Saturday, May 19, 2018

“A Tale of Two Churches”

          This Sunday, May 20th, is Pentecost Sunday:  the Sunday when we remember and celebrate the birth of the Christian Church.  The story of the Church’s formation is recorded in the Bible in Acts, chapter 2.  Prior to his Crucifixion and Resurrection, Jesus had promised the disciples that after he was gone, God would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and continue teaching them.  So, Acts 2 opens with the disciples and other followers experiencing the fulfillment of Christ’s promise that God would send the Holy Spirit.  The first Christians experienced the Holy Spirit as a “tongue of fire” coming upon each of them.  They began to laugh and shout and speak with great joy.

            Apparently the disciples caused quite a commotion because they attracted a large crowd of curious onlookers.  In trying to understand what was going on, some of the onlookers speculated that the Christians were intoxicated.  So, the Apostle Peter stood up and delivered the first Christian sermon.  At the end of his sermon, 3,000 onlookers were baptized and became Christians.  These first Christians felt that their lives had been transformed.  They were no longer the same.  Then, the writer of Acts records this account of the first Church:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread [together, with each other] at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to be part of that first 3,000 people, who converted to the Christian faith?  How would it have been different than being in our church today? 

            To be sure, there are many important similarities between the first Church described in Acts and the contemporary American Church.  Here are three of the most important similarities:
1.      Studying the teachings of the scriptures.  In several passages in Acts, the early Christians are described as devoting “themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (v. 42).  Of course, the apostles have long since died, but most contemporary churches still offer many opportunities to study the scriptures, including what the apostles wrote, in Sunday-School, as well as in Bible studies at other times during the week.

2.      Devoting themselves to prayer and worship.  Acts reports that the first Christians spent much time in prayer and worship.  At that point in time, the first Christians were more of a spiritual reform movement within Judaism, rather than being a separate religious faith.  Since they lived in Jerusalem, “they spent much time in the temple” (v.46).  Similarly, contemporary Christians spend time in prayer and worship in their churches.

3.      Sharing in food and fellowship with one another. One of the common denominators of most contemporary churches is that we really like to eat together and spend time with one another.  If you want to gather a large group of church people, then it helps to have a potluck dinner as part of the program.  Food and fellowship.  Similarly, we learn from Acts that the first Christians really enjoyed eating and spending time together.  In our scripture reading above, Luke, the writer of Acts, notes that the first Christians “broke bread … and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (v. 46).

These are clearly very significant similarities which we share today with those early Christian converts in the first Christian church.  At the same time, there was one huge difference between the first church and our contemporary churches.  This major difference concerns financial support for the church.

In his description of finances within the first church, Luke, the writer of Acts, essentially describes a religious commune.  He says that the early Christian converts would sell all of their possessions and goods.  Then, they would bring the proceeds from their sale and give this money to the first church, so that they could use the funds to care for everyone who had financial needs.  As the first church grew, it soon became necessary to designate a finance committee to oversee the fair distribution of these offerings (see Acts 6:1-7).

In the twenty-first century, most of us do not live as a religious commune.  Of course, many of us do contribute financially to our church.  However, most of us do not contribute very much money in proportion to our wealth.  Some of us do not contribute any money at all to our church, even though we expect our church to support us when there is a crisis in our lives.  I think that’s the major difference between then and now.

The first Christians gave sacrificially and extravagantly to support their church.  They literally sold all that they had and gave it to their church.  Then, they trusted that their church would support and take care of them.  By contrast, American Christians give a minuscule amount of money in comparison.  Even someone who tithes—that is, gives 10% of their income—is making a small contribution in comparison to the early Christians who gave everything which they owned to the church.

Why did they do that?  Why did the first Christians give so much more generously to the church?  After studying this scripture, I think that there were two reasons why the first Christians were so much more generous, than we are in the twenty-first century:

                                  a.   Sacrificial Giving.  They deeply loved their friends in the first church and they knew that their contributions would be used to take care of the physical needs of their dear friends.  In this regard, biblical scholar Robert Wall makes an interesting observation about attitudes within the first church.  He notes that they saw themselves as a fellowship of believers:  “a fellowship of believers shares more than common beliefs and core values; they display a profound regard for one another’s spiritual and physical well-being as a community of friends.”[1]  They were willing to give sacrificially because they wanted to serve God and help their friends.  They knew that their contributions would be used to help their friends and do good in the world, so they gave sacrificially—they gave everything they had.

