Monday, October 31, 2005

If interested---rules for the million dollar shopping spree

This game is played at the mall--You don't have to have any money, just a pad of paper, a pen, and willingness to have fun.

Participants split into teams and go around the mall, looking for the most expensive items. They can write down 3 items from every store on their pad along with how much that item costs. They also get 3 "at large items" that can be a fourth or fifth or sixth item at a particularly expensive store. Teams try to rack up the largest expenses--whoever "spends" the most, wins. Our winning team were able to find $150,000 worth of items at the mall. It's harder than you think to spend $1million!

IF you want to try and incorporate a lesson into the fun, themes can range from materialism and simplicity to the "pearl of great price."

Winners of the shopping spree game get first dibs on the cookie cake.

Youth inquire about the highest prices in the store for our "million dollar shopping" spree game. You won't find them on the half price shelf!!!!

Reformation day Sermon-Oct. 30

Sermon text Matthew 23:1-12, The Message Translation

It was a brisk, cool day in Wittenburg almost 500 years ago. The sullen Augustinian monk knew that the church would be full the following day for All Saints Day, when the bell tolled for all who had passed into the great hereafter during the past year. It was concerning the great “hereafter” that had our young hero in quite a stir. Out of a concern for deceased loved ones, some of Luther’s parishioners (our young hero was a professor and an assistant Priest at the Castle church at Wittenburg) had traveled a couple of counties over to buy an indulgence for them. Though Frederick the Wise, who was Luther’s prince, and George, Duke of Saxony, a neighboring Lord, had both forbidden the sale of indulgences in their lands, the guarantee of eternal salvation was enough to travel for. The church was trying to raise funds to finish St. Peter’s Bascillica in Rome, and some creative church men had revived an old controversial practice—rewarding stewardship with salvation. Indulgences could be bought from the church for loved ones who were most likely stuck in a rather lengthy pergatory—a place where our petty sins dragged us down into a period of waiting until entering heaven’s gates. Indulgences would speed along the process—our good will on earth was mirrored in the afterlife for our loved ones. Luther believed this was a mockery of the mission of the church, and it is partially because of his willingness to stand up to this erroneous idea that the church (not just the Reformed church, but the Roman Catholic Church as well) is what it is today. Through debate and political manuervering, what we now call the “Reformation” was born. Though other reform movements had existed in the church prior to Luther and his 95 theses, we recognize this as a special act that brought into clear light some of shortcomings of the Western Church.
Luther’s 95 theses, or The Disputation of Dr. Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences became an argument that Luther would not back away from, even when it meant his excommunication from a church he dearly loved. It is because he dearly loved the church that he was willing to be banished by it. The argument questioned the authority of the pope, the hierarchy of the priesthood over the laypeople of the church, and the role of human works in salvation. His accurate understanding of the book of Romans, with its emphasis on salvation by Grace through Faith, has come to be accepted by every corner of the worldwide Christian church: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox.
What does the Reforming Spirit have in store for us now, 500 years later? Have Luther’s ideas stuck with us, and are they a sufficient corrective to the popular practice of religion? Have the errors shifted in the other direction, and are we now falling prey to the danger of works righteousness and letting the “professionals” worry about theology?
A common refrain of the Reformation was the elimination of the “middle-men” between God and the believer. This was a corrective to a church system that had placed priests as the intermediaries between God and humanity. Priests were responsible for dispensing God’s grace through the sacraments, and Priests were responsible for hearing the confessions of believers on behalf of God. Luther sideswiped these ideas about God and church by instead focusing on the priesthood of ALL believers. Later, in what is called the “radical” reformation, some churches came to do away with the priesthood and instead elect laymen to lead the congregation in prayers, preaching, and worship. They also cut all ties to the “church” at large and instead concentrated on church law and order coming from the pews of their particular church. The Baptists and Presbyterians are inheritors of this “congregational” system. Some radical churches, such as the Society of Friends, or Quakers, eliminated even the role of the preacher within the service. To this day, if you worship with the Friends, you will sit in a circle and wait for someone to stand up and address the congregation with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Roman Catholic church was even changed by Luther’s critique of the priesthood of all believers, and now laypeople in that branch of the church have much more involvement in the worship life of the congregation.
We also hear about this “elimination of the middlemen” in today’s gospel passage. Jesus grants that the Pharisees know the law well, but he tells the crowds not to follow their example. They don’t practice what they preach, and instead load people down with minute details of the law. Jesus seems distraught at the notion that some “professionals” come between us and our God. In the second half of today’s scripture, Jesus says quite clearly, You have one teacher, and are all classmates. Don’t let the religious professionals tell you what to do—listen to God. Luther seems to draw on this critique of religion in his debates with the greatest theologians of his time. Prestiegue and power and hierarchy did not seem to be as important to Luther, who believed that all baptized Christians were baptized into the priesthood—we all have a great honor and obligation to live up to the example of Christ—not just pay a priest to do it for us.
The largest contribution of Luther and the Reformation in general was the translation of the Bible into the vernacular, the language of the people. Perhaps we cannot quite grasp what it might have been like to be a Christian in that day and age. The Bible was written in a language spoken only by priests. The entire worship service was celebrated in Latin, and the majority of the people could not understand it. Common folks were left to gaze at the stained glass windows, which told the stories of the Bible in ways they could understand.
That is not to say that the religious life of the common person was completely stale. Professional guilds competed with each other to build the biggest and most audacious “floats” for parades during patron saint’s feast days. These floats would tell the stories of the Bible in the common understanding and were traveling morality plays that communicated a grass roots version of the Bible. Waterworks guilds would vie to create the largest and best Noah’s ark and Jonah scenes, blacksmiths would use their knowledge of fire to create dazzling scenes of Jesus knocking down the gates of Hell—a story not actually in the Bible, but a popular story of the church anyway. What I’m trying to communicate is that Luther’s reforms of the church did not break into a cold, dry, lifeless church. The church was undoubtedly corrupt, but it was also the center of the culture and was quite popular, which makes the success of Luther’s reforms all the more amazing.
When Luther translated the Bible into German, people were dying to read it—literally dying to read it. Imagine the excitement and anticipation that many of us feel for the next installment of Harry Potter and multiply that by 1000. During the Reformation, as the Bible is translated into the various languages of the people, literacy rates jump very substantially. People embrace the new movement because they feel empowered and energized by being able to read the word of God for themselves. As the Word of God was made incarnate in the person of Jesus, it was also given substance in the actual words of the people during this time in history.
Those in power were always hesitant to allow the people to read the Bible for themselves. In the antebellum South, it was for the same reason. Those in power know that there is a secret in the Bible—the secret is that God is not on the side of those in power, but on the side of those who are powerless! This is a dangerous piece of information—and Luther had to deal with uprisings of peasants who were motivated by their newfound liberty in the pages of the Gospel. Likewise, slaveholders in the South were terrorized by rebellions led by the likes of Nat Turner and John Brown—people who had read the Bible and imagined that Exodus was telling their story.
Perhaps we have swung back in the other direction. The Bible doesn’t seem like much of an interesting read to most of us—instead it might seem arcane and outdated. We would rather not deal with the demands of the Christian life, instead many of us consider showing up in church a time or two a month “good enough.” We may say we believe in the priesthood of all believers, but God knows we have full time jobs that take priority.
Martin Luther takes the Christian faith out of the hands of the “paid professionals” and puts the ball in our court. We have the scriptures before us in our own language—we might benefit from the interpretation and guidance of one, such as myself, who has invested his life in the study and application of the Christian faith, but when it comes down to it, we may just prefer for him to do all the visioning, all the planning, all the nitty-gritty—after all, we pay this guy to be the Christian, right!
If my last statement to you was offensive----praise God! Here’s what you can do about it: Last week at the Movement of the Spirit worship service, many of you signed a covenant to practice a spiritual discipline in your home life. These acts of devotion that you see around the church building are ways to take some interest and dedication in your own spiritual lives. If we are truly called to be priests of our own prayer life and of our own personal relationship with Christ, we must exercise our spiritual muscles.
Through the disciplines of solitude and silence, fasting and frugality, secrecy and sacrifice, study and prayer, service and submission, worship and celebration, fellowship and confession, you take the ball that is in your court and you “play a game of one on one with God.” The spiritual disciplines are meant to help you gain insight into your own faith walk, and it is up to you to be the student. As Jesus said, we have but one Teacher, and we are all students together. One great thing about God’s classroom is that thanks to the Reformation, the exams are “open book,” and we are allowed to give and receive help and encouragement from our classmates. These spiritual disciplines are akin to us doing our “homework” so that we are able to be the best students we possibly can be.
If we want to live up to the heritage of the reformation, we will place a greater value on the opportunity we have to actually do something to benefit our spiritual lives. We have been given great gifts of education, literacy, and a transparent, lay empowering church. Don’t squander the legacy so many people died to bring about. Amen!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Harvey Bates checks out the scenery

