Extravagant Generosity: Loving God First and Foremost

Sunday was in the words of Winnie the Pooh, “it was a rather blustery day,” rainy with the first real hint of winter in the air. Later that evening we would get a dusting of snow, but the morning was relatively warm in the 40’s. The second Sunday of October is the annual Prairie Fire Marathon that shuts down most of downtown Wichita. It makes getting to church a challenge. For several years, the church held one worship service on Saturday evening, filmed it and then ran it on Sunday morning rather than trying to navigate the road blocks.

The last couple of years we have gone back to one service on Sunday, not having the early service. We begin in late August announcing the date and then keeping up the communications through September and October. Some Sunday School classes choose not to meet or meet off site. Attendance isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible either.

Sunday was rainy and cool and guess what? People came to church. I am pondering what to do since more and more races are being run on Sunday mornings, blocking access from the south. A new marathon has been scheduled for the Spring, plus other 10K’s, 5K’s and half marathons. It certainly makes life interesting and how can we as the church be more flexible and do more outreach in the middle of it all? I don’t know, but hope that somehow, in some way we can find ways to connect.

We continued our sermon series, “Extravagant Generosity.” This title comes from a stewardship program that includes a book of daily readings that I am really enjoying. The focus of Sunday’s service was the rich young man coming to Jesus. Loving God first and foremost is never easy, no less so when wealth gets in the way. You can find the full service here. I find myself challenged to love God more deeply and generously with all that I am and all that I have.

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World Communion Sunday, Sermon Text

This week was a special Sunday. We met in worship with our sisters and brothers from our sister congregation El Mesias. This congregation meets weekly for worship in our building and our children and youth ministries are a joint effort. There was also a potluck following the Downtown Alive service. In that service, some of what we did was in Spanish. It wasn’t a bilingual service by a long shot, but parts of the service were shared in Spanish and English. This is the link to the whole service. Also included is a link to the sermon only. Below is the manuscript. I don’t follow exactly and in fact, I went “off script” several times on Sunday. I love World Communion Sunday if for no other reason than it reminds me that I have brothers and sisters everywhere.

 

In some of the materials shared with the Extravagant Generosity material was this exercise: I want you to find your heartbeat. Did you find it? We know how to check our physical pulse, but if I asked you to take your spiritual pulse where would you look? How would you look? What would you find? How do we evaluate our spiritual health and wellbeing or the spiritual health and well being in our life as a community of faith? What are the marks? This week, we have as a group been sharing in the daily devotion Practicing Extravagant Generosity. Andrew and I have found it provocative and insightful. This week we were invited to bring back our heart cards. They will be displayed around the church and next week you will receive another one, which has us, look at our spiritual mentors and we’ll bring them back next week. I am looking forward to seeing cards that (will be placed) or (have been placed) in the offering place. What we love about the church helps us understand what we are doing well and also what things we can build on like the nest image from Tuesday’s reading. You might remember that it talked about building nests as a metaphor for describe people providing for their own comforts: we build a nest egg for our retirement or to buy a home or to create a place for ourselves and our children. Nest makes us think of words like cozy, home, comfortable, a shelter from the storm. In actuality, a nest is anything but cozy or comfortable or really driven by the future. Nests are created for a new generation; they are not about keeping those of us who are older comfortable. They are not for us at all. They are for those who are coming behind us. They are building for the future. Powerful really, when we think about our nest here. Someone shaped and shared whom they were to create a place for us to be and become and now it is our job to think ahead about what we are building for those yet to come, those not yet here. It is not about hunkering down and just taking care of ourselves, it is getting outside to take care of those who do not yet know the grace and love of God. Which bring us to World communion Sunday:

The tradition was begun in 1933 by Hugh Thomson Kerr who ministered in the Shadyside Presbyterian Church. according to Presbyterians Outlook and grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.

The concept came out of stewardship…. how do we bring differing churches together for inspiration and information…. and to focus on the Church of Jesus Christ as a gift to the world. Here is a bit context that might make this more amazing. 1933 was the worst year of the Great Depression, unemployment peaked at 25% that year, and Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany, banned all political parties except his own and built the first concentration camp. It was also a year of severe drought that created huge dust storms. (thepeoplehistory.com) It is in this year that World Communion Sunday was first celebrated. In a time of severe hardship, out of stewardship comes this American tradition that seeks to broaden our understanding of who is our neighbor, who are our brothers and sisters? It carries more than just an ecumenical understanding, that we can belong to different denominations and churches and still follow Jesus, it includes a challenge to cross ethnic and racial and cultural boundaries as well. Some might say even though the economy is good, very good for some, unemployment is at an all time low, still, we have more homeless on our city streets and people are working and working harder, with less to show for it. Our world is filled with scary things, …shootings, bombings, hurricanes, historic flooding, we see the rise again of Nazism in Germany and the far right everywhere which sees everyone not like us as they enemy. In times like this how does one discern who is friend and who is foe? It is easy to focus on people as our enemies, more difficult to see them as our brothers and sisters. Lines are drawn in the sand as to who is in and who is out. And that’s just in the church. Friends, in this scenario, my heart aches, my soul aches. It hurts….does yours? When I check my pulse, it is heavy, very heavy.

When we tend to view people through the eyes of fear, then we want to shut our doors, build fences and walls and constantly be seeking reasons as to not include people for whatever reason: they are too young, they are too old, they are the wrong color, speak the wrong language, are the wrong orientation or the denomination. They are not one of us and we want to fortify our nest, not for those yet to come, but to keep people out….or in the words of our scriptures today: they aren’t following us. Not part of the inner circle, the inner crowd. In our gospel today, the disciples want to build a nest that only some of are welcome….Jesus pushes them out of the nest and says all our welcome.

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

 

What? What does Jesus mean? Those outsiders…..can do work in Jesus’ name without permission? They can work in Jesus name without Jesus signing off on them….or more importantly the disciples signing off? Even Jesus disciples were uncomfortable with people not like them… Jesus made room a place for the “other”…You see, we need to be open to those who are different from us instead of defaulting to our insecurities about those whom we find strange or fringe, or different not give into what one might so describe as our “sincere yet uninformed stereotypes” of others, we do well to celebrate the considerable extravagant generosity there is in the diversity that exists both within and among our Christian traditions because of God’s grace. After all, one mark of a cult is “enforced conformity,” whereas authentic Christianity celebrates genuine diversity along with our many forms of worship and language and culture and life of faith. Think about the service and mission we could be about if we embrace diversity…. we don’t have to think alike, but we can love alike and serve alike…Prior to these incident, Jesus has caught the disciples arguing about who is superior and then says to be a leader you must be a servant, you must like a child, vulnerable, needy even, and welcome such.? When we call out people not like us to stop what they are doing in the name of Jesus because they are different from us, or we don’t agree with them theologically or biblically or politically….how does that practice extravagant generosity? How does that build and invite and welcome those outside of our doors? In times of great division, deep despair and anger it would be easy to back off of a focus on Stewardship. It’s not the right time. People are already upset about the upcoming General Conference, or what is happening politically in our city and state and nation. The economy for all that it is good for some, is still not good for others. And yet, World Communion Sunday was begun in the worst year of the Great Depression out of a stewardship division of the church, not evangelical….stewardship….and here is why I think it is important: Paul writes in 1st Timothy:

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

In times of strife and trouble, that is the best time to focus on stewardship and extravagant generosity…because generosity is a gift of the Spirit and it makes clear who we are and to whom we belong and how we are to live our lives. Being rich is not just about being an athlete who has a multi million-dollar contract, or a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett. Although they are very rich. Comparatively every one is this room is rich compared to most people in the world. So the challenge is how do we set our hopes on God, who provides us with so much and how are we to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…not based on who is already here, but on those not yet here, those yet to come, those who need so desperately to know and experience the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus. Those Jesus challenges us to offer to work with, pray with. It isn’t about being the same, or agreeing or even being united. So easy to draw the lines and say you are not part of us…whoever the us is….but Jesus doesn’t allow it. Are we feeding the hungry, are we clothing the naked, are we visiting the downtown, the sick, the prisoner? Are we actively doing the work of Jesus in the world and creating spaces for people to meet Christ and know Christ and deepen their relationship with Christ? Are we rich in good works, generous ready to share that we might take hold of the life that is really life, our life in Christ our life in the community of faith? How do we begin? Here at the table, we are called to say Yes to Christ, yes to the call, yes to serve ALL people, in ALL places in every way possible…to not put up false divides and conflicts, but to know and believe as God’s beloved children that we are called to shared God’s love and grace with all…. in the name of Christ Jesus…that is why this table is open, this table invites us make room for the stranger, the different, the other, the outsider, the ones not like us, because it is not you and I who get to choose who belongs or who is part….it is Jesus. This week, may this table nurture us, fill us and reminds us we are built into a community of faith and may it challenge us to serve in love and practice extravagant grace

