Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message @ Worton UMC; 3 May 2015; Matthew 16:13-20

Scripture this Sunday is Matthew 16:13-20

Hymns are:

UMH 131 – We Gather Together

UMH 465 – Holy Spirit, Truth Divine (vs 1 & 4) – At Worton UMC only

UMH 117 – O God, Our Help in Ages Past

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“Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

Today I want to take the time to look at this reading through the lens of a church community: “Who does Worton United Methodist Church say that Jesus is?”

When we talk about being in ministry, most of us get visions of lofty actions with far ranging implications. The reality, however, is that most of us do not engage in heroic actions to make disciples. None of us are able to diffuse tensions in the city of Baltimore by ourselves. None of us will broker peace in the Middle East or stop the war in Afghanistan. None of us will single-handedly defeat ISIS or win the war on drugs. None of us will stop worldwide hunger or reverse climate change by ourselves.

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On the other hand, small thoughtful acts of kindness multiplied by thousands (if not millions) of Christians can, and will, make this world a better place. And it starts with listening to our neighbors.

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I want to share with you a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that had far reaching implications in my life:

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for brethren [and our neighbors, aft] is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 97-98).

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In Matthew 13:20 we hear, “Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” I think that Jesus was challenging his disciples and followers to listen to people’s pains and problems and then offer them the peace that comes from knowing that someone cares and someone is walking by their side.

So how do we listen to our neighbors?

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1) Provide an environment where our neighbors feel invited and feel comfortable and not threatened. {Illustration}

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2) Provide an environment and place where our neighbors are validated and offered understanding. {Illustration} They need to feel they can contribute or they won’t come back.

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3) Provide an environment where our neighbors know that we care and will walk by their side helping them to figure out how to reinvent or rebuild themselves in their times of trouble.

Notice that all these steps depend on us listening instead of talking. Notice that all these steps have nothing to do with logic, or with persuasiveness. Making disciples and reaching out beyond the walls of this building has a lot to do with building relationships and being flexible, adaptable and patient as opposed to being right. Making disciples and reaching beyond the walls of this building has a lot to do with being kind and understanding as opposed to having all the answers.

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There is a quote that is attributed to Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California that goes,

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle [or beliefs], you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do.

Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

We live in a world that is hungry for compassion, kindness and understanding. We don’t have to compromise our convictions or abandon our faith to exhibit compassion and to provide a welcoming environment.

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{John 10:5 – Illustration}

{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

To the communities of Christ and Worton United Methodist Churches: Call to Prayer for the Situation in the City of Baltimore

Today is Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Yesterday as Debbie and I were getting off of the plane in the airport, we learned about the riots and looting in the city of Baltimore.

Tensions run high, there are injuries, stores have been looted, cars and buildings set on fire, and as I understand, tensions are escalating and curfews are set. That being understood, there was also another story. Last night, Debbie and I watched one of the local TV stations and we saw some of Baltimore’s clergy united, holding hands and walking shoulder to shoulder between police lines and the rioters. These members of the clergy came from different religious traditions and denominations and they stepped forward in one accord, risking their own lives to diffuse the tension, and to offer their support for a meaningful and productive dialogue that would lead to a safer Baltimore with improved economic conditions conducive for all to coexist, flourish and prosper.

I am asking everyone in the communities of Christ and Worton United Methodist Churches (the communities that I have the privilege to pastor at this time) to be in intentional prayer for the situation in Baltimore.

Please pray for everyone involved, those who have been injured or otherwise affected by the violence, and for a peaceful resolution to this conflict.

Pray for the Office of the Mayor of the City, for the City Council, for those who are called to protect and to serve the communities (firemen, EMTs, and policemen), for the National Guard that is being deployed and for our nation.

I know that sometimes it is hard to find words and to know what to pray for. If you are at a loss for words, please use the words of the prayer below that is traditionally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, Make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, Grant that we may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

There is always more than one side to every story. Every side of the story has valid and painful points. We can focus on the sensationalistic aspects of what is happening, or we can celebrate what is right with the world. My prayers are with those who are physically and emotionally hurt and are so frustrated that they cannot see any other way out than to riot. My prayers are with the clergy who chose to risk their own lives to be instruments of God’s Peace; I wish I could have been there with them last night.

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; John 4:27-42

This is a fourth sermon in the series:

{Sermon # 1}

{Sermon # 2}

{Sermon # 3}

We discussed the Samaritan Woman at the Well last week. Here is a link to that sermon: {Click Me}

Today we will continue the conversation about church, how church relates to the community in which it lives and how the church community relates to the larger culture around it.

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In prior weeks we looked at how Jesus called his first Disciples, and how unique each of the Disciples was. We saw that although they each had different ambitions, interests, and strengths, they were of one accord. We saw that they were inspired by the common vision and worked towards a common mission. We saw that each of them had different skills, ambitions and interests, and how together they worked to complement each other’s efforts.

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We also saw that outreach and mission implies a certain level of risk. In order to reach BEYOND the walls of the church building, in order to bring others to Jesus, someone has to be willing to take calculated risks and step out on faith and actually interact with people who do not share their beliefs.

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It goes without saying that we cannot bring enemies to Jesus; the people whom we consider to be at odds with ourselves would not listen to our stories or follow us to Jesus. In order to bring someone to Jesus we need to be able to interact with them and consider them to be on the same level as ourselves; we need to treat them with respect (John 10:5 – Does the community around our church building know our voice). What is the message that our neighbors see? What is our testimony and witness to the presence of the Holy?

 

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Then last Sunday we talked about the Samaritan Woman at the Well (Her traditional name is St. Photina and/St. Svetlana). Her encounter with Jesus asks a question, “Are we drinking from the wrong well?” We are fallen human beings and we live in a fallen world and because of that it is much easier for us to make wrong decisions (i.e. “to drink from the wrong well”). {Illustration}

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Before we continue, we need to understand who the Samaritans were. In 722 BC the Assyrians conquered the Northern Country of Israel and took everybody that they considered worthwhile into exile. They left behind a few men and women who in their opinion would not be good producers and would not make {“} “good” slaves – people with physical disabilities, least educated, and least capable.

As a result of the resettlement there were farms left open. In II Kings 17: 24 we learn that the Assyrians resettled people from other countries in the territories of Northern Israel. These newcomers were pagans. The Samaritans of Jesus’ time were the offspring of those Israelis left behind by the Assyrians and those who were brought in for resettlement. Because of that intermarriage, the Samaritans were considered “ritually unclean” by the Jews. That is why the Jews did not want to have anything to do with the Samaritans: interacting with the “ritually unclean” would mean that they would be expelled from the community for purification rituals – which were expensive and time consuming.

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All of a sudden, Svetlana’s statement, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9) takes on a different meaning. All of a sudden her statement, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” (John 4:20) takes on a different undertone. I think that she was trying to pull Jesus into a debate, asserting that Jesus would become ritually unclean.

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Notice that Jesus did not take the bait. Jesus did not argue the finer points of theology with her. What Jesus talked about was her life, and what her life could become: “I will give you the living water that will well up to a spring of eternal life” (John 4: 14 paraphrase).

Let’s unpack what happened as a result of Svetlana’s and Jesus’ meeting. In John 4: 28 – 30 we hear:

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28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Svetlana is still not sure about the true identity of Jesus, but she is fairly certain about his relationship with God (“He understands me” – “he told me everything I ever did” // {???} “Could he be the Messiah?”}.

It is a consensus that she was not the most outstanding citizen of the town. We saw last week that she was neither soft-spoken nor well-mannered. With all these strikes against her, the power of her conviction was so strong that the people in the village dropped everything and came to see Jesus at the well.

John 4: 39-42 tells us what happened as a result:

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39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

So what’s in it for us.

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We live in a world surrounded by “Samaritans.” We live in a world driven by economic globalization, rapid communication, and easily available mass education. The resulting global culture is syncretic[1], synergistic[2] and pluralistic[3] with every conceivable belief system interacting with other beliefs and lifestyles. The exchange of ideas, ideologies, and cultures is complex and fruitful. When the Church allows itself to get bogged down in theological debates instead of graciously respecting other points of view, we alienate ourselves from the communities in which we live. Jesus did not pick a fight with Svetlana; all Jesus said was “I can help you to make sense out of your life” (John 4:19 paraphrase).

{Illustration: we cannot bring enemies to Christ…}

As a result, Svetlana went to the town empowered, with a new understanding of herself, and her testimony brought the whole town to Jesus. How does our relationship with Jesus empower us? What is the testimony of our church community? Do our neighbors see the strength of our convictions in the way we live our lives? Do our neighbors see us living out our convictions in a gracious and respectful manner?

As a result of Svetlana’s encounter with Jesus, there was probably a church community established in Samaria. Two groups of people who had not seen eye to eye for generations, came together and a seed was planted for a new community of followers of Jesus.

