Sunday, July 18, 2021

Shepherding Us Into Heaven


"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." (Psalm 23:1, KJV). 

Our role as the royal priesthood of believers and under-shepherds of Christ is not to further scatter the sheep, but to gently encourage them into the heavenly fold of our Chief Shepherd.

This verse I just read from Psalm 23:1 is put this way in the Message, "God, my Shepherd, I don't need a thing. You have bed me down in the lush meadows. You find me quiet pools to drink from, true to your word. You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction." (Psalm 23:1-3, MSG)

All the different ways that this Psalm has been used and translated in all of its different forms, it still speaks to each of us, a word of comfort and encouragement and strength. And it becomes like one of the greatest affirmations of faith, of the people of God in both Christianity and Judaism, and becomes... It speaks to us with such grace and comfort as the Lord's prayer gives us, the many blessings of God as the whole Bible might describe to us. And it's a part of our funeral liturgy at the grave side especially, to use to comfort those who mourn, like the beatitudes, to insure us of everlasting life, everlasting relationships that take on new and different forms as our relationships continue, but the love that binds us together is eternal and it has no end.

Transcript of sermon preached extemporaneously
on July 18, 2021 at
 Briensburg UMC | [Audio| [Video]

This is brought out so beautifully in the few words of Psalm 23. We should follow this great Shepherd, and we look now and see that the Shepherd... We identify this Shepherd as Jesus himself. But prior to Jesus, everybody saw this as our heavenly Father being our Shepherd. And we see Jesus and our heavenly Father as one, along with the Holy Spirit as the Holy Trinity. In the gospel reading, one verse says, "And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people and was moved with compassion toward them because they were as sheep, not having a shepherd. And began to teach them many things." That's the example we should follow. Just like a couple of weeks ago, we talked about when Jesus went to Nazareth, His hometown, He went around trying to teach people and help people and heal people, but there was such hostility and such polarization and division.

Follow Jesus, the Chief Shepherd

And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.  (Mark 6:34 KJV)

We're all familiar with those ideas to this day, that it became hard for Him to really even help anybody. But His response to that was to go around and teach people and heal them and help them. That was His response, unlike the response that a lot of times, people call for today, and not only today, but back then, too. Religious people have this tendency to do the exact opposite, to shun and reject anybody that won't accept what they say or do, or that doesn't help out or doesn't become a part of their vision or their work, whatever it may be, for better, for worse. But in the Bible, in the gospel reading, it doesn't say that He had contempt for these people who were like sheep without a shepherd. No, it says He had compassion for them. And it doesn't say that He condemned them for their lack of faith and knowledge. His response was to teach them many things.

And it certainly does not say that Jesus drove them off for any reason. As the passage unfolds, the events that follow His looking out and seeing everybody as sheep without a shepherd. He taught them. He gathered them. He appreciated them gathering around and looking for Him. They were drawn to Him and He seemed to enjoy them, to bring them together in various ways. He loved them. And then even as it goes on as next week's gospel reading describes, He even took a... He fed them. He took a meal that would be maybe a little bit meager for one small family. And He blessed it. And He multiplied it until it fed over 5,000 families with plenty leftover.

True Shepherds Love the Sheep

 And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord.  (Jeremiah 23:4 KJV)

Contrast that with what... A lot of times, people I think misinformed or less informed, or perhaps even with ulterior motives, like to project, when they drive people away from the church, when they drive people away from faith, when they drive people away from this closeness that we experience in Christ. That's just the exact opposite. So we can follow their example and scatter the sheep. Or we can follow Jesus' example and bring everybody together in love, encouragement and support and appreciate who we are, who each other is. Love one another as Christ has loved us. True shepherds, that's what they do. True shepherds love the sheep. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God spoke and said, "I will set up shepherds over them, which shall feed them. And they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed. Neither, shall they be lacking, saith the Lord."

I always kind of feel like a pause and a time to just let that sink in, whenever I come across those words, "thus saith the Lord." And then it kind of seems like that means it's not... It's something to listen to. To me that sounds like it's something to take notice of. This is God's view. The prophet Jeremiah also wrote this in the beginning of the passage we heard today about how false shepherds scatter the sheep and drive them away. "Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, saith the Lord." I kind of like the idea better in some of the other translations. It hits me a little softer and spreads the blame out a little further, than when I use the word pastor, when I'm occupying that particular office.

And so, but it's there. It's of like, if the shoe fits wear it, I guess. Deal with that. And we have to listen and be careful with that, because the, "Woe," or the warning is to those that would scatter and destroy the sheep, in contrast to how Jesus does of nurture them and love them and bring them together. True shepherds bring the sheep together and feed them and nurture them.

Remember at the last breakfast, when Jesus, after the resurrection, came in with some of the disciples, fixing all the breakfasts and then he said to Peter, "Do you love me?" And three times he asked that question and three times, Peter responded, "Lord, you know I love you." And the three times Jesus said, "Feed My sheep, feed My people." We love the shepherd. We love the sheep the shepherd loves. I often like to say that what better tribute can we give to anybody than to love the people they love. What better honor and glory can we give to Jesus than to love the people Jesus gave His life for because He loved them so much. We're sent. We're all sent to cast out all fear, as the apostle put it. Apostle John said, "Perfect love casts out all fear."

The result as described in this very passage from Jeremiah is that "they shall be fruitful and increase." What a wonderful promise. The people that we love in the name of Jesus, we can watch their lives grow in the love and knowledge of Christ. We can watch the relationship grow, not only our relationship with them, but theirs with God. And we can love them, and we can encourage them, feed them, strengthen them in whatever ways that we can. And we will see this promise come true. That those people we love will be fruitful and increase. They will be people who also are able to extend that same love and blessing to the people around them.

We Each Have a Place in God’s Eternal Future

 Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.  (Ephesians 2:21-22)

We each have a place in God's eternal future. In the passage from Ephesians, this is how it says in the message translation, " Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home." What a beautiful expression that Paul wrote there to this church at Ephesus and through them to our church here at Briensburg today, and other churches, of course. But we're not other churches, so we'll take what he writes for us, that each one of us and everyone that we connect with, as we make those connections, it is in this imagery like this building, with the bricks that hold it all together and all of the mortar and everything that goes into this building, it's like each one of us being a component of this sanctuary building, only it's spiritual and God lives within us and among us in this eternal spiritual house not made with hands.

Paul gives it a lot of different other ways. Other people in the Bible and give us other ways, but they have the same... With all the different imagery, it communicates the same message, whether it's a body or a building, or however we communicate, it is that we are all a part of this. We're part of this tapestry, this puzzle. We're a part of whatever other imagery we communicate that of being the one, even though we're many, even in the sacrament, we speak of one bread but that many of us are a part of that one loaf. And everybody is supposed to be a part of that. Everybody was made to be a part of it. Nobody was made to just be destroyed or cast away. Everybody was made to be a part of this work of God.

There's a Wesley hymn that begins with this verse: 

Come sinners to the gospel feast. 
Let every soul be Jesus' guest.
You need not one be left behind
for God hath bidden all mankind. 

No one has any right to edit the guest list that Christ has sent out to all of humanity. Ours is not to turn anyone away. Ours is not to quench the spirit. Ours is not to reject those whom Christ has not only accepted, but invited. Ours is to feed. Ours is to nurture. Ours, it is to encourage and to strengthen each other and all of God's people, as together we minister the spiritual gifts to the world and extend to everyone else the same invitation we ourselves have accepted.

Jesus gave us this wonderful comfort in John 14, that connects so well, even with the 23rd Psalm that we reflect on today. "Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in Me. In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, then I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also." And whither I go, you know, and the way, you know." Heaven is the eternal home that God has provided for everyone.

Heaven is the Eternal Home God has Provided for Everyone

 I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live.  (Psalm 23:6)

The Psalmist said, "I know that your goodness and love..." -- this is from the Good News Translation, as it concludes Psalm 23, "I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life and your house will be my home as long as I live." We not only dwell in that house, we are part of that house. The house is not complete until all the proverbial stones are in place. God doesn't want anyone left out in the cold, or as some people like to say, in the heat. God doesn't want anybody cast away. God wants everybody to take their place and work their part and be their part. Through the 23rd Psalm, I hear God's say that God's goodness and mercy will follow us every day of our lives. We will be at home with each other in God's own heaven for all eternity. I'd like to close with this hymn by James Montgomery.

Pour out thy Spirit from on high;
Lord, your assembled servants bless:
graces and gifts to each supply,
and clothe us with your righteousness.

Within your temple when we stand
to hear your truth you taught, may they,
Saviour, like stars in your right hand
true pastors of the churches be.

Wisdom and zeal and faith impart,
firmness with meekness, from above,
to bear your people on their heart
and love their souls with your own love;

To watch and pray and never faint,
by day and night strict guard to keep;
to warn the sinner, cheer the saint,
nourish your lambs, and feed your sheep;

Then, when our work is finished here,
in humble hope our charge resign,
when the Chief Shepherd shall appear
O God may we and they be Thine.

 Each one of us has people to whom we actually are ministering this spiritual gift of pastor and teacher, along with whatever other gifts we may have as primary gifts, and however we may think of those spiritual gifts. Each one of us also is a pastor to somebody. And we're invited to join together in this prayer, for the Lord's spirit to be poured out on us, that we might be the under-shepherds that bring people together in love, that others may be driving apart. 

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

How to Treat Yet-to-be Believers


Treat those who are beginning their faith journey with the same love and respect and care that we have for those who have long walked the spiritual pathways.

 Jesus' response to those who had a lack of faith was to teach them and to demonstrate faith by helping them and healing them. 

That is a sharp contrast with what a lot of times religious people do, isn't it? They get called names and they have words that they use to describe them, to describe those who have yet to believe, and derogatory terms. They threaten people and they like to give them a hard time and everything else they can and try to argue and make life miserable for them if they don't believe and not only if they just don't believe in general, but if they don't believe exactly like a lot of times they think they should believe, somebody thinks they should believe.

Transcript of sermon preached extemporaneously
on July 4, 2021 at
 Briensburg UMC | [Audio] | [Video]

That is just exactly the opposite of what we see Jesus doing in the face of unbelief. Here He was with all these people that He had known all His life. If anybody He was going to be angry with, it would have been them, but instead He was loving them and He went around that community and other communities there around about and He taught. That's how He responded to faith, by teaching people and helping them and healing them. So our job is to encourage faith, to include everybody. We do that sacramentally at the Lord's table as we gather around and the table of the Lord and all are welcome.

Encourage Faith

Then Jesus went to the villages around there, teaching the people. (Mark 6:6 GNT)

This is one of the Wesleyan heritages that we share with all those denominations I was telling you about in the World Methodist council that continue that also, because John Wesley brought that up, that the best place for people who don't know the Lord to meet the Lord. He's right here at the Lord's table with the Lord's people with the sacrament of Christ and celebrating Christ's presence and love for us. 

Recently, there was an article that several of you might have seen because I shared it on Facebook. It was an article about the Methodists doing that, just how our table is open and how everybody is welcome and how it is not our job to go through the guest list that Christ has sent out and decide which ones to take off the Lord's guest list. Everybody's invited and everybody's welcome. So that kind of approach is what Jesus had right from the beginning, that everybody is invited into the kingdom. Everybody is welcome into the kingdom. So we treat each other as members of the family. Everybody is made in the image of God.

Christ gave His life for each and every one. So people might say, "Well, they need to be warned about all this." Well, they are. But they are missing things. Just think about one of the readings that we had today talking about being carried up into heavenly realms to see things that have never been seen before, the experiences that we have in our lives that come from knowing Christ and from walking through the Christian pathway and from growing spiritually and all that.

That's what people miss out on if they're not engaged in a spiritual life. So they're missing out on those things already. But our job is not to make it worse for them, but instead to make it better, to open the doors and make it easier and to encourage people in their faith, wherever they are in their faith journey. Maybe some people haven't even hardly thought about it, and some have thought about it and gone different paths than we would have gone and others in all different other kinds of places.

New People Come to Faith Every Day

We pondered your love-in-action, God, waiting in your temple: Your name, God, evokes a train of Hallelujahs wherever It is spoken, near and far;  your arms are heaped with goodness-in-action. (Psalm 48:9-10 MSG)

New people are always coming to faith in Christ. They always have been, and they always will be, even now. As the psalmist said, "We pondered..." the Message put it this way... "We pondered your love-in-action, God, waiting in your temple. Your name, God, evokes a train of hallelujahs wherever it is spoken. Near and far, your arms are heaped with goodness and action." What a wonderful word of praise that gives us that picture that people all over the world gradually, one here, one there, another there, all around the world, all of a sudden, coming into a personal relationship with God and Christ and having their soul blessed and beginning their spiritual journey, others moving forward step by step, even they, even you, and even us, even in our community, and all around the world.

People are moving forward in their relationship with God and learning to praise Him and being blessed by Him and getting to know God and getting to have a relationship. That's what we want. We don't want to chase people off. We want to bring people in. We want people to come together around the Lord until finally the promise of the apostle is completed and fulfilled. where He said “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” You know sometimes people have even put a harsh twist on that too, like they're getting beaten into submission.

Trust God with Those Who Have Yet to Believe

And whether they listen or not (for remember, they are rebels), they will at least know they have had a prophet among them.  (Ezekiel 2:5 TLB)

But they're being invited and they're accepting the invitation. So we just have to trust God with them then and those that have yet to believe, just trust God with them. God said to Ezekiel in The Living Bible, "And whether they listen or not, for remember they are rebels, that they will at least know that they have had a prophet among them." I love that parenthetical statement, "For remember they are rebels." We can remember that a lot of times, people that are just having a bad attitude about everything and like to condemn people.

They reject any kind of science or medicine or anything and make politics out of everything and cause trouble and everything like that. They are rebels. That's the whole idea. They have their mind closed and they don't want to hear what we have to say. They don't want to hear the good news. They don't want to hear about faith and about God and things like that. They have other things that they want. That's the whole idea. So whether they listen or not, because they're probably not going to, but whether they listen or not, at least they'll know that time they have had the witness borne to them.

Then they'll know that a prophet has been there or somebody who they may not even call it that, but they'll know somebody has talked to them about the spirituality. They'll know that you have demonstrated love to them. They'll know that you have cared about them and that you have tried to help them in whatever way you could. They'll know that, and that'll be a part of their whole consciousness for the rest of their lives. So treat them gently. Treat them as you would hope years later they would remember being treated by you, because they will remember that, just as we think about ways that people have treated us many years ago.

We remember those things, don't we? I didn't know I remember. I didn't know I remembered the things that I've done and the way that I've treated people either, for better or for worse. But we do, and they do too. So treat people that way, not cursing people, not calling down balls of fire on them if they don't believe or anything, but loving them and gently leading them, gently moving. And then and ourselves gently move on to others and minister our spiritual gifts to others who are ready to receive them.

Trust God that others will follow where we were and they will continue in ministry and eventually it will all of this come together for these other people and they will come to faith. In our Wesleyan tradition, we say that prevenient grace, grace where God sends us into each other's lives and sends us into different situations. That all adds up and moves people gently along toward justifying grace where they place their faith in Christ and it all comes together for them. It clicks and they realize and they place their faith in Christ. They are justified and they're saved and they walk with Christ.

And then they continue in that holy path to sanctification till their love is complete and everything. It's all done and their live is complete in spirituality. That's why we're all in that process somewhere. Everybody is, those that have been walking the path for a long time and those that are just beginning. So we trust God with that. Remember that at any rate, whatever else happened, they will remember what you said. They will remember how you treated them, and they will think about that. That will have an effect on their future spiritual growth and will be included in how they develop their faith going forward, and they build on those memories.

Let God Convince

Each time he said, “No. But I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people.” Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities.  (2 Corinthians 12:9 TLB)

Let God convince people. That's why Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convince people of sin and righteousness and judgment. Let God be the one that convinces them of those things. Our job, even the best salesman can't just convince somebody of spirituality. They can win some arguments but the Apostle wrote that some will plant, some water, but God gives the growth. In the reading from the letter to Corinthians from Paul, he wrote, "Each time they said no, but I am with you and that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people. Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am. I'm glad to be a living demonstration of Christ's power instead of showing off my own power and abilities."

So it's not us who is saving. We are not the ones who are able to save anybody. It's Christ who saves. We're not the ones who can convince people of anything. It's the Holy Spirit who does the convincing. Our job is to make the proclamation. Our job is to be the witness, to point the finger to Christ and say, "There He is. There He is. Look and receive His love." Ours is to make the introductions and say, "Here is the church. Here are God's people. Here is Christ. Here is the love. Come on in and make yourself at home."

