Wednesday, July 1, 2020

An Hour of Prayer 2

Dear Church Family

   Today continues an attempt at a weekly letter to our church family as we endure the pandemic we know as Covid-19. I hope that you can find these components of growing your prayer life helpful to your own journey of faith. We need a deeper connection to God, the first great commandment of Jesus, to help us navigate both the suspension of normal life because of the pandemic, and the attempts to find a way forward with the social challenges related to racism and our need to find ways to connect to our neighbors, the second great commandment of Jesus.

   On Wednesday June 24, at our AWE service, I offered how to pray for an hour, by dividing up the hour into 12 5 minute segments. It is based on an article I read summarizing the book The Hour That Changes the World by Dick Eastman Blessings on the ways you grow in prayer. You could even just emphasize one element for a few days.

2. Waiting on the Lord
Waiting on the Lord is an act of surrender to, and of love and admiration for God, and is often wordless worship. During your silence before God, tune into God Himself and direct your whole being to Him and commit yourself to Him anew. During this time, do not express your thoughts in words, simply concentrate on God the Father, His Son Jesus your Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit.

   We have a really hard time with waiting. Just look at how we are reacting to the Cabin Fever experience around this pandemic. We are dying to get out of the house, and in some cases, literally. Eight states have now set new records for daily cases of Covid-19. God can help us with that, but it’s called waiting. One of my favorite passages of Scripture, because I find it so helpful, is from Isaiah 40:29-31 “He give power to the faint, and strength to the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young shall fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (NRSV)

   Waiting is like watching the toaster after you have pushed the bread down, something good will pop back up, but you stare and hope that it won’t take as long as it normally does. We should recognize that waiting for the Lord is so that something good will pop up, but it’s in God’s timing not ours. One of the things we can do is count to ten, by naming ten things you are thankful for from God’s gifts to you. Look around, and maybe come up with something you have not thanked God for in a while. Look back a year or two and see if you’ve forgotten an answered prayer along the way.

   Remember it’s the Lord we are waiting on. The Creator of the Universe, the one who loves us so much that all is forgiven, and eternal life is promised for those who rely on the Lord. Just think how the disciples felt both over the weekend after Jesus was crucified, and the ten days between the Ascension of Jesus back into heaven the coming of the Holy Spirit.

   Join us for AWE tonight at 7 pm. Remember we will celebrate a Virtual Holy Communion on Sunday. Be prepared with your own version of the elements, bread and juice/wine.

   Blessed day to every one.

Pastor Jeff

Friday, June 26, 2020

An Hour of Prayer 1

Dear Church Family

   Today begins an attempt at a weekly letter to our church family as we continue to endure the pandemic we know as Covid-19. I am hoping to provide spiritual nurture during this very awkward time in our church life together. I hope that you can find these components of growing your prayer life helpful to your own journey of faith. They are offered to help you add to or expand your prayer life. We need a deeper connection to God, the first great commandment of Jesus, to help us navigate both the suspension of normal life because of the pandemic, and the attempts to find a way forward with the social challenges related to racism and our need to find ways to connect to our neighbors, the second great commandment of Jesus.

   On Wednesday June 24, at our AWE service, I offered how to pray for an hour, by dividing up the hour into 12 5 minute segments. It is based on an article I read summarizing the book The Hour That Changes the World by Dick Eastman. I know most of us would have a very difficult time praying for an entire hour, even with 12 five minute intervals. But each interval can teach us a segment of our prayer life that we can nurture and develop. So I offer here the beginning of the 12 steps of prayer in hopes that there is something you can gain from this. Blessings on the ways you grow in prayer.

1.    Praise and Worship. Praise and worship is an expression of admiration and devotion to God. Worship God for who God is, for God’s unfailing Word, for your relationship to God in Jesus, and God’s creation. Exalt God with your words, your whole being, and with your attitude in prayer.

   In other words, take time to remind yourself as a part of your praying time, of the ways God has impressed you. Where are you in AWE of God? What have you learned about God from reading scripture? What do you see as steps for your own walk as a follower of Jesus? How have you thought of what God could do in your life and faith? It’s good to reflect and name the ways you have seen God around you. Nature, as St. Paul reminds us, speaks to us of God in ways words may never do. Celebrate, which is another way to say worship, how God has touched your life, maybe recently or even long ago.

   Praying in 5 minute segments may be difficult, maybe a 3 minute egg timer would help you start in the right direction. Most phones and some watches have built in timers that might help you set a timer to keep you focused on prayer. Our minds wander so easily, don’t beat yourself up if you find you do change thoughts, work on bringing yourself back on track. It will give you skills in many areas as well.

   Think of your going on a walk with God to share ideas, reflect on your life and challenges and use this time to simply talk about what is going on. If you need a coach for this, look at Jesus walking with the couple from Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-35) Use this time to remind yourself of what God is doing in your life.

   May your faith journey, even in the separated time of Covid-19 grow. Next we will look at #2, Waiting on the Lord. See you next time.

   I want to thank Rev. Joye Jones, for leading worship this Sunday as Elaine and I take some time off.

Blessings,  Pastor Jeff

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Trinity Sunday

Hello Church Family
   I’m sharing this theological presentation in hopes that it will make our experience of Holy Communion online make a little more sense. The Church In History, continues to wrestle with the meaning and because of that tries to make sure we don’t abuse the importance. St. Paul warned us not to partake in the communion unprepared, or in poor taste, because he said, that might lead to some getting sick and dying.
   I’ve decided after much prayer and conversation, that we really didn’t expect this pandemic to affect us so much and for so long. I also know and have heard from many of you, how important the sacrament is for you. After hearing Adam Hamilton, author and pastor of our largest UMC congregation, say he changed his mind too, and decided to go with online communion, because it was so meaningful to the congregation. His experience afterwards was very moving for him as well.
   SO, I’m inviting you to be ready for our sharing in this sacrament, by providing your own elements for communion. I will pray and consecrate, to make holy, the elements you have in front of you, online this week. We will then eat the bread and take the cup at the same time online on Sunday. You may choose to use intinction, dipping the bread into the cup, or traditionally eating the bread first and then taking a sip of the cup.
   You may send me an email, after you have experienced this together, to let me know if this was helpful to you, the sharing of the sacrament in this particular way, and the information that I’ve included in this letter.
   Be Blessed, and know that I pray for you all the time.
Pastor Jeff
Theology – a question of ‘Presence’
A chief theological question or problem with the Eucharist is the question of the Real Presence. Is Christ in some way really present in the physical elements and/or ritual of Holy Communion? There is no shortage of literature for one to read that talks of the different streams of thought and debate on the question of the Real Presence. There are basically three legacy thought frameworks to consider the question of Christ’s Presence in the Lord’s Supper.
·       Transubstantiation is the orthodox Roman Catholic position: the substance of the bread and wine are changed into the substance of the physical body and blood of Christ during the prayer, while the “accidents” (see Aristotle and Aquinas) remain those of bread and wine.
·       Consubstantiation is Luther’s view. On the understanding that the bread and wine do not magically become the body and blood of Christ.  They remain bread and wine, but the presence of Christ is said to be “in, with, and under the elements.”  Therefore, in receiving the bread and wine, one also symbolically receives the body and blood of Christ. Lutheran’s essentially make the shift from actual to symbolic presence, that is, they share a symbolically invoked/achieved physical presence.
·       Spiritual Presence is Calvin’s view. Here, Christ is seen to be spiritually present by the Holy Spirit, so that the Supper is a true communion with Christ, who feeds us with His body and His blood. Clearly, this essentially abandons any notion of the ritual being an actual physical connection with Christ and plainly claims a symbolic spiritual connection and union with Christ.
John Wesley and United Methodism are aligned most nearly with Calvin’s real, spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament. A real, albeit symbolic communion with G-d in Christ.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Prayer for Our Nation

Dear Church Family

“Today, as another black man is gratuitously killed before a crowd of witnesses while unsuccessfully appealing to the humanity of a white police officer, we are reminded that the traditions of hate and murder are alive and well and actively venerated. We can see that the worship of the godling of racist hate and murder survives in the act of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed man as he cries out, “I can’t breathe!”

(From an article in RNS, Religious News Service, by Cheryl Gilkes)

   I write to our NBUMC family to cry out to God in prayer for the end of racism in America. This action and the many like it are unacceptable to our Creator. We are approaching Pentecost, when the Breath of the Holy Spirit came upon us and all nations, that we might be closer to the nature and quality of life, of Jesus Christ, and God’s love for one another.

   Can we take a moment for prayer for the end of racism, at noon, for instance? Our Baltimore-Washington Conference Bishop Easterling, has invited us to pause and pray the Lord’s Prayer each day at noon. The prayer is that the will of God be done, on earth as it is in heaven. The prayer asks God to forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And it is asking God to help lead us not into temptation. Surely the racism and hatred that is shown is a temptation that must be eliminated. Prayer does make a difference.

   So please, during this day and every day, pause to pray for peace in our country. Pray that we recognize that Black Lives Matter. Pray that God’s love means all, will spread out and make a difference, regardless of our color, ethnic heritage, sexual orientation, life experiences etc. All Means All.

   We are fighting a challenge brought on by a physical sickness in the Covid-19. We also are fighting a more invisible internal sickness of racism, prejudice and hatred, that needs just as much, healing as the other.

   May you sense that God will supply the Holy Spirit to us and to our world that so desperately needs to learn a better way to love and treat one another.

   Remember to pray, a lot, today and the days that are ahead.

Pastor Jeff

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

More Than A Memorial Day

Dear Church Family

   This is a special letter to invite you to join us on Wednesday May 27, yes tonight, for a special AWE (Alternate Worship Experience) for what I’m calling More Than A Memorial Day. It’s never too late to remember our armed forces men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice, so we could have our freedom of worship.

   Tonight’s More Than a Memorial Day, is also part worship in remembering those who have died during this Covid-19 Pandemic. The count is over 98,000 and climbing. We are praying for the families of those who have died, and praying for those who are working so hard to help save those who have it, and to those who are working so that we all don’t get sick.

   Tonight’s More Than A Memorial Day, is also a time to give thanks for those who have blessed us spiritually, to remember those who helped us in our faith journey. We want to remember and give thanks for those who have nurtured our faith, and pushed us, and lived an example before us to help us to mature in the faith.

   I hope this can be a time of reflection, giving thanks to God, for the work and sacrifice of others, and to know that you are not alone in this struggle. A recent webinar that I attended for pastors shared with us that about 1/3 of our communities are suffering some form of depression, discouragement, grief and stress over the impact of this pandemic. Prayer and worship, and the presence of God in a community of loving people is very import.

I hope you join us, and I hope you share this invitation with people you know who could really use some encouragement and support. God loves them, and so do we.

Blessings on our church family, and all those who we can touch with God’s love and support.

Pastor Jeff

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Long Weekend Ahead

Dear Church Family

   Halfway through May 2020 and we are in the midst of many areas opening up for more participation, and more opportunities to spread the virus. A church in Georgia, even with careful distancing, had almost half of their congregation get sick, they have shut back down. Texas, one of the first to open up opportunities has a 1,000 more cases two weeks later. We are practicing John Wesley’s Do No Harm, as best we can, by remaining out of our building and share our worship gathering via Zoom. We will continue to do so, until it really is safe.

   This weekend has many features and I invite you to join us in them. Wednesday night at AWE, we will celebrate Ascension Day, a day early, it’s usually a Thursday. Ascension is the remembrance of Jesus’s final day on earth before returning to his Father in Heaven. We want to invite you to join us for our AWE, even if you haven’t before, so we can see how God is preparing us for times like these. In many ways it’s a celebration of Mission Accomplished. Jesus has done what he planned to do, and is now going home. We look forward to a mission accomplished moment for our congregation and we will have that gathering someday.

   Sunday is Aldersgate Day, when as Methodists, we commemorate John Wesley’s conversion experience. He saw it as one of his most important days in his life. We get a chance, with these stay at home times, to participate more fully in the celebrations that normally collide at this time in May. This coming Sunday can be Ascension Sunday, Heritage Sunday, Memorial Day worship all rolled into one. But doing that can be a mess. My youngest brother Kelly was born on Dec. 22 and in a pastor’s household, with all the Christmas and Advent activities, he felt really gipped, they all rolled into one and he felt like he missed something. We are spreading out this festival combination more carefully this year, because we can.

   Monday is Memorial Day, we when pause to give thanks to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave up their tomorrows, so we could live ours. Please pause to give thanks, and to remember the women and men who died defending our country. In this pandemic, even Arlington Cemetery is restricting visitors to immediate family only, by appointment and only to the area where their relative is buried. But we can choose to stay home and recall their sacrifice. I’m in the process of preparing a moment to remember and will give you more details about that opportunity to pause and pray on Monday. Details will be shared on Sunday.

   This week is the Homiletics Festival, a great celebration of preaching and it’s usually packed with pastors seeking to be inspired and encouraged. With the pandemic, it’s online this year, and also free. I’ve been grabbing some moments here and there for my own inspiration. I’m thankful to hear from others, so they can help me do a better job with the Message.

   In today’s sermon from a UCC pastor Dr. Otis Moss, III, I’ve been reminded of the Road to Emmaus story and the importance of letting each of us grieve the losses we are feeling right now. It stomps on our heart in big ways. We need to have permission to share that grief. On the Road to Emmaus, Jesus invited his walking companions to pour out their hearts and concerns. The second gift was the gift of companionship. We will recover and encourage each other if we value the companionship. Even if it’s on the phone, or facetime, or zooming after church. You might want to pick up the phone and call someone to share in this journey through the uncertainty and the changes we are facing because of this global health crisis.

   May God bless you and keep you, while we are absent one, from another.      

Pastor Jeff

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Joy of Zoom

Dear Church Family

   There has been a lot of discussions around us about returning to, or opening up since the quarantine and lockdown process began. There have been several presentations made by zoom, from our Annual Conference and the CDC and advisors from all over the country related to church and worship gatherings. Most recommendations are not yet, until we find a vaccine or we see a drastic reduction in the number of cases. One of our challenges is that most medical professionals warn that those who are over 60 and who may have preexisting medical issues, need to stay home. That pretty much includes a majority of our church and most of our staff. We value your health and safety above everything else. So I think we are looking at waiting in place for a while.

   I also know most of us have some form of cabin fever and are longing to get out of the house. As the weather gets better that only adds to the desire to be back to normal, back with friends, joining in worship etc. We have to be very careful.

   So I understand what we are going through, and I long for a time that looks more like what we have known. That is not going to be possible for a while. So let’s make the most of our situation and keep on sharing together in zoom, our worship, our meetings and as we improve our ability to use high tech, gatherings and Bible Studies that we will benefit from.

   I am writing to you as the provider of our worship zoom experience to share with you some of my thoughts related to what is being planned and what you have seen so far and what is yet to come. We are blessed with a very strong and supportive turnout for our zooms (zurch – zoom+church). We are also very blessed to have more and more non members finding us and joining us in worship this way. I urge you to keep inviting your friends to join our zoom. All you have to do is forward the flash with the code, when it comes, to several of your friends who might enjoy being with you in worship. These conditions have raised the spiritual needs of many people, and we can provide a place and a source of comfort through our zooms.

  We are also recording our services and putting them up on youtube, on our channel, so they could watch us at a better time for them. We just cannot put the zoom information on our website, because some have been known to jump in and provide insults, pornography and other very bad material in a zoombombing effort, when they find the direct access to our zooming on a website. That’s why we ask for individuals to share the code with friends.

   We may be at this for a while, so we will continue to be creative with our services. It is easier to be in our sanctuary, but that is not an option, so we must be creative. I am keeping in mind both our current congregation and our future potential congregation, with a balance of material in zoom. I’m also keenly aware that as we all watch from our phones, laptops, computers or TV’s the importance of the visual impact of the presentation. Therefore, I look for music and videos that are beautiful from a photographic and inspirational nature, It can’t just be words on the screen only. Unless that is the only way we can share a good song. I am also aware of the blessings that our congregation already has of many styles of music preference, so I try carefully to vary the music in honor and recognition of all the varieties of preference in our midst. This means of course, that what touches your heart, may not touch the heart of someone else. So I try to be as flexible as I can to find that something in the music and service will touch your heart, maybe not all of it. But I am also touching the heart of those who are longing to connect to God, and I hope you can bear with me, when I try to reach someone else’s heart.

   Our most important responsibility is to help people connect to God. Our second important responsibility is to connect God to each other. Our third important responsibility is to connect ourselves to making a difference in our world. I pray that our zoom experience will connect us to God and God’s comfort in our trying times. I pray that our zoom experiences help you connect to one another. I hope that the zoom experience is clearly focused on the message of God’s love to us. That message is the focus and it inspires the songs to reflect the message. It inspires the prayers to reflect the focus. I shapes the scripture and message to reflect that focus. The choices of the music will always be to tell the old old story in ways that we can understand and reinforce the focus and the message. Not every song will fit any service. They are chosen to be reflective of the focus. They are chosen to touch the heart of somebody in our midst. Hopefully they will touch your heart.

   May God bless each of us as we journey together in this unusual time. Let’s continue to pray for one another as well.

Blessings,   Pastor Jeff