LOVE: The Christmas Present that Won’t Break

This is the second in a series based on James Moore’s and Jacob Armstrong’s Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break.  Again, I want to thank them for their work and allowing churches to use their ideas.

John 3:16

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

 

UMH 242     Love Came Down at Christmas

Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine;

Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.

 

Worship we the Godhead, Love incarnate, Love divine;

Worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?

 

Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine;

Love to God and all men, love for plea and gift and sign.

 

Luke 2:8-20

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

 

LOVE: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

            Love is a word that may seem almost overused or bantered about so much that the true meaning of it loses significance or importance. Consider how easy it is to say we “love” this or that. For instance, consider some of this times we use the word:

  • I love sunshine.
  • I love chocolate chip cookies.
  • I love the Royals or the Chiefs.
  • I love the color green.
  • I love summer.
  • I love snow.
  • I love. . . . and the list just grows.

 

Do we use the word love to describe so many different things in our lives that the value of love as found in John 3:16 loses value?

Hear the words of that verse again:

 

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

 

In Moore’s Advent study, Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break, he writes:

 

. . . What puts the meaning of Christmas deep into our souls? What writes the Christmas spirit indelibly on our hearts?   Well, of course, the essence of Christmas is love. God’s incredible love for us, expressed when he sent his only son into the world to save us. “Love Came Down at Christmas”—that’s how the hymn writer puts it. That’s the answer to our question. Whenever and wherever we receive God’s sacrificial love, whenever and wherever we pass it on to others, whenever and wherever God’s love is accepted and Shared, Christmas comes once again! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 39)

 

The answer sounds familiar, especially for Methodists, as it echoes the John Wesley quote once again:

 

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. (Wesley 2017)

 

This places each one of us in a responsible position to act as the arm of God in so many ways that it might even cause us to become numb to the very way we can put love into action.

Moore provides three specific scenarios that makes it easier to identify how we can put love as the essence of Christmas, yes, but also for each day of our lives:

  1. When we love God, there is Christmas.
  2. When we love our families, there is Christmas.
  3. When we love other people, there is Christmas. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 39, 41, 42)

 

Consider Moore’s first answer to how we demonstrate love. When do we love God? This may be the toughest of the three times to show how we love God. God is an abstract idea for most, and to share that love with others so they can fully identify love as a viable factor in their own lives can be so difficult that we avoid even trying to sharing it with others.

I suggest that when we love God, we also do not feel comfortable sharing our love of God openly in our daily lives. We can easily just live quietly loving God not wanting to interfere with others and their own opinion of God. At Christmas, though, we join in the outpouring of the holiday festivities. Are we openly showing how we love God at these times or are we just trying to fit in with all the traditional practices, not making waves about what the essence of Christmas truly is—love?

            Personally, I have to admit that loving God openly has not always been easy. Just doing what everybody else does at Christmas is easy. It does not really mean investing into the story and deciding how God wants us to live. Instead, we put up the tree, decorate, bake, and shop.

On the outside, others might think that we believe because we join in the celebration of Christmas, but are we celebrating because we love God? Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. I know that life circumstances have challenged my enthusiasm for Christmas as a special holiday. I have had to go through a range of emotions from fun to hurt to loneliness to uncertainty and even to anger.

But, despite all the real-life experiences that altered the Christmas expectations I thought were so important from my childhood through to even today’s vision of Christmas, I had to discover something. Without loving God, there is no Christmas. The way we celebrate Christmas must begin with our love of God.

Reaching that understanding did not come quickly; rather it came from living life managing all the challenges without giving up on God. Despite everything, God has walked my journey with me just as he walks the journey with any one of us. Christmas begins with loving God and that makes it possible for us to love our families and to love other people, too. This is the love that is the essence of Christmas as Moore puts it:

Whenever and wherever we receive God’s sacrificial love, whenever and wherever we pass it on to others, whenever and wherever God’s love is accepted and shared, Christmas comes once again! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 39)

 

Giving the gift of love is one that never breaks. Even when we give gifts that can break, the foundation of the giving is the love we feel for God, demonstrated in the love of our families and of all other people that come across our life’s path.

Loving God and living the lifestyle that Jesus taught, we can manage to show love to all others even when the life experiences we have cause pain and heartache. For instance, consider all the families who have been broken through death or divorce.

That experience can make one question what love is; but I believe that when one lives with God as the foundation of life, love continues. In fact, that very love of God makes it possible to continue loving one another even when heartbroken, lonely, and yes, even angry. Moore makes this statement that helps explain this:

Unfortunately, in many homes this Christmas there will be a chill in the air. You see, there is a big difference between everybody being at home. . . and being at home with everybody. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 41)

 

With God as the foundation of one’s life, it is possible to be at home with everybody—family, friend, neighbor, strangers and even enemies. I know this because I have been broken at Christmas, yet somehow God’s love still makes the Christmas story, the carols, and the decorations soak through all the pain to remind me that Christmas is about God’s love—a love so unconditional, so unbelievable, that he decided to step down on this earth as a man Jesus.

Moore puts into words what I have learned:

Whenever and wherever there is peace and harmony and tenderness and respect and thoughtfulness and caring in the family, Christmas comes once again. When we love God, and when we love our families, there is Christmas!

 

And what we learn about loving our families, expands as we step out of our homes and meet others in our daily lives. God’s love fill us up and we see all people as equals with their own stories struggling to find love in their lives. We see people who do not know how to love others with pain in their own lives.

