Monday, September 12, 2011

Goodbye to Blogger

I have moved my blog to Wordpress. It is a much more robust and friendly environment. If you would like to join me there, here is the link:

C'mon over...It's great!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Living in Community - Part One

“Living in Community – Part One”
Matthew 18:15-20
Sunday September 4, 2011 – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

I have to confess that following the lectionary when preparing sermons can be a challenge…We often come upon a text that is difficult to deal with…Today’s gospel is one of those.

I must admit that I have actually avoided this text in years past…
It was easier to move to the Romans 13 lesson for this Sunday and talk about loving your neighbor as yourself…Now that’s a lesson that preaches!

But, every three years we come back around to this gospel verse and I just can’t keep ignoring it
So this year I decided it was time to really study this passage and try to figure out what ol’ Matt’s trying to tell us here…
So I went and got some help from one of my favorite New Testament scholars and finally figured out what I think this is all about…

It’s about how we Christians are supposed to get along with each other…
How we are supposed to live together in Christian community…
How can we gather so many different people from varied backgrounds, different political views, disparate income levels, and diverse experiences into one church and have any hope of getting along with one another?

Do you remember the television series “Cheers”?
We heard their theme song a moment ago, but listen again to the lyrics…[read lyrics]
It helps to have a community around us when things get rough…
That “Cheers” kind of community where we’re all accepted for who we are,
we’re never lonely, and everybody knows our name…
An honest-to-goodness, authentic Christian Community

The thing about community is…
                                   We all say we want it and
                                   We usually have no idea how difficult it is to come by
Let us pray…
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them.
Take our minds and think with them.
Take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord…Amen

You know what’s difficult about being a community, don’t you – PEOPLE!
That’s right – People, not you and me of course, but most people can be
difficult, challenging, selfish, and unreliable…
That’s probably why, when we sit around and daydream – idealizing the community in the Cheers theme song – it’s because we’re a little frustrated with the people –
the community – we’re part of now.

Now I’m sure that doesn’t apply to us, but I’ve heard talk of such things in other churches…
It’s part of the reality of living together in any community – people are part of the deal…
It is into this reality that Jesus speaks to us and his candid observations are both refreshing and challenging.

So what is Jesus saying to us this morning?
  1. ·         People sin;
  2. ·         Communities are made up of these sinning people;
  3. ·         When that happens and you are involved, do something about it; like, go talk to the other person like a mature adult rather than behind his or her back;
  4. ·         If that doesn’t work, involve some others of the community…and realize that this is not about having witnesses to take your side; rather, this is about having others to observe both sides as they attempt to resolve the issue;
  5. ·         If that doesn’t work, then things are serious and the whole community is at risk. But, we need to be careful about how we hear the admonition to treat the offender as “a Gentile and a tax collector” – Jesus himself welcomed both the Gentile and the tax collector. After all, wasn’t Matthew a tax collector? Hmmm;

What we really see here is that authentic community is hard to come by and takes a lot of work to be successful…
If we examine other translations of this text we hear “member of the church” translated as “brother”…This is a little more intimate relationship and provides a slightly different perspective…
Authentic Christian community is about being in intimate brotherly and sisterly relationships with people to whom we are not really related…
Christian community asks us to call strangers “brother” and “sister”…
This means treating church members more like family members…Hmmm, does that change the way we hear this text?

If we have a disagreement within our family we do all we can to resolve the disagreement and we generally stop short of throwing people out of the family because we disagree.
I think this text is about doing whatever it takes to keep the community together.

