Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

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.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

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.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Faith Is Freedom

given on Sunday, July 2, 2017

Scripture connections:

 Opening: Psalm 68:19-20, NLT

19 Praise the Lord; praise God our savior!
For each day he carries us in his arms. Interlude
20 Our God is a God who saves!
The Sovereign Lord rescues us from death.

 

Sermon:

Romans 5:20-21, NLT

20 God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Romans 6:3-4, 10-12 & 14, NLT

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. . . .

 

10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. 12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. . . .   14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

 

Romans 7:4-6, NLT

So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God.  When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death.  But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

 

Closing: Ephesians 1:6-7, NLT

So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.

 

Reflection: Faith Is Freedom

 

I picked up the latest copy of Reader’s Digest the other day and began absent mindedly flipping through the pages starting at the back. The first thing that caught my attention was a series of pages with colorful maps on them. I slowed to figure out what was being shared—“Who Knew? You say tomato. . .” was the article title and each map simply showed the differences in terminology Americans use. For instance, the western 1/3 of the country uses ‘fireflies’ while the rest of the country, primarily the Midwest and South, uses ‘lightning bugs.”

Interesting, but what else was in the magazine?

In a world that the print media is struggling to survive, the Reader’s Digest holds a special place in my life. We grew up with it and it resided in the bathroom. By the end of the month, it was well dog-eared. I loved the humor sections, the drama in real life, and who knew what else would capture me. This month’s edition is a special issue, “Your America,” and is filled with features about all facets of our lives.

The brief story, “Sergeant Turner’s Ride Home,” caught my attention. A veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder committed suicide in California, but his family was in George and could not afford to claim his ashes. The Marines stepped in and tried to figure out the best way to get him home.

We live in a country that has struggled to understand how to live with God and country while not infringing on anybody’s individual freedoms. Yet, God works in mysterious ways and this holiday weekend we are graphically reminded how important freedom is. Sometimes we forget that freedom is not a political platform of any one party—Democrat, Republican, Independent, etc. Freedom is living in a manner that allows for free decisions about how we live.

All too often, the simplest solution to a problem is forgotten by all the legalistic hoops that humans have created in an effort to live in an orderly, independent, free society. The answer is so simple: love one another as you want to be loved. God’s Golden Rule solves all the complications that one might encounter in daily life, yet it is ignored as our elected officials try to find ways to spell out the specifics and include all the different exceptions to a rule it can.

Faith is freedom. God is. God loves. And we mess things up over and over because we are human. We have the ability to make decisions on our own. The gift of free will has caused the downfall of humanity over and over. Paul, himself, experienced the rigidity of the Jewish faith, the legal structure of the Roman government, and God’s attention-getting blindness. He knew free will, he knew the Jewish laws, and as a Roman citizen he experienced unique privileges. Yet he had to be blinded to see that true freedom comes from faith in God.

Do we have to be blinded in order to see, too? Paul wrote to the Romans in order to introduce himself, but also to outline what faith means in the lives of the new Christians whether they were Jews or Gentiles. He knew the complex Jewish rules. He was a Roman citizen, too, so he knew the civic laws under which he had to live. But when he was blinded and learned the extent of God’s forgiveness, he was freed of all the restrictive laws of the Pharisees and the Romans.

In his letter, he outlines the connection of the sinfulness of humanity to God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ:

21 So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

The life and teaching of Jesus was designed to free us from all the sins of our own choosing and from all the evil outside forces that could enslave us too. Choosing to accept God’s grace and the forgiveness provided through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus provides us with freedom:

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?

 

Once we have accepted Jesus Christ as the means of salvation, we are choosing to live by the simplest laws possible. First, we chose to love God above all else; and then we chose to make daily decisions based on the Golden Rule. The freedom we experience from our faith provides unlimited joy. It guides our decisions, our relationships, and our perspective in life:

11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. 12 Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.

 

As Americans, we celebrate the birthday of this country this week; but sadly, we have failed to celebrate the fact that we are Christians first who are free from sin and all earthly constraints because God loved us so much that Jesus Christ was sent to demonstrate how to live the very freedom that faith in God provides.

As Americans who are Christian first, the decisions we make are to fulfill the commandment to love one another as we want to be loved. Christian freedom is the foundation to live freely loving one another without fear that we are breaking any law that humanity can design

Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

 

Paul’s letter may have been written to the Romans back 2,000 years ago, but the words apply to us here in America right now, too. We are to live our faith freely to do all that we can in all the ways that we can for all that we can.

The Marines freely did what they were called to do. They could not allow Sergeant Turner’s ashes to be simply boxed up and sent via FedEx or any other delivery service to his family. The Patriot Guard Riders, American Legion motorcyclists who provide escort services to the veterans, organized the return, “. . . a caravan—or as they described it, a ‘pony express of iron horses’”:

“On August 5, 2015, dozens of Patriot Guard Riders, many veterans themselves, accompanied Turner from Ontario, California to a Love’s truck stop in Lake Havasu, Arizona, on the California border. A veteran wearing white gloves somberly handed off the wooden box containing Turner’s ashes to the PGR captain from Arizona. Then the Arizona chapter drove the ashes 388 miles to the New Mexico border. The handing-off ceremony was repeated, and then the New Mexico Patriot Guard Riders transported the ashes to Texas, and so on until the ashes reached Georgia five days and some 2,000 miles after leaving California.

“The great state of Georgia proudly accepts this man on the final leg of his return home,” the captain of the Georgia PGR told his Alabama counterpart. “Thank you, Alabama, for bringing him home.” (Simmons 2017)

 

Faith is freedom, but freedom does come with a responsibility and that is to live your life in relationship with God. Accepting Jesus Christ as your savior, being baptized, and participating in a faith community provides the means to live a Christ-centered life with others to assure that we continue to grow in faith, be accountable to God, and to serve one another in love.

Members of the Patriot Guard demonstrated the very principles that God asks of us to love one another as we want to be loved. The riders did not know Turner personally, but they demonstrated their love for a fellow patriot by escorting his ashes across the country. Do we live our lives demonstrating love of one another?

As we step to the table to share in the bread and the cup, we can celebrate our freedom from sin. Faith is freedom. God loves us so much he sent Jesus Christ to demonstrate how to live our faith freely. He assures us that we are saved from our sins by our faith. We accept that gift of salvation at our baptism, we remember it through communion, and we live it freely as we love one another in the same manner that Jesus Christ showed us.

Closing prayer

Dear almighty and loving God,

 

We celebrate the freedom

that you have designed for us.

Even when we stumble and stray,

You continue to love us:

Loving us so much

that you forgive us when we ask.

 

During the week ahead,

May the freedom of our country

Protect all those who seek

To live the freedom you provide.

 

Guide us to live responsibly

Protecting the freedom you provide.

Help our faith be beacons of hope

To those still seeking freedom from sin.

 

May our actions of love for one another

Provide evidence of your love

In your name

and of the Son

and of the Holy Ghost, amen.

2 Comments

Filed under Religion

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

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.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Stage 2 of Faith Development: Checking it out

given on Sunday, May 7, 2017:  Mini-series on the Four Stages of Faith Development

Scripture Connections:

Luke 10:38-42, NLT

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

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

John 2:23-John 3, NLT

23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,[a]you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.[b] Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.[c] So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony.12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man[e] has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.[f]

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[g] 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.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.[h]

John 10:1-10, NLT (from the Lectionary)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me[a] were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.[b] They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

John 20:24-29, NLT

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[a] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Reflection: Stage 2 of Faith: Checking it out. . .

Who would have ever believed we could have seven inches of rain in just three days! We are so fortunate not to have the long-lasting effects that so many are experiencing along the small rivers and tributaries in the southern areas of our state. Yet, in the middle of the mind-numbing videos of flooding pops up surprising and unbelievable are stories of survival. What seems impossible to believe is real and God has to be present through it all.

Faith is believing what you do not see. The floodwaters are what we see; but even as the water recedes, we watch to see the reality of what remains. In the middle of last weekend’s storm, we drove past a garden that we knew had been planted, was growing well and was well-tended.

The muddy, floodwater so completely covered the garden that there was not even a clue that the rows of seedlings were even there. I wondered if there was any chance that the garden would survive. Yet nature is resilient, and as I drove past that garden just three days later, the seedlings were once again standing up and reaching for the sunlight.

Checking out something that seems impossible to believe for one’s self is part of faith development. I could not believe that the force of the floodwaters would leave that garden in tact, but when I checked it out, I confirmed what I thought I knew. The same need to check out Jesus’ story is the second stage of faith development.

The story continues to be shared and preserved. Yet, the story of Jesus’ resurrection left so many and still leaves so many with questions. How do you believe something that goes against everything we know. When the body dies, there is no way that three days later it can be missing, much less alive. Even the closest disciples had to run to the tomb and see it with their very own eyes.

And even then, the reaction was of disbelief and fear. There was no rational explanation. Jesus’ appearance as recorded in the gospels provided the disciples proof. Now two thousand years later, we must depend on the words preserved in the Bible to assure us of the truth.

To continue developing one’s faith, checking it out and learning about Jesus is simply part of the process of becoming Christ-like. Look at the stories of all Jesus’ contemporaries and how they had to check out The Story:

  1. Mary and Martha knew Jesus personally and valued that friendship. Yet even Martha struggled to follow the cultures custom of hospitality while Mary ignored those expectations and sat at his feet to learn more of his teachings (Luke 10:38-42)
  2. Consider, too, Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader. Something about Jesus and his message/ministry seemed impossible to believe, so he went under the cover of night to talk directly to Jesus. He had to check it out for himself. (John 12:23-3:21)
  3. Finally, Thomas the Apostle had questions. Even after the crucifixion and the resurrection, Thomas struggled to believe what seemed impossible. Jesus understood that uncertainty and stood before him with the open wounds in his hands, side and feet so Thomas could touch them and believe. (John 20:24-29)

Story after story in the Gospels show how people, whether faithful Jews, Gentiles, Roman citizens, or pagans, heard about Jesus and his message/ministry and still struggled to believe.

Change is difficult and then to have this man say he was the Son of God defied, and continues to defy, what humans know to be true. There is no guilt is questioning the reality of The Story, and checking it out is part of learning the truth. Reading the Bible, studying it in community, researching more about the story, and even testing the New Covenant in today’s world is part of faith development.

Whether we are Mary, Martha, Nicodemus or Thomas, we have heard The Story and believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We continue to seek for better understanding so we can grow in our faith. As modern disciples, we do the best we can to live our faith so others may see faith in action.

John Wesley, the son of a preacher, followed his father into the ministry. He was raised knowing the Story, and even he struggled to understand. He continued preaching and searching for answers; and on May 24, 1738, he reported to his brother Charles that “his heart was strangely warmed” (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999) which is referred to as Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience:

About a quarter before nine, while he [a Moravian, reading from Martin Luther’s work] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. 

The brazier’s house was but a few steps away, and John Wesley hastened thither to hail his brother with the rapturous words, “I believe,” and to join him in singing the new hymn, Where shall my wondering soul begin. . . (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999)

Today we continue our own practices in faith. We attend Sunday worship, we read the Bible, we meet with small groups, we worship, and we serve. Or do we? The impossible-to-believe story may be something we have learned, but are we checking it out and learning the reality of the story?

Wesley’s own experience ignited his own ministry and we follow his methods today to continue in our own faith development. Through his work, we have two sets of guidelines that we can follow to continue developing our own faith: the acts of piety and the acts of mercy. Have we used these tools to grow in our faith?

Personally and communally, Wesley recommends that we follow the practices to grow in our faith as well as to share our faith:

  • 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 (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

Accepting what seems impossible to believe, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation, is the first stage in faith. The second stage is to check out, to learn as much as one can about Jesus Christ and his ministry. As Wesley did, so do we, and in that process we may experience “a heart strangely warmed” too. Wesley’s ministry became inspired, ignited by the Holy Spirit:

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. (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

As our faith develops, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our faith practices can ignite our own lives and only God knows what seeds of faith grow into.

Today, we join in the service of the cup and the bread. Wesley called communion, or Eucharist, one of the works of piety. As we join together to share the elements, we are joining in the community of believers. The Story continues because we have checked out the story and believe. We join in sharing the bread and the cup because we are part of the Christian community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, almighty,

We know the story. We struggle to believe.

Even Wesley struggled, but he prayed these words:

O, thou Saviour of men, save us from trusting in anything but thee! Draw us after thee. Let us be emptied of ourselves, and then fill us with all peace and joy in believing, and let nothing separate us from thy love in time or eternity.” (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

And we join in his words,

Seeking to follow Jesus and all the disciples before us.

Lead us in faith so that we may, too,

Have hearts strangely warmed.

 

As we grow in our faith,

May we follow the examples of your faithful

As we serve one another in love.

In the name of God the creator,

the son Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

Works Cited

An Account of John Wesley’s Life. General Board of Ministries. 2017. http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/Account-of-the-Life-of-John-Wesley (accessed May 4, 2017).

Chapter VII: The New Birth. The Wesley Center for Applied Theology. 1999. http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesley-the-methodist/chapter-vii-the-new-birth/ (accessed May 4, 2017).

The Wesleyan Means of Grace. United Methodist. http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace (accessed May 4, 2017).

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

God so loved us

given on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017:  I finished Easter Sunday service and began a week’s vacation.  I apologize for not posting sooner.  May you know that God loves you so much he gave his only son for your salvation.

Scripture connection

 John 3:13-17

13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

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.

 John 20:1-10

1Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.

Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

John study notes from the Life Application Bible (NLT):

“Nicodemus Visits Jesus at Night”

3:14,15—When Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God sent plague of snakes to punish rebellious attitudes. If snake bit, looking up to Moses holding the bronze snake and believing that God could save them, did save them.

3:16–. . . When we share the Good News with others, our love must be like Jesus’—willingly giving up our comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.

3:16–. . . eternal life is not an extension of a person’s miserable, mortal life; eternal life is God’s life embodied in Christ given to all believers now as a guarantee that they will live forever. In eternal life there is no death, sickness, enemy, evil, or sin. When we don’t know Christ, we make choices as though this life is all we have. In reality, this life is just the introduction to eternity. . . .

3:16—To “believe” is more than intellectual agreement that Jesus is God. It means to put our trust and confidence in him that he alone can save us. It is to Christ in charge of our present plans and eternal destiny. Believing is both trusting his words as reliable, and relying on him for the power to change. If you have never trusted Christ, let this promise of everlasting life be yours—and believe.

3:18—People often try to protect themselves from their fears by putting their faith in something they do or have: good deeds, skill or intelligence, money or possessions. But only God can save us from the one thing that we really need to fear—eternal condemnation. We believe in God by recognizing the insufficiency of our own efforts to find salvation and by asking him to do his work in us. When Jesus talks about unbelievers, he means those who reject or ignore him completely, not those who have momentary doubts. (emphasis added)

“Jesus Rises from the Dead”

20:9—Jesus’ resurrection is the key to the Christian faith. Why?

  1. Just as he said, Jesus rose from the dead. We can be confident, therefore, that he will accomplish all he has promised.
  2. Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ, not a false prophet or imposter, is ruler of God’s eternal Kingdom.
  3. We can be certain of our resurrection because Jesus was resurrected.   Death is not the end—there is future life.
  4. The divine power that brought Jesus back to life is now available to us to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life.
  5. The Resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world.

Reflection: God so loved us

[Sing Morning Has Broken, UMH 145]

Today is the third day after Jesus was crucified. Today is Easter and morning has broken, as the hymn reminds us, like the first morning. The earth continues to revolve around the son, the birds still sing, and after the rain, everything is like new. Yet, today is Easter 2017, over 2,000 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and we awake to a new morning.

Do you sense the awesomeness of the new morning?

Do you sense the renewal of our world after a spring rain?

Do you sense the love of God?

Hear these words from John:

1Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

[Sing Lift High the Cross, UMH 159]

Mary and the other women greeted that Sunday morning with a tremendous sense of loss. Certainly they did not see the awesomeness of Easter morning, they were beginning the new week with a tradition of honoring the death of a loved one.   At the moment, their steps were slow and their shoulders were sagging. They were simply following the tradition of mourning, carrying the spices to the tomb. The mood was anything but joyful.

Yet, the story in all four of the gospels reveal the same shift in emotions when the women discover the stone rolled away from the tomb’s opening. Can you not see the change in the women’s posture and expressions when they reach the tomb, look up from the path and see the open tomb?

The Sunday morning suddenly turned from grief to joy. These women experienced the glory of God as they see, first hand, the promise of God revealed by an empty tomb. The glory of God evidenced as the figures in dazzling white robes, white as snow, tell them Jesus is risen from the dead, as Luke tells the story (Luke 24:5-7):

5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

[Sing Up from the Grave, UMH 322]

How awesome it is to realize the prophecy shared for thousands of years has come to fulfillment! Mary, the other women, and now the Apostles are learning firsthand the revelation that Jesus, a man with whom they had walked and talked was indeed God. Do you sense the renewal of hope that the gospels share with us today, this Easter Sunday 2017?

Jesus arose! He is alive! Jesus is the Son of God. The women ran to tell the Apostles, the other disciples, and surely all their friends even who still did not believe. This news was a personal witness so how could anyone still doubt the truth of these eyewitnesses to God’s amazing love of us.

John, the apostle that Jesus loved most, wrote the gospel for us. We are Christians so far removed from the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry that we are still seeking to understand God’s love (John 3:16-17):

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.

 

John had to learn firsthand that Jesus, someone he was deeply devoted to, a friend so close to him that as he was dying on the cross told him that he was to take care of his mother as though she was his own mother and that his mother was to accept John as her own son. This is love.

[Sing What Wondrous Love is This, UMH 292]

God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that we might be forgiven of our sins and have eternal life. Do you sense the enormity of that love? In our earthly world, the full meaning of God’s love is beyond our human understanding. We get glimpses of it in our lifetimes, but full understanding seems just beyond our reach.

True knowledge typically comes from first hand experience and we have yet to experience our own death and resurrection. We depend on the words of the gospel, the letters of Paul and the others books in the New Testament to provide us the guidelines for living as Christ’s disciples; yet, first hand knowledge of the Easter experience continues to be a promise made by God in the Old Testament stories, by Jesus as revealed in the gospels, and by the Apostles and disciples who were there.

[Sing Where you there? UMH 288—used during Maundy Thursday]

Today, Easter 2017, we continue to share the story and live with the expectation that we, too, will remain in relationship with our loving God, until the time we, too, will experience life everlasting. As we read the resurrection story and hear the promises of the hymns, again consider:

Do you sense the awesomeness of the new morning?

Do you sense the renewal of our world after a spring rain?

Do you sense the love of God?

Where are you in the story?

Where are you in your relationship with God?

Where are you in living the life God has given you?

This Easter morning, consider then what John has shared in his gospel:

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

Find the awesomeness of living in this world today, but remember the story and sense the full love of God as you walk out the doors to enter into our real life world today. You have a story to share and it is amazing. Live with the knowledge that life is a gift but the promise is that eternal life with God is even more wonderful than we can imagine.

[Sing Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, UMH 302, &/or He Lives, UMH 310.]

Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

Be excited about God’s love as you step out today. Feel a sense of renewal because Christ did arise from the grave. But remember that as much as God loved us, we have been tasked to carry the story forward and to live as Christ has taught us to live: Love one another as you want to be loved!

Closing prayer:

Thank you, thank you, thank you, God!

 

You have lifted Christ from the grave

And you promise to life us, too.

 

You have refreshed the world with new life

As we witness in Spring’s glory.

 

You have demonstrated love in the worst of times

So we may learn that love wins every time.

 

Thank you, God, for sharing life with us.

Thank you, Jesus, for teaching us to love.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for being with us always.

 

May we, with the help of you, God,

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Live today knowing that you loved us so much

That you died for us. –Amen

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion