Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"The Great Invitation: Follow Me" - Sermon, January 22, 2017

Community United Methodist Church, Quincy
“The Great Invitation: Follow Me”
Pastor Andrew Davis
January 22, 2017
Matthew 4: 12-23

        Just imagine that you’re out fishing at Geritol Cove on Lake Almanor, the Haskins Creek arm at Bucks Lake, Mallard Cove at Lake Davis, or with the many others at Turkey Point at Frenchman Lake when someone just comes up to you at random and tells you to leave your gear behind and follow him.  --- Now at first, I would think that this is a scam to get me to leave my nice fishing gear behind, only for someone to take it.  But if this person says that he will make you fish for people, I’d probably raise my eyebrows a little further than usual.  Now if that person came up to me and passed out a business card telling me he’s a local minister nearby, that would make a little more sense, since after all that’s part of our job, to make disciples.  Or to take it a little further, in The United Methodist Church, it is our primary task and mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.” Even more important, such an instance can be a great invitation to follow Jesus by initiating the conversation in one of the most ordinary of places by the lake shore, especially when we meet people where they’re at.  Some of our lakeshores can be in different contexts, but nonetheless, our great invitation is to take up Jesus’s invitation to follow him and invite others to join the adventure. 
      Just imagine that day when Jesus was walking along the lakeshore along the Sea of Galilee (which is really a large lake) when he encounters Andrew and Simon-Peter who are casting their nets into the lake and they up and follow Jesus, no questions asked.  They don’t say “but Jesus, this is our livelihood,” or “but Jesus, we just can’t.” They follow Jesus willingly.  Then James and John leave their father Zebedee, leave their nets, and follow Jesus.  As we explored in John’s Gospel last week, Jesus gives us the great invitation to come and see what following him is all about, but today the great invitation becomes much more intentional, as Jesus invited these fishermen to come and follow him. At the same time, Jesus is inviting each of us to follow him as well.  But follow me is where Jesus is calling to us, and is the great invitation for us to follow too, but also the opportunity to invite others to follow when they are ready. 
Like we talked about last week from the Gospel of John’s account, Jesus invested in a relationship with Andrew and another of John the Baptist’s disciples, but this week in Matthew’s Gospel, the invitation is more direct and forward.  It’s kind of like being invited on this journey where you don’t know exactly where you’re going, but you’re hoping it’ll be good and you’re trusting Jesus when he says “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matt. 4: 19, MSG).  Reminds me of that Sunday School song, “I will make you fishers of men; fishers of men; fishers of men…I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me.”
Fishing for people is an interesting way of putting it, but instead of hook, line, and sinker, we fish for people when we extend the invitation, we invest in a relationship to come and see, and then we extend the invitation to follow Jesus.  And some of us may be on the journey where we’re not quite sure we’re ready to jump right in and that’s okay too, as we can follow Jesus when we are ready.  We have the relationship first and that’s important.  And sometimes following Jesus takes us into different places, places where we don’t expect to go.  I know I’ve shared this before, but I fully intended to be a full-time music minister and ordained deacon, not a church pastor.  Following Jesus sometimes takes us where we least expect to go, just as I’m sure the fisherman didn’t anticipate where all they would be going when they decided to follow Jesus. 
So why do we follow Jesus, a question we also asked last week?  It seems like a lofty task to come and follow Jesus, leaving everything behind.  But that’s also the challenge that we have when we are invited to follow Jesus.  We are being invited into a whole new way of life, a life of peace that we have been singing about this morning as we also observe this day of peace, but following Jesus also brings a way of living into compassion, looking at those who society may look down upon, serving others, and speaking out against injustices that happen in our world.  Following Jesus also means doing what we can to build bridges, especially in this divided world and nation, as we can change the world for the better by following Jesus. “When it comes to following Jesus, “perhaps our greatest service as disciples comes not from big and dramatic things, but from the small acts of kindness and compassion and the one-to-one acts of justice we practice every day.”[i]
This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the Gathering of the Orders with my clergy colleagues from the California-Nevada Conference and while joy was a big theme of our time, compassion and justice were also topics.  I was particularly moved by our new bishop, Minerva CarcaƱo’s witness on Tuesday night about the compassion that she learned in looking out for those who are normally looked down upon, but also in conversation with her at lunch on Wednesday.  As she leads our clergy and our conference (which is the regional body of the UMC), her challenge to all of us is to embody compassion and kindness, which is something we can learn when we take Jesus up on the invitation to follow him, something the disciples will learn along the way as we explore Matthew’s Gospel a little further in the coming weeks and months.  And you know what? Following Jesus can happen right here in our own back yard too, as he calls us and folks outside of our church to follow him.  When Jesus says “follow me,” “he calls us to answer that call in the specific context in which we have been placed.” So where are we placed to follow Jesus? Where is your lakeshore?
Each one of us has this great invitation to follow Jesus before us, and it’s up to each one of us to make the world a better place by following Jesus, just like when he calls us the same way he called the disciples.  The people Jesus called to be his disciples were ordinary people, some who worked professions that the mainstream society tended to scoff at, but also ordinary  people who had their imperfections and quirks.  The possibilities are endless where we follow Jesus into “and there are many ways for God’s people to follow Jesus into the adventure of serving.”[ii]
As we go into this new week, what are some adventures in serving that you can think of?  Where do you hear God calling you to join Jesus in the adventure when you hear him say "follow me?"  We have this great invitation to follow Jesus, to hear him say “follow me,” even today.  Especially since “Jesus came to bring salvation to all people, no matter who they are, no matter where they live, and no matter what kind of life they have led.”[iii] Jesus calls the millworkers, the baristas, the search and rescue teams, first responders, grocery clerks, school teachers, school administrators, shopkeepers, business owners, forest service workers, law enforcement, and you.  Jesus calls everyone and anyone to follow him.  So when you hear the great invitation and hear Jesus say “follow me,” embrace the adventure, and invite those you know to join you on the adventure!! 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] Ministries, D. (2017) Follow me — preaching notes. Available at: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/follow-me-preaching-notes (Accessed: 19 January 2017).
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"The Great Invitation: Come and See" - Sermon, January 15, 2017

