They were both very faithful leaders in the church, but upon visiting them, I found that there was always a point of contention between the two.  The one was a very deep thinker who was always asking questions; in any discussion, he seemed to always play the devils advocate so to speak.  He always had a question to ponder.  He didn’t take anything at face value.  He taught a Sunday School class and was a big worker in the church.

            The other found his ministry in the evangelistical part of the church.  When I first went there, he said he would take me around to meet the shut-ins and to visit prospective members in the area.  He was an important resource in that way.  He helped me meet many people who used to be active in the church who were not.  He helped me meet many people in the community who were not churched.  He had all the scriptures in mind to lead someone to Christ, and he sought opportunities to use them.  One of his favorite scriptures was, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 15:13)  To him, this scripture meant that you could “know” that you were saved, and if you did not know, maybe something was wrong.

            When I first visited my deep-thinker deacon, I hadn’t been visiting long when he asked me, “Do you think you can know by any shadow of a doubt that you are saved?”  I said something like, “I think we can have an assurance that we are saved, but I think there will always be times we’ll have our doubts; Satan will see to that.”  He proceeded to tell me about a discussion he had had with the other deacon in which, the other deacon had told him he wasn’t saved if he didn’t “Know” it.  The other deacon felt he was missing something!  As a result, this deacon always struggled with that knowing piece, and as you can imagine, there was always a point of contention between the two.  I think he was a little jealous of the one who seemed to have it all figured out, and he acted out sometimes as a result.  We’ll come back to this later!
Second Movement:
            Our scripture today from John’s gospel, is about a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who comes to talk to Jesus by night.  The closest comparison in the synoptic gospels is the story of the Rich Young Man or Ruler who asks what he must do to be saved, but in John’s gospel, he is given a name, is a Pharisee, and he doesn’t ask what he needs to do to be saved, but he just comes, and Jesus tells him, “You must be born again.” 

            Remember I told you:  “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.”  I also said, “It seems to me that John is more into interpreting what has happened than just recording for us what has happened.”

John has this discussion about being born again. It is from John’s gospel that we get this theology of the new birth in Christ.  He says,  if Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself.  He says, that Jesus came so that whosoever believes can have eternal life!  He is interpreting for us what Jesus did.  Also, I think John wants us to follow Nicodemus’s story a little closer for a reason.

Here Nicodemus comes by night.  He is a Pharisee, and following Jesus would not be a popular thing in his circles, but he comes to have this discussion with Jesus.  He seeks him out; he has questions.  Nicodemus opens with “I know you are a teacher from God; you couldn’t do these things otherwise.” This is somewhat of a faith statement!   Then Jesus offers to him, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  This is a new concept for Nicodemus.  How can someone who is already alive enter into the womb and be born again?  Following this is an explanation offered by Jesus including the very familiar John 3:16 passage.  Here, it doesn’t say he went away sorrowfully because he had much riches; it doesn’t really say what Nicodemus did.  I think we have a man here who has expressed a limited amount of faith in Jesus but is struggling with some of the concepts based on his background.  John picks back up with Nicodemus in John 7:50 with him in a discussion with other Pharisees about Jesus; Nicodemus asks here, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”  He is kind of coming to the defense of Jesus.  Then finally, John records him in John 19:38-40, when all the other disciples have fled and disowned Jesus, coming with Joseph of Arimathea to claim Jesus’ body and prepare it for burial.  When all the others had fled, he was willing to step up and be numbered with Jesus’ followers. 

I think John wants us to follow Nicodemus a little closer because our journey isn’t always one with no questions or doubts, but nevertheless, it is a journey of faith.  Today, just like in Nicodemus’ journey of faith,  Jesus is not afraid of our questions!  It is okay to ask questions!   John also wants us to see that sometimes that one who is asking all the questions is the one still standing when all others have fled!  They are the ones who are really growing in faith!

Third Movement:  
            John knew that we would have questions; that is why in I John 15:13 he writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  John is trying to give us some assurance in spite of our questions.  He is trying to answer some of the questions.  He is not trying to say that we will know beyond the shadow of a doubt, and if we do not know beyond the shadow of a doubt or if we question, we aren’t saved!  That is really making this verse say something it isn’t saying. 

