Category Archives: From Jeremy

Worshiping in the building

Latest update February 15, 2021

Please read this letter from Pastor Jeremy:

Friends–

If everything stays on track in Muskegon County, then we can head back to worshiping together. So we’re going to go back on March 7, for a 10 a.m. worship service. Here are the details:

  • Yes, masks and distancing are still required, and we won’t have refreshments before or after the service.
  • Community Kids will meet upstairs after children’s time during worship.
  • We will sing songs (which we didn’t do last summer and fall!)
  • We’ll meet at 10 a.m. in the sanctuary.
  • Online worship will still be there.

More details:

  • Offering will be no-touch, using a basket in the back of the sanctuary as you arrive or leave. Or continue to give online.
  • There will not be printed bulletins.
  • If you want to talk with friends before and after church, please consider going outside. Fresh air is really helpful at minimizing coronavirus spread!

We have worked hard to maintain maximum safety when we worship in person, and I really appreciate your faithful cooperation. We were initially shaken by the pandemic and the need to leave worshiping together in the building. Yet we have discovered that the Word of God can thrive and grow in new ground. Now, how can the Word of God continue to thrive and grow as we move into a building again?

It’s up to you to be God’s hands and feet, to invite, welcome, and include your friends, neighbors, and families to worship, and to listen to what they’re looking for.

See you in church!

God bless you all. Keep safe!

Pastor Jeremy

Jesus’ priorities

Over the years, people have tried to claim Jesus talked most about money (especially during the giving series each fall). They’ve also claimed that he talked most bout love. You could argue that he talked most about farming, because he has so many parables about it. But whether he talked about money, farming, treasures, food, or love, he was most often actually on the subject of the Kingdom of God (also known as the Kingdom of Heaven, occasionally the Kingdom of the Son, or just the Kingdom).

But because we aren’t always clear what he means by it, we might not pay enough attention to his most important topic. So it seems like a good idea to write a little article about the Kingdom of God. I hope that everyone who wants to be a follower of Jesus will want to know about the most important thing he talked about!

For me, the clearest way to begin is with a line from the Lord’s prayer, that Jesus taught to hi followers in Matthew 6: 10

“Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Kingdom is another way of talking about God’s will. The two phrases are two ways of saying the same thing. But it would take aa lot more words to explain what we mean, like this: “Lord, we pray that what happens on earth will be according to your will, just as it is already that way in heaven. And that would be the coming of your kingdom into reality among us.”

It’s pretty much that simple, but let me run over a few more examples of Jesus’ sayings about the Kingdom: There’s a whole stack of them in Matthew 13:

  • The parable of the sower who throws seed everywhere, which he later explain as a “parable of the kingdom”
  • The parable of the weeds and the wheat (or wheat and tares in older translations)
  • The parable of the mustard seed that starts small and grows
  • The parable of the yeast, again starting small and making a big difference
  • The parable of the treasure hidden in a field, for which we give up everything else
  • The parable of the merchant who trades everything for a priceless pearl
  • The parable of the net thrown into the sea, collecting all kinds of fish.

That’s a wealth of parables for one chapter in Matthew! Jesus keeps making clear that not everyone who hears his parables will understand what he’s talking about. But if we sum them up, we keep hearing that God’s will (the Kingdom) is so valuable and treasured that it’s worth us giving everything we own to have it.

So, what is God’s will that we should value it so much, that it will cost us everything we have, and that it will change the world? Let’s go back to the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” When we commit to doing God’s will, that is the greatest treasure. of all. Doing God’s will probably looks different for every person, depending on the specifics of our call. For one person, it means becoming a monk and living a life of constant prayer. For another person it means teaching children in a school. For another person it means looking after an aging family member, or caring for others, day after day. And for another it may mean giving away many of our possessions to liberate ourselves from greed, and to help the poor. All of these are examples of what the Bible calls justice. They all cost us a lot in terms of our convenience and comfort and our previous expectations. But they’re all ways of doing God’s will, of bringing God’s kingdom into our lives.

All the things that we can do to bring closer God’s will and God’s kingdom can be summed up in a few other words that Jesus liked to use: love, justice, righteousness, and peace. The Kingdom is all of these things, lived out by every one of us in a different way.

 

 

 

Violence and inequality meet in Minneapolis

I was asked if I could write something about the death of George Floyd while being held by police officers in Minneapolis on May 25. If you want to know what happened, there’s plenty of news coverage, plenty of opinion, and plenty of video. There are politicians and police departments condemning the actions of police officers, and there are crowds in many cities doing the same through protest and occasional violence. From this far away, the simplest and first thing we can offer is prayer. I recommend you engage in prayer over all the hurt surrounding this, right now, before going any further.
The next best I can offer is thoughts about how we can best respond to the event and its aftermath. I believe that the best way to enter any time of conflict is to listen well, and to work at understanding the stories that brought the characters to where they were, and where they are now. For me, that means going beyond the disciplinary record of the officers involved, or the criminal record of George Floyd. We can take that information and use it to reinforce whatever biases we already hold, whether we take sides against one police officer or against all; whether we take sides against one convict or against all. What happens in one encounter between these men is only the tip of the iceberg, the moment that makes the news. It is the long coming together of different worlds with totally different experiences. There is a harder story to absorb, because we all have a part in it. A violent and angry man who becomes a police officer represents our culture that continues to glorify violence, that isn’t good enough at identifying unhealthy behavior and addressing it. A man who out of foolishness and desperation tries to use counterfeit money at a grocery store represents a culture that is daily crushed underfoot by racism and scorn, and by an economy that makes substance abuse cheaper and more accessible than medical care. Like the Molotov cocktails thrown in New York last night, this cultural collision is always a fire waiting to explode.
I need to insert that even now, there is not clear evidence that white officers disproportionately kill black people or vice versa. We only know that black people are killed by police far out of proportion to their population. (https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/02/police-violence-racial-bias-shootings-by-race-research-data/605866/; https://www.statista.com/statistics/585152/people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-by-race/).
Whether this moment was fueled by racism or not, the police officers involved in Floyd’s death do not represent the ideals or culture of their departments, but they do represent a strong strand of hatred, fear, violence and anger that refuses to go away. The explosive anger of some of the protesters against that strand of America will also refuse to go away, because racism, fear, violence, and anger continue to call it into existence. We all know better, and every day most of us manage to keep the violence at bay. I know that police departments from Muskegon to Minneapolis to Mississippi would love to be able to filter out the officers who are likely to use unnecessary lethal violence, but they don’t succeed. People who are trained to use violence will ultimately use it for wrong as well as right. Police officers, like everyone else, resort to violence when they are afraid, they feel endangered, and they don’t know another way to defuse the situation.
We are also not going to get away from the fact that protesters are themselves using violence as they protest across America. I hope it’s fair to say that they are protesting no longer about a particular killing, but against a lifetime of perceived and real oppression. They are afraid, they feel endangered, and don’t know another way to defuse the situation. The situation now includes a pandemic, which has only served to highlight that the poorest and most urban among us are the most in danger of contracting and dying from Covid-19. Lack of access to medical care, the highest burden of job losses, and the least financial resources to get through a hard time, all fall disproportionately on black people in America. There’s plenty to be angry about. The good news is that the vast majority of people don’t respond with violence. The bad news is that we are all responsible for perpetuating the world of profound inequality in America. America’s income disparity in 2017 was 5th or 7th worst in the world (depending how you measure), and that was long before the coronavirus made it worse (https://data.oecd.org/inequality/income-inequality.htm). Inevitably, people get sick of being at the bottom of such a big heap.
I started with wondering how we can best respond to this situation. The situation is much bigger than the death of a man in Minnesota. It is as big as a deep strand of violence in America, continuing racism and oppression, and the startling inequality of income within our country. What can we do? We are definitely going back to prayer. And we need to find every local way we can to build up trust between the richest and the poorest, between people of different colors and backgrounds. We need to treasure and look after the poor until there are no poor any more.
I was reminded of this by a friend on Facebook: the United Methodist vows that we take at baptism include these words: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? I do.”

Jeremy

Every Sunday is Amnesty Sunday

Been away from church for a while? This is your special invitation to come back. Soon, I hope! There will be no judgment or criticism from me, and probably not from anyone else. After all, I’ve been telling them for four months that this is a no-judgment zone, and I think they’re really getting it.

In twenty-two years as a pastor, I’ve heard a lot of reasons for leaving their church. Your reasons deserve respect. Maybe one or two of these will be familiar to you:

1. You were disgusted by conflict and hypocrisy among church people.
2. The pastor you loved left.
3. You grew up and realized you didn’t really know what or why you believed in the first place.
4. The United Methodist Church has failed to stand up for all people as it should.
5. You resent paying money to the centralized church.
6. You are embarrassed about something in your life.
7. You have a long-standing conflict with someone at church.
8. You don’t have any money to give, or nice clothes to wear.
9. The church has burned you in the past.
10. Sunday is our only family time.
11. You’re not willing to identify with a single religious organization.

Fair enough. The hurts are real. I would be very glad to sit down with you and listen to your story. Call or text me at 231 720-5422, and we’ll make a time. And for what it’s worth, T-shirts and shorts are fine, nobody’s looking to see whether you put any money in the plate, and church time is family time.

Here’s why I want you to come back:
1. There are good things going on here, a sense of optimism, and you should be part of bringing the good future that’s ahead.
2. You need to get back to actively pursuing your faith walk in connection with other people.
3. You need the community and connection that church can give.
Whether you slid away from church while you were in college, or you got too busy in your thirties, or you had philosophical differences in your fifties, or you simply got accustomed to a Sunday with the paper and coffee, I believe that now is the time for walking in the door on a Sunday morning, and making some new relationships with a few of God’s people here at Community.

Pastor Jeremy