Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Weddings and Funerals and Life

Several years ago when Mary and I first started dating, her friends used to tease her about dating a pastor. It seemed that I was most always doing either a funeral or a wedding. So, Mary's friends asked where I was sometimes by saying: "Well, is he at a Wedding or a deathening..."

That's life isn't; at least that's life in part. We measure our lives by those big events. We can add a few other events that make our lives what they are. Birth (though we don't remember), but everybody in the family remembers, every birthday, we celebrate. When you were born, someone couldn't wait to hold you and change your diaper. Baptism is one of those events of our lives, whether we're a baby or an adult. The first you ever went to school. I remember that day to this day. Moving from elementary to middle school is a time to remember. Then, going from Middle School to High School is a time that we remember.

High School graduation is a big day for most of us. We make a big deal out of it here at Bethel. It's a special time. It's a big achievement. And, of course, if we go to college, that's big, too.

A wedding brings all kinds of things together in our lives. Sometimes a divorce brings trauma that lasts for years. And, as I said earlier, the deaths and funerals that we deal with throughout our lives. My Uncle Graham died when I was a little boy, but I remember it well. It was my first experience with death involving someone close.

Maybe that's why John's Gospel tells the story of Jesus at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. When they run out of wine in Cana, Jesus makes new wine. They all say to the host: "Most people serve the good wine first, then the cheap stuff when everyone is drunk, but you have saved the best until now." It was a way of saying that God had given the law first and it was very good, but now God has given us grace. He has saved the best until now. The best, of oourse, is Jesus.

The church worships at all of these times of change in our lives. Jesus comes to weddings and funerals. Jesus is present to us in the ordinary things of our life.

No one knows what 2010 will hold for you, what experiences of life you will go through. But, in the midst of whatever happens, our God is there as steady as a rock pouring himself out still for us. He is the reason for the joy at the party.

Look around with eyes of faith and you'll see him standing over there with his mother...

Dave Nichols

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

I am old enough to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a passsionate and powerful leader during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60's. I remember watching him on television and watching the riots and the marches. I remember the discussion of rights and the suffering of some. I remember one day watching the whole thing on television one night, and hearing my mother say: "I don't know why it's taken this long to happen..."

Later in sophomore philosophy class, for our final exam, we had to read Dr. King's Letter from the Birmingham City jail. It is a call to the religious leaders of Birmingham to stand now for the rights of all Americans. The religious leaders had previously said something like this: "We understand the needs of those who want equal rights. We agree with you. It's just too soon. Just wait a little longer..." Dr. King said something like: "We have waited and the time is now. We are tired of waiting."

When you think about it, it really is hard to believe that in this country African Americans could not vote until 1965. One hundreds years after slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation we finally got around to giving them voting rights.

Dr. King appealed to our own country's creed. We say that we believe that all are created equal, he said. If that's so, then we ask for equal rights under the law, said King.

Slavery has left us with an interesting legacy. The wounds caused by slavery are yet to be fully healed; its effects are still well with us. And, of course, Dr. King was murdered.

Since 1965, we have moved forward a great deal, even to the point of electing the first African American president. But, the feelings and the pain and the hurt of the past still haunts us. We have much to do to make it right among us.

I always try to remember that for me Martin Luther King Jr's holiday is reason to celebrate but for many others this holiday is as important as breathing. For them, this holiday represents a move toward our fulfilling our creed that all are created equal.

May God give us grace that we may move beyond race to true love for each other.

Dave Nichols

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Gun Shot Near the Church

We had a wonderful service of worship on Sunday, January 10. It was baptism of the Lord Sunday; so, we renewed our baptismal covenant coming forward to the baptismal font. I preached a sermon on Evangelism, the first in a series. I asked the congregation to think about the conversion of Saul/Paul in light of their own beginnings in faith. I asked them to reflect on their own story. When was it that you said "yes" to Christ, I asked them.

