Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Join the Youth and Children's Choirs for Evensong

Please join us for a time of worship and music, presented by our Youth and Children’s Choirs on Sunday, May 5 at 6 p.m. in the Nave. The service will include hymns, prayers, scripture and anthems. Dinner will be served at 5:15 p.m. in Parish Hall. Cost is $5 per person. Please call 524-3048 or e-mail reservations@churchstreetumc.org by Thursday, May 2. Don't miss this night of special worship and beautiful music from our talented young people!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sign Up Now for VBS

Make plans to attend Vacation Bible School at Church Street. This year’s theme is “Everywhere Fun Fair.” VBS will be held June 17–20, from 9:15 to noon each day. There will be classes for children three years old through those who have completed fifth grade. Please note: children must have turned three by January 1, 2013.
          We need lots of volunteers to make the week successful for our children. Please contact Sue Isbell at sisbell@churchstreetumc.org or 521-0282 to find out more. 
          Parents: register your children by clicking here. Share the registration page with friends as well and we hope to see you all at VBS!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sermon-April 28, 2013 - Proclaim God’s Faithfulness in the Face of Terrorism

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Exodus 14.10-31
            Centuries ago in ancient Israel, long before the Jerusalem Temple stood, certain holy sites were established across the land. When invaders or pestilence troubled the land OR when the rains did not come so that the people were faced with starvation OR when anyone had some personal anguish, the people would go to these holy sites to ask - confident that they would receive a word from God. Several examples can be found in the O.T.
            +Hannah praying at Shiloh that she might have a child.
            +Gideon’s fleece in the war against the Midianites.
+Moses going up onto the Mountain where he talked with God and received the Commandments.
In each case, the people were in a time of great danger and distress. In each case, the people waited for a Word from God: a word of hope, a word of healing.
+      They waited for a word that God was still with them in their time of trouble.
+      They waited for assurance that God held a better day for his people.
While that ancient custom of going to those holy sites for a Word from God has fallen into disuse, our need for a Word from God from time to time has not changed.
            Most recently, our national need for a Word from God occurred on April 15. That day used to known to most of us in East Tennessee only as Tax Day. In Massachusetts, the third Monday of April is called Patriots’ Day. This state holiday commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, which were fought near Boston in 1775 at the opening of the Revolutionary War. It happened this year that Patriots’ Day fell on April 15 and with it the running of the Boston Marathon.
            You know, of course, about the bombing that took place near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. You know the terror that the two bombers intended to unleash upon the people of Boston and the nation. You know about the 170 injured people who will live with their scars for the rest of their lives. In addition, you know about the three people who were killed by the explosions and Officer Collier who was killed when he confronted the bombers.
            As we have watched the news of that bombing and the massive manhunt that followed, we have all wondered, “What is our world coming to?” when this kind of senseless killing can take over a great event like this.
+      We have wondered if these hurts can be healed or whether we must live with these scars always.
+      We have also wondered if there is any Word from God when human tragedies like this are unleashed on the innocent.
+      Is a world of such tragedy the future God holds for human life?
+      Does God intend and does God work for a better world than the one human beings have managed to twist and abuse?
Therefore, we go to our holy place – the scriptures - to ask, “Is there any Word from God for us?”

