Saint Andrew United Methodist Church

1528 Church Road

Toms River NJ 08755

I Pledge Allegiance

Posted by on Thursday, January 11, 2018 @ 12:40 PM

John Henry Newman Said: “Evil has no substance of its own, but is only the defect, excess, perversion, or corruption of that which has substance”. This is true in politics as much as anything else. The human political enterprise, in its best and highest form, is our collective attempt to live better together than we can on our own. To weave a fabric of community that supports and encourages, protects and serves, and enables us to grow and prosper. So often, however, politics through the centuries, around the world, and even right here at home, devolves into self-seeking, self-serving, greed, prejudice, corruption, belligerence, ignorance, lies, propaganda, injustice, persecution (and the list goes on)…  until it resembles a terrible evil rather than a greater good.

 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

(Matthew 4:3-11)

The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is how he starts his ministry. These are familiar to most Christians: 1) The temptation to provide for yourself and your needs instead of relying on God; 2) The temptation to test God to see if He is true and faithful; and 3) The temptation to worship someone or something other than God. But, notice what is embedded in the third temptation: Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

In this passage, Satan, the devil, is the deceiver, the accuser, the destroyer. He is offering all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if Jesus would worship him rather than God. If these ‘kingdoms of the world’ are the devil’s to give away, it must mean that he is in firm possession and control of them.

The politics in our world have always been a terrible and ugly evil. Fulfilling John Henry Newman’s quote…  the devil offers no new evil of his own…   just the power to undercut and pervert and destroy. The kingdoms of the world have been undercut by human arrogance and will to power…   AKA self-seeking, self-serving, greed, prejudice, corruption, belligerence, ignorance, lies, propaganda, injustice, persecution, etc. etc. etc.

How does Jesus respond to this temptation? What does Jesus do when given the opportunity for glorious political power? He says: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” And turns down the offer.

Sure, Jesus said this in response to Satan’s bribe…   but it also communicates a very important political stance. When faced with the opportunity to ‘own’ the kingdoms of the world and all their majesty (Wealth, power, status, security) Jesus’ response is to worship the Lord our God AND SERVE HIM ONLY. And so should we as Christians and followers of Jesus. Christians are sojourners in a land that is not ours. We are strangers in a land in which we are not citizens. Our Kingdom is not here. Our politics should reflect that. Not aligning too closely with any imperfect political party or ideology, but firmly pledging allegiance to the Lord our God and to serve God only.

What does this look like? It looks like it did when Jesus did it: an undeniable allegiance to God and an unwavering commitment to justice and mercy for the poor and oppressed.

If we start here…   we can live the politics of Jesus as a shining reflection of the Kingdom of God in the midst of a whole lot of dark and troubled kingdoms of the world.

The Politics of Jesus

Posted by on Thursday, January 11, 2018 @ 12:37 PM

This week we begin a new worship theme entitled: The Politics of Jesus.

As much as we have been taught to (or would like to) regard Jesus and the Christian faith as apolitical…   the reality was that Jesus was, in fact, a very political figure, and his life and ministry had serious impact on the human endeavor of politics. John Dominic Crossan (New Testament Historian and former priest) has said something to the effect that: when Christians said, Jesus is Lord…   it meant, in a very real and tangible way, that Caesar (and his political establishment) was NOT.

But, where exactly is the intersection of personal faith and politics or political action? How, as Christians, do we navigate the divisive, partisan political environment of today while holding onto faith and hope and continuing to love one another?

What WOULD Jesus do in our contemporary American political climate? The specifics might be a little difficult to nail down, and it’s always dangerous to align Jesus too cleanly and closely with any of the hot-button political topics of the day. Still, we can clearly see from his life and ministry an unmistakable, undeniable allegiance to God and unwavering commitment to justice and mercy for the poor and oppressed.

These are the threads of Jesus’ politics we will be tracing and discussing in the upcoming five weeks.

Stay Planted and Grow

Posted by on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 @ 2:14 PM

I like New Year’s Day. No, not the parties and celebrations (although they are fun)…   but rather the clean new slate that New Year’s Day offers for the upcoming year. Lots of people take advantage of this new slate by making ‘resolutions’ or commitments to improve in specific ways in the coming year. Diets, exercise, better money management, starting new hobbies, or making a career change are usually popular choices. Among Christians, it’s a popular time of year to recommit oneself to spiritual development. You know…   praying more, reading the Bible more, going to church more, or giving more of their time, talent, and treasure.

Whatever commitments or ‘resolutions’ we want to make for the new year we have to be ready and willing to dig down, try hard, and stick it out. The truth of the matter is most new commitments and resolutions are broken before the end of January or February. We all tend to underestimate how difficult it is to improve ourselves in meaningful ways. Often, this leads to giving up when the going gets toughest or when the toughness lasts too long for our taste.

What we need to see us through the challenge of improving, maturing, and growing is a ‘big picture’ to inspire us. If its diet and exercise we are after, then the big picture is a long active life in which health and vitality far outweigh chronic illness and pain. If its good money management we are after, then the big picture is the freedom and security of having savings in the bank and money for what we need. If it’s a new hobby or career we are after, then the big picture is greater personal fulfillment, meaningful work and activity, and greater life satisfaction.

 But, what about resolutions or commitments for spiritual development. What is the big picture there? The answer is to live into a greater relationship with God and others by realizing how our life and love is connected with God’s life and love. Jesus puts it this way in John 15:1-8:

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

 When we see our lives and ourselves as connected with God in Jesus like a branch is connected with the main vine…   we are inspired and empowered to improve, mature, and to stay firmly planted and grow! Even when the going gets tough…   we know and trust that God’s power and grace will strengthen us because we are staying connected with Jesus

May your New Year commitment bring you deeper faith, hope, and love in 2018!

Real Gifts

Posted by on Monday, December 18, 2017 @ 8:58 AM

There’s a quote by American writer and artist Brian Andreas that goes like this:

“If you hold on to the handle, she said, it's easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it's more fun if you just let the wind carry you.”

Isn’t it true! We spend a lot of time and energy holding onto the handles of our lives desperately trying to steer things. We fret and worry and plan and prepare and sometimes things go our way…   but often they don’t. And the big scary reality behind it all is that we don’t have a heck of a lot of control over anything. ‘Control’ is mostly an illusion we are too scared to let go of.

The way we do Christmas reflects this preoccupation with the illusion of control. We like to get everything just right: the right gifts, the right party, the right tree and decorations, the right feelings, sentiments, memories, and nostalgia. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a Christmas filled with all the joy and pleasantness we can manage. But, the cost is usually high: lots of money, lots of stress, lots of time, lots of anxiety. We expend ourselves in an attempt to control Christmas like we try and control the rest of our lives only to find out that the cost is high and the results, all in all, are so-so.

And in the midst of it all there is another Christmas happening…   one that often gets neglected in the hustle and bustle of creating OUR perfect Christmas…   the Christmas that was announced that night over the fields of Bethlehem: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” No, this is not just a plea to “keep Christ in Christmas”. Jesus, Messiah, came into the world as really, truly, God in the flesh. Jesus, Savior, came into the world as really truly, a light that shines in the darkness. In his coming the world was promised: ”peace on earth and goodwill towards all people”.

The circumstances of his birth and his life reflect our own…   and the lives of all people: a life mostly out of our control. He didn’t get any advantages. He was born in a stable-yard. He didn’t have wealth or power or fame. He wasn’t regarded as special. And, when he shook things up with his mission and ministry, the powers of the world (the Romans and Jewish Leaders) had him executed.

So, maybe, 'control' as we understand it, isn’t the goal of a life well lived or the necessary ingredient in the best Christmas ever. Maybe there is something in the coming of Christ that beckons us to look past the little handles of our little lives that are mostly out of control most of the time? Maybe there’s something God-sized to see instead…   to see and to enter into? The Christmas that changed the world was the one where God came down, in Jesus, and gave himself fully in faith, hope, and love so that the world would be saved. He gave up control and instead, by the wind of the Holy Spirit, found a freedom to live and give God’s promise, healing a broken world everywhere he went all the days he walked upon it.

Maybe if we, similarly, let the wind of the Holy Spirit carry us in the same direction, we will find the real gifts of Christmas don’t come by controlling what we get but by freely giving ourselves away…   just as Jesus did.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place whileQuirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Good News

Posted by on Monday, December 11, 2017 @ 11:02 AM

Christmas was built on prophecy. Long before Jesus was born a baby in a Bethlehem manger…   the prophet Isaiah was proclaiming God’s promise that “people walking in darkness have seen a great light!”

Two features of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the coming messiah are: 1) the world is a dark and dangerous place heading for destruction; 2) God’s chosen King is coming to usher in an age of victory, peace, and prosperity.

Have you ever experienced a season of darkness in your life? It can be demoralizing and despairing. During times of struggle we can begin to doubt that anything good can come out of it. We can even make choices under duress that make matters worse…   deepening the sense that life is out of control. The Israelites spent centuries wrestling with injustice, oppression, struggling and suffering between the time Isaiah prophesied and the time Jesus was born.  When life is dark, we NEED a word of hope and promise. We NEED encouragement to keep going. We NEED someone to shed light on our darkness and show us the way to a future of victory, peace, and prosperity. Even though we NEED it…   it can be so hard to muster the faith to embrace God’s promises.

 

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

(Isaiah 9:1-7)

May Christmas give you the faith to embrace God’s promises.

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