Saturday, January 5, 2019

The best year ever- Carroll first UMC January 5 and 6, 2019

2019…happy new year!
 How many of you made New Year's resolutions this year? I saw on one news report that the percentage of Americans making New Year’s resolutions has declined to 40%. I fall into the 60% who do not because the success rate for resolutions is so low. Only 9% of those who make resolutions will keep them more than one month. For me, it was more like 3 days. I think that is because many New Year’s resolutions are too big to tackle. You know like,
·        I’m going to exercise every day for an hour, or
·        I’m going to stop spending so much money at Starbucks, or
·        I’m going to get straight A’s in school.
I think, if we were more realistic like starting at 2 days a week at the gym, or skip one Starbucks a week, or raising our grade just in math we would be a lot more successful.
As a pastor, there are always some things I have saved to start at the first of the year after the Christmas rush is over. More than that, however, it is a time when new officers have taken office, a new budget is in place, this year a new choir director and bell director will be joining us, and we still have a whole series of firsts to enjoy as I lead you through our first lent and Easter together. It is an exciting time.
Today I want to think about the new year together. Where will our church go and how will we get there. Napoleon famously said, “Leaders define reality and give hope.” That’s what I want to do today. I want to start by defining the reality of who we are as a church.

Our scripture today is one of those scriptures that really defines the nature of the church.
Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They talked about some things that people were saying. Then Jesus got personal… “OK who do YOU say I am?” That is the impetus for Simon Peter’s famous confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." . This is one of the greatest confessions of faith in all of scripture. It is the confession of faith that we are all asked to make. It is also a turning point in the Gospel of Matthew and from here on everything seems to start moving toward Jerusalem.
Now, I should say that scholars argue over the authenticity of Jesus’ response to Peter. There is a pretty clear divide between Roman Catholic scholars who see this as the institution of the church, and Protestant scholars who argue that it was added by the early church, perhaps by Peter’s disciples themselves in order to strengthen his authority and the authority of his successors in the early church. (His successors, of course being the popes).
Be that as it may my practice is to know the historical context and literary debates but still approach scripture for what it says with the belief that everything in scripture can teach us something.
So, setting aside the debate we read Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
I want you to notice 3 things about the church. The church is designed by God, built by God, and powered by God.
Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven The church is not Peter’s idea, or your idea, or my idea. It is not your church, my church or the bishop’s church. It is God’s idea, God’s design, Gods church. Period.
Second, Jesu says, Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, Popular thinking put the emphasis on the words “Peter, on this rock” but I think the important part of that sentence is God saying “I will build my church.” It is not we who build the church, but God. God is both designer and builder.
Finally, “the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Hades is a Greek word for the place of the dead. It is not really hell because it was where all people, good and bad, went when they died. No human can escape the power of the gates of Hades. Not you, not me, no one…. …except for one. Jesus, our savior and son of God who died a real death, went to the place of the dead and came back to offer eternal life to all who will make the confession of Jesus as savior and son of God. Not even the power of death can stop God. There is no power great enough to stop God. There is no gate strong enough to hold God’s power back. There is no fence high enough to stop God’s power. There is no hate great enough to stop the power of God. And the church is not powered by any human idea or ministry… it is powered by God’s power.
God’s idea, God’s labor, God’s power… Gods church. Period.
But listen to this. Jesus says “ I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. “ It is God’s church but we have a job to do. The image is one of a steward entrusted with the keys to the house to care for it.
The steward is hired by God, works for God, and does things God’s way. But the role of the steward is important. We are the stewards of God’s church.
It is like dad handing you the keys to his favorite little red Camaro that he never lets anyone drive in order for you to take it to prom. He is trusting you to care for it well. The same is true for God handing us the keys to the kingdom.

I wanted to give that introduction to make clear that I am not saying that the future of the church is on us. Clearly, it is not. It is God’s church and God’s future. Just as clearly, we must be good stewards of the church with which God has entrusted us. We have a role to play. So how will we make this the best year ever in the First United Methodist church of Carroll? This church has seen 150 years go by. Some good, others not so good. I think more good than bad. But “Leaders define reality and give hope.” What are my hopes?

First, I want everyone to stand up. This may be uncomfortable for you but go out of your pew to the next pew in front of you and sit down. Now, you may not like that I made you do that, but I’ll bet that you’ll remember that if every one of us takes one step closer to Jesus this year, it will be the best year ever. I am not talking about anything as hard as changing pews. I am talking about…
If you pray once a day, try praying twice.
If you read one verse of scripture a day, try reading two.
If you attend worship 2 times a month, try for three.
If you don’t attend Sunday school or Bible study. Try it just once and see what God does.
If you give 2% of your income, try 3%.
If you usually say no to anything you are asked to do, try saying ”Yes” just one time this year.
Baby steps. But steps. I am not asking you to make yourself a different person overnight. I am asking you to do one thing different over the course of a year and let God make you a different person.
Every person take one step closer to Jesus this year. And this will be the best year this church has ever seen.

Second. I have a hope for every person to be in ministry.
No, I am not wanting any of you to take my job. I like it here. But pastoral ministry is only a very tiny percentage of the ministry we do. I have a hope that every person in this church would be in ministry. I am not asking for anything hard. What I mean is I want you to do one thing for others because of Jesus.
There are two important parts here: FOR OTHERS and BECAUSE OF JESUS. If you do something for Jesus but it doesn’t make any difference to anyone it is not ministry. If you do something to help others, but neither you nor they recognize that you did it because of Jesus, it is not ministry. I want you to do one thing for others because of Jesus.
 Some ministries are obvious. Teaching Sunday school, leading the youth group, liturgist, singing in the choir, or media operator. Other ministries are not so obvious.
·        Taking care of the neighbor’s dog while they are in the hospital and not accepting pay but just doing it because that is what Jesus would do,
·        spending time with a child who thinks no one cares about them just because that’s what Jesus would do.
·        Volunteering in any number of places from the food pantry to the monthly meal at St. Johns but not doing it so people say thank you or because you want to prove how good you are… but only doing it because it is what Jesus would want you to do.
·        Those of you who are on committees, that is close but sometimes we in the church fool ourselves into thinking that sitting on a committee is ministry. Maybe it is depending on that committee, but just going to a meeting doesn’t quite get to the point of helping anyone…so take responsibility for one of the committee projects, coordinate something, teach something, love someone, give someone a ride, make a difference in someone’s life because of Jesus and you are in ministry.
·        If you are already comfortably in ministry add a second small ministry. Stretch yourself just a little.
Every single person in this church should be in ministry. No matter what your limitations are, you can be in ministry. If you can’t figure out how to be in ministry, let’s sit down and talk about it. But my hope for the year is that every person in this church would be in ministry… and if we are we will have the best year ever.

Finally, when I was introduced to the SPRC they told me that wanted me to help the church figure out the next step. I don’t know what that is. I suspect you don’t either or they wouldn’t have asked for my help. Or maybe you do know, and you just don’t know how to get there.
My hope is that this year we can dream God’s dream for this church together. You know by now that I am not likely to come with the next step chiseled in stone like pastor Moses. My style is for us to dream together, hope together, work together, most importantly pray together, and maybe even cry together until we come to discern God’s preferred next step for this church. Will we make a mis-step… maybe… but at least we will have done something. God’s plan for us, unfortunately, doesn’t include step by step directions except for love God (as in: come one step closer to Jesus) and love others (as in: every person in ministry). I don’t know where God will take us. But I would sure love to find out together. Dream with me. Hope with me. Pray with me. Seek God’s guidance with me. And we’ll find out together. And in the meantime we’ll have the best year ever.

I don’t know where we will be a year from now. I do know that with all of us taking one step closer to Jesus, every one of us being in ministry, and every one of us dreaming together …praying together and … hoping together we will be in a different place one year from now than we are today. Even if we try something and it flops. Even if we have a dream we can’t quite pull off. Even if the dream is bigger than we can accomplish in a year. Journeying together we will look back and say “That was the best year ever because we were together and God was with us.”


Saturday, December 29, 2018

(SLIDE 1 fanfare) Voices from the fringe First UMC, Carroll 12/30/18

(SLIDE 1 fanfare)
Voices from the fringe
First UMC, Carroll 12/30/18

 (Entering in a wheelchair) Hurry up slave I don’t have all day. Slow down you’re going to crash men into the furniture. No, you fool, put me in the middle where everyone can see me! I hate being pushed around. I am used to doing the pushing. I am the one who pushes; and everyone else jumps.
I’m sure you all know who I am. But I’ll warn you. I will not tolerate getting my name wrong. It is not just Herod. It is Herod the Great. No excuses. I employ 2 fulltime executioners, and I keep them pretty busy. Got it?
“The Great” is important as opposed to my bumbling sons and grandsons “Herod The Lesser,” “Herod Agrippa,” and “Herod Antipas.” I have to admit Antipas was able to get rid of that Jesus. That was only because he was in the right place at the right time. 
You probably wonder what I’m doing here. Feels a little odd to me, too; more uncomfortable than I thought it would be. They warned me of that. But I have to warn you about something and I’m not about to leave before I do that.
Before I get to the important stuff, I just want you know that if I weren’t dead there would be trouble here. I’ve seen it before. I’ll bet you have had a second rate Christmas pageant where some snot-nose kid pretends to be me, wearing his dad’s old bathrobe and a cardboard crown, tries to look as mean as he can. Last year some 3rd grader, in a Baptist church in Memphis, pompously announced he was “Harold the Grape”! What’s that make me? An old raisin? That’s beside the point, though.
  I need you to understand is why I made the choices I did. I’m not going to deny that I did some pretty unpleasant stuff. Being king is a rough business, especially in the situation in which I found myself. My father was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47 B.C. (according to your calendar),
 and he in turn appointed me military prefect of Galilee. It was a chance to make a name for myself. I did my job with the sort of efficiency and dedication the Romans love, so I somehow survived the upheaval in Rome when Caesar was assassinated.
  I kissed up to Marc Antony, the new emperor, and by 40 B.C. I was declared “King of the Jews” by the Roman senate. The Jews didn’t think much of me because I was only partly Jewish. The Romans, on the other hand, were suspicious of me because I was partly Jewish. Tough position to be in, let me tell you. To survive, to have the power necessary to rule that unruly backwater of the Empire, I needed to consolidate my position. And it wasn’t easy. If people wouldn’t love me, I had to make them fear me. If the people wouldn’t willingly offer me their allegiance, I had to take it by force. If I couldn’t maintain order, the Romans would send their armies and, believe me, it would have been far worse for the Jews. If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. Therefore, I protected myself, whatever it took.
Don’t kid yourselves that you wouldn’t have done the same. Oh, I know, the record isn’t pretty. It’s true that I had my wife Mariamne killed, but you need to realize that I married her for political, not romantic, reasons. There were three of my sons that revolted against me, and we had to take care of them. I know it looks bad. But we — all of us — use the power at our disposal, don’t we?
You don’t think you would have done such a thing? Really? Have you ever felt threatened by someone? Ever felt the knife of jealousy thrust deep into your heart? Ever wanted to get rid of a person? Oh, you don’t think you would murder, of course not, but I am sure you use whatever means at your disposal. Maybe you have twisted the truth and passed on gossip disguised as Christian concern? Maybe you gave someone the cold shoulder to manipulate them? Your courts have made it all so neat and tidy to get rid of a spouse. But the results are the same. I’m pretty sure you are more like me than you want to admit. And I was not all bad. To this day, there are ruins of cities I built still hugging the Mediterranean. And the beloved Temple of the Jews in Jerusalem — I built it. But am I remembered for any of these things? No!

No one’s perfect. It’s ironic that I should be remembered in history for that brief conversation with three wise astrologers from Persia. Who would have thought anything momentous or historic was happening?
It had been one of those days. The chief contractor on one of my building projects had inconsiderately dropped dead; I had heard that a group of crazy fundamentalists had locked themselves in a synagogue in Jericho and vowed to fast until the Messiah came; and one of my wives told me the latest court rumor about another of my wives. I could have used a Messiah myself at that point, but rarely do we know what we really need.
 So I had just reached for a bottle of Scotch. That’s when my aide- a squirrelly little guy who always smelled like he hadn’t bathed in a month and had a bald spot in his beard, a thoroughly unpleasant creature, but loyal, oh so loyal — he came into my office announced with a shower of spit falling on my latest papers from Rome--- that some foreign visitors had just arrived bearing greetings. I started to tell him where he could put their greetings, when they walked into the room.
After the usual diplomatic niceties, they got to the point: “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” You know the story. You’ve heard it told many times.
They assumed that the next “King of the Jews” would be my son and they would find him in the palace. I knew nothing about that. I had to get to the bottom of it. I did know that was my title granted from Rome. I couldn’t allow anyone else to take it from me even if he was only a baby today, eventually he would grow up, and I couldn’t allow that.
I summoned my theologian who told me tradition said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; we gave the astrologers directions to Bethlehem, and told them to let us know what they found there. When they slipped across the border without getting back to me, I got worried. What if they did see some newborn royalty and had pledged their allegiance or vowed a treaty with him to undermine me? I will admit the truth: I was threatened by this baby. If He was the Messiah, my days were numbered. My reign was based on force, but if one came who had the power to sway the people’s hearts, I would soon be forced from my throne. If there was any truth in this, he was a dangerous person and I knew I had to deal with it swiftly.
I couldn’t take any chances. I had to destroy Him. I had to protect myself. I know. It looks like a heinous crime. “The slaughter of innocents” the church has called it. Yes, I suppose some might say that. But if that’s what it took to get rid of this dangerous influence, that’s what I had to do. He was dangerous to me and fear makes you do strange things. Doesn’t it?
I’m asking you. Do you ever feel threatened? You should. They said he was a king— a king in a way that I could never be, King of the Universe, the eternal Lord. And that is threatening. Make no mistake about it. You, too, are threatened by Him. You think you are king of your life, but you and Jesus can’t both be Lord. You make such a sentimental mush about Christmas. Choirs and gift-giving and Sunday School pageants (Harold the Grape… for one gold coin I’d just …) Never mind… back to you. 
Christmas has a dangerous message: a new king has been born. And you must do one of two things with Him: worship Him as Lord or force Him out of your life. I had my chance; I made my choice.
You have to make a choice too. If you are going to celebrate Christmas, you need to know that this sweet little baby is not so sweet. This child is not innocent. This Jesus who claims to be king is a dangerous guy.
Think about it.
•            You  must be born again… what kind of crazy talk is that.
•            Take up your cross and follow me… you don’t want to do that.
•            Forgive your enemies…really? If I did that, they would have stabbed me in the back 100 times over.
•            Love your neighbor, the poor, the Samaritans, the centurions, the tax collectors and the list goes on and on… love just makes you vulnerable to being hurt. That’s not for me. And not for you either.
•            Son of God? Not likely…but even if he is, don’t YOU want to be in charge of your life?
•            The greatest will be a servant…are you kidding me? That’s just crazy talk.
I tell you, that you have romanticized this baby in the manger with his sweet little mama, and proud little papa. He is here to take over your life. He is here to change the world forever, and you will be the ones who lose your power, you are the ones who will be asked to give until it hurts, you will be the ones who are asked to rub shoulders with the undesirables. You will be the ones who are left to finish the work he starts. You will be the ones who will have hopes dashed when he doesn’t come back as he promised.
You are the ones who will have to give to the poor, visit the sick, care for the imprisoned, accept the migrants and the homosexuals. You are the ones who will be asked to stand up for the weak and defend those who are abused. You are the ones who will have to look at that horrible cross and wear it around your neck and sing songs about it.
You will be the ones who are asked to forgive as you have been forgiven.
You are the ones who will be asked to love as you have been loved.
You are the ones who will be asked to share his peace as he has given you his peace.
You are the ones who will be asked to share his joy as he has filled you with joy.
 You are the ones who will have hope you never had before.
Wait a minute… I think I am losing my argument. Love, peace, hope, joy… I can’t win against a king like that… Just believe me… this Jesus is a dangerous guy… stay away from him.

 Get me out of here.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Voices from the fringe: Matthew Christmas Eve 2018 First UMC Carroll

Voices from the fringe: Matthew
Christmas Eve 2018 First UMC Carroll
Did you hear that story? I can’t believe I missed it! They were right there in front of me and I didn’t even realize it.
Every time I hear that story from Luke, I could kick myself. I was right there in Bethlehem. I saw the couple from Nazareth. I remember them because she looked like she could give birth about any minute. And when they came to the table to enroll and pay their taxes, they asked if there was anywhere they might stay because the inns were full. I felt sorry for them but just said, “No I don’t. Keep moving please.”
It was my first assignment as a new tax collector. I was sent from my home territory of Galilee to learn from the best how to get just a little more money out of each person. The more I could get, the more I could keep. Even though we were hated by most of the people, it was profitable, IF you were an effective persuader. We called it “persuasion.” Others called it thievery, lying, or even extortion. They weren’t wrong and they hated us for it. No matter what we called it.

Getting back to the story. Had I known who they were, I would have gladly given them MY room. …Well, to tell the truth, I probably would still have sent them on their way because that is the kind of person I was. I’m not like that anymore. Now… I’m different. At that time, I had no idea who was right in front of me. Honestly, even after following Jesus for 3 years I didn’t put it all together until I heard Luke’s version of the gospel. Jesus didn’t talk about his birth, that’s why I didn’t record these events in my gospel that you call the gospel of Matthew. Now that I know the rest of the story as Luke tells it, I understand a lot better.

That is only one example of not seeing what was right in front of my eyes.
As I said, I was from Galilee and that is where I spent most of my career.  As it turns out Jesus’ path and my path crossed several times through the years. I didn’t see anything special about him.
Then he started his ministry. I spent a lot of my time collecting tolls on the roads, some would say committing highway robbery. I went wherever there was a big crowd because that’s where the profit was.  Jesus tended to gather huge crowds. Therefore, I often set up my tollbooth near where Jesus was teaching to collect from his followers. I heard him day after day, but I still didn’t see what was right before my eyes.

I heard him teach the sermon on the mount. How else do you think I was able to record it word for word in my gospel?
When Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely. I started to listen more closely.
Because it was profitable, I kept going back.  He started healing folks. Not just religious folks, but lepers the possessed, the crippled, and blind. He didn’t care if they were Samaritans, slaves, Greeks, Romans, women, children, clean and unclean, unrighteous or righteous. I wondered what he thought of a Levite like me.

Then it happened… one day… out of the clear blue sky, he walked past my booth and called me by name. “Matthew, come follow me.”
My first thought should have been to blow him off, but it wasn’t.
I can’t explain it, but suddenly all my priorities were turned upside down. The money I wanted so much didn’t seem as important. The three shiny new chariots on which I was making payments, suddenly that didn’t mean anything. I always dreamed of a big house in the best part of Jerusalem, suddenly I didn’t care where I lived. I didn’t even care if I got that big screen TV…. (I wasn’t sure what a TV was, but whatever it was, if no one else had one, I wanted it.)
When Jesus said, “follow me” all that I wanted was to get up and follow him. Sudeenly the money in front of mew didn’t mean so much as the life ahead of me. Could it be that Jesus, who accepted everybody else, would want a tax collector as a disciple? I never thought it possible, because I had been blind to God’s love which was right in front of me.
I could not see it because I shut myself away so I wouldn’t have to hear the names they called me, or see the looks of hatred that shot through my heart. But the man in front of me was different. Suddenly I saw God’s love that had been there all the time.

Don’t make the same mistake I did.  I wasted so much of my life looking meaning in all the wrong places when it lived just in the next town the whole time.
Don’t make the same mistake I did; searching for love or trying to buy love, when God’s love was available just for the accepting.
Don’t make the same mistake I did; trying to be so important, that I missed seeing what was really important.
Don’t make the same mistake I did; thinking that you don’t deserve love, or are never good enough because God’s love is not based on whether we deserve it.
God doesn’t come to the high and mighty, or the respectful, or the accepted.
God doesn’t come wrapped in shiny paper, or in a checkbook register.
God’s love came in a manger, in a baby, in a humble teacher, in a man on a cross.

Where is God coming to you? In the simple act of giving a gift to someone who didn’t expect it? In the prayers for peace contained on the Christmas cards you receive. In the music of the holidays? In church? God is in all those places.
Where is God coming to you? In the encouraging words of a coworker, in the helping hand of a neighbor, in the stranger who says Merry Christmas. Sitting by a hospital bed?
Where is God coming to you? In the hustle and bustle of life or in the quiet stillness of the night.
Where is God coming to you? In beautiful, shiny wrapping paper, or wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper.
How is God coming to you? In the messy craft project gift that you receive from a child. In a child’s excitement for Christmas morning?
How is God coming to you ? In tears shed in the middle of the night? In the flickering of a single candle lighting a room?
How is God coming to you, as a nosy neighbor, a depressed single mother? In the grieving widower next door.
Maybe, just maybe, God coming in the person sitting next to you right now… and you didn’t even notice it.
Just open your eyes and you just might find God in the most unexpected place.

In my day. God did not come just to the high and mighty, to kings and emperors, to captains of business and 1%ers, preachers, and Sunday school teachers. No, God came to a teenage mom, a carpenter, some shepherds, a Samaritan, and some Greeks. God came to the lame, the blind, the possessed… and God came to tax collectors.
God comes to everyone who will open their hearts and their lives to receive the miracle of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Slow down. Be quiet. Stop worrying. Stop searching high and low for God. Just open your eyes and look right in front of you, or beside you, or inside of you, and see the miracle of Christmas. 

Voices from the fringe Joachim Mary’s father First UMC 12/23/2018

Voices from the fringe
Joachim Mary’s father
First UMC 12/23/2018

I doubt that many of you even knew my name until today. I am Jochim, Mary’s father. My name doesn't appear in the Bible anywhere but that's okay. My wife, Anna, and I are happy to take a back seat to the most important story ever told.
I think it would be good if you knew me just a little bit better. I have been very fortunate in life. My sheep and my vineyards have flourished. I've been able to share that wealth with others. I'm not bragging about any of that, but I think it's important for you to understand that I was well respected in Nazareth and the surrounding cities.
There was only one thing lacking in my life. My wife Anna and I had never been able to have children. We tried many years without success. I grieved in my heart deeply that I was never able to bring Child into the world. We were so broken over that, but I went out in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights fasting and praying that God would answer my prayer for a child. Anna was very sad about our childlessness, but also but it also broke her heart when I left. She began to mourn doubly for the child we never had, and thinking she would soon be a widow.
I was amazed when an angel came to me in the desert and promised that and I would be given a child. About that same time, Anna was amazed because an angel came to tell her that she would bear her child and the whole world would honor the child. The angel also told her that I would return with my flocks.
Upon my return, there was great celebration in our household. Then, just as the angels had promised, nine months later Anna brought fourth of beautiful baby girl whom we named Mary.
In the desert, I promised God that if we were able to have a child we would dedicate that child to the temple for Godly service. When Mary was 3 years old, we took her to the temple and dedicated her. As we were leaving, the priest picked Mary up, kissed her on the cheek, and blessed her, saying: “The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel.”
When Mary was 12 years old, the priest, Zacharias, was told to go find all the widowers of the region. They would come seeking a sign from God to see who would be Mary’s husband. Of all the widowers in Judea, the carpenter Joseph was selected by God when a dove appeared from nowhere and flew about the temple. The priest gave Mary to Joseph as his betrothed.
 Joseph took her home made sure she was safe and comfortable and went about his construction business. 6 months later, he returned home to discover that Mary was pregnant.
She had a wild story. It was the story about angels coming to tell her that she would bear a child. She earnestly told all of us that she had not been unfaithful to Joseph. She explained that this was a child given to her by the Holy Spirit of God and this child would be a special child. Emmanuel, God with Us.
You might think that a story like that would be hard to believe, and it was at one level. I know as a father that I should have been very upset. I should have gone searching for the scoundrel that did this to my daughter. I should have felt dishonored and disgraced. I should have been afraid for her. But I wasn’t.
I remembered the promises made by the angel and the priest. I looked into my daughter's eyes and I saw something remarkable. All I saw in her dark brown eyes was deep peaceful faith and extreme joy; a faith that I could hardly understand and a joy that bubbled over. A faith that ran deeper than any faith I had experienced a joy at least as great as my joy when I was told that Mary would be born. All I saw in her was pure faith and pure joy that had to be a gift from God.
 Think about the circumstances. She was young, betrothed; Joseph had been away for some time. I know the whole village was looking at her as an adulteress. In spite of the fact that she could have been dishonored, rejected, and even stoned if Joseph believed that she was unfaithful; I didn't see any fear in her; just peace and deep faith.
 As she recounted the story of the angel, her response to the angel spoke volumes to me. She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” When Mary greeted cousin Elizabeth, she had a beautiful song of faith to sing. It was so moving I wrote it down so I would never forget it… now where is that.
I know, it sounds crazy, but I ask you… How could I not believe in her faith? How could I not believe that she experienced something remarkable? How could I not believe what she was telling me? 
Yes, it sounds crazy... But I guess the question is where does crazy stop and faith begin.
People thought Noah was crazy but when the rains came, his faith was proven.
People thought Abraham was crazy, but when Isaac came, his faith was proven.
People thought Moses was crazy, but when they crossed into the Promised Land after 40 years, his faith was proven.
 People thought that David was crazy for facing Goliath, but when the giant fell, his faith was proven.
People thought Solomon was crazy for building the magnificent temple. But when it opened and people were able to worship there, his faith was proven.
Everyone, including Joseph, was sure that Mary had been unfaithful, except for Anna and me. We were the only ones who believed her.
The angel came to Joseph, and he believed too. Everyone else thought we were crazy for believing Mary, but when the baby was born, and the angels sang, and the Magi visited, and the dove appeared at his baptism, and the Miracles and teaching begin... And when the tomb was empty... I have to ask who's crazy now?
I have tried to live a life of faith in God, but I look back at the faith of that young child placing her life in the hands of God, I realize that my faith doesn't add up to much.
 I have tried to live a life of faith in God but when I think of that young child singing that song of faith in spite of her circumstances; when I think of her facing the ridicule, and condemnation, and judgment of the whole city; when I think of her courage, her single-minded devotion to serving God, her total submission to God's plan, my faith doesn't add up to much.
I have tried to live a life of faith in God but when I think of Mary standing at the foot of the cross watching her son, my grandson, and more importantly God Son, dying on that cross, my faith doesn't add up to much.
I have tried to live a life of faith in God but when I think of Mary discovering the empty tomb of our Lord on that Easter morning so long ago; when I imagine her in her heart singing her song all over again. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior...for the Mighty One has done great things ... holy is his name”… when I think of her heart fairly bursting with joy, believing from the very beginning that what the angel said would finally be proven in the end; I realize that my faith doesn't add up to much.

