Life Notes—September 30, 2010

“…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is (broken) for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.’”  1 Corinthians 11:23b-24 

I have heard the phrase “Do this in remembrance of me,” for as long as I can remember.  With every communion service I’ve attended, that line or some variation of it, has been uttered.  It seemed odd to me, and it made me think Jesus was an egomaniac.  You see, if Jesus insisted we remember him every time we took communion, then he must have been afraid he would be forgotten, right?  And if he feared being forgotten, he must have been very self-centered.  I confess, I thought less of him because of it. 

But what if our remembrance of Jesus wasn’t for his posterity, but for our well-being?  What if Jesus knew that by remembering him and the sacrifice he made for us, our lives would go better?  What if he knew we would get distracted by our daily lives and frequently forget that our less-than-Christian thoughts and actions have already been forgiven, and that we are loved and cherished beyond our wildest dreams in spite of how un-God-like we may seem at any given moment?  What if, in that upper room at that last supper with his disciples, he knew we would NEED to remember? 

I believe he did know. So he asked us to remember—not for his sake, but for ours. Every time we eat the bread and drink the wine (juice for us Methodists, thank you), we are to remember the gift already given us, regardless of how undeserving we may feel.  Further, I believe he asked us to remember not just at ‘communion,’ but every time we eat and drink.  Bread and wine were common elements of meals in his day, so regardless of how we feel about any transformations that may occur in the blessing of bread and juice at communion, Jesus was asking us to associate his gift with something we would see everyday, several times a day—food and drink. Whenever you do this, remember me. 

It is in that remembering we are healed: we are made whole, we are re-membered—as in, put back together.  And in that simple, everyday act, we are reunited with Christ. 

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday, where churches all over the world, including FUMC Lawrence, will celebrate communion.  Dennis Ackerman, the District Superintendent of the Five Rivers District of the Kansas East Conference of the United Methodist Church, will be preaching at the downtown services.  His sermon is “Synergy,” based on the scripture 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.  Life worship begins at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  West campus contemporary worship is at 9:30; Mitch continues his sermon series “John Wesley’s Greatest Hits,” with the fourth installment, “The World Is My Parish,” on Luke 4:16-30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday and remember…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Weight of Success

Life Notes—September 23, 2010

“Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.  But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”  1 Timothy 6:6-9

 A time in my life when I felt most free and content was in the months preceding my marriage.  No, this is not some “A-bachelor-is-a-man-who-never-makes-the-same-mistake-once” type of joke.  I sold my home in the country and needed a place to live until we took possession of our first home in Lawrence.  I found a studio apartment one block from my workplace.  I put all my “stuff,” except the barest essentials, into storage and lived in a single room, walked to and from work and never once made a trip to the storage locker for things I needed or missed.  My sense of freedom had nothing to do with my bachelorhood; it had to do with my freedom from the weight of my stuff! 

Once I had a house again, the stuff came out of storage and, combined with Carrie’s, has been fruitful and multiplied many times over.  Don’t get me wrong.  Almost everything in our home has or had a purpose, and might have a purpose again, someday.  Everything has memories attached.  It is important in its own way.  But everything also has an on-going cost attached to it. Every item we possess requires space and resources, cleaning and attention. We trade bits of our freedom for every material thing in our possession—it lays a claim on us; it places a weight upon us that prevents utilizing those spaces and resources for other possibilities. It binds us in subtle, but real ways. 

It is an interesting commentary that one of the most successful business opportunities of the past two decades has been the building and renting of storage space.  Most of us simply have too much stuff and for any number of reasons, cannot seem to part with it.  Carrie and I have a nice, large house and a five-acre yard that soon will have only two occupants.  We must decide whether we will continue to heat, air condition, maintain and clean the excess space and accompanying possessions, or whether we will simplify and move into something more in line with our actual needs for shelter.  When we give up resource-intense possessions, we free space for personal spiritual growth, service to others, and a host of other godly possibilities.  In the process we may even regain a measure of freedom and contentment. 

Tom’s sermon downtown will be “Real Life,” based on 1 Timothy 6:6-19.  Life worship begins at 9:40 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  West campus contemporary worship is at 9:30; Mitch continues his sermon series “John Wesley’s Greatest Hits,” with the third track, “3 Simple Rules,” on Romans 12:9-20. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Unredeemed Reaping of an Imperfect World

Life Notes—September 16, 2010

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.  For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.  I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.  Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there?  Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?”  Jeremiah 8:20-9:1

“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.”  This is Jeremiah’s Old Testament lament. 

A number of years ago a co-worker lost her five year old daughter to meningitis.  It happened quickly to this healthy, fun-loving little girl.  Her fever spiked, she was taken to the hospital, and she breathed her final earthly breath.  Amanda and her father loved singing songs together. Her parents asked if I would play and sing some of those songs at her funeral, knowing her father could not.  I thought of my own daughter, only a year younger than Amanda at the time.  After the service I went to my car and wept.  That evening I held my daughter a little tighter and a little longer and wondered how such indescribable sorrow could fall on such good people…

“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.”  

Today, my formerly health and fitness-conscious mother is wheelchair and bed-ridden, following a stroke that left her unable to express all but her most basic thoughts. 

“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.” 

9-11. Cancer.  Katrina.  Divorce.  Darfur.  Traffic accident.  Holocaust.  Heart-rending, life-changing words that lie in wait, never far from our everyday existence.

“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.” 

Where is God in tragedy?  We hurt.  Friends and family hurt.  Our world hurts.  And where is God?  Jeremiah wrestled with this question ages ago; we wrestle with it still today.  The minister conducting Amanda’s funeral said, “I believe the moment Amanda breathed her final breath, the first heart to break was God’s.”  God does not create horrors.  They are the unredeemed reaping of an imperfect world.  Where is God in our hurting?  Where God has always been: in the hearts and hands of God’s people, moving and healing and being present by and through them.  God is present when we sing for the father who cannot; when we share what we have with those with nothing; when we pray for those who cannot pray for themselves.  God lives in and expresses through us. 

Tom’s sermon downtown will be “Where is God?” based on Jeremiah 8:18-9:1.  Life worship begins at 9:40 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  West campus contemporary worship is at 9:30; Mitch continues his sermon series “John Wesley’s Greatest Hits,” with the cut, “STREngth,” on Mark 12:28-34. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Lost, but Loved

Life Notes—September 9, 2010

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”  Luke 15:4,7 

I have two children.  I love them equally, but I also love them differently.  They are different people and, as their father, I worry about them both.  I worry differently for each of them, according to their individual natures, and I do not treat them the same. I may encourage one to get out with friends more, while I encourage the other to be home more (like for homework and sleep).  While I may try to lighten the mood with one, I may try to ‘darken’ the mood with the other. 

The point is, my children are very different; but those differences make them valuable and irreplaceable.  God created each of us differently and values us immeasurably for the unique creations we are.  I believe if I had fifty children, I would love them all equally, and love them all differently.  And if any one of them were sick or lost, I would leave the others in a heartbeat to do whatever I could for the one.  Not because I valued the others less, but because the need of the one was greater.  And because, no matter how many children I might have, there could never be any I would be willing to lose.  Such is the infinite value of a unique and individual treasure.  It cannot be replaced; as is equally true of all other unique and individual treasures. 

The parable of the lost sheep is illuminated for me by my personal experiences as a father.  I understand the actions of the shepherd completely.  But in order to understand the parable in a greater context, we must understand it beyond ourselves.  We are extremely blessed at First Church—worship, music, study, fellowship, fun, support, great facilities.  There are many opportunities to enhance our lives, our relationships and our connection with the Divine.  But less than half the people in Lawrence have a regular church home.  And those people are God’s beloved children just as much as we are.  And while not everyone who comes through the doors of our church will find a home, very few will come through the doors at all without a personal invitation; and fewer still will return if they don’t make some personal connection once inside.  If we could see the unchurched through God’s eyes, they might look like lost children seeking a home.  Do you know any ‘lost children’?  Invite (or bring) them into the fold for their sake—and for ours.  Children coming home is a shared blessing, both in heaven and on earth. 

Tom’s sermon downtown will be “Found,” based on Luke 15:1-10.  Life worship begins at 9:40 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus, with Mitch, is at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator