Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

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.

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More than liturgy: A Renewal

sermon given on Sunday, August 13, 2017

Opening scripture: Matthew 14:13-16, NLT

     13 As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. 14 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

     15 That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

     16 But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

 

Sermon scripture: I Corinthians 11:17-34, NLT

“Order at the Lord’s Table”

17 But in the following instructions, I cannot praise you. For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together. 18 First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. 19 But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized!

     20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 21 For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this!

     23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you.[a] Do this in remembrance of me.”25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.

     27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against[b] the body and blood of the Lord. 28 That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 29 For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ,[c] you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.30 That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.

     31 But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way. 32 Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

     33 So, my dear brothers and sisters,[d] when you gather for the Lord’s Supper, wait for each other. 34 If you are really hungry, eat at home so you won’t bring judgment upon yourselves when you meet together. I’ll give you instructions about the other matters after I arrive.

 

 

Reflection: More than liturgy; a renewal

Did you know that the communion liturgy we follow today really echoes some of the scriptures even in the Old Testament? Food is used often as a reminder of God as the source of all life. I suspect each of us can think of a number of Bible stories and/or scriptures that are connected to food or a meal in one way or another. Food and water are the very basis of our existence as a living body; and God created all.

Today’s gospel scripture is the feeding of the 5,000. The story may be familiar to all of us, but think about those who were or are hearing it for the first time. First, think of the context of the story. Jesus had just learned that Herod beheaded his own cousin, whom he knew even before birth.

All of us have a cousin or close friend who has a special place in our life. When we learn of their death, we experience sadness, grief, and in Jesus’ case possibly, even fear. Such a loss can drain us of the very energy we have just to manage the typical day.

Imagine how Jesus was drained: a cousin, a friend, the prophet, and an associate gone. John the Baptist was telling the world that Jesus was the Messiah. He was to deliver all the Jewish people from slavery to the non-Jewish people, that Jesus was more important than the civil leaders. Those who were following John’s lead were now following Jesus. Surely the death of John also caused fear in Jesus and his own followers wondering if they might be next.

Yet, Jesus heard the pleas from the crowds following him. He refused to listen to his disciples trying to get him to stop talking and healing all these people so they could go eat, and Jesus could have supper himself and find some rest. But Jesus Christ refused and insisted that the disciples figure out how to feed the thousands surrounding them.

Using the connections in the margins of the Bible, I discovered a very similar story in 2 Kings 4:42-44:

     42 One day a man from Baal-shalishah brought the man of God a sack of fresh grain and twenty loaves of barley bread made from the first grain of his harvest. Elisha said, “Give it to the people so they can eat.”

     43 “What?” his servant exclaimed. “Feed a hundred people with only this?”

But Elisha repeated, “Give it to the people so they can eat, for this is what the Lord says: Everyone will eat, and there will even be some left over!” 44 And when they gave it to the people, there was plenty for all and some left over, just as the Lord had promised.

The setting is different, true. The people in Gilgal were suffering through a famine and a group of prophets were sitting with Elisha. They needed food. Elisha had told his servant to make a pot of stew but unfortunately added a poisonous ingredient. Elisha ‘fixed’ the stew by throwing some flour into it, and the hungry were able to eat.

The feeding of the hundreds follows and shows how Elisha, as a man of God, was able to perform a miracle with limited food and even ended up having leftovers. Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5,000 in Matthew reports that the leftovers filled 12 baskets (note the symbolic use number 12 as there were 12 tribes of Jews).

Today we come to the Lord’s Table, figuratively also. We share one loaf and one cup to renew the bond we have with God. We read scripture, listen to how the ancient words still make sense in today’s world. We share the cup with our Christian family as a reconnect with them as well as with God.

We are reminded that even when we sin, we are forgiven because we have accepted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as our savior. We confirm our decision to be baptized, to be in fellowship with God, and to serve God.

Paul writes to the Corinthians in words we hear in our liturgy today. The words were developed by the earliest church as a means to renew our relationship with God by telling the story of the Last Supper. The words that are preserved in I Corinthians 11 are spoken again today in the section of our liturgy called the “words of the institution”. The institution is the church.

These simple words reconnect us to God and call us to remember the lessons Jesus Christ taught all of us as we love God before all else and love one another as we want to be loved. God provides for our most basic needs of food, shelter and clothing one way or another. As part of his universal church, we agree to do all that we can for all God’s children that we can, too.

Today, as you take the bread and dip it into the cup, remember the hungry. Whether someone is hungry for food or whether someone is hungry for God, we are to share the story and to work to meet the needs of all God’s children any way we possibly can.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and sustaining Father,

We hear the words of your faithful

And remember all that you do for us.

We hear the lessons of your prophets

And know we are called to feed your sheep.

 

Guide us in our efforts to serve others

As you serve us; providing for our basic needs

As well as our emotional needs

For relationships, happiness, and security.

 

Help us to take the bread and the cup today

And renew our relationship and dependency on you.

Help us to renew our commitment to serve

Others who are hungry to understand your love.

 

We are given the tools and the direction,

And we thank you that we can share in your name

To do more than we can ever do alone

Because we do so in your name,

In the name of Jesus Christ your son,

And through the Holy Spirit within us. –Amen

 

Closing scripture: Psalm 17:14, NLT

By the power of your hand, O Lord,
destroy those who look to this world for their reward.
But satisfy the hunger of your treasured ones.
May their children have plenty,
leaving an inheritance for their descendants.

 

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Traveling with God

given on Sunday, July 23, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening Psalm 139:1-6

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

 

Sermon:

Psalm 139:7-12

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

 

Genesis 28:10-19

     10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

     13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

     16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” 17 But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”

     18 The next morning Jacob got up very early. He took the stone he had rested his head against, and he set it upright as a memorial pillar. Then he poured olive oil over it. 19 He named that place Bethel (which means “house of God”), although it was previously called Luz.

Closing

Romans 8:26-27, 31

26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers[h] in harmony with God’s own will.

 

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?

 

Reflection: Traveling with God

To begin, this is almost not a sermon. Maybe it could be considered a “how to” article one might find in a travel magazine. Of course, most travel magazines would not consider adding this type of article because it is a spiritual based topic: How to travel with God.

I admit that I have not always packed a Bible with me on a trip, but I knew that I would have to have a worship service ready for today (Sunday morning) and surely I could sneak in some work time during the vacation. Therefore, I packed the Bible and work tote in with my luggage.

This vacation was a road trip and I had a real drive to finish a knitting project and to try a new knitting stitch so planned on making some dishcloths. What a great way to fill the hours in the car and still be doing what I enjoyed—all the way through Missouri and Arkansas. I carried the luggage and the work tote into the hotel, but sleep was the priority then.

Often we talk about our spiritual journey in life, but admittedly it is often just an outcome of believing in God and trusting Sunday morning worship to keep us connected. How many Christians are floating through the week with home life, work, and some evening down time as the primary structure for the week? Where in the weekly schedule does one consciously put God into the daily routines?

I know, you are surely thinking well I do because I am serving as a pastor so reading and studying the Bible is part of the job. That is a given, but as a human it is also easy to put off what you have to do until the last minute—procrastinate as you know, and my mom always told me that I was procrastinating. Undoubtedly she knew one of my weaknesses and because of her ‘nagging’ I am aware that I cannot procrastinate about my faith journey.

Therefore, I woke up the next morning and tackled reading the lectionary. I began with reading the Old Testament scripture from Genesis. The Bible I took was the journaling one, and the key scripture artfully laid out in the wide margin was Genesis 28:15: “I will protect you wherever you go.”

Could there have been a more appropriate verse as I was getting up and getting ready for a major tourist-style day traveling into another state and visiting a site simply because we wanted to see it—The Magnolia Silos that Chip and Joanna Gaines have created in Waco, TX. We were driving into a totally new, unfamiliar area of our country and had no idea what to expect. We did not know the roads and only had our maps, guidebooks, and navigation tools—smart phones.

As I was reading the verse in the margin, I dove into the full scripture from the lectionary: Genesis 28:10-19a. Reading that scripture opened my thoughts to not only the value of God being with me on a vacation, but also the application to the spiritual journey we are all on.

God is with us all the time. We find him in so many different ways and as I read that key verse in a hotel room preparing for a vacation day, I found myself reflecting on the significance of that verse being the one verse to capture my thoughts that particular day. It fit.

