Wednesday, January 31, 2018

An Explanation about this year's Lenten Series

During the season of Lent, the 40 Days leading up to Easter (not counting Sundays), we will be starting a new series, beginning on Ash Wednesday at 5:00pm, February 14 through Palm/Passion Sunday, which will be March 25. 

Starting on Monday, February 19 at 10am and Wednesday, February 21 at 4:30pm, we will be offering a Lenten study around Rev. Dr. Eric Elnes’ book, Gifts of the Dark Wood, which offers some different insights around the sometimes dark places in our lives and how they can end up being a blessing in disguise.  To reserve a copy of the book, please contact the church office.  You are welcome to donate $10 to the book fund when you pick your book up. 

Our worship services, starting with Ash Wednesday on February 14 will touch on the theme of rehabilitation.  According to the team at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville (Dawn Chesser, Taylor Burton-Edwards, & Jackson Henry),

There is much to mine from considering our Lenten journey this year within the frame of rehab, much to explore, much to learn. But the core of the learning in rehab, like the core of the learning in Lent, isn’t cognitive. It’s behavioral. In rehab, we learn how to live differently, to set a “new normal” for ourselves and our relationships after a period of time or perhaps a crisis has made it clear to us it is impossible to live as we had before.  Likewise, in Lent, we focus on helping those coming to faith in Christ for the first time, as well as those making their way back to Christ and the fellowship of the church after a period of absence or neglect, primarily in concrete, behavioral ways. Our goal for all who engage this period of time is that the way of Jesus becomes either the “new normal,” or, for those who have been consistent in the journey over time, is strengthened as our normal.[i]

We are fully aware that just mention of the word ‘rehab’ and themes each week of Lent might be a trigger that conjures up some negative feelings, bad memories, unease, or touch a nerve.  If that is the case, please feel free to share your story and speak with Pastor Andrew if you find yourself in need of pastoral care or to process through anything you are struggling with in the series.  You will also be invited to seek out prayer partners during Lent, someone you can confide in and check-in with throughout each week, as there will be a time of response called ‘Living the Call’ right after the sermon, or use the season of Lent for journaling. 

As we journey through the season of Lent and examine our bodies, minds, and souls from the inside out, here are the themes and scriptural focus we will be touching on:

February 14, Ash Wednesday: Mortality
Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17, Psalm 51: 1-17, 2 Corinthians 5: 20b-6:10, Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

February 18: Wilderness, Mark 1: 9-15

February 25: Intervention, Mark 8: 31-38

March 4: Program, Exodus 20: 1-17

March 11: Recovery, John 3: 14-18

March 18: Promise, Jeremiah 31: 31-34

March 25: Palm/Passion Sunday, “The Cry of the Whole Congregation” (No Sunday School)

We hope that this Lent will be a time of deep spiritual growth and that it will lead to restoration, wholeness, and new life that is possible.  We look forward to seeing you Sunday morning or in the small group studies. 

[i] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed January 19 2018.

Adventures, February 2018 from "The Quincy Quill"

How is it already the month of February?  I suppose as I get older, time tends to move even faster, as each new year goes by quicker and quicker.  While it feels like we just put away our Christmas decorations, we are already looking toward the season of Lent, the forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter that begins on Ash Wednesday, February 14 (Valentine’s Day). 

As the team at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville (Dawn Chesser, Taylor Burton-Edwards, and Jackson Henry) explain,

the annual observance of the Lenten discipline among Christians is a time to seek restoration for our lives. It is a time to reflect, take stock of our spiritual condition, and realign our lives. Our method for taking stock is the baptismal covenant as our reference point and making good use of the means of grace as our method. We enter the season through the Ash Wednesday call “in the name of the church, to observe a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word” (The United Methodist Book of Worship. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992, 322 from The Book of Common Prayer,1979, Public Domain). As we contemplate the method of Lent, even the spiritually mature among us become aware of how out of step we are with where we are called to be. We all have work to do.[i]

One of the questions that I am often asked about Lent is why we give something up.  I have learned in my still limited life-experience that we give up something pleasurable so that we can allow God to fill that void, although we can also add a spiritual practice in place of something we gave up or instead of giving something up, add a spiritual practice/discipline.  Things we could give up include rich foods, alcohol, sweets, negativity, complaining, social media, and anything that might be weighing your body, mind, or soul down.  Practices we can add are extra prayer (check out the smartphone app, ‘Common Prayer’), read The Upper Room devotional booklets we have as you leave the sanctuary or in the church office, or if you’re on the go all the time, check out the website pray as you go.  Or even add a book or two to read, as our church library has a number of good books or you’re welcome to check out my library in the office. 

Once again this year, as I did two years ago with my past roommate at Wesley, I’ll be attempting to do a modified “Daniel Fast,” which means I will not be eating any meat (except fish), consuming any alcohol, coffee, refined sugar, or leavened bread.  Instead, I’ll eat fish, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and only drink water.  It’s no way easy and the first few days are tough, especially considering that I’ll be working as an assistant spiritual director at the combined boys/girls Chrysalis Flight in Sacramento the 16th-19th (although will be back to lead worship on the 18th, then back to Sacramento).  However, I felt even closer to God when I did it in 2016 and filled myself with extra prayer and reading during that time.  I tried it last year, but did not succeed, so hope to do it to the fullest extent this year (in other words, ‘don’t feed the pastor,’ as much as I appreciate the thoughts and offerings). 

As explained by the Discipleship Ministries team above, Lent is an opportunity to spend more time in prayer while also examining ourselves from the inside out.  We need to take a good look at ourselves from the perspective of our bodies, minds, and souls, in which Lent is a great time to do so.  During the season of Lent, our worship series will be called “Rehab” as we work towards realigning our lives back towards God.   During this journey, we can support each other, check in with each other, and encourage each other through our small groups, whether it’s the men’s group on Saturday, my small group on Wednesday afternoon, Charlotte’s Bible study on Thursday, or the Lenten study I’ll be hosting at the church office on Mondays at 10:00am beginning on February 19 then in-lieu of my ‘coffice hours’ during the season of Lent, I invite you to join me in the chancel of the sanctuary for a time of midday prayer from Common Prayer and a time of centering prayer each Thursday beginning on the 15th at 12-noon.  While we might give up something we enjoy, we can fill ourselves with these extra practices during the season of Lent so that we may die to the things that bring us down and rise again with the new life of Christ on Easter. 

As we enter into the wilderness with Jesus, what new practice are you going to try this Lent?  If your health allows it, I also invite you to join me on the modified “Daniel Fast” and keep encouraging each other as we go into the wilderness and walk with Jesus.  I look forward to journeying with you as we journey together with Jesus through the wilderness, into Jerusalem, the cross, grave, and into new life. 

Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Andrew

[i] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed January 19 2018.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

"Rise Up! Answer" - Sermon, January 28, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Rise Up! Answer”
Pastor Andrew Davis
January 28, 2018
Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

