Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This is my last sermon at Hope United Methodist Church.  Now that I have retired, my posts may be a bit more irregular--but something new should appear from time to time.


Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Luke 24:1-9

June 24, 2012

Retirement Sunday

Hope UMC

Fay an I went to see “The Avengers” a few weeks ago, and as we left the theater she said: “I see a lot of sequels to this movie.” If there's anything Hollywood loves better than a sequel, it's a whole series of sequels ala' Friday the 13th, Halloween, Spider man, Batman, Harry Potter, And, of course, the sequels that invented “Prequels,” Star Wars. Now,as I stand here, before you all, on the last Sunday of my local church ministry, I can only say: “I see a lot of sequels in my retirement!”

Solomon, the wisest of the Israelites, saw that life was a series of sequels. Death follows life, reaping follows planting, peace follows war, joy follows sorrow, and so it goes. Life is a series of sequels. My life with Fay is a sequel to my childhood; the births of the girls was a sequel to the years we were just two; answering my call was a sequel to my life as a layperson; the empty nest and grandparent-hood is a sequel to life with the girls...and so it goes, one sequel after another. And the more we try to guess what's next, the wronger we are....like Thomas Watson, IBM CEO who, in 1943 predicted: “I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers;” or the Western Union executive who turned down a chance to purchase Mr. Bell's new telephone. A few weeks ago I was reading about a 1962 “future of Washington County” report. They anticipated a lot of new food processing plants—no mention of hi-tech, no mention of the suburbanization of the east end of the county, no mention of Nike; and they're still waiting for the food processing plants to materialize.

The fact is, none of us know what the future holds. Those who have poured over their Bibles, calculators in hand, to predict the end of the world have, thus far, always awakened the day after. So far there have been over 200 dates proclaimed as the last day—all of which have past away while the world keeps on spinning. The Millennial Bug that threatened economic collapse on Jan. 1, 2000 never left its nest. Just last year billboards incorrectly announced the May 21, 2011 end of the world; and I missed it! I know I'm not the most observant guy in the world, I don't always notice that my wife changed her toenail color—but how'd I miss the end of the world? I can only assume it didn't happen. I predict, and you can hold me to his prophecy, I predict that the Mayans will prove to be just as wrong. We do not know, we cannot know, what the future holds—but we can and do know the one who holds the future.

The women who went to the tomb on that first Easter morning faced a bleak future. One they loved, one they depended on, the One they thought would save the world was dead. Now they came to anoint and prepare the body of Jesus, close the grave back up, mourn his death and look to a life without him. (but that's not what happened. Instead, they found: (Reflections, He's Not Here Anymore) They certainly didn't expect to find the stone rolled away and two angles in radiant white clothes greeting them. They did not expect a resurrection; yet, just as he said, but no one really believed, Jesus rose from the dead—and all history since is a sequel. For the followers of Jesus, the resurrection eliminated fear of the future and compelled them to step out boldly proclaiming the gospel.

I don't know what my retirement holds—I know what I've planned: continuing my fire chaplaincy work with Jackson County Fire District 3, continuing to preach and hold healing services in any church that will have me, improving my mandolin playing and learning the banjo, learning how to make a pie crust, some travel with Fay, and, just maybe, a little golf and fishing. That's what I've planned, but is it what God has planned? I don't know, I'll just have to live each day as it comes and follow the heeding of the Holy Spirit.

For the past 25 years I have preached and pastored. For the past nine years I have been blessed to do it in this place. It's been a good, but the time has come to say farewell; the time has come for me to move on and for someone else to pastor and preach in this place. I don't know about you, but I hate good-byes. As exciting as it is to move on into a new phase of my life, it also saddens my heart to leave this place that has been home to Fay and I longer than any other place we have lived in our married lives. In fact, that big old house on Oatfield Road where I spent 12 of my growing up years, is the only place I've ever lived longer! And I guess that makes leaving even harder. Where do I start? Who do I thank first? Who gets the last hug?

Actually that's the easy part. Fay, without whom nothing I have accomplished would have been possible, gets the first thank you, the first hug, and the last hug. It's been a great ride, so far, Honey, and I look forward to finishing the trip with you.

I think if there's one thing I want each of you to know, it is how much you have honored me by allowing me into your lives at their most intimate and vulnerable points: the births, the weddings, the joys, the tragedies, the deaths, and the grievings. Together we have rejoiced, laughed, praised, sung, wept, and mourned—through it all upheld and uplifted by the peace, presence and power of the Holy Spirit. As I leave and you prepare to receive first Pastor Bob, and then, Pastor Mark, I urge you to welcome them into your lives the way you have welcomed me.

For the past nine years, I have been preaching to you to be open to change. And in the past nine years a lot has changed: some of it good, some of it not so good; but life is change, and without change there can be no life. This is a big change, a big change for me as I transition from work to retirement, and a big change for you as you welcome your first new pastor in almost a decade, and the first new pastor for Hope United Methodist Church. If you will face these changes, as major as they are, with the same openness and willingness that you have faced change in the past, the change will be smooth and good things will happen.

Today there are a lot of festivities planned, and it is fitting that we celebrate the good times we have had together. But first, nine years ago we introduced ourselves with Holy Communion, and I think it is only proper that we say our farewells in that same way. Our Lord has prepared the feast. The table is set. Come, Celebrate, and give thanks, Let the party begin!

Blessings to you all,
chaplain dann

Monday, June 11, 2012


Mark 3:20-35

June 10, 2012

Hope UMC

The first scheduled event I have after my retirement will be my family reunion. That means all the brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, nieces, nephews, some of whom, like my sister Joy who is our host, are not related by either blood or marriage. That's the way it is with our family. We don't define family by bloodline, but by nearness and dearness. Jesus didn't define family in the traditional way either.

(Mar 3:20) “Then Jesus went home. Again such a large crowd gathered that Jesus and his disciples had no time to eat.” Some of the people around thought he had gone off the deep end, so thy called in his family to “get him under control.” Perhaps it was because some scribes had come from Jerusalem and accused Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul, the head demon. The scribes were kind of a hybrid between lawyers and teachers. Their primary task was the written word. These were the people who made copies of scriptures and kept the law libraries current. As caretakers of the law they had a place of prominence, since they were among the few who could read and interpret the Torah's meaning to the people.

Because they were leaders and defenders of the Jewish religious system, when they came all the way from Jerusalem and accused Jesus of “forcing out demons with the help of Beelzebul," they were serious charges made by serious people. When the Scribes spoke, people listened. Jesus defended himself with the argument that a divided house is doomed. “How can Beelzebul force himself out?” Jesus asks. (Mar 3:24) A nation whose people fight each other won't last very long. (Mar 3:25) And a family that fights won't last long either. (Mar 3:26) So if Satan fights against himself, that will be the end of him.”

When Jesus' mother and brothers arrived, they couldn't get into the house, so they sent a message asking to speak to him. (Mar 3:32) A crowd was sitting around Jesus, and they said to him, "Look, your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, and they want you."

(Mar 3:33) Jesus answered, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?"

(Mar 3:34) He looked at the people sitting around him and said, "Look! Here are my mother and my brothers!” Several cults have used this verse to justify requiring new members to abandon their families and devote themselves entirely to the group. This is not what Jesus was saying, and certainly not what Jesus did. Just three weeks ago we read how, while hanging on the cross dying, Jesus placed his mother in the care of one of the disciples—that doesn't sound like abandonment to me! No, When he declared: (Mar 3:35) Whoever does what God wants is my brother, my sister, my mother." Jesus redefined and expanded the definition of family. For Jesus, his followers are one big family—a definition we too often forget.

In all my years as a pastor, the hardest thing I've had to deal with is not the tragic illnesses and death,s that are so much a part of life, but a divided church. Fay and I served one community where the school board decided that academics were more important than athletics. This led to the dismissal of a very popular superintendent, who was also a coach, and the hiring of a new superintendent who concentrated on improving the academic standards of the school system. The community was in an uproar! They had been producing championship sports teams for years, and now that dynasty was being demolished. Others in the community thought it was about time the school board got the mission of the schools straight. Our congregation included one of the new members of the school board, the sister of the dismissed Superintendent, the new Superintendent, several parents and grandparents of athletes, and two teachers. Like the community, the church was split—especially when the school board was faced with a recall. There were people in the pews who would not speak to each other, and a few who spoke out with anger and meanness. It was a hard time for that congregation and the community. A divided house cannot stand.

If you have been following politics at all these last two years, you know that both houses of congress are divided along party lines. The result is that good, bad, or indifferent, no bills are being passed, no nominations approved or rejected, no public business transacted—in short, the divided Senate and House are incapable of operating! A divided house cannot stand.

There is a big difference between disagreeing and division. The Republicans can, and should, disagree with the Democrats, and the Democrats can, and should disagree with the Republicans. But when either party refuses to listen or speak to the other—when a member's vote is decided not on the bill, but on which party presents it—that's division, and division helps no one and endangers us all. John Wesley was concerned about the rise of denominations in the church, he told of a dream he had. In the dream, he was ushered to the gates of Hell. There he asked, "Are there any Presbyterians here?" "Yes!", came the answer. Then he asked, "Are there any Baptists? Any Episcopalians? Any Methodists?" The answer was Yes! each time. Much distressed, Wesley was then ushered to the gates of Heaven. There he asked the same question, and the answer was No! "No?" To this, Wesley asked, "Who then is inside?" The answer came back, "There are only Christians here."

That's unity!

As I leave for retirement, and you prepare to receive a new pastor, you have two choices. You can divide into those who resist change and those who welcome it; or, you can come together to bid me farewell and then welcome your new pastor with open arms. Which way you choose will determine the life or death of Hope United Methodist Church. A house divided cannot stand, but a united house, a house built on the foundation of Christ, cannot and will not fall.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Babble Fish and Barriers

Acts 2:1-21

May 27, Pentecost, 2012

In Doug Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, one of the tools available to galactic travelers is the Babble Fish. This fish, when placed in one's ear, allows one to understand, and be understood by those who speak any of the languages in the galaxy. Wouldn't it be great if there really were a Babble fish? Today is Pentecost, the day the Christian Church was born. This is the day the Holy Spirit removed the linguistic barriers that separate humankind. It is sometimes thought that this was a gift of tongues, but it was equally a gift of ears. Like the space travelers with their Babble fish, all of those present heard the Apostle's speaking in their own language.

Speaking another language not only crosses linguistic barriers, it crosses the cultural barriers as well. It is language that allows us to think, and language that limits our thinking. What makes science and mathematics so difficult for some is the inability to think symbolically—to understand the language. In the same way, it is hard to imagine a phenomenon, if there is no word or words to describe it. That's one reason prophetic and apocalyptic scriptures are so hard to understand, and so easily misinterpreted. The writers are dealing with concepts and ideas for which their language has no words.

Pentecost is about not just crossing, but tearing down barriers. No longer need we be separated by language, culture, race, class, ethnicity, gender, or any other barrier. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, God's grace is now available to any and all. And that came as a surprise not only to those gathered outside that house, but to the apostles as well. For the next 2000 years the church would, and still does, struggle with the idea that God's grace is open to everyone—even those we may think are unworthy.

Within the book of Acts, Pentecost takes place shortly after the ascension of Jesus. We might think of the Ascension as a spectacular event that filled the disciples with awe. They experienced it as a profound disappointment. They thought the resurrected Jesus would bring in the kingdom and their work would end. They asked, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" They didn't realize the gritty, dangerous, exhausting work of bearing witness lay just ahead of them. After the Ascension, two men in white robes ask the disciples why they stand staring up into heaven. Maybe even divine messengers can ask dumb questions! I wonder why the disciples didn't respond, "Well, because Jesus just floated up to the sky in a cloud, that's why!"

Even before the disciples became the church they misunderstood the mission, and they longed for the good old days when they could depend on Jesus' leadership. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost changes everything!The Apostles had several thousand years of “chosenness” behind them. They were Jews, the chosen people of God. They had carefully separated themselves from the gentiles; clinging to their own traditions, restrictions, and laws. Only Jews could be part of God's chosen race they had been taught, but now all that was being turned on its head. If God's grace and love were for all humankind, then the Jews were no longer “chosen.” They were no longer any more special than anyone else, and they would spend the rest of their days convincing other folks that they were special and loved by God.

Pentecost set the Apostles on fire. O that he Spirit would set us on fire! O that we would proclaim the gospel as boldly as Peter standing before the crowd. O that we would get out of our pews and into the world every day, like we did last Sunday. O that we would tear down the blockades that keep us from listening to one another. O that we would each hear the Word of God in our own language—in a way that makes us understand and respond. O that we would quit waiting for the ascended Jesus to come back, pick up our mantles and follow where the Spirit leads us. O that rather than complain that no one comes to church we would give them reasons to come to church. O that we would proclaim the gospel not just with our lips, but with our lives. For that is the empowerment of Pentecost—to send us into the world proclaiming and living out the Gospel. It's what the disciples did, and it's what we are called to do.

The story is told of Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, who earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn't able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner's home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. "Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?" he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector's emotions were deeply stirred. "I have no right to keep that to myself," he exclaimed. "It's yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it."

The good news is not ours to keep, but to share. As the old hymn says:

I love to tell the story, more wonderful it seems

than all the golden fancies, of all our golden dreams.

I love to tell the story, 'tis pleasant to repeat,

what seems each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.

And when in scenes of glory, I sing the new new song,

it will be the old old story, that I have loved so long.

Let us tear down the barriers and tell the story: long, loud, and often. AMEN.


Friday, May 11, 2012

my sermon for May 6th 2012


Acts 8:26-40

Easter 5, May 6, 2012

Hope UMC

In 1983, when the compilers of the Common Lectionary assigned this text for today, they had no way of knowing just how appropriate it would be in light of the United Methodist General Conference gathering in Tampa this week. While the delegates struggle with questions of reorganization and whether clergy should be guaranteed appointments, they also, once again, found themselves embroiled in a debate over the place, if any, of gays and lesbians in the church. For many years it seemed clear, based on such passages as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 (which requires not only that gays be banned, but stoned to death—are you ready for that? I'm not) it seemed clear that there was no such place. And, in the First Century, as the persecuted church moved into the world, it was clear that there was no such place for gentiles and other groups.

God's angel spoke to Philip: "At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza." He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah. [Acts 8:26-28 the Message] As he ran along beside the chariot, Philip heard the Ethiopian reading from the scroll of Isaiah; he asked the official if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian answered: “No, I need help.” and invited Philip into the chariot. The Ethiopian was reading Isaiah's description of the suffering and death of God's servant. “Who is the prophet writing about? The Ethiopian wanted to know; Was Isaiah speaking of himself, or of someone else.

And so Philip launched into the story of Jesus. (Act 8:36) As they traveled down the road, they came to a place where there was some water, and the official said, "Here is some water. What is to keep me from being baptized?"

What is to keep me from being baptized? Well, to start with, the Ethiopian is a gentile, and, at this point, the Christian church only existed within Judaism. And then there's the matter of his gender, or lack thereof. The Ethiopian was a eunuch, and “1 No eunuch is to enter the congregation of God.” [Du. 23:1 the Message] It's about as plain and clear as one can get. Philip's response was quick and easy: “They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot.” [Acts 8:38 the Message]

Nowhere in the scriptures of his day did Philip find authority to baptize one who, according to the law, could not be part of the congregation. No apostolic pronouncement allowed such a thing. Philip acted strictly on his own authority and that of the Holy Spirit. And amazingly enough the church didn't split: there was no mass exodus of angry members; there were no charges brought or threatened; the church simply continued to grow, and grow, and grow. Which leads me to think it may just be time for us to again consider what it means to be a part of the church, and who has a part and place in the church.

In 1939, when the Methodist Church, The Methodist Church South, and the Protestant Methodist Church reunited, the knottiest issue was the place of African Americans in the Methodist Church. It issue was decided by the creation of a non-geographical Central Jurisdiction for those congregations—in short, black Methodists were a church within a church, with the appearance of equality but the reality of segregation. This dreadful miscarriage of Christianity remained until 1968 and he union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren formed our United Methodist Church. During the union talks, the EUB's, God Bless them, made it clear that no union would occur unless the Central Jurisdiction was dissolved and African American Methodists became,in all ways, equal to other United Methodists. There would be no discrimination in the new denomination.

And then came the demands of the gay and lesbian community for an equal place in society. For hundreds of years they had been the target of violent oppression and open discrimination. Gay bars and gathering places were raided regularly, and homosexuality was declared illegal in many states. It was time, members of the community and their supporters said, for gays to be a part of society, too. And society meant the church. Gay denominations had been formed, but gays were pretty much out of place in most Christian churches—and the more they sought inclusion, the more strident the voices of exclusion became. And this past week the United Methodist Church proclaimed that we can no longer even agree to disagree.

Like many people, Christian and unchristian, around the world, I have struggled with this issue. I have dear friends on both sides of the aisle; I have dear friends who are gay or lesbian, and dear friends who are straight. For most of my pastoral career I have been in agreement with the church's position that all persons are of sacred worth, but that homosexuals should not be ordained or appointed to the churches.

And Phillip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. Speaking only for myself, and only for myself, I think it's time for me to give serious consideration to who has a place in the church, and what that place may be. I don't know if I will ever change my mind, I only pray that I can keep my mind and my heart both open—open to the voice of others; open to the voice of the Spirit; and open to the voice of Jesus who has set this table. This table is prepared not just for us, but for all those whose place is in the church—even those we may not think have a place in the church. The Lord who died to provide this meal, died not just for me, for you, but for all of humanity. This is a celebration for and of all God's people. Come, join the party. AMEN.

For Mother's Day this Sunday, I offer my congregation these memories.


Mother's Day, 2012

Hope UMC

I am one of the lucky ones. I have been blessed with three mothers in my life. Not only did I have my biological mother who reared me and loved me for her entire life, and I was further blessed with an equally loving mother in law whom you also knew. You've heard stories about both of these remarkable women, whom I love and miss. But I don't believe I've ever told you about my third Mom, Margaret. I have told you about her husband, Roger Adams, the Baptist pastor who was one of the folks responsible for my answering my ministry call; Margaret was his wife. Margaret Adams was the quintessential 1950's and 60's pastor's wife. She played the piano, sang in the choir, and did all the things expected of a pastor's wife in that era. But the most important thing Margaret did was to extend the love of her Lord, Jesus, to everyone with whom she came in contact. It didn't matter if you were trying to see her a vacuum cleaner, or were a lonely GI a long way from home: you were welcome in Margret’s home. For Fay and I, both while we were dating and after we were married, that home became a haven.

Margaret was a musician, a cook, a seamstress, and a spotless housekeeper. Cleanliness was clearly next to Godliness at the Adams household. When the dishes were washed it wasn't enough to rinse them in hot water—they were to be scalded with boiling water from the teapot. Once, when I needed all the insignia sewn on a new set of fatigues, Fay and I went to the Adam's so Fay could borrow a sewing machine. Margaret quickly took over the operation and my uniform was ready just in time for us to join the family for dinner. Those dinners were wonderful occasions, not just because the food was good, but because of the love with which it was shared. It was a table covered with joy and laughter. Especially the time one of her daughters made tacos for the family. Margaret had no idea how to eat such a contraption, and when she was shown how to tilt her head and eat it she said: “They're won't be too many tacos served around here.”

As a pastor's wife, Margaret learned frugality. On one of our first visits, Fay commented that all the furniture had been painted black. “When your a pastor's family.” Margaret said. “You learn to be economical. Some of the parsonages we lived in were partly furnished, and I found that by painting my furniture black it matched everything, wherever we were. On another occasion, her 6 year old granddaughter said: “Grandma, what a pretty dress you have on! What garage sale did you get it at?”

It would be accurate to say that Margaret was a bit too conservative to be comfortable with the social unrest of the 1960's. I remember well the time when Fay, Peggy (Margret’s daughter) her fiance, Ken, and I were at their home watching the Pink Panther on TV. Margaret found the movie a bit to risque', and kept insisting we come into the kitchen for ice cream, or to play Monopoly, anything but watch that dirty movie!

Like all good mother's, Margaret could embarrass me from time to time; though seldom intentionally. One day Fay sent me to the Adams' home with a plate of fresh baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies—the ones my mother used to make. Of course Margaret just had to have the recipe,even after I explained to her that it was a secret family recipe that Fay was given by my mother. “Well I'm going to ask her, anyway.” Margaret said picking up the phone. “Yes. OK. I understand” she said and hung up. “Fay said the recipe is on the oatmeal box.” And, while Margaret never mentioned it again, Fay has made sure I will never live it down.

Margaret was about family—not just her husband and children, but the extended family that included who knows how many like Fay and I. She loved us all, kept track of us and stayed in touch as best she could. In her journal she wrote reams of poetry about her love of Jesus and her family.

One night, after a long, involved, and fun theological discussion it was Margaret who asked if I had ever considered the ministry. I recall giving her a rather blank look and wondering what just planet she was from. But she clearly recognized something in me that I had not yet seen in myself. Years later, when we stopped to see the Adams' on our way home from my first year in seminary, she was thrilled that I had finally answered the call she has seen so long ago.

Unlike so many folks who compartmentalize their life and faith, Margret’s faith in and love of Christ was part and parcel of who she was. She could not even imagine a Sunday without church or a day that didn't start and end with prayer. She clung fiercely to (Rom 8:28) “We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.” When her husband was taken by ambulance the the ER and they were in the third of 5 days without insurance she told the hospital: “I don't know how, but you will be paid.” Many was the time Fay and I arrived at her home to meet with Peggy and hear Margret's beautiful voice singing hymns as she went about her work. As a child, Margaret was adopted twice. It was her second adopted father who made sure she had voice lessons. As a young woman she had her own radio show, singing in Cincinnati. She was offered a contract in LA, but not wanting to be a part of that lifestyle chose instead to enroll in the Baptist Missionary Training School in Chicago where she met her seminary-student future husband. Even inn her last years, as she descended into dementia, Margaret continued here witness. When Peggy asked one of the nurses din the care center where Margaret lived how they kept her calm. She was told “we ask her to sing a hymn, and that always calms her down. In December of 2008, at the age of 97, my third Mom finally went to be with Jesus. And on this Mother's day I miss her: but I rejoice knowing that I'll see here again, when we meet at Jesus' feet. See you then, my thee moms!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

This was my sermon for Palm-Passion Sunday, April 1.  Before reading this, you need to know that I passed out toothbrushes instead of palms for the folks to wave as we processed into the sanctuary.

Company's Coming

Palm/Passion Sunday, 2012

Mark 11:1-14

How many of you have been "April Fooled" already today?

Did you get salt out of the sugar bowl for your coffee or cereal? Did the lids to the pepper and salt shakers fall completely off with the first shake?

Were all your shirt sleeves turned inside out?

Good April Fool jokes and pranks are supposed to strike out at our routines, shake up our perceptions, make something ordinary odd and extraordinary. Which brings us to the toothbrushes. You were probably expecting the palm crosses that we usually wave—but why toothbrushes?

Palm Sunday remembers Jesus' being welcomed into Jerusalem. It's about honoring the King. Company's coming and the people want to welcome him.

Company's coming. I don't know how it is in your house, but when we know company's coming we do three things. Clean the house, set the table, and finally shower, change into nice clothes, comb our hair (well, Fay does) and brush our teeth so we look and smell nice for our guests. Why? Because we want them to feel welcome. Because we want to honor their presence with us. That's why the palms: that's why the toothbrushes.

Toothbrushes are handy for a lot more than brushing our teeth. Some of you may have used them to clean the tile grout in your bathroom or kitchen. I find them handy for cleaning around the faucet, for cleaning my electric razor, and even when shining my shoes. In the Air Force we used to joke about cleaning the runway with a toothbrush when some big mucky muck was coming. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, he also rides into our hearts, and into our lives. Like cleaning the house for company, Lent is a time for cleansing our lives as we prepare to welcome the risen Christ. Fasting, alms giving, prayer, meditation, and confession cleanse our hearts and prepare our souls for the coming King.

Shortly after we were married, Fay and I visited her grandmother and a whole bunch of cousins in Oklahoma. When one of her aunts answered the door she exclaimed: “If I’d known you was comin', I woulda baked a cake.” There is probably no greater act of hospitality than sharing food, breaking bread together. When we share a meal, we share the building blocks of life, itself—we share the stuff of which we are made; we share life. That's why we set out the best table linens, the fine china, the good silver, and the crystal. To share not only life with our guests, but to share the best we have to offer. The Lenten call to alms giving is a call to share the best we have with Jesus and with others.

When we are expecting company, we want not only the house, but ourselves, to look good—so the last thing we do before the doorbell rings is to wash our face, comb our hair and brush our teeth. Our attention to our appearance honors our guests.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, his disciples honored him by laying their coats on the ground in front of the donkey. The crowds joined in, covering the road with branches and shouting “Hosanna” “Save we pray!” “Blessed, happy, is the one who comes in God's name.” They honored Jesus and recognized him as the messiah, the one who will restore the kingdom of David. It was a joyous time, but it was not to last.

An old proverb states that in three days guests and fish grow smelly. Sometime between the Palms and the Passover the crowds changed. This is not unusual. Even the most popular and charismatic who challenge the status quo, find their popularity soon wanes. Noted historian Gene Smith, in his book "When The Cheering Stopped,” tells the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI. When that war was over Wilson was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy. On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn’t believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right. The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President’s health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.

Only a few days after entering Jerusalem to the accolades of the crowd, Jesus found himself again in front of the crowd. But this time, instead of shouting “hosanna!” they shouted “Crucify!” And of all those present, only Jesus understood that the kingdom he would usher in would come only through his suffering, death and resurrection. Let us remember the passion as we stand and sing together #288, Were You There? AMEN.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Missing the Point


Mark 9:2-9

Transfiguration Sunday, February 19, 2-12

Hope United Methodist Church

Did you ever not “get it?” You're in a room full of people and someone tells a joke: everyone laughs but you. Not because you don't think the joke is funny, but because you just don't get it. Or maybe you listened to one of my wonderful sermons and went home wondering what I was talking about. What was the point? There are a lot of things I don't get the point of: football, rock music, Why Paris Hilton is a celebrity,quantum physics, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few. But then I don't think I'm alone. We've all missed the point at least once in our lives. In fact, somewhere in the boxes of books I have amassed is one titled: Adventures in Missing the Point. Missing the point is part and parcel of our humanness, and in this morning's gospel lesson Peter misses the point.

It was just six days after Peter had rebuked Jesus for announcing that he would be killed by the chief priests and rulers and rise 3 days later that the Lord took Peter, James and John to the mountaintop with him. There, after a time of prayer and meditation Jesus' appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus.

And just then, good ole point-missing Peter blurted out: “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Mark tells us “He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.” And who can blame them. If suddenly I began to shimmer and glisten you would probably trample each other trying to get out of here. Even after they were all enveloped in a cloud and heard the divine voice say: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” they still weren't sure what it all meant: and I'm not sure we do, either.

To understand the Transfiguration, we need to understand that Mark saw the coming Kingdom of God not as some future apocalyptic event that will bring about the end of the world, but as a continuous process through which God's will is realized in the world. It includes the establishment of righteousness, the destruction of evil and the punishment of Israel's corrupt leadership. The transfiguration casts Jesus in the line of Moses, the lawgiver and Elisha, the greatest of the prophets, and again, as at his baptism, identifies him as he Son of God. For Peter, seeing Jesus radiant, like Moses when he came down from Sinai, proves his earlier proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah—even though he has yet to understand what this proclamation means.

For us, two thousand years later, the story is more quaint than scary. But like Peter, even though we may know and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, we aren't sure what that means. The dictionary defines a messiah as: “anointed,” “someone who is anticipated as, regarded as, or who professes to be a savior, a liberator. The anticipated savior of the Jews. In which case the transfiguration serves as and identifier. Without the transfiguration, Jesus becomes just one more wandering rabbi, indistinguishable from the rest; and we are like the salesman who
knocked on the farmhouse door. When the wife came to the door, he asked, "Is your husband home, Ma'am?"
She said, "Sure is. He's out with the cows."
The salesman responded, "I've got something to show him. Will I have any problem finding him?"
"Shouldn't have any problems," she said. "He's the one with the beard and mustache."  

But more than an identifier, the transfiguration also begins the end of Jesus' teaching and healing ministry and the start of the trail to the cross. Jesus is truly a marked man, and the mark he bears will lead him to the cross.

The transfiguration is, of course,about more than identifying Jesus as the Messiah. It is, for Peter, John, and James a transforming experience. Never again will they view Jesus the same. They see from a different perspective the Jesus who turns his face to Jerusalem: who continues to speak of his forthcoming death, who shares his last meal with his friends in an upper room, who goes to the cross and rises three days later.

Just as the transfiguration transformed the three disciples, we, too, have transforming experiences of the risen Christ. We, too, have those times in our lives when we realize that we are loved and wanted beyond our comprehension. We, too, have those times when God's grace pours over us like the water from a shower head. Nine years ago, when I came to Yoncalla to be introduced to the SPRCs of the two churches, one of the Yoncalla folks asked me to tell her about my “conversion experience;” about my new birth. Now I know there are many who can tell you the month, day, date, and time of their conversion, but there are many of us with a different experience. So I told the SPRC that was impossible: I grew up knowing Jesus and cannot remember a time when he wasn't a part of me. That being said, there have been times when I have felt closer to God than I usually do. 

There was Easter Sunday, 1965. I was an 18 year old airman walking a lonely post, protecting Nebraska from the communist hordes. I was working the midnight to 8 AM shift, and the commies had not planned an attack for that night. Bored stiff I found myself walking along singing hymns, trying to remember all the details of the Easter story and praying. Then, just as the sun came over the eastern horizon I looked up. Running north to south there was a long narrow cloud turned blood red by the rays of the rising sun. Running through the cloud from east to west and forming a cross was the pure white fantail of a jet. As I looked I felt the presence of the holy in a way I never had before. I knew I was not alone, that I was loved and wanted; that my wilderness time was over.

We were fighting the Tillamook Blimp Hanger fire. The fire was still inside the hanger when I was told to take a hydrant across the street and about 40 away. I turned on the hydrant and discovered it was dry—not drop of water #1 came through he hose. Just then my truck returned: “Jump on the back, we gotta get out of here!” I started to disconnect my hose when they said don't bother, 'It's been cut.” I jumped on the back of the truck and we raced off. I looked back to see a red hot chunk of metal about as long a car that had been a roof patch bounce off the hydrant where I had been standing. That was another moment that changed my life and demonstrated just how closely Jesus walks with me.

Have you had your transfiguring-transforming moment? Have you felt the closeness of Christ living in and through you? Or are you waiting? Maybe you're still out in the wilderness, maybe your just investigating this Christian faith? Maybe you're not sure what a transforming moment looks like. That's OK? Come. Come to the one who was transfigured. Come the one who transforms. Come to the one who empowers and heals. Come, as we stand and sing #258, O Wondrous Sight, O Vision Fair. Come, the one who is the Son of God is waiting.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Approaching God


2 Kings 5:1-14, Mark 1:40-44

February 12, 2012

Hope United Methodist Church

Both of this morning's stories begin with the weak approaching the strong Naaman of Aram enjoyed great power and all it's accoutrements He was a powerful general; in America he would have received a ticker tape parade down 5th Avenue. He was on a first name basis with the King and all the lord high officials and mucky mucks of his nation. And yet, it was a lowly slave girl who, at great personal risk, approached her mistress with the outrageous suggestion that a Syrian prophet might be able to cure his leprosy.

As befits one of great power, Naaman went to the King of Aram and asked permission to go see the prophet. The king of Aram gave him a letter of introduction and sent him off not to the Syrian countryside, but to Jerusalem, to see the king of Israel. Powerful people deal with other powerful people, not with the commoners. He presented the letter from the king of Aram, a letter that demanded, not requested that he cure Naaman's leprosy.

The leper who approached Jesus was at the bottom of his society—indeed, he wasn't even accepted as a member of society. As a result of his disease he was unclean, outcast, a non-person. And yet, violating the rules that required him to avoid “clean” people, he came right up to Jesus and knelt in front of him, pleading for mercy. "If you want to," he said, "you can make me clean." The man with nothing to loose recognizes in his brokenness and need that Jesus is the embodiment of God's coming kingdom.

Elisha, hearing of Naaman's arrival, sent a message to the king: “Quit worrying. Send Naaman to me, I'll take care of it.” (2Ki 5:9) So Naaman went with his horses and chariot and the accoutrements of his position. He stopped in front of Elisha's house, and, as befit a man of his status, waited for Elisha to come to him. But Elisha never showed. Instead, he sent out his servant who instructed Naaman to bathe in the Jordan river. And how does Naaman respond? He throws a temper tantrum. Like a two year old who didn't get his way, Naaman stomps away; angry that he wasn't treated with the deference due a person of his standing, and unhealed.

Jesus looks at the leper before him and saw not a diseased outcast who had come close enough to put his own cleanliness is at risk, but simply another human being in pain. Our lesson this morning says Jesus looked at the leper with compassion. The word used in Mark's text is better translated “anger” or “rage.” Rage not at the leper for violating all the rules, but rage at what the disease had done to him. Rage at how he had been isolated and abandoned by society. Rage at the disease that ate away not only at his body, but at his soul, his humanity, his very being. And in touching him Jesus not only healed the disease, but restored humanity. In touching the leper, Jesus dealt not only with the leprosy, but with the more debilitating condition of loneliness. Jesus restored the man not only to health, but to the community.

For Naaman, powerful, respected and still unhealed, it is, again, one of the weak who come to his aid. Seeing his master's anger, one of his servants points out: (2Ki 5:13) "Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, you would have done it. So why don't you do what he said? Go wash and be cured." It was only when Naaman looked beyond the kingdoms of this world to the topsy-turvy kingdom of God that turns earthly things on end, that he was able to follow Elisha's command and gain healing.

Like Naaman, too often we expect God to do what we want, when we want and how we want, and when God's response doesn't meet our preconceived notions, we set it aside. We expect God to ask the difficult of us, and we are ready to respond. Climb a mountain? Swim a wild, raging river? Go to Africa? Land at shell-pocked airports? Face Malaria, Aids, and drunken border guards who want my boots? I'm ready! Who needs to pack? Let's go! But when the task is simple we revolt. What? Bathe in the Jordan river? Come forward for prayers of healing? Lead a Bible Study? Invite my neighbor to church? No way!

There is, of course, one simple command we are very good at following. It's the command Jesus gave the leper: “Don't tell anyone about this.” Like the healed Naaman who boldly declared: “Now I know there is no god but the God of Israel, the Christ-healed leper couldn't restrain himself, and told everyone he saw what had happened. In fact, his healing became so well known that Jesus could no longer enter the towns without being mobbed. So, in a way that precurses the cross, where he took on all the sins of the world, Jesus took on this man's isolation.

How are you responding to God's call? Are you waiting for God to call you to what you want to be called to? Or are you open to what God wants to call you to? God's call isn't always what we want to do, but, with God's help it is always what we can do. The question is not are we able? The question is, are we willing? “If you choose,” says the leper, “You can make me clean.” And, reaching out to touch him, and us, Jesus says: “I so choose.”

Do you choose? Do you choose healing and community over illness and isolation? Do you serve service and giving over power and receiving? Do you choose a life in Christ over a life in the world? Do you choose wholeness over being only partially alive? The choice is yours. AMEN.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Investing in Now.


Jeremiah 29:1-7

Feb. 5, 2012

Hope UMC

For the last 81/2 years or so I have spent at least a part of most Sunday mornings in this place, and a part of most of those mornings with most of you. I am glad for that. I enjoy being here, hearing and participating in that old old story in a familiar time and place and surrounded by folks I know and love and who know and (I think) love me. Together we say “Yes.” “Yes, this is true.” “Yes, this I believe.” “Yes, I'm going to try to embody this in my own life.” Together we say to one another “In the name of Christ, you are forgiven.” And together we go out into the world to lead our own, separate, but joined, lives. It''s a familiar routine made all the more comfortable by its familiarity.

But what happens when the familiar is no more? What happens when the rug of familiarity is jerked out from under us? What happens when we find ourselves strangers in a strange land?

We too often view the writings of the Old Testament prophets as if they were some kind of divinely inspired fortune-tellers gazing into a crystal ball and revealing either the coming exile or the coming messiah. We don't see them as writing to folks in the here and now. But that's just what Jeremiah is doing in this mornings lesson. The Babylonians have come down from the north and conquered Judah. In 587 BC they hauled the religious, political, and economic leaders of Judah back to Babylon. In spite of the way we often think, not everyone was deported—only the leaders; only those who could effectively foster a rebellion. They hauled these folks off together with their families intact. They were taken away from their temple, their friends, their homes, the graves of their ancestors, everything that was familiar and comfortable to them. Now they found themselves in a strange land, where people spoke a strange language, ate strange foods, and practiced strange customs.

Imagine how they must have felt. Psalm 137 captures their dismay. (Psa 137:1) “Beside the rivers of Babylon we thought about Jerusalem, and we sat down and cried.

(Psa 137:3) Our enemies had brought us here as their prisoners, and now they wanted us to sing and entertain them. They insulted us and shouted, "Sing about Zion!"

(Psa 137:4) Here in a foreign land, how can we sing about the LORD?” We can almost hear them saying to one another: “Who ever heard of singing prisoners?” “Why should we build anything? This isn't our home/” “Why marry, why have children in this foreign place? Why plant, or build, or make anything? Why help the people who are our enemies?” In the musical Godspell, one of the song includes the lyrics: “On the willows there, we hung up our lives.”

It was a sad and depressing time for the transplanted Israelites. Of course they hoped their captivity would be short-lived, and I'm sure there were plenty of self-appointed prophets willing to tell the people what they wanted to hear—there always are: especially in an election year.

Jeremiah was not among such prognosticators. Rather than tell them what they wanted to hear, he didn't pull any punches. “You're gonna be here for the long haul—70 years. So this is what God says,” he wrote from Jerusalem where he had been left behind. "Build houses and make yourselves at home. "Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. 6"Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you'll thrive in that country and not waste away. 7"Make yourselves at home there and work for the country's welfare.” And perhaps the craziest command of all: "Pray for Babylon's well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.”

Seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Work, build, become part of the nation. Invest in a place you will never posses. 8-9 “Yes. Believe it or not, this is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel's God: "Don't let all those so-called preachers and know-it-alls who are all over the place there take you in with their lies. Don't pay any attention to the fantasies they keep coming up with to please you. They're a bunch of liars preaching lies—and claiming I sent them! I never sent them, believe me."

Invest in now. That's what Jeremiah says. Even if now is not the now you want it to be, invest in it anyway—build what you will never posses, give of your time, your talent, your abilities even though you'll never completely own the place. This strategy of investing in the now is as valid and important today as it was 2600 years ago.

There are some here today who have an idea of what it must have been like for the Israelites. This is not the church they grew up in. this is not the place they were married, the place they buried their loved ones, the place where their faith was formed. It may be familiar, but it isn't home. Jeremiah says to them: “build, work, invest, and pray for this community.”

There are some here who say: “I'm tired. I've done my share. 20 years I taught Sunday School! Eight years I led Vacation Bible School! I ran 27 rummage sales and only the Lord knows how many chicken dinners I cooked. “I've done my share. Jeremiah responds. “Build, work, invest, and pray for this community.

There are some who wonder what this congregation will be like come July. What will the new pastor be like? Will she want to change things? Will he each like pastor Dann? Will they want to live in the parsonage? Will they have children? Will they be active in the community? Jeremiah says: “Build, work, invest, and pray for this community.

No matter how much we may think differently, this is not our church. We do not own it. We can never own it. The church belongs to God and to God alone. Remember that. And remember, even when you are feeling like this is home, it isn't. You and I are simply enjoying a gift from the giver of all good things. All the things we think make us happy aren't really it at all. The beauty of the sanctuary? It's not God. It's good, and it is beautiful, but it's not God. The friendly familiar faces—a reflection of God, the image of God, but not God. Those decisions of which you took ownership? They are God's decisions. So if you feel your life changing, if you are feeling a new peace in your soul, if you find your faith suddenly more relevant, it isn't the sanctuary, it isn't the preacher, it isn't the music. It's the work of God through His Holy Spirit, finding you, reaching out to you, touching you, and restoring you. And that same touching, restoring, giving God has prepared this feast for us. A simple meal, and yet a banquet that defies description. The table is set. Come, share, give thanks and rejoice! AMEN.