Our job then is to extend that invitation and say, "Come on and be a part of what we're up to here. Come on and be a part of the kingdom of God. Come on and be a part of the love and friendship." We get to be the conduits of the power and love that is much greater than anything we are ourselves could even imagine or be able to do. So then we watch for the results. It said in the gospel reading, "They cast out many devils and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them."

So a lot of times we wish we could see these immediate results in other people's lives, but we can't always see that. Sometimes we never are the ones who see that. But the most immediate effect and result that we get to see is the effect on our own lives, is what is happening in our own lives when we are witnessing, when we are loving, when we are teaching and helping and anointing and on and on the list goes of these things that Christ invites us to be and to do.

Watch for the Results

And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.  (Mark 6:13 KJV)

When we are loving others as Christ has loved us, then we get the blessing of doing that immediately. We get the blessing of being the hands and feet of Christ. We have the privilege of extending the love and grace and healing of Christ to every person that we're willing to extend that to. Sometimes we even get to be the one who has scorched someone over that line, that thin line from unbelief to belief, but always remember that many other people have already been helping them along the way, have already been witnessing to them and loving them to that point.

Just like that many of the people that we love and we witness to and we minister our spiritual gifts to, we might not see them make that leap of faith, but somebody else will. They'll be blessed to escort them across that divide onto the other side. That's just the way it works and so altogether. Others have brought them that far just as we have helped others get closer. We think of John Wesley again and his moment that he wrote about when he felt his heart strangely warm just thinking of the whole lifetime of teaching by his parents and by his school where he learned the theology and where he taught and his friends in the holy club that they were calling or derisively calling Methodists because they were so serious about the way they were approaching love and faith.

But yet he came to that moment with a little group of people in a side street in London and, in that moment, that's where this faith was ignited into something new and beautiful that moved him further along and that gave birth to the feelings we have in our hearts this morning when we think about it. So now, we walk people across and other people walk people across. Together, we all rejoice with each other throughout the world, throughout the church, throughout the spiritual realm, throughout heaven. We rejoice in God's unconditional and persistent love. Amen.


Sunday, June 27, 2021

Meeting Every Need


Those who have too little need to be subsidized by those who have too much. 

Jesus extended divine assistance to two people in this passage today and I'd like to highlight this from the Good News Translation. Jesus said to her, "My daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your trouble." 

In today's Gospel reading the lives of two people intersect. One, apparently seems to be maybe from a little more of the upper echelon, another from more, perhaps the lower echelons of society. It doesn't really say that. So I'm not really sure why I get that feeling as we read, but just the way that they're presented, it makes me feel that way. And that both of them though were needing divine assistance with the healthcare issues that confronted them. The one, his daughter perishing and the other, who had this chronic illness and both of them just in terrible situations and money couldn't fix it.

Transcript of sermon preached extemporaneously
on June 26, 2021 
for Briensburg UMC  [Audio

And nobody that had any know-how was able to help them. And that's when they turned to Jesus. And Jesus demonstrated that meeting the needs of people is not just something that he is willing and able to do, but something that he expects us to follow his example in addressing those needs. Over and over, he helped people and over and over, he empowered and called us and invited us and challenges us to do likewise. To follow and do as he does. And so we try to help each other. Everybody we try to help each other individually, sacramentally in the laying on of hands and then in prayers that we lift up and practically in our prayer and our advocacy and participation and support for aid programs and for the people who are able to minister health and wholeness and other forms of support to people in need in whatever their needs may be.

Jesus extended divine assistance

Jesus said to her, “My daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your trouble.”  (Mark 5:34 GNT)

And collectively we do this too through the church and through the government and through nonprofit organizations and then just from friends helping each other and friends helping friends, and we do it collaboratively. We help people by getting together and cooperating and combining with other people in groups to work together to find ways to help people and to meet the needs, whatever they may be. 

God can help even when no one else can. And the Psalmist said, "Oh Lord, from the depths of despair, I cry for your help." And we have that hymn "Oh, where could I go? Oh, where could I go? Seeking a refuge for my soul." So there are some things that just nobody can help with. The doctors might not know how to make anybody any better. No amount of money can fix the problem, or if it could, they don't have the money.

God can help even when no other can

O Lord, from the depths of despair I cry for your help.  (Psalm 130:1 TLB)

There's all kinds of issues that we have that we just kind of come to the end of the rope on and we don't know what to do. We turn to the Lord and we know that the Lord is there and can help us, when no one else can. And one of the greatest prayers, and I'd say maybe one of the most frequent prayers that I have is just simply "Lord help me." When Peter walked on the water, he began to sink because his faith wasn't any better than the rest of ours, I guess, in that regard or big enough. But anyway, and he began to sink in the waves and he just cried out, "Lord, help me." And so, how many times have we cried that out? And that's pretty primal prayer, I think for everyone.

But God is always present, so that's always good. We can always cry out to God because God is always present and always, ready to help us. In the reading from Lamentations it has this verse. "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness." And so that course brings together, brings to mind the hymn, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Morning by morning new Mercies I see." And another hymn, "Just When I Need Him Most, Jesus is there to comfort and care just when I need him most." And Jesus' prayer in the garden, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done," invites us to trust God's decisions on how our prayers will be answered. We present ourselves to God, ready to be God's answer to someone else's prayer.

God is always present and ready

It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.   (Lamentations 3:22-23 KJV)

And we just never know how our prayers will be answered. And oftentimes they're answered in ways that were not what we were really picturing or hoping for, but we do place that in God's hands and trust him and we can't really find the reason, but we can maybe find the blessing that is involved in the way that he is answering our prayers and trying to make the most of that and know that he is still working on things and there's a lot to come together for us, but God is there and God is always present with us. And maybe the biggest thing about that really about his mercies and his compassion is that he's always there. He's always wherever we are caring about us as close as our own breath. And God challenges us to be fair and equitable in our sharing of human resources with the people around us.

