Christmas 2018 Letter

 
 
 

Today in the town of David a Savior

has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

(Luke 2:10)

 

On this holiest of nights two thousand years ago, a small band of shepherds were startled by an angel of the Lord and the announcement that, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Prior to this moment the birth of God’s Son was merely anticipated; it was oriented toward a future yet unknown. However, there in the outskirts of Bethlehem the angel’s announcement makes an important and unmistakable shift that proclaims that Jesus has been born. The timestamp on the angel’s message reads “today.” In other words, angel emphasized the present as time of fulfillment, now as the time of God’s gracious deliverance.

In The Redemption of Scrooge author Matt Rawle indicates the shift of time that occurs in the Christmas story of Luke 2:1-20. It is a shift that moves us from speaking what happened “In those days” to what to God is doing on “this day.” Our Savior’s birth changes everything:

In those days the palace ruled the world, but on this day the world is being turned upside down. In those days the shepherds were less than unimportant, but on this day, the shepherds received the kingdom of God!

In those days we simply read about a miracle. On this day we expect one.

 

To me the Christmas story is every bit as pregnant as Mary. Under every detail is a trap door to a deeper meaning. Sometimes I am drawn to the ordinariness of the shepherds, when it dawns upon me that the Messiah came to save common people like us. Other times I identify with the innkeeper and wonder if there is room for the Christ child within. Still other times I wonder if my faith is strong enough to follow Mary’s boy to the cross. This Christmas, I am drawn to the excited and wonder-filled voice of the angel’s first word to the shepherds, “Today”!

           

            I pray that you will find within the Christmas story a detail to ponder. Hopefully a detail that causes the Christmas story to leap off the pages of Luke’s gospel and come alive within. During the next several weeks of December, you are welcome to come and to celebrate the Savior’s birth with your church family. Each service is unique which allows you to blend your insights of the Christmas story with your love for Christ.

  Christmas Blessings,   Nicholas Perry, Pastor  



Thanksgiving 2018

 

Psalm 116 is an ancient poem sung or recited each year during the celebration of the Jewish Passover. It is located within a larger collection of poems referred to as the “Egyptian Hallel.” The Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118) offers a retelling of Israel’s gospel when they were delivered from the slavery that had bound them in Egypt for hundreds of years.

 
 
I can faintly remember listening to my mom play a record of the Walton’s Thanksgiving when I was kid. I can still hear the voices of the Walton’s talking around the dinner table, the clinking of dishes, and skipping as the record spun around the turn-table. The memory of anything more specific escapes me, expect that the Walton’s seemed to possess a simple joy of being together.

When I read Psalm 116, familiar voices from Israel’s past can be heard, outlining the drama of Israel’s gospel:                         verse 3: The snares of death encompassed me;                         verse 8: For you have delivered my soul from death;                         verse 17: I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the                                           name of the LORD. The beauty of poetry is its ability to soar to the heights and plunge to the deepest depths.


Read more...

November 2018


Genesis 4:1-16 contrasts two brothers: Cain and Abel. Clearly, the biblical author wants us to recognize that these two brothers are vastly different from each other. Nonetheless, they are still brothers—a point underscored numerous times (vv.1, 8, 9, 10,11).    
     
                            Abel:                                                   Cain:  
Name means: “breath, or vapor”

Name means: “acquire, or buy”

A keeper of sheep (v.4)

A tiller of fruit of the ground (v.3)

An offering of firstlings of his flock, their fat portions (v.4)

An offering of the fruit of the ground (v.3)

The LORD had regard for Abel and his offering (v.4)

The LORD had no regard for Cain and his offering (v.5)

Abel is killed by his brother (v.8)

Cain killed his brother (v.8)

      Many interpretations of Genesis 4:1-6 tend to speculate on one brother’s offering over and against the other’s sacrifice. However, with the brevity of the description of the two sacrifices and the general lack of information, each of the brothers’ disposition and intention behind their respective offerings amounts to an “incidental report of the first sacrifice.”[1]  
                 Instead of wandering through such a speculative rabbit trail I find myself drawn to Cain’s famous response to the LORD, “Am I my brother’s keeper” (v.10)? The knee-jerk response often given from the pulpit and Sunday school teachers is usually a resounding “Yes!”. I suspect there is an old sermon manuscript on my computer’s hard drive with me proclaiming the same. However, in the Hebrew the correct answer to Cain’s question is “No, you are not your brother’s keeper.” W. Sibley Towner argues, “No is the usual response in the Hebrew Bible to a positively stated rhetorical question.”[2] 

Read more...

Easter Letter 2018

 
 
Let the church with gladness hymns of triumph sing, for our Lord now liveth; death has lost its sting.”
–Edmond L. Budry, in Thine Be the Glory
 

Greetings,

The tomb was empty; the body was gone. In the wonderful book The Undoing of Death author Fleming Rutledge announces, “all four Gospels report this [faith claim.]” There are many discrepancies between the gospels; Luke tells of Jesus’ birth in the small town of Bethlehem, Mark offers no birth narrative. In the gospel of Matthew Jesus helplessly laments on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46)  but in the gospel of John Jesus fully in control offers stage directions to his mother and the disciple whom he loved from the cross saying, “Dear woman, here is your son, here is your mother” (John 19:27). Nonetheless, among the beautiful and rich variety contained among the gospel all state emphatically, the tomb was empty; the body was gone.


Read more...

Christmas Letter 2017

 

For nothing will be impossible with God.”

 (Luke 1:37)

 

In his Advent devotional, Why This Jubliee? James Howell remarks, “God comes to people who aren’t seeking God at that moment.” This holds true for Mary living in Nazareth two-thousand years ago. Mary’s story has played in the lives of women and men since the dawn of creation of two people “pledged to be married” (Luke 1:26). So far, there is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, we have a handful of upcoming weddings already on the church calendar for the coming year.

This marks Howell’s words as notable, “God comes to people who aren’t seeking God at that moment.” As a society we spend little time “seeking God” during the Advent season. Much of our time is trying to find that “holiday spirit” through movies, music, and Christmas parties. Dragging out the years of accumulated decorations we beautify our homes and our church. We do our part of driving around town admiring the Christmas lights, baking and eating sweets, or trying to decide which gift to buy for a difficult relative. The moments pile up like a snow drift; Christmas comes and goes, and the next thing we know we are dragging, as are our neighbors, the tree to the curb.

It is refreshing to know that “God comes to people who aren’t seeking God at the moment.” This is what happens to Mary who is doing the typical things to prepare for a first Century Jewish wedding in Galilee. God comes to Mary through the angel Gabriel, she is “greatly troubled” by the angel’s announcement:

Don’t be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (Luke 1:30-33).

Mary questions, “How will this be” (1:34)?  After all, she never submitted a multipage resume of her spiritual accomplishments or a curriculum vitae (C.V.). Mary doesn’t exactly apply for the job the angel handed to her. It’s the question that we all must ask. How is it that we bear not just a child but this child? God chooses the unlikely, a virgin to give birth to Jesus. God chooses unlikely people today “who aren’t seeking God at the moment.” The angel answers Mary’s deep question with a profound response,

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…For nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:35;37).

 

This Advent and Christmas seasons, it is my prayer that you encounter the God who throughout history has made the impossible possible: uttering the world into existence, granting a child to an elderly and barren couple, parting the Red Sea, calming stormy seas, healing the sick, and raising Jesus from the dead nearly two-thousand years ago on that first Easter, to filling the church with the gift of the Holy Spirit. In your disbelief or shock may you respond in obedient faith as Mary who made herself available to the God who makes the impossible possible, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

Blessings,

 

Nicholas Perry, Pastor

 

Advent Schedule

December 10 – 2nd Sunday of Advent

7pm – Bible Study

5:30 pm – Evening Family Worship

                                  

December 17 – 3rd Sunday of Advent

Children will sing during 10:45 Service

5:30 pm – Evening Family Worship

7pm – Bible Study

                                  

December 24 – 4th Sunday of Advent – Cantata

Combined 10 am service (No Sunday School)

December 24 – 7pm Candle light Service

NO – 5:30 pm – Evening Family Worship

                                  

Christmas Week

Office closed December 25

Open 9 -3 on Dec 26

Open 9 – noon on December 27, 28, 29

December 31 – combined 10 am Fireside Service (No Sunday School)

NO – 5:30 pm – Evening Family Worship

All 2017 giving is due by Sunday, December 31

                                  

Office closed January 1, 2018



Thanksgiving

“Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?’”  (Luke 17:17)

 

It must be time for Thanksgiving. All indications suggest that it is: shoppers congregate in the supermarket loading up their carts with turkeys, dinner rolls, and vegetables. Both the school and work weeks have been shortened. Most of the leaves have blown off the trees except for a few holdouts. Nevertheless, I can always tell that it is Thanksgiving because the assigned Gospel reading is Luke 17:11-19. It is a simple story about ten lepers healed by Jesus.

The ten lepers played by the rules, “they stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us’” (Luke 17:12-13). Jesus commended them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests’” (Luke 17:14,) and obediently they went. The plot thickens when the gospel writer’s states:

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him— and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other Nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God expect this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:15-19).

 

Typically, I assume that only one of the lepers was thankful for the healing Jesus had given. The flipside is that I usually condemn the other nine labeling them “ungrateful” for the healing that came from Jesus. However, this year I am rethinking my traditional approach to this familiar story.

