August 2023 Connection

Scooter-O’s

“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to
them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’  -Matthew 25:37-40 (CEB)
 
I’d never heard of Scooter-O’s before, but there they were in the “Community Closet,” a small cupboard in the basement kitchenette below my Intro to New Testament and Homiletics classrooms in DeWire Hall at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. The “Community Closet” wasn’t a very large cupboard, with its
doors a bit sticky from years of build-up and not much attention. The food items inside were a bit questionable in terms of their expiration date, but there they were; food items available for anyone in need to take. It was the seminary’s version of a food bank. And sitting between a couple of cans of
green beans and some form of bean with the label half torn off was a giant bag of off-brand Cheerios with about a month to spare on the expiration label. Looking around on a Saturday morning, I took them, went to my apartment, and had what I convinced myself was a fairly decent breakfast.
 
The background to the story is a lot longer than this article calls for, but the long and the short of it is that my pride kept me from reaching out for help. I wanted to believe I could do it alone. Were there those who would have helped me if I’d asked? Sure! But pride is a lonely thing.
 
I think about those Scooter-O’s often, and I’m immensely grateful for whoever it was that put them there in that sticky “Community Closet” cupboard. I think about that bag of cereal every time I have the chance to hand out a blessing bag from the church, or when I can help someone a bit out of the church’s
discretionary fund. For me, I do my best to help others who are in need, in part, because someone decided to put cereal in a cupboard in anticipation of a day when I’d be hungry and afraid to ask for help.
 
In Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus’ reminder to his disciples that each time they are helping others, they are helping the divine. Each time they are serving the hungry, the hurting, the naked, and the marginalized, they are – in a very real way – serving Christ.
 
When our neighbors ask for help, may we recognize the courage that may take. When we’re face to face with panhandling, may we recognize the pride that has been abandoned. When our neighbors ask for help, may we see in their faces the image of Christ. And when our neighbors are in need, may we
seek to remember moments in our lives when we were in need and found aid in the One we call Love and LORD.
 
Pastor Brian
 
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July 2023 Connection

Hanging in my office, just above my desk is a baseball jersey with my last name stitched between the shoulders, and the number 6 in the center. The number 6 was my choice, in the hopes of channeling the legendary Al Kaline. My name on it, however, was my dream come true. It’s also a reminder of the
day that I almost recorded an out against Hall of Fame player, and best designated hitter ever, Edgar Martine. . . almost.
 
While I was in seminary a good friend of mine, Tim Wisecup, happened to win a contest put on by Pepsi called “Pepsi Max Field of Dreams.” As the contest winner, Tim was allowed to put together a team of 10 of his friends to play a baseball game in front of 15,000. Our opponents? Hall of Fame professional
baseball players.
 
That night in May, 2012, I got to bat against Boston Red Sox pitcher, Pedro Martinez. I got to stand at first base with The Big Hurt himself, Frank Thomas. I even got heckled by the greatest catcher of all time, Johnny Bench. As a baseball fan, it really was a childhood dream come true!
 
Then, in the first inning, with the Kaline #6 on my back, I took my position at Right Field. Stepping up to the plate was designated hitter, Edgar Martinez – again, one of the best. As luck would have it, the first pitch met his bat, and the ball sailed out into Right Field. I suddenly became aware that I was the only
one out there. It was my ball to catch and my time to shine! With all eyes on this 6’8” tee-ball experienced baseball fraud, I ran backwards, lifted up my glove, and…completely missed it. The ball fell to the ground and rolled on the grass. As I threw the ball into the infield, I heard someone yell from the stands, “Come on, West! How could you miss that?!”
 
I tell this story to highlight something that was going through my head for the rest of that night – an existential question, really: Was this night my dream come true, or my most public failure? In other words, did I get to play out a childhood fantasy, or did I just make the biggest blunder of my life?
 
While this circumstance is a bit unusual, the question really isn’t that uncommon. We live our lives with successes and celebrations all over the place. Sometimes, they’re big moments of success, but more often than not, they’re mini, and so we hardly notice them. For instance, you got out of bed this morning! That’s a success. You managed to smile at your coworker! Great job. You got to spend time with family and friends. Awesome. You get the point. Life is full of wins…all the time! The problem is, we are really good at fixating on that one thing that didn’t go so great. 
 
In other words, we find ourselves on a baseball field, living our best lives – full of joy and gladness – but all we can remember is our shortcoming. 
 
My invitation to you today is this: acknowledge when you drop the ball. But, also take time to look at the beautiful field on which you stand. God’s grace, love, and forgiveness wants you to enjoy the game, and not linger on the missed ball. 
 
Peace,
Pastor Brian (#6)
 
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May 2023 Connection

“Not Complicated, Not Easy”
A Call to Real Discipleship

 
“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” -Matthew 22:36-40 (CEB)
 
In a sermon not too long ago, I made the comment that “being a Christian isn’t easy, and if anyone ever tells you that it is, they’re either lying to you, or they’re not really trying that hard.” Afterward, during a lovely conversation, someone shared with me their reflection on that idea. They said something to
the affect of, “Being a Christian really isn’t that hard, though. Just love people!” I nodded in response, agreeing that “just love people” is a pretty fair summary of Jesus’ teachings. But I also took time to add this: Being a Christian is not a complicated thing, but that doesn’t make it easy.
 
When we read Jesus’ response to the question in Matthew’s Gospel of “What is the greatest commandment in the Law,” we find ourselves marveling at just how simple it really is. It’s not overly complicated! There are no footnotes, small print, or hastily read lines at the end of his announcement like when we see commercials advertising the latest pharmaceutical. Jesus lays it out simply for us: Love God wholly! Love neighbor! Love yourself! Jesus even goes on to say (and I paraphrase), “and this about wraps it up!”
 
You see what I mean? Being a Christian and following the greatest commandment is not complicated. In fact, you probably have it memorized already (if you don’t it’s a good passage of scripture to memorize). But somehow, as Christians in the 21st century (and I would argue this really started centuries ago), we’ve conflated the idea of Christianity’s simplicity with an ease of discipleship. Herein lies the problem…It’s not always easy – in fact, it’s rarely easy – to be a Christian.
 
To be a Christian – to love God, neighbor, and self – means that we stand up for those who are forgotten. In a world and culture that often leaves people at the margins (and in some instances, pushes), to be a Christian means that we need to speak out against powers, policies, and practices that would leave the
margins as they are.
 
To be a Christian – to love God, neighbor, and self – means that we advocate for peace and community wellbeing amid a culture that encourages fear of “the other.”
 
To be a Christian – to love God, neighbor, and self – means that we draw the circle wider, not smaller. It means that we define ourselves by the ever growing size of our table, and not by rules that would dictate who gets to sit at it. It means that no one is forgotten, ignored, or kept at arm’s length.
 
We could go on and on, but I’ll leave it at this: Being a Christian requires nothing less of us than using
Jesus’ greatest commandment as a litmus test for what is good and right. Does it love God? Does it
love the neighbor? Is it loving ourselves? It’s not complicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
And so, may we journey as Christian disciples together! May we encourage one another to love in a
way that is oftentimes challenging! May we remind one another of what Christ’s love looks like, so
often that we can’t help but reflect it, too! May we seek to be a church that embodies the love, grace,
and joy of Christ in this world…this community.
 
May we love.
Pastor Brian
 
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