Tag Archives: John Wesley

It’s Advent Eve!

Sermon for Sunday, November 26, 2017

How many of you know that today is the last Sunday of the church year? When considering the Sunday calendar, today is like “Advent Eve”. Therefore, what better time is there to write our Christmas card letter.

The custom of sending Christmas cards has really changed over my lifetime and with the addition of personal computers in our homes, one change has been to include a holiday letter to share your life experiences with all those family and friends you are accustomed to exchanging Christmas cards.

My experience with the year-end letter is that it is a list of the high points in a family’s life. No one really mentions too many negative or sad experiences, yet I admit using the letter to let others know of some such changes in our family. Sometimes I feel like I do not have anything worthy of sharing as the year is just filled with the day-to-day activities of work and household chores. Those are the toughest ones to write.

Yet, time is getting away, so let’s get started:

 

Dear Family and Friends,

            Blessings to each of you this holiday season. The years are certainly racing ahead, but we are blessed with good health and a comfortable home.

            Sadly we have to report that we lost two of our family this year: Mary Ellen and Ms. Bonnie. Their passing leaves empty space in our pews, but we know that they have continued their faith journey to meet Jesus Christ himself.

            Joyfully, though, we can share that two have chosen to be baptized as Christians. Two young ladies made this personal decision and it was a joy to share in the sacrament with them. . . .

 

            These Christmas letters are ways to share with others the basic facts of the closing year, but sometimes they become an opportunity to share something that has influenced our lives in profound ways. My brother includes a list of favorite books, movies, and music that he has read, seen or heard through the year.

If we choose to include something like that in our church’s letter, it is difficult, especially if we are not participating in a small group study or even accustomed to the practice of reading scripture. Each week, the common lectionary is included on the bulletin. That is just one way to practice John Wesley’s act of piety of reading scripture.

Reading through the lectionary this week, I found the four readings all related to the same metaphor: the shepherd separating the sheep and the goats. The parable in Matthew is familiar and we have reviewed or referenced it repeatedly, so that makes it difficult to hear God’s message for today, Advent Eve. Of course, put the choice of these verses into the perspective of the Christian year’s conclusion one may discover something in these verses that does fit.

The common lectionary is based on a 3-year cycle. With this week, Year A concludes. But the lectionary for Year B is already available, as is Year C. Commentaries are available, and during the course of the year, a variety of on-line sources are available to help understand the significance of these verses in our lives.

How they are interpreted depends on real-life circumstances and how God uses the words to speak to us depends on a broad range of things—whether it is good sheep behaviors or troublesome goat behaviors.

Let’s consider the parable Jesus tells in Matthew 25:31-36

 

     31 “But when the Son of Manco mes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

     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.’

 

Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who were testing him, but Jesus was a well-trained Jew and his answer directly referenced the scripture from the prophet Ezekiel as written in the Old Testament book Ezekiel 34:17:

 

17 “And as for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to his people: I will judge between one animal of the flock and another, separating the sheep from the goats. (emphasis added)

 

As the church year closes, considering the metaphor of God’s judgment as separating the sheep from the goats does help us to evaluate the church’s adherence to Jesus’ teaching. Before we can finish the year-end letter, we need to honestly determine how we have followed Jesus’ commandment to love God above all else and to love one another as we want to be loved.

But, let’s get back to the job of writing the annual Christmas letter:

 

            The church continues to hold weekly worship services and offer Sunday School for the kids and the adults. There has also been a Maundy Thursday service and a Community Christmas Program.

            Two events continue to be provided for the community kids and those are the Easter Fling and the Halloween treats. Through one member’s extra efforts, the local kids have also had movie nights and a summer food program.

            Members worked together to create food packs for delivery at Annual Conference in June, and school kits and hygiene kits for the annual Festival of Sharing in October.

            When school began, the church hosted one of the teacher work-day lunches. And no year is complete without the Chilhowee Community Fair and the church’s concession efforts. . . .

 

The Christmas letter conveniently packages up the year in a way to tell a positive story to all those reading it. But one might wonder what the letter does not say. There is no need to add more, God already knows.

The prophet Ezekiel goes on to tell how God will not abandon his faithful and despite the failures of the leaders at that time, he would send a “perfect shepherd.” This promise from Ezekiel 34:22-24 develops the metaphor of the Good Shepherd taking care of his flock:

 

22 So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. 23 And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. . . .

The Christmas letter is almost done, but what is left out is probably the very reason that we need to continue reading scripture and meeting in community to work together loving one another.

Wesley repeatedly demanded accountability from his congregations in weekly class meetings. His focus on mission came from his understanding of Jesus’ message. Jesus’ use of the parable becomes a checklist for how we are living out the commandments. We must ask ourselves the very questions included in the parable from Matthew 25:37-39:

 

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

 

Before we can finish this year’s Christmas letter, we need to ask ourselves these questions. We need to be accountable just like Wesley expected the early Methodists. We need to hear the King tell us:

 

I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

 

Today we must reaffirm our efforts to serve one another as God asks us to serve. We need spiritual wisdom and we can find it in the words of Paul’s prayer:

 

. . . I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.

 

18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called . . .

 

19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.

Believing in God’s incredible power is not easy as we face the daily challenges of our life, but as we close out the church year we need to honestly ask the very question the Pharisees asked:

 

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

 

God is all-powerful.   God is mighty. God never gives up on us, so we must not give up following him. The resolution we have to add to our Christmas letter should be quite simply:

 

. . . In closing, we return to the most basic commandment that Jesus gave us: Love one another. How we live that commandment needs to look like the work that Wesley did—doing all that we can for all we can in any way we can. This is our new year’s resolution.

            The wish we share for each of you is the blessings that come from being part of the God’s family. We invite you to join us each week during Advent as the new year begins. Join us in learning how God’s love was so strong that he gave his son so that we may be saved.      

                                                Love,

                                                Your brothers and sisters in Christ

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

How does our church interpret Christianity?

Sermon given on Sunday, November 12, 2017:  We lost one of our members at the age of 97 this week, and while preparing for the funeral, I could not get rid of the lessons that she taught our community.  Please understand that the audience knew Ms. Bonnie very well, but any reader may insert those people in your own lives who you know are true Christian models.

 

Spending the week reminiscing about Ms. Bonnie lead me to thinking about her model of Christianity, and that lead me to thinking about how our congregation models or interprets Christianity. Using the term ‘interpret’ may not seem appropriate, but our lives reflect what we believe. Our actions are stronger than our words.

All week long, Ms. Bonnie’s life has been reviewed by most all of us in the church and the community. The fact that she had not lived among us for the past few years did not matter. Ms. Bonnie is entwined with those who make up the Chilhowee community.

The adjectives/descriptions shared about Ms. Bonnie included words that create pictures in our minds of this incredible woman: pioneer spirit, servant, worker, gardener, country, leader, teacher, mother, grandmother, friend, neighbor, selfless, giving, and the list continues to grow. These words are filled with compliments and are worthy qualities for any of us to work towards.

For our congregation, we can add to the list of qualities that she was a 71-year member of our church family. She never missed church unless she was sick or away from home. She was a tireless worker for all the activities in the church, and the only time we witnessed her unhappy was when we tried to surprise her for her birthday—you don’t fool Ms. Bonnie!

Ms. Bonnie lived Christianity boldly, and we were fortunate to have witnessed her demonstration. What better time than today to reflect on how our church models or interprets Christianity too. What stories would others tell of our church? What adjectives, titles or descriptions would others use to tell about our church?

At first I thought maybe we could describe the church as a Mary-style or a Martha-style, but then that might not be too clear. The scripture tells us that Mary was an eager listener to Jesus and would put aside any traditional, female roles in order to sit at his feet and listen to his words. Her sister Martha was more traditional and was concerned with all the appropriate tasks involved in providing for a visitor’s needs whether it was food, rest, comfort, and maybe even overnight arrangements.

[Luke 10:38 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.” The NLT]

Defining our church as a ‘Mary’ or a ‘Martha’ really is not possible. We are a church and not a person. Therefore, I stopped and considered what other way could the church be identified, and I turned to John Wesley. He grouped certain behaviors into two categories: acts of mercy and acts of piety. I mulled over those two terms and considered whether that would be a reasonable way to evaluate the church.

First, does the church demonstrate acts of mercy. To answer that one has to know what acts of mercy are. The list that Wesley outlined includes:

  • 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 [Accessed on November 10, 2017, at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

This list covers a great deal and has given United Methodist a reputation of being active for social justice.

            Ms. Bonnie certainly did demonstrate acts of mercy. How many in the community learned how to cook and to sew as she taught these skills through 4-H? How many families received the gifts of fresh food from her gardens? How many times did Ms. Bonnie step up to fix clothes or a meal or reach out to others in need?

            Does our church demonstrate grace to others through acts of mercy? Individually is not the question, but as a community do we seek justice, work to end oppression or discrimination, or address the needs of the poor?

            This is a tough question to answer. One way we can answer in the affirmative is that we have diligently paid the district and state apportionments. The United Methodist Church has a connectional approach to working with other congregations to affect change in a range of different areas. Paying the apportionments does demonstrate the church’s efforts to address the needs of others beyond our immediate community. Sadly, the financial health of our church may limit the extent of our connectional works of piety for the first time in the past decade or longer.

The second group of behaviors that Wesley identified was the acts of piety. These behaviors are more closely aligned to the ‘Mary’ style of Christian practices than the ‘Martha’ style. These behaviors are identified on the UMC’s website, too:

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. [Ibid.]

            Again, Ms. Bonnie demonstrated an understanding of the individual practices of piety, but does the church do so. On the surface(pardon the cliché) , the answer is yes. The sacrament of communion is available on a regular basis, and baptism is offered upon request. But no one inside or outside the church’s congregation can judge whether the church as a group fully incorporate the acts of piety honestly. Only God, Jesus his son, and the Holy Spirit—the Triune God—can judge the integrity of the church’s acts of piety.

            The individual acts of piety include a personal list of practices that may be available through Sunday School and Ladies Aid, but is that adequate. Should the church provide more opportunities or assistance for the practices of these acts of piety? A ‘Mary’ style church would place the priority on these acts of piety, often referred to as discipleship when in district or conference meetings.

The church year is winding down, so considering how our church interprets Christianity is a timely task. Review what the mission is for the church and the goals for the upcoming year. Maybe we should ask ourselves “What would Ms. Bonnie do?” We can honor her by exemplifying the stewardship and the acts of mercy and piety she modeled.

[Titus 3:Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.[a] He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.

Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees[b] or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. 10 If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. 11 For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them. The NLT]

Closing prayer

Dear God, Father Almighty,

 

We mourn the loss of one of our family,

But let us remember her

By following the model of faith

She exhibited in all that she did.

 

Help us to demonstrate

The Christian qualities

That Paul listed in his letters

To the early churches and disciples.

 

Help us to follow Wesley’s practices

Both the acts of piety

and the acts of mercy

as we work together in your name.

 

May we recognize your presence

Through the power of the Holy Spirit

As we make decisions individually

And communally to love one another.

 

In your name, the Father, the Son,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Paul’s tools will work

Sermon given on Sunday, November 5, 2017.  After completing the letters of Paul to the early churches, this sermon focuses on the letters he wrote to the pastors he appointed to two of the churches, Timothy and Titus.  

For two months I have been totally consumed with the fallout from the chaos that followed our baptismal service. I have questioned my calling. I have tried to apologize. I have tried to sort out the details of what happened. And I have kept moving forward. All the time, I have not been able to shed the immense sorrow that I feel as a result of that day’s events.

I continued reading Paul’s letters to the early churches and asked what would the message be for our congregation. There is truth in each letter that applies as much to today’s church as it does to the earliest churches. Sadly, I do not think the lessons made an impact.

During these weeks, I have sought council. I have heard opinions. I have experienced shunning. And I have had to answer to the district superintendent. All the while, only one source continues providing Christ-like advice and that is the Bible. After exhausting all the various sources I could, I turned again to Paul. This time I found the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, two of the pastors he placed in churches.

Last week, I shared a brief scripture from Titus, so this week I decided to focus on reading the two letters to Timothy. I discovered that Titus was actually written between the two letters to Timothy and 2 Timothy was written by Paul while he was under arrest and trying to prepare for his final trial that in historical perspective turned out to end in his execution. Therefore, 2 Timothy was his last letter to the earliest Christians.

This week, searching for answers and direction, Paul’s advice to Timothy may provide needed guidance. Let’s begin with today’s opening verses (2 Timothy 2:10-14):

10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.

11 This is a trustworthy saying:

If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
12 If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

These words written as Paul sat in a Roman prison alone, about AD 66 or 67, are words that pastors need to hear. These are words of encouragement, almost like a mantra to develop one’s self-confidence. But these words are for all faithful followers, not just pastors. As long as we remain faithful to God, he will continue to be with us.

The rumor mill that has churned out stories in our community have caused damage. Words have divided us in ways we may not even realize. But Paul wants us to remember to stay faithful. To remain loyal. To endure hardships. And in verse 14:

 

14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

 

Those words mean the same thing regardless of the translation:

 

  • KJV: 14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
  • NRSV: 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God[a]that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.
  • NIV: 14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
  • MSG: 14-18 Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out.
  • CEB: 14 Remind them of these things and warn them in the sight of God not to engage in battles over words that aren’t helpful and only destroy those who hear them.

 

Today, these words must be the very basic principle that is the foundation of a healthy congregation. When one is hurt by the words that are being spoken, healing is difficult. But with God, anything is possible as long as all words spoken whether by myself, the pastor, or by any of us need to be Christ-like at all times.

This is a tremendous order that Paul has sent to Timothy, and it is a tremendous one for each of us. I do the best that I can, and I apologize for any words that may be hurtful. What I must do now is stay focused on the words Paul shares and all the words of the scripture. I must turn over my hurt feelings and my self-doubt in order to move forward and continue sharing the Good News.

Reading on through the second chapter of 2 Timothy, there is a metaphor that applies to us:

 

20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.

 

We must continue developing the tools that work for us each and every day whether a special day or an ordinary day. The tools will assure that we work as a team to carry out the various ministries of our church. The tools will demonstrate our skills to live our faith visibly in the community. The tools are defined and refined in the words of the scripture, from the first book of Genesis, through the last book of Revelations. Are we using the best materials to develop our tools, or are we failing to use the tools?

Last week while reviewing the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, the verse from Titus 2:12 was shared:

 

12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God . . .

 

Paul continues this instruction with the second letter to Timothy in 2:22:

 

22 Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

 

Sadly, I do not believe we have achieved this level of Christian fellowship. Our tools are not sharpened and honed to perfection as a congregation. Instead, there is a split that continues to divide and destroy the effectiveness of the sharing the Good News God has commissioned us to do.

Right now, today, we must consciously turn to Paul’s instruction and ask for God to forgive us and to ask each other for forgiveness, too. I know that the heart of this church is for the transformation of the community. The truth is that no transformation has any chance if the church itself is battling “foolish, ignorant arguments” as Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:22: 23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.

Still, Paul does not give up on making his point. He continues stating:

 

24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

 

Paul’s letter was to the pastor Timothy. The words may serve to remind today’s pastors also, but the words are true for all Christians. The Wesley Study Bible’s notes for 2 Timothy 2:25-26 states:

“Gracious and theologically sound instruction results in salvation. Wesley persistently argued Paul’s point: Scripture rightly interpreted saves sinners from “the snare of the devil” (v. 26).”

 

Personally, I will do all that I can to provide “gracious and theologically sound instruction” through the reading and study of scripture. I expect each of you follow the same set of instructions that Paul gave Timothy to develop the tools that can assure you live the Christian lifestyle that the scripture defines for us.

I apologize for any of my words or actions that may have been misunderstood or hurtful, and I expect each of you to honestly evaluate your own use of words and actions. Together we can continue to serve God by living our faith out loud—boldly demonstrating the value of loving one another.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

We come to worship,

     Yet there is pain in our hearts.

We come to hear your words

     But our hearing is often blocked.

Open our hearts to your words

     So we can heal the pain.

Open our minds to learn

     The lessons so we can heal.

Forgive us of our closed hearts

     And our closed minds.

Forgive us of our actions

     That keeps doors closed.

Let us come to the table

     Unified in Christ.

Let us experience pure joy

     Knowing your grace.

Send us out the doors

     With renewed conviction.

Send us out to live boldly

     As faithful servants

     Loving one another.

In your name, God the Father,

     The Son, Jesus Chirst,

     And the Holy Spirit, amen.

           

[The prayer transitions the service to the sacrament of Communion.]

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Luther’s Reformation. Wesley’s Methods. Today’s Revival?

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  This is the sermon given on Sunday, October 29, 2017.  

This week, on Halloween, October 31, 2017, there is a Christian milestone to celebrate—the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of 95 theses challenging the problems of the Catholic Church. This is historically identified as the beginning of the Protestant movement.

Trying to summarize the 95 statements is challenging, but primarily Luther had become so incensed to the practices of the Catholic Church, especially paying for one’s penance, that he wrote out the concerns and nailed them to the church door. This one act developed the Protestant church movement that continues today, alongside the Catholic Church.

In Germany, where Martin Luther served as a priest and led the reformation, a unified group of churches under the umbrella of the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) published a booklet that outlines the reason and the rational behind the Reformation. The purpose of remembering this event is clearly stated:

Christianity, and indeed human society, always lives from the memories of its history. An honest engagement with the Reformation is always informed and enlightened by historical critique. A genuine understanding of history will presuppose an educational process distinguishing between historical events in the 16th century and what this history means for us today. Such an understanding will avoid any non-historical glorification or naive instrumentalization of those events. (Page 6).

 

The EKD goes on to state the earliest Christians who are now referred to as “Reformers” continued what Luther began:

The Reformers wanted to renew the church of Jesus Christ in the spirit of the gospel, not to divide it. (Page 11).

 

The explanation includes the consequence of the Reformation movement that continues even today, 500 years later:

The Reformers wanted to renew the church of Jesus Christ in the spirit of the gospel, not to divide it. (Page 11).

 

The Reformation as a movement continues yet today. It led to John Wesley and his work, along with so many theologians who are recognized as leaders of various Protestant denominations. The EKD publication states:

This Reformational approach is one in which the search and longing for God, for the holy, for spirituality and inwardness, goes hand in hand with responsibility for our neighbour, the world and the future. (Page 16).

 

As part of the Protestant arm of Christianity, these goals echo the basic premises of the Methodist movement that began with Wesley, who was born in 1706 and began his style of ministry about 30 years later.

Wesley’s movement focused on personal spiritual practices and on social responsibility. He established the small group method that demanded that each person be included in a class that met regularly and required Bible study and accountability. Bishop Rueben Job has simplified Wesley’s expectations to three rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

The often-repeated quote attributed to Wesley really says it all:


“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.”

 

The question today, though, takes the Reformation movement and turns it to a personal level: Do you need a revival?

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-46, NLT)

Again, Do you need a revival? Considering the anniversary of the Reformation and Wesley’s movement about 200 hundred years later, we are reflecting on major shifts in how Christianity is a personal lifestyle, not one dictated by a government or even a particular priest or minister.

Returning to the booklet published by the EKD concerning the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a series of key points are included under the heading “Reassurance.”

The following seven basic dimensions describe this approach. Although each person will develop it in his or her own way, it reflects the one spirit that God has given us, not a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self-control«. 2 Tim 1:7 (RSV) (Page 16).

 

The seven dimensions are

  1. Trust in God.
    • A Reformational approach to life knows that faith is a gift. Faith does not live from holding to church doctrines, or observing ritual acts, or following moral precepts.
    • From a Protestant standpoint, faith does not fear rationality.
    • It can therefore ally itself with a worldview shaped by the Enlightenment, the sciences and the humanities.
    • It can therefore ally itself with a worldview shaped by the Enlightenment, the sciences and the humanities. (Page 17).
  2. Being humble.
  • The root of every demeanour and all hopes is the cross. (Page 18).
  • The Cross cuts across established certainties. It makes the soul ready for God’s mercy and, at the same time, humble and willing to defend all those suffering humiliation. (Page 18).
  1. Living our freedom.
  • Reformation piety is not withdrawal from the world, but turning towards it and attending to the needs of our neighbour. . . . – from music to literature, the fine arts, education and research, not to mention the culture of debate in politics and civil society. (Page 19).
  1. Being resistant.
  • a Reformational approach to life stands for a culture of resistance to the abuse of power, fundamentalism and attacks on social minorities. Protestantism participates constructively in societal debates and champions the freedom of individuals to make decisions about their own lives. (Page 21).
  1. Remaining sensitive.
  • Faith lives from our relation to God and becomes practical in love of our neighbour both near and far.
  • . . . basic Reformation insight that education fosters value orientation and personal development. It broadens our horizons, sheds light on other approaches to and ways of life, and makes us sensitive to the cares and sufferings of others. (Page 22).
  1. Finding a home.
  • Faith presses towards community in which there is mutual stimulus and empowerment. (Page 23).
  1. Taking a break.
  • A Reformational approach to life is certain that creation and world history, the present and the future, do not depend alone on what we do, or what we leave undone.
  • . . . puts trust in God and not in the illusion that happiness can be created by human hands.
  • It takes each day as it comes, with its own joys and sorrows. (Page 25).

 

One is free to find a Christian denomination that fits them personally, but the foundation remains in the lessons that Jesus taught as recorded in the New Testament. Reading the lectionary each week does not always provide insight into one’s life for that particular week, but there are gems of messages that can help each one of us live a Christian lifestyle that makes sense in our personal world.

What the EKD does may not be the celebration we plan this week, but the message of how the Reformation transformed The Church 500 years ago, can serve as a self-evaluation for our church today, but more importantly as a self-check for each one of us individually.

Do you need a revival?

Last week’s commentary on the lectionary certainly forced me to consider this question. Reading through the seven points of reassurance, considering Wesley’s methods for Christian living, and then remembering Job’s three simple rules, the need for a revival seems evident.

Today’s Methodist church is facing the need for a revival and that means each one of us needs to consider the need for a personal revival. Attending the New Wineskins conference a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to learn that many growing congregations that have either been a restart or a new plant are not using any reference to the denomination in its formal name. One speaker noted that it seemed to help not using the term ‘Methodist’ and yet another one said that using the identifying term did not seem to have a negative effect.

Today, our denomination is being challenged to live its very fundamental life style as visibly as any organization. The use of social media, advertising, high-quality graphics and signage all place our Christian values in full public display. If we as Methodists, as a Methodist congregation, do not reflect the image of Christ, then we are in need of a revival.

Paul was clearly supporting the new congregations struggling to live a Christian lifestyle while living in communities that were filled with pagan practices. Christianity was a reformation movement from the beginning and has always adapted to cultural changes one way or another. The Protestant movement that spun out of Martin Luther’s actions as he hung up the 95 Thesis on the door of the church in defiance of the Pope has carried God’s message throughout the world and forward through the centuries.

We must honestly address the question of whether or not we need a revival, and then we must move forward to make sure that we are living out Jesus’ message of loving God and loving one another. Imagine how maintaining those two commandments can transform our world, but most importantly how it can transform our own lives.

The final page of the EKD’s booklet simply states:

A Reformational approach to life – nurtured by historical commemoration, trusting in God, rooted in Scripture, bearing responsibility in the present – is a wellspring of humanity for every society.

 

After all, a wisdom refined by spirituality teaches us to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. Tit 2:12 (RSV) (Page 36).

 

The verse from Titus 2 is part of Paul’s words of instruction to Titus as he is left to serve the church in Crete. The context includes more advice that we need to consider when wondering if we are in need of a revival:

11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God ,13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14, NLT)

As a closing prayer for this anniversary, I used the following from http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.com/2011/10/prayer-for-reformation-sunday.html

Here we stand, Lord,
The people you have redeemed.
Here we stand, Lord,
giving thanks to you for you are good.
We give thanks that your love lasts forever.
We thank you that you free those who are oppressed.

Here we stand knowing that it is you
We all can cry out to for help in times of trouble.
We know that you will not only deliver us but
That you will lead our way to where we need to go.

Here we stand by the living water
That you set flowing for all.
We drink freely from your waters
That gratifies everyone who is thirsty.
And we thank you that you also
Give plenty to eat for those who are hungry.

