Saturday, January 28, 2006

Holiness Sermon in Series "What it Means to Be a Methodist" Jan 29 sermon

Micah 6: 6-8
Matthew 6: 1-15

It is very clear that the idea of holiness was the main concern of two young men at Oxford two and a half centuries ago named John and Charles Wesley. The two named their student religious club “The Holy Club,” and their meticulous attention to applying a holy regiment to their lives earned this club the nickname “the Methodists” among those who derided their efforts.
In John Wesley’s “Notes,” Wesley writes in a question/answer format: “What was the rise of Methodism, so called? In 1729, two young men, reading the Bible, saw they could not be saved without holiness, followed after it, and incited others so to do. In 1737 they saw holiness comes by faith. They saw likewise, that men are justified before they are sanctified; but still holiness was their point. God then thrust them out, utterly against their will, to raise a holy people.” The mission statement of the early movement of Methodists was clearly dedicated to holiness as the guiding principle. Wesley asked himself the question, “What may we reasonably believe to be God’s design in raising up the Preachers called Methodists? Not to form any new sect: but to reform the nation, particularly the church; and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.
What exactly is this idea of holiness? Christian perfection, according to Wesley, is “purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God” and “the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked.” It is “loving God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves” (A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, 109). It is “a restoration not only to the favour, but likewise to the image of God,” our “being filled with the fullness of God” (The End of Christ’s Coming, 482).
Wesley was clear that Christian perfection did not imply perfection of bodily health or an infallibility of judgment. It also does not mean we no longer violate the will of God, for involuntary transgressions remain. Perfected Christians remain subject to temptation, and have continued need to pray for forgiveness and holiness. It is not an absolute perfection but a perfection in love. Furthermore, Wesley did not teach a salvation by perfection, but rather says that, “Even perfect holiness is acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ.” (A Plain Account of Christian Perfection)
Holiness, or Perfectionism, was a guiding principle of the Methodist movement for Wesley. It was also one of the most contentious of issues throughout the history of our denomination.
Some in the movement stressed holiness as a personal moral code, while others translated holiness into social activism. Many remained true to Welsey’s notion that personal holiness fed social holiness.
The Book of Discipline states, “we proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners” (49). The social witness that is the goal of the church begins in the hearts and lives of its believers.
Amidst the tumultuous times of the American 19th centuy, certain elements of the Methodist movement felt that the church wasn’t lifting up the great heritage of personal holiness. During the last half of the 19th century, groups within the church began challenging the church as a whole to become reinvested in “personal holiness” by reclaiming the class meetings and love feasts that had been a hallmark of our denominational expression. In the 1870’s a group called the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness sought to bring the church back to the glory days of the early 1800’s, when the Methodist movement spread like wildfire throughout the wilderness of the Appalacias in a series of Camp meetings. IN the 1890’s The Nazarene church split off from the main line of Methodism as well because some felt that personal holiness was no longer being accentuated.
There is no contesting the fact that by the late 19th century, the Methodist Episcopal church had indeed lost many of the traditions that had characterized the movement in its earlier days, such as testimony, shared feeling, and spontaneous evangelism, and practices such as the class meeting and love feasts and camp meetings. However to identify these practices as the only vehicles of “Holiness” is to misinterpret Wesley’s full understanding of holiness. The church did indeed evolve. The class meeting became Sunday School, church policy and mission built on testimony and shared feeling was transformed into church policy and mission coming out of specialized, rationally deliberated and centrally coordinated committee meetings.
To say that these structures eliminated the persuasion of the Holy Spirit though is to believe the Holy Spirit is fairly weak and incapable. The emphasis in the Main line church at the time of the Holiness “exodus” and Pentecostal movement was indeed on transforming society, but it was still holiness. It was Social holiness—attention to women’s suffrage, dietary reform, medical attention in the ghettos and in poor countries, mission work, abolition of slavery.
What does it mean for us today?
As someone who is consecrated by the Bishop to serve as a leader and an example to this community, I understand holiness to be to make myself a “clean window” for God’s light to shine through my life. Wesley believed, and I believe, that personal holiness is the foundation of social holiness.
As we “grow in grace” and come closer to the redemptive heart of Christ, the Spirit will flow out of our hearts, as Christ proclaims in John 7: 37-38: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Personal holiness is living with the thirst for Christ. When we drink from the spring of life, when we live holiness, our hearts become channels of that great peace and joy. That personal decision to accept the grace that aligns our lives with life of Christ makes us one more step toward a “complete holiness” of individuals and society.
The scriptures that we read today also give us a key to holiness. Oftentimes our temptation is to “show off” our holiness.
It’s this attitude that has caused modern minds to think negatively when they hear the word “pious.”
The prophet Micah reminds us that what the Lord truly requires of us is not the fanfare and the show, but instead God wants us to be excellent in the quiet things that truly show our love for the God of love: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. This is what it means to be an open window for God’s light.
Matthew also tells of Jesus warning his followers about the “dangers of holiness. It is our temptation to seek recognition for the lives we lead. Jesus tells us plainly, “Beware of practicing your piety in front of others in order to be seen by them, for then you will receive no reward from your father in heaven.” The pitfall of holiness is that we believe it is OUR determination to lead a life of piety and purity that DESERVES to be noticed.
This is why I prefer the window illustration. A window works best when it is completely clean and free of blemish or obstruction. Seeking a life of holiness is akin to keeping our “window clean.” What do we notice about a clean window? Well, if the window is truly clean, it might not even be noticed at all! A clean window is transparent—it draws no attention to itself, but instead to what is outside it! A clean and holy life truly draws attention not to ourselves, but to what shines through us!
At the end of the passage we read in Matthew, Jesus helps us reign in our egos and desire for attention by laying out a simple prayer. At the end of the prayer, he shares the secret of salvation. Most of us, when asked what it takes to be saved would probably lay out a set of beliefs. If you subscribe to this idea, then you’re saved—that’s the way many of us approach a life of faith.
However, according to Matthew, Jesus has another idea of what is the key to salvation. Once again, he lays it out very plainly—“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Father will forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your father will not forgive you.” There it is—the most holy thing we can possibly do. Somewhere along the line, it was contorted simply into living a life of abstincence. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, and don’t dance: that’s holiness. How can we forget when it is right there in the print as plain as day—If you want to live a life of holiness, you must forgive! Forgiveness is that light that shines down from heaven. That is the main point that Jesus was trying to communicate to us—we are a forgiven people. If we block up the window and pull the drapes on God’s forgiveness by not allowing that beautiful light to shine through our lives, then we are in the darkness too!
If you’re seeking to live a holier life—start by asking yourself, “From whom am I withholding forgiveness?” If you have forgiven another person, but are not receiving reconciliation in return, know that God’s light of forgiveness is bursting at the seams to come back to you. Forgiveness is not ours, this is why it is a key to salvation. Forgiveness belongs only to God, and God wishes to share it through us with the world.
This is true holiness. Life is not a stage, and holiness is not a show. We don’t do things to be noticed. Holiness isn’t amping up our worship services so they look and sound more “spiritual.” Holiness is simply living forgiveness in every aspect of life. It’s keeping the window clean so that God’s light can shine through. What a gift it is to have the potential to represent God’s goodness in the world! May we all pray to “let love and integrity envelop me until my love is perfected and the last vestige of my desiring is no longer in conflict with thy Spirit. Lord, We want to be more holy in our hearts!” Amen

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Jan 22 Sermon, "What it Means to be a Methodist" Series: What Draws us Together--Connectionalism

Ephesians 4: 1-16
John 17: 20-26

“Hey, that’s not Waldron United Methodist Church!?”
Looks like a very big church—perhaps a city church. Definitely not us!
I can tell you many things about this church—youth have gone out to sleep on the street and were interviewed by the local news to raise awareness about the homelessness in their part of town. The choir is great—they have a pianist who really gets into the music and kind of bobs her head up and down.
The pastor is a dynamic woman who speaks with great joy and passion about the love of God, and yet has the heartache of living with a husband who has Alzheimer’s at a fairly young age. They have a vibrant Steven’s ministry, where members are trained to be grief counselors with other members in confidential, life giving settings. This, friends is your presence as a United Methodist on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood—the neighborhood around UCLA where Lara and I used to attend before we came to know the Methodists here in this neck of the woods.
You have a real and living connection with Westwood UMC—and it is not just through Lara, who transferred her membership from this church to Waldron. It is through a system that connects our local churches together to minister to the world in ways which might be impossible by ourselves. It was the faith and genius of John Wesley, thefounder of Methodism, to adopt such a structure forhis renewal movement in eighteenth century England - aconnectional system. For Wesley, that meantindividual Christians involved in a small fellowshipgroup, designed for faith-sharing and holding oneanother accountable to a life of discipleship. Those small groups were joined into congregations,which were joined into the larger connection of thewhole of the Methodist movement.

