Church begins each Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
Children's Sunday School begins following the Children's Sermon in the Sanctuary.
Choir practice begins at 9:00 a.m. (9th grade and up welcome)
Faith and Justice Adult Sunday School begins at 9:00 a.m.
Communion is held each Sunday and all are invited to God's Table
to share in the meal.
Click here to see a current sermon.
Nursery care will be available to those 5 and under during the service.
There is always a coffee/fellowship time in the Narthex following the service.
You are invited to join us!
Daylight savings time ends the first Sunday in November and begins the second Sunday in March
For a complete details of all that is happening
this month in our church click on
the Tower Tidings Newsletter
From September till May Children's Sunday School will take place during worship following the Children's Sermon.
Children will leave from the sanctuary following the Children's Time.
Faith and Justice class, Sundays 9:00 to 10:15
Click here for description of new adult classes in 2014 and ongoing groups.
Chancel Choir, Sundays, 9:00 to 10:15
JuBELLation, Wednesdays 6-8 p.m.
FUMY, Wednesdays, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Joyful Noise Children's Choir, Thursdays, 6:00 to 6:45 p.m.
March 2 - New Adult Lenten Study - Painting the Stars Class
March 2 - Antarctica Slideshow and collection of school supplies for Tanzania
March 5 - Ash Wednesday, Soup Supper at 6 p.m.
March 6 - UMW joint meeting with Grace UMW at 1 p.m.
March 13 - Ruth Fellowship at 10 a.m.
March 14 - Frinday Night Out at Mahoneys, 6 p.m.
March 16-23 - Host Family Promise
March 25 - Book Club at noon
March 29 - UMW Flea Market 9 - 3
March 29 - Poverello Lunch on 5th Saturday
April 15 - Scholarship deadline Foundation Scholarships: The First United Methodist 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.
Easter Services April 20th:
7:00 Sunrise Service at Caras Park
10:30 Easter Service in the Sanctuary
The life of our church includes:
Click on blue letters to find out more information.
Adult Spiritual Growth - summary of 2014 classes
Childrens Ministries - You Tube video
U of M Wesley Foundation - Facebook
Foundation - donations and scholarships
UMW - United Methodist Women
UMM - United Methodist Men
Social Action - Family Promise, Habitat for Humanity, Intermountain, Poverello
Walk to Emmaus
Reaching out with love to our community and the world
❤ Host for Homeless Connect
❤ Poverello Dinners 5th Saturdays
❤ Family Promise Host
❤ January MIC Food Bank Drive
❤ Tzedakah Pocket
❤ Habitat for Humanity
❤ East Angola Pastor Support
❤ SERRV & Fair Trade Products
❤ Intermountain Home
❤ Wesley House
❤ Flathead UMC Camp
❤ Cub Scouts
❤ United Methodist Women’s mission projects
❤ Blackfoot Parish
❤ YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter
Barry Padget, Pastor - Click here to see a current sermon.
Sharon Jackson and Rhanda Johnson, Administrative Assistants
Leslie Lindley, Treasurer
Kay Duffield, Financial Secretary
John Schaff, Custodian
Nursery Attendants, Faye Gibson (Choir practice / 9:00 Sunday School) and
Audra Clark( 10:30 Worship / Children's Sunday School)
Junior Nursery Attendants: Madison Lightfield, Austin Skinner, Kade Hedahl and Sophia Clark
Greg Boris, Music Director and Chancel Choir Director
Peter Edwards, Pianist/Organist
Joanna Wallenborn, Handbell Choir Director
Rhanda Johnson, Joyful Noise Director
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.
FUMC Chancel Choir will begin the fall season on Sunday Sept. 11th. Enthusiasm and love of music a must. Previous experience is not required. Choir meets Sundays only at 9:00 a.m. before service. All are welcome. Please join us! For more information talk to choir director Greg Boris.
JuBELLation Handbell Choir
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.
Please contact Brynn Bellingham to discuss what options might work best for you.
Joyful Noise Children's Choir
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 Thursdays from 6:00 - 6:45 p.m. Contact Rhanda Johnson in the office 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 usually meet on Sunday mornings before and after worship.
Click here for description of new classes in 2014 and ongoing groups.
Interested in online adult classes? Click on UMC classes for more information.
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.
Sunday School meets during the worship service, right after Children's Time 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.
First United Methodist Youth Fellowship (FUMY)
7th through 12th grade students meet most Wednesday evenings from 7:00 - 8:30 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
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 visit. 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
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 encouraged to attend either First or Grace UMC in Missoula.
United Methodist Women
Our UMW is part of the Yellowstone Conference and you can find information
on Conference and District UMW activities on the conference UMW web page.
The Conference covers Montana, 1/2 Wyoming and a slice of Idaho.
The National United Methodist Women also have a website full of information, news, and resources
UMW 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. Click here for YOUR INVITATION to join. UMW raises money for mission projects locally, in Montana, nationally and globally.
UMW meets the first Thursday Oct-Dec and Feb-April. All meetings are at 1:00 for dessert, program and business meeting.
Other activities include: March 5th Ash Wednesday Souper Supper, March 29th Flea Market, in July families will attend a community band concert at Bonner Park, September Pizza Party at the Carousel, October Apple Pie sales, and December14th Candy Sale.
Contact President Ellie Barnes 549-1384 for more information.
First Church also has UMW Fellowship Groups which meet once a month. Nothing compares to a small supportive group of women!
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.
contact: Ellie Barnes 549-1384 or Peg Plimpton 542-1543
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, a monthly program, and outreach to church members who need a little TLC.
Chair: Ellen Stubblefield 728-2115
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.
Chair: Dorothy Avery 549-7117
Book Group meets the fourth Thursday at noon 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.
Chair: Carole Addis 721-1817
Quilting and Crafts Group meets as the need arises for mission projects.
Chair: Kay Norum 721-5750.
Stephen Ministry Church
We participate in Stephen Ministries, where trained Stephen Ministers walk with those whose lives are in turmoil for one reason or another.
Stephen Ministers also help with prayer requests each Sunday and serve communion. Anyone in our church family can request a Stephen Minister for themselves. A new class will be starting in January to train Stephen Ministers. 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 satisfaction in your own life as you nurture your care receiver. What is a Stephen Minister?
Call Kay at 543-6722 or Peg at 542-1543 for more information.
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.
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.
First 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/
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.
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 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 Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami and will continue to support UMCOR when it heads to new disasters.
We also give 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.
February 23, 2014 - Interrupted by God - Matthew 17:1-8 II Peter 1:16-19
Tonight actors will speak and the world will listen—or yawn, or laugh or scoff. It is the night when the academy awards are given out, or as we more commonly call it, the Oscars. It is the biggest night in Hollywood. It is also one of the most widely watched events on television. And people watch, about 40 million of us, for all kinds of reasons. Some people just like the drama of the whole thing, the chance to see their favorite stars walking down the red carpet, maybe to see what kind of outlandish and sometimes nearly scandalous dresses starlets will wear. And then there are the acceptance speeches. Of course, everyone tries to be appropriately humble, interminably thanking everyone that has ever had an influence in their life, finally being dragged offstage by the time they get to their third grade teacher. And then every once in a while there is someone who is truly genuine, sometimes even embarrassingly so like Sally Fields gushing, “You like me. You really, really like me.” Not often you get that kind of honesty out of actors. The point is that tonight careers will be made, lives will be changed.
I was thinking of this when reading the scriptures today for what happens in these verses about the transfiguration is that like winning the Oscar, lives were changed on top of that mountain, and not just Jesus, but also Peter’s life. What happens on the day of the transfiguration is that Jesus chooses his three closest disciples, Peter, James and John, to go up to the top of a mountain to pray. This happens three days after Peter has made his famous declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, only to be rebuked by Jesus moments later when he questions whether Jesus should have to die. Perhaps Peter is still wondered just what kind of Messiah Jesus will be as they walk to the top of the mountain. Jesus begins to pray and suddenly he is transfigured before them, changed. The implication here is not that Jesus is different but that the disciples in that moment catch a glimpse of who Jesus really is, and that is, of course, the divine Son of God, talking with none less than, Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, and Moses, the great giver of the Law. The disciples are stunned, and Peter, again in amazement proposes they should build three little houses or booths for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, one presumes to commemorate or preserve the event. I’m sure it seemed stupid to Peter looking back on it, but right in the middle of his sentence, they are engulfed in a cloud, a sign of God’s presence, and Peter is interrupted by none other than God, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; shut up and listen to him.” Okay, so God doesn’t really say shut up, but it’s implied. The disciples fall to the ground in shock and fear. And Jesus comes over and touches them, saying to them, “Get up and don’t be afraid.” They open their eyes and there is Jesus looking just like normal. As they are coming down the mountain, Jesus tells them maybe they shouldn’t tell anyone about this until later, like after his resurrection.
I was looking at some images that might illustrate today’s sermon. Let me show you what most of the images of the Transfiguration look like. The disciples are at the top of the mountain and Jesus is seen transfigured before them, even his clothes are shining, while the 3 disciples are standing there looking up at him, confused and amazed, and this is normally the way we might picture the event ourselves.
However, in looking at a number of images of the Transfiguration, the one I really thought captured the moment was this Greek icon. We see the disciples not just amazed but literally thrown to the ground by the sight of Jesus transfigured. I was especially impressed by the image of Peter, the disciple on the far right of the icon. Peter is pictured as thrown not just upside down but if look closely you will see his shoe lying beside him, as if he has had the shoes just knocked right off his feet by this experience. I like that image because that is what Peter says happened to him here as well. His life was turned upside down by the experience of Jesus and it would never be the same again.
Years and years later Peter would write a letter to the early Christians telling them about Jesus and what he would mean to them. Peter writes that all of this about Jesus isn’t just some nice story people made up. He says, he saw Jesus himself. He experienced Jesus transfigured before him. He saw Jesus for real. He heard the very words of God from out of the cloud, “This is My Son the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
And then Peter says, you should listen to Jesus. His word is like a lamp shining in a dark place. If you are paying attention, from Jesus will come light and life for you too. It will be like a new day dawning. Jesus will change you, turn your life upside down if you let him.
So what does Peter’s experience have to say to us? I think Peter would tell us, it is okay to let God interrupt now and again. I ran into this great story about Albert Schweitzer, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. Soon after winning the prize, the great missionary doctor, was visiting Chicago. A whole contingent of reporters and politicians had gathered at the train station to meet him. As Dr. Schweitzer stepped off the train -- 6 feet 4 inches in height, bushy hair, large moustache, decked out in his trademark white suit -- news cameras flashed, and city officials lined up to be photographed beside the renowned humanitarian.
Just then, the doctor seemed to see something far off that attracted his attention. He asked the reporters if they would excuse him for a moment. Dr. Schweitzer walked right through the crowd, which parted to make room for him, until he reached an elderly African-American woman who was struggling under the weight of two large suitcases. Smiling, he picked the bags up in his big hands, and escorted her to the steps of her bus. After helping her aboard, he wished her a safe journey.
As all this was going on, the doctor's entourage had tagged along behind him. Turning around and seeing them, he said simply: "Sorry to have kept you waiting." A member of the reception committee turned and said to one of the reporters: "That's the first time I ever saw a sermon walking."
It is okay to let our important lives be interrupted by God now and again. Schweitzer knew what a gift that could be. But sometimes it is not as easy as it was for Peter, with the voice booming out of the cloud. Sometimes, like Schweitzer, we have to look for the interruptions, to take the time to see the places where God might have something to say to us. We are coming into the time of Lent, those 40 days before Easter. It might just the right time to as God asks Peter, listen to Jesus, to let our lives be interrupted by God. God might have something really important to say to us if we will but listen. Lent is a good time to do that.
February 16, 2014 - The Ethics of God’s World: 3 Simple Rules - Matthew 5:38-48
“Do no harm.” Ironically that was the name of the television show that helped sink NBC’s new lineup last winter. “Do no harm”, a modern take on the classic Jekyll and Hyde story debuted on January 31st of 2013. You probably didn’t see it. Nobody did. It lasted a total of two episodes before the network yanked it due to miserably low ratings. In fact it was the lowest in-season debut of a scripted show on a major network ever. Partly because of this show NBC’s ratings went from the highest to the lowest in one year.
One reason they think the show failed so miserably was its name, Do no harm. Weigh Do No Harm as a show title against Fast and Furious, Falling Skies, Breaking Bad, Sudden Impact; In comparison, “Do No Harm” sounds innocuous, possibly even boring. People didn’t even give the show a chance. It was done almost before it started.
That in mind, one can sort of see the difficulty that Jesus is up against here in the Sermon on the Mount just trying to get people to listen to him, let alone trying to get people to take him seriously. Is this high standard of ethical behavior Jesus proposes even possible let alone something people might actually want to do? I mean, really, “turn the other cheek; give to everyone who begs from you; love your enemies; to the one who wants to take your sweater, give him your coat as well.” Where is the fun in doing something like this? And then, of course, there is the last verse in this section, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” All righty, then, nothing like setting the bar a little high. It is enough to write Jesus off as somewhat of a crackpot. Now most people look at these verses and think Jesus was purposely overstating what he means here, kind of like setting all your clocks five minutes ahead so that you won’t be late.
However, John Wesley, the person that started our church back in England in the 1700’s, had the audacity to take Jesus seriously, even here, and began to think about this whole idea of perfection, that maybe if Jesus said it, it might actually be possible. Wesley even thought he knew people who were perfect, at least what he called perfect in love. His point was that one might not always be able to do the right thing, but at least they could have pure motives, one could always try to be loving. By the way, Wesley was clear that he wasn’t perfect, not even close. As a matter of fact, he observed that one of the hallmarks of perfection, was not believing yourself to be perfect, even when others thought you were, and that people who thought themselves perfect were usually just fooling themselves.
So if we are to take Jesus at his word, as Wesley did, and with a large dose of humility, what are we to make of these verses? Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give you cloak as well, and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Now this whole eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth thing was meant to introduce some modicum of Justice into disputes. In other words if someone pokes out your eye, it was considered okay to poke out his eye in return instead of what usually happened, poking out the eye of the person who poked out your eye, and oh, while you are at it, killing him,… and his brother too. The law was a plea for justice instead of just the never ending cycle of revenge. Jesus would ask for more, and it is a most interesting idea, and that is not to let another person’s violent or even merely selfish behavior dictate how you respond to them, but rather to respond in an unexpected way, compassion for example. Jesus gives several examples, like not hitting someone back when they hit you, not countersuing when someone sues you, not being resentful of beggars, or Roman soldiers. The point for Jesus is that when we respond like we are supposed to, we end up being just like the people who are being violent and unfair to us. Is that who we want to be? There has to be a better way. I believe Jesus isn’t asking us to be pushovers, or gullible rubes, or to let ourselves be taken advantage of, but rather to ask ourselves in any given situation, how should we are Christians respond? I think Jesus would say, to respond with love is usually better than just doing what we are expected to do.
And to make his point, Jesus goes on, “you have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same? The question of Jesus is a good one. Does Christianity make any difference in our lives, or are we just like everyone else?
So Wesley had this great idea, and that was to keep it simple. He thought, do you want to do this whole faith in Jesus thing in a way that makes a difference? Wesley proposed three rules, just three and they are easy to remember. The first is: Do no harm. I think he thought that sort of the minimum requirement for Christians. At least don’t do anything that intentionally hurts others. I think Jesus would agree. When someone hurts you, you don’t really have to hurt them back. Believe it or not you have a choice.
The second rule is simple too. Do good. Again, it would seem not that difficult, but too often we let the opportunities for doing good pass us by, and usually it is not because we are bad people, it is because doing good is inconvenient. It takes time, and time is something of a scarcity for modern people. Doing good is mostly a matter of taking the time. Now we have a hard enough time loving the people we love, but Jesus says you can even do good to people you don’t like.
Have you ever heard of a Paraprosdokian? It is a figure of speech in which the latter part of the sentence or phrase is unexpected. For example, where there’s a will, I want to be in it. Don’t argue with an idiot; he will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience. Another: I didn’t say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you. One with a little theology: I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked God for forgiveness. And my favorite, I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.
I think Jesus’ favorite paraprosdokian would be, “Be kind to one another. It will amaze your friends and confuse your enemies.” I wish there were more people in the world who were confused about why Christians behave the way they do if only because it would be so unexpected.
But I said there were three rules. The third is likewise simple. Stay in love with God. One thing you learn being married is that staying in love takes time. You at least have to do things together. It works that way with God too. You want to stay in love with God. Go to church. Take communion. Pray. Read the Bible now and again. It’s not so hard.
Three simple rules. Do no harm. Be good. Stay in love with God. Jesus said it first. Wesley just summarized. To live these three simple rules; even though it is certainly harder than it seems, to do these three simple rules is to be alive.
February 16, 2014 - The Ethics of God’s World: Beyond the Rules -Matthew 21:5:21-37
We have been looking for the last couple of weeks at the Sermon on the Mount. First we talked about the Beatitudes, the next week the passages of how God created us to be Salt and Light for the world. This week the sermon sort of changes tone. It is a long passage that opens up the idea of how God’s people behave in the world. I think part of the point here for Jesus is that people know who you are by how you live.
One of the first things one learns in this world is that there are rules and that most of the time the rules make sense. And this is the way most people figure out the right way to live, they follow the rules. My little granddaughter who is not quite two knows there are rules, and when you break them, you hear the word, No! It was one of the first words she learned. Actually the first word she learned was, Daisy!, which is what everyone constantly says to Daisy, their overly needy dog with a very long tail whenever she knocks something over. There are rules in this world for little girls and for dogs. She knows this.
Well, one would think that is where Jesus is going here too, that the rules are the rules and don’t mess with them. He says clearly to the crowd gathered on the mountain, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” He continues, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisee, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Wow, that seems to be setting the bar pretty high and indeed he does, but Jesus also knows there is a problem with a religion based on rules and laws. One of the things I like about the Holy Land is that people there aren’t afraid to be religious. Men wear Yarmulkes, little hats that proclaim they are Jewish. Every door in the Hotels have Mezuzahs over the mantle and touch them and kiss their hand to remind themselves of their Jewishness every time they go through the door. And they have these things called Shabbat elevators. A shabbat elevator is an elevator to be used by observant Jews on the Sabbath. It has no buttons. Instead the door opens and you get on. It goes up one floor at a time, the door opens, and then closes and goes up the next floor where the same thing happens. No need to push the buttons because pushing buttons is considered work and work is forbidden on the Sabbath. It is a great idea unless of course your room is on the 23rd floor which makes this one long elevator ride. Nonetheless, the elevators are a way to obey the law, and yet not have to carry your suitcase up 23 floors which really is work.
Jesus knew that if the whole thing is about the rules and making sure people obey them, pretty soon you have Shabbat elevators, and figuring out other ways around the laws when it becomes inconvenient. We still live a world like this in which what passes for ethics among congressmen when caught doing something wrong is that they broke no laws, just this side of it, but still not quite breaking the law. I think Jesus is hoping for a little higher ethical standard, and not just for congressman. And neither does Jesus set the ethical bar low. He wants us to consider what it means to live the way God wants us to live and behave toward each other.
Living this way is not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes doing the right thing is not just barely doing what the law requires; sometimes it is a lot more. His first example is: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.’ But I say you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement.” Really, being angry is the same as murder? Well, sometimes. Most of us are able to avoid murdering people we are mad at, but we use our perfectly justified anger to do very terrible things, to dehumanize others and to insult them. The problem is that our anger and the way we use it not only alienates from each other but from God as well. Look for ways to reconcile, not for ways to stay angry. You will be a lot happier.
Likewise he says, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Again, a high bar, but his point is that whenever we dehumanize another person, to make them a thing for our own satisfaction, we dehumanize ourselves as well, and any possible actual relationship, let alone a loving relationship, with this other person, well, that is not going happen. When we treat people like people, even people of the opposite sex, it leads to a lot better relationship.
The same with Jesus and divorce. Women at the time were often treated as slightly more than animals at least legally. What Jesus is saying here is that giving someone a certificate of divorce is swell, but maybe you ought to treat your spouse like a real person first. You might not be so quick to fill out the paperwork. Actually this whole thing about divorce drives me crazy, first because I have known people who have had pretty good reasons for getting a divorce. Why is it that the people who had the best reasons for divorce feel the worst about it? I don’t think Jesus is trying to make more people feel guilty about being divorced. I think what Jesus is saying here has less to do with divorce, and a whole lot more with the importance of truly seeking to love the person you are married to in the first place.
And of course, the verse about letting your ‘yes’ be a ‘yes’, and your ‘no’ being a ‘no’ is important as well. The point for Jesus seems to be, it doesn’t make any difference whether you are swearing on the Bible or what, we should be truthful in love all the time. I’ve known people who I think sometimes lie for practice, lie when it doesn’t make any difference, and I suspect you have too. And I tend not to believe anything they say, even when they are telling the truth with their hand on the Bible. It is a sad thing not to be ever trusted.
I think Jesus is asking us here to go beyond the rules, to do the right thing, even more to do the loving thing. Are rules important? Of course they are. Ask my almost two year old granddaughter? But the rules never cover all the situations, and no matter how good the rules are, there is always some way around them.
You want the rules for being a Christian? Here they are. I don’t know who wrote them, but John Wesley thought they were pretty good. I do too. Would you show the slide please?
February 9, 2014 The People of God: Salt and Light - Matthew 5:13-20
There are all kinds of theories about how to motivate people. The church, by and large, has over the years has pretty much stayed with the classics, with the time proven motivators, guilt, fear, and shame. Interesting that we should follow one who didn’t seem to feel such motivators worked very well. Jesus seemed to prefer such motivators as hope and challenge, love and encouragement.
Today we continue with looking at the fifth chapter of Matthew. This chapter is the collection of the sayings of Jesus that we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount. Last week we talked about the Beatitudes, the blessings that come with living the life God seeks for us. In this second of the four parts of this series of teachings, Jesus seeks to encourage his disciples. He says to his disciples gathered on the hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, “You are the Salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Now you have to realize the disciples Jesus is talking to here are a rather motley group of farmers, shepherds, fishermen, and housewives from a remote gathering of villages in an obscure part of the Roman Empire. To call this bunch the Salt of the Earth or worse, the Light of the World was either one of the most incredible statements of faith one will ever find, or the most absurd thing anyone has ever said. I suspect even some of the people there thought the latter, that Jesus sounded a little crazy if not frightening. But Jesus knew, even though the crowd at this point did not, that there would be at least some of those people who would change the world forever. If nothing else they would never see themselves or their lives the same again.
Jesus said to them, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored. It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Salt in the time of Jesus was a big deal. It was an amazing substance that had proved so valuable it has in history been used as currency and fought over in wars. Salt could be used to cure and store meats, a big deal if you don’t have a refrigerator handy; it was also used to disinfect wounds, to make food, pottery and more. Although it might be tempting to sort of isolate one of these usages as the central meaning behind the metaphor Jesus is using here, to do so would oversimplify what Jesus is saying. Salt was loved not just for one use but because it had so many uses. It just made life better. It certainly made food taste better. The importance of salt continues today to the point where it is nearly impossible to live without salt. It is in everything. Ask anyone with high blood pressure and is trying to live on a salt free diet. Or imagine how many potato chips would be sold if they only came desalted. Of course, Jesus isn’t talking about sodium chloride here. Jesus point is that those who belong to him, who live under his reign and rule in this world are just like salt. It makes life better, tastier. His word to the disciples is as their lives are changed and made better, so they in turn make the world a better place to be.
But the fact is that while salt cannot actually lose its saltiness, it can be diluted, which is also what Jesus is saying here. Once salt has been used to cure meat for example, it is pretty much done. So Jesus is saying to us, You are the salt of the earth, don’t mess this up. Don’t let your life and faith become so diluted with extra stuff that you forget the point.
So Jesus also says You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp put it under the bushel basket but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.
Of course, what Jesus is saying here is that like a lamp, those who live the message of Jesus are like a lamp in a dark place. You don’t build on top of a hill to hide it, it would be impossible. In the same way light a lamp to put it under a basket. That would be dumb. The point of a light is to see with it, so you put it on a lampstand, then it’s not just you who can see but everyone in the house. I read a little about lamps in the time of Jesus. Lamps were not just something that you lit at night. They lived in dark little houses usually with one window. It you wanted to see, you always had the lamp on. Indeed, you could not let it go out because it was so hard to start again. I mean it is not exactly like they had matches or butane charcoal lighters handy. To put a lamp under a bushel basket was not just to not be able to see, the lamp itself if left under the basket would burn all the oxygen and go out. A lamp by its very definition has to be on a lampstand or it is less than worthless. It is dead. That is what Jesus is saying. Let you so shine before others, first so that you can see the way, but also so that others too may see the goodness of your life and know not just why you talk the way you do, but why you live the way you do.
This whole image of light is a powerful one in the Bible,, both in the New and Old Testament. In Isaiah, talking of the coming age, he writes, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the land of deepest darkness, on them has light shined.” It is a particularly prominent image in the gospel of John. He begins his gospel saying, “In the beginning was the world and the word was with God and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not put it out.” The point for John is that this Jesus thing isn’t about a great teacher, but the creative force of the universe present among us, that he is like light in darkness to show us the way to life, and that abundant and eternal. When Jesus speaks of us being the light of the world, what he is saying is that when we live that life he brings us, we become a part of that creative force.
Yes, it is a big deal to be called, as Jesus does us, the salt of the Earth, and the light of the world. Daunting, actually; almost unbelievable. I was watching the Olympics the other day, and remembering an article about Olympic athletes. Apparently, people who win gold medals at the Olympics are different than you and me. No, not just because they have a lot more athletic ability than us. They think differently too. They have done studies on these people. They stand up at the top of the hill, and they believe, with all their heart that they are the best athlete in this competition, and if they give it their best, there is no chance that they will not win this event. Now you or I might not see it that way. I would stand up there in the little house at the top of the giant slalom beside someone like Lindsey Vonn and think I am doomed, not only because I will kill myself doing this but because I don’t stand a chance of winning. Not so these people. They say those athletes stand there waiting with Lindsey Vonn, and think, Oh, good, a challenge.
Likewise, this isn’t grand hyperbole for Jesus. He calls us the salt of the earth, the light of the world because he believes it to be true or at least possible. Now Jesus knows that not everyone will believe this, but there will be some. Now they won’t believe this because they see themselves as the best of the best, sort of the Olympic athletes of spirituality and righteousness but because in all humility, these folks know they are not alone in this life, that the light of the world will show them the way, all they have to do is walk it.
It always amazes me how many people I have run into over my years that I would describe as the salt of the earth, people who just make life better, not just for themselves, but for a lot of others too. I’ve even seen people whom I would describe as the light of the world, who bring God’s light into the dark places in other’s lives and in their own too. It never fails to humble me to see their humility, for they often just see themselves as trying to live out their faith, doing the best they can. It is just who they are. I think God would hope that for all of us, to believe it possible to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world.
January 26, 2014 - Galilee of the Gentiles - Matthew 4:12-23
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in Western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fisherman, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fisherman and that John, the favorite, was a dry fly fisherman.”
Those are the first lines of my favorite book, and that is, A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. I read this section again on this particular Sunday because it brings to mind the power of Jesus’ message, though it didn’t really make his disciples fly fishermen exactly, that message transformed the lives of these common people. The scripture for today would reaffirm that message still has the power to transform lives and in turn the world itself.
The gospel of Matthew, where this account of the calling of the fishermen comes from for today, differs slightly from the version of events in the other gospels. Matthew is probably the most Jewish of all the gospels and Matthew particularly takes care to tie the stories of Jesus to the Old Testament thus making clear the unbreakable link between Judaism and Christianity. Matthew explains how Jesus came to make his home in Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee just as Isaiah had prophesied. Matthew quotes Isaiah where he wrote, “Land of Zebulon, Land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
It is a powerful verse that speaks of how the light and life of the message of Jesus begins in a most unusual place, among the gentiles, among those in darkness. I called this sermon Galilee of the gentiles, because it was the phrase that caught my imagination as I read it. The fact is that Jesus grew up and later made his home not in the rigorously Jewish center of Jerusalem but far away in Galilee and especially around the Sea of Galilee. Galilee was the center of the Roman Occupation, and a hub of commerce, including the sale of fish to feed a hungry and growing empire. The Romans were not atheists, but rather the epitome of that religious preference that in our modern world has come to be known as spiritual, but not religious. The Roman Empire was awash in religious choices, one seemingly no better or true than another. There was a plethora of Roman gods and goddesses, Egyptian gods and goddesses, and every other kind of god and goddess in between. The Roman Army even had its own religion called Mithraism that involved killing bulls and bathing in their blood. I don’t know whether you would call that spiritual, but not religious or not. Let’s just say it was considered a virtue to pick a little here, a little there, and pretty soon one could come up with one’s personal religion.
