Monday, June 19, 2017
Community UMC, Quincy
“Keep On Going”
June 18, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Matthew 9: 35-10:23
While it sometimes feels like a broken record and a little easier to be a ‘negative Ned OR Debbie Downer’ right now, it is hard to escape or ignore the news cycle right now. While I usually like to err on the side of hope and joy, it seems as if violence and bad news has become all too common in our world these days, including violence over differences in thought. It is a feeling like being a lamb in the midst of the wolves (or in our case, coyotes and mountain lions). Just this past week, we have seen incidents of violence in Alexandria, VA, in San Francisco, seven sailors dying in a crash on the USS Fitzgerald, as well as terror attacks in London and Manchester England a couple weeks ago, or remembering those who were killed in the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando a year ago. There is also more, as other incidences that don't always get reported. Plus, we also saw the sad news about finding Terry Blake’s body in the Graeagle area earlier this week, as she had been missing a little over a week.
While we try to be positive and try to look for hope on most days, we also need to allow the space to lament, to grieve, and to pray -- even when it may sometimes feel like our prayers are empty and hollow. But on the other hand, we often want to try and find answers right away as to why bad things happens, sometimes hastily jumping to conclusions. We want to be quick to blame something on x, y, or z for a myriad of reasons, maybe equating things in the world to being like ‘sheep without a shepherd’ (Matt. 9: 36). And in some cases, we want to seek revenge, you know, an eye for an eye. Yet once again, I keep gravitating back to being sheep among the wolves, as things in the world are like the wolves, but if we are not careful, we too could become the ones who are the wolves when we are too quick to judge or jump to conclusions, myself included, because I too have been a lamb, but I have also been a wolf too. Yet amidst everything that’s been happening lately, we are called by Jesus to keep on going, even when things around may seem like they’re in constant turmoil and even through the tragedy and difficulties that the world throws at us. Maybe that's why we need to be in the mission field more than ever and keep going out there!!
Almost a year ago, when I began my ministry with you and asked the question, “where do we begin?,” we read a similar text in Luke’s Gospel. But this morning, in Matthew’s gospel, we are kind of flashing back to when Jesus was beginning his ministry in earnest. He already has his twelve disciples that we heard by name, but Jesus now gives the original twelve disciples the same authority that he has, healing the sick, bringing hope, and sharing good news of Gods kingdom. See, Jesus has been having HUGE crowds gathering around wherever he went, as he shared his love, his compassion, and healing presence with those crowds. But to do it all by himself is too big of an undertaking with this vast mission field before Jesus and the twelve disciples. However, as we read “The Great Commission” in Matthew 28: 16-20 last week, Jesus ultimately empowers the disciples to reach ALL of the world, extending the invitation to the journey of faith to include EVERYONE!! And for us, it means to keep going and making that invitation to everyone!!
Yet I think today, our mission field is even more vast and even more expansive than in Jesus’s time, and the opportunity for harvest is great and growing, but we still need the workers, even today. Of course, those workers today are each of us. Once again, I don’t need to ‘beat the dead horse’ about the decline of those who are engaged with Christianity or the church, but there are factors at play, perhaps instances where we are called to be sheep among the wolves, but instead many feel as if people in the church universal have become the wolves. In her book, Searching for Sunday, evangelical-turned Episcopal author Rachel Held Evans (who’s coincidentally the same age as I am), explains that the decline, especially among the younger generations is because “we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power,” but instead we “want to be known what we’re for [not so much] what we’re against.” -- Definitely something to think about here, and a challenge in which we as disciples of Jesus need to keep on going, by sharing the good news of the Gospel message and bringing the light and love of Christ to a world of bad news and darkness, and even to an even more skeptical world that does not exactly trust what we have to say or may not even trust the good news of the gospel. But more importantly, we still need be like sheep and be as gentle as doves as Jesus reminds us when we do our work in the mission field , as well as being known what we are for (Matthew 10: 16).
As we talked about last week in Jesus’s call to the disciples to go and make disciples and carry on his work in the world, we also need to keep practicing our own discipleship, which is some of the work of ‘The Great Commission.’ Basically, practicing what we preach and letting what we study in scripture and the Holy Spirit guide our actions is one way to keep going and living into ‘The Great Commission.’ Even when we practice our own personal discipleship of study, prayer/devotion, forming and engaging with small groups, visitations, and engagement with the community through outreach, Jesus tells the original twelve disciples and us that it’s not going to be an easy world to minister to, or an easy mission field to engage for that matter. Jesus is once again reminding us that nothing is easy even though many of us (and me)wish that things would be a little easier and simpler. But amidst the challenges and difficulties that we’ll face in the mission field, we DO have the assurance that God’s presence and Holy Spirit are with us when Jesus says “don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words” (Matt. 10: 20, MSG). We need to keep going, even when the road gets tough, or when being out in the greater community and world feels like being sheep in the midst of wolves.
