Category Archives: Religion

Just what do I do?

sermon given on Sunday, October 15, 2017–continuing with the letters of Paul and asking the question:  What does Paul’s letter tell today’s church?

Opening scripture: I Thessalonians 4:1, 11-12, NLT

. . . we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. . . . 11 Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. 12 Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

 

Opening reflection: Just what do I do?

Only two more letters that Paul wrote to the early churches remain to review. The overarching question these past several weeks has been what message is in the letter for today’s church right here in our own community.

Each letter has followed a basic outline as any business letter we might write even today. There really is not a marked difference: the salutation, a brief familiar introduction, and then the business of the message—the reason Paul writes the letter. Once he is done with the business portion, he wraps up the letter with personal messages and reminders, even suggesting what he plans to do next.

By the time we read the two letters to the Thessalonian church, we know what to expect. But the first letter could be written to any individual in the church with whom Paul was concerned had strayed from the basic teaching. The instructions are very specific.

These opening verses seem very personal, especially if you include the reminder about sexual morality that is covered in the verses 2-10. As Paul greets his reader, so we greet each other with these opening verses. Do what Jesus taught you and you will be respected and not depend on others.

 

Sermon’s scripture connection: I Thessalonians 5:6-22, NLT

     So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk.But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

     For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

     12 Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. 13 Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.

     14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

     15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.

     16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

     19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

 

Reflection continues: Do all you can to live like Jesus.

            All my life I have had books around me. Of course growing up before all the multimedia tools existed helped, and I learned early that if I had a book report to make I did not have to do chores until I finished it. Reading was fun and lead me to dream a great deal.

Remember those early book series, The Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames the Nurse, and my brother’s choice The Hardy Boys. We also had National Geographic, Look, Life, Farm Journal, Successful Farming, the Mexico Ledger and the Montgomery Standard. We had reading materials available in all kinds of forms. Reading let us go beyond the 160 acres of the farm or the boundaries of the Bellflower Elementary School and later Montgomery County R-II.

Reading Paul’s letters is somewhat like reading self-help books. The author identifies a problem, and then outlines the advice one should follow to rectify the problem. And yes, I have read my share of self-help books on a range of topics for a variety of reasons: co-dependency, dieting, teaching, organizing, time management, goal setting, and the list continues including assigned readings for pastors.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a self-help manual. It is not overly wordy and not filled with a great deal of examples. This letter is to the point, and reading it one might wonder just what in the world the people really were doing. Hopefully the tabloids were not spreading the news and he was listening carefully to the church’s leaders.

By the time one reads through the introduction, Paul’s message becomes clear. Just what does one do to live as a Christian while they wait for Jesus to return? Even though Paul reminds them of the one commandment: love one another; he does acknowledge that they are following that rule. Yet the church apparently is struggling to know just how long the wait for Jesus’ return is.

Like reading self-help books, the final goal of such reading is not just one event or one moment in time, the advice is for a lifetime change regardless of where one is, how old one is, or whether there is a finite date attached to the timeline. Paul explains that there is no way for anybody to know when Jesus will return but we must do what Jesus taught us to do all the time.

Certainly today, over 2,000 years later than Paul’s ministry, we know that our perception of when Christ will return is impossible to define. We cannot continue to focus on the exact time Jesus is expected to return; rather we are to focus on doing all that we can do to live Christ-like lives.

Paul knew this and in the effort to help the Thessalonians live confidently and expectantly for Christ’s return whenever it might be, he lists the specific behaviors that each Christian should exhibit in verses 5:6-22. If these were listed in a self-help book today, they would be summarized in bullet format or might read like a table of contents for a more in-depth book (located on the bulletin’s cover and extemporaneously discuss each listing):

  • Stay alert and be clearheaded (don’t get drunk).
  • Encourage and build each other up.
  • Honor leaders giving spiritual guidance.
  • Show spiritual leaders respect and wholehearted love.
  • Live peacefully with each other
  • Warn those who are lazy.
  • Encourage the timid.
  • Take tender care of the weak.
  • Be patient with everyone.
  • Do not pay back evil with evil.
  • Try to do good to each other and to all people.
  • Always be joyful
  • Never stop praying.
  • Be thankful in all circumstances.
  • Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.
  • Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything said.
  • Hold on to what is good.
  • Stay away from every kind of evil.

 

These behaviors are so clearly stated the Thessalonians did not have to question what Paul expected of them. The return date of Jesus Christ was not important, but living Christ-like was. By following these guidelines, the Christians are always ready for Christ’s return whether it is in broad daylight or in the middle of the night, whether this week or next week, or maybe in a year or two.

            Just what do we do? Simply do all that we can to live Christ-like lives. We live like Christ individually and as a church. We read the self-help books Paul wrote to the earliest churches; we continue to read all the Bible’s books seeking for the wisdom of living as God asks us to live loving one another.

Waiting is tough, especially if the deadline is not evident and is completely unclear after two millenniums. We must live simply and lovingly doing all that we can to share God’s infinite love with all of creation. We must keep doing whatever we can to teach others about God’s grace and love. We must worship God together thanking him for his love, his grace, and the promise of salvation.

Just what do we do? We simply do what we can, all the time we can, so we can be filled with the joy of living never worrying about when Christ will return. And, as Paul said in his opening: (1:12) Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. (4:17). . . we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up. . . Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18So encourage each other. . .

Closing prayer:

Dear gracious, loving and patient Father,

 

When we ask just what we are to do,

You tell us through the words of scripture.

Today Paul’s words share your message

That is timeless, encouraging and practical.

 

May we turn to each other to strengthen

our skills to live as Christ lived.

May we join together to do good

And defend ourselves from evil.

