Archive for July, 2012

John 6:1-21 “The Journey is the Destination” JUMC 20120729

From Field by Sea of Galilee

At the site of the 5000

4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. [NRSV]

Jesus asks Disciples to identify the starting place.

What DO we already have?

What are we WILLING to give away?

Who will SHARE?

The second miracle in the chapter is about ARRIVING at the destination.

The two miracles are connected.. In the first Jesus asked where are you when you look to your own strength and ability? Doubting, questioning and search.

In the second, the moment the disciples recognize Jesus is with them, they arrive at their destination, they get it.

Their faith journey is our faith journey as disciples.

We begin where we actually are and we arrive when we give ourselves away to Christ.

When we do none are lost, including ourselves.

SO WHAT? Answer these question with the disciples around you today:

Where are we right now, in the presence of Christ’s call to disciples the world around us?

What are we willing to share? Who is willing to share? What happens when Christ blessing our sacrifices?

Do we get it that Christ calls us to be disciples right her, right now? When we do, we fulfill who we are as the church.

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July 29, 2012 Crazy-Hawaiian Shirt Sunday

Wear your craziest shirt and join the Passionate Worship and Radical Hospitality at Jackson UMC

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Psalms 23 “Why is it so Beloved?” JUMC 20120722

The Lord is my Shepherd

The Lord is my Shepherd, Taken Near Bethlehem, Field of the Shepherds

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. [NRSV]

Just like you, in the church or not, most folks are familiar with some part of this Old Testament worship hymn. Books, movies, songs, hymns, greeting cards, and wall plaques have immortalitzed this song of praise ahead of others in the collection of 150 psalms.

There are some practical reasons why it is popular. It is positive. It is short. It is affirming, and paints couple of pictures-images that are comforting and protecting, if we can imaging being a sheep or at a party.

The are two scenes in this song. One verse is a lush green field beside a refreshing stream and the other is at a noise and busy dinner party. What do these two portents have in common and what makes them relevant for you and me?

Our culture is adopting the idea that “green” is good. This first part of the psalm is very green. Can you smell the fresh green grass. The sparkling clear water babbling by an ancient tree with broad branches and deep roots. There are other signs and smells that may be organic, but are not that green.  Sheep are not known for their pleasing aroma.  Every herd of animals leave a trail of processes green grass that the shepherd learns step around. But let’s not loose the romantic and clean image just yet.

The comforting message of the first scene is the restoring and renewing experience of God. God can be trusted like sheep trust the good shepherd to provide food and drink, rest and growth.  One message this psalm affirms is God’s continues to be trustworthy to provide for our growth, health and protection.

Life is not always in the green pastures. God provides even in the reality of life-threatening times. The Valley of the Shadow of Death.. might refer to an actual geographical bend in the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, and it might be metaphorical of life-and-death moments that come and go in our lives.

Where is God when danger, temptation and death surround us? We want to go back to the green pastures but sometimes that is not where we are. We are in trouble. God does not keep us out of the the shadowy valleys, instead God goes with us on the journey.

We thing God ought to hear our prayers and transport us out of tragedy or trouble, but that is not what happens 99.9999 percent of the time. The songs sings of the shepherd ‘rod and staff’. The staff is the long crook of nativity fame that is for rescuing wandering sheep. The rod is to beat off the enemies of the sheep, defending not chastising the sheep.

We are familiar with the proverb, “do not spare the rod” in child rearing. If we look at the function of the rod it is not to beat the sheep, it is to protect them. If we take that function of the ‘rod’ and read that as the proverb, our children need protecting from the evil in the world. As children of God, we need God protecting us, as much now, as ever.

Think of fishing with a baseball bat? You could tie a string to one end and dangle it over the water, but that is not it’s function. You could use a fishing pole to tan-someone-hide, but that is not it’s function. The rod protects the sheep. And in this evil generation, how we do need God’s protection.

Evil will tempt and surround us, God journeys through with us. Psalm 23..

The second verse, takes us to what is likely one of the cities of refuge in the Old Testament culture. The was a provision in the Hebrew tradition that if you harmed someone in one city there were two other cities that you could move to with immunity. The idea of sanctuary or witness-protect gave people the protection of being able to start over. It was an example and opportunity for grace.

In these cities, the injured parties might even gather for Passover or other festivals of worship and be seating at the common table together and yet be at the same worship of anointing and blessing.

What a great opportunity of grace is promised by God. Where can you gather with people that can check our sins at the door and still come together to sing, break bread, fellowship together… God’s house.

Q: Is that your experience in the church? As a pastor I hear more stories of those out side our churches saying they don’t trust us, calling church folks hypocritical and every worse.  The idea of living in the household of God our whole life sounds claustrophobic to most folks rather than comforting.

The assurance of the second verse reminds us that God has a plan for us, including for our failures. God work and deals in Grace. We don’t always treat each other with respect, love and kindness. But God finds a way to bring us all to the table.

My grandmother’s dinning room table was a large round wooden table. She taught me that she wanted everyone to have a place and where ever you came to the table you were sitting at the head of table. Because the table was round, ever seat was the prize place to be.

The image and practice of anointing has healing and blessing qualities in this hymn of praise. The abundance of the cup teaches that same message told later through the twelve baskets of abundance in feed the 5000 by Jesus and the disciples. They mess in both, is for that none would be lost. God has enough for us all.

With all the familiarity of the 23rd Psalm I invite you to know God’s protecting is not only in the easy of green pastures, it is in the threat of evil that God’s word is the rod that defends us still.

The abundance of grace in the face of evil that sits at the same table with us, is the place to deal with the our sins and differences. Come to the table and bring your worst, because God’s grace is ready for anything.

That is the power and witness of Psalms 23. Read it anew, live it by heart.

Join with me: Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. [NRSV]


OT: Amos 7.7-15 When the Chalk Gets Messy JUMC 20120715

7:7 This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” 10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'” 12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ [NRSV]

My first experience with the concept of a plumb line was watching one of our parsonage homes being built. I was in kindergarten and completely impressed with the earth movers, cement trucks and piles of building supplies. Each day we would visit the site to see the progress. Early in the process a group of fellows came out and placed a large yellow tripod in the middle of the site where the house was going and they began to all around carrying a tall yard stick. They hammered stakes in the ground and tied strings around the stakes where the corners of the house would later stand. It began to rain and they left. After the rain my dad and I went back to look at the work. He attention was diverted to with one of the trustees. I saw how the water had made the stakes loose and the strings a bit droopy. So I found a rock and knock the stakes in good and tight again and straitened the strings to they looked nice and tight. For some reason those men had to come back the next day and start all over..

The first time I bought a chalk line to measure tiles for a floor. I did not a buy the chalk to go with the plumb device. My assumption was that the chalk was only used to maintain the life of the line inside the  plumb and since it was new I could probably save a couple dollars and buy the chalk later.  We got read to measure of the sections in the floor and I pulled out my brand new plumb line. It was shiny chrome with a easy grip crank and a weighted hook on the end. The foreman at our mission trip seemed impressed that this young fellow has brought the proper tools for the job and asked me to snap a few lines. Honestly, I had no idea what he meant. Obviously I had never use this tool before. But it seemed reasonable that i needed to pull out the string and give it a snap in the place we needed to measure. As we started the task he commented that he had never seen one with white chalk on the line. I replied, this is a new one and it didn’t need any of that old-school chalk. He directed from a distance and we pulled the string tight and i pulled back the string and POP! I snapped my first line. It left no mark, of course, I tried again, with a good snap, I though it was simple to get the slack out of the line. I grabbed my pencil and started marking a pencil line along the string. The forman ran over and said, what in the world are you doing. I said, I’m drawing a line. After he snapped the line and saw no chalk his began to howl with laughter. The good news was he had a container of chalk, and I got my first lesson in drawing lines for construction. The chalk left the mark of where the line had been drawn.

The prophet Amos had been a landscape engineer and an animal care technician by trade and suddenly God places him as a prophet with a building project and new tools. Namely the plumb line. It is a very ancient tool. We look structures built thousands of years ago with perfectly straight lines and alignments with celestial bodies and precise measure of seasons and we know the plumb line has been around for a long, long time.

The flexibility of the string, the adaptabilty of the strings length, the weight of the point, gives an ancient awareness of the effects of gravity and the perspectives of distance, space and trigonometry, long before these forces and principles were given science and definition. The tools that measure what we do not fully understand but can trust their accuracy are at the heart of the prophet’s message and authority.

Amos was the first to affirm that it was not his words, but God’s words. It was God’s leading and motivation and not his experience nor his idea. Much like Noah’s rainbow was a sign set in the sky to remind God of God’s promise. Amos’s plumb line is a chalked marker for God not to forget. Q: Does God have a memory problem? No.

It is an assurance for us, that God does not forget us. But here is the question. With the struggles in our homes, the wars and famines of the world, the ebbs and dips of economy and politics, they cancers in our bodies and in our social contracts and behaviors… it is easy for us to look around and ask, “What is God right now? Has God forgotten Us?”

The answer is in the prophet himself. We don’t know a great deal about Amos, but we know he is willing to listen, trust and speak God’s mind rather than his own.

Who is willing to remind our leaders what is Godly? Truth, Integrity, Trust, Compassion, Justice, Mercy, Care for the Widow and the Orphan.

Amos was a messenger to the kings and the people. Where is the voice of Amos today? Some would say it is dangerous to mix politics and faith. But I would suggest that Amos is a clear demarkation in the structures of both politics and worship that calls for God to be remembered, revered and respected.

God’s words to Amos is this, “We cannot not claim ignorance nor apathy any more than God can.” If you have not voted early, what are your waiting for. It’s not appropriate for me to tell you who to vote for, but if the voice of God is not repeated by God’s people, then WHO will remind us? God has not forgotten.

Who among us will speak up with Amos and point out the lines of justice, righteous, mercy, justice, purpose and even love.

Who will our children listen to about respecting piers, marriage, and family?

Who will our youth turn to what they face failures, trials and questions?

Who will our adults turn to when we are lulled to believe someone else will lead, speak or go?

Who will our families and households trust when faithless folks promise prosperity, happiness and success?

Amos’ witness has remained over two thousand years, and his actions still remind us, but he is one voice. What are you doing with your voice, your witness? your faith?

God has a standard and the world around us has forgotten it, not God. Who will speak up? Who will keep silent?

I’m not able said Amos, God said, ” Go point out my heart and truth, and go now.”  Who is with me?

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Ezekiel 2:1-5 “Thus Says the Lord” JUMC 20120708

God says listen up, my storm is coming

2:1 He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2 And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” 5 Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. [NRSV]

TARGET: Sent to the Rebels, Transgressors, and those impudent and stubborn…

Ezekiel is a prophet given an ambitious charge. He audience is not the faithful regulars. It is those who know better. It is those who know what is good, true, right and just but do not trust, believe and act accordingly.

If you made a quick top ten list of the first 10 sins that plague our community what might they be? i asked a number of folks, quite unscientifically and not in ranked order, but looking for first impressions here the list I heard:

  • Depressed Economy
  • Crime
  • Illegal Drugs
  • Poverty
  • Hunger
  • Disparity of Education
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Lack of Leadership
  • Excessive Heat
  • Blame

It is an interesting list. Each answer touches on real problems that face our community and most every community around us. But it is interesting, that of every person I asked, not one mentioned God. And not one of them named themselves. What do we make of that?

Well to be fair, I asked about the community and not of the church. Church and State are to remain separate, right? I suggest that is the politically correct answer, but not at Godly one. Let’s look a little deeper:

We could get lost in the history lesson of learning about why ‘those people’ had moved away from God and the life God hopes for God’s people. We could be lulled into thinking that this is only a story about Ezekiel and some other people. But God’s call is not just historical. It is present through us. The message given to this prophet is remembered because it is a universal call for each of us. God’s call to work and speak through the faithful is timeless and include you and me.

There are folks who look at what is right and wrong and come up with every answer under heaven, without consulting heaven from the start.

Therefore Ezekiel’s audience is our target, and Ezekiel’s prophetic charge is our work and calling today.

At a Braves game, the winning runner turns the corner around third heading for home. There is a collision with the catcher at the plate. The Cub’s fans yell, “OUT” and the Braves fans scream, “SAFE” and the umpire says, “He is nothing until I make the call.”

God makes the call. Some times we are safe. Some times we drop the ball and we need to remember who decides the outcome of the game. God!

REASON: They shall have no excuse

God’s single mission is to take away the excuse factor.

Remove the blame from our game. One of the things that is a tremendous waste of time and clouding of reality is the quest for who to blame when things go wrong.

In our sue or be sued culture, billions of dollars fund thousands of court cases ending with determinations of who is to blame and who is responsible for making things right. At home, families become divided over who is at fault for mistakes and failures.

Can you image how successful the reality show would be if people took responsibility for their actions and moved on from their mistakes showing forgiveness and learning to make better choices. I don’t think our society would watch more than the first commercial break and call it fake and unrealistic.

The prophet hears the call to point our blame, not for vengeance, meanness, or correctness. Rather it is for restoring what is good, true and righteous. God is just taking the need for blame out of the equation of faithfulness.

This is actually a very gracious thing. It sounds demanding, but it is actually filled with Grace. God is not as interested in excuses as God is interested in the us: the Rebels, Transgressors, and those impudent and stubborn.

Go tell the rebellious ones God is warning and telling you God is making things plain…

In this world of upside down values and priorities… God is turning the world’s ways back: God side up.

All our task is to take on the roll of prophet is so to relay God’s work… not ours.

Debra Fine (in The Fine Art of Small Talk) wrote about 8-year-old Nick who told his dad about his day: “Dad, I had a great day at school. We had art class today, and I painted a cool picture of the mountains. We played soccer during gym, and I scored a goal. And guess what? They served pizza for lunch.”

Looking at his dad whose nose was buried elsewhere, Nick said, “Dad, you’re not listening.” His dad replied, “Yes I am, Son. You painted a picture of the mountains, scored a goal in soccer, and had pizza for lunch.”

