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.