Sunday, March 25, 2012

Death to Slavery (Scandal series)

Audio file.

Galatians 5 (message)

Do you hear the intensity and urgency in Paul's message?  Last week he is confronting the apostle Peter in front of everyone.  This week he speaks of castration.  "Stand firm" he urges, and this is no passive standing.  It is active, it is war.  "Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  On the first Sunday of Lent, we began this message series, exploring a summary of its theme in the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “We proclaim Christ crucified, scandalous to Jews and moronic to Greeks”, to use the Greek roots “skandalon” and “moria” (1 Corinthians 1:23).  In the following weeks, we followed the implications of this theme as Paul develops it, quite extensively, in his letter to the Galatian churches.  For Paul, the call of Christ was a call to the cross, and a call to a death.  First, “death to people pleasing” – If we live to please God, then we don’t have to worry about performance anxiety for anyone else.  Then, last week, “death to self-righteousness”.  Only bad people go to heaven, only sinners are saved.  As Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).  In our quest to please God, the path is not paved by our own efforts, but by the goodness of Jesus himself.  Such a radical negation of self-righteousness implies a radical equality of all persons before the cross.  As Paul writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male or female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
            Today, we conclude our work in Galatians and prepare to return once more to 1 Corinthians for Palm/Passion Sunday and for Easter.  Today, we look at another death, death to slavery.  If last week we talked about the impact of the cross on our salvation – only bad people get to heaven, only sinners are saved – this week we ask the “now what?” question.  Now that we have come to Jesus, now that we have embraced the cross . . . now that we are “saved”, now what?  What does this scandalous and moronic gospel mean for what the Bible calls elsewhere, “working out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12)?  In the language of the Wesleyan tradition, we are talking today about “sanctifying grace” – the gift of God that makes us holy.

Death to Self-Righteousness

Audio file.

Galatians 2:11-3:5, 3:23-3:29

Wow!  Did you notice that there is some conflict going on here?  Did you hear that there was hypocrisy going on?  Did you notice that one of the leading apostles, Peter himself, was in on the hypocrisy?  Do you notice some people refusing to eat with other people, because they are “better” than them?  Sometimes today I shake my head at the stupid things that God’s people do and say, the way we totally miss the point and are never so proud of being right.  So, conflict, pride, hypocrisy – nothing new.  And, maybe when so much is at stake, our understanding of God, our understanding of ourselves, maybe a little conflict and hypocrisy is to be expected.  We’re dealing with people after all.
            Here at Bethany, we ask members to commit to “guard the unity of our congregation by the practice of reconciliation”.  In this passage, we get an inside look at reconciliation in practice, a reconciliation that, in this case must begin with a confrontation.  And that by a master of confrontation, the apostle Paul himself, calling out Peter and others.  This not simply the act of someone with an axe to grind, a personal pet peeve.  This is the act of someone desperate to protect the gospel, someone who sees the essential Christian commitment compromised by a history of racial suspicion and righteous superiority.
            Paul called Peter, and us, to a death to self-righteousness, and, by extension, a death to division, to all racial and other forms of superiority.  At the foot of the cross, Paul exclaims, we are all equal, we are all God’s children.

Monday, March 19, 2012

More from Haiti

Also, check out message audio.

One Great Hour of Sharing - Human Trafficking

Alisa (not her real name) fell prey to a human trafficker in her hometown in Armenia. She was just 20 years old and the single mother of a nine-month-old baby. The trafficker forced Alisa into prostitution by threatening to kidnap her young child if she did not do as he said. He kept her enslaved and took all the money she made.

Alisa felt isolated and without recourse, her only defender the grandmother with whom she and her child lived. She was one of the more than 12 million people around the world who today are trafficked into forced labor, bonded labor, or forced prostitution.

One night, more than a year after Alisa’s ordeal began, she happened to catch on a television news ticker the hotline number for a human-trafficking prevention program. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which runs the program, invited anyone in need to call for information and assistance. Alisa wrote the number on the palm of her hand. It seemed to her a sign, a chance to change her awful life. UMCOR is funded by your generous gifts on One Great Hour of Sharing Sunday, Thank You.

When Alisa finally called the hotline, she was identified as a victim of human trafficking and promptly referred to UMCOR’s shelter. Police officers arrested the trafficker. She was safe. But now she had to deal with the trauma with which her experience had left her. Alisa found it impossible to speak, eat, or sleep, haunted as she was by her nightmarish life. She was unable to interact properly with the child she loved so much and remained fearful that the child would be taken from her. She felt desperate; the light in her eyes seemed to fade.

The shelter’s psychologists worked with Alisa to awaken in her the will to live. They spoke to her about how much her child needed her for support and for the child’s own future. Eventually, Alisa began to feel better, to eat, and even to cook. She started to speak and interact with the child, and, ultimately, the nightmares left her. With medical attention, Alisa’s physical health began to improve, and she was able to take care of her child on her own. She participated in culinary courses. The possibility of finding a job and supporting her child and grandmother brought the light back into her eyes.

Soon Alisa will leave the shelter and when she does, she will take with her the memories of kind people, good treatment, and new skills and knowledge that will help her rebuild her life.
Alisa escaped a life of slavery thanks to UMCOR Armenia’s Anti-Trafficking Project. While the problem of human trafficking seems overwhelming, the project’s staff focuses on each person in need who comes to them for help.

One Great Hour of Sharing - South Sudan

Twenty-one years of war have limited opportunities for education, livelihoods and businesses in South Sudan. Life has been hard. We were poor without a future. After the referendum, there was a new life, we started to rebuild houses and cultivate farms. A program for fish farming was started in Yei County from the neighboring country of Uganda, but it failed due to lack of skill and experience in the community.

In March 2011, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) introduced a new fish farm program to our village by bringing in a consultant to help us. We were a bit worried at the beginning that it would fail, but UMCOR and the consultant were confident. They explained to us the technical aspects of fish farming with minimal water resources. We were happy with the training delivered by UMCOR and the consultant. We were also happy that they provided us with the tools, equipment, and materials that we needed to construct the fishpond. Your gifts to the One Great Hour of Sharing Sunday offering helps support the the administration costs of United Methodist Committee on Relief.
We selected a site for the pond and began constructing it based on the guidelines we received from UMCOR and the consultant in July 2011. We finished constructing it in October and we stocked it with fingerlings in November.

Our group members, especially the women, are happy with the result. We care for the fishpond daily and now we are preparing to have a poultry program that is integrated with raising fish. The women are also cultivating land close to the fishpond to grow vegetables. We hope that the vegetables will provide income in the short run while the waste from the vegetables will provide food for the fish, which will provide income later. We are confident that we will harvest fish after three to four months. Fresh fish go for a high price in Yei Town and Juba City, so we are confident that we will get a good price.

On behalf of the members of the Worok fishpond group in Kenyi Payam of Lainya County, we are really very impressed and thankful for receiving this program and fingerlings from UMCOR.
--By Malish Joseph, member of the Worok fishpond group in Kenyi Payam, Lainya County

Check out other stories!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Future Farmers and Mission Central

As part of the Future Farmers of America's (FFA) State Legislative Leadership Conference, 400 plus FFA Leaders are participating in volunteer service projects on Monday, March 19th at Mission Central and other mid-state locations. Mission Central is coordinating the program for FFA.

70 of the leaders are scheduled to work at Mission Central. They will dispose of brush, maintain the Memorial Garden, and perform other outside jobs. They will also assist in cleaning and re-organizing part of the 48,000 square foot facility. Students will be seen outside completing yard work tasks, cleaning, stacking, completing disaster response kits, and organizing materials and goods to be shipped to mission projects locally and internationally.

More than 230 ministries and programs have been served through the warehouse/distribution center. Local partners include Bethesda Mission, Computer Ministry, New Digs, and Project C.U.R.E. Mission Central is a member of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Network, the worldwide disaster relief agency of the United Methodist Church.

For more on this wonderful ministry of the Susquehanna Conference of The United Methodist Church, check out the Mission Central website.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Death to People Pleasing (Scandal series)

Galatians 1:1-17
Apologies for formatting irregularities ... am transferring from a computer without internet access to another that does not have the same software.

First, some background: Last week, we began this series of messages,

“Scandal: The Foolish Grace of God”, with a look at 1 Corinthians 1 and

what could be a theme verse, 1.23, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a

stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

The Greek word translated “stumbling block” is “skandalon”, the root

for our English word “scandal”. The word for “foolishness” is “moria”, the

root for our word “moron”.

Last week, as they opened the series, Curvin said that God’s word to

us “makes no sense”. Chris declared that the “event of the cross” is

“incompatible with human reasoning”.

Part of the reason that the gospel makes no sense is that, in the words of

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”

The Cost of Discipleship, 99). So, over this season of Lent, the time of

preparation for Good Friday (Christ crucified) and for Easter (Christ

victorious), we are going to dive into the letter of the apostle Paul to the

Galatians, a letter in which Paul makes clear that following Jesus involves

embracing our own death: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer

live” (Galatians 2.19-20).

Thailand Report

From Sunday, February 19, Blanca's report (listen to audio):
I am so grateful that I was able to visit Thailand and I appreciate the hospitality that the people and the university leaders at the Payap International House provided for us.  Regardless of the fact that I am allergic to the hot and spicy food, the lunch and dinner dishes looked so beautiful and appealing.  The meals looked like something out of a magazine, at least until I took the first bite.
I really appreciated my experience in Thailand and I was determined that I was going to enjoy it and learn as much as I could while I was there. Thailand will be in my heart forever and I would go there again if the opportunity ever presents itself in the future, as long I will be able eat in the western restaurants.

The reason for this trip to Thailand was to learn more about other religions, to have religious dialogue with the Buddhist monks and Islamic Imam, and also I wanted to learn what it would be like to be a Christian in Thailand.  In this country the Buddhist religion is dominant and there are also strong Islamic religion and Animism influences. The people from Thailand have built spirit houses all over their country.

I want to share with you what I learned from our Buddhist and Muslim teachers, and then the impact of this trip on my faith in Jesus, particularly through the Christians in Thailand.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Haiti's Children

Home from the worksite, with a wheelbarrow; one of the children in the extended household of our host; soccer at the local field.

I'm Back!

We're back from our mission trip in Haiti ... and sharing our story this Sunday March 11.