Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Lion’s Share of Potential



In 1994, when the animated movie The Lion King was released, many at Disney Studios were not counting on it being much of a hit. For one thing, it was their first feature length animated film based on an original story (although it very loosely draws on Hamlet), and nobody was sure if this lack of public familiarity would be readily accepted.  So, according to Mental Floss the movie was actually made by the “B-Team” animators since the “A-Team” elected to work on a film with more potential:  Pocahontas (1995).

The Lion King,, however, soon became king of the box office, and even today it is the highest grossing hand drawn animated film in history.  Until Frozen came along, it was the highest grossing animated film ever.  It seems that nobody realized just how much potential a movie like this could have, and this is interesting, since The Lion King is all about potential.  Specifically it’s about Simba the lion cub growing up to realize and embrace his potential to lead his people, and then standing up to the dark side, and restoring balance to the force.  

(Well, maybe I have confused this last bit with another movie but after all, James Earl Jones, the voice of Simba’s father Mufasa was also the voice of Darth Vader, and both Mufasa and Vader did appear to their sons after they had died.)  

This tendency to miss potential is not a new thing.  You find it all through the Bible.  Few people realized the shepherd boy David had the potential to become king of Israel.  Who knew that Jesus, crucified would be Christ risen?  As the New Testament describes this turn of events, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner."  Most people wouldn’t have guessed that Peter, an ordinary fisherman, and Paul, a persecutor of Christians, would both become leaders in the faith as it swept the world.  There is potential all over the place that only God can see.

The Lion King took off, netting Disney a billion dollars in merchandising its first year alone, and it has shaped the lives of the many children who grew up watching it with the tune to “Hakuna Matata” stuck in their heads.  Nobody realized the potential of such a movie about potential.

The movie had so much potential it grew into a hit Broadway musical, which eventually was adapted for young people.  And now here in Terre Haute a group of talented young actors are playing the roles and singing the songs.  They have worked hard on this production, and I think you’ll agree that it shows.  And if you look closely at them as they’re on the stage you’ll see something that some folk are good at missing.  You’ll see potential all over the place.  They have amazing potential, and knowing them gives me a sense of confidence and pride.  I hope you feel the same way.

So in a show about potential, a show in which everyone missed it’s potential, there is a stage full of potential.   And maybe there is also an audience full of potential, all taking place through a congregation full of potential.

The potential is there.  It’s filling the streets of Terre Haute.  It’s even in you.  May God breathe it into life, and may we never stop striving to reach it.

In God’s Peace;
David

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tourist Trappings



As many of you know, after Patsy recently had cataract surgery on both her eyes, we took two weeks off for a get-away/recovery vacation.  First of all, a word of thanks to everyone who filled in for me while gone.  Patsy’s eyes are doing great, and we had a good vacation.

One of the places we spent time was Lexington, Kentucky where, like most of Kentucky, people are quite fond of horses.  In fact, you see horses everywhere, grazing in the country side, decorating the streets in statues, billboards and other works of art. They even have a Thoroughbred Park near the middle of town, commemorating the stars of horse-racing.  We’re not really into horses, or horse-racing, but we had to visit the park, look around, read the plaques, and take pictures.  We were tourists, and that’s what tourist’s do, all of which made me think about the qualities of being a good tourist. 

When you’re a tourist you tend to look at life differently.  Of course, there are plenty of bad tourists around, people who act like jerks, and expect the world to cater to their every whim.  But I think there are some qualities shared by good tourists, and here are a few of them.

When you’re a good tourist everything is viewed with wonder and curiosity.  You want to meet new people.  You want to taste new kinds of food.  You don’t travel to Kentucky to have a Big Mac, but you do want to catch some of their barbeque.

At home you can get sucked into routines, but for a good tourist every day is a potential adventure, and every day is welcomed with joy and expectation.

When you’re a homeowner you can do whatever you want with your house:  paint it pink and purple if you desire.  But when you’re a tourist, you know that the locations you visit, and the places you stay, don’t really belong to you and you need to treat them with respect.  You don’t trash your hotel room because it isn’t really yours, and others will be living there after you leave.

I know some people would rather sit at home and watch TV, but sometimes you have to welcome life as a tourist, and that’s what Christians really are anyhow.  As 1 Peter reminds us:

Friends, this world is not your home, so don't make yourselves cozy in it. Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.  (1 Peter 2:11 MSG)

The world is not our home and it doesn’t belong to us.  It’s not our prison either.  It’s a beautiful gift that we need to respect and care for, because we’re only passing through like tourists.  Like tourists, we’re here to meet new people, come to know them and appreciate them.  Like tourists we need to cherish our world and treat it with respect.  Like tourists we need to greet each day as a potential adventure to be welcomed with joy and expectation.

