Monday, January 20, 2020

Our Protocol of Love

I created this blog to share passages from sermons that my father, Rev. William L. Newcomer, preached during the course of his twenty-two years of ministry in the United Methodist Church.  Forgive me for straying from that format to share instead remarks I gave last week as a guest speaker at Paoli United Methodist Church, where my father served as pastor from 1983 until his death in 1989.  I chose to speak about the recently announced proposal to split the United Methodist Church over the issues of same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy. Here's what I had to say...

By now, most of you must have heard the latest news in the United Methodist Church.  It’s both good news and bad news.  The good news is that last week, a diverse group of church leaders announced an agreement that, if approved in May at General Conference, will end decades of fighting over same-sex marriage and the ordaining of LGBTQ persons as clergy.  The bad news is that the agreement (which is called the “Protocol for Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation”) would end the fighting by splitting our denomination.  Under the Protocol, traditionalists who want to continue our current bans on ordaining openly gay clergy and on officiating or hosting same-sex weddings would leave to form a new, conservative Methodist denomination, while progressives and centrists would stay in the United Methodist Church and change our rule book, the Book of Discipline, to allow for same-sex marriage and for gay clergy.  This Protocol would have to be approved by a vote of delegates from around the world at the UMC’s next General Conference, which is being held in May in Minneapolis, MN.

Since I saw the news of this Protocol on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer last weekend, I’ve felt horribly conflicted.  On the one hand, I feel profound sadness for what I will be losing if the United Methodist Church splits.  The United Methodist Church is home for me – literally.  Because my dad was a UM pastor, I grew up living in church-owned parsonages, including this church’s parsonage during my college years.  And thanks to my wife’s calling as a UM pastor, I still live on church grounds in a parsonage – now as the pastor’s spouse instead of as the pastor’s kid.  The United Methodist Church is home for all of us figuratively, but it may soon be a broken home.  

In some regions, entire annual conferences may choose to leave the UMC.  Some local congregations will decide to leave the UMC as well.  Some people undoubtedly will leave their local congregations to find another congregation that more closely aligns with their views on gay clergy and same-sex marriage.  All of this depresses me, frankly.  There are no winners, only losers, in a church split.  Our Bishop, Peggy Johnson, put it so well when she said, “When we go to our respective ‘corners’ I believe we will soon discover that we are ‘less than’ we could be without the other.”  Something is wrong with us when our common faith in Jesus Christ is not strong enough glue to bind us together.  

But on the other hand, I feel a surprising sense of hope because of this Protocol.  Ever since our Book of Discipline was amended in 1972 to say that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”, we have been debating, then arguing, then fighting over the treatment of LGBTQ persons in the UMC.  Many people have been and continue to be hurt by our current rules and by the fight over changing them.  The fighting must stop.  Everyone deserves a church home where they are welcomed, supported and loved, and where they can follow their conscience and their good faith reading of Scripture.  This proposed split would free us all – whether liberal, conservative, or somewhere in-between – from our divisive, draining, and self-destructive fighting so that we can re-focus our energy, our resources, and our passion on the true work of the Church: making and equipping disciples for the transformation of the world.  That gives me hope!

Before I go any further, I want you to know where I stand on same-sex marriage and gay clergy in the United Methodist Church.  I have been on both sides of the issue.  When I was a younger adult, I held the traditionalist view.  Scripture appeared to clearly and consistently testify that homosexual sex was sinful, so who was I to argue with the Bible?  I believed that same-gender sex was sin – and I didn’t take that position because I was a bigot or because I was homophobic.  I took that position because it was the conclusion I sincerely drew from Scripture at the time.  I wanted to be faithful to God’s Word.

But my view has changed.  In the time since my wife has been a pastor, I’ve found that in every congregation she served there were gay and lesbian members who were pillars of the church.  They were living lives of dedicated service to Christ and his church.  Jesus said in Matthew 7 that we know people by the fruit their lives produce.  These gay and lesbian Methodists were producing good fruit!  This caused me to re-examine Scripture.  What I learned with more study surprised me.  The few passages that address same-gender sexual relations are anything but clear.  What is clear is that Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to treat others as we would want to be treated.  My marriage is the source of abundant blessings in my life; it is the most important and enriching human relationship I have.  I can’t imagine not being married to Dorry!  I love my wife!  I love being her husband!  And if I am to love my gay neighbor as myself, if I am to treat my gay neighbor as I want to be treated, then I should value my gay neighbor’s marriage as I do my own.  I should honor my gay neighbor’s call to ministry as I honored my wife’s call.  In a nutshell, that’s why I now think the Book of Discipline needs to change to permit same-sex marriage and to permit gay clergy.

Having been on both sides of this great divide, I want to talk with you about where we go from here… or, more importantly, how we conduct ourselves from this point on.  I was drawn to 1 Corinthians 13 as our Scripture for this morning.  These are Paul’s famous words about love.  We usually hear them read at weddings.  But Paul didn’t write these words as advice to newlyweds.  He wrote these words to the people of the church in Corinth, who were struggling to get along with each other.  Paul was reminding the Corinthian church what the point is of all this church stuff.  The whole point is LOVE.  Without love, our words are as annoying as a clanging cymbal.  Without love, our knowledge means nothing.  Without love, our faith means nothing.  Without love, our generosity means nothing.  Love is to be our defining characteristic as followers of Christ.  In 1st John (4:8), we read that “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  In our Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the twelve disciples at the last supper: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  When we are dealing with each other, love is to be our Protocol.  Love is to be our rule for living.  Love is how others will know we are Christians.

So with love in mind as our reigning value, let me humbly suggest 3 simple rules that should guide each of us as we face the uncertainty that 2020 brings in the United Methodist Church (and here at Paoli United Methodist Church):

Rule #1:  Treat those with whom you disagree as you would want to be treated.  Paul tells us that love is patient and kind.  Love is not arrogant or rude.  It is not irritable or resentful.  Love doesn’t insist on its own way.  Then that is how we should be.  We need to treat those with whom we disagree as we would want to be treated.  This is a straight-forward application of the Golden Rule.  If I don’t want others to say I’m a secularist sell-out who doesn’t believe in the Bible, then I better not call them bigots or homophobic.  We may laugh at these extreme put-downs, but if you stop and read the comments people have been posting on social media about the Protocol and this possible church split, it won’t take you long to find folks who claim to be Christians lobbing these kinds of insults back and forth at each other like hand-grenades.  We live in a society that is polarized.  Shouting and coarse language and insults have taken the place of civil discourse and respectful disagreement.  What if our lasting legacy as United Methodists were to show this nation and the world how to disagree without being disagreeable?  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

Rule #2:  Be Humble. After all, what if you’re wrong?  I read in the bulletin that your adult Sunday school class is studying a book called “The Sin of Certainty.”  I love that title!  If certainty can be a sin, then both sides of this debate in the UMC have much to repent of!  Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that, right now, we only know in part.  We only see in a mirror, dimly.  So why do we act like we have it all figured out?  Why do we treat fellow Methodists who read Scripture differently on this issue like they are heretics or un-Christian or unwelcome in our fellowship?  Again, this is the Golden Rule in action.  If I want someone to be open to the possibility that they might have it wrong, then I must allow for the possibility that I may be the one who is wrong.  What if our lasting legacy as United Methodists were to show this nation and the world what looks like to live together in humility instead of hubris?  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  

Rule #3:  Don’t let the “perfect” be the enemy of the good!  The “Protocol for Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation” was negotiated by Methodist leaders who were progressive, conservative, and moderate.  The effort was initiated by a Bishop from Africa, and it was hammered out with the help of Kenneth Feinberg, a renowned mediator who is known for his work administering the 9-11 Victims Compensation Fund.  The Protocol is the end product of tough negotiations.  It is akin to a legal settlement.  Any judge will tell you that the sign of a good settlement is that everyone leaves unhappy.  That’s because each side has given up something meaningful to gain something meaningful.  It is a compromise.  But compromise is a dirty word in our society these days.  As a nation and a people, we seem to be losing our ability to compromise.  Just take a look at Washington, D.C.

If a good settlement makes no one happy, then the Protocol must be a great settlement.  When I read reactions, I find conservatives who grouse about having to leave the denomination.  “Why should we leave?” they rant.  “We aren’t the ones who want to change the rules!”  Then I find progressives who grouse about the $25 million in church funds that the conservatives will be paid to start their new traditionalist denomination.  “Why should they get so much money?” they rant.  “It’s like we’re paying them to continue discriminating against the LGBTQ community!” 

No matter what your perspective, if you read the Protocol, you will find something you don’t like.  It’s not perfect.  It never will be.  That’s the nature of compromise.  What if we stopped picking apart this Protocol, stopped putting ourselves first and our fellow Methodists last?  What if we showed this nation and the world that people can still compromise for a greater good than their own self-interests?  What if that were the lasting legacy of the United Methodist Church?  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this with you today.  As I said earlier, the United Methodist Church is home for me, in part because congregations like Paoli UMC always made me feel at home.  Your love helped grow me up!  I pray that you will continue to let love be your protocol in the challenging months ahead.  In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Sermon: "Our Protocol of Love"
Preached by: Philip W. Newcomer
January 12, 2020 @ Paoli United Methodist Church
Paoli, Pennsylvania      

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Why Are You Sleeping, Lord?

Where is God? Whether it's events in the news or happenings in our own lives, there are so many situations crying out for divine intervention or at least some divine encouragement; yet, God seems distant. We read the Bible, and God is talking to Abraham, wrestling with Jacob, parting the Red Sea for Moses and the Hebrew people. Why don't we experience God in such tangible and powerful ways today? Is God asleep on the job? 

This always seemed like a modern problem to me. Then I read these words, written thousands of years ago, in Psalm 44:

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?"

Times have changed. The scenery and players have changed. But we have continued to struggle for millennia to relate to our Creator. Is God sleeping? My father once answered that age-old question this way: 

"God is not dead in our day, as some have claimed. God is not sleeping, as the Psalmist suspects. If God seems dead to us, it is we who are dead. If God appears to be sleeping, we are the ones who have dozed off. Isaiah once spoke God's word when he said, 'I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?' God is forever doing new things in our midst, but the sad truth is that we seldom perceive it. We're a little bit like the fellow that looks and looks at the clouds and sees only clouds. He can never see a profile of Abe Lincoln or a butterfly or any other design.

Clouds over Wolf Run Lake, Albrightsville, PA

How to see God in your common experience; this is the problem. Here are five suggestions that may help:

First, begin tearing down the barrier between your sacred and secular life. God gave you a whole life. It didn't come with a religious compartment and a non-religious compartment. Many people wonder why they can't find God in church. It's because God is not real to them outside church. Try this for a change: Refer all things, even the smallest, simplest thing, to God. God is there in the smallest experience. God knows. God cares. Train your heart and mind on the fact that God is present even in the most mundane circumstance. Bring it again and again to your conscious awareness, and see what a difference it makes in your life.

Second, talk conversationally with God, even out loud if you're alone. Instead of worrying about your problems or the problems of others, talk to God about them. When there is thanks to be given, do it then and there. Don't save it all up and let the pastor or choir do it for you on Sunday morning. This ongoing conversation with God will help you recognize and openly acknowledge God's presence anywhere, any time.

Third, enter fully into a fellowship of believers, and draw strength from others who are engaged in the same struggle to wake up to God. Turn the small groups and classes and informal friendships in your church into places where problems and weaknesses can come to the surface without fear of condemnation and where we can see each other through and point to God in the experiences of each other. Being in fellowship with other believers can help you see your life in perspective again, and you can do the same for them.

