Monday, December 27, 2010

Innocents and Powers

In notation form, Sunday's message:

Psalm 148 (call to worship)
Hebrews 2:10-18 (children)
Matthew 2:13-23 (message)

Why is the baby Jesus such a threat? Isn’t the kingdom of God a spiritual thing? Perhaps Herod recognizes something about Jesus that we miss.
For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, found online at

Why did the innocent have to die?

A power-hungry king, yes.  But that answer is unsatisfactory, especially when combined with prophecy: So, if God could rescue Jesus, then why not everyone? And, I don’t really care how impractical the suggestion is, I still want everyone to be saved.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


It is strange that the gospel read at the beginning of the time of preparation for Christmas is that of the end of the whole history of the world. Yet that is not really surprising. For what is afoot in a small beginning is best recognized by the magnitude of its end. What was really meant and actually happened by the coming, the "advent," of the redeemer is best gathered from that completion of his coming which we rather misleadingly call the "second coming." For in reality it is the fulfillment of his one coming which is still in progress at the present time.

Karl Rahner, Everyday Faith, 1968, quoted in An Advent Sourcebook, Thomas J. O'Gorman, editor, page 158

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas!

You are invited to celebrate the season with your neighbors at Bethany Church. This year, our Christmas Eve theme is “It’s Your Birthday!”. We have scheduled three different services, each of which will include Candlelight and Holy Communion:

6:00 p.m., “Traditions” featuring our Chancel and Bell Choirs

8:00 p.m., “Celebrations” featuring our Praise Team

11:00 p.m., “Reflections,” a Service of Lessons and Carols, based on a worship order first used in 1918 at King’s College in Cambridge

Our Christmas Eve offering this year will go to Mission Central, a regional center that provides emergency relief supplies and countless other needs both here and abroad. Over $250,000 worth of supplies were shipped to Haiti to assist in earthquake recovery and, this year, Mission Central sent nearly $10 million worth of supplies through connections with hundreds of service and mission partners locally and internationally. Check out their website at

God is doing some wonderful things among us. We are excited about new faces, new adventures in faith, new groups and new ministries, and new lifts to make our entire building wheelchair accessible. Hope to see you soon!

Once again: Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The First Day of Christmas

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . .”

The first Christmas gift is Jesus, God with us, God in flesh – fully divine AND fully human. This gift is holy mystery. This gift is the beginning of our salvation and the promise of deliverance. This gift declares the incredible value of matter, of physical flesh and blood, of our bodies. The New Testament word for “save” is also the word for “heal”. The grace of God is for the total person and for the whole creation. “God so loved the WORLD that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). The first Christmas gift is Jesus.

And, our “true love”? Over and over throughout the Scripture, the language of the “beloved” is used for God’s people – whether in the person of a “Son” or in the image of a “Bride”. “My son, whom I love” is spoken over Jesus at his baptism and over everyone who is baptized “into Christ”. Throughout the prophets, God’s people Israel are described as God’s beloved Bride. That language crops up again in Paul and in the Revelation as an image for the Church. And, it is used in the Song of Songs, an erotic love poem historically read as both a primer for prayer (intimacy with God) and a celebration of human sexual love. The first Christmas gift, Jesus, with his life, death, and resurrection, is the supreme demonstration that we are God’s “greatly beloved” (a wonderful phrase from Daniel 10:18, in the New Revised Standard Version).

The twelve days of Christmas run from December 25 (Christmas Day) through Epiphany (the story of the Magi and the star), on January 6. “Christmas-tide,” this celebration of the love and gift and mystery of God, is just getting started!

One of my favorite hymns, full of Christmas and Eucharistic mystery, comes from the 4th century Liturgy of Saint James:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

Amazed at the mystery,
Pastor JP

Sunday, December 12, 2010

As the Prophet Foretold (3): Wilderness and Way

12/12/2010 Bethany, Advent 3A, Holy Communion
Luke 1:46b-55 (call to worship)
Matthew 11:2-11 (children)
Isaiah 35:1-10 (message)
James 5:7-10 (benediction)

The greatest desert in the world is the Sahara, ranging over most of the area of northern and western Africa. Every year, it continues its advance into the semi-arid Sahel region, home to nomadic herders and riverside agriculture for hundreds of years. Rivers are drying up, the fabric of life that holds native cultures unravels as young people move to cities.

Tony Campolo tells a story about his meeting with an African chief. The chief told him that the river had spoken to the chief and told him that it was dying [How to rescue the earth... p17].

No, the wilderness is not bursting into bloom or gushing forth with water. Why is that? Why is it that the Sahel faces famine and encroaching desert? The rain for the Sahel comes from the rain forests of Central and South America. Rain forest loss in Brazil alone, from 2000 through 2006, covers an area as large as the nation of Greece ( ... the smallest estimate I found online, though others were focused on world-wide rain forest loss). Much of the rain forest loss in Brazil is to cattle pasture for the international beef industry.

But in Isaiah’s vision, it is the desert that is shrinking! It is full of blossoming flowers and freshwater springs. Isaiah compares the desert to the regions of Carmel and Sharon, mountain valleys with rich vegetation, and declares that “the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it”. Lebanon, in the ancient world, was the center of a temperate rain forest like the great rain forests of the US and Canadian Pacific coast. The desert will become like a rain forest? That can only be a God thing. And, Isaiah moves directly from this transformation of desert to physical healing – of the blind, deaf, lame, speechless – and then back to the desert.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Devoted Decorator & Twins!


Finished up personal reading in Daniel.  Some quotes that jumped out at me:

Please test your servants (1.12).

There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries (2.28).

We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God (6.5).

We do not present our supplication before you [Lord] on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies (9.18).

Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous (10.18).

Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever (12.3).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

As the Prophet Foretold (2): Root and Fruit

Psalm 72 (call to worship)
Matthew 3:1-12 (children)
Isaiah 11:1-10 (message)
Romans 15:4-13 (benediction)

As a child in Vientiane, I was not allowed to go into the back yard to play [bamboo viper] . . .

Last week, the first Sunday of Advent, we looked at the theme of anticipation, at Isaiah’s invitation to “walk in the light of the LORD” or to live in the light of God’s future, the promise of Christ coming, not just in the manger but to set all things right and rule. The focus in the prophet was on the teaching of the LORD and that the nations will not “learn” war anymore. That verb for “learn” is a learning that comes with practice, a very hands on learning process. The nations stop practicing war.

This week, as we continue to explore our theme “As the Prophet Foretold”, Isaiah extends the vision and description of the coming kingdom of peace with references to justice and to new creation. It is fashionable, in some circles, to make jokes about “tree huggers”. This vision of justice that extends to all of creation certainly lifts up a biblical vision for a renewed creation, for our responsibility and stewardship of all God has made AND this vision is completely impossible, implausible, ridiculous apart from an act of God. It goes way beyond the vision of environmentalism to nothing less than new creation. In that first creation, the serpent brought danger. In the new creation, a child plays over the hole of the asp. And, “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain” (and “mountain” is used elsewhere in the Bible as a reference to the whole earth under the dominion of God). “A little child shall lead them. . . . They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain”. Well, the bamboo viper didn’t get that memo.

But, Traveler’s Insurance did! [Show spot or summarize.] They’ve got an advertising campaign called “Take the Scary Out of Life”, and they put out a tv spot of animals having a grand old time at an African watering hole. A lion and a zebra, drinking together, an ostrich playing tag with a lioness, a muskrat diving off the head of a giraffe into the watering hole and pulling himself up on the back of the swimming crocodile. The tagline: “When you are not worried about potential dangers, the world can be a far less threatening place. Take the scary out of life. . . .”

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Travelers Insurance - Watering Hole

An insurance company's version of the "Peaceable Kingdom" . . . though this impossible scenario is only a gift of God! A world where even the most vulnerable are safe . . . "and a little child shall lead them". "For to us a child is born."

AT&T Rethink Possible - Ripple Effect

If AT&T can imagine this . . . then what can we imagine in Advent, a time when we remember Jesus' coming and anticipate his coming again? How can the world be different? How can our small acts be folded into the promise that "your labor in the Lord is not in vain"?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Patience in Advent

Passed on by a friend:
How do we wait for God? We wait with patience. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.

The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means "to suffer." Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God's glorious coming. --Henri Nouwen , Bread for the Journey


Announcing our new Eucharist (Holy Communion) worship services, on the first and third Wednesdays at 2:00 pm in the chapel.  A simple worship experience with familiar hymns, the liturgy, and no preaching.

Update (Dec 27): The Eucharist service is moved to second and fourth Wednesdays at 2:00 pm in the chapel for January-March.

Monday, November 29, 2010

As the Prophet Foretold (1): Fighters to Farmers

11/28/2010 Bethany, Advent 1A
Psalm 122 (call to worship)
Matthew 24:36-44 (children)
Isaiah 2:1-5 (message)
Romans 13:11-14 (benediction)

Our theme this year for Advent is “As the Prophet Foretold”, from the traditional readings in Isaiah. Before we go on, we need to address what Advent is, and what prophecy is (in the biblical tradition). First, prophecy. Walter Brueggemann, one of the premier biblical scholars today, says that we need to read Isaiah with a “bi-focal vision” (1998, Isaiah 1-39, 12) on the “near history” and the “far history”. For Brueggemann, that refers to the “near history” of judgment on Jerusalem and the “far history” of anticipated restoration. Chapter 1 of Isaiah is full of judgment. These opening verses of chapter 2 look to restoration, before diving back into judgment. The main character in this history is NOT Israel, but God. God brings judgment and God restores.

Jacques Ellul, one of my favorite theologians, describes the vocation of the church as prophet: “to understand and dominate the present from the point of view of the future, as an historian understands and dominates the past from the point of view of the present” (The Presence of the Kingdom). When Isaiah says, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!” (2:5), Isaiah is inviting God’s people to live in light of God’s future. The faithlessness of Jerusalem in the text is tied to repeated compromises made in the present, compromises that make no sense at all in view of God’s future, though they look pretty here and now.

Second, Advent. The word itself is rooted in Latin for “arrival” or “coming”. The parallel Greek term, in the New Testament, is “parousia”, and this term has a bit broader meaning – not only “coming” but “presence” (as opposed to “absence”). In the non-Christian culture of the New Testament era, “parousia” had two main uses. First, for the “mysterious presence of a god ... particularly ... in healing”. Second, “when a king or emperor visits a colony” (N. T. Wright, 2008, Surprised by Hope, 128-129).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Field of Grace

Please be in prayer for this sister ministry in our Susquehanna Conference (region) - a new church starting in the Wilkes-Barre/Kingston area.  Their public worship launch is Christmas Eve!  Check out their website.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010


The Bells playing at Normandie Ridge this past Sunday afternoon. The Bells and the Choir presented the program for their weekly Sunday afternoon worship service.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Members

Nancy, presented by Marie, in front of the congregation, joining Oct 20
Sue, presented by Nancy, with Pastor JP after joining on Nov 14


Homecoming, All Saints

From November 7, recognition of members of 50 years or more.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Learning Center Sunday

From October 31 (Halloween!), the Bethany Christian Learning Center program in Sunday worship. Thanks to Wanda and her staff for a great program, and for a great school!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Excellent Grace

11/14/2010 Bethany
Psalm 112
Mark 12:41-44 (children)
2 Corinthians 8:1-12, 9:6-15

Visiting a gypsy congregation in Spain, the offering ... separate baskets for men and women, served by male/female usher corps, counted up front, prayer concluded with something like “we thank you for $15 given by the men and $19 given by the women!”

Here at Bethany, we talk about a spirituality that is giving, faithful, and real. Today, we look at one of the most amazing biblical texts specifically related to giving.

Paul’s funding appeal to the Corinthians is described as “the first fund-raising letters in western history to request the voluntary contribution of funds from one community to aid another” (Lodge 1991, 59). It’s a remarkable piece of writing, both for what is included and for what is never mentioned. Nowhere do we see graphic description of the famine in Jerusalem or stories of impoverished and malnourished children. Nowhere do we see Paul appeal to his own personal authority (“because I said so”) or to the biblical tradition of the tithe. (He may have viewed this as extra giving, but we have no clarity on that in the text.) Instead, he tells them, “each one should give as decided in the heart – not begrudgingly or under pressure – for ‘God loves a cheerful giver’” (9.7). In Eugene Peterson’s The Message, the phrase for “begrudgingly or under pressure” is “sob stories and arm twisting”. There is none of that here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Thanks Veterans. (And don't forget your invitation to the church's dinner.)

Last Sunday's Beetle Bailey was a great tribute.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Communities of Shalom

Communities of Shalom began in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots of 1992 as a way for urban, small town and rural congregations to learn practical ways for engaging a whole community in becoming more peaceful, whole and prosperous.

Several United Methodist congregations are leading an effort to start a Shalom site in York County with the same intentions, said the Rev. Judy M. Bupp, who is coordinating the initiative.

A few congregations and residents in the York and Delta areas have committed to the project already. All denominations and faith traditions are invited and encouraged to join, Bupp said.

"The Shalom communities are interested in not necessarily creating something new but in collaborating with existing programs and ministries," said Bupp, who is lead pastor of Grace and St. Paul United Methodist churches in York.

See the complete article by Melissa Nan Burke in the York Daily Record.

Harvest and Homecoming

11/07/2010 Bethany, Homecoming, All Saints, Holy Communion, Vets

Psalm 126

The psalm writer begins with a memory. It is one of those events that you never forget, a life-changing moment to which you anchor your trust. Things were going badly for Israel, for “Zion”. We don’t have the details – was it an economic collapse, a food shortage, a military failure? In some translations, this return is phrased as a return from exile or captivity. Most scholars now prefer the more general translation “restored the fortunes” rather than a reference to exile. What we do know about this restoration is that God “restored their fortunes” in a dramatic and powerful way. It was so amazing that they had to laugh. It was so powerful that they shouted and hollered out with joy. It was so dramatic that even other nations were telling the story: “The LORD has done great things for them!”

We love comeback stories, restoration stories. There’s usually an element of hard work involved. And, there’s often a surprising moment, something unexpected, that accelerates the comeback. In the late 90's, Hush Puppies shoes made a surprising comeback. It started with some surprising events – Harry Connick Jr. wore a pair on The Tonight Show and Tom Hanks wore them for Forrest Gump. And, the company was prepared with new colors, some updates to the old fashion, and were able to ride the wave. “Restore our fortunes”.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bacteria and Impact

Catching up (finally) on an article I've wanted to read for a while: "Slime City" in the July-Aug 2009 issue of Discover. (The magazine subscription is not mine, so I haven't had it on the list for over a year, just for a year or so.)  Bacteria have a "quorum sensing" process that turns on some of their special abilities (whether toxic to the human body or beneficial to a squid, as below) ALL AT ONCE when they realize that there are enough of them around to make impact. How many people does it take to change a light bulb? Or, how many does it take to create light? Excerpts from the article, below:

[Geneticist Michael] Silverman talked about how bacteria make light inside the inch-long luminescent squid that live in the shallow waters off the Hawaiian coast. . . .  Infant squid cannot glow until they excrete a mucuslike net to entrap the ubiquitous luminescent bacteria floating in the water. The squid draw captured bacteria into their "light pouches," where the bacteria are bathed in nutrients -- a diet richer than what they can find outside in the sea. In return, the bacteria . . . produce a dim blue-green light that is directed downward through small reflective organs in the squid to shine on the water below. When the squid swim at the ocean surface at night, hunting for shrimp, they are invisible to predators below because they look like moonlight on the water. . . . 

Autoinducers (chemical signaling molecules . . .) control the switch that turns the light genes off and on. Each bacterium secretes a bit of this light-evoking substance into the environment. When a crowd of bacteria and their autoinducers become dense enough, the lights in all the bacteria switch on at once. "This counting of heads is called quorum sensing" . . . .

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Some quotes from my personal reading in Ezekiel:

On bitterness: "Because you cherished an ancient enmity" (35:5)

A hymn lyric: "They (God's people) shall be showers of blessing" (34:26)

On God's desire to judge/zap/smite people: "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (33:11)

On preaching and preachers: "To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; they hear what you say, but they will not do it" (33:32)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dick & Rick Hoyt

Block Party

Lots and lots of fun! Thanks to Bob and Laura for planning, to the Learning Center staff who painted faces, to all who helped or donated, and to the York Revolution, Kim's Karate, and Spring Garden Township fire and police departments for showing up!


I am part of a wonderful "reading group", now meeting for breakfast and discussion of our reading – currently in Genesis. I love Genesis 5:24, which tells the story of Enoch: "Enoch walked with God; and then he was no more, because God took him." In my imagination, Enoch and God were walking partners and one day God said, "Hey, we’re closer to my place than yours; why don’t you come on home with me?" Whatever is meant by the expression "God took him", it is the image of "walk with God" that captures me most. It is used throughout the Bible as a metaphor for relationship, follower-ship, and friendship.

Study Retreat

Study retreat is coming up! One of the important things I do is plan preaching and worship for the next 6 months and beyond. Please help me in this process! Pray for me now, and on that week, for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and for an open and renewed spirit. In addition, please consider any or all of the following questions and provide your feedback by email or on paper for me to take with me.

1. Is there a sermon series I could plan to which it would be easy to invite your friends?
2. What do you need to grow spiritually?
3. Where are you personally struggling?
4. How can I, as a preacher, help you better live the Christian life?

I will read and pray through your suggestions. In addition, on the study retreat I’ll be running and walking, cooking and eating, and continuing to seek God’s vision for the future of our ministry together.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In the news . . . at an oyster festival

Check out the full article (and more pics) in Monday's York Daily Record.

New Member

Welcome to Nancy, on the left, with Marie, who presented her!

Pounding the Pastor

Final total, 843 pounds. Thanks to everyone for your generosity to our neighbors in need in these tough economic times. Our gifts make a BIG difference.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jesus' Bosom Friends: A Great Chasm (Wesley Hymns #4)

Luke 16:19-31
Luke 16:1-13 (kids)
Psalm 146 (call to worship)

Two weeks ago while at the leadership conference at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas, I mentioned our ROOTS message series on Charles Wesley to a colleague, who remarked with a quote that if we lost the Scriptures, much of it could be recreated from the [9000] hymns of Charles Wesley (unknown but relayed to me by Ken Loyer). Today’s hymn, unlike the others we have used, is one that was never published in his lifetime and never made major hymn collections. But it recreates the themes of Luke 16, both the story of the shrewd unrighteous manager we shared with the children and the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

I’d like to begin our examination today with the Three General Rules of the United Societies, written by John Wesley for the people called Methodists. For each of these simple rules, Wesley offers examples of what it means to follow them, and these examples include many social and economic dimensions, particularly in the first two rules (excerpted text, available at and in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church):

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Body

A quote sent by a friend:

The Church is holy and sinful, spotless and tainted. The Church is the bride of Christ, who washed her in cleansing water and took her to himself "with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless" (Ephesians 5:26-27). The Church too is a group of sinful, confused, anguished people constantly tempted by the powers of lust and greed and always entangled in rivalry and competition.

When we say that the Church is a body, we refer not only to the holy and faultless body made Christ-like through baptism and Eucharist but also to the broken bodies of all the people who are its members. Only when we keep both these ways of thinking and speaking together can we live in the Church as true followers of Jesus.

-- from Henri J.M. Nouwen's Bread for the Journey

Friday, October 15, 2010

Victor Wooten amazing grace

Wesley and Wilberforce

A week before his death, John Wesley wrote a letter to William Wilberforce, the leading figure in the abolitionist cause in the United Kingdom.  Excerpts, from Albert Outler's John Wesley:

Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance that a man who has a black sin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a "law" in all our colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing.  What villany is this?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Come O Thou Traveler: Bless Me (Wesley Hymns #3)

Genesis 32
Luke 18 (kids)
Psalm 121 (call to worship)

This is quite a story, but to get the full picture we have to know a little more about Jacob than what we have here. Why is he concerned about his brother’s welcome? How did they last part? If he is this afraid, why doesn’t he go back the way he came? It is a fascinating account, worth a whole series of messages, but I will only summarize it here, since we are concerned with a separate series: The Hymns of Charles Wesley.

Jacob and Esau are twins, and Jacob is the youngest. In the womb, he and his brother Esau were wrestling each other. God declared, in conflict with typical practice in the culture, that the older would serve the younger. In the culture, the oldest son received two special considerations. First: The birthright, the right to a double share of the inheritance. Second: The blessing, a special blessing conferred by the father on the oldest that granted him status as head of the family and conferred other blessings as well.

The boys grew up, Jacob as mama’s favorite and Esau as daddy’s boy, Jacob as the farmer and Esau as the hunter. One day, Jacob took advantage of Esau’s hunger and traded a bowl of soup for the birthright. Esau went away angry, angry at his brother and probably angry at himself but, like many folks, he was more comfortable blaming someone else for something he could easily have prevented.

Friday, October 8, 2010

GoD And DoG by Wendy J Francisco

Great video, among things shared at the Leadership Institute 2010 at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood Kansas.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Arise, My Soul (Wesley Hymns #2)

Isaiah 6:1-8
Message written in notes, rather than manuscript

ROOTS: The Hymns of Charles Wesley
one of the great writers (lyricist) of sacred songs in history
not because of great poetry, but sheer volume of output and powerful use of biblical themes
staying connected to our tradition ... growing as worshipers

Jaroslav Pelikan: Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living; tradition is the living faith of the dead.

Monday, October 4, 2010

ADV: Red Bird Mission School to reopen | UMC Giving

ADV: Red Bird Mission School to reopen UMC Giving

Check out this article for the story on Red Bird Mission reopening its school after many donations - including ours from Vacation Bible School and worship. The school has 150 students from Kindergarten to 12th grade who pay $7 to $56 per month, depending on family income. It's a path out of poverty and a place where children meet Jesus.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


From my readings . . .

The beauty of the present world . . . has something about it of a chalice, beautiful in itself but more hauntingly beautiful in what we know it's meant to be filled with.
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p 222

Things shall not remain as they are.
Ezekiel 21:26

Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
Jesus, Matthew 24:28

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

House of Heaven

Neat story by Paul Nixon on a Chinese United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, first paragraph below:

I visited China yesterday - in Brooklyn. A five-year old United Methodist congregation called Tian Fu (House of Heaven) is on track to receive around 700 adult converts to Christianity this year - possibly placing them in the lead amongst all mainline congregations in America. In fact, they had just baptized and confirmed a class of 99 persons the week before I attended. I study such places, especially when they are yet largely undiscovered by others. Mainline church leaders sometimes write off places such as Tian Fu because of ethnic differences or because they assume (wrongly in this case) that the theology is fundamentalist. I went to Tian Fu primarily to worship, but also to learn. I plan to go back. Here is what I learned from them in my first three-hour Taste of Heaven:

South Africa

Rachel Keller, from Mechanicsburg in our own Susquehanna Conference, is a mission intern in South Africa. Check out her blog or the New World Outlook (mission magazine) article on the General Board of Global Ministries website.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The Ghana team is back.  A few photos by Beth of the school and finished latrine.

A Thousand Tongues (Wesley Hymns #1)

Acts 26
2 Kings 7 (kids)
Psalm 40.1-11 (call to worship)

A few weeks ago I was listening to a lecture by church historian Diana Butler-Bass (2009 audio, Christianity21, JoPa Productions). She referred to a television interview of Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, who had just received a Pulitzer for a biography of Andrew Jackson. The interviewer, Joe Scarborough, asked, “Why don’t you write about something relevant [as opposed to history]?” Meacham’s response: “History is to a country what memory is to an individual.”

Butler-Bass reminded her listeners of the pain of memory loss or caring for family members with memory loss. She, borrowing Meacham, declared, “History is to a church what memory is to an individual.” And she went on to say that history brings wholeness (the wholeness of a clear and honest memory) and that people who study history are more open to change, because they really have seen it all before. In God’s economy, memory doesn’t tie us to the past but to the future, to promise.

Each fall, we’ve been doing a series I’ve called ROOTS. We’ve looked at the movements of grace in Wesleyan theology, at the stories of Jesus at a place called Bethany, and – this year – at several hymns by Charles Wesley. It’s an effort to keep us rooted in a history and tradition that is older than us, older than our memories and our grandparents’ memories.

Charles Wesley and his brother John were the two founding figures of the Methodist movement. John was the organizer and the best known preacher, but Charles wrote some 9,000 hymns! The 51 Charles Wesley hymns in our hymnal, more than any other author, are only a small portion of his gift to the church.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Directions for Singing

John Wesley's directions, printed originally in the 1761 Select Hymns and now included in our hymnal.  Our message themes are drawn from a series of four hymns by John's brother Charles Wesley, author of 9,000 hymns!

I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

III. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

IV. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

VI. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before not stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such has the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


To the happy couple . . . Sunday September 12.

Why Bible Reading + Listening = Awesome

Why Bible Reading + Listening = Awesome
For all of you with smart phones or facebook . . . an FREE app combining Bible audio and text!

Jesus the Holy One (4): Calling All Sinners

Luke 5:27-39
I get a bit stuck reading this passage. The story about Levi meeting Jesus and throwing a party is straightforward enough. The Pharisees dispute Jesus and his disciples eating with sinners, and Jesus responds with the image of a physician who cares for the sick, not the healthy. The Pharisees dispute Jesus’ disciples lack of fasting, and Jesus responds with the image of a bridegroom and a wedding feast. I’m officiating at a wedding this afternoon and there is going to be a feast at which no one will be fasting. So far, in every wedding I have officiated, there has always been a feast and no one fasts.

I get all of this, at least on the level of understanding the basic progression of the text. But then Luke tosses out these two parables and a proverb about new and old garments, new and old wineskins, and new and old wine.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Picking hymns for Sunday and came across this one by Charles Wesley, to a familiar tune:

O Thou who this mysterious bread
didst in Emmaus break,
return, herewith our souls to feed,
and to thy followers speak.

Unseal the volume of thy grace,
apply the gospel word;
open our eyes to see thy face,
our hearts to know the Lord.

Of thee communing still, we mourn
till thou the veil remove;
talk with us, and our hearts shall burn
with flames of fervent love.

Enkindle now the heavenly zeal,
and make thy mercy known,
and give our pardoned souls to feel
that God and love are one.

Safe Access update (4)

The Felty Avenue sidewalk . . . and more concrete is being poured today!  Special thanks to the Craft Guild for their support of this particular portion of the project!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jesus the Holy One (3): Through the Roof

Luke 5:17-26

Interpretation difficulties:
1. “Their faith”: Whose? Is the faith of the friends sufficient for the healing and forgiveness of the paralyzed man? This introduces a whole set of questions about salvation and faith that the text itself never addresses and seems entirely unaware of. The simple reading is that the faith Jesus notices is the faith of all of them – the friends and the man. And, the faith is not necessarily tied to a clear conviction about who Jesus is as Savior, but a strong sense – a faith – that Jesus can and will do something to help (Fitzmyer).

2. What do sin and illness have to do with each other? Last week, we mentioned the multiple dimensions of the healing of the man with leprosy – the social dimension and the medical dimension – two dimensions we separate today but which were indistinguishable in the ancient world. Likewise, there was, in Jesus’ time, a common assumption that illness and troubles were directly related to personal sin. Some examples in the Gospels:
"Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9.2)
“Those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them- do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?” (Lk 13.4)

Nevertheless, there are extended sections of the Hebrew Scripture (our Old Testament) that explicitly deconstruct the idea that sin and illness or trouble have a cause and effect relationship. But we’ve heard enough folks talk about karma and “what goes around comes around” to know that we still think in similar terms today. “What did I do to deserve this?” Often enough, the answer is, “Absolutely nothing.”

The story . . .  Imagine the disappointment: Stories of Jesus’ healing power have been told and retold. You and your friends cook up a plan to meet the healer and nothing will stop you. Your friends cut through a roof and lower you into the room, to the feet of Jesus. And all he says is, “Your sins are forgiven.” What?!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Sinful Man

Isaiah 6:1-8 (with the children)

Luke 5:1-11

A story from vacation: kayaking in the marshes in southern Virginia Beach. We encountered a water snake, coiled and floating upon the water, head raised several inches above the water, poised to strike. Now, I don’t like snakes, but, even so, this dangerous creature was attractive.

What is it about dangerous things that is so attractive? Annie Dillard, in her memoir An American Childhood, wrote about a downed power line, sending off sparks and burning a hole through the pavement. Every time there is a snow fall in York County, there are a bunch of folks who hop into their 4 wheel drive vehicles just to see “how bad it is”. What is it about dangerous things that is so attractive?

We each have different tolerance for danger. Have you ever met the danger that is too big for you?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Cross of Christ

Galatians 2:15-21, 6:11-18

“See what large letters I write with my own hand!” (Galatians 6:11). Some see this as a reference to a vision problem. It is probably, however, a reference to a common letter-writing tradition in the first century in which a professional secretary would transcribe the dictated letter and the author would finish it off in their own handwriting, adding a more personal word (Hansen). In that case, Paul would be referring not to a problem with his vision but to the emphasis he gives as he closes out the letter and summarizes his theme – the cross of Christ. Like an email in all caps, like bold type and underscores, like multiple exclamation points, Paul is emphasizing. “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Sunday, August 8, 2010


The lifts are inspected and operational! We were instructed on Friday afternoon. Betty was one of the first ones to try it out. Wanda had some fun . . . good thing I was holding the camera when I was taking my first ride! (I was making faces through the door window.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Safe Access update (3)

Lifts are inspected and will soon be operating! Ogontz Street entrance is being completely redone! Thanks to all for supporting this project financially and for continued support of our General Fund as well.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Vacation Bible School, program

A delightful program this past Sunday, including the kids presenting the songs, with dance! Thanks to Laura (children's ministries director) and to Gregg (VBS music leader) and his team, and to all the VBS staff, children, and families for a wonderful week.