Sunday, January 31, 2010

Road to Recovery 3

Ezra 7:10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Nehemiah 8:1-10 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

Road to Recovery (3): Spirituality
01/31/2010 Bethany
Nehemiah 8:1-10 (message)
Ezra 7:10 (message)
Psalm 19

Principal/coach driving the bus – using feet to handle the wheel
Seeing my surprise, said: "Don’t do as I do; do as I say"

Are there any areas of our lives where what we do and what we say are not aligned? One definition of "integrity" could be "the alignment of what we say with what we do".
But more important than the alignment of what we say with what we do is the alignment of who we are with what God says. Our spirituality at Bethany Church – giving, faithful, real – the "real" part is about "really" becoming who God is calling us to be ... honest and humble about where we’ve been, where we are now, and what God is doing in our lives on the way.

Some context and a recap of our Road to Recovery series. Israel had been destroyed and taken violently into exile. Whenever you hear about the 10 lost tribes, that happened in exile’s first stage as the northern kingdom of Israel was utterly destroyed by Assyria in 722-721. 136 years later, a new superpower is on the scene and Babylon destroys the southern kingdom, Judah, and takes them into exile, for the final time in year 586. The Babylonians were not quite as vicious as the Assyrians, not systematic about destroying every vestige of national identity. So, the nation survives in exile and, after 50 years and the rise of the Persian Empire, Jews are allowed to return to a land without temple, without city walls, without the monarchy.

They struggle with nostalgia – and have to hear the promise of glory and the practicality of work. They struggle with redefining identity – and hear the call to purity as the people of God. Today’s theme is spirituality – another response to identity issues in a time of recovery.

In our main reading, from Nehemiah 8, we have the beginnings of revival. Its seeds were sown in a community work project – rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, 80 years after the return of the first Jews. After getting their hands dirty together, and there is no substitute for working with your hands, they gathered around the Word of God.

Ezra reads it and it is "interpreted, giving the sense" (8.8). That is, it was read in the original language, Hebrew, and interpreted and translated into the new common tongue of Aramaic, to be sure it could be clearly understood. After the disruption of exile, Jews had to relearn Hebrew – something that happened again in our own time after Jews returned to the modern state of Israel. But here they are, before the language is understood by all, being sure that all could understand.

In the very next scene, the leaders of the people meet with Ezra to spend additional time in the Torah, the Scriptures, the Word of God. That’s what leaders do in a spiritual community. We are constituted not by constitutions and councils or bylaws and business but by the Word of God.
Then, in chapter 9, the people of God, freshly energized by a Work project and freshly focused by the Word, take a day to freshly commit themselves to God, to renew their covenant. And what do they do that day? The first three hours is spent in public reading of the Scripture, the second three hours in confession and worship, and then in covenant reaffirmation.

The Scriptures are central to reclaiming our identity as God’s people. The Scriptures are central to true revival – the soul re-awakened to the presence and promise of God. The Scriptures are central to the spiritual life.

But this story of Israel’s revival begins much earlier. In this particular case, the revival began in the soul of Israel’s leaders. It began with Nehemiah spending "days" in fasting, prayer, and mourning over the state of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4). It began with Ezra’s habitual Scriptural life: "Ezra devoted himself to the study and observance of the law of the Lord and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel" (Ezra 7:10).

Ezra didn’t say "do as I say, not as I do". Before teaching was a regular part of his life, he devoted himself to study and to obedience. Today, one of the expressions for personal spiritual practices of Bible reading and prayer is your "devotions". Ezra’s "devotions" formed him as a child of God, sowed the seed for broader revival, and kept him open to the grace and favor of God in his daily life and his leadership role – whether the favor of a king or protection on a journey.

How are your "devotions"?
Some of you have a rich daily time in prayer and the Scriptures. Keep it up!

Some of you have a much more active, rather than contemplative, spiritual life and don’t feel you have the luxury of sitting down. Try putting a Bible in the bathroom or on the breakfast counter. I had a roommate who used to laminate large print Bible pages and hang them in the shower. Write a short section out on a card and carry it with you to refer to it throughout the day; memorize it and mull it over. Perhaps, from this week’s message, you could use Ezra 7:10.

Some of you feel guilty and inadequate in a conversation like this. That’s always been my default response. I’m a perfectionist and I can never be "good enough" at getting into the Scripture. And, I’ve been around a lot of folks who were pretty legalistic about the devotional life. This isn’t about guilt. This is about connecting with the God who loves us, who is devoted to us. Psalm 19: "sweeter than honey". Nehemiah: "the joy of the LORD is your strength". This is not about guilt but about joy and pleasure in the presence of God.

Some of you have difficulty with a daily schedule. Every day is different anyway and you would have to start really early to set that time apart. If you can’t start that early, then make it a priority to seize the time at every opportunity. Keep a Bible or the psalms with you to read during those many times each week that we simply have to wait. Perhaps, instead of shorter daily times you find it easier to set aside bigger chunks of time every few days. Sit down with your Bible, light a candle, pray, read, meditate over an extended period.

However you do it, your "devotions" are one of the most important thing you can do to nurture your soul, to know revival, to live out your identity as a child of God.

One of the great ways to structure personal devotions is to be part of a group. We’ve got some great Sunday School classes and a few groups that meet during the week in homes and restaurants. We’ve also started a Circle of Friends. It is a really neat grouping opportunity that includes a shared devotional practice – reading at home – that is then discussed when the group gets together. We have one group meeting here on Wednesday nights and are looking at some new opportunities – whether here or in homes – as well. See Gary for details.

Years ago, I read an article reporting on a study of behaviors that set apart long term relationships from those that just don’t last. This particular study isolated the greeting and departure kiss as a habit that nurtured long term relationships. That greeting or departure kiss may or may not sweep you off your feet, but a lifetime of kissing, the devotion of kissing the one you love makes a difference. It is the small things, the little details, that build up into incredible value in a relationship, just like the small savings each week that can build wealth in retirement.
Zechariah, a prophet of Israel’s return, wrote, "Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel" (Zechariah 4:10). It wasn’t just that governor Zerubbabel (the first governor of the returning Jews) was participating in the work on the temple, but that the small thing was a symbol of something much larger – justice and truth. Small things accumulate into things of greater and greater value! Jesus said it this way, "Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much (Luke 16:10).

Today, build value in your devotional life. Like Israel, make a fresh covenant with God. Like Ezra, let your life be formed by the Scriptures.

Membership Intro

A wonderful time as 15 folks explored membership at Bethany Church. Next date: May 22.

Social Hall Ceiling

Great work and wonderful to have the ceiling tile replaced!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Road to Recovery 2

Ezra 9:1 - 10:1 After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said, "The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 2 For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons. Thus the holy seed has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands, and in this faithlessness the officials and leaders have led the way." 3 When I heard this, I tore my garment and my mantle, and pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat appalled. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. 5 At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the LORD my God, 6 and said, "O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. 8 But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. 9 For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem. 10 "And now, our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, 11 which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, 'The land that you are entering to possess is a land unclean with the pollutions of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations. They have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. 12 Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, so that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.' 13 After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, 14 shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you destroy us without remnant or survivor? 15 O LORD, God of Israel, you are just, but we have escaped as a remnant, as is now the case. Here we are before you in our guilt, though no one can face you because of this." NRS Ezra 10:1 While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him out of Israel; the people also wept bitterly.

Road to Recovery (2): Purity
01/24/2010 Bethany
Ezra 9:1 - 10:1 (message)
Psalm 24 (call to worship)
Matthew 5:8 (children)

Well, this is tough material. Returning Jews have entered into inter-racial marriages and "the holy seed" has been "mixed". Pretty hard to spin this in any way other than a racial issue. Even to point to the underlying concerns, with the message title of "Purity," raises additional concerns for racial language, profiling, and prejudice. It is quite true that Israel was commanded not to intermarry with the people of the land, with the idea that this would prevent folks from being led astray to worship the gods of those peoples. And, in the narrative of the Scriptures, they did indeed intermarry, they did indeed begin to worship other gods, and they were sent into exile for that very reason. No wonder Ezra prays, "After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, shall we break your commandments again?" (9:13-14a).

