City on a Hill // a cinematic sermon

This cinematic sermon was created as a part of the “Peaceable Kingdom” online worship series for Oak Grove UMC on Sunday Oct. 11, 2020.

The idea for doing this sermon in this way came from a conversation with Atticus Hicks about how preaching online during Covid19 can be (should be?) more like a 1-on-1 conversation and a cinematic experience — more like what youtubers and creatives @petermckinnon or @mattdavella create.

So, here was my first shot at it — exploring themes of our interconnectedness to the earth/mountains, the city on a hill motif, God/people of faith inviting the marginalized to the feast (& centering their experiences), using our privilege for the good of others, fighting zero-sum bias, and living out the peaceable kingdom.

Thanks to my spouse and our church staff for helping make this happen.

Prayer for June 30th, 2019

the morning prayer written for June 30, 2019 at Oak Grove UMC
God of love and compassion,

We gather this day to celebrate the death and resurrection of your son Jesus the Christ,
Who came and dwelt among us to show us how to live, how to love,
and how to carry out your commandment to love both you and our Neighbor.

We pray this day that you would remind us of your deep compassion and care for the poor, the marginalized, and excluded;

We pray that you would remind us of how you saw no boundary too great to cross–
that you came and transgressed even the boundary of the human and the divine through the incarnation of your son Jesus, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
AND that you invite us to tear down barriers that separate our human family.

Help us remember that you call us to even sometimes, like those faithful people in our gospel story today, to tear a hole in the roof and join in your work
to make a way where there was no way
that those who need to be found might be found in you.

We pray today O God
that you would comfort those who are separated from their families:
for children and migrants at the border,
for parents in Atlanta incarcerated and unable to see their families,
for families separated by divorce and discord.

We pray for those who feel left out by society and the church,
and we pray that through this community of faith they might sense your divine love, which is willing to literally move heaven and earth to be known to us and to know us.

We trust and lift to your divine care
all those who are receiving care and recovering in hospitals,
and those on our prayer lists who await surgery and treatment,
and for our senior pastor Glenn Ethridge and his family.

We pray for all those who have died and for their loved ones— may the families and friends know your peace and love through us.

God of compassion,
we ask that you would help us to be faithful,
to follow your call to be like Jesus,
and to be empowered by your Holy Spirit to be the church here and now.

With Your grace, heal our hearts.
With Your grace, unite us in action.
With Your grace, repair our communities.
With Your grace, help us to find a way to welcome all children everywhere,
That they (and we) may know that Jesus loves them,
Not just because “the Bible tells them so,”
But because they have known Your love in real and tangible ways,
And they (and we) would know that nothing,
absolutely nothing, can separate them from Your love.* 

We ask this prayer in the mighty name of your son Jesus of Nazareth, Amen.

*a portion of this paragraph from the UMC Prayer for Solidarity with Migrant Children, alt.


Name It and Claim It

The title “Half Truths” comes from Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book of the same name — but the sermons are our own here at Oak Grove. We’re talking about things that have a kernel of truth and are rooted in truth, but are used in unhelpful or inaccurate ways in relation to scripture and the life of faith. Many of these statements have become very common in the mainstream Christian language and practice: “God Never Gives you More than you can handle” — “God helps those who help themselves” — “Everything Happens for a Reason” — and this sermon looks at “Name It and Claim It,” the so called “prosperity gospel,” and what it truly means to be “#blessed.”

Listen here:

World Refugee Day Homily

2018.06.20 MidWeek Communion Service Homily (World Refugee Day) at Oak Grove United Methodist Church

Scripture: Matthew 2:13-15
“When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died.”

In this part of the birth narrative of Jesus, Matthew’s gospel is telling us the story of love coming into the world through Jesus–fully human, fully God. The obedient Magi have just left the scene, being warned in a dream to flee from the somewhat insecure, and certainly murderous, King Herod.

And so, we come into the story at the point where Joseph is also being warned in a dream to escape. They go to Egypt, fleeing for their lives.

We don’t get a lot of details about their experience getting to Egypt, nor how they were received in Egypt, but shortly after this scripture they do return and move to Nazareth in Galilee.

Today is international World Refugee Day. A day created by the United Nations General Assembly on December 4, 2000. The assembly noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This 1951 convention determined who qualified as refugees, set out the rights of individuals to be granted asylum, and defined the agreed-upon the responsibilities of nations granting asylum.

The UN High Commission of Refugees says that a refugee is: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” and notes that refugees are typically unable to return home for those fears of persecution or unable to return home. (more info)

We see in the early text of Matthew’s Gospel narrative that Jesus, God incarnate, was forced to flee with his parents for fear of persecution and violence. Matthew’s portrayal of the birth narrative is mostly a story of God’s activity. The story is about the baby, infant Jesus, so Jesus here is not saving himself nor are these particularly really heroic  deeds from Mary or Joseph, but rather faithful action–just as any parent would do what they needed for their children. This minor digression in the birth narrative is only found in the Gospel of Matthew and is often an overlooked portion of scripture. It reminds us that we are called to pay attention to the minor digressions in stories and that even through unappreciated and seemingly less important people God might be trying to show us something.

Photo Jun 23, 11 16 53 AM.jpgImagine being someone in Egypt who met a baby/toddler version of Jesus brought in by two young parents, likely scared and yet hopeful. They went to Egypt with dreams for a better life for their child, the baby Jesus. And we don’t know that they found welcome in Egypt, but I like to imagine that some Egyptians saw them, had pity on them, recognized their gifts and abilities, and wanted to help them succeed.

World refugee day is about the celebration of not just the triumph of the human spirit, but also of the provision and welcome offered by host countries and community members.

How might we be called to pay attention to make room in our own lives for unexpected people or to create a space for others who are looking for a place of safety.

Sometime this week, whether tonight or later this week, perhaps re-read Matthew 2:13-15a and perhaps imagine yourself as an Egyptian seeing the holy family coming into town.

How do you feel drawn to help to encourage or to provide welcome?
How might God be using that to encourage us all to find a little more room?

Let it be so. Amen.


FYI: MidWeek Communion is a weekly Weds 5pm Worship service of prayers, a song, a Homily, and Holy Communion held in Grand Hall at Oak Grove UMC–feel free to drop by if you’re going to be out of town over the weekend or wanting to stop in & say “hi.” –JMcBray