Waldron UMC members and friends take a hike up Pilot Mountain

We need drivers for Youth!

Sunday Oct. 30 and Sunday Nov. 6 we will need drivers willing to take a group of youth to Ft. Smith (this week) and Charleston (next week) Email or call Nathan if you can! Or just comment on this post.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Movement of the Spirit Worship Guide

Oct 23, 2005: Harvest

Station 1 Sukkot
In the Books of Law, God sets a festival called the Festival of the Booths or Ingathering—called Sukkot. Here the celebrations of the harvest are sanctified by God through the blessing of ritual. The celebration of plenty is coupled with the remembrance of the Exodus. Read about the celebration of Sukkot on the piece of paper. Take a card and write about a journey that you remember from your own life. Celebrate that journey by tying your card either inside our on the outside of the tent. If you would like to sit in the tent to remember your journey, feel free!

Station 2: Reaping
The image of reaping is embedded in our culture and in our religious story. The Harvest was such an essential element of common life that the entire calendar was structured around it. The cycle of planting, growth, and harvest served as a rhythm of life. Because the reality of death has had a substantial influence on the human psyche and the development of civilization as a whole, the personification of Death as a living, sentient entity is a concept that has existed in all known societies since the beginnings of recorded history. In our culture, we have the image of the Grim Reaper. In our scriptures, the book of Revelation imagines the end of all life on earth in a highly symbolic dream event. Here is one image of reaping that is indicative of our relationship with God. God sends the harvesters to collect the harvest of our souls—and we are resurrected in a new life in a new form. As the harvest of our fields leads to the complex foods we create, our newly created lives will be in the service of God in ways which we can not imagine any more than a grape could comprehend its place in a glass of wine, or a grain of wheat its place in a cake.
Read the passage from Revelation 14:13-20. Look at the interprative painting. Reach out and feel the harvest of the vine. Imagine the end of your life as a harvest instead of an ending. Have you harvested the gifts that God has given you?

