Aug 16, 2009; 11th Sunday in Pentecost
2009-08-11 by David Banks

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

“Ask what I should give you.”  What would you ask for if the question was posed to you?  What if you parents asked you as a child?  If your spouse asked you?  A friend?  And with no limits?  Our minds might wander from one extreme to the other. 

We dream. Let’s face it, let’s be totally honest. There are things in and of this world we dream about.  The dreams are for ourselves, for others, even for the world. 

Everyone says they wish and pray for world peace.  To end the violence and hatred which permeates society would be an amazing thing.  We pray for a way to heal or even eradicate cancer and disease altogether.  Watch as a child or loved one suffers, and you will know what it means to passionately pray for healing from within your soul.  We pray that our churches could really understand the nature and calling of ministry.  To be change agents in the world. We have been changed, if only they could know that change as well.  List could go on and on.

God asked Solomon, “what should I give you?” He asked for understanding.  He asked for the ability to discern what was going on with the people, he did not ask to be able to fix anything or anyone. He wanted to be able to relate to those who he could relate to.

Being able to understand and relate to people might not cure cancer or illness, but it would certainly enable us to love those immediately and indirectly affected by the disease.  To understand someone can bring about a peaceful relationship.  And to do either or both is exactly what the body of Christ is all about.

Jesus said that we are to love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12).  What we ask for tells more about who we are as Christ followers and disciples than anything else.

 

Psalm 111

“The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever” I have watched some spooky movies in my life and have found myself “creeped” out walking in the dark, in my own home, much less other places that are less familiar.  Fear can be a good thing. When we fear something we tend to respect it. Alligators, I fear them. Sharks, I fear them too.  I guess there are a number of things I fear in the water, probably because I am less familiar in those surroundings.  Out in the wild, my fear is really limited to unknown snakes and predatory animals that are bigger than me.  My fear, in both cases is less rational and more respectful.  I respect what could happen if I did not exercise healthy limits and boundaries in the wild or water.

What would happen if we exercised healthy boundaries and limits in life? What would happen if we all found ourselves practicing healthy boundaries and limits with God?  Maybe the more important question to wrestle with in the light of this passage is HOW do we practice healthy, faithful limits and boundaries with God. This would lead us to first, understanding God better.  This would require us to understand ourselves better.  And, it would lead us to living a life that exercised both understandings within the context of our everyday life. Paul knew this struggle (Romans 7:15), maybe we ought to engage the struggle with more intentionality.

 

Ephesians 5:15-20

“Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”  I get the part about living as wise instead of unwise.  This certainly makes sense.  Making the most of the time we have is simple to understand as well.  Wise people use their time wisely because there is no “re-wind” function in life. We can say “I wish I had” or “I wish I had not” until the day we die.  Moreover, we would all like to think that we are living a “smart” life, making good sound decisions.  Paul’s statement is met with astounding affirmation.  But “because the days are evil”, is one of those statements that can really stir the pot.

The Days Are Evil. That would certainly preach, it might be met with skepticism, but it would preach.  The notion that the Devil, the Adversary is lurking around each corner seems a little farfetched.  To worry that everyone in the world is possessed would cause us to be agoraphobic or anthropophobic.  But before we discount Paul, maybe we need to consider that there is, in the world, a tendency to put ourselves first, before others and before God.  Argue with this, run with this; the days call us to put our own wants and needs first, above all else.  Friday’s scream “Happy Hour is calling”. Each day moans, take the short-cut.  Each day is filled with little attacks on our character, our Christian Character to be sure.  And so, Paul implores us to, “Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.”

 

John 6:51-58

“The one who eats this bread will live forever.”  Wouldn’t it be great to eat something and never have to worry about another thing?  To eat something and never have to eat again?  Well, the passage didn’t say that.  This passage doesn’t really talk about hunger at all.  We all know about hunger.  Hunger is a feeling that is real, a real feeling with real needs.  But what we are talking about doesn’t relate much to eating.  This eating refers to living.  This is an “eating” that takes us to eternity and not to being full.  In fact, this eating has nothing to do with being hungry, this eating has everything to do with living.

