In the heart of Missoula...


Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
Celebrating God's love since 1871

"Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" is not just an advertising slogan, but a statement of how First United Methodist Church of Missoula wants to be seen in our community. First Church is a community of open hearts seeking to be a force for God's grace in the "heart" of Missoula's downtown. We are an open minded congregation, respectful of each other yet unafraid of the issues of our time. And we are a church of open doors, welcoming a wide diversity of people to be a part of our congregation. For those who can't manage our stairs, you will find the elevator just inside the street level entrance to the right of the stairs. You will always find a place at First United Methodist Church!

Please visit us at 300 E. Main Street.




starChurch services at 8:30 a.m. in the chapel and

10:30 a.m. in the sanctuary

Communion is held each Sunday and all attending are invited to God's Table to share in the meal.
Nursery care will be available to those 5 and under during the services.
There is always a coffee/fellowship time in the Narthex following the service.
You are invited to join us!

sermonby our minister Rev. John Daniels

Sunday Opportunities in the Fall:

Septbember 11th is the first day for Sunday School.
Sunday School: Children ages 3-12 leave the sanctuary following the 10:30 Children's Time
and meet on the top floor.

The Faith and Justice Class will meet in the downstairs Parlor at 9:15 (all year round).

A variety of adult classes are also being planned for the fall.


newsletterfor complete details of all that is happening this month in our church.

Upcoming Events -


September 7 JuBELLation begins, 6 p.m.
September 8 UMW Fall Social at the Carousel, 5:30 p.m.
September 9 Friday Nite Out, 6 p.m.
September 11 Photos for the new FUMC Directory begin
September 13 Tower Tidings Deadline for October, noon
September 13 Joyful Noise begins, 6 p.m.
September 15, GEMS, 6:30 p.m.
September 18 Ad Council, 7 p.m.
September 21 Vespers, 1 p.m.
September 27 Book Group, 11 a.m.


October 1 Amazing Grays Trip, 10 a.m.
October 13 Ruth Fellowship, 10 a.m.

What's New?

cross Congolese Refugees will be relocated to Missoula MT. More information on the background of this project
August 20th First Congolese Refugees arrive in Missoula. Watch Video


star Big News from the Western Jurisdictional Meeting.

On July 15, delegates to the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference approved the Mission Shaped Future Petition that sought to create a new annual conference out of the Rocky and Yellowstone Annual Conferences. More information....

The Rev. Dr. Karen P. Oliveto was elected to the episcopacy on the 17th ballot by the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church (UMC). “Today we took a step closer into living into beloved community,” said Oliveto. More information...

Bishop Karen Oliveto has just been assigned to the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area, which includes the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences.

Western Jurisdiction UMC contributed $8.5 million to saving lives thru "Imagine No Malaria".


crossIn May the FUMC Foundation awarded $8500 in scholarships to seven students.
In November they will consider requests from non-profit groups.

cross UMW Sunday - brought awareness of the Human Trafficking problem in the world.
UMW members gathered with their umbrellas to express their concern for victims of human trafficking.

Under an Umbrella, we are shielded from the storm and protected from the heat.

crossSCAM: A church using the address of 306 E. Main is contacting people saying they have money to donate to them.
If you have gotten such a notice please click here.

crossvideoPublication Notice:  Voices of Reconciling Video Available
Click for more information $ 10 includes shipping, $6 to be picked up at church.


New to our Community?



Find out about our church:

Our church is handicap accessible through the street level door on the southeast corner of the building. There is an elevator there that will bring you up to the sanctuary or take you down to fellowship hall. We have large-print bulletins with hymns, large print hymnals, and hearing assistance devices for those that are hard of hearing.
We also have video screens for hymns and scripture. Ask the ushers for help when you arrive and they will find what you need.
Office phone and E-mail contact information on the CONTACT US PAGE.


is a Reconciling Congregation.

We welcome all people into the full life and
membership of this congregation.


Reaching out with love to our community and the world hearts

Tzedakah Pocket
Family Promise Host
❤ U of M Wesley House
Host for Homeless Connect
Poverello noon meal 5th Saturdays
Missoula Interfaith Collaborative & January Food Bank Drive
Missoula Food Bank and January Food Drive
YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter
❤ Cub Scouts
Habitat for Humanity
Salvation Army

Intermountain Home
Flathead Lake UMC Camp
Blackfeet United Methodist Parish

East Angola Pastor Support
United Methodist Women’s mission projects
SERRV & Fair Trade Products
Bread for the World
❤ Jubilee for Debt Reduction

Check out our Facebook page. We hope you enjoy it.

 John Daniels
Pastor John Daniels

Administrative Assistants: Sharon Jackson, Rhanda Johnson and Nancy Eik
Treasurer: Leslie Lindley
Financial Secretary: Kay Duffield

Custodian: John Schaff
Childcare Director: Juliette Viera
Nursery Attendants: Faye Gibson, Audra Clark & Juliette Viera

Music Team:
Greg Boris, Music Director and Chancel Choir Director
Peter Edwards, Pianist/Organist
Laura Jacquette, Pianist/Organist 8:30

Brynn Bellingham, Handbell Choir Director
Rhanda Johnson, Joyful Noise Director

hospital **Please let the office know if you or someone in our church family needs a visit in the hospital or at home.
Church Office (406) 549-6118
or Pastor John's cell phone (406) 396-8966.

Office Hours
Monday - Friday: 9 a.m. - noon.
(subject to change - call 549-6118 before coming in or to make an appointment with the pastor)

The life of our church includes:
(Click on colored words to find out more information.)
Adult Spiritual Growth - class descriptions, online class information and
links to The Book of Discipline
Children's Ministries - You Tube Christmas program video
Youth Ministries - FUMY
U of M Wesley Foundation - Facebook link
Amazing Grays - Trips for seniors
Choirs - Chancel Choir, JuBELLation Handbell Choir, Children's Joyful Noise Choir
Foundation - donations and scholarships
Membership - joining the church
Stephen Ministers - caring for one another as we journey through life
Information on what a Stephen Minister does and training information.
Social Action - Family Promise, Poverello, Habitat for Humanity, Intermountain, UMCOR, Angola Partnership, Bread for the World, Jubilee for Debt Reduction
UMW - United Methodist Women schedule and fellowship group information UMW
UMM - United Methodist Men
Walk to Emmaus - Link to their website












First Church loves music and hopes you will come not only to listen but to participate in it! We sing hymns as well as praise songs, often have special music and enjoy all three of our choirs. Choirs practice from September till May.
We love those who volunteer to provide special music during the summer. Call the office if you would like to bless us with your music.

Chancel Choir - September - May Wednesday practice
FUMC Chancel Choir practices and performs during the school year.  Enthusiasm and love of music a must.  Previous experience is not required.  Choir meets Wednesday at 6:30.  All are welcome.  Please join us!  For more information talk to choir director Greg Boris 239-1828.

You Tube video
Retired ministers Hugh Herbert and Barry Padget lead the congregation in singing
Brother Van's Harvest Time. Click on the arrow above to start the video.

JuBELLation Handbell Choir
- September - May Wednesday practice
Interested in learning/playing a new musical instrument? JuBELLation Handbell Choir, based at The First United Methodist Church, is looking for individuals interested in learning or experienced at playing handbells this season!  There are several ways to get involved and be part of this fun group!  Openings include: Full Time, Part Time, and On-call positions. During the school year practice is each Wednesday from 6-8. Brynn Bellingham, Director.

bunnyJoyful Noise Children's Choir
- September - May Tuesday practice
All children from the 1st through the 8th grade are welcome to participate in making a Joyful Noise. During the school year they participate in worship once a month and rehearse on Tuesdays from 6:00 - 6:45 p.m.
Contact Rhanda Johnson in the office (549-6118) for more information.

Adult Spiritual Growth Groups
Do you feel like you are on a spiritual journey? We hope you will allow us to walk with you on this journey and together we will find the answers to our questions. Classes will meet on Sunday morning, Tuesday morning, and Tuesday evening.

Sunday morning: Faith and Justice at 9:15 in Parlor

Interested in online adult classes? Click on UMC classes for more information.
Looking for a specific Bible Verse? Click on Bible Verse Search

The Book of Discipline is available online for your study and review: The Book of Discipline Index, The Book of Discipline Part 1,The Book of Discipline Part 2 and The Book of Resolutions 2012 Part III.

Children's Ministries
September - May Sunday School meets at 9:15 between services and is for  Preschool - 6th grade. Our Rock Solid program is a
Bible study that enables children to experience God through Jesus Christ.  Activities will include stories, crafts, music and scripture. 

Call the church office (549-6118) for more information. Nursery care is available for those not ready for preschool.


You Tube You can watch a You Tube video of the Twelve Days of Christmas given by the children during church December 8, 2013.
 Click on the You Tube logo.

First United Methodist Youth Fellowship (FUMY)
7th through 12th grade students meet most Wednesday evenings at 5:30 p.m. from September until May.
They do service projects, make discoveries about themselves and others, and have fun!

Wesley Foundation - University of Montana Campus Ministry
New to Campus? Connect with us! Campus Connection
The University of Montana Wesley House is located across the street from the campus and Miller Hall at 1327 Arthur Avenue.
College students and visitors are welcomed to stop by for a vis
it. Sunday evenings are family style dinners and Thursday evenings are a Bible Study.
For more information E-mail the Wesley House or Phone: (406) 274-3346.
Join us on facebook
Local Churches: Please send the names of U of M students from your local church to the Wesley Foundation
so they can be invited to join the
Wesley House activities.
Students are welcomed at either First or Grace UMC in Missoula.

UMW logoUnited Methodist Women Facebook
Our UMW is part of the Yellowstone Conference, which covers Montana, 1/2 Wyoming and a slice of Idaho.
You can find information on Conference and District UMW activities on the conference UMW web page.

The National organization of United Methodist Women also has a website full of information, news, and resources

. UMWUMW is open to any woman who would enjoy the companionship of other women and is someone who is dedicated to supporting missions near and far. UMW raises money for mission projects locally, in Montana, nationally and globally. UMW meets the first Thursday Oct-Dec and Feb-May. All meetings are at 1:00 for dessert, program and business meeting, unless otherwise announced in the church newsletter.
Other activities include: Ash Wednesday Soup Supper, July picnic for families who will attend a community band concert at Bonner Park afterward, October Apple Pie sales, and December Candy Sale.
Contact President Klairaine Nichwander 396-1663 for more information.

** UMW Fellowship Circles meet once a month. Nothing compares to a small supportive group of women!

All women of the church are invited to visit groups that interest them.
GEMS Fellowship meets the third Thursday at 7 p.m. in the church library Sept-May
This group of working women is particularly interested in the UMW Reading program and are supportive of one another.
Chair: Laela Shimer 721-1960

L.A.N.S. Fellowship meets the second Monday at 11:30 a.m. for lunch at a restaurant from Sept-Dec and Feb-May.
They are women Living Actively in the New Society. They are interested in social action in the community as well as fellowship.
Chairman: Ellie Barnes 549-1384
RUTH Fellowship meets the second Thursday at 10:00 a.m. in the church parlor Oct-May.
They invite you to come and share their fellowship, coffee, a monthly program, and outreach to church members who need a little TLC and support of missions like the YWCA Battered Women's Shelter.

Chairmen: Kay Duffield 543-6722 or Judy Whiddon 258-2719
VESPERS Fellowship meets the third Wednesday at 1:00 in homes Sept-May
They have been meeting together for a long time which has led to many long friendships. They invite you to their program and meeting. Chairman: Kay Norum 721-5750

**Special Interest Groups:
Book Group meets the fourth Thursday at 11 a.m. in the church library
year round.
Co-Chair: Laurie Ball 926-1252 & Jackie Krahn 543-3979
Knitting Group meets on Saturdays at 10:00 in homes year round.
Chairman: Carole Addis 721-1817

UMMen logoMen's Fellowship Group
The Mighty Methodist Men meet 1st & 3rd Saturdays, at 8 a.m. in the Church Library.

Stephen Ministry ChurchSM logo
Stephen Ministers help with prayer requests each Sunday and serve communion.
As a congregation we participate in Stephen Ministries, where trained Stephen Ministers walk with those whose lives are in turmoil for one reason or another. Anyone in our church family can request a Stephen Minister for themselves. Members of the congregation are encouraged to consider doing the 50-hours of training and helping others in this way. As a Stephen Minister you often find tools to help in your own life as well as nurture your care receiver. More information can be found at:
What is a Stephen Minister?
Call Kay at 543-6722 or Peg at 542-1543 for more information.

Amazing Grays
The Amazing Grays are a group of church members who have been blessed with some gray hairs. They get together once a month for companionship and an enjoyable time. They go out to dinner, have a pot-luck and game night at the church, a holiday party or sometimes make a day trip by bus to some place in Montana. Friends are always welcome. Rides will be provided for those who no longer drive. Participants may sign up following church for the current activities.

New Members are received throughout the year. To learn more, please contact Pastor John Daniels by stopping by or calling the church office at 549-6118.
New Member class currently under way.

Missoula First United Methodist Church Foundation:
Donations and bequests to the Foundation are used for charitable giving, scholarships and fulfilling the church's mission. Brochure with more information on charitable giving and bequests to the Foundation is available by clicking on Foundation Brochure.
Foundation Scholarships: The Foundation offers two scholarships each Spring. The Foundation Scholarship is for an active member of our church and The Katie Payne Scholarship is for a woman pursuing a nursing or medical arts career or a career in law, government or public service. Click on the blue scholarship name above for the application.
The packet containing your application, transcript, and two letters of recommendation must be postmarked April 15th or earlier.

Walk to Emmaus Fourth Day groups for men and women also meet at the church. Walk to Emmaus weekends for men and women are held each spring. Please check out the Walk website at: www.WesternMTWalk.com
Members from other Walk communities are welcome and encouraged to help with the Walks, come to Gatherings and join 4h Day groups.
More Emmaus Community Information from Upper Room.


Social Action - Love in Motion

We give of our time, talent and gifts to local agencies such as Poverello and Family Promise, to state agencies such as the Blackfeet Parish and the Intermountain Home in Helena, to national missions through mission shares, and globally we are supporting a pastor in Angola with a monthly check. We are also a Jubilee Church to help poor countries with their debt.

Family promise logoFirst United Methodist Church of Missoula is part of 19+ churches who are working to house 3-4 homeless families with children. For more information or to volunteer please contact Barbara Blanchard Mahoney at 493-6713 or go to their website: http://familypromisemissoula.net/

I was hungry and you fed me...
Come feed God's people lunch 4 or 5 times a year at the Poverello Center.
We work at the Pov whenever there is a 5th Saturday.
Call the church office to sign up (549-6118).

We are a church partner with Missoula's Habitat for Humanity We invite you to join us for a work day! Contact the office at 549-6118 for more information.

Intermountain is a nationally accredited non-profit organization. They provide mental health and
educational services to effectively meet the diverse needs of children and families facing emotional challenges. Their primary services include: residential treatment, community-based services, and community trainings. Operating for more than 100 years, Intermountain is one of Montana’s oldest child welfare agencies.

We care about others. We participate in giving relief to victims of natural disasters through UMCOR. Our church gives generously to those affected by natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis and will continue to support UMCOR when it heads to new disasters.



jubilee Each Easter we celebrate with a brunch following the Sunrise Service. Proceeds from this breakfast go to support the Jubilee Debt Campaign. To find out more about the campaign go to http://www.jubileeusa.org/home.html


Bread for the World is a non-partisan, Christian citizens' movement in the United States to end hunger. The organization describes itself as a collective Christian voice urging nation's decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad.



Special Days. Special Ways. We reach out to the world with Special Offerings

Human Relations Day -February
One Great Hour of Sharing - March
Native American Ministries - April
Peace With Justice - May
World Communion - October
United Methodist Student Day - November
For more information go to: www.umcgiving.org















Sermons by Pastor John Daniels

8-21-16  How God Erases Our ExcusesScripture:  Jeremiah 1:4-10
Theme:  When faced with the challenging, the uncomfortable, the uncertain, or the unpleasant, most humans initially experience the inner desire to justifiably avoid the situation completely, this being known as the process of making excuses.  We do this quite often, and often quite subtly, in our faith.  But taking Jeremiah’s examples as our own, we hear a God who is not going to be easily dissuaded by the excuses we come up with, if what we are facing is something God asks of us.

In our scripture lesson today, we overhear an interchange between God and the prophet Jeremiah.  God proclaims that “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”
Jeremiah responds by saying “Who?  Me?”
God says, “I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah says, “But I’m only a child.”
God says, "Don't say you're a child."
Jeremiah says, "I do not know how to speak."
God says, "I have put my words in your mouth."
Jeremiah says, "I am afraid."
God says, "Do not be afraid."
Jeremiah says, "They'll eat me for lunch."
God says, "I am with you and I will rescue you."
Jeremiah says, "Okay then."
And Jeremiah lived happily ever after.  Amen.

Or not!
The Old Testament account of Jeremiah has been considered one of the more depressing testimonies of someone attempting to follow God, for indeed, Jeremiah did not live happily ever after.  Jeremiah was attacked by his own brothers, beaten and put into stocks by a priest and false prophet, imprisoned by the king, threated with death, thrown into a cistern by Judah’s officials, and opposed by a false prophet.  Added to this, Jeremiah’s account of God’s sorrow for Judah is saturated with broken-hearted anguish and outright rage – “My anguish, my anguish!  I writhe in pain!  Oh, the walls of my heart; my heart beating wildly; I cannot keep silent.”  “My anger and my wrath shall be poured out on this place, on human beings and animals, on the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.”


No wonder Jeremiah searched for an excuse to avoid being a part of this!  Back then, to follow God meant likely persecution and disfavor; to be a prophet meant likely chastisement and ridicule, possibly great suffering and even death.  Who wouldn’t seek a way out?
         That’s what we are faced with in reality today – each of our tendency to seek a way out of the hard work of following Jesus.  This is the process known as coming up with excuses for shying away from the greater call of faith – I do it, you do it, we all do it to some extent, to some degree – and though we are not condemned for this, we are met by a God who sees through our excuses, and patiently invites us to do the same. Recently, I came across an article about the Metropolitan Insurance Company in which the company shared some unusual explanations for accidents from its automobile policyholders. The following are just few:

  1. An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car, and vanished.
  2. The other car collided with mine without warning me of its intention.
  3. I had been driving my car for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had the accident.
  4. As I reached an intersection, a hedge sprang up, obscuring my vision.
  5. I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.
  6. The pedestrian had no idea which direction to go, so I ran over him.
  7. The telephone pole was approaching fast. I attempted to swerve out of its path when it struck my front end.
  8. The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.
  9. The indirect cause of this accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth.

I think we all have some of this tendency in ourselves, perhaps especially when we see the flashing red and blue lights in our rearview mirror, but, more to the point, whenever we face something challenging, uncomfortable, overwhelming, or confusing – our first reaction is to come up with a justifiable excuse as to why we are not at fault, not responsible, not qualified, or not capable of dealing with what’s before us.  But when it involves a calling from our faith, when it involves our efforts to follow Jesus, God invites us to examine our excuses, and see if they hold water.  The excuses we come up with to protect our lives might just be keeping us from living full lives, as God desires.

When I started the eighth grade, I realized that this grade marked the end of my life as I had known it up to that point.  In the eighth grade, I faced something monstrous.  Worse than bullies.  Worse than failing academically.  Worse than acne, worse than a first date, worse than the dried out hot dogs served in the cafeteria.  I faced a horrendous class called “Basic Communication.”  It was horrific in that, in order to pass the class, each student had to give a five-minute speech.  In front of the class.  Speaking words before a room full of peers.  Out loud.  With everyone looking at the speaker.  In other words, this class required something I knew would kill me. I do believe I was the most introverted, shy, quiet student in that entire Junior High school.  I never asked a question, worked hard to never stand out, had mastered the art of invisibility well before Harry Potter was even born – and I didn’t need a cloak.  My parents actually worried greatly about how quiet I was, taking me to counselors and specialists to see if anything was wrong.  In any event, I knew that I was mentally, physically, emotionally, existentially, and metaphorically incapable of giving a five-minute speech in front of my classmates.  So, I went to my school advisor, well equipped with fail-safe excuses.  I told him I had to be excused from the requirement because:

  1. Making a speech would make me physically ill;
  2. Making a speech was against my religion, which promotes humility;
  3. I had a scheduling conflict with the day of the speech, whenever that would be;
  4. My parents advocated thinking before speaking, and it would take me several years to come up with enough thinking to justify a speech;
  5. My tongue tired easily, only good for a few seconds at a time;

In any event, I had several excuses, and was passionate in my delivery of them.  After I had given my speech, he looked at me, kindly but intently, and gave me a one-word response I will never forget.  He said, “TOUGH.”  I could not escape; I had to give that speech. Somehow, I survived; he knew I would, even if I didn’t. Now, I realize that my advisor did a service to me by refusing my excuses – and, in a sense, I believe he saved me from myself.  For sometimes our excuses are ill-founded, and life is much better served by embracing the challenges we seek to avoid.  I think this is especially the case with what our God asks of us as faithful followers of Jesus – hard things like loving the stranger, forgiving the wrongdoer, working for justice, visiting the prisoner, listening to opposite opinions, being patient, kind, compassionate and giving.  We can almost always come up with an excuse for avoiding these practices of the faith – but those excuses may keep us from the deeper living God offers us all.

         So, here we are, with Jeremiah’s example given to us, reflecting our tendency as humans to avoid the difficult, yet recognizing that if it is God making the request of us, if it is faith’s nudging that has us searching for excuses, we need to be careful.  We might just be trying to excuse ourselves from the grace of God; we might just be distancing ourselves from Christ.

Let me ask you a hanging question – don’t know what a hanging question is?  A hanging question is a question you hear, but let hang in your mind and heart for awhile; you play it over and over in your heart and mind over a period of time, perhaps days, possibly weeks, maybe even for the rest of your life……but the point is you ask it more than once, at different times and in varied contexts.  The hanging question is this:  Do you sense that God might be calling you to do something you really don’t want to do?  Something which, perhaps in the past, you’ve excused away?  “It’s the responsibility of others, it’s not really needed, I’m not qualified, I wouldn’t know where to start, it’ll cost too much, I might mess things up worse?”  Do any of these excuses echo in your mind or in your heart?  Perhaps they are valid; perhaps not.  But if the nudging is from God, if it comes out of our sense of faith in Jesus, if we find ourselves thinking again and again about something we might need to do, something we might need to say, something that could possibly make a difference to us, to others, and to God – our excuses will not hold up to faithful examination. 

         I leave you with the hanging question, to be engaged in conversation with God – do you sense that God may be calling you to do something you really don’t want to do?


Let me ask you something that may sound a bit strange:  Do you ever feel like an underqualified Christian?  Do you ever feel like you don’t know enough, give enough, pray enough, share enough, or help others enough to qualify as an authentic Christian?  Faith’s qualification is never tied to the amount of knowledgAs someone has put it: "Without God, we can't. Without us, God won't."


I will do more than belong -- I will participate.
I will do more than care – I will help.
I will do more than believe – I will be kind.
I will do more than dream – I will work.
I will do more than teach – I will inspire.
I will do more than earn – I will enrich.
I will do more than give – I will serve.
I will do more than live – I will grow.
I will do more than be friendly – I will be a friend.
I will do more than tolerate – I will embrace.
I will do more than like – I will love.

e we possess, nor the talent we have, nor the amount of money we give, nor the number of times we help others; faith’s qualification is the willingness to trust and follow Jesus.  That’s it.  Faith is willingness to follow Jesus.





8-14-16  The Hard Reality About Faith
Scripture:  Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Theme:  Often, we think the life of faith is a complete package, full of love, blessings, and a general health of spirit and life.  But faith makes no such guarantees.  Rather than a commodity useful to our own benefit, faith is rather the acknowledgement that we are God’s possession, and the placing of our trust in the relationship between God and ourselves.

         I would like to ask for the teachers in this congregation today to pre-forgive me for what I’m about to say – it has occurred to me that we are very close to the beginning of school.  For most of us, no big deal – we won’t be dealing with schedules and syllabi and textbooks and things.  But, being Christians, we are taught that it is good to identify with others in the spirit of Christian love.  So, this morning, in honor of the beginning of school, and at the prompting of our scripture lesson today, we will be taking a test.  Please don’t worry – it’s multiple choice, and has to do with – what else? – our Christian faith.  So get out a pencil, turn your bulletins over, grab a piece of paper somewhere, and be prepared to jot down your multiple choice answer to these three questions:
What is the greatest reason you belong to/come to church?

  1. To receive comfort, nurture, and peace.
  2. To share fellowship in an environment of love
  3. To pray to God for persons in my life, for the world, for myself.
  4. To be mocked, scourged, whipped, imprisoned, sawn in two, stoned, ill-treated, and in general to suffer.

What does faith mean to you?

  1. Belief in Jesus Christ as Son of God.
  2. Trust in the Ultimate Reality behind all things.
  3. Willingness to love God and each other as ourselves.
  4. To be mocked, scourged, whipped, imprisoned, sawn in two, stoned, ill-treated, and in general to suffer.

How do you know someone is a Christian?

  1. They tell you.
  2. You see it in how warm, loving, positive, and prayerful they are.
  3. They have a mystical aura of spiritual essence that tells others they are holy.
  4. They are mocked, scourged, whipped, imprisoned, sawn in two, stoned, ill-treated, and in general, suffer.

Easy test, huh?  My answers were b, c, and b.  What were your answers?  I’m just dying to know this --  Who chose d?  Not many of us ever would, I believe.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s way out of line.  Nobody does anything in order to be hurt.  Nobody in their right mind would choose something that could lead to suffering.  It’s against human nature.  It’s against common sense.  It’s not reasonable nor desirable.
BUT THIS IS A PART OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH – IT UNDERSTANDS THAT BELIEF IN GOD MAY LEAD TO SUFFERING.  Probably not the suffering described in our lesson today, thank goodness, but suffering nonetheless.  Putting others first.  Forgiving the wrongdoer.  Helping out in the untidy corners of life.  Feeding the hungry.  Healing the wounded.  Paying the bill for other’s mistakes.  The list goes on and on…..
But we must take this further, into an area that can make us extremely uncomfortable and even uncertain about our faith.  And it is this – FAITH GIVES NO GUARANTEE EITHER OF BLESSING OR PROTECTION AGAINST SUFFERING.  To be faithful to God does not necessarily mean one will receive blessings in this life.  To be faithful to God does not necessarily mean one will not suffer.  To be faithful to God does mean that God will be with us and help us in our need, but it does not mean God will prevent those needs from arising in our lives.  To be faithful to God does not guarantee happiness.
I hear it again and again, a very common refrain that echoes in people’s conversations and in their thoughts – “I just want them to be happy.”  It is the parent talking about his or her children.  It is the boss talking about his or her workers.  It is the business talking about its customers.  It is the politician talking about his or her constituency.  We just want them to be happy. 
    John Ortberg, in his book Dangers, Toils, and Snares, gives wonderful expression to this thought that we all have inside of us – we all just want to be happy.  It’s a bit of a long piece, so get ready; here it is: 
“When we take our children to the shrine of the Golden Arches, they always lust for the meal that comes with a cheap little prize, a combination christened, in a moment of marketing genius, the Happy Meal. You're not just buying fries, McNuggets, and a dinosaur stamp; you're buying happiness. Their advertisements have convinced my children they have a little McDonald-shaped vacuum in their souls: "Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in a happy meal."
I try to buy off the kids sometimes. I tell them to order only the food and I'll give them a quarter to buy a little toy on their own. But the cry goes up, "I want a Happy Meal." All over the restaurant, people crane their necks to look at the tight-fisted, penny-pinching cheapskate of a parent who would deny a child the meal of great joy.
The problem with the Happy Meal is that the happy wears off, and they need a new fix. No child discovers lasting happiness in just one: "Remember that Happy Meal? What great joy I found there!"
Happy Meals bring happiness only to McDonalds. You ever wonder why Ronald McDonald wears that grin? Twenty billion Happy Meals, that's why.
When you get older, you don't get any smarter; your happy meals just get more expensive.”
We just want our children to be happy.  We just want our relations to be happy.  We just want ourselves to be happy.  It sounds like such a worthy goal.  We even attribute this mind-frame to God.  It’s a very nice thought, one which warms the heart and uplifts the spirit.  God only wants us to be happy. 
Only problem is, GOD NEVER REALLY SAYS THIS – it is we who do this, in our interpretation of Scripture, in the way we think about a loving God.  We begin by thinking about what we’d like to have God feel toward us, reflecting what we’d like to be true about ourselves in the first place.  We want to be happy.  So, it makes sense to us – OF COURSE, GOD WANTS US TO BE HAPPY, we think to ourselves.
I’m not so sure.  I’m not so sure that that is God’s greatest priority for us.  It doesn’t really say that in scripture.  But more to the point, I’m not sure that the pursuit of happiness is the greatest of all goals for life.  In our hedonistic, pleasure seeking society, I am constantly coming across people who have everything materially, relationally, financially, socially – they have all the parts that define happiness – yet they find themselves missing something.  The tabloids express this very well – those things that should make people happy fail the test.  They are happy, as far as happy goes, but remain somehow incomplete, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled, and wind up on the cover of magazines gracing the grocery aisle to everyone’s media delight.
Perhaps the problem is that we’ve aimed at the wrong goal.  Perhaps we’ve aimed at a goal that is beneath us, let alone beneath God’s expectations.  Maybe we are missing the point of happiness, that it is not something to be pursued at all, but rather something we fall into as a result of a rightly oriented life.  Maybe happiness cannot even possibly exist in any real form without pursuing higher goals.
I believe that God is less interested in our being happy than in our finding significance.  God’s priority is not our contented lives, but our lives of content.  God’s will is not to keep us from suffering, but that our suffering is not without meaning, even if it be the expression of a faith that lasts through all things.  Listen to how the author of Hebrews states this truth:  “Many faithful disciples suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated…AND ALL OF THESE, THOUGH WELL ATTESTED BY THEIR FAITH, DID NOT RECEIVE WHAT WAS PROMISED.”
         So what’s this faith of our worth, anyhow?  The point of our passage is harsh, but exactly what we need to realize for faith to be a thing of integrity, something God intends for us.  It is the point that true faith, real faith, understands that the question misses the point.  If you have to ask “what’s in it for me” when thinking about your faith, you’ve missed the point of belief in God, and eventually that question will drive you away from the faith.  For the point here, again, is that WE WON’T ALWAYS GET WHAT WE WANT OUT OF FAITH.  Faith is not a recipe for blessedness; it is the attention and intention of our spirit towards God.  Blessings may or may not result; on the contrary, hardship will be a likely companion.
Linda Holm, one-time member of the band Dallas Holm and Praise, found a malignant lump in her breast. Though her faith was strong and she was sure of God's providence, she crumbled emotionally when she heard the news.
She underwent a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy. Her husband, musician Dallas Holm, said in an interview: "Sometimes in our valley and in our sorrow we believe if we just knew what God was doing, that would settle it. I'm not sure that would make any difference. Faith is when you don't know. When it doesn't make sense. When you can't understand. But you trust in God [nevertheless]."
"Faith and Prayer in Life's Toughest Times,"
Faith does not guarantee blessings.  Faith does not protect against suffering.  Faith does not conveniently provide all the answers.  Faith does not lead to a peace that is unaffected by the world.


Faith does none of these things; faith does something far better.  Faith moves us into communion with God.  Faith works to harmonize our lives to be more in synch with ultimate rhythm.  Faith seeks out the fulfillment God intends for our lives, and is not disappointed.  Faith leaves behind the untrustworthiness of this world in favor of the absolute trustworthiness of a God revealed in Christ.  Faith suffers for the sake of others, not to relish in the pain, but to discover the side of love that so many miss – its power to change us, and its power to change the world.
Reverend John Piper talks about this kind of faith in his book Coronary Christians.   He says: 

”We need to be coronary Christians, not adrenal Christians.  (Adrenaline is an amazing substance -- it gets me through lots of Sundays. But it lets you down on Mondays. The heart is another kind of friend. It just keeps on serving—through good days and bad days, happy and sad, high and low, appreciated and unappreciated. It never lets me down. It never says, "I don't like your attitude, Piper, I'm taking a day off." It just keeps humbly lubb-dubbing along.
Coronary Christians are like the heart in the causes they serve and the faith they demonstrate.  Adrenal Christians are like adrenaline—a spurt of energy and then fatigue, a rising to certain occasions and then falling away.  What we need in the causes of faith is coronary Christians.  Marathoners, not just sprinters.  People who find the pace to finish the race.

         The only faith that is real aims at being steadfast.  It doesn’t ask the question, “What’s in it for me?”  for it understands that’s not the point.  It doesn’t expect blessings to fall from the sky.  It doesn’t expect to be protected from all problems, difficulty, and harm.  The only faith that is real knows that everything belongs to God, and this includes us.  The only faith that is real understands that everything that belongs to God is precious in his sight, and this includes us. 
Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior said:  “The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.”  Let us never seek to equate religion with happiness.  Let us instead equate our faith with following Jesus, wherever he may lead.

Pastor John is on vacation until August 10th.


Puffed Up Without Cause

Scripture:  Colossians 2:6-19
Theme:  Nothing feels better than a wonderful surge of self-righteousness – you know, the feeling that you got it right in comparison to someone else close by who got it wrong.  Except the feeling of humility that does not need that display, for it has found something more solid inside that is self-sustaining while at the same time uplifting others.

There once was a church in a small town in upstate New York which went through a change of pastors.  The previous pastor had led the church for 35 years; he was beloved by the church and the community. After he retired, he was replaced by a young minister.  It was his first church; he had a great desire to do well. He had been at the church several weeks when he began to perceive that the people were upset at him. He was troubled.
Eventually he called aside one of the lay leaders of the church and said, "I don't know what's wrong, but I have a feeling that there's something wrong."
The man said, "Well, Reverend, that's true.  I hate to say it, but it's the way you do the Communion service."
"The way I do the Communion service? What do you mean?"
"Well, it's not so much what you do as what you leave out."
"I don't think I leave out anything from the Communion service."
"Oh yes, you do. Just before our previous minister administered the chalice and wine to the people, he'd always go over and touch the radiator. And, then, he would--"
"Touch the radiator? I never heard of that liturgical tradition."
So the younger man called the former minister.  He said, "I haven't even been here a month, and I'm in trouble."
"In trouble? Why?"
"Well, it's something to do with touching the radiator. Could that be possible? Did you do that?"
"Oh yes, I did.  Before I administered the chalice to the people, I would always touch the radiator to discharge the static electricity so I wouldn't shock them."
The moral of the story is this:  The more fixed a tradition becomes, the greater the chance its original reason for being will be misunderstood.  (Terry Fullam, "Worship: What We're Doing, and Why,"

         How often does this happen, I wonder – that we mistake formula for faith?  How often do we approach religion by recipe?  I think it happens a lot -- we define the elements that we think makes something sacred, then judge others or our surroundings by how well they adhere to those elements.  We think in certain ways, such as:

OK, I’ve gone too far with that last one, BUT THAT’S THE POINT!  We go too far whenever we define our faithful standing before God in our own terms.  If we determine what makes faith real, we will tend to choose things that we like doing, that make us look good, and that do not cause us discomfort or suffering.  But these things can be very far away from God.  Faith in God begins not with us, but with God; the Christian faith begins with Jesus, what he shared, what he taught, how he lived – and seeks to live and believe out of his example; it is never to be the other way around.
Paul says:  “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.  Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”

         LET NO ONE PASS JUDGMENT; ONLY MAKE SURE YOU ARE HOLDING FAST TO CHRIST, THE HEAD OF THE CHRISTIAN BODY, THE CENTER OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH.  It sounds so simple!  Just keep Christ central, live in that light, and leave the judgment of others to God.  Only one real problem – it’s not much fun!  It’s not very exciting.  This humility stuff comes very hard to people like us who like to know that we are right, that our faith is healthy, and the easiest way to feel right and healthy is to point out those who we think are wrong and unhealthy.  I think it is a subtle thing if not a universal thing, that to be human means to compare ourselves with others – and to evaluate where we, and they, stand.
         Let me ask you a question to be answered in the silent spaces of your heart – do you ever look down on anyone?   I’m six-foot-two-inches tall, so I’m regularly looking down on people……NO, THAT’S NOT WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!  But I’m also not necessarily talking about judging them to hell or heaven; I’m talking about more subtle things, like evaluating how they look, the clothes they wear?  I’m talking about assessing people by the types of motorcycles they drive, the football teams they root for, or their opinion on global warming.  Dare I mention the one that seems to have exploded in recent months?  DO YOU LOOK DOWN ON ANYONE FOR THE POLITICAL PARTIES THEY SUPPORT? 
I have a confession to make – when I read one particular line in our scripture lesson today, I couldn’t help but think Paul was speaking directly to our present political environment.  Can you guess what that line is?  “puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” – does this sound like some of the political personages presently speaking?
I think all of us have a bit of this in ourselves.  We are prone sometimes to “puff ourselves up” when we face opposition, or disagreement, or discomfort.  We go on the defensive, or we go on the attack, for the sake of proving or demonstrating that we are right, and they are wrong.  It seems to be defining our political process these days, but it is not at all limited to politics.  Putting others in a bad light puts us in a good light – or so it feels.  But it sidesteps completely the model we’ve been given in Christ, who taught love for others, even love for the enemy.  Jesus spent no time teaching us how to win out over others; Jesus spent most of his time teaching us how to win for others.
AND THIS IS THE BETTER WAY CHRIST PROPOSES – something separate from the recipe religion that motivates us to judge others, something different from the faith formula that establishes worldly criteria for righteousness.  LIVE IN CHRIST.  It says in Colossians 2:6 “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, SO LIVE IN HIM, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”  Live in Christ.  Make that your aim.  Leave the judging to God; be concerned about the faith you have confessed and professed, and take seriously the challenge that in all things, we are to live in Christ, to live as Christ, to live for Christ.  It takes the attention away from self, and places it squarely upon that which will naturally tell us what is required of ourselves.  In the living out of that challenge will be sufficient demonstration to communicate this truth to others, INVITATIONALLY, NOT FORCEFULLY; lovingly, not judgmentally.
You’ve all heard of the acronym WWJD – what does that stand for?  (What Would Jesus Do?).  I have found a more helpful acronym in my life of faith – it is HWJL.  Can you guess what HWJL stands for?  HOW WOULD JESUS LOVE.  To me, this gets at the heart of the gospel, and the substance of faith – how do we love?  In word, thought, and prayer?  Well and good – but Jesus constantly went further, into the land of action, of active, engaged, risky, dangerous, responsive, and deliberate love of those around him, whether they be friend or stranger, disciple or enemy, but especially if they had the greater need for love.  To be centered in Jesus, ask HWJL, and follow where the answer leads.

         I found a wonderful example of this process that really spoke to my heart, and I hope that it speaks to yours as well. In Witnesses of a Third Way: A Fresh Look at Evangelism, the author Robert Neff included this story about visiting a church service: "Worship was moving along fairly well; then it was time for the musical presentation.  It quickly became apparent that it was one of those mornings when the tenor didn't get out of bed on the right side. ...
As I listened to his faltering voice, I looked around. People were pulling out hymnals to locate the hymn being sung by the soloist.  By the second verse, the congregation had joined the soloist in the hymn. And by the third verse, the tenor was beginning to find the range. And by the fourth verse, it was beautiful. And on the fifth verse the congregation was absolutely silent, and the tenor sang the most beautiful solo of his life. That is life in the body of Christ, enabling one another to sing the tune Christ has given us."
John H. Unger, Brandon, Manitoba.

         We are not in the business of judging others as to their sacred worth.  We are in the business of enabling one another to sing the tune God has given us.  We do not enable by judging, but by loving.  We do not empower by prescription, but by participation in Christ.  We are never to allow ourselves to be puffed up without cause; we are instead to be filled up with the solid cause of Christ and his love.  “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, SO LIVE IN HIM.”  AMEN!


7-17-16 Substituting Busy-ness for Life Scripture:  Luke 10:38-42

Theme:  Sometimes we become busy with the wrong business.  We put the work of Christ before Christ and His love.  In the body of Christ the work of Martha is essential, but secondary, to the spiritual attitude and attention of Mary.

         Several days ago, I came close to a very un-pastoral moment.  What is an un-pastoral moment?  That’s a moment when a pastor is tempted to do or say something that is not very pastoral, not very pleasant or nice or polite.
         I had phone call.  It was a number I didn’t recognize, which sometimes  has me let it go to voicemail; but this time, I wasn’t particularly busy; no pressing meetings to get ready for, no tight schedule to my day.  So, I answered the phone.
The individual on the other end of the line asked for me personally; when I responded that I was who I was, he then asked how I was doing today?  He asked this before he identified himself.   This is known as the proverbial dead-give-away, and I realized instantly that I was talking not to a personal friend, nor a parishioner in my church – but that I had entered an arena of sorts, where the person on the other end of the line was beginning a process of strategic maneuvers to win me over, whilst I was beginning a process of strategic maneuvers to gracefully escape this call.  I had entered what is known as the DMZ – the Determined Marketeer Zone.
         Now, probably you get a telephone marketer call every now and then.  They’re trying to sell this or that, to sell you on a new digital satellite cable system with 2,380 channels., or to have you donate to a worthwhile cause of some sort.  Usually it’s OK, and I’ll listen to their cause, or their offer, and almost always politely let the salesman know that I’m not interested – that we don’t watch cable, that we donate through our church, that we get our news on the internet.
         This call was about a new cell phone/internet bundle.  The salesman was good.  Really good.  Good in that bad sort of way – he knew his business really well.  He called me by name, and even mentioned my wife’s name.  He knew that I was a minister, and that our church had some sort of plan.  He knew this and he knew that – he knew how to save me money, knew how to get me low cost long distance, knew how to hook me up to the internet, etc. etc. etc.
         But some things he didn’t know.  He didn’t know much about courtesy.  He didn’t know much about tact.  He didn’t know much about listening and respecting and understanding who I was and what I wanted.  To make a long story short, I told him “no thank you” as politely as I could six times.  It was during that sixth time I almost succumbed to temptation to tell him he was being pushy, stubborn, and just not very nice – when he hung up on me. 
         I don’t get a phone call like that very often.  It was frustrating and annoying to be bothered in that way.  It was annoying to me personally, but also professionally, for it seemed to me that that phone call was all about a person who had his priorities mixed up.  He knew his business, but he didn’t know me.  He knew all about his phone company’s program, but I wonder how much he knew about establishing an effective relationship with his potential clients.  He was busy with his business, but he wasn’t really busy with me.
There’s something similar happening in our scripture lesson today, I believe.  Jesus is in the home of Martha and Mary.  Martha gets busy with being a good host; Mary sits down and gets busy listening to Jesus.  Martha gets angry that Mary isn’t helping her serve her guests, and complains to Jesus.  It’s as if Martha is telling Jesus that Mary isn’t doing her part of the work to be done.  Jesus turns it around, and proclaims that Mary “has chosen the good portion.”
Mary focuses upon Jesus first.  “One thing is needful,” says Christ, and that is that Mary has given her full attention to him, before the work of the household.
To me, this is a central message not only for any Christian, but for any body of Christ.  First and foremost, before any other business, before efficient meetings or productive events or smooth calendar organization –  we are to have our attention directed at Christ.  His love.  His wisdom.  His teaching.  His presence.  His companionship.  His desire for us to live in the midst of his spirit.  Even before we perform the tasks of ministry – worship, service, outreach, prayer, fellowship, working for justice, expressing compassion – we are to start with full attention upon Jesus.

         Now, Jesus does not say, "Don't work hard."  He's saying discern what work is worthwhile by consulting God’s will. 
Jesus does not say, "Don't pray."  He's saying discern when and what to pray by listening for the voice of God first. 
Jesus also does not say, "Act or think this way."  He's saying, "In all things, listen to the voice of God which is constantly speaking, and act or don't act accordingly."  Shape your action according to God’s direction in all things.
In all things, before getting busy with anything, we are to start with our full attention given to God – what does God want here?  How would Jesus respond?  How is God involved in what’s before me?  What is Jesus saying in this situation?  How is God present, or not present, in what’s going on?

         Living a busy life does not necessarily mean living a fulfilled life, a substantial life.  His caution to Martha, and his encouragement of Mary, is saying how easy it is to miss what's truly important in life.
         Can I share with you something which drives me crazy?  It especially drove me crazy as a District Superintendent, when I oversaw about 36 pastors serving 51 churches.  I was able to meet with each pastor a few times each year, some more than others as the needs arose.  One thing that would always drive me crazy was when a pastor would tell me that they hadn’t take a day off in X number of months; or that they were working around 70 hours a week.  They would say this with what is hard not to describe as a sense of overworked pride.  But it seems that that pride always became uncomfortable when I asked about what comprised their busyness.
I remember when I was working with one pastor, who stated that as a part of his outreach to the community, he was spending ten hours a week in the local coffee shop to reach new people.  Two hours a day, five days a week – and he had been doing this for over a year.  I was impressed – until I asked him how many people he interacted with generally.  His response was one or two persons a week.  Well, I thought, two people a week over 52 weeks minus vacation time means around a hundred people interacted with……but I questioned further.  One or two persons each week, but it was usually the same one or two persons; this pastor, upon inquiry, said that really, over the scope of the year, he spoke with probably five different persons – and all of them belonged to other churches.
         Now, five persons is something, perhaps; but spending ten hours a week, around 500 hours per year, to meaningfully connect with five persons, who are already a part of other faith communities – I had to ask the obvious question:  “Is this the best use of your time as a pastor?”  Being busy with something doesn’t necessarily mean it is automatically worthwhile; and being too busy with one thing can blind us to more important matters that might need our greater attention.
         Jesus says to Martha “is what are you busy with the best use of your time?”  He asks us the same question:  “is what you are busy with the best use of your time?”  He is encouraging Martha and each of us to be discerning in what we devote ourselves to in life.  Busyness for busyness sake is ultimately empty – busyness for Jesus’ sake is the only fullness in life.

Eric Hoffer (July 25, 1898 – May 21, 1983) was an American moral and social philosopher who said “the feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is, on the contrary, born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else - we are the busiest people in the world."

Are we busy because we fear that we are wasting our lives?
Are we busy because we are not sure what God wants us to do?
Are we busy because we dread pausing long enough to truly listen to Jesus, for fear of what he might tell us?

The only wasted life is the one which misses what God is saying to us every day, all the time, in every person we meet, in every need we face, in every challenge that burdens us, in every joy that blesses us.  God is speaking; are we listening?

7-10-16  Targeting the Undesired  Scripture:  Luke 10:25-37

Theme:  The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us about the challenge of our faith, to view others beyond the judgment of appearances and see instead their need for the active love of Christ.  This can be seen as an incredibly inconvenient aspect of our faith, or the adventure God intends for his people – to actively love others, beginning with those who are hardest to love (often the most needy of love).

          This past week has been a very difficult one for our nation.  Two black men are shot by police, and the episodes are caught on video.  Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile of Falcon Heights, Minnesota were both shot and killed; a cry of profiling and prejudicial treatment rises in the aftermath.  Then, on Friday, five police officers in Dallas were shot and killed as they were monitoring a peaceful march protesting the week’s earlier violence.  Five police officers dead, seven wounded, as well as two bystanders, all victims of a well-planned ambush.  The shooter was a black man who proclaimed that he wanted to kill white police officers as a response.

          It feels as if we are awash in a season of violence, prejudice, hatred, animosity, and injustice – and the picture only increases if we extend our view around the world.  A truck bomb went off in Baghdad on July 3, killing 292 people; ISIS claims responsibility.  In South Sudan, the celebration of their fifth independence day erupted in violence, leaving nearly 150 dead.  Over the past several months, Brussels, Paris, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Palestine have been in the news due to bloodshed.  We tend to emphasize the tragedies nearer to home in our nation, but this should not have us forget the tragedies that are just as horrific across the globe.  So much violence, so many people dead and hurt.

          I have a sentiment rising in my heart, and I’m sure you do as well, in response to such occurrences.  The sentiment is to do something.  This sentiment is resounding in the Black Lives Matter movement, where the appeal is to do something to identify and change what appears to be prejudicial treatment.  This sentiment is resounding in the police force community as well; I watched a video cast last night from the Great Falls Police Department where the sheriff made the comment that police are feeling less and less support from the community, and that “something must be done” to counteract this trend across the nation.

          SOMETHING MUST BE DONE is the refrain I hear, and perhaps you do as well, on the news, in conversations, in talk shows and interviews.  SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.

          BUT WHAT?

          Some propose more guns.

          Some promote the building of walls.

          Some ask for tougher laws.

          Some ask for deeper investigations.

          Some say we need to rework our economic policies.

          Some say we need an improved education system.

          Some say we need to force congress to take action.

          This is the problem; so many diverse solutions, from so very many different opinions and perspectives.

          But today, we are given a view to what I believe Jesus would say, were he to be witnessing our present reality.  He’d say what he always said, in one way or another – love needs to shape our vision and guide our future, as a people, as a nation, as a species God has created.

          But, what kind of love?  I think about the type of love Jesus advocates, here in the message of the Good Samaritan, as well as so many places where he demonstrated and taught about reaching out to the hurting, the marginalized, the outcast, and the lost.

For one, I believe Jesus advocates a love that supercedes labels.
How often do we replace a person with a label?  Think of the labels we use all the time without hesitation – black, white, Republican, Democrat, tall, short, rich, poor, American, Asian, European, African, Native American, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, male, female, LGBTQ, young, old – and very often, behind each and every one of these labels, there is another layer of association – good, bad, right, wrong, healthy, unhealthy, with me or against me.
Jesus modeled a life that worked against this kind of thing.  In our passage today, we hear of the parable of the Good Samaritan, who saved the traveler.  “Good” and “Samaritan” were not labels that normally went together; “Good” would most appropriately fit the priest and the Levite, but in this case, it was they who avoided the victim.  Jesus’ point is clear – what matters is not the labels we wear or project, but how we see and respond to each other first as human beings of invaluable worth.

I remember reading about a grandmother taking her six-year-old granddaughter to a donut shop for a treat.   They got their donut, and were heading out the door, when they saw a teenage boy coming in.  This young man had no hair on the sides of his head; he had a tuft of blue spiked hair on the top.  One of his nostrils was pierced, and attached to the hoop that ran through the hole, was a chain that draped across his face and attached to a ring he was wearing in his ear.  He held a skateboard under one arm and a basketball under the other.
          This grandmother became worried as she noticed her granddaughter stop in her tracks when she saw that young man.  She worried that her granddaughter was scared, but then watched as her granddaughter backed up against the door and opened it as wide as it would go to let him through.  As he passed them both, he said "Thank you very much."
          On the way to their car, the grandmother turned to her granddaughter, wondering if she was still dealing with the young man’s extreme appearance.  She asked her granddaughter if the young man had shocked her.  Her granddaughter replied, “Yes, I was afraid he would have never gotten through the door if I hadn’t been there to open it for him.”
          The grandmother made this comment:  “I saw the partially shaved head, the tuft of spiked hair, the piercings and the chain.  She saw a person carrying something under each arm and heading towards a door.  I saw a problem; she saw a need.  She had the better vision.”
When we limit anyone by a label, we lessen our integrity as a part of the human family, and diminish the love God measures all things by.  Labels must be superceded.
I came across a post on Facebook that puts this kind of thing in perspective.  The post was entitled “Feeling Hopeful” and was written by a black woman named Natasha Howell from Andover, New Hampshire.  Here’s what she said:  “This morning I went into a convenience store to get a protein bar.  As I walked through the door, I noticed that there were two white police officers (one about my age; the other several years older) talking to the clerk (an older white woman) behind the counter about the shootings that have gone on in the past few days.  They all looked at me and fell silent.  I went about my business to get what I was looking for, as I turned back up the isle to go pay, the oldest officer was standing at the top of the isle watching me.  As I got closer he asked me, “How I was doing?”  I replied, “Okay, and you?”  He looked at me with a strange look and asked me, “How are you really doing?”  I looked at him and said “I’m tired!”  His reply was “me too.”  Then he said , “I guess it’s not easy being either of us right now, is it?”  I said, “No, it’s not.”  Then he hugged me and I cried.  I had never seen that man before in my life.  I have no idea why he was moved to talk to me.  What I do know is that he and I shared a moment this morning, that was absolutely beautiful.  No judgments, no justifications, just two people sharing a moment.”
Just two people, two human beings, two precious lives, two hurting, afraid, fragile creatures worried about the future yet appreciating the present where two lives can positively interact and share a moment of relationship across the labels that threaten our undoing.  It begins by connecting across the labels we create, by relating to differences and understanding where each other is coming from.  It continues on by using what we learn about each other in the shaping of our world towards the common needs of all of us – for our world to make sense, to be fair, to be hopeful, and to be safe.  This goes for black lives.  This goes for those in uniform.  This goes for those whom we label in any way other than “beloved child of God.”
I would like to leave you with the post written by our Bishop, Elaine Stanovsky, in response to this week’s events; her main point is the perspective of Jesus in times like these:  “What would Jesus do? It’s hard to know for certain. But we have some pretty good clues: He wouldn’t protect himself against the dangers of the world. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t buy a gun or carry a gun. He stood up against the powers and principalities of his day with the power of his un-defended person. He never armed himself, rather he berated his followers who drew the sword. He wouldn’t blame or banish immigrants or people of specific racial or religious groups. Time and again, Jesus reached across social barriers to embrace tax collectors, foreigners and the physically and mentally ill. He wouldn’t stigmatize divorced people, or gay, lesbian and transgender people. The gospels teach that his closest followers and religious authorities criticized him for hanging out with un-desirable people of all kinds, though he would call them to live in relationships of integrity and to keep covenant. He wouldn’t stay at home and watch the news on TV and follow Twitter on his smartphone. He was always on the move, always interacting with townspeople, always moving among the crowds, and, except when he intentionally withdrew for prayer, he was always touching the lives of people. He moved into situations of need and conflict, to engage those most affected. He traveled to Jerusalem, just as things were heating up, and the danger was greatest.
We say that the Church is the living body of Christ. So, what are we going to do? How will we work to end unjustified police killings of Black people? How will we temper the presidential campaign? How will we create community with persons who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender? How will we build community with Muslim Americans? How will we support officers of the law to live fully, also, as officers of the peace?

It’s time to ACT our FAITH. In the days ahead, I hope that every church will open its doors to its community to gather to share common concerns and grief in prayer. Pray that God’s kingdom will come. Build healing relationships. Bear witness to truth. Advocate for justice.  We are right to be angry and frightened at the way things are; but we must translate that anger and fear into courage to see to it that things don’t remain the way they are.  This is the pattern of Christ; this is the way of love.  Amen


7-3-16  Offensibility:  Pride’s Aniti-faith Agent
Scripture:     II Kings 5:1-14
Theme:  When faith operates in the medium of self-interest or self-interpretation, not heeding the voice or direction of God (or God’s representatives), it becomes toxic.  It must open itself to the seemingly ludicrous prescriptions of God’s revelation.

Years ago, when I had just started college, I thought it would be a good idea to take up jogging.  I was a bicyclist, and was pretty good at it; I had never jogged before, but I thought running would be a piece of cake.  And so I went jogging one morning.  I even set a goal I thought was reasonable – it was just under three miles.  I ran fairly hard, because I wanted to see what I could do; in reality, I wanted to be affirmed of my health, of my ability to take up a new sport, and maintain my excellent strength.  Before you know it, I had finished the three miles, and in pretty good time!  I returned to my home, jogged into the back yard, stopped for a second, and then proceeded to throw up, right there on the back porch.  Thus ended my jogging career; to this day, I don’t believe I have jogged over one mile at one time.
          The point is, I had an attitude that seemed to motivate me towards higher things, but it was an attitude that wasn’t based in reality.  It was based on my belief in myself as better than I was – more capable, more knowledgeable, more wise.  In my own way, I was self-righteous in my outlook, thinking I knew more about what was good for me than consulting others for their wisdom and experience.  It was a moment when I was caught thinking too highly of myself.

          Have you ever done something like this?  Thought more highly of yourself than was based in reality?  If so, this scripture lesson is for both of us.

          Today in our scripture passage we have an important account of how faith can be skewed by thinking too highly about oneself.
          Naaman, the great commander of the army of the king of Aram, has much to be proud about – a successful and appreciated military commander, he held high favor with the king, and great power over his soldiers.  But Naaman was a leper, struck down by a disease that most likely caused great pain, and tempered his social standing, in that lepers were automatically considered unclean.  Hearing from a captured slave about a possible cure through a miracle worker in Israel, he set his sights on this goal.  He arrives at the gate of Elisha’s home with his procession of horses, attendants, and chariots, prepared with gifts and payments for the expected performance of a miracle – and is met by a messenger sent by Elisha, telling him to bathe 7 times in the Jordan river.
          This was not what Naaman expected.  This was not how royalty and power was to be treated.  Naaman became enraged at such disrespect that he began to leave – until his servants pointed out that, if this was the way the miracle was to be delivered, was it not still worth the offense?  Naaman calmed down, tempered his pride, washed in the Jordan, and received the promised healing.
          NAAMAN’S PRIDE ALMOST HAD HIM MISS WHAT GOD WAS OFFERING.  Here we arrive at something we each can learn from, as we see in Naaman’s experience something of our own.  For there are times, perhaps many times, when our pride causes us to miss what God offers.  Whenever we second-guess God, or forsake God’s perspective for our own, we are in danger of missing what God has in store for us.
This brings up something we believe from our faith -- IF WE ALLOW GOD TO LEAD, GOD WILL LEAD – but we must first get ourselves out of the way. 
This does not mean denying our needs, nor does it mean that we are to try to define God according to our own understanding.  What it means is to pay our first attention to God, to how God works, to what God wants, and then to follow where God leads and receive what God offers.  Naaman learned this lesson, and received healing; we may do the same.
There is, however, another side to this coin, to this notion of getting ourselves out of God’s way.  It has to do with something much more common, although much more subtle, that is often a part of the lives of faithful Christians.  It is the opposite of thinking too highly of ourselves; it is the tendency to think too lowly of ourselves, and it, too, tends to get in Gods way.  Thinking too lowly of ourselves tends to short-circuit God’s provisions for our lives, often through what can be thought of as unnecessary sacrifice.

So let me ask:  Have you ever thought too lowly of yourself?

Let me explain this by means of a survey I’d like to invite you to participate in.  Let me ask you: 

So many of us are so good at thinking badly about ourselves.  We are taught to do so by many sources.  But this is an unworthy martyrdom, and an unsubstantial sacrifice that never pleases God – and easily misses the blessings God has sent our way.  I don’t believe that the calling of faith is to think of ourselves too lowly, just as I don’t think it is the calling of our faith to think of ourselves too highly.  The key is to think of ourselves as God thinks of us – valued, capable, forgiven, needed, precious, and beloved.
Sometimes, we think too highly of ourselves.  Sometimes, we do not think highly enough of ourselves.  Both perspectives have something to do with replacing God’s way of seeing things with our own.  Both perspectives have us miss what God wishes to give.  Both perspectives can be challenged by keeping in mind who is God, and who is not – and by keeping in mind how God thinks of us – as valued, capable, forgiven, needed, precious, and beloved.


May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right. -- Peter Marshall

Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed—else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.
-- Dwight Eisenhower


June 26, 2016 - Summary of General Conference held in Helena June, 2016

Disability Awareness Sunday
The Discipline, the book of procedure and legislation of the United Methodist Church, states that the church is to be inclusive, and that it should enable every person to participate in its life (¶ 139). It further states that all persons with "mental, physical, developmental, neurological, and psychological conditions or disabilities" are fully human and full members of God's family, with a rightful place in church and society. In recognition of this status, the church is to be in ministry with all people who have any special need, and to enable their full participation in its activities. The church is also to be an advocate for equality (¶ 162, emphasis added).
To recognize and affirm these statements, a Disability Awareness Sunday is to be observed annually. The date is determined by each Annual Conference. An offering may be received for disability ministries if the conference chooses to do so (¶ 265).
Petition #101R  - Establish Disability Awareness Sunday as a special offering within the Yellowstone Annual Conference Designate the first Sunday of February annually as a special offering for Disability Awareness Sunday, and establish a Fund within the YAC accounting to support distribution of educational materials and offer grants to support local churches in an effort to educate congregations to raise awareness, led by the Holy Spirit, to respond to and live into an invitation made in the "Paragraph 265.4 of the 2012 Book of Discipline states : Disability Awareness Sunday shall be observed annually on a date to be determined by the annual conference. Disability Awareness Sunday calls the Church to celebrate the gifts and graces of persons with disabilities and calls the Church and society to full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community." (2012 Book of Discipline) Amend Rule A350 (Guiding Values Team) adding “ Disability Awareness” to the offerings administered by that team.  
Process Committee moved the adoption of Petition 201R It was presented by David Burt It is adopted. 
ACTS OF REPENTANCE:  Claiming our past in the Methodist system of faith living – a local pastor in the Methodist Church, Colonel John Chivington
The following are some of the words at the listening gatherings that we have heard over the last several years.

52 A Way Forward provides that the Council of Bishops shall appoint a special Commission “to develop a 53 complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding 54 human sexuality” and that the Council of Bishops will “maintain an on-going dialogue with this 55
Commission” and that if they complete their work in time, report to a called General Conference before 56 the regular 2020 General Conference;  57  58 The Yellowstone Annual Conference supports A Way Forward, and endorses the leadership of the 59 Council of Bishops and the 2016 General Conference in its decision to address discrimination against 60 lesbian and gay persons currently in the Book of Discipline; 61  62 Social Principle ¶161F, Book of Discipline provisions ¶341.6 and ¶304.3, and other sections conflict with 63 the Constitution of the United Methodist church which provides that “all persons are of sacred worth,” 64 and “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. 65 We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.” 66  67 Our United Methodist connection calls us to treat well-intentioned, well-reasoned differences of opinion 68 with mutual respect rather than insisting upon a verdict or language that rejects one side or the other; now
Reconciling Congregations
Movie:  “An Act of Love” – Rev. Frank Schaefer; A documentary about the trial that rocked the United Methodist Church and the minister who risked it all for his son. 
Sharing our church’s video:  “Why Be Reconciling?  What It Means to Those in the Pews”
Reflections on General Conference……
Asking BOM to ignore sexuality criteria for ordinands……
No action; but New England Annual Conference had stated they will not consider sexuality criteria….Desert South-West and California-Pacific are urging the same.

Open Spaces Vision Process:
The best way to describe the “Open Space” process is a daylong “coffee break” where participants will create the agenda and work together. Each participant will be able to propose and co‐lead all the conversations they want to have with those participants interested in the same issues for as long as they desire‐‐no lectures, no conference tracks, no speakers, no time limits, no predetermined set of issues, only those issues that matter most to them.
During the “Open Space” process, you and participants from the local community will set the agenda by identifying specific topics and issues that are important to the community and that should be highlighted and addressed in a session or sessions during the summit. Your active participation throughout the entire day is expected to ensure that the “Open Space” process works to the maximum benefit of all participants — including identifying initiatives/issues for community action after the summit.
Principles of the “Open Space” Process

Open Space Outcomes:

The event is free of charge, but pre-event registration is required because space is limited. Please fill out the online formal request to participate. For more information, please contact Colleen Moore at moorec@udmercy.edu or 313-993-1047.
Mission Engagement – Habitat for Humanity, Covenant Garden, Intermountain; Tug of Love
Interview Demonstrations – how to engage professionals/invested individuals who work on behalf of the marginalized; also, prayer walks throughout town….
Closing of Lemhi Church – process, details…..Transitional Ministry director on site (new position)
Worship services and moments – Retirement; memorial; opening, closing worship;
Spotlight moments – highlighting ministries in YAC to the marginalized….Healing Communities, Addiction Recovery, Soul Repair, other local efforts….
Shared Futures – our two conferences becoming one; petition approved; now moves onto Jurisdictional Conference (July gathering); possible by 2018, likely by 2020




June 19, 2016 - Message included a presentation by Jeff and Cheryl Miller on their work at a Sierra Leone orphanage and the message below from Theresa Cox of the Building Fund Finance Committee:

Please listen carefully to this message. It may be the most important thing you ever hear in this church (surprised look on John’s face, maybe stand up-find a way to draw attention to your confusion). The Building Finance Committee has made special arrangements for those who contribute to the Building Fund to get all-inclusive, one-way tickets to Heaven.  Method of travel and accommodations on arrival depend, of course, on the amount of your donation.

What!? Are you saying people can BUY a one-way ticket to Heaven by contributing to the Building Fund?

Well, of course. There are no round trip tickets to Heaven. You should know that!

That’s not what I meant. What makes you think someone can BUY their way to Heaven.

Televangelists. Mega-churches. The Internet. If it’s on the Internet, you know, it has to be true.

Well, it’s not. We can’t BUY our way to Heaven, nor can we earn our way there with good works, no matter how pure our intentions. One gets to spend eternity with God by His grace alone.

Stage Whisper: Hmmm. Then what am I going to tell all these people about why they should contribute to the Building Fund?

How about telling them how the repairs and improvements to the church will help us better take care of ourselves and others, and about how the new building will make it easier for us to fulfill our mission and strengthen our identity and outreach as Missoula’s downtown church?

Well, okay, but what am I going to do with all these tickets?

Why don’t you give them to me? (Pick up a trash can) I have just the place for them…

Good morning.  It’s nice to see all of you here and to have the opportunity to talk about the proposed renovations.

As I usually do when I’m trying to formulate a message, I looked up a definition-on the Internet. Renovation, also referred to as remodeling, is the process of improving a broken, damaged or outdated structure. I think we can all agree our current building fits all those categories-it is broken, damaged and outdated.

Our building is really three buildings. The first was constructed more than one-hundred years ago, with additional space added as it was needed. Those later additions explain much of what is a little wonky about the building. We don’t exactly have stairs that lead to nowhere, but we do have places that are difficult to reach and not of much use once you find them.

Because of the age of the church and the lack of a previous campaign like this one to address all the issues at once, we’ve stumbled along for years, fixing this and that as need dictated. The boiler and the roof have demanded much attention from the Trustees and Ad Council for years, along with much money from the congregation.

Bringing the current structure up to code alone will cost more than half a million dollars. Once those repairs are made, more money is needed to fix the walls and other things that will be disrupted by the repair process. Mitigating dangers posed by asbestos, lack of security and non-ADA compliant access points comes next, along with improvements to our heating, mechanical and electrical systems. All of that work is essential to the health of the building.  Think of it as basic body maintenance, like eating healthier, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and getting new glasses. Those things will help us feel better and have a clearer view of the world.

In addition to basic health management, we are also planning improvements that will help the people of the church use the structure of the church to further the mission of the church. We are an amazingly active and generous church. Between those things we do internally, to serve our own congregation and others, and things we support by offering space and encouragement, we are taxing the ability of this structure to meet the demands of our mission.

It’s time for a little congregational participation. Please stand up or raise your hand (and stay standing or keep up your hand) if you have ever:

Have you ever served on a church committee, sung in the choir, played the bells, fed or led FUMY, attended a UMW or UMM group or celebrated a life event like a wedding, a baptism or a funeral in this church?

Thank you for sharing. You can sit now or put down your hand.

Do you know we also serve as a venue or support for all of these efforts: African Children’s Choir

I’m sure there are more things we do and causes we serve than I’ve mentioned today. Please feel free to let me know what we have not yet noted, so I can add your special interests to the list.

Our website says: "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" is not just an advertising slogan, but a statement of how First United Methodist Church of Missoula wants to be seen in our community. First Church is a community of open hearts seeking to be a force for God's grace in the "heart" of Missoula's downtown. We are an open-minded congregation, respectful of each other yet unafraid of the issues of our time. And we are a church of open doors, welcoming a wide diversity of people to be a part of our congregation.

What a powerful statement that is.  How inspiring and how terrifying to be ‘a force for God’s grace in the heart of downtown.’ To be ‘open-minded, respectful and unafraid.’ To have open doors that invite all.

These things we have acknowledged doing come from within us and are the result of our commitments and energies. But just as we need our own bodies to accomplish that which we find important in this world, we need a space that supports our efforts.

We are at a critical juncture. We have had the meetings, we have discussed the options, we have talked and listened, listened and talked. And we have prayed for guidance. It is time to decide if we are the congregation that will turn possibilities into realities, or if we will continue to hold our building together with duct tape and bobby pins, putting more effort than is necessary in simply maintaining the status quo.

We need the infrastructure – a heating system that actually heats, a commercial kitchen to prepare meals for those who are hungry, showers for Family Promise participants and others who need shelter, an elevator so those with limited mobility can join us wherever we are in the church, well-defined and secure areas so everyone who uses this space can feel safe where they are.

We also need to create a more welcoming and encompassing space. The plans that have resulted from so many months of work, so many meetings, so many discussions are modest, but compelling. The Building Design Team has worked hard to listen to all of your concerns, suggestions and dreams. From all of that, they have worked with professionals to bring us plans for a lovely, yet humble space, that says to all, ‘You are welcome here’ through beckoning, efficient and useful spaces.

I would like to tell you that we are half way or more to our goal, but I cannot. The Design Team is still working to reduce costs and define a final budget, which is a bit like chasing squirrels with feathers, but we are currently working with a budget somewhere north of $2M. The Finance Committee has raised money and pledges of about one-quarter of that. Obviously, if we do not have a realistic possibility of raising all the funds needed for everything on our list, we will have to make some difficult choices.

Many of you have already made your pledges or given generously to the Building Project. Thank you. Thank you, as well, to those of you who are considering what your place is in this effort. It seems a daunting possibility. Our congregation is not so large or so prosperous that we can easily raise $2M. Jesus fed 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few fish. If each of us does what we can, together we can do whatever God wants of us.

We will soon be announcing the date for an all-church catered dinner at which we will provide specific information about what is included in the plans. In the meantime, please feel free to contact any of the members of the Building Finance Team with questions, concerns, payments or pledges. Team members are Greg Beach, Teresa Henry, Bill Reynolds, John Terreo and me. We can talk with you about a one-time donation or pledges over three to five years. We can make suggestions about alternate methods of giving, which you would need to discuss with a tax professional or an attorney, such as a life estate interest in your home or a charitable distribution from your IRA.

Once we have your commitments and a final budget, we will be able to decide what can be done and formulate a plan for paying for it. We will write grants and seek other funding from outside the church, but it is the people of this church, who believe in what we do and who want to support those efforts, who will determine what we will ultimately be able to accomplish.

When I pray about this effort, I ask God to guide us by providing for those things He feels are important to how we do His work in this world. I don’t know if that means He will work through all of us to fund the entire project, or not. I trust Him to work through all of us to do what is right. I ask you, too, to pray for His help in answering our questions and providing for our needs.


6-12-16--Showing great love
Scripture:  Luke 7:36-8:3
Theme:  Jesus tells us that the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears showed great love – as distinguished from lesser loves, we see that the greatness of one’s love for God puts God front and center – and exhibits a desperation that

As many of you know (because it was announced two Sundays ago!), this past June first, my wife and I celebrated our 25th marriage anniversary.  In recognition of this milestone in our lives, we received many affirmations from our family and friends, through cards and phone calls and e-mail.  One of those messages that came through Facebook particularly caught my eye; it was a quote from the book The Ten Laws of Lasting Love by Judith Viorst ((New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 179).  I’m not sure, but I believe there is a subliminal message in this quote, and I wanted to see what you thought this individual was trying to communicate to my wife and me.  Here’s the quote:
 Infatuation is when you think he's as gorgeous as Brad Pitt, as pure as Pope Francis, as funny as Woody Allen, as athletic as Arnold Schwarzenager, and as smart as Albert Einstein. Love is when you realize that he's as gorgeous as Woody Allen, as smart as Arnold Schwarzenager, as funny as Albert Einstein, as athletic as Pope Francis and nothing like Brad Pitt in any category -- but you'll take him anyway.
Now, here is my question to you today – just what do you think this individual was trying to say to me?  Or to say to my wife?

    Love is the focus of our scripture lesson today – but the focus is unique, tied to a scene of interaction between those who understand love in different ways. 
Jesus is invited to eat at the home of a Pharisee named Simon; while there, a woman in the city, scripture says “who was a sinner,” came into this setting, began to weep, washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, kissed his feet, and anointed them with oil.  It is hard to miss the emotion in the moment, full of sorrow and repentance and an inner woundedness which desperately longs to be healed.  Simon finds this offensive, but keeps it to himself, saying under his breath “Jesus obviously doesn’t know what kind of woman this is!”  But it seems like his body language gives him away.  Jesus then asks who would have the greater love – one who was forgiven little, or one who was forgiven much?  The Pharisee gives the right answer – the one who is forgiven much, loves much.  Jesus then says to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
The implication is clear – Simon the Pharisee shows love in his hospitality, but it is a lesser love.  The woman shows her love in her tears and caress, and it is the greater love.  It would seem that greater love is borne out of greater desperation for God’s forgiveness, healing, and grace.
Now, when we use the word “great” we often mean fantastic and powerful and wonderful, but the word “great” can mean other things which might be relevant and helpful here.  Great can also mean unusual and excessive, or beyond the scope of what is normally expected.  Great can also mean unique or profound, powerful in its direct application to specific situations and individuals.  Great love is much more than a feeling, much more than a sentiment; great love transforms life itself; great love leaves an impact that cannot be forgotten; great love is personal, with an intensity of interest and engagement in the individual beloved; great love makes life new.
I read recently of a TV interview with a single mother who had raised a large family on her own. In spite of all the frustrations, disappointments and obstacles, she had persevered and every one of her children had made remarkable achievements, not only in their schooling but also in their vocation. It was an inspiring story worth celebrating, for it revealed the heights and depths of human greatness. During the interview, the mother was asked her secret -- the reporter said to her, 'I suppose you loved all your children equally, making sure that all got the same treatment?'
 "The mother replied, 'I loved them. I loved them all, each one of them, but not equally. I loved the one the most that was down until he was up. I loved the one the most that was weak until she was strong. I loved the one the most that was hurt until he was healed. I loved the one the most that was lost until she was found."'  (Donald J. Shelby, "The Lord's House and Ours," 10 May 1992, Santa Monica, California).
I think this reflects the nature of God’s love toward us, which we are to take as our own towards each other.  Great love hones in on other’s needs of the moment, and aggressively addresses that need in all the ways it can.  The woman in our scripture lesson expresses great love in her direct attention to Jesus in spite of the glare of the crowd; she does what she can to comfort him and acknowledge his significance in her life, as she sheds her tears, washes his feet, and anointing them as a sign of reverence and humility.  We express great love towards others as we hone in on their needs, spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, and do all that we can to let the other person know that they are worth our time, attention, and effort.  And when we love in this way, we do nothing less than love God.
Two questions arise naturally at this point.  For one, when have you experienced great love, such as that expressed in our scripture today?  When have you felt that you were absolutely and completely embraced by someone else, who looked at you and spoke to you or stood up for you or held you when you had fallen or walked with you in a way that said you were the most important person in the world to them – AT A TIME YOU WERE DESPERATE TO BE LOVED?  Have you ever had such an experience, where someone showed you great love?
I have a little brother; his name is Scott.  From a very young age, I nicknamed my brother “Snot”, because that was what he was in my mind.  He suffered from LBS -- little brother syndrome – which means he was a pest, he was annoying, he wouldn’t do what I told him to do, and he’d tell on me when I had done something wrong.   Boy, he really bothered me for many years.
I’ll never forget one day when Snot and I had gone over with some friends to play baseball at the school diamond.  It was a time when you would play pick-up games, when you’d go over to the field and see who was there; it was likely that you could collect enough random people to play a game.
There were a bunch of older boys playing, but they didn’t have enough people to play an actual game.  We came on the scene and before you knew it, we were playing a game.  We were doing OK, until I came up to bat.  I took a few practice swings, just like the pros, but didn’t notice that Tommy Nolan was walking behind me; one of my swings hit him in the head, just behind the ear.  He screamed and ran for home, which wasn’t far away; a couple of our teammates followed him to see if he was OK, and word came back that he was.  But that ended the game; my brother and I headed home.
We only got two blocks away when we noticed that the older boys, who had gone on before us, had stopped ahead of us.  As my brother and I approached them, the made a circle around me.  One of them, his name was Kevin, then came up to me, gave me a push, and said, “Why did you hit Tommy with a bat?”  As I looked up at this teenager who was much larger than me, and suddenly realized that there were six of them and one of me, and that they were all glaring at me, I realized I was about to die.  I was about to get beaten up. 
And then it happened.  From out of nowhere, a voice shouted in a rather high pitch identifying a very young soul, and said almost screaming “LEAVE HIM ALONE; IT WAS AN ACCIDENT.”  At the same time, I stood there in disbelief as my brother, my little pipsqueak, bothersome, annoying, pesky little brother, jumped between me and Kevin, ready to fight.
That’s when my brother became a good natured, helpful, kindly, cool, and awesome individual whom I valued in my life.  HE STOOD UP FOR ME!  JUST WHEN I WAS ABOUT TO DIE!  Or at least, that’s what I thought at the moment.  He was either absolutely out of his mind to face down six large guys – or he had a brother whom he loved beyond reason.  I am so glad it is the latter.
Have you ever experienced great love, something like this?  Where someone put themselves on the line for you?  When things were bad, maybe even terrible, and someone supported you profoundly?  When you were broken, hurting, lost, afraid, angry, at the end of your rope – and someone helped you to hold on?  If so, I believe that we might have a sense of the experience of the woman before Jesus – whose life was changed by the attention and affection of the son of God.
A second question is natural here as well – have you ever loved someone else in this way?  Have you ever been on the giving side of great love?  Have you ever given of your heart and soul, desperate for the other to know how much you care, how much they matter?  Have you ever done something the world would call ridiculous for the sake of another’s need?  This transforms life as well, when you experience the power of love where it is truly needed – much more than a sentiment, much more involved in giving of our lives to another.
Years ago, I led a mission workteam to the San Luis Valley in Colorado to attempt to show great love through repairing homes.  I and seven others found out we were to put a new roof on a disabled woman’s home.  Her name was Pia; she was very poor; she was unable to walk very well; she talked slowly due to a brain injury she had received in an accident a long time ago; she was estranged from all of her family; she was Buddhist; she was very glad to see us.  We worked all week, putting a sheet metal roof over Pia’s dilapidated double-wide trailer; it was hot, hard work, with none of the group except me having done any construction before; we took many breaks and lunches with Pia; we had great conversations with her, listening to her experiences of life and sharing our own.  At the end of the week, the roof was up, and looked great; we were in her living room to say goodbye, when, unexpected to me, everyone began to cry.  Pia was sobbing, expressing her gratitude for the new roof, but more importantly for caring enough to listen to her experiences with understanding and without judgment.  And then she said something I’ll never forget – she looked at us all and said, “I didn’t know people like you existed.”  Somehow, some way, our love for Pia came through, as did her love for us. 

If you have received great love, you know it was great because it changed your life.  If you have given great love, you know it was great because it changed both your life and the life of the beloved.  This is the nature of God’s love for us; this is the love faith prescribes for each other.

Love Deeply,
For the more we give to love,
the more we have to give.
And when we have given all we have,
and there is nothing left but love,
what then is left to be taken from me?
If you ask yourself, "How well do I live?"
the answer comes, "How much do you love?"
--From a James Dillet Freeman poem "How Well Do I Live? How Much Do You Love?" in Love, Loved, Loving! The Principle Parts of Life (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974), 91.


6-6-10    The Unreasonableness of God  Scripture:  I Kings 17:8-24
Theme:  Many times, we feel the limitation of being human on this earth – there’s only so much of us, after all!  This is especially the case when we are under stress – financial, physical, emotional, relational, vocational, spiritual.  Who hasn’t been there?  And who hasn’t felt the urge to lash out in either antagonistic refusal or apathetic capitulation?  The scripture tells of a widow in that exact position – resignation to the impossibility of life.  But she is met by a God who responds to her impossibility – and she is restored.  This is our same God; this is God’s same manner with us. 

This is a sad week in the world of Boxing – in the news, we heard of the death of Muhammed Ali.  This brought to my memory about another boxing story that comes out of the 1930’s.  The story concerns the real life experience of a boxer of that time named C.D. “Big Boy” Blalock.  Here’s the tale:  “Back in the early 1930s, C.D. "Bigboy" Blalock of Louisiana State University--a six-foot-six-inch giant of a boxer--was taking on a stocky fellow from Mississippi State. In the second round, Bigboy let lose a roundhouse. The Mississippi man stepped in, and his head caught Bigboy's arm inside the elbow. With the opponent's head acting as a lever, Bigboy's arm whipped around in almost full circle, connecting with haymaker force on Bigboy's own chin. He staggered, grabbed the rope, walked almost all the way around the ring, and then fell flat for the count--the only prizefighter who ever knocked himself out with a right to his own jaw.” (L.M. Boyd.)
That’s kind of hard to imagine, isn’t it?  Let me ask you a question this morning – HAVE YOU EVER DONE THE SAME THING?  Have you ever knocked yourself out?  Before you answer, apply that question to matters outside of boxing – have you ever worked so hard, worried so much, traveled so far, strained so hard, thought so intensely, complained so bitterly, or otherwise carried on so long, that you knocked yourself out?   Have you ever reached that point where you thought you’ve reached some sort of dead end, some sort of barrier that was insurmountable, where you felt, even knew, that things were unredeemable?  You had no more left to give, no more left to try, no more anything of yourself to share?  Have you ever been there?
We meet a person in our scripture lesson who is at that point – the widow in this story of Elijah.  It’s kind of a strange story – the prophet Elijah is told to go to Zarephath to live, where God tells him he has commanded a widow to feed him.  He goes to Zarephath, finds the widow, and asks her for a drink; she begins to go off to get him a drink, when he shouts to her “how about some bread, too?”  In her response, you can almost hear her cynicism – “First a drink, then some bread; why not roast beef and a pudding?  I’M A POOR WIDOW, STARVING MYSELF; HOW CAN YOU ASK ME THIS THING?”  She puts it a bit more tactfully, however – “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
It’s called fatalism.  Or perhaps pessimism.  Maybe it’s defeatism.  Whatever it is, it’s not without warrant.  THINGS ARE HARD; LIFE HANGS IN A TENUOUS BALANCE; HOPE SEEMS DISTANT.  The last thing she needed in her desperate life is an unreasonable request. 
Let me ask you -- Do people ever ask you unreasonable things?  Do they ever ask of you unreasonable actions?  Do they ever ask you these things when everything’s going great?  Do they ever stop to think about your situation first, or do they make demands they have no right to make of someone in your situation?
When we are asked something unreasonable, our first natural reaction is to practice rational avoidance.  If the request is unreasonable, we have logic on our side – we say to ourselves “I don’t owe them anything; who are they to ask me?  IN THE EYES OF THE WORLD, WE ARE ALL JUSTIFIED IN THIS RESPONSE WHEN THE REQUEST IS UNREASONABLE-– but the result speaks for itself.
I remember a time when I practiced rational avoidance.  A transient named Dean had come to the church I was serving, asking for food.  We had none at the church, so I offered – graciously, I might add – to take him to the grocery store.  Two words – BIG MISTAKE.  He had said he needed just a couple of items to eat, but wound up asking “can I have this too?” about a thousand times – gloves, matches, magazines, deodorant (I didn’t mind buying him that!), toothpaste, toilet paper, etc., etc., etc. began to fill up our cart.  And in my mind, with each request, I heard the refrain – “HOW DARE HE ASK ME FOR SO MANY THINGS!”  When our cart was about a third full, I put a stop to it; after all, it was my right to refuse.  Dean picked up the signal from my face rather quickly, and he stopped asking for things.  I bought him those items –several of which I thought were unnecessary – and we parted company.  AND I MUST CONFESS -- I COULDN’T WAIT TO GET AWAY FROM HIM!  I was angry, resentful, and annoyed that I had been taken advantage of; I’m not sure how Dean felt, except for one thing – HE WAS PROBABLY STILL HUNGRY, FOR WE HADN’T BOUGHT ANY FOOD.    And that’s the point that stayed with me – with my preoccupation over the items Dean was choosing, and my worries over where this was going, I was distracted away from any helpful interaction with this homeless man.  And that was a shame.  I realized that I had been in the process of judging him, when I should have been trying to understand him.  This experience taught me a lesson in what can happen when we try too hard to avoid what seems unreasonable.
Our second natural reaction is what I call sour self-resignation – we say to ourselves and others “Alright, I’ll do it, but then I’ll die!”  “In spite of my own difficult situation,  I will, as an act of caustic reactionism, fulfill your request, BUT I WILL MAKE SURE YOU OBSERVE THE SUFFERING YOU PUT ME THROUGH TO GET IT!”  This is the spiteful response to unreasonable requests – letting the recipient know just exactly how unreasonable they are being while responding reluctantly.
We, in my family, experience this reality regularly; it’s known as the “frustration stomp.”  I think it’s mainly a teenage malady, but I believe that my wife and I catch it every now and then.  It goes like this:  someone asks something of someone else; that someone else perceives this as a burden, an interruption to their normal activity, which is very annoying.  It may be taking out the trash, folding laundry, running an errand downtown, practicing piano, washing daddy’s motorcycle, or mowing the lawn.  Did you know that those things usually become necessary at exactly the wrong time, like when you’re just ready to sit down to read the newspaper, or take a nap, or fidget with the remote control?  Anyway, I digress.  Someone asks something like this of someone else, who in turn becomes annoyed.  Now, they know it won’t help to talk about it much, and that they probably were asked for a good reason, and should take care of the matter – BUT THEY REALLY, REALLY WANT YOU TO KNOW HOW PUT-OUT THEY ARE.  And so their feet get leaden; they stomp out their annoyance.  Like this: (demonstrate).  They not only drag their feet, but they lift them up and crash them down in a cadence translated:  “SEE HOW UNREASONABLE YOUR REQUEST IS?!?”  “SEE HOW I’M SUFFERING BECAUSE OF YOU?”
When unreasonable requests come our way, then, we have these two options – we can justifiably refuse the request, and end the possibilities for further relationship; and we can respond spitefully, in an attempt to punish the source of the unreasonable request.
But there is a third reaction we can choose, the reaction that Elijah suggests in this context – when presented with an unreasonable request, we can see what we can do, with God’s help; I WILL SEEK OUT GOD’S PROVISION, FOR WHAT I CAN DO, AND WHAT YOU REALLY NEED.  Elijah says those words that the widow is probably desperate to hear, denoting that truth she is desperate to receive – “DO NOT BE AFRAID; GOD WILL PROVIDE.”  And these are the same words that enable our positive response to unreasonable requests – “do not be afraid; God will provide.”

One of my favorite stories is told by William Frey, retired Episcopal bishop from Colorado: I’d like to read it to you in this context:
When I was a younger man, I volunteered to read to a degree student named John who was blind. One day I asked him, "How did you lose your sight?"
"A chemical explosion," John said, "at the age of thirteen."
"How did that make you feel?" I asked.
"Life was over. I felt helpless. I hated God," John responded. "For the first six months I did nothing to improve my lot in life. I would eat all my meals alone in my room. One day my father entered my room and said, 'John, winter's coming and the storm windows need to be up -- that's your job. I want those hung by the time I get back this evening or else!'
"Then he turned, walked out of the room and slammed the door. I got so angry. I thought Who does he think I am? I'm blind! I was so angry I decided to do it. I felt my way to the garage, found the windows, located the necessary tools, found the ladder, all the while muttering under my breath, 'I'll show them. I'll fall, then they'll have a blind and paralyzed son!'"
John continued, "I got the windows up. I found out later that never at any moment was my father more than four or five feet away from my side."
William Frey, "When Words Come To an End,"
         That’s our reality, people of God – our God is with us.  Our God will provide.  Even when things are unreasonable.  ESPECIALLY when things are unreasonable.  God will provide what we need to face such moments – the right words to say, the right thoughts to think, the right actions to take – IF WE TRUST IN THAT PRESENCE COMPLETELY.  For then, it is no longer up to us, is it?


7-6-14 - A Final Word from the District Superintendent

Scripture:  Colossians 1:1-14
Theme:  The DS has some insights on the new pastor appointed under his watch – and there are concerns!  But not if we remember what God has said to us consistently, constantly, as reflected in today’s scripture – we share in the inheritance of the saints in the light; we are given the opportunities to grow in the knowledge of God; and God is with us every step of the way. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-XElA0vVI98c/UDUjEPHYqzI/AAAAAAAAuQQ/tg42yGZ4X3k/s1600/harley_davidson_2013_breakout_cvo_in_pagan_gold_paint_marks_110th_anniversary_up5af.jpg

Recently, I made a request of our Bishop Elaine Stanovsky – that she would grant an extension to the position of Western Mountains District Superintendent until 10:30am, July 6th, 2014.  She graciously extended that privilege, and so I stand here before you as the Western Mountains District Superintendent for the next 25 minutes.  I felt this was an important request to make, for as District Superintendent overseeing the new appointment to this church, the First United Methodist Church of Missoula, Montana, I needed to raise up to your awareness some things about your newly appointed pastor.  I am uniquely qualified to make commentary, I believe, for I know this new pastor fairly well – we talk on a regular basis, and have done so for over 40 years.  Let me put it to you directly – there are some things you really ought to know about him. Read more of the message


First United Methodist Church of Missoula / Kay Duffield, Webmaster (hart2u2@yahoo.com)