Tag Archives: John Wesley

Reading, learning all the time: All the time reading, learning.

 During the past week, my focus has waivered.  I started off on Sunday facing a medical emergency with my pet, Possum (really my 4-year-old Havanese).

 

For the first time, I had to take a pet to a vet and leave him not knowing what would happen. Luckily, 48 hours later, he came home—exhausted.  Today, you would never know he had been so sick.

 

This experience has made me think about how much unconditional love we experience with our pets and I cannot miss the lesson that gives me about God’s unconditional love for us.  There is no better example of unconditional love of a pet and for a pet.  Why, then, do we even question God’s unconditional love for us?

 

The more I read, the more I learn.  I was on line reading all I could on Sunday trying to understand the problems Possum was having.  This equipped me with the best words to share with the vet on the phone.

 

I learned a lot and I am reminded that we all have much to learn about God, too.  I ended Sunday studying the lectionary to prepare for the lectionary discussion on Monday.  Always reading and always learning even though the verses are familiar.

 

This week the reading from James seemed to echo words I read in the late 1980s while working to establish a dyslexia program at Wentworth Military Academy.

 

During that time period, I was fortunate to be guided by alumnus and co-workers to learn more about the business leadership structures.  As the 1990s passed, I also learned about educational leadership. The common denominator was the concept of democratic leadership.

 

No, this is not a political issue; this is a leadership style.  Reading James 3:13-4:10, I discovered that even James, Jesus’ brother, shared the same principles of leadership:

 

True Wisdom Comes from God

13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.[a]

Drawing Close to God

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

You adulterers![b] Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him.[c] And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”[d]

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

 

If all leaders, in all phases of our culture, used these principles, one might only wonder at the changes it would bring to our world.

 

For years, my reading was limited to professional materials and curriculum demands of the Course of Study. Yes, I was reading all the time in an effort to continue learning all that I could.

 

But my learning was to streamlined, that I was in a tunnel.  Since stepping away from the pulpit, I have broadened my reading.  I am also broadening my learning through the reading.

 

Just like God expects us to read scripture (as well as John Wesley does), we also need to see how it is applied in the real world.  Joining the lectionary group has broadened my learning by sharing and listening to others ideas.

 

Reading is how we learn things that interest us, to entertain us, and to educate us.  With the base of knowledge and ideas and skills that we develop, we still need human interaction to take that information into our real world.

 

My reading during these past two months have included following the KC Star’s opinion pages—stepping beyond the front page news; and I have picked up books again.

 

I am reading and listening to the ideas and experiences of others.  I am reading and learning to think beyond my own immediate life experiences. The reading leads to learning. The learning leads to reading.

 

Even the fiction reading I have jumped into has shared themes that I find in scripture.  I learn how these themes affect our lives and continually intertwine with the themes in scripture.

 

Whatever denomination to which we chose to align ourselves, the scriptures continue to drive our lives forward. John Wesley knew this.  The theological instructors know this.  The believers who read scriptures know this.  Why, then do we continue to ignore reading scriptures?

 

Reading a historical fiction novel about the Biblical figure Sarah is teaching me to think about Sarah differently.  It triggers a desire to learn more about the ancient cultures that are woven together in the book.  It makes me want to read the Biblical story again, along with study notes and analysis.

 

At the same time, the novel brings up the same principles of leadership in James and in the business and education materials concerning democratic leadership I had read 30 years ago.

 

Read to learn, but also learn to read.  We have a huge responsibility to make sure that we are doing that for ourselves, but also that we are imparting that skill to the following generations.

 

Dear God,

Thank you for the words so many have written

Creating the scripture through which you speak.

Thank you for the words authors continue to write

Creating books to share ideas in new ways.

Thank you for the ability, the gifts your provide

Creating the learning we gain from reading.

Guide us through the words, but also through the power of the Holy Spirit.  –Amen

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Reading for fun once again

 

Somewhere along the line, I discovered I had lost fun reading in my life.  I know where it started over 11 years ago when I stepped into the Course of Study to be better equipped to serve as a local pastor.

 

At that time, I was working full time in a public school alternative program, trying to take the required courses, preparing for Sunday worship services, and so forth.  Time to read?  Only for the course work or the sermon.

 

Reading opened the world to me as an elementary student.  Raised in a small rural school setting, the books available usually lined a couple of shelves in the classroom.  Going to the library helped, but one book led to another book.  At that time, teachers expected us to read and to make book reports. I did.

 

I could not get enough. I read everything I could from my classroom’s library.  In the summers I read from the local library.  And I learned so much.

 

Thank goodness Mom and Dad approved, in fact I learned that if I had a book report to do, the chores took a back seat—now if that did not encourage me to read.

 

Quite a memory, I know, but when I left fun reading about a decade ago, I left out an important piece of my learning.  Therefore, I am reading again:  fun reading; not required for a class or a sermon.

 

I had picked up a book several years ago, The Yada Yada Prayer Groupby Neta Jackson.  I thought it sounded like fun to read with my college girlfriends—and it was on sale.  But I did not get it read.

 

Over the next few years, I found the book had spun out into a series, so I started collecting them—always on sale.  After reading the book, Talking with God, I knew I needed to read.

 

The first book I picked up was The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling.  I thought it was number one, but in reality it turned out to be number 6.

 

The point I am making is that I read.  And the reading is still connected to my faith journey.  The books share all the real life experiences that the members of the diverse prayer group deal with and how the prayer group keeps the focus on God.  I needed that reminder.

 

Therefore I am fun reading with a recharged sense of faith.  The inner thoughts of the main character sound terribly familiar.  The experiences of the women are just the same as so many I have experienced or know of others who have experienced them somewhere along their lives.

 

The amazing thing, though, is that through scripture, shared prayer, and worship—especially praise worship, one grows in faith.  I know that John Wesley struggled to understand whether or not he had enough faith, but I remember that his brother Charles told him to live like he did.

 

Sometimes we make Christian living sound so difficult, but in reality it is simple.  Love one another in the same way you want to be loved. Accept that bad things happen, but God never leaves your side.

 

Just stay the course (pardon the cliché), because as long as you continue to follow the scriptures, practice, practice, practice living the Golden Rule and praying.

 

Those inner nudges that you hear really are instructions from God.  Listen to them and check them against the scripture you know.  Check them with others in a small group—yes, a small group setting is Wesleyan and is proven to be a key part of one’s spiritual practices.

 

I may be in a season of recharging, but I have to say that reading for fun is fuel for the future. I am finding rest as I sit and read. I am finding confirmation in understanding the Holy Spirit.  I am encouraged that there is so much more to do.

 

Sunday morning’s sermon at Sedalia’s First UMC with Rev. Jim Downing reminded us that Paul told us to put on our armor.  That armor, outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20, may sound old fashioned, but continues to defend us from evil:

 

The Whole Armor of God

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we[a] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.[b] 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.[c] 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.[d]

19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.[e] 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. [NLT accessed at biblegateway.com]

 

Thank you to Rev. Downing for reminding us how important it is to read, to pray, and to worship in order to defend ourselves from the challenges of living in our secular world.

 

He provided the following prayer starter for this week:

 

Lord, I want to know what it means to be overtaken by your promises. Grant me the grace to remain obedient and faithful to you, never wavering in my faith in what you have promised.

 

We all need recharging in order to live in a world filled with evil and unexpected challenges or temptations.  We need to read—scripture, yes, but sometimes messages come in other forms such as The Yada Yada Prayer Group.

 

If you are unsure what to read, maybe the reading from this week’s lectionary will help:

  • 2 Samuel 11:1-15 or 2 Kings 4:42-44
  • Psalms 14 or Psalms 145:10-18
  • Ephesians 3:14-21
  • John 6:1-21

 

Whatever you do, find what arms you the best for your spiritual journey.  There is no telling what words God is speaking to you.  Just know that he is with you and wanting to talk to you.

 

Here is my prayer:

 

Dear God, The Word,

Thank you for speaking to me through words

   even when I am reading for fun.

Thank you for all that I can learn through words

   whether in scripture, in studies, or in fun.

Let my words help others in their faith journeys

   so they may experience your words in their lives.

Words of armor, words of guidance, words of fun

   are your words speaking to us.  –Amen

 

P.S.  I finished book one and started book 2 in the series. Sure is fun.

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Do you know your theological father?

Sermon given on Fathers Day 2018.  This is again loosely connected to the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawod, KS) that has woven the sermons together since January 6, 2018.  There is one more planned before stepping away from the pulpit for a time of renewal. 

The calendar and all the media remind us that today is Father’s Day.  Certainly one might consider that this is an appropriate day to focus on the father figures that fill the scriptures, but in the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window, the inclusion of five men connects The Church to Father’s Day by looking at how The Church continues to adapt especially through the fathers of the evolving church.

This Father’s Day, I ask whether or not you can identify the father-theologian figure of your own faith.  What we believe today is the final product of all the influences that shape and continue to shape your spiritual journey—just like your earthly father influenced your own life whether genetically, physically, mentally, emotionally, or even professionally.

As a Methodist, you might automatically assume that your theological father was simply John Wesley, but that really is not as simple as you may realize.  Why even John Wesley struggled to understand his own theological foundation—remember, he reported that he was afraid he did not have salvation until his Aldersgate experience.

Teaching students Greek and Latin roots, the definition of theology boils down to just two elements:  theo meaning God, and ology meaning study of.  Simply theology is the study of God; but that places theology at a distance from our daily world.  Theology in our real life experience is much broader and applies to each individual differently.  One’s personal theology is a philosophy or mindset, as explained on Bible.org, theology is “. . . a belief system that is built upon intellectually and emotionally held commitments concerning God and man.”  Even those definitions really do not fully develop what theology is.  The article concludes with this statement:

In short, theology is a set of intellectual and emotional commitments, justified or not, about God and man which dictate ones beliefs and actions.  Neither the word itself is irrelevant, nor the concepts which it seeks to articulate. It is the first pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.  [Accessed on June 12, 2018 at https://bible.org/article/what-theology%5D

 

Maybe you do not think it is important to know your theology.  I think it is.  In fact, the artist must have understood that Pope John XXIII (#10), Martin Luther (#26), John Wesley (#8), C.S. Lewis (#28) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#16) each contributed to the continued growth of The Church or they would not have added.

To begin identifying who is the father of your personal theology, one begins with the Old Testament, but even there, the list is tremendous as many characters could be identified as a theologian.  I argue that all those who are listed as prophets would be considered theologians, not to mention other leaders such as David.

David became a king, he was a political leader, but God chose him for his faithfulness.  The psalms he wrote reflect his theology, and two verses specifically connect God as a father figure:

Scripture:

            In Psalm 2, David is speaking on the occasion of his coronation as God’s chosen king of Israel.  He begins the psalm with an explanation of the battling nations and establishes his relationship with God, especially in verse 7.

Psalms 2:1-6

Why are the nations so angry?
Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
the rulers plot together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
“and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”

Psalms 2:7   

The king [David] proclaims the Lord’s decree:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son.
Today I have become your Father.

 

David’s relationship with God continued to grow during the trials and tribulations of his reign.  Some of the psalms are filled with pain and anguish, questions, and even anger, but throughout the prayers and songs, David’s relationship to God is described as that of a son to his father.  The confidence in God’s reach is outlined in Psalm 68:

Psalms 68:5-6         

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

 

Psalms 89:26is a psalm written by Ethan, the Ezrahite, explaining the relationship of King David to God and the promises that God had promised to make David and his descendants reign forever.  He writes:

            And he [King David] will call out to me [God], “You are my Father,

My God, and the Rock of my salvation.’

 

The relationship pictured through the words of Psalms is the relationship of a father to a son. David’s theology is clearly based on that premise.

Today is Father’s Day, developed to honor our earthly parent like we honor our mothers in May.  I was surprised to learn that Father’s Day was not made a holiday until 1972 even though Mother’s Day officially became a holiday in 1914. Wikipedia summarizes Father’s Day:

Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. The tradition was said to be started from a memorial service held for a large group of men who died in a mining accident in Monongah, West Virginia in 1909.  It was first proposed by Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington in 1909.  It is currently celebrated in the United States annually on the third Sunday in June.  [Accessed on June 14, 2018.]

Understanding the purpose of Father’s Day supports making today a good time to consider who your personal theologian is, especially since so much of the scripture and even church curriculum is based on a father-like relationship with God.

The Church that began developing after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection grew as disciples began sharing the good news.  These disciples were the first Christian theologians and identified their relationship with God as that of son to a father.

The gospel according to John also continues to develop this idea.  John shares the story of the woman at the well and reports that Jesus said:

John 4:23

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.”

 

Jesus also talked to the Pharisees about his relationship with God.  They were trying to disprove his authority, but Jesus defined it:

John 5:17-20

17 But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” 18 So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21 For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22 In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23 so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

 

Explaining his relationship to God as that a son to his father should have made the Pharisees clearly understand Jesus’ message, but accepting the truth defies what we as humans understand.  Theologians have and continue to explain the relationship humans have with God.           The Church lives and grows because theologians continue to find ways to share understanding of this relationship.  They are the fathers of our own faith.  The fact that the COR’s stained glass window artist chose just a few shows how God’s story continues despite all the human challenges.

Today’s Catholic church continues to be fathered by the Pope.  Pope Francis demonstrates a more inclusive church today that is adapting to cultural shifts while preserving the New Testament foundation:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

The COR window does include Pope John XXIII (#10 in the window) identified as “. . . one of the most popular popes of all time (reigned 1958–63), who inaugurated a new era in the history of the Roman Catholic Church by his openness to change   [Accessed on June14, 2018 at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-John-XXIII]

The popes are theologians, but The Church did not remain Catholic, and other theologians have lead to major reforms, especially Martin Luther (#26), a practicing priest who became upset about the methods The Church, now known as the Catholic Church/denomination, used to absolve one of their sins.

Luther publically posted on the church door the 95 concerns he had with The Church.  The action is accredited with the establishing of the Protestant branch of The Church.  His actions lead to The Church continuing in different forms of leadership.  Luther was a theologian who saw no separation between God and any individual person, there was no need for a priest to act as a mediator for salvation.

Luther lived in the 1500’s, and John Wesley (#8) was one who continued the reformation process about 200 years later.  We are familiar with his story as Methodists, but do we understand his theological base?  In our denomination, God teaches us to love one another through service. We are one family with God as our father and all others as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Do you really know your theological father?  Do you know that God is your father?  The centuries that separate us from Jesus’ human experience can separate us from God, too.  This Father’s Day we honor the fathers of our earthly life, but The Church can also use this as an opportunity to remember the theologians of the church.

The Church continues to grow and to reform thanks to the men and women who have sought to understand and to act on that understanding of their relationship with God.  Each of us has a responsibility to do the same, to read scripture, to remain in conversation with other believers, and to live faithfully the best way that we can.

Two other images in the window are known theologians who continue the work of the earliest disciples.  Both are 20thcentury figures that some may not even realize are listed among the theologians who continue to strengthen the work of The Church, regardless of the denomination:  C. S. Lewis (#28) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#16).

  1. S. Lewis is an author who wrote the children’s fantasy books in the The Chronicles of Narnia series as well as over 30 other books that share his apologetic theology of God:
  • I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
  • You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.
  • Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.
  • Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
  • God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

 

Admittedly I do not know the actual work of Lewis, but I am eager to learn more.  He tried hard not to be a believer, but life taught him that he has a father-son relationship with God.  His written work reportedly teaches readers of all ages the reality of God, creator, and parent.

Bonhoeffer may be familiar to us, especially in relation to World War II.  His life ended by execution at the hand of the Nazi Regime.  A Lutheran pastor in Germany, he was also a social activist. His theological work was to live one’s Christian faith actively in the secular world.  His political resistance to the Nazi Regime modeled his theology:

  • God’s truth judges created things out of love, and Satan’s truth judges them out of envy and hatred.
  • The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.
  • Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.
  • We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.

 

The list of theologians simply includes these individuals mentioned today, but the list continues to grow.  God depends on the father-child relationship we have with him.  The Church is the result of his faithful children working together to continue God’s work.  The Church is a living reflection of God’s children working to strengthen the father-children relationship throughout humanity’s time.

Today, Father’s Day 2018, as God’s children we have a responsibility to know our theological fathers and to remain faithful to our heavenly Father.  The Church grows because the theologians have studied scripture, have led others to know God personally, and have served one another in love in an unending list of ways.

You are asked to know God, just like you want to know your own biological dad.  How do you do it?  You study scripture, you join in Christian conversation, and you live your faith out loud demonstrating the value of God in your life.  You are to model your theology in ways that others may be transformed, too.

Closing prayer:

Happy Fathers Day, God,

We are so blessed by the gift

of life you have given each of us

of your Son, Jesus Christ;

and of your Holy Spirit within us.

Thank you, too, for all those who wrote scriptures,

Who read scripture,

Who took the time to explain your love,

Who risked living their faith out loud.

Guide us in our own work to learn more of your love.

To share your story with those unknown;’

And to serve one another in love, too.

May we be your hands and feet for others

May we know your love within our own hearts.

May we grow The Church as others have.

In the name of you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,

Amen, Lord, Amen.

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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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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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