Community United Methodist Church, Quincy
“The Great Invitation: Come and See”
Pastor Andrew Davis
January 15, 2017
John 1: 29-42

        What are you looking for?  What are you after?  It was a question that my mom or grandma often asked me when I was younger whenever I started rummaging around the kitchen, usually looking for a snack since I seemed to be hungry all the time.  But it’s also one of those questions we get asked when rummaging around our office, our house, garage or shop, or around the church when someone sees us trying to find something we misplaced, or something we need right at that moment (which can sometime result in a stress-laden tirade filled with colorful language).
Sometimes that search can be quite frustrating and feel like it’s going in circles, and sometimes in a rare instance, I won’t be able to find something leading to more frustration and a little more colorful language.  In fact, when I got back to the office a couple weeks ago, I kept looking for one of my extra phone/iPad chargers that I had in my office that I took when I made a trip to Reno last month, but still haven’t found it.  Luckily, I had two other phone/iPad chargers.  However, it didn’t mean I wasn’t milling around the office like a headless chicken when I got back.
        However, we might also be looking for something else, something deeper, something that is not material.  Perhaps, when we hear Jesus’s question in our Gospel lesson this morning, “what are you looking for,” perhaps we are looking for a relationship with God, a community, answers to life’s greatest questions, or just answers in general.  As we continue with our series, “The Great Invitation” we encounter the first disciples in John’s gospel this morning, who are invited by Jesus to come and see when they approach him and ask where he’s staying.  As we talked about last week, the great invitation is an invitation to a deeper relationship with God, a deeper level of discipleship by following Jesus closely through study, worship, small group participation, our actions, and sharing that word of good news with others, and inviting people we know into a relationship with God and into community.  We are essentially inviting people to follow Jesus.  No matter where we are on our faith journey, this is an invitation to come and see what following Jesus is all about. 
Last week, we were invited to think about what it means to be a baptized believer and where the heavens open for each of us, such as when we first encountered God or when we first decided to follow Jesus.  But this morning as we just heard in John’s gospel, two of John’s disciples, my namesake Andrew being one of them, who are curious and want to know more about “the lamb of God" that John describes Jesus as.  So they set out after Jesus and when they catch up to Him, he asks them “what are you after?" However, Jesus doesn’t tell them, “leave me alone, let me go home and relax," but instead invites Andrew and the other disciple of John’s to “come and see for yourselves” and they sit and learn all day, ultimately becoming followers of Jesus (Jn. 1: 39, MSG). Of course, when Jesus says to “come and see,” he is also inviting us to come and see for ourselves what following him is all about.  Our great invitation is to come and see what Jesus is showing us, even in today’s world. 
What are some experiences in your life that led you to follow Jesus and why do you follow Jesus?  It’s also a good question to be asked and a good question to think about, as everyone will have a different experience and perhaps a different reason for following Jesus.  Following Jesus has different meanings, yet this time is a great invitation to have conversations with each other to flesh those questions out, basically inviting each other to come and see why we follow Jesus.  One of the reasons I follow Jesus is because it keeps me grounded, as Jesus provides an example of how we should live and relate with others, through love, service, peace, and and mercy.  And trust me, it’s not always easy to love, especially when I’ve been hurt by someone or whenever I see something happening that just makes me angry.  But following Jesus helps me to stop, and think about what he would do and how he would handle any situations, not to say that turning tables over is out the question.  Even when I was in a spiritual desert ten years ago, I knew something was really missing when I took a break from the church and thought I lost my faith.  Even then, Jesus will still invite us to come and see, even when we think we’ve lost our faith.  Jesus sets a prime example of how we should live, but he also invites us and others to come and see for ourselves what following him and learning from him is all about. 
What are you looking for?  Or, what are you seeking when you are looking for Jesus?  Some other questions worth pondering over.  Again, people are seeking different things in life and when it comes to a relationship with God by following Jesus, you'll get different responses if you ask why people follow Jesus.  When Andrew and John’s other disciple ask Jesus where he stays and Jesus invites them to come and see, Jesus also invites each one of us to come and see for ourselves what following him will be about.  For example, Jesus’s invitation to come and see entails the following:
If you want to know the word made flesh, come and see Jesus. If you want to know what love is like, come and see Jesus. If you want to experience God's glory, to be filled with bread that never perishes, to quench your thirst with living water, to be born again, to abide in love, to behold the light of the world, to experience the way, the truth, and the life, to enter into life everlasting, . . . if you want to know God, come and see Jesus.[i]

