I’m Not Tired!

Lectionary Reading: Romans 6:12-23 (NRSV)

The battle cry of every small child told to go to bed is “but I’m not tired!”  It is usually said with great distress as if the bedtime is the cruelest punishment a parent could inflict upon a hapless child.  

If the parent persists with the set time, sometimes the child throws a fit.  This is ironic in that it shows the parent that the child actually is tired and needs to go to sleep.

This is easier to see in one’s child than it is when looking into a mirror.

Sometimes I find myself staying up late for no good reason.  I might be reading articles online, playing a mindless game, watching a television show or movie or reading a book. I can blow past my bedtime because I am an adult.  I am in charge of my own schedule.

Unfortunately, all of the rationale that I tell my children still applies:

     I, too, need my sleep.
     I am more likely to get sick if I don’t get adequate rest.
     I will be crankier the next day if I stay up too late.
     I am more productive when I get adequate sack time.

So why would anyone choose otherwise?

There is not a good reason other than we may have convinced ourselves that we need more “me” time than we are getting.  We have more free time than any previous generation in history and yet we may feel that we are owed more.

Paul is talking about this very thing in this week’s epistle reading as he speaks of slavery to sin. Our slavery is to the self.  We believe that our will is law and heaven help anything that would disrupt this belief!

As we approach another national holiday, you’ll hear a lot of words like “independence” and “freedom.” I’m not sure we instill the same meanings into these words that our predecessors from the 18th century did.  But I do know that we have a culture that needs to understand grace.  Maybe more than that, we need to understand a proper response to grace.  I have the freedom to decide how I will respond.  I hope that I’ll rest when I’m really tired!

In Christ,

Check out Sam’s Blog here:  http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com/

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

I’m Done with Sin!

Overindulgence in the self does not lead to life.

Overindulgence in the self does not lead to life.

Lectionary Reading: Romans 6:1-11 (NRSV)

Okay, I would like to be finished with sin but it seems to creep back into my life at just the wrong times!  Paul addresses this issue with the fledgling church in Rome within this week’s epistle reading.  He indicates that our “old self” is crucified with Christ so that we may not be “enslaved to sin.”

What does it mean to be “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”?

The first vow that United Methodists ask when a person makes a profession of faith is “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?”

We acknowledge that it is important for an individual to realize that there are forces at work beyond our control.  However, we can control our own actions and we choose to live a different life.

Our expectation is not that a person will never sin again.  We understand that temptation will overcome us.  Our goal is perfection in love but it will take a lot of trial and error to get there.

If we overcome sin when we put on Christ, how come it is still so pervasive in our lives?  

What kind of victory is it if we fall prey to temptation at the drop of a hat?

I think that Paul’s use of the words “old self” is key for us.  We must recognize a new direction in which we are to walk.  When the self is my idol, God has difficulty gaining a toehold in my life. If I am able to set aside the self and see the world through a different lens, I begin to make headway in my faith journey.

I do not take this to mean that I can never enjoy myself.  It does mean that I shouldn’t enjoy myself if it comes at another’s expense.

I remember one of the twelve-year-olds I baptized at his confirmation telling his friends that he could no longer participate in their mischief because he was now baptized!  It made a difference in his life and should make a difference in ours.  In the Coen brothers movie, O Brother Where Art Thou, when Delmar is baptized it changes him.  As his cohorts steal a pie from a window, he leaves a dollar in its place to pay for their transgression.  

Delmar is not immune to sin but he recognizes its danger and seeks to overcome it.

As we remain in Christ, this overcoming of sin becomes more and more possible.  It allows us to embrace the life that we are meant to enjoy in the here and now.  If it has been a while since you have worshiped somewhere, I invite you to join with me this Sunday if you are in the Edmond area.  It might just help with a multitude of things!

In Christ,

Check out Sam’s Blog here:  http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com/

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

Music Ministry Update

Andrew Schaeffer, Director of Music Ministries

 Since last August, the Adult Choir has learned and presented 47 distinct pieces of music to share for worship. That’s not even counting the oratorio “The Seven Last Words of Christ” they sang on Good Friday! This year, for the annual summer music concert, we’re teaming up with the Handbell Choir to present: “Our Favorites”.

A few weeks ago, choir members were asked to vote on their favorites and I must say, the sheer variety encouraged me. I also must note that they picked all their hardest repertoire!

That said, please plan to celebrate another wonderful year of music making by attending the concert on Sunday, June 25 at 3:00 in the sanctuary! We hope that our favorites will be some of your favorites too.

Being a Worthy Host

Lectionary Scripture Reading: Matthew 9:35-10:15 (NRSV)

The part of this passage that used to disturb me was where Jesus told his disciples to “Go nowhere among the Gentiles” as he sent them out.

If the mission of Jesus was only to the Jews, then we, as Gentiles, seem to be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God.  For me, this lacks congruence with the overall message of “God so loved the world...”  Of course, the latter is from John rather than Matthew.  However, Matthew also has more universal appeal with the parable of the sower who scatters seeds indiscriminately.

Matthew’s is the only gospel that includes the curtain of the temple being torn when Jesus dies which indicates that which had separated us from God is now gone.  The separation of the sheep and the goats in Matthew seems to point more toward morals than it does nationality when looking at righteousness.

And so, it is a little confusing to see the distinction Jesus makes here between Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles.

I believe that this has to do with training.

Out of these three groups, which one would have received the proper example of Abraham and Sarah? When Jesus mentions Sodom and Gomorrah, it becomes apparent that this era is being referenced.  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah follows the story of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis as two contrasting examples of how human beings should interact with strangers.

The lost sheep of the house of Israel should know the correct way to treat his disciples who are coming with nothing on them but the shirts on their backs.  So this stipulation seems to be for the benefit of his followers rather than a hierarchy of the worthy.

If this is the case, what does it say about the expectations of Jesus for the church today regarding hospitality?

I’m looking forward to unpacking this passage in more detail during Sunday’s sermon which is entitled, “You Know What You Are Supposed to Do.”

In Christ,

Check out Sam’s Blog here:  http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com/

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

Music Ministry Update

Andrew Schaeffer, Director of Music Ministries

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday – one of the only days on the church calendar which doesn’t have a direct correlation to a story from the Bible (i.e. Christmas or Pentecost). While it is universally observed by most every western denomination, it originated in the Roman Catholic Church around the 10th century to educate the faithful about not only the doctrine of the Trinity, but about other fundamental aspects of the faith.

It’s a popular tradition on Trinity Sunday in the Western Church to sing or speak the Te Deum, the oldest known hymn text which dates from 387A.D. At our 8:30 & 11:00 services this Sunday, we too will join our voices in this grand hymn of faith. With its beautiful, expansive language, we will set out to express our faith in the Trinity in a truly unique way. Join us!

We Know Only in Part

Lectionary Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 (NRSV)

Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth includes the benediction from Sunday’s reading that features the Trinity in verse thirteen.  The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday and many churches look at the doctrine of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Trinity is the Christian understanding of how God continues to reveal God’s self to the world.

We come to know God in this way but it is difficult.  Human beings are finite and God is infinite.  Can we truly grasp the infinite?  Not yet.

Paul’s own reflection in his first letter to Corinth declares in 13:12b, “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  He speaks of when we move from this life to the next gaining insight even as God already understands us completely.

I remember being on a young adult retreat at Canyon in the late 1980’s (I was probably about 5) and Reverend Guy Langston was our leader at the time.  He was speaking to us on intimacy with God.  As human beings seek true intimacy with one another, there is never a way for us to truly and completely know one another.  Guy was vulnerable in sharing that even in the most intimate moments between spouses, there is never a way for them to become truly one in that we can never know another’s mind completely.

We can’t do Vulcan mind melds with people.

At the same time, we have this deep desire to be known by others.  We seek to be loved for who we really are. Christianity claims that God does know us and love us for who we really are.

God, in God’s infinite capacity is able to do this. We, in our limited capacity, seek to grasp who God really is.

The Trinity is our way of knowing.  It can be somewhat confusing and contains more than a bit of mystery to it.  This is not to be a cop-out but rather an admission to our limits.  And so, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the sharing in the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

In Christ,

Check out Sam’s Blog here:  http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com/

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

United Methodist Annual Meeting-Time

Part of being United Methodist is understanding how we relate to the various other United Methodist churches around what we refer to as “the connection.”  This week, many Oklahoma United Methodists will gather for our annual meeting which we often refer to as “annual conference.”  This meeting will include business such as electing officers and approving next year’s budget.  We will honor our clergy who are transitioning as we celebrate retirements for those finishing their full-time work as well as commissioning and ordaining those emerging in leadership at the beginning of their careers.  We also will remember those clergy who have died since the last annual conference.

For clergy, our church membership is within the annual conference rather than the local church.  My wife and children all have their membership at Edmond First but mine is within the Oklahoma Conference.  When I retire (some day long from now), my membership will continue to remain in the Oklahoma Conference but I will be required to have a charge membership at a local church somewhere.  This is to ensure that I am remaining active within United Methodism.  We have quite a few clergy with their charge memberships within our congregation and it becomes a gift to the local church as they share their wisdom with us.

Our church has received the New People New Places grant in order to bring on an additional clergy person on our staff.  This grant was established a few years ago by Oklahoma United Methodism’s Annual Conference Council to encourage various ministries within our conference to try to reach people within the community that we are currently missing.  A local church is eligible to receive this grant for up to three years.  Because the cost of clergy has risen in the past decade, we are utilizing the grant to bring on a new staff member with the hopes of receiving a declining award for the next two years so that we might take on the new salary more gently as we grow the church.

This means that the pressure on the new clergyperson is to grow the church enough to afford the additional salary.  We also have pressure to receive the grant funding while we move in this new direction.  Fortunately, our church is already healthy and growing so that we anticipate a smooth transition.

We were told that Trey Witzel would be appointed here June 1.  I was excited that our church would be receiving Trey as I served as his mentor through the candidacy process.  I’ve known Trey since he was in Junior High as he grew up within our district at Village United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.  We saw each other at various district events including summer camp each year.  Trey recently graduated with his master of divinity degree from Boston University’s School of Theology (a United Methodist institution).  His wife Addison grew up in Edmond and will be working at Oklahoma City University (another United Methodist institution).  Trey served Tewksbury UMC as a student local pastor while in Boston and grew the church from 25 to 55 in worship attendance.

Trey will be commissioned as a provisional elder on Wednesday night at 7:00 pm in the sanctuary of Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.  All are welcome to attend and there will be a reception following if you would like to stop by and introduce yourself.  Trey will have a minimum of two years in which he will serve as a provisional member before he is eligible for ordination and full conference membership.  While he is serving in this capacity, he is still allowed to oversee the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion within the bounds of his appointment.  Once he is ordained, he will be able to preside over the sacraments in other locales as well.   

This Sunday will be Trey’s first at his new appointment at Edmond First UMC.  We will also have a reception for Trey and Addison in the Christian Activity Center following worship.  There will be food trucks in the alley which will begin serving at 11 am if you go to the early service.

We are pleased at how God is leading us into the future.  Many churches are cutting staff positions rather than adding them at this point and so we feel very fortunate.  I hope that if you are in the area (and don’t already attend another church), you will join us as we worship together!

In Christ,

Check out Sam’s Blog here:  http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com/


Music Ministry Update

Andrew Schaeffer, Director of Music Ministries

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire. Thou the anointing Spirit art, who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

If you were to have wandered into a European church on Pentecost in the year 1150, chances are you probably would’ve heard the above text sung in Latin as the Introit by a group of monks. Of all the hymns from that era (known as “chants”) this one, Veni Creator, is perhaps one of the most popular still sung today.

This Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost, which is regarded as the most important day of the church year… right behind Easter and Christmas of course! For those of you wondering, it’s the day we commemorate the unleashing of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts 2.

The above text will help center our worship on Sunday – the choir will be singing it twice – once for the Introit as it would have been presented in the 9th century, and then in another setting by an English composer, Thomas Ford, from the 17th century. Finally, I’ll be playing a stirring setting of it by 20th century composer Maurice Duruflé on the organ.

As our own congregation continues to grow and renew, I think it’s a powerful gift to be able to join our voices and ears with those of centuries past, giving thanks for the great gift of the Holy Spirit!

2017 Annual Conference Worship Schedule

The Oklahoma Annual Conference begins on Monday, May 29.  Please remember each of the pastors, delegates, staff and many others in prayer throughout the week.  Below is the schedule of worship that all are welcome to attend.  For more information about annual conference, visit www.okumc.org/annual_conference.

Monday, May 29
6:30 p.m.     Pre-worship concert (St. Luke’s Sanctuary)
7:00 p.m.     Memorial Worship and Communion – Bishop
            Nunn, preaching(Sanctuary)

Tuesday, May 30
2:00 p.m.     Worship Service of Retirement (Freede Center
                       - OCU)

Wednesday, May 31
11:30 a.m.     UCO Luncheon – St. Luke’s (RSVP required)
6:30 p.m.       Pre-worship concert (Sanctuary)
7:00 p.m.       Worship Service of Commissioning and
                        Ordination – Bishop Nunn, preaching (St.
                        Luke’s Sanctuary) Our new associate, Trey
                        Witzel, is getting commissioned at this


Music Ministry Update

Andrew Schaeffer, Director of Music Ministries

Like our Episcopal, Roman Catholic & Lutherans sisters and brothers, we in the United Methodist Church use the Lectionary to guide us through the church year. While the Lectionary states that this upcoming Sunday is Ascension Sunday (40 days post-Easter) it’s hard to ignore that Memorial Day weekend is juxtaposed against it. However, while Memorial Day is strictly a secular holiday, it is appropriate for us to pause and give thanks to God for the many men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that, among other things, we can worship our risen Lord freely and boldly.

In keeping with this theme, the Adult Choir will sing a stirring rendition of the hymn “God of Our Fathers” while Abby Boatman will offer “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the offering. At points in both pieces of music, you as a congregation will be invited to sing along, joining our voices to honor of the sacrifice of so many and to celebrate the freedom we have through Jesus Christ.

I hope you’ll join us this Sunday!

Adversarial Relationships

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 (NRSV)

At this point in the letter, there is the assumption that suffering and persecution are a part of the Christian life.  It could be that the author is speaking of persecutions directly experienced or of those related by colleagues.  In any event, there seems to be a sense of solidarity in suffering as if it is helpful to realize that you are not the only one in turmoil.

The old adage “misery loves company” helps us to remember that we don’t do as well in isolation.

The Christian community works well when it lifts up its various members when they are down.  It does even better when it applies this same helping hand to anyone in its vicinity.  Churches are some of the best organizations at responding to disaster relief. We step up when we see the need staring us in the face.

To be isolated in the midst of crisis is to often face despair.  People working through grief know that it is easier when shared with others.  We instinctively understand that we need to lean on one another from time to time.

The second part of verse 5:8 struck me as it declares, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”  This metaphor is apt.  Human beings have known for millennia that it is easier to get picked off by lions when you stray from the group.  There is strength in numbers - spiritually as well as physically.

This verse reminds me of the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.  After God favors Abel’s offering, Cain is upset and God states in verse 7, “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” This particular verse is from the New International Version which makes the metaphor of sin similar to the roaring lion in 1 Peter 5:8.

These metaphors characterize evil as a force that is pursuing us.  In order to overcome it, our best defense is to share in the strength of the Holy Spirit which is most often expressed within the Christian community.

What does it mean for us to share in the suffering of one another?  How do we do this without getting dragged down with those in pain?  In other words, how do we lift them up rather than empathizing so much that we are now the ones needing help?

Prayer for the day:

O God, we have known and believed the love that You have for us.  May we, by dwelling in love, dwell in You, and You in us.  May we learn to love You Whom we have not seen, by loving our brothers and sisters whom we have seen.  Teach us, O heavenly Father, the love wherewith You have loved us; fashion us, O blessed Lord, after Your own example of love; shed abroad, O Your Holy Spirit of Love, the love of God and humanity in our hearts.  Amen.

     ~Henry Alford, Church of England, 19th Century

In Christ,

Check out Sam’s Blog here:  http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com/
Photo by Aftab Uzzaman via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.


Earn Stars for your CROWN...

Looking for toddler volunteer helpers.
At the beginning of the school year our youngest classes usually have several children who are unhappy to be left by mom and dad.  There are many toddlers with tears as the staff begins to work with these babies to get them settled into the routine of their day.  All of our toddler classes are full.  We are very excited about that, but what that means is there will be 10 toddlers and only 2 teachers in this room.  We NEED baby holders to assist.  If you could spare one or two days during the first 8 weeks of school on either Mondays or Thursdays from 9:00 to noon we’d love to have your help beginning September 5 through October 25.  Ear plugs available upon request...

Call the Preschool / MDO office at 341-1230 or sign up on “Serve the Lord with Gladness” Sunday - May 21 at the Preschool / Mother’s Day Out table.  We’re in the BLUE tablecloth section.

New Sunday Morning Service

Worship at 9:45 am
As we continue to grow, we realize that we need more space!  While the easiest thing to do would be to continue to pack people into the sanctuary at 8:30 or 11 am, there is an informal rule that says that once a worship space has hit 80% capacity, you have reached your ceiling.  People will sit shoulder-to-shoulder on Easter or Christmas Eve but not on a weekly basis.  So if we do not add any more worship services, our worship attendance will plateau.

Our staff has been working to expand our offerings on Sunday morning.  We would like to start a new worship service in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings at 9:45 am beginning in September after Labor Day.  This worship would be identical liturgically to the existing sanctuary services with a couple of exceptions.  We would not offer a children’s sermon during this time because the children will presumably be in Sunday school during this time.  We would also not feature the choir at this service as we do not want to burn them out or keep them from their Sunday school classes!

Musically, we are looking at having various instrumentalists such as flute or strings (violin, cello) play for the worship service.  They would also accompany the hymns along with a vocalist or two.  This would keep the service similar but offer a musical variance that others might find attractive as a worship option.  The sermon will remain the same as currently offered at the other three services.

We are beginning to look for people to seed this service.  Seeding the service will mean that you plan on attending this as your primary worship at least 3 times per month.  This means that we will hopefully launch with an average of fifty people per Sunday so that it doesn’t seem too empty when visitors drop in.  This will draw people off of our 8:30 or 11 am services which will provide more space for growth in those services as well.

We invite you to pray for our new service, that we would continue to reach people in our community.  If your prayers lead you to an interest in helping with this new worship service or if you have questions concerning the service, please contact our Senior Pastor, Sam Powers, at sam@fumcedmond.org.

Music Ministry Update

Andrew Schaeffer, Director of Music Ministries
As the first year of our rejuvenated children’s choir program year ends, I thought it would be fun and encouraging to reflect on some statistics over the past academic year:

• We had 22 children enrolled in the Cherub Choir (Pre-K & Kindergarten) and an average of 17 coming every week.

• The Cherub Choir (1st-5th graders) had 15 participants with an average of 13 per rehearsal.

• Both choirs sang for worship eight times throughout the year deeply enriching the 11:00 worshipping community.

My sincerest thanks to all the children who participated with gusto, the parents who dutifully brought them every week, and my assistants, Karen Hudgens & Mary Beth Singleton who gave me practical help, ideas and encouragement along the way. Most importantly, thank you to you, as a congregation, for supporting this vital ministry through your offerings and presence. Sadly, programs of this type are increasingly rare in Protestant churches and indeed, we are one of the only churches in town to offer a comprehensive choir program like this.

I’m excited to build on this foundation for the years to come. Registration for the fall is open, so please contact me if you know of a child who would benefit from this program!

The Descent into Hell

Sometimes imprisonment is perplexing as we wonder aloud, “How did I get here?”

Sometimes imprisonment is perplexing as we wonder aloud, “How did I get here?”

Lectionary reading for Sunday: 1 Peter 3:13-22 (NRSV)

This reading starts out a little dubiously when it asks, “Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”

Could this have been asked a little tongue-in-cheek as we obviously knew what had happened to Jesus?  If this letter was written by a disciple of Peter’s, the martyrdom of Peter would already have been known as well.

Every person faces choices from time-to-time.  Sometimes if we choose not to decide, the choice goes away.  Sometimes the choice to do what is right is tiring and takes effort.  We know there will be push-back.

A person who lives with a functioning alcoholic may choose not to make the drinking an issue in order to (seemingly) preserve the relationship.  It is almost always easier in the short-term to go with the status quo.

The reading speaks of Jesus making “a proclamation to the spirits in prison” in verse 19 immediately following his death on the cross.  This is the doctrine of Jesus descending to the dead or to Hell as proclaimed in the Apostles’ Creed. Theologically, this offers salvation to all the souls who died before Christ redeemed humanity.  It seems that God is not content with the redemption of those born after Jesus, but actively seeks all people.

This is a part of the meaning of the resurrection.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live out this resurrection faith.  And that means that we are to do the right thing.  Not just sometimes, but all the time.  This is not meant to make us weary or to find it an impossible task.  As we remain in Christ, our own natures begin to shift toward the desire for compassion for all as we take on Christ’s nature.

The difficulty of this is when we run into resistance for our good efforts.  Not everyone wants our compassion and some people prefer to remain in prisons of their own making. When these are strangers, it is a little easier to let go.  When they are people we love, their problems can become fused into our lives.

Ultimately, these are times when we must cling to our resurrection faith.  We remain hopeful in the salvation in Christ that transforms lives not only in the next life but in this life.

Some days that is all we have.

In Christ,

Check out Sam’s Blog here:  http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com/
Photo by Tiago Pinheiro via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.