Even closer to our church in connection is the body of United Methodists within the “connection” of the Arkansas Conference. This church is literally a “charge” of the Methodist connection in this community. You may have noticed that I never took vows of membership within this particular church, because my membership is with the whole “connection” of United Methodism within the Arkansas Conference. Of course, we do great ministry right here, throughWaldron United Methodist Church. But we do even greater things through our worldwideconnection. This is who we are and what we supportthrough our generous apportionment and mission giving.
Through our apportionment, that sum of money that our church sends to the conference and district and combined with the money collected by every other charge, we are able to provide for ministries in needed areas which are decided on by representatives of each charge at the “Annual Conference.” The apportionment is the “lifeblood” of the connectional system. It grounds the churches in the reality of their connection to the rest of the churches in the conference.
Our Book of Discipline, which is basically the constitution of the church, states that “Connectionalism in the UM tradition is multi-leveled, global in scope, and local in thrust. Our connectionalism is not merely a linking of one charge conference to another. It is rather a vital web of interactive relationships.
All this is not for its own sake. As the retired Bishop Kenneth Carder of Mississippi once said, “Polity is Ecclesiology”, or in simpler terms, the way we structure the church gives us insight on what we believe the church represents in the world. The connectional ideal is grounded in the very scriptures that we read today. We hear that Jesus wishes us to be “One, as the Father and I are one.” We also are familiar with Paul’s referral to the church as a body, and that as he says in Ephesians, “We are members, one of another.”
Paul speaks about the unified ideal of the church, and it is obvious that through a healthy and vibrant connection, we are more capable of reaching the goals of this earthly representation of the Body of Christ, in which we aspire to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
In my own experience, the connectional church has indeed promoted the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Several of you are involved in a “Committee on Care” with 2 pastors from this district. This group’s sole purpose is to foster my spiritual growth as the pastor of this church. This is part of the three year ordination process that I am currently involved in that is administered by the Arkansas conference to assure the people of its churches that it is served by a competent clergy. It has been very helpful for me to have these mentors to talk with about my struggles, joys, and new insights as I am called to be the best pastor I can be. This kind of process would not be in place if we didn’t belong to a connectional church, where the pastors of UM churches in Alma and Greenwood care very deeply and pray for my blooming ministry right here in Waldron.
Perhaps one of the most visible and impacting aspects of the “connectional church” is the iteneracy. Though it may sometimes be a reason you lament being a United Methodist, you are served by an “itinerant” clergy. One who comes anD lives and serves this community along side you, but who remains a person “assigned” to this charge, and at the discretion of the Bishop and his cabinet may be reassigned to another “charge” within the Conference.
This method of organizing church leads to a very real sense of connection between the Methodist churches in one area because they are all served by the same clergy, and because they all contribute to one purpose—making disciples for Jesus Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul speaks of this same structure within the church. He writes
Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls. Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation!
11 Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ. 12 Take particular care in picking out your building materials. 13 Eventually there is going to be an inspection. If you use cheap or inferior materials, you'll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won't get by with a thing. 14 If your work passes inspection, fine; 15 if it doesn't, your part of the building will be torn out and started over. But you won't be torn out; you'll survive - but just barely.
16 You realize, don't you, that you are the temple of God, and God himself is present in you? 17 No one will get by with vandalizing God's temple, you can be sure of that. God's temple is sacred - and you, remember, are the
When I was first appointed to this church, I had a dream of being a kind of “traveling architect” who came upon a group of people building a house. In my dream, you—the church were the people working on the house, and the house was something very special, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was meant to be. The house was a unique kind of place, windows sticking out here and there, winding staircases and turrets, a large, welcoming front door, and a couple back doors. As I came up to the house and made my suggestions for other additions to the house, you scratched your head and surveyed the plans, you shared your tools with me and we began building. It became clear to me that you, the church, had been welcoming other “traveling architects” like me for quite some time, which was why this place was so unique. After reading this passage from Corinthians the other day, it struck me that the building that we are working on is literally God’s Temple—Not a physical structure, but the wonderful temple which is YOU according to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
With an itinerant clergy, you may sometimes feel like a watering hole for clergy to pass through and offer their “two cents.” But if we pay attention to Paul’s metaphor, we see that we are indeed building a very unique and beautiful house—one that God can live in. One that has welcoming doors and lots of windows and even a couple back doors. We should pay attention to the building materials that we use, because we want this house to stand the test of time—and it will endure some trials. However, with our connection, with the input of all those traveling architects, the Spirit will lead us to build on solid foundations. One thing I really love are the great cathedrals of Europe . Some of us have been privalidged to havestood under their great lofty domes and felt ourspirits soar to the heights. Imagine if you will, thework of the first builders, learning how to keep thosedomes aloft. It was trial and error.