Station 3: Extravagence
The colors of fall are probably one of the most effective evangelists of the natural world. The reds and golds and yellows and oranges and browns and greens float together in a seas of leaves blanketing the hillsides, like waves reflecting the sunset. God clearly delights in diversity and richness and extravagance. It is clear in our Creation account that God blesses the manifold of the Holy Creation. The Spirit of Life: that blowing breath that sweeps over creation at its inception, the mighty wind bursting through the windows of the early church and setting it on fire. That Spirit of exuberance and vitality is present in every moment. Life makes a grand finale before it goes to sleep for the winter.
As children, we harness such creativity and celebration of life with crayons. Isn’t it a shame that we grow up and think we shouldn’t use them anymore? Use the colors to make a picture of God’s majestic creation. If you can’t draw a tree, just use the colors to give the expression of trees, or whatever else you choose to create. Have fun!

Station 3: Anticipation
In the Christian calendar, harvest leads to the New year. Advent begins with the oncoming of cold weather and empty trees. The goods are dried and readied for the winter, and then we wait. We wait for the surprise at the peak of the winter, when the world is asleep. We wait for the Birth of the Christ and then hold it fast, and carry it with us until spring. Light a candle in anticipation. Anticipation is like that little flame that sparks to life and then creates a little light. If we hold it close, it will light our path for the days to come.
Look at the lyrics of “This little light of mine.” Since it is such a familiar tune, sing it to yourself (either out loud or in your mind) on the way over to the next station in the sanctuary. How does that anticipation make you feel?

Station 4: Fellowship
Fellowship is the central aspect of our religion. Look around you. Usually this room is full of people, worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We fellowship with the ancestors of our faith by reading the scriptures.
We celebrate the Risen and Living Christ by being in fellowship with each other.
This more personal experience called “Movement of the Spirit” is interactive in form so that it might provoke fellowship within your self. Though we come together in a “congregation,” meaning “with each other,” to worship, it is so much more fruitful if we have enjoyed time of Sabbath and reflection on God when we are by ourselves.
Take one of the introductions to spiritual disciplines. Look it over and pray with it. These are practices of prayer and devotion that can help plant a spark in your spiritual life. Though these are personal devotions, we as a body of believers can encourage one another in our more personal “faith walks.” Pray for guidance as you are led to find out more about a particular discipline that might carry you through the course of winter. Because we have a better opportunity to adhere to our goals with each other’s encouragement than if we struggle in private, sign your name to the covenant with a discipline that you will practice. Set a goal for yourself, like doing the discipline once a week or once a day. Those of us who sign the book should look in it from time to time, seeing what our brothers and sisters are doing to strengthen their walk with Christ, and then give them encouragement in that discipline. This is one way to give life to the “accountability” that we owe one another as members of the church. You’re not stuck with a discipline if you decide something else is more attractive to you. Just change it in the booklet. Notice you will be using a pencil. The important part of this covenant is both sticking with your goal and encouraging others. This is called fellowship.
You can also find all of the information on each discipline at our church website.

Light a candle and put it in the manger at the "Anticipation" station.

Participants expressed their creativity at the "Extravagence" station.

One station at the "Movement of the Spirit" was focused on "Harvest"

A participant in "Movement of the Spirit" interactive worship service experiences the "Sukkot" station.

Last Chance to register for Marriage encounter!

See Oct. 19 post for more details. Registration ends tomorrow!!!!!

Igniting Ministry team members Kim Avila, Marilyn Hicks, Joann Black, Dawna Young, Desiree James, Lara Mattox (not pictured) and Diane Miller discuss upcoming plans to introduce the community to WUMC

Youth Organize a big shipment of canned goods left over from the KARE center. Thanks Youth!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Oct. 23 Sermon: "613=2"

