Am I My Neighbor’s Keeper?

mr rogers.jpg

One of my favorite shows when I was pretty small was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It came on right as I got home from preschool and I would watch it while my mom fixed me lunch.

He always opened the show by coming in and changing into his more relaxed outfit including some comfortable shoes all while singing his opening theme song.

I think the line that stuck with me was, “I always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.”

Fred Rogers taught some important lessons about being a good neighbor such as how it is better to build someone up rather than tear them down. It is more helpful to point out what a person is good at than to highlight their weaknesses.

“I think those who try to make you feel less than you are - that’s the greatest evil,” Rogers said in the film, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I wonder if this is what Jesus perceived to be the fault in the rich man in today’s reading. Maybe he kept all of the laws just like he kept all of his money - to put himself above others. To truly relate and follow Jesus, he would have to set aside his wealth which became a barrier.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t do it.

We don’t often imagine that people could turn down Jesus. When he calls the disciples, they seem to drop everything and follow - almost as if Jesus has this magical sway over them. But the man in today’s reading shows us that this is not the case. He freely rejects Jesus.

What does it mean for Christians to be neighborly to one another? How do we love our neighbors as we love ourselves? As we become more connected online, we also seem to be less connected with the people who inhabit the homes around us. It could be that we are only really interested in being neighborly with the people who have more in common with us.

As we think about our Christian stewardship, it is interesting that the money we give to the church goes to help us fulfill our call to be good neighbors. While we can’t pay someone to be a Christian for us, we can support ministries that change the lives of people we won’t even meet. Maybe this is how we can be the neighbors that Fred Rogers always wanted to have!

In Christ,

Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com.

File photo posted via Flickr.com by Rogelio A. Galaviz C. through the Creative Commons license.

Music Ministry Update, October 3, 2018

World Communion Sunday

         With the arrival of fall, we now enter a busy time of the church (liturgical) year that will culminate with the arrival of Advent on December 2.  The first festival day we will observe is World Communion Sunday, which is this Sunday, October 7. At the three traditional services, we will celebrate with hymns and choral music that will stress the unity, resolve, and love we share with Christians across the globe through the mysterious yet palpable gift of Holy Communion. 

         If you’re interested in reading more about this special day, I encourage you to read the following article from the UMC website: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/world-communion-sunday-a-celebration-of-unity-and-service

 

New Liturgical Music

We’ll also mark World Communion Sunday by returning to Communion Setting E in the United Methodist Hymnal.  It’s a setting we’ve used often in the past and I hope it’s a refreshing return.  Since October also coincides with our annual Stewardship campaign, we’ll be singing a new Doxology that stresses the importance of sharing our gifts as a community. 

Youth Prayer Series

The youth have been learning about creative ways to pray and the importance of prayer. Last week, Bethany taught us how to pray through prayer stations. This Wednesday, we will hear from one of our college students, KC Curry, on how taking time to listen in quiet is important. She will be teaching on being joyful in solitude and rest. We will be taking a journey to Shannon Miller Park just to the Southwest of the church a block for programming.

Being a Part of the Body of Christ

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday which is observed by a variety of denominations around the globe.  The emphasis is on the fact that we are part of the larger Body of Christ as the church.  Sometimes we get caught up in our own denomination and we forget that there is a larger universal witness to which we belong.

One of the things on which The United Methodist Church is focused is the special called General Conference of 2019 to be held in February in St. Louis.  You may have read about it in Sunday’s Oklahoman.  The topic is human sexuality and more specifically, how the church responds to our LGBTQ neighbors and their families.  The Council of Bishops put together a special Commission to tackle how we might best pursue our future as a denomination.  While all in our church would seek to include LGBTQ neighbors in the life of the church, there are differences of opinion on what that should look like.

Currently, our polity (found in the Book of Discipline which is updated every four years) prohibits same gender weddings.  Gay or lesbian clergy who are in a committed relationship are not permitted to serve in our denomination.  Some believe that this is the correct understanding and others believe that such a stance is not the best practice for inclusion of those outside the church.