Fourth, disengage from your busyness. Give God time and opportunity to reveal God's self to you. Don't shut God out with a cluttered life. Sometimes God is not in the wind or the fire, but rather God speaks in the quietness, in a still, small voice. To hear that voice, you must quiet yourself.

Fifth, be honest and specific with God. Don't think that you have to sweet-talk God with all that fancy religious jargon. Tell God exactly what's on your mind and how you feel. There's a good chance that if you come through as a real person to God, God will come through as a real person to you.

All of this sounds like easy and simple advice, but let me tell you it's not that easy or simple to follow. You must really apply yourself. It is the cost of discipleship. But let me share my own testimony with you: The rewards far exceed the demands. To know God's presence. To move from knowing God as a concept to knowing God as a person. To discover that God is really there in your daily experience. To know that Abraham and Moses have nothing on you so far as meeting the real God is concerned. That is to have life and have it abundantly."

From: "Why Are You Sleeping, Lord?"
Scripture: Psalm 44
Preached at Grace United Methodist Church
Millersville, PA

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Inclusive Church

It was painful to watch the live stream on the internet Monday. I felt sick to my stomach as the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted not only to continue policies banning same sex weddings and barring gay and lesbian clergy, but also to strengthen enforcement of those hurtful policies. I knew that my denomination was taking a step that would deeply wound so many people -- claiming all the while to be doing God's will and following God's word. 

The United Methodist Church's discriminatory policies had their start back in 1972, yet this week's vote of the General Conference still seemed like a jarring contrast to the welcoming nature of the local congregations in which I had been raised and had come to love Christ. This sent me diving into my father's sermons in search of some glimpse of the Methodist spirit I recalled from childhood. 

Around the same time that the UM Church first declared "the practice of homosexuality [to be] incompatible with Christian teaching," my father preached a sermon called "The Inclusive Church." It was aimed at issues of race rather than sexual orientation, but it spoke to me in light of the week's discouraging events in the United Methodist Church. Dad wrote:  

"This is how it is within the Church of Jesus Christ: All men and women, distinct and different as individuals, without sacrificing any of that identity, are bonded together into one body where differences are appreciated and accepted as enhancements, not threats, and where all are made to share and work and live together by the presence of the Holy Spirit within and between them.

As we look at our diverse brothers and sisters in Christ, we must ask why are we together? Why are we concerned about making the church inclusive? It's not so that a minority can be given more worth and be brought up to some supposedly higher level of the majority. Nor is it for the majority to prove how open-minded and good they are. It is because we all have one Father who made each of us inherently worthwhile, so that in his sight no person is more or less important than another. And Jesus Christ came into the world to bring his salvation to all people. If we all share the same forgiving Father, why can't we all live in the same house as one family?

At the heart of the tough decision Paul and others made to include Gentiles in the early church's mission was the new commandment Jesus gave his disciples on the night of his betrayal: 'Love one another; even as I have loved you.' So long as it was possible to interpret that commandment in terms of their own small Jewish circle, the difficulties the disciples had with it were minimal. But once the 'one another' began to be enlarged to include all kinds of people, including many kinds the disciples had been brought up to avoid, there were some real decisions to be made.

How far did Jesus intend to go with his 'one another'? Thinking through his whole mission and message, the disciples could come to only one conclusion. No limits could be set. Love for one another had to include Greek and barbarian, male and female, slave and free, Roman and African, as well as their own kind. 

After all, to his command to 'love one another,' Jesus had added a pretty strong qualifier: 'even as I have loved you.' The disciples knew only too well what that meant, for the love of Jesus never had been selective, never had been dependent on the qualities of the one to be loved - after all, Jesus had loved even them! And they also knew how he had loved them to the end, stopping at nothing, not even his cross. How could they take the love of someone like that and claim that it was meant for only this group or only for that class? How can we? God help us!"  

There, at the end of that type-written line on the manuscript, Dad had added two hand-written words of hope to end his sermon: "God will!"

"The Inclusive Church"
Scripture: John 13:31-35
Preached at Grace United Methodist Church
Millersville, Pennsylvania

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Doctors, Nurses and Jesus

I've had to search for a new doctor and dentist after moving last year. I found a great doctor. At my first office visit, she asked me about the stresses in my life. As I told her everything going on with me, she frowned, grabbed a prescription pad, scribbled something on it, tore off the page, and handed it to me. Her prescription for me was four simple words: "Take care of you!" I've put that prescription where I can see it every morning as I start my day.

In his sermon "God in Person," my dad shared some stories about beloved health care professionals he remembered from his childhood:

"As far back as I can remember as a child, Dr. Anna Klemmer was our family doctor. She became a doctor long before it was common for a woman to do so. She was a warm, vivacious, self-assured, genuine type of person. I can remember my mother talking about Dr. Klemmer and saying, 'I don't know how much she knows about medicine, but I always feel better just talking to her.' And she was absolutely right about that. Just being in this woman's presence was strangely reassuring. Having grown up and moved away from home, I lost contact with Dr. Klemmer for many years. But our paths crossed again. I found her, a few months before her death, living in a nursing home where I happened to be visiting another patient. In her time of need, I tried in my own small way to be the person for her that she had been for so many others.

Each of us could talk about someone who was there for us in a time of need. Another one I remember was Bertha. Bertha was the large, kind-faced, grandmotherly woman in a white dress and white shoes who served as Dr. Nightingale's nurse. Dr. Nightingale was our elderly dentist as I was growing up. He was a very nice man but a practitioner of exceedingly primitive dentistry. These were the days of the old, slow-speed drills, and Dr. Nightingale only used Novocaine for pulling teeth, not filling them! Bertha was his substitute for Novocaine, and not a bad one at that. Her main job was to stand beside you and hold your hand and emit all the motherly forms of comfort while Dr. Nightingale ground away at your teeth. It really seemed as though she were feeling it with you. Somehow I remember Bertha more vividly than the pain. 

I relate these childhood memories to make this point: It is the mysterious companionship of another - the focused attention of a person who is totally there for you for as long as necessary - that often provides the bridge that we need over our troubled waters. The crisis times in our lives are made significantly easier to bear if there is someone there to share them with us. The difference between someone who can cope with the stresses of life and someone who cannot often is the presence or absence of another concerned person.

The good news for us all is that the Eternal God has taken on our humanity in Jesus Christ to become that concerned person. The Eternal God has come into our world as our brother, our friend, that person we all need and crave. Jesus is a man and God all rolled up in one person. When we know him as a man, we experience a sharing of mutual woes and burdens. When we know him as God, we know that this sharing will not run hot and cold, but will be constant and forever. It's because he is both man and God that Jesus is our Savior. He came specifically to minister to us in our pain and poverty and illness and confusion and aloneness.

The Christian faith's unique message to us in our brokenness is the Incarnation - God becoming flesh in the Son. The other great religions of the world are founded upon a system, or a philosophy, or a certain code of ethics. Not so with Christianity. Our faith is founded on a person, Jesus Christ; and therein lies its power and immense practicality in helping us overcome our problems and cope with life's burdens. Though all others may fail us, we always have Him. He is there for us in times of trial and rejoicing. Crying with us. Laughing with us. He is always there. He is always enough."

From "God in Person"
Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7
Preached at Calvary U.M. Church
Easton, Pennsylvania
Sunday, December 25, 1983

Sunday, December 30, 2018

A Theme For The New Year

As I searched through my Dad's sermons for material for a New Year-themed post, I stumbled upon an outline from a talk he gave for a secular community group around New Year's Day of 1989. I was startled when I realized the timing of this message. Dad had lost a kidney to cancer just months earlier, but he didn't know that his cancer would re-emerge and take his life in the year ahead. 

Here's the heart of Dad's New Year's talk, which I've re-created for you from his notes ...

Did you make a New Year's resolution this year? I didn't make one. I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, mostly because of the trouble I inevitably have keeping them. In fact, I recommend that you choose a theme for the New Year instead of a resolution.

I've asked a few friends what their themes for this new year might be. One suggested "Fun and Frolic." Another came up with "Limber and Trimmer." Here's my suggestion: "Nothing Wasted."

Why "Nothing Wasted"? you may ask. One of the most debilitating fears that attacks us is the fear of failure. We can't imagine anything worse. Inherent in that fear is the feeling that when something doesn't go the way we planned, when we lose, when tragedy strikes -- that this is all wasted time and effort. There is no good to come out of it.  Everything has gone "down the tubes."

So many of our choices in life are based upon "not failing" rather than "trying it." We make safe choices which do not challenge, stretch and test our abilities. Sometimes, this fear of failure causes us to get stuck in familiar ruts. We don't do jobs we could do, we don't get to know people we could get to know, we don't go places we could go -- all because we are afraid to fail and we look at failure as a waste. So we stay right where we are. Prisoners of our own fears. Stuck in the status quo.      

There is another way. We can risk failure if we can put our trust in God -- the ultimate safety net.

I believe I can talk about God here. I think it's safe to assume that community-minded people such as yourselves are here because of a responsibility you feel -- dare I say a spiritual responsibility -- to make your community a better place in which to live. And so, I'm going to talk about God.

God is always there to catch us when we fall. Not if we fall. When we fall. Failure is inevitable; it is how we view it that counts. When we realize this, nothing in life is wasted.

I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German-Lutheran pastor and professor who was jailed by the Nazis during World War II. Under similar circumstances, many of us would be done in. What a waste! Right? No! From his prison cell, Bonhoeffer wrote: "Much as I long to be out of here, I don't believe a single day has been wasted. What will come out of my time here, it is too early to say. But something is bound to come out of it."

I was in the hospital for major surgery this past October. What a blow! What a waste! That's how I was tempted to feel. But I also felt God's hand. Odd as this may sound, I can't begin to tell you the good that has come out of it: mental and spiritual health, confirmation of my faith, love and support of family and friends, greater sensitivity as I minister to the sick, an ability to take life one day at a time, to prioritize and attend to the important things first.

I am learning that nothing that happens to you need be considered a waste. "Nothing wasted" -- I recommend it as your theme for 1989.     

Notes from: "A Theme For The New Year"
Presented on or about January 1, 1989
to a community group in Paoli, PA

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Grace In The Tall Weeds

Ever feel like you're stuck? Like you're struggling to walk through tall weeds that hinder your progress and obscure the path forward?

Sometimes, those tall weeds mark the very place where we meet God. I'll let my dad explain: 

"You know, of course, that the Peanuts gang loves to play baseball. In one Peanuts cartoon, Linus the outfielder is shown standing in tall weeds beyond center field, looking frustrated. 'I can't find the ball!' he shouts to the other players. 'How do you expect anyone to find a ball in weeds like these? What did you hit it out here for?' Linus goes on: 'It's impossible! Of course I'm looking! This is hopeless! Nobody could find anything out here! You couldn't find a battle ship in these weeds if it ... Wait ... I found it.'

Linus has just experienced what all of us are privileged to experience and are so apt to take for granted and perhaps even miss - an undeserved moment of grace in the tall weeds of life. What are the tall weeds in your life - the things that get you down and make you feel hopeless before you even get started? Do you ever react as Linus did - virtually paralyzed by frustration and defeatism as the tall weeds engulf you? When Linus happened to glance down at his feet and spied that ball, it was a moment of pure grace. He had done nothing to deserve this find, in fact, quite the opposite. His negative attitude would seem to keep him from ever being able to find the ball. He couldn't focus on the ball; all he could see were the tall weeds. 

It is true that negative thinking prevents us from capturing the victory, and yet it is not true that positive thinking alone brings us the victory. My point is not that we will prevail over the tall weeds if we just believe strongly enough that we can. That is a popular modern gospel, but it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just believing that he would find the ball might help Linus find it and it might not. No matter what he believed, the weeds might just be too dense. Sometimes no matter how much we believe in ourselves and in the rightness of our cause, the challenges and problems are too great for us to manage. But as Christians we are supposed to be hopeful people. If positive thinking and believing in ourselves is not the basis for our hope, then what is?     

Our hope is based upon those moments of grace that break in upon us, unexpectedly, through no effort of our own, courtesy of God himself. They are like finding the ball in the tall weeds. They are those moments of reprieve, no matter how small, no matter how brief, that remind us that this is still God's world, and we are still his children, and he has not taken his eyes off of us. The Gospel of John puts it this way: 'The Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' It's pretty dark, but there is still a light - God's light.

The way to experience a moment of grace from the Lord is to stop all the frustrated and frantic flailing about in the tall weeds. Just be still; wait and watch for the Lord to act. ... The message of the Gospel is that in all situations of life, no matter how desperate, God sends his salvation - maybe not the salvation we expect or want - but God's salvation, by God's grace and not because of our efforts. How important it is to remember that. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul says, 'I can do all things if I just put my mind to it and try hard enough.' No, he doesn't say that at all! Paul says, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.' This is the key to experiencing grace in the tall weeds. Remember it is Christ who created us; it is Christ who saves us; it is Christ who will bring us with him to glory."

From "Grace in the Tall Weeds"
Scripture: Philippians 4:8-13
Preached at Paoli United Methodist Church
December, 1984       

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Profound Mystery of Marriage (Part 2)

Today is Independence Day, and it also would have been my dad's 76th birthday. Thinking of him today made me wonder what advice he would have given my daughter Adrienne and her new husband Earl on the occasion of their wedding last Saturday. It didn't take me long to find a clue in one of his sermons. I suspect that Grandpa Bill might have told Adri and EJ about the "profound mystery" of marriage - that spouses feel most fulfilled and empowered not when they are focused on meeting their own needs, but when each of them is focused on the needs of the other in "mutual subjection" to one another. Dad called this mutual subjection the "binding agent" of a successful marriage union.

EJ & Adri @ Tyler Gardens, Bucks Co. C. College
"What is it about being subject to one another, out of reverence for Christ, that creates such a union?

We must be careful about how we talk about this because subjection is not a welcome word in our society. Today the by-words are freedom, liberty, doing your own thing, self-actualization. Many modern marriages fail because this is the dominant philosophy of both parties. 

There is nothing wrong per se with this modern drive to discover self, find fulfillment, and get the most out of life. The only problem is that in the plan of God, the way to life is not going directly after it. You remember the words of Jesus: 'For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.'

It is really hard to describe, but no less true, that in serving the needs of another one discovers and strengthens oneself. And if this is true in general for all relationships, it is doubly true for marriage, the most intimate of all relationships. Here a wonderful cycle of giving and receiving is set in motion. The more I give to my partner the stronger her self-esteem grows, and the more she is able to give to me, and on and on the cycle goes.

The conventional wisdom is that subjection is galling and demeaning to the subject. But in the context of mutual subjection in marriage, nothing could be further from the truth. It's true that if you have a low self-image, subjection galls you because it seems to speak to your inferiority. A person with a weak ego is threatened by the servant role. But in the case of the mutual subjection of marriage, at the same time you are being a servant to your partner, she is being a servant to you. In serving you she is affirming that you are worthy and lovable. Thus, feeling good about yourself, you are able to serve her needs without feeling demeaned by this subjection.

It is truly a profound mystery, but it works! It really does, and it gives one of the deepest satisfactions and provides one of the greatest sources of strength available this side of heaven." 

So there is Grandpa Bill's marriage advice for you, Adrienne and EJ. May it serve you well, as you each serve the other.  I love you both. -Dad

From: "Christian Marriage - A Profound Mystery"
Scripture: Ephesians 5:21-33
Preached August 21, 1988 at
Paoli United Methodist Church