I’m back in Terre Haute now, but I’m not really home. Neither are you.  We’re traveling together as tourists.  Let’s be good ones.

Yours in Christ;
David

Against All Odds



John 1:5 NRSV  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Back in 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched and placed in a low orbit around the earth.  From space, the telescope had a terrific view of the cosmos, unobstructed by atmosphere or weather.  And what the telescope has found has defied almost everyone’s expectations.  For example, in 1995 the telescope was pointed at what appeared to be an empty region of Ursa Major (what we call the “Big Dipper”) and from this small point it collected 10 days worth of observations.  What Hubble found in this empty dark spot were 3,000 faint galaxies!  All of this in a single small frame that looked empty.  Believe it or not, scientists now estimate that there are 100 to 200 billion galaxies in our universe. Now remember, we’re talking about galaxies, not stars. If you consider that each galaxy contains billions of stars (our Milky Way Galaxy has around 100 billion stars) then you’ll soon see that our universe is unimaginably large, and has an incredible number of galaxies which in turn are home to an inconceivable number of stars.  And since we’ve been able to confirm that many stars, if not most, are circled by planets… well, you’re left with a Cosmos billions of billions of times bigger than anyone ever imagined.

In this vast cosmos of brilliant heat and empty cold there are plenty of new mysteries that we’ve uncovered, and plenty of things beyond our understanding.  But one thing has become apparent.  Life is a rare and precious thing.

In this entire universe, our small planet is the only place where we can confirm the existence of life.  Those conditions that make it possible for you to read this newsletter don’t exist anywhere else that we’re aware of!  Of course, there probably are other planets that could support life.  But those planets, and life itself, is clearly a rare and precious thing.  And the more we learn about the universe the more we become aware of how amazing it is that we are here at all. Against all odds, we exist infused with a little piece of God, and conscious of how unlikely it is that we should be here thinking about such things.  Life is amazing.

Easter is a celebration of life.  What happens when the life and warmth of God are apparently overcome by the cold indifference of the cosmos?  What happens when goodness and grace are nailed to a cross, and entombed in a cave?  What happens when the light seems to be extinguished by the forces of darkness?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ happens. 

Easter is the churches affirmation that life, by the power of a living God, and through the example of Christ, triumphs in the end.  We are more than conquerors through the one who loves us.

It’s utterly amazing, but true.  In a dangerous cosmos and against all odds, life has risen.  Surrounded by darkness and evil, Christ has risen.  And in the face of tragedy and death, you and I are risen!  Celebrate and rejoice, and give thanks to God who’s light and life shine in the darkness – and in us – through Jesus Christ!

In God's Peace;
David

He Has Risen and We Are Rising



This past March, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission announced the 20 people who were receiving their Carnegie Hero Fund Award (http://www.carnegiehero.org/).  This award is given every year to “individuals in the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.”  In looking through the list I was struck by how often ordinary people, when thrust into special circumstance, are able to do extraordinary things.  Take, for example, one of the award recipients, Madison L. Williams from Dublin, OH.  Here is the description of her service from the press release:

Madison L. Williams saved a boy from drowning, Dublin, Ohio, August 27, 2016.  A 2-year-old boy fell through the small, ground-level hatch of an underground septic tank on a residential property and submerged in sewage about 4 feet deep.  Neighbors who responded to the scene could not reach him in the 8-foot-deep tank.  Alerted to the situation by her mother, Madison, 13, student, lay on her stomach and, positioning her arms over her head, entered the 12-inch-wide opening to her thighs while others secured her by the legs.  She skimmed the surface of the sewage with her hands searching for the boy for several moments before she saw his foot.  Madison grasped the boy’s foot and shouted at the others to be pulled out.  As she and the boy were being lifted from the tank, the boy’s free foot became stuck under the inside lip of the hatch.  On Madison’s instruction, she was lowered somewhat and was able to reposition the boy.  Those on the ground then pulled her and the boy completely free of the opening.  The boy was not breathing but was then revived, and he fully recovered after hospital treatment.  Madison required medical treatment for damage to her left wrist that required a brace for two months and physical therapy.  She too fully recovered.   (http://www.carnegiehero.org/madison-l-williams/)

There are times in life when we find ourselves thrust into special circumstances, and we end up doing things we never would have imagined.  Who wants to be lowered into a septic tank through a 12 inch hole while being held by the legs?  But when a child was in danger, Madison gave herself in this service. 

This is reminiscent of the situation faced by the followers of Jesus.  After Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the grave, the 12 Apostles were suddenly thrust into a difficult situation.  Before this, the Gospels often portray them as being a bit dense, often misunderstanding Jesus, and coming across as being very ordinary.  When Jesus was crucified, they all let him down.  But after the Resurrection they stepped up their game, rising to the occasion.  In the shadow of the risen Christ they grew into extraordinary leaders. 

Maple Avenue has a history of being served by individuals who are willing to step forward when needed, and offer themselves for others.  We have sent many people overseas to serve in World War 1, and World War 2, and every conflict since.  And we are proud and grateful to the people who helm various committees and ministries, and who give sacrificially.

Many have already served above and beyond, and a sincere “thank you” to all these people.  But what about you?  I invite you to prayerfully consider the needs of the present, and how God is calling you to live your faith.  And to inspire your thoughts, I’d like to mention a few areas where we could use additional help.  You might be just the person God is lifting up for the challenge!

Our rummage sale is coming up, and we have had a record number of donations this year.  Our Fellowship Center is stuffed with items which will go on sale May 5 & 6.  We could use some extra help organizing and pricing items, and then cleaning up.  Would you like to be involved in this?  Talk to me.

We could use some additional ushers and greeters to welcome visitors and guests as they arrive on Sunday morning.  We’ve had many new people check out or church in recent weeks, and we want everyone who walks through our door to be well cared for.  Are you friendly and personable?  Talk to me.

In addition, we have our usual events just around the corner:  Our summer Musical, our Block Party, our Worship Service at Collett Park.  The people who help with these things are very committed, but could it be that God is calling you to lend a hand?  If so, talk to me.

Is there a ministry, or a need, that God has placed on your heart?  Somewhere you feel called to give time and energy?  Is there a service or a talent you have to share?  Talk to me.

Easter is over, but the story isn’t.  It continues now in you and me.  Christ has risen, and by his power we are rising to the occasion.

In God’s Peace;
David

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Things Can Be Repaired



Today (December 27) I was returning home for lunch, and had pulled partway into the garage when I remembered that I had forgotten to pick up the lunch meat for my sandwich.  So I threw the car in reverse, quickly backed out, and before I knew it my front bumper was dragging the ground!  It had caught on the edge of the garage, and pulled almost entirely off, dangling by a couple screws on the driver’s side.  Hmmm.

It’s amazing what a moment of carelessness can accomplish if you don’t put your mind to it.  There was only minor damage to the garage door, but the car looked pitiful.  So after talking to the body shop, getting an estimate, they gave me the good news.  The car can be repaired!  
 
I can’t repair the car by my own efforts.  I don’t have the skills, or the knowledge.  But there is a place I can take it where it can get the care it needs.  There is someone there who can repair it.  Bad things happen.  Sometimes they happen because we’re careless, and sometimes they happen regardless of precautions.  And sometimes we need to visit the repair shop.  But things can be repaired!

I’m not necessarily talking about cars here.  People are the same way.  We make messes of our lives, encounter brokenness in our relationships, and lose our way.  And frequently, we don’t have the skills or the knowledge to repair our lives by ourselves.  But things can be repaired.  And church is a place we can go where this can happen.

This past year, 2016, has not been one of my favorite years.  Our congregation has lost some good people, and we face difficult challenges as we enter the coming year.  But the start of a new year should be a time of hope for all people of faith.  We have nothing to deal with that, by the power of God, is beyond repair.    Jesus Christ can and does make us whole, and his ability to repair lives is one of the things that proves who he really is.

Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.  2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples  3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"  4Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see:  5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." (Matthew 11:1-6 NRSV)

Jesus still makes us whole.  This year I hope you will commit yourself to visiting the repair shop that is Maple Avenue United Methodist Church, invite your friends and neighbors, and together we’ll allow Jesus to prove himself once more.

However 2017 unfolds, I have this hope.  Regardless of the bumps and dents in our lives, things can be repaired.  

God Bless You This New Year!
David Rockhill

Friday, December 2, 2016

Happy Holidays



It’s interesting that in the country of Singapore, Christmas is a big deal.  Christmas shopping accounts for half of the country’s annual retail sales.  Shopping malls turn into extravagant theme parks while traditional hymns play over the loud speakers everywhere.  What’s surprising about this, however, is that while most of the people there enthusiastically embrace the holiday, only about 13 percent of the population are Christians.  Most of the citizens love the holiday without embracing all of its religious themes.

Now some Christians might be bothered by this, but I’m not one of them.   I don’t have a problem with non-Christians embracing the holiday, just as I don’t have a problem with non-Christians not embracing the holiday.  And by the same token, I don’t have a problem with Christians who celebrate Christmas, and Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas.  And yes, there are Christians who refuse to celebrate Christmas.