Sermon Text: Matthew 22:34-46

There is something appealing about what Jesus does with the Pharisees and Saducees. He is being tested. The atmosphere is not one of lively and amiable scholarly debate; it is hostile, with the intent to discredit Jesus. Much is at stake--Jesus' authority, his role and his identity. Tom Long has called this Jesus' final exam, because it will be this test that ultimately dooms Jesus in the minds of the scholarly authorities. But what is appealing is that Jesus takes something so complicated and posits a simple formula.
Jewish scholars had surveyed the Torah, counted carefully and discovered 613 commandments. Applying all 613 at once was virtually impossible, even if they could be remembered.” If one were to hang all of these laws on one nail, what nail would it be? Jesus uses two nails: love of God and love of neighbor. Matthew tells us something more that Jesus said that is not found in Mark or Luke—Jesus says, “On these two laws hang all the others and everything the prophets say. The formula is memorable and its simplicity appealing. As many of you who came to our open house could tell, we’ve been hanging a lot of pictures. When you have a picture frame with a wire in the back, it hangs so much straiter with two nails, you know. Well, I would say that Jesus believes the Law is a picture frame with a wire on the back. Two nails are needed to keep it strait. The two nails are Deut. 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
Undoubtedly, when this church created a “mission statement,” something suitible was considered to be short and easy to remember. We thought up, “WUMC is a community….” Jesus here takes the entire Jewish life and makes a mission statement. Love God and Love your neighbor.
This is probably one of the most familiar passages in the Bible isn’t it? I have thought of it at some introspective moments about my own practice of religion. When I wonder why we do things differently than other Christians in the world, I’ve often thought—“Well, Jesus said quite simply, Love God with all your mind, soul, and heart.” The second law is like it. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The differences between us seem a lot less important when we are able to see people of all kinds adhering to this simple formula.
It is good to know something by heart. I bet many of us could have whispered under our breath how Jesus responds to the Pharisee as I read the scripture this morning. However—with familiarity sometimes comes a hardening of the ears. It seems that when we hear something repeatedly, we lose sight of just how special and important it is.
Understand that the Pharisee asking Jesus this question would be tantamount to someone asking in this day and age: What is the most important thing in life? You see, there were no lines of demarcation between a person’s religious life and personal or social life. By the pharisee asking Jesus what the most important law was, he was asking Jesus the point of life itself. What is more important in life than Loving God with all that we have and all that we are and then applying that love not only to God but to the world around us?
Notice that Jesus presupposes a healthy and fulfilling respect and love of one’s self as the root of our love of neighbor. This is probably a challenge for some of us here today. Some of us have been blessed to live in circumstances that have afforded us to have a great sense of self-esteem. Others of us have not had such fortune—the path toward self-love has undoubtedly been filled with potholes and ruts. For some of us, the concept of loving ourselves seems like a distant and far-fetched not-very possibility. To those of us in this family of faith who may be on this side of the spectrum, perhaps you might find inspiration in the idea that God’s overflowing well of Life and Light and Love is waiting to spring forth in your life and fill you with a deep sense of self-esteem—but years of damaging words and thoughts to the contrary can sometimes be hard for us to see through. Sometimes we are filled with God’s love for us even if we can’t understand why anyone would love us. Please understand that Our ability to love others will be enhanced by our acceptance of the fact that God loves us. This is not to say that those of us with low self-esteem are not able to love others in a fulfilling way—I am simply saying that if are able to find a source of love within ourselves, it will be like finding a power outlet in our heart--it can generate a tremendously powerful love towards others as well.
After Jesus is asked the question about what is most important in life, Jesus responds with a probing question of his own. The second half of today’s Gospel lesson is probably less familiar, but essentially Jesus is asking the Pharisee “what is the meaning of the Messiah?” As is commonly lifted up in Christian churches, especially around Christmas time, the Jews were expecting the Messiah to be a Son of David—perhaps a reincarnation of David. The main expectation was that the Messiah would lift the Jews out of oppression. The Jewish people had been dominated by some empire for the entire history of Israel, except for a couple rare occasions—One was during the idealized reign of King David. The Pharisees were not wrong in assuming that the Messiah would come as a King to liberate the people of Israel—indeed the Scriptures spoke of the Messiah in this way. The name “Messiah” even means “annointed one.” The profession which was most often linked with annointing was that of a King.
Jesus quotes a Psalm to throw the expectations into disarray. He is not saying that the Messiah is not a king—he is simply doing what he does best—confounding expectations so that we can get beyond them to a larger truth.
The question is a kind of riddle. I wonder if Jesus smiled as he asked it. Riddles are great levelers. So long as you puzzle for answers according to acquired, predictable and "right" ways of thinking, you will be stumped, as were the Pharisees. "No one was able to give [Jesus] an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions" (22:46). We could say that Jesus "won." But I suspect that, as with riddles and parables, the real point has something to do with different ways of knowing. Maybe Jesus is saying that the important thing is not so much having the right answer as changing direction or orientation. St. Gregory of Nyssa observed, "Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything." Jesus seems to be trying to usher the Pharisees toward wonder.
The question about what law is most important is filled with expectations and presuppositions. Jesus doesn’t answer that one law is the most important—Matthew tells us that Jesus says that the entirety of the Law is contained in two laws. 613=2. What is most important about the law is Love, because “God IS love.” 1 Jn 4: Says “The one who does not love does not know God, because God is Love.” If we live with a fiery and vibrant love, If we live toward our neighbor and our God in Love, then we live the Law of God. God’s law was given in love, Paul’s theology of transcendence of the Law was based on the idea that Love is the key. As Virgil said, “Love conquers all.” 613 laws fill the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures, and Jesus gives us the “Cliff’s Notes” version.
Love your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. It is the simple answer that refuses to be turned into a concept and idolized. It is a truth that cannot be cornered and owned. It simply creates in us a sense of wonder and beauty and awe. The messiah will not simply come to liberate us from one earthly empire. The Messiah will come to liberate our souls from the oppression of sin and death. The messiah comes to liberate our ideas from rigidness and hollowness. The messiah comes to love. The messiah comes to infect the world with love.
Thanks be to God! Amen

Friday, October 21, 2005

Great Spiritual Disciplines Website

Notice the new Spiritual Disciplines link on the sidebar? This takes you to a great page outlining some of the practices that help us grow in our Faith Walk. If you would like to participate in one of these disciplines, comment on this post to share your experiences with your discipline. Together we can encourage our brothers and sisters in faith to walk closely with God. Your experience is valuable!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Marriage Encounter Weekend, Nov. 11-13

The NWA community will host a Marriage Encounter United Methodist weekendon November 11-13, 2005 in Eureka Springs, AR. Registrations must bereceived by October 27, 2005 to assure a place at the weekend. Pleasecontact Phil or Karen Gier at 479-876-5371 or email to plgier@yahoo.comfor a registration form and other information.
The encounter weekend begins on Friday evening at 8:00 P.M. and runsthrough Sunday afternoon at approximately 3:30 P.M. It will be held at theInn of the Ozarks in Eureka Springs. Topics covered include spousalcommunication, listening, expressing and accepting feelings, marriage intoday''s world and God''s desire for marriage. This is a relationshipbuilding experience like no other and is recognized by the General Boardof Discipleship of the United Methodist Church. This ministry has touchedthe lives and relationships of thousands of married couples locally andaround the globe. Now is the time to register for the November weekend.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

October 16 Sermon: Text from Matthew 22: 15-22[

read scripture here

Whose Image?
Don’t you hate it when someone says something challenging to you, and you’re just kind of dumbstruck by it, you sputter out something in your defense, but it ends up just sounding stupid? I can remember several occasions when I thought of something brilliant to say about 4 or 5 hours later, long after the moment had passed. Sometimes I’d go and fetch my mom or if it were recently I’d go and tell Lara. Hey, so and so said this, and I just thought of what I could have said that would have really shut him up, I could have said this….. Sometimes if I were recounting the story to someone who wasn’t there to witness the whole thing, I’d just go ahead and substitute the brilliant comeback that I had thought up later for the pitiful dribble that I really was able to come up with on the heels of what the other person had said. In my mind, perhaps, I really had made the switch to the more brilliant retort to enhance my own self image in my own mind! Have you been there? Or am I just a dolt! Sometimes when I’m telling these stories to my wife, she knows to look at me out of the corner of her eye when I sound really grandiose and witty in the stories of my youth and young adulthood. When I recount a story like that to her, and make the switch to what I wish I had said, she says, “Did you really say that?” And, I’ll say, “Well, no—but I wish I had!”
Jesus never had to pretend that he retorted with an earth shattering jewel of wisdom when challenged. He was able to simply respond on his feet to questions that were meant to entrap him, and in the process, left behind bits of cryptic wisdom that sent his questioners away scratching their heads, and which still echo in our ears 2000 years later.
This is probably one of the best scriptures that shows off Jesus’ savvy. If we worshiped a God based on the factors of coolness alone, this scripture would rank Jesus pretty high, don’t you think? Here Jesus is, faced with two factions of people who didn’t really share many opinions other than the fact that they were nervous about this Jesus fellow. First, we have the Pharisees, devout Jews scrupulous in their observance of God’s law as they understood it. This is probably the religious movement with which Jesus felt the greatest connection. He may have been viewed, at least initially, as a Pharisee—although an eccentric one. So there is special irony in certain other Pharisees plotting to entrap him. The other group is the Herodians, Jews who support the local puppet ruler, Herod Antipas, or the entire family to which he belongs. Little is known about the Herodians as a group, except that Herod and his family were unpopular with the people, and so their supporters must have been unpopular as well.
The Herodians were probably unpopular because they were seen as Roman collaborators. On the other hand, the Pharisees were a grassroots movement generally respected by the people. Pharisees and Herodians differed on several issues, such as whether or not the Jews should pay taxes to the occupying power. It is remarkable, therefore, to witness representatives of these opposite social forces working together. Evidently both groups felt threatened by the rabbi from Nazareth.
I can just see it, they’re up all night plotting, deciding how to best get Jesus in trouble. They devise a plan. If we ask him if its okay to pay the tax, then he’ll be stuck! If he says yes, he’ll lose credibility with the revolutionaries, and if he says no, he’ll be in trouble with the Romans! I’m sure they all fought over who would get to pose the question to this brash young upstart of a messiah!
This brings us to an important point, and a clue to the cryptic meaning of Jesus’ response to the verbal trap that was laid for him. Jesus outfoxed the foxes on two counts.
First—the coins that Caesar produced were offensive to the Jews because it had an engraved image of the Emperor’s face on it. During this time and place, the Herodians and Pharisees probably produced a coin that had the face of Tiberius on it. As you might remember from the Ten Commandments, God commands his people to make no graven images, no artificial replications of the creativity of the Divine hand. Unlike most Christian churches, You still will not find any representations of living things in Jewish synagogues or Muslim mosques. Our Christian tradition diverged from this path early in our history, when the early church met in the catacombs of Rome and used the art of symbols to convey the truth of the Gospel in ways that could pass undetected in a culture that celebrated the visual arts. To tell the truth, the Jewish culture had been influenced by the culture of the Greeks for 300 years before Jesus came along, and the fact that the coins had Caesar’s face on it was probably not as big an issue as the fact that the coin also said above Tiberius’s head, “Son of the Divine August.” The Roman Caesars usually paid tribute to their fathers by referring to them as Gods. The reverse of the coin said “Pontificus Maximus’ referring to the fact that the Caesar was also the chief priest of Roman polytheism.
Now as you can imagine, all this was pretty offensive to the Jews, so under Herod’s rule, a special coin was minted that didn’t say anything about Tiberius being the son of God or have any graven images. The fact that the priests and Pharisees who were questioning Jesus produced a coin with the Emperor’s head on it outed them as being full participants in the Roman system of commerce, whereas Jesus wasn’t able to produce a coin from his own pocket, illustrating his own purity of the Roman system.
Secondly, Jesus cut through the entrapping trick of the question posed to him by getting to the real meat of why the Jews disagreed with the tax in the first place. While the Pharisees and Herodians argued about the details and particularities, Jesus gets to the heart of the matter.
I read an article about this story of Jesus by a Jewish Rabbi named Arthur Waskow. He referenced a teaching by the Sanhedrin who were alive during Jesus’ time on a similar subject to what Jesus was talking about with these Pharisees and Herodians. You see, the Sanhedrin was a ruling body of Jewish Holy men who were mostly composed of the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the Priests who operated in the Temple. They were fine and dandy with the Roman rule, because they were the ones in power living the posh life in the temple. The Romans allowed the Jews to practice Judaism, and for the temple cult to exist, and Herod and his court were Jews who had been installed by the Roman empire. Though the Sanhedrin have been viewed in a negative light by Christians because they were the group who bribed Judas to betray Jesus, they were also a group of theologians who over the years wrote some interesting things about God. Rabbi Waskow shared the following theological statement of the Sanhedrin in his article:
Adam, the first human being, was created as a single person to show forth the greatness of the Ruler who is beyond all rulers, the Blessed Holy One. For if a human ruler [like Caesar, the Roman Emperor who was the ruler in their time and place] mints many coins from one mold, they all carry the same image, they all look the same. But the Blessed Holy One shaped all human beings in the Divine Image, as Adam was…And yet not one of them resembles another. (Sanhedrin 38a)
The rabbis drew an analogy between the image a human ruler, Caesar, puts upon the coins of the realm, and the image the Infinite Ruler puts upon the many “coins” of humankind. The very diversity of human faces shows the unity and infinity of God, whereas the uniformity of imperial coins makes clear the limitations on the power of an emperor.
Here it is clear—Jesus challenges us for the ages by answering the political question that is posed to him, by answering with a probing theological answer that lifts us beyond questions of politics. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s. Our temporal governments may claim to own certain things—and the price of living in a civilized world may be for us accept that ownership and give our share to its maintenance. But the reality is that while coins and government property may be branded with the image of Caesar, our whole being is branded with the image of God. While the taxman may have a claim on a portion (and sometimes seemingly more than a fair portion) of our pocketbooks, God has a claim on our whole lives. We are the coin that God wants. What if we were to give our lives to God as dutifully as we give our taxes to the government?
As Episcopal priest Charles Hoffacker writes: It is right to pay the emperor taxes using coins with his image. But it is an even greater responsibility to give God what bears his image, namely oneself.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Grandparents/Grandkids retreat at Camp Tanako

Camp Tanako is hosting a weekend getaway October 21 and 22 for grandparents and elementry age grandkids. To sign up, call the church, or Camp Tanako at (501) 262-2600.

Fall Fun Event at Shoal Creek Camp

Youth 7th grade through 12th grade are invited to a one night "Fall Fun Event" with other youth in the district. Late night games, praise and worship, and other fun will be had Friday night starting at around 11pm. Call Nathan if interested!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Our beautiful sanctuary at twilight on a perfect day!

Bump, Set, Spike!

United Methodist Youth meet for games in the basement before a conversation about beliefs and a game of volleyball

Open House at the parsonage

Rev. Nathan Mattox welcomes the church family to the parsonage.

October 9 Sermon: The Proper Attire

Sermon Text: Matthew 22: 1-14 and Philippeans 4: 1-9

Sometimes the Good News sounds fine and dandy until Jesus tweaks the story just a little bit. We have come to expect the Kingdom of God to include the last and the least. This is a familiar refrain in the stories of Jesus. It makes us feel really good about ourselves since we have claimed the invitation, and are on the inside. Today’s lesson follows the general rule to Kingdom parables. That is, until the end—when we perk our ears up and wonder if we had accidentally fallen asleep and made up the ending. Luckily, I read this scripture earlier in the week before I had my oral surgery, and therefore did not attribute the odd behavior exhibited in this scripture to my pain medication.
The King sends out the messengers to tell of the wedding banquet for his son. If we interpret the story as Matthew’s followers probably did, we hear in the symbols the familiar setup. God is the King, and the Good News of Christ is the Banquet for his son. The messengers are the prophets who have been sent by God to his people—to spread the news of the coming of Christ. The people refuse, and so the King, feeling somewhat rebuffed, sends out the messengers again, in order that they have sufficient notice of the announcement. This time they kill the messenger/prophets, which is a common accusation of Jesus against the people of Israel, especially in Matthew. Think for instance of Matthew 23: 37, where upon arriving at Jerusalem for the first time in his ministry, Jesus utters the famous phrase, “"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Matthew was writing his gospel in the midst of the downfall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70AD, and he believed this was a punishment for the people of Jerusalem’s unbelief. This aspect of the story is different from the perhaps more familiar version of the story in Luke 14:15-24 where the King is simply rebuffed by the townspeople and therefore sends invitations to the people in the highways and the hedges.
Also unique to Matthew’s version of this parable is the King’s response to the wedding guest who is not properly dressed. This being so unique, it caught my eye and became the focus of my preparations for today’s sermon.
Why in the world would Jesus tell us that God cares about what clothes we show up to the banquet in? Doesn’t Jesus usually tell us that God accepts us no matter who we are or what kind of mess we usually show up to the banquet of his Grace in? Doesn’t this seem to chafe against our common understanding of the Gospel? What could this possibly symbolize, that could justify the King telling his servants to “bind this man hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?” Matthew clearly thinks there is something more to the Christian life than just “showing up” to the invitation. Contrary to the Jesus of our popular conceptualization, Matthew tells of him reporting that “many are called, but few are chosen.”
So what do we do with this text? Do we move it over to the category of scriptures that may have had some use at some point, but clearly don’t belong in our repertoire of favorite scriptures for “making disciples.” After all, how many “Matthew 22:14” posters have you seen at football games. Perhaps this scripture just belongs with the Psalms about bashing babies’ heads against the rocks, or the Levitical laws about selling your son or daughter into slavery for misbehaving. Or perhaps we should try and parse out what it may be saying to us behind all the rough veneer.
Perhaps instead of always focusing on why we are accepted to the party, we should pay attention to what kind of attire we are wearing.
The Bible speaks quite frequently about clothing. In the Genesis story, we are told that God made “garments out of skin” for Adam and Eve after they ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Joseph draws the jealous rage of his brothers for wearing the “many colored coat” that his father gave him. Jesus is said to have worn a seamless robe that the soldiers gambled for at the foot of his cross. A woman was also healed by touching his garment.
So what about these wedding robes that seem so important to the host of the banquet? In this story, the “wedding robe” is a symbol of something. Isaiah 61:10 tells us about “garments of salvation, and robes of righteousness.” In 1st Thessalonians, Paul tells us to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of hope and salvation. What is it that a wedding robe symbolizes anyway? This is a symbol that has been somewhat lost to us because we no longer observe the practice of wedding robes. A wedding robe was given by the host to all who attended the banquet in order to “level the playing field.” Weddings weren’t an opportunity for the wealthy guests to show off their wealth and the poor guests to feel bad about their shabby attire. The host of the wedding provided beautiful robes so that everyone in attendance would be focused on the joy of the festivities instead of who had what. Viewed through this lens, the person who took off his wedding robe is trying to draw attention to himself. He is accepting the generosity of the host, but he is trying to do so on his own terms.