Did you knowthat the great dome of the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople collapsed twice before the builderslearned how to do it right? But the cathedralbuilders gradually learned about arches and flyingbuttresses. They learned that the more structuralconnections you make, the stronger the building, themore structural connections, the larger and moreexpansive the dome. Just as for our greatest cathedrals, the same is truefor the living body of the church as well. The morestructural connections there are, the stronger themission. The more connections there are, the largerand more expansive the witness.

Monday, January 16, 2006

What Does it Mean to Be a United Methodist--Sermon 1: What sets us apart. Sermon in Preperation for Covenant renewal service

Jeremiah 31:31-34
John 15: 1-8

What does it mean to be a United Methodist? I assume many of you would answer a friend who asked you that question with a set of beliefs that you feel are unique to United Methodism, perhaps some of you would answer that question with a description of how we Methodists practice our religion. Still others may answer according to what our church stands for in society. Well—perhaps. More likely, I would venture, might be an answer having to do with your family’s history in this particular church, or in Methodism in general. To you, being a Methodist might just be what it means to be a Millard, or a Goodner, or a Huie. Others of you may have found this church as a good “meeting ground:” A halfway point between Roman Catholicism and the Baptist church for example. Or, a denomination not too terribly far from Lutheranism. Over the next six weeks in this service, we will be looking at some answers to the question, “What does it mean to be a United Methodist?”, but I want to start by affirming some of these definitions first. If your family has been United Methodist since Francis Asbury rode into town, that is very much a part of what it means to be a United Methodist for you. If you’ve found common ground with your spouse in the United Methodist Church, that has a lot to do with “what it means to be a Methodist.” If you’re simply here because you’re drawn to the fellowship of this place or have been in the past—that is indeed what it means to be a Methodist.
What I’m going to share with you are certain themes or ideas that have been birthed in the Methodist movement that have uniquely shaped this denomination of almost 12 million people. We are a large denomination, and a highly democratic denomination—and because of this unique heritage and polity, there are United Methodists who think differently about different issues. The aspects of the church I am going to share with you through this six week series though are foundational aspects of our denominational heritage, and they make us distinct, and we should know them and celebrate them. They are fairly clearly captured in our hymnal’s table of contents, and Reba Nell and I had a great time picking out the hymns for this series.
Next week: What Draws us Together: Connectionalism—Nature of Church, United in Christ
3 or 4 Fold Grace: Power of the Holy Spirit: Prevenient, Justifying, Sanctifying and Perfecting Grace
Sacraments: Whole Section on Sacraments and Rites of Church
Holiness: Sanctifying Grace—Personal and Social Holiness
The World is My Parish: Nature of Church, Called to God’s Mission
.But, even though they make up our church’s DNA, it is possible that you might not know how to articulate them. If that is the case, you’re not alone.
What prompted me to give this sermon series was an article in the Christian Century.
Most Teens learn beliefs from parents! But most parents don’t feel competent in transferring beliefs
Religious traditions understand themselves as presenting a truth reavealed by a holy and almighty God who calls human beings from a self-centered focus to a life of serving God and neighbor….but most teens and probably most parents too think religion is to help them make good life choices and be happy.
Moralistic Theraputic Deism
Why we don’t affirm Moralistic Theraputic Deism
We have a much richer, more theologically deep religion, and the distintinctive elements of it are the unique parts of the revelation—we could come up with “be happy and feel good about oneself” without a revelation from God.
The Jeremiah scripture that we read this morning leads us into the covenant experience, and it also grounds one particular aspect of Wesleyan theology that is fairly unique to the Methodist movment. This idea is called “Imparted Righteousness.” Whereas Imputed Righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus credited to the Christian, enabling the Christian to be justified; imparted righteousness is what God does in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit after justification, working in the Christian to enable and empower the process of sanctification. Don’t worry, if you’re not quite sure about all those words, we’re going to talk about them in coming weeks. It is probably easier for now for you to think about it this way. In our expression of Christianity, we believe there is a moment of being “saved,” but we believe the process of salvation involves a continual outpouring of grace propelling us toward a higher plane of living and loving.
A covenant is an expression of living into a higher expression of trust and commitment. This is an expression of imparted righteousness. As I mentioned with the children, at first glance a covenant looks a lot like a contract because it is an agreement. One way of looking at it would be turning over our own will freely to the will of God. Certainly, later in the covenant service, you will all say the words, “I renounce my own will, and take your will as my law.” However, I believe a better way of thinking about it would be making a formal commitment in the presence of God and our community to consistently strive for the Vision and Goals we find expressed by God in the Scriptures.
At the end of the covenant service, we will also all say together, “O mighty God, you have now become my Covenant Friend, and I, through your infinite grace, have become your covenant servant.”
As Jesus proclaims in the Gospel reading we read today, by acknowledging our connection to the life giving vine—which is Christ himself, we will bear much fruit. A covenant is this kind of connection, and fruit bearing is the activity of a Christian who is “plugged in” to the radically life changing grace and love that we find in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ causes us to live outside ourselves. Christ calls us to sacrifice for others, to confess our sins and to turn around on a new course. Christ calls us to live according to a new law—the law of Love. Seperated from this Vine, we shrivel up in the dry depravity of self-centeredness. We whither in the wasteland of want. Covenant making is public declaration—it calls our attention to our own connectedness. We serve God both individually and together as one body. We are fed spiritual food individually and as one body. We bear fruit individually and as one body. We make a covenant both individually and as one body. Making a covenant is an audible, visual, experiential reminder that we are indeed connected to the vine, and therefore SHOULD bear fruit. As Wesley wrote, “I do here willingly put my neck under your yoke, to carry your burden. All your laws are holy, just, and good. I therefore take them as the rule for my words, thoughts, and actions, prominsing that I will strive to order my whole life according to your direction, and not allow myself to neglect anything I know to be my duty.” Keep in mind that Jesus says that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. This is because God propels us forward with the Holy Spirit to advance the Kingdom of God. We aren’t on our own—through covenant, God vows to be on our side. And unlike us, God never abandons this Holy covenant. Thanks be to God!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Baptism of the Lord Sunday (Jan 8) Sermon

My tool box……….—haven’t done much creating---don’t have a tool shed or a workshop like some of yall. I’ve looked with great admiration on some of our member’s workshops. I’ve seen workshops that Santa Claus himself would feel very at home in. Growing up in the church, I gained a lot of “surrogate grandparents.” One of my surrogate grandfathers—Walter Losey, used to show me around his workshop. This family had a 3 car garage, and the 3rd part he’d walled off and turned into a little shop. He was a woodworker, and I’d watch with wonder as he’d make beautiful details in what before was simply a board of wood.
I’ve been impressed with Jack Wengert’s workshop where he graciously hosted church members who put together the Christmas parade float. Jack’s tool shop is deluxe!!! Plenty of space, a woodstove, and scores of Pringles cans holding every kind of screw or bolt or whatever it takes to hold something together.
Creative Power of Tools----
God’s Word—Christ—the creative word of God, holds us together too. Tighter than any screw or glue. God claims us through grace. The ritual of Baptism celebrates this fact—God’s claim on our life.
In the beginning, God’s workshop was the inky blackness and primordial storm of Chaos. In the beginning, God’s only tools were Wind and Word. Have you ever had trouble understanding the importance of the Trinity? I have heard several people in this congregation ask, “What is the Trinity, anyway?” Well—this is one way to envision the Trinity. It is all there in the first few sentences of the Bible. God is the “One who speaks.” Present in the act of speaking are Breath and Word. This falls into line with the classical doctrines of the Trinity, which say that the Son, or Word and Spirit, or Breath “emenate from the Father, or the One who Speaks.” For me, this way of thinking about the Trinity is a very powerful image, and it is helpful to see how each aspect of the Trinity is involved in the Creation. The Trinity is pre-existent of Creation, and as the Book of John says, “All things come into being through the Word.”
Into the Light, into the Waters, into the mud, into the sky God breathes the Breath of Life and articulates the Creative Word to give each thing form and function. Psalm 104 proclaims that God gives Life Breath to all Creation. In Genesis 1, The Breath of God is pictured in this passage as “hovering over the waters.” The word used for “hovering” is the same word used later in Deuteronomy 32: 10-11 when an eagle is pictured “hovering” over its young. The word “hovering” is meant to evoke feelings of nurture. God looked with satisfaction on each detail of creation and exclaimed—It is good!
We believe in a God who has created the heavens and the earth—all the universe—with something as subtle and intimate as God’s own voice. God divides light and darkness by breathing the word “Light” into the chaos. As the Psalm we read today proclaims, “The voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”
God speaks us into being as well—into what scripture tells us is God’s last thoughts of Creation, God makes humans in his own reflection, so that we may express in Creation God’s unparalleled beauty and compassion.
We know that this is our purpose because God’s Creative Word—the Logos—lived among us in the flesh and now lives among us in the Spirit, and this is how Christ lived—with beauty and compassion. Because we had lost our meaning, because we had in a sense forgotten how to pronounce the Logos through which we have all come into being, God spoke the pure, unblemished Word into our human story once again—so we could see who we really are: children of God.
At Jesus’ baptism, Mark tells us that the sky is torn open, and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove on Jesus. Then God once again speaks Life giving, creative words—“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” The words were Creative because Mark tells us Jesus is “immediately driven by the Spirit into the wilderness.” The words are creative because the word “Beloved” in God’s proclamation refers to an act of will instead of a “feeling.” It is also translated as “the chosen.” God creates a new possibility in the life of Jesus through this experience, and Jesus is open to it because he is infused with the Holy Spirit.
These words of Creation open the eyes of Jesus the man, the dusty carpenter from Nazareth. “What good could come out of Nazareth?” was the question on many people’s minds when they would meet this man and contemplate his identity. For Jesus of Nazareth, the Words that poured out of the sky like the water poured over his head were the sparks that started the fire of his ministry.
The ritual Words of acceptance and induction at our Baptisms communicate this creative power in a special way. The Beautiful Words, Wonderful Words, wonderful words of Life mold us as a new creation. They strip us of the veil of abandonment and fill us with the assurance of adoption. This is why at a baptism, I ask the parents to tell me “what name is given this child?, though I may full well know what the child’s name actually is. It is not a chance for me to make sure I have everything straight so that I don’t embarrass anyone—this question is asked so that the child or person who is baptized is “named” ritually. AS they are “named,” they are also claimed—by the family of faith that is this very congregation. You might notice at our next baptism later this month that I don’t use the child’s last name or family name in the ritual of Baptism—that is because in a ritualistic sense, through baptism, we claim the child as our brother or sister, and in a sense their family name is “Christian,” or “child of God.”
Henri Nouwen said, “The one who created us is waiting for our response to the love that gave us our being.”
What is our response? We reflect that creative word that gave us being by telling the story that saves lives. “We’ve a Story to tell the Nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right, a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light.” Our response to being graciously Spoken into being and claimed by the family of Christ is to be “Co-Creators with God.” God creates new possibilities in each moment for redemption, peace, understanding, reconciliation. As co-creators, our task as followers of the Risen Christ is to help those possibilities become realities.
Telling the story of Christ is sharing those gifts with a hurting world. Though the consumer making, conflict breathing, caste perpetuating, illness spewing world utters Words of destruction, domination, and division, the Life Giving, Ego shattering, Bondage Breaking Word of God speaks unity, empathy, and liberty. We worship and celebrate the God of Creation—but the world around us would have us instead worship the opposite: Destruction! There are times when it seems that the powers of destruction have the upper hand. Doesn’t it sometimes seem like the world around us is filled with nothing more than heartache and war and hatred and ignorance?
But we know that God will quite literally have the “Last Word.” Yes! The Creative Word that was with God at the Beginning and through which all things came into being will also be there at the End. In Revelation 21, Christ says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the Spring of the Water of Life.” We believe that the Logos through whom we are made is at judgment at the End of all time—and we are once again made into new Creations through this Judgment. We may get caught up in the idea that the aspects of our lives are being judged at the end of time—but what this scripture says is that “to the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” Let me ask you today church—are you Thirsty? Are you thirsty for the life giving spring? Are you thirsty for the Holy Breath of God to be breathed into your being and Create you anew? Let me warn you—quenching the Thirst for the Holy Spirit may lead to a thirst for justice and peace and compassion. The Life Giving Breath and Word of God may send us running into the wilderness to face the demons and Wild animals of our lives! Quenching the thrist for the Holy Spirit may mean taking up our cross and following Christ! The Powers and Principalities that love destruction and division and death have a firm grip on our perception of reality. Remember, Jesus really did die on a cross. There really is a “dark night of the soul.” Faith in the Living, Loving, Life Giving Word of God means that we are ready to stand up to the cold, dark, chaotic realities of destruction, division, and death with nothing more than a candle of hope. Victory may not be apparent if we give up the foolish hope in the resurrection.
We must carefully listen to the Life giving, Creative, word of God that has been ringing in humanity’s ears since the beginning of time. God molded the Good Creation out of the formless, lifeless Earth and the chaotic, dark waters, and sometimes it seems like the world is spiraling back towards its primordial origins. But if we listen closely, if we search deeply, who we are is apparent. God makes Creation and declares “It is good.” Because we forget and we corrupt and we ignore, God sends the Word directly to us—You are good! He says. You are beautiful and God loves you no matter what the world thinks of you, he says. Turn around and face the light of your Creator, Christ says.
Do you hear your Creator Speaking? God is still speaking and creating and Loving and Proclaiming “It is Good!” All we have to do is take our fingers out of our ears and accept it! God’s Creative Word is challenging us to live the lives we were created to enjoy. Listen closely, the Word is here among us! What is it saying to you?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Divorce Adjustment Workshop in Ft. Smith

