Wednesday, June 24, 2020

I thank God for you (Philippains 1:3-11)


Philippians 1:3-11

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

7So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. 8God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

9I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

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Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is one of his most encouraging texts. The Philippian church was very much alive with love for God and neighbor. They had grown as disciples of Jesus Christ under the leadership of Paul and his companions. 

At this time in my life’s journey I find that I resonate very much with Paul’s words to the church in Philippi, because I feel that way for you.

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.

When I think about the kindness and warm welcome you’ve given Erin and I from day one up to the present day…

When I think about the way’s we’ve partnered with God and each other to reach out in compassion and care for those in need…

When I think about the love I’ve seen you share with one another, even when we may not all see eye to eye…

When I think about the ways that you’ve opened your heart to the life-changing world-transforming presence of Jesus time and again; your YES to God’s call upon your life that has led you to invest in our common ministry for Jesus…

Every time I pause to think about these things, I will always thank God for you. I want to leave you with these final words from me.

Continue to say YES to God’s call. Continue the work of boldly sharing the good news of the Kingdom of God in your work of creating spaces of belonging for the poor, oppressed, and forgotten. 

Continue to live as a representative of Jesus Christ by loving your neighbors as yourself. 

Do this and we will continue to give each other more and more reasons to say, I thank God for you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Multiply, Even Now. (Jeremiah 29:1-7, 10-14)


Jeremiah 29:1-7,10-14

Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the elders, priests, prophets, and all the people who had been exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. This was after King Jehoiachin, the queen mother, the court officials, the other officials of Judah, and all the craftsmen and artisans had been deported from Jerusalem. He sent the letter with Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah when they went to Babylon as King Zedekiah’s ambassadors to Nebuchadnezzar. This is what Jeremiah’s letter said:

This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”
This is what the LORD says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the LORD. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

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I think that given our present circumstances of having to respond to the COVID19 pandemic, there are some words here that many of us can relate. Don’t we all want to know the good plans that God has for us?

These words from God spoken through the prophet Isaiah are spoken to the nation of Israel who are in exile. The empire of Babylon had taken Jerusalem and sent many of its residents to a distant land. As you can imagine, many of the people of Israel longed for home. 

Jeremiah’s words of comfort and hope are that God has good plans for those in exile. They would eventually return home. But they’d continue in this less-than-ideal situation for a while. 

Does that sound like something you can relate with?

I know that many of us long to be back in the church building. I know that many of us long to be gathered as a full congregation again. I know that many of us long to be singing together and greeting each other with hugs and hand shakes as a way of sharing our love, solidarity, and care. I know that many of us long to partake in good food together as we have so often done, and to celebrate the sacrament of Communion, partaking of the same loaf. 

We long to return to our normal rhythms like the Israelites longed to be back home in Jerusalem.
The good news is that after a time the Israelites did return to Jerusalem. After a time, the exile was over.

Even while we navigate the challenges of responding to the COVID19 pandemic, God has good plans for us, Church.

God had good plans for the Israelites in exile, and God has good plans for us.

Not only did God have good plans for the Israelites to return home; God had good plans for the Israelites even during their time in exile. They were not called simply to maintain as best they could during their time of hardship; they were called to grow even in the challenging circumstances in which they had been placed! 

“Multiply! Do not dwindle away!” says the Lord.

The nation of Israel was called by God to multiply even during their time of exile.

Many generations before, the Israelites multiplied while they made their way out of Egyptian slavery through the desert for forty years and to the promised land under the leadership of Moses.

In similar fashion they were called to multiply even under the weight of being exiled and held captive by the Babylonians.

Fast forward through the pages of history and we see a truth to be aware of; the church has always grown the most during times of hardship and persecution.

COVID19 presents a modern hardship for the Church and for the world. 

Can you hear the voice of God speaking to us even now, “Multiply! Do not dwindle away!”

Yes these were words for the Israelites during their time of exile to the Babylonian empire, and these are most certainly words for us today.

Jesus Christ would not have his Church simply to maintain through our present circumstances.
As surely as the Holy Spirit is alive within us, don’t we want to continue to worship God, giving thanks for the gifts we have received in Jesus? Don’t we want to continue to reach out in love and compassion to our neighbors? Don’t we want to continue the work of nurturing spaces of hope, of connection, and of belonging for the poor, oppressed, and forgotten? Don’t we want to continue to see lives changed because of Jesus?

Multiply! Says Jesus Christ our God and King.

Multiply! Do not dwindle away!

Yes, we are doing things differently than we have before. But our mission remains. 

Do we still want to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

Do we still want to see all people giving, praising, and serving in love for Jesus Christ in Wellsboro, throughout the northern tier of Pennsylvania, and all around the world?

Do we still want to see even more lives changed because of Jesus?

Can you feel that spark within? Can you feel that Spirit fire that flickers with kindling enthusiasm? Is your heart set ablaze with love and a sense of mission for Jesus, even at such a time as this?

God’s got good plans for us, Church, plans for good and not for disaster; to give us a future and a hope. Plans for us to return to the sanctuary. Plans for us to gather as a full congregation. Plans for us to greet one another with hugs and handshakes. Plans for us to share in meals and to partake in the same Communion loaf. 

And while we continue to navigate these challenging circumstances, God has good plans for us to continue to be disciples of Jesus who learn from the teaching and example of Jesus, and apostles who are sent to impact the lives of the people in Wellsboro, the northern Tier of Pennsylvania, and all around the world so that more and more we see lives that are changed because of Jesus!

And so I ask, what relationships will you nurture for Jesus today? What good news will you share today? What will you do in love for your neighbors today so that the church may continue to see lives changed because of Jesus?

“Multiply! Do not dwindle away!,” says our God. 

Amen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Going with a changed heart (Matthew 28:18-20)


Recall last week we heard the story of the great commission; when Jesus spoke to his disciples telling them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth, therefore go into all the world, baptizing all people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

I think it’s because I’m being sent to serve a different local church during this next season of ministry that I’ve got sending on the brain, and since your pastor is being sent and you are being sent a new pastor maybe you do too. 

Before I knew about my being re-appointed, back in early February I began sharing a way of thinking about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I’m always thinking up fresh ways to articulate themes of discipleship. In this case the concept was something I called, “The For With’s of Discipleship” what it means is “For Jesus AND With Jesus.” There are four of them. PRESENT, GROWING, GIVING, and GOING. 

In months past I shared some of what it means to be present, growing and giving both for and with Jesus.

Now, as we reflect upon our present situation it seems fitting that we should consider what it means to be GOING for and with Jesus.

To be going for Jesus means to say “YES” to the call that Jesus Christ places upon our lives. Keep in mind that the call to make new disciples of all people groups is a call for the church, for all church members, not a responsibility reserved specifically for pastors. Ordained Elders in the UMC, like me, are sent to serve a local church for a season and then after a time sent to serve a different local church; kind of like what we see the Apostle Paul doing during his itinerant ministry in some of the stories that are recorded in the book in our Bible called Acts. Some are sent to their local communities, like the man out of whom Jesus cast many demons. After healing him, Jesus sends him back to his own local community, to share the story of the good thing that God had done for him with his friends, relatives, and neighbors.

We are called to be going for Jesus into our local community; to our friends, our relatives, and our other neighbors. Some of us, like myself, are called to be going a little farther abroad for Jesus. Of course, some are called to be going much farther abroad than I am!

Here’s an important truth, going for Jesus doesn’t do us any good unless we go with Jesus too. How can we be effective or Jesus if we are not empowered by him through the presence of the Holy Spirit? Going with Jesus means taking time to nurture our relationship with Jesus, trusting in his strength, his guidance, and his love for us and others every step of the way.

Five years ago I was called to be GOING FOR and WITH Jesus to serve alongside the United Methodist Church of Wellsboro. I’m so glad that happened. 

Lately I’ve gotten to reflecting upon the past five years that Erin and I have spent with you. I’ve been trying to figure out what God had for us to accomplish together. They say hindsight is 20/20. I can see pretty clearly at least a few things that stand out. 

We all know that the Church is not the building, that the Church is the people, right?

The United Methodist Church of Wellsboro has been a welcoming church since before we arrived. I know this because you really rolled out the welcome mat for us. We are both very thankful for that.
I know that I’ve seen this church grow into an even more welcoming church for Jesus. It’s not all because of what I’ve done. I believe I have a healthy perception of myself. I know that I’ve contributed some important energy and initiative to what we’ve done for Jesus. But the truth is that this local church has grown because we’ve been faithful to partner with God and each other for the sake of the good work to which we’ve been called. 

So, reflecting on what God had for us to do together; I stand amazed at the way that we’ve grown into a church that has made great strides as a welcoming church. We’ve done this by creating spaces of belonging for the full diversity of people. 

For people who are sick or injured….

For people who have lost a loved one…

For people who live with mental and emotional disabilities…

For people who have been affected by suicide…

We’ve done this good work together. It’s been a great joy for me. I also have to acknowledge that you don’t partner with others in working to bring connection, hope, and a sense of belonging to the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten and not end up changed by the experience. 

And so, to the members of the United Methodist Church of Wellsboro, I thank you. My heart is overflowing with gratitude as I thank my God for you. I’m not the same person I was when I first arrived here five years ago. Your welcome and your faithfulness to Jesus has changed this pastor for the better. The Spirit of God has worked very profoundly through the love you have shared, and through the work we have done together.

And so, with boldness and confidence, I will be going for and with Jesus to serve Athens United Methodist Church starting July 1st. I will carry your love in my heart. I will go with your blessing, because I have been blessed so abundantly throughout these five years by your faithfulness to Jesus Christ and your commitment to create spaces of belonging for the full diversity of people in God’s church. 

In sending me, you send forth someone who has been transformed by our common commitment to create spaces of belonging for the full diversity of God’s people. 

You will always hold a special place in my heart. The work we’ve done together for Jesus will inspire my sense of call from hence forward. 

I will continue to live into my commitment to be going for and with Jesus. I hope that you will too.