Pastor Henry's Memo

March 2020

Ask the Pastor, Monday, March 30

“Ask the Pastor”

This week's  "Ask the Pastor" question concerns the Parable recorded in Luke 16:1-13.  You should read it to re-familiarize yourself with the story. 

Please explain the parable of the Unjust Steward.  

     Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.  He's descended from the Mount of Transfiguration and as he moves toward his date with Pilate and others, he teaches and preaches and heals.

     I maintain Jesus is doing these kinds of things to irritate the religious leaders in Jerusalem and that this irritation is purposeful.  By breaking the Sabbath by healing and eating with sinners and consorting with tax collectors Jesus is leaving those Pharisees no choice but to arrest him and try him for blasphemy. 

     It's in Luke 15 where Jesus tells the Three Lost Parables; The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son.  Each of them is grace-filled beyond what his listeners (and we) can imagine.  Going after the one that has wandered away and searching relentlessly for a single lost coin and receiving back into the family the son who squandered his inheritance offers a new perspective on sin and the value of the one who has lost its way.  

     Jesus tells The Lost Son parable almost as a set up for the Parable of the Un-just Steward.  The father of the Prodigal behaves offensively to all those who want the son to pay a price for his life of sin.  But the father lets him off scot-free.  He even welcomes him back with open arms declaring the son who was once dead is now alive and there's a feast prepared for a celebration like none other.  The father could not be happier.

     How does Jesus top this measure of love and grace?  By telling the next parable: The Un-just Steward. 

Follow me, here.

     I will not change the text one bit.  And that will suit my interpretation of the parable very nicely.  First, who are the principle characters in the parable?  The Rich Man is God.  The Steward is Jesus.  Charges are brought by the Pharisees.

     What does the Steward do?  He reduces debt.  He forgives it in such a way as to irritate the ones who bring the charge that he's been squandering the Master's goods.  The Steward does what the Lost Son does: he squanders.  That should be a red flag worth noticing.  Jesus not only reduces our debt to God, he takes the debt on himself, and The Master (God) couldn't be happier because this is what the Master (God) intended from the get go.  The Steward makes friends with all those now-debt-free sinners.  Isn't that who we are?  Debt-free sinners who are friends with Jesus?  We are his friends even as we live and breathe on this side of the Kingdom.

     This parable is about grace carried beyond any limitation.  Too often God's grace is seen as offensive because every beneficiary of grace gets away with sin.  It's gone, taken on by the Steward and that just doesn't seem fair.  And it isn't.

     Grace isn't about fairness.  Hasn't been in the past; isn't now; never will be.  Think of it this way.  Take the grace of God in Jesus, put it on a scale and it out-weighs the sins of the world.  You see, grace is a gift; not a goal.  I repeat: GRACE IS A GIFT; NOT A GOAL!   It cannot be earned, bought, or bartered for.  In the end, it can't even be abused. The grace of God is resilient and the one reliable reality Jesus offers us in his Body and Blood. 



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Hosannas Will Arise! Friday, Mar 27

Texts 

Ezekiel 37: 1-14

John 11: 1-45

     Jesus will enter Jerusalem next week and history will take notice.  We're twenty centuries down the road, so to speak, and we mark his entrance into Jerusalem with joy and exuberance; we wave palm branches and declare "Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!"  That's next week.  Today, on the 5th Sunday of Lent, the tone is somber and fraught with grief and misery.

     Jesus is fresh from causing a man born blind to receive his sight and the Pharisees are troubled because the miracle was performed on the Sabbath.  The man's family is loathe to give credit to Jesus for fear of the Pharisees.  One would think the miracle of sight was an occasion for unrestrained rejoicing.  But, no.

     Today Jesus receives word his friend Lazarus is ill.  The man's two sisters come to their friend, Jesus, and beg him to come quickly.  But Jesus delays.  He says a quite extraordinary thing to these two women, who are also his friends.  This illness which concerns them is not unto death.  Rather, Lazarus is ill for the glory of God.  What's more, this illness will be an occasion for the Son of God to be glorified.

