Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Needing sunshine, true; but that is no comparison to needing SON-shine


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No doubt that when the meteorologists are warning us that life is “brutal out there” as NBC’s Today Show’s Al Roker just said; we look for any help we can.

Today we are in the midst of the Polar Vortex that is slamming our country with bitter cold.  Here in Missouri, the cold is bad and only to be much worse tomorrow, but we have hope—sunshine is also predicted.

These are the days that I just want pure sunshine coming in the patio door warming my dining room table.  I watch the birds, feel the warmth on my skin, and anticipate the first signs of spring.  

I thrive in sunshine.

The meteorologists tell us that we have not had a polar vortex like this in 20-25 years.  I had to stop and think about that and try to remember what I remember from 20-25 years ago.  

The memory that floats to the top is moving from one house to another in bitter cold.  The snow was cleared from the drives and walks, but it was cold.  So cold in fact, that the water line was frozen to my new house—and we were moving in.  Not a good start.

But in spite of the negatives of that winter day, I realize that there was sunshine, especially in the form of my cousin. My cousin had driven across the state with a stock trailer to help me make the second move in four months.  

Now here is the metaphor:  a polar vortex is just one more example of real-life challenges and the warmth of the sunshine makes it possible to get through the roughest cold times to be rewarded with the warmer temperatures on the other side of the vortex.

Our lives are filled with challenges that can freeze us up as quickly and completely as the polar vortex.  We need sunshine to keep us warm, to thaw us out, to lighten our days.

I realize now that Jesus Christ is our “SON-shine” for managing our lives on a daily basis—regardless of the weather forecast. In the darkest and coldest times of our lives, we need to turn our face to Jesus, the Son of God.  He is the link to weathering our life storms.

Where do we find this “SON-shine”?  The typical answer our preachers might say is in scripture. Certainly the Bible is filled with examples of how faith carries one through all kinds of storms, but I add another answer:  turn to our Christian peers.

My cousin did not have to give up his time, tow a trailer across the state, and then physically help us load and unload all my goods making the move from one house down the block to another house. But he did.  He and his family did.

My cousin and his family were the arms and legs of Jesus helping me to warm up in his “SON-shine.”  Loving one another is God’s ray of “son-shine” in the polar vortexes of our lives.

I continue to read the scriptures and this week I have been reading Isaiah and Mark.  The prophecies in Isaiah certainly provide examples of polar vortexes in the lives of the ancient faithful who were still waiting for the Messiah. 

Then Mark shares how faith in Jesus healed so many facing life challenges, too.  Remember the story of the religious leader’s 12-year old daughter who died?  Remember the story of the woman who was healed of a life-time of hemorrhaging?

These are the verses from Mark 5:21-43 from the New Living Translation:

Jesus Heals in Response to Faith

   21 Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. 22 Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, 23 pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.”

   24 Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him. 25 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. 26 She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. 28 For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” 

   29 Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.

   30 Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”

   31 His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

   32 But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”

   35 While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”

   36 But Jesus overheard[d] them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

   37 Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James). 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing.39 He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

   40 The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying.41 Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” 42 And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. 43 Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and thenhe told them to give her something to eat.

Yes, it is cold outside.  But with the warmth of sunshine coming in our windows, we can manage the bitter temperatures.

With Jesus Christ, though, we have “SON-shine” that goes beyond the physical warming of the sun and reaches into all the storms of our lives.  All we have to do is to have faith and to love one another in all the ways we can at all the times we can for all those we can.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear God, father of Jesus Christ,

Thank you for sending your son

     to shine in our lives.

Thank you for those who believe and serve

     as your Son’s ray loving one another.

Give me the strength to face 

     the polar vortexes in our lives

     with the faith of those who walked with Jesus.

Guide me in doing all that I can 

     to be your “Son-shine” in someone else’s life

     so they are warmed by your love, too.  –Amen.

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“What goes around, comes around.” Believe it or not, I found the source: Isaiah 3:11

Isn’t it interesting how we tend to pick up a phrase and use it over and over.  Often the phrase is one we learn from our own family while we are growing up, and many times we have no clue where it originated.

The phrase, “what goes around, comes around,”is one such phrase.  I remember hearing it some growing up, but in the last several years, it has been used and heard repeatedly in my own home.

First, I admit that that phrase has personally helped manage frustrations when something does not seem fair or when something we hear upsets us and we feel the action is not ethical.  

During the past couple of years, we utter the phrase almost every night as we listen to the daily news.  Oh oh, there it is again—someone did something that is against our belief system—“what goes around comes around.”

Now remember, I was working on reading the Bible—Old and New Testament—following a daily plan.  This week finished up Genesis and Romans, and now the plan focuses on Isaiah and Mark.

The reading for January 22 was Isaiah 3 & 4, plus the final section of Mark 1.  Admittedly I was surprised to jump from Genesis to Isaiah, but I am getting used to just accepting the plan as published and see where it takes me.

And so yesterday I am reading Isaiah 3 when I stumbled into verse 11.  Immediately I thought so that is where the old saying comes from:  “what goes around comes around.”  I had to stop, reread it, check the Wesley Study Bible Notes (NRSV) and reread it again:

Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them.

Doesn’t that read like the phrase we use so often today?  Well, I decided I should check into this a little deeper so went on line and googled the origin of the phrase “what goes around, comes around”to see what is the phrase’s origin.

Checking a number of sites, I finally located one that seems to bring all of them together:  https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/415499/is-what-goes-around-comes-around-african-american  

One thing I learned is that most believe the quote first appeared in Paul Crump’s book, Burn Baby Burn, written in 1962 about a man on death row.

Yet another entry indicates what one reader remembers her mother, in 1950s, saying, “You get what you give.”

An interesting addition to the page on this quote comes from three different dictionary entries:

  • Merriam-Webster defines it as: “if someone treats other people badly he or she will eventually be treated badly by someone else” 
  • Dictionary.com confirms and adds the ominous foreboding, “Retribution follows wrongdoing; justice may take time, but it will prevail” and suggests the proverb dates from the 1970s. 
  • Oxford Dictionaries simply states, “The consequences of one’s actions will have to be dealt with eventually.”

A final reference comes from the use of the phrase in the African-American culture.  This is the best summary of the comments from the website:  

Finally, Lewis King, Vernon Dixon & Wade Nobles, African Philosophy: Assumption & Paradigms for Research on Black Persons (1976) has this to say about the expression:

This point is well demonstrated by one of our more common proverbs. The Black child who is told that “what goes around comes around” may be receiving a specific admonition with regard to the consequences of his behavior, but he is simultaneously experiencing a reinforcement of the African world view, namely, that there are vital connections among events and experiences. Both the specific admonition and the general philosophical perspective are synthesized in the child’s developing conception of the world. …

It is no accident, then, that “what goes around comes around” is a common African-American proverb. As suggested above, the concept of continuity between events and experiences that is so fundamental to the African world view is clearly expressed here.

Certainly today’s language includes influences from all around the world and the discussion as to the origin of the phrase, “what goes around comes around”indicates an attitude that exists when something bad, wrong, unethical, illegal, etc. happens, somewhere along the line there will be an accounting for that behavior. 

I believe that the true origin of the phrase is in the book of Isaiah where the prophet is warning the people that they must remain faithful to God and to follow the Law of Moses.  Sadly, the prophecy did not cause the people to stop and correct their behaviors.  (God had to send Jesus, his son, to join us on earth so he could model how to live the commandment.)

Read Isaiah’s words and consider the meaning of our often-used phrase:


The look on their faces bears witness against them;
    they proclaim their sin like Sodom,
    they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
    For they have brought evil on themselves.
10 Tell the innocent how fortunate they are,
    for they shall eat the fruit of their labors.
11 Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are,
    for what their hands have done shall be done to them.
12 My people—children are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you,
    and confuse the course of your paths.

13 The Lord rises to argue his case;
    he stands to judge the peoples.
14 The Lord enters into judgment
    with the elders and princes of his people:
It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts.

I ask, does that now sound just like what we are saying when we use that phrase, “what goes around comes around”?  What are we to do about it?

We know that we cannot judge, only God makes the final judgment; but we can remember that we are responsible for our actions and God tried and tried to get the message across that there is one simple law to follow:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

When I hear the saying now, “what goes around comes around,”I now will hear the words of Isaiah trying to warn the people that God will do whatever he can to teach us how to love one another.  I must remain faithful and not give in to what I know is against God’s commandment to love one another.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Patient Father of All,

Thank you for the words of warning,

for the work of your faithful,

and for opening my understanding 

so I can learn from scripture 

how to live in today’s world 

loving one another.  –Amen

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How come we don’t get it?      Faith is simple:           Just four steps.

Special note:  This is a brief summary of the sermon I heard on Sunday.  Just a reaction, almost, to a simple idea.  Faith can be developed, I believe, and the hymn seems to show the four levels of grace that John Wesley has identified:  prevenient (born into God’s grace), justification (learning how God’s grace works), sanctification (knowing the Holy Spirit is with you in all that you do), and perfection (truly assimilated into the Christian lifestyle).  Now those are not the formal definitions, but they are in my words.  The hymn, Spirit of the Living God, almost boils it down to just the four verbs:  melt, mold, fill & use.

For years, the question has cycled through my brain: Why is developing one’s faith in God so difficult? 

 

Sunday’s sermon by Rev. Jim Downing was titled, Faithfull.  Simple, right?  No, we have a way of making something simple, complicated.

 

God did everything he could to make it simple to be faithful; and we tend to do everything we can do making our lives faithless.

 

Rev. Downing began Sunday’s sermon with a review of a classic hymn, “Spirit of the Living God,”(United Methodist Hymnal, #393):

 

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

 

One verse.  Simple.  Direct, and often overlooked, certainly in today’s contemporary Christian music. But the words carry the message in classic simplicity, and those in the Celebration Center could join in the words with little trouble as it is deeply etched into memory.

 

Those four lines serve as a prayer asking God to fill us with the Holy Spirit; but in that third line comes the simple steps to living life faith-filled:

 

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

 

Granted, there are many who still do not know the story nor the significance of Jesus Christ and his life

 

One must hear the story of Jesus Christ and how his ministry taught us to live in relationship with God and with one another—loving others as we want to be loved.  Hearing the story is the first step, then we begin duplicating the loving behaviors of Jesus—at this point we are meltingthe old self and the old behaviors away.

 

Accepting Jesus Christ as our savior and beginning to live the lifestyle of loving one another above all else, the Holy Spirit fills us up and we become moldedin the faith. People see a change in us as we model the behaviors Jesus lived.  The Holy Spirit, God within us, now molds us.

 

The third verb listed is fill.  One might think that anybody who is modeling Jesus’ lifestyle of loving one another is already filled with the Holy Spirit, but the process of fillingone might indicate the emptying that happens when one tries pouring out love to others.

 

One of the best qualities of the Holy Spirit is that as long as one pours out unconditional love to others, the Holy Spirit keeps fillingone up with more love to give.

 

This leaves one verb left: useThis is the challenge level of faith.  Our lives can be very comfortable just accepting God’s love, yet Jesus told his disciples that we are to dolove.  Loving one another is not a noun, it is an action—a verb—it is how God usesus.

 

The hymn calls for God to renew us (me); to fall afresh on us (me).  The idea of being refreshed indicates that as humans we can be emptied or worn out.  Jesus did not tell us that living in our earthly world would be easy; but he knew that when Jesus was not physically present, we were alone, we needed the Holy Spirit, God’s very presence, within us.

 

The Holy Spirit renews us, stays with us and keeps usingus to serve as the hands and feet of God in a world that needs so much.

 

The message from the hymn seems so simple.  We only have to meltfrom self-control to God-control.  God will then moldus into the Christians Jesus teaches us to be. This will fillus with the Holy Spirit (or God within us) to live a life loving one another.  As we turn ourselves over to God, we then ask that he useus in any way that he can to do all we can in any way we can to love one another.

 

Dear Heavenly Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

 

Thank you for loving me despite all my flaws.

Thank you for understanding I am worn down

     and need refreshing.

Thank you for showing me how easy it is

     to be refreshed.

Thank you for melting me from my old self,

     for molding me into a loving Christian.

     for filling me up with unconditional love,

     and for using me to do all that I can

     in any way that I can so others, too,

      are refreshed by they Holy Spirit.  –Amen

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Perseid Meteor Shower, Satellites and God

This morning, and it is only 5:30 yet, I am outside on the deck watching the sky—well sort of.  Actually it began at 2:30 am when I had to accompany Possum, my dog, outside.