            How many of you like having an answer to every question you are asked?  I know I do!!  Yet, sometimes answers evade us and will admit that I will oftentimes get upset when I don’t have answers.  Any of you find yourselves there too?  Sometimes, we don’t always have an answer to everything, and as I’ve learned the older I get, we don’t always need to have an answer to everything either as frustrating as it can be when we don’t.  As I alluded to last Sunday, even though there is a tongue-in-cheek expectation among many that pastors are to have all the answers to everything, the reality is that we don’t always have all the answers to everything and that’s okay, as we can flesh out the answers together whenever we face life’s greatest questions. 
            This past year, I have gotten into the habit of listening to podcasts, which are recorded radio shows that we can listen to at any time that is convenient for us from our computer, iPad/Tablet, or smartphone.  Some of my favorite faith-based podcasts include one from a group of young-ish clergy in Virginia called “Crackers & Grape Juice,” another by some of my seminary classmates from around the country called “Colloquy Interrupted,” and another by my friends and colleagues Susan Foster and Kris Marshall in Reno called “Sunday Morning Sleep-In.” One of my favorite parts of each of these podcasts that I listen to is that even as clergy, none of us necessarily have the answers to everything, but as Kris and Susan point out in the introduction of their podcast, we as clergy are also on the quest to find the answers to many of life’s greatest questions with our congregations.  I’d even add that we oftentimes find ourselves seeking answers to our prayers, another one that I sometimes wrestle with because it means really having to pay attention and because God does occasionally say no. 
            Answer is one of those tricky words and because we are in various life situations, we may want answers from God faster than others.  When we’ve experienced a shocking life event, a health diagnosis, or an event or loss that completely rocks our world, we want God to respond right away.  We want answers quickly.  We don’t like being held in suspense.  Yet, answers from God can be a little more complex than meets the eye and may come in different forms.  I remember reading a little comic of a person who was stuck in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean after their boat sank and declined any help and kept saying God would help when a ship and plane passed by and offered help.  Yet, when the person ultimately died and reached the pearly gates, God told this person, “I sent the plane and ship to help you!” Perhaps this person was thinking God would speak directly and provide a direct answer or God would just reach a hand down and scoop the person up, hence why it is important that we pay close attention to such signs and have a certain reverence.  In her second New York Times best seller novel, one of my favorite authors, Episcopal priest-turned professor of religion Barbara Brown Taylor writes in An Altar in the World that “the practice of paying attention really does take time.  Most of us move so quickly that our surroundings become no more than the blurred scenery we fly past on our way to somewhere else.”[i]  Looking for an answer may mean having to slow down and even wait, stop and sit, and breathe. 
Just as we talked about how God speaks a few weeks ago, God can answer us through people and through sending various signs or even the ship or the plane to rescue us from our own islands.  Although answers from God may not come to us right away or as we might expect.  When it comes to our text this morning, I’m not really sure how the text from Deuteronomy corresponds with the theme of answer, although through the field of hermeneutics (interpretations), might be able to find a little morsel of how God answers people.  
This particular passage from Deuteronomy is a very short, yet complicated passage that’s situated amidst many of the laws that God has given to Moses, with Moses as the narrator/spokesperson for God, as our text deals once again with prophets.  Like some texts, Deuteronomy is a chapter I tend to struggle and wrestle with at times, sometimes outright cringe at partially because of some of the imagery.  However, today’s text is primarily about how God answers the people, as the Israelite people wanted direct answers from God during their time in the wilderness back in Exodus, especially when they wanted to see a direct sign from God at Mt. Horeb.  God hears the people and promises to raise a prophet like Moses (since Moses won’t be around forever), while also condemning false prophets who claim to have an answer from God.  Even at the time when Deuteronomy was written, the New Interpreter’s Commentary says that “to outsiders and opponents, prophets appeared to be self-appointed speakers, but to their followers they were God-appointed revealers of truth that came through no other avenue of spiritual knowledge,” kind of like the way we saw how God spoke to and instructed Samuel and Jonah these last couple weeks.[ii] 
Hearkening back to the Book of Exodus and how Moses was chosen by God, Moses was reluctant, plus Moses stuttered and was not necessarily the most eloquent speaker.  As Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls explains, in this passage from Deuteronomy,
Moses tells his people that in the same way he was selected, there would be another whose voice would emerge. God would raise him up and anoint him for the work at hand. God would answer the people's longings for a leader. God would provide a leader and would never leave the people abandoned. Never.[iii]

As we read through the rest of the Bible, we will see who the various prophets are that God will raise up.
To me, the struggle with prophecy and who to believe is the voice of God has to do with all the noise we hear from people who claim to be speaking for God, even when their prophecies don’t happen which we see more than our fair share.  We want answers, but whose answers are we to believe and how are we to know the truth, especially if something doesn’t take place as prophesied?  I remember a few years ago how on my way to work at Raley’s in North Highlands, I kept seeing these billboards along the fence facing Elkhorn Blvd. by the former McClellan AFB that the end of the world would be sometime in May 2011, yet it never happened (although as Jesus has said in the Gospel of Matthew, we do not know the time or the place when the son of man will come or when the world will end; maybe we can talk eschatology in another sermon).  There’s still not really a definitive answer.  Yet the group that prophesied this event were certain it would happen based on their research and study of patterns, so they went out and purchased these billboards to proclaim this prophecy, as well as wrote it out on their cars and RV’s.  Even though it’s easy to do, we don’t want to just up and dismiss something or a group of people either, as we still need to listen, even when we may not agree or believe.  It takes some discernment as to what is true and who is a true prophet and who is a false prophet as pointed out in the text.  That’s where answers can be a little challenging to come by.
B. Kevin Smalls further explains that
While Moses is assuring the people of God’s plan to provide for a new leader, he also gives them guidelines that the leader must follow. These guidelines are now in the people’s awareness as they prepare for a leadership shift. “If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.” Our theological task as United Methodists gives us a similar guideline to discovering the arrival at truth. Our theological task begins with the question, “Is it true?” What things are true and worthy of celebration as we seek answers throughout our life’s journey of faith?[iv]

            I had asked a colleague a few years back, what is truth these days and that’s one of those areas where we have to discern, where we have to pray, trust God, while also keeping open to answers that God may give us, as it takes listening to God’s voice and even moving into the places we don’t want to go in seeking out those answers. 
When I think about the world today and the fact that things are so polarized, or that you can’t seem to post anything on social media without starting an argument, I find myself turning to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to decipher and discern what is true and to help me in finding answers.  I will oftentimes turn to the writings of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, particularly in how he too found himself in the midst of conflicts and division and came to find the via media, or “a middle way – that found truth on both sides of the theological divide” something I resonate with and can find truth and answers in, even though doing so has also led to accusations of ‘playing both sides of the fence’ because of the ability to see truths on both sides (consequently, we will be hearing a lot more about the middle way throughout this year too!!).[v]
John Wesley even struggled at times with his faith and at one point, felt his faith sink into a total rut, a situation I think we’ve all been in and have prayed to God for answers, maybe wanting God to give us a quick answer or raise up a sign like God would raise up another prophet like Moses.  When John found himself really down one evening after returning to England from a disastrous trip to America, he had a profound experience before a meeting on Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738, in which we hear the famous words of Wesley feeling his “heart strangely warmed,” an answer from God giving him a sense of peace and a new zeal to preach and discern what is true.  Maybe that strangely warmed feeling or sense of peace when we pray is one way we get answers from God. 
            For me, I believe that Jesus came to bring the truth by showing us a new way of living, reinforce loving God and neighbor, and a new way which includes loving our enemy too.  He brought a way of love to the world.  Or, take a look at the Sermon on the Mount, starting in Matthew 5, as Jesus revealed some important truths in his Sermon on the Mount, which we can still learn from today.  That’s just one way I see the answer to what is truth, although being the diverse congregation we are, we all have our unique definition of the truth and am sure we each have a different definition of what the truth, which will be interesting to hear in further conversation. 
We also receive our answers from God differently, just as we hear God speaking in different ways as mentioned at the start of this series.  Yet we’re here together, seeking the truth and answers to many of life’s greatest questions, regardless of where we are on the journey of faith. 
            As the writer of Deuteronomy asks in verse 21, how will we know what is true?  That’s where we need such discernment.  That’s where we need to pray on it, and converse by fleshing the answers to our greatest questions out together.  I know that I’m still learning not to be afraid to say ‘I don’t know,’ although more importantly, am learning to say ‘let’s try to find the answer together.’ We may not know who may be the voice of God all of the time, as that’s where we need to pay attention and discern.  Even in the Bible, “not every prophetic message was from God (such as in Jeremiah 28: 1-4 and 29: 8-9), and only that which was in agreement with the terms and spirit of Moses and the law was to be accepted.”[vi] Kind of a high bar there!! 
 And so, it takes intense prayer and discernment to find the answer to what is true, as well as how God may be answering our own questions, even though the world today is way, way different than it was in Moses’s time.  As we start a new week and a new month (already), what are some answers you have received from God?  At the same time, what are answers you need to hear from God?  And how do you decipher and discern what is true? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN.   

[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 24. 
[ii] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. II (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 429. 

[iii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed January 25 2018.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Adam Hamilton, Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014), 25.
[vi] The New Interpreter’s Commentary, 430.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

"Rise Up! Move" - Sermon, January 21, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
Rise Up! Move
Pastor Andrew Davis
January 21, 2018
Jonah 3: 1-10
Mark 1: 14-20

            In some ways, we could almost change the words to our gathering song to “I’m gonna move when the Spirit says move (3X)…and obey the spirit of the Lord.”
            We definitely gotta move with the Spirit, that’s for sure.  Yet there are also places we don’t always want to go into either.  What are some of the places you still go to, yet you would rather not?  <Allow for responses>
            For the longest time, hospitals was something I avoided and just the thought of going into a hospital kinda made me turn a shade or two green.  Even nursing homes.  Yet once I got into the practice a few years ago, it was a total transformation that I could walk into a hospital or nursing home with confidence and assurance from God.  Talk about moving when the Spirit says move!! 
            In our text this morning, Jonah is called by God to go from Joppa (in modern day Spain) to the city of Ninevah (in modern day Syria) and deliver a word from God to the people after God told Jonah that they were committing all sorts of sin and up to no good, and was going to destroy the city.  Yet, Jonah finds every way he can to get out of going there, first by getting on a ship and getting caught in a storm and then was swallowed up by a big fish or whale, depending on the translation of the Bible you read from.  It’s hard to run away from God, though. 
            God calls Jonah a second time to go to Ninevah once again, and when Jonah delivers the word from God to the Ninevites, it only takes the eight little words that Jonah tells the Ninevites that causes them to move from their wicked ways (now, if you saw the animated Veggietales movie about Jonah, it was because they were slapping each other with fish, as the filmmaker used a lot of Midrash, or taking artistic liberties with the story).  Everyone from the king on down repents and puts on the ashes and sackcloths, even the animals (not sure how the animals repent too).  Except Jonah is not happy that God changes God’s mind and spares Ninevah by showing the Ninevite people grace and mercy.  Instead, Jonah goes away and sulks and wants to die because he wanted to see God’s wrath unleashed on Ninevah and the Ninevites obliterated. 
            Movement is an important part of this story, as
There are two primary kinds of movement in this week’s Scripture reading from Jonah.  One is physical movement. Jonah moves from Spain to [Syria], and then keeps moving a full day’s journey into the heart of Nineveh. The other movement is the dramatic acts of repentance by the people and even the livestock of Nineveh. Instead of facing being overturned, as Jonah’s prophecy announced, they instead turned over a new leaf. In a way, one might propose even a third kind of movement, God’s own movement of intention concerning Nineveh from judgment toward mercy in light of their repentance.[i]

            God definitely moves in mysterious ways and calls us to rise up and move in many different ways in our own lives along this journey of faith.  In seeing the reaction of the Ninevite people when Jonah sent them the message that God was going to level their city and when they turned around and moved towards repentance, God instead offers grace and mercy instead of wrath and destruction, which Jonah was anticipating and kind of hoping for.  How often do we experience such a movement, when the Holy Spirit gets in the way and moves us in a different direction?  Or, how about when we want to see wrath and punishment poured out on someone that has hurt us or wronged us, and instead see them offered mercy and grace?  As a friend and mentor of mine puts it,
God is always willing to go back to the drawing board with anybody. God is always willing to give us another chance, a fresh start.  This is the common theme of grace throughout the Bible. Just when you think God's gonna zap `em, God pours grace all over them.

