Sunday, January 20, 2019

Spiritual Gifts

John 2:1-11
1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 

9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 

11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

I Corinthians 12:1-11
1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 

7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Ministry and Economics: How Impulsive Politics Hurts my Community


I'm Pastor Joseph. I lead a small PC(USA) Congregation about 30 minutes west of Charlotte, NC. Sometimes I wear a kilt to work. I only wear the green hat when we're celebrating St. Patrick's Day, but the kilt is semi-regular.

I love Jesus, I love my family, I love my congregation, I love my community. I'm grateful to be an American.

But the political climate right now is actively interfering with my congregation's ability to do its job. I'd like to break that down. First, a couple of caveats:

  1. My criticism is not limited to either major political party. All sin, all fall short of the glory of God. Likewise, God is working to do God's will through both political parties.
  2. I'm not interested in blame. I'm interested in people taking responsibility for themselves, and their actions.
  3. I have almost no background in economics or political science. My training is in theology (as a huge blanket term) and emotional systems.
  4. The Gospel is political. That said, I'm going to try and keep this as non-partisan as possible. Where I fail, please know that I apologize, and I am eager to continue the conversation in respectful ways.
The current political climate is hindering my congregation's ability to share the love of Christ with our community by helping take care of the poor.

Right now, our political leaders are, with a few exceptions, ruled by impulsiveness and reactivity. Which means that those in charge (again, with a few exceptions) are either doing whatever feels or seems right to them at the time, or they are reacting to what's going on (by doing whatever feels or seems right to them at the time). This is bad. It's what we, as a democracy, have chosen for ourselves, but it's bad. It has led to a volatile stock market, and has led to a government shutdown.

My congregation supports local crisis ministries. Like many small churches, we can't do much, but when we pool our resources together we can make a much larger impact on those who need it. Unlike many small churches, we are blessed with a large endowment. This is the generosity of previous generations, invested wisely so that the ministry of our members may outlast them. Most of our financial support of our local crisis ministry comes from the growth of that endowment.

The stock market wasn't good to us in 2018. It wasn't good to a lot of people in 2018. With our investments, we're trying to help people keep their lights on, or not get evicted, or help pay for an unexpected funeral. When the stock market loses money, as it did in 2018, supporting that ministry becomes much more complicated. We cannot write the big check when there's no growth in the fund.
Here's what that looked like. I used
One of the reasons the stock market did poorly in 2018 is that the political climate is so unpredictable right now. Investment is an emotional process, and any economist will tell you that things tighten up when people are scared. Nobody wants to make a bad investment, and when the political climate is all over the place, it's hard to know what is a bad investment, so the stock market goes down.

Impulsive politics leads to poor stock performance. Poor stock performance means the local crisis ministry will not have as many resources. Fewer resources mean than the people in my community who need help will have a harder time finding it. Impulsive politics hurts poor people.

But the stock market is not the economy, right? Unemployment is low, wages are rising, maybe there won't be as much need this year!

Isn't it pretty to think so...

As of this writing, the government is in the midst of the longest shutdown in our history. Not every part of the government is affected, but some VERY important parts are. Federal Workers are either furloughed (on leave without pay, but are limited on travel and other employment options) or are working without pay.

These Federal Workers will need help during the shutdown. Maybe they'll be able to pay it forward once they get back pay, but they need help in the meantime keeping their bills paid, and buying food and stuff that can't be put on hold indefinitely.

These Federal Workers are suffering because of the impulsive and reactive political climate. They want to work. They want to be paid for their work. Their work matters. Don't let anyone tell you, or them, otherwise. They're out of work because the legislative branch and the executive branch have not passed a budget for their department. I have my opinion over whose fault that is, but that's my business.

These Federal Workers are a new group in need. But they're not the biggest need for the crisis ministry my congregation supports. Food stamp programs are also affected by the shutdown. 

A friend of mine shared this flyer on Facebook.
People on food stamps have been given money for a certain time, but they do no know when the next time they will have money for food will be. They are being urged to stretch their food stamp funds by visiting food pantries and crisis assistance ministries first, and then using their food stamps to fill in the gaps.

This means the crisis assistance ministry is about to have INCREASED need, at the same time that they will have DECREASED ability to help.

Impulsive Politics leads to government shutdowns. Government Shutdowns mean greater need from non-profits. Greater need from non-profits means that the Crisis Ministry's limited resources will be exhausted faster. Impulsive Politics makes it harder to help.

I lead a congregation that and has members of both major party affiliations. I love them all. I have voted for candidates from both major parties, and will do so again in the future. But the things that happen politically have real consequences for people in my neighborhood. My congregation will continue to be faithful, but if we could make the political climate more principled, our faith could have a much bigger impact on helping those who need it most.

Pray for them, pray for us. Remember that in this country we have a right to petition our government.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

By Another Road

Isaiah 60:1-6
1Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 
2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 
3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 
4Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms. 
5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, a because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 
6A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 2:1-12
1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 
4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

6'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" 

7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." 

9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was 10When they saw that the star had stopped, g they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Days are Surely Coming

Jeremiah 33:14-16
14The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Luke 21:25-36
25”There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Faithful Witness

John 18:33-37
33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world, If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Revelation 1:4b-8
4Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

7Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.

8”I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Doing Giving Together

Haggai 2:1-9
In the second year of King Darius, 1in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2”Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 9The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

II Corinthians 9:6-15
6The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

1He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obediences to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Word and Table

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 14:13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard [that John had been executed], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God