April 14, 2019

Peace be with You?

Hosanna! means “save us!” – “deliver us!” But who will deliver Jesus? Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts. We hear it in the words we sing, happy triumph AND coming crucifixion. We see it in Jesus, as the RULER OF THE UNIVERSE chooses to ride a borrowed colt. The contrast is clear in the destination, the city he claims for himself and loves deeply is going to scream crucify in a few days. The greatest hope for peace will still be hidden from those looking in all the wrong places.

Don’t we have our own contradictions? Nations tell us the best way to create peace is by force, by violence. “The war to end all wars!” Did it? The strong are strengthened by holding off the weak. Parents confront fear by buying a handgun for the dresser drawer. Schools encourage competition over cooperation. Governments and businesses seek to win at all costs, even if it bankrupts them. Today Jesus rides his lowly farm animal through all of it.

Pastor Sonny

April 7, 2019

Women of the New Testament

I hope next year for Holy Week we can present “The Other 12 Disciples” based on the women in the life of Jesus. Mary and Martha (along with their brother Lazarus) were among the closest of Jesus’ friends. What would that be like? And I believe that Mary looked at her relationship with Jesus as more than friends.

J. Ellsworth Kalas was one of Asbury’s great preachers. Here is a portion of what he wrote about Mary: “Now this perfume-pouring would of itself have been enough, but Mary had only begun. When I say she was extravagant, I hope you realize I’m speaking of far more than money. Money, if you have it, is the least form of extravagance because, as they say, there’s always more where that came from. But when you give yourself away, that’s quite another matter. ….Mary’s gift of perfume was large, but not to be compared with the gift of herself.”

— J. Ellsworth Kalas. Strong Was Her Faith: Women of the New Testament. Abingdon Press, Nashville. 2007. 41.

Pastor Sonny

March 31, 2019

Repent!

Repentance is a major word in LENT. Maybe we first react in guilt by thinking “I should stop doing that bad thing I am doing!” But repentance means “to turn” like, return or change your direction (and your thinking). Why does Jesus side-step the disciples’ issues to focus on repentance? They are troubled by bad things happening to good people – Galileans like themselves were killed at worship and working folk died in a tower collapse (sounds familiar – right?). Is Jesus harsh here? These difficult words “repent or perish” are not about a onetime repentance or a onetime perishing - it is ongoing - from their day to our day. We must always check ourselves and repent knowing that, down through the centuries, we continue to die.

This should not come as a surprise. Repentance checks our hubris, our illusions that we’re in control gets shattered when bad things happen to good people and we have no good explanation (like they deserved it). Does Jesus give us an answer? Does a parable about a fig tree count? Jesus constantly invites us into confession, invites us to turn, to repent and stay utterly dependent on the promises of God. We are not in control.

Pastor Sonny

March 24, 2019

The Elder Brother

Most interpretations of the Elder Brother in this parable point to the Pharisees. Notice that we read THREE verses of chapter 15 and then jump down to the third parable - The Prodigal Son - skipping “The Lost Sheep” and “The Lost Coin” so we can get to “The Lost Son.” Those first three verses aim these parables at the Pharisees - lessons for the Pharisees.

In preaching class my professor took me to task for being so hard on the Pharisees. These were deeply religious people. My professor went so far as to say they are us! Anyone in the church trying to be a Christian. That makes us the Elder Brother. The reality is that both brothers live inside of us, the responsible (religious) one and the prodigal one. It is an uneasy coexistence made worse by the reality that neither is perfect, and that both make real mistakes. Of all the places in our life, church should be the one place where we can all admit failing. In Lent we get honest about the fact that we sometimes disappoint. The good news in the parable? God is waiting to welcome us back. We are loved and God can't wait for us to come home or come join the party. Will you?

Pastor Sonny

March 17, 2019

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Check out the real story of Saint Patrick. There are many times in his life he trusted God and God came through in a mighty way. Today we are using all the scriptures in the lectionary and there is a theme of trust in God throughout. Philippians repeats “Stand firm in the Lord,” and Psalm 27 keeps asking “Whom shall I fear if I trust in the Lord?” God tells Abram, “Don’t be afraid, I’ve got this!” And Jesus pleads with Jerusalem to change course.

We all have our security – our good looks, our talent, our money, our country, even our family provide some semblance of security. Today can we ask, “Do I really trust in the Lord?” How do I live that out? Of course, none of us have a lock on this – that’s why we still need to gather here and seek God’s face: “Seek first the kingdom of God.” And we will be invited to pray, “God, we want to believe your promises, but the here-and-now problems of daily life consume our focus and erode our faith. Speak to us today, O God.”

Pastor Sonny

March 10, 2019

The Devil Made Me Do It!

The word “devil” is lowercase in today’s text – meaning – not a personal counterpart to God, but simply a “slanderer;” not God’s enemy, but OUR enemy. In this text – the devil is actually serving God by allowing us a choice. We must experience opposition to love (like selfish lust), opposition to health (like cheeseburgers?), opposition to wholeness (inconsistent hypocrisy and prejudice), and opposition to peace (a destructive lust for power and violent oppression). If we say we are committed to the way of God here in the world we must understand the other choice and we must struggle to make the right choice – it’s the price of freedom. Those who are most engaged in real Christian ministry seem to experience opposition more intensely. If Jesus struggled, who is exempt?

Pastor Sonny

March 3rd, 2019

Ash Wednesday—in the Chapel

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are some of my favorite services in the Christian year. The culture (like Hallmark, Lifeway, and Coke or Pepsi) can’t figure out a way to make money off Ash Wednesday. There are no bunnies or eggs or peeps intruding into Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. And why should they? Even within the church, it’s a small minority of church members that give these two observances the high rank they deserve. Otherwise, we’d have to move the service back into the sanctuary to accommodate the crowd!

I challenge you this year to attend Ash Wednesday. Is Ash Wednesday “depressing” or “morbid” with talk of sin and death? NO - I see it as life affirming. The upcoming Lenten season can be a celebration of cultivation (as spring approaches) for growth. Embrace who you are as a child of God. Trust that God wants an abundant life for you in mission and ministry. If we acknowledge our brokenness, if we face our mortality with courage, then faith is revealed as the only TRUE source of strength. Of course, humans are broken - we sin and fall short. But we believe in a Holy Spirit that intends to make us perfect in love.

Pastor Sonny


February 24th, 2019

Extravagant Generosity

Churches that practice Extravagant Generosity should be comfortable talking about money as it relates to the Christian practice of giving and cultivating a generous spirit. The Christian practice of giving makes a huge difference in two major ways: the mission of Christ and in abundant life of the GIVER. Christians give for more reasons than just the church’s need to pay power bills, repair work and salaries. We are on a mission. We have a purpose that offers life-changing results. We view “giving beyond the walls” as indispensable to Christian discipleship and the vitality of our community.

Churches that grow in generosity seek to celebrate giving because participation in ministry and community deepen the core ministries of worship, small group learning, and our mission here in Woodstock. So let us teach giving, let us model generosity and cultivate generosity among our members of all ages. Growing our giving is vital to each person’s spiritual maturity. Tithing is an indispensable practice of Christian integrity.

Pastor Sonny



February 10th, 2019

Intentional Faith Development

Today Paul is writing to a church without the gospels (they hadn’t been written yet), a church without any of the New Testament (save a few letters Paul was just beginning to write). This church was a mix of Jews brought up on the Old Testament (what Paul means when he says “…according to the scriptures”). Paul is offering this church CORE CHRISTIANITY. So we need to remind ourselves what that looks like.

Our transformation into Disciples comes through learning in community. Churches that practice Intentional Faith Development carefully consider the full life-cycle of members and look for the best methods that faith is formed in us at every age. Gaps, unmet needs, and detours into secondary side-trails just waste time and hinder our growth. Which methods are best? Small groups, Bible studies, support groups, affiliation groups (like grief and divorce recovery, substance abuse, parenting), blogs, chat rooms, e-mail Bible studies, downloadable materials? May we be intentional in our task to make disciples!

Pastor Sonny



February 3rd, 2019

Passionate Worship

What is your passion? Passion can be described as intense motivation and emotion. In passionate worship, people are honest before God and one another, and they are open to God’s presence and will for their lives. Now imagine designing the components that make room for God to work - the preaching, the music, the other content and techniques required.

The motivation for enhancing the quality of worship is not only about deepening our own faith, but also about allowing God to use us and our congregations to offer hope, life and love to others. Do we, as God’s people, desire such worship? Will we even reorder our lives to engage passionate worship? Does our worship come alive? Is it fresh each Sunday? Worship is a sacred trust that requires our utmost and highest. 

Pastor Sonny



January 27th, 2019

Risk-Taking Mission and Service

This involves work that stretches people, causing them to do something for the good of others that they would never have considered doing if it were not for their relationship with Christ and their desire to continue the earthly mission of Jesus.

Such churches collaborate outside the church with civic organizations, social agencies, and non-profit groups. They actively invite and welcome newcomers, visitors, and the unchurched to help them in making a difference in the lives of others. Can our people move beyond their comfort zones and follow Christ into more adventurous encounters with people? Can God’s Spirit change us from fear of failure to continue the risk-taking mission of Jesus? Who Are You?

Pastor Sonny


January 20th, 2019

The Seven Signs

Epiphany is the last of our “seasons of light” (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany). Here we focus on light as “revelation” of the person: Jesus. John’s gospel gives great meaning to numbers - especially “three” and “seven.” The first of seven “signs” Jesus gives us in this gospel is turning water into wine. We might consider this a trivial miracle, but remember, John is just getting started. John’s gospel gives us a crescendo of seven “signs” about Jesus; moving from “water into wine” all the way to “raising Lazarus.”

Scripture has no single word that is translated “miracle.” There are four primary Greek words: works (ergon), wonders (teras), powers (dunamis), and signs (semeion). “SIGN” is John’s choice because he wants to distinguish Jesus from any other. Signs get your attention for a purpose. A 'sign' is a miracle: it can strengthen a person's faith, be prophetic, and point you to God; however, a sign can be deliberately ignored. Don’t ignore this sign just because the context (a wedding party) seems trivial.

Pastor Sonny


January 13th, 2019

Officers of the Church

As a pastor, I am so grateful to the laity who stand up and take responsibility for the mission and Ministry of our church. One of my professors once said, “the greatest mistake of the church was to separate the people into clergy and laity” and I agree. We do not do ministry as clergy and laity but as Disciples of Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Baptism is our celebration of the work of the holy spirit in us. I hope today that you can stand with us and fully participate in this celebration!

Pastor Sonny


January 6th 2019

A Tale of Two Kings

There is a great contrast offered us when three Magi come from the east looking for “The King of the Jews” because they stop in to see the current King Herod to ask: “where is this newborn king?” Uh Oh! How wise is it to stop and ask the present king where the new king is located?

Truth is, the conflict serves God’s plan well in Matthew’s gospel. For us, the contrast can serve to symbolize the internal contrast between our will and God’s will in each of us. As disciples, we willingly and joyfully desire the Lordship of Christ our king but there is the darker side of the self which firmly and persistently rejects God’s place at the center of our hearts. Herod’s sin looks like our sin. Can we acknowledge the Herod in ourselves!

Pastor Sonny


December 30th, 2018

The 12 Days of Christmas

Christmas is not a day. There are 12 days of Christmas - the period between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi, the three wise men. It begins on December 25 (Christmas) and runs through January 6 (the Epiphany, sometimes also called Three Kings' Day). The song begins with 1 of the first gift (a partridge in a pear tree) all the way up to 12 drummers drumming - the last gift. The earliest known version of this lyric appeared in a 1780 children's book. The song most of us are familiar with today is from 1909 and comes from an English composer named Frederic Austin. He set the melody and lyrics adding as his own flourish the drawn-out cadence of "five go-old rings." Regardless of whether you love or hate the song, Christmas is a Season of 12 days – ENJOY!

Pastor Sonny


December 23rd, 2018

The Dove of Peace? 

Why are doves associated with peace? Well, it’s not that way in all cultures. Doves are also symbolic of love (when presented in pairs). And, like sheep, they are associated with innocence and were used as sacrifices: gentle, pure, non-offensive creatures. But for us in Western Judeo-Christian cultures, we remember the dove released by Noah (after the flood) came back carrying a freshly plucked olive leaf! Great, now we have to research why olive leaves represent peace! Rabbis compared the olive leaf to "the young shoots of the Land of Israel." So, there you are! Just remember – for Christians – the Dove represents the Holy Spirt. Peace and the Holy Spirit - now that’ll PREACH!

Pastor Sonny


December 16th, 2018

Gaudete Sunday

Gaudete[gawˈ dee teh] in Latin means "rejoice." In Europe, churches on Gaudete Sunday use a rose-color (pink) instead of (the winter Lenten color) purple. So Gaudete Sunday was also known as "Rose Sunday."

In churches that use an Advent wreath, the rose-colored candle #3 (joy) is lit in addition to the #1 (hope) & #2 (love or peace) purple candles, which represent the first two Sundays of Advent. The somber readings of Advent in Europe had a secondary theme of penitence, but the readings on the third Sunday would emphasize the joyous anticipation of the Lord's coming.

Why blue in our sanctuary? We still use purple in the Chapel. Since ADVENT is characterized by Christmas celebration -- in contrast to the repentance theme of LENT -- the color for the season should not be solemn royal purple color of LENT, but, instead, the royal blue of celebration. This IS a subjective choice: linking colors with certain moods. But since American culture is crazy with Christmas from Halloween on …well blue seems the more appropriate color. More on that in worship this morning!

Pastor Sonny


December 9th, 2018

Expressions of Love

How many of you are finished with all your Christmas shopping? How many of you haven’t even started? How many of you plan to just skip the whole shopping thing and go straight to the Christmas dinner? Wherever you stand on Christmas gift shopping and giving, Americans spend a lot of money on Christmas. Retail sales for Christmas 2017 were projected to be $1 trillion!1

But while that number is a bit mind-blowing, here is another fun number for you: $60 billion. That’s how much Americans spent on their pets - $60 billion.2Do we put our money where our heart is… or do we fill empty places in our hearts by spending money? Is a gift an expression of love? How do you perceive God’s love for you? Do you feel you need to earn it? Do you wonder if God’s love is meant for you? 

Pastor Sonny

 

1Bryan Pearson, “Holiday Spending to Exceed $1 Trillion—And 11 Other Surprising Data Points of Christmas,” Forbes.com, December 22, 2016

2Michelle Castillo, “Americans Will Spend More Than $60 Billion on Their Pets This Year,” NBCNews.com, July 12, 2015

December 2nd, 2018

The Waiting Room!

Does anybody enjoy the doctor’s waiting room? The Hospital Waiting Area? Not the best of days. In my Chaplin training we were reminded that we see people in some of the worst days of their lives – not just the sick, but the entire family that is affected by the events of the day.

Who likes waiting? Does anyone like waiting? Yet we live in a culture that does everything possible to reduce the amount of time we spend waiting! 2ndday delivery anyone? To shape your talents and inborn abilities into real achievements, you must have patience. To master any art or to enhance your talent, you need to make continuous effort for a long time. To achieve spiritual maturity, you must wait at times. The power to overcome roadblocks comes only from patience.

Advent is a time of waiting. While it feels unnatural, there is great benefit in embracing this season as we anticipate the coming of Jesus. The waiting reminds us of where our HOPE is set.

Pastor Sonny