Tag Archives: Communion

Christ: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

This is the final sermon based on the Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break, written by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong.  The original plan was to present the sermon on Sunday, December 30, 2017.  Unfortunately the frigid temperatures prompted the decision to cancel worship that Sunday.  Therefore, this has been edited to be given Sunday, January 7, 2018–Epiphany Sunday.  

As I post this, I can only wonder if the weather will cooperate tomorrow, too.  The forecast is for freezing rain and warming temperatures.  The question will be how accurate the forecast and how the timing of the warming temperatures will be.  I decided to go ahead and post this sermon due to all the uncertainty of the weather.  I pray that this completes the reader’s understanding of this Advent season’s messages.

 

Scripture connections:

 

Isaiah 60:1-7, NLT

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.

“Look and see, for everyone is coming home!
Your sons are coming from distant lands;
your little daughters will be carried home.
Your eyes will shine,
and your heart will thrill with joy,
for merchants from around the world will come to you.
They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
and will come worshiping the Lord.

7The flocks of Kedar will be given to you,

   and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars.

I will accept their offerings,

and I will make my Temple glorious.

Matthew 2:1-12, NLT

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”

            King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

            “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]

            Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

            After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

            12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

 

 

Christ: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

            Here it is the day after Epiphany (January 6) and Christmas season is technically over. Yet, when Mother Nature decides to make her presence painfully evident, sometimes we just have to stop and reassess plans. The frigid temperatures that came with Christmas Day provides us a ‘reality check’ as James Moore referenced in his final Advent commentary.

Throughout Advent, the focus has been on the Christmas gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy, and peace. These are gifts that come wrapped up in the final gift—Jesus. Having to confront the reality of the extreme cold and its risks to the congregation brought a sudden end to the five-week Advent study and Moore addresses this:

. . . sometimes we misread things. Sometimes we misunderstand things. Sometimes we misinterpret things. Sometimes, maybe much of the time we do that with Christmas: We misread and misunderstand what it’s really all about. Before we know it, Christmas has passed us by, and we have missed its warm embrace once again.” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 108)

 

In these last two weeks, do you find that you are already missing the true meaning of Christmas? Do you need a reality check now that Christmas is over and life’s routines have resumed?

Certainly the cold makes even daily chores difficult. The sunshine helps, but so many days have had clouds and getting up to start a new day—cold new day—is tough. The calendar is empty of special events and family gatherings. The leftover turkey is gone, and you actually are tired of the holiday cookies and candies.

In an odd way, the entire sense of expectation and excitement that surrounds our Christmas traditions feel broken. Yet, for weeks the focus has been on the gifts that won’t break—hope, joy, love, and peace. The final Christmas gift God gave us is his own presence in the form of a human baby we know as Jesus.

Christ’s birth is a gift from God that keeps all the other gifts from breaking and Christ is the greatest gift of Christmas. The gift of Christ is a gift that fits everybody, everywhere, anytime. And the gift of Christ provides endless hope, love, joy and peace. Christ is the unifying, lasting, and priceless gift that keeps the other gifts from breaking.

In Isaiah, the prophecy of the final chapter of the Christmas story is outlined right down to the possibility of the kings following the stars to find Jesus after his birth. Written about 681 BC (19911416), Isaiah 60:1-7, identifies that the kings and caravans [of people] will come from the east, from Midian, Ephah, Shelba, Kedar and Nebaioth. Isaiah even adds that the gifts they bring will be gold and frankincense (no reference to myrrh though).

The ancient Israelites remained faithful and hopeful. The literature of the Old Testament weaves the prophecy in and out that God would send a savior, a Messiah, a king to ‘save’ them. The Bible stories are filled with examples of how faith in God makes our earthly lives manageable. Moore explains faith:

Realizing that we can’t make it, that we are down and out, that we need help, God sends us a Savior. In Jesus Christ, God comes into our world . . . to pick us up, to hold us up, to see us through, and to bring us home. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 112)

 

The birth of Christ did not end the trials and tribulations of the faithful Jewish people. In fact, the Bible continues to share the struggles of the people in the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament.   The faithful maintained hope that “God cannot be defeated,” as Moore continues:

Even though evil will sometimes make loud noises in our world, as Christians we can be confident. We can be filled with hope because we know that ultimately God and righteousness will win. And just think of it: God wants to share the victory with us. That’s why the Christ Child came into the world . . . to bring the good news of God’s ultimate victory. That is our hope. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 113)

 

The birth of Jesus Christ gave us the gift of hope and the gift of love. By joining us on this earth, God came to teach us how to love one another. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God’s plan is explained:

     And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus . . .

. . . 10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

     12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.

 

God’s gift of the baby Jesus Christ was how the plan was completed. The faithful, whether Jew or Gentile, accept that Jesus Christ, as God in human form, came to teach us how to love one another.

Moore uses an anecdote from Bill Hinson about building a doghouse for his daughter’s new puppy, Happy. After completing the project, he could not get Happy to go into the doghouse. Only after he gave up and went into the house, did he witness a transformation. He saw Happy wagging his tail, go joyously into the doghouse, and lie down serenely. How come? Hinson’s daughter had crawled inside and only then did he trot in beside her:

. . . Where all those other things had failed, love prevailed. That’s what Christmas teaches us. Love is the single most powerful thing in the world. And in the gift of Christ, we receive the gift of love in the most powerful and perfect way. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 114)

 

Happy’s story is much like our own. By accepting God’s gift of Jesus Christ, we receive salvation. The Christmas gifts that won’t break make our life journeys one that last through eternity.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

We celebrate the unbreakable Christmas gifts

of hope, love, joy, and peace.

And most of all, we celebrate the greatest gift,

Jesus Christ, your Son who came to be with us.

We know that because you are here,

our lives are renewed.

Give us the wisdom and courage

to put these unbreakable gifts to work

in our lives throughout the coming year,

knowing that you are with us always. –Amen. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 117)

Communion notes:

            The cynics might wonder how it is possible to consider that Jesus Christ is a Christmas gift that would not break. The reality of God’s presence in human form is that the body breaks. Our local tradition is to begin each month with the sacrament of Word and Table, aka communion or Eucharist. The very practice recognizes that Jesus, the man, was broken and died on a cross, but God continues.

            Today, we have heard the final chapter of the Christmas story remembering how the wise men came to find Jesus the infant. Their story is found only in Matthew, written to tell how Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies. Jesus is God’s gift of love.

            Join us at the table to accept the gift of Jesus Christ who demonstrated how to love one another despite all the trials and tribulations that confront us in our earthly lives.

            Join us by taking the bread and the juice to recommit ourselves to joining in God’s plan to use love as the tool to provide hope, love, joy and peace to one another right here in our own community, our nation, and our world. There is no other gift so unbreakable as God’s love wrapped up in the birth of Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

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

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

 

 

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From chaos to order at the Lord’s table

Sermon given on Sunday, October 1, 2017 and includes communion as part of World Communion Day.

Scripture connections:

Philippians 1:2,6

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

. . .  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

Philippians 1:27-30; 2:2-4, 12-13

1: 27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

 

2: Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

     Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

. . . 12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

 

Philippians 4:4-6, 8-9 & 13

4: Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.[c]

     Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

. . . And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

. . . 13 For I can do everything through Christ,[d] who gives me strength.

 

Reflection: From chaos . . .

This week has been tough. How does one go from such a high as a baptism service, then experience utter chaos and then wake up to a new day? Prayer.   The only answer is prayer and turning to scripture.

Today the Christian world joins in the oldest sacrament of discipleship there is—Communion, Eucharist, or as listed in our denomination’s hymnal, A Service of Word and Table. The entire Christian community is sitting down at the table, speaking figuratively, and hearing the same words in their native languages and tasting the bread and the wine or juice as is customary in their local community.

Last week is over and the new week is ahead.

At no other time is sharing in the word and the table more critical than it is today. The crisis in our own church family is just a miniscule issue in comparison to the myriad of crises that span our state, our country, our hemisphere, and our world. Still the pain of any crisis is real and the answers seem evasive. Where does one turn to find answers, to find solace, to find purpose?

This week my crises lead me to serious reflection, prayer, discussion and scripture. My days seemed flat, so to speak, but I still go to bed, still wake up, and still continue the routines I have established, even rely on, whenever chaos clutters up my life.

Yes I cried. I yelled. I whined. I cried some more. Then I found quiet, and the world slowed down a bit. My mind cleared and I prayed. Remember, in baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit and God is within us. I had to clear my head and find quiet in order to hear God through the Holy Spirit.

Returning to my personal practice of reading the lectionary in preparation for the Monday morning discussion group, I heard God speaking. I realized that the work over these past few months of reading Paul’s letters and discerning or seeking God’s advice through those letters was just as important if not more important this week than in the past weeks.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians provides me and us words to restart church or to use in reassessing this faith community through scripture and prayer. The chaos of one Sunday is simply a symptom of an illness that lingers for years. In the first two chapters of Philippians, Paul provides the prescription for a healthy, or at least healthier, congregation.

Remember, Paul is in prison and is visited by the congregation’s leader. He hears what is going on from this messenger and writes the letter in praise, not only for sending him a care package as we might call it today but also for the success of the congregation:

“. . . for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work. . . (Philippians 1:3)

Hearing these words this week causes me pain. Reading Paul’s message of praise to the Philippian church forces me to evaluate the work of our church: Can we honestly say that we are spreading the Good News about Christ?

God calls each one of us to share the message that God loves us, in fact God loves us so much that he joined us on this earth as Jesus, a child born of a man and a woman just like any one of us, a child that had to go through all the same physical development stages as we did, and a child raised in the faith of his human family like so many of us. We share the human experience with God through Jesus Christ.

Paul’s experience was no different, and he was raised as a Jew just like Jesus was, too. The difference was that Paul did not “hear” the good news. Instead, he persecuted those who did hear Jesus’ message of loving one another and disregarding the Old Law of Moses.

Last week baptism reminded us that loving one another is God’s law. Last week we reaffirmed our own baptism through the words of the liturgy that is used in our churches around this world. Today we share in the word and the cup in union with Christians around the globe. Our personal lives may be filled with chaos, but we return to scripture, to the table, and to prayer in order to be in communion with God.

Let us enter into an attitude of prayer as we join God and the host of the faithful who have been, are and will be ever part of the Christian family:

[UMH p. 6 for “A Service of Word and Table I]

Returning to the reflection. . . to order . . .

During the week, I have read and re-read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. When I first began the journey as a pastor, I found myself relying on the Philippians verse 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

For several years I had enjoyed the Mitford Collection, a series of books about an Episcopal priest, Father Tim. His verse was Philippians 4:13 and as I read through the series and thought about my own life, I discovered myself holding on to that same verse. That was my guiding principle I used on the bulletin that first year. This week while sorting out the chaos, there was the verse again.

Paul’s letter primarily was a compliment to the church, but the lessons he shares help pull me out of a sense of chaos to a sense of order. In the first chapter, I hear the purpose and the outcome of being a Christian:

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. (Philippians 1:10-11)

Reading on, the message seemed earmarked for me:

  • . . . everything that has happened to me here has helped spread the Good News. . . .
  • . . . preach about Christ with pure motives.
  • . . . the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.
  • . . . as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.
  • . . .fully expect and hop that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bod for Christ. . .
  • . . . trust that my life will bring honor to Christ. . .
  • . . . living means living for Christ. . .

And then, in verse 25 is the overall goal of life as a pastor:

  • . . . [to] continue to help all of your grow and experience the joy of your faith.

Last Sunday was a high, the baptism of young people, but the chaos that followed the service crashed my world. I can apologize for the human weakness I exhibited, but it has caused triggered a week of self-reflection and re-ordering of my life. The work is tough, but Paul’s letter provides the guidance God wants each of us to follow:

[Insert the scriptures: Philippians 1;27-30; 2:2-4, 12-13]

[UMH p. 8: The Service of Table and Word I]

  • Confession and Pardon

 

Reflecting continues . . . at God’s table

            The passing of time in God’s world does not match the sense of time we experience in our daily lives. The chaos of a week ago is gone. The week of reordering our lives is over, now, too.

Today, we join the world community of Christians at the table. At the table, there is promise. At the table, we are in union with God through the gift of his son Jesus Christ. From chaos to order all at God’s table. All!

An act of thanksgiving:

  • Offering (with offertory)
  • *Doxology UMH 95
  • *Prayer of thanksgiving:

                                    Dear Loving Father:

                                         Please accept these gifts

                                       as thanks for your grace.

                                         for our salvation through Jesus Christ,

                                         and the promise of life eternal.

                                         May we work together

                                         to serve as your disciples

                                        so others may experience your love. –Amen

 

UMH p. 9-10: The Service of Table and Word I

  • Thanksgiving and Communion
  • Breaking the Bread
  • Giving the Bread and Cup

 

Closing Philippians 4:4-6, 8-9 & 13

 

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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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Stage 2 of Faith Development: Checking it out

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

Scripture Connections:

Luke 10:38-42, NLT

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

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

John 2:23-John 3, NLT

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

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

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

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

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

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 20:24-29, NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Works of Piety
    • Individual Practices– reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
    • Communal Practices– regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study
  • Works of Mercy
    • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
    • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

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

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment. (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

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

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

Closing prayer:

Dear God, almighty,

We know the story. We struggle to believe.

Even Wesley struggled, but he prayed these words:

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

And we join in his words,

Seeking to follow Jesus and all the disciples before us.

Lead us in faith so that we may, too,

Have hearts strangely warmed.

 

As we grow in our faith,

May we follow the examples of your faithful

As we serve one another in love.

In the name of God the creator,

the son Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

Works Cited

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

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

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

 

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Lent 2017: Who do you say I am?

 

given on Sunday, April 2, 2017 as the 5th in a series for Lent 2017:  A season of mindfulness. . . 

Lent, a season of mindfulness: Each Sunday of Lent a memory verse and a challenge will be given as an exercise in mindfulness. The memory verses are selected from O. S. Hawkins’s book, The Joshua Code and the Jesus Code. This book has 52 verses from the Joshua Codes and 52 verses from the Jesus Code recommended to commit to memory. In Hawkins’s introduction, he states, “Scripture memorization enables us to take God’s Word with us anywhere and everywhere without carrying our Bibles. It enables us to receive the Word into our hearts, retain it in our minds, and recite it with our mouths that we might speak it with power.” (p.11)

Review of the memory verses for Lent 2017

  • Week 1: Did God really say that? (Genesis 3:1)
  • Week 2: Who am I? (Exodus 3:11)
  • Week 3: If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened?   (Judges 6:13)
  • Week 4: Who among you fears/reveres the Lord? (Isaiah 50:10)
  • Week 5: Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15)

Scripture connection:

John 1:35-39, NLT

35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.

They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.

John 1:40-50, NLT

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. 41 Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).

42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.

45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.

47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”

48 “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”

49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”

Matthew 16:13-18, NLT

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

Matthew 16:19, NLT

And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

Reflection: Who do you say I am?

Week’s memory verse:  Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15, NLT)

Week’s challenge: Check you license to see when it needs renewing. Then check to see if you need to renew your relationship with God either through communion or a renewal of baptism. (Baptism review/class begins Tuesday, 4-5 pm)

 

Just in case you might wonder, I do have a drivers’ license. You have to believe me that it is valid, even though I have to renew it this month. The drivers’ license is one document that explains who I am. There are a variety of ways to identify who I am, but sometimes I do not carry them and others must depend on my word or the word of someone who can vouch for me.

In ancient times, identification may not have been as simple as producing a drivers’ license to verify who you were. Word of mouth or the personal knowledge of someone else might help identify you.

Today’s memory verse is included in the story of Jesus’ calling of the disciples. These men were the first chosen by Jesus to learn the new covenant, how to live under the new law, and how to spread the good news. Jesus had to know whether or not they honestly could state that he was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God or, as Peter states, the Son of the Living God. Answering the question correctly served as the final test to become a member of the inner circle of disciples, the chosen apostles.

The scripture in Matthew includes two references to the question: (1) Who do they/the people say I am? (2) Who do you say I am? The first question refers to what the Pharisees and other people are saying while the second question is directed to the disciple himself. The second question calls for a personal response. Jesus is checking that Peter has realized that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, not John the Baptist, not Elijah, or some other prophet.

Imagine Peter’s nervousness as Jesus asks him to identify who he was? Jesus did not tell Peter that he was being tested, nor did Peter anticipate the challenge.   The conversation among those around Jesus probably started when someone said something they had overheard in town or along the roadside. Jesus was part of this conversation and was asking about others when he turned to Peter and focused just on him.

Do you remember how nervous you were when you got your drivers’ license? Growing up on the farm, I knew how to drive. I had driven tractors, the pickups, the cars, and even the stock truck. I was not worried that I could actually drive a car, and I even took drivers ed; so when I walked up to take the written test, I was confident I knew what I was doing. And I did pass the written test. Then I immediately asked to take the road test. Again, I was confident that I could do it. But when the driver instructor got out of the car, he had a surprise for me: Come back in two weeks and then take the road test again.

Final test questions are scary even if you know what the right answer is. I expect Simon Peter was surprised when Jesus turned to him and asked that final question, “Who do you say I am?” I suspect there was a bit of shock on his face wondering just why Jesus was asking him because he was one of those hand picked to follow him. Wasn’t he sitting right there and going with him wherever Jesus went?

The scuttlebutt was running rapid and now Jesus is asking what he personally believed. The pressure was on him to answer quickly and correctly. And Peter did answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Whew! Jesus approved the answer and even renamed Simon as Peter, the Rock. Jesus not only approved, he identified Peter as the foundation of the entire movement—the church. Peter was given a license to drive the movement forward.

“Who do you say I am?” is a question each Christian must answer. Regardless of how we were introduced to Jesus, the question is how personally convinced we are that Jesus is the Son of God, our Messiah, our Savior. Answering that question honestly can be difficult. Living in our culture, we are taught not to trust our gut instincts or word of mouth or hear say. We are taught that reality or truth is something that can be scientifically, concretely proven. Personally knowing God just because we “think” he is real probably is not going to win many arguments.

Hal Knight, a Wesleyan theologian, has focused on discipleship in his monthly column in The Missouri Methodist. He first explains that (1) discipleship is not simply attending church, and (2) discipleship is not just learning information. Being a disciple means knowing and following Jesus and that comes through establishing “. . . a relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. . . . not just know about him (Knight 2017).” (emphasis added.)

In Matthew, Jesus responds to Peter’s answer as a truth revealed to Peter by God. In John, even though Peter’s brother is attributed as the one who tells Peter and Nathanial who Jesus is, Jesus does not ask if they know who he is; instead, he tells them what they were thinking even before they came to find him. The disciples knew who Jesus was through the Holy Spirit.

Today we join together at the table to partake of the bread and the cup, a tradition established by the early church as a means to renew the relationship we have with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, we also can answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”

As disciples of Jesus, we are commissioned just like the first disciples were. We are to do more than just attend church on Sunday morning. We are to do more than just learn. Like getting a drivers’ license, one cannot pass the driving test until one does drive. When I walked into the testing site two weeks later, the examiner looked up as I started out the door with a different examiner he said, “She is ready for her license today. She just needed two weeks of experience.”

Each time we walk to the table for the bread and the cup, we are reminded that we are equipped to be disciples. We know that Jesus was born as the son of man and woman. We know that Jesus grew up being trained in the Jewish faith. We know that his ministry lasted about three years before he was arrested, tried, and crucified on a wooden cross, died and buried in a stone tomb, and then three days later arose from the dead.

When Jesus asked Simon Peter “Who do you say I am?” we are tested, too. Through the sacrament of word and table, we answer by affirming our understanding of the mystery of faith:

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Today, you are answering the question personally. You are coming to the table stepping forward in faith that you are equipped by the Holy Spirit to be a disciple sharing the good news by word and deed. You may be sitting in the drivers seat, but God is doing the driving through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

 

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

As the disciples gathered around Jesus,

They were asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

Today, we gather at the table,

And are asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

 

         May you reveal the answer

So we may answer with confidence,

“You are Jesus Christ,

our Redeemer,

our Savior,

the Messiah.”

 

As we share the bread and the cup,

Fill us with the Holy Spirit

Renewing our relationship with you

The Father,

The Son, and

The Holy Spirit. –Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Time to reflect: Are we really Christian?

given on Sunday, January 1, 2017.  The service includes communion and the reaffirmation of faith as presented in the United Methodist Hymnal.

Scripture connections:

Opening scripture: Psalm 8:1-2 (NLT)

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants
to tell of your strength,[b]
silencing your enemies
and all who oppose you.

Scripture connection: Matthew 25:31-46 (NLT)

     31 “But when the Son of Man[a] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations[b] 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.

     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?’

     40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[c] you were doing it to me!’

     41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[d] 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

     44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

     45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

     46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

Reflection:

2017 is here!   Granted this is an annual event, welcoming a new year, but today we greet the year on Sunday and we are here to worship together in that space after Christmas Day when one year winds down and a new year begins. This morning, we gather to begin another new year together.

Tradition says this is a time to make new resolutions on how to improve one’s life. Maybe the change is in one’s personal life choices, or maybe the change is how we choose to live our lives outside of our homes whether on the job or in our interactions within the community. Today, stop and reflect on what your life is and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian?

Our tradition is to participate in communion on the first Sunday of the month. It is an ideal time to reconfirm our conviction that the wonder of Christmas brings us into a relationship with God; a relationship that lasts throughout our human lifetimes that continues on into eternity.

As 2017 opens, let us stop for a moment and reflect over the lessons of Advent. The wise men identified a star that drew them to Bethlehem in search of the Messiah. An internal force drew them to join together and find the baby Jesus.

When they reached Bethlehem and saw the baby, they knew the identity of God and chose not to return to King Herod. Instead, they resolved to go home with the knowledge that the baby was the Messiah, that he was named Immanuel, God with us.

Angels gave the name Immanuel both to Mary and to Joseph in separate locations. The name unlocks the identity that this baby was God choosing to be with us in order to demonstrate how to live as Christians.   God chose to live the human experience so to establish a covenant with us.    The wonder of the manger signifies the reality of God living in the most difficult circumstances just as any human might live. There was no special treatment, no royal residence, nor any slaves to attend to God. God lived the most difficult, unforgiving lifestyle showing us how to live in relationship with others. God lived for everybody so that we can be forgiven of our sins and granted eternal life.

God fulfilled a promise to us. Do we fulfill our promise to God? Communion reminds us of God’s sacrifice for our salvation. The words we hear and repeat connect us to the generations of faithful Christians who have carried the story throughout the millennia and continue to tell the story. We use the bread and the cup as tangible or real reminders of God’s promise to us.

[Sharing the bread and the cup                UMH p. 15]

Continuing the reflection:

         Certainly taking communion is a visible sign of being a Christian, but 2016 has been filled with visible signs of people saying one thing but doing something else. Being Christian is a demanding job, but when one maintains the lifestyle, the demand turns into a joy. The highs and the lows of daily life do not separate one from God but rather tightens that bond.

A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to a hymn, Let Us Build a House, that reminds us of how important it is to live a Christ-like life if we are to maintain a tight relationship with God. Listen to this hymn and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian? Are we, as one of God’s church families, living the Christian principles?

[Play the hymn Let Us Build a House also known as All Are Welcome.]

Are we really Christian? Are we welcoming all into God’s house? Are we doing what God asks us to do? Are we helping others to discover the joy of living with the promise of God to be forgiven and to receive eternal life? Or are we failing?

Accepting God’s promise of salvation is done through our sacrament of baptism. This first day of a new year is a good time to reaffirm our commitment to be in relationship with God. Today, we close with an opportunity to remember our baptism, to reaffirm our relationship with God.

Listen carefully to the words of the rituals and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian? Do I demonstrate the very same values that Jesus did? Do I forgive others when they hurt me? Do I do whatever I can for others as much as I can? Do I let other things or other people to separate me from God?

Let us keep the wonder of Christmas throughout the year. Let us do all that we can to share the love and grace of God with others in any way that we can. Let us make sure that we maintain a healthy relationship with God. In doing that, we will do all that we can for all we can in all the ways we can.

[Reaffirmation of Faith                                    UMH p.45]

Closing prayer built on the study The Wonder of Christmas:

Lord,

You are with us now and forever.

As we close one year and open another,

We are filled with the wonder of Christmas.

 

Today we remember the wonder of the star

Guiding the wise men from afar.

May we look to the sky and know your presence.

 

Today we share in the bread and the cup

And know the wonder of the name Immanuel.

Be present with us through the struggles ahead.

 

Today we look upon the manager

And know how much you endured for us

Assuring us you understand our challenges, too.

 

Today we renew our commitment as Christians

And thank you for the promise you made

To forgive us and grant us eternal life.

 

Guide us to keep the wonder of Christmas alive

In our hearts and minds and actions,

To be truly Christian in our world today. –Amen

Closing scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 (NLT)

What do people really get for all their hard work? 10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

 

 

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Wonderfully Mysertious

given on Sunday, November 6, 2016

Scripture connection:

Psalm 145:1-4 (NLT)

I will exalt you, my God and King,
and praise your name forever and ever.
I will praise you every day;
yes, I will praise you forever.
Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
No one can measure his greatness.

Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts;
let them proclaim your power.

 

1 Corinthians 2 (NLT)

2 When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan.[b] For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.

                  6 Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God[c]—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.”[d]

10 But[e] it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12 And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

                  13 When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.[f] 14 But people who aren’t spiritual[g] can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15 Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 16 For,

“Who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to teach him?”[h]

But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

 

Psalm 145:17-21 (NLT)

17 The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
he is filled with kindness.
18 The Lord is close to all who call on him,
yes, to all who call on him in truth.
19 He grants the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cries for help and rescues them.
20 The Lord protects all those who love him,
but he destroys the wicked.

21 I will praise the Lord,
and may everyone on earth bless his holy name
forever and ever.

 

Reflection:

Early mornings are a personal delight and this week what a gift the weather has been because it gave me an opportunity to literally sit outside and marvel at the universe as the world started waking up. As I sat watching the stars, feeling the west winds blowing, hearing the leaves rustling, and smelling fall in the air, the words came to mind—how wonderfully mysterious God is.

Two words, wonderfully mysterious, seems to capture the understanding of God’s relationship with creation. Even putting it into these words really cannot define this unique relationship, but our words are simply part of this wonderfully mysterious relationship.

Sitting in the early morning well before sunrise, I feasted on the stars. There are three stars in a row that Mom called “The Three Sisters.” Gazing on them in the southern sky directly above the deck, I feel a closeness with Mom, but also with the story that gave these stars my family connection.

Mom was only two and a half when her mother called her into the kitchen with her sisters surrounding her. She asked mom which one she would like to live with if something happened to her: Aunt Onie, Aunt Dora, and Aunt Millie. Only 2.5 years old, yet Mom remembered that conversation. Sadly, her mother did die about a month after that kitchen conversation; and no, Mom did not go to live with one of the sisters because she stayed with her dad.

Such stories probably fill the journals of families everywhere, but watching those stars this week the story surfaced in my memory again. And those three stars, “The Three Sisters,” twinkled in the morning sky connecting me to generations already gone. Wonderfully mysterious started singing in my mind.

This week marched us ahead through the season as October closed and November opened. The harvest in our area is nearing completion and some fields are being prepared for the spring as the stubble is plowed and fertilizer applied. The rhythm of life continues and the wonderful mystery blesses us with all that we need to feed the multitudes.

The pre-dawn world wakes up slowly. The owls still call to each other as the rooster belts out its cock-a-doodle-do. The coyotes begin to quiet as the dogs wake up and bark at who knows what. The cats decide to eat before curling up for the day, and the quiet birds begin to flitter about in the trees and bushes surrounding the yard. Nature is wonderfully mysterious.

November is not a favorite month for me. In fact if I dwell on it too long, it can squash my optimism. This is when the color in our world disappears. In my family’s history, this month seemed to be marked with tragedy and losses. At times, November seems to last forever and because of all these personal experiences, I struggle to see the value of the month. Yet, the mere symbolic relationship of November to the cycle of life again fits the descriptor “wonderfully mysterious.”

God created what we know as our world, but the calendar is a tool humanity devised to create order in our lives. God did not design the world around the calendar. God created the world to sustain itself and tasked us to take care of it. Are we?

Tuesday is our American election day; are we prepared to vote knowing that each vote we make is part of the responsibility we have to be stewards of God’s world. The outcome may not be a personal favorite, but taking part in the election and accepting the final decisions is simply one tiny part of the complex structure humans created—and it is certainly not perfect. Only God is perfect and we are blessed to know him and place our trust in him.

The wonderfully mysterious relationship we have with God is established through the birth, the life, the death, and the resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. The practice of sharing in the Eucharist (more commonly referred to as communion in our church) reconnects us to God. Each time we share in the bread and the cup and review our beliefs through the liturgy of the sacrament, we are brought into relationship with God. Even communion is wonderfully mysterious in that it reconnects us with God, the father, the son and the Holy Spirit.

Reading scripture, praying continually, and being in Christian fellowship sustains our relationship with God. These practices keep us centered on God and his connection to us right here, right now. The Holy Spirit is wonderfully mysterious and a constant presence in our lives when we accept Jesus Christ as our savior.

Accepting the reality of God’s personal sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ places us in a wonderfully mysterious relationship with God. Once in that relationship, we are in union with all that is God—the father, the son and the Holy Spirit. Each person is gifted with certain skills and God asks us to use them to be stewards of his creation. That work wonderfully, mysteriously keeps us in relationship with God.

November is filled with opportunities to witness to the wonderful mystery of God in our lives. We take the bread and the cup to symbolize the relationship, but the Holy Spirit is present and will guide us to fully participate as God’s agents in this world.

Step up to the communion table, but remember that God is in communion with us at these times. He is alive. He acts through us. He reaches out to others through us. He sustains us through our work in the fields and in the kitchens. He comforts us as we reach out to those in pain and in sorrow. He blesses us with the joy of family and friends. He welcomes us to life eternal as we join him in death. Wonderfully mysterious is our relationship with God.

Closing prayer:

Dear wonderfully mysterious God,

 

Our lives overflow with the blessings you provide.

Our lives are vehicles to serve as stewards of this world.

Our lives are witnesses to the power of love in the face of turmoil.

Our lives are given to you to be all that we can for all the needs we can.

 

Thank you for the glory of your creation;

For the stars we watch in the dark,

For the harvests that feed the hungry,

For the warmth of the sunshine and the shade of the clouds,

For the thirst quenching rains in times of drought, and

For the fellowship of believers willing to serve one and another.

 

Guide us through the Holy Spirit

To read, study, pray, and worship together.

Guide us through the Holy Spirit

To hear you speak and to speak for you.

Guide us through the Holy Spirit

To do as you want us to do as stewards of your creation.

 

May our work be your work,

May our words be your words.

May our lives be blessed

by the bread and the cup

we share today

in the name of you,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

 

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