The real lesson here is that, while it is hard work to live in community, it’s worth the effort…
When we succeed as a Christian community we experience a little slice of heaven
this side of the grave…
We get to be in the middle of God’s communal fellowship…
Jesus promises that when we gather this way – with honesty and integrity,
even when it’s hard – amazing things will happen because Jesus is right here in the middle of things forming and being formed by our communal sharing…

We can look at this text and hear all sorts of things that prompt us to judge, to be exclusive,
and to play “holier than thou”…
That’s not what this is telling us…
What we hear is that the health and well-being of the community is part and parcel of the problem of sin between two of the community’s individual parts…
When individuals within the community are wounded the entire community hurts and needs healing…We are called to participate in the healing, not in the mangling

One of the things that hampers Christian communities – and I suspect other communities too –
is our inability to manage confrontation, disagreement, and our mutual accountability when it comes to sin…
We simply don’t know how to live together, fight together, and stay together…
And this is because all of us – not just our brothers, sisters, and fellow church members – all of us are sinners and we don’t want to shine any light on our own sin.

Today Jesus is trying to show us how to handle our sin and its consequences…
And what is more important is that Jesus promises to be right in the middle of it to help us get through it…
All we need do is gather in his name – in agreement and in sin

Remember the Good News has always been that Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us –
helping learn to live as a community.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wilderness Time

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” (Exodus 16:2-3, NRSV)
Dear friends in Christ,

At a recent Tulsa District gathering our new District Superintendent, Dan Peil, shared his thoughts about the state of the church and asked us to reflect on this Old Testament lesson. I want to take this time to talk a bit about what Dan said and how it relates to our faith community. There has been a lot of talk in recent years about how “the church” is in a wilderness period. Membership is declining, attendance is down, and giving is off. There are lots of opinions about why this is happening and even more on how we go about fixing the problem. You see this is a problem shared throughout the country across all mainline denominations. There just seems to be a move by many to seek their spiritual food outside the walls of “organized religion.” Many people in our mainline churches bemoan this trend and cry out that everything was great back in the “good old days” when church was the center of community life and Sunday was family day and everybody gathered at church in the morning, then around the table for lunch, and then back at church in the evening, every Sunday without fail. Back then, they tell us, society was better off, everything was simpler, there was less crime and our families were stronger. If we could just go back all our problems would be solved and our churches would be healthier.

This sounds a bit like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. If only they had never rebelled against Pharaoh; if only they had never left slavery in Egypt; at least they would have had a place to sleep and something to eat. We need to listen to what God had in mind for those whining Israelites. God told Moses that he would rain bread from heaven and the people should gather only what they need for a day. “In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.” (Ex 16:4) The story continues as God provides and the people complain. Ultimately, Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. (Ex. 16:9-11)

Being the church and fulfilling our mission as disciples is not about going back to the way things used to be, or doing things the same way we’ve always done, or sitting around complaining about how bad things are. Nothing in our world is about keeping things the same or going back to those good old days. That’s not the way this world works and it’s not the way God’s world works. God is always moving forward leading us toward the divine vision of what the world should be. God has always called us to follow; we hear that command in both the Old and New Testament. The problem seems to be that God is out there on the horizon and we just can’t seem to keep up. We continue to cling to the comfortable and the familiar while God is calling us out to the challenging and the difficult. We think in terms of human economics where resources are scarce and we need to hoard what we have like the servant who took his master’s money and buried in the ground for fear of losing it and getting into trouble. God calls us to take what we’ve been given and use it, invest it, plant it, and risk it so that God’s economy can multiply it and make it fruitful.

Like the Israelites, we are required to make difficult choices as we seek to draw near to the Lord and follow God’s leading through the wilderness. Sometimes these choices will be costly; they will be emotional; they will involve changing our perspectives and our priorities. Often the choices we must make will cause disagreement. Nonetheless these difficult choices must be made to enable the whole church to serve God’s mission.
When we talk to people who have left the church or never even tried the church we often hear complaints about what the church represents, about how behind-the-times the church is, or how exclusive the church “club” is. It seems to me that we could go a long way toward addressing these complaints if we had the courage to move forward with God instead of clinging to the past and wondering why things can’t stay the same. No organization can survive unless it keeps moving; the church is no exception. God has been moving forward since the beginning of time urging Creation to grow and change and adapt. God is constantly calling us to keep up. I pray that we will all “draw near to the Lord,” and be able to discern how we might better respond to the leading God offers to each of us.
In Jesus’ name,
Pastor Don 

You Are Beloved

“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17, NRSV)

A couple of years ago I read a wonderful book by Henri J.M. Nouwen called, “Life of the Beloved.” (I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about living a spiritual life in our secular world. If you want to borrow my copy, just ask.) This isn’t a new book; it was originally printed in 1992. It is a book that was written to respond to questions from some non-Christian friends who wanted to know how Nouwen might explain his faith to those who most needed to hear – people who did not believe in Jesus Christ. In the end, though, the book did more to speak to those who already believe than it did to satisfy his intended audience. Nouwen reminds us that we also are God’s beloved children. He says, “Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: ‘You are my Beloved, on whom my favor rests.’ It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: ‘You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody.’” (30-31)

Living a life of spirit-filled faithfulness to God is not easy in a secular world that constantly pulls us away from God and tries desperately to convince us that we are nothing unless we have the “right” job, the “right” clothes, the “right” hairstyle, weight, car, home, etc., ad nauseum. The truth is: we are God’s beloved; we are not subject to the judgments of this world – we are beloved by God and that’s all that really matters. This is a wonderful truth to keep at the forefront of your mind every day. Only God’s opinion matters – not the opinion of advertisers in the media or your neighbors down the road. The negative voices we hear in our culture are so loud and so persuasive that it’s really easy to believe them. But listening to these voices leads us down a path of self-criticism, self-loathing, and self-rejection. We can so easily fall into the trap of believing what the world tells us that we risk forgetting the truth that God offers us. The clamor of our culture can drown out the still, small voice of God telling us we are beloved. Once we really hear this voice of God telling us that we are beloved, we want to hear more…we want to know more…we want to be more as a beloved child of God.

This is a message we must dare to claim and share with others. The reality of our world is that “many children never feel really welcomed in the world. Beneath their nervous smiles, there is often the question: ‘Am I really wanted?’…Our world is full of people who question whether it would have been better had they not been born. When we do not feel loved by those who gave us life, we often suffer our whole life long…” (57) We cannot allow the people of this world to convince us that anyone is without value. We cannot give in to a culture that manipulates, controls, and destroys the true beauty of a soul created by God and loved by God. We are God’s beloved and we must let others know that they too are beloved by God.

As more people become aware of this truth, divisions will close and wounds will be healed. “The Spirit of God, the Spirit that calls us the Beloved, is the Spirit that unites and makes whole. There is no clearer way to discern the presence of God’s Spirit than to identify the moments of unification, healing, restoration, and reconciliation. Wherever the Spirit works, divisions vanish and inner as well as outer unity manifests itself.” (135)

Only God has the power to bring people together and to bridge the gaps that divide us. Only we have the ability to open our hearts to hear God’s truth and share it with everyone we meet. This combination of God’s power and our hearing is an awesome force in the world to say to someone, “You are the Beloved of God and God loves you and wants to be in your life today.” Be God’s Beloved today.
God bless,
Pastor Don 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rolling Those Stones Away

