Thinking Out Loud – March 2015

Pastor Davefrom Pastor Dave

“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” – Luke 2:26

“Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

For as long as I can remember, my life has been filled with questions. There were the questions I asked, and was asked, and those I silently carried around with me like a rough stone in my pocket worn smooth over time. There was the question Mr. Rogers repeated over and over again while his dog had me pinned down in his backyard, “Why do you boys keep cutting through my yard when I’ve told you to stay out?” There was Mrs. Loder’s question, my fifth grade teacher, asking “which one of us boys had snuck in early from recess and turned the classroom clock back twenty minutes?”

Most of the questions posed to me while growing up came at home from my mother: “Did you make your bed?”; “Did you remember to put the seat down?”; “Why are you tormenting your sisters?”; “Why are you standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open?”; “Where is your homework?”; and “How did you get these holes in your knees?”

In part, mostly through attrition, I have learned to become more comfortable with questions than I am with answers. In fact, over time, I’ve become increasingly skeptical of those who offer easy answers or simple solutions.

In his book Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and 3 He Answered, author Martin P. Copenhaver writes, “Easy answers can give us a sense of finality. By entertaining questions, God has a chance to change us. Answers can be offered as a conclusion. Questions are an invitation to further reflection. For the most part, answers close and questions open. It is telling that the word question contains the word “quest.” That is, a question sends you on a journey and often in search of something valuable.

Truth be known, I have rarely if ever felt very certain about anything. This isn’t to say that I don’t have my convictions or that I haven’t done my homework on some of the larger questions of life like “Who am I?” and “What am I here for?” Still, when I feel as though I have finally settled upon an informed opinion, when challenged by new information, a new experience, or a persuasive argument, I often find myself feeling the need to return to the drawing board to start all over again.

Someone once said that “an unquestioned faith is no faith at all,” and I believe that. Jesus was forever asking his disciples and those who challenged his authority questions: “Who do you say that I am?”, “Who or what are you looking for?” “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul?” In asking, he sends us again on a quest, a search for self understanding and our understanding of the other. I’m finding, If we stay the course, in time, by the grace of God, we come to find that more meaningful than finding answers is living with the questions.

Lent

cross-lent-purple-drape-5

Christians observe Lent for these reasons:

 

• It causes us to STOP. Lent says, “Stop and rest awhile,” as well as “Stop doing wrong.”

• It tells us to LOOK. Look inward for an honest self-examination. Look upward to see the cross of Christ offering healing and love. Look forward to the hope of the Resurrection.

• It tells us to LISTEN. Listen to the words of Christ. Listen to the voice of God. Listen to the winds of the Spirit of God.

 

Stop, look and listen. These three words aren’t only important for our safety in travel; they’re also helpful for our journey through the 40 days of Lent.

Thinking Out Loud – January 2015

 

“He’s GOD, our God, in charge of the whole earth. And he remembers, remembers his Covenant— for a thousand generations he’s been as good as his word.” – Psalm 105:7

Pastor Davefrom Pastor Dave

2014 was a good year at Lincoln Park UMC. Except for a couple of snow cancellations, we were able to worship together every Sunday at the 9 and 11 o’clock hour. Over the course of the year, we celebrated several special services including baptisms, a Rite of Confirmation, a Family Day Service, Anniversary Service with our District Superintendent the Rev. Dr. Anita Powell and an end of the year Love Feast.

Over 2014, there were several ongoing programs at the church including our Sunday School for all ages, the Potter’s Wheel for children 6-12 during the 9 o’clock hour, a confirmation class, United Methodist Youth, the Agape Group, Monday Bible study and exercise class, a book club, men’s bowling team and breakfast. Short term programs included and The Long Goodbye, a five part series on issues surrounding the end of life, Saturday evening dinners and worship experiences and a wonderful church musical camp which concluded with a Friday evening and Sunday morning performances!
There were also single events including a church golf outing, our annual church picnic, and a Christmas Dinner and Celebration.

Once again, our congregation was active in mission and outreach. Our Youth went on their summer mission trip to Washington, D.C.. Twice a month, volunteers continued serving lunch at the New Journey Soup Kitchen at South 6th Street in Reading. Every other month, we prepared and served dinner at Opportunity House, a homeless shelter for men, women and children on North 2nd Street. And on the third Sunday of each month, our women’s Sunday School class cooked homemade soup for the Mohnton Food Pantry.

During the months of November and December, our Mission’s Team coordinated the collection of groceries for the New Journey Food Pantry, 49 shoe boxes filled with children’s items for Operation Christmas, gifts for a dozen families in Reading through the Salvation Army Angel Tree ministry, and a workday with Habitat for Humanity renovating abandoned homes. On the night of our Christmas celebration, we also collected toiletries for the New Journey Food Pantry and wrote Christmas cards to our at-home members. We also undertook a new initiative as a congregation in 2014 partnering with the 10th and Green Elementary School in Reading providing school supplies and purchasing books for several classes at Christmas time.

I’m sure I’ve overlooked a few programs or ministries of our church, but the above is evidence that we serve a good God, who keeps covenant with us, and of our own faithfulness in keeping covenant with one another as we “seek and share Christ”. Some things in life can only be experienced and accomplished when living together in Christian community. I personally rejoice and give thanks for the life we shared together throughout 2014 and feel encouraged in what God will do in and through us in 2015. Let us commit ourselves to God and to one another for the coming year.

Dear God, who are we that you are mindful of us and yet you have made us a little lower than the angels and crowned us with glory and honor. Thank you for calling us out from our selves to live together in Christian community. We renew our covenant this day to participate in the life of our congregation through our prayers, presence, gifts and service that in all things your kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Thinking Out Loud – November 2014

“Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” — Genesis 28:16

from Pastor Dave

Pastor DaveIn the book Old Testament book of Genesis, Jacob, having tricked his older brother Esau out of his birthright, flees before him to the distant household of his grandfather. Stopping to rest for the night, he makes a stone his pillow. As he lies there, he has a dream of a staircase reaching between earth and heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it. Then suddenly, he hears the voice of the Lord extending the same promise of blessing, of security and a future, which God had first made to his grandfather Abraham. Waking the next morning, clearing his eyes and looking around at the ground, the stones, shrubs, soaring birds and surrounding hillsides, he declares “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” Jacob then rises and, including his stone pillow, erects an altar to the Lord naming it “Bethel” meaning “The Entrance to the House of God”.

In her book A Geography of Faith: An Altar in the World, author Barbara Brown Taylor writes of the meaningful ways in which we can discover the sacred in the small things we say and do and in the simple practices of walking, working, and getting lost. The word sacred has been used by the Church to describe everything that is somehow connected to God, making it worthy of respect and devotion, even awe inspiring. Unfortunately, Taylor point out in her book, we have often limited our idea of the sacred to practices and sacraments within the church on Sunday mornings. We have unfortunately separated the sacred from the mundane and in the process feel our lives disconnected from God during the week.

In my own spiritual journey, it has been authors like Barbara Brown Taylor, Eugene Peterson, Wendell Berry and my study of other world religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, which have helped me to begin to see all of life as sacred. The way this works for me is in being mindful of all the ways my life is connected to God and the world around me and then being intentional about celebrating those connections. This morning, stopping to pick up coffee and breakfast at Wawa, I had left my things on the check-out counter to go back to pick up packets of ketchup. Returning, the cashier joked that she thought I had left her breakfast. At first embarrassed, I said I hadn’t, but that I would remember her idea in the future. I then searched out her name tag as she was taking my money. Her name was spelled “J-a-c-e-l-j-y-n”. “Oh well,” I thought to myself and took a flying leap thanking her by name. Fortunately, I got the pronunciation right and, noticing the apprehension in my voice, we both laughed.
Was my exchange with Jaceljyn at the check-out counter of little note or was it something sacred? Was it an altar, Bethel,… “The Entrance to the House of God?”

The problem so many of us face in the 21st century are our feelings of alienation from others and God. Unfortunately, unaware, we go around far too often during our busy weeks not recognizing that “God is in this place and we did not know it.” We need to be more mindful of and intentional about looking for and celebrating the connections between God and our ordinary daily existence.

So, let me encourage you in the coming days to look for the sacred in all things: in the gracious eye contact you make with passing strangers and in your kind words, in the work of your hands that the Lord gives you to do, in your gazing out of your car window at the beautiful array of fall leaves, in your preparation of dinner as you slice ripe tomatoes and cucumbers to make a salad, in the laughter you share with others around a breakfast or dinner table, in thanking your cashier by name. These moments can all be an altar, our Bethel, our entrance into The House of God, moments worthy of respect and devotion, even awe inspiring… leaving us feeling love, whole.

Thinking Out Loud – September 2014

“Where your treasure is, there will you heart be also” – Luke 12:34

from Pastor Dave

Pastor DavePreparing for this year’s annual stewardship program, I have come to better understand that Stewardship: the careful and responsible management of God’s economy, ultimately, in the words of farmer, novelist and poet Wendell Berry, “turns on affection.”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus warns the multitude against greed. He tells them the parable of a rich man whose land produced a bountiful crop. Having no place to store the harvest, he builds more and more barns to store his grain and goods. Saying, ”Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

In his Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities in 2012, quoting his teacher Wallace Stegner, Berry stated that Americans have been divided into two kinds. There are “Boomers” and there are “Stickers”. Boomers are those who “pillage and run.” Stickers are those “who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.” While the rich man did not exactly “pillage and run” like modern day corporate raiders, I think they are both types of “Boomers”. Their life revolves around themselves and what they can accumulate.

I believe the biblical testimony is clear. God calls us to be “Stickers”. There is a quality of life, an understanding, a knowing, that only comes to those who nurture an awareness and affection for “the life they have made and the place they have made it in.” For me, this life and place includes the local church: those who worship, pray and serve together. It is from this shared life and place that the stewarding of Creation itself is rightly understood. When you love someone or something more than yourself, you are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to leave that person or community of faith better off than when you found them. Berry is right, it does all “turn on affection.”