|Posted on August 13, 2017 at 10:40 AM||comments (5)|
Hundreds of people driven by hatred gathered in Charlottesville, VA this week. They gathered with the aim of taking away liberty and justice from diverse peoples. Their desire is to establish an all white nation and to strip all rights and liberties from all races and ethnicities other than their own. Their gathering resulted in violence, injuries and loss of life. Learn more about these events at : http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/torch-wielding-white-supremacists-march-university-virginia-n792021
Bethel AME Church of Lebanon Ohio stands on the Word of God as we proclaim our determination to work for love and justice as biblically defined. We understand that all God’s children are beloved and we stand for liberty and justice for all where all truly means all!
We pray for everyone who has been touched by these riots. We pray for the peace that comes with genuine enactment of love and justice. We pray for all leaders in our faith communities and in our government at all levels. We seek God’s Holy intervention lending us wisdom and courage so that all people of good will can stand together united for the common good.
When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment… He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39
Jesus went on to teach that the love required of us includes loving our enemies. This is the radical love that we are being called to embody. Now is the time for every person of good will to courageously stand up, speak out and be visible as we insist on caring as much about the wellbeing of those we may perceive as “others” as we care about the wellbeing of those we may think of as “ourselves.”
Join us at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday Morning for biblically grounded small group discussions of this and related topics.
|Posted on March 27, 2017 at 10:45 AM||comments (0)|
The prophet Ezekiel lived more than 2,500 years ago. Ezekiel was a priest, a preacher, and a prophet. He was captured by the enemy and taken to Babylon with other priests and leaders. Up until then he seems to have been a lot like other priests, serving according to the law.
After he was taken to Babylon, he was called to prophesy in a new way. He saw visions of what would happen if people did not realize that God is Lord and stop worshipping idols. He tried very hard to get the people to listen. He became like a performance artist and acted out what was about to happen. He drew pictures of what was going to happen. He tried to show the people that following these false gods (those things made by human hands) leads to death, but most of the people didn’t pay attention. Many people grew old and died in captivity and many died in war.
Ezekiel kept telling them to turn to God and God would help them. The people had given up hope. All that they held dear was lost, they could see no way out.
Then-Ezekiel had a new vision. This story about the vision in the valley of dry bones has something to teach us about LIVING BONES.
We read about this vision-this hopeless place of dry bones-sad-helpless-lifeless bones lying in a valley- what a sad-sad hopeless place- God showed Ezekiel the valley of hopelessness and sadness that the people were in. But the vision did not end there.
God told Ezekiel to prophesy-preach God’s Word to the hopeless-dry-lifeless-sad old bones- What happened then? Did Ezekiel say-OH NO God, I can’t do that, those bones are dead and dry they will not hear me prophesy? Folks will think I have lost my mind if I start preaching to bones and talking about hope in the middle of this valley of hopeless bones.
NO! Ezekiel did not say that. Ezekiel said-Yes Lord, Yes! Ezekiel obeyed God.
Ezekiel told the bones they were to Stand Up! And God-being God-kept the promise Those bones stood up. They made noise. Flesh and skin and tendons came on them. But they were not yet alive. God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind.
Did Ezekiel say Oh No! It makes no sense to prophesy to the wind. The wind cannot hear me? No, in this vision Ezekiel obeyed God.
Ezekiel prophesied and spoke the Word of God to the wind, and God- being God- kept the promise and put the breath of life into the bones so the people would know that God is Lord!
Today some of us might not be paying attention to what God is trying to tell us in Ezekiel’s story. Some of us are worrying about getting more money or things or clothes, or thinking about oh the places we will go. Some of us have our minds on a fight or an argument that we have going on. Some of us are in a hurry to do so many things that we aren’t paying attention to what is important.
When we have our minds on things and worries instead of on hearing God’s Word and trying to understand it, trying to do what God is calling us to do, we can find ourselves in over our heads, confused, depressed, hopeless and feeling as if our situation is impossible. We might feel like giving up and giving in.