 

In his book, They Way of the Wolf Martin Bell imaginatively and beautifully wonders “What about the others?” The Scripture its self is silent, however Bell provides nine plausible reasons for the no-show of the nine lepers:

  • One of them was frightened—that’s all. He didn’t understand what had happened, and it frightened him. So he looked for some place to hide. Jesus scared him.
  • A second was offended because he had not been required to do something difficult before he could be healed. It was too easy…And so Jesus offended him.
  • The third had realized too late that he had not really wanted to be cleansed. That he did not know what to do or how to live or even who he was without his leprosy…Jesus had taken away his identity.
  • The fourth leper did not return because in his delirium of joy, he forgot. That’s all. He was so happy that he forgot.
  • The fifth leper was unable to say thank you to anymore to anybody. There is something that happens to a man who must beg and who is shunned by his fellows…He just doesn’t say thank you anymore to anybody—not even to Jesus.
  • The sixth leper was a woman—a mother who had been separated from her family for eleven years because of her leprosy. She did not return to give thanks because she was hurrying home…She had been freed by Jesus.
  • The seventh just didn’t believe that Jesus had anything to do with the cleansing. He knew that healing had taken place, but why and how were the questions… He didn’t return to give thanks because Jesus had had nothing to do with the healing event.
  • The eight leper did not return precisely because he did believe that Jesus had healed him—that the Kingdom of God was here and the Messiah had arrived… And so he ran to publish the news.
  • The ninth leper why didn’t he return? I don’t know the answer… All I know is that he showed himself to the priest and immediately was cleansed. He then stood still for a moment and smiled. It is impossible to say precisely why he did not return to give thanks.

 

As, I pondered each of these possible responses of the nine lepers, I found myself slipping in and out of each of the characters thinking, “That sounds like something I think or do.” All of these years, I have been impressed by and admired the one leper who returned to thank Jesus; failing to see that in reality I’m more aligned with the nine who didn’t return. In Jesus’s question to the returnee he asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine” (Luke 17:17)? Now, I am able to say with a grateful heart, “Lord, I’m over here!”

 

This Thanksgiving, whether you have fallen at Jesus’ feet in praise and wonderment or express your gratefulness to Jesus’ gift of life and healing in ways that might at first glance seem less obvious; know that the Jesus who asks, “Where are the other nine” (Luke 17:17) does in fact know where were they are. In fact, Bell says, “He knew all along.” My prayer is this Thanksgiving your life will be touched by the grace of Christ and your heart full of gratitude.

 

Blessings,

Pastor Nick



Heritage Sunday – November 5

 

Greetings,

 

On November 5th at 10:00am the First United Methodist Church of Westfield will celebrate Heritage Sunday with a combined worship service. I would like to personally extend an invitation to you and your loved ones as we prepare to gather to remember those who have “run their race” and to honor those among us who are still “running.”

Last year, I had the distinct blessing of participating in this congregation’s tradition of Heritage Sunday. It was a moving and meaningful service. I can still remember walking into our beautiful sanctuary last November seeing the names and the photographs of those whose memory we hold near to our hearts.

Charles Wesley once wrote, “Glory to God, and praise and love be ever, ever given, by saints below and saints above, the church in earth and heaven.” M

y sermon on Heritage Sunday will be focusing on John’s vision in Revelation 7:9-17. This beautiful and meaningful service will conclude with the sacrament of Holy Communion. Immediately following the 10am service will be a covered dish lunch (desserts & beverages provided) in the Fellowship Hall. I would love your presence. In the meantime, as always the First United Methodist Church will continue to life you in our thoughts and prayers. 

Blessings,

Nicholas Perry, 

Pastor

 
 


Getting ready for Fall – All about Paul

Study it, study it—for everything is in it! Examine it diligently until you are worn out with old age by it, and do not be distracted from it; you could have no better measure than it.”

(Mishnah ‘Abot 5:22)

 

         William P. Brown observes that the verb translated as “study” literally means “turn,” as if to say that the Bible is a finely crafted jewel that, when carefully turned, sparkles with the light of incomparable wisdom. Brown suggests that in the practice of Bible study, “turning” not only involves a Bible passage; it also involves the interpreter. Whenever we are trying to make sense of the Bible we are also “turning things over in our minds,” from assumptions to new perspectives, from fresh questions to surprising conclusions.

 

            This autumn, as promised I will be “studying” and “turning” the writings of the Apostle Paul in our

Adult Sunday class beginning on September 10th @ 9:30am in Gibbs Parlor. I am suspecting that as we examine a small portion of one of Paul’s letters each week with the Holy Spirit’s guidance we will be rotating and “turning” into deeper and more committed disciples of Jesus Christ.

