Monday, November 28, 2016

"An Advent Question: Will We Be Ready?" - Sermon, November 27, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“An Advent Question: Will We be Ready?”
Isaiah 2: 1-5
Matthew 24: 36-44
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 27, 2016

        How many of you have started your Christmas decorating yet?  How about listening to Christmas music?  Even though we’re only a few days after Thanksgiving, it sure feels like we’ve already been seeing Christmas since Labor Day…maybe even since the Fourth of July.  Now, I know some people will lament that all things Christmas seems to appear earlier and earlier each year, as it sure feels like it comes up earlier.  Right after Labor Day or Fourth of July is a little too early, but the thought of Christmas stuff going up early brings me back to a series of books I loved reading as a child.  I particularly remember reading The Berenstein Bears series about the Bear Family written by the late Stan and Jan Berenstein, which was more or less based on their own family (kind of the same way the comic strip “For Better or For Worse” was loosely based on Lynn Johnston’s own family).  In The Berenstein Bears series which was actually an educational series, we had Mama Bear, Papa Q. Bear, Brother Bear, and Sister Bear who often encountered different situations in life and showed the reader how to navigate these situations. 
In The Berenstein Bears Visit Santa Bear, the Bear Family is pulling into the parking lot of the Bear Country Mall and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, although Papa Bear quips in almost a lament how it seems that the Christmas stuff appears earlier and earlier each year.  However, it’s only two days after Thanksgiving in the book.  Now like in my house growing up and even today, you don’t even think of pulling out the Christmas stuff or listening to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving at the earliest, one of those embedded values that I still have, even though there are times where I admit that I’m also waffling on that with the music.  However, when I feel like I need a little Christmas and succumb to my temptation in listening to Christmas music on Pandora or one of my Winter Solstice CD’s, I actually do feel a little bit of guilt, or even feel like God’s going to smite me for doing so.  But for the most part, I still to hold on to these embedded values of learning to wait and learning to prepare, not just jump in head first.  It’s like the notion of learning to crawl before learning to fly. 
        I think for many of us, we are conditioned that when we see something rocking the boat of our embedded values or traditions, our reactions can be a combination of annoyance, horror, lament, maybe even surprise.  I think about what happens when embedded values are challenged in writer-director Barry Levenson’s 1990 movie “Avalon,” as there is one scene in the movie at Thanksgiving Day in which the Thanksgiving turkey is cut before a particular uncle and his wife arrive.  Upon seeing the turkey cut after he arrived, which Uncle Gabriel gets angry and leaves, lamenting the end of tradition as he knew it.  In some ways, seeing Christmas things happening before Thanksgiving tends to rock that boat for many, as it’s almost like the end of tradition as we knew it. 
Now, I know there are times that I have been highly critical and even cynical about the Christmas season, particularly in how early it comes up.  And there is good reason for that, as sometimes we as a society and culture tend to jump right into the hustle and bustle of the season and then before we know it, Christmas Day is here and gone for another year, sometimes leaving us feeling us let down or like we didn’t get to enjoy the season because it’s so busy and that we weren’t really ready for it.  Even with all the early preparation, will we be ready for Christmas when it does arrive? 
        It’s one of those questions worth asking as we begin a new season in the church year, Advent.  Will we be ready?  The season of Advent is meant to be a time of quieting our hearts, preparing, watching, and waiting in that period before Christmas, an escape from the hustle and bustle that this time of year brings.  We began Advent this morning by lighting the candle of hope, as Advent is a season of anticipating new hope which goes hand in hand with the waiting, the watching, and preparing.  From our Advent study that starts this week, The Redemption of Scrooge by Matt Rawle, Matt says that “Advent is to be a time of waiting, not only to live into the tension of when the divine and creation collide, but it is the spiritual discipline of slowing down to notice God’s presence in the still small voice within a violent and hurried world.”[i] There’s no doubt that we live in a hurried world, and it feels like it’s even more hurried at this time of year; we put up the decorations, play the music, go to or host the parties and gatherings, go shopping, try to find the right present, meaning more shopping, and indulge in rich foods.  But all while doing so, are we really ready for Christmas Day when it arrives?  Or in the case of a number of retail workers (having lived that experience), are we more ready for it to be over?   
