We have just celebrated Valentine’s Day, a day first celebrated in the 17th century to emulate the ways of St. Valentine; the patron saint of love. On this day we send notes of love and affection to loved ones, and notes of affirmation and respect to friends. Much has been written about the nature and meaning of love. From “How do I love thee…” to “Love is lovelier…” to “Love is a many splendored thing;” words have been used to express the innermost feelings from one soul to another.
The newspaper recently ran a story about a small child being rescued from drowning. A man found the youngster floating in the apartment complex pool, pulled the child out and shouted for help. Two men in nearby apartments came and together they revived the child. When the paramedics arrived, they offered praise for the efforts of the three men in rescuing the child. The two, who performed resuscitation, shared that between them they remembered CPR instructions. One breathing for the child, the other stimulating the heart to pump. In other words, they helped each other – helping the child to live. They said they did it because they felt they were supposed to.
In 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 Paul writes, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” The tension is between wisdom and power. Some want religion and the experience of faith to be wise beyond measure, irrefutable, authoritative. Others want a life of faith filled with power and experience of the Holy. Paul in fact infers that both are elements of the experience he knows in Christ, but to the groups in question, Paul’s witness presents roadblocks to the faith experience.
Paul is not picking on the Jewish community, remember he is a Jew as is Jesus. He is not making fun of the Greeks or Gentiles either, for they both were of prime interest to him in terms of mission and conversion. Paul’s interest was expressing the Good News of Christ, and here he pointedly states the risks found in sharing the Good News.
Those same risks exist today. We live in a highly technological age. Information comes to us quickly and powerfully from our computers, radios, and televisions. While these may be used as tools for ministry, the most effective expressions of faith are still the written and spoken word. To those who live with absolutes, no expression is effective, and we (or rather our faith) remains foolish or a stumbling block.
Do we then stop sharing the Good News of Jesus? Of course not! We are called by the love of Christ to witness. To share what we have experienced. To tell what we know to be true of God’s love. To do so in worship, with song, and prayer, and in the very way we live. To do so, not because all will believe, but that all may believe.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
Psalm 27 begins as a song of trust and closes as a lament for protection. The opening verses proclaim the strength God can provide one in the face of adversity. The Psalm opens with, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” vs. 1-a. Here and for the next several verses, the author offers praise for the power which God alone can give to those who suffer affliction at the hands of others. In the middle, the author speaks with a plaintive voice, “Turn not thy servant away in anger, thou who hast been my help. Cast me not off, forsake me not, O God of my salvation!” vs. 9. However, the Psalm closes on a powerful note with these words, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;” vs. 14.
The Psalms were set to music and used in corporate worship, bu they were used as daily devotionals also. Whether committed to memory or read, The Psalms served to remind believers that the source of life, love and hope was the One and Sovereign God. To a people in exile. To those oppressed and afflicted. To those in torment, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual; these words and others like them brought comfort and peace. Imagine being held captive, but tempering the terror with the words, “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent, he will set me high upon a rock.” vs 5.
The Psalmist literally writes of hiding under the shelter of the Holy, or of being covered by God as if by a tent. As modern believers, we hide ourselves but all too often in ways that are not helpful to our spiritual well being. We hide in things, frantic activity or worse, in substances which keep us from life and love itself. Sometimes the cover we find is the numbing calm of an emotional cave.
The Psalmist knew, and expressed beautifully what we too often forget. That is namely, to find God is also to be found in God. To know the presence of the Holy regardless of time or circumstance. Something like, even though I might experience a deep valley of despair; God is here, God is real, God will comfort and keep me strong. Perhaps I could write my own Psalm. Perhaps each of us could. In fact we do each and every time we lift our voices in song and our hearts in prayer, acknowledging the sheltering grace of God.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
John 1:29-42 shares two essential elements of the Christian faith. The first is the acknowledgment by John that someone greater than he exists. The second is the recorded narrative of the first disciples as they respond to Jesus.
Earlier in the chapter we are told people wondered why John was baptizing if he wasn’t the Messiah or Elijah, the prophet? John possessed a clear sense of whom he was and what he was called to do by God. He was to announce the realm of God and to offer a baptism of repentance in God’s name using water as a symbol of the power of God to recreate spiritually. John knew just as clearly whom he was not and the text records that as well. In verses 29-34 John shares the words God has given him as to whom Jesus is and what that means for believers.
In verses 35-42 we are told that as John shares who Jesus is, his disciples leave and follow Jesus. Because he knew who he was and more importantly because he knew who Jesus was, John could preach and teach with confidence.
The central point of this text is that the purpose of our lives is to serve God and know Jesus. In so doing, we will have meaning and strength as people of faith. Of course, throughout Church history we have complicated this. With complex theology, structured doctrine, denominational order and personal hermeneutics we have obscured the strength and majesty of the Biblical message.
Bill and Gloria Gaither, in a song titled Loving God, Loving Each Other, recapture some of this simple beauty. “We tend to make it harder, build steeples out of stone; Fill books with explanations of the way. But if we stop and listen and break a little bread, we could hear the Master say, It’s loving God, loving each other, making music with my friends; loving God, loving each other, and the story never ends.”
Having experienced the true way, John was able to step aside and show others a new way. John knew the difference between being forgiven, preaching forgiveness and the One whose very name is forgiveness. His is a story worth knowing and telling.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
A town hall forum and small group discussions to place to debate same gender unions and the United Methodist Book of Discipline. More info can be found in this article. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/22/frank-schaefer-california-_n_4489228.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false
Opinions varied but this has been a debate in our district since 1982. More info can be found in this article. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/22/frank-schaefer-california-_n_4489228.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false
On Sunday, January 12, 2014 Pastor Joey McDonald and congregation members went to a town hall meeting hosted by the Bishop Carcano to discuss civil rights and the modern Methodist, along with the status of defrocked former pastor, Frank Schafer. More info can be found in this article. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/22/frank-schaefer-california-_n_4489228.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false
According to Dr. Marion Soards of The Presbyterian Theological Seminary of Kentucky, Matthew 3:13-17 completes the previous twelve verses of the chapter. The professor states that the work and ministry of John the Baptist is completed in these brief four verses which deal with the Baptism of Jesus and end the chapter. John you will remember is out in the desert preaching a faith of repentance. Repentance is a spiritual u-turn, where once we recognize we are lost, the spirit leads us in our return to God.
In this passage we find John preaching and Baptizing in the Jordan River. As Jesus approaches we can assume they greet each other. After all they were cousins. The more profound issue is telling John that He has come to be Baptized by him. After some protest John agrees. As Jesus rose from the water the Spirit descended on Him and a voice from heaven spoke saying, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The description of this event is sometimes referred to as a theophany which is visible manifestation of a deity. Another term often used is Epiphany which refers to spiritual enlightenment. Here both terms would be appropriate. The first twelve verses of Matthew 3 quote Isaiah, Zechariah, and Malachi along with II Kings. The work of John most literally the one of his being “a voice crying in the wilderness,” was fore told in these texts. Here when John protests against Jesus’ request is told, that is part of how the work and word of God is to be proclaimed.
The greater message for us as modern believers is twofold. First that Jesus honored and respected the ministry of others. Here he shows his respect for the ministry of John. In chapter ten of Matthew, Jesus demonstrates his confidence in the disciples when he commissions them for ministry. Then in chapter twenty-six a women led by the spirit anoints his head with expensive oil. When his followers complain of it as wasteful, Jesus calls it a beautiful act. Finally the passage tells us that as spiritual beings, we are called to be attuned to the work of the Holy Spirit; as a source of strength, as a guide, and especially as one who will nudge us in the work and way of our ministry.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald