Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Strange and Foreign

Isaiah 28:11 -- For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people.
Methodism grew out of two “Great Awakenings:” The first in England in the 1730s and the second in the United States in the early 1800s.  Both awakenings were marked by enthusiastic response to the word of God preached and offered to everyday people.  Unstated then but understood now the Methodist movement focused on ‘The creation of disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.’ Transformation marked the Methodist movement.   
For example, Gertrude Himmelfarb, writes “[T]he miracle of modern England” is “the fact that England was able to survive the economic revolution of the eighteenth century without succumbing to a political revolution [the best example is France].”  She places much of credit for this on John Wesley, the people called Methodists and the Methodist blend of Justification by Faith and Good Works. 
Wesley accomplished this through field preaching, the creation of active small groups, and high personal accountability – all of which were as “strange” or “foreign” to the people of his day as in our own. 
Wesley, and the people called Methodists, accomplished this national transformation by starting a movement.  Wesley and his people changed a nation -- for the better. 
America was also changed by Methodists – providing spiritual support in a growing foreign and strange land.  Francis Asbury was one of the first two American Bishops and the most movement focused.  He was tireless in his leadership of the church.  Like in England, during a time of religious awakening, a good man was prepared to lead a movement. 
My friend, the Reverend Doctor Bob Kaylor of Tri-Lakes UMC in Monument, CO, sees “humility, confession, repentance and surrender” as critical to our Christian experience, and I offer those four words framed the Methodist movement implicitly if not explicitly.  Those words of “humility, confession, repentance and surrender” often sound as “strange” and “foreign” to our ears bombarded with the constant worship of self.  Jesus words of unconditional grace sounded “strange” and “foreign” in his time as well. 
I think it is safe to say that the movement part of Methodism seems to have “gone out” and our flame needs to be re-kindled.  Our leadership sees our goal as:  We will re-ignite a Christian movement that begins with grace, offers abundant life, and reclaims the life-changing love of Jesus Christ for ALL people.  Key there is re-ignite acknowledging that the flame has gone out. 
How do we re-ignite this flame?  I posit it is by looking at our history.  Wesley and Asbury were driven by an interest in individual souls lovingly cared for and brought back to the bosom of God.  I am their theological and biblical child. 
I once heard a person say about being a Texan as “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as fast as I could.”  I confess, I wasn’t born a Methodist, but I got here as fast as I could.  I love the Methodist movement that focuses on Grace and Faith in Action.  That is exactly what Himmelfarb is driving at when she talks about Wesley’s combination of Justification by Faith and Good Works – Grace and Faith in Action. 
But let’s be clear – the ideas espoused by Wesley, Asbury and Jesus that include humility, confession, repentance, and surrender – sound strange and foreign to us.  Those are not words with worldly endorsement, in fact, the opposite is true.  Our call is to be foreign and strange in the land in which we sojourn.  There are times in this movement leadership people will look at us and say “you are not making any sense.”  If our marks are humility, confession, repentance, and surrender, they might sound foreign and strange, but that puts us in good company, as Jesus sounded foreign and strange in his own time. 
“You are not making any sense” is a badge of honor if we are witnessing in the spirit of Wesley, Asbury and Jesus, especially Jesus! 

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ministry Moment October 15, 2017

(Christine LeBel is the Vice Chair of our Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC), and Eric Weber is the Chair.  They assisted with this ministry moment.)  
Today Christine/Eric and I want to talk a little about staff …
Let’s review …
The mission of the United Methodist Church is transformation … it is our very why … we exist so that we can help transform the world … ourselves, our neighborhood, our world …
Transformation of the world begins with the individual … (repeat that)
Our staff is a very important element of that transformation …
Let’s start with how our staff contributes to this transformation story  …
SPRC Rep:  We have a great staff.  They care for and about each other.  Truly, pain for one, is pain for all.  Joy for one, is joy for all. 
Very often, when we say “the church” our staff is the living church – the embodiment of you, of me, of all of us -- throughout the week and they prepare and provide us with many things, not the least of which is meaningful worship each Sunday.  
Further, our staff is, through their work, an outreach of discipleship from our congregation out to the larger community.  They do this day in and day out.
Shaw:  What you want us to understand about what we are trying to do with our staff?
SPRC Rep: 
For too many years, we have underappreciated our staff in terms of compensation.  The level of responsibility that they have is much greater than their compensation levels.   All of them work for more hours than we pay them, and we pay them less than market wages. 
The staff has more responsibility than their compensation would suggest. 
We have an excellent staff and we are trying to build financial bridges to improve their compensation. 
That bridge building is not complete, nor will it end on December 31, 2018.  We have some catching up to do here.  Across the board. 
Shaw:  Anything concluding thoughts?