     I can't imagine what must be spinning in the minds of Mary and Martha.  They tell the man whom they know can work healing miracles their brother, his friend, is nearly dead with an illness.  And all he will say is that the entire matter is for God's glory.  And his.  

     Then Jesus takes a kind of "time out."  He does not rush to Lazarus' bed.  He doesn't say a prayer from a distance.  He does nothing.  Well, what he does is stay put.  For two long days he stays where he is.  What makes this lingering all the more confusing and even dispiriting is this.  The text says Jesus loves Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus.  For this reason Jesus stays away.  Let me repeat this.  Jesus stays put precisely because Lazarus is ill and because he loves him.  Jesus wants his friend to die.  

     Jesus stays a couple of days more and then suggests to his disciples they all go to Judea where the Jews there want to stone him.  Mary and Martha are bewildered and now the disciples are bewildered and Jesus seems not to have a care in the world.  

     Now remember, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem knowing, once there, he will be put to shame, suffering, and death.  I'm sure Jesus has his mind focused and occupied with very important things.

     We know Jesus has taken his sweet time making his way to where Lazarus and his sisters live, because when he does finally arrive, Lazarus is dead and buried.  Four days have passed since his burial.  The mourning for him has been public as many of the family's friends have come to share their grief.  When Jesus arrives the sisters admonish him for his being late.  They say to him their brother would still be alive if only he'd come sooner.  

     Here we have Jesus speak words of such truth and comfort they seem too good to be true.  He tells the sisters their brother and his friend will live again.  They understand him to mean in the resurrection, when the Messiah will come and put all things right.  But Jesus doesn't mean that at all.  

     "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever lives and believes in me, shall never die."  (vs 25-26).

     Now a second admonishment comes from Mary, reminding Jesus if only he had come quicker, their brother needn't have died.  She tells him this through tears and with deep mourning.  This deeply moves Jesus and he asks where Lazarus has been laid.  Off they go and there where his friend is buried, Jesus weeps.  Orders the stone be taken away and reminds them the glory of God is soon to be revealed.  Jesus prays to God and calls out to Lazarus for him to come forth.  And Lazarus comes out.  Wrapped in his burial linens and Jesus calls out that Lazarus be un-bound that he might be free.  

     The prophet Ezekiel is most likely in Babylon; being among those who were carried off into captivity.  He is well aware of the trauma being inflicted on Israel.  The temple has been razed.  The priesthood has been dispersed.  The Promised Land is no longer their home.  Can it be worse than this?  What more can be done to drive home the point that God has forsaken them in a foreign land?

     God shows Ezekiel a valley of dry bones.  They are Israel's bones.  Bleached and dead and about as forsaken as possible.  God asks the prophet a most shattering and unimaginable question: "Can these bones live?"  To which Ezekiel replies, rather sheepishly, I presume: "Thou knowest."  What follows is the coming of winds from every corner of the world.  Bones come together, Sinews appear on them.  They stand and they breathe and they live.  And they are still God's people.  Even in Babylon.  They are God's people even though the temple is destroyed; even though the priesthood is gone; even though they do not live in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They are God's people because God wills it be so.

     If God works his will in Babylon, will not God also work his will in Syracuse?  And North Webster?  And Milford?   And all across Indiana and in this nation and around the world?  This season of adjustment and Covid-19 will not see the end of our being a people of God called be bear witness to the Gospel of love and grace.  We are being invited by every hardship and restriction to find ways to be in ministry to our fellow travelers in this life.

     One day this pandemic will be wrestled into submission.  Much will be suffered; even death in many places.  Our grief will not go un-noticed in the God's holy sanctuary.  Our faith in the Son of God will be seen in our every act of sharing and sacrifice and even in our home-seclusion as an effort to keep others safe.  If that is how God will call us to serve, we must do it.   

     We will again worship God in our house of prayer on South Huntington Street.  We will again sing and pray and make an offering on God's altar.  We will continue to be God's people; and being that people, the Glory of God will be revealed and made known and hosannas will rise in thanksgiving for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  AMEN.



