Spiritual Mentors – Thomas Merton

This week we started a new sermons: Spiritual Mentors. The first spiritual mentor we introduced in the sermon yesterday was Thomas Merton. I was introduced to Thomas Merton’s writings when I was back in high school by my mentor, Tim Nickel.

Here is a list of the books by Merton I found useful over the years:
Bread in the Wilderness
Life and Holiness
Praying the Psalms
The Secular Journal
No Man is an Island
The Seven Story Mountain

And here is the official Thomas Merton website:
http://www.merton.org/

Are you doing anything different in your spiritual journey for the Lenten Season? Some people traditionally give something up for Lent but I encourage you to take something on this year. For example, read one of Merton’s books, just a few paragraphs or pages a day would be a great start. Don’t just read the pages and move on to the next thing. No, read the words and let them sink into your life. Ruminate over the words and go back to them later in the day. How do the words speak to you right now? Do they prompt any action from you?

Here are the quotes from yesterday’s sermon so if you cannot get hold of one of his books you can start with these quotes.

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How to be a More Welcoming Church – Putting It Together

Sunday we concluded our sermon series on “How to be a More Welcoming Church.” In my sermon I committed to resurrecting this blog and trying to post consistent posts. Each week I hope to post a few thoughts and questions about the sermon, worship, and what we are doing as Christ’s church in Stroudsburg. We have a lot to do!

During my children’s message yesterday, I asked the children a question: “How can we make church more fun?” I received an answer from Crista Kopec who spoke to me after worship in the Fellowship Room. Her answer on how to make church more fun was this: “Have Sunday School in the summer!” Thank you Crista for sharing your idea on how to make church more fun. Now, we the church, must find the way to make this happen! What can we do at Stroudsburg to have Sunday School throughout the summer months? Perhaps we can create a short-term class for all children, or perhaps even an intergenerational class for all ages. I’d like to hear your creative ideas on how we can make this happen. So, if you have some thoughts or are willing to help in this endeavor please let me know.

Sue Weitzmann also offered some creative ideas for us to advertise our church and invite newcomers to worship. Here they are:

“Our bells are ringing once again. They may be calling you! Please come join us at SUMC.”

“Step our of the cold and into the warmth of SUMC! Please join us for fellowship and friendship!”

It always does the pastor’s heart good when worshippers respond with physical evidence and creative ideas as Crista and Sue did this week. What ideas do you have? How can we make church more fun? How can we invite more people to join us? Keep the ideas coming!

I also want to thank Peggy Stewart for bringing the gatorade to worship yesterday! In case you did not hear this, Peggy heard that everyone gets really excited about the Super Bowl each year, but worship should be exciting, too! So, she brought gatorade so if the preacher preached a super duper, uplifting sermon someone could dump gatorade over his head like the football players do with their coaches. Well, my sermon was not worthy of a gatorade dumping yesterday, but the idea was great! How can we make worship more exciting?

My friend and colleague, Rev. Jeff Garrison, posted a link to an article in his “Reflecting the Face of Jesus e-newsletter” about the 10 signals that say “You’re Not Welcome in this Church,” by Joe McKeever. ) The very first signal listed is: “The front door is locked.” Well, the lock in our front door of the sanctuary broke this week and so our front door was locked on Sunday! This is the first time in my time here that we had this problem. It is being fixed now hopefully before we host the Ash Wednesday worship this week.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and I hope you will attend worship as we host our Cluster Wednesday night at 7pm here at SUMC. We also will be changing worship slightly to include some more penitential elements of worship, especially in our prayers. Spoken and silent confession, words of assurance, and The Lord’s Prayer will be used during the season of Lent this year. This is a season to look inward to help grow our faith so the sermon series will be based on spiritual mentors. This coming Sunday we will look at Thomas Merton. He is a pretty well known monk who wrote quite a few books on the topics of contemplation and meditation. I was introduced to his writings when I was in high school. Spiritual mentors are very important of us to grow in our faith and we will explore this topic in the upcoming sermon series.

Have a great week and keep exploring ways so we can be a more welcoming church!

-Bob

You are Not the Most Important Person in the World

This week begins the Lenten Season and we will begin this penitential season with the imposition of Ashes. Some of you may think, oh, that sounds like something only the Catholics should do. Well, no, first it is biblical, but it is also properly in our United Methodist Book of Worship. Theologically this is a very proper way to begin the penitential season of Lent with these words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

This sounds so countercultural today. After all, we live in a society of enlightenment and self-entitlement. We are told we deserve everything we have and even more! We are told we deserve an easy life! We are told that we are good and the center of the whole universe revolves around me! Over and over in our society, through commercials and jingles, through television shows and movies, even through announcements from politicians… we are told that we deserve more and better!

Guess what: this is not biblical. Rather, the story of creation clearly indicates that you and I were made from the dust of the ground; and to that dust we will return, whether we like it or not! And when that day comes, if anyone says we deserve better or more, it won’t matter one bit!

Lent is a season of penitence and self-denial. The call is for us to get right with God because for way too long we’ve thought much too highly about ourselves. We need to be knocked down about four or eight pegs and realize the universe does not revolve around me.

It always amazes me when I see a self-righteous, self-acclaimed Christian who only thinks their agenda or their needs are the most critical. Is this what Jesus did? Didn’t he shift attention away from himself and toward God? Didn’t he teach us to humble ourselves before the Lord and before others? What must some people think of us?

Humility goes a long way, but it appears to be long-forgotten. People in our society are not being taught to be humble–we are being taught to being selfish and selfish to a fault! It is time we listen to the words of Lent: “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

I heard a great story back in seminary that I need to share here:

There are two accounts of Creation recorded in the beginning of Genesis. The first account is Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3 and records how each day God created something different and said it was good. Then, on the sixth day, God created man and woman in God’s own image, and said that was very good! And, of course, on the seventh day, God rested. The second account of Creation begins with Genesis 2:4 and here we learn that man was made out of the dust of the ground.

Why does Genesis contain two different accounts of Creation and why are the accounts so different? Why couldn’t they be joined together in one, nice flowing, easy to read story instead of two very different accounts? Which one do you like better: that God made you in God’s own image or that God made you out of the dust of the ground. So how can we explain these two different accounts of Creation as recorded in Genesis?

Our Old Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Don Gowan, was a great teacher and scholar. He didn’t believe all the hype of many of the so-called critical theologians when it came to interpreting the Bible. On some of the more debated issues, he would agree with a few and disagree with a few more. And so, when it came to this dilemma on our second day of class that semester, he said this about the two accounts of creation.

The source that most likely wrote Genesis 2-3 was ascribed to the early years of the Monarchy (and not everyone agrees with this), perhaps in the time of Solomon. If this is true, then this account was written during a time of national success. If so, then it was very appropriate for such a time , “since it presents a realistic picture of divinely-given potential, temptations, and the devastating effects of becoming one’s own god. So the message was “You are made out of the dust of the ground, and to that dust you will return!”

Genesis 1 is dated in the time of the Babylonian exile. If this is true, then it was written at a time when all was lost, and when the effects of sin did not need to be pointed out by anybody. So the message was “You are created in the very image of God!”

Then, Dr. Gowan relayed this story to us:

“A Hasidic teacher, Rabbi Bunam, summed up the need for both messages in this saying, ‘A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ On the other, ‘For my sake was the world created.’ And he should use each stone as he needs it.'”

These days, I think people need to use the side which reads, “I am but dust and ashes.” I do not mean this only for this season of Lent, but for a society, a culture in our church today, and some church members who think way to highly of themselves!

24 Hours

My current sermon series is entitled “24 Hours that Changed the World.”

This series is adapted from Rev. Adam Hamilton’s series that he created a few years ago. You can find out more on his church’s website at cor.org.

These sermons look in-depth at the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life here on earth. Each week we examine a different portion of these last 24 hours and contemplate what it must have been like to be there during these difficult hours in Jesus’ life.

From The Last Supper to the cross on Golgotha, we will walk this difficult journey with Jesus. We will learn some new things along the way and try to strengthen our faith through the careful examination of these hours. We will also look at the disciples and those around Jesus in these dark hours.

Join us in worship to journey through these 24 hours and strengthen your relationship with Jesus.