SPRC Rep:  Yes, we need to support our staff with a competitive compensation program that helps support and expands their responsibilities plus recognizes their expertise. 
Many of our initiatives start with development by our staff.   Better support helps to move all of our initiatives forward….. The staff is over half of our budget and some of the ideas we have suggested here, and more not stated but hoped for, will require us to step up with our giving so that we can realize our goals ….
Shaw:  We could go on for quite a while here.  (Lift up the handout) … more details are here. 

But the fundamental question is “does the world need more or less of your staff’s contribution to a message of God’s free and unconditional grace?”  Thank you …

Ministry Moment of October 8, 2017


The idea I want to offer you today is service in the church.  As we think about this, I call to your attention what we just sang to you a few minutes ago from ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, if you love Jesus why not serve him?
My guess is that everybody here has some capacity to serve the church in some way. Just as those skill sets that I brought in from the military have allowed me to lead within the church, I believe there's things that you have, you can do, and you're called to do and that you can bring those skill sets to service on behalf of God.
I want to focus today on time and talent. We so often within the stewardship campaign talk about treasure.
To be clear, we need the treasure to turn to lights on. 
     We need the treasure to pay for various salaries of your staff. 
       I could go on, but It's really a three column test:  time, talent, and treasure. It's not pick one. It's pick something off all three.
Paul was dealing with the same issue in Romans when he would say to the church that he hadn't gotten to yet in Rome, (Romans 12: 1) "I appeal to you therefore brothers and sisters by the mercy of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." He didn't say present your bodies to be burned up on some kind of sacrificial level, it was to be a living sacrifice on behalf of the church.
There are many things that we need help with here at the church. Many of them are relatively mundane and relatively easy to do. Some of them can be absolutely terrorizing.  For example, running the sound booth. It can be 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror when something goes wrong, but it needs qualified people to help us with that.
There are all kinds of things that you can do within this church.
I would hope that we would see that we have the capacity within us to answer God’s call. I'm going to talk in a few minutes about Gideon and how it is that he answers God's call, but 300 others answered his call as well, not only to lead, but to serve. 
To paraphrase Malachi 3:18, we make the distinction between those who serve God and one who does not serve him. I want you to respond because your heart is a glow; your heart is on fire. Your heart is on fire for God. That's the invitation for you today is to stop and pause and say, "Yes, my treasure is important, but I also want to contribute time and talent to this wonderful church."
I'm mindful of people here that think they don't have a lot of talent. They're like Moses, like Gideon that we're going to get to. My invitation for you is to know that God is calling you in some kind of way. What is that way? How is it that you can offer your time and talent to this church as well?

God bless you. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Ministry Moment -- October 1, 2017


Today Curtis and I want to talk a little about the property …
Let’s review …
The mission of the United Methodist Church is transformation … it is our very why … we exist so that we can help transform the world … ourselves, our neighborhood, our world …
Transformation of the world begins with the individual … (repeat that)
Our property is a very important element of that transformation …
Let’s start with Hilltop House
Curtis:  The Hilltop House provides housing for twelve families a year through Family Promise.  That is 48 people who experience shelter and food who would otherwise be homeless.  Further, the United Methodist Committee on Relief Depot in Salt Lake profits from Hilltop House in teams from across the country stay here while working at UMCOR. 
What about the main building?
Curtis:  Three quick examples:
Alcoholics Anonymous uses the building once a week … fifty women and men are transformed by a doctrine of personal accountability within a framework of a supportive community.
Boy and Girl Scouts use the building extensively during the week … over one hundred and thirty boys and girls are transformed in a community of loving adults.
Hilltop Christian School uses a significant portion of our building and eighty children are transformed in a loving atmosphere …
If I can offer one additional point, there are over six thousand entrances into this building in the course of an average month … six …. Thousand …  some of them several times … and many of them are subtly but profoundly changed by their experience …
And those three examples says nothing about consignment sales which generates funding for missions and clothing for those in need, Christian Education during the week, and other activities …the list of things that go on in the building is incredible …
Our predecessors at Hilltop made a conscious decision for this building to be used as a community resource.  This is not an expensive car parked in a garage and only taken out for a Sunday morning only spin.  It is taken out for of the garage every day of the week.  It is a sturdy, well built facility that is carefully used daily ….  Drive around Salt Lake and look at most church parking lots Monday through Friday and compare those lots with Hilltop during the same time.  We ARE a community resource, and that leads to wear and tear, and additional expense …

But the fundamental question – is does the world need more or less of the buildings contribution to a message of God’s free and unconditional grace?  Thank you …

Ministry Moment for September 24, 2017

In 1738, during a bible study, John Wesley had a personal experience when he felt his heart “was strangely warmed.”

It is part of the Tradition of the people called Methodists that “When we sense God's leading, God's challenge, or God's support or comfort, we say that it's the Holy Spirit at work.”

When the Holy Spirit is at work … our hearts are often strangely warmed …

I remember distinctly the experience in a chapel in Heidelberg, Germany in 1991 …

I remember distinctly my heart was strangely warmed the first time I saw the Pastor at St. Matthew’s United Methodist in Annandale, Virginia take an infant during baptism and declare that there was a piece of God in her that was in no one else, and that in her birth he believed that God had looked over the ongoing creation from the edge of heaven and continued to declare it good … very good.

Was your heart strangely warmed today?

For those who were here when we had our joint musical presentation with Crescent Ridge Stake and four hundred voices as one sang “O Come All Ye Faithful …” was your heart strangely warmed?  The Holy Spirit is at work in you.

Celebrations of life sometimes write themselves … because the family of the one now with the Church Triumphant offers such sparkling insight into how their mother, father, aunt, uncle very heart was warmed by the church … often this church … and because of them … others experience their own hearts being “strangely warmed.” 

Maybe the warmth comes when on television in the midst of an Ebola Crisis in Liberia, and the talking head on the screen stands in front of a hospital – unnamed in the presentation – but proudly displaying a cross and flame … and you … I … know that in Africa, the United Methodist Church exists beyond the end of the road … The Holy Spirit is at work in us.

Maybe your heart is strangely warmed when a Hilltop parishioner describes an encounter downtown with a homeless man, where she identifies herself as part of the Hilltop community and he says that he knows Hilltop and that our message of God’s boundless Grace – sung, spoken, and served – has touched him … his heart was strangely warmed …

I was asked in Colorado Springs before I left for Utah and Hilltop – why I wanted to come?  I said “I believe we can make a difference …”
 
I firmly believe we ARE making a difference … here in Sandy, in Salt Lake, in Utah, and across the planet.  The Holy Spirit is at work in us.

The mission of the United Methodist Church is transformation … that is our very why … we exist so that we can help transform the world … ourselves, our neighborhood, our world … and it requires hearts that are strangely warmed to do that … and  the work of the Holy Spirit?

Part of how we do that transformation is by inviting fellow strangers in a strange land to first belong in a place of sanctuary …

Our transformative task at Hilltop is helping all of God’s children find the meeting place of each individual’s passion with the world’s greatest needs.  (Repeat that)

I believe that first and foremost, our hearts – often strangely warmed – lead us to experience the sacred and the holy.  Transformation of the world begins with the individual … (repeat that)

Through October I hope to come before you and talk to your hearts about Hilltop and transformation …

More detail – the numbers – will be addressed each week with THIS (hold up a future insert) and also in this (hold up the newsletter) and on my “blog” which I will point to in my weekly eNote …

But the fundamental question – and one that I pray warms your heart – strangely or not so strangely -- is does the world need more or less of the message of God’s free and unconditional grace?  I think I know the answer to that … I pray your heart is warmed right now …

Thank you … Pastor Dennis

Going Over the Ground Rules

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NRSV) -- The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

 
As many of you are aware, I love baseball.
 
Before every game, the teams meet at home plate to exchange lineup cards and go over the ground rules of that stadium.  For example, Wrigley Field in Chicago has ivy covering the outfield wall, and a ball “stuck” in the ivy is out of play, and the batter is awarded second base. This is a “ground rule double.”
 
Let’s go over the ground rules for our coming stewardship campaign.
 
Handouts, the newsletter, and my blog pieces will be the primary place where we discuss elements of the money story.  Money is head talk, and head talk will be primarily something for you to read. For example, on October 1st when we talk with the Trustees about the building, we are not going to talk about utility costs.  The handouts will address that.
 
Handouts will also identify who you might talk to about a particular area. Current people are identified as they know the story, new people will not.
 
Our ground rule is head talk is reserved for reading, and speaking will focus, we hope, on heart talk.
 
Our speaking will focus on our hearts with why the church exists – change. The people called Methodists call this change transformation. Change is local, regional, national and international. Change is also personal.
 
Drawing from the scripture above, we are called to sow in a bountiful, grace-filled manner, so we can have a bountiful, grace-filled harvest. We have all heard, you reap what you sow. That is true both on what commodity comes back in the harvest, and how successful you are. Sow love and grace generously, and we harvest both, generously. 

How do we speak to the next topic in love and generosity?
 
