Last week First United Methodist Church in Church Conference decided to move forward with its building and rennovation program. This program has been in the works for a number of years but in the last two the church has made major steps forward in honing the vision and raising funds for this very important project.
In the building plan a new addition will be added to the building which will include a new entrance, a new welcome area, a new coffee fellowship area, a new nursury, chapel, and meeting room. The sanctuary of the church will be renovated and brought up to date, the chilren’s area will be remodeled and the offices will be moved and redesigned. It is an exciting and historic project!
Through the process the building committee and the church have captured a vision for how God might use our church in Cedar Falls, how we might expand our ministries, and how we can work to be a light for Jesus Christ in our community.
The history of First UMC is that this is a building church. It is a church that has build new facilities but also a church that has built ministries in this community. It is a place where generations have been baptized, confirmed, and raised up in the faith of Jesus Christ. It is a church that teaches people how to act on what they believe.
Now First UMC has taken another step of commitment and stepped out in faith to say to Cedar Falls that we are here, we want to grow and help you grow. We want to contribute even more to this community. We want to share in your faith want and growth in faith. And we want to let you know that all are welcome to come and share in Christ’s love and grace and at Christ’s table.
We walk by faith and not by sight because we believe that if we do what Christ calls us to do he will help us to meet the needs of others in the name of Jesus!
We will be breaking ground on July 3rd following a 9:00 a.m. Transformation Worship Experience with the entire church. Meet us on the church lawn as we commit not only to transform our building but also to let the transforming power of Jesus work in our lives!
Today the Church has been observing Good Friday. It was a dark, wet, and dreary day in Cedar Falls, a day that befits the solemnity of our observance.
At noon Cedar Falls had its first of what we hope will be an annual Procesion of the Cross using the stations of the cross as a model. The Procession was very well attended despite the weather. I am sure over 100 of us braved the weather to walk with the cross, read scripture, and pray. I am glad that more than ten churches gathered together to be reminded of the sacrifice of Christ and our oneness as part of his body!
This evening our Associate Pastor for Youth and College, Steve Braudt and our youth group led a Tenebrae Service. It was a powerful service of dramatic scripture readings, extinguishing the lights, and stripping the sanctuary of its faith symbols. We all left in silence and awe and the acts of Christ on the cross and the death which he suffered.
This time from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday is called by the Church the Holy Triduum. It is a space and time during Holy Week that is a unit of worship experiences and contemplation. From the Upper Room, to the Cross, and into the darkness we wait. We await the coming of our Savior. We await answers to the evils of hell, sin, and death. We await empty needing to be filled. We await knowing that Christ has died for us and hoping against hope that the darkness in our lives will not continue without relief.
Tonight and tomorrow the Church of Jesus Christ mourns so that on Sunday, as the sun rises in the east, we can shout and sing. We can run to the tomb with Peter and John. We can say with Mary “I’ve seen Jesus” and we can walk the Road to Emmaus with a pair of Jesus’ followers.
Every year we retell and relive the old old story of Jesus and his love! Every year we come again to face the darkness knowing that Jesus faced it for us and that he was there before us. Unlike the Disciples we walk into the darkness knowing that Christ’s light is coming! That Jesus will rise again! That the tomb will be found empty! That the angels will sing! That the graves will be opened! And finally that our hearts will be healed, redeemed, changed, transformed by the overcoming grace of Jesus Christ.
We walk into the darkness awaiting the coming of the one who has enough love for the whole world.
As the thief on the cross said to Jesus those many years ago. ”Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” Jesus remember me!
Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday. On Sunday we begin a journey with Jesus through his last days before his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
Palm Sunday has always been a time for the triumphal entry of Christ. We have the children carry palm branches down the aisle and we sing loud hosannas. But in recent years the Church has also reemphasized the passion, that is death of Christ on the cross. It is too easy to jump from the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to the triumph of the resurrection and never talk about the scandal of the cross. It is too easy to forget to talk about the suffering servant when we are singing songs of joy and triumph. So this Sunday we will talk about Christ’s death and what that means for our faith.
On Maundy Thursday many churches around the world will celebrate the institution of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. First UMC in Cedar Falls will have a reenactment of the last supper with the disciples and we will also share in the sacrament together. In the days between Palm/Passion Sunday and Maundy Thursday Jesus has been meeting the challenge of the religious and political leaders of his day. He has continued to talk about his radical gospel of love and the grace he offers. When he comes to Thursday it is time to again try to get the twelve to understand that he intends to give his life for them.
On Good Friday we will celebrate Christ’s sacrifice. Ten churches here in Cedar Falls, including First UMC, St. Timothy’s UMC, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, and seven other congregations will participate in a procession of the cross from Overman Park through downtown Cedar Falls to the foot of the steps at St. Patrick’s Church. We will read portions of the stations of the cross and remember Christ’s love and sacrifice for us and for the whole world.
There are many theories about the atonement of Christ, that saving act which happens for us on the cross. Different Christians describe Christ’s work on the cross with different metaphors from scripture. But what we all agree on is that Jesus Christ died to give us knew life and to offer us the saving gospel. It is hard to imagine such a sacrifice, it is hard to comprehend what Christ gave up for us, it is hard to imagine such a cruel death. But what we can know and do know is that the scriptures tell us that we can love God because he first loved us. When are given God’s grace so that we can respond to him. We are given God’s grace when we respond to him. And we experience God’s grace each and every day as he sanctifies us and leads us to grow in grace each day.
If we really look at the cross and really look seriously at the one who would call us to be servants to all for the sake of the gospel then when we reach Easter Sunday and the tomb is found empty we can with even greater joy should and sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!” with joy, with amazement, with wonder that the one who is our savior became the greatest by being the servant all.
Lord Christ let us travel with you this week in your way and on your path that we might see the glory of your resurrection this week with new eyes, with new hearts, and with greater joy!
Anytime the church has the opportunity to sharing in the sacrament of Holy Baptism with a child in the church it is an opportunity for thanksgiving! Today I had the privilege of baptizing a beautiful little girl into the church as her parents shared in her baptismal vows and friends and relatives looked on. I got to introduce her to her new church family and give thanks for the grace of God that is poured out on her in baptism.
For me it also was special for another reason. This was my first opportunity to perform a baptism since receiving my first appointment in the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church. If you’ve read my blog you would know that I had previously served as a pastor in the American Baptist denomination where immersion baptism of professing members is the normal practice.
So you might wonder how it felt to baptize an infant for the first time. Well, it was a wonderful experience! It was a wonderful experience because infant baptism is such a powerful picture of God’s love and prevenient grace. In a Wesleyan understanding of baptism the sacrament is a gift from God and not an act of the candidate for baptism. God loves all of us, and like a helpless infant, we are unable to understand God’s love fully or at times to even respond to it. But God loves us simply because we are his children.
In truth when we act like we can fully explain, comprehend, or describe God’s love we’ve forgotten that the salvation we have in Jesus Christ is from God who is beyond our full understanding. The purpose of baptism isn’t to understand or comprehend God’s love. The purpose of baptism is to receive God’s love and, when we are able, to accept it.
It was also a wonderful experience because there is nothing quite like welcoming children into God’s house and sharing the joy that new parents have at the birth of a new and precious life. Jesus loved children and welcomed them into his presence and told us that they are a part of the Kingdom of God and that if we want to be a part of God’s kingdom we better be ready to accept God as a child. What that means to me is that we accept Christ with child like joy accepting God’s love even though God’s grace and love is sometimes beyond our understanding.
Remember your baptism and be thankful!