Tag Archives: Matthew

The Sacrament of Baptism

given on Sunday, September 24, 2017

Special note:  Because we have seldom had the opportunity to baptize anybody, I decided to make the entire service a teaching time for the sacrament of baptism.  The following are the comments and the liturgy that I used.  I hope it helps all to understand.

 

*Opening words about the Sacrament of Baptism:

 

            Today we are so privileged to have two young people decide to be baptized. The last few years, our small community has watched life transitions shrink our congregation. Today, we get to celebrate in the life transition of baptism.

Baptism is a ritual The Church has initiated for those who chose to accept God’s gift of grace into their lives. As we go through the liturgy, you will hear how the ritual affirms the decision to be part of The Church which includes all Christian denominations.

Baptism in the Methodist tradition begins at any time in one’s life.

  • Parents can bring their children to be baptized as infants committing to raising them within the church of their choice.
  • Young people can make the decision to be baptized on their own at any time in their life as they learn about God and his son Jesus Christ.
  • Adults, even at the end of their life journey, can decide to be baptized acknowledging their acceptance of God’s grace and salvation.

The United Methodist Church acknowledges the baptism of any individual in any Christian denomination. One baptism, whether as an infant or later, acknowledges one’s inclusion as a child of God.       Therefore, those who wish to renew their personal relationship can reaffirm their baptism at any time. Today, we offer the opportunity for any others to join in reaffirming their baptism, too.

 

Please turn in your hymnal to page 33: The Baptismal Covenant I

(At times the words will be adjusted to meet the particular needs of today’s service.)

 

Pastor:         Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Through the Sacrament of Baptism

we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.

We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation

and given new birth through water and the Spirit.

All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.

 

Today as we join in the sacrament of Baptism,

we can also choose to reaffirm our own baptism,

acknowledging what God has, is and will be doing for us,

and affirming our commitment to Christ’s holy Church.

 

Presentation of the Candidates UMH p.33

 

*Comments about the decision and preparation of candidates

Each person here today has a story about his or her own baptism. I myself was baptized as an infant. My mom and dad made the decision. I know others here made the decision themselves as young people.

For those who were baptized after making the decision for themselves, the words of the liturgy probably have more significance than it did for me. In order to prepare for baptism, Ali and Sami sat down with me for several meetings to go over the ritual and its words. We talked about what the experience meant to believers and what it means to them. We talked about different ways to experience it, too.

The methods of baptism range from sprinkling drops of water from a small bowl to full emersion in all kinds of water filled settings. As Ali and Sami began thinking about their own baptism, they considered full emersion at Truman Lake, but summer sped past and here we are today.

As you notice, we are going to do all we can to assure them that baptism is a full experience, one they will never forget. What better time for all of us, so far removed by the years from our own baptism, to reaffirm our baptism, too.

The ritual includes three primary parts: the call to repent of one’s sins, the water bath representing the cleansing of one’s sins, and finally the acceptance of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit which is God within us. The words of the ritual have had very few changes since the church first began. Even Jesus Christ experienced baptism and he was about 30 years old when he asked his cousin John the Baptist to baptize him:

 

Opening scripture: Matthew 3:11-17, NLT

 

[John the Baptist is speaking.] 11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

 

Pastor:         Today I have the honor of presenting

Alex and Samantha Heyer for baptism. (have them stand)

 

Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith (Call to Repent) UMH p.34

 

Scripture: John 3:16-17, NLT

 

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

 

Pastor:         On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,

reject the evil powers of this world,

and repent of your sin?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you

to resist evil, injustice, and oppression

in whatever forms they present themselves?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Pastor:         Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,

put your whole trust in his grace,

and promise to serve him as your Lord,

in union with the Church which Christ has opened

to people of all ages, nations, and races?

 

Candidate:             I do.

 

Pastor:         According to the grace given to you,

will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church

and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?

 

Candidate: I will.

 

Profession of Faith using the Apostle’s Creed UMH p.35

 

*Comments about the Apostle’s Creed:

As the Apostles established The Church after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, there was an effort to find ways to maintain the common beliefs.

The Apostle’s Creed was the result of the earliest church conferences meeting in ancient times. The creed is divided into three parts that clearly define the Christian belief in the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In the liturgy today, the Apostle’s Creed is divided into three answers to the pastor’s questions. By joining in the Apostle’s Creed, we are restating the foundation of the Christian faith (Have the congregation stand.):

 

Pastor:         Let us join together in professing the Christian faith

as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New                                             Testaments.

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in God the Father?

 

All:     I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven

                        and earth.

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in Jesus Christ?

 

All:     I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

            who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

            born of the Virgin Mary,

            suffered under Pontius Pilate,

            was crucified, died, and was buried;

            he descended to the dead.

            On the third day he rose again;

            he ascended into heaven,

            is seated at the right hand of the Father,

            and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

 

Pastor:         Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

 

All:     I believe in the Holy Spirit,

            the holy catholic* church,

            the communion of saints,

            the forgiveness of sins,

            the resurrection of the body,

            and the life everlasting.

 

UMC Hymn 191    Jesus Loves Me

 

Thanksgiving over the water (UMH p. 36)

 

*Comments about the symbolic use of water:

            Many might ask why water is used in the ritual. Water symbolizes life and rebirth. From the beginning of time, humans have understood that we are born through water, and we are cleansed by water. The Church uses baptism with water to represent the rebirth as a Christian and the cleansing of one’s sins as we ask for forgiveness.

Water is considered the source of life. Today we use water as a symbol of being born into the Christian family. Even though we have been present in the church for years, it is important that we personally recognize that our lives are God driven. Water is a reminder that we are born into God’s family and we are cleansed of our sins.

Join in the liturgy that blesses the water and allows us to experience that symbolic connection to God as our father and to Jesus Christ our redeemer.

 

Pastor:         The Lord be with you.

 

All:                 And also with you.

 

Pastor:         Let us pray:

 

Eternal Father:

When nothing existed but chaos,

you swept across the dark waters

and brought forth light.

In the days of Noah

you saved those on the ark through water.

After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow.

When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt,

you led them to freedom through the sea.

Their children you brought through the Jordan

to the land which you promised.

 

All:     Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

            Tell of God’s mercy each day.

 

Pastor:         In the fullness of time you sent Jesus,

nurtured in the water of a womb.

He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.

He called his disciples

to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection

and to make disciples of all nations.

 

All:     Declare Christ’s works to the nations,

            his glory among all the people.

 

Pastor:         Pour out your Holy Spirit,

and by this gift of water call to our remembrance

the grace declared to us in our baptism.

For you have washed away our sins,

and you clothe us with righteousness

throughout our lives,

that dying and rising with Christ

we may share in his final victory.

 

Pastor:         All praise to you, Eternal Father,  

            through your Son Jesus Christ,

            who with you and the Holy Spirit

            lives and reigns for ever. Amen.

 

Reaffirmation of Faith UMH p. 37

 

*Comments about reaffirming one’s faith:

            Even though we are here to witness Ali and Sami in their decision to be baptized, we can take the opportunity to reaffirm our own baptism. God is with us throughout our lives, be we are not perfect.

We make mistakes. We sin. And yet we know that God is always present. It is up to us to recognize that we have failed and must ask for forgiveness.

You are invited to join in with others who wish to reaffirm their baptism, too. The words of reaffirmation do not replace your once-in-a-life experience; it simply reconnects you to God.

With the words of today’s liturgy and the opportunity to experience the water that we have given thanks for earlier. You may touch it, dribble it, sprinkle it, fling it, or even make the sign of the cross with it. You can handle it as you wish, but the pastor cannot re-baptize you.

 

Pastor:         Remember your baptism and be thankful.

 

All:     Amen.

 

Pastor (those choosing to participate, may walk up to the water):     

The Holy Spirit work within you,

that having been born through water and the Spirit,

you may live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

All:     Amen.

 

Transferring membership from another congregation:

 

*Comments on transferring memberships:

United Methodist Churches know that one’s membership may need to change due to life experiences. Whether one is moving from one community to another, whether one decides to change denominations for any reason, or whether life circumstances shift one way or another, it is a simple matter of changing one’s church membership.

For those moving from other denominations, becoming familiar with the doctrine of the United Methodists may be necessary. But transferring from one United Methodist congregation to another is much simpler and leaves only one question to ask in order to officially make the transfer.

 

Pastor:         Sharon Dzula has made the decision to transfer her

membership from her long-time church home of Mt. Tabor to our church.

 

Will you be loyal to the Community United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence,

your gifts, and your service?

 

Transferee:            Yes, I will.

 

Baptism with Laying on of Hands (UMH p. 37)

Comments on the practice of Laying on of Hands.

As we near the end of today’s service, the time has come to finalize the baptism ritual. Rather than administering the traditional means of sprinkling, we are going to use the practice of laying on the hands for Ali and Sami.

All are invited to surround them as they wish, place their hands upon them or the others who can reach them, as we welcome them into the Christian faith:

 

Pastor: Alex, I baptize you in the name of the Father,

and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Sami, I baptize you in the name of the Father,

And of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

All:     Amen

 

Pastor:         The Holy Spirit works within you,

That being born through water and the Spirit,

You may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

All:     Amen

 

The Sacrament of Communion:

 

*Comments about the communion as a church family:

            We are closing the sacrament of baptism with the second sacrament the church recognizes: Communion, aka as the Eucharist, or the Table of Bread and Word.

Throughout history communities have come together around the table. In our congregation, the tradition is the first Sunday of the month, but today sharing the cup and the bread is one final way to welcome all who believe in Jesus Christ to be in fellowship together.

 

UMC Hymn 620    One Bread, One Body

 

UMC page 13-14

 

Thanksgiving and welcome:

 

*Comments about local membership in the church:

Baptism is the first step in committing one’s self to the Christian lifestyle. The door is open to a life of joy knowing that whatever trials and tribulations we must face on earth, we are given the strength we need.

God is ever with us because he promised that upon our baptism he grants us the Holy Spirit, which is God within us. We have a responsibility to learn all we can about God and how he sent Jesus Christ to teach us how to live:

  • We have a responsibility to live in loving relationships with others.
  • We have a responsibility to love others as we want to be loved.
  • We have a responsibility to do all that we can in all the ways that we can for all that we can.

By joining together with other Christians, regardless of their church denomination, we will discover the joy in living as Paul shares in his letter to the Philippians:

 

Closing Scripture: Philippians 1:3-10, NLT

 

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

 

Pastor: Now it is our joy to welcome you as sisters in Christ.

 

All:     Through baptism

            You are incorporated by the Holy Spirit

                        Into God’s new creation

            And made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood.

            We are all one in Christ Jesus.

            With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you

                        as members of the family of Christ.

 

Pastor:         Let us rejoice in the faithfulness of our covenant God.

 

All:     We give thanks for all that God has already given us.

As members of the body of Christ

and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church,

we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the Church

            by our prayers, our presence, our gifts,

our service and our witness

            that in everything God may be glorified

            through Jesus Christ.

 

UMC Hymn 77       How Great Thou Art (to the accompaniment of Elvis)

 

Closing words and benediction UMH p. 39

 

Pastor:        The God of all grace,

Who has called us to eternal glory in Christ,

Establish you and strengthen you

By the power of the Holy Spirit,

That you may live in grace and peace.

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Community: Time for a private conversation

given on Sunday, June 26, 2016

We need to talk. Look around you and think when was the last time the seats beside you were filled. Sadly, the pews only seem to fill up when there is a funeral. Why?

Now, think about the community itself. Look around in those memories and name what you see. What happened to the businesses on the main street? Why are so many houses empty? Where are the kids playing? How has the community changed over the past 50 years?

The picture we see before us is not pretty. We are facing a drought not only in the community, but also in the church. We can no longer afford to sit passively waiting for something to change. We must take action or the church will be nothing but an empty shell.

The Church, with a capital letter, is really the people, not the building. This Sunday we must have a private conversation about what we, sitting right here in the pews, can do or must allow to be done. I am not talking about just putting people in the pews but what we must do for our community.