How about you? Would you have that much Faith? Could you have that much faith? 
I have to admit, I probably only believed because of my love for my only daughter, Mary.
No one is asking you to believe what I tell you because of who I am. I am asking you to believe because of who Jesus was:  God himself in a womb and the cradle, Teaching and healing, living and dying, and rising again for your salvation and mine.
I don't ask you to believe for my sake,   for Mary's sake, for Jesus sake... but for your sake: for your salvation. Have faith and rejoice… for your savior has come.
“The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel.”
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior...for the Mighty One has done great things ... holy is his name”

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Voices from the fringes: Zephaniah December 8/9, 2018

Voices from the fringes
December 8/9, 2018

 Where is that pastor of yours? He drags me here across 27 centuries to talk to you and he doesn't even show up!
 He is probably scared because he’s familiar with my work. The book that bears my name in your Old Testament doesn't have a very good reputation. There are many who think that it's nothing but doom and gloom, threats and destruction, fear and judgment. I’ll bet he's afraid of me.
 He's not wrong. At least not completely wrong. About 75% of my book is judgment. It starts out, 
               "I will utterly sweep away everything
  from the face of the earth, says the Lord.
3 I will sweep away humans and animals;
  I will sweep away the birds of the air
  and the fish of the sea.
I will make the wicked stumble.
 I will cut off humanity
  from the face of the earth, says the Lord."
 I know that sounds harsh but in my day there were many people who followed the God Baal, people who worship stars, people who worship all kinds of foreign gods even wearing the clothes of those nations to be more like them.
In my day, people were complacent saying, “The Lord will neither do good nor do harm because God is powerless.” Sound familiar? I believe you would call them spiritual but not religious today. They believe that God could not or would not either help them or harm them. They thought he was just a powerless being watching helplessly over creation.
 In my day, and again this will sound familiar to you, some people didn't care about anything but building bigger and better houses, having bigger and better vineyards, drinking more and more wine, becoming more and more powerful. All of life revolved around them and their pleasure,
 That's why I wrote
 “That day will be a day of wrath,
  a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
  a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
  and against the lofty battlements." 
 The truth is neither their silver nor their gold would save them. Neither their magnificent mansions nor their vast vineyards give them refuge. Neither powerful friends nor their huge egos could save them.
I tried to warn them. I wrote you better change
"O shameless nation,
before you are driven away
  like the drifting chaff,
before there comes upon you
  the fierce anger of the Lord,
before there comes upon you
  the day of the Lord’s wrath. " 

Why did I want to warn them? I don’t know. Maybe I wanted to warn them because, like my great, great grandfather, the famous King Hezekiah, I really did care for the people individually, the nation as a whole, and our relationship to God.
After Hezekiah’s death, of course, Uncle Manasseh took the throne and led the nation down a terrible road. He seems to have forgotten that when the northern kingdom did that, they lost everything and were deported to Assyria. He encouraged the people to worship other gods and undid the righteous policies of great, great grandpa Hezekiah. I blame Manasseh for a lot of the mess, but in the end, each person must take responsibility. I want them to know that they WILL face judgment.
Of course, Manasseh didn’t live forever. Things have been better since Josiah became King. He tried to turn the nation back toward God. However, it was too little too late. Josiah’s reforms would not last long. Soon the people of Judah would return to their wickedness and their rebellion against God and God would be forced to act.
That’s what I tried to tell them. But they would not listen. It wasn’t long before Babylon swept through our nation, destroyed our cities, our homes, and everything we owned. Then to add insult to injury, they carried our people off to exile in Babylon.

 Some thought that was the day of the Lord of which I spoke. Though it was certainly an act of judgment, a direct consequence of the faithlessness of the nation, the day of the Lord is a much bigger picture than the Babylonian exile.
 Early on in my book I write about God carrying a lamp through the streets of Jerusalem. I described God as looking for people who say in their hearts that the Lord will not, or cannot, do anything. The important part of that image is that on the Day of Judgment … on the darkest day in human history, God brought light to search out a remnant. God is a righteous judge, but deep down inside he is a savior. Yes, God searches out those who do not trust him for judgment, but more importantly, God brings a light to search through the darkness to save those who do.
That’s what the last ½ chapter of my book is about. God is among us to save us.

 I am here to tell you that I didn’t know not at the time, but 650 years later, that same God who brought light to the dark streets of Jerusalem to save the people, saw fit to come as a light to the world in order to save the world.
The day of the Lord is more than a day of destruction. It is more than a day of wrath. It is more than a day of distress. It is more than a day of anguish. It is more than a day ruin. It is more than a day of devastation. It is more than a day of darkness. It is more than a day of gloom.
In the end, I write, “The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
  he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.”
The Lord, your God, is in your midst. The Lord, your God, is in your midst! Isn’t that amazing?  No matter how I say it, or how many times I hear it, I can’t get over it.
That is also the message of your Christmas.
“The Lord, your God, is in your midst.” God is in the midst of his people not just for judgment, but for salvation.

 650 years after I preached the day of the Lord, God came in a way I never imagined. In Jesus Christ, God came as a “light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”   In Jesus Christ, God came as the light not to destroy, but to save.
Jesus had his own vision of the day of the lord. He said, “Today, I have come to preach good news to the poor to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Not just a day of judgment but a year of salvation.

When I was preaching, some 650 years before Jesus, I couldn't imagine it. But when Jesus came, he was God in your midst. When Jesus came, it was God in your midst for salvation, for hope, for singing, for shouting, for exultation, for victory.
 Some have said that the last half of the last chapter of my book doesn't belong there because it is so different from the rest. It offers a vision of God in our midst saving instead of slaughtering. Rescuing, rather than retaliating. Healing rather than hurting. Bringing light and life instead of death and destruction.
 In fact, both are true. God is a God who judges. God is a God who cannot tolerate the worshiping of other Gods, the harming of his people, or single-minded self-interest. That is all true.  It is just as true, though, that God put on flesh; God put on skin and moved into the neighborhood not to judge, but to save. God was no longer way up there, unapproachable and incomprehensible. God was here in Jesus Christ bringing the light of divine love to the world that I couldn’t even imagine 650 years earlier.

