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April 2023 Connection

Doubt-ish

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
                                                                                                                ~John 20:24-28 (CEB)
 
As you’re reading this, we’re likely toward the end of Lent, approaching Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter. Maybe you’ve picked up the newsletter a bit later in the month and have Easter Sunday in the rearview mirror, along with Michigan snowstorms (hopefully). Either way, this passage of scripture from John’s Gospel comes soon after Jesus’ resurrection, and so it’s fitting that you’re reading it.
 
So often, we title this passage “Doubting Thomas.” Chances are you’ve heard it called that before, but I’ll be honest, I’ve never liked that title for it. Truth be told, I’ve never liked using titles for scripture passages. They seem to set us up to see only one thing. For example, in the “Feeding of the 5,000,” our brains are trained to only see the feeding miracle. The title keeps us from seeing the miracle of 5000 men (plus women and children) gathering because they believe that Jesus can heal. It keeps us from seeing that all of this takes place in a fishing village, pointing out the disciples’ singular focus on what they have, while not noticing the potential in the community in which they find themselves. Considering that, the title could also be “The Disciples Can’t See the Forest for the Trees.”
 
Here, in John 20, the title forces us to see Thomas, one of the disciples, as “doubting.” And because of that, it’s hard to see anything else. So, let’s look at some other aspects of this story, ignoring Thomas’ doubt for a minute. Did you notice that Thomas wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came? Where was he? The answer is that we don’t know, but perhaps Thomas didn’t have the benefit of having seen the empty tomb as Peter, Mary and the “beloved disciple” had. Perhaps Thomas had continued on in ministry, returning only when he heard of Jesus’ resurrection – returning to see if it was real.
 
Or, do we notice that Jesus, now resurrected, still has the wounds in his hands, feet and side? So often, we think of Jesus resurrection as a healing from his earthly death, but here that’s challenged. Jesus was alive, to be sure, but he still had evidence of the death he experienced. Could it be that resurrection in and through Christ doesn’t take away wounds, but rather that it restores life in spite of this world’s wounds? Maybe, then, Thomas’ reaction was not so much “doubt” as it was surprise. Perhaps the disciples assumed all along that resurrection would mean that the cross would be erased, only to discover that it simply rendered the cross ineffective. Was Thomas simply responding to this new realization? (Keep in mind, It’s in John 16:33 that we hear these words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”). If that’s the case, couldn’t we title this passage, “Thomas Discovers Resurrection’s Power”?
 
Now, okay… Jesus does say “Stop doubting and believe.” I will admit, it seems like this would completely dismantle my defense of Thomas. Maybe Thomas was doubting a bit. Maybe it’s not the worst title in the world. But until we got past the title, we wouldn’t have looked more closely at Jesus’ wounds – only Thomas’ doubt. Now that we see the wounds, and now that we’ve explored what that might teach us about resurrected, perhaps the “doubt” Jesus is referring to is not Thomas’ doubt that Jesus really was resurrection, but rather the disciples’ (Thomas included) doubt that resurrection could only be real if it erased the trouble and wounds we experience in this world.
 
There Jesus stood – wounds, trouble and all – not in the tomb, but resurrected. Jesus reminds Thomas…Jesus reminds the disciples…Jesus reminds us, the reader, that though we’ll carry our own cross in our discipleship (Matthew 16:24), ultimately the wounds of this world don’t have the final word. Resurrection does.
 
May we no longer doubt, but believe.
Pastor Brian
 
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March 2023 Connection

Rubber Band S#%

Sin. There, I said it! It’s a word that we seem to want to avoid as often as possible. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people offer their pastor the critique of “I wish you wouldn’t talk about sin so much,” or my personal favorite, the veiled critique of, “It’s nice to hear a sermon that didn’t talk about sin, for once.” The word “sin” has even taken on its own monikers, such as the “three letter word” or, as I’ve done in the title, omitted words as if it’s a curse to even write the word, let alone speak it.
 