There are times in our lives and even in the life of the church where we are going to be like Jonah, we are called, yet we go the other way only for God to call again, and we may sulk here and there when something doesn’t go our way.  There will be times when we screw up and need to be the ones to experience God’s grace, like the Ninevites.  While we are not likely to wind up in the belly of a large fish or a whale like Jonah did (somehow, I don’t think the Mackinaw at Bucks Lake or large bass or trout at Lake Almanor could swallow us anyway), God is STILL going to catch up with us and keep calling us until we move towards following God, and even call us to move towards repentance or being sorry for our sins. Especially relevant with the season of Lent a few weeks away. Yet no matter what we do, God is still going to keep showing grace to us along the way, even when we don’t think we deserve it and is up to us to accept that grace and move towards transformation.  And even when we don’t think others deserve it either.
Even in our reading from Mark, Jesus calls simple, yet ordinary fishermen from different backgrounds who have different personalities, to come, follow and move about with him, even though they may have no clue as to what kind of adventure Jesus is going to take them on.  And some of that would be into places the disciples did not necessarily want to go either, especially since that journey with Jesus will ultimately lead to Jerusalem and to the cross, then to carry on the work of Jesus after Jesus is no longer on the earth.  When God calls, we’ve gotta move, whether it’s to our own Nineveh’s or other places we don’t always want to go. 
            This last Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Pastor Ray and I joined many of our clergy colleagues from the California-Nevada Conference, the regional body of the UMC at the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center near Santa Cruz for the annual Gathering of the Orders with our bishop, Minerva CarcaƱo.  The long, six-hour drive feels like it’s daunting enough (like Jonah’s long journey), although during our time together, one of our bishop’s challenges to us as clergy is to be willing to move  about the places we don’t always want to go in our ministry.  I’ll admit that there are times when I wonder if I did the right thing in answering God’s call, yet in the times I’ve been like Jonah and have run away from the call, God has kept calling me again.  The world is constantly changing and shifting and moving into what many scholars call post-Christendom, which makes it a challenge to be in ministry, and even a follower of Christ today.  In my very first sermon here in this church, we had a reading from the Gospel of Luke that talked about going out as sheep among the wolves, in which it can feel like the world is full of wolves.  As Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls explains,
In many cities across the world, sociological dynamics are changing daily. People across the globe are on the move. As these changes shift, anger often ensues around questions of equality, fairness, gentrification, displacement of the poor, and changing neighborhood dynamics. This is a marvelous time to raise the issue of not being afraid to cross the barriers that are often built around us every day. Congregations, churches, ministry settings are called to travel to their own cities, communities of Nineveh, overlook their hang ups, reach out and call people into the community of God.[ii]

            Our keynote speaker for the Gathering of the Orders was Dr. Alex Awad, teacher, author, and a Palestinian Christian who has had to deal with the challenges of living through conflicts between Israel and Palestine while growing up, yet was willing to cross borders and break down social barriers.  Moving with God might mean breaking down some of the barriers that hold us back, even the social barriers.  Fear is something that can keep us back too, such as Jonah’s fear and reluctance to go to Ninevah, considering there were conflicts in the Ancient Near-East happening during Jonah’s time as well.  However, Dr. Awad called upon us to look at the challenges around our own settings that are barriers in their own right, which we have plenty of here.  Even though I feel like we are experiencing a little bit of rebirth and a new sense of energy here in our town of Quincy, there are still challenges and is an opportunity for us as a church to move about and help address the challenges whichever way we can.
             When it comes to addressing the challenges and barriers as a people of faith and in addressing and adapting to shifting populations, it can feel like we are being asked to go to Nineveh.  Although this is also the opportunity to call and invite people to rise-up and join us on this journey of faith, regardless of what their life situation might be, allowing the Spirit to move among them.  We do need to be realistic about what we can and cannot help people with when traveling this faith journey with them, but naming and addressing the major challenges in our context is the start of listening to where God can move us when we listen to God’s voice and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  We have people who come here who might be searching for answers to life’s greatest questions, which I will attest I don’t have the answers to myself, but am happy to help seek those answers out together.  We have people who might be here because their lives are in crisis and have nowhere else to turn, in which we can be the source of showing God’s grace and love to everyone who walks through our doors.  But most importantly, we should be the place where everyone is invited to experience God’s love and grace, and are moved towards transformed lives, lives that are full of a desire to joyfully living out our faith and putting that faith into action by serving the greater community and making it an even better place than it already is.
            While the world is ever-changing, God still calls us to move.  God still speaks to us in many ways and through the Holy Spirit, and when we listen to what God’s saying, it’s time to move to do what God is calling us, or move in the way Jesus called his first disciples on that lakeshore with the simple words, ‘follow me.’ And once we are so moved by God through the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s up to us to rise up and answer that call, whatever form that call from God takes.  While it’s easy to do like Jonah does and run away at first, God’s going to keep calling again, until we say yes, even if it means moving into the places we don’t want to go.  As we go into this new week, what are the places in your life that you don’t want to go, yet God still insists you move towards going there?  What are the challenges, the barriers, and walls you feel like you need to overcome that keep you from moving towards where God calls you to be? 

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Third Sunday After The Epiphany 2018 — Planning Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed January 20 2018.

[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Third Sunday After The Epiphany 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed January 21 2018.

Friday, January 19, 2018

"Rise Up! Listen" - Sermon, January 14, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
Rise Up! Listen
Pastor Andrew Davis
January 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3: 1-20

        How many of you have heard things, just out of the blue?  How about hearing your name called in a crowd of people, only to turn and not see anyone that you know?  It can be a little startling, to say the least.  Of course, there are times I have just heard things at random, which will result in getting a little frustrated. I like to know who’s calling my name and see who it is, so that perhaps we can engage a little further. 
            As we began our series, “Rise Up!” last week, we talked about how God speaks to us, whether it is through other people, through dreams, through an audible voice out of nowhere, or  other signs.  I shared last week that a few months ago in the midst of several natural disasters and unrest, a friend of mine from seminary posted on Facebook, “Jehovah (another name for God) is speaking; are we listening” so it’s natural that today we talk about listening when God speaks.  Just as I asked last week and will ask again this week; when God is speaking, are we listening?
For instance in our scripture this morning, we encounter  young Samuel, a boy who is training to be a priest who hears a voice at random calling his name.  Except Samuel thinks it is the voice of the elder priest Eli, whom Samuel is learning what it means to serve God under.  Samuel does the right thing in coming to Eli with the response, “here I am,” Although Eli says it’s not him until Eli realizes that it’s God who is calling young Samuel and encourages Samuel to listen and respond with “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3: 9, NRSV).  Although what is interesting is that Eli can’t exactly see, as his vision has left him, yet he perceives that it is God who is calling Samuel (1 Sam. 3: 8, NRSV).  As Samuel follows Eli’s instructions and responds to God’s calling and receives a vision from God , just imagine having to deliver harsh news, such as Samuel must do with Eli.  Talk about a difficult task for a young boy, yet Samuel does it and Eli’s response is fairly stoic, as Eli says “it is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him” (1 Sam. 3: 18, NRSV). 
What makes this whole story intriguing is that Samuel is hearing God’s voice in a time when God’s voice was pretty much silent, when there weren’t too many visions from God, and the world at the time is kind of in a general sense of upheaval and unrest.  Something is happening when God calls Samuel in the midst of the lack of visions, although some of the scholarship and notes also liken Eli’s blindness to the spiritual blindness at the time.  Like some of the other heroes of our faith, God sets Samuel apart for service, starting with Samuel’s miraculous birth in chapter 1 of 1 Samuel.  Samuel’s mother, Hannah had been barren until God listened to her prayer, although Eli thought Hannah was drunk when he witnessed her praying for a child; however, we have seen other miraculous births happen with previously barren women in a couple other accounts in The Bible, such as Sarah in Genesis, or Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke.  As Samuel grows up, he ultimately becomes a priest then a prophet.  Like attending seminary to learn the basics of being a pastor, Samuel first he has to learn to listen for and how to respond to God’s voice. 
Just as Samuel has to learn to hear the voice of God, it’s a skill we too will learn along the way on our journey of faith, no matter what form God’s voice comes through.  As Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls explains, “listening, of course, is a critical part of the Christian faith.”[i] Especially deep, reflective listening.  While reflective listening is a skill that is still one of my many growing edges, I learned the importance of listening and even made some mistakes by not always listening carefully and reflectively along the way during my ministry internship a few years ago.  While I was serving as music director and seminary intern at Hope Presbyterian Church in Mitchellville, MD, our church ministered to a nearby retirement community and each Sunday after church, Pastor Dottie (who many of you met in October) and I would go and visit some of our members who lived in the community that couldn’t make it to church.  During the three years I did visitations there on a regular basis, deep, reflective listening was a skill I began learning, sometimes failed at, and still try to apply it in pastoral care situations when I can.  Except, I’ll be completely honest that deep listening is a skill I’m still learning, as I have yet to master it.  It’s a skill some of us have already, or a skill many of us are still learning too.  At the same time, We’re all learning to listen to God’s voice together, just as Samuel learned from Eli!! 
While we touched upon it some during Advent in the relationship between young Mary and her older cousin Elizabeth, the relationship between Eli and Samuel is similar, as Eli mentors Samuel in showing him how to listen for God’s voice.  Professor of Homiletics and Hebrew Bible, Dr. Valerie Bridgman at Methodist Theological School in Ohio explains that
Though no ordinary, off-the-street person, Eli’s role in Samuel’s calling does remind us that we learn how to discern God’s voice and call in proximity to people who have come before us. They help attune our ears and heart to hear from God. Who mentors us to listen for the voice, what Howard Thurman called “the sound of the genuine” that’s in all of us?1 How do we prepare to hear it completely in order to respond to it fully? Who are the Elis in our lives?[ii]

