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This is the Pastor's message from the Messenger, our Newsletter. If you would like to receive a copy, 
click here to request one.
 
 
 

April 4, 2011

Dear Church Family,

The most important activity for any human is worship. 

Every book of the Bible—save one (Esther) — determines by example and/or teaching that Worship of the Lord is the single most essential activity humans can engage in.

Not your family.

Not your job.

Not your accomplishments. 

Not acquiring wealth or furnishing your home or striving to look younger than your years.. 

Worship.

The “sacrifice of praise” which is Christian worship does not focus on the worshiper but on the Lord. Our convenience or inconvenience is of no consequence. Whether we like the music or the sermon or the temperature of the sanctuary is immaterial. Worship is not about us.

I’ve known many who overcome incredible difficulties to worship the Lord with their church family. Painful arthritis, partial paralysis due to a stroke, busy schedules, grief, frustration — all of them potential barriers — are overcome every time by their personal witness and desire to worship God, no matter what. 

I Peter 5:5 calls us to clothe ourselves with humility in our dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.”   (NRSV)

That’s a tough order … to humble ourselves. But, Easter is about redirecting our lives, no matter how tough that job may seem, and becoming a new being identified with Christ. 

Ill see you in your place this Holy Season. And I look forward to meeting those whom you invite to join you.                        

Steve Caraway


February 17, 2011

Dear Church Family,

I want to share an insightful  word from our own “Chuck Murray, teacher of the ABC Class and a Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church...

 In the Old Testament, God dwelled in the Holy of Holies. Once a year, God allowed the High priest to enter the Holy of Holies after a ceremonial cleansing. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross brought on the Church age. The wall of partition was broken down and God was available in the Church to anyone who entered the sanctuary pure, holy, and righteous, as God is pure, holy, and righteous.  For those in the Church who enter the sanctuary without cleansing will be accountable for his or her actions, regardless of whether they are members, teachers, or congregation.” 

              The theology of the Atonement — the at-one-ment — is that we are no longer divided from God. Jesus took care of that.

What we, the Church, must work on is the divide among ourselves, denominationally and individually. It requires a “sacrifice of praise” on our part to, in some way, receive and proclaim the sacrifice of Christ.

Thank you, “Chuck,” for the eloquence of your words.

I’ll see you in your place this Sunday.

 

Steve Caraway


January 5, 2011

Dear Church Family,

     At the beginning of each new year, holiday ads are replaced by those promoting healthier lifestyles. Weight loss programs from powders you stir in a glass of milk to expensive xercise machines want our attention and our money. Occasionally, there is a commercial for H & R Block or TurboTax, because it is also tax preparation season; but it is mostly losing weight and toning muscles.

     But, how is it with your soul?

     In Sermon 16,John Wesley described what he viewed as the "Means of Grace"  through which God works invisibly in us, quickening, strengthening and confirming our faith. The "Means of Grace"  involve our preparation to be recipients of God's gracious giving of God's Self. The understanding is that if we are not prepared, we may miss what God has in store for us.

     The "Means of Grace"   Mr. Wesley described included Works of Piety such as personal paryer, fasting, studying the Scriptures, and healthy living. They include communal practices  such as corporate worship, Holy Communion, and Baptism.

     And they include Works of Mercy I that meet specific needs such as visiting the sick and the imprisoned, feeding and housing the needy, and working incessantly for  justice.

     In essence, these "Means of Grace"  allow us to become holy instruments of God's will in the world. The owrd Juses used for this was "sanctification") (John 16 and 17).It radically re-orders our priorities and the way we do the business of life.

     How is it with your soul?

    I'll see you in your place this Sunday as we renew our vows of Baptism.

Steve Caraway


December 2, 2010

Dear Church Family,

              We like heart-warming stories. About this time of year, the Hallmark Card people will present a television special that stirs up the “warm-fuzzies” and helps us recall earlier holiday seasons when all was calmer and less complicated. The Folger’s coffee people do the same with their commercials.

              Luke knew this about us when he crafted his Gospel’s Christmas story. A couple doing their civic duty return to their hometown for a census; she being “great with child,” and he wondering where they would spend the night on the road. They find an inn with a “No Vacancy” sign hanging on the doorknob, but they go in anyway, since — well — she was “great with child.” Maybe the innkeeper could find just enough space on a floor for them to rest. But, no, ... unless they would want some space in the stable down below.  “We’ll take it,” they said.  With a little fresh hay from over there and the bed roll they carried with them, they were all set . . .    

. . . Until the Baby announced His impending arrival. Get a little more hay from over here and put it in a trough and — what do you know?  — it’s a baby bed! A towel and an old tunic out of their traveling bag and pretty soon the Baby wore “swaddling clothes.”  

We don’t seem to mention that the parents of this Child were unmarried and had some answering to do. And what kind of person turns away a woman that pregnant? And what about the smell down in that stable? The Child’s first whiff of air outside the womb was filled with cattle odor. And what about His crying and dirty diapers? 

And just when everything was beginning to settle, loud and uncouth shepherds show up, waking the Baby and further exhausting the Child’s young mother. 

Jesus wasn’t born in Nativity Scene purity, but in a nitty-gritty, smelly world.  More rejection was to come. The poverty of His birth would last a lifetime. And the rough-and-tumble shepherds would be followed by others equally unrefined. Nothing fancy or pristine about His coming. 

So get ready to meet Christ in your life — not with the veneer of tidy righteousness — for Christ comes not to take away our veneers, but us. 

All of what it means to be “us.”

I’ll see you in your place Sunday.

Steve Caraway


October 20, 2010

Dear Church Family,

             What can we glean from the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners?  

It was television at its best when the world saw, one-by-one, ordinary men being rescued and reunited with loved ones after an extraordinary sixty-nine days of being trapped one-half mile underground. These are my thoughts … and I’m sure you have others and would welcome to hear and share them.

The first lesson is maybe the most overlooked. There are tens of thousands of people who enter mines so that we may have jewelry to wear, coal to burn, salt to season, etc.   They are “no-name” people whose work makes society function. Add to their number the migrant worker who harvests crops, the longshoremen who load and un-load ships in port, and the lineman who connects the power and communication grids that make our lives productive. Add to their number those first-responders who protect us, rescue us, and treat us when something bad happens. All of them unknown beyond their families and circle of friends, but all of whom are essential to our lives.

A second lesson is that accidents happen. But, accidents such as this one — and in mines in our country and elsewhere— they often result in death. A lack of business integrity to protect workers, and a woeful record of government enforcement of safety standards usually seem to be lurking around the edges of each story. 

A third lesson is the endurance of the human spirit. Together, these men worked out their differences, fine-tuned the rough edges of their living arrangements, and faced death and then the hope of rescue together in an organized and reasoned manner.

Hang on to that word “hope.” During the first seventeen days, no one knew if they were even alive; which means they were completely cut off from the world with only the barest minimum of food and water. Yet, they held out hope.  And when the first drill bit broke through and they realized someone was trying to rescue them, more hope. They laughed, they cheered, they even sang the Chilean national anthem.

Many claimed their faith in God sustained them. No one claimed that their faith in God saved them, but that it sustained them even if they would perish. I think that is an important distinction and an important lesson to learn.  Things do not always turn out the way we want. Indeed, four miners died in Ecuador just two days after the Chileans were rescued. 

They hung onto each other. Their rescuers united in their endeavor to save them.  The world community united in hope of success.  

See what we can do when we work together? 

Ill see you in your place on Sunday.

Steve Caraway   


September 15, 2010

Dear Church Family,

Many years ago (1966), a comedy, “The Russians are Coming; the Russians are Coming,”  came to a theater near you.  This was during the Cold War. The storyline is of a Russian submarine that runs aground off the coast of a small New England town and the  hysteria it caused among the townspeople, who felt they had been singled out for a hostile invasion.  It offered a satire — a “caricature” — of the tensions we felt back then as we regarded all Russians as enemies.    

Something resembling that panicky, ill-informed New England town resonates today as Americans are becoming more and more “Islama-phobic.” Any individual, business transaction, or religious expression by a Muslim is regarded by some as a threat to our national security.  But Islam is not new to America.

Did you know that mosques have been in our country since the Revolutionary War? They came when Christians enslaved Africans and brought them to this country.  They started as clearings in a field with a prayer cloth dropped to the ground for praying.  Since then, more stable structures have been built.  Over the past fifty years, nearly 1200 mosques of all sizes have been built in the USA.

Yet the construction of new mosques on American soil is feared as expansion of training grounds for Muslim extremists.  President Bush stood before a gathering of Muslims on the weekend following 9/11 and declared that America was not at war with Islam, but with Al-Qaida, who committed the atrocities in Manhattan and Washington. That distinction has been blurred over time by racism, mistrust, and ignorance. 

Most Muslims in our nation describe themselves as moderates. Only 40% consider themselves active worshipers and followers of Islamic law. American Christianity has similar numbers.

What brought this to mind was the death of a Sikh man in Arizona. He was shot by someone thinking he was a Muslim because he wore a turban. The accused is one of those militia types who had already shot a Muslim grocery clerk the evening before. The Sikh was guilty by resemblance, as the perpetrator was guilty of ignorance because Sikhs and Muslims are as different from each other as Muslims and Christians. 

We cannot allow panic to cloud our judgment of others because they look different from the rest of us and, thereby, are suspicious-looking. We’ve done that before and the results were not good. 

Ill see you in your place.

 

Steve Caraway


July 14, 2010

Dear Church Family, 

I dont get much feedback from folks after morning worship on Sundays. Occasionally, there are those who compliment my effort at a sermon.  But when it comes to the service as a whole, audible responses are minimal ... which may not be such a bad thing, come to think of it. 

This past Sundays service was an exception. The Choir singing “Going Down to the River to Pray” from “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” was a special treat. The songs from the Cokesbury, with most  everyone blaring out the words of the old hymns, added to the worshipful atmosphere. The prayer time and times of sharing were heartfelt. We seemed eager to hear and participate in worship, which is how it should be all the time. 

The comments afterwards — from long-time members and visitors, alike — included words like “uplifting” and “warm” and “moving.” Indeed, there’s comfort and affirmation when singing old hymns, hearing “down-to-earth” choral specials, and, yes, hearing a sermon about a familiar subject — in this case, “The Rich Young Ruler.”

Jesus was often at worship in the synagogue, which was comfortable to Him since His earliest memories of childhood. The ancient words of Torah, the teaching of the priests, the prayers that stood the test of time ... all of it gave footing to His faith and relationship with God. 

It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t stay in His “comfort zone.” He risked everything that was dear to Him, including His life, to redescribe the Law and offer a new understanding of Who God was and is. Yes, He paid a price for this — what we quaintly refer to it as the “ultimate price” when someone dies for a cause. But, that adjective doesn’t quite do justice to the sacrifice of one’s life for another ... unless ... unless that “other” makes changes in his or her life to reflect the sacrifice of another for them.

Change. It’s seldom easy. And “change for change’s sake” is unnecessary.  But, change in response to what Jesus taught us and what Jesus died to reveal is essential if anything is to come of us ... anything worthwhile, that is.   

Ill see you in your place this Sunday.

Steve Caraway