2 “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. — Matthew 6:2-4 (CEB)
Jenny and I have taken Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University.” It helped us a great deal, and it made a lasting change in our lives. But there were parts I was uncomfortable with because he encouraged people to move beyond good stewardship and to aim for great wealth. This came to mind recently because Dave tweeted:
“If you do rich people stuff, eventually you will be rich. If you do poor people stuff, you will eventually be poor.” 
I don’t think it’s that simple. Certainly, if you do “rich people stuff” like being born into wealth and privilege or inheriting a fortune, you will be rich. But the world is filled with too much inequity for everyone to be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps—especially since some people don’t have boots. Furthermore, the above statement seems to imply that the financial state we find ourselves in is the financial state we’ve earned, even if that were true it would still be problematic. Long before twitter, Jesus Christ said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20, NRSV)
and a few verses later,
“But Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:24, NRSV)
Wealth is not one of the goals of the Christian life. We are called to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us, but storing up treasure for ourselves in this life is not the way of Jesus Christ. We are instead called to be good stewards that we might be good Samaritans.
  James Martin. Twitter post, March 7, 2019, 8:02 a.m., http://bit.ly/2U3qCFc.
The horror movie “Us” is out. I Haven’t seen it, and I don’t intend to see it. But apparently, it contains a reference to Jeremiah 11:11, which reads: “Therefore, thus says the Lord, assuredly I am going to bring disaster upon them that they cannot escape; though they cry out to me, I will not listen to them” (NRSV). The use of this verse in a horror movie is is bad Biblical exegesis. The verse needs to be read in the context of the passage it’s found in, the passage needs to be read in the context of the book of Jeremiah as a whole, and the book of Jeremiah needs to be read in the context of the Old Testament. But you don’t have to do all that (though I would encourage you to do so). All you need to know is that Jeremiah 29:11 reads “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (29:11 also needs to be interpreted in context, but shares a context with 11:11.)
P.S. I didn’t find this out because I was trying to learn more about the movie, I found this out by reading an article on Slate titled “So What’s Jeremiah 11:11, Anyway?” That’s very effective click bait for a pastor.
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.”
— Proverbs 19:17 (NRSV)
If not in this life, then in the life to come.
Thus says the LORD, …
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. — Isaiah 43:16a, 18-19 (NRSV)
It is Christmas Eve. One of the reasons we still celebrate the new thing that God did in Jesus Christ so long ago is that we find reassurance for the new thing God is still about to do.
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”
— Romans 12:12 (NRSV)
Hat Tip: Bob Collins
As I read the news, I keep thinking about the time when Jesus said:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” — Matthew 25:31-46 (NRSV)
What we do (or don’t do) for “the least of these” matters. I didn’t want “the least of these” to remain anonymous in this post, I wanted to name names, but there are too many. I’ll just name the one most on my mind: Jakelin Caal Maquin. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. If you want to help feed the hungry, the Little Free Pantry would welcome your donations. I’m going to start putting some water in there as well.
NPR has a story about a Bible intended for slaves and published in 1807 that “excludes any portion of text that might inspire rebellion or liberation.” According to an associate curator at the museum where said Bible is on display, “About 90 percent of the Old Testament is missing [and] 50 percent of the New Testament is missing.”  The existence of such a version of the Bible is a reminder that the Bible is a dangerous book. That’s why slave owners insisted that so much of it removed, it’s why so much of it is still ignored today.
 Michel Martin, “Slave Bible From The 1800s Omitted Key Passages That Could Incite Rebellion,” NPR, December 09, 2018, , accessed December 10, 2018, https://n.pr/2QqWiCL.
At the potluck this past Sunday, I was finally asked the question I’ve long been waiting to be asked: “Do you read anyone other than N. T. Wright?” The answer is yes, I read a lot of other people. That answer naturally leads to another question: “Then why do you reference N. T. Wright so often in sermons?” It’s a great question. If you think you don’t like how often I reference N. T. Wright in sermons, please believe me when I tell you that I like it even less. The problem is he routinely provides insights into scripture and the Christian faith that I haven’t encountered anywhere else. Furthermore, quite often these insights provide a new way of looking at a scripture that solves a lot of exegetical problems while preserving the original gospel message.
Last Sunday’s sermon on Holy Communion was a good example. In, The Day the Revolution Began, Wright wrote:
“I have made the point elsewhere, but it bears repeating: when Jesus wanted to explain to his followers what his forthcoming death was all about, he did not give them a theory, a model, a metaphor, or any other such thing; he gave them a meal.” 
In hindsight, this is a blindingly obvious point, but it is one I had never heard before. I’ve read a lot of biblical commentaries on the last supper, I’ve read a great many books about Holy Communion, none of which have made this point. I wanted to share that insight with you, and so I was once again stuck referencing N. T. Wright. When several biblical scholars/theologians make the same point, I don’t feel the need to cite my sources , but when I’ve only found something in one author, I do. That’s the main reason I so often end up referencing Wright. Another reason is that because he’s Anglican we often share a set of core beliefs and a basic interpretive framework (John Wesley was an Anglican priest until the day he died). It also doesn’t help that Wright’s a prolific author—sometimes I feel that he can write faster than I can read and digest what he’s written.
 N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (New York: Harper Collins, 2018), Kindle Locations 2995-2996.
 In part because it’s often impractical if not impossible to track the point back to its original source.
Bishop Kenneth L. Carder has written a blog post called “Why I Changed My Mind About Homosexuality and the Church.” He moved from voting for restrictive language in the Book of Discipline to advocating for inclusion, his reasons for changing his mind mirror my own.
Note: This is a long post and the main point is at the end. Feel free to scroll down to the last paragraph, but if what you read there angers you, please come back up here and start from the beginning.
Jenny has been looking at websites for different denominations and was struck by how often the words inerrant and infallible are used. The United Methodist Church’s official position doesn’t refer to scripture using those words.  (We’re in the company of the majority of the church universal here because nobody used them, at least with their current meanings, until the late 1800’s.) Below is a big chunk of what the church officially has to say about scripture in The Book of Discipline. It’s not a short read, but I think you will find it is worth your time.
United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. Through Scripture the living Christ meets us in the experience of redeeming grace. We are convinced that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God in our midst whom we trust in life and death. The biblical authors, illumined by the Holy Spirit, bear witness that in Christ the world is reconciled to God. The Bible bears authentic testimony to God’s self-disclosure in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as in God’s work of creation, in the pilgrimage of Israel, and in the Holy Spirit’s ongoing activity in human history.
As we open our minds and hearts to the Word of God through the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit, faith is born and nourished, our understanding is deepened, and the possibilities for transforming the world become apparent to us.
The Bible is sacred canon for Christian people, formally acknowledged as such by historic ecumenical councils of the church. Our doctrinal standards identify as canonical thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.
Our standards affirm the Bible as the source of all that is “necessary” and “sufficient” unto salvation (Articles of Religion) and “is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice” (Confession of Faith).
We properly read Scripture within the believing community, informed by the tradition of that community.
We interpret individual texts in light of their place in the Bible as a whole.
We are aided by scholarly inquiry and personal insight, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we work with each text, we take into account what we have been able to learn about the original context and intention of that text. In this understanding we draw upon the careful historical, literary, and textual studies of recent years, which have enriched our understanding of the Bible.
Through this faithful reading of Scripture, we may come to know the truth of the biblical message in its bearing on our own lives and the life of the world. Thus, the Bible serves both as a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.
While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involve tradition, experience, and reason. 
So where do I come down on biblical inerrancy and infallibility? I would not use those words in referring to scripture, but on the other hand, I also would not describe scripture as errant or fallible—that’s a bridge too far. With the UMC, I readily affirm that the Bible consists of “the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit.” More importantly, I believe that in the Bible we encounter Jesus Christ, the infallible, inerrant Word of God who was with God and was God from the beginning. 
 I did a search using the Kindle edition of the 2016 Book of Discipline. Inerrant was not used at all. Infallible was used, but only to say that The Book of Discipline is not infallible—which is a point so obvious that it could have been left unsaid.
 “Section 4—Our Theological Task: Scripture,” in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 2016), paragraph 105.
 John 1.1
Disciple Fast Track is a comprehensive Bible Study covering the majority of the Bible in 24 weeks. It is a reworking of the original Disciple Bible Study that reduces the time of the study by 8 weeks while still keeping most of the original content. The study includes 12 weeks studying the Old Testament and 12 weeks studying the New Testament, daily Bible reading assignments of 3-5 chapters per day, and a 75 minute weekly meeting with the group. Disciple is a great way to get a really solid overview of the Bible, whether you are new to reading the Bible or have read it for years. If you are interested in taking Disciple Fast Track, please let Pastor Jenny know in person, by phone/text, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The study will have it’s initial meeting on Sunday, September 9, 2018, at 7 pm.