However, there are times where it is tempting and even easier to become wolves ourselves, especially in the midst of declining attendance and engagement in the church, or in the midst of disagreements. I know in the past, I would often get a little discouraged when I invited someone to church and would never see them, but perhaps that's also when I was too pushy about it, basically being a wolf with a holier-than-thou mindset, something I've unlearned over time after my own struggles with the church, God, and Christianity. Even thinking back to John Wesley and his methodical ways and enthusiasm for serving Christ, we too may catch fire and like Wesley, want to spread the word and might have a burning passion, zeal, and enthusiasm, but we don’t want to come across as overzealous or holier-than-thou either. That actually turns people off to the church more often than not. Like I said last week, we don’t want to be pushy about making disciples, but as we keep on going into the mission field and greater world by building healthy and essential relationships, we do want to keep encouraging and inviting people to join us on the journey through such relationships, being gentle as doves and sheep.
One of the things we have talked about in this church in my first year here is the continued desire to reach out to the families in our neighborhood and I've talked a little bit about it with the Christian Education and Spiritual Growth team last month and we will be continuing the conversation this summer (after ACS). However, for anything to be done well and in order to be intentional about making things happen, it takes baby steps and being like sheep and being gentle as doves, and willing to let things start small. But when it comes to reaching new people, especially younger people and families we also need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, does our worship appeal to younger people? Do we have enough programs for younger people? I actually think its more than worship or programs. As I continue to read in Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans makes an important point that
we need to stop building churches around categories and start building them around people. And I told [youth workers at a conference] that, contrary to popular belief, we can’t be won back [to church] with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans.
At the same time, a number of my younger classmates who I lived, dined, worshiped with, and attended class with in seminary had very similar sentiments to what Rachel is saying. And as someone who grew up in a more traditional church setting, I would feel very out of place in such a setting, although it does work for others. Instead when we go into the mission field and keep going, it’s about being authentic, bringing our whole, true selves to the table with those we meet, as whole or as messed up as we may be. I don’t see Jesus saying anywhere in his call for workers in the field to have your stuff together, as the disciples sure didn’t, given that they were imperfect, ordinary people who took up Jesus’s call to follow him. And even when it feels like we are sheep in the midst of wolves in the field, we still need to be authentic and be ourselves, no matter which age group we engage with -- because we are ALL the body of Christ and we are ALL called to keep going to work in the mission field. And if people don’t want to engage, we shake the dust off and say ‘peace be with you, although we still love you,’ and keep going.
So despite the fact that it feels like we live in a bad-news kind of world right now, at least in this past week, we still have the good news of Jesus and his light, love, grace, and healing to share with the world as we keep going and keep living into ‘The Great Commission.’ We want to reach people of every age and all walks of life, as we know that Jesus was compassionate with everyone who he encountered while teaching and healing, even if he did dole out a little tough love here and there, especially towards the disciples. But remember that it's still up to us to keep the work, teaching, and healing of Jesus going. While it may feel like being sheep in the midst of wolves out there, we still need to go out and work in the mission field, as the harvest is riper than ever. We still need to practice our own discipleship, but also reach out and invite others along on this journey as well, even if they may not initially engage. But as you keep on going along that journey, be authentic, and be wise as snakes and as gentle as doves and sheep as we keep on going on this journey together!! The Holy Spirit will be with us from there!!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!!
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Community UMC, Quincy
June 11, 2017 – Trinity Sunday
Pastor Andrew Davis
2 Corinthians 13: 11-13
Matthew 28: 16-18
As I referred to in my most recent article for the newsletter, June feels like it’s a month that's on the GO. It’s a time to go on vacation, a time of going from one grade to the next like many of our students have done this week; a time of going on from high school like we saw on Friday at Quincy High School’s graduation and seeing Alyssa graduate. Or, June is also a time of going to Annual Conference which Gloria and I will be doing next week when we travel to Burlingame to represent our church in the work of our regional body of the UMC in California-Nevada. But the month of June is also a time of transition for many, as a number of my clergy colleagues will be going to other churches (aka ‘The Methodist Shuffle’) and in the case of a number of my friends who just graduated seminary this last month, a time of going to their new churches for the very first time, although now I can’t stop thinking of that song from Disney’s “Frozen” that goes, “for the first time in forever…”
And as we just presented Bibles to Quentin, Bryant, Cooper, and Allie this morning, there are going to many moments along the way of your journeys into 3rd which will feel like ‘the first time in forever.’ And now that you have your new Bibles, I hope you will use them to help you grow in faith as you keep on learning about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, as they will be with you, along with your family, and all of us here in this church, your church family as you go on this journey, plus I know you're very good readers and will learn a lot with your new Bibles. And please, do ask us questions about the many stories about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit that you will read about in the Bible, as we are here to help you as you go forward in your faith journey. I know when I got my first Bible at our church in Rio Linda from Rev. Lori Sawdon in 1990, I would often visit Pastor Lori after church and ask her lots of questions about the stories in the Bible that I read, and she was always happy to take the time to help me make sense of what I was reading out of this very Bible that I received from her. This last January, it was a GREAT JOY to reconnect and look back with her as a fellow pastor, coming a long way from that curious 9-year-old.
As we engage with our texts this morning, Paul is going forth from his churches in Corinth as he gives final greetings, while in our Gospel lesson, the resurrected, living Jesus is telling the disciples that it’s now their turn to go into the world and teach others about God, Jesus himself, and the Holy Spirit, as we also know this story from Matthew as “The Great Commission.” (If you turn in your new Bibles to Matthew 28: 16-20, Quentin, Bryant, Cooper, and Allie, there’s a really cool little section on the bottom of the page that talks about “The Great Commission” that I hope you’ll read this week!!).
So often when we talk about The Great Commission, we think it’s about going out and trying to bring people in or get people to come to church, and that is part of it, although like some of these infomercials we'd see on tv would say, but there's more. The invitation aspect comes with the package, but first and foremost, Jesus tells the disciples to GO out to the world to now make disciples, basically inviting ALL people to become disciples, as he’s telling the disciples to GO and meet the people where they are at, as “the invitation to [becoming disciples]” or followers of Jesus is “now open to all people of all nations.” However, Jesus isn’t saying ‘come’ or ‘stay.’ He is more or less saying it more like the bonus ending of the movie from the 1980’s, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where Ferris reappears after the credits and says “what are you still doing here? GET OUT OF HERE!” Given how stern Jesus could be with the disciples at times in Matthew’s Gospel, I wouldn’t put it past him. But, today we do see some people out and about trying to bring people to faith in various ways, and John Wesley even did it when he preached in the fields and coal mines, mostly after being banned from preaching in some of the churches around England during the mis-late 1700's. There are various ways of making disciples, but we have to actually GO out to make it happen.
One of my favorite parodies of scripture comes from a blog that I used to read regularly called ‘United Methodeviations’ by Rev. Dr. Dan Dick in Wisconsin. In The Gospel According to Bob, chapter 28, verses 16 to 20 we hear these words:
Then Jesus sayeth unto them, “Go, invite people to come sitteth for an hour in church once every six weeks or so, telling them that very little will be expected of them, that they will heareth good music and that there will be coffee and snacks.” But, Peter aggrieved and dyspeptic said, “But, what if there is soccer??” And Jesus replied, “Well, that is a problem.” (KJV)
Jesus said, “Bring people to church.” Peter replied, “They may not come.” Jesus said, “Whatever.” (The Message)
Now Dan calls this particular post “The Mediocre Commission,” as it differs a lot from “The Great Commission,” which says a little something about what it means to be Jesus’s disciples today, as Jesus still calls and commissions us to be his followers, in which we are then called to make new disciples. In fact, the mission statement of the UMC is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” which is taken from “The Great Commission.” As Jesus prepares to depart this world and as Paul is preparing to leave Corinth to go to his next church, both are telling the people of the church in Corinth and the disciples that ‘it’s your turn now…GO!,’ That's somethings expected of us as disciples. But also don't just GO, but lead by example, in which we neeed to pay attention to living into the great commission, not the mediocre commission.
And likewise, it’s now our turn too, as Jesus is telling us in “The Great Commission” to make disciples, but also teach others to do what he taught, as we as a community of faith need to keep studying what he taught the original twelve disciples, as we may find some new insights in our study each time. Also part of living into the Great Commission means loving each other unconditionally, trying to help each other and those we meet the best ways that we can and within reason (even when all the best we can do is be a listening ear). When we GO to make disciples, we need to be generous, but even love the people that we may not like, the people we may not get along with, or those we disagree with, and even go into places we may not want to go. Little things like these is one way how we can change the world for the better when we go and do what Jesus says and taught the disciples, but also teach others to do what Jesus says to do when we too go and make disciples. In everything, we know that Jesus’s presence is still with us, always and forever.
But it takes us going out, teaching, loving, and showing others how Jesus loves the world through our actions which makes this commission so great. Now unlike the Gospel According to Bob, Jesus doesn’t say ‘come to my church’ because going out and meeting the people where they are is part of ‘The Great Commission,’ but also our task as disciples. Now by coming to church, you do get some perks like a loving community, yes - coffee and some treats, but more importantly, you get fellowship with people who are at different points along the journey of faith, even if that faith isn’t exactly perfect and even if you're not sure about all this God stuff. We learn about being disciples together. We’re still sent by Jesus to GO, whether it’s in our own community, across the country, or in the greater world. Jesus says GO, I am with you.
So when we GO and serve at our various community organizations, in our various workplaces, our schools, even to the lakes and streams, the park, or summer sports programs, we have many awesome opportunities to make disciples, remembering that Jesus is always with us, but also to let the Jesus within each of us come out. It doesn’t mean that we have to say ‘hey, you HAVE to come to my church’ (although the invitation doesn’t hurt either), but instead says, ‘hey, I care about you; come join me on this journey...I don't know where all it will end up, but I believe it will be good!' At the same time when we meet people where they are at when Jesus says GO, we also don’t want to be pushy about it either.
We also show our own discipleship through our actions, by our love for God and neighbor, reading and studying the Bible as often as we can through regular devotion (such as The Upper Room booklets in the vestibule or AliveNow), and through daily prayer, but we also show our own discipleship in how we apply it to how we live day by day. It’s how we do as Jesus says and try to act just like Jesus did, or even ask ourselves in our actions like those wrist bands and t-shirts would say when I was in high school in the 1990's, ‘what would Jesus do?.’ When Jesus says to ‘Go make disciples,’ we can make disciples through how we relate to others, particularly in love, but also by being encouraging when inviting friends and people you meet to join you on the journey of faith. Doesn't mean they'll come to church, but at least you have the relationship which in my eyes, is more important.
Finally, as we’ve heard before and as I discussed with a couple colleagues over lunch this last week, one of the fastest growing groups is the ‘nones,’ people who do not have an affiliation with church or religion. Although I said this in a sermon in January, A 2014 study by The Barna Group, a group that researches populations and religion, found that 48% of the people born between 1984 and 2002 and 40% of those born between 1965 and 1983 do not affiliate with any particular church (although these percentages may be a little higher today). This means that we have a HUGE opportunity to engage and build relationships, simply meeting people where they are at when we GO make disciples. In order to GO make disciples and even BE disciples, we really want to practice what Jesus says, particularly in Matthew 22 that we are to ‘love the Lord our God and love our neighbor as ourselves’ (Matthew 22: 36-40), especially when we go back out into the community and into the world from this place, as the Great Commission is a capstone to the Gospel of Matthew, but now puts the work Jesus did onto us. And as we GO, remember that as he is also with God, Jesus will be with us each step of the way, as we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and move within us as we GO and make disciples and make this world a better place by living into the Great Commission.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say AMEN.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Community UMC, Quincy
“Fan Those Flames”
June 4, 2017: Pentecost Sunday
Pastor Andrew Davis
Acts 2: 1-21
1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13
About 30-ish years ago, I got to go on my first camping trip with my dad, grandpa, and a family friend up to Antelope Lake not too far from here. Now, this was my first time camping away from home and will just say it only lasted one night for me, as I went back down with our family friend the next day. But as he and my dad went out to do some scouting, I think for the upcoming deer season, my grandpa and I stayed behind. I was eager to build a campfire, so my grandpa decided to show me how to build one. It was only with small twigs and some paper towels to start and while it was a pretty pathetic fire, that moment taught me the basics of building a fire, a skill I’ve developed over the years. Then again, I’m known to build some pretty hot fires too. Plus when I’m down at my parents house and build a fire there, their tortoiseshell cat, Nikki is almost always stretched out in front of the fireplace before long, so we know she is content whenever someone builds a fire in our house.
But in order to start a good fire, you need some tinder such as newspaper or pine needles, some kindling (more like what I tried to build my first fire exclusively with), and then the big, coal-producing logs, preferably oak or walnut which will burn long or hot. Then you want to fan those flames as your fire gets going so it’ll spread and ignite and become a nice fire. While fire is useful for keeping warm, cooking, and providing a nice, relaxing atmosphere, we know all too well that it can also be destructive and deadly, especially since it can cause severe burns and destroy homes and land. In fact when I took a drive up to Antelope Lake last September while exploring the outdoors in Plumas County, I could have cried when I saw the scarred hillsides, burnt-out trees, and destruction caused by the fire up there ten years ago. And we know that with the effects of extensive drought and bark beetle infestation around us in California and the West, we know that fire can happen at anytime and how destructive fire can be when the fuel is there and the flames are fanned by the wind. Plus, there are many of you here who still vividly remember the fire on Christmas Day 1984 that damaged this sanctuary and part of the education wing. These are two cases where we don’t want to see those flames fanned.
As we just heard in our lesson from Acts a few minutes ago, we heard the story of the first Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit showed itself to all the believers in an amazing, powerful, spectacular way!! But besides coming in like a rushing wind, the Holy Spirit also appears in the form of tongues of fire, settling on every believer gathered in that house that day (Acts 2: 2-3). Now I’m not sure about you, but I’d be a little worried about seeing fire resting on me, as my first instinct would be to do like we learned in elementary school, ‘stop, drop, and roll over.’ But this fire was not like a destructive fire, but was the fire of the Holy Spirit, as it didn’t burn anyone. Remember back to the burning bush story where Moses encounters the burning bush, yet the bush was not consumed by the fire? That’s a lot what the fire of the Holy Spirit looks like, burning, but not consuming. And that fire was powerful, as people also began speaking different languages and understanding each other (Acts 2: 4-12). In this case, they were on fire, but on fire with the Holy Spirit, a case where those flames need to be fanned!!
When the Holy Spirit works through us, amazing things can happen, as it’s the fire of passion that burns through us. Back in 2002 when Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics, the theme for those games was “Light the Fire Within,” something that I think about whenever I think about the fire of the Holy Spirit. We have the fire of Christ’s presence within each of us, the flames of passion for being his hands and feet in our community and world. More importantly, each of us gathered here has unique gifts and passions, as each of us can fan those flames of the Holy Spirit in realizing and fully using our gifts.
In fact, the Apostle Paul talks about using those gifts of the Spirit in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 4-6 when he says
God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! (MSG)
Each of the gifts we have, that fire within us, and our passions are all connected to God and that fire can burn brightly when we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us and fan those flames. And perhaps, we can even throw some kerosene on those flames too when thinking of how to use our gifts from God!! As we talked about last week, we all have different experiences in life, different viewpoints, and likewise, we have different gifts and different passions, but it takes the Holy Spirit and fanning those flames of the Spirit to work through us. Now, it doesn’t mean that we’re literally going to burst into flames (although there are some Sundays I get so excited that I may just burst into flames!), but we need to rely on that fire of the Holy Spirit within to guide us along the way on this journey of faith, even through the ups and downs that life brings us. But more importantly, what are we as a church most passionate about? What are the flames that are burning within each of us that need fanning, perhaps need a little kerosene thrown on?
One of the things our committee on lay leadership (aka nominations) is doing this summer is a study of Rev. Mike Slaughter’s book, The Passionate Church which talks about The United Methodist Church’s Four Areas of Focus which are 1) Developing Principled Christian Leaders, 2) Engaging in Ministry with the Poor, 3) Creating New and Renewed Congregations, and 4) Improving Global Health. I have to say that I see the flames of the Holy Spirit burning in each of us here, as we have very strong lay leadership in this church, a passion for music and worship, a passion for helping people and active involvement in the community. And we do it by joyfully living our faith!! In fact, we follow in that same line with John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, as some often wondered if Wesley would catch on fire because of his enthusiasm for living his faith in the world by visiting the sick and poor, preaching in the fields and coal mines, and through his intense devotion and study of the Bible. However, Mike Slaughter explains that “Wesley reconnected Christ followers with the power of the Holy Spirit and birthed a new, transformative movement that actively served the mission of Jesus in the world.”[i]
And so on this Pentecost Sunday, we acknowledge that Jesus while is not physically present in the world today, we STILL feel his presence and see his presence alive and well through the power and movement of the Holy Spirit, lighting the fire within each of us, and fanning those flames through the wind of the Spirit. But it’s also up to each of us to carry on that work in the world today, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us and to fan those flames of passion. As we go into this new week, I want all of you to think about something you are most passionate about in this church, and perhaps where that passion and the Holy Spirit may guide you to serve when you fan those flames. Let’s see those flames burn bigger and brighter than they did when I built my first campfire and let’s see our passions burn brightly in this world as we go out to serve, guided by the Holy Spirit!!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!!
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