Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Easter - Expecting God to Show Up & Show Off

A mother of two young children showed me her digital photos: sweet little kids dressed up, holding decorated baskets in their backyard Easter Egg hunt. “Adorable”, I say. “Well, they were both sick on Easter, so we had to wait a whole week to celebrate. We took these pictures yesterday!” I smile at how joyful it is for a child to have Easter any day no matter what the calendar says.
Most calendars mark a single day as “Easter”, yet, technically, the church considers Easter a season of fifty days.  The burst of joy on the first Sunday gets the most attention: sunrise services, musical cantatas, lilies and egg hunts.. but that first Sunday is just one of six Sundays that build upon one another with stories of Jesus appearances after the crucifixion. The Great Fifty Days culminates with the fortieth day where Jesus ascends and the fiftieth day where the Holy Spirit enters the room as tongues of fire on Pentecost.
Throughout the fifty days, the resurrected Christ “shows up and shows off.” Once betrayed and forsaken, he now returns with forgiveness and peace. Once denied by his disciples, he returns to restore and reconcile. Once suffering and dead, he now appears to show his wounds and show his life.
Looking at the calendar, I realize that my remaining times as pastor of Olivet coincides with the liturgical calendar so that my farewell Sunday will be on Pentecost. As I complete this appointment, I invite us to reflect on the many ways God has showed up and shown off for us over the years. In our time of need, we have received many blessing. In our times of strained relationships, we have received reconciliation. In our times of mourning, we have been carried into new life.
Right now we are getting ready for the rummage sale / bake sale /collecting clothes for kids to go to West River Camp. We have an enormous goal of 2,000 pounds to pay for one campership. It’s hard to comprehend that much clothing, blankets, purses and shoes. But as followers of the risen Christ, during this season of Easter, may we be people who expect God to “show up and show off.”

Thursday, January 30, 2014

More Churches Join God Squad 2014

God Squad Mission Update
In the last 2 years, Olivet has led the way in intergenerational, cross-cultural, team-based ministry for the local church that helps us realize the biblical truth of how God meets us as stranger and surprises us with Grace. Last year, we widened to urban and rural ministry as we formed a new partnership with McKendree Simms Brookland UMC. The news of God Squad has spread, attracting more churches!  This year the squad will be widened to include a church in Columbus, Ohio (St. Lukes UMC), as well as DC churches such as Foundry, Community UMC and more!

When we go to  ROCK in Ocean City, the God Squad churches will meet for a  God Squad "Meet & Greet & Eat" - as of writing this, we are expecting 5 churches and possibly more than 80 students to participate in this Saturday afternoon between sessions!  In this group gathering, the students will build on the ROCK Theme of 1 John 4:8 which conveys  that “God Loves Us and we are to Love each Other with the same forgiveness and openness." We know that love  is easy with people you know - but what about people you DON"T know? Our kids will be paired with a kid that they do not know for an activity that is sure to be fun.

At the apartment of Eunice Butler in 2012
God Squad Ministry reminds us that faith is not just an intellectual decision, it is not just treating people nice. and it is not just loving God. A mature, balanced faith is both loving & believing in  God (a vertical line)  and loving and serving others (a horizontal line) Notice that this forms the shape of The Cross! Our vertical relationship with God is always tied to tied to the horizontal relationship of how people love and treat each other. The God Squad Ministry is about living this out. We grow in faith when we seek out loving others far and wide with God's love that is deep and far-reaching.

This March, 10 persons from St. Lukes UMC in Columbus Ohio are coming to DC and Southern Maryland for a replica experience of what we did last summer. They are staying in the parsonage of Mc
DC urban gardening in summer 2013 
Kendree Church just like we did. Then they are traveling to Lusby for local mission experiences on the water. They are staying at the recently renovated Cove Point Light house! Our youth will work with them during the Tuesday pilgrimage March 25. Following their visit, they are inviting Olivet to come to Ohio for a mission experience in their church from June 22 - 27. All ages are welcome to participate in this trip and if you are interested in being a part of the planning team, please contact me!

God Squad is also returning to McKendree-Simms-Brookland during the dates of July 6-11. Our time together in Ocean City will include time for the youth to plan this mission trip as well.

Prayers of gratitude for the way that Jesus loves His Church and calls us into ministry together! Thanks be to God! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The "Selfie"

Selfie. It is a new word in the English language and officially named Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013. Selfie is a “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

Yes, I've done more than my fair share of selfies, usually with kids from the church during youth trips, of course. But there was one at Roy Rogers with Bob Watson.. and another before the baptism with Jack Buchanan. (All of which I promptly and proudly posted to Facebook.)

The Christmas story could perhaps be considered a series of “divine selfies “–  snapshots of God who becomes one of us, enters human form and shares himself with us in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. If there was a smartphone to capture the God self in Jesus, it would not be one that most would be proud to post. The divine selfies has a backdrop of poverty, dislocation, scandal of an unwed, pregnant teen. The squalor of a manger is hardly picturesque.

It’s not just the birth of Jesus that makes for unusual selfies. Nothing about Jesus’ ministry would make for a great selfie, for he lacked glamour, pride and prestige.  Imagine a smart phone capturing shots from Jesus’ adult ministry. Click - Jesus eating with outcasts. Click - in the home of a scoundrel and cheat. Click-click- touching a leper and talking to a Samaritan woman. None of these got him a popular “thumbs up” then and they certainly would not today.

No, God in Christ Jesus does not seek to impress us with his selfie. He has all power and authority, yet he lowers himself as servant, washes feet and welcomes children. His final, earthly selfie is the most controversial of all: Jesus on a cross flanked by two criminals.

During these next 25 days, take comfort in knowing that the one who we welcome as God-With-Us entered our world in a not-so-picture-perfect fashion. Rejoice that God doesn’t need perfection in order to draw near us. For instance, if you get caught up in elaborate gift giving – remember that the Son of God was not born in a perfectly decorated, sterile hospital nursery. If you keep a hectic schedule and find yourself buying things to make the season meaningful- remember Love doesn’t need stuff. If you think Christmas won’t be perfect because of strife between family members– remember the Son of God didn’t chose the perfect family unit, he chose the heart of the two who could receive him.

God’s love wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a forgotten barn behind a busy inn is a most unlikely selfie. It is also our hope. It is our hope because in this humble beginning of God’s relationship with us, we see that he is not afraid or ashamed to draw near to us just as we are. And he does more than just draw near us – he brings us into new life again.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

We are Different & We are Connected

Carefully holding a blue crab.

A year ago, when I designed the cross-cultural God Squad partnership with McKendree-Simms-Brookland Church in Washington DC,  I imagined an outcome that would bless our local churches. I anticipated two very different United Methodist congregations discovering their connection in mission and celebrate their uniqueness in ministry. I further guessed that, as it happens with any mission trip, we would stretch ourselves as we stepped outside our comfort zones trusting in the Lord to provide, protect and guide. What I didn't anticipate was how this partnership between a rural and an urban church might shine a light to the world in how we are to go about combatting stereotypes.
That is, not until the verdict on the Trayvon Martin case was announced. At that moment, it seemed everyone from offered up opinions and explosive criticism of where we are as a nation and how far we haven't come since the civil rights movements. This took me back to think about the moment last month, when our two congregations took a tour of DC and walked the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We all walked the steps and paused at the site of Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech. A speech that took place fifty years ago this month. I had the kids put their their feet together on the spot where he spoke those famous words and as I took their photo, I realized that these kids are the dream and every one of them is trying the best to live it out. And they are finding a way to live it out through their local United Methodist Church. United Methodists are  connected across race, geography, age and even across theological opinions because that is a reflection of the diversity and connection of God's world. 
Olivet and McKendree-Simms-Brookland churches are working to be communities of positive solutions. When our youth got to know other while working together in common mission, they discovered that there is much more to each of us than what appears on the surface. Stereotypes about urban or rural communities (no, not all people in the south are like the guys on Hillbilly Handfishing or Duck Dynasty) are born out of lack of opportunity to know each other. By each church hosting each other, we get to know what it is like to appreciate the hospitality of a stranger and the joy of hosting others and sharing with others. 
Twenty-seven students and 30 adults participated in the God Squad mission work. This has been a testimony to of what young people can do to overcome stereotypes and make a difference in their local community. The youth took  leadership in modeling cross-cultural partnership to a world that looks at teenagers of any color through a lens of  suspician.
The blessing of this summer project will not be just for our teens. it will not just be for any who attended. It will not even just be for the churches involved. Rather, the blessing I believe will ripple out into the future. Like the voice of a speech given half a century ago, the sound diminishes but the message remains. 
The message for this summer was our discovering anew that indeed God made each of us different and yet God also connected us all. Isn't that the dream that Martin Luther King jr had hoped could be realized one day? 

Monday, July 1, 2013

God Squad 2013- Cross Cultural Mission Experiences

In June, the God Squad partnership became real as five students and 12 adults from Olivet United Methodist Church participated with over 120 others in a cross-cultural mission experience in Washington DC. The “rural United Methodist youth” of Lusby, Maryland packed their bags to live and serve in the urban neighborhood of northeast Washington, DC. The adults of Olivet church visited them for a fellowship meal with McKendree-Simms-Brookland UM Church (MSBUMC) and took a tour on the Old Town Trolley together.  Uncertain of what it would be like in a busy, crowded city everyone was set at ease by the hospitality of the people at MSBUMC. The students of Olivet discovered first hand how a church can be an outpouring of Christ’s love. Then they became a part of the sharing of Christ’s love as they came together for combined mission called “Hip Hop Hope.”

The youth from three churches worked together in ministry reaching out into the community with a gospel message for all ages with service projects, music and multi-media.  MSBUMC, Olivet and Palos Park Presbyterian Community Church in Chicago gathered daily for breakfast and hip-hop worship before going to their service projects. This became a great time for them to play and talk with each other and the younger pre-k and elementary children. The Olivet girls all took quickly to a nine-year old boy from the neighborhood that loved to dance. On the first day, he grabbed their hands to dance with them. This broke the ice and got them all laughing. On the last day, there were tears as they said goodbye to each other. The Olivet girls each remarked that they liked getting to work with the children, they made sure the children had enough breakfast, which was part of the neighborhood outreach, and helped them with their Bible lessons. All the students worked on a variety of service projects which included serving as teaching assistants, table clean up, urban gardening, and creating faith-based messages using a variety of social media. 

Mr. Mason of MSBUMC led the many teens and young adults in the gardening project. Thanks to the local Home Depot, we had many plants and flowers donated. The beautification project transformed ta barren area along Rhode Island Ave. NE into a flower garden.

I enjoyed teaching students how to express their faith using multi-media tools. Videos and photo montages were created by over 30 different kids throughout the week. Many can be seen on the facebook page for either MSBUMC or Olivet. Each student was challenged to create public messages of hope, love and salvation through artist expression and capture it on camera. By posting the videos on the church Facebook page, parents, parishioners, and friends could peak in on their mission week and comment on the ministry. This became a source of encouragement for the kids who saw the “likes” and the thumbs up. Collaboration and learning was multi-directional because once a student discovered how to do something on the computer, I would encourage them to show others which fostered an environment of sharing and collaboration.

Reverend David Hall, the pastor McKendree-Simms-Brookland UM Church says that through of the inspiration of the God Squad Grant, a new computer lab was brought to completion at his church. Our mission week laid the foundation for a creative, multi-media afterschool ministry where kids can create and teach one another. His next goal is to have a recording studio at the church for even more creative expression of faith by young people!