Woe is Me!

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Lectionary Reading: Luke 6:17-26 (NRSV)

Sunday's reading is the beginning of the "Sermon on the Plain" in Luke which is similar in content to the more familiar (and longer) "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew.  

If you are familiar with the Sermon on the Mount, you'll remember that it begins with the Beatitudes which are the blessings that Jesus proclaims.  There are similarities between the two but Matthew spiritualizes the conditions while Luke allows them to perhaps speak differently to us.

For instance, while Luke relates, "Blessed are you who are poor" in verse 20, Matthew's version says "Blessed are the poor in spirit..."  in 5:3.

Luke then states "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled."  Matthew's verse on hunger (5:6) is "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."

Both Gospel writers are the most similar around grief.  Luke's "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" is not all that different from Matthew's "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."  

Scholars argue over which is the earliest version (and most original to Jesus).  Of course, Jesus traveled as a preacher and could have changed up his sermon from town to town.  I sometimes change the way I preach a story from one service to the next and that occurs only an hour away in time!

I've laughed and cried - I would rather be laughing. Is it this simple? If we spiritualize these conditions, they may be easier for us to relate.  In comparison to the standards of the world, I'm not poor by any means and I'm certainly not hungry.  Is there a way that we can access these blessings?

This becomes even more difficult for us in Luke because they are followed by the "woes".  It is interesting that the NRSV chose to translate them in this way since "woe" is not a word we commonly use today.  The Common English Bible translates them as "How terrible for you..." which does sound bad.  They are designed to relate a feeling of misery which is a reversal of what people then (and now) would have thought in dealing with those conditions.  To be rich, sated and laughing was seen as the very epitome of blessing.

This in itself becomes a paradox.  How in the world does the Kingdom of God belong to someone who is poor?  If they had God's Kingdom, they would be rich.

Hmm...

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by Mark Kjerland via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Worthy or Not, Here I Come!

Lectionary Reading: Luke 5:1-11 (NRSV)

One of my great reluctances to answer the call to ministry was my reservation on preaching. I felt that God was calling me to some kind of church work but I didn’t think writing and presenting a paper every week of my life sounded like the kind of thing I would enjoy.

There is a lot of work involved in good preparation but there is also the sense that I would have a word from God for the people gathering on Sunday morning. Who am I to speak on God’s behalf?

I have always had a sense of allowing people to decide for themselves. I didn’t want to be the kind of leader who would order people around. People should be encouraged to live out their own destinies!

I never wanted my preaching to feel like this!

Yet, I kept close to the church. I worked as a youth minister and it was the right work for me at that time in my life. I still enjoy the time I get to spend with our youth (although I cede the cool factor to the younger clergy who are closer to their age). While I was in youth ministry, the opportunity to preach came along thanks to my good friend Van Hawxby.

I reluctantly accepted the opportunity and found out that I really enjoyed my time in the pulpit. I still like to preach but I wouldn’t say that I am worthy of the pulpit.

The idea of being “worthy” to preach is a difficult one. I think once someone assumes this characteristic, it almost becomes a disqualifying factor. This becomes the point where you begin to feel “preached at” rather than led by a fellow Christian on the same journey. So in spite of being worthy or not, good preachers answer the call as a matter of faithful response.

This same dichotomy of worthiness and faithfulness is something all Christians encounter (or should at least wrestle with).

Many times you may hear someone say, “I couldn’t teach Sunday school because I don’t know the Bible well enough.” This argument is in essence, “I don’t feel worthy to instruct others biblically.”

Others don’t want to assume church leadership on committees because they may feel they don’t have what it takes to serve.

Mission trips may lack participants because some feel inadequate to the work involved.

I’ve heard people say time and again, “I could never forgive that person for what they did.” This is said as if they would not have God’s help to do this difficult task.

The fishermen in today’s reading do not feel they are worthy to do what they are being asked to do. Yet at the same time, they clearly follow Jesus. This reminds us that grace comes to us first and whether or not we respond determines our faithfulness but it does not decide God’s love for us.

