God Loves You

Once again I’m stuck. I want to share with you so much. I want to let you know that God is with you. I want to let you know that you’re going to be OK; that God hasn’t brought you this far to drop you. I want you to know that I’m going to miss you just as you’ll miss Chris and I. But again, perhaps the most important thing I want you to know is what I’ve always wanted you to know: that God loves you.

Psalm 139: 1-18

God made you the way you are. I’m not talking about the stuff that you learned when you were growing up. I’m not talking about the baggage we end up carrying. I’m not talking about the scars we earn in the world that damage our health or our state of mind. I’m talking about the essential you. The you that doesn’t change. The you that is Straight or gay, Bi or Trans, Male or female, the genetic patterns that are the human that is you in the world. This God created, and for a reason.

Jeremiah 1:4-5

Even before you were born your place was fashioned in God’s heart. There is a purpose to your life, a plan for you. Your job is to live as yourself in the world, rely on God for Grace and righteousness, and believe in Jesus as your Lord and savior.

And how do you believe in Jesus? You do the stupidest thing. You do the most idiotic thing. You do the thing that doesn’t make any sense. You choose to believe. Then, after choosing the most insane route you could imagine, believing that God’s son came to this world and died for us, a new world opens up.

It’s what you need to do as the church moves forward. You need to choose to believe that God is watching out for you. Choose to believe that the Holy Spirit is with you. Choose to believe that Christ is at the very center of all that you do. And then, mad as it sounds, God watches over you, the Holy Spirit becomes available to you, and you’ll find that Christ is at the very center of all that you do.

I remember walking through this church each week praying for God’s Blessing upon this place. I prayed for it to be filled with God’s love and God’s Light. I prayed for healing, for joy, and for Christ to be with us. And each and every Sunday when we’ve shown up for worship – so has God.

I will be praying for you constantly over the coming weeks and months. I will be praying that you remember that being church can be a messy business but that love covers a multitude of sins. I will be praying that you pray like it depends on God and work like it depends on you – because both of these statements are true. You are co-creators with God in this endeavor; it is a kind of dance that has steps in this world and steps in heaven. It is rooted in common sense and brought to life and perfected through your faith.

And I will be praying that you know Joy. That God’s blessings shower upon you and the work that you do. That the church continue to grow, and that you end up in the most fabulous building that Hagerstown has to offer. I will be praying that whenever you show up that so does God, and that Christ bless you with his presence. …. But, if you forget all of this simply remember the most important bit; That God loves you. And so do I.

Love

Pastor Michael

 

Alone? Jesus is the Answer

It’s horrible to feel alone, and there are many ways it can happen.

There’s Spiritual isolation. This happens when we feel like we’re the only one that has a connection to God like ours, and nobody else can understand it. Sometimes that connection is strong, but we feel disconnected from everyone else because of it. Sometimes it can feel like we’re spiritually disconnected from God, and our hunger eats away at us in ways we find it difficult to share with anyone else.

Then there’s emotional isolation, when we feel that no one understands us and the emotional places we’ve been. We find ourselves disconnected from those we love, unable to make a connection and bewildered why it should be so difficult. Sometimes it can have a focus, maybe our sexuality; We’re not able to be ourselves with the people we love and so we feel disconnected. But at other times there might be a physiological barrier; We might be depressed or suffer from some other undiagnosed brain chemistry imbalance that leaves us feeling alone. Either way it’s a horrible place to be.

Then there’s physical isolation. We may find it difficult to connect with other folks and make friends. We try to connect through Facebook or some other social media only to find that it’s an emotional and social minefield that disconnects us even further. We may have a physical disability or health issue that prevents us from connecting to people the way we wish, or simply find that social interaction is a maze that we’re simply afraid to enter.

And then we have church, our own New Light.

It’s such a mix! People all believing different things, some of which aren’t even Christian. People at different socio economic levels. People at different levels of health and fitness. Different ages, genders, sexualities. It’s a huge messy social mix that would baffle the best anthropologists!

But quite often church is the answer. Not because of the people but because of Jesus. You see, he doesn’t guarantee that we’re all going to get on. He doesn’t even guarantee that we’re going to like each other. What he does guarantee is he will be the fulcrum point of it all, the center and point of certainty.

In Jesus our Spiritual isolation is conquered by love. We are reminded that God is at the core of each and every life and there will be moments when we connect with each other, and times when we don’t.

In Jesus our emotional isolation is conquered by love. Liking someone is secondary to loving someone, and we’re in a place where Christ’s love covers us all and binds us together.

In Jesus our Physical isolation is conquered by love. We have to connect with other people in order to be church. And, at Communion, that most sacred sacrament, we are called into relationship with Christ anew.

Of course there are still going to be days when we feel alone. There will be days when we feel that we are completely isolated in ways that need medical attention, (and we should seek it). There will be days when we still feel Spiritually, emotionally, or physically isolated, just as I mentioned; But with church we have the best chance of overcoming.

It’s not that Church is the answer. It’s that Jesus is the answer and we find him, as unlikely as it may seem, when we gather together.

With much love
Rev. Michael

 

Fellowship Sunday

Today is Fellowship Sunday, the 44th anniversary of MCC. Today is the day that we celebrate our fellowship with a special offering. It’s money that this year is set aside for the work of the denomination with local churches. It will help provide programming at conference, support new works, and help established congregations that need a hand getting their message out into the community.

Do you remember the first time you walked through the doors of an MCC? I remember being very scared! I really had no idea what to expect, although I suspected it was a bunch of gay people playing at church. The very last thing I expected was to meet Jesus at that first service! It changed the course of my life and I’ve never been the same since. I now know that God loves Gays, Lesbians, Trans, and Bisexual people unconditionally. I’ve seen that love in action! I’ve seen it as God has poured the Holy Spirit out in worship and touched other lives just as Jesus did mine. I’ve seen God change people! I’ve seen hearts and attitudes change as God’s hand reaches into the core of their being.

And make no mistake – Jesus changes lives. I’ve seen healing take place in amazing ways. I’ve seen attitudes change and hearts soften. But you know what I’ve not seen? I’ve never seen God change anyone’s sexuality.

Oh yes, God may change the way someone relates to those around them. God might heal broken hearts and damaged relationships. God may even heal in other dramatic ways – yet I’ve never seen God change a person’s sexuality or their core gender. Why is that?

It’s quite simply that there’s nothing there that needs healing. Difficult to understand for many of the 90% of the population who are heterosexual, especially for those who have grown up within patriarchal and hierarchical structures or have had little contact with the LGBT community. Yet, nothing is difficult for God. God’s love is absolute. God’s love is unconditional. God’s creation is a rainbow of life made by God’s very own Hand.

When Rev. Elder Troy Perry gathered those first MCCers 44 years ago I bet he never dreamed what we’d become. I bet he didn’t guess that we’d be a voice in the White House. I bet he didn’t know that around much of the globe we’d be known as The Human Rights Church. I bet he didn’t think that there’d be a thriving Christ centered MCC community in a place called Hagerstown in Maryland! Yet here we are.

I encourage you to celebrate today by giving generously to the fellowship. I encourage you to give from the heart. I ask you to think of all of those who have yet to come through the doors of an MCC. Those who have been battered down by some right wing religious group and haven’t yet heard the inclusive Gospel that MCC preaches. Think of those who have been denied access to God’s table and don’t realize yet that there’s a place where loving open communion exists. Think of those that haven’t met the amazing God that we’ve met in Jesus Christ. And on behalf of them all – Thank you.

With much love
Rev. Michael

Watch Out For the Dogs!

Fred hasn’t been feeling well lately. One morning we noticed a great chunk of fur missing from the top of his back. When the area started to bleed we took him to the vets. He was on steroids and antibiotics for two weeks and actually lost a little weight!

We’re still not sure how he lost the fur but we can hazard a guess. Fred loves to tease the dogs. He’ll position himself on the sofa arm and wait until Pebbles and Odie go past then take a swipe at them with his claws. Sometimes he’ll creep up on them when they’re asleep. We think he must have crept up on one of the dogs, startled them, and got a nip in return. It’s lucky it was only fur he lost!

Whilst I don’t condone Pebbles or Odie’s actions, I have to say that Fred probably had it coming. He teases the dogs mercilessly, despite them being more than twice his size.

I think that there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from Fred’s behavior. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus tells us “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”. Perhaps he should have said “I’m sending you out like cats amongst beagles” and I’d have known exactly what he meant. You see, beagles look terribly sweet. They look like they wouldn’t hurt a fly. I have a personal relationship with two of them, and love them a lot. But – I forget that behind those wonderfully floppy ears and winsome smile there are huge canine teeth. As beautiful as they are you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of one like Fred did!

Some people we meet are like those very same beagles. They’re sweet as can be most of the time. We love them and even have personal relationships with them. Yet, as Jesus warns us, we need to be careful.

Sometimes those teeth come out when we talk about our faith. Sometimes they get bared when we talk about LGBT issues. You can usually tell when it’s about to happen – it starts with a growl.

In Philippians 3:2 Paul advises us to “watch out for the dogs”, which is I think another way of saying ‘choose your battles carefully’. We want to be true to who we are, and we want to stand up for our rights, but we also need to remember that it’s not always a safe world that we live in.

In Matthew 7:6 Jesus warned us “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

As we move towards the coming election, and encourage others to vote YES for question six, I pray that we all do so safely. Emotions can run high during elections so we need to ensure we’re not in a vulnerable place when we voice our feelings. Think about volunteering at a phone bank, or going door to door with a group. I encourage you to do so as it can be a great experience. Make a stand for what you believe, ensure your voice is heard, and make a difference in both your community and your country. And be careful If you want to go door to door then ask someone to go with you, and if you want to make a stand join a group like Marylanders for Marriage Equality. Make sure your voice is heard, but be safe doing so, and watch out for the dogs!

With much love
Rev. Michael

The Times Are A Changing

I wanted to write something clever this week about Question 6. I wanted to talk about the question in the light of this week’s bible readings. I wanted to talk about how much things have changed since the time when a ‘Good Woman’ was basically a slave to her husband and family. I wanted to talk about the last being first and the first being last. But all the time Bob Dylan’s protest song “Times Are a Changing” kept going through my head.

So, I listened to the song in full again. I read the words again. This voice of a bygone era speaking to a generation almost sixty years later seems as relevant as ever.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” If we look at the changes of the last 60 years we can certainly see the truth of it.

Yet we cannot be complacent. We have our part to play. We need to get the word out that same sex marriage is good for Maryland and that the law needs to change. And if you need a little encouragement then re-read the words of the song, and pray that times are a changing.

Much love.

Rev. Michael

The Times Are a Changing – Bob Dylan

Come gather ’round people Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters Around you have grown
And accept it that soon You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who That it’s namin’.
For the loser now Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’.

It’ll soon shake your windows And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers Throughout the land
And don’t criticize What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command
Your old road is Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn The curse it is cast
The slow one now Will later be fast
As the present now Will later be past
The order is Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Who Am I?

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the most beautiful one of all?

Isn’t she wonderful! There’s something compelling about a great villain, and the wicked queen is certainly a great villain!

Yet, there are times when we all need to look in the mirror and ask the question “Who am I?”, just as Jesus asks his disciples in this week’s Gospel reading. And quite often the answers are not what we want. “You’re stupid” or “you’re less than…” are often the answers that come back. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Beware the lying mirror!

