The Upward Call of Christ

We are in the middle of the sermon series on the Paul’s letter the Philippians. Leslie Coates preached the first week and Rebecca Goltry Mohr preached week two. I was back in the pulpit for week three. What a week it has been.

I had my sermon written on Thursday and had a fun take on how we use our self righteousness to play hide and seek with God. I wanted to liken it to a toddler who hides behind a curtain, but you can see their feet and hear their giggles. With God and often with each other we often hide even through we are not really hidden.

Nonetheless, that interesting twist on the third chapter of Galatians took a back seat with the Supreme Courts reversal of Roe versus Wade. We knew it was coming, still it was disheartening and heartbreaking for many and a time of celebration for others. As a United Methodist Clergy, I honor and uphold the nuanced understanding the Book of Discipline. I felt it important to share that in worship.

I shared a portion of that in worship today. You can find the whole paragraph (161.K in the 2016 Book of Discipline) here. The part I quoted today is as follows:

The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born. Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion.

But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child.

We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.

I would encourage you to read the whole statement. In some ways there is something for everyone to dislike. It is not a statement supporting abortion for any reason, nor is it a statement that bans all abortions. Instead, in my opinion, this statement speaks to responsible and legal reproductive health services for women in crisis. I have always felt this statement to be well thought out, caring and compassionate.

While the first part of my sermon share this statement, it also pointed out that we are so divided that we no longer listen to one another and use our bias and self righteousness as a weapon. You can find the whole service here on Facebook, or through our Youtube page.

Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is deep and rich. I find his words challenging and hopeful. His challenge to work toward the goal: ” press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” As beloved of God, I am called to live out the grace and love given me in Christ Jesus. I pray in the midst of these troubled times to do so.

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Resurrection Live

This week in worship was filled with acknowledgements and celebrations. In the United States, it’s Mother’s Day. This national holiday can be fraught with emotions including joy and sorrow, resentment and bitterness and grief. The history of Mother’s Day is actually quite interesting and I noted it in my sermon. It’s also complicated as the founder of the celebration ended up being bitter that it became a sentimental and commercialized holiday.

I paired Mother’s Day with honoring our United Methodist Women, now known as United Women in Faith. This Methodist Women’s organization has been known by many names throughout its 153 years. I honored them because of the decades of service offered in ministry and mission often over looked.

To top it off, or since it was at the beginning of the service, we had a baptism for Rev. Rebecca Goltry Mohr’s infant daughter. What a joy it was, because I had the privilege of sharing the celebration with Rebecca’s mother, Rev, Donna Goltry. Baptism is such a joyful sacrament.

We continue our theme of Resurrection and celebrating Easter. Having the Acts passage with Tabitha and Jesus reminding us that his sheep hear his voice and follow him. You can find the whole worship service here.

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Resurrection Forgiveness

Easter continues and on this first day of May we celebrate the third Sunday of Easter. May day is filled with other events: children hanging flowers on neighbors doors, in some countries this is their Labor Day. For United Methodist’s this was the day that the splinter denomination “Global Methodist Church” launched.

In my sermon, I mentioned this event. Not all United Methodists are caught up in the drama, many don’t care and many just don’t have idea what is happening. It is a long time in the making…decades at least. The Methodist movement began as a splintering off of another denomination and there have been dozens of denominations that have left the Methodist church and begun their own organizations: Nazarenes, Free Methodists and Salvation Army to name a few.

There was not time in my sermon to do justice to stating the facts around this split, but I did promise to post some links for people to do their own research.

The United Methodist News organization has these articles:

What happens when a new denomination launches?

Global Methodist Church Website

Great Plains Bishop Saenz Jr’s statement on why he is UM

I really appreciate Adam Hamilton’s writings and articulation about United Methodism. You can check out his writings on his website

The church, in my opinion, has wrestled from the very beginning around issues of inclusion. Certainly I have seen in my own lifetime plenty of changes. I am United Methodist. I have worked for full inclusion since I began ministry in 1982. This is difficult because I believe in a big tent and I am willing to live in tension, but I also know others are not. I am not going any where. I intend to stay as I have said so many times before.

Resurrection reminds me that I don’t know the future, I probably don’t even have a little of glimpse of what it will be. What I do know, is that God is calling us forward, always. Looking back, going back is never an option, in Christ all things are new! If you want to hear what I had to say about it in worship today, you can find the sermon beginning at 37:57. I would recommend you listen to Warren Swedberg’s solo, it was amazing.

I am grateful to be United Methodist, to embrace scripture as the foundation, tradition as it guides us, and experience and reason to keep us moving forward into God’s future. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed!!!

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Resurrection Hope

In some ways, the last two years have felt like one long Lent. When the pandemic hit, it came in the middle of Lent. the rest of that season, Easter and for many weeks and months, we worshipped online, through Kake tv and did not worship in person or in community to sing Hallelujah’s. Even last year, Easter was toned down with no choir, and even though we sang familiar hymns and a quartet sang the Hallelujah chorus it was another reminder we were not yet past the worst that Covid 19 had to offer.

We began Advent in 2021 masked again and limiting gatherings outside of worship. The saving grace is that we were worshipping together including Christmas eve with candlelight and the singing of “Silent Night.” 2022 began in a similar way to 2021. The the glimmers of hope began. The positivity rate was falling as well as the hospitalizations. Finally, we were gathering together, eating together and no longer mandating masks.

Lent offered us an invitation to deepen our prayer life and to begin to open ourselves to what God had in store for us as we live into these new times. Our prayer practices had us not only pray in different ways but to also share our prayers through post it notes. These were gathered, prayed over and transcribed on to ceramic post it notes. You can see the process and result here.

Covid isn’t gone and I would question whether we are truly and finally past this pandemic, but at least now there are vaccines and treatments that are widely available. Holy Week became a week of deep spiritual connections and experiences.

During Downtown Alive on Palm Sunday the choir shared a powerful cantata. “The Weeping Tree” used the image of a living tree that dies along with Jesus. The cantata begins at about 37:38

Maundy Thursday Prayer in the Garden was held at Botanica. It was a beautiful evening of communion and prayer practices through out the gardens. Our media specialist Charity Harmon created a beautiful video highlighting our evening. Good Friday had us back in the sanctuary for a traditional tenebrae service. The creeping darkness, the music and readings bring us to the horror of the death of Jesus.

And then we experience Resurrection Hope! With a full choir, brass, readings, and all the favorite hymns Easter dawned gloriously! I know that Easter is Easter whether we were worshipping in in person or whether the choir was singing or whether we are masked or unmasked. I know that. Still, what a moving experience to hear all the voices raised and to end the service with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

I live in hope. I place my hope in the resurrected Christ. I am deeply grateful for all the people that offer their gifts in worship and for God’s living presence! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed!!!

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Palm Sunday entering Holy Week

And so, holy week begins. Holy weeks both sneaks up on me and seems like a long time coming. I hold those tensions in balance during the season of Lent. This year the weather has been all over the place with icy cold winds from the north and then the wind whips around with a harsh southern breeze.

Lent is showing its colors through the daffodils, the hyacinth’s, and the tulips finally erupting in all their spring glory. I am ready to new life to be both visible and experienced through longer sunshiny days and the warmth of spring.

For the first time in decades I didn’t preach Palm/Passion Sunday. We began worship with the Luke version of that first palm Sunday and a palm processional.

The Downtown Alive choir presented a cantata “The Weeping Tree” by Joseph Martin. With narration, visual presentation of props and music, the message of Holy Week was offered. The music was powerful and the service was a blessing. I think the perfect way to begin this sacred time. The sanctuary and the altar was beautiful and pointed to the week before us.

if you have a moment, I recommend finding the time to listen to the powerful message offered in word and music. You can find the service here.

I am so grateful for the talents and gift of music offered by the Downtown Alive Director Don Gray and our Director of Music and organist Dr. Bryan Mock and our soloist and the choir! We are all blessed by their time and talent and commitment. I pray that this Holy Week is a sacred time for us all.

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Prayer Practice: Breath Prayer

The Second Sunday in Lent offers us a new prayer practice “breath prayer.” Many religious traditions us this practice as a way of paying attention not just to our breath, but to the very presence of the Divine. On the website, the practice is described in more depth. You do have to scroll down to get to the current post.

In the midst of worship we practiced a breath prayer. In the sermon, I noted a post I had seen on social media written by – Sandra Thurman Caporale from the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston. It included a graphic with a picture of our lung and YH on one lung and WH on the other. It refers to the name of God given to Moses as YHWH, or I am what I am, or I will be what I will be. In short, our breathing in and out proclaims the name of God.

I was so taken by that thought and by Michael W. Smith’s lyrics “This is the Air I Breathe,” that I shared how much I believed we needed God presence. You can view the whole service here.

Last Tuesday night I shared a Facebook Live on Lectio Divina. I will do it again this Tuesday, March 15 at 7:00 p.m. I am hoping for no technical difficulties this time.

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Lenten Prayer Practices

The forty days of Lent have begun. Ash Wednesday was a lovely day weather wise and it felt so good to gather in person for worship. The Covid numbers are very low, so opening everything up is a blessing.

We started a new sermon series “Prayer Practice.” The focus for Sunday morning and the following week will be a different prayer practice. Using Patricia D. Brown’s book Paths to Prayer, we will explore a variety of ways to prayer. The congregation received a Prayer Assessment Guide (taken from Patricia Brown’s book) in which to discover their preferred method to pray. The key provides insight into each category.

This week’s practice is “lectio divina” or praying the scriptures. You can find all the information for Sunday March 6, including the bulletin and an explanation of the practice here.

During worship there is a prayer prompt where each week each person can write their response on a post-it. For those who are no in person, there is an online version. These are gathered up and then a different group in the church will be praying over them. You can find the entire Sunday worship service here.

There are many reasons to learn how to prayer more deeply and in different ways; natural disasters, wars, continuing infighting among people of faith and political parties. For me, the best reason is that I need it….for my walk with Christ and for deepening my faith. On Tuesday nights at 7:00 p.m., I will go live on Facebook to pray with anyone who will join me in a new ways. This week, we will participate in lectio divina.

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Following Christ

I took some time off, so didn’t post to this blog as I was out of state. Worship at First did just fine without me. In face Pastor Rebecca and Leslie Coates had terrific sermons.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday and we finished our sermon series “Walking in the Light of Love.” We took in new members, shared upcoming connection opportunities for Lent and had some terrific music: both the choir and the men’s quartet.

Transfiguration Sunday presents an interesting challenge. I find myself wrestling every year to find a way to make the story in Luke or Mark or Matthew new and helpful. This year doubly so with the Russian invasion into Ukraine.

Sometimes the best I can do is point to what I really believe: that in Jesus we see the face of God. In Jesus, God embraces us in our brokenness, our unwillingness to change and in our sin. There is no darkness so deep that God is not there to offer us hope, light and Love.

I am devastated by what is happening in Ukraine. I know I am not alone. While there is not much I can do in the middle of Kansas, I can pray. Pray for peace. Pray for the leaders of the world to back away from weapons of war. Pray for Ukrainian people in the fight to remain free. We can pray together for a world to come to know and practice peace.

I did talk about Ukraine in my sermon this morning. You can find the whole worship service here.

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Gifts and Graces

We continue our sermon series “Walking in the Light of Love.” This week we are focusing on gifts and graces. The gospel is the first “outing” if you will of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. He goes home to Nazareth.

The Lectionary has this story of Jesus in the synagogue over two weeks. This week we are introduced to Jesus declaration “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Next week we get “the rest of the story” and how his community responded.

I paired it with the first part of the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians. Paul reminds the community that “all” are gifted and no gift is more important than another. It is so easy to compare, at least for me. It’s more important to affirm and be part of what God is doing now, today through Christ Jesus.

Our Covid positivity rate us scary. Higher than at any other time of the pandemic. So we did not have the choir practice this week or sing and they will not practice next week. I miss it and am sad. I am also committed to making sure that we are as proactive as possible, short of shutting our doors, so as not to infect our most vulnerable parishioners including our choir volunteers. We have several staff and parishioners that have text positive in the last couple of weeks. I know and trust this too will pass.

You find the whole worship service here.

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Walking in the Light of Love: Chosen and Loved

We started a new sermon series, “Living in the Light of Love.” The Sunday after Epiphany is the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus. Often I do a renewal of baptismal vows, but instead this year I shared an old tradition, “chalking of the doors.”

I have thought about doing this for years, but always seem to forget until it is too late. My associate Rebecca Goltry Mohr reminded me of the tradition and handed me a magazine with the tradition in it before she went on maternity leave. It was fun to do during the time with children and to make sure everyone could take home a short liturgy and some chalk to do at home. Here is what was put in each bag:

Chalking the Door: An Epiphany Tradition

Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love.”

What is Chalking the Door?

This short liturgy is a way of marking our homes, usually at the front or main entrance, with sacred signs and symbols as we ask God’s blessing upon those who live, work, or visit throughout the coming year. In Exodus, the Israelites marked their doors with blood so that the Lord would pass over their homes; but in this service, we mark our doors with chalk as a sign that we have invited God’s presence and blessing into our homes. In Deuteronomy 6:9 God tells the people of Israel: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house… You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Chalking the door is a tangible way to honor God in our lives.

What do the Letters and Numbers mean?

The first and last numbers simply refer to the current year. The letters C M B come from the traditional names for the three kings: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. Some also suggest “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” which means, “May Christ bless this dwelling!”

How to do it

Say these words:

Peace be to this house, and to all who enter here. Amen.

Loving God, bless this household. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness, and abiding in your will. We ask this through Christ our Savior. Amen.

 Using the chalk and taking turns if more than one is participating, make the following inscription above the outside of your door:

20 + C + M + B + 22

As you make the inscription say these words: The three Wise Men, Caspar [KAS per], Melchior [MEL key ore], and Balthasar [bal THAY zer] followed the star to Bethlehem and the baby Jesus two thousand and twenty-one years ago. May Christ bless our home and remain with us throughout the New Year. Amen.

The service itself focused on being chosen and loved by God. Not is some simplistic way that nothing bad will ever happen. Instead, that Jesus by his baptism took his place with us in all the uncertainty and pain of life. As Isaiah notes: “When we go through the water, when the fire surrounds us, God is there. We are not alone, God loves us and walks with us.” Personally, this is what “Emmanuel” looks like, feels like and is what we mean when we say “God with us.”

You can find the whole service including the time with children here.

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