        As we encounter both of our texts this morning, neither text really give us a sense of getting ready for Christmas Day or the birth of Jesus, per se.  In fact, our texts this morning feel a little bit unsettling and may even leave us asking why we are focusing on the end instead of the birth.  Yet, when it comes to expectations where the divine and creation collide that Matt Rawle observed in his take on Advent, it makes sense that we are encountering two texts that are dealing with eschatology, or end times.  Or, as my friend and colleague, Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards says, these texts talk about the “beginning with the end in mind.”[ii] Both texts deal with ending the world as we know it and for our other big, fancy word, Matthew’s gospel lesson addresses the parousia, or second coming of Christ.  Jesus discusses the parousia in verse 42 of Matthew 24, “so you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming” (NLT).  Jesus is actually talking of the future here in Matthew 24, but more about the end of the current world and the start of a new world, along pretty much the same lines that we heard in Luke’s gospel a couple weeks ago, where Jesus uses apocalyptic language to show that in order for a new world to be possible, the old world must come to an end.  Today’s lesson sure doesn’t seem like talking about getting ready for Christmas here at all but nevertheless, Jesus is reminding us today that we need to be ready and need to keep watch regardless of what’s happening around us.   
        Even in Isaiah 2, there is a theme of eschatology here, as it says in verse 2 how
In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
     will be the highest of all—
     the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
    and people from all over the world will stream there to
worship. (NLT)
        Here, the prophet is talking about a new day on the horizon when one world needs to end in order for a new world to be realized.  However, this small section of the prophecy is part of a greater commentary on what has happened to Jerusalem and God’s people, as in first Isaiah, God is once again displeased with what has become of creation, as this morning’s reading from Isaiah is just before the Babylonian exile.  Coincidentally with God’s displeasure with humanity, in our text from Matthew, there is a reference to the story of Noah, as the earth was destroyed by the great flood while Noah and his family and all the animals were spared by staying in the ark during the flood as a result of that displeasure.  But even amidst the talk of God’s future reign, further warnings are sent to God’s people through the prophet Isaiah.  But then as we read in Matthew, nobody knew then or knows now how or when things are going to pan out in Jesus’s second coming.  That’s why it is necessary to wait, to watch, and prepare when Jesus tells us to keep watch and stay awake just as Isaiah says that we need to “walk in the light.”  Even then, will we be ready?  Just like we are beginning the time of preparation and getting ready for Christmas, if Jesus was to appear at any moment today, will we be ready? 
So why are we even engaging with a text that deals with the second-coming on this first Sunday of Advent anyway?  Professor Ron Allen explains that “the work of the first Advent (coming) of Jesus is incomplete [as the] risen Jesus instructs (and empowers) the church to continue its witness until the second coming (Matt. 28: 16-20).”[iii] As a people of faith, we are presently living in the in-between times and we have a task to do in sharing our witness, I think more than ever.  We live between the time where Jesus first came to earth, and now we await when he will return and complete the work of the first Advent, we just don’t know when.  But at the same time, it’s how we continue to live in these between times as we continue waiting and watching, how we live out our faith through our actions, and how we share our faith with others, as I’m not sure that we really want to be caught off guard just in case Jesus was to appear today or tomorrow.  New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, Ben Witherington explains that
God reveals enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we do not have to live and walk by faith day after day. We have assurance about the things hoped for, and conviction about the things not yet seen, but what we do not have is a timetable in the Scriptures, nor would that have been very helpful to the faithful anyway.  The person who knows for sure he will die in two days may well do all sorts of things out of character because he has a firm deadline before him and throws caution to the wind. Likewise, even a Christian person who knows Christ will certainly not return in his lifetime may well be tempted to throw caution and morals to the wind.[iv]

