Thursday, January 28, 2016

Body Life (2): The Same, Only Different

2016/01/24 Christ Church, Mountain Top
Call to Worship, Psalm 19
Children, Luke 4.14-21; song, “Father Abraham”
Message, 1 Corinthians 12.12-31 (1-31)

Update (re last week’s message):
For most of us, the ideals that Paul shares for intimate relationships is something that we miss by a mile. Our stories are full of brokenness and failure. There is hope. Note that Paul is sharing this with the Corinthians – members of Christ patronizing prostitutes, spouses denying their love to one another – and he does so not to tell them that they are being bad, but because the promise of God is still open to them, there is wholeness for our brokenness, forgiveness for our failure.

Alternative title: Parts Is Parts
      Hippies and the uptight, re body consciousness, modesty
      Last week, “members of Christ” united to prostitutes. This week “members of the body”. Same word in Greek.
      Paul: euphemistic speech for male genitalia: “body parts that seem to be delicate/weaker are indispensable.… If one part suffers (is in pain), all suffer with it; if one part is honored, all rejoice with it”

Title: Same, only different
      Expression that allows us to include a great variety of things
      Same car, except color, 2/4 door …

Twins: Robin and Betty 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Prison ministry in Sierra Leone

Women incarcerated at the Freetown Female Correctional Center receive gifts from the Sierra Leone Conference prison ministry volunteers. UMNS photo by Phileas Jusu, UMNS
By Phileas Jusu
Jan. 20, 2016 | FREETOWN, Sierra Leone
Note: In the article below, the former prisoners’ first names have been changed and last names omitted.
Prisoners in Sierra Leone have received Christ, been baptized and even been released thanks to a thriving United Methodist prison ministry.
“I committed murder,” said 41-year-old Janet, who served time in a prison in the city of Moyamba, and later at the Freetown Female Correctional Center. “My rival used to taunt me that I was barren. She used to call me names. … In the society where we live, barrenness is viewed as a curse or a terrible disease, and I was laughed at each day. I used to weep day in and day out, and many times I thought of committing suicide. I could bear the torment no longer and took the opportunity to revenge one day. I asked my rival’s son to accompany me to the farm where I killed him.”
Janet sees the prison ministry as God’s grace. “I was touched with what the United Methodist pastors told us about the love of God – that Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; that Jesus died for our sins including my own sin!” she said. “That gave me hope. I started looking forward to the weekly visits from the Rev. Daisy Gbloh and Mama Edith Rogers. They counseled me as I poured out my heart to them.
“My life changed. I decided to give my life to Jesus, whether I was released from prison or not. I started telling others, especially the new inmates, about the love of God.” 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Military Chaplains, Healing Souls

The Rev. David Smith
By Emily Snell
November - December 2015

Serving in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, the Rev. David E. "Dave" Smith, a retired Army chaplain, had four near-death experiences within a month and a half.
"When I came back from Iraq, I was changed," he said. "I was going through my own soul wounds."
Moral injury has dominated current discussions about veteran care, he said. "What that looks like is a veteran who has experienced a conflict in their conscience because of something they themselves have done or witnessed."
In dealing with his own wounds, Smith began talking with the Rev. Stephanie Hixon, executive director of JustPeace. JustPeace is a United Methodist center that prepares and assists leaders and faith communities to engage conflict constructively in ways that strive for justice, reconciliation and restoration of community.
Smith recently became coordinator for JustPeace's Soul Care Initiative, which provides churches with a congregational toolkit and other resources to start conversations about veteran care.
"The Soul Care Initiative became a part of JustPeace last July as a result of my own experience," Smith said. "I was diagnosed having PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) a little over three years ago. As I look at my own life, I see that I can provide and make a critical contribution in my community and in my family. Even though I myself am wounded, I still have a role. There are others out there, like myself, who are doing the same.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jesus for the Pygmies

By Kathy L. Gilbert
Jan. 19, 2016 | KANANA, Democratic Republic of Congo (UMNS)
In one of the poorest countries in the world — deep in the forests and savannas — live tribes of pygmies who are among the poorest members of Congo’s society.
Isolated, without access to education, health care, food or clean water and without representation in society and government, the pygmy tribes are especially vulnerable to the armed conflict that has plagued the Democratic Republic of Congo for years.
For decades, soldiers and rebels have driven these tribes from their homes, captured them, sold them as slaves, raped and murdered hundreds.
Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda has a heavy heart for these people who suffer in the far-flung areas under his care.
As bishop, he said it is especially important to think about those who are the least, the last and the lost. He worries about the “forest people’s” lack of access to education and healthcare, but he is most concerned about their souls.

Nursery fun

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Body Life (1): Plus One (2016-0117)

Call to Worship, Psalm 36.5-10
Children, John 2.1-11
Message, 1 Corinthians 6.12-20

Well, that’s an interesting passage, not typical Sunday School fare, except for a line we take out of context: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (6.19). One of my former pastors coined an expression designed both to be theologically accurate and to conceal what he was doing. He wanted to exercise, get in shape … not his strong suit … so he instructed his kids that if anyone called while he was jogging they should tell them, “Dad’s doing temple maintenance.”
      Given the context of this passage, that members of the church, what Paul calls “members of Christ”, are uniting their bodies with prostitutes … half of you are saying to yourselves: “I wonder how the pastor is going to keep this PG.” The other half is hoping that I slip up just a little, enough to make it extra interesting. To both group, a couple things up front. One, Gordon Fee, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, writes that this passage is “one of the more important theological passages in the NT about the human body” (251). Two, I’m going to try to do what I believe the apostle Paul does. Instead of simple moralizing (“thou shalt not”), instead of prideful condescending (“that’s unintelligent”), he actually pays attention to theology – the implicit theology that underlies the argument of the Corinthian Christians (which misses the mark) and a biblical theology of the body which he offers as an alternative.
      This is the first message in our “Body Life” series, and we are going to explore the variety of ways that Paul uses the term “body” in 1 Corinthians. He uses it as metaphor for the people of God, he uses it as the literal human body in human sexuality and resurrection, he uses it as a metaphor for the presence of Christ in the bread and cup of the Table of the Lord.
      This series of message was preceded by our observance of The Baptism of the Lord Sunday, last week. It is, very much, a bodily experience to be baptized, to be washed. And, as Joel pointed out, baptism makes us the body of Christ in the world. This message series will end on the Sunday we remember Jesus’ Transfiguration. It is the story of Jesus being revealed in glory, before his death and resurrection, a glimpse of what is to come. And it is a revelation of his BODY, not some disembodied glorious cloud.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Orphanage in East Congo

By Kathy L. Gilbert
Jan. 11, 2016 | GOMA, Congo (UMNS)
“Maman Olela” stands in the doorway of the girl’s house and looks out onto the large jagged rocks behind the shelter.
“If you climb over those you will fall into the airport,” she said.
Okako Okenge Adolphine, lovingly known as “Maman Olela,” knows what a temptation climbing on large rocks can be for the young children in her charge at the Goma Orphanage. She keeps them off both the rocks and the streets in this community where many children have no place to call home.
Decades-long wars have left many widows and orphans in this gritty region of the United Methodist Kivu Conference. The United Nations peacekeeping forces have been working to bring peace in this area since 1993.
Maman Olela is a tall, imposing woman. She oversees the orphanage, which provides shelter for six girls and five boys ranging in age from 7 to 18. The orphanage feeds those children and up to 30 more children one meal a day.
“This is the fruits of the faith, this orphanage,” Okako said. She is assisted by Josephine Efulantu and cooks Deborha Ange and Marie Ochinga.
Poline Yema, 18, has grown up in the orphanage and will graduate from secondary school later this year.
Two wooden shelters house the boys and girls. There is no running water or electricity. The girl’s dorm is built on pilings, but the boy’s dorm sits on the mud-packed ground. Water seeps through the wood planks and often floods their shelter.
Maman Olela is praying for additional funds to improve the shelters and feed more children in the community.
Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or

Sharing the Light, Christmas Eve

See the full Christmas Eve album!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

With Thanks to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the powerful quotes from King's account of the Montgomery story, Stride Toward Freedom, rings true even today. We've made lots of progress as a nation, and we still have a long way to go. Pray for us as we continue to face the very real impact of racism and white privilege, both as a nation and a community. (For a community response, see our Pastoral Open Letter.)

If America is to remain a first-class nation, it cannot have a second-class citizenship (Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride, 191).

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Baby Friendly Hospital in Zimbabwe

Mary Chimunda breastfeeds her newborn son in the Mutambara Mission Hospital in Zimbabwe. Photo by Eveline Chikwanah, UMNS
By Eveline Chikwanah
Jan. 7, 2016 | MUTAMBARA, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

Mary Chimunda sits perched on the narrow hospital bed, her newborn baby clutched to her chest.  The 20-year-old beams as she looks down at her son, and lovingly rearranges the blanket swaddling him. 
On either side of her are two new mothers, also caring for their infants.  The ward’s silence is broken by the voice of the acting matron, Susan Mtokoma, jokingly asking the mothers if they intend to sell their breast milk.  “No!” they reply in unison and immediately position their babies to suckle.
Mutambara Mission Hospital is a baby-friendly hospital and advocates exclusive breastfeeding of babies from within one hour after birth to six months. “Babies may be given other foods after six months, but we encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding for up to two years,” said Mtokoma.
The United Methodist hospital won the Baby Friendly Initiative Award for 2015 and its baby-friendly policy is now being used as a role model for the whole country, said Mtokoma.
Chimunda is overjoyed by the safe delivery of her son. 
“I came to the hospital more than a week before my baby was born.  I was resident at the mothers’ shelter while awaiting delivery because my home is more than 20 kilometers away and there is no reliable public transport due to the rough terrain,” she said.
She sadly recalled the loss of her first child on Jan. 24, 2013:
“I came to the hospital when I had been in labor for two days.  The baby died within 24 hours and I was told that he was exhausted due to the prolonged labor.  This time I did not want to risk losing my baby so I came and stayed at the shelter where I was closely monitored by specialist staff.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Unleashing the Kingdom

Joel Shuman

First Sunday after Epiphany / Baptism of the Lord
Luke 3:1-6, 15-17, 20-22

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
    and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Before there was a church, before there was a savior, before there were mangers or shepherds or heavenly hosts or magi, there was talk among the common folk in and around Jerusalem—furtive whispers and snippets of improbably hopeful conversation among a people long since accustomed to injustice and subjugation at the hands of a seemingly unending series of imperial oppressors and collaborators from among their own leaders. The topic of conversation was not new in any absolute sense; its roots were a thousand years old, and exchanges like it had emerged and reemerged over the years whenever things became grim and the people wondered whether the God of their ancestors had abandoned them altogether.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

All-Terrain Vehicles

All Terrain WheelchairHadiza came in one morning to pick up a pallet of supplies that Jean Norris had gathered for her to take on a mission trip to a clinic in Niger, West Africa.  When she picked up the supplies, she asked if we had a wheelchair that could be used on all types of terrain.  Such a wheelchair would be a great help for a young handicapped boy in Niger.  Unfortunately, we did not have that type of wheelchair in our inventory.

Hadiza’s vehicle could not hold the many supplies, so it was necessary for her to return in the afternoon to pick up the remaining items.  Just before she came into the building, people from Derry Street UMC dropped off furniture for New Digs.  Their driver mentioned that she had a wheelchair that had bicycle tires on the back wheels with large, hard rubber wheels on the front, and would work on all types of terrain if we had a use for it!!
As I brought the wheelchair into the warehouse, Hadiza came in to pick up the rest of her supplies.  I showed her the wheelchair and she exclaimed, “God works miracles!”
The other amazing part of this story is that Hadiza was scheduled to pick up her supplies on either April 19 or 22.  Those dates did not work, so instead she came on April 29–the day the wheelchair was brought to Mission Central.  Because her vehicle was not large enough to accommodate all the supplies, she had to make a return trip in the afternoon and arrived just as the wheelchair did.  What a wonderful example of God’s perfect timing!
God is Awesome! ALL THE TIME! When we pause long enough it is easy to recognize His daily miracles.
Awesome God, we stand amazed in the presence of Your love and care for Your creation.  Help us to pause and listen for Your direction and be attuned with Your perfect timing.  We praise you for allowing us to play a part in sharing the light of Your Love with others.  AMEN.
(Deb Harden, Former Executive Assistant to the Executive Director of Mission Central)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Timing Is Everything (New Year's Message, with song)

Call to Worship, Advent Prayer
Children, Matthew 2:1-12
Message, Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

The turning of the year and the beautiful poetry of Ecclesiastes 3 invite us to consider the important questions of time and eternity.  St. Augustine devotes 27 pages, Book 11 in my printed edition of his long-form prayer, The Confessions, to these very themes, “Time and Eternity”.

He writes:
In the eternal, nothing can pass away but the whole is present. . . .  Who will hold the heart of man, so that it may stand still and see how steadfast eternity, neither future nor past, decrees times future and those past? (285)

What, then, is time?  If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who does ask me, I do not know (287).

My mind is on fire to understand this most intricate riddle (294).

Most of the time, though, our focus is not on these kinds of philosophical questions.  We’re focused on getting through the day – work, dinner, household chores, music lessons, sports practice.  And, a small delay – an auto accident stalling traffic, a missing back-to-school form, the kids needing attention – throws everything off.  We’re so focused on getting through the day that we fail to enjoy it.
     Or, we’re obsessed with deadlines – the term paper, the quarterly financials, the newspaper.  We’re so obsessed with deadlines that we fail to live.
     Or, we anticipate being, if not elsewhere, then elsewhen.  Maybe it is the future: Things go poorly and we wait “for the other shoe to drop”.  Things go well and we can’t wait to do it again.  I have a friend who tells me that whenever he is eating one meal, he is thinking about the next one.  Maybe it is the past: I wish that things could be the way they “always” were – a sentimentality that Ecclesiastes calls “unwise” (7:10).  C. S. Lewis, in his The Last Battle, describes Susan as being in a hurry to get to a certain age and then, once she reached that age, trying in vain to stay there as long as possible.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Head Start on Christmas

Thanks to everyone who brought in gifts for Head Start children in our region!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Practicing Reading

On Dec 12, I finished a second reading through the Scripture using the online and mobile application "YouVersion" or My latest reading plan took me through the whole Bible in a year, with a double portion of the New Testament and Psalms. I encourage you to sign up for the application and select a reading plan that works for you. The plans can be read through the app, by email, and even can be read aloud to you with the audio feature. Many different English translations are available, as well as translations in many other languages. It makes for a wonderful New Year's resolution! Check it out!