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Unboxing God - July 4, 2021

1 Corinthians 13: 9 -13

“ for we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face-to-face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

As I create this message for today I am surrounded by boxes, and more boxes, and all kinds of containers that have moved with me across a number of years and many, many miles. And I am going to be surrounded by them for a few more weeks in one house before they move into

another house. Even then I will need to let some continue to surround me while I get my feet on the ground and meet you, my new church family. I am so excited to move to Moscow and to be your pastor.

Just as we say “don’t judge a book by its cover” please “don’t judge the pastor by the number of boxes!” I have inherited my mother’s things and her mother’s things. Now the time is coming to choose what few things to keep and what to do with the rest. And the purpose for the boxes will disappear.

For now, the stacks of boxes remind me that most of us as human beings create boxes that are not constructed from cardboard or plastic rather we construct them from the constraints and limitations we devise and design to contain and control our thoughts, our feelings, and even our beliefs.

As a child, I used to spend summer afternoons lying on my back in the cool green grass looking up as the clouds formed in the Texas Panhandle blue sky overhead. I would imagine what it would be like to be sitting on one of the clouds and often wondered if that is where God would sit as well. It was a wonderful thing to daydream about. I had no limitations on what God could do or where God would live, or even look like. God was just God.

As I grew older and paid more attention in Sunday school and church to what was being said about God I began to think that maybe God had some limitations after all. It’s not really what I believed, but it’s what I perceived as adults and my friends would talk about God.

For some God was harsh and judgmental. God was someone to be feared and respected out of fear rather than thanksgiving. It felt as if God was really pretty small but in a large box so that the anger and judgment had room to expand to fill the box as needed.

For some God was the giver of rules for us to follow. The better we were at following the rules the more God liked us. That box was constructed out of confusion for me because the rules didn’t always follow what I thought Jesus was teaching in our Sunday school lessons.

A few of my Sunday school teachers thought that God was love and that nothing we could ever do would get in the way of God loving us. That was the box that seemed as if it was more like a Christmas or birthday gift with wrapping paper and a big bow and gift card that had my name on it.

As I became older and started learning the differences between denominations I discovered that each denomination had its own type of wrapping to cover the box. The wrapping had pictures on it of a river of water for baptism or a small baptismal font. Another type of wrapping paper had communion in small glasses and only for certain people while another had a picture of a big cup for everyone to share. Still another type of wrapping paper had pictures of a Bible that said “this is all you need to know to be saved.” While another had a picture of a Bible and a newspaper and said “one will help you understand the other better.” Sometimes these wrapped packages seem to divide my friends at least on Sundays we seemed more divided than United.

This imagery may seem a bit childish and perhaps it is. But after 40 years of ordination, I must admit I feel like we simply change the wrapping paper or the construction material in the box from time to time and shuffle the contents between local churches or denominations. And in the last 15 to 20 years sometimes I’m not sure I recognize the church anymore. I don’t say that as a form of judgment because I’m not sure which is better; the older ways or the newer ways of thinking about church. Well, I do know that the church is changing whether we like it or not.

What I don’t know is whether or not we are constructing new boxes or whether we are emptying the contents and getting rid of the boxes. I want to hope and believe in the latter part of that statement.

I really hope we are in the process of getting rid of the boxes that have shut people out and protected the contents. In these last years of my career, I hope what is happening is that the passing of the mantle from one generation to another is going to occur through the courage and wisdom as well as the hard work of prayer and determination to join hands together to find new ways of being faithful together across our differences so that the faith of the past and current generations continue to reach generations for years to come.

Your vision team and your church leadership have been working with Pastor Debbie to position this congregation to begin this process of finding new ways of joining hands that will lead to faithful relationships with God and with one on one another to grow into a community that bridges the generations rather than boxing the next group out with our own ways of being and believing. I am excited that God has called me to be present with you and to help facilitate and to help guide us together on this magnificent journey of faith. I hope you are excited as well.

 

Let us pray.

God, as we start this new journey together help us to find ways to creatively express who you are and who we are so that those around us might find new ways of meeting us and therefore meeting you. We ask this in your name the one who created us and redeemed us and inspires us each and every day of our lives. Amen

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The First United Methodist Church of Moscow, Idaho takes as our mission to be the body of Jesus Christ, ministering to a community which draws strength from its diversity. Our mission centers on the worship of God, expressed through varied forms of prayer, preaching, music, and ritual.  See more...

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