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June 3, 2018 Sermon “Plastic Bottles”

Message Treasure In Plastic Bottles

2 Corinthians 4:5-12            

What do you listen to? 

Music, podcasts, kids screaming, cars, neighbors cutting grass, news…

Can you still hear the negative voices from your childhood or adolescence? Do you hear criticisms…you’re dumb, you’re fat, you’re lazy, you’re useless.

Do you hear directions and commands…accomplish this, make that happen, get these things done.

Do you hear the demands of the outside of your being or the inside? Are all of these voices others or are they your voice, harassing yourself. 

Now for the really important question…are the things you listen to about external things or are they about your soul? We all get asked how are we doing, how do you feel. We get told how we are doing and how we look. But what about, “How is it with your soul?” That still, quiet, place deep within. Have you been there lately?

Let’s take a look at the scripture.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 

We don’t proclaim ourselves or our knowledge, desires, directions etc. As Christians we aren’t about making sure others notice us or the things we think or do. 

We only proclaim, “Christ as LORD”. That really means, much to our chagrin, we aren’t in charge, we aren’t responsible, we aren’t…Christ is. All we are is servants, slaves of Christ. We don’t really like this thought and we do everything we can to avoid the reality, we manipulate words and motives so it looks like Christ is in charge but deep inside we know it’s not true. We ask Christ’s blessing on what we’re already intent on doing. 

As a church we forget this and we proclaim what we are doing, what’s happening here, events and programs. After all, it’s a lot easier to see Sunday School, Steak Dinners, Vacation Bible School…meetings, events and programs. They are easy for us, as humans, to plan and make happen. In fact, we can do them without God. And we do. We avoid the question and the proclamation of soul work. What do we do as a church…proclaim Christ. We proclaim the presence and work of Christ in our souls.

In a lot of ways programs and events are the church’s outsides. Just like us. There is a visible outside skin bag and then there are some guts and then, deep within, there is a soul. The church, too has wrappings and trappings. Stuff that can be seen from the roadside and sent out on a post card. But the proclamation of Jesus as Lord…well that comes from deep within. 

6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

God’s light shines from the darkness of our lives. Christ’s light shines in your darkest corner, into the darkness of your life and the world. No matter what you hide or how dark you think your soul has been. No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve gone or how impossible the situation has seemed…from within that darkness the light of Christ shines.

In 1999 the lab where Andrew worked closed. We were a family of 6 with our children ranging from 4-11 years old, I was a stay-at-home-mom and our only source of income ended. Our health insurance, livelihood, everything just went away. Andrew found out at the beginning of October and we lived for a month knowing the jobs of the people we’d spent 17 years with were going away, but they couldn’t be told. It was a long, horrible month. It was filled with darkness and fear and doubt. 

We lived in Gray, Georgia, just outside of Macon. It’s not an area with a booming job market. There aren’t really all that many industrial hygiene labs in operation anyway so finding a good job wasn’t going to be easy if it was even possible. And so we sat in the darkness. 

At the end of that month I went on the Walk to Emmaus (Heart of Georgia). I was sponsored by Denise Childs and she took me to the sending off. We got out of the car and began walking toward the church. We were walking in the deep darkness, but there before us shone the lights through the stained glass windows of the church. The stories and presence of Christ told on the rays of light beaming through the night. 

Christ’s light shone into and through my darkest fears and doubts. 

If I had stopped in the street, I wouldn’t have known the light on the inside. We have this problem with ourselves. We too often, stop thinking about ourselves after we’ve covered physical things, both external and internal. Then we stop. We never take it to the innermost level, to the treasure within. The treasure, the LIGHT of Christ, is within our souls, in our inmost being. And we get lost in the container. 

7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 

Clay jars. Known in Greek as Amphorae. They were the mass-market beverage containers of the ancient world — distinctive, two-handled clay jars used by Greek and Roman merchants to transport wine. Some amphorae were glazed and intricately decorated, intended for use by the upper classes. Most were not, having been fashioned from plebeian red clay.