                                 b.   They had stopped trusting in themselves and their own financial resources.  Instead, they had learned to trust completely in God. It is part of human nature to rely upon oneself for the resources which we need in order to survive and even flourish.  We tend to trust ourselves above all else.  That’s what makes financial giving to our church so difficult.  When we give to the church, then we retain correspondingly less money to take care of our own needs—and wants.  Within each of our minds, there is this persistent question:  “What happens if I give this money and then, sometime down-the-road, I have an emergency and need extra money to avert financial disaster?”  The first Christians did not worry about this question.  They already knew the answer, “God will provide.”  Whenever a Christian—from any era—learns to trust God completely, then they are freed to give more generously.  The first Christians had a deep faith and they were growing even more in their faith.  Therefore, they were willing to give generously. 

There is much that we can learn from this difference with those first Christians when it comes to how we financially support our church.  Perhaps we need to study the first Christians more, in terms of how they used their financial resources and what their attitudes were about money.

      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, May 20th, as we remember and celebrate the birth of the first church in Jerusalem.  Consider wearing red to our service this week because red is the liturgical color of Pentecost.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

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

[1] Robert W. Wall, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles in the New Interpreter’s Bible, vol 10, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002), CD-ROM Edition.

Friday, May 11, 2018

“World’s Okayest Mom”

            This weekend our society celebrates “Mother’s Day,” a time to recognize the love, sacrifice, and dedication that mothers make on behalf of their children and families.  Many people look forward to Mother’s Day—or, Father’s Day in June—as a joyful time to celebrate and thank their mother, or father. 

Yet often, in our drive to recognize our parents, we praise them to the point of putting them up on some impossibly high pedestal.  On Mother’s Day, we develop some sort of amnesia that allows us to totally ignore our parents’ human frailties and flaws.  At least for the day, our mothers become perfect in every way.  To illustrate this point, consider the following verses from a poem, which I found on the internet: 

“Since the moment I entered this world,
You have cared for me like no other.
There is only one word to describe you,
That is in every way a perfect Mother. …

Your warm touch is one of a kind,
So gentle to send me to sleep.
Your voice is of an angels [sic]
A beauty only you deserve to keep.”[1]

When most mothers and fathers are completely candid with themselves, however, we must acknowledge that we are far from the perfect parent described in these verses or other, similar verses in a thousand different Mother’s—and Father’s—Day cards.  The truth is that most of us parents feel inadequate and mistake-prone most of the time.

There is a great deal of uncertainty and silent anxiety in parenting in the twenty-first century.  As parents, we are constantly trying to balance giving our children both the freedom and the structure that they need in order to become happy and mature adults.  As Christian parents, we are constantly trying to balance the sharing of our Christian values while also respecting our children’s need to experiment with values promoted by a secular society, which is sometimes hostile to religious faith.  As parents we are constantly trying to balance protecting our children and keeping them safe, while simultaneously allowing them to experience some failure, which is required in order to become responsible adults. 

There are no magical formulas for this balance.  Instead, it is an ongoing series of decisions made in a fog of uncertainty and worry.  Frequently, we parents get it wrong.  We tilt too far to the side of freedom and then over-compensate by tilting too far to the other side of structure. 

Our failures at maintaining proper balance are compounded by our multiple human flaws and failures.  Sometimes we get angry and say things to our children that we should have never uttered.  Sometimes we get preoccupied with work or finances or life and we aren’t really listening when our children are sharing something vitally important to them.  Sometimes we just forget or do something else that is … well, human.  We parents are not perfect, just human persons.  Most of us are trying to do our best as parents.  Actually, the parents which scare me the most are those parents who actually believe everything that gets written on Mother’s—and Father’s—Day cards.  The ones who actually believe that they deserve to be on the pedestal.

In the Church, we believe that God creates every single person for some form of ministry.  Each of us is a unique person, with our own special portfolio of talents and gifts for different types of ministry.  These different ministries are quite diverse, including music, teaching, justice-making, hospitality, administration, and building—to name just a few.  Some types of ministry are specialized, while other types are generalized ministries that all of us are called to practice. (See Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12). The ministry of prayer is one of those types of generalized ministry that we are all called to practice.