 

Guide us and arm us with the Holy Spirit

So we may share the joy of living like Christ

Doing all we can to encourage others

And practice what Paul teaches in his letters.

 

May the drunken become clearheaded,

May the homeless be housed,

May the hungry be fed, and

May the weak be strong.

 

Through the words of the Scripture

And by the power of the Holy Spirit

Let us serve one another in love

Doing all that we can so we may meet Jesus. –Amen.

 

Reflection’s conclusion: And The Church must follow the advice, too.

I encourage each one of you to read the Bible as your own self-help book. Paul is guiding us as individuals, but he is also guiding us as The Church. The advice is not always pleasant and may cause us to wince as we honestly evaluate what we do against what Paul tells us to do.

Attending the New Wineskins conference provided me an opportunity to hear what today’s innovative spiritual leaders are doing. When John Wesley redefined The Church into what we know as Methodism, the change was tough to accept for many. Yet, Wesley’s theology and his methods continue to follow Paul’s advice.

We must do what God asks us to do, both individually and as one of his church’s congregations. Somehow we have to find the courage to live Christ-like lives right here, right now, in any way we can or we have to find a new way.

Closing scripture: I Thessalonians 5:23-24, 28, NLT

23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. . . . 28 May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

The Church’s Do’s and Don’ts

Sermon given on Sunday, October 8, 2017

Opening scriptures: Colossians 1:15—20, NLT

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,[a]
16 for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.[b]
So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

 

Reflection: The Church’s Do’s and Don’ts

            Weeks ago I began the process of reading Paul’s letters for advice that made sense to our own church now 2,000 years later. I could not predict what each letter was going to tell the church that made sense in our world today, yet the message always seems appropriate.

No one can ignore the horrific news that greeted us Monday morning about the insane shooting in Las Vegas, yet reading the letter Paul wrote to Colossians continues to be as important today as it was in those earliest days of The Church. We must be unified in Christ and determine what we as a church, as well as individuals, can do to tell the Good News to others.

In our opening scripture, we have a statement that summarizes The Church’s relationship to Jesus Christ. That opening verse reminds us that Christ was a real human being: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. . .

These opening verses emphasizes the very basic foundation of the church and its relationship to Jesus Christ. In a world filled with all types of evil and doubting thoughts, we need to hear Paul’s statement and know it to be the very basis of why The Church must do all it can to spread this truth in our world today. It is just as important as it was in Paul’s day or any time in human history since Jesus Christ walked the earth demonstrating and teaching how to love one another despite all the heretics yet today.

 

Scripture continues: Colossians 3:8, 12-17, NLT

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. . . .

     12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

     16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

 

Reflection continues:

Admittedly I am a ‘newsaholic’ and could easily sit and work around the house with a news station running 24/7. I don’t because that is also mentally unhealthy. Living in a world that can feed all the events occurring anywhere around the globe instantly into our own homes, we are beaten up by negative input.

True, there is positive news that can be reported, too, it just does not meet what is considered newsworthy that must be shared immediately. While in Journalism School in the mid-1970s, students were taught that there is a responsibility to report news that is timely, that is geographically related, and that pertains to people who have name recognition in the area of publication.

The communication technology was beginning to effect society and studies in the 1970s included whether what was on television or movie screen would negatively effect viewers, especially young people. Now, 40 years later, the effects are evident. The Church can be an active element in society today if it can follow the guidelines that Paul provides in the letter to Colossians.

            Paul outlines the dos and don’ts for The Church and should also be the does and don’ts in our own individual lives. Christ is in us and it is in us as The Church. There is no excuse for not following these guidelines right now, especially in light of all the horrors that are broadcast at us at all times. Paul’s guidelines work and can be more powerful than anything broadcast at us through our media today.

The verse 3:8 lists the don’ts and they seem so obvious: . . . get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. . .  Sadly, the list seems to be the very themes of almost any entertainment program, movie or even video game. We are being flooded with such graphic images of these very don’ts Paul listed.

Defending ourselves from these is tough as adults, just imagine how tough it is for our young people who are growing up with them daily. There is no limiting the access to these very negative behaviors through the seemingly infinite sources that flood our lives today.

The skills to defend ourselves and our children and our communities are listed in Paul’s letter as the do’s for The Church trying to maintain Jesus’ teachings. The verses in 3:12-17 outline the do’s for The Church but also for each one of us:

  • . . . clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
  • Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.
  • Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.14 
  • Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
  • 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.
  • And always be thankful.

Each one of these do’s are so practical. The cost is nothing other than our own willingness to demonstrate them.

The Church can work as a media element itself. It can do whatever it can to show people how to use the do’s that Paul lists in these verses. The Church must be a place where one can step in for a worship service and expect tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, peace, and love.

The Church is more than a building or a location in any form, the Church is the people of Jesus Christ. As humans, we are fallible. We come to church to fine-tune the do’s Paul teaches us. We come to church to find peace. We come to church to ask forgiveness. We come to church to learn and to counsel each other in how to live our beliefs in a world filled with evil and all forms of cynicism.

Paul’s letters from the first one to the Romans, through today’s verses to the Colossians and I am sure in the letters to the Thessalonians, continue to teach us how to combat false teachings, how to live in unity in Christ, how to tell the Good News, and how to pray.

Today, we must remember the do’s and don’ts that Paul lists in his letter to the Colossians as though they are written to us today. We must not fail because we have a responsibility to God that we accepted upon our baptism. We are to do all we can to be The Church so that others may learn the Good News of Christ’s life, death and resurrection so that we may be forgiven of our sins and join him in life eternal. We are God’s representatives and we must forgive one another as well as encourage one another to continue living as God’s messengers to all.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and forgiving Father,

We ask you to speak to us through the words of Paul.

We ask you to forgive us for our anger, rage, malicious behaviors,

            slander and dirty language.

We thank you for giving us the strength to demonstrate tenderhearted

            mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

We thank you that Paul guides us in how to forgive others,

            and how to love one another.

May we continue to learn from Paul’s letters and scriptures

            from the books of Old and New Testaments, especially the Gospel.

May we find wisdom while we teach and learn from each other,

            and through our worship.

May we know the joy of living our lives giving thanks to You for the gift

            of your son Jesus Christ, so that our lives are transformed.

In the name of You, God the father,

            Your Son, Jesus Christ,

                        And the Holy Spirit which is you within us. Amen

 

Closing scriptures: Colossians 4:5-6, NLT

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive[a] so that you will have the right response for everyone.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

From chaos to order at the Lord’s table

Sermon given on Sunday, October 1, 2017 and includes communion as part of World Communion Day.

Scripture connections:

Philippians 1:2,6

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

. . .  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

Philippians 1:27-30; 2:2-4, 12-13

1: 27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

 

2: Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

     Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

. . . 12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

 

Philippians 4:4-6, 8-9 & 13

4: Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.[c]

     Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

. . . And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

. . . 13 For I can do everything through Christ,[d] who gives me strength.

 

Reflection: From chaos . . .

This week has been tough. How does one go from such a high as a baptism service, then experience utter chaos and then wake up to a new day? Prayer.   The only answer is prayer and turning to scripture.

Today the Christian world joins in the oldest sacrament of discipleship there is—Communion, Eucharist, or as listed in our denomination’s hymnal, A Service of Word and Table. The entire Christian community is sitting down at the table, speaking figuratively, and hearing the same words in their native languages and tasting the bread and the wine or juice as is customary in their local community.

Last week is over and the new week is ahead.

At no other time is sharing in the word and the table more critical than it is today. The crisis in our own church family is just a miniscule issue in comparison to the myriad of crises that span our state, our country, our hemisphere, and our world. Still the pain of any crisis is real and the answers seem evasive. Where does one turn to find answers, to find solace, to find purpose?

This week my crises lead me to serious reflection, prayer, discussion and scripture. My days seemed flat, so to speak, but I still go to bed, still wake up, and still continue the routines I have established, even rely on, whenever chaos clutters up my life.

Yes I cried. I yelled. I whined. I cried some more. Then I found quiet, and the world slowed down a bit. My mind cleared and I prayed. Remember, in baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit and God is within us. I had to clear my head and find quiet in order to hear God through the Holy Spirit.

Returning to my personal practice of reading the lectionary in preparation for the Monday morning discussion group, I heard God speaking. I realized that the work over these past few months of reading Paul’s letters and discerning or seeking God’s advice through those letters was just as important if not more important this week than in the past weeks.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians provides me and us words to restart church or to use in reassessing this faith community through scripture and prayer. The chaos of one Sunday is simply a symptom of an illness that lingers for years. In the first two chapters of Philippians, Paul provides the prescription for a healthy, or at least healthier, congregation.

Remember, Paul is in prison and is visited by the congregation’s leader. He hears what is going on from this messenger and writes the letter in praise, not only for sending him a care package as we might call it today but also for the success of the congregation:

“. . . for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work. . . (Philippians 1:3)

Hearing these words this week causes me pain. Reading Paul’s message of praise to the Philippian church forces me to evaluate the work of our church: Can we honestly say that we are spreading the Good News about Christ?

God calls each one of us to share the message that God loves us, in fact God loves us so much that he joined us on this earth as Jesus, a child born of a man and a woman just like any one of us, a child that had to go through all the same physical development stages as we did, and a child raised in the faith of his human family like so many of us. We share the human experience with God through Jesus Christ.

Paul’s experience was no different, and he was raised as a Jew just like Jesus was, too. The difference was that Paul did not “hear” the good news. Instead, he persecuted those who did hear Jesus’ message of loving one another and disregarding the Old Law of Moses.

Last week baptism reminded us that loving one another is God’s law. Last week we reaffirmed our own baptism through the words of the liturgy that is used in our churches around this world. Today we share in the word and the cup in union with Christians around the globe. Our personal lives may be filled with chaos, but we return to scripture, to the table, and to prayer in order to be in communion with God.

Let us enter into an attitude of prayer as we join God and the host of the faithful who have been, are and will be ever part of the Christian family:

[UMH p. 6 for “A Service of Word and Table I]

Returning to the reflection. . . to order . . .

During the week, I have read and re-read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. When I first began the journey as a pastor, I found myself relying on the Philippians verse 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

For several years I had enjoyed the Mitford Collection, a series of books about an Episcopal priest, Father Tim. His verse was Philippians 4:13 and as I read through the series and thought about my own life, I discovered myself holding on to that same verse. That was my guiding principle I used on the bulletin that first year. This week while sorting out the chaos, there was the verse again.

Paul’s letter primarily was a compliment to the church, but the lessons he shares help pull me out of a sense of chaos to a sense of order. In the first chapter, I hear the purpose and the outcome of being a Christian:

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. (Philippians 1:10-11)

Reading on, the message seemed earmarked for me:

  • . . . everything that has happened to me here has helped spread the Good News. . . .
  • . . . preach about Christ with pure motives.
  • . . . the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.
  • . . . as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.
  • . . .fully expect and hop that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bod for Christ. . .
  • . . . trust that my life will bring honor to Christ. . .
  • . . . living means living for Christ. . .

And then, in verse 25 is the overall goal of life as a pastor:

  • . . . [to] continue to help all of your grow and experience the joy of your faith.

Last Sunday was a high, the baptism of young people, but the chaos that followed the service crashed my world. I can apologize for the human weakness I exhibited, but it has caused triggered a week of self-reflection and re-ordering of my life. The work is tough, but Paul’s letter provides the guidance God wants each of us to follow:

[Insert the scriptures: Philippians 1;27-30; 2:2-4, 12-13]

[UMH p. 8: The Service of Table and Word I]

  • Confession and Pardon

 

Reflecting continues . . . at God’s table

            The passing of time in God’s world does not match the sense of time we experience in our daily lives. The chaos of a week ago is gone. The week of reordering our lives is over, now, too.

Today, we join the world community of Christians at the table. At the table, there is promise. At the table, we are in union with God through the gift of his son Jesus Christ. From chaos to order all at God’s table. All!

An act of thanksgiving:

  • Offering (with offertory)
  • *Doxology UMH 95
  • *Prayer of thanksgiving:

                                    Dear Loving Father:

                                         Please accept these gifts

                                       as thanks for your grace.

                                         for our salvation through Jesus Christ,

                                         and the promise of life eternal.

                                         May we work together

                                         to serve as your disciples

                                        so others may experience your love. –Amen

 

UMH p. 9-10: The Service of Table and Word I

  • Thanksgiving and Communion
  • Breaking the Bread
  • Giving the Bread and Cup

 

Closing Philippians 4:4-6, 8-9 & 13

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

The Sacrament of Baptism

given on Sunday, September 24, 2017

Special note:  Because we have seldom had the opportunity to baptize anybody, I decided to make the entire service a teaching time for the sacrament of baptism.  The following are the comments and the liturgy that I used.  I hope it helps all to understand.

 

*Opening words about the Sacrament of Baptism:

 

            Today we are so privileged to have two young people decide to be baptized. The last few years, our small community has watched life transitions shrink our congregation. Today, we get to celebrate in the life transition of baptism.

Baptism is a ritual The Church has initiated for those who chose to accept God’s gift of grace into their lives. As we go through the liturgy, you will hear how the ritual affirms the decision to be part of The Church which includes all Christian denominations.

Baptism in the Methodist tradition begins at any time in one’s life.

  • Parents can bring their children to be baptized as infants committing to raising them within the church of their choice.
  • Young people can make the decision to be baptized on their own at any time in their life as they learn about God and his son Jesus Christ.
  • Adults, even at the end of their life journey, can decide to be baptized acknowledging their acceptance of God’s grace and salvation.

The United Methodist Church acknowledges the baptism of any individual in any Christian denomination. One baptism, whether as an infant or later, acknowledges one’s inclusion as a child of God.       Therefore, those who wish to renew their personal relationship can reaffirm their baptism at any time. Today, we offer the opportunity for any others to join in reaffirming their baptism, too.

 

Please turn in your hymnal to page 33: The Baptismal Covenant I

(At times the words will be adjusted to meet the particular needs of today’s service.)

 

Pastor:         Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Through the Sacrament of Baptism

we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.

We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation

and given new birth through water and the Spirit.

All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.

 

Today as we join in the sacrament of Baptism,

we can also choose to reaffirm our own baptism,

acknowledging what God has, is and will be doing for us,

and affirming our commitment to Christ’s holy Church.

 

Presentation of the Candidates UMH p.33

 

*Comments about the decision and preparation of candidates

Each person here today has a story about his or her own baptism. I myself was baptized as an infant. My mom and dad made the decision. I know others here made the decision themselves as young people.

For those who were baptized after making the decision for themselves, the words of the liturgy probably have more significance than it did for me. In order to prepare for baptism, Ali and Sami sat down with me for several meetings to go over the ritual and its words. We talked about what the experience meant to believers and what it means to them. We talked about different ways to experience it, too.

The methods of baptism range from sprinkling drops of water from a small bowl to full emersion in all kinds of water filled settings. As Ali and Sami began thinking about their own baptism, they considered full emersion at Truman Lake, but summer sped past and here we are today.

As you notice, we are going to do all we can to assure them that baptism is a full experience, one they will never forget. What better time for all of us, so far removed by the years from our own baptism, to reaffirm our baptism, too.

The ritual includes three primary parts: the call to repent of one’s sins, the water bath representing the cleansing of one’s sins, and finally the acceptance of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit which is God within us. The words of the ritual have had very few changes since the church first began. Even Jesus Christ experienced baptism and he was about 30 years old when he asked his cousin John the Baptist to baptize him:

 

Opening scripture: Matthew 3:11-17, NLT

 

[John the Baptist is speaking.] 11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

 

Pastor:         Today I have the honor of presenting

Alex and Samantha Heyer for baptism. (have them stand)

 

Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith (Call to Repent) UMH p.34

 

Scripture: John 3:16-17, NLT

 

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. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 

Pastor:         On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,

reject the evil powers of this world,

and repent of your sin?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you

to resist evil, injustice, and oppression

in whatever forms they present themselves?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Pastor:         Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,

put your whole trust in his grace,

and promise to serve him as your Lord,

in union with the Church which Christ has opened

to people of all ages, nations, and races?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Pastor:         According to the grace given to you,

will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church

and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?

 

Candidate: I will.

 

Profession of Faith using the Apostle’s Creed UMH p.35

 

*Comments about the Apostle’s Creed:

As the Apostles established The Church after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, there was an effort to find ways to maintain the common beliefs.

The Apostle’s Creed was the result of the earliest church conferences meeting in ancient times. The creed is divided into three parts that clearly define the Christian belief in the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In the liturgy today, the Apostle’s Creed is divided into three answers to the pastor’s questions. By joining in the Apostle’s Creed, we are restating the foundation of the Christian faith (Have the congregation stand.):

 

Pastor:         Let us join together in professing the Christian faith

as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New                                             Testaments.

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in God the Father?

 

All:     I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven

                        and earth.

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in Jesus Christ?

 

All:     I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

            who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

            born of the Virgin Mary,

            suffered under Pontius Pilate,

            was crucified, died, and was buried;

            he descended to the dead.

            On the third day he rose again;

            he ascended into heaven,

            is seated at the right hand of the Father,

            and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

 

All:     I believe in the Holy Spirit,

            the holy catholic* church,

            the communion of saints,

            the forgiveness of sins,

            the resurrection of the body,

            and the life everlasting.

 

UMC Hymn 191    Jesus Loves Me

 

Thanksgiving over the water (UMH p. 36)

 

*Comments about the symbolic use of water:

            Many might ask why water is used in the ritual. Water symbolizes life and rebirth. From the beginning of time, humans have understood that we are born through water, and we are cleansed by water. The Church uses baptism with water to represent the rebirth as a Christian and the cleansing of one’s sins as we ask for forgiveness.

Water is considered the source of life. Today we use water as a symbol of being born into the Christian family. Even though we have been present in the church for years, it is important that we personally recognize that our lives are God driven. Water is a reminder that we are born into God’s family and we are cleansed of our sins.

Join in the liturgy that blesses the water and allows us to experience that symbolic connection to God as our father and to Jesus Christ our redeemer.

 

Pastor:         The Lord be with you.

 

All:                 And also with you.

 

Pastor:         Let us pray:

 

Eternal Father:

When nothing existed but chaos,

you swept across the dark waters

and brought forth light.

In the days of Noah

you saved those on the ark through water.

After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.

When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt,

you led them to freedom through the sea.

Their children you brought through the Jordan

to the land which you promised.

 

All:     Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

            Tell of God’s mercy each day.

 

Pastor:         In the fullness of time you sent Jesus,

nurtured in the water of a womb.

He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.

He called his disciples

to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection

and to make disciples of all nations.

 

All:     Declare Christ’s works to the nations,

            his glory among all the people.

 

Pastor:         Pour out your Holy Spirit,

and by this gift of water call to our remembrance

the grace declared to us in our baptism.

For you have washed away our sins,

and you clothe us with righteousness

throughout our lives,

that dying and rising with Christ

we may share in his final victory.

 

Pastor:         All praise to you, Eternal Father,  

            through your Son Jesus Christ,

            who with you and the Holy Spirit

            lives and reigns for ever. Amen.

 

Reaffirmation of Faith UMH p. 37

 

*Comments about reaffirming one’s faith:

            Even though we are here to witness Ali and Sami in their decision to be baptized, we can take the opportunity to reaffirm our own baptism. God is with us throughout our lives, be we are not perfect.

We make mistakes. We sin. And yet we know that God is always present. It is up to us to recognize that we have failed and must ask for forgiveness.

You are invited to join in with others who wish to reaffirm their baptism, too. The words of reaffirmation do not replace your once-in-a-life experience; it simply reconnects you to God.

With the words of today’s liturgy and the opportunity to experience the water that we have given thanks for earlier. You may touch it, dribble it, sprinkle it, fling it, or even make the sign of the cross with it. You can handle it as you wish, but the pastor cannot re-baptize you.

 

Pastor:         Remember your baptism and be thankful.

 

All:     Amen.

 

Pastor (those choosing to participate, may walk up to the water):     

The Holy Spirit work within you,

that having been born through water and the Spirit,

you may live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

All:     Amen.

 

Transferring membership from another congregation:

 

*Comments on transferring memberships:

United Methodist Churches know that one’s membership may need to change due to life experiences. Whether one is moving from one community to another, whether one decides to change denominations for any reason, or whether life circumstances shift one way or another, it is a simple matter of changing one’s church membership.

For those moving from other denominations, becoming familiar with the doctrine of the United Methodists may be necessary. But transferring from one United Methodist congregation to another is much simpler and leaves only one question to ask in order to officially make the transfer.

 

Pastor:         Sharon Dzula has made the decision to transfer her

membership from her long-time church home of Mt. Tabor to our church.

 

Will you be loyal to the Community United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence,

your gifts, and your service?

 

Transferee:            Yes, I will.

 

Baptism with Laying on of Hands (UMH p. 37)

Comments on the practice of Laying on of Hands.

As we near the end of today’s service, the time has come to finalize the baptism ritual. Rather than administering the traditional means of sprinkling, we are going to use the practice of laying on the hands for Ali and Sami.

All are invited to surround them as they wish, place their hands upon them or the others who can reach them, as we welcome them into the Christian faith:

 

Pastor: Alex, I baptize you in the name of the Father,

and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Sami, I baptize you in the name of the Father,

And of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

All:     Amen

 

Pastor:         The Holy Spirit works within you,

That being born through water and the Spirit,

You may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

All:     Amen

 

The Sacrament of Communion:

 

*Comments about the communion as a church family:

            We are closing the sacrament of baptism with the second sacrament the church recognizes: Communion, aka as the Eucharist, or the Table of Bread and Word.

Throughout history communities have come together around the table. In our congregation, the tradition is the first Sunday of the month, but today sharing the cup and the bread is one final way to welcome all who believe in Jesus Christ to be in fellowship together.

 

UMC Hymn 620    One Bread, One Body

 

UMC page 13-14

 

Thanksgiving and welcome:

 

*Comments about local membership in the church:

Baptism is the first step in committing one’s self to the Christian lifestyle. The door is open to a life of joy knowing that whatever trials and tribulations we must face on earth, we are given the strength we need.

God is ever with us because he promised that upon our baptism he grants us the Holy Spirit, which is God within us. We have a responsibility to learn all we can about God and how he sent Jesus Christ to teach us how to live:

  • We have a responsibility to live in loving relationships with others.
  • We have a responsibility to love others as we want to be loved.
  • We have a responsibility to do all that we can in all the ways that we can for all that we can.

By joining together with other Christians, regardless of their church denomination, we will discover the joy in living as Paul shares in his letter to the Philippians:

 

Closing Scripture: Philippians 1:3-10, NLT

 

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

 

Pastor: Now it is our joy to welcome you as sisters in Christ.

 

All:     Through baptism

            You are incorporated by the Holy Spirit

                        Into God’s new creation

            And made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood.

            We are all one in Christ Jesus.

            With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you

                        as members of the family of Christ.

 

Pastor:         Let us rejoice in the faithfulness of our covenant God.

 

All:     We give thanks for all that God has already given us.

As members of the body of Christ

and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church,

we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the Church

            by our prayers, our presence, our gifts,

our service and our witness

            that in everything God may be glorified

            through Jesus Christ.

 

UMC Hymn 77       How Great Thou Art (to the accompaniment of Elvis)

 

Closing words and benediction UMH p. 39

 

Pastor:        The God of all grace,

Who has called us to eternal glory in Christ,

Establish you and strengthen you

By the power of the Holy Spirit,

That you may live in grace and peace.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Why is church a place to belong?

given on Sunday, September 17, 2017

SCRIPTURE CONNECTIONS

Opening: Ephesians 1:3-8, NLT

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.[a] He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

 

Sermon scripture:

  1. Ephesians 2:14-16, NLT

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

 

B: Ephesians 2:19-22

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

 

  1. Ephesians 4:11-12, 31-32, NLT

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

  1. Ephesians 5:18b-20, NLT

Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Closing: Ephesians 3:20-21, NLT

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

 

Reflection: Why is church a place to belong?

Our neighbors keep changing. When we bought the house almost 20 years ago, we did not know the neighbors; and we did not buy it based on who was living next door. The house was what we chose.

Fortunately for us the decision was positive because we feel like we live where we belong. The neighborhood has been filled with people we ended up knowing and enjoying as neighbors. Yet over these past 18 years, the neighbors keep changing.

Today is designated as “Back to Church Sunday” as a national outreach campaign. The churches in our communities, especially the smaller ones, are struggling to fit into their neighborhoods because the mobile society keeps the areas around the churches ever changing. The churches no longer seem to belong where they are.

In reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I do not think he was concerned about whether or not the church fit into the community around it. This letter’s purpose was to encourage the church. The opening scripture greets the church with an appealing reason to be part of God’s church:

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

The decision on where to live is based on the reasons why a location is chosen. Reasons for the location range from family proximity, jobs, schools, city services, and even personal preferences as to historical districts, shopping preferences, and the list just keeps growing. The choice of location also is related to the basic needs of the family: food, clothing and shelter must be accessible.

Then the decision is tied to the next tier of needs—a sense of belonging. Once an individual’s needs for food, shelter and clothing are met, the next need is to feel a sense of belonging. Today’s mobile society makes finding a place to belong difficult.

The “Back to Church” campaign created a flier that helps explain this need:

As primal as our need for food and shelter, our need to belong is part of what makes us human. Yet belonging easily escapes us. We are often disappointed by the very people we thought we were most strongly connected to.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was shared with the other churches, much like an email we might forward to others we know. The letter identified many reasons that the church was a place people were unified and equal, and that was why church was a place to belong.

Paul opens his letter with words of encouragement, writing how God

. . . is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

This is the foundation for the church. We are loved and God so loved us that he gave his only son Jesus Christ for our salvation. All who are baptized, who profess Jesus Christ as their savior, belong in the Christian family.

Paul’s letter explains the church unifies all who believe:

15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

The church is a place for everybody to belong. Paul goes on throughout his letter to explain how the church is unified, how it is Holy Spirit driven, and how it uses each person’s individual talents to serve God.

His letter encourages the church on the very behaviors that are necessary to create an environment where everybody belongs and works in unity. The church is a place for everybody to belong.

Today’s national campaign, Back to Church Sunday, challenges each of us to consider whether or not our church(es) are a place where people have a sense of belonging. If it is not, then work is needed.

The flier, A Place to Belong, identifies the different attitudes people have towards churches:

The word “Church” means different things to different people. For some, it awakens warm feelings of childhood potlucks and singing. For others, it might trigger a more sour feeling, a subtle tensing of the shoulders. People’s reactions to the Church are as varied as their individual histories.

Paul’s letter encourages churches by including a list of qualities the church should develop to create a place all are welcome and can have a sense of belonging. The list also includes behaviors to avoid:

  • 4:2-3 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
  • 4:7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.
  • 4:11-12 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
  • 4:30-32 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Today we may not have joined in the nationwide campaign to get Back to Church, but it is never too late to invite those who have been or have never been to church to come to church. The key, though, is the church must be a place where people do belong and want to belong. Paul said,  “10 God’s purpose . . . was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety . . . “

Our responsibility is to be the church family that works together to do all that we can for all we can in any way we can. We must do what we can to open the doors to those who seek a place to belong. The church “is not a building. It’s a community of people brought together to experience God’s love and purpose. . . . God wants each of us to find a place of belonging in His family.” Is our church a place others want to belong or do we need to work on the behaviors that Paul outlined to the Ephesians? Let’s work to be a place where anybody can experience God’s love and purpose. This is where we want to belong and we want to make sure others transformed by God’s love also want to belong here.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

 

Guide us in this time of resting and renewal

So we can hear what you ask us to do.

As we join together in worship and study,

Speak to us how to shape our church into a place to belong.

 

Guide us in hearing Paul’s message to ancient churches

So we can learn what we can do in our church.

Let us find the wisdom of unity and of inclusiveness

That creates a space of equality filled with your love.

 

Guide us to use your words to teach others

So they too may know your grace and salvation.

As we read and study your scriptures,

May we commit to doing life together

so others find a place to belong in your church.

 

In the name of you the Father, the son Jesus Christ,

And through the Holy Spirit, amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Managing Faith’s Freedom

Sermon given on Sunday, September 10, 2017

Scripture foundation:

Opening: Galatians 5:1

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. 

Sermon: Galatians 5:4-6, 22-26

But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. . . .

. . . 22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

 Closing: Galatians 5:6b, 10a, 13b & 16a

. . . What is important is faith expressing itself in love.

. . . I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings.

. . . Use your freedom to serve one another in love.

. . . let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.

 

Reflection: Managing Faith’s Freedom

Do you know what it feels like when you suddenly have a change of plans and you are free from prior obligations? All too often, we get so busy managing our hectic lives, that we are slaves to our calendar. Then, all of the sudden something gets canceled and you are free—at least for the day.

Oddly enough, that unplanned free day causes me problems. In a sense, I am lost. I have no idea how to relax or how to add in a chore needing to be finished that had been put off too long. The sudden release from the obligation causes me to be careless in managing my time.

I cannot help but wonder if that was similar to how the Jewish Galatians felt when suddenly the Old Law of Moses did not apply to their lives. All their lives they were held to the stringent law that the religious leaders administered.

Every little step in their lives was dictated; they were slaves to the law. Paul heard that the old religious traditions were still being required, even of the Gentiles. His letter is scolding the leaders that no longer are the old Jewish laws necessary. As Christians, Jesus Christ freed them from the Old Law and no longer required the Jewish traditions, even of circumcision.

Reading Galatians is difficult for us today. The Old Jewish traditions and laws no longer apply, and the thousands of years since then have distanced us from the legalistic style of religion practiced by the ancient Jewish people. We may not really understand the stress the Jewish Christians were placing on the Gentiles now following Jesus Christ.

Therefore, back to the calendar. Looking at a busy week, the daily chores have to be managed—meals, laundry, cleaning, etc. Yet the calendar shows appointments, meetings and events making for a busy week.

Then suddenly, a meeting is canceled or the doctor’s office calls and asks to reschedule. The calendar abruptly changes and you are free! What happens with that slot of time now?

The sudden opening in one’s schedule can cause one to ‘lollygag,’ so to speak. You know what I mean, waste time. I do not quickly reassign that time to some other task that needs to be done or schedule something else.

The freedom that I sense can lure me into wasting the time I just got back. I can fail to be productive. I can ignore my responsibilities. I become frozen and unable to get anything done.

Paul warned the Galatians that the freedom from the law did not give them the freedom to do whatever they wanted. He warned them of how easy it is to be lured into sin. The list is given in Galatians 5:19-21:

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

The list is specific, but it also is not the only list of sinful behaviors. We could easily add more. Being a sloth, for instance, could be listed, which means lazy and/or unproductive.

Using every argument Paul could, he repeatedly told the Galatian Christians that faith in God through belief in Jesus Christ releases us from the old law. We are free to live as Christians following the one commandment: love one another. Paul states this in Galatians 5:13-14:

13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

One law supersedes all others. One law provides the direction for all Christians to follow Jesus Christ. And with because we accept that Jesus Christ died for our sins, we receive the Holy Spirit. Paul goes on to tell the Galatians (in 5:22-23) what they receive when they accept Jesus Christ:

22 . . . the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

Our church may not be struggling with the Old Law of Moses, but we need to make sure that we do follow God’s one law that Jesus Christ taught us. We are not the Pharisees wanting to do things the way we always have done them.

We may think we are beyond those outdated behaviors, but as we review how our church is carrying out God’s great commission, we need ask here Paul’s message to the Galatians. Are we managing the freedom our faith provides? Are we truly following the Holy Spirits guidance?

As a church, our calendar is open right now. We need to listen to Paul’s words to the early churches and find how to follow his advice today. We cannot hold on to the past because change happens. We must listen to the Holy Spirit to love one another as we want to be loved. God will lead us forward if we listen carefully and we learn to manage the freedom from the old ways.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

We read Paul’s words to the early churches

And struggle to learn what he tells us today.

Open our ears so we may hear you speak

Through the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

Open our eyes to see the old ways that may not work

And that only one law never fails: Love one another.

Open our minds to the discover new ways we can serve

With the freedom that comes from loving one another.

Open our hearts to welcome the 21st century Gentiles

Who do not know the old ways and struggle to learn the new.

Open our doors to those who hear the Good News

And want to be in relationship with You and your faithful.

Let Paul speak to us today in ways we can understand

So we may continue to make disciples of Christ

For the transformation of the world.      –Amen.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Have you noticed the changes?

Special note:  Thank you for the patience needed before this posting.  We have had a vacation, a guest speaker, and a funeral all in the last three weeks–not to mention our church’s annual fair concession over the weekend.  Thank you, too, for following the blog.  I appreciate your notes and hope that it speaks to you.

 

given on Sunday, September 3, 2017

Scripture connections: 

Opening: Galatians 1:15-20, NLT

     15 But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him 16 to reveal his Son to me[e] so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.

When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being.[f]17 Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus.

     18 Then three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter,[g] and I stayed with him for fifteen days. 19 The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I declare before God that what I am writing to you is not a lie. 

Sermon support: Galatians 3:23-29, NLT

23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

26 For you are all children[a] of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.[b] 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[c] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[d] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Closing: Galatians 3:29, NLT

29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[p] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Reflection: Have you noticed the change?

Driving back and forth into town this week, the seasonal changes have become evident. Monday on the way to Peters Market, we noticed the super dark caterpillars were crossing the roads not just one at a time, but several at a time. The folklore says that super dark color means we are in for a severe winter—the first reminder of the seasonal change.

Additional reminders that the seasons are changing include the temperatures and the color of the trees. With the cooler evenings and all the excess moisture from this summer, the evenings are damp and cool. The trees have lost the glossy look of summer. I even notice some of the leaves are curling and actually changing color. Summer is winding down,

This brings the season discussion to today, the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, the cultural mark that summer is over. In our community, even the fair is over and everybody is worn out. The summer push is done and now it is time to move into harvest and prepare for the winter.

Seasonal shifts are just part of the life cycle and it is easy to forget that all lives develop a pattern of changes. This week we lost one of church’s matriarchs. Her 92 years were filled with seasons of change, yet her faith supported each phase of her life. She heard God’s voice in music, and she spoke God’s love through the music she played. Her special gifts shared God’s message with all who listened.

Yet, her earthly season ended and she moved to the next season with God. She never doubted that the season would change and she never seemed to fear that change. We know that life seasons are going to change; yet we may dread those changes. What we do not know can cause us to freeze up and refuse to prepare.

But let’s go back to understanding the folklore behind the caterpillars. An internet search can provide some insight into the legends:

  • The color of the “woolly bear” caterpillars develops along 15 segments of the body. The color develops through molting and on how well it feeds during the summer. The better the food source, the browner the segments.
  • The darker the color, the older and more prepared the caterpillar is to cool down in preparation for the winter hibernation. (I had no idea they hibernated.) As the temperatures drop, the body freezes bit by bit. The fur called setae allows for the slow production of antifreeze known as glycerol. They can literally survive in temperatures as low as -90 degrees F.
  • Caterpillars’ crossing the roads is an indication that they are looking for a good place to hibernate for the winter. Good places include under bark, a rock, or a fallen log. [Accessed on September 2, 2017 at https://www.weather.gov/arx/woollybear]

 

Maybe the folklore of the caterpillar seems disconnected to our faith, but I suggest that it is once again evidence of how our cultures look at living our faith. Our church also has seasons and as we struggle to continue sharing God’s message. We can retreat into behavior patterns that follow growth cycles that inevitably end in death.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatian church, the church was retreating to the customs and traditions of the Jewish law rather than openly accepting all people (Gentiles) regardless of their understanding of the old law. Paul had heard of the conflict developing in the church over the necessity of following the old law for those who were not of the Jewish heritage:

23 Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Paul was showing the Galatians that the season had changed with the life and death of Jesus Christ. The old law was replaced:

24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

Churches today are facing the shift in seasons. We can look at the how things have always been done, and we can try to force fit them into today’s culture. The result often creates dissension, frustration, and ultimately death. Today’s churches are struggling to understand how to adapt their old law to a new season in God’s church.

The old timers know that there is some base of truth to the folklore of predicting weather, but it is not always scientifically sound. Sometimes it is necessary to let go of the well-seasoned practices and look for new practices that can be successful. The science behind the folklore of the caterpillars reminds me that good feeding and healthy living creates the woolly bear caterpillar with a dark coat of fur that can weather the worst winter conditions.

Today’s churches must consider what makes God’s message more than folklore and really the most successful lifestyle to manage the stressful seasons of earthly living. The Bible provides the timeless messages of how faith sustains us in all the challenges of life. Paul personally experienced the shift from the old law to the new law and became passionate about sharing the message. We need his wise words to guide us in the seasons of our own lives as well as the life of our church.

Reading Galatians is like an internet search. As Paul heard of the church’s problems, he wrote the letter with a loving but firm scolding. He wanted the message Jesus Christ demonstrated to become the guiding principle that moved the Jewish faithful to be the loving, flexible, openly accepting Christians. He wanted them to remember that the old law could prevent others, Gentiles especially, from God’s all inclusive love:

26 For you are all children[a] of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.[b] 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[c] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children[d] of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

By writing to the Galatians, Paul was assuring the young church that loving one another was the only law needed as the season changed from the old timers’ culture to the post-Jesus Christ culture. Today’s churches need that honest reprimand, too. The only law that matters is that we love one another as we want to be loved.

The old ways may be how we developed in our faith journey, but the seasonal change means we need to re-evaluate our personal faith journeys and make sure that we are not clinging to the old ways so tightly that we are failing to prepare for the seasonal changes of the future.

Christianity is not folklore, it is a lifestyle that survives the challenges of cultures, of lifestyle fads, of drought years, of flooding, of boiling hot summers, and frigid winter nights. Christianity is a lifestyle that places God above all the other challenges in our lives and keeps us grounded, always preparing for the next storm, and ultimately life everlasting alongside of Jesus Christ who prepared the path for us.

Having been raised on the farm, I know that as summer moves into fall and the harvest is completed, there is a need for rest and renewal. The winter months become a time to hibernate in one sense, but also to prepare. As a church, we need the same—a time to rest, renew and prepare. Let’s continue to listen to Paul’s words and find the message of how to keep the church truly open minded, open hearted and opened doors.

Closing prayer:

Dear Loving God,

As we come in your sanctuary with weary bodies,

Help us to hear your words of guidance.

Guide us to accept the reality of life’s seasons

But teach us the ways to share the reality of your love.

Be with us as we step into a new season

Seeking rest and renewal to prepare for the next season.

Let us keep our minds open, our hearts open, and our doors open

As we work together in loving one another as we want to be loved.

In your name, your son’s name and with the Holy Spirit, amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion