by Robert Eckert, Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church Would it serve the world well if people were less concerned with being right and more concerned with being kind? I posted a comment recently on the Facebook page of something called WretchedTV to express my distaste for what I’d seen of their videos on YouTube. I inadvertently provoked a fan of WretchedTV who unleashed a diatribe against all things United Methodist (I had identified myself as a UM pastor) and proceeded to lecture me on his perception of the only correct answer if the question is “how does one get to heaven?” I chose the path of passive aggression, smugly quoting Jesus saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” American culture, if not world culture, is well into major changes in the rules of the game of self-expression thanks to the instant access and anonymity of various social media outlets. More than ever we say whatever we want whenever we want in language that presumes moral authority and communicates uncompromising, albeit unfounded, certainty on most every topic under the sun. What could be tools for informed, thoughtful, respectful, productive dialogue on any number of issues are too often used to deliver close-minded, arrogant, goading pronouncements that serve only to reveal our ignorance. The chances are good that I and my temporary pen pal share some important common ground, but we never made it that far. The chances are good we had something to offer each other, insights from which we could have mutually benefited, but we never made it that far. The chances are good that two of us, both people who desire to follow Jesus, could have experienced a moment of fulfilling Jesus’ command to his disciples to love one another, but we never made it that far. We both simply wanted to be right, and each of us was convinced he was. I can’t speak for him, but the unsettled spirit that was mine after our exchanges told me that our only contribution to the world in our exchanges was a little bit more dissension and a little bit less unity. That might be what makes the story known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan so compelling and […]
Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church
LeBron James, Jerry Sandusky, and things that matter by REV. ROBERT ECKERT Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church I was a fan of LeBron James when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. I like to root for underdogs, and the Cavs—until James arrived—had been as unlikely title contenders as the NBA has ever known. Even if it would have come at the expense of the Pistons, I would have been happy to see him carry his team to a championship. Then came “The Decision” and I’ve hated LeBron James ever since. Yup, I said “hate.” I know it’s a strong word, but that’s the beauty of professional sports in America. We can love and hate whomever we want for whatever reason we want; it’s totally arbitrary. So naturally I was disappointed when the Miami Heat won the NBA championship back on June 21 and dreaded the hoopla that began as soon as LeBron had his ring. But the spotlight was soon pointed elsewhere. On June 22, Jerry Sandusky, Penn State University football defensive coordinator, was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. “THAT will get LeBron James off the front page,” I thought. “If he had to win, at least he won’t get to bask in the afterglow.” What!? Was that really the first thing that came to my mind upon hearing the next painful chapter in a devastating tragedy that will have an impact on its victims, its perpetrator, their families and other personal and professional friends and acquaintances for years to come!? I’m embarrassed that I’ve allowed the hype of our national obsession with sports to blur my vision of what’s silly and what’s significant. I’m saddened to realize that I’ve allowed the over-saturation of lurid stories that bombard us daily to anesthetize me to the real pain that lies behind such stories. The unexpected death of a member of our church three days after the Sandusky verdict helped snap me back to what really matters. But that shouldn’t have been necessary. In Hebrew scripture, the prophet Ezekiel attributes to God this intention for the people of God’s creation: “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” How is it that any of us can hold […]
The Gift of Peace by PASTOR ROBERT ECKERT Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church As translated in the Contemporary English Version of the Bible, the first two verses of Psalm 133 go like this: “It is truly wonderful when relatives live together in peace. It is as beautiful as olive oil poured on Aaron’s head and running down his beard and the collar of his robe.” That second part of the quote, about olive oil on Aaron’s head, doesn’t necessarily say much to us these days. For the writer of the Psalm, however, it was a beautiful thing. Aaron was a high priest, and pouring aromatic oil on a person dedicated to religious service was a common ritual back in the day. The writer of the Psalm is telling us that just as there is a sweet perfume from the oil that consecrates a priest, family harmony is fragrant and holy. These verses come to mind during a time of year when relatives living together in peace can be a rare commodity. Movies and sitcoms abound that poke fun at the antics of dysfunctional families during the holidays. For comedic effect they exaggerate our foibles and idiosyncrasies, but the underlying truth of how we pick and jab at those closest to us can be harsh and painful. Do you dread going to see Aunt Millie? Are you happy that your brother has to work Christmas morning because he’s so cynical that he takes the fun out of everything? Is Grandma likely to be her bitter, critical self? Is this any way to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace? The words of the ancient prophet Isaiah are frequently quoted during the season of Advent. He’s the one who coined the phrase “Prince of Peace.” He also looked forward to a time when “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (NIV). That’s a picture of relatives living together in peace and then some! Want to give a gift that will last this Christmas? How about the gift of peace? How about greeting Aunt Millie with a sincere hug, or taking some cookies to […]
We are the bridge by PASTOR ROBERT ECKERT Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church Several years ago, I attended a seminar to learn the basics of marketing. The instructor focused on what he called “the four Ps of marketing.” With tongue firmly in cheek he listed them for us: product, price, promotion… and distribution. What the four points boiled down to is that successful marketing requires an item or service to market, an intelligent evaluation of how much it must and can sell for, a plan for letting people know it’s available for purchase, and the means to get it into the hands of consumers. It was this teacher’s contention that the fourth “P” was where many businesses fall short. They know their product, they know how much they can get for it, and they pour tons of resources into promoting it, but in the end they shortchange the delivery system. Poor distribution is usually the culprit when basic human needs go unfulfilled in this world. Our creator is the source of all products, the price is free, and you can’t get any better promotion than the teachings of the world’s great traditions. Consider these words from the Qur’an, for example: “If you put your whole trust in Allah, as you ought, He most certainly will satisfy your needs.” Or the advice of Jesus from the Christian testament: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat, drink, or wear?’ But seek first his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” And predating them both, Hebrew scripture invites the people of God’s creation to test God’s faithfulness and “see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” In our world, however, the free gifts of God that are announced in sacred text after sacred text are too often lost in transit, never arriving to the hands of many who need them—and that’s on us. Our Creator produces, prices, and promotes but has chosen to leave it to us to distribute. Almsgiving, feeding the hungry, caring for “widows and orphans”—these are among the rubrics that are common to all faiths. It is we who are called […]
A Living Part of Something Bigger Than Us by REV. JEFF WILLIAMS Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church “Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life,” 1 Peter 2:5a; The Message. The Grundtvig National Church in Denmark was started in 1921 and completed in 1941 by seven handpicked masons. The masons, in turn, rejected all bricks that were not perfect. There is an entire community surrounding the church built from the bricks, which the masons rejected (Henry N. Huxhold, Access to High Hope). While we can appreciate the value of using quality materials for our physical structures, I am more interested in the people living around the church because I believe that we are their neighbors; people whose lives are built with broken spirits, ideas that don’t fit or beliefs that are judged unacceptable. Thankfully, the good news is that in such a life we can get acquainted with and be welcomed by another neighbor, Jesus Christ, who the writer of 1 Peter describes, using Psalm 118:22-23, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” I am leaving White Pines and Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist churches to begin serving at Hartford United Methodist Church on July 1. Our life here since 2002 has been full, challenging, blessed, burdened and beautiful. We have built up and worn down each other on the journey. The energy and potential of White Pines partnering with the Wolverine World Wide Family YMCA is exhilarating, and the country, traditional Courtland-Oakfield faith family truly offers “hope on the hill” along Myers Lake Avenue. The heart of faith is accepting God’s grace and love with a willingness to be built in to something bigger than us, a sanctuary vibrant with life. Building and restoring churches and communities calls for great investment, commitment and resources. Thankfully God has already provided a sure foundation for us in Jesus Christ, “a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame,” 1 Peter 2:6. God bless you, and may you find joy in giving yourself to a purpose that inspires and outlives you.