The scripture says, "The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little." That was a quotation in today's Epistle reading from Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians, but it comes from back when the children of Israel were traveling through the desert and the Exodus, and they didn't have any food. And so, then the Lord provided food, manna, and he added some quail along the way too. But the manna is the big thing that we always remember, especially at communion and all like that too. We think it's the manna that bread from heaven and that was provided. But the way it was provided was on a daily basis. As we pray, "Give us this day, our daily bread" on a daily basis, this food was provided and everybody could go out and gather up what they could and put it in a little jar and bring it.

And there was always enough for one day, except for on Friday, they gathered enough for the next day too, so they wouldn't have to go gather on the Sabbath. So that every day for 40 years, they gathered this bread up, every day except on the Sabbath day when they ate what they had gathered on Friday. And so, the deal was though that everybody went out and gathered, but the one everybody gathered, some gathered a little more in some, a little less, but nobody gathered too much and everybody gathered enough. And so I think in our prayer life and in our giving and our sharing and our work for assisting people and in assisting each other and everything that we do, then we try to be fair and be equitable. And I think that the Bible readings for today speak to that.

We have the hymn "Send the Light" (and I drove Cheryl nuts one time singing that over and over again, and I thought she was enjoying it, but I miss interpreted the face she was making, I guess, but I was singing "send the light"). "We have heard the Macedonian call today, send the light, send the light and the golden offering at the cross we lay, send the light" and "Let us not grow weary in the work of love, send the light, send the light." And that is a beautiful hymn.

God challenges us to be fair and equitable in our sharing of human resources

As the scripture says, “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”  (2 Corinthians 8:15)

But we not only turn people over to the Lord when we pray for them, but then we work together to find ways to address the inequities of society. And a lot of that is way beyond any, our capabilities as individuals, or even us together here today as a group or even our whole congregation or our whole denomination really. Some of these issues in society are bigger than any of us or all of us. Well, we try to do is, is to share the abundance of creation fairly.

And that's what God has offered him. Christ in John:10, Jesus was talking about how he was a good shepherd. And he said, I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly. So God wants us to have a good life and, and wants us to have the fullness of life. And sometimes we don't even really know exactly what that means, but he wants us to have it. God knows what it means, and he wants us to have it.

And in, in terms of the sharing with the poverty we have the poverty line and I looked up on the ATD Fourth World report that in 2018, the federal poverty line was $12,140 for an individual. And then it has more for the family of two and more for a family of three and up to $25,100 for a family of four. And so we have that poverty line where we can kind of identify those who gathered but are not hardly gathering enough. There's somewhere in that, along that range, there, there might be there can extenuating circumstances that make it even more for those that might need a little more and a little less than that, but that comes in to about where the poverty line is, but the riches line is as yet undefined.

And that comes up quite a bit. It's been coming up a lot lately too, as no one exactly wants the other end of the descriptors talking about the one who gathered much did not have too much. I don't know what too much isn't, nobody seems to feel like they have too much, but I think that the biblical and political systems have always tried to address in part the concept that those with the least should be assisted by those with the most without causing them or anybody else harm to anything, anybody in between. In the transactions that somehow we pray for and we advocate systems that that makes sure everybody has a fair and equitable distribution of the resources of the world. And all our systems though, always seem to be a little bit perforated with loopholes that still leave some lavishing in wealth and others languishing in poverty.

You got this

Be not afraid, only believe.   (Mark 5:36 KJV)

So, there are some thoughts there about meeting the needs and how Jesus would look at how Jesus did. How Christ led his disciples to, to pray for people and to help where they could and to work together with other people to make decisions and with our whole social structure and everything like that, to do what we can to see what the needs are of people and meet their needs. And there are a lot of needs in the world today that we lift up in our prayer line. A lot of times more of the personal needs, but also the needs of communities and groups of people.

And, and so really if we want to, we can say you've got this Because in the another part of the Gospel reading today, Jesus said, "be not afraid only believe." And he was saying that in a pretty scary situation. A person's daughter had died and he was encouraging him not to be afraid, but to believe. And there's a hymn about that. "Only believe all things are possible, only believe." And even in the most difficult challenges can be at least addressed and sometimes overcome by those who are willing to believe what Jesus said in Luke 1:37, it's in the New King James version "for God, nothing will be impossible."

So in our readings today, I think they challenge us by broadening our whole idea of looking at all the different kinds of needs that people have, whether they're spiritual or material or they're health or financial, or all the other needs that people have in our unending list. And the challenges that we face that are so often bigger than what anybody can do. But as God's people of faith, who believe in God and believe in and trust God and believe in his, not only his ability, but his willingness, God's willingness to help people that we can be a part of that cause that he has to bring abundant life, to make people's lives better. And we can believe that that what we do is a part of the many possibilities that God works through.


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tiny Seeds of Faith


It's all a part of God's whole plan of salvation that we would just plant these seeds of love and kindness wherever we go, however we can.

"The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, which when it is sown in the earth is less than all the seeds that be in the earth. But when it is sown it groweth up and becometh greater than all herbs and shooteth out great branches. So the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it." (Mark 4:31-32 KJV)

Tiny seeds of faith. Our own faith, we can think of as a tiny seed, a mustard seed that planted in our heart grows. And so if we take that little tiny amount of faith that we may have, that hopefully we have at least a little tiny seed of faith, and we can have confidence and trust that it will grow and it will just keep growing. And as it grows, then we're growing into the kingdom of God. And we are growing into the relationships of that kingdom and all the blessings of the kingdom and it will just continue to grow.