And the day? The day was delightful. We had no apprehension so we experienced the day with confidence and excitement. We were able to meet the most fantastic people who demonstrated unbelievable hospitality and customer service. There was pure joy. Yes, it was a long hot day in Texas, but God was with us in all that we did, we had a vacation day that kicked off with God’s words of assurance.

Now how can a second day top the first one? Well, again, I opened up the Bible to look at another lectionary reading, Psalm 139; and the feature verse in the margin was the first one: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.”

As I continued reading the full psalm, I decided this psalm was also filled with wisdom for a vacation day and I read on into the psalm:
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.

God knows everything we do, think and say wherever we are whether we travel or we are at home! The words were written right there for me to read here in the 21st century, and that psalm was written maybe as long ago as 1400 BC, another words 3500 years ago. The scripture applies to our lives right now just as it always has. God is timeless.

This vacation day was special because it included reconnecting with a college friend I had not seen since 1976. In fact, she was one of our dorm group that had disappeared that summer and no one could really figure out where she had gone. Off and on, I tried to learn what happened and learned that maybe she was in Columbia. Still, the years separated us yet somehow I never gave up wanting to know her story. Then suddenly this year she appeared on Facebook living out of state.

The chances of physically reconnecting with her seemed terribly remote, but the first step was her accepting a friend request and expressing an interest in seeing all of us again. I kept that tucked into my thoughts and when another friend learned we were going in that direction and might check in to seeing her, I felt I should try. Am I ever glad I did!

God’s presence in the day was felt as she and I shared our stories, and also how God was part of our lives, I found prayers answered. I know that God was present at our table as we shared and talked for over two hours. And the next verses of Psalm 139 echoes in my thoughts:

You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

Reading the scripture in the morning prepared me for the meeting with my long, lost friend. I simply must put my full trust in God so that I do not worry and know that whatever words come from my mouth and what I do are Christ-like and will carry me throughout my travels whether on vacation or at home.

Even the next verses in Psalm 139 seemed to echo the conversation between us over that Cajun lunch:

7I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

None of us walk through our earthly journey without challenges. We experience the disappointments and heartaches just as everybody else does. What makes a Christian any different is the mindset one has concerning reliance in God. In our lunch conversation, I heard my friend witness how God has sustained her through her own challenges.

She comfortably shared how God had made it possible for her to continue forward raising her teen children after her husband was murdered. She knew the worst human experience yet she trusted God to do exactly what the psalm: “10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.”
My faith journey was strengthened by the testimony of my friend’s faith.

My vacation is proof that we travel with God. My decision to pack my Bible and read scripture has been reinforced by the experiences of the vacation and how it seemed to be God-driven. Traveling with God is possible and I encourage it. This week’s experience did not end with just the two days of morning reading, it continued. On the final day, I read the Romans selection and found another special verse: “. . . the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. . “

Even on vacation, God is with us through the Holy Spirit. We may be on vacation and be mentally detached from our Christian theology, but because God is with us through the Holy Spirit, he is with us always. He knows what is in our thoughts and will hear prayers we may not even put into words.

Driving through the cities and witnessing the homeless walking along the side of the road in the summer’s excessive heat, I thought how God hears our own pleas for their well-being. As we come up over a hill and are faced by a wreck in the middle of the highway, God hears our pleas for the safety and well being of those in the wreck and those coming to their aid.

As Christians, we are always on call to pray. We can call out to God for intervention whenever our Christ-shaped brains observe something that needs God’s attention. On vacation, we do not take a vacation from being Christian. We do not take a break from talking with God, nor do we take a break from him talking to us.

Vacation time is ideal for us to see God in this world beyond our typical homes. We might see a glorious sunrise, sunset, or a sudden rain shower cool the parched pavement. We might see trees reaching far above us as the sun shines through their boughs. We might taste the most unbelievable lemon lavender cupcake we could ever imagine or feel the delight of an ice cream cone on the hot summer day. We hear the night sounds in a cool breeze or new music that picks up our spirits.             God is with us, around us and in us all the time. God is at home with us. He is on the job with us. And God goes traveling with us, too. Pack your Bible and/or devotionals that you use every day and recognize that your faith journey continues even when on vacation, esp. when you travel with God.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

Thank you for traveling with me

     And with all of your children

     Day in and day out,

     Everywhere and anywhere.

