Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Passion to Worship

Last Sunday, we worked and prayed our way around the Christian practice of worship. Some say that worship is the most useless of all the Christian practices. Activists would rather be out working and moving things around. Worship seems like a passive and weak activity. In fact, if we let you sit too long and the mood is just right, some of you get a nap. Some of you have mastered the art of sleeping with your eyes open. But, God demands that we worship, that we spend time in his presence in community with others doing what we do: praying, singing, hearing his Word, offering our gifts and then going out to serve. And, we are to get you formed in Christian faith- all in one hour. A friend of mine went to an African American Church one Sunday. He had been invited. He was surprised at the length of the service. At the end of three hours or worship, my friend and the pastor were going out to eat. My friend asked him why they worshiped for three hours. The African American pastor said: “All week long our people live in a culture that tells them they are nothing. It tells them that they come from nothing and that they will never amount to anything. It takes me at least three hours to tell them that they are children of God.” Now, I guess, that many of us already are affirmed to death in the world around us; so, we don’t feel the need to worship for three hours. One hour is enough, thank you very much. It just seems like a waste of time. Well, think of worship as an appointment with God. Once a week you are expected to show up for your appointment, to give God some time, some gifts, some worship in song and prayer. You show up in worship to meet with God. The thing is: if you missed your appointment with someone else, you would likely reschedule. But, God? God is so filled with grace that he allows you to choose. God doesn’t want your worship if it’s out of guilt or out of “have to”. You really don’t have to worship. You are the one who misses out when you don’t worship regularly. You miss your appointment with God. Part of the problem with modern worship is the same problem that was the problem in ancient worship. The problem is that we often see worship as something we do out of superstition. We worship to keep in good standing with God- so we won’t get sick or let anything bad happen to us. And sometimes when something bad does happen to us, and it always does at some point, we may stop going to church thinking it wasn’t doing any good anyway. Ask yourself? Have you ever come to worship God simply because you love God? I love my wife and that means that I want to be with her. If we love God, then worship is one of the ways that God has given us to be with God. You see, it’s not about guilt or about superstition. It’s about love. It always has been. Sure, not every sermon is a stem-winder. Not every hymn is your favorite. Not every prayer stimulates you. And, the offering? Well, we could live without that altogether. But worship is one of the main ways that God gets at us. God will not force himself on you or make you do his will. No, you are invited. You are compelled, called, to come. And what do you get out of it? You get God, the all-loving, all-knowing, Lord of all things comes to you when you worship. Worship- it’s what Christians do. See you in church! Dave Nichols

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Passion for Prayer

We Methodists sort of define what it means to be a Christian, a Christ follower, by saying that we support the church (Christ’s body) with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. The last one was added just a few years ago, but it’s one that we Methodists ought to take heed of. Last Sunday, was the Sunday in our Discipleship Series when we look at prayer. There are so many ways to talk about prayer and to do prayer that it seems old hat. And yet, there is always something more to learn about prayer. I learn everyday as I pray that I can trust God more and more with my whole life. In the sermon I said three things. I said that when we pray we are saying that we believe: 1. God is here. When you say that you pray but it seems as if your prayers don’t get passed the ceiling, do you think God is on the other side of the ceiling. No, scripture, if it teaches us anything, teaches us that God is here, as near as your breath. Your prayers only have to get as far as you heart and mind. God is sitting right beside you. God is standing right near you. God is with you in and through everything that you face. When we pray we pray to the God of Jesus Christ who is never far away. 2. God is able. Many of us pray but we have trouble believing that God will or can actually do something about our prayers. Scripture teaches that all things are possible with God and it bids us ask, seek, and knock. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been knocking so hard that our knuckles are bruised, but we keep knocking. God is able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or think. John Wesley goes so far as to say that there are some things that God will not do unless we pray. A custodian friend used to say to me when I was a boy: “If you take one step, God will take two.” 3. God is good. That means that we believe that God intends our good. John Claypool once said in one of his books that Jesus Christ was God’s answer to a bad reputation. He says that we believed the devil when he whispered in our ears that God didn’t know what he was doing and certainly couldn’t be trusted. In Jesus, we learn that God is for us and if God is for us, who can be against us? The God who made the good and beautiful world and the God who made you wondrously (Psalm 139) is the God who means our good. It also means that when bad things happen to us God will make good come even out of evil. I am challenging Bethel people to take one step up in their commitment to pray. If you’re not praying daily, then start. Pray every day. Set aside a time, read a verse or passage of scriptures, and listen and pray. Are you praying for each other? Are you asking God to uphold the church, to make it strong in witness and service? Are you asking God to show you what your ministry is? I asked the church to pray the following prayer every day: DAILY PRAYER FOR BETHEL AND ME Dear Lord, we pray for Bethel Church. We pray that we may be truly the church where everyone is welcome, where no one is perfect, and where anything is possible. We believe that our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Give us the courage to fulfill our mission and to invite others, to join in nurturing each other in the faith, and to send others to bring Christ’s love to the world. We believe that Jesus is Lord and that you have called us to serve Christ where we are with what you have given us. We pray that you will do a great work among us and bring more people to Christ here. Double our attendance and give us the courage to do what we need to do to participate in fulfilling this prayer. In Jesus’ name. Amen. If you’re a Bethelite, thanks for your prayers. If you’re not, use the prayer and pray it for your church. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Wedding

Weddings are wonderful experiences. Last weekend we had a wedding at Bethel and as always, the bride was beautiful and the groom, handsome. Some of my colleagues hate doing weddings, but I, on the other hand, love doing weddings. They are a wonderful occasions in which to become closer to the families, particularly the bride and groom. It’s an opportunity to bear witness to the meaning of marriage and our faith in counseling sessions, of course. Weddings are also occasions when emotions are running high and deep. If there are tensions in a family, they will likely surface for consideration during the wedding process. But, even under the best of circumstances, a wedding brings out deep feelings. It’s a worship service during which we invoke God’s presence. We don’t do anything without God around here, and hopefully in our lives. The wedding service begins by reminding us that marriage was God’s idea and that God made us male and female for each other. The service then reminds us of the story of Jesus presence at a wedding of Cana of Galilee, reassuring us all that Jesus does in fact do weddings. Then, the couple answers a question of intention. This goes way back to the time when you might come to your wedding day under duress. The questions make sure at the start that each one, the bride and groom, is entering in to this covenant of their own free will. Next, dad is asked: “Who gives the bride to married to him?” Now, the United Methodist service added in recent years a response for the whole family, and when I’ve used it is it good to have everyone’s blessing. But, still, the bride wants dad to have a part in the service, albeit brief. Dad, after bringing the daughter in, answers: “Her mother and I”, and then sits down, handing off the bride’s hand to the groom. Sometimes Dad kisses the bride before retiring to sit with the mother. This is a sad thing to see the Dad walking back to sit down. I’m speaking as a Dad of three daughters, of course. The service goes on with scripture. I give them several options, but most of them select 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter on love. Then, the service calls for a sermon. Some call it a homily to ensure that it will be short. I always keep it short, but it’s an opportunity to speak to the couple about the meaning of marriage. And, everybody listens in. This past weekend I said four things to the couple. I said that I hoped they would understand that marriage is about: 1. Leaving some things behind 2. Learning every day about love 3. Laughing a lot 4. A loving, lasting commitment Then, the couple follows me up to the altar to the kneeling bench. And, they face each other and say their vows. I tell them to look at each other, not me. Then, I get the rings from the maid/matron of honor and the best man. We finally learned that you don’t let the ring bearer (a child) have the real ring. You don’t know what they will do. It’s nice to have children as a part of the service but… I bless the rings and give them to be put on. Then, after all this I put my hand on theirs and announce that they are husband and wife together. What God has joined let no one put asunder. Then, they kneel at the altar for a prayer of blessing. Then, they say the Lord’s Prayer. Their first act as a married couple is to say a prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. They stand. I give the benediction. I tell them to kiss and they walk to the front where I say: “Mr. and Mrs….” And, usually, the congregation applauds. That’s an altogether wonderful way for the congregation to show their support and blessing and love. Then, we sign the license and get some more pictures and then we party. Call me silly, but I do enjoy these occasions. I believe that Jesus shows up at weddings still. And, that when two people come to the altar of God and give their vows to each other it’s positively sacramental. This may be the riskiest thing that most Christians do. It’s a gift. In a few days, we will celebrate with a couple who is celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Love takes a long time. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Monday, October 1, 2012

Holy Communion

Next Sunday, October 7, is World Communion Sunday for mainline Protestants. Maybe I should say old-line Protestants for denominations that at one time were the main churches other than the Roman Catholic Church in America. Of course, we are living in a new day now, and have seen a proliferation of churches over the last four decades. World Communion Sunday was first invented as an attempt to bring all of us together for Holy Communion on the same Sunday. It represented our oneness in Christ, even though we felt different from each other. Sometimes our practices were different. It was all part of the ecumenical movement of the past. It signaled our need to work together rather than compete with each other. Unity is a good thing, especially for Christians, but not all Christians bought in to World Communion Sunday. Some were and are suspicious of anything called “unity”. Concerned about “purity” of belief and practice, and Biblical interpretation, some Christians did not join in with the ecumenical movement. We United Methodists have always been ready to get together with our fellow Christians whether for a community service or a common mission and ministry. So, we have always celebrated the “great” church, the whole church as one, on World Communion Sunday. We believe that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead, after that there is plenty of room for disagreement and discussion. Today, of course, unity among Christians still remains an embarrassment to the church, all churches. If Christians can’t get along, then what hope is there for anybody else? Competition between churches has risen to a new level. It has become about winning and losing. But, that’s another discussion for another day. Sunday, is about Holy Communion. It’s about a the table of Christ being open to all people. It’s about receiving Christ in physical as well as symbolic terms. All I know is that when you come to communion, you meet Jesus. All who stand in need of the love and grace which it alone gives are welcomed to table. No one is barred except by their own choice. We, at Bethel, celebrate Holy Communion monthly. On the first Sunday, we have communion in both traditional services. Sometimes, we have Confirmation or something that prevents our doing Communion in the second service, but we always have communion at 8:45 in the traditional service on the first Sunday of each month. We also, have communion at Spirit Song on the second Sunday of each month. Every Christian believer hears Jesus say: “This is my body. This is my blood. Come.” John Wesley says that anyone may come to the table who hears the invitation and wants to come. Even a non-believer may meet Christ and be converted at the table of the Lord. You may miss hearing God’s Word preached, though I hope not. But, do not miss receiving Christ, taking him into yourself again, and experiencing his love and grace. We are indeed united to other Christians, and at communion we are united to Christ. See you at the table. Blessings! Dave Nichols

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