The Commission on A Way Forward has developed two plans (The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan) with a third (the Traditionalist Plan) being adopted by the Commission but not written by the Commission.  Other legislation has also been submitted to the 2019 General Conference surrounding this issue but these three plans seem to garner the most attention since they are being presented by the body that has studied it the most.

There will be a special conference gathering this Friday, October 5th at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City from 2 to 4 pm.  As one of the seven clergy delegates elected to this called General Conference, I will also be present at this meeting.  If you want to register to attend the free event, you can do so online

If you are unable to attend, our church will be having our own meeting surrounding this issue sometime after October.  My reason for delay is that the Judicial Council will be ruling in late October on whether these plans will require constitutional amendments or not.  The significance of this ruling is that a constitutional amendment will require a 2/3 majority rather than a simple majority.  Furthermore, it would require a 2/3 majority of all of the voting members of all of the annual conferences across the denomination which is world-wide.  We know that the Connectional Conference plan will require constitutional amendments and so the likelihood of it passing is not very strong.  The word “longshot” comes to mind.  If all three of the plans require constitutional amendments, it is very likely that none of them will pass.  This means that our current language and stance would remain in effect.  So it may be better to wait on learning the details until we hear a ruling from the Judicial Council.  This is why we are waiting to discuss it in our church.

So while this is a contentious issue, I would remind us of Sunday’s celebration.  World Communion Sunday is one of my favorite days and I will be preaching on the idea of the prayer of the Holy Spirit that clergy pray when they are consecrating the elements.  We pray, “By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world.”  We kneel at the same altar rail.  We don’t all agree on the various issues of the day.  We do all profess faith in the risen Lord.  Isn’t this stronger than any of our differences?  The apostle Paul seemed to think so.

I do as well!

I hope you’ll join us this Sunday as we remember who we are and whose we are and how we are connected around the planet!

In Christ,

Sam

 

Fall Connections

23231158_1769533153059436_5523445723017556945_n.jpg

What does it mean to be strategic as a church? Sometimes the word “strategic” feels manipulative as if the church shouldn’t try to reach people other than through opening our doors and hanging out our sign. This works if the culture at large is Christian and it is normative to worship on Sunday mornings. But what happens when we move into a post-Christian culture? One that offers a host of alternatives for Sunday morning? What happens when the reasons for worship attendance change?

Giving people a sense of mission while at the same time making vital connections to the world around us is strategic in that the newer generations are attracted to a larger purpose. But more importantly it is a biblical imperative to make deeper relationships with the neighbors in our community. So if it isn’t a part of a church’s identity to reach beyond its walls, it should be. Fortunately, this was a part of our church’s culture long before I arrived.

One of the partnerships is with local schools. Boulevard Academy sits almost directly across from our church property on Boulevard Avenue. Boulevard Academy is an alternate high school that helps provide many students with the opportunity to earn their diploma that they might otherwise not have. Earlier this year, we helped provide school supplies for students that are our neighbors.

As we look toward a younger clientele, our efforts at tutoring at Sunset Elementary are gearing up again. Tutoring happens during the school day and we are currently signing up interested church members who will help provide educational assistance that these students may not otherwise receive.

As we go to the other end of the educational spectrum, our presence on the University of Central Oklahoma campus is still going strong. We have a lot of new students that have connected with our church through our Wesley Foundation. As the host church, we will be helping with their Gala again this Fall on Saturday, October 13th. If you are unable to purchase tickets for that evening, you might consider donating an item for the silent auction. It is always a fun time for fellowship as we help the next generation have a spiritual outlet as they pursue their higher education.

Finally, we will have the Crop Walk the next day on Sunday, October 14th at 2:00 pm in Mitch Park. The United Methodist Church has long been a part of Church World Service which is the host organization for the Crop Walk. The money raised goes to hunger relief around the world. A good portion stays right here in Edmond supporting the Project 66 Food Pantry. This, of course, is another outlet for good Methodists as our church takes over the volunteer opportunities every Monday! Every year, I walk in the Crop Walk as it helps me to remember those around the world who live in very different situations than me.

These are just a few of the larger missional opportunities we have coming up. While we have fostered these natural relationships, I must admit that we weren’t intending to be strategic when we began to engage in them.

They seemed like natural ways that we would want to reach out to our community in love and service. In about a month, we will highlight ways in which you might also become involved in the great variety of ministries available through our church. We call it “Serve the Lord with Gladness” Sunday and this year it will be on October 28. We have it during the Sunday school hour (9:45 to 10:45) in the Christian Activity Center. It looks like an involvement fair where you can go to the tables (like Boulevard Buddies or Tutoring or Choir) to learn about specific things our church offers.

I’m very proud of the church I serve. We seek to impact our community in many positive ways and these are just a few opportunities that I’ve highlighted. It’s nice when good strategy and biblical calling coincide on the same path!

I hope you’ll join us in worship this Sunday as we worship the risen Lord together. You never know what opportunity might arise!

In Christ,

Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com.

But I Was Waiting for Jesus!

 Where do we see Jesus today?

Where do we see Jesus today?

Scripture Reading: Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV)

What do you imagine Jesus to look like? Most of us will think back to paintings we have seen from our childhood. Jesus might be praying in the garden or carrying a sheep (although there isn’t any evidence that he was ever a shepherd). Some of us picture him standing at the door and knocking!

I don’t remember any pictures of him being clean-shaven (he was most likely bearded). He is also in fairly good shape in all of the portrayals. In some he might be thinner (which was also more likely for a peasant in that age and locale) but you never see him overweight. You may not have even imagined a larger Jesus but Matthew and Luke both agree that some called him a glutton in his day so I suppose it is possible.

In a class in seminary, I saw how Jesus was portrayed in art throughout the world. While he seems to be blond and blue-eyed in America, I have seen him as black, Asian or Native American. What any of these do is speak to the incarnational aspect of Jesus. Jesus is God-incarnate.

Jesus is someone we can simultaneously identify with and yet, gives us the best example of what our human potential holds.

This incarnational aspect is broadened by Jesus himself when he begins to identify with other categories. In the Judgment of the Nations in Matthew 25, Jesus connects his followers with the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned. We begin to see people in these conditions as in need of our help because who wouldn’t want to help Jesus?

Our ability to place God on the cross means that this incarnational ministry is willing to suffer rejection and violence. God is somehow present with us when we are suffering.

Today’s reading in Mark also has an incarnational aspect.

Children are identified with Jesus. It is important to note that we hold children in great regard in our culture today. This was not so in first century Palestine. It is a definite contrast for his disciples arguing over who was the greatest. Many would overlook a child because this association might actually lower your status in the eyes of the community. So when Jesus says that welcoming a child is the same as welcoming him, it is shocking. He might as well have dropped a rattlesnake in their midst when he presents to them a child. Okay, this last is an exaggeration but you get the point I’m trying to make!

I like the idea of serving Jesus in theory. I’m not sure I serve Jesus as concretely as he states that I am able. It is easy to let the homeless shuffle on by as I declare, “I’m saving this place at my table for Jesus!” How do we identify Jesus with the vulnerable? Isn’t solidarity with the outsider a part of the betrayal and death of which Jesus speaks in today’s reading? We are there some of the time but not all of the time. So what does the incarnation mean when we are on the inside?

We’ll continue to examine Mark’s Gospel in worship this Sunday. I hope you’ll join us if you are in the vicinity!

In Christ,

Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com. Photo by catherine patacsil via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.

I Didn’t Sign Up for This!

sign.jpg

Lectionary Reading: Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)

I prefer to know what is expected of me in advance. When someone has a sales pitch, they often want to make small-talk first in order to soften me up. Once we’ve established a friendship, it will be harder for me to turn them down (in theory). I’m not such an easy mark though.

Once, Sheryl and I somehow got signed up for a time-share pitch in Mexico. We both went into the pitch adamant that we were not purchasing anything. They worked on us and showed us around. They took us to a nice breakfast and they had comped us with tickets to various excursions.

They tried to get us to participate by writing down the things we were looking for in a vacation. Since this was past the time limit they had originally given us, we were no longer playing around. They even had two sales reps playing the “good cop, bad cop” routine with us. We would not be coerced or shamed into buying! The rep playing the role of the good cop mentioned to us when we were alone, “I’ve never seen anyone with a blank sheet of paper before!” indicating their inability to move us toward a purchase.

While this may be unethical to waste their time knowing that we were not going to go through with it, I will say that they were very pushy to get us into their resort to begin with! We were very up front about our intentions so they shouldn’t have been surprised that we kept to our word. So I guess, let the seller beware!

As we read today’s scripture, we see that Peter seems to have buyer’s remorse when he finally realizes what discipleship under Jesus is leading him toward. I can hardly blame him. If you were looking for glory, fame and honor tied to an earthly kingdom and then found out that you might end up dying, you might be a little disillusioned as well! Peter may have been thinking, “This is more than I bargained for!” or “I didn’t sign up for this!” Jesus is speaking a bit cryptically when he talks about saving and losing our lives.

It seems as if the spiritual life is not as straightforward as the material world. Sometimes I wish it was. In the material world, I can make a purchase and know what I’m buying before I get it. I know how many hours I’ll have to work to earn the money for that purchase. As far as my investment of time and work, I can estimate if it is worth the effort.

But how often do we really make these calculations?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

What does it mean to follow Jesus today? There is no physical manifestation and so it is much less tangible to us than it was for Peter. What are the rewards? More importantly, what are the costs?

I hope you’ll join us as we consider these questions together in worship on Sunday!

In Christ,

Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com.

Photo used from Flickr.com via Creative Commons.

All-Church Retreat

all church retreat.jpg

All Church Retreat at Canyon Camp
It seemed like over the summer we were commissioning groups from our children and youth programs to go to camp every worship service.  Camping ministries is a huge part of our faith formation for our church—I have a colleague who likes to say that it is easier to grow closer with God in the five days at camp than any other time.  The removal of distractions, the dedication to spiritual disciplines, the simple yet profound impact of just having fun, it’s what makes camp, well, camp.

It is this love of camp that led our staff to decide to hold an all-church retreat at Canyon Camp November 3-4th.  We will all arrive down in the Canyon Saturday morning and depart following our own worship service Sunday morning.  The focus for the retreat will be connecting to God through nature and growing closer with your fellow Edmond First siblings.

Cost for meals for the retreat will cost $30 per person, and we have a few different sleeping options ranging from the beautiful Hardt Lodge, the brand new cabins, or, for our more adventurous folk, tent camping!  The break down of costs per person are as below:

Tent camping (must bring personal tent)
     $5 per person (plus $30 per person for meals)
Bunk in Cabin
     $30 per person (ages 1-7 $20) (plus $30 per person for meals)
Single in Hardt Lodge
     $60 (plus $30 per person for meals)
Double in Hardt Lodge
     $40 per person (plus $30 per person for meals)
Triple in Hardt Lodge
     $35 per person (plus $30 per person for meals)
Quad in Hardt Lodge
     $32 per person (plus $30 per person for meals)

I pray that you would consider coming to the all-church retreat.  Registration can be found on the church website at www.fumcedmond.org.  If you have any questions, please email me at trey@fumcedmond.org.  

 

Name *
Name
Lodging Choice *

Talking Past Each Other

face.jpg


Lectionary Reading: Mark 7:24-37 (NRSV)


I’ve served as a mediator several times in my life for people.  Usually, it is because I am the pastor of both parties but sometimes it has been for ministerial colleagues.

The difficulty of communication that oftentimes calls for a mediator is that when we are emotionally charged, we often talk past one another.  It becomes difficult to hear the other person because we are defensive and feel that what they are saying will somehow be costly for us to acknowledge.  This occurs in family dynamics quite often.
It feels like a win when we can have real communication take place.  One of the functions I perform is to repeat back to the person speaking what I think I hear them saying.  If I got it correct, I ask for a response from the other person.  We try to avoid blaming language with absolutes such as “You always…” or “You never…” because this stirs up the emotions and puts the person on the defensive rather than getting to the heart of the issue.  A good mediator is really a referee that keeps things in check by stating, “These are the rules that we will play by during this conversation.”  Then I sometimes have to call a foul if someone violates the rule and ask them to restate it in another way.

I find out more often than not that when we can get to the heart of the issue, reconciliation is possible.  This doesn’t mean that agreement takes place but it does mean that people feel heard and thus respected.

At first glance, we see two somewhat unrelated stories in today’s lectionary reading of Mark.  But as we look further, we may see how a connection is made.  Jesus and the disciples fail to hear the Gentile woman when she is first encountered.  Yet she seems to redefine the mission to include her sick child as well.  They hear her and Jesus allows her to redefine it by healing the child.

Then we see Jesus heal a man who is deaf and mute.  Now that he can truly hear, he begins to proclaim the good news.  It is a miraculous story but it can also be an allegory for Christian discipleship.  We must really hear (connect) with Jesus before we can really proclaim the message.  And according to the first story, hearing may include leaving our assumptions about others at the door.

This goes along with the old adage that before we open our mouths to speak, we should listen.

I look forward to preaching on this passage on Sunday!
In Christ,
Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com.
Photo by Amy Messere via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

 

The Legacy of a Beautiful Oak

Oak Legacy Picture Timeline.jpg

 

The story of this beautiful oak tree began in the mid 1980’s! Members of Edmond First United Methodist Church planted a tree east of the sanctuary on Hurd replacing a tree damaged due to severe weather. The beautiful oak stood stately near the main entrance on Hurd adjacent to the sanctuary (which is now the entrance to the Main Building Foyer). The oak’s beauty and its seasonal kalidescope of colors was enjoyed by members, UCO students and others who passed by the church daily for almost thirty years.

Now for the rest of the story! Fast forward to 2013. First UMC began to grow and flourish in making disciples of Christ! The decision was made to expand the existing 1928 historical building. After a successful capital campaign, the planning committee spent endless hours in meetings, designing and preparation for the expansion to begin. Members soon learned the beautiful oak would have to be removed due to the expansion.

Ideas and many discussions became the focus on how to preserve the legacy of a beautiful oak prior to removal of the tree. Could such a beautiful oak be preserved so its legacy could be enjoyed by First UMC as well as glorify God? Absolutely! A small, self-appointed committee began the process of preserving the wood so a cross could be crafted to adorn the Foyer entrance of the new expansion. The architect accommodated a request to cut the tree into logs once constrction began in January 2013.

Many thanks to Jo Logan, chair and the interior furnishings committee for working with Rosemary and Wayne Black, Jerry Cotton, Larry Cunningham and Kaye Dowell to move forward with a plan to preserve the oak. Following approval of the First UMC Trustees in October 2013, a final plan was in place to preserve its legacy which would be enjoyed for decades to come!

When a timeline was in place to build the cross and you tell God your plan, you become humbled. Due to several interruptions, we then realized God had a another plan in how the project and timeline would evolve. Because of our trust, we knew He was with us every step of the way. We are thankful for God’s guidance and wisdom. Patience is a virtue and God’s timing was best because God was waiting for the right moment to bless us so we could appreciate the generous gifts presented to First UMC! During the entire process of removing the tree to the awesome craftsmanship of all the beautiful planks of wood (including scraps made into small crosses), we are indebted to all those who made the legacy of this beautiful oak possible.

First United Methodist Church is blessed by the talents and skill of Jerry Cotton who made the Cross & Flame, altar table, baptismal font, kneeling rails and tabletop lectern. We are thankful and grateful for the gift of carpentry God crafted in Jerry’s hands. Larry Cunningham drafted the design of the Cross and Flame for Jerry’s use when he began making the cross. The beautiful cross now hangs in the Foyer entrance behind the Welcome Desk and the other pieces are located in Wesley Hall.

Pictures speak a thousand words – depicted on the reverse side – and you can see how the legacy of a beautiful oak unfolded from 2013 through 2018!

 From the beginning to the end it was all about the cross!                           

What is the Bigger Picture?

Forest tree with face.jpg


Lectionary Reading: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 (NRSV)

We hear a lot of frustration with our political system being ineffective.  It is difficult to pass legislation that is clean.  In order to get this vote or that vote, you must agree to certain riders that benefit individual states rather than the country as a whole.  I was more vocal in my dissatisfaction until I started attending The United Methodist Church’s General Conference as a delegate.

In 2012, I was astounded at the amount of time we spent amending the rules.  It seemed to go on all evening.  We finally adjourned and the next day we would begin to vote on all of these amendments.  These were not changes to our Discipline which would move us forward as a global church.  These were debates over how we would treat each other in the limited time we were conferencing.  In my past experiences, we never had time to finish all of the work proposed and so I felt the clock ticking.

The next morning, I went to the microphone and proposed that we postpone indefinitely all of the amendments to the rules that were before us.  This would effectively make them go away and so we could simply vote on all the rules as presented by the committee.  I was actually in favor of many of the changes that were proposed but I was willing to go with the presented rules in order to have more time for the important work of dealing with all of the legislation written by United Methodists from around the world.  I felt that as a delegate, I must be a good steward with the time allotted.  These members had paid our way to serve on their behalf and so it seems that we should attend to as much legislation as we possibly could.
Some trees are so interesting,
they prevent us from seeing the
overall forest.

One of the arguments was that we should not just rubber stamp what the committee has approved.  I agree when it comes to legislation for the church.  However, I felt that the rules committee had overall developed a good way for us to conference together.  My proposal passed 491 to 367.

Sometimes we need to look at the bigger picture.  We need to prioritize.  All human beings get caught up in this - we see it reflected in our Gospel reading.  Jesus seems to recognize this as the Pharisees were so concerned about purity laws that it was leaving people in the dust.  Many of the common daily laborers would not have been able to observe all of the cleanliness laws.  In an effort to distinguish themselves from the Roman occupiers, the Pharisees cut out a wide swath of society who would like to be faithful but unable to comply on a daily basis.  

When the law of purity supersedes the law of love, Jesus seems to remind us that what God really wants us to pay attention to is how well we interact with one another.

I’ll be looking at this passage on Sunday.  If you are out for Labor Day weekend, we’ll have a video archive online for you to check out!
In Christ,
Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com.

 

Love and Logic Parenting Class Being Offered this Fall

As a parent, we want our kids to be well-prepared for life This means kids will make mistakes and must be held accountable for those mistakes. Many times, parents often fail to hold the kids accountable for poor decisions, this results in children and parents finding it easier to hold others, including themselves, accountable for their children's irresponsibility.

The parenting course Parenting the Love and Logic Way teaches parents how to hold their kids accountable in this special way. This Love and Logic method causes the child to see their parent as the "good guy" and the child's poor decision as the "bad guy." When done on a regular basis, kids develop an internal voice that says, "I wonder how much pain I'm going to cause for myself with my next decision?" Kids who develop this internal voice become more capable of standing up to peer pressure.

What more could a parent want? Isn't that a great gift to give your child? Parent child relationships are enhanced, family life becomes less strained, and we have time to enjoy our kids instead of either feeling used by them or being transformed from parent to policeman.

A six week course on Love and Logic parenting will be offered at Edmond First United Methodist Church beginning Wednesday, September 12 at 6 pm, following the weekly fellowship dinner beginning at 5:15 pm.  If you are interested in attending this class, please sign up below.  Books will be available for purchase for $5.  Parents may purchase individual books or share.

Name *
Name
Phone
Phone
Please enter any children needing child care and age

United Way Kickoff and Skyline


It’s fall, which means that United way will do their kickoff soon.  Did you know that Skyline, one of the Methodist Ministries in Oklahoma, is a recipient of United Way dollars?  Here are a few fun facts about Skyline:
• 1,414,763 pounds of groceries have been distributed.
• 9,485 unique households were served in the Food Re
     source Center.
• 74% of households shopped three times or less.
• 6% increase in households served.
• 138,081 pounds of clothing distributed
• 2,620 eyeballs examined last year
• 1,304 persons seeing more clearly through new glasses
• 548 health screenings
• 614 shoes filled for school
• 1,113 visits from Santa
• 52 Cinderella’s dressed for the ball through the Prom
     Event
If you are signing up for United Way, make sure to use the number 7071.

Universal Access to God

hand.jpg


Lectionary Reading: 1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43 (NRSV)

King Solomon is particularly gracious in today’s reading.  Within the last few verses, he names Gentiles (foreigners not of Israel) and implores God to hear their prayers.

It is done for a missional purpose - so that all people may come to know God.  If other people see the power of God, they, too, will want to revere God.