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16:6)
Dear Friends in Christ,
This passage from Mark’s Gospel is a small part of the complete resurrection narrative available to us. I include it here to encourage you to pick up your Bible and read all of the accounts we have in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. I promise that your efforts will be rewarded with some of the most exciting passages in the New Testament.
There is another reason why I draw our attention to this narrative. Not only does it give us a wonderful picture of the glory of the resurrection, it also gives us a profound statement about the power God has to take care of whatever problems we may encounter. As the women were walking to Jesus’ tomb that morning, they asked one another, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb.” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. (Mark 16:3-4) For me, this is one of the most important messages we can take away from the Easter story. No matter how big the obstacle we face may be, God has the power to move it out of our way; that’s the power of the Risen Christ!
Each one of us has faced, is facing, or will face something in life that seems insurmountable; a problem so difficult that we can’t imagine how we are going to get through it. We get discouraged and frustrated; we worry and feel our blood pressure rise; stress-filled days and sleepless nights become all too common. “Who will roll the stone away?” Jesus promises that he can handle whatever challenges we face in life – IF we will only lay our burdens at his feet. I hear you saying, “But that’s just so hard to do!” You’re right – it is hard for us to let God be in charge of our life.
As you may know, I haven’t always been in ministry; I had another life before – a life filled with many twists and turns; frustrations and discouragements; lots of stress and sleeplessness. There were times when no memory of church was strong enough to break through to me. There were problems no prayer could solve. The stone was so big and heavy that rolling it away was not an option; I would simply remain behind it forever entombed. Praise God, I was wrong! Grace is a wonderful thing – it moves those heavy stones out of our way. Is it really that simple, you ask? That’s up to you.
This is where the hard part kicks in. When we turn our lives over to God we have to really trust him to handle things for us. We can’t turn a problem over today and then take it back tomorrow. We can’t ask God to help us and then get impatient when things don’t move as fast as we want. Faith is all about trust. Faith means trusting in things we often can’t see or understand. It means believing that God has the power to be in charge of our lives. It means believing the Gospel and trusting the promises of Jesus Christ. It means trusting that God’s Word isn’t just for people two thousand years ago – it’s a living, breathing document that still speaks to us today and continues to be true in spite of changing cultures and circumstances. Faith is all about trust and trust is all about patience. God’s timing is almost never the same as our timing and we must be prepared to wait. The thing is – if we truly trust in God’s plan the waiting isn’t so bad. There is peace in knowing that my way is being guided by Jesus and that I don’t have to trust in my own feeble attempts to fix things. What a relief!
I pray that we will all come to understand more fully that Jesus Christ will roll away any stone that gets in our way. I know it’s not easy to give up control of our lives, but I also know that Jesus does a much better job than we do – if we’ll let him. Christ is risen, alleluia! He is alive and waiting for us to turn over our lives to his loving control. Take the easy road – Let God be in charge.
Pastor Don

Monday, June 20, 2011

Paul's Prayer

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” (Ephesians 1:15-16, NRSV)

Whew! We’ve made it through moving – though the unpacking isn’t quite finished yet. We’ve enjoyed two wonderful Sundays in worship with you and are beginning to settle in a bit. It’s been great to begin to get to know you and learn more and more about our church in Sand Springs. You have made us feel so welcome and I am really excited about what lies ahead for us as we journey forward in ministry together. This journey began with much prayer and continues to rely on all our prayers.

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul reminds us of how important prayer is and it highlights one of the foundational concepts of our Wesleyan tradition. Prayer is used to give thanks to God and to lift one another up into God’s care. Prayer helps us to grow spiritually and it strengthens our mission to the world around us. The depth and strength of our prayer life is a direct indication of the health of our congregation. I believe that our prayers are the fuel that fires the church’s engines and allows us to continue to do ministry. If we do not have a strong prayer life as a church it will not matter how much money we have or how many buildings we build, the church will die without prayer. The good news is that this church is already doing some really great things in the prayer arena.

As we are looking to the future I am asking you to redouble your prayer efforts on behalf of our church. Firstly, we should pray that everything we do, every decision we make is focused on God’s will for the church and on what God has planned for us. Nothing we do will succeed if it is not within God’s will and done for God’s glory. Secondly, we should pray for discernment in knowing what God has planned for each one of us as members of this congregation. Everyone in this church has something wonderful to contribute to our mission and ministry. Finances, creativity, talent, time, and your presence here are just a few of the ways that you contribute to the life of our church. Let God lead you into the fulfillment of your whole potential as a follower of Jesus Christ. Finally, pray that your pastor will be led by the Holy Spirit to guide our church forward. I covet your prayers every day and I draw strength from knowing that you are lifting me up into God’s care.

Over the next few weeks you will continue to hear more about our prayer ministry and how we are working to involve more people in this important mission. Prayerfully consider how you might get involved. Keep us all in prayer as we look to new ways to develop our prayer life.

Listen as Paul continues his letter to the Ephesians: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:17-19, NRSV)
Pastor Don Tabberer