God loved all people pain and all. He wants us to love all people too just like we know he loves us. Accepting Jesus Christ as our savior, we have a responsibility to freely give that love away. This giving does not mean that we run out to the local store to buy gifts that can break or not fit, rather we are to give the gift that won’t break, the gift of openly loving one another. Moore writes:

. . . When we see Christ in other people and love them, then at that precise moment Christmas comes once again. . . . When we love other people, there is Christmas. The Christmas gift of love is surely a Christmas gift that won’t break! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 42, 44)

 

Just what does the Christmas gift of love look like? Jacob Armstrong wrote in the devotions that the gift of love is not an object but it can be identified by what it provides:

  1. . . . love casts out fear
  2. . . .love comes to where we are
  3. . . . love means that we aren’t alone.
  4. . . . love leads us to long for more. . .

 

What is it that we long for? When we discover God’s love, we discover that we long to share God’s love. God’s love leads us to live life with a drive to learn more of God and to find ways to love one another.

Celebrate Christmas this year knowing that God loved us so much that he sent his only son so that we might open the gift of God’s love and transform our lives. Let us be like the shepherds who left the fields and found the baby Jesus. Let us go back to our homes and give this gift through stories and actions that God’s love is a present that will not break.

Closing prayer:

 

Dear God, thank you for the gift of love.

May we share this gift with others

and learn how to love unconditionally.

Help us during this Christmas season

to practice love in action

with family, friends, and strangers. Amen.

(Moore and Armstrong 2017, 46)

 

 

Works Cited

Moore, James W., and Jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.

 

 

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Hope: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

Welcome to Advent!  This sermon was given on Sunday, December 3, 2017 as the first of a series based on Moore’s and Armstrong’s book and devotions, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break.  Please read the introduction and the sermon based on what I read in their book.  Many thanks to them for writing the study.  I pray that it reaches into the hearts of the readers as it did for me.

 

All of us have had our hopes built on getting something for Christmas that we thought we just had to have. Maybe you were a kid, but maybe you were even a grown up and just had to have this one thing you wanted for Christmas.

Preparing for Advent, I looked at three different studies trying to find one that I felt expressed or explained the Christmas experience for today’s Christians. Today we begin the study by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong, Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break.

Let me share a story from Moore’s introduction (paraphrased):

Bishop Kenneth Shamblin told a story about his 5-year-old son’s hope to get a particular red truck for Christmas. He did everything he could to make sure that his parents knew what he hoped to get for Christmas. And he did get it. But shortly after dinner that Christmas Day, he came to his dad crying with the broken truck in his hands. The Bishop reported that the truck was quickly fixed, but it raised an interesting question: What are the Christmas gifts that won’t break? (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 7-8)

 

I expect that there is not one of us who has not experienced something similar in our lives. Whether it is a gift that we thought we just had to have or it is one we gave to fill someone else’s hopes. We thought it was the perfect gift, but then it broke or did not fit.

The introduction references one of Jesus’ lessons in Matthew 6:19-21: (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 8)

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

 

What happens when we put all our hope and anticipation into something? How often do we end up being disappointed or find that it is only a temporary good feeling? For many today, Christmas is broken. Truthfully Christmas season is just the wrapping for the unbreakable gift God has for us: Jesus Christ.

 

Hope

 

Advent is a time when we begin to anticipate the celebration of God’s ultimate gift to us—his son Jesus Christ; and today is the first of four Sundays that make up Advent. In our culture, the holiday season is in full swing with the stores all dressed up, with Christmas music playing, and with Santa making stops at all kinds of places. Yet, very little really explains why Christians are preparing for Christmas Day.

The Old Testament is filled with prophetic literature telling the faithful that a savior was going to come fix the problems that seemed so overwhelming that the faithful were losing trust. Yet the faithful continued to hope that God would send a savior. Just like the little boy who put all his hopes into getting a little red truck, the ancient Israelites hoped the prophecies would be fulfilled. Hope kept faith alive.

Why is it important that we celebrate Advent? Are we in the very same crisis as the ancient Israelites? Are we prepared for Christ to appear? Have we lost hope? Advent reconnects us to the story of God’s ultimate gift and during these four weeks let’s look for gifts that never break.

            The Christmas story begins in Matthew with God talking to Mary and Joseph. The circumstances create an awkward situation for the engaged couple, but the story tells us that an angel separately visited each of them to announce that they would be parents to a baby.

Mary had to be frightened, but she placed her faith in God’s angel and accepted her role as the expectant mother. Joseph must have really been shocked when the angel visited him. He knew he was not the father, yet he was given the responsibility to name the baby.

The gospel of Matthew, which is written for the faithful Jews waiting for the ancient prophecies to be fulfilled, explains how Mary and Joseph learned of their roles:

     18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement[a]quietly.

     20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,[b] for he will save his people from their sins.” [Matthew 1:18-21, NLT]

 

Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt? His hopes for a wife and family were dramatically crushed—or at least could have been crushed except for one thing: Joseph believed the angel. Much less he had been given the name for the baby.

Advent is a time to give the gift of hope. When events in our lives seem completely out of control and we have a sense of impending doom, God never abandons us. Joseph may have thought he was alone and all his plans were ruined, but he held on to his faith in God, trusted the angel’s message, and was filled with hope that this child he was given to raise as his own son was the long-awaited Messiah. What a gift!

We have a similar power when we give others the gift of hope. For those who may be trapped by a sense of hopelessness, we can share the story of how much God loves us and never abandons us. We can give them the gift of hope by demonstrating our own faith and how it makes our lives joy-filled.

God’s gift of his son Jesus is the reason for the season (apologies for the cliché); and when Joseph gave the baby the name Jesus, he signaled to the faithful how this child revived the hope for the Jews. The name Jesus is a derivative from the name Joshua who tore down the walls of Jericho. Moore writes that Jesus’ name means “wall-breaker” and he proceeds to explain how Jesus broke down walls that divide us from one another and from God:

“Now, this idea of Jesus being the wall-breaker, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility, can better be understood when we see it against the backdrop of the Temple’s physical layout in the time of Jesus. The Temple was a parable in stone, exposing the prejudices, or walls, that existed in society during biblical times—walls that included a few privileged people but excluded or shut out most. As worshipers moved through the temple toward the high altar (the Holy of Holies), they encountered a series of walls holding the people back from God.

“The first wall held back foreigners, people of other races and nations. The second wall held back women. The third wall held back all men except the priests. The fourth wall, a veil surrounding the Holy of Holies, held back everyone except the High Priest, who was permitted to go inside the veil only once a year on the Day of Atonement. Even then the other priests tied a rope around his ankle, so that if he fell or passed out, they could pull him back without going inside!

“The Holy of Holies, which represented the presence of God, was remote, fearsome, austere, and unapproachable. But then came Jesus, and he broke down the dividing walls and made us one. He brought God out to the people. . . .

. . . The walls we build today are every bit as real as those in the Temple. Here are some of them:

“. . . walls that divide nations . . .

“. . . walls that divide men and women. . . .

“. . . walls that divide clergy and laity. . . .

“. . . wall that hold people back from God. . . .

Do you remember what happened in the Temple when Jesus was on the cross? The veil around the Holy of Holies was torn apart, from top to bottom. God did it! God tore it! God broke down that wall!” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 18-19)

 

Sharon shared the explanation about the torn veil earlier this year, and it is so important to review the importance of God’s action in relation to the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born to teach us how to live with one another by breaking down all that separates us from each other.

Christians around the world are celebrating Advent’s first Sunday focusing on the hope that we have “for peace on earth and good well toward all people”. This is the gift that won’t break whenever we give it away to those who feel hopeless.

Are you giving the gift of hope this year?

Whenever you do anything that shares God’s love as Jesus taught us, you are giving the unbreakable gift of hope. Remember that the gift of hope comes in many forms:

  • “. . . the gift of hope for healing.
  • “. . . the gift of hope for refuge.
  • “. . . the gift of hope for deliverance.
  • “. . . the gift of hope for salvation.” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 29-30)

As Moore writes, “. . .become an instrument of hope to others this week. Give the gift of hope to those who need it by giving of yourself. . . . ” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 23)

This is giving hope, one Christmas gift that won’t break.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, thank you for the season of Advent and the gift of hope. Help us to prepare our hearts for your coming and to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Amen (Moore and Armstrong 2017) (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 23)

Works Cited

Moore, James W., and jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.

 

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It’s Advent Eve!

Sermon for Sunday, November 26, 2017

How many of you know that today is the last Sunday of the church year? When considering the Sunday calendar, today is like “Advent Eve”. Therefore, what better time is there to write our Christmas card letter.

The custom of sending Christmas cards has really changed over my lifetime and with the addition of personal computers in our homes, one change has been to include a holiday letter to share your life experiences with all those family and friends you are accustomed to exchanging Christmas cards.

My experience with the year-end letter is that it is a list of the high points in a family’s life. No one really mentions too many negative or sad experiences, yet I admit using the letter to let others know of some such changes in our family. Sometimes I feel like I do not have anything worthy of sharing as the year is just filled with the day-to-day activities of work and household chores. Those are the toughest ones to write.

Yet, time is getting away, so let’s get started:

 

Dear Family and Friends,

            Blessings to each of you this holiday season. The years are certainly racing ahead, but we are blessed with good health and a comfortable home.

            Sadly we have to report that we lost two of our family this year: Mary Ellen and Ms. Bonnie. Their passing leaves empty space in our pews, but we know that they have continued their faith journey to meet Jesus Christ himself.

            Joyfully, though, we can share that two have chosen to be baptized as Christians. Two young ladies made this personal decision and it was a joy to share in the sacrament with them. . . .

 

            These Christmas letters are ways to share with others the basic facts of the closing year, but sometimes they become an opportunity to share something that has influenced our lives in profound ways. My brother includes a list of favorite books, movies, and music that he has read, seen or heard through the year.

If we choose to include something like that in our church’s letter, it is difficult, especially if we are not participating in a small group study or even accustomed to the practice of reading scripture. Each week, the common lectionary is included on the bulletin. That is just one way to practice John Wesley’s act of piety of reading scripture.

Reading through the lectionary this week, I found the four readings all related to the same metaphor: the shepherd separating the sheep and the goats. The parable in Matthew is familiar and we have reviewed or referenced it repeatedly, so that makes it difficult to hear God’s message for today, Advent Eve. Of course, put the choice of these verses into the perspective of the Christian year’s conclusion one may discover something in these verses that does fit.

The common lectionary is based on a 3-year cycle. With this week, Year A concludes. But the lectionary for Year B is already available, as is Year C. Commentaries are available, and during the course of the year, a variety of on-line sources are available to help understand the significance of these verses in our lives.

