Saturday, June 8, 2019

Pentecost ! ! !


            This Sunday, June 9th, is “Pentecost” on the church calendar.  The word, “Pentecost,” refers to the “fiftieth day.”  For Christians, “Pentecost” refers to the 50 days following the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.  It is the date which Christians have traditionally identified as marking the birthdate, or origination, of the Christian Church.

            In the latter stages of his earthly ministry, Jesus promised his followers that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, after Jesus himself had ascended into heaven.  Jesus told them,   “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14: 26).  This Holy Spirit will be present to the first Christians—both individually and collectively as the new Christian Church. 

            After his resurrection, and at the time of his Ascension into heaven, Jesus told his followers to remain in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1: 4-5).  Then, Jesus promised:  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

            So, the disciples and other followers of Jesus waited in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit.  On Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ first resurrection appearances on Easter, they experienced the Holy Spirit as it fell upon them.  Inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter preached the first Christian sermon and a reported 3,000 persons became Christians that day (Acts 2:41).  The Christian Church was born.

            After that first Pentecost Day, the early Christian Church settled into a pattern of life in Jerusalem.  They formed a close community of faith, initially led by the original disciples—excluding Judas, who betrayed him.  Here’s how Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, describes this new faith community and their practices:

“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 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.” (Acts 2:42-47)

The model of community depicted at the end of Acts 2 is one defined by four core characteristics:

1.      They took care of one another.  Luke writes that they “had all things in common…and [would] distribute…to all, as any had need.”  Luke’s words focus more on how the first Christians took care of another’s physical needs, such as having sufficient food, clothing, and shelter.  However, it seems implicitly clear that the first Christians cared for one another’s other dimensions as well; they cared for each other spiritually, emotionally, and socially.  In other words, they were fully focused on caring for each other’s complete wellbeing.

2.      They sought to worship God and grow spiritually, together.  Luke records that the first Christians “spent much time together in the temple.”  For the Jewish community, the temple was their place to worship, but it was also a place to engage in study of the Tanakh (scriptures) and other sacred texts.  So, the first Christians spent much time worshipping God and seeking to grow in their understanding of faith.

3.      They shared friendship and fellowship with one another. Luke observes that the first Christians shared common meals and fellowship in each other’s homes, savoring this time together with great joy and gratitude. 

4.      They helped non-Christians and shared the good news about Christ.  I’m inferring that they helped even those who were not Christians because they earned the goodwill of those around them.  They also shared the story—the Good News—of Jesus Christ, resulting in more and more persons deciding to join their faith community and become Christians.
On Pentecost Sunday 2019, I will suggest that this example of the first Christians in Jerusalem provides a model of the type of churches we are called to become in the twenty-first century. 

Come, join us this Sunday, June 9th, at Christ United Methodist Church, as we celebrate Pentecost and reflect upon what it means to be a faithful Christian Church in the twenty-first century.  Christ United Methodist Church is located at 4530 A Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  We have three worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00. 

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

"Celebrate"


             When’s the last time you danced in church?

            Our focus at Christ UMC this Sunday is on celebrating God’s presence in our lives.  We begin with a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures about how King David celebrated God’s presence.  In this story, David has successfully moved the Ark of the Covenant into the City of Jerusalem.  This was an important accomplishment. 

The Ark of the Covenant was a large, wooden chest.  For the Hebrew people, the Ark represented the presence of God in their midst and in their lives.  Bringing the Ark into the new capital city of Jerusalem was reason for a great celebration—a party, if you will.  As the Ark proceeds down the streets of Jerusalem, King David leads his people in a huge celebration. According to the story in 2 Samuel,

“David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.  So, David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.”

The celebration was boisterous, jubilant, and spontaneous.  The King dances with “all his might.”   David dances wildly.  He is not self-conscious.  He does not dance solemnly.  He is not concerned about the “dignity of his office” or with what his people will think about him.  Instead, he dances with unselfconscious abandon and exuberance. 

King David had prepared a special place for the Ark of the Covenant to rest within the City, and he had pitched a special tent for the Ark.

Once the Ark of the Covenant was properly placed in the new tent, King David led a special worship service to celebrate the arrival of the Ark in Jerusalem—and to give God thanks and praise.  The worship service reflected the beliefs and customs of the Jewish people at that time:  “David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord.  When David had finished…he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts.”

            After the worship service, David gave food to all of the Hebrew people for a feast to celebrate the arrival of the Ark.  To each person, King David gave bread and meat and raisins.  (Raisins were a sweet delicacy for people living at that time.  They were a very special dessert.)  Then all of the people went back to their homes to feast.

            Certainly, this was an amazing celebration.  But, we might well ask, “What does this story say to us Christians, living in the twenty-first century?”

            For me, this story raises two important questions for contemporary persons of faith:  (1) Do we actively seek to experience God’s presence with the same faithfulness and commitment as King David and the people of Israel?  (2) Do we celebrate the presence of the Divine in our lives with the same unmitigated joy as the people in this story?

            I believe that we can experience God’s presence in many different ways.  For instance, I frequently experience the Divine through Nature.  When I pause for a few moments to enjoy a brilliant rosy sunset at the end of the day, I frequently experience God’s warm embrace enveloping me.  Sometimes I experience the Divine when I go for a walk through a beautiful flower garden or down a leaf-strewn path, winding its way through a peaceful forest.

            I also experience God’s presence during worship in a beautiful sanctuary; or, listening to an inspirational choir.  Sometimes, in those moments when we are worshiping in my home church, my spirit soars high and I feel a strong exuberance of spirit.  I also experience the presence of the Divine during my quiet time in the morning, when I read the scriptures and meditate.  Frequently during this time, I will write out a prayer to God.  As I sit before my computer, I feel as if God is sitting right there beside me, watching as I carefully choose just the right words for my prayer.

            Sometimes I experience the presence of God through human interaction.  For instance, I sometimes feel God’s presence when I offer my finger to a small infant with its arms outstretched.  When the baby reaches out to grasp my finger and squeeze, I experience the presence of the Divine in its tight grip.  At other times, I have strongly felt God’s presence through acts of mercy, such as serving meals at a soup kitchen or volunteering at a food pantry.  In that moment, when I look at a person as I serve them, it seems as though both the person served and me the server—looking into one another’s eyes—experience God’s presence together in the mutual act of serving and being served.

            In these and so many other ways, I experience God’s presence in my life.  I celebrate those moments in various ways.  Sometimes, it is a smile or a look upward or a quiet prayer: “Thank you, Lord.”

            In my Sunday morning proclamation this Sunday, June 2nd, I will encourage my congregation to constantly seek out the presence of God in their lives—and to be open for new and different experiences of the Divine.  And, I will also encourage them to always celebrate and give thanks for the many different ways in which the Divine is present in our lives. 

My church is Christ United Methodist, located at 4530 “A” Street.  We have three worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00.  Join us this Sunday, June 2nd, as we celebrate God’s presence in our lives

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

“The Foundation for Sacrifice”


            As we celebrate Memorial Day this weekend, it is fitting that we focus on the foundation for sacrifice.  Memorial Day is a special day set apart to remember and give thanks for military personnel who died in the service and defense of our country.  So, this Sunday, I want to explore sacrifice.  Specifically, I’m interested in the question, “What empowers someone to make a major sacrifice?”

            My scriptural basis for thinking about sacrifice is the story of the poor widow’s offering in the Temple, found in the Gospel of Mark:

Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.  Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

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 money in one of 13 treasury chests, called Shofars.  This was usually a good place for people watching. 

            Jesus and his disciples sit down, across from where the Shofar-chests are located.  Frequently, rich members of society would deposit 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 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.”

            Again, as I reflect on sacrifice this Memorial weekend, my question is “What empowers someone to make a major sacrifice?”  Consider all of those who gave their lives in the service and defense of our country.  Perhaps some of their comrades turned and fled that day.  Yet, they remained and gave the ultimate sacrifice.  What empowered them to make their sacrifice? 

In my proclamation, I will suggest that what empowers and enables major sacrifice has to be a deep love and a great hope.  In order to make a major sacrifice, we must have a deep love for what (or who) will be the beneficiary of our love.  Secondly, a major sacrifice must be grounded in a great hope that the sacrifice will actually make a major difference.  So, the military person who dies in the service of our country must have a deep love for our country and also a great hope that their sacrifice will make a huge difference.  As a nation, we are grateful for that sacrifice.  Similarly, the widow in the Temple must have had a deep love for God and also a great hope that her sacrifice would make a huge difference.

I once had a Bishop who was fond of saying that he thought all United Methodist clergy should be willing to do three things at a moment’s notice:

1.      Pray
2.      Preach
3.      Die for Jesus

I have always thought that I would be able to pray or preach at a moment’s notice.  But, I think that the only way we could say with certainty that we were willing to die for Jesus is if we were presented with that scenario.  Many Christians have been willing to die for Jesus—both in the past and sometimes even today.  I, personally, have never been confronted with that possibility.

            Still, I think that the Bishop’s challenge raises an important question for me and all other Christians:  How deep is our love for Jesus and how great is our faith (hope) in Christ?  Do we have the depth of love and faith exhibited by the poor widow?

My church is Christ United Methodist, 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.  Join us this Sunday (May 26th), as we commemorate Memorial Day and reflect upon the foundation for sacrifice.

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

“Envisioning a New Church for a New Context”


            This Sunday, April 28th, is Confirmation Sunday at my home church, Christ United Methodist.  Confirmation is a special Sunday set aside to welcome our young middle-schoolers into full membership in our church.  These middle-schoolers have been studying and preparing for nine months in order to be confirmed as new church members.  This Sunday is their big day in the church. 
   
In reflecting on what to say to these young middle-schoolers, I decided to invite them to join with me and other church members in envisioning a new future for the Church in general—and Christ United Methodist in particular.  To focus our thoughts this Sunday, I’ve decided to remind everyone about a story concerning how the Apostle Peter came to a new and broader vision for the early church.

The story takes place after Pentecost, during the early development of the Christian church, as Peter and other Christians began to spread out from Jerusalem, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  At this early point in the development of the Church, all “Christians” were devout Jewish Christians.  Christianity itself was little more than a spiritual renewal movement within Judaism. 

            Peter was a devout Jew, meaning that he had chosen a life defined by study of Jewish scriptures and a morality of rigorous adherence to Jewish laws, including maintaining ritual cleanliness.  Maintaining ritual purity involved only eating certain prescribed foods, prepared in the prescribed manner; it also entailed avoiding social contact with Gentile—that is, non-Jewish—persons.

            By contrast, Cornelius was a Gentile.  Cornelius was an officer in the Roman Army.  Yet, Cornelius was also a very devout man, in his own way.  Luke, the writer of Acts, describes him as “a devout man who loved God with all his household; he gave offerings generously to the people and prayed constantly to God” (Acts 10:2). 

            One day, God spoke to Cornelius through a vision or dream.  In the dream, an angel tells Cornelius, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.  Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter.”  Cornelius was eager to obey God and to learn from Peter, so he sent three men to find Peter.  Whereas Cornelius was very excited to have Peter visit him, Peter had a problem with meeting and teaching Cornelius.  As a devout Jew, Peter was religiously prohibited from visiting in the homes of Gentile—or, having any social contact with Cornelius.  To do so would make Peter ritually unclean.

            Nonetheless, God had a special message for Peter.  The next day Peter, who had been fasting, went up on the roof of the house while others prepared some food for him to eat.  As he waited on the roof, Peter fell into a trance and had a vision.  In his dream, Peter saw a large sheet being lowered to him.  In the sheet were all types of different animals.  Then, a voice said to Peter, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13).  Unfortunately, when Peter looked at the animals in the sheet, he saw that they were prohibited for food under the Jewish purity laws.