The typical amphora when full weighed about 100 pounds. Sailors would stack them by the dozens in the holds of their ships, lacing ropes through the twin handles to stabilize them in rough seas. 

Once the amphorae had been delivered to their destination and their contents consumed, no one bothered shipping the empties back to their point of origin. It wasn’t economical to do so: amphorae were cheap and plentiful. It was easier just to smash them. There’s a hill in Rome, near the River Tiber, called Monte Testaccio. It’s more than 100 feet high and nearly a kilometer in circumference. It’s not a natural hill at all. It’s an ancient trash heap, composed of the fragments of nearly 53 million amphorae!

Those clay jars are a lot like our modern day water bottles. You can get water from your kitchen sink, filtered in your fridge and put it into a reusable container. But more often than not, water is purchased in bottles. Some are purchase for $2.58 for a flat of 36 bottles of water. You can also go to the Wawa and buy “Hawaiian Volcano Water” for $2.59 for a single bottle of water. Now the bottle is fancier. It’s all tinted green-blue and has a pretty logo on it. But the contents…well, water. Now there may be a few minerals here or there. But basically, when you drink it, you get hydrated. Same as the kitchen sink water or the cheap little bottles. 

But the plastic bottles don’t just evaporate. They pile up and get dumped and the never…NEVER…go away. Though they didn’t matter, at all, the containers keep sticking around. The container is of little consequence; it’s the contents that hold the most interest.

We need to remember this for ourselves. It’s not our container that matters most, but what is within. Not your body, but your soul. Our insides…the part inside the clay pot or plastic bottle, is made by God…in Psalm 139 we read about the creation, the making of our inmost parts. This isn’t speaking of your intestines or even your brain. This is your hand crafted soul.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

    and the light around me become night,”

12 

even the darkness is not dark to you;

    the night is as bright as the day,

    for darkness is as light to you.

13 

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

    Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

15 

    My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

Your insides, the being part of you that isn’t visible even in the surgery, that is made by the hands of God. You were made with a purpose. And that purpose is not that you would be comfortable and “blessed” but rather that in all things you would praise Christ and know God is with you. That in all times and places the light of Christ would be seen, shining from your insides. It’s not dependent on circumstance as you can read in this passage.

8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; 

perplexed, but not driven to despair; 

9 persecuted, but not forsaken; 

struck down, but not destroyed; 

10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 

We have this divine message in ordinary human bodies. Yours and mind. Just like we are. And like those water bottles, the container doesn’t define the contents. No matter how fancy, it’s still water. No matter how plain and common, it’s still water. God asks us to look beyond the container, to allow the common, ordinary container to make the contents more visible. 

11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Think about your soul.

The very center of your being.

What makes you, you? It’s the place where the image of God resides.

That place needs tending and attention. You need to hear from within.

How is it with your soul?

What you are and how you look don’t matter.

What you have and how much you earn don’t matter.

Your clothes and hair and car, wrinkled or not, limping or crooked or straight, weak or strong.

Don’t matter.

What matters is the condition of your soul, 

Have you nurtured the presence of Christ?

Stop. Be really quiet and listen. Listen for your soul.

Your vessel, your body, they hold the light and love of Jesus the Christ and the world is dying to know!

So nurture your soul, tend the LIGHT and then proclaim Christ as Lord!

Spring for the Soul

As human beings, we spend our time in the minute, swallowed up by the feelings and thoughts of this hour or day or week. We struggle to back up from anything far enough to see a bigger picture than our momentary thoughts, opinions or feelings. For us, one negative interaction wrecks a whole day. One bad experience can ruin the memory of a week or even a whole year. If it hurts, it can’t be good or even have good in it. If it makes us cry or feel sad then it has to be due to our own or someone else’s wrongful behavior. We seek to offer shame and blame for every negative thing in the world. We bury completely, the positive, the presence of God, the good and the happenstance in our own inability to think of the bigger picture.

Fortunately for us, God isn’t deterred by our short-sightedness. God isn’t repelled by our blame and shame game. God isn’t drawn only to our happy moments. How we are feeling or thinking or acting can’t, won’t ever, isn’t even remotely capable of changing our God’s steadfast love and presence, strength and support.

That is the real truth of Easter. That God, looked at all of creation and decided not only to join us, but to die and be resurrected so that in all places and times and circumstances God is present with us. Jesus the Christ, within your happy and sad, good and bad, positive and negative. Jesus present when you can tell he’s there and when you are utterly convinced you have been abandoned.

God, Jesus, Holy Spirit…not subject to our feelings or thoughts. Instead, willing to love us while we are yet sinners. And that’s a real Spring for the soul!!!

Spring Fling! Egg hunt, crafts, story, lunch

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Spring Fling! – March 24 @ 11:00 – 12:30

Easter crafts, story for the kids & Egg Hunt! An event for kids of all ages! Invite your friends and neighbors, everyone is welcome!

We’ll start with crafts and stories in the fellowship hall…intended for the whole family to take part! Then the kiddos will hunt eggs and get some prizes. To top off the great time we’ll have lunch – eat in or take out. Menu: Fried chicken, beans & potatoes, macaroni & cheese, dessert. Cost:

Meal: $8 per adult boxed lunch (2 sides), $5 per child (1 side)…Fried chicken, beans & potatoes, macaroni & cheese, dessert. 

Christian Worldview

Our world is changing at an ever increasing rate of speed. The population of the world has doubled in the last 50 years. The changes brought about in the last 10 years through technology  (that massively powerful computer held in one’s hand) have made everything different. Even if you have chosen to opt out of parts of the data revolution, you can’t avoid it. In fact, you can either join or be washed along willy nilly. And then, atop this pile of shifting sand, we add a transient US and world population. Our neighbors are of various languages, religions, cultures and belief systems and they are changing constantly. Sometimes we think these changes are only happening here in our country, in our neighborhood, but in reality, most of the world is caught in the same high-speed-whirlpool of change.

What are we to do?

How can we sing the songs of our childhood in a land we hardly recognize?

Should we engage our fear? Dig our heels in and try to stop the world from shifting? Let our fear grow into full-fledged-hatred? Stick our heads in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening?

Who do we believe? What is presented as truth is different depending on which channel you turn on or which paper you read. Pictures are computer generated and we can’t tell if they are real or fake?

What are we to do? What are we to believe? Where do we go from here?

Breathe.

Breathe.

God’s world view hasn’t changed. God hasn’t changed.

God knew us yesterday and last year and before we were born and God knows us now and tomorrow and after we die. Whether we rise up or lie down, come or go, God is there and God knows.

He’s got the whole world, in his hands. He’s got the whole wide world, in his hands…

So what are we to do? How are we to act? How are we to respond to the world? To the changes?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Are we called to take a stand, to scream from the street corners? Are we called to duck and hide in our safe little corners of the world and avoid all conversations and people who might disrupt our peace? Do I just unfollow everyone who isn’t doing and saying just what I want to hear?

I can’t answer all of the questions, but I have an answer for, “What are we to do and how are we to act?”

The fruit of the spirit of God, is the proof in our lives that God’s Spirit lives within our hearts and minds. Galatians 5 tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

We are called to be kind and gentle. Every word, every action, every person, in every way, every minute…kind and gentle. I have to sit my heart down pretty regularly and say, “Jesus has been kind to you, gentle with you in your short comings and sin, gentle in correction, kind in presence and spirit…go out and share that with the world.”

My heart gets arrogant and rude and pushy and intolerant and out-of-control. That’s not the fruit of God’s Spirit, it’s human pride and a spirit of sinfulness. An afraid heart, is very likely to become an angry, impatient, judgmental, rash, angry heart. An afraid heart needs a good dose of faith in God. In God, in faith, fear can dissipate and be lost in trust.

A Christian worldview isn’t made up of a list of sins that are to be outlawed and human beings vilified.  A Christian worldview isn’t a view of judgement and condemnation and dismissal and disrespect. A Christian worldview isn’t colored by fear, anger, hate or resentment.

A Christian worldview is based in the Holy Spirit and the fruit of that Spirit in our lives. A Christian worldview shades everything we see and think and do…with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Mount Vernon

I’ve lived in Virginia for sixteen years and had never visited Mt. Vernon, so this holiday season we made the trip. Traffic wasn’t bad. The view was magnificent. Tour guides weren’t anything to write home about. But none of those things inspired me to think or to write.

We toured the grounds and the house and I was quite impressed with the stewardship George Washington took with his property and his profession. He worked hard, that’s true. But he made absolutely certain that efforts and energies were fully utilized. He was indeed a man one could respect. His wife, Martha, was the same. They tended details in their home as they did in their lives and in the life the new country.

So I was walking through the museum, looking at the amazing, computer generated faces of Mr. Washington. So lifelike. Such blue eyes. And I found myself apologizing to him for what we’ve become. For our country’s divisions and hatefulness. For the way we aren’t what we are supposed to be. It was in that thought, that moment, that I’m pretty sure God said, “Whoa, wait a minute there. Who holds the future? Who set the stars in place in the sky and on that flag? Just because it isn’t yet doesn’t mean it can’t be?”

When I visited Williamsburg and Yorktown I was surprised the country wasn’t formed in a day. You know, July 7, 1776…poof…out popped a country! That instead it took decades of writing and wrangling to get a start and then it came undone and tried to kill itself.

There at Mount Vernon, I could see and feel how far short the beginning was from what was hoped for. The founders of this country knew it was flawed, they knew it had huge divisions…they just made it kind of go along together in generally the right direction. They didn’t know that I deserved a vote or voice. They didn’t make it so women and people of color were part of the “All men are created equal.” The people of their time weren’t ready for that much change, for that much of the dream.

Our country is always on its way to somewhere else. It’s always a dream yet to be realized. It’s like the Kingdom of God, here, right now, and not here at all. Mr. Washington wouldn’t approve of our hatefulness toward one another but I’m sure he wouldn’t find it all that different from some of the stuff they said and did back then.

If we can all settle down and consider God’s power and presence and design and coming Kingdom…read Isaiah 40-45 and hear how God plans to make it work even when it doesn’t seem that way. We get so lost in a couple of weeks or a few years we lose the vision of the millennia. We get so absorbed with our own human limitations and fears and trivialities we lose the ginormous vision of God.

And if this is true for the Kingdom and the country then why not for the United Methodist Church? We aren’t what we can be or should be but we aren’t finished yet! God holds us, our families, our churches, our communities, our country, our Church and our World with outstretched arms. Once we were no people, but now, we are the people of God.

Blue Christmas

I’m considering changing all of my decorations to blue. Take them outside and just spray paint the lot of them. Why? Well, because the biggest mistake we are making about Christmas is that it is intended to be an idyllic-better-homes-and-gardens-greed-fest. There you go. I’ve lived 56 years and spent 11 years as a pastor. I’ve seen really great Christmases when everything was perfect…wait, that’s a lie. I remember really great Christmases but that’s only in memory.

I have four kids so there were years of “Santa” and the joy of little ones. But some of those included stomach viruses, chicken pox, ear infections and they all included grumpy, over-stretched adults and children. When Christmas is about food and gifts and feeling “joyous” we all do as much pretending and anticipating as we do realitying. (I made up that word. It makes “reality” into a verb. Don’t tell my English teachers unless you mention that I now know my parts of speech.)

So here’s where I am now with this whole “blue” thing. Mary, young, troubled, anxious, can’t-sleep-for-worrying-Mary, is my Christmas model. Not Santa. Not Jesus. Not even God. Mary. Because Christmas came into Mary’s difficulty. No rest. No plans realized. No happy-slappy-buffet. A young woman and her husband (not the father of her child), an oppressed group in an ego-maniacal culture. Pregnant at the risk of her life. And giving birth is scary no matter how many haloes are on your head. Labor is painful no matter how good at it you are. Delivery is messy. New babies are hard to deal with. Unstable governments with tyrannical rulers are devastating. New marriages are hard to negotiate. So Mary is my model in her earthly-awful-situation.

Into that darkness of fear, came God incarnate, Jesus.

Christmas isn’t about lights and food and gifts. Christmas isn’t mainly for the happy and content. This holiday-santa thing is…but not Christmas.

Christmas is light in the darkness. Mary’s darkness. My darkness. Your darkness.

Christmas is for the broken hearted; for the ones who can’t get off the couch. Christmas is for the disappointed; whose only question is “what happened?” Christmas is for the lonely; the ones who need only one plate for Christmas dinner. Christmas is for those with empty chairs and broken dreams.

And Christmas changes everything. Whether I can sing “Rudolph” doesn’t matter. Whether I can sing and know in my heart that this night means, “Joy to the World”, my dark world…that matters. In that truth there is a deeper joy than wrapping and bows and ham and mashed potatoes. There is joy deeper than the people in the chairs around the table. There is joy deeper than my human heart can imagine.

Joy is Christ…God present in my human life. Joy is a light in the darkness…the darkness of our world and our real lives.

The LIGHT came into the world, Jesus, Christmas…and the darkness will not, can not ever over come it.

Sharing the LIGHT!

ReNe’e

Creation…Evolution…Science…Christianity…

When my daughters were young they went to a number of Vacation Bible Schools. They were attending Bible School while I attended seminary. The summer I was studying Hebrew one of  them attended a local VBS and was quizzed about the creation narrative in Genesis. She explained Hebrew poetry and her belief that Genesis 1 isn’t a scientific treatise on the formation of the world and its inhabitants. The teacher then produced a sheet that each child was to mark their own belief in creation v. evolution. When my child’s mark was on the evolution end of the scale, she was asked to leave. You read that correctly. A youth attending VBS was asked to leave because she didn’t believe in 7 days, 24 hours each, during which God created the earth and all of the animals and people.

That’s a preposterous church story. But it’s true. Though we’d all likely find that check sheet, eviction approach to be extreme we need to think more deeply. Did God create the world? People? Animals? Plants? If the Bible says that’s so and we don’t believe it as fact, then what happens to God? To the Bible? Do you really have to believe in creationism to go to heaven? To be a Christian? Jesus spent a lot of time talking about love and generosity but none at all on creation.

Other valid thoughts…there are two creation stories in the Bible. If you read the second creation story, you find a different sequence and narrative for creation. Go ahead. Read Genesis 1-3 and see for yourself. It doesn’t all agree. So now what?

Hebrew is a beautiful, poetic language with much more to convey than science or math. There is a deeper level of communication and knowing than can be found in a calculator or laboratory. Your souls isn’t about technical specifications and your soul is more important than atoms and DNA. We aren’t Hebrew. We don’t live thousands of years ago with that understanding of the planet. If God had wanted to write a science book the Bible would be a science book. It’s not.

Genesis 1-3 tells us of a powerful, loving, creative God that made us and said, “It is good.” Genesis 1-3 tells us of God’s powerful, creative breath. Ruach. A breath that changes and improves and wraps everything in love and power and grace.

Genesis 1-3 tells us that God hand crafted our environment, tended the details then and is still tending the most marvelous zoo/garden/habitat ever!

Science tells us that nothing improves without an input of energy. Randomly, without care, things just get more chaotic. There has to be a power behind positive change, behind increasing complexity. No matter where you go on our earth, you see an artist’s hand. There are mountains and valleys, rivers, eroded rocks, gorges, snow and waterfalls, giant redwoods and tiny bits of moss…all amazingly complex. No matter what you believe about evolution…the creation we are part of is a gift from God. All here by God’s unimaginable power and love and design.

Breathe in…breathe out…God’s design.

Doubts…

This series about the least you can believe and be a Christian is more complicated than it first appears. Trying to define the items that are not a litmus test for being a Christian is harder than it appears. It’s so hard to lay aside the things long-assumed to be part and parcel of what it is to be Christian.

A Christian believes and follows an invisible, calling God. So how can we do this if it’s OK to doubt? Shouldn’t doubt be just wrong? Well, maybe, but the point is not what should be according to our modern Christian minds but what is a litmus test for Christianity according to God. Jesus didn’t tell doubting Thomas, doubt and you’re out-of-here! Instead he showed him what would relieve his doubts.

If we will come running to God, with our doubts in hand, God will heal them. First, we have to be honest with ourselves and honest with God. That’s really the only litmus test in God’s kingdom, the honesty test. We can’t grow in faith if we aren’t bought in deeply enough to allow  our ugly thoughts to come out before God.

There’s no sin too great, no words too removed, no person too clueless for God!

What’s the Least I Can Believe

Our new worship series begins July 3 with casual attire, old-fashioned singing and a great series for everyone. We’ll be looking at things you don’t have to believe as a Christian and then we’ll turn to some things you do have to believe. Ever wondered about evolution, taking the Bible literally, women preachers…well, we’re going to talk about every one of those topics and more.

Here’s the book synopsis…you can get the book from Amazon.com

Pastor and author Martin Thielen has compiled a list of ten things people need to believe, and ten things they don’t, in order to be a Christian. This lively and engaging book will be a help to seekers as well as a comfort to believers who may find themselves questioning some of the assumptions they grew up with. With an accessible, storytelling style that’s grounded in solid biblical scholarship, Thielen shows how Christians don’t need to believe that sinners will be “left behind” to burn in hell or that it’s heresy to believe in evolution. And while we must always take the Bible seriously, we don’t always have to take it literally.
At the same time, Christians do need to believe in Jesus—his life, his teachings, his death and resurrection, and his vision for the world. A great benefit of those beliefs is that they provide promising answers to life’s most profound questions, including: Where is God? What matters most? What brings fulfillment? What about suffering? Is there hope? Thielen articulates centrist, mainline Christianity in a way that’s fresh and easy to understand, and offers authentic Christian insights that speak to our deepest needs.

God…Church…Disciples…Mistakes

Sometimes it does seem that God makes mistakes…God doesn’t. We fail to understand, the action is really from some force besides God…what ever, God doesn’t make mistakes.

The church makes mistakes. The church of all varieties and persuasions is flawed. It reads the Bible and comes up with the wrong understanding or intention. It tries to help but is really helping itself. It hurts people. In short, the church makes mistakes. It will until we reach heaven and the church is fully aligned with God.

The disciples and all of us disciples who have followed, we all make mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes are big and impact the whole church. We can read about Disciples making mistakes and misunderstanding God in the book of Acts.

This week we are reading the about the disciples and particularly Stephen. Let me encourage you to read chapter 5, Did the Disciples Make a Mistake from our book by Lawrence Kala, The Story Continues.

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Now join the conversation around the following questions:

1. Discuss the similarities and differences of the two types of Jews in the Jerusalem church.

2. What was the misunderstanding between these two groups?

3. How did the apostles react to this situation?

4. Describe Stephen. What do you admire about him?

5. Give a summary of Stephen’s sermon. Why did it trigger his death?

6. So, did the apostles make a mistake? What issues are involved?

7. Discuss the ministry and achievements of Philip.

8. What did Martin Luther say about the priesthood of all believers?

9. How did early Methodism deal with these issues?

10. What additional thoughts or ideas from this chapter would you like to explore?

Kalas, J Ellsworth (2016-04-19). The Story Continues: The Acts of the Apostles for Today (Kindle Locations 1640-1641). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.