        These are a few examples of what Jesus brings us, mostly what we see from John’s gospel, but following Jesus as 21st century disciples also has its challenges.  As the hands and feet of Jesus in today’s world, we can invite others to come and see, but sometimes it feels like extending the invitation is like trying to climb one of the higher mountains out here, in which our invitations might be met with skepticism and even suspicion.  One group that has been doing some extensive research on church attendance and religion in our culture is the Barna Group.  It’s not hard to see that religious engagement in America is on the decline. A 2014 study by The Barna Group found that 48% of people born between 1984 and 2002 and 40% of those born between 1965 and 1983 do not affiliate with any particular church.[ii] And for many churches, including our own, who have a desire to reach out to and develop relationships with younger generations and anyone seeking Jesus for that matter, we have our work cut out for us.  As David Kinnaman and George Barna put it, “the younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is.”[iii]
        This is definitely some sobering information and easy to lament.  However, despite these figures and detachment from the faith, I actually see it as an opportunity to engage, to share our stories and our faith,  and to invite people to come and see why we follow Jesus.  You see, I am NOT going to give up hope, as I still believe that we can connect with people, except it takes being authentic, being real, being honest, and willing to listen, and listen intently!!  We can learn a lot from each other, as I find myself learning a lot from the younger generations, but I also find a lot of valuable wisdom from generations who came before me, as the generations before me first invited me to come and see.  Yet as I will keep harping on, our actions need to match the story we tell because when people come and see what we are about or what following Jesus is all about, whether it’s out of curiosity or because we intentionally extended the invitation, people are going to have expectations based on what they heard.  On the other hand, George  Barna and David Kinnaman point out that “even though the cultural trend is toward less church-friendliness overall, the vast majority of [adults who do not attend church] still have at least some level of personal experience in a church,” something that might provide a glimmer of hope, and an opportunity for us to extend the invitation to come and see.[iv]
        One of our goals as a church this year (and beyond) is to reach out to many of our families surrounding our congregation and in this area.  This is where The Great Invitation really helps us think about how we engage and invite others to come and see what following Jesus is about.  We can spend our time engaging in these demographic and sociological studies, like the Barna Group has done, but for us as a community of faith, the best thing we can do is to be out and about in our community, being willing to share our stories with others who we encounter and get to know.  And if we want to dig a little deeper, we can be like Jesus and ask people we engage with what they are looking for, except we also don’t want to come across like we are trying to make a sales pitch either.  People can spot fakeness very quickly!!  Simply asking what people are looking for can lead to some wonderful conversations, but we need to be real, we need to be authentic, and we need to be honest, especially when we extend the invitation to come and see, to come and follow Jesus.  It is even more interesting to hear what people have to say when we intentionally listen to what they are looking for. 
One of my friends in Denver, CO, Rev. Jerry Herships is pastor of AfterHours Denver in the Rocky Mountain Conference UMC, which is a church that is quite unconventional in what you would expect to see when it comes to church and when they invite others to come and see.  AfterHours meets in various bars around the Denver area on Monday nights for worship.  Yet what is unique, besides meeting in bars, is that AfterHours engages with and intently listens to the homeless community around Denver, as a good part of their worship service is a hands-on time of making sack lunches and collecting socks and other clothing items.  When Jerry serves Communion in City Center Park during the week and as volunteers hand out sack lunches, they are not only embodying the hands and feet of Christ in the world by feeding the hungry and providing clothes for warmth, they are also inviting people to come and see, showing and sharing the love of Jesus, especially to a community that is oftentimes looked down upon and ignored.  
Along with rolling up their sleeves and engaging in service, the people who participate in AfterHours also provide an essential community.  In Jerry's book that was published in 2015, Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus, Jerry writes that
Most people I know who don’t go to church aren’t looking for a lot.  They want community, they want to do good – maybe help make the world a better place.  That’s kind of it.  But it’s hard to find a community that you like and that pushes you to be more like Christ – a church that pushes you when you get lazy about following God and that will also give you hope and hold you up when you’re about to fall.  It’s not easy, and honestly, it’s easy to give up.  And that’s just the people who are actively searching.[v]

        I believe that there are people who are actively searching, but like others, I too am seeking ways to engage and not necessarily trying to attract people through programs or advertising.  That just doesn’t work the way it used to.  But more importantly, we need to “invest in relationships” even before people “decide to follow Jesus.”[vi] As we saw in the text, Jesus invested in a relationship with Andrew and the other disciple of John before they made the decision to follow Jesus.  And that's a big part of what Jerry's church does and what we can do too.
So here at Community UMC, what do we want people to notice about us if we invite them to come and see? What do we want people to see if they take us up on that great invitation?  From what I’ve seen in my six months here so far, I see a community deeply engaged in service through the Community Supper on Wednesday nights, C.A.N., Rotary, P.E.O., helping at the PCIRC, the volunteer fire department, the Plumas District Hospital Volunteers Thrift Shop, involvement in the local theater, star follies (which I'm in this year), and other organizations and groups that help make our community and world a better place.  I see a vital and active music ministry in our choir and bell choir.  I see a community of faith that loves one another and respects one another and a community that might not think alike, but still loves alike nonetheless. 
At the same time, I also see room for us to engage deeper in our discipleship through small groups, which can simply take the form of three or four people meeting together to check-in with each other weekly by asking “how is it with your soul,” or it can be in the form of book discussion since we have a nice library on the Fellowship Hall stage.  Or, if you’ve been on a three day weekend experience like the Walk to Emmaus, Chrysalis, Cursillo, or Tres Dias, there are opportunities for reunion groups, which are also not limited just to people who have participated in such a weekend.  We're also starting a group called Fellowship 6 as a means of getting to know each other better. Such engagement in small groups within the church can push us to be more like Christ and push us when we start feeling lazy about following God, but also helps everyone we encounter to come and see what we all may be looking for.  And after the participation we had in the children’s Christmas pageant, we have the seeds planted to engage with the children we have right now, a chance to share with them what following Jesus is about if people are willing to help start and lead a mid-week gathering for kids, which allows them to be kids, but also so that they can come and see what following Jesus is about. 
I could go on and on, but when we extend The Great Invitation for others to come and see, I want to invite you into discussion about what people outside the walls of this building will see if they take us up on our great invitation to following Jesus, or what we want people to see when we invite them to come and see.  And as we think about what it means to invite people to come and see, I also want us to think about why each of us follow Jesus.  As we go into this new week, who do you find yourself having the most conversations about faith with?  And, where have you seen the face of Christ and heard the voice of God?  These are all things to think about in sharing our own experiences with the people we encounter because they will no doubt have questions about why we follow Jesus and why we are Christian.  Just be real, be authentic, and be honest when you share about your faith and experiences of faith. Finally, invite those you know to come and see and to be a part of this Great Invitation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] Lewis, K. (2017) Commentary on john 1: 29-42 by Audrey West. Available at: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3114 (Accessed: 12 January 2017).
[ii] George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Austin, TX: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), 12. 
[iii] Barna and Kinnaman, 17. 
[iv] Barna and Kinnaman, 21. 
[v] Jerry Herships, Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus (Louisville: Westminster-John Knox Press, 2015), 96.
[vi] Ministries, D. (2017) Come and see — preaching notes. Available at: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/come-and-see-preaching-notes (Accessed: 12 January 2017).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"The Heavens are Opened" - Sermon, January 8, 2017