Okay, you’ve probably picked up on my facetiousness, but there is a significant amount of truth in it, as well. We don’t like talking about sin, and I’m convinced it’s because we don’t really know what it is. We assume that it’s breaking God’s law – which is fair, but still a very vague description? Or, maybe we
focus in on the 10 commandments. After all, we like neat, concise lists, and there is some truth to this, as well. But “sin” isn’t really a noun, as in a set of rules, sin is really more a relational verb.
 
What do I mean by a relational verb? It’s actually pretty simple. Sin or sinning is something that we do. That makes it a verb. It’s relational, because it is something that we do in relation to another – God, a neighbor, or ourselves. So here is the definition I like to work with when I think about sin:
“Sin is the action, word, or thought, intended or otherwise, that creates distance between us and God, us and others, and/or even within ourselves.” 
-Pastor Brian
So, here’s where the rubber band comes in. If you have one, take it out and follow my instructions. If you don’t have one, just pretend…you’ll still get the idea.
 
Holding the rubber band loosely on both of you index fingers, your left index finger representing you, and your right index finger representing God. Now, with no tension on the rubber band, consider that this is the relationship we deeply want to have with God. It represents an almost closeness, maybe even a sense of comfort. This feels good, and because there is no tension on the rubber band, it may even feel effortless. This is where we want to be in our life with God. 
 
But then, sin comes in. Now, remember that sin is anything that puts distance  between us a God. So, gently, pull your left index finger (you) away from your right (God). As we “commit sin” this is what we are doing. We (not God) are putting distance between us and God. The more we sin, the more distance we
have. Go ahead, keep adding distance.
 
Now, as you add more and more distance, what are you are beginning to feel is tension. The rubber band is constantly pulling you (your left index finger) back toward God (your right index finger). We call the rubber band “grace” or even just “love.” God’s loving grace is constantly pulling us back toward God. God
NEVER pushes us away. God only pulls us back toward God’s self. Why? It’s because close to God is where we feel good. Close to God is where we feel at home.
 
Now, let’s go one step further. Imagine now that your right index finger is you and your left index finger is your neighbor (this can be absolutely anyone). When your neighbor (lefty) sins against you, they create distance from you? The more they sin against you, the more distance they create. The question then is, how is your rubber band holding up? Is the pull of your love the same as the pull of God’s love, or are we more tempted to let the rubber band snap – or even just take it off? We are invited by God to share the same love that is in Christ Jesus. We are invited to remember the pull of God’s grace which pulls us back despite our sin, and, in turn, seek right relationship with our neighbors through grace.
 
Friends, it is my commitment to you to never let go of the rubber band we share, together. I hope that you will share in that commitment with me.
 
Peace,
Pastor Brian
 
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February 2023 Connection

“This Is One Boring Article”

In the book of Acts, chapter 6, we discover what might be considered the first church committee. It was a team of 7 who were charged with making sure that the widows who were part of the early Christian community were cared for and not forgotten or neglected in the midst of all the great work of ministry. In other words, it was a committee that was created for the purpose of not neglecting what really does
matter…caring for others!
 
Fast forward about 2000 years, and we’ve expanded the idea of church committees, just a bit [insert church committee joke here]. As a United Methodist Church, we are part of a conference that, in our case, encompasses the entire state of Michigan. Our conference – the Michigan Conference of The UMC – is made up of somewhere in the ballpark of 800-900 churches. Currently, those 800+ churches are organized into 9 geographical “districts.” Grand Blanc UMC is part of the East Wind District.
 
A while ago, the Conference began a process to explore how we could move from 9 districts to 7 districts by July of 2023. As that date approaches, we’ve been given an update, and so I wanted to share that update with you. The conference is, in fact, moving from 9 districts to 7 districts. Grand Blanc UMC will still be part of the East Winds District, along with many others, and we’re even welcoming some new
churches to the district! Oh, and I’ll still be serving as your pastor here at GBUMC.
 
Knowing that our current district superintendent, Rev. John Hice, had planned to retire, we assumed we’d be assigned a new district superintendent, and that has happened, too. Effective July 1, 2023, our district superintendent will be Rev. Dr. Margie Crawford. I look forward to Dr. Crawford’s leadership, and I am sure that you’ll enjoy getting to know her as we have the opportunity.
 