            I. Did you see the made-for-TV series, “The Bible”?  During Holy Week, they showed the whole series throughout one day. My wife and I were at home that day but busy many things, so we left the TV ON. That way, as we passed through the living room, we caught bits and pieces of the series.
            One of the scenes that I watched closely was the story we just read from the Bible: the Crossing of the Red Sea. Because of the TV version, I saw - with new eyes - whole families among the Hebrews as I never saw them before. Mothers and children were clearly frightened at the arrival of Pharaoh’s army. Then, I do not think I have considered how far they had to run to get to the other side; their run was exhausting! Finally, I appreciated in a different way their relief and joy on reaching the other side, followed by the realization of freedom when God sent the Sea back to wash away all Pharaoh’s chariots and soldiers. The TV series was true enough to the Biblical story; I just saw new details that before I had missed.
            II. The connection between the events in Boston on April 15 and the Crossing of the Red Sea is strong.
1.     First, families were prominent in both events. Mothers, fathers and children - along with runners of every age - were Boston. All the same age-groups could be found among the Hebrews. At some point, they all became runners as they hurried to get away from Pharaoh and his army. All were terrorized; all were fearful.
2.     Secondly, emotions ran jumbled together in the first minutes of each event. For the Hebrew children, the arrival of Pharaoh’s army was going to mean slavery, injury or even death. For those at the Marathon, bombs exploding brought confusion: What was happening?
This is the work of terrorism: to plant that raw fear in people’s minds that they can never be safe again. Instinctively, we reject that fear. We Americans are a proud people – proud of our civic freedoms and proud of something our Declaration of Independence calls “the pursuit of happiness.” Quoting from the Declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This conviction was burned into our American DNA, and we gladly offer it to all the world’s peoples. Terrorism attacks this deeply held conviction. It is no wonder that we react so strongly against violent treats to our way of life. It was with great relief that we watched the authorities track down and capture the last of the bombers on the Friday following the Monday bombing. Watching the people of Boston singing “Sweet Caroline” at the ballpark after the capture brought tears and smiles to Americans all over the nation.
            Then, as the days since the bombing passed, I realized that the events of that week now lead us to ask some questions of our faith. Yes, the bad guys were killed or caught. But much damage to innocent lives remains: three deaths. 170 injured, some with amputations they will carry for the rest of their lives. We need to keep these victims of the bombing in our prayers. I knew one person who ran in the Marathon; I expect that, across this congregation, many of us knew someone who was personally involved in Boston that day.
            Now the question of faith: Knowing now that there are those who would use such violence to destroy our lives and our way of life, is there any word from God for us? Actually, there is a Word for us, and it is a word which inspires confidence that the future is good.
            III. When the Children of Israel reached the edge of the Red Sea and realized that they were trapped between the “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” our God heard their cry and responded in a decisive and saving way. They had been until this moment slaves of the Egyptians. By all rights, they had no rights. By the laws and traditions of that time, slaves were common and the legitimate property of anyone strong enough to hold them. Whatever Pharaoh might have done to them would have been approved by every other government who heard the story. The Hebrew children cried out because of the terror of that moment and also because of their deep desire for freedom from slavery and oppression.
            God heard; God acted; God led them to freedom. This vision of God hearing, acting and leading them to freedom is the future toward which God leads us, also. This is Good News.
            As you know, God did not lead them to Easy Street and to Lazy Way. There were still forty years of journey before them; they had to become a people and a nation after being no people for 400 years. The only thing they knew about freedom at that moment was that Pharaoh was no longer a threat to them. But, as you know, there is much more to know and to do to make freedom real.
            Think about the freedom and safety God still held for them in the Promised Land. There were many years of hard journey before them; there were going to be times of testing. Still, this freedom was God’s demonstrated purpose for them – just as freedom from terror is God’s demonstrated purpose for us. This is God’s Word for us on the day of terrorism.

IV. Now, let us turn to the details of the story for God’s further Word:
A. The children of Israel saw Pharaoh’s army and they were terrified. In their fear, their first instinct was to run or surrender or hide. But, “Moses said to the people: ‘Do not be afraid, STAND FIRM.’” You see, only by standing firm could they see the deliverance that God would accomplish for them that day. Standing firm can be the last instinct we have. Fear tells us to run! But, as Moses could see, God was at work for Israel, and God would bring deliverance.
            We are equally confused by terrorism. What do we do? Do we run? Do we surrender? Do we hide and never venture out again? Such instincts are natural, but such instincts are not going to build that nation God intends for us.
+      Stand firm, to see that God’s justice will win the struggle.
+      Stand firm, to see that faithful resilience will endure.
+      Stand firm; others nearby are depending on us. (Heroes that day were those who ran TOWARD the blasts.)
As the people of Israel were about to break and run, Moses called, “Stand firm” so that you see the deliverance that God will accomplish for you this day.

B. Then, when the pathway was ready, God commanded Moses to tell the people, “MOVE FORWARD.” Actually, the command to move forward came before there was a pathway open through the sea. Moses lifted his staff to mark the opening of the Sea only after the people heard the command “MOVE FORWARD”. Of course, this is hard. It took trust to MOVE FORWARD when the pathway was not open before them.
            So it is with us. The pathway from the present where terrorism and violence are possible to a place where violence is unthinkable is not clearly open to us, either. Hear the command; it is God’s Word for us: Move forward. Build a society where justice is open to all. Build a society of opportunity, which is the envy of peoples around the world. We are not required to give up our soul as Americans to build a safer world. “Move forward.”

