May 22, 2015

Aldersgate Day

The Day of Pentecost and “Aldersgate Day” are on the same Sunday this year. As many know all about Pentecost, I want to share some of what “Aldersgate Day” means for us as United Methodists.

John Wesley was one of those great souls who spent much of his life looking for assurance or what Hebrews might call the “things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Wesley searched scripture, church history, the doctrines of the church, and the minds and hearts of all he respected. Yet, the peace and inner calm he sought continued to elude him. Finally, as Methodist lore tells the story, Wesley found that peace of mind in the assurance of God’s love at a little church on Aldersgate Street. He listened to someone read Luther’s preface to the commentary on the book of Romans. As the United Methodist Book of Worship puts it: “On Wednesday, May 24, 1738, John Wesley experienced his “heart strangely warmed.” This Aldersgate experience was crucial for his own life and became a touchstone for the Wesleyan movement (United Methodist Publishing House, 1992, p. 439).

Generally the feeling of assurance is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Some people get it immediately upon conversion; while others like Wesley, search for it for many years. My guess is that assurance is like the missing remote control for the television. About the time we stop looking for it, then it finds us.

Assurance is the calmness that people sense and feel when they know that God has sent Jesus to save us and redeem us. Assurance is an inner testimony by the Holy Spirit that God loves us and offers salvation in Jesus. But assurance is not like knowledge. Rather assurance is more like a promise that we wholly and fully believe, accept, and trust. This “faith” then gives us the confidence to lead lives that befit the gospel. As Paul himself says, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

May 15, 2015

Confirmation Sunday

On 16/17 May 2015 we as a church will confirm some 20-odd young people in our church—and by odd I mean numerically because the exact number always seems like a moving target.

Confirmation is an old and traditional way for believers to be connected with the past’s saints. It is not graduation from the church (the confirmands never to be seen again), but rather a way to take another step toward being mature believers in Christ. Confirmation is part of a constant journey toward God and life in Christ. This journey begins at baptism when God gives us our Christian name to grow into and goes on until we go to be with God. Part of our confirmation celebration embraces a worship service where the confirmands obtain a blessing and they openly confirm the baptismal vows made for them by their parents or sponsors at their baptism.

Confirmation is also a way for new believers to connect with the current believers of the congregation. From the point of view of the church we see our new confirmands as adults. Thereby they are now eligible to participate in the church’s functional work, mission outreach, and make a financial pledge to the life of the church. This activity is all part of our vow to support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. We make this pledge in front of family, friends, and God!

Finally, confirmation aims believers in a direction to grow in grace and to seek the sanctification for which John Wesley made Methodists famous. In fact sanctification frequently appears in Wesleyan theology. John Wesley clearly believed that God saved people in an instant by declaring them justified by faith.

Yet, Wesley also believed that that is not where the Christian life ended. A saved person could still “go on to perfection” by “growing in grace in this life.” What Wesley offered believers was a way to continue their journey with God to the end of their lives. Thus, the journey toward God is never complete. We can always grow in grace and for Paul and John Wesley and our Grandma this meant that God could always offer even the most devout believer “entire sanctification.”

Confirmation is the beginning of a journey and we here at church welcome our confirmands along for a glorious trip with us toward God!

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

May 8, 2015

Mother's Day

An article in National Geographic a decade or so ago provided a penetrating picture of God’s wings. After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the inferno’s damage. One ranger found a bird petrified in ashes, perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of a tree.

Somewhat sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. When he gently pushed it, three tiny chicks scurried out from under the dead mother’s wings. The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety but had refused to abandon her babies. Then the blaze had arrived and the heat had scorched her small body, the mother had remained steadfast. Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.

Psalm 91:4 reminds us of God’s care for God’s children. It well illustrates this story from Yellowstone: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”

Someone described us modern people too well when he/she wrote these lines:

We take the silver out and polish it
With all the zeal that we can muster,
But leave religion on the upper shelf
Expecting it to hold its luster.

Supposing our children to be with us, we travel on.
Are your children with you?

Thank God for the mothers who try to give their children a sense of direction and purpose greater than their own self-gratification.

Happy Mother’s Day to us all!

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

May 1, 2015

Children’s Choir Festival

I often try to explain to adults why we expect them to sing in worship and why hymns are so important to us as United Methodists. Alas this weekend we have what is called our “Children’s Choir Festival.” While thinking about how we fancy our children to sing, while we adults do not want to sing hymns as a congregation (not all, but enough), I ran across this article by Garrison Keillor on Methodists—and it references music in some funny ways. Maybe you will believe him!

(The following is adapted from an essay by Garrison Keillor)

We make fun of Methodists for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of living offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like them. If you were to ask an audience in New York City, a relatively Methodist-less place, to sing along on the chorus of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you do this among Methodists, they’d smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road! 

Many Methodists are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony, a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’s rib cage. It’s natural for Methodists to sing in harmony. We are too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you’re singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.

I do believe this:

People, these Methodists, who love to sing in four-part harmony, are the sort of people you could call up when you're in deep distress. If you are dying, they will comfort you. If you are lonely, they’ll talk to you. And if you are hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad!

Methodists believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.

Methodists like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.

Methodists believe their pastors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don’t notify them that they are there.

Methodists usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.

Methodists believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.

Methodists feel that applauding for their children’s choirs would make the kids too proud and conceited.

Methodists think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.

Methodists drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.

Methodists feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.

Methodists are willing to pay up to one dollar for a meal at church.

Methodists still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color of the season and think that peas in a tuna noodle casserole add too much color. Methodists believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.

And finally, you know you are a Methodist when: It is 100 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service. You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can. Donuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee.  When you watch a Star Wars movie and they say, “May the Force be with you,” and you respond, “and also with you.”

And lastly, it takes ten minutes to say good-bye!

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

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