Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Telling Someone You Believe in Something

When my husband and I arrived at our first student appointment in southern Indiana in the fall of 1978 this church had just been rebuilt after a devastating tornado that had destroyed many homes and businesses. The new church was something of a "pre-fab" but it was adequate for the small congregation of people who lived on this hill and it was totally new. But Ray, a church member, was not at all satisfied until he got the bell back. When the tornado hit on that fateful day in April the church bell that hung in the church steeple for over a hundred years went flying across the countryside and landed in a field. After the tornado was over the church bell was recovered and brought back to the church. The new church did not have a steeple that could hold that heavy brass bell and Ray wanted the bell to be rung again. He collected money for several years and the church built a stand-alone bell tower next to the new church so that once again the bell could be heard on Sunday morning. By the time we left that appointment the bell tower was built and dedicated. It was Ray's happiest day since the tornado. For Ray it was more than a bell calling people to church. He said "when you ring a bell you are telling people that you believe in something."

Truly our churches believe in something!  We believe in The Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.  We ring our bells calling people to worship and we call people to faith in Christ because we believe in this great truth and we serve God in the strength of that faith.

This week we as a nation are called to ring bells on Wednesday, August 28th at 3 pm.  Why? To remember 50 years since the March on Washington during the Civil Rights movement when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his great "I Have a Dream" sermon that he delivered to thousands of people at 3 pm.  He believed in something.  Dr. King believed that equal rights for all people in the United States could become a reality.  In the 50 years since that day many important strides have been made toward this dream of equality.  So we should ring our bells to celebrate this great movement in our society.  But we should also ring a bell tomorrow to tell people that we believe in something else: that the work is not yet done and that there are still more barriers to equal rights that are yet to be overcome in our country and in this world.  Ring a bell to say that you believe in Dr. King's dream and that you will work to see his dream come to full fruition wherever it is that you live and work and worship.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fanatic for Christ

by Bishop Peggy Johnson

The Apostle Paul writes to the church of Corinth that he is a “fool for Christ” (I Corinthians 4:10).  He describes his foolish behavior as one who willingly submits to poverty, disrespect and fatigue.  Other “foolish” activities includes blessing those who insulted him, enduring persecution, and speaking kindly to people who lied about him.  It is foolish by the world’s standards because in the world we want to win, be wealthy, comfortable, respected, honored, and treated kindly.  As followers of Christ we are signing on to be treated as Christ was treated.  This is truly counter-cultural and appears to be, fanatical.

The annual United Methodist Day at the Phillies happened once again .  On August 17th over 1,200 United Methodists from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference under the capable leadership of United Methodist Men’s conference president, Ross Brightwell, came to cheer on the home team.  A mass choir led by the choir of Camphor UMC and six other Eastern PA Church choirs,sang the National Anthem and “America the Beautiful” before the game began.  We were greeted by a well-known personality: the Phillies Phanatic.  He is the green fury mascot for the Philadelphia’s major league baseball team and his claim to fame is that he is a super-enthusiastic  fan of the team. With his crazy antics and dramatic body language it is clear that he is a fool for baseball.  He is willing to look silly, fall on the ground, run around in circle and expend enormous amounts of energy in what must be a very hot costume on a summer night. Why?  Out of love for the Phillies!!

How can we be a little more fanatical about our faith?  When was the last time you were a “fool for Christ”?  When did you show someone without faith what your faith in Christ means to you?  Was joy and exuberance on your face?  When did you allow someone else to have your money, your time, your place of honor out of love for Christ?  When did you face persecution and criticism because you followed the way of Christ?   If you do then you stand in line with many of the saints who have gone before you and you surely are light and salt in this world.

John Wesley was a “fool for Christ” when he wrote the Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but Thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am Thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let I be ratified in heaven. Amen.

(The United Methodist Hymnal #607)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


In the Gospel of John when the disciple Philip finds Nathanael to tell him about Jesus, Nathanael retorts with “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  (John 1:46) This was first-century profiling and for sure it was around long before that.  Profiling goes back to perhaps the Garden of Eden.  Sin entered the world when self-will challenged God’s will and when “me, myself and I” are on the throne someone who is “other” is less-than and in comes all the evils of bigotry, prejudice and discrimination.

Profiling is a word we have heard quite a bit since the George Zimmerman trial began.  He was on trial for the murder of a 17-year old African American young man, Trayvon Martin, who was on his way home from a trip to a convenience store.  The verdict has been a cause of stinging pain around our country and there needs to be soul-searching and some action if we truly believe this is wrong and it has to stop.  To do that we have to all own up to our profiling ways.

I am guilty of profiling. I attended a class reunion and saw some folks who I did not know that well during high school but who had done well for themselves.   I asked one of them where he grew up.  Since we attended a consolidated high-school that housed students from many strata of neighborhoods, people were pigeon-holed into their “class” based on the neighborhood.  This classmate had done well in life and when he told me he was from the poorest part of the county I immediately felt that profiling “ping” go off in my head.  Can anything good come from that neighborhood?  Apparently so.  He is one of the most successful graduates that ever came from that school.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth….just the Son of God….just the place where God chose to call home.  Archeologists say that in Jesus’ day Nazareth could not have had more than 500 people in the town.  It was 80 miles north of Jerusalem in the area of Galilee. There were no major roads, no trade routes, no waterways to bring commerce and culture.  Yet that is exactly where God tends to dwell and do his “power-made-perfect-in-weakness” debut.   God primarily works there because that is where people let God in more often.  It is harder when people have too much stuff.  They start thinking they don’t need God.