The Dangers of Sentimental Religion

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
(Matthew 10:39, NRSV)

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Jesus makes demands of his followers that most of us just gloss over as if Jesus never said them at all. For instance, are we willing to forgive someone who has wronged us multiple times (Luke 17:4), or are we more likely to hold a grudge, plotting how we will get our revenge? Did Jesus really mean for us to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), or are we exempt from that because our enemies are so much worse than any enemies in his day? Are we willing to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33), or do we seek our own kingdoms first? Do we do everything we can to preserve our own lives (Matthew 10:39), or are we willing to give them up for the cause of Christ?

Most of us prefer a more sedate and mild form of Christianity that makes no demands of us or at least requires minimal sacrifice on our part. We prefer a sentimental religion that ignores and denies the harsh demands of being a disciple of Jesus Christ for a serene “church in the wildwood” experience where the worst we can expect is mosquito bites (or chigger bites) at the covered dish supper “in the little brown church in the vale.” A sentimental religion denies that Jesus requires us to count the cost (Luke 14:25-33) before we make a commitment, lest we find ourselves unable to fulfill the extraordinary sacrifices that any true religion will extract from us.

Alternating experiences of exhilarating joy and all-consuming fear marked the lives of Jesus’ first followers. The hearts and the minds of the disciples were filled with the ecstasy of seeing people healed miraculously. But also deeply inscribed were the adrenaline-drenched times of intense fear associated with the persecution and rejection of those who denied the reality of Jesus. My experience of the Christian faith has probably been more of the exhilarating joy rather than the overwhelming fear. How about you?

We can each take stock of the demands that our faith in Jesus has made on our lives and determine if we have taken his gospel commands seriously. For me, I am more comfortable figuring out how Jesus makes demands of others than how he makes demands of me. I am praying for a greater sense of awareness for what it means to be a Christian in the 21st Century. I am praying for the courage to engage in whatever sacrifice is required of me for me to be found more faithful to God. There’s no telling where this kind of prayer may take me. I just hope I’m up for the journey. How about you?

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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The Holy Trinity

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19, NRSV)

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What is your image of God? If you are like most people, when I used the word “God” in my question, an image of an older man probably came to mind. If my question were for you to describe Jesus, you would probably describe an olive-skinned man in his 30’s in a robe with long flowing hair. (Thanks to the popularity of Warner Sallman’s painting that has indelibly etched the image in our minds!) If I asked you to paint a picture of the Holy Spirit, you would probably paint a metaphor—something like branches blowing in the wind or maybe a dove descending. All three of these images are images of God—three images of the One True God. We refer to these three images of God as the Trinity.

The word “trinity” is not in the Bible. Tertullian (c. 155- c. 240 AD) coined this phrase so that the church had a verbal way of wrestling with the three-in-one nature of God hinted at in scriptural passages such as the one listed above. Although some scholars dispute whether the phrase was part of the original rendering of the gospel, the Trinitarian reference from Matthew’s gospel describes God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After Tertullian’s attempt at framing the doctrine, the church became divided over how best to understand the Trinity. For instance, did Jesus come before the Holy Spirit or did the Holy Spirit come first? It became a huge mess.

So the leaders of Christianity decided to hold a council in 325 AD in Nicaea (out of which came the Nicene Creed that we sometimes use at Canterbury). More confusion ensued, so another council was held at Constantinople about 50 years later. Then another council was convened in Ephesus in 431 AD followed by yet another council in 451 at Chalcedon, all in hopes of reaching full agreement on the doctrine of the Trinity. The church (and I) continues to struggle with the three-fold nature of God.

What we can’t argue with is that we are instructed by Jesus to go into the world and to teach about God to all we encounter. We may not have all the right words or even get the theological doctrine exactly right, but if we share what God has done for us, that will be good enough. Your experience of God may be more as the Father. If so, then share the Father with others. If your experience is more with Jesus, share Jesus with those you meet. If you’ve had an experience with the Holy Spirit, share the Holy Spirit with others. Don’t worry about getting it right—worry about getting it out into the lives of others! Then you will have fulfilled the Great Commission. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—three-in-one. Amen!

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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5

The Rhythms of Rest

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”  — Mark 4:35-36a, NRSV

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Jesus routinely took time away for rest and renewal. In the passage above, Jesus had been teaching the crowds when he decided he needed a break. Jesus left the crowd behind and got in some boats with his disciples and headed to a quiet place. He fell asleep because he was exhausted. Unfortunately, a squall came up, and Jesus would have slept through it except the disciples woke him up in fear. Jesus went back to work and calmed the storm, scolded the disciples for their lack of faith, and then went back to sleep. I can’t say with certainty that he went back to sleep. The Scripture doesn’t reveal that fact; however, I’m pretty sure he did!

We all need regular intervals for rest and reflection. I believe we need rest and renewal every day, every week, every month, and every year.

  • I begin each day (after hopefully having slept for seven hours) with a minimum of 20-30 minutes of contemplative prayer.
  • I plan for one full day each week away from work although I sometimes take two half-days due to weddings, funerals, or other pastoral duties.
  • I shoot for three to four days off in a row each month, although I probably average doing that about every other month.
  • Each year we all need an annual vacation that takes us away from our work long enough for us to completely disengage. For me, that requires two weeks in a row although I admit most of the time I only take one week at a time. I need to practice what I preach!

Even if we get this pattern down, many of us merely fill that time designed for rest and renewal with a “to-do” list of activities. These activities drain us or at least distract us from a critical component of renewal—that is, reflection. For us to truly grow, we must be able to get some perspective on our lives. If we’re not careful, we’ll crowd out the time and space needed to adequately reflect on how we’re becoming the people God created us to be. (Notice in Mark 4 that Jesus’ time away for rest is sandwiched between two crowds.) Failing to reflect and gain perspective leads us to a mundane life at best, and a frenetic life at worst. We are not human doings—we are human beings!

Some of you excel at maintaining healthy rhythms. Your lives are characterized by steady and stable emotional resilience. Others are trapped in busy-ness that is robbing you of peace. If Jesus needed time away for rest and reflection, so do we. Let’s make caring for our wellbeing a priority. It’s a great time to establish healthy rhythms of rest and renewal as we move into the Summer. Take care of your Selves!

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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Freedom and Responsibility

“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.”  

(Proverbs 10:7, NRSV)

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How will you be remembered? What will be the defining accomplishments of your life? What legacy will you leave for those who come after you? Is there any contribution you are making that will touch the lives of those you’ve never even met?

Memorial Day is a time for us to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we celebrate as Americans. It’s an important day as we recall that people we never knew and possibly some we did, were willing to do their part in extending into the future the principle of “liberty and justice for all” through their sacrifice. Memorial Day is important to observe because it is dangerous to disconnect sacrifice and responsibility from freedom and independence. As a matter of fact, I would say the degree to which we are free is directly proportional to our willingness to take responsibility and be held accountable for our actions.

As a teenager with a driver’s license and a car, I wanted more freedom to go where I wanted, when I wanted, and with whom I wanted. My parents demanded that I first demonstrate responsibility before they were willing to grant me the freedom to do as I wished. They were linking freedom and responsibility in a life lesson whose truth is borne out on a daily basis for me even now as an adult. I am free to do whatever I want as long as I’m willing to be responsible for my actions and can accept the consequences and the costs of my actions.

I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had to make any significant sacrifices as a result of the freedom under which I live. Most Americans have had a similar experience. Even so, I’ve tried not to take those freedoms lightly and to remember that others have been required to give more. That realization produces a spirit of gratitude.

As a follower of Jesus, the costs of being a disciple have not been too demanding on me either. I recognize there are other Christians around the world for whom there is a significant risk for them to worship and to practice their faith. I can’t imagine how hard it is for them. Would it surprise you to know that those same Christians frequently pray for those of us who can worship without persecution? They pray for us because they believe without persecution, we will have a hard time developing faith. It’s true!

We can choose how we will be remembered as Christians and as citizens of the United States. On this Memorial Day, I give thanks for those U.S. soldiers and for those Christians around the world who have demonstrated the lengths to which a faithful person will go to live out their faith and their principles. Now, may I do the same.

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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An Encouraging Word for the Summer

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  (Hebrews 10:23-25, NRSV)

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Congratulations to all the graduates who are moving on to the next phase of your lives. May God grant you grace and comfort throughout the summer and into the fall, preparing you for what lies ahead.

Speaking of summer, we’re approaching that time of rest and renewal when many people will make their way to the beach, to the mountains, or beyond. We miss you when you are gone! We want to stay connected to you even while you travel. The Canterbury App is a great way to stay in touch. You can tap into one of our worship live streams (both Traditional and Contemporary Worship) at 10:30 am Central each Sunday and watch what’s happening while you’re away. We’re referring to these live broadcasts as “Canterbury Live.” If the 10:30 am time slot doesn’t work for you, you can still access an archived version of the services or listen to a podcast of any of the sermons preached at Canterbury. If you choose any of these options, drop us an email and let us know you listened in.

Even though your plans may have you away from church a lot this summer, remember that connecting with other Christians is an important part of Christian community. The Hebrews passage at the top of the page tells us we’re responsible for provoking each other to love more and serve more. Maintaining that kind of connection to Canterbury can be difficult if your schedule takes you away several Sundays in a row. Being a part of a small group can be an added benefit, especially if you’re traveling on the weekends but are home during the week. We’re here to help you get connected so let any of the staff know if you would like to be a part of a small group and we’ll help you find a group that meets your needs.

As we do each year, for those traveling throughout the summer, we encourage you to fulfill your giving for the time you will be gone before you leave. We call this our First Things First campaign. By doing so, it not only keeps you from getting behind in your giving, it allows the church to fulfill its ministries and other obligations that continue throughout the summer. We are grateful for those of you who have already stepped up, and we know there are others who plan to do the same.

Allow me to offer one last word of gratitude for those of you who completed our most recent survey. Our goal was 700 responses, and we exceeded that number! We’ll be working with the results and making a report to the Church Council in August with some preliminary steps for moving forward.

I hope to see you Sunday!

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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All in the Family

“While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him.  Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’  But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’  And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50, NRSV)

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“While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50, NRSV)

I am the fourth of five children. We had great parents—most of the time. We were great kids—probably only some of the time. There were times for each of my siblings and me when we struggled with our relationships with our parents. Like most of you, when I became a father, I gained a greater understanding of my parents and why they did the things they did. I learned how complicated it could be to both love and discipline a child. I learned how frustrating it is when a child fails to grasp an important lesson on the values a parent tries to instill. And I learned how the responsibilities of parenting might lead to feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Parenting is a tough job, but somebody has to do it!

Imagine how Mary must have felt when Jesus dismissed her in the scripture passage above. Digging deeper into the text, we see the reason Mary and Jesus’ siblings were there. They were there to try to “rein him in” and take him back home. They feared for his life because of his radical teachings. By removing him, they thought they would save his life. Of course, as the future revealed, his family (including his mother and his brother James) became significant figures in the church that formed after his resurrection.

So what can we make of this struggle between Jesus and his family? The goal of any parent is to help their children move toward independence and become successful contributors to society. This process is known as individuation. It’s a painful process for both the child and the parent. It’s where the child develops a sense of distinctive identity as part of a later stage of development that replaces the shared identity of earlier stages of development. In the scripture, Jesus was becoming his own man. Mary was struggling to let him go.

The quality of the parent/child relationship often lies in our ability to navigate the transition from dependence to independence or, put another way, from shared identity to individuation. It’s a delicate balance and one that is more often accomplished awkwardly than seamlessly. That’s why in graduation pictures of parents and their children if you look closely, you can see both pride and fear in the eyes of the graduate’s parents! Happy Mothers’ Day to all who strive to help others grow up. Parenting is a difficult job, but somebody’s got to do it!

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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The Church as Jesus’ Resurrected Body

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, NRSV)

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The apostle Paul was especially fond of referring to the church as the body of Christ. In his Corinthian letters, he used this reference at least 18 times as a powerful and poetic metaphor. The metaphor used in 1 Peter is even more appealing to me than Paul’s metaphor. Jesus was the living stone upon which God intended to build his temple (God’s dwelling place). We rejected him and even put him to death on a cross. Ever a graceful Father, God raised Jesus back to life. The resurrection of Jesus had a cascading effect whereby God’s grace was made available to those who believe. By receiving God’s grace, we become “like living stones,” and are being crafted into a container (the church) that embodies the resurrected Jesus. As the resurrected body of Jesus, we are to continue the work that Jesus began when he walked the earth.

Most of us fail to internalize the reality that we are to embody Jesus in everything we do and to do so in every moment of our lives. We tend to “do” church instead of “being” the church. We see church as something for which we show up, do the usual routine, and then return to the life we live outside the church. The danger is that we compartmentalize our lives so that our life of service is relegated to serving in the church or on the occasional mission trip. We fail to see how whatever our vocation (literally, our calling), we are called to embody the life and legacy of Jesus Christ. Whatever we do, we are to carry Jesus into the world. This is what it means for the church to be the resurrected body of Jesus.

Please note: If you haven’t responded to the survey in the email link you received from the church, please complete the survey as soon as possible. The link will go inactive on May 12th, and we would love to hear from you and from each member of your family from youth age on up. Thanks for your attention to this important matter.

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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Discernment and Decision-Making

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NRSV)

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Paul’s 12th Chapter of the Book of Romans is one of the most beautiful passages of scripture describing the Christian Church. The church, according to Paul, will experience renewal through thinking new thoughts that may be countercultural and even counterintuitive. The context of Rome at the time Paul wrote these words was a context of rapid change and evolving culture. Not only was the community changing, but the church was changing, too. Uncertainty was at an all-time high.

The context of Rome is not too unlike our own. The church of today faces some of the most daunting challenges the church has ever faced. Amidst the uncertainty of our age, we seek to influence a culture that places minimal value on religious authority. Our culture seems to rely more on a self-authored worldview than one grounded in any institutional authority. The church must take these challenges seriously and reach out to the world with a word of both grace and conviction. In other words, our decisions must be rooted deeply in our discernment of God’s “good and acceptable and perfect” will.