            On Sunday evenings beginning on September 17th through October 22nd @ 7pm in Gibbs Parlor we will be doing Adam Hamilton’s book The Call: The Life and Message of the Apostle Paul.
 
During these six weeks we will study together:

Called to Follow Christ- Paul’s Background, Conversion, and Early Ministry

Called to Go- Paul’s First Missionary Journey

Called to Suffer- Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (1)

Called to Love- Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (2)

Called to GivePaul’s Third Missionary Journey

Called to be FaithfulPaul’s Death and Legacy

            Philip Yancey, author of What’s So Amazing About Grace and The Jesus I Never Knew endorses this study writing, “Adam Hamilton has proven to be a faithful guide to applying the Bible to modern life in a sane and balanced way, and I trust him as an interpreter of the Apostle Paul for today.”

            Everyone is welcome to Sunday school and/or Bible Study. Prayerfully consider joining others and me as we embark together on this journey with the Apostle Paul. We have secured a handful of Hamilton’s book in the church office that you may borrow for the duration of the study or you may purchase the book on your own. I hope to see you soon turning and being turned by the Word of God.

                                                                                                In Christ,

                                                                                                Nicholas Perry,
Pastor
 
 
 
 


Easter Letter 2017

 
Greetings,

We are entering into my favorite week of the year—Holy Week. I invite you to join me as we usher in Holy Week waving our palm branches and rolling out a makeshift red carpet of clothing for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Most of the ink in the gospel is used to tell of Jesus’ final week of life— the cleansing of the Temple, a handful of parables about readiness, tears shed over Jerusalem, a meal shared among friends, Judas’ betrayal, Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, his arrest and trial, Peter’s denial and the painstaking events that surround his death on the cross and burial in a borrowed tomb. While the drama picks up in during Holy Week, it also provides us with moments to slow down and deepen our own relationship with God and with one another.

On Easter Sunday, at both the 8:30am and 10:45am services I look forward to announcing along with the trumpet shaped Easter lilies, “Christ is risen” and to hear our congregation respond as the church has faithfully done for over two thousand years, “He is risen indeed!” Before we sing, “Up from the grave he arose,” or the two full measures of “Alleluias’” in Wesley’s hymn,

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

(which always makes my voice crack in excitement), take the time to prepare our hearts to see with the fresh eyes of faith our risen Lord.  

At 7pm on Holy Thursday, we will be joined by the Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church as we share in a service of Foot Washing and Holy Communion and hear the inspired preaching of the Rev. Carmen Perry. On Good Friday, let us join together at noon at Moore Park with other members of our community for our annual Cross Walk. Please take a moment to sign up with LeAnn in the church office as we continue the beautiful tradition of keeping Easter Vigil. 

Every year in anticipation of Christ’s resurrection, I spend some time between Good Friday and Easter morning reading one or more of the gospel accounts of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. I have found that doing so, allows me to proclaim with a renewed sense of wonder “Christ is risen” and it deepens the hope and promise of new life offered to us in Christ.  

                                                                                    Easter Blessings,

 

                                                                                    Nicholas Perry,

Pastor


 

Holy Week Services- 2017

 

 “Egg”cellent Easter Celebration – April 8th

10:00 – 12: 30 event for children

 

Palm / Passion Sunday – April 9th

8:30 Service & 10:45 Service – Cantata

 

Holy Thursday – March April 13th 7:00 PM –

Combined service with Hurlbut @ FUMC

*Foot washing & Communion
 

Good Friday – April 14th – Noon

Way of the Cross – Moore Park

 

Easter Eve Watch

Sat., April 15th – 6 PM to Sun., April 16th – 6AM

We are asking you to set aside 1 hour, either in the church sanctuary or in your home, to take time to pray.

There will be a sign up sheet outside the office so we can “cover” the entire 12 hours with prayer. There will also be packets available for prayer/scripture reflections that you can use.

 For those that would like to pray at the church and need a key, please contact the office.

 

 

 

Easter Sunday – April 16th

8:30 & 10:45 (both services in the Sanctuary) – Communion

*Remember to bring flowers to put on the cross



What Should I Give Up for Lent?

What Should I Give Up for Lent?

“For whoever wants to save [their] life will lose it, but whoever loses [their] life for me will find it.” –  (Matthew 16:25)

 

In Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, Kimberly Hahn recalls an Ash Wednesday, having dropped her children off at her sister’s house, asking God, “What should I give up for Lent?”

            What if you turned Kimberly’s question into your own? What areas of your life would you cut out or cut back on? Would you go out less often to restaurants? Would you give up chocolate or another sweet? Do you cut out needless hours of mindless television? Do you go to bed earlier? What would you give up for Lent?


Read more...