So I try to assume that I am worthy by the grace of God to fulfill my duties as a Christian. But I also try to stay humble and realize that my worthiness is not earned but granted in Jesus Christ. Some days I am better at this than others!

In Christ,

Sam

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

Lenten Covenant Groups

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Lenten Covenant Groups

As we approach the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday is on March 6 this year), our church is going to offer Lenten Covenant Groups. These groups will meet weekly (six or seven times before Easter) for about an hour with approximately eight people. The time will be set by the group. The topic will be similar to the old Methodist groups that Wesley formed where we seek to hold each other accountable. The idea is that many times the Lenten discipline we take on does not actually draw us closer to God unless we spiritualize it. For example, we may give up soda for Lent but unless we actively think about it in a spiritual manner, it becomes more dietetic than faithful. Our hope is that by conversing about our practices with a group, this will allow us to reflect on how our sacrifices or practices might be spiritual to us. It also keeps us from dropping them after week 2!

You may sign up below or at the church. You may sign up with a friend or a spouse but outside of this choice, the groups will be randomized so that people who may not know each other have a chance to get to know others in our congregation! We hope that by making a commitment of six or seven hours during the forty day season of Lent that our church grows closer to God and closer to one another!

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Mad Enough to Chuck God Off the Cliff

Lectionary Reading: Luke 4:21-30 (NRSV)

If I am to be honest with myself, anger is the sin I grapple with the most. My hope is that this is a surprise to most people in that I believe (possibly erroneously) that I cope with it in public very well. I try not to lead with anger and I try not to respond in anger when dealing with people.

In private, I may let my frustrations show more easily. I think this indicates that I have the ability to control my outbursts but I choose not to rein them in as much as I should.

Is anger in itself a sin? The church labeled it as one of the seven deadly sins.

As an emotion, I can see how it can lead to sin but I have always had difficulty labeling our base feelings as sinful. They are more like the storms or the stills that we encounter - they come about due to conditions that are ripe.

Now what we do with it is something else entirely. I can easily see how anger can lead one to sin.

Some of the most damaging words you ever said were likely said in a state of anger.

Even being around angry people can raise a person’s temperature to where we also become tense.

If it is the response we observe as children, we are more likely to follow suit in times of stress as adults.

Is it ever okay to be angry with God? I see a lot of fear surrounding this idea. There can also be a lot of guilt. Yet, if we are close with someone, we will become angry with them from time to time. In order for a marriage to survive, the couple must figure out ways to dissipate the irritation that comes from time to time.

We may respond to God with anger if we experience tragedy that seems beyond our control. I can remember being angry with God over some financial difficulty I had as a young man. I thought, “Look, I’m trying to serve you - can you give me a break here?”

We often resist changes that come about and we may blame God. In the scripture today, the people of Nazareth are not happy to have Jesus hold the mirror up to them. They don’t want to hear that God’s grace may extend beyond them because that may change the way that we have to look at those we define as “the other.” I don’t want to be put in the same boat with people that I have always thought of as inferior.

They try to shoot the messenger. They are mad enough at Jesus so as to throw him off the cliff.

Why didn’t they? We have a rather mysterious ending in that Jesus passes through the midst of them and goes on his way. Maybe he doesn’t feed their anger. Maybe he stays calm in the midst of their aggression and is able to dull it to the point where they surrender their anger. It may be that Jesus is wise enough know when to push it and when to let it go! This reminds me of a leadership quote by Harvard guru Ronald Heifetz: “Leadership is disappointing your people at a rate they can absorb.”

As we look at paradoxes of our faith, I think that vulnerability and strength are often seen at odds and yet I believe that you can’t really have one without the other. Jesus is vulnerable in his honest evaluation of his own people. They are not ready to hear it. And yet, we see his strength also on display in a more subtle way.

How can we embrace our own inner strength through vulnerability?

In Christ,

Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at precedinggrace.blogspot.com. Photo by budgora via flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.

The Biggest Winner

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Lectionary Reading: Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)

As I continue in my sermon series, “Juxtaposed: The Paradox of Faith” we will begin to look at Luke’s Gospel lectionary readings starting with this Sunday.

We open with Luke’s account of the onset of the ministry of Jesus among the people of Galilee. He has been baptized and successfully withheld temptations. Now he is ready to begin preaching, teaching, healing and embodying the mystery of God. While John’s Gospel begins with the miracle at Cana, Luke begins with teaching in the synagogue in his own hometown.

Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 which is speaking to a people that have been exiled in Babylon and have returned home to Judah. They are trying to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem which had been destroyed by the Babylonians in the time of their grandparents and great-grandparents.

Isaiah speaks of good news to the returned. It would have been good to hear and yet many would have felt that it may have been a bit premature. It was good to hear that the Lord had released them so that they may return home. Yet there were now people occupying their ancestral lands. Would these distant cousins make room for them once more?

Or would they more likely see how Babylon had rubbed off too much on these exiles seeking to move in with them?

There is a paradox in that they were free and yet at the same time still captive to the culture they thought they had escaped.

Jesus reads this same word to a people bound by Rome. They also longed to be free and longed for someone to free them.

How does this message of Jesus set with the people of God? Is it too soon to declare this? Would the people accept it? It may be especially difficult in that Jesus speaks this word to his hometown!

Today, we see Jesus speaking to the poor, the captives and the blind. What does that mean to the rich, the free and the sighted? It is also paradoxical to us today in that we are both at the same time: rich and poor, captive and free, blind and sighted. How does our faith allow us to hold these things in tension? How do we receive good news in a way that we can incorporate it?

We’ll continue to explore this on Sunday - I hope you’ll join us in some fashion!

In Christ,

Sam

Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at precedinggrace.blogspot.com. Photo used under the Creative Commons license.

Are We Missing the Point?

Jesus produced wine to the equivlent of about three of these barrels.

Jesus produced wine to the equivlent of about three of these barrels.

Lectionary Scripture: John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

It is fascinating to me that the first miracle recorded in John’s Gospel is where Jesus turns water into wine. I find it interesting because while we have Jesus attending a wedding banquet, he keeps the party going when the wine runs out. Not only that, but his mother is the one who asks him to intervene!

At some point in US history, many Protestant churches began to be associated with the temperance movement to curb the use of alcohol. Within Methodism, founder John Wesley wrote about abstaining in his explanation of what it meant to “do no harm” saying that we should avoid

“Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in the cases of extreme necessity.” (2016 Book of Discipline, 78)

Of course the “unless” in this sentence leaves “extreme necessity” up for interpretation! Later, Francis Willard, a famous Methodist laywoman, was the leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union which led the charge for prohibition.

Even today, the official United Methodist stance is

“We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol as a faithful witness to God’s liberating and redeeming love for persons.” (2016 Book of Discipline, 124)

Yet today’s text can be an interpretational hurdle for the stance of abstinence. John’s Gospel indicates that the wedding guests had already been drinking as they had consumed everything available! So even moderation may take a hit here. At least no one was driving home in that day.

For those who struggle with alcoholism, this may be a very difficult text indeed.

Maybe we get so stuck on our modern-day issues with the abuses of alcohol that we miss the point of the miracle.

In Jesus’ day, the onset of the abundance of wine signaled the eschatological age - the end of time when God would step in and make all things right.

Amos 9:13 reads, “The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when...the mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall flow with it.” (NRSV) and Joel 3:18 mirrors Amos.

So if we shift the topic away from whether or not one should drink wine (and whether or not Jesus advocated either way with this miracle), we could shift toward the idea that in Jesus we find our abundance and joy. The difficulty is that this is not any less controversial - just for different reasons. If we celebrate God’s abundance over scarcity, what does this mean for those that are going hungry? Where is God’s abundance for those who don’t have enough to eat?

On Sunday, I will be starting a new sermon series for the season of Epiphany entitled, “Juxtaposition: The Paradox of Faith.” I hope to look at how sometimes our faith seems to hold or lift up two contrasting ideas. For this week’s text, how can we preach God’s preferred abundance for humanity when there is measurable scarcity in the world?

I will wrestle with this on Sunday - I hope you’ll join us if you are in town!

In Christ,

Sam

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

Homecoming


Most preachers don’t need a device to keep their mouths open but sometimes life throws a curve ball!

Most preachers don’t need a device to keep their mouths open but sometimes life throws a curve ball!

Lectionary Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7 (NRSV)

I like the sense of celebration that occurs following the Christmas season. The Advent-Christmas cycle finishes with Epiphany and then moves into these wonderful Sundays of light, knowledge and revelation. This Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and as we are in Year C, we have Luke’s account which kind of just mentions that it happened although it does give the detail of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation from God.

Our reading from the Hebrew Bible is a scene from Isaiah which grants the allusion of baptism in verse 2 when Isaiah speaks on God’s behalf, saying, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you”. The actual text is speaking to a people in exile. What do those in exile want? To go home!

I’ve not experienced homesickness very often in my life. I’ve seen it from children and youth at camp. I would say that I’m not as sympathetic as I should be due to the fact that it doesn’t effect me like it does some people. But I do remember once when I had a wave of just wanting to be home wash over me.

I was in Houston over Labor Day weekend for the World Methodist Conference back in 2016. I had a tooth ache come over me something fierce. I can remember thinking that there wouldn’t be anything available to me to provide relief. I found the University of Texas Dental School that would see me. Unfortunately, this meant that I would be seen by students while the instructor oversaw the treatment.

At first, they thought I needed a root canal and deadened my mouth. Then they discovered that it was a back molar that needed to be extracted. Could I come back in the afternoon? Since I had arrived by Uber, I decided to stick around and eat lunch on site. Of course, my mouth was still numb so this was a little bit of an adventure!

When they started in again after lunch, it took several hours with my jaw open just wider than what seemed possible for the tooth to come out - they said that I had really strong roots! It seemed like a compliment but I would have traded my roots for some weaker ones at the time. During the extraction, one of the students broke the molar. The instructor demoted him and I thought, “Now he will show them how it’s done and I can get out of here!” But he simply put another one up to bat. They started in with what sounded like some kind of buzz saw and eventually relieved me of the rest of my tooth. I then walked over to a grocery store that had a pharmacy so that I could get some pain medication for the night as I was pretty sore.

After I got the prescription and some groceries, I went back to the motel. Only my Uber app wouldn’t take my credit card and I couldn’t get a ride. Eventually, I was able to get a cab and finally got back to my motel room. I can remember just wanting to go home. It had been a long day and I was exhausted. I missed my own bed and a family that would help take care of me.

When we are isolated, it takes more effort to get well. When we are in exile, the world doesn’t seem as friendly. Since today’s passage in Isaiah speaks to the theme of baptism, I would say that Christian baptism is like a homecoming of sorts. It is through baptism that we are adopted into the family of God! In baptism we find that we are home! I’ve been at churches that are warm - even though I was a stranger - and I’ve been at churches where I felt pretty anonymous even in the midst of a crowd. Perception means a lot and I would think that anything we can do to create a sense of warmth and home is helpful to what God would like for people to encounter when they worship.

This Sunday, we’ll explore the theology of baptism - how do these sacramental waters help us to navigate the waters of life?

In Christ,

Sam

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

Photo by Ryan via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.

Year End Giving

Important Year-End Giving Reminders

There is still time to have your gifts count for 2018:

• Offering plate

• The office - The office will be open until 3 pm December 31. You may bring your cash or checks into the office during any of those times and it will be counted towards your 2018 giving.

• Mail - Any gifts postmarked by December 31st will be counted in 2018 giving.

• Online - Go to our website, fumcedmond.org, click GIVE, and Donate Online by December 31st.

• In addition to regular giving, The United Methodist Foundation also offers:

IRA CHARITABLE ROLLOVER

Congress made permanent the law that allows people age 70½ or older who own an IRA to make cash gifts directly from their IRA to charity. For many people, this is the best tax-wise way to give. An IRA rollover gift will not be included in your taxable income and will qualify for your required minimum distribution.

OUTRIGHT GIFT OF AN ASSET

If you wish to make a gift to support your church this year, but are concerned about preserving your cash resources, consider a gift of an appreciated asset. A gift of securities, business interests or real estate can provide you with significant income and capital gains tax savings, often exceeding the benefits of a cash gift.

DONOR ADVISED FUND (DAF)

If you are looking for an end-of-year deduction but want more time to make thoughtful giving decisions, consider a donor advised fund (DAF). The Foundation can use your tax deductible gift to establish a DAF in your name. You can make grants from your DAF now and in the future to support the work of your church or chosen ministry.

ZERO-TAX GIFT AND SALE

If you are planning to sell an asset like securities, real estate or a business, before you sell, consider a “zero-tax” charitable gift and sale. By making a gift of part of the asset before the sale, you can use a tax-saving charitable deduction to significantly lower or eliminate the capital gains tax on the sale.

HELP?

If you would like further information on these end-of-year planning strategies, please The United Methodist Foundation. They can help you create plan that meets your needs and goals. Contact David Battles at

dbattles@okumf.org or 800-259-6863.

Christmas is Holy Time

These luminaries look nice and straight -  I don’t think the wind was blowing for this picture!

These luminaries look nice and straight -

I don’t think the wind was blowing for this picture!

Are there any places that you find holy?

As I ponder that question, I find that my mind returns to places of my childhood and youth. Growing up at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, my images of holy places revolve around this sanctuary and building.

Some of my holiest moments growing up were during the Advent and Christmas seasons in that church. There was one particular Christmas Eve that was bitterly cold. The wind would blow the heat right out of your body. Our youth group had made luminaries out of paper bags, sand and candles. Lucinda Scheldorf, my youth minister, recruited me to light the luminaries on that cold Christmas Eve.

I did get some of them lit. Most of them stayed dark because the wind kept blowing out my light! One of them actually caught on fire making it interesting for me as well as those trying to hurry from the parking lot to the church! But even amid my failure, I still felt that this was an important job for me. It was a distinct way for me to share in the Christmas message.

The youth choir would sing at the 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service. The choir loft was decorated with greenery and the college students returning home for Christmas break would also sing with us. It was always fun to see them again. They seemed to add to the special quality of this late night service. One year, one of the youth dropped a hymnal off of one of the top spots in the choir loft. It made a very large thump as it hit the ground - probably when Dr. Biggs was trying to make an important point! We knew that we were leaders in worship but this only made the accident that much funnier! All through the service, one of us would make eye contact with another and start cracking up all over again!

As I got older, I remember hearing our adult choir perform Handle’s Messiah. This soon became the highlight of the Christmas season for me. My favorite year was when I got to sing with them as I returned from college. I sat next to Dad in the tenor section. My brother Bob was a row away and Mom sang with the altos.

All of these memories combine to accentuate the holiness of the sanctuary for me. When I walked through the doors earlier this fall for my Dad’s funeral, God gave me a very real sense of calm and peace. My hope for you is that you have already built memories in a sanctuary that add to the serenity and reverence of the season. If you are away from home and near Edmond, we have special opportunities for you to worship with us. On Sunday, December 23, our choir along with instrumentalists and Spirit Act will be presenting The Voices of Christmas in the sanctuary at 8:30, 9:45 and 11:00 am. For those that are not as inspired by music as I am, I will be preaching in Wesley Hall at Worship on Hurd at 10:50 am. In fact, we would encourage our folks to attend both if this works for your schedule! Then on Christmas Eve, we will have four services available for you to worship at 4:00 pm (labeled family friendly because we feature a shorter service that is geared more toward children), 7:00 pm with full choir, 9:00 pm in Wesley Hall for a more contemporary feel, and 11:00 pm with our handbell choir.

Whether you have worshiped with us many times or if this will be your first, I hope that you will be able to create new memories of the holy to cherish for years to come!

In Christ,

Sam

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

Photo by Ryan via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.

Cultivating Joy

Here I am participating in a dunk tank for  Founder’s Day in Piedmont in 2004. Sometimes we  can find joy even when we are cold and wet!

Here I am participating in a dunk tank for

Founder’s Day in Piedmont in 2004. Sometimes we

can find joy even when we are cold and wet!

Lectionary reading for Sunday: Philippians 4:4-7 (NRSV)

Don Vaught mentioned the other day that between the two schools, OSU and OU now have 8 Heisman trophies together. Of course, he was referencing OU winning another Heisman trophy on Saturday night. Interestingly enough, this is OSU’s 30th anniversary of our lone contribution to the conversation. I was fortunate enough to watch Barry Sanders when I was in school.

This season has been more dismal than that one. We won 6 and lost 6 and will play Missouri in the Liberty Bowl to determine if our season is in the winning or losing column. While many talk about how bad this is, it is certainly not their worst season. I sat through all of that one as well in 1991. The Cowboys were still on probation and didn’t win a single game. They had one tie with Iowa State and we didn’t even get to see this highlight as it happened in Ames.

So I think about that season and how it correlates to today’s scripture reading. When Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always” I know there are some times when life is not going my way. How can I be expected to rejoice in the middle of an 0-10-1 season?

Yet, I did have a good time at the games. I came back for all of the contests even though I was already a year removed from graduation. Sheryl was still a student and we attended the games together. Somehow this took the sting off the losses!

At this point, I can remember just looking for a good play and celebrating it. Any touchdown was a big deal and we acted as if we had just won the game! Lots of consecutive losses can really change your expectations and your perspective. It also seems to bond the fans together. Something about shared suffering can do that!

As I watched the ups and downs of this season, I was up when we won but down when we lost. I had to ask myself about setting my emotional fortunes on the backs of 18 year olds.

This begs the question, “Is our joy dictated by circumstance?”

On one hand, if we are honest, we have to answer, “Absolutely!” And many of us have much more consequential suffering than watching your team lose a football game.

But on the other hand, we also know that circumstance doesn’t have to set our emotional agenda. Joy is a spiritual fruit according to the apostle Paul. How can we cultivate this fruit in our lives? How can it crop up even when others would tell us that it shouldn’t be anywhere in sight?

As we prepare for Christmas, I hope you’ll join us for worship on Sunday as we seek to discover how joy can be as spiritual for us as it is emotional!

In Christ,

Sam

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

Special Pens Available for Purchase

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A group of men from FUMC have been working hard to make pens out of the old Oak tree that was cut down when the new addition was added! These pens along with pens made of and several exotic woods will be available for purchase this Sunday, December 9 in the Foyer. All proceeds will go to the youth groups. If you can’t make it and you would like to purchase one of these special pens for a Christmas gift, contact John Teegarden at 903-603-6008.

Young Adult/College Retreat

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Edmond First and UCO Wesley college age students will be going to Canyon Camp from January 3rd-6th. If you are in college or age 18-25 and not in college, this retreat is for you. The same people that lead Camp Spark for Junior High and High school students have put together a mid-winter camp experience for college and career folk. The schedule is a loosely based itinerary for worship, small groups, and relaxation. There will be time to see friends, be in nature, play games, or relax. Come recharge your spirit with some much needed time in the canyon.

To sign up for the retreat, visit okcamps.org or contact Michaela Drain at michaela@fumcedmond.org. If you fill out registration online, make sure to mark you are with the University of Central Oklahoma or Edmond First UMC, the UCO Wesley will cover some of the cost for camp. It will cost $85 if you say you are with another church or school, or say you are with the University of Central Oklahoma or Edmond First UMC and it will cost $20. Edmond First and UCO Wesley will be taking a bus but you are welcome to drive yourself.

UCO Wesley Director Sworn in as Chaplain Candidate in OK Army National Guard

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Last Wednesday, Michaela Drain (the UCO Wesley Director and Edmond First College Minister) was sworn into the Oklahoma Army National Guard as a 2nd Lieutenant Chaplain Candidate. Since she is in the Oklahoma National Guard, she will be able to continue in her role here as our college minister. This just means once a month, she will be ministering to soldiers around the state and during the summer she will be shipped to South Carolina to complete Chaplain and Officer training at the Army Chaplain School in Fort Jackson.

Michaela was previously in the Oklahoma Army National Guard as a Chaplain Assistant. In that role, she aided the Chaplain in tasks such as guarding, setting up the chapel, contacting units, facilitating community building events. In her new position as a Chaplain Candidate (or Chaplain Student), she will be the one in charge of a unit’s religious needs, helping guide the fulfillment of the spiritual needs of up to 1000 people. Michaela will be training soldiers on suicide prevention, counseling soldiers on spiritual issues of marriage/finances, responding to natural disasters, visiting soldiers in hospitals, leading chapel services, holding memorial ceremonies, and things of the like. We are very proud of her achievements so far and we will continue to pray for her ministry and continued training.

I Would LIke to Be Blameless...

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Sunday’s Lectionary Reading: Philippians 1:3-11 (NRSV)

Growing up, I was taught to watch my mouth. Cussing was especially prohibited. There were lots and lots of words that I was not allowed to say. One time, I ventured into some verbal country that was restricted. In response, my mom washed my mouth out with soap. For our younger readers, this meant my mom put a bar of soap into my mouth and made me rub it around until it started to create suds.

Of course, this tastes awful! Even after rinsing your mouth out with water afterward, you can still taste the soap for a while. It is considered harmful today and I am not advocating this as a disciplinary method (just to be clear).

Of course, I professed my innocence! I was being subjected to an injustice! I didn’t even know that word was bad – I was just trying it out!

Except that this was not true. While I wasn’t 100% sure the word in question was on the naughty list, I was probably 90% sure. I was pushing my luck.

Later when I was in college, I went through a profanity phase. It was my little rebellion as I was trying to figure out who I was as an adult. I can remember offending other students in my classes. They must have been too sensitive! I was just toughening them up! My intrusion on their ears was actually good for them, you see.

Essentially, I was putting my own desires (I can talk any way that pleases me) above the common good. There was no personal responsibility to check myself or to make sure I was not harming someone else.

At the time, I wouldn’t have considered myself guilty of anything wrong.

Except that I never spoke that way to my parents or grandparents.

So there was some semblance of knowledge of right and wrong or I would have trod over their feelings as well. Eventually, I matured and realized that words hold power and some words have the power to offend or hurt. I (mostly) try to use my language to help and heal now which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

As Paul writes to the church at Philippi in Sunday’s epistle, he wishes for them that their love would overflow with knowledge and insight that would lead to discernment toward the correct action. In this way, they will be blameless.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be blameless?

To have a “Get out of jail free” card?

In today’s society, it sometimes feels like we are moving away from personal responsibility and replacing it with the outright denial of guilt. If you are wrong, just don’t ever admit it.

Except somewhere inside you know.

This Sunday, we will look at Paul’s encounters with the church at Philippi. These certainly influenced his letter and how they read it. As we prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas, “doing no harm” would certainly keep us from blame better than outright denial. I hope you’ll join us for worship as we figure out what to get Jesus for his birthday this year!

In Christ,

Sam

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