Community United Methodist Church, Quincy
“The Great Invitation: The Heavens Are Opened”
Pastor Andrew Davis
January 8, 2016
Isaiah 42: 1-9
Matthew 3: 13-17

        It feels like it’s been an eternity since I last preached up here, but it is sure good to be back in the pulpit today after what seems like an eternity since I’ve last preached a sermon.  While Christmas just formally wrapped up on Epiphany this past Friday, or the 12th Day of Christmas, it feels like Christmas ended much longer ago even though It’s only been two weeks.  I suppose it’s because the day after Christmas Day, we start seeing all the Christmas stuff come off the shelves at Safeway, The Dollar Store, or Rite-Aid to be switched out for Valentine’s Day so quickly.  But in the church, Christmas lasts until January 6th, Epiphany.  However, we still have the season after Epiphany which believe it or not, is one of my favorite seasons in the church year!  I don’t know if it’s because we talk a lot about light (which is increasing each day), or because the scriptures talk a lot about the beginnings of Jesus’s earthly ministry, or the heavy emphasis on discipleship; but I find something special and profound about this season of light that I can’t necessarily lay my finger on.  So, like the star that the magi encountered when they visited the toddler Jesus as a sign from God, Epiphany literally means a revelation or “a manifestation of a divine being” which we also just heard in the account of Jesus’s baptism in Matthew’s gospel when the heavens opened up.[i]
        It appears that time marches on pretty quickly at this time of year.  Just as the stores waste no time in putting up the Valentine’s Day stuff, our gospel lesson fast-forwards about 30 years or so, as Jesus is all grown up now and ready to minister to the world that he lived in.  It also seems fitting that like Jesus preparing to begin his earthly ministry, we find ourselves embarking on a new series this morning, “The Great Invitation.”  Between now and Ash Wednesday, we will be exploring the beginnings of Jesus’s earthly ministry through the gospel of Matthew and some of John’s gospel.  “The Great Invitation” is just what it says; it’s an invitation to be a disciple of Jesus, share the Good News of the Gospel with others, and to put in fancy church-speak, evangelism.  At the same time, it’s an invitation to go deeper in our faith journey.  As baptized followers of Christ, or anyone who is just entering into relationship with Christ, evangelism is a very important part of our faith and is part of the core of our life as a community of disciples along with personal devotion, regular worship, and participation in small groups. 
But while evangelism is part of our core as believers and followers of Christ, evangelism can also have some negative connotations to it, particularly what we may see on TV, online, or in what we may read.  For example, evangelism may be construed as forcing people to believe or convert to following Jesus right away, condemning people to eternal judgment if they don’t.  But that is NOT the case of what evangelism entails.  In his book, Evangelism for Non-Evangelists: Sharing the Gospel Authentically, Mark Teasdale explains that
Evangelism entails sharing the good news of God with the hope that people will hear it and receive it. If the person believes something that is harmful toward others or inaccurate about God, then we want the person to accept the good news in place of those beliefs. By the same token, an evangelist should never condemn people. As evangelists we invite others to consider and be challenged by the good news of God in Jesus Christ. We do not issue a blanket condemnation of those who disagree with that good news.[ii]