How they are interpreted depends on real-life circumstances and how God uses the words to speak to us depends on a broad range of things—whether it is good sheep behaviors or troublesome goat behaviors.

Let’s consider the parable Jesus tells in Matthew 25:31-36

 

     31 “But when the Son of Manco mes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

     34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 

Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who were testing him, but Jesus was a well-trained Jew and his answer directly referenced the scripture from the prophet Ezekiel as written in the Old Testament book Ezekiel 34:17:

 

17 “And as for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to his people: I will judge between one animal of the flock and another, separating the sheep from the goats. (emphasis added)

 

As the church year closes, considering the metaphor of God’s judgment as separating the sheep from the goats does help us to evaluate the church’s adherence to Jesus’ teaching. Before we can finish the year-end letter, we need to honestly determine how we have followed Jesus’ commandment to love God above all else and to love one another as we want to be loved.

But, let’s get back to the job of writing the annual Christmas letter:

 

            The church continues to hold weekly worship services and offer Sunday School for the kids and the adults. There has also been a Maundy Thursday service and a Community Christmas Program.

            Two events continue to be provided for the community kids and those are the Easter Fling and the Halloween treats. Through one member’s extra efforts, the local kids have also had movie nights and a summer food program.

            Members worked together to create food packs for delivery at Annual Conference in June, and school kits and hygiene kits for the annual Festival of Sharing in October.

            When school began, the church hosted one of the teacher work-day lunches. And no year is complete without the Chilhowee Community Fair and the church’s concession efforts. . . .

 

The Christmas letter conveniently packages up the year in a way to tell a positive story to all those reading it. But one might wonder what the letter does not say. There is no need to add more, God already knows.

The prophet Ezekiel goes on to tell how God will not abandon his faithful and despite the failures of the leaders at that time, he would send a “perfect shepherd.” This promise from Ezekiel 34:22-24 develops the metaphor of the Good Shepherd taking care of his flock:

 

22 So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. 23 And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. . . .

The Christmas letter is almost done, but what is left out is probably the very reason that we need to continue reading scripture and meeting in community to work together loving one another.

Wesley repeatedly demanded accountability from his congregations in weekly class meetings. His focus on mission came from his understanding of Jesus’ message. Jesus’ use of the parable becomes a checklist for how we are living out the commandments. We must ask ourselves the very questions included in the parable from Matthew 25:37-39:

 

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

 

Before we can finish this year’s Christmas letter, we need to ask ourselves these questions. We need to be accountable just like Wesley expected the early Methodists. We need to hear the King tell us:

 

I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

 

Today we must reaffirm our efforts to serve one another as God asks us to serve. We need spiritual wisdom and we can find it in the words of Paul’s prayer:

 

. . . I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.

 

18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called . . .

 

19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.

Believing in God’s incredible power is not easy as we face the daily challenges of our life, but as we close out the church year we need to honestly ask the very question the Pharisees asked:

 

‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

 

God is all-powerful.   God is mighty. God never gives up on us, so we must not give up following him. The resolution we have to add to our Christmas letter should be quite simply:

 

. . . In closing, we return to the most basic commandment that Jesus gave us: Love one another. How we live that commandment needs to look like the work that Wesley did—doing all that we can for all we can in any way we can. This is our new year’s resolution.

            The wish we share for each of you is the blessings that come from being part of the God’s family. We invite you to join us each week during Advent as the new year begins. Join us in learning how God’s love was so strong that he gave his son so that we may be saved.      

                                                Love,

                                                Your brothers and sisters in Christ

 

 

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How does our church interpret Christianity?

Sermon given on Sunday, November 12, 2017:  We lost one of our members at the age of 97 this week, and while preparing for the funeral, I could not get rid of the lessons that she taught our community.  Please understand that the audience knew Ms. Bonnie very well, but any reader may insert those people in your own lives who you know are true Christian models.

 

Spending the week reminiscing about Ms. Bonnie lead me to thinking about her model of Christianity, and that lead me to thinking about how our congregation models or interprets Christianity. Using the term ‘interpret’ may not seem appropriate, but our lives reflect what we believe. Our actions are stronger than our words.

All week long, Ms. Bonnie’s life has been reviewed by most all of us in the church and the community. The fact that she had not lived among us for the past few years did not matter. Ms. Bonnie is entwined with those who make up the Chilhowee community.

The adjectives/descriptions shared about Ms. Bonnie included words that create pictures in our minds of this incredible woman: pioneer spirit, servant, worker, gardener, country, leader, teacher, mother, grandmother, friend, neighbor, selfless, giving, and the list continues to grow. These words are filled with compliments and are worthy qualities for any of us to work towards.

For our congregation, we can add to the list of qualities that she was a 71-year member of our church family. She never missed church unless she was sick or away from home. She was a tireless worker for all the activities in the church, and the only time we witnessed her unhappy was when we tried to surprise her for her birthday—you don’t fool Ms. Bonnie!

Ms. Bonnie lived Christianity boldly, and we were fortunate to have witnessed her demonstration. What better time than today to reflect on how our church models or interprets Christianity too. What stories would others tell of our church? What adjectives, titles or descriptions would others use to tell about our church?

At first I thought maybe we could describe the church as a Mary-style or a Martha-style, but then that might not be too clear. The scripture tells us that Mary was an eager listener to Jesus and would put aside any traditional, female roles in order to sit at his feet and listen to his words. Her sister Martha was more traditional and was concerned with all the appropriate tasks involved in providing for a visitor’s needs whether it was food, rest, comfort, and maybe even overnight arrangements.