Now, I know that this might not be the most exciting newsletter article that you’ve ever read. In fact, I know it’s not! But I wanted to share all of the above with you in order to share this important piece of information.
 
By and large, this change has minimal impact on Grand Blanc UMC. And the minimal impact that it does have is all good and helpful! Grand Blanc UMC will still be in the business of making and nurturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We will still be seeking ways to create new spaces for new faces. We will still be connecting with our community, serving as Christ first served us, and loving our neighbors.
 
You see, the first church committee that we discovered all the way back in the Book of Acts was put together to make sure that certain things were taken care of in order to make sure ministry could still be fruitful. The same is true here. Our relationship with our Annual Conference and our district provides us with meaningful and helpful connections and relationships, as well as certain ministry resources. What that kind of organization does, in essence, is it allows us to be the hands and feet of mission and
ministry in our own backyards. And so, as disciple-makers and disciples ourselves, we keep serving, loving, and being the church!
 
Amen?
Pastor Brian
 
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January 2023 Connection

“For Auld Lang Syne and Days to Come”

In May of 2013, the American adaptation of the television series, The Office, aired its series finale which was cleverly titled, “Finale.” During that heart-string-pulling episode, the character Andy Bernard, played by actor, Ed Helms, reflected on the many memories of his years at the Scranton, PA branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company (true fans would demand that I mention the fictional Sabre Electronics division to that title).  In that moment of sentimentality, Andy says: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” 

I was thinking about those words the other day as I was surrendering to the speed at which the 2023 new year seems to be approaching (though, it will have arrived by the time you read this).  Andy’s reflection actually got me thinking a bit about how we can approach the new year, specifically this time around the sun.  What if, instead of approaching this year as if it is just another year – a year of our lives, a year of our careers, a year of our relationships…perhaps a year of our ministries? – what if we approached it as THEE year of our ministry as church?  THEE year of our lives as family people, relational people, even working people.  In other words, what might happen if we approach 2023 as if it was already a year that we’d remember with excitement for all our lives to come? 

To do this, we have to first accept a few nuances:

  1. It is safe to say that 2023 will not be perfect! We need to anticipate that there will be moments of disappointment and dissatisfaction during the year.  There will also be moments of heartbreak and seemingly failure.  This is part of life and is unavoidable.  That said, how we approach those inevitable challenges makes all the difference!  If we go into January 1st expecting 2023 to be a fruitful and special year in our lives, then we can approach difficulties with a reminder within ourselves that God has already overcome anything that seems insurmountable.  The grief we’ll face, the loss we’ll experience – it doesn’t get to define us!  Perhaps we can reflect on these words from the Gospel of John,

“In the world you have distress.

But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.”

-John 16:33 (CEB)

  1. We have to put some energy into making it true! Like with planning our New Year’s resolutions, we sometimes forget that nothing magical happens as we hang our new calendars on the wall or as we watch the ball drop in New York City.  If I resolve to eat better, I have to actually change my grocery shopping habits.  The calendar won’t step in to start making me kale salads, much as I might want it to.  And yet, we mark time by dates and years, and so we can certainly enter 2023 with a desire to make it special.  But then we have to join forces with God to begin doing something to make 2023 special and memorable for all the right reasons.  IF this is the year that we’re going to see ministry at GBUMC flourish, then we all have to, not only get excited about that, but we have to start making it happen! 
 
  1. 2020-2022 weren’t all bad. Were they difficult years for a variety of reasons?  Absolutely!  Were there moments when we faced fear and uncertainty?  Absolutely!  Did we grow in areas during that time?  We sure did!  Did we learn as we experienced life in new ways?  Of course!  Like #1, we will face challenges in the year to come.  We should expect that!  But, we can’t forget that we’ve faced challenges in the years gone by. 

 

I look forward to all that we will be as a church in 2023.  I do believe it will be a year we will look back on with memories of growth, new beginnings, and fruitful ministries!  Do you believe it?  Will you help to make it so?  If so, take a seat at God’s ever-growing table with me and all others, and lets begin to feast!!!

For auld lang syne and for days to come,

Pastor Brian.
 

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