I don’t know too many people who want to live forever.  There are all kind of issues that come along with a long life.  Mental decline, limited mobility, limited resources.  I wonder if I could even afford to live passed 95, much less 150.  Living forever would cause some, dare I say, problems.  Maybe Jesus was talking about something else.  Maybe he was talking about things that had lees to do with our temporal nature, and more to do with our spiritual body.

The People who Jesus is talking to know the bread of heaven to be that gift from above that sustained and took people from one day to the next.  It was a promise, a promise within a relationship. Here Jesus breaks loose of the past and offers something more to “chew on”.  It was as if Jesus was saying, “You knew the day to day bread, I give you once and forever bread.”

You are right, that is a little more than I can digest. I am used to eating when I am hungry too. What would this mean? Who would this mean? Why did they die and I won’t?





Our guest blogger this week...
2009-08-10 by David Howell

Who am I?

Son.  Brother.  Grandson.  Friend.  Husband.  Dad.  Lover.  Fighter.  Preacher.  Minister.  Pastor.  Teacher.  Student.  Hunter.  Fisherman.  Outdoorsman.  Reader.  Gamer.  Runner.  Cook. 

What drives me?

Labels may be paint on a pallete,  but the artwork of life lies  in the strokes of The Master. For me, ministry began before I knew it and I still marvel at where it has taken me.  I believe, for the most part, we will always seek to understand who we are and our greatest struggles in life are usually about what we do with this information or confusion.

Hello, my name is David Banks.  I have been in Texas most of my life, growing up in the North Houston area and going to college at Stephen F. Austin State University , where I received my Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Services, '92.  I attended Perkins School of Theology, at Southern Methodist University, where I received my Master of Divinity, '98.  I have recently enrolled at George Fox Evangelical Seminary to work on my DMin in Semiotics and Future Studies with  Dr. Leonard Sweet. I am married to Amy (Leavell) Banks. We have two children, a daughter named Casey and a son named Ryan.

While attending Stephen F. Austin State University I answered my call to ministry and began to seek a better understanding of what that exactly was.  I began working with students and after serving a couple of great churches now serve as the Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Arp.  I have lived in a number of places, but Arp is a great place to call home.  We are doing an incredible thing here and invite you to come see what God is doing in Arp, TX.




After-Thought:: Mostly Misunderstood
2009-08-07 by Rina Terry

I've been thinking about "Scripture & Screen".

I guess if I were to use movie examples for an alternative to my posted sermon strategy, I would use Runaway Bride (Julia Roberts and Richard Gere). 

I think I would focus on the fact that Jesus offers us the most intimate of relationships and we flirt, court, and commit but without the deep and abiding permeating presence of God within us.

I would use examples from the movie to talk about different ways we reject Jesus but deep inside we actually fear rejection. 

Just an afterthought.





First Draft
2009-08-06 by Rina Terry

There are weeks when I do not get my sermon done until Saturday night.  Maybe this week's blogging helped me along.  In any case, I finished the homiletical race in record time this week.

So, here is the First Draft of my Sunday Sermon.  I'm not certain if the formatting will be maintained:

August 9, 2009 Sermon

Who Do You Think You Are?

Cape May UMC

John 6:41-51; Ephesians 4:25-5:2

(I have drawn heavily this week from Scott Cowdell’s sermon, “Christ, Ethics & Church Leadership,” on this text in Lectionary Homiletics, Vol XX, No 5)

 

In my growing up era, we did not have Ipods.  Nor did we have boom boxes.  We had transitor radios, little battery-operated ones that you could take along with you.  There were even ones you could hang on the shower curtain rod.   If you had one that you needed to plug into an outlet, you carried it from room to room so you didn’t miss anything your favorite DJ might want to tell you was really cool.  And, in the car, you turned on the radio to your favorite station.  Sometimes, if you had the money, you to went to Woolworths and got a 45 of an absolute favorite and came home, pulled up the little plastic gizmo on your record player, that slipped down when you wanted to play an LP album, and played that same song over and over and over.  You could do that if you left the other little gizmo up in the air instead of stacking your 45s.  Now if you are so young that you think I was just speaking another language, go home, turn on your computers and keyword in some of what you didn’t understand, or ask your friends on face book or twitter what I was talking about.  Dang, times sure change, don’t they?

 In any case, because of my 45s record case, my head is full of song lyrics.  I sometimes think in song lyrics or movie quotes.  Remember this one?  Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are?  Mr. Big Stuff, you’re never gonna get my love?  Umm huh, Motown, ya gotta love it! 

Our text says, “Then…they began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread of life.’”  Who does he think he is, anyway?  Mr. Big Stuff!  He’s just Mary and Joseph’s boy.  Probably can’t make a table or chair that doesn’t wobble.  His parents could use his help and he’s out running around Galilee like he’s one of the great prophets or something.  You know, Jesus, we have thousands of years of tradition behind what we do.  We don’t need you to tell us how to worship our God.

 

Scott Cowdell reminds us that “The Jesus we meet in this passage is anything but the benign teacher of universal wisdom so many people prefer.  Jesus for them is a symbol of tolerance and compassion, or else a champion of conventional values, but he isn’t expected to challenge and disrupt our habits of mind.”

 

Fortunately, if you like a good challenge, and unfortunately if you don’t, that’s is just what we see Jesus doing in John’s Gospel today.  Jesus tells the guardians of the religious status quo that the way they practice their religion, based on old ideas from their tradition, is the beginning and not the end of God’s plan for humanity. 

 

Who do I think I am?  Well, let me tell you and listen well as I do.  I am the bread that came down from heaven.  You want to talk about Moses, the old days, the manna.  God didn’t stop sending the bread that brings you life, God sent me.  I am the bread of life.  Not only that, When you eat of the bread I bring it won’t just keep you alive in this life, it will give you eternal life beyond the physical.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…

 Oh, my.  That’s Jesus.  Refusing to be intimidated.  Refusing to back down from the task he had been sent to accomplish.  Refusing to allow the powers that be to interfere with the will of God.  Refusing to allow anyone who said they believed in God to think what they had learned in the past was sufficient for what God was attempting to teach them in the present.  It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’  Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.   

Is it possible that most Christian communities wouldn’t like Jesus any better if he showed up today than the religious stalwarts liked him when he showed up then.  Jesus basically tells the religious folk to stop focusing on themselves—what they think, what they know, what they want, and to focus on him.  The Bread of Life, up close and personal, using the very same name for God their ancestors knew, “I AM.” 

 

It is not the effete Aryan Jesus, Werner Salman portrait of the 1940s speaking here, the image we have had indelibly stamped on our Christian consciousness for nearly seventy years, it is the real Jesus—the Middle Eastern Jesus, the Jewish Jesus, Jesus born of Mary, the Jesus who had no where to lay his head, the Jesus who ticked off the religious leaders by everything he did and said, the real Jesus who knew as none other knows the essence of the divine creator.  It is that one, offering himself to those who are getting their noses out of joint at the way Jesus is speaking, at the things Jesus is doing. 

 

We want a safe religion.  One that makes us feel content, sure, certain, at peace, good about ourselves.  We want a religion that agrees with what we think and we’ll learn those scriptures and choose the ones that make our point.  We want Jesus at our disposal.  We don’t want a faith that rocks our boat.  We don’t want to be told that our Jesus whom we love and exalt is aggressive.  We don’t want to be told that our Jesus whom we revere and walk in the garden with might tear down our church buildings so we could see the world that so desperately needs our help.  We don’t want to be reminded that the people who most annoy us are the people who are most like us—just sinners in need of God’s grace.  We don’t want to be told that what we worship is often the version of God we made up and not the one who set the earth at a spin and cast the stars into the firmament.  We don’t want anyone to dare tell us that we have turned other institutions and activities into sacred realities that our God, our Jesus, would see as idols we worship above God—like nation and race, like commerce and militarism.  The problem is that Jesus would tell us just that and does tell us just that and most often when we hear a prophetic voice speak such words we say, “Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are? Mr. Big Stuff, you’re never gonna get my love!” 

 

It’s demanding to preach the Word of God.  If you don’t think I’d like to be liked by everyone and petted and fussed over as though I were everyone’s Spiritual Sweetheart, think again.  I’d much prefer smiling, adoring faces than scowls, raised eyebrows or pursed lips.  As I read Scott Cowdell’s take on this gospel text, I really stopped short when he said, “…and intense focus on Jesus can free us from a life dominated by ideology or self-interest.”  It is when our commitment to Church and sacrament focuses on Jesus that we are freed from making up our own version of God, and other things into sacred realities.

 

The statistics say that mainline religious traditions are in severe decline, membership in decline, finances in decline, participation in church activities in decline.  Instead of condemning the world out there, perhaps we are called to focus on Jesus and do far more than mouth our Christianity and insist that others do it the way we’ve always done it.  We blame society, the younger generation, the pastors we’ve had, the leadership of our denominations.  We rarely blame our individual selves.  Let’s try looking in the mirror tonight after we brush our teeth for bed and saying, “I’m the reason people don’t come to my church.”  Then, let’s pray our selves to sleep and weep tears of contrition and beg God’s forgiveness.  Are we BIG enough to do that?

Jesus was trying to tell the people that if they had heard and learned God’s voice in their scriptures, they would have recognized God’s fulfillment in Jesus.  He, after all, was the only one who had direct communion with God.  And I believe we are meant to take it beyond that to realizing that God is still trying to teach us things through the Living Bread that still comes down from heaven to dwell among us.

 Our Ephesians passage points us toward the kind of Christian life we are meant to live when we continually feed on the Bread of Life.  When we know who Jesus is, then we know who we are and realize how we are called to serve.  When we serve the living God, when we focus on Jesus, we become imitators of God not because we are anything special but because of what God did for us in Christ, forgave us for being the only thing we can be on our own, sinners.  It is only then that we are able to put away…all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven [us].  AMEN AND AMEN.  Rev. Rina L. Terry

 





The Bread of Life and Death
2009-08-06 by Rina Terry

Yesterday morning, I visited an elderly couple.  He has been active in the church his entire life and recently became homebound.  When I asked Bill how he was doing (he sat in a wheelchair with his oxygen tank nearby), he said, "Great!  I'm doing better than expected." 

We had a lovely visit.  He shared his grief about giving up driving--he had been a driver even in his military career.  He spoke of what he loved about the church and how he missed it.  He was fully aware that a few folks in the congregation were already criticizing the "new" pastor.  He said he regretted that.  He went on to talk with me about our mutual understanding that, at the end of each day, one's prayer should be that one had done what was pleasing in the eyes of God.  He reminded me that it is impossible to please everyone in a congregation. 

We played with the cat, Mimosa, and she even tried to join us for Communion but refrained as I prayed with my eyes open and kept her at a distance with my arm against her purring side.  It was an exceptionally gratifying visit and filled me with peace.  The way he looked at his wife of 62 years, as I was leaving, made me get a lump in my throat.  They took each other's hand and then I moved toward the door.

Quite early this morning, the parsonage phone rang and his wife said, "Pastor, Bill has left us.  I am so thankful you were here yesterday.  He was in great spirits and even enjoyed his dinner last night which he had not done for a long while.  It was quick and he wasn't in any pain that I could tell.  Thank you so much for being here yesterday."

The Bread of Life nurtured Bill yesterday in life and in death--and he had some left over to offer me.  I am humbled. 





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