Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

 

Filled with New Wine

Posted: June 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

In the gospel of John, Jesus begins his ministry with wine.

At a wedding feast, and at the direction of his mother, he converts water in to wine.

Not just a little wine. A lot of water. Six jars that could each hold 30 gallons. 180 gallons of wine.

And not just a lot of wine, but really good wine. The kind of wine that made people notice.

It was said, most people serve the good wine first and the bad wine later, but even people who had been drinking could tell there was something special about this wine.

Jesus not only begins his ministry with wine, he ends his ministry with wine.

He gathers his disciples and friends together around a table that we call the last supper. He shares bread with them and says this is my body given for you and he shares a cup of wine with them, a new covenant poured out for you.

After this meal Jesus is betrayed and arrested, beaten and killed, died and rose again.

The Resurrected Christ appeared among the disciples, showing them the holes in his hands and teaching them what all of this meant.

And as he ascended in to heaven, he told them to wait, that God would send another.

They waited together

And then

Seemingly without warning

A violent rush of wind

Tongues of fire

And the Good News is proclaimed and heard in Latin and Greek and Hebrew and Egyptian and Arabic. In every tongue!

Most are amazed to be able to hear the story of God’s powers in their own tongue, but others sneered and said they are filled with new wine.

New wine.

They accused them of being drunk.

Peter says they are not drunk, it is only 9 in the morning. Obviously, Peter has not been to some of the places I have been. In the community where I serve, a person drunk at 9 in the morning is not outside the realm of possibility.

Now, while I have talked with plenty of drunk people in the work that I do, I have never met a drunk person that I could understand more clearly than a sober person. So the accusation seems a little strange, not because of the time of day, but because of an increased ability.

And yet, without knowing it, the accusers were right.

They were filled with new wine.

Not the wine of alcohol, but the wine of the Holy Spirit.

Slide1

Earlier in his ministry Jesus talked about not pouring new wine in to old wine skins. In Jesus day, new wine was a wine that had not yet been fermented. As it fermented and built up pressure, it would burst an old skin. Think of the pressure that is built up in canning and how that can burst.

In the book of Job, Job compares being filled with God’s Spirit to new wine. He says: I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. My heart is indeed like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins, it is ready to burst. I must speak, so that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer.

On Pentecost the disciples are filled with the new wine of God’s Holy Spirit that has been poured out. They can not stay silent. They are the rocks crying out. They must speak. They are bursting!

For the Good News of God’s work is a new wine given for everyone. This is not just a message for the Jewish people, but for every person. Prophets are no longer a special category of called religious mystics, it says even slaves shall prophesy.

God’s work of salvation is complete.

So much so, that every person who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Every person!

Pentecost is as significant to the work of God in the world as Christmas and Easter. It is on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit is poured out, that the gospel is spoken and heard in every language, that the invitation to be a part of God’s work is given to all people, that all shall be saved.

And the powerful thing about Pentecost is not merely its historical significance, but that it is a present reality. We are Pentecost people! Not because we wear red shirts when the church calendar tells us to, but because the new wine of God’s Holy Spirit is poured out amongst us every moment of every day.

I am blessed that I serve at a Pentecost church.

Now, we are not a Pentecostal Church. You wont normally see people speaking in tongues or expressing their faith charismatically, but the Church for All People is a Pentecost church because it is a place where God’s Spirit is moving and alive and bringing about new things almost every day.

When we begin our worship services, we use the same call to worship every time. Within that call to worship we say “God loves us just the way we are and God isn’t finished with any of us yet.”

God isn’t finished with any of us, but God’s Spirit is moving within us as individuals and collectively as the church.

This morning I want to share with you some ways that God is moving in the work we are doing at the church for all people.

When I was here with you last year, I told you about the work we are doing in housing. In the last decade, we have done more than $55 million of housing rebuilds and renovations, transforming abandoned and burned up properties in to new homes. We have touched about one in four homes in the neighborhood surrounding our church. We have taken properties that were once the place of unwanted activities and cleaned them up and made them places where children openly play.

But God isn’t finished with us yet.