            Since Peter tried very hard to maintain ritual purity by only eating the prescribed foods, he replied, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean” (Acts 10:14).  But, then, God made a startling comment:  “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15).  This scenario played out three separate times.

            Peter was completely perplexed by his dream.  And, he was still trying to figure out what it all meant when the men sent by Cornelius arrived at his house.  Then, God spoke to Peter through the Holy Spirit and said, “Look, three men are searching for you.  Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them” (Acts 10:19-20).

            So, Peter invited the emissaries sent by Cornelius to come into his house and stay with him.  The next day Peter, along with some of his friends who were Jewish-Christians, went with the Gentile men and returned to Cornelius and entered his home.  Just to be clear here:

Ø  Peter talked with the Gentile messengers, even though that was prohibited by his moral code, a code that he believed was given by God.
Ø  Not only did Peter talk with the Gentile men, he invited them into his home and ate with them, once again violating the Jewish law.
Ø  Finally, Peter went to Cornelius’ house, once again violating the Jewish law.

When he met Cornelius, Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who loves God and does what is right is acceptable to God” (Acts 10:34-35).  Then, Peter began to tell Cornelius, along with all of Cornelius’ family and friends, about the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When Peter finished speaking, he—along with his Jewish-Christian friends who had come with him to Cornelius’ house—were astounded to see that all of their Gentile listeners were filled with the Holy Spirit and wanted to become Christians.  Peter asked, “‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’  So, Peter ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:47-48). 

Peter’s decision, confirmed by his Jewish-Christian friends, proved to be a transformational turning point in the development of Christianity.  Before his vision, Peter had a narrow, restricted view of the Church and the scope of its ministry.  At this point, Christianity was merely a spiritual renewal movement within Judaism—as noted above.  However, God’s vision for the Church was much larger and broader in scope. 

Although Jews have been God’s Chosen People, Peter came to see that God’s love was not restricted just to one religious group.  Instead, God—through Jesus Christ—reaches out in love to every single person.  God seeks to be in a divine relationship with all of us, regardless of age, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or anything else that differentiates us.  Peter’s vision helped him gain a broader perspective of what God intended for the Church to be.  Later, Peter shared his vision and experience with the Apostles and other Christian leaders (see Acts 11:1-18).  Eventually, Peter’s vision— along with the experiences of the Apostle Paul and others—helped the early Church to broaden its vision and respond faithfully to God’s call.

In my sermon on this Confirmation Sunday, I will suggest that Peter’s story provides important insights for the contemporary Church, as we seek to envision a new future that is faithful to God.  I will challenge our new confirmands share their hopes and dreams for the future of our faith community, Christ United Methodist Church.  I want everyone, including our newest members to share their visions for the future of their church.

Come, join us this Sunday, April 28th, at Christ United Methodist Church, as we explore how this rich story of Peter and Cornelius can inform our faith even today.  As part of my proclamation this Sunday, I will share my vision for the future of Christ United Methodist Church, as a way to stimulate the visioning of everyone—both new and old members.  I will organize my vision based upon the four pillars of Christian life, which we have embraced at Christ United Methodist:

1.      Seek God
2.      Act Inclusively
3.      Serve Others
4.      Do Justice

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.  Our special confirmation will be par t of the 11 am service. 

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

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Pollyanna Got It Right ! ! !


            The movie character, “Pollyanna,” has taken a special place in American culture. 
“Pollyanna” refers to Pollyanna, the 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter, which was developed into the 1960 film by Disney Studios, starring Hayley Mills.  In the film, Pollyanna is a 12-year-old orphaned girl, who arrives in the small town of Harrington to be adopted by her aunt.  As the story unfolds, Pollyanna captivates and transforms the town with her sunny optimism and the “glad game” which her father taught her before his death.  The point of the “glad game” is to find something to be glad about, even in the saddest and most disappointing circumstances.  The game is basically the attitude of finding a “silver lining in every cloud.”

            Over the years, however, the word, “Pollyanna,” has become a derogatory adjective, referring to someone who is unrealistically optimistic and somewhat childish.  To describe a person as “Pollyannish” means that they are not well grounded in reality and that they are naïve. This caricature in contemporary culture overlooks the context of the Pollyanna character’s philosophy. 

In the film, Pollyanna’s joy and optimism are firmly rooted within the context of her Christian faith.  This becomes clear in the climactic scene in the film, when Pollyanna and the village pastor have a one-on-one conversation.  In the scene, Pollyanna explains that she always tries to look for the good in people.  Further, she claims that there are 800 verses in the Bible that call upon the faithful to rejoice and be glad.  So, she concludes that so many repetitions about rejoicing and being glad must mean that they are very important to God.

            In my Easter proclamation this Sunday at Christ United Methodist Church, I will suggest that the character, Pollyanna, provides an excellent model for how we should think and live as followers of Christ in the post-resurrection world. 

The Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ reveal important aspects concerning who God is.  In the Incarnation, the Transcendent Divinity becomes enfleshed as the man, Jesus of Nazareth, because of God’s profound and incomprehensible love for all humans and their world.  The Incarnation signals that God continues to be very active in the world, working to redeem the world—especially human persons.  The Resurrection of this same Jesus of Nazareth marks a cosmic tippling point in natural history.  With Christ’s Resurrection, we receive the divine guarantee that, ultimately, God will prevail.  God will establish God’s Kingdom here on Earth.  When God’s Reign is fully established, then we will be fully redeemed as part of God’s New Creation.  The prophet in the Book of Revelation describes this New Creation, based upon a vision which he has had:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:1-5a)

The Resurrection of Jesus marks the beginning of God’s Reign, even though that Reign is only partially established and not yet fully complete.

            As followers of Christ, we live in an intermediate time between the Easter Resurrection and the final completion of God’s redemptive Reign as described in Revelation.  In this interim period, God calls us to be a Resurrection People.  It is in this context that I believe the movie character, “Pollyanna,” teaches the followers of Christ how we are to live as a Resurrection People.   Just as Pollyanna, God intends for us to live lives filled with hope and joy. 

            We live lives filled with hope because we trust that ultimately God will prevail, and the world will be redeemed.  This hope is akin to watching the recording of a ballgame, already knowing the game’s outcome.  If we know in advance that our team won the game, then we can watch the recorded game, confident that our team will ultimately prevail, even if in the middle of the game their defeat seems all but guaranteed.  Similarly, we can live lives filled with hope and joy because of God’s guarantee, through Christ’s Resurrection, that ultimately God will prevail and the world will be redeemed.

            Of course, when we live lives filled with joy and hope, then we may appear as being slightly “Pollyannish” to those around us.  Regardless, our hope and joy are firmly grounded on the guarantee provided through Christ’s Resurrection and not on any whimsical fantasy.


Come and celebrate Easter with us this Sunday, April 21st.  Christ United Methodist Church is located at 4530 A Street.  On Easter Sunday, we will have two classic worship services at 8:30 and 11:00 in the morning.  In between the two services, we will have an Easter Brunch in our Family Life Center (gym) from 9:45-10:30.  Everyone is welcome.  Come and join us for both worship and the Easter brunch.

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

“The Greatest Love”


               On the Church Liturgical calendar, we have begun the season of Lent, a 40-day period of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter Sunday and the celebration of the Resurrection.  This period of preparation includes acknowledging and confessing our sins and shortcomings, and performing acts of self-sacrifice and penitence as we remember Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross to demonstrate the depth of God’s love for us. 

                During Lent this year, our proclamations and worship services will focus on the “Farewell Discourse” in the Gospel of John, chapters 14-16.  This discourse occurs in the evening, just before Jesus is betrayed by Judas Iscariot.  Jesus is together with the disciples—except for Judas—and some other followers.  Jesus uses this time to prepare followers for his imminent betrayal and crucifixion.  He uses this moment to teach them about his relationship with God the Creator and to reassure them that God will continue to look over them and lead them, even after Jesus has gone.

