Tag Archives: John Wesley

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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Mothering: Susanna Wesley Style

Sermon for Mother’s Day, May 13, 2018.  Susanna Wesley is one of the figures included in the Church of Resurrection’s, Leawood, KS, stained glass window which has loosely tied the sermons together for the past several months.

            Just imagine where The Church would be without mothers.   Mothers have raised children perpetuating their culture’s faith foundation even before Jesus was born.  Looking at the COR window, the images include other mothers, too, but Susanna Wesley cannot be ignored within our tradition.

John Wesley learned his faith and developed his methods from his mother’s teaching.  He along with his nine other brothers and sisters including Charles, were raised in a devout Church of England family.  Their father was Samuel Wesley, a priest in the Church of England, who even left the family for a year simply over a political argument with Susanna.

The article from historyswomen.com quickly introduces Susanna Wesley as the Mother of Methodism:

As a wife and mother in a small 18th century English parish Susanna Wesley herself received little recognition for how she managed her household, raised and educated more than a dozen children and coped with a sometimes impecunious, idealistic and occasionally difficult clergyman husband. Yet from her personal influence and loving home came a son who would experience a spiritual awakening and use that inspiration to begin a ministry that would fill a void in the national spiritual life and also develop into a world wide church. Indeed, it might be said that the movement called Methodism had its foundations in the home of Susanna Wesley.  [Accessed on May 10, 2018.]

 

I have no idea if Mom and Dad connected my name with Susanna Wesley, but I do know that Mom certainly referred to Susanna after I had my two kids.  Susanna had ten children who survived beyond infancy, but I clearly remember one of Mom’s pieces of advice that I am sure is familiar to many:  “You need to give each one an hour.  Susanna Wesley had ten kids and she devoted one hour to each one.”

Now, I am not certain if that is completely accurate, but I did find a similar statement in historyswomen.com biography:  She gave each child individual attention by purposely setting aside a regular time for each of them.  [Ibid.] A second website, christianitytoday.com, added this statement: Susanna made it a rule for herself to spend an hour a day with each of the children over the period of a week.

One thing I do know is that Mom greatly respected Susanna Wesley and so did her own son.  My mom also told me how the family’s home burned and John almost died. The biography on christianitytoday.com also affirmed Mom’s references:

After the fire of 1709 family discipline broke down, but Susanna managed to restore it later. She paid special attention to John, who was almost lost in the fire. He referred to himself as “a brand plucked from the burning fire,” and his mother said that she intended to be more particularly careful of the soul of this child that Thou hast so mercifully provided for, than ever I have been, that I may do my endeavors to instill into his mind the disciplines of Thy true religion and virtue.  [Accessed on May 10, 2018.]

 

Today we honor our mothers, true; but consider where today’s church would be without Wesley’s mother.  She was the daughter of a priest, she married a priest, and she mothered a priest (remember John Wesley was ordained in the Church of England as a priest).  Her personal upbringing greatly influenced her mothering.  One can only speculate how the scriptures prepared her for that role.

Looking at the Old Testament, the wisdom of King Solomon is found in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon/SongsSurely Susanna knew these words well:

Scripture:  Proverbs 22:17-21

17 Listen to the words of the wise;
apply your heart to my instruction.
18 For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart
and always ready on your lips.
19 I am teaching you today—yes, you—
so you will trust in the Lord.
20 I have written thirty sayings for you,
filled with advice and knowledge.
21 In this way, you may know the truth
and take an accurate report to those who sent.

 

Proverbs are“short, concise sentences that convey moral truths,” as explained in the Life Application Study Notes.  These statements cover

“a range of topics, including youth and discipline, family life, self-control and resisting temptation, business matters, words and the tongue, knowing God, marriage, seeking the truth, wealth and poverty, immorality, and, of course, wisdom [defined as applying knowledge/facts to life]. [p. 1306]

 

As Susanna was raised in a religious home, she must have known these proverbs well.  In an UMC.org feature by Joe Lovino, a letter she wrote to John outlines her mothering tips. The tips are outlined in these categories:

  1. Religious education
  2. Education
  3. Order and Discipline
  4. Sleep
  5. Meals and Dining
  6. Manners

 

Reading through Proverbs 10-24, which is titled “Wisdom for All People,” many of Susanna’s tips seem to echo several proverbs.

Additionally, Susanna practiced self-discipline, too. In fact, her prayer life was extremely important, and I stumbled into one blog that discussed her use of a “prayer apron”:

When Susanna was young, she promised the Lord that for every hour she spent in entertainment, she would give to Him in prayer and in the Word.  Taking care of the house and raising so many kids made this commitment nearly impossible to fulfill. She had no time for entertainment or long hours in prayer!  She worked the gardens, milked the cow, schooled the children and managed the entire house herself.  So, she decided to instead give the Lord two hours a day in prayer!

She struggled to find a secret place to get away with Him.  So she advised her children that when they saw her with her apron over her head, that meant she was in prayer and couldn’t be disturbed.  She was devoted to her walk with Christ, praying for her children and knowledge in the Word no matter how hard life was. [Accessed on May 10, 2018 at http://sharonglasgow.com%5D

Certainly today’s mothers know the difficulty of finding quiet prayer time; therefore, let us quiet our own lives, consider throwing an apron over our heads, too, and spend some time in prayer:  (The practice in our church family is to join in a time of prayer during our worship, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.)

Reading through Susanna’s letter to John, provides today’s mothers solid advice on raising their families.  Even though few families have ten kids living in the one house, the wisdom of her motherly advice is worthy of review.

  • Religious education:

Devotions:  “The children of this family were taught, as soon as they could speak, the Lord’s prayer. . .

Worship and music:  “. . . the day began with reading or singing a psalm, reading an Old Testament chapter, and saying private prayers—all before breakfast.  At the end of the school day, they paired up to read a psalm and a New Testament chapter.”

Sabbath:  . . .The children “were very early made to distinguish the Sabbath from other days. . .”

  • Education

Focus:  School was 9-12 noon, and 2-5 pm

No goofing off:   “Rising out of their places or going out of the room, was not permitted unless for good cause. . .

Reading:  Each child was taught to read at age five. . .

  • Order and discipline

Routine:  a tight schedule. . . [with] times assigned for naps, education, meals, and bedtime.

Self-regulation:  Susana believed “self-will is the root of all sin and misery,” . . worked to help her children develop self-control.

Forgiveness  . . . never be punished for the same offense twice.

Peace  . . . household was not chaotic . . . much quietness as if there had not been a child among them. . .

  • Sleep

Bedtime  . . .all in bed by 8:00 pm whether they were ready for sleep or not.

Naps  infants . . . napped on a schedule. . .to bring them to a regular course of sleeping

  • Meals and dining

Dining  Mealtime was family time.

No snacking

Choosing meals  . . . expected to eat was served.

Medicine  . no problem when “. . . used to eat and drink what was given them”

  • Manners

Polite speech  be polite. . . [if] wanted something they were to ask

No lying  . . .if confess it and promise to amen, they would not be punished.

Respect for property  . . . taught to keep their hands off of another’s stuff. . .

 

Mothers all know the struggles to raise children, and Susanna was like all mothers yet today.  She knew how difficult managing a household can be much less homeschooling the ten children.  And among those ten children were two sons John and Charles Wesley.

The Church grew as John adapted his own organizational methods to take God’s message to those beyond the doors of the Church of England and even across the Atlantic to the United States

John’s brother Charles worked side by side with John and is accredited with writing so many hymns that appealed to the populace:

[Charles]was said to have averaged 10 poetic lines a day for 50 years. He wrote 8,989 hymns, 10 times the volume composed by the only other candidate (Isaac Watts) who could conceivably claim to be the world’s greatest hymn writer. [Accessed on May 10, 2018 at Christianitytoday.com]

 

Susanna’s motherhood was not easy.  Susan Glasgow’s blog summarizes Susanna’s motherhood:

A devastated home isn’t always apparent on first impression, is it? Susanna Wesley was married to a preacher.  They had 10 children of which, two grew up to bring millions of souls to Christ. That would be John and Charles Wesley.  It’s a powerful story if you stop there, isn’t it?

