Saturday, November 9, 2019

On Study Leave

I am on study leave from my pastoral duties for two weeks, November 4-17.  During this time there will not be a weekly sermon blog.  Watch for my next blog the week of November 18th, in preparation for Sunday, November 24th, when we will be celebrating "Confirmation Sunday" and Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

“The Power of Love as the Basis of Hope”


            This Sunday, November 3rd, is “All Saints Day,” the Sunday traditionally set aside to remember and give thanks for friends and loved ones who have died this year—or, in years past.  In the Church, these departed friends and loved ones are referred to as “saints.”  In our worship services at Christ United Methodist Church this weekend, we will recognize and commemorate  our “saints” by ringing a bell as we lift up the name of each departed friend or loved one. 

I will base my meditation for All Saints Day on selected verses from Romans 8.  Although I find this entire chapter in Romans to be very powerful, the focus of my meditation will be on a simple claim made by Paul towards the end of the chapter, “For I am convinced that neither death, … nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”  (Romans 8:39) 

For the Apostle Paul, God’s love is so profound, powerful, and so utterly beyond our comprehension that it literally conquers all—even death itself.  From the teaching and model of Christ, we know that God loves each and every human person and that God seeks to be in a loving relationship with each of us, as children of God, who are created in God’s own image.  Thus, for the Apostle Paul, logically, death cannot be the termination of our existence.  No!  Far from it.  Instead, death must be a point of transformation in our existence and our relationship with God. 

In this profound transformation, we become part of God’s New Creation at the end of time.  As described in the Book of Revelation:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4)

For Paul, God’s love for us provides the basis for our hope that the death of our loved ones is not simply the termination of their existence, but instead the transformation of their existence.  Pau believes that the structure of God’s love for us has to be the same as the structure of our love for one another.  Regardless of who it is that we love, the common denominator is always the same:  we want our relationship with the beloved to continue forever and we want to grow closer and closer in our relationships with those whom we love. 

God’s love for us must be the same.  God wants our relationship to last forever, and God wants our relationship to grow closer and closer.  So, logically, death cannot possibly be the end; the termination of our existence.  No, instead, death must be a transformation point to a deeper and more powerful, loving relationship with God.

And, we know that because of this profound love, God always wants the best for us.  We know that God wants us to thrive and flourish in this life—and, in the next.  In God’s Wisdom, God made humans social creatures.  We are shaped and molded and influenced by our network of family and friends.  So, since we know that God wants only the very best for each of us; then, we can be confident that God will provide a time and an opportunity for us to be reunited with our loved ones—even after death. 

The power of God’s love is the basis for our hope in the face of death.  As the Apostle Paul writes in another one of his letters, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?  Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 15:55)

As I noted above, the power of God’s love forms the basis for our hope that death is not a termination, but rather a transformation in which we become part of God’s New Creation.  The Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday and the additional stories of his resurrection appearance can be interpreted as a foreshadowing of our own physical resurrection and transformation as part of God’s New Creation.

Of course, there is no scientific explanation for this radical transformation of ourselves into part of God’s New Creation.  However, some scientists and theologians, working across academic disciplines, have argued for a broader view of God’s work as Creator, in which God’s work of creation begins ex nihilo, (out of nothing), but then continues throughout history, until it is completed at the end of time, when God redeems the universe and transforms it into a New Creation.  They point to the possibility of other laws of nature in other universes as signaling the possibility that part of God’s final redemption of Creation would be “redeeming” the laws of nature, so that eternal life as described in the Book of Revelation becomes a reality.

Again, to reiterate, the power of God’s love forms the basis of this hope.


If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, November 3rd, as we remember and celebrate our loved ones who have passed away.  Come and join us, as we lift up our loved ones by name and ring a chime in memory of them. 

Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street.  We have three worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00.  The 8:30 and 11:00 services feature a traditional worship format and the services are held in our Sanctuary.  “The Gathering” at 9:45 is held in our Family Life Center (gym), and it is more informal and interactive.   

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

“The Greatest of these Is Love”


            Over the past several weeks, we have been exploring the theological concept of stewardship at Christ United Methodist Church in Lincoln.  In our reflections, we have defined stewardship as the role and task of caring for those gifts, with which God has blessed us.


            Most regular church attenders are familiar with stewardship in two contexts.  First, we speak of our role as stewards of God’s good Creation, believing that God has set us aside from all other species to care for all of creation.  Secondly, we frequently speak in the church of good stewardship of our financial resources and the importance of supporting our church financially with our offerings.

            Two weeks ago, in my sermon, I suggested that we needed to expand our concept of stewardship to recognize and include many of the additional gifts and blessings God has given us.  For instance, I suggested that we needed to be good stewards of our physical bodies, by eating properly, exercising, and getting enough sleep.  Or, suppose that God has given us some special talent, such as a gift for teaching.  Then, part of being a good steward would include developing our gift for teaching, by going to school, practicing, and learning from other teachers.

            Last week in my sermon, I focused on financial stewardship as a form of spiritual discipline or practice.  By sharing our financial resources with the church, then we open ourselves and become more vulnerable, which helps us develop a greater trust and reliance upon God.  In this way, we grow closer to the Divine, with an even deeper love for God.

Further, in my blog last week, I suggested that there were four primary motivations why people give financially to the church:

1.      Out of a sense of duty, obligation, or guilt.
2.      To honor or glorify themselves or another person.
3.      Out of a sense of gratitude and love for their church
4.      Because they believe that their gift will make a difference in God’s ministry to the world.

On this final reflection on stewardship, I would like for us to think further about giving out of love for our individual community of faith—the third motivation in the above list for giving financially to our church. 

My scriptural text this Sunday will be 1 Corinthians 13.  Among Christians, the nickname for this passage is “the great love chapter.”  Traditionally, it is read during weddings.  While it is certainly a very, very appropriate scriptural passage for a wedding, that was not the Apostle Paul’s intent when he wrote these 13 verses.  Instead, Paul was trying to address and heal severe divisions within the Church of Corinth.  

For instance, there was a deep division between wealthy and poor Corinthian Christians.  And, there were other divisions between the different church members based upon their “spiritual gifts.”  Some church members felt that they should be honored because they had the spiritual gift of “speaking in tongues,” whereas other church members “only” had the gift of teaching or caring for the poor.

            In this thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul attempts to address these divisions head on, by encouraging the various Corinthian church members to love one another.  To accomplish this goal, Paul adopts the literary form of an encomium on love.  In the literary world of Paul’s day, an encomium was a literary praise for a certain moral virtue; in this case, love. 

In the encomium’s prologue (verses 1-3), Paul seeks to establish love as forming the core of a faithful life.  He does this by listing some of the major qualities which the Corinthian Christians had come to highly regard in the life of a Christian.  Paul begins by listing “speaking in tongues,” or glossolalia.  Then he lifts up prophetic ability and knowledge.  Finally, he lifts up faith and sacrifice for God.  In each case, Paul proclaims that if these actions are not performed out of love, then they are nothing; they are just hollow accomplishments.

            In the next section, Paul describes what love is, as well as what love is not:

              Love is not

·         Envious
·         Boastful
·         Arrogant or rude
·         Irritable
·         Resentful
·         Domineering, insisting on its own way

              Love is

·         Patient
·         Kind
·         Bears all things
·         Hopes all things
·         Endures all things

In commenting on this chapter, the Biblical Scholar R. Paul Sampley writes, “…love is never held alone in one’s self; love always involves another; love always links one’s self to another.  …Love is a two-way street that provides a context of mutuality, understanding, and relatedness between each person and others, between God and believers, and between believers and believers.”[i]  Thus, despite their internal differences with one another, the Christians in the Corinth Church must learn to forgive and love one another. 

            In his third and final section, Paul asserts that unlike prophecies, knowledge, and even languages—which inevitably end—love never ends.  Love sustains.  Then, in keeping with the encomium formula, which he is using, Paul concludes by comparing love with two other virtues, faith and hope.  He writes, “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (v. 13)  For Paul, love is preeminent because love is the principal characteristic of God.  For Paul, God’s love makes possible our faith, understood as right relationship with God, and our hope, which we have through our faith.   Therefore, love is foremost.  Love is the most important virtue, especially for faith communities.

