Monday, December 11, 2017

"All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of a New Understanding" - Sermon, December 10, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of a New Understanding”
Pastor Andrew Davis
December 10, 2017
Luke 1: 39-56

            If it sounds like a broken record of what a week it’s been these days, that’s because it seems like each week has something exciting that’s taken place.  This last week, we had a couple great sections of Advent small group on Monday and Wednesday, then on Tuesday and Thursday, had the joy of welcoming many of our children here for Christmas pageant rehearsals, which will take place this next week as well on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for next Sunday’s pageant.  I am always amazed at the level of energy kids bring, although I also tend to forget how much energy kids have.  Helps keep us on the young side too!! 
            As I think about the kids and the adults here in the church, this is a wonderful opportunity that we have before us in seeing more kids in our midst and an opportunity to be mentors and a positive role model.  Yeah, kids run around, make noise, and do all sorts of things that might raise our blood pressure a point or two, except kids are kids.  There’s actually a church in SoCal, Hope UMC in Torrance whose website is, and in all honesty, I would not have it any other way, even when it might unsettle a few of us at times.  Kids are curious, kids will act up here and there, and kids will be noisy and run around, even when it’s not always a good time.  And, we love them anyway, as it’s loving God and neighbor.  We have this wonderful opportunity to teach our children, teach them and learn together with them, this amazing story of God’s love and how we can all gain a sense of awe and reverence around us; and right now, we have the amazing opportunity to hear and share the story about the birth of Jesus and how this baby boy born in Bethlehem some 2017 years ago changed the world. 
         When we still had cassette tapes, there was one by the group Air Supply who have a song, “In the Eyes of a Child” that goes,
In the eyes of a child there is joy, there is laughter
There is hope, there is trust, a chance to shape the futureFor the lessons of life there is no better teacher
Than the look in the eyes of a child.[i] 

            I’m often finding that we need to look to the eyes of a child to receive the gift of a new understanding, as a new understanding is one of the many gifts of God’s grace that we can open at Christmas. 
            Whenever I read this morning’s Gospel lesson from Luke, I would love to have been there to eavesdrop some on Elizabeth and Mary during their visit.  Mary and Elizabeth are cousins and when Mary goes to see Elizabeth, Elizabeth is six months pregnant with Jesus’s cousin, John who we will know later on as John the Baptist.   Now the fact that Elizabeth is pregnant is a miracle in itself, as Elizabeth had been barren, or previously unable to bear children and is a lot older in age.  Meanwhile, her husband, Zechariah, a priest, and older gentleman himself, was literally rendered speechless, as the angel had Zechariah’s mouth bound for not believing in the miracle that Elizabeth would bear a son.  If you get a chance between worship and the Courthouse Sing today, I invite you to read what comes before this morning’s lesson, as it definitely has some good stuff in it (and if you want a Bible for the home, see me)!  Elizabeth, and even her infant in the womb, knows there is something special happening when Mary comes to their house, as the baby leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, which had to be a little more intense than a kick, although Elizabeth radiated pure joy when she saw Mary enter. 
            Like we heard in Joseph’s account last week from the Gospel of Matthew and how he was startled, it had to be quite startling to a young person like Mary to find out she was pregnant, having not had any relations with anyone.  Just as the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to tell him not to be afraid, Gabriel tells Mary the same thing six months later, that this baby she is in the early stages of pregnancy with will be no ordinary baby, but instead a baby who will be the son of God, great, and Holy.  Mary is left in awe, then when she learns of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, she goes quickly to see Elizabeth, not an easy journey in itself.  In his 2011 Advent study, The Journey, Rev. Adam Hamilton explains that
Mary was seeking out an older woman, a maternal figure who was not her mother.  Elizabeth seems indeed to be the perfect person for Mary to visit.  She was married to an older priest named Zecheriah and together, they were the New Tesament’s Abraham and Sarah.[ii]

            Elizabeth was a sustaining, positive role model for Mary and both women could give each other a new understanding.  For Mary, Elizabeth was “someone who could help [Mary] gain perspective on what she was facing; someone who would listen to and believe in her; someone who would encourage her.”[iii]  Ultimately, Mary will come to understand that “she was chosen by God to bear the Messiah.”[iv]
            What about us?  How is a new understanding a gift that we can receive at Christmas and pass onto others?  Well, like we saw in verse 49 where Mary exclaims, “the Mighty One has done great things for me,” James Moore explains in All I Want for Christmas that “God, the Mighty One does great things for us by giving us a new understanding” to who God is, how we relate to each other, and how we can have “a new purpose for living.”[v]
            When we look through verses 46-56 in Luke 1, also known as the Magnificat, we see Mary singing a song of joy, a song in which we can receive a new understanding about who God is and how some of the social roles are reversed, in which God puts the poor, the lowly, and the outcast first and shows great mercy to each.  As we study the Gospels, we are given a picture of who Jesus will grow up to focus his ministry on, while showing us that God is a God of love mercy, and grace.  That’s the God I know and grew up knowing, and continue getting to know better.  More importantly, “Jesus came to show us that God is love.”
            Some of my most favorite stories growing up were by Richard Scarry, particularly the “Busytown” series, which are an educational series of picture books.  In his Busytown Christmas book, Richard Scarry tells the story of these twins, Abe and Babe who were always misbehaving, always fighting with each other, destroying things, provoking others around them, and generally up to no good and just not very nice.  Long story short, Christmas Day comes around and instead of shiny new sleds and toys under the tree, Abe and Babe have two large bags of coal waiting for them. 
           However, a bad snowstorm hit Busytown the night before and people needed to heat their homes after the power went out, leaving many of their neighbors in the cold and without heat, or coal for their stoves to cook Christmas dinner.  Abe and Babe had a bit of a revelation, in which they could turn things around and help their neighbors by having everyone bring their sleds over and giving them enough coal for their stoves to cook Christmas dinner.  Out of receiving the coal, then giving it to those who needed it the most, Abe and Babe received a new understanding that they could be nice to others and help others out and were changed from that day on.  Even though Richard Scarry’s books did not necessarily have a religious undertone to them, such a story is a lot like how we can share the love of God with others, as “Christmas gives us a new experience of God’s compassion and tenderness, out of which we can form a new relationship with God built not on fear, but love.”[vi]
            We can receive the gift of a new understanding by seeing others around us in a new light, or more as beloved children of God.  Although that’s also one of the more challenging gifts too.  Humanity is far from perfect, and I know I’m nowhere near there either.  That’s one of the things I am trying to focus on more, and Advent and Christmas is a good time to begin seeing others in a different light.  Remember the Home Alone movies with MacCauley Culken?  In the first Home Alone movie, Mac’s character, Kevin had a neighbor, “Old Man Marley” who was quite scary looking on the outside and someone who was the subject of many rumors, but after sitting with Marley at a choir concert and getting to know him and hear Marley’s story, Kevin  gained a new understanding of Marley and became friends with him.  Later in the movie, Marley came to Kevin’s aid when his house was broken into.  Same goes with the Pigeon Lady in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York City, as the pigeon lady, while homeless, was one of the gentlest, kindest people around despite her outward appearance and became friends with Kevin and come to his aid like Marley did in the first movie when Kevin learned to see her in a different light.  Then of course in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge gets to experience the gift of a new understanding and see everyone and everything around him in a new light.  As James Moore puts it,
The gift of Christmas involves a new respect, a new regard for other people.  Christmas shows us that people are more important than things; they are not pawns to be used, but persons to be loved.  Also, Christmas shows us that the best way to love God is to love God’s children.[vii]

            After all, we never know who we will see the face of God in.  And even in our children that we see more of in this church lately and will continue to provide a safe place for, I see the face of God in our children and can’t wait for them to teach us along the way.  Then again, there is a line in Isaiah that does say, “a child shall lead them.” We need our Elizabeth’s and we need our Mary’s. We need our older friends who can be mentors, while also having our younger friends and a willingness to understand them.  We need many people in our lives to help us see a new understanding of ourselves.
            Finally, when we gain a new understanding of God and a new understanding of others, we can receive a new purpose for living, something where I can find renewal each Advent and Christmas season.  When we see the picture of a loving God full of grace and mercy, who brings good news to the poor, the sick, the captive, and the weak, when we see everyone around us as a beloved child of God, we too can see a new purpose for living, for loving, and serving in our own lives.[viii] When Mary came to Elizabeth, she came not knowing what entirely she was doing.  Yet, Elizabeth’s wisdom, love, and guidance gave Mary a new picture of God, of others, and in turn, gave Mary a new purpose for living from the new understanding she received and who she will become.  And Mary gave the same gift to Elizabeth. 
           How might a new understanding of God and of others bring joy to your life as we go into this new week and continue our Advent journey towards Christmas?
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Let the Church Say AMEN!! 

[i] "Air Supply Eyes Of A Child - Google Search". 2017. Google.Com. Accessed December 6 2017.

[ii] Adam Hamilton, The Journey (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011), 63. 
[iii] Hamilton, 67
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] James Moore, All I Want for Christmas: Opening the Gifts of God’s Grace (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 38-39. 
[vi] Moore, 41. 
[vii] Ibid. 
[viii] Moore, 44.  

