Monday, August 8, 2022

Prepare for Answered Prayers

We usually will not know how or when our prayers will be answered, but we can always move forward in our preparation to receive the blessings we seek, trusting God’s promises. 

Get ready to receive what we are praying for.

Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.    (Luke 12:35 KJV)

Be ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with your lamps lit. (Luke 12:35 GNT)

We have a saying, “If you pray for rain, carry an umbrella.” As those who trust God’s love, we take this teaching and the parable it comes wrapped in as a promise, not a threat. Some people take it the other way around, and prepare themselves for God’s wrath, always afraid that any minute now they will be destroyed. Christ is actually inviting us to get ready to celebrate the wonderful surprises God has in store for us.

Paul wrote, But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV).

 Manuscript of the sermon preached on August 7 2022, at Briensburg UMC  [Audio Podcast] 

8th Sunday after Pentecost  

Psalm 33:12-22; Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Jesus challenges us to have our “Loins girded about” (KJV) – “Dressed for action” (GNT).

At the earlier end of my pastoral ministry, an older and wiser minister once told me “The call to preach is a call to prepare.” The same principle applies to all our callings, including the prayers God lays on our hearts. Dressed for action is a metaphor for establishing our priorities. “Study and show thyself approved,” the older and wiser Paul advised the younger Timothy in the early years of his ministry. Consider options and contingencies for how the answers to our prayers will come. “Let us lay aside every weight,” as Hebrews 12:1 puts it. Set aside the things that might prevent or distract us from being able to accept and receive the things we are praying for. 

Organize around the expectation that the answering of our prayers is already in progress. Prayerfully develop plans, structures, budgets, and schedules to be ready for implementation as the answers to our prayers unfold. Shore up our facilities and make decisions about the equipment needed to complete whatever projects we are praying God will help us with. Make the necessary connections with other people and organizations God is using to share the burdens and the blessings of the work we are called to do.

Keep those “Lights burning” (KJV) – “Lamps lit” (GNT). We light candles in our service as a reminder that God is present with us in the sanctuary.  Some churches maintain “sanctuary lights” burning 24/7 to communicate the same message.  We have our cross & flame insignia turned on 24/7/365 in our sanctuary to remind those who pass by on both the highways that run alongside our church that God is always present, always loving, always inviting, and always answering prayers.

Think of Christ as coming soon with all the help and answers we seek. God’s perception of time is more mature than ours, just as our perception of time changes as we age. Peter wrote, “Dearly beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord, as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 KJV).  We have the saying, “Time flies when you’re having a good time.”  For the children, a promise we make about tomorrow often seems to them to be a lifetime away, but for us, it may be a rush to get ready.  When the time comes for just about anything, we often have realized we were not yet fully prepared for whatever it was.

“Expect a miracle” is another saying. We may miss out on a lot of what God is doing just because we aren’t paying attention or watching for how God will answer our prayers. Answers to prayers usually come at surprising times in surprising ways.  Sometimes we don’t even realize a prayer has been answered until we see it in retrospect. 

 

Faith itself is a sign of impending answers to prayer.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.   (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

The Living Bible translates that verse:

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead. (Hebrews 11:1 TLB)

Faith is substance, or “confident assurance” as the Living Bible puts it. The NT Greek Lexicon definition includes “substructure, foundation, actual existence, firm trust.” Evidence is described in that same lexicon as proof or conviction. Things hoped for are things not yet seen, not yet visible, but coming.  The answers to our prayers started before we started praying but are yet to become finished enough to become manifest. Still in the abstract, they are gradually becoming crystalized, eventually to be completed


The Bible equates confidence in God with holiness.

And [Abraham] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.     (Genesis 15:6 KJV)

Paul quoted this verse in Romans 4:3 and James referenced it in his letter when he wrote, “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” (James 2:23 KJV)                                                    

Faith is about believing and is reflected as such throughout the Bible.  John 3:16 & 17 applies, not only to getting saved initially but also to continuously trusting God for the answering of our prayers for ongoing salvation for ourselves and for everyone else in whatever circumstances we find ourselves at any given time.  Let’s say that together:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:16-17 KJV).

Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 KJV). In other words, when we pray, we have to at least have some confidence that God exists, and that God is responding to us. 

It may only be a mustard seed of faith in what we are praying about, even if we have a lot of faith in other ways. That too will grow as we keep on praying and developing a clearer understanding of what prayer is, and of what we are praying for, and of what our own part is in the answering of our prayers.

Faith is counted as it says in Genesis and Romans, or imputed as it says in James, as righteousness.

Our confidence in God is considered to be a matter of friendship as James points out in reminding us that Abraham was called “a Friend of God” because he believed God.  When we trust each other, we cultivate a relationship of love and friendship with each other.  Peter observed in his letter that “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8 NIV).  Even though the Bible ascribes to Abraham what we may consider “a multitude of sins,” yet because Abraham loved and trusted God, he was still able to have a close loving, forgiving, developing friendship with God.  So it is with us and our relationship with God.

Faith is the entry-level point into a personal saving relationship with God.  It may be the tiniest and shakiest, most skeptical and unorthodox kind of faith there is, but it will grow from there into a full-blown friendship that will last throughout all eternity.

As faith grows, there is more to be imputed. Our growing faith gradually displaces our doubts and fears and replaces them with a growing love that reflects various facets of the perfect love God has for us and for everyone.

Some synonyms of righteousness include justice, holiness, piety, goodness, and virtue. Just as faith is the entry-level point into a friendship with God, faith is also the entry-level point to the justice and holiness God calls us to, and the entry-level point to experiencing the answers to our prayers. 

In all these ways, faith grows. Jesus described it in the Parable of the Mustard Seed as a tiny seed being planted, which then grows into a large enough bush for birds to make their nests in.  Likewise, our friendships with God and each other grow. Our sense of justice and holiness and righteousness grows. And our realization of how God is answering our prayers grows.  This growth does not stop when the bush gets a nest; it keeps growing throughout this life and on through the eternal life of the world to come. Think of the imagery in Revelation of the tree of life growing along the banks of the river of life as it flows through the city of New Jerusalem, bearing all kinds of fruit, “and its leaves are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2 KJV).

 

We praise God for how our prayers are answered

Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.     (Psalm 33:22 KJV)

May your constant love be with us, Lord, as we put our hope in you.   (Psalm 33:22 GNT)

God’s mercy, or constant love, is like food and water for our faith.  The more we experience God’s love, the more confidence we have in the divine relationship with our Creator and with each other, and with all Creation. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter, as translated in the Good News Translation, “Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 GNT).

Our hope in God includes joyful anticipation as we wait with expectation to discover how God, who loves us unconditionally, will answer our prayers.  We join Jesus in praying, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42 KJV).

Let us work with confidence based on the trust that our prayers are being answered in far better ways “than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20 RSV), as Paul expressed.  

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Prayer is a Relationship

 

The Bible invites us to unite in prayer with our Heavenly Parent.

And it came to pass that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.    (Luke 11:1 KJV)

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. People of every faith realize our need to learn more about prayer.  We all have questions about how to pray more appropriately and effectively. Faith leaders in all traditions have provided guidance and training to encourage people to pray more faithfully and with growing confidence.

Manuscript of the sermon preached on July 24, 2022, at Briensburg UMC  [Audio Podcast] 

7th Sunday after Pentecost 

Psalm 138
2 Chronicles 7:12-16 (Alternate to the Hebrew Text lectionary readings)
Colossians 2:6-19
Luke 11:1-13

 

Jesus gave several examples, or categories, in the Lord’s Prayer of things to pray for. He highlighted:

  • Thy kingdom come
  • Thy will be done
  • Our daily bread
  • Forgiveness
  • Protection from temptation

 This was not intended to be a limited list because on the night he gave himself up for us, he said, “Ask anything in my name” (John 14:14 KJV). In this passage, we are introduced to the great promise and principle of prayer: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9 KJV).

The entire teaching of Jesus on prayer was predicated on the relationship Jesus highlighted in the very beginning of his teaching both here in Luke and in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6: “When ye pray, say, Our Father” (Luke 11:2 KJV). In his letters to the Romans and to the Galatians, Paul explains that it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us in our spirits to experience this relationship (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6) and affirms that “the Spirit bears witness to our spirits that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16 KJV).

