Thursday, April 28, 2022

You Might Have Life

 

We continue to celebrate the abundant life of Jesus as opened to us through his resurrection.

 On the evening of his resurrection and again, a week later, Jesus appeared in a room where his disciples were behind closed doors. Thomas was absent that first night and had a hard time believing that Jesus had risen until later he saw Jesus for himself. Jesus continues to invite everyone to faith through the words he spoke to Thomas, "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29 KJV).

Transcript of the sermon preached on April 24, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

Eternal life is offered to everyone. "But these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through his name" (John 20:31 KJV). John concluded his gospel account by telling us that the whole world would not be able to hold all the books that would have to be written about what all Jesus had said and done during his earthly ministry.

Eternal life is offered to everyone

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.      (John 20:31 KJV)

The Bible is just the tip of the iceberg, an executive summary, highlighting a few of the main points to help us get the picture. As we begin and continue to wrap our hearts and minds around the love Jesus, the love that Jesus has for us, his vision becomes our vision. his dream becomes our dream, his work becomes our work, his life becomes our life.

To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, you just might have life if...

  • you feel your sins are forgiven, you might have life. 
  • If you love others as Christ has loved you, you might have life. 
  • If you have a desire to share your faith, you might have life. 

The tiniest amount of faith like a mustard seed even will grow from "Hmm..." to "Aha!" 
Let's say John 3:16 and 17 together, (we do that a lot around here).  

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. (KJV)

Faith makes us witnesses

And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.      (Acts 5:32 KJV)

Faith makes us witnesses. In our reading from Acts today, it said, "and we are his witnesses, witnesses of these things and so also is the Holy Ghost whom God has given to them that obey him." We testify from our own experiences just as these first disciples testified from their experiences. We engage others in spiritual conversations, not to control their thinking and their living, but to bring them into their own personal saving relationship with God and Christ and to encourage each other to continue building our lives around that spiritual, eternal friendship as it continues forever to develop. Through faith conversations, we elevate our relationships with family and friends and others, even strangers, even enemies, to what Paul described as "the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6 KJV).[These heavenly places are] expressed in the hymns Christians sing in the midst of sorrow and suffering and injustice, even in the very face of death: 

  • "Higher Ground," 
  • "Dwelling in Beulah Land," 
  • "Sing with All the Saints in Glory... sing the resurrection song!" 
  • "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul!" 

The psalmist invites us to  join all Creation in the “unending hymn of praise”

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.      (Psalm 150:6 KJV)

The Psalmist invites us to join all creation in this unending hymn of praise. "Let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord."

The Bible tells how in the beginning, God breathed the breath of life into Adam. Saint Francis in his hymn extends the same kind of invitation as the Psalmist, 

All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice, and with us sing,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

In today's gospel reading on the evening of the 2nd Sunday of Easter, which is what we're having now in our lectionary year. On the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." Edwin Hatch echoes this event in his hymn, 

Breathe on me breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what you so love
and do what you would do.

Breathe on me breath of God
until my heart is pure,
until with you I will one will
to do and to endure.

Breathe on me breath of God,
my will to yours incline
till all this selfish part of me
glows with your fire divine.

Breathe on me breath of God,
so shall I never die
but live with you the perfect life
of your eternity.

We are sent into our community as the priesthood of believers

[Jesus Christ] hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father;(Revelation 1:6 KJV)

We are sent into our community as a priesthood of believers. And today's reading from the Revelation says, "Jesus Christ has made us Kings and priests unto God his father." In the Sacramental ministries those who are called to administer the word and sacraments and order of the church, occupy sacerdotal offices of the church as a sign of God's presence in enveloping us all and including us all in the universal life and ministry of the body of Christ. Believing in Christ makes us each a part of this priesthood of believers. Martin Luther reflected the broad term emphasized by the reformers:

We are all consecrated priests through our baptism. Peter phrased it, you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.

