Tag Archives: Bishop Bob Farr

Commissioned to do what?

Sermon given on Fathers Day, June 18, 2017

Scripture connections: NLT

Opening:  Psalm 46:1, 8-9

God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble. . . .

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

 

Sermon connection:  Genesis 18:1-15

1The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures[a] of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked.

“She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied.

10 Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”

Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. 11 Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children.12 So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.”

But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”

Closing:  Psalm 46:10-11

10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”

11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.

 

Reflection: Commissioned to do what?

Back from annual conference, I find myself trying to sort out all the ideas, the testimonies, plus the Wesleyan and Biblical references shared by Bishop Farr and the other presenters—elders, licensed local pastors and laity. Annual conference is a state of Missouri’s UMC message with a strong thread of encouragement to continue following Jesus’s great commissioning as found in Matthew 28. We have read, heard, and discussed Matthew 28’s verses repeatedly, yet I always feel like I fail. I find myself asking: I am commissioned to do what?

The three scripture verses are really not long and complicated, but the message easily feels overwhelming:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

This is what I/we are commissioned to do! How does one sort out these verses in the context of one’s life? The human demands upon us seem to take priority over the commission that Jesus delivered to the eleven Apostles. Yet, these words clearly tell all who believe, not just the eleven, to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptize them, and then teach them to obey all the commands.

This commission is not new, it is, was, and always will be God’s commission to his faithful. What if the Old Testament scripture of Abraham and Sarah were not part of the story? The apostles grew up in their faith based on the Old Testament stories, and Jesus prepared the apostles by using those ancient lessons of faith. Reading the scripture from Genesis, there are really two lessons that Jesus and the earliest disciples knew: hospitality and faith.

Abraham and Sarah were not young people: they were living examples of God’s chosen people who faced disappointments and trials throughout their lives, especially not having any children. Yet, they continued to follow God’s commandments and welcomed three strangers into their home and fed them:

One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

The scripture does not tell us that he recognized the three men, rather he just raced out and greeted them, offering them relief from the hottest part of the day.   Recognizing that the Lord was with them came afterwards, after the reality of the promise that Sarah would have a child a year later.

This story relates to Jesus’ teaching as written in the Gospel of Matthew 25:

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.’

 

Abraham and Sarah carried out God’s commandment without question. They did not ask what was in it for them. They did not expect a reward for their efforts. They simply cared for three strangers, one being God who recognized their faithfulness. They lived their lives with a purpose, to love God and their neighbors—whether they knew them or not.

The Lord rewarded Abraham and Sarah’s faith with a miraculous birth. Despite their age, the habit of hospitality to the three strangers fulfilled God’s greatest commandment that Jesus continued to teach his apostles. God’s commandments and his commission were taught throughout history, and we are to continue that work.

Thank goodness the eleven apostles did take on the challenge outlined in scriptures because the task was divided up and carried out at very difficult times and lead to the continued work of all disciples since Jesus ascended into heaven. The work of the earliest followers has continued by the efforts of the disciples they taught carrying the commission forward through the generations and on around the globe.

The concern facing Christians today, though, is whether or not they are carrying out the commission as God intended. This brings us back to annual conference. This is the time when United Methodists are asked to be accountable. Are we honestly able to say that we are making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them? Maybe even more critical is the question whether or not we are faithful to God?

Let’s look at one of the hymns, Lord, You Give the Great Commission (UMH 548). The verses remind each of us, both individually and as a congregation how we are to live faithfully:

Lord, you give the great commission:

“Heal the sick and preach the word.”

lest the church neglect its mission,

and the gospel go unheard,

help us witness to your purpose

with renewed integrity.

 

Granted we are not all gifted with the skills to heal as our medical professionals are, nor do we all preach. Yet we can do our best to share the responsibility of healing and preaching. Maybe we do what we can right here, beginning with prayers, but also with helping our neighbors when they are sick:

  • A simple runny nose may need a tissue and encouragement to blow,
  • Just listening to another’s bad day can help one heal; or
  • Taking a meal to someone who is not feeling well can also help heal the sick.

 

Lord, you call us to your service:

“In my name baptize and teach.”

that the world may trust your promise,

life abundant meant for each,

give us all new fervor,

draw us closer in community.