Fanny J. Crosby wrote about this prayerful relationship with God in her hymn, “I am Thine, O Lord:”

Oh, the pure delight of a single hour
That before Thy throne I spend,
When I kneel in prayer, and with Thee, my God,
I commune as friend with friend!

 

We are encouraged to be protective of the divine relationship prayer enables us to share.

 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind (2 Colossians 2:18 KJV)

The Revised Standard Version translates this verse: 
Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking (2 Colossians 2:18 RSV).

Paul warns us not to let anyone sidetrack our prayers with anything that takes away from the relationship we share with our Heavenly Parent, no matter how religious it may look or sound.

When he gave the Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7 KJV).

Prayer is not about fulfilling superstitions or appeasing a tyrant. Prayer is about engaging in communication with God and with each other, and with those for whom we pray. Prayer is a caring family relationship of love and inclusion, uniting us in holy conversations that lead to wholeness.   

  

God answers prayer.

 In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.    (Psalm 138:3 KJV)

The psalmist leads us to praise God for answered prayers. In our praise, we are reminded that through prayer, we are strengthened to deal with the challenges we face. We are strengthened in our souls, the spiritual and eternal essence of our beings.

  

Through prayer, we accept God’s invitation to a personal relationship.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.     (2 Chronicles 7:14 KJV)

The invitation God gave through Solomon was to a personal relationship, coupled with a promise of listening, forgiving, and healing. The Great Invitation of Jesus, “Come unto me” (Matthew 11:28 KJV), is an invitation to a relationship with God and each other that transcends our belief systems, philosophies, faith practices, religious communities, denominations, and traditions.

Even time and space give way to eternity during the moments we unite in what W.W. Walford called our “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”

Prayer is a universal relationship shared by humanity across all religions and cultures, connecting us in love as one spiritual family in communication with our Creator and each other.  Let us pray.

 In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, July 11, 2022

We Are All Each Other’s Neighbors

The command of love is meant to be inclusive, not exclusive.

 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.     (Luke 10:36-37 KJV)

 A lawyer, legal scholar, or law teacher, depending on the translation, wanted to test Jesus about the Scripture. He and Jesus agreed that the ultimate interpretation of all the Scriptures is summed up in these two verses from Leviticus and Deuteronomy:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself (Luke 10:27 KJV).

The issue raised in the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is similar to what Cain asked God after killing Able, “am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9 KJV) The more narrowly we can categorize people -- neighbors or family members or friends or community or race or gender or orientation, or any other ways of dividing people into groups who are like or unlike us – the more easily we can justify neglecting and even mistreating whoever we want, just by arguing that they belong to “them” rather than to “us.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates that we are all neighbors in a sense God’s commandments presuppose.  We are all the keepers of our brothers and sisters.  We are all each other’s neighbors in a way that transcends any distinctions we may fabricate.

 

Manuscript of the sermon preached on July 10, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

5th Sunday after Pentecost 

Psalm 25:1-10
Deuteronomy 30:9-14 
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

 

God’s love encompasses all people.

We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints    (Colossians 1:4 KJV).

There’s that word “all” again… “All means all y’all.” Most people love somebody, though some people seem to put even that thought to the test. Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount that we should love everyone, friend and foe alike, just like God loves everyone, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven… Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:45-48 KJV). It isn’t enough to only love those who are easy to love, whether it is they or us who are hard-hearted. The perfect love to which the Bible calls us is to love our neighbor as ourselves, according to Moses, and then according to Jesus, to ratchet it up by loving everyone as Christ loves everyone.

Paul’s ministry took him through a variety of countries, cultures, races, religions, lifestyles, philosophies, and socio-economic conditions. In our Bible study on Romans 15 this week, we discussed this full rainbow spectrum of people with whom Paul adapted the teachings of Jesus in his missionary journeys to establish fellowships of believers among every demographic.

The narrowness of his love for neighbor at the beginning of his ministry was transformed over the course of his lifetime to the broadest possible vision and experience of love for all people. Perhaps we can see something of ourselves in his spiritual growth journey. This is the experience we want to share more bountifully and enjoy more perfectly:  to know how it feels to love everyone everywhere the way God in Christ has already loved them, and us, and me. We want to mature with Paul to the point we like him can say, as he wrote to the Corinthians in the Good News Translation,

So I become all things to all people, that I may save some of them by whatever means are possible. All this I do for the gospel's sake, in order to share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23 GNT).