This year we started a new pilot project called CareHomes in which we are taking pregnant women off the streets and putting them in housing. One of the major health issues in our community is infant mortality. In the United States, 6 babies per thousand don’t reach their first birthday; in our community the rate for African American babies is 19 per thousand. So we are treating housing as a vaccine, paying half the rent for homeless pregnant women, and connecting them with jobs and resources so by the time their child turns one they are independent and self-sustaining.

This summer we will be opening a complex of 68 apartments and townhouses that will include 2,400 square foot of workforce development space. A person can move in to the complex with a section 8 housing voucher and within that same facility receive training for specific jobs and we have employers lined up to hire people.

In the Healthy Eating and Living program I lead, last year we gave out more than 640,000 pounds of produce to more than 28,000 people. We trained almost a thousand people in how to make healthy meals for a family of four for under $5. We run six different exercise programs. But God’s isn’t finished with us yet.

But God isn’t finished with us yet.

The number one indicator of what your health will be is not your genetic code, it is your zip code.

If you walked out the front doors of our church and looked across the street, the first thing you would see is a drive thru liquor store. So while we are doing all this work to transform the health of our community, we still have the reality of our world right there.

The liquor store went out of business the first of the year. A couple of months ago the property was acquired and this summer we will be moving our fresh market in to what was a liquor store. We will be transforming the beer cave in to a classroom where health and wellness classes will be taught. The parking lot will be a home to farmers markets and health food trucks. This will be a space where we build community around healthy food.

God is not finished with us yet.

We are not just a place that offers social service programs, we are a church. And back in February we took 30 people from our community to the Holy Land.

I am sure that Clyde has shared with you the opportunity and power of making trips to the Holy Land. I went to Israel last year and had one of the most significant religious experiences of my life.

But that is an opportunity normally reserved for people who can afford it.

We took people who never could afford a trip like that, people who never can afford a vacation at all. People who had never been on an airplane, people who had never been out of the state of Ohio.

The very people Jesus described when he said “blessed are the poor” walked where Jesus walked and experienced many firsts.

One of the most significant stories came from a man named Donald who celebrated his 40th birthday while on the trip. At dinner that night, the lights were lowered, people sang happy birthday, and a cake was placed in front of him. Something that most of us have experienced.

Donald cried and said he had never had a cake with his name on it before.

God is not finished with any of us yet.

Our God is a God who does new things and who is always at work.

I know that God has done amazing things here at St Johns. You have two of the best pastors in the conference, an amazing choir, our kids played sports here, you support missionaries like me. This is a great church, but God is not finished with you yet.

In the coming months and years you have an opportunity to live in to a new relationship with Grace United Methodist Church. The church I serve today opened the first free store and Grace is one of over 100 churches around the country that now has a free store.

When we invite people to be a part of the free store community, we not only hope that people will make a donation to help someone else, but we invite them to follow the donation. To come and serve along side the people of our community, and to build relationships of mutuality.

When you serve with people, you learn their name and they learn yours, you hear their story and they hear yours, you build a friendship where you care about them and they care about you.

On Pentecost the story of God’s power was shared with every group of people and all were saved. As God has given you this opportunity you not only have the chances to share gifts of grace and love and salvation with others, but to experience them for yourself.

Be filled with the new wine of God’s Holy Spirit, for God is not finished with you yet.

Inglorious Pastors

Posted: June 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

dinnerKeynote missions dinner speech given at the New Mexico Annual Conference, June 1, 2017

Good evening to you, mission leaders of the New Mexico Annual Conference.

I want to begin by saying thank you.

As a missionary with Global Ministries, thank you for the support you give to all of the missionaries who have come out of the New Mexico Annual Conference. It is only through your support that we can do our work and it is only through your prayers that we stay connected to God’s work in the world.

Thank you on behalf of your churches, whether they know it or not. For the last 50 years the Western Church has largely been in decline in terms of membership and worship attendance and resources. And yet, despite the fact that every 15 minutes a new blog post is written decrying the end of Christendom, you dare to spend resources of time and people and money on work outside the walls of your church. You are the ones who lead your people to do things they never imagined they would do. Thank you on behalf of those whom you lead.

Thank on behalf of the hungry who have been fed, the naked who have been clothed, the children who have been taught, the refugees who have been welcomed, the outcast who have been loved. I know that those whom you serve in mission don’t always know your name or even the name of the church. They might refer to you as that church with the food pantry or that church that has the addiction support group. Because of this, there is not always a direct relationship between the number of people touched in mission work and the number of people in the pews on Sunday. The people you serve may not improve the statistics in end of year reports or clergy evaluations, but they do know this, that they have been loved by you.

Thank you for who you are.

You are the inglorious leaders of mission work in the New Mexico Annual Conference.
I call you the inglorious leaders because it is when we are willing to do the unclean, uncomfortable, unpopular work that God is glorified. It is when we are willing to be vulnerable enough to really live in to the concept of risk taking mission that we are connected with God’s work in the world.

In John, Chapter 17, Jesus offers a prayer. Not a prayer that is prayed in a garden while the disciples slept, but a prayer that was offered around the communion table of the last supper, after Jesus washed the disciples feet, he looked up to the Father and said loud enough for them to hear, “the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.”

In John 17, Jesus talks about glory and glorifying God seven times.

It probably would not be much of a reach for us, as Christians, to agree that no one ever glorified God more than Jesus. In this room, that would seem like an easy argument to make.

We can look at the high moments of Jesus life and hear that he glorified God. At his birth, the angels called out to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest,” at his baptism the dove descends, the light and voice of God fill the sky at the transfiguration, there are these handful of moments that make it obviously clear that Jesus glorified God.

But Jesus didn’t simply glorify God by having grand announcements made at his birth, baptism, and ascension, in John 17, Jesus said he did it by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

Think about much of the work Jesus did, not all of it was very glorious. In fact, some of it was downright inglorious.

He touched people’s whose skin was rotten with leprosy.

Earlier in the gospel of John Jesus made a mud pie with spit and rubbed that in a blind persons eyes and gave him sight.

Jesus walked in to the stench of Lazarus tomb to give him life.

He sacrificed himself on a cross, bloody and beaten.

A lot of the individual things Jesus did were down right gross and nasty and inglorious, and yet it was through the doing of these things that he glorified God.

Today I serve as a Church and Community Worker missionary at the Church for All People in Columbus, Ohio.

The Church for All People has become one of the leading mission institutions of the United Methodist Church. People from our church often go and share with others what we have done to equip and train other churches and conferences. Every October we host a training event and I would like to extend an invitation to you to come and join us. If you want to sign up or get more information, come and see me.

We are the church where the first Free Store started, we worship with an incredibly diverse group of people, we distribute over half a million pounds of produce a year, we run after-school and summer school programs that break the prison pipeline, and most people around Columbus know us for the $55 million worth of housing that we have done in the last decade.

And yet, while those are all things glorify God, I would say that the thing that has made all of that possible is our willingness to be vulnerable, take risks, and be inglorious.

Our flagship and foundational ministry is the Free Store. Through the Free Store we have the opportunity to be in relationship with about 20,000 people a year, we give out over two million dollars’ worth of gently used clothing and household items every year, in addition to providing all the school supplies for a half dozen local schools and new Christmas presents for 500 kids.

While the bottom line of all those things are glorious, the work of making that happen is rather inglorious.

When it was first created, no one ever imagined the Free Store would be as popular as it became. The expectation was that a dozen or two people might come in each day and soon we had 100 to 150 people coming in every day. So the first concern was, we are going to run out of stuff.

But 18 years later, we have never run out of stuff. In fact, we have a basement stacked floor to ceiling with stuff. Our problem is not running out of stuff, it is sorting and folding and hanging and distributing mountains of stuff.

From that we have learned that our God is a God of abundance, not a God if scarcity. We have developed a theology of a divine economy of God’s abundance that serves as the core of all our operations. We look at the world from an asset based perspective. Whether in our staff meetings or grant reports, we never talk about the world around us as a place of need or deficits, instead we live in to the opportunities God has given us. We learned these lessons through the inglorious work of having to trust in God’s provision. By trusting in God, we discovered that when you are connected to the work that God is doing in the world that God provides.

Through the community built around the Free Store, the United Methodist Church for All People opened in 2003. Our church on Sunday morning is an amazing place. It is probably one of the most diverse churches in the country. On a typical Sunday morning it is about 2/3 low income people from the neighborhood and about 1/3 middle class and upper class people from around Columbus who think what we do is cool and they want to be a part of it. It is about half white people and half black people. We have people who are lawyers and CEOs sitting next to people who have drug addictions and are prostitutes. When you look at the diversity of the church you would say, glory to God that there is a place for all people, but we sometimes joke that all people don’t always like all people. Everyone is glad that they are included in the circle of God’s love and grace, but why did you include “that” person?

Our service is not always clean or perfect, sometimes the sermon gets cut short because of the large number of shared prayer requests which often include people openly talking about their struggles with addictions, stories of neighborhood violence, and harshness of poverty, but in the ingloriousness of it, it is real and raw and honest and God is glorified.

In the last decade, we have done more than $55 million of housing rebuilds and renovations, transforming abandoned and burned up properties in to new homes. In 2015 we opened a brand new senior living center and this summer we will be opening a complex of 68 apartments and townhouses that will include 2,400 square foot of workforce development space. A person can move in to the complex with a section 8 housing voucher and within that same facility receive training for specific jobs.

And yet the process of getting to that point was inglorious.

When we first started doing housing we knew so little that we hired people who claimed they had tools and knew how to do the work, but really didn’t; we learned that you don’t pay people at lunch time because they might go get something to drink and not come back; and, we didn’t even know enough to pull permits and got shut down by the city before we ever got started.

At the Church for All People I serve both as pastor and director of the Healthy Eating and Living program. As part of that, last year we shared over 640,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables with more than 28,000 people. When you can bring that much healthy food in to a food insecure community, God is glorified, but the actual work of it is inglorious. This last Tuesday, as part of the shipment from the truck, we got a box with 850 pounds of onions. One giant box, 850 pounds of loose onions. So I was out on the sidewalk, me with all of my important titles, bagging onions. An older, African American woman who is a member of our church, Linda, came by. She asked if she could help and we had a great time together just talking, getting to know each other, and bagging onions. After we finished I thanked her for helping me and she said, “I can’t have the pastor out here bagging onions by himself.”

In doing the inglorious work of bagging onions, our relationship grew, and God was glorified.

The question I want to ask you with this evening is what is the inglorious thing can you do that would glorify God? How can you get your hands dirty, how can you make yourself uncomfortable, in a way that would bring glory to God?

I know that many of you are already doing this kind of work and have learned this same lesson.

St Paul’s UMC in Socorro implemented a program called “A Time to Serve” in which 49 members of the congregation contributed over 180 hours of service to the local community.

At Central United Methodist Church a member began a running club with a local elementary school.  A few weeks ago, 27 kids from this program ran in the Run to the Zoo 5K in Albuquerque.

El Calvario in Las Cruces has engaged in a number of mission initiatives, most notably in their neighborhood and with immigrants

University in Las Cruces has a thriving Community Garden that only happens by getting hands dirty.

St. Paul’s in Las Cruces has an ongoing mission outreach in Clint/Fabens.

Four Corners has their Thrift Store, the Childhood Education Center, and hosts a number of work teams throughout the year.

Community UMC in Ruidoso has a strong mission partnership with Santa Elena Mission in Mexico.

Cornerstone in ABQ continues their work on Pajarito Mesa, one of the most inglorious places I have ever been to in the United States.

A number of the churches in the Clovis area partner with the Matt 25 center, which is a service hub for community outreach efforts

The fact that you are here probably means that your church is already doing some kind of inglorious work that is glorifying God.

But if you are already involved in some kind of work, I want to ask you this one question: what are you doing to build relationships with the people you are in ministry with?

The greatest asset we have at the Church for All People is the relationships we have with our community. The people of our neighborhood trust us, they volunteer at the free store and fresh market and make it work, we have hard-living people that play and sing in our praise band and read scripture and lead worship, they are as important to our organization as the paid employees.

So what are you doing to not only feed people or clothe people or teach people, but to fully include them at your church, to invite them to the table where decisions are made, to give them voice, to be vulnerable to create relationships of mutuality where your life and the life of the person you are in service with are connected.

