December 6, 2018

O Come, All Ye Faithful

United Methodist Hymnal – #234

Who would not love thee,

loving us so dearly?

 

The above lyric is from the least known stanza of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” In it, the lyricist speaks of embracing the Christ Child “with love and awe.” Isn’t that the way we would embrace any baby? Surely there’s no other way to embrace a newborn. We experience the awe when we encounter the miracle of life first-hand. And the love comes in the knowledge that this tiny person is dependent on us for absolutely everything. Of course, this is part of the magic of Christmas. This incarnation of God in human form. And not a King, or a warrior, as was expected of a Messiah, but rather a helpless, unremarkable baby. Now to clarify, most unremarkable babies do not have hosts of angels proclaiming their birth. Nor do most unremarkable babies have stars that appear and illuminate their place of birth. And most unremarkable babies do not have sages from foreign countries go on the ultimate quest to find the baby at the place of it’s birth. But perhaps that’s the most remarkable thing of all. God with us, Emmanuel, in the most unremarkable of settings, in the most unremarkable of forms. A baby. We know God loves us. The apostle Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. So if that’s the case, how can we keep from loving this tiny child? God’s love knows no bounds, and neither should ours. So here’s the question: If God love us so dearly, and it follows that we would love God the same, shouldn’t we love all the others that God loves?

 

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,

nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come

shall be able to separate us from the love of God

ROMANS 8: 38-39

      

Loving God, your love knows no bounds. Even as we stray, unaware of the consequences of our actions, you surround us in your loving arms, embracing us in love and awe, just as we would embrace our own children. Open our hearts to accept your great love, and the love of others, allowing us to also express and demonstrate the unconditional love you’re taught us, for our family, friends, colleagues, and all those you also love.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley


December 5, 2018

Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!

United Methodist Hymnal – #224

He hath opened heaven’s door,

and ye are blest forevermore

 

What’s behind door number two? Haven’t we all wondered that very thing watching the game show Let’s Make a Deal?  It can be so nerve wracking to watch someone risk (or bet) their current winnings, to have what is hiding behind the closed door. Hopefully it will not be a “Zonk”. Actually, opening doors is always somewhat exciting. Opening a door invites us to another experience, maybe another place or time. Think about an ocean front hotel. You open the door from the hall and immediately are overwhelmed by the beautiful and endless vista of water and waves. Or I vividly remember an M&M’s commercial from many years ago. It started with a door being flung open wide, revealing a huge, beautifully decorated, and dazzlingly lit Christmas Tree. (There are cultures in the world where the Christmas Trees are decorated in secret, not revealing them to the children of the family until Christmas Eve, by I’m sure, opening a door.) The open door is such a fitting symbol for the coming of the Christ Child. It was through Jesus’s life, teaching, death and resurrection that we learned the secret of eternal life. It is as though that tiny child flung the door open wide, exposing the glory that awaits us on the other side. And unlike Let’s Make a Deal, there will be no Zonks! We have truly been blest with the prospect of life eternal, and it all seems to begin with an open door. Perhaps that same door through which we welcome everyone to Dayspring.

 

. . . for I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . .

MATTHEW  25: 35

      

God of love and hospitality, show us how to fling open the doors of our hearts, welcoming all into our life experience and space. Help us to understand that we are the truly blest ones, living the way you showed us, following your path to eternal life. May we embrace the stranger, love the unlovable, and practice extravagant hospitality to all we encounter.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley

 


December 4, 2018

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

United Methodist Hymnal – #240

“. . . peace on earth and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

 

Don’t you hate it when you break something valuable? There’s something so final about it, even when a shot of Gorilla Glue might be all that’s needed to restore the object. I’ve known people who intentionally purchased really inexpensive glassware, just because they knew they would be breaking all of them in time. (And in their case, not all that much time.) But that seems so fatalistic to me. How awful to assume, even with good reason or historical precedent, that something will eventually be broken. Does one then take greater care with a precious belonging? Well what about a relationship? How can one enter into a relationship with the expectation of it’s end? And if self-fulfilling prophecy is really a thing, do we unintentionally sabotage those relationships? Sometimes it’s distrust that can destroy a relationship. Sometimes it’s selfish or unkind actions and attitudes. All things that cannot be repaired with glue or duct tape, and though no special skill is required, it is far more difficult to repair a broken friendship than a treasured vase, or piece of art. Humankind is known to stray. It’s not really our fault – we’re given free will and sometimes we just make the wrong choice. But like the prodigal son, God waits for our return. God’s grace and mercy is continually offered to us. We need only accept it. it’s the Christmas message. God’s son, being born on earth, creating a bridge to reconciliation between us and God. No wonder angels sang.