 

We are able to love if we are willing to love.

The word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.     (Deuteronomy 30:14 KJV)

The point of the Good Samaritan parable is summarized in the final instruction of Jesus at the close of the parable, “Go and do likewise.” In John 13, the same chapter where Jesus says his commandment is for us to love as we have been loved, Jesus said, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17 KJV). The expectation of Jesus in all his teachings is that we would implement them, not just memorize them or argue about whatever hairsplitting nuances we may be able to identify to water them down.

The reading from Deuteronomy reminds us that everything about God and love and heaven is not just somewhere in outer space or for another life than this one we are living today.  It is all as much for here and now as it is for then and there. 

Just as Jesus told Thomas, “whither I go ye know, and the way ye know” (John 14:4 KJV), so also do we know this word of love because it is already a part of our conversation and thinking and feeling.  The issue for us is not whether we know it but whether we do it.  We are fully capable of loving God and loving our neighbor if only we will.  We may not be as good at it as we should be, and we may need more practice and encouragement and training and experience to get better at it, but we can do what God’s word teaches. We can be living into the love that is already living in us by virtue of the breath of life we share in our creation.

 

All truth leads to perfect love.

All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.  (Psalm 25:10 KJV)

This verse in the Revised Standard Versions reads: All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.     (Psalm 25:10 RSV)

We acknowledge in our Communion ritual this very idea expressed by the psalmist that even though we have rebelled against God’s love, yet God’s love for us has always remained steadfast and sure.

The Bible repeatedly affirms that love is the entirety of everything God is teaching us and the ultimate final destination of everywhere God is leading us.  The covenant we share with each other is a relationship filled with growing knowledge of the grace and love of God.  The teachings we are working to apply in our relationships are the technical instructions on how to love the way God loves.

For those who are trying to learn of love and truth, all spiritual paths lead to Christ. The Holy Spirit will empower and guide them and us from where we are to where we need to be.  We are all each other’s neighbors, learning to love and encourage and support each other.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.  

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Unexpected Miracles

 


When we pray for a miracle, we should trust God in how it comes to us.

 And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?     (2 Kings 5:13 KJV)

 We should, as the saying goes, “expect a miracle,” but we don’t always know how it will happen, or when it is coming, or even what it will be. Naaman had high hopes and expectations that his leprosy would be miraculously cured. Naaman was enraged that the miracle might come in a less elaborate way than he expected, but his servants convinced him to accept the humble approach Elisha offered, and be healed.


Transcript of the sermon preached on July 3, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

4th Sunday after Pentecost 

2 Kings 5:1-14
Psalm 30
Galatians 6:7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

 

 With the Psalmist we praise God for the miracles we and others have already received.

 O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me.     (Psalm 30:2 KJV)

 Stuart Hamblen wrote in his hymn, “It is no secret what God can do. What he’s done for others He’ll do for you.” The greatest miracles of the Bible come in response to the most humble requests. “He Touched Me, and made me whole” as Bill Gaither worded it in his hymn

 Everything we do eventually has its results.

 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.      (Galatians 6:9 KJV)

 So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest. (Galatians 6:9 GNT)

 Charles H Gabriel in his hymn “Send the Light” phrased it, “Let us not grow weary in the work of love.” John Wesley attributed with “Do all the good you can… as long as ever you can.” This verse about “sowing seeds of kindness” from the hymn by Knowles Shaw:

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter's chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

 

Let's just plant the seeds and trust God for the unexpected miracles that come as a result.

 Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.      (Luke 10:2 KJV)

 Conspicuously absent from their instructions: Imposing their religious and political opinions aka beliefs. There were plenty of those kinds of groups that the other religious and political leaders were representing:  Saducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Romans, Greeks, on and on with various expressions and traditions and opinions and beliefs.

 And there was then as there is now, plenty to argue about. Jesus stood firmly and against oppression and he stood firmly against exclusion and he stood firmly against injustice. Jesus stood even more firmly and without apology FOR inclusiveness and justice and forgiveness and mercy and love.

 We in the United Methodist Church have not grown “weary in the work of love” but we have grown weary of the endless and futile arguments of those who, as Jesus said in Matthew 13 in the Good News Translation, “lock the door to the Kingdom of heaven in people's faces, but [they themselves] don't go in, nor do [they] allow in those who are trying to enter!” (Matthew 13:13 GNT) 

 We yearn to truly represent our long-standing United Methodist motto “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” in a world that needs to be sincerely loved with the unconditional love of Christ now as much as ever.

 Jesus sent these 70 (or 72 according to some translations) with this three-fold mission:  offer peace, heal the sick, and, as phrased in The Message, “tell them, ‘God’s kingdom is right on your doorstep!’

Jesus sends us to Offer peace -- Peace not argument.  We proclaim our faith and we state our positions and share our ideas and beliefs and we point to resources and books and articles for more information. We gather like “birds of a feather” to study and learn together and share in the work we believe in. But we don’t argue with people who have different beliefs and practices, or who have not yet come to realize that “God is love.”

 John Wesley sent Thomas Coke to America with these words, “Offer them Christ.”  Christ sends us to offer peace, true peace, “peace that passeth understanding,” as Paul said,  the Peace of Christ.

Jesus sends us to Heal the sick. In our Three General Rules we say, “Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God.” We are sent to offer the wholeness and encouragement of Christ, to offer spiritual and temporal healing, each of us according to our gifts and graces and skills, to everyone according to whatever their hurts and brokenness may require. 

Jesus sends us to tell them the kingdom of God has come to them. We extend the Great Invitation Jesus offered, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus sends us to do the same as he did throughout his earthly ministry, as we say in our Communion Liturgy, “he healed and taught and ate with sinners, and won for [God] a new people by water and the Spirit.”

 In the Great Commission Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus sends us saying,

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

In Acts 1:8  he sends us “to be witnesses… unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Mark 16:17-18 Jesus promises us that these kinds of signs shall follow us: All kinds of healing at every level as we preach the gospel to every creature. Communication of the Gospel in an infinite variety of forms. Restoration and regeneration for all people as they respond to the invitation to Christian discipleship

 Let us then be those who go from this place in communion with Christians around the world to be recipients and channels for unexpected miracles beyond our ability to even imagine. We share the mission statement of The United Methodist Church to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

 In the name of Jesus, Amen.


Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Divinity School, Lectionary Series.  "Helping, Sharing, Caring, Harmony, Peace -- Children's Hospital." Clair Witcomb with eh Nechells Community, Birmingham, England.

 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Double Portion of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit helps us as we try to be more like Jesus.

Elisha wanted to be like Elijah. 
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.     (2 Kings 2:9 KJV)

Elijah told Elisha to ask for whatever he could do for him. Jesus taught us likewise: "Ask and you shall receive" (Matthew 7:7 KJV).

He promised on his way to Calvary that, if we asked anything in his name, "I will do it" (John 13:14 KJV). James wrote in his letter, "Ye have not, because you ask not" (James 4:2 KJV).

Perhaps we should be like Elisha and be more intentional in our asking. We can trust God to sort it all out and to help us prioritize and eliminate items as necessary, so we can focus on the more important needs for ourselves and the world.

The things we ask for may be every bit as hard as the double portion Elisha asked of Elijah, but just as possible.


Transcript of the sermon preached on June 26, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

3rd Sunday after Pentecost 

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

The spirit of Elijah was what Elisha wanted. The powerful and prophetic ministry of Elijah was so permeated with miracles and witness that his zeal continues to this day to be celebrated by several world religions.

The Gospel According to St. Luke describes how John the Baptist went before Jesus in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people for the Lord.

The spirit of Elijah is the HoTly Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that was in Christ Jesus, and the same Holy Spirit “poured out on all flesh” at Pentecost.  The spirit of Elijah is the same Holy Spirit at work within us and among us, empowering us to love one another as Christ has loved us according to the commandment of Jesus, and to minister the spiritual gifts to the church and the world as the Holy Spirit leads us.

Elijah wanted a double portion of this spiritual anointing. There is no way to quantify the Holy Spirit and do a “times 2” but its like when we argue over who loves each other the most, or like the often repeated phrase originating in Sam McBratney’s children’s picture book “Guess How Much I Love You” where Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare whisper to each other, “I love you to the moon and back.” 

Elisha wanted to carry on the work of Elijah, to see the spiritual realm as Elijah saw it, to preach the Word as Elijah preached it, to work the miracles as Elijah worked them.

Now, we have one even greater to emulate: Christ Jesus himself. Who invites us to love as he loves. It was Jesus who promised in the verse Bishop MacAlilly continues to emphasize as he leads all the churches and people of our conference. From John 14: 

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father (John 14:12 KJV). 

 

God wants to save everyone 

For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.      (Luke 9:56 KJV)

In our Gospel reading, we have an affirmation about how God wants to save everybody. "For the Son of man has not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them," Jesus said here in the red letters.

The "Son of Man" is Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus invoked here, his own mission to call down punishment on those who did not yet believe his love and message would be completely counterproductive to His whole purpose and life.

His first disciples, like many who have come after them, were caught in a religious viewpoint that was diametrically opposed to everything Jesus was and still is about. God does not destroy lives. The threat of eternal torture has always been a popular form of manipulation but one that is completely inconsistent with the teachings and example of Christ and of the Apostles, who are in this case, rebuked and corrected in this passage by Jesus.

Jesus rebuked his own disciples for this misunderstanding and misinterpretation. The world is already saturated with heartache and oppression and violence and evil and injustice and death. Christ did not come to add to the evil, but to save us from it.

Jesus, who is called the Messiah, said that his purpose was not to destroy but to save souls. Jesus declared to Nicodemus in words that have echoed through the ages and they're memorized in congregations of all faith traditions in John 3:16 and 17. I guess you all know where we're going now. Let's join together in remembering those words:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:16 & 17 KJV).

St. Peter led the earliest Church to understand that it was not God's will that anyone should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Who are we to challenge or resist God's will? St. Paul likewise confirmed the Apostolic understanding of this promise in his letters to the Philippians and the Romans and the Thessalonians Philippians 2:10-11; Romans 14:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21), that eventually everyone will come to the realization that "Jesus is Lord."

Our part, as has been the part of Christians from the start, is to be the witnesses, not the judges, to spread the good news of universal love, unlimited forgiveness, and eternal life for everyone, at whatever point they finally come to faith in Christ.

John Wesley notes in his Explanatory Notes that the spirit of Christianity is not a spirit of wrath and vengeance, but of peace, and gentleness, and love.


Humanity is invited to walk the walk we talk

If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.      (Galatians 5:25 KJV)

In our reading from Galatians, the Apostle Paul wrote, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25 KJV). The Bible invites us to transform our earthly lives and world to reflect the spiritual life as we are growing into the grace and knowledge and love of Christ.

The Lord taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10 KJV). To live in the spirit is to be living into the spirit. D.D. Whedon framed it, "our regenerate life has been by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Whedon Commentary on Galatians 5:25). To walk in the spirit then is to be implementing the lifestyle and teachings of Jesus in our daily thinking and conversations and activities and our relationships. Whedon continues, "Let our practice and progress be by, not the flesh, but the spirit" (Ibid).


The way of the Spirit is the way of true happiness forever

The Psalmist, in Psalm 16:11, prayed:

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.     (Psalm 16:11 KJV)

The way of the spirit is the way of true happiness forever. This "path of life" the Psalmist trusted God to show him is an eternal spiritual direction among all the other directions and choices and opportunities available to us. This is the path Jesus pointed to when he said, as phrased in the Good News Translation, "But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it" (Matthew 7:14 GNT).

Another psalm likewise says, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105 KJV).

I close with one of the most beautiful and reassuring descriptions of the spiritual path the Holy Spirit invites everyone to walk, the universally favorite, Psalm 23,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalm 23 KJV).

Let's walk the spiritual path. Let's join Elisha in praying for a double portion of the Spirit. 

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

 



Friday, June 24, 2022

Clothed in Christ

Our ability to love and serve comes from our relationship with Christ.

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27 KJV)

That's how it's written in the King James Version. And the Good News Translation says, "You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself." (Galatians 3:27 GNT)

 There are many other Biblical examples of the imagery "clothed" as a figure for being wrapped or dressed. The opening of our funeral liturgy includes the affirmation, "As in baptism [we] put on Christ, so now may [we] be clothed in glory." Clothed in Christ imagery is written by Paul here in Galatians and also in Romans, and the idea of being clothed in glory is highlighted throughout the Book of Revelation.

Transcript of the sermon preached on June 19, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

2nd Sunday after Pentecost & Father's Day

1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a
Psalm 22:19-28
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Many translations of the Bible have used the word "clothed" to illustrate the power and authority of the Holy Spirit working through the people of God as promised by Jesus at his Ascension. In Luke 24:49, where the King James Version reads, "Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49 KJV). The phrase "endued with power from on high" in the King James Version is translated as "clothed with power from on high" in most other versions. The Greek word enduo, according to the New Testament Greek Lexicon, literally is defined as "to sink [as] (into clothing)," and everywhere else in the King James translates it that way.

The idea being represented, then, is that our new life and opportunities and abilities come from God working within us and among us to empower us by the Holy Spirit, to love others as Christ loves us, and to effectively minister our spiritual gifts to each other and to the world. In his 1834 hymn "Solid Rock," Edward Mote prayed,

When [Christ] shall come with trumpet sound
O may I then in him be found:
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne.

Union with Christ brings us into a covenantal union with each other in ministry to the world. In our United Methodist Baptismal Covenant, in response to the query of the whole Church, 

  • [We] renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin
  • [We] accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves 
  • [We] confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races 
  • [We] promise to nurture each other in Christ's holy Church that by our teaching and example, others may be guided to accept God's grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life. 
  • [We] pledge, according to the grace given to us, to remain faithful members of Christ's holy Church and serve as Christ's representatives in the world. 

Christ casts out our demons, whatever they may be, and puts us in the right frame of mind

Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.    (Luke 8:35 KJV)

In the Gospel reading today, we find that Christ casts out our demons, whatever they may be, and puts us in the right frame of mind. "Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.    (Luke 8:35 KJV). Clothed, once again, is the word used in both Gospels of Luke and Matthew. The story is actually told also in the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But in two of those, Mark and Luke specifically highlight that the redeemed person was clothed. And both also noted that this newly transformed believer was in his right mind and that he went home and told everyone in his community about the great things God had done for him.

The mind of Christ. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5 KJV). Paul encouraged. He also encourages in his other letters that he wasn't ashamed of this gospel because it was not a gospel of fear but a gospel of love and a sound mind and power. (Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:7). The love of Christ, as Paul points out, is shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5).

I like this old song, "Give Me That Old Time Religion:" 

Give me that old time religion,
give me that old time religion, 
give me that old time religion
it's good enough for me. 
And it has this other verse, 
It makes me love everybody, 
makes me love everybody, 
makes me love everybody, 
and that's good enough for me.

This new state of mind is like our United Methodist Church motto, "Open hearts, open minds, open doors."

And the state of mind of this newly clothed person sitting at Jesus' feet is expressed in another old-time song I always liked. It's the hymn Bernie Elliott Warren wrote, Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory, and it has a verse that says, 

I have found His grace is all complete;
He supplieth every need.
While I sit and learn at Jesus’ feet,
I am free, yes, free indeed.

 

Our union with each other in Christ empowers us to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus

For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.      (Psalm 22:24 KJV)

The Psalmist in today's readings was just getting ready and warmed up for our favorite Psalm 23. In Psalm 22 verse 24, it says, "For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted. Neither hath he hid his face from him, but when he cried unto him, he heard." That's good news all by itself, isn't it? If that's all, there was in there. In the Good News Translation, that verse reads, "He does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering; he does not turn away from them, but answers when they call for help" (Psalm 22:24 GNT).

At Annual Conference this week, in one of his sermons, Bishop McAlilly listed several ministries throughout our conference that are giving help and hope to those who need it most, in the name of Jesus. He started that part of his sermon by describing the New to You shop, one of the cooperative ministries of our Briensburg United Methodist Church, along with the other 9 United Methodist Churches here in Marshall County. Together, our 10 United Methodist Churches are able to address needs that none of us would be able to address or able to meet alone. Those involved with UMCOR leadership described the ministries of the United Methodist Committee On Relief as they are being ramped up to address the unmet needs, that are continuing, of those victimized by the December tornadoes here in our region.