        So, what exactly does evangelism have to do with baptism?  Good question, as evangelism, or simply sharing the Good News of Jesus is a responsibility of all baptized believers as we worship on this Baptism of our Lord Sunday.  We are invited to receive this Good News, yet also invited to share this Good News with others too.  Likewise, today is also a good time to remember our own baptisms and give thanks for our baptism and the journey that we are continuing along in our faith life.  And if you are not baptized yet, no worries, as this is also an invitation to anyone who desires to be baptized and enter into this deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ and something I would love to talk about more one on one.  Baptism is the beginning of this deeper journey, a formal initiation into God’s family which will hopefully result in a life-long journey of faith which also entails sharing and inviting others to come along on this faith journey as we think about this Great Invitation into deepening our discipleship and spiritual growth in this new year.  Think of it as a resolution. 
        And so, our great invitation begins with baptism, being marked by water and the Spirit.  It’s the water in baptism that washes our sins away, but also the Holy Spirit that guides us along the way, along with our fellow believers, even through the ups and downs that this journey of faith may bring.  As we just heard in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus comes to John to be baptized in the Jordan River, which is still a popular site for baptisms in the Holy Land today.  Now John was reluctant to baptize Jesus at first, as he wanted Jesus to baptize him, but Jesus insisted that he be baptized by John.  As we read last month during Advent in this same chapter, John told people that “one more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire,” although we also saw that instead of fire, Jesus showed through his actions that he brought healing instead (Matthew 3: 11, NRSV).  Despite John’s reluctance, Jesus’s insistence wins out, but then something profound happens as he is baptized which shows that this is no ordinary baptism.  The heavens opened up in verse 16 when Jesus came up from the water, which was a direct revelation, or epiphany from God that Jesus was the “one more powerful” than John (Matt. 3: 11, NRSV).  This account is where God’s love is poured out upon Jesus and we hear God’s voice, especially when God is “well pleased” (Matt. 3: 17, NRSV).  This image reminds me a lot of when I see beams of sunlight shining through the clouds, or when it’s foggy here in our mountain valley and see the fog lift and the sky open up.  Yet, the heavens being opened could mean many things, such as when we came into a relationship with God, or even the first time we have encountered a loving community of faith, such as we have here.  Or, the heavens opening up could be like John Wesley’s “Aldersgate Street experience,” in which John felt this warm, but strange feeling in his heart.  It’s like having a direct encounter with God when the heavens open up. 
        Now when each of us are baptized, many of us are likely infants and may not remember.  I know I sure don’t, although I was told that while he was still pastor in Rio Linda, Rev. David Moss who baptized me got to hold me, then I tickled his beard.  I suppose that’s where the cute-factor comes in on infant baptism.  Yet, maybe that’s also where the heavens open up for us in our baptism.  But even when we are baptized as infants, we are raised by the community of adults and will have other opportunities for the heavens to open up on our faith journey as we encounter God in many ways and many places.  But the great invitation to that journey towards more intentional and deeper discipleship begins with baptism.  Dawn Chesser of Discipleship Ministries in Nashville explains that
When we baptize an infant or child, we are initiating them into the community of God’s people. We mark them with water, symbolically recognizing before the community of faith that even though they do not yet recognize it for themselves, God’s grace is within them. We pray for the Holy Spirit to guide them on their journey. And we covenant as a community of faith to show them, by our example, what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ so that one day they will experience God’s saving grace and make a confession of faith in Christ for themselves.[iii]

