Monday, June 29, 2015

Try The Other Side

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was John 21:1-11 and it represented my State of the Church Address:

Today marks the end of my second year, or the beginning of my third year, here at Mesa View, depending on how you want to look at it.  I would like to begin today by thanking all of our volunteers and people who give of themselves in some many ways to this church and in service to the community.  But in particular I would like to thank the members of the Staff Parish Relations Committee, some other key members, and for the prayer partners who were lifting me up in prayer this past year, because it was by far my hardest year in the ministry.  Every organization has cycles of ups and downs, and I firmly believe that this past year we hit the bottom of our trough and are now on an upward climb.  Our attendance has seen continued increases each month this year, until last month, but we always see a drop off when school lets out, and let me remind you that your presence here is really important.  Not because of numbers, but because it’s a lot better, and to be honest it’s more fun, when the sanctuary is filled then when it’s less full.

I was appointed by the Bishop to Mesa View for many reasons, but one of the biggest was to get our finances in order.  Many churches approach their finances by using the mushroom communication model.  Do you know what the mushroom communication model is?  Keep them in the dark and shovel in lots of manure.  Hopefully you know that’s not the way I want to operate.  The truth is we are doing better.  I would like to say that we no longer have financial worries, and that everything is great.  I’d like to say that, but it’s not true.  We are better, but we are not out of the woods yet.  We didn’t get here in a few years, and we won’t get out of it in a few years.  If you have been reading the newsletter, then you should have seen that our last financial report was a little bleak.  The last number I got from Don Coates this week was that we were projecting to be somewhere around $2000 in the hole at the end of June.  So don’t stop giving just because you might go away for the summer, because our work doesn’t end.

But here is the good news.  Our electronic giving options are helping us to create a stable, reliable income stream, and thank you to everyone who has signed up for electronic giving, and I would strongly encourage others to do the same.  The good news is that for maybe the first time, but definitely the first time in a long time, we created a savings account, in which we had $5000 when we entered the summer.  The good news is that last month we paid off our debt to John Deere for the purchase of our lawn mower and this month we paid off the conference loan we took out to help pay for the roof repairs.  The good news is that when we started here two years ago we owed more than $10,000 to the conference for back pension obligations and we will have that paid off in October.  The good news is that we refinanced our mortgage, which freed up resources that we have needed.  We ended up having to put in a new HVAC unit in the annex, a $7000 charge, but we covered the entire thing in cash, and that allowed us to bring in the YMCA and turn that building into a revenue source for us again, while also serving the community.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Battling Giants: Racism and Violence

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was the familiar story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:4-11, 19-23 and 32-49, but the message was changed because of the shooting at Emmanuel AME in Charleston:

I dislike weeks like this past one.  First there was the strange story of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington, and who knew Spokane needed an NAACP chapter?  Then there was the announcement by Pizza Hut that they were releasing a pizza that had 21 mini hotdogs baked into the crust, because that’s exactly what we all need.  And finally Donald Trump declared that he was going to be running for president, and every comedian rejoiced.  For a normal week that would be enough and unfortunately, these stories sort of typify certain aspects of American culture.  But then there was the news that we all woke up to on Thursday morning of the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, which sadly is also a part of American culture.  As a pastor I know that such tragedies need to be addressed, but as a preacher I’m never quite sure what to do.  Do I stay with what I was originally going to say, or do I change it all up in order to address these issues?

I had a good sermon about David and Goliath all planned out that I was going to try and somehow connect to Fathers’ Day.  And while I wasn’t really struggling with that message, it wasn’t exactly coming together either, and so Linda asked if perhaps I needed to stop working on that message and instead talk about what happened in Charleston.  And yet the story of David and Goliath I think also has a lot to say to us about this very issue because of two things that are easily overlooked.

But let me start by saying what might be the most important thing and that is that God did not cause this event to happen, or allow it to happen, as some part of God’s master plan.  Because if that is true, then God is not on the side of the victims, but instead on the side of the perpetrators.  But what we see time and time again is that God sides with the victims and with the least, the last and the lost, and that takes part in the story of David and Goliath as well.

This passage can be seen as a story of violence and yet it’s also a story against violence.  Goliath calls to the Israelites and asks for one person to come forward and fight him.  This is known as single combat, and the purpose was to try and eliminate the largescale death and destruction of war, by having only two people fight.  Sometimes the people doing battle would be the best soldiers, and other times it would be the respective leaders who fought each other.  Perhaps this should be something we should think about as it would certainly greatly limit the saber rattling of our politicians if they knew that instead of sending others off to fight for them that they themselves would be fighting.

Golf Needs Tiger

This weekend was the US Open, one of the 4 major golf tournaments, and I didn't watch it.  I used to. And I would watch the Masters and the British Open, but I haven't watched a golf tournament in a while, and don't see myself doing so anytime in the near future.  And, I suspect I am not alone in this.

I grew up watching golf with my dad, and following the biggies, Palmer, Nicklaus, Norman, etc. There were several were major stars that everyone who was even a casual fan knew.  It didn't matter that the didn't win every time, but there were several who were clearly at the top of the game and some of them were at least in contention each tournament.

Then when Tiger was at his best, I watched it all the time because it was clear that we were watching a once in a life-time talent and seeing the game played at its highest level.  It was like watching Michael Jordan play, you knew this was special.  But Tiger is not Tiger anymore, and who is there to really take his place?  That's golf's problem.

They want to boost up the young players and say "he's the next Tiger", but they're not.  They boost up Rory McIlroy, who is great, but then he'll go on stretches where he doesn't compete, and everyone turns it off again because it's clear he is not who golf said he was.  Then they promote the next player who will replace Tiger.  Now it's Jordan Spieth, who won yesterday and also won the Masters, but does he have the staying power?  That is yet to be seen.(Although he only won yesterday because another player let him win, and I won't use the "c" word for it.)

Golf either needs to find the next Tiger, the player who is going to dominate, so that golf tournaments will become must see viewing, or and ever better scenario would be to starting promoting a number of golfers (4-6) so that there are multiple faces and they are no longer dependent on just one player. Or, they can keep following the same path, which is downhill, and become an even more niche sport.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

To Whom Is The Church Speaking?

Yesterday I went and talked with the city counselor who represents our district.  What I wanted to know was what he thought the most pressing issues were in the community and how we as a church might respond.  We had a good conversation about what was going on, but as one of my last questions I asked him his perception of how well churches have been in responding to the needs of the community or working with the city and other groups to address them.  His response floored me.

He said that in his 10 years on city council I was the first clergy person who had ever made an appointment to come and speak with him.  The first in ten years.  He said that he had spoken with the pastors at some of the very large churches in the district, but that was because he sought them out.

Churches do some amazing things, and I hope they are talking with other groups about pressing issues, but how do we address the issues of our neighborhoods if we aren't talking with the community leaders whose jobs are to try and address those issues?

I apologized to him on behalf of the other clergy and we then talked about how we can work together to get the churches more engaged with community leaders to address the issues that are facing the people in the communities where we live, work and worship.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What's The Purpose?

In a few hours I will be leaving to attend Annual Conference.  For the non-Methodists, this is the annual gathering of clergy and laity (equal representation of each) from each of the churches in the conference, which in this case is New Mexico and southern west Texas.

In the past, annual conference had several main reasons for its existence.  The first was that this was when appointments were announced.  United Methodist clergy serve on perpetual one-year appointments, and so you would find out at annual conference if you were moving or not, and where you would be going.  The second reason was to conduct the business of the annual conference, such as passing budgets, and voting on legislation, ordaining new clergy, etc.  The third reason was that it was the only time of the year that most clergy ever got together, and so it was a time of fellowship and catching up and remembering those who had left the ministry in the past year either by leaving or dying.

The problem with annual conference now is that none of those reasons really exist anymore. Appointments are announced well in advance of annual conference.  Except for ordination, all of the legislative work is either done differently than in the past, or could honestly be done online or in other forums.  And because of social media and other technology, those clergy who want to be in touch with each other outside of annual conference can be.  It's still nice to get together, but it does not serve the same purpose as it did in the past.

So that really leaves us going to gathering whose purpose has been eliminated with no new purpose having been put into place.  We keep doing things the same because "it's how we have always done it" and the result is it's just a three-to-four-day committee meeting.  I know of few people who actually look forward to attending Annual Conference, and the biggest reason is because it doesn't serve a purpose.  It's rare that people actually take something home, or learn something, which they can use or apply in the local church.

It's time for the UMC to totally rethink annual conference (and general conference and jurisdictional conference for that matter) and to begin that conversation we have to start with answering the question, "what is the purpose of annual conference"?  Once we answer that, then we can restructure everything and make it be something that is not only useful for churches, but that people would actually look forward to attending.