I believe today’s epistle lesson fits quite nicely with today’s Gospel lesson. Paul repeats over and over again in his letter to Phillipi to “Rejoice in the Lord, Always.” As I’ve mentioned before, this is Paul’s happiest letter, and it is written from a prison cell. Paul has tapped into the well of Christ in a way that he is now overflowing with the peace and love. He declares that this joyful exuberance surpasses all understanding, yet it guards our hearts and minds.
At the beginning of today’s reading, he pleads with two women, Euodia and Syntyche, to put their disagreement behind them and “be of the same mind.” Perhaps Paul is familiar with the “wrong attire” and is assuring his fellow banquet guests of the proper attire. Perhaps we can also hear Paul beckoning us toward the life of the light today. Perhaps when we let grudges over hurt feelings or petty jealousies stand in the way of joyful fellowship, we are wearing the wrong attire for God’s banquet! Perhaps when we allow our disagreements about the particularities to blind us to the larger truth of God’s grace, we are wearing the wrong attire to God’s banquet! Perhaps when we infect our church family with spite against someone we have a personal disagreement with, we are wearing the wrong attire to God’s banquet!
Christian friends: showing up to the banquet with an invitation in hand is a wonderful first step to accepting God’s grace. We as Wesleyans however, believe that grace continues to grow and bloom and bear fruit in our lives through the miracle of “sanctifying grace.” This is the art of living lives of personal and social holiness to be a joyful witness to the world about God’s grace and salvation. It is basically “donning our wedding robes” for the entire banquet, not taking them off after we’ve made it through the door. The idea that “many are called, but few are chosen” is Jesus’ way of telling us that the work of salvation continues in our life even after we’ve accepted the invitation. In case you haven’t done so yet, I will once again remind you to take a copy of the Book of Discipline’s paragraphs on church membership.
Church membership means we are accountable to one another, and we have the privilege to be so. It is about choosing a life of reconciliation and love over gossip and grudge matches. Sisters and brothers, I will tell you as Paul told the church at Philippi, if there are two of you who are harboring feelings against each other, please put away your ill feelings for the sake of the Gospel! Paul tells us to “be of the same mind.” This mind is the mind of Christ, and Paul assures us that “we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.”
Did you know that in the early church, when converts to the faith were being baptized, they removed all their clothing and went down into the water, then after being baptized in the name of the Trinity, they walked up out of the baptismal chamber, stomped on their old clothing, and were given new bright white robes? The act symbolized shedding the constraints of this world and even participating in the death of Christ. The waters were entered naked to symbolize our rebirth into the Kingdom Life. The new white clothing clebrated the purity of Christ that Christians were then privileged to put on and wear with joy and righteousness. New Christians stomped on their old clothing as a symbol of rejecting the sin they had left behind on the other side of the baptismal waters.
We are invited to a great feast - a wedding feast. Let us not make light of the invitation and refuse to come. We are not required to provide our own gowns and tuxedos. It is not up to us to fashion our own garments. Instead, we are to look to God, who saw to the needs of Adam and Eve, who covered their shame and made them to shine like the sun. We have a tailor of awesome reputation, one who, quite literally, fashions the stars and clothes the lilies of the field. In giving us Christ Jesus, God fashions for us a garment of great praise, a robe of eternal worth. We ought not be so proud as to insist on clothing ourselves, but rather humble our hearts, put on love, and clothe ourselves with Christ!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Open House at Parsonage Oct 9, 1-2:30pm

Lara, Nathan, and Wesley would like to invite the members of our congregation over to the parsonage for afternoon snacks, and a chance to see what we've done with the place. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

October 2 Sermon, World Communion Sunday

What are some of your first memories of communion? As early as I can remember, I always went to the altar after the service was over and did what I could to finish the bread and grape juice. I would tear off piece by piece and say, “this is the body, broken for me.” “This is the cup of salvation, shed for ME!” I suppose I was a little preacher in training. Sometimes my dad would tell me that I needed to hold off on the bread on particular Sundays so he could take what remained of the loaf to the shut ins. Knowing I’d get my fill, or perhaps just to whet my appetite for my post service feast, it always seemed that my dad would break me off a tiny little snippet of bread. Some of you have commented on the large pieces of bread that I typically break off for you during our communions here, and have politely requested smaller pieces so that you can actually chew them up and swallow it in a timely manner! Well, perhaps now you have a little insight why I blundered on the side of too much instead of too little. I never did stop going up to the altar after the service. In seminary, I was on the worship planning team who was in charge of setting up our Tuesday morning communion services on campus. After the services, I would go up to the altar and get the bread and share it with whatever other brave souls decided to give into the call of their taste buds. If I didn’t have to be at the back greeting you after the service, you can guarantee that I’d be up front here rejoicing in the scraps with our regular plate cleaners.

