Family Feud?

If you are reading this, it might be because you are looking to learn more about our church before you come visit. Or you might be a regular reader of our updates because you find our pastor an amazing writer.  Maybe you’re here because the United Methodist Church is in the news again, as we are just finishing our General Conference in Portland, Oregon.

Not to sound anti-media, but good news is not usually the first thing that the media likes to report on. What attracts the most interest these days is irony.  So, while a lot of good news was celebrated in Portland, what drew the most attention was the disharmony among people who all claim to believe the same things.

For United Methodists, most of the disharmony revolves around matters of human sexuality, and the General Conference has moved to let our Council of Bishops take a broad and deep look at the issue, with the hope of bringing the United Methodist Church to a just resolution that allows us all to move forward in the task of sharing Jesus Christ with the world.

I know this lack of resolution is painful to many, and puzzling to others, who can’t understand why we haven’t just decided already (one way or another) like many other denominations. But just as every family resolves its issues in its own way, the United Methodist family is resolving it in its own.  So if you aren’t a United Methodist, why not learn a little more about us before being too critical of the puzzling (even to ourselves, sometimes) way we work to resolve disagreements.  And if you are a United Methodist, pray for our bishops as they begin work on this commission, and trust that, though we might not be where we want to be, we are where we need to be.

People who know me, know that the story of Jacob wrestling with God is one of my favorite metaphors for the church. Like Jacob before us, the United Methodist Church continues to wrestle with God and Humanity, and I believe like Jacob before us, we will ultimately receive God’s blessing, even if it comes with a dislocated hip.

And in the meantime, won’t you join us in serving God and serving the Oxford community?

SUPER SATURDAY!

Look!  On the corner of Market and Addison!  It’s a plant sale!  It’s a yard sale!  It’s a chicken barbecue! It’s…

SUPER SATURDAY!

Join us on May 6 for our Super Saturday.  The plant sale and yard sale run from 8am to 2pm.  There will be plenty of great Mother’s Day gifts, and attic treasures.  Yard sale space is free!  Contact the church office (610-932-9698) for availability (tables are extra).  Chicken barbecue will be available after 11, until sold out.  (call the office for tickets).    If you reserve your chicken ahead of time, the meal is $10.  Walk-up meals will be $12.

 

 

Schedule for Holy Week

Thanks for checking in, friends!  Here is a brief rundown of upcoming events here at Oxford United Methodist Church

March 24 – Holy Thursday Service at 7:00pm.  Includes the opportunity for foot- or hand-washing, and Communion.

March 25 – Good Friday Service at 7:00pm.

March 26 – Monthly Buffet Breakfast – 7am-10am.

March 27 – Community Sunrise service at 7:00am on the green (in center of town)

– Special music at the 10:55am service with the Quarter Ringers handbell choir.  And our children’s choir.  And our senior choir.  And our band.

 

Religious Minimalism

Today (February 25) marks the 22nd anniversary of the killing of 29 Muslims during prayer in their mosque in Hebron.  Of course, I didn’t have to reach back 22 years to find an example of religious extremism. It seems to be in the news nearly every day.  Acts of violence carried out in the name of religion are damaging to the very faith the perpetrators claim to be defending.

But in places of prosperity, comfort and relative safety, like the United States, the threat to the Christian faith is not either extreme violence done against us, or done in our name.  It is something I’d like to call religious minimalism.

Religion minimalism is when we play down our faith to better fit in with the world around us.  When we don’t say grace before a meal in a restaurant because we don’t want to stand out.   When we allow every other commitment to take precedent over our faith commitments, because we don’t want to make someone else uncomfortable.  Where religious extremists deliver the message that their faith is violent and crazy, religious minimalists deliver the message that practicing their faith isn’t really that important.  And if we present the message that practicing faith isn’t important, how shocked should we be that others aren’t all that interested in trying it for themselves?

Paul, in Ephesians 6:20, describes himself as “an ambassador in chains.”  To follow Christ and spread the good news, Paul is now restricted in what he can do.    How often do we live in the opposite way?  Rather than let our faith put limits on our behavior, we limit the practice of our faith to keep us free to do what we want, or at least do what doesn’t make waves.

If we want to carry Paul’s mantle and share the good news, we must embrace the restrictions, the awkwardness that comes with it.    Whether it is saying your daughter has to come home from her sleepover in time for Sunday school, or declining to buy a fundraising raffle ticket, because your faith calls you to avoid gambling in all forms.  We cannot always go with the flow:  we must often swim upstream.  How else will people see that there is a better direction to life than the one they are taking?

 

There Are No Small Parts…

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Luke 4:14-21

Jennifer and I were both involved in the theater department in college, so every time the cast list would be posted for a production, we were sure to hear at least one friend or classmate consoling another by saying “There are no small parts, only small actors.”

I always wondered about the origins of the quote. It sounded like the sort of thing someone’s mom said to them after they auditioned for the part of Hamlet but got the part of guard #2 instead.  Actually it was said by Konstantin Stanislavsky, a Russian actor and theater director, whose work was very influential both in his own country and in England and the U.S..  His famous quote is something he told his wife when he failed to cast her as Lady MacBeth, but as the maidservant.

I just made that last part up. Except now this has been posted on the internet, so now it’s true.

While we live in a celebrity culture that focuses on a certain few people, Stanislavsky’s statement is certainly true. As much as we might love George Clooney or Nicole Kidman, we’d get tired pretty quickly of seeing only them in a movie.  And they can’t run the camera and edit the sound all by themselves, either.

There seems to be particular trouble at the church in Corinth where there was an idea that certain people were considered more important than others. The wealthy, as usual thought that was true of themselves, but also people who had demonstrated certain spiritual gifts.  Rather than be humbled that God was using them in a special way, they used their gifts to demand places of privilege within the church.  Into that situation, the apostle Paul brought something to the people’s attention (and our attention as well) that was as plain as the nose on their faces.

In the human body, the parts must all work together for the body to function as it is meant to.  As Paul says, no part can claim superiority, because it can’t do what other parts can; and if all the different functions aren’t carried out, the body doesn’t work.  The toe shouldn’t feel bad about being a toe, because without it, the body has difficulty balancing.  And the brain shouldn’t feel  superior for being the brain, because without lungs, it won’t have the oxygen it needs.

It is often noted that when Paul lists spiritual gifts, he always puts speaking in tongues at the end. Scholars think this is probably because it was the people with this spiritual gift who were claiming superiority over other believers.  If Paul was to talk to you today, would you need to hear that humbling word from him?

Probably not, because if you felt superior about your spiritual gifts, you wouldn’t think you needed to read anything I had to say. No, more likely is the scenario that you don’t feel you’re anything special or that you offer anything of importance.  But the church isn’t healthy – the world isn’t healthy – until everyone recognizes that their gift, whatever it is, is truly a gift that is needed for a healthy functioning of the whole.

Humility is a great trait to possess – Jesus Christ has loads of it – but if the foot says to the body, “Aw, you just go on without me,” the whole body stumbles. We need you – the world needs you – to claim the gift that God has given only you, to develop that gift and share it freely.  As one, we are alive in a way we can never be if all our parts don’t come together with pride in the work that only they can do.

Family Promise

Many years ago, we were living the American Dream:  two cars, the brand-new house in the suburbs, two kids, etc.  Except, the American Dream came with a lot of debt.  So much so that we were several months behind on our mortgage.  We were still paying a mortgage payment every month, but we weren’t getting caught up.

Finally, we were late again, and we got the letter:  get caught up, or else.  We didn’t know what to do:  we met with a credit counselor provided by the bank, and we met with a financial advisor we knew through church.  There didn’t seem to be any option that didn’t involve losing our house, and hoping that we could find a place to rent that would let us keep our cats and dogs.

When we told my mother our problems, she suggested we talk to my Uncle Vin – it turned out we actually had a rich uncle like they always talk about in movies and books!  He loaned us the money to get caught up, and we made regular payments to him until he was paid back.  So we were blessed to keep our home, and not have to make any hard choices.

Many people are not so blessed.  They don’t have an Uncle Vin, and a job loss, a car accident, a medical emergency is all that it takes to leave them without a home, without the stability of having a place of their own.

This month Oxford United Methodist Church begins partnering with other faith communities in Southern Chester County to host families that are experiencing homelessness and help them find their way back to stable housing.  The name of the program is Family Promise.  We are thankful to be able to provide hospitality and hope to children and their families in a season of struggle in their lives.

If you would like to be one of our volunteers for the program, please contact us.  If you want to know more about the program as it works across Southern Chester County, please visit

Family Promise of Southern Chester County

Here’s How Christians Should Be Making the World Mad

In 2009, Dane Mitchell won New Zealand’s Waikato National Contemporary Art Award (about $11,000) for an installation he called “Collateral.”  It consisted of the discarded packaging materials he had gathered from all the other exhibits vying for the prize.  Needless to say the other entrants were not happy.  (I found this news in News of the Weird)

It’s easy to see why they were upset:  stuff that they believed had no value was shown to be worth something – and people don’t like to be proven wrong.

We especially don’t like to be proven wrong about our judgments of other people:  we like to put everyone in their categories, and we expect them to stay there.  If people show other dimensions of themselves, we are suspicious of them, rather than of our own judgment.  This was a big piece of what made Jesus Christ so controversial:  he announced and demonstrated to the world that every person has value and worth, even people who were categorized by others as “sinners” or “poor”.  The elite and powerful (who thought that the categories they were in were the only ones that mattered) were upset to see someone claim that these other people were equally valued in God’s eyes.

Christians make the world mad in many ways – usually for our perceived intolerance.  And intolerance puts us exactly on the opposite side of Jesus Christ.  The only thing he was intolerant of was the misuse of power.  If we want to make the world mad at us, then let us make them mad in the same way Jesus did:  by declaring and demonstrating that every one of God’s children has gifts to share, and is more than a label.

 

 

 

A Time to Harvest

We hope you will join us this Saturday, October 10th from 10am to 4pm for our Harvest Fair!

There will be great food, a parking lot (and sidewalk) full of crafters, and entertainment all day.  Plus activities for the kids, contests, mums, pumpkins, etc.  If you would like to enter one of our contests, click on the tab Harvest Fair 2015! for more information.

The Harvest Fair began as a way for the church to meet its commitments to our district and denomination:  people harvested their talents to help others.  We are proud to continue in that tradition, providing a great day for the community, and contributing to the ministries of the United Methodist Church, and supporting a local ministry as well.  This year, 10% of our proceeds will go to Oaks Ministry (www.oxfordoaksministry.com).

Just as God sent Jesus Christ into the world not to live for himself, but to give himself for others, we believe that we are invited by God to live in the same manner:  not for ourselves, but others.   That is the narrow path that Jesus says leads to eternal life.    So as we harvest what God has blessed us with, it is not meant to fill our own storehouses, but others’.  Are you harvesting only for yourself?  That might explain while you still feel empty.

Equinox

While we Christians have jumped on the bandwagon for winter solstice celebrations (Christmas) and vernal equinox celebrations (Easter), we seemed to have left the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox alone.  (A quick shout-out to Mr. Coe for going over all those terms in earth science.)

There’s no reason for us Christians to not make this upcoming summer/fall day one of our own:  it’s another great way of thinking about how Christ should shape our lives.   Just as summer is the season of abundance and fall is the season of decline (broadly speaking), the day should remind us of how Jesus Christ came in full flower – fully human and fully God – and allowed all that life to leave him, so that we might have life.  It was Jesus, leaving the summer of his existence, welcoming weakness and ultimately death, who gave us new life through that choice.

For ourselves, that means we should be like John the Baptizer said:  “He must now become later; I must become less.”  The gifts that God gives us are meant to be shared, to point the way to God.   As Christians, we should always be seeking to be less of ourselves and more of Christ.

So as we stand on the balance between summer and the fall, where is our internal equilibrium?  Are we giving over to Christ the abundance that God first gave us, or our we denying the bounty of our gifts to others?  If a tree holds on tightly to its fruit, it nourishes no one, not even itself.  But what it lets fall away means life for another.

Legacy

While we were on vacation we had the opportunity to see the Perseid Meteor shower.    We didn’t see the meteor shower on its busiest night, but it was still pretty amazing to watch the sky, and then see these streaks of light shoot by unexpectedly.

Here is how a meteor shower works:  The Comet Swift-Tuttle orbits the sun every 133 years.  It’s orbit takes it out past Pluto.  When its orbit takes it through the inner solar system, the sun warms and softens the ice in the comet, causing bits of rock and ice to be littered behind it.  At about the same time every year, the earth passes through the dust trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, and some of the rock and ice in the dust trail gets pulled into our upper atmosphere, and burns up as it is pulled in.

So these meteors that we get to see every year are bits of the comet that it left behind years ago.  The comet was closest it gets to the sun in 1992, and won’t be back that close again until July 2126.  That comet, just minding its business as it circled the sun, leaves a 135-year legacy.

For me, its a reminder that our lives are never truly in isolation from the people around us:  we are all leaving a trail of something.   Somebody somewhere is watching.  The question is:  Is it good, or bad?  Is something that excites others?  Or is it something others want to avoid?

It probably depends on what we’re orbiting.  If we are being warmed by the Son (like that transition?), then we’re probably trailing something worth seeing.  But if we’re keeping ourselves at the center, that ‘s another story.

Somebody, somewhere is watching, potentially being blessed by your legacy.  If you follow the trail of Jesus Christ (living humbly, acting mercifully, loving your neighbor), the blessing for others is certain.

For more info on the comet and the meteor shower, visit:

here

 

 

 

Praising. Caring. Serving. Sharing.