Tag Archives: life.downtown

Family Dynamics: Sibling Rivalry Part 1

We started a new sermon series today that will take us through the end of August: Family Dynamics: The Saga of Jacob. In the lectionary for Year A, there are exactly four texts on Jacob. The series does have some of the Abraham and Sarah texts, but again, only some of the story. The five pericope is the beginning of the story of Joseph, Jacob and Rachel’s son.

The first lection is the one we read this morning on the Rebekah conceving the twins, the wrestling in the womb, the word of God that the elder would serve the younger and the Esau selling his birthright. The other stories the next week is when Jacob is on the run and we have the vision of “Jacob’s ladder,” then Laban tricking Jacob by giving his eldest daughter Leah in marriage before his younger daughter Rachel and finally the trip home and the late night wrestling with a messenger from God who renames Jacob and makes sure he limps the rest of his days.

ALL good stories, but lectionary skips over so much that instead of just preaching the lectionary, I have added the stories that actually create the whole sage. The Jacob narrative in Genesis is gritty, ugly, and filled with back biting and sibling rivalry, with jealousies and cheating. You wouldn’t know most of that if you only read what the lectionary shares.

So while we will do the four readings, they will be added to the greater story of Jacob and  his redemption. This first week we get the birth narrative and the first bit of grasping and grabbing on Jacob’s part. We are introduced to the favoritism of the parents (and grandparents before them) and the first deep fracture of the brothers relationship.

We were blessed to hear Rachelle Goter on Clarinet with Dr. Bryan Mock accompanying on piano and Dr. Mock on organ. The Gathering Band shared “It is Well with my Soul, a hymn that always blesses me. You can find the whole of the worship service or just the sermon here.

I am excited about our virtual Vacation Bible Study this year. Covid-19 threw alot of plans into chaos, but I am so grateful for Brad Remington and our Family Ministries Council who decided to go ahead and find a different way to share in VBS. This past week several volunteers were taped for the lesson, the craft and a devotion. The videos will be uploaded each day next week beginning on Sunday so families can choose the time to share in VBS for their own children, or with others. The registration form is here and we need families to register so that we can make sure there are enough kits for everyone!

We are finding new ways to connect with a Wednesday devotional being sent through our phones and a new Zoom Church Wide Fellowship Hour next week. What a great way to be the community of faith together during this time of pandemic. I am thankful for God’s grace and love that is with us through it all.

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Blessed Assurance: Jesus

I am not sure how the month got away from me, but I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks. Today we finished the sermon series “Blessed Assurance” and of course this week we had to sing this favorite Fanny Crosy hymn.

Fanny Crosby’s life was so dedicated and filled with faith. Writing almost 9000 hymns, using 200 pseudyms as publishers didn’t want just her name in their hymnals, plus penning countless poems, secular and patriotic music was just a portion of her life’s work. She was passionate to help the poor and the outcast and the last thirty years of her life she wanted to be known as a home missionary or a rescue mission worker. She lived in very poor parts of New York City so that much of the income she had went to the missions she so passionately supported.

Today is the last day of the three day Independence Day weekend. Today’s service combined a welcome for our new organist, Dr. Byran Mock, the sacrament of Holy Communion, a sermon on what does freedom mean for a Christian and for me, the beginning of year five appointed to First United Methodist Church.

I continue to be grateful to be a pastor, even in the midst of a pandemic. I am grateful to be one of the pastors at First UMC in downtown Wichita. With Fanny Crosby and thousands of others I continue to proclaim, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine!” Today’s service and all the services as well as the four hymns can be found here.

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Whispers of Love

We started a new sermon series “Blessed Assurance” last week as we honor the 200th anniversary of Fanny Crosby’s birth. She wrote almost 9000 hymns, used over 200 pseudonyms because no one wanted to have the same hymn writer again and again. She also wrote secular music and worked for education reform for the blind and later in her life say herself as mission worker.

Her hymns are beloved by many and her life is fascinating. Over five weeks we are focusing mostly on Matthew 9 and Romans 5. Jesus reaching out to heal and to challenge and to invite people into a deeper relationship works well with Fanny Crosby’s hymns, as does Paul reminding the church that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

In the midst of the pandemic and now demonstrations, I couldn’t just focus on Fanny Crosby. I have been wrestling with the insidious racism in our country and my privilege. Paul’s letter and Jesus actions cry out to be made real in the 21st century. You can find today’s sermon and/or the full worship (and last weeks as well) here.

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Forward in Faith: Spirit Led

Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is often called the birthday of the church, although that may not be totally accurate. It is the day that Acts 2 shares that the Holy Spirit descended on those early believers. Their lives, their faith and what we know call the church was forever changed.

That experience helped those early followers make sense of what had happened to them in their relationship with Jesus. The world they knew had become senseless and sad. Those final days with Jesus and then to see him arrested, tried, beaten, crucified and buried broke thier very hearts.