Do you know someone who would benefit from this workshop? Invite them or let the pastor know so he can recommend it to them.

First United Methodist Church, Fort Smith, is offering a Divorce Adjustment Workshop the weekend of January 20-22, 2006 at the church. The workshop is free of charge to anyone in the area who is suffering from the pain of divorce. The curriculum is based upon the book, Rebuilding, When Your Relationship Ends, by Drs. Bruce Fisher and Robert Alberti. Opportunities for small group interaction and informative speakers are also included in the weekend activities. In addition, participants receive a free copy of the text, a manual filled with helpful information, a special concluding ceremony and three meals highlighted by a special candlelight dinner on Sunday evening.

Pre-registration is requested to adequately plan for the event. Those interested may register online at the church website,, or by calling the church office at (479) 782-5068. Please contact Rev. J. J. Galloway for additional information or questions.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Journey to United Methodism

During the months of January and February, members and guests at Waldron United Methodist Church will delve into the distinctive aspects of United Methodism in a thematic sermon series and two weekly discussion groups.
The series will begin on January 15 with the traditional New Year's Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Service found on pages 288-294 of the Book of Worship. The sermon for this date will be "What Sets Us Apart."
To celebrate the Ecumenical "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity," the next sermon in the series on Jan 22 will be "What Draws us Together--Connectionalism." Other sermon themes will be "Holiness," "Sacrament," "Three or Four-fold Grace," and "The World is My Parish."
To conclude the six week sermon series, the church will invite the local Nazarene church to an evening "Wesleyan Hymn Sing" where we will sing and learn the stories of many of the Wesleyan hymns.
To round out the six week "Journey to United Methodism," Rev. Nathan Mattox will lead small group discussions of the book "The United Methodist Member's Handbook," by George Koehler.
Rev. Mattox was prompted to plan the comprehensive series a few months ago when he read an article in the September 6, 2005 Christian Century article "What Teens Believe." The article cited a survey that found most teens learn their beliefs from their parents and that most teens were unaware of the distinctive aspects of their religious identification and instead "boiled down" their belief system to what the researchers called "Moralistic Theraputic Deism." Rev. Mattox was also involved in a preaching workshop with Eugene Lowry at Hendrix College in November, where Lowry suggested, "If you typically work with the lectionary, try going off it for a while. If you don't usually follow the lectionary, get on it!" Rev. Mattox and members of the church used the upcoming series to make "New Year's invitations" to past constituents of the church. Check the church's website to keep up with the weekly sermon series and class notes at

Sunday, January 01, 2006

An SUV full of gifts. Thanks WUMC for making Christmas more merry for two area families!