Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Eve performances

Just some of the special gifts of Christmas Eve . . . Diana W. with Pastor JP (duet), Alaina, Allison, Gary as "The Bethlehem Innkeeper". Thanks again!

Live Nativity

Our Christmas Eve live nativity . . . to "O Holy Night!" Thanks to Bob for the pics, and to all in the nativity.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Visiting Spring Lake Ranch

Pics from our visit with Jesse: The Sugar House (where the world's best maple syrup is made), pigs in "The Ramada", the pond by the upper barn, Jesse doing Saturday farm chores, Caleb feeding a calf. Sorry, but no pics yet of Spring Lake itself; it's a hike down a lane that isn't fully plowed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Letter

One of the great joys of this season is gathering as God’s people in worship, to remember and focus on Jesus and his coming – as a baby long ago AND in our lives and times AND in "kingdom come". I love the prayer for the 4th Sunday of Advent, from The Book of Common Prayer, a prayer that talks not about coming home for Christmas, but about Christ making his home in us:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This year, our Christmas Eve theme is "Room at the Inn". We have scheduled three different services, each of which will include Candlelight and Holy Communion:

6:00 p.m., "Traditions" with our Chancel and Bell Choirs
Nativity Procession by the youth

8:00 p.m., "Celebrations" featuring our Praise Team
Solo by Marsha Winters

11:00 p.m., "Reflections," the Service of Lessons and Carols
Solo by Alaina White, duet by Diana White & JP Bohanan

Our Christmas Eve offering this year will go to the United Methodist Home for Children in Mechanicsburg. This home offers high quality care to neglected and abused children and children who are otherwise involved with the courts. The home is in the midst of a capital campaign to construct new one-story housing. What better Christmas Gift for Jesus than a gift to help children most at risk?

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Coming of Christ: Pain & Birth

Luke 1:39-56 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

46 And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

The Coming of Christ: Pain and Birth
12/20/2009 Bethany
Luke 1:46-55 (call to worship)
Micah 5:2-5 (prophet/children)
Luke 1:39-45 (message)

I had the privilege of being present for the birth of both of our boys. It was one of the most powerful, beautiful, and important moments of my life. I knew that becoming a father was going to change my life – sleepless nights, diaper changes (something I hadn’t done before). But I had no idea how it was going to change me – empathy, interruptions, hopes and dreams, disappointment, the transition from being superman to being powerless. So many things happen to you as a parent ... and, while I was barely "ready", I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What about Virgin Mary and Chaste Joseph? Ready? Ready to get married, yes ... but starting a family first wasn’t in the plans. And, what wonders are in store for those who bear and raise the Son of God?
After witnessing the birth of our boys, I am even more amazed that God would choose to enter our world in this manner. I’m glad that I was able to witness and remember the birth of our children, but I’m also glad that I don’t remember my own birth. Birth, in the best of circumstances, must be traumatic for a child. In the case of our firstborn, Jesse, at 5 pounds, 14 ounces (smaller by today’s standards) was still too large for Robin. She was struggling, his heartbeat disappeared on the monitor, suction didn’t work, the doctor became serious.

No wonder some folks have objected to the idea of "God become flesh". It is messy, it is vulnerable, it is weak, it is painful. Yes, birth is glorious, life is a gift. But, for God to become human is for God to embrace pain and for God to glorify human being-ness.

A couple interesting Scriptures relative to childbirth and salvation. The first is in the story of the original couple and the original sin. When God confronts Adam and Eve, they are cursed or punished for their choice. For Eve, the curse comes with a promise, a promise which came in the form of a curse upon the Adversary Serpent:
Genesis 3:15-16 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel." 16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children."

The second is a typological use of this story,
1 Timothy 2:14-15 ... the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing ...
This latter passage has, too often, been interpreted to say "a woman’s place is in the home". Not a good way to read the text. The text is telling us that our salvation comes through the bearing of a child, just as Eve was promised. That child’s birth is God’s painful entrance to the human race and to a sinful world; that child’s birth is the beginning of our Salvation.

Mary, in her pain as a stigmatized single mom in a traditional culture, spends three months with aunt Elizabeth in another province, away from the prying eyes and wagging tongues of folks back home. She finds herself blessed by Elizabeth, and unleashes her own song of joy, known as the "Magnificat" for "magnify": "My soul magnifies the Lord". And she sings of how God is going to make things right: God scatters the proud, brings down the powerful, sends the rich away empty. And, God favors the humble, lifts up the lowly, fills the poor.
The standard expectations of the world are reversed. North is South. East is West. Up is Down. God comes to save, not with a display of force but a display of weakness. God becomes flesh, not in a pain free, sterile environment, but through birth and pain.

But it is precisely because Jesus makes his entrance through pain that he can save and deliver us in pain, our lowliness, our humility, our poverty, our hunger.

What pain do you bring? "I have got this hunger and I can’t seem to get full ... love is just an excuse to hurt and to be hurt" (Bright Eyes, Lifted, or, The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, "Lover I Don’t Have to Love").
[Silent prayer, bringing our pain to Jesus]
From Augustine’s Confessions, 10.39.64:
In all such things and in like perils and hardships, you behold my trembling heart. Over and over, I feel my wounds, not so much as inflicted upon me, but rather as healed by you.

Not just about pain, but about deliverance, about the birth of a new world. We get a glimpse of the values, a sense that God favors the "underdog", the oppressed, those who start out not just last but not even at the starting line. God loves the lowly, the poor, the hungry.
[Sharing and prayer in groups, for Jesus to deliver]
Advent Prayer by Janet Morley
God our Deliverer, whose approaching birth still shakes the foundations of this world, may we so wait for your coming with eagerness and hope that we embrace without terror the labor pangs of the new age, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Let it Snow

After shoveling, played tag in the snow with Spook, sat together under a tree and watched it continue to fall. Then, inside for cookies!


Last night, we were privileged to host the piano recital of Marsha's students. Unfortunately, the vocal recital will be rescheduled for January. But it was a beautiful evening, with wonderful music from students of all ages, including Bethany's own Emily and Marsha. Thanks to the hospitality crew coordinated by Gary, and to Marsha's praise team partners, for making everyone welcome.


Last Sunday night, a team went caroling in a couple nursing homes, visiting particularly with some of our members living there. Then, wonderful food at Khris and Jim's.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Dinner

Wonderful meal, and lots of fun upstairs with carols, story, and Santa. Thanks to all!

A Christmas Prayer

A wonderful prayer from The Book of Common Prayer, for the fourth Sunday of Advent -- this week!

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Coming of Christ: Shame & Gathering

Luke 3:7-18 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." 10 And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" 11 In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" 13 He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." 14 Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages." 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Zephaniah 3:14-20 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17 The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

We’re told by Luke that John proclaimed "good news" (3.18). But, I admit, much of what he says is hard to swallow and doesn’t sound, at least at first, like "good news", like "gospel". John the Baptizer opens this section calling good religious folks a "brood of vipers" and warns them that they get no special privilege for being part of their holy tradition. It’s not about how great our parents or grandparents were, about our Sunday School teacher uncle, or – and John goes straight to this point – about our national heritage. We’re fond of saying – though historians do debate it – that we are – or were – a "Christian nation". So, John’s words to observant Jews could be said to us and what sociologists call our "civil religion":

Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

No privilege, no break, no bye. Not good news, at least not if you are expecting privilege! As Peter wrote, "The time has come for judgment to begin with the people of God" (1 Peter 4.17).

These are John’s opening words in this section, but they are not where I land as I pray over the text, and the entire set of texts for this day and for our Advent season. As I prayed through the advent texts, I was drawn to the juxtaposition of our existential dilemma with the gospel: in the first week, the connection between worry (a dilemma of our existence) and promise (a dimension of the gospel), and today in the connection between shame and gathering. So, here it is in the preaching of John the Baptizer:

His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary (3.17).

And, from the prophet Zephaniah (3.18-20):

I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

Shame and gathering. Yet, in the dilemma of our existence, Gatherings are often associated with Shame.