In that encounter between Jesus and Svetlana we see the interaction between Church and a community of people who did not see any reason to be in a relationship with Jesus or the Church. In that encounter we see how a community interacts with the culture; we see an example of how to make our voice heard and recognized.

Being part of a church, being in a relationship with God is about the meaning of our lives. Together we can help not only each other, but also our neighbors, to discover meaning in our lives. And that is how we help each other to be the best version of what God created us to be.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Dictionary.com defines term syncretism as “reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion.” The term syncretic is defined as “union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion.”

[2] Dictionary.com defines term synergy as “the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.” The term synergistic is defined as “producing or capable of producing synergy.”

[3] Dictionary.com defines term pluralism as “a condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society.” The term pluralistic is defined as “a condition in which many cultures coexist within a society and maintain their cultural differences.”

Thinking Towards Sunday; From the Desk of Pastor Asher

“…open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35 NIV2010).

Human beings are created to be a community (Genesis 2:18, 1:27). We need human interaction. If we don’t interact with others we lose our sense of purpose and we fade into nothingness.

Jesus established the Church to be a worldwide connection of communities. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus himself gave us the Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The way I understand the Great commission is that each church community has a mission to serve God by serving the world in which we live.

Surely we have our share of problems (and who doesn’t). The biggest challenge in talking with our neighbors about the Church Universal and about our church community is for us to accept and to acknowledge our own problems and our own responsibility. It is hard for us to acknowledge and to accept the ugly and uncomfortable truths from our past and present traditions. We have been wounded, and we have wounded others by our actions and inactions.

We also have wonderful accomplishments. For the longest time the Church was on the forefront of Science; we still have Wesleyan Colleges and Seminaries all around the world bringing education and opportunities to men and women from all walks of life. The Church is resilient and adaptable; it has changed and adapted with the times. It is true that we have fallen a bit behind in that respect now, but if history is any indication, by the Grace of God we will bounce back.

I believe that the United Methodist Church is inspired and guided by our Living God, and that being a part of a church community helps us to deal with the problems of the day. It also brings us closer to Jesus so that we may love God more, follow Jesus closer and to see the work of the Holy Spirit better in our midst and all around us.

That is the message that our neighbors need to see in us because we live in a time when hope and vision are scarce, and fear mongering is all too common.

The fields are ripe for the harvest! Open your eyes and look at the fields…” (John 4:35 paraphrase).

Thinking Towards Sunday: 19 April, 2015

This Sunday we will continue with the message series titled Church, Community, Culture.

Last week we took a look at the Samaritan Woman at the Well (also known as St. Photina/St. Svetlana in some circles). This coming Sunday we will continue looking at her impact and role in building the Church, interacting with the Community and influencing the Culture.

Scripture for this Sunday: John 4: 27-42

Hymns:

UMH 304 – Easter People Raise Your Voices

UMH 400 – Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (verse 3)

UMH 547 – O Church of God, United

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; John 4:4-26

This coming Sunday (April 12, 2015) we will gather for worship @ Worton UMC @ 9:45. At 10 am, the communities of Christ and First UMCs will gather together for worship in the Sanctuary of First UMC.

Scriptures for this week are: John 4:4-26. You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV and ESV

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Before we begin, I want to thank Nivek Johnson from Janes United Methodist church. It is his reflection at the Seven Last Words service at Potter’s House that gave me the idea and inspiration for today’s message.

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And I want to start today’s message with this simple question, “Are we drinking from the wrong well?” The answer to this question is neither simple nor obvious; and considering what our church communities are striving to accomplish, considering how our church communities are trying to be in shared mission, it is of vital importance that we get the correct answer.

So, “Are we drinking from the wrong well?”

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The woman in today’s story (John 4:4-42) was neither soft-spoken nor well-mannered. She had a reputation for getting involved in toxic relationships; she had difficulty fitting in and making friends. Hers is the story of an angry, frustrated soul that believed that the best defense is a good offence. Her story challenges us, the followers of Jesus, to seriously look at our own lives and ask ourselves some tough questions.

Prior to encountering Jesus, the woman was an outcast. That is why she had to go to the well in the heat of the day instead of in the cool of the morning; more than likely her neighbors shunned her. We know that she was angry and argumentative; she even tried to start an argument with Jesus (John 4:9). When Jesus asked her for a drink, her response was, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

We know that she had a shady past (John 4:16-18). We learn fairly quickly that she had six failed relationships. We don’t know any particulars; was she having the same relationship with six different men? Did she have difficulties in navigating life? Did she want everything done her way or else? We simply do not know.

All that did not stop her from recognizing that Jesus was NOT an ordinary man, or stop her from making a profession of faith, “I can see that you are a prophet” (John 4:19). Even after making that confession, she tried to pick another fight with Jesus, arguing about the proper place to worship God. In verse 20, she said, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus tested her to see if she was sincere in her desire to turn her life around. He asked her to go to the village and bring back her husband. Only after being sure that she was honest with him did Jesus reveal his true identity to her. In essence, Jesus offered her the “living waters” of faith. In turn that faith became a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” in her (John 4:15).

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John writes, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers” (John 4:39-41).

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It is easy for us to get a judgmental attitude about the woman. We can focus on her aggressiveness, her anger, her inability to maintain relationships (as in “my way or the highway”). But the truth is that most of us have been in her shoes at one time or another. How many of us have tried to reach a certain goal only to fail time, after time, after time; becoming bitter and angry, and stopped trying, blaming everyone for our failure? How many of us have tried to quit smoking 5 or 6 times? How many of us have tried 5 or 6 different diets? How many of us have had 5 or 6 different jobs?

What we know is that her encounter with Jesus changed her. Once she figured out how to drink the living waters of faith her life was changed. She has the honor to be the first evangelist in the Gospel of John; the first one to go around town telling people about Jesus. We don’t know her name; it is not recorded in the Scriptures. Traditionally her Greek name is Photina (the same root as photosynthesis); her Slavic name is Svetlana (“svet” translates as “the light”); her traditional name reflects her encounter with Jesus and her seeing the light of faith. We can learn a lot from her.

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How many of us spend our lives drinking out of the wrong well by setting wrong goals and then wondering why our lives do not work out the way we hope them to? Who among us has not dreamt of having a better relationship with our loved ones, a new car, or a nice boat, or the latest TV, or going on a nice vacation? The truth is that there is nothing wrong with wanting nice things from life. Where we get into trouble is when we want these things so bad that we go through heroic measures to attain them at THE EXPENSE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND WITH OUR LOVED ONES. That is how we drink from the wrong well: we ignore God and let go of our relationships. We isolate ourselves as we put the wrong things first. We pass tests and somehow we end up with no testimony (Nivek Johnson).

{Illustration}

Oscar Wilde said once that “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” What separated the woman at the well from her future is that she drank from the wrong well. Once she found the right well to drink from, the living water of faith, her life was transformed. As our churches look towards working closer together, what well are we drinking from? Are we working together just to share expenses and save money, or are we working together because it will help us to have a more effective ministry in our community and beyond, to help us make disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world. What well are we drinking from?

This is the question our communities need to answer in the months to come.

Do you prevent abundant life from reaching you in the future by drinking from the wrong well today?

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Works Cited

“I Thirst”. By Nivek Johnson. Preached by Nivek Johnson. Potter’s House Ministries Church, Fairlee. 03 04 2015. Sermon.

From the Desk of Pastor Asher; Thinking Towards Sunday–12 April 2015

jesusandthesamaritanatthewell-rembrandtThe Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:4-42) was neither soft-spoken nor well-mannered. She had a reputation for getting involved in toxic relationships; she had difficulty fitting in and making friends. Hers is the story of an angry, frustrated soul that believed that the best defense is the good offence. Her story challenges us, the followers of Jesus, to seriously look at our own lives and to ask ourselves whether we ourselves are drinking from the wrong well.

Prior to encountering Jesus, the woman was an outcast. That is why she had to go to the well in the heat of the day instead of in the cool of the morning; more than likely her neighbors shunned her. We know that she was angry and argumentative; she even tried to start an argument with Jesus (John 4:9). We know that she had a shady past (John 4:16-18). That however did not stop her from recognizing that Jesus was not an ordinary man and to make a profession of faith, “I can see that you are a prophet” (John 4:19). Even after making that confession, she tried to pick another fight with Jesus, arguing about the proper place to worship God.

Jesus tested her to see if she was sincere in her desire to turn her life around. He asked her to go to the village and bring back her husband. Only after being sure that she was honest with him did Jesus reveal his true identity to her. In essence, Jesus offered her the “living waters” of faith. In turn that faith became a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” in her (John 4:15). John writes, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers” (John 4:39-41).

