Thursday, April 17, 2014

"...and the darkness did not overcome it!" - Easter Sunday, April 20th

"Light shining in the darkness and darkness not being able to overcome it" (John 1:5)  Another way to say it is that the darkness that surrounded Jesus and that appeared to triumph over him on cross of Calvary was in the end, itself, overwhelmed by the light of Christ.  This is one of many metaphors used in the Gospel of John to tell the story of the love of God having the last word in the conversation about what will ultimately define creation: life or death.  And life wins!

That's the message of Easter Sunday: "Life wins!"  And it's a message we're eager to share through our worship services of Holy Week, culminating on Easter Sunday morning.  From the very beginning, as we enter in unsettling quiet and darkness, the services are designed to convey the whole theme of darkness being overwhelmed by light.  From striking visuals to stirring music to powerful instrumental accompaniment and a strong message, we seek to recreate the experience of that first Easter morning and the gradual increasing understanding of the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It'll be like the dark of night giving way to the first light of dawn and then becoming as bright as the noonday sun as we experience Easter Sunday worship, whether you come to the 6 AM Easter Jazz Sunrise service or to any of the later three traditional services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 AM.  If you come to either of the later two services, please bring a flower on the stem to be part of the "flowering of the cross" ceremony in those services.

In addition to Easter morning services, we have two Holy Week services - on Maundy Thursday, April 17th,  led by our Youth and Good Friday, April 18th, led by our Choir, both beginning at 7:00 PM.  We also have a full-size prayer Labyrinth set up in our Fellowship Hall for you to walk and meditate and pray in the early mystic tradition.

For a listing of our Holy Week worship services, click here: http://www.fcfumc.net/resources/worship-themes

Please plan to join us for our Holy Week and Easter worship events - we'd love to see you through the week!

Resurrection Blessings,

Steve
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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Passover

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday!  Holy Week is right around the corner.

Rev. David Dalke will be leading worship and preaching at the traditional services this weekend, incorporating our children and our Joyful Noise Children's Choir in worship.  David's sermon title is "What About Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday?"  It will surely be a wonderful celebration and beginning to our Holy Week observances of the last week of Jesus' life on earth.

Speaking of Holy Week, we are offering several opportunities to help all in the community experience the power of the story of Jesus' last days, not just in remembrance but in current experience.  Please follow this link to our website to see the schedule: http://www.fcfumc.net/resources/worship-themes

We should also note that this year, our Holy Week corresponds to our Jewish friends' and neighbors' observance and celebration of Passover, which begins at sundown on Monday, April 14th, and continues with the Feast of Unleavened Bread until the evening of Tuesday, April 22nd.  Tov Pesach, Chaverim!  We at Ft. Collins First United Methodist Church wish you a rich and meaningful celebration of this most sacred of your holidays.

The blessings of the Lord be with you all in the coming week.

Steve
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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lent 5: Seeing Beyond the Grave

The last of the sermons in this Lenten series, Seeing Again for the First Time, takes place tomorrow and is entitled, "Seeing Beyond the Grave".  The trick to this sermon is not "to get the cart before the horse" and focus us on resurrection two weeks ahead of that celebration on Easter Sunday!

Having just finished the sermon for tomorrow (Hey, at least it's before supper time on Saturday and not 10 PM!), I think you'll find that I've not done that.  The main idea behind the sermon is to invite us to see in our places of darkness - our grave site places, or our "valleys of dry bones", as Ezekiel saw them - a kind of sacredness while we await the word of the Lord, "Lazarus, come out!"  As we explore tomorrow, "Lazarus" can be any of a number of beautiful persons or circumstances or qualities in your life that the grave has claimed.  And the passage invites us to experience, along with Martha and Mary, Jesus' ability to lend us vision beyond that grave.

From the sermon we go into a celebration of Holy Communion through a beautiful hymn entitled "Holy Darkness" (#3141 in our Worship & Song hymnal).  The service utilizes a lot of multi-media - the Scripture "reading" isn't even a reading, it's a video clip of the passage from John 11:1-45 - and is intended to engage head and heart from a couple of different angles.

I hope to see you at worship tomorrow - I am excited to be there!

Blessings in the name of the Light that shines in our darkness,

Steve
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Lent 3: The Woman at the Well in Samaria

This Sunday, we'll be taking a look at the passage from John's Gospel wherein the story of the woman at the well in Samaria is told, selected verses from John 4:1-43.  Because of the length of the pericope and the importance of hearing the bulk of it, we'll be doing the reading in a "Readers Theater" format.  I'm looking forward to sharing that experience with several different readers at our traditional services and with the congregation.

The sermon is entitled "How Could He See That?!", which I confess is a pretty lame sermon title.  But I wasn't sure what else to do with it at the time - one of the hazards of planning several weeks ahead!  I have just finished the sermon and would have called it "When Nic Met Sammy", owing to the close juxtaposition of the stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, "Sammy", in John's Gospel.

I found it fascinating to explore the linkage between these two characters and how they were so very different.

But I think what I'm most excited about in the sermon is sharing with everyone a quote that came from one of my UMC colleagues who serves the Community Church in Lyons (Colorado), a community hit particularly hard by "the Great Flood" of September of last year (2013).  She had reason to respond to folks who made a distinction between pastors and "real people" by saying, "If more pastors were real people, maybe more real people would be interested in church!"  I was captivated by that statement and found myself jazzed about including it in this message - it's all about being real, with God and with one another.

See you Sunday!

Steve
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Thursday, March 13, 2014

LENT: Seeing Again for the First Time

The season of Lent is traditionally associated with self-examination, self-denial, and penitence.  But interestingly, the word “Lent” has origins that have to do with springtime and its associations with making it through the cold, dark winter into warmth, lengthening days, and new life coming forth afresh from what appears to be the lifeless remains of last summer.  

At our Ash Wednesday services last week (thank you Rev. Carol Fox, Martha Conant, and Rev. Rebecca McFee!), not only did we receive the traditional ashes, reminding us of our mortality and our dependence for our lives upon God and God's grace, but we were anointed with oil with the words, "Be healed", pointing us to the promise of new life at the end of the Lenten journey.  I am going to focus my spiritual energy along these lines this year.  For all the Ash Wednesday services I have been to and for all the Lenten seasons I have experienced, this slant was new to me – it was almost like I was seeing that old, familiar season of Lent for the first time.

With this in mind, I invite you to join us in the traditional worship services over the next several weeks as we experience how this special season can help us see our familiar faith with fresh eyes – almost like “seeing again for the first time”, which is our Lenten worship theme this year.

If you want to prepare ahead of time, read through the story of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind in the 9th chapter of the Gospel of John.  You’ll see why I entitled the sermon, “And I Thought NOT Seeing Could be Dangerous!”  And if you really want to prepare ahead of time, do some research on the Jewish feast of "Tabernacles" (or "Booths" or "Sukkot"). You will see fascinating connections between Jesus' ministry with the blind man and "water", the Pool of Siloam, and "light".

Also, let's remember to keep our Guatemala Mission Team in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers.  They leave early in the morning on Friday, March 14th.

See you Sunday,

Steve
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Friday, February 21, 2014

Feb. 23rd - WARM & Same-Sex Relationships

The issue of sexual morality and same-sex unions or marriages came up again as a matter of contention, in the religious sphere anyway, in mid-November of last year (2013) with the church trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer, formerly of the East Pennsylvania Annual Conference, for his active role in conducting the wedding ceremony for his gay son, Tim, and his partner in April of 2007.  On November 19, 2013, Rev. Schaefer was found guilty of violating two counts of Church law and given 30 days to submit a statement affirming The UM Book of Discipline in its entirety or lose his ordination credentials.  In good conscience, he could not abide by this order, and so his ordination credentials were taken away in mid-late December.  [Many good links to the full story can be found here: http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/special-coverage-trial-rev-frank-schaefer/]

Hitting the press at the same time was coverage of retired UM Bishop Melvin Talbert performing a similar ceremony on October 26, 2013 for a gay couple at Covenant Community UMC in Center Point, AL, part of the Birmingham metropolitan area.  Bishop Talbert received censure from many of his fellow bishops, and faces disciplinary action himself as a result of his actions.

Over the next couple of weeks, I heard from many in our congregation (Ft. Collins First United Methodist) who were terribly dismayed by what they came to learn of the official United Methodist stance on the subject of homosexuality, essentially its being "incompatible with Christian teaching" (from "The Social Principles" of The UM Book of Discipline).  To be accurate, that stance and how it is published claims much more uniformity-of-thought among us than is warranted, with significant percentages of UM persons holding opinions at odds with the official stance.

As a result of the deep hurt on one side of the issue and the fear of a church in danger of losing its identity and integrity on the other, the need to address this in worship felt compelling to me.  December didn't seem the appropriate time to speak to it, however, and so we've put it off until this coming Sunday, Feb. 23rd, as part of our series on "WARM'ing the Church".

Because I feel many are caught in the quandary between (1) traditional understandings of Biblical and related church teachings on this subject and (2) current ways of understanding gender and sexuality which challenge the traditional understandings, my approach to this is going to be one of illustrating a faithful way to sidestep traditional understandings by exploring the first documented "church council" in Acts 15 (verses 1-29).  If there is any instance in the Scriptures, however anachronistic, of our United Methodist "quadrilateral" approach to the exploration of tough theological issues, it is in this passage from Acts.  I will be asking us to wrestle with the question of what constitutes "sexual immorality" and "sexual morality".  Is it really a matter of biology and external sexual characteristics?  Or is it deeper and more sacred than that?

As part of our worship celebration this coming Sunday, we are honored to be hosting a part of Harmony: A Colorado Chorale, a choral group comprised of men and women whose mission as "the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgendered, and Straight voices of Harmony", is to "embrace and inspire an inclusive community through song" [http://www.harmonychorale.org/about_harmony.html].

In bringing this subject to worship, it is my hope not to drive wedges between us but to offer ways for us to engage one another in grace-filled, Christlike conversation where persons of all opinions, positions, and perspectives can be heard and honored, even if disagreed with.  For as our Discipline also states, we are all "persons of sacred worth".

Blessings, Everyone - see many of you on Sunday, I hope

Steve
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Monday, February 3, 2014

WARMth and Affirmation

Continuing to build on what I started this past Sunday, we'll be looking at what affirmation is about and how it contributes to the kind of WARM congregation we're talking about in worship this month.  If you were with us this past Sunday, you'll remember that we were talking about Welcome and how that is (1) Grounded in God's kind of agape love, (2) Something we offer to others, and (3) Something we also have to be open to receiving from others.

This Sunday, we'll be asking the question, "Does my validating the beliefs and ways of life of others take anything away from my own?"  The answer to that may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn't nearly so, especially when the beliefs and ways of life of others are out-of-synch with our own.  The Scriptural idea that forms the "launch point" for the sermon is Jesus' admonition of his disciples when they expressed concern about others doing ministry in the name and spirit of Jesus when they were not a part of the disciples "in crowd": "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:38-40).

Brian McLaren offers thoughtful Christians concerned about this a very helpful construct in his 2012 book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?  He talks about our goal being to build a "strong - benevolent" Christian faith in preference to both a "strong - hostile" one and a "weak - benign" one.  Affirming another whose beliefs and ways of life are different from our own need not be seen as a betrayal of what we believe in; it may be seen as the kind of "strong - benevolent" Christian faith Jesus may have had in mind when he admonished his disciples to leave the others alone.

Any thoughts you may have on this ahead of time could find their way into the sermon.  Please feel free to share them with me.

Come "WARM the church" with us on Sunday!

Steve
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