Christmas Message 2022

December 24, 2022

Here is video of the sermon from Christmas Eve on Sunday, December 24th, 2022 at Glennville Methodist Church. Full Manuscript text is below the video.

Here is the text of my sermon manuscript for Christmas Eve worship services on Saturday, December 24th, 2022 at Glennville Methodist Church. Early children had read the Christmas story from Luke 2:1-20.

What would you do if you accidentally became Santa Claus? If you have to deliver all the presents around the world? That is the scenario that was in the Tim Allen family comedy The Santa Claus. It is fascinating because he becomes Santa Claus because he accidentally startles the current Santa on the roof calling him to fall to Santa’s demise and now according to the rules Tim Allen’s character must now become the new Santa Claus. And in the journey Tim Allen’s character learns a little about being a better dad and we all learn a little about Christmas.

The Santa Claus cinematic universe set up an interesting scenario. If you are beside Santa Claus when he meets his end you have to become the next Santa Claus. What if the next person was someone who does not celebrate Christmas. What if it’s a child? What if it’s someone who just escaped prison and they were serving a life time sentence? These are all scenarios that are possible in this universe. It is such a bizarre scenario that this year Disney plus released a limited series with some of the original cast and they tried to retcon, change the original story, to make it sound like just anyone can not become a Santa Claus by accident.

Friends, here is the good news for Christmas. There are no mistakes with God. You are not some accident that magically falls into earth. No, God has made you for this very moment. He has made you with purpose.

One of the interesting stories I read early on in my tenure here in Glennville was about how we had appealed our census data here. During the disruption of the pandemic it seemed hundreds of residents in the Smith prison were not accounted for which would affect our federal funding and more in our community.

Everyone counts to God. Christmas is the reminder of this. No one is created on accident and everyone counts to God. 

Now this is pretty important especially on a day like today. I know this has been a pretty challenging year for some in our community. For my family we were blessed to celebrate Brand’y mom’s 60th birthday only to have her die suddenly a few short weeks later. 

Grief is a hard thing to deal with. It is also a strange thing to deal with. There are moments when we feel like Sandra may walk right in. There are moments like at Lydia’s Christmas dance recital where we are used to seeing Sandra go and stand down front elbowing others out of the way, standing in the aisle to get the video on her phone, even though we knew she heard the announcement not to do that.

In the same way we have had grief in our family this past year we also know the world continues to grieve. Thousands of Russians were conscripted to go fight the so-called “special military operation” or war in Ukraine. Ukrainians have limited power, water, and resources to stay warm in the dead of winter and we know American families who have had loved ones deployed as part of a surge of troops to serve as deterrence for Russian advancing further. 

It is in the midst of our broken world, in the midst of our own lives, that we need to hear the Christmas message this year. We need to hear that we are not here by accident and that we matter to God and the life of Jesus proves this.

Consider the broken world that Jesus was born into. We would expect for a king or the son of a king to be born in a palace in a safe and secure area. Yet, Jesus is born into a barn. We’ve talked about Herod the past few Sundays. He was the ruler over the area Jesus is born into. He had a palace, the Herodium, where he would be able to look over the town of Bethlehem. So we have this juxtaposition of earthly power, political skills, military might with Jesus, humble, lowly surroundings, no leaders coming out celebrate his birth but stinky shepherds… and not even the day shift, the B-team, the night crew.

Jesus came into the broken world for you and for me. We are not an accident and Jesus came for each one of us.

He came so that we can learn from Christ’s teachings but ultimately he came to save us. We matter to God because Jesus comes to help us with the one thing we can never do and that is to save ourselves. DA Carson has this quote about Jesus. He says:

If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.

This means tonight you can accept the greatest gift off all, salvation from Jesus. It means you do not have to try harder this upcoming year but instead be more open to God’s leading. And it starts by asking to receive Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and making Christ the Lord over your entire life.

It also means we do not have to worry about accidentally becoming Santa Claus. We do not have to worry if we are accidents. That we can live lives with purpose. Even if we have had an incredibly tough year.

There was a New York state trooper who was dispatched for a 911 call during a storm. A motorist was in a car that went into a ditch and the snow plow came by and completely buried the car. The man had poor reception and called 911 several times but kept getting disconnected.

They were able to track him down to a several mile area but the trooper just had to keep looking through piles of snow to try to find the car.

After 10 hours the motorist was rescued by the trooper and it was just in the nick of time. You see the motorist car shut off from being buried in snow. The man was not able to get out and got so cold that his body quit shivering. 

This is very dangerous because it means your body is starting to shut down. Thankfully the trooper got him in the police car and warmed him up until they could connect to EMS.

Friends, I know this has been a tough year. But do not give up. You may feel like you are an accident, struggling with grief, doubt, loneliness or buried in snow. But do not give up. We have good news.

As Christians, even if we do not feel it in our hearts at times, we can say it with integrity, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Merry Christmas!

This Sunday will be my first Sunday as an elder in the Global Methodist Church. My church will also be celebrating their first Sunday in the Global Methodist Church. This is an unofficial order I made for the occasion. At the conclusion of our service we will read through a Litany of New Beginnings/Renewal of Baptism and Membership by Rev. Dr. Tesia Mallory.

Friends and Family of ___________ Church, today we are happy to recognize that our pastor, ____________, has been appointed by the Global Methodist church to serve as our pastor.

_________ , you have been sent to live in our community as a shepherd for God’s Kingdom to help us hear the voice of God through the scriptures, our church tradition, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As our pastor you are “responsible for ensuring that members are cared for by implementing a discipleship process focused on helping members to “go on to perfection” by loving God with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and by loving their neighbor as themselves. [You] are charged with equipping all the members of a congregation to be in ministry by meeting people at their point of need and offering them Jesus.”1

Pastor __________, do you reaffirm your commitment to ministry to follow God and lead the _______________ Church?

Pastor: Today, I affirm my commitment to serve ____________ Church by God’s grace and to the best of my ability.

Church, do you affirm your commitment to support Pastor _________ as he/she guides us, by God’s grace, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.”2

If you do say we will.

Congregation: We will.

Church, today we are also happy to announce that Pastor _________ has been recognized as an elder in full connection with the Global Methodist Church.

“Elders are clergy members in full connection of the annual conference with full voice and vote on all matters.”3 

“Elders are ordained to oversee the Sacramental life of the church and thus have full authority to preside at celebrations of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.”4

“Those called to the ministry of elder bear authority and responsibility to proclaim God’s Word fearlessly, to teach God’s people faithfully, to administer the sacraments, and to order the life of the church so that it may be both faithful and fruitful.”5

__________ , we thank you for submitting your life to this calling in the Global Methodist Church. 

Church, we are going to ask pastor __________ to kneel at the altar and we ask those who wish to come forward, lay hands on _________ , and pray with us.

Father of grace, power, and calling, we thank you for all of the servant leaders we have had at Glen_____________ and the calling you have on his/her life.

God, would you pour out your blessing on him/her, Father, so that he/she may preach the good news to all people. Would you sustain him/her in the process of ministering to those in our community. Would you protect him/her, guide him/her, and lead him/her into a deeper relationship with you. May all of his/her ministry be an overflow of his/her ever deepening relationship with you. May we, as his community, support, encourage, correct, and guide him/her by your grace also, in Jesus name, Amen.

***

This document in Microsoft Word or PDF version

1 The Transitional Book of Doctrine and Discipline paragraph 322 p. 29 (Ephesians 4:11-13).

2The Transitional Book of Doctrine and Discipline preface page 2

3The Transitional Book of Doctrine and Discipline paragraph 410 page 57

4The Transitional Book of Doctrine and Discipline paragraph 313 page 26

5The Transitional Book of Doctrine and Discipline Paragraph 403 page 51

Why is Methodism Splitting?

September 1, 2022

In 2022 thousands of United Methodists representing hundreds of churches have left their denomination and overseas the entire Bulgaria-Romania annual conference has departed and joined the newly formed Global Methodists Church. Still, if you were to ask the general church attender if my preceding sentence were true, they would probably say it was false.

There are many understandable reasons to not pay attention to what is happening at the denominational level. Yet, if you have not been paying attention you might be shocked about what is happening. Outside of Mark Tooley’s paywall blocked opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, and David Watson’s recent Firebrand article, I am not sure if I know of a succinct and clear summary.

Recently, I have had several people reaching out to me asking, “What has happened?” Here is my attempt to adding some clarity to the situation.

#1 We have had a breakdown in our ability to govern ourselves. 

You will hear that the realignment has to do with human sexuality and this is absolutely a presenting symptom. However, the governance of the church is the main underlying issue. We have had debates about the issue on human sexuality since the formation of the United Methodist Church in 1968. Yet, what we never had was a broken covenant to the extent we do now.

Tim Keller talked about this in his interview with New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof has this to say about essential Christian beliefs having boundaries:

If I’m a member of the board of Greenpeace and I come out and say climate change is a hoax, they will ask me to resign. I could call them narrow-minded, but they would rightly say that there have to be some boundaries for dissent or you couldn’t have a cohesive, integrated organization. And they’d be right. It’s the same with any religious faith.

Tim Keller

While Keller was talking about wider basic Christianity, the same applies to any denomination.

Scott Kisker in Firebrand Magazine elaborates on church order when discussing how Methodism is broken:

The issues around sexuality are serious. They are serious because no reasonable reading of the prophetic material in canonical Scripture can successfully tease out God’s demands for sexuality from God’s demands for economic justice, treatment of the alien, or idolatry. They are of a piece. But even bracketing sex for the moment, order has become chaos. And the question that hangs is whether, without order (as without word or sacrament) there is even a church.  

Scott Kisker in Firebrand Magazine

There needs to be agreed upon boundaries. While the United Methodist Church has these agreed upon in doctrine at the General Conference level, the practice of this doctrine and implementation has not remained consistent and led to trust issues.

#2a Trust Issues with Leadership. 

I first heard this principle from Andy Stanley: In the absence of information you have to decide to fill it with trust or suspicion. For years we have had trust broken among United Methodists. I can remember watching the 2019 general conference and hearing that if the church upheld their historic teaching it would be a virus on the denomination. At an annual conference session this summer, during a laity address, the lay leader called those in their conference wanting to uphold church order “gestapo.” Then the conference still published the video that remains up today. As someone whose family fought the axis powers in WWII this seems mildly inappropriate.

In the Florida Annual conference trust was broken with the board of ordained ministry when the board tried to provisionally commission people who did not meet the agreed upon conditions in the Book of Discipline. Charges have now been filed against the bishop and the board of ordained ministry.

There are even trust issues about when a General Conference could enact change. As one document encouraging United Methodists to abide because, “Nothing in the Discipline can change until January 1, 2025, when any actions of the 2024 General Conference take effect.” Yet, the United Methodist Church website points a caveat that the author original author omitted*, “…unless specified to take effect at the close of General Conference…”

For churches wanting to leave (more on the process below) this puts enormous pressure on them when pastors are not giving clarity. As progressive UM pastor Rev. Jeremy Smith says.

Given that votes must be taken at annual conferences, local churches that want to disaffiliate will need to start the process this year (2022), and meet the 2023 annual conference deadlines.

Rev. Jeremy Smith

Even for conferences trying to extend the terms of paragraph 2553 (see more below) it’s unlikely they would be able to see a possible 2024 general conference and have time to meet deadlines before their 2024 local annual conference.

The third postponement of the 2020 General Conference session was another moment of suspicion and frustration for many. It even caused one member on the committee for General Conference to resign. There is understandable suspicion if there will even be a 2024 general conference. Confusion abounds about the date for the conference and if it would be a conference with the 2020 delegations or if a new delegation is elected that would reflect the continued U.S. decline and non-Western growth that tends to be theologically conservative.

The episcopal elections in November of 2022 have caused trust issues. This is in contradiction to our rule that episcopal elections can not happen except following a session of general conference. There is some concern that no conservative friendly bishops will be elected. Rev. Jeremy Smith says that, “the electors of those bishops will be members of the 2019 progressive and centrist wave.”

#2b Trust Issues about Property

Did you know your local United Methodist Church does not own its own property or bank accounts. All property is held in trust to the United Methodist Church. One article says this:

…means that if, at any point, it becomes clear the holder can no longer or chooses no longer to function as part of The United Methodist Church, it forfeits all rights to continue to hold the property, and the property itself and all other assets transfer to the denomination.

https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-what-is-the-united-methodist-trust-clause

That means even though you have taken care of, built up, and managed the property you do not own it. While I believe this was wise at one point, it has prevented churches from leaving who are better aligned in another denomination. It also has made it extremely expensive to leave if you have to pay for the property you already paid for. Imagine taking out a thirty year mortgage then at the end of the mortgage you have to pay the same value in cash or you lose the property.

However, for the first time there is a provision, in paragraph 2553, that allows for a very short window to leave. Most annual conferences have a process that allows a congregation to leave through 2023 based on decisions made at the special session of the 2019 general conference at a fraction of the cost.

Therefore, hundreds of congregations have decided to leave in 2022 with hundreds and possible thousands in 2023.

I respect local churches’ decisions. I know several communities in my area that can and should have packed post-separation UM churches and other expressions of methodism. My hope is that churches make decisions based on facts, conviction, and clarity on who God is calling them to be.

_____

* I had the opportunity to hear an early draft of this article and pointed out contradiction to one of the co-authors. I also had an email exchange showing them how this contradicted with the UMC website linked above.