FUMC News

"A Tale of Two Sisters"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon 7/21/13

Luke 10:38-42

“A Tale of Two Sisters”

July 21, 2013

 

            This story about two sisters could easily be taken to talk what happens at the end of Thanksgiving dinner when one person is in the kitchen doing the dishes and another is on the sofa watching a football game.  Martha saw it that way.  She complained to Jesus,

 

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 

[Luke 10:40]

 

I know a lot of people who feel that way from time to time.  I can see it at church events, when the same group of people set up and clean up.  The exasperation that comes through in Martha’s words is palpable.  It wasn’t, “Mary, could you come here for a second?” or, “Could you give me a hand?” or, “I need you.  Now.”  No, Martha has to go and ask Jesus to tell Mary to get out there – and she adds a barb to it with, “Lord, do you not care?”

            Jesus, as a man in that time and place, would not be expected to get out there himself.  Even so, he doesn’t help out the situation very much in the way that he tries to soothe her. 

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42]

Martha is so busy making preparations for their visitor that she is going to miss the time they have together.  Mary is spending the time with him, and getting something out of it.  I can imagine the aftermath.  Martha is exhausted and still worried whether Jesus had had enough to eat.  Mary closes the door and says what a great time they all had.  That grates on Martha’s last nerve and she gives her “lazy” sister a piece of her mind.

            Let me reframe this drama in terms of the two sisters, though, in a way that might be more helpful, because when you look at the whole situation, you can see Martha and Mary as typifying two different ways of relating to Jesus, probably to life in general, that psychologists call “extroverted” or “introverted”.  All too often, they misunderstand one another.  There are lots of tests that you can take that point you toward where you yourself might stand in one of those groupings.  I’m going to throw part of one of those at you in a moment. 

First, though, I ask you to remember a couple of important points.  One is that these are descriptive categories.  They simply describe broad categories of human experience.  They do not mean that you have to fit neatly into any box.  Another point is that it isn’t a good idea to characterize anyone else, or decide for them where they fit.  About 75% of people in our culture are considered “extroverts”,[1]  so a lot of people who are more introverted have learned to function in that way as a matter of adapting to the world they live in.  In fact, Martha’s demand that Jesus make her sister behave more like her, and Mary’s resistance to the demand, are classic in that respect. 

            So, with those comments, let me toss out two groups of generalized statements.  See which sounds more like you.

“I am seen as ‘outgoing’ or as a ‘people person.’

I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them.

I have a wide range of friends and know lots of people.

I sometimes jump too quickly into an activity and don’t allow enough time to think it over.

Before I start a project, I sometimes forget to stop and get clear on what I want to do and why.”

 

Ready for the next round?  Here goes.

“I am seen as ‘reflective’ or ‘reserved.’

I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own.

I prefer to know just a few people well.

I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough.

I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.”[2]

 

If you lean more toward the first group of statements, you are more likely an extrovert, a “Martha”.  If you lean more toward the second group of statements, you are more likely an introvert, a “Mary”.

 

            The needs and characteristics of both are legitimate, but sometimes they clash.  I see it on Sunday mornings right before church starts.  Some people arrive, take a bulletin, find a seat, and close their eyes or stare at the colors in the windows.  They may read over the prayer for the day or look ahead at the hymns.  Then somebody else arrives, sits down in front of them, and turns around to say hello.  “How did the week go?  That’s a good color you’re wearing.  Your procedure is on Thursday, isn’t it?  Do you need a ride?”  Then comes the start of the service.  Things calm down.  Then we pass the peace, which for some people is the least peaceful part of the morning, and for others is a highlight.

 

            Remember, though, that Jesus was friends with both Mary and Martha.  He was there to see both of them, and both of them were there to be with him.

 

            A Catholic priest named Father Ron Rolheiser has thought about this a bit.  He writes,

“An emphasis on silence and solitude alone tends to penalize extroverts, just as an emphasis on community and church alone tends to penalize introverts. Too rarely have we struck a healthy balance on this.

Both are necessary and both are necessary within the life of the same person. Simply put, there is a certain inner work that can only be done alone, in silence, just as there is a certain growth and maturity that can be only be reached through long faithful interaction within a family and community.  There is a time to be alone, away from others, and there is a time to be with others, away from the private fantasies within our own minds. Being silent and being social do different things for us. If I am alone and silent too much, I will probably develop a certain depth, but I also stand the chance of living too much inside my own fantasies. Conversely, if I am a social-butterfly who shuns silence and aloneness, the danger is that I will end up rather shallow and superficial, uninterested in anything beyond the gossip of the day, but I may well possess a balance, sanity, and resiliency that is less evident in the person more given to silence and solitude.

We need both, silence and socializing, in our lives and pitting one against the other is a false dichotomy. They aren’t in opposition to each other but are both vital components of the same journey towards a community of life with God and each other.”[3]

            That’s why I’ve included a sort of statement of understanding between the two groups, and the two sides of ourselves, in the bulletin this morning.  I’m going to ask you to take a look at yourself and choose which part fits you best.

If you are more of a Martha than a Mary, please read the PLAIN PRINT.

If you are more of a Mary than a Martha, please read the ITALICS.

Everyone is asked to read the BOLD PRINT.

 

    (I’ll read both parts, just so that there’s a leading voice.

Yes, that is a very “Martha” thing to do.)

 

We are the doers who think we are fewer.

We are the learners who feel like discerners.

We need one another.  We need to discover:

Our need to be doing,            

Our need to keep learning,     

Our common Redeemer, who keeps it all turning,                                    

Who makes us sit down,

Who makes us stand up,

We need one another. We need to discover:

Who has promised a crown,

And who fills up our cup.

 

 

 

 

 

[2] http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/extraversion-or-introversion.asp  The passage quoted is cited as adapted from Charles R. Martin, Looking at Type: The Fundamentals (CAPT 1997).

 

[3] Father Ron Rolheiser, “Introverts, Extroverts, and the Spiritual Journey” in the Catholic Star Herald (November 20, 2008).  http://www.catholicstarherald.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2724:introverts-extroverts-and-the-spiritual-journey&catid=92:spiritual-life&Itemid=200196

Youth Group Summer Service Project
Category: Archive
Tags: Phoenixville School District Barkley Elementary

Please join our youth in helping Barkley Elementary students with their school supplies!  Collection boxes will be in the hall and in the bell tower.  The school supply list will be posted throughout the church and can also be viewed on the Phoenixville School District website, Barkley Elementary @ www.pasd.k12.pa.us. The list is also attached to the website, media tab under documents.  The list is from last year and I will update it as soon as the school district posts the new one.   Many children benefited from our service and the staff is very grateful for all we do.  If you have any questions about the youth service project, please contact Cheryl Cini at the church office at 610-933-5936.

"The Holy Spirit: The Equalizer"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon 6/23/13

Galatians 3:23-29

“The Holy Spirit – the Equalizer”

June 23, 2013

 

            Recently one of my cousins was eating at a diner in Wilmington with his family when the waitress brought him a cupcake for dessert.  She had noticed that he was wearing a Red Sox cap and the cupcake came with a Yankees emblem made of icing on top.  Everybody got it.

            There are those traditional rivalries we’re all aware of:  Red Sox vs Yankees, Phillies vs Mets, Steelers vs Cowboys, cowboys vs Indians, Indians vs Pakistanis – oops!  Did that just cross a line?  There are some divisions that have more serious implications than others and that used to justify injustice or to permit (in people’s minds) acts of violence solely on the basis of a we/them view of the world.

            And we all do it.  (Notice I just said “we” there.)  Who is “we”?  When I say, “We all do it,” I mean, “All human beings do it.”  There’s a kind of presumption in that.  On the other hand, it’s ironic to think about one thing that unites us is our tendency to divide ourselves up.

            Getting back to the question, though, who is “we”?  In Paul’s day, the divisions were very clear.  There was “Jew or Greek… slave or free… male and female.” [Galatians 3:28] In addition, within that breakdown, even in the one category of “Jew”, at another point in one of his letters, Paul goes into further divisions, identifying himself as

“a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” [Philippians 3:5-6]

there are other places in the New Testament where the distinctions are made among Roman citizens and non-citizens and within the Church between converts from paganism and people born Jewish, those with money and those without, educated and uneducated people.

            In our day and in our society, we pretend that there are not those divisions, but we all know they are there.  (Again, I keep using the words “us” and “we”.  I cannot avoid it.)  In North America – because I’m including the Canadians in our society on this point – we have an elaborate class system that we camouflage very well, sometimes even from our own eyes.  It takes a scholar like a man named Paul Fussell to make observations like this:

“Although it is disinclined to designate a hierarchy of social classes, the federal government seems to admit that if in law we are all equal, in virtually all other ways we are not.  Thus the eighteen grades into which it divides its civil-servant employees, from grade 1 at the bottom (messenger, etc.) up through 2 (mail clerk), 5 (secretary), 9 (chemist), to 14 (legal administrator), and finally 16, 17, and 18 (high level administrators).  In the construction business there’s a social hierarchy of jobs, with ‘dirt work,’ or mere excavation, at the bottom; the making of sewers, roads, and tunnels in the middle; and work on buildings (the taller, the higher) at the top.  Those who sell ‘executive desks’ and related office furniture know that they and their clients agree on a rigid ‘class’ hierarchy.  Desks made of oak are at the bottom, and those of walnut are next.  Then, moving up, mahogany is, if you like, ‘upper middle class,’ until we arrive, finally, at the apex: teak.”[1]

