Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Restoring Paradise

Posted: September 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

Restoring Paradise
Genesis 2:8-25
Sep 17, 2017

“It took Jesus a thousand years to die. Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century.”

These are the opening sentences of the book, Saving Paradise, by Rita Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker.

Brock and Parker went on a pilgrimage to the oldest Christian churches in the world, in the Mediterranean and Middle East. They went looking for the earliest image they could find of the dying Jesus on the cross and they couldn’t find one in ancient churches.

They could not find a painting, a statue, a mosaic of a bleeding Jesus on a cross.

Finding Jesus was not difficult.

They found the resurrected Christ, the living Christ, Jesus teaching and healing and feeding and living in the world.

Not only did they find Jesus, but they found him surrounded by creation. Early churches were filled with images of trees and rivers and animals and the beauty of paradise.

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The picture that is on the bulletin and screen comes from a 6th century church in Italy. This is an image of the transfiguration. Notice this image is not of Jesus alone on a mountain top, but he is surrounded by an abundance of trees and animals and greenery.

For the first thousand years of the church the predominant image projected was not the suffering Jesus on the cross, but the resurrected Christ among the beauty of creation.

Last week Pastor John began our sermon series on the United Methodist Social Principles by describing us at our best as “the church that does what a church is supposed to do.”

If we went back to these ancient churches and asked them, what is a church supposed to do, they might say that the church’s role is to reflect the beauty of God’s creation and to work to restore that beauty wherever it is missing.

This early vision of the church is quite a bit different from what most of us have experienced. Over the last thousand years, the Christian faith has come to present itself as a ticket to escape this world. That if we come to believe the right things, that we will find peace on the other side. And the means to getting our ticket punched to get to the other side is the crucified Jesus.

Now, it is true, that there are difficult times in life. There are moments when I struggle with the pain and injustice in the world and the only thing I can hold on to is knowing that this life is not the end, that God’s work will be complete in the fulfillment of time.

But we are not crucifixion people, we are resurrection people!

The story of our faith did not end at the darkness of the cross, but in the beauty of the empty garden tomb.

This beauty runs cover to cover in the Bible. From the creation of Genesis 1 to the restoration of a new heaven and a new earth in the book of Revelation.IMG_5213

But this creation didn’t just happen. Listen to the verbs in the story of creation.

God made the earth and the heavens
God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food

In just these few sentences, God made, formed, breathed, planted, and put. I imagine God shaping like a sculptor with clay, God bringing life through dust and breath, and the result of God’s work is all around us. From the vast oceans to the soaring mountains to the Mike Dyle garden, all of creation testifies to the majesty of God.

But God doesn’t simply create all that is and say that’s it. God turns to the man he has created and puts him in the garden to till it and to keep it.

The Hebrew word for keep it is shamar and to keep it means to protect it, care for it, and nurture it.

The first job that God gave man was to protect and care for the garden.

This is also the first statement of action in our social creed.

Last week John preached on the opening statement in which we affirm our belief in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the first word of what that belief leads us to do are these:

We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.

So if the first job God gave to man was to keep the garden and the first real statement of action of our social creed is to preserve, enhance, and faithfully use the gifts that God has given us, how are we doing?

Not very well.

This last week we witnessed one of the largest hurricanes ever, on the heels of another hurricane and with another one behind it. Ocean temperatures are rising and the effects are death and destruction and devastation.

In the last 500 years, approximately 1,000 species of animals have gone extinct, largely due to the results of pollution and habitation destruction.

But the effects of not caring for the environment not only impact plants and animals, it impacts us. Usually, it is vulnerable people who take the hit of environmental destruction the hardest. We live in a community surrounded by interstates and factories and the rate of respiratory disease on the South Side of Columbus is 73 percent higher than the rest of Franklin County. Not all of that is due to outside sources, we also have three times as many people who smoke in our community. Our lack of care for the environment not only pollutes rivers and forests, it pollutes us.

What do we do? We may not have the resources to change the global climate, but we can garden, we can recycle, we can form and breathe and plant just like God did. We can work to restore creation in our community.

We are doing it by growing thousands of pounds of produce in the South Side Settlement Garden.

We are doing it like Bikes for All People who cleaned up the area behind our building that was a trash heap and made it a place where flowers are growing and people gather.

This year we have been a part of opening two urban forests, one on Carpenter and one on Reeb, taking abandoned corners that were once places of unwanted activities and making them places of life and health.

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We work to restore paradise when we plant and grow and clean and responsibly use all that God has given us.

Caring for all that God has given us is not limited to yardwork and recycling. The second chapter of Genesis not only talks about God shaping and forming nature, but man and woman.

God looks at all that has been made, calls it good, and yet says “It is not good that the man should be alone”

So God forms the animals. He takes dust and shapes horses and aardvarks and cranes and all the animals that are. And yet, none are a suitable companion for Adam. He is still alone.

So God puts Adam under some anesthesia, busts out one of his ribs, and makes Eve.

Adam wakes up and speaks these beautiful words, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

Adam is not alone.

We are not alone.

We are united in the fact that we are all created in God’s image. There is dignity in saying that every person has divine value and sacred worth. And as we share this common heritage, we are the bone of each other’s bone, the flesh of each other’s flesh.

Just as God create Eve to be Adams partner and companion, we too are created for one another.

The next statement in the social creed states “We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.”

Similar to the statement on caring for creation, if we hold up this statement with one hand and the newspaper with the other, how are we doing in living in community and relationship and family with one another.

