Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Sabbatical

Sabbatical Leave—A sabbatical leave should be allowed for a program of study or travel approved by the conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Associate members or clergy members in full connection who have been serving in a full-time appointment for six consecutive years, or in a less than full-time appointment equivalent to six consecutive full-time years, from the time of their reception into full or associate membership may be granted a sabbatical leave for up to one year...The appointment to sabbatical leave is to be made by the bishop holding the conference, upon the vote of the annual conference after recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry.
                          United Methodist Discipline, par. 351

I am now officially on Sabbatical. 

I am no longer the Senior Pastor of Main Street United Methodist Church, Kernersville. That honor has now been given to my colleague, the Rev. Dr. Mike Gehring. 

So, what am I doing? Just lying around, right?


 By no means! Here's what I've been up to so far: 
  • Preparing to teach theology students at Wesley College in Mwanza, Tanzania. I'm teaching two 30-hour, college-level classes in two weeks. That means teaching 6 hours a day for ten days. The classes I'm teaching are New Testament 1 (Gospels & Acts) and Wesleyan Theology. The challenges of preparing for these classes include...
    • Making sure I'm covering the most important aspects of each topic
    • Making sure I'm covering what the faculty at Wesley College want me to cover
    • Figuring out how to teach all of this in an intensive two-week format
    • Figuring out how to schedule exams and papers in this two-week format
    • Planning learning activities (in addition to my lectures) that will keep students engaged for six whole hours! 
  • Taking extra time to pray.
  • Renewing friendships with old friends who live at Lake Junaluska.
  • Attending worship at Lake J.
  • Spending time with my daughter Mary, who has moved back from Chicago and is working with Lorie's business
  • Spending time with David, Lauren, and James (son, daughter-in-law, and grandson), who live in Asheville.  

In addition, I made a trip to Greensboro to help get my Dad settled in to Camden Place Health and Rehabilitation. 
 
Dad's 90th birthday last year.  Making our grandson wear a Dook T-shirt was one of his gifts.


We're all sad that we've had to take this step with Dad. I personally am sad that it took place right after I moved to Lake Junaluska, three hours away from Greensboro. That being said, the good news about being on Sabbatical is that my schedule is much more flexible. When I lived in Kernersville, 20 minutes away from Mom and Dad, I still didn't see them as often as I would have liked. With this move I have traded geographic proximity for a more flexible schedule, and I hope that will turn out to be a good trade.


The idea was to get a picture of Dad & James wearing those matching T-shirts, but James is not one to sit still.
One more thing I've been up to: cooking and cleaning! Not that I never cooked or cleaned before. And not that I was a sexist, chauvinist husband who looked at certain chores and said, "That's women's work!" But it is true that over my 29 years of pastoral ministry, I was usually out and about all day and most evenings, and Lorie did most of the meal planning and cooking, not because she's female, but because she was the one who worked from home. (As her business grew, we were able to hire a cleaning service to take care of the house.) 

In planning for this Sabbatical, Lorie and I agreed that I would be the chief cook so that she can focus on her work--and hopefully rest a little more--and that we would work together on keeping the house clean. 

And so far, I am really enjoying this! Planning meals, going to the grocery store, serving delicious food to my wife and daughter ...cleaning the bathrooms, sweeping the floor, vacuuming the carpet, etc. After 29 years of pastoral ministry, where the results of what you do are so often unseen and intangible--it's really nice to look at a stack of washed dishes, or a clean floor, or a plate of cooked food and actually see the result of your efforts. 

Several folks have asked me if I'm going to keep updating this blog during my trips to Tanzania and Cambodia.  I will do my best. When I went to Tanzania in late 2013, I managed to post updates fairly regularly. (If you would like to read those, go here and then keep clicking on "Newer Post" down at the bottom.) On this trip, with a heavier load of teaching responsibilities, it might be harder to find time to blog. But I promise I'll try.  And when I do post something, I'll send it out on Twitter, which will also link to my Facebook page.

(By the way, I don't check Facebook on any kind of regular basis, so don't use that to try and get hold of me. Or at least, be prepared to wait before I see your message.)

OK, a few last things...
  • I preached a sermon entitled, "Missionary Dreams" on April 8, which I posted here, that answers a lot of practical questions about what I'm doing. It describes the trips I'm taking, explains my reasons for taking a year off, and lays a biblical foundation for my passion for missions. If you just want answers to the questions, scroll to the bottom. But I hope you'll read the whole thing. 
  • Here's an article about the importance of Sabbath and Sabbaticals. The situation of the pastor who wrote it is a little different from mine, but his theological/biblical points are spot on.  
Thanks to so many of you who have been so supportive as Lorie and I have moved into this new adventure. I am truly grateful for your love and encouragement.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Rewind

This is my sermon for Mother's Day, May 13.  So why am I posting it now, on June 29? Because the week after Mother's Day I was extremely busy and never got a chance to clean up my sermon notes and put this on the web. But I really like this sermon, and despite the fact that it starts out talking about Mother's Day, it makes a point that is still very relevant, that I'm still very passionate about.  Please give it a read.

I thought it might be interesting to tell you a little about the beginnings of Mother’s Day.

First of all, Mother’s Day has its origin in the days right after the American Civil War. What eventually became Mother’s Day was actually a war protest called “Mother’s Day for Peace.” Later it became an attempt to get the north and the south reconciled that was called “Mother’s Remembrance Day.”  The idea was to bring together mothers from both sides who had lost sons in the war, uniting them around their common experience.

But the official Mother’s Day that we now celebrate on the second Sunday of May was originally a worship service at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virgina. Anna Jarvis, who was the daughter of the woman who started Mother’s Remembrance Day, petitioned her mother’s church to have a special service honoring mothers. That service was held on May 10, 1908—one hundred years ago—and it didn’t take long before the idea spread from state to state, and finally congress made it a national observance.

Now, let me tell you something very, very interesting: Nine years after the first Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis became disillusioned with what Mother’s Day had become.  When she saw retailers cashing in and florists jacking up the prices of flowers, she was appalled.  She said, "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit." She was especially upset by Mother’s Day cards, which she called, "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write."

Anna Jarvis, the woman who started Mother’s Day, spent the rest of her life and all of her money fighting what it had become. She filed suit against government officials. She staged violent protests at retailers’ conventions. She was arrested for disturbing the peace.

One time Anna Jarvis was having lunch at a department store, and she saw a “Mother’s Day Salad” on the menu.  She ordered the salad, and when it came to the table she dumped it on the floor and stormed out.

Anna Jarvis was heartbroken when she saw what the movement she started had become.

Do you think Jesus ever feels like Anna Jarvis?

So many movements, ideas, institutions in this world start out great – but then time goes by, and they change, and they become something the founder never intended.

Is Christianity one of those?


I’m going to ask you some questions, and I want you to answer me out loud. These are going to seem pointless and random, but I promise they’re going somewhere, so bear with me.

What do you think of when I say, “BMW?”  (CARS)

But did you know that in the beginning, BMW or Bavarian Motor Works, manufactured AIRPLANE ENGINES?

And a lot of people say (although this is debated) that that’s why their logo looks like an airplane propeller against a blue sky.

What do you think of when I say “Husqvarna?” (OUTDOOR POWER EQUIPMENT – lawn mowers, chain saws, weed trimmers, etc.)

But did you know that in the beginning, Husqvarna made GUNS? That’s why their logo looks like the sight over the barrel of a rifle.

What do you think of when I say, “American Express?” (CREDIT CARDS)

But did you know that in the beginning, American Express was a delivery company, hence the name American Express, as in express delivery?

Now don’t answer this one out loud: What do you think of when I say, “Christianity?”

Unfortunately, in our world today, all kinds of things come to mind when we say the word “Christianity.” People think of…
-       grand cathedrals
-       stained glass windows
-       televangelists
-       the Crusades
-       the Inquisition
-       right wing politicians
-       hate-filled protestors
-       churches segregated by race, background, and economic class
-       and folks who are always against something.

Those are just some of the things that have come to be associated with the word “Christianity.” 

Now, it’s fine that BMW is no longer known for making airplane engines. And it’s fine that Husqvarna is no longer known for making guns. And it’s fine that American Express is no longer known for delivering packages.

But it is the tragedy of the ages that Christians are no longer known for FOLLOWING JESUS. We’re known for believing in Jesus. We’re known for talking about Jesus. But in too many cases, the world has not seen us actually following Jesus!

Studies show that when it comes to actions, attitudes, and behaviors, we are no different from the world around us:
o   We don’t help the poor any more than others
o   We don’t give generously any more than others
o   We don’t tell the truth any more than others
o   Our divorce rate is the same as the world’s
o   Our rate of elective abortions is the same as the world’s.

We are just as likely to view pornography, play the lottery, and drink to excess as everybody else.  And we are more likely to engage in gossip and divisive behavior.

And in the midst of our own moral failings, we Christians persist in judging everybody else!

Sisters and brothers, we’ve got to go back to the beginning.  We’ve got to REWIND.

Some of you are old enough to remember, way back in the days before Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and movies on demand, when we had these now-defunct places called “Video Stores.” You would go into one of these places and plunk down a couple or three dollars and you would rent a thing called a “Videotape.” Then you would take that home and stick it in your VCR (that stands for Video Cassette Recorder) and watch a movie with sound and picture quality that seem primitive by today’s standards. And when you were done watching the movie, there was something the video store really wanted you to do.  They really appreciated it if you would … what? (REWIND).  In fact, some videotapes even had a little sticker with a picture of a bee that said, “Bee Kind—Rewind!”

The video stores wanted you to rewind. They wanted you to take it back to the beginning.

And I think Jesus wants us to do the same thing when it comes to Christianity.

So let’s go back to the beginning. Just about every scholar agrees that the Gospel of Mark is the earliest written account of the life of Jesus.  Let’s look at the very first chapter of the very first Gospel. I’m beginning in verse 16:

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “Accept me into your heart, and I will take you to heaven when you die.”

Is that what it says?

Let me try again: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Believe in me and I will make you healthy and wealthy!’”

Is that what it says?

Tell you what—let’s all read it together to make sure we get it right:

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “FOLLOW ME and I will make you fish for people.”

And now look at verse 18:

“And immediately they accepted Jesus, then when back to their boats and lived exactly the way they did before.”

Is that what it says? No, of course not.  Verse 18 says,

“And immediately they left their nets and FOLLOWED HIM.”

They FOLLOWED Jesus. Their lives changed. Their values changed. They left their old lives behind and embarked on a new adventure. They stayed close to Jesus, they learned from Jesus, and they dedicated their lives to the mission of Jesus.

And here’s what I’d like you to see: When we go back to the beginning--when we rewind--what we find is that

Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than following Jesus.

Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than following Jesus—in a real, personal, and life-changing way.

It’s nothing more—that means that a lot of the stuff we have added in is unnecessary at best and a betrayal at worst.

It’s nothing less—that means it’s more than intellectual assent to a set of beliefs.  It’s a relationship.  It’s a lifestyle. It’s a commitment, not to an organization or a set of ideas, but to a Person.

Christianity is nothing more and nothing less than following Jesus.

This is good news. And, it’s bad news.

It’s good news because there’s a difference between following Jesus and those negative things people think of when they hear the word, “Christianity.” Maybe some of that stuff that people don’t like about Christianity is not even necessary! Maybe some of it is necessary, but it doesn’t have to be the focus. It doesn’t have to occupy so much of our time and energy.

That’s good news!

The bad news is that following Jesus is a lot harder, a lot more involved, a lot riskier, and a lot more demanding than what most people think being a Christian is.

Most people think being a Christian means you say you believe certain things, you go to church once or twice a month, you put some money in the offering, and you help out once in a while.

Most of us can do that without breaking a sweat.

But to FOLLOW Jesus – to stay close to Jesus—to learn from him, take direction from him, submit to him, to enter into training to become like him—THAT’S HARD.

So hard, that you better not try it alone. Verse 19:

19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.


Get this straight: Jesus was not a loner. And he never asked his followers to be loners. From the very beginning, Jesus forms a close-knit community of people who are committed to him and committed to each other.  As they get to know Jesus, they get to know each other. As they grow in their love for Jesus, they grow in their love for each other.

And this group of people who love Jesus and love each other—that’s the Church!

Not the building. Not the budget. Not the property or the programs. Not the committees or the commissions. Not the stuff people hate about organized religion. That’s not the Church.

When we rewind, when we go back to the beginning, we find that

The Church is nothing more and nothing less
than a group of people who follow Jesus together.

Christianity, as its founder intended, is nothing more and nothing less than following Jesus. And the Church, as its founder intended, is nothing more and nothing less than a group of people who follow Jesus together.

So, what would it be like if we Christians were really known for following Jesus?

What if we were known for radical hospitality and extravagant generosity?

What if we were known for spending ourselves on behalf of the poor?

What if we were known for feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting the prisoner, and welcoming the stranger?

What if we were known for humility, gentleness, spiritual hunger, forgiveness, integrity, and peace-making—which are values expressed in the Beatitudes?

What if we were known for loving each other the way Christ loved us? Because guess what—that’s exactly what he said he wants us to be known for! “A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples—that you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

What would it be like if, instead of just believing in Jesus, we committed ourselves to actually following Jesus?

Here’s what I think would happen: Our lives would change. The church would change.  And eventually, the world would change.

We’re going to enter into a time of silence, and I’d like you to pray and reflect on this question: Am I following Jesus?

Let’s bow our heads.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"Thank You, Main Street!" (Sermon for June 17--My last at Main Street UMC)


THANK YOU MAIN STREET
Psalm 100

Today is my last Sunday to preach at Main Street. Next Sunday is Annual Conference Sunday, and Bob Langlais, a member of Main Street and a Certified Lay Speaker, will be your preacher. Then we’ll have two transition Sundays to put some space between the two Senior Pastors. And then, on July 15, your new Senior Pastor, Mike Gehring, will preach his first sermon at Main Street United Methodist Church. And I hope you will come out in droves to show Mike your love and support—just like you did for me four years ago!
Now, my sermon today is called, “Thank You, Main Street!” My Scripture is Psalm 100, the Psalm of Thanksgiving. The Psalms are meant to be read out loud. So, please stand with me, and let’s read this Psalm responsively:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.   
     It is he who made us, and we are his;
   We are his people,
     the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving   
     and his courts with praise;   
give thanks to him
     and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;   
     his faithfulness continues through all generations.
                        --Psalm 100, NIV

LET’S PRAY: Lord, there’s so much sorrow and sadness in this world. And even in this room there are people going through hardships and difficulties that seem unbearable at times. But at least for the next few moments, make us grateful. Help us to focus on the good things you have done. Fill our hearts with a spirit of thanksgiving and joy.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Main Street United Methodist Church: You are a great church.
God has used you to change the world. God has used you to change me. And today I just want to say, “Thank you.”


THANK YOU, MAIN STREET…
            For being positive!
The Apostle Paul says, Do everything without complaining and arguing…” (Philippians 2:14). Thank you, Main Street that I’ve not heard a lot of complaining and arguing around here. You’re just positive people! You treat each other with courtesy and respect. You don’t allow setbacks to destroy your spirit. When problems arise, you face them with optimism and hope. You’re willing to try new things. You’re willing to listen to new ideas. And you’re just fun to be around!
So, thank you for being positive.  And—

THANK YOU, MAIN STREET…
            For being supportive!
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, encourage each other and build each other up…” And that’s exactly what you’ve done for me over the past four years!
3 years ago, my first grandchild was born –
-       And you all celebrated with me
-       And you asked me about him
-       And you looked at all my pictures!
2 years ago, my father was in hospice care –
-       As it turned out, he got better
-       But through all of that, you were supportive and caring and encouraging.
1 year ago, I decided to ride my bike across the state
-       And instead of saying, “Why are you doing something like that?” you all were cheering me on, you were asking me about it, you were encouraging me, and when I got done, you congratulated me.
And then two-and-a-half months ago, I announced that I was stepping down from pastoral ministry for a year to do some mission work and to study and to spend time with family. And again, I’ve experienced nothing but support and encouragement from the people of Main Street. The comment I’ve heard over and over again is, “Sad for us, but happy for you.”
So, thank you for being supportive.

THANK YOU, MAIN STREET…
            For being a “Both-And” church!
Jesus said, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Notice that it’s not either Jerusalem or the ends of the earth. It’s not either Judea or Samaria.
It’s not either/or—it’s Both/And.
And that’s how it is at Main Street:
-       Both traditional AND contemporary
-       Both care for each other AND reach out to the world
-       Both local outreach AND global missions
-       Both personal faith AND social action
-       Both care for the people we have AND reach out to people who are new
-       Both adults and seniors AND children and youth.
Thank you, Main Street, for not drawing battle lines between the different groups in the church.
Thank you for not embracing a scarcity mentality that says, “If we care for the others we won’t have enough for ourselves.”
Thank you for being a Both/And church. And—

THANK YOU, MAIN STREET…
            For living the Jesus Creed!
Let’s say it together:
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.”
The second is this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is no other commandment greater than these.
                                                                                    --Mark 12:30-31
The Jesus Creed is very simple: Love God, Love Others.
I have seen you Love God:
-       By attending worship
-       By studying the Bible
-       By honoring the sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism.
I have seen you Love Others:
-       By rallying around church members who are hurting
-       By bringing food when there’s a funeral
-       By knitting prayer shawls
-       By welcoming new people
-       By giving generously to the Helping Hands fund, every time we have communion.
And that leads me to my next thing…

THANK YOU, MAIN STREET…
            For making a difference in the world!
I think Jesus might say to you:
“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
--Matthew 25:35-36

Last fall you packed almost 400 cleaning buckets to be sent to the flood zones. And on top of that you gave something like $20,000 for flood relief.
You support missionaries around the world, and I love the fact that their names are mentioned in worship every Sunday.
You feed people through Bethany Café and the Community Picnic.
You tutor children through Kids First.
You’re involved at
-       New Story Church
-       Bethesda Center
-       Shepherd’s Center
-       Crisis Control
-       Next Step Ministries
-       Open Arms Community
-       Kairos Prison Ministry.
One of the happiest days of my life was the weekend of Martin Luther King Day, when we got together in the fellowship hall and packed 32,000 meals for the hungry through “Stop Hunger Now.”
But it wasn’t just the meals: It was the fact that we did this project with several other churches across denominational and racial lines. There we were—black, white, Asian, Hispanic—Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic—standing shoulder-to-shoulder wearing those goofy hairnets, feeding the hungry and getting to know each other.
And then after the service project we came into the sanctuary and had a service of worship. At a time of huge division in our society, we came together in a show of Christian Unity. It was a great day. Thank you for making that day happen.
Thank you for making a difference in the world!

The theme today has been Giving Thanks. And the Greek word for Giving Thanks is “Eucharist” –which is another name for Holy Communion.
That’s why I wanted us to celebrate communion on my last Sunday—because communion is a time of Giving Thanks to God for all God has done.
And today, Main Street, I give thanks, to God, for you!