 

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;

you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

you shall be called the repairer of the breach,

ISAIAH 58: 12

 

Merciful God, it is so easy for us to get sidetracked. The stresses of the season can overwhelm. Our focus on what we need and what we want can alter our focus, from outward to inward, driving a wedge between ourselves, our colleagues and loved ones, and you. Help us to remember that your mercy is offered freely, and that reconciliation is its own reward. Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley

      

 


December 3, 2018

Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates

United Methodist Hymnal – #213

… let us thy inner presence feel;

thy grace and love in us reveal.

 

Who doesn’t love a makeover show? In our modern day, we can observe people being “fixed” in almost every way, from clothing to haircut, from interior décor to landscaping. We even see people learn how to dance or cook. We ever so anxiously wait for the big reveal. And as we watch, how many of us secretly wish (or not so secretly wish) that one of those experts could turn their magic loose on us. We think about how our own natural “gifts” might be enhanced at the hands of a trained professional. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that whatever is changed would probably be just a superficial “alteration”. At the risk of sounding trite, it’s really about what’s inside a person. How many beautiful people do we know that struggle with horrible self images. How many exquisitely decorated homes have we visited that still seem cold and unwelcoming. I’m not suggesting that we don’t do our best at maximizing our individual potentials. Rather, during this season of Advent, we should strive for another kind of reveal. What if everyone worked toward revealing God’s grace and love, working in them and through them? Does God really care about our manicured lawns, if our striving for perfection takes away time that we might have spent caring for a neighbor, or volunteering at a shelter for the unloved and/or disenfranchised?

 

Lift up your heads, O gates!

and be lifted up, O ancient doors!

that the King of Glory may come in.

PSALM 24: 7

      

God of grace and love, come to us now and fill us. Help us to see the “you” that’s present in us. Instead of obsessing over our homes, our yards, and/or our appearances, let us reveal to the world your presence, dwelling in each of us. As we wait for your earthly incarnation, may we be reborn as your children, aglow with your inner presence, revealing your love and light.   Amen.

 

~ Rev. L. Michael Kelley

 


December 2, 2018 ADVENT I

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

United Methodist Hymnal – #211

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer

our spirits by thy advent here:

 

And so it begins. For the next month, children will make an extra effort to be good, except when they’re not. And those persons we encounter at the mall, in line at the grocery store or post office will be especially courteous, except when they’re not. And we will all be more patient and understanding with our colleagues, friends, families, and loved ones, except when we’re not. Recognizing the ease with which we can all get swept away in the details of the season, and the continuing quest for the perfect Christmas, we can lose sight of the real joys of the season. Our best memories are not usually the perfection we experienced in the most beautifully decorated tree, or the most succulent turkey. Rather, we cherish the pictures of Uncle John with a bow stuck on his head on Christmas morning, or the overturned bowl of mashed potatoes that the dog enjoyed before we had a chance to even salvage the top layer. The laughter we share around the tree or table is far greater, and of more value than even the most exquisitely wrapped gift. It’s almost as though the ninth century words of today’s carol were directed right at us, Dayspring. Come and cheer our spirits! It’s like the gauntlet has been thrown down. Are you ready to cheer the spirits of those around you, and those you encounter during the season. Emmanuel – God is with us!

 

“Behold, a Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel”, which means, “God is with us.”

MATTHEW 1: 23 

 

Gracious God, your challenge is accepted. We thank you for your faith in us, that we might be your representatives here on earth. Grant us your peace as we journey toward that most beautiful of days, remembering always that you dwell among us, alive in all we meet, both known and unknown.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley

 


Humble Beginnings

I am grateful to Chuck Winkler for having invited me to lead a session on “How We See Jesus” at the Men’s retreat at Camp Mingus last month. It was a beautiful setting and we all learned so much from each other. To begin, I asked participants to consider some of their earliest or childhood
images of Jesus: maybe a picture, sculpture, or song. For me, it was a small crèche my mom had brought back from Germany as a young adult. Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus – crafted from dried corn husks. I remember as a boy my folks putting that simple nativity out each Christmas season. Now as an adult I’ve come to realize another layer of meaning around that simple piece of folk art, fashioned of discards – I mean, besides tamales, what else are corn husks good for?

Jesus had a heart for “the last, the lost, the least” – those often regarded by society as “outcasts,” even “refuse.” Stories of his birth hint at his own marginalization: Mary, an unwed mother, expectant in a most unconventional way; the Good News coming not to the learned and powerful but to (dirty) shepherds working the night shift; the babe of whose birth we sing born not in Rome but some backwater province of the empire, and laying in a cattle feed trough, not a castle.

It’s easy to sentimentalize Jesus, especially during this season when we celebrate his birth with dazzling lights, lovely Hallmark cards and entertaining Christmas pageants.  That simple corn husk crèche reminds me of the earthy reality of the birth of an outcast-soon-to-be-refugee who would devote his life to helping all to see – powerful or vulnerable – that everyone is no less than a child of God!

Merry Christmas,
Pastor Jeff


History

Recently my family and I were on the East Coast visiting colleges and basking in the glorious hues of fall. Browsing in a used bookstore, I discovered a dusty, leather- bound tome entitled History of Methodism in Maine: 1793-1886. Thumbing through its pages, my eyes fell upon the minutes of the 1840 General Conference in Baltimore. I was gobsmacked to read the following:

The Bishops’ address was read, in which they express their approval of the pastoral address of the previous General Conference, especially that part of it relating to the subject of slavery, concurring in the advice to the entire church “to wholly abstain” from all abolition movements …

My thoughts turned to John Wesley, and to the final letter that he penned a few days before he died in 1791, to William Wilberforce.

Fifty years before Methodists were advised by that 1840 General Conference to refrain from participating in the anti-slavery cause, the founder of the Methodist movement wrote a letter encouraging the great British abolitionist Wilberforce in “opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature.” (Previously, in 1777, Wesley had published an abolitionist tract called “Thoughts on Slavery.”) Thanks to the courage of Wilberforce and others, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1807.

As was the case with Jesus and Paul, within a generation the radical message of John Wesley was watered down to accommodate the status quo. The Methodist Church would split over slavery in 1844 – 16 years before the Southern States seceded from the Union, precipitating the Civil War. The two general conferences, the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South reunited in 1939, but only after the South made the creation of a special “Central Conference” for blacks – “separate but equal” – a condition of the merger.

It is not hyperbole to say we stand at a similar crossroads in our day. A special General Conference will be held in February 2019 in St. Louis. 800 delegates from around the globe will determine the future of the UMC. Just as slavery divided the church then, divergent understandings of human sexuality may well split the church now.

Our bishop, Bishop Robert Hoshibata, is convening “Holy Huddles” for laity and clergy “in order to better understand and prayerfully share our thoughts for our Church.” I have already attended two of these sessions and heartily encourage you to attend the Holy Huddle on November 17th at North Scottsdale UMC, 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm. Here’s the link for more information about Holy Huddles and the 2019 General Conference.

Thanksgiving will soon be upon us. One of the things for which I am grateful is the United Methodist Church and our Wesleyan heritage. My prayer is that we will find a way forward in love, following the counsel of John Wesley, who said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” The very future of our denomination depends upon it.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Jeff


Tikkun Olam

Pastor Jeff with Rabbi Dean Shapiro at Temple Emanuel Synagogue’s Ship Ahoy! gala event on April 28, 2018.

Last April, Janice and I represented Dayspring UMC at a lovely gala sponsored by Temple Emanuel, the synagogue located around the corner from Dayspring, near Rural and Guadalupe. Dayspring was honored with their George Korobkin Community Service Award “presented to individuals, groups or organizations that have had an impact on the togetherness of the Valley and its people.”

Renewing our relationship with Temple Emanuel has been delightful and gratifying. Dayspring was a big support during the synagogue’s early years. Rev. Bert Lewis and Rabbi David Pinkwasser brought the two faith communities together to develop mutual understanding and to support a number of neighborhood initiatives.

I first met their present rabbi, Dean Shapiro, at a meeting of the Tempe Interfaith Fellowship shortly after being appointed here. We partnered on the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Dayspring in November of 2014 and have collaborated on a number of projects since. Last year, Temple Emanuel held their High Holy Days’ services at Dayspring – we have double their seating capacity – and will be doing so again this fall. In fact, we have all been invited to attend their closing Yom Kippur service at Dayspring on Sept 19 at 5:45pm.
Yom Kippur is the tenth and final day the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days that starts with Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the intervening days, the person seeks to improve their behavior and be reconciled to others and to God. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.

There is a Hebrew expression, tikkun olam, which literally means “to mend the world” or “to perfect the world.” We play a role in mending the world when we recognize where we have fallen short in our relationships and our commitments and then take steps to remedy our shortcomings. Other intentional steps involve building community and working for peace and justice. To that end, Rabbi Dean and I are in the process of planning shared activities for our congregations. An interfaith build day with Habitat for Humanity, a panel on “Earth Stewardship from a Faith Perspective,” and “Community Conversations” over a meal or refreshments are all in the works. I hope you’ll take advantage of some of these opportunities to foster community and grow in our understanding of each other’s faith traditions. Jesus himself, after all, was Jewish!

Shalom,
Pastor Jeff


Wesley and the People Called Methodists

John Wesley, the co-founder of what would become the United Methodist Church, relates in his journal a life-changing experience while crossing the Atlantic in 1736. The voyage to America took four months and the passengers were comprised of two main groups: folks from England and German Moravian Christians. Toward the end of the journey there was a third storm, more violent than the others.

“In the midst of a worship service the sea broke over, split the main‑sail to pieces, covered the ship, poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming was heard from the midst of the English, but the Germans calmly continued to sing their hymn. Afterwards I asked one of them, ‘Were you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.’

Deeply moved by the faith of the Moravians, Wesley wrote, “It was the most glorious day I had ever before experienced.”

It would be some time before Wesley himself would experience that utter assurance of God’s unconditional love and acceptance, and be able to declare, with Paul, that

“… neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I believe we are all looking for that Gospel reassurance – that we are God’s beloved and that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.

I find in Wesley’s humanity and life-long quest to follow Jesus a compelling and inspirational example. During the month of August, we will be considering the legacy of John Wesley with a sermon series on spirituality, faith and theology of this remarkable leader. I hope you’ll join me!

Blessings,

Pastor Jeff


The Untied Methodist Church

The Untied Methodist Church?

No, that’s not a typo.

Bishop Bob Hoshibata at the consecration service of Bishop Karen Oliveto, the first openly gay bishop in The United Methodist Church, held on July 16, 2016 at Paradise Valley UMC.

On April 23, 1968, the United Methodist Church was created by the union of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and Methodist Church.

Fifty years later, things are on the verge of unraveling.

Every four years, lay and clergy delegates gather from annual conferences around the globe to reflect on the state of the church and to review and amend our denominational polity. The most recent General Conference was held in May of 2016, when thousands of United Methodists, including about 850 delegates, gathered in Portland, Oregon.

At the outset of that conference, 115 LGBT United Methodist clergy came out of the closet and an additional 2,000 UMC clergy (including yours truly) signed a letter of support. Some 25 bishops also signed a letter requesting changes to our polity eliminating the exclusion of LGBT pastors and the prohibition of same gender weddings. Recognizing the potential for a church-wide split, the General Conference decided at the urging of the Council of Bishops to defer all votes on human sexuality until a specially called General Conference, to be held Feb. 23-26, 2019. It also empowered the bishops to create a commission to bring a recommendation to that conference to determine the way forward for our denomination. Until then, the question remains: will we be united or untied?

Two months later, on July 15, 2016, the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC elected the Rev. Karen Oliveto to the episcopacy, the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church. I was privileged to attend her historic consecration service at Paradise Valley UMC that weekend. Needless to say, it has not been a smooth journey for Bishop Oliveto, as the church struggles to be fully inclusive.

I rejoice that for nearly two decades Dayspring UMC has had a Statement of Welcome that includes all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Moreover, in 2015 Dayspring affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network, comprised of United Methodist churches that publicly welcome all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. While our denomination struggles to live up to its slogan of Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, I am grateful that Dayspring has made considerable strides toward embodying that ideal. I hope you’ll join your prayers with mine for a fully inclusive and united church.

Blessings, Pastor Jeff