Reflection for Sunday, November 25

Reading for November 25th:

John 18:33-37

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=410188848)

 

Reflection:

“So you are a king?” That question from Pilate shows us that he, and many others, never understood the words that Jesus was giving them. Which really shouldn’t surprise us since those closest to Jesus, the disciples, were always twisting and screwing up the messages he gave them. How could one expect a nonbeliever to grasp the concept of Jesus as King in a new and different way.

This Sunday is when churches celebrate what is called “Reign of Christ” or “Christ the King” Sunday. It’s easy to get caught up in the king imagery and only think about classic European monarchs and all the regalia that came with those eras. Images of castles, crowns, banquet feasts, wars, and armor come to our mind. We imagine a political ruler and way of living under the “rule” of this new leader, Jesus.

These images might be a good start for us to connect with Jesus taking over control of our life, but it isn’t really the heart of the message he left us, nor is it what he meant when he responded to Pilate’s question of, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus gave us a glimpse throughout his ministry of a different kind of kingdom and different kind of king. We must tackle that idea to really understand what it means to have Christ reign in our lives.

The Kingdom is upon us in the Word become flesh and in our response to God’s grace. When we respond faithfully and with goodness, we are within the Kingdom and can begin to experience it. Jesus taught us to pray that “thy Kingdom come” and demonstrated that what happens here and now matters. If it were all about paying a price and adhering to a code there would be no need for the healing of a withered hand on the Sabbath. That is, there wouldn’t have been need for Jesus to buck the system and show that God’s Kingdom is a way of life, not merely a set of rules.

The Scriptures are full of stories in both testaments that show people trying to faithfully live in a way that pleases God by adhering to strict rules and harsh punishments, but they have always fallen short. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ changed all of that for us, and should cause us to pause and think about what the Kingdom really is. Our communities and churches are full of people who feel separated and alone, and it is through an understanding of the Kingdom of God that the separation can go away.

So many signs of this new rule of Christ and God’s Kingdom here on earth aren’t large acts or miracles, but are done by small groups of people without formal structure or support. It is done out of an understanding that the church is the mirror of the Light of Christ, and that the world can change through enough small acts of kindness. So often it feels that people are willing to sit and wait for good to happen and at least live in hope that life eternal will grant them some relief if this world is not ideal for them, however, that is not how I understand the Kingdom of God, and I don’t believe it’s what Jesus alludes to in his response to Pilate in his final moments. Through the constant offering of ourselves to God daily, we can realize that small acts can be a light to others, so imagine what could happen on a larger scale if all of the church universal lived into that mentality. God’s Kingdom is something to be discovered here and now, and we are to be the co-creators in that new possibility through God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

 

No Vacation For The Church

We’ve reached the summer schedule in our lives for sure now. The temperatures the last week definitely indicated that we’ve shifted to a new season, even if not officially yet. I notice more people walking in the evenings, more bicycles on the road, and more people just outside in general. For many, this is the time of year for vacations, weekend lake trips, baseball and softball games, sports camps, and maybe just an overall different pace of life and schedule. In the summer, we do different activities and some of our “regular stuff” goes to the wayside for a season.

So, how about the church? I’ve seen different versions of this picture going around social media the last few weeks, and at first I chuckled and moved on, but after awhile it began to make me think, “is this what people think about the church (not just the pastor) when it comes to summer?”

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The church and its ministry doesn’t take a “vacation.” Here are the list of things the church doesn’t stop doing for the summer:

  • Having worship
  • Helping those in need
  • Visiting the sick
  • Visiting the homebound
  • Planning for future events
  • Children & Youth Events (In fact we have some fund ones in the works for the summer!)
  • Doing outreach and evangelism
  • Being involved in the fair
  • Bible Study
  • Keeping the office open and available for members and the community

Being the church never stops, and definitely doesn’t take vacation. Individuals may do those things from time to time, but we, as the body of Christ, need to continue to do the work of the Kingdom. This means keeping up with our spiritual development, attending worship as often as possible, keeping the church in your prayers, and yes, keeping our tithes and offerings going through the summer.

We’ve had great momentum and growth over the last 8-10 months in our church, and a lot of hard work has gone into that movement. The one thing I know about momentum (I didn’t do well in the physical sciences) is that it needs velocity to keep it going. We must keep ourselves going, no matter the season, to fulfill our mission “To Help People of All Ages Become Deeply Committed Christians.”

Enjoy your summer and I’ll see you on Sunday!
Pastor Zach

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

heart-3257237_1920Do you ever hear something, or maybe see something that you just can’t get out of your head? Sometimes it’s a song, a phrase, a tv commercial, or a feeling. I have a message I can’t get out of my head over the last week. It’s the sermon that was broadcast to millions of people, even though it was part of a wedding ceremony. I’m of course referring to the sermon by Bishop Michael Curry at the Royal Wedding at Windsor’s St. George’s Chapel. It has been interesting to watch the reactions and reviews since that day. Lots of people are saying it was an amazing spiritual experience, others complained that he got too “political” in a wedding ceremony, still others felt he needed to bring more “fire and brimestone” to convict a large audience like that, and even others have commented on how it lacked substance. It’s amazing how one sermon could get that many different responses.

Well, here’s mine. I watched it live as it happened at whatever pre-dawn time it was here in Goodland. Nicole and I have been sucked in by the historical dramas on television and streaming services that highlight the British monarchy, so it seemed natural to want to watch the ceremony live. What I did not expect that morning was to “go to church,” but that is exactly what happened. One excerpt from Bishop Curry’s sermon really has stayed with me this week:

“He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn’t… he wasn’t getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the well being of the world… for us.

That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.

If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.

Imagine our homes and families where love is the way.

Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.

Imagine governments and nations where love is the way.

Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way. Imagine this tired old world where love is the way.

When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

When love is the way, poverty will become history.

When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.”

You see, i think the negative responses to the sermon go back to something I mentioned in a sermon on May 6th, the English language lacks in its ability to properly describe things. We have only one word for love, yet so many different types and feelings related to that one word. It’s limiting. Love isn’t just liking those people who we enjoy being around. Love means caring for another even when their actions and words make it nearly impossible to like them. Love means caring for another even when you don’t know them. Love means giving of yourself in such a way that our individualism ceases to exist and Christ is in full reveal through us. When we limit how we understand love, and only see it through a romantic lens, we miss the transforming power love can have in our relationships, our church, and our world. May love be our guide to greater understanding of God and transformation in our life.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Zach

To See the Full Transcript of Bishop Curry’s sermon, click here.

How do you worship?

church-trappist-georgia-monastery-62285.jpegMerriam-Webster defines worship as:

transitive verb
1to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
intransitive verb
to perform or take part in worship or an act of worship

As part of the Vision Process that we started in January, I have personally been taking time to evaluate each aspect of our ministry as I go about the daily tasks of my job. Worship is a major area that engages our members and visitors alike. So, I have spent considerable time contemplating worship and listening to comments worshipers share with me. I will openly admit right now, I don’t have an answer to every question or complaint, and don’t have a clear vision that will make every person happy in every situation.

Recently I was thinking about a memory from my time on a youth leadership team in high school. Our team had attended a couple different camps that summer and had very different experiences. I attended with a few friends a leadership camp that was new to the area that year. The planners of this event spent time, energy, and money to make it the best and brightest. We had amazing music, speakers, activities, and small group leaders. Every one of us left that place excited and energized. Another one of our friends attended a camp that combined Christian leadership with sports training for his specific sport. He told a very different story about his experience. The worship was lead by an individual who was a novice at best on the guitar and the energy was none existent. As we debriefed our experiences, our adult leaders shared a profound statement, or rather a question in Jesus’ style. They asked, “Each of you had great spiritual experiences this summer, but which camp was the experience greater if you consider the way the message was given to you?” Well, as we talked we realized how easy it was to enjoy and be energized when everything was presented exactly how we liked it. But for our friend who didn’t particularly like the way the leader preached, or the way the songs were lead, he had to struggle more to hear God, but hear God he did. In fact, that summer had a bigger impact on him than any of us had. His lasted and transformed him more than the rest of us.