To help us discern God’s will, we are seeking your input once more for assessing Canterbury’s current reality. We have heard from approximately 400 people in a previous survey, but we need to hear from all of you. Even if you participated in the last survey, when you receive an email on Sunday, April 30th, with a link to the new survey (or if you receive a hard copy of the survey in your mail), please take the time to complete this survey. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes, and your responses will be the final piece in the puzzle of where we stand as a congregation.

You may also be interested to know that we have already surveyed some of our new members (who should complete this survey as well!) and some members who have left our congregation to get the clearest picture possible of what both draws people to us or leads them away. Also, our research firm will survey non-members in our community to get an idea of what people in our community are looking for in a church, how they perceive Canterbury, and ways that we might more positively engage those in our community who do not attend church.

By taking the survey before May 12th when it closes online, you will help us discern the best possible way for us to build on our strengths and seize the opportunities for improvement. Thanks in advance for your willingness to help in this way.

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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So That You May Believe

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31, NRSV) 

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John’s gospel was the last of the gospels written, and by the time it was completed, any witnesses to the resurrection were long gone—including the disciple, John. Scholars believe that there was a community that identified closely with John, and out of this community arose the writings that we know as the Gospel of John and possibly the three epistles attributed to John. The writing of these works did not occur until sometime between 90-110 AD. For convenience, scholars refer to the author as “John the Evangelist.”

The people to whom John the Evangelist is writing would have been in the same boat as we are—not having been eyewitnesses to the life, ministry, or resurrection of Jesus. With the Christian faith being a relatively new religion, finding ways to galvanize the faith was imperative. Every story, every event, and every character in John’s gospel is meant to convey John’s desire that his readers, including us, get a clearer picture of Jesus so that our faith in him will grow.

When I first became a serious follower of Jesus Christ as a teenager, it was through the gospel of John that I read to get a glimpse of this One who would be the object of my faith. The imagery and the metaphors of John’s gospel are vibrant with meaning—light, darkness, vines, branches, bread, sheep, shepherds, gates, doors, thieves, weddings, births, deaths, and even resurrection. John’s gospel is rich with insights and nuances about who Jesus was when he walked the earth and who God is.

It’s important to remember that John used all of this for one purpose—that we would come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that through believing, we might have life in his name. I don’t know if 60+ years out from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that his followers had lost their zeal. John makes it clear he wants to inspire us with his words so that whatever once burned in the hearts of Jesus’ original disciples is kept burning in our hearts. John wants us to “have life in Jesus’ name.”

How is the fire of God’s love burning in you? Are you tending the fire with perseverance and intention? Or has it begun to die out, and you’re cooling off to the experience you once had? Maybe reading through the Gospel of John might give you a boost. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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Easter

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” (Matthew 28:1, NRSV)

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Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. It doesn’t say they went to see the body of Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel, the women didn’t even bring spices to finish the burial procedures required by Jewish ritual. It only says they “went to see the tomb.” It may be a stretch to assume that they went only to see the tomb because they remembered Jesus’ words about his resurrection—especially given Jesus’ cryptic descriptions of his future in the days leading up to his death. It would also be a stretch to assume that the possibility of his resurrection wouldn’t have at least crossed their minds on some level. The women around Jesus seemed to have an intuition about him that his male disciples lacked.

Following their arrival at the tomb, there is a combination of both fear and joy that swings back and forth between the two like a pendulum. It starts with an earthquake and then an angel descending from heaven to roll away the stone that covered the opening of the tomb. The guards who were posted to keep the tomb from being disturbed fainted at the sight of this angel. The women don’t seem to be phased as much by the angel’s miraculous entry. The angel still admonishes them to “not be afraid.” The angel delivers the news that Jesus is not there for by God’s power, he is no longer dead, and they should gather their wits and go and tell their friends.

The scripture says they left the tomb, again, with both fear and joy swinging in the balance as they made their way back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. It’s then that Jesus appears to them. They immediately drop to their knees at his feet and worship him. Jesus also instructs them to lay aside any fear and to tell his disciples he will meet them in Galilee. They will soon experience both the fear and the joy of seeing the resurrected Jesus.

On Easter, we have a choice to look at the tomb or to look at the risen Savior. I choose to look at the Risen Savior. He is the One with the power to change my life. He is the One who has conquered fear and death and restored me to joy and new life. He is the One who can’t dwell in the tombs of my despair or hopelessness; for those tombs are unable to contain the power and hope of his life-changing presence. Are you looking into the tombs of your life or are you looking at how Jesus has already redeemed the brokenness and imperfections in your life? Together, let’s keep our eye on the Risen Savior and challenge each other to stop looking at the tombs—they’re empty—they have no power—they are obsolete. That is the story of Easter—a story of redemption and joy made possible by a Risen Savior!

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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