Sunday, October 28, 2012

October 28, 2012 - All Saints Day


Vast Made Personal - Sermon for All Saints Day
Isaiah 25.1-9


[ALL SAINTS DAY]
             This Sunday at Church Street United Methodist Church, we observe All Saints Day by reading the roll of the honored dead. The focus on All Saints Day is not on the extraordinary achievements of a few celebrated Christians but on the grace and work of God through ordinary Christians – like those we name today. We are inheritors of their faithfulness. Because they have come to the end of their lives, we remember them with thanks to God. Then, we take up the work of Christian witness and service that still lies before us.

[PRAYER]
Eternal God, neither death nor life can separate us from your love.
Grant that we may serve you faithfully here on earth
                  and in heaven rejoice with all your saints who ceaselessly proclaim your glory.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
            who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
            one God, forever and ever. Amen.


[ILLUS: McMinnville]
            I go each October to decorate my parents’ graves. I’m not altogether sure why I must do this each year. When I was younger, I did not care about doing such a thing; now I never miss. I think the reason I must go is to acknowledge the fact that these were the people who gave me the chance to see this beautiful fall day – and every day.

            From my parents’ graves, I can look across that cemetery to see the graves of ancestors back to the Civil War. According to the family story, my Great-great grandfather Zeke Martin fought in the Civil War. During one the battles, he was captured and taken to a prisoner of war camp where he stayed until the end of the War. But, even after the War ended, he did not come home as other soldiers did. Almost a year passed before they saw him.
            Then one day, he came home. It was dinner time and the family was at the table. He walked into the house without knocking, came into to the kitchen where he took his place at the table – as if he had just come in from plowing. He sat down, joined the meal, but never said anything about his experiences in the war and gave no explanation about his year-long delay in returning home.
            Apparently, everything was all right, though. A year later Zeke and his wife had a baby boy. They named him Robert E. Lee Martin, my great-grandfather. I’ll leave it to you to figure out on which side my Great-great grandfather fought.

There are people in our lives who make the great events and movements of this world personal.
            Despite the fact that I was born and raised in the American South, the Civil War for me was just a long chapter in my American History Book. When my mother took me to visit my great-great grandfather’s house years ago, that War took on personal meaning. Every time I visit that cemetery, I recall the story as I clean the encroaching weeds off his footstone.
            NOW, if we are very, very fortunate, there are people in our lives who make the great events and movements of the Christian faith personal. These are the saints we name today. They give the doctrines and the convictions of Christianity flesh and blood. Christianity first came alive for us in their lives.
·         They love us unconditionally and show us what god’s unconditional love does.
·         They treat people along their way with grace and show us how God surely treats us with grace.
·         They forgive in ways that heal broken, hurting relationships and show us how God’s forgiveness can heal us.
These are saints who in a thousand everyday acts show us the great sweep of God’s love scooping up the world to welcome it home.

II. Years ago, J. B. Phillips wrote a small book with the title: Your God is Too Small. In it he challenged Christians to grow up in their faith rather than holding on to childish notions of God. In the opening, he said:
            The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs. While their experiences of life have grown in a score of directions, and their mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries, their idea of God has remained largely static. It is obviously impossible for an adult to worship the conception of God that exists in the mind of a child of Sunday-school age, unless he is prepared to deny is own experience of life. If, by a great effort of will, he does do this he will always be secretly afraid lest some new truth may expose the juvenility of his faith. And it will always be by such an effort that he either worships or serves a God who is really too small to command his adult loyalty and co-operation (1).

Though written 50 years ago, the point Phillips made is still relevant.
            We read the Bible looking for answers to our questions, comforts for our worries, and a kindly face watching out only for us. We look for a God who is speaking to us and to our corner of the known world. Because we are looking for the God of small size and limited concern, we hardly catch the full message. It does not take a particularly big God to do just that much. What we miss, sadly, is that the great God speaks to nations and peoples and across the ages.

[TEXT] In Isaiah 25, the prophet speaks to Israel in exile. Earlier in the book, the prophet warned Israel that God demands righteousness and justice. He warned the people that punishment would follow if they chose to ignore the great demands of God. Well, the promised punishment came in the form of national defeat and then exile in Babylon. Now in exile along with the people, Isaiah speaks a word of comfort to those who have lost everything. He speaks to Israel in exile, but at the same time, he tells them of a God who addresses the whole world and for all time.
A. 1 O LORD, you are my God;
            I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
            plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

Isaiah will praise God even in the midst of their exile. What a faith he has brought with him! And then, he claims that God is following his “plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” He is convinced that God is not making history up as events unfold. God has purpose and direction and love at work through the events of history.
            He is convinced that God is a refuge for the poor and the needy, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. The exiles in Babylon with Isaiah would resonate with all this, they would hear the prophet speaking to them.
            B. Now a promise:
            6 On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast…”
In the previous verses, the people would have identified with the poor and the needy. And that felt good. They stood apart from the Babylonia captors and apart from people they saw as “not like themselves.” Their politics, their nation, their language set them apart from the Babylonians who had conquered them. Today, hearing our roll of the honored dead read out makes it hard  to see this day as anything but personal, focused, tender toward us and those we call by name.
            But, the feast which Isaiah promises that God will provide is not just for a few; it is a feast for all the peoples. Isaiah has taken us from focus on ourselves and our neediness to a feast to which all the nations are invited. Surely, it requires a big God to embrace all the peoples and all the nations. It requires faith in a big God to step back and allow God to embrace all the nations in His care.
            C. Now, in the sweeping movement of this prophecy as it gathers up the peoples around the world, Isaiah turns to our concern on this All Saints Day.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
            the sheet that is spread over all nations;
            he will swallow up death forever.
8 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
            and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
                        for the Lord has spoken.
We have shed tears at the loss of so many precious souls who once brought us joy. We need to hear Good News of God moving to make the world new again.
            Paul, in 1 Corinthians caught this promise, when he wrote about the work of Christ:
54  When this perishable body puts on imperishability,
            and this mortal body puts on immortality,
then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
            "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
5  "Where, O death, is your victory?
            Where, O death, is your sting?"

[APPLIC:] We gather on this All Saints Day to savor God’s word of assurance for us in our personal experience of loss. And surely God does speak to us the words of assurance and hope to us. But, savor too the promise of God that all the world is caught up in this vision. Open your heart to the possibility that God’s redeeming work will work hope and peace and justice for all who have lost loved ones in all the nations and for all time.

All Saints Day is the day when we who honor our dead claim God’s promise for all those who have gone before.

II. Consider something else: We have read as our scripture for this morning, a prophecy spoken to exiles living in Babylon roughly 2500 years ago. How does the ancient word of this scripture still speak to us in the 21st Century, living on another continent?
+We go to cemeteries to tell the stories of our ancestors so that we know the stock we came from. We might need to know one day where we came from.
+We go to cemeteries to tell the stories of our ancestors to learn what dreams and loyalties shaped their lives. We might need to know the loyalties, perhaps un-acknowledged, that are written into our DNA.
+We come to church on All Saints Day to see what Christians before us have worked for and now leave to our care. We might need to know the length and breadth and depth of this faith.
+We read the ancient promises from scripture in the conviction that God’s promises remain in force because they reside in God who gave them, not in human beings who hear them.
+We read the ancient promises from scripture because they tell us who we are and what faith in this God will make of us. The prophecy from Isaiah and from Revelation points us to our destination.




Notes:
1. Phillips, J.B. Your God is too Small (Introduction), 1961.

Friday, October 26, 2012

2013 Church Street Calendars


The 2013 Church Street calendars have arrived and will be available at church over the coming weeks. These are offered as a gift to your family from the Stewardship committee as a reminder of our annual Stewardship campaign. You are invited to take one home and display the wonderful pictures and story of your church with everyone. For those members who are not normally able to attend church, calendars will be mailed later this week but please call the church office if you have not received yours within a few weeks.

Special thanks to the committee for all their hard work to make this possible and to the following photographers who contributed their fine work: Scott Tipton of Scott Tipton Photography, Steve Martin of Vital Visuals, and church members Keith and Jenni Poveda. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

We NEED More Cars!


Trunk-or-Treat is this Sunday, Oct. 28
Our annual “safe-for-kids” trick-or- treat is scheduled for Sunday evening, October 28, from 5:30 to 7. Instead of going house-to-house, children may go car-to-car to Trunk-or-Treat from the treat-filled backs of friendly cars.
Supper will be served outside for $3 per person (includes pizza from Domino’s, drinks and cookies) and there will be inflatables in the gym for the children beginning at 6:15.
Trunk-or-Treat is a great way to get to know other Church Street families and neighbors in the community. Bring your friends, invite your neighbors and be part of this fall evening of fun.
Many more cars are needed to fill the gated Magnolia Lot to make the evening fun for all. It’s really simple: Choose your theme, decorate your car, have a bowl full of goodies and enjoy the fun. Themes can range from UT to current newsmakers to traditional Halloween and do not have to be elaborate. We expect at least 100 kids to participate, so come prepared.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

15th Annual Fleming Biblical Lectures

Join us  Saturday and Sunday, November 17 and 18 as Dr. Jim Fleming presents “Growing Pains in the New Testament Church. “

Dr. Fleming is the founder and director of the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, GA. There, ancient history comes alive with full-scale archaeological reconstructions of discoveries from the ancient world.

While living in Israel from 1974 to 2006, Dr. Fleming founded and directed the World of the Bible Archaeological Museum and Pilgrim Center in Jerusalem. He holds an Ed.D. degree from Southwestern Theological Seminary and has taught classes at Hebrew University in Israel,; he is Adjunct Faculty member of a number of accredited graduate schools.

Dr. Fleming always brings to his lectures warmth, good humor, deep conviction and a remarkable knowledge of the archaeology, geography, history and theology of the Bible. We are pleased to welcome him back to Church Street.

Event Schedule

Saturday:
9:00-10:15 a.m. “The Class Barrier”
11:00-12:15 p.m.         “The Language Barrier”

Sunday:
9:40-10:40 a.m. “The Barrier of Reinterpreting Scriptures”
4:00-5:15 p.m. "Barriers from the Secular World and Philosophy”
6:00-7:15 p.m. “Barriers arising from the Barbarians and from Bad Government”

*Please call the church office for meal reservations and childcare: 865-524-3048





Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Note from Emily Ehrnschwender



Just a reminder, the Light the Night Walk is LESS THAN TWO WEEKS AWAY!

The Light the Night Walk is Thursday, October 25th at 6:00pm at Circle Park on UT's Campus. 6:00 is when registration begins, but the ceremony does not start until 7:00 and the walk at 7:30, so please arrive any time between 6 and 7.

As of right now, the website says we've raised $2000. This is without the money we raised at the luncheon, which should bring our total to around $3250. Our goal is $5000, so we have a lot of fundraising to do!

Remember: Light the Night asks that everyone raise $100, and all it takes is sending out an email to friends and relatives or asking coworkers/classmates! If everyone does this, we will reach our goal in no time!

The best way to solicit donations is to send the link to your Light the Night webpage, which you can access by signing into your account. I signed each of you up online, and you should have received an email from Light the Night with your username and password. Simply asking friends, family, coworkers, teachers, and classmates for donations ALWAYS works. Online donations, cash and checks are accepted and checks should be made out to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The link to our webpage is http://pages.lightthenight.org/tn/ETN12/ChurchStreetUMC

Here are four easy steps to raising $100:
1. Donate $10 yourself
2. Collect $10 from a coworker/classmate/teacher
3. Collect $20 each from two family members
4. Collect $20 each from two family friends

If you send the link to your webpage out to 20 friends and 10 of them respond and donate $10 or more, you will have reached your goal!

Again, thank you so much for signing up for the walk and participating, but remember, the real reason we are walking is to raise money for the fight against cancer, so FUNDRAISE, FUNDRAISE, FUNDRAISE!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October 7, 2012 - In the Beauty of Holiness


The Fourth Window - the Altar Window
Psalm 96; Galatians 5.16-26

            Have you heard about something called, “Immersion experiences”? According to Wikipedia.com:
*Immersion* is the state of consciousness where the awareness of physical self is transformed by being surrounded in an engrossing environment; often artificial, creating a perception of Presence in a non-physical world.

According to Ernest W. Adams, author of *Postmodernism and the Three Types of Immersion*, immersion can be separated into three main categories. Bjork and Holopainen add a fourth:
1.Tactical Immersion is experienced when we are performing tactile or physical operations that involve skill. Athletes experience such immersion when they are so focused on the game that they lose contact with everything else; they call it being “in the zone.”
2. Cognitive Immersion is more cerebral, and is associated with mental challenge and decision making. Chess players experience strategic immersion when choosing a correct solution among a broad array of possibilities.Kids lost in a video game have the same experience.
3.Narrative (or Emotional) Immersion is realized when we become emotionally invested in a story or experience.
4.Spatial Immersion occurs when we feel the simulated world so convincing that it feels we are really “there” and the simulated world looks and feels “real” (1).

Immersion for athletes or video game players is very desirable for us; it is a kind of “high” that makes the game or the story more present and real, while everything else fades away. Now, consider the possibility that Sunday worship might be the same immersion experience for us.
            This month, we have been focused on the stained glass windows at Church Street United Methodist Church. Each window brings Biblical stories and characters to life in color and pictures. Many of them offer sermons and interpretations of the stories they picture. The overall effect of the windows and the architecture on us when we step into the nave at Church Street is immersion. Coming in from the street, the darkness of the narthex reminds us of the darkness of the world; then we pass into the rich light of the nave. There, surrounded by the light pouring through windows, the soaring ceiling, the distant altar, and the music, we are immersed in a world where God’s presence is overwhelmingly real.
            The window we consider this morning is the largest one in the church; it rises above the altar, lifting our eyes toward heaven. It combines a quotation from Psalm 96 and images of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. At the point where these scriptures meet is the sermon for today.

[ABOUT PSALM 96]
            A. At the turning of the New Year, Israel would gather in the Temple to celebrate and announce the enthronement of God. It is an inspiring thought: instead of spending the first day of each New Year on a date, or watching ballgames, or writing New Year’s Resolutions, they would use the coming of the New Year to remember and announce the reign of God as our God.
Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Their announcement called the entire earth to honor God’s enthronement. Because God rules the world, it is not sufficient to gather a congregation less than “all the earth.” So, it called for a new song and a renewing of our conviction that God is the God who reigns over us.
            B. The psalm calls on those who worship to declare God’s glory among the nations. It goes furtherand declares God’s greatness over all the other gods of all other nations. Those gods are only idols, while our God created the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

            C. Now, the psalm calls all the families of every nation to declare all that is glorious and strong in this world comes only from the Lord
Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

In Psalm 29, where a similar call was made, the psalm called “the sons of the gods” to do all these things. But, this psalm points out that the new social reality beginning here happens on earth, not just in heaven As Walter Brueggemann pointed out, we are not spectators of heavenly worship (as in Psalm 29) which remains unreachable but now participants (2).

            The psalm moves easily between those who have come to worship and the peoples of all the nations of the earth. Maybe those who are present are representative of all the peoples of the nations; maybe those who are present are being called to proclaim God’s greatness to all the people of the nations. It appears that both meanings are intended.
            D. Now in verse 9, the psalm calls on all who are present and indeed on all the nations of the earth:

            “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.”

To come in fear and trembling, in  joy and hope, in confidence and assurance that this God, now enthroned, is the God who will lead us lovingly into the future.
10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
    The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.

            E. The great call from the Psalm to worship this glorious God has now been given, and the psalm calls all heaven and earth to rejoice. Not just the people of Israel, but all the nations. The call is not limited to human beings, but all creation should rejoice at the enthronement of our God.
            It is a great Psalm with a message which should be shouted across the earth.

II. I want to return to the 9th verse of the Psalm which read: “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” I searched through many translations to find one which spoke the message of the Psalm most clearly. You see, the first translation I found in the window was not as clear as I needed it to be. This verse from the window above the altar says: Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” It is taken from the King James translation of the Bible, which was the most commonly used translation at the time the window was installed. But, the more I reflected on the translation from the window, the more uncertain I became about its meaning. So, I checked other translations of this verse:
·         Two translations said: “Bow down to Jehovah in holy attire” – reminding those who worship to come in our Sunday best.
·         LXX says: “Bow down to Jehovah in his holy courtyard” – pointing to some new location for our worship.
·         NRSV: “Worship the LORD in holy splendor” – continues my confusion. Are we somehow bringing “the holy splendor” or is splendor a quality belonging only to the Lord?
·         KJV: “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” What exactly is the “beauty of holiness”? It sounds good to the ear, but the meaning is not obvious.  
As I studied the passage and its message, I realized that the translation we have read today carries the message best: “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his[a] holiness.” The splendor is a characteristic of God and belongs only to God. Translations which speak of our attire take the attention away from God, but God is clearly the overwhelming presence in this psalm.Israel believed that God created the heavens and the earth; thus, God has always been surrounded by the splendor of his holiness.
            Further, God is not made different because of our worship. Instead, we are made different by our worship. For us to worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness is for us…
+to recognize what all creation has known from the beginning,
+to raise our voices in songs of praise – now joining the joyous task,
+to add our voices in witness to the greatness and justice of God.
            Now, the overall effect of the windows and the architecture on us when we step into the nave at Church Street is immersion. The darkness of the narthex reminds us of the darkness of the world; then we pass into the rich light of the nave. THERE, surrounded by the light pouring through windows, the soaring ceiling, the distant altar, and the music, we are immersed in a world where God’s presence is overwhelmingly real. Here the altar window calls everyone who enters this place, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” To look upward through this window toward the blue of the sky as God made it is to see the sky, indeed to catch a glimpse of heaven and earth as God will one day restore it.

III. So, the Psalm and the window lead us into an immersion experience of God’s holiness and thus to worship. Now, what impact does such worship of this God have upon us? Or, what do we take into the world because we have come to this place in faith and in worship? Is worship just a veneer that we smooth over our bumps and rough places? Or does worship somehow transform us and make us different?
            The larger part of the window now points us toward the conviction that worship transforms us and makes us new persons in the image of Christ.[SHOW WINDOW] You can find the sermon in the pictures of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians:
·         [Top Row:]
o   Love is symbolized by Christ blessing little children;
o   Joy is symbolized by the Song of the Angels, announcing the birth of the Christ Child to the shepherds;
o   Peace by Christ stilling the winds and the waves. 
·         [Middle Row:]
o   Long-suffering as Christ mourns over Jerusalem;
o   Gentleness in the raising of Jairus’ daughter; and
o   Goodness in Nathanael wondering if any good can come from Nazareth. 
·         [The lower tier is devoted to:]
o   Faith in the calling of Peter and Andrew;
o   Meekness in the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan; and
o   Temperance as John proclaims a new way in the wilderness.  [RETURN FROM WINDOW]

[Gal 5:22-25] I’d like to read the full passage from Galatians 5, beginning with v. 19:
            22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
            24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
            In Galatians, Paul has already made his central point that salvation is by faith only; there is no salvation in the keeping of the Law. But, suddenly anxiety begins. How can the community receive moral guidance if there is no place for the Law? We all see a place for the Law in keeping people and communities in good order and peaceful. What sort of radical gospel is Paul offering?
            In this passage, Paul first addresses the problem of identifying the works of the flesh: his list names the moral failings of human beings down through the centuries. The point is that everyone knows these “works of the flesh”, these failings, we do not need the law to help us identify them. Paul sums up his point by saying, “I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21).
            In contrast to these obvious works of the flesh, the Spirit produces fruit in persons and in the Christian community. Note that this is a singular “fruit,” which manifests itself in all of these many ways. Note also, that the fruit of the Spirit is not doled out to individuals one by one; it is given to the faithful community. And, because it is given to the faithful community, Paul is not exhorting the Galatians to cultivate the qualities complete in themselves. Instead, he is painting a picture of the harvest the Spirit produces.
            Imagine sitting each Sunday in the light of this window which illustrates the fruit of the Spirit which God is producing in the community which worships here. This is what God, through worship, would make of us. The window stands as a daily reminder of the spiritual riches that God willingly bestows on all who come in faith

            Is Paul right? Can we trust the Spirit to guide the community, or is Paul’s vision of the church an ideal that cannot stand up to the burden of human experience? Is it, therefore – as Paul's adversaries charged – a prescription for disaster? Everyone knows that there are dangers, as Paul himself saw in the Corinthian church, for communities that throw away rules and traditions and seek to live in pure, spiritual spontaneity. It is all too easy for talk about the Spirit to grow careless and to serve as a cover for sexual misconduct, financial irresponsibility, and manipulative abuses by the community’s leaders. In the absence of Israel’s law as a guide to life, then, must the Spirit-led church inevitably settle for a new law of some sort?
            Our answer to these questions will depend on whether we believe in the real presence and activity of the Sprit among us. Paul is not making an appeal tovague theory. Neither is he choosing the most radical solution that he can imagine – just to shock the more establishment among us. Rather, he is thinking of the Spirit as the active presence of God that does mightydeeds in the believing community and speaksthrough the church’s worship. Only a church that knows the presence of the Spirit in this way can regard Paul’s counsel as credible.

Notes:
1. Immersion (virtual reality), an article on Wikipedia.org
2. Brueggeman, Walter. The Message of the Psalms, pp. 144ff.