        It is in these in-between times where we need to keep walking by faith, and joyfully living out our faith in this world today so that we will be ready when Jesus does appear again.  Like Ben Witherington said, we don’t want to “throw caution and morals into the wind and the second coming might not happen in our lifetime, but as Jesus reminds us in verses 42 and 44, we need to “keep watch” and “be ready,” even when we don’t know the time or the hour (Matthew 24: 42, 44, NLT).[v]   While we live in the in-between times and as we begin this journey of Advent, we are the ones who can keep bringing a sense of hope and healing to a hurting world, especially more so at this time of year when emotions can run a little higher than usual.  And like Isaiah reminds us, we need to walk in the light, which will be literal on Friday at Sparkle.  It also means continuing to show kindness to everyone, not just during the holidays, but all year round.  More important, we need to make sure our actions speak louder than our words so that we can fully be ready for Jesus’s return. 
        While we may be putting up our nativity sets, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, and listening to Christmas music this coming week, we still need to wait, we still need to watch, and still need to prepare our hearts and minds so that we will be ready for everything that the hope, peace, love, and joy that Christmas brings to us, and for what we can give the world at Christmas.  It’s the new hope, peace, love, and joy that can be born in us, as we keep living out these in-between times between the first Advent and Jesus’s second coming.  I close with a quote from Mike Slaughter’s book, Down to Earth that “Advent is the expectation that Jesus will come in the present to birth in us God’s new work.  It is a season of active preparation as we welcome Jesus down to earth.”[vi]
Even while we may be standing in the in-between times, what are you expecting as we begin this Advent season?  What are you hoping for that can be born in each of us this Christmas?  And more importantly, will we be ready?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] Matt Rawle, The Redemption of Scrooge (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 36. 
[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘First Sunday of Advent — Preaching Notes’. 2016. Accessed November 24, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/first-sunday-of-advent-a-preaching-notes#twbe.
[iii] Lewis, Karoline. ‘Commentary on Matthew 24: 36-44 by Ron Allen’. November 27, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2016. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3089.
[iv] Lose, David. ‘Commentary on Matthew 24: 36-44 by Ben Witherington’. November 28, 2010. Accessed November 22, 2016. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=776.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Mike Slaughter and Rachel Billups, Down to Earth (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 11.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

"Towards a New Kingdom," Sermon for November 20, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“Towards a New Kingdom”
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 20, 2016
Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Luke 23: 33-43

        I’m thinking that God has been trying to tell me that our services have been too busy these last couple weeks, so this week we get a little bit of a breather from so much going on before Advent starts.  This is also the time of year when I tend to get hit with a cold and unfortunately, this past week is when I happened to get hit.  ‘Tis the season, nevertheless.  So, if you enjoy the shorter sermons, this is your week!!  Plus, we have Thanksgiving on Thursday, meaning we are getting closer to jumping head-first into the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shopping and preparation season.  However, today also marks the end of the year for us in the church.  Not the actual end of the year when we watch the giant crystal ball drop in Times Square, NYC, but the end of the church liturgical year.  The church/liturgical year is divided up into the Christmas cycle of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, then the Easter Cycle which is Lent, Easter, and the Day of Pentecost which also has different colors to it.  So if you’ve ever wondered why the colors change on our altar and on the pulpit at different times of the year, that’s the main reason.  Of course, this is also something we can talk about at coffee and conversation on Mondays, I tend to geek out to worship and liturgics.  In between cycles is Ordinary Time, which is marked by the color green, a color we do see a lot of during the year.  But today, we come to Christ the King Sunday, in which we stand at the bridge to Advent once again, as this Church year ends and a new cycle begins.  Throughout this liturgical year, our gospel readings have primarily come from the book of Luke and in this season after Pentecost, we have learned from Jesus about the Kingdom of God through many of his teachings, in which Jesus points us towards a new kingdom. 
        It seems quite ironic that we are encountering a Gospel text that we ordinarily expect to hear just before Easter, as we are now standing at Golgotha with Jesus and two others as they are being crucified upon the cross.  Jesus is being mocked, adding further insult to injury, while the soldiers question whether he really is the king of the Jewish people.  See, in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem in Luke 19: 28-40, he was seen as the new king, and a threat to the people who were in power in the Roman Empire.  Jesus was also seen as a threat to the religious authorities in his time too, but that’s because this whole new kingdom that Jesus taught about would not be like any other, especially for the powerful.  It comes as no surprise that the use of the word “king” in this context by the soldiers crucifying Jesus is more sarcastic and more of an insult to Jesus and his followers, who can only stand by helplessly.  But the words that really stand out, at least for me is in verses 42-43 when one of the two bandits being crucified with Jesus says “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” while Jesus tells him “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise” (CEB).  Jesus is pointing us towards a new kingdom, a new kingdom that awaits us when we follow him and heed his teachings.  That new kingdom that Jesus is showing us is one where salvation and mercy reign.  More importantly, it is how we are living our lives today that will also show us towards a new kingdom. 
        Despite all that Jesus is going through, the gruesomeness of his crucifixion, the mocking and taunts by the Roman soldiers, we see a glimmer of hope in Jesus’s words, “Today you will be with me in Paradise…” (Lk. 23: 43, CEB).  As the New Interpreter’s Commentary says,
like the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame in Jesus’s parable of the great banquet (Lk. 14: 21), the criminal would feast with Jesus that day in paradise.  Like the wretched Lazarus who died at the rich man’s gate (16: 19-31), he would experience the blessing of God’s mercy.[i]

