Sep 25, 2015

World Communion Sunday Takes on New Urgency

Our world changes daily. In fact, I re-read this article from a newspaper in 2001:
President Vladimir Putin said in an interview posted on a Russian government Web site Saturday that Russia was ready to cooperate with the United States “in the broadest way.” Putin, taking a working vacation in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, met with Russia's top military, security, and law enforcement officials Saturday and held a telephone discussion with [former] President Bush about anti-terrorist efforts.

It is tragic that a 2001 catastrophe that claimed 3000+ lives inspired this Russian statement. Despite the heartbreak of the events of so-called “Black September” named after a Palestinian terrorist group most active in the early 1970s, we now know that the world understands the evil embedded in people who use terrorism. If nothing else, the tragedy at the WTC reminds us that decent people need one another. All people need to protect the peace that God gives us as a precious gift.

Pope John Paul II ended his first Mass in Kazakhstan with a special prayer back then for Christians and Muslims to work together for peace. He does not want to let the terrorist attacks on the United States drive a further wedge between them. As some of you have heard me say: “Religion makes good people better and bad people worse.” I hate to classify people in this fashion, but facts are facts. From the launch of the human enterprise, we have been prone to murder our siblings (see Genesis 4:1-16).

Two Sundays from now, 4 October 2015, we will celebrate World Communion Sunday. As we celebrate what Christ has done for us, may we also remember what Christ expects of us. Do you remember when Jesus told his disciples: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends?  You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13-14)? May we bear in mind that Jesus wants all of us to live in peace with justice. By so doing we become friends—in all that this word means to loving people everywhere.

Jesus’ enduring words can give us hope in a time of hopelessness. He said: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution.  But take courage; I have conquered the world” (John 16:33)!

This Sunday may we pray for the peace we need in our world for World Communion Sunday.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

Sep 18, 2015

What do Wasps and Stewardship Campaigns have in Common?

Most of us understand the idea of something being a nuisance. There are many things that I think the world could easily do without. Former President Bush once said he hated Brussels sprouts, but many people pointed out to him the sprout’s benefits. He said the benefits did not make them taste good to him. In deference to our former president, however, perhaps God has created everything for a purpose.

I would willingly, for example, at one time, have consigned all wasps to destruction. But a well-qualified writer in The New York Times newspaper once wrote, “Nine tenths of the activities of wasps are beneficial to the human community. From late spring to early autumn wasps seek out and destroy vast multitudes of caterpillars and grubs, which, if left unchecked, would destroy our crops, our vegetables, our orchards, and our trees.” I guess even those pesky wasps have a place in God’s creation!

We will soon begin our Stewardship campaign to underwrite our church’s budget for 2016. We will kick off—a month from now—on Sunday, 18 October 2015. Some see this as an intrusion on our church’s life. Yet, our budget is one of our best theological statements. It tells us what we value by putting a dollar amount on areas of ministry that seem important. Over the last several years we have sent to heaven many of our long-time and steadfast church members who helped us fund ministry in the heart of Arlington. It is now vital for us to step up today and continue their work who now “from their labors rest.”

The point of Christian stewardship is not to repay God what we owe God. The point of Christian stewardship is to share what God has given each of us with those with whom God wants us to share. When we share God’s bounty we live up to the promise of scripture. One such promise suggests that “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

Sep 11, 2015

The Gift of Hospitality

Many of us have been in church our whole life long. Every now and then, however, a guest appears in our midst that perhaps does not know the correct version of the Apostle’s Creed by heart or the Lord’s Prayer in the version that forgives trespasses rather than debts. Maybe they fall asleep in church because they live in the shelter and are not fortunate enough to have a bed. Regardless, the church of Jesus Christ is open to all people who need to get connected with God. THIS IS OUR CHURCH’S PRIMARY TASK AND OUR REASON FOR EXISTENCE. I remember once when I was a stranger and some kindly folks welcomed me into the heart of Jesus’ church.

In the middle of June 1979, the same week that Cassie was born, I preached my first sermon in my first church where I was the pastor “totally in charge.” When I arrived, my nuclear family lived in California, I was fresh out of seminary, and I had a beard. I do not need to tell you that these are meager pastoral credentials in rural Texas—especially Navarro County!

But the people were kind to me and helped me learn to be a pastor. I had no claim on them, but they took me and raised me as their own. In fact, they were so gracious to me that I became somewhat suspicious in a curious kind of way. One morning before worship, I cornered three ladies in the church kitchen and asked them, “Why have you and the church gone so far out of your way to make me comfortable and feel so accepted here?” And their answer was simple as it was direct: “Because you are one of us.”

This September, I ask all of us to be on the lookout for people who need the church. I am not suggesting that we raid other churches for members (we can leave this to others). However, on any given Sunday, 70% to 80% of Arlington’s residents will not be in worship. This includes children, older folks, and single persons. Let us do what we can to help people connect with God. Make it your goal to help Arlington residents get involved in IMPORTANT CHRISTIAN RELATIONSHIPS.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

Sep 4, 2015

The Gift of Studying the Holy Scripture

As we resume our “Lectionary Study” of the Bible this coming Tuesday, in the Banquet Room, from 6:00 to 7:00 pm, I want to offer gratitude that we have many who value the Bible. One of the blessings or curses of our holy scripture is that it never seems to give us an absolute and ironclad picture of what the God we worship is like. I hear people occasionally say they wish there were not so many different pictures of God in the Bible, because it is confounding. For instance, the God pictured in some of the Psalms appears as a God who has forsaken the chosen people. Psalm 137 reveals: 

By the rivers of Babylon‑‑there we sat down and there we     
wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung 
up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and     
our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4).

Many of the Psalms speak words of despair about Israel’s relationship to their God. Other Psalms, however, speak of a God of “tender mercies” and of a divinity of which the people can sing with confidence: “The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9). At the same time, what kind of God would be drawn into a cosmic wager with “the Satan” or “the Adversary,” as depicted in Job?

At least Christians have the New Testament upon which to succor our faith and our hope. But even here we wonder, what kind of God sends a Messiah who is born in a stable and who dies on a tree? These are questions that a lifetime of searching will only reveal a partial and, from a modern scientific perspective such as ours, mysteriously veiled answer.

The point may well be the question that faithful people always bring to worship: What kind of God is this God we worship? Sunday after Sunday, we come to explore, if not exactly to explicitly answer, this question. Scripture can only take us so far in exploring our own and unique relationship with God. Come let us worship and study these texts the previous Tuesday night so that we might search for God together

“Lectionary Study” of the Bible is for serious people who have serious questions and not necessarily all the answers. Come for study and fellowship in a venue that takes the Bible seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

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