I have come to see that parenting is also a form of ministry.

I also believe that parenting is one of those forms of generalized ministry.  It is not a specialized ministry reserved only for biological parents.  Instead, we are all called to be engaged in the ministry of parenting because it is that important and that demanding.  No two biological parents can ever responsibly raise their children without a lot of help from family, friends, teachers, choir directors, coaches, Scout or 4-H Leaders, counsellors, the occasional stranger—and many, many others.  One of the most important dimensions of the local church is that it provides a community of persons who are engaged in the ministry of parenting.

Of course, everyone engaged in the ministry of parenting is flawed and makes mistakes.  That’s why I love Paul’s analogy of a clay jar in his second letter to the Corinthians.  He writes, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).

Of course, when Paul penned these words to the Corinthians, he was thinking about his own special ministry as a traveling evangelist.  Even though Paul has been given this special ministry as an evangelist and Apostle, he recognizes that ultimately the ministry belongs to God.  God has given this special ministry to Paul for a short time.

As he writes these words, Paul is remembering all of the persecution and dangers that he has experienced as a missionary.  Yet, the Bible is timeless, intended to speak to all peoples in all times and places—from the first Christians in Paul’s day to twenty-first century Christians as well.  So, Paul’s words also apply to each of us in our various ministries as parents.  Even though we are flawed and make mistakes as parents, we are not alone in our ministry.  God is with us, guiding and strengthening us, and working through us in our ministry of parenting.

Just as the Apostle Paul before us, God has given to each of us this ministry of parenting for a short time.  But, ultimately, the ministry belongs to God and not to us.  Of course we are flawed and make mistakes, but despite our frailties and imperfections we know that ultimately God will make all things right.

Come and join us on Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 13th, as we recognize our Mothers and as we celebrate this special ministry of parenting, which God gives to each of us.  Christ United Methodist Church is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

[1] Nicola Steel, “A Perfect Mother,” accessed online at, 9 May 2018.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

“A Compassionate Father and an Angry Brother”

            This weekend, May 5-6, I will be preaching a dialogue sermon with Beth Menhusen, the Associate Pastor at Christ United Methodist Church.  Our focus will be Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son” in Luke 15: 11-32. 

            The typical approach to this parable focuses on the prodigal son and how his father forgives him and welcomes him back into the household.  This is an important and well-grounded interpretation of the parable.  However, in our dialogue sermon, Beth and I will suggest that an equally important focus is frequently overlooked:  the reaction of the older son to his younger brother’s return and how the father responds to the older brother.

            A key element in interpreting this parable is the context in which Jesus tells it.  This parable is told in response to criticism that Jesus is spending entirely too much time with sinners and tax collectors.  The criticism comes from Pharisees and scribes.  So, the parable appears in a context in which Jesus’ critics have set up a dichotomy between two different types of people:

1.      On the one hand, the sinners and tax collectors are the outcasts of society; the marginalized.  The sinners have failed to keep the Jewish Laws, thus becoming ritually unclean and unable to participate in the religious life of their community.  The tax collectors are businessmen who have betrayed their people by colluding with the occupying Roman Empire.  They collected taxes on behalf of the Romans and were notorious for cheating their fellow countrymen in order to enrich themselves.

2.      On the other hand, the Pharisees and scribes were the elites of society.  They kept the Jewish Law in even the smallest detail.  Consequently, they were ritually clean and were always welcome in the synagogue or Temple.  In fact, they were the religious leaders of the Jewish community.

So, the context for the parable is the dichotomy between different types of people:

the law-abiding versus the sinners
the ritually clean versus the unclean
the elite leaders versus the social outcasts

There are three main characters in the parable of the prodigal son: 

                                   a.            the Father, who represents God.
                                  b.            the prodigal son, who represents the socially outcast sinners
                                   c.            the older son, who represents the elite social Pharisees and scribes

In the parable which Jesus tells, neither of the sons is in a right-relationship with the father.  For Jesus, a right-relationship means humbly and simply accepting the boundless love which the father has for both sons.  Because of his love, the father seeks out both sons in order to repair their relationship and become reconciled.  The younger son sees and confesses his sin to his father, thus receiving forgiveness and reconciliation. 

However, the older son is a moralist.  He mistakenly believes that he deserves his father’s love because he has been obedient and loyal to his father.  The older son becomes extremely angry when he learns that his father has thrown a party to celebrate the return of his long lost younger brother.  The older son adamantly refuses to join the party for his younger brother.  When the father learns about his older son’s reaction, he immediately leaves the party and seeks out the older son, inviting him to come and join the celebration.  The father says to his older son, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”  The older son can enter into a right-relationship with the father and his younger brother by simply joining the party.

Jesus ends the parable at this point.  He does not say whether the older brother joined the celebratory party for his brother or if he remained outside, boycotting the party.  It is at this point that Beth and I disagree.  I think that he joined his brother’s party and was reconciled, while Beth believes that he remained outside, unreconciled with his brother.

Whereas it is important to focus on the younger brother and his reconciliation, it is also important to focus on the older brother as well.  In our sermon, Beth and I will suggest that most of our hearers are more like the older brother in the parable.  That is, most church goers are already seeking to be faithful to God in our lives and our actions.  So, like the older brother, we are called to simply accept God’s love and reconciliation, rather than counting upon all of our good works and faithful actions.  As the parable suggests, this is not always easy.

Further, for us older brothers, the biggest challenge may well be accepting and reconciling with the prodigals in our contemporary society.  So, in the proclamation, we will also be thinking about who are contemporary prodigals whom we need to forgive, accept, and love.

Come and join us this weekend, May 5-6, as we reflect on the parable of the prodigal son and what it means for us, today.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  This Sunday is “Marathon Sunday.”  Since many of the streets will be closed for the marathon on Sunday, we will offer an additional worship service.  So, this weekend we have worship services

On Saturday, May 5th, at 5:30 pm
On Sunday, May 6th, at 8:30 and 11:00 am

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

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"What It Means to be a Faithful Disciple"

            At both services this Sunday, Christ United Methodist Church (UMC) will be receiving new church members, with the 11 am service being our Confirmation Service for boys and girls who have completed a nine-month learning process.  As Senior Pastor, this Sunday offers a special opportunity to address new members—both adults and confirmands—concerning what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.  But, what should I say to them?

            If you were in my place, what would you say to new members on what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ?  After considering some inputs from the Worship Staff at Christ UMC, I have decided to base my reflections on a passage of scripture from 1 Timothy 4:7b-16. 

            The person, “Timothy,” is referenced throughout the New Testament, especially in the Acts of the Apostles and the two letters to Timothy.  Timothy grew up in the Christian faith; both his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, were devout Christians (see 2 Timothy 1:5).  The Apostle Paul met Timothy during his second missionary journey.  Although there was a vast difference in their ages, a close relationship developed between the two men.  Timothy became a trusted assistant for Paul, frequently traveling with Paul on his missionary journeys.  In one of his letters, Paul writes of Timothy, “I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20).  And, Paul became a mentor to Timothy. 

            In our passage of scripture, the Apostle Paul offers his young protégé three pieces of advice concerning what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ:

1.      For Paul, Christian faith is not some static, stationary end-point that one achieves and then keeps forever.  No.  Instead, Christian faith is more of a process of growing in our faith and relationship with God.  The first Christians frequently referred to Christianity as “The Way,” meaning a distinctive lifestyle or a way of living which reflected Christ.  To convert to Christianity meant that the new disciple was willing to give up their old life and adopt this distinctive, new lifestyle.  This new lifestyle enabled the Christian to become a faithful disciple and to grow in their faith.  Just as an athlete must practice good self-discipline and train physically for his or her competition, so also faithful disciples must exercise good self-discipline and train in “godliness,” seeking to grow closer in their relationship with Christ.  In a literal sense, Christians are always a “work in progress;” we are always growing.  We do this because of God’s promise of abundant life, both in this life and in the resurrected life.

2.      Paul, encourages his young protégé, to “let no one despise your youth.”  For years, Paul has lifted himself up as a role-model of Christian discipleship.  At one point in his ministry, Paul actually sends Timothy to the church in Corinth to remind the Corinthians of how Paul models what it means to be a true follower of Christ.  Now, Paul turns the tables.  Instead of lifting himself up as a role-model of discipleship, Paul encourages Timothy to think of himself as a Christian role-model.  Timothy is to set the believers an example of how to live The Way, how to be a faithful disciple.  Timothy is to set an example in his “speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 

3.      Finally, Paul claims that God has blessed Timothy with special gifts for ministry and spiritual leadership within the church.  Timothy’s gifts have been formally recognized by the members of the church through prophecy and the laying on of hands—or, consecration.  Paul encourages Timothy to pay close attention; to continue developing his special God-given gifts and to use them in ministry with the church and its members.  In so doing, Paul promises that Timothy “will save both yourself and [others]” (verse 16).  Many years later, in the Church we believe that God gives each of us special gifts and capabilities for ministry.  These gifts are unique to who we are, but each of us has been richly gifted by God for ministry in and for the Church.

As I noted earlier, this weekend at Christ United Methodist Church, we are welcoming new members—both confirmands and older adult members.  It seems to me that these three points offer great advice as they begin their journey of church membership. 

Come and join us this Sunday, April 29th, as we welcome new members into our church and reflect on what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

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

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Living Water, Healing Water"

            This Sunday, April 22nd, my congregation will celebrate the “Festival of God’s Creation,” or Earth Sunday.  The theme for our celebration is “Living Waters, Healing Waters.”  Part of our focus during the service will concern the importance of being good stewards of the water and other natural resources that God has entrusted to our care.  Also, we will focus on the pivotal role that water plays within the Christian faith. 

            I have chosen John 4:7-15 as the foundational scripture for my proclamation during this service.  This scripture tells the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  As the story unfolds, Jesus and his disciples have stopped at the village of Sychar, Samaria.  They are walking through Samaria on their way to Galilee.  They have stopped to rest and refresh themselves at the well on the outskirts of the village.  It is the middle of the day.  Jesus sits, waiting by the well for the rest of the disciples who have gone to buy food in the village market.  Jesus is hot and thirsty.  As he waits for the disciples, a Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water for her household.  Jesus asks the Samaritan woman to give him a drink of water from her bucket.

            It is important to underscore that there was great animosity and social strife between Jews and Samaritans at that time.  Although both groups have the same sacred texts and share a common faith, they disagree bitterly over how to interpret those texts and live out that faith.  Their most important point of contention concerns the correct location of their “holy of holies” or most sacred site.  For the Samaritans, the correct location is Mt. Gerizim; for the Jews, it is the Temple in Jerusalem.  The social tension between the two groups has escalated to such a heighth that Jews no longer have contact with anything Samaritan due to a fear of ritual contamination.

            Jesus’ request for water perplexes the Samaritan woman because drinking from her container would mean that Jesus was ritually contaminating himself.  In addition, he is a Jewish rabbi, and Jewish men do not engage in public conversation with women.  So, she asks Jesus, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

            Jesus’ reply is unexpected and unconventional:  “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

            Now, the term, “living water,” can have two possible meanings in Aramaic.  First, it can refer to running water, such as water running in a brook or gurgling up from a spring.  Second, it can refer to life-giving water.  Of course, Jesus is using the second meaning of life-giving water, but the Samaritan woman misunderstands, thinking that he is referring to the first definition of running water and she is flabbergasted.

            She responds, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?”  Given the context and her interpretation of “living water,” we can appreciate how astounding Jesus’ claim appears to her.  Afterall, here is a man without rope or bucket, who just a moment ago was asking for help in getting a drink from the well.  Now, suddenly, he is claiming to have superhuman access to running water.  This conversation is not coherent.

            Jesus clarifies:  “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

            It’s at this point that we realize Jesus is using “living water” as a metaphor for the loving grace which flows down upon us through his life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection.  Living water is an especially poignant metaphor.  Adequate water is absolutely essential for biological survival and flourishing.  For instance, water is the signature resource that astronomers and astrobiologists focus on in their search for extraterrestrial life because it is hard to conceive of life existing without water.

            Water is also pivotal in Christian faith:

Ø  In the Creation Story contained in Genesis 1, God begins by moving over the face of the waters.  (Genesis 1:1-2)
Ø  At a water well, Jacob met his future wife, Rachel, and helped water her sheep. (Genesis 29: 1-12)
Ø  When the Hebrew people escape from their slave-bondage in Egypt, God parts the Red Sea to provide an avenue of escape from the pursuing Egyptian army. (Exodus 14)
Ø  Jesus sought out John the Baptist to be baptized by water; when he emerged from the baptismal waters of the River Jordan, a voice from heaven identified him as, “…my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3: 13-17)
Ø  As we’ve seen already, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well and asks for a drink.
Ø  On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus used water to wash the disciples’ feet, teaching us to serve one another.  (John 13: 1-20)

In the Christian tradition, water heals and water is sacred.  In the Sacrament of Baptism, we use water as the physical substance which points beyond itself to that inward, spiritual grace which God offers to us from the deep reservoirs of God’s limitless love.  With the tactile substance of water, we welcome persons into the family of Christ through Baptism, while also anointing them for ministry as Christian disciples.  At Baptism, water also offers healing.  Just as physical water is very effective for physical cleaning, so also Baptismal waters point to the spiritual cleansing, forgiveness, and healing that Jesus offers to those who truly repent from their sins and shortcomings.

Yet, much of our planet’s water is dirty and polluted.  Even more distressing, scientists warn that our planet is facing a water shortage challenge in the near future.  We have grossly mismanaged our water resources.

As the only earthly organisms created in the image of God, we have been charged with stewardship of God’s good Creation.  This is both a privilege and a responsibility.  Water, along with all of the Earth’s other natural resources, do not belong to humans.  Instead, they belong to God, the Creator, who has entrusted humans with the responsibilities of stewardship and careful management of the environment for ourselves and all of Creation.

In my proclamation on Sunday, I will suggest that there are four actions which American Christians need to take in order to be good stewards of water.  The first three suggestions are preventive in nature.  That is, they are forms of stewardship which we can perform in order to prevent water pollution.  The fourth and final suggestion focuses on the important responsibility of cleaning up some of the causes of water pollution which have already occurred:

1.      Properly Dispose of Products which Contribute to Water Pollution, such as house and garden petroleum products, medicines and pharmaceuticals, plastics, and other chemicals, etc.

2.      Try to reduce the amount of plastic used and try to recycle plastic after use.

3.      Examine fertilizer, pesticides, and other lawn and garden products.  Try to use organic products as much as possible.  Ask your lawn provider about their products and encourage them to provide organic products which do not pollute, if they end up in lakes and streams.  The University of Minnesota Extension has a great article on lawn and garden fertilizer:  “Preventing pollution problems from lawn and garden fertilizers,” by C. J. Rosen and B. P. Hogan.  Check it out online at: .

4.      Volunteer to help with the Clean-up of Streams and Roadways.  While prevention of water pollution (nos. 1-3) is important, we also need to work hard to clean-up pollution from our lakes, streams, and waterways.  In addition, pollution—especially plastics—on our roadways frequently end up in the water systems.

Come and join us this Sunday, April 22nd, as we celebrate Earth Sunday and recommit ourselves to the task of stewardship of water and all of the natural resources which ultimately belong to God the Creator.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018


            Over the past weeks, we have focused on “Reclaiming Sin, A Biblical Guide.”  Although popular culture has largely abandoned the concept of sin, I have claimed that recognizing and acknowledging our sin is still crucially important.  The first, essential step towards eventually achieving forgiveness and reconciliation is to acknowledge and confess our sins. 

We have defined sin as the rupture of essential relationships.  Each of us lives in an interconnected web of relationships that include our relationship with the Divine, our relationships with other persons, our relationship with Creation, and our relationship with ourselves.  When we do things to rupture, or damage, one of these relationships, then we sin. 

We have used Bible stories to reflect on the reality of sin as the rupturing of various relationships.  We have looked at the following stories:

1.      The story of Eve, Adam, and the Forbidden Fruit, Genesis 3
2.      The story of the woman caught in Adultery, John 7:53 – 8:11
3.      Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5: 1-11
4.      David and Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11 & 12 (Sermon preached by Beth Menhusen)

This Sunday, March 18th, we will shift our focus.  Instead of reflecting on the reality of sin as a rupturing of relationships, we will examine a story of forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.  This is the story of the woman who anoints Christ with precious oil.  All four Gospels include this story, but we will focus on Luke’s account, which has a different emphasis than the other Gospels.[i] 

According to Luke, Jesus is invited to the house of Simon the Pharisee for a banquet.  During this time period in the Middle East, the host and his guests at a banquet would recline on pillows, leaning on their left arms while eating food from a mat with their right hand.  In this position, their feet would be stretched out behind them, away from the mat.

While the dinner would only be served to invited guests, it was customary for uninvited locals to come to the house and stand around the courtyard and inside walls of the house, listening to the conversation at the table.  Banquets, such as this, were usually filled with wit and wisdom.  Sometimes guests engaged one another in a contest of riddles.  So the uninvited would come to the event to enjoy the conversation and entertainment.

One of the uninvited that night was a woman, whom Luke describes as “a sinner.”  Most scriptural scholars agree that she was most likely a village prostitute.  This woman had come to see Jesus.  She stood behind Jesus as he reclined at the banquet table.  She begins to weep and her tears fall down on Jesus’ feet.  Eventually, she lets down her long hair and begins to wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair—thus, washing Jesus’ feet.  Then, she takes an alabaster jar of ointment and anoints the feet of Jesus. 

Now, it is very important to recognize that from the cultural perspective of the first century, the woman’s expressions of love and gratitude were highly sexualized actions.  Touching a man’s feet, as well as a woman letting down her hair in public, carried heavy sexual connotations.  Finally, the fact that the woman was a prostitute suggests that she was ritually unclean.  By touching Jesus’ feet, she would have also made Jesus ritually unclean.

Simon, the host for the evening, sees the actions of the woman.  Although he doesn’t say anything out loud, Simon thought to himself, “If this man [Jesus] were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 

In the spirit of the evening festivities, Jesus poses a riddle to Simon.  He says:  “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii,[ii] and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he canceled the debts of both of them.  Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon responds that the debtor who owed the greater debt would love the creditor more.  Jesus affirms that Simon has answered correctly.  Then, Jesus points out three significant differences between Simon and the sinful woman:

1.      When Jesus arrived at Simon’s house, he was offered no water to wash his feet, as was customary in their culture.  Yet, the woman has washed and dried Jesus’ feet with her hair.

2.      When Jesus arrived at Simon’s house, he was not greeted with a kiss, as was customary.  Yet, the woman has kissed his feet continuously.

3.      Simon has not used oil to anoint Jesus’ head, which was an important component of good hospitality.  But, the woman has anointed his feet with ointment.

To summarize, Simon has failed miserably at being a good host for Jesus, while the woman has exemplified excellent hospitality to Jesus, the guest of honor at the banquet.  Referring to the woman, Jesus continues:  This woman’s “sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little.”  Then, Jesus tells the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

In his reflections on this story, the Biblical scholar Alan Culpepper asks, “Does love lead to forgiveness, or is the ability to love the result of being forgiven?”[iii]  I believe that the answer is “both.”  We are speaking here of reconciliation and healing of relationships.  When we love someone, we are more likely to forgive them because we desire to repair the loving relationship which has been ruptured by sin.  Sometimes, both persons in a ruptured relationship have contributed to its damage.  Therefore, we seek to forgive—as well as to be forgiven—in order to repair the relationship.  

Complementarily, when we rupture a relationship, but experience forgiveness, then we are more likely to love that person in the future.  And, as Jesus points out to Simon, there is an irony in love and forgiveness.  When we have significantly damaged a relationship and, yet, experience forgiveness and healing, then we develop an even deeper love in response to the healing and reconciliation that comes to us.

      If you live in the Lincoln 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, March 18th, as we explore healing and reconciliation.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

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

[i] In Matthew, Mark, and John, the anointing of Jesus by the woman foreshadows his crucifixion and burial.  In Matthew, Jesus says, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”  By contrast, in Luke, highlights the relationship between love and forgiveness.   Scriptural scholars hypothesize that there may have been two similar stories of women anointing Jesus with oil, accounting for the difference in emphasis between Luke and the other three Gospels.   
[ii] In the economy of first century Israel, a denarii was worth a full-days wages for laborers.
[iii] R. Alan Culpepper, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 9, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002), CD-ROM Edition.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

"David, Bathsheba, and the #MeToo Movement"

       This Sunday, March 10th, we continue our Lenten Reflections focusing on "Reclaiming Sin; A Biblical Guide."  This week, we will focus on the story of David and Bathsheba, as recorded 2 Samuel 11-12.  Preaching this Sunday will be Beth Menhusen, Associate Pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Lincoln. 

        I will be returning to the pulpit next Sunday, March 18th, reflecting on the story of the woman who anoints Jesus' feet with costly perfume, found in Luke 8:36-50.

If you live in the Lincoln 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, March 11th.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

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