And that’s the main crux of this new kingdom that Jesus is pointing us towards, as it’s a kingdom of mercy, a kingdom of peace, a kingdom of hope.  If we are to back up even further to our reading in Jeremiah, the prophet is pointing to a new kingdom and a new day when he says in chapter 23, verses
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous descendant[a] from David’s line, and he will rule as a wise king. He will do what is just and right in the land. During his lifetime, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And his name will be The Lord Is Our Righteousness
        Even the prophet saw that a new day was on the horizon, although Jeremiah was also talking of a new future, as the present world of that time was corrupt.  Yep, if we think our world is corrupt today, it was corrupt then too!  When we put two and two together, we see that Jesus was believed to be the one to bring that new day to the people, and even on the cross, talks of being with him in paradise in the new kingdom.  Even today, we can still utter, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Lk. 23: 42, NRSV). 
        Jesus’s message of a new kingdom is a great message of salvation, of being saved when we come to Jesus and ask Jesus to remember us too.  That is the good news, knowing that despite all the calamities of the world and things that go on around us, we can still come to Jesus, we can still confess our sins and wrongdoings to him, as this is the amazing, perfect, abiding love that Jesus gives us from the cross and from what he has taught us throughout his earthly ministry, even amidst the persecution and the violent way he was executed.  This is how we are redeemed when we follow Jesus, as we too can be in paradise with him when we complete this journey on earth.  This is God’s great story to us on the earth of now, a story that should give us hope as Jesus’s followers and disciples.  Jesus’s death is not the ultimate end of the story because he will show us towards a new kingdom, even in his death.
What God will do next is, of course, the heart of the Gospel. In raising Jesus from the dead, God will vindicate him as Messiah and Lord, not to condemn, but to reign in mercy.  This is the gift of a new opportunity to return to God and the gift of the Holy Spirit, renewing the promise "for you and for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:37-39).[ii]
        It is a great time of renewal, especially as we spend this week giving thanks to God for the things of this past year which we are most thankful for, but also to begin preparing our hearts and minds for the new hope that can be born in each of us at Christmas.  Next week, we start a new year in the church once again, Advent in which we .  We start the story over again, this time according to the Gospel of Matthew.  But it is this new kingdom that we can keep hoping for and working towards, even today.  And based on what we see in the news often, perhaps we need this new kingdom here on earth more than ever, where all of God’s children will be in paradise with Jesus, especially all who are considered marginalized by the rest of society.  And so as we gather with our families and friends this Thursday for Thanksgiving, let us continue to remember Christ, our king and the amazing, unending love he showed for us as we keep working towards and hoping towards a new kingdom. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 


[i] The New Interpreter’s Commentary, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 458. 
[ii] Lose, David. ‘Commentary on Luke 23: 33-43 by David Tiede’. November 21, 2010. Accessed November 17, 2016. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=817.