If we look at the seven predominantly white churches in Utah with a full-time pastor, we apparently are sowing sparingly because we are reaping sparingly. If our giving were consistent with the others, our congregational giving would be in the $530,000 range. It is not. Our congregational giving is for 2017 is expected to be about $405,000 (or plus $35,000 over 2016).  I will say that there is some good news here:  that amount is almost $100,000 higher than at the end of 2012.  We are making progress here.
 
Let me return to the ground rules. 

We know there are those who have limited flexibility to step-up here.  Our ground rule is we will honor and respect that.  We do hope those in this situation will pledge and be faithful, and regular, stewards.

You may pledge for 2018 at anytime in October.  You do not have to wait until the last Sunday, and in fact, we hope you will step-up here early rather than later.
 
We have for many years been compelled to keep asking people into January if they intend to pledge.  This is generally focused on those who have pledged in the past.  We want to get to a ground rule that says the campaign is finished on Commitment Sunday (this year, October 29th).  That knowledge will help us in our budget building. We are people of faith, but we do not approve faith budgets.
 
We do need more of us to pledge, and those that pledge, to pledge a little more.  If everyone who last year’s pledged increased their pledge by $10/week and everyone else who did not pledge increased their unpledged giving by the same amount, we would be right at $500,000 which would allow us to accomplish many, long deferred goals. We will speak those thoughts over the month of October.
 
Selah, Pastor Dennis



Saturday, August 26, 2017

Listening Like Jesus ...

Many, if not most, of us are familiar with the Syro-Phoenician woman.
 
Her story appears twice in the Gospels, Mark and Matthew, and because they are a little different, I want to focus on Mark …

Mark 7: 24-30 (NIV)
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[a] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Yes, I find it problematic that Jesus was arguably guilty of a less than pastoral response to the situation of this woman.  But at the end of the day, he listened. 

One of the great problems in our current world is that it is our normative practice to listen in order to reply rather than to truly understand.  Bonhoeffer writes:  “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Jesus listened the first time and gave a problematic, not particularly loving reply – he didn’t understand, it was momentarily outside his feasible solution space.  Did he think he did not owe this outcast a deeper debt of listening? 

But instead of castigating him as an unfeeling, moronic, anti-Syrian, anti-Phoenician, anti-Greek speaking misogynist, this unnamed heroine invited Jesus to expand his ministry horizon beyond.  In the words of Mark Miller, she invited him to “draw the circle wide, draw it wider still … ”

And Jesus did, Jesus did draw the circle wide, wider still … and instead of replying that she was a two time loser with non-Jew and non-man tattooed on her forehead, he actually listened to her and displayed God’s love, God’s Grace.  

Mark’s red letter words are a little different than Matthew’s.  Jesus says to the unnamed woman “For such a reply, you may go” it is her logos – which the NIV translates as reply – that got his attention. 

Logos is a word used over 300 times in the Greek bible.  Our most familiar rendering of it is from John 1 where we are told the word/logos was with God and the word/logos was God.  But here, the word/logos changes the very heart of God, through the human manifestation of God actually listening, in love, in Grace. 

"For such a word, you may go ..."

I have to wonder a little if the reason Jesus listened was at least in part due to the negative critique he had just given the disciples.  Jesus had just told the disciples that what pollutes one is not what is outside of us, but rather what is inside of us.
 
Mark 7: 20b:  He [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come— [fornication], theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Sounds like to me that this unnamed woman advised Jesus that his own words coming from deep inside Jesus were defiling him – here arguably arrogance. 

But instead of retreating into a world of privilege, Jesus, listened.  He didn’t attempt to come up with some clever, mind numbing, self serving, retaining the old position, reply.  Jesus listened, and then he complimented her for the word she spoke back to him and granted her wish. 

How often are we in the position of Jesus?  Invited to hear God’s word in a way that is new, exciting, and refreshing, and instead, we retreat into our own arrogance, our own hubris, and we endeavor to reply from our privilege? 

I love this interaction.  I love it. 

This non-person times two in Jesus world – woman, non-Jew – weighs the scales of the dialogue, and she gives back to Jesus what he had just given the disciples – a righteous critique. 

And Jesus after getting his answer righteously chewed up and given back to him, responds in Grace, reminding the woman that it was her word – her logos – her use of his words – her use of the logos that is Jesus – that won the day. 

If “Jesus wept” is the shortest passage most people can quote from the bible, I wonder if this might not be summarized as “Jesus listened.” 

I think the challenge for us in the Church is to be listeners like the second Jesus here in this Mark 7 passage.  We can retreat into tradition, history, and rules, just to name three things, ad nauseum (and yes there are an infinite number of retreats here) and engage in an enormous exercise in missing the point. 

The point of all of us being here today is to help deploy resources that make the basilea – kingdom, kin’dom, reign, pick the one that works for you -- of God just a little bigger, a little larger, a little more Jesus like, surely a little more Syro- Phoenician woman like.  I think many if not most of us can recite or at least paraphrase the United Methodist mission statement but we must stay focused on the why, how and where of our collective community task:  Our why echoes from John 3: 16 about why God gave us the gift of Jesus --  love – love for the world.  How we reflect that love is transformation (our what), and our where is the local church. 

In our listening, are we the first Jesus, ready to see things the way they had always been seen, or the second Jesus, new, creative, fresh, drawn from the very words of God.  The choice is our – how do we listen? 

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Monday, July 24, 2017

United but not Untied

Recently, my wife and I went to the Turks and Caicos to reaffirm the wedding vows of two friends. Great people.  

That Sunday morning, most of the community gathered from across the United States was Roman Catholic, so that was where we went ... the local RC Church.  

The experience was transcendent.  The music had a local flavor but used ancient words.  The liturgy was powerful and the sermon orthodox.  The gathered community was multi-cultural and young. I was strongly touched by the remembrance of what God has done mixed liberally with our anticipation of what God is yet to do, making our now a special, worshipful, grateful, place. 

Following communion, the priest invited those who could not take communion to come forward and receive a blessing.  About 25% of those present came forward ... 

People don't have a tattoo that says "I am divorced" but I wonder if that wasn't a significant element of this sub-community, that was still seeking the blessing of the church? I felt like I was witnessing beauty.  

This observation led me to wonder how is it that Jesuits and Franciscans can get along? It intrigues me that Catholicism can at times be so both/and rather than always either/or. I am mindful RC can be either/or, just not always.  

Catholicism can truly be quite orthodox in what it tolerates (or doesn’t), but at the same time, seek a big tent approach on many things.  

I wondered then if the second most famous quote that John Wesley never said might potentially apply: 'In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, charity.'

Elements of our community seem in a rush to declare schism the reality and that we should proceed as such. I do get it.

While I get it, I not so sure I agree with what I get. I vote slow down, please.  

What if we instead tried to reach some agreement (I didn’t say consensus for a reason) about what we agree on – and define these as elements of unity, granting liberty on those issues we did not declare to be essential. 

Baptism of former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS is the preferred term at least in Utah, preferred over Mormons) might be a United non-essential, that would be quite essential to the UMC in Deseret (the name for the LDS footprint in the West).  For me, what does the person receiving the LDS baptism think of the theology behind the action words of ‘baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’?  I am not saying it IS a non-essential, just it might be.  Deseret is probably Utah, Southern Idaho, Western Wyoming and Colorado, Northern Arizona and Eastern Nevada and there it would be an essential, but for the national “United” church, I think ‘meh’ might be the general reaction to this issue.  At least to most members of most non-Deseret touched conferences, I suspect. Trust me, for the United church to essentially say 'the baptism of your parents, grandparents, and other relatives is not a Christian baptism [our current position]' may make sense to some, but it is problematic in the extreme in Deseret.

I intentionally chose a regional issue rather than a national one, so we could potentially see one such issue through different lenses.  
   
What if our #nextmethodism/#dreamumc modeled an organization of local churches within (still) regional conferences who had a common set of non-essential values.  We are United on essentials, but on what has been agreed to be non-essential, we are not.  We are in effect, on non-essentials, Untied. 

We could then I think evolve into a system where certain national and international boards and committees are united between the two untied elements.  The United Methodist Committee on Relief comes to mind, but maybe the board that manages our health and benefits?  I would hope that we could hold United that which provides hospitals in Africa.  The United Methodist Church says this is an important essential of who we are and we are going to fund this.  I think the fewer illustrations I offer here, the better the dialogue will go.  A lot of hobby horses out there for sure. 

I probably don’t get it, but is the potential loss of our ability to link the needs of the world with the passion of our hearts a risk we wish to take over doctrinal issues of tradition and scripture?  I think most of us, if not nearly all of us, can agree that Jesus called on us to reach out to those in need and hear in their voice, their needs, and their calls for justice.

Can’t we find a way to stay United on the essentials and agree to a Grace-filled state of being Untied over the non-essentials? 

If we want to find solutions, I think we can.  I confess often, I hear voices that are uninterested in finding solutions.  Show me where I am mistaken. 

If Catholicism can simultaneously embrace Jesuits and Franciscans, I wonder if we are not able to simultaneously embrace two sides which see the world on some issues, very differently  

Selah, Dennis