Even though it is more comfortable for Solomon - if all worshipped God, there would be less trouble for Jews in the world - there is a graciousness that would make friends of strangers rather than see them as enemies to be destroyed.  

This goes against the territorialism that was rampant among humanity at the time.  Each geographic region had its own gods and deference was given to the gods of a conquering country over those of a defeated country.  This is as simple as liking the winning team.

Solomon understands the blessings that God has bestowed upon his country and wants to extend these blessings throughout the world so that the worship of God may spread across this same world.  The remarkable movement in this logic is that he doesn’t ask God to smite his enemies but rather convert them.

It is similar to the quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”

Territorialism usually occurs when we are afraid of losing what we have.  It comes when we are fearful of the stranger and it sometimes turns ugly when we perceive that someone or some group is going to usurp our way of life.  One can look at the post-Civil War lynching of African Americans as an example of a dominant group refusing to allow another group to gain economic or social traction in their region.  

Sometimes territorialism is religious.  In 1980, Dr. Bailey Smith, of Del City, Oklahoma and President of the Southern Baptist Convention, set off a firestorm when he declared to the SBC that God did not hear the prayers of Jews.  This set up quite a debate at the time with many Southern Baptists disagreeing with Dr. Smith.  HIs claim was that if a prayer was not in the name of Jesus, it was ineffective.

More recently, a similar controversy among Christianity and Islam occurred when Wheaton College professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins was suspended because she made a public claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  Her wearing of the hijab during Advent in support of unity likely contributed to the suspension.  Interestingly enough, Dr. Hawkins also has an Oklahoma connection in that she received her Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.  

What does it mean for us today to pray in the spirit of Solomon that those who are dislike us in so many ways would have their prayers answered?  Is there a perceived danger in this?  If my enemy prospers, will I then be diminished?  

It is hard to be gracious in this matter.  If it were easy, I suppose, world peace would already be at hand.  And yet, I do pray for world peace so maybe this is a good subject to examine.  I hope you’ll join us for worship this Sunday either in Edmond or on the web!

In Christ,
Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com.
Photo by Essam Saad via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Do Not Make Room for the Devil

boy in costume.jpg


Scripture Reading: Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NRSV)

What does verse 27 in today’s reading mean when it says, “and do not make room for the devil”?  Is it referring to anger as the previous verse indicates?  If we allow anger to simmer, does this lead us toward forgiveness and reconciliation or more likely to confrontation and conflict?

I think I know how I would answer that for myself.

I don’t often preach about the devil and this verse has a lot to do with that.  I believe that the more we dwell on what we shouldn’t be doing, the more we are thinking about those things.  Forbidden fruit becomes more enticing simply because it is disallowed.  And just out of curiosity, I thought I would google “Forbidden perfume” to see if it is already in existence (it sounds like the kind of cheesy whisper-intoned name that you would find on perfume commercials).  Wouldn’t you know, both Calvin Klein and Victoria Secret have a scent using the name “forbidden”!
So my lack of clarity on the devil or the personification of evil comes from the school of thought that we can only think on one thing at a time.  I would prefer us to think on God.

In fact, chapter 5 begins with the idea that we should be imitators of God.  We can only do so if we partner with God and shun the things of evil.

Of course, there is the wisdom that says, “If you don’t warn your kids about the traffic in the street because that is too negative, they will end up getting hit by a car.”  So am I being negligent in a lack of attention to Satan?  Is there demonic power that can capture us and hold us against our will?  How can we fight against it?  What gives us protection from it?

I absolutely think that there are paths that lead to darkness in our lives.  As I mentioned in the beginning, holding onto and stoking our anger may be one of these.  If you have ears to hear, you may understand that I quite frequently mention these in my preaching.  I may just name them in ways that I make no room for the devil.

As we are in Christ, we are protected against powers and principalities that arise to thwart the goodness we experience in life.  Ephesians names them in verse 31.  We should put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander and malice.  We should be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving.  If we focus on the latter, we won’t have time for the former.

I look forward to exploring this in worship on Sunday.  Whether in person or online, I hope you’ll find time to join us!

In Christ,
Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com.
Photo by Mathilda Samuelsson via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.