Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Night In Downtown Chatfield.
by Pastor Debra Jene Collum

It was glorious to be downtown on Halloween night, seeing the children dressed in their costumes. There were princesses, super heroes, warriors, washing machines, fairies, witches, aliens, screams, and even an outhouse.
There was a lot of energy downtown.  A lot of fun. A lot of laughter. A lot of community.
A lot of imagination.

Then there was a group of people who really had the power on Halloween night in downtown Chatfield. Youth and adults from Chatfield United Methodist Church and their friends; Tyler, Holly, Andy, Sarah, Madison, Jeanne, Brianna, Sarah, BrookLynn and me, we were the ones who stopped traffic. We were the ones who helped all those wonderful children and their parents cross HWY 52.

When I agreed to help out by being crossing guards I didn’t realize how much we were needed. I figured we would stand on street corners and once in a while stop a few cars while children and parents crossed the street.
But no! We were stopping cars constantly. And people were crossing the street pretty regularly. The busiest place was in front of Shari’s, the bowling alley. We had 3-4 crossing guards working there the entire evening.

The scariest part was when the semis came through. No one was going very slowly, trucks, RV’s minivans, cars, and semis they all drove as if they were on a highway in the country. Not on a Highway going through a town. Seemingly oblivious to the crowds of children in costumes waiting to cross the street 

Until, one of us strode into the traffic with our snazzy orange and yellow florescent vests and put up our hands. STOP! Cars, trucks, and even semis came to a stop while costumed children and their parents safely crossed HWY 52.

Whoa, that is power. Not only to stop a vehicle, but to give someone safe passage.

The young people were impressed with the thanks they received from the community. They were just doing what I had asked them to do. It wasn’t until later that they realized, this was important.

That is how it is with important things, truly important things. We often don’t know their importance until it is pointed out.

That is why we keep doing the little things, the things we are asked to do. They might just turn out to be really, really important.

Thanks everyone for making downtown Chatfield a safer place on Halloween night.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Luke 18:9-14
Two Sinners, One Grace
Chatfield UMC

"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Good News translation of the bible begins the gospel lesson in Luke 18 in this way:

Jesus also told this parable to people who were sure of their own goodness and despised everybody else.

The Message Bible begins like this:
       He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people:

and the NIV like this:To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

Jesus told this story to some who were, to people who were, to some who were

Who was he talking to? To His followers. His disciples. Who he must have been concerned that they were becoming: sure, confident complacently pleased with themselves

Because they were good, moral, upstanding, righteous people. They had been following Jesus all this time, the goodness would have to have begun to show up.

The sort of people we hope would come to our church: good, moral, upstanding, righteous people. I mean.
Now what this parable is not about is abandoning all pretext of holy living and running around as a near-do-well thinking that somehow this is what God wants us to be.

Nor is it about beating ourselves up because we are such horrible sinners.

What it is about is how we are in relationship with each other and with God as we live together in the body of Christ.

The context of this parable is very important. This parable takes place in a house of worship. And it is about two people who come to pray to the place of worship. A HOUSE OF WORSHIP

The Gospel of Luke was written during the latter part of the 1st century in order to help the church understand what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. By this time, churches had established places of worship, even if they were only small houses or shops. They were beginning to form into congregations and learning how to be with each other.
Learning how to be with each other. They were learning that it was important to live moral lives accountable to one another. We know from letters Paul wrote to the early churches that there were some who were committing adultery. In some tabloid special kind of ways.

We also know, from the story of Ananias and Sapphira, that all weren’t giving to God their tithe or at least what they said they gave. A&S are the poor couple who were struck dead because they said they had given their offering to the church but hadn’t really done so.
It’s a disturbing piece of early church history. I’m glad God doesn’t do that anymore.

We know that there were those in the early church who took money from the offering that was to go to the widows and orphans. And those who used the communion table as a place of gluttony.
In other words, in the early church there were people who were the direct opposite of the Pharisee.

A man of high moral fiber, he didn’t cheat on his wife, take money from the poor and powerless, or even sinned much. He fasted and tithed just like a good Jew should.
Just the sort of person we would all want in our churches.

Except that he started thinking more highly of himself than he ought. He started looking down his nose at the ordinary folk. The new believers who didn’t quite understand the idea of table fellowship or every Sunday church attendance. Or the gentiles who had never heard of tithing let alone fasting. And while his haughty attitude wasn’t good for him, it was terrible for the church. For the body of Christ. The body of Christ is the place where every part is holy and scared and necessary. From the nose to the toenail. from the brain cell to the liver enzyme. Every part is holy and good and necessary.

This parable is about what can happen to some people. Some people who are followers of Jesus but who have stopped remembering whose they are. They have stopped remembering that there is none righteous no not one. that by grace are we saved through faith, it is the gift of God lest anyone should boast. They have begun to think that it is their gifts, their graces and their work that is making the church the awesome place that it is. And if only everyone would be like them, well, it would be an even better place.

The parable is about all of us. All of us. Because we all can become at a moment’s notice without even trying, like the Pharisee. Good, good, good people who look at others with contempt. Who sees the splinter in the other’s eye while ignoring the log in our own. Who think that if we weren’t here it would all fall apart.

Thankfully, Jesus told us this parable. So we are not without hope for justification and righteousness. All we have to do is stand aside and step down. Just as the tax collector did. Just as Jesus did. When he came to dwell with us. Hear these words from Philippians 2, probably some of the most beautiful words ever written about the body of Christ and Jesus.
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God,
 he did not consider being equal with God something to grasp onto.
But he emptied himself
 by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
 even death on a cross.”

every promise we can makeevery prayer and step of faithevery difference we can makeis only by God's grace  Grace Alone, Words and Music by Scott Wesley Brown, Jeff NelsonLyrics found on:

Lord be merciful to me a sinner Lord be merciful to us sinners so that we can grow more and more into the likeness of Christ. So that we can more and more be with our brothers and sisters the body of Christ for the sake of the world’s salvation.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Healing of Ten, The Healing of Thousands

Luke 17: 11-19
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist Church
October 20, 2013

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”
When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

A lot has been made about the story of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. Remember the story. Jesus came to a well in Samaria. His disiciples left him there because they needed to go into town to buy food. At the middle of the day a woman from Samaria came to the well and was surprised by Jesus who asked her for water. Who then turned the conversation around and supplied her with living water. Her life was so changed that she ran to her village to tell everyone about this man who saw into her heart and still loved her.

We know this story, but how often do we hear the story of the Samaritan man? The one in today’s Gospel reading? We simply know him as the leper who wrote Jesus a thank you note. And that is mostly what we know about this story, that it is about being grateful.

And it is, but it is also about much, much more.

Let’s start at the beginning: Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem. He was traveling toward his death. Deliberately. Radically.

This concept came to me at a conference I was just at. And so some of you have heard me say this before just recently. Jesus was, like each one of us, traveling toward his death. He was just much more aware of it than we usually are. and much more accepting of it. As a matter of fact, he set his face toward it.

We usually try to duck out of the way when someone mentions that we are mortal, don’t we? We don’t wake up every morning and say: Oh good, I am one day closer to the grave. I have one less day in my life span today than I did yesterday. If you have ever taken a depression test you know that one of the questions that is asked is if you think about dying frequently. If you would answer, yes, every day I wake up and say to myself, I’m closer, well, you would be prescribed some very strong anti-depressants.

But Jesus was and he knew and we are and we should at least consider it. At least enough to think about, what does it mean that this is the only road we will travel. This is the only life we will live. This is our chance to get it right. Maybe, like Jesus, we would live more fully.

Jesus was on his way toward death, yet fully living his life as the moments presented themselves.

Such as this one: he came to a village. A village that happened to be on a border between two ethnic groups: Samaria and Galillee, We know about borders between two ethnic groups. We are watching what happens all over the world when two ethnic groups who are living in the same region start wars with each other. Syria, Nigeria, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine.
It’s why we can’t make any head way in these reasons, because the hatred and distrust run so deep and so ingrained. We don’t know how to negotiate in these situations. We don’t know what is deeply causing the conflict. The people may speak the same language, even worship the same god, but they hate each other with a passion that it hard to understand.

Jesus traveled between the borders of ethnic groups and came to a village. On the way to his appointment with death in Jerusalem. Would you stop? Would you pay any attention to a group of men who came out a village of a border town full of ethnic strife?

Or would you avert your eyes, as if you were passing a horribly disfigured person and didn’t want to draw attention to yourself or to their sorry plight?

