From Our Pastor
"Brace Yourselves"
Category: From Our Pastor
Tags: Sermon - 5/17/15
Acts 1:1-11
“Brace Yourselves”
May 17, 2015
            Rehoboth United Methodist Church, in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, closed a few years ago after a life of about one hundred and sixty years.  It had the largest parsonage in the conference, with seven bedrooms on three floors, and I’m glad that friends of mine bought it and live there now.  The church building has been bought and sold a couple of times since then and I’m not altogether certain who now owns it, but when I was familiar with the place it had some interesting aspects.
            One was a sign that had been put up in the 1840’s, when the church was recently organized, that had hung at the back of the sanctuary since then.  It listed rules of behavior, with the word “Rules” in big letters across the top that you couldn’t miss.  I don’t remember them all, but one said that if you needed to talk you should go outside and not disturb everybody else.  My favorite said not to spit on the floor.  You could use the spittoons.  That tells me a little bit about what the people and the place were like before the Civil War.  Yuk!
            Another aspect of the building was a curved railing that ran along the back of the sanctuary that enclosed a space about two feet deep by a good thirty feet long.  I’m not sure when it was installed, but it was to save space for chauffeurs to stand while their employers were in church.  It came from a later era.  Somewhere in between those two, Rehoboth had been the place where Grover Cleveland spent his Sunday mornings whenever he was in Philadelphia, both before and after his election.  A century after that, the narthex was being used to register people for LIHEAP energy assistance and the Sunday School room was a clothing closet.
            Take a person from the first stage of the church’s life, spitting tobacco juice on the sanctuary floor.  Would he (and I’m hoping it was a “he”) be comfortable with the presidential entourage forty years later?  I doubt it.
            Take the wife of one of the mill owners, whose driver carried her Bible for her and held her fur coat while she prayed a few years after Cleveland was gone.  Would she have felt at home in the same place sixty years after her own hey-day, in the hallway amidst the unemployed?  I doubt that, too.
            At each and every turn, however, the gospel was proclaimed, and all of this in one place, all of it in the life of one congregation!  No stage of it did not present a challenge, and no stage of it would have been entirely welcomed by anyone.  That was life, however – the life of a local church, and during that time Rehoboth did a great job reaching out to the people of the city and proclaiming the gospel to them in the way and in the terms that was best suited for them at that time.  Souls were saved and lives were changed and a lot of good was done.
            It could never have happened, though, if they had got stuck on how things had used to be, which is a great trap to beware, and has been since the earliest days.  Luke talks about how Jesus appeared to his disciples following his Resurrection, and how it raised hopes among some of them that he was going to bring back the good old days, the way they had been before centuries and centuries of warring empires had rolled across Palestine and left so many of the Jews as exiles in foreign lands and others as a subjugated people clustered around Jerusalem.
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’” [Acts 1:6]
Who could blame them?  Who would not want things put back in order after centuries of chaos?  Who would not want to see their own national pride restored?  Here was their chance.  “It’s morning in Judea!” 
            But Jesus pointed them away from that. 
He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” [Acts 1:7-8]
He was, in fact, preparing them to turn away not only from the past but also from the idea that their purpose would be tied to one place, however dear to them, or one culture, no matter how well it had nurtured their faith.  He told them they would be getting their marching orders shortly.
“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”
Jerusalem was a good place, sure.  Judea?  That was home.  Samaria?  That was more of a problem, because it was full of Samaritans.  As for the ends of the earth, that’s fine in theory, but there are some pretty scary folks out there, with some crazy ways of living and absolutely no understanding of God’s ways.  For that matter, you don’t have to go to East Japip to run into folks like that.  Even worse, sometimes they find you.  Bishop William Willimon was fond of talking about the days when he was pastor of a church in South Carolina that was full of odd characters.  As he put it, “We had a sign out front that said, ‘All Are Welcome,’ and people read it.” 
            Jesus knew it would not be easy.  He knows it isn’t easy for any of us to live among or work with people who have different customs or ways of life.  I have neighbors who live in their garage.  At first I thought it was just because they didn’t want to smoke inside the house.  But they cook there at least four times a week.  They sit there using their phones.  When guests come over, they entertain there.  They don’t just have folding chairs, either; they have a little table and a couple of chairs beside it and I’m waiting for a television to appear there now that it’s warmer.  This is all really minor in the great scale of things, but it aggravates me at times.  How do people live with those who may have bigger differences, whose priorities in life are totally different, who take no interest in things that matter greatly to you but focus on things that you consider of no importance at all, or maybe just totally silly?
            So Jesus didn’t just send the disciples out without one thing happening first. 
“While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.” [Acts 1:4]
This promise is the Holy Spirit.  He told them,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” [Acts 1:8]
The power of the Holy Spirit would make it possible for them to do miracles wherever they went, and one of the great miracles has been that over time, wherever Jesus’ followers have gone into uncharted territory they have been able to share the good news about how God came to live among a small and oppressed people in an obscure part of the Middle East two thousand years ago and found only rejection and death, but that the power of his love and the strength of his righteousness was such that death itself couldn’t stop him, and he rose from the grave into life. To have found the way to get that across in all its fullness, that has been the Spirit at work.
            Wherever Jesus’ people have gone into uncharted places, and whenever change has come to them, slowly or suddenly, as a group, or in the changes that are part of every life, they have found that his Spirit has strengthened them to live with confidence that he is there, too, and has even gone before them.  Wherever Jesus’ people have headed into the unknown land that is the future itself, they have discovered that their fears about it have been unfounded because he has said,
“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20]
So brace yourself for whatever he has in mind next but know that it will be good.
Snowy Sunday Home Devotions - January 25, 2015
Category: From Our Pastor
This is an abreviated version of the worship service planned for Sunday, January 25, 2015.  There is a good possibility that the weather may prevent many people from attending church, but due caution need not prevent joining together in heart.  Please begin your devotions by offering a word of prayer for those whose needs are known to you and of thanks for the ways that God's grace is at work this morning.
Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God, saying,
“The time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God is at hand!”
Jesus saw Andrew and James casting their nets into the sea, and said,
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people!”
The Kingdom is still at hand.
The invitation still stands.
Come and follow!
HYMN                                             “Lord of the Dance”                                                             
There is so much, Lord Jesus, that we think is ours but which holds onto us instead.  Possessions, status, comfort, and familiarity each call to us and we listen closely.  You call to us, and we close our ears.  Forgive us for paying attention where we should not and failing to pay attention where we should, so that we may be truly free through you.  Amen.
EPISTLE LESSON                        I Corinthians 7:29-31  
“I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”
HYMN FOR MEDITATION         “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”
God of warmth and sun, God of snow and cold, God of all: be with all those who find themselves closed in today and draw each one closer to you in the solitude and peace of winter.  Bless also those who every day finds unable to get around as they would like or limited by the circumstances of their lives.  Unite all people, far and near, in love of you as you have loved all freely and fully.  In Jesus’ name we ask this of you.  Amen.


From Our Missionary in Tanzania
Category: From Our Pastor

Below is a portion of a letter received from the missionary whom we help support in Tanzania.  The full letter is posted on the Missions bulletin board near the Chapel.  Imagine having an eleven-year-old daughter away at school who contracts malaria.  We have it so easy!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Accept Tanzania United Methodist Church’s heartfelt greetings and gratitude for your consistent prayers including your financial support.

We have been blessed by the mission team visit from Vincent United Methodist Church (Greater NJ Annual Conference).  …Together with the local congregation members the team renovated the pre-school by painting it and removing the old roof and fixed a new one; they also painted the church house which accommodates people with needs, including widows and poor families.  Material costs and all labor charges were paid by the team.

Meanwhile, the Dar Es Salaam UMC women group which is very active, were so happy to receive from women of the team school supplies and sewing materials for their project.

The team was able to visit the ten Acres of land supposed to be purchased in Dar Es Salaam city in order to build the church their multi-projects.

Finally, they went to safari; and visited Mikumi National Park in Morogoro region.  The community, church members, children, friends, Kabaka and I all we are proud of that and we have been so blessed by this visitation and support.

The 2013 annual conference was held in Tarime district, Mara Region, which is northern part of Tanzania.  The district is bordered with Kenya.

Normally we use this meeting as an opportunity to teach the new leaders of the local churches.  Pastors, local pastor, observers and the lay delegates from all the churches and circuits attended the conference. …Our church theme was: “Stand up and Walk” (Acts 3:6).

Wilma (11) is our 6th and last daughter; born in 2002, she is now living in Lubumbashi, DR Congo.  She went there for school and started her secondary school first class on September this year.  …Just after two days of school this September 2013, Wilma was sick, she got Malaria and was admitted to the hospital, but we thank God that she is now recovering from malaria.  We usually talk with her and telling her, she is not with us just because of her education.  She often tells us her ambition to pursue her studies out of DR Congo and Tanzania.

In 1989 when the UMC was applying for Official Registration from the government of Tanzania, one of the condition and questions was: “is the church able to help and assist local people and community?”  The government was talking especially about education and health areas. …This is why in our meeting every year we remind the church authorities, from local church level and district level to establish schools and clinics, other projects as well.

We remember for the first time when we were sent in 1992 from DR Congo with our families to evangelize and planting UM church in Tanzania, it was not easy.  We started this work without support funds; the history is long but praise the Lord that from zero, today we talk different language.  We are moving and we have now a Provisional Annual Conference with 63 churches because of evangelization.  We do teachings and preaching to individual persons and groups of people in towns and villages through friends, relatives, people we know and the unknown.

One of the major obstacles we face is poverty.  Most people whom we are working with to start new churches are poor and are unable to purchase church properties and pay salaries for their pastors; this includes building projects such as clinics, schools and others.  It is at this level the church here fails to develop.

According to the First United Methodist church of Dar Es Salaam focus and according to the Annual Conference recommendations concerning evangelization, we have decided to invite different groups of singers in order to promote the growth of the church.  These singing groups attract a lot of people especially young to join the church; then we organize classes for beginners so that they can decide and confirm their membership.

…Peace and Grace of God be with you.

Yours in Jesus Name,

Rev. Mutwale Ntambo wa Mushidi

Blessing of the Animals
Category: From Our Pastor
Tags: Blog - September/October 2013

At 10:00 on Saturday morning, October 5, we’ll gather on the church lawn to celebrate “The Blessing of the Animals”.  This happens around the feast day of Francis of Assisi (October 4), because Francis was known for seeing God’s grace expressed in nature.  You’ll often see a garden statue of Francis with a bird on his shoulder or on his outstretched hand because of a story found in Thomas of Celano’s biography of Francis of Assisi.  According to that story, one day he addressed a mixed flock of birds that sat and listened patiently:

 “My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.”

            Francis was not the first holy person famed for care of God’s creatures.  The Irish hermit Kevin of Glendalough, who died in 613 (some say at the age of 120), was another.  One legend says that as he stretched out his arms in prayer one day a blackbird used his hand as a nest and laid an egg.  He remained patiently in that position until the egg hatched.  Another tale says how a boar who was being hunted saw Kevin at prayer beneath a tree and took refuge at his side.  When the pack of pursuing dogs caught up, they stopped and lay down, as if prostrate in prayer as well.

            People like these remind us to care, in our own way, for those non-human creatures who are part of our lives.  Those might be squirrels in the tree outside your window (although if they make their way into your attic, that’s not where they belong) or rabbits in the fields (although they can be a problem in the vegetable garden), but especially the animals that we actively invite into our homes as pets.  In caring for them, we express our reverence for their Creator.

            So consider bringing your pet to our service of thanksgiving for “all creatures great and small” that day, and inviting others to do the same.  (Pun intended: feel free to Tweet the news.)  Since we cannot assure the harmony among species brought by Kevin, we do ask everybody to use leashes or carriers.  If it rains, we’ll move into Fellowship Hall, though ducks and goldfish might want to stay outside.

Good Guys and Bad Guys
Category: From Our Pastor
Tags: Blog - September 2013

I write this the day following terrible events in Egypt, where the army shot and killed somewhere between five hundred and two thousand protestors – no one is sure whose count to trust.  Western journalists have also died in the past week, targeted by people siding with those whom the Egyptian army opposes.  There is some question whether many of the dead were women and children who were being used as “human shields” by the protestors or whether the bullets were simply fired indiscriminately.  Both of these groups are predominately Muslim, but in towns scattered throughout the country, churches have been attacked and burned in retaliation, although reports of heightened vandalism were rife before the shootings.

I listened to an American reporter comment on all of this on the radio and was struck by a question from his interviewer: “So, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?”  The second of silence that followed was probably filled by an internal groan before he answered, “There are none.”

He was right.  In this, as in so many situations, we want to have those clear divisions but they just aren’t there.  People do good things for bad reasons and bad things for good reasons.  The same person may be kind to somebody on their right and cruel to somebody on their left.  The same words may be heard by one group as a declaration of freedom and by another group as the announcement of oppression.

In real life, Jesus’ call for us to love our enemies is not just some unattainable ideal.  It is a practical necessity.  Once we start deciding whose humanity is or is not worth respecting, we begin to lose track of the deepest truths.  All people are created in God’s image, and are called good [Genesis 1:27, 31].  At the same time, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23].  Lose track of either of those facts, and you lose track of what it is for both you and anyone else to be human.  To love what is good, even in an enemy, or at the very least to honor whatever within them is common to all people, is to pull back from violence and depravity.

Look for that image of God that is in your opponent before opposition makes you see them as an enemy.  In the words of George Fox, the seventeenth-century Quaker, “Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one. Thereby you can be a blessing in them and make the witness of God in them bless you. Then you will be a sweet savor and a blessing to the Lord God.”[1]




[1] George Fox, “To Friends in the Ministry” written from Launceston jail in 1656.

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