            The people in this church who came before us listened to God’s voice throughout the years, then taught those who came along to listen to God’s voice.  We too are part of the story of this church today, as we continue listening to God’s voice and are now teaching our younger generations what it means to rise up and listen for God’s voice.  This past December when Charlotte shared the Christmas story, there was an amazing sense of wonder in many of the kids as she taught them the story of how Jesus was born and to see them listen to the story inspired me.  And seeing more children come who are eager to listen to God’s story and become a part of that story today has been amazing. 
            When I was appointed as pastor here in Quincy by Bishop Warner Brown almost two years ago, we did not really have any children regularly attending, maybe two or three, yet one of the goals of our church was to engage with younger families, something that is being realized and will continue evolving.  When we live into the great invitation by Jesus to come and see, and when we intently listen to God’s voice and pay attention to the nudgings of the Holy Spirit, it’s amazing what can happen in our church.  Last week, we have realized that we need to EXPAND our Sunday School and we have some serious momentum going for us because we are listening to God’s call in our church and community.  In order to keep that momentum going, we as a church have an opportunity to be like Eli was to Samuel, in mentoring our younger generations, teaching them how we are all a part of God’s story, and how to listen for God’s voice.  Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls explains that
we learn all throughout the Bible that both the young and the old are sacred gifts. Joel prophesied that the old will dream dreams and the young will see visions. It is a sacred gift to know that the greatest miracles may be born out of interaction between the young and the old: Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Elizabeth, and of course Samuel and Eli. The one link that is possible to bridge these generational gaps is that of listening. What narratives can be used to illustrate the power of two generations sitting together at the same table, bound by the voice of God, who finds a way to make community among them?[iii]

            On the other hand, there are a few little challenges as to what Rev. Dr. Smalls just said.  While the interaction between the young and old can be sacred in the internal work of the church, there are times when there can and will be a little conflict and tension between the old and the young, although it can be a healthy conflict and tension.  It still takes listening to each other and as B. Kevin Smalls explains, carefully listening to each other as a way of creating inter-generational community with each other.  As Bishop Warner Brown said in a sermon one time at Annual Conference, nothing makes him sadder than when we fail to listen to our younger generations.  It makes me sad too, as I’ve been through that before, although as I get older, I also realize that listening is a two way streak, although that’s where we teach and mentor.
Sometimes, when we come from another generation, we have certain expectations of each other, as well as different cultural norms, although I also invite us to challenge our norms and expectations and deeply listen to each other each other.  Instead of trying to impose our own values and expectations on one another or argue about what’s right and wrong with each generation or what’s the best way to do things based on what we already know, let’s try to listen to and understand one another by creating and cultivating authentic relationships with each other.  Eli did not simply shrug Samuel off, but instead when Eli realized what was happening, he encouraged Samuel to listen and listen carefully for God’s voice, and that’s something we all should be striving to do; encouraging each other to listen to God’s voice by mentoring each other. 
As we rise up and listen this week, then get ready to move with the Spirit next week, when have you heard the voice of God, whether it’s a whisper in the night, a dream, an act of nature, or through another person?  And how will you help mentor others to listen to God’s voice, or are you looking for someone to mentor you along the way?  Like Eli encouraged Samuel, let’s encourage each other to listen carefully for God’s voice among us this week and beyond!! 

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Second Sunday After The Epiphany 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed January 10 2018.

[ii] "Commentary On 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20] By Valerie Bridgeman". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed January 10 2018.

[iii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Second Sunday After The Epiphany 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed January 10 2018.

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

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