Nicolas was unappeased. “No, Dad; that’s not it. You’re not listening to me with your eyes.” David Jeremiah observes: “As parents, we don’t always listen to our children as we should (hopefully we’re improving), but our heavenly Father always listens with His ears, His eyes and His heart. We have His full attention. You can tell Him anything.”

ACTION PLAN: God is talking to you, listen up, now!

The remarkable part of this text from Ezekiel is that God is speaking to God’s prophet. The prophet not only has God’s word to share, they hear and see God speaking.

It would be nice, especially in our stubborn times, for God to speak as clearly and plainly as God speaks here to ‘Zek. But it may be more difficult that we make it out to me. We are generally demanding of God: “Speak to me, and speak up right now!” we demand. And we hear instead a familiar family, neighbor, friend, co-worker, or even stranger speak and we feel they are a distraction, when they very well are God speaking to us.

Here in Ezekiel we have the whole message, start to finish, made clear:

Go tell folks God has something for them to hear, Listen up now:

God is not interested in excuses or blame. God wants your trust. You have not excuses left. It’s time to trust God..

It’s a two sided message: It is one we need to hear and its one we need to actually share, not one or the other.

Ezekiel needed to hear as much as he needed to tell the world around him. God got through to him and three thousand years later we still read how Ezekiel listened to God and still speaks to us RIGHT NOW.

Go tell and world and they just might still hear your faithfulness 3000 years from now! Amen? Amen!

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2 Corinthians 8:7-15 “Is it a Genuine?” JUMC 20120701 Communion VBS

7 Now as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you–so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something– 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has–not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” [NRSV]

The round sealing stone in the picture above is miniature replica of what the stone in front of Jesus’s tomb might have looked like. This one was about one fourth the size needed to seal the tomb entrance at the garden tomb location. Part of the faith journey of the Garden Tomb site is that it is not historical location of the tomb, which is located within the walls of the city. Therefore some would say it is not the genuine local. So the question remains for some what is real, true and genuine.

The text today is about being genuine in our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Some folks may start with eagerness, hopes and dreams, but grow weary, doubt-filled or even loose their faith all together. Paul’s advice to the church at Corinth is to finish what they have started.

I am no runner. Yesterday was no day to be running. It was eerie how quiet our street and all downtown appeared for what appeared to be a beautiful day from the comfort of our air cooled homes and cars. The first step out the door was a walking into a wall of baking heat that would drive anyone to the nearest vent, fan, or coolest shade. Just because one day is too hard to walk is no reason to give up on walking altogether. When it cools 10-15 degrees go out again. Drive to grocery store, mall or shopping center and walk in the AC. Find a swimming pool or go to the lake and swim for exercise.. keep the prize of the goal in sight.

Paul links Genuineness of faith to our generosity of sharing our riches. We have begun a financial campaign in the scaring financial time. Our goal is to raise over $750,000 in three years to retire or indebtedness and start a maintenance fund to care for our beautiful facilities. We are calling it, “Finish the Paving” Campaign. It is remarkable that so many folks who have never given to a building fund have joined in the challenge. When those who have started have been hesitant to make the commitment to complete the goal.

Paul’s words are to look back at our first love and reconnect with the good that got us started. I look at my car, my 2004 Pacifica, it now has over 212,000 miles. There are times that I see the ads for the new 2012 models and convince myself that I have gotten all the good out of my current ride. But in this economy is it faithful to go into debt when my car is still dependable. Even if it needs a couple of months worth of payments to keep it up another year, what is the prize? What is the goal?  Dependable transportation. If it died tomorrow it would be a different circumstance, but today I need not dream of that new car smell that is so tempting.

The challenge from Paul is not to equate riches with faith, rather what do we consider our greatest wealth and how do we use what we have. He reminds us of Christ’s wealth. Not in banks or real estate or even credit. Jesus’s wealth was in his life given for our lives. A price paid for our salvation, our hope and our relationship.

Our greatest wealth is the life Christ has died to save and liberate. What have you done for Christ lately. I thank dearly those who have given sweat equity to make VBS possible, for those who have made sandwiches for hungry children, for those who have travel to foreign lands to build up God’s house, for those who have shared food, clothes and money so that other can have what they need in these trying days and nights.

Paul affirms that we have different gifts to share. Some prayer while others sweat. Some give while other spend. Some invest when other reap. At stake are those, wither rich or poor, have started but not finished the course. At risk is the relationship Christ has opened up, that we might have diverted because of worldly wealth, emotional fears, or social pride have challenged.

The charge is to pick the flag back up and carry it into battle. The advice is to continue what we first loved. The challenge is to step back into the deep water and keep our eyes on Jesus in the storm..

That is what is Genuine. That is what is true. That is what is Christ wants us to eagerly go. And place of refreshment is at his table. Come and drink and eat … that we might live again the life Christ died to live in us. Come!

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