Monthly Archives: October 2018

Extravagant Generosity: Seeking God for Our Future

Yesterday’s service took place on a beautiful fall day. One thing that is certain is that it is a very busy week at First UMC. We took a special offering for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) hurricane relief. One hundred percent of the offering will go to help with the recovery effort from Hurricanes Florence and Michael. We had a mission lunch to help with the expenses of hosting our first week with Family Promise, a non-profit that works with homeless families.

Our sermon series, “Extravagant Generosity” continues. This week we brought back cards that looks at what we would like for our church for the next year. I know I want more engagement in our downtown neighborhood and more reaching out in the downtown area. You can find the whole worship service here.

I am excited about Wacky Wednesday and Trunk or Treat this week. Last year we had over 400 people! With the added Trunks, I think it will be a fun event. On Saturday is the 25th annual Chicken Noodle Dinner and Quilt Auction. The women who quilt create the most beautiful works of art. It helps fund our Religious Nurture Center(which is a ministry with developmentally disabled adults) and our Downtown Alive television ministry. I am so grateful to be a part of this church. I look forward what the future brings!

 

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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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