What would Jesus do. Oh vey, Jesus would, of course, look the horribly disfigured person right in the eyes. All ten of them. And hear their cries for mercy. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."

Have mercy on us. They didn’t presume to ask for healing. They were probably only asking for a handout. or a kind word. or an acknowledgement that they were human. 
Leprosy, the untouchable disease. It’s curable now. And we know that it isn’t as contagious as it looks. But it can still cause horrible disfiguration so we can only imagine what a person with leprosy looked like in Jesus day. Mercy was not often given to a person with leprosy. dishonor, shame and fear, not mercy.

Yet in this border village ten men lived with leprosy. And there was a priest who served their needs. Maybe it was a leper colony. Or maybe it was a village filled with strangers, outcasts and ten men with disfiguring diseases didn’t make much difference to anyone.

They cried out for mercy and received healing. Salvation really. Wholeness. Really.
Go and present yourselves to the priest, Jesus said. Enter back into your community. You will be able to attend synagogue. You will be able to be a fully functioning member of society. You are healed. You are whole.

In a border town, in the midst of ethnic strife, ten men were healed. One came back and told the man who was on his way to death, ‘thank you.’ It doesn’t seem to us like a very good return on Jesus’ investment of healing energy. But when we consider how many people are made whole every single day by Jesus’ love and mercy and healing power of spirit and soul, who also never say thank you. Who never even realize they were healed… it was probably a typical day in Jesus’ life.

Yet, Jesus continued on his way towards Jerusalem. To his death. A death that would heal thousands and tens of thousands who will live and breathe and have their being in him daily. Moving towards their own deaths without a thought about how they no longer have to fear their journey because Jesus walked it before them. Moving towards their own deaths without a thought about how they have been healed and made whole.

No wonder Jesus didn’t get discouraged when only one turned back. It was why he was going to Jerusalem. So that all could be made whole, whether we say thank you or not.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to say, “thank you.” once in a while.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Swords into Farm Programs

Micah 4:1-5
Children’s Sabbath 2013
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

I have shot a gun once in my life. 
I was having a terrible time with woodchucks in my gardens. I enjoy sharing with the natural world. However, when I have put effort into a garden and when there are plenty of other things for the critters to eat and when I have fenced, sprayed and otherwise set up barriers to keep the animals at bay and they still insist on eating my garden produce.

I take matters into my own hand.

So I was battling the woodchucks in my suburban garden on the edge of a protected wetland.
like I said, they had plenty to eat they didn’t need my shoots and leaves.

I bought a live trap, baited it with industrial strength d-con and peanut butter and went to bed. I heard the trap spring and figured in the morning I would find a d-con poisoned woodchuck that I could dispose of in a dignified grave out back.

When I woke up, the d-con was eaten the woodchuck was very much alive.

I tried all sorts of ways to kill the trapped woodchucks. I even borrowed a gun, an air rifle. I figured it would be quiet enough that I could discharge it in the city limits and no one would hear it. I pumped up that air rifle and aimed it right at the forehead of the woodchuck in the live trap. Ping. The pellet bounced right off that woodchuck’s forehead, he blinked and looked at me as if to say, what was that? Is that all the better you can do?

Well, I took to drowning the critters after that.

My other experiences with guns were not quite so comical. When I worked with the Brooklyn Park Police department I encountered street guns lined up on the evidence bench. Their serial numbers scratched out. Their owners untraceable. Their victims unidentifiable.

I encountered street guns in houses with children playing. The guns hidden within sight in the rafters of the garage. Children playing gangsters on the front lawn. Officers and me trying to protect the children, find the adults and hold someone accountable for the danger and crime these children were living in.

I encountered guns that were used to threaten mothers and children into submission and fear.

I encountered benign hunting guns used to entice police to a suicide attempt. Man wielding a gun, 911, a tense hour negotiating, keeping the wife away from the scene, finally the sound of a gun shot, the zipping of a body bag, the wife unable to view her husband one last time because of the damage done, helping her tell her children that their father was no more.

Here is what I know about guns: they can be used for purposeful and good things, like providing meat for family tables. Protecting livestock. Cash crops. They can be beautiful, heirlooms handed down from father to son.  Teaching children the awesome responsibility of holding in their hands a means of death.

I also know that the combination of guns and poverty can be, often is deadly. The guns I saw lined up in the evidence room came from persons who were involved in drug trade in a feeble attempt to make it rich without a legitimate job.  

The homes in which children and guns are mixed up together without adult supervision are often, not always, but often homes where parents are working too many jobs or not enough jobs to make ends meet and to provide for a stable, safe home for their children. children are unsupervised, children are hungry, children are distracted, children are living with poverty.

The families whose lives were shattered by the violence or threat by gun were often, not always, but very, very often, families who were on the brink of poverty. Even if their lives and homes looked ‘suburban.’ Overwhelming bills, debts, family obligations, social demands, school costs, bad choices. Violence boiled up in the home and when guns were present, death over shadowed the family. Death of body or death of soul.
I have looked into the eyes of children whose lives have been shattered by this kind of poverty. And while I was able to provide comfort, food, job help or life skills to a few, I knew that there were many, many more lining up behind them. While feeding one child with bread and hope was noble and good, it wasn’t enough.

As we observe children’s Sabbath today, we are called to remember the children of our nation who live under the threat of the violence of poverty and guns. We are called to envision a nation where children’s eyes are full of life rather than death.

Micah, the prophet lived in the eighth century before Christ. The situation of ordinary citizens was of great concern to him. He felt compassion for the poor and dispossessed, and held the leaders responsible for their suffering. Micah called out the leaders of the nations for their mistreatment of the poor, and the mismanagement of the nation’s resources which created wealth for the wealthy and power for the powerful. He spoke against the economic systems of his time that promoted violence and in efforts to hold off the threat from foreign empires and took resources from programs that fed the needy and cared for the widow. (sound familiar)Micah was not a popular person among the wealthy and powerful..

Micah’s solution was radical but not impractical. Micah did not call for a simple ban on guns, or elimination of violence. Micah proposed a solution, a way out, a reordering of the economics that would assure prosperity for the nation and safety for her citizens.

Micah recommended, in very poetic language, that the nation’s economic resources be directed to food production. “Let us beat our swords into iron plows, and our spears into pruning tools. Then let us safely sit under our own fig tree and grapevine. Keeping our gardens and fields.”

In other words”  Let’s invest in food production. Let’s make sure everyone has enough to eat. Let’s make sure everyone feels as if they live in the land of overflowing with milk and honey, bread and wine, good things to eat and plenty.

In other words: Let’s eliminate one of the causes of a violent culture: Hunger and Poverty.

Micah! It’s brilliant! It’s doable. We have the land, the farmers, the know how to feed the world. or at least America.

Yet, we sit here this Sunday with a government shut down, no farm bill, food support systems that will feed our children, poor, elderly and vulnerable, threatened and with our hands tied and our faces embarrassed for what our nation has become.

We are not yet living on God’s holy mountain, are we?

But God has given us the words of the prophets who know what it is like to be us.

They have lived it before and give us words of hope.
Look up to God they entreat.
Stream to God’s holy mountain, they plead.
Hear God’s wisdom they implore.
Then do what it is God calls you to do:

Work, pray, vote, advocate so that there will be enough food for all, fig trees and grapevines to shade little boy and little girl, resources so that every mother and father has what it takes to feed their family, programs that support families.
EVEN farm programs that allow for this country to feed it’s own with plenty and goodness.

Let us beat our armament programs into food programs that will feed the world.

Listen to the wisdom of God. Act on behalf of the wisdom of God. Pray for our children.

United Methodist Church’s Position on Gun Violence

Violence and, more particularly, violence to children and youth is a primary concern for United Methodists. We recognize and deplore violence which kills and injures children and youth. In the name of Christ, who came “and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:17) and challenged all his disciples to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), we call upon the church to affirm its faith through vigorous efforts to curb and eliminate gun violence.

In light of the increase of gun violence affecting the lives of children and youth, we call upon The United Methodist Church to:
·      educate the United Methodist community (parents, children, and youth) on gun safety, violence prevention, adult responsibility around gun violence prevention, and the public health impact of gun violence;
·      discourage the graphic depiction and glorification of violence by the entertainment industry, which greatly influences our society, and recommend that these issues be addressed through education and consciousness raising;
·      reflecting the traditional role of The United Methodist Church has been one of safety and sanctuary, every United Methodist Church is officially declared a weapon-free zone.
a full report can be found at: search for ‘gun violence’