Monday, November 14, 2016

"Keep on Trusting Jesus" - Sermon, November 13, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“Keep on Trusting Jesus”
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 13, 2016
Isaiah 65: 17-25
Luke 21: 5-19

        Even though it has been a couple weeks since preaching a sermon up here, this morning is one where I feel like I really need to hear a good sermon after this week instead of preaching.  I feel like I need to hear some good news, in spite of everything we have dealt with in the aftermath of the election this past Tuesday.  Everything we have read in the editorials, or comments on various social media platforms have shown some strong reactions on both sides.  People who voted for Donald Trump are suddenly attacked as if they are now supporting hate, while there is real, almost paralyzing fear among those who did not vote for Donald Trump.  There have been words said on both sides showing the deep hurt that people are feeling right now and how deeply divided our society has become. 
As I said in my pastoral letter on Wednesday, the result of Tuesday’s election may be seen by many as a new direction and new day for the United States, while for many it has also brought a great degree of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future.  The same can certainly be said of this past campaign season too, with people going against people, many times with friends arguing against friends, family members arguing against family members; and in more public forums, friends of friends arguing with one another and with complete strangers.  We know it has been particularly contentious when the NBC affiliate, KCRA-3 in Sacramento had a story last week about how to survive the holidays in-light of this election season, as I think like in my parents’ house and other households, a no-politics policy during mealtime is a pretty safe policy to have during such gatherings.  Yet no matter where we stand, what we believe, or how we voted, this election season has been VERY hard on all of us.  But after having a few days to process things, we need to keep on keeping on, especially in our faith journey.  We need to keep on obeying Jesus’s teaching of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, trying our BEST to love our neighbor and even our enemies which we heard in Luke 6: 27-36 last Sunday.  We need to keep on healing everyone who we come in contact with, even people we may have wounded through our own words or actions.  We need to keep on trusting in God’s mercies and accepting God’s grace.  We need to keep on praying by being faithful and patient.  And today as we conclude our series “Keep On,” we need to keep on trusting Jesus, especially more than ever before. 
        There is no getting around it that this morning’s Gospel lesson is quite dark and reads much like one of those doomsday movies from Hollywood.  This morning’s lesson also reminds me a lot of the story of Chicken Little who kept telling the other chickens that the sky was falling.  Or, it reminds me about The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  In both those stories, when a catastrophe did happen, nobody believed Chicken Little or The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  As we encounter this text from Luke, Jesus has made it to Jerusalem and has made it to the Temple where he is now teaching, and still not exactly making friends with the religious authorities.  However, Jesus is also painting a very bleak picture which in a way might conjure up the R.E.M. song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Jesus is not mincing words as he tells the people and us to
“Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One,’ or, ‘The end is near.’ Don’t fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprisings, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end.” (Lk. 21: 9-11, MSG)

        Like Chicken Little and the Boy Who Cried Wolf, these doomsday deceivers will claim something will happen, but when it doesn’t happen, it’ll be too late.  In thinking of what to say this week, I admit that I have had to confront many of my own fears and anxieties this past week, as well think about my words just as many of us here in this room may also have had to do.  At the same time, while my words may be well-meaning, they may also not be the most appropriate either.  We have heard many different words expressed these last few months during this campaign season, all adding to the noise around us and certainly have heard many different words, ranging from a hopeful tone to tones of deep fear and anxiety.  And as we think of the words to say, we need to take into consideration that there are many who are now fearing for their life and their livelihood as we speak.  And like we encounter in our text, there is still the fear of future wars and even saw the words Armageddon and Apocalypse brought up in a few articles I’ve read.  It really feels like doomsday at times.  Similar was the case in 1999 and the whole Y2K hype, as people legitimately thought the end of the world was upon us.  Yet what a relief it was to wake up on January 1, 2000 that things were the same as they were, even though I felt like it was the end of the world with a bad case of the flu. 
Yet amidst the fear and anxiety that many of us may be feeling right now after hearing all this, Jesus tells us not to pay attention to these “doomsday deceivers,” but instead “keep your head and don’t panic,” even amidst things that can possibly happen or the reality we currently live in (Lk. 21: 8-9, MSG).  It sounds very reminiscent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous quote during WWII, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It might feel like hope is a fleeting fantasy or that the sky is falling, or there’s a wolf in sight.  But this is where more than ever, we need to keep on trusting Jesus, even when it feels like fear is so prevalent right now. 
        Even though we are yearning for Good News, Jesus isn’t quite finished with the dark imagery yet, as he also mentions “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” (Lk. 21: 9-11, NRSV).  If anything, I think I’d want to just run away and hide upon hearing such talk, although we have been living in extreme drought in CA these last several years, or are seeing an increase in wildfires, and the occasional earthquake.  Yet this is some of the reality that we are living in right now, with constant fear and fear-mongering, an increase in violence, and natural disasters.  It’s easy to be afraid upon hearing these words from our Gospel text, although there are some who are quick to claim to have an answer to why such happens.  Assistant Professor of theology at St. Anselm College Gilberto Ruiz explains that “whenever a disaster strikes, it doesn’t take long for some prominent Christians to blame it on the secularization or moral pervasiveness of society”[i].  Amidst disasters, threats of war, conflict, times of deep division, and times of fear, when we keep on trusting Jesus, we can still have hope and manage to find some Good News, even with such a heavy text.   
At the same time, if you are wondering why this text sounds like it might be a good plotline for a Hollywood Doomsday blockbuster, it comes from the genre of apocalyptic literature.  According to Gilberto Ruiz,
Apocalyptic literature uses unsettling language and imagery as a means to assure the faithful that they should keep their trust in God even when facing the most challenging of circumstances. Sure enough, while describing the terrible events, Jesus tells his listeners not to be afraid (Luke 21:9). There is nothing particularly original or specific about Jesus’ “predictions” here. Every age has its own false prophets, wars, natural catastrophes, and so on. We will misread 21:7-11 if we think Jesus is describing a specific set of calamities. The point is that when bad things happen -- and they will -- we should “not be terrified” (21:9) or follow anyone proclaiming these are signs of God’s judgment and the end (21:8). Instead, we should trust that God remains present in our lives.[ii]

        And bad things do happen and continue to happen.  But this is also more reason we need to keep on trusting Jesus, just as we also talked about remaining faithful under ALL conditions a few months ago, or when Susie reminded us to be patient and faithful through prayer a few weeks ago.  Now that doesn’t mean that trusting Jesus is going to make the hurt, pain, fear, and anxiety magically go away, but trusting in Jesus can give us hope.  As Gilberto Ruiz says ”every age has its own false prophets, wars, natural catastrophes, and so on,” and we will continue to have these until the new heaven and new earth is realized as we heard in the prophecy of in Isaiah 65: 17-25.[iii] 
        Knowing that this was going to be a difficult week to preach, one of the books I recently bought and read is Scott Bader-Saye’s Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear.  Despite all the calamities that may go on around us, Bader-Saye writes that “although we may be experiencing a heightened level of fear and insecurity, the truth is that our world is no more dangerous now than 50 years ago, 100 years ago, and 1,000 years ago.  The types of dangers have changed” and that’s very similar to what Jesus is telling us in this text from Luke this morning.[iv] Some of the dangers that Jesus talks about in the text is persecution for following him, but also family member going against family member, or even being hated for following him, which are definitely some realities in today’s world.  But we also have things that are out there to distract us from fully trusting Jesus as well.  One of my colleagues at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville explains that
If U.S. and Western cultures are generally not out to threaten your safety or destroy your body, they are nonetheless out to capture your allegiance from following the way of Jesus and declaring and embodying the good news of God’s kingdom. There are many forces out to use you as a marketer for their products, services, or political, social, or economic agendas for the sake of their gain, not necessarily for the common good or in witness to God’s kingdom. There are many forces out to redirect your desire from desiring the kingdom of God above all else to desiring what they want you to desire.[v]

