We are happy to announce that the church nursery is now staffed all Sunday morning: nursery care is available for both worship services and Sunday School.
Have you made your plans yet for the Easter holiday? Here is what is happening at Oxford United Methodist Church:
Sunday, March 25: Choir Cantata at the 10:55 service – children’s choir and Spirit Bells as well (8:30 worship service, and 9:45 Sunday School as usual)
Thursday, March 29: Holy Thursday Service with Communion and (optional) foot- or hand-washing at 7:00pm
Friday, March 30: Joint Good Friday Service at Allen AME Church (corner of 8th and Market Streets) at 6:00pm. (NOTE TIME CHANGE) Refreshments following the service.
Sunday, April 1: Community Sunrise Service at 7:00am on the green (intersection of Rts 10 & 472) Informal Easter worship at 8:30am, with Communion Sunday School at 9:45am Traditional Easter worship at 10:55am, with our Quarter Ringers handbell choir, and Communion
In Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man ends up in hell for his sins (neglecting the poor) and wants to warn his brothers so they might avoid his fate. Abraham tells him his brothers have the words of Moses and the Prophets – that is warning enough. But the rich man says, “if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”
To Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
I was reminded of this in light of the most recent school shooting, as people express the hope that this will bring about meaningful change to our gun laws. I don’t think we will have meaningful change, until we have an honest reckoning of our history as a nation.
What Jesus is saying in the parable is that, when we don’t have a correct understanding of our past, it will keep us from understanding what is happening in the present. The rich man’s brothers have not learned what they should have from Moses and the Prophets, so they will not accept the truth, even from one risen from the dead. As long as Americans believe the myth that we are a basically peaceful and just people, a majority of us will accept gun violence as an anomaly that cannot be prevented.
The reality is, the United States of America is a nation steeped in violence. We violently separated from Great Britain; we violently evicted Native Americans from their land; we violently enslaved Africans; we violently settled the issue of slavery (or states rights, depending on your perspective); we oppressed every wave of immigrants that came here from countries that we weren’t familiar with; we have been perpetually at war since our founding. We have been involved in a war of some sort for 93 percent of our years since our founding.
If we weren’t a violent people, why would we make one of our first priorities in our constitution addressing the issue of arming ourselves?
The reality is that we, as a nation, have almost always seen violence as the answer to our problems, which makes violence the norm, and instead of making us feel peaceful, it makes us more fearful. And the only way we see to defeat our fears is more violence, because we are afraid if we choose a less violent path, someone else will use violence against us.
I’m not saying all this so that we might feel guilty about being Americans. I’m saying this because until we acknowledge how violence has shaped us, we cannot see how fear is now warping us.
So, how do we break the pattern? Well, of course, the answer is Jesus Christ.
First, if you don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, you at least have the model of someone who responded to the violence of his society with nonviolence, and though he died, he started a movement that, when it adhered to his ideals, brought about change.
Second if you do believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ (as I most definitely do), then you have the freedom from fear, so you can respond to violence in the only way that defeats it.
And that is with death: our death. We must allow our desire to respond to violence with violence to die, because that only brings more death. We must allow our fear that someone might take advantage of us tomorrow to die, because that only permits more death to happen today.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are on very thin ice when you defend the unfettered right to own guns in the face of all the lives that are damaged by gun violence in our society. When Peter saw the answer to the violence Jesus was about to face as taking up arms, Jesus told him to put away the sword. Violence does not end violence: it only births more violence. And violence never occurs without causing injustice. When Jesus declined to respond to the violence against himself with violence, he established the path, the narrow path, he wanted his followers to take: the nonviolent one.
For the sake of America, Christians need to put not America first, but Jesus Christ first, even as that makes us “un-American.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are not here for ourselves, or for our nation, but we are here for the oppressed who like Lazarus hunger at our gate for justice and mercy.
Last week, we added a third dog to our family. Her name is Bailey and she is nine years old. After only a week with us, she ran away, and she disappeared pretty quickly (she is half beagle and half pug, so she’s not very big). There was, like, one initial sighting of her, and that was it. After searching for a couple of hours, we figured someone had picked her up, and was waiting until Monday morning to have her microchip scanned.
Then just before dark, some kids found her about a quarter mile from our house – but she ran off into the woods. I liked it better when I thought she was in someone’s house for the night. It got dark, and we went home, figuring in the morning we would go back with some food, and find her then. But I was not very hopeful: we only had her a week, so I expected by morning she would be farther away, and harder to find.
At 6:30 in the morning, a friend called to say her husband thought he had seen the dog in our yard. We rushed down the stairs, and as Jennifer looked out the front door, there was a scratching at the back. There was Bailey! I think the word miracle gets tossed around a little too liberally, but this was at least miracle-ish.
And after the initial rush to pet and praise Bailey for making it home, all I wanted to do was pet and praise the other dogs, who had never left. That’s the exponential power of love.
Jesus tells a very familiar parable in Luke 15:11-32 about a man whose older son is resentful when he celebrates the return of his younger son. The older son sees love as a finite quantity, and if his father is overjoyed with the return of his brother, he must not have that love for him. But what the father explains to him is, he is overjoyed with his son’s presence every day, and the joy he has for his younger son’s return is only increasing his joy for his older son’s continual presence.
We don’t know how the older son responds, but if we are honest with ourselves, we know how we would respond – skeptically. We fear scarcity more than we trust abundance. It is why we overindulge on so many things, because we don’t trust that they will come again.
But love isn’t like that. Love builds on love; love feeds on love, and as Paul says, Love never ends. That’s why people love their third dog as much as their first dog, their fifth child as much as their second, their best friend from college as much as their best friend from kindergarten. That is why we can love our enemies – it doesn’t deplete our love for our friends, but only makes the well run deeper.
Love doesn’t run out, but the time we have to express it does. So don’t let a moment go by without love. An act of love is never a waste of time, but it is a waste of time if you are not choosing to love.
It’s pretty funny how much work lawyers have found in the world of rock music. Lots of legal battles about money and copyrights, and names. Several years ago 4 members of the group Yes reunited to tour together, but weren’t allowed to use the name Yes, because another former member was using the name. There were renegade Doobie Brothers who tried to tour using that name, and were sued by other members of the group. Even the Beach Boys have found a lot of “Fun, Fun, Fun” over the years by suing each other over the use of the name.
Names come with certain expectations. When we see our favorite band’s name on the marquee, we expect to hear their big hits done well. And when it’s not who we expect, and they don’t do a very good job, it tarnishes the reputation of everyone associated with the name.
So, it’s frustrating as Christians when we see or hear of things done by others who call themselves Christians , things that we would never do. How can we respond? Shouting “that’s not us!” doesn’t seem to help much.
The best we can do, is to work even harder to do the truly Christian things that cannot be disputed: offering hospitality that welcomes people as they are, offering healing without judgment, advocating for justice and mercy without concern for our own success. And then, don’t keep it a secret that we, too, are Christians! Give people a chance to see that what they experienced elsewhere with “Christians” isn’t what they will experience with us.
And pray for healing of the spiritual blindness that afflicts us all. We might see it more clearly in those we disagree with, but we experience it as well.
Holy Thursday (April 13): 7:00pm service with Communion and footwashing or handwashing if you wish.
Good Friday (April 14): 7:00pm service AT ALLEN AME CHURCH (788 Market St). Reflections on the 7 last words of Christ. The church van will shuttle back and forth between the two churches, beginning at 6:45.
Easter Sunday (April 16): Community Service on the green in front of Oxford Presbyterian at 7:00am. 8:30am worship service as usual. 9:45am egg hunt for children during Sunday School. 10:55am service will feature our Quarter Ringers.
We have been watching a TV show where the two main characters have diametrically opposed views about God. One is a devout Catholic; the other believes God does not exist, that Christianity is a mythology. The primary focus of the show is not the differences in their faith, but it does come up fairly often. Sometimes they have some fun with it, like in an episode where the atheist said the story of Jesus’ birth in the manger was a little too convenient, and then she went into labor while they were on the road and, you guessed it, gave birth in a stable.
In another, more serious episode, one of their colleagues was shot and killed. In her grief, the atheist said, “If there was a god, he would have let Vincent (the victim) stay here with us.”
I know I am risking offending my atheist and agnostic friends, but in some ways this quote gets to the heart of people’s unbelief. However we imagine God, there ends up being some kind of contradiction, which becomes an obstacle to believing in God. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is reconciling the idea that God is loving, with all the pain and misery that God appears to allow to happen.
When we hit this particular obstacle (something terrible has happened and our loving God has allowed it), we have a lot of choices. We can try to discover what might have been merciful in what has happened. We can try to determine why God might have allowed it to happen, even though it was bad (which is tough to figure if you believe God is also all-powerful). We can go around it, or work through it and trust that God is as pained as we are. Some people simply go no further: this terrible thing is proof that God doesn’t exist.
Did your parents ever say no to you, when you were a kid, and not give you what you wanted? Because they didn’t love you the way you wanted, did they no longer exist? Did your parents ever allow you to get hurt when you were a kid – let you try out for the baseball team, even though it was obvious to everyone but you that you were terrible? When you were stung by the rejection that your parents allowed you to experience, did they cease to exist? Or did your parents express their love for you in a way that you didn’t understand at the time?
I’m certainly not equating the loss of a loved one, or a building collapse with being cut from the cheerleading squad, but one painful truth does not negate the possibility of other truths. You might find it hard to find proof that God is real, but you can never firmly prove that God doesn’t exist.
The burden of proof falls on us: those who already believe. We can provide proof of God’s love by loving all we can. When people cannot see a loving God in the circumstances of their lives, we must show them a loving people of God through our actions.
Before my aunt died, touched by all the kindness shown by people from my mom’s church, she said, “I don’t know if I believe in God, but I believe in the people who believe in God.” Wouldn’t you want words like this to be said about you?
Then love, love, love. Do not shy away from people in their tragedies, but do what you can for them. Don’t try to explain God, but be Jesus for them, by touching them with your compassion. People cannot always see God in the actions of the world, but may they always see Christ in yours.
Men: We are meeting during the Sunday School hour (9:45) this Sunday the 12th to talk about what a new men’s group might look like. Thanks to everyone who joined us last week and shared ideas.
If you can’t come, but have your survey filled out, please get it back to Troy, Ward, or Pastor Mark.
I have a picture of a painting called The Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem from a 15th century Italian artist named Gozzoli. Even though we know very little about the magi, it is safe to say this painting is not historically accurate, since everyone in the painting looks and is dressed like a mid-15th century European. It does seem a little odd at first, but it is a way for the original audience of the painting to place themselves in the story: they, too, are invited to see the king.
Today (January 6) is Epiphany, when we celebrate the arrival of the magi. If I were to paint a picture of this moment for today’s white church in the USA, I don’t think I would do what Gozzoli did, but rather try to paint it exactly as it occurred, without a single white European in the picture.
We are living in a very unwelcoming phase of our country’s history. This morning’s news reports that there plans to build 700 more miles of wall or fence along our border with Mexico, at the cost of billions of dollars. People aren’t thinking twice about this, because we live in a climate that encourages us to view anyone different than us as a potential enemy.
Epiphany reminds us that every person, whether “different” than us, or “the same” as us, is on the same journey of discovery. Christ calls – and welcomes – all of us, and as followers of Christ, we are called to be the same sort of welcoming people. Every time we refuse to be welcoming, we reveal that the greatest threat to our well-being is ourselves.
We have no real enemies, only fellow travelers. May we give them food, water, shelter, and compassion for the journey.
Did you want to see the painting: Click here
Thanksgiving is one of the times of the year that we are in agreement with the cultural mindset around us. Even most of our unchurched neighbors will doing something that we believe in this week: giving thanks. But most people are giving thanks in one direction, while we are called to give thanks in both: backward and forward.
In Deuteronomy 26, Moses gives the people instructions on what to do when they enter the promised land. It involves giving thanks to God for what God has provided, but it is also more than that. The instructions include bringing the firstfruits to God – the first of what is gathered. That demonstrates not only thankfulness for what God has done, but trust in or thankfulness for what God will do (provide enough for the future).
We celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of the November, when the fields are empty and the storehouses are full. Real Christian thankfulness is showing our gratitude when the fields are still ripening and the storehouses are empty. Because the defining feature of our faith as followers of Jesus Christ is our belief in something that has both already happened and not happened yet: Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death for us, but, while we know that, we won’t completely experience it until later, when we die.
If we don’t push our thankfulness in both directions (back for what has been done, forward for what God will soon provide), we lose the generosity toward others that Christ demonstrated before us, the generosity that moves others to share and grow and follow. So, this Thanksgiving, don’t only look back with thankful hearts: look forward with hopeful ones.