From the Well - 3/21/2019

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Ephesians 4:1-10 (NRSV)

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3  making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7  But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8  Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." 9 (When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10  He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

Imagine Jesus walking through Clemmons, N.C. What would He think as he passes Clemmons United Methodist, Clemmons Baptist, Clemmons Presbyterian, Clemmons Moravian? What would run through Jesus' mind as he passes the other churches in the community? In this mix of congregations there would be rich, poor, conservative, and progressive. There would be single persons, families, young, and old. Many churches would be welcoming, others not so much. How would Jesus feel as He thinks about all the opinions, closely held beliefs, and the things that divide and separate us into different sects, churches, and faith practices?

If you could ask a first century Christian, "are you going to church this Sunday?" they wouldn't know what you were talking about. The church was not a building. It was not a place that they went. It was a movement. It was people.

We forget that we do not "go to church." We are the church. The church is not a denomination or sect, or a group, it is people. One of the ways that we stay true to our calling as people of God is to remember that we are a holy place with a holy responsibility. When I think of Holy, I think of the character of the individual and also the character of the Body of Christ as a whole. The Apostle Paul reminded the people of Ephesus that they were "called to be Holy" through the process of personal and communal transformation.

To be Holy as a church means that we are individually and collectively led by the Spirit to be followers of Jesus Christ. We are called to be holy not only when we are together but when we leave this place of worship and discipleship to enter the world. Luke Timothy Johnson writes that

Becoming a saint has classically been understood as a deeper incorporation into the story of Jesus, so that believers might increasingly and ever more spontaneously share the faith of Jesus in God and express Jesus' self-sacrificial love toward others. Insofar as the church remains a community in which such transformation is possible, it retains something of its essential purpose. [1]

To be Holy, Johnson says, is even more than the growth of individual saints. It is also community, the Body of Christ in the world witnessing to the power and presence of the resurrected Christ. To be Holy is Jesus in the world every day. Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters (New York, NY: Doubleday Books, 2003), 267.

A Message from Pastor Clark - join us at 8:30, 9:45 or 11:00 this Sunday!

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How would you define "Grown-Up Christianity"?

Some might lean toward proclaiming the truth of the Gospel, abstaining from sin, seeking personal holiness & upholding Scripture.

Others may lean more toward showing grace to all, instigating social justice and being a welcoming presence.

The answer is yes.

John the apostle, who knew Jesus firsthand, says this about Jesus in John 1:14 - And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

Did you notice that last bit about grace and truth? Jesus' very presence manifested such powerful and equal measures of both grace and truth that John was motivated to record it in his gospel. If it was that important to John, so it should also be with us. 

In a world that continues to force us to choose between grace or truth, let us be reminded that we follow a Savior who didn't choose between grace or truth. He was comfortable with the tension of both and so should we as His followers. 

Because if we let go of that grace/truth tension and vacilate to one side or the other, we miss something monumentally important about Jesus' love. 

Grown-Up Christianity Loves like Jesus.

Grown-Up Christianity is full of grace and truth. 

I greatly look forward to sharing this message with you this Sunday at 8:30, 9:45 and 11:00. Please join us for worship and invite a neighbor or friend!

in Christ's love,

Pastor Clark

From the Well - 3/7/2019

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Ephesians 3:14-21 (MSG) 
14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit-not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength- 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you'll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. 20 God can do anything, you know-far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. 21 Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

A number of years ago in another appointment, I invited the pastor who was being appointed to the church by the Bishop and cabinet to preach. It was a couple of months before the official move was to take place but wanted to create an atmosphere of positive change and transition. The new pastor was African American. The congregation was mostly white.

On the morning that he was to preach, I greeted him in the parking lot in order to guide him into the church and my office. As I stepped into the office suite, I paused to introduce the new pastor to the church secretary and her husband who happened to be church members. Instead of extending a hand of welcome and fellowship, the husband and wife turned their backs to him and refused to acknowledge his presence.

Paul experienced these kinds of barriers as he attempted to take the Gospel message to the Gentiles. So many barriers remain in place to this day. As the ancient philosopher, Cicero, once said:

There is no more certain sign of arrogance, narrow-mindedness, and ignorance than to stand apart from those who think differently from us.

We build walls and put up fences. The barriers of separation, arrogance, narrow-mindedness, and ignorance remain to this day and God weeps.

I find it helpful to note that Paul, as he confronts these kinds of difficult situations, prays. Some might consider the Ephesians text as a teaching text but it is really more of a prayer, possibly written while Paul is in a Roman Prison waiting for his own execution. Paul is asking for two gifts in his prayer, inward strength and a Christ like heart.

Paul is not only asking for these gifts for himself but for those he has worked with in and around Thessalonica. Paul believes that inward strength and a Christ-like heart is about love and mercy, it is knowing God in your heart and allowing that strength and heart to be mirrored in your life. As Thomas Merton once wrote:

True Christianity is growth in the life of the Spirit, a deepening of the new life, a continuous rebirth in which the exterior and the superficial life of the ego-self is discarded like an old snake skin and the mysterious, invisible self o the Spirit becomes more present and more active. The true Christian rebirth is a renewed transformation, a "Passover" in which a person is progressively liberated from selfishness and not only grows in love but in some sense becomes love. The perfection of the new birth is reached where there is no more selfishness, there is only love.[1]

Think about it.

Matthew
[1]Thomas Merton, Naomi Burton Stone, and Brother Patrick Hart, Rebirth and the New Christian Man in Christianity (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Books, 1974), 199.


General Conference 2019: A Pastoral Response

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GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019 AND THE WAY FORWARD

A Pastoral Response

It's been a difficult and challenging week for many across our denomination as representatives of our denomination met in St. Louis in a special conference to make decisions about our denomination. As the Senior Pastor of Clemmons United Methodist, I believe in a church for everyone. This means we worship, pray, sing, study, respond to the needs of the community and world as a diverse gathering of God's people with different opinions, political allegiances, Biblical and theological positions. This is especially true when it comes to the debate over the specific issue of homosexuality and the church, the main topic of discussion for the recent General Conference.

As General Conference 2019 loomed on the horizon, I tried to keep the congregation informed by giving a presentation in September 2018 on the Way Forward. I provided links and information about the conference in my weekly email. A video of my September presentation was also made available on our website. My personal hope was that United Methodism would find a way to become a more inclusive church and move to a place of unity around mission and ministry to the world.

The vote of the called General Conference 2019 was essentially to retain the current language in our discipline that prohibits sacred unions and the ordination of homosexual persons for ministry in our denomination. Many other points are yet to be determined and may be deemed unconstitutional by the Judicial Council that meets in April 2019.

Two thirds of the American delegation voted for the One Church Plan which would have opened up Annual Conferences and churches to decide about sacred unions and ordination. This would have allowed a diversity of churches with different opinions to exist under the one umbrella of United Methodist.

I realize that there are those who are deeply wounded by our denomination's decision. While there are some who may leave and some discerning about their place within our church, please know that as your pastor all are welcome and that Clemmons UMC is a place of grace and love. There are also those who feel that the Conference voted correctly. No matter what your opinion might be or where you stand, know that what happens at General Conference does not define who we are as the Body of Christ at Clemmons United Methodist.

The church is who we are as Christ followers and what we do in mission and ministry week in and week out at Clemmons United Methodist. Going forward we will continue to be in ministry with all people. I'll use this week as an example:

  • On Sunday, we worshipped in three different services, 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 am.

  • Sunday school classes gathered at 9:45 and 11 am and children, along with adult helpers, gathered in the old fellowship hall to celebrate the presence of God among us.

  • Some 60 confirmands and mentors gathered on Sunday afternoon for classes.

  • Clemmons:One High School and Middle School Ministries met on Sunday afternoon.

  • Pal (Parents of Addicted loved ones), the Alzheimer's-Dementia Caregivers Support Group, Stephen Ministry, Small groups, Prayer Blanket Workshop, Divorce Care, Grief Share, The quilters, The Young at Heart, Sisters in Christ, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, The Bible Study on Paul, and C3 Conversation all met during the week.

  • Our music ministry had adult choir, handbells, children's choirs and handbells rehearsals, and the Praise Team rehearsed.

  • 250 children attended our pre-school and kindergarten and 40 children came to our after-school program.

  • Work moved forward on the new Clemmons Food Pantry that will be constructed on property leased from Clemmons UMC.

  • The MOST (Mission Outreach Support Team) met and heard about mission projects in our community and world that we support.

  • A sermon was written for Sunday, people were prayed for during Staff Covenant time and throughout the week by our prayer partners.

  • People were visited in the hospital, at home, and phone calls were made to those facing surgery and other crossroad events.

The above list only scratches the surface when it comes to lives touched by our church. My point is that we are the church and will continue to be the church in this community and the world. The best thing we can all do is believe that God is still at work and that God is still working through the Body of Christ called Clemmons United Methodist. Please think about it.

Grace and Peace,

Matthew

From the Well - 2/28/2019

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Ephesians 3:8-13 (NRSV) 

8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. 13 I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

Two sisters, one with the gift of wisdom and one with the gift of discernment, inherited the family ranch. Unfortunately, after a few years they found themselves in financial trouble. The wise sister suggested that in order to keep the bank from re-possessing the ranch they should purchase a bull from the stockyard in a far town so they could breed their own stock. They had only $600.00 in their bank account.

The discerning sister was sent to the town to buy the bull because she was the best at making decisions. "When I get there," she told her wise sister, "I will decide which bull to buy and then I'll contact you to drive out after me to haul it home."

The discerning sister arrived at the stockyard, inspected all of the bulls and after a time of meditation and prayer decided which one to buy. The owner of the yard informed her that he would sell the selected bull for $599 and no less. After paying him, she went to telegraph her wise sister to let her know the news.

She walked into the telegraph office and said, "I want to send a telegram to my sister to inform her that I have bought a bull for our ranch. I need to tell her to hitch the trailer to the pickup and drive here so we can haul it home."

The telegraph operator informed the discerning sister that her message would be 99 cents a word. After paying for the bull, the discerning sister only had $1.00 left. She realized she could only send one word to her sister. After thinking and praying about what word she should use she said to the operator, I want you to send the word "comfortable."

The operator shook his head and said, "How is she ever going to know that you want her to hitch the trailer to the truck and drive out here to haul that bull back to your ranch if you send her just the word "comfortable."

The discerning sister said to the telegraph operator, "My sister is very wise and reads slowly so as to get the full meaning of every word . . . com-for-da-bull."[1]

Paul reminds us that Wisdom in important and that it needs to be made known to "rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." So what is wisdom? Wisdom is God. It is light. Wisdom honors what is good, loving, and grace-filled. As someone has said, "Wisdom tells the truth, it doesn't lie. Wisdom may be mistaken, but wisdom will accept correction. Wisdom learns."

Wisdom is reverence for God, loves God, works with God, works on behalf of God, loves other people, and allows others to love back. Wisdom is joy, appreciation for all of creation, believes in goodness, and believes in the value of all people. True wisdom is following the greatest of all wisdom teachers, Jesus Christ, and knowing that Christ knows the mind of His Father because He is the Father's Son. Wisdom is clinging to Jesus even when we are not sure where He may take us knowing the He will lead us out of the darkness. Think about it.

Matthew

[1] Adapted. Author unknown.