I knew that Perseid’s Meteor Shower was in its best viewing, but our schedule means early bedtime.  We just cannot stay up to watch.  But in that early run outside, which is usually about 2-3 minutes, I saw the meteor, then the second one.

That woke me up, so in we came, turn off the lights, and out to the deck I came with a blanket.  Within another 15 minutes, two more meteors making four in 45 minutes.

Watching the skies after the sun goes down is one of my favorite experiences.  There is so much to see, to hear, and to think about at those times.

Our viewing time seems to get shorter and shorter, but we watch.  We count the planes that we spot and guess from where they might be coming and going.

We study the stars for movement spotting the satellites that keep circling our earth. Some seem to move so slowly while others zip past us.  Some have a strong light that remains strong as it passes over while others seem to brighten or dim as they move across the sky.

And always we hope, watch, seek to see meteors—falling stars.  So seldom do we get to see the meteors, so when we do it is a thrill. If one of us sees it and the other doesn’t, there is a bit of jealousy and the competitive nature seems to stir up as we wait and wait to see another.

I do not understand how anybody can deny the existence of God when sitting outside in the dark watching the sky.  That sky is heavenly.  God must exist.

The enormity of the world in which we live is so evident when sitting in the dark. My existence is such a tiny speck in the universe that is even vaster than our solar system.  God’s kingdom must extend beyond my human world.

Here I sit, on the deck with the night giving way to the morning.  I have a computer on my lap, a hot drink to my side, the birds waking up, a car pulling out of its drive, and the TV quietly telling the world the latest news.  And I know God is real.

How petty it is of any one of us humans to think we can exist independent of any other human.  To think that we can isolate ourselves from the universe in any fashion is absurd.

God’s world is so much more than this planet on which we live.

God’s world reaches far beyond even our solar system.  Just watch the night skies and consider the possibilities.

All the laws humanity has created can neatly be addressed by the one commandment: Love one another as you want to be loved.

Reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the instructions for living are so straightforward.  If you cannot live by loving one another, Paul’s instructions are much more direct:

 

Ephesians 4:25-32

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[d] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[e] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

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.

 

As I sit and gaze up at the night sky, life becomes so simple.  No one can disrupt my universe at that moment.  Even when the dogs erupt in barking at the slightest noise or unexpected movement, no one can disrupt the sense of peace I experience at those moments.

I challenge anybody to sit out at night and look up to the skies.  Just the peace that can fill the soul at that moment is a moment to praise God for the life we have.

In those moments when I spot the plane or the satellite, I am in awe of the gifts God has given us to use.  The brain is such a complex design and God sat it in motion some how.

We may not completely understand how God exists or how to fully use the complex design of  our brains, but we just must not misuse it.

We must learn to use it to continue expanding the universe, true; but we must also learn to use it to preserve the universe, too.

Paul’s message to the Ephesians emphasizes, too, how we must use God’s gift of life to love one another.  He created us in a manner that we are gifted with a brain and the skills to use it. We just have to accept the responsibility to use it as stewards of this world, as neighbors to one another, and as peacemakers loving one another as we want to be loved.

Doing so, we discover the gifts God has for us whether it be the nighttime fireworks of the Persoid meteor shower, the sparkling stars of universes beyond our own, or even the manmade glories as seen in the tiny lights of planes and satellites constantly traveling around God’s world in which we live.

The morning sun is creeping up behind me.  I no longer see the nighttime stars.  The little hummingbird is chirping at me, and my day begins.

The marvels of this world all find their beginning in the The Word.  God is a presence in my life that feeds me as well as others who believe.  God loves each one of us so much that he was willing to do all he could to assure us that we do live in the Garden of Eden.

When we struggled to remain faithful, he never gave up.  When we kept messing things up, he made the decision to walk with us in the human form of Jesus.

And when Jesus had shown us how to live loving one another, and taught those around him, God took him home.  God had faith in those Jesus taught, and yet there were those who did not accept those teachings.

Even when Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified, God resurrected him.  God demonstrated how to love one another even when others do not.  Yet, God wanted to equip those who believe.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he taught one more lesson.  He explained that those who believed will always have God with them in the form of the Holy Spirit.

As this morning’s sunshine awakens the world around me, I know God’s presence. I believe in the Holy Spirit who keeps me connected to God and to all who believe.  I believe in the Holy Spirit as God’s presence that guides me in living a life loving one another.  I believe that the Holy Spirit fuels the way in which the gifts God gave us make and shape the glories of this universe so we may witness the light whether in the Perseid meteor shower or as seen in the manmade satellites.

God is good.  God is life. God is always present in our lives whether in the middle of the night or in the noon time sunshine of day.

 

A morning prayer:

Dear Loving Father of the Universe and beyond,

Thank you for the light show during the middle of the night.

Thank you for the quiet sounds of owls, bugs, and breezes against the wind chimes.

Thank you for the surprises of foxes prowling the yard, the rabbits eating the backyard clover, of the neighborhood cats climbing over the fence, and the music of the birds.

Thank you for the multitude of gifts you grant to each of us so we may expand our life experiences in so many different ways.

Thank you for the relationships that flourish due to loving one another.

Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ so we could learn how to live side by side peacefully, lovingly.

Guide us in our decisions to preserve this world.

Guide us in the decisions we make in our daily lives.

Guide us in serving as your emissaries of love.

Guide us to find the best ways to tackle the challenges of those who fail to follow your teachings.

May we do all we can in our homes, our communities, and our countries to share you unconditional love.

May we all discover the glory of your kingdom now and do all we can to share it with others.

May we be the light in the darkest of nights so others may find your grace.  In the name of you the Father, your son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Perseid Meteor Shower: 

[Accessed on August 13, 2018 at https://www.space.com/32868-perseid-meteor-shower-guide.html]

 

Earth will pass through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle from July 17 to Aug. 24, with the shower’s peak — when Earth passes through the densest, dustiest area — occurring on Aug. 12. That means you’ll see the most meteors in the shortest amount of time near that peak, but you can still catch some action from the famed meteor shower before or after that point.

You can see the Perseid meteor shower best in the Northern Hemisphere and down to the mid-southern latitudes, and all you need to catch the show is darkness, somewhere comfortable to sit and a bit of patience.

Comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest object known to repeatedly pass by Earth; its nucleus is about 16 miles (26 kilometers) wide. It last passed nearby Earth during its orbit around the sun in 1992, and the next time will be in 2126. But it won’t be forgotten in the meantime, because Earth passes through the dust and debris it leaves behind every year, creating the annual Perseid meteor shower.

When you sit back to watch a meteor shower, you’re actually seeing the pieces of comet debris heat up as they enter the atmosphere and burn up in a bright burst of light, streaking a vivid path across the sky as they travel at 37 miles (59 km) per second. When they’re in space, the pieces of debris are called “meteoroids,” but when they reach Earth’s atmosphere, they’re designated as “meteors.” If a piece makes it all the way down to Earth without burning up, it graduates to “meteorite.” Most of the meteors in the Perseids are much too small for that; they’re about the size of a grain of sand.

 

Just a note:

I missed sharing last week, and that is one of the truths I am finding during this time of recharging:  I do not have a formal schedule.  I have always functioned around a structured week.

Learning to establish a structure apart from a traditional job is a new learning experience for me.  I am setting goals and need to develop a “work schedule” in order to achieve those goals, but the summer schedule seems more erratic than I expected.

I follow another blogger who I admire.  She writes every day—or at least almost every day.  She includes pictures and other links with such ease. Hopefully I will develop a more fluid approach during the next few months as I work to reach new personal and professional goals.

Thank you for reading and sharing your input, too.

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The Church: Begins, Grows, Evolves

Sermon given on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018.  What a powerful day to bring together the messages of Pentecost, John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience, and the 50th anniversary of the merger of the Evangelical Brethern and the Methodist churches in 1968.  

Reflection:  The Church Begins:  Pentecost Ignites the Apostles

Pentais Greek for the number five, and pentecostliterally means the 50thday.  Originally this was 50 days after Passover in the Jewish tradition, but after Jesus’ Resurrection, which concluded during the Jewish Passover festival, the term pentecosthas developed its own significance as the birth of The Church.

Today, May 20, 2018, we celebrate Pentecost as the birth of The Church but more importantly the arrival of the Holy Spirit as God with us.  The Apostles were still trying to sort out what they were to do after the crucifixion and the resurrection of their teacher Jesus Christ.  There was no university program designed to equip them with the skills to take a peaceful, service-minded, loving idea and set up an organization to drive the movement forward.  But as they sat in community, the Holy Spirit arrived:

Acts 2 1On the day of Pentecost 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, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

 

Can you even imagine what the experience must have been like?  The closest thing we could even compare to that is a tremendous thunderstorm suddenly developing, but this happened without the meteorological event—and not outdoors but inside a closed building.

The record in Acts is not the first mention of the Holy Spirit.  The first reference is in Genesis 1:1-2:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.   2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

This event followed the Resurrection, 50 days later.  Bob Deffinbaugh, a pastor from Texas describes the event:

The Day of Pentecost arrived when the small company of believers were gathered together in one place. It was then that the Holy Spirit came upon them in a powerful and dramatic way. The accompanying sound from heaven attracted a large crowd, many of whom were devoutly religious. A large number of them had come from distant lands to reside in Jerusalem (to be there when Messiah appeared?).  [Accessed on May 17, 2018 at https://bible.org/seriespage/4-peters-sermon-pentecost-acts-214-36%5D

 

The event now known as Pentecost for Christians across the world and throughout all denominations marked the beginning of The Church as the Apostles began their work.

Deffinbaugh describes the gathering as a “small company of believers,” but that is a very relative term.  In Wesley’s Study Bible, the commentary states:  “They” probably refers to the 120.  The “one place” may be the temple courts, due to the group’s size and the crowd’s reaction. (p.1324).  That number refers to Acts 1:15 in which it states that Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about 120) . . . The gathering was also in conjunction with the Jewish harvest festival during which the faithful practiced a covenant renewal.

How appropriate was the setting and the crowd for God to send the Holy Spirit in a highly visual manner, or as Deffinbaugh said, “a powerful and dramatic way”!  The prophecies of the Old Testament and of Jesus were fulfilled by the anointing of these Apostles and the earliest disciples with the Holy Spirit. The ability for all to hear the words in their own language demonstrates the inclusiveness of God’s message.  The Church began its work as each one of those Apostles and faithful stepped out to share God’s message of loving one another.

Today’s celebration is global.  The work is global.  The audience is global.  We are just as important today as the very first disciples were on that fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection.  We are The Church.

[Join in a time to talk with God.]

Reflection resumes:  Pentecost: John Wesley’s heart strangely warmed

Pentecost is reflected in the COR’s stained glass window, but the real impact can be seen right here in this sanctuary.  Our own stained glass story is “dramatic and powerful” and we can witness the effect of the Holy Spirit in our own history.

Each one of us knows how the Holy Spirit works in our own lives.  We have met others who are filled with the Spirit as they serve others in love.  We have felt moved to love someone in some manner that may have surprised even you.  We have suddenly turned down a road we did not plan turning onto only to discover we were there to listen to someone in pain or to help someone with a flat tire or to spot a situation that needed immediate help.  We know God works through us in ways we may not even suspect. This is the evidence of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe we have not experienced a life-altering event, or have a “heart strangely warmed” as John Wesley did.  But God is present with us as the Holy Spirit, and it is alive when we serve one another in love.  God’s work is mysteriously done in not so mysterious ways as when Christians actively live out their faith in their daily lives.

Pick any day of the week, month or year, and you can see God alive in this world.  You can see it in your own homes, on the roads you drive, and at the businesses you visit.  Sometimes it is easy to see; sometimes it is more hidden.  At the same time, you can see so many places in which God is needed. God asks us to live our faith out loud. He asks us to respond to the cry of those in need.  He asks us to take care of this world he created.

Pentecost, as an event, occurred on that fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection, but Pentecost occurs each time we experience empathy with another, when we feel moved to act as God would act, when we see through God’s eyes, when we hear with God’s ears, when we step into the sanctuary and feel calmed by his presence.  God is with us all the time.  He is triune—as creator, as Jesus Christ the human son, and as the Holy Spirit that resides within all who believe.

So, happy birthday to The Church that was born when the earliest believers were baptized by the Holy Spirit on that harvest festival day in Jerusalem.  The Church grew from that point in time, that place in the world, to the Church it is today that wraps around this globe.

(Pause for the offering and hymn.)

Resuming the reflection:

Another birthday, so to speak, is included on this day, and that honors John Wesley’s epiphany when he was attending a study group on Aldersgate Street when “he felt his heart was strangely warmed.” This experience was on May 24, 1738, often referred to as the Aldersgate experience.

