senior pastor's blog

SENIOR PASTOR'S BLOG


Welcome to the Blog page of the Senior Pastor for the Williamsburg United Methodist Church. 

Scroll down for the latest message from Rev. Dr. Bill Jones.

SENIOR PASTOR'S BLOG

WE THINK AND LET THINK


“Come, sinners, to the gospel feast, let every soul be Jesus’ guest. Ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bid all humankind.” (UMH # 339) This beautiful hymn text by Charles Wesley, based on Jesus’ parable of the great banquet in Luke 14, declares the central conviction that salvation is offered “to all.” The essential point, “ye need not one be left behind,” is echoed in every stanza. When the alternate text (UMH #616) is used in Holy Communion, the Lord’s Table functions in the hymn as a paradigm of welcome, inclusion, and gracious love. God extends the invitation to all to join together at the Table and desires that none be left behind. In Jesus’ own table fellowship practices, those with whom he sought to eat were often the least, the last, and the lost.


“Come, sinners, to the gospel feast,” also makes an important theological statement. Our participation in church is more than a weekly obligation or chore. Perhaps we can view church as a family meal where all are welcome. It is this joyful message of welcome that as a congregation of God’s beloved children we should seek and embrace, promote and foster in our church. It is also a message of hospitality that relates to the ability to make others feel comfortable and accepted. Hospitality is about making connections with people and caring genuinely for others, particularly for those left out. In other words, Christ makes room “for all.”


Here at Williamsburg United Methodist Church, we make connections with people by “welcoming neighbors, nurturing faith, and transforming our world.” That’s our mission which is aligned with Christ’s command to “Go and and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This is a holy task given us (both individually and collectively) by the risen Lord. Now more than ever people need Christ and the grace of the Lord in their lives. We can only accomplish this task when we seek to hold together what is common to Christians in all denominations, associations and churches – that is, a universal spirit of love for God in Christ and love for others.


John Wesley called such a universal spirit a “catholic spirit.” In his sermon on this subject he declared that the believer who has a catholic spirit “is steadily fixed in his religious principles in what he believes to be the truth as it is in Jesus…[yet] his heart is enlarged toward all [humankind], those he knows and those he does not; he embraces with strong and cordial affection neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies.” (Catholic Spirit, 1750) He urged Methodists to have a “catholic” or universal spirit toward one another. Despite differences of opinion, we can and must treat each other with respect, patience and kindness. Wesley’s beliefs are often summarized in this phrase, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”


Wesley gave the people called “Methodists” a set of doctrinal standards that he considered to be the main beliefs of Christianity and about which he thought there was general agreement throughout the Christian church. These essential doctrines included five things: 1) a Trinitarian understanding of God; 2) an acknowledgment of the widespread nature and seriousness of sin; 3) a dependence upon the grace of God that goes before us, makes us right with God, and leads us into right living; 4) Jesus’ death as the means by which you and I receive that grace and are reconciled to God; and 5) the work of the Holy Spirit, which cultivates in us holiness of heart and life. (Charles Yrigoyen, John Wesley: Holiness of Hearth and Life, p. 79). These were Wesley’s essential doctrines, which he believed Christians should be agreed on as the central affirmations of their faith.


Wesley also spoke about what he called “opinions,” theological views that are less important than the essentials because they are not necessary for salvation. On matters of opinion, there are great differences among Christians, and for Wesley, that was okay. In his treatise, “On The Character of a Methodist,” Wesley wrote, “We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God…but as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.” This has long been one of my favorite quotes from John Wesley. He realized that Christians are not always going to agree on “opinions” and felt that people had to be free to decide for themselves. No one should be forced. Wesley said, “Everyone must follow the dictates of their own conscience in simplicity and godly sincerity. They must be fully persuaded in their own mind and then act accordingly to the best light they have.” (Catholic Spirit.)


Wesley acknowledges that Christians differ in the way they think and the way they live out their Christian life. The danger noted by Wesley is that such differences can become “grand hindrances” to practicing the double commandment to love God and to love our neighbor. Wesley does not turn a deaf ear to “all opinions,” or promote indifference to them – particularly essential doctrines. Wesley believed that essential doctrines are non-negotiable for the Christian. Yet, beyond the essential doctrines, Christians may also hold firmly to various non-essential beliefs and practices.


Adhering to such various beliefs and practices should not preclude us from having Christian fellowship with others who differ from us. That is my sincere hope and prayer for us as members of Williamsburg UMC. I look at our church here in historic Williamsburg, a church that has been a beacon of light in this community for nearly 250 years, and I see a congregation that is alive and Christ-centered. I see a congregation that is united by essentials of Christianity and strengthened by many opinions.


Standing in the pulpit on Sunday mornings, I look out on this congregation and see the light of Christ shining in a dark world. There’s a lot of light in this place – Kid’s Morning Out, Respite Care, Early Childhood Music School, Thanksgiving morning mission, winter homeless shelter, health kits for UMCOR, Scouts, an uplifting music program, Messy Church, ministry to college students at Wesley Foundation, and more.


There’s a lot of light in this place! Yes, we don’t agree on every issue, but we’re not going to let that get in the way of our oneness in Christ. For, in the end, our one great certainty is our unity in the love of Jesus Christ. We think and let think, and then act according to the best light we have!


My vision for Williamsburg United Methodist Church is that we welcome all people to Christ and this congregation, regardless of their opinions. And we encourage one another “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Let us love each other in word and deed, pray for each other, and provoke one another to love and good works. Let us be a family of sinners-saved-by-grace committed to tearing down the walls that divide us, throwing open the doors and saying, ‘Welcome.’ For as Charles Wesley wrote, “Ye need not one be left behind.”


Rev. Dr. Bill Jones

Senior Pastor, Williamsburg UMC

5/6/19


THE CHURCH'S VISION IN VIEW OF GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019


The purpose of the Church is to love ALL people into relationship with Jesus Christ. That should be our mission. Our vision is for that purpose to be lived out in community with other Christians as we seek to transform the world. The decisions made at the recent special General Conference of The United Methodist Church supported legislation known as the Traditional Plan. As I reflect on the decisions made by the clergy and lay delegates of the United Methodist conferences from all over the globe, I have great concern about the Church’s vision in light of its mission. The Traditional Plan reinforces existing restrictions against same-gender weddings by United Methodist clergy and prohibitions against the ordination of LGBTQ persons. These prohibitions against marriage and ordination have existed in our denomination since 1972. The General Conference meeting in St. Louis added enforcement measures and strengthened the penalties for violating these prohibitions. What most concerns me is that the action taken by the delegates was a decision against inclusivity. The vote to adopt the Traditional Plan rather than the One Church Plan (endorsed by a majority of United Methodist Bishops), was by a slim margin of the 860 voting delegates. Obviously, the Church is not of one mind on this matter. This decision serves only to deepen the pain of rejection by LGBTQ folks within and those outside the church and those who stand in solidarity with them and their full inclusion in the life and ministry of the United Methodist Church.


The Book of Discipline states that “The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection…” There are no sub-categories. All persons of faith belong to Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul states unequivocally, “You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28). Here we have the vision that drives Paul, along with his frustration at its denial by those he has brought to Christ. Paul’s vision is the vision that should drive the church today. That is, are we willing to stake our mission and church membership policies on Galatians, especially 3:28? When I read these insightful words about how now in Christ the old demarcations of sex, gender, legal status, and nationality are stripped away, drowned out and washed out in the waters of baptism, I understand that “all” means “all.” “All” includes gays and straights, LGBTQ and heterosexuals, “progressives” and “traditionalists.” Christ died for ALL, includes ALL, and invites ALL to “love one another as Christ has loved us.”


It is the quality of our love and its imitation of Christ’s love that is definitive, not gender or sexual orientation. As committed couples, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters should be able to love each other in ways mutually fulfilling to them, as surely as we who are heterosexual. Our greatest contribution to the world God loves might be the creation of a community in which barriers fall and people are no longer separated by religion, culture, nationality, economics, or gender. If we are truly “one in Christ Jesus,” we should be able to overcome the divisions that have fractured our community and driven us apart. God needs all of us working together for good in the world to bring about God’s plan of a peaceable kingdom. The National UMC in Washington, D.C. has placed this statement prominently on their website: “No matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or how you vote, our hearts, minds, and doors are open for you. Welcome to National UMC.” That’s the vision of a fully inclusive church! Unity in the midst of diversity! There is more to unite us than divide us when we “belong to Christ.”


Rev. Dr. Bill Jones

Senior Pastor, Williamsburg UMC

3/20/19



BUILDING A TEAM


Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open it up and here’s all the people. Do you remember that childhood jingle? It’s the people part of that trilogy that I want to us to think about. At the beginning of 2018 we launched our Five-Year Strategic Plan, New Horizons on the Road of Discipleship. We worked diligently casting a vision, building a staff and raising the funds for the future of this great congregation and its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We believe God is calling us to touch hearts and transform lives for the glory of God and the good of the world. Now we must do one more thing to transform that dream into reality. In 2019 we must build a team.


Christianity is no spectator sport. You are not invited to watch a game on Sunday and call in your opinions on Monday – no “Monday morning quarterbacks” here, as they say. You are invited to come out of the pews and play the game. If this church realizes its God-given potential in the first quarter of the 21st century, it will be the direct result of members becoming ministers, a crowd becoming committed, an audience becoming an army for the Lord. Just to think about it makes my spine tingle with excitement. According to national statistics, about 10% of church members do the church work and about 50% are content to be consumers. The other 40% do not engage in ministry because they either are not asked or they do not know how. I like to think that at Williamsburg UMC we are above the curve on members engaged in ministry, but I don’t have any statistics to prove it. Though from the comments I get from people who say it’s hard to find a parking space in our parking lot during the weekdays, not to mention Sundays, something must be going on here, almost 24/7. Still, I am on a recruiting mission for people who are interested and willing and wanting to play on God’s team for the good of the world. Are you willing to join the team?


Paul said in Ephesians, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. And let there be no confusion about it. There are certain qualities necessary for those who would be ministers throughout the congregation. First, be humble and gentle, says Paul. Humility is the ability to know ourselves as God knows us. The word humble comes from the root word humus. Be down to earth versus putting on airs. Humble people neither exaggerate their goodness or their guilt. Just be who God has called you to be and always set your standard of life against the example of Christ who calls you into partnership of ministry with Him. Be gentle. Gentleness is the ability to place each thought and each motive under the control of God. Second, be patient and loving, says Paul. God’s work in the church takes time, and it requires patience. Patience is the ability to take a step back. Love was such a unique Christian concept that they coined a new word for it in the first century. They called it Agape – the single-minded determination to seek another’s highest good no matter what. Patiently, loving people are long-suffering people. They persevere to the end. Finally, be unified and peaceful. Once upon a time a group of birds got together and thought they would build a church. The starlings insisted on a lot of educational space for their ever-increasing population while the parrot felt they only needed a small room for dialogue. The canary wanted to sing the great hymns of the church but the humming birds thought they should stick to the same old tunes so everyone could hum along. The ducks thought everyone should be baptized by immersion. The owl said he would only attend if they had night services. The dove wanted to have peace marches and the hawk seemed content just to have chicken suppers. They called Mr. Rooster to be their pastor, elected Bob White as treasurer, and asked Mr. Chicken to chair the board. After a few weeks you could hear the raven crying, “Nevermore, nevermore. We’ve just got a church for the birds!”


Why are we here? We are here to glorify God and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it is good to be reminded that we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is Father of us all, who is over all, through all and in all. Are you willing to join the team? Check out ways you can be in ministry through Williamsburg UMC under the “Serve” tab on our website or just click here.


Rev. Dr. Bill Jones

Senior Pastor, Williamsburg UMC

1/7/19



WHAT WOULD CHRISTMAS BE WITHOUT MUSIC?


What would Christmas be without music? At Christmas, people sing. Believers and unbelievers, artists and Johnny-one-notes, infants and adults. Most everyone will stop what they’re doing to listen to carolers as they stroll through the streets and the shopping malls singing familiar Christmas songs, both the sacred and the secular, O Come, All Ye Faithful as well as Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, and often we join in the singing. We hear the Christmas music and our attitude changes. We find ourselves more joyful and more eager to share that joy with others. What joy floods our hearts as we sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”


This year two of our most beloved Christmas songs will celebrate significant anniversaries. One hundred fifty years ago, Phillips Brooks penned the words to the beloved Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Two hundred years ago, Joseph Mohr who wrote the lyrics to “Silent Night,” and Franz Gruber, who composed its melody, sang it for the first time. Let’s look at these two songs.


First, O Little Town of Bethlehem. In 1865 Phillips Brooks, then a young preacher in Philadelphia, spent some time in the Holy Land. On the day before Christmas he rode from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and went into the fields where, we are told, the shepherds were abiding. On that Christmas Eve, he attended a service at the ancient Church of the Nativity, not far from the place where Christ was born. In 1868 he wrote this hymn for the children of his Philadelphia Sunday school to sing at their Christmas service. The Civil War had ended only three years earlier. Yes, Lee and Grant had signed their peace accord at Appomattox and shaken hands on the deal. Yes, battle-weary veterans from both sides had laid down their arms and trudged home. But half the nation still lay in ruins, and the notorious Andrew Johnson – by most accounts the worst POTUS the nation had ever seen – was doing his best to dismantle the rights that had been won for the former slaves at such a terrible human cost. On the home front, north and south, families had been decimated by the carnage of the most brutal war America had ever known. Wives and mothers counted themselves lucky if their husbands and boys had come home lacking an arm or a leg or an eye or shivering with PTSD. They knew he could easily not come home at all. In 1868, it gave Americans some comfort to picture the humble Bethlehem stable as the place where hope and fear meet each other – and where hope emerges the ultimate victor. Is it any wonder that Christmas time each year is also a season of hope?


Second, fifty years before Philips Brooks wrote his Christmas carol for Sunday school children in America, Joseph Mohr in Austria put pen to paper to write one of the world’s most beautiful Christmas Carols, Silent Night. It was Christmas Eve, and at the Church of St. Nicholas in the alpine village of Oberndorf, Father Mohr was preparing for the midnight service. He was distraught because the church organ was broken, requiring him to scrap the beautiful music he had planned. (One legend says a poor little church mouse got hungry and began nibbling on the organ bellows, putting it out of commission for the Christmas Eve services.) Mohr got an idea – to write a song that could be sung without the organ. He wrote Silent Night. His organist Franz Gruber, set the poem to music, and on December 24, 1818, it was sung for the first time as a duet with Mohr’s guitar. Rev. Harry Mahoney of Dedham, Massachusetts, ponders this thought: “It occurs to me that, in a day when friends, family, the news media and general public routinely complain that laws, relationships, marriage vows, the government, and even our country’s economy and security are broken, we can all benefit greatly from a reminder that, were it not for a broken organ, there would never have been a Silent Night. And that it was into a broken world that ‘Christ the Savior was born.’”


Rev. Dr. Bill Jones

Senior Pastor, Williamsburg UMC

12/1/18



WHAT IS THE BIBLE?


How the Bible came to be is a pretty fascinating story. We sometimes call the Bible God’s book, but God didn’t write it or drop it from the sky. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, spoken through God’s people. God inspired people, men and women, to write the stories, prayers, laws, letters, and testimonies found in the Bible. So even though we say the Bible is inspired by God, it was written by people, many different people writing at different times and places spanning nearly one thousand years!


The Bible has been around for a long time as a single book, but that’s not how it all started. One of the reasons it took so long for the Bible to become one book is that it really is a collection of books. The word bible actually comes from a Greek word that means “the books.” The Bible is a library. Each of the books in some way expresses experiences of God’s presence and activity in the Jewish community (Old Testament) and the Christian community (New Testament). In other words, no one author decided one day to write a Bible. The Bible came together over a long time.


Much of the Bible was spoken before it was written down. Imagine sitting around a campfire being told the story of how God created the world, or how the young shepherd boy David took down the giant enemy named Goliath with his little slingshot and a single stone. This is how the Jewish people first told stories of their encounters with the living God. They prayed prayers, sang songs of joy and sadness, and shared wisdom with each other. Eventually, the stories and all the different writings found in the Old Testament were written down, but it took centuries for all the books to make it into print. And those first manuscripts weren’t like our books. They were written on scrolls made of animal skins or reed paper.


Even the stories about Jesus we read in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were told by word of mouth for decades before being written down. After Jesus’ death and resurrection around AD 30, his life, and his teachings were remembered and first passed along orally by his followers. No reporters recorded eyewitness accounts of Jesus during his lifetime. Eventually, as some of the first followers of Jesus began to die, the early Christians realized they needed to preserve what Jesus said and did, so they started writing this down. The first writings of the New Testament were actually the letters of the apostle Paul (written in the 50s) not the Gospels (written between 70 and 90 AD). The last books of the New Testament were likely written in the early second century.


Eventually, the Hebrew Bible – what Christians call the Old Testament – were gathered into collections of scrolls. And the Christian community eventually gathered the individual books and letters being used by different churches into a single list or canon. The canon was a list of accepted writings that became authoritative for the life and faith of the Christian community. But coming up with this final list was not easy. The process went on for nearly three hundred years. In an Easter letter written in AD 367, a bishop named Athanasius offered a list of twenty-seven books to be considered as having authority for faith and life. Even though the debate continued, the twenty-seven books are the ones still included in the New Testament.


If you compare Bibles today, you might find that they don’t all contain the same number of books. Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Bibles differ somewhat in the number of Old Testament books. Protestant Bibles usually have 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles include some additional books known as the Apocrypha. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther included the apocryphal books in a separate section of his translation of the Bible in the sixteenth century. He said these books were good to read, but did not have the same authority as the 39 books included in the Jewish canon. The point is that the Church agreed these books were written by the Holy Spirit working through many different authors, each with a distinct purpose and point of view.


Rev. Dr. Bill Jones

Senior Pastor, Williamsburg UMC

7/11/18