Anaheim United Methodist Church

A Summary of Sermons

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Sermons presented by Pastor James Dollins...

May 7, 2017  ~ “Welcoming the Stranger”


“Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk. 24:35).


As we continue through the season of Easter, we might especially appreciate stories like the Walk to Emmaus, in which two sad followers of Christ gradually awakened to his presence in their midst.


These are two people who have been told that Jesus is risen, but still don’t quite believe or understand what that means. In other words, they are probably a lot like you and me. We read about Jesus’s resurrection, but we may not be sure what to believe, and we certainly aren’t sure where we will find Christ in our midst.


And yet, these disciples show us how the living Christ may be discovered. They walk with each other on this 7 mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They welcome a stranger whom they somehow don’t recognize as Jesus. They discuss their honest feelings about Jesus’ crucifixion, and then they converse with this stranger about the scriptures and what they have to say about all that they have seen.


We learn in this story that, however confused and upset we may be, if we will walk with each other, share honestly and remain open, even to a stranger in our midst, we may discover the face of God is unmistakably real.


I invite you to reflect on your life and consider where you have seen the love and grace of Christ in someone or in some experience from your past. Perhaps it was in a loved one or a friend, perhaps in nature, perhaps in a life-changing understanding that you suddenly comprehended. Then consider how that understanding developed, perhaps over time, through deepening conversations with a friend or repeated journeys through the wilderness.


The Lord of grace and love is often revealed over time if we will only remain open and awake to God’s presence in our midst. We see that wisdom in the 23rd Psalm which we also read this morning, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me.” We continue walking, even in our fear, knowing that God walks with us always.


Beyond being open to God’s presence in those around us, we must be willing to welcome one another in God’s name. The two pilgrims of today’s scripture, Cleopas and his unnamed friend, first welcome a stranger to walk and to talk with them on the road. Later, when they arrive in Emmaus, Jesus acts as if he will keep traveling, but Cleopas and his companion insist that Jesus stay and continue their fellowship over dinner.


It’s when they invite Jesus in to eat, to share more conversation and to get better acquainted that these two recognize who he is. When he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them, they discover the one who did these same things at the feeding of the 5,000, or at the Last Supper. Suddenly they find themselves in the very presence of God.


We might consider this morning whom God is calling us to welcome as a guest and how we might discover God’s living presence in the process. Last Sunday it was a delight to see 42 of our church members gathered in our Fellowship Hall to welcome 12 of our neighbors from the Islamic mosque down the street.


To be honest, I wasn’t sure how this event would go. I had met and had lunch in the past with the mosque’s outreach coordinator, Jamaal Zaheen. Jamaal has a long, thick black beard with no moustache and he wears a small white hat on his head. In other words, he looks a little bit like, well, Osama bin Laden – only not nearly as tall.


But thankfully, Jamaal has a gift for making light of these differences and eventually had us laughing about many of these things. After sharing a very informative presentation about his faith, he also invited us to be guests one day soon at the mosque, to eat together and to see the mosque from within. Then, he quickly added, “Don’t worry, we won’t take you hostage!”


I was so grateful, also, that our student intern, Jen Weyenberg, wisely ordered halal food from a local restaurant, so that it was lawful for our guests to eat it. After the event, one woman said she was so thankful to learn they would not all have to nibble just a little bit of rice and pretend they were satisfied. Thanks to Jen, we could offer genuine hospitality so that everyone could be well-fed and go home happy.


It is in breaking bread together, sharing conversation and truly listening to one another that we discover God’s peace-making presence among us. Thanks be to God for this wonderful experience of dialogue and relationship building.


Over the past two weeks we have also experienced the challenge of welcoming neighbors within our church who believe differently from ourselves. Currently our United Methodist denomination remains deeply divided over the consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto, Methodism’s first openly gay bishop. Bishop Oliveto is the bishop of the Mountain Sky Conference which is comprised of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.


In a statement from the bishops following the Judicial Council’s hearing on her case, Bishop Oliveto urged us to stay united as a denomination, referring to a very helpful quote from Methodism’s founder, John Wesley. She quoted from his sermon on “Catholic Spirit,” which means “universal” or “common” Spirit. In this sermon, Wesley says:


Although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.


What a wonderful invitation Wesley extends for us to walk together, to share fellowship and to commune together in Christ’s name, even amid our differences!


This is an invitation to value relationships above beliefs – people above opinions. Now, may we come to the table today to be fed by this same love and grace in Christ.


Let us welcome one another as we would welcome family, knowing that whatever our differences may be, God feeds us all with a common meal of compassion, forgiveness and peace. With gratitude in our hearts and harmony among our neighbors, let us come and feast on the love of God.


May it be so. Ame.


April 23, 2017  ~  Bright Sunday  ~ “A Time to Laugh!”


“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...

a time to weep, and a time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:4).


I’d like to share with you about a gifted friend and colleague of mine, Rev. Jane Voigts who is also a trained comedian. Jane once worked in a Chicago comedy club called Second City where many Saturday Night Live comedians also got their start.


Once Jane was teaching a group of ministers the root meaning of comedy itself. She described the difference between comedy and tragedy in this way. She said, “Tragedy is when something goes wrong and stays that way. Comedy is where something appears to go badly and then turns out fine in the end. We laugh with relief in those moments.


“This is why,” she explained, “when someone falls down, we sometimes can’t help but laugh, and this is because we know they can get up again. But if that person fell, was injured and could no longer stand, things would be serious. That would be a tragedy.”


So the Bible, Jane explained, is truly the ultimate comedy. Again and again, it seems that things go terribly wrong, but in the end, God rises victorious. God’s life, love and joy still reign.


Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the resurrection, so, as many Christian churches around the world do during this time, we celebrate. We dance, laugh and sing like the people dancing on Easter Monday as portrayed on our bulletin cover this morning.


Today, which is sometimes called “Bright Sunday,” is a day to recall that death did not have the last laugh over Jesus. In the resurrection, God gets the best of death itself, and our scriptures gloat, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55).


So in the spirit of this divine comedy, today we laugh. We take ourselves

less seriously, we lighten up our spirits and we take death itself less seriously knowing that God’s life, love and joy overcame death through Jesus, and we may now laugh our way into heaven as well!


We recall stories of laughter and joy in the Bible, like Sarah who laughed at the idea that she and Abraham would have a baby at their age. We remember the wise words of Ecclesiastes which remind us that there is a season for everything: “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccl. 3:4).


So, that being said, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine who is much more gifted in the art of laughter than I am – a friend we affectionately know as “Groucho.” (Pastor James gave us a musical impersonation of the famed comedian and two of his popular songs.)


Continuing the message:

Today we might also celebrate some local comic talent among our own members. A certain choir member and worship tech named Marc is well-known for his genius for creating original puns and posting them on Facebook. With his permission, I raided some of these posts for comic gold.


In one post, he poses the deep question:


“When a pig loses his leg, is it be called a hamputation?”


In another, Marc confesses:


“I only ever learned a few karate moves, so you could say I know partial arts.”


And, as it turns out, Marc’s gift of pun mastery did not fall far from the tree. His dad chimes in, saying, “For my son, Marc Robinson, who is in the car business: A guy drove his expensive car into a tree and found out how the Mercedes bends!”


Some of you submitted other examples of local humor and also some words of wisdom from our local Ganahl Lumber Company marquee sign on Ball Road.


One week it read:


“Opportunity knocks but temptation leans on the doorbell.”


“Monogamy is not the material used to make tables.”


“Love is like photography. You need the negatives to develop.”


And Helen Carter’s all time favorite: “Love is like algebra. Ever looked at your "ex" and wondered "y"?”


One of our church members share a wonderful video reflecting on this season of Easter. It features an insightful 3-year-old Scottish girl who asks all the right questions about this holiday... (BBC video, “The News at 3”).


Children often ask the most insightful questions of all. For example, a young boy once went to church and stopped in the Narthex to read the names that were displayed there on a plaque.


When the pastor walked by, the boy asked, “Pastor, why are all of these people’s names written here?”


“Those are the names of the brave people from our church who have died in the service.”


The boy grew very quiet and said, “Oh. I’m sorry. Was that in the 9 am or the 10:30 service?”


In the days ahead, as we celebrate Easter and strive to be a resurrected people, may our hearts be filled with a joy that’s more powerful than sadness and a life more powerful than death itself. Let us sing, dance and laugh together so that many others may come to know the joy and peace of Christ which passes all understanding.


May it be so.  Amen.


 April 16, 2017  ~  Easter Sunday  ~ “Look Up and Live”

“Come, see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples,

‘He has been raised from the dead.” (Matt. 28:6-7)


It’s hard to imagine the range of emotions in the hearts of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as they visited the tomb that first Easter morning. Perhaps they went there honor Jesus by praying at the tomb, or to treat Jesus’ body with spices, according to their religious practice.


Surely, they began with despairing and defeated hearts. Their beloved teacher and rabbi had been unjustly killed and was now gone.


But suddenly, the earth trembled, the tomb was opened, and an angel appeared saying, “Come, see the place where Jesus lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples ‘He has been raised...”


And, as they set out to spread the news, they encounter the risen Christ himself saying “Do not be afraid... tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (Matt. 28:1-10).


The perspective of these two women changes in an instant, from despair and hopelessness to a certainty and joy that Christ is alive and with them still.


If we listen carefully to this story, we learn that it is not only about Jesus’ miraculous life beyond death. It is about the renewed life in the hearts of these women, and then Jesus’ disciples, and finally, the new life that is offered to us all.


And we notice that this life begins with these women who keep living, walking, and looking for Jesus, even when he seemed to be gone.


The first resurrection story, according to Matthew, is fully of movement. “Come, see,” the angel says. Then, “go quickly and tell.” And it’s when they run to tell the disciples that they suddenly encounter Jesus on the way.


We find that not only does Jesus’ life continue on after his death, but the life of his followers does too. But first they must look up and live. It is then that they will witness the miracle of his presence in their midst.


When any of us faces loss or despair, we face a crucial decision: will we surrender or will we continue to give ourselves fully to the life God gives us.


And it’s not always a simple choice. Life’s sadness can make us feel

cheated. As a result, we can stall in our journeys. We say, “I’ll just wait and see whether this life is really worth my full effort."


The irony, of course, is that we stop making any effort at all, we are less likely than ever to discover life’s beauty. We are no longer awake to the possibilities God places right before our eyes!


And if Mary Magdalene and her friend had given up on life, they may never have visited the tomb that day. They might not have discovered it empty. They may not have had their eyes open, ready to meet the risen Christ right in front of their eyes.


To be risen with Christ, we are invited this morning to be Easter people, to look up and to live, even when we find it difficult to feel hopeful.


To live in this way requires us to make a commitment to living. No longer can we wait and see whether life is worthwhile. In each new day, even with every breath, to commit ourselves to loving, living and seeking God’s goodness in each person we encounter.


I recall an experience on a mission trip during my high school years when God showed up in a surprising way through the work we were doing.


When we first arrived at the Santa Rosa Rancheria, a small Native American reservation near Lemoore, California, I was not entirely sure that we were welcome there. My job was to drive construction materials to supply the work of the high school youth doing home repairs on the reservation.


But one day, as I drove my small pick-up down the streets of that rural town, a young boy hailed my truck, asking me to stop:


“What are you guys doing here?”


“We’re with a Christian group doing home repairs for some of your neighbors,” I answered him.


“Why are you doing that?” he asked me.


I took a deep breath and answered, “Well, we do it to show people God’s love.”


The boy looked puzzled. “Where do you guys stay?” he continued. This boy, who couldn’t have been more than nine years old, was clearly a formidable interviewer!


“Down at the Methodist Church over in Lemoore.” I explained.


“Hmph,” the boy answered, and then he walked away.


Many questions ran through my mind, like, “Why has God brought us here? Is our presence even welcome? Are we just repeating the old story of white people entering American Indians’ merely for our own purposes?”


These doubts and fears were made worse in the days ahead when I would see this same boy again, walking the streets of the reservation.


Often, he would shout to me: “Hey!”


“Yes?” I would answer.


“Go back to your church!”


Normally I wouldn’t be intimidated by a 9 year old, but I’d like to show you a menacing picture I took of him. If I recall correctly, his name was Joseph. He looks like a tough customer doesn’t he?


But still, our young people showed up every day to work, to serve, striving to manifest the love of Jesus Christ.


And one day, miraculously, my conversations with Joseph even changed. It was a Wednesday when he ordered my pick-up to a halt this time. “What are you guys going to do today?” he asked me.


“Since it’s Wednesday,” I answered, “we work a half day and then go to the King’s River for a swim.”

“Really?” Joseph asked. “Take me with you then!”


I made him ask his mother first, and soon Joseph and two of his cousins emerged with towels and swimsuits. That afternoon they were the life of the party, throwing themselves into the river and making all the high schoolers laugh. After the swim trip, they even returned to the Lemoore Methodist Church with us for a time to enjoy some refreshments.


From that day on, when Joseph would hail my pick-up truck, he would shout, “Hey, take me back to the church with you!” I marveled at how the script had changed. I gave thanks that this kid now made us all feel so welcome on his reservation. In time, Christ had appeared and brought new life to our hearts through the most unexpected neighbor and friend, Joseph.


When we feel inclined to give-up and to lose our commitment to this wondrous life God gives us, let us look up and live so we may rediscover Christ alive in our midst.


I’ll close with a poem that I composed for this Easter season. I pray it may remind us, when we feel inclined to surrender, that God invites us to hope, to live and to serve in his name:


Busy with Life


Let us be so busy living, there’s little time for dying,

Too busy serving others to have an identity crisis,

Too busy peace-making to stay angry with an enemy,

Too busy loving to dwell on our self-pity,

Too busy reconciling to find energy for a break-up,

And too busy walking to worry if we’ll trip up.


When good days seem out-numbered by all the day we’ve cried,

Let us claim the victory, giving thanks that we’re alive!


On this day of resurrection and every morning of our lives, let us fully commit our hearts to life! And let us serve in Christ’s name until we discover, without a doubt, that Jesus lives today, and sends us out to share joy, love and peace with a world that longs for God’s grace.


In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter, Amen.

March 12, 2017  ~ “Alive in the Spirit”

“The wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John. 3:8).


This morning we read some of the most mystical and poetic words Jesus ever said.


This is what Jesus tells the Pharisee, Nicodemus, during their conversation late at night. And in doing so, Jesus invites this rabbi to a completely changed life, governed not by rules but by God alone. He invites Nicodemus to be alive in God’s Spirit.


To follow wherever the Spirit leads is a difficult invitation to understand, as difficult as following wherever the wind leads. This past week I attended a meeting where I heard a beautiful story told by a Methodist pastor, Jan Wiley describing how she and her young daughter once had a conversation about who God is, and it was a lot like Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.


Rev. Wiley’s daughter, Melissa when she was about three years old, had begun asking Jan some big questions while riding in their car. From the back seat, she asked her mother, “Mom, how did the sky get there?”


As she drove the car, Jan answered, “God made the sky, Melissa.” “Who made the trees?” Melissa continued. “God did.” “Who made the whole world?” “God made the whole world and all of the universe, Melissa.” “Then...” and we all know what’s coming next, “Then, who made God?”


“Well,” Jan answered her daughter, “God just is and always has been, Melissa. No one made God. God simply is.”


Perplexed, young Melissa asked, “But how do I know God is really real?”


“Well, God is like the wind,” Jan answered, “You can’t see the wind, or taste it, or hold onto it, but you can feel it when it’s there. That’s how God is. Even though you can’t touch or hold onto God, God is here and sometimes you can feel him in the beauty of nature or the love of people around you!”


After a while, Jan looked in the rear view mirror and saw an interesting sight. Her small daughter was waving her hands in the air, seeming to feel the warm air coming out of the car’s heating vents.


“What are you doing back there, Melissa?” Jan asked.


“I can feel God!” Melissa answered!


Pastor Jan continued her story explaining that Melissa is now grown up and works with hearing-impaired adults. Recently, she had the great honor of attending a session where a deaf person received a cochlear implant which amazingly granted her the ability to hear!


Melissa called her mother and spoke a mile a minute, telling Jan every detail, and describing the laughter and the tears of a woman who miraculously gained the ability to hear after a lifetime of being deaf.


Jan concluded her story by saying that, as Melissa spoke, she felt she was really saying, “I can feel God!”


During this season of Lent, we’re invited to return to this simple, life-giving relationship with God which changes our direction and begins our life anew.


We tend to be like Nicodemus. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, would have strived to please God by following the rules of religion. This Jesus, who seemed to follow wherever the Spirit moved, was an anomaly to him.


We, like Nicodemus may spend much of our lives striving to meet the expectations of others, or of religion itself, while we neglect to live a life alive in God’s Spirit.


The problem with living this way, though, is that when we fail to measure up, when we cannot accomplish what others expect us to accomplish, or what we expect of ourselves, we deem ourselves failures.


But today, Jesus invites Nicodemus and all of us to find our self-worth not in what we do but in who we are as children of God, born of God’s Spirit.


Psalm 121 reminds us of this same truth when the Psalmist finds his help in God alone: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2).


At times when we doubt life’s meaning or our own purpose, it’s more important than ever to lift our eyes and be born anew in God’s Spirit.


A member of my last congregation, Toshiko Ito, treasured this Psalm for the same reason. She and her family were forced to live in an internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming during World War II. During their time of imprisonment, a chaplain led a worship service and read this Psalm, “I lift my eyes to the hills.”


There, in the horizon, was Heart Mountain among many other mountains. When Toshiko and her family lifted their gaze above the internment camp, above the harsh conditions they had to live in, suddenly she remembered her worth as God’s child, even as her nation began to see her as a threat, a danger, someone to be feared.


Toshi knew that she was born of God’s Spirit and this truth mattered more than anyone else’s perception of her, including the government of her country. Today, just as in those times, it is essential that we perceive each other as fellow children of God, and resist the temptation to marginalize our neighbors out of fear.


This is a vital message for our young people as well – that each one of us is precious in God’s sight, whatever others’ opinions may be, and whether or not we accomplish great goals. As I, with other adult volunteers, prepare our programming for Methodist summer camp this coming July, we’ve been discussing the message we’d like to share with the youth.


In our planning meetings, we have discussed that it is harder than ever for young people to feel their lives are important and that they have a unique purpose in this world.


Young persons might reasonably ask, “How can my life be so important if there are nearly 7 1/2 billion other people on this planet besides me, and the population is quickly growing?”


Such questions show that it’s as essential that we value ourselves not so much based on what we accomplish but based on who we are, God’s children, alive in God’s Spirit.


So, rather than judging our value based on productivity, we are invited to become who God made us to be. What if, rather than chasing after some goal or other, our work was simply to make life more beautiful by sharing our truest selves with the world?


During this Lenten season, let us meditate on a new invitation: Let God define you, not the world, and let the world benefit from the result!


Suddenly, we will find we’re liberated from the expectations of society, religion or other people, so we may embrace life blessed by God’s love and guided by God’s Spirit!


May we live and love in this way, guided by God’s Holy Spirit to fully accept ourselves and one another in the name of Christ our Lord.


May it be so.  Amen


March 5, 2017  ~ “Choose the Good”

“Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him” (Matt. 4:11).

This morning our scriptures give us two stories of temptation: Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the wilderness, and Adam and Eve’s temptation to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. It’s been said of that story that, when God found out what Adam and Eve had done, God blamed Adam, Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on!


But in all seriousness, our scriptures today pose big questions of good and evil, and they encourage us to choose what is good.


Now, it’s possible that many of us might struggle to believe that evil tempts us like a snake in the garden or like a devil in the wilderness. But then again, if we consider it, we might agree that sometimes we do struggle with our doubts and our fears. We might even say that, at times, we have to face our demons and wrestle with them until we come out victorious.


So, we begin this 40 day season of Lent remembering Jesus’ 40 days fasting in the in the desert, when he was famished and was tempted by the devil. We also recall Adam and Eve’s inability to withstand the temptation to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.


If we read these stories carefully, they show us how easy it is for human beings to veer of the path that’s best for us. These stories of Adam and Eve and Jesus in the wilderness portray very human inclinations to let our pride, fear and doubt to lead us astray. They also show us that, if we allow our faith to hinge on shallow ideas, we run the risk of losing hope altogether.


The Adam and Eve story, for example, has often been made out to be about original sin and the fall of all of humanity. But the more I read this story, the more I think it’s about our temptation to gain knowledge that is not ours to have.


Aren’t we like Adam and Eve, wanting to know what God knows and see what God sees? When someone experiences the death of a loved one or a devastating defeat in life, the soul cries out, “Why me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” or simply, “Why?”


A church member once came to me and asked me this very question about the loss of her beloved husband. I answered, as I’ve so often had to answer, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know the answer to that question. And I’m afraid none of us may learn the answer to these kinds of questions until we see God face to face.”


In response, this woman smiled at me and said, “That’s the same answer that two of the pastors before you told me when I asked them the same thing!”


We crave understanding and knowledge like we crave the fruit of that tree, and yet some mysteries lie outside the bounds of human comprehension. And then we are faced with a choice: will we refuse, in a spirit of anger, to believe in a God who doesn’t reveal these answers?


Or will we humbly accept mystery, even painful mystery, so we may continue to believe that God loves us? The story of the Garden of Eden reminds us to trust God even though we cannot have all the answers we seek.


Jesus in the desert wrestles with similar demons. After 40 days of fasting and prayer, perhaps these three temptations in particular were the ones that Jesus struggled with most deeply.


First, of course, he wrestles with physical hunger. The devil chides him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus resists the temptation either to prove his miraculous power or to feed his nagging hunger. Instead, he quotes scripture: “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:3-4).


Hopefully you and I, nor anyone for that matter, has to struggle for long with physical hunger. But when we do, we know it’s difficult to be our best selves. Snickers candy bars commercials wisely remind us, “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry!”


This is especially evident when hunger begins to threaten our survival. I once met a man who wanted to experience homelessness and poverty for a time. By choice, he lived on the street and tried to survive alongside the homeless and poor. When I asked him what he learned from this experience, he said, “For one thing, I learned that people are mean when they’re hungry!”


Some of the hungry people he had met were willing to say and do things they would never have said or done if they were well fed. It stands to reason that, when we suffer hunger over a period of time, we might function more like animals, desperate to survive. But Jesus resists the temptation to succumb to that desperation and fear. Even while he’s famished, he continues to put his trust in God.


The next demon Jesus struggles against is the temptation to test and to prove God will catch him if he falls. The devil takes him on the pinnacle of the Jewish temple and dares him to throw himself off and trust that God will save him.


Surely Jesus would love to prove that God could never fail him. Perhaps we would all love proof of God’s existence beyond the shadow of a doubt. Especially before he begins his ministry, Jesus may have desired more than anything to know that God would rescue him no matter what.


But Jesus wisely resists, saying, “Again, it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ (Matt. 4:7).


And, finally, Jesus wrestles with the temptation to gain worldly power rather than heavenly power: ‘All the kingdoms of the world,’ the devil says, ‘I will give to you if you will fall down and worship me’ (Matt. 4:8-9). How often we have all dreamed that the perfect leader of the perfect government might somehow solve all of our problems. How badly would we love to create a plan or system that would guarantee world peace!


Many people of Jesus’ time also hoped that he would be such a Messiah, who would gain political and military power, forcing this world to become like God’s kingdom.


But to do this, Satan tells Jesus, he will need to sell his very soul, or, as he puts it, “fall down and worship me.” Finally, Jesus has had enough and says, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” So the devil did depart and God’s angels lovingly came and tended to Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:8-11).


During this Lenten season we’re invited into the desert to pray, to reflect, and to honestly confess our own temptations. For the remainder of this season we will read through stories of individuals in the Gospel of John who wrestled with their own challenges before choosing the good, life-giving path Jesus would offer them.


We too might reflect today on the fears and frustrations which draw us away from God’s love.?


Adam and Eve longed for knowledge that could not be theirs.


Jesus longed for food, for proof that God would save him, and for the power to save the world some easier way. Now we are invited into our own wilderness to consider what choices try us and tempt us away from what is good.


When have we threatened not to believe in God if we were not granted knowledge about the mysteries of life??


When have we become hungry and fearful that God will not provide??


When have we suspected that God is not real enough to catch us if we fall?


When have we turned to powers other than God to save us and to rescue this world?


We are invited to see more clearly these choices between God’s best path for us and the many detours which tempt us and threaten to get us lost. Let us consider what our own demons are, those problems which confuse and perplex us: Pride? Resentment? Worry? Shame?


But thanks be to God, we have seen the way that is good, and we have known the love which restores life to our souls. And with this gift of love, we can boldly face our demons, knowing that God has more than equipped us to face them all.


When we receive the love and forgiveness of Christ as we taste them today in the bread and cup, we recall a grace more powerful than any temptation or fear. We recall that “neither death nor life... nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38).


With this assurance, we can be honest about our weaknesses. We can even acknowledge our fears and temptations. For God’s goodness is greater than evil, and God’s love will lift us beyond every trial, even to life everlasting.


Therefore, let us walk forward with joy, even through the desert, knowing that we walk with one another and with our God. And let us share God’s grace with many others who may be lost in the wilderness so they too know God’s help is always near.


May it be so. Amen.

February 12, 2017  ~ “A Higher Love”


“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”

(Matt. 5:17).

Earlier this morning our choir sang the beautiful words, “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est,” “Where there is charity and love, there God will be also.”


This is the message of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which we continue to read this Sunday – where we practice the genuine love of God and share it with one another, this is where God will be found among us.


So Jesus begins to focus on the way we treat each other, and on the relationships we hold dear. These can be confusing passages, and they have been misinterpreted and applied harmfully to church teachings, so I’d like to take some time looking closely at Jesus’ words and his call for us to practice a purer and higher love in our relationships with one another.


In this part of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is inviting his followers to do more than simply follow the law. He calls them to let their faith show in their actions and in their love for one another. As we sometimes sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” This is exactly what Jesus wanted his followers to show.


I recall a time when I was a teenager and my mother shared advice that her mother once gave her about dating and finding the right boy. Her mother said to her, “Linda, if you want to know how a boy will treat you, pay attention to the way he treats his mother. That’s surely the way he will treat you too in the long run.”


Sound advice, isn’t it? If we pay attention to people’s actions and their treatment toward others, we soon see what is truly in their hearts. This is the level on which Jesus addresses his listeners, including us. He calls us to follow the spirit of God’s law, not just the letter, so that our love for one another might reflect the very love of God.


In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches us how to manage our anger, how to seek peace with other people, and how to treat our closest loved ones with faithfulness and respect.