[Luke 10:38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” The NLT]

Defining our church as a ‘Mary’ or a ‘Martha’ really is not possible. We are a church and not a person. Therefore, I stopped and considered what other way could the church be identified, and I turned to John Wesley. He grouped certain behaviors into two categories: acts of mercy and acts of piety. I mulled over those two terms and considered whether that would be a reasonable way to evaluate the church.

First, does the church demonstrate acts of mercy. To answer that one has to know what acts of mercy are. The list that Wesley outlined includes:

  • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
  • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor [Accessed on November 10, 2017, at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

This list covers a great deal and has given United Methodist a reputation of being active for social justice.

            Ms. Bonnie certainly did demonstrate acts of mercy. How many in the community learned how to cook and to sew as she taught these skills through 4-H? How many families received the gifts of fresh food from her gardens? How many times did Ms. Bonnie step up to fix clothes or a meal or reach out to others in need?

            Does our church demonstrate grace to others through acts of mercy? Individually is not the question, but as a community do we seek justice, work to end oppression or discrimination, or address the needs of the poor?

            This is a tough question to answer. One way we can answer in the affirmative is that we have diligently paid the district and state apportionments. The United Methodist Church has a connectional approach to working with other congregations to affect change in a range of different areas. Paying the apportionments does demonstrate the church’s efforts to address the needs of others beyond our immediate community. Sadly, the financial health of our church may limit the extent of our connectional works of piety for the first time in the past decade or longer.

The second group of behaviors that Wesley identified was the acts of piety. These behaviors are more closely aligned to the ‘Mary’ style of Christian practices than the ‘Martha’ style. These behaviors are identified on the UMC’s website, too:

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study. [Ibid.]

            Again, Ms. Bonnie demonstrated an understanding of the individual practices of piety, but does the church do so. On the surface(pardon the cliché) , the answer is yes. The sacrament of communion is available on a regular basis, and baptism is offered upon request. But no one inside or outside the church’s congregation can judge whether the church as a group fully incorporate the acts of piety honestly. Only God, Jesus his son, and the Holy Spirit—the Triune God—can judge the integrity of the church’s acts of piety.

            The individual acts of piety include a personal list of practices that may be available through Sunday School and Ladies Aid, but is that adequate. Should the church provide more opportunities or assistance for the practices of these acts of piety? A ‘Mary’ style church would place the priority on these acts of piety, often referred to as discipleship when in district or conference meetings.

The church year is winding down, so considering how our church interprets Christianity is a timely task. Review what the mission is for the church and the goals for the upcoming year. Maybe we should ask ourselves “What would Ms. Bonnie do?” We can honor her by exemplifying the stewardship and the acts of mercy and piety she modeled.

[Titus 3:Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.[a] He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.

Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees[b] or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. 10 If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. 11 For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them. The NLT]

Closing prayer

Dear God, Father Almighty,

 

We mourn the loss of one of our family,

But let us remember her

By following the model of faith

She exhibited in all that she did.

 

Help us to demonstrate

The Christian qualities

That Paul listed in his letters

To the early churches and disciples.

 

Help us to follow Wesley’s practices

Both the acts of piety

and the acts of mercy

as we work together in your name.

 

May we recognize your presence

Through the power of the Holy Spirit

As we make decisions individually

And communally to love one another.

 

In your name, the Father, the Son,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Paul’s tools will work

Sermon given on Sunday, November 5, 2017.  After completing the letters of Paul to the early churches, this sermon focuses on the letters he wrote to the pastors he appointed to two of the churches, Timothy and Titus.  

For two months I have been totally consumed with the fallout from the chaos that followed our baptismal service. I have questioned my calling. I have tried to apologize. I have tried to sort out the details of what happened. And I have kept moving forward. All the time, I have not been able to shed the immense sorrow that I feel as a result of that day’s events.

I continued reading Paul’s letters to the early churches and asked what would the message be for our congregation. There is truth in each letter that applies as much to today’s church as it does to the earliest churches. Sadly, I do not think the lessons made an impact.

During these weeks, I have sought council. I have heard opinions. I have experienced shunning. And I have had to answer to the district superintendent. All the while, only one source continues providing Christ-like advice and that is the Bible. After exhausting all the various sources I could, I turned again to Paul. This time I found the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, two of the pastors he placed in churches.

Last week, I shared a brief scripture from Titus, so this week I decided to focus on reading the two letters to Timothy. I discovered that Titus was actually written between the two letters to Timothy and 2 Timothy was written by Paul while he was under arrest and trying to prepare for his final trial that in historical perspective turned out to end in his execution. Therefore, 2 Timothy was his last letter to the earliest Christians.

This week, searching for answers and direction, Paul’s advice to Timothy may provide needed guidance. Let’s begin with today’s opening verses (2 Timothy 2:10-14):

10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.

11 This is a trustworthy saying:

If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
12 If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

These words written as Paul sat in a Roman prison alone, about AD 66 or 67, are words that pastors need to hear. These are words of encouragement, almost like a mantra to develop one’s self-confidence. But these words are for all faithful followers, not just pastors. As long as we remain faithful to God, he will continue to be with us.

The rumor mill that has churned out stories in our community have caused damage. Words have divided us in ways we may not even realize. But Paul wants us to remember to stay faithful. To remain loyal. To endure hardships. And in verse 14:

 

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

Those words mean the same thing regardless of the translation:

 

  • KJV: 14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
  • NRSV: 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God[a]that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.
  • NIV: 14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
  • MSG: 14-18 Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out.
  • CEB: 14 Remind them of these things and warn them in the sight of God not to engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them.