Here we stand with those who reformed the church so long ago
And with those who still are reforming the church today.
Here we stand witnesses to your good news for all.
Here we stand your servants, your followers, your children.

–by Abigail Carlisle-Wilke

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Have you experienced highway hypnosis in your faith journey?

Sermon for Sunday, June 25, 2016

 

Scripture connections:

Opening scripture: Psalm 86:11-12, NLT

11 Teach me your ways, O Lord,
that I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart,
so that I may honor you.
12 With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God.
I will give glory to your name forever,

 

Scripture connection: Romans 6:5-14, NLT

     Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 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;[a] do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 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.

 

Closing scripture: Psalm 33:20-22, NLT

20 We put our hope in the Lord.
He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in you alone.

 

Reflection: Have you experienced highway hypnosis

                        in your faith journey?

 

            How many of you have been driving along a familiar route and suddenly wonder where in the world you are?

One of my most frightening experiences was driving I-70 back from the farm with the kids and suddenly not having a clue where I was. I knew it was I-70, but I could not have told you whether we had gone through Columbia, crossed the river or anything. I just had to keep driving until I could reconnect the location somewhere along the road between Columbia and Hwy 65 exit.

Undoubtedly I experienced highway hypnosis. DriversEd.com explains highway hypnosis:

Highway hypnosis commonly occurs when driving on open highways for an extended period of time. In this condition, the driver operates the vehicle in a dulled, drowsy, trance-like state (Highway Hypnosis n.d.)

Obviously this condition places not only you as the driver, but the passengers at risk.

Highway hypnosis can also describe one’s faith journey. Falling into a drowsy state in one’s life occurs when things are going along without any major pitfalls or peaks. The faith journey follows the same routine at the same time each week, in the same place even with the same people: Sunday school at 10, worship at 11 and then off for lunch. The faith journey highway hypnosis is like taking a leisurely, mid-afternoon Sunday drive with no particular destiny or even route.

An ABC report describes highway hypnosis:

Going into this autopilot-like mode often happens on long, mundane highway drives with few turns or traffic signals, Meehan said. The driver usually can’t recognize highway hypnosis until his environment is somehow jostled — another car cuts him off or he hits a bump. (What you need to know about highway hypnosis n.d.)

Auto-pilot is exactly what so many Christians are operating on anymore. We have busy lives, we have established a routine of activities, we live on limited incomes, we know when we eat and sleep, and even add in our favorite TV viewing. We are on auto-pilot and everything just seems fine.

But is it? Is everything just fine pacing ourselves through the days and weeks of our lives? Are we consciously following God’s call to action? Are we so hypnotized that we are doing nothing to develop our relationship with God? Or, have we become so hypnotized that we have actually lost our way?

Stop and ask yourself about Abraham and Sarah. Did they suffer from highway hypnosis? In reading the account of Abraham and Sarah through the various chapters in Genesis, one might think they were living a mundane life most of the time. They were an older couple with no children, but they were faithful to God.

The life journey of these two certainly did not follow a typical pattern even for the nomadic tribes of the ancient times. They were directed by God to leave Egypt and relocate. They had not been on these roads before, so the possibility of highway hypnosis was unlikely. Their faith journey, though, was filled with potholes that kept them from falling into a hypnotic state.

Think about your own life, now. Have you reached a point that life is mundane and the routines are lulling you into a hypnotic state. Each day is much the same as the other. The routine is the same unless it is interrupted by a doctor’s appointment, a luncheon date or an afternoon of cards—and even those events can become a matter of routine.

If God spoke to you, would you be alert enough to recognize him as Abraham did? Abraham’s faith was so strong that he followed whatever path God sent him on. He believed in God’s promise and that faith was strong enough to guide him in all his worldly choices—even offering the hospitality to three strangers who happen to stop nearby. The result was the long awaited birth of a son even at their advanced age.

Sarah laughed. But Sarah followed Abraham’s lead in faith and the son Isaac was born. Do we laugh at the ideas God is asking us to do? Have we become so hypnotized by the routines of our lives that we do not even recognize God?

In reality, much of our hypnosis in our faith journey could be diagnosed as acedia. This is a very unflattering diagnosis because it means laziness or indifference in religious matters (Acedia n.d.) Another definition from the commentary for the lectionary:

. . . acedia—the inability to care that we don’t care. . . . Acedia is a spiritual foe. Whether the bout is short or long, weak or intense, it has a way of numbing and lulling a person. God seems remote. Our confidence or sense of faith fades. . . . in reality acedia is a serious spiritual disease. (Wilson 2013, 174)

As in any diagnosis, knowing is the first step in finding healing. The concern, now, is how does one heal from this faith journey highway hypnosis. Is there any treatment that is effective, especially for those who are following what has long been the expected behaviors—Sunday school and worship?

In the recommendations from the DriversEd.com site, the key is to

. . . be aware of your surroundings and to avoid falling asleep behind the wheel, take frequent breaks. If possible, avoid driving for long periods of time and stop if you begin to feel tired.

Granted that does not make much sense in terms of faith hypnosis, but the advise listed on the ABCNews site may help:

. . . taking a break every 90 minutes or so, or — if you’re lucky enough to be driving with someone else — switch drivers. Listening to the radio isn’t enough to prevent this daze, and can even contribute to it, he cautioned. And always get at least six hours of sleep the night before a long trip, . . .

The prescription for acedia, or spiritual journey hypnosis, is available and clearly developed in the scriptures. John Wesley also has prescribed a remedy and we know it so well and have heard it so many times that we are lulled into an indifference about how to stay in relationship with God and to follow the recommended route to reach the final destination successfully.

The scriptures are filled with recommendations, but do we read them and study them. Do we commit them to memory so they are there to use and reuse? Are we meeting regularly to study with others and be held accountable for our daily journey? Are we seeing the needs of others and finding ways to meet them? Have we become lazy in doing all that we can for all we can in all the ways we can?

The Methodist movement begun by John Wesley in the mid1700s grew because the service they provided others in need, but also because there was active involvement in small groups that met regularly and helped each other to maintain their journey and to hold each other accountable in their own lives.

Sunday school evolved into a quick fix remedy to the changing culture during the 1860s. The class meetings faded away and about 15 years ago, the value of small group study revived. The small groups of less than a dozen meeting together at different times during the week in homes, restaurants, or church classrooms has ignited the faith journeys of many. The small group has healed acedia for some and nurtured new believers into discipleship.

If any one of us, or the congregation as a whole, has reached highway hypnosis along the spiritual journey, we are responsible for finding a remedy. Even during the 6th century, a monk Dorotheos of Gaza, knew the risk of highway hypnosis among the monks he taught. His example was of a multi-spoke wheel.

God is the hub, each of us is a spoke while the wheel that rolls along the road is the world in which we journey. The closer to the hub we are, the closer we are to each other. The more distant we become from God, the farther we move from each other (Wilson 2013, 175). Class meeting, which can be a Sunday school class, keep us closer to God and prevents us from highway hypnosis/acedia.

Jesus expected his disciples to follow his example in preaching, teaching, and making new disciples for the transformation of the world. The church began as small groups meeting anywhere they could, in secret at times and in the open at times.

Paul wrote letters to the small, new churches struggling to keep their faith. He knew the journey would not be easy so his letters to the early churches were designed to address the very problems that challenged them. He encouraged them. He sent them missionaries from his own followers. He returned whenever he could.

What are we doing to avoid the acedia or highway hypnosis in our spiritual journeys? What are we doing to help others become disciples in Christ? How have we adapted our practices to the shifts in the culture around us?

Just like a fresh cup of coffee or even a cool drink of water can help snap drivers out of highway hypnosis, we need to find the best ways to heal from acedia or even to avoid acedia. We need small group studies and service to avoid the laziness in our spiritual lives.

Closing prayer:

Dear heavenly Father,

 

We are driving along in our lives carelessly.

Wake us up and keep us alert.

Help us avoid the hypnosis of daily life

And find the joy in learning about Christian living

While serving one another along our journey.

Take hold of the steering wheel and guide us along

So we can safely arrive at the ultimate destination

Alongside you and the other faithful in eternity.

 

In the name of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

Works Cited

Acedia. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/acedia (accessed June 23, 2017).

Highway Hypnosis. https://driversed.com/resources/terms/highway_hypnosis.aspx (accessed June 23, 2017).

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

What you need to know about highway hypnosis. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/highway-hypnosis/story?id=21098081 (accessed June 23, 2017).

Wilson, Paul Scott. Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary: Preaching Year A. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013.

 

 

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 3 in Faith: Grow & Multiply

given on Mothers Day Sunday, May 14, 2017:  Part 3 in mini-series on Stages of Faith

Scripture connections:

Psalm 31:1-5, 14-16
1O Lord, I have come to you for protection;
don’t let me be disgraced.
Save me, for you do what is right.
Turn your ear to listen to me;
rescue me quickly.
Be my rock of protection,
a fortress where I will be safe.
You are my rock and my fortress.
For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.
Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
for I find protection in you alone.
I entrust my spirit into your hand.
Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. . . .

14 But I am trusting you, O Lord,
saying, “You are my God!”
15 My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
16 Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.

I Peter 2:1-10

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

     4 You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

     5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem

chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
will never be disgraced.”

     7 Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.”

     8 And,

“He is the stone that makes people stumble,
the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

     9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.”

John 20:14-18

     14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

     16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

     17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

     18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

 

Reflection: Stage 3: Grow and multiply . . .

Do you know someone who knows Jesus personally?

Or maybe the question is have you met Jesus personally?

While studying the stages of faith development, the third stage is identified as that point in one’s life that they encounter Jesus on a very personal level. That encounter confirms what one suspects to be true but cannot completely say it is true. A personal encounter erases uncertainty. Yet, is a personal encounter required?

Are we like Mary Magdalene walking around feeling lost and alone without her friend Jesus? Are we like the apostles who were frightened and uncertain what to do without Jesus to guide them? These earliest disciples of Jesus did have a personal encounter with him, and even they were unsure. At least they were unsure until the encounter after the crucifixion when Jesus was with them in person again.

A personal encounter with Jesus may not seem possible; yet, in the history of the human experience, the evidence of encounters with Jesus continues to be shared. Still, how does one know that they have indeed encountered Jesus?

Example after example of encounters fill bookshelves. The NBC final segment every evening is about people making differences in the lives of others. Stories of survivors from the Holocaust tell of the faithful who survived due to the intercession of others serving as God’s servants. Even in our classrooms, Jesus is present in the kindness of kids reaching out to other kids who are hurting in one way or another.

Here it is Mothers Day 2017, and many of us might say we have met Jesus in the presence of our own mothers. Sadly, this is not true for all as we have listened to the horror story of childhood abuse. Yet, many of us can say that we have had an encounter with Jesus through the form of a mother in our own lives.

An encounter with Jesus is possible in so many different ways. Today is may seem easy to see Jesus in the face of our mothers, but there are other experiences in which Jesus is present with us:

  • Consider horrific car accidents when no one should have survived, yet the passengers and the driver walk away. Even their stories sometimes include the presence of a rescuer that is never located again.
  • The doctor working with the patient loses a pulse and is forced to turn away from the patient when amazingly the patient’s breath and pulse return. No explanation other than a miracle, and later the patient reports seeing the bright light.
  • A school bus careens off the road, but the driver keeps the bus upright and the kids are safe.
  • A tornado destroys a home, but the husband and wife are alive in the open where once a hallway surrounded them.
  • A refugee washes up on the coast near death, but is rescued by tourists who rush to its side disregarding anything other than this is a child of God.

The list grows and grows, and God’s story is carried on. God’s unconditional love is delivered in unique and surprising ways. Each time someone reaches out to others in any way that they can in all the ways that they can at anytime that they can, there is an encounter with Jesus.

As mothers are honored today, the risk is to say that in our mothers we can see the face of Jesus. Many of us can share a testimony that our mothers were instrumental in our own faith development, but that is not a guarantee. For some of us, the best mothers we knew were really friends, neighbors, teachers, or even strangers who did something that changed our lives for the better.

In my generation, our mothers often were the reason we got up on Sunday morning and headed to church. We did not ask a lot of questions and never even considered that we could do something different. My encounters with Jesus may have started with my mother and my father, but I can include a variety of Sunday school teachers, a choir director, a youth minister, and an array of friends who also guided my faith development.

And then there are the times, when all alone, we confront a hurdle in our lives and Jesus is there with us. No parent. No friend. No teacher. All alone, we face a life challenge when, from outside of our own being, comes an answer or an act that makes all the difference in the world. The voice I hear is recognizable, even though no body is present. At those times, I encounter Jesus and my faith grows even stronger.

The third stage of faith development confirms all that one checks out. The personal encounter is a demonstration of God in our lives and we take ownership of that encounter and then do all we can to make sure that we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. John Wesley kept living the practices of his faith still questioning whether or not he fully believed he was saved by Jesus Christ. His encounter was through the words shared from the Bible and by those in the small group he was attending. He knew because his “heart was strangely warmed.”

Wesley’s personal encounter “ignited” his ministry. He grew in ministry. He multiplied his efforts and proclaimed the Word. His efforts to do all that he could for all he could all the time he could in as many ways as he could made it possible for others to encounter Jesus themselves. He, as well as other theologians, ministers and servants, all become the face of Jesus in our world.

The Word invites each of us to grow in our faith. The scripture from I Peter 2 teaches us that as we learn more about Jesus and practice his commandments, we ‘hunger’ for more in our relationship with the triune God. Peter refers to it as ‘spiritual milk:’

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

The Word continues to nourish us and we can even meet Jesus in the Word, personally, too. The Word calls us to serve in God’s name as shared in Mark 16:20:

20 And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.

Our encounter with Jesus leads us to follow in all types of ways. In the study note for Mark 16:20, the ways to meet Jesus are listed in the very way he served:

. . . . . . But Jesus . . . chose to serve others. He held children in his arms, healed the sick, washed the disciples’ feet and died for the sins of the world. Jesus’ followers today receive the same power to serve. As believers, we are called to be servants of God. As Christ served, so we are to serve. (The Life Application Bible 1991)

By growing in your own faith, you will be multiplying the opportunities for others to experience Jesus personally, too. What began as an impossible to believe story in your life, you have checked out, and you continue to check out as you discover the Jesus encounters in your own life. Your faith is growing and will continue to grow as you follow God’s call in your life.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

We listen to the Word seeking to understand

How Jesus died for our sins.

We want to believe in the stories

And study to check them out for ourselves.

As we learn, we begin to practice

The new laws Jesus taught and practiced.

Slowly our disbelief begins to change

And we are open to meeting you personally.

Open our hearts, our minds and our ears

So we can hear you calling us to serve. –Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion