Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sermon-September 1, 2013: One Life Pleasing to God

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Rev. Andy Ferguson

            The Letter to the Hebrews has read like a sermon throughout the first 12 chapters; chapter 12 ends with a rhetorical flourish. “Indeed our God is a consuming fire!” Now, in good Hellenistic fashion, the writer turns in chapter 13 to a series of brief instructions for his readers, instructions covering a variety of matters. Thomas Long, in his commentary on Hebrews, sees a turn to more routine aspects of congregational life:
·       to the ministry of hospitality,
·       the prison visitation program,
·       the stewardship campaign,
·       and the like.
He describes Hebrews 13 as the announcements of “joys and concerns” at the end of the service (1).

I. The overall message of the joys and concerns on this day is a simple one: “Let mutual love continue.” Literally, the Greek says: “*Let brotherly love continue*.” The Greek word for “brotherly love” is the direct source for our name for the “City of Philadelphia.” Such mutual love names that specific love of Christians for others of the household of faith. This is not the generous love for the stranger or the enemy. *Mutual love* speaks of having good will toward our fellow believers; it speaks of doing good toward fellow Christians.
            The call to mutual love was echoed by John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement, in his General Rules of the United Societies in 1739. The second section of the Rules says:
By doing good *especially to them that are of the household of faith, or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another; helping one other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own, and them only* (2).

Both the writer of Hebrews and John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, spoke to bands of Christians who were isolated within their larger societies. Thus, there was reason to pay attention to those of the Christian community.
            Over the first 200 years of this nation’s history, we could assume a Christian culture, and such attention to the household of faith was not as important. We probably made more of the differences between the Baptists and the Methodists and the Catholics than reality required. In recent years, those identifying themselves as “No Religion” or “Not Christian” have grown to where that combination is a majority of the people in this nation. Christianity is returning to the situation of the early days of the moment when we were missionaries to the society around us, not the majority vote in the world around us. Thus, we might again think about “doing good *especially to them that are of the household of faith.”

II. Now, Hebrews moves ahead with a 2nd admonition:
2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Perhaps Hebrews recalls Abraham’s hospitality to the three angelic visitors at the oaks of Mamre in Genesis 18. One of those visitors turned out to be God-himself, astonishing the elderly Abraham and Sarah by promising that they would have a son after a lifetime of childlessness. It was a promise that God kept. Every time this story is told, it reminds us of the necessity to welcome the stranger with hospitality.

[E.O. Cole]
            One day, while I was serving a church in a Jefferson City, I was busy in the church office when an African American man barged into the office. First, he announced himself to the Church Secretary; then he marched down the hall toward my office talking so loudly that he effectively began our conversation long before I could see him – at least, his side of it. He walked into the office as if we were the friends he intended us to be. To say he caught me off guard would be an understatement. Was he a salesman giving the new preacher a rush sales job? Was he simply mistaken? In those first moments, I could not know. At that moment, he was a stranger, and I was cautious.
            As time when on, I came to know E. O. Cole as a committed pastor at a nearby church and generous friend to me. He introduced me to the larger Jefferson City community that lay beyond my congregation and its concerns. He taught me how to preach in his church, and yes, preaching there was different from preaching in mine. He showed me how he saw the world of East Tennessee through the eyes of an African American. He taught me how to respond with generous love toward society’s lingering racism. In addition, on one occasion he welcomed me as an honored guest at the homecoming dinner at his church, Boyd’s Chapel.

You might say that E. O. Cole appeared one day as a stranger and revealed himself as the angel like those who visited Abraham and Sarah so many years before.
            I hope you too have had such encounters with strangers. I hope there have been strangers who put you on your guard at their coming but left you grateful at their going. Or, it might be that someone, who came to you a stranger, is still in your life on a daily basis. For all these reasons, Hebrews counsels us: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.”

III. Hebrews is going to stay practical. People among them were in prison – no doubt, for lots of reasons.
3 **Remember those who are in prison,
as though you were in prison with them;
those who are being tortured,
as though you yourselves were being tortured**.

            This teaching has both historical and modern points to make. Because early Christianity and Judaism were viewed as subversive movements within the Roman Empire, faithful Jews and Christians were frequently thrown into prison for their positions and activities. When some people were suffering and dying for their faith, other believers were tempted to deny association with them and thus to avoid a similar fate. By visiting Christian prisoners with food and other comfort, they demonstrated that they had sympathy for the prisoners and shared their political or religious views. Thus, visiting the prisoner was an act that brought great personal risk. So, Hebrews counsels the church: “**Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them**, those who are being tortured as though you are being tortured.”
            In the modern time, we are not persecuted for our faith; we stand little risk of official persecution when we gather for Sunday morning church. Today, we elect those who make our laws. They pass laws we want to see. Thus, we generally approve of the laws that punish lawbreakers with prison. Most people today who are sent to prison are sent with our general and perhaps specific approval. If you cross the line, you must do the time. The modern situation is different.
            But, for a different reason, the counsel to visit those in prison does apply. Jesus raised the concern that Christians visit and attend to those who are in prison. The point of such visits is not to undo the punishment. The prison time must be served. As Christians, we can offer love and support for the prisoner as they serve their sentence. As Christians, we can encourage the idea that time in prison could be used to prepare the prisoner for a better future. As Jesus said, “I was in prison and you visited me.”

IV. The list of points continues. Then, it ends with a strong reason. Do these good things -- these thoughtful things, these kind things -- BECAUSE:
            Christ has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you."
6 So we can say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?"

All that we do in kindness and loyalty to our neighbors is based on our conviction that Christ has promised never to leave us or forsake us. With that conviction, we can afford to be generous with the stranger. We can take the risk of standing with fellow Christians undergoing persecution for their faith. We can commit ourselves to our brothers and sisters in the faith.
            Let us commit ourselves to walk with God, to live God’s ways and to stand with all those who keep this faith. Our Christian faith teaches us to live committed to God and committed to the Christian community. This is a standard that has taught the world many excellent ways, and Christian ways are reflected in the laws and morals of the land. But, these Christian ways cannot be cut away from faith in God as if one can thrive without the other. Our standards as Christians and our faith in God through Christ are necessary to each other.

1. Long, Thomas. Hebrews, a commentary in the Interpretation Biblical Commentary Series, John Knox Press, p. 142.
2. Wesley, John. “General Rules of the United Societies,” 1739, printed in the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008, p. 72-74.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Football Parking Information for Saturday

Football season is finally here! Church Street will continue to offer game day parking. Parking is $30 per regular space. We charge for the number of spaces you take up, including tailgating. Parking is first come first serve. The main entrance for parking is located on Cumberland Avenue and will open first. Other lots will open as needed. Please do not park in any lot until a parking attendant is on duty. 

Lots open at 9 a.m. on Saturday, August 31, and at 7 a.m. on Saturday, September 7. We will post additional lot opening times as they become available. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sunday Night Live Returns on September 8

Join us for the fall kick off of Sunday Night Live on Sunday, September 8. Our program will be provided by Mickey Dearstone and Heather Harrington from The Sports Animal 99.1 FM. Mickey is an East Tennessee native and has been the “Voice of the Lady Vols” for the last 23 years. Heather is a 2006 UT graduate and joined the Sports Animal Morning Show in 2007. They will talk about the upcoming Vols Football season and share stories from their time covering sports in East Tennessee. Please join us for this fun evening of fellowship.

Dinner Information: Dinner begins at 5 p.m. The menu is Buddy’s BBQ, (chicken & pork) cole slaw, potato salad, cookie and beverages. Cost is $7 per adult and $4 per child with a family maximium of $20. Children three and under are free. Reservations are required. Please make reservations by calling the church office at 524-3048 or e-mailing by Thursday, September 5, at noon. If you pay for your meal in advance, either online or in the church office, you will recieve a 50 cent discount per person.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Support Wesley Woods with the Camper Scamper

Many of our young people have attended Camp Wesley Woods in Townsend over the years. Now you have a chance to support the camp by participating in the Camper Scamper! It's a 5K run/walk on Saturday, September 21, at 8 a.m. Help Wesley Woods raise money for scholarships so everyone can experience the joy of nature and discovery. We would love to see you that day, but if running is not your thing or you are not available that day, don't forget about our Armchair Runner category. The Camper Scamper 5K course takes runners out to Pearson Springs Park and back along the same route. The start and finish line are in the same location - in the parking lot at Sandy Springs Park.

To sign up, click here

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ministry Showcase

Thank you to everyone who participated in today's Ministry Showcase. It was a wonderful morning of fellowship and a great time to learn more about the missions and ministries of our church. More than 20 groups within our congregation participated in the showcase. If you missed the Ministry Showcase but are interested in finding new ways to share your gifts & talents with our congregation, our community and beyond, please e-mail  We will help you find a place to serve. Volunteer opportunities are available in a variety of areas from the Benevolence Team to the Worship Committee and numerous others in between. There is a place for everyone of all ages and abilities!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Disciple 3 Orientation Coming on Sunday

The orientation session for anyone who is interested in taking Disciple 3 Bible Study is this Sunday, August 25, 6 p.m. in room 202.  Rick Isbell, minister of discipleship and teacher for the class, will go over the materials, expectations and schedule for this study. Disciple 3 is a 32-week in-depth study of the prophets and the letters of Paul. This is a great opportunity to study portions of the Old and New Testaments that maybe you have not done before. We will look at the writings of the major and minor prophets and all the letters that are attributed to Paul.  It is also a great opportunity to meet new persons and get into a weekly discipline of Bible study.  If you have any questions, please contact Rick Isbell, or 521-0266.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Join Us For BOOMSDAY Festivities!

There’s still time to buy your tickets for the BOOMSDAY Carnival from 4-9 p.m. on Sunday, September 1. 

Pre-purchased tickets are needed if you plan to join us for dinner. Tickets for dinner will be on sale in the breezeway on Sunday, August 25, or church office during the week. The supper will be served in Parish Hall from 5:30-7 p.m. during the Boomsday festivities. Cost is $6 per person and includes: hot dog, coleslaw, chips, a cookie, and lemonade, tea or water. Parking-only tickets are available this year. If you plan to park at Church Street and eat elsewhere, a $10 ticket guarantees a parking space, if you arrive prior to 6 p..m. Parking after 6 p.m. will also be $10 a car, if spaces are available. 

Family-friendly activities include movies for kids and for adults; board games; carnival inflatables; face painting; a magic show, silent auction and craft table. Silent auction items include: Copper cellar gift cards, Ruby Tuesday gift cards, Green Mountain Coffee Basket, Admission for 2 to Wonderworks, Admission for 2 to Titanic Museum, Pilot gift cards, and more.

We hope to see you there! The proceeds benefit the Church Street Preschool and the Kay Senior Care Center. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sermon: August 18, 2013 - The Case Against Us

Isaiah 5:1-7
Matthew 21:33-46
Rev. Darryll Rasnake

It’s sometimes said that Jesus’ parables are ways to make truth more accessible, taking complicated theological ideas and putting them in terms that anyone can understand. But Jesus said that he told his parables for the opposite reason, so that the crowds might not understand.  It’s a very puzzling statement, to be sure.  But it’s a statement that fits the reality of how puzzling the parables can be when we enter fully into them as stories.

Sometimes I think that I spend most of my time misreading the Bible and therefore misunderstanding God.  For example, I read a story or parable and I’m convinced that it’s not about me or us but it must be about them!  You know, those people who act that way.  At other times, I’m convinced of my own righteousness and every stone I turn over is just one more truth about how good I really am and perhaps how much God is really out to get me.   I fail to see the goodness in others because I’m certain of their own failings, the splinter in their eye that the sawmill in my own keeps me from seeing. 