This week, outside of these doors, may all that we do and all that we say witness to our extravagant generosity, to the power of God to change lives and transform the world

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Extravagant Generosity: World Communion Sunday

Last Sunday we began our Stewardship Campaign using materials from Extravagant Generosity. There is a daily devotion book Practicing Extravagant Generosity. I have been pleased with the devotions each day. I have found them provocative and insightful. I am appreciative for something that makes me think and ponder my own faith.

While we started last week with the sermon series, this week began the real focus. As it is also the First Sunday in October, it is also World Communion Sunday. I am grateful I can still be still be surprised when I study and find new information. In a world that is often difficult and a big scary, I look for the challenge of Jesus to set my faith and my hope on God.

In the book Practicing Extravagant Generosity, the author reminded me, as a reader that I am called to work for the future, for those who are not yet part of the community of faith. When I am afraid or uncertain, I want to hunker down, focus in and not be aware of what is happening around me. Jesus calls me to look out and up and to the future that God has already created.

First United Methodist Church  celebrated worship and holy communion with our sister congregation El Mesias. Following we worship we continued gathering around a table for lunch. It was a great day. You can find the worship service here.

I am blessed and graced to serve.

 

 

 

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Bible 101 Part 2, sermon text

Here is the sermon text from Sunday, September 16’s worship service. I like to point out, I don’t read it word for word, so if you listened to the sermon or watched it, this will not be exact. After a couple of days, there sermon only is posted at the link above plus the entire service. The basic sermon manuscript is printed below. This was a fun quick series to do, I think as I said in my earlier blog, I’d like to repeat it only add a couple of Sundays. There is so much information to share about this book or collection of books we call the Bible. It never gets old to read and study and ponder what it has to say to me. This Bible reminds me that I am graced to serve.

Sermon Text: 

The Bible is rich in story and in verses and proverbs that point to truth for living and life…

Some of what is in the Bible is insane….crazy…. and if you don’t believe me, you haven’t read the book of Joshua, or some of the battles in 1st and 2nd Kings…In Joshua God’s people were told to go into the land and kill every man woman and child and all their cattle and livestock, obliterate entire people races and cultures…or in the Torah a person being who has any sort of handicap or deformity is considered not acceptable and outcast and Jesus encouraging people to pluck out their eyes and cut off their hands….because it is “ancient words” if you will, the Bible must be deciphered for the 21st century, and with all going on in our world and nation wrestling with this text, with these books within a book is critical if we are to respond as Christians. This is a tough book, one that if read deeply and thoroughly requires some prayer, meditation and thoughtfulness

PP 1: 2014 Gallup Poll on biblical interpretation

28% believe the Bible to Be the ACTUAL word of God, to be taken literally

47% Inspired Word of God

21% Ancient fables, tales, legends

4% no opinion

 

UMC’s would fall in all four catergories of the Gallup polls….but most probably in the 1st or 2nd around 75 % of people that believe the bible is the inspired word of God….some do fall in the 3rd group and see it as a book of stories, legends…interesting, but not inspired, helpful in certain ways, but not binding. In 2 Timothy it states that scripture is inspired and useful for teaching and training…says nothing about being inerrant or infallible or literal….The author of Proverbs talks about treasuring wisdom and learning wisdom and keeping close to the teachings of one’s parents and one’s faith…again, there is nothing about the books or what would have been scrolls being infallible or without error. Back to 2 Timothy, this verse particularly “All scripture is inspired by God “Is used to defend and support an understanding that the bible is infallible, every word is true and one can find ways to make it all fit in a nice and easy package….except you can’t, not really. There are parts that may have been experiences that were recorded, but scientifically not possible: like in Joshua 10 where the sun stood still for day so that Israel could defeat their enemies. In our 21st century we want to make it out as not true instead of understanding that the writers of the Bible were recording their faith and where they saw God at work in the world. No one takes the bible literally, every word, instead everyone of us takes bits and pieces and makes that our infallible Bible.

If I give you a few moment, I bet you could write down those verses that you think are the most important part of the bible…the verse you live by and the ones you probably figure are the ones everyone should follow. In fact I want you to do so right now.

A few, alright more than a few years ago, I was a young clergy and the District Superintendent was requiring us to as a district to go on retreat together. Our opening time of worship and devotion was an invitation to share our favorite bible verse and the other instruction was the favorite bible verse that helped us most in our ministry. You can imagine, preachers are the worst for being holy and trying to one up each other in our righteousness, the Pharisees got nothing on us! Any way you can imagine the verses: The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want, I can do all things through him who strengthens me, May the words of my mouth and the meditations in my heart be acceptable in thy sight Oh Lord my strength and my redeemer. You get the picture, you probably have your own that pops up in your mind as think about what helps you in your work and in your life. Lois Lenz…man I loved her. She had been a pastors wife for a very long time and she and her husband Milt served years together before she explored her own call to ministry. She came in under the local pastor option. She was almost last when it came to her turn. She looked around the room at all those pastors, some very important and had served a long time. She said, the scripture that has helped most in my ministry is “Thou shall not kill.” Yup, that’s exactly what happened, every one of us roared with laughter. How true. Maybe that should be one of the few we take literally!!!!

The author of Timothy writes: All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

The Bible is inspired, it is useful and far too important to attempt to make it all work or not question or wrestle with it’s context and what it says too us in the 21st century. It’s too important a book to use as a fortune cookie or a quick spiritual answer book, you know when we to need to make a decision so we open it up to the first text and see what it says Which almost never works….it’s just more confusing.when we are trying to decide what to do about that neighbor that is driving us nuts and we open it Joshua where they are instructed to kill every man woman and child in the land…or our child our son is just making us crazy and we open it up to Deuteronomy 21where it says to take a disobedient son to the town square and stone him…Taking us back to last week…remember that scripture was actually written over a short period of time….Old Testament over a 1000 year period between 1400 and 400 BC give or take a hundred years and the New Testament between 49 AD and probably 100 or 110 AD. Paul’s letters were the earliest written before his death in 65, then the gospels and then these other letters and Revelation written last. The reason I want to remind us of this is when the author of 2 Timothy writes about all scriptures, he is talking about what we refer to as the Old Testament…if Paul was the author and there is some question about that, when Paul was writing there were not any gospels or anything else. Even if this was written late in the 1st century, there was still no new testament as we understand it. 2 Timothy is written to encourage a young leader in the church who is being reminded that the scripture as they had it was good for study and understanding and knowledge and to grow in the faith. That Timothy had what he needed to live as a follower of Jesus. The bible as we have it today was put together and made the canon sometime in the 390’s to 420 range. There were several councils. Google biblical canon, because what you are holding is not the only Christian canon. In those early days there were several groups of churches and believers that still exist and have slightly different texts in their bible. But I digress.

Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching or the author of Proverbs:

When I was a son with my father,  tender, and my mother’s favourite,
they said to me, Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight: Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight.

Neither the Old Testament, nor the New Testament author speaks of making others live by those standards…..Only those who choose to live under the law if they are Jewish or follow Jesus if they are Christian are required to live according to the Bible. The scriptures are inspired by God they offer wisdom and understanding and according to Henri Nouwen:

PP 2 The Word of God is not a word to apply in our daily lives at some later date; it is a word to heal us through and in, our listening here and now.

Don’t always get it….often confusing and sometimes downright crazy….but it is our story…in so many ways….We are Moses making excuses, We are Sarah laughing at the impossible, we are Gideon afraid and hiding in a wine press, Hannah pouring out our deepest desires, Peter shifting here and there one minute hot and another minute cold, Martha worried about many things The Bible at it’s best challenges me to live in a way that honors God, honors God’s creation, honors other human beings….Jesus challenges me to love….not in some sentimental easy way, but the difficult the path that demands love of neighbor, love of enemy, love of the poor, the outcast and the hurting…..It might sound easy to love God and love each other, but to live it out requires every bit of faith I possess….The Bible challenges me to put aside my own selfish wants and needs and ambitions and look to my neighbors true needs and the worlds needs…The Bible reminds me that faith in not learned and seen in isolation, but must be formed in community. A community that creates space for disagreement, for questions, for arguing even to go deeper into what the reign of God looks like…. The letter to Timothy is that scripture is inspired by God AND given that the people of God might be equipped for every good work The bible begs to be studied and tasted and seen and heard and smelled

That’s why I write a study guide, so we can dive in deeper after Sunday morning or we have copies of the daily Upper Room, or you can access it online, there are multiple online tools for devotions or apps for your smart phone or tablet…This Bible, this word, this wisdom These wise inspired words are here to change me and change you….changing and challenging all of us to grow in grace, grow in love, grow deeper into the likeness of Christ in this time and in this place….in the words of a corny phrase….you may be the only Bible some people read….and what Bible will they read …judgement, anger, bigotry, or will they see love, grace and mercy? Will our community of faith been seen as one of closed hearts and closed doors and closed minds or an open place to learn, to discover and find God…. Michael W. Smith wrote a song called Ancient words:

Words of Life, words of Hope Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e’er we roam Ancient words will guide us Home.

Ancient words ever true Changing me, and changing you.
We have come with open hearts   Oh let the ancient words impart.

That’s our prayer as we come to bless these books, these inspired books of God for us to get wisdom, to get understanding, to be taught and challenged and our faith be deepened in Christ. For ultimately, that is what this is all about, that we might know about Jesus, but more importantly to love Jesus and follow him. When we have faith then we will be blessed for every good work that we do in then name of Jesus Christ.

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Bible 101 Part 2

Today we finished the second part of the sermon series Bible 101. Usually I preach a “Bible” sermon once a year when I give Bibles to our children. This year, I decided to do a 2 part series, the first part on the history of the Bible and the second one on what United Methodist believe and how to engage the text.

As I think toward the future, I would like to do this again sometime and extend it a bit longer. Do the history of the Old Testament/Hebrew Scripture, a history of the New Testament and then break it down into a deeper look at some of the sections like the Law and Prophets and the Writings, the Gospels, Epistles of Paul and the General Epistles.

That might be a bit heady for some folks, but I have come to believe that delving into these ancient texts have far more to offer than just a pithy quote here and there. At any rate, here is the link for today’s service. The whole service will be uploaded and in a day or two just the sermon. I will attempt to post manuscript later this week. As always, I am graced to serve.

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Bible 101 Sermon Text

I  have had several people mention they would like to have the text of my sermon from Sunday. I used several sources that I did not quote while I was preaching: Disciple bible Study, Oxford Annotated Bible and Adam Hamilton’s sermon “The bible in 30 minutes.” I am always deeply grateful for those books and sermons I have read and heard. I always want to try and source whenever possible. The sermon only is now up at this link if you are interested in watching. My preaching is not word for word from my manuscript, but the dates and information maybe clearer in writing than in hearing in the sermon. The sermon is below.

 

Bible 101 Part 1

As you settle in, If you have your bible with you please pull it out or grab one of the pew bible. got it? Open it to the New Testament please. I want to give you the entire history of the Bible in 15 minutes…maybe 13-14…you can time me if you want, but I’d rather you listen and take notes. You will note that the testaments are not equal. about 75% of our bible is the old testament or for our Jewish brother and sisters the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible has 39 books and the New Testament has 27. Now these were not originally a book, they were scrolls, and not necessarily individual scrolls. The Hebrew scripture is broken down in 3 parts, Which the Torah, the first 5 books also known as the Law, the prophets and the writings. The Torah contains the stories of creation, the call of Abram, and how the promise and covenant of God began with him. You remember? God called Abram and promised him his descendents would be more numerous than the stars. Then he and Sarah didn’t have children. Finally Isaac comes along and Isaac has Esau and Jacob…Jacob who becomes Israel who then have 12 sons, which become the 12 tribes of Israel. Joseph was sold into slavery into Egypt, makes good, brothers end up in Egypt because of a famine, family is reunited and then a Pharaoh arises who doesn’t know Joseph and all the Israelites become slaves. Moses is called another interesting story, Pharaoh won’t let God’s people go, but after an amazing amount of plagues Moses leads the people out of Egypt and they wander the wilderness until the finally see the promised land. During that time they are given the 10 commandments  which by the way was the scripture on the scroll earlier. Moses dies having seen the promised land but not allowed to enter. That ends the Torah.

Then we begin what is for our Jewish brothers and sisters was it known as the former prophets:  which include Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel & 1 & 2 Kings and Ruth. Joshua leads them into the Promised land, very bloody, very hard read, then we get to the Judges. At that time there was no king, each of the 12 tribes had a judge to help decide the law. Fascinating book particularly in terms of the judges themselves, but also because it begins the cycle we know so well, the people are faithful, they fall away, worship other Gods, things go badly and repent and turn back to God. 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings tell us that the people were not happy with judges wanted a king…demanded a king, even though God wanted to be their king, they wanted to be like other nations.  So they got what they wanted with mixed results. … So first was Saul, who was very good looking, but was mentally unstable, then Israel’s best king, mostly beloved king? David who did well, but also did some bad things which meant he was not allowed to build God’s temple, his son the wise king Solomon replaced him, built the first temple and did many amazing things, until he wasn’t so wise and found himself being swayed by many of 700 wives and 300 concubines. When he died the kingdom was divided and ruled by a succession of his sons heirs. The Northern kingdom was called Israel and contained 10 of the tribes and the southern kingdom was called Judah containing 2 of the tribes. These are stories and geneologies are found in 1 & 2 Kings and what is known as the writings: 1 and 2 Chronicles. It’s kind of a repeat of what we read throughout scripture. People are faithful, they fall away, God sends the prophets to warn them, bad things happen, they repent, God is please and the cycle continues. Until really bad things happen, first to Northern kingdom in 722 BC. The Assyrians come in and destroy everything, take the people into slavery, leaving a few behind, plus some of their people. That is where we get the “10 lost tribes of Israel.” They weren’t really lost, they were scattered. They intermarry, become what we know as the Samaritans in our New Testament. Southern Kingdom was warned as well, in scripture there will be “a new king” and that phrase is often accompanied by the phrase “who was worse” than the one before. Occasionally a king would turn back to God, but often it was the other way around. Babylonians conquered Assyrian and in 597 began the war again Judah with the city of Jerusalem falling in 586. This was horrific. They Destroyed the temple, burned it to the ground along with all of Jerusalem, took the king, murdered his sons before him, before they blinded him and took him into exile along with the people. This event, along with the exodus is pivotal in our old testament…the exodus and the exile are deeply part of the story and history of our Jewish brothers and sister. This brings us back to 1 & 2 Chronicles which help tell story of Persia, who conquered Babylon and began to let the Jewish people go home and rebuild, which is what the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are about. Then we have the later prophets who come after our earlier ones: the major prophets: Isaiah, the longest, Jeremiah, Lamentation which Jeremiah written to give voice over the grief of the exile, Ezekiel and Daniel, also writing about the exile. Then the minor prophets; Hosea, Joel and following, which are not unimportant, only shorter and could fit on their own scroll. Finally, we have the rest of the writings: which are poetry and music and teaching and in so many beauty: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. All of these books were written in about a 1000 year period, from around 1400-1500 BC to 400 BC give or take a hundred years or so. Obviously they shared and spoken longer, but the actual writing took place then. Okay…breathe, ready for the New Testament?

Like the Old testament these books, were actually not books, but scrolls. And because people didn’t read, these letters and writings were meant to be read publically. People gathered in the Temple or the synagogue or in homes and scripture was read and someone talked about it. That’s where preaching comes from…for 1000’s of years, scripture has been and some shares about what was read. Remember Jesus in the synagogue? You have heard it says, quotes scripture and then says, but I say to you…The psalmist describes the scriptures as: sweet sweeter than honey, as a lamp and light to our path and lives. These scriptures were important, and certainly help us understand our book, the New testament because for Jesus and the early disciples and for Paul and early Christians, the Old Testament were only scriptures they had.

First four books are the gospels and they are: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The story of Jesus, life death and resurrection and the most important part of the new testament. Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptic gospels, which means taking a common view, parables and stories are similar, although there are differences. Mark was written first in around 65 A.D., Matthew and Luke in 70-80 range and John was the last written probably 85-90 AD maybe a hair later. The first three are interested in people following Jesus and how that looks specifically. John is more interested in people believing in Jesus. He probably believed people already knew the stories, now people needed to understand what it meant. Instead of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, the bigger pictures of “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and was God. Then we have the book of Acts covering early church history from the 30’s until the death of Peter and Paul around 60, the letters or epistles of Paul: starting with the longest and written to churches finishing with the shorter letters written to individuals, then the general epistles: who don’t know who wrote them, but also in order of the longest to the shortest, finally Revelation which was written in order to help people who were being persecuted and struggling with their faith to believe that God will triumph in the end.

First book written was one of Paul’s letters, probably Galatians, around 49 AD. The gospels were written because early Christians were afraid no one would remember the stories, much like our old testament. and the last written in the early 2nd century, 2nd Peter which is attributed to Peter, probably by a follower, a disciple.

Why is this important? Because this book is our book. It is the story of us as a people: called by God, we turn away from God and go our own ways, we are warned to turn back, sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t, and often things happen and then we turn back. God is always waiting for us. The Old Testament is the story of how we got to where we are today. It’s the continuing cycle of coming to God, turning away, being unkind and unmerciful and knowing what justice is, but choosing not to do it. We come back to God and it starts all over again. The new testament is all about Jesus. We are invited not only to read about Jesus but to know Jesus. If you want to know Jesus, it’s not enough to listen to me or any preacher…you need to read this bible. I ask our children when they receive their bible to read one gospel and come talk to me about it. Usually I recommend Mark, cause it’s the shortest, but it doesn’t matter which one. All of us should, at least once a year read one of the gospels. They are not that long. How can we grow in faith, if we are not trying to know Jesus and to love Jesus. Our jewish brothers and sisters read from the Torah each week, because God’s law guide and directs their path and it helps them love God and love their neighbor. Scripture is precious to them in ways we may not understand.

Reading scripture aloud in worship, reading it at home is a gift beyond measure. It is a privilege many have been denied. If we long to follow Christ, we need to know and understand the stories of the gospels and we need to trust and believe that the Word became flesh and dwelt among and from him we have received grace upon grace. There is much about scripture I don’t understand. The more I read, the more mysterious this Word becomes for me. Each reading offers something new. I believe that this word is a living document, not that it is somehow inerrant which I will talk about more in depth next week, but that it is true. I find trying to prove things by the bible misses the point of what scripture can offer: basically that God loves us, deeply and passionately. God longs for a relationship with us, to remind us we are created as beloved sons and daughters.

It’s why I write a study guide every week, is to invite people to get into scripture. It’s why we have the Upper Room Available. Daily readings and prayers are available in book form and online.  Next week, I would like to invite you to bring your favorite study bible to worship. I know, many use their phone or a tablet, I think that is wonderful and I do the same thing. I also think there is something to handling a book, to writing notes, to underlining, making comments and asking questions. Next Sunday, as we continue to look at the Bible, we are going to bless the bibles we bring that our minds and hearts might be opened and our understanding increased in the next year. This week, my friends, spend some time in this holy book, this sacred story which reminds us of who we are and who God is. Learn to know Jesus a little better, and God’s grace a lot more.

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Bible 101 Part 1

Today was a fast paced morning in worship. For the first time in a long time, we had acolytes bring the light in and then take the light out to remind us that Christ is our light and we are all called to take the light of Christ out into our world.

For the last few years we have been in partnership with Friends University’s Graduate Marriage and Family Therapy program. Beginning with one part time graduate student offering therapy, we now have 3 full time students. This counseling service is free and anyone in community can be offered counseling services at no charge and often at times that are more helpful (evenings and weekends.) Following that our choir scholarship recipients shared a quartet.

I began a two part sermon series on the Bible. I promised the entire history of the Bible in 15 minutes, but I don’t think I quite made it. I did have to edit my sermon while preaching, but I felt like it is important to understand scripture in its entirety. Next week, I’ll slow down and bit to focus more on why the Bible is so important to faith and why United Methodist read it seriously but not literally. In this link you will find the entire worship service or just the sermon. As always, I am graced to serve.

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