From The Pastor’s Heart

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Audio podcasts of Pastor David’s weekly sermon may be found at sermons.net.

October 2018

“The radical practice of gratitude…”

What might curb the meanness, the political crudeness, the pervasive angst of our American society? Diana Butler Bass suggests practicing gratitude.

From Harper Collins… “In her latest book Gratitude: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, Bass explores why gratitude is missing as a modern spiritual practice, offers practical suggestions for reclaiming it, and illuminates how the shared practice of gratitude can lead to greater connection with God, our world, and our own souls. More and more people are finding God beyond the walls of traditional religious institutions, but these seekers often miss the church community itself, including its shared spiritual practices such as gratitude.

While four out of five Americans have told pollsters they feel gratitude in their daily lives, Bass finds that claim to be at odds with the discontent that permeates modern society. There is a gap, she argues, between our desire to be grateful and our ability to behave gratefully—a divide that influences our understanding of morality, worship, and institutional religion itself. In Grateful, Bass challenges readers to think about the impact gratitude has in our spiritual lives, and encourages them to make gratitude a “difficult and much-needed spiritual practice for our personal lives and to make a better world.”

Do you need such a radical practice that as Bass suggests “can take down the oppressive structure of politics and replace it with a table – as always Jesus intended it?” In the Christian tradition, the table is place of meeting, eating and fellowship with God in Jesus Christ and with one another. It is a place of grace, celebration, forgiveness, freedom and welcome. It is a blessed place and radical even in its meaning and intent. I think that is why the table for communion figures so prominently in our sanctuary and chapel. When we practice communion we practice a great thanksgiving. Are there other practices of gratitude?

I’ll be using Bass’ book for personal growth and ministering within the church (worship, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and more) through our stewardship season “The Blessings of Gratitude” which begins October 28. Are there habits and practices of gratitude that you can share with me? I would be immensely grateful to learn from you and to share them together – within the institution and community known as church.

How might our habits and intentional practices of giving thanks, expressing appreciation, praising God, supporting goodness in the context of our families, households, network of friends, workplaces, schools and church help to transform our country and world? Let’s begin with saying “Thank you” and see what God can do with our hearts.

See you in church!

Pastor David

 


September 2018

By North American, Midwestern standards, I come from a relatively large family: two parents and six kids. I’m second oldest of five boys and one girl. My older brother Russ, younger brother Travis and youngest brother Eric and sister Anna are blessed parts of my life today. My brother John died a few days after being born into very difficult circumstances. In high school, my parents divorced and my family structure changed to include two households. (Photo: Aslesen Family, Christmas 1981)

Currently, three of my siblings are married, one is single, one has been married twice, one lives in a blended family (two his + two hers + one theirs), two siblings have been married to each one’s spouse for twenty + years with one child and three children within their respective households. I am single and live alone as does one of my siblings. One parent has been remarried for twenty-five years and has four stepchildren and one parent is single but with grandmother responsibilities. Different structures of family with a common denominator = love.

Family. What is your configuration? How do you honor the uniqueness of your family, its history, structure, members, diversity, blessedness, evolution, shared love? In September 2018, First United Methodist Church’s worship and Faith Formation program (which includes Sunday school) will focus on the theme “All in God’s Family – We are Families!” I can’t wait for this month of services celebrating the wondrous nature of God’s family here on earth and the diverse families found within our congregation & community. Our September series will kick off a year of exploring the ministry of the church and its relationship with families of all kinds.

Some of the questions we will be asking in our September worship series include:

  • What is the size of God’s family?
  • Is everyone included in God’s family?
  • Does it matter that my family isn’t perfect?
  • How should God’s family act?
  • Does God’s family get along all the time or some of the time?
  • What is the role of God’s family on earth?

I hope FUMC can be an active part of celebrating your family – in all its incarnations and needs. I pray God is blessing you and your family whether it is blood or chosen, gathered in tight household or scattered across the miles, in need of healing and reconciliation.

Todd Parr’s “The Family Book” may be familiar to families with young children. His books are colorful, engaging and appropriate for all ages. But beyond those awesome qualities, Todd Parr is unique in that he approaches each topic with genuine love and makes his readers, young and old, feel special. “The Family Book” honors all families by reminding us that they come in all shapes and sizes, configurations and complexities. As Todd reminds us, “Your family is special no matter what kind it is.” A copy of “The Family Book” is being made available to all FUMC with children pre-K to 1st grade.

See you in church,

Pastor David

 


May 2018

In Prayer for Our Way Forward

We will soon enter into the season of Pentecost which marks the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Our scripture stories will tell us of its arriving among the followers of Jesus as holy fire. The Spirit will inspire the believers to speak and listen with holy wisdom. The Spirit works to unite the diverse peoples of the Ancient Middle East as the church is given birth with holy passion. The Spirit will fill God’s people with holy love.

Wisdom, passion and love are gifts of the Spirit to the church. The Holy Spirit works to bring forth and enrich the gifts God has given to each of God’s beloved ones including you and me. The gifts are brought together to enable the church – the body of Christ – to be in ministry. No gift is lesser than the other; no talent is greater than someone else’s – all are needed for the body, the church, to function well and to live holy and wholly. Every member is of equal value. All share in serving Christ as we find him in our neighbors and world.

With this in mind, I am deeply concerned about the lgbtq members of our church and their families as I read the article included in this newsletter as well as other reports coming from what is known as the United Methodist Church’s “Commission on the Way Forward.” The denominational commission has been created and charged by the United Methodist Council of Bishops to develop options for maintaining denominational unity. Much of the reason for the commission’s existence is due to the continuing debate within the UMC as to the presence, value and inclusion of lgbtq persons as fully accepted and welcomed lay members, lay leaders, employees, church staff and ordained clergy.

As a Reconciling congregation that celebrates our diversity, we can trust the Holy Spirit will help us discern our way forward. This is a time to pray and to be led by the incredible gift that is the Holy Spirit. This is a time to honor our commitment and share the good news we experience as a welcoming congregation. This is a time to hold precious our lgbtq members, loved ones, kids, parents, friends and church members with unwavering support and love. This is a time for confronting discrimination in and outside the polity of the church as well as society at large.

As additional resources become available, our All Means All Team and I will share them with the congregation. The team is preparing for our Reconciling Sunday on June 10 as well as a number of other activities throughout the month of June that will allow us to gain strength and find joy in our ministries of inclusivity and welcome. I pray for your participation in these events. I welcome you to share with me any concerns or questions in regards to the Commission on the Way Forward, the future of our United Methodist denomination and what this means for our local church.

See you in church,

Pastor David

 


April 2018

Christian Q&A

Based on a poll of several hundred young adult Christians, Stephen Mattson, a writer for Sojourners Magazine, highlighted questions all Christians eventually ask themselves. The most common ones are listed below.

1) What is salvation?

2) Do I own my faith?

3) Can I trust the Bible?

4) How do biblical texts apply to modern society?

5) Who is God?

6) Why does God allow bad things to happen?

7) Why is God so morbidly violent in the Old Testament?

8) How does free will affect my faith?

9) How can you believe in something that can’t be scientifically proven?

10) What makes Christianity different than any other religion?

11) How has my faith been influenced?

12) Am I using my faith to serve another agenda?

13) What is the point of following Christ?

The questions have many layers to them (context, faith experience, life situation, education, etc.) as do the answers. How do we approach such questions? One tool is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Developed by Wesley Scholar Albert Outler, the quadrilateral seeks to build upon the wisdom John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, who employed various methods to study scripture, develop his sermons and train parish preachers. In any question of faith or issue, what does the scripture say, what does reason suggest, what are the traditions of the church as it pertains to doctrine and discipleship, what are one’s personal experience of the issue or argument? Wesley’s was a multi-layered approach that is useful to any believer today.

Our seminary student/intern Scott Marsh will lead us in an intergenerational time of study and discussion on this multi-layered approach on Sunday, April 8. You will find an additional article on the event in this newsletter. I will be building upon this event in my Sunday morning messages through Eastertide, April 8-May 6. I look forward to discovering more answers (and even asking more questions) of our Christian faith. What questions might you have? Let’s seek answers together and may the God of all wisdom be praised in the process.

See you in church,

Pastor David