In an on-line article from UMC.org, Rev. Fred Day explains the experience:

. . . John Wesley was at a low point, having just returned from his disappointing missionary efforts at the colony of Georgia in the New World.

Wesley reluctantly attended a group meeting on the evening of May 24th on Aldersgate Street in London.  As he heard a reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he felt his “heart strangely warmed.”

Rev. Fred Day: “He writes in his journal, “I felt that God loved me.” I experienced that God loved me. It was no longer something that was in my head, but it’s something that I felt in my heart.”

 

I can remember a conversation with my dad about knowing the truth of one’s own faith.  He said wondered if he really knew God because he had never had an experience that told him he did.  I know Dad experienced times when his heart “felt strangely warmed” because he also said explained that sometimes driving and listening to the news he would just start crying.  Surely these were moments when the Holy Spirit were speaking to him.

The Pentecost comes to each of us in our own way. Today, one of the closest Sundays to May 24, honors Wesley’s Aldersgate experience.  With Pentecost being celebrated today, what better time to acknowledge that Wesley’s personal Pentecost that moved The Church forward through his own work that has resulted in the denomination of which we are part—Methodism.

So today, let’s say happy birthday to the Wesley’s Methodist movement.

(Pause for a small celebration.  Singing and cake are possible additions.)

Concluding today’s reflection:  The Church Evolves:  50years as United Methodists

And The Church continues to evolve.  The Methodist denomination that grew out of Wesley’s ministry has also evolved.  Today the United Methodist Church celebrates 50 years.  In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical Brethren Church.  Personally I can remember that because I had a classmate who was a member of the Evangelical Brethren Church and when the announcement was made, I wondered if she would begin attending with me.  (She did not; but she also lived in another community so I have no idea where she worshipped.)  That merger was 50 years ago:

[Show the UMC.org video on You Tube.}

So, another happy birthday we say to the United Methodist Church.  The Church continues.  Each denomination has its own story.  The heritage is filled with changes because humanity is static, every-changing, too. Therefore, The Church continues to evolve.  The stories in the stained glass window(s) capture the history, but it cannot freeze the evolution of The Church.

The United Methodist Church is currently undergoing another stage of change.  The social and cultural changes that are challenging today’s people are beginning to be addressed by so many organizations and the United Methodist Church is one of them.

The Council of Bishops has worked for several years to create appropriate amendments to the Book of Discipline that reflect the Christian values in today’s global culture.  The Bishops finally submitted five amendments:

  1. The first amendment proposed a new paragraph between current Paragraph 5 and Paragraph 6. This new paragraph would have focused on gender justice. (66.5%)

 

  1. The second amendment proposed changes to the wording in Paragraph 4 in “The Book of Discipline.” If it were ratified, the proposed amendment would have added “gender,” “ability,” “age” and “marital status” to the protected membership groups. (61.3%)

 

III. The third amendment dealt with the election of delegates to the General Conference as contained in Paragraph 34. As ratified, the amendment adds this sentence to Paragraph 34: “Such elections shall include open nominations from the floor by the annual conference, and delegates shall be elected by a minimum of a simple majority of the ballots cast.”  (90.3%)

 

  1. The fourth amendment clarified the time of election of bishops in Central Conferences as contained in Paragraph 46. As ratified, the amendment adds the following words to Paragraph 46: “provided that episcopal elections in central conferences shall be held at a regular, not an extra, session of the central conference, except in the case where an unexpected vacancy must be filled.” (92.9%)

 

  1. The fifth proposed amendment adds language to Paragraph 50 regarding how the Council of Bishops holds its individual members accountable for their work. As ratified, the amendment adds the following sentence to the end of Paragraph 50: “These provisions shall not preclude that adoption by the General Conference of provisions for the Council of Bishops to hold its individual members accountable for their work, both as general superintendents and as presidents and residents in episcopal areas.”(81.2%)

 

The amendments had to receive 2/3 majority to be passed, and much to their own surprise, the first two amendments did not receive the required 2/3 majority (the percentage of yes votes are indicated in parenthesis after each amendment).

This is the reaction by the Council of Bishops:

“While we are not completely clear concerning the motivation that caused them to miss the two-thirds required majority by slim margins, we want to be clear that we are unequivocal in our commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church,” said the Council statement.

 

Another surprise was the expressed by the female bishops who wrote in their letter:

“Like Rachel weeping for her children, so we as episcopal leaders weep for our church. We weep for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harm that is inflicted upon women and girls because of this action. We weep for those who are denied the ability to use their gifts to make a difference in the world. We also weep for those who are not protected from exclusion in the church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.”

 

On May 7, 2018, Bishop Robert Farr, our state’s bishop made the following statement:

I am saddened and disappointed that two of the constitutional amendments related to the right of girls, women, and other vulnerable groups did not receive the necessary 2/3 aggregate vote of all the annual conferences in The United Methodist Church. Please know that as your bishop in Missouri, I am firmly committed to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church. I stand beside the active and retired women bishops’ statement released alongside the announcement.  . . .

 

While I believe we have made progress in Missouri, I know we have miles to go before we realize gender justice in the Church. Both amendments passed handily in the Missouri Conference at 90% and 80% respectively. In fact, it passed in both of our partner conferences in Mozambique, too, by even greater margins.

 

The Church evolves.  We are connectional, but as a congregation we are responsible for carrying out God’s work in all the ways that we can, as best as we can, for as long as we can.  The Church is all denominations and how our community defines itself is by the work of this church family in relation to the community in which it exists.  The Church is much more than its discipline and its connectional organization.  The Church is the action of the Holy Spirit within us.  This Pentecost Sunday is a time to review the birth, the growth and the evolution of The Church since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The story continues. . .

Closing prayer:

Dear All-knowing Lord,

 

Thank you for the Holy Spirit

            Who is your presence within us.

Thank you for the earliest Apostles

            Who established The Church.

Thank you for all the reformers

            Who continued The Church’s growth.

Thank you for accepting efforts

            That keep The Church evolving.

 

Guide us through the Holy Spirit

            To continue your work

            Sharing the story

            Loving one another

Guide us to listen carefully

            In how to work together

            In how to grow the church

            In how to serve one another.

Guide us to see this world

            By the power of the Holy Spirit

            By the vision of Jesus Christ

            By your unlimited love.

 

May our work reflect your perfection.

May our work continue the story.

May our work strangely warm others hearts.

 

In you name, Heavenly Father,

And in your son Jesus Christ’s,

And through the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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Contemplating the Mystics of The Church

Sermon for April 15, 2018:  This sermon developed from the images of Leawood, KS, Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass windows.  The images of those who continued God’s work after Jesus’ resurrection.  Today, the image of Saint Teresa of Avila was the inspiration for this sermon.

How many Christians harbor a seed of uncertainty about the resurrection?   Until we walk the same path that all must walk, there is no concrete evidence our logical minds crave to answer that lingering question.

In the lectionary’s scripture for this week there is a reading from I John 3:1-7.  This letter was written by John the Apostle, whose brother was James and father was Zebedee. Based on writing styles and historical research, the same person is believed to have written the gospel of John.

Scholars believe the first letter of John was written as a circularletter to be shared among churches.  The purpose was to reassure the early Christians and counter false teachings. The letter provides three descriptors of God:  God is light; God is love; and God is life:

Scripture connections:

I John 1:5-7  God is Light

This is the message we heard from Jesus[a] and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

 

I John 3:1-3  God is Love

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

 

I John 5:11-12 God is Life

11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

 

Today’s world is consumed with logical thinking and the need for proof; Christianity is targeted as an outdated concept. Christianity cannot be boiled down to a code that computers can dissect and recreate with accuracy.  Christianity is simple but complex.  It is faith in what is known, but what is also not known.

As the weeks, years, decades, centuries distanced people from the events of that first Easter Sunday, The Church developed, evolved, and continued to share the story Jesus taught the Apostles and the earliest disciples.

The gospel written by the Apostle John differs from the other three and is sometimes identified as the mysticalgospel.  Why?  This gospel focuses on the fact that Jesus was God more than focusing on his physical human qualities.  God is light, love, and life.  The Word.

Scripture reconnect:

John 1:1-5, 9-14

1In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,[a]
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.[b]

 

     The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

     10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

     14 So the Word became human[a] and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.[b] And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

The Church had the task of continuing God’s work as delivered through Jesus Christ. And The Church continues.  At first there was just the one denomination, as we would call it today, but the reality is that even in the earliest days, believers formed different cells focusing on different perspectives.

Some fled into distant countries to live together in isolated communities.  Others blended into community churches located in homes.  Differences developed based on national cultures, strange practices, eventually creating orders who taught and trained others to continue the work of the Apostles.

Leaders developed into Popes, and The Church that evolved into the most organized arm of Christianity became known as the Catholic Church.  An organized religion developed and The Church grew.  The evolutionary process has seen various movements for reformation and Teresa of Avila, who later was beatified as a saint, led one.

[Insert video introducing St. Teresa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn4v6atYpq8&t=0s&list=PLFlOzfWR7LMU3h-0LlX_QPiZWi_Lx_rFm&index=5]

Teresa of Avila lived during the time of the Spanish Inquisitions and is known as a mystic.  Admittedly this is an uncomfortable facet of Christianity that does not match the 21stcentury mindset.  Therefore, I turned to the Harper Collins’ Bible Dictionary:

Mystic:  one who has a direct experience of the divine presence, an intimate and transforming communion or union with God.  . . . Traces of mysticism are sometimes identified in the Pauline Letters, especially where Paul speaks of union with Christ.

With that definition as a foundation, the writings of John the Apostle can be understood as being mystical, too.  The words from his writings and the quotes from St. Teresa are similar.

As John wrote in his first letter, God is light.  An article from biographyonline.com explains that after a severe illness during which St. Teresa experienced a vision.

In one of her visions she saw an angel pierce her heart with a spear with a golden tip and the pain, instead of being debilitating, became a movement into ecstasy for the mystic.  As she herself wrote, “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”  This event became symbolic of her life, that she was chosen in a special way to share in the pain of Jesus Christ. (Accessed on April 13, 2018 at https://www.coraevans.com/blog/article/the-incredible-life-of-st.-teresa-of-avila)

Afterwards, Teresa shared her vision, and some clergy argued the vision was the work of the devil.  She lost her confidence in her own visions and raptures, sometimes called ecstasies.

The article, though, continues to explain more:

However, in the course of time, she became absorbed in deep contemplation in which she felt an ever-growing sense of oneness with God. At times she felt overwhelmed with divine love. The experiences were so transforming, she at times felt the illumining grace of God would wash her soul away. She was so filled with divine contemplation it is said at times her body would spontaneously levitate. Teresa, however, was not keen on these public displays of ‘miracles’. When she felt it happening she would ask other nuns to sit on her to prevent her floating away.

Mysticism is not common in today’s faith discussions, but St. Teresa is accredited with part of The Church’s reformation.  Being included in the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawood, KS) connects her to the evolution of The Church. She is accredited with starting a new order that focused on the values of poverty and simplicity:

She guided the nuns not just through strict disciplines, but also through the power of love, and common sense. Her way was not the way of rigid asceticism and self-denial. Although she underwent many tribulations herself, to others, she stressed the importance of experiencing God’s Love.

God is love.  The gospel of John along with his letters emphasizes that God is love.  St. Teresa’s writings include quotes that echo John’s teachings:

  • “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”
  • “The surest way to determine whether one possesses the love of God is to see whether he or she loves his or her neighbor. These two loves are never separated. Rest assured, the more you progress in love of neighbor the more your love of God will increase.”
  • “We may speak of love and humility as the true flowers of spiritual growth; and they give off a wonderful scent, which benefits all those who come near.”

St. Teresa’s work clearly emphasized that God as love includes being a servant.  A few quotes from her sound very familiar to John Wesley’s most notable quote:

Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can. (Accessed on April 13, 2018 at Wikiquotes.com )

St. Teresa used these words:

  • “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
  • “If we practice love of neighbor with great perfection, we will have done everything.”

St. Teresa knew God as love. She also knew God as life.

“Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life. . . . If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.”

In her visions, she experienced God’s love.  By the union with God through Jesus Christ, she saw God as life.  The metaphor that a nun is married to The Church simply means they are as devoted to the church as spouses are devoted, singularly, to each other. As a nun, St. Teresa’s life was devoted to God; God was her life on earth as well as after death.  In the biography, a fellow sister/nun describes St. Teresa’s death:

“She remained in this position in prayer full of deep peace and great repose. Occasionally she gave some outward sign of surprise or amazement. But everything proceeded in great repose. It seemed as if she were hearing a voice which she answered. Her facial expression was so wondrously changed that it looked like a celestial body to us. Thus immersed in prayer, happy and smiling, she went out of this world into eternal life.”

This final picture helps us to understand the mystical aspect of Christianity.  The Church cannot fully explain the complexity of God:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the figures who have carried the story forward along human history’s timeline, provide glimpses.

Even St. Teresa explains her mystical faith in God:

“They deceive themselves who believe that union with God consists in ecstasies or raptures, and in the enjoyment of Him. For it consists in nothing except the surrender and subjection of our will – with our thoughts, words and actions – to the will of God.”

As Methodists who know the words and works of John Wesley, St. Teresa’s words and work, we see that God is, God was, and God always will be light, love, and life—eternal life. To fully accept God in our lives, we, too, must be mystic at least to some degree.  There is no other way to know the reality than to rely on The Word—through reading scripture, through prayer, and through loving one another in any way that we can.

Closing prayer:

St. Teresa prayer life has also been the subject of study.  She said, “Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.”

Now, please join in prayer:

Dear loving, life-giving Father,

As we wake to the sunlight of the morning,

As we lie down to rest in the moonlight,

Fill our souls with light, love and life

Taught us by your son Jesus Christ

And guides us as the Holy Spirit.

May we hear The Word within our minds

So that we, too, may live as your children

Following and reflecting your light others,

Loving one another as we want to be loved,

And confidently believing you are life

Now and forever, amen.

In closing:

            Here we sit in the Midwest in our protestant church.  The story of The Church is filled with saints who carried the Word forward, beyond the geographical home of Jesus Christ.

Here we live in the 21stcentury in a culture far removed from ancient thought, yet the saints kept Jesus’ work alive.

Therefore, when we learn that someone in our contemporary world experiences God in a mystical way, the story can empower us even more.  For some, the following story sounds familiar, for some it will provide encouragement.  This is the Easter story now, in our own world  [Accessed on April 12, 2018 at http://www.carmelites.net/news/resurrection-in-a-kansas-backyard/:

 

Resurrection in a Kansas Backyard

APRIL 1, 2018 | GREGORY HOUCK, O.CARM.

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Easter Sunday is one of the biggest days of the year in the Catholic Church, but for priests like myself it can sometimes be an occasion for sleepiness and maybe some crankiness. We’re cranky because the night before, the Easter Vigil, is a very large celebration in which the liturgy itself and the festivities afterward can go on for hours until early in the morning. Getting up the next morning for 7:30am mass can be pretty difficult.

 

This past Easter Sunday, I was helping out at a Carmelite parish in Kansas. It was a beautiful day; but that didn’t quite cut through the sleepiness. The aisles were choked, every pew taken, and I’m wrapping up one mass and preparing for the next when a man approaches me and asks me to give Last Rites to his dying father. Though this the last thing I want to hear at this moment, I tell him I can be there that afternoon, after the last mass.

 

Afterward, as I am plugging his address into the GPS in my car, I seriously consider blowing it off. I really need a cup of coffee and maybe something to eat. I need some time to rest. ‘I could show up tomorrow morning, no damage done’ I think to myself. But there was something quietly urgent about the man’s request, so I head over.

 

When I pull into the driveway, a crowd of people that could only be family is standing on the front lawn of the house. I think they must be waiting for the ambulance; I’m sure that because I hesitated, I am too late. But I find out pretty quickly that the family isn’t waiting for the doctor – they are waiting for me.

 

“Dad asked us to carry him out to the backyard to enjoy this weather,” the man explains. “We were afraid that if we stayed out back we wouldn’t hear the doorbell ring.” The family members– the dying man’s wife, two daughters, two sons, and a handful of college-age grandchildren – are pleasant enough, and as I am following them out to the backyard, I feel a bit calmer.

 

Out back, the dying man is propped up on a lawn chair. After relaxing in the sun and visiting for a while, I bring out the anointing oil, as well as Communion, in case anybody wants to receive. The Catholics in the group have skipped mass, afraid they’d lose their father while at church, and they are relieved at not having to forgo Communion today. I perform the Last Rites ceremony, and then I talk briefly about the Easter Gospel from this morning’s mass. I talk about the Doubting Thomas story, and about how Thomas’s newfound faith in Jesus is its own resurrection.

 

After a moment of quiet the dying man looks at me and says, “Today is the best day of my life.” I have to admit that given that he’s near death and had to be carried outside I wonder ‘if this is the best day of his life, what were the other days like?.’”

 

After distributing communion, the dying man asks to speak with me privately. Assuming he wants his confession heard, the family gets up and retreats into the house, and we are alone. After a moment of quiet the dying man looks at me and says, “Today is the best day of my life.” I have to admit that given that he’s near death and had to be carried outside I wonder ‘if this is the best day of his life, what were the other days like?’

 

“I’ve worked hard all my life,” he explains. “I’ve always had one or two jobs to keep food on the table. My kids – I think they knew I loved them, but I never told them that.” He pauses for a moment. He’s looking away from me. “I think they loved me, but they never told me that. We never said these things out loud – we just were a family.” He turns to me again. “But suddenly these last two days, being with them all the time, I know how much they love me. And I never really knew that before.”

 

As he speaks, I can feel my attention to his words sharpening. “I married my wife because she was the prettiest woman I ever saw – but I never really knew that her heart was so much more beautiful than that.” My Doubting Thomas sermon is starting to feel a little silly in comparison.

He stares out into the grass. “And I finally realized what I’d been missing my whole life. Today, after a few days with family constantly at my side, I finally got it. The whole point of life is to love. The reason we are alive is to love – and that makes this the best day of my life.”

 

I begin to understand that this man has just given me a gift – and that clarity like this is contagious. Love itself is a resurrection. The family returns and we sit around chatting for a while, and suddenly I am not so hungry, not so desperate for a cup of coffee. This man is approaching death, I realize, with joy; and that is a gift to his family too. They are not grieving so much as delighting in watching him exit with grace.

The next morning the phone rings in the rectory at an oddly early hour. It’s a representative from the nearby funeral home: “We’d like to schedule a funeral this week.”

 

“I know” I say to the voice over the phone. After hanging up, I’m sitting alone in silence for a few moments when I realize that tears are falling down my face. As a priest, I’m often called to be present when people die but, in truth, I’m generally not much of a crier. It dawns on me that my tears are not in sadness for the death of a man I barely knew. Instead, they are for the grace and privilege I felt at being witness to a resurrection on Easter Sunday afternoon in a backyard in Kansas.

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By & With God’s Grace

Sermon for Sunday, April 8, 2018:  Beginning a series loosely based on the figures in the Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS, stained glass window that show the growth of The Church since Jesus’ resurrection.  Today the timing of Martin Luther King’s assasination made the inclusion of his portrait in the window the starting point.  The scripture references are included within the text of the reflection.

             1968:  The year was filled with notable events within our country’s history, but that does not make it any different than any other year along history’s timeline.  But 1968 has a definite place in our lives as Americans and as Christians.  And today, 50 years later on the Sunday after Easter, I cannot ignore some comparisons between the words spoken by Jesus and those of Martin Luther King, Jr.

These words are from the speech in Memphis, TN, on April 3, 1968:

     And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

     Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

     And I don’t mind.

     Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

     And so I’m happy, tonight.

     I’m not worried about anything.

     I’m not fearing any man!

The words are prophetic, as MLK died the next day, assassinated.

Compare those experiences and the words of Jesus’s ministry and death.  The similarities cannot be ignored.  In the gospel of John, we hear Jesus’ words that are equally prophetic about his own death.  John 13:31-36:

     31 As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man[h] to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son,[i] he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once. 33 Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

     36 Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”

And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”

These words come directly before Jesus tells Simon Peter that he will deny even knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crows.

Living ones Christian beliefs can place you in very critical positions between good and evil.  And even though Jesus lived and died over 2,000 years ago, the conditions around us remain the same.  There is good and evil competing for our attention.

MLK and Jesus experienced discrimination and their prophetic words as they neared their final day are eerily parallel.  The discrimination experiences are different; but they are also the same.  How both chose to confront discrimination was to follow God’s commandment:  Love one another, as you want to be loved. Following that commandment mirrors the grace God provides us.

MLK was assassinated 50 years ago, but the Civil Rights movement continues.

Jesus was assassinated 2,000 years ago, but the Christianity movement continues.

Since the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus commissioned the disciples to continue his work:

     16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

     18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[a] 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.”  [Mathew 28:16-20, NLT]

As the disciples stepped out of hiding and began to follow Jesus’ instructions, the community of followers developed into The Church,.  And the Church is the vehicle that continues to move Christianity forward.

            The Church grew.  The movement continued and continues.  God’s grace is a message so valuable that Christians have gone to great lengths to share the story.

The images that surround the Tree of Eternal Life in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window have all accepted the commission, “. . . to make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  Each one’s story is different yet the same. Each one’s story is God’s story—love one another.  Another common trait is that they exhibit God’s grace.

Maybe understanding grace is a key to unlocking the value of Christianity.  Theologians have defined grace a bit differently than a common dictionary would define the term.

  • According to the on-line edition of the Oxford Dictionary, grace is
    • Smoothness and elegance of movement
    • Courteous good will

But then the Oxford Dictionary adds the third definition:

  • (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
  • According to the website, wllaboutgod.com, grace is explained more fully in this manner:
  • In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards men who merited the opposite of love.
  • Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves.
  • Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty ones be reconciled to God and received into heaven.

The website includes the scriptural reference from 2 Corinthians 5:21, 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

This is the good news that The Church has carried forward since Jesus’ resurrection and commissioning of the disciples.  God’s grace is for everyone that is the message filling Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  The same website includes scriptures that develop Paul’s argument for accepting Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection in Romans 3:22-24:

     22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

     23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

This argument fueled the earliest Christians to carry the movement forward.  Each disciple, each man and woman and child who accepts God’s grace and believes that Jesus frees us from sin joins in the movement to spread the good news.  The Church is an inclusive term that continues to evolve as it carries the story forward through the years and around the world.

MLK is included in the images of the window because he accepted God’s grace and lived to actively demonstrate that loving one another should erase all barriers between one and another.  The civil rights movement is an evolving process—the word movement itself should remind us that change takes time and must continue forward.  MLK wanted all people, regardless of race, to be included in society equally.     If God loves all people, we are to love all people as we want to be loved.  God did not segregate any peoples from his grace after sending Jesus Christ to teach us how to love one another as we want to be loved.

Paul shared how grace saves those who believe in the story of Jesus Christ with the church in Ephesus:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  [Ephesians 2:8-10, NLT]

After the crucifixion, running and hiding must have been much easier than continuing to meet with the other Christians, who were certainly a minority in their communities, experiencing discrimination. No visual difference identified the Christians from the Gentiles, the Jews or the Pagans, but they were targeted as being different.

No political affiliation or nationality identified who was Christian or not.  No, God sent Jesus to assure all people that he loved them all and wanted all of them to leave their evil ways and accept God’s grace.  God’s agenda was to provide unconditional love and forgiveness to all individuals regardless of anything:  there were no restrictions, no limits, no boundaries—geographical, political or racial. This is God’s unconditional love and accepting that premise results in knowing God’s grace.

As Christians we are part of The Church. Our job is to push forward, to keep the movement growing.  God’s grace removes any barriers between people.  MLK saw no reason for discrimination and he stepped forward. His dream is God’s dream:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.  . . . And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” [Accessed on April 6, 2018 at kinginstitute.stanford.edu.]

            How do you define God’s grace?  Do you live by grace or do you live with grace? Did MLK live by grace as he led the civil rights movement?  By following God’s one commandment to love one another as you want to be loved, are you perpetuating Jesus’ teachings by the way you live?  MLK chose to live out God’s message because he knew God’s grace and wanted to do all that he could to assure that all Americans were free.

The Church today has weathered many challenges, but the message of God’s grace and the salvation available to us through Jesus Christ is the story, but do you live by grace or with grace?  The Church lives by grace when is offers “courteous good will.” The Church does not always work smoothly or elegantly, but whatever it does to love one another continues Jesus’ work.

Today you live with God’s grace when you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior; and you live by God’s grace whenever you unconditionally love others as you want to be loved.  You are part of the  Christian movement that continues to grow and to spread the Good News.  God expects each of us to do all that we can in any way that we can to demonstrate God’s grace to others through unconditional love.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,

Thank you for granting us grace

Thank you for Jesus Christ, our teacher.

May we each find ways to share

Your grace with all others.  –Amen

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