At a certain point, you want to say, “So what?”  That’s what people are like.  That may, in fact, be a healthy outlook, but the dangers of division of any sort are real when people take them to heart.  Again, Paul Fussell observes,

“The special hazards attending the class situation in America, where movement appears so fluid and where the prizes seem available to anyone who’s lucky, are disappointment, and, following close on that, envy.  Because the myth conveys the impression that you can readily earn your way upward, disillusion and bitterness are particularly strong when you find yourself trapped in a class system you’ve been half persuaded isn’t important.  When in early middle life some people discover that certain limits have been placed on their capacity to ascend socially by such apparent irrelevancies as heredity, early environment, and the social class of their immediate forebears, they go into something like despair, which, if generally secret, is no less destructive.”[2]

To be blunt about it, it’s one thing when we recognize difference and another when we cultivate division.  When people learn to look down on others, they also learn to look down on themselves, and to despise a soul that God has made and called good.

            In the early Church, the Holy Spirit created a community where that kind of attitude was not supposed to have any place, and where someone like Paul had the courage to call it for what it was. 

”In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

[Galatians 3:26-28] 

That means a lot.  Think of it: if your status comes from your birth, “you are all children of God”.  I cannot think of any standing higher than that.  If your status comes from your appearance or your possessions, As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  I think that clearly trumps Christian Dior or Christian Siriano.  If status comes from being a natural-born citizen and not an immigrant or alien, get over it, because “There is no longer Jew or Greek.”  If it has to do with what kind of work you do or where you stand in the workplace, “there is no longer slave or free” and if it’s a matter of any kind of biological category, “there is no longer male and female”.  What matters most – the only point that matters – is that “all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

            I was very proud when I served a church in the Virgin Islands, where the legacy of slavery has left a territory and a society that is extremely class-conscious, that the lay leader of the congregation was a cleaning woman who mopped the floors for one of the most comfortably-off men on the island, and that every Sunday they would sit together in church.  Everyone just called him by his first name, but everyone called her Sister Roberts.  We don’t always get it right, the way we treat one another or even the way we view one another.  But by the grace of God, sometimes we do, and when that does happen, even the Red Sox fans and Yankee fans discover a place together, and we look forward to a time when

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” 

[Isaiah 11:6-9]

 

[1] Paul Fussell, Class: A Guide through the American Status System quoted as background for the PBS documentary “People Like Us” at http://www.pbs.org/peoplelikeus/resources/essays6.html .

[2] Ibid.

“The Holy Spirit: ‘Christ Who Lives in Me’”
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon 6/16/13 (8:30)

Galatians 2:15-21

“The Holy Spirit: ‘Christ Who Lives in Me’”

June 16, 2013

            Picture yourself at home, sitting on your front porch, enjoying a tall glass of iced tea with your feet up on the railing, while a neighbor across the street is cooking hamburgers on the grill.  In fact, it’s almost distracting how good it smells.  Apparently the neighbor’s dog, a St. Bernard, also smells the burgers.  All of a sudden, there’s a loud crash and you hear your neighbor holler.  You see that the grill has tipped over and charcoal has spilled all over the place.  Your neighbor is hopping up and down, patting out sparks on the leg of his pants at the same time he’s spinning around in pain where the grill hit his arm, and the dog has stepped on the coals and is howling.  Do you run to the corner to cross the street? 

            That’s the law.  Jaywalking is illegal and to allow exceptions or disregard the law is to call the whole concept of social order into question on some level.  There have been people who believed that.  The philosopher Socrates was ordered by the city of Athens to drink a lethal dose of hemlock and he did it, even though he knew himself to be found guilty of a crime he did not commit, all because it was the law and all due process had been followed.  When you run across the road to your neighbor, you are committing a misdemeanor. 

Find me the police officer who will give you a ticket for that, though, or the judge who would uphold the fine if you object to paying it.  In fact, I doubt that anybody would consider it even remotely human or normal even to consider doing anything in that situation except to run straight across the street to help.  All of that is to say that there is something deeply embedded in the human spirit that knows of something more important than law.  Wrote Paul,

“we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”  [Galatians 2:16]

            Here’s another scenario.  It’s about 7:30 on a hot, August evening and you have been working overtime for the third night in a week.  You need to pick up a gallon of milk at the store on the way home for your cereal in the morning.  When you arrive, there is only one parking space anywhere near the door, because the lot is being repaved.  The only other spot available is on the far side of the construction zone and involves driving around again, then walking an extra hundred yards through the construction dust.  The closer spot, however, is open because it has one of those signs with a stork across the top that says it’s reserved for expectant mothers.

            What about that one?  Tempting, isn’t it?

So how can there be any balance between knowing the rules and their value and importance, having an appropriate sense of regret (sometimes even guilt) at breaking them, and the awareness that they are not the beginning and end of everything? 

Hear again what Paul said.

“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.”  [Galatians 2:19]

We’re free, but not so that we can just do whatever we want.  We’re free so that we can do what God would have us do, and live as God would have us live.  When we elevate the law so high that it sits on a pedestal, we have created an idol and, in an ironic twist, break two of the ten commandments: the first to have no god before the Lord, and the other to create an idol that we bow down before.  We are free, yes, but only as long as we don’t turn right around and run back to our former ways.

            All too often, we do that.  Even when the rules are harsh and punishment sharp, people can seek out the kind of certainty that comes with legalism, even when it destroys them.  Prisoners often seek to survive prison by a kind of conformity that, once it sinks in, can destroy them when they are released.  One ex-offender describes what happens like this:

“Some men will use the time to become ‘good cons’ (perfected convicts). They will have tattoos, muscles, proper clothing styles, proper speech, proper outlook. They will ‘fit in.’ Whereas prison was once threatening to them, they are now clones of those who most intimidated them in the beginning. It’s one kind of fear or another that drives most of these men to emulate the lifers or old cons. They see that these men have survived many years in a dangerous world. They hope to survive too. Too weak to stand on their own, they give their own identity up in favor of the convict code.

The people who spend their imprisonment perfecting their convictness finally reach that place where they approach their release or parole date. They ‘get short’. They get nervous. They don’t think they will fit in in the outside world. Now they have tattoos all over them. They have convict hairstyles including mustache and beard styles indicative of incarceration. They have spent years trying to fit in as a convict. Now they are told to leave. They have to start all over again.

Some panic. They stab another prisoner or kill one, so they will get more time. They assault guards or get caught with drugs, whatever it takes to receive a new sentence or violate their parole or lose accumulated statutory good time so they can remain in prison.

Of course, despite their efforts, some of these men are forced to leave prison. They carry their mindset onto the streets, into the free world. In order to substantiate their toughness, their convictness, they have to perform antisocial, unlawful deeds so people around them won’t think they are weak.

Going back to prison isn’t a threat. They are comfortable in prison. The free world is more threatening now. They feel like orange pieces in an otherwise blue puzzle.”[1]

            The way out of this cycle – and not just for people convicted of crimes, but for anyone who is trapped in this pattern of conformity to the world and its ways – is to realize that someone else has stepped into the gap for all of us.  Jesus has paid the sentence that would be on any of us for our sins, large or small, and by doing that has changed everything.  We don’t have to live in the old ways, because the people we were or the people we are can be replaced by the people we should be.

            Paul again, someone who was no stranger to prison himself, wrote that

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  [Galatians 2:19-20]

What will that life look like for you?  That depends on what you decide to do with it, and part of freedom involves making those choices, some of which can be hard or confusing.  What I can say, though, is that when Christ lives within you, that is a life that is kept by God with the same care that, when it saw him handed over to death itself, raised him from death into a life that never ends and that even now shares God’s glory.

            The other thing I can say is that it’s a life where you would run to help a neighbor, but would not take a parking spot from an expectant woman even when you’re exhausted.  That’s the type of person you are, because that’s the type of person Jesus is.

 

 

 

[1] Michael Powell, “Release from Prison: Shock or Growth” at http://www.thubtenchodron.org/PrisonDharma/release_from_prison.html

The Church and Natural Disasters
Category: From Our Pastor

The Church and Natural Disasters

It seems that we spend a lot of time and money responding to natural disasters.  At least twice a year we can count on some kind of disaster appeal, as when tornadoes hit Oklahoma earlier this year or in the more sustained way that we are working this summer to assist Ocean City’s Macedonia United Methodist Church recover from flooding caused by hurricane Sandy last October.  Last year’s drought along the Mississippi has been succeeded by this year’s floods; and we can count on overseas famines on a cyclical basis.  After awhile, when we hear about such events, it is easy to think, “Here we go again!”

On the practical level we recognize that what we are doing is fighting nature, a force far greater than us.  The book of Job contrasts the power of nature with humanity’s smallness:

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?  Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass?” [Job 38:22-27]

It would be foolish to think we can undo or remediate every hurt when human beings get in the way of natural processes.

On the other hand, it would be faithless of us not to do what we can.  In the gospel of John [9:2-3], Jesus’ disciples observe a man who was born blind.  Trying to make sense of a natural occurrence that has harmed someone, they ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  What Jesus teaches is that when such things happen, the answers we propose are going to be insufficient – the same lesson that Job learned – but such times call us to show the power of God’s care in the face of tragedy.  “Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’” [John 9:2-3]  Then he proceeded to give him the sight he had never known. 

“Here we go again!”  Yes, but also, “Here!  Let’s go again!”

                                                                                                                Peace,

                                                                                                                Pastor Mark

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