Standing up, Speaking Out, Praying for Peace

Yesterday afternoon I posted this on Facebook:

I have no profound words in response to the violence and bigotry in Charlottesville. There can be no justification for hatred, for waving nazi flags and giving nazi salutes. No justification for punches thrown, kicks and pepper spray and a car used as a weapon. White nationalism is not Christian. I am stunned to have to write those words in 2017. I am horrified, saddened and I know that God weeps at bigotry and hatred and this kind of violence. Praying for peace and hope and equality for all.

Then I began the long and hard work of re-writing my sermon for today. Many people might be surprised to know I don’t like controversy. I don’t really want hate mail or texts or messages. The events of the last week have rattled me in so many ways. I am stunned and shocked and saddened by the rhetoric around the possibility of war with North Korea. I wrote about that on Friday.

Then Friday evening I stayed away from the news. On Saturday the pictures of the white men and torches in Charlottesville, Virginia began to fill my news feed. By afternoon the protesters and counter protesters begin to engage in a war of words, of actions and finally a state of emergency was declared. People died when a car…a CAR was driven into the counter protesters and many more were injured.

I continue to just be stunned by the actions of yesterday. I am shocked by Nazi flags and salutes and signs of hatred again my Jewish brothers and sisters and my brothers and sisters of color and so many others. So my sermon needed to be re-written to reflect on the need of a Christian voice, my voice to be raised against such hatred and bigotry.

So I preached. I preached against the powers of hatred and evil. I preached God’s call to justice. I know my words are inadequate to the task, but I believe God’s me to be a voice of reason, of hope, of faith, of equality and of grace for ALL people. As far as I am able, I will stand up and speak out against such atrocities.

Here is this morning’s worship service….if you want to skip the music (which is lovely)  and prayers (which Pastor Rebecca Goltry Mohr said so beautifully) the sermon begins at 34:15.

God in your mercy, hear my prayer for peace, for justice, for equality. Hear my prayer especially for your love and grace to shower your world with Shalom.

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Anxiety, Fear and the Rumors of War

Today is my day “off.” I attempt to not check my e-mails or respond to e-mails. The day is often filled with all kinds of other “to-do” lists and sometimes with hobbies or projects I really enjoy.

Today I am struggling to stay away from the news. The rhetoric racheting up  between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and our president Donald Trump is enough to cause anxiety in the calmest of people. I don’t spend time wondering about scenarios that are silly or practically non-existent. I am not losing sleep over the possibility of a meteor hitting the earth or some other great natural catastrophe.  I am not a conspiracy nut or an end times prepper.

And yet….and yet. I can not help but be concerned when grown men are hurling insults like they are on a play ground. The “mom” in me wants to grab each of them and put them in a corner until they cool off. Angry words and quickly spoken insults often results in fists being used and a fight ensuing on the playground. I watch in disbelief as one threatens the other, Kim by saying North Korea will launch missiles at Guam and President Trump using phrases such as “fire and fury” and “locked and loaded.”

Harry J. Kazianis wrote this opinion piece on the Fox News website. His insight on the hell that war with North Korea would bring is worth reading. The devastation on the ground even without nuclear or chemical warfare, the deaths, the destruction, the starvation is unconscionable in any stretch of the imagination.

As a child, I remember the body counts of the Vietnam war and how the war was brought into our living rooms every night. That doesn’t even begin to acknowledge every horrible skirmish and war since and currently on-going. There have been terror attacks, two Gulf Wars and other wars across the world that are often hidden in our news cycles. I am saddened and sickened by the possibility that missiles and bombs and tanks and troops could kill and destroy many people on the Korean peninsula, Guam and Japan.

Today the United Methodist General Board of the Church and Society posted this call to prayer:

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On my own facebook page I posted: I am praying for the cooling winds of discernment to dampen rhetoric of war and of hate and of violence. I am praying for the thousands if not millions of people that are being targeted. Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer.

I have no power to influence the powers that be, I do have the power to pray and to pray for peace. As a follower of Jesus, I take seriously his challenge out of the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, that “peacemakers” are blessed and called children of God, that we are turn the other cheek and not repay violence with violence. This challenge is one of the most difficult for Christians to follow, but that does not mean we should not attempt to live as a people of peace.

So, today, I have been doing mundane tasks. I have swept and mopped the kitchen floor, canned 7 pints of diced tomatoes, made gazpacho for dinner, done the dishes, a load a laundry and will soon do other household tasks. I am praying for peace, I am connecting with the Prince of Peace, that my heart and spirit might be free from fear and anxiety. I know there has always been war and violence and the rumors of war. I attempt to do my part, not to participate in the hateful rhetoric or be driven by fear. I will choose to be a peacemaker and a child of God and a follower Christ. May my words and my actions be a witness to a God who calls us to lives of peace.

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Lost and Found, Part II

This week’s parables come from Luke rather than Matthew. The fifteenth chapter is a trilogy of stories about “lost and found.” The refrain after each story is that “there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repent than those who need no repentance.” That is until the story that is usually none as the “prodigal son.”

In that story there is no refrain, it ends with a father pleading for his son to come and  join the party “because his brother was lost and is found.” This story is often difficult to accept by those who play by the rules, do what is right,, are dutiful and for lack of a better term, “good.” This story is hard for respectable people and for many church people.

One of the things that Amy-Jill Levine noted in her book Short Stories by Jesus, is that somehow the elder brother was lost too. This wasn’t news to me, but her point about how Jesus’ listeners would have been cheering for the younger and stunned by his behavior caught me by surprise. I spent some time in my sermon  noting how often the “younger” sons come up as heroes in the Hebrew scriptures.

What was more unsettling to me, was when I really delved into the fact that the older son/brother was absolutely ignored in the party planning. I read into the story for the first the hurt, bewilderment and pain the brother must have felt at being forgotten and ignored.

This story by Jesus could be preached and experienced on many levels. Having preached this sermon many times, my sermon from August 6, 2017 is just one small slice of the depth of this story. You can find the worship service from First United Methodist Church, Wichita, Kansas here.

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Lost and Found, Part 1

I have really enjoyed preaching on the stories of Jesus. Sunday, I continued by focusing on the parable of the shepherd who had one hundred sheep and loses one, or it wanders off. I used the Matthew version, because in Luke it is the first story of three. The stories in Luke include the woman and the ten coins and the “prodigal” son. The Matthew version also has a very different setting, so I wanted to spend some time on the slant and meaning that Matthew brings to the story.

So I spent intentional time studying not just about a shepherd and sheep, but about Jesus and his viewpoint on the lost, the vulnerable, on children and little ones. What has become very clear for me, is from Jesus’ point of view, it doesn’t matter if there is a hundred sheep, or ten coins or two sons, reconciliation is always the goal.

I didn’t say this in the sermon, but years ago my Old Testament Professor from Saint Paul School of Theology noted  in Psalm 23, the final verse, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” that the word translated as “follow” was more a more active verb. The verb might be better translated as “pursue.” I can acknowledge that both of those words can seem or uncomfortable particularly if one has a history of abuse.

The point of the words though, when combined with the Matthew story is that God is not going to ignore the lost or the needy or the vulnerable or the weak. God is longs for a relationship with all of us as beloved children.

Yesterday’s worship service and sermon is my attempt to give voice to this God who looks for the lost. The service also has a great video highlighting Vacation Bible School. As I said in my sermon, I am sometimes lost and not so good about looking for those who have wandered away. I am grateful for a God who loves me and loves us all enough to come looking for us.

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Stories of Jesus, Flour and Yeast

The first Sunday of July I began a sermon series, “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.” This sermon series has been very “fun” for me as I have wrestled with the very well known parables of Jesus.  Amy-Jill Levin’s book Short Stories by Jesus, the Engmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, has given me a very different insight into those stories. Dr. Levine’s scholarship has broadened my biblical understanding as well as opened my imagination.

Sunday, I preached on the parable of the woman and the flour and the yeast from Matthew 13: 33. What stunned my mind and spirit was how often I have preached on this parable and not understood the amount of flour that was used. This blog post from Fr. Dominic Garramone was very helpful and I referenced it during my sermon.

The parables of Jesus are always new for me and surprising. Who knew, well I didn’t know, that the amount of flour was enough to feed a village. Jesus’ ability to challenge the status quo and to invite people into generosity and faith is truly amazing.

The worship services are posted each week through the website of First United Methodist Church.  You can watch it here.

 

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Back to blogging

It’s been a month since my last blog about the Great Plains  Annual Conference. Following conference I took a week for sermon planning and a week for vacation. Seemed fairly straight forward and well planned.

You know the saying, “the best laid plans….” It was a good two weeks, but as the week of my sermon planning time began, a neighbor and a friend died. It was unexpected in many ways, I had seen him the week before and I would never guessed I would be planning service within 10 days.

In my neighborhood, I am not the “pastor” particularly. Some of my neighbors attend church in other denominations than mine. Some of my neighbors do not. To be a “neighbor” is a wonderful thing as opposed to being whatever my “vocation” might be. Yet, it was a privilege and honor to be asked to preside at this man’s funeral. It was his request and so I sat with his daughters and we found a way to honor his life and spirit.

He had many  talents,  not the least  of which was gardening. He was meticulous in pulling weeds and keeping his flowers and his lawn beautiful. He was smart and funny. I will miss him.

During the time I was so blessed to become acquainted with his daughters, brilliant and funny and accomplished each in their own jobs and professions. I now have in my home, a few things in which to remember this wonderful and thoughtful human being. These past few weeks have reminded me again how precious life is and how each person plays a part and makes a difference in the lives of others.

As I begin my second year at First UMC, I am so grateful for those people who created this place for people all over Wichita to encounter the living spirit of God. I am blessed to continue in ministry with the gifted people in this community of faith. Life is precious and the call of Christ is to be a neighbor to every person we meet and to make a difference in lives of others. I am thankful my friend’s life and death and memory reminds me of this reality and call. I am graced to serve in this city and in this place and in this neighborhood. Life. Downtown.

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Some Reflections on the the Great Plains Annual Conference

For United Methodists, Annual Conference rolls around every year. It is “non-negotiable” if you are clergy you are required to show up. If you are a lay member, it is expected you show up, but not required. Annual Conference in the best of all worlds part revival, part business session and part family reunion. I both love it and dislike it (the loathe and hate words being too strong.)

I’m an extrovert, so having a chance to catch up with folks I only see once a year it wonderful and exciting. Mostly I enjoy the worship if done well, some of the business and the visiting. I do dislike, no I actually loathe the horrible chairs that are uncomfortable and actually are a pain in the “back” and backside!

Four years ago, three annual conferences (Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West) became one conference. I won’t go into the myriad of reasons, but suddenly finding venues large enough to hold that many clergy and laity became more difficult. No longer can we have chairs around tables, which makes it easier to do the work of the conference, now we are in long rows with uncomfortable chairs hooked together. We juggle our laptops or tablets or workbooks on our laps and heaven help anyone who needs to get to a microphone quickly or let alone the bathroom!

The sessions planning committee works hard in those large arenas to make the stage worshipfull and beautiful for our various services. There is nothing easy about trying to get that many people together and have all the various functions go smoothly. I miss the smaller conferences partly because of the ease of knowing most everyone and for the ability to make space more intimate. I, also, was one who voted for the one conference, because I had served a three point charge and I am well aware of the toll on the leader trying to do three of everything. That is not good use of resources, not of time, not of finances and certainly not of human beings.

This year’s conference was our new bishop, Ruben Saenz, Jr.’s first with us. I have been a pastor a long time, but had few bishops. Bishop Scott Jones was my bishop for twelve years, Bishop Fritz Mutti was my bishop for twelve years before that, Bishop Ken Hicks was my bishop for eights years before that and I begin my ministry under the leadership of Bishop Ben Oliphint. Each bishop brings their unique and unrepeatable spirit and their gifts to the area in which they serve. 

Bishop Saenz led with humor, humility, honesty and  a good deal of laughter. He noted again and again that the United Methodist Church is in a time of discernment, and honestly a time of difficulty. There is much about the future that is uncertain, but what is certain, Bishop Saenz stated again and again, is that “Jesus is the foundation and it will be alright.” 

When things got tense, or there were strong feelings running deep, Bishop Saenz’s would stop and lead us in prayer. To some that might some manipulative or shallow, but for me it never felt that way. The times of prayers felt genuine and deep. The prayers were not directed to one viewpoint or another, just that we might discern God’s path for us and to love one another.

Anyone can go to the conference website to see the pictures and videos and updates. My take away said are pretty basic, we are in changing times. Pastor’s and lay leaders need ot be discerning where God is leading using Jesus’ prayer, “not will by thine” and “let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The people of God need each other. 

Personally, I am delighted to return as senior pastor at First UMC, downtown Wichita and to begin work with my new associate Rebecca Goltry Mohr. As part of the Transition into Ministry program, I am honored that First will be a teaching/mentoring congregation and that I have the honor to be a mentoring senior pastor. 

During the opening worship service, we were given small silk flowers to remember those members of the annual conference, both lay and clergy who had died in the prior year. During holy communion we were invited to drop those flowers into a bowl in honor and rememberance. Then someone created this with those flowers:


Stunningly beautiful, during ordination we were reminded we are surround by such a great cloud of witnesses. We were commissioning and ordaining our new leaders and being blessed and reminded to continue to run the race set before us. Pastor Rebecca’s was commissioned as a provisional elder during that service.


The theme for this years conference is a good one: Know God, Proclaim Christ, Serve Others, Seek Justice. May it be so. 

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