June 28th Weekly E-news

Hip, hip, hooray!  The weekly E-news is here!
Find out what is going on at Chandler United Methodist Church this week and coming up in July!  Also in this week’s edition, our Music Director Adam Winters has shared his thoughts on the why’s and how’s he selects hymns for Sunday worship.
And, this week’s edition also includes a few more pictures of Hero Central Vacation Bible School too.
Click here to read: 062817

2017-06-18 Compassion…Mercy…Grace


Mr.  Steve Gregory, Chandler United Methodist Church, June 18th, 2017

Luke 15:1-2:11-32

Let us pray.  Dear God may the words I speak and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you Lord our rock and Redeemer Amen.

As we gather here this morning on Father’s Day, God is placing on my heart to bring a message about our heavenly Father’s mercy, compassion and grace.  Mercy is always surrounded by compassion and grace; they go together in a beautiful way.  The message today comes from the parable of the lost son or the prodigal son.  We often struggle with this parable because we see it as unfair; but mercy is not fair.  We also struggle because sometimes we are the older son and sometimes we are the younger son in this parable.

Before we look at the parable, let’s take a look at what parables are and what mercy is.  Parables are simple stories that Jesus used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.  Parables use everyday situations to help the hearer better understand.  Jesus used parables to teach his followers who God is; what God is like; and what God’s will is for us.  These simple stories with everyday elements help the followers of Jesus understand his message.  What is mercy?  The online definition says: mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish.  Mercy is compassion shown toward somebody that you could punish.  Basically, mercy is: you don’t get what you do deserve and you get what you don’t deserve.

I like to share a story about mercy I received back in Junior High School.  I lived in Three Points which is about 30 miles west of Tucson.  It was summer break just like it is today.  One of my Junior High friends and I had a really good idea.  Or what seemed like a good idea at the time; but you know how those good ideas go with Junior High boys.  That summer we had a lot of bees; there were bees everywhere.  Sometimes those bees would move into our barn or other structures on the ten acres that my family owned.  The week before we had the beekeeper out to remove the hive from the side of the house.  Well, we discovered a new hive of bees under the camper.  So what do Junior High boys do in this situation when their Dad is at work in their Mom is sleeping from working the overnight shift at the hospital?  That’s right, we smoked out the bees.  We smoked out the bees.  That was our plan and with all bad plans it went from bad to worse in a hurry.

It went bad when I dropped that match into the four-inch tall dead grass on the property.  The more we stomped on the flames the more it spread.  My friend ran and grabbed the hose but the hose would not reach to where the fire was at.  So we ran and we got shovels and we tried to stop the fire with shovels.  The wind helped fuel the fire and it spread quickly throughout that four-inch grass on the property.  Within minutes we had about two acres on fire.  The fire was moving away from our house and our barns but it was headed right towards the neighbor’s house.  My friend ran into my house as I continued that losing battle with my shovel.  You see the problem is the nearest fire department was thirty miles away, so we were in trouble.  My mother woke up to these words of my friend on the phone.  My friend said: Dad come quick, the Gregory place is on fire.  Not a good way to wake up your Mom who has just worked the overnight shift.  To make a long bad story short, we burnt about ten acres of land that day before the neighbors were able to stop it at the roads.  My neighbor’s five acres was completely blackened except for a ten-foot circle around their house.  My neighbors were not home that day; they came home late that night.  They said they could smell the smoke but they could not tell that their property was completely blackened.  Not until the next morning when the neighbor was standing out on his front porch looking at his property, wondering what had happened.  That’s when my dad sent me over there — alone — to explain to him what I had done.

It was a long walk of shame as I looked forward.  I could see the neighbor watching me from his perch.  I would look back and see my Dad watching me walk over there.  The neighbor soon realized who was responsible for blackening his property.  As I took that walk of shame to his front porch I was expecting the worse; I really was.  He offered me mercy.  I had burned down all of his property and he offered me mercy.  He said accident happened and it will grow back.  Now I was his favorite helper for about three years on his property as I helped him. [laughter] He was never mad at me.  It was mercy from the start.  I also expected my parents to come down hard on me but they didn’t. It was mercy from them too.  It was a lesson on mercy that I will never forget and it has always stayed with me.  Mercy, we don’t get what we do deserve.  That day I didn’t get what I deserved.

Now let us take a look at the Parable of the Lost Son and see what it teaches us about mercy.  First, who is Jesus telling the parable?  Verse one and two says that the tax collectors and sinners were gathered around to hear Jesus, but the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered: this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.  Jesus is there teaching to the group.  He tells the parable to two groups; he tells it to the tax collectors and sinners.   He tells it to the Pharisees out on the edge of the group watching, one parable with a message for both groups.  The first part of the parable is for the tax collectors and sinners, the bottom people at the time, the lowest of the low.  And the second part was for the Pharisees, the teachers of the law.  How did the Pharisees operate?  The Pharisees wanted to separate themselves from sinners.  Their plan was to shame the sinners into correcting their ways and maybe maybe they would welcome them.  But they had to clean up their act first and then they had to prove that they had cleaned up their act.  Jesus, he didn’t separate himself from sinners, Jesus connected with them.

Jesus does not require us to clean up our act first.  He welcomes us where we are at.  He welcomes us to come to him and then the transformation begins.  What is a better way to draw people to God?  Is it to shame them or to welcome them where they are at?  Jesus chooses to meet people where they’re at; connect with them; then he is able to teach and transform their lives.  Let’s look at the first part of the parable, the message for the sinners and the tax collectors.  In the parable the younger son asks for his inheritance.  He says in verse 12: Father gave me my share of the inheritance.  The father gave it to him.  This was a very disrespectful thing to do at the time it was unheard-of.  Just think, if your youngest son came to you and said Father, Mother give me my inheritance now; pull out my part of your 401(K), pull out my part of your retirement accounts, pull out half of the value of the house.  I need my inheritance right now.

The Father in the parable gave his son his inheritance and then the youngest son set off to a foreign country – a distant country — where he wasted the money.  He wasted the money on wild living.  The youngest son lost it all.  He wasted all that the father had earned and saved for his son’s future; it was just wasted and now he was in need.  The youngest son was then forced to work at the lowest of jobs; he had to feed the pigs.  Not only feed the pigs, verse 16 says he longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating but no one gave him anything.  He had hit rock bottom.  Then he decided to try to go back to his father.  Maybe he could be one of his father’s servants, not a son, but a servant.  He thought he could never be a son again.  But maybe, just maybe, he could be a servant.  So he got up and he headed home to see if his father would take him back as a servant.  The youngest son had hit rock bottom before returning.  May we all turn back before hitting that low point in our lives.

The Bible says: while he was still a long ways off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.  He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  The Father had been watching and hoping someday his son would return.  How many times did the father, look out on the horizon to see if his son was returning?  How many times had he hoped that his son would return?  The Bible tells us that he was filled with compassion, filled with compassion.  The Father teaches us that God never turns his back on us; he never turned his back on you or me.  God is always watching for us to return; patiently waiting for us to return home; waiting for us to return to his open arms.  Notice the father didn’t go looking for the son; he didn’t go to that faraway land to get him.  He didn’t go after him, but he waited for him to come back.  He waited for him with open arms, open compassionate arms.  God does the same for us.  He waits for us to return and he welcomes us and rejoices just like the Father did.

God is the God of second chances.  For many of us, God is the God of third, fourth and fifth chances; God welcomes you back.  Will you accept his mercy, his compassion and his grace?  We have all been the younger son; we have.  Different situations, different stories, but we have all been in need of God’s mercy and compassion.  We have all been lost but God has been and will always be there, ready to welcome us home.  And we have also been the older son; we have.  In the parable the older son returns from the fields.  He sees a celebration going on and he’s mad.  He is mad, this is unfair.  He doesn’t think the younger brother should be welcomed back like that.  The older brother has been doing his part.  He’s been honoring his father with his faithfulness, with his hard work.  The situation is unfair in the brothers eyes.  The Bible says that the father pleaded with the older son and tried to explain but the older son sees it as unfair.  Remember, mercy is not fair.

The parable ends with these words, my son — the father said — you are always with me; everything I have is yours.  We had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again.  He was lost and is found.  Can you think of a time when you were the older son?  I can.  Do you ever judge others?  Do you look down on other people or groups of people?  I can say, I sometimes do.  Do we ever question if people really repent and deserve forgiveness?   In Matthew chapter 7 verses three through five, it says why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?  How can you say to your brother: take that speck out of your eye — when all the time — there is a plank in your own eye.  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  Are there times when we need to remove the plank or the log from our own eye before we take the speck out of somebody else’s?  Do we judge people at a higher standard than we judge ourselves?  I can say I am guilty of that.

I think God wants every person that calls himself a Christian, every person that calls himself a follower of Jesus, to carefully consider these words from Matthew seven: when we take a long deep hard look at ourselves instead of looking at other’s first.  I know and I hear many Christians that use words of hate towards other people.  Many times those people are the most vocal and the loudest.  The problem is the world is listening; the world is listening.  Followers of God should be known for: loving, welcoming, accepting, forgiving, being compassionate and being merciful.  Do those words describe every Christian you know?  My answer is: sadly not always.  Sometimes it’s me falling short of being a good follower of God.  Those words describe Jesus and those words should describe his followers: loving, welcoming, accepting, forgiving, compassionate and merciful. I can see times when I was the older son in the parable and I can also remember times when I’ve been the younger son in the parable.  May we all spent time this week rereading this parable of the lost son.  May we allow God’s words to transform us.  May we extend mercy like God extends mercy; may we extend compassion like God does; may we extend grace like God does.

Now I’d like to close with the story of something that happened at the church this week.  As you know for two years Chandler United Methodist Church has been partnering with IHELP, that’s the Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program.  We open the doors of our church to help people in our community break the cycle of homelessness.  On Monday the IHOPE Director sent me an email; see one of the women in the program was moving into an apartment.  She had no household items.  She didn’t have any: sheets, towels, plates, cups, silverware; she did not have anything.  So yeah, maybe some of the people from the partner churches could maybe donate some items.  I sent that email to Penny and Lisa on the Mission Team here at the church.  This is what happened next.

Penny then sent that request out to our regular IHOPE volunteers.  Within 24 hours (was really probably less than 24 hours) people signed up for everything that she needed.  Every item on the list was signed up for by someone here at the church.  You see on SignUpGenius when people sign up for donations it sends me an email.  Throughout the day, I kept getting these emails all day Monday: another person signed up, another person signed up.  At the end of the day it was almost full.  When I checked it the next morning everything was signed up.  It was truly amazing.  It was truly a blessing on how the people of this church responded.

I’d like to add that no one ever asked who it was for; no one asked what the story was; or how this person became homeless.  It was compassion, it was love, it was mercy.  It was the followers of Christ in action.  It was the church in action.  It was the people of this church sharing God’s mercy and compassion for the person in need right here in our community.  Well done church, well done.

So on this Father’s Day and on every day, remember God is waiting for you and for me.  His arms are wide open.  My we accept his mercy and compassion, may we accept his grace and love.  And may we extend that same mercy and compassion to the people around us.  Sometimes we need to extend that mercy and compassion to ourselves.  Our heavenly Father is welcoming you home with open arms.  Go to him and let the celebration begin. Amen.

Weekly E-news and It’s Hot!

Check it out!  The Chandler United Methodist Church E-news is HOT with all the details of this week’s activities.  We have been having a SUPER time with “Flame” and all the VBS Team making a difference by collecting clothing for our neighbors in need in Chandler.  Tomorrow is the final opportunity to bring your items to be taken to the Clothes Cabin.  And, our young heroes at VBS have also been collecting food items which will go to AZCEND (formerly Chandler Christian Community Center).  The VBS Heroes are definitely heating things up with their generosity.
Read our weekly e-news by clicking on the link:  062117

2017-06-11 Focusing Our Lives – Part 6 of 6: The Claim Department

Focusing Our Lives – Part 6 of 6: The Claim Department

Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church,  June 11th, 2017

Matthew 1:18-25

I’m not one to publicly embarrass people but I want to start today.  I don’t know if you know and don’t tell them if you see them because they’ll get the big head.   I don’t know if you know how awesome our staff is here.  Did you hear the theological reflection in the hymn that Adam picked for today?  How can I keep from singing?  No storm can shake my inmost calm.  That Pastor’s prayer was off the cuff: inspired by that hymn, inspired by the theological reflection of Adam.  He grew up Lutheran; he’s recovering well.  Yes, yes, keep up the good work.  Theological reflection, he is very capable of it.  Steve, that time with the children.  You would almost think that’s the sermon and it kind of is; it is kind of where we are going.  But where I want to start though before we get into the sermon is Steve and his ability to theologically reflect, he has this ability to think about how he thinks.

You didn’t come to church today for me to tell you what to believe.  You didn’t come to church for me to tell you what to think.  You came to church because you want to theologically reflect.  I’m inviting you to ponder with me how you think about things.  When I think about things, what pleases me is consistency and what drives me batty is inconsistency.  And so I want to talk about consistency and inconsistency, kind of in a roundabout way.  Steve hit it on the head today.  Will you do what God has asked you to do?  That’s a hard question.  Where my brain started thinking about that this week though was I I’m been doing some cleaning — it’s summer time — trying to get stuff cleaned out of the office and now I don’t have to keep paper copies.  I can scan everything and throw the paper copies away and then I can wait for it to digitally disappear; which happens too.

I ran across an article from 2004, it was re-copy, it was in the Arizona Daily Star.  We lived in Tucson then; it was an op-ed piece out of the Washington Post.  If you don’t recall April 30th give or take of 2004 — you might not have any memory of this — but I think if I tell you about it you’ll remember it.  The editorial started with this phrase: the contest in which a human being is the prize is reprehensible.  The editorial was heaping scorn on ABC’s 20-20 news program.  It was the show that was titled: Be My Baby.  It documented Jessica, a pregnant 16-year-old from Cleveland Ohio as she interviewed five couples desperately wanted to adopt her unborn child.  While Jessica agreed to the adoption, she also said she wanted to maintain contact with both the child and the couple who adopted the baby in an increasingly popular arrangement called open adoption.  The contempt poured on the show came from adoption professionals and many media sources.  Many thought that before the program aired that the promotion by ABC turned this into a game show.

“20-20 cameras were there when the competition for Jessica’s baby began.  As the finalists arrived at the agency, one by one, each couple would have less than one half hour to convince Jessica that they should be the parents to raise her unborn son.”

That does sound a whole lot like an obscene reality show where couples come to compete for a baby.  One objector wrote: masquerading as a news program, 20-20 has taken a critical moment, laden with hope and heartbreak and a child’s future on the line and turned it into profit and a reality game show,

Mike Cassidy wrote for the Mercury News.  He summed up the reaction saying there should be a call-in line.  Remember that in 2004 we did not have cell phones.  You young-ens might have forgotten that.  They had a call-in show, and he suggested this number: 1-800 HOW-SICK.  So loud was the outcry against this broadcast that before it even hit the air, Barbara Walters posted a letter on the ABC website blaming the furor on overly zealous promotion and marketing, admitting that the initial on-air promo promos were a little over the top; a little?  According to Walters, then the problem was the use of the words compete and finalist used by the marketing people in promoting and describing the five couples who wanted to adopt this child.  Walters went on to defend the program and of course ABC aired it; controversy makes for great ratings right?  Walters, I think did a good job of describing the symptom.  I don’t think anybody addressed the real problem.

The real problem as I see it is that when you inject competition and entertainment and profit angles into a process that is of great consequence to the entire life of a human being, that it diminishes the humanity of everyone involved.  And if that show back in 2004 served any useful purpose, it is that the clamor enabled us to hear those objections and all of us could get together become offended and assertive in our commitment to honor the humanity of everyone, at least for a while, until we forgot, or until it was our money involved, or as long as it had to do with babies.  We will come back to that.

So our text today is from the birth narrative of Jesus and adoption is the conversation.  In the text there is the literal sense of adoption; Matthew’s account where the angel tells Joseph you’re going to adopt this child.  Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  She will bear a son; you are to name him Jesus.  Dr.  Eugene Boring from Brite Divinity Schools says the meaning of this text is adoption.  You Joseph shall take this child as your own.  That’s the text, you will adopt him into the Davidic line and he will be an authentic son of David; that’s the intention.  Joseph obeyed and Jesus became as far as anyone else in Bethlehem knew, Joseph’s son.  That’s the literal sense of adoption.  There’s also the metaphorical sense of adoption. that God sent Jesus, so that we might adopt him.  Now we say it that way and it sounds strange to our ears because our cultural religion has talked about it in a different way.  It all makes it sound like it’s up to us; we have to adopt Jesus.  There is one message in the birth story is that it’s all up to God.  God is the actor.

It also helps to understand that in the first century in Aramaic and Greek, the word belief is pisti.  The subordinate word of faith is pestis.  To believe in someone means that what is important to them becomes important to you.  Jesus said, believe in me and keep my commandments; believe in me, and this is what’s important to me.  So to receive Jesus, to adopt Jesus, to believe in Jesus means what is important to Jesus becomes important to us.  So now our mind begins filing through what we remember that Jesus told us to do about how we treat neighbors and friends and enemies.  That becomes difficult because it’s not what we want to do; but it is obedience and that’s what it means to adopt Jesus.  Receiving Jesus conveys the sense of making Christ welcome in our lives; making our lives a representation of the way of Christ.

This is also important in adoptive relationships.  If you’ve ever known someone or maybe you adopted and raised a child, you have to make the home welcome.  It has to become their home, their stuff, their place.  The divine sense of adoption is also embodied in this text.  John tells us that Jesus came to arrange for our adoption as well.  Jesus said it this way: you did not choose me. I chose you.  Paul too uses the image of adoption to speak about our relationship with God.  To the folks at Ephesus he writes: God chose us in Christ, destined us for adoption as his children.  Paul says to the Romans, that adoption leads to being heirs of God and joint heirs in God with Christ.  So far in this conversation we got three things happening right now.  I guess this is about preserving our humanity; our receiving Jesus, our adopting Jesus; claiming his way as our way.  Making Jesus welcome in our lives; what is important to him becomes important us; and God’s adoption of us and our need to reflect the ways of the Father.

So I have a couple things for us to ponder as we are talking about consistency.  One of the TV networks in Tucson back in 2004 ran a corresponding story about the adoption situation in Arizona and America.  One of the points that they made was that one of the reasons that these five couples were willing to go through the humiliation of competing on national television for Jessica’s baby is because the child was newborn, healthy and white.  They made very clear and I checked it remains true to this day: children available for adoption that meet those three criteria are in short supply.  But there are a lot of children awaiting adoption that don’t meet all of those criteria.  Some of them are older, some of them are not white and some of them have special needs and there is no show competing for them; there is no competition.  Some of them will remain in the custody of Children Services until they turn 18.

I’m not suggesting that you run out this week and adopt a child because you feel guilty.  Good things do not come out of guilt — take my word for that — we don’t do good out of guilt or shame.  I say this because I want to acknowledge that I do not suspect that any of us are racist; I suspect all of us are, in ways that we don’t always understand.  Let me give you an example; I happen to be in a family where one member of the family is adopted and is not the same color as the rest of us.  Now I said that wrong, it is pretty racist, huh?  It was amazing to me and when I grew up and my brother Tim and I we would be with my parents and people would come up to us and with the best intention would thank my parents for adopting a black child and say: oh it’s so neat of you to raise him; he’s different.  My parents were just aghast at this; they would look at folks and go: these are our sons; what are you talking about?  There is that way we become racially insensitive when we open our mouth.  And I don’t want you to feel guilty about it; this is one of those things which we all have to address and become aware.  I say this because last week we discovered that the Holy Spirit did not come to the congregation in Jerusalem until they were all together in one room; people from all different tribes, all different places, all different colors, speaking all different languages and everyone who came heard a message of welcome.

I tell you this today for your theological reflection because we make decisions every day: what we talk about, the positions we defend, the posture we take, the jokes we chuckle at, the radio and TV shows we tune in, the way we treat people around us, the way we roll our eyes at the folks who serve us, all of which reveal our receiving Jesus.  Have we adopted him, claiming his way is our way?  Have we made Christ welcome in our lives?  What is important to him comes important to us; God’s adoption of us and our need to reflect the way of the Father.

I got one more.  It’s been almost 50 years, my favorite blogger Seth Godin is a business writer reminded me of this.  Milton Friedman published a little article that altered the way we think about corporate responsibility in society.  In his article fifty years ago, Friedman wrote, there is one and only one responsibility of business, to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.  Friedman said that business has no corporate responsibility beyond; has no responsibility to an ethical society; it has no responsibility to improve the lives of customers, employees, or neighbors; unless these actions coincidentally increase profit.

In my mind I am remembering in the last month or two, the chairman of the board of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the nation has been telling patients who need an EpiPen and the FDA: you just have to live with my profit margin.  I’m going to pay my CEO $95 million and there’s nothing you can do about that; because he can.  Like a whole lot of folks who lucked into jobs of big companies, the excuse becomes simple; my job is to make money; we do that; I’m just doing my job; even if that practice leads to the erosion of any social concern and the deaths of kids whose biggest crime was getting stung by bees.  The simplicity of that argument is stunning; no need to worry about nuance; no need to wonder about right decisions; no need to lose sleep over difficult choices; no potential consequences to ponder; just make more money; do what it takes to make more money.  It is a simple equation that absolves any responsibility for anything complicated or nuanced or unintended.

In his article, Seth Godin pointed out that the official rules of baseball now are two-hundred and fifty pages long.  Because working the system, cutting corners and winning at all costs has replaced playing in the spirit of the game.  Since the baseball league can’t count on players or coaches to act always in the interest of sportsmanship; they have had to create more rules to keep the system in check.  You take that kind of problem and you put it in a free market, and it gets a whole lot worse.  When human beings stop acting like humans and instead indicate that they have no choice but to always seek shortcuts, cut every corner, no longer possible to help our employees; trust just evaporated.  Not only that, but when part of the job of business is lobbying to have eternally fewer rules because working the refs is good business; because everyone is doing it; because I have no choice but to do it.

Profits I think are fine.  Capitalism is not the problem.  Profits enable investment that we need to introduce and produce value.  But almost nothing benefits from profit being the only thing that is sought.  The pursuit of profit at the expense of our humanity is too high a price to pay.  Jesus said something about this.  He said what is it if we profit and we gain the whole world and lose our soul?  To inject competition and entertainment and profit angles into a process that is of great consequence to human beings diminishes humanity.  Or does that only apply to babies?  I think we need to be mindful of the decisions that we make and clear about whose instructions we are following.  Are we following Jesus or do we worship Milton Friedman?  When we work for, or partner with, or buy stock in a company that signs on to Milton Friedman’s ruthless reasoning; we are rewarding people and we risk becoming people who long ago have stopped being people and long ago lost their souls.

Now, I don’t think it’s difficult to see the alternative, and a whole lot of you work for companies, you have a company, you run a company, you manage a company, you do business at a company that fits that alternative.  The alternative is something like this: a business, a corporation is an association of human beings combining capital and labor to produce something.  That business has precisely the same responsibilities as the individuals that work there; the responsibility to play fair, to seek the long-term implications of their actions and be responsible for them, to create value for everyone with whom they associate.  I tell you this because we all make decisions every day.  What we talk about, the position we take, the way we invest our resources, the way we work our job, the jokes we laugh at, the positions we defend, the radio and TV shows we tune in, the way we treat people who serve us; decisions that reveal our receiving Jesus, adopting him, claiming his way is our way, making Christ welcome in our lives.  What is important to him becoming important to us and God’s adoption of us and our need to reflect the way of the Father.  I want to invite you to do some theological reflection.  I don’t want to tell you what to believe; I want to invite you to think about what you believe.  Have you truly adopted Jesus?


Read All About It! Weekly E-news for June 14th is here!!!!

Read all about the happenings at Chandler United Methodist Church!
We’re gearing up for VBS week which begins on June 19th.  Page 2 shares a list of needs to make this week successful.
Also, Methodist Women’s Fellowship is partnering with VBS and is sponsoring a children’s clothing drive PLUS a collection for men’s shirts and shoes for the Clothes Cabin.  Read more about this collective effort and when you can bring donations to CUMC on page 4 of the e-news.
Check these items and more out in this week’s edition by clicking the link.  061417

2017-06-04 Focusing Our Lives – Part 5 of 6: Look Sharp!

Focusing Our Lives – Part 5 of 6: Look Sharp!

Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church, June 4th, 2017

Acts 1:6-14


I know there are some people, I know there are some churches that tell you it’s all about what YOU believe and we come to church to get our beliefs right.  That is a bunch of nonsense.  Those folks need to read scripture because today’s Scripture is just for you; if that’s what you believe; if that’s what you think, that the church is all about right belief.  What do you believe about this?  This is the text that the people in it don’t know what to believe.  What will we do with that?  My argument would be that we come to church because we are looking for meaning in life.  There is a whole lot of life is meaningless and we have a longing for meaning in life.  It’s not all that hard to find.  This text is about finding that meaning.  If you listen to some of the peripheral words in the text and what’s going on — kind of around the edge — you notice some things.

What happening here is we have this ragtag band of followers; some of them were the people who were with Jesus right before he died.  Some of them have been added into the mix.  There are women and there are men.  They are starting to work out what their time with Jesus meant; what they are supposed to do now.  They starting to comprehend that he’s died and been risen.  They probably went through all five stages of grief simultaneously.  You know those moments where you know the person is not coming back but you hope the door open and they will walk-in and you’re just disgustedly sad about it and you’re lost and you’re depressed and all of that.  They’re going through that.  Our text tells us of a transformation that happens when we go looking for meaning in life and it begins as most transitional events do a little bit before we start reading.  Jesus had been telling his followers for a while that he would leave them.  He keeps coaching them.  He keeps guiding them.

We tune in for a little episode and it’s a little bit like a sitcom television show.  Each episode is a routine of trying to get them into shape for sending them out into the world as disciples.  Go out and make a difference.  They say how so that’s an episode.  They misunderstand something and he has to coach them a little bit and there is a little bit of the heartstrings music as they come to realize, oh we’ll need to look at this differently.  There is audience laughter and a little bit of discomfort as we recognize ourselves in the disciples and their stupidity.  Over time we see character growth and development.  We follow the characters through the storyline and we oftentimes find ourselves wondering: okay, what happened to Peter this time because Peter is the one that approaches every problem with an open mouth.  Today is the final episode of this season and I see the disciples; they are all gathered at Al’s diner.  They are sitting in booths and listening to the jukebox and are having light conversation and some of them might get up and dance a little bit.  Jesus struts in and the audience applauds; the jukebox goes quiet; he just looks.  Before he can even get a word in edge wise they plaster him with questions.  Lord is it time?  Is it time for the kingdom to come?  Lord is it now?  Is it now?  Tell us.  That’s when the Ralph-to-mouth moment hits them.

Jesus is cool and in his sometimes wonderful calming voice he says: it’s not for you to know, BUT…  It is a beautiful word – BUT — it keeps us hanging, telling us but there’s more coming.  But you will receive power, he says.  He turns on his heels and he starts heading back out the door to Al’s diner.  We are perplexed, we get up out of the booths and we follow him out the door.  Great, looking at each other, punching each other in the arm, power, POWER, this is going to be great.  Just one thing, what does that mean?  Our brains are racing; our mouths are trying to follow.  Is it power like walk on water power?  Will we get to heal people?  Will we get to make wine at parties?  Or is it the power that we dream of: where we command attention, where we can buy more stuff; probably not that kind of power.  We get out to the parking lot with him.  And Jesus continues, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth, even among the Samaritans.  Okay, great, receive power, got that.  Not now, OK, we have to wait, fine.  Samaritans!  What was that?  We don’t want to hear what we don’t want to hear and we don’t like the Samaritans.  Once Jesus has said this, as we are watching, he’s lifted out of their sight and they stand there and their faces just follow him up and they are thinking about forming words to shout out and they just watch him go up because they realize that talking is not for now.

Wait, there’s got to be more.  And while all this is happening, he just keeps going up and they realize they are just babbling.  Picture this for a moment; this is a great camera shot.  All those people looking up with their mouths open and what do you do?  I just love this scene; God is a great comedy writer.  And it gets better because all of a sudden, standing with them appear two men in white.  The two men are looking at the people who are looking at heaven and these two men say: excuse us, why are you standing here looking at heaven?  Have you felt really stupid?  You thought the meaning of life was up there.  And you are just looking, staring off into space and what are you doing?  That’s the same question God asked Elijah in the cave all alone, what are you doing?  The same question that your wife asked when she comes up behind you and sees what’s on the computer screen that you’d like to click out of, what are you doing?  The same feeling Jonah had on the beach after he’d been belched out of the whale covered in fish barf, what are you doing?  That feeling that Judas must’ve had when he realized greed had gotten a hold of him, what are you doing?

It is that feeling, it is that awareness that we come into that we have been distracted by the unimportant, the dumb.  What happens next in the text is the big shift.  This is where we really need to pay attention because the disciples, the followers of Jesus, the first church, get a whole new way of looking at things.  Later they will look back on this and they will recognize it and classify it.  They will talk about it at all in the same way that they talked about Jesus healing of the blind man.  When Jesus touched the man’s eyes, his sight was returned, but he couldn’t see very well.  He said people look like trees.  Jesus touched his eyes a second time and the man begin to see clearly.  The early church interpreted this experience with the Angels as we were getting our eyes open to see what is in front of us.

This change of focus, this change in the way of looking at things; they were able to see things as they had never seen them before.  They were able to find God’s presence in ways that they had not.  The book of Acts is a little weird in how it writes this.  It calls these the keys to power.  I think power is a good word here because we feel powerful when we are finding meaning in our life; we are looking for meaning in our life.  The text tells us if you want to find meaning in your life there are four things that happen.  They all happen in this text.  The first key is the shift from gazing off into the heavens to the earth around you.  I know when crisis comes sometimes we go urrrr and sometimes we just sit in the car with the radio off and the air conditioner blowing and we just look out into space.  These angels show up and point out that they simply had come to remind the disciples that they been instructed to return to Jerusalem.  They were saying: go that way.  You’re looking for the next step in life; you don’t know what to do; go that way.  That was the message they brought.  That was the purpose of these two angels.  It will not be in heaven where you see your next step.  It will be in Jerusalem where you’ve already been told to go.  They left that hillside; they traveled to Jerusalem and it was there in Jerusalem among people that spoke different languages from all different nations, the spirit came in to that moment.

The church in every age has had a hard time with these instructions.  There has been a real surge in spirituality lately.  I think people are hungry for something besides malls and money and cars and speed and competition and the rat race.  So we turn to books, we turn to websites, we listen to gurus, self appointed experts with a briefcase; something that might touch the inner yearnings of our souls.  Acts warns us that if the spirituality is not rooted in the real world around you, then it’s not the work of the spirit.  If our spiritual life is not connected somehow to other people then it is just brain fluff.  Anytime anybody says: I’m just a spiritual person, the question we should be asking them is: okay, how does that carry out into compassion for someone else.  How does that make you a different person than you would normally be.  Because most of the time it is just an opportunity for people to say: I’m lazy about my relationship to God and I don’t want to be pulled out of the shadows.

Here’s how I think about that.  Everybody likes to get away; we do.  Sometimes we have to sit in the car with the radio off and stare out the windshield.  Sometimes we have to get in front of our televisions.  I think actually television was a great gift to us because sometimes we do need to escape reality.  TV shows that captures us all and gathers us together can actually be a good thing.  TV shows like Hill Street Blue, everybody watched Hill Street Blues.  MASH, everyone watched MASH; still the number one closing episode ever, the most people that watched TV together at one time was the closing episode of MASH.  NYPD Blue, Cheers, Friends, Seinfeld, we could lose ourselves in these TV shows.  Season after season we watched.  Maybe for you it was binge watching a season of your favorite show on Netflix now.  What is it for you?  We disconnect from our reality.  That’s what professional sports are for a good number of us; it’s a way to disconnect from our reality.

In episode TV there comes a season ender or the end of the episode.  We expect to find meaning.  Then the episode is over and as it fades from TV, there we are, staring at our TV, our viewing device.  Wait, that’s it?  Theres got to be more!  I was expecting meaning and purpose and answers to all of life’s questions.  I want a miracle to change my life to come out of this television show.  You mean that’s it?  It wouldn’t surprise us one bit if two people in white appear on the couch beside us and said: why are you staring at that screen?

For reasons that we all understand, we have difficult relationships and want to get away from them.  We need something else in front of us.  We really do want to be distracted.  We really think we want a perfect life.  There is an episode about that also, The Twilight Zone.  The episode was titled: A Nice Place to Visit.  A guy had died and he went to the afterlife and he soon found out that everything was perfect: every sunrise was beautiful, every sunset was astounding, the weather was always gorgeous, every poker hand was a royal flush and when he played pool every ball that he hit went into a pocket.  After a while he said to his host: this isn’t fun at all.  I don’t like it here in heaven.  And his host said: what makes you think you’re in heaven? [laughter] Be careful what you ask for, you might get it

Leonard Cohen, the folksinger who died last November seemed to understand some of this meaning search that we have.  He said: there are cracks in life, cracks in everything; that’s how the light gets in.  The angel says that the great miracle is: you don’t need to gaze into heaven to find God.  Look closer; look where the cracks are in your life and the lives around you.  That is where the light will shine through.  You probably are not going to escape the challenges of our lives.  That’s where you look for God and that’s where you look for meaning.

The second key that our text offers is when we search for God out there into finding God in one another.  There is a wonderful stage place called Inherit the Wind and one of the characters in that play said: he got lost he was looking for God too high and too far away.  Our text tells us that we find God when we redirect our gaze to the people around us.  Anne Lamott: drug addict, street prostitute, and author in her book, Traveling Mercies, talks about why she makes her son Sam go to church.  She said early on I was trying to get sober; early on I was trying to stay upright; I was alone and I was scared.  She said one Sunday at the end of church I stood up and told my congregation that I was pregnant.  She said they almost knocked me down cheering; I didn’t expect it.  They reached out to her with arms and they adopted her and they got clothes and they brought blankets for the new baby.  They lugged in casseroles that she could put in the freezer at the homeless shelter where she was staying.  Church members kept telling her that her new baby was going to be part of the church family and they began to slip her money.  A bent-over woman on Social Security would sidle up to her and put a ten dollar bill in her pocket every week.  Ancient Mary Williams would bring baggies filled with dimes week after week and put them in her hands.  Anne brought her newborn son Sam to church with her when he was five days old.  Church folk stood in line to hold that baby and called him our baby and my baby.  They cared.  They reached out.  They prayed for her.  They loved her through some very difficult times.

She writes: everything is better now so why do I still go to church?  Why do I make Sam go to church when none of his friends go?  She writes: I make him go because somebody in church brought me dimes.  When Ann looked around her, she saw the face of God in the people of her church; they made sure of it.

The third key in what the angel says moves from THEM to US.  The Angels told the disciples to redirect their gaze, look around you, look beyond you.  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you and you will be witnesses to people in Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the world.  Every age seems to find ways to categorize people into US and THEM.  Currently in our nation there is too much profit to be made dividing people into groups and political parties and clans and political actions and divisive causes.  Surveys come in the mail from our particular party; surveys designed and worded to divide and disgust and enrage and raise money.  The great shift in the Book of Acts is when the Church is forced to wait for the Holy Spirit as a church of all nations, all people.  It is then when the Holy Spirit comes to them. Folks known only as THEM became US.

My favorite story about becoming US is told by Garrison Keillor, radio storyteller, about his friend named Dan.  Dan was the cowboy when Gary wanted to be the Indian.   Dan was the good guy when Gary wanted to be the bad guy.  Then they grew up a little bit and they went to school together and Dan got onto a different bus every morning and that bus was called special education.  Garrison said he would see Dan with the special education kids and every time he saw them Dan would say: Hi Gary.  Over the years Gary said I went through stages where I liked seeing Dan and then I went thru some stages where I didn’t want Dan to see me.  Gary grew up and finished high school and college and got a career and a family and he happened to be back in the city and he was waiting on a bus with a crowd of people.  Suddenly Dan was there and Dan was hugging him and shaking his hand and greeting him and introducing him to his friends: Lyle and Kyle and Brad and Mary.  Then they got on the bus and Dan invited Gary to sit with him and Gary did.  Garrison said on that bus a boy could have reached over and pulled a girl’s pigtail and the girl would have smacked him and said stop.  He said: suddenly on the bus it was just US.

One of the messages of the Ascension and Pentecost story is there’s no such word as THEM; it is only US.  And whoever says otherwise is working their own agenda.  That understanding makes it possible for all sorts of walls and divisions to crumble and fall.  Dividing people into US and THEM is not the work of the Spirit through you.  The image of the text — if we carry it out a little bit — the image of the text is if there’s a wall between you and someone else, build a bridge and get over it.

The fourth key that the text offers us is it moves from vague to specific.  The Angels remind the disciples: you have been sent by Jesus with a purpose: make disciples, form people; your first stop is Jerusalem.  Go!  That was just the start.  The Angels got them listening from where they were next being sent.  It was out on the roads and it was to the sick and to the hungry and to the jails, to their attackers, to the leaders of their nations, to their enemies, to the outcast.  There are a lot of scenes waiting to be unfolded for us.  Throughout the rest of the Book of Acts, members of the church are being sent out.  The questions every time they go out they encounter Gentiles, oh God, Gentiles!  Can these folks be baptized?  Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch.  How weird is that?  Can he be baptized?  Peter and Cornelius encounter a Centurion.  Can he be baptized?  Paul, the killer of Christians who scares us more than anyone else; can he be welcomed and baptized?

Every time the answer is YES.  There is nothing the Holy Spirit can’t do; get out of the way. And often times the answer that comes back is: we took you didn’t we? [laughter]  And look what God has done to you, with you, for you, through you; it changed your life.  All these keys are about opening doors and changing lives, about finding meaning in our life.  Sure, get away, escape, lose yourself in entertainment for a while; but don’t expect life meaning to come there.  Look in the broken places; don’t run from them.  Look in the places where there are cracks in your life; where God is working.  Be God’s presence to someone who has no right to expect it.  Start bringing dimes.  Get out of the business of dividing people into THEM and US.  The challenge is not to be right.  The challenge is to build a bridge.  Number four, God has sought you, God has found you and God is sending you.  The challenge is not what you believe.  The challenge is: where is God sending you next?  And will you go?  Will you trust God to go with you?  Your task is to figure out where God is sending you and then go.  You will be amazed and you don’t know what to believe.  What the Angel said in our text today is true; change your focus; it will change you.

Weekly E-news for June 7th

Summer is here and the excitement is building for a great week at
Hero Central Vacation Bible School.
Make certain to check out the request for needed items to make this week super fun for all our super hero participants on page 5 of the e-news.



Also, the Methodist Women’s Fellowship will be sponsoring a children’s clothing drive in conjunction with Vacation Bible School to benefit the Clothes Cabin.  More information is found on page 3.

Click 060717 to access the weekly e-news and find out more about the happenings at Chandler United Methodist Church.