               We began our reflections on the “Farewell Discourse” last Sunday with John 14:8-18, where Jesus describes his relationship with God the Creator while also promising to send an “Advocate,” who will come to the disciples after Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven.  This Sunday, March 17th, we will focus on Jesus’ explanation of the role that love plays in our relationship with God, as we reflect upon John 15:12-17. 

Our scripture begins with Jesus reiterating part of the teaching which we examined last week.  Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (verse 12).  In our passage last Sunday, Jesus grounded humans’ love for God with keeping his commandments—that is to say, Jesus’ teachings.  As we saw last week:  To love Jesus is to keep his ‘commandments’ or teachings, while to keep his commandments is to love Jesus. 

In our scripture this week, Jesus slightly emends his teaching by stressing that the object of our love should be loving one another as Jesus’ has loved each of us.  The present subjunctive tense in the command, “Love one another,” suggests that our love for one another should be ongoing.  Jesus sets up a “chain of love,” when we view this verse within the context of what he has already said in John 15:1-11:  The Creator (Father) loves Jesus; Jesus loves his followers; and his followers are called by God to love one another—and by implication all other persons.

After establishing the centrality of love for discipleship, Jesus next describes the depth of love.  He says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (verse 13).  Of course, this is precisely what Jesus proceeds to do over the next 24 hours.  Following his “Farewell Discourse” with his followers, they go out to the Garden where he was betrayed by Judas; Jesus is condemned in a “show-trial” and then executed by crucifixion the next day.  In his crucifixion and death, Jesus demonstrates once and for all the awesome love of God, which is quite literally beyond the comprehension of the human mind.

After observing that the greatest love a person can have for his friends is to “lay down his life,” Jesus immediately reassures his followers that they are his friends.  He says,  “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:14-15).  

The Greek word translated as “friend” is philos, which is one of two words the Gospel writer uses interchangeably for love.  When Jesus speaks of friends here, he is really saying “those who are loved”. Our English word, “friend,” does not fully convey the presence of the love that undergirds the Johannine notion of friendship. Perhaps it would be better to translate philos as “beloved.”  Because Jesus has freely shared everything about God with his followers, they are now Jesus’ friends.  Jesus has involved the disciples in the intimacy of his relationship with God.

            The language of friendship is immediately contextualized by language of election in verse 16a, when Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  With this language of election, Jesus reminds the disciples (including the readers) that their place with him is the result of his initiative, not theirs; relationship with Jesus is ultimately a result of God’s grace. 

            Jesus follows this reminder of election with a reminder of commission and vocation:  And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” (verse 16b). The Greek word translated into English as “appointed” is tithenari—the same verb used in v. 13 when Jesus says that the greatest form of love is ‘to lay down one’s life’ for one’s friends.  So, when read in the original Greek, the connection between the commissioning  of the disciples and the example of laying down one’s life for one’s friends would be quite explicit and dramatic.  The disciples are commissioned by Jesus to go and do works of love.  Jesus then concludes, “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another” (verse 17).

To summarize this scripture, Jesus begins by reminding his disciples that we are to love one another, just as he has loved us.  Then, Jesus elaborates by pointing out that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  And, Jesus reassures the disciples that we are his friends.  Of course, we readers recognize that laying down one’s life for one’s friends is precisely what Jesus does the next day, when he is crucified.  In the crucifixion, Jesus demonstrates that God’s love for us is awesome, literally beyond human comprehending.   In response to his incredible love for us, Jesus asks us to follow his teachings, which may be summarized as loving one another.[1]

              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, March 17th, as we continue our spiritual preparation for celebrating Easter and the Resurrection.  In the service this week, I will share a special way to demonstrate the love of God for each of us, and how God intends for us to respond to that love. 

               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.


[1] My interpretation of John 15:12-17 was informed by the following commentaries:  Gail R. O’Day, Commentary on the Gospel of John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, vol 9, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002), CD-ROM Edition; Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (xiii-xxi) in “The Anchor Bible series (New York, Doubleday and Company, 1966); and John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1981) vol 1.