            This Sunday, as we make our estimates of financial giving for next year, I am going to ask my congregation to reflect 1 Corinthians 13, as the Apostle Paul originally intended it to be read—not as a reflection on romantic love, but rather as a reflection on how God intends for faith communities to live together.  To love one another; to be patient and kind with one another; to bear and endure all things; to believe in one another; and to hope together.  I believe that our congregation already loves one another in these ways, but I want to challenge us to look for new ways in which we can love one another even more, as brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, October 27th, as we reflect on the importance of love for one another in Christian communities of faith. 

Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street.  We have three worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00.  The 8:30 and 11:00 services feature a traditional worship format and the services are held in our Sanctuary.  “The Gathering” at 9:45 is held in our Family Life Center (gym), and it is more informal and interactive.   

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.



[i]J. Paul Sample, Commentary on 1 Corinthians in the New Interpreter’s Bible, vol 10, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002), CD-ROM Edition.




Saturday, October 19, 2019

“Stewardship as a Spiritual Practice”


   
            We continue our three-week exploration of the Christian concept of stewardship this Sunday (October 20th) at Christ United Methodist Church in Lincoln.  In our reflections, we have defined stewardship as the role and task of caring for those gifts, with which God has blessed us.

            This Sunday, we will focus on stewardship as a spiritual practice.  The story of the “Widow’s Offering” in Mark 12: 41-44, will form our foundational scriptural text. 

            In this story, Jesus and his disciples visit the great Temple in Jerusalem.  In the Temple, they go to the “Court of the Women” where the Temple treasury is located.  It is at the Treasury that people stop to make their financial offerings to God by dropping their contributions in one of 13 treasury chests, called Shofars. 

            Jesus and his disciples sit down, across from where the Shofar-chests are located.  This was usually a good place for people watching.  Frequently, rich members of society would make a grand show as they deposited large sums of money.  However, as the various people came and deposited their offerings, a poor widow meekly crept up to the treasury and deposited two small copper coins, which together were worth about one penny.  Two such coins were practically worthless in the economy.

            However, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.”

            We can imagine that Jesus’ disciples were initially perplexed by his observation.  Surely, Jesus had witnessed the vast sums of money which the wealthy had already placed in the treasury.

            Jesus responds by observing, “For all of them [the rich] have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

            When we reflect for a moment, there are really just four reasons that persons contribute to charitable organizations, such as religious institutions:

1.      Out of a sense of duty, obligation, or guilt.
2.      To honor or glorify themselves or another person.
3.      Out of a sense of gratitude
4.      Because they believe that their gift will make a difference in God’s ministry to the world

Obviously, it is better and more desirable to give out of a sense of gratitude—or, because we believe that our gift will make a real difference improving the condition of the world.  And, it is these two motivations which enable stewardship to become an important, transformational spiritual practice in our lives.


If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, October 20th, as we discover how financial stewardship supporting our church can become a spiritual practice which enables us to grow closer to God.  

Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street.  We have three worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00.  The 8:30 and 11:00 services feature a traditional worship format and the services are held in our Sanctuary.  “The Gathering” at 9:45 is held in our Family Life Center (gym), and it is more informal and interactive.   

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

"Stewardship as a Way of Life"


          This Sunday, October 13th, our Christ United Methodist faith community embarks upon a three-week exploration of the Christian concept of stewardship.  In our reflections, we will define stewardship as the role and task of caring for those gifts, with which God has blessed us.

            In the church, we usually have one or two senses in which we typically invoke the word, stewardship:

1.      Frequently, within the institutional church, we refer to stewardship as the amount of money we pledge—or, give to the church—to help with church expenses and in recognition of how much God ha blessed us financially.

2.      More and more, we may also refer to stewardship of the natural world; of Creation.  We recognize that God has entrusted human persons with care, or stewardship, of the rest of nature.

Yet, when we broaden our understanding of stewardship “as the role and task of caring for those gifts, with which God has bless us,” then the scope of our stewardship role is correspondingly increased:

1.      For instance, if God has blessed us with our physical bodies, then shouldn’t we expand our vision of stewardship to include taking good physical care of our bodies through physical exercise, as well as watching our diet and what we put into our bodies and avoiding smoking or excessive drinking.

