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Sermon transcript for August 24, 2014

Be Transformed
Romans 12:1-21
Belmont UMC—August 24, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

It was the first Administrative Board meeting at the new church to which I had been appointed. There was the usual business and reports given at Board meetings. And then someone made a motion that we have the Pepsi machine in the fellowship hall removed and replaced with Coca Cola machine. The discussion that proceeded was heated and had been going on for almost 45 minutes, when someone said, “Let’s ask the new pastor and see what he thinks.”

The new pastor did not drink colas very much and the new pastor had been sitting there thinking, “This discussion is ridiculous and I doubt it’s about Coke or Pepsi but about a church that has lost its way and has other underlying tensions. What have I gotten myself into?”

Everyone turned toward me and I smiled and stood up. I said something like, “I’m a little concerned that we have spent so much time talking about something that has little to do with our mission as a church. You are very fine people so I’m going to suggest that I offer a prayer and that we adjourn and all go home and talk to Jesus about what it means to be a church.” The place grew quiet. I prayed and everyone walked sheepishly to their cars.

Over the next months we began each board meeting with a reading of Romans 12. We read from different versions and I offered a time of centering around portions of the chapter. It helped us to focus on our true identity as followers of Jesus and as a community of faith.

The chapter begins with a call to give our lives to God and to find transformation in the process. I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases the opening verses, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him (God). . . . You’ll be changed from the inside out.”  (The Message)

When we give our lives to God without reservation, it changes us, it transforms us. It changes the way we think about God, about the world and all those who are in community with us. We see things through a new lens, God’s lens.

After the opening paragraph of Romans 12, Paul paints a picture of what this transformed church looks like. We prefer our image of what church should look like.
We carry around an image of the perfect church and there are lots of folks who have been shopping for the perfect church for a long time.
We have acquaintances who always like to tell us about the church they are attending. It’s always the best church, but it’s always a different church from the last one they told us about.

Who among you has left church on Sunday and said, “I wish they would. . .” I wish they would sing the hymns I like best. I wish Ken’s sermons were twice as long. I wish they’d put a cappuccino machine in the foyer. I wish the church could be more entertaining, less demanding. The Properties Committee wishes for a building where nothing ever breaks or needs updating. The Finance Committee wishes the offerings were so large that meetings were held to discuss ways to deal with the surplus in a responsible way.

Pastors have their own ideas of the perfect church. Some of my friends in the Holston Conference asked me to transfer to their Conference in East Tennessee. I said, “Tell your Bishop to find me a church that pays well, has a light work load and is located near hiking trails and waterfalls.” That was a decade ago and I never heard back from them.

I suspect we’ve made an idol of the Perfect Church. Our images of the Perfect Church are often exclusionary and self-interested.

Paul describes a church that is not perfect but is transformed into a new way of being. It is a place where each person discovers their gifts of ministry and uses them for the glory of God and the good of the community.

Again Peterson’s paraphrase, “If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else. If you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching, if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aide to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.”

And this new transformed community embraces a new way of treating each other and a new way of relating to the world around us. This transformed church is a place of authentic love—no pretending—and out of that love flows mutual affection for one another. In chapter 13 the encouragement is to “owe no one anything except to love one another.” It sounds simple but it requires a transformation to a new way of seeing and being. Paul does not say that we have to agree with one another, but we must love one another with genuine love.

We live out that love by honoring one another—yielding to our pet agendas, not being afraid to play second fiddle (The Message), remembering that second fiddles can still make beautiful music.

The transformed church is a place where people have a firm grasp on what is good and right and just. The do not give up easily when they are serving God and God’s purposes.

It is a place of prayer and hope, a place where we try hard to make sure no one is lacking anything—we help each other during times of need.

Adam Kelchner and I visited with the principal of Eakin Elementary School on Thursday. Dr. Tim Drinkwine seems like a fine person who cares about the students of his school. When one of the students was acting out on Monday morning, he brought him into his office and talked with the young boy. He discovered the boy’s problem—he had gone home on Friday to a place where there was nothing to eat for two days. We are going to partner with this school and help Eakin fill their food pantry so they can send food home with children in need on Fridays.

The transformed church is empathetic. We rejoice at celebrations and weep with each other in times of sadness. We sacrifice for each other when homes are burned or flooded. We invite you to be members of our family, especially when your family lives far away.

The transformed church has a new way of interacting with the world. We are hospitable with strangers. We bless our enemies. We do all we can to live in peace and harmony with one another. We avoid retaliation. We take the high road of good, not the low road of evil.