Even if we are baptized as adults, “the seeds of grace of God shown in Jesus Christ are planted in our hearts long before we recognize them for ourselves.  This is what [John] Wesley [the founder of Methodism] called prevenient grace.  It is grace that goes before us.”[iv] The heavens opening up is a revelation of God’s grace and perhaps a time where the Holy Spirit is profoundly felt and revealed, along with seeing that grace realized.  And even without being baptized, there are still seeds of God’s grace that are within, grace that is available to everyone, as baptism is available to all who desire to enter into God’s family and a deeper relationship.  Furthermore, “as United Methodists we believe that experiencing assurance of God’s grace is a critical step in the journey towards a deeper relationship with the living Lord.  But we also believe that the way it happens varies widely,” perhaps why our experiences of the heavens opening, or one on one encounters with God are never the same.[v] 
Baptism marks the beginning of that deeper journey of faith through that relationship with God through Jesus Christ, just as we are seeing in Matthew’s account of Jesus’s baptism before Jesus sets out to formally begin his earthly ministry.  Jesus is here to fulfill or ‘do’ what God wants him to do, along with “doing the revealed will of God” as an act of righteousness, which is living life that is pleasing to God.[vi]  Even when we too do what we can to fulfill what God wants us to do, or live a life pleasing to God, it doesn’t mean the road will be easy, just as it won’t be for Jesus either.  Even when you experience the heavens opening for the first time, or many times, there are always going to be ups and downs along the way.  But as one of my good friends will remind me, we need to show grace, even for ourselves when we stumble along the way.  But as we begin this new year and make it a resolution to go deeper, let’s think about what it means for the heavens to open up for each of us and about what our baptism means for each of us.  And, if you are interested in exploring what it means to be baptized and have the desire to take that step, let’s talk. 
As we go into this new week while the new year is still young, let’s also consider The Great Invitation in these coming weeks.  Who do you know that you would like to invite into a relationship with God that may not have a community of faith to call home or might be curious?  What are ways we can nurture each other along this journey from baptism onward so that we can go deeper in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ?  The season after Epiphany will be a great adventure and I hope you will think about inviting others into this relationship too!!  So as we remember our baptism and be thankful, or if anyone is thinking about taking the step towards baptism, let’s take up the great invitation into life in Jesus, as we continue being his hands and feet in our world today. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] Merriam-Webster (2017) Definition of EPIPHANY. Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epiphany (Accessed: 5 January 2017).
[ii] Qtd. In Ministries, D. (2016) The heavens are opened! — preaching notes. Available at: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/the-heavens-are-opened-preaching-notes (Accessed: 4 January 2017).
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 160.  

Adventures - January 2017 from "The Quincy Quill"

I don't know about tomorrow
I just live from day to day
I don't borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray
I don't worry o'er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I'll walk beside Him
For He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand (Words: Ira Stanphill, 1950)

Happy New Year!! 

Each time a new year rolls around, I keep asking myself how the previous year went by so fast and once again find myself asking how 2016 went by so fast.  Seems like it gets faster and faster each year we get older, right?  Ira Stanhill’s poem/song above captures the moment each time we begin a new year and his words ring even more true as we begin 2017.  2016 is now complete and once again, we have before us a fresh canvas, clean slate, unworked soil, before us or whatever name or analogy you have for new beginnings.  A new year really is a new beginning and while we don’t always know what tomorrow is going to bring, we do know that we have this all-knowing and all-loving God who walks with us and holds our hand.  We also have this awesome gift of grace from God that was always there and is available to us all the time when we accept that grace (John Wesley calls this prevenient and justifying grace).  A new year is a fresh start, but also when the work of Christmas really begins and a chance to say yes again to God’s grace and share about that grace with others.  We may not know what tomorrow holds, but I know and believe that God is present in all of it, even in moments when it may not feel like it.  Yet, our blank canvas awaits, seeing what stroke of the paintbrush we will make and what kind of portrait we will paint for 2017. 

I will say that while 2016 had its ups and downs, just like life, the biggest highlight for me next to receiving my Master of Divinity in May was receiving the phone call on April 1 from Bridges District Superintendent Rev. Schuyler Rhodes telling me I had an appointment, then receiving another phone call from our Great Northern District Superintendent, Rev. Dr. Dave Samelson asking me if I would serve here in Quincy.  Indeed, I responded with a resounding YES, as Quincy was on my radar when I was thinking about churches I would love to serve in our conference!!  God really does work in mysterious ways!!  I could not have asked for a better place to be sent to serve and can’t believe that we are already halfway through our first year in ministry together. 

While we have already accomplished some wonderful things, I’m still learning a lot along the way and yes, I will still make mistakes here and there and fail to follow through at times, but I am deeply grateful for the grace that you continue to show me when I do fall short and am grateful for all that you have taught me and will continue to teach me this next year.  But I also look forward to collaborating and praying together as we discern the work that God calls the church to do in our community and world throughout this year.  You have made my transition from seminary student to pastor smooth and I look forward to our work together in 2017.  I also look forward to working with the Great Northern District Committee on Ordained Ministry this year as I continue the journey towards ordained ministry and am hoping to be commissioned as a Provisional Elder at Annual Conference in June in Burlingame. 

