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.