•             God is a God who cannot tolerate the abuse of the poor at the hands of the wealthy, but instead of destruction, God came in Jesus preaching good news to the poor, feeding the hungry, and serving those whom no one else would touch.
•             God cannot tolerate the hatred between different groups of his children, but instead of the day of the Lord bringing the much-deserved destruction, God lived among you in Jesus to break down the dividing walls between Jews. and Greeks, and Samaritans, and Romans, and tax collectors, and prostitutes. In Jesus the light of the world, God came into your midst teaching love your neighbor
•             God cannot tolerate the lies that make your needs, your wants, your wealth, and your power into the most important thing in the world. But instead of destruction, God came into your midst in Jesus Christ as an example of humility, and gentleness, and servanthood.
•             God cannot tolerate the darkness in which people live. A darkness created by their own unwillingness to open their eyes to God coupled with their blind refusal to open their heart to their neighbors. But instead of destroying you in the darkness of your night, God came in Jesus to be the light that shone in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it. Not the darkness of my day, and not the darkness of your day.

 I am very aware that the beginning of my writing is dark and frightening and hopeless. But I'm grateful that God is bigger than the darkness, bigger than fear, bigger than hopelessness and that I was granted a glimpse, just a small glimpse, of a loving God not looming over us to destroy us but walking among us to save us.
This advent season may you embrace a God who is mighty and powerful and awesome. But may you also celebrate a God so intimate that he can be born in a manger, and in your hearts, so that you too might be light in a very dark world. AMEN

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The saints that get us through the day 11/18/2018 FUMC

Life is hard.
Will you indulge a couple of stories from my week? Mind you I am not complaining. The point is that I know that some of you had weeks like mine or even harder. And if not this last week, someday you will have one of those weeks.
My week included 2 trips to urgent care, a trip to the University of Iowa Hospital, parts of 2 days at St. Anthony’s with Robyn, and nursing Noah through a stomach virus. (Robyn and I had a deal when we had kids. I would take care of the kids if they were bleeding, she would do it if they were sick to their stomachs… because I can hardly do that. But I did that night.) Because of that, there was extra laundry, and there were several trips to Walgreens. Then there was trying to fit in a trip to Ames and a trip to Cedar Rapids. And an emergency call to the ER to be with a family as they airlifted someone to Des Moines. That’s not even counting all the events of my normal week.
As I said, I’m not complaining but simply illustrating that life really is hard. Life is hard even during an ordinary week. You know exactly what I mean. Then there are those times that test the strongest of us; deaths, job losses, moves, divorces, fires, accidents, sickness, war and more.
So how do we make it through the average days let alone the harder than average?
You know, we don’t do it alone. You know of course that God is with us every minute of every day. God walks in front of us always making a way. God walks beside of us guarding our steps. God walks behind us just in case we get knocked down and must be picked up again. God is with us. That is important.
I want to point out today, however, that most often God conveys that power and presence through people. Robyn is fond of saying that God sends people into our lives for a reason or a season. Those people God sends are our saints.
God works in the people around us to help us in any number of ways. In my case, a few examples have been my dad teaching me the power of gentleness and generosity. My mom taught me about serving others. My Aunt Esther gave me an appreciation for the little things in nature. Dwight and Linda Vogel taught me what it means to be partners in ministry with my spouse, they encouraged me in my call and taught me so much about life and ministry. My grandma taught me the very important lesson that even though bleu cheese dressing smells like gym socks, it takes great.
These are all saints in my life. Some are living, some are not.  Either way, these are the people who walk with me each and every day as I journey through life.
My list could go on and on, but I want to focus on 4 saints who have special messages to help us get through the day.

I want to start with St. Francis of Assisi. He was born in 1181 or early 1182 to a French noblewoman and a very successful Italian silk merchant. He was baptized with the name “Giovani.” From an early age, however, perhaps because of his mother’s French heritage or because the father loved all things French, he was called Francisco; thus Francis.
Francis was spoiled rotten, but he had a deep compassion for the poor. So deep, in fact, that he started selling his father's merchandise and giving the proceeds to the poor until his father had him arrested and thrown the cellar. While his father was gone, his mother released him, and he found refuge with a nearby priest. His father eventually took him to court suing him for restitution and Francis rejected his father, his inheritance, and all worldly trappings of success. To Francis, though, it was more than a rejection of culture and family.
Francis is known for two things. First, his connection to creation. There I a story that, while Walking along the road with some companions, he stopped and started preaching to the birds. The birds gathered around him and not one of them left until he was done preaching. Another story tells of a village being threatened by a wolf. Francis is said to have persuaded the wolf to stop attacking the locals if they agreed to feed him. He also made a deal with the local dogs to leave the wolf alone.
You may also know that when Francis rejected the culture, for a while he rejected the expectation of wearing clothing. And there were times when he was found stark naked preaching to the animals in the forest. Fear not I have no intention of modeling my life after that part of his life. That is not where I'm going with this.
The other thing Francis is known for is his deep personal connection to the poor He gave up all his inheritance. He wore rough clothing and begged for alms in the streets. Early on he was begging for stones which he carried to a falling down country church to fix it up. In his 20’s others noticed his Christlike lifestyle and began following his example. That was the beginning of the Order of Friars Minor, also known as the Franciscans. They took an oath of poverty in order to identify with the poorest of the poor and made it their mission to care for those who had nothing. Although they have been accused of idealizing poverty and idolizing the lack of material goods, for Francis it was not about not having material goods. Really, it was about believing that we are all connected and interconnected and believing that until all had enough, he should not have more than he needed. The Franciscans have grown to about 30,000 strong in communities all over the world living out these values of caring for creation and caring for the poor.
As I have Read stories of the life of Saint Francis and some of his writings I’ve come to see that these two seemingly very different things, care for creation and care for the poor, both emerged from Francis’ strong sense of his place in the world. He believed that we are interconnected, interdependent, and intertwined in a sacred community which includes both creation and each other
In short Saint Francis keeps me honest about myself. I am not at the center of everyone else’s universe. I am not even the center of my little corner of the universe. Life is not all about me. We are all brothers and sisters in God's big heart. Bird and beggar, wolf and wealthy merchants, Koala and Kings, porcupines and Popes and indeed all of creation is woven together in God's loving heart. My bad week or difficult day, in the grand scheme of the interconnectedness of all creation is a small thing. If I get out of my own pity,
·         I realize that I am connected to those folks in California who are desperately waiting to find loved ones and dealing with the loss of every earthly possession they ever had.
·         I am connected to the family with whom I sat as we watched the helicopter take off Thursday with a beloved wife of over 50 years laying in the back.
·         I am connected the homeless man we can see in any city in our country.
·         I am connected to brothers and sisters in scary places like North Korea, and Somalia, and the Palestinian territory.
·         I am connected to people and creatures of all kinds in all places because we are all part of the beautiful tapestry of love created by our infinitely loving God. Francis reminds me that life is not all about me. That helps me to get through the day.

The second Saint of the day teaches me a very different lesson. Daniel reminds me of the importance of doing the right thing for the right reason… period
Daniel lived in Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar during Israel’s sixth century BC exile. If you remember the story, the King was tricked into making a law that no one could pray unless they were praying to the King. Daniel, being a faithful follower of the one true God was not about to pray to the King. Each day he opened his windows to the East and prayed to God. Those who were out to get Daniel brought this to the attention of the King who had no choice but to punish Daniel. The punishment was being thrown to the Lions. Still, even given a second chance, Daniel refused to compromise his principles in favor of his own safety or comfort.
Then comes the story that we read this morning about Daniel being thrown in the Lion’s den, God closing the mouth of the lion, and Daniel emerging unharmed. Daniel was committed to doing the right thing no matter what. Earlier in the story, we see that he stuck to his kosher diet no matter what. He prayed to God no matter what. He stood firm on his faith and did the right thing no matter what.
One of the ways that life is hard is having to make hundreds of decisions today. We don't think about most of them. Daniel teaches that each of those decisions is an opportunity to live as disciples of Jesus Christ…or not. Each of those decisions is an opportunity to witness to the difference God makes in our lives… or not. When we are criticized or mocked or persecuted for doing the right thing for the right reasons we have an opportunity to stand up for what is right… or not. Every one of those decisions is important, whether our life depends on it or not, whether our friendships depend on it or not, whether our popularity depends on it or not, whether our career success depends on it or not, God calls us to do the right thing for the right reason even if it's hard.
Sometimes doing the right thing is the very thing that makes life hard.  However, knowing that I am, to the best if my abilities, doing the right thing every day is a key to making it through the day.

The last Saint I want to share with you today is one whom some of you may have known and met at one time. In fact, I understand he was here and I can imagine him preaching from this pulpit.
 Bishop Reuben Job was born in a sod house in Tappen, North Dakota in the thirties. He grew up poor but happy. Along the way, his mother and grandmother particularly instilled in him a deep abiding spirituality.
He started out working the family farm, but in his twenties went to college and started serving churches. He was ordained at the age of 32. In the following years, he was a mentor to many. He shared his quiet love for God as a pastor, chaplain, superintendent, and world editor of the upper room before being elected bishop and landing in Iowa.
I remember an ordinands retreat with Bishop Job. I remember a quiet but powerful meeting with clergy couples at the conference office. I remember Bishop job standing up for us when a superintendent got a little full of himself and threatened to assign Robyn and me to opposite corners of the state. I remember his preaching that was less preaching and more wooing us into love with God. I remember bishop job telling us with a broken voice that since the day he took office as Bishop there hadn’t been one day without a lawsuit hanging over his head. But most of all I remember his hands. Bishop Job ordained me as a deacon and elder and his hands seemed as heavy as bricks as they lay on my head. It was a reminder of the weight of the vows I was taking, but also a reminder of the strength of God in my life.
When his book 3 SIMPLE RULES was released, he summed up the way I knew him. He was a man who never wanted to do harm. I never knew him to intentionally harm anyone. Even when he called the President of Westmar College a liar, he did it gently more like swatting a child on the rear end to get them to move along rather than slapping someone on the face.
I Knew him to do much good. We have commented many times that annual conference has never been as much fun or as interesting as it was when Bishop Job was here.
But most importantly he taught by word and deed, and every encounter I had with him the importance of staying in love with God. I haven’t always done that to my satisfaction. But how else can we get through the day beside staying in love with God and staying in the knowledge of God’s love for us? No matter what happens today, NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God… so stay in love with God.

There are so many people who have taught me one thing or another about getting through the day as a faithful disciple, but St Francis, Daniel, and Bishop Job are three great representatives.
Francis- remember your place in creation.
Daniel- always do the right thing for the right reasons
Bishop Job- stay in love with God.
Who are the saints who have taught you to get through the day? Who are the saints by who’s teaching you live day in a day out? I am going to give thanks for these saints, but before I pray I would like to hear the names of some of the saints who have taught you some of the most important lessons about getting through the day.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The saints who make us who we are, November 11, 2018

The saints who make us who we are,
November 11, 2018

Do United Methodists really believe in saints? Well, these are real people so it is not a matter of believing in them or not believing in them, but how we define them.
We don’t worship or venerate saints. In  Article 14 of our articles of Religion John Wesley wrote “The Romish doctrine concerning …worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.”
Given that, you might ask, why I am having a month of saints?!

That’s a fair question but it has to do with how define saints. I am defining saints different than our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.
In the Roman Catholic tradition becoming a saint is usually a long drawn out process. In an over simplified version it in includes  a petition by the people, a nomination by a bishop, an investigation by the Vatican which includes and a “promoter of the faith” also known as a devil’s advocate who tries to find the non saint-like behavior of the person.  There are three stages declaring them venerable, beatifying, and then canonizing them in to sainthood.  Between the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches there are over 10,000 saints.
United Methodists don’t do that. The closest we have come is naming our churches after saints, and in 2012 declaring Dietrich Bonheoffer and Martin Luther King Jr. as Martyrs (someone who willingly died for their faith.)
That is not what I am talking about. In our United Methodist circles, a saint can be any of God’s people who LIVE THEIR LIVES AFTER THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST. They might be living or dead.  Last week we named saints who died in the last year and talked about the saints of this church on whose shoulders we stand.
While John Wesley spoke harshly of the veneration of saints, he recommended the study of the lives of saints because there is much to be learned from them.  That’s what I want to do for the next couple of weeks. I want to talk about some of the people who help me to live my life more like Christ. And I want to help you to reflect on the saints in your life. 

This week I have chosen 4 of my saints from various historical periods who have shaped my faith. Who would you put on your personal list?

 I start with Abraham.
Before God appeared to him Abraham was a pagan like his father.  He grew up in Ur of the Chaldees. We know that like his father before him, Abraham was an idol worshipper.  We don’t know any more details but we can guess that he was part of the popular religion of the region. The great Ziggurat of Ur, (Which is a little bit like a pyramid) was built to worship the moon God Nanaa.  The moon was the basis for their calendar, its phases symbolized the life cycle of birth life and death. Among the God’s of the area Nanaa was supreme because the moon was the source of fertility for crops, herds and families.
We don’t know what if anything Abraham knew about God when God spoke to him, But God appeared and God spoke and he told the idol worshipper to trust in God. Abraham was to pick up all he had; his family, his herds, and his servants and follow the Lord. In order to do that he would have to leave everything behind, including his religion.  It is the kind of decision that a lesser man (like me) would have considered carefully for months or years.  Not Abraham.
God said, “GO” and Abraham said “OK.”  What faith! What trust! I am one who values security, having a plan and a backup plan, knowing where I am going, and have a plan for when I get there, having a  little cushion in the savings account,  … you know what I mean. I am not a huge risk taker… but Abraham… Abraham calls me to not just believe in God with my mind, but to trust God with my life. He reminds me that sometimes God calls us to take a risk. Abraham was not planning on a word from God let alone a trip. God’s call came out of the clear blue sky…or in Abraham’s case I guess it was a dark starry sky. Abraham trusted God enough to say “Let’s go God.” “Here I am send me.”  That’s the way I want my faith to be.
Jesus said come follow me, and he meant now.
Jesus called Zacchaeus to come out of that tree and he did not mean tomorrow.
Jesus told the rich young ruler to go sell all he had… not some, but all.
Jesus said take up your cross and follow me.
I could be the patron saint of wanting to play it safe. But that is not what God expects. Abraham reminds me that God requires trust, complete trust. Abraham challenges me to be better than I am. Maybe Abraham challenges you too.

 I have also selected St. Brigid. Sometimes incorrectly called “Bridget” Brigid was new to me. But what she teaches is not. I like her story and I wanted to remind us that there are many women saints in our lives too. 
St. Brigid is a canonized saint of the Roman Catholic Church.  She was born in Ireland in 451 or 452 AD a contemporary of St. Patrick. Like Abraham, her father was not Christian.  Druidism is complicated because it is so diverse, but they often worship nature or trees. Stonehenge may have been a druid place of worship. Suffice it to say then, that Brigid was not born into a Christian family.
When she was young, she gave her life to God and became a nun. Soon she was named an Abbess, the leader of the Abbey in which she lived with the other nuns.  When she was consecrated as Abbess, the local bishop accidently used the service for consecrating a bishop rather than a nun.  It is particularly funny because she turned out to have more influence than some of the bishops under whom she served.
Brigid is known for her generosity, which seems appropriate on this Sunday before consecration Sunday. That’s what I admire bout Brigid.  She had an extraordinary generous love and she experienced great blessing. She gave away her mother’s butter, but when she prayed the churn was filled again. (You see the butter churn in the background of her picture.) Any presents given to her, were given to the poor, no matter what the original giver intended.  She sold furniture and anything that could be moved—even the holy vessels and vestments–to provide for the poor.  Her generosity inspired others.
And the best part is she never ran out of thing to give. It seems she gave and it was replaced, she gave and more appeared. She gave and she was blessed
Brigid reminds us of the importance of generosity. But she also teaches us that generosity is a blessing. Maybe you won’t get your butter back, but when you are generous you will find that the discipline of giving brings such satisfaction that you will want to give more and even more...  You all know the satisfaction of saying to yourself, “I was part of that.”
Brigid reminds me that giving is its own reward, but seeing the fruit of that giving whether it is the beautiful building remodeling, or the ingathering kits, or the fruit of ministry here is a special bonus reward because we get to say “I was part f that.”  I will remember Brigid when I complete my estimate of giving card next Sunday. I’d like to be more like her.

 The third saints I want to lift up are brothers and they have names you will recognize. John and Charles Wesley. Though they were different, I want to treat them together.
John and Charles were Anglican priests in a time when the Church of England was pretty stale.  The mid 1700’s was the industrial revolution. Culture was changing quickly and the church and faith were in many people’s minds in the margins of life. (Kind of like today)
One turning point even before John’s life changing experience at Aldersgate, was returning to England from Georgia (in the US) after failing at being a missionary to the Native Americans, John realized that he didn’t have real faith to share. “I went to Georgia to convert the indians, (sic) but woe, who shall convert me?”
John and Charles were not satisfied with faith on the margins. They put their faith and their relationship with the church squarely in the middle of their lives. The heartwarming at Aldersgate made faith personal. They started the holy Clubs. They got up at 4am to read scripture and pray. They created bands and classes to help others put their faith in the center of their lives. This became the Methodist movement and eventually the United Methodist church.
It is easy to let our faith slip to the side. It is easy to let many things get in the way of our relationship with God.  John and Charles taught us that a faith of the margins is not enough.  It takes practice, commitment, sacrifice, and intentional discipline to keep our faith front and center in our lives. I don’t know that I will ever get up at 4 am to read the bible for 2 hours, but I admire a man like John who can. I admire a man like Charles who has the discipline and gift to write 6000 hymns. (All of today’s hymns are written by Charles.) I admire a man like John who made the sacrifice to travel a quarter million miles in his lifetime… on horseback… in the 1700’s and still have the energy to preach 40,000 sermons. If am real generous with my math, maybe I’ll get to 3,000 in my career. 
John and Charles teach us about commitment to the gospel and disciplined discipleship. So they are two of the saints who make me who I am as a disciple of Jesus, and indeed make us we are as United Methodists.

 Finally, does anyone recognize this saint?  Doesn’t the name Evan Tallman mean anything to you?  No?   That’s OK he was my high school Sunday school teacher. Evan is one of a handful of people in those early days of my faith and my call to ministry who were a special encouragement, trusted advisors, and examples of what it means to be a disciple.
Perhaps your Sunday school teacher had a different name bet many of you have a Sunday school teacher who was a saint in your life
Evan taught me that faith is shown in love.  We came to class every week, like most teenagers, with our minds everywhere but Evan still loved us. He showed his love by listening and sharing and caring and by time we were done somehow he snuck in a lesson without us even noticing. With his unwavering love, he loved us into relationship with God.
Think back to your Sunday school teachers, which ones have been the biggest influences in your life.  They are saints to you.

 Abraham: faith as trust
Brigid: faith as generosity
The Wesleys: faith as discipline
Even: faith as love.
These are some of the saints that made me who I am.
On whose shoulders do you stand? Which saints have made a difference to you? Maybe they are from biblical times, ancient history, recent history, or even today.  They might be sitting here today. They might be long gone. Who are the saints who have shaped who you are as a disciple?
Be ready to name some of them out loud during this prayer.  I won’t try to pass the mic so shout loud and if you can’t hear give thanks for the saints in your life.