Overall, not very well.

Our nation is divided along lines of politics and race and class.

Half of all marriages end in divorce.

And then a few years ago we woke up one day and read in the paper that in the zip code of this church that African American babies are dying at three times the national average.

Infant mortality is not a problem in itself, it is a sign and a symptom of the state of the community.  It is like taking the temperature of our overall health.

It is a symptom of a culture where babies are born to parents too young and too closely spaced together.

It is a symptom of the stress that comes with living in poverty.

It is a symptom of a scarcity mindset where we hold on to what we have in fear that it wont be enough. We are the wealthiest country in the world, we throw away 40 percent of the food we grow, and yet more than 20 percent of children in Ohio go hungry.

In contrast, we can look at our First Birthday program and be proud. In the last three years we have worked with over 500 families and only one baby has died. We are restoring paradise so every child can achieve its First Birthday, be ready for its first day of kindergarten, and go on to have the kind of life Jesus spoke of for all of us, that we would have life and have it abundantly.FB_Aug17-26

But it is not enough to say, isn’t it great that I am part of a church that has a First Birthday program. We are all called to work toward living in healthy relationships with one another.

If you think about what we do here, building an inclusive and diverse community where every person has value and has a voice, this is really a counter-cultural place.

We are able to create this sacred space because we have taken on three simple rules to live by: do good, do no harm, stay in love with God. We have posted these rules on our walls and we have said this is the code that shapes us.

We will do good: we will respect each other and love each other and pray for each other.

We will do no harm: we won’t curse or gossip or hurt one another.

We will stay in love with God: we will dedicate our lives to prayer and worship and scripture.

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This is not a just a code we live by so we can have a functional place while people wait to shop in the Free Store. When we live like this, we create the peaceable kingdom. We restore paradise when we love our neighbor as ourselves and pray for our enemies and work to empower every person to be all who God created them to be.

The invitation God has given us is to be the keepers and the caretakers of all of creation. We are to care for the environment and to care for one another and when we do so we are the change that we pray for, we create the kind of world God made for us to live in, and we restore paradise.

Amen.

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Sermon: Friends Build Up

Posted: September 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

Preached at Jerome UMC on September 3, 2017

Are you ready for some football?

If you are a football fan, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

The Ohio State University began its season on Thursday night, beating the Indiana Hoosiers. Optimism runs high in Buckeye Nation as the Buckeyes are ranked #2 in the country.

And this week, America’s favorite past time, the National Football League, begins its season.

Right now, every fan is excited. Every fan feels as if their team will be better this year than they were the year before. Even Cleveland Browns fans are optimistic after their team won more games in the pre-season than all of last year.

But the thing about fans is that we are fickle.

I say that myself as a fan of the Green Bay Packers. I grew up as a fan of the Packers long before the days of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. The Packers were not very popular in the 70s and 80s. In fact, in my high school yearbook, a half hour south of Lambeau Field, the most popular football team was the Oakland Raiders. The Packers were not even popular in their own backyard.

Today, the Packers are one of America’s most popular teams. As many as one-in-four Americans root for the Packers on a Sunday afternoon.

What is the difference?

The Packers still wear the same colors, play in the same stadium, and hail from the same small town in Northeastern Wisconsin.

The difference is that they have been winning for the last 25 years, after losing for the previous 20 years.

Winning sells, as long as you don’t win too much.

If you get too popular, people turn their backs.

Fans love an underdog, until the underdog gets too big.

It happens in sports with teams like the New England Patriots. It happens in music with bands like Nickleback. It happens in coffee with places like Starbucks.

Us fans are fickle people.

Fans are as quick to tear someone down as they are to build someone up.

But as Christians we are called to be more than fans, we are called to be followers.

A few years ago a book came out called “Not a Fan”. This book makes the argument that as followers of Jesus we are called to be more than fans who admire and cheer from the sideline, but we care called to be followers.

The book makes the argument that when Jesus spoke in front of large crowds he tended to say things that were not simple or easy or popular, but called people to live in ways that were sometimes difficult and counter-cultural.

Jesus didn’t look for people to be cheering fans, but to be committed disciples.

One of the best examples of a person who made that kind of commitment was the Apostle Paul. Perhaps more than any other person, Paul shaped how we understand Jesus and what things like resurrection and righteousness and grace mean. After all, Paul wrote or inspired almost half the books of the New Testament.

To say that Paul made a lasting impact on Christianity would be an understatement.

And yet, perhaps none of that would’ve happened if not for a man named Barnabas.

Saul was the original persecutor of the church. He was there when the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was killed. He is on his way to Damascus with orders to round up and arrest Jesus-professing Jews.

And then, on his way, he is knocked off his horse. The very voice of the Risen Christ calls out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Saul is blinded by a great light and has a miraculous conversion. The most ardent persecutor becomes the most zealous follower.

Instead of going after the Jesus-followers in Damascus, he becomes one of them. Under the hands of Ananias, Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit, his eyes are opened, he is baptized, and begins teaching in the temple himself.

He does all of this so effectively, that now he is the one on the end of negative attention. Threats are being made against his life. So Paul leaves Damascus and heads to epicenter of Jerusalem.

I imagine that on the road to Jerusalem Paul would’ve been filled with excitement. Think of the stories that he could share with Peter and James and the rest of the disciples.

I heard the voice of Christ call me, I felt the Holy Spirit fill me, I’ve been proclaiming the Good News!

And yet, when he gets there, he is not met with excitement, but with fear.

His reputation has preceded him.

The scripture says that he tried to join the apostles, but because of their fear of him he was unable to do that.

Until Barnabas stands up.

Barnabas, the son of encouragement, stands up and says I was there, what he is saying is true, God is at work here.

Barnabas puts himself and his reputation on the line, he stands against the fear of the crowd, and he says you can trust him. You can trust Paul.

Because Barnabas does this, the rest is history. Even here this scripture says that because of Barnabas’ testimony, which enable Paul’s ministry, the church grew in numbers and found peace.

This shows the difference between a fan and a follower, the difference between a fan and a friend.

A fan is someone who cheers from the sidelines at best, and who tears down at worst. A friend is someone who builds up.

A friend stands up for you, even when it is difficult or unpopular.
A friend builds up.

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This is what we seek to do in ministry. We build relationships of friendship with one another and we build each other up.

This is how you at Jerome United Methodist Church have had such an influence on our community of the United Methodist Church for All People on the South Side of Columbus.

Every Friday you feed home-cooked soup to more than 100 low-income, hungry people.

Every quarter you help us celebrate First Birthday parties and equip families with diapers.

Every Thanksgiving you feed hundreds of people a Thanksgiving feast.

But these things that you do are not simply a matter of things. It isn’t only about feeding hungry people or giving families diapers. It is about the relationships that are formed around that. When one person sits down and eats a bowl of soup with someone else, their relationship changes. Putting your knees under the same table with someone else changes things.

Once those relationships form and strangers become friends, people themselves move from tearing each other down to building one another up.

The work your church does changes the relationships between individuals, within our church, and among our entire community.

But the people who are built up the most are not the people on the receiving end, but the ones who serve.

I know this is true, because this is my experience.

I serve at the Church for All People both as a church and community worker missionary with Global Ministries. I am the director of our Healthy Eating and Living initiative, through which we are seeking to provide the gift of abundant health to our community through health coaching, our fresh market, exercise and cooking classes, and health education.

In addition to being an urban missionary, I am also an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I am a member of the New Mexico Annual Conference and prior to moving here I served as an associate pastor of a large church in Albuquerque.

Part of the work I did in Albuquerque was in relationship with the homeless community. The church I was at already had a number of programs providing bus passes and sack lunches and even housing to homeless families. Together we grew those programs, including the creation of an outdoor worship service called “Community of Hope”.

Every week an average of 100 people would come to share a meal, build community, and worship together. It was a remarkable thing to be a part of. Almost every week I would hear the stories of addicts who found sobriety, unemployed people who found jobs, and homeless people who found shelter.

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But the person who was built up the most in that ministry was me. I was the one changed. My faith was challenged by the depth of people who had nothing and truly relied on God. My compassion was challenged by the way people cared for me. My ministry was challenged by people who really gave all that they had. It was among the people on the streets that I saw the example of people who were not fans, but were truly followers of Jesus.

From that experience I felt a second calling to ministry. I became a missionary and dedicated my life to ministry with the poor.

It was the encouragement and friendship and faithfulness of people experiencing homelessness that has brought me to where I am today.

This experience is the story we have heard over and over again this week in the news as neighbors have helped neighbors in Houston.

One of those stories is of a rapper who goes by the name Trae Tha Truth.

Trae has spent this last week using his own boat rescuing people and calling on other people he knows to do the same. When a reporter asked Trae why he was doing this he responded “I felt helpless yesterday when I had to be rescued, so I know that feeling.”

Because Trae had experienced helplessness himself, he helped others. Because someone literally lifted him up, he lifted others.

The same is true of us.

How many of you are here at church, how many of you are a follower of Jesus because someone invited you, encouraged you, prayed for you? Who lifted you up? Who encouraged you?

We all have someone who has helped us and we all need to be that person for someone else.

Like Trae, we know how it felt to be down and lifted up and so we want to share that gift with someone else.

As we go in to this week I don’t want you to only go with the excitement and optimism of a new football season, but to open your eyes and see who you can encourage. Look for opportunities to share a good word with someone who is down, to offer hope to a person who is struggling, to build up a friend.

This is the gift we have found in Jesus Christ. While we may not have heard the audible voice of Christ or seen a flash of light like the Apostle Paul, we have all found forgiveness and inclusion and healing and comfort in Christ. Let us go and share those gifts with one another so that we can build up each other and in doing so we will build the kingdom of God.

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In Response to Charlottesville

Posted: August 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

I preached this last Sunday at the Church for All People.

As often seems to happen lately, I had to make some Saturday night edits to my sermon after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. My sermon changed from a message of sharing the gifts of grace we have found with others for their own betterment, to sharing with others for the restoration of communities and our nation.

However, before I could preach, this violence of Charlottesville came up in the sharing of prayer concerns.

People prayed for peace in the midst of violence, unity in the midst of racial division, and one gentleman even asked for prayers for the driver of the car who smashed in to the crowd and killed Heather Heyer.

I was touched by these prayers and by the Spirit of a predominantly African American community offering hope towards those who spoke and acted in hatred.

As I have reflected on this, this orientation toward non-violence is not new. In preparation for the civil rights movement, King and Harding and John Lewis and others studied Jesus, Gandhi, and Thoreau. This orientation toward non-violence came from a religious experience of singing and professing love in the face of oppression, not allowing the dominant culture to dictate one’s behavior.

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Clergy marching in silent protest through Charlottesville, Virginia

 

This theology of hope is something I experience every day at the Church for All People.

Today I stood in front of people waiting to shop in the Free Store and asked how people are doing. Every word I heard was along the lines of “blessed,” “good,” and “great.” When I asked people how they were blessed they spoke of the gift of life, family and friends, and God’s Spirit living within them. People living in poverty refused to be defined by scarcity and looked at their lives and called themselves blessed.

This is not just a communal response, but is also lived individually. Last year a man named Robert was beaten up so badly that he was in the hospital with serious injuries. On multiple occasions I have heard him pray for those who attacked him and every day he says “I love you all and there is nothing you can do about it.”

We cannot choose the things that happen to us in life, but we can choose how we will respond to them.

Every day I get to be with people who choose hope over despair, forgiveness over vengeance, abundance over scarcity, and love over hatred. And because of that, I am the one who is blessed.

 

How will they know?

Posted: August 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

Romans 10:10-17

In the year 490 BC the Persian military landed on the shores of Greece.

Today the area that was Persia is now modern Iran. At that time, the Persian Empire was feared, mighty, and powerful. When they landed, they outnumbered the Greeks 4:1.

Had the Persians been successful, world history would’ve been very different. The East would have conquered the West. Greek and Roman and European culture would not have happened in the way we know it.

But that is not what happened. The badly outnumbered Greeks launched a surprise attack, won the battle, and pushed the Persians to the sea.

While this was an incredible victory, news traveled slowly in the ancient world. The rest of Greece lived in fear of the Persians, in fact, at the same time that the Greek military was defeating the Persians, the political leaders of Athens were contemplating surrender.

That is, until after the battle a man named Pheidippides was sent to run 26 miles from the battlefront to Athens. Pheidippides ran to the Acropolis, burst into the chambers and proclaimed “Nike! Nike! Nenikekamen!”: Victory! Victory! Rejoice, we conquer!

After delivering this message, Pheidippides collapsed from exhaustion and died.

But with this singular proclamation, the Greeks gained confidence, united together, and the Persians retreated.

The battle in which the outnumbered Greeks upset the more powerful Persians happened at a place called the Plains of Marathon. And today, millions of us, who have something wrong with us, continue to run marathons in the spirit of Pheidippides.

Runners are an odd lot. There is very little physical benefit to running marathons. Sure, we burn a lot of calories, but the human body only needs 60 minutes of exercise a day. Something is wrong with people like Jonathan and I who run four or five or more hours at one time. Back in April I ran a 12 hour race and Jonathan is in the middle of running a marathon in every state.

Not only is there probably something wrong with people like Jonathan and I mentally, but as runners we have ugly feet. When you run as far as we do, we get blisters, calluses, black toenails that fall off. It is not pretty.

feetSo when the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel” he had not seen the feet of runners. They are not beautiful.

I would imagine that it isn’t only runners who don’t feel fond about their feet. If I was to tell you all to take off your shoes and socks and we are going to have a foot washing, how many of you would be uncomfortable? If I told you you were going to wash each other’s feet, how many of you would be uncomfortable?

And yet, Jesus washed the disciples feet on the same night he gave us communion. Every month we come to this table and we receive the grape and the grain and we look forward to receiving this spiritual meal.

But foot washing? That is uncomfortable. And yet Jesus instructed us to do it. In the gospel of John it says, “And if your Lord and teacher has washed your feet, you should do the same for each other. I have set the example, and you should do for each other exactly what I have done for you.”

There is probably no other direct instruction given in the gospels so clearly that we do so seldom.

Although many of us are uncomfortable with our feet, and probably even more uncomfortable with the prospect of washing someone else’s feet, our feet are really a remarkable part of creation. Our feet carry the entire weight of our bodies, they put up with all kinds of abuse, and they are resilient.

Our feet carry us everywhere we go, and everywhere we go we are messengers. Like Pheidippides proclaiming victory, we proclaim our own news.

For thousands of years the primary way that news travelled was through messengers like Pheidippides. For the last couple hundred years news came through print and newspapers. In the last hundred years news came through radio and television. But today, delivering the news is not limited to long distance runners or journalists. Today, we are all reporters.

We publish our lives on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. We proclaim to our friends and our neighbors the things that are important to us.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers win a game on Sunday, you know that Paul is going to talk about it all week.

Many of you went on a trip to the Holy Land in February, and you haven’t stopped talking about it yet.

When something good happens in our lives, we tell people. We can barely eat a good meal without posting a picture of it for all to see.

This is the story of how we have grown as Community Development for All People. We opened a free store thinking a few would show up. But what happened? People told their friends there is this place where everything is free and you have to come and see it for yourself. And what we thought was going to be a few people turned in to more than 20,000 people a year.

This is the story of the Fresh Market. So far this year we have fed almost 16,000 people through our market, and we will feed even more when we move across the street to the old liquor store. And how much do you think we spend in advertising? Nothing.

You don’t have to advertise when food is involved.

A couple of weeks ago Epworth United Methodist Church hosted a barbecue in the parking lot on a Friday afternoon. We only put the word out a few days beforehand and hundreds showed up.  Why? Because people share the news of food.

The church has been described as a place where one beggar tells another beggar where to find bread.

And the bread we have found is something much greater than Sunday breakfast or Soup for the Soul or the Fresh Market. The bread that we have found is the Bread of Life. It is a bread that has fed our souls and brought us liberation from addiction, comfort in our mourning, strength in our weakness, a love for God and for one another that we thought we could never have.

But this bread is not only meant for us. It is not a bread for us to get full on so we can sit back and take a nap with a full belly, it is a bread for us to break and to share with one another.

Paul writes to the Romans that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. That is a message that a Church for all People can get behind, right? Who will be saved? All. Black people and white people, rich people and poor people, republicans and democrats, all of the diversity we see in this room.

While this is a message we associate with, Paul doesn’t stop by saying all will be saved, but he goes on to ask, how can people call on the name of the Lord if they haven’t heard, and how can they hear unless someone tells them, and how will someone tell them unless they have been sent?

Paul’s point here is an obvious one. How can you know about something if no one is sent, tells you, and you hear it.

As obvious as this is, we have all experienced it. How many times has someone said to you, you missed the show last night, why weren’t you at the game, did you hear what Lamar did at coffee house? And you respond by saying, I didn’t know because you didn’t tell me.

In order for people to know they have to hear, in order to hear they have to be told, and in order to be told someone has to be sent.

When it comes to the church, who is the one who is sent?

We might think it is the job of the pastors, the staff, the worship leaders. After all, that is what we pay them for right?

If you say that, you aren’t wrong. In fact, the pastoral staff is working to make sure we do a better job of connecting with people in our community.

But how many of you are baptized? Raise your hand if you have been baptized.

If you are baptized, you are sent in to ministry.

When we take our baptismal vows we says we will support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Our service and our witness mean that we are all sent to go and share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people.

We are all sent.

We are not sent simply for the sake of the church. We are not sent because it would make us feel better to have more people here on a Sunday morning. We are not sent so we can have more people to do stuff or more money put in the offering plate.

We are sent because we want others to experience the gifts of God’s love and grace that we have received. We want others to experience the love and forgiveness and redemption and transformation we have found in Jesus Christ.

Pheidippides proclaimed victory. We too proclaim the victory of Jesus Christ who conquered sin and death, and we proclaim the victory God has made in our lives.

The Church for All People is a remarkable place. It is remarkable because despite all of our diversity, we are united as one Body of Christ when we say “God loves us just the way we are and God is not finished with us yet.”

We know God is not finished with us yet because we can see how God has changed us since we came here. In the 2 1/2 years I have been here I have been challenged by your faith, awed by a divine economy of God’s abundance, and enriched by this community. In this short amount of time, I have been transformed and I know that many of you have much more powerful testimonies than me.

How has your life changed from the time you first walked through those doors to where you are today? How are you different because of the ways you have experienced God’s love in this place?

If you can look back and see how you have been changed, think of someone you know and care about who you want to experience the same thing. Who do you want to be able to receive the gift of being a part of this beloved community?

This weekend we have been reminded that transformation is not only an individual thing. We look at the events in Charlottesville, Virginia and are reminded how deep the sins of racism and anger and violence run in our country. The only hope we have is in God. It is us living as inclusive body of Christ that shows the world what it means that every person is created in God’s image. 

Those are the gifts that change people’s lives, those are the gifts that are at work transforming our community, those are the gifts that are bringing about God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

But how will they know that this is the place where lives and communities are transformed unless they hear it? How will they hear it unless it is spoken? How will it be spoken if no one is sent?

You are the ones who have been sent. Like Pheidippides of old, you have been given life-changing news to proclaim.

So go and tell others of the gifts of grace you have found here.

Go and tell others that this is a place where all who call upon the name of the Lord experience salvation.

Go and tell others your story about how God’s love has changed your life.

Go and tell others so they too can live in to the full and abundant life God created for them.

Go and tell others, for if you don’t tell them, how will they know?

Summer missionary newsletter

Posted: July 26, 2017 in Uncategorized
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A Church of the Resurrection VIM team serves WITH the Church for All People

It seems that every fifteen minutes someone is writing a blog post decrying the end of the Christian church. Undoubtedly, many of the things we measure in terms of worship attendance have been in decline for the last half century. However, if we look at the work that the church is doing and the ways the Holy Spirit is moving, decline seems the least appropriate word.

In the first six months of 2016, the Healthy Eating and Living (HEAL) initiative at Community Development for all People shared 333,948 pound of free fresh fruits and vegetables with 14,093 people. In addition to our Fresh Market, cooking classes have grown to maximum capacity, six different exercise programs have people moving, and people are living in to the gift of abundant health through health education and coaching.

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An artist’s rendition of the future All People Fresh Market, former drive thru liquor store.

I was recently at lunch with a colleague who described our church as a magical place. While I have had extraordinary experiences in my short time, we are not the only place where God is moving. This summer I have preached and visited with churches in New Mexico and Texas as part of our missionary itineration. Whenever I go and visit churches I seek to share with them the lessons of asset based community development and a divine economy of God’s abundance that are at the core of our work. I try and leave each church thinking and praying about the opportunities they have in their own communities.

 

However, I have been particularly touched by the work that churches are already doing with diverse communities. Churches are reaching across town and across states to equip schools, improve housing, build healthier communities, and most importantly build relationships.

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Sharing with and learning from others at St Paul’s UMC in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

 

From my travels over the last month it is obvious that God’s Spirit is moving, and not just in Columbus, Ohio, but across the country and the world. The sky is not falling, the Spirit is moving!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the King’s Table

Posted: July 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

Sermon preached at Cleburne First UMC, July 23, 2017

Scripture: Daniel 1 

This morning we hear the beginning of the story of the prophet Daniel. Daniel is one ofDaniel the best known people of the Bible. From the lion’s den to his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego escaping a fire, the stories of Daniel are well known. From Veggie Tales to Vacation Bible School, Daniel is a hero.

While the book of Daniel recounts heroic stories, it begins with an insight in to who Daniel is. More than the other prophets, we get a full understanding of the historical context and insight in to the personality of Daniel. It is roughly 600 BC and the people of Judah have been taken in to exile. The temple has been destroyed, its sacred elements taken from the altar, and the people are living as strangers in a strange land.

King Nebuchadnezzar seeks to bring four of the Israelites in to his court. The best men are selected based on their looks, their intelligence, and their wisdom. Daniel is one of those four and in fact is the leader of the four.

These four are for all purposes in a three year college program. They will learn language and literature and history of the Chaldeans; trained to serve in the king’s court.

As part of this training, they are invited to eat from the king’s table.

This was significant.

It is easy to imagine that the Jewish people living in exile would not have had access to the best food. If you have ever traveled to another country you know that no matter where you go the food is always a little different and you miss some good home cooking. If you are living in exile, you are not only strangers in another land, you are living off the scraps of the empire. The tribes of Judah would not have been given the best, they would have survived on what was left over.

And suddenly, Daniel is in a place where he is offered a feast of meat and wine, every day, for three years of training and years of service beyond.royal-table   Can you imagine going from being hungry and living in scarcity to eating from the king’s table every day?

Despite the temptation of this offer, Daniel says no. He refuses the gift.

This is significant because a meal is not just a meal, it is a gift of hospitality. When you invite someone to put their knees under your table, you are inviting them to be part of your family and community.

Imagine that you invited someone in to your home, prepared a big meal, and then they walked in the door and said “I am not eating that.” How would you feel? Probably pretty upset, you might wonder, am I not good enough for you?

In this scripture the innkeeper is particularly worried about Daniel’s response. He has been given the charge of taking care of these four men and if they aren’t healthy and strong it is his head.

But Daniel says, give us nothing but vegetables and water for 10 days and see what happens. At the end of the 10 days they look healthier and stronger than anyone else because God has provided for them.

The scripture doesn’t tell us why Daniel says no to the food. Perhaps it was because the food was not prepared according to Jewish dietary rules, perhaps the food had been offered to idols, perhaps Daniel saw it wrong to enjoy a feast while his brothers and sisters in exile struggled.

This is the first of the miraculous stories of Daniel and it is the most accessible to us. None of us will end up in a lion’s den or a fiery furnace, but we all have to make choices like this.

In this scripture we hear that Daniel received favor from God. As Methodists, we would call that grace.

Daniel is surrounded by God’s grace which gives him the strength and wisdom to resist the meat and wine of the king’s table. It is God’s grace that strengthens him as he lives off of vegetables and water. And it is God’s grace that leads Daniel forward in to the stories we know so well.

It is all grace.

I too have experienced this kind of grace.

Just as this scripture recounts the beginning of Daniel’s story, this is the place where my ministry began. I came to Johnson County to attend seminary and serve as a pastor after having served for 20 years in the Air Force. After the military, I physically let myself go. I didn’t eat well and I didn’t exercise. In one way I had good reason, I was going to seminary full time, pastoring two churches, and our two boys were very young.

A year and a half after retiring from the Air Force I was diagnosed with fatty liver disease. The liver specialist gave me the option of making changes to my diet and lifestyle or he could do a biopsy. I choose the first option. Like Daniel, I said no to the foods that tempted me and I began running.

Today I am 50 pounds lighter than I was then. I have gone from being a couch potato to a marathon runner. In a couple of weeks I will be celebrating my 50th birthday and I feel more vibrant and alive and active today than I did when I was 30 or 40. Because of this gift of life I have received, I want other people to experience this gift.

I call this a gift because I believe that being fully active and alive is God’s will. Jesus says in John 10:10, I came that you might have life and have it abundantly. And it is not a gift within itself, but it is a gift that, like Daniel, empowers us to go on and do God’s work in the world.

Unfortunately, in the United States, the opportunity to live an abundant life is largely based on how much money you have in your pocket and where you live.

After graduating from seminary, our family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where I served as the associate pastor at Central United Methodist Church. There I worked with our homeless community and we created an outdoor worship service and meal called “Community of Hope”. Every Sunday we served people a nutritious lunch. One member of our community taught me that most places like soup kitchens serve simple carbs because it is cheap and easy. But if you are already living under the permanent stress of homelessness, and eat nothing but simple carbs, it is difficult to make good decisions. It is hard to living in to all that God created you to be. We offered people healthy food, treated them with the dignity of children of God, and people’s lives changed.

From this work, I felt a second calling in to ministry. I wanted to dedicate my life to ministry with the poor. And so I became a church and community worker missionary. Church and community workers are missionaries located in the United States. We serve in a wide range of places, from urban to rural, from prisons to churches, but no matter where we are, we seek to bring the transformative power of Christ to our communities.

Today I serve as the director of the Healthy Eating and Living program at the Church for All People in Columbus, Ohio. We are located in an area of Columbus known as the South Side, a low income neighborhood that was once a place that had jobs related to the automotive industry but over the last several decades those jobs went away and the community had been neglected.

Our organization began in 1999 with the Free Store, a free thrift shop that serves more than 20,000 people a year and gives out more than 2 million dollars worth of gently used clothing, household items, school supplies, and Christmas presents. In 2006 we began renovating houses in our neighborhood and in the last decade we have done more than $50 million of work rebuilding abandoned, burned, and blighted homes and making them new. This summer we are opening a complex of 58 apartments and townhouses known as Career Gateway Homes. This complex will include 2,400 square feet of workforce development space. So a family will move in with a section 8 housing voucher and receive training for jobs in our community.

Like many urban areas, our community experiences striking health disparities. If you live in the neighborhood of our church your chances of getting respiratory disease is 73 percent higher than the country surrounding us, the death rate is 50 percent higher, and the infant mortality rate is three times the national average. In the United States six babies per thousand don’t reach their first birthday, in our community, particularly for African American families more than 19 babies per thousand die before they turn one.

We believe this is wrong, not only on a humanitarian level, but as a people of faith we believe it is God’s will that every person should be healthy and thrive so we can live in to all that God has called us to do.

In order to change this community, the program I am in charge of operates a fresh market that distributed more than 640,000 pounds of free fruits and vegetables to over 28,000 people in 2016. We host cooking classes every week to teach people how to make healthy meals for a family of four for under $5. We have six different exercise programs. We help people live in to their own opportunities through health coaching and education. We are transforming the health of people and place so every person can experience the gifts of life and grace.

I am not alone in this work.

My wife, Jennifer, is also a church and community worker missionary. She is a registered nurse who graduated from Tarleton and worked at Walls hospital here in Cleburne and Huguley in Burleson.

Today, Jennifer leads a project called the Faith Community Health Connection. She does health screenings and blood pressure checks for people in our community. She teaches people about preventative health, ensures people have a doctor, and accompanies people after they have been discharged from the hospital.

She too is working to create a healthy community, so that people can live in to all that God has called them to be and do.

From my experience, health ministry is a powerful way to connect with our communities.

Many churches, including churches I have served, often ask how can we connect with our neighbors?

Health programs are an easy way to rediscover the mission of the church and create new relationships.

You are probably familiar with the United Methodist Church’s work in Africa to end malaria, Imagine no Malaria. The new initiative of Global Ministries is called “Abundant Health” and seeks to empower churches to be places that offer health to their neighborhoods through physical activity, diet and nutrition, addiction support, or mental health wellness.

That doesn’t mean a church has to do all of those things, but what is one thing that First UMC could do to help build a healthier community.

When we build a healthy community we create new relationships and we empower them to live in to their own callings, just as Daniel lived in to his.

Daniel was equipped with God’s grace to make the right choice, not only for himself, but so he could live in to all of the amazing things God had in store for him.

What choices might God be calling you to make so you can live in God’s will? How might God be calling you as a church to build a health community so all can touch God’s grace and live in to all that God has in store for them?

Our names may not go down in history as heroic as Daniel, but we are surrounded by God’s same grace that gives us strength and give us life so we too can be about God’s work in the world.

May we live in to the gifts of grace that God has given us, so we can do the work God has given us and accompany others to be all who God has created them to be.

Amen

 

Looked with Compassion

Posted: June 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

I was born with bad eyesight.

 This may seem obvious to you since I wear glasses, but mine is particularly bad.

 I have one eye that is not horrible, it is around 20/80, but in my other eye I am legally blind. However, I have lazy eye in the good eye so my body primarily uses the bad eye. Basically, I am blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other.

 I was born like this but wasn’t able to articulate it until I went to kindergarten and couldn’t read the board. My dad said that as a child I would walk into walls, but they didn’t realize it was my eyes, they just thought I was clumsy.

And then a few years ago we moved here to Ohio. I went to get an Ohio drivers license and failed the vision test. The eye doctor told me I needed bifocals. I asked how this happened, and he said, you are getting older.

I don’t want to hear that.

So all of my life I have had to wear glasses in order to see the world clearly. And, from looking around this room, I would say I am not the only one. In fact, three out of four people in the United States wear some kind of corrective lenses, whether glasses or reading glasses or contact lenses.

 The vast majority of us need some help to see the world around us more clearly.

glass.pngWhile most of us need glasses to improve our physical vision, all of us need help to learn how to see the world as God sees the world. We all need to learn how to see one another like Jesus.

Prior to this scripture, Jesus had just learned that his cousin, John the Baptist, was brutally executed through the influence of the king’s sister in law. John, a faithful, religious man, the one who baptized Jesus, was beheaded.

Jesus hears the tragic news and decides to get a break from it all and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He gets on a boat, crosses the sea, but when gets there and who is waiting for him?

The crowd.

Crowds of people made it around the lake and got there before Jesus, looking for a healing miracle, listening for a teaching, wanting for something to eat.

Jesus just wanted to get away from it all, and there was the ever-present crowd, just wanting more from him.

Have you ever been in a situation like that when you just need a break and the phone keeps ringing or people keep calling your name or the kids ask from you or the boss wants from you and life just won’t give you a break?

When we are there, it is easy to begin to look at the people around us as a drain, as a source of stress, as someone else wanting something from me, taking my time and my energy.

We begin to look at the people around us as obstacles to be overcome.

Jesus doesn’t do that.

Despite the fact that he is stressed out and the crowd wants from him he doesn’t look at them as if they are a burden, he looks at them with compassion.

He doesn’t see them as needy, he sees them with compassion.

Through the eyes of compassion he provides for them, he heals the sick, teaches, and feeds.

He does all of that, because he starts from a place of compassion. Jesus looks at people through the eyes of compassion.

How do we look at people?

We start by observing the outside.

A Harvard University study found that brain scans show that the first things we notice about someone when we look at their face is their race and their gender. We look at a person and the first thing we notice is the color of the skin and whether it is a man or a woman.

This is a natural, evolutionary response.

But then from there, our brain not only makes this initial observation, but assigns meanings to the observation. We make assumption about people based on whether the person is a man or a woman. I know that if I go to get my car worked on, I will often get a different response than Jennifer. That kind of stuff drives me crazy and I hate it, but that is the world that we live in.

And we not only make assumptions about someone because of their gender, but because of their race.

We saw it again this week in the exoneration of the police officer who killed Philando Castillo. Castillo was not only brutally shot in front of his family and killed, but he had been pulled over 52 times in his life for minor traffic violations.

52 times.

This is someone who was a model citizen, who worked at a school, who had a quiet and unassuming personality, who was described by the students of the school as “Mr Rogers with dreadlocks”.

But because of the color of his skin he was pulled over 52 times and killed.

This is how the world looks at people. We look at someone and judge them as a threat by their appearance.

The world has conditioned us to look at each other as opposites and to categorize. Rich and poor, black and white, male and female, gay and straight.

While this is how we look at the world, this is not God’s design.

On the first page of the Bible, in Genesis, Chapter 1, it says “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them;* male and female he created them.”

Every person is created in the image of God. Every face you see in this room reflects something different about who God is.

The person who is different from you is not a category to be labeled or feared, but is a sister or brother in Christ who has been created in God’s image. It is in the diversity of humankind that we see a little more clearly who God is.

The invitation we have is to begin to see one another not as our culture and society teach us to see where we divide people by race, color, creed, sexuality, and national origin, but to see each other as God sees us, to see Christ reflected in the eyes of the stranger, to look with the eyes of compassion.

So how do we do that, how do we get compassionate eyes? How do we learn to see each other as God sees us?

Unfortunately it is not as easy as going to the eye doctor and getting a new pair of glasses with compassion lenses.

Often, the way we begin to see others differently is when we go through some struggle and suffering ourselves.

Remember, that this scripture follows right after Jesus has learned of the execution of John the Baptist. Jesus has lost a cousin in a horrific way. He is mourning, he is grieving, so when he comes upon this crowd of people who are hurting, Jesus is hurting himself. It is the fact that he is going through some stuff himself that he is able to have compassion for others who are going through some stuff.

This compassion that Jesus shows is deep.

The Greek word for compassion, splagchnizomai, means to be moved at the very depth of our being. It is a gut-wrenching compassion. Splagchnizomai is not looking at someone from a distance and having pity for them. It is not about looking down on someone and saying how unfortunate they are, to look with compassion is to connect their struggle with your own and know that we are all united together in Christ.

In the world’s eyes we are very different. One of the things that makes us special as the Church for All People is our diversity. And yet, one thing that we have in common is that we all have been through some stuff.

We have all mourned the loss of someone we loved.

We have all faced addictions of one kind or another, whether to a chemical substance or to our pride and ego.

We all know what it feels like to be rejected and to have experienced a broken relationship.

We all know what it is like to just have a bad day.

When we are able to be honest with ourselves and recognize our own brokenness, then we can be compassionate about the struggles of someone else.

However, our temptation is to forget where we have come from. We look at the other with judgmental eyes, not remembering that we were there 10 years ago or recognizing how much God’s grace has changed us. 

What would it look like to see a person behaving badly through the eyes of compassion?

It would mean seeing the person for who they are and not defining them by their behavior.

When you see the person behaving in a way that you would consider wrong, that person is not their behavior. That person is a child of God and their behavior comes from a place you probably know nothing about. We all share a lifetime of pain and struggle and abuse and suffering.

And we have all been hurt.

When we can see our hurts and can be understanding of another person’s hurts, than we can begin to look at one another through the eyes of compassion.

And when we can do that, amazing things can happen.

The rest of this scripture is the familiar story of the loaves and fishes.

The disciples see the hungry crowd and instead of looking at them through the eyes of compassion they look and see mouths that need to be fed. They ask Jesus to send them away, but instead Jesus says you feed them. They argue that they don’t have enough. But our God is not a God of scarcity but a God of abundance. There is more than enough. From the five loaves and two fish thousands are fed with 12 baskets of leftovers.

But the full miracle here is not only the miracle of abundant food, but the miracle of abundant compassion.

Our fear of scarcity is not limited to having enough money or food or stuff, we also often think we may not have enough love or kindness or generosity or compassion. o much so that we try and protect our pride by putting limits on how much forgiveness we are willing to show or understanding we are willing to extend.

But our God is not a God of scarcity, but is a God of abundance!

The more we show love, the more we receive love in return.

The more we offer forgiveness, the more we are forgiven.

The more we extend compassion, the more compassion spreads like a ripple effect across our community and our world.

The more we look at one another and see God in the eyes of the other, even in the person who makes us most uncomfortable, the more we are a part of God’s work of creating a world where people are seen for the content of their character instead of merely for the color of their skin.

My prayer for us today is that we will all get some new glasses, that we will see each other differently, that we will look at each other with eyes of compassion.

Amen.