It was a little like today, where personal religions and spiritualities abound. Unfortunately, I suspect then as now, these sorts of personal religions/spiritualities seemed a little hollow when the realities of life came crashing in as indeed they always do.
Even more unfortunate is the reality that most of these spiritual but not religious folks at least in modern times looked at Christianity somewhere along the line and found us wanting. Now maybe we and Jesus asked for too much. It is certainly easier and cheaper to be spiritual but not religious. And certainly there are a bunch of good reasons not to be a part of the church. One of the reasons given at the visioning conference is that Christians are all too often hypocrites. It is certainly true. It is also true that it is much harder to be a hypocrite when you don’t stand for much. Nonetheless, we live in a culture in which Christianity has lots of good reasons to be looked at with some dismay, and in which spiritual, but not religious is an easy and appealing option.
How do we respond to Jesus in such a world as ours, which may not have been much different than his? One thing I might say is that we could have a little more humility perhaps. Jesus called fishermen as his first disciples. He didn’t call them because they were better or brighter, or more well behaved but because they were the ones who in all humility, said, “Yes,” and followed him. That’s why Jesus called us too. He didn’t call us because we were the light of the world, but that we might reflect his light however imperfectly into a world filled with darkness, including our own. Jesus didn’t call the fishermen because they were more spiritual or more religious, and certainly not more righteous, but because they said “yes,” and he accepted them just the way they were. God will still do the same for us.
Another thing I might see in Jesus disciples is that when they said “yes,” they dropped everything, and followed. And I mean everything. The disciples knew that following Jesus was something that was going to change their lives. We too could take this whole faith thing a bit more seriously. And no, I don’t mean by developing that sort of fake religious jargon that is so popular nowadays, or believing that God loves us more because we are special. I think what Jesus would call us to is seriously looking at our lives and where people might believe us to be Christian because of what we are doing not just because of what we are saying. And if we are ever called hypocrites, let it be because we had the audacity to believe God’s dreams about us and about the world, and we failed trying to live up to them instead of never trying at all, and just putting a good face on it.
Jesus may well have lived in a world much like ours, in which spiritual but not religious was good enough. He didn’t think so. And it was in that world he called his disciples, people much like us. He called them to believe in his message, and with no small amount of humility live like it was true, loving and serving others. It is how he calls us too.
January 19, 2014 - A Work in Progress I Corinthians 1:1-9
Tony Campolo when he was here in Missoula told about taking the commuter train to New York City one rainy morning. He said it was kind of a frustrating morning because when he went to get his umbrella he discovered he had left it at the office. Turns out Campolo has a regular collection of umbrellas that he takes to work on rainy days and then of course, it isn’t raining when he comes home so he leaves the umbrella at the office until pretty soon like this day he doesn’t have an umbrella at home because he left them all at the office. So he gets on the train a little soaked from the rain storm with his wet paper and the only place to sit is right beside this elderly lady on the train. It is a little crowded and she isn’t too happy to have him sitting so close but he doesn’t have any choice. Finally he gets to his stop in New York, and as he gets up he looks out the window where it is still raining, and without thinking reaches down to pick up his umbrella, only it isn’t his umbrella, it is her umbrella. Immediately, she cries out, help, help, he is stealing my umbrella. Realizing what he has done, he apologizes profusely, but she is having none of it, still mad that he would try to steal an old ladies umbrella. Embarrassed, Campolo hurries off to work. At the end of the day, he remembers that he has left all of his umbrellas at the office, gathers them up, and heads for the train. Sure enough, he gets to the train, and who does he sit right across from, the old lady. She looks at him, and then at all the umbrellas, and says, “So you had a pretty productive day, I see.”
You know there are some days, even when you are trying to, you just can’t do anything right. And you certainly know that is true if you the minister of a church. Churches, including their ministers are just people, and sometimes pretty fallible people.
Perhaps the good thing is that it has always been that way. And the best example of this fallibility and humanness is the church at Corinth. Corinth was the California of the ancient world, not only was it a melting pot of people from all over the Roman Empire, there was every sort of religious expression available there including all the wacky ones. Paul sought to start a church in Corinth, and experienced no small amount of success, but this was not an easy church to work with. The rich in the church lorded it over the poor, there were power struggles, the church split over every possible theological conflict, plus there were false teachers, and those who still practiced pagan rituals like temple prostitution and saw no conflict while doing that with being Christians at the same time. This church was a mess, and occasioned more than one letter from Paul trying to help them figure out what it meant to be Christians in such a confusing world and church.
Interestingly Paul isn’t frustrated. Indeed, he acts like this is the best church ever. The very first sentence in his letter after the greeting is this: “I give thanks to God always for you.” Now Paul isn’t fooling himself or trying to butter them up. He knows who these people really are. They are just people, maybe more fallible than most. What makes this body of believers great is not so much the great things done by them, but the great love shown to them in Jesus Christ. He writes, “I give thanks to God always for you,” and then finishes that sentence by saying, because of the Grace of God given you in Christ Jesus. He continues, “for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus. And he concludes this section by saying, “He will also strengthen you to the end. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
What Paul is saying here is that when you are in the church, you get three things, Grace, Gifts, and a Guarantee. The first of those three promises might be the most important and that is Grace, God’s love for you. Yes, of course, God loves everyone, and God loves each one, but not everyone knows that, and that is a real loss for them. It is like not knowing the most important thing about yourself. But if you are in church, especially if you have been baptized, you have not only been loved, you have been celebrated as one who God loves, a child of God. And you have been forgiven, washed clean of the stuff both you and the world have covered you with so you barely even know who you are anymore. Grace washes that away and lets you see yourself for who you really are. Even in Corinth, as much of a mess of a church as it was, God filled them with grace, and they knew it.
The second thing that God promises us is gifts. Along with the knowledge of God’s grace comes the ability, even the need to do something about it. Paul wrote, “In every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” Yes, every church is kind of a ragtag bunch of broken believers, but it always amazes me that most churches somehow get across the idea that Christians have something to give others. That they have gifts from God and then give them the opportunity to do something about that. It amazes me how much I see happen in our community and in our world by people in our church. And it is not just the stuff that happens through the church like helping with Family Promise or serving at the Pov or helping with the Homeless Connect event this week. It amazes me how many people go above and beyond in their own lives and work because they believe they have the gifts and graces to make a difference in this world. I have the audacity to believe that a whole bunch of those giving people saw themselves as gifted because of what God told them in church about who they were.
And along with Grace and gifts, God also offers us in church a guarantee, and it goes back to that first gift of Grace. Because of that gift of grace, we are offered a guarantee of the future. No matter what happens, because of our own dysfunctions and imperfections or just the results of being alive, our lives are guaranteed to be in God’s hands, now and forever.
It is one of the nice things about the church. In the end, it is not about us. It is not about what we bring to the table. It is about God and what God has done to us and though us in Christ. And when we get that, it allows us to let it, our church and lives, be about God. When that happens it is amazing what God can do.
January 12, 2014 - Cleaned, Claimed, and Sent Forth - Matthew 3:13-17
I ran into an interesting article about bathing. Back in the 1500’s in Europe, bathing was considered unhealthy, a sure way to get sick. Although people did take sponge baths on occasion, the actual act of taking a bath became a once or for the really fastidious twice a year ritual. It was said that Louis the 14th only took three baths in his entire life, although he changed the sheets on his 73 beds 3 times a day. An odd man, but at least his linens were clean.
Apparently this ritual of taking a bath once a year is where the tradition of being married in June comes from. People usually bathed in May so that by June they still smelled pretty good. Time for the wedding. Although it was also about this time prospective brides began to carry bouquets of flowers down the aisle to mask any body odor that might have developed during the month.
I’m certain that’s more than you ever wanted to know about bridal bouquets. Obviously this whole personal hygiene thing has improved dramatically in modern times. Actually, now we have become too clean. Some scientists think the near epidemic of asthma in children has to do with weak immune systems caused by too much cleanliness. Scientists are working on new vaccines to expose children to (and I quote,)”the harmless bacteria that have been scrubbed, boiled, and otherwise sent scurrying from our environment, in order to strengthen their immune systems.”
Interestingly being clean was a major concern for the ancient Jews as well. Truly devout Jews would take Mikvah baths regularly, and for some of the more fanatical, several times a day. Talk about clean. Pharisees might be dirty all over, but they had clean hands washing them before every meal. Unfortunately, the rest of their body was so dirty that their hands looked starkly clean in comparison. However, these ancient people didn’t have a clue about germs and certainly didn’t care much about body odor. No, their concern was a ritual cleanliness. To have clean souls is what they were concerned with. The cleanliness of their bodies and especially their hands and feet were symbols of a deeper spiritual cleanliness. Of course, like most of these religious symbols, the outward sign became more important than the inward reality. It was easier to have clean hands instead of clean hearts.
John the Baptist, however, was one of these crazy people who took this whole clean hands, clean heart thing seriously. He was in the desert baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins, essentially a Mikvah bath in the Jordan River. Though no one knows the exact spot, it was somewhere close to where the Jordan enters into the Dead Sea. I liked this picture of the baptism of Jesus because it is more realistic than more modern pictures. First the river is shallow, dewatered by irrigation as it still is. And because it is shallow John is using a shell to baptize Jesus, the more traditional way and I think truer to history instead of the more modern practice of immersion.
Jesus comes to be baptized, but John feels inadequate and says so. Okay, admittedly it would like Peyton Manning pulling me out of the stands at Mile High stadium and asking me for a few pointers on how to improve his passing game. This is how John feels but Jesus insists and John goes ahead with the baptism. Jesus is kneeling in the water and as he stands up, suddenly the heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descends on him as a dove would, actually alighting upon his shoulders. And then there is a voice from heaven that says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The baptism of Jesus is one of those pivotal experiences of Jesus life. It changes the course of his life in a moment. He will never be the same. I think the same thing happens to us when we are baptized. That is what makes this a sacrament. It is a sign act given to us by Jesus that we may have much the same experience as he did.
So what happens to Jesus and I think to us as well? I titled this sermon, Cleansed, Claimed, and Sent Forth, because is what happens here. First, we are cleansed, cleansed of our sins. This really is a Mikvah bath, an outward cleansing to signify an inward cleansing. I doubt Jesus had a lot of sins to deal with, but I know we do. That is what baptism symbolizes, that God promises to forgive our sins, and give us a new start. The promise is that we can be new people, and that our past need not ever stand in the way of living our life fully now and forever. It is the same promise if you are three months or 30 years old. The water is a sign of being washed inwardly and being clean again. We moderns are great with outward cleanliness, maybe too good; now if our souls were just that clean too.
Ah, but this Christian baptism is sort of a Mikvah bath on steroids, because it is not just about being clean inside, but finding out who you really after all that sin and just all of that yucky stuff that life puts on our souls gets washed off of us. Have you ever seen that Campbell’s soup commercial with the snowman that walks into the house, sits down at the table, and starts spooning up a bowl of soup? Slowly he starts melting until you see this little boy emerge from out of the snow. That is what baptism is like, all of the extraneous stuff melts away and we find out that underneath all of that. we really are children of God. That is what Jesus finds out, and just in case he doesn’t get the message, God tells Jesus who he is, that he is God’s child, God’s beloved. That is what God says to us too. And it is a promise that lasts for our whole lives, and a little bit longer too, way into eternity. When you know who you really are, it makes a difference in how you live.
And boy, did it make a difference for Jesus, because it is no longer just Jesus, God’s holy spirit has come down from heaven, shown him the purpose of his life and transformed him. Now I don’t have any expectations about how much any of us are going to be like Jesus, but we might surprised if we took this whole child of God thing seriously. Jesus is sent forth and he does so with the power of God working through him. I think God would promise that to us as well, not that we would be Jesus, but we that we would the people of God using the power God gives us.
Actually to be baptized in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized is kind of a dangerous thing nowadays. The river is pretty polluted just before to the Dead Sea. Most baptisms today take place not far from where the Jordan exits the Sea of Galilee and where it is a lot cleaner. But I was thinking maybe that is the way baptism has always been, a little dangerous. It is a lot more than this wonderful ritual we do for babies. It might even be a bit dangerous because what baptism would tell us is that we are forgiven, given a new life; and it would tell us who we are underneath all of the junk and sin that covers us up, that underneath we are children of God; And baptism would send us forth to be who we are, God’s children in a tough world. It might make a serious difference if we took it seriously.
January 5, 2014 - Called by a New Name - Ephesians 1:3-14
Some of you remember Calvin and Hobbes, the cartoon strip about a little boy and his stuffed tiger. Calvin’s imagination brought Hobbes, the tiger, to life and got him into all kinds of situations. In one strip Calvin and Hobbes are talking about the New Year. Calvin says, “I’m getting disillusioned with these New Years. They don’t seem very new at all. Each New Year is just like the old year. Here another year has gone by and everything’s still the same. There’s still pollution and war and stupidity and greed. Things haven’t changed. I say what kind of future is this? I thought things were supposed to improve. I thought the future was supposed to be better.” Hobbes sagely replies, “The problem with the future is that it keeps turning into the present.”
Ah, I suppose that is true. But, of course, it doesn’t necessarily have to be, the future becoming just more of the present. This time of the year, around New Years Day, is traditionally a time reflection on our lives, sometimes even the world. It is a time of resolutions. The idea is that the world, at least our personal world doesn’t have to be the same. We can be different, or at least weigh less.
This is one of the major messages of the gospel to us, and certainly of Christmas: no not the weigh less part but rather that, indeed, we can be different; the world can be different because of the presence of Jesus Christ in the world. That may be why some of us come to church--in the hopes that the Holy Spirit may fall afresh on us and the future will be full of exciting new possibilities, positive change and new growth. We tire of having the “same old, same old.”
The Apostle Paul would agree. Now there is some debate among Biblical Scholars whether this scripture was actually written by Paul or one of his followers, but theology is all Paul here, and so I will call the author, Paul. Whoever it was, writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth
Okay it is a lot of theological words he uses. What is the author of Ephesians really saying? Well, what I think Paul is saying is that long before we ever existed, God already loved us, even chose us to be his children. God destined us for lives of purpose and power and faith. We are the children of God, the chosen ones. We have been chosen in Grace, and because of God’s love for us, it really is like New Year’s Day, a real New Year’s, when the past is forgiven and we have a fresh start, a new life waiting for us anytime we want it. And not only that it isn’t just about us; God has big plans for the world too.
How does one even covey that to people, that sense of destiny, of calling. Paul uses the language of adoption, that we are called to be children of God. What happens when you get adopted? You get a new name. A name says a lot about you, if nothing else it says who your family is.
I was thinking about this whole new name thing. One of my favorite books was “Fool’s Crow” by James Welch. It was one of those books that was an “all Montana” book awhile ago. It is a book about a Blackfoot Indian named Fools Crow. Names for Blackfoot Indians could change as they grew older and encountered new experiences that changed who they were or how they were seen. For example, Fools Crow gets his name by fooling a Crow Indian in a battle and taking his horse. The fact is that at the time he was scared to death and performed this great feat of bravery for which he was named sort of by accident. Nonetheless he resolved to grow into this great name which he did.
It is a pretty Hebrew and even Christian concept as well, this new name thing. Abram and Sarai change their names to Abraham and Sarah as sign that they are new people because are now followers of a new God. Jacob fights with the angel at the Jabbok River and is forever changed because he has wrestled with God, and thus receives a new name. His name is now Israel. Peter declares his loyalty to Jesus, and he is given a new name, The Rock, and Jesus says it is upon this rock of faith that he will build his church. Names change you. Remember Cervantes’ story of Don Quixote. Cervantes was thrown into prison in Seville, Spain. Finding himself at the mercy of a band of cutthroats, he tries to divert them by telling them his story of Don Quixote, the “Man of La Mancha.” In the story, Don Quixote pictures himself as a chivalrous knight. He goes forth to right all the wrongs of the world, but he is a man who lives in a world of impossible dreams. His armor is shabby and his horse is sagging. He rides for his fair lady whom he calls Dulcinea, which means, “Sweetness.” But Dulcinea is far from a fair lady. She is a prostitute in a country tavern. She assures him that she is “the most casual bride of the murderous scum of the earth.” Her real name she says is Aldonza. She resents Quixote’s intrusion in her life and screams at him, insisting that she is no kind of lady. But Don Quixote persists, “And still thou art my lady.” He says that he sees heaven when he sees her, to which she replies that all she can see is a dream covered with rusty tin. Don Quixote’s family tries to make him face reality. They want him to see the world as it really is. They try to shock him into reality. As they begin to succeed, his health and his spirit begin to break, and he is at the point of giving up his impossible dream. But just then Aldonza comes into his room. She looks at him with grateful eyes and says, “You looked at me and called me by another name--Dulcinea.” Aldonza had become a lady; her life renewed by someone who dared to believe in her and call her by a new name. Ah, you have a cold heart if your eyes do fill with tears as she coaxes him to sing with her, “To dream the impossible dream.”
The difference for God and Paul is that all this being a Christian stuff is not an impossible dream. We have been named children of God. It is our destiny, our calling. The word of Paul is that through the grace of God, we have the possibility of new life. No, it is not easy, and it doesn’t happen by magic but by faith. It is name that takes a while to live into. What would your life be like if you saw yourself as a child of God?