So, this concern with intermarriage and racial purity fits the overall narrative. It also fits the concerns of the particular tradition in which Ezra is located, the priestly holiness tradition. It’s a tradition that speaks of idolatry and adultery with the same language, urging God’s people to faithfulness in both the covenant with God and the marriage covenant. Sexuality and spirituality have always been closely tied. But, in addition to the holiness tradition, there is other material in the Old Testament. We have the story of Rahab of Jericho, a Canaanite who sheltered the Israelite spies and who married into Israel. We have the story of Ruth, a Moabite, who married into Israel. Both women are ancestors of Jesus, though those marriages were prohibited. And, we have the story of Jonah, whom God sends to the enemy, the other, in hope that they would repent and be delivered from judgment.

What we find in the Scripture, on this theme as well as many others, is a conversation in multiple voices. In this case, the conversation comes down clearly on the side of welcome, acceptance, and integration of all races in the body of God’s people.

Ezra’s concern fits the narrative, the holiness tradition, and the context of recovery. Last week, we noted that Israel is returning from exile to the Promised Land. The temple is in ruins, the Jerusalem walls are rubble, the monarchy no longer exists. They need to find a new way to be Jews, to rebuild the institutions that are necessary, and to do so without being too bound by the past, by nostalgia. From the prophet Haggai, we noted that Work and Glory address the concern of nostalgia.

But there is another major feature and task of a recovery: Identity. And one of the themes that clarifies Identity is Purity. When handled poorly, it ends up like the recovery of Europe after World War I – Germany emerges focused on its purity, determined to purge itself of difference. But it can be handled better.

In our own nation, we continue to face recovery after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001. It is tied up in our identity, in defining again what it is to be American. We find ourselves struggling with that part of our identity as Free and that need to be Secure. The context of accelerating change and increasing diversity only complicates these matters. And, in the less damaging category of responses, we end up with stories like US Airways Express flight 3079, diverted to Philadelphia because the flight attendants did not understand a young Jewish man praying with tefillin.

In the continuing coverage of the earthquake in Haiti, I listened to an interview of a UN expert. He suggested that this is an opportunity for Haiti to redefine itself, a slate wiped clean by violent catastrophe, but with the potential for a totally new and superior direction for the Haitian people. Israel’s slate had been wiped clean. How will they be Jews into the future?

In his book Exclusion and Embrace: An Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Miroslav Volf notes – in the title itself – that identity and exclusion can often run hand-in-hand. In that process, identity is determined by focus on the border – defining who is "in" and who is "out". It’s identity by exclusion. Another process of for identity, however, is by focus on the center – defining what we share, what we are about. In that process, we can learn to embrace the other, particularly when we share the same thing. In the case of the church, we invite and welcome everyone because Jesus has invited and welcomed us. Jesus and his welcoming grace is the center. As Paul wrote to Titus, "To the pure, all things are pure" (Titus 1:15). That’s purity that is inclusive, rather than exclusive.

We’re exploring themes from Israel’s return, themes for the "road to recovery" in our own lives and our own times. We must address Identity and Purity. And though I am uncomfortable with this aspect of Ezra’s narrative, I believe that he does uncover crucial insights for our own recovery.

First of all, he reveals the path to identity by focus on the center. He speaks of God as "my God" and "our God" throughout his prayer. Our identity is formed by those we claim as "ours", by those who claim us as their own, by those at the center of our lives. Robin is "my wife", Jesse is "my son", Caleb is "my son", Bethany is "my church". Robin, Jesse and Caleb, and Bethany claim me. I’ve become a different person and, I believe, a better person, because of these folks who claim me, these folks whom I claim. Will I allow God into that center? Will I include Jesus among those whom I claim, among those who claim me? Will I permit the Spirit of God to make me a different person, a better person?

Second, he reveals a passion for purity. "Here we are before you in our guilt, though no one can face you because of this" (Ezra 9:15). This passion for purity begins by taking sin and guilt seriously. He fasts, prays, rips his clothing, pulls out his hair. While we don’t go in for ripped clothing and pulled out hair in our time and culture, we rarely get concerned about sin. We’re looking for a "grace period" with our video rentals and credit card bills. And, if we get hit with late charges, we’re miffed. We’re basically good people, we try hard, sometimes things happen. Not that God is like a credit card company. But we expect some degree of immunity because we don’t take our own sin that seriously.

Yesterday at our membership intro time, we reviewed the baptismal vows, including the vow to "resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves". I don’t like that vow! I’m quite willing to resist evil, injustice, and oppression as manifested in the life of my enemy, but not the evil in my life. I'm not impatient; I'm fast-paced. In my life, I like to get comfortable with my favorite sins, make certain they have a good seat. And, would you like a glass of water too?

But Ezra is on a hunger strike and ripping his hair out – all because I’m getting comfortable with my sin.

And, Jesus declares, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30). We reflected on this Scripture in Circle of Friends this week and it has traveled with me as I studied and read Ezra. And I made a decision this week: If I took Jesus literally, I’d have cut off so much of me that there would be nothing left!

To the Hebrews, we read these words: "Let us throw off every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race marked out for us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2). Anything that gets in the way of following Jesus has gotta go. Are we ready to be that severe in our own lives?

Folks who want to rationalize bad behavior will often exclaim, "Doesn’t God want me to be happy?" Well, we know what Ezra would say: "I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. . . . We have been deep in guilt" (Ezra 9:6-7). God is more concerned, Ezra tells us, with our holiness than with our happiness.

What will we do, today, about our Purity Problem? Will we redefine our Identity as God’s people? Will we join Ezra in weeping over our sin – our little lies, our hidden corruption, our loose lips, our gossip, our lusts, our envy, our pride, our hatred, our bitterness, our neglect of the poor?

Invite to kneel for prayer in the seats – to claim God as your God (identity) and to confess sin (Purity).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Brought Jesse home from Vermont and we just had to stop and take a few pics as we drove through some morning snow.

Road to Recovery 1

Haggai 2:1-9 In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.

The Road to Recovery: Glory
01/17/2010 Bethany, Baptism of our Lord
Psalm 145:8-21 (call to worship)
1 Peter 5:7 (children)
Haggai 2:1-9 (message)

This week, we begin a series of messages on "The Road to Recovery". Recovery is a recurring theme these days, whether our national and international efforts at economic recovery, to the efforts of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, or to the recovery that is ahead for Haiti. Recovery is a common theme these days, and a necessary one.

Our focus will be on the Old Testament Scriptures from Israel’s Return, the return from exile: the prophets of Haggai and Zechariah and the account of Ezra-Nehemiah. In four Sundays we won’t even begin to cover them thoroughly, but we will uncover some significant spiritual themes for any of the recoveries we face – whether we’re focused on world-wide economic or earthquake or typhoon recovery, or on personal recovery from unemployment, addiction, divorce, tragedy. Today, in our first look at these Scriptures, we consider our nostalgia and the promise of glory.

Preaching from Haggai is frequently linked to church building campaigns or to giving campaigns: "Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses while [God’s] house lies in ruins?" Haggai, admittedly preaching "the word of the LORD" knew how to tighten the screws of guilt.
But today we are focused on neither. We are looking at the experience of Israel’s return from captivity. Last week, we looked at Isaiah who was addressing the exiles before their return. He described the deliverance from captivity in terms of "ransom", and likened exile to kidnapping.
This week, we fast-forward a few years. At least the first of several waves of returning Jews have come back to the land. They find themselves strangers in their own land, surrounded by folks from other nations who had been forcibly settled there by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. They find Jerusalem in ruins – no temple, no walls. And they begin a long and complicated process of rebuilding.

Context for Haggai:
538, Cyrus decrees return, rebuilding of temple
by 520 (2nd year of Darius), very little progress
Ezra 3:12-13 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

Haggai directly addresses the older generation, those who "saw the house in its former glory", the folks who were weeping – rather than rejoicing – at the laying of the foundation. And his words to them are appropriate for us in all our nostalgia, our attachment to a lost past or to a broken dream.

Particularly because Haggai speaks to the leaders of the people and addresses concerns of the entire body, his preaching is often applied to the experience of churches, many of which have been in long decline. Members remember the years when the church was twice the size, when the classrooms were filled with children, when it seemed like the entire community was connected to the church. In that long decline, churches struggle to pay bills, struggle to maintain a building, and are a little surprised when a single child shows up. Nostalgia sets in for the glory days of the past. And Haggai proclaims: "Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? ... as nothing? ... The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former" (Haggai 2:3, 9).

Haggai has a practical prescription for nostalgia: Work. "Take courage . . .; work, for I am with you" (2:4).

I have heard folks in many different communities share the same nostalgic concern: I used to know everyone who lived around here. The sense of community just isn’t the same anymore. But Barbara never complained about that. She didn’t get stuck in nostalgia. She did something about it, she Worked.
When she got older and didn’t want to drive as much or care for as much property, she moved off the farm into a new development, to get closer to town and closer to her kids. Nobody knew anybody there until Barbara got to work, baking pies and cookies and taking them to the neighbors. She turned a development into a community, with her trademark gift of hospitality. And, by the way, she baked the best pecan pie I’ve ever had.

In a picturesque Italian town stands a tall 14th century cathedral, its spire rising above all the other buildings in town, its walls filled with beautiful and faithful art, its complex a destination for tourists. But when the new priest arrived, he discovered that it was empty on Sundays. In consultation with the townsfolk, they decided to build a new church and moved the worship center to a small, ugly cinder block building furnished with folding metal chairs. The building is packed on Sundays. "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house." Unhindered by nostalgia, the priest and the people accomplished a miracle, focused on the mission of making disciples, and made an incredible difference. (Retold from Dramatic Preaching, 5/1993, viii.5, p 23; quoted from Lift Your Souls by Vincent Dwyer, OCSC, Doubleday, 1987, p 177).
The priest and people of this town took hold of the practical prescription for nostalgia – work. But they also understood Haggai’s spiritual promise for nostalgia – glory.

Isaiah: I am doing a new thing
Haggai: The glory of the latter house shall be greater than the former
Paul: If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation
Revelation: New heavens, new earth, new Jerusalem

In all our nostalgia over a lost past or broken dreams, God’s promise is a new thing, a fresh glory, that eclipses what we have lost or broken. The best is yet to come; you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. What an incredible gift! It is so much easier to believe that the best is behind us, that what is to come will barely measure up. We suffer through unemployment, lose our confidence, find ourselves on the bottom of the economic ladder and we’ll never make it back where we were before. We suffer through divorce, with all the financial cost and custody issues, with the broken hearts of children and the broken dreams of our youth, and we’re convinced that no matter what comes in our future we’ll always be marked, always be less than glorious. We fall into addiction, break all the most important promises in our lives, hit bottom and then hit bottom again, and we’re sure that we can never be trusted again, never be loved again, never be accepted. And the nostalgia of broken dreams is manifested in a life filled with regret.

But God has a plan for us. The practical prescription – work. The spiritual promise – glory. The best is yet to come; you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. "Once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth" (2:6).
Once more? Oh yes.
You know that time when Moses went up the mountain and received the tablets of the law – God’s glory came down, lightening cracked, and the earth shook at the voice of God. Well, God has barely begun!
Once more I will shake the earth.
You know that time when the children of Israel were marching around the walls of Jericho? Then, on the seventh day, as they lifted their voices in praise, the earth shook and the walls of that fortified city were no more. You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!
Once more I will shake the earth.
You know that time that the prophet Elijah fled from Jezebel’s hit men to the holy mount and hid in the cave – an earthquake came and shook the earth. The best is yet to come!
Once more I will shake the earth.
You know that time when our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified? The whole earth shook – the veil that kept the people out of the Holiest Place was torn in two, the graves of the righteous were opened, the sun was eclipsed for 3 hours, and by his mighty hand salvation has been worked and won on our behalf.
Once more I will shake the earth.
You know that time when the church of Christ was gathered for prayer? The answer came and the earth shook (Acts 4). Yes, even today as we lift our praises to God, God is hearing us, answering us, and shaking the earth. The best is yet to come!
Once more I will shake the earth.

(Sing "Gloria", Lesser Doxology, Meinecke)

God has always been a mover and shaker.

God is shaking the earth for you and me. And the desired of all nations, yes, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, comes to set us free. Free from our past with all our hangups, failures, regrets, unfulfilled dreams, secret sins, hidden fears. Free from our future with all its uncertainties. Free to live grandly and lavishly in his glorious grace in this present day. Because there is no glory like today’s glory, no time like the present to walk with God and know his saving power.