        Such distractions may be one of the newer dangers of today that Bader-Saye mentioned earlier, along with the false prophets, or doomsday deceivers that Jesus talks about in the text who will attempt to draw us away from God.  Nevertheless, we need to keep on trusting Jesus, digging in our heels if we need to.  The Good News is that amidst all the negative things, unrest, and disasters that happen in the world around us, we still have Jesus’s word, as Jesus “will give [us] the words and wisdom that none of [our] opponents will be able to withstand or contradict” when we keep on trusting in him (Lk. 21: 15, NRSV).  I think Professor Karoline Lewis at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN sums it up best by saying that
Discipleship hasn’t changed much in the last 2000 years. Following Jesus still means testifying to our trust in God in the midst of circumstances that test our confidence and our hope. So we keep going on, with endurance as a hallmark of what it means to be a believer. We will keep witnessing to the marvelous things that the Lord has done and will continue to do (Psalm 98) regardless of the ways in which it looks otherwise. We just have to.[vi]

        We have a new week that is ahead of us, a fresh canvas full of many possibilities.  And in a couple weeks, we move into a new season in the church year as we make our way to Advent and the waiting and watching for the new hope that can be born at Christmas.  But each new day, let’s keep on putting our trust in Jesus and inviting and encouraging everyone we come in contact with to do the same.  Even amidst the events that may shake our faith and try to distract us from God or following Jesus, let’s keep on obeying, keep on healing all, keep on praying, keep on trusting in God’s mercies, and keep on trusting Jesus.  As we continue our work towards healing and reconciliation of our nation, we are STILL the body of Christ here in Quincy and STILL the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  Even amidst the outcome of the election on Tuesday, it is up to each of us to work towards bringing healing and reconciliation to those who are hurting, loving God and neighbor, working together to bring about a new heaven and earth today, both here in Quincy or wherever we are.  But no matter what is going on around us, let’s keep on keeping on and trusting Jesus each step of the way!!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] “Commentary on Luke 21: 5-19 by Gilberto Ruiz,” November 13, 2016, accessed November 10, 2016, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3059.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Scott Bader-Saye, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007), 15. 
[v] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed November 10, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/twenty-sixth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016.
[vi] “Commentary on Luke 21: 5-19 by Gilberto Ruiz,” November 13, 2016, accessed November 10, 2016, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3059.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Post-Election Pastoral Letter

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 22-23, NRSV)

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.  (Galatians 5: 22-26, NRSV)