He begins by saying, “You have heard it was said... ‘You shall not murder’... But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22).


Now, Jesus often speaks in extreme terms. This is something we’ll come to expect from him. But when we consider it closely, his words ring very true. Following the 6th commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13) seems simple enough. Hopefully all of us here can say we’ve followed this commandment throughout our lives. You have, haven’t you?


But Jesus addresses the root cause of murder. Unless a person is a sociopath, he doesn’t murder in cold blood. The process probably begins with anger, then rage. Unchecked, this emotion can become destructive, even destroying someone’s life.


Jesus invites us to control anger before it controls us. He calls us to nip it in the bud so we don’t wind up doing something we’ll always regret.


This past week I read an entry in a book of devotions that taught this same, vital lesson. This book, The President’s Devotional, is a compilation of devotions that were prepared for President Obama by Joshua DuBois who was the White House Director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.


Of course, anger sometimes rears its head in our government and even in the White House, so this entry began with Ephesians 4:26-27, “In your anger, do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”


In Mr. DuBois’ words of devotion which followed, he reminded the president of an old proverb, “He that is slow to anger... is greater than the mighty, and he that ruleth his own spirit [is greater] than he that taketh a city” (The President’s Devotional, Feb. 10).


It’s a vital teaching for a president or for any of us: to get the upper hand on our anger before anger takes us over and causes us to do others harm.


Next, Jesus reminds us to do this quickly – to promptly make peace with one another while we still have the chance. “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge... and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matt. 5:25- 26).


How often have we seen this spiraling anger spin out of control in divorce proceedings. Loving couples who once treated each other with tenderness and respect, at least sometimes, now draw battle lines and go after their ex for all they can get.


Jesus teaches us to come to terms on the way to the courthouse, before you even go in. Make peace quickly before the tempests of anger and selfishness take-over everyone’s heart.


These are two vital tools Jesus gives us: an invitation to gain control over our anger, and a plan of action: to get to work peacemaking as quickly as possible. When we have the choice to pity ourselves and indulge in our anger towards someone, let us make a different choice. Let us strategize about how we can possibly seek reconciliation. May the peace-maker within us take the steering wheel away from the tantrum- throwing inner child, so that we and everyone around us will be better off!


Jesus boldly calls us to master our own anger and to reconcile ourselves promptly to our adversaries.


And then Jesus turns to our relationships with our closest loved ones, even the ones we are married to. He offers teachings on adultery and divorce, and these are often misinterpreted in the church today.


What Jesus is truly saying in these teachings on marriage is that wives must be treated with respect and genuine love. What a nice Valentine's Day message he’s preaching today!


The sad truth Jesus faced was that many men of his time were casually divorcing their wives. It’s said that they could even seek divorce over a complaint about their wives cooking.


This became a way for men to become serial divorcers. In effect, they could commit adultery by legally leaving their wives to look for greener pastures whenever they felt like doing so. This, of course, would leave many women destitute because their source of income would now be gone.  Women were generally forced to survive by their husband’s income. And, now that a divorcee was no longer a virgin, she would not be eligible to be married again.


Truly, this teaching was largely meant to protect the welfare of women. Today, ironically, these teachings are presented in many churches as an overly-strict prohibition against divorce.


So we must notice that Jesus does not totally condemn divorce here. He says it is allowed in the case of un-chastity, or unfaithfulness.


During my ministry I have learned that marriage covenants can be broken by un-chastity, and by other causes as well – abuse, addiction, neglect to name a few. In some of these cases, the marriage covenant is broken beyond repair. Following the spirit of Jesus’ teaching, if the marriage covenant is irreparable, it is best to make the legal status match the spiritual status between the spouses. In other words, if two spouses have become irreversibly spiritually divorced, they should legally divorce and seek a new life after the death of that marriage. It’s a tragic process, but in some cases, it’s the only life-giving option.


But we must remember that Jesus’ principle audience was men who were following the letter of the law, but exploiting women in the process. They indulged their lusts and passed from woman to woman, leaving lives destroyed in their wake.


Jesus again calls us all to a higher love – to genuine respect for our spouse in committed, unselfish love.


And, finally, Jesus calls us to integrity: Let your “Yes be yes and your no be no,” he says. If we respect others enough to fulfill our word to them, then there’s no need to swear by God or by anything else. Soon people will know that we are not only loving persons, but also honest ones.


So let us seek the higher love to which Jesus calls us. May we gain control over our anger and make peace with all our neighbors. Let us turn away from shallow selfishness to genuinely care for our spouses and all our loved ones. Let us not only follow God’s law but live in Christ’s way until our love is like God’s love and our world becomes like heaven.


May it be so. Amen.

February 5, 2017  ~ “God’s Light Through You”


“You are the light of the world... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).

Many people in our church have seen the light that the prophet Isaiah is describing in our Old Testament reading today. He proclaims that when we serve the needy among us, sharing food with them, offering them clothing, helping them find shelter, this is when our light shines most brightly:


“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly” says the prophet. (Isa. 58:8).


You can’t miss this light when you see it. It’s in the simultaneous smiles of the receiver and the giver. I’ve come to believe that this light is not just a result of a need being fulfilled. It’s the light of a person being esteemed as a worthy human being.


They are worthy of our time, of the gifts we offer them, they are worthy of the work we do on their behalf. They are therefore not worthless. What a relief! What a bright light for both the giver and the receiver to share!


And how good it is that, as Christians, we know how to generate this light, the light of God’s love shared with others. When we look around at a world that is perplexing, fearful and sometimes very dark, we’re invited to continue this good work, to let God’s light break forth like the dawn through our acts of justice, generosity and peacemaking.


As we continue reading through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 today, we hear Jesus’ call for us to be both salt for the earth and a light for the world.


It’s a little confusing at first to hear Jesus call us to be “salt,” until we remember what salt does. Salt enhances the flavors of other foods. It calls to our attention the unique goodness of whatever it seasons.


This is especially evident in food you can buy from street vendors in downtown Los Angeles or across the border in Mexico. These venders will take a perfectly good mango, for example, put it on a stick, ask if you’d like that with salt, lime and chile powder!


Now why would you do all of that to a perfectly good mango? Because it turns a delicious flavor into a mind-blowing, eye-crossing, unforgettable mango, that’s why!


Jesus calls us to enhance the flavors of this world, to bring out the best in ourselves and in others.


And he calls us to be light for the world. And here Jesus shows some of his best comic work: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt. 5:15).?


Can you imagine visiting a friend at their home and to see them thoughtfully light a lamp and then go get a large basket to put over it? I don’t know why I find this so funny, but I do.


At this point, if I were listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in person, I think I might have gotten those giggles that you can’t do anything to stop. Jesus is getting very silly here. No one does this! It’s not a thing!  You put the lamp on a lampstand so it may give light to the whole house.

And isn’t this true? One flame offers invaluable vision in an entire room. Similarly, one church, such as our humble congregation, can be a source of hope and light to an entire community. We must simply let God’s light shine through us in acts of compassion, service and joy.


Jesus is also encouraging people not to retract their light when the going gets tough. We might recall that about 10 years before Matthew’s Gospel was written, the great Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Empire. Jews and early Christians alike had every reason to duck and cover – to hide their lights and pray for safety.


Jesus invites his listeners to do the opposite. When the going gets dark, he says, let your light shine more brightly! Annie Dillard once said, “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary” (Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 43).


This might be a word of encouragement as we’re mindful of the sad news regarding the Anaheim restaurant, The White House, which tragically burned down in a fire. The restaurant’s founder and owner, Bruno Serato has, for many years, used revenues from his fine restaurant to serve an estimated 2,000 young people dinner every day.


In a televised report this past week, it was evident, however, that Bruno Serato’s light would not be extinguished. Neighboring hotels and restaurants have already offered him use of their kitchen to keep feeding these young people, and plans are already in motion to rebuild this restaurant which raises funds to do so much good.


Just when we begin to fear that our world is becoming a darker and darker place, it’s time to get busy letting God’s light shine through us, Amen? I’m thankful this week that, due to the hard work of many volunteers, we are already enjoying the most successful Church Rummage Sale in years, to raise money to give to many missions for the homeless, for troops overseas and for youth ministries in our own church.


We may also be grateful for the bright light Anaheim UMC has shared in Christ’s name helping to found Halcyon House for the homeless which now continues its work by a new name, Via Esperanza.


And I give thanks for the light of God’s love so many of you share through generous giving which has also allowed me and our office staff to address occasional emergency needs for our members and neighbors from our community. In some cases, your generosity has helped keep certain individuals from becoming homeless. I’m deeply grateful for this brilliant, beautiful light which you have shared.


I wanted to tell you about one other bright light I witnessed this past week when I was writing my article for our next Chimes newsletter. I was writing about some lessons I had recently learned about the religion of Islam and how it is very different from the extremist cults which wage violence in the name of that religion.


Wanting to be sure that I had written the article correctly, I called the Islamic Institute to the north of us on State College Blvd. Having driven by that mosque many times, I decided I should finally give them a call.


Soon I was connected with the mosque’s Outreach Coordinator, Jamaal. I told him that I have been praying for all our Muslim neighbors in these days, and I hope that we can work side by side for good in the city of Anaheim.


Jamaal answered, “Thank you, and you know, we have received many other phone calls offering friendship and support, from many different congregations in our community. It has been very encouraging for us.” He said.


He then mentioned that members from his community have developed an education seminar, “Islam 101,” he called it, to promote understanding in our community and to counter the effects of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam. I hope that we can one day accept this offer. He said that he would also like for a group of his congregants to meet us in person, to make peace and to get better acquainted.


In these and other ways we can respond to the darkness in our world with bold and joyful acts of Christ-like love and friendship. We can let our light shine so that we and other members of our community might be encouraged.


Today as we celebrate Holy Communion, we remember that it was during his last supper with his disciples that Jesus fed them and blessed them. It was in the face of fear, betrayal and death that Jesus nevertheless proclaimed, this is my body and my blood given for you. Remember me.


Let us remember, together, the light we have known in Christ Jesus, and let us allow this same light to shine through us for all to see.


May it be so. Amen.


January 15, 2017  ~ “Come and See”


“They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day” (John. 1:39).


In the past several weeks our scriptures have led us through the moment of Jesus’ birth, to the event of his baptism in the Jordan River, and now to the calling of Jesus’ first disciples. Jesus’ call of the disciples is especially beautiful as told in the Gospel of John because Jesus’ first followers remain with him for a full day before they conclude that they have found the Messiah, the Anointed one of God.


In John’s account of Jesus’ call to his first disciples, he gives them plenty of time to decide what they think of him, and whether they will follow. The story says that Andrew and another man “came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day,” until about four o’clock in the afternoon (Jn. 1:39).


By the end of their conversation, Andrew is eager to tell others that he’s found the Messiah and he quickly finds his brother, Simon Peter, to tell him the news.


We might wonder what Andrew, his friend and Jesus discussed all day long at Jesus’ home (or, wherever Jesus’ was staying, whether it was his home or not isn’t clear).


It’s a reminder that, for most of us, it’s a process to come to a sense of deep faith in God or Christ. Most of us, myself included, have a number of questions we’d like answered before we simply give ourselves over to a God we don’t yet understand.


In the end we, like Andrew and his friend, will have to experience faith before we can judge whether faith makes any sense or not. It’s similar how we feel standing by a cool, running river, desiring to jump in and swim. We say to ourselves, “It looks like it might be cold. The stones on the bottom seem like they could be slippery. And the current looks a little strong.” But until we jump in, we won’t know what the temperature, the footing or the current are like at all. If we do get into the water, though, we will have accurate, first-hand information about that river.


A life of prayer, faith and discipleship is very similar. In my own life I have had to, at some points, step over my own doubts and frustrations with Christianity to simply get into the water. I have prayed, “God, there are things I don’t understand or even feel comfortable about in this faith, but I’m going to try believing first so that you can reveal to me the answers later.”


And, of course, this makes sense. How can we experience and comprehend the Divine if we refuse to interact with the Divine? We are invited to “Come and see” for ourselves who God is, to relate to God and allow God to reveal his nature to us.


And so, Jesus invites his first disciples and all of us to “Come and see,” to see for our souls will experience God in our own unique way. Surely no two of us experience the Divine in exactly the same way! We are invited to “come and see,” to take time to discover how our own relationship with God will find its expression.


A friend and colleague of mine, Rev. Greg Batson, once told a group of friends how his faith journey began when he was just a child.


He shared with us that his first experience of Christian faith occurred when he was just 11 years old. His family lived across the street from a church in Liberty, Georgia. This church was so old, in fact, that the town of Liberty was named after the church, Liberty Methodist Church.


Living across from that congregation, Greg watched people entering and leaving every week, but Greg’s own family did not attend. His mother was a devout Catholic and did not feel comfortable attending a Protestant church, nor could she find a Catholic church close enough to their home for her to attend. Greg’s father was not religious at all.


And yet, when Greg told his parents he would like to go to church across the street, his parents graciously agreed he could attend. So one Sunday morning Greg put on his polyester pants, buttoned up his nicest shirt and walked across the street to the church.


As he approached, a well-dressed man who was talking to a group of other well-dressed men under a tree noticed Greg and approached him. It was the church’s pastor. Greg’s anxieties were lifted as he was welcomed warmly by the pastor and the people he was introduced to next.


Greg attended Liberty United Methodist Church for the rest of his upbringing and grew up to become a pastor himself. The most recent church Greg served was Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Tustin, California. Today Greg is the President of our Annual Conference’s United Methodist Foundation.


Imagine the courage of a 11-year-old to walk by himself into a group of Christian strangers, hoping to be welcomed and accepted there. Without knowing what he would find, Greg came and saw who Jesus was for him, embodied in loving friends across the street.


How important it is that we make room for each person to experience for themselves how God relates to their heart and soul!


On a practical level, we as a church must be aware, as Greg’s first pastor was aware, that a new neighbor might take courage and visit us on any given Sunday. We must be welcoming as Jesus was welcoming, to those who have come to seek God’s presence. Greg never forgot that that pastor made his way over to Greg that day. Greg did not have to seek out and find the pastor or another trusted adult.


And let us recall that all people are invited to “Come and see” the Lord for themselves, not just certain kinds of Christians. In our Old Testament scripture from Isaiah we read, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). God makes room for all people, not just certain kinds of believers.


At times we may question whether we should call ourselves Christians because we believe differently from those around us. Some of us may have family members or acquaintances who would say we are not real Christians because we don’t believe as they do.


Jesus, however, doesn’t impose those distinctions or tests on his first followers. He makes space for them to meet him for themselves and to discover their own reasons to follow. I encourage everyone here to go ahead and call yourself a Christian if you want to do so. If you follow Jesus in your own way, if you have “come and seen” and you wish to live in God’s love, don’t let anyone tell you you’re not qualified! Really, that’s between each person and God, amen?


And so we, with confidence that the living God is among us, still come together to witness Christ among us. And with this knowledge we are called to open the doors as widely as Jesus did when he made room for his first disciples to encounter God’s presence.


This open invitation is the inspiration for the United Methodist slogan that has been such a blessing to our church over the past 20 years or so, “Open hearts, open doors, open minds...” It’s a statement of belief that each person is welcome, just as we are, whatever our background and whatever our doubts and beliefs, to walk in and become part of our community of faith. In the end, we trust that the Holy Spirit will work in a unique way with every human soul, drawing them closer to God.


In this spirit, let each one of us invest the energy and time to “come and see” for ourselves who God really is, so that we may be nourished by the love of Christ, and sent out to share God’s peace with all people.


May it be so. Amen.


December 24, 2016  ~ “God Draws Near”


“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger.”

(Luke 2:7)


Well, we finally have a nice brisk Christmas this year in Southern California! Having gone to seminary in Evanston, Illinois, north of Chicago, I kind of miss cold winters. The last couple of Christmases here have been around 80 degrees! Some of you are thinking, ‘Yes, and that’s just the way I like it!’


But the beauty of cold weather is that we have to draw closer to one another, gather into a house, around a fire or around the dining room table to enjoy the blessings of home, family and friendship. And, of course, we pray for all those who don’t enjoy these blessings of homes, families and friends, as we continue our church’s work to feed the hungry and provide shelter for the homeless.


It’s good to gather closely together with loved ones to show how much we care about each other. Some cultures of our world gather extremely closely as families, not only during holidays, but always. One church member from a congregation I served before was named Bill, and he served as a doctor doing mission work for a remote tribe in Africa.


One of the striking things Bill noticed was that family members in this tribe were not only close to each other, they were nearly always touching each other. Throughout the day, in the home, while playing, they constantly showed their care through human touch.


On that first Christmas Day, Jesus’ birth brought people close together. They were shoulder to shoulder with family, friends and strangers, all warmed in the light of God’s love, born into the world in the Christ child.


Last week we had a chapel service with our Childtime Preschool children in which they had to find these pieces of our children’s nativity scene and put them into place. They found Jesus over there, the angel over there, the shepherds and sheep in the middle pews of the sanctuary. Then they traveled all the way back to this table to bring them together.


It’s a simple but beautiful truth that, when we come closer to Christ in the manger, we also draw closer together, finding hope both in the newborn Jesus and also in the joy we share with those standing by our side.


Isaiah prophesied that this is how God’s kingdom would appear: 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” (Isa. 11:6).


It’s a very intimate scene where animals who were strangers, even enemies, lie down together in peace.


And we remember at Christmas, that we are drawn together because God first draws near to us. No longer does God stay far away, communicating to us through prophets or on stone tablets inscribed with laws.


Now God, through his son, comes to us in person. This “incarnation, or God in “carne,” or “in the flesh” is the miracle of Christmas morning. God draws near to us, physically, and so we come together in Jesus’ name.


The Beatles sang a similar message in their song, “Come together right now, over me.” Of course, the rest of that song’s lyrics are a little hard to understand. But, nevertheless, God, in the newborn Christ may as well be singing, “Come together, right now, over me!”


And how important it is that we do come together in Christ’s love at Christmas and at all times. So many things seem to pull us apart at the seams: Differences in religion, culture, language, race, economic class, political differences.


This might be because we spend less time actually talking with each other. Increasingly, we consult computer or TV screens, or newspapers to see what’s going on rather than simply talking to our neighbors.


In recent months many of us found ourselves day after day reading polls in the newspaper as we wondered what our fellow Americans were thinking and how they might vote.


Isn’t it interesting that we consult news stations and the internet to learn about what one another is thinking rather than walking outside to find a real person to talk to them about what they think and feel? No wonder we begin to feel estranged from neighbors who live so close by.


Rather than reading about one another, let us find safe and loving ways to draw nearer to each other so we might have the conversations that can lead to peace and reconciliation. Perhaps we’re a little afraid to do so, to have honest, kind conversations with one another, even about our differences.


We might be afraid we’ll end up fighting. But if we avoid each other and develop misconceptions about one another as a result, surely we’ll be more likely to butt heads whenever we do finally meet!


At Christmas the Christ child draws us together: peasants from Nazareth, shepherds from the fields and wise kings from faraway lands in the East. Not so much with words, but with actions, people come together in peace because God draws near to us in the Christ Child.


Jesus commands us to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. To do this, though, we will actually need to meet our neighbors, shake their hands and gradually build friendships which sow seeds of peace in Christ’s name.


God in Christ has initiated the peace-making. God breaks the ice and comes to us in person at Christmas to meet us right where we are. In Jesus’ name, let us gather together by the warmth of God’s love until Christ, the Prince of Peace truly reigns throughout the earth.


May it be so. Amen.


December 4, 2016  ~ “The Power of Love”

When we read a story like the Annunciation to Mary, our first reaction might be that this is just another nice Sunday School story about a miracle that’s hard to believe. More and more, though, throughout my ministry, I’ve met people who have had experiences reminiscent of this story.


Just this past week, in fact, I spoke on the phone with a woman who lives in Iowa who is a relative of one of our church members. She described to me that she recently had an inspiring experience of her recently deceased daughter quietly appearing to her in her home. She said that a ray of light shone into the home and the vision of her daughter’s face was unmistakable – not for a fleeting moment but as long as that ray of light was there.


My favorite painting of the story of the Annunciation is remarkably similar to the scene my friend in Iowa described to me. This painting, called, simply, The Annunciation is by Henry Tanner, an American artist of the 19th century. Henry Tanner was the first African-American painter to earn international acclaim for his work. In this painting he uses warm and brilliant colors to reveal the intensity of the experience Mary must have had that day. In the painting we can appreciate how humble and young Mary must have been, so different from the royal, saintly portraits of her we often find in stained glass!


With the help of this painter, Henry Tanner, and remembering the stories I’ve heard of real life mystical encounters, suddenly, this Annunciation story seems more plausible to me than ever.  Perhaps the most difficult thing to believe, however, is what Mary is asked to do. She is asked to become the mother to none other than the savior of the world. At first, she objects, of course, reminding the angel that she has not yet physically known her fiancé, Joseph and cannot be pregnant.


But, finally, Mary believes the angel’s words, “nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37), and she agrees to be the Savior’s mother, saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).


It’s fascinating how God chooses the most surprising and least likely person to be the savior’s mother. As an unmarried young woman, she had very little voice in society. And Mary belonged to a nation of Jews which was occupied by a vast Roman empire. She was one of the least powerful persons in a powerless nation.


But Mary is also the perfect choice. God did not need someone who was powerful – God would save God’s people by his own power. God needed someone who was willing and who was loving. After all, it would be Mary’s body that would give form to Jesus’ own body, and it was Mary’s love that would shape the way Jesus loved. Mary, who was willing and who was loving, was the perfect choice.


We see this because Mary not only will love Jesus but she loves the world God has created and all the people in it. Her song of praise, the Magnificat, praises God for bringing salvation through the Messiah, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things (Lk. 1:52-53).


Mary cares not only about herself and her future child, but about the welfare of all people, even the poorest and the hungriest among us. It’s this heart, this young and loving heart of Mary that God chooses to nurture the Christ child, and it is this heart that God asks of us as well. As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we’re invited to pray Mary’s own words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).


In the spirit of this prayer, we’re invited to do all that we do in a spirit of love. Recently I spoke with a church member about the missions work that we do here in our church. We discussed how many wonderful things volunteers do here, especially in food ministries for the hungry in our midst.


This church member observed that sometimes, however, we fall into a pattern of doing such work without remembering why we’re doing it. At times like that, we’re more likely to complain that we don’t have the time, or that we are always the ones being called on to serve.


All of this may be true, but this spirit of frustration also reveals that the love sometimes seeps out of the work that we’re doing. We remember the wise words of St. Paul who says, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal... If I give away all my possessions... but do not have love, I gain nothing” (I Cor. 13:1,3).


Like Mary, we are invited during this Advent season to prepare our hearts for Christ’s birth with a constant spirit of love. All that we give, presents, hosting meals, service to the needy, may we do these things for God, in a spirit of love. And all that we receive, and we do receive a great deal, don’t we – let us receive in a spirit of gratitude.


Perhaps, if we try, we can learn to receive and give with love, and this may soon become as natural to us as breathing. I invite you to pray a breath prayer with me which might help us to harbor love continually in our hearts.


As we breathe in, let us say in our minds, “Gratitude.” And as we breathe out, let us say, “Love.” This simple prayer can remind us that all that we receive, including the air we inhale, we can be thankful for, with loving gratitude to God.


And as we exhale with the prayer, “Love,” we remember to say the things we say and do the things we do all in a spirit of love, dedicating our actions to the service and glory of God.


Gratitude, love, gratitude and love. May this prayer prepare our hearts in this Advent season for the birth of Jesus’ love in our hearts. With this love, like the love of Mary, God can do great things.


Let us also receive this bread and cup with gratitude this morning. Let us give thanks for the Communion we share with one another and with Christ. Then let us turn our hearts outward to a world that longs for God’s love, saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord!”


May it be so. Amen.

November 20, 2016  ~ “Now Thank We All Our God”


During high school, I was once enrolled in an English class that taught me a lesson about the importance of thanksgiving and praise. Our teacher, whom I’ll call Mrs. Wilson, was very knowledgeable, but she was also rather stingy with her compliments to her students for doing good work. She was more likely to offer critiques and to point out what needed improvement.


One day, as my mind wandered during class, I asked myself how I might like our teacher to do things differently, and I came up with a two-thirds rule. I decided that I could probably welcome Mrs. Wilson’s insightful criticisms if they comprised about one third of her feedback to us. It would be lovely, I day- dreamed, if she would first offer us a two-thirds portion of affirmation, pointing out the things we had done correctly.


This might be wishful thinking, but it is an important principle for every human relationship. I recently read a book on marriage that explained what it takes to make marriage happy. This author, a respected psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, said that couples succeed most in marriage when they offer 5 parts praise of their spouse for every 1 piece of criticism.


Our relationship with God should be no different. Surely our praises should outweigh our complaints. Whether we use my two-third’s rule, or Dr. Gottman’s five-sixth’s ratio, we might recall that any being, human or divine, will surely prefer to hear the good, words of praise and thanksgiving, and, primed with good words, God might feel more in the mood to hear some of the bad as well.


Our scriptures this morning offer the same lesson. These are the lessons that are read when worship takes place on Thanksgiving Day, so we read them this Sunday, prior to the holiday.


In Deuteronomy we read instructions for the people of Israel to enter into the Promised Land and then to take the first fruits of the harvest, carried in baskets to the altar of the Lord, hence, the fruit and baskets we see displayed artfully on our church’s altar today.


As people entered into the Promised Land they were called to remember: remember who they were as children of Abraham, remember how they were freed from slavery in Egypt, and how they were given a fruitful new land which they could now call home. Clearly, this is an ideal scripture for American

Christians to rehearse as we recall our own nation’s freedoms and the bountiful blessings of this land we have been given.


There’s deep wisdom in such thanksgiving. For settlers in a new land, whether the Promised Land of Canaan or the land the Pilgrims and Native Peoples shared, it’s essential that we root our souls in gratitude, pausing to give thanks to God. This way, when we are tossed about by political differences or the confusing struggles of history, our roots, grounded in gratitude, remain strong.


As a nation, as individuals, as members of the human family, let us ground ourselves deeply in gratitude to God the source of every blessing, Amen?


In a similar way, in our Gospel lesson, Jesus reminds us to give thanks to God not only for our daily bread, but for the Bread of Life, who is Jesus himself. After miraculously feeding the 5,000 with abundant loaves of bread and fishes, Jesus is pursued by those whom he’s fed, but now he offers them a different kind of bread.


He draws attention to bread as something that is sacramental. A sacrament is something holy or sacred which points beyond itself to some deeper truth. In this passage, Jesus poetically reminds us of the power of bread as our source of life. However simple it may be, it holds the power to give life itself. We are therefore indebted to bread and without it we cannot survive.