 

Today, these words must be the very basic principle that is the foundation of a healthy congregation. When one is hurt by the words that are being spoken, healing is difficult. But with God, anything is possible as long as all words spoken whether by myself, the pastor, or by any of us need to be Christ-like at all times.

This is a tremendous order that Paul has sent to Timothy, and it is a tremendous one for each of us. I do the best that I can, and I apologize for any words that may be hurtful. What I must do now is stay focused on the words Paul shares and all the words of the scripture. I must turn over my hurt feelings and my self-doubt in order to move forward and continue sharing the Good News.

Reading on through the second chapter of 2 Timothy, there is a metaphor that applies to us:

 

20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

 

We must continue developing the tools that work for us each and every day whether a special day or an ordinary day. The tools will assure that we work as a team to carry out the various ministries of our church. The tools will demonstrate our skills to live our faith visibly in the community. The tools are defined and refined in the words of the scripture, from the first book of Genesis, through the last book of Revelations. Are we using the best materials to develop our tools, or are we failing to use the tools?

Last week while reviewing the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, the verse from Titus 2:12 was shared:

 

12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God . . .

 

Paul continues this instruction with the second letter to Timothy in 2:22:

 

22 Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

 

Sadly, I do not believe we have achieved this level of Christian fellowship. Our tools are not sharpened and honed to perfection as a congregation. Instead, there is a split that continues to divide and destroy the effectiveness of the sharing the Good News God has commissioned us to do.

Right now, today, we must consciously turn to Paul’s instruction and ask for God to forgive us and to ask each other for forgiveness, too. I know that the heart of this church is for the transformation of the community. The truth is that no transformation has any chance if the church itself is battling “foolish, ignorant arguments” as Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:22: 23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.

Still, Paul does not give up on making his point. He continues stating:

 

24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

 

Paul’s letter was to the pastor Timothy. The words may serve to remind today’s pastors also, but the words are true for all Christians. The Wesley Study Bible’s notes for 2 Timothy 2:25-26 states:

“Gracious and theologically sound instruction results in salvation. Wesley persistently argued Paul’s point: Scripture rightly interpreted saves sinners from “the snare of the devil” (v. 26).”

 

Personally, I will do all that I can to provide “gracious and theologically sound instruction” through the reading and study of scripture. I expect each of you follow the same set of instructions that Paul gave Timothy to develop the tools that can assure you live the Christian lifestyle that the scripture defines for us.

I apologize for any of my words or actions that may have been misunderstood or hurtful, and I expect each of you to honestly evaluate your own use of words and actions. Together we can continue to serve God by living our faith out loud—boldly demonstrating the value of loving one another.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

We come to worship,

     Yet there is pain in our hearts.

We come to hear your words

     But our hearing is often blocked.

Open our hearts to your words

     So we can heal the pain.

Open our minds to learn

     The lessons so we can heal.

Forgive us of our closed hearts

     And our closed minds.

Forgive us of our actions

     That keeps doors closed.

Let us come to the table

     Unified in Christ.

Let us experience pure joy

     Knowing your grace.

Send us out the doors

     With renewed conviction.

Send us out to live boldly

     As faithful servants

     Loving one another.

In your name, God the Father,

     The Son, Jesus Chirst,

     And the Holy Spirit, amen.

           

[The prayer transitions the service to the sacrament of Communion.]

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Luther’s Reformation. Wesley’s Methods. Today’s Revival?

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  This is the sermon given on Sunday, October 29, 2017.  

This week, on Halloween, October 31, 2017, there is a Christian milestone to celebrate—the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of 95 theses challenging the problems of the Catholic Church. This is historically identified as the beginning of the Protestant movement.

Trying to summarize the 95 statements is challenging, but primarily Luther had become so incensed to the practices of the Catholic Church, especially paying for one’s penance, that he wrote out the concerns and nailed them to the church door. This one act developed the Protestant church movement that continues today, alongside the Catholic Church.

In Germany, where Martin Luther served as a priest and led the reformation, a unified group of churches under the umbrella of the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) published a booklet that outlines the reason and the rational behind the Reformation. The purpose of remembering this event is clearly stated:

Christianity, and indeed human society, always lives from the memories of its history. An honest engagement with the Reformation is always informed and enlightened by historical critique. A genuine understanding of history will presuppose an educational process distinguishing between historical events in the 16th century and what this history means for us today. Such an understanding will avoid any non-historical glorification or naive instrumentalization of those events. (Page 6).

 

The EKD goes on to state the earliest Christians who are now referred to as “Reformers” continued what Luther began:

The Reformers wanted to renew the church of Jesus Christ in the spirit of the gospel, not to divide it. (Page 11).

 

The explanation includes the consequence of the Reformation movement that continues even today, 500 years later:

The Reformers wanted to renew the church of Jesus Christ in the spirit of the gospel, not to divide it. (Page 11).

 

The Reformation as a movement continues yet today. It led to John Wesley and his work, along with so many theologians who are recognized as leaders of various Protestant denominations. The EKD publication states:

This Reformational approach is one in which the search and longing for God, for the holy, for spirituality and inwardness, goes hand in hand with responsibility for our neighbour, the world and the future. (Page 16).

 

As part of the Protestant arm of Christianity, these goals echo the basic premises of the Methodist movement that began with Wesley, who was born in 1706 and began his style of ministry about 30 years later.

Wesley’s movement focused on personal spiritual practices and on social responsibility. He established the small group method that demanded that each person be included in a class that met regularly and required Bible study and accountability. Bishop Rueben Job has simplified Wesley’s expectations to three rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

The often-repeated quote attributed to Wesley really says it all:


“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

 

The question today, though, takes the Reformation movement and turns it to a personal level: Do you need a revival?

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-46, NLT)

Again, Do you need a revival? Considering the anniversary of the Reformation and Wesley’s movement about 200 hundred years later, we are reflecting on major shifts in how Christianity is a personal lifestyle, not one dictated by a government or even a particular priest or minister.

Returning to the booklet published by the EKD concerning the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a series of key points are included under the heading “Reassurance.”

The following seven basic dimensions describe this approach. Although each person will develop it in his or her own way, it reflects the one spirit that God has given us, not a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self-control«. 2 Tim 1:7 (RSV) (Page 16).

 

The seven dimensions are

  1. Trust in God.
    • A Reformational approach to life knows that faith is a gift. Faith does not live from holding to church doctrines, or observing ritual acts, or following moral precepts.
    • From a Protestant standpoint, faith does not fear rationality.
    • It can therefore ally itself with a worldview shaped by the Enlightenment, the sciences and the humanities.
    • It can therefore ally itself with a worldview shaped by the Enlightenment, the sciences and the humanities. (Page 17).
  2. Being humble.
  • The root of every demeanour and all hopes is the cross. (Page 18).
  • The Cross cuts across established certainties. It makes the soul ready for God’s mercy and, at the same time, humble and willing to defend all those suffering humiliation. (Page 18).
  1. Living our freedom.
  • Reformation piety is not withdrawal from the world, but turning towards it and attending to the needs of our neighbour. . . . – from music to literature, the fine arts, education and research, not to mention the culture of debate in politics and civil society. (Page 19).
  1. Being resistant.
  • a Reformational approach to life stands for a culture of resistance to the abuse of power, fundamentalism and attacks on social minorities. Protestantism participates constructively in societal debates and champions the freedom of individuals to make decisions about their own lives. (Page 21).
  1. Remaining sensitive.
  • Faith lives from our relation to God and becomes practical in love of our neighbour both near and far.
  • . . . basic Reformation insight that education fosters value orientation and personal development. It broadens our horizons, sheds light on other approaches to and ways of life, and makes us sensitive to the cares and sufferings of others. (Page 22).
  1. Finding a home.
  • Faith presses towards community in which there is mutual stimulus and empowerment. (Page 23).
  1. Taking a break.
  • A Reformational approach to life is certain that creation and world history, the present and the future, do not depend alone on what we do, or what we leave undone.
  • . . . puts trust in God and not in the illusion that happiness can be created by human hands.
  • It takes each day as it comes, with its own joys and sorrows. (Page 25).

 

One is free to find a Christian denomination that fits them personally, but the foundation remains in the lessons that Jesus taught as recorded in the New Testament. Reading the lectionary each week does not always provide insight into one’s life for that particular week, but there are gems of messages that can help each one of us live a Christian lifestyle that makes sense in our personal world.

What the EKD does may not be the celebration we plan this week, but the message of how the Reformation transformed The Church 500 years ago, can serve as a self-evaluation for our church today, but more importantly as a self-check for each one of us individually.

Do you need a revival?

Last week’s commentary on the lectionary certainly forced me to consider this question. Reading through the seven points of reassurance, considering Wesley’s methods for Christian living, and then remembering Job’s three simple rules, the need for a revival seems evident.

Today’s Methodist church is facing the need for a revival and that means each one of us needs to consider the need for a personal revival. Attending the New Wineskins conference a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to learn that many growing congregations that have either been a restart or a new plant are not using any reference to the denomination in its formal name. One speaker noted that it seemed to help not using the term ‘Methodist’ and yet another one said that using the identifying term did not seem to have a negative effect.

Today, our denomination is being challenged to live its very fundamental life style as visibly as any organization. The use of social media, advertising, high-quality graphics and signage all place our Christian values in full public display. If we as Methodists, as a Methodist congregation, do not reflect the image of Christ, then we are in need of a revival.

Paul was clearly supporting the new congregations struggling to live a Christian lifestyle while living in communities that were filled with pagan practices. Christianity was a reformation movement from the beginning and has always adapted to cultural changes one way or another. The Protestant movement that spun out of Martin Luther’s actions as he hung up the 95 Thesis on the door of the church in defiance of the Pope has carried God’s message throughout the world and forward through the centuries.

We must honestly address the question of whether or not we need a revival, and then we must move forward to make sure that we are living out Jesus’ message of loving God and loving one another. Imagine how maintaining those two commandments can transform our world, but most importantly how it can transform our own lives.

The final page of the EKD’s booklet simply states:

A Reformational approach to life – nurtured by historical commemoration, trusting in God, rooted in Scripture, bearing responsibility in the present – is a wellspring of humanity for every society.

 

After all, a wisdom refined by spirituality teaches us to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. Tit 2:12 (RSV) (Page 36).

 

The verse from Titus 2 is part of Paul’s words of instruction to Titus as he is left to serve the church in Crete. The context includes more advice that we need to consider when wondering if we are in need of a revival:

11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God ,13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14, NLT)

As a closing prayer for this anniversary, I used the following from http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.com/2011/10/prayer-for-reformation-sunday.html

Here we stand, Lord,
The people you have redeemed.
Here we stand, Lord,
giving thanks to you for you are good.
We give thanks that your love lasts forever.
We thank you that you free those who are oppressed.

Here we stand knowing that it is you
We all can cry out to for help in times of trouble.
We know that you will not only deliver us but
That you will lead our way to where we need to go.

Here we stand by the living water
That you set flowing for all.
We drink freely from your waters
That gratifies everyone who is thirsty.
And we thank you that you also
Give plenty to eat for those who are hungry.

Here we stand with those who reformed the church so long ago
And with those who still are reforming the church today.
Here we stand witnesses to your good news for all.
Here we stand your servants, your followers, your children.

–by Abigail Carlisle-Wilke

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Oops! Did you misunderstand my letter

This is the sermon and related scripture that I gave on Sunday, October 22, 2017.  The format is a bit different so I hope you can follow it easily.  This also concludes the series of Paul’s letters and the message that still applies to today’s churches.  Thank you all for reading along.  I appreciate your interest and hope these words speak to you.

Reflection: Oops!

How many times do you say something to someone and then discover that maybe they did not really hear what you were saying? All too often, correct?

Paul writes his second letter to the Thessalonians because that is what he thinks may have happened when the church received his first letter. He was afraid that they were not understanding what he said about Jesus’ second coming.

Imagine Paul’s sense of urgency when he learned that members of that Thessalonian church were not following the list of do’s and don’ts that his first letter listed because they only heard that Jesus was returning soon.

Consider the scriptures of this second letter as though you were misunderstanding Paul’s first letter:

 

Opening scripture: 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 11-12, NLT

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

11 So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. 12 Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Reflection continues: But just in case . . .

Communication always has the potential to be heard through a wide range of filters. What one says may not be heard the same way as the speaker intends. How come? There are many reasons the message can become twisted.

For instance, the forecast for the weekend might be partly sunny and that would be fine for an outdoor event. But maybe the partly sunny also means partly cloudy and those clouds might be filled with rain. If you are planning on a day outside, you might hear that forecast as ruining the weekend’s plans while someone who may not need to be outside would hear that same forecast and it would not be an issue.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians tried to address the issue of Jesus Christ’s second coming, but some did not hear Paul’s emphasis on the do’s and don’ts that one should live in order to be prepared at any time for Jesus’ return. What some heard was only that he was going to return at any time. Nothing else mattered to them except that he was coming.

Now Paul hurriedly sent the second letter because he did not want the Thessalonian Christians to continue being idle. Those who thought all they had to do was sit and wait were not living their faith as testimony to Jesus’ teachings.

 

Sermon scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4, NLT

Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.

 

Reflection: . . . you misunderstood my first letter, let me restate . . .

Addressing any misunderstanding is awkward. If one is the message sender/speaker, the words chosen make sense to that person and even if written out and re-read, there is a potential for misunderstanding. The misunderstanding can develop from a range of possibilities.

For instance, maybe there is a translation issue. Paul new more than one language, but who knows the native language the different members of the Thessalonian church making it necessary to translate the letter. Another possibility is that as the listener hears that first letter, the selective hearing only catches Paul’s statement that Jesus will be coming soon.

The same thing happens in communication efforts today. We may hear a news story through a personal filter that is different than the main purpose of reporting that story. Or maybe we have a prejudiced feeling toward one of the people (or party) that is central to the news report. That filter may “color” how you understand the story.

Reading on into the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians needs to be read with care, too. Reading this portion of the chapter might cause us to do the same thing that the early audience did concerning the second coming.

Hear Paul’s words with open minds, and try listening carefully through the filter of the earliest church and be alert to possible filters of today such as being an American:

 

Sermon scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12, NLT

     Don’t you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you? And you know what is holding him back, for he [Jesus] can be revealed only when his time comes. For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back steps out of the way. Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming.

     This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. 10 He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. 11 So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. 12 Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.

 

Reflection: Let me restate what I mean.

Paul’s primary message is just as critical today as it was when he wrote that first letter to the Thessalonians which had to be why he felt so much urgency to write a second letter. This places today’s reader in a position to read it carefully—listen to it carefully.

Only one thing matters at all: live each day in the same way that Jesus lived his. Love one another. Read scripture. Worship. And live each day to the fullest: don’t be idle or lazy; work hard. In fact, Paul stated what he recommended very straight forward:

we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us . . . [2 Thessalonians 3:6]

Paul did not want any misunderstanding. He wanted these believers who were new to their faith to fully understand that waiting for Jesus’ return did not mean to quit living.

As Christians still waiting for Jesus to return, we must follow the same advice that Paul gave the Thessalonians in both of his letters. God’s timeline does not match our human timeline; so, while we wait, we live. We live a Christ-like life doing all we can for one another in love. We live a Christ-like life studying scripture and worshiping. And, as Paul tells all the churches in his letters, we pray.

 

Closing scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, NLT

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we ask you to pray for us. Pray that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you. Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one And we are confident in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we commanded you. May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.

 

Closing prayer:

Dear Patient Father,

May we honestly hear Paul’s ancient words

            as words of advice for us yet today.

Help us to listen carefully without filters

            so we may learn to live Christ-like lives.

Guide those who share the scriptures’ message

            so your words are not misunderstood.

Show us how you want us to share the news

            of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection

            and how our faith leads to salvation.

With these words, and the words of Paul,

            may we hear the promise of eternal life. –Amen.

 

 

 

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