This past General Conference, the United Methodist Church adopted a survey and study on the theological importance of Communion in our church. In this study, titled “This Holy Mystery,” a survey found that we as United Methodists have a strong sense of the importance of Holy Communion in the life of individual Christians and of the church. Unfortunately, there is at least an equally strong sense of the absence of any meaningful understanding of Eucharistic theology and practice. United Methodists recognize that grace and spiritual power are available to them in the sacrament, but too often they do not feel enabled to receive these gifts and apply them in their lives.

With this in mind, I thought I’d share with you some of what communion means to me. I remember as a kid seeing my mother cry during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. I was always perplexed about this reaction from my mother. I wasn’t quite sure what it was about eating some bread and drinking some grape juice that could stir my mother to tears. About 10 years down the road though, sitting with the woman who would one day be the mother of my child, I was given an experience of the Eucharist that would clue me in to my mother’s experience. Lara and I had volunteered to be camp counselors at a Jr. High summer camp in the Oklahoma conference, Camp Egan. One night at camp, we planned a communion service for the youth at the outdoor chapel. During the service, amidst the sounds of acustic guitars and illuminated by candlelight, I noticed that the elements looked radiantly perfect. In that tabernacle at Camp Egan, the communion elements stood out to me as a bridge between humanity and God. I had not yet studied the sacramental theology of Jeremy Taylor or the Wesley’s understanding of the Spirit’s involvement with Holy Communion. In fact, I had never put that much thought into the Eucharist. But that night the Light of God was shining forth from the simplicity of the common loaf and cup. I was sitting beside the person I would eventually marry. She was looking down at the floor. I said to her “Lara, look at perfection!” When she lifted her eyes, she saw what I saw, and began to cry. I looked around and noticed the trees and the sounds of night (the chapel was an open tabernacle) and felt the uncanny sense that we were surrounded by all who have participated in this celebration throughout the history of our faith.
A year later, I had an opportunity to take a retreat with Brother Aidan, an Eastern Orthodox hermit monk who painted icons and re-forested the barren hills on the border of England and Wales. When I recounted the experience to him, he exclaimed that I had been involved in the communion of saints. The chapel he built and painted on the grounds of the hermitage conveyed this same theological principle. When I joined him for early morning prayers and readings, I saw that surrounding us on the walls of the chapel were the icons of saints. As we celebrated God’s Word together amidst the regal smell of incense candles and the sound of the language many early Christians spoke, the communion of saints were also present in a tangible way. When I stood in that chapel, I was reminded of sitting in that camp tabernacle in Northeast Oklahoma.
Through my experience at the hermitage, I fell in love with a spiritual world that engaged all the senses. While we Protestants are historically insistent on conveying the “Word” of God with our mouths, Christians throughout history have acknowledged the presence of Christ through the visual communion of the icon, the regal smell of incense, the tender touch of the kiss of a fellow worshipper, or the taste of the Eucharist ingested among the communion of saints who are visually represented on the walls surrounding the celebrants. My experience of Protestantism was enriched by my experience with the Eastern Orthodox Church, which through its worship conveys the deep truth of God found in the Psalms, “O Taste and see that God is good!” (Psalm 34:8).

If you read the September newsletter, you already know a little of the history of what we call “World Communion Sunday.” World Communion Sunday was put into practice first by the Presbyterian church, and then during the 1940’s, it was adopted by hundreds of denominations as an effort to show solidarity and peace to a world that was becoming embroiled in a War that involved the majority of the nations in the world. One thing that strikes me about our particular denominational celebration of Communion is that we give special credence to the idea of a “worldwide communion” because any Christian in the world would be able to take communion at this altar. Our open communion is not even limited to those people who profess to be Christian, but instead we as a denomination extend the invitation to all who seek a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. We do require that participants in the Holy Communion make an earnest confession of their sins before partaking, but this is not a test—instead it is more akin to washing our hands before coming to the table. It is something we do for our own benefit, so that we may feast in fellowship without harboring grudges or guilt or greed. Instead, we come to the table, seeking Christ. If you want to drink of the water that will eternally quench your thirst, you are invited to the table.

In the letter to the Philippeans, we hear Paul’s emphasis on Christ being the central aspect of his own sense of self. Though he places a high value on his own heritage as a Jew, these aspects of his identity pale in comparison to what he has found in the personal relationship with Christ. In the act of communion, we express our belief in the nearness and tangible identity of Christ in our midst. Christ is as near to us and as part of us as this bread and juice that we ingest in the ritual of communion. As the blood of the man Jesus delivered his breath to all the cells of his physical body, in the practice of communion, we believe that his blood continues to bring his Holy Breath or Spirit to us—the cells of his spiritual body. The meal propels us into the present moment. Two thousand years ago is made right now by our remembrance of a simple meal with friends. This observance of sacrament does not promote hollow nostalgia for days when Christ was among us, instead it should tap the reservoir of Christ in the now, and enhance our vision of Christ leading us forward. As Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

As we come to the table today with the majority of our Christian brothers and sisters in this world, let us envision Christ in front of us, leading us toward a greater unity that celebrates our diversity. We may celebrate in different ways, but we enact the same meal. We are truly one loaf, and on this day, we all observe the breaking and sharing of that one loaf. I thank God that Jesus gave us a tradition that communicates so clearly, so tangibly to my soul. As we partake in this meal together today, let us give thanks and pray for the restored unity of the church as we struggle to really be the Body of Christ! Amen.