Jesus’ resurrection changed them again, but still they had not idea what it meant or how they would continue on. Jesus promised a Comforter, a Counselor, a Friend. The Spirit filled them, changed them, comforted them and challenged them to become what we know as the community of faith. They began to change lives and transform communities.

This particular Pentecost, May 31, 2020 is the thirty second anniversary of my elder’s ordination in the United Methodist Church. I have served the UMC as a pastor since 1982, but this was the day in front of family and friends and the annual conference I received my ordination elder and the words “take thou authority” was spoke as my call and challenge. You can read about that in this blog post on my 30th anniversary.


The world is in a state of uncertainty and fear and our country in a state of unrest and anger. My sermon could not ignore those realities. In my opinion we have to find ways as followers of Jesus to change our world, to dismantle racism and make the world a place where all are welcome and can hear God’s love and grace in their own language. You can find both the whole worship service or just the sermon here.

I will continue to be the hands and heart about Jesus. I am committed to do everything I can to dismantle the structures of racism and create a space and community where are all are welcome and accepted.

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Forward in Faith: Ascension

Today we honored our graduates and scholarship recipients. We were not “together” in person, but we heard from each one. What an honor it is to provide money for education. These young people are amazing and smart and I am proud of each one of them. Everyone participates in the life of the church in one way or another sharing their gifts with us all.

In the “real” liturgical timeline, Ascension is next Sunday. However next Sunday is also Aldersgate Sunday in the Methodist tradition. On May 24, 1738 John Wesley had his “heart strangely warmed” and it seem a wonderful focus for us on what will also be Memorial Day weekend in the United States.

That first Easter season, things were so uncertain and the disicples were looking and seeking hope and faith in uneasy and difficult times. We are too. We continue to go forward in faith with hope. You can find today’s service or the sermon only here

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Easter Sunday

What a different kind of Easter Sunday. With an empty sanctuary, no choir or special musicians, the feel was so unexpected. I have great worship leaders and musicians: Chy Billings III, Leslie Coates, Brianna Brown, Kate Davis, Ralph Phillips and Brad Remington. Volunteers run the cameras and the sound and the slides. I am so grateful for their gifts and leadership

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed worship across my city and state and nation. Churches all over the world had empty sanctuaries and the push to have online worship has been difficult for many.

Since the church I serve has been televised live for four decades, the technology is not difficult for us. Except for today! I can’t be the only pastor that wants everything to go right particularly on Easter and more so this Easter.

Some of the technical issues of being live on television is that we have exactly 59 minutes and 58 seconds to fill. We meet weekly to put together the elements of the service and figure out the “timing.” How long will the music last? How long will the scriptures and prayer time take? Usually then we get the timing for the sermon. Most weeks if all goes well I get 18 minutes. Occasionally I take more than the time allotted and because the sermon has the most flexibility I have to either add or cut in the middle of the service in order to make things even.

Today was such a day. We thought we had more planned, but things went quickly and all the sudden we were over six minutes short with no real plan B. In most places it wouldn’t matter, but on television, “empty” air time matters. I stretched the sermon, stretched the benediction and still we were short!!! On Easter!

Those of you who know me well, know that I am a perfectionist. I want things in worship to go well, to go smoothly and to work! The truth is sometimes is just doesn’t. Stuff happens, we make mistakes and it is what it is. And in the whole scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. In my head it feels like it matter, but the truth is, it doesn’t. A week from now, a year from now, it won’t matter.

It seems to me the All Sons and Daughter’s song: Buried in the Grave spoke the deep truth of today:

All we have, all we had
Was a promise like a thread
Holding us, keeping us
Oh from fraying at the edge

All we knew, all we knew
Was You said You’d come again
You’d rise up from the dead

Trusting in the resurrection of Christ in the midst of a pandemic, is holding on that thread, believing that God is walking us into our future and caring for us. Easter is the promise that keeps us from fraying, keeps us centered on God’s love for us in our resurrected Christ. Easter can not be stopped by a preacher’s mistakes, or off timing, or a coronavirus or social isolation. Easter comes with its hope and promise and it is what we know and proclaim.

You can find the “whole” service or just the sermon here.


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Complex Questions: Can these Bones Live?

Here it is the fifth Sunday in Lent and as I saw on one facebook post: This is the lentest lent I have ever lented!!! So true. In Sedgwick County we are in a stay at home ban and for the State of Kansas it beings tonight at midnight. Groups of ten or less are allowed as well as essential services. We continue to have worship live at 11:00 through KAKE TV and our online streaming with limited people so as to honor the letter and the spirit of the law.

Today was the first time we had “online” registration and over 70 people registered, many of whom were not members of the congregation I serve. The comments were the reason we as worship leaders feel what we offer is essential. Through the old school medium of television we are reaching thousands across the western two-thirds of Kansas and more and more through our online streaming. So many churches are unable to broadcast worship in any way, or people do not have the internet at home that this enables people to worship together.

Often in times of crisis, we gather together as a community of faith which is what makes this crisis so difficult. We can’t gather physically, so the internet and television means we gather virtually to sing and pray, to read scripture and hear the Word. We also do an offering, for that is not just about money, the offering is an invitation as to how in these times we offer ourselves adn our gifts and we always invite people who are watching to give to their own local church.

“Can these bones live?” God asked Ezekiel. Ezekiel didn’t know and we might not know either expect for our faith and hope in the God who comes to us in Christ. This God embraces us and calls us beloved. You can find today’s worship service or just the sermon here.


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Who is at Fault?

In preaching I often move from the lectionary (a three year cycle of biblical readings followed by many denominations) or a sermon series based on a series of biblical stories or loosely on a book or a theme. Recently I have combined my sermon series with the lectionary. I have appreciated being pushed on some biblical texts I might avoid otherwise.

The lenten series “Complex Questions” was a series based on the questions posed in the weekly readings for Lent. The questions are timely in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, particularly the question of who is at fault or who sinned?

I really wanted to preach today, but I am self isolating as I may have been exposed to COVID 19. Pastor Rebecca Goltry Mohr did a fabulous job of preaching today and gave a wonderful word. I was grateful to be home and to receive the Word and to experience worship. Today’s service or just the sermon can be found here.

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Finding Faith in a Time of Fear

The world has changed rapidly in the last week. Hourly it seems there are new updates on COVID 19, new cancellations and people are afraid. My county banned gatherings of more than 250 people and that meant many churches did not have worship in the building.

First United Methodist Church has been live on television and more recently live-streaming for a long time. Forty fours years to be exact. The capacity to “air” is certainly not difficult, what changes is how one creates worship with no congregation in the sanctuary.

I have an incredible staff and we gathered for two hours yesterday to re-create worship for today. New Scriptures, new music and how to make sacred the hour we had to share worship on television via live stream. I think we did it well.

There is no doubt the next weeks will be challenging for everyone: small businesses, schools, families, churches and non-profits all will be trying to figure out how to offer services and do ministry and mission in this time of social distancing.  I am praying for everyone who is struggling to find a way forward during this time. I know and believe  that all will be well and all manner of things will be well.

The link for today’s worship service or the sermon only can be found here.






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Complex Questions; Born from above

During this season of Lent, I am reading our daily the Sanctuary for Lent 2020, and participating in Lent Madness. If you are not familiar with this website, I love it for many reasons, not the least of which it lifts up several different “saints” traditional, biblical and modern day.

Like another “madness” one may be familiar with, this one begins with the round of 32. Monday through Friday, each saint has a biography and a collect to prayer and then you vote. Once the field has been narrowed, then there is the “Saintly Sixteen” with more biography, the “Elate Eight” and finally the “Faithful Four” with the winner of the Golden Halo revealed on the Wednesday of Holy Week.

These saints reminds me that there are multiple ways to serve. You can go all the way back to 2010 when it began to see former “halo winners.” I love this site because I can learn about how faithful people, I can laugh and pray and reflect on how God works in us as a particular people.

I am also participating in the Lenten Photo Challenge this year. I am finding the task of either finding a picture or taking one on each days word to be a practice that is helping me slow down, pay attention and focus on God. You can find each days word on our facebook page.

After finishing the first full week of Lent, we come to the question “Can a person be born from above or born anew or born again?” After hundreds of years of Christians tradition our answer tends to be simple. “Of Course!”

I think the real question may be whether or not we want to be born from above or born anew. While there was not time during the sermon, often we question whether or not a person can really change. You know the adages: can a leopard change its spots? Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. These sayings tend to point to to the idea that people don’t change.

Yet Jesus believed that people not only were capable, but they did change. Again, the question is not can people be born again, but will they? Spiritual rebirth can be as messy and complicated as physical birth. It takes take and effort to learn and deepen and grow in our faith. Jesus invites Nicodemus and us to take the journey and follow him.

I had to cut out some of my sermon and I was sorry to do so….particularly this paragraph:

 In her 2013 book, Christianity after Religion, historian Diana Butler Bass points out that the English word “believe” comes from the German “belieben” — the German word for love.  To believe is not to hold an opinion.  To believe is to treasure.  To believe in something is to invest it with my love. In asking Nicodemus to believe, Jesus is asking him to love, to give himself over to love God and be loved by God. Jesus invites us to grow in love and grace and in growing be born anew. . To be born anew or from above or again is to be turned around, turned upside down and be changed into the one we have always been created to be, to see the world as God sees it, worth loving, worth saving, worth believing in.

You can find the whole worship service or just the sermon here.










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