But, behind the door of her home, hopeless conditions were the norm.  She married a man who couldn’t manage money.  They disagreed on everything from money to politics.  They had 19 children.  All except ten died in infancy.  Sam (her husband) left her to raise the children alone for long periods of time.  This was sometimes over something as simple as an argument.

One of their children was crippled.  Another couldn’t talk until he was nearly six years old.  Susanna herself was desperately sick most of her life.  There was no money for food or anything.  Debt plagued them.

. . .One of her daughters got pregnant out of wedlock and the man never married her.  She was devastated, but remained steadfast in prayer for her daughter.

 

The Church continues through the efforts of mothers everywhere.  Susanna Wesley may be the mother of the Methodist denomination, but she is really the same as Christian mothers everywhere.  Her model of mothering includes the self-discipline of works of piety her son outlines:

  1. Reading, meditating and studying scriptures
  2. Prayer
  3. Fasting
  4. Regularly attending worship
  5. Healthy living
  6. Sharing our faith with others

 

The model of Susanna Wesley reflects much of the wisdom shared in the book of Proverbs.  As our opening scripture shares, we are . . .

17 Listen to the words of the wise;
apply your heart to my instruction.
18 For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart
and always ready on your lips.
19 I am teaching you today—yes, you—
so you will trust in the Lord.

Today, we can turn to Proverbs and share with others the wisdom, too.  If Susanna can do so, so can we.

[Distribute at least 30 proverbs among those in attendance and have them read them aloud to the others.]

 

Thank you to Susanna Wesley for her mothering skills.  Today, we can understand how challenging it is for mothers in our world by realizing that mothers have always managed life challenges.  The key is to study scripture and to raise our children the best that we can, teaching them the wisdom found in scripture.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,

Thank you for providing words of wisdom

as we find in the scripture.

Thank you for Susanna Wesley

raising her children in faith.

 

Guide us to continue following leaders

who live faithful lives  based on scripture.

Guide us to teach our children

to do all that they can for all they can.

 

May our efforts continue The Church’s work

carrying your story forward.

May our work demonstrate the true wisdom

in loving one another as we want to be loved.

 

Thank you for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Thank you for Susanna, the mother of John.

Thank you for loving us, your children.

 

In your name,

In the name of Jesus Christ,

And through the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Riding The Church’s Circuit

Sermon for May 6, 2018.  This continues the connection to the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window.  This sermon focus’s on Francis Asbury, but also explains a personal decision effective July 1, 2018.  The Methodist itineracy continues.

 

            Searching through the images of the COR’s (Leawood, KS) stained glass window, I found Francis Asbury.  Yes, the name is familiar to Methodists, but how does his story demonstrate how The Church moved forward?

As Methodists, we may think that our denomination is the first church that used the circuit riders, but the practice actually began much earlier.  Consider even the Apostles who were commissioned by Jesus himself. Interestingly there is a parallel between the story of Philip and the Eunuch and a story of Francis Asbury meeting a freedman.

The story is in Acts 8:26-40 (NLT):

     26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopianeunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

     30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

     31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

     32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]

     34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

     36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37]  38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

 

The Church grew because the Apostles took to the road sharing the Good News.  Interesting that the Apostles were not first known as Circuit Riders, in fact, the title Circuit Rider is believed to begin with the Wesleyan movement.

An on-line article from the UMC’s General Commission on Archives and History, includes a brief summary of the development of the circuit riders:

John Wesley’s Methodist plan of multiplemeeting places called circuits required an itinerating force of preachers.  A circuit was made up of two or more local churches (sometimes referred to as societies) in early Methodism.  In American Methodism circuits were sometimes referred to as a “charge.”  A pastor would be appointed to the charge by his bishop. During the course of a year he was expected to visit each church on the charge at least once, and possibly start some new ones. At the end of a year the pastors met with the bishop at annual conference, where they would often be appointed to new charges.  A charge containing only one church was called a station.  The traveling preachers responsible for caring for these societies, or local churches and stations, became known as circuit- riders, or sometimes saddlebag preachers.  They traveled light, carrying their belongings and books in their saddlebags.  Ranging far and wide through villages and wilderness, they preached daily or more often at any site available be it a log cabin, the local court house, a meeting house, or an outdoor forest setting. Unlike the pastors of settled denominations, these itinerating preachers were constantly on the move.  Their assignment was often so large it might take them 5 or 6 weeks to cover the territory.  [Accessed on May 2, 2018]

 

Francis Asbury, included in the stained glass window, is credited as the leader of the American Methodist Episcopal movement that grew through the work of the circuit riders.  In the Wikipedia biography on Asbury, a meeting with a freedman, Henry “Black Harry” Hosier might compare to Philip’s meeting with the Ethopian Eunuch:

In 1780, he met the freedman Henry “Black Harry” Hosier, a meeting Asbury considered “providentially arranged”. Hosier served as his driver and guide and, though illiterate, memorized long passages of the Bible while Asbury read them aloud during their travels. He eventually became a famous preacher in his own right, the first African American to preach directly to a white congregation in the United States. [Accessed on May 2, 2018]

 

The Church grows through the efforts of those called to ministry whether in the pulpit or whether in the saddle.  Asbury carried the Methodist movement into a growing denomination during the earliest years of this country’s existence following the Revolutionary War.

The circuit rider images have faded into our memories.  These Christians answered a call into ministry that was filled with challenges as simple as where one might find food, clothing and shelter along the paths between settlements.  The circuit rider’s lifestyle did not lend itself to establishing a home base or even a family.  They made friends, but the work was so demanding that it frequently took a toll on the health.

In the GCAH article on circuit riders, the lifespan of circuit riders typically was no more than 30 years of age.  Asbury came to the US at the age of 26, and he lived until 1816—71 years old.  Of course, Asbury also became one of the American co-superintendents, now more akin to that of a Bishop, with Thomas Coke being the second one.  (The Methodist publishing service Cokesbury is named for these two men.)

In the final paragraph of Asbury’s autobiographical flier (bulletin’s insert), one can see the numerical evidence of his work:

… in 1784, Asbury had 15,000 members and 83 preachers to shepherd.  Thirty years later, he herded 212,000 members, 700 ordained pastors, and 2,000 lay preachers.

 

Today, the United Methodist Church data services provides these figures:

World UM US Africa, Asia & Europe
Lay Members 7,064,602 5,663,340
Clergy Members 44,080 11,859
Baptized Members 571,507 N/A
Local/Organized Churches 31,867 12,255
Districts 419 451
Annual Conferences 56 80
Bishops/Episcopal Areas 46 20
Jurisdictions 5 N/A

 

Asbury and Coke answered God’s call to ministry and took John Wesley’s Methodist movement and created the American Methodist denomination that continues today as the United Methodist Church.

Today’s UMC congregations still remain in connection using the itinerant system of appointment.  The itineracy, as defined on line by the UMC website, is a result of the circuit riders:

The system in The United Methodist Church by which pastors are appointed to their charges by the bishops. The pastors are under obligation to serve where appointed. The present form of the itineracy grew from the practice of Methodist pastors traveling widely throughout the church on circuits. Assigned to service by a bishop, they were not to remain with one particular congregation for any length of time.

 

I am convinced that the artist who selected the figures to include in the stained glass window consciously chose those who have answered God’s call to ministry and have continued the mission of The Church despite all the trials and tribulations that batters Christians.  I am glad that he included Francis Asbury, because the history of our denomination grew from his work.