You are a creation of God, and as the saying goes “God didn’t make no junk”. You are a sibling of Jesus the risen Christ, loved by him so much that he was willing to go to the cross for you. You are loved beyond your wildest imaginings by the most Awesome God, as well as by your brothers and sisters in Christ. You were created on purpose. For a purpose. Your Spirit is the same Spirit that’s found in Jesus Christ because he gave it to you.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made! You are a star – made to shine! You are the handiwork of God, created to love and serve God. You are amazing!

But, do you let your light shine? Do you let the world see who you really are – bearing in mind that the world doesn’t always adore God’s work? Do you give of yourself in service, in this community and the wider community? No? Then, why not?

I am reminded of Marianne Williamson’s wonderful poem:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others

I pray this week you look in the mirror and ask the question “Who am I?” For the answer is “You are amazing, you are worthy, and you are loved”, – and it all starts there.

Love,
Rev. Michael

All Are Winners Here

Whilst America is in the grip of election fever the United Kingdom is in the grip of the Paralympics. They have come from all over the world to compete. Swimmers with no arms, tennis players with no legs, runners with muscular dystrophy, and many more, all competing for the Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals of the Olympic games.

Very quickly you begin rooting for your home team, cheering them on. The home crowds are great, singing songs (Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ along with a lot of stomping is a great favorite) and cheering the players on. But there’s one major difference between the Olympics and Paralympics. In the Olympic races the winner was cheered and the cheering dissipated as the rest of the runners came in. At the Paralympics the cheering often began with the winner and grew to a crescendo as the very last person took the winning line.
Although there are winners who will walk away with a medal – all are winners here.

I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:8 where he says “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” And in 1st Corinthians 9: 24 – 26 where Paul says “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.”

Like the Paralympic champions, we win by simply finishing the race. We win by participating. It’s not the first to the finish line that gets all the glory, it’s every single person that crosses the line. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s endurance that counts.


In Matthew 24: 13 Jesus reminds us that “The one who endures to the end shall be saved”.

So, take some time this week and check out the Paralympics 2012 on YouTube. I guarantee you’ll be encouraged and inspired by these wonderful athletes to win your own race.

With Love,

Rev. Michael

Part of a tapestry, God is still weaving

Today we’re holding our congregational meeting and I do hope that we vote to worship at 40 West Church Street until we can sell the building and buy something larger. If only we’d known a couple of months ago that we could increase our permit number by taking the stoves out of the kitchen!

Yet, I do wonder if this was something we had to go through. It brought another issue to the fore and allowed me the opportunity to air a long standing problem and apologize for causing it. My hope is that the air was cleared and we’re in a much better place to be able to move forward.
I truly believe that God hasn’t brought us this far to abandon us, rather that God has amazing plans for our future. We are the warp and weft, the threads of the amazing tapestry being woven by God, an integral part of his will in our communities. We are all a part of a tapestry God is still weaving and is far from completed.
I pray that as we move forward you embrace whatever God is leading us into. It includes preaching the inclusive gospel of God’s love to an ever greater audience; it includes meeting the needs of even more of the greater community; and it means deepening our spiritual lives so that the life of the church may be grounded ever deeper in God’s presence, in Christ’s love, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that the future looks good because our future is in God.

With Love
Rev. Michael

Forgiveness isn’t easy.

One of the lectionary readings this week is taken from 2 Samuel and is the story of how Absalom meets his end. Absalom had raised an army against his father, King David, and gone to war. The battle went badly, and the tide turned against Absalom, so the young man made a bid for escape. Alas, Absalom’s mule ran beneath a low hanging tree and his long hair caught up in the branches. Hanging there, helpless, some of the impulsive hot headed young men of David’s army came by and, ignoring the King’s edict that Absalom not be harmed, ran him through with their swords killed him on the spot.
Poor Absalom. Poor David. Absalom loses his life. David loses his son. He wails out to God ‘I wish it had been me, I wish it had been me’. And beside this tragedy over 20,000 others die because of this family feud.
In Matthew 18: 18-22 we read about how Jesus views feuds. His advice is, quite simply, to forgive and move on. Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Good advice, but forgiveness isn’t easy. In order to forgive a number of things have to happen first.
Firstly, we need to want to forgive. That doesn’t mean that we’re OK with whatever happened to cause the breach but rather that we’re not OK about how we feel about it. We need to want to feel better and we need to want to heal. It’s so easy to want to hang onto anger and hurt because they place someone else in the wrong, set them as the focus of our pain, but the truth is that forgiveness is not about them, it’s about us.
Secondly, we need to be willing to give the event, and the way we feel about it, over to God – and there’s a number of ways we can do that. We could simply write God a letter and place it on an altar or in some other meaningful place. We can simply choose to love the person who wronged us, spend time praying for them and for God’s will to be done. We can hand it over in prayer – a simple statement of intent – although this is actually the most difficult way and you may need to hand it over many times before you succeed in leaving it with God.
And none of this is easy. We have emotions that turn the world upside down. Holding a grudge against someone is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die, or like beating ourselves up and expecting the other person to hurt.
In Hebrews 12:15 we are asked to See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. When we are feeling hurt it’s the Grace of God that can help us to move through the pain to a place of healing. However, this scripture in Hebrews suggests that a bitter root can get in the way of that Grace. In other words, you can hold a grudge, or you can experience God’s Grace, but they can’t both happen at the same time. Bitterness and hurt not only weigh us down, they deprive us of God’s Grace. Letting Go, and letting God, is really the only way.
Ultimately the final word on forgiveness lies in today’s Scripture reading. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. We forgive others because we have been forgiven ourselves. Jesus went to the cross so that we might be forgiven – and we don’t forget that.
How different would Absalom’s end have been if he’s chosen to respect his father’s Kingship and wait until the throne came to him as a matter of course. How different would we be if we were able to let go of the weight of hurt that weighs us down?
With Love
Rev. Michael

Start building something new

It’s something you never imagined happening, and you didn’t see it coming. Now you feel like the foundation of your life has crumbled under your feet, and no wonder. It has. Things aren’t what they used to be!

There’s no better time than now to start building something new.

While much good may be gone, no doubt there were things about the past that you didn’t like … things you may have wanted to change, but didn’t or couldn’t. Now is the time to turn over a new leaf … to express a part of yourself long put aside … to reach out and embrace life afresh.

Now is the time to accept a new reality … to redefine “normal” … to reclaim yourself … to look with expectant eyes at what today and the days ahead have to offer.

Now is the time to realistically assess your situation … the good and the bad, the opportunities and the challenges. If you have trouble seeing your way clearly, talk these things over with a loved one, close friend, or counselor.

Remember: Though much has changed, not everything needs to be changed. Today is the day to focus on necessary decisions. Make those and leave all other decisions until tomorrow.

Now is the time to care for your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Refuse to let avoidable illness or stress drain away your energy, because …

there’s no better time than now to start building something new.

It’s All in How You Look at It by Inspirited by Faith


Grant, O God,
that what has been said with our lips we may believe in our hearts,
and that what we believe in our hearts we may practice in our lives,
through Jesus the Christ. Amen


Dear Friends,

It’s hard to believe that it is already August – the summer has just flown by (or so it seems to me). I have found it so gratifying to be able to spend time with people in the hospital, both patients and staff, offering comfort and support to those in need. I also feel great joy in my heart as I have been able to return to New Light MCC and participate in worship. My calendar year at Vision of Hope MCC was very rewarding and provided a wonderful learning experience; however, like Dorothy, I think there’s no place like home.

My sermon this week is an appeal for unity for us all – as the body of Christ who have been called to this church, our church, where we might worship together the One God, the One Son, and the One Holy Spirit of us all. Let us share together the Spirit of Jesus that burns brightly within each one of us so that together we can be all that we are called to be.

Love,

Deacon Colleen