We prepare for a "gathering", an event, and we obsess about our bodies, our acne, our weight, our hair, our shoes and clothing. "I hate myself." "I hate my body." A gathering becomes the focal point for a flare-up of shame.

John the Baptizer didn’t have any trouble exposing that sensitive, tender nerve of Shame: "You brood of vipers!" For, beyond the obsession on body image, we’re overloaded with shame about the inner, hidden Self. When I go to the gathering, everyone will be happy and expect me to be happy too. I don’t FEEL happy, can’t keep up a good front, and am ashamed to speak aloud what is in my heart. OR, when I go to the gathering, everyone has their life together while mine is falling apart. OR, when I go to the gathering, I can’t cope with the invisible stain on my soul ... and it feels so bare and public.

Shame, as an emotion, is closely tied to Guilt. But, guilt is focused on the legal dimension while shame is focused on the relationship. Guilt is violating trust. Shame is not being able to look someone in the eye. And, to be righteous, to be right with God (a New Testament theme), to be "upright" (the Hebrew theme), to live with integrity (one of the themes of spirituality here at Bethany: generosity/giving, fidelity/faithful, integrity/real), is to be without guilt and without shame when we come to God’s gathering. I love the way Eugene Peterson translates the end of Psalm 11:

GOD’s business is putting things right;
he loves getting the lines straight,
Setting us straight. Once we’re standing tall,
we can look him straight in the eye.

Tom, football player in the movie We Are Marshall who was unwilling to return to the team after the 1970 plane crash that killed 75 persons ... he had overslept on the day the team died, not been left behind because of injury.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

Jesse – sent him a chocolate advent calendar, the advent of Christ is the gathering of his people ... this year there will be a coming, an arrival, when our family gathers and we meet our son on Christmas day ... when we gather, Christ comes among us ... when we gather, that is a demonstration that Jesus is at work in the world and a foretaste of the kingdom.

Old Rugged Cross ... "its shame and reproach gladly bear"

Advent Luncheon

Pics from our second advent luncheon, featuring music by Dawn and the Ding-a-Lings.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


When I pray and visit with folks, I frequently read from the psalms. Recently read from Psalm 56:

You have noted my lamentation;
put my tears into your bottle;
are they not recorded in your book?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fly Like an Eagle

Congrats to Dan! Pics from his Eagle Scout court of honor: the scouts in the family and granddad John, who received his mentor pin. Thanks to Gary for the pics.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ransom Price

What price our ransom?

We can never ransom ourselves,
or deliver to God the price of our life;
For the ransom of our life is so great,
that we should never have enough to pay it,
In order to live for ever and ever,
and never see the grave.
(Psalm 49:6-8, BCP)

Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as dust on the scales;
see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
nor are its animals enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him;
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
(Isaiah 40:15-17, NRSV)

Ergo, the Cross.


On the 23rd, we gave out 36 Thanksgiving Baskets - everything needed to prepare complete holiday meals - through the Salvation Army and our own connections. Thanks to all who contributed (including one of our Girl Scout troops that provided 10 of the meals) and to those who set up and served the families as they came. And thanks to Josie for coordinating it all!

Hanging the Greens

From the decorating on Saturday Nov 28 ... and we had a wonderful "Hanging of the Greens" service on Sunday evening the 29th, celebrating the many traditions of Christmas. Thanks to Khris for coordinating the decorating and to Ruth for coordinating the worship.

Views of Spring Lake

The "Cedars", at the door to the "main house", the "shop" (vehicle repair/hand-crafted furniture/more), the old Navy jeep, the "main house".