Jesus uses this truth to teach the deeper truth that God is not only the source of all that we eat, but is the Source of life itself. So Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn. 6:35).


Deuteronomy 8:3 puts it beautifully as well, “We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” We would often sing this verse to the tune of “Seek Ye First” at youth summer camps to remind us to seek God above everything, even the food we eat.


So let us give thanks today and in the week ahead, not only for each blessing, but for the One who is the Source of every blessing. Let us consider Jesus’ mystical invitation: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life” (Jn. 6:25).


What does this kind of work look like? How do we work for food that endures forever? It might mean hosting a No One Eats Alone Thanksgiving meal as our Missions Team will do this coming Thanksgiving Day at 1 in the afternoon here at our church. Yes, we will offer food, but we will also offer friendship in Christ which can never spoil or go bad.


Such Christian compassion becomes an unforgettable gift of unconditional love. So, under the leadership of Kathy Ramsey and others, we will “work for the food that endures for eternal life,” creating memories of God’s love shared freely with church members and other neighbors from the community around our church!


Let us be generous in our thanksgiving and praise to God and to one another for every gift we are given. May we be rooted deeply in gratitude so that we are not shaken by the events of each day. And let us work joyfully for the food that endures, serving others with the unconditional love of Christ that will not be forgotten.


May it be so. Amen.

October 30, 2016  ~ “Wisdom from the Margins”


Many children in United Methodist Churches, for decades, learned a simple song about today’s story about Zacchaeus and his remarkable meeting with Jesus...


Children can relate to the story and this song because they, like Zacchaeus, often struggle to see through crowds of bigger people. They may feel isolated, like Zacchaeus in the tree, just trying to get a glimpse of Jesus of Nazareth passing by.


So, what a joy it is to find that, just as Zacchaeus was seeking Jesus out, Jesus was seeking him out as well, ‘What are you doing in the tree? Jesus asks. You’re supposed to have me over for dinner today. Let’s go!’


Perhaps Jesus is making this up as he goes along, having fun with Zacchaeus, and making Zacchaeus feel that he’s somehow missed the memo about hosting Jesus at his home. With this wonderful, easy way, Jesus casually invites himself over as a friend to someone everybody loved to hate.


“Tax Collector,” “Traitor,” “Shorty,” may have been the names Zacchaeus was used to being called. But Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name, and then, by the end of the story, Jesus refers to Zacchaeus by a different title, “He too is a son of Abraham.” Jesus reminds all who are gathered that Zacchaeus is a child of Abraham, just like everyone else in the crowd (Lk. 19:9).


Not everyone liked being reminded that this tax collector was as much a child of God as they were. In the artwork on this morning’s bulletin, you’ll see the grumbling crowds discussing Jesus’ actions with disapproval. Tax collectors, after all, worked for the Roman Empire.


A Jewish tax collector was someone his fellow Jews loved to hate. He would shake-down his fellow Jews for the benefit of the Roman occupiers and also for his own private gain. He was considered a traitor to his own people.


But Jesus would not join these bitter on-lookers in their disdain for Zacchaeus. Instead, he insisted that Zacchaeus was a “son of Abraham,” and therefore a child of God.


Finally, Jesus reminds us, “the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10). There is no one in this world whom the grace of God in Christ has given up on. He strives without ceasing to reach out to every soul, including you and me. Thanks be to God.


And now, we are called to go and do likewise. You may have noticed, as I have, that it is often the people living on the margins who have the most wisdom to offer anyway. Zacchaeus, though he was ostracized, knew enough to do all in his power to seek-out Jesus.


While others grumble and criticize Jesus, it’s Zacchaeus, the outsider who is looking for God in Jesus of Nazareth. He is wise like the prophet Habakkuk who also waits for God, “I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart” Habakkuk proclaims, “I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will?answer” (Hab. 2:1). Both Habakkuk and Zacchaeus in our scriptures today demonstrate the wisdom to keep watch and listen for God’s voice.


We often find that someone who sits on the margins sees more than the rest of us see. We might compare it to two people standing in a circle. The one in the middle only sees the half in front of his face. But the one out on the perimeter looking in, sees the whole circle.


How often do we learn unique words of wisdom from those who sit out on the margins: from the poor neighbor who watches the economy from the sidelines, from the gay neighbor who cautiously observes society in order to protect himself, from the ethnic minority neighbor who assimilates so as not to stand-out too much.


These friends have a lot to teach us about ourselves because they observe us all so carefully. In the end, they have vital wisdom to share, Amen?


Today we celebrate our church’s ministry to those who sometimes end up on the margins of society and of the church: the youngest and oldest of our congregation. In our congregation these are served by our Minister of Visitation and Children’s Education, Pastor MJ Buist.


Our church created this position about a year and a half ago in order to better serve the needs of home- centered seniors and also our church’s youngest children.


This ministry to our oldest and youngest seems like an odd combination at first, but it’s very close to what the Bible says we should do. James 1:27 reads, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their


Children and the elderly, especially widowed women were the most vulnerable people of all in biblical times, so God’s law clearly stated that it’s our duty to be sure we care for both of these groups of people.


Today the world is not so different, is it? We tend to value most those who are able to provide for themselves, those who are most upwardly mobile and productive as our most valued persons. Sometimes churches, too, fall into this same pattern. Some churches today become massive in their membership by specifically targeting young adult and middle-aged members who have earning power and who are in the prime of their lives.


But in a way, this is the reverse of the mandate of scripture: “Religion that is pure and undefiled, James says, is to “Care for orphans and widows in their distress...” (James 1:27).


This is the work of our Minister of Visitation and Children’s Education. Pastor MJ happens to be well- suited for this as she is a substitute school teacher during the day. In fact she sometimes runs into Vacation Bible School and Easter Egg Hunt children during her daily teaching assignments.


MJ has also been invaluable in initiating Lay Communion Ministries in which a team of us bring Communion to our home-centered members at their homes once each month. She helps our church ensure that none of our seniors fall through the cracks of our congregation’s caring ministries.


Our oldest and youngest church members are the ones sometimes left out on the margins, and yet are the ones the Bible specifically calls us to serve. The ones whom society is tempted to ignore, the church is called to place as our highest priority so we may be blessed by the wisdom these friends might share with us all.


In this same Spirit, our congregation will approach Thanksgiving in a new way which we hope will convey Christ’s welcoming love to friends we have yet to meet.


On Thanksgiving Day, at 1 pm, our own Kathy Ramsey will lead us in hosting a “No One Eats Alone” Thanksgiving supper. She’s led this ministry before at our church, but it’s been a few years since we’ve done it. In fact, she has hosted open Thanksgiving meals at 2 other churches before she attended here.


Kathy shared with me that, during a time in her life when she was alone at Thanksgiving, friends began inviting her to join their families for the Thanksgiving feast.


After receiving this gift of hospitality numerous times, Kathy decided to give back, by hosting a meal for anyone who might otherwise eat their Thanksgiving supper by themselves.


How Christ-like this idea is, to treat every neighbor like a family member who is welcome to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. How similar this gesture is to the outstretched hand of Jesus, beckoning Zacchaeus to dine with him and visit with him as a good friend would.


Kathy and I pray that on Thanksgiving Day a mixture of church members and other Anaheim neighbors will feel free to dine here together so that no child of God will have to eat alone.


So let us draw the circle wide so we may welcome many neighbors in, so we may be enriched by the wisdom they offer, and refreshed by the love of Christ alive in our midst.


May it be so. Amen.

October 16, 2016  ~ “Never Give Up”


In his parable which we read this morning, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray persistently and to never give up. He offers the example of a persistent widow who relentlessly pursues a judge – an “unjust judge” until he finally grants her the justice she seeks.


Women like the one in Jesus’ story leave quite an impression. When you meet a woman like this, who is focused and determined to accomplish her goal, she leaves an unforgettable impression.


Jesus describes the character of the woman in his parable, as a determined middle-eastern woman persuading this unjust judge until he feels he has no choice but to grant her the justice she demands.


And why does Jesus tell this story in the first place? To teach his disciples to “pray always and not to lose heart” (Lk. 18:1). As we know, the first disciples and the early church faced persecution and many hardships. So Jesus taught his followers to never give up, to fight back with relentless hope and prayer!


In a way, this week’s lesson reminds us of last week’s teaching on gratitude. We spoke then about the healed leper who gave thanks and praise to God. We recalled that prayers of thanksgiving provide a powerful antidote to discouragement and despair.


In a similar way, prayers of petition lift our eyes above and beyond the trials of the present moment. When we are tempted to despair over the state of our world, conflicts in society or the troubles in our personal lives, when feel inclined to give up, we are invited instead to ask for what we want, to be persistent in prayer.


Prayers of thanksgiving, we recalled last week, lift us out of despondency. Similarly, prayers of petition force us to hope for something good and to pray for it. “Jesus told them [this] parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart,” then he described a woman of relentless focus and faith.


In the end, the parable reminds us that God is far more loving than this unjust judge. God is faithful and longs to answer our prayers. We proclaimed this truth in this morning’s hymn: “Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!”


Even in circumstances like these, we’re called not to lose hope, but to pray prayers of petition. Jesus’s parable calls us not to give up out of despair or self-pity, but to figure out what we really want and to say it -- in prayer – relentlessly, until God answers, or until our desire and our hope eclipse our frustration.


Often times we do give up too early. We forget that God is faithful and we cave to our despair. We may fear that the damage we do to earth’s environment is too severe to be reversed. But why not pray and work fervently until human beings live sustainably in God’s world once again?


We may fear that world peace may never be achieved. So why not pray with passion that earth’s people and our leaders choose to live in harmony with one another?


We may worry that the church is declining irreversibly. Why not give thanks for the people in our church right now, and work hard so that others may know the love of Jesus? However audacious or improbable our prayer, let us go ahead and ask this of God and let God choose how to respond to the prayers of his church, Amen?


In this same Spirit, let us turn our laments into prayers of determined, hopeful petitions. I invite you to consider what it is you most lament in this world or in your own life. As the disciples faced many pressures following Jesus and were tempted to throw in the towel, we might ask ourselves what tempts us to give in?


Then let us turn that lamentation, that complaint of our soul into a prayer of petition. “What do you want, then?” God may be asking us. Let us figure it out, and say it. Then let us pray that prayer of petition relentlessly, like the persistent widow, until we begin to hope our prayer will be answered, until we finally believe that our dreams may come true.


May we also never give up, but pray relentlessly for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.


Let us dream creatively and deliberately about what that good and holy world looks like and pursue it with passion and persistence like a widow demanding justice from a judge.


Let us trust that God is faithful and wants the very best for us, and longs to hear the desires of our heart. May it be so. Amen.


October 2, 2016  ~ “Better We than I”

World Communion Sunday


Today is World Communion Sunday, a time when we recall that we are connected to one another and to all God’s people in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup in the Lord’s Supper. We pause to reflect on the way we truly need one another, and God calls us to be in relationships which sustain us and strengthen us.


Two weeks ago, the world witnessed a stirring example of such brotherly love in the finish of a triathlon in Cozumel, Mexico. Toward the end of the race, Johnny Brownlee, of Great Britain had a comfortable lead when suddenly, his body began to shut down.


Behind him, Johnny’s brother, Alistair was competing for second place with a runner from South Africa named Henri Shoeman. Suddenly, as Johnny Brownlee entered the last half mile with strong lead, his legs began to give out. He slowed down to a walk and, with some effort, managed to get to the sideline for assistance.


But at that moment, Johnny’s brother, Alistair, ran up from behind, quickly placed Johnny’s arm around his own shoulder, and helped him run all the way to the finish line.


What’s more, when they reached the finish line, to come in second and third place (Henri Shoeman had moved ahead for the win) Alistair gently pushed his brother across before himself, so that Johnny finished second and Alistair third.


I love this image of the two running and the animated expression of encouragement on Alistair’s face. What a beautiful image of brotherly love!


A similar story unfolds in this morning’s scripture reading from II Timothy. As St. Paul begins this intimate letter to his younger protégé, his message to Timothy is that Timothy is not alone, and shouldn’t feel discouraged.


It seems that Timothy might have been losing the will to do God’s work, and was feeling disheartened. In the verses that follow today’s reading, Paul says, “Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God...” (II Tim. 1:8).


Later in this letter, in the fourth chapter, we learn why Timothy might have been despondent: because his dear friend Paul was soon to be martyred. Paul says, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:6-7).


But Paul encourages Timothy to keep the faith by remembering his ancestors, his grandmother, Lois and his mother, Eunice. Paul reminds Timothy that the faithful spirit of these women lives on in him, so he should never give up.


In our scripture from Romans, we find that St. Paul teaches a similar lesson to the whole church, reminding us all that we are all members of the Body of Christ, and therefore, we remain strong.


How true it is, that when we are truly discouraged, as Timothy

was, we find great strength remembering our ancestors and all our relationships. And like Timothy, the thought of my own grandmother, her love for me and her faith, I can summon the courage that sometimes eludes me. I recall how that beloved woman, Louise Rudd, esteemed me highly and would never want me to give up hope or give up on myself.


Notice the power of relationships to sustain us. Truly, we are better as “We” than we are as, “Me.”


There is an African proverb which teaches this lesson well. It simply says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to walk far, go together.”


During my service here at Anaheim UMC, I’ve been reminded several times what a vital truth this is. This past Friday, we celebrated the 97th birthday party of Margaret Disbennett at her home in Yorba Linda. Pastor MJ, Jim and Ann McKown, Dave and Mary Ann Jones were all with us. In all, about 15 of us crowded into Margaret’s humble trailer home to celebrate the occasion.


The occasion makes me think back to the day when Mary Ann Jones pulled me aside one coffee hour after church and expressed her concern for Margaret’s safety alone at home. Margaret’s husband, Marion, who was also a vital part of our church, passed away years ago, and so did Margaret’s two sons.


Mary Ann reminded me that the church was truly the only family that Margaret had. What’s more, Margaret had recently fallen and seemed to be in genuine danger of injury and total isolation.


In the weeks and months to follow, thanks be to God, we were able to arrange for trusted caregivers to stay with Margaret, to tend to her medical and dietary needs.


The woman we saw this past Friday was a whole new person. Mostly pain-free, cracking jokes about politics. The true Margaret was with us, the star of her own 97th  birthday party.


This precious woman could never have thrived in this way if it were not for the Body of Christ, and, in particular, for the friendship of Mary Ann and Dave Jones who visit Margaret nearly every single day.


The Bible commands us to care for the widows and orphans. I’m deeply inspired by the ways that our own church members have cared for Margaret so she may live and die with a heart full of love.


Let us actively nurture the blessed relationships God has given us, with those who live among us and those we now remember with gratitude. In the Great Thanksgiving prayer which we offer before receiving Communion, we pray, “With your people on earth and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn: Holy, holy, holy Lord! God of power and might...”


As we celebrate this meal, let us do so in the company of one another and in Communion with all God’s people in every place and from every time in history. In this great Family of God, let us rediscover the strength to persevere with joy and humble service to a world longing for God’s grace.


September 11, 2016  ~ “Choose Compassion”

Luke 15:1-10


We have a tendency as human beings to distinguish between “us” and “them.” We think life might be easier if we can simply separate some people out of our sphere of interaction. We see it clearly in today’s Gospel lesson and we can see it in our own behavior if we look.


For example, years ago, when I served another church, I participated in a clergy group with religious leaders from several different religions, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Mormon, etc. Some of us began to talk about those people in our own congregations who just make life a real challenge for every- body else. I recall that I too vented my own frustrations. I spoke of an anonymous human being in my church that I found it particularly difficult to love with the love of Jesus.


One man in our group, Thomas, a member of the local Hindu congregation began to smile. Then he said, “I once asked a respected teacher about this problem. I told her I thought my life would be much more peaceful if this particular person were not there.


But she responded, ‘Thomas, that person is there for some reason, and for you to learn some lesson. And, if you were somehow able to remove that person from your life, God would put another person just like him right there in his place.”


So, I went back to my church and, instead of wishing a certain per- son out of my life, I learned to pray for them and love them from a safe distance, wondering what lesson God might be trying to teach me in the process.


Yet we often feel it would simply be easier if we could give up on certain people or certain kinds of people. We see clearly that the religious teachers of Jesus’ time felt quite comfortable giving up on those they called “tax collectors” and “sinners.”


But strangely, this rabbi Jesus didn’t seem to give up on anyone. His door was always open, even to the people whom his own people Jews loved to hate.


And Jesus teaches us today that God is the same way. He compares God to a shepherd who loses one of his one hundred sheep. He knows he can leave the 99 alone and they’ll stay together. They always do. So he wanders off, perhaps very far away, to find his sheep, put it on his shoulders and carry it all the way back to the rest of the flock.


Jesus then compares God to a woman who loses a coin and scours her house until she finds it, and when she does, she celebrates with all of her friends.


In these teachings we learn about the very heart of God. We learn the remarkable truth that God never gives up on anybody. Never. When we feel inclined to write somebody off completely. Or even when we feel like giving up on ourselves, this is a precious truth to remember. God will never, ever give up on us.


We heard St. Paul celebrate this truth in his letter to Timothy. Paul is remarkably honest, saying he was once a “blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence. But I received mercy... and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 1:13-14).


If God shows this kind of compassion toward every person, toward a sinner like Paul, and teach of us, then we too are called to show compassion to others and to ourselves. This means we no longer choose judgement but com- passion. We no longer write people off completely, but we pray God will find their lost souls and bring them home.


This past week I heard a fascinating news report on the violence which has plagued the city of Chicago this year, especially on the south and west sides of the city. The report got my attention because I served as a student pastor on the west side of Chicago during my second and third years of seminary. Sadly, there have already been 500 homicides in the city this year, the worst year Chicago has had in decades.


But a Chicago physician, Dr. Gary Slutkin, who was interviewed on the news report, said that we shouldn’t give up on the youth who had become so violent. He said we should think of the rash of violence as something more like a disease. In fact, he explained, violence behaves like a disease. When you’re exposed to violence, for example, you’re much more likely to become violent yourself.


So this doctor created a program called, “Cure Violence” which uses ex-gangsters as “violence interrupters.” They insert themselves in violent situations and try to buy time, cooling off the young people before they harm others. In the neighborhoods where it is active, Cure Violence has reduced violence from 40 – 70 percent!


Let us notice that someone like Dr. Slutkin, through Cure Violence have made a choice to truly care about Chicago’s young people. They chose not to give up on them or to write them off. They chose compassion over judgement, and have surely saved many young lives as a result.


Courageous actions like these make real and concrete the kind of love we see in the Good Shepherd, and in the woman who finds her coin. It reminds us of the compassion of God which never gives up on us, no matter what.


Such compassion even allows us to overcome our hate even for our most bitter enemies. On this day, September 11th, we still harbor anger and sadness over the attacks we suffered that day. Our scriptures remind us, though, not to respond with hate, but to recall that some people have become so terribly lost, that they will wage such acts of violence on innocent persons.


It’s a unique Christian belief and prayer that even the most terrible, violent criminals, God would save if he could, and if that person repented and turned back to God. Such grace is hard for us to comprehend, let alone practice.


In our Bible Study last Wednesday, we shared about those people in our own lives, perhaps even family members, whom it’s extremely hard to love. We may even feel tempted to respond, saying, “He, or she is dead to me now.” It’s understandable, sometimes, that we might feel that way when we’ve been abused by someone who was supposed to love us.


But Jesus invites us to say instead, “That person is lost right now.” And, when we can bring ourselves to do it, we might pray that they find their way again. Perhaps the Good Shepherd will seek out and find them and things will change. This is the courageous prayer we’re invited to pray.


And it may be that prayer is as far as we can go as first. “Forgiving and forgetting” may not be a possibility in the beginning. But this is where our belief in God becomes a saving grace. If we need to, we can pray, “Lord, you deal with that person, because you know I can’t right now.”


Sometimes relationships become that injured and raw. The Good News is that even when we aren’t ready to seek that person out, God the Good Shepherd is more than ready to seek out every lost soul, including each of us.


Thanks be to God who seeks out the lost, including each one of us, so we might rejoice in God’s Spirit as one.


May it be so, Amen!


September 4, 2016  ~ “No Longer a Slave”

Book of Philemon


Well, congratulations, we’ve read a whole book of the Bible this morning! We can go brag about this to our friends now! Yes, it’s the shortest book in the Bible, only one page long, but it’s still a whole book.


The book of Philemon is a wonderful, intimate letter from St. Paul to his friend Philemon, appealing to his friend’s better nature, asking him to do nothing less than to free his slave, Onesimus. As we read earlier, Onesimus winds up in prison where St. Paul is also under house arrest. It seems like Onesimus has run away from his master and would be a fugitive who’s broken the law.


Finally, Paul decides he must return Onesimus to his mas- ter. But as he does this, he also implores his friend Philemon to receive Onesimus, “no longer as a slave,” but as a beloved brother in the Lord (Philem. 16).


Once again we see the power of the Christian faith to overcome inequality and to cause people to see one another as complete equals in the love of Christ.


We remember another Paul wrote to the church in Galatia where he said, “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” (Gal. 3:28).


Just yesterday I had an enlightening conversation about this same subject with Rev. William deBos, a pastor who guest preached here at our church a few months ago. Pastor deBos is the pastor of my home church, the United Methodist Church in Escondido.


I called William to ask him about his church’s very successful outreach to the Spanish speaking community surrounding his church. As our own congregation discusses the possibility of doing more outreach to our Spanish speaking neighbors, I asked William how he and the Spanish language pastor work together: which congregation pays what bills, who is in leadership positions, etc. etc.


Pastor William confessed that for a number of years, those questions caused significant tension between the two congregations until William finally invited Pastor Rubén, the Spanish language pastor, to work much more closely with him.


He explained that the answer to all the dilemmas and tensions was to remember they were all one in Christ Jesus, just as St. Paul said. Because we belong to one Lord, he explained, we remember that we’re one in him, and the differences seem not to matter nearly so much.


This was the teaching of Jesus that changed the world,

and caused St. Paul to ask his friend to free his slave Onesimus and treat him as an equal from now on, even like a family member in the love of Jesus Christ.


And when we do learn to see all our neighbors as brothers and sisters in God’s family, we find that our own souls are freed from false notions of inequality as well.


After all, if we think that some people are created by God to be inferior, then we are believing in a God who would place some people above others. And if we believe in that kind of God, we might well fear that God could consider others to be superior to us.


But when we proclaim complete equality in the eyes of God, we proclaim our own equal worth with all of God’s children. No one is created inferior, therefore we cannot be inferior either. We are equal, and one in Christ Jesus, Amen?


Now, it’s one thing to say this, and another to truly live it. In order to do so we have to always remember our sacred worth as God’s beloved children formed by his own gracious hand. The way to true peace, then, is to see every neighbor as such a child of God, known and loved by our Creator now and forever.


It’s easier said than done. We will find that it’s one thing to believe we are equal in God’s eyes, and another to experience each other as equals. The way to true peace with our fellow human beings is to get acquainted well enough that we are no longer able to view them as any less than ourselves


Let us accept the Gospel invitation to accept one another as family members, however close or distant we may be. Let us partake of one bread and one cup, which Jesus offers equally to us and to all people of the earth. And may the God who knows us and loves us bring peace to our hearts and to our world, that we may truly be one.


August 14, 2016  ~ "The Compassion of God"
Luke 13:10-17


As we read this morning a story of Jesus healing the bent over woman, I’m reminded of a summer camp for patients living with HIV and AIDS where many people received encouragement and strength in the midst of illness. The camp is called Strength for the Journey, and for 6 summers I had the privilege of serving on the staff as one of the pastors in residence.


During my first summer working there, I was asked to lead a prayer at the close of our final Communion service. It dawned on me as I was praying, that during the week we had never really prayed for a cure for AIDS. We had asked the Holy Spirit for courage and strength, but we had never boldly prayed for an end to the disease.


And so I did offer a prayer for a cure for AIDS. I asked that God would allow some miraculous cure to be discovered, and that this should happen soon.

I was surprised at the response from the campers, all of whom had been tested positive for HIV. When they heard a prayer for a cure, they responded, saying, “Amen!”


We had spent so much time during the week discussing how to live with this illness, I didn’t realize the obvious truth that these adult campers wanted nothing more than for AIDS to be abolished from the earth so that they could be healthy once again.


Our story from Luke’s Gospel is a wonderful example of the compassion of God. In the synagogue, during worship, Jesus sees a crippled woman and, instead of going on with his teaching, he stops everything and heals her. She never asked him to do this, she simply entered the synagogue and he touched her and healed her, saying, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment” (Lk. 13:12).


In these actions of Jesus, we see that there is no time to waste. If there is a cure in sight, we should employ it right now. If there is a way to alleviate suffering, all else should be set aside and we should help the person.


Of course, the leader of the synagogue sees things differently. He considers the healing to be an act of work, which would be forbidden on the day of Sabbath.


“There are six days on which work ought to be done,” he says, “come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”?


In other words, ‘this woman has been crippled for 18 years. Why can’t she wait just one more day? Come back tomorrow when the doctor’s office is open.’


It seems that sometimes we become accustomed to suffering and we don’t mind it going on for a little while longer. Perhaps even the woman had accepted her lot. Her back was bent over and she literally could not lift her head. She stared down at the dirt in front of her feet.


But this had become normal for her over 18 long years. We notice that she didn’t even ask for the healing. It was the compassion of God that came into her life through Jesus and touched her, and healed her.


It’s funny how we grow accustomed to the troubles of our world, the troubles of human society, and even the illnesses of the body. We’re tempted to surrender and to conclude that this is just the way things are.


Sometimes accepting our lot is a necessary survival skill.  But still we should never believe that some of us are simply destined to suffer. Our scriptures show us that this is never what God wants and, given the opportunity, God will lift us to new life wherever possible.


As we go through our day and see people in need of healing, people who are impoverished or sick, or living in poverty in the streets, it’s essential that we not become too used to this. We should never conclude that this is how it was meant to be for these neighbors. Perhaps it’s the way things are. But still, it’s not how God wants them.


We’re invited by our scriptures today to reflect God’s compassion, even in the face of seemingly unsolvable problems. When we catch the eye of someone who is sick, hungry or impoverished, we may know that we can’t solve their problems, but at the very least, we can desire health and peace for their lives.


“God, help this person to find what they need,” we might pray.


Or, we might even want to get a little angry with God about it, “Lord, why is this person in such a mess?!” we might pray.?


At first we might feel that these are impotent, fruitless prayers. But they are not. In that moment, we feel what the suffering person is feeling, “God, this is wrong. Please change this! Set this person free!”


This is the very meaning of compassion – com means “with” and “passion” feeling. We’re called to feel certain emotions with one another, even when none of us can figure out the solution to the dilemma. Rather than trying to be con- tent with illness and hardship, we’re called to desire and pray for freedom for every daughter and son of God. Amen?


And, even as we are unsure how our nation and our world can provide food, shelter and medical care for all people, still this should be our hope and prayer.


So, like Jesus, may we see those around us who are in need and not ignore them. Then let us desire in our hearts that they be set free from their burdens. And, if we can possibly do so, let us touch that neighbor’s life and lift them from suffering, all for the glory of God.


Let us continue to seek this healing in our own lives and in our world until God’s compassion reigns in our hearts.


July 31, 2016  ~ “People Above Possessions”

Luke 12:13-21


Today’s scripture reminds us of the old adage, “You can’t take it with you,” as we read about the rich man who accumulated wealth only to pass away and lose it all.


This caused me to reflect on some fascinating stories I’ve heard from church members and others over the years, people who have had remarkable out of body experiences – people who have visited the doorway of heaven and returned.


Oftentimes, such friends report that they reunited, remarkably, with loved ones who had passed away. These memories fill them with joy.


We’ll notice, though, that these friends never report a joyful reunion with a favorite possession, such as their first car. It seems that only our love shared with others and with God will survive after the body dies.


A similar lesson was learned this summer at Jr. High Summer Camp. We discussed the story of Ruth and Naomi and the way Ruth lovingly cared for her mother in law in her old age.


Our conversation continued on to explore how, in our society, our wealth sometimes causes us to drift further apart from the ones we love. As we consider how to care for aging parents and grandparents, we find that, the more money we have, the more we’re willing to rely on money, rather than relationships, to sustain those we love.


In Jesus’ teachings from scripture today, we see a similar lesson. In several cases, we see that it’s a close call whether people will prioritize people or possessions.


First Jesus addresses the real-life tension between two brothers bickering over inheritance. In answer to one of the brothers’ complaint, Jesus shares the Parable of the Rich Fool. In it, a man who stores up more grain than he can ever use and, instead of helping the needy, he builds bigger barns to keep it all for himself.


Jesus makes it clear that relationships with others will suffer when we choose possessions above people. Such backward priorities jeopardize the relationships we should treasure the most.


Some psychological studies have shown that wealth sometimes does, in fact, threaten the health of human relationships. As people accrue more and more wealth, it be- comes harder for them to even notice the needs of others.


A clinical psychologist named Dr. Tian Dayton recently shared her?research which shows that the positive feeling that follows obtaining money can cause a chemical reaction in the brain that feels good. In turn, it can result in a severe preoccupation with money that may put a strain on relationships out- side of those who relate to earning greater wealth.

( behavior/)


In our society we face a peculiar dilemma. Though we believe in free enterprise, we should also think twice about the value of seeking unlimited wealth. At some point, and Jesus’ parable says this today, enough is enough. Increasingly in American society, the accumulation of wealth in a smaller and smaller percentage of our population may create instability and even threaten the health of our nation. We are certainly blessed with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but we must also take care that we continue to be to place God and neighbor above wealth or possessions.


Jesus concludes his parable with a reminder that we should not store up treasures for ourselves, but in- stead be “rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21).


Our scripture from Colossians teaches the same lesson, but in extreme terms: “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed (which is idolatry),” the verse reads (Col. 3:5).


These verses sound, at first, like a real bummer! – a prohibition of everything that’s fun! But really it’s a reminder not to allow any earthly, or temporal thing to take over our minds and hearts, like wealth controlled the heart of the Rich Fool.


It’s a life-long journey to put people above possessions, even as we provide for ourselves and our loved ones. One sure antidote to greed and the worship of money, is to generously give to others.


So, how will we live in this way and become rich toward God?


First, we should give thanks. Notice that nowhere in Jesus’ story does the rich farmer ever give thanks to God for the blessings which truly come from God. Al- ways we’re called to remember that everything we are blessed to own is just that, a blessing.


We also should be ready to give, like Herman and Muriel Lens donated the very land on which this church is built, or Jack Albright and others gave generously of their estates. When we pass, and also while we live, we must be generous and exercise our giving muscles.


A good weight trainer will remind us to strengthen both the muscles that contract our limbs and the ones that extend them. If we strengthen only one side, we run the risk of snapping and injuring the other side.


And, finally, we must honor the Sabbath and rest all of our muscles, at least one day each week. This rest is essential for our peace of mind, but also for our perspective on life. God alone is the source of our blessing. It’s fitting to stop, rest and give thanks.


Let us be rich toward God and rich in love for one another, mindful of the ways we can give what we have received so that we may truly live.


In the name of God our Maker, our Savior and our Friend. Amen.


July 24, 2016  ~ "Active Prayer"
Luke 11:1-13

In our scripture today, Jesus invites us to pray in a spirit of fearless faith.  He advocates a kind of prayer that is active, not passive.  He encourages us to speak boldly to God about what we want, what we need, what we dream about for ourselves and for our world.

The Lord's Prayer is one we've spoken hundreds, perhaps thousands of times.  But this time, as I read it in Luke's Gospel, I hear more  than ever Jesus' liberating invitation to ask in prayer for what we long for most deeply, the dreams we hope most urgently will come true.

"Ask, and it will be given you," he further explains.  "Seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you." (Luke 11:9)

Jesus in not only inviting us to ask for something, he's inviting us to want something, and then to ask God for it.  The Lord's Prayer is an invitation to express our desires, each and every day, so that both God and our own souls may hear what our hopes truly are.

We find that in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches his followers not only how to pray, but also how to live.  We know this is a prayer designed to be prayed daily because in it, we ask for "daily bread."  But first, we ask for God's will to be done and God's kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Imagine if we truly prayed this way today.  We might say when we wake up, "Good morning God.  Praise be your name.  Bring your kingdom right now so there can be peace in the Middle East, food for all who are hungry, and by the way, please wipe out all nuclear weapons while you're at it!"

Jesus says, "Go ahead and ask for it!"  Whatever you most deeply desire.  Ask, he says, with the persistence of a friend bothering a neighbor for bread in the middle of the night.  Sure, it may seem inconvenient, but you have a need, and you have the right to ask for fulfillment of that need!

July 17, 2016  ~ "True Devotion"
Luke 10:38-43

Our scripture this morning reminds us that there are times to take action and work, and there are times when we should stop, reflect, and listen.  In the wake of the attack in Nice, France, it is good to be like Mary, to sit and do nothing for a moment and to listen for God's guidance as Mary listened to Jesus that day.

What has happened to Martha is what happens to so many of us when we work feverishly, tirelessly, and lose focus on the meaning of what we are doing.

When we get to the point that Martha reached, we inadvertently lose the sense of love and devotion we originally set out to demonstrate through our work.  Our actions lose their sweetness and become like a noisy gong or clanging symbol, to use the words of St. Paul.

When Martha's service becomes harsh and tedious, Jesus stops her in her tracks, saying, "Martha, Martha..."  He says her name twice.  Perhaps she didn't even hear Jesus the first time...

"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need for only one thing!"  Lou-Anne Keith shared last week something that I had never noticed.  It could be that Jesus is playing with language here again.  Perhaps Martha is trying to cook too many dishes.  Maybe he could mean, "Martha, all we need is some bread.  Don't knock yourself out for us!"  But Jesus also surely means, "There is need for only on thing," which is the love and grace of God.

Jesus invites Martha and all of us to return to true devotion.  He reminds us that they should not be completed as tasks, but in the spirit of service, thanksgiving and joy.  True devotion allows us to remember that we are only able to do anything because God has graced us with bodies, minds and remarkable ability to create.

Whatever work we do, whatever the task we're faced with, we're invited to do it with a sense of purpose, and even with true devotion.

July 10, 2016  ~ "The Way to Peace"

The Parable of the Good Samaritan comes as Jesus and a lawyer are speaking about the Greatest Commandment.  The lawyer was a biblical scholar as is Jesus.  They agree that the love of God and neighbor are the two greatest commandments from their Hebrew Scriptures.

But as lawyers and scholars like to do, this lawyer wants to see if Jesus Interprets the word "neighbor" the same way he does.  It says, "But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, 'And who is thy neighbor?'".

When Jesus answers this question with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he gives us a world-changing gift.  The lawyer was hoping that Jesus would define "neighbors" as his fellow Jewish neighbors.  But Jesus does the opposite.  He shows that being a neighbor is not about who you are, but about how you live - how you treat others, and how you reflect the compassion of God.

In this story, the one who turns out to be the true neighbor is the one who the lawyer never would have called a neighbor in the first place.  He was a Samaritan, a foreigner, and even an enemy, according to Jewish culture at that time.  Yet he showed God's compassion undeniably.  It was the priest and the Levite, fellow Jews, that left the beaten man on the side of the road.

When Jesus asks the lawyer who was the neighbor, he answered, "The one who showed him mercy."  (He couldn't bring himself to say, "the Samaritan man".)  Jesus concludes, saying, "Go and do likewise."

What an urgent lesson this is for our times.  From the individuals killed by the police to the police gunned down this week we see such senseless violence.  Somehow, in our sinful and broken world, we create a false "us v. them" tension.  We no longer call one another "neighbor".

We learn in this wonderful Parable that its not about who we must love, but how we must love.  Whoever we are and whomever we help, we're called to show others the compassion God has shown us.  If we do this, we will truly live, both in this lifetime and also, Jesus says, for eternity.

July 3, 2016
Molly Robertson

I recently took a class on European Renaissance literature.  It changed my mindset about my life, faith, and even school in general.  It was a small class of 12 including myself and the professor.  The religious writings of Renaissance sparked passionate and respectful discussions.  We spoke of vital human questions like what does it mean to have a soul; what truth is; and who we are as individuals.  To me the classroom felt like church.  It felt sacred and somehow set apart from my other daily activities.  It was a place where honest discussion was encouraged and critical thinking was cherished.  As a group we united and focused our attention somewhere beyond ourselves, nourishing our intellect and using our minds as a medium of worship.  In the sharing of our thoughts, entertaining differing opinions, and revising and developing our own worldview, I felt a freedom.  I felt unrestricted and challenged and I felt like God was present in every class.

This class refined my belief that God doesn't want us to be lazy.  Proverbs calls the lazy person a "sluggard".  Proverbs focuses on the physical side of laziness, but I believe that behind the physical laziness is mental laziness.  Proverbs uses foils, opposing pairs, to highlight God's desires.  So, in the Proverb "the sluggard's soul has nothing, but the diligent soul will prosper", God is clearly encouraging his people to be diligent.  Synonyms for diligent include: earnest, dedicated, industrious, meticulous, and my favorite, conscientious.  It is not a mistake that conscientious and conscious share a root.  God wants us to be conscientious and diligent - aware of our faith and invested in it mentally.  He wants us to engage our minds which helps us grow, which brings us closer to Him and which is good for our wellbeing.

This belief is not unique to me. Pico was a Renaissance scholar who wrote 900 theses on a variety of topics.  He wrote "Oration on the Dignity of Man".  It highlighted the potential of human achievement with an emphasis on the quest for knowledge.  He even suggested that sharpening our minds can make us "celestial beings".  We need to discuss our ideas with one another to sharpen our minds.  Proverbs 27 says "as an iron sharpens iron".  Friction is required to sharpen an object as it is with our minds.

Don't check out.  Don't just take something at face value.  Expose yourself to people and opinions you have never heard before.  Take the initiative, ask questions, and be thoughtful in your faith and find the freedom in dialogue with your fellow human beings especially in this time of uncertainty in our world.  We effect change by thinking and exchanging ideas.

June 26, 2016  ~ " Taking Up the Mantle"
MJ Buist, Diaconal Minister

My legal name is Merrijoy and let me tell you it's a hard name to live up to on a daily basis.  One person who did live up to his name was the prophet, Elijah.  Did you know his name means "Yahweh is God"?  It was fitting since he told everyone that Yahweh was the only one true God. He was zealous and passionate about bringing everyone back to the true God.  You see, the king of Israel had a foreign wife.  You may have heard of her, Jezebel.  Her name lives on today to describe any evil woman on earth.  She is the one who brought the worship of Baal.

One of my favorite Sunday school lessons was when Elijah challenged priests of Baal to test their gods by calling down fire.  Of course, they failed while Elijah calls upon Yahweh to light his water-drenched altar.  Fire comes and Elijah lives up to his name.

Elijah was not very popular with the king or Jezebel.  Armies were sent to capture and kill him.  He cries out to God, "I have been very zealous for you.  I alone am left and they are seeking my life."  He is burnt out.  God answers him by telling him to anoint Elisha as prophet.  He finds Elisha and throws a mantle around him.

What is a mantle?  Some modern translations use the word cloth, but it was so much more.  It was a cloak worn by kings and prophets.  It automatically marked Elisha as a spokesman of God.  The stoles worn by pastors today continue the tradition of showing one who is called.

After Elijah is taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire, Elisha rends his garments in grief.  He picks up Elijah's mantle and strikes the River Jordan, parting it.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of women being sanctioned to preach in the United Methodist Church.  Lord, I thank you for the women before me in the last 60 years who have passed on the mantle of ministry.  Help us all to pick up the mantle of your Spirit, so we can truly live out our name of Christians.

June 19, 2016  ~ "Make a Joyful Noise"

During one of my seminary classes, one of our professors like to tell colorful stories about her past work in the church.  One day, she shared about a very special cleaning lady who worked at one of the churches that Professor Scott used to serve.

Professor Scott had noticed that this cleaning lady, whose name, I believe, was Rachel, was continually smiling as she worked around the church.  Professor Scott was also aware that Rachel was suffering from an illness which may not be curable.  Still, Rachel came to work faithfully and, much more, showed no sign of discouragement because of her sickness.  Instead, Rachel walked the seminary halls and went about her work with a smile that offered encouragement to others.

One day Professor Scott approached Rachel and asked her, "How is it that you are always smiling?  Most of us don't have nearly as much to worry about as you, but you keep smiling more than the rest of us!"  Rachel answered her, "Well, professor, sometimes you have to keep smiling on the outside until your insides catch up with you."

The Psalms in our scriptures teach the same lesson.  We read a beautiful Psalm this morning, Psalm 42, which begins, "As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, o God."  But then we learn that this faithful psalmist is also unhappy when he says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God."

The wisdom of the Psalmist is similar to that of the cleaning lady, Rachel.  Its the knowledge that when we are downcast or depressed, and we may not even know why, it's essential that we rediscover thanksgiving and praise.

For this reason, when Jesus; disciples ask him how they should pray, He teaches them to begin, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."   "Hallowed", of course, means "praised" be thy name, and we're reminded that it's best for our own attitude and outlook if we begin our prayers with something positive, and some reason to give thanks.

June 12, 2016  ~ "The Generosity of the Grateful"

When Silas Dollins was a 2nd grader, he ordered from the cafeteria on of those "delicacies" called a corn dog.  It slipped off the stick and slid down the wrong pipe so he couldn't breathe. Thanks to the quick actions of Cathy, a campus aide who gave him te Heimlich Maneuver, he was saved and could breathe again.

You don't forget an experience like that.  It impacts you to the very core.  We couldn't thank Cathy enough and to this day remember her with gratitude.

One beautiful story from Luke tells of a sinful woman who feels forgiven by God and, out of gratitude, washes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with valuable ointment poured from an alabaster jar.  She is so grateful, she doesn't even care if she makes a scene.

Simon, the Pharisee, thinks this woman is entirely inappropriate and wonders if Jesus is a true prophet from God to allow this.  But Simon did not extend the common courtesies of that day. 

I'm sure we all have reason to be grateful.  It might not be as grateful as teh woman but here was a passion and purity born of her gratitude.

Rev. Ken Callahan, during a seminar, asked us to think about the "persons of hope" who have made us who we are today.  When life becomes most discouraging, it's vital to set our minds on persons of hope, whether they are alive today or in Heaven.  Somehow, thinking of those people will restore in us a sense of gratitude and peace. 

If we allow our faith to become just a matter of following rules and customs, we love the purity and passion in our faith.  But if we return our heart to the people and experiences for which we are most grateful, we discover that we have something to give.  Take a moment to remember those special "grateful" people.

June 5, 2016  ~ "Abundant Blessings"

During the time of the prophet Elijah, he met a poor widow and her son, who, even though they were poor and down to their last handful of meal and oil, shared their food with him.  It was the custom of showing hospitality.

Elijah tells teh woman to make him a small cake, then make something for herself and her son.  He tells her not to be afraid and the jar of meal and the jug of oil would last through the drought.  He assures the woman that if she shifts her focus from scarcity to faith, God will provide her guest and her family with abundant blessings.

This would be quite a challenge for many people today.  How many of you have experienced a 'time of scarcity?"  Was it in college or unemployment?  Did you put your faith in God?

Jesus teaches the same lesson in his Sermon on the Mount.  He says to strive first for  the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all things wil be given to you (Matthew 6:31).

We need to take poverty seriously.  We see more and more tent villages and those just trying to survive underneath overpasses and along riverbeds.  Thank heavens we are a church that does a great deal to feed the hungry.  Our Missions Committee continues to expand our outreach to neighbors who are most in need - the newest - getting excess food from elementary schools and restaurants and taking it to Mary's Kitchen. 

But even as we address the pressing needs of the poor, we're called to seek God's goodness above all, and to look first at God's hand for what we need.

May 29, 2016  ~ "Becoming Whole"

Here we are, celebrating Memorial Day with pictures of loved ones who have served this country.  Many, along with their families, suffered greatly.

Sometimes when we are sick or hurt, we ask ourselves, "Why is this happening to me?  Why me and not someone else?"  But could we turn around and ask, "Why not me?  Why should someone else suffer illness when I should stay healthy?"

Jesus focuses on how we should respond.  Will we respond to hardships with despair, or will we choose life, hope, and the desire to be made whole?

Long before Jesus it was thought that someone who became sick or disabled must have deserved it due to their own sin.  Jesus again responds to this by not dwelling on why a person suffers, but how they will respond, urging them to choose hope, healing, and life.

The question of whether to live or to end life has come to the forefront recently with the passage of the Assisted Suicide Law.  It is a complicated and emotional subject, and becomes a very personal matter.

Assisted suicide or euthanasia?  Professor Theo Boer has written some articles about the 20-year-old practice in the Netherlands.  He calls for us to show a much deeper commitment to, and respect for, life.  He opposes euthanasia, but in extreme cases people should be allowed the option of a physician prescribing life-ending drugs that the patient takes on his own.

The Methodist Church opposed euthanasia and assisted suicide in all cases.  But whatever laws may be passed, it is a hope that we will always pursue a desire to live and the faith to be made whole.  We know we belong to God.  So let us live with faith and pursue health and strength and trust in God.

May 22, 2016
Pastor William deBos

Today is Trinity Sunday and we had the opportunity to hear "one of our own" preach.  Pastor deBos knows this church well.  He is the son-in-law of Peg Boring, married to Betsy Boring, participated in AUMC activities and ministered at Roger Boring's funeral.  As he put it, he's had many adventures in this church.

The congregation knows him.  Chet Singley told him, "Say something ministerial."  And he did.  He looked around the sanctuary - the artwork behind the cross, the banners, the beauty of our church, the architecture that brings this church to life.

William's ministry took him to Hawaii.  He learned a lot bout the culture, himself, and his relationship with God. He found he doesn't like shoes a whole lot.  At one point, walking up a hill shoeless, and as he let the earth tell him what its feeling, he began to feel.  It was a relationship.

The demographics around AUMC has definitely changed.  We should be filling the hearts of those around us.  Our hearts should be going out to make our circle larger - and then larger.  We need to be strong in our faith.  If you are uncertain, how can you transmit your faith to others?

We cannot stay chained to the past.  How could the love of God flow and flourish?  The story we tell is one of hope.  It is the story of Jesus to make us whole.

Live the Kingdom of God in this moment.  It is a lifelong journey of moving us to where God wants us to be.  If we don't tell the story, who will?  And there are so many stories to tell, so many things to do and share.

May 15, 2016  ~  "Smile and Breath"

For centuries we have thought of God as far off from us as just human beings.  Only those few such as the high priest, or Moses who received God's commandments on a mountain, could approach God.

And then Jesus appeared, and he became up close and personal to us.  People began to feel that God's Spirit was alive and He was eager to know us.  He was as close as the air that they breathed.

There are stories of the way God's Holy Spirit descended on God's people.  One, from the book of Acts, shows how the disciples experienced the Holy Spirit like a mighty wind with tongues of flame above each person.  And suddenly they could understand foreign languages.

Another, as told by John, was when the disciples were visited by the risen Christ in a locked room.  Jesus did a strange thing.  He breathed on his disciples saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit."  They had to breathe in what he exhaled.  He was inviting them to "enter" his life.

Breathing should be out top priority in life.  God is present to us as the breath we take in.  The air fin front of us is almost sacramental.  In eastern traditions, we are reminded every breath, in truth, is a gift of life.

We are more united with one another than we realize.  Every living thing is constantly sharing part of its being with every other living thing.  Think of yourselves with a  group of friends.  Everyone breathes in, then exhales and breathes in again.  Those air particles become a physical part of you.  Suddenly the differences between people does not seem so distinct.

A 20th century Quaker named Thomas Kelley has a breath prayer: "Be thou my will," or "May you be my will."  How mysterious air is!

May 8, 2016  ~  "Still Singing God's Praise"

Our church retreat to Camp Lazy W in San Juan Capistrano was wonderful.  The theme was "God's Rhythms," which included rhythms of time, past, present and our future.  We shared the rich history of our church, the opportunities we have now, and our dreams for the future.  We included Scriptures that let us look to the past with gratitude, the present with openness, and the future with hope, just as the Israelites did.

Being Ascension Sunday, we look at the time Jesus ascended into heaven and at the disciples who were not ready for him to go.  They followed Him with their eyes, some, wanting to go with him.  But in the Acts story, two angels explain to them that one day Jesus will return and now they should get back to their lives.

In our own lives, there are many times we look for a way out, then find ourselves turning to mindless entertainment, isolation, or possibly drugs.  We turn to smart phones, portable video screens, but not to people or to God.  We look for little detours out of life, but we must be careful it isn't a permanent escape from our difficulties.

God calls us to keep living just as he did the disciples.  They celebrated their faith coming together in the temple to worship God.

Especially when we feel alone or don't know what to do, let us draw closer to God in the spirit of thanksgiving.  The disciples could have panicked, but they chose to continue to sing God's praise.  Let us, as individuals and as a church, do the same.  What a calmness it can bring to us!

May 1, 2016  ~  "From Fear to Courage"
Pastor Dale Fredrickson

The tennis shoe man was here!  His family is fine and the kids are growing up.  He will be moving to his own church in Lakewood, Colorado, and we all certainly wish him well.  And now to his sermon...

His poetry is "mind opening."  In his words, pure and full of heart, he shows God to us . . . through nature, through stories, through the sky and earth, through resurrection, through the love God brings us as new life.

The church can be creative . . . it can spark of new life.  He tells a story of coaching a 3rd grade basketball team.  They are in the finals and it's the last 30 seconds of the game.  The opposing team is one point ahead.  Time-out is called, and as the team sits down, one boy brings all his emotions to the front and says, "I'm afraid!"

Just as the disciples in that rocking boat during a storm, Jesus comes in to calm their fears.  Is Christian faith strong enough to calm our fears . . . about ourselves . . . the world . . . our faith?  As in Matthew 14:27, "Don't be afraid.  Take courage.  I am here."

Our brains are geared to make us run from fear . . . but if we use the frontal lobe . . . there is courage.  We can take the next step.  We can trust ourselves.  Like Branch Ricky, who in 1903 was taken aback by racism.  It took him years to overcome that "fear" and sign Jackie Robinson to his baseball team.

...And back to the basketball game . . . Dale, as their coach, didn't exactly know what to do, so he told the kids to "just breathe."  He could see their courage coming back.  The last 30 seconds of the game, with the ball in their hands, and passing from one to another, and finally a shot was taken , , , up and in the basket!  By taking that next step . . . that step of courage, the game was theirs

Can you take the next step?

April 24, 2016  ~  "Draw the Circle Wide"

The Easter season continues . . . and the living Spirit of Christ draws the circle wider and wider.  God, in opening to Peter, changed what he considered to be unclean and distasteful and the people to be unworthy.  God tells Peter, "What God has made clean, you must not profane (Acts 11:7-9).

How many of us have had a food from another culture . . . and how hesitant were we to eat it?  It may not be to our liking, but we certainly should respect our host.  This happened to Serena and James in Korea while eating "live" octopus.  Oh my!

God instructs Peter that accepting foreign friends as Christian brothers and sisters might feel like eating unkosher food, but we should welcome all people.  "Love one another as I have loved you."

While James was in high school, he decided to learn some Spanish phrases to overcome his prejudice.  As he spoke some everyday phrases, the barrier broke, and he began to change his thinking.  He realized that we are all human beings with emotions, goals, families, wants and needs.  This is a process God invites us to experience . . . that we are all equal.  We can extend a hand and draw the circle wider.

We have a wonderful opportunity in this diverse community of ours to heed Peter's words . . . "The Spirit told me to go with them (his new Gentile friends) and not to make a distinction between them and us . . ."  He later says, "If then, God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" (Acts 11:12,17)

Extend your hand . . . Widen your circle!

April 17, 2016  ~  "What God Has Made"

One of our former members, Diane Garrison, was a "heart giver."  The rule she established was that if someone stops to admire your heart necklace, you're supposed to take it off and give it to them.  This happened to Cheryl, one of our Bible study members, much to her chagrin, because it was her favorite necklace.  Someone suggested she go back to the store, find the woman she gave it to, and it she was wearing the necklace, admire it, thinking she might get it back.

Tabatha, or Dorcas, as she's called in Greek, was one of those gift givers - making beautiful things to brighten peoples' lives.  When she died, the widows approached St. Peter and showed him the tunics and other clothing she had made by hand.  Just as they wanted to pay tribute to Dorcas, we too, pay tribute to the role Diane Garrison has played in our lives. 

During the Viann Pulice memorial service, it was brought out about the beautiful sewing she had one and the gifts she had given to people.  In many ways, its like a resurrection.  We think of the many things . . . and people in this church who are gift givers . . . Jack Albright's wrought iron candelabras, the wooden doves hanging in the back of the sanctuary made by Donna Fanning's father, Virgil Enoch's portable pulpit, Joan Farr's banners, . . . and on and on.