Our United Methodist discipline describes it in paragraph 126: 

The heart of Christian ministry is Christ's ministry about reaching love. Christian ministry is the expression of the mind and mission of Christ by a community of Christians that demonstrates a common life of gratitude and devotion, witness and service, celebration, and discipleship. All Christians are called through their baptism to this ministry of servanthood in the world to the glory of God and for human fulfillment.

After breathing on his disciples and inviting them to receive the Holy Ghost, Jesus said, "Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven." The heart of the gospel message and our central role as the priesthood of those who believe in Jesus is to communicate by thought, word, and deed, God's forgiveness. Some situations are more difficult to forgive, but if we don't, who will? Jesus seems to be asking as he goes on to say, "Those whose sins you retain are retained." Out of divine forgiveness flows reconciliation and healing and wholeness and love and eternal life.

Then Jesus said to them again, "Peace be unto you. As my father had sent me, even so, send I you." During these weeks after Easter, leading up to our celebration of the Holy Spirit being "poured out on all flesh" at Pentecost, let's be each thinking about new ways to intentionally communicate God's love and forgiveness to everyone whose path we cross, "that believing they might have life." 

You might have life! 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2022

A Whole New Vision

God has been preparing us for something new and we don't know quite what it is yet, but we know it will be good. 

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8


Brand new opportunities are unfolding for us like the spring blossoms.

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:29 KJV)

A new thing. John the Revelator's spoken, quoted God, talking about as Isaiah quoted God here, talking about, "Behold, I make all things new." And he wrote about a new heaven and a new earth.

Notes for sermon preached on April 3, 2022 at Briensburg UMC | [Audio] 

We often sing the chorus, "Now I'm living in a new creation. His banner over me is love." God's bulldozer makes a way where there is no way. New projects, new ideas, new understandings. In his letter, one of his letters, St. John wrote as it's put in the New Living Translation, "Dear friends. We are already God's children, but God has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him. For we shall see Him as He really is." (1 John 3:2 New Living Translation)

"Streams of water," as the Good News Translation for this verse speaks of regarding the rivers in the desert. Streams of water, living water, as we discover in the New Testament: The Woman at the well, the invitation at the Feast of Tabernacles, the Holy Spirit flowing through us.

We have to let go of some old things in order take hold of the new.

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. (Philippians 3:7 KJV)

 We all eventually come to realize is that the things that were most important before have become less important with new revelations. This verse that I read from the King James has in the Living Bible, "But all these things that I once thought very worthwhile, now I've thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone." (Philippians 3:7 TLB)  Isaac Watts wrote (1707)

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died 
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

Sometimes the things that have moved us forward have also held us back in other ways. We do build on the legacy of the past, but we also add new designs and plans and activities appropriate to the future. Whether our goals in the past did or did not hold us back, still they are being replaced by even better things for the future, eternal spiritual relationships. The eternal vision of heaven, a vision renewed daily when we pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." 

Celebrate what is ahead, when all the obstacles will have been overcome.

Then Mary took a whole pint of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard, poured it on Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house. (John 12:8 GNT)

Notice the extravagant generosity of Martha and Mary and Lazarus in opening their home to all the guests, including some who would even begin that evening to plot the deaths of Lazarus and Jesus over the next few days. Martha prepared a great meal for everyone. Everyone could enjoy the smell of the perfume that evening, that began to waft through all the rooms of the house, along with the smells of the cooked food cooking. The festivities communicated love for all their guests as well as Jesus most especially.

Their hospitality expressed on behalf of all the guests, their value and devotion to Christ. He was a family friend. He raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. He was giving his life in love every day in everything he said and did. The gathering took place on the Eve of Palm Sunday. And the next day, Jesus would enter Jerusalem triumphantly as the spiritual leader and teacher. Through the next week, he would teach in the temple and then celebrate the Passover meal and institute the sacrament of the Lord's supper. By the following Saturday, he would've already been crucified and would be awaiting the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come.