Saturday, March 9, 2019

“I will not leave you orphaned”


            This Sunday, March 10th, we begin the Liturgical season of Lent in the Western Church.  Lent is a 40-day period of spiritual preparation before celebration of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  This period of spiritual preparation is a penitential season, in which we acknowledge and lift up our sins and short-comings.  It is a special time for confession and self-sacrifice, as we remember Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross to demonstrate the depth of God’s love for us. 

            During Lent this year, our proclamations and worship services will focus on the “Farewell Discourse” in the Gospel of John, chapters 14-16.  This discourse occurs in the evening, just before Jesus is betrayed by Judas Iscariot.  Jesus is together with the disciples—except for Judas—and some other followers.  Jesus uses this time to prepare followers for his imminent betrayal and crucifixion.  He uses this moment to teach them about his relationship with God the Creator and to reassure them that God will continue to look over them and lead them, even after Jesus has gone. 

            My first proclamation on the “Farewell Discourse,” centers on John 14:8-18.  Of principal interest in this passage is Jesus’ discussion of his relationship with God the Creator and the Advocate, who will come to the disciples after Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven.  The passage begins with the disciple Philip querying, “Lord, show us the Father , and we will be satisfied” (verse 8).  Jesus is exasperated with Philip’s question because it appears as though he hasn’t been paying attention during Jesus’ ministry. 

Jesus says, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.There is no other proof.  Philip must believe.  If he cannot  believe, then Jesus urges him to consider all of the works and miracles which Jesus has performed.

In this exchange, Jesus lays out what Christians understand to be the relationship between God the Creator--and Jesus.  This is our conviction as Christians:  God loves humanity so much that God became incarnated as human flesh in the person Jesus of Nazareth.  The Immanent Divinity became incarnated in order to teach and model for us the way God intends for us to live and love.  Through the life, teachings, ministry, and death of Jesus’ life, the Incarnated God models how God intends for us to live and love. 

Jesus continues, “The one [that is, the humans] who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” (verse 12).  The term, “works,” refers to all the acts of Jesus’ ministry.  For the disciples to share in Jesus’ “works” is for them to share in Jesus ministry; to share in revealing God to the world; and to share in establishing God’s Reign here on Earth.

The disciples’ “works” are dependent upon Jesus’ departure to be with the Father because the success of the disciples’ works has nothing to do with the disciples themselves.  Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has ushered in a new, eschatological age in which God will redeem humans and the world.  The Resurrection of Christ is the cosmic tipping point towards the transformation of the world into a New Creation.

Jesus will act in and through the disciples and their work.  So, the disciples “works” are in reality Jesus’ works through the disciples.  These “works” grow out of one’s love for God and Jesus, which reflects the love of God for each human person.  Jesus promises to “do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified” (verse 13).

So far, Jesus has focused his discourse on the importance of belief, but at verse 15 Jesus shifts the emphasis to loving Jesus.  Verses 15-18 describe two dimension of the disciples’ love relationship with Jesus.  The first dimension is the inseparability of one’s love for Jesus through keeping his commandments.  In verse 15, Jesus tells the disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  The key here is living a life grounded in love for Jesus:  To love Jesus is to keep his ‘commandments’ or teachings, while to keep his commandments is to love Jesus. 

The second dimension of this love is the abiding and indwelling presence of God for those who love Jesus.  Jesus promises that God’s presence will continue even after his death and ascension.  Central to this second dimension of love is Jesus’ promise to send the “Spirit of truth.”  Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, [but] …You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (verses 16-17; my emphasis). 

The Greek word for “Advocate” is Parakletos.  It can be interpreted as “Advocate” or “Comforter” or Counselor.”  In the Gospel of John, the Paraclete takes the place of the term “Holy Spirit,” used in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  What the Paraclete does is not new but is a continuation of the work of Jesus.  (see verse 17)  As the Spirit of truth, the Paraclete shares in the work of Jesus. Since Jesus is the truth (14:6), the Paraclete, or Holy Spirit, is an extension of Jesus himself.

In this scriptural passage, we encounter a deep theological explanation, which later emerged in the early Church as the Christian notion of the Trinity.  Jesus’ description can be summarized as follows: 

1.      Out of love for Creation, God the Creator became incarnate—that is, became a human person—in Jesus of Nazareth. 
2.      God the Divine Creator and God incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth are one with each other.  The Creator is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Creator.  God the Creator works through Jesus, and Jesus’ works—that is, ministry—are done through God.
3.      When Jesus ascends into Heaven, he continues to work through the works of his followers here on Earth.  In this way, Jesus’ followers are invited to help build God’s Reign. 
4.      Jesus’ followers love Jesus by obeying his commandments. 
5.      After Jesus leaves his followers, he will send the Paraclete (or, Holy Spirit).  The Holy Spirit is an extension of Jesus himself.  The Holy Spirit will guide Jesus’ followers and teach them more.
6.      The Holy Spirit resides with and inside Jesus’ followers.

This discussion by Jesus provides a thorough description of what Christians came to call the Trinity.

And yet there is one more thing.  Jesus pledges to his followers that he will not abandon them, but rather he will always abide with them and in them (through the Holy Spirit).  Jesus’ last words in this passage sum up his love for the disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned.” (verse 18a).[i]

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, March 10th, as we begin our spiritual preparation before celebrating the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.  We will be examining this passage of scripture, from Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.”

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] My interpretation of John 14:8-18 was informed by the following commentaries:  Gail R. O’Day, Commentary on the Gospel of John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, vol 9, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002), CD-ROM Edition; Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John (xiii-xxi) in “The Anchor Bible series (New York, Doubleday and Company, 1966); and John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1981) vol 1.


Saturday, March 2, 2019

“The Most Important Virtue”


Christ United Methodist Church, my congregation, has just gone through a very difficult week; perhaps one of the hardest weeks in its history.  Earlier this week, our denomination met in a special “General Conference” to discuss the denomination’s policies concerning human sexuality.  The “General Conference” is the supreme policy-making body of the United Methodist Church, and it alone can speak for the entire denomination.  The General Conference is comprised of 850 delegates, who are elected by smaller, regional conferences.  Since the United Methodist  Church is a global church, delegates from around the world are part of the General Conference.

At its special meeting, held in St. Louis, the General Conference focused on three issues involving human sexuality:

1.      Will the church allow clergy to perform same-sex weddings?
2.      Will same-sex weddings be allowed on United Methodist Church properties?
3.      Will the church allow for ordination of LGBTQ persons?

At this special meeting, General Conference delegates decided against allowing same-sex weddings and ordination of LGBTQ+ persons.  These decisions are very painful and devastating for the many LGBT+ clergy and laity in the United Methodist Church—as well as many straight United Methodists who wish to see a welcoming and affirming church. 

These decisions were especially painful for most of my community of faith, and I personally found the decisions to be very devastating and incompatible with Christian scripture.  
Christ United Methodist Church in Lincoln has a long history of being an open and welcoming community of faith.  This heritage goes back to the 1970s, when we actively worked to welcome political refugees and helped them settle in our community.  Our Mission Statement explicitly welcomes all persons, including LGBTQ persons.  And, we believe that diversity is a strength for our congregation.

            So, when we gather to worship this Sunday, March 3rd, we will gather in pain, shock, disbelief, confusion, bewilderment, sadness, fear, and anger.  My proclamation must speak to my community of faith and where they are this weekend.  To ground my remarks and reflections, I have chosen 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.  So, this scripture is certainly appropriate for our context this Sunday.

            1 Corinthians 13 takes 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

For Paul, love is “running forgiveness,” always lifting up the other.  As 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 uses, 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.

            In the context of the dreadful policies established at our United Methodist General Conference this week, 1 Corinthians 13 seems to be especially relevant for this Sunday. 

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, March 3rd.  Our focus will be on the decisions and policies approved at General Conference this week.  We will reflect upon what this means for our community of faith which was devastated and angered by these decisions.  Our reflections will be informed by 1 Corinthian 13, which calls upon us to love everyone, even those United Methodists with whom we vehemently disagree.

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.