As part of that collaborative spirit, one of my goals for 2017 is to visit with each of you in the congregation as a family unit or individual throughout this next year.  The neighborhood gatherings that the Staff-Parish Relations Committee put together this ast summer helped me to get to know the different neighborhoods and each of you who live in Quincy and East Quincy, but now I want to break those gatherings down further and hear your stories, listen to your hopes and dreams, and hear about how God works in your life.  It’s very much like the way John Wesley would check-in with people and ask “how is it with your soul?” I may call or e-mail at random and set up a day/time to get together, but I also invite you to take the initiative as well, and call or e-mail me to set up a good day/time to get together.  I could visit at your house, in my office, or over lunch or dinner at one of our local eateries or coffee shops.    

And like the resolutions each of us might individually make each new year, a new year is always a great opportunity to set goals as a congregation.  Our mission here at Community UMC is as follows: “We are a Christ-centered community, joyfully committed to being His ambassadors.  In the fellowship of His love and grace, we grow in Christ through the study of God’s word, prayer and worship; living out our faith in service to others.” As participants of the church, the general expectation is that we participate through our prayers, presence, gifts, and witness, so what are your goals to grow in Christ through study?  Prayer and Worship?  Living out service to others?  And what part will you play in being the hands and feet of Christ in our world today?

As a congregation, I feel like we already have a great level of engagement and excellence in worship.  Our worship committee meets quarterly to evaluate our worship, brainstorm ideas, and discuss logistics while Alice, Charlotte, and I meet monthly to plan the music.  We have an excellent and growing choir, bell choir, and people with artistic and musical talent in this church.  Worship and music is where some of our strongest ministry is at, along with the growing presence and engagement with small groups, and a vital ministry in the community supper.  As a result of the successful Christmas pageant, we also have the seeds planted for a weekly children’s program, but need volunteers to help out.  Is God calling you?  I would also like to engage with our teenagers and young adults, but also need help.  Is God calling you?   However, one huge goal that we have for this year is to reach out to the families in our neighborhood and community. 

How do we make it happen?  I believe the first step is invitation and building relationships.  Who do you know in your neighborhood or workplace and have you invited them to come to church before?  The challenge we have today is that there are people who do not hold the church in very high regard (church universal, not any one denomination), research that has been done by reliable sources such as the Barna Group and Pew Research Center.  One group we see a sharp rise in are “nones,” or people who do not affiliate with any religion.  While many lament this fact, I do not see it that way, as I see it more as a way of building relationships and an opportunity.  It does not mean that those who identify as “none” are non-believers, but it does mean for us that we have a story to share and an opportunity to engage.  Unfortunately, many have come to associate the church (universal) with being judgmental, hypocritical, anti-science, anti-intellectual, etc..  In other words, many have come to associate the church universal for what it is against rather than what it is for.  Thankfully in my five months here at Community UMC, I have not seen any of these attitudes in the open and THAT is the story we need to share about God and our church, especially what we are for.

As a theologically diverse congregation, we exemplify John Wesley’s notion that “although we may not think alike, we can still love alike,” a huge strength we have here at Community UMC.  When we engage with people and build meaningful and authentic relationships, even over time, we need to share the story about God’s love and grace, but also share the story about this VITAL, AUTHENTIC, and LOVING community of faith here at Community UMC that people might find intriguing and want to check out.  The old model of reaching out was about building programs, overhauling the worship service, and other things to make church more attractive and entice people to come, but that model doesn’t really work today.  We need to go out the same way Jesus sent the disciples out.  It comes down to each of us building relationships with others, and sharing our story and sharing the old, old story of Jesus and his love.  During the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, I will be preaching a series called “The Great Invitation” and hope you will join us and invite others too!! 

As we enter 2017 and this fresh canvas of possibilities, I invite and encourage you to make it a resolution to invite someone to church.  Personal invitations are much more effective than glitz and glamor, as it’s all about being ourselves and being authentic (just as I strive to do, both from the pulpit, on social media, and in everyday life).  I also invite you to brainstorm ideas and collaborate with the leaders of our church and myself in seeing some of these goals and dreams become reality.  I look forward to hearing your stories, hopes, and dreams this coming year as we continue along this journey together. 

Peace & Blessings,

Pastor Andrew

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