In our politically charged, divided world, pastors are advised to just stay away.  But isn’t that the real problem?  That we are content with the divided nature of our society, the lines and boundaries that we draw so much that we aren’t willing to engage in meaningful dialogue? 

When confronted, we are sometimes tempted to resolve our ambiguities by ignoring them.  And when reading the stories of the Bible, we immediately to interpret them as being about someone else.  In today’s parable, we immediately jump to an allegorical reading, we start with our expectations – with what we think we know is true.  Then we look at the parts of the story – the characters, the objects, the actions – we decide which character or object in a parable is God, which one is Jesus, and what the other things in the parable represent, and we work toward a truth that is in harmony with our expectations.

But that’s not what the parables are for. Jesus’ parables aren't there to make complicated truths simple, but to complicate what seems to us to be simply true.  To help us see the gray in our simplistic black and white, us versus them. 

The parable in today's gospel is an excellent case in point.  If we leap immediately and not very carefully to allegory, it’s a simple story.  The landowner is God. God sends messengers to people (in particular, to Israel and thereby all Jews).  The people reject the messengers. God sends his son. The people kill the son. So God is going to reject Israel and choose another people. But how well does the parable really fit that interpretation? How well does that interpretation fit the weight of the canon regarding the role of Israel?

In Isaiah 5, God sings of God’s love for us.  As excellent as any Air Supply song from the 80’s, God is truly infatuated with his people.  Let me sing a love song of my beloved.   

Isaiah sings of how God, his beloved did everything possible to set up a healthy, thriving vineyard. The soil was fertile and cultivated; the stones were removed; only the finest quality vines were planted; a watchtower was built in the middle of the vineyard; and a wine vat was built in preparation for the harvesting and processing of the grapes. So far, so good. The love-song is most pleasant to the ears, and listeners’ heartstrings are touched by the nurturing care of the beloved. What a wonderful love-song this prophet Isaiah is serenading us with.

But wait, before you fall asleep with these tender words; listen to what follows. Surprise, surprise! Isaiah’s love-song is transformed into song of hard-hitting judgment and lament. Maybe we can gain the sense of such an unpleasant surprise by thinking of the love-song as a gentle, bedtime lullaby which is transformed into a condemning, deafening heavy metal rock-and-roll song.

In any case, the irony of the song comes to the forefront when Isaiah, speaking for God, asks the people of Jerusalem and Judah to judge between me, God, and my vineyard, the people of Jerusalem and Judah, them.   God tells his people that there was nothing more he could do to guarantee the success of his vineyard. He had done everything that he could do. Implied here in the song is the human freedom that God gives us. In the song, God the beloved expects the best from his people: “he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.”  So, the consequences of freedom being misused or abused is that a well cared for vineyard becomes neglected and turns into a wasteland of briers and thorns.

The concluding verse of the song makes it abundantly clear that the vineyard represents God’s chosen people. God expected and hoped that his people would ensure that there was justice for everyone in the nation. Instead of justice, the wealthy class of politicians and business people were killing society’s weakest and most vulnerable citizens.  Blood was on the hands of the rich and powerful members of society, since their wealth was gained by cheating and robbing society’s poorest class. God expected and hoped for righteousness from his people. Instead he heard a cry from the poor and oppressed. God expected his people to look after the poor and oppressed; after all, those who were now blessed with wealth and the good life—had they and their ancestors not cried out to the LORD when they were poor and oppressed as slaves in Egypt? Had God not heard their cries and delivered them from their Egyptian slavery? Why now had they abused their freedom and become selfish and greedy?

Love seems to go all wrong.  What happens? Why does the flame seem to die? Perhaps it is God whose love has just run out?  Maybe it is the inhabitants of the vineyard who turn away?    Is the landowner of the parable really like the God of Israel revealed in scripture and proclaimed by Jesus?  

Let’s start with the literal details we see in the parable, and examine them in light of what we know about the culture that gave the story to us. The setting of the parable is the estate of a very wealthy landowner. The landowner does not live on the land, and doesn’t do the work of planting and harvesting. Those who do that hard work are hired laborers and sharecroppers, who have to turn over most of what they grow to the landowner, who like the landowner in a similar parable, is a hard man, reaping what he did not sow.  This absentee landlord does not send messengers out of any great love for the people or the land, but to get the goods that sustain his life of ease in the more cosmopolitan environment of the city.

Finally the farmers have had enough.  But why?  The next time the landowner sends one of his lackeys to collect the rent, the farmers send him packing. I can almost hear the cheer that erupted from the audience as Jesus told this parable. Then the landowner sends another henchman to collect the rent, and the farmers again work together to send him away empty-handed. Another cheer goes up from the crowd hearing the story! And then one more person comes riding in on the dusty road from the city – the son of the landowner. The listening crowd’s anticipation grows.

Why would the son – the “beloved son”, probably an only child – come, instead of a messenger? Such a thing would usually indicate that the landowner had died, and his son was coming to survey the estate he had inherited. And here comes an opportunity for the farmers. If the son dies and he does not have an heir, the land goes to those who live on it, and the farmers will be free. The farmers do what real men would be expected to do in response to years of exploitation; they rise up and kill the son.

And then comes the twist ... the landowner is not dead, and he does precisely what he would be expected to do under such circumstances: he wreaks terrible revenge, slaughtering the farmers and replacing them with others, so he can return once more to the ease of the city while others earn his bread. I think it’s safe to say that no cheers erupted from the parable’s hearers at that point. The chief priests and the scribes in the audience, who came from the social class of the rich landowner and his hirelings, weren’t cheering; Jesus has just issued a scathing critique of their dealings with their fellow Israelites. The peasant farmers in the audience aren’t cheering; they have just heard a graphic reminder of how escalating the spiral of violence will result in more violence visited upon them and their children. For the landowner’s family and for the peasants alike, standing up for themselves, as their culture expected honorable families to do, brought everyone down.

But wait a minute.  That’s what we thought the story would say.  That’s the way we would end the story.  But notice, if you will, that Jesus asks the question, “What will the landowner do? “ 

The people, us, scream for justice.  NO mercy here, only getting even.  Those sorry tenants, we’ll show them who’s the boss.  Like the Pharisees that heard the parable so long ago, we are convinced that those people are responsible for those acts of violence against the landowner.  And they should be punished! 

In what ways are we living into the parable of Jesus’ life, the model Jesus shows us of care for those the world disregards and disregard of the world’s standards of strength and honor?  Jesus challenges us to do the unthinkable, to turn the other cheek and let others think us weak, because we are them and they are us.  Jesus challenges us to bless and honor the peacemakers rather than the mighty, to strive for justice and peace and the dignity of every human being above our own comfort.

We vow to do that in our Baptismal Covenant, and it’s the way of God’s people. When we say to someone who is being baptized, “you are sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever,” that’s the way to which we are committing the baptized, and the commit we make anew for ourselves. But this way is also the truth and the life. It is the way to truly abundant life. For while exercise of might can bring us to the depths, it is the promise of an absolutely faithful and loving God that the lowly will be raised up; the stone deemed useless has become the keystone on which God’s kingdom is being built. That is the paradox we celebrate today.

In our day and age, has anything really changed?  We hear stories of injustice and ill-gotten gain today too?  Our planet is moaning and groaning due to the selfishness and greed of a minority of the world’s population.  We, the us of every story, are certain that we are not like them!   Just listen to every story on the nightly news, violence against one another in Egypt and Syria and our own cities, immigration, health care, marriage, politics.  We are truly divided because we choose to be so. 
If we take scripture seriously and believe that the stories of Jesus are really about us, there is a pressing question facing us today is this: Are we really a caring society?  Are we ready to not make this about us and them?

In a caring society it is the God contract that guarantees a right to adequate food, shelter, clothing, education and health care, and a system that provides these equal services to all without any feeling of guilt on the part of the recipients.  To quote a contemporary Isaiah, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel: We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free. How can we not be sensitive to their plight?   

Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere. There is so much to be done, there is so much that can be done. One person—a Mother Teresa, an Albert Schweitzer, a Martin Luther King, Jr.—one person of integrity can make a difference, a difference of life and death.  As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame.  As long as some dies alone and unloved, we cannot live. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.  In our world of scarcity where I must get mine so you can’t get yours, there is no us and we are them. 

No one knows heartbreak like the Lord God knows heartbreak! God poured heart and soul into a people who were to bring freedom, justice and goodness to a broken world. Instead, they subjected their own brothers and sisters to oppression and turned their backs on what would bring hope and life to the world.

We.  We did that.  That’s God’s case against us, not them.

This parable is kind of crazy, when you think about it. Why on earth do these guys think that they're going to inherit the vineyard? Oh, I know, it's a legal possibility. But it's not like that landlord has disappeared. He's sent servants, and more servants, and then his son. Who's to say he doesn't have another son, or more servants, or an army, or at least a gang of thugs at his disposal to take care of these tenants. They're crazy thinking they can get something for nothing. They're crazy.
But they're not half so crazy as this landowner! Think about it. First he sends servants, and they're beaten, stoned, and killed. Then he sends more -- not the police, mind you, or an army, just more servants -- and the same thing happens again. So where does the bright idea come from to send his son, his heir, alone, to treat with these bloodthirsty hooligans? It's absolutely crazy. Who would do such a think?

No one...except maybe a crazy landlord so desperate to be in relationship with these tenants that he will do anything, risk anything, to reach out of them. This landowner acts more like a desperate parent, willing to do or say or try anything to reach out to a beloved and wayward child than he does a businessman. It's crazy, the kind of crazy that comes from being in love.

"What will the landlord do when he comes?" Jesus asks, and all they can imagine is violence: "He will put those wretches to a miserable death."   But again, quite unexpected to us, it's not Jesus talking right now. They condemn themselves. That's part of Matthew's narrative brilliance, I suspect, to have his opponents voice their own condemnation. But it invites us to consider a different question: not what will that land owner do, but what did that land owner do. And to that question we have Jesus' own answer: the landowner sent his son, Jesus, to treat with all of us who have hoarded God's blessings for ourselves and not given God God's own due. And when we killed him, God raised him the dead, and sent him back to us yet one more time, still bearing the message of God's desperate, crazy love.

Oh, I know, Jesus goes on to finish this parable and accuse and condemn the Pharisees himself. But even at this point, we witness a God that is even more merciful than we can imagine.  Amidst our cries for blood, God complies and Jesus slips free of our grasp for a moment, not simply to stand in judgment of so many of us.  We would have used this story to validate our own causes, but instead it wants to introduce us to the desperate, crazy love of God, love offered not once, not twice, but a million times or more to all who will receive it.

Martin Luther once said that sometimes you have to squeeze a biblical passage until it leaks the gospel, the good news.  If we care to listen, we can give witness to the God made most clear to us in Jesus, who is greater than our fear and insecurity and manages again and again to twist free in order that we might taste the mercy of God.

God is crazy in love with us.  Love is crazy and in the end God’s case is against us, not them. 

God, just like the farmer, doesn’t give up easy. Most of us would agree that after the brutal action of the farmhands, most humans would have struck back with violence or given up. However, the farmer, instead, sent another group to collect what he thought was due, that is love in return.  When this met the same resistance, he sent his son thinking that surely they would not do the same to him.  But the good news of our faith is not even death stops God.

This story introduces us to the desperate, crazy love of God, love offered not once, not twice, but a million times or more to all who will receive it. In this story and in our lives God desperately reaches out to us. It is sort of crazy when you think about it. Choosing humanity to love and sacrifice your son for. God in sending his son promises to be with us. Because that is what you do when you are in love. God is crazy, desperately in love with us.  AMEN. 

Honduras Mission Trip Planned for Early 2014

The Community & Global Missions Committee would like to expand our congregation's involvement in international missions.  We hope to develop a relationship with an organization and/or community overseas that will provide chances for our church members to consistently serve, develop friendships, offer hope, and share God’s love.

We have an exciting opportunity to join a group of fellow Knoxvillians on a “vision trip” to Siguatepeque, Honduras from January 4-14, 2014. The team will be hosted by Scripture Union Honduras  and will explore the ways that we can be involved with their ministry of teaching the Bible to children, youth and families, both in the local schools and at their camp, as well as other local opportunities (such as medical) which may be tailored by the interests of the team. The trip will be lead by Jim McKinney, a retired Knoxville dentist, who was born and raised in Siguatepeque, where his dad started the area’s first hospital.  

We are looking for several Church Streeters to go on this trip to see the needs in Honduras and discern how our church may partner in what God is doing there. These individuals must then be willing to serve as leaders who will work together to coordinate CSUMC’s determined mission efforts.   

An interest meeting will be held on Sunday, August 25 at 12:15 p.m. in CLC 11.  If you have any questions, please contact Jenny Herchenrider at  

Have a New Family By Friday: Parenting Class Coming In September

Sooner or later every parent wishes they could totally reprogram their family in just a few days. While having a new family in just a few days may not be completely possible, Dr. Kevin Leman can provide workable, down-to-earth tips that can begin to transform every family in just a few days. “Have a New Family by Friday” is the title of Dr. Leman’s latest parenting series and will be offered at Church Street on Sunday evenings for six weeks, beginning September 15. Classes will meet from 5:30-6:30 p.m. each week and will be facilitated by Sue Isbell. There is no charge for this class.

Kevin Leman is a well-known writer, psychologist, and parenting expert whose easy style, common sense approach to life, and good humor make him an inspirational leader. Through this series parents will discover that having a healthy family does not just mean having children who obey, but rather parents, grandparents, and a spiritual foundation through which children learn the values and value of a Christian home. Each lesson offers participants five-day action plans each week based on input from Dr. Leman’s DVD presentations, group discussion, and Bible study.

We all need help begin great parents. Regardless of the ages of your children, you will find something in this class you can build on. For more information contact Sue Isbell,

Friday, August 16, 2013

Football Parking Information

The UT Football season is just a few weeks away. Church Street UMC does allow parking on UT home football game days. Here's what you need to know about football parking:
  • Parking is $30 per regular space.
  • We charge for the number of spaces you take up, including tailgating.
  • Parking is first come first serve. We do not reserve parking ahead of time.
  • The main entrance for parking is located on Cumberland Ave (the Convention Center side of the church). 
  • The main entrance will open first. Other lots will open as needed. 
  • Please do not park in any lot until a parking attendant is on duty.

Football Parking Lot Opening Times:
          8/31 – Austin Peay, 6 p.m. Kick-off; Lots open at 9 a.m.
          9/7 – Western Kentucky, 12:21 p.m. Kick-off; Lots open at 7 a.m.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wednesday Morning Ladies Bible Study Coming Soon

Beginning on Wednesday, August 28, a new study will begin on Read the Bible for Life by George Guthrie.  This study is designed to help you grasp the grand story of scripture.  You will learn how the various books of the Bible fit together to present that story and communicate God’s redemptive message.  You will discover new skills for listening to, understanding, and responding to God’s Word that will change your life. This is a 10-week study that includes a DVD lesson and workbook.  We will meet from 9-11 a.m. in room 201-A.  The cost of the workbook is $12 and childcare will be provided.  Please contact Juanita Cowles at 865-712-3262 or by email at for more information.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Greeters Needed on Sunday Mornings

The Evangelism Committee is looking for additional greeters to help around the church on Sunday mornings.  This is a vital ministry as visitors and members come to church and find their way around Church Street. Greeters are needed at all the entrance doors.  We have a need for greeters on the following Sundays of the month at various locations.
·  1st Sunday, CLC Breezeway Door, 9:15-9:45 a.m.
·  3rd  Sunday, CLC Breezeway Door, 8-8:30 a.m.
·  4th Sunday, Henley Street Door, 10:30-11 a.m.
·  4th Sunday, Hill Ave. Door, 10:30-11 a.m.
·  5th Sundays, almost all doors, entrances

If you can volunteer one Sunday a month or have questions, contact Kathy Alexander at or come by our table at the Ministry Showcase on Sunday, August 25.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Youth Kick-Off Event

Parents and youth, please join us on Sunday, August 18, at 5:30 p.m. The Church Street Youth Group will hold its annual kick-off event that night in the gym. Let’s start the year right with good food, great music, and even better fellowship.

Come learn about the programs we have to offer, events that are coming up, curriculum for the year, and volunteering opportunities.

This is a very important opportunity to get plugged in to the ministries we have to offer. Please plan to participate – the whole family is invited! Dinner is $5 per person. Please call the church office at 524-3048 to make a reservation. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Blessing of the Backpacks

While some of our students have already gone back to school, many more will join them in the coming week. Today at both services, the children were asked to bring their backpacks forward for a special prayer during the Moments With All God's Children. We encourage you to pray for the children of our congregation and the community as they return to the classroom. Lift them up in your prayers this week and in the weeks to come.

Gracious God, we ask your blessing upon these backpacks and the students who carry them. 
Remind them each day of the love and care of this congregation that surrounds and sustains them as they attend their classes. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Sermon: August 11, 2013 - Seeing the Unseen

2 Corinthians 4.16 – 5. 10
Rev. Andy Ferguson

            Well, it is time for the children to go back to school. This means that the teachers have already been working, getting ready for the kids to arrive. This means that parents have been making trips to the store to find clothes that fit, backpacks big enough but not too big for all the books, and the perfect lunchbox. We place great weight on educating our young; the beginning of school is one of the occasions when we celebrate this commitment.
            People of faith should be in daily prayer for children who learn and teachers who teach them. We can hold our children and their teachers up to God in prayer each day.
            Next, consider the responsibility of church and home to teach our children about the God who listens for prayer, who watches over us, who loves us unconditionally. If our children are going to learn that there are realities beyond the subjects taught in school, then we must teach at church and home what is missing at schools.

[I. A History Lesson on Thought]
            In the ancient times, certainly in the time of the Old Testament and earlier, people saw no separation between the earthly and heavenly OR the physical and spiritual. The boundary between these two aspects of thought was so ill defined that it hardly existed at all. Questions about the existence of God were unthinkable; people assumed a whole pantheon of gods and spirits which filled the world around them. Using the scientific method to prove a theory or the existence of some *thing* was equally irrelevant – overkill really. If it hurt to step on something with your bare feet in the dark, it was real enough. And, that was enough.
            Only later, in the time of the N.T., it is Paul who gives clear voice to the idea that there are things that are seen (houses, people, soil, and such) and things that are unseen (spirits and the Holy Spirit). We hear this separation in 2 Cor 4.18:
18 We look not at *what can be seen* but at *what cannot be seen*; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is *eternal*.

In the O.T. such a separation was unthinkable. By the time of the N.T., Paul can ask his readers to distinguish between what is seen and what is unseen.
            Roughly concurrent with Paul, Jesus gives voice and evidence to the idea of a difference between seen and unseen realities in Luke 8 in the double *Healing of Jairus’ daughter with the healing of the Woman with the Issue of Blood* (Lk 8.40-56). Jesus was delayed on his path to help Jairus’ daughter by the woman who touched the hem of his robe, and, as a result, Jairus’ daughter died before Jesus arrived. A messenger came to Jairus to say, “Your daughter is dead, do not trouble the teacher any longer. Logic of the time said: no human power can reverse death. The story goes on to report that Jesus said to Jairus and all those listening: “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved” (Luke 8.50). In other words, death, which can be seen, may be final in *almost every situation* – except in the presence of Jesus. Clearly, Jesus brings a power to the ordinary events of human life that go far beyond human powers. As a result, people began to think of seen and unseen realities occupying the world – in the history of thought, they became distinct realities.
            Still later, in the Age of Enlightenment, human thought took the distinction between seen and unseen realities further. The Enlightenment divided all reality into that which is seen (the focus of science) and that which is unseen (the focus of faith and religion). This separation set science free to explore the universe without the burden of explaining the implications for religion in every finding. This set the stage for the explosion in scientific understanding in every area. In contrast, religion was left to its own methodologies and area of study. We are children of the Enlightenment.
            The result of this separation is that we no longer live in a world which assumes the presence of both seen and unseen realities. Now, we have to remind each other and teach our children about unseen realities:
+      about God in Trinity,
+      about prayer that is heard and even welcomed by God,
+      about the God who still intervenes in human affairs,
+      and about the presence of the holy among us.

II. What could it mean to live with unseen realities? I’ll give two examples:
            A. Twenty years ago, Janet Wolf told a story out of her experience with unseen realities. She said that…
            Her Wednesday night Bible study group had become a rather odd community of sorts. They gathered about 5:15 pm to share whatever food people were able to bring. While they eat, they share joys and sorrows, celebrations and concerns and all the stuff that falls in between. There are usually six to ten of them:
·       two or three people who are struggling with mental health problems,
·       three men who are homeless,
·       several dealing with time in prison,
·       and others wrestling with emotional and physical scars.
Folks come with a hunger for healing, wanting food for the body and soul, and a place to be at home.
            After eating, they take turns reading one or two of the lectionary passages and sharing whatever comes to mind as they try to discern words of challenge and comfort, words that might feed them anew.
            John, one of the men who is currently homeless and staying, as the others who are homeless do, at the downtown mission, started out one night: “I got to tell a story on my own self. Happened this morning. See, I been trying so hard to live this new life. To stay clean. I just am really trying, for the first time, to live this stuff out. Some of you don’t know how I used to live – drinking, drugging, knocking folks around. I always did read the Bible, but I just did it to put other folks down – quote stuff I wanted and go on about my business. It didn’t mean nothing then. But, it does now. And it’s hard. It really is hard to live this stuff out. And sometimes, it seems the more I try the harder it gets.
            “Stayed down at the mission again last night – house of pain for real. Woke up this morning and my shoes were gone. Somebody stole my shoes. I didn’t even have to think about what to do – I pulled out my knife and I went looking. I was walking all up and down the dining hall, table by table and I meant to get my shoes back. Kept thinking: in the old days wouldn’t anybody tried to touch my shoes – 'cause they’d know I’d get ‘em ‘fore they could ever put ‘em on. O yeah. I was mean and folks knew it. Didn’t care. And that’s how it was this morning. It’s one thing to give up drinking and drugging. It’s another thing when they steal your shoes.
            “And I’m hollering, threatening, and walking up and down with my knife out where everyone can see. I’m going to get my shoes. Then old Jim here (points to another homeless man in the group) started hollering from the other side of the room. “Bible says if they took your cloak give 'em your other one. If they took you shoes, give ‘em your socks. Put that knife away and give ‘em your socks.”
            “And I’m swearing and gettin' madder. Ain’t givin’ nobody nothin’! I want my shoes! And Old Jim, he just keeps hollering, “Give ‘em your socks, John!” //

            “Folded up my knife. Took a long time doing it, too. Walked barefoot to the service center this morning – and got me some more shoes – but sure is hard to live this stuff out!” (2)
What homeless John realized in the mission that morning is that there is another law across this land. No cop can enforce it; no judge can rule on when it must be applied. But, as the Law of God, it points us to a higher way of living. It points us to the day when we will live in the Kingdom of God. It is a Law that speaks of an unseen, not-yet full reality. But, it is a Law that can turn this world toward God. It is a Law to which we point every time we tell the world that Jesus Christ came to bring a different way. It is an unseen reality that is turning this world in a new direction.

B. Anthony Bloom told of his experience teaching a woman how to pray. He was young, just ordained and appointed as chaplain to a retirement home. This is the way he tells the story:
            At this retirement home lived an old woman who came to see him after his first communion service. She said, “I would like advice about prayer.”
            So, he said, “I’m sure one of the other chaplains can help you.”
            She responded, “All these years I have been asking people who are reputed to know about prayer, and they have never given me a sensible reply, so I thought that as you are so young and probably know nothing, you might by chance blunder out the right thing.”
            So with that beginning, he asked, “What is your problem with praying?”
            The woman said, “These 14 years I have been praying the *Our Father* prayer almost continually and never have I perceived God’s presence at all.”
            Anthony said, “If you talk all the time, you don’t give God a chance to speak.”
            She said, “What shall I do?”
            He said, “Go to your room after breakfast, put it right. Light the little candle that sits beside the cross on your table. Then, take stock of your room. Just sit, look around, and try to see where you live, because I am sure that if you have prayed all these 14 years it is a long time since you have seen your room. And then take your knitting and for 15 minutes knit before the face of God, but I forbid you to say one word of prayer. You just knit and try to enjoy the peace of your room.”
            She didn’t think it was very pious advice, but she took it. A month or so later, she came to see him and said, “You know, it works.”
            He asked, “What works; what happened?”
            And she said, “I did just what you advised me to do. I got up, washed, put my room right, had breakfast, came back, made sure that nothing was there that would worry me, and then I settled in my armchair and thought ‘Oh how nice, I have 15 minutes during which I can do nothing without being guilty!’ When I looked around for the first time, I thought, ‘Goodness, what a nice room I live in.’” Then, she said, “I felt so quiet because the room was so peaceful. There was a clock ticking but it didn’t disturb the silence; its ticking just underlined the fact that everything was so still. After a while I remembered that I must knit before the face of God, and so I began to knit. And I became more and more aware of the silence. The clock was ticking peacefully. There was nothing to bother about. I had no need of straining myself.
            “Then, I realized that the silence was not just the *absence* of something but the *presence* of something. The silence had a density, and richness, and it began to pervade me. The silence around me began to come and meet the silence in me. I perceived that the silence was a presence. God meets me there while I knit before Him.” (3)

For that old woman, the unseen reality in her time of morning quiet was the coming of God.

            Though the world may not see, may not get it, may not care, there is a reality that surrounds us. It is the living God who comes, waiting nearby, listening perhaps for whispered prayer, watching with love in those great eyes. God is that reality unseen but active. God is that reality that bids us to still our strivings.
            My invitation to you this morning is to wait. Be still. **Do not fear; only believe**. God fills the unseen reality. My invitation is to wait in gentle silence for the coming of God.

2. Wolf, Janet. “Shoes and Socks,” Alive Now!, Mar/Apr ’95, pp. 45ff.

3. Bloom, Anthony. “Finding God’s Presence,” quoted from Beginning to Pray in Alive Now!, Jul/Aug ’91, pp. 16f

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Camp Hogwarts Comes to A Close

After two days of fun and adventure, the Camp Hogwarts students have returned home. Close to 80 children participated in the two-day camp! The children played Quidditch, shared meals in the Great Hall, made potions and more. Thanks to all the volunteers who made the event possible. And a HUGE thank you to Children's Director Sue Isbell for organizing Camp Hogwarts!

To see WBIR's coverage of the Camp, click here.

Potions Class
Friends in the Great Hal
The Astronomy Obstacle Course
Making Golden Snitches
Watching Harry Potter in the HBO
Even Hedwig was there!
Headmistress Sue Isbell helps sort the houses
Quidditch in the Gym
Craft time
Prefects help with Quidditch

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sermon: August 4, 2013 - Not the Sweet By and By but in the Here and Now

Colossians 3.1-11
Rev. Andy Ferguson

            Over the years, one of the gospel hymns, popular in earlier times, has fallen out of favor. Even though we all know it and can sing the *Refrain* from memory, we have been taught to discount it and even tease those who are foolish enough to sing it. It reeks of “old time religion,” and certainly none of us would want to be guilty of being old-timey in the age of the constantly connected internet. The hymn suggests that the only good life available to us will come after death, with God, in heaven, faraway from this life and its cares – a claim that Americans with our can-do attitude and our national optimism can no longer comprehend. That old gospel hymn begins this way:

[In the Sweet By and By]
1. There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.

In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by… (1). 

If you sing this old gospel hymn long enough, the idea begins to form in your mind that heaven *in the sweet by and by* is more real and more desirable than the life we are living right now. In a past era when life was harder and offered little hope for improvement, this song and others like it provided a vision of something better, something worth working for, something worth waiting for. For many, living in difficult circumstances, it offered the only hope for a better life that many people would see.
            Well, these are not those times. America is again the land of opportunity. You and I have a good life without waiting for heaven. In the here and now, we work for a paycheck *at the end of the month*; the young work *for challenging careers*; the old work *for a secure retirement*. The effort is now; the payoff is in sight; faraway heaven has little to do with our everyday lives. The old gospel hymn speaks to needs we hardly acknowledge.
            In the same way, we read certain passages in the Bible as if they are relics of a bygone era. Passages that speak of *heaven* or *things above* are immediately discounted as *out of date* or quaint. We simply do not think in those categories any longer.
            We are going to turn to one of those passages this morning. It calls on us to “set your hearts on things above, not the things of earth.” We are all set to discount it as out of touch with our modern life, but that would not be wise. The Bible has not fallen out of touch; we have forgotten to read it – really read the Bible, allowing it to speak.

            Dr. Fred Craddock, the teacher of a generation of preachers, reported that he was baptized at the ripe old age of nearly 14. His pastor read this passage to him: “You have died, and now you have been raised with Christ. Set your mind on things that are above.” Dr. Craddock reported:

            I walked home with my wet clothes wrapped in a wet towel under my arm, and I tried to think what that meant. After you have been raised from the dead, you do not look the same, sound the same, talk the same, behave the same.
            But what do you do? How do you talk? What do you sound like?
            He said that he went to school on Monday morning wondering, “Is anybody going to know that I’ve been raised?” Should I dress up a little better than I’ve been dressing? It won’t hurt. Do I talk another way? Do I throw in a verse of scripture now and then? What do I do at ball practice? Are they going to say, “Well, it looks like he’s been raised from the dead”? How do you talk? How do you walk? How do you relate? Now, what? (2)

Frankly, as your pastor, I would love to see the newly washed Christians among us going about looking and feeling all tingly and different. We have made becoming Christians so ordinary and predicable; it worries me that we are missing a lot of the experience.
            For the early Christians, getting baptized meant
+      Being safe with Christ but at risk with the world,
+      Having integrity in business but likely to challenge the status quo, too.
+      Living at peace with your neighbors but likely to welcome some unlikely neighbors, too.
What difference are we looking for? What does it mean that we are Christians? And Church Street United Methodist Christians?

II. Paul begins by saying: “If you have been raised with Christ…”
            A. Christ was raised from the dead on Easter, of course. The conviction of the Christian faith is that we too are raised from the dead through faith in Christ. What Christ did in the Garden in 33 AD becomes effective for us through faith.
            Further, the way we receive this raising with Christ is through baptism. Going down under the water is a dying to all that is old; being brought up from the water is our raising to new life in Christ. Now, we United Methodists at Church Street have a mild aversion to water, so we only use a little water to accomplish all this. Other denominations seem to require more water to do the same thing.
[STANLEY] I heard a friend at CourtSouth, who identifies himself as a dunked Christian, complaining about a light rain one morning. He was dreading the prospect of going outside where he would get rained on. He has less hair than I do, so the rain could not possibly do any damage. I pointed out to him that as a Dunkard who experienced immersion baptism, a light rain should offer no threat at all.

Our early morning banter understood that both are baptized, both marked for Christ; both carry the hope of Christ in our lives.
            B. Paul went on to say:
** “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”**

This is not the old focus on the future promise of heaven so we can ignore the difficult present. This, instead, is the conviction that God is real and offers us a different way of living even now. As Christians focus on the things that God considers most important, then our lives in this time will be enriched, hopeful and even holy.
            C. He went on to list whatever belongs to our earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed. Most of these sins are still problems for our age, as well. Both as individuals and as a society. “Put them to death,” he said.

III. Now, what are the spiritual problems of our time?
            [INA HUGHES] This week, Ina Hughes used her Wednesday article in the newspaper to reflect on international reaction to the Zimmerman trial. As you know, George Zimmerman was found innocent of the criminal charges against him. That is a legal fact. On the whole, the reaction of the African American community has been completely different from the reaction of the white community. Several people have observed that black and white live in the same country but in parallel universes. The gulf is so great that the President spoke to it out of his experience as a Black man growing up in this country. Despite Hughes optimism, I fear that division according to race with be with us for a long time.
            A similar division has grown up around immigration and immigration reform. In some states, Latinos are already the largest ethnic group, but the speeches in the white community are about building bigger walls to keep THEM out and denying THOSE PEOPLE a place in *our* America. We live and work every day – black, white and brown - side by side and generally get along, but our rhetoric suggests divisions that can never be reconciled. We have set aside Christ’s language of welcome and goodwill and, instead, embraced the language of division and separation.
            To borrow the term, we PROFILE and thus vilify all kinds of groups and this is all the explanation we need for violence, separation, and distrust against these designated strangers. This is all the reason we need to avoid respectful dialogue.
            In her article, Ina Hughes repeated some of the statements made about this nation in newspapers around the world. The statements she quoted were not complementary.
            Then, Ina Hughes concluded her article this way:
**If we don't learn to deal with diversity better than we are now dealing with it - be it race, class, religion, orientation or ethnicity - it will continue to impact our reputation as a world power, as a civilized society and as a nation worthy of global respect** (3).

We, the people of the United States of America, enjoy life in the greatest nation this world has seen. There is more power, more wealth, more opportunity per square mile in this nation than in any other nation on earth. We are rightly proud of this.
            We can trust the tools of our Christian faith to strengthen and nurture our nation and its life. Instead, we set aside all of God’s tools as inadequate, weak, and being too easy on people who are different.
            Look what God offers to us who would build this world and this nation that we love:
+      Set your minds on things that are above;
+      Put to death whatever in you is earthly;
+      In the presence of Christ, **there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all** (v. 11).
In contrast, we address our differences by passing harsher laws, building bigger fences and demanding more enforcement – causing bigger divisions and increasing distrust between peoples. I suppose each of us thinks from behind our fences that if everyone would just live as we do, then the world would be a better place. But, in Christ, we are called to make a place for the stranger.
+      Remember that THE HERO of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan was the wrong ethnic group and wrong religion.
+      Remember that Naaman the Leper, who was healed by the power of Israel’s God, had just attacked, destroyed and conquered Israel.
+      Remember that Mary and Joseph began their marriage with a scandal.
+      Remember that Simon Peter, on whom Christ built his Church, was a coward when his master needed him most.
I recall all of these – not to say that this is what God would have us become; I recall all of this as a reminder that God has room for all of these in God’s heart and God’s Kingdom.

            In the living, breathing person of Jesus, we see all things we call holy: such as forgiveness, sharing, joy, vision, courage, perseverance, and especially love. These are the tools of Christ. We must use these tools of the Spirit to solve the challenges of everyday living. We must use these tools of Spirit to solve the challenges of the nation and the community. Because in Christ…
This is a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar.

1. “In the Sweet By and By,” Sanford F. Bennett , 1868, Copyright: Public Domain
2. Craddock, Frederick. “People of the Resurrection,” Cherry Log Sermons, pp. 100-101
3. Hughes, Ina, “Zimmerman trial hurt our reputation,” Knoxville News Sentinel, July 31.,2013.