Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Adventures...June 2017

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son
And of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey
everything that I have commanded you.  And remember,
I am with you always, to the end of the age – Matthew 28: 19-20

It feels like the month of June is the time to GO as we begin summer here in Quincy!  It’s a season of going on vacation, of going forth from one grade in school to another, from going from high school to college or the workforce, college graduates preparing for a new life, going to our Annual Conference Session, or for many of my colleagues, a time of going to another church and for many of my former classmates, going to their new churches for the first time as pastors.  But the main thing is that Jesus says to GO, to GO make disciples of ALL nations, but that no matter what, Jesus is with us wherever we may go and will always be with us until the end of the age.  It’s the Great Commission that Jesus gave the disciples, but also gives us who follow him today. 

I also love the month of June, as things slow down a little bit as many of the programs around the church take a little break during the summer and things are just a little more laid back.  It’s also a chance to go to our many lakes and streams, go and take advantage of the many outdoor opportunities from boating, swimming, fishing, or hiking the thousands of miles of trails our county has to offer (however, I haven’t tried walking on water at the lakes yet!).  While we may be out and about during the summer, it’s also a GREAT opportunity to engage with everyone we may meet along the way, as Jesus sends us out to share our faith, share the hope and new life of resurrection, and show others in the way of love.  It’s about meeting people where they are at, not necessarily expecting them to come to us.  I know I have had some wonderful conversations at one time or another when I’ve been at the lakes and encounter other people who are fishing or lounging out (although admit that I still get a little cranky when the fish bite someone else’s line besides mine).  Even on the trail, it’s amazing who you can meet as long as it’s not a bear, rattlesnake, or mountain lion!! 

So, whatever you are doing this summer, GO and be disciples and make disciples.  Go have fun, but also make sure you are taking time to renew your soul, rest, and play because we can’t be all work all the time.  Jesus is still with us all the time, whether we are in the community of each other, or out and about in the greater world.  As we go into this summer, I pray that your time is restful, relaxing, and renewing.  I look forward to seeing you in worship and throughout the week!!

Peace & Blessings,

Pastor Andrew

Adventures...May 2017

What a month April was!!  Amidst the weather not making up its mind if it would be cold or warm, we made it to the end of our Lenten journey and through Holy Week and Easter.  However, what a powerful and meaningful Holy Week and Easter we had here at Community UMC!!  Even though I am writing this installment of Adventures two days after Easter, the afterglow of our Easter Sunday is still with me as I feel uplifted from the music, seeing a full sanctuary, and that we are slowly seeing signs of Spring around here.  Our Holy Week services had a wide range of emotions from the excited shouts of “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday that quickly turned to “Crucify Him” as we made our way through Jesus’s Passion, the Last Supper, his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death.  But of course as we heard and saw on Easter, death WILL NOT have the final say. 

            But now, we are in the Great 50 Days between Easter and Pentecost and although the candies, fake grass, baskets, and other goodies have long been put away or sold at markdown, IT IS STILL EASTER for us as people of faith.  Easter is not so much the culmination of Lent, but is the beginning of a new journey.  It is a journey of faith and encountering the risen Christ along the way.  During the Easter season, we hear of the stories of how the disciples got to encounter the risen Christ as they were still hidden away, then called back into service.  We hear the account of the disciples encountering Christ on the Road to Emmaus, or on the beach.  But just as quickly as they see him, he disappears.  But one role of faith that is important is believing in what can’t be seen.  We may not see Jesus Christ today, but he still with us.  He is with us through our words and actions, whether it is through our service to the community, or when we see each other every Sunday.  He is with us when we visit those among us with health problems or in the hospital, and he is with us in the midst of when we grieve.  Even though we don’t physically see Jesus, he is with us in one way or another. 

