Tag Archives: mission

Lydia said yes; so, Mother, may I?

given on Sunday, May 8, 2016–7th Sunday of Easter and Mothers’ Day

 Scripture connection: Acts 16:13-15, NLT

On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.

Reflection:

Just three verses share the story of Lydia, so why is Lydia even mentioned? Well, Lydia said yes to God. Lydia defied the social and cultural norms, yet she extended hospitality to Paul and Silas as they boldly crossed a cultural boundary:

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia,[b] but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we[c] decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

The communities listed in these verses are unfamiliar to us sitting here in west central Missouri, but remember that the ancient region is geographically about the size of Missouri. Traveling on foot, the two disciples depended on the hospitality of the local faithful. In the Jewish culture, the men typically made decisions; but Paul and Silas crossed the border into Macedonia, a Greek culture not a Jewish culture, and there was no Jewish temple and it was the Sabbath. What were they to do?

These two Jewish men had already accepted Jesus as their savior and were called to share the message with others. The trip to Macedonia was the second mission trip, but this trip crossed into Macedonia, a European country rather than Asian. This fact might not seem significant, but Luke did and included it.

Lydia said yes to God and demonstrated hospitality to the two weary missionaries. The importance of Lydia’s invitation is detailed in the study notes and accredits Lydia as the first European Christian. Lydia said yes to God. Do we?

How many times do we get an idea to do something that may seem a bit out of the norm? Maybe it is just something we want to do for ourselves, but we cannot let go of the idea. As kids, we often turned to our mothers with the question “Mother, may I. . . “

Mothers are our first teachers. We depend on them for the most basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. We turn to them when we fall and hurt ourselves. We learn right and wrong. Mothers guide us and test us preparing us for independent life. As we grow up and become independent, our mothers’ words echo through our minds as we make life decisions. Sometimes we call and reconnect, even asking, “Mother, may I . . .

Lydia is a mother of Christianity. She said yes to God’s call and continued life as a successful businessperson. She made her living manufacturing and selling purple cloth. Today that may not sound impressive, but during ancient times this was an elite product and catered to those with money. Lydia was atypical to the Jewish culture and made her decisions independently. Lydia was a leader in the community and she said yes to God.

Do you say yes to God? Does our church say yes to God? Successful businesses find ways to meet customer needs and tweak their advertising, their product, and their service in an effort to assure success. Lydia did this in her business and she did it as a Christian, too. Saying yes to God comes naturally even in unexpected settings and through unexpected experiences.

Paul and Silas did not expect to find Lydia when they crossed the border. Yet, they followed God’s call to share the message in ways that were new and unfamiliar. Like Lydia, Paul and Silas said yes to God. Do we say yes to God?

What called you to church this morning? Maybe attending church started because Mom made you go. Do you know your mom’s faith story? Maybe the key was your dad’s or a friend’s faith story? Something called you to church and you said yes.

When did God call you to church? Did God’s call to you begin simply because you went to your parents’ church, or did your faith journey begin differently? What invited you to open the church doors and step in? Something made you say yes to God.

There really is no difference in the story of Lydia and our very own story. God wants to be in our lives, we just have to say yes. Whether we were first brought to church by our moms and dads, the Holy Spirit has asked us to stay and we said yes. As a church, are we asking others to say yes to God?

Christians are called to service and summer is here. Let’s make this a “summer of service” in as many ways as possible. Of course there is Sunday’s worship service, but review the worship of our ancestors and how worship has changed over the centuries. What invites today’s generation to church?

Service has so many different faces. There is worship service, but there is the hands-on form of service. What is the history of the church’s service? Has it changed? Of course it has changed. One surprise I learned recently is how the church of my grandparents became the origin of the Women’s Temperance League. I had learned that my own grandmother was actively involved in this movement, but I did not know the purpose of the league until Rev. Jeremy Bassett explained it.

The temperance league began as a social movement against alcoholism. The mothers fought for prohibition because alcoholism in the household was leading to physical abuse of fathers toward their children. Included in the movement was the drive to establish kindergarten in an effort to get kids out of the house where the abuse was happening.

This new knowledge changed the paradigm of my own history. I talked to my aunt and asked her about this. She remembered when Grandma would host the temperance league in her house. I asked if alcoholism had been a problem within the family that was pure German. My aunt was not sure, but when I shared what I had learned and that I was always curious how a German family culturally never consumed beer or any alcohol. She mused and considered that there might be some rationale in that, but she was not sure.

The “summer of service” may not mean establishing a temperance league, but it means identifying a problem and looking for a solution. In our community, the children are asking, “Mother, may I . . .” and the answer needs to be “Sure you can go to church.”

Let’s keep the focus on the needs of our children and the community. When someone arrives at our door, lets invite them in much like Lydia invited Paul and Silas to join in worship. There was no Jewish temple, but Lydia was the mother of Christianity and she invited these two Jewish, Asian missionaries to join her in worship. She said yes to God and her hospitality opened the European borders to Christianity; and from there it has grown into the global religion it is today.

Mother Lydia, may we follow your example? It is time for us to serve one another in God’s name. It is summer time and we are called to serve. How we serve may be as simple as opening the door during the week and being present. Movie nights for the community youth are examples of hospitality and serving. The Chilhowee Fair concession is hospitality and serving, too.

God is calling us to serve one another in love. If God calls you to serve in one fashion or another, just say yes. The church is available. Just say yes if God asks you to serve. If you need a team, ask. If funding is a problem, ask. The money for a ministry may have to have the council’s approval; but if not, just say yes to God. Make this summer one of service.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Summer is approaching and school will be out.

People will be on the move day in and day out.

Sometimes it is difficult to see how to serve,

But you call us to serve.

 

Help us to hear your call as Paul and Silas did.

Help us to find ways to serve in today’s world.

Help us to follow Lydia’s example of hospitality.

Help us answer those cries, “Mother, may I?”

 

Guide us in learning how to serve.

Guide us in identifying issues needing us.

Guide us in working together in your name.

Guide us in sharing your love.

 

Thank you for Lydia serving with hospitality.

Thank you for moms faithfully teaching us.

Thank you for calling us into your service.

Thank you for a summer to serve others with love. –Amen

 

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Continuing the Mission by Praying It Forward

given on Sunday, April 3, 2016

Thank you, Margie!  You post triggered this sermon.

Scripture: John 20:19-23

19 That Sunday evening[a] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Reflection: Part A

The catch phrase “Pay it forward” may be overused. The movie about a middle school student’s social experiment has impacted our society for about 20 years. The theme is a version of John Wesley’s saying to do all that you can for all you can in any way you can.

Why do catch phrases like “pay it forward” or “what would Jesus do” or even movements such as “Random Acts of Kindness” make such an impact on society? Do such phrases make life changes? Do they teach God’s story? Do they keep God’s mission alive? Yes.

Scripture: John 20:24-29

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection: Part B

Put yourself in the position of Thomas. He has walked side by side with Jesus. He talked with him in casual banter as well as serious theological discussions. He witnessed with his own eyes the miracles Jesus performed. There was no uncertainty that he knew God’s mission much less that God’s messenger was Jesus.

Jesus had selected or called him to be one of the next generations of Abraham’s descendants. He was identified as one of the faithful entrusted to keep The Story and the mission alive. Thomas had no reason to doubt who Jesus was. But Jesus knew that there was doubt even in this Apostle.

No matter what age we are, doubts will creep into our thoughts about the reality of Jesus. No one can fully comprehend the reality of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Only upon our own death will we erase that last thread of doubt. Until then, we must practice faith. And while practicing faith, we learn that God’s story does include the immaculate birth of Jesus Christ, the human life of Jesus developing physically as any other human being, his three short years of ministry,

Yet the key to life as Christian is living our faith with confidence in God’s story and with Christ-like actions. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Most of us sitting in today’s pews grew up with that verse (Luke 6:31) being repeated in Sunday school lessons, used in worship service, and even from repeated parent lectures.

Even Wesley had doubts, especially about his own faith. His brother is credited to encouraging him to live his faith until it became a reality to him. The Aldersgate moment when Wesley felt “strangely warmed” reportedly erased his private doubts, and history records the dramatic difference his ministry made, even becoming a global movement.

What does this mean for each one of us here today? Simply, we continue. We practice our faith. We use our faith. We keep God’s mission by “paying it forward,” by asking ourselves “what would Jesus do” and we pray.

Scripture: Acts 5:27-32

27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross.[a] 31 Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. 32 We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Reflection:   Part C

Today we are living safely in our communities. We do not worry about conversations about our faith. We do not worry that each time we “pay it forward” or decide to join in a ministry that reaches out to others who may or may not share our faith. We are living in a society that values our Christian beliefs, even encourages us to act in service to others.

Yet, there is the challenge to our faith, too. Evil keeps exploding around us. The news shares the face of evil globally. Maybe we do not easily identify evil in our immediate community, but it is there. Evil hovers around each one of us and we must defend ourselves from it. Keeping God’s mission alive means doing all that we can for all we can in as many ways as we can. It means “paying it forward.” It means self-checking our own actions with the question “what would Jesus do.”

The defense against evil not only in our own lives but also in our community whether local, national or global must have us actively involved in action to preserve God’s creation. Can you do it? Can you continue to maintain your own faith while doing whatever you can for others? Can you keep paying it forward for God?

Scripture: John 19:19-23

19  Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Reflection: Part D

When Jesus appeared to the Apostles upon his resurrection and when he appeared a second time eight days later, this time with Thomas present, Jesus repeated God’s message. He breathed on them empowering them with the Holy Spirit to continue the ministry Jesus trained them to do.

We, too, have accepted God’s mission upon our baptism. We have joined in with the Apostles and all the descendants of Abraham chosen by God to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In Jesus’ words we are to forgive anyone’s sins

How, even as we physically continue to age, how do we do what we can do to help others? Serving in God’s name is not always easy, but there is a way as long as there is the will. In fact, borrowing from a friend in ministry, Margie (lay missioner for two local small churches): “Pray it forward.”

Christ’s resurrection empowered each and every one of his disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit. Adding in the resurrection transforms a social credo to “pay it forward” to “ PRAY it forward.”

Prayer is a powerful tool in fighting evil. Prayer calls God into action even though we may not understand how or when he responds, we must be confident that he hears our prayers and will act. Today, every single one of us here and around this world must pray it forward.

Today, and every day this week, commit to praying it forward.  Complete a “Pray it forward” card for at least one identified cause. It can be a person who needs extra God attention or it can be a situation that needs resolving in a Christ-like manner. Whatever is in your heart whether it is a passion or is a personal concern is worth this focused and very concrete practice of faith.