We can have that same faith in others that if tiny seeds of faith are planted in the lives of the people around us, that that faith will also grow. And like Johnny Appleseed going across the country a long time ago, planting apple seeds, we're planting seeds of faith all around the world, mostly wherever we go. And so think of all the places you go and where you are mostly is going to be right around here probably, but then we travel and we plant seeds as we travel as well. And there's no telling exactly when or how that those will grow. And Jesus has several parables about that, about the soil that they are on and about how, all the other conditions that go into it, that we don't really have any control over, we just really have control over just how much seeds we're going to plant.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Audio] on June 13, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

And we just try to do the best that we can. And a lot of times the things that grow that make, get all the attention are the big things that we plan, like a big event or mega church, or a super big program, or a big get togethers and all like that. All the things that are big, that make a big splash. But those aren't really the things that are the most effective in the growth of the kingdom of God. It is those daily seeds of kindness like the song says, "Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, sowing in the noonday and so forth." As we sow those seeds everyday, that's the grassroots of it all.

That is where the day by day, year by year or century by century, and over these thousands of years, the kingdom of God has grown by the little things that we say and do that connect people, that plant the seeds in our hearts, that make the changes that grow within them. And so that mustard seed is one of the most famous parables because of that being such a tiny little seed, and then it grows into, and it just makes people's imagination go all different directions. When you think about all the ways that the seed can grow, and then what the results can be of that.

Debra Ann Butler wrote this poem,

Scatter seeds of kindness,
as today you make your way
you don’t know just how much
they could make someone’s day.

Spread a wide old-grin,
get someone else to smile
it could make them feel
useful and worthwhile.

Extend a happy greeting,
sing out a bright hello
it may bring a little joy
to someone you don’t know.

Disperse some generosity,
it can go a long, long way
to energize and cheer up
someone sad you meet today.

Scatter seeds of kindness,
let goodwill be what you sow
how they make other’s feel
you may never really know!

We can always plant a seed
It is good to say thank you to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all gods.  (Psalm 92:1 TLB)

We can always plant a seed. What we can always, that's something we can always do regardless of where we are, or what our situation may be. The Psalmist wrote, and this is in the Living Bible, "It is good to say thank you to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all Gods." This song that we began the service with today, is a song for the Lord's day. And later on in there, it includes this verse, also from the Living Bible, "Even in old age, they will still produce fruit and be vital and green."

And I like that promise as my time continues to grow and everything. That our whole entire lives, no matter what's going on, we're always able to plant a little seed somewhere. We may not be able to do all of the things that we would like to do, or all the things that we have done, but we can always plant these little seeds wherever we go. And we can always know that those little seeds are under God's control.

In this Psalm he talks about, not planting the seed, but in there he talked about... Well, I guess that's in Ezekiel that he talks about cutting a shoot, taking a slip off of a tree and planting that, and it grows.

So the Lord has a lot of these different views of how, as Paul wrote, "We plant the seeds but God gives the growth." And so we can only plant those seeds and start those shoots or whatever it is just to get something in there and God makes it grow. That's our part to trust that. That even in lots of situations that we think might be insurmountable or too difficult for any good to come from, God can make good come out of that planning of the seed.

So I don't usually make lists because you're all telling me not to make lists, but I've made a list anyway. And then you can add to this list today, some plants, some seeds that we can plant for free doesn't really cost us anything to plant these seeds. Thanks, as that Psalmist said, give thanks to God. If we're giving thanks to God in everything we're planting the seeds as we go, and smiles, and prayers, and good thoughts, and compliments, and encouragement, and nods of recognition, and food for thought. Those are things we can just plant away. We can just throw those seeds everywhere, doesn't cost us anything and they land all over the place and help people in ways that we can't begin to imagine.

We never know who will benefit or how from the seeds we plant
Birds of every sort and kind will live under it. They’ll build nests in the shade of its branches  (Ezekiel 17:23)

We never know who would benefit or how they would benefit from the seeds that we plant. And in our reading from Ezekiel God said through the prophet Ezekiel, "Birds of every sort and every tongue will live under it, they'll build nests in the shade of its branches." That's a lot like what Jesus said about the mustard seed in the gospel reading. And then this is back to the prophet speaking of those slips of Cedar that are being planted, they'll grow, and years later birds will be living in it. We had some birds living outside the kitchen window in the bush out there that was planted a long time before we ever moved there. And it's still there and the birds are still building nests there and we get to look out the window and watch them feed the little buddy birds in there, isn't that something.

And so you never know but as the seed grows, what will come of it, and there's just all kinds of stories about that, about people whose lives were changed and sometimes maybe a generation or two later, because of some seed that was planted in the past, somebody grew up to be a great leader. And because of just a little thing that somebody has done lives were saved over here without anybody knowing about it.

There was a story that my sister shared on Facebook the other day that was like that. It was about a person that was hired to paint a boat, little small boat. And so as he painted the boat he discovered a hole in the boat. And thought, "Well, that's no good, a hole in the boat would be sinking the boat." So he just fixes the hole, while he was painting the boat and he got done. Well the owner a few days later sent him a big check, way bigger than what he had planned on paying him.

And so he called him and asked him, "What was the purpose of this extra payment?" And he said, "Well," he said, "As it turns out, you plugged the hole in that boat and I want to pay for it." And he said, "Well, it was nothing. I just did it as I went, just plugged it up." And he said, "Yeah, but when I got home, I saw my boat was gone and my grandchildren were supposed to be there." And he said, "I was afraid they took that boat out on the lake with the hole in it. But here they came back, all happy, had a big time and everything like that." And he said, "Because you plugged the hole in that boat then the boat floated for my granddaughter and didn't sink."

So that's one of those examples, and there's a lot more on the internet and a lot of them in our own lives when we can think of where something little got done we wouldn't even give it a thought, except that it had amazing other types of results that went beyond it. And Jesus said that, "Even a glass of water given his name would produce results." One thing theologically it reminds me of is our doctrine of prevenient grace,  that we plant the seeds before, and the seeds were planted in our lives that we don't even really know about, but the people that nurture us in the faith and introduce us to Christ and love us and bring us together is what has brought us into the Christian faith.

And that's what brings others into the Christian faith too. It's God's grace at work in our lives to bring other people into the kingdom of God before they even really know it, even little tiny babies and everything else. We're reaching out and they don't know anything about God, but we include them in our fellowship, and they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ until they come to that justifying grace that enables them to make their own choices and choose this life of Christian faith, and discipleship, and then go on to the sanctifying grace that takes us and completes us in the love of Christ.

Christ has opened Paradise for us and invites us to to be part of this new spiritual creation
Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 GNT)

So it's all a part of God's whole plan of salvation that we would just plant these seeds of love and kindness wherever we go, however we can. And Christ has opened up to us paradise. For us and God invites us to be a part of this whole new spiritual creation. In the reading from 2 Corinthians in the Good News it says, "Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being, the old is gone, the new has come." And so now as that song, I think we sang that last Sunday would have been good for this Sunday, but now I'm living in a new creation, his banner over me is love.

"Heaven is all around us. In God," Paul said, "We live and move and have our being." And so the invitation for us in all of this is to step into this life of love. One thought, one word, one deed at a time. And if that's the invitation for us, it's the invitation for all. "Come unto me, all ye who are labor and heavy laden," and that's an invitation for us to help people find that one little thought that they can build on. That one little idea, that one little feeling, that one little relationship that they can start. That spark as we sang in the other song, that little spark that gets started and it all grows from there.

Bible is full of materials to help us understand how much God loves us
Jesus preached his message to the people, using many other parables like these; he told them as much as they could understand.  (Mark 4:33 GNT)

And the Bible is filled with materials to help us see that and to understand how much God loves us. Again, in the Good News, later on in this gospel reading, it said, "Jesus preached his message to people using many parables like these, he told them as much as they could understand." Now that's interesting isn't it because we have, not only the parables that gives us these little, this imagery to associate with our faith and communicate to us about our faith, and how it grows, and how it gets started, and how it works.

But then also that God has given us everything we can understand. As we grow, then we get more, as we can understand more than we get more. And it keeps growing and it's like that until finally God wants us all to have, be complete and to be all in and the kingdom of God. And so we have the other song, "If we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first began." We have a long, deep relationship in Christ and with each other that has no end and only just keeps getting richer and building larger and stronger and more beautiful.

John Denver has a song I love and it has a verse, 

It's long been on my mind,
You know it's been a long, long time,
I've tried to find the way that I can make you understand
The way I feel about you,
And just how much I need you
To be there where I can talk to you
When there's no one else around.

And that was a theme that we have seen going all the way through the Bible. From the first pages in the creation story, all the way to the final pages, with the fountain of, the water of life. That God is with us as John Wesley said in his final words and breath, "The best of all is, God is with us."

And in that just, towards the end of the Revelation as the city of new Jerusalem, came down from God out of heaven and John's vision. He said, "I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them and shall be their people and they shall be their God, and God himself shall be with them and be their God." And that's what God's dream has been all along and pouring out the spirit, wanting to pour God's Holy Spirit out on everybody, on all flesh men, women, children, and everybody. And wanted to be with, walk with Adam in the cool of the day and wanted to be our companions and walk in the garden with us. Once at the very end, to tabernacle with us, to live with us and dwell with us, God wants to be with us and invites us saying in the last few verses of the Bible saying, 

“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”
Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who[soever] will, come and drink,

Drink freely of the Water of Life! (Revelation  22:17 MSG)



Sunday, June 6, 2021

Extended Family


Let's learn to talk spiritual kin with everyone, so we can discover the connections that make us all sisters and brothers in the family of God.

 "For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother and my sister and my mother."  (Mark 3:35 KJV)

This idea of us calling each other brother and sister and being of the members of the family of God does not replace our biological families, but adds to it. As we see here, Jesus didn't mean to say that, or he didn't say, and we don't need to take it as though he did, but to make it a little more clear, that his biological family, his mother and his other family members were no longer his family, but that in addition to that, so was all the other people. So were the others. We are an extended family and we feel that often in the church, don't we? We think of our spiritual family, our church family, and we grow close to each other and we love one another. Some of our best friends are blood kin, and some of our closest brothers and sisters are our spiritual kin. So it's all meant to expand our understanding of what it is to be family and the family of God.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on June 6, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

I think one of the best demonstrations or backups of that idea we find at the cross where Jesus brought together one of his disciples and his mother, and made that an eternal relationship that became representative, not only of those two individuals, one, his birth mother and the other his spiritual friend, but of all of us in the church that we are all kin together. So it says, "Whoever does the will of God," that's how the passage ended in the gospel reading. "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

God's will is stated in a lot of different ways throughout the scripture, but it's pretty much summed up as the Bible says, although all the law can be summed up, or all with God's will can be summed up in this one word, namely, that we love one another. That was the commandment of Jesus, that we love one another as Christ has loved us. If we do that, then we're doing the will of God, and everyone who loves is doing the will of God. And a lot like the prodigal son, sometimes we may stray, but that we're still the children of God. We're just aren't enjoying the feelings and the benefits and everything of it because we've turned away from it. But when we are restored in our love for one another, when we turn back to God, then God is always there like the prodigal father with open arms ready to receive us.

So, I think that a lot of people don't understand that. They feel like that there's something about their life and their relationships that makes them no longer the children of God, if they ever did feel like they were. It's up to us to remind them that, no, you're a part of the family. You're made in the image of God. You're the child of God. You may not be acting like it. You may not feel like it, but come on home and you'll know. Come on home and you'll feel it. Come on home and you'll know that you're in the family and that your family loves you, and I think you'll love the family, too.

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. (Psalm 138:8 RSV)

So the Psalmist says in the Revised Standard, "The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Your steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands." We say in our communion ritual in just a few minutes, that even when we have rebelled against God's love, God's love for us has remained steadfast. That's just how it is. God loves us, and there's nothing we can do to undo that. There's nothing we can do to change that. There's nothing we can do to make it happen because it's already there and nothing we can do to stop it. His love endures forever, and his purpose is within that love. His purpose is that all of us would be in that relationship with God and with each other as a family for all of eternity. The promise of the Psalmist that's repeated in many other ways in the scripture is that the Lord will fulfill that purpose that he has for us. So we praise him and we want to be a part of that fulfillment. We are privileged to be part of the work, even though our part may be really small, it's a privilege just to be a part of it and to enjoy the progress as it's made toward the reconciliation of all of humanity.

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8-15 RSV)

In the creation story, it kind of picks up in the narrative where they heard the sound of the Lord walking, as we say in the King James, in the cool of the day. Then it points us to that God wants to be companions with us. That's brought out, again, throughout all the scriptures if we follow that thread. A lot of times we might forget that and think that there's some other thing going on here. There are a lot of things going on, but it's within that context of God's love for us. God wants to be companions with us, friends, and to hang out together and spend time, and he wants to be with us in the car, and in the house, and in the church, and in the yard, or wherever we go. God wants to be a part of that, and a sharing of the... Not to just to boss us around or get on our case about how we're doing things, or how we're not doing and everything like that, but because God loves us. He wants to be companions and walk with us as the song In The Garden tells us, how to walk in the garden. He wants to walk with us in the cool of the day.

But we sometimes are embarrassed or afraid of that because of our awareness of our disobedience. When Peter saw Jesus standing on the shore, then he was a little bit embarrassed. And other times that the apostles would say, well they're afraid because they just realized that they were not worthy of this relationship. But worthiness isn't in the equation from God's perspective. God knows our hearts. He knows our lives. He knows who we are, what we've been through, what we've put others through, and he loves us. He wants to be friends with us. That's what the forgiveness of sins is all about, that we know that God loves us, who we are, and works with us on the rest of it. So we're the children of God all the time, and so is everybody else. We need to find those connections and helping them make that connection.

My grandmother taught me how to talk kin. She believed that everybody in the whole world descended from Adam and Eve, and so that we're all family she said. We're all members of the family. She was on a mission to find out how we were kin with everybody she met. And she'd ask who they were. Well, then the next thing would be, well were they from there? Well, I know somebody over here and they're my third cousin or my 10th cousin or something like that. So that became something that she kind of instilled within me, not to the degree that she carried on. But she not only did that, but she made her mission also to go visit all the family. So she was all over the place visiting and traveling and meeting everybody, and finding out how we were kin. She was pretty good at figuring it out, too. If she didn't know, she knew it was in there somewhere and it'd get figured out somewhere.

But yesterday at Hugh Barksdale's funeral, I mentioned that a few years ago his wife Marilyn and I had compared some notes to confirm that Hugh and I were seventh cousins. We had descended from a common ancestor, a clergyman, William Barksdale and his wife Mary Adams that were both born back in 1629. So I said, (and much to Hugh's consternation because he teased me about that all the time, "Oh no, no, no. I'm not related to you)." But anyway. But I said that a long time before we knew we were cousins, seventh cousins, a long time before we knew we were cousins, we knew we were brothers. Brothers in Christ. I think that's important for us to recognize each other in that way. A lot of times people have, especially when we were at all younger, I guess, it was more common that in churches everybody called each other brother and sister, but we still kind of do that. It's important, though, whether we call each other that, that we treat each other that way, brothers and sisters, and carry that and extend that out to the people around us in the world.

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  (2 Corinthians 4:15 RSV)

Paul wrote, "Yes, everything is for your sake." A lot of time we think, well we do this for the sake of the Lord. We come to church for the sake of the Lord. We'll read the Bible for the sake of the... It brings glory to God, as he said, but it brings glory to God because it's extending God's love to more and more people is what he wrote. It's extending God's love to more and more people, and more people are giving thanks for God's love, and for this relationship, and for making us all this big, beautiful family of love. So yes, everything is done for your sake, for our sake so that we can have the joy that is complete, so that we can have the fullness of our happiness, and reality, and relationship with everybody, and be on good terms with everybody, and forgive each other and move along, and just enjoy life together in this world and in the life of the world to come, in eternal life.

And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! (Mark 3:34 RSV)

So finally, in the gospel reading, again, in verse 34 it said, "And looking at those who sat around him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers.'" And again, he did not mean to exclude anybody as some churches like to do. Some places you go, they believe... Well, I don't go there, but some places that there are, some cults and everything that believes that you should get rid of all your biological relationships when you become a member of their church. But we don't believe in that, and that's not what Jesus was talking about here. He wasn't saying that those family members should go away because these are his family now. But instead, that in addition, those people at the door that were of his blood kin, there also were these people sitting under his feet listening to him, and sharing and fellowship with him. They were also his kin, and we are also his kin. So we don't exclude anybody from the family. We're supposed to include each other and everybody else in the family of God, extend that relationship wherever we can, extend our love and God's love to every person around us, and find some way to talk kin with them, spiritual kin, and find out where they can make that connection, where we can make that connection to where we can call them brother and sister in Christ.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.