What gift to we bring that will glorify God?  It could be music, art, words, poetry, a smile, a willingness to help others.  God is the very source of every talent and ability.  In John 1:1-14 we see that "the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and lived among us."  This glory of God's is shown in his only Son.

Dale Fredrickson is fearless about sharing his poetry for the glory of God.  How can we share God's gift to share goodness, not evil.  Think of all the possibilities to give - no matter how small.  Think of the giver and receiver.  Think of the emotions that flood us showing God's word. 

April 10, 2016  ~  "Feed My Sheep"

Dora Chaplin, an Episcopal seminary professor, once reminded the church, "Our Lord said, 'Feed my sheep'; he did not say 'count them'."

As proud Methodists we give service to the poor and hungry worldwide through our food ministries.  Even as we falter and our numbers decline, we continue.

Reading from the book of John, we continue to celebrate Easter with another resurrection appearance.  This time Jesus offers fishing advice to experienced, life-long fishermen like Peter and other disciples.  They are not catching any fish.  Jesus suggests they throw their nets on the other side of the boat.  It, of course, worked and disciples understood they were once again in the presence of the risen Lord. 

There are many resurrection stories and they are somewhat mystical, as is the number "3".  God is known in three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Jesus rose after three days.  Three is the number of times Peter denied Jesus and is given three opportunities to profess his love toward Jesus.  Jesus asks Peter if he loves him and Peter answers each time.  Jesus then replies and implies the same message, "Feed my sheep."  No guilt.

The grace of God invites us all to walk side by side to feed God's sheep, to serve people and to keep walking in the way of Christ's love.

We have all probably had a time when a relationship is tense, but we can solve the problem.  Just as Jesus' approach toward Peter's past sins made him look to the future, so should we.

April 3, 2016  ~  "in the Breaking of the Bread"

As we continue this season of Easter, we see that it's a time to take courage, lift our heads high, and look for signs of hope and God's loving.  A beautiful story found in the Gospel of Luke gives us a mental image of two travelers, emotional, bitter, and sorrowful after Jesus' passing, then become exhilarated in the discovery of Christ still alive in the breaking of the bread.

Cleopas and his friend find themselves walking with a third person, not knowing or recognizing it was really Christ.  This "stranger" asks them what they are talking about.  They stop walking and one of them snidely asks if he is the only stranger in Jerusalem that didn't know the things that had taken place.  Jesus leads them to share their emotions with him.

There is a beautiful painting by Janet Brooks Gerloff called "The Road to Emmaus" that shows Cleopas and his friend, hunched over, dressed in somber colors and immersed in grief, walking with that "stranger" in a silhouette form.

They had a dilemma, these two Jews, suffering the loss of their friend and teacher.  They thought Jesus was the Messiah - the Savior.  But Jesus taught them a new lesson.  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?  By discussing scripture, Jesus showed them that the Messiah would live and reigh forever, but first would pass through injustice and suffering.

Finally reaching their town of Emmaus, they ask the stranger to stay with them for shelter and food.  Jesus rewards their kindness by revealing his true identity in the breaking of the bread.

Whatever life's circumstances may be, believing that life goes on, and if we try, we may discover the living presence of God walking with us.  Let us discover the loving presence of God, so we might accompany others and offer them hope.

March 27, 2016  ~  "Alive Again"

In the story of the resurrection, in Luke's Gospel, the women are not just at Jesus' tomb, but in it.  It was probably small and dark with a low entrance.  Peter and the disciples had to stoop to enter.

The women brought spices to anoint the body and to see if it was actually there.  But then, two angels meet them and ask, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen."  A little creepy, right?  As the women exit to go tell the disciples, they too, emerge to seek his living presence in new places and new ways.

In early Christian churches the symbolism of emerging from the tomb is preserved in the ritual of baptism.  Baptismal fonts have been unearthed to show a person descending the steps to be submerged, then rising from the other side.  It appeared the person had been buried and raised again with Christ.

We've looked at the meaning of the cross, what it means to be forgiven and to be saved from sin and guilt so we rise up and live again.

It's sometimes frightening to be honest with God.  We fear the evils of this world or the darkness or our souls will be too heavy.

Most of us have seen people in great despair, not knowing where to turn.  But you can have a second life.  You can be "resurrected."  You can follow in Christ's way of love to a new and eternal life.

As the lyrics to the Steppenwolf vintage song says, "It's never too late to start over again!"

Christ has risen . . . We have risen! 

March 20, 2016  ~  "Love Defeats Death"

You can probably count on one hand the people in your life you greatly respect or have helped to make you a better person.  Was it a relative, teacher, friend, or pastor?  In the Wednesday Bible Study, the names of Harry Denman and Bess Whyman came up.

On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus was welcomed not only as a king but to give thanks to someone who had changed them.  And all began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice.

We have discussed the different theories of atonement and a third theory teaches that the sheer power of Jesus' love forever transformed the hearts of those who knew him.  Developed by Peter Abelard, a French theologian, it was called the "Moral influence Theory of Atonement."  A better name might be "Transforming Love" by seminary professor Dwight Vogel.

We think about Jesus and how he changed the lives of all of us by challenging us to love our enemies - to turn the other cheek. Even the thief dying on the cross next to Jesus was "tranformed" by his words:  "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Others were changed with Jesus' death on the cross: a Roman centurion, the crowd below, all realizing He was not a false prophet or criminal.

And then there is the love of Christ at Easter.  It comes like a huge wave in the ocean and has the power to lift us, and the power to overcome death itself.  We wave palm branches on Palm Sunday and shout "Hosanna" as we head into the direction of the wave that leads us to shore.  That wave is the transforming love of Christ.

Let us trust in Christ's love to lift us beyond every obstacle in our life.  Let us proclaim that God's love reigns!

And so, as Easter brings us salvation,  and we celebrate with family and friends, let us all say, "Thank God!"

March 13, 2016  ~  "Everyone Matters"
Forrest Dollins - Youth Sunday

The service started with a song and a video:
"Come find your mercy . . . Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can't heal, hear, or cure . . . Come as you are . . . Fall in his arms"  (it was powerful!)

Next, the song "Father Abraham" complete with motions that tell us that without a hand, or a foot, or an ear, we are helpless.  We need them to work together.

Even the Call to Worship was powerful:  "Young or old, all our welcome.  People of all backgrounds and all circumstances - All are welcome.

A song, "Beautiful Things", lifted us up to say that hope is springing up and making us new . . . that God makes beautiful things out of us.  And IT was powerful!

And then came the message by Forrest Dollins called "Everyone Matters".  His words told us that we are all unique and special, but we all need to work harder.  We often judge others, but we don't have to hold that judgement.  We can work to change it.

We can work as a team.  He likened it to being on a team, whether it be sports or a project at school.  We accomplish more when we work together. 

Attending youth camp helps us to learn about ourselves - about God - and brings us closer to others.

Our youth have new sweatshirts.  Boldly printed on the front: "SCRAPS ~ Super Cool Really Awesome People Seriously".

So, to the Youth ~ you ARE awesome . . . and powerful!

March 6, 2016  ~  "God's Goodness Conquers Evil"

Picture Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  In his "humanness" he prays.  Picture him saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me," and then after struggling, "Yet, not my will but yours be done.:

Next, picture Judas - a trusted friend, leading a crowd who want to arrest Jesus.  And after a fight, a disciple severing a man's ear.  Jesus yields to his captors, saying, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness."  A frightening and uncomfortable story to say the least.

While studying to become a minister, James grandmother asked, "Do you think that evil exists?"  Sh had witnessed evil while growing up during World War II and being of German descent.

One theory of atonement focuses on our own sin and guilt, yet a much older teaching, called "Christus Victor", sees God's goodness overcomes evil once and for all through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Sin and evil can be very real.  One of the ancient names for the devil is "the confuser".  We can recall times when people ahve been confused and taken to fighting one another.

Back to the story of Judas.  He was terribly confused believing Jesus was a failed Messiah and therefore should be put to death.  He felt he was doing what was right and yet full of fear. 

But the good news is that God's goodness overcomes the world's sin and evil.  Through Christ, God conquers the Confuser himself.

We look at today's "confusers" - a KKK meeting in Pearson Park, then a gathering of kindness and peace saying, "Anaheim, a city of goodness" two days later. Even our political world confuses us.  Our instinct is to fight fire with fire.

But remember that one word - Jesus - has overcome evil and his life overcame death.

February 28, 2016  ~  "Not Just a Symbol of Faith"
Dr. Scott Farthing

The cross, a problematic symbol that may be the hardest to understand.  We all have certain memories about the cross or hear the phrases, "a cross to bear" or "the old rugged cross" or the hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross".

In his non-traditional Sunday school class, where the darkest parts of Christianity were taught, Scott remembers a large wooden cross used to touch, feel and carry to replicate Jesus' journey.  It was an indelible image - splinters in our hands to feel the pain - the singing of "The Old Rugged Cross". The cross was a symbol of pain.

Throughout history the cross has been a symbol in battle, a symbol to identify each other, a symbol used on tops of buildings and churches to show that it is a safe haven - to show we are Christians. It has become a "branding logo" to show honesty in a person or business.

How do you interpret the cross?  We can certainly think of the death of Jesus on the cross, but we also think that because of that cross, it is life. 

"Take up the cross and follow me."  In looking at that phrase, we immediately think of the struggles we have, but perhaps it can mean something entirely different.  Can't it mean something beautiful?  Can't we use the cross we caryy to call those aroudn us into a life of love and light?

Christ calls us to be an Easter people and not the people of Good Friday.  Take that step out of the shadow of death and into the light of a bright life!  A symbol of our own resurrection, pick up the cross and spread His love and joy!

February 14, 2016 ~ “Grace Conquers Guilt”

Do you feel guilty? In some way we all do whether it’s something you said to someone and shouldn’t have or something you’ve done. The good news is, that in Christ and in his cross, we find a way to overcome guilt, evil and even death. In the story of Peter, we know he denied Jesus three times, But Jesus asked Paul to be a disciple. Peter’s reaction was to tell Jesus to go away because he was a sinful man. Peter was right. He was weak and unfaithful . . . and he regrets it. Such sins are known as sins of commission. It is an action which does harm.  Sins of omission is failing to do something that should have been done.

We have all felt one or both of these. We often feel we haven’t done enough and that often nags at us. But Easter and the Resurrection lets us give up those fears.

A powerful scene in the movie, “The Mission” shows Rodrigo (played by Robert DeNiro) making his living kidnapping native people to be sold as slaves. He finds out his wife has fallen in love with his brother and he kills him.

Rodrigo, devastated by these events meets a missionary, Father Gabriel. He convinces Rodrigo to enact a penance and to return with him to the Guarani tribe, not as a slave trader, but as a missionary, but he has to haul a giant net filled with all his armor up the hill to the village. The village people welcome and forgive him. In the end, Rodrigo’s burden is gone for good.

We too, may carry weights or grudges we are unwilling to forgive until a price is paid. In I Peter, it is explained that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross and frees us from sins. God’s grace conquers our guilt.

We can turn this Good News of salvation into positive moments with ourselves, our friends and the world. Yes, God’s grace is amazing! Believe in it.

February 7, 2016 ~ “All is Forgiven”

Grace. God’s grace. What a powerful thought that is. There are so many stories that show God’s grace. The story of the prodigal son, a favorite of many, shows the wisdom of a father when his “lost” son returned home. His decision to love him regardless, teaches us about forgiveness and that no matter what, he loves his son. Isn’t that what God does? Isn’t that why Jesus died for us on the cross? Even when you run from God, He will be with you.

Lent is a time to return to God and a time to remember God’s grace. It is a time for atonement. Each Sunday . . . and in your own time, think about this season of preparation for Easter . . . and the very essence of God’s grace.

The many stories of Jesus welcoming sinners shocked the Scribes and Pharisees, whose job it was to teach the laws of religion and determine who could be judged faithful. How could Jesus eat with these people? It’s all about God’s grace.

While traveling in Turkey, James and Serena were fortunate to stay with a Turkish family. They learned that one difference in their religion and Christianity was that they must continually strive to earn Allah’s favor and we believe that God forgives us and accepts us eternally.

John Wesley called it the “assurance” of salvation.

With the love of God, fairness and justice sometime fly out the window. Jesus explains that He will joyfully accept us, even when we least deserve it. So let us receive God’s grace and be gracious to one another. What a wonderful season this is!

February 7, 2016  ~  “Heavenly Friends”

God’s timing is remarkable. While preparing this sermon . . . and the title . . . we learned of Holly Martens death. The same thing happened with the death of Mary Lou Frandsen and the following Sunday was All Saints Day. We are all surrounded by friends . . . here on earth and also in heaven.

As we get closer to Easter, we can see God’s timing through the scriptures. Jesus is visited by Moses and Elijah who spoke to him of his departure which he would accomplish in Jerusalem. (Mark 9:31) Again, after the mountaintop experience, Jesus would descend with Peter, James and John to rejoin the 12 disciples and to continue on to his brutal “human” death and then his “rising” on Easter.

God made sure Jesus knew he belonged to God and had his love and blessing even through his trials and suffering.

A painting by Cornelis Monsma, gives a vision of the Transfiguration showing a radiance not soon forgotten. God sacrificed his own son . . . for us! So let God be in us and with us.

During a flood, one man, as the waters kept rising, refused help from his neighbors in a rowboat. He again refused help from those in a power boat. The man climbed to his rooftop and the water almost covered him. A helicopter dropped a rope ladder for him to use, but again he refused. Each time he said, “I know my Lord will save me!” The water rose higher, covered him and he drowned. He asked why God had not taken care of him. God only replied that he had tried . . . three times.

Remember to love one another NOW . . . not later!

January 31, 2016  ~  “What Shall I Do?”
Lou-Ann Keith Preaching

The story of Jesus is very much like our own, We are born, we start our life, but we ask ourselves, "What shall I do?” The scripture Jeremiah 1:4-10 tells what God told Jesus. Basically, He told him He put words in his mouth to destroy and throw down, and to build and plant.

Jesus had been baptized by John and then he went to the desert for 40 days to figure what he should do. He went to Nazareth where everyone knew him. He went to the synagogue and sat among the people. He stood to read the scripture, and was handed a scroll. He found the place where it was written. He looks at the words and says, “You’ve heard the scripture.” (Luke 4:21-30)

Even though the people were proud of him, they were perplexed. Jesus wonders what he should do, then says “No prophet is accepted at home.” Just as Jeremiah, at age 20 didn’t know what to do. But he preaches the word of God even with all his trials.

What does Jesus see in that phrase, “No prophet is accepted at home”? You can’t require God to do anything or stop him from anything. He protected Elijah for protecting a foreign woman.

Jesus claims that God is for everyone. What does that mean in our world?  Jesus preached God . . . and love. (See 1Corinthians 13:1-13)

If you are not sure what your calling is . . . and it may change as time goes on . . . make sure you love . . . your neighbor . . . yourself . . . your world.

We can pay more attention to the words in the hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story.” “I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love. I love to tell the story, because I know ‘tis true, it satisfies my longings as nothing else can do. I love to tell the story, ‘twill be my theme in glory To tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love."

January 24, 2016  ~  “True Equality”

Jesus’ first sermon was one of the world’s shortest. He unrolled the scroll of Isaiah and read, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to ring good news to the poor . . . to proclaim release to the captives . . . to let the oppressed go free . . . ” and then he sat down.

Because the people were staring at him, he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was proclaiming that this was the year of the Lord’s favor. This kingdom of equality and justice would begin now. (Read Luke 4:-19-21) The word spread! Everyone was an equal member of the body of Christ . . . and that we should treat each other accordingly.

We are in the midst of competition wherever we go . . . are we wearing the right clothes . . . do we look a certain way . . . do we impress others . . . are we better at a business deal . . . did we make more money than someone else?

Competition may be healthy but we need to remember that even though we are diverse, none is expendable. It’s a great challenge for us. Paul reminds us that “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need for you’”.

We see conflicts between people of faith . . . it’s nothing new. Many times we lack coordination. We trip over each other and hurt each other. We might need to re-engage. We can learn to embrace equality even in the midst of diversity. Differences take a great deal of getting used to, yet we’re called to stay connected. “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together."

January 17, 2016  ~  “Delight in the Lord”

The Christian faith should not be self-denial or austere piety. The scriptures tell us to delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Jesus kept the party going. His first miracle in the book of John was at a wedding feast where he made sure the guests never ran out of wine. Weddings were week-long affairs and it would have been embarrassing to run out of food and drink to what should be a proud moment.

But how did Jesus do this? He used large 20 gallon stone water jars and asked the servants to fill them with water . . . and miraculously he turned the water into wine.    It shows that if we turn to God, we can receive an abundance of life’s provisions.

It’s a two-way street. We’re invited to delight ourselves in God as god delights himself in us. So . . . as a church, “Are we having fun yet?” The answer should be "YES!". We have beautiful music to listen to, wonderful events to attend . . . the next one being The Soup Supper on February 21st, . . . and further down the line an All-Church Retreat the weekend of May 6-7. We want to have a sense of joy in the things we do, whether it be helping the needy, doing mission work or just chatting with friends after a service.

We have a Pastor’s Discretionary Fund at AUMC that can be used to help those in need. Those that come in for help may also just need to talk to someone who will treat them as a human being. They may need a smile or a laugh because they said something funny. They want someone to delight in them!

Look around you. Let us open ourselves to others.  Consider this life to be a canvas, and every interaction to be a work of art. You are the artist . . . you are God’s creation . . . and you can share that work of art with others.

Delight in God’s world and in God himself. Keep the party going!

January 10, 2016  ~  “Water-washed, Spirit Born”

At the beginning of a new year, we think about resolutions and fun things to do. But our scriptures invite us to ask, “Who will we be?”  We also can think about who we are.

This Sunday is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. You can almost hear the words of God telling Jesus that he is pleased with Him and he is His Son.  God tells him that He is precious in His sight and He loves Him.

The Israelites were ecstatic since they had been held captive for decades. God assured them they were not abandoned, but precious. It’s a most fitting way to start out the new year, to remember that we too, belong eternally to God by the grace of Christ our Lord.

Stones have been placed in our own baptismal font, to take as a reminder of your own baptism. Take a stone, put it in your pocket as a reminder of your Baptism. Baptism means we are defined not by our successes and failures, or hardships of the world, but to be water-washed and Spirit-born belonging to God today and always. We often forget how important that knowledge is.

Our resolution this year might be to watch our mental diet . . . to nourish our minds and spirits with encouragement and affirmation. “We are God’s children.“

A painting by Melanie Weidner-Watson, entitled “Fill” shows how a broken vessel somehow receives water from an unseen source. It has more to pour and there is no lack of water, until it is entirely enveloped in water. Let us pour God’s grace and peace.

January 3, 2016  ~  MJ Buist Preaching  ~  “Season of Blessing”

Epiphany Sunday . . . the day the church celebrates the visit and gifts of the magi. The magi were “wise men” who were actually scientists studying astronomy and astrology. They believed the stars and their positions in the sky were signs of future events. Large stars were a sign of someone great being born . . . a new and future king . . . and so, they followed the star and came to the birth of the Christ child.

The two real kings were Herod, appointed by Rome to keep the Jews in line and the newborn king of Jews. How different they were . . . Herod in all his finery and a newborn in swaddling clothes. Herod, who used his power in a cruel way, and Christ ruling with the power of compassion. The wise men chose to worship the Christ child and gave the best gifts they had.

The other “wise man” is Solomon, son of David who is said to have written all the Wisdom books of the Bible. It’s interesting to note that he tells of the contrasts of events in one’s life . . . with birth and death . . . one’s earthly beginning and end.

Phrases in the Old Testament before Christ certainly have different meanings today. The phrase “A time to kill” now might mean to kill the lights or kill the cancer cells. Another word . . . ”heal” references as Christ, the "Great Healer”. To us, it might mean severing ourselves from an unhealthy relationship or an illness.

MJ attended Bible School in West Germany and had the privilege to spend time with an older couple who had escaped from East Germany. It was a “blessing” to be with them learning about family portraits and even baking Christmas cookies. The job at AUMC has been a “blessing” just as God has given us a purpose and meaning for all we do for Him and the world. As my mother ended her letters to me . . . ”Be a blessing."

December 27, 2015  ~  “Good Questions”

Remember when you were a teenager? Remember when you thought you had it all together and knew it all? Remember trying to convince your parents of that?

Jesus also had one of those moments . . . coming of age and asking good questions to the teachers of the Jewish synagogue, much to the concern of his parents who thought he was lost.

Questions are a good thing . . . we need to ask them. Just as Jesus presented his human side in his questioning to understand, we should certainly do the same. We are not meant to believe without thinking, and have questions and doubts in our faith. In that way, we can “purify” our understanding of god’s wonderful truths.

Pastor Dollins, with other incoming seminarians heard a minister, Edsel Ammons remind the group of this: “Remember that the Lord’s commandment was that we love God with all our heart, all of our soul, and all of our mind. Don’t check your brain at the door of the church. Keep your mind active and working throughout your faith. That is why you’re here at seminary, to work out your struggles, your doubts, so that you can better listen to the similar struggles of many people who will attend your churches.” How true for all of us.

Let our faith be genuine Good questions and a beautiful dialogue we can share with others is an essential part of making faith your own . . . not something someone else believes for us or wants us to believe. In China, there are two ways to become a Christian. One is by the strong influence from family background, and the other is by choice . . . walking step by step toward a genuine belief in God. The scriptures show us truths . . . literal and historical and maybe we should read and listen to them step by step.

Let us love God with all our heart and soul.

December 20, 2015  ~  “The Birth of Peace”

God crafted a wonderful surprise birthday party. He went to great lengths in the birth of Christ . . . the coming of the Messiah. After all, 700 years was a long time to wait for the Israelites . . . and then . . . there he was . . . Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. And to top it all . . . he arrives in an unexpected way and the poorest of the poor hear it first.

When we think of gifts, we first should think that Jesus was our gift from God . . . and then we think of the gifts from the Magi. But other gift givers included Saint Nicholas, a third century Christian Bishop from Asia Minor, who was known for secretly giving gifts of money to the poor, by leaving coins in shoes or dropping them down the chimney into stockings hanging there to dry. A gift is wonderful, but a surprise makes it even better.

God gave us good news! And now it is upon us to never let it be overshadowed by the discouraging headlines of the day. We have to watch our “diet”  . . . to watch what we consume in the news. We can all be thankful for what we have. Surely we can think of one thing each day and to give thanks no matter how big or small.

Prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare your hearts with gratitude and joy. Think what counts . . . the good things. Count your blessings. Let us live in the Good News way, surprising one another with Christian love, delighting the poor and suffering with our acts of service.  “Count your years with smiles, not tears. Count your blessing, not your troubles. Count your age by friends, not by years.”

May it be so.

December 13, 2015  ~  “The Birth of Joy”

The third candle of Advent is pink . . . awaiting expectantly for the birth of Christ. A good question to look at is the difference between happiness and joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

During a Sunday School class while in high school, Serena Dollins came up with a the difference in the two words . . . ”Happiness comes and goes depending on life’s circumstances, but joy runs deep. Even in the hardest circumstances, we can still feel joy deep within.” Such wisdom! Mary and Joseph must have felt this joy and happiness. There were so many obstacles . . . Mary, 9 months pregnant, riding a donkey for miles . . . having to return to Bethlehem because Augustus, the Roman Emperor wanted a census to be taken. Finally finding a place . . . a stable . . . to rest and then have her baby. The hospitality of the owner of the inn was to push the animals aside and let them stay in the stable. They welcomed Mary and Joseph as part of their family.

A story right here in Anaheim is similar. A young couple, homeless for three months and living in La Palma Park, the woman pregnant, felt the pressure of finding a home before the baby was born. And then . . . Via Esperanza! . . . and one week later Joshua was born. (also another name for Jesus)

Kathryn Simon passes away earlier this year. During the service a neighbor praised her for the way she continually opened her door. The neighbor’s son, who suffered emotional disabilities would grow confused and angry at times, yet knew that Kathryn’s back door was open. He would come in, sit down, and calm down. 

People at Elsie Reed’s, memorial service, told of her ability to choose joy in her life . . . even in her death.

Let us all choose the joy of Christ!

December 6, 2015  ~  “The Birth of Love”

“God has lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things,” Looking at this, we have a woman in our midst, Gloria Suees, the CEO of Mary’s Kitchen that fits that quote. She is like Jesus’ mother, Mary, who tells the angel Gabriel, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.?”

We thank Gloria for all she does for our community . . . and we thank all those from our church who volunteer to serve the last and least of our brothers and sisters in God’s family.

Gloria is an amazing woman! She truly gives of herself completely for God’s work. She serves with a smile, a willing heart, is never grumpy even though she’s face to face, each day, with the most perplexing problems of poverty and homelessness.

It is this love for all people including the most needy among us, that has the power to overcome evil itself. With the happenings in San Bernardino and around the world, the words of John should be in our hearts: ”There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

Mary, living in a terrible time, gladly allowed God to be in her life . . . even before Jesus was born. It was her love of Jesus Christ that was more powerful than any fear or injustice.

Let us think about this season . . . this special time of the year when we are given hope and hear again of the love of God . . . the love of Mary . . . the love for one another . . . the love for our fellow human beings. And as the year closes and we begin a new one, let us put Gods love to work.   

Peace be with us all.

November 29, 2015  ~  “The Birth of Hope”

Children are wonderful human beings. They are creative and imaginative and see the world for the first time. They remind us that there are questions and possibilities that we may have ceased to consider. As adults we have seen many, many things happen and change. Perhaps we should be more childlike and more hopeful.  As the poet Ravindranatha Thakura wrote . . . ”Every child comes with a message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”

In a particular mission trip with Sierra Service Project, the end of the week came. Everyone sat in a large circle and passed a hammer to one another sharing what they had learned. One woman in her 50’s, looking around the circle, said her hope had been restored by seeing the young people give of themselves, sacrifice, work and sweat for strangers in need. Wow! That’s powerful!

As Advent begins and we prepare for the birth of Christ, the season changes too shorter days, the winter solstice, and we may be tempted to feel a bit bluer and colder. But now is the time to open our minds to God and how a birth gives hope in our hearts and in our world . . . that of John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for the Messiah.

Zechariah’s Prophecy, found in Luke 1:67-79, is a song of praise following the birth of John. He sings God’s praises and the salvation of all God’s people by giving to us John, who will prepare the Lord’s ways.

Much of our world is in turmoil and we are called to draw closer to God and to one another. We must not isolate ourselves from others and their differences, but be more childlike in opening up the possibilities. This season brings us closer to family, friends and community. It is a season of giving . . .