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Where Our Treasure Is

Well, what can one say?   I know we're only a couple of weeks into this COVID-19 quarantine pandemic.  Toilet paper is gone from the shelves, gas prices are down almost 50 cents a gallon and a gallon of milk is up just about that much.  Everyone will need to make adjustments and seriously prioritize their comings and goings.  For a bit of time we will be inconvenienced; some, more so than others.  That said, remember, it has ever been so.  Never has the world's population been on equal footing.  There have always been inequalities and local emergencies.  Natural disaster strike places across the globe with seeming randomness, while paradise is the status quo elsewhere.  We can rant and rave, wave our fists at the moon, the stars, and the man in the window next door.  Life is life and it takes its toll on every living creature.  What has been rediscovered in many places across this nation and the world is this: human kind is mostly resilient.  When this thing is past, the vast majority of us will still be among the living.  Making a living will get back on schedule.  Shops will open and planes will fly and Little Johnny may just get what he wants from Santa come December 25th.   We have all kinds of concerns and complaints.  We can voice them or keep them to ourselves.  I trust our Calvary congregation will continue to be faithful from their dens and kitchens and living rooms.  I know we will continue to check in on neighbors and shut-ins and pray for those we can only touch virtually.  If ever we needed a reminder that our church buildings are not the real Church, it's now.  Our flesh and blood bodies are the Church and we live among the people, be they believers or un-believers.  Now is the time for a faithful demonstration to all the world that the Church of Jesus Christ is alive and well.  I believe that is being done in countless ways.  Now is the time for the entire Church family to rejoice and declare with one voice that no matter the challenges the world may set before us we will not betray Jesus.  We will continue to share and sacrifice and love in His name for the sake of the Kingdom.  For that is where our treasure is kept safe for all of eternity.



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Ask the Pastor, Monday, March 23

 Our Calvary E-Navigator is now coming to you three times a week; Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  This arrangement is for this season of pandemic isolation.  Our E-Navigators will be a forum for up-dates and prayer chains and other congregation news.  The Wednesday edition will not change in format or content.  Friday's edition will include the coming Sunday's scripture readings and a sermon/meditation on those texts.  It will be a way to stay connected in a more worshipful way.  Monday's edition will introduce an "Ask the Pastor" segment.  Readers will be invited to ask me questions on any appropriate subject.  My response will be the Pastor's Memo for Monday.  I will not promise to answer every question as there may not be enough room.  You will be able to post your question by replying to this e-mail.  We begin today.

 

“Ask the Pastor”

How does the corona virus fit in with what the scriptures reveal?  Well, that is a big question for our first time chatting, so to speak.  I assume there is an underlying assumption behind the question that has been on countless minds.  That being, is the END near?  My answer is: I don't know.  Jesus cautions us about trying to read the signs be they observed in the moon and stars or the weather.  I would add to that caution to pay no attention to tea leaves, crystal balls, and Tarot Cards; or to anyone who claims to know the mind of God about the end.  Jesus tells us no one but God knows the hour and the day of the end.  The angels don't know.  Jesus himself does not know.  Only the Father.  And while the day and the hour is hidden from all of creation, Jesus urges us to stay awake.  We find this advice in Matthew 24: 36 and following verses.  This season of pandemic induced isolation will come to an end.  Not everyone will survive. and that will be an enormous sadness for all of us.  The human family has already known widespread devastation by flood, fire, earthquake, and disease. There are other so called Acts of God which have afflicted our common humanity across history.  The corona virus will not be the last such interruption to an orderly existence.  Our confidence rests in Jesus, who promise us to be with us to the close of the age.  However that age might end.  And for that I am immensely thankful.

 



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Friday Meditation on Sunday's Scriptures

The next several weeks will find us apart from each other on Sunday.  We will not be gathering for worship due to the corona virus.  We will be keeping the safe social distance ordered by church, state, and national officials.  Our Calvary E-Navigator will be our source for up-dated information about the congregation.  It will also be a forum for me to share with our church family a meditation each Friday on the coming Sunday scriptures.  This is the first of several, maybe many, such Friday Pastor Memos.

 

TEXTS:

I Samuel 16:1-13

John 9: 1-41

 

     What do you see?  What is meant to be seen in these texts?  Our Hebrew lesson about David's first anointing comes after Israel has begged God to give them a king.  All the other nations have kings and they demand God give them one, too.

     God tells them this is a bad idea because kings will tax them and count them and go to war with them, and take their property.  Kings are not a good idea according to God.  But no matter.  Israel cries for a king and God gives them one: Saul.  As her first king, he does all those things God said kings would do and he falls out of favor with God.  

     Before he is deposed, God calls for Israel's prophet to anoint a new king and this is where we find ourselves in the text today.  Samuel is told God has lost confidence in King Saul and he, Samuel, is told to anoint another.

   The prophet has concerns about doing this because it might get him killed. After all, there is already a king in Israel and anointing a new one might be seen as treason.  Not to worry.

     God tells Samuel to tell a lie if any of Saul's people ask him what he's doing.  Just say you are going to sacrifice and invite Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice. At the sacrifice, anoint the son I reveal to you.

     Each of Jesse's sons pass by Samuel and, in succession, each one seems fitting.  But not to God.  Not any of these seven sons are God's choice.

     There is a seventh son tending the flocks and Samuel has everyone wait until he is fetched and guess what?  He's the one.  The shepherd David is God's choice because God sees in him the makings of a king fit for Israel.  

     St. John's lesson reveals God has a plan for the man born blind.  The man who has never seen anything becomes a sign from God.  Jesus comes upon him and Jesus' disciples ask whose sin is responsible for the blindness: his or his parents? 

     Jesus' answer is nothing short of flabbergasting.  Sin is not the cause of this man's blindness.  God is the cause of the man's blindness.  He's blind so the glory of God might be revealed; so it might be seen.

     Jesus anoints his eyes; the blind man obeys Jesus and washes his eyes; he returns praising Jesus; and this is where all the trouble begins.  You see, Jesus heals this man on the Sabbath and this won't do according to the Pharisees.

     The testimony of the blind man is what causes him to be brought to the Pharisees where he bears the same witness about Jesus giving him his sight.  This causes the Pharisees to accuse Jesus of sin because he healed on the Sabbath.  

     Be very clear here about this.  No one denies Jesus worked a healing that brought sight to the man born blind.  The objection is that it was done on the Sabbath.  How can a man who is a sinner (that man being Jesus) work a sign from God?  

     What follows is a series of admissions about the man having been born blind, but no one admitting Jesus was the source of his sight.  No one wanted to be on the wrong side of the Pharisees.  Only the now-sighted man will testify to the work of Jesus causing him to receive his sight.

     Our two texts are connected by anointing.  David is anointed king and a man born blind is anointed with mud and he sees.  Is the glory of God not also revealed?  David is not recognized as fitting for kingship.  But God sees this in him.

     The Pharisees (and everyone else but the man born blind) do not see in Jesus a prophet because they only see sin on the Sabbath.

     What do you see?  Only a shepherd?  Only sin?  Or can you see the glory of God revealed in two anointings?  This is a question worth pondering in Lent when our sin is put front and center so the Son of God might work a sign in God's name for our salvation.



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"The times, they are a'changin."

We are in a new world with new concerns and we must be pro-active.  I have received phone calls and e-mails and have had conversations with people who are worried, frightened, and even panic stricken.  

     Keeping in mind the health, safety, and well-being of our Calvary family and surrounding community, we will implement precautions aimed at helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

      In accordance with the guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Calvary United Methodist Church will not convene any meeting on site or have bible studies or conduct worship until further notice.  Any committee which feels the need to make decisions for the purpose of continuing their ministries will to do so by electronic means.  That is, by phone or e-mail.  

     Bishop Julius Trimble has asked all Indiana United Methodist Churches to cancel all services for the next four Sundays. Those include Palm Sunday on the 5th of April, all services in Holy Week, and on Easter Sunday, the 12th.  Easter would be the fourth Sunday, after which we will await other instructions.  Those instructions could come from Bishop Trimble or the Governor or the President.  

     We do not have the convenience of behaving as if we are not affected.  We need to keep the six feet of "social distance" being practiced already.  We will maintain a different kind of "social distance" by not gathering in groups of 10 or more.  That number may be reduced by authorized experts and we will adhere to those limits.  

     Several of us at the church are in communication about how to keep our Calvary family informed of changing agendas and circumstances.  We begin by announcing there will not be a mailed paper Navigator for April.  Our regular Wednesday E-Navigator will continue to be our main method of communication with the congregation.  It will likely be sent out more often than once a week.  That schedule is to be determined.

     Even though we are not conducting worship, we are still the Church.  We are still a faithful congregation.  We will continue to have financial obligations.  We ask that you either mail your offering to the church or drop it by the office.  For now, our office hours remain unchanged: 7:30am until 3:30 pm; Monday through Friday.  If these hours change you will be notified through the E-Navigator.

     Please keep the office and me informed of any prayer needs.  If there is an emergency, please let me know @ 574-292-0983 or at  fivehen@gmail.com    Also, please let Lori know in the office @ 574-457-3778.  We will do our best to attend to these concerns as we are permitted.

     This current situation will resolve.  We will again be worshiping, gathering, and eating together.  When that is, we do not yet know.  Patience and courage and cooperation will be the order of the day.  And so too will faith and hope and love.

     We are Christians called to bear witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Be that witness and pray soon we will be together in all the safe ways possible.  May God bless you and keep you safe.



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Plastic Fortunes?

Some weeks ago I ate a plate of Moo Goo Gai Pan.  It's a Chinese meal composed of chicken, mushrooms, and assorted vegetables. It tastes wonderful.  It's my usual choice when I eat Chinese.  With an egg roll and couple refills of diet, I leave the restaurant satiated. Then comes the fortune cookie.  It's baked into a folded shape and contains a "fortune", so to speak.  That thin, narrow piece of paper within the cookie usually has numbers and a Chinese character printed on it; along with my fortune, of course.  What a delightful bit of flummery to amuse the diner after eating.  What was unusual about this particular fortune cookie was this: the fortune was printed on plastic!  Yes, plastic!  I don't remember what my fortune was nor the lucky numbers so graciously made known to me.  It was plastic!   Those paper fortunes will dissolve and be gone soon enough.  But a plastic fortune will be in the landfill for a very long time.  Why would the fortune cookie people think plastic was better than paper?  I would advise returning to paper.  We have enough plastic disposables.  Frankly, I see no reason for printing ephemeral fortunes and "lucky" numbers on paper, let alone plastic.  Let's be done with this kind of waste and add a bit more chicken to the Moo Goo Gai Pan.



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Our Methodist Roots

Our Methodist roots are deep.  We have Jewish roots and Catholic roots and Anglican roots.  Our traditions are three thousand years old.  We are not United Methodists only.  That identity is layered with centuries of history and tradition.  John and Charles Wesley are our most notable Methodist forebears.  They were ordained Anglican priests as a result of Henry VIII split from Rome in the 1530's.  They remained priests even as the Methodist Society was developing and growing.  When, finally, the Methodists split from the Anglican communion, they remained.  They did not renounce their ordinations.  Those ordinations were not stripped from them.  Today, the 3rd of March, is the Feast Day of Celebration for John and Charles Wesley in the Anglican Church.  The Wesley's are revered as Anglican Christians.  For that, we give thanks.  As we face an uncertain future with regard to our denomination, perhaps we could remember how the Wesley brothers were steadfast in their priestly identity, even as their Society grew along a new branch of the Tree of Faith.  However the United Methodist Church decides the difficult and painful issues before it, we are rooted deeply in the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and Jesus and Peter and Henry VIII and the Bishop who ordained the Wesley brothers in 1728 (John) and 1735 (Charles).  Pray for our General Conference; pray for our Bishops and the lay delegates as they make momentous and historic decisions this May.  Our branch of the tree depends on them.



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