Sunday, October 29, 2017

"For the Love of God and Neighbor" - Sermon, October 29, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“For the Love of God and Neighbor”
Pastor Andrew Davis
October 29, 2017
Matthew 22: 34-46

Back in the 1990’s, one of my favorite television shows was ABC’s Home Improvement, starring Tim Allen, Richard Karn, and Patricia Richardson.  Home Improvement centered around the Taylor Family, particularly Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, who portrayed a handyman with a home improvement television show called “Tool Time” which was kind of like Hometime or This Old House.  One of the more hilarious parts was his rivalry with former This Old House host Bob Villa, possibly a way of how not to love your neighbor.  Many of my classmates also watched the show and we’d often talk about the previous night’s episode at school, plus Tim’s kids in the show were around our age at the time, so many of us could relate.  One of the subplots of Home Improvement was Tim’s relationship with his next-door neighbor, Wilson, played by the late Earl Hindman.  Wilson was a very interesting person, although all we saw of him most of the time was his hat and eyes, as he was almost always hidden by the fence and his full face was never shown (although during the curtain call during the series finale, they finally revealed his full face).  As eccentric as Wilson was, he was a confidant and mentor to Tim, always having words of wisdom to share and a listening ear, maybe even some tough love once in awhile.  Besides Tim’s assistant, Al Borland (Richard Karn), I think Wilson was my favorite character because of the love he showed towards everyone.  Wilson was an example of what it means to love our neighbor. 
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus finds himself in the midst of conflict with the religious authorities once again, as the Gospel lessons these last few weeks from Matthew chapters 21 and 22 are part of the conflict narratives.  The religious authorities, the Pharisees and Saducees who test Jesus are not bad people, per se, but they absolutely LOVE the law, right down to every I and every T.  They are trying to trap Jesus in his words, yet Jesus manages to amaze them each time with his answers, so much that they will not question him anymore.  Our lesson today picks up following an exchange with the Saducees about resurrection, as Jesus leaves the Saducees in amazement at the answers he gives. In this conflict scene we just heard, the Pharisees now send a lawyer to challenge Jesus some more on his teachings, kind of like when we get challenged on things we might say, such as our core beliefs, or when we defend a master’s thesis, or doctoral dissertation.  When the lawyer asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, Jesus quotes directly from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your mind,” while taking that commandment a step further to include loving our neighbors and ourselves.[i]
            For the Pharisees and Saducees, they held fast the law of Moses, while also holding a very narrow viewpoint, and that included excluding those who were not seen as pure in their eyes, as they held fast and tight to the purity, household, and dietary codes of the time (if you want to read more about it, read through the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy).  Yet amidst the Pharisees and Sadducees views, Jesus challenges the religious authorities and his followers to a new way of thinking, to not only love God, but to love their neighbor too. Seems quite simple, except that one of the hardest things to do is to love our neighbors.  A mentor of mine recently shared a sermon he preached several years ago on this very topic and tells the story of a Christian theologian and famous astrophysicist:
A famous theologian found himself seated next to a famous astrophysicist on a long airplane flight.  Soon the small talk led into more weighty conversation. 
The astrophysicist claimed to be an atheist and argued eloquently that there was no God.  But the theologian was able to counter every argument.  Finally the scientist exclaimed in frustration, “Love your neighbor as yourself.  That’s all there is to the Christian faith.” 
The theologian calmly replied, “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.  That’s all there is to astrophysics.”   Who do you think won that argument?[ii]
I would have loved to have been on that flight!!  No dull moments there. Sometimes, that’s how Jesus’s exchanges and conflicts with the religious authorities feels like, although Jesus has a strong point that there is no getting around it: we are called to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. 
            For the first nine and a half years of my life, my family lived in a suburban track home in Elverta and we were pretty tight-knit with many of our neighbors throughout the whole neighborhood.  Yeah, we had our disagreements and our squabbles here and there, yet many of us had each other’s backs too.  Our neighborhood had many kids my age and we had our typical love-hate-love relationship with each other where one day we’re friends, then something would happen and we wouldn’t be friends, then we’d make peace and be friends once again.  Typical cycle among kids, adolescents, and teens.  We still had that sense of love for each other despite our occasional disagreements.  The same went for the grownups too, as they’d occasionally have a spat or two, but still had a sense of love for one another.  However, in 1990, my family moved to our present house Rio Linda after we inherited passing that March. 
            Instead of a close-knit neighborhood, we moved to a much larger property along a busy street with a rural feel on one side and apartments and duplexes on the other side, with our next-door neighbors being my great-uncle Johnny (until his passing in 2000) and an elementary school.  The neighborhood was much different.   It’s mostly because people keep moving in and out across the street.  Plus, during my three years at the elementary school, everyone knew where I lived (obvious!).  We still exchange pleasantries and greet our neighbors when we see them, except there just isn’t that close-knit feeling like we had in the old neighborhood, although most of the people who lived there at the time have also likely moved on.  Still, all throughout my life, I’ve had to try practicing loving our neighbors and be reminded to, even when they could also drive us crazy.  Jesus never said it would be easy.  Despite how we may feel about our neighbors at times, our Gospel lesson is a core teaching of Jesus and could even sum up these teachings into these two commandments.[iii] 
As I did last week, I went to social media to ask friends, family, and colleagues what loving God and neighbor looks like to them.  One of my colleagues on the East Coast mentions how it is hard trying to love God and neighbor, as it involves walking together with many different people, which also means having to listen to being called out on our crud while also ‘becoming deeply concerned about the reality of relationship with God and one another.’ As we recognize the Protestant Reformation that happened 500 years ago tomorrow and about 200 years before Methodism became a thing, another colleague talked of the need ‘for continuous reformation within the church as a sign of our love of God and neighbor.’ During the fire season and after times of natural disaster, we have seen our love of God and neighbor put into action both here and through our connectional support in the UMC.  Another friend talked of his experience of doing some of the hands-on relief work in Joplin, MO following a deadly tornado and like the fires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters that happen, people will step up and step out in love.  That’s one of the places where the church really shines!!! Plus, if you have experienced a Walk to Emmaus or other three-day weekend experience, you have felt and experienced (or if you go on one, will feel and experience) this Love.  There are so many other examples of where we show our love for God and Neighbor.  It also means loving the people we can’t always stand because they’re our neighbor too (even if it doesn’t necessarily mean having each other over for Thanksgiving dinner).  We can still love each other when we practice and keep healthy boundaries.
            A couple weeks ago, I was given a copy of John Pavlovitz’s new book, A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community and while I’m still in the process of reading it (am a little over halfway through), I have found that sometimes the love of God and neighbor can be messy, yet hopeful in the same breath.  Now I know that John has his many critics and can often be very outspoken at times, sometimes rubbing people the wrong way because of his passion.  Yet, John takes the call of loving God and neighbor very seriously, even when he has been hurt by others.  In the book, John observes that
The church can be a beautiful or horrifying place, depending on where you’re standing.  (As they say in real estate, location is truly everything).  We Christians know how to do love really well when we believe someone is on the inside, when they’re one of us, part of our tribe – when they’re in the family.  There’s a tangible sense of shared purpose and mutual affection that comes with being part of a local faith community, a feeling of belonging that really does transcend almost anything one can experience.[iv]

            It really is easier to love those on the inside.  Except we need to see and love the people outside of the church too, which I have to say here in this community, we already do a great job of doing so. 
Last Saturday, about a dozen of us had our first of several all-church planning sessions facilitated by Pastor Ray, and one of the things we are constantly trying to do is engage our neighbors and the people of the greater community of Quincy, particularly families.  While we would love to have people a part of our church community and have this place bursting at the seams, maybe it’s more about the relationship we have with the people around us, which is another way of showing our love of God and neighbor by being a hope-filled presence in this community.  Another idea was to have a group of people offer to do small tasks, such as changing lightbulbs and batteries in smoke detectors for people who have difficulty with ladders, or expand the role of our lay-visitation team to include people within our community who might have limited contact with people who are not necessarily affiliated with our church, because they are our neighbors as well. 
One of our ideas is to do a hymn-sing following community supper as a means of inviting our neighbors in, which I’m thinking of doing the week following the annual Fall Dinner.  A longer-range vision is an after-school program, although we do realize that we may have some hoops to jump through before we can really start.  Ways we relate with our neighbors through our local businesses and community events goes a long way, such as our participation in Quincy Chamber’s Safe Trick or Treat on Tuesday. It’s not just giving out candy or little bottles of water, but giving the many children around the county who come to this event a piece of our heart and words of love.  After all, “anything done with care and joy can be an act of worship” and when we love God and neighbor, particularly through our actions and words, we too can find joy and give others a sense of hope in a world that sometimes feels hopeless.[v] Or as I like to say, share some Good News in a bad news sort of world.
            So, when Jesus says that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, as well as our neighbors as ourselves, he was serious and we need that constant reminder, as we see this same passage in the Gospels of Mark and Luke as well.  Sometimes we have neighbors we don’t always want to love or are leery of, yet we are called to love them anyway, because they are still our neighbors and our fellow human beings.  The Good News is that God loves each of us and there’s nothing we can do about it, as God’s love is unlimited even when we don’t always love others or when we fall short (which we confess each time we prepare to take Holy Communion).  Even if our neighbors might drive us crazy, or might demand too much of us, or if our neighbors are more like Wilson on Home Improvement, our call is to love our neighbors as ourselves regardless of who our neighbors are.  As we begin this new week, our homework is this; how are you going to put your love of God and neighbor into action this week and beyond?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say AMEN!! 

[i] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 424. 
[ii] Rev. Ray Dowdy, “Love My Neighbor” (Quincy, CA: October 23, 2011).  Used with permission. 
[iii] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII, 425
[iv] John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 25. 
[v] Pavlovitz, 11.  

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"The Idols We Make" - Sermon, October 22, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“The Idols We Make”
Pastor Andrew Davis
October 22, 2017
Exodus 32: 1-14

            Although the television set has come a long, long way since its inception in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s, it has been a fixture in many American living rooms ever since.  When HBO was doing one of their free preview weeks some twenty-ish years ago, I came across Barry Leavinson’s 1990 film Avalon, which is part of his “Baltimore Films” about a Russian/Jewish immigrant family and is set in the 1940’s and 50’s, although ends in the 1970’s or 80’s.  One particular scene that comes to mind is when the main characters, the Krichinsky Family gets their first television set and the way the entire family reacts to seeing it work for the first time, particularly the children.  Almost hypnotically.  In fact, one electronics company used the same scene, but imposed a modern television set into the picture.  Pretty much after that particular scene in Avalon, the world for the Krichinsky Family would never be the same since the television would now have its prominent role in the rapidly changing society of after WWII.  In applying some of my background in American Cultural Studies during undergrad, a closer look at the film will show a profound social commentary about the television and its role in family life.  In some ways, the television became an idol and took the family away from many of the traditions they had known, even leading to some broken relationships. 
In my own years here on earth, I don’t think that I can recall a time of not having television at home, except maybe right after I moved here to Quincy and waited a little over a month until I got DIRECTV installed.  However, there’s still our smartphones and other electronic gadgets that can consume a good deal of our time.  I don’t think I need to rattle off any statistics, but we sure do spend a good amount of time on our electronics or in front of the television.  I will own up to the fact that I’m one of them who spends a lot of time in front of my electronics, even though I am trying to disconnect,  but constantly fall short in doing so despite my best efforts.  I will often peek at my phone to read something and before I know it, an hour or two has gone by.  On the other hand, there are many things that take us away from what is really important as Christians, and yes, our electronics is one of those things that can be helpful or not so helpful.  The theologian Paul Tillich says that “your ultimate concern is your God,” which raises an important question as a person of faith; ‘who is our God’ and ‘what are the idols we make that take us away from fully focusing on God?’
            Like our message on forgiveness last month, we are dealing with another pretty heavy topic when we think about the idols we make.  The Meriam-Webster dictionary defines idol as “a representation or symbol of an object of worship” or “an object of extreme devotion.”[i] As Christians in our world today, we do our best to worship God and show God our full devotion.  Yet, we also know that it is so easy to become distracted away from God.  Even on this journey of faith just like Israel was on the journey in the wilderness, there will be times when we might feel like God is absent or not listening, or feel like our prayers are not always answered. Or, we may get discouraged because we cannot physically see the face of God, although we can see signs of God all around us and in the people around us.  Instead, there are moments when we want certainty; we want a solid representation of God; we want to see the face of God even though the face of God is not meant to be seen.  We also can get a little impatient with God now and then, especially when a need is not met.  The Israelite people also get into this little bind when Moses goes up to Mt. Sinai and spends forty days there.  And like the Israelite people when they finally become impatient, we to might be tempted to focus on something else without fully realizing it (I’m preaching to myself here too!).
In our lesson from Exodus this morning, the Israelite people finally grow so impatient that they decided that they had enough of following God, who earlier in the Exodus story brought them out of their oppression in Egypt and brought them through the desert under Moses’ leadership.  They are frustrated because they can’t physically see God.  Since we last read from Exodus, the Israelite people are almost like young children on a LONG car trip.  I’m sure all of us have been on both sides of that, where we as kids or even our kids or grandkids have uttered those four words that make all of us cringe: ‘are we there yet?’ I do empathize some with Isarel here because I’m sure I’d be saying the same thing, especially if I was having to travel across a desert by foot for forty years like Israel did.  Heck, there were moments I kind of felt that way on the road trip from California to Washington, DC when my dad and I drove there or last year when my seminary roommate Josh and I drove back to CA from DC.  Four days in the car felt long enough, so just imagine being in the shoes of Israel for forty years.  And a journey like that is sure to test even the most patient of people. Even amidst the normal human behavior and emotions the Israelites showed, God still heard them and provided for them by giving them manna and quail, or water from a rock, except the Israelite people still have a hard time trusting God for bringing them out of Egypt on this journey to the promised land.  They want certainty and something they can physically see.
At this point in the story where we are studying this morning, Israel has been at the base of Mr. Sinai for forty days, as Moses has been up there conversing and strategizing with God in making a covenant, also known as the ten commandments.  However, the Israelite people are getting restless, wondering just where the heck Moses is and if he’s ever going to return.  They’re not exactly the poster children for practicing patience, so they turn to their other leader, Aaron, Moses’ brother.  In a ‘when mom says no, ask dad’ type scenario, the Israelites ask Aaron to make an image of God and he complies, in which they give him their gold and form this golden calf which becomes their new god since they were able to see this god.  Talk about crossing a line right there, although Aaron was also a people-pleaser or may have succumbed to the constant complaining.
Now one of the ten commandments states that there are not to be any other gods than the God we know, which in the Hebrew Bible texts is referred to as Yahweh, Jehovah, or I AM, to name a few.  God is a jealous god here and when God sees this display that’s happening below, God gets pretty ticked off at the Israelites, telling Moses to ‘do something about YOUR people,’ even though God has referred to Israel as ‘my people’ throughout the narrative in Exodus to this point.  God shifts the perspective to Moses as the one who brought the people out of Egypt and is ready to obliterate the Israelite people for their gross display and creating this idol.    However, Moses steps in and manages to talk God out of obliterating the people by reminding God of the promises that were made to the ancestors that came before Moses, notably Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  After all, promises are promises, plus after God wiped out a good part of humanity during the Great flood story in Genesis 6, God made the promise and covenant to never destroy the earth again.  God ultimately showed mercy and grace towards the Israelites after Moses talked God out of obliterating the people.  Now if you want the rest of the story, I encourage you to read the rest of Exodus 32, as Moses is the one who becomes angry and gives the people a pretty unpleasant punishment.
All these millennia later since the long journey through the desert, humanity has created many other golden calves or idols that tempt us away from our devotion to God and this journey of faith; yet as happens in the remainder of the story, none of these idols have been thrown into the fire, ground up, and thrown into the water for us to drink like what happened to Israel.  Although I’m sure there are some out there who would love to do that with smart phones, or at least just throw them into the fire.  While our electronics and especially social media can be an idol, it can be quite useful in sermon planning since I do have a rule that anything posted on Facebook or Twitter can become sermon material or illustrations.  This last week when I was planning this morning’s sermon, I did a build-a-sermon post by asking my friends and colleagues what they thought are some of the idols we make.  I’m not surprised by many of the responses, though.  Youth, beauty, and our bodies can be one; our material possessions such as our houses, cars, or cash can be idols as well.  Athletes, celebrities, television, sports, and the internet are among other idols we make.  Or in some of the recent stories in the news, our political beliefs, nationalism, or the flag are a few more responses I got and one that I know can get really touchy with a number of people I know, so not saying anymore on that.  And even in the church, our buildings, our pastors, and our doctrine were some others I heard about.  Although I’ll remind everyone to read the text of the hymn “We Are the Church,” as the church is the people…not the building, not the steeple, not the pastor (hence why Methodist pastors are moved around every here and there), the choir or music director, but the people who make up the body of Christ.  The reality is that we have more golden calves and idols that we have made than we realize.  There are things we need, though, like our cars/transportation, a roof over our head, food on the table, plus we are allowed to have fun, and entertainment is not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s when we start becoming too engrossed in the things we have or the things we enjoy and it becomes our sole focus or becomes like a god to us is when things becomes problematic. 
The good news is that while we may have things that can be idols we make, God will still show us grace and mercy in the long-run just like God did with the Israelite people.  We do like our ‘stuff,’ yet as Hebrew Bible scholar Anathea Portier-Young at Duke Divinity School observes (and this is a fairly long quote),
It is easy to mistake our own creations for our God. It is tempting to shape our plundered riches, our wages, and even the reparations for our losses into an image that pleases our senses, mollifies our anxiety, and invites admiration from our neighbors. But that thing we have made from Egypt’s gold is not our god. That thing may symbolize strength and power. It may personify virility, or femininity, or aspects of both or neither; it may embody rebellion or conformity, generosity or greed. But as close as we draw to it, as much as we celebrate it and place it at the center of our lives, it did not lead us to freedom and will not lead us to our promised inheritance. It will tether us to slavery, to a worldview in which people are expendable, interchangeable commodities. It will moor us in the impatience of our ignorance and fear. We may dance with it for a day, but soon find that it has led us to our death.
The hard way forward reckons with a divine presence that continues to elude our senses even as it fills and animates them. The hard way forward knows the pain of absence and doubt, but still chooses to follow cloud and fire through the desert-landscape of freedom. And the living link between us and our God is the one who challenges and negotiates with God for our forgiveness, for God’s enduring presence among us, and for the fulfillment of every promise God has made to God’s people.[ii]
God is not meant to be seen, although we do sense God’s presence around us and through each of us.  While there might be times we may not always think so, God is STILL present with us, but it takes trust and faith, even if it’s just a little faith and just a little trust.  Our stuff is not going to last forever, yet God will be with us, even when all of our ‘stuff’ and any of the idols we may make is no longer useful.  As we enter this new week, what ways can re-focus ourselves towards God?  What are some of the things or ‘stuff’ that has become an idol for you? I know for me, I am intentionally placing my iPhone in a separate room in the morning every day to start my day off with God, then completely logging off of social media every Friday, making it a true sabbath day so that I can return my focus to God and renew myself in the same breath.  I encourage all of you to find something that has become an idol to you and set it aside one day each week, maybe two.  And remember, God will still show grace and mercy if you don’t because as we sang about earlier, there’s a wideness in God’s mercy, even amidst the idols we make. 

[i] "Definition Of IDOL". 2017. Merriam-Webster.Com. Accessed October 18 2017.

[ii] "Commentary On Exodus 32:1-14 By Anathea Portier-Young". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed October 19 2017.

Monday, October 16, 2017

"Give to God What is God's" - Sermon, October 15, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Give to God What is God’s”
Pastor Andrew Davis
October 15, 2017
Matthew 22: 15-22

             Back when I was in Sunday school at Rio Linda UMC, all of us children and adults would gather in the sanctuary for a time of “morning sing” before we headed off to our respective classes.  Besides some of the usual Sunday School songs like “Arky, Arky (aka “Rise & Shine”), “I am the Light of the World,” “Morning Has Broken,” or “The Community Song,” one song that would come up here and there was called “The Magic Penny:” If you know it, feel free to sing along:
Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more for,
It’s just like a magic penny; hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many, they roll all over the floor for
Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.[i]

            So, what is it that we give to God?  What are ways that we give back to God?
            While we have been focusing on some of the readings from Exodus and Israel’s encounters with the ways God provides during their journey through the wilderness, we return to the Gospel of Matthew this morning, as Jesus has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, flipped over the tables and chased the money changers out of the temple, and is now being challenged by the Pharisees about taxes and whether or not the Jewish people during that time should pay taxes to the Roman government or not.  I think my favorite part about this week’s passage is that Jesus can see right through the Pharisees and isn’t going to fall for their attempts to trap him.  See, back in first century Palestine, there were taxes for many things, including the temple tax and when Jesus is being challenged by the Pharisees, it’s time for Jesus to stir things up a bit by presenting something different and unheard of, which often happened when Jesus encountered the Pharisees.[ii]
            While there is a question of whether it is lawful in God’s eyes for the Jews to pay taxes to the state, Jesus says to give to the state what is the state’s and give to God what is God’s, leaving the Pharisees amazed that he would say that.  Even today, we have our duty as citizens of the state and country, while at the same time, we have our duty as Christians.  We pay our taxes to the State of California and to the federal government, while we also give to God what is God’s, whether it is through our gifts to the church by giving our financial gifts, tithes, and offerings, or our gifts of service.  In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is more or less saying “that paying taxes to support secular and pagan governments [such as Rome] is not against the will of God” as “loyalty to God is a different and higher category than loyalty to Caesar [in this case].”[iii] Even though many of us don’t like doing so today, paying our taxes is not necessarily against God’s will because we are ‘giving to the state what is the state’s.’ As followers of Christ, our responsibility is to give to God what is God’s, as God is where our ultimate loyalty should be at.[iv]
Giving to God what is God’s can be joyful, whether it is financially or using other means of giving.  In his book, Generous People, Eugene Grimm writes that
giving is the reason for living.  In survey after survey, people say that their primary reason for giving is gratitude to God for the blessings they have received.  Christian people, from new-born believers to mature disciples, seem to realize that giving is intrinsic to being a Christian.[v]

            By giving of ourselves like Jesus gave of himself and by giving our gifts to God, we are giving our thanks to God for giving us life here on this earth, the opportunity to share with others, the gift of community, and so on.  Although I was not able to be here yesterday due to a church finances finance workshop that I attended with Greg, Cheryl, Linda in Sacramento, our church hosted a memorial service for Melissa Lancaster, a person who did not attend this church.  When our local funeral director, John Fehrman called me to inquire about the service a couple weeks ago, the family said that although they did have a church home, it would be our church if they did.  The many gifts our congregation shares with the greater community as a people of faith is indeed noticed and even that is a gift in and of itself.  A number of you gave your time in getting Melissa’s service together, one of the ways we give to God what is God’s.  Plus, clergy colleagues in the area are a gift, as Pastor Karen Watson was able to preside at yesterday’s service in my place, giving of her time and compassion as she ministered with the family.  In thinking of people giving their gift of love, I think of community member Steve Tolen, who passed away last week.  Although I personally did not know Steve, I could tell from the Facebook posts at Moon’s and in his obituary in The Feather River Bulletin that he was a person who gave his gifts to the greater community and was given many gifts of love from people in the community during his long illness.  I also think of my clergy colleague, Rev. Blake Busick at Santa Rosa First UMC, who still gave his gift of love, opening his church as an evacuation center, and ministering with those affected by the fires in Santa Rosa, all amidst losing his own home in the fires.  As I’ve said before, ‘all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.’
            --- Another way of thinking about giving to God what is God’s is when we become a member of this church and The United Methodist Church; when we become professing members of the church, we are asked to take a vow to give our gifts, time, prayers, witness, and service, which is what we give to God and to each other here in the church.  Our financial gifts help sustain our ministry in a number of ways, as our church is an important place in our community, whether we gather for worship each Sunday, whether people drop by the office in need of help or pastoral care during the week, for our Community supper on Wednesdays, Bible study on Thursdays, and our music ministries.  On the other hand, the reality in today’s world is that we too need to ‘give to the emperor what is the emperor’s’ because we do have bills that need to be paid here in the church in order to keep our lights on, our water running, keep our grounds clean, safe, and well-kept, and to sustain our ministries in the long-run.  Yet we have more ways to give to God what is God’s, hence why no gift to God is too small, whether it is through a biblical tithe (10% of income) or other financial gift, or non-financially through the time you give to the church, such as helping set up/clean up at and after big events, mowing the lawns or shoveling snow in the winter, and through your simple presence.  All of these gifts are ways of giving to God what is God’s.  How will you use your gifts to give to God what is God’s? 
            As we go into this new week and think about the ways that we give to God, I want to invite you to try a little exercise when you’re out and about at the store, the bank, the gas station, or wherever you might spend money.  Mark a credit card or dollar bill with the cross and reflect on whether or not any of the purchases you make align with your own sense of values and God-given identity, then ask yourself is it a burden, or not?[vi] Ask yourself, can the way we spend our money root us in faith and actively reflect on how our faith shapes our daily life and our economic life?[vii] And finally, what might God’s Good News look like in the world through our giving to God?  We have so many things to thank God for and God wants us for abundant life too, even as we give to the ‘emperor what is the emperor’s’ while we ‘give to God what is God’s.’ 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN! 

[i] "Google Play Music". 2017. Play.Google.Com. Accessed October 12 2017.

[ii] " Pentecost 19A: Money, Politics, & Religion (Oh My!) | ...In The Meantime". 2017. Davidlose.Net. Accessed October 12 2017.

[iii] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 420. 
[iv] Ibid., 420-421
[v] Eugene Grimm, Generous People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 76. 

[vi] " Pentecost 19A: Money, Politics, & Religion (Oh My!) | ...In The Meantime". 2017. Davidlose.Net. Accessed October 12 2017.

[vii] Ibid.  

Monday, October 2, 2017

"God's Provisions" - Sermon, October 1, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“God’s Provisions”
Pastor Andrew Davis
October 1, 2017
Exodus 17: 1-7

            Some weeks, you think that you have a good sermon based on the text of the week, yet after chewing on the text and when it comes time to sit down and write, nothing happens.  I have to be honest that it’s been that kind of a week for me, one of those where I really need to rely on the Holy Spirit more than ever.  Then again, it might be God’s way of saying that my sermons of late have been too long, so today is more like a Communion meditation.
However, it seems appropriate on this World Communion Sunday, as we join in celebrating Holy Communion with churches around the world that we talk about the ways in which God provides for us.  Just looking at our altar display this morning, we see breads represented from around the world, in which you will be welcome to take some home after worship during coffee hour.  Like the many grains of wheat, rice, or corn that came together to make one loaf, tortilla, or cake, we too are gathered together as one, as the gathered body of Christ.  And what better way is there to come together than around food?  When we think about it, God provides for us this wonderful earth, entrusting us to work with the earth and to take care of the earth.  From the earth comes much of our food, reminding me of this silly little song we used to sing in elementary school called “Dirt Made My Lunch.” The grains that came together out of the earth to make the bread we see and a lot of what we eat and drink are all a part of God’s provisions for us, as this is one way to see how God provides for us.   
            Last week in our reading from Exodus, we came across Israel being led through the desert by Moses and Aaron after crossing through the bottom of the Red Sea; then in their hunger, the Israelites were provided manna and quail by God to sustain them through the long, sometimes unbearable desert journey.   In this morning’s lesson, Israel has now made it to Rephidim and once again grumbles to Moses that they are now thirsty, leaving poor Moses to the point of exasperation with all their complaining.  You would think that Israel would have learned to trust God after Moses threw a piece of wood into bitter water to make it drinkable in Marrah, then after God provided manna and quail.  However, Israel once again looks backwards, towards Egypt, accusing Moses of taking them out of Egypt to die in the desert from hunger and thirst.  Yet, even after all that God has provided for Israel the last couple times they complained, they still have a hard time trusting in the power that God has to provide for them in their basic essentials of food and water.   The Israelites are testing Moses, but also testing God.  And there are going to be times in our life and on our journey of faith that will make us wonder what is happening, asking, why, God? Why? As Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser explains, “sometimes it feels like no matter how much faith we have, no matter how many promises we have heard, and no matter how many signs God has provided, still, most of us from time to time wonder if God has abandoned us. In other words, we have difficulty trusting.”[i] And that’s exactly what is happening on this journey through the desert, as Israel is learning to trust the hard way and while struggling. On the other hand, there will also be times when all we can do is trust God.
            However, it’s not like God doesn’t hear Israel’s complaints, nor has God abandoned the people amidst their complaining, as God sends Moses ahead of the people to do something about their predicament. This also means facing the people's anger and frustration as well, considering that the Israelites are about ready to stone Moses.  Of course, when we do get hungry, or excessively thirsty, we do get a little cranky or frustrated, especially the longer it goes on.  I know when I don’t practice good self-care and drink my water, I get a headache which in turn leads me to be more irritable and impatient than usual.  So, the Israelites’ response is normal. 
               Nonethless,Moses goes to the place that God instructs him to go in Horeb and strikes the rock with his staff, the same staff that he used to part the Red Sea; as he strikes the rock, water starts flowing out of the rock for Israel to drink.  When God provided the manna and quail in the desert, there was a catch, that the people could only take just enough of what God provided. Yet God once again provides, this time the life-giving water for the Israelites to drink, another means of trying to show the people to trust God.  As scholar Anathea Portier-Young at Duke Divinity School explains, “the provision of water from the rock follows from the assurance that God is indeed present with this people…God continues to ensure that this people will have what they need to live.”[ii] And when we do trust God, God can do the same for us, although it may look different than manna and quail or water from a rock.
            Although I have only been back in CA for a little over a year now, we have definitely felt what it is like to have a lack of water here.  The severe drought that hit us hard for a few years has sometimes made it feel like being in the midst of the journey through the desert, even though we have still been able to find water to drink, bathe, wash dishes, or do laundry.  However for the landscape around us, we see reminders everywhere of dead or dying trees, or a couple years ago, saw many of our lakes nearly empty, as well as dead lawns.  Yet amidst the drought, God seems to have heard our prayers this last year, as we got rain and A LOT of rain at that, along with record snowfall up on the higher elevations.  We were praying for rain each Sunday at this time last year, although I think we may have gotten to where we were ready to pray for less rain after all the flooding that was happening in January and February.  Nevertheless, God provided.  However, there are times we find ourselves in our own deserts and sometimes in moments where we aren’t sure if God is still listening, although God shows up and provides. Although with all that rain and snow, it’s been great for boating and fishing this summer!! 
            We also saw God provide for us in a big way just a couple months ago.  Those first couple weeks of August was a time where we really had to dig in our heels and trust God when we looked up towards Claremont Ridge and Boyle Ravine behind us and saw the smoke and flames of the Minerva Fire rising up into the sky.  I admit, with the high level of anxiety that many of us felt, myself included, in that moment, it may have felt easier said than done to trust God.  However, just as God provided manna and quail, and water from the rock, God provided the fire crews and the support.  Our county supervisor Lori Simpson and Sheriff Greg Hagwood’s office provided us constant updates, just as the Forest Service provided regular details, something I equate with some of many ways in which God provides.  And just like the support that we received in our time of anxiety and distress, God is providing for the people of Texas and Florida through our United Methodist Committee on Relief, who will be working there for many days to come and is also becoming involved in Puerto Rico and Mexico as we speak.  The health and cleaning kits many of us have made, or have donated money towards are another way God provides through us.  And anytime we have people in our church who are sick or injured, in the midst of loss and grief, we have the opportunity to be an extension of the ways that God provides when we are there for them, whether it is bringing meals, or just providing a means of comfort and moral support. 
            I could go on about the many, many, many other ways that God provides, which will look different for each of us.  However, it takes trusting God, even in the times when we may feel as if we we are deep in the desert without food and water like Israel was, or when it feels like God is silent.  As we come to the Communion table in a few minutes, I invite you think about the many ways in which God has provides for you.  And, I invite you think about how we can also be a means of God providing for others when we serve out in our community and greater world together. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN! 

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "World Communion Sunday 2017 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed September 30 2017.

[ii] "Commentary On Exodus 17:1-7 By Anathea Portier-Young". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed September 30 2017.

"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   ...