Forth Movement:
            I said I’d come back to my two deacons.  I think they both had faith.  They were both great workers in the church.  None of us are perfect, and neither of these were perfect.  They both had their strong points.  The one was good at allowing people to ask the questions and grow in their faith.  The other was good at reaching out to those on the outside and trying to bring them in.  The latter and his wife were great friends to us and offered to be substitute grandparents for our children while we were there, for which I will always be grateful!   I wish they could have understood each other’s journey more.  I wish they could have valued each other’s part a little more and not felt intimidated by the other. 

            Nicodemus’ story reminds us that there is a place for both types in the kingdom of God.  Do you find your self relating to either of my deacons?  Like the one, and maybe like Nicodemus, do you have questions?  Do you find yourself being the devil’s advocate sometimes?  Does faith not always come as easy to you as it seems to for others?  Do you find yourself jealous of others who seem to really have it all figured out?  Do you need to come to Jesus and just acknowledge your faith in the one who you see doing great things and to acknowledge that you have questions but that you want Christ’s help as you continue the journey this lent? 

            Or maybe faith comes pretty easy for you, and you don’t understand why some people have all the questions.  Maybe you see that as a lack of faith on their part?  Maybe you sometimes doubt their salvation?  Maybe you need to come and as Christ for patience and to help you to be more accepting of others who are also on the faith journey as you continue your journey this lent? 

            Our closing hymn is “Only Trust Him.”  Do you need to come to the cross and trust him today?


Monday, March 6, 2017

The Ultimate Temptation!

1st Sunday in Lent

                                                                    Matt. 4:1-11
First Movement:
             When I was a teenager, we moved from St. Louis to Corning Arkansas when I was going into the 10th grade.  During the time between then and when I graduated high school, we found a wonderful church that had an awesome youth group.  We had cottage prayer meetings at the youth director’s home where I grew close to the leaders as well as the other youth.  We had student led prayer times during noon out on the high school campus.  My pastor’s wife taught the youth Sunday school class and I had my first experience at teaching my peers during a time when she gave us opportunity to do that.  Our church grew until it was bulging at the seams.  Many Sundays, we had to pull out chairs to put them in the isles.  It was a great growing time for me.
            Also, within that time, our pastor began preaching that God had told him we needed to sell out and build in a new location.  He handled it in a way that he was only able to get less than half of the congregation convinced, and they ended up leaving to start a new church.  It ended up being a very bitter split; I’ve told you about this before, but what I haven’t said much about is the struggle this caused for me.  Most of the people who I had grown to love and who had helped me to grow the most were the ones who left!  My parents wanted to stay; I’m sure they felt that was the right thing to do.  It is hard to know what to do in a case like that, but the thing for me was that the people who had so influenced my life were now on the outside.  I was now an outsider to them because I had not gone with them.  I no longer felt as welcome to meet with them during  the prayer meetings at school.  We grew apart.  The pastor who left said this was God’s will!  Now we had two churches and more people in church!  (On a side note, now, 40 years later, only one of those churches has survived and it is running about 26 on a good Sunday!  Satan really did a number!)  I struggled with this being God’s will!  I struggled with God allowing this to happen to our youth group!  I struggled with what I saw people saying to and about each other!  I read the scripture that says,

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been testedd as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.[1] “ (Heb. 4:14-16)

I struggled with this scripture; when had Jesus experienced what I had gone through?  Forty years later, I read this scripture today to people going through a difficult time, usually in the hospital.  I know many times they too are wondering when did Jesus have bypass surgery? Or Etc.                                                                 

Second Movement:
            Our passage from Matthew today is many times read on the 1st Sunday in Lent, as it is this year.  Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness is paralleled to some degree with our 40 day journey during Lent.  His temptation is compared with ours, thus he is the Great High Priest who has lived and been tempted as we have, yet was without sin!  As we begin our Lenten Journey today, let’s look at Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, let’s look at the Biblical significance for Matthew’s first readers, and let’s look at how Jesus indeed is our Great High Priest who understands what we are going through and can give us what we need.

Third Movement:  
            The temptation of Jesus is divided into three temptations.  First, “The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”[2]  Jesus is obviously quoting scripture here, so what is He referencing? 
The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. [3] (Exo. 16:1-4)
This event is summed up in another passage which Jesus is quoting:
Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. 3 He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.a [4]  (Deut. 8:2-3)

Israel is referred to as the Children of God.  In Hosea 11:1, Israel is referred to as the son of God!  In this wilderness temptation, Israel fails at being God’s Son!  They fail to trust God!  They fail to believe that even in the situation that they are in God is still in control and is going to take care of them.  They say you should have left us in Egypt; this hunger episode is all it took for them to bail on their faith in the God who would sustain them!  Jesus, the Son of God (the Messiah), chose to trust God only!  Jesus chose to trust God for his food and with everything, realizing we truly do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord!

      The second temptation is this: “Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”[5] (Matt. 4:5-7)  Again, Jesus is referencing scripture here and an earlier event in the history of Israel:
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massaha and Meribah,bbecause the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”[6]      (Exo. 17:1-7)
And also: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. [7]  (Deut. 6:16)

These passages are clearly about putting the Lord to the test.  Will you really trust the Lord, or will you loose faith and not trust?  The Children of Israel, the first son, failed the test!  Israel failed to trust God but instead felt that God had lost control and maybe really wasn’t God at all!  Jesus, on the other hand, completely trusted God!

      The third temptation is, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”[8] (Matt. 4:8-10)  This is about idolatry!  The Children of Israel knew about that!
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold,a and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.[9]  (Exo. 32:1-6)

And the books of the law clearly stated:  “The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. 14 Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, [10] (Deut. 6:13-14)  Israel, the first Son, clearly had a problem with this one, but Jesus, the Son of God and the Messiah,  only wanted to serve God!  He saw this for what it was, a betrayal of allegiance to God. 

            Matthew’s readers would have understood this concept as well.  They were daily tempted to bow down to Rome in order to do well financially etc., but Jesus sets the bar to serve only God!

Forth Movement:
            All of these temptations have one thing in common, the temptation to treat God as less than God!  That is the ultimate temptation!   They are all about not letting God be God and putting our faith in something else or in nothing at all!  In either way, it is about not letting God be God!  When my church split, I was left with the temptation to abandon God and not let God be God!  I was angry and felt that something had been taken from me; I was tempted to not trust God!  Jesus understands that temptation; Jesus was able to give me what I needed.  When we loose a loved one to death or when we have to watch a loved one suffer leading up to death, we may be tempted to loose faith in God and not let God be God, but Jesus understands that  temptation to not let God be God and can give us what I need!  If I suffer from alcohol or drug addiction, I am putting my trust in something other than God to get me through.  I am not letting God be God; Jesus understands that temptation to not let God be God and can help me through!   If my own health is failing, if I have had a heart attack or have been diagnosed with cancer, the temptation is to loose faith in God, to loose hope that God can make any difference, to not let God be God!  Jesus can help me with that!  As you encounter Christ at the table today, whatever you are dealing with, leave it here and let God be God!  Amen!

Prayer of Confession 
Service of Communion

d Or tempted
[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
[3]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
a Or by anything that the Lord decrees
[4]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
[5]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
a That is Test
b That is Quarrel
[6]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
[7]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
[8]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
a Or fashioned it with a graving tool; Meaning of Heb uncertain
[9]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville
[10]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

Monday, February 27, 2017

We Are Witnesses!

Transfiguration Sunday

                                                     Matt. 17:1-9 & II Peter 1:16-21
First Movement:
            We grow up with a lot of Myths!  If a black cat crosses your path, you will have bad luck!  If you break a mirror, you’ll have seven days bad luck!  If you step on a crack, you’ll break your grandmother’s back!  If you walk under a ladder, you’ll have bad luck!  If it is Friday thirteenth, it is going to be a bad day; something bad is going to happen!  Some people believe these Myths with varying degrees.  My sister, if she wakes up and realizes it is Friday thirteenth, she just waits with expectation on what will go wrong that day.  She just knows something bad will happen, and when it does, it is because it is Friday thirteenth! 

            There were a lot of Myths circulating at the time of our scripture.  The word myth in our scripture “implies a false or pernicious tale.” (Interpreter’s)  Myths were used to discredit the teaching of an opponent; it happens today!  There was the myth that someone proposed that the followers of Jesus had stolen his body, that he didn’t really resurrect.  There was a myth voiced by Plato that divine punishment was used by nursemaids and rulers to enforce morality!  Someone else argued that tales of punishment in hell and rewards in paradise merely reflect the anxieties and desires of the mind in this life! 

Second Movement:
            Our Matthew text records what we have come to call the Transfiguration of Jesus.  We’ve come through a teaching time in the church where we typically talk about the teachings of Christ.  Matthew has grouped the teachings of Christ together for us!  He follows it with the Transfiguration to further drive home the fact that Jesus is indeed the Messiah!  This is the last Sunday of this teaching time before we begin Lent next Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. 

            Matthew records the accepted belief about what happened on the Transfiguration.  There are no surprises here; the synoptic gospels all pretty well agree on this.  Jesus appears alongside Moses and Elijah, who were both already dead.  They represent early prophets and teachers of the law.  Jesus’ face glows and his clothes become dazzling white, and God announces this is my beloved Son, listen to him!   This is believed by the church to be a claim by God of Jesus as the Messiah!  This is an epiphany moment!

            But along with all that this passage stands for, it is also one of the most hard passages for modern people to swallow, because it is so other-worldly!  Here we are to believe that Moses and Elijah suddenly appear with Jesus; I mean they would already be decayed!  Is this a record of an actual historical event in which Moses and Elijah both come back to life for a moment, or is this a miracle of a vision where Peter, James, and John are given a glimpse of something to help them better understand who Jesus is? This at the very least is an epiphany about who Jesus is; Matthew wants to say that Jesus is indeed the Messiah!   It would have equally as difficult for non-Christians of Peter’s day to swallow or believe.

Third Movement:
            Our passage from Peter gives us Peter’s take on what happened that day.  Peter says, we didn’t get caught up in some cleverly devised myth about Jesus.  This is not a myth!  We are eyewitnesses of his majesty!  We received honor and glory from God to be his witnesses.  This tells us two things: first, this was a message from God.   Peter is wanting to say, if you call this into question, you are calling God into question!  We did not make this up!   Second, it is an honor to be entrusted with this message from God!  Peter considered it to be an honor to be God’s messenger of the transfiguration, to be entrusted with the message that Jesus was indeed the Messiah!  Peter says, we saw this, and we heard the voice of God!  Peter says, do not be deceived, we are witnesses!!  Peter then says with determination, we will keep being a lamp shining in a dark place, “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 

            Peter says, we are determined to be lights in the darkness.  We are determined to tell God’s message, “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  He will tell it until when?  Until the day dawns: maybe a reference to the day Christ comes back, or until the morning star rises in your hearts: maybe until you get it and believe!  Either way, Peter is determined to keep telling it!  Whatever happened that day at the Transfiguration of our Lord, it made a lifelong impression on Peter!

Forth Movement:
            What about us?  We too are witnesses!  Maybe we aren’t witnesses of the literal Transfiguration of Jesus, but we are witnesses of what Jesus has done in our lives!  We are witnesses of our understanding of Jesus!  Do we have that same burning desire to be lamps in the darkness?  We have what people need!  Are we determined to tell it until he comes again or until people believe?  Oh, that we would!  There is so much more at stake here than a so so commitment.  We have been given so much!  We have been given grace!  We have been given forgiveness!  We have been given a second chance!  We have been given a purpose in life!  Will we pass it on?  Or will we not pass on the saving, power of God?  It is up to us today!  We are the messengers of our time!  What will we do with this awesome responsibility?


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, 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!      

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thank you from your Pastor!

Thank you for your support of all the ministries of Marble Hill UMC. Thank you for your generous support of our monthly missions like Rainbow Network and the Christmas Shoe Boxes above and beyond your tithes and offerings to the church.

Your regular tithes and offerings support the behind the scenes but expected ministries and everyday functions of the church. Your regular tithes and offerings:

  1. Pay the staff to have a church office that you can come to for ministry needs throughout the week, and as a resource for much of what happens in the church.
  2. Provide for a pastor that can minister to you and lead the church in reaching out into the community.
  3. Insure that when you come into the church and flip a switch the lights come on and the ac/heat is there for your comfort as well.
  4. When you turn on a faucet the water flows.
  5. There is ample parking for members and visitors.
  6. The grass is mowed and the place is kept looking nice for visitors as well as regulars.
  7. Pay for the song books you use, the computers we use, the Sunday school literature that you use!
  8. Pay for a janitor to do some of the clean up for us as our building is used for ministry.
  9. Pay for general upkeep up our facility so that it is an attractive place for visitors and from which to do ministry.
  10. Pay for some of the administrative costs, building costs, and misc costs of doing much of the ministry we do in the community to provide a spiritual home for our community (as our mission statement says).

We don't talk about all these rather hidden costs much of the time, but your support makes all this happen every day and every week. Thank you for your support of all the ministries of our church. It is nice, as your pastor, to not have to be standing up here begging for money to do the ministry of the church!

Pastor Mike