During annual conference, the pastor from Cape Girardeau was one of the featured speakers. He is one of many who are credited with restarting churches or establishing new churches across Missouri. The Methodist Church is struggling here in the United States, but it continues to grow in Korea and Africa at unbelievable rates. The pastors who are filling the pews are the ones who are willing to try something or anything in an effort to share God’s word.

Rev. Ron Watts has a multi-sight church and I visited that church last year for Converge. Rev. Watts’s church continues to evolve. The sanctuary almost feels like a theater, and a smaller area used for other events and large meetings has many features found in almost all Fellowship Halls along with tables and chairs and audio-visual equipment.

One of the unique features in this church is a tremendous tree built into the hallway at the opening of the children’s ministry wing. This area is used all week long with the preschool it offers and the children’s ministry on Sunday. It is awe-inspiring and captures kids imagination.

For the adults in the building, there is even a coffee café not to mention the flexibility of WiFi available to guests of the church. The building reflects the broad range of activities that a church can provide all week long, not just on Sunday morning or during a summer’s vacation Bible school. This church has looked at the community and then decided what was needed to be in ministry to that community.

Rev. Watts took risks. He allowed his members to think a bit differently and the building grew to meet the needs. The building did not dictate to just one style of ministry. No church can continue God’s work if the building is the only reason for someone to walk in the open doors. It is the ministry of the church that opens the doors to others.

Let’s step back a bit, though, and look at our own community. Any church hoping to carry God’s word to others must put people first and the building second. This community is not the community in which the church opened; the 21st century community has an entirely different profile than it did. Yet, the models of the earliest Christian disciples can be studied and reframed for this century’s society.

Our church member has agreed to share her picture of the church within our lifetime. Stop and think how the church ministered to the members and to the community while you listen:

Insert our church member’s reflection. (no text available)

Return to sermon’s text:

The Community UMC that began its work in this community had a very, almost dramatically, different culture than today’s. Many attending were related. Many were brought up in the church and simply expected to attend Sunday school and worship because their parents and their grandparents followed this pattern.

The Christian faith with which many of us grew up began with the church as the method to practice faith. Families tended to see faith as simply part of American life—yes, here we see it as part of our American heritage. Everybody knew attending church was simply part of one’s faith practices. This has changed.

Today learning about faith is almost a complete opposite of what most of us have known. The unchurched individual who has not been raised in the church has no idea why they need to develop a relationship with God. The calling card for them is not finding a place to practice worship but rather to find a place where they are comfortable and accepted.

Once the relationship is established the previously unchurched learn what faith is and what a difference it makes in their lives. Professing one’s faith in God is not the first step into church for the previously unchurched rather it is last step.

What does this mean for us in our community? Our guest came to Chilhowee before I did and she has witnessed the change in the community’s profile. Our church member’s view is what most of us have experienced as life time residents in and around this town, but now it is time to consider what has happened since the end of the 20th century:

 

Insert our guest’s comments about the changes since 2000 and what she witnessed during her time with the homeless.

From her notes:

Our community has changed. When I came here is was all about neighbors, kids, helping one another, having a built in neighborhood watch, so to speak. Today, Chilhowee is transient. We don’t know many people, we don’t great new people, we see drugs and alcohol at work and witness poor parenting. This leads to judgment on our part, unfortunately. My friends, this ought not to be so. These that need us should be the ones we great, pay the most attention to and show Christ’s love. NO JUDGEMENT. We ourselves are a very long way from perfect. Be genuine; and be genuine in love.

Paul told the Galatians:

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in ANY trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

 

Return to sermon’s text:

This community is no different than the small towns across the state even the country. The economic changes fuel most of the changes in the small communities. Sadly, just like the inner cities who are fighting to renew their value in urban centers, the smallest communities buried in the farmlands must honestly face the same issues that the inner cities have: poverty, split families, drugs and alcohol, no or at least limited commerce.

This community cannot grow if its history and a resistance to change trap it. Rev. Watts spoke to this problem at annual conference:

Are you willing to set aside your preferences so the younger or next generations can feel comfortable here and continue coming to church? [Can you] put up with other stuff so other generations can be reached. . . . for it is you, not your culture that reaches younger [people and it is] not to save institutions but to share something with them.”

 

These thoughts are painful to hear. No one wants to change what he/she finds safety and comfort in. It is much like how one decorates her/his home. The same pictures hang In the same spots for decades. The big recliner sits in the same place year after year. Opening the door to family and friends brings a familiar whiff and sometimes even a sound or two that is recognized as native to the setting.

Is it possible to make the changes that may open the doors to those who are not comfortable with the century old traditions that have long identified this community’s Methodist church or does the church remain as it is?

Our guest’s thoughts from Matthew’s reading.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;”

 

And I thought to myself, ‘What does this mean?’ Let me look at this portion again because I’m getting a new and deeper meaning in this scripture.

“bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father”

 

I’m looking at these words “that you may be sons of your Father” and seeing into the spirit. We ignore God often, don’t we? We use Him when it’s convenient, don’t we…praying when we are in trouble. We pray when we have time. We serve Him when we can fit it into our otherwise busy schedule. But does He stop loving us? Of course not. And what about those that don’t live a Christian life? Those that make fun of God or don’t believe in Him at all? What about those who do not pursue a life with Him? Does He give up on them? Will He ignore them? Will He say ‘No’ should they come to Him and want to change their lives? Of course not.

We are to be sons (or daughters) of God. Neither should we be turning our backs on those who need us the most. Neither should we be judging or choosing, but serving lovingly to ALL.

that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect just as your father in heaven is perfect.”

 

There it is in Jesus own words. ‘The Word’. Reach out to the lost, the sick, the addicted, the lonely or mourning, those in prison, those in the streets. That’s the name of the game, right there. What game? Christianity. And it’s no game. It’s our calling. It’s our duty. It’s what Christ came here to show us how to do. We hurt God’s feelings all the time. We forget and get lost in earthy cares. We are ALL sinners and we must ALL ban together and hold those up who need us the most. Do we really believe we’re better than any of these?

Return to the sermon’s text:

Paul was worried about the church in Galatia. The struggles from daily living caused the new Christians to begin sliding backward in their practices. His letter reminded them that the Holy Spirit would guide them and help them manage the challenges. He shares:

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

Today’s private conversation is much like Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We are tasked with sharing the value of a relationship with God in as many ways as we can. As we develop the open doors, the open hearts, and the open minds that our denomination declares we have, then we will help all those who are unchurched or who turned away from God and/or the church at some point in their lives.

May we use Paul’s words, the guiding words from all of the Bible, and the Holy Spirit’s whisper to support our next few months of change. Allow the freedom to try something different with your prayers and all that you feel you can do. The months ahead will be filled with trials and errors, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the efforts of the weary, God’s word will go into action in an effort to transform our little corner of the world.

Closing prayer: The Serenity Prayer

[Accessed on June 25, 2016 at http://www.lords-prayer-words.com/famous_prayers/god_grant_me_the_serenity.html#ixzz4CaoGGItJ]

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.

 

 

 

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Easy or Hard?

given on Sunday, June 2, 2013–based on preparing for Annual Conference where the theme will be “Praying Hands and Dirty Fingernails

Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails:  Easy or Hard?

 

Five days from now Annual Conference convenes.  I recognize that the value of this meeting seems distant, unimportant, or maybe even detrimental in some ways.  Yet, as United Methodists, the Annual Conference is a time to review, to be accountable, to renew each church’s commitment to the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission.  The theme this year is “Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails.”

Stop and think about that combination of images for just a moment . . .(pause) . . .and now put yourself into the picture.  Do you have praying hands?  Do you have dirty fingernails?  Do you have both praying hands and dirty fingernails?  Or, sadly, do you have neither?

John Wesley did not separate these two images; he felt it was one in the same.  He also developed the structure to keep members accountable to their Christian responsibilities.

Annual Conference is all about God’s greatest commandment and his commission.  Annual conference is Wesley’s method of accountability to God.  Bishop Schnase’s leadership keeps our Missouri churches on task, and this year an added element of preparation appeared in our inboxes—“21 Days of Prayer.”

This three-week study came to my attention a little later than it should have because I was closing out the school year.  My focus was simply to make sure the students graduated and then to look forward.  My secular world collided with my spiritual world, even though I believe they work together to fulfill my Wesleyan purpose.

As school wound down and I cleaned up a room and moved into a new position, I began to let go of the school year and look ahead to the new church year—at least the conference’s church year.  I began reading the materials that are sent out and signing up for the various workshops and projects so I could be prepared.  And, I stopped to read the “21 Days of Prayer.”

First, I must apologize for my lack of pastoral responsibility.  The past two weeks, I should have shared this study with you and ready to introduce the final week of the study today.  But, with that aside, let me share some of the phenomenal words that are in this study.  Rev. Jenn Klein, from the Country Club United Methodist Church in Kansas City, wrote the study based on the Bishop’s book, Remember the Future:  Praying for the Church and Change.

All Christians are to follow one simple commandment that I have repeated over the last five years:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’  –Matthew 22:37-39, the Message

Following this commandment should make life so simple, but in our world, it seems nothing can be simple.  And Rev. Klein wrote it in just a slightly more expansive manner for the study:

“The Great Commandment tells us to love the Lord our God with our full selves; with our mind (intellect), heart (emotions), soul (intuition and divine instinct) and body (physical).  We are also to love others as ourselves.”

Her expanded explanation for each element–mind, heart, soul, and body—makes the commandment more than a statement; it makes it an internalized, comprehensive action—a lifestyle.

Over the past several years, I have tried to describe how being a Christian is a lifestyle.  I know you recognize that idea, but I simply must state it again.  A lifestyle is a way of living that comes automatically; there is no need to write out a specific plan of action or to prepare for the day’s event consciously to live as a Christian.  A lifestyle reflects who you are down to your innermost living cell.

Of course, a Christian lifestyle appears out of sync in today’s society, at least on the surface.  We are living side by side with a secular world that demands more and more un-Christian like behaviors.  The demands from our work world push our ethical standards to a point we become bitter, angry, and stressed not only mentally but physically.  We reach a point that we want to just quit everything because it seems we are demanded to live in a manner that does not match our beliefs.

The Bishop’s book acknowledges this, and then provides a Wesleyan viewpoint to help us continue maintaining a Christian lifestyle:

John Wesley modeled acts of piety and acts of mercy and taught that both are essential to our life in Christ.  The words piety and mercy sound curiously quaint today, perhaps even stirring negative responses.  Piety brings to mind self righteous, sanctimonious arrogance.  And no one wants to be at the mercy of anyone else.  Mercy connotes weakness, dependence, surrender.

Personally, I agree with the Bishop.  Today’s world has twisted the concepts we were taught in the 20th century, even clear back to the 18th century when Wesley began his ministry.

Yet we are living in the 21st century.  We cannot change that fact and we seem to have made many adjustments to the secular lifestyle that suits us.  The problem is that we are not making the adjustments in our Christian world to maintain the Wesleyan standards for the disciples of Jesus Christ that we profess we are.

Quoting again from the Bishop’s book:

Sometimes we act as if our living in Christ and leading the church require us to emphasize piety to the exclusion of mercy or to choose ministries of mercy at the expense of congregational vitality.  This presents an unhealthy and dangerous dichotomy.  It forces us to ask ourselves.  “Which kind of Christians are we?”  Are we those who seek a deeper spirituality in the changed heart that comes through worship, sacraments, prayer, the Scriptures and fellowship?  Or those who pour ourselves out through ministries of service and justice, helping people to rebuild their lives, and offering hope to a hurting world?

Is not that true?  His words sting; and I want to feel better.  Unfortunately no one can force anyone else to do something they are unwilling to do.  It takes modeling.  It takes valuing.  It takes understanding.  It takes God to open our hearts, our minds, and our hands to maintain a Christian lifestyle.  It takes God to do the same in non-Christians, too.

Here again comes a quandary:  How can our dwindling, aging populations continue to develop vital congregations?  Acts of piety and acts of mercy may be the actions Wesley demanded, and those same two types of acts are still needed today.  The Bishop quotes Martyn Atkins, the general secretary of the British Methodist church who says,

“Acts of piety and acts of mercy are like two wings of a bird; without either one, we cannot fly.  . . .  Following Christ involves praying hands and dirty fingernails.”

Yes, there is the theme of annual conference.  The Bishop connects Wesley’s images of a Christian lifestyle with this explanation:

We can’t evangelize hungry people without giving them food, and offering food alone never completes the task God gives us.  . . . vital congregations include not only a focus on the means by which people grow in Christ together but also an emphasis on ministries that reach into the community and world to serve in Christ’s name.  We cannot separate the two.  These feed each other.  Every faithful and fruitful congregation practices both acts of piety and acts of mercy.

That last line sets up the accountability tools.  To remain a vital congregation, an honest evaluation needs to be completed.  The checklist is simply the acts of piety and the acts of mercy written down and then logged by the congregation.  What proof does the church right here, right now have to show God that his Commandment is being fulfilled and his Commission is the congregation’s driving force.

Over the next two weeks, I challenge each one of you to create such a document.  List the acts of piety and write down what you do regularly that Wesley would approve.  Follow that with the list of acts of mercy you support or do personally.  Be honest.  I know the economy is often a limiting force, or maybe it is physical health that creates some limit.  But unless we can demonstrate our Christian standards, we must admit we are not a vital congregation and we have work to do.

Here is the first step during the conference week:  Prayer.  Make a conscious decision to pray for the church.  One of the different types of prayers available to us is the Prayer Knots.  Most of us would equate this with the Catholics’ use of a rosary, but there are some differences.  With your bulletin, you have a set of 8 knots on a cord.  Each knot is for a specific question as listed in the bulletin.  Add this prayer format to what you typically do in order to be more focused in your talks with God.

  • Knot One:           The first is this,
  • Knot Two:           You shall love the Lord your God
  • Knot Three:         with all your heart,
  • Knot Four:                  and with all your soul,
  • Knot Five:                  and with all your mind,
  • Knit Six:                  and with all your strength,
  • Knot Seven:         The second is this,
  • Knot Eight:         you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Rev. Klein offers a few other questions to consider after repeating this prayer twice:

  1. What word or image grasps your attention?  This is God’s word for you this week.
  2. What response, thoughts, insights were stirred within?
  3. How have you experienced the love of God?
  4. How might you be able to help another experience God’s love?

For five years, the one concern voiced over and over is how can we do that when we are so tired and so few.  Over these five years, I have seen the congregation’s attendance go up and down.  I know some swells are seasonal, as are some drops.  Some are temporary; some are not.

Over these five years, the acts of piety are maintained during worship, but seldom outside of that one hour.  The acts of mercy follow traditions primarily, but the traditions change.  New acts tried may fail first, but tried again may thrive.  The old acts continue, but do they grow?

During the next two weeks, use the prayer knots or cord and evaluate the vitality of your own faith, but also the vitality of our congregation.  It is not easy, but it is necessary.  In two weeks, let’s have an honest conversation that identifies a purpose and a goal for keeping the healthy balance of the past with the present.  A purpose and a goal that create a vital congregation.

Dear God,

Thank you for providing our congregation

the strength of history and the durability of now.

Guide us as we pray for our congregation,

our community, and our members.

Help us to be honest with our evaluations.

Help us to reflect upon the words

from the Bishop, Rev. Klein, Wesley,

and so many of your other disciples.

Use our time apart to build us up

so we can continue to keep your commandment

and to carry out your commission.  –Amen

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Such a Long Wait and Now This!

given on Easter Sunday, March 31, 201

Scripture I:  Matthew 25;31-36 from the NLT

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

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

Part A:  The Wait

            Reviewing the chronology of the Bible opens up such a different perspective towards Christianity’s development.  The timeline can create separation of historical events, but it also creates an understanding how critical faith is when battling evil influences.  In a way, studying the timeline creates hope.

            The 400-year gap between Malachi’s prophecies and the birth of the Messiah seems a long time to wait.  Finally the word was out and the faithful heard that the Messiah had arrived.  Some actually were able to meet Jesus face to face; some were healed and were raving over the powers of this man.  The change in lives all around the region was happening and word was spreading.  Finally, after waiting for 400 years, the King of the Jews was alive and with them!

Who would have thought that at the very time that Jesus was becoming well known to the people, the Jewish leaders were skeptical and feeling threatened.  Rather than recognize the truth of who Jesus is, they battled it.

We can relate to that.  Every time a major cultural shift occurs or some dramatic event happens or we experience a life-changing event personally, we face uncertainty.  Our fears bubble up and we find ourselves fighting the change that is thrust upon us.  We know that the change could be good, but it is so far from what we know and are comfortable with.

Jesus understands this.  And knowing the work to be done, knowing all as God knows all, he was aware was going on in the minds of the Jewish leaders and the political leaders of Rome.  Yet, he continues preaching, teaching, and healing.  The crowds continue to grow.  It is difficult to remain in the background.  The stories travel ahead of him, faster than his can.

After all the centuries of waiting for the Messiah, the three short years were coming to a climax.  And Jesus knows.  It is almost Passover week, the biggest holiday in the Jewish faith.  The story continues in Matthew 26:

1When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man[a] will be handed over to be crucified.”

Jesus says this right out loud to his Disciples.  They are still trying to understand the words Jesus just said about the final judgment and now he is saying he will be crucified.  Just imagine the confusion, the shock, even the fear.

Yet, Jesus, the Son of God, knew.  The gospel of Matthew continues:

At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him.

The 400-year wait for the Messiah has ended, and now in just these three short years of Jesus’ ministry, He is saying that He is going to be crucified!

The quiet, unassuming man that the people were flocking to hear, who teaches just one commandment, who heals people even raises them from the dead, who reaches out to everybody in love whether Jew or Gentile, is saying to those closest to him that he is going to be killed.  Preposterous!

But Jesus knew and now it was time to demonstrate who he was in a way that others would see and marvel.  The best time was a holiday, Passover, because everybody who was anybody was in Jerusalem for the festival.  The timing is now!

In the NLT Study Notes of the chronological Bible, the story is presented in parallel, also.  After telling the disciples what is to happen, another twist to the story is developing also included in Mark 14:1-2:

“But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”

The study note for verse 2 reads:

The Jews were preparing to observe Passover, a time of remembrance for families to celebrate when the blood of lambs had saved their ancestors.  But some of the religious leaders had another agenda.  Jesus had disrupted their security, revealed their sham, and opposed their authority.  Now they would put him away.  But the world is controlled by our all-wise God, not puny politicians.  God would turn the religious leaders’ murder plot into the greatest blessing that mankind would ever know.  Another Lamb would be slain, and his blood would save all people.  When grief or disaster seem to be dominating, remember that your life is in God’s hands and remember what Jesus did for you. (Emphasis added, p. 1453)

When we are suffering, when we face our challenges, we must remember that God is with us.  He never gives us more than we can handle; and today we know evil lurks all around us, even within our closest ring of family and friends.

Scripture II:  Luke 23:26-38

26 As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene,[b] happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. 28 But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ 30 People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’[c] 31 For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?[d]

32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull,[e] they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.

34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”[f] And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.[g]

35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Sermon:  . . . and Now This?

Part B

            Yes, the story continues and includes evil and treachery.  Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tried, and sentenced to death.  The story seems so short after such a long wait.  How could this be?  For four hundred years we waited to see the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, not to mention the 2,000+ years before Malachi.  The stories told through the generation could not end like this.

Yet, woven into the prophecies of the Old Testament is the foreshadowing of the Messiah’s life.  The prediction of betrayal, the prediction of death, and the prediction of defeating death are also in the prophecies, but those stories are not surfacing in the excitement Jesus’ work the past three years.  And then there is the holiday—Passover.

Unfortunately the story continues right through a trial, on through the horrible journey to the Golgotha, the blood dripping from His brow, the nailing of his hands to the cross—even his feet.  The long 400-year wait is coming to an end like this?  How can this story end like this?

The story does continue, the death on the cross is not the end of the story; it is the beginning of the new life.  Returning to Luke, let’s hear more of the story:

The Death of Jesus

44 By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”[h] And with those words he breathed his last.

47 When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow.[k] 49 But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.

For 400 hundred years, the Jewish people waited.  What they expected was a powerful display of power, possibly wars fought, possibly a coronation, but now this!  This crucifixion is not the ending to the reign of a king, it is the lowest form of punishment for petty criminals.  Is this the way the story ends?  No.

Scripture III:  Luke 23:50-24:8

The Burial of Jesus

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, 51 but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. 52 He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that had been carved out of rock. 54 This was done late on Friday afternoon, the day of preparation,[l] as the Sabbath was about to begin.

55 As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law.

The Resurrection

24 But very early on Sunday morning[m] the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man[n] must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

We acknowledge Jesus as the son of man, but more importantly the Son of God.  The story continues even if the son of man is dead because it is the Son of God who lives.  What lurks ahead is yet unknown.  What happens during our week may be planned, but nothing guarantees that it will go, as we want it to go.  God is in charge.  If Jesus can trust God, then we can, too.  The end result is the gift of eternal life with God.  And that is the story that never ends, it is why we come together to celebrate the life of Jesus Christ this Easter morning.

Dear God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

We celebrate the gift of Your Son today. 

We acknowledge His work during those short three years.

As we share in the warmth of our Christian family,

     help us to strengthen our resolve to love one another.

As we face daily challenges at home, at work, or at play

     help us to identify evil and turn away from its clutch.

As we look into the faces of family, friends, co-workers,

          and strangers, help us to see You.

 As we offer food, clothing, shelter, and love to those in need,

     let the world see what a difference Your grace makes

     and how loving one another transforms lives.  –Amen

 

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5th Sunday Worship with the Word and Song: Prayer

This is the script from Sunday’s service.  Focusing on a theme, PRAYER, the service design is to use scriptures and hymns to carry the theme.  Having used the book, 100 Favorite Bible Verse, by Lisa Guest, I have been able to weave the verses into three sermons.  Thanks to her for the effort she has put forth and her comments.  They have certainly spoken to me during this winter month.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

**Opening scripture & thoughts:  Psalm 100a psalm for giving thanks.

Shout to the Lord with joy, everyone on earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come to him with songs of joy.
I want you to realize that the Lord is God.
He made us, and we belong to him.
We are his people.
We are the sheep belonging to his flock.

Give thanks as you enter the gates of his temple.
Give praise as you enter its courtyards.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
The Lord is good. His faithful love continues forever.
It will last for all time to come.

         “God is like a shepherd who, 24/7, protects and provides for His stupid sheep.  It’s not a flattering description, but like sheep, we find our selves drawn to unhealthy waters.  Sometimes we get ourselves turned upside down and can’t get right side up without the Shepherd’s help.  . . .          God has been faithful to generations before us, He shows Himself faithful to us, and He will be faithful to every generation to come.  Clearly, we have no excuse not to obey the Psalm 100 command!  Let us worship the Lord with gladness!”  (p. 215)

 

*UMH Hymn 437:  This Is My Song

 

**Scripture & thoughts:  Philippians 4:6-7

Don’t worry about anything. Instead, tell God about everything. Ask and pray. Give thanks to him. Then God’s peace will watch over your hearts and your minds because you belong to Christ Jesus. God’s peace can never be completely understood.

 

UMH Hymn 496:  Sweet Hour of Prayer

 

The Congregation’s Prayer:  from Guest’s notes

 

Prayer is an amazing privilege, Lord, yet too often I take it for granted.  Forgive me, and fuel in me a desire to establish and maintain an ongoing conversation with You.  I do want to learn to pray always and about everything and to do so with thanksgiving.  Please teach me, so that each day I will see You more clearly, love You more dearly, and follow You more nearly. 

“. . . Pray.  Pray about everything.  Pray all the time.  Pray with thanksgiving.  . . . Knowing that worry is our default mode, Paul urged God’s people to pray for God’s presence with us and for the people He puts in our paths.  . . . Don’t worry, pray about everything, and experience God’s peace.”  (p. 35)

Private Prayer:

  • Remember to pray daily for relief from the drought
  • Remember your own supplications and praises

Lord’s Prayer:  Please join in the prayer Jesus taught us using trespasses.

**Matthew 6:9-13:  “This is how you should pray.

“‘Our Father in heaven,
may your name be honored.
10 May your kingdom come.
May what you want to happen be done
on earth as it is done in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our sins,
just as we also have forgiven those who sin against us.
13 Keep us from falling into sin when we are tempted.
Save us from the evil one.’

 

   Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

   Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done

   On earth as it is in heaven.

   Give us this day our daily bread.

   And forgive us our trespasses,

   As we forgive those who trespass against us.

   And lead us not into temptation,

   But deliver us from evil.

   For thine is the kingdom,

        the power

             and the glory, forever.  –Amen

 

OFFERING:  Guests should not feel the offering is their responsibility.   Members prayerfully give to support the church’s ministry.

 

*DOXOLOGY no.  95: Please stand as you wish and sing.

 

*PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING:                                             the Pastor

Thank you, God, for allowing us to share our offerings with you.   May these offerings work in your behalf as we continue to share your love.   –Amen

 

UMH Hymn 600:  Wonderful Words of Life

 

Scripture & Thoughts:  Psalm 46

 

God is our place of safety. He gives us strength.
He is always there to help us in times of trouble.
The earth may fall apart.
The mountains may fall into the middle of the sea.
But we will not be afraid.
The waters of the sea may roar and foam.
The mountains may shake when the waters rise.
But we will not be afraid. Selah

God’s blessings are like a river. They fill the city of God with joy.
That city is the holy place where the Most High God lives.
Because God is there, the city will not fall.
God will help it at the beginning of the day.
Nations are in disorder. Kingdoms fall.
God speaks, and the people of the earth melt in fear.

The Lord who rules over all is with us.
The God of Jacob is like a fort to us. Selah

Come and see what the Lord has done.
See the places he has destroyed on the earth.
He makes wars stop from one end of the earth to the other.
He breaks every bow. He snaps every spear.
He burns every shield with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be honored among the nations.
I will be honored in the earth.”

11 The Lord who rules over all is with us.
The God of Jacob is like a fort to us.

 

from Guest’s comments:

         God is able to call forth powerful winds, part a sea, ad ravage a nation with plagues.  Yet He calls us to know Him not in the spectacular and loud, not in the dramatic and powerful.  He calls us to be still.  We are to find quiet—internal as well as external—is we are truly to know that He is God.  Faith grows during our quiet communion with Him.”  (p.55)

 

UMH Hymn 395:  Take Time to Be Holy

 

**Scripture & Thoughts:  James 5:13-16

 

13 Are any of you in trouble? Then you should pray. Are any of you happy? Then sing songs of praise.

14 Are any of you sick? Then send for the elders of the church to pray over you. Ask them to anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer offered by those who have faith will make you well. The Lord will heal you. If you have sinned, you will be forgiven.

16 So admit to one another that you have sinned. Pray for one another so that you might be healed. The prayer of a godly person is powerful. It makes things happen.

 

from Guest’s comments:

         “The power of prayer is one of the mysteries of our faith.  We go through dry seasons when God seems distant and prayer seem pointless, so we skip it all together.  We may feel discouraged from praying for a specific person or situation for months, if not years or decades.  We may also enter a season of great pain and loss when we simply can’t pray, and we rely on the faithful and faith-full prayers of our sisters and brothers in Christ.

         “Then come those prayer times when God seems to be in the same room with us as we pray.  . . .

         “In between these two extreme experiences are those regular prayer times, those acts of disciplined obedience that we do out of love for our Lord.  We pray because He calls us to; we pray because we love Him. 

         “. . . pastor David Jeremiah points out, “The surest way not to get an answer to prayer is not to pray!”  (p. 49)

 

UMH Hymn 527:  Do, Lord, Remember Me

 

Closing Prayer: 

 

Thank you for the privilege of prayer, and forgive me when I take for granted the awesome truth that I am able to speak to You, the sovereign King, the Creator of all, the Healer of my soul, anytime and from anywhere.  I am grateful for those seasons of prayer when You answer quickly and obviously, and I am grateful that you understand those dry times I go through.  So, Father God, please keep me disciplined and expectant as I pray.  (p. 49)

 

The Benediction:  Go in peace & be the Church for others.

 

**All the scriptures were from the New International Reader’s Version (NIRV).

 

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Everybody Loves a Parade, Don’t They

given on Palm Sunday, April 1, 2012–no fooling!

Who doesn’t love a parade?  All the major holidays are connected to parades.  The list includes the Rose Bowl Parade on New Years Day, St. Patrick Day parades, Easter (Bonnet or Hat) Parades, Memorial Day parades, Fourth of July parades, Thanksgiving Day parade, and of course Christmas parades with Santa as the feature.  And these parades are just the most recognizable, but around our area there is the annual college homecoming parade and even the Chilhowee’s fair parade.

During Passover celebrations, communities filled with visitors.  There was a carnival style atmosphere.  People were everywhere, and the temple was busy with extra venders and spectators.  The Jewish festival was a major event.

So why did Jesus, who has traveled the region by foot for three years, suddenly decide to ride into the middle of all the festivities on a donkey?  Why did he decide to have a parade?  Who was going to be watching the parade?  What purpose would the parade serve?  How will the people react?

In literature studies, readers become sensitive to imagery in the story.  What could names, locations, colors, or items really be representing?  Is the author trying to express a more significant message than the literal words are stating on the page?  Reading literary analysis often adds another dimension to the theme; and reading the Bible that was written in such an entirely different cultural and historical context than what we live in today takes additional analysis.

Jesus’ ride is referred to as a “triumphal ride” into Jerusalem.  For three years he has been walking the dirt roads of the region making an impression on those who joined him, who heard him speak, or who experienced his healing.  Why would he decide to change his style and ride in on a donkey in a parade?

The answer lies in the prophetic words of Zechariah 9.  The answer is found by studying the Word and the analysis.  As we read through the scripture Zechariah 9:9-13, did you realize the significance of the parade?  Maybe your understanding is connected to your acceptance of Christ’s role as our Savior, our spiritual king.  Maybe you have already studied it and it is clear to you that the parade was simply part of the Big Picture.  Maybe you had never connected the two and this is new information.

The Palm Sunday celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is one more method to keep us centered on the good news.  The study notes from the New Interpreters Bible carefully outlines the prophetic verse nine:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.

To the Jewish onlookers, who have been thoroughly schooled in the Old Testament prophecies, seeing Jesus ride in on a donkey would have immediately told them that yes, indeed, Jesus was the Messianic King they expected to arrive and deliver them from their lowly state.

In the next verse, Zechariah 9:10, the image of the Messianic King is defined:

10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the horse from Jerusalem;
The battle bow shall be cut off.
He shall speak peace to the nations;
His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.’

Jesus is arriving on a donkey, not a horse.  He is not using a chariot that was considered an image of warfare.  Jesus, as the NIB states, “. . . knows that salvation comes to earth only through deflating the self, not through horse power.”  Therefore Jesus rides in on a donkey, a symbol of peace, not of military might.

This kingly image was not what the Jewish people were expecting.  Yet, the parade was placing the truth right there in front of them.  There was cheering, praises, palm branches waving, and the crowds following him.  For the Jewish still uncertain of whom Jesus was, the answer was being demonstrated to them.   Surely they now would believe.

Now remember, everybody loves a parade.  What if you were not Jewish and you heard the noise that was coming from the street?  Wouldn’t you hurry to see what was going on?  A parade can draw huge crowds.  People who would not ordinarily attend a forum, a convention, a lecture, or any other formal setting may very likely be drawn to a parade.  Put yourself in that position for a few minutes.

Never before have you considered following a religion.  All your life you have been a Roman citizen and followed those customs.  If you have a religious belief, you probably considered yourself a pagan.  Of course that word sounds so negative, you simply have grown up with the Roman gods.  You know them because their stories have explained the life circumstances around you:

  • Apollo was the God of the Sun, poetry, music and oracles,
  • Bacchus was the God of Wine,
  • Ceres was the Goddess of Agriculture,
  • Cupid was the God of Love,
  • Diana was the Goddess of Hunting,
  • Fauna was the Goddess of Animals,
  • Flora was the Goddess of Flowers and Spring.
  • Fortuna was the Goddess of Fortune,
  • Janus was the God of Doors and beginnings and endings,
  • Juno was the Goddess of Marriage,
  • Jupiter aka Jove was the King of the Gods and the God of the sky and rain,
  • Mars was the God of War
  • Mercury was the Messenger of the Gods and of Commerce and Finance,
  • Minerva was the Goddess of Wisdom, the City, Education, Science and War,
  • Neptune was the God of the Sea,
  • Pluto was the God of the Underworld,
  • Saturn was the God of Harvest and Agriculture,
  • Venus was the Goddess of Love and Beauty,
  • Vesta was the Goddess of the Hearth and the Roman state, and
  • Vulcan was the God of Fire, the Forge and Blacksmiths.

[Accessed on March 31, 2012 at http://www.roman-colosseum.info/roman-gods/list-of-roman-gods.htm.]

 

And this is just a list of the major gods and goddesses of the Roman pagan religion.  There was a god or goddess identified for any facet of human life that needed explaining.  I expect it was a very complicated religion.

Yet the gospel of Mark was particularly interested in telling the good news to those Romans who were listening and becoming Christians.  His inclusion of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is almost word for word of that found in Matthew.  Even the Romans knew the importance of a parade, so they were in the crowd, too.  I am sure they were asking questions of the others trying to figure out what it all meant.  For some, the openness of the event may have served as the final argument for becoming a Christian.

Now Luke presents the triumphal entry as evidence to Theophilus and other non-Christians.  Jesus is portrayed as more authoritative than in the other versions.  Luke states it like this:

. . . and it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat.  Loose it and bring it here.  And if anyone asks you, “Why are you loosing it?’ thus you shall say to him, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’”  (Luke 19:29-31)

Luke took on the responsibility of carefully and solidly explaining Jesus’ actions to those who did not have a Jewish background, who may or may not have been Romans, or who were Gentiles.  Yet, in the city of Jerusalem the people walking the streets, living there, visiting, or working, the parade of this man on a donkey grabbed everybody’s attention.

The new Christians were there.  They were stepping out of the shadows, so to speak, and raising palms to honor this man.  Here was one man who was so compassionate, who was healing anyone’s affliction, and who was teaching such a simple way of life that sounded so appealing.   Many had only heard of him, and today he was riding a donkey right down the streets, unafraid of the non-believer nor even the Pharisees or the Romans.

In John’s gospel, the report of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem is rather brief and to the point.  John wrote his gospel to the new Christians and to those just now beginning to be interested.  He focused on the parade a bit differently.  He focused on the reactions of the people following Jesus and the disciples:

. . . when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, [they] took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:  “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  The King of Israel!”  (John 12:12-13)

And John did not stop with his explanation of how the crowd reacted.  He continues on to tell how the peoples’ reception of Jesus on the donkey triggered an even deeper understanding in his disciples:

. . . His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered what these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.  (John 12:16)

Yes, everybody does love a parade.  There is excitement, anticipation, and open conviction.  Here was one man who was quietly moving around the area spreading the good news.  He was sharing with everybody—Jew, Gentile, Pagan or other—that life on earth could be life in God’s kingdom.  Life that had for centuries, even millennia, been difficult could be so delightful if we follow one simple rule:  Love one another.

Why not use a parade to spread the word?  If Jesus came through today, riding on a donkey, would you run out to join in?  Would you be a believer who was so excited that you lifted up a palm—or flag– to wave in support of him?  Would you bring as many palms in your hands as you could so you could share them with others, put some down on the ground so the donkey could walk on them, and even have some to wave in triumph yourself?

Today, Palm Sunday, we should have a parade.  Instead, we quietly sit inside, talk about the Palm Sunday’s of our past, of how Easter will be a busy day, or whether or not the family is coming in for the Easter weekend.  Today’s palms are here for you to share.  Take them, wave them, and keep them with you during the week.  The palms had a role in the original Palm Sunday; let it have a role in your life this week.

Dear Almighty, all-knowing God,

Thank you for your son.

Thank you for your grace.

Thank you for all the love shared

by your faithful children.

Guide us in sharing our faith openly.

Speak to us encouragement

so we confidently can demonstrate faith.

See our palms raised in your glory;

See our palms folded in prayer;

and see our palms shading others with your love.  –Amen

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