Archive for January 2012

Jesus Calls Us to A Transformed Life

January 30, 2012

Sunday, Jan. 29 afternoon Bible Study at Wesley Memorial, guided by the short-term Disciple Bible Study, Invitation to the New Testament, by David A. deSilva and Emerson B. Powery

For a year and a half I have held numerous bible studies, classes and small groups at our church, but with very little consistently attending. A much wiser and seasoned pastor told me to never stop offering the opportunity for people to gather around the Word of God–despite how frustrating it may seem at times. So, despite many disappointing afternoons and evenings when not a single soul showed up, I kept plugging away–trying different times, locations, subject matter and even teachers. And now, for whatever reason, people are coming, and not only coming but actively and eagerly participating. We have a healthy-size group of eager disciples attending our New Testament bible study, and they actually look forward to coming each week. Talk about a transformation!

Our group of 8-10 people each Sunday get along very well, and our discussions are honest, stimulating and thought-provoking. It used to be hard to get people to talk enough to fill an hour of Sunday School and Bible Study, but now we find it difficult to get through the whole bible study lesson in 2 hours! It has been a joy to be a part of this small group. I do pray that many, including myself, grow and are transformed through this study of God’s Word, and I look forward to seeing what God will do in our church and community through these dedicated disciples.

Week 2 Invitation to the NT: NT Bible Study Week 2

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Jesus Calls Us Into God’s Redemption Story

January 23, 2012

Sunday afternoon bible study at Wesley Memorial UMC, Columbia, SC, Jan. 22, 2012
guided by the short-term Disciple Bible Study, Invitation to the New Testament byDavid A. deSilva and Emerson B. Powery

Good News! Good News! There is a hunger to go deeper in discipleship at Wesley Memorial! As a small church we are not always consistent with out Bible Studies. Attendance numbers fluctuate from 12 one Sunday to 0 the next. It is hard to prepare for such unpredictability as the leader of these studies. But one retired pastor gave me wise advise after my initial frustration with this problem when I first came to WMUMC; he said, “Never stop offering bible studies. They will eventually come.” And eventually they did! We had 12 last night at our study which made for a very rich conversation. It was hard to squeeze our study into an hour and a half; people just wanted to keep talking—that is a blessing! We ranged in age from 27 to 87 and it was amazing for me, as the pastor, to see the connections that were made across these generational boundaries.

Our 87 year old told us the story of how her mother died at a very young age and she was sent to live with her grandmother, and then a 38 year old man in the class completely empathized with her because the same thing happened to him when he was a young boy. It was a beautiful moment that everyone in the room knew they understood one another and how such an experience shaped their adult identities. As we seek to be in a deeper relationship with God, God draws us into a deeper relationship with one another.

I look forward to meeting with this class weekly. I am convinced that when churches begin to genuinely work on spiritual formation–on the spiritual health of congregants then and only then can the church grow. I look forward to seeing what God has planned for the people of this church.

Jan. 22 Bible Study: NT Bible Study Week 1

The Ministry of ALL God’s People

January 23, 2012

Sunday School lesson for one of the adult Sunday School classes at Wesley Memorial UMC, Jan. 15, 2012

This Sunday the sermon is on 1 Samuel 3:1-10; the title is “God’s Calling, Are You Listening.” We are trying to better connect Sunday School to Worship, and since last week we talked about God, I thought this would be a good week to follow that discussion up with where or how is this God we talked about calling us.

This SS class is based off the UMC BOD phrase: “The Ministry of All God’s People.” The Methodist church–and I hope throughout the church universal–emphasizes strong lay leadership and presence. The clergy are not responsible for EVERYTHING in the church; rather it is a partnership. As Christians we have all been called by God, and the church desperately needs everyone to fully live into their calling.

Here is our SS lesson: Jan 15 Sunday School

 

WHO IS GOD?: Lesson for January 8

January 4, 2012

For the next several weeks, our Sunday School classes at Wesley Memorial will be doing some theology. I know, I know– “theology” can sound like such a big, scary word that we don’t want to touch with a 13 and a half inch pole. But, my hope, through this class, is that disciples will learn to be comfortable “doing” theology–because theology merely the study of God that enriches our life so that we can live our theology in our everyday lives. But to live our theology, we must learn and study–so we will begin in a classroom of our church with the hopes that the theology in which we are involved will not stay behind our walls and closed doors. Since theology is the study of God and all things related to God,  we will begin with God and the question of “Who is God?”.

This week several scripture passages as well as participants’ experiences will inform our discussion of God. I pray that our discussion will invite people to explore God on their own time, and ultimately ask themselves, ” Where do I see God in my life and world? How am I being a living witness of God to my friends, family, neighbors and strangers?”

The impetus for our study is to nurture disciples for Christ who will participate in God’s transformation of the world in the here and now. We want to nurture and grow thoughtful disciples of Christ, seeking to be relevant in our world. So, our Sunday School lessons have a very organized flow to move people from “nominal Christians” to “altogether Christians”–that is our prayer anyhow. Growth in Christ is a process, and Sunday School at WMUMC recognizes that process and joins disciples-wherever they may be on their spiritual journey–in providing a space to think, question, doubt, pray, discuss and learn from fellow disciples.

We invite you to join us–either physically at 2501 Heyward Street, or virtually by downloading the lesson plans for each week and posting responses on our blog. May God bless you as you seek to grow in God.

Jan 8 Sunday School

Covenanted People: Joshua 24:14-15 & James 5:13-16

January 3, 2012

preached by Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes on January 1, 2012 at Suber-Marshall Memorial UMC for the Community of UM Churches Covenant Renewal and Healing Service

Covenanted People

What does covenant mean? Sometimes I think that during times such as this covenant service we use covenant and covenantal language without really reflecting on what it means. So, help me out. What comes to mind when you think of covenant? What are some synonyms or brief definitions of covenant? Think for a minute…

Webster’s dictionary defines covenant this way: usually a formal, solemn, and binding agreement, or a written agreement or promise. Some synonyms from Webster are contract, pact, alliance, deal, understanding, oath or pledge.

But how often do you and I, on an everyday basis, enter such a formal covenant? On November 25, I would say that my husband and I said vows to one another and entered into what Webster described as a formal, solemn and binding covenant. But to be honest I don’t think about covenanting too much—unless of course we’re at church and we are baptizing someone or doing a renewal service such as this. I guess if you’re a lawyer or in some kind of business or contracting work you may be involved with a lot of covenanting, but I bet you don’t use the covenantal language. Perhaps contract is the word most used. And do we really think that covenants are truly binding? Nothing is really binding, right?

I think for the most part we have come to believe this—that covenants are not binding or that there is no accountability in covenants, vows, promises, contracts, oaths or pledges. James Emery White wrote a book called Wrestling with God and in it he wrote, “Today if relationships become too uncomfortable, we disengage. We change jobs, move out of a neighborhood, find a new church, or leave a marriage. We minimize life as portable and disposable.”[1]

Webster’s dictionary didn’t directly say anything about covenants being relational. Yes, I believe that the understanding of the dictionary definition is that there will be people involved, but then when you mention relationships and people—that makes things a whole lot messier. O how easy it is to say “I do” or “I will” to words in a covenant, but how much more difficult and what a challenge it is to live the implications of a covenant with real, live people.

I am learning that with my new husband. When I said “I do,” I know I said I will love him, comfort him, honor and keep in sickness and in health, but nobody told or warned me about living with all of his quirks—I won’t embarrass Hiram now, but believe me it taking some getting used to sharing everything. That “I do” takes on more meaning and is a lot harder when you are trying to integrate two lives into one.

But the point is this: covenants for us as God’s people are relational; covenants involve people and they are intimate and personal—not in a private sort of way but personal as in face-to-face or shared. Covenants are more than written contracts; they are more than words from our baptismal services and more than creeds and prayers we pray. The covenant we make with God at our baptism is a covenant with not only God, but the people of God. It is a covenant of mutual responsibility and commitment rather than self-fulfillment; it is a covenant, that yes, is binding but that is rooted in God’s grace and unconditional love.

This covenant at Shechem in Joshua 24 was one of many times when the covenant between God and God’s people was renewed again and again and again. Deep commitments and covenants we make usually need to be renewed; we need to be reminded that the covenants we make with God and one another are binding. They are covenants that have the power to transform the world if we put faithfully live the vows of the covenants we make. Let me remind you of the covenant you made at your baptism. You said or if you were an infant you had someone say on your behalf that as members of God’s church you will faithfully participate in God’s ministries by your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. These are more than just words of welcome at the time of baptism; they are covenantal words to live by.

This morning I talked about New Year’s resolutions. How many of you make New Year’s resolutions? I usually do. How many of you keep your New Year’s resolutions? Be honest? Have you ever kept a New Year’s resolution for 365 days a year? My resolutions usually don’t see the months of spring before I have abandoned my eagerness for my resolution.

Sometimes I think that is what we do with the covenant we make with God. We think—“Oh, I am too far gone, or I am too busy, or when I get my life together, or now is just not the right time, when things calm down at work and home I’ll be more faithful, or I am still trying to discern what God is calling me to do.” If we wait for all of that to happen, until we are ready, the timing is right and everything is perfect then we will be waiting a long time to get back to that covenant we made with God.

Joshua says, “Choose this day.” Don’t wait until tomorrow. Choose today to renew your covenant. Don’t wait. Joshua puts the Israelites on the spot and invites them to renew their covenant with God. Again this is not the last time the Israelites will renew their covenant and it is not the first. A covenant with God is different from any dictionary or human definition because though a covenant with God is binding, God’s covenant with us is full of grace and unconditional love that meets us where we are and draws us into repentance, forgiveness and renewal and transformation again and again and again.

The verses from James remind us that a covenant with God is not private, personal or solitary. I am sure we have all heard John Wesley’s famous quote, “There is no religion but social religion.” That is good news people of God. We are not alone. Look around you. God has given us people to walk this covenanted life with. God has given us people who will make us stronger, support us when we are weak, nurture a deeper faith within us. Yes, I think we all know that sometimes it can be very hard to be a church—after all a church is made up of people. But we have all been called children of God and in each and every one of us is the image of God.

So, today as we renew our covenants with God be mindful that we are also renewing our covenants with our churches and God’s people everywhere. Let us not see ourselves as solitary, disconnected individuals, or separate churches, but let us renew this covenant together as the people of God. And remember that we don’t enter this covenant for no reason at all, but that in covenanting with and God’s people in the here and now we are opening ourselves to God’s grace; we are partnering with God and God’s universal church in the transformation of our world.


[1] Quoted in Dave Faulkner, “Covenant Service Sermon: the Renewal of God’s Purposes,” Big Circumstance, http://bigcircumstance.com/2009/09/05/covenant-service-sermon-the-renewal-of-gods-purposes/.

Beginning Again: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

January 3, 2012

preached by Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes on January 1, 2012 at Wesley Memorial UMC in Columbia, SC

Beginning Again

Here we are at another New Year. It kind of feels like déjà-vu, right? This is my 27th New Year, and I am beginning again—again. The New Year is a time for resolutions, promises, goals, and renewal. It is a time of “I’m going to” and “I will.” It is a time of expectation and anticipation of what this New Year will hold. It is a fresh start; the slate is clean. How many of you make New Year’s resolutions every new year? I usually do. A few days ago I was talking to Hiram about making a New Year resolution together, and he utterly crushed my New Year resolution enthusiasm. He said, “What’s the point? Everyone always makes New Year’s resolutions, but no one ever really sticks to it.” Like I said at first I was crushed, but then when I really thought about it, I decided that he is right. For the most part the New Year’s resolutions of my past have not seen the months of spring. And usually once I veer from my New Year’s resolutions my attitude is, “Oh well. I’m too far off track now to start that resolution again, and there is so much going on; it’s really not a good time now, or I’m way too busy to stress over a new year’s resolution. I’ll wait until next year to try again.” How many of you have been in a similar place?

Ecclesiastes is a book that we believe was written by wise, old king Solomon; it is his little book of wisdom after living a long, full life. I think Jerry Finotti is our oldest congregant present. She is lovely and wise 97 year-old, and I am sure she would tell you that these verses in chapter 3 describe life—describe the seasons or cycles of life. One of my favorite things about visiting the older members of our congregation is listening and receiving wisdom that many years of life have taught them. I think many, if not all of them, would testify that life is full of ups and downs. These verses in Ecclesiastes are not the same as that cliché, “everything happens for a reason.” If you live long enough you will see that there are times of life at which all these are true.  Good and bad times come to all. There are disappointments and frustrations. There are times we weep and mourn, and times we lose and break down and times we are afraid and at war or feel hate swell within us. But life is also filled with times of love, laughter, embracing, dancing, and peace. And times of birth, rebirth, healing and renewal.

When we mess up, or completely fail and abandon our New Year’s resolutions or other promises or goals, covenants or vows we don’t have to wait until another New Year or until the time is just right to begin again. Ecclesiastes tells us that God is the giver of time, and each day—no each hour is an opportunity to begin again. Yes, life is full of changes and things beyond our control. Ecclesiastes tells us that is just a part of life. But God is the giver of time and of freewill, so we have the power to choose how we use our time and respond to changes, challenges, and things beyond our control.

When I was younger, and still sometimes as an adult, when I am in a bad mood,  my mom, who is with us this morning, says in her peppy, positive way, “You don’t have to be in a bad mood. Just choose to be in a good mood.” When we were younger my sisters and I would get so irritated when she said that because we didn’t believe it was that simple, but as I have grown older and more mature I see that in many ways she is right. We do have a choice of how to respond to any present circumstance—and that is not just putting on a smile and ignoring changes and challenges and things beyond our control. Ms. Sharon and Ms. Quenna have a song they sing with the preschoolers that goes, “Just keep goin’ on/take every knock as a boost/and every stumbling block as a stepping stone/lift up you head and hold your own/just keep going.”

We have a choice to seek God in all things. We have a choice to look for ways God is shaping us, teaching us something, or preparing us for the future as we go through times of death, mourning, break downs, loss, war and hate. God has given us an open future because he has daily given us the power to make each day new, to ask forgiveness, to pray for his guidance and to begin again. Everything can be for a reason if we choose to learn and grow from the good and bad times in our lives. But too often we let our present circumstances determine our futures. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us in the middle of all these ups and especially the downs we can seek joy in God in the here and now—but we must make that decision to be partners with God in seeking him in the here and now and allowing the hard times to shape us and make us stronger.

I think like many of our New Year’s resolutions we put off our relationship with God until the timing is just right or we’ve got my life together, or things at work and home calm down a little bit, or we’re just a little less busy or we think we’ll wait to we fully understand what God is calling us to do. But Ecclesiastes tells us to seek God now. Do not wait. The timing might not be right or perfect or your idea of ready, and you might be confused and you may feel like you’re in the dark, but Ecclesiastes tells us don’t let any of that stop you from seeking the joy of God.

God wants you to enjoy life and live life to the fullest in times of birth and death, in times of weeping and laughing, in times of mourning and dancing, in times of love and hate and in times of war and peace. What is holding you back from finding joy in God now? How are you choosing to respond to the good and bad? What is holding you back from a relationship with God in your present circumstance? Where do you see your relationship growing with God and God’s people in the New Year.

As we sing our hymn and prepare to receive Communion; let us remember that coming to the Lord’s Table is a reminder that we can begin again and again and again, that our lives can daily be renewed in God and that God is present in the midst of all times. As we come to the Lord’s Table, come as you are, but come expecting to meet God who is Emmanuel at all times, who meets us where we are, but is not satisfied to leave us the same. Amen.