 

Thank you for speaking to me

     And with all of your children

     Through the words of scripture

     And the words of other believers.

 

Thank you for sharing your world

     So we may experience you in our lives

     Through all our senses:

     sight, smell, sound, taste and touch.

 

May we grow in our faith

     Through the words of scripture

     Through the touch of friends

     And through our journeys.

 

Guide us in traveling with you

     As our tour guide,

     As our chauffer,

     And as our protector.

 

Bless those who journey with us,

     Those who serve us,

     And even the strangers we meet.

 

May we be your servants

     In our daily lives

     As well as when on vacation

     In your name,

     And your son’s

     And the Holy Spirit. –Amen.

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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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Pentecost’s purposes to ignite God’s people, church

given on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017

 

Scripture connection:

 Opening scripture: Acts 2:1-4, NLT

On the day of Pentecost[a] all the believers were meeting together in one place.Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages,[b] as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

 

Scripture connection:

John 7:37-39, NLT

37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”[a]39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given,[b] because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)

 

John 20:19-23, NLT

19 That Sunday evening[a] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Closing scripture: Psalm 104:31-34, NLT

31 May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
32 The earth trembles at his glance;
the mountains smoke at his touch.

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
34 May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.

 

Reflection: Pentecost’s purposes to ignite God’s people, church

Summertime is grilling time. Good food takes some work and it takes a good fire to get just the right flavor for summer meals. Personally, I prefer a charcoal grill even though it is somewhat unpredictable and difficult to control. But does that flavor ever make the meat that much better!

The fire that cooks the meat is critical; and without it, the meat never reaches the dinner table. The fire can flame and then be tempered to perfection; or the fire can flame and left unattended, it simply dies out. The cook must be alert and learn how to temper the flame, how hot to keep the coals, and how to manage the meat throughout the grilling process to reach the perfect rare, medium rare, medium well done or well done but certainly not burnt to a crisp.

Flames symbolize the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Baptism through the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-21):

 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] 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.”

God sent the Holy Spirit to ignite the disciples and the church.

The events of that day were life altering for the disciples, but Pentecost also altered the world’s culture. Pentecost had two purposes. First, each of those disciples gathered in that room were frozen with uncertainty even fear. They had no vision as to what they should do or even whether they should venture out the door. The culture was against them, or at least it seemed that way. The Jewish leaders were after them. The secular world did not want their message. And even the political arena did not provide any protection for this new lifestyle.

Jesus was gone. Certainly there were the Apostles who were suppose to take over the leadership, but they did not seem to know what to do. God stepped in. God baptized each of the Apostles and the other disciples gathered together with the Holy Spirit. God was not only with them, but now within them. The Holy Spirit is God in us, not just above, beside or with us, but in us.

Pentecost surprised the disciples. Suddenly there was an entirely new ability to communicate, a new level of consciousness of God’s presence, all the cultural barriers between the diverse group disappeared. In the midst of the event, the baptism of the Holy Spirit empowered, ignited the disciples to move into action to establish the second purpose of Pentecost—build the church.

The Jewish people practiced worship in the temple. The sacrifices, the prayers, and the hymns were part of the faith practices that in effect led to Jesus’ crucifixion. The followers of Jesus did not have an identifiable worship center, nor did it have the hymns. Jesus had changed all the rules and even the non-Jewish, the Gentiles, were now part of the faith group following Jesus and he was gone.

God needed a church. He needed the disciples to establish faith communities so The Word could continue to be taught, to share God’s teachings and expectations, and to grow the ministry beyond the immediate region along the Mediterranean Sea. Now it was time to send the disciples out to carry out Jesus’ work.

Pentecost ignited God’s people into action. The earliest disciples spread out from that room and began sharing the message with others in as many different ways as they could. The baptism of the Holy Spirit empowered the followers to use their own skills and talents to do all that they could in any way that they could to teach about God: to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to protect the children and others who unable to care for themselves, and also to live their own productive lives as citizens of the world.

The new faithful demonstrated how Christianity worked in a world challenged by the political and business world around them. They faced the challenges of hate crimes, of greed, of political turmoil, and held on to the promises Jesus made that those who confessed their sins, were baptized by water and the Spirit, and lived by the Golden Rule would receive eternal life.

Without the Holy Spirit’s presence within the lives of these disciples, the second purpose of Pentecost would not have developed. The Church is the result of Pentecost. Remember the definition of Pentecost:

Pentecost is the day on which the Christian church commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and others assembled in Jerusalem. It marks the beginning of the Christian church and the proclamation of its message throughout the world and is often referred to as the birthday of the church. (Glossary: Pentecost n.d.)

 

The Holy Spirit ignited the Church. Since that fiftieth day after Jesus arose from the grave, the Church began growing.

Today the Christian faith circles the globe. The history is not easy to follow, but the work of the disciples has continued to carry God’s message forward—along the paths and the routes around the globe. The message continues with little regard to the thousands of years the calendar records. The work of the faithful continues to teach, to heal, to feed, to clothe, and to befriend men and women who are neighbors, friends, co-workers, strangers, and yes, family.

The fire of the Holy Spirit has ignited each one of God’s disciples. The newest disciples work right alongside the oldest ones to continue God’s work. The Holy Spirit knows no exhaustion. The Holy Spirit equips each and every follower with skills that can be used to serve one another in love. The Holy Spirit connects faithful Christians around this world and even with those who have been and are yet to come. This group of followers makes up the body of the church yet today.

Is our church alive with the Holy Spirit?

Is the flame being well tended in our small community?

When guests arrive at the table, does the meal feed them?

Today we join at God’s table to share in the bread and the cup and it is always open to anybody and everybody who confesses their sins and accepts Jesus as their savior. That openness is what God asks from each of us in all that we do. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we do so that God can reach all children in one way or another.

Today, at the table, look at the world with God’s eyes and know that you are to tend the fire so that everybody is ready to be with God throughout eternity. You are filled with skills and talents by the power of the Holy Spirit, so use them in any way that you can to share God’s love with all you can. Do not let the fire snuff out.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, our Creator, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit,

 

Today we join together in worship

Remembering those earliest disciples

Frightened and uncertain without Jesus.

 

Today we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit

That ignited those disciples to carry the Word

Outside the closed doors so others heard the story.

 

Today we stop to reflect on how the Holy Spirit

Continues to work in our own lives

And through the church to which we belong.

 

Today we confess that we fail to keep the fire

Of the Holy Spirit burning brightly

In our lives and in the life of our church.

 

Today we ask you to reignite us

As we share in the bread and the cup

So that we can continue to grow in faith.

 

Today we ask you to speak to us

With how to tend your fire personally

And as a community of your faithful.

 

Today, God, fill us up.

Today, Jesus, teach us.

Today, Holy Spirit, ignite us. –Amen

 

Works Cited

Glossary: Pentecost. United Methodist Communicaiton. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/glossary-pentecost (accessed June 2, 2017).

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989.

 

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Jesus assures us, prays for us

given on Sunday, May 28, 2017–Memorial Weekend

Scripture connections: scriptures are from the NLT

 

John 16:20, 22-24

20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy.  . . . 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. 24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.

John 17:5—prayer for self

Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began. . . .

John 17: 10-17—prayer for Disciples

10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name;[c] now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. 12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me.[d] I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.

John 17:20-26—for future believers

20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

Reflection: Jesus assures us, prays for us. We must follow.

How many of you grew up with the traditional visits to the cemeteries on Memorial Day? For our family, the tradition began with preparations that included a picnic lunch and the coffee cans wrapped in aluminum foil and filled with freshly picked iris and peonies. Once we got done, the whole family (the four of us in our case) loaded up the car and off we drove.

We even had a route—first Wellsville, then Millersburg, and there we had the picnic lunch. From there we drove back to Montgomery and went to the cemetery there. Some years we would even drive to Bellflower or Truxton to visit graves of the generations beyond our immediate families.

Today, that tradition has disappeared. Why? Well, primarily I have lost my parents and the distance over the past 30 years has separated me physically from those cemeteries. I suspect that my memory of the Wellsville cemetery would be too rusty to locate the graves there. But I know I can locate the ones at Millersburg and Montgomery easily.

Honestly, though, I would have to say I do not need to make that journey either. Memorial Day is created to focus us on remembering those who have given their lives in service to our country, and we have added to that purpose remembering all those in our own lives who have guided us to the place we are now. Today, I can look back over the years and know that those in my lives that I honor are ones who I anticipate seeing again.

In today’s scripture, I find a promise that confirms my hope to see my life teachers—Mom, Dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and so many other significant people in my life. How do I know? Jesus’ words are recorded in John, especially in the closing prayer he said before his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection. Verse after verse provides me such insight, promise, and assurance that I can hardly wait to share it with you. (That is why I have printed a special version of the readings for you that include my notes and space for yours, too.)

To begin, Jesus uses every teaching technique possible to make sure that his followers understood God’s Word. He modeled the behaviors, taught the Word, healed the sick, forgave the sinners, and loved the unloved. He demonstrated the behaviors even following his own mother’s request to turn water into wine at a wedding knowing that he was really not ready to show others who he was.

Yet, at the end of the three years, as his earthly life was drawing to a close, he had to be very direct with his disciples about who he was and what they were to know as outlined in these two chapters of the gospel John. In these verses, Jesus answers those who still found that who he was impossible to believe. He confirmed what everybody was checking out in order to believe. And those in the audience certainly had a personal encounter with him as a man in their immediate world.

Looking at the scripture in chapter 17:5, I find one of the most difficult realities of Jesus addressed–Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began. . . . These few words, in Jesus’ prayer to God concerning himself, he identifies his personal relationship with God as timeless. Time is irrelevant in relationship with God.   The human body of Jesus is just a vessel, nothing more.

That same verse also clearly states that Jesus and God are one. They shared the same glory always. Even the fact that John, the author of the book, had to use human language to share that knowledge limits the human reader, too.

And then there is that word “glory”:

glory (n.): c. 1200, gloire “the splendor of God or Christ; praise offered to God, worship,” from Old French glorie “glory (of God); worldly honor, renown; splendor, magnificence, pomp” (11c., Modern French gloire), from Latin gloria “fame, renown, great praise or honor,” a word of uncertain origin.

 

The etymology as *gnoria “knowledge, fame” to gnarus “known” and i-gnorare has been acknowledged by some scholars, and rejected by others. In its favour speak the semantics of words for “glory”, which in Indo-European societies mostly have to do with “spoken praise”, “reputation by hearsay”. Against the assumed etymology speak the phonetics. [de Vaan]

 

Meaning “one who is a source of glory” is from mid-14c. Also in Middle English “thirst for glory, vainglory, pride, boasting, vanity” (late 14c.), Sense of “magnificence” is late 14c. in English. Meaning “worldly honor, fame, renown.” Latin also had gloriola “a little fame.” Glory days was in use by 1970. Old Glory for “the American flag” is first attested 1862.

 

The Christian sense are from the Latin word’s use in the Bible to translate Greek doxa “expectation” (Homer), later “an opinion, judgment,” and later still “opinion others have of one (good or bad), fame; glory,” which was used in Biblical writing to translate a Hebrew word which had a sense of “brightness, splendor, magnificence, majesty of outward appearance.” The religious use has colored that word’s meaning in most European tongues. Wuldor was an Old English word used in this sense. (Harpter n.d.)

 

The historical study of this one word that is found throughout the Bible adds a deeper understanding of the little we do know about God’s glory. From this detailed explanation of the word glory, we can only imagine how wonderful it will be to join in God’s glory.

Memorial Day Weekend is the right timing to reach an understanding of what a tremendous reward God’s glory is for those who believe. As we spend time this weekend remembering all those who have served in the name of God whether through military service or whether through God’s service teaching and demonstrating God’s love for all those possible, we can only anticipate the experience of joining in God’s glory.

What is God’s glory? Answering that with confidence can only be done through Jesus’ words:

22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

The descriptors of God’s glory are not as concrete as we want to know, but I really feel Jesus is praying aloud so we hear his promise to all who hear his words. We all have the same opportunities to join in God’s glory as believers in Jesus Christ who died to take away our sins. We all will join in God’s glory when we have done whatever we can to share the Word with others so they too may be transformed by God’s love.

Take confidence in Jesus’ words as they are the truth. Take confidence that God has forgiven you of your sins—and will always forgive you as long as you turn to him and admit that you have sinned and ask for his forgiveness. Once you have accepted Jesus and asked for forgiveness, then move forward and look towards the day when you, too, will join in God’s glory.

Jesus has promised us that we are forgiven when we ask in his name. Jesus has promised us that we will receive life eternal because we believe in him as the son of God and the son of man. Jesus has promised that he will be with us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has promised to return to us personally, too.

The one thing that we seem to need is to know when all these promises will happen. This is the one human question that cannot be answered. Yet, this Memorial Day weekend, we must trust in God that what he said through the life and the words of Jesus Christ will be revealed to us personally and we will experience God’s glory as so many of our family and friends have already done.

Our Memorial Day weekend should be a time of rejoicing and remembering. We rejoice that those who died are already with God. We remember all that their lives have taught us about God and our own faith practices. And together, we pray some of the same things that Jesus prayer in those final moments of his human life:

Closing prayer (in the model of Jesus’ words):

Dear Father in Heaven,

 

We pray for you to be with us

And to guide us in our lives.

We give thanks for sending your son

To demonstrate and teach us

How to live life by your plan.

 

We pray for the disciples

Who walked with Jesus personally

And for the disciples

Who have followed the Word

Since those first believers.

 

We pray for those yet

To meet you personally

And for us who continue

To grow in our own faith

and to serve in unconditional love.

 

Be with us now and forever

Through our faith in you,

The father, the son and the Holy Spirit.–Amen

 

Works Cited

Harpter, Douglas. Definition of Glory. Edited by Don McCormack. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=glory (accessed May 26, 20107).

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

 

 

 

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Stage 4 in Faith: Blossoming in the SONshine

given on Sunday, May 21, 2017:  fourth stage in mini-series of Faith Development

 

Scripture connections: (using the NLT)

Numbers 11:26-29

26 Two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed behind in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but they had not gone out to the Tabernacle. Yet the Spirit rested upon them as well, so they prophesied there in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ assistant since his youth, protested, “Moses, my master, make them stop!”

29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!”

 

John 14:15-18, 26-28

15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. 18 No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.

 

I Peter 3:13-17

13 Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. 15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

 

Romans 8:1-2

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.

 

Reflection: Stage 4: Blossoming in the SONshine

Clouds. Wind. Severe weather alerts. Thunder. Lightening. Rain. Tornado watches. Flash floods. The spring storms certainly influence what we do or do not do much less it affects our moods. For some, fear overwhelms them, while approaching storms can fascinate others.

Whether one hates storms or loves them, the weather is just as challenging as our lives are. Some days are absolutely a delight with blessings easy to identify. Other days are exhausting and wear us out because we cannot seem to find an end to the problems. I even find that when one light bulb goes out, it is often followed by a group of light bulbs burning out—I have attributed the problem to a light bulb gremlin that gets loose in the house.

Somehow, though, everything changes when a storm passes and the sun pops out and it brightly glows; the warmth it provides seems to reach right down to our inner being; and everything is seen so much more clearly in its light. The tiny sunflower seeds that are planted, germinate, and grow depending on the sunshine to develop a full blossom. A sunflower in full bloom, lifting its head to bright blue sky, is magnificent.

The life cycle of a sunflower seed may be a metaphor for understanding the stages of faith development, but the final stage is absolutely beautiful. The fourth stage of faith development is the same. Remember the first outline of the four stages? Let’s review:

People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like Mary and the disciples, they may pass through four stages of belief. (1) At first, they may think the story is a fabrication, impossible to believe. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally are they able to accept the fact of the Resurrection. (4) Then, as they commit themselves to the risen Lord and devote their lives to serving him, they begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with them. (19912346-2347)

 

[This study note is located with John 20:1 and an almost identical one was found for Luke 24:11-12.]

No timeframe is identified with faith development; therefore, one can only infer that individuals must proceed through these four stages on their own. Each one of us is responsible for our own faith development, but fortunately others can contribute to our understanding of God. Jesus and the Holy Spirit can surround us, but each individual must experience the process independently. That is a tough reality for many of us who would do anything we could to make sure our own loved ones, whether family or friends, do have faith. What we do, though, is pray and simply be there loving unconditionally.

The anticipation of witnessing one’s faith takes us back to the sunflower. Nothing is more exciting as a gardener than seeing the first seedlings sprout up from the soil. There is a sense of hope and anticipation of the end result when those seedlings start reaching upward to the sun. The same excitement is found by Christians either as they watch others begin growing in their faith or their own excitement as they discover how Jesus is involved in their lives.

Meeting Jesus personally comes in so many different ways. Whether that meeting is the result of a life-altering event or whether it is in the simple beauty of a flower opening, God is present in our lives.   The mystery of God may seem impossible; but as God’s story and the records of all the faithful from the Old and the New Testament are checked out against all the historical documents and human experiences, the reality of God still comes in the form of a personal experience.

This week as nature’s fury was unleashed in so many places against so many people, God was present and met them personally. Just like the garden flooded a couple of weeks ago, God is there, too. The garden continues to grow.   God is in all of our lives and when we recognize him we may be like John Wesley and feel our hearts “strangely warmed,” too.

And, as we feel God’s presence in our lives, we reach that fourth stage of faith. With the awareness of God’s presence, there is a drive to share with others what faith in God does in our lives. According to the study note:

(4) Then, as they commit themselves to the risen Lord and devote their lives to serving him, they begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with them.

 

God’s gift of his son Jesus Christ is the key that unlocks the power of God in our own lives and it is so exciting that our lives blossom just like the sunflower does in our own gardens.

As Christians committed to God, we discover that we are also equipped to serve. Even in the Old Testament, the faithful are taught that the Spirit was with them. In Numbers, even Moses tried to explain that the Spirit was with the prophets who were excitedly telling about God out in the open, not strictly confined to the temple. Accepting God and acknowledging that his son Jesus Christ had lived, died and arose in order to erase our sins and provide us eternal life, guiding us is the presence of God with us in the form of the Holy Spirit.

The decision to accept the reality that Jesus died for our sins leads us to baptism. And as part of God’s faithful we commit ourselves to a Christian lifestyle. The excitement of a personal encounter leads us to do all that we can for all we can in all the ways we can for as long as we can. That is a terribly demanding goal, but God is with us in the form of the Holy Spirit and we are empowered to do all of that.

Freed from sin, as Paul writes in Romans 8:2 . . . because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The freedom to live for Christ is possible because the Holy Spirit is part of your own life. The Holy Spirit is the third part of the Triune God and is our personal advocate in our human lives.

In Acts 1:5, Luke writes to Theophilus, John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is God within us and with us [as explained in study notes]:

. . .The Spirit would comfort them, guide them to know his truth, remind them of Jesus’ words, give them the right words to say, and fill them with power. . . . The Spirit is the power of our new lives. He begins a lifelong process of change making us more like Christ. When we receive Christ by faith, we begin an immediate personal relationship with God. The Holy Spirit works in us to help us become like Christ. (19912366)

Life with God is full, busy, exciting, and rich. Others who touch our lives or we touch their lives can see how God blossoms in our life. Accepting God in our life, we are filled with hope. In fact, we become so full of hope and love that it overflows into the work we do and the people we touch.

In the midst of the storms in our lives, look for the Son to shine in and warm your heart. The storms that afflict damage on our homes and communities need us to do whatever we can, to serve as God’s hands and feet to help anybody, no everybody, who needs whatever we can provide. Maybe it is prayers. Maybe it is cash. But most important, we know that by doing we grow in faith, too. God will provide us with the ways and means to serve, we just have to hear his call and then follow.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Day after day, week after week

The stories of hardship fill our ears.

We know you are present with us

By our faith in your son Jesus Christ

And with us through the Holy Spirit.

Guide us in leading others to know you

So they too may find hope and joy

In the promise of life eternal.

Help us to hear your call to action

In all the ways that we can serve

Families, friends and strangers, too,

Because we want them to know

How a strangely warmed heart

Lets us blossom into the glory

Of God’s garden, now and forever. –Amen

 

Work Cited

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

 

 

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