Now . . . we hope you all join us on December 20 at 5 p.m. to do some Christmas caroling.

November 22, 2015  ~  To Receive with Gratitude

The first Thanksgiving is a great story about how the act of giving lifts us above our differences. It’s the same with the story of Ruth and Naomi. Ruth was a Moabite and married into the family of Naomi, an Israelite. Her family was welcomed by the Moabites and even found wives there, including Ruth. But when her husband Chilion died, Ruth returned to her native land of Judah with Naomi, her mother-in-law. They found times were rough and could only glean food after the ground was harvested.

The law of scripture dictated that farmers must allow the needy and poor to pick up the remaining food and provide for themselves.

The story of Ruth reminds us to welcome one another and even to love one another just as Ruth found a new love with Boaz.

Our Mission Committee reported that through the Honda Center and Casa Garcia, 15,000 people enjoyed a meal and were welcomed by a stranger. Our own Mission Team provided 17 dinners, complete with whole turkeys, to needy families who are served by Ponderosa Park Resource Center. A big thank you to Sandie Duff and Kathy Ramsey who organized the effort.

Hebrew 13:2 reminds us that our hospitality toward a stranger can result in deeply sacred experiences. Congress is having a difficult time deciding how and when we might welcome 10,000 Syrians. Please pray for those in need.

When we open our hearts, we find that God lifts up the needy, but also lifts up the giver as well. AUMC is a giving church! AMEN!

November 15, 2015  ~  “Walk With Me”

The story of Ruth, who offers herself in a committed love to her mother-in-law, Naomi, is one that ultimately helped both women to survive. Naomi has a tragic life . . . she loses everything and feels bitter towards God.

Ruth also had loses and tells Naomi, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God.” She chooses to stay with Naomi rather than return to her own people.

The two form an unlikely family. As the lyrics in a Crosby, Stills and Nash say . . . ”and if you can’t be with one you love, honey . . . love the one you’re with.” God blessed Ruth and Naomi in their companionship.

Adoption is like that . . . a child is chosen. One man and his wife in the Bible study class adopted their son and were awestruck by the privilege they felt in choosing a child that would be a part of their family.

Jesus foresees the destruction of the temple and reminds his disciples to stay connected and move forward, trusting in God’s spirit. Father Greg Boyle has a ministry in LA that helps young men and women find jobs and leave the gang lifestyle. It’s called “Homeboy Industries.” His philosophy is one we all should listen to. His job is not to fix or rescue or even to save. It’s to accompany, see people and listen to them.

Many times, in today’s society, because of our independence and financial stability, we begin to believe that we don’t need one another, and, as in Ireland during the economic boom, people pulled away from the church.

We need each other . . . we need to belong . . . and we become stronger. Being a church member brings us strength. When things go wrong in our lives we have that relationship to look to.

May it be so.    Amen!

November 8, 2015  ~  Dr. Scott Farthing Preaching  ~  "The Widow’s Mite”

The parable of the widow who put two small copper mites in the treasury, which were worth a penny, or a farthing, is full of wisdom and questions. We were taught that the focus is Jesus telling the disciples not to be boastful like the scribes who told everyone how much they gave and voiced wordy prayers touting their own greatness, but to be more like the widow in HOW we should give.

This parable comes at a time when we have a pledge campaign, but as a academician, Scott looked at several different questions . . . kind of a who, what, why approach. The scribes thought they were doing the right thing . . . after all they were LAWYERS. On the other hand, the widow knew that giving her two coins was a sacrifice. What things would happen in her life because she gave the coins?

Perhaps this is more than a parable about how and what we give, but also the power that the gift has over each of us. There is a vulnerability in giving . The scribes were taking no risks, but everything the widow was doing was one risk after another.

Just as a deer longs for water and is aware of where the source is, we have an instinctual nature to search for God and his goodness.
Are you a risk taker? Can you find ways that will test your own limits?    Pray about serving in ways that you have not tried before. Something different! Look deep within yourself for that “spark of creation”. Acknowledge that inner longing that is coaxing you into a deeper relationship with Christ. Look inside yourself and see that God is within you already. Choose the widow’s way . . . give vulnerably.

November 1, 2015  ~  "All Saints Day"

Sometimes we truly sense God’s timing in the life of the church. On this day we remember with thanksgiving the names of our church members who have passed away in the previous year. One of our dearest members, Mary Lou Frandsen happened to pass away just a few days ago.  It’s as though God understood that Mary Lou’s passing would be a hard one, so he called her home precisely as we prepared for All Saints Day.

We wonder why it is called All Saints Day. Saint doesn't refer to someone canonized by the church, nor does it refer to someone who is perfect, or almost perfect.  The Communion of Saints includes everyone who is baptized into God’s family and who strived to follow Christ in their lives. And so, as with Mary Lou Frandsen, we give thanks.

All Saints Day is a day of concentric circles. We move from self-focus, to giving thanks for all of our relations in God’s family and all who have ever lived and died.

When a friend passes away we sometimes think we didn’t do enough to see them, but they wouldn’t want that for us. They would want us to keep living and loving. Let us look at the past with gratitude, but then let us turn and face the future unafraid.

In Revelations, the vision that John of Patmos receives, Jesus speaks these words from the throne: “I am making all things new!” And then he says, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

So let us live this day and every day with the knowledge that all of creation and every person throughout time is in God’s hands. Let us continue living as God calls us to do, and all our “saints” would want us to do.

Live in God’s grace and let us make our own grace to share with others.

October 25, 2015  ~  “Take Heart and Stand”

The 4th week of Job. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” These are great words of promise . . . for Job and all of us.

We can read about the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. When Jesus sees him asking for help he wants to know what he can do for him. The blind man says, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus tells him his faith has made him well, While the blind man is a beggar . . . and has a license to do so . . . and might lose his income, he still wants to see again. Both Job and Bartimaeus are examples of faithful persons that learned to have a deeper understanding of God . . . to not only hear God, but see Him.

We are not meant to be content with the violence going on today. More shootings seem to be multiplying. It’s a great challenge to have faith that God will heal this societal ill and restore us to abundant life.  We see programs on obesity, and addictions of all sorts, and listen to all the ways to overcome them . . . exercise more . . . eat less. We're trying to grasp for answers without success. And yet, we are called to trust in God . . . to take courage and seek healing like Job or Bartimaeus. But remember the scriptures that God never gives up on us, and we must never give up on ourselves.

If you have a chance to read The Journey, a poem by Mary Oliver, do so. It’s an invitation for us to take courage and seek healing and wholeness in our lives.

Take heart . . . pray for yourself so that you may pray for others. Your strength gives strength to others.

October 19, 2015  ~  “Waiting for Wisdom”

“Be still . . . and know that I am God.”

We know that Job had a conversation with God that is trusting and honest. Job demands an appearance with God to answer his questions. And . . . God is his wisdom, tells Job that it’s okay to complain, but don’t get stuck there. He gives him answers by asking pertinent questions that are much bigger, such as “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” In just that one question we can think of the earth photographed from outer space and gain perspective of how big God is.

Job is overwhelmed and sees that God’s mystery . . . His creation is beyond amazement. Job then changed to look at the infinite greatness and realizes he is only human and God alone, is God.

Jesus had to remind James and John of this truth when they wanted more power . . . to sit at the left and right of Jesus. He says, “whoever wishes to be great . . . must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first must be slave of all.” He tells them that we are called to simply serve God and our neighbors humbly and leave the rest to God.

The vast power of nature was demonstrated last week through the weather. Flooding the freeways with mud slides was overwhelming and showed the power of God’s creation, and how small we really are.

There is a beautiful poem by Mary Oliver called Wild Geese that tells us no matter your despair, your loneliness, the world offers itself to your imagination and you can see your place in the family of things.

The church is here to lift us from our suffering, to listen to God’s voice and to see the business of His world. Teach us humility and patience. Teach us to see the wonders of the world. Teach us the joy of giving and helping others.

October 11, 2015  ~  “Honest to God”

Job is quite a character in the Bible. He tells God exactly how he feels and gives him a piece of his mind. He is like Sunny, in the movie The Apostle, who yells and screams so loud the house shakes. Job’s tone eventually changes. Even in all his questions he still believes that God is just and fair . . . he just wants to present his case.

In what is happening in today’s world, or in our own, we have plenty to say to God. Ann Weems, a Christian poet writes and mourns about the death of her 21 year old son, shouts at God, but resolves with a statement of faith and knows that God loves her. Sometimes it’s beneficial to get it off your chest . . . it’s almost therapeutic.

We are invited to voice our pain, good and loud, until the time we rediscover peace and understanding whether in this lifetime or the next. God knows our hearts and our prayers even before we pray.

In one of the scriptures a man asks Jesus what he can do to inherit eternal life. Jesus invites him to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor to gain treasure in heaven, and then to come follow Him. The man lacked the courage to do that so he went away grieving, the Bible tells us.

God knows our hearts so we can freely and honestly speak our mind directly to God. He walks with us in time of suffering and pain. Since Jesus walked the paths we walk and suffered as we suffer, we can trust God to walk with us through our trials.

We may want answers to our questions, but we need the assurance that we may not be alone. As one hymn says, “He walks with us and he talks with us."

October 4, 2015  ~  “Stronger Together”

World Communion, started by a Presbyterian church, has spread all over the world. Yes, we are indeed, stronger together!

In today’s world, the news is not good and this Sunday, when we celebrate World Communion, is almost a breath of fresh air that pulls us back together.

In the Bible, as Job suffers, his wife tells him to separate himself from God . . . to give up on him. What a dilemma that would be! We know that Jesus welcomed all children and touched and blessed them.

In 1932, Thomas Dorsey wrote the hymn Precious Lord Take My Hand. He was a musician, and while on a trip his wife, who was pregnant at the time, died and no more than 24 hours after that the baby did too. So distraught, Dorsey just wanted to give up but a friend took him to a practice room and left him alone. Sitting at the piano, by himself, he wrote the hymn.

The mass shootings in Oregon shows a gunman isolated and alone and seemingly scornful of religion. Surely he did not experience or believe in the love of Christ or the fact that Jesus died for him.

Too many times great expectations are placed on our young people in today’s society . . . maybe too many, and they do not succeed. What happens to them? Do they know and hold on to the idea that we are all God’s children?

It becomes more important now, that we show and share God’s love and unconditional grace. By staying in connection with God, we may save our own sanity. And . . . we have the ability to “pass it on.”  We have the ability to extend our hand to others and share God’s love.

The first two lines of the Doxology says . . . "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise God, all creatures here below."

September 27, 2015  ~  “Salt for the Earth”

The visit of Pope Francis was historic. He spoke to Congress, the United Nations and touched the lives of hundreds of thousands. In past times Christians were sharply divided between Protestant and Catholics. It influenced politics on a global scale and affected marriages between Protestants and Catholics.

Jesus teaches us then and now . . . ”Whoever is not against us is for us.” Anyone who does a good work in Christ’s name should be considered one of Jesus’ followers, whoever they may be. The disciples sometimes had a hard time with that when Jesus saw a sick man and healed him. They were rather exclusive!

We face some of that today . . . that “we are better” than someone else. That attitude is human-made. God calls us to be at peace with our neighbors and get back to work in Jesus’ name,

Jesus rebukes his disciples and instructs his followers to work side by side.  In Mark 9:42, images are given to show his displeasure . . . Jesus is instructing the disciples to examine themselves. He wants them to focus less on people’s sins, and more on their own urgent need for forgiveness and healing. Jesus calls for us to be “salt for the earth.”

But we need to remember that salt can lose its “flavor” . . . it loses its taste. A simple word of wisdom, but an essential reminder that we’re called to be salt for the earth. We’re called to add flavor and beauty in this world, not take it away. So . . . be a giver . . . not a taker.  Live in peace with our neighbors . . . and ourselves.

September 20, 2015  ~  “Welcome a Child”

While attending a Clergy Convocation, Pastor James was reminded of the disciples discussing which among them was the greatest disciple as they journeyed to Capernaum. Jesus reminds them that, to become first in God’s kingdom, they will have to become last, like a small child. The clergy too, become competitive, comparing the size of their congregations or the location. During a bible study one morning, Rev. John Green reminded us that we are all equal in God’s eyes and we are all in God’s hands. It does not matter how gifted or successful you are or have been, the results of our work are up to God. We simply must do our best.

The disciples continue to believe that Jesus, as the Messiah, will still be a victorious earthly kind. They still vie among themselves as to who will be honored more than the others.

Servant and children were considered to be the least powerful members of society and in Mark 8:34, Jesus welcomes them to take up the cross and follow him.

Rev. Mark Trotter told of a mission trip to an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico where he saw the poorest children he had ever seen. And yet, they played, smiled, and welcomed him. They were no different than wealthier children. Yes . . . the children all belong in God’s kingdom. School teachers welcome all kinds of children. They learn what makes a child tick and work to further his potential.

Working as a chaplain and dean at Strength for the Journey Camp, Pastor James saw how disabilities can lead to strength. These campers rediscovered the love of God.

So . . . as a church, community and world, we have a great challenge to welcome God in all people. Just as our AUMC youth group and OC After School program are welcoming all sizes, shapes and ages.

September 13, 2015  ~  “Who Do You Say that I Am?”

We are invited to contemplate just who Jesus is. He has been called Teacher, Rabbi, Redeemer, Savior, Friend, Lord, Christ, Messiah, the Word, Song of God, Son of Man, Bread of Life, Living Water, the Vine. Yes, he is all of these.

The disciples were asked this question and most said he was the Messiah but Jesus lets them come to their own conclusion.

As Christians, many times we question our faith because it’s not like others we meet. This happened to Pastor James in his first church appointment. In a very small town, with 13 fundamentalist or conservative churches he wondered whether he or the church would fit. Taking his feelings out into the desert, the phrase kept coming to him, “Jesus makes room for everyone including me.” He realized that all fit in.

When Jesus explains that he will undergo suffering, be rejected by many, be killed and rise again, Peter objects. Jesus explains that “Messiah” does not mean king but a savior who gives his power and even his life away. And this shows, “It’s not who I am but what I do in selfless love.”

One such woman, Gloria Suess, the Director of Mary’s Kitchen, (it’s been in existence since 1984) continues this selfless love of feeding the homeless that Mary McAnena started. What a tribute to them . . . and a great lesson to us. Sandie Duff has been revamping our list of missions and what our church does to serve the needy. Look in the Chimes the next few times to see where you can be of service. Keep up the good work!

September 6, 2015  ~ 
“Amazing Grace: The Barren Fig Tree”
Pastor Jim White, Preaching

Rev. White and his wife have just moved from Hawaii to Palmdale. They noticed that their new home had trees . . . pistachios and figs . . . green figs. It reminded him of a parable . . . a simple story with deep meaning.

In Luke 13, verse 6, a fig tree is planted in a vineyard . . . more for the personal pleasure of the owner. As time passes, the owner decided the tree is taking up too much time and effort so he tells the gardener to cut it down. The gardener says he will take the tree for a year. The deep meaning here is that the landowner has to be God and we, as God’s people are the fig tree. We are God’s delight. Jesus, of course, is the gardener. We can hear Jesus saying, “Care for us.” Rev. White has a passion . . . photography. He loves doing it and has finally bought the equipment he needs. He is like the owner of the fig tree.

He also loved camp when he was younger. He had an absolutely wonderful counselor who loved to share himself with others and share his love of God. He changed Rev. White’s life. Who has been that person in your life that has led or guided you?

In a short video presented in today’s sermon, a young boy is in the principal’s office with a teacher he had hit in the face. The principal is talking to him about the incident, then asks him to step outside while she talks to the teacher. The teacher does not want to expel or give up on him. Instead, the boy must report to the teacher every day after school and he will be tutored in all the subjects he needs. The scene ends with the teacher complimenting his art that happened to be on the wall.

Seems like a great story for all of us to remember. The compassion of the teacher shows us that God is not all condemnation and judging. We can also see that Jesus becomes all the gardening tools for us.

August 30, 2015  ~  “True Devotion”

Live life and faith with passion! In the Bible, James says, “Be “doers” of the word and not merely hearers.” Many times we sit in the pew on Sunday morning and are excited about the spoken word, but once we are outside the doors of the church, are we doers of the word?

There are many examples of how people have become doers. Parents, for instance can show real love by what they do . . . not merely talking about it. Our youth who attend camp during the summer, or work with a Sierra Project group are exhilarated by doing something of value.

Our congregation have and are doers. Recently, during a Bible study, real action was taken. Several hundred pounds of uncooked food was taken to Mary’s Kitchen because we volunteered in time of need. We all remember the devastation made by hurricane Katrina.    Members from Methodist churches across the country came together to help the needy. AUMC had several people give their time and effort and are still doing it nearly 10 years later.

When we think about our Mission work, we are doers! During the fall, some of our church leaders will be meeting and discussing potential projects where we can be of help to those in need.

It takes each of us as individuals to tap the shoulder of another . . . to be of help to those in need . . . and “PASS IT ON.”  Are we talkers or doers?

An offertory played by YooJung was “Simple Gift.” How wonderful it is to give God’s gift to others. And so . . . express your love of God in action!

August 23, 2015  ~  “Where God Lives?”

King Solomon, in realizing what a daunting task it is to build a temple, wonders whether God will ever dwell on earth much less in the temple. Where does God live? Sometimes it’s in a building such as a church, a beautiful natural setting, a shared trip, or while we are sitting alone.

The Jerusalem Temple was massive as compared to the surrounding buildings and it inspired amazement in the hearts of many who saw it for the first time. Architects through the ages have inspired to create breathtaking buildings for the glory of God. And we, whether looking at a chapel in the forest, or one made out of trees, feel the awe in the mysteries of God’s creations. Where will we discover God on earth or God’s Spirit?

In Chicago, as a student pastor, collars were worn to let community members know who and why we were visiting. One day a young man approached me and asked if I would pray for him. Suddenly the street became a holy place for a sacred encounter. Not knowing his circumstances, a prayer for God’s blessing and peace was given. And then . . . we each walked our own way. How powerful that chance meeting was. Here was a space for God.

Where is that sacred or holy place for you? How many single times have you felt the creation of God? Maybe it was during your childhood, or looking up at the stars, or sitting in church looking at the banners. Maybe it was watching someone praying or even a lazy stream flowing. We have experienced God!

As with the baptism of Nate Larson today, we know that we are all children of God. VBS children sang “I am the temple...You are the temple.. We are the temple." It lets us see the eternal love and grace of Christ.

Look up . . . see God’s mysteries.

August 16, 2015  ~ “Beginning of Wisdom”

Who would you turn to for advice? Is there a single person you trust to advise you in a dilemma? Who have you consulted in the past? We can look at the wisdom of King Solomon. He asked for wisdom . . . not riches and yet received both of them. He needed God’s wisdom to be able to discern between good and evil and God was pleased with his request.

Life is short and we need to make the most of it. The Christians in Ephesus were reminded to seek God’s wisdom above all other pursuits and pleasures. The words in Psalm 111 says, “The way to wisdom is to honor the Lord.” It is to see that God’s wisdom is more profound and pure than our own.

Albert Outler, a Methodist teacher, summed up god’s wisdom in what he called the Wesleyan quadrilateral. We look to the Scriptures, understand how to interpret them, reflect on our own experiences, and consider what God has revealed to us.

Don’t forget about reason. As one member said, “We have to use our sanctified common sense!”

Don’t check your brain at the door.

Read Ephesians and Paul’s word. He encourages us to live life awake . . . not to numb ourselves with outside forces. As we watch children going off to school, we worry, but if we have spent time with them and instilled the beauty and joys of the world, we know they will be in good hands. Paul reminds us to fill our lives with greater experiences such as friendship, singing, praise and to give thanks to God . . . that thankfulness will take you a long way.

August 9, 2015 ~ “Build Someone Up?”

Climbing Mt. Everest, we think of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as the first we know of to reach the top. Now, we think of Maggie and Loren DuPuy?’s son Matthew?….AND VBS.

The VBS children were taught through song, crafts, games and yes, food, about how God has the power to carry us even beyond the greatest challenges, even sickness, sadness, or guilt. God has the power to heal, love and forgive us all. And all of the above took team work.

We are not meant to face challenges alone. God gives us friends and Christian community to help us pass through the difficult times. In the book of Ephesians, there is a clear message . . . words of wisdom that shows us how we should act toward one another . . . ”Rules for the New Life.”
  • Honest . . . Speak the truth to your neighbors.
  • Be angry but do not sin. Don’t do something you may regret. You can be angry, but don’t lash out.
  • Do not make room for the devil. If we let our anger stew and simmer, it may come to possess us. Don’t bear a grudge,
  • Thieves must stop stealing. Labor with your hands, get real jobs and give to the needy.
  • Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up. As we’ve heard our parents say . . . If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • Build one another up. Be imitators of God . Think of a time when you teased or joked with someone when instead, all they wanted was a word of encouragement . . . and that word could help them climb their mountain to meet with success.
Let us continue this work, whether with one another, children, the community or the world to build one another up.

August 2, 2015  ~  “The Bread of Life”

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” He told his followers that they would never be hungry or thirsty. This contradicted the story of the boy who gave 5 loaves of bread that fed the thousands. But Jesus was introducing a different kind of food . . . deeper and richer in meaning.

We have all kinds of dining . . . from expensive restaurants to fast food. No matter which kind we choose, we seem to be full . . . it’s all in the experiences . . . and our senses.

The people press Jesus to give them more food . . . a meal plan that will last 40 years. But Jesus answers in a different way. He invites them to dine in a new way, no longer out of desperate hunger, but out of a joyful yearning for the love, grace and peace of God.

Professor Huston Smith authored "The World’s Religions" and writes that people pursue what they think they want . . . pleasure, success, freedom from responsibility. He explains that as we tire of these things, we really want to be . . . to know . . . to feel . . . joy. It’s the feeling of being alive and of gaining true knowledge, When we get in touch with these deepest needs our souls are fulfilled, not just today, but forever.

Jesus offered a balanced diet . . . good food and rich spiritual nourishment. Have we feasted lately on the love of Christ and felt God’s acceptance to the core of our being? Have we turned to find a purpose serving others in need? Let us find that unconditional love in community, friendship and grace.

July 26, 2015  ~  “What Gift Will We Bring?”

In John 6:9 we see a boy that gives what he has to Jesus . . . five barley loaves and two fish . . . to feed the masses. And it worked. It was the gift of giving.

In a painting by Eric Feather, an art teacher in a Pennsylvania high school a colorful portrait of this story is depicted. But what is most interesting is the facial expressions of the disciples in disbelief.

“When we give freely of what we receive, our lives take on an entirely different feeling. Suddenly, life seems to make sense. We have fulfilled some purpose because we’ve made another person happy. We have served them in their time of need. God has used us, once again, to accomplish his will.”

There are so many things we give . . . without knowing it . . . and many times not thinking about it. Take a smile, for instance and think how it delights another person or group. Take the cards made out to send to our troops or home-bound . . . again, a smile. Too often we forget that we each have something to give. Perhaps we need to think about the boy and give of ourselves whenever possible.

We start out each day and sometimes search around for the purpose of that day. We think about what’s on our agenda. Now we need to ask the question. “What gift can I bring to this day?”

Our church has a lot to offer . . . beautiful Sunday services with music and words to lift our souls, donations of food and money to serve the needy, friendship, "open hearts, open minds and open doors" as our Methodist slogan says.

Think of those who become organ donors and the families that give and the families that receive. Think of giving a gift to charity and let us ask ourselves each morning what gift we can bring, however small or great, to do God’s work in this world. How simple a task . . . how great a reward!

July 19, 2015
Molly Robertson Preaching

The last time Molly preached her sermon was on the mustard seed and she let us see a beautiful side of her. This sermon lets us see her as she grew up. Her parents were divorced and she only saw her father once. There were no visits, no cards, no calls. The males in her family picked up the slack. Her great grandfather taught her respect. An uncle taught her to be adventurous and encouraged her to keep learning. Cousins taught her the value of life. As a youth she attended private school and found out about inner faith. She learned it “takes a village.” She learned that love has more power than any other and . . . God is Love.

This summer she saw her father and spent some time with him. She was nervous but trusted that “mustard seed.” They found out that God’s love never changes.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, love is revealed. The son returns home, ashamed of squandering what his father had given him. He is willing to forfeit this father-son relationship by working in the field as a hired hand. We know that the father showed great compassion and welcomed his son home.

Molly, knowing this parable and the story of Esau, decided to show compassion to her biological father and his family. And yes, the story had a happy ending. A new beginning is in place.

Molly has always longed to belong. She had never felt a belonging and felt lost. But god’s love does not depend on what we do. Compassion draws us together. Thank god for loving us . . . to endure . . . redeem and perfect.

July 12, 2015  ~  “What is Your Testimony?”
Rev. David Beadles Preaching

Dave Beadles was here just about a year ago . . . introducing Pastor James. And on this Sunday, it’s like old home week . . . and a small world. Our fabulous music, the Sodalis Piano Quartet, is comprised of musicians from his Laguna Church. Thinking about preaching, he remembered attending a preaching seminar with Glen Harris. It turned him on to “Lectionary” preaching . . . a 3 year cycle that covers the whole Bible. But choosing today’s topic took him everywhere . . . the Gospel . . . Ephesians . . . Mark . . .how Herod had put John the Baptist to death. In today’s scripture, the word “beheaded” is mentioned. It’s in today’s world.

The news nowadays is not pretty. It reeks of revenge, just as Herodias wanted revenge. Today there are shootings over petty topics, road rage, heated arguments.

Jesus, in going to his home town, was rejected. But he still sends his disciples out to spread the word even if doors are shut. The disciples take a rest. But they cross a lake and run into a storm. The are frightened and almost defeated, but Jesus calms them down.

The word for today is . . . HOPE! The ministry of Jesus chooses that word over all others. Hope is a decision that we make. It is our identity. It is our job.

Christians are being slaughtered in Iraq but they hang on to HOPE. The people of South Carolina, in dealing with the senseless shooting of 9 people in a church, have HOPE for the future.

We touch lives in many ways . . . by feeding the poor . . . sending troop boxes . . . in just talking or smiling to someone. Yes, we bring them HOPE.

Two things to read this week: Psalm 24 and Mark: Chapter 6.

Take a deep breath . . . relax and think about the word HOPE . . . SPREAD IT!

July 5, 2015  ~  "Traveling Lightly"
 Rev. Faith Conklin Preaching

Faith Conklin’s ministry started 44 years ago. Thinking back to beginning her ministry, she thought of the time, when seeing a giant book sale of 80% off, she went overboard in her buying spree. Now, in down sizing, and wondering why she bought all that “stuff” the realization hit that “stuff” weighs us down.