 

Each Christian can find ways to share the word whether by modeling the Christian lifestyle or sharing one’s belief in casual conversation. When others can see and learn how your faith is central to your life, then you are fulfilling the Great Commission.

Lord, you make the common holy;

“This my body, this my blood.”

let us all, for earth’s true glory,

daily lift life heavenward,

asking that the world around us

share your children’s liberty.

 

The acts of piety that John Wesley taught his followers are practices that keep us grounded in our faith and are ways to teach others about Jesus’ life and death for our sins. When we believe Jesus died for us, then we live anticipating “life heavenward” and share the sense of freedom faith provides.

Lord, you show us love’s true measure;

“Father, what they do, forgive.”

yet we hoard as private treasure

all that you so freely give.

may your care and mercy lead us

to a just society.

 

Our news is flooded by evil, and again this week living in an open society challenges our Christian mindset. Yet, we have a responsibility to care for our neighbors regardless of earthly boundaries. To live faithfully, offer prayers for God’s intervention, for his healing, and for forgiveness, too. We cannot judge, we can only do what we can. The concern for each of us is to determine whether we are doing whatever we can. Are we praying individually and in community for God to guide and to protect us?

Lord, you bless with words assuring:

“I am with you to the end.”

faith and hope and love restoring,

may we serve as you intend,

and amid the cares that claim us,

hold in mind eternity.

 

This final verse summarizes the value of our Christian faith. We have hope, and hope makes it possible to manage all the earthly challenges that can so easily defeat us. This is the good news and we must share it. How is found in the hymn’s refrain:

With the Spirit’s gifts empower us

for the work of ministry.

 

Each of us has been given special gifts that we can use to fulfill God’s commission. Certainly it is not easy to know what gifts we can use and when to use them all the time, but we are called by God to do whatever we can to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

The questions must be asked of ourselves and of our church itself:

  • Are you/we doing all that you/we can?
  • Are you/we living faithful lives as Abraham and Sarah did?
  • Are you/we spreading Jesus’ message as the Apostles did?
  • Are you/we following the very practices that John Wesley expected to continue living faithfully and doing all that you/we can to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world?

 

During Annual Conference, the stories of the different ways churches are doing all they are shared. The stories range from awe-inspiring to just every day routines. These Methodists know their Christian purpose and have found ways to be faithful and to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked and more, because that is what we are commissioned to do.

Let’s watch testimonies shared at conference and then consider how our church is fulfilling the Great Commission:

[Links to the videos:

https://vimeo.com/channels/moac17/page:5 – https://vimeo.com/channels/moac17/page:5

Begin with the Orange tee shirt, then the young boy, and close with the lady.]

Closing prayer:

 

Dear God,

We hear your call to Christian service.

We hear the church’s reports.

We hear the testimonies of the faithful.

 

Help us to hear your call in our lives.

Help us to find energy in serving.

Help us to love one another.

 

Show us your vision for our community.

Show us the ways and means to live faithfully.

Show us the joy that comes from serving.

 

Wipe away our weariness.

Erase our judging minds.

And renew our spirits

 

We accept the commission

To make disciples of Christ

For the transformation of the world.

 

In your holy name, God,

In your son Jesus Christ’s name,

And with the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

Supplemental handout for the sermon:

The Great Commission Scripture from Matthew 28:18-20

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

Jesus’ sermon from Matthew 25:34-36

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.’

 

John Wesley’s Means of Grace

[Accessed on June 17, 2017 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace ]

Courageous and forward-leaning mission congregations practice spiritual disciplines. Our vital work is a spiritual adventure based in John Wesley’s means of grace. John Wesley taught that God’s grace is unearned and that we were not to be idle waiting to experience grace but we are to engage in the means of grace. The means of grace are ways God works invisibly in disciples, hastening, strengthening; and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through disciples. As we look at the means of grace today, they can be divided into works of piety and the works of mercy.

Works of Piety

  • 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

Works of Mercy

  • 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

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment.

Lyrics for Lord, You Give the Great Commission (UMH 548)

Lord, you give the great commission:

“Heal the sick and preach the word.”

lest the church neglect its mission,

and the gospel go unheard,

help us witness to your purpose

with renewed integrity.

 

Lord, you call us to your service:

“In my name baptize and teach.”

that the world may trust your promise,

life abundant meant for each,

give us all new fervor,

draw us closer in community.

 

Lord, you make the common holy;

“This my body, this my blood.”

let us all, for earth’s true glory,

daily lift life heavenward,

asking that the world around us

share your children’s liberty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord, you show us love’s true measure;

“Father, what they do, forgive.”

yet we hoard as private treasure

all that you so freely give.

may your care and mercy lead us

to a just society.

 

Lord, you bless with words assuring:

“I am with you to the end.”

faith and hope and love restoring,

may we serve as you intend,

and amid the cares that claim us,

hold in mind eternity.

 

With the Spirit’s gifts empower us

for the work of ministry.

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Pharisee or Disciple

given on Sunday, October 16, 2016

Opening scripture: Matthew 25:34-36, 44-46 [NLT]

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.’ . . .

. . . 44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

Scripture connection: Luke 22:37-42 [NLT]

37 As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table.[a] 38 His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! 40 Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? 41 So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over.

42 “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,[b] but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

Plus: I Timothy 4:11-13 [NLT]

11 Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. 12 Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13 Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.

Bishop Bob Farr’s statement:

“Part of the burden of becoming Bishop is learning of other people’s burdens. Watching the pain of our black and brown brothers and sisters has become too much for me to bear. Witnessing our first responders face increased risk due to escalating tensions in many of our neighborhoods has weighed heavily upon me. I have often felt helpless, not knowing what I should do, but that isn’t true. I follow a God who is always on the side of those who are hurting. It is not enough to be non-racist. That is far too passive. As white people who follow Jesus Christ, we are called to be anti-racist. We are people of action and of spirit. As Methodists we are called to both social and personal holiness. We must be wary of what our founder, John Wesley called quietism. Faith without works, he said, was the “the grand pest of Christianity.”

Closing scripture: Matthew 25:40 [NLT]

40 “And the King will say, ‘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!

 

Reflection:

One more political ad on television and I may just snap. I listen to the vicious accusations and slamming of one candidate against another and I groan. How can our country hope to reclaim a sense of decency in such a poisonous campaign—not just nationally but also at the state level!

This week the first letter from Bishop Farr arrived in the mail. Missouri has been a focal point for much of the unrest these past two years and now the political arena is creating so much turmoil, too, that it quickly tarnishes the idealism into which baby boomers were born. The decades since the 1950’s have marched on, and the idealism has turned into cynicism.

No, this is not a political commentary; this is a Christian commentary. As Christians we are tasked to serve one another in all the ways we can. Yet, as Bishop Farr mentions in his letter, it is difficult to understand all the injustices that occur because we do not travel in the shoes of others. We travel in our own shoes.

Rev. Cody Collier admonished the newest ordained elders and deacons as well as all church members to walk the walk of Jesus Christ. As disciples, we are to step out of our churches, out of our comfort level, and walk out into the streets to serve. Walk the walk with others, and we will find ways to serve and to introduce others to God.

Today’s scripture from Matthew 25 is so familiar. Many of the verses are memorized and echo in our minds when we hear just a small piece of the verses:

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.’

 

Yet, today, do we hear these verses and think we have indeed done all that we can? Or do we hear these verses and cringe knowing we have failed to follow God’s words?

The neighborhoods in which we live are not the same as the ones we knew 10, 25, even 50 years ago. The neighborhoods evolved into unfamiliar communities and we feel like outsiders. The communities no longer look like those etched into our long-term memory. And the memories are so entrenched they are like concrete, and we refuse to see that even those memories are showing wear and tear.

When Jesus was walking the paths in ancient Israel, he did not care what others were thinking about him. He cared what was happening to others. He did not dwell on the fact that he exiled himself from his own hometown; he kept walking, teaching, healing, and preaching.

Scripture repeatedly shares the stories of Jesus being harassed by the Pharisees. They were accustomed to being in charge and their goals were to preserve the status quo. The Pharisees were accustomed to a certain lifestyle, a certain pattern of life in the community, and Jesus was challenging everything they knew. When this young whipper-snapper challenged them, they bristled and defended what they knew.

Jesus stood firm. He refused to be quieted. He refused to follow the legalistic style of religion the Pharisees were preserving. He saw someone sick, and he healed them—even if it was Sabbath. He heard the plea of friends begging that a daughter or brother be healed or returned from death.

Jesus demonstrated how to live a God-centered life regardless of the ancient traditions of the Jewish Pharisees. Jesus called the apostles to follow him in his shoes/sandals and teach others to love one another. The evolution of today’s Christian faith was not easy. It was a life-and-death battle to see that the newest disciples could transform an imperfect world through one simple commandment: Love God above all else, and love one another as you want to be loved.

Today’s church is at risk of being as legalistic as the ancient Jewish religion. The Pharisees could not hear God because they were so focused on preserving the culture in which they had been trained. This was the very tribe, the very profession, and the very way it always had been. Yet, the ancient world was filled with challenges just like today’s world.

The drive to make fortunes in the region around the Mediterranean Coast brought many cultures together as land trade routes connected to marine trade. The same drive to financial success challenges us. The fallout often turns into employment challenges, economic stress, challenges of business ethics, and so much more.

Mix the economic challenges with political power and the problems of Biblical times seems so much like to today’s global culture. The Pharisees were doing everything they could to preserve the social and political culture to which they were accustomed. The message that Jesus was sharing shook the very foundations of their world, so they fought to keep things as they were—even to the point of trying to get rid of Jesus.

Yet, Jesus was teaching a new way. Jesus was showing that as long as one does all that one can to love one another, all the other evils in the world can be avoided. Jesus and his disciples were flexible. The disciples had to step outside of the cultural box in which they were raised and discover that life loving one another could create the kingdom of God the Pharisees kept just out of reach.

Today we must decide whether we are Pharisees or whether we are disciples. We must take an honest evaluation of our personal mindset and ask if we are a Pharisee or whether we are a disciple. Do we do all that we can to reach out to others in the community that no longer looks like the one in our memories? Do we see ways that we can help those in the community or do we just want to keep things like they have been for decades?

When Paul wrote his letters to Timothy, he had to guide this young disciple through the personal experiences he had following Jesus’ example while sitting in a Roman prison. He could not be present in Timothy’s mission field to guide him. So when we read the books Paul wrote to Timothy, we need to see if we are going to be Pharisees or whether we will follow Timothy in an effort to keep Jesus’ work alive even two thousand years later.

Are we Pharisees or are we disciples of Jesus Christ? Be honest. What have you done to see that God is alive in this community just as much today as it was when you were born? You have been active, but what can you do or what can you support being done so that the newer community members are shown God’s love?

Did Jesus ever quit? Did Paul ever quit? Even the ancient Jewish faithful never quit. The Bible is filled with stories of how God taught his disciples to love one another. The Bible teaches us that in the face of every kind of adversity, God is beside us and will be with us and for us as long as we are disciples and not the rigid Pharisees who could not accept Jesus as the Son of God.

As we step forward with our efforts to do all we can for the kids in the community and as we step up to vote, we do so with prayer and with the fervor of the earliest disciples. We must try to do whatever we can, even if we fail, to demonstrate to those in our community God’s love for each and every one. We must pray for our neighbors, for our leaders, and for each other as we challenge ourselves to be disciples.

As we move into the holiday season, we need to consider what we can give to God. Remember, whenever we feed someone who is hungry, clothe someone who is naked, provide a drink for someone who is thirsty, to listen to someone who is lonely, and more, then we are Being God’s disciples.

Do not be a Pharisee who refuses to see the message Jesus shared. Do not be one who turns to God only to say:

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

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

Even disciples may not make the best decision every time, but the disciples are willing to take a risk and try to do whatever they can. If a ministry no longer is working, then stop and move on. Disciples moved on from one location to another when the message was ignored. We must be disciples willing to risk doing whatever we can for all we can

Closing prayer:

Dear God almighty,

For centuries your tried to teach your faithful to follow you.

You gave them opportunities to serve as good stewards,

and to follow the Ten Commandments.

Yet, even the Pharisees chosen to preserve the laws

and to lead the community in worship,

did not recognize you as Jesus Christ, the son of Man.

Accept our prayers to stay disciples of Jesus

and to find ways to share your story with others.

Guide us to be your disciples through the power

of the Holy Spirit as we step forward in ministry.

May we discover your kingdom of Heaven

while serving one another in love,

right now, right here in our own community.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen!

 

 

 

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