Tag Archives: The Church

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

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The Church’s Do’s and Don’ts

Sermon given on Sunday, October 8, 2017

Opening scriptures: Colossians 1:15—20, NLT

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,[a]
16 for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.[b]
So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

 

Reflection: The Church’s Do’s and Don’ts

            Weeks ago I began the process of reading Paul’s letters for advice that made sense to our own church now 2,000 years later. I could not predict what each letter was going to tell the church that made sense in our world today, yet the message always seems appropriate.

No one can ignore the horrific news that greeted us Monday morning about the insane shooting in Las Vegas, yet reading the letter Paul wrote to Colossians continues to be as important today as it was in those earliest days of The Church. We must be unified in Christ and determine what we as a church, as well as individuals, can do to tell the Good News to others.

In our opening scripture, we have a statement that summarizes The Church’s relationship to Jesus Christ. That opening verse reminds us that Christ was a real human being: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. . .

These opening verses emphasizes the very basic foundation of the church and its relationship to Jesus Christ. In a world filled with all types of evil and doubting thoughts, we need to hear Paul’s statement and know it to be the very basis of why The Church must do all it can to spread this truth in our world today. It is just as important as it was in Paul’s day or any time in human history since Jesus Christ walked the earth demonstrating and teaching how to love one another despite all the heretics yet today.

 

Scripture continues: Colossians 3:8, 12-17, NLT

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. . . .

     12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

     16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

 

Reflection continues:

Admittedly I am a ‘newsaholic’ and could easily sit and work around the house with a news station running 24/7. I don’t because that is also mentally unhealthy. Living in a world that can feed all the events occurring anywhere around the globe instantly into our own homes, we are beaten up by negative input.

True, there is positive news that can be reported, too, it just does not meet what is considered newsworthy that must be shared immediately. While in Journalism School in the mid-1970s, students were taught that there is a responsibility to report news that is timely, that is geographically related, and that pertains to people who have name recognition in the area of publication.

The communication technology was beginning to effect society and studies in the 1970s included whether what was on television or movie screen would negatively effect viewers, especially young people. Now, 40 years later, the effects are evident. The Church can be an active element in society today if it can follow the guidelines that Paul provides in the letter to Colossians.

            Paul outlines the dos and don’ts for The Church and should also be the does and don’ts in our own individual lives. Christ is in us and it is in us as The Church. There is no excuse for not following these guidelines right now, especially in light of all the horrors that are broadcast at us at all times. Paul’s guidelines work and can be more powerful than anything broadcast at us through our media today.

The verse 3:8 lists the don’ts and they seem so obvious: . . . get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. . .  Sadly, the list seems to be the very themes of almost any entertainment program, movie or even video game. We are being flooded with such graphic images of these very don’ts Paul listed.

Defending ourselves from these is tough as adults, just imagine how tough it is for our young people who are growing up with them daily. There is no limiting the access to these very negative behaviors through the seemingly infinite sources that flood our lives today.

The skills to defend ourselves and our children and our communities are listed in Paul’s letter as the do’s for The Church trying to maintain Jesus’ teachings. The verses in 3:12-17 outline the do’s for The Church but also for each one of us:

  • . . . clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
  • Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.
  • Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.14 
  • Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
  • 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.
  • And always be thankful.

Each one of these do’s are so practical. The cost is nothing other than our own willingness to demonstrate them.

The Church can work as a media element itself. It can do whatever it can to show people how to use the do’s that Paul lists in these verses. The Church must be a place where one can step in for a worship service and expect tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, peace, and love.

The Church is more than a building or a location in any form, the Church is the people of Jesus Christ. As humans, we are fallible. We come to church to fine-tune the do’s Paul teaches us. We come to church to find peace. We come to church to ask forgiveness. We come to church to learn and to counsel each other in how to live our beliefs in a world filled with evil and all forms of cynicism.

Paul’s letters from the first one to the Romans, through today’s verses to the Colossians and I am sure in the letters to the Thessalonians, continue to teach us how to combat false teachings, how to live in unity in Christ, how to tell the Good News, and how to pray.

Today, we must remember the do’s and don’ts that Paul lists in his letter to the Colossians as though they are written to us today. We must not fail because we have a responsibility to God that we accepted upon our baptism. We are to do all we can to be The Church so that others may learn the Good News of Christ’s life, death and resurrection so that we may be forgiven of our sins and join him in life eternal. We are God’s representatives and we must forgive one another as well as encourage one another to continue living as God’s messengers to all.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and forgiving Father,

We ask you to speak to us through the words of Paul.

We ask you to forgive us for our anger, rage, malicious behaviors,

            slander and dirty language.

We thank you for giving us the strength to demonstrate tenderhearted

            mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

We thank you that Paul guides us in how to forgive others,

            and how to love one another.

May we continue to learn from Paul’s letters and scriptures

            from the books of Old and New Testaments, especially the Gospel.

May we find wisdom while we teach and learn from each other,

            and through our worship.

May we know the joy of living our lives giving thanks to You for the gift

            of your son Jesus Christ, so that our lives are transformed.

In the name of You, God the father,

            Your Son, Jesus Christ,

                        And the Holy Spirit which is you within us. Amen

 

Closing scriptures: Colossians 4:5-6, NLT

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive[a] so that you will have the right response for everyone.

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Why is church a place to belong?

given on Sunday, September 17, 2017

SCRIPTURE CONNECTIONS

Opening: Ephesians 1:3-8, NLT

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.[a] He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

 

Sermon scripture:

  1. Ephesians 2:14-16, NLT

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

 

B: Ephesians 2:19-22

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

 

  1. Ephesians 4:11-12, 31-32, NLT

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

  1. Ephesians 5:18b-20, NLT

Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Closing: Ephesians 3:20-21, NLT

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

 

Reflection: Why is church a place to belong?

Our neighbors keep changing. When we bought the house almost 20 years ago, we did not know the neighbors; and we did not buy it based on who was living next door. The house was what we chose.

Fortunately for us the decision was positive because we feel like we live where we belong. The neighborhood has been filled with people we ended up knowing and enjoying as neighbors. Yet over these past 18 years, the neighbors keep changing.

Today is designated as “Back to Church Sunday” as a national outreach campaign. The churches in our communities, especially the smaller ones, are struggling to fit into their neighborhoods because the mobile society keeps the areas around the churches ever changing. The churches no longer seem to belong where they are.

In reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I do not think he was concerned about whether or not the church fit into the community around it. This letter’s purpose was to encourage the church. The opening scripture greets the church with an appealing reason to be part of God’s church:

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

The decision on where to live is based on the reasons why a location is chosen. Reasons for the location range from family proximity, jobs, schools, city services, and even personal preferences as to historical districts, shopping preferences, and the list just keeps growing. The choice of location also is related to the basic needs of the family: food, clothing and shelter must be accessible.

Then the decision is tied to the next tier of needs—a sense of belonging. Once an individual’s needs for food, shelter and clothing are met, the next need is to feel a sense of belonging. Today’s mobile society makes finding a place to belong difficult.

The “Back to Church” campaign created a flier that helps explain this need:

As primal as our need for food and shelter, our need to belong is part of what makes us human. Yet belonging easily escapes us. We are often disappointed by the very people we thought we were most strongly connected to.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was shared with the other churches, much like an email we might forward to others we know. The letter identified many reasons that the church was a place people were unified and equal, and that was why church was a place to belong.

Paul opens his letter with words of encouragement, writing how God

. . . is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

This is the foundation for the church. We are loved and God so loved us that he gave his only son Jesus Christ for our salvation. All who are baptized, who profess Jesus Christ as their savior, belong in the Christian family.

Paul’s letter explains the church unifies all who believe:

15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

The church is a place for everybody to belong. Paul goes on throughout his letter to explain how the church is unified, how it is Holy Spirit driven, and how it uses each person’s individual talents to serve God.

His letter encourages the church on the very behaviors that are necessary to create an environment where everybody belongs and works in unity. The church is a place for everybody to belong.

Today’s national campaign, Back to Church Sunday, challenges each of us to consider whether or not our church(es) are a place where people have a sense of belonging. If it is not, then work is needed.

The flier, A Place to Belong, identifies the different attitudes people have towards churches:

The word “Church” means different things to different people. For some, it awakens warm feelings of childhood potlucks and singing. For others, it might trigger a more sour feeling, a subtle tensing of the shoulders. People’s reactions to the Church are as varied as their individual histories.

Paul’s letter encourages churches by including a list of qualities the church should develop to create a place all are welcome and can have a sense of belonging. The list also includes behaviors to avoid:

  • 4:2-3 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
  • 4:7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.
  • 4:11-12 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
  • 4:30-32 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Today we may not have joined in the nationwide campaign to get Back to Church, but it is never too late to invite those who have been or have never been to church to come to church. The key, though, is the church must be a place where people do belong and want to belong. Paul said,  “10 God’s purpose . . . was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety . . . “

Our responsibility is to be the church family that works together to do all that we can for all we can in any way we can. We must do what we can to open the doors to those who seek a place to belong. The church “is not a building. It’s a community of people brought together to experience God’s love and purpose. . . . God wants each of us to find a place of belonging in His family.” Is our church a place others want to belong or do we need to work on the behaviors that Paul outlined to the Ephesians? Let’s work to be a place where anybody can experience God’s love and purpose. This is where we want to belong and we want to make sure others transformed by God’s love also want to belong here.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

 

Guide us in this time of resting and renewal

So we can hear what you ask us to do.

As we join together in worship and study,

Speak to us how to shape our church into a place to belong.

 

Guide us in hearing Paul’s message to ancient churches

So we can learn what we can do in our church.

Let us find the wisdom of unity and of inclusiveness

That creates a space of equality filled with your love.

 

Guide us to use your words to teach others

So they too may know your grace and salvation.

As we read and study your scriptures,

May we commit to doing life together

so others find a place to belong in your church.

 

In the name of you the Father, the son Jesus Christ,

And through the Holy Spirit, amen.

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More than liturgy: A Renewal

sermon given on Sunday, August 13, 2017

Opening scripture: Matthew 14:13-16, NLT

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

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

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

 

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

“Order at the Lord’s Table”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Reflection: More than liturgy; a renewal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing prayer:

Dear loving and sustaining Father,

We hear the words of your faithful

And remember all that you do for us.

We hear the lessons of your prophets

And know we are called to feed your sheep.

 

Guide us in our efforts to serve others

As you serve us; providing for our basic needs

As well as our emotional needs

For relationships, happiness, and security.

 

Help us to take the bread and the cup today

And renew our relationship and dependency on you.

Help us to renew our commitment to serve

Others who are hungry to understand your love.

 

We are given the tools and the direction,

And we thank you that we can share in your name

To do more than we can ever do alone

Because we do so in your name,

In the name of Jesus Christ your son,

And through the Holy Spirit within us. –Amen

 

Closing scripture: Psalm 17:14, NLT

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

 

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

given on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017

 

Scripture connection:

 Opening scripture: Acts 2:1-4, NLT

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

 

Scripture connection:

John 7:37-39, NLT

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

 

John 20:19-23, NLT

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

 

Closing scripture: Psalm 104:31-34, NLT

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Is our church alive with the Holy Spirit?

Is the flame being well tended in our small community?

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

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

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

Closing prayer:

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

 

Today we join together in worship

Remembering those earliest disciples

Frightened and uncertain without Jesus.

 

Today we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit

That ignited those disciples to carry the Word

Outside the closed doors so others heard the story.

 

Today we stop to reflect on how the Holy Spirit

Continues to work in our own lives

And through the church to which we belong.

 

Today we confess that we fail to keep the fire

Of the Holy Spirit burning brightly

In our lives and in the life of our church.

 

Today we ask you to reignite us

As we share in the bread and the cup

So that we can continue to grow in faith.

 

Today we ask you to speak to us

With how to tend your fire personally

And as a community of your faithful.

 

Today, God, fill us up.

Today, Jesus, teach us.

Today, Holy Spirit, ignite us. –Amen

 

Works Cited

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

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

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

 

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