The service ended. Folks headed for the doors, emotions still flowing, filled with the joy of the day. Just outside, within a stone's throw of the church, Henry St. was blocked off. We heard sirens during the service, but did not hear the gun shots that took a man's life. A man robbed a convenience store and stole the car of the guy in the store. Police gave chase and ran the man down near the church. The man was shot dead after threatening police with a shotgun or something.

News says that he was a good man, a churchman, a Christian and no one knows exactly what happened. Drugs? Desperation? It was sobering to come out of worship on a high and to find that just across the street a gunfight had broken out.

Some will remember that a couple of years ago, when I was on vacation, during the service, during the Children's Time, a man came down to the children and looked them over. He turned and ran out of the church, got into his car, and left. Ushers could not get a license plate number. What did he want/need? Was he looking for someone?

It was unsettling to say the least. People for weeks were a bit frightened by this. We enacted some safety measures. When everyone is in church, all the doors are locked to secure the nursery and vulnerable adults from harm.

I guess the world has never been a totally safe place; look what it did to Jesus. We have a wonderful officer who worships at our church who helps us with this. We are doing all we can to make church a safe place to be. When that is threatened, it's unsettling.

But, Sunday, across the street a man died. All of us think: "What could we have done differently? Why? Is there something we can do to help someone like that?"

Many years ago when the great Charles Allen was pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Atlanta the church decided to cancel Sunday night services because of dwindling attendance. Shortly after the services were cancelled, someone committed suicide on the steps of the church on a Sunday night.

Charles Allen said that he would never again cancel Sunday night services. He asked:"What if we had been here in church when this man came by thinking of taking his life?" It might have made a difference. Of course, it might have happened anyway.

It makes me ask in the midst of our world: "Are we doing all we can to be there for people who have gotten so desperate, that...?"

It's worth asking as we get going in 2010. It's certainly better to be here than not for someone. God has put us here for his purposes. God use us for your purposes.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Getting Started in the New Year

My secretary and I were both doing stuff yesterday. We agreed that these first few weeks of the new year are rather hectic. At church, we are wrapping up things from the previous year while trying to get things organized for the next year. There is much to do to get committees and the Church Council started out on the right foot. At home, Christmas and New Year’s brought welcome visits from children and an engagement ring for one. Martha, the youngest, is back at PC and Mary, my wife, is off to school again.

I intended to get away for a week to do worship planning, sermon planning and prep, for the first six months. I like to plan out six months of sermons and hymns to be shared with staff. I do this to give me and them an idea of the direction we’ll be going in. Time caught up with me; so, I was not able to get away for that week yet. This week I worked and prayed my way through three months of planning. I’ll do the other three months some time next week, maybe. This is just an outline of what I hope to accomplish the next six months. It now looks like it will be February before I can get away for that week of planning, when I can focus a little more in depth on the next six months.

December was a busy month, as always, but was unusually busy with having to deal with needy folks. It got so interesting that every morning when I drove up to work someone was waiting needing some kind of help. We make it a policy not to give anyone money. We give groceries, or a meal, or rent, or something like that. But, immediately after word gets out that you helped one, others are lined up.

That’s not to say that much of the need that we encounter is legitimate. I believe it is. It’s just that if we have the money and the time we could stay busy doing nothing but this. We are thankful for those who give to our Fellowship of Suffering Fund; and, we try to help as best we can some. We can’t do everything for everybody. That would be my dream. But the need is so large and resources are limited. We helped so many over the holidays that we are not in a holding pattern. We are getting together coats and gloves and blankets for those who need them, so that they can get through the cold weather.

Thankfully, we wrapped up 2009 with enough income to meet all of our obligations both here and denominationally. The folks at Bethel Church, once again, with God’s help, have responded to the need and we will begin 2010 with much promise.

Our three services of worship are back in operation, as we continue to create ways for the doors to Bethel to be open to others. Wednesday night supper and programs are back on schedule as we make our way through this season.

This is Epiphany Season, the time when we see Jesus “shown forth”, “revealed”, as the light of the world. In this first month we will work on the theme of Evangelism together knowing that we have a story to tell to the nations. God is moving yet. Pray for your friends and loved ones who need to come to Christ, to the church. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the words when there is opportunity so that the door may be opened.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

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