Today I am here to say that nothing is impossible with God. Just as God promised Ezekiel that the nation of Israel would rise again and that they would know it was because God did it, God is saying to you today that you are being prepared to do incredible work beyond your wildest dreams, and you will know that God has done it.
You need to listen to God’s Word and Do What God is calling on you to do because today you are the living bones. Know that it is by God’s power, mercy and grace that we are here together today with life and breath and freedom in Christ. I bear witness to you that no matter what our problems may be, where there is the breath of life there is hope and indeed God has given us life.
Just in case you might doubt it, feel your arm and touch your knee, I assure you there are living bones in there. Look at your skin and feel the muscle underneath. Absolutely there is flesh and muscle and sinew (tendons that hold the muscle to the bone). What we need to be sure of today is that we know and understand that it is God who gives us life. When we get confused about this basic point we lose our way.
The same God, who brought the nation of Israel out of Babylon, can bring us through any situation we face today. Whether it is the fact that we feel overwhelmed with the demands of school, a job, a family or friend situation. There is nothing too big or too small for God to take care of. Any pain that we have, any worry on our minds, God can see us through.
Ezekiel listened and did what God told him to do. Then the story tells us what it all meant. It meant that the nation of Israel that had been captured and destroyed was going to rise again. It meant that those who had given up hope were going to have their hope restored.
God still speaks to us through Ezekiel’s visions and stories, and we still need to listen carefully and comprehend what God’s Word is telling us.
If there is anyone today without hope, sad, discouraged and ready to give up. Understand, God is telling us that nothing is impossible with the giver of life.
You are the living bones, God gave you life, and God is in Charge, Listen and Obey God’s Word God has breathed life into you. (Feel your breath, go ahead, and breathe in and out.)
You are being called on to stand up, like the bones in the valley, to be a mighty army on behalf of the Kingdom of God. You are being called to be teachers, and judges, presidents and leaders of all sorts, musicians and lawyers, coaches and accountants and financial advisors (you fill in the blank). You are being prepared to be trustees and stewards and deacons and pastors.
Know that God gives you breath and will supply your every need. Stand up and prepare yourselves to be a blessing to your community. Stand up no matter who tells you that it is impossible, or that you can’t do it. What God says is possible is possible.
God set the captives free and God breathed the breath of life into you. You are the living bones!
God asked Ezekiel in the vision: “Son of Man can these bones live?” and Ezekiel answered: “Oh Sovereign Lord, You alone know”. God alone knows, God alone decides.
Give your life to God. Let God use you, develop and prepare your mind with study and your heart with service and you will be blessed.
Let Us All Give God the Glory In Jesus Name
|Posted on February 8, 2017 at 12:00 AM||comments (0)|
Immediately after worship last Sunday…in fact, no sooner then we had exited the sanctuary, a man from our community confronted me. He shot verbal arrows at one of my weak spots. He said he had started to come in earlier but heard “yelling” and left.
Now, the Hebrew scripture lesson on which the sermon of the hour was grounded began with the resounding verse:
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Isaiah 58:1 (NRSV)
There’s no secret that passionate prophetic preaching is not the preference of this era. Therefore, I’m certainly not surprised by the man’s complaint, but I am deeply concerned about the spiritual ramifications and the struggle to discern God’s will in the way I live my life and how I act in obedience to God’s Word.
The if-then message that I spoke is roughly summarized below.
God told the prophet Isaiah to shout out…if
…if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. Isaiah 58:10-12(NRSV)
Isaiah…the prophet writing of the 6th century B.C.E., stood on the shoulders of generations of prophets striving to faithfully proclaim the Word of the Lord. Generation by generation the Holy Spirit inspires the prophet…demands of the prophet a choice…choose this day whom you will serve…The prophet must decide whether or not to give voice to the “if-then” proclamation of God. So today I cry out!
Who among us has been listening to the prophetic voice of Rev. Dr. William Barber II of “Repairing The Breach Ministry” in North Carolina? He challenges God’s people to take a stand. I join him in declaring: this is a time when we cannot allow Christ’s church to be defined by false prophets who claim to speak in Jesus’ name, but speak words directly opposite of what Jesus taught!