For Jesse

Thanks from Jesse for all the love - and flowers!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Coming of Christ: Worry & Promise

Luke 21:25-36 "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." 29 Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

11/29/2009 Bethany, Advent 1, Holy Communion
Psalm 25:1-10 (call to worship, 11:15)
Jeremiah 33:14-16 (delivered by prophet "Gregg")
Luke 21:25-36 (message)
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 (benediction)
Chicken Little: acorn fell on her head, scared, trembled, half her feathers fell out. "The sky is falling! I must run and tell the king!"
To Henny Penny: "where are you going, chicken little?"
"To tell the king: the sky is falling!"
"How do you know?"
"I saw it with my own eyes, I heard it with my own ears, and a piece of it fell on my head!"
To Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey ...
To Foxy Loxy ... "I’ll take you to the king"

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Worry ... spend lots of energy on a single focus, but accomplish nothing
The alternative:
"Dissipation and drunkenness"
"Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die"
... spending lots of energy without focus, and accomplish nothing

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth."

Problem of perception:
Optimist: The glass is half full
Pessimist: the glass is half empty
Rationalist: The glass is twice as large as it needs to be (C&K, 17)
Or, the story about Thomas at the doctor’s office ... hyperventilating, "I’m sure I’ve got liver disease". "Ridiculous, you’d never know, no discomfort." "Exactly! Those are my symptoms." (Cathcart & Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . . understanding philosophy through jokes, 120-121).

Perception: not like dropping marbles in a sandbox but a funnel (de Bono).
Group "inputs" according to pre-existing pathways of the mind
It’s raining and I forgot my umbrella ... how stupid can I be ... sky falls
I tried to tell a joke but only offended ... how stupid can I be ... sky falls

So, how do we perceive, interpret, frame the signs of "the apocalypse", the coming of chaos, like those listed here in Luke’s gospel? Jesus tells us that we shouldn’t get caught up in dissipation or in worry, in escape or control ... but when the sky really is falling what else are you to do?

Jesus interrupts our familiar perception patterns. He tells us that there is something else going on. Sure, we might be pelted by acorns; sure, the oak tree might be dropping branches all over us. But something else is happening that may not be immediately apparent.

Jesus tells us that, when the sky is falling, our focus should not be on disaster but on deliverance. Because, when we see these signs, "our redemption is drawing near". Because, the end of the world is only the revelation of the promise. It is a promise that, as the prophet declares, God will indeed fulfill in the person of "the LORD our righteousness".

In historic Christian theology, we understand that the end of the world, the end times, are both inaugurated by and culminated in Jesus. That, when he died upon the cross and declared "it is finished", that he was speaking not only about his end in death, not only about the end of sin and judgment, but about the end of the world . . . and it’s renewal in kingdom come, in what the Scriptures elsewhere call "the new heavens and the new earth".

Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near . . . . So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

Most of us, despite the holiday, gather with our own list of "sky is falling" events. They might be little acorns or even the entire oak tree. But the cross teaches us that Jesus enters into and shares fully in our suffering. And, it teaches us that victory is coming, that promise will be fulfilled. As we share today in Holy Communion, receive that gift from the Lord.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving from a Mission Partner

From First Fruits Farms, which grows fruit and vegetables for food pantries from Baltimore to York ... and where our youth spent one day harvesting this summer:

Dear Friends, We completed the 2009 harvest on November 14. Over the course of this growing season, we learned a great deal about farming, about the wonderful generosity of all you volunteers, and about God's immeasurable goodness. It was an ambitious planting, prompted by the call on our hearts to do step out in faith in an even bigger way, in response to an ever-growing need to feed the hungry in our midst. And the blessing of the Lord was upon us -- in this one growing season, with the help of many hundreds of volunteers, we harvested and delivered over 872,000 lbs. of fresh food to soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food banks. Thank you!!!!! What a joy it is to serve alongside you.

We saw many more rainy harvest days than ever before, but you all persevered, and God taught us patience. We faced unprecedented challenges, and God reminded us to trust in Him. We wondered if we would have the strength, and God brought us many new faces, who stepped up in significant ways to partner with us, and help get it all accomplished. We considered the possibility of expanding into year-round supply of vegetables, and we dedicated 8 acres of green beans to be canned. The result was an unbelievably beautiful Fall harvest of beans that was picked and taken to Hanover foods on the last possible day of the season --- as a result we are able to supply canned beans to the hungry all winter long. Praise be to God! We are humbled by and grateful to all who offered their prayerful and financial support of this ministry. This “ministry in the dirt” is all about community and we thank God for all of you who took part this growing season. It is a reflection of His glory that we all come together to serve the least among us.

Our prayer is that the people we serve in the homeless shelters, soup kitchens and food banks somehow know that God loves them and knows their need and it is through His power and goodness that the delicious fresh fruits and vegetables were brought to nourish them. Our prayer is that you all enjoy a Thanksgiving of peace and abundant blessing. We hope to see you next Spring!!

With love and gratitude, Carol (and everyone at First Fruits Farm)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Learning Center Sunday

This Sunday, our Learning Center students joined us and shared their music during our 11:15 service. Thanks to Wanda, BCLC director, and the staff for a fantastic time! Pics also include children's church this Sunday. Thanks to Bob for taking the pics.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

So You Are a King?

John 18:33-38 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." 37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." 38 Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"

This conversation between Pilate and Jesus is full of humor – that is, if you step back a moment from the situation itself. In the story, Pilate is examining Jesus, looking for a way to get off the hook, to let Jesus off the hook, to avoid execution. But Jesus doesn’t get it, or doesn’t cooperate, or Pilate really wasn’t working that hard, or he felt himself under pressure, or he wondered if Jesus really might be a threat to Caesar . . . or, something. Because he ends up handing Jesus over to be crucified and publishes the charge: "King of the Jews", even though the religious establishment, which was clamoring for Jesus’ execution, insisted that Jesus only "claimed" to be King of the Jews, and even though Jesus didn’t really speak of being "king of the Jews".

So, the situation aside, there’s some humor here.

There’s the humor of two parallel conversations. You know what I mean – you take turns speaking, but you aren’t speaking about the same thing. Or, if you are talking about the same thing, the logic, the thoughts don’t necessarily connect.
   1: What happened to all the eggs? That was my breakfast!
   2: The dishes in the dishwasher are clean.
   1: I guess I’ll have cereal again. I could swear there was a dozen yesterday.
   2: We’ve got a party at work today.
   1: And we’re out of corn flakes! I wonder if there’s anything for lunch!
   2: You can take a deviled egg. There’s some in the fridge.
   1: A deviled egg? So that’s what happened to the eggs!
   2: I told you we’re having a party!

And, there’s the humor of the "snarkiness" of the conversation, which I exaggerate:
   P: Are you the King of the Jews?
   JC: Who told you that?
   P: They’re not my people! No skin off my back! What did you do to get yourself into this mess?
   JC: If my kingdom was of this world, my followers would be going to war to prevent this.
   P: So you ARE a king!
   JC: I didn’t say that. That’s what you said! I’m just speaking the truth.
   P: What truth?
So, for Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that the Bible is chock full of great story material.

For all the humor, however, this short selection is remarkably dense. What’s up with the "king" and "kingdom" talk? While Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us lots of "kingdom" language, John gives us very little, only 18 verses, and the focus is different. And, what’s this talk of "the world", as in, "my kingdom is not of"? John actually uses the Greek word "cosmos", rather than another term that more properly refers to the "earth" or any of the words that refer to people in general.
Jesus’ kingdom is not only "not of this earth" but "not of this universe". No wonder the spirituality of John’s gospel is so cosmic!

In this meeting of Pilate and Jesus, there are two conversations because there are two kingdoms. There are two kingdoms because there are two stories.

Think of a two-story house. Upstairs you find the bedrooms and the showers. You might be invited over to watch the ballgame, have a cookout, enjoy dinner. But that is not the same as being invited upstairs. Sometimes, before folks come over, we remind our kids: "No one goes upstairs without OUR permission." Come on, if we didn’t make the bed today, we don’t have to let anyone see it.

In Jesus’ mind, in John’s gospel, we live in a two-story universe. On one story is what John calls the "cosmos", usually translated the "world", and the other story is simply "above". It is a common feature of biblical apocalyptic, and the John writings are full of apocalyptic imagination.
At one point, Jesus declares, "You are from below, I am from above; you are from this cosmos, I am not from this cosmos" (John 8.23). Two-story universe! And our expression "the man upstairs" fits it to a "T".