As people who are mission leaders, we are called to do the inglorious work of being with the people we are ministry with. Eat with them, pray with them, when you hand them something hold their hand, look in their eyes, offer them words of kindness and compassion. Be inglorious!

This will lead us in to deeper relationships with those we are in ministry with. We are not called to be the ones who simply give things to people or do things for people, we are called to live in relationship with people.

To be in relationship with people means being vulnerable enough to share yourself with a person different from yourself and to receive who that person is. It means to know the names and stories and life situations of vulnerable people as much as you know the lives of your committee chairs.

So may you go from here and go back to your churches looking to do inglorious work. Get uncomfortable, push the envelope, live in relationship like the good shepherd, and when we do the inglorious work, God is glorified.

Turning Maslow Upside Down

Posted: May 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

Since the 1940s, people have been quoting Abraham Maslow and his “Hierarchy of maslowNeeds” as a template for human development. Maslow’s premise is that until our basic human needs for food, shelter, and safety are met we cannot work on our higher needs of self-actualization. This theory makes sense, sounds reasonable, and is commonly accepted. Until, you live in relationship with people whose physiological needs have not been met and yet they aspire to self-fulfillment.

This last weekend Chris’s house was set on fire for a second time this year. He has lived without running water. Yet, he is a graduate of our Neighborhood Leadership Academy, volunteer at the Barrack Recreation Center, and voice of the community. His basic needs for housing, water, and safety have not been yet, and yet he works so others can reach their full potential.

A woman named Brittany often feeds homeless people from her front door, tends to overdosed drug addicts, and would rather give someone else money than have money herself. By common society standards she has very little, and yet she provides for other people.

IMG_2198Yesterday, I was feeling a bit down and then a woman named Geralyn handed me a piece of art from the Free Store, because she recognized I had two works from the same artist in my office. She looked at me and simply said “when you are struggling let him take the oars.” Geralyn herself has struggled to find a safe, decent place to live and yet she recognized my mood, was aware enough to notice the art on my wall, and went out of her way to lift me up.

When I ask people in poverty why they are so giving, they commonly respond that they would rather do for other people and that it makes them feel good to help. One person shared that they can help despite having little. I wonder if the opposite is true, that it is because they have little, and have not built an attachment to possessions, that they are able to put themselves in the place of others and reach a self-actualization that turns Maslow on his head.

This argument is not to romanticize poverty. People living without basic needs not only have less comfort than I, but often live in systems of violence, abuse, racism, limited education, and lack of opportunity that I have never experienced.

Yet, despite these barriers, my experience has been that people who physically have the least often rely on relationships the most. People who can’t trust in bureaucratic systems develop a reliance on God greater than my own. People who have literally gone without food and water know that true fulfillment doesn’t come from their stomachs. It is sometimes those whose physiological needs who have not been met that reach self-actualization.

 

 

Making All Things New

Posted: April 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

The first thing you see when you walk out the front doors of the Church for All People is a drive thru liquor store. Since our vision is to create a “whole, healthy, and engaged community” it is ironic to walk out the doors of a place seeking to bring abundant health and see a place that targets low income people trapped in addiction. On January 1st, the liquor store went out of business. The neon signs advertising beer and tobacco went dark and the building became another abandoned property on Parsons Avenue. But instead of seeing blight, this presented opportunity.

Parsons Avenue Redevelopment Corporation recently purchased the property. The market will be leased to Community Development for All People as the new home for our Fresh Market. The market will move across the street, increasing our square footage from 700 feet to 1,900 feet, giving us the ability to store food longer in refrigeration, and transforming a “beer cave” in to a wellness classroom. While the abandoned property has been a place that has accumulated trash and overgrown weeds, a plaza is being designed that will host social, community-building activities around healthy food.

A place that once took from people and limited life will become a place that increases food access, builds relationships, and reduces health disparities.


At the same time that plans are being made to transform a liquor store in to a fresh market, an abandoned corner has become an urban orchard. The corner of Kossuth and Carpenter was once the location of an empty lot known for illegal activities. Next to the vacant lot stood a dilapidated and condemned home. Both properties were acquired by the Columbus Land Bank and sold to Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Healthy Neighborhood, Healthy Family program.

Today, dozens of community partners gathered together around this once derelict corner as a sign of vibrancy and engagement. The “Urban Forest at Southern Orchards” includes 13 fruit trees and 13 raised garden beds that will provide food for the neighborhood and build relationships among the community. Children who once walked passed this corner and saw blight now see life.

From Genesis to Revelation, God is described as the one who makes all things new.

In our work, this is not only seen in rebuilt homes and repurposed buildings, but in restored lives. Every day I see people who have been transformed from addiction to sobriety, unemployment to working, hungry to fed, prideful to humble, lost to found, and selfish to loving.

God is truly working to make all things new, including us.

 

 

Seeing is not believing
John 20:19-31
April 23, 2017

In 1910 a girl was born in Skopje, Albania named Agnes.

Agnes was baptized the day after she was born and she considered that her real birthday.

At the age of 5 and a half she received communion for the first time and fell in love with Christ.

At age 12 she committed herself to religious life.

When she turned 18 she left home Albania for Ireland to learn English.

By the age of 19 she was teaching in Calcutta, India.

After nearly 20 years of teaching she heard the voice of God call her in to a new ministry, serving the poor. She heard the voice of God three times, the first on a train and another time around a communion table, calling her to work with the poor. The voice of Christ spoke to her and said I want you to be the “fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying and the little children… come, be my light

She began this work in 1948 as an individual, but over the next 50 years the organization she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, grew to include more than 4,500 nuns who to this day run schools and orphanges and health centers and care for people with every condition from leprosy to AIDS.

In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize under her religious name, Mother Teresa. At her Nobel speech she said: “It is not enough for us to say, ‘I love God, but I do not love my neighbor…God [made] himself the hungry one–the naked one–the homeless one.” Jesus’ hunger, she said, is what “you and I must find” and alleviate.

Mother Teresa is one of my heroes, one of my role models, I want to be a missionary in the way that she was.

But at the same time that she created and led a mission that would become one of the most notable in the world, she lived in spiritual darkness.

Mother Teresa was born with a great love of God and dedicated herself to mission service. She heard the voice of God calling her in the late 1940s. But after that, the voice went silent.

She prayed and heard nothing in return.

She yearned for God and found emptiness.

She sought the union she once experienced and felt alone.

Only a few months after receiving the Nobel Prize, she said to her spiritual director, “Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me–The silence and the emptiness is so great–that I look and do not see,–Listen and do not hear.

What amazes me about Mother Teresa is that while she had this crisis of faith, she remained faithful. Even when she felt as if God didn’t hear her prayers, she continued praying for others. Even when she no longer felt the touch of God, she touched others. Even when she felt abandoned by God, she stayed in accompaniment with others.
For 50 years, Mother Teresa had a darkness in her soul and yet she brought light in to the world.

Image result for mother teresa helping
Mother Teresa doubted. In her journals she openly wondered about the existence of God and heaven. She doubted, but she remained faithful.

If we are honest, many of us have doubted. I have met a few saints in my life who haven’t doubted. Their faith has been solid every day of their lives and they have never had a moment of questioning.

For me, I have had doubts. I struggle in understanding how a good and loving God can tolerate injustice in the world.

The good thing about being at the Church for All People is there is room for both. If you are someone who has never had a moment of doubt or who questions all of the time, you are welcome here.

We might feel as if something is wrong with us if we question or doubt or struggle, but today those of us who fall in that group find ourselves among good company.

When it comes to doubt there is one person who we think of most, Thomas.

Thomas, Doubting Thomas.

I believe Thomas gets a bad deal. We don’t put adjectives in front of the names of the other disciples. We don’t call Peter “Impulsive Peter”. We don’t even call Judas “Betraying Judas”. And yet, for some reason we label Thomas as doubting.

I think this is unfair for several reasons.

First, he isn’t the first person to doubt. In the gospel of Luke when the women return from the tomb and tell the disciples about the resurrection, the scripture says that the “words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” None of them believed, they all thought it was fake news, but it is only Thomas who is called doubting.

Second, it is unfair to call Thomas doubting because it doesn’t give the full story of this scripture. When Jesus appears on the 8th day, and Thomas sees the wounds and holes with his own eyes he proclaims, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas is the first person to call the Risen Christ, God.

The third reason it is unfair to call Thomas doubting is because it reduces his entire life work to one event. Thomas was a faithful disciple. Like Mother Teresa, Christian history and tradition state that Thomas carried the good news as far as India and created churches that are still in existence today. Perhaps, it is because of his time of doubt that he received the strength to become such an amazing evangelist. It is often the times of our lives when we struggle and doubt and fear that we grow the most. They are difficult times to live through, but when we come out the other side our faith has grown from facts we have been told to believe in to truths that ground us and shape us and make us who we are.

This is what Jesus is talking about when he says, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Blessed are those have not seen, and yet believe.

Like many of the beatitudes, I find myself on the wrong side of the equation on this one.

As the people of the Church for All People we are lucky. We are lucky because we get to see it. I have seen God move and act more in my two years here than I have at any other time in my life. We touch grace every time we shop in the Free Store or the Fresh Market, we can see it when we drive up and down streets like Carpenter and see all of the rebuilt homes, we see it in the face of babies when we celebrate First Birthday parties.

And yet, in its own way, maybe that can set up its own expectation when we are so accustomed to seeing God work on a big scale that we can be left feeling wondering where God is in our personal lives.

We often speak of a divine economy of abundance, but what do you do when your checking account is overdrawn?

We can come to church and hear others speak of answered prayers, but what do you do when you feel as if your prayers are bouncing off the celling?

We can talk about accompaniment and living in this community of faith, but what about when you are alone in a hospital bed?

What do you do when you can’t see it or touch it or point to it?

The lesson of Mother Teresa is that even in those dark moments, even when they last a long time, we keep pressing forward. And when we are able to do that, we discover why Jesus calls people who believe without seeing blessed, for it is in those moments that our faith is not just about when we can see or teach or hear it, but it is a deeper trust in God beyond our feelings.

Mother Teresa and Thomas were not the only people who experienced doubt. In the 1500s there was a man named John of the Cross who wrote a poem called the Dark Night of the Soul where he described his own struggles with the absence of God.  Even Jesus cried out from the cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, quoting the psalm written by David.  Last week Kendrick Lamar released a new album and on it there is a song called FEAR. That begins with the words, “Why God, why God do I gotta suffer? Pain in my heart carry burdens full of struggle/Why God, why God do I gotta bleed? Every stone thrown at you restin’ at my feet.

Doubt is not something new. From Mother Teresa to John of the Cross, from Kendrick Lamar to Thomas, people have doubted.

The same thing happened to the founder of our Methodist tradition, John Wesley. Wesley had a period of his life where his faith felt dry and cold. He questioned his own salvation and even wondered if he should continue preaching. And then he shared his struggle with a Moravian missionary named Peter Bohler. Bohler told him to continue on, to preach faith until he had faith, to continue on, and that in practicing faith he would find it.

Wesley kept at it.

The next thing he did was to sit with a prisoner on death row named William Clifford. Wesley visited with Clifford and prayed for him. As a result, Clifford found salvation and forgiveness and redemption and peace. And it was through bringing this prisoner faith that Wesley found faith himself.

We are familiar with Jesus teaching to ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. But the English translation of that actually does the original Greek a disservice. The scripture should say, ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking. And in continually asking and seeking and knocking we will find faith.

During the offering, Sam sang a song called Anyway, recorded by Martina McBride.

This song is actually based off of a poem that hung on the wall in Mother Teresa’s office. The original poem says:

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered,
LOVE THEM ANYWAY
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies,
SUCCEED ANYWAY
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight,
BUILD ANYWAY
People really need help but may attack you if you help them,
HELP PEOPLE ANYWAY
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth,
GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU’VE GOT ANYWAY.

May we be the ones who practice our faith, anyway.

Even when our prayers fall silent, even when we doubt, even when our kindness is not returned, be faithful anyway. In practicing faith, we will find faith. A faith deeper that mere belief, a faith that will give us the strength to continue on, even when we can’t see it or touch it or feel it.

Be faithful, anyway. In doing so, we will be the ones who discover what it means to blessed, when we are the ones who believe, even when we don’t see it, anyway.

Amen.