In Matthew 25, Jesus said, "I was naked, and you clothed me. In as much as you did it unto the least of these, you did it to me."

God is in the gentle, firm, persistent Voice of Love

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.      (1 Kings 19:12 KJV)

And then finally got the gentle, firm, persistent voice of love. In 1 Kings 19:12, "And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still small voice." The wind, earthquake, and fire grab the headlines and get the attention. Big fanfares and boisterous flamboyancy attract everyone and divert the energy. Elijah had plenty of these larger-than-life miracles in the Bible accounts of his prophetic ministry, calling down fire to consume the false prophets along with their altars, passing his mantle to Elisha as he was being carried off into heaven in a fiery chariot, and many other places.

And in this passage here, we even heard today, that tells about a few more, but with an important twist in the plot, after the mountains shook and the wind and earthquake and fire had all passed by. We even use the figure of speech "acts of God" to describe huge disasters, but God is not in the disaster. God is in the response, in the recovery, in the healing. But God is in the voice, the still small voice. "Still," according to the Hebrew Lexicon, comes from the word that actually literally means "a whisper, calm. silence." "Small by that same lexicon's definition points to "thin, small, fine." And the voice. The voice. Listen. Listen as the voice speaks to your heart and mind. The voice of the Almighty.

At the baptism of Jesus and his transfiguration, a voice was heard saying, "This is my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased. Hear him." (Matthew 3:17, 17:5). God speaks to our hearts and minds through the scripture and through our spiritual conversations, through prayers and sermons and hymns. God speaks to our souls with clear impressions, inviting and encouraging, comforting and challenging, calling us together and sending us forth into the community.

The hymn by G.W. Briggs has three verses. They each start out this way... One verse starts out, "God has spoken by the prophets." The second verse starts out, "God hath spoken by Christ Jesus," and the third verse, "God yet speaketh by the Spirit." Listen. Hear. Respond to the still small voice that calls us and encourages us and invites us to unity with Christ and humanity and creation. To be clothed in a new, fresh right mind. To be the proverbial hands and feet of Jesus, loving as Jesus loves, speaking words of grace and mercy and hope, embracing a suffering world with healing and kindness. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Wonderful 1st TWK Annual Conference

I am so blessed, inspired, and encouraged because of how the Holy Spirit moved through the inaugural Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference this week!  

The Design Team's professionalism, along with everyone involved in the preparation and planning, enabled the event to flow freely like the theme of the conference, "The River of Life Unites Us." 

Through the inspiring worship services, the pure Word of God was preached and further communicated in liturgy, music, prayers, dancing, technology, and fellowship. I felt the sacred flame of love leaping from heart to heart shared by us who participated remotely, together with those who attended in person.

We in Marshall County celebrated the affirmation by Bishop McAlilly of our New to You Shop, one of several cooperative ministries shared by all ten United Methodist Churches in our county.

The prayerful words of goodwill and blessing offered by our leaders for disaffiliating congregations mitigated my sadness and helped me join in wishing them the best. Since many of them, it was noted, had long ago stopped supporting UMC ministries, their impact had already been incorporated throughout our connection.

The joy expressed in my post "All Kinds of Faith in the UMC" a few weeks ago was enhanced as the new and advancing clergy were licensed, commissioned, and ordained. The wisdom of the retiring class was very effectively sprinkled throughout the conference. During the Memorial Service, many friends who had transferred to the Church Triumphant over the past year were warmly remembered with appreciation and love, including one of my best friends, Hugh Barksdale.

Much more is to be applauded about how our new conference is beginning. These examples highlight some of the meaningful ways I was personally blessed by this session. I close this post by celebrating the leadership of Bishops Bickerton and McAlilly. Bishop Thomas Bickerton, President of the Council of Bishops, is providing the whole denomination with timely guidance. The Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference continues to be blessed by Bishop William T. McAlilly, who Cheryl and I agreed as we enjoyed the conference together, is one of the best church leaders we have ever known. Their preaching, conversations, prayers, and guidance are deeply appreciated. 

This, the First Session of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference, will help us all move forward with joyful anticipation into the spiritual opportunities the Holy Spirit is opening for us. We will continue to support The United Methodist Church's ministries with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

For recordings and other information about the conference, please visit twkumc.org