Except that "the man upstairs" doesn’t bother to come down, or to invite us up. Yet, Jesus is "sent into the world" (10.36, 17.18). Jesus "comes into the world" (11.27, 12.46). "God so loved the world that he gave [Jesus]" (3.16) And, Jesus invites us to join his kingdom: "No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above" (3.3).

There are two conversations, two stories, two kingdoms. Once, at least once, folks were confused about the two kingdoms. They wanted Jesus to be king of one of their kingdoms, the kind of king who eliminates and condemns their enemies, which isn’t much of a problem if we share the same enemies. They wanted to force him to become king (6.15), but he withdrew just in time. Jesus will not become king by force, but by faith. That’s why he tells Pilate, "If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over" (18.36). But Pilate immediately concludes, "You’re a king then!" thinking that Jesus is a king like all the other kings "from below", rather than recognizing what Jesus is saying in that parallel conversation – that he is a king "from above". Jesus will not become king by force, but by faith. And his kingdom will not be defended by force but received by faith.

Just a few days before this conversation with Pilate, Jesus had entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey and welcomed by the pilgrimage crowd as King (12.13,15). But the image of a king on a donkey is drawn right from the prophet Zechariah, and it is not what we expect from the kingdoms of this world. "Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, HUMBLE and riding on a donkey .... He will cut off the chariot ... and the war-horse ... and the battle bow ... and he shall command peace to the nations (Zechariah 9.9-10).

His kingdom is from above, and it doesn’t work by the rules or logic of the kingdoms of this cosmos. Nevertheless, he comes to save the cosmos (John 3.17). In fact, Jesus declares, "I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the cosmos, but to save the cosmos" (12.47). "The man upstairs" doesn’t come downstairs to this story with a superior air, with a judgmental attitude. His judgment is directed against the evil ingrained in the cosmos and the one he calls the "prince of this world" (12:31, 16.11, 17.15).

For us, he doesn’t bring lightning bolts and thunder. He brings an invitation. You know that off-limits second story? You’re invited. You know that kingdom of peace and justice? It’s yours to receive. You know that crazy disconnected conversation? Once we get our stories straight, we won’t have that trouble with the King of kings.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Girl Scouts & Thanksgiving

One of our Girl Scout troops has joined us in preparing Thanksgiving Baskets for area families. Thanks to these gals, their leaders, and their families for sharing this mission!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tasting . . .

A quote from Jonathan Edwards, preacher of the Great Awakening (1700s), in The Prodigal God (p. 108, by Timothy Keller) . . . reflecting on the words of the psalm: "Taste and see that the LORD is good."

The difference between believing that God is gracious and tasting that God is gracious is as different as having a rational belief that honey is sweet and having the actual sense of its sweetness.


Fun at Rocky Ridge for the Youth and the New Beginnings group! Thanks to Gary for the pics.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Happy Birthday Caleb


Reading a wonderful book, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller ... we'll be using it for our Lenten study. It is a meditation and study of the story we call "The Prodigal Son". Here is a hymn verse from John Newton, author of "Amazing Grace", along with some reflection by Keller:

Our pleasure and our duty,
though opposite before,
since we have seen his beauty
are joined to part no more.

In a few short words Newton outlines our dilemma. The choice before us seems to be to either turn from God and pursue the desires of our hearts, like the younger brother, or repress desire and do our moral duty, like the older brother. But the sacrificial, costly love of Jesus on the cross changes all that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In the news . . . the Fling

Melissa Nann Burke's article in the York Daily Record begins:

The aroma of chicken corn soup drifted into the parking lot from a door leading to the kitchen of Bethany United Methodist Church in Spring Garden Township.

Inside, soup simmered in heavy-gauge stock pots. Through the galley door, two dozen gray-haired church members hunched in folding chairs over their projects, assembling pies, peeling potatoes or picking meat off chicken carcasses.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day Luncheon

Thanks to Khris & crew and to my dad for speaking! Wonderful meal and time together.