C. Thirdly, when Israel had crossed over, when Israel had looked back to see what God had done, when Israel realized that they were truly free of Pharaoh’s tyranny, then THEY BELIEVED IN THE LORD.
            Seeing God’s great deeds of wonder and power, we want to have everything accomplished. If God can do all this, why bother with 40 years of the Exodus Journey? But, that was not the place Israel stood. Only the crossing of the Red Sea is accomplished, still they already believe - at the beginning of the journey. It is a journey which will make them into a nation. They are only on the other side of the Red Sea; forty years of wandering in the wilderness lies before them. It is there that they believe – at the beginning, as their first steps were being taken.
            So, it is with us. We have been commanded to STAND FIRM and then, before the way is truly clear before us, commanded to MOVE FORWARD. We will see some signs and victories. We will have some moments of relief and assurance. Still, there is a long journey that stands before us. Starting here, starting now, we BELIEVE IN THE LORD who leads us forward.

Hunger Helper Market Opens for the Season

Today's dreary weather didn't stop the opening of the Hunger Helper Market for the 2013 season. This unique ministry of our church features goods presented by our church members. Plants, fresh baked goods, even ready-to-eat meals are all a part of the market. 

You'll find the market in the breezeway each Sunday between now and September. All the proceeds form this year's market will go to benefit Wesley House as they launch their capital campaign to purchase a new facility. Today, some of the kids from Wesley House joined us and participated in the market. It was a great way to get to know them a little better! 

Volunteer shifts at the market are still available. Please sign up by calling Kathy Ehrnschwender at 539-9721. Anyone can buy, sell and/or donate. Be creative with your donations and we can make this our best Hunger Helper market yet!

So next week be sure to stop by and pick up something from the market and share in the fellowship with others gathered there. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Help Us Fill this Year's Hands-On Mission Kits

This year, we at Church Street have a goal of sending 75 buckets of food to Zimbabwe as part of annual Holston Conference Hands-On Mission Project. Items requested include:

1 – 5 lb. bag of corn meal 1 – 2 lb. bag of dried beans
1 – 4 lb. bag of sugar 1 box powdered milk (9 oz. or less)
1 – 5 lb. bag of self rising flour 1 bottle cooking oil (48 oz. or less)
1 – 2 lb. bag of rice $5 donation for packing and shipping
1 small box of Splenda

In lieu of filling a bucket, you may donate $35 to cover the cost of one food bucket, and volunteers will purchase the items for you. Make checks payable to Church Street UMC, memo “Hands-On Mission.” Buckets are available on Sundays in the breezeway and on the stage. Complete buckets should be delivered to the church during the Sunday school hour on May 19 and May 26 in CLC 13.  This is an easy way to get involved and to help make a difference in the lives of others. Please consider filling a bucket as a family or doing several as a group or Sunday School class!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hunger Helper Market Opens This Sunday

Make sure and stop by the breezeway this Sunday, April 28! The Hunger Helper Market will open for the season. The goods sold at the market each Sunday morning are provided by Church Street members and include fresh fruits, vegetables, plants, and baked goods. All proceeds from the Market will benefit Wesley House.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sermon: April 21, 2013- Confirmation Sunday

“Follow Jesus”--Acts 1:6-14
Rev. Sarah Varnell
Church Street UMC
April 21, 2013

It is confirmation Sunday at Church Street.  After several months of concentrated learning and practice of theology, scripture, and the tradition of the church, these young people will come forward to take up the mantel of their faith as both a personal and communal walk. In our United Methodist tradition, we baptize as a sign of what God does in our lives, how God chooses us.  Today these confirmands  turned toward God and choose to serve God with their lives. One day little Brooks will join his voice with the saints to do the same. This is a sign of great hope for our world. 

PRAYER: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.”

When Jesus began his ministry with the disciples, they tagged along for every adventure. In each story they follow Jesus around, peering in for a close up during a healing, and weaving in and out of daydreams on the front row during a time of teaching.  They experienced Jesus, God incarnate, firsthand, but like us that struggled to find where all of this teaching met with their every day lives.  How does Jesus change things? Regardless of all that they had seen and heard, they really had no idea how to answer that question. They were like a little boy who “helped” his Grandmother in the kitchen, in the middle of every step making messes by playing in the flour or spilling sugar in the floor, participating and experiencing, but completely at a loss for what to do next when left alone without the guidance and example of his Grandmother.

So, after three years of following Jesus around in the kitchen cooking up the beginnings of God's kingdom, the head chef is suddenly and brutally killed on a cross and they are scared out of their minds.  
In this moment, they realize God's kingdom is life and death kind of important for the world.  They do what any scared person learns to do from the moment we begin walking… they hide. 

This reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr when he said, “the ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.” What would I give my life to protect?   My sweet new baby daughter?  Absolutely, in a heartbeat!  my loved ones?  Yes, most of them. My faith?  I would like to think so. It is much easier in seasons of feasting on stories of great faith to feel courageous and cared for by God. In seasons of fallow often all we can experience is the icy clutch of doubt that fear holds our hearts captive. This is reality for us, and it has been reality for God’s disciples for all time.  

GREY’S ANATOMY: My first year of seminary, a very popular show about interns in a hospital began.  The interns were around the same age as many of us, and we were drawn to the drama in the show.  After having my baby 6 weeks ago, we have had many opportunities in the middle of the night to be awake.  Babies love 3:00am.  After my sweet husband changes her diaper, while I stay up to feed her, in order to keep myself awake... I have been re-watching episodes from this show on Netflix, essentially reliving some of my seminary days.  A few nights ago, the episode was about a Native American man receiving a heart transplant.  In his culture, there were certain rituals he had to observe to honor the dead before receiving the transplant.  One of the doctors on the show was losing patience when she said, “that’s why I trust science,” and he responded: “Science is a form of belief, it is believing what you can see and touch.  I believe in more than that.”  It struck me that most days it is the “more than that” that sustains us.  It is the “more than that” that is a journey, and not a destination.  

The disciples learn this the hard way when word gets to them that Jesus appeared to some of the women, risen from the dead! Their emotions spanned from excited that Jesus, their friend and Lord is alive, to guilty that they failed to continue the work of ministry after his death. To validate this claim by the women, Jesus comes to see them and they are transformed from fear to incredible boldness.  This is a telling and profound moment, as they transition from being scared and hiding in the upper room to being out in public with no fear, not even of death as they spouted off Jesus’ teachings.  Their faith became the most important thing.

In our story today, we come across a brief moment where they are standing still.   A small crowd is gathered, heads turned toward the sky watching Jesus rise up through the clouds. What a roller coaster-- emotionally and physically! If I were them I would be working through how and when I could catch a nap (I think about that a lot these days), instead they are interrupted by someone who says, "Why are you looking up at the clouds?" Forget the nap, they hurry back to that same upper room that was once their hiding place to begin scheming, sorting through the old recipes of Jesus’ teachings, the ingredients were healing, hope, love, peace, understanding, and inclusion.
As it is, loving God is a daily choice which breeds a litany of choices...Some days its as easy as breathing and other days it is the hardest choice we can make. 

The questions we ask the confirmands at 8:30, the same questions that the Hennesseys answered on behalf of their sweet son who so far only knows the world to be loving (giggles, smiles, loving touches)… are much more than questions. They are choices. They are statements of incredible faith that God gives us the power to do and be in the face of great tragedy in our world. 

You're not going to believe what I'm about to say… but sometimes, Pastor Darryll has really wise things to say...after a difficult week, we were invited by WBIR to respond to the faith component in the midst of great tragedy.  Pastor Darryll had 70 seconds and he chose very appropriately point out that  in our world where tragedies like the Boston Marathon Bombing are becoming usual occurrences, we need more people to claim that they believe God gives them power to resist the evil and injustice in our midst. 

We are God's hope for the world.  Our faith matters, whether we feel it or we choose it.  It is not another club, it is not something we do, it is who we are… who we are becoming. This is why the church is important, there is support, and second chances, and it takes continued practice for all of us.  

Let your faith matter, let it make you different, believe that God really gives you the power to resist evil and injustice...
Treat people with kindness...  
Help when you can...  
Notice who is left out...
Don't judge... 
Let go of grudges...above all: Follow Jesus.

When asked the question, "why are you looking in the clouds?" the disciples got on the move, back to that upper room that once paralyzed them with fear to begin to scheme. May we join them today and claim the power God gives us to tell the world a different story.  For God's sake, let's follow Jesus today and always. Amen.

Prayer Service for Wesley House to Be Held on April 30

Church Street has a long history with the ministries of Wesley House. Next week, you have the opportunity to join with Wesley House as they begin a new phase of their outreach in the Knoxville community. Wesley House is preparing to embark on a new adventure: the purchase of the fourth location for this 106-year-old non-profit.  They will continue to serve the neighborhood where they have always existed. The new building is at 1719 Reynolds Street, less than a mile from the current Dameron Avenue location. It will provide almost four times the space in addition to more and larger classrooms, a gym, a cafeteria and our neighbor is a city park with many great facilities.

There will be a special prayer service for the people and ministries of Wesley House at Church Street on Tuesday, April 30 at 7 p.m. in the Nave. Please join us!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Imagine No Malaria Matching Funds Available

God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. 
–Ephesians 3:20

Church Street continues its fundraising efforts for Imagine No Malaria. Our goal is to save more than 2,600 lives by Annual Conference in June. Overall, the Holston Conference has pledged to save 100,000 lives. To help meet that goal, the Holston Conference Foundation is offering matching funds for individuals who donate $1,000 to Imagine No Malaria. These funds will help provide bed nets, medicine and education to our brothers and sisters in Africa. You can donate by placing a designated check in the offering plate on Sundays or by giving online at the Church Street Website. Please help support this important ministry as we work to eliminate malaria. 

Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor and Knoxville District Superintendent  Nathan Malone share a net with Fred Dearing in Sudan

Monday, April 22, 2013

Church Street Preschool is Enrolling for Summer in our Pre-K Classes

We want to help your child have an awesome Kindergarten experience! It is so important that your child have the social and educational skills to feel confident on the first day. Our program offers a developmentally appropriate curriculum designed to enhance each child’s mental, physical, social, and spiritual development in a Christian environment. Our center serves families from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

We'd love for you to come take a tour. Open spots will not last long!
*Daily art, science, math, literary and devotional activities
*We serve breakfast, a hot lunch and snack
*Preparing your child for Kindergarten while having fun
*Science lessons with hands-on activities
*State licensed, Gold Sneaker and 3 STARS
*We accept childcare certificates

Please visit our website for more information or call (865) 524-3511. 

Seraphic Fire to Perform at Church Street on Saturday

Join Church Street this Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the Nave for the next Master Arts performance. Seraphic Fire is an American professional chamber choir based out of Miami, Florida.  Entering its second decade, Seraphic Fire is widely regarded as one of the most important vocal ensembles in the United States.  Led by Founder and Artistic Director Patrick Dupré Quigley, Seraphic Fire brings the best ensemble singers from around the country to perform repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to newly commissioned works. This past year, two of the ensemble's recordings were nominated for two 2012 GRAMMY awards.

This is a ticketed event.  Tickets are available in the main church office during business hours, Monday-Friday, 8:30-4:30 or online by clicking below.  Call 865-524-3048 for more information.

Tickets are available for purchase online here. Tickets ordered after Monday, April 22 will not be mailed but will be held at the 'will call' station.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Do All the Good You Can

Today was Confirmation Sunday at Church Street. It was a very special day for our congregation as we welcomed 13 students into membership. These students and their families have worked very hard over the months to learn more about what it means to be a Christian, a United Methodist and a member of Church Street. We welcome them and we celebrate this step forward in their faith! Please take time this week to pray for each of these students. And take to heart these words from John Wesley. Pastor Sarah used them as our benediction today, and they carry special meaning for our confirmands. They recited these words at the end of every confirmation class.

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” -John Wesley

Friday, April 19, 2013

AARP Driver Refresher Course Offered

This classroom refresher course, for drivers ages 50 and older, explains the changes that occur in vision, hearing and reaction time as we age, and provides useful safety tips for handling these changes. The course is taught by Nancy Carmon and will be held at Church Street on Thursday, May 2 from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Cost is $12 for AARP members and $14 for non-members. Please call the church office at 524-3048 or e-mail reservations@churchstreetumc.org. Checks need to be written to AARP. Registration deadline is Wednesday, April 24. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

More than A Game

On Monday night, Church Street's softball team gathered at Caswell Park to play its regularly scheduled game as a part of the City of Knoxville softball league. Below, Church Street member Ian Hennessey shares his reflections on how Monday's matchup was about more than just softball. It's a good reminder that we as Christians are called to share the Good News in many unexpected places each and every day.

For a while that afternoon, I thought our game might be cancelled due to the bombing of the Boston marathon. The Knoxville Parks and Recreation Department, however, informed me over the phone that all games were on as scheduled.  

As we went over the ground rules and exchanged game balls just before the first inning, a member of the other team looked at our jerseys, emblazoned with 'Church Street United Methodist Church' in big letters, and asked if we ought to have a word of prayer.  We agreed, "especially on a day like today."  The umpire interjected that we needed to stay on schedule and start the game on time, but we all agreed that we should pray after the game.  

Five innings of fun later, we lost the game, despite a heroic three-run homer by Rob Herchenrider. It was getting close to 10 p.m. by then and most of the other games were over or wrapping up. The field where we had been yelling and cheering just a few moments before was suddenly peaceful and still. The teams lined up to shake hands and then circled up. Under the massive lights and night sky, Kevin Blue, our third baseman, led the two teams and the umpires in prayer together. Sometimes you hear the saying "it is more than just a game."  On Monday night, it certainly was.
                                                                              -Ian Hennessey

Join us for the New Member Luncheon

The Congregational Care Committee is hosting a complimentary luncheon in Parish Hall on Sunday, April 28 immediately following the 11 a.m. service for all new members who have joined since last November or have not attended one in the past.  It is a great time to get to know other new members and our clergy staff as we gatherfor lunch.  Please make your lunch reservations no later than Monday, April 22 by calling the church office at 524-3048 or by e-mailing reservations@churchstreet.org. We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Prayer for Tuesday

Again, Lord. 
Again, those who would work terrorism in this world have struck.
Those who would work terrorism are in my nation,
Striking people who look like me, speak my language, are citizens like me.
Close to home they struck.

I pray for the people of Boston,
I pray for the runners and their families who were at the Marathon,
Who were struck by shrapnel;
Who went to hospitals bleeding or anxiously looking for family;
Who will never venture outside their homes again
Without wondering if such as this could happen yet again.

I pray for the people of the nation,
I pray for those who lead our cities and our states and the nation,
That they might never lose heart in the long task of keeping the nation safe
From terrorism like this.
I pray for the ordinary people of this nation,
That we too might not lose heart in the task of everyday living;
That we too might never lose the conviction 
That life and work and conviction are worth it.
I pray that we might find strength to move forward in the face of this terrorism.

I pray for the bad guys – those who did all this at the Boston Marathon.
That they might be found and stopped in the murderous intent.
That emptiness of their intent and their methods might be exposed to the light of day.
I pray for every one of us who might have wondered aloud, even for a moment,
If such dramatic action might make some sort of statement.
And thus encouraged such a decision,
Or looked the other way.

I pray for peace:
Peace in the hospital rooms in Boston,
Peace for the grieving families in Boston,
Peace in the homes of the marathoners and those who aspire to be,
Peace in this nation.
Peace that builds a nation and a society built on justice and hope.

For again, Lord, 
And always,
You are the God who created 
And declared that the world was and is intended to be good.

-Rev. Andy Ferguson

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett to Speak At WNAF

Join us for the Wednesday Noon Adult Fellowship luncheon on Wednesday, April 24 at 12:30 p.m. in Parish Hall. Our guest speaker will be Tim Burchett, current Knox County Mayor as he shares with us his vision for the future of Knox County. 

Cost for lunch is $6.50. Reservations can be made by calling the church office, 524-3048, or e-mailing reservations@churchstreetumc.org no later than Monday, April 22. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Singles Ministry Retreat Coming Up This Weekend

It’s not too late to sign up for the Singles Ministry retreat at Sterchi Lodge coming up on April 19-21. The cost for the weekend is $50 for two nights, including three meals on Saturday and two meals on Sunday. The group will meet Friday at the church at 6:30 p.m. and drive to Newport for dinner and then continue to the Lodge. Please make checks payable to Church Street UMC, memo Sterchi Lodge. Paid Registration is due on Wednesday, April 17. For information, contact coordinator John Waddell at J7Waddell@aol.com or at 865-405-8538. You can also find registration information by clicking here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sermon: April 14, 2013 - Changing Direction

Acts 9:1-21 Conversion and restoration of Saul/Paul
Rev. Andy Ferguson

            Before we turn to Saul and his conversion, I want to call your attention to another great moment when God worked a change in someone’s life. In his Journal entry for May 24, 1738, a young Church of England preacher named John Wesley wrote in his Journal:

            In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death (1).

I share this story as evidence that change can come in our lives in many forms. I also share it as a reminder that the change Saul experienced on the Road to Damascus is not reserved for Biblical heroes of long ago; others have also had life changing experiences. Indeed, any of us might have a life-changing experience with God.
I. Saul’s purpose in life was to stop any changes offered by this Way of Christ. Luke describes Saul as “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9.1). At the beginning of Acts 8, Luke reported that Saul stood near when Stephen was stoned to death. The ominous words that end the passage report: “And Saul approved of their killing him” (Acts 8.1). The impression is clearly given that Saul is opposed to any change that this Way of Christ might bring. He will defend the old faith even if these followers of Christ must die.
            [TEXT] Saul goes to the High Priest to ask for “letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9.2). There is no further explanation about his motives or his emotional state. It is enough that he was the chosen enemy of the Way of Christ, opposed to any change.
            Now, the famous story of his encounter with Christ:
3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
            5 He asked, "Who are you, Lord?"
            The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Paul runs into the reality that the Lord whom he protects suddenly reveals himself as the Lord Jesus. Saul was not only wrong about their religion; he was wrong about his religion. What he discovers is that attacking Jesus’ followers is the same as attacking Jesus himself. Saul the persecutor discovers that he has been persecuting his own Lord. He has been dead wrong all along.
            [APPLIC:] One lesson we have to learn from Saul’s experience on the Damascus Road is that we must be very careful when we set out to defend our God against challengers. It may be that God knows these challengers as God’s very own. We are not good at choosing God’s enemies.
+      Jonah knew God to be a forgiving God; it may be that God stands ready to forgive the present-day Ninevites we would destroy for their sins.
+      The crowd knew Zacchaeus to be a scoundrel and a traitor; what they did not know, although Jesus did, was his readiness to repent and return to faith and to his community.
God has some very big doorways. People with whom we would not be caught dead might be people that God is ready to welcome home to faith and grace.
            [APPLIC:] A second lesson we have to learn from Saul’s experience is caution when we believe that our indignation is endorsed or even demanded by God. In this highly polarized time in which we live, we constantly reach beyond healthy debate to impose punitive action.
+      The extremist willingly kills the innocent to make a political point – thus obscuring a valid principle with cruelty and bloodshed. We have seen such extremism among the Taliban in Afghanistan and allegedly among the Arian Brotherhood in our own nation.
+      Our political process has become so toxic that the two parties in congress could not be satisfied to compromise on any matter brought for vote. Thus, compromise for the good of the nation has become unthinkable, and the innocent who get hurt along the way are dismissed as a matter of collateral damage.
We can assume that Paul stood up to debate his faith principles before his conversion as he did after it. By moving beyond religious teaching and debate into bounty hunting and murder, he abandoned the character of the God he would defend. So might we do the same when we go beyond valuable principles into heavy-handed enforcement and punishment.
            Well, Christ meets him on the Road to Damascus and strikes him down. Blind, confused, and stunned, he hears the voice of Christ stopping him in his tracks. Saul, the enforcer, is suddenly helpless. He cannot speak, he cannot walk without being led. He cannot know who to depend on. His companions lead him to Damascus. Saul is left to figure out what has happened.

II. In Damascus, the Spirit of Christ finds a follower named Ananias. The Lord calls Ananias with the instruction to go to Saul: "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9.15).
            You know that Ananias was afraid to go. Saul had a well-earned reputation. People do not change overnight. It could be a trap! Going to Saul was not the most logical step for Ananias. But, the Spirit is not interested in much of this. The command to go is repeated. That is all, and that is enough.
            [APPLIC:] The message of this early part of Acts is that the events by which the young church takes root are driven by the Holy Spirit. These events are not the considered decisions of good leaders; they are the movement of the Spirit of Christ. Across the years, I have found myself wistful at times for such openhearted dependence on the Spirit of Christ.
            1. Wistful and yet resistant to such spirit thinking:
+      Too often we have seen such charismatic leadership leading to poor decisions.
+      Too often we have seen such charismatic leadership leading to demagoguery and claims of God’s blessing of heavy-handed decisions. After all, if God and I have decided on some course of action, who are you to resist?
+      Too often we have seen such charismatic leadership failing to examine its motives and methods.
Thus, we are more comfortable with human decisions and human institutions. We put them in office, we can take them out of office. Or, as exasperated mothers have been known to say to their smart-aleck offspring, “I brought you into this world; I can take you out of it, too.” We are cautious because we have seen too many charismatic leaders abuse the trust we placed in them.
            2. On the other hand, we might not be wistful for the leading of the Spirit, because we have lost the conviction that the Spirit is part of our reality. We simply have given up the capacity to look for the Spirit. Thus, we do not see the Spirit among us.
            Consider the possibility that we are blind to the reality of God among us. The proclamation of Easter is that Christ is alive and goes before us. We have many sources of information and guidance. Allow this lively Holy Spirit to speak to us in our decision-making. Allow this Holy Spirit to stop us in our tracks when necessary. Allow this Holy Spirit to guide our pathways.
            [APPLIC:] The good news in this story of Ananias’ ministry to Saul is that he went at the Spirit’s command. Thus, Ananias sets the example for the trusting follower of Christ who goes when his only assurance is the voice of the one who sends him. Like us, Ananias is not one of the big names among the disciples of Christ. He is not a Simon Peter, John, Andrew or Paul. He is Ananias, who served here and falls out of the Biblical record. Like us, he did not become a great hero of the faith. And like us, he could serve and would serve when he was called.
            [APPLIC:] With Ananias’ help, Saul is transformed from an enemy into a brother in Christ. This has always been one of the continuing miracles of the Christian faith. Enemies become friends; those with well-founded grudges find the freedom to lay them down. The unstated result of the Way of Christ is that peoples across all sorts of national and ethnic boundaries come together in Christ: Gentiles and Jews, Romans and Israelites, persecutors and the persecuted. Today, we live in the hope that this unity in Christ will again work its miracle on our divided world. As the old song says,
            “We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord.
            And we pray that all unity may one day be restored” (2).

[ILLUS: The Incredible Hulk]
            In the movie, The Incredible Hulk, Dr. Bruce Banner falls into a program to create a super-soldier by exposing him to gamma rays. Most of the time, he is mild-mannered Bruce Banner. But, when he encounters injustice, his indignation is stirred up and he is transformed in the Incredible Hulk – this huge, raging crime-fighting machine. Oddly, the Hulk cannot do anything special when he looks like Bruce Banner. But, when rage transforms him into the Incredible Hulk – all green and covered with muscles, there is no limit to his powers.
            So it is with Christians. We look and behave like ordinary citizens – nothing special. But, baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, our true nature is revealed, and we can move mountains.

IV. Finally, something happened as a result of this encounter with the Spirit; Saul got busy in this newfound conviction.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." 21 All who heard him were amazed (Acts 9.19-21).

Thus, the conversion of Saul was complete. He went from being the persecutor of the church to being the proclaimer of Christ. All who heard him were amazed.
            All this is just to say that, when we are converted to Christ, fruit is expected. Confessing Christ is an important step. Still, it is a step that is followed and confirmed by the fruit of our ministry. The Church of the Living Christ is a Church on a mission. Following Christ, we are sent. Following Christ, we have work to do.
            In the commitment we make when we confirm our faith, we respond to the question:
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

This is our question; we make this commitment on the way to claiming our own faith in Christ. It is for us our Saul-moment. Stopped by Christ on the way to our Damascus, are we willing to accept the new way of Christ? Are we willing to accept the Spirit’s leading and power and strength to do all we are called to do – in his name?

1. Wesley, John, Journal, May 24, 1738
2. “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love.”