How many of us spend our lives drinking out of the wrong well by setting wrong goals and then wondering why our lives do not work out the way we hope them to? Who among us has not dreamt of having a better relationship with our loved ones, a new car, or a nice boat, or the latest TV, or going on a nice vacation? The truth is that there is nothing wrong with wanting nice things from life. Where we get into trouble is when we want these things so bad that we go through heroic measures to attain them at the expense of our relationship with God and with our loved ones. That is how we drink from the wrong well: we ignore God and let go of our relationships. We isolate ourselves as we put the wrong things first.

Oscar Wilde said once that “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Do you prevent the abundant life reaching you in the future by drinking from the wrong well today?

Thinking Towards Sunday; April 12, 2015

This coming Sunday (April 12, 2015) the communities of Christ and First UMCs will gather together for worship in the Sanctuary of First UMC @ 10 am.

Scriptures for this week are: John 4:4-26. You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV and ESV

Easter Message from Bishop Johnson: “The Five Most Hopeful Words in the Bible”

I once read that the five most hopeful words in the Bible are this: “And it came to pass.”  What does that mean?  It means that “it came” (whatever it is in life that comes your way) and it “passes” (it goes away).

This winter was full of many snowy and frigid cold days.  The rhododendron plants  in the front of my house were shriveled in the cold.  They looked like brown frozen sticks for weeks on end and sometimes they were coated with ice and snow.  But it “came to pass!”  This morning in the springtime sun they have perked up and there even are buds of those beautiful pink flowers that will be blooming in a month or two.  Winter as passed and new life has returned.

During this Holy Week when we journey along with Christ on the road to the cross we already know that death was not the last word.  After Good Friday comes Easter! The sorrow of the cross “came to pass” and death became resurrection.

You may be experiencing difficulty or problems that seem to drag on like those cold weeks of winter. But look up: “it came to pass.”  Bad times will ultimately pass.  God will see you through!  Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus and Jesus is with you always whatever life may bring. 

– Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Approximate Notes for Easter Sunday Message; Easter 2015

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He is Risen! – He is Risen, Indeed!

Easter week is hectic by any measure of the imagination. As soon as palms are put away after the Palm Sunday service, the church is prepared for Maundy Thursday. As soon as Maundy Thursday services are done, the sanctuary is prepared for Good Friday services and a black cloth is draped over the cross inside and out. Then on Saturday there is anticipation and excitement; lilies are being delivered and the sanctuary is decorated. Finally Easter gets here; there are people in the sanctuary whom we have not seen since Christmas; “Alleluias” seem to hang in the air, memories of Easters gone by put us in a good mood and we realize how good it is to be here, to be alive, and to look forward to Spring.

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If you Google “Images of Easter” you will see lots of pictures of Easter bunnies and Easter baskets. The truth is that these images of bunnies and chickens and candy are the worst possible images that we could use to represent Easter. Easter is about celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus. Easter is about celebrating a new life in Christ, and all the pictures of bunnies and chickens and baskets filled with candy are the worst images of Easter that we could possibly pick. I suspect we fill our imaginations with these images because the truth is so difficult to digest.

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The Easter story is found in all four Gospels (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-9; Luke 24:1-11 and John 20:1-18). None of the Biblical accounts of the Resurrection are either pretty or cheerful, or sentimental.

In Matthew’s account all the women see Jesus and worship him but not until they see an angel; Matthew describes their emotions as “afraid, yet filled with joy” (Matthew 28:9).

In the story that Luke tells is, the women found the empty tomb and had an encounter with two angels. That was a scary experience (Luke 24:5) and neither women nor disciples saw Jesus that day. Jesus appeared to two men on the road to Emmaus however, and they (these two men)  were the ones to go back to Jerusalem to bring the news to the Disciples.

In the story that Mark tells us, Jesus’ body is missing and the women ran away, scared out of their wits: no sighting of Resurrected Jesus.

In the story that John tells us, Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener, and we know that later in his gospel Jesus shows himself to the disciples (who were scared and hiding from their own people). It is in that atmosphere of fear and anxiety that Jesus shows his wounds that are so raw that Thomas can actually dig into them.

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Jesus’ body is resurrected and the wounds sustained on the Cross come with it.

It is kind of disturbing. It is also hopeful. When we strip away all the glitter, the cloying sentimentality, the Easter outfits and the sweet smell of lilies in the sanctuary; when we remove these things out of the story, we are left with what we really need – Hope. So let’s unpack it.

In the third (3rd) episode of Season four (4) of Downton Abbey, the character of Carson says, “The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that’s all there is.” At least some of those memories are memories of wounds: emotional, spiritual as well as physical wounds that we have sustained in the process of day to day living. It is those memories and wounds that shape us into who we are.

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The promise and the hope of Easter is that although we still have our wounds, they are redeemed; we are made new NOT because our wounds are gone but because it is in our wounds that Christ works his mercy. It is in our fallenness and sin that Jesus offers us forgiveness. It is in our deepest valleys that we become consciously aware of Christ bringing us new life. These gifts are offered to us without price by God’s Grace.

The promise and the hope of Easter is that God’s Grace doesn’t disregard our wounds. God’s Grace redeems them, recognizing that these wounds make us who we are. Our wounds matter to God so much that God was willing to be wounded himself in order to redeem our suffering.

And that is the Good News! It is the Good News for a person who is fighting cancer or a medical condition. It is the Good News to the parents who have lost their child. It is the Good News for the family whose breadwinner cannot find a job. It is the Good News for the person who finds himself or herself at the end of their rope and cannot imagine how to proceed with their lives. It is the Good News because Jesus himself gave birth to the church where we can come together and share our lives, help each other to dream dreams; encourage each other to reach for the stars and, most of all, be the place where our friends and neighbors can come to find hope.

No matter what we are going through, our wounded lives matter to God. Jesus’ wounds were not pretty and neither are ours.

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So as we celebrate Easter, let us remember the WHOLE story of redemption. The story that started in the wedding in Cana in Galilee and led to the celebrations of Palm Sunday, the desperation of Good Friday, continued with the Resurrection, and now continues with us.

He is Risen – He is Risen Indeed!

Happy Easter! Thinking Towards Sunday….

The events of the first Easter morning are the foundation of our Christian identity. On Easter morning, more than any other day of the year, we celebrate the living Christ who is with us and among us.

In the letter to Galatians chapter 2, Paul writes, “20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (NIV2010).

On this Holy Day, I think it is important to ask ourselves, “Are we keeping Christ alive in our lives?” For a person to be alive implies that that person is alert and animated, is aware of his/her surroundings, that he/she has interests, and is striving for meaning (or understanding) of what is happening around them.

Could we use these verbs from the previous sentence (alert, animated, aware of, active, being interested, striving to understand, searching for meaning) to describe our relationship with Jesus? In other words, how does Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection manifest itself in us as we live our daily lives?

The contemporary Christian Group Third Day sings about becoming alive in Christ. Here are the lyrics to the first stanza of their song “Born Again”:

“Well today I found myself, after searching for all these years.
And the man that I saw, wasn’t at all who I thought he’d be.
I was lost when you found me here. I was broken beyond repair.
Then you came along and you sang a song over me.

It feels like I’m born again. It feels like I’m living.
For the very first time, I’m living for the first time.
It feels like I’m breathing. It feels like I’m moving.
For the very first time; I’m living for the first time, in my life.”

To me these lyrics describe what it means to be alive in Christ: it is a process of discovery, surprise at what we find, search for meaning and personal growth. John Wesley called that process a journey towards perfection.

This Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the Holy Communion, as we experience the real presence of our Living Savior, I hope and pray that all of us will find the courage to let Christ live in us. Let his life, death, and resurrection manifest themselves not only on Sunday morning but also in our daily lives as well.

How enthusiastic and sincere are you when you hear, “Christ is Risen” and reply, “Christ is Risen, INDEED!”

From the Desk of Pastor Asher; Thinking Towards the Service of Seven Last Words; “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

“My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45 NIV)

None of us stood at the foot of the Cross on the day when our Lord was crucified. And, just like the people of Israel in Jesus’ time, we live in a world filled with violence against the Earth, child and adult slavery, sex trafficking, political gridlock, disparity between those in power and those without, racial tensions and political unrest.  When we have the courage to open our eyes and really look around, we become aware not only of the beauty of God’s Creation but also of our precarious situation that is a result of human scheming and decision-making.

None of us stood at the foot of the Cross on the day when Jesus was crucified. At least none of us were there physically. That being understood, all of us are a part of an ambiguous history that promotes celebrities and persecutes men and women who dare to tell the truth (the words, “I have a dream…” come to mind).  On this Good Friday, we are challenged to think about all the “crucifixions” that are happening right now around the world and in our own back yard. Although these “crucifixions” often go unnoticed, they are still very-very real. I am talking about actions that lead to death; actions that lead to cancer-causing pollution, destruction of eco-systems, extinction of animals and plants, melting polar icecaps, global climate change and the potential cataclysm that awaits our children and grandchildren. I am talking about our complacency at mass starvation and genocide, apathy at sex trafficking and human slavery, our addiction to oil and weapons of mass destruction, not to mention drugs and alcohol. There is so much hopelessness around the world… the list can go on and on and on. The terrible truth is that all of us contribute to that list even if we do it unknowingly (Romans 3:10: “None are righteous…”). I think of our actions that destroy the planet and hurt our neighbors as “the subtle violence of everyday life” (Epperly).

The truth is that we are not any better than those who called for Jesus’ crucifixion or stood idly by doing nothing to prevent it. We are not any better than those who sentenced Jesus by their involvement in political and religious institutions.  The truth is that our leaders and we (as voters) are not any more moral than Pilate, the Temple Priests or the men and women who shouted, “Crucify him!”   We too operate out of self-interest, if only on a small scale.

Indeed we can answer “yes” to the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” If we have the courage to listen we can almost hear the whole Creation crying with Jesus on the Cross, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” because of our actions.

The events of the Good Friday give us a glimpse of the tragic beauty of God’s relationship with God’s Creation (Epperly). Our God understands our suffering because our God suffers alongside us. The events of the Good Friday proclaim that God understands us because God suffered on the cross.

And we know that this story did not end at the Cross.

We know that we have a choice to say “yes” to God’s Grace. Because our Lord suffered on the Cross, He knows what it feels like to be broken by pain and regret. Jesus understands the pain of those broken by the world’s greed and complacency. We know that Jesus, who experienced the pain and humiliation of the Cross, also forgives and transforms. That knowledge brings us hope. And with that forgiveness He gives us the ability to rise up with a new vision and strength to work for global healing.

“My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45 NIV)

Works Cited

Epperly, Bruce. “A Progressive Good Friday?” 22 March 2013. Living a Holy Adventure. 29 03 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2013/03/a-progressive-good-friday/#ixzz3VUhUFQ2L.

Schedule and Location of the Holy Week Services

  • On Thursday, April 2, 2015 @ 7 pm we will gather in the sanctuary of First UMC for Maundy Thursday service. Special thanx to members of CUMC and FUMC who agreed to take leading parts in the service.

  • On Friday, April 3, 2015 @ noon there will be Cross Walk in the open chapel of FUMC.

  • On Friday, April 3, 2015 @ 7 pm we will gather in the sanctuary of Potter’s House Ministries for the Service of Seven Last Words. Please make an effort to be there; it is a meaningful service and you will be blessed.

  • On Sunday, April 5, 2015 @ 6:15 am we will gather at Wilmer Park Pavilion for the Sunrise Service. Last Sunday there was a confusion about the timing of the service and I apologize for that confusion. The service will be at 6:15 AM with Bishop Tilghman preaching.

  • Immediately after the Sunrise service we will gather in the fellowship hall of First UMC for breakfast. Everybody is invited.

  • On Sunday, April 5, 2015 @ 8:45 am there will be Easter Sunday Service at Worton UMC. We will celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

  • On Sunday, April 5, 2015 @ 10 am there will be Easter Sunday Service at Christ UMC. We will welcome two new members into the community and we will also celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

!!!! IMPORTANT:

Since I made a mistake about the timing of the Sunrise service, I apologize. Please contact your friends and neighbors to make sure that everyone is on board about the timing of the Sunrise service. It is on Sunday, April 5, 2015 at 6:15 am in the Wilmer Park Pavilion.

Working Towards Sunday; Easter Sunday 2015

Scripture this Sunday will be John 20:1-18

You can read John’s account of the Resurrection here: {NIV & ESV)

Hymns this Sunday:

UMH 303 –  The Day of Resurrection

UMH 314 – In the Garden

UMH 304 – Easter People, Raise Your Voices

 

Easter Reading interleaved with Lyrics to “In the Garden”

Voice 1:  NIV2010 John 20: 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Voice 2: NIV2010 John 20: 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses,
and the voice I hear falling on my ear,
the Son of God discloses.

Refrain:

And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
and he tells me I am his own;
and the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever known.

Voice 1: NIV2010 John 20: 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

He speaks, and the sound of his voice
is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
and the melody that he gave to me
within my heart is ringing.

Refrain:

And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
and he tells me I am his own;
and the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever known

Voice 2: NIV2010 John 20: 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

I’d stay in the garden with him
though the night around me be falling,
but he bids me go; thru the voice of woe
his voice to me is calling.

Refrain:

And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
and he tells me I am his own;
and the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever know

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Palm Sunday 2015

Scriptures describing Jesus’ Triumphal Entry are: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19

You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV / ESV

I am leaning towards using the reading from Matthew.

This is Sermon # 3in the Series.

You can read Sermon # 1 in the series at this link: (Sermon # 1: Church, Community, Culture}

You can read Sermon # 2 in the series at this link: {Sermon # 2: Church, Community, Culture}

Today we will continue the conversation about church, how church relates to the community in which it lives and how the church community relates to the larger culture around it.

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In prior weeks we looked at how Jesus called his first Disciples, and how unique each of the Disciples was. We saw that although they each had different ambitions, interests, and strengths, they were of one accord. We saw that they were inspired by the common vision and worked towards a common mission. We saw that each of them had different skills, ambitions and interests, and how together they worked to complement each other’s efforts.

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Last week we saw that outreach and mission implies a certain level of risk. In order to reach BEYOND the walls of the church building, in order to bring others to Jesus, someone has to be willing to take calculated risks and step out on faith and actually interact with people who do not share their beliefs. We saw that Peter was able and willing to do that.

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It goes without saying that we cannot bring enemies to Jesus; the people whom we consider to be at odds with ourselves would not listen to our stories or follow us to Jesus. In order to bring someone to Jesus we need to be able to interact with them and consider them to be on the same level as ourselves; we need to treat them with respect. Jesus himself talked about that in the Gospel of John 10:5 where he taught that sheep only follow the shepherd whose voice they know; do people outside these walls know our voice? What is the message that the community around us hears and sees from us?

John 10: 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

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Today is Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the seven day period that we refer to as Holy Week. During this time we remember the events that transpired during the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, before his death and resurrection.

Today’s reading shows an interesting interconnection between the church, the community in which the church lives and the culture that surrounds the community. So let’s unpack it.

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Accounts of Jesus’ Triumphant entry into Jerusalem are found in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19.

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As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he sent two church leaders (two of his Disciples) into town with a missional assignment: go rent a “limo” so we can ride into town in style. Only instead of a stretch limo that only a select few could afford, Jesus asked for a beat up Volkswagen bug with 230,000 miles on it that most people could afford. You see, Jesus was one of us and he wanted to make a point that he was one of us.

To make that point, Jesus asked two of his disciples to go into town and to bring him a modest donkey, not an ostentatious war horse. We see that in Matthew 21:1-3, Mark 11:1-3, and Luke 19:28-36. It is one example of how church interacts with the community.

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There was already a differentiation between the church and the community. What eventually became the church at Pentecost were the people who traveled with Jesus. That was the group of people who gathered together regularly, who heard Jesus teach and preach, who shared their lives with each other, who struggled with difficult questions of faith.

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Around that group of people there was a larger entity – a community. The most famous members of this community are Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They were not part of the inner circle of Jesus that traveled everywhere with him. But whenever the opportunity presented itself, they spent time with Jesus and with the Disciples (as a matter of fact we know that every time that Jesus was in the vicinity of Jerusalem, Mary, Martha and Lazarus opened their house to Jesus and the Disciples). I think that the donkey that Jesus rode into town came from the community that surrounded the first church. {Illustration and expanded explanation}

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Church growth comes from the community around the church. We know that the church interacted with the community as Jesus was entering Jerusalem. In Luke 19:37-40 we read, “When he [Jesus] came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he [Jesus] replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

What is our witness to God’s presence in our community? Are we sharing the good news of what God has done among us, and what we hope God will do in the future, what are we praying for? That is what was happening as Jesus entered the city.

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Excitement is contagious. In this story we also see the popular culture interacting with the community. Some who might have heard something about some rabbi from Galilee were there out of curiosity, some were there because there was a parade going on and who among us does not like to watch a parade or a show? Undoubtedly some of them learned something about Jesus and later on became part of the community and then eventually a part of the Church. We see the evidence of this in Matthew 21:10-11 where we read, “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

So what’s in it for us? What’s the “so what” in all of this?

{Illustration}

In the events of Palm Sunday we see the connection and interaction between the church, the community in which it lives, and the popular culture.

Next week (April 5) is Easter.

Holy Thursday Service at First UMC on April 2 @ 7pm.

Good Friday Service at Potter’s House on April 3, @ 7pm. Bishop Tilghman, Pastor Asher and Pastor Tonya will participate in the “Last Seven Words” Service.

Sunrise Easter Service @ Wilmer Park @ 6:15am. Breakfast at FUMC immediately following service. Bishop Tilghman will preach.

The week after that (April 12) we will have a joint service with our sisters and brothers from across the street. The service will be held at First UMC.

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