Pastor Joey Reflections

Thoughts from North Hollywood First United Methodist Church.

REFLECTIONS: October 26, 2014

If we look at Deuteronomy 34:1-12 through the window of legalism, it is a simple text.  Moses leads the people to Mount Pisgah overlooking the land of Canaan.  God reminds him this is the promised land, and tells him he may look, but not enter.  The death of Moses is foretold, his burial place kept secret, and a fitting eulogy is included.  It would be easy to end the story of Moses simply understanding that for reasons mostly apparent to God; perhaps the greatest leader of the people of Israel (Moses) was denied entrance to the “Land of Milk and Honey.”
What would seem to be a text of judgment is really a story of grace.  This implication of the burial and the secrecy involved is that God alone acted in making these arrangements.  Theologian, Fred Buechner, writes that Moses symbolized the truth that once God touches you, your troubles are just beginning, and yet Moses probably wouldn’t have changed any of his life.  Think of it, nobody knew God’s name before Moses asked.  If Moses had chosen to keep quiet, we might still be wondering what to call the Creator.  Moses had heard God in the burning bush, witnessed God in person (if only in passing and under clouds) and in the end God would take care of the last details of Moses having led His people.
The story here is about the future.  Because Moses heard and heeded God’s claim and call on his life, the people of Israel had a future and a great hope.  This is a story of grace.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: October 19, 2014

Sunday is Laity Sunday; a day set-aside in United Methodism to celebrate the ministry of lay persons.  The theme is “Partners In Ministry–Making Disciples of Jesus Christ.”  On this day we renew our partnership in the Gospel, remembering each of us has gifts for ministry which God calls us to use.  Laity Sunday serves to remind us that ministry is not solely left to pastors, and the gifts we bring in terms of prayers, presence, tithes, offerings and service have value far beyond individual imagination.
The gospel of Mark records a story known as the widow’s offering.  Speaking about Jesus the author writes, “And He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury.  Many rich people put in large sums.  And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny.  And He called his disciples to Him, and said to them.  ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.’”
The money she gave had little value as coins of the realm.  However, in spiritual terms they were priceless, for those two coins represented the sum of her worth.  Throughout his teachings, Jesus is quite clear, grace is free but it is not cheap.  The cost of discipleship is an investment of life.
To invest one’s life in the gospel is not simply to sign on the dotted line; these things I believe, and these are the rules to which I will adhere as a person of faith.  Active discipleship means investing in learning and then spending that learning through leadership.  We are called to learn the will and way of God.  The model we have in Jesus is effective and the love of Christ in our lives as a guide and guard is essential.  As believers, each of us is called to active ministry.  Jesus illustrates this in the gospels when He commissions the disciples, then says no longer am I your Master but we are friends.
By calling his followers friends, Jesus set the pattern for discipleship; which moves from belief, to instruction, to sending forth.  For if we claim the gift of God’s love, and seek to understand that gift…how can we not be moved to share it?  Each in our own way!  Each and every day!  Here and there and yet there again!  AMEN!
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: October 5, 2014

Mark 10:2-16 contains two questions, one explicit, one implicit.  Verses 2-12 have the Pharisees (in an effort to trick Jesus) asking pointedly about the lawfulness of divorce.  In verses 13-16 the implied question is, do children belong in the worship setting?
Jesus’ response to the explicit question of whether divorce is lawful seems harsh. He answers with a question. What did Moses say?  Those questioning Jesus knew the laws of Moses permitted divorce (for men only) and their intent was to trap Jesus into violating Mosaic Law.  What Jesus did was raise the ante.  In reminding his detractors that the binding nature of the love of God supersedes the law of Moses, he rendered their question moot.
It is unfortunate that in modern times rigid religious thinking uses this text to condemn divorce under any circumstances.  The difficulty with this thinking is twofold.  First, it forgets that under Mosaic Law polygamy was practiced until the year one thousand.  Secondly, it renders Jesus dead of thought and irrelevant to the concerns of modern humanity.
To the implied question of a child’s appropriate place during worship, Jesus was direct.  Children belong in God’s house.  The gifts they are, and the trust in which they are held in the faith community are significant.  He suggests we might learn from their winsomeness how to be more spiritual and even how to enter the realm of God.  The message throughout this text is one woven into the way Jesus lived.  It is one which states relationships are important, especially the relationship between creator and creature.  We each find our center and become most effective in terms of faith as we treat others as children of the Holy.
If the childlike behavior of our young ones is something worth copying, then perhaps the childish behavior of their adult counterparts is worth modifying if not changing altogether.  If, however, you disagree I do believe I shall pout.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: September 28, 2014

The book of Exodus is about covenant.  The promise God made to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis is realized in the story of God’s abiding presence and patience with the people of Israel.  After years of slavery in Egypt they are freed from this cruel fate in chapter thirteen and begin their trek to the promised land only to find themselves lost and hungry.  Exodus sixteen begins with the words, “The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  The Israelites said to them, if only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the  land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread;  for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”   Anyone who has traveled at distance can attest that the journey always is more pleasant after a meal.
In this first crisis of the journey, the initial reaction to their predicament is fear and finger pointing.  One Biblical commentary says of this passage, “The murmuring wanderers preferred the seasoned food of the fleshpots of Egypt to the precarious freedom of the wilderness.”  God tells Moses and Aaron that provision will be made.  In the evening they will have flesh and in the morning they will have bread; gifts made possible by God.  Moses and Aaron are also instructed to remind the people their complaints are directed toward God, not at them (Moses and Aaron).  Anyone who has ever tried to lead can certainly relate to the circumstances Moses and Aaron met when difficulty arose.  Social scientists call the behavior of the Israelites either a form of mob mentality or ‘group-think.’  Something difficult or disturbing occurs; someone panics and incites other to do so as well.
If you recall the old nursery story of Chicken Little you fully understand this passage.  Chicken Little is walking down the street and is struck on the head by a leaf or small branch.  Alarmed, Chicken Little runs to tell everybody that ‘The Sky is Falling.’  The Israelites are a living enactment of Chicken Little Theology.  These good people were using their time, energy, and effort for recreational griping rather than trusting in the promise of God.  However, if we are honest we recognize ourselves in these words.  The truth is, at times, we allow fear to be our daily bread rather than knowing that hope will sustain us.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: September 14, 2014 

pastorjoeyreflections:

Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, opens his book, DAVID’S TRUTH, with the following. “The dedication of the book is to my brother, Edward D. Brueggemann. It is a celebration of his restless faith, his dangerous candor, and his…

REFLECTIONS: September 7, 2014

In the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the people of Rome, the Apostle Paul writes about what social scientists call obligations and personal awareness. Paul is trying to underscore the importance of spiritual character and a faith commitment tied to some sense of urgency.
Beginning with verse eight he writes about the obligation of faith.  “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”  He then cities in an order different than found in Exodus the  Decalogue, or ten commandments as it has come to be known.  He writes, These “and any other commandment, are summed up in this word.  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”  It is important for us to remember that before his conversion to the way of Jesus, Paul was a very zealous person of faith who followed the law of faith closely.  Yet, here he takes the tact that love overrides the constraints of law.  He is repeating what Mark records in chapter twelve of his gospel.  In verse twenty-eight, a scribe comes to Jesus asking which is the most important law?  Jesus quoting Deuteronomy 6 says, “The first is love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these.”  In sociological terms, Jesus is saying that our obligation to God and others begins and ends in our ability to be intentionally loving.
The second part of the passage is what scholars call an eschatological message.  This is meant to remind the readers of Jesus’ return and the need for urgency in how they live.  This translates to us in the notion that our spiritual character counts for something.  I’m not sure Paul meant for believers to stand around waiting for God to come.  After all God is already here.  Rather, it seems he was reminding people of faith that we need to be aware that time is finite in human terms.  Growing up, my mother had all these sayings, most of them didn’t make a lick of sense when I was young.  As I have matured, some come back with such clarity it stuns me.  One of her favorites was, “We are all dying from the day we are born, so it is not a matter of if, but a matter of when.  How much better then to be grateful for the life God has given us and focus on how we live then worrying about dying.”  How’s that for understanding obligations and personal awareness?
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: September 14, 2014

Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, opens his book, DAVID’S TRUTH, with the following.  “The dedication of the book is to my brother, Edward D. Brueggemann.  It is a celebration of his restless faith, his dangerous candor, and his caring energy.  The book is for him and all those who dare imagine truth as that which also summons us to newness.  Our society currently is preoccupied with flattening and securing old truths of putting the epistemological wagons in a circle.  David stands as a summons to resist all of that for the ways of oddness where truth meets us new.  My brother is in that company.”
Through the powerful and lovely things he says about his brother, and in the few words Dr.Brueggemann states on the nature of truth and the future of the faith community; he implies real Church work is tied to new revelation, not old understanding.  One word does need amplification.  Epistemology is the study or theory of what is important and whether we really know what we think we do.  When Dr. Brueggemann says we have circle our wagons and flattened old truths, he is saying we are limiting our ability to know and experience God through new information and experience.
Brueggemann writes of restless faith and dangerous candor.  He applies those qualities to David as Shepherd and King, to his brother Edward, and in the close of the text to Jesus.  Brueggemann seeks not reckless abandon but a restless will.  This is not always an easy thing to do.  In 1980 as a student intern, I chaired a committee investigating the purchase of a computer for the Church.  I knew very little about the technology, but the committee had very capable people on it.  My task was to communicate the committee findings in lay terms to the congregation, and field concerns from the congregation.  To my surprise a very gifted and faithful member voiced the strongest objection.  I was told in no uncertain terms that the computer was “of the devil.”  That the Church would, “use the information improperly, to pry into the lives of members.”  The benefits of the computer were brushed aside with the reminder that the Church had survived for two thousand years without a computer.  The Church did eventually get a computer, but not then.
If we are to survive, we are called to a restless not rusted faith.  To old truths told in new and ever creative ways.  May God be with us on our journey.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: August 24, 2014

It has been said that the general difficulty with religion is not theology or doctrine or even belief in God, but the difficulty is found in people and especially with their interpretation.  A number of years ago, I remember watching a famous person being interviewed about his values.  When asked about faith he said, “I am religious, but I hope not in a way that shows.” Perhaps what he was afraid of was what humorist, Garrison Keillor, describes in one of his stories.  “The problem with protestant ministers is that they come across just a bit too earnest like a used car salesperson, wearing too much corduroy and Hush Puppies.”
In chapter fourteen of the gospel of Matthew, two of Jesus’ most powerful miracles are recorded.  The feeding of the five thousand in verses 13-21, and walking on water in verses 22-36.  This work is followed by what some scholars term the “tradition of the elders.” in chapter fifteen verses 10-20, & 21-28.  These passages find Jesus encountering the fierce legalism of the Pharisees with regard to food intake, the apparent inability of the disciples to comprehend what he is teaching, and his own understanding of what he is called by God to do with regard to those outside of the fold of Israel.
In conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus points out that what a person takes in by mouth for food ultimately turns to waste, whereas, what proceeds from one’s mouth can have a potential, lasting harmful affect because it has come from a heart susceptible to all manner of evils.  Therefore, religious dietary laws must be held in context with the internal bearing of the believer to do the will of God.  Next, the disciples admit they do not understand what he is talking about.  So he explains in greater detail the dangers of spiritual blindness, and especially of the spiritually blind leading others.  Finally, the disciples complain to him that a Canaanite woman is following asking for Jesus to heal her daughter.  Since she is an outcast, not a part of the House of Israel, they ask that Jesus send her away.  Jesus speaks with her saying that he was sent to minster to the lost of Israel.  However, her faith touches him and he tells her that her daughter is healed.
What Jesus models is transparent faith.  A religious pattern which shows that we follow God not our own biases.  His willingness to change his mind with regard to healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter bears witness to this.  The late philosopher, G. K. Chesterton, said with regard to the value of religious behavior, “For religion all persons are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King,.”  In the end, religiosity must take a back seat to being faithful.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS: August 24, 2014

It has been said that the general difficulty with religion is not theology or doctrine or even belief in God, but the difficulty is found in people and especially with their interpretation.  A number of years ago, I remember watching a famous person being interviewed about his values.  When asked about faith he said, “I am religious, but I hope not in a way that shows.” Perhaps what he was afraid of was what humorist, Garrison Keillor, describes in one of his stories.  “The problem with protestant ministers is that they come across just a bit too earnest like a used car salesperson, wearing too much corduroy and Hush Puppies.”
In chapter fourteen of the gospel of Matthew, two of Jesus’ most powerful miracles are recorded.  The feeding of the five thousand in verses 13-21, and walking on water in verses 22-36.  This work is followed by what some scholars term the “tradition of the elders.” in chapter fifteen verses 10-20, & 21-28.  These passages find Jesus encountering the fierce legalism of the Pharisees with regard to food intake, the apparent inability of the disciples to comprehend what he is teaching, and his own understanding of what he is called by God to do with regard to those outside of the fold of Israel.
In conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus points out that what a person takes in by mouth for food ultimately turns to waste, whereas, what proceeds from one’s mouth can have a potential, lasting harmful affect because it has come from a heart susceptible to all manner of evils.  Therefore, religious dietary laws must be held in context with the internal bearing of the believer to do the will of God.  Next, the disciples admit they do not understand what he is talking about.  So he explains in greater detail the dangers of spiritual blindness, and especially of the spiritually blind leading others.  Finally, the disciples complain to him that a Canaanite woman is following asking for Jesus to heal her daughter.  Since she is an outcast, not a part of the House of Israel, they ask that Jesus send her away.  Jesus speaks with her saying that he was sent to minster to the lost of Israel.  However, her faith touches him and he tells her that her daughter is healed.
What Jesus models is transparent faith.  A religious pattern which shows that we follow God not our own biases.  His willingness to change his mind with regard to healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter bears witness to this.  The late philosopher, G. K. Chesterton, said with regard to the value of religious behavior, “For religion all persons are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King,.”  In the end, religiosity must take a back seat to being faithful.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald

REFLECTIONS:August 17, 2014

Do you read advice columns?  They illustrate perfectly how relatives and religious people say some wonderful and awful things.  In one column, a while back, a person wrote to say that his understanding of faith called for him to ‘spiritually divorce’ himself from anyone whose views were not in tune with his.  The advice columnist response was this thinking did not fit with the general understanding that theology is about love rather than hate.  So the concept of staying apart from those who disagree with you would not be wise.  In a recent column “Ask Annie” was queried on how to stop a relative from being a bully?  Citing an earlier bit of advice where Annie had said simply leave when relatives become insulting and overbearing (the advice seeker) said this did not seem fair, and wanted to know how to change the behavior of said relative?  Annie responded by saying leaving is always the first best option because while we cannot change the way others treat us, we can remove ourselves from toxic circumstances.  
I remember hearing a lively and engaging sermon some years ago.  The title was “You Can’t Box God, Your Arms Are Too Short.”  The premise was similar to most of the writings of Paul.  Who are we to argue with the workings and wonder of God?  Yet we humans have been doing just that for millennia.  Fighting with God over who is elect and who is damned?  Creating our own rules with regard to who is accepted and who must be shunned in the name of faith?  Even to the point of killing people simply because their views are different. It happens yet today.  In Romans 11 Paul is responding to serious questions.  The first is why and how Gentiles can be part of the realm of God?  The second is, if this is so, what becomes of Israel with regard to being the elect, or chosen of God?
In his wonderful rhetorical idiom the Apostle asks and answers the questions.  Did God reject Israel?  Of course not, and then to underscore this point, “I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” As to how gentiles are part of the ‘Party’ Paul writes in verse thirty-two “God has imprisoned all in disobedience in order to show mercy to all.”  This, of course, ended all dissent, debate, and demeaning treatment in all religious arenas.  Remember our brother writes before the Church split East and West, denominations, the crusades and all the fun religious bigotry of the twentieth century.  His point then and now still holds.  It is God who invites and invests in humanity.  In our dissent and undignified beliefs and behavior we often miss God’s graciousness.
Dr. Joey K. McDonald
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