Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

LOVE: The Christmas Present that Won’t Break

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

John 3:16

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

 

UMH 242     Love Came Down at Christmas

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

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

 

Worship we the Godhead, Love incarnate, Love divine;

Worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?

 

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

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

 

Luke 2:8-20

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

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

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

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

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

 

LOVE: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

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

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

 

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

Hear the words of that verse again:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Moore puts into words what I have learned:

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Closing prayer:

 

Dear God, thank you for the gift of love.

May we share this gift with others

and learn how to love unconditionally.

Help us during this Christmas season

to practice love in action

with family, friends, and strangers. Amen.

(Moore and Armstrong 2017, 46)

 

 

Works Cited

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

 

 

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Hope: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Hope

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“. . . walls that divide nations . . .

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Are you giving the gift of hope this year?

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

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

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

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

Closing prayer:

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

Works Cited

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

 

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The Sacrament of Baptism

given on Sunday, September 24, 2017

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

 

*Opening words about the Sacrament of Baptism:

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Pastor:         Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Through the Sacrament of Baptism

we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.

We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation

and given new birth through water and the Spirit.

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

 

Today as we join in the sacrament of Baptism,

we can also choose to reaffirm our own baptism,

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

and affirming our commitment to Christ’s holy Church.

 

Presentation of the Candidates UMH p.33

 

*Comments about the decision and preparation of candidates

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

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

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

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

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

 

Opening scripture: Matthew 3:11-17, NLT

 

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

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

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

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

 

Pastor:         Today I have the honor of presenting

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

 

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

 

Scripture: John 3:16-17, NLT

 

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 

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

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,

reject the evil powers of this world,

and repent of your sin?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you

to resist evil, injustice, and oppression

in whatever forms they present themselves?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Pastor:         Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,

put your whole trust in his grace,

and promise to serve him as your Lord,

in union with the Church which Christ has opened

to people of all ages, nations, and races?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Pastor:         According to the grace given to you,

will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church

and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?

 

Candidate: I will.

 

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

 

*Comments about the Apostle’s Creed:

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

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

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

 

Pastor:         Let us join together in professing the Christian faith

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

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in God the Father?

 

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

                        and earth.

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in Jesus Christ?

 

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

            who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

            born of the Virgin Mary,

            suffered under Pontius Pilate,

            was crucified, died, and was buried;

            he descended to the dead.

            On the third day he rose again;

            he ascended into heaven,

            is seated at the right hand of the Father,

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

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

 

All:     I believe in the Holy Spirit,

            the holy catholic* church,

            the communion of saints,

            the forgiveness of sins,

            the resurrection of the body,

            and the life everlasting.

 

UMC Hymn 191    Jesus Loves Me

 

Thanksgiving over the water (UMH p. 36)

 

*Comments about the symbolic use of water:

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

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

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

 

Pastor:         The Lord be with you.

 

All:                 And also with you.

 

Pastor:         Let us pray:

 

Eternal Father:

When nothing existed but chaos,

you swept across the dark waters

and brought forth light.

In the days of Noah

you saved those on the ark through water.

After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.

When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt,

you led them to freedom through the sea.

Their children you brought through the Jordan

to the land which you promised.

 

All:     Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

            Tell of God’s mercy each day.

 

Pastor:         In the fullness of time you sent Jesus,

nurtured in the water of a womb.

He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.

He called his disciples

to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection

and to make disciples of all nations.

 

All:     Declare Christ’s works to the nations,

            his glory among all the people.

 

Pastor:         Pour out your Holy Spirit,

and by this gift of water call to our remembrance

the grace declared to us in our baptism.

For you have washed away our sins,

and you clothe us with righteousness

throughout our lives,

that dying and rising with Christ

we may share in his final victory.

 

Pastor:         All praise to you, Eternal Father,  

            through your Son Jesus Christ,

            who with you and the Holy Spirit

            lives and reigns for ever. Amen.

 

Reaffirmation of Faith UMH p. 37

 

*Comments about reaffirming one’s faith:

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

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

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

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

 

Pastor:         Remember your baptism and be thankful.

 

All:     Amen.

 

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

The Holy Spirit work within you,

that having been born through water and the Spirit,

you may live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

All:     Amen.

 

Transferring membership from another congregation:

 

*Comments on transferring memberships:

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

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

 

Pastor:         Sharon Dzula has made the decision to transfer her

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

 

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

your gifts, and your service?

 

Transferee:            Yes, I will.

 

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

Comments on the practice of Laying on of Hands.

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

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

 

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

and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

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

And of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

All:     Amen

 

Pastor:         The Holy Spirit works within you,

That being born through water and the Spirit,

You may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

All:     Amen

 

The Sacrament of Communion:

 

*Comments about the communion as a church family:

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

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

 

UMC Hymn 620    One Bread, One Body

 

UMC page 13-14

 

Thanksgiving and welcome:

 

*Comments about local membership in the church:

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

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

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

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

 

Closing Scripture: Philippians 1:3-10, NLT

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

All:     Through baptism

            You are incorporated by the Holy Spirit

                        Into God’s new creation

            And made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood.

            We are all one in Christ Jesus.

            With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you

                        as members of the family of Christ.

 

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

 

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

As members of the body of Christ

and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church,

we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the Church

            by our prayers, our presence, our gifts,

our service and our witness

            that in everything God may be glorified

            through Jesus Christ.

 

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

 

Closing words and benediction UMH p. 39

 

Pastor:        The God of all grace,

Who has called us to eternal glory in Christ,

Establish you and strengthen you

By the power of the Holy Spirit,

That you may live in grace and peace.

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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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Have you noticed the changes?

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

 

given on Sunday, September 3, 2017

Scripture connections: 

Opening: Galatians 1:15-20, NLT

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

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

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

Sermon support: Galatians 3:23-29, NLT

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

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

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

Closing: Galatians 3:29, NLT

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

Reflection: Have you noticed the change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing prayer:

Dear Loving God,

As we come in your sanctuary with weary bodies,

Help us to hear your words of guidance.

Guide us to accept the reality of life’s seasons

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

Be with us as we step into a new season

Seeking rest and renewal to prepare for the next season.

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

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

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

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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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Why is simple complicated?

given on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 5:10-11, NLT

10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 Sermon scriptures:

Romans 11:3-6, NLT

Elijah the prophet complained to God about the people of Israel and said, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”[a]

And do you remember God’s reply? He said, “No, I have 7,000 others who have never bowed down to Baal!”[b]

It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel[c] have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved.

Romans 12:1-2, NLT

And so, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.[b] Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:9-18, NLT

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.[b]12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Closing: Romans 16:17-20, NLT

17 And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. 18 Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. 19 But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord. This makes me very happy. I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus[a] be with you.

 Reflection: Why is simple complicated?

One of my favorite cookies is a ‘no-bake’ cookie. Not only does it have all the chocolate one could possibly want, but also it does not include the extra work of baking them, especially on hot summer days. The no-bake cookie is simple, right? Well, the name of the cookie may be somewhat misleading.

In a similar manner being a Christian is really simple, too. How difficult is it to remember the new law versus the Ten Commandments of the old law? Surely being Christian is simple. Love God. Love one another.

When God decided to send Jesus with a much less complicated law, those who were faithful may have understood the Ten Commandments; but religious leaders had continued to add layers of rules to their lifestyle that complicated faithful living and could have lead one to breaking a law that they may not have even known existed.

Being faithful was not simple.

Jesus delivered a simple way to be faithful: Love God first, then love one another as you want to be loved. How simple can it get? Yet we tend to complicate even the new law. Paul knew the complicated law of the Jewish faith, so when he began his work sharing the new law delivered by Jesus, he wrote letters to keep encouraging the young churches.

Paul referred back to the ancient prophet Elijah about how God had not forgotten his people even though it may have felt like it. God does not forget the faithful Jewish people; he just tried to simplify their laws by sending Jesus to demonstrate how to live a faithful life. Paul’s letter goes into detail about the personal responsibility of all new disciples—whether Jew or Gentile:

  • 12:1 give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.
  • 12:2 let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
  • 12:3 Don’t think you are better than you really are.

 

Being a Christian should be simple, but we tend to complicate lives by what we do and do not do.

Paul continues to explain to the Roman church that God has given us each gifts to use: prophecy to speak out with faith; gift of serving; the gift of teaching, gifts of encouraging, giving, and showing kindness. The list is not complete, it simply lists a few of the skills God gives us to use in our lives, but we tend to complicate our lives with some very negative behaviors as Paul goes on to explain:

  • 12:9 Don’t just pretend to love others.. . . Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
  • 12:10 Love. . with genuine affection and . . .honor each other.
  • 12:11 Never be lazy. . .
  • 12:12 . . . be ready to help . . . eager to practice hospitality.

 

The list details the simple law of loving one another. Sadly, though we can be criticized for what we do, but living simply means ignoring those who “persecute you” and as Paul says in 12:16-17:

 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

 

Just like no-bake cookies. The name makes the cookie sound easy, but the instructions do not always include the difficult tweaks that good cooks know make the cookie so scrumptious or how to make them extra special with secret ingredients.

Paul listed the special instructions so the Gentiles could live in community with the Jews who had generations of instruction in living faithfully. The Jewish faithful had to have the special instructions so they could adjust to a simpler lifestyle and not judge the Gentiles. We, too, need to read through Paul’s letters to remember how to live faithfully, also.

Ask the best cooks you know what the secret is to their no-bake cookies and you will get a list of suggestions just as Paul’s letters provide a range of suggestions to the various churches. In Romans, he begins wrapping up his letters with a few other points:

  • Chapter 13: “Respect for authority”
  • Chapter 14: “The Danger of Criticism”
  • Chapter 15: “Living to Please Others

 

And then he concludes the letter with personal notes and plans. These last chapters are like the special notes the experienced cooks write in the margins of their recipes—some even dating when they made the recipe and for whom it was made.

My no-bake cookies are seldom the same any two times. Why? I tweak the recipe based on what ingredients I have available, who the eaters are, and even the time I spend on making them. And what are the notes along my recipe card? The most critical one is to let it boil at least 3 minutes. My favorite tweak is peanut butter added to the recipe. I have even changed it to a non-chocolate no-bake cookie, but it is not greeted as favorably as a dark chocolate version is.

Being a faithful Christian should be easy with God’s new law delivered by Jesus Christ. Why, then, do we seem to make it so difficult? Paul knew personally the extent of the law’s change, and he did whatever he could to encourage the new church to live simply. In our personal lives, we must spend some time evaluating our own practices. Are we living faithfully? Are we respecting each other? Are we demonstrating our gifts in all the ways that we can to love one another?

The recipe may sound easy since it says “no-bake cookies,” but the more we develop our discipleship as Christians, we learn how to tweak the law to make the best Christians we can of ourselves. We need to work to be better. We also need to work together to be the church God asks us to be. When we fail, then we need to reread the recipe and try again. The result will be worth the reward.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You have delivered us a message, a recipe for faithfulness.

Generations have preserved the simple instructions,

But we look for ways to make them even easier to follow.

 

Just like excellent cooks know, the simplest recipes

Need practice to reach perfection.

Guide us in following your words so we too may reach perfection.

 

Help us to toss out what has not worked

And to try again to find the best ways to love one another

And to carry your message to others in our community.

 

Open our hearts so we can love freely.

Open our minds so we can learn from our mistakes.

Open our doors to all your children who seek

life now and life eternal

with you, our father,

with Jesus Christ your son,

and with the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

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