This is The Way

I am always happy when the summer comes to an end.

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Not just because the heat starts to abate just a little … nor because my kids have all left the house for college … but because I love having all of you around for worship, Wednesday nights, and weekday evenings again!

Summers at KPUMC are sloooooooow.

But when school starts, everyone gets interested in church again.

That makes this a good time to announce the roll-out of The Way.

Let me start at the beginning … last fall, I called together a group of new-ish church members to a Vision Task Force. Over the course of a few months, this task force put together a set of recommendations for the church, including a new mission statement.

The new statement, adopted by the Church Council this summer, reads, “As disciples of Christ at Kessler Park UMC, we: Welcome all people, Connect with one another, Grow closer to God, and Serve the community.”

Those four words — Welcome, Connect, Grow, and Serve — form the basis of a discipleship path, or a kind of basic direction for adult training in discipleship. Since I’ve been appointed to KPUMC, I have been searching for a way to orient and align our programs and ministries to correspond with a clear discipleship path.

Put another way, I’ve been looking for language about how to invite people to follow Jesus, and then give them the tools to actually do so. I think these four words accurately sum up that path. First, we are welcomed into a faith community and experience hospitality; when we are comfortable, we seek to connect with some of the members of that community outside of the worship experience, usually in some kind of small group; as a result of this connection, we begin to grow spiritually and find ourselves getting closer to God through Jesus Christ; and as an expression of our gratitude to God, we develop our spiritual gifts and put ourselves into Christian service of others. Then we find ourselves welcoming new people into the community … and the process starts all over again.

At some point, I recognized that each of these four concepts correspond with one of the four gospels. Thus, the idea of being welcoming, hospitable and inclusive aligns neatly with the Gospel of Luke, which is focused on Jesus’ ministry to outsiders; the idea of spiritual growth fits with the Gospel of John, which is mystical and urges us to “abide with Christ.” The Gospel of Mark’s emphasis on radical discipleship points us toward service, and the Gospel of Matthew focuses on the new community and connections formed by the good news of Jesus.

I have decided, then, as your primary preacher and teacher, to focus on each one of the four gospels over the next four years, beginning with the Gospel of Matthew, and focusing on the key question that Matthew seeks to answer, “How does God intend for us to live together in community?”

To that end, I am creating a 24-week core course on Matthew which will be offered to all church Sunday School classes in September. The first 16 chapters of the book will be covered in the fall; the rest of Matthew will be covered in spring 2019. I will be writing a study guide with class instructions, and preparing a 5-7 minute video for each week’s lesson.

In addition, Wednesday Night Live adult classes will focus on the same theme. This fall, I will offer a class entitled“Reading Matthew with New Eyes” and Mike Smith will lead a study on community using the Nooma video series by Rob Bell. In the spring, I will offer a class on“The Sermon on the Mount.”

At this point, you may be wondering, “OK, but what’s the big deal? So we’re studying Matthew …” Here’s the exciting part: the Sunday School course and Wednesday night classes will all be offered online, as well as in person.

If you can’t be here on Sunday morning or Wednesday night, you can still participate in the learning, the discussion, the spiritual formation! And not only will you be able to participate, but people who are not currently members of our faith community can, too!

Everything that will be used in the class will be available online — the content, handouts, slides, videos, and discussion. I’m also planning to make additional content available online, including podcasts, interviews with Bible scholars, ebooks, and occasional live gatherings.

I’m calling this entire project “The Way.” That’s not an arbitrarily chosen name. Did you know that the first name for the new Jesus movement in the New Testament was “The Way”? Five times in the book of Acts, the movement is called “The Way,” including 9:2, 19:9 and 23, 24:14 and 22.

I love the name because it indicates that we are on a path, following a direction. We don’t have all the answers, nor do we live by a bunch of rules. We’re simply going to follow Jesus together on this way.

I can’t wait to get going … stay tuned for the details!

Something's Happening Here

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You have a lot of churches to choose from.

Let’s be honest — some of them have much better preachers than me. Some of them have better music programs; if you like rock music, there are churches that have services designed specifically for you. Some churches have much bigger choirs, orchestras, bands, and multiple children’s choirs.

There may not be many church buildings more beautiful than ours, but there are buildings that are bigger, with more comfortable seating, with big screens and fancy visuals, with bigger stained glass compositions.

Don’t get me started with the children’s and youth programs: some churches have built entire buildings to house those booming ministries. Some churches have rock climbing walls, castle playhouses, and gymnasiums for their kids; some even have entire departments staffed by multiple pastors.

Some churches have a lot more money than ours; they have famous people, athletes, big-name CEOs, and celebrities making regular donations. Some churches are so financially successful that their pastors have their own private jets.

There are churches that are high-church, with lots of liturgy, fancy robes, and incense; there are churches that are low-church, with simple prayers, hand-clapping, and shouted amens. Some churches are full of white people, while others are mostly brown or black, and some are even a diverse mix of colors.

And, yes, I suppose that some churches have more active laypeople, more volunteers, more competent members who have more time to give to the church.

You could attend any one of these many churches in the Dallas area. Or you could drive over to Fort Worth — it’s not that bad of a drive on Sunday morning.

You have a choice when it comes to which church you attend. I’m very aware of that fact. I’m always aware that other churches do some things much better than us, and I’m hyper-aware of the things that we don’t do very well at all, including myself.

But I’m beginning to understand that there is something very profound happening at Kessler Park UMC that is unique to this location, to this group of people, to this particular time in history.

We are becoming a community; we are slowly and gradually becoming a group of people who have been called together by the living God. Every single one of us belongs. There are others who haven’t arrived yet, but they’re on their way. In the meantime, we are growing together, and our commitment toward each other is becoming stronger and stronger.

Something has taken root within us, something which I would simply call “love.” I feel it among all of you — you really do love each other. You may not know every face in the sanctuary on a given Sunday morning, but you do your best to welcome, support, encourage, and strengthen each other.

Another word for this is koinonia, the word we use in our weekly liturgy before our “Sharing of Shalom.” Koinonia refers to the kind of fellowship and community which is the consequence of the unity of the Holy Spirit. We are beginning to live koinonia out, and the result is going to be something very special.

Keep loving each other, and keep widening the circle. God is working amongst us!

 

Is Like...

by Rev. Kay Ash

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There are a number of instances in the Bible where Jesus begins a parable with “The Kingdom of God is like . . . (or in the Gospel of Matthew – “The Kingdom of Heaven is like...).  Jesus describes “the Kingdom” as a mustard seed, as leven, as a hidden treasure or as a merchant seeking pearls. The Kingdom of God seems to be “like” a lot of different things.  If I could, I would add to the list: “The Kingdom of God is like . . . Vacation Bible School at Kessler Park United Methodist Church!”

            We had a wonderful week together: 44 kids were loved and guided by almost as many adults and youth. There were fits of laughter and songs, stories and communion, science experiments and missional gifts prepared. All of us were focused - we spent the entire week loving God and loving each other. Simple, focused, pure – the Kingdom of God is like Vacation Bible School at Kessler Park UMC.

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There is plenty of evidence to support our addition to the “Kingdom of God” list. Firstly, there were all the activities we did together. For example, our KPUMC campus was so full this summer (what a blessing!), it required us to hold portions of VBS in Robert’s Forest. We were initially concerned about the heat, but our time in the woods turned out to be great – the trees provided enough shade and cool. Each morning we sang out loud and beat trash can drums for all of our Kessler Park neighbors to hear! And during our outside Recreation rotation, the kids ran and played, searched for hidden clues and ate bright colored popsicles in the glory of Robert’s Forest. One day, the kids even stacked stone Ebenezers so we could remember to say “Thank You God” for all of our blessings!

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If you need further evidence: our crazy and amazing Science rotation helped kids explore with photo sensitive paper and handmade boats that they sailed in a swimming pool.  They even experimented with laughter! Not to be outdone in the Missions rotation, kids prepared gifts of games to give to the Wesley Rankin Center, blankets to give to the Linus Project, bandanas to give to Dog and Kitty City, placemats to give to The Well and, lastly, they made prayer beads to help them pray with their families. Even in storytelling it was clear that the Kingdom of God was very near.  Each day a different adult shared a different Bible story and each day through careful attention, prayer, silence and ritual, the presence of God was unmistakable. Therefore, it seems very clear through our actions that the Kingdom of God is like Vacation Bible School at Kessler Park UMC.

That said, there is even more evidence to support this idea: smaller, quieter bits of evidence that popped up all through the week. Every day an adult would share a story about something wonderful the kids said or did. Every day.  It was like we were reminded once again of something we have always known: that kids are amazing and they bring us closer to God. And every day, through unbridled generosity, our Youth taught us that the Kingdom of God is filled with creative brilliance and laughter. And every day, the kids showed us what the Kingdom of God looks like through their questioning eyes, their warm hugs and their way of being. Every single day, the Kingdom of God was so very close.

I suppose we should not be surprised, really, that the Kingdom of God would be so evident when we spend a week simply loving God and loving each other. The Kingdom closely surrounds us each and every minute, waiting for us to participate in the goodness of God. I suppose after all these years, I should not be surprised when the run-away freight train of VBS takes off on a Monday morning and knocks me to my knees over and over again through precious moments of heavenly goodness. The Bible tells us that the Kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:15). However, I have to admit, sometimes those moments surprise me and take my breath. Sometimes, words are just not enough to describe the fullness of a moment. Sometimes, pictures have to help us see. The Kingdom of God is like . . . Vacation Bible School at Kessler Park United Methodist Church. Thanks be to God!