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of Good News" - Sermon, December 3, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“All I Want for Christmas: The Gift of Good News”
December 3, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Isaiah 52: 1-12
Matthew 1: 18-25

What do You want for Christmas?  Whenever I am asked, I admit that it’s a tough question for me to answer, although ask any of the kids out here and we could get quite a list going.  As I get older, I realize that my wants and desires for Christmas become simpler: peace in our world; living in a world where truth and justice prevail; clean water, food for the hungry, homes for the homeless, services for mental health.  Okay, maybe not as simple as first thought, then again we can always have a grown-up Christmas list.  On the other hand, our wants can also be on the silly side, such as “all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” or “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas…”
It seems appropriate to ask what do you want for Christmas, as we begin the season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas.  Advent is typically a time of preparation, of longing, slowing down (yeah right), and centering our hearts as we wait for Christmas to arrive.  Except in reality, the Christmas season is one of the busiest times of the year with all the extra events around town (which are fun to be at, like Sparkle this past Friday), winter concerts, the Courthouse Sing next Sunday afternoon that our choir will be participating in, Christmas pageants, shopping, parties, lots of eating, and more shopping.  Before seminary and entering pastoral ministry, when I used to work for Raley’s and for many who work in retail or grocery, it often felt more like we were just ready for Christmas to be over with.  At the same time, Advent can be a time to rethink why we are so busy and why things are so hectic, as Advent can be a good way to add spiritual practices, while also thinking about the gifts God gives to us, not just at this time of year, but all year-round.  As we embark on this Advent and Christmas series, “All I Want for Christmas,” my hope is that we will think about how we open the gifts of God’s grace while opening ourselves to those same gifts.  In both our messages on Sundays and in the small group study on Monday mornings or Wednesday afternoons, we’ll be thinking about the gifts of good news, a new understanding, a strong foundation, a new style of living, and Christmas gifts we can pass on to others. 
Not to keep harping on it, but it feels like lately we live in a world of constant bad news and darkness, especially now since it starts getting dark around 3:30 when the sun goes behind Claremont Ridge or when we turn the 4 or 5 pm news on.  We could certainly use some good news, and that’s one of the gifts we can receive at Christmas, even if we may not readily see it in plain sight or right away.  In the book this series is based on, All I Want for Christmas, James Moore explains that
Christmas gives us the gift of good news of Jesus’ birth, the good news that God is with us.  This gift of good news truly is a gift that keeps on giving, because it inspires our faith, grounds our hope, and leads us to love.  Through the good news of Jesus, Christmas gives us the gifts of faith, hope, and love.”[i]

            In Matthew’s Gospel that we just read, Joseph, who will be Jesus’s earthly father is having a crisis of faith over some news.  While Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is often recited on Christmas Eve or other television specials and movies at this time of year, we get a little perspective of Joseph in Matthew’s account. Following a thorough genealogy of the line from which Jesus came from, we encounter Joseph learning that his fiancé, Mary is pregnant through the work of the Holy Spirit, considering they quite aren’t married yet.  He’s afraid that if people around town see that she is pregnant, both of their lives would be in danger.  According to the law at the time of Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, Ron Allen, Professor of Preaching and New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis explains that
neither party in a coming marriage could have sexual relations with an outside person. Mary’s pregnancy catches Joseph by surprise. According to Deuteronomy 22:23-27, Mary could be tried publicly and then executed. By resolving to “dismiss her quietly,” Joseph seeks to avoid public humiliation while also fulfilling the law.[ii]

            It’s a tough situation that Joseph feels like he is in and he sure could use some good news at the moment, as he wants to follow the law and do God’s will.  And, upon hearing this passage for the first time, it could be somewhat discomforting in the same light for many of us, especially in light of the sexual harassment claims we keep hearing about in the news of late like a broken record. Or as I was reading on Twitter from someone who was haunted from past events, this passage brought back a lot of bad memories and am fully aware that this morning’s gospel can trigger some bad memories among any of us too.  In Joseph’s case, the angel shows up and brings a small dose of good news to Joseph in his moment of fear and questions about what is right, as his role as Jesus’ earthly father is all a part of the prophecy.  As we just read in verse 23, Emanuel, the same hymn which we will be singing at the very end of worship this whole month, means that God is with us, giving us hope, and being our power source, or as I like to say, our spiritual batteries.[iii]
            There are times where our spiritual and even our physical batteries feel like they’re running on low or empty, more so at this time of year with all the extra stuff happening around us, along with all that tasty rich food.  At the same time, when we see a lot of bad news, or make our focus primarily on the bad news, that too can drain our batteries a little bit.  I know it drains my batteries and saps my energy when it becomes my focus.  Back in January when we were experiencing some significant rain and wind storms, we lost power for a good portion of the day and I found my LED flashlight to come in handy.  Only thing is that I apparently used it a lot more than I thought, as when I went to use it to look under the house I live in to turn off the water that controls the hydrants in the backyard in October, I found that the batteries had died.  So, time to get new batteries just in case we get any major storms that may knock out power.  The same thing can happen to us when we are constantly go-go-go, or when we focus too much on the bad news around, or if we aren’t practicing good self-care.  Our bodies, minds, and souls can get a little or a lot out of whack. 
       When we intentionally take the time to quiet our hearts and prepare our minds during the season of Advent and Receive the gift of good news,
Christmas reconnects us to our power source.  As we look forward to the birth of Jesus, we feel God come close and recognize that nothing else can fulfill our longing for a better world.  The reminder of God’s presence ignites our faith and reinvigorates our life in Christ.[iv]

            Now this is the very aspect about Christmas that reinvigorates my soul and helps give me a significant recharge to my faith, as I try to quiet my heart, focus my mind on good news, add some extra devotions and time with God, as well as try not to over-indulge in all the tasty treats or eggnog.  Try being the operative (although I do have a couple people, or angels who remind me D-I-E-T).  Even pastors can find our faith in a bit of a rut at times, and I know that mine has been sure tested quite a bit these last few months, with the Minerva fire, not always practicing very good self-care, losing beloved members of our congregation, still growing into the role of Pastor to this church and community, and just everyday events that can bring on the stress.  Even though I know I don’t have all my stuff together all of the time, or when I find myself falling into a rut, I get some kind of reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing, just like the angel showed up with Joseph to bring him good news and remind him that his role as Jesus’s earthly father is just as important.  Each of us has probably been in that situation too, where a life event has happened that might just sap your energy and drain your spiritual batteries.  Then God shows up, reminding us that we are God’s beloved.  And, God is still with us, bringing us good news in a bad news kinda world.  As James Moore puts it, “the Christmas gift of good news is the knowledge and assurance that God is with us!  Christ came to underscore this good, joyful news that God is with us…and nothing can separate us from God.”[v] James further explains that “even during life’s worst times, when we think we are alone, God is with us.  And that gives us a powerful hope that strengthens us no matter what happens.”[vi]
          Even if we can’t necessarily see God right before our eyes, yet we get signs and little reminders, like those amazing sunsets this last week.  Even if we can’t see God, our faith in God can give us hope.  That is a gift of good news in itself, especially as we lit the candle of hope earlier on in the service.  Or as our choir sang, God leads us to the way, the truth, and life when we are willing to say yes to God, willing to follow God, and put our trust in God because “through the good news of Jesus, Christmas gives us the gifts of faith, and hope, and love.”[vii] As we prepare to come to the table of Holy Communion and take part in the sacrament, we have this sustaining presence of God represented in the bread and grape juice that can reconnect us to God.  We are invited to become one with God and with Christ when we eat and drink at the table of grace, the table of abundant life. 
As we move through this journey of the season of Advent and think about God’s gift of good news and opening the gifts of God’s grace, who do you know around you that needs a gift of good news, hope, or Love right now?  And how are you taking some time to re-charge your spiritual batteries and give your faith a boost if it’s been running on low or empty as of late?  Joseph received a serious dose of good news when the angel stepped in during his dilemma, as Joseph received the good news that God is with him, that this child he will become earthly father to will be called Emmanuel, God with us. 
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church Say, AMEN!! 

[i] James W. Moore, All I Want for Christmas: Opening the Gifts of God’s Grace (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 11. 

[ii] "Commentary On Matthew 1:18-25 By Ron Allen". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed November 30 2017.

[iii] Moore, 12. 
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ibid. 
[vi] Moore, 13. 
[vii] Ibid.  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Christ the King: Shepherd of the Saints" from "A Season of Saints" - Sermon, November 26, 2017

In some ways, I feel like I’m still quite full from Thanksgiving dinner, although I think it’s my soul that has been overflowing with thanks this past week.  It is full of thanks for being able to serve and live in a wonderful town like ours, surrounded by so much beauty; full of thanks for the Holy Spirit at work in our congregation with the new growth we’ve experienced this Fall (with people sick and traveling, this morning might not indicate it); and full of thanks for family and friends.  I hope that all of your souls are also filled with thanks in one way or another as well.  In addition, I do have to say that I’m thankful that today is not the first Sunday of Advent, which typically happens quite often the Sunday right after Thanksgiving.  I’m sure Alice and Charlotte can concur too, as that is among the music directors’ worst nightmare. 
            Today, we conclude our series, “A Season of Saints” while we also close out the liturgical year with Christ the King Sunday.  The liturgical year is divided up into the Christmas Cycle, which are the seasons Advent (the four weeks before Christmas), Christmas Eve and the Sunday after, and Epiphany (January 6).  Then in the Spring, there’s the Easter Cycle, which is the season of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter) and Easter (Easter Sunday and the 50 days after).  Following the day of Pentecost (when Holy Spirit made itself known among the people and the church was born) is ordinary time.  Kind of an abridged lesson on the church year, which is also why you see the colors on our altar change and if you want to know even more, that’s always a good topic at the ‘Coffice’ on Thursdays.  The liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent and ends with Christ the King Sunday, so next Sunday, it’ll be a new year!! 
Now, Christ the King Sunday is relatively new to us in the Mainline Protestant church.  When I was doing some of my research earlier this week for this morning’s message, Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville gives the following short history of Christ the King Sunday:
[Christ the King Sunday] was first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements worldwide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by their government that only their government was due ultimate allegiance. The Church in Mexico remained faithful, holding public parades throughout the land (with significant governmental pushback!) proclaiming “Cristo Rey!,” “Christ is King!” Pope Pius XI made that declaration the basis of a Holy Day to be observed throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church, “Christ, The King of the Universe.” After Vatican II, Rome moved the observance of this day from October to the final Sunday of the Christian Year, and many Protestants, including United Methodists, who adopted the Revised Common Lectionary and its calendar have followed suit.[i]

Some interesting little tidbits there, although sounds a little like the ‘give to Caesar or give to God’ question that came up in an earlier chapter in Matthew’s Gospel.  As we think about what we just read in Ezekiel and the Gospel of Matthew this morning, I’m not so sure that I necessarily feel all that uplifted when I hear both, as there is a little bit of a message of judgment there; although both passages are ultimately trying to get all of us to take a long, hard look in the mirror at some of the negative aspects of our lives, and ultimately points us towards our true shepherd and king, Jesus Christ.  Prophetic writing will often do that too, as I know there are times I’m not always comfortable with what I read.  It’s kind of like getting a dose of ‘tough love.’ 
Amidst the judgmental tone we may hear, we do have this message of hope that is in there, as this message is of a God who WILL seek us out, a God who WILL care for us and shepherd us, offering us protection from our fears and our uncertainties.  We also get this image of Christ the King, the shepherd of the saints, almost a full circle from what we saw a few weeks ago when the multitude was gathered around the lamb of God, although now this lamb has simultaneously becomes shepherd as well.  
            In Ezekiel, God is seeking out the people who have been displaced as a result of the Babylonian Exile, but now Jerusalem has fallen and it’s time for the exiles to return home to their land.  As Old Testament scholar, Charles Aaron Jr. explains,
God now promises to act as a shepherd.  God will seek out the exiles and bring them back.  God will not wait for them to return, but will search out the exiles.  God will feed and nurture them, and will heal them.  God will provide justice for them by confronting those who have failed them.  For experiencing displacement, God will bring them back.  For their misery, God will nurture and feed them.  For their hurt, God will heal them.  For their neglect and mistreatment, God will vindicate them.  Within the world of the text of Ezekiel, the words of comfort come right on the heels of the fall of Jerusalem.[ii]

            After all this judgment that is a common theme until this point in the Book of Ezekiel, God shows the people who the true king will be, not so much the earthly kings, or rulers, or even politicians of today.  Instead, “the true King, the King God wants to see, the King that Jesus was and is, is like Israel’s second king [David] started to be: a Shepherd,” except that “this is a shepherd whose flock has been scattered by the actions of typical kings and rulers, religious and otherwise.”[iii] Like God as shepherd in Ezekiel will do, Christ the King, Shepherd of the Saints will also seek out the lost, the hurt, the sick, the poor, the outcast, etc..  Another instance where we come full circle with the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ that we talked about in January and February this year, particularly “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers” among a few…
            Things get a little bit more interesting in our Gospel lesson toward the end of the Gospel of Matthew, as Jesus Christ as shepherd of the saints talks of the separation of the sheep and goats, similar to the word of judgment we hear in Ezekiel.  Vs. 35-36 are oftentimes quoted and can be an effective guilt-trip, yet Jesus definitely takes the side of marginalized, the sick, the hurt, and the poor, as that’s who he ministered with and cared for during his ministry on earth.  And especially with Christmas and winter both on the horizon, today’s lesson is a good way to think of the ways we can care for the poor, the outcast, the hurt, the lonely, the least; not just this time of year, but all year around.  Some of the judgment in both passages is mainly about how we use our resources and how we can live a life of generosity and compassion, which I know that even I will feel convicted about at a time or two.  Regardless of where we are at in our life or where we are on the journey of faith, Christ the King, Shepherd of the Saints is still our shepherd because “if we are his, we acknowledge who we are and what we’ve done” throughout our lives.[iv] If we can name it and own it in what we’ve done in our lives, we can also accept the gift of grace that is there.  And then, we can take up the invitation to allow Christ the King, the Shepherd of the Saints to lead us and guide us.  The ones who are part of that multitude dressed in white, “the ones whose story is one of ultimate salvation, the ones whose whole lives are marked by thanksgiving – the saints” are the ones who Jesus closely identifies with and is shepherd of and we too can be part of that multitude and the ones to keep working towards bringing God’s kingdom to earth today.[v]
            I don’t think I need to offer any more concrete examples of ways we help care for the poor and the marginalized than I already have in past sermons, although be on the lookout for some local mission opportunities in the coming weeks.  We do a pretty good job already of being the hands and feet of Christ in our community and in our world, as we already give a lot of ourselves and of our time.  As the shepherd of the saints, Christ will continue showing us how to reach out to the poor, the outcast, the lonely, the hurting and like Christ the King, Shepherd of the Saints, maybe that is the next step we can take, even if we may not be sure what that step may look like, although will require listening to the Holy Spirit and paying attention to those little nudges that may be coming from God.  Nevertheless, we can still invite others to experience how Christ the King, Shepherd of the saints can offer healing, eternal love, inviting others to let our savior who is like a shepherd lead us on the journey of faith.  No matter what, kingdoms and rulers of today will not be around forever, yet God’s kingdom and Christ our King will last forever.  Let’s keep striving towards that goal!!   
 I invite you to turn to hymn ___ in The United Methodist Hymnal as we sing together “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”
(After Hymn)
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Let the Church Say Amen. 

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "Christ The King Sunday 2017 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed November 21 2017.
[ii]  "Commentary On Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 By Charles L. Aaron, Jr.". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed November 26 2017.
[iii] Ministries, Discipleship.  2017.
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ibid.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

November "Adventures" from "The Quincy Quill"

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful: the Lord God made them all (UMH 147)

What a beautiful Fall this has been here in Quincy!!  While the days have been on the warm-ish side, the beautiful colors around us have not disappointed.  While walking to the office from my house, I will often pause to admire the trees behind the courthouse, with their leaves turning orange and gold.  Just a few blocks away, I then see shades of red, as some of the trees look as if they are blazing.  It is a wonderful sight to behold and I can’t but help singing “all things bright and beautiful…”

Even amidst the beauty we have around us, my heart breaks for the people of Santa Rosa, the Napa and Sonoma area, Loma Rica, and everywhere where fire has carved a destructive path.  People have lost their homes and other materials, some have lost pets, and as of the writing of this article, over 50 have died.  My heart also breaks for mine and Pastor Ray’s clergy colleague, Rev. Blake Busick at First UMC Santa Rosa, whose home was lost in the fire.  Yet amidst losing his home, Pastor Blake was still in the midst of ministering to those who lost homes and those who were evacuated, as First UMC was a shelter (some of you may remember Pastor Blake when he served at Greenville/Taylorsville in the mid-1980’s).  Amidst the horrible and devastating fires, we have seen the church being the hands and feet of Christ in our world, opening their buildings to evacuees, providing food and drink, clothes, and toiletries.  Our California-Nevada Conference has also been quick in response and we still have opportunities to give and will be finding out other ways we can help as soon as information becomes available.  However, I encourage us to still contribute to the CNUMC Fire Relief fund or to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  We would also like to put together a Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team from our church or circuit to go out and help in recovery efforts from the fires or hurricanes. 

This month is also a month of thankfulness and gratitude as we celebrate Thanksgiving on November 23.  What are you most thankful for?  This past year, I am thankful for this congregation, for the opportunities to get to know our community more and new relationships through Rotary Intl. and the Star Follies, the ways we reach out in love to our community these last fifteen years through the Community Supper, and for the firefighters and first responders who kept our town safe during the Minerva Fire.  As we have been discussing in worship, God provides for us in ways we don’t always expect and as one of my favorite songs in the musical “Godspell” says, “all good gifts around us, are sent from heaven above.” God gives us abundant life and for that I am thankful. 

We have a very exciting month ahead here at Community UMC, as we celebrate a season of saints and a season of stewardship, as we think about the joy we of giving back to God and thinking of the stories of how we as the saints of God connect the mission of our church to the greater community and world.  I really hope ALL of you will be in church on Sunday, November 19 for Consecration Sunday, as Pastor Ray will be preaching, then we will have a special lunch following worship.  Before we know it, Advent, the season leading up to Christmas will be here.  We will be doing a series around James W. Moore’s book, All I Want for Christmas and hope you will participate in the small group study, as the book is very readable and has a devotion for each day of the week.  We will begin with the first small group on Monday, November 27 at 10:00am in the church office and will also have a section available at 4:30pm on Wednesdays (beginning Nov. 29) if there is enough interest.  Please let me know if you are interested so I can order enough books. 

I look forward to seeing you during the week and in church on Sunday as we celebrate the saints around us and give thanks to God for all of the wonderful things that God gives to each of us. 

Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Andrew

October "Adventures" from "The Quincy Quill"

While I began writing an article singing the praises of Fall, especially after celebrating the baptism of Anna Scovell and welcoming her into membership of the church, along with Gaye Porter restoring her membership on September 10, things took a whole different direction when our lives were shaken by the unexpected and sudden passing of Londa Lehman on September 16.  Londa’s passing has affected all of us and my heart especially breaks for Marilyn.  Londa was also an active member of our bell choir and her smile and presence are really going to be missed among our ringers.  Her presence will also be missed among the volunteers and the cats she cared for at PAWS.  Her loving spirit was everywhere and brightened all of our lives, especially the many children who had her and Marilyn’s classes for Kindergarten at Pioneer Elementary School.  Even in the relatively short time I’ve known her and Marilyn, I always enjoyed sitting together at the theater, or the delightful conversations we had whenever she and Marilyn would join me for ‘coffice hours.’ I also admired how Londa stood strongly and demonstrated for causes she believed in, down to her very last day.  However, any loss that we experience in the life of our church leaves a void and it has been very strange to look out over the congregation and not see her and Marilyn in their usual spot and I know that I am going to miss her a lot.  At the same time, I am very proud of our church family for coming together and supporting Marilyn in love and in acts of love the way we have and know we will continue doing so. 

Along with Londa’s passing, my heart is with the people of Houston, TX and all throughout Florida in the midst of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and my many friends and colleagues who were affected in both places.  Amidst the disaster and devastation that took place because of the wind and rain, we can see God through the people who are helping, through the people who gave their time, their resources, and through the companies that gave away water, food, and other materials.  I am especially grateful to our congregation for taking up our Bishop, Minerva Carcaño’s call for special offerings for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), plus we still have opportunities to make hygiene and cleaning kits for the long-term relief effort which will be picked up from South Reno UMC on October 15.  AND, we are even considering putting together a Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team to go to Houston or Florida to help rebuild from the devastated areas.  I look forward to sharing more information about VIM in the near future to see how we can get on the ground and roll up our sleeves in the recovery effort.  Had our church or town been damaged in the Minerva Fire, UMCOR and VIM would have been here helping us recover, as UMCOR is often the first to arrive and among the last to leave in a disaster!!  UMCOR is also working with the places affected by the wildfires in the Northwest too, as well as VIM so there may be opportunities in those places too.

While this second half of 2017 has had its challenges, I look forward to these final months of 2017, including the beautiful colors, the excellent fishing, the Great Northern District celebration on the 7th, our planning day on October 21 (see Pastor Ray’s article), and being with my childhood church, Rio Linda Community UMC on October 8th as they celebrate their 100th anniversary.  And I especially look forward to seeing YOU on Sunday or out about in the community!!                                  

Peace & Blessings ~ Pastor Andrew

"Stories of the Saints" from the series, "A Season of Saints" - Sermon, November 12, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“A Season of Saints: Stories of the Saints”
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 12, 2017
Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25

            During the holiday season, we are oftentimes inundated with commercials on TV, print, and radio about the latest and greatest new gifts and gadgets.  A few years ago while beginning winter break in seminary, one commercial I saw had me nearly in tears, as there are quite a few commercials around this time of year that really tug at the heartstrings (like the Santa balloon commercial during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year).  This particular commercial was for the iPhone, in which a teenage boy is recording moments throughout his family’s Christmas gathering and although it does reinforce the notion that young people are always glued to their phones, it ended up being poignant when the boy goes up to the TV and stops whatever was on TV much to everyone’s annoyance.  However, when a video montage of the family’s gathering set to the song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” begins playing, almost everyone begins crying.  Even though we often want to fight technology, or as I said a couple weeks ago when talking about idols, we might want to throw those phones and gadgets into the fire and grind them up, technology can be a powerful storyteller in itself when seeing videos of family gatherings of the past and recalling the different memories.  It’s why I also love going through family photo albums, previous church directories, or the digital albums on our social media platforms, seeing the changes in people, the kids growing up, and remembering those who have joined the company of saints.  I am reminded of the stories of the saints both in my family, and in the life of our church family.
            As we just read in the book of Joshua, Joshua who succeeded Moses as the leader of Israel is reminding the leaders that they are part of God’s story and need to keep it going.  Joshua is reminding the leaders that Israel’s story is about how God chose an ordinary man in their ancestor Abraham and promised Abraham offspring and land if he would follow God.  Much later following Abraham and his descendants, God called Moses to lead the Israelite people out of slavery and oppression in Egypt to go to a promised land, although it would not be an easy or fun journey.  The people go on this long, sometimes unbearable forty-year journey through the wilderness until they reach Canaan, the land God has promised them.  Moses would only get to see it from a distance, but did not get to enter it because he died and Joshua became the new leader that will led the people into Canaan. 
            We are at the point in this morning’s lesson where Joshua is about ready to die and the leaders are renewing the covenant that God made with the people, although Israel is still struggling over whether to serve the Lord their God or the gods of their ancestors.  They can serve one or the other, but not both.  The people ultimately choose to serve the Lord God, as this is the same God we worship today.  Even all these years later, we too are a part of God’s story just like Israel had been, just like Joshua, Moses, and Abraham.  Of course many years later, Jesus would become a part of the story when God came down to earth in human form, then Paul came along and had a profound conversion experience in which he dedicated his life to serving God through Jesus Christ.  Because we are part of God’s story, it’s up to us to keep the stories of our saints going.  These “are stories of a God who called us while we may have been…in a place far away from where God was calling us to go,” similar to Abraham.[i] 
Some of us have different reasons why we are here and different stories in our own faith journey and life.  Some of us may be here because want to know God and know more about what loving and serving God is all about.  While I know I have only known and served one God, some of us here may have only come to believing recently.  Whatever the case, God called us and we said yes.  It’s along the lines of what the founder of Methodism, John Wesley refers to as prevenient grace, which is the free, unearned gift of love that God has for each us before we even began to believe in God.   
I know that for me, I come from a family whose faith identity is Christian and I’ve only known the Lord our God and no other gods.  However, faith has played a significant role.  In learning the story of my ancestors, I have learned that my mom’s side dates all the way back to the Mayflower, as one of my ancestors on her father’s side, William Brewster was the reverend elder aboard the Mayflower (I remember getting all excited about it in 11th grade English when seeing his name in “On Plymouth Plantation”).  That’s the furthest back that I have knowledge of in my family’s story from my four grandparents, as I have not really sat down to trace the history of the Lindbaum, Davis, or Hills side of my family yet and perhaps where their journey of faith has led them (although I also learned last year that another not-sure-how-many-times-removed great grandfather was a Methodist circuit rider).  Even though I don’t know as much of their stories as I would like to, they too are part of the stories of the saints, and a part of God’s story among humankind just like all of our ancestors from our different families. 
On the other hand in our text, Joshua reminds the Israelite people that “Abraham was not always connected to the God they knew as their God,” just like we may not have always been connected to God in our lives because there are times we may drift away or go through the desert or just not believe until something moved us towards wanting to know more.[ii] I know that in my own story, I wandered away from God by my own choice eleven years ago, except God never left me and I came back to God because God wouldn’t stop calling me, leading me to where I’m at now, even amidst dead-ends and U-turns along the way. Regardless of what we do in our lives or in the instances where we might ignore God, “God does not ignore us [as] God is calling us toward the fullness of life in Christ.”[iii] 
The good news is that God doesn’t stop calling us and wants us to be part of the stories of the saints and keep the story going, especially among our younger generations so that their children and grandchildren can do likewise.  I think of the people who answered God’s call and founded this church around 1858.  Even though the town and church have changed since that time, God’s call is still the same today as it was then.  We are still called to bring a word of hope and good news to our town, to be the hands and feet of Christ, to love one another and our neighbors too, and to love God and serve God.  We’re keeping the story going that the saints before us began, as they are now part of that great multitude we talked about last week.  I saw our faith in and God’s call in action this last Thursday at the Fall Dinner, as everything came together in time, even though Kitty and Jackie expressed concern a couple weeks ago that we still needed help in many areas, but they had faith that it would happen.  As the Holy Spirit moved about, everyone stepped up and we had an amazing Fall Dinner that was appreciated by the many in our community who came to eat or take their food home.  It was the love of God in action, and that’s the main part of the stories of the saints, as they served our God of love faithfully just as we continue to serve a God of love.[iv]
As we get ready go all-in with the holidays and beyond with Thanksgiving a little over a week away, tell your stories to each other, especially during your family gatherings this Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And even tell others the story of how you said yes to God, while perhaps telling the stories of your ancestors.  Then at 2:30 this afternoon in the Fellowship Hall as we gather for our annual charge conference, we have an opportunity to hear the stories of this past year and the how the saints of this church here and now are loving God and serving God here in this church and in the greater community, so that we too may share the stories of the saints of this church beyond these walls.  Many years have passed since the days of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Jesus, and Paul.  It’s up to each of us to continue the story, share the story, and live into the stories of the saints, yesterday, today, and in days to come.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!    

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost 2017 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed November 9 2017.

[ii] Ibid. 
[iii] Ibid. 
[iv] Ibid.  

"God's Sheep Are We" - Sermon, May 12, 2019

Community UMC, Quincy “God’s Sheep Are We” Rev. Andrew Davis May 12, 2019 Psalm 23 John 10: 22-30 Jesus as the Good Shepherd ...