Jesus gave his disciples specific instructions . . . to take no food, money, or extra clothing with them. They would not need it. He sent them out in pairs, knowing they would not always succeed and tells them to depend on God and one another . . . and the hospitality of others. Traveling lightly, an act of faith, they placed each day in God’s hands. It was a lesson in trust . . . to utterly depend on the Grace of God.

It’s especially hard to let go. What are we holding onto so tightly? What prevents us from getting up and going? We all want our lives to amount to something, but it’s not found in all the stuff that just collects dust.

So shake off the dust. We are called to plant the seed but are not responsible as to know how it will turn out. Shake off the dust in faith and hope. The entire message of the Bible is in 6 words . . .
“I Lord and you are not.”

It’s not about you . . . it’s not about us . . . it’s about God. The universe is in God’s hands and so are we. In taking communion it fulfills us.  It is a sign of hope. Give us the courage to go out in the world . . . to meet people . . . to be in God’s world.    “In God We Trust!"

June 28, 2015  ~  “Healing Touch”

Think of how important a smile, handshake, hug, or a touch means. We do this Sunday mornings when we greet one another. It’s a habit . . . a ritual.

While serving at Laguna Woods, a retirement community, the church was known for its warmth. One church leader explained how important eye contact and physical contact were because that was the one time during the week many of the members would experience it. My how important that is . . . and how simple to do.

Jesus, in one healing lesson, finds that a woman had been suffering of bleeding, and upon touching his cloak, she is healed. In another story, Jesus takes the hand o a 12 year old girl and says, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” and she is raised to her feet.

The importance of these stories is that God heals us through relationships and through physical touch. God, in Jesus Christ, comes right into our lives to touch and to heal.

During Annual Conference in Redlands last week, Bishop Minerva Carcano preached a sermon about the power of physical touch. She told of her upbringing near the border in New Mexico, and living near a very mean, old man named Don Julio. He demanded respect and at times threw rocks as she and her sibling passed by. Upon her ordination she was assigned to a church not far away from Don Julio. In his dying days he requested her to come and pray with him She found a frightened man but told him God loved him.

Whether on a National scale or in our own neighborhoods, let us become instruments of god’s healing touch. As a church let us follow Jesus by contacting those who are lonely, and embrace and welcome all people as brothers and sisters in God’s family.  Looking ahead let us use the words “choose contact.”  Powerful, isn’t it?

June 21, 2015  ~  “My Father’s Got it Handled”
MJ Buist Preaching

In a picture by Jules Joseph Meynier called Christ Asleep in His Boat you see disciples trying to hang on to the boat during a storm. With waves beating, Jesus sleeps. The disciples, frightened and worried, are concerned that he does not care that they are dying here. Jesus wakes and simply says, “Peace...Quiet down.” Jesus asks the disciples what they had to dread. “My father’s got a handle on it.” We are asked to have an active part in life through all the trials and storms.

We have all had “storms” in our lives.  MJ, when her son was sick and she had to go to work, relied on her father-in-law . . . he had a handle on the situation. While subbing for a teacher who’s husband was dying of cancer, the teacher rejoiced in the fact that they had so many wonderful days together.

MJ wanted to have a second child and had several tests done to determine whether is was possible. It was a long weekend waiting for the results. Then she decided . . . when the going gets tough . . . the tough goes shopping! She found and bought 6 boxes.

They were way too bulky to handle until a young sales person said, “Let me help you,” and put them into a single bag with a handle. Knowing she would now get the boxes to her car, a calm came over MJ and she let whatever may be . . . be. She had her son Benjamin 7 months later.

We often have situations that we don’t see a solution for readily . . . some big . . . some small, but the one thing we need to do . . . and realize is . . .

Love God . . . He has a handle on it.

June 14, 2015  -  “Work, Rest, Trust”

Jesus taught in parables . . . hidden messages. It’s like planting seeds . . . so much is not seen. The Kingdom of God is planting the seeds, getting up each day to work and suddenly we see growth . . . and we don’t exactly know how it happened.

“To those who much is given, much will be required.” How are we to understand this? We are not to think that we alone can solve the world’s problems. Bill Gates, through his mother’s advice, certainly follows this. Remembering a junior high young boy at camp, and a challenge, slowly began to take part in the activities provided. Today, he is a camp counselor. We do not know what or how we plant seeds in others.

David was chosen unexpectedly to be King. The Lord looked upon the heart . . . not what the mortals saw.

Pastor James’ family, an uncle committed suicide because of health issues. The principle of this . . . God works in mysterious ways.

It is up to us to do our work . . . then step back to see the path of serenity.

If you stop to think about it, everything works in rhythms. To serve God we should express ourselves, then pause and step back to listen. Listening . . . is it an art . . . is it a habit? Sometimes we need to pause and listen to God. Even the smallest act can be wonderful and might change our day, our week, and maybe even our way of thinking positively.

Imagine that tiny mustard seed . . . see it in your minds . . . feel it in your heart . . . plant it!

June 7, 2015  ~  “Fools for God”

Have you ever felt you didn’t belong? Jesus did.  Even his family thought he was a little more than strange and they tried to restrict him from doing what he knew he should.

Today we welcome the chance to be “a fool for God” . . . to profess our faith.

It was a difficult time for Jesus. The religious authorities tried to restrain him. They thought he was possessed by demons. And he reacted by saying that whoever does the will of God is my mother . . . my brother . . . my sister.

Family is a community that accepts you for who you are. Jesus created his own community of 12 disciples . . . his own family . . . even Judas.

One man spent his whole life trying to get out of the shadow of his mother. He was an inspiration to many . . . leading mission trips and actively involved. When his mother died, he began to pace himself and BE himself. He selected the things he wanted to do.

“Whoever does the will of god and heaven are my brother and sisters.” In celebrating communion, we remember that last supper and remember that WE can be “Fools for God.”

The titles of the hymns sung on this Sunday and the title of Pastor James’ sermon tell a story . . . ”Fools for God” . . . ”Together We Serve” . . . "O Church of God, United” . . . ”Jesus, United by Thy Grace” . . . ”I AM WITH YOU”.

My, how it all fits together and helps us understand just a little bit more our own role.

May 31, 2015  -  “Maker, Savior, Friend”

Trinity Sunday . . . .comes in threes. A famous 15th century Icon has certain rules . . . and shows the doctrine of the Trinity . . . Father . . . Son . . . Holy Spirit. What does all this mean? How can god be in 3 persons?

It means different things to different people. Think of a molecule of water . . . one molecule but many forms. Now think of the Trinity . . . Father . . . the eternal parent . . . Lord Jesus . . . help me . . . Spirit . . . our rock.

It opens us up to a new dimension. Picture a line drawn between father and son and see the many points along the line. Now add a third line that creates a triangle and this can go way beyond . . . it can open our minds.

Why not be a student to learn about the Trinity. Nicodemus was that student in asking questions of Jesus, then opening himself to following that Spirit.

On the cover of the bulletin is a picture done by the artist Kristen Malcolm Berry. The caption is: "The Wind Blows Where it Chooses”. So it is for everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Isaac was another ready to follow God wherever it led. “Here I am Lord . . . send me.”

God is Maker . . . Savior . . . Friend.

Our own Serena sometimes advises James to leave a window open . . . be ready for something you may not yet have learned. What a good practice for all of us!

Receive the mysteries of God. Open our hearts . . . open our minds . . . open our love. So many times we rush to judgment . . . the person who cut you off in the car . . . the neighbor who turned their sprinklers on your newly washed car . . . part of a conversation you overheard. How about leaving that little window open and give a little breathing room before we judge?

May 24, 2015  -  “The Spirit Within”

Nearly a year ago, the AUMC Youth Group met for the first time. The meaning of baptism was discussed, the baptismal font was viewed and it was brought out that, through these waters, we belong to God’s family eternally. In good and bad times, we are children of God.

On this Sunday, two of the youth were confirmed and one was baptized. They confirmed their faith and made firm their own commitment.

The first Christians, when baptized, suddenly heard a rush of a mighty wind and a vision of flames of fire over each person’s head. They discovered that day if the Spirit was with them, around them and within them, they would have nothing to fear. It was a sense of belonging to God and one another. To those being confirmed, and those who have been confirmed we can enjoy the experience of being loved by an entire community of friends.

When Pastor James moved to Illinois to attend seminary, and yearning to find a Christian community, he met a remarkable woman named Emma. She was a woman of great influence . . . and wisdom in a small church in Chicago. The tight bonds of the community were a true gift. When he mentioned missing his own family, 2,000 miles away, Emma said, “You’re not far away from your family! We’re your family!  Anyone who’s a son or daughter of God is part of the same family!”

How important that is to remember...wherever Christians share the Spirit of Christ, we find family.

May 17, 2015  -  “Look Around”

May 17 is Ascension Sunday. It is the day when Jesus was lifted up into heaven.  And speaking of being lifted up . . . on April 11, 1954, the Soviets sent a man into outer space. How could he do that? He realized space was a place of darkness . . . a void. It was hard to accept that outer space was so cold and dark.

The disciples wondered about Jesus being lifted up to heaven. They asked him about a specific time . . . when would they find the place and time for peace. It was important for Jesus to say goodbye . . . otherwise they would have stayed in that one place. They would not have gone into the world and spread the word.  They would not have gone to their Sumerian enemies.

In one particular Korean picture, the artist depicts the disciples holding Jesus’ garments while some looked toward heaven. Two angels are there to shake the disciples into reality. But is it the hands that will now go forth and spread the word of Jesus Christ.

In our own human experiences, we want some assurance of when that peace will come. A season of our life closes when we lose a loved one. As in Sammy Stenger’s life, she was a pillar of the church but she undoubtedly wants the rest of us to go forward. She will be with us, but in a different way.

We will celebrate Pentecost Sunday . . . and Confirmation Sunday where young people profess their faith. It is a life-changing decision. It is now our turn to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. In the anthem, the phrase “In thee have I trusted . . . let me never be confounded."  Let us now look around and share the love .

Saint Teresa of Avalon said, “Christ now has the body, hands and feet of us!” It just takes that first step, a handshake, a hug.

May 10, 2015  -  “Our Love”

Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” We can look at this as a new kind of love. Our sanctuary reminds us of a shepherd with outstretched arms welcoming us in. It’s like a mother hen protecting her young ones . . . the eternal parent. The hymns and offertory all deal with that same mother’s love.

God’s greatest desire is to share one love . . . to dwell in unity . . . in one peace . . . and Jesus wanted to baptize the gentiles . . . to make us all one.

Yes, love one another as Christ loves us. It’s difficult to love a neighbor you think is different from us . . . or a radical . . . or someone with whom you disagree. But think of the word “agape” meaning unconditional love, a love that will not give up. It is a decision to not give up on one another. Perhaps we can pray for the enemy’s peace.

A woman talked to Pastor James about not being able to forgive someone. We probably have all felt that at one time or another. Pastor James was faced with what to tell her, He asked her to pray for that person’s peace. And in that, it just might give the woman peace for herself.

What a wonderful idea! Let us truly follow the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Think about what you, and one individual can do. Let God show us HOW to love.

Peace be with you?….. And also with you

May 3, 2015  -  “Come to the Water”

The story is simple . . . two strangers meet . . . they talk . . . they stop along the way by some water . . . and one of them is baptized. Then, they both go their own way . . . to spread Christianity. The only difference between today and this particular story is that it took place during the time of Jesus.

Our world is constantly expanding. It’s sad and amazing that 20% of today’s population are called “Nones" when asked if they attend church or have a faith.

The story of the Ethiopian Treasure and Phillip, total strangers, meeting and talking during a chariot ride, shows us they both felt the spirit of God.

Today we have an in and out group in a church, but yet all are invited . . . as it should be. During a recent protest in Anaheim, from another church coming in, we held up signs saying “God is Love” as a counter-protest. Here we were . . . many total strangers in this group, developing a real relationship in the name of Christ.

During a recent visit to the Wi-fi Cafe´, the Katella kids were asked if they were interested in helping build a home for someone in need. They were told a little about the Sierra Project and they all said yes immediately. They are all welcome.

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going, And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing. That how it is with God’s love.”


April 26, 2015  -  “Now is the Time”
Scott Farthing, Preaching

With all the adjectives that describe this day and age:  multi-task, e-mail, text, create, run, coffee, collapse, stress. obsess, compulsive, impulsive . . . it’s a wonder we have time to accomplish anything, Who has time to ‘Love Thy Neighbor” or even ourselves with the hectic schedules we keep.

Sanford Meisner was one of the premier acting teachers of the 20th century developing a different technique of acting rather than method acting. Actors submerse themselves in the character they are portraying, with method acting but Meisner presents a different way . . . listening! To truly be aware of a situation, receiving and listening in a multisensory way, to focus then react is one of the hardest skills to learn. Ah . . . the art of listening!

Everyone reacts to a recording of their own voice. Voice teachers/coaches must listen to every nuance and color in a voice and be able to figure out what is happening. This goes beyond the mechanics of the voice and starts into the mechanics of the human being. The teacher has to be aware that moods, outside situation, sickness, medications, fatigue all come into play and effects each singer . . . a new way of listening.

How often do we have a conversation with someone where we don’t actually hear what they are saying, but rather focus on what our reaction is going to be?  How often do we ask how someone is doing, but don’t bother to hear the answer?  We pretend to talk or listen but really are thinking about something else.

Now is the time. Wake up! Love your neighbor as yourself. In order to love, we have to wake up and listen. We have to understand and empathize and sympathize. We can be active learners and listening speakers. Listen to each other with new ears. Be present with those you love. Listen completely . . . to them and yourself. God listens deeply to each of us, and we are called to listen deeply to others.

Now is the time.

April 19, 2015  -  “Rise Up!”

“Peace be with you." This is the passing of the peace. Of Christ. What if we were really ready for that . . . in all aspects of our lives and hearts . . . on the freeway in traffic, in an argument, with our neighbors, community and world.

In Kentucky, a famous quilt artist shows a beautiful dove with vibrant colors of the Spirit of God’s Peace. The disciples were traumatized and fearful for their safety when Jesus died. They thought he would be King forever . . . the everlasting Messiah. Then, Jesus appears and tells them to love. Easter and the resurrection brings emotions of all kinds . . . despair . . . to hope . . . to a new life. And, because of it we can “Rise Up!”

During seminary, while in an African church, the pastor repeated several times, “God can make a way out of no way.” Now, that should be a phrase for all of us.

A parishioner in one of James’ churches needed counseling because of a divorce. It was a dead marriage due to addiction. James told the woman that there is new life. It is a resurrection of sorts to become who you want to be. Recovering from addiction you are buried in your own tomb, but you can find help and forgiveness. You can have a resurrection.

The conversation about death must be followed by a conversation of new life. Even in our church . . . let us rise up from pessimistic thoughts and turn to go forward. We can rise above it . . . let us walk with Jesus by helping others . . . for don’t we help ourselves in the process?

April 12, 2015  -  “Pursuing Truth”

Easter is a season . . . of 50 days. God’s light shines a little bit longer than the 40 days we think of as Lent. Ah, Pentecost . . . the Sunday that the church was born!

There is a story of Thomas, the disciple that was unsure or doubted what had happened to Jesus. He wanted to see the piercings himself. He was “pursuing” the truth. Jesus, in his wisdom, provided a private visit with Thomas, showing and letting him feel the holes in his body . . . and Thomas believed,

It’s hard to believe some of these stories.  Houston Smith, a religion teacher asked, “If you are a critical thinking Christian, do you believe in the resurrection?” He believed that God could do anything easily if he wanted to.

Another pastor had a congregation that was quite cynical. He told them that he believed something marvelous happened with the resurrection. Clearly there are mysteries, and yet the disciples believed. Our doubts are welcome in our faith. One beautiful Baroque painting shows Thomas touching the side of Jesus in an incredulous way.  Another piece of art, a statue, shows Thomas and Jesus together.

Questions arise . . . doubts are there. We ask, “Is all this real?” In confirmation class young people are encouraged to ask anything they want before they make Christianity their own.

Pastor James, during his first appointment, noticed that the climate in the town was a fundamental one. It gave him the opportunity to ask questions of other religions, and he became a “doubting Thomas.”  Driving out into the desert, and seeing the vastness of it, he came to the conclusion that Jesus makes room for all of us.

You can be a doubter, but soon, by going to a church event, joining a group or worshiping on Sunday, you find friendships . . . all a belief . . . all creating a faith.

The ribbon was cut at Via Esperanza bringing a new venture for us. Through this we are letting God in . . . and letting him be our guiding force.

Yes, God is a wonder!

April 5, 2015  -  “Life Prevails”


Some people like to stay to see all the credits at the end of a movie . . . or hear the music . . . or wait because they don’t want the movie to end . . . or just to extend the date.

It was like that with Jesus.  At the end, the women . . . Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joanna that were the first to experi ence the mystery . . .the wonder . . . the miracle of the “rise of Jesus” . . . that realized that life prevails.  Easter is like that . . . always a hope to come. A Catholic Cardinal in the Chicago area, visited with a friend of his who happened to be Rabbi. He told him he was ready to die and see his Lord. Where did he get this hope? Why wasn’t there fear?

Today, we live and die in this prevailing life of Jesus. We see this in taking bread during Communion. Communion is a snapshot . . . the hors d'oeuvres before the true feast at His table. As we celebrate this Easter day, let us be a part of God’s work. Let us be part of Jesus’ life . . . a life that never ends. Let us take His message to lift up ourselves and others.

Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed! Halleluiah!

March 29, 2015  -  “Take Courage”

We can’t get to Easter without going to Jerusalem . . . without Jesus entering on the back of a donkey . . . without his death . . . with shouts of “Hosanna” changing to shouts of “crucify him" . . . without the nailing of him to the cross . . . without his resurrection. The Gospel of Mark reads well in telling how Jesus was arrested and condemned . . . how the “King of the Jews” was dead. In one week it was changed from light to dark.

We have seen in our own lives how a person can be lifted up, then be torn down by a single act or a culmination of acts . . . a sport figure, a rock singer, a politician.

Jesus had brought forgiveness and grace to the people, yet they allowed him to fall from grace. Jesus was the “King of Peace” according to Zachariah 300 years before.

Jesus made enemies and challenged the laws of the temple. He was asked by the high priests if he was the true Messiah . . . the true savior and told if he was not, he would be put to death. Jesus said, “Yes, I am,” but he was declared a false prophet. He had broken God’s law.

The Roman authorities, after Pontius Pilot gave in, were responsible for putting Jesus to death. As he hung on the cross, with nails hammered into his hands, Jesus cried “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”  Then . . . three days and Jesus was resurrected and our sins are forgiven.

Jesus did not turn back and we can take courage from his example. Even as we face our own burdens and mortality, we see that we are not alone. We remember his journey and the strength it gives us. Yes, we can look at this amazing week . . . this amazing Holy Week and see how Jesus went from light to dark, then back to a radiant light.

MARCH 22, 2015  -  “BELIEVE”

The disciples were shocked when Jesus told them he would soon die. But death is not always death . . . it may be new life . . . just as seeds fall and are planted bringing new life.

Our banner in the sanctuary depicts the details of this amazing season. It shows us that while death is a change, it is the first step in showing God’s love.

Van Gogh, the artist, painted several pictures of wheat fields, each showing the vastness, the growing of the seeds and almost mesmerizes you. On our own stained glass window, it show seeds growing . . . God’s love growing.

A synagogue is a place to sit and study, and to pray. We multiply God’s self. Groups of believers came to see that it wasn’t just done in temples.

Today we choose to believe over doubt.

An attorney lost everything in the Chicago fire, but Horatio Stafford had planned a trip on a ship for his family. He was called to an important meeting and could not go with his family at that time. His four daughters and wife went ahead. The ship ran into trouble and went down, killing his 4 daughters. Upon learning this through a message sent by his wife, he immediately went to be with her. He saw where the ship went down and experienced the tragic loss. But during this time of sorrow, he had what one might call a transformation. He felt God wash over him and realized that life continues on. Just as Jesus died on the cross, God has given us the power to “create in me a clean heart and put a new and right spirit within me."

March 15, 2015  -  “RECEIVE”

The word “grace” is everywhere but we do not often use it in our daily speech. Grace means you are “let off the hook.”

In An English class . . . and dealing with Shakespeare . . .an assignment was given to write a paper in a week. They weren’t good at all. So . . . ”grace” period to write a better one was given. That extra time made all the difference in the world.

We are halfway through lent . . . halfway through this time of repentance . . . halfway through a time where we can pause and receive God’s grace.

The gift of grace comes first. We receive God’s blessing first and in turn, share our gift of grace with others. Long ago it used to be that faith was following obediently the doctrines learned. In the Christian faith, by grace, we have been saved . . . A gift from God. We are all equals.

Father Serra may be canonized as a Saint. While starting missions, he was criticized for treatment of native Americans. No human being is perfect, yet God accepts us. Our job is to be received . . . to be grateful. Because we are accepted and forgiven, we are restored to our purpose of how we are meant to live. The commandment about loving yourself can be hard to do when we can’t forgive ourselves.

We have been leaving stones on the altar . . . to leave our burdens. Why don’t we give our burdens sooner to God?

The tensions of today’s world is great. We feel powerless yet we are invited to give them over to God. As Jesus was dying on the cross and he looked into the faces of the crowd he says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.“ In that single prayer of grace, all can be forgiven.

God has generously given us grace. He teaches us to love ourselves and love others as our equals. Bless this world and let God “Be Thou My Vision.”  What a better world this would be to think about the phrase, “All men are created equal."

And AMEN to that!

March 8, 2015  -  “Return”

The Ten Commandments reminds us we need to have instructions in life. Like building a cabinet and assembling what seems like a thousand pieces, it is good to read the manual first.

The first part of the Commandments deal with God and loving him. The last part deals with your neighbors. Each one gives us “instructions.” In Matthew, Jesus says to love your God and to also love your neighbor.

Commandments tell us to treat our neighbors kindly, rest on the Sabbath, honor your mother and mother and might be called that later on in life. It’s kind of like Social Security. As we age, let us not take seniors for granted. Just as Senior Serve helps our seniors here in Anaheim, we too, can examine ourselves, our church to return to God’s way.

Carl Dixon, a Houston artist, has designed a piece of art from wood that shows Jesus pointing to God in a large group. A model of the second Jewish temple shows it to be beautiful, but a bustling marketplace where money changers cheated the public and those who made the long pilgrimage to give their donations. Jesus came and chased the evil away, making it once again, a Holy place.

AUMC supported Halcyon for many years. It has now been changed to Pathways of Hope. They have invited us to view their new place. From 12- 2 p.m. on March 29th. We will again have the opportunity to help them. Let us be a community of care...let us serve God more faithfully.

“How Firm a Foundation” we are...and by loving God and his Commandments, we can only become more firm.

“Precious Lord, Take My Hand."

March 1, 2015  -  “STANDING ON THE PROMISES”

A covenant is a promise between God and people that is unbreakable. Noah and the flood is a good example. There would be no more rain and a rainbow was put in the sky. With Abraham and Sarah, in their 90’s God promised many children. Oh my!  The covenant goes back to Jewish times before it ever came to us. Even in the Islamic world there exists a similar covenant.

As we go through Lent, we walk through a different let loose of things. We repent. We turn back to God. We walk with Jesus and the resurrection.

God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it...a covenant. God says, “I will be your God”...a promise.  “Do this in remembrance of me.”

God’s love is greater than we can imagine. A marriage is a promise that we will be together forever...and sometimes it’s that promise that keeps couples together. It is vital in a relationship. Divorce, on the other hand, is when that covenant is broken beyond repair.

We need God’s assurance of love. It was a shocking discovery for the Disciples that Jesus would soon die. He asks them to take up the cross and follow Him.

At times we have big crosses to bear but we need to acknowledge that we do not need to bear them alone.

God is a “Firm Foundation.”
We “Stand on the Promises of God.”
Christ be with me, Christ within me. Christ behind me, Christ before me.

February 22, 2015 - “Now is the Time”

California’s terrain is amazing...from the beach to the mountains. We are lucky enough to be able to experience the changes in a short drive. Jesus went to several places in Israel that is just like California?’s geography.

Celebrating Lent is a preparation to Easter. Just as Jesus was in the desert preparing his ministry, we too take stock of what we can do. We find a fascination during this time in the cross and we seem to feel or be in the drama as Jesus was.

Martin Luther King gave a speech on what kind of man he had become...but he said we can still grow up. With the stones that have been passed out today, you may leave behind or let go of the burdens we have.    We can let God define and purify us.

Noah and the flood...lasting 40 days...washed away the impurities. We think of the burlap on the cross as things we should lament and pray for...and then the cross, which represents that God has forgiven us.

The good news is it is now time to let go of our burdens...repent...and believe. We can let go of anger and sadness.

Camp Cedar Glen, in Julian California, let anyone with HIV come. Participants varied in being angry about what had happened to them, to those who embraced every moment of the life they had left. As a counselor, James, working with these various individuals, learned a valuable breath in and embrace this day and every day.

Lisa, a young woman who struggled with depression, came across a church that showed her she could have the choice to live life. She is now a Methodist minister.

Let us embrace God’s choice. Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there for good.

“Now is the Time."

February 15, 2015 - “Standing in the Presence”

How Great Thou Art!

Trees, birds, mountain tops . . . the beauty of nature! It is a transfiguration or an exalting, glorifying or spiritual change. The transfiguration happened with friends, Moses and Elijah while Peter, James and John strained to listen to what was being said as the robe of Jesus became whiter than white. Definitely a spiritual change.

Mysterious and mystical things happen. Many have had these in “visitations” in dreams, or seen bright light.

Wrestling with death, one boy hung accident. The mother had a vision where the sun calmed her fears and depression.

Another woman gave a testimony to and about God when, almost dying, saw a wonderful light and experienced a safe feeling that was exhilarating.

God sends Moses and Elijah to the mountain to also remember the transfiguration. As the scriptures, before Elijah and Moses point to, this time on the mountain, they are standing in the presence of God.

We ask ourselves, “Can I do it? Can I fill God’s purpose for me?” Think back on the experiences you have had...that little light bulb that turns on.

God walks with us today and every day. See how things have changed.

Our youth, going on a retreat, will find a little bit of that mountain top.

So let us pray together and by ourselves that we may “Stand in the Presence."

February 8, 2015  -  “A HEART FOR HEALING"

We know there are differences and changes between the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament the question is, “What does God want FROM us?” but when Jesus arrives, the question then becomes, “What does God want FOR us?”

One of the first things Jesus does is lift Simon and Peter’s mother-in-law up to heal her. At that moment she began to serve Jesus’ name and immediately served a wonderful meal to her family. Jesus “retreated” after his healings in the village to rejuvenate.

God’s power of healing was shown in the movie, “Patch Adams.” Played by Robin Williams, Dr. Adams dresses up as a clown and taps into children’s love and laughter . . . a healing . . . the wholeness of their soul.

Through all the ages, and the many “disasters” in our lives, people have asked, “Why me?” And yet, when we step back and take a look, we see that God’s heart is to heal.

Serena is a wonderful example of that healing heart. While facing leukemia early in her life, and later cancer, she was overwhelmed with all the calls, visits, and caring . . . and it did help the healing.

“The Lord lifts up the downtrodden” It’s not always as we want, but consider the “wholeness.” Jack Albright loved this church and worked at making it beautiful. Death and the shedding of the suffering is really the final healing. The visits of so many people showed the love of his friends. He felt God’s love..and the beauty of his soul came up.

May we lift up God’s “Healing Heart."

February 1, 2015  -  “FOREVER CHANGED”

Sometimes we act on impulse . . . we follow our hearts . . . just as the disciples did by following Jesus. The paraments show, “I will make you fishers of people.”  The disciples heard the calling at the lake shore and decided to follow.

The word “vocation” signifies going from a job to a calling. A picture of Simon, Andrew, James and John show Jesus on the shore as Simon and Andrew look to him. The mast, a sign of the cross helps us to see “the calling.”

The Jewish people were in danger, as Mark wrote the gospel. But amidst all the enemies, danger, and perils, they still followed this wandering man called Jesus. The very spirit of God was recognized.

Carol, a former parishioner of Pastor James was facing death, yet she said, “I know whatever happens, I am in God’s hands.”

Our own Jack Albright was asked the question if he believed in God . . . and he answered, “Oh, yes.”

Believe that God is with us and guides us. He desires to be IN us as we take communion. Let us not doubt ourselves, but have faith in the God of Love. Call us, dear Lord, so that we reach others, the community, the world.

January 25, 2015 - “Mustard Seed Faith”

Music Interns Service - Molly Robertson and Eric Ayala, speakers

Mustard seeds are small...about 1 1/2 millimeters? . . . but the world is not. In Jesus’ time, one mountain was 9,230 feet high...that would be 1,875,000 mustard seeds.

We can see great mountains in front of us but we need to trust that “mustard seed” and encourage it to grow. It needs careful tending...from planting, to watering, and fertilizing. Jesus has planted that seed in grow and push up through the bloom.

The Disciples brought the problem of sinning to Jesus and asked how to overcome it. Jesus told them that even if they have a seed of faith, God will do the rest. We need to do our part and let God do the rest.

Don’t assume you have to do both jobs. The mustard seed has strong roots. It can literally break down huge rocks. The branches are the most important part...they grow out.

We are like that growing mustard seed. We reach up and God reaches down. We reach out and become “in the world...not of the world.” Our “mustard seed faith” can change us, guide us, and help us to lead others.

Thanks to AUMC, you have provided us love, encouragement and let us grow. You have shown us what it is like to care...and to serve one another.

(Editor's Note:  Thank you to all the interns. The music was absolutely beautiful and the message inspiring. We are fortunate to have all of you. You are all fine, young adults.)

January 18 - “Come and See”

Nathaniel had wondered at one time, “Is there anything good that can come out of Nazareth?” He was a curious man who could never tell a lie and wanted to know about this man called Jesus.  He became one of the first followers of Jesus and spent the last three years with him before his death.

All churches have some like tell and speak their be curious. A good way to invite someone into your church is to say, “Come and see” and let them discover the mysteries of God and faith.

It’s a good idea to take time to learn your own spend time with God, to allay your doubts.

Picture a circle and Christian faith. Where are you in the circle? You are all welcome into the Christian faith...and we are all different with unique thoughts and ideas. We do not see the same color. We all bring a sacred perspective about who God is.

But...we can all take time to find out and receive the Grace of God. In looking at the Church Bulletin we can see throughout what might be our thoughts. The Prelude…”Holy, Holy, Holy”….the introit…”My God is So High”….the first hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory”…the anthem, “My shepherd Will Supply My Need"...the second hymn…”Be Thou My Vision”...the last hymn…”Here I am, Lord” and of course, the message…”Come and See.”

In reading Psalm 139 God knows more about us than we know about ourselves. He is in our thoughts. What words can we say to someone that is deep, true and honest about God?


January 11, 2015 - “Remember Your Baptism and Be Thankful”

When Pastor James was growing up, his mother gave him some good advice…”It’s important how you begin and how you end things...with a positive attitude.”

We can relate this to the baptism of Jesus. This was the beginning of his ministry and God said it was good for things to start off positively.

Matthew Fox was a Catholic Priest and wrote a book on Original Blessings. Before there was sin, there was blessing. When God began “creating”…it was indeed a blessing.

At our Baptismal Font we see a dove descending down and bringing us blessings. In our sanctuary we have the symbol of the dove in many places…the windows, banners, and in the back of the church.

John Wesley gave us the saying “prevenient grace” meaning that baptism is a gift from God. In teaching Sunday School we teach children that baptism does carry some meaning. They learn that they are blessed and have the assurance of being loved.

At the end of a particular retreat the members were given a stone to “Remember your baptism and be thankful”...a stone Pastor James carries today. In the movie “Tender Mercies” a country singer loses his way, but eventually turns himself around and gets back with his daughter. He sings “On the Wings of a Dove” which he sang to her as a child. Seems to fit, doesn’t it?

January 5, 2015  -  “A Light in the Dark?”

by Mary Scifres

It’s STILL Christmas! We are celebrating the Epiphany of our Lord. It’s so beautiful . . . and so right. At this time of year we need light.

A head usher, Lynn, a no nonsense kind of guy, was setting up the Nativity and noticed it had 4 kings. His thought was, “Am I missing something? There should only be 3 kings.” Lynn is part of the Jesus Seminar. He is all miracle stuff. Rev. Scifres wondered what was up. Maybe he wanted that little bit of light...that shining star to light his way in this world.

The 3 Wise Men traveled hundred of miles just to follow a single star. Was it a yearning to find what was at the end of the light? In the movie “Nebraska” one man thinks he has won a sweepstakes and is bound and determined to claim it whether he had to walk all the way or hitch a ride with his son. When all is said and done, the son needed the journey with his father. He needed that light in the darkness.

We all need that light. We are here in church for that yearning of the light. We come to church to find that light and be part of the light. One light become 2...becomes 4, BUT we all shine brightly together, becoming 1 light.

Our New Year’s Resolution could be to shine in the dark and be that light.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

December 28, 2014 - “Ready For God?”

As summarized by Trini Cano

Scripture: Luke 2:25-26
Simeon was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem...and Anna was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, also very devout, and in her old age never left the temple but worshipped there fasting an praying day and night.

Simeon and Anna help us prepare for the New Year by asking God what we should do.

With the approach of the new year, the Scripture shows us to always look for God’s call. Instead of listing our “New Year Resolutions” we should think about who we are called to be and let our actions and resolutions follow. We should take a ‘God’s eye view’ of ourselves and ask, “What would God see in us?”

This coming year, let’s be READY FOR GOD!

December 21, 2014 - “John” Peace is Coming?”
As summarized by Kay Davis

Everyone seems to ask, “Are you ready for Christmas?" But John the Baptist asks everyone to be renew their faith and be truly prepared for the coming of the Lord. The Prince of Peace is on his way.

Are we ready to welcome Christmas? Recently, on one bumper sticker, it said, “Jesus is coming ~ Look ~ buy."  WOW!  Is that what it’s all about?

John asks us to have a deeper get your spiritual house in order. How is the world ready? We should confess our sins. Our slogan could be “When the world is a mess...confess.” We seem to confess at Christmas and Easter. Recently Pastor Dollins joined in the Missions Group to hand out baskets to the home- less...but none were around the park. It felt strange on a Saturday to get up out of a warm bed, head to the church, and help with homeless baskets. Are we ready? Can we examine ourselves and prepare the way of the Lord?

Peace be with you.

December 14, 2104 - “Elizabeth, Contagious Joy"

as summarized by Kay Davis

We have met Joseph and Mary in past sermons, and now we meet Elizabeth, the older cousin of Mary. She was an “encourager” and a friend who helped Mary realize and believe in the words of Gabrielle...and God.

After the Annunciation, Mary made the long journey to see her cousin. Elizabeth was also pregnant, yet further along.  (She later gave birth to John the Baptist.)  With Elizabeth’s contagious joy, she tells Mary how truly lucky she is to believe in God. Mary sings from her heart, “My soul magnifies the lord.”

We can wonder if Mary would have had the strength and courage had it not been for a friend like Elizabeth...and Gabrielle...urging her to see and believe what Jesus would become and do.

We all need a nudge now and then. Pastor James tells of a time when he was about 8 years old, hiking with a group of people. They were close to the top of the mountain and getting tired.  A woman beside him put her forefinger in the middle of his back to help him up the hill...and it worked.

Our church encourages! We are welcoming new people, or to people who have dealt with a loss, or to those who need to talk. We gather in a community of faith. God has a calling for all of us . . . one we probably don’t know about.  But we do know we all need that vital friendship. Think of the ways we can extend our love and compassion. BE THAT CONTAGIOUS JOY!

December 7, 2014 - “Joseph, Confused but Faithful”

Looking at the banners lovingly made by Joan Faar, you can think of Mary as she is pictured as a young 13 year old and what her life would become.

But also think of Joseph. He wasn’t sure whether to believe Mary or not. He suspects that someone else might be the father. He was a righteous man and after thinking about it planned to dismiss Mary quietly. He didn’t want her to be stoned to death. He was willing to leave her and put the shame on himself.

One night, in a dream, an angel came to Joseph and explained the situation. He only had to “go along for the ride” and name this child. Joseph almost made the biggest mistake of his life. He almost sent Mary and himself away from this baby Jesus.

Today, think of all the time we take to solve problems. We overmanage ourselves rather than leaving it to God.

How simple...yet exciting and fun it was to have the youth participate with several other churches in “Broomball”... a game played on the ice wearing tennis shoes. They all came together to share. Even with today’s tensions we do notice that people are coming together.

If we look in a different direction we just might see a different plan. What is our part? What is God’s plan? What does he want us to do next? It took a dream and Joseph’s righteousness ...what does it take for us? We can find comfort in the knowledge that God is in control. Nurture his hope, this dream, this reality. We are never alone.

November 30, 2014 - “Who, Her?” . . . Dr. Scott Farthing

Thanksgiving is over . . . and you survived. What a miraculous thing. Our thankfulness continues. Our church is different . . . our sanctuary is transformed into a wonderland. The beginning of Advent . . . the season of the most wonderful time of the year. We have friends, family, parties, work, and those pesky tests.

The author of “Help, Thanks, Wow” says that prayer can be motion or stillness.  Her words lead us to wanting to know about the motivations of a character . . . what is his purpose? . . . what do they mean?. . . how do they say the words to make a feeling?

Then there’s Mary . . . ”My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit exalts in God, my Savior.” What does she want?  What does she do?  She was at risk, but she let’s go and responds to God.

How do we respond to those in need? We shrink into “Why does this happen to me?” Or . . . we can say “My soul magnifies the Lord."  We have to react differently to people . . . to a cri sis . . . to ourselves . . . to believe God is our Savior.  As we join into the season with the mall, the stores, our surroundings, we need to live Mary’s prayer and BE forth for GOD.

November 23, 2014 - “Recognizing God”

Mary Hibbard is a legacy in our church. Her ministries were many, advocating the needy throughout this community. She was very much like Jesus in her philosophy…

Jesus said, ”Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” Jesus tricks us and tells the people to go out among the crowds and you will find the face of God.

The husband of a friend went down to skid row in LA and he was so touched by the people it became a habit to bring food, etc. 

Are we focused on our own security and well being?  What opportunities are we missing?  One opportunity came to James when a woman wanted help.  He gave what he could through the
church...water, money to buy a coat...but what she really needed was a place to sleep.  He felt guilty that he could not provide that.  Should he?

Rich Pierson, a minister, worked with the poor. He found that to be homeless you lose connection with people. You lost eye contact.

We all are human beings who need help in some way. We depend on one another. God’s love is give and take. We serve others and they serve us. We are recipients and witnesses to the Gospel. We are in need and give to the needy. We are both a goat and a sheep.

Help us become attentive to the needs of others. “Together we serve, united by love, inviting God’s world to the glorious feast. We work and we pray through sorrow and joy, extending your love to the last and the least."

November 16, 2014 - “Invest in Hope"

Our church . . . will go from strength to strength! We “give’ many things . . . our time, talent, and pledges. We give out of a spirit of abundance, or worry, or talent or the ability or gifts we have. Our church is blessed with talent . . . our interns who participate in not only music but the service itself, our music, our worship. It all gives us a sense of life. We invest in a spirit of hope.

Mike McCune told the story of Bob Lansley challenging the congregation to donate money to build a Boys and Girls Club. Mr. Knott would match the funds. Unfortunately we only raised $4,000 . . . not enough for a building, but it did give a spirit of hope.

In the scriptures, it gives us a different view as to what a master was like. Some believed him and gave more . . . some gave out of fear and gave only a little. If we see God as generous, we tend to give more and, of course, vice-versa.

Our perception of God starts in the Old Testament showing a fearful God. The New Testament shows how God mellows out and is good. We can relate this to ourselves. If we try and mess up, we have a tendency not to try again.

Inward facing churches focus on getting new members. Outward facing churches focus us to do for our neighbors, community and world. We are investing in people. Let the spirit of God go beyond our church. We celebrate our new member!

How about an Amen!  Maybe we should order some T-shirts with Amen on them.

November 9, 2014 -  “The Choice is Ours”

Why is it important to be a member of a church?  ~You can call it MY church . . . not just “the church I go to.”  You can be part of a ministry . . . a sense of giving back.

But . . . it is a choice . . . to serve the Lord, not many Gods, but just one. James had the privilege of leading a Confirmation Class. It was a time for the class to chose to believe or not. Most said yes and were at peace with their decision.

The lyrics to a popular song years ago says a lot . . . ”You Gotta Serve Somebody...”  But who do we choose to serve? In the years 1995 to 2005 membership in churches dropped 50%. As people became more affluent and successful, they become more independent.   

We need to think carefully about whom we will serve and turn to. Erin Duran is a good example of growing up in our church and letting people know she is a child of God. She is eager to serve and is now uniting us through SeniorServ. At the AUMC Youth meeting, there were about 50 people . . . parents and children . . .  and they are reading to choose a service project. This is serving the Lord and making a commitment. Yes, it’s Mission, Compassion, Community. What are we willing to do?

November 2, 2014  -  “Remembering Our Saints”

All Saints Day gave us beautiful memories of loved ones lost and we were able to celebrate their lives.

“Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted”. Throughout the Beatitudes we are reminded that things will get better . . . there are so many blessings to be had . . . and to give.

Jesus reminds us to look forward, to persevere towards the future.  There are questions of why.  How do we continue?  How do we make the choice to make a different life? We can courageously continue to live the life of God?’s love.

In thinking of our own Bess Wyman, we mourn her loss but remember her spirit. Surely she would want us to live on.  God’s will is stronger than evil.  We can look forward to God’s eternal promise.  Life is a mystery - full of loss and pain, but God’s presence takes that all away.

October 5, 2014  -  “Where we Belong”

Church is a place where we belong. We long to be part of a family, a group of friends, a community...and that’s church.

As strange as it is, the 10 Commandments are designed to fill that need. As a lectionary preacher, Pastor James follows a scripture schedule that guides the church through most of the Bible.

The Commandments teach us three things: Who is God? Who are we as human beings? And...How are we supposed to live with each other? The first three Commandments tell us that “I am the LORD your God”, “You shall have no other gods before me”, and “Don’t make false idols or take the Lord’s name in vain.”

The Commandments tell us that the Sabbath day is a day of rest and to make it holy. The seventh day of the week is set aside for the Lord. We are humans and need that time. The world will not stop spinning if we stop working. On the Sabbath, we stop creating, producing and working and we give thanks to the One who created us.

The next six Commandments tell us how to behave toward one honoring your mother and father, by not committing adultery or murdering, stealing, or bearing false witness against your neighbor.

The 10th Commandment reminds us to be thankful for our many blessings, and not to live our lives by merely keeping up with the Jones’s. This law calls us to get on with life, serving God and neighbor whether or not we have fulfilled all of our own desires. And there really is one more Commandment...and maybe the best one...Love one another as God has loved us.

September 29, 2014  -  “Love Made Real”

Everyone has a different way of receiving love:
  1. Words of affirmation
  2. Quality time focusing on the other
  3. The gift that is given to be treasured
  4. Physical touch
  5. Love in action . . . acts of service.
In the Bible, when the father asked his sons to work in the vineyard, the first said no, but thought better of it and did. The second son said he would definitely go but never did.

We can’t just talk about our faith...we need to make it real. We need to empty ourselves, then fill ourselves with love. Our workday at AUMC shows how the group made love more real by putting beauty in our campus.

We often only think of ourselves. How much more of a complete life we would have if we gave love to another act on faith. We should try to make our lives act and “do the faith”.  On Doctor Phil’s television show, he told a depressed woman to give of yourself. A woman in Bakersfield, Angela Simpson, gave her kidney to someone else...she just had to. Another story is of a man who literally saved a woman’s life by jumping into action to get her car out of harm’s way. In a grocery store, Susan, a friend of Pastor James, saw a woman whose credit card was denied. Susan “over-thought”. She should have paid for it but didn’t...and then the woman was gone.

Love sacrificially and promptly. When opportunity knocks we can put that into giving to others. Right now, in our community, we are talking to a woman by the name of Cheryl Lewis who wants to bring a trailer to church campuses that will allow the homeless to wash their clothes and take a bath.

Invite YOURSELF to give an act of faith in action. MAKE GOD?’S LOVE REAL!

September 21, 2014 - “Love is More Than Fair”

A vineyard owner went out every day to pick up workers. He did this all day and gave each one the same wage, whether they had worked one hour or all day. When the ones who had worked more hours complained the land owner said, “I can do what I want with my money,”

We have a deep sense of fairness. Watching Forrest and Silas share and measure out a soda so each has the same amount brings to mind that God’s love is just and all receive it. We are all equal in God’s eyes. But sometimes we as humans want to be rewarded a little more.

Jesus was a Jew and the Jews thought they were the chosen people. They were offended when Jesus treated everyone as an equal. But why did God do this? He needs all the workers he can get and he saw all people as equal.

Hilltop Christian Church was a little snobbish, and eventually this older congregation died. A few years later a man died, and upon entering Heaven asked Peter why a certain door was closed. Peter replied, “They think they are the only ones up here.”

In a church in Escondido, two Turkish missionaries wanted to talk about and share their faith. Interesting enough, but on a trip to Turkey, there was a discussion about atheists. “Oscar” said they would be condemned...they were terrorists. Oh my! God seeks out every last sheep. All are invited to receive the Grace of Christ. Will we be able to look at each person and say, “This is a child of God?” Let us be thankful that God provides for us. Let us be thankful for success and the success of others.

September 14, 2014 - “FORGIVE . . . FORGET . . . REPEAT”

Learning to resolve our differences can bring us closer together. Forgiving and forgetting can also have an impact on our lives as individuals and as a community.

Peter asks how many times do we have to do this and the response of Jesus is not just 7 times but 77 times...over and over. We need a short term memory. Junior Highers are able to turn the page easily. One day they can truly be a pain...the next day they have completely forgotten what happened. A baseball team, in losing a game, must do the same thing. They cannot dwell on the past.

Interestingly enough...a gold fish has a 5 second memory. As he passes the castle in his fish tank he continually thinks, “nice castle.” As humans we obviously have a longer memory span. We think, “How many times must I forgive this person?” If we are truly in the business of forgiving, we do it again and again.

The parable about a man owed 10,00 talens to his master. When the master threatened to sell his wife and children, the man begged for more time. The master then said, “You are forgiven.”  Oh if only it were that simple. Slavery may one day be forgiven but it should not be forgotten so as to not repeat. We must move on to be the children God intended us to be.

Two prisoners met years later after released. One asked if he had forgiven his captors. When the answer was a loud “No!”, his friend replied that he was still in prison. We remember 9/11 but we should not allow our fear to define us. So how do we practice the Grace of God? Take a close look at The Lord’s Prayer. Is it asking us to wake up daily with a clean slate? For what would we ask forgiveness? Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves. We can take our burden to the cross and leave it there, In passing the Peace of Christ: "Peace be with you . . . and also with you."

September 7, 2014 - “Courageous Communication”

How do we witness courageous communication? Baking and passing out Cookies For Katella on a Friday afternoon is an act of faith. To see the young people with smiles on their faces and share with them gives us a lift. On young boy while passing through the parking lot gave the sign of the cross. We are a community of faith....and something special happens.

We meet and greet each other. Sometimes we disagree. Why not meet and discuss . . . one on one? The youth group is a safe place to learn, grow, and love as opposed to many high school groups that are concerned with who did what and when.

Why not speak the truth, be honest and love one another? We hurt one another by creating rifts. Think about the rule of Christ . . . go directly to the other person. If it doesn’t work, seek mediation. Jesus never gave up on gentiles or tax collectors but treated them with respect.

Seek reconciliation! Be honest. We may not speak to an estranged friend but we can love and pray for them.

In the word Communion we see the words common, communication, community. We honor one another and honor Christ.

Something special is happening here. It takes hard work to build this community on Wagner and State College. We can practice “courageous communication.” A community of faith gives us strength. To bring peace to a world in need it starts with you, then us, then the church as a community and continues forward.

August 31, 2014 - “God Beyond All Imagining”

We want God made real to us. In the Exodus story, Moses could barely stand to be in God’s presence. He asked God what to call him and his answer was “I am who I am. Don’t try to define me . . . don’t try to name me.”

Peter Thought the “Messiah” was a military King ready to overthrow Israel’s enemies, He recognized the presence of Jesus but misunderstand the “purpose” of Jesus...a human being to lead and help people.

We are just human beings. How do we describe God? During VBS one child asked, “Who is God?“ A hard question, to say the least. We stumble with answers when it should be, “I don’t know yet, but he is beyond all imagining.”

We must have humility about the limit of our knowledge. Sometimes we just don’t know.

It’s true in the church.    We have so many issues to deal with in the world, our country, our community, and our church. In conversing with a col- league about where the church is going, Pastor James and his friend thought about the community. We can disagree about many things but what if the church could come together and work together as one? WOW!

We live amidst the mysteries of God but we still have a job...”to take up our cross and follow Jesus.” How can we reach out to community?    Cookies for Katella is a good example or the many missions we have. We can remain united in discovering God’s infinite wisdom. God is our creator, our redeemer, our savior,

Are we aware of God’s presence? How can we not be.

August 24, 2014 “Searching for a Savior”

An indelible moment came to Pastor James when, as a 6 year old, a pastor asked him , “What do you think God is like? Who do you think he is?” And the pastor sat down and honestly listened to him. Is Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God? What would your answer be?

Jesus doesn’t tell us what to believe, but to find out through his actions, The Scriptures allow us to explore and expand our answers as does Confirmation class. The word confirmation means to make firm our faith. A problem is that many times we graduate and feel we’ve done enough or learned enough and don?’t further our faith and let Sunday mornings slip by to do other things. Who do you say that Christ is?

Remembering the story about the five blind men touching a different part of an elephant, lets us realize that each answer was correct. This teaches us that our church is like the elephant. We are one body. We have many members that are single parts, but when brought together we make a whole dynamic unit.

Rally Day is coming soon. It is a welcoming.    Why not stay around for coffee hour to greet one another and share our thoughts. It might be like the Indian greeting “Namaste” which means I bow to you and acknowledge an element of the divine in you. What a humble attitude that is.

We can get a fuller picture as one body as to who Christ is and who we are by sharing our experiences , thoughts and prayers. Why not pray to Jesus? It may become more powerful and meaningful to us knowing more about him.

As to who God is or what he looks like?…..a little girl couldn’t sleep and her mother suggested she pray to God so he could help her. This went on for several nights until finally the little girl said, “ I prayed, but I want someone with skin on.”       (Prepared by Kay Davis)

August 10, 2014 - "God’s Unchanging Hand"

Trust in a guiding hand. Wonderful sentence, isn’t it? As Jesus sent his disciples out onto the Sea of Galilee in a boat, a threatening storm came up and terrified the men. It wasn’t until morning that Jesus appeared, walking on water to save them.

The youth at summer camp this year were able to experience walking on water and trust in the guiding hand of their counselors. How powerful is that! Messages like this were shared with the children at Vacation Bible School?….that when they feel afraid they can know that God is at their right hand. Whenever fear takes over our hearts, hold onto God?’s unchanging hand. Just extend your right hand and hold on tight.

As Peter, who lost hope and began to doubt, learns in this story, God remains God, and is more power- ful than the oceans themselves. We must hold fast to God?’s unchanging hand and believe that he can bring peace amid any war. God?’s unchanging hand is still with us to lead us forward.

To follow Jesus means to walk out into the storms of life to take hold of a friend or loved one who is sinking. Can you extend your hand?

August 3, 2014 - "What We Do With What We Have"

How in the world could you feed thousands of people with only 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread? How could buying 3 pizzas at a football game feed a crowd?

God wants to provide...and he does! But what do WE have to offer?    It?’s not WHAT we have, but what we DO with what we have. God?’s compassion is far greater than our capacity to give. Can we also show compassion? Look around?….what are the needs around us? Think about what we can do to satisfy those needs.

Pastor James gave us a wonderful example by using a school friend who knew what poor meant in his own family. He worked in the cafeteria, yet took it upon himself to take the extra bread to a church nearby to help feed those in need. Thinking that anyone can at least buy a loaf of bread, Pastor James realized he could not make that assumption.

In Costa Rica, he again learned a valuable lesson when a friend asked him to eat with him. Knowing his family didn’t have much they still wanted to share.  “When someone comes to our door we assume they have not eaten.”

A PRACTICE TO KEEP?….Think with an abundant attitude, not a scarcity. Look around. What is the gift we can give with the compassion of Christ?

When Mary Scifres came to AUMC, she prompted the question, “What does AUMC have to offer the community around us? Like a cross, what is the greatest need and what is the greatest gift? We open our doors in time of crisis and remember...
God is the source.
Jesus is the source.
You are the source."