Jesus’ Stories

Jesus was known as a healer and a story teller.  Great crowds came to him to be healed and they came to hear him speak.  A major teaching tool for Jesus was the use of stories or parables.  Through these, he engages the audience and invited them to think.  Rather than telling us what to believe, the stories make us have to make decisions.

Too often today, teaching involves simply memorizing facts.  Tests are multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank.  While it is important to learn facts and basic information, it is not enough if we don’t learn how to use them.

As a sociologist, I know that having facts is not enough.  You have to know how to interpret them.  Nothing drives me nuts more than politicians who pull out “facts” without understanding.  Grabbing something because it seems to make your point, without understanding context and other variables leads to distortion and misrepresentation.

As one who has spent my entire adulthood studying the Bible, I know that memorizing verses is not enough, especially, when verses are divorced from their context.  I have seen over and over again how the Bible has been used to hurt, enslave and yes, even kill.

Jesus teaches in a way that calls us to have to grapple with the story.  Truth does not necessarily come easy.  Jesus also understands context.  While in one setting some action might be appropriate, in another in may not apply. (Sabbath Laws)

Starting on Ash Wednesday (February 18), we will begin a Lenten series called Jesus’ Stories.  We will take a different parable each week from Matthew’s gospel.  We will attempt to hear it in the context of Jesus day and we will attempt to apply it to our lives. We will explore the story of a lost sheep, an unforgiving servant, laborers in a vineyard, a wedding banquet, the roll of bridesmaids, and the use of talents.  Each of these stories is challenging in its own way.  Are we up for the challenge?

Larry Clark


No one, in my lifetime, has had a greater impact on my theology and practice of ministry than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  I have read and reread many of his sermons.  I believe that his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is one of the most brilliant pieces of writing every produced.

Dr. King combined outstanding oratory with depth and clarity of thought in a way that no one has matched.  However, it is one thing to say it and another to live it.  And did he live it.

As I watch the recent movie “Selma” I was transported back to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.  My emotions ranged from anguish and heartache to Joy.  So many people sacrificed to bring attention to injustice.  I was reminded how much hatred can grip a people, to the point they are willing to commit horrendous acts of violence.  I also saw again, the power of strategic non-violent resistance.

I hope everyone will take the opportunity to see “Selma” in the coming weeks. I, especially, would like young people to experience it, as it brings to life what the text book cannot.  It is a great way to remember Dr. King as we celebrate his contribution to this country and the world.

Larry Clark

4 letter words

When we hear “four letter words” we usually think of something negative. For the pre-teen, the discovery of cursing becomes a rite of passage. I remember listening to “Dirty Water” by the Standells when I was in the 5th grade. It was the first time I had heard a cuss word in a song. My buddies and I listened to it over and over in the neighbor’s garage, hardly believing that they got away with it!
Unfortunately, some never seem to get beyond it. Those, who study language, say that the regular use of four letter words often is a sign of a limited vocabulary! The repetition of such words substitutes for other ways to express oneself.
When it comes to four letter words the one I hate most is…”SNOW.”
For this Epiphany Season (which begins on January 6), we will consider four letter words that convey the truth of the Gospel. For six weeks we will follow Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. We will begin with seeing John the Baptist Dunk Jesus. He will experience the Lure of temptation. We will be instructed in how to be Glad. Jesus criticizes those who Fake it. Jesus helps Peter deal with Fear. We conclude with three disciples going Gaga on a mountain top.
Four letter words are not all bad. Hopefully, this will be a fun way to explore the story of Jesus.

Advent Conspiracy

Conspiracy: “an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons; plot.”(Dictionary.com)

Conspiracy carries a negative connotation.  When I think of what has happened to Christmas, it almost feels like there is a conspiracy to steal it from the faith.  Weeks ago, Christmas songs began playing on the radio.  However, to call them “Christmas” songs is stretching it, because almost none of them have to do with the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth.  There are songs about Santa, Cheer, Snow, Reindeer, family, romantic love, gifts…anything, but about a child born in Bethlehem.  Of course, the commercials for buying gifts began in October.  Interestingly, many appeal to you to buy something for yourself, because, after all, who deserves it more than you?  Over 600 Billion Dollars will be spent in holiday retail sales.

Christmas for most people, no longer has anything to do with Jesus’ birth.  It is now a secular holiday fueled by consumerism.  Anyone can celebrate Christmas and not think once about its religious meaning.

It is time for a counter conspiracy – an Advent Conspiracy! Advent, in the Christmas calendar starts with the fourth Sunday before Christmas.  It is a time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth.  It is time to reclaim Advent!  We are conspiring to return Advent to its roots.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas we will focus on four themes: Worshipping Fully, Spending Less, Giving More and Loving All.

I pray that we will all take a step back from the cultural, commercial Christmas, and reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Let’s get involved in an Advent Conspiracy!

Wesley’s Way

We sometimes idolize a person, only to learn some not so nice things about them. I have been reluctant to put anyone too high on a pedestal for fear I might learn something negative about them. I have to remember to just acknowledge that we are all humans, having faults and short comings.
I did not always look up to John Wesley, not because of anything I knew, but more because of what I did not know. Sure, I am aware of some of his shortcomings. But the more I learn, the more I am amazed at this committed disciple of Jesus. While he grew up in poverty, he had an Oxford education and as an Anglican priest would have held a place of honor in British society. However, the course he took was anything but to pursue a life of privilege.
Wesley combined religious piety and social responsibility in a holistic way, which still seems often lacking in much of Christendom. And he was passionate. He did not sit back and wait for people to come to him; he went to where they were. (Something the U.S. Church needs to think about.)
As Sylvania First UMC celebrates its 180th anniversary, we will take a moment to reflect on the influence of John Wesley. Methodist Preachers were inspired to ride on horseback through the woods and swamps of northwest Ohio, surviving the elements to proclaim the good news of God’s love. They called hearers to repentance and then challenging them to live a life worthy of their salvation.
Wesley taught three simple rules:
Do No Harm, Do Good, and Stay in Love With God
Wesley’s life and teaching still can speak to us today.

Moving the Chains

In the Game of Football the intermediate goal is to Move the Chains. On the side line are two poles connected by 10 yards of chain. The first pole marks the place where you start. The second pole marks the spot you have to reach if you are to get a new “first down.” These poles and the connecting chain are referred to as “Chains.” Every time the team covers 10 yards the chains are reset and the team gets a new set of chances (downs) to move the ball down the field. If you are moving the chains you are getting closer to a score.
When we only focus on the end point or goal, it may seem unattainable. It may seem too far away. When you start as a new employee, it may not seem possible that you will ever work your way up to management. Starting out in that first semester of College, graduation seems so distant. When you are in 9th grade it seems like you will never be able to get out from under your parents soon enough! When we only look at the end, it may seem impossible.
In football the goal is to get a touchdown. This means getting the ball across a line that can be as far as 99 yards away. In the way, are eleven determined players committed to doing everything possible to keep you from reaching the goal. In life, we have many stumbling blocks and even people who want to keep us from succeeding. If we get sidetracked by them, we will never complete what we start. The focus has to be on what we can do to overcome that which gets in the way. This can best be accomplished by concentrating on what we do best.
In football, while the ultimate goal is to score a touchdown, seldom is a play designed to go the entire distance of the field. The focus is, rather, on an intermediate step – going ten yards, not ninety-nine. In most instances you have three tries (downs) to go ten yards and move the chains. Each time you move the chains you get closer to your ultimate goal. While we always want to keep the ultimate goal in mind, it is important to have those intermediate steps that are more immediately attainable.
In our Christian walk, we certainly don’t become Christ-like overnight. In fact, it is an ongoing, lifelong journey. We are not able to read the Bible in one sitting, but by breaking it down, we can read it in smaller sections. We can also be helped along the way by doing it with others. We might not see how we can tithe (contribute 10% of our income), but we can start out by making a percentage contribution and working our way yearly to that goal.
Our worship theme this fall is Moving the Chains. This is a metaphor for moving forward in our faith development. We will be challenged to get involved in Christian Education so that we will grow in our faith. There will be opportunities for study on Sunday morning and throughout the week. There is even an e-mail Bible Discussion!
Will you join with your congregation and accept the Challenge to go deeper to develop your faith? Will you move the chains?

God made a promise to Abraham and Sarah. God said that they would be the parents of a great nation. They are, at one moment people of great faith, and then in the next they falter, resorting to their own devises. When Sarah doesn’t get pregnant, they become impatient. Sarah tells Abraham to have relations with her slave, Hagar. Some might be inclined let Abraham off the hook here, since Sarah initiated the whole thing. However, he is certainly just as guilty of unfaithfulness by going along with Sarah’s plans. The one that has no say, and really the victim, is Hagar. In the end, Sarah, jealous of Hagar’s son , now that she has her own (Isaac), orders Abraham to put her out with her child Ishmael. In a most cruel act, Abraham sends Hagar and his son into the wilderness, presumably to die. But God is gracious. Hagar is cared for, and she too receives a promise – her decedents will be a great nation too!
While our story line as Christians comes through the decedents of Abraham and Sarah, God has another family that is being cared for as well. Muslims believe that they are decedents from the family of Abraham and Hagar. Could it be that they similarly are blessed by God?
This family story may be like yours. Often families have brokenness and infidelity. It is a story, of God’s faithfulness in the midst of a sometimes very unfaithful people. It is story that can offer us hope, even when we have failed to trust in God. It provides a lesson in what happens when we choose to go our own direction apart from God. Yet, God will bring us back if we are willing.
Story of Abraham and Sarah and their off spring is complex. If we read it with an open mind, we will find ourselves in it. Abraham and Sarah were given a promise, a covenant initiated by God.
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Gen. 12:2
God has made a covenant with us as well. Will we be faithful? Will we became a blessing to others?