I recently came across a blog post about worship styles that I wanted to share part of with you:“People looking for a church often have questions about worship, and most have strong views on the subject. Of course these views are most often an extension of their own experiences. People do not insist on a specific worship format because their preference is objectively better, but because their experiences or assumptions tell them their preference should be shared by all. When imagining worship, most Christians recall memories of pleasant worship experiences. It’s natural to conclude the pleasure felt will be shared by others, and that this pleasure proves God’s preference for that style of worship. “I prefer (insert style) worship, so God must prefer it and others as spiritual as I, of course, prefer it. Those who like (insert a different style) are simply not as spiritual or mature as I.”

Years ago, after a particularly nice church service—one in which we had a balanced blend of traditional and modern worship, and everyone seemed to be blessed—I was approached by an elderly woman who said, “Pastor, we use too many choruses. We need to get rid of the choruses and only use hymns.” The very next woman (literally) who came up to me said, “Pastor, we use too many hymns. We need to get rid of the hymns and only use choruses.” Both women had been in the same service. They each found things to dislike about the same service others had found richly satisfying. Right then I realized there is no such thing as a worship format that makes everyone happy, because those looking for something to dislike will find it. I learned the truth of the saying, “Blended worship means no one is happy.”

In every service that blesses and inspires, there will be some not enjoying it because they choose to find fault—they choose not to take pleasure in it. Reasons for this differ, but almost all boil down to preference. Some believe God prefers one style of worship over another. Interesting how their understanding of God’s preference always lines up with their own. No one ever says, “I prefer to worship with hymns, but God prefers choruses” (or vice versa). Blaise Pascal said, “God created man in his image and man has returned the favor.” Man is adept at remaking God in his own image and often the only support for ascribing a worship preference to God is the assumption “Of course, God would agree with me.” This is an assumption I, for one, refuse to make.”  (http://resurgentsa.org/about-us/faq/what-is-your-style-of-worship/)

During Lent, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on the attitude you bring to any worship or study situation. How does it impact what you get out of the service or event? Are you limiting what God could be doing in your midst because you’ve turned a blind eye to the potential of the situation? Are your preferences driving your spirituality, or is your spirituality open to how the Holy Spirit is present in all situation?

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Zach

Can’t We Just Go Back?!?

I sit in a lot of meetings, and I mean a lot. Rarely does a week go by where I’m not at least on a conference call or web meeting. Usually they all end up in the same place, how do we turn around a declining institution. Well, it’s not always that blunt, but usually whatever the difficulty we are facing can be attributed to the changing role of the church and religion in society. Lack of money? We need more people! Small programs? We need more people! Empty sanctuary on Sunday? We need more people!

More than once in the last few months I’ve found myself reflecting on a specific narrative in Scripture from Exodus. I keep thinking about Moses and Aaron leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and what that meant for everyone. Specifically, I keep reading Exodus 16:1-3:

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. 2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The 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.”

In the midst of discovering a new way to live, the Israelites really just wished they could go back to the way things were. Even if those times were awful, and would result in death, at least it was familiar. At least they would get food, and now how to function. The problem is, you can’t go back! You are on a path to something greater, Israel, and it ain’t back there in Egypt.

I feel that this narrative speaks to not only the church today, but change in our own lives. Right now, I’m going to talk about the church. It seems obvious when you hear that the church is not the same as it was in the 1950’s, but too often we act like it is. We know we need to try new things to reach out to people, to build relationships, to show the need for a spiritual community, but we still expect people to just show up at our doors because of a fancy flyer or flashy website. I hear bemoaning that “kids these days just don’t believe like we did.” (I’ll admit, I join in the bemoaning at times.) But, its time to step it up.

How, you say? Well, we have to look at the big picture. We need to be collaborative as churches where we can. Buying into a “Free market Capitalist View of Church Growth” isn’t going to help the world. Churches can’t see each other as “competitors” vying for the same precious resources. Guess what, there’s a lot of people out there that don’t go to church, and if even a fraction of them started, we wouldn’t all have room for them anyway. So, I think we are better off asking these questions: Where can we share resources? Where can we assist in relationship building? Where can we defer to another because they have a specialized gift for that? I think long gone are the days where every church met every need. I’m not just talking about within a United Methodist context, how do we collaborate with like-minded Christian communities no matter what the denominational background?

We are in the wilderness, unfamiliar with the dynamics, unsure of where we will end up, but holding on to a hope and praying it will come true. As much as we want to turn back and be familiar, moving forward is our only option. Tomorrow is a new day, new possibilities for our lives, will we move forward in order to see the Manna from heaven?

Remember who and whose we are, we are God’s people. Created in God’s image, fashioned in God’s love, to be co-creators of a new and transformed world through the life and example of Jesus Christ. Go in hope. Go in peace.

What if…?

The first time I saw this commercial online, I had immediate thoughts of how it applied to community and relationships. Then, of course, being a pastor, I translate that understanding to how it could tell us something about how the church is, and how it should be. If you haven’t seen the Guinness commercial, take a look.

I’ll admit it, a beer commercial made me a bit misty eyed the first time I saw it. I had no idea what to expect as I was watching it, and didn’t really anticipate how it would end. I think I was surprised by how simple the imagery was, and a bit ashamed that it surprised me. The idea that friends would just “be” with another and make a profound action seem so natural is what I think true community is about.

So much of what we are called to be as a follower of Jesus is relatively simple in instruction, but extremely complex in living it out. I think of the the two greatest commandments, loving God and loving neighbor, and realize how hard it is to do. It’s a very basic concept, but we fail to do it so much of the time.

The commercial reminds me of the importance of how our acts of welcome to those around us can make the complex seem simple. If we do what we can to create an environment where we enjoy being with community, then welcoming becomes a natural way of being.

Transformation

It’s September, which for all practical purposes means the Fall season is here. School is back in session, football is going on, and my life becomes more hectic, yet more structured with programing of work and organizations I work with. It also tends to be the time I reflect back the most. I usually will start something new during this time of year as opposed to the beginning of the calendar year. I suppose that has something to do with 21 years of school. My mind still runs on an academic year clock!

I started to remember today that it was a year ago this week I made a huge, life-changing decision. I enrolled in a program to improve my health. I didn’t know if I could do it or if it would work. All I knew was that I had to do something. In hindsight, I made a lot of good decisions for support. I told my plans to people at church, my friends, and used social media as a form of accountability. I’d like to say I did all that intentionally, but it just kind of happened to work out.

In the first 7 months I did achieve my goal of getting healthier. I lost about 85 pounds and no longer have to be treated for Type-2 Diabetes. This summer was rough, and I’ve gained 15 pounds back, but am working towards another weight-loss push starting again in September.

Most of all, I learned what transformation was all about. To be truly transformed, you have to be willing to lay it all out there. A word I use a lot in ministry is “vulnerability.” You have to be vulnerable to be transformed. In the process of transformation, you are admitting you need change, and there is nothing you can do about with making difficult decisions and commitments. In the process of becoming healthier, I also went through the final steps of becoming ordained. Working on physical transformation caused me to realize the transformative processes that are missing from our spiritual and institutional church lives.

Too often we hold on to what is “comfortable” or “familiar” to us, and leave out any possibility of transformation. We aren’t willing to tell people around us that we don’t have it all figured out, and could use support to make the changes we need. The church should be that place that we can be open about things like that. The church should be a place we can be our most vulnerable and not fear what the repercussions might be.

Unfortunately, the community of the church is often worried about survival and preservation. That’s not to say that there aren’t churches doing transformative things, but clearly not enough are doing what is needed with the decline of church attendance across the board. There’s a need for community where we can be vulnerable and struggle together. If there wasn’t, websites like Postsecret wouldn’t be so popular. Social Media wouldn’t be so full of people sharing what can be considered “too much” if we had better mechanisms in our community.

We need to be a community of support within the church, and offer an environment that births transformation in people and institutions. How can we do it? I think it takes a few people taking the risk of laying themselves out there. The risk is it may not work, but Jesus did it time and time again. Sure he ended up losing his life, but I think we are losing a lot more by not trying.

Grace & Peace,
Zach