So the church that argued over Pepsi versus Coke began to see their role in the world in a new way. They began to love each other again with authentic love. They laughed more and joy in being together. They began to look beyond their walls and seek places of service. They started to let go of their personal agendas and ask where God was calling them as a church.

Today, I invite each of us to take our every day, ordinary lives, and give them to God without reservation. Are we willing to do that? If so, we need to brace ourselves for change!

 

Music Ministry

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Music Ministry Mission Statement

The music ministry of Belmont United Methodist Church strives to glorify God through music in all gatherings and presentations.
The music programs at Belmont offer opportunity for:

- Education
- Spiritual Growth
- Fellowship
- Participation in ministry
- Stewardship of gifts and talents
- Outreach

All choirs are voluntary, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate, regardless of experience. All participants strive for excellence, dignity, reverence and integrity in all musical endeavors.

For additional information regarding the Belmont Music Ministry, contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Director of Music Ministries
383-0832 ext. 29, or click on these links:

Adult choirs
Youth choirs
Children's choirs

Music News


Belmont UMC's Pipe Organ Specs

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Sermon transcript for August 17, 2014

Have Mercy on Me, Lord
Matthew 15:10-28
Belmont UMC—August 17, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

If we were reading today’s Gospel text like we were reading good fiction and we came to the words, “Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon,” we would brace ourselves for what would come next. These words introduce us to a turning point and we would know that some shift in the story was about to occur. Jesus has moved into the land of Canaanites, Gentiles, outsiders. Jesus has gone where he has not gone before.

Sure enough, in this new land Jesus encounters a woman and we are given this odd and perplexing interchange in today’s lectionary reading. Smart pastors who are preaching from the lectionary today read this and decided to preach from the Genesis passage where we find a nice story of reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. But I was drawn to this passage, this passage that leaves us scratching our heads and wondering.

In this land Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman who comes to him and begs him to heal her daughter. She pleads with him to have mercy on her and her daughter. “Show me mercy!”  “Have mercy on me!” It is a prayer that is repeated throughout the Gospels. It is the prayer we pray when we cannot think of other words. It is the prayer we pray at the point of our greatest vulnerability. We sing this prayer, “Kyrie eleison!”--words found in ancient Greek language of the Bible. It is the prayer I use in the middle of the night and when my thoughts are racing and I cannot go to sleep. It becomes a breath prayer, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on _________.” I let names come to the surface of my thoughts and I say the name. Some of those names are your names, some are names I haven’t thought of for a long time and I wonder why they are given to me at 2 AM, but I know we all need the mercy of God. A Canaanite woman needs mercy!

And the woman calls Jesus, “Son of David,” the name reserved for one who is the Messiah. It is surprising throughout the Gospel stories that the Gentiles, the physically ill, the outcasts and even the demons know who Jesus is but the disciples seem clueless to his identity. He has to be impressed by her words.

But he does not answer her. She is shouting; he is silent. And the disciples want him to respond by sending her away. He responds, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He tells the disciples something like this in chapter 10, also. The sheep of Israel may be lost but they don’t act like they want to be found.

Jesus draws a line. It appears to be a line between who is in and who is out. This surprises us because we see Jesus crossing lines all the time. It surprises us because he has walked intentionally into Canaanite land and seems surprised to encounter a Canaanite. Canaanites are considered unclean outsiders.

Or maybe he draws a line because he needs a break. People have been very demanding. Everywhere he and the disciples have gone and Jesus’ reputation has preceded him, the crowds, the needy crowds show up and they can’t catch a break.

I mentor young clergy and I often say to them to set boundaries, take a day off, and seek places of Sabbath. I feel hypocritical sometimes because I’m better at saying it than I am at doing it. We need rest. We need space to recoup our energy and prepare ourselves for ministry. We need to turn off the phone and walk in the woods. We need quiet places.

But I also tell these young clergy that sometimes the phone rings and you have to go, because the needs trump your boundaries and your need for rest. When that phone call comes, most of us do not think twice about heading out the door.

Jesus draws a line but the woman is persistent. She kneels in front of him and pleads, “Lord, help me!” The woman, the outsider, the outcast, knows Jesus, and knows he can help her.

Then Jesus says what we wish he had not said, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Did he really call her a “dog?” It wasn’t unusual for Gentiles to be called dogs, but it was an insult.

She is undeterred because this is about a sick child, her sick child. I recall that Oscar winning scene in the movie, Terms of Endearment, where the character played by Shirley McClain asks for pain medication for her daughter, who is dying of cancer. She is told that it’s not time for the medication and the mother goes into a tirade so fierce the nurses give in. We do that for our children.

She responds, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” “Just a crumb then--I’ll take a crumb.”

Then something happens, something shifts. We can feel it happening, even if we don’t fully understand it. It’s the shift that happens when the compassion of God clicks into place and we begin to feel differently and see differently all that is going on around us.

Steven Covey used to tell a story to describe a paradigm shift. He was on a train heading out of New York City. A man with three small children got on the train the children were terribly unruly and they were running round bothering people. The man sat with his head down, ignoring the behavior of his children. Finally, Covey said something like, “Sir, you may want to attend to your children; they are bothering people.”

And the man said, “I’m so sorry. We just came from the hospital. My wife died suddenly today and I’m trying to take it all in.” And the man began to weep.

Steven Covey said he went from begin irritated to feeling deep compassion for the man and his children. He put his arm around the man and tried to comfort him.
Some scholars have suggested that this story represents a huge shift in Jesus’ ministry. This Canaanite woman appeals to something deep inside of him and he is pulled across the line by the compassion of God. He tells the woman, “Your faith is great.” And he heals the woman’s daughter.

This story would have been important to the early church and to those Gentiles and Canaanites and outsiders who became a part of the church. It is interesting that Matthew includes this story in a Gospel that was written for Jewish Christians. It is a clear call to erase the lines we have drawn around us. And at the end of this Gospel we hear Jesus call the disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations.

In the passage that precedes this story, Jesus reframes the boundaries of what is clean and unclean. Jesus declares that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and what comes out of the heart determines what makes one clean. What comes out this woman’s heart is faith—faith that Jesus has the power and compassion to heal all of Israel and enough to save her Gentile daughter, as well.

We draw lines around our lives whether we admit it or not. We make assumptions about who is in and who is out. We’ve watch those lines form around racial tension in Ferguson, Missouri this week. The hatred and violence soared out of control. Then one man, Captain Ron Johnson of the Highway Patrol, took off his flak jacket and helmet and crossed the line, walking into the community and was embraced by the residents there. And for a time the tensions eased and all of humanity felt a little healed.

During this season let us remember that we journey with a God who is in the business of entering new territory and breaking down boundaries and this calls us to the same work. We hear God calling us to the welcome the outsiders and offer them, not just a crumb, but a place at our table.

Hear this call to serve by Barbara Brown Taylor:
“Let go! Step out! Look a Canaanite in the eye, knock on a strange door, ask an outsider what his life is like, trespass an old boundary, enter a new relationship, push a limit, take a risk, give up playing it safe! You have nothing to lose but your life the way it has been, and there is lots more life where that came from. And if you get scared, which you will, and if you get mad, which you probably will too, remember today’s story. With Jesus as our model—and our Lord—we are called to step over the lines we have drawn for ourselves, not because we have to, and not because we ought to, or even because we want to, but because we know that it is God’s own self who waits for us on the other side.”
(The Seeds of Heaven, “Crossing the Line,” p. 67)


Petition prayer for Ferguson
written by Rev. Matt Miofsky, lead pastor at The Gathering UMC in St. Louis, MO.

Call & Response Prayer

For those who have seen their lives torn apart by violence of all kinds           
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the family of Michael Brown, his friends and his community. For all those who grieve the loss of life tragically ended.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who believe the only response to violence is more violence,
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those people of faith willing to step out and to lead in times of trouble.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who look at a situation from a distance, neglecting to get involved or too easily passing judgment.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those in positions of power who work for reconciliation and justice.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who hold places of authority but have abused that power towards unjust ends,
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the people of Ferguson and of St. Louis, city and county—north and south, east and west,
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

And for us, Lord—your body the church, that we may be agents of your reconciliation, peace and justice.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.  Amen.

 

Adult choirs

Sanctuary Choir

This is the primary choir for 10:30 a.m. Sunday worship. In addition, they present several musical programs each year and sing for other various church events. No audition is required for membership and rehearsals are every Wednesday 7:15-9:00 p.m year-round. Childcare is provided.

Belmont's Sanctuary Choir has released Song in the Night, a CD collection of worshipful music from various cultures. All selections on the recording have been performed in Belmont worship services. The CDs are $10 each, and you can place your order now by downloading and filling out the order form posted here. Please return your order form to the church office or e-mail in your order to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Bell choirs

Carillon Ringers - A group of intermediate/advanced handbell ringers with music reading abilities. They rehearse on Sunday 5:30-7:00 p.m. August-early May.

Celebration Ringers - A group of beginning/intermediate handbell ringers who rehearse on Thursdays 1:00-2:00 p.m.


   

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