Wesley sat the bar for his followers:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

 

These words are so engrained in my psyche that it is makes accepting my own efforts as adequate.  Over the last three years, I have felt a pulling to do something else. I cannot define it.  I can only say, I know there is something more that I am to do.  The district superintendent has listened, questioned, and advised me.  Two weeks ago, we met and he asked what I needed. His perception was that I was tired and needed rest.

The stained glass window has inspired much of my research and guided me through these past few months.  The story of Teresa of Avila seemed to open a new awareness within me of my theology differently than any of the other stories. I felt a thrill and a hunger for more.

I have read I John over and over.  I have turned to the gospel of John several times over the last month, and the pull to do something more continues to grow.  I finally heard the DS say, “You are tired.”

Yes, I am tired.  I am so mentally and spiritually tired that I cannot hear God’s direction.  Therefore, I will not be taking an appointment at this time.  I suspect I will need at least six months of rest, to read, to listen, and to pray about the next appointment—whether or not it is a pulpit or some other form of ministry.

From John’s first letter, I am focusing on knowing God as light, love, and life.  I have more work to do; but to do it, I must rest.  Please hear John’s words:

  • I John 1:5-7This 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.

 

  • 1 John 3:16 16 We know what real loveis because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.
  • 1 John 3:18  18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we loveeach other; let us show the truth by our actions.
  • 1 John 5:11-12 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 havelife.

When one completes the Course of Study, one of the final requirements is to write one’s own credo.  I decided to review it because so much scripture that I have highlighted as support for my credo is located in the writings of John.  I am hopeful that you will hear these words and recognize something about me:

I believe in the Triune God,

Father, the Creator;

Son, Jesus Christ the Teacher;

And the Holy Spirit, an ever-present ally.

As a believer.

I accept the responsibility to live a God-centered life.

I accept the responsibility to love this creation.

I accept the responsibility to love one another.

As a member of The Church, I believe

                        I need to do all that I can

                        For all that I can

                        In all the ways that I can.

 

Once called, always to serve.  To serve in the pulpit and to join in community with each one of you is to love. Here in this sanctuary, I find light, I find love, and I find life.

As the next few weeks lead us to find new directions, I cannot wait to share more of the stories of The Church.  We continue to grow together in fellowship, much as John concludes that first letter:

20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life.

21 Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts

Concluding prayer (in unison):

            Dear Loving Father,

 

            You are the light, chasing away darkness.

            You are love, binding your children together.

            You are life, always and forever.

           

            Guide us in turning on the light for others.

            Guide us in loving one another.

            Guide us in living for life eternal.

 

            Help us to find ways to chase away sin’s darkness.

            Help us to demonstrate love through our actions.

            Help us to live life in full connection

                        through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  –Amen

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The Family of Noah

Sermon given for the 2nd Sunday of Lent; a mini-series on the Old Testament families.

Scripture connections (using the New Living Translation):

Genesis 5:32

After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Genesis 6: 5-10

     The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” But Noah found favor with the Lord.

     This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God. 10 Noah was the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Genesis 6:14-22

     14 “Build a large boat[c] from cypress wood[d] and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior. 15 Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.[e] 16 Leave an 18-inch opening[f] below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.

     17 “Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. 18 But I will confirm my covenant with you. So enter the boat—you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 19 Bring a pair of every kind of animal—a male and a female—into the boat with you to keep them alive during the flood. 20 Pairs of every kind of bird, and every kind of animal, and every kind of small animal that scurries along the ground, will come to you to be kept alive. 21 And be sure to take on board enough food for your family and for all the animals.”

     22 So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.

Genesis 10: 2 & 5, 6 & 20, 21 & 31-32

     The descendants of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. . . . Their descendants became the seafaring peoples that spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity. . . .

     The descendants of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. . . . 20 These were the descendants of Ham, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity. . . .

     21 Sons were also born to Shem, the older brother of Japheth.[g] Shem was the ancestor of all the descendants of Eber. . . . 31 These were the descendants of Shem, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity.

     32 These are the clans that descended from Noah’s sons, arranged by nation according to their lines of descent. All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood.

Genesis 11:10 & 26

10 This is the account of Shem’s family. . . . 26 After Terah was 70 years old, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

 

Reflection: And Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham & Japheth

Yes, we have certainly seen Mother Nature’s rain and ice this week, but I know it cannot compare to the flood that Noah and his family experienced. In fact, the closest experience I can personally remember is the flood of 1993. That was to be the 500-year flood, and since then there have been more floods and natural disasters that might tempt one to say God was trying to destroy the world again.

But then there is the rainbow that inevitably appears and we are reminded of God’s covenant with Noah. God promised never to completely destroy the world and all that lives.

Why, then do we still read Noah’s story and look for the lessons that apply to our 21st world? The Bible is our textbook, our inspiration to manage the world that swirls around us. The timeless lessons of Noah still apply to our lives today even with all the technological advances, the instant communication, and the global community.

First, consider the Bible’s description of the world through God’s eyes as described in Genesis 6:5-6:

     The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.

I can understand the heartache God experiences as he looks at how evil seems to overwhelm his creation because I see the evil that surrounds us each and every day. John Wesley explained:

“The stream of sin was full and strong, and constant; and God saw it.” What did God see? God saw that every imaginative and cognitive impulse of the human heart is persistently evil.” (200911-12)

Wesley’s explanation of the sin God saw in Noah’s time still describes the evil that continues to persist in our world today.

The ancient scripture is just as applicable today as it was then. Noah’s life example is a lesson for us today. We must not ignore it as we live our own lives. One of Wesley’s core terms as annotated in the Wesley Study Bible develops the affect of sin: “Sin distorts our whole being, our relationships with God and other people, our ideas of success, and even our relation to wealth.” (200911)

Noah, though, was an exception. He was an example of faithfulness to God. And in Genesis 6:8, this is recorded: But Noah found favor with the Lord.” Noah is the only model of faithfulness that caused God to save humanity . . .

“[Noah’s faithfulness became] . . . the relief for humanity. This description focuses on his moral innocence (“righteousness”), his acceptance before God (“blameless’), and the consistent intimacy of his relationship with God (“walked with God).” (200912)

Today this forces us to stop and reflect on our own relationship with God. Can we honestly say we live a life faithful to God? Or do we fail?

The Biblical story of Noah is a reminder of how God does know the honesty of our faithfulness. We are responsible to model our Christian beliefs in order to defend ourselves from evil as well as make a difference in the world when we demonstrate the unconditional love God has for us by loving one another unconditionally, too.

Fortunately, Noah’s story does not simply conclude with the waters of the flood receding. No. Noah’s story continues through his family. Sadly, Noah’s wife is not listed, but the three sons are: Japheth, Ham and Shem. The story continues as God assigns Noah the responsibility to save all the animals and to repopulate the earth.

Once the floodwaters receded, Noah continued to follow God’s instructions. Today, we continue to follow some of those changes:

  1. Humans began eating meat
  2. Humans were not to eat blood, only flesh drained of blood
  3. Noah began farming as he cultivated grapes for wine production (an entire sermon can be developed around what happened when Noah got drunk, but the key to Noah and his family is their faithfulness and how the world was repopulated as a result)

These are changes we might not consider particularly newsworthy, but these changes shifted human culture. The sons and their wives repopulated the world and that leads to so many discussions, but remember the stories in the Old Testament are carefully selected to maintain the history and the genealogical connection to Jesus Christ.

For this reason, the sons are named in scripture. The verses in Genesis 10 carefully list the sons and their descendants.   This record identifies the way the world was repopulated and even outlines their purpose, so to speak:

     The descendants of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. . . . Their descendants became the seafaring peoples that spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity. . . .

     The descendants of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. . . . 20 These were the descendants of Ham, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity. . . .

     21 Sons were also born to Shem, the older brother of Japheth. Shem was the ancestor of all the descendants of Eber. . . . 31 These were the descendants of Shem, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity.

     32 These are the clans that descended from Noah’s sons, arranged by nation according to their lines of descent. All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood.

As noted in the Wesley Study Bible:

The names in the list are sometimes individuals, sometimes locations, and at other times people groups, illustrating the use of genealogies to create a kind of ethnic map of the world. (200916)

This understanding may help us understand why the Bible includes Noah’s story, but the lesson on faithfulness is no less important for us today. We must remain faithful to God and to live a life that demonstrates our understanding of God’s unconditional love. Are we living as an image—or reflection—of God?

The image of God is also a core term for Wesleyan theology:

As love is the very image of God for Wesley, love should be the sole principle of every feeling, thought, word, and deed: human character should reflect what God is—Love. (200914)

Today we must live our lives as the image of God, as LOVE. We are human and we will make mistakes. But we must do the very best that we can to live faithful lives as Noah did.

God promised Noah that he would never destroy all the earth again and set a rainbow as evidence of that promise. We may take confidence in that promise, but it does not mean we can ignore our responsibility to live a righteous, God-center, love-filled life.

Neither do we have to worry that we are called to repopulate the earth, Noah’s family did that. And through that lineage, we continue the story of the faithful. Noah was ten generations removed from Adam, and Noah’s son Shem is the direct connection to Abraham as identified in Genesis 11:

10 This is the account of Shem’s family [Shem was a multiple great grandfather of Terah]. . . . 26 After Terah was 70 years old, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

The span between Noah and Abraham was also ten generations. (Family Tree of the Bible 2018)

Noah and his family show us that despite all the evil that exists around us, we can be and are to be faithful. We are to carry God’s love forward into the world. We are the hope God has for this world we have been given. Do not take that responsibility lightly. Love one another.

Closing prayer

Dear patient and loving Father,

We see the evil in this world, and cry out.

We see the pain caused by anger, and hurt, too.

Talk to us through the ancient words of scripture.

Show us the way through the example of Noah.

Grant us courage as we struggle each day

To remain faithful followers

Striving to love unconditionally. –Amen.

Works Cited

Family Tree of the Bible. February 21, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_tree_of_the_Bible.

The Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2009.

 

 

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It’s Advent Eve!

Sermon for Sunday, November 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Family and Friends,

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

     34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

                                                Love,

                                                Your brothers and sisters in Christ

 

 

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How does our church interpret Christianity?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Luke 10:38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

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

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

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

  • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
  • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor [Accessed on November 10, 2017, at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

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

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

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

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

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

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study. [Ibid.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing prayer

Dear God, Father Almighty,

 

We mourn the loss of one of our family,

But let us remember her

By following the model of faith

She exhibited in all that she did.

 

Help us to demonstrate

The Christian qualities

That Paul listed in his letters

To the early churches and disciples.

 

Help us to follow Wesley’s practices

Both the acts of piety

and the acts of mercy

as we work together in your name.

 

May we recognize your presence

Through the power of the Holy Spirit

As we make decisions individually

And communally to love one another.

 

In your name, the Father, the Son,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Paul’s tools will work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 This is a trustworthy saying:

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Those words mean the same thing regardless of the translation:

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

We come to worship,

     Yet there is pain in our hearts.

We come to hear your words

     But our hearing is often blocked.

Open our hearts to your words

     So we can heal the pain.

Open our minds to learn

     The lessons so we can heal.

Forgive us of our closed hearts

     And our closed minds.

Forgive us of our actions

     That keeps doors closed.

Let us come to the table

     Unified in Christ.

Let us experience pure joy

     Knowing your grace.

Send us out the doors

     With renewed conviction.

Send us out to live boldly

     As faithful servants

     Loving one another.

In your name, God the Father,

     The Son, Jesus Chirst,

     And the Holy Spirit, amen.

           

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

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