Regardless of political persuasion….forget about denominational lines, worship style preferences, theological perspective…liberal, conservative, liberation, progressive, traditional!!! This is a time for all Christians to refuse to allow Christianity to be coopted by haters, to take a good close look at the breach, and to figure out what it is going to take to repair it!
In "Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus", author, Bishop Michael B. Curry, points out that the commission Jesus has given us is IMPOSSIBLE…we likely agree…Lord how can we? We are weak. We don’t have funds….we are few…others are better equipped…. Our children, our seniors, our weak and vulnerable are at risk!
Well…thank God our ancestors trusted God enough to do the impossible! “We’ve Come this Far by Faith”….Now its time for our generation to Build!
Since waiting until we are strong and free to start building is not an option, God’ Word today provides us with a 3-part blueprint for building now!!!
First, to repair the breach; we must build up our spiritual strength… HOW? Cry out to God!
We are connected to one another! All of creation is interconnected…when one suffers, all suffer…we must cry out for each other!
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Our participation in healing the breach requires our willingness to CRY OUT! Cry out to God…to seek the way to share with the needy…the way to speak on behalf of the oppressed!
Second build up our spiritual courage (to repair the breach) HOW? Turn back to the law of God.
In this building now adventure we are called to be courageous Christians, recognizing that as we build up God’s beloved community…we will meet with opposition …and we must face our own fears in order to do so.
At first when we read or speak publically, when we testify, when we bring a message or teach a lesson, when we sit at a board room table…we tremble, we fear we won’t get it right…then after a while we figure out…that’s true…we will fail, we will get it wrong sometimes…we won’t make a great impression every time…and realizing that we grow in humble appreciation of the Holy Spirit that continues to urge us on anyway!
The apostle Paul didn't say it was easy for him to teach the gospel, he said that he trembled…why should we expect not to tremble when we take a stand for what is right and just…
So today! We are called in a time of great uneasiness to take a stand for the truth of God…that is, as the prophet Micah 6:8 said, “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God”…To speak out when injustice is apparently directed toward any of God’s creation! To realize that without kindness there is nothing holy regardless of who is speaking or acting!
Jesus…Mahatma Gandhi…Martin Luther King, Jr. …All taught that the power of love must be the power that is used to overcome evil. Otherwise, the power shift is simply from one manifestation of evil to another manifestation of evil…If we depend upon the unenlightened human concepts of “right” we will always fall into the trap of political or military coup after coup…with perhaps the faces of the oppressed changing from one racial or ethnic group (one tribe) to another depending upon which time period or which part of the globe, but always “wars and rumors of wars”…putting our faith in Jesus Christ means putting our faith in the One whose sword is the Word of God (the Word which is God’s Law!)…The One whose power is in the power to speak worlds into being out of nothing…the One whose power is committed to love and justice for all!
Putting our faith in God’s Word...in Jesus Christ, is putting our faith in the One who will usher in the era in which we will “beat our swords and weapons into plowshares…”
OUR CHARGE TO BUILD NOW requires us to ….feel the fear and do what is right anyway…to speak truth to power in love even when trembling! God’s Word, God’s law promises God will be with us when we do so.
Third build up our spiritual praxis (to repair the breach)
When we cry out to God and turn to God’s law (The Word of God) God will empower us to be repairers of the breach…THE TASK IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR US…BUT WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE!
No amount of rote or habitual practice of Christian behaviors will earn us salvation…the only salvation is in genuine embodiment of the Christ …drinking the whole cup…eating the whole loaf…living as Jesus teaches us to live. Embodying love and justice.
Bruce Birch and Richard Wilke, in Disciple II, the chapter on “Protecting the Powerless” discuss how the law of God and the civil laws enacted by the people of Ex. & Duet. were purposed to set them apart from the power mongering surrounding top-down authoritarian governments…to organize them as communities situated to remember that they came out of slavery…that they were to commit to compassion…caring for the poor…bringing many voices into decision making…insuring that their legal systems were modeled on commitment to social justice. The structures they put into place were shaped intentionally to, as the commentator said, “turn the world upside down.”
The hungry man who came to our discipleship discussion/fellowship last week…”turned our way of perceiving upside down.” He pointed us toward the love chapter in Cor. What good does it do if we give all we have to feed the poor…but have not love? …What did he see that was loving in the space we have responsibility for? What did he see that was unloving? Where do we have turning to do?
This in a sense “turns our world upside down.” Who would have predicted it would be one of the most vulnerable in our community, one who comes here for food and shelter, who would have predicted he would become our teacher of God’s Word on last Sunday?”
If we are to be healers of the breach, we must turn to God’s law and feed the hungry with love and compassion!
As we come to the conclusion of this message…. Just as it has always, in every generation, been socially, politically, economically, and often physically dangerous to work toward healing the divides between the tribes…Why?… Because it threatens the power base of the powerful and the powerful never give up their power without marshaling all of their forces against the opposition…This is true whether it’s a domestic situation of oppression within the home, or a global situation of oppression across the planet!
Keeping wars going is to the advantage of those who gain power from the wars! Keeping drugs in the bodies of our children is to the advantage of the sellers. Keeping the poor working for less than subsistence wages is to the advantage of the power mongers and the greedy…yet, in the face of the powerful of this world….in the face of the powers that oppose this-our Holy scriptural text instructs us:
Build Community Now!
Share blankets & clothes!
Share fellowship in love!
So…To Build Community Now! Cry out! Live by God’s law And Receive the Power to close the gap in Jesus’ Holy name Amen!
Afterword Yes, my voice rang out! …I realize that this seems out of place in the present era, I often feel uncomfortable with the passionate “country woman” preaching style that emerges when God places a prophetic Word in my mouth. Nevertheless, I continue to say; “Yes, Lord." Although I can make no claim to appear or to speak in ways that ingratiate me in the eyes and ears of this world, yet I surrender my will to the will and purpose of God my Savior.
The man who complained probably didn’t know that the criticism he offered was one that hit me in a personal weak spot, but thankfully, it is not my weak human abilities that we depend on, but upon the strength of Almighty God!
Prayer Lord, I cry out to you! Please use each of us, each of our voices, according to your will and your way. Please guide us into the Divine purpose established for our generation as we seek to build up your Beloved Community. Strengthen us in our weak places. Let us cry out with upraised voices and passionate pleas to the benefit of God’s people. Lord please forgive us for our sins and teach us your ways so that we can walk in them. We lift this prayer to you in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Coming Soon This prayer seeking instruction in God’s ways points toward the text for this coming Sunday…Psalm 119: 1-9…please read it, meditate on it, and come prepared to rejoice!
|Posted on September 7, 2015 at 7:50 AM||comments (0)|
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. Revelations 21:3-6
Whereas, The Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the Reverend Daniel Simmons, the Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Brother Tywanza Sanders, Sister DePayne Middleton Doctor, Sister Cynthia Hurd, Sister Myra Thompson, Sister Ethel Lance, and Sister Susie Jackson were gathered to study God’s Word when they were brutally shot down.
Whereas, The Emanuel Nine were by all accounts kind and welcoming to the one who hated and killed them for nothing more than their racial identity.
Whereas, the earthly lives of these dear Christian brothers and sisters has come to a close, the officers and members of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and of Lebanon United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Ohio extend love and compassion to the families, friends and church members. We pray earnestly for comfort and strength for those whose beloveds have transitioned from life in their mortal bodies to life immortal.
Be it Resolved, that, just as on Sunday July 12, 2015, we walked the block that our two historic churches share in humble prayer for all those who are hurting as a result of the heinous murders of these nine people. We will continue to work and pray together as a visible sign in our own city that we diverse peoples are unified in Christian love and stand against racism and hatred in all of its forms.
We will continue to offer thanks to God who has taken what was intended for evil and is using it to move us toward divine healing. We will continue to pray that the families and community members of Mother Emanuel will be encouraged by faith in the resurrecting power of Jesus The Christ and will know that the Church Universal stands with you.
Humbly Submitted on August 12, 2015
The Reverend Karen R. Schaeffer, Ph.D., Pastor Bethel AMEC Lebanon, Ohio
The Reverend Dillon Staas, Pastor Lebanon UMC