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A Methodist Loves God

Part I of the series “Marks of a Methodist”

Deuteronomy 6:1-9I John 4:7-20

methodists-1200What is a Methodist? That’s the first question that confronted me when I took my first ministry job as youth director at Faith United Methodist Church in Bellefonte, PA. I got the job, I think, largely because I was still and officer in the National Guard at the time and the youth group at that church was mostly 7th grade boys—if nothing else, things would be in order!

Within my first few months there I had a meeting with Pastor Dave McCullough, the senior pastor, where he slid a stack of curriculum across the table to me and said, “I want you to teach confirmation.” Now, I had grown up Presbyterian—and not a sort of squishy mainline Presbyterian but hardcore, PCA Presbyterian where I had to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism for my confirmation (if that was the “shorter” one, I’d hate to have read the long one!). I knew nothing about Methodism, even though I married a Methodist and had Methodist friends in high school. Asking around didn’t help because most of the Methodists I knew had never actually been taught anything about Methodism despite growing up in the church.

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Jonah and Reengaging the Mission

Jonah 3:1-10; Matthew 12:38-42

"Jonah Cast Forth By the Whale" by Gustave Dore. From

“Jonah Cast Forth By the Whale” by Gustave Dore. From

We have arrived at the third chapter of the Book of Jonah, and when we last left our dubious hero he had been barfed out on to the beach by the fish—this after his self-justifying prayer in chapter 2 and his flight from God’s presence and his mission in chapter 1. Here Jonah sits on the beach, his skin likely bleached white from the stomach acid in the fish’s belly, seaweed wrapped around his head, smelling like—well, you might imagine what he smelled like. Likely you would have smelled him before you saw him.

But there on the beach, the writer tells us that, “The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time.” As we learned in the first sermon, you really can’t run away from God’s call and as we discussed last week, neither God nor his creatures can stomach self-righteousness. If you’re going to make an impact as an exile in the prevailing culture, you have to engage and you have to get real about who you are and who God is.

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Jonah and the Need for Real Repentance

Jonah 1:17-2:10; Luke 18:9-14

Jonah barfedSo, let’s catch up on the story of Jonah. Last week we talked about Jonah as an advice tale for people in exile, living in a foreign culture and we learned that Jonah has a lot to say to us about how we Christians should live in a post-Christendom world. We looked at the first of four potential responses to being in exile—the first one being to run away. But we learned that you really can’t run away from God or God’s mission. Sooner or later, we have to go to Nineveh.

When we left Jonah, he was undergoing the involuntary baptism of being thrown in the sea by his shipmates. It’s hard to imagine a more frightening and lonely thing than to be taking your last breaths before going under the water in a raging storm. But at the end of chapter 1 we learn that even there in the chaos of a heavy sea, God provided for Jonah—he “provided a great fish to swallow Jonah” and, amazingly, Jonah lived in the fish’s belly for three days and three nights.

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A Family on Mission

Lessons from the Jesus Trail, Part III

Mark 3:31-35

Section of the old Via Maris. The Valley of the Doves and Sea of Galilee are in the distance.

Section of the old Via Maris. The Valley of the Doves and Sea of Galilee are in the distance.

The trail from Nazareth down to the Sea of Galilee winds downward through small villages and gentle valleys dotted with dairy farms and groves of olive and banana trees. We don’t know for sure what route Jesus took when he left his childhood home and went down to Capernaum on the north end of the Sea, but he might have used the Roman road known as the Via Maris (the way to the sea) for at least part of the journey before taking a shortcut through the Valley of the Doves, which cuts below Mount Arbel, one of the tallest peaks of the region.

Though we saw a section of the Via Maris on the second day of the hike, the Jesus Trail doesn’t generally follow the easiest route. In fact, it skirts the Valley of the Doves and goes over Mount Arbel which the founders of the trail no doubt included for its beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee. From the top of the peak you can see virtually all of the area where Jesus conducted most of his ministry over a three year period—a small triangle between the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.

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The Kingdom Party

Part III of “From Nazareth to Capernaum: Lessons from the Jesus Trail”

John 2:1-11

A Bar Mitzvah party in the square, Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem

A Bar Mitzvah party in the square, Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem

One of the things that you discover when you travel to Israel is that people in the Middle East like a good party. I’m not talking about the “whoo hoo” kind of par-tee that we tend glorify in films and beer commercials, instead I’m talking about celebrations with a purpose. In a land where there are deep divisions between religions and races, the one thread that is common to all of them is a deep sense of hospitality which is extended to everyone.

I gain about 6 pounds every time I travel there and this trip was no exception. Even after 40 miles of hiking, I’m still trying to trim down. During the tour, we had buffet breakfasts and dinners, but we also experienced the hospitality of people like our bus driver, Ishmael—an Arab with a big belly, a big laugh, a big family, and very big heart. As we got to know him, he opened his life to us. For lunch one day, he and his wife prepared us a massive dish called Maqluba, which is rice, vegetables, and meat cooked together and flipped over right before serving. We ate it as a picnic lunch overlooking Jerusalem—a special treat made with great love and hospitality. We were honored guests.

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