2.      Or, suppose God has blessed us with a special gift or ability.  Perhaps God has blessed us with a natural ability to perform surgery or to teach.  Then, shouldn’t we expand our vision of stewardship to include developing those special talents we have, in order to serve God and humanity.

3.      Finally, suppose we are blessed with a splendid, supportive family that loves and cares for us.  Then, shouldn’t our vision of stewardship be expanded to taking special care of our special family.

When viewed from this perspective, then perhaps faithful discipleship includes seeing and living stewardship as a way of life.  In Psalm 24, the psalmist begins:

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
   the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
   and established it on the rivers.

At the beginning of this psalm, the psalmist affirms that God has blessed us with many, many blessings in nature, in the world, and in our lives.  The proper response from those who love God is to adopt stewardship of all these blessings as a way of life.

If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, October 13th, as we begin our exploration of what it means to be a good steward of all God’s blessings to us. 

Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street.  We have three worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00.  The 8:30 and 11:00 services feature a traditional worship format and the services are held in our Sanctuary.  “The Gathering” at 9:45 is held in our Family Life Center (gym), and it is more informal and interactive.   

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

“The Power of Relationships”


            This Sunday, October 6th, our faith community will join with congregations around the world in celebrating “World Communion Sunday,” which is always observed on the first Sunday of October.  World Communion Sunday is observed by many Christian denominations—both in the United States and around the world.  This special Sunday was set aside to celebrate and encourage Christian unity and ecumenical cooperation.  “World Communion Sunday” centers around the worldwide, ecumenical celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. 

This year, Christ United Methodist Church will join with faith communities across Lincoln and around the world, as we remember that despite denominational divides, we are all united together as brothers and sisters in Christ.  In remembrance of this unity, Christ UMC will join with other churches in celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion on the same Sunday.

Traditionally, “World Communion” celebrations have focused on how different denominations can unite their resources to focus on alleviating hunger, helping provide housing, adequate health care, as well as peace and justice issues.  Working out of this tradition, the Christ UMC worship staff felt compelled to reflect on the terrible problem of guns and violence in our American society and around the world.  We began to look at the rapidly escalating number of mass shootings going on in the United States. 

In 2018, there were 323 recorded mass shootings in the United States, resulting in 307 fatalities as well as an additional 1,274 wounded victims who were able to survive.  This current year of 2019 has already seen a steep increase in mass shootings.  With statistics through September, which marks the end of the third quarter, or 75%, of the year, we have had 334 mass shootings, a number for 9 months that is already higher than the entire year of 2018.  So far, these mass shootings have resulted in 385 deaths and 1,342 wounded victims—both numbers already surpassing the 2018 totals.  We have a terrible epidemic in our country and our government seems content to ignore this epidemic and just hope that everyone just forgets about it.  Except, we can’t forget.

What can the Church do?  What can multiple denominations united together do?

Based on our research, we determined that most of the perpetrators of mass shootings were angry, socially isolated young men, who felt completely disconnected to the society around them.  Or, they were angry, socially isolated young men, who had found an online social community with one of the many hate groups which have established a presence on the internet.  For socially isolated young men, membership in a hate group takes the place of participating as a member of a faith community, where one is loved and cared for as a beloved child of God and member of the faith community.

Along with other members of our worship staff, I believe that the present context of violence, frequently perpetrated by young, socially isolated men, challenges Christian churches with a clear pastoral mandate.  That is, following Christ, we are called to an intentional ministry of inviting and welcoming young men and women who are lonely and feel estranged from their peers and society.  In other words, churches are called by Christ to enter into loving relationships with these persons, who feel as though they are outcasts and unloved by society.

As senior pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Lincoln, I see and hear of many teenage boys and girls who are desperately seeking the affirmation and acceptance of a grown man or woman.  Many of these teens do not have a reliable father-figure or mother-figure in their lives.  Sometimes their mothers or fathers are just really too busy trying to earn a living for their family, while in other situations those mentors are just absent in the lives of teenage boys and girls.  (To be clear, these teens are not necessarily from families within my church. Sometimes they are friends of our church kids, or our church kids share with me their concern about friends from school who are struggling with loneliness, depression, and isolation.)

There is a profound power in relationships.  I have known this relational power in my own life.  Throughout much of my life, I have been mentored by men, who first helped me understand what it means to be man who follows Christ.  Later in life, when I entered the ministry, I was fortunate to be mentored by other men, who helped me become a better pastor through their affirmation, encouragement, and correction.  Even though I had a wonderful father, who loved me greatly and was deeply involved in my life, I also grew and benefitted from these mentors throughout much of my life.  There is a profound power in relationships.

I believe that church can provide powerful relationships for socially isolated teenagers and young adults.

As Christians, we have models of powerful relationships in the scriptures, which I believe can help churches begin to address the epidemic of mass shootings in this country.  In Paul’s Letter to Titus, in chapter 2, he provides a model for a well-ordered household.  These household ethics were somewhat common in Greek and Roman literature at the time of Paul, and he provides other domestic codes of ethics in some of his other letters.  But, what I find intriguing about the domestic code in Titus is that Paul places primary responsibility on the shoulders of the “older members.”  For instance, in regards to the duties and responsibilities of women, Paul writes:

“Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household…”  ~ Titus 2: 3-5a

Paul continues with similar instructions to Titus regarding the “younger men:”

“Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us. ~ Titus 2:6-8

Although the Apostle Paul’s concerns were far different than the epidemic mass shootings which we are suffering from today, I believe he provides an important model and inspiration which churches united and working together could achieve today.  Our society has so many teenage boys and girls, whom we have basically set adrift.  They are desperately looking for acceptance, affirmation, and love.  They need older adults in their lives, who can accept, affirm, and love them.  They are also trying to understand what it means to be an adult man or woman in this society.  They are desperately seeking adult role-models, whom they can trust.

Jesus also provides an example for us, with his treatment of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10.  Jesus and his entourage were traveling towards Jerusalem, when they entered the town of Jericho.  As Jesus enters the town, Luke (the Gospel Writer) introduces us to Zacchaeus.  Although Zacchaeus was a Jew, he was a social outcast, with literally no friends, because he was a tax collector for the Romans.  The occupying Romans contracted with certain Jewish “entrepreneurs” to collect prescribed indirect taxes, such as tolls and tariffs.  The Jewish tax collectors were required to pay the taxes upfront to the Romans, but then they would go through the town collecting the taxes, with the goal of collecting more in taxes than they had already paid to the Romans.  Clearly, this was a system designed got crooked cheating and injustice.[i]

Tax collectors were despised in villages, such as Jericho, for several reasons.  First, they were seen as colluding with the hated Roman occupiers.  Second, they were probably charging a higher tax than the individual actually owed.  And, third, no one likes paying taxes anyway.  So, even though he was extravagantly rich, Zacchaeus was hated and despised in Jericho, with no friends.

Zacchaeus had heard about this new prophet, Jesus.  When he learned that Jesus would be passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, Zacchaeus just had to see Jesus.  The only problem was that there was already a huge crowd of people also eager to see Jesus.  Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a small man.  He couldn’t see over the crowd, nor could he push his way through the crowd to get a view of Jesus.  So, Zacchaeus ran ahead down the street and climbed up in a sycamore tree in order to view Jesus as he passed.  In the Jewish culture of the time, for a grown man to run down the street and then climb a tree was considered very degrading.  Jewish men just didn’t do that sort of thing.  But, Zacchaeus didn’t care.  It was really important that he catch a glimpse of Jesus.

This is how Luke describes what happened next:

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So, he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
 ~ Luke 19:5-10
Do you see what Jesus did with Zacchaeus?

            Jesus invites Zacchaeus into his Jesus’ entourage of followers—essentially, Jesus’ family.  Of all the homes in Jericho, where Jesus could stop for a meal and refreshments, he chooses the home of Zacchaeus the hated and despised tax collector.  Accustomed to living on the margins of society, Zacchaeus moves to the center of Jericho society, when Jesus chooses to have dinner at his home.  Zacchaeus, who has absolutely no friends in Jericho, is suddenly “best buds” with Jesus.  As the story unfolds, we learn that Jesus’ visit to his home is transformative for Zacchaeus, who pledges an extravagant amount of money to help the poor and to repay anyone whom  he has defrauded four times. 

It is the power of relationship, and we believe at Christ UMC that it provides contemporary Christians with the model for transforming the lives of lonely, disillusioned, angry youth, who are looking for affirmation and a model of what it means to be an adult man or woman.

If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, October 6th, as we celebrate World Communion Sunday and reflect about how we can welcome, affirm, and encourage teenagers who are trying to figure out what it means to be a responsible man or woman in our society. 

Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street.  We have three worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00.  The 8:30 and 11:00 services feature a traditional worship format and the services are held in our Sanctuary.  “The Gathering” at 9:45 is held in our Family Life Center (gym), and it is more informal and interactive.   

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.


[i] R. Alan Culpepper, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke in the New Interpreter’s Bible, vol 9, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002), CD-ROM Edition.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

“Seven Guides for Discernment in the Interpretation of Scripture”


Over the past four Sundays, Christ United Methodist Church in Lincoln has been exploring, “How God Speaks to Us through the Scriptures.”  This Sunday, September 29th, we conclude this exploration reflecting on discernment as an integral component of using Scripture to guide our lives as followers of Christ. 

We know that the holy scriptures are intended for all persons, living at different times and in different contexts.  For instance, scripture must speak to the early Christians who were being put to death for their faith, as well as Medieval Christians trying to understand the Black Plague and its devastation of whole towns, as well as contemporary middle-class Christians living in Nebraska.  Since the scriptures must speak to all persons, then properly interpreting the scriptures for our own time and context is vitally important.

So, in this final sermon in the series, I intend to focus on faithful interpretation of scripture for our time and context.  When hearing how someone else interprets a particular scriptural passage, how can we be sure that their interpretation is faithful?  Indeed, how can we be sure that our own way of interpreting scriptures is faithful to God’s intent for us?

In my proclamation this Sunday, then, I will propose seven guides for faithful interpretation of scripture.  Here they are:

1.      The Bible is intended to be read within a community of faith.  While it is important to read the Bible alone and individually, ultimately our interpretation of scriptures must be tested within our community of faith.

2.      Diversity of Christian perspectives offer a potential corrective to misinterpretation.  (This may mean looking beyond our community of faith, if our faith community is mostly homogeneous.)

3.      When disagreeing with another Christian individual or community, be respectful and always assume the best of intentions.  Ask yourself what you can learn from their perspective (see #2 above).  Try to re-state their interpretation in words which they would agree with.

4.      Interpretation needs to be consistent with recurring themes in the Scriptures
a.       God affirms the goodness of Creation (see 1 timothy 4:4a) and charges us with its care.
b.      God continues in God’s work of creation, but now God works to redeem all of creation and establish God’s Reign fully.
c.       God is love.
d.      All human persons are created in God’s image and loved by God
e.       In response to God’s love for us, we should love God, other persons, Creation, and ourselves.
f.        Part of loving others includes sharing the Good News of God’s love with them.
g.      As his followers, Christ invites us to join with him in the work of building the Reign of God.
h.      As a Resurrection People, Christians should live lives of joy, hope, and love.

5.      Correct scriptural interpretation takes into account the passage’s context.  Other interpretive tools may also be useful.  “Proof-texting” almost always leads to misinterpretation of scripture.

6.      Beware of interpreters who stand to gain materially from their particular interpretation of scripture.

7.      Scriptural interpretations should always promote good and reject evil.

If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, September 29th, as we explore how to faithfully interpret scripture.  During the service, I will provide some “test-cases” and ask members of the congregation to use the seven guides to determine whether a particular scripture was properly interpreted in the case.

Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street.  We have three worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00.  The 8:30 and 11:00 services feature a traditional worship format and the services are held in our Sanctuary.  “The Gathering” at 9:45 is held in our Family Life Center (gym), and it is more informal and interactive.   

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.