God has done everything he can to make sure the world is not consumed by evil, have we done everything we can? Praying it forward needs to be the automatic response, not only a first step but a continual step in maintaining God’s mission.

Scripture: Revelation 1:4-8

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,”[c] says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

 

Reflection: Conclusion

Do not be a “doubting Thomas,” be you. Be the one who prays it forward now and on throughout your lifetime. Praying is the one faith practice that becomes like our own breath. If there is a doubt, practice praying until there is no doubt.

Look at others who practice prayer full time and you will see God in action. Look at others who are living a life without prayer and you will see evil. Pray it forward so that you are an active part of God’s mission.

We may not always understand how effective our prayers are because we do not understand the scope of God’s grace nor his timing, but we do know that God is the Alpha and the Omega. We do know that God loved us so much that he stepped onto this earth to make sure that we can trust in his words, “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Concluding prayer:

Dear Almighty One,

Hear our prayers today, tomorrow and always.

Let our lives serve as the beacon for your love.

 

Hear our prayers morning noon, and evening.

Let the words we share provide answers for others.

 

Hear our prayers racing through our thoughts.

Let them reveal sources of sorrow, pain and evil.

 

Hear our prayers found in tears of empathy.

Let them cleanse the dirt in wounds of society.

 

Hear our prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

Let them shine your light upon new life in all forms.

 

Hear our prayers of excitement and joy.

Let them tell you what a difference your love makes.

 

Hear our prayers for strength and grace.

Let them ask you for refueling so we may do more.

 

Hear all our prayers, Lord,

so your mission continues

and our faith erases doubts

of your Story and your love.–Amen

 

 

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Mission Forward: The letters continues The Story

given on Sunday, March 13, 2016–5th Sunday of Lent

Scripture connections:

  • Common lectionary:
  • Isaiah 43:16-21
  • Psalm 126 (UMH 847)
  • Philippians 3:4b-14
  • John 12:1-8
  • Supplementary verses:
    • Matthew 28:18—20

 

Reflection:

Undoubtedly everybody is sleepy this morning as we did spring ahead with daylight savings time this weekend, but our lives are fairly ‘ho hum’ these days. Our communities are not concerned with impending doom: no war along our borders, no terrorism seems imminent, starvation is not an issue, nor does a health crisis threaten our community. The fact is our community is pretty quiet.

The compulsion to prepare for a disaster community-wide or even personally has lost any sense of urgency. Our way of life, the daily norms of our lives, is safe. Or is it?

God’s mission is to stamp out the evil that exists in his world. Yet evil continues in our world and it exists next door!   Why, then do we feel so safe, so complacent?

As sleepy as we feel this morning, we cannot afford to be sleepy in our daily lives. We need to be awake and alert to the evil lurking in the world. We need God. God’s mission keeps moving forward even though Jesus’ earthly presence ended with his crucifixion: his work, which is God’s mission, does move forward.

The verse is so familiar, those final words in Matthew 28:18-19:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

God’s mission continues forward despite all the failures that are listed throughout the Old Testament, the Gospels, and now even into the epistles. But what happens to God’s mission when even Jesus suffered and was crucified?

Through the commission that Jesus gave the Apostles and the newest disciples during those final moments prior to his ascension into heaven gave all, even us, the direction to continue God’s mission. We, continue God’s story through the efforts of the earliest disciples as outlined in the letters or epistles of those disciples. And thirteen of those letters are attributed to Paul, a Jewish Pharisee who was converted along the side of a road through a vision of Jesus.[i]

Most of us know the story of Paul, born and raised as Saul of Taurus and a Pharisee who persecuted Christians, but Paul’s conversion experience has propelled God’s story and his mission forward extending Jesus’ message beyond Judea, beyond the Mediterranean coast, and even thousands of years beyond Paul’s time. But, do we consider the story God’s story?

I had to re-read a few resources and look beyond my memory for how the letters of Paul and a few other early disciples became such critical documents for God’s mission to continue even today, so let’s just review a bit:

Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee in Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, swore to wipe out the new Christian church, called The Way. He got letters from the high priest, authorizing him to arrest any followers of JESUS in the city of Damascus.

On the Damascus Road, Saul and his companions were struck down by a blinding light, brighter than the noonday sun. Saul heard a voice say to him:

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4, NIV)

When Saul asked who was speaking to him, the voice replied, “I am JESUS, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6, NIV)

The men with Saul heard the sound but did not see the vision of the risen Christ that Saul did. Saul was blinded. They led him by the hand into Damascus to a man named Judas, on Straight Street.

For three days Saul was blind and did not eat or drink anything.

Meanwhile, JESUS appeared in a vision to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias and told him to go to Saul. Ananias was afraid because he knew Saul’s reputation as a merciless persecutor of the church.

JESUS repeated his command, explaining that Saul was his chosen instrument to deliver the gospel to the Gentiles, their kings, and the people of Israel. So Ananias found Saul at Judas’ house, praying for help. Ananias laid his hands on Saul, telling him JESUS had sent him to restore his sight and that Saul might be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He arose and was baptized into the Christian faith. Saul ate, regained his strength, and stayed with the Damascus disciples three days.[ii]

Reading through that summary today, I realized I had not remembered that JESUS was the one who spoke to Paul. My memory only recorded that he was struck down, blinded, and helped to Damascus. Is that important? Maybe not, but this week it was.

The letters that Paul wrote through his ministry are historical documents and models for mission work that took God’s story and spread it beyond the ancient community of ancient Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s letters are written with fervor, compassion, and purpose that could cause new, struggling churches to continue God’s mission forward.

Can reading the letters from the earliest Christians cause each of us singularly and as a community to keep God’s mission moving forward; or do we quietly meet together for worship, leave the church on Sunday morning, and simply keep Christ alive within our hearts and homes?

Who serves as the missionaries right in our own communities? Are we simply depending on others to carry the mission forward? Do the published writings of others inspire us to share the story with others or do we just read and agree?

This week I read a chapter in a book provided through the website Bible Gateway titled Hearts of Fire. The personal stories are of today’s, our contemporaries, who have suffered persecution simply because they are Christians. (The book is published by the organization The Voce of the Martyrs located in Bartlesville, OK.) The story broke my heart and I struggle to understand how to keep God’s mission moving forward when I feel so inadequate, so unprepared, so limited. But the Bible shares the story, not only of God’s unconditional love and grace, but of his forgiveness and redemption. And still. . .

There is the problem. Moving God’s mission forward is an active state and it is more than reading scripture and worshipping, it is doing. Reading that first chapter about Adel, an Indonesian Christian whose persecution erupted in 2000, I am reminded that I have absolutely no idea what it means to have my faith questioned much less threatened.

Threatening one’s faith is threatening one’s life. God’s mission is to make sure that each one as his children are safe; that no one is threatened. What it takes is doing all that we can to make sure that God’s mission moves forward. What it takes is sharing the Word. What it takes is living so all can know how to live as Christians even in our own communities.

God took on the mission in person—in the form of a man named Jesus. He faced the human challenges just as we do; but the mission was and is too important to just hear or to read. The mission goes beyond the confines of a church building or organized denomination. God’s mission is battling evil so each person can be redeemed and receive salvation.

Lent is a time for us to review and to reflect on how well we are living our faith. We must consider our individual service in God’s mission and our local church’s role in that mission. If we are not sharing God’s unconditional love for others, we have to name the failure and ask God’s forgiveness. But, we also need to deliberately accept the forgiveness, to release the sense of failure and then go to work.

With repentance, we move into corrected action seeing the world through God’s eyes. We live each facet of our lives as God’s co-workers and we are provided all the skills and strength to move God’s mission forward in any way we can as long as we can.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

We see and hear the evil in your world,

and we are frozen,

unable to figure out what to do.

 

We read your story and learn about other’s

still we are frozen,

unable to identify what we can do.

 

We watch evil invade our world, community, even our family,

and we are frozen,

unable to scream out for evil to stop.

 

We feel the pain evil inflicts on the lives of your children

and we are frozen,

unable to heal the damage.

 

Forgive us, God.

Thaw us out.

Enable us to do.

 

Thank you, God, the father, son, and Holy Spirit

for loving us,

for sending Jesus to redeem us

for granting us salvation with life eternal. –Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] (The Apostle Paul (Saul of Taurus): Missionary Giant n.d.)

[ii] Ibid.

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Mission Rebounds: The Old Testament scorebook

given on Sunday, February 28, 2016

Scripture connection: Isaiah 55, NLT

Invitation to the Lord’s Salvation

55 “Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.
See how I used him to display my power among the peoples.
    I made him a leader among the nations.
You also will command nations you do not know,
    and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey,
because I, the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
11 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
12 You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
13 Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”

 

Basketball season is wrapping up and it is almost time for the big college playoffs commonly referred to as The Final Four. Locally the game keeps everybody on pins and needles, too. What is it that makes competition so entertaining! Adrenalin surges when there is a foul or the opponents score. The heart beats hard and the crowd comes alive when the home team rebounds adding points to the team’s score.

Lent is a season of reflection much like when a season ends and it is time to review the team’s performance. The Christian team uses Lent to carefully analyze how well we carry out the mission God has given us: to love one another. If we follow God’s game plan, the result will be the transformation of not only our lives, but the world’s. God’s mission will rebound returning to the Garden of Eden He created.

In order for God’s mission to rebound, Christians must reflect on our individual performance as well as evaluate the team’s performance. This can be rewarding but it also is painful. Lent is the time for such analysis.

Every team does this. Each player must review his or hers own performance, the coach must review the overall function of the team plus his or hers own coaching skills. Then the team comes together for reflection and creates an improved game plan. The mission, God’s mission must rebound.

Right now the video of the world seen daily in the news broadcasts might seem like God’s scorebook filled with losses. Lent is God’s annual video replay. The game plan began with God choosing the team, the ancient tribes of Israel. The playbook opens with the Law now preserved in the first five books of the Old Testament.

Today we know that the Old Testament story is filled with mistakes of the people. The leaders of Israel made mistakes much like coaches who fail to develop a winning team. There is no doubt that the Law of Moses was simple: just 10 rules to follow and none of them complicated. Unfortunately, God’s opponent Satan was uncannily good at convincing humans to make mistakes.

Still, the dismal record of failure also includes opportunities God provided to repent, to make right some wrongs, and to be forgiven. Even when leaders made terrible mistakes breaking the God’s law, God did not give up on his team. Wrongs were righted. God forgave them. They were redeemed.

But look at what else is included in the Old Testament. Not only is the Law provided, illustrated with stories, but also the prayer book. The book of Psalms includes the prayers, hymns and liturgy that we use even today. The prayers reflect the full spectrum of human emotions. Some psalms praise and some cry out, but one thread ties all of them together—God’s love wins; the mission rebounds.

The psalms are the cheers and rants of the crowds. In sports, cheerleaders lead fans to spur the team to put out that extra energy to rebound and make a change in the team’s performance.

Certainly there are times when the cheers fail, but the cheerleaders, the coach, and the team work together to rebound. The psalms are tools that help the faithful continue the mission. God sees; God hears; and God loves. He responds, too, when he hears the cheer “Two. Four. Six. Eight. Who do we appreciate!” The psalms respond, “GOD!”

The Old Testament helps teach men and women how to live a God-centered life. God-centered living affects every facet of life, and reading Proverbs, we find how the wise sayings can guide the faithful to continue God’s work. The scriptures are God’s instruction manuals   including the library of videos to review.

Sadly, as we know in our own lives, humanity has repeated mistakes. It is a pattern we try to stop, but the world throws so many temptations at us that we become distracted from God and we make mistakes again. In reading through the verses of Isaiah, we are told:

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

 

Every time we err, God knows and he is always ready to forgive. The reflective time of Lent gives us that opportunity to honestly evaluate how well we are following God’s mission. The words of Isaiah assure us that God knows and listens for our awareness and confession so that he can forgive us.

The Old Testament records how the faithful succeeded and how they failed to maintain God’s mission. The different stories march God’s story through time. The story does not change even though the culture changes, education changes, political leaders change, commerce changes, and even the climate changes.

Prophets tried to warn the generations that failure to keep God’s mission would lead to destruction. Some prophets, of whom Isaiah is one, spoke openly about how God loves us and forgives us. But forgiveness comes only when one is honestly aware of what they have done wrong. Isaiah’s verses in chapter 55 speak to us yet today:

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.

 

Are you reading the scriptures? Are you reviewing the video of your life right now? Are you doing your best to stay God-centered?

In the lectionary’s commentary, the only way God’s mission rebounds is if. . .

. . . [we] name our sins and repent of them so that we might have life. . . . Pay attention to the way sin has us in its grip. To truly repent, we need an awareness of what we’ve done—and not done—that’s led us into this waterless land. Repentance reorients us toward God’s love and mercy, where we find sustenance and rest.

 

This is the same thinking a coach has as he reviews the game’s video and enters the next practice. He then offers guidance or advice as to how the player improves. And with each rebound, the mission to win the game becomes one play closer to reality.

Certainly honest reflection and corrective action is necessary and often painful, but the outcome is winning eternal life with God. The commentary shared Augustine’s thoughts about our restless desire to win:

. . . [God] understands our restlessness to be a result of our sin; we are restless because of our repeated attempts to take refuge in something other than God.   When we mistake any other good thing—whether it be love of another person, food, money, material possessions, sex, you name it—for the Ultimate God, Augustine argued, our hearts remain restless, unsettled.

 

God is our coach and he has assistants that are recorded in the Old Testament as prophets. In the New Testament, the story continues with the Apostles teaching God’s commandment to love one another.

God’s mission depends on our rebounding from our sin to follow his commandments. The coaches in our lives are God’s co-workers who can review the video and guide us to improve. Read the scripture from Genesis through Revelation to know the story and to learn how God’s mission is our mission, too. We are responsible for God’s mission to rebound.

Closing Prayer

Dear God,

Each day I read your word,

See your world,

And meet your children.

I am reminded of your love.

 

As we reflect on our lives,

Help us see our actions honestly.

Help us listen to our coaches,

And help us name our errors.

Then accept our pleas for repentance.

 

As we rebound and recommit to your mission

To transform the world by loving one another,

Coach us to improve living a God-centered life

So we can score redemption leading to life eternal

Beside you and your son Jesus Christ. –Amen

 

 

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Mission begins with creation

given on Sunday, February 14, 2016–first Sunday of Lent and Valentine’s Day

From Lent’s lectionary: Romans 10:8b-13

In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand;
it is on your lips and in your heart.”[a]

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”[b] 12 Jew and Gentile[c] are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[d]

Scripture base for “Mission begins with creation”

  • Genesis 1:1-2:3 – creation of earth and inhabitants

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] 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.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. . . .

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” . . .

Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. . . .

14 Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. 15 Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. . . .

.20 Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” ,,,

24 Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. . . .

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings[b] in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,[c] and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings[d] in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. . . .

31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!   . . .

2 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested[e] from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.

Lent’s 1st Reflection: Mission begins with Creation

Not one day begins or ends without knowing the value of God’s creation. We are blessed to live in his world filled with all the glory of the sunrises, birds singing, breezes blowing, and even the sunsets while the moon and stars begin appearing. Each time we look around our world and take in the awesomeness of God’s creation we need to remember that our mission begins with His creation.

In our corner of the world, talking about the wonder of creation may seem out of sync with the seasons. The calendar places us in the midst of winter (here in the Northern Hemisphere, in the middle of North America, even the middle of the continental United States) when the snow typically is mounded up and turning black from weeks of ice, salts and cinders, melting and then refreezing. Winter when the sun shines but we shiver in the artic blasts just does not fill our thoughts with the awesomeness of Gods’ creation as recorded in Genesis.

Yet, creation begins everything; and whether it is in the dead of winter’s most intense artic blast or whether the sun heats up the parched land in the middle of a heat wave, God created this massive world that needs our care. God created us to be the caretakers; God assigned a mission when he created us and we need to make sure we fulfill that mission.

How does mission connect to Lent? Lent is a time for reflecting on faith and while many are giving up on religion and living lives centered on themselves, God continues providing us all that we need. Are we doing all that we need to do as God’s missionaries in his creation?

The Word is a record of God’s creation and includes all the instructions needed for us, his children. Do we know The Word well enough to do God’s work? Do we know history well enough not to repeat the same mistakes over and over?

A couple of weeks ago I presented a challenge: over Lent, fast by adding daily scripture reading, studying, journaling and/or discussing the Word with others. Our mission to be caretakers of the earth is assigned in the earliest chapters of the Bible:

15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

God created us with a clear mission to care for the earth—not just the land, the flora, and the fauna, but everything and that includes each other. Are we carrying out our mission or not? Lent is a time to reflect on the job we do as Christians fulfilling God’s mission, and that means knowing The Word.

According to a new format of the story, Max Lucado and Randy Frazee want to make sure that The Word is shared with everybody in a reader-friendly manner. [Share the Lucado/Frazee book The Word as a visual example] The first chapter begins with the very same words from the Bible included in our worship today:

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

            And God said, “Let there be light,” . . .

 

The Story does not change. The mission does not change. The concern and the reason for a season of reflection is that we change. Adam and Eve represent all of humanity, and throughout history we humans have failed to fulfill the mission.

What began with creation, regardless of when or even how that happened, continues. The Story continues. In Lucado’s and Frazee’s welcome to the new format of the Bible, we are invited to reconnect with God:

This book (or any version of the Bible) tells the grandest, most compelling story of all time: the story of a true God who loves his children, who established for them a way of salvation and provided a route to eternity. Each story in these 31 chapters (an abridged format of the Bible) reveals the God of grace—the God who speaks; the God who acts; the God who listens; the God whose love for his people culminated in his sacrifice of Jesus, his only Son to atone for the sins of humanity.

What’s more: this same God is alive and active today—still listening, still acting, still pouring out his grace on us. His grace extends to our daily foibles; our ups, downs, and in-betweens; our moments of questions and fears; and most important, our response to his call on our lives (our mission). . . .

 

God created a world that was to meet all the needs humanity as long as we fulfilled our mission. Therefore:

  • Read The Word and determine the mission of God’s creation.
  • Read The Word to see how God struggled to teach us how to live.
  • Read The Word to learn from the mistakes of others.
  • Read The Word to find the secrets to a joy-filled life.
  • Read The Word to understand how God loved us so much that he “[sacrified] his only Son to atone for the sins of humanity.”
  • Read The Word to find the promise of eternal life.

 

Read The Word and reflect throughout the season of Lent. Make it a mission to know The Story and how your life reflects God’s love.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, Creator of our world,

Thank you for all the beauty that surrounds us,

even the changes of the seasons.

Thank you for entrusting each one of us,

past, present and future, with your creation.

Help us to remain faithful to the mission

of caring for the world and its inhabitants.

Help us to live confidently knowing you love us

even when we fail the mission.

Thank you, too, for the time and space to reflect

on how we live to fulfill the mission.

Thank you for The Word and the Christian family

surrounding us, supporting us, and working together

to fulfill the mission creation began. –Amen

 

[Lucado, Max & Frazee, Randy. The Story: the Bible as one continuing story of God and his people in NIV.   Zondervan; 2005. Available at CBD.com for $5.00.]

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Let’s do something: Let’s build a legacy

given on Sunday, June 14, 2015

Annual Conference is over. In many churches, the pastor will be absent because in two weeks, they have to have their homes packed, move to a new spot in Missouri, and unpack into a new house. On top of that, they have to prepare that first, all-so-important sermon for the new church.

Fortunately, many are continuing in their current assignment, so they have planning in order to continue their ministry. Each pastor steps into an assignment with goals, and the outcome(s) is/are reflected in the church’s legacy. Ultimately the legacy should align to the Great Commission, which is to make believers in Christ for the transformation of the world.

So here I am. I did quite a bit of thinking during annual conference. I kept thinking about what we have done, what we have not done; what goals did I have and whether they were well communicated. I even wondered if I should review all seven years of notes and sermons. What I found was one conclusion that echoed in my head—I have gone soft!

When I introduced the Matthew West song, Do Something, I felt I had found a key to trigger an action. And action in the form of serving or in intentional faith development or working together in a ministry is how churches create their legacy.

Of course, a legacy is not the goal. Legacy is often a term used when something comes to an end, but legacy is also a record of what has been done. The concern at this point is just what way does the church see the term legacy. Is the church’s ministry over or is it ongoing?

If we see no forward movement, then are we serving God? If we see promise and are working to do more, then we are doing something. The legacy we are creating is either an epitaph or a catalog of on-going ministries that demonstrates God in action.

Annual conference’s theme for 2015-16 is “Discipleship: Growing in Grace.” The call, or maybe cry, is that churches focus on outward ministry rather than inward. Churches that see ways to serve outside the church are the churches currently seeing the most growth.

Methods are presented, examples shared, and suggestions are made for how churches can develop discipleship. Intentional faith development is so important for the individual discipleship; but church discipleship grows when the local church becomes engaged in ministries within the local area, in an outreach mission, or work on a global initiative.

God called each and every one of us to discipleship. He wants us to see the world through God’s eyes. He does not want us to hand over the responsibility to someone else; he needs us to remember that our discipleship is needed right here, right now. It takes personal discipleship to move the local church into discipleship.

The lectionary reading from Mark includes two proverbs that provide guidance with this practice. The first parable is the growing seed,

26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. 28 The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. 29 And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”

Understanding the parable is developing personal discipleship. Read, study, pray and discuss with others the meaning of the parable is the same way that Jesus taught the earliest disciples.   For those of us in a rural area, the seed analogy is much easier to understand than many other ones.

Moving the lesson into outward action within the community or as the reason to involve the local church in other mission fields shows how personal discipleship turns into action for the benefit of others.

Just imagine if the Clean Water for Haiti initiative is felt to be so personal that giving a dollar a week to that fund can turn into four individuals with clean water for a full year. Multiply that amount by four more families, and the size of the initiative begins to grow exponentially—more funds, better buying power, more lives affected.

That is what happened with the mosquito net initiative. The overwhelming response has led now to preventive measures and research funding. The Missouri Methodists demonstrated discipleship at a conference level, but it took personal discipleship that pushed local churches to turn to outward ministry an ocean away.

Did I go soft over the past few years in the effort to improve personal and local discipleship? I think I did, and I apologize. The truth is that I have not taken pastoral authority as full time pastors tend to do. I wanted to honor your church, your ownership of the church; but the church that is focused on Sunday worship only, will find its legacy is an epitaph.

Taking pastoral authority means being honest. Over the past seven years, a variety of ideas were offered, but few could survive the trial run partly due to a lack of honest communication or commitment. The first stumbling block was scheduling, the second was vocational, the third was location, and finally low involvement.

During conference one presenter was from the conference office in Ohio. Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey authored the book Ultimately Responsible that introduces the “breakthrough prayer initiative.” Her presentation was compelling, and I found myself wanting to race back to church and begin implementing the techniques immediately. But, I cannot do it alone.

Taking pastoral authority, I could use the book as a sermon series; but that does not allow members to become involved in the initiative. Also, jumping into the process without proper training could lead to failure.

Using the book as a study to intentionally develop one’s faith is the goal. Are you committed enough to join such a study? Are you willing to make the time investment? Are you flexible enough to work with others to find the right time and place to meet because the breakthrough prayer initiative is worth it?

The small rural churches are struggling in a world that has changed dramatically since they opened their doors. No one thinks a thing about driving an hour to the city for shopping or entertainment. The rural church was established because the distance had to be short enough for the different modes of transportation. The rural church often became the family church. Now the family is spread throughout the county, the state, the country, why even around the globe. The reason to maintain a small rural church depends on whether or not it is actively ministering to its community.

The small rural church must provide for the needs of those in the near vinicity, but it can also reach out to others who find that the Holy Spirit is alive in the church and meets their spiritual needs. Prayer and outward-focused ministries will fill the church with the Holy Spirit and a church on fire with the Holy Spirit will continue to create a catalog of its legacy and not an epitaph.

I went soft as a pastor, and now I must implement pastoral authority in an effort to improve personal discipleship, to develop more outwardly active ministries. The Holy Spirit is within each and every believer, but we must listen for God, we must talk with God, and we must act to grow in discipleship. Are you willing to grow with me? Let’s do something!

Closing prayer

Oh, Father, Son & Holy Spirit,

Thank you for opportunities to be in worship together.

Thank you for listening to us even when we complain.

Thank you for speaking to us through your Spirit.

As we look around our church, outside of the doors,

Show us what you want us to do here and beyond.

As we consider discipleship as a believer and as a church,

Teach us all the ways we can grow in grace.

Open our hearts and our minds to ministries

You call us to do with the gifts you have given us.

We know we must do something now

To assure family, friends, neighbors and more

Life everlasting through Christ, our savior.  –Amen

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Oktoberfest: Christians’ Global Grapevine

Sunday, October 5, 2014–a set of scriptures and thoughts concerning World Communion Sunday

The structure of this reflection is different as it was presented in sections while conducting the Service of the Word and Table I from the United Methodist Hymnal.

Isaiah 5:1-7 (NLT): A Song about the Lord’s Vineyard

5 Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter.

Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,
you judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not already done?
When I expected sweet grapes,
why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?

Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.

The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.

 

[First thoughts to be read after Old Testament reading, Isaiah 5:1-7.]

Oktoberfest is here! Granted most of us are thinking Blue October since the Royals are in the battle for a World Series birth, but the other blue of October can be found in grape juices being pressed from the vines in wine country.

Growing up about 30 miles north of Herman, Missouri, and Oktoberfest was a huge event. No one could ignore the fact that the grapes were being harvested and it was time to celebrate. Still, only this weekend did my thoughts turn to how World Communion Sunday can be directly connected to Oktoberfest through the grapevine.

Consider these ideas:

  • Missouri’s connection to the wine industry is the German heritage of the immigrants who moved in along the Missouri River.
  • Grapes have been harvested forever and even the ancient tribes of Israel knew that grapes made wine.
  • Grapes are grown around the globe. Think of the labels we find in our own grocery stores of the grapes from Chile and Peru can outnumber those grown within the United States.
  • Grapes grow as native plants, but also can be a carefully cultivated, introducing stock from other regions with different flavor characteristics.

 

A more thorough study of the grape industry could add many more facts and figures to show how the grapevine is a common plant and food source familiar in households around the globe. The familiarity of people to the grapevine makes the scripture references a unifying symbol for explaining Christianity regardless of the cultural and language differences around this world.

[Break for mission moment and offering.]

Back to Oktoberfest! The first Sunday in October is the international, the world-wide day to celebrate communion everywhere the Christian community comes together. There may not be any rides or vendors or fireworks or concerts in our churches, but every church in every denomination in every location around this globe joins together for communion. The mental picture creates an image of people standing side-by-side though they were the fruit of a grapevine wrapping around the world.

God’s vision is a world filled with people in peace and in harmony standing side by side. The goal of worldwide peace may seem impossible, but we come close on World Communion Sunday. When you realize that each church regardless of denomination or location is participating in the very same practice of faith, you can sense the connectedness of fruit on a vine.

The Church, all denominations, follows Jesus’ teachings of caring for one another. The mission efforts of The Church does not see a division in people, it sees the face of God in all people. Today’s worldwide communion can remind us that we are to reach out to all who have needs. John Wesley’s efforts to go out into the community to minister to whatever need there was in any way that he could put God’s compassion into action. Faith is for everybody, everywhere. Faith is worldwide.

[After offering and before Thanksgiving & Communion.]

John 15:1-17 (NLT): Jesus, the True Vine

15 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

[After reading the Gospel scripture: John 15:1-17.]

Today’s scripture from John 15 is a follow-up explanation for the Old Testament scripture. Jesus is teaching the Apostles the significance of the grapevine as a symbol. For the agrarian culture, even the typical household where wine was used with the meals, the grapevine was real. The Apostles and others understood the methods of pruning the vine to maintain the strongest plant and the best production. The grapevine’s fruit production depends on how well it is maintained.

The message that Jesus was sharing is timeless. The symbol of the grapevine is so common that even today we understand the lesson’s meaning, too. Studying this passage, the obvious meanings stand out, but there are more complex meanings that begin to surface.

One of the more obvious explanations is that found in verses 2-3:

He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.

 

The value of pruning is a key to this explanation, but a deeper reading of the symbolism points out that there are two forms of pruning—separating and cutting back branches. Study notes connect the physical action into the spiritual lesson:

Fruitful branches are cut back to promote growth. In other words, God must sometimes discipline us to strengthen our character and faith. But branches that don’t bear fruit are cut off at the trunk because not only are they worthless, but the often infect the rest of the tree. People who won’t bear fruit for God or who try to block the efforts of God’s followers will be cut off from his life-giving power. (Life Applications Study Bible)

 

Pruning the grapevine branches is much easier than cutting it completely back. The significance of the lesson is one most do not want to hear, but it is a truth anyone anywhere in the world can understand when they are familiar with sound agricultural practices.

 

[Continue with the hymn, “Be Present at Our Table,” Lord, UHM 621.]

Now Oktoberfest has expanded to mean much more than just a celebration of the grape harvest. October harvest includes apples, pumpkins, corn, beans, even turnips all filling pantries, grain bins, and cellars. The lesson Jesus bases on the grapevine is not limited to one type of fruit. Digging deeper into the scripture, another surprise appeared from verse 5 & 7:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

. . . . But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!

 

A literal reading od the scripture keeps one thinking the discussion is centered on grapevines and the abundance of the grape harvest; yet reading and studying for a fuller understanding yields even more:

Fruit is not limited to soulwinning. In this chapter, answered prayer, joy, and love are mentioned as fruit (15:7, 11, 12). Galatians 5:22-24 and 2Peter 1:5-8 describe additional fruit: qualities of Christian character. (Life Application Study Bible).

 

Harvesting a deeper understanding from scripture takes commitment. The grapevine of Christianity is carefully cultivated, pruned, and cut back by reading the scripture. Maybe October is when we should re-commit ourselves to learning more, doing more, sharing more with each other so the harvest does continue to improve. And, yes, the harvest does mean the growth of Christianity not only here among our peers, but beyond our own comfortable fields.

Studying the scripture and prayer are methods of cultivating Christianity. As we join at the table with the bread and the cup, we remember the words Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer. We remember the words he spoke to the masses along the roads and the hillsides of ancient Israel. We remember the practices of healing and teaching that he demonstrated so that his Apostles and the earliest disciples or followers could carry God’s grace and love forward.

As Christians gather at the table today, we use the same words of the Great Thanksgiving. We may not speak the same language, but the Holy Spirit fills us up as we hear the words and experience unity of the grapevine. So, welcome to Oktoberfest. We celebrate with fellow Christians using the ancient ritual of communion.

[Resume the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving, the breaking of the bread and the giving of the bread and cup. Follow with the hymn, ”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” UMH 629]

 

With all the grace and love that God has given us, may we follow what he teaches us. Join in Oktoberfest and invite others too. May you experience just a portion of the excitement God feels when we celebrate harvesting for God.

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