There is actually a long tradition of Christian opposition to the Christmas season.  Most of us are just starting to burn off some of the calories we consumed over Thanksgiving, a holiday whose origin we trace back to the pilgrims; but pilgrims refused to celebrate Christmas and Easter!  According the history site, Mayflowerhistory.com: 

They believed that these holidays were invented by man to memorialize Jesus, and are not prescribed by the Bible or celebrated by the early Christian churches, and therefore cannot be considered Holy days. "It seems too much for any mortal man to appoint, or make an anniversary memorial [for Christ]," taught the Pilgrims' pastor John Robinson.  (http://mayflowerhistory.com/religion/)

The Puritans, for years, tried to outlaw the holiday, and even today Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, some Church of Christ folk, and some Baptists, refuse to celebrate Christmas for many reasons including its alleged (and likely) pagan roots.  And as many scholars point out, nobody has the faintest idea when Christ was really born since the Bible and early Christians never mentioned a date or time of year.

But I don’t believe any of this matters.  I hold to the Apostle Paul’s view regarding this issue.  In Paul’s day there were Jewish Christians who had a whole slew of holidays the Gentile Christians were ignoring (like Hanukah), and the Gentile Christians observed some days the Jewish Christians ignored.  Each side thought the other was wrong.  So Paul settled their argument with these strong words:

Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.  (Romans 14:4-8 NRSV)

In other words, stop picking on one another just because you don’t observe the same holidays in the same ways, and do what you do for the glory of the Lord.

I love Christmas, and I’m going to celebrate the turkey stuffing out of it!  You do what you think right. But from my perspective, celebrating the birthday of the Prince of Peace is the perfect opportunity for me to embrace those around me with kindness and respect.  Even, or especially, those who see things differently.
So whatever your traditions, however you celebrate, I wish you a holiday full of blessings and grace.  And in that vein I’m going to offer you a greeting that has, in some circles, become controversial.

Happy Holidays
David

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Second Helping Of Thanksgiving



Many Americans don’t know this, but the first recorded thanksgiving celebration in North America took place forty-three years before the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, and was observed by Martin Frobisher, an English pirate/explorer.  He was trying unsuccessfully to find a passage to China and India, and after leaving England with three small ships, encountered storms and ice.  One ship was lost, another abandoned, and when they finally arrived safely on land in what is now Newfoundland, Canada, he was glad to be alive.  So on May 27, 1578, Frobisher and his crew had a celebration of thanksgiving for their safe arrival.

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving much like Americans, but they have their holiday the second Monday in October, which this year was on October 10th.  And since we were on vacation in Newfoundland on this day, I’m writing this article as one who has already celebrated Thanksgiving once this year.  On November 24th when most other Americans will celebrate the holiday for the first time in 2016 Patsy and I  will be celebrating it for a second time!

Like Frobisher’s search for India, our Canadian Thanksgiving didn’t go as planned.  The week before, we had passed a church in Clarenville, Newfoundland, that was putting up a sign:  “Thanksgiving Turkey meal, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.”, and we thought that since we’d be back in the area on the Canadian Thanksgiving Day, we’d drop in.  We were looking forward to celebrating with other Canadian Church Folk, and enjoying the turkey and whatever else Canadians eat for the holiday (poutine, maybe?). 

But Thanksgiving Day in Newfoundland didn’t go as planned.  Hurricane Matthew hit the island, and it rained all day.  We made it to the Clarenville area just fine, even though we were stranded there because the only road crossing Newfoundland washed out.  Still, we were looking forward to the 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner.  But when we pulled into the church parking lot, no one was there.  We apparently hadn’t stayed long enough for the entire sign to be erected.  It actually read:  “Thanksgiving Turkey Meal, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., on October 19th”. The dinner wasn’t for another week!  So we had to find a restaurant open on a holiday and like much of life, we had to resign ourselves to things not going as planned.

But we still had a great time.  We still were thankful.  And I think that’s what Thanksgiving is really about.

We’re not thankful because our life flows smoothly, we’ve got lots of good things, and a feast sits on the table.  We’re thankful regardless of the storms of life, our possessions, and our food. Gratitude is an attitude, and thankfulness flows from our heart, not our circumstances.

Habakkuk knew this when he wrote:  Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls,  yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NRSV).  

We don't always embrace this kind of attitude, and I think that’s what the holiday of Thanksgiving is really about.  We’re not thankful one day a year.  We’re reminded one day a year to be thankful every day.

Our Canadian Thanksgiving didn’t go as planned and who knows if our U.S. Thanksgiving will.  But regardless, I’m going to have more than two Thanksgivings this year.  I’m going to have a helping of gratitude every day.  And why not?  I’m grateful in so many ways everyday for you, and for all the blessings that enrich my life.  I hope you are grateful as well.

Yours in Christ;
David