Dear Members and Friends of Community UMC, Quincy, 

            By now, the results are in and the reality of last night’s election has begun setting in for many of us, with Donald J. Trump elected as the 45th President of The United States.  For many, this outcome may be viewed as a new day and direction for our nation, while also for many, this election has created new wounds and a time of great anxiety, fear, and uncertainty.  However, the days, weeks, and months leading up to last night have weighed on our hearts just as much, as we have seen more hatred, vitriol, and negativity expressed during the campaign through the ads on TV and radio.  It has become worse with each election cycle.  As I sit here in my office waiting for the sun to come out from behind the mist that envelopes the valley this morning, I am still processing everything that has happened, but I am also actively praying as I write this pastoral letter to you.  I pray for you, the body of Christ here in Quincy.  I pray for our nation and for healing and reconciliation.  I pray for everyone who is afraid, uncertain, and grieving.  But I also pray for our nation and for President-Elect Trump.  Right now, more than ever, we need to pray, pray, pray some more, and keep on praying.  We need to remember that God’s steadfast love is with us and will always be with us. 
As we now move forward, the most important thing to remember as a people of faith is that regardless of the outcome of this election, we are STILL the Body of Christ here in Quincy and we are STILL the hands and feet of Christ in this world.  Many people today may be experiencing grief, despair, and anxiety.  Allow them the space to grieve and process.  But, please reach out to everyone.  Please be a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, and a kind presence to everyone.  Please embody the founder of Methodism, John Wesley’s words that “although we do not think alike, it does not mean we cannot love alike” as well as Wesley’s three simple rules of Do no Harm, Do Good, and Stay in Love with God.  And as your spiritual leader and friend, I offer the same to each of you, unconditional kindness even when we don’t think alike, space in my office to come and talk or vent whenever I’m here, a listening ear, and offer to partner in prayer with each of you.  I will also be at Midtown Coffee next to the Post Office this Monday from 12pm-2pm if you wish to come talk then. 
Despite the normal and healthy differences that each of us may have in our personal theology, ideology, and belief systems, it is now time more than ever to come together, find common ground, and continue to pray and work towards making our nation and our world a better place in the here and now and for future generations.  I invite you to stop what you’re doing at some point throughout the next few days and pray for our nation, pray for President-Elect Trump, pray for our world, pray for those who are afraid, and keep on praying and working towards reconciliation and peace in our community, our nation, and our world. 
As the body of Christ and his hands and feet in our world, it’s up to each of us to work together for the common good and to be the beacon of hope, especially as these nights are long and whenever times are stressful.  We also need each other, regardless of how we think.  And most importantly, I encourage everyone to practice the Fruits of the Spirit as we embody love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in these days, weeks, and months to come.  May we continue to grow in Christ and joyfully live out our faith with one another and in our greater world. 

                                                           
                                                                                                Peace & Blessings

                                                                                                Pastor Andrew

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Adventures, November 2016

For the beauty of the Earth, for the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise (UMH, 92).

It feels like the weather has changed over very quickly this year, as Fall has arrived here in Quincy and the surrounding areas at the time of writing this month’s Adventures.  The first sign is that when I’ve taken my regular drive up to Bucks Lake, there is hardly anyone there.  It’s almost like I have the whole shoreline to myself at Sandy Point while walking the growing shoreline as the water level in the lake goes down.  Then there is the explosion of colors on the trees, the vibrant reds, oranges, and golds that are a feast for the eyes whenever we are outside or even when we are driving around.  Then we have the smell of fireplaces and burning leaf piles beginning to perfume the air, another sign that Fall has fully arrived. 

As we approach Thanksgiving, which is November 24, what are some of the things you are grateful for?  Recently on social media, there has been a movement to express our gratitude for seven days as a way of trying to lighten up the mood and get rid of some of the negativity that we have been seeing a lot more of on social media.  And perhaps, we can spread some of that gratitude and positivity into the rest of society and to our community.  However, outside of social media, I think it’s possible to see gratitude out here as well.  We are grateful to the leaders of our community, first responders, the business owners, the people who work in our restaurants and stores, the people who host the Community Supper and the core team, and for the great natural beauty we have in our own backyard.  We have so much to be grateful for.  And in turn, we should then make sure we too show our gratitude to each of the people who work around our community each time you see them.  And with Veteran’s Day on November 11, we also lift up gratitude to those who served in our military and fought for the many freedoms we have today. 

Even though we will be turning the clocks back an hour and losing and hour of daylight on the night of the 5th, we can still be the light of hope for our community whenever we show an attitude of gratitude and sing songs of grateful praise.  But as the hands and feet of Christ in our community and world, we can also be the light of hope for those who may not feel hope.  Keep on offering ways to help, keep on showing encouragement towards everyone, and keep on being a listening ear.  And before long, we will be heading towards the longest night of the year, as Fall gives way to winter and will begin our waiting and watching for the birth of our savior and the re-birth within our own lives of faith as we prepare for Advent, which begins on the 27th.  In the meantime, let’s keep on singing our grateful songs of praise and showing an attitude of gratitude and generosity in all that we do!! 

Peace & Blessings ~ Pastor Andrew 

"Sky - Dominion & Exploitation" from "Season of Creation," Sermon, September 16, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy “Season of Creation: Sky – Dominion & Exploitation” Rev. Andrew Davis September 16, 2018 Psalm 19   ...