            As we are in the midst of these Great 50 Days, how are you going to be Jesus’s hands and feet?  How are you going to encourage others to encounter the risen Christ in your midst?  It is hard to believe that I have almost been your pastor for a year now and I have learned so much and have seen so much of how we are Jesus’s hands and feet in the world today and also excited about some new potential we have to extend that service further.  As I referenced in my Easter sermon, I am interested in discerning new ministries in our community, particularly with the Ohana House, the new dorm housing for Feather River College where the nursing home used to be, but also how we can partner with the schools and better serve the families in our community.  These are some new places where we can be the hands and feet of Jesus, but also create new relationships and places we can encourage people to look for the risen Christ today.  And another item I referenced in my Easter sermon is re-visioning our Christian Education and am currently working with the leaders and Sunday School teachers on casting a vision of how we can better serve the families in our area so that we can foster spiritual growth in our church and greater community.  Because like the many plants and trees around us, we need nourishment for our spiritual lives as well and it is important for us to grow in spirit.  As we live into the resurrection and encountering the risen Christ, let’s keep seeing what is possible as we continue to grow in spirit…Pastor Andrew

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Singing the Songs of God: The Power of Music and Praise" - Meditation, May 21, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
May 21, 2017
“Singing the Songs of God: The Power of Music and Praise”
Pastor Andrew Davis
Psalm 96; Psalm 150

        Now I may be a little biased being a musician, but music has always played an important role in my life and faith journey.  I have found over the years that music has the power to relax, calm, or even heal, particularly in memory care and in the hospital or nursing home.  Music helps us express ourselves in ways we may not ordinarily be able to do, as there is a special power in the songs and hymns that can bring us closer to God.  Like many of you, I too am deeply moved by the poetry and words of music, just as I am by the melodies that are written.  In a class I took at Wesley a few summers ago, “Exploring the Hymnal” with Dr. Eileen Guenther, Eileen made it a point that congregational songs and hymns are a means of “portable theology.”[1] 
After thinking about and reflecting further on congregational songs and hymns as “portable theology,” I find a new meaning in the words of the songs that we sing together and the stories that the hymns tell us.  The songs we sing in worship can tell us a lot, or a little, depending on the depth of the theology expressed in their words and how we can relate to God through the music we sing.  Songs and hymns of our faith can also teach us what it means to follow Jesus, and even teach us about doctrine of the church, which Charles Wesley did in many of his hymns.  Music can also help us spread the Gospel and has been a source of bringing people to Christ.  When asking people what brought them into the church, many times they will respond with the music.  Eileen always tells us in several of her classes and in Wesley’s chapel choir that “music says for us what we are unable to say.” No wonder music in worship can be so powerful!!  
So what kind of power does music have?  I think that the closing lines of Psalm 150 say it best, “let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (NRSV).  Or in Psalm 96, the Psalmist says to “sing a new song unto the Lord.” I also look to the stories of King David in his youth, playing his harp and dancing before the Lord, demonstrating the power music has on the body and there are a great many songs that will make you want to dance!!  Even in Paul’s letter to the Colossians 3: 16-17, Paul writes of the need for singing songs to God, in which music is a means of bringing people together.  Let’s consider Eugene Peterson’s translation of Colossians 3: 15-18 in The Message:
15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

“Sing, sing your hearts out to God” (Col. 3: 16, MSG)!!  Music is highly important in our life in Christ as a way to bring us together by bringing us together whenever we enter the sacred!  And I know that many of you have expressed at one time or another how important music is in your own faith journey whenever we “sing our hearts out to God,” especially since we have a church that likes to sing and a large, talented choir.  Everything that we are singing, or in the case of the bell choir, ringing, this morning tells a story of God’s work in the world, through God’s relationship with humankind, or through the ministry of Jesus the son, or God’s work through the Holy Spirit. 
When I think of the power of praising God through the words of Psalms 150 and 96, I think of a joyful atmosphere of people gathered together singing to God and giving God their full energy and attention through the words of the songs and engaging with the music.  Both our Psalms this morning show us that there are many ways to praise God.  We can praise God joyfully, shout, dance, and make noise with whatever we have, as timbrels are close to some of the hand percussion instruments we use today.  In fact, Psalm 150 does not just call us to sing, but fully praise God even with loud noise and crashing cymbals, as we need time for loud and joyful praise.
At the same time, we also need quiet, contemplation, and even lament which music can also help us express.  When it comes to praising God through music, Hymnwriter Brian Wren writes that “when we wholeheartedly praise another, our attention is turned outward, not inward.  Even more so, when our music glorifies God, ‘adoration leaves no room for pride.’”[2] By letting our breaths praise God in song, we are leaving our own senses behind when we allow the Holy Spirit to move us in the power of song, whether it is joyful or contemplative. 
Music and song has the power to make us smile, empower us, re-charge us, or move us to tears.  Just like the music we may hear on the radio, at a concert, or in a symphony hall, music in worship has the power to transform and shape us, particularly if it is memorable and easily gets stuck in our heads.  I know for me, I am particularly moved by the great hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story” about how Jesus shared his love for all, or the words of “It is Well with My Soul” whenever I find my soul conflicted and weary.  Or I feel a great sense of hope in the resurrection when I hear Stuart Getty and Keith Townsend’s “In Christ Alone,” Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” or Natalie Sleeth’s “Hymn of Promise.” At the same time, music can feel like it is transporting us to Heaven, as music in worship and congregational song can be a deeply spiritual experience and even put us in a trance. 
Music can also be prayerful, as a saying attributed to St. Augustine says that “music is praying twice.” Or if you have ever experienced worship in the spirit of Taize, most of the songs we sing in this worship experience are prayers.  In his book, Music and Theology, Dr. Don Saliers’ writes that “music confers upon human language addressed to God the appropriate silence and mystery required by prayer.  Music is the language of the soul made audible especially as music is the performance mode of prayer and ritual engagement of the community.”[3]
 Singing the soul’s language through hymns and congregational song helps to convey thoughts that we may not ordinarily say aloud, just as we just sang, “when words alone cannot express, bring music.”[4] Dr. Saliers further writes that “it is no accident that when poets or great theologians wish to speak of the deepest realities, they move toward poetry and music – heightened speech – as an attempt to ‘sound’ spiritual matters,” which is a further example of how hymns and congregational song are portable theology.[5]
When we take the time to fully understand and appreciate the power of the poetry found in the words of hymns and congregational song, music in worship becomes a deep spiritual experience that enhances the way that we hear the scripture and sermon, in which the entire service becomes the message.  But when we carry the music with us through the week, life itself becomes worship and prayer.  As we go into this new week with a song in our hearts, let us continue singing God’s song and bring that song into our daily lives and into the world around us. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say Amen!!

[1] Eileen Guenther, Class Discussion, Exploring the Hymnal (Wesley Theological Seminary; May 28, 2013)
[2] Brian Wren, Hymns for Today (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 76. 
[3] Don E. Saliers, Music and Theology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 4
[4] John Thornburg, “When Words Alone Cannot Express,” Worship & Song (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011), 3012
[5] Saliers, 72

"Becoming One in Ministry" - Sermon, May 28, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Becoming One in Ministry”
May 28, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Acts 1: 6-14
John 17: 1-11

        I’m not sure how it’s happened, but I find it hard to believe that we are already standing on the verge of summer.  Now it sure didn’t seem like spring or summer would happen after this longer and colder than usual winter we’ve had, but all I can say is that I am sure glad to have the longer and warmer days, have the windows on my truck open while driving, but also glad to be able to get up to some of our local lakes without having to 4WD through snow banks.  Plus, I’m glad to be putting in a vegetable garden and playing in the dirt, something I find renewing.  However, I’m not so sure I’m glad about the mosquitoes!! 
        As we are getting into a slower pace and more laid back time here in the church and remembering the memory of those who have died serving our country this Memorial Day weekend, we are also wrapping up the Easter cycle this week.  Since Easter Sunday, we have been walking with Jesus who has been appearing to the Mary Magdalene and the disciples post-resurrection, although it’s only the Mary Magdalene and the disciples who actually see Jesus, only before he vanishes from their sight.  So, it’s rather interesting to see the placement of this morning’s Gospel lesson from John, as it’s almost like a flashback to the Upper Room just before Jesus’s arrest, crucifixion, and death, as this is just before stuff’s about to go down and hit the fan. 
        Twelve years ago, when I was in my final semester at Sac State before graduation, I took a humanities class on the film with Dr. Alyson Buckman.  Now this class wasn’t all about just watching movies, but was about the different techniques that filmmakers employed and the message they conveyed through film, hence why we can learn a lot through studying film.  One of the movies we watched in class that stands out is the 2000 thriller, “Memento” starring Guy Pearce as a man who has some memory issues and tries to piece together the tragic death of his wife.  This film uses flashback techniques and while it is very disorienting to say the least, is quite effective.  The placement of today's lesson is also like when reading the Greek poet Homer’s epic tale, “The Odyssey,” which uses a literary convention called medias res, which begins in the middle then works its way back to the beginning of the story.  Our Gospel lesson for today, or Jesus’s final prayer as part of the “farewell discourse” in John’s Gospel has that kind of feel to it.  It’s almost like it’s flashing back to that time before Jesus is betrayed and arrested, leading to his crucifixion and death, when Jesus knows what’s about to happen, even though the disciples aren’t fully aware of what’s happening, as their eyes won’t be opened until AFTER Jesus’s resurrection.  On the other hand, today’s Gospel brings the Easter story full circle, or at least what we heard in our reading from the Book of Acts. 
        As we heard in Jesus’s prayer around the table with the disciples in our Gospel lesson, Jesus knows that he is returning to God and will not be on the earth anymore.  It’s up to the disciples to carry on the work from this point on once they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  And that’s what the essence of Ascension Sunday, or the last Sunday of Easter is all about, as it’s essentially the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry, but also the time to await the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which will happen next Sunday.  However, one thing that Jesus prays for comes at the end of the passage, in which we hear Jesus’s hope for those who will follow him after he is gone will become one in ministry to the world.  Jesus asks for protection for his followers, as the world he was ministering to was just as messy and uncertain as the world we live in today.  He tells us that we too are of God because we follow him and because he too is of God, ultimately “placing the believing community before God.”[i]
His hope is that everyone will unite around him because he is one with God and that everyone will ultimately trust in God and be bound together by the Holy Spirit, even amidst the dangers and hardships that will be faced.  In Eugene Peterson’s translation from The Message of verse 11, Jesus says
For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world;
They’ll continue in the world
While I return to you.
Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be one heart and mind
As we are one heart and mind (John 17: 11).

        Of course today, becoming one in ministry almost sounds easier said than done despite Jesus’s words to be of “one heart and mind.” It’s not hard to see on the news, on social media, in print, and even in conversation that we are definitely not of one mind more often than not, both in the works and even in the church.  However, differences in thought are not a bad thing, because if we all thought the same way, we’d be living in blah-blah land.  One the other hand, it’s how we navigate those differences with each other and still being one in ministry is what I believe that is at the heart of Jesus’s prayer for the disciples and for us as 21st century disciples in today’s lesson.  A lot of it comes down to our backgrounds and life experiences, as well as our different perspectives and vantage points.  I’d even go as far and add generational differences too!! 
Nevertheless, differences are not a bad thing and can still be healthy, but in order to become one in ministry, we have to also be able to effectively listen to and respect the different backgrounds and viewpoints that each of us bring to the table together, just like Jesus was able to bring the disciples together at the table.  See, like each of us gathered here in the sanctuary this morning, the disciples also came from different backgrounds, had different personalities, and opinions too.  Among the challenges that we face in becoming one in ministry today, “each of our ministries – from our interpretations of the gospel message of Jesus Christ to the things we hold as most critical in our discipleship and mission – is limited to some extend by our own limited vantage point.”[ii] And that’s okay, because we all have unique gifts and graces, but we all have limitations too.  Even amidst the differences we may bring to the table, we are ultimately one in ministry through Jesus because Jesus is of God and because we too belong to God and we need each other to support and encourage each other in ministry.  At the same time, “we are limited as individuals in ministry.  We can see only what we know and what is familiar.  We recognize only the things we are looking at out of what we know from our experience.”[iii] I know as a relatively new pastor that I have experiences in some areas, while I am limited in other areas.  For instance, when I was traveling back East earlier this month, I have found that I am not a big city person even though I lived in Washington, DC for four years during seminary.  While I adapted to an urban environment, I am definitely more at home here in Quincy, but also because I have more experience living in a rural environment having grown up in Rio Linda and on a semi-rural acre property.  When we all consider our own experiences and backgrounds, becoming one in ministry helps us bring our many different experiences together here in the church and is why we also need each other. 
        Some of us here might be crafty and skilled in building things, while others of us may be more experienced with hospitality, visiting the sick and homebound, working with youth and children, and so on and so forth.  However, we weave all of these collective experiences together to become one in ministry.  And even when we may have different talents and even different ways of thinking or believing, it is very important that “as disciples of Jesus Christ, we seek to understand and work hard to respect the viewpoints of others” and that “we are called to be in relationship with disciples of Jesus Christ who hold viewpoints that are different that our own.”[iv]
This is especially crucial today, given the tensions in our world and some of the tensions we may face when different ideas may come into conflict, and yes, even in the church too.  As we have read in some of the Gospel accounts following Jesus’s resurrection, the disciples weren’t always on the same page, even during Jesus’s earthly ministry and some had their own ways of thinking and beliefs, particularly Peter and Thomas.  Yet, Jesus still prays before all of the disciples and for all of humanity that we may be one in him, and that’s the Good News there.  Jesus cares about us so much, enough as to pray that we can be one through him as we await the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  When we become one in ministry by continuing to follow Jesus even though he is not physically visible in the world today,
We can expand our own vision of discipleship only with the help of others.  And it is only when we do that, when we expand our vision to include the perspective of others among God’s people, that we become able to look at the world through the eyes of Christ.  This is why it is critical not only that we be one in ministry with other people who share our faith, but that we seek to be in ministry with people who have a different view of the world than our own.[v]   

        I think that’s the homework that Jesus was giving the disciples for the time when he knew he would no longer be on the earth and likewise, that’s the work that we still have cut out for us as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today.  We know there are many things in both the church and in society that we are not of one mind on, yet we are still called to be one in ministry amidst some of the different viewpoints that we may have.  And we’ll also be seeing this next month in Burlingame when United Methodists from our California-Nevada Conference of the UMC gather for our Annual Conference Session from June 21-24.  Even when we come from different places in our regional body, from different backgrounds, and from different viewpoints, we still come together to be one in ministry with each other and we are bound together by the Holy Spirit and in love.  That’s Jesus’s prayer for all of us and even though it’s been over 2000 years since praying this prayer with the disciples, this prayer of Jesus’s still rings true today. 
As we go into this new week as one in ministry together, keep your eyes and ears open to the different perspectives that are out there and remember these words of Jesus, that we may be one through him even when we may have differences and viewpoints.  As we bring the Easter story full circle, I invite you to stand and keep your eyes open, and as comfortable, look up towards Heaven and with your hands raised or stretched out as comfortable, be in prayer with me. 

Let us pray:
Gracious Lord God, by the power of Christ, your name has been revealed to the people you have called from this world to be in mission and ministry. We are yours, and you have called each of us by name.  You have embraced us to be your disciples—and we have kept your word.

Almighty God, we know that everything you have given to us in our Savior, Jesus Christ, comes from you. We believe that the words Jesus spoke are your words, and we are committed to listen to your words revealed in Scripture through him. We truly do know that he came from you, God.

And we believe that you sent him not just to the first disciples, but to all disciples, in every generation, including us. And so it is in the holy name of Jesus that I pray for all of us. I’m not praying for the general population. I pray for these brothers and sisters that you have called, that we may be one in ministry together for this time and place.

You have called us to minister together. We are yours.  Bless us, that we be open to the vision that Christ has given not just to those in this place, but to those in other parts of your body—those ministering in your name in other places, in other nations, and in other denominations. For we know that everything you have given through Christ is yours, and everything Christ is, came from you. For in Christ, you have been glorified.

I pray that the fullness of Christ may be glorified in all of us. Holy Father, watch over us in your name, the name you gave your son Jesus, that we will be one just as you and Christ are one.

In the name of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.[vi]

[i] Study Notes for John 17: 3 in New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 1942. 

[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "Seventh Sunday Of Easter — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed May 24 2017.

[iii] Ibid. 
[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ibid. 
[vi] Prayer paraphrased from the words of Jesus as recorded in John 17:6-17, and written by Dawn Chesser.

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

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