Our lives may look like a construction site. They may look incomplete, unfinished. They may be rather rough, cinder block, metal folding chairs. They may not measure up to the kind of righteousness we think is necessary. Oh, but the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house. So, be strong and follow the practical prescription: do the work that God has given you. Take courage and seize the spiritual promise of glory.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The best is yet to come. Glory to God!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti update

Press Release

New York, NY, Jan. 16, 2010 - The Rev. Dr. Sam Dixon, head of the humanitarian relief agency of The United Methodist Church, died before he could be rescued from the rubble of a hotel destroyed by the earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12. The executive officer of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was part of a group of mission and relief specialists trapped by the collapse of the Hotel Montana. Other persons in the group of five, including two more from the General Board of Global Ministries, were rescued and were back in the US by the morning of January 16. The group was pinned down for more than 55 hours. Dixon was reportedly alive in the hotel ruins on the morning of January 15. Confirmation of his death before rescue was conveyed to Global Ministries through several sources, including eyewitnesses from a Methodist guest house in Port-au-Prince, where Dixon and his colleagues had been staying. Frequent press reports throughout the day on January 15 asserting his safety were incorrect. He and the Rev. Clint Rabb, head of the United Methodist office of mission volunteers, and the Rev. James Gulley, a former missionary and now consultant to UMCOR, were at the hotel for meetings with representatives of other organizations, making plans to improve medical services in Haiti. "Sam Dixon was a tireless servant of the church of Jesus Christ on behalf of all of us," said Bishop Joel N. Martinez, interim general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries."His death is an incalculable loss to Global Ministries, UMCOR and our worldwide ministry of relief to God's most vulnerable children. Our directors and staff extend their condolences to Sam's wife, Cindy, their children, and their wider circle of friends and colleagues." Bishop Janice Huie of Texas, president of UMCOR, said that Dixon "was an extremely gifted minister of the Gospel. He lived his life following the commandments of Jesus to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and love the least of these - all over the world. Jesus is holding him dear, and we are in prayer for his family." Dixon was a native of North Carolina where he served for 24 years as a pastor. He came to the General Board of Global Ministries in 1998 to serve as director of field operations of the non-governmental agency (NGO) section of UMCOR. He then became head of the United Methodist Development Fund and moved up to head the unit on Evangelization and Church Growth. Dixon was tapped to head UMCOR in 2007. He was officially a deputy general secretary of Global Ministries assigned to UMCOR, where he oversaw programs of emergency relief, long-term disaster recovery, economic development, health services, and peace-building. Dixon was educated at the University of North Carolina and the Chicago Theological Seminary. He was a member of the North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference of his church. He and his wife have four children and two grandchildren. He is also survived by his mother and three sisters. Additional details, a profile, and tribute to Dixon will follow. (The release is online at


Baptized at our 9:00 service last Sunday: Wendy, Bryton, and Michelle. Welcome!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

YLT unveils version of classic '12 Angry Jurors' -

YLT unveils version of classic '12 Angry Jurors' -
Congrats to our very own Warkenda, the guest director!

Greeters, ushers welcome the flock - The York Daily Record

Greeters, ushers welcome the flock - The York Daily Record
Check out this article in our local paper about the importance of hospitality and the ministry of greeters. And, sign up for the Assimilation Team with Gary!


We are receiving gifts for Haiti. See the Bishop's note, below. And, check out The United Methodist Church site for updates on our mission there, and our three mission executives that are missing in Haiti after the earthquake.

The devastating earthquake in Haiti on Tuesday calls for our response, most importantly with our prayers. As our sisters and brothers in this already impoverished country deal with this latest catastrophe, we are called to respond as well with our tangible gifts. You can send financial offerings through the Central Pennsylvania Conference office, designated for Haiti Earthquake Relief, Advance # 418325. All contributions sent will go directly to aid those who are suffering.

We are also being asked to provide health kits. Eric DeWalt, director of Mission Central, informs us that we will ship about 13,500 kits or about 27 pallets of health kits sometime next week. More are needed. Each health kit should contain: 1 hand towel (15" x 25" up to 17" x 27")1 wash cloth1 comb (large and sturdy, not pocket-sized)1 nail file or fingernail clippers (no emery boards or toenail clippers)1 bath-size bar of soap (3 oz and up)1 toothbrush (single brush only in original wrapper; no child-sized brushes)1 large tube of toothpaste (4.5 or larger, expiration date must be 6 months or longer in advance of the date of shipment)6 adhesive plastic strip sterile bandagesAll items should be placed inside a sealed one-gallon plastic bag. No money, notes, religious or political literature, or other items should be placed in the kits.

Completed kits may be delivered to Mission Central as well as any of these supplies which will then be assembled by volunteers. They may also be delivered to your district Mission Central HUB. See for locations of HUBs. As more opportunities emerge to provide help in rebuilding, I know that many of you will help. The Wyoming Conference has a partnership with the church in Haiti and had already planned three mission trips in February which they hope to be able to complete. Watch the QuickLink for ways that you can be involved. As you ask, "What can I do?" be assured that God will use you to reach out to our God's beloved peole in Haiti during this most difficult time. United Methodists in Central Pennsylvania have demonstrated an extraordinary spirit of generosity in the past and I am confident will do so again.
Bishop Jane Allen Middleton

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year's letter

What adventures await us in the new year! We’ve gotten things started with some early winter storms and a white Christmas. We Bohanans just got back from visiting Jesse at Spring Lake Ranch in Vermont. Jesse taught Caleb and I to cross-country ski. (Caleb had done some downhill skiing, but I had never been on skis before.) And, we helped get a tractor out of the mud. (It was in the woods to drag out firewood, and had sunk in a soft patch of earth.) Then, on our trip home, a snowstorm!

The final story of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle is the story of the Wisemen/Magi/Kings. It’s an adventure story: Guided by a star and a promise, traveling probably from modern day Iraq or Iran, asking for direction along the way and without GPS, stirring up a hornet’s nest in the king’s court, fleeing the country in the middle of the night. (Check it out in Matthew 2:1-18.)

As a congregation, we’ve been on quite an adventure in the past year, highlighted by new staff, new Sunday School classes and other groups, new faces. (For an update on our upcoming adventures, please come to the Council Update on Wednesday January 13.) And, in each of our families, we’ve had our share of adventures. Some have been through, or are still in, lengthy periods of unemployment. Others have faced unexpected health crises or surprising developments with children or parents. Some are entering retirement. Some are making new commitments as disciples of Jesus. The scary, the surprising, the challenges, the blessings – all are part of the adventure of life and, for those of us who say "yes" to Jesus, the adventure of following.

Paul described the adventure in these terms:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:10-14).

God-speed on the journey!
Pastor JP

Holy Name: Speaking a Singular Truth in a Plural World

Luke 2:15-21 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 1:30-35 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

Matthew 1:19-21 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Numbers 6:22-27 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, 24 The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. 27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Galatians 4:4-7 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

"Holy Name: Speaking a singular truth in a plural world." Speaking of God is such a difficult matter, speaking of truth is fraught with error. How can we approach the One God, the One Truth, with confidence in a world of many options? And, how can we speak of this experience authentically without coming off as judgmental or irrelevant? Great questions, and don’t expect me to answer them exhaustively this morning, but we’ll take a peek at them from the perspective of the Scriptures of the day.

We’ve got a variety of Christian tradition available here in North America: United Methodist, baptist, presbyterian, reformed, mennonite, brethren, catholic, orthodox. Often enough I get asked the question, "So, what’s the difference between these?" My first answer is a reminder that they are all CHRISTIAN traditions, and while I might prefer Kleenex to Puffs, they both get the job done. Once I reinforce the essential unity of the church, I’ll be happy to talk about distinctives. But this bewildering variety makes the expression of a "singular truth", well, complicated.

John Franke, Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth (Abingdon Press): "The expression of biblical and orthodox Christian faith is inherently and irreducibly pluralist" (p. 7).

It’s like the Indian story of the blind men and the elephant. They encounter a different part of the elephant’s body and are convinced that they know what this beast is like: its body - a wall, its tusk - a speak, its tail - a rope, its ear - a fan . . . and, at the end, all six wise men end up in an argument over who was right. All along, of course, they are all right, and all wrong. This classic tale raises the wonderful postmodern question: is what we call truth a matter of perception or reality?

But if Franke is right, then what we call truth is a matter of perception AND reality. We’ll approach it clearest when we practice interpretation (disciplined perception) in community, and keep our community in conversation with the broader Christian tradition.

Jurgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology, has a section titled "Mirror Images of Liberating Theology" that includes chapters such as "feminist theology for men" and "black theology for whites". It is his way of confronting us with diverging, yet historically consistent, ways of doing theology and thinking Christian-ly about this singular truth of God in Christ.

The Scripture is full of pluralities: 4 gospels bear witness to Jesus, the Bible itself is a collection of 66 different books - written over centuries by different persons in three different languages often enough in conversation with one another. It is this conversation, and the tensions that arise within it, that give our tradition such depth and richness.

What about the plural world of other faith traditions? The contributions of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and other religious traditions cannot be understated. But to reduce all religions to a "lowest common denominator" with a statement such as "we all believe the same basic things" does an injustice to the unique gifts of each one and flat out ignores the ways in which they quite plainly contradict one another. While relativism can be much more generous than judgmentalism, it does not respect the uniqueness of the separate traditions. Yes, Christianity has some things in common with Islam, and other things in common with Buddhism. But the convictions at the heart of each faith are by no means identical.

In the cycle of the Christian Year, we are in Christmas-tide and using the Scriptures for January 1, "Holy Name", the day on which an 8 day old Jesus, in accordance with Jewish custom, would be circumcised and formally named. Aside from the story itself, found in Luke’s gospel, we also have this priestly blessing from Numbers: "The LORD bless and keep you ..." in which Moses declares that "the name" of the LORD is placed upon the people. And, we have a selection from Paul’s letter to the Galatians which describes us naming God "Abba" or "Papa".

In ancient biblical tradition, as in many traditional societies, knowing or speaking a name was a powerful and mysterious gift. In the Revelation, we read the following blessings to those who overcome:
Revelation 3:5 I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels.
3:12 I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
2:17 To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.

Throughout the Biblical story, God gives persons new names. Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon becomes Peter. And, there are two occasions when God reveals God’s own secret Name.

First, God appears to Moses, introducing Godself as the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." But in reply to Moses’ direct question, "What is your name?", he hears "I AM WHO I AM" or, simpler, "I AM". I must admit, that name is about as satisfying as "because I said so". But there it is: "I AM" ... self-existing: beginning and ending, alpha and omega, first and last . . . words used to name Jesus in the Revelation.

The second great revelation of God’s name is the naming of Jesus. His name means "Savior", because, as the angel told Joseph in Matthew’s gospel account, "he shall save his people from their sins". With the coming of Jesus we have a new way of speaking God’s name, the Holy Trinity: "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". A singular God in plural form . . . "one God eternally existing in three persons".

"Singular truth"? With one "plural" God? Don’t ask me to explain the Holy Trinity. It is first of all mystery, so anything we say about it cannot explain it fully. It is secondly a community – both one and plural – and social. The greatest mystery of all is that God makes room for us in that holy community, in that holy family, inviting us to name Jesus "Savior", inviting us to name God "Abba", and promising to name us "son", "daughter".

T. S. Eliot, "The Naming of Cats"
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
. . .
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

"Singular truth"? If it is tough enough to name a cat, and if a cat has an inscrutable, ineffable name, then how do we speak of God?
As a Mystery we treasure
With humility before God and before our brothers and sisters
In a community of faith and practice that nurtures and challenges

Mystery: "Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart"
Humility: "I am the Lord’s servant, let it be done to me according to your word"
Community: the Holy Family of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, the shepherds welcomed, the name of the LORD placed upon the entire people of Israel by the priestly blessing, you and I invited into the family and given the privilege of naming God "Abba"

Mystery, humility, community. Three themes that are essential to effectively speaking a singular truth in a plural world, essential to naming God in our lives. But above these three themes is set one other: When we name God, when we speak of God, when we approach truth, it is about relation before it is about proposition. The naming we do is not the naming of a scientist: Felis catus (domestic housecat). The naming we do is the naming of family, of lover: Abba, Wonderful, Holy One, Savior, First and Last, Son of God, Prince of Peace. When it comes to knowing God, the scientist is as limited as the blind wise men in the old Indian tale. That singular truth only divides the world. But the singular truth of the love of God and the lovers of God – that transforms us and the world with us.