We look forward to what God has in store for us and our congregation & community & world.

Those who wept as they went out carrying the seed will come back singing for joy, as they bring in the harvest. (Psalm 126:6 GNT)

The world has been going through difficult times for everyone, personally and collectively. The pandemic and other maladies have brought sickness and death and suffering to family and friends. Economic stress, whether gain or loss has brought many changes. Injustice churns in all its forms at home and abroad.

Even in our tears, we do bear "precious seed," as the Psalmist continues in verse six. Especially in the face of challenges, we scatter those seeds of faith, hope and love, that Paul lifted up as... And saying that, "When all else fails, those three remain as eternal assets." We continue to plant and water the seeds of kindness that sprout in others. Each seed we plant has the potential to be just what someone needs as it takes root and grows in their life. Uncertain as we may be about how the future will unfold, we know we will be rejoicing when God has brought us all through everything. When we've come through it all, we will come rejoicing.

Our hope is in Christ, who loves us and is our continuous salvation. Our joy is in the deepening spiritual relationships we share with each other and establish with others as their seeds of faith grow. "Bringing in the Sheaves" by Knowles Shaw (1874) begins,

Sowing in the morning,
sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide
and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest,
and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing,
bringing in the sheaves.

May the remainder of this Lenten season be a time of joyful anticipation as we look through and beyond the suffering, sorrow and death of the cross, to the mystery and elation of the Resurrection. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Spiritual Reconciliation

Jesus established the premise of unconditional, universal reconciliation when he prayed for the forgiveness of those who were torturing him to death on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 


Christ sends us then to extend God's reconciliation to each individual in our lives, and to work for that wherever we can.

In the reading this morning from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians say, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. Not imputing their trespasses unto them and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:19 KJV) So our job is reconciling the world, but not just alone. It's all of our job as the followers of Christ. We're all working on that task. Reconciling the world, continuing His work that he was doing on the cross. Let's say John 3:16 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." And verse 17, "For God did not send his only Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

Transcript of sermon preached at Briensburg UMC on March 27, 2022 [Audio]

The Christ is bringing everyone and everything into harmony. Some may think that our differences are because of our diversity, which we celebrate. Or some may think because of our sin, which we do not celebrate. Or perhaps some combination of both. The work of Christ, hence our work as His disciples is to cultivate spiritual friendships that transcend all our differences and bring us into one accord, as exemplified on the day of Pentecost by the diverse gathering, where the Holy Spirit was poured out on everyone present, even though they were from all different kinds of cultures and languages and different places and views.

Paul notes that God did not impute their trespasses unto them. That means He wasn't counting or holding anything against them. The same as when Jesus prayed, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." The same as the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen said, when he said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And as Jesus famously told one person, "Neither do I come condemn thee." Abraham, we recall, was counted as righteous. His righteousness was imputed to him the same way that Paul refers to, saying in this passage that their sin was not imputed to them. It wasn't counted against him, for Abraham. Neither was his sin accounted against him. Because his faith was counted as righteousness. That's that whole idea of imputation, that He doesn't look at necessarily what we have done or not done, or deserve or don't deserve, but what He counts about us, that He favors us with. He counts this as if we believe, He counts that as righteousness, we inherit that same righteousness of Abraham when we believe in God.

And going to Paul's letter to the Romans, we recall that he said, "Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead."

And just think what a little tiny mustard seed of faith, as Jesus would say, that that is inviting us too. And to offer to others, just that if we believe on him that ways, if we believe that confidence, that little tiny bit of confidence. We believe that overarches any kind of differences that anybody may have, or differences not only of an opinion or of knowledge or of culture or anything else. If we have that little tiny bit of faith, it will grow. And that is counted as our righteousness and unites us and reconciles us.

And then we've been entrusted with that message, as Paul called it in this letter to the Ephesians, the fellowship of the mystery. Jesus didn't call it this way, but he spoke of it this way and we named it this, the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:19. And on the evening of the resurrection, Jesus empowered us by the Holy Spirit. Said, whosoever sins you remit, are remitted unto them. And whosoever sins you retain, are retained.

All who have been forgiven are sent to extend that same forgiveness in the name of Jesus, to everyone that we can get that message through to, by word or by deed. Or sometimes just by prayer and thought. We're taught, and we reaffirm in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others, their trespasses against us." And immediately after giving the Lord's Prayer in Matthew, Jesus said, "For if you do not forgive each other their sins, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your sins." And he told a parable later on that bore that out to emphasize that among all of his other teachings, on this central subject of forgiveness. A parable of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven, but then refused to extend that same forgiveness to someone else. And so his forgiveness was revoked.

The world needs reconciliation now

 The Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.      (Joshua 5:9a KJV)

The world needs reconciliation now. As much, if not more than ever. There may be other times when it needed it just as much, but I don't think more. We need reconciliation between individuals and in between nations and between groups. We all need this reconciliation.

And the Lord said unto Joshua in the first reading today, "This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you." This day. And that comes up a lot in the Scripture, because the idea of all of the promises of God are not just for the future, but for the present. We're called into this present moment. Like the psalmist who brings us and we sing that song, sometimes this is the day that the Lord hath made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

John Wesley on a particular day at a particular time, records that, "An assurance was given to me, an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins." The day, the hour, the moment, someone receives that sense of assurance and love and acceptance, a whole new world of peace and reconciliation is opened to them. So why would we withhold that opportunity from anyone, when we have everything in our power, and as our command from Almighty God given by Jesus Christ, to love others as Christ has loved us.

It's not about their consenting to our religious words and beliefs that we express, submitting to our views and understandings. But it's about their being able to feel God's love for them through us, and through the way that we treat them. William Cowper wrote in his hymn, 

E'er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:

Rolled away. Reconciliation rolls away our differences and frees us from discord as completely as the stone was rolled away from the tomb of Jesus. In Matthew 28:2, it says “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: and the angel of the Lord came, descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.”

Every burden that separates us from each other and from God is rolled away by the reconciling work of Jesus. The proverbial reproach of Egypt is lifted. The scorn, the shame, the disgrace. Any failures that they may have experienced in continuing their relationship with God, their wandering in the desert for 40 years, which had been attributed to their lack of faith in God to provide His promise of the promised land.

In one short verse, the Psalmist wove three theological threads celebrating the joy of our salvation

Blessed [are they] whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1 KJV)

And then as we think of the psalm that was read at beginning of the service today. And we find that in one short verse, the psalmist wrote three theological threads celebrating the joy of our salvation. "Blessed are they whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." There's a little bit of a nuance between the words transgression and sin in the Bible. Transgression leans more about rebellion where sin more towards the error.

Forgiveness also has a bit of a nuance. In the old Testament, the image leans more often towards sin being lifted or carried away or born away, as in Jesus bore our sins to Calvary. C. H. Gabriel wrote in his hymn that, "I stand amazed in the presence." One verse, he said,

He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calv’ry,
And suffered, and died alone.

In the new Testament, the emphasis tends more toward our sins being taken away, or us being released from them. Like the breaking of chains, as Wesley put in one of his hymns, and our cleansing and relief and freedom. As Charlotte Elliot wrote in her hymn, 

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God I come! I come!

 And then there's the idea that Peter set forth in his letter when he said, "And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins." And so if we can't quite grasp the idea of them being completely gone, perhaps we can grasp the idea of them being covered, concealed and clothed. Love reconciles people, like paint covers a variety of flaws. William Bradbury wrote in his hymn, 

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!

God’s love far outweighs even the worst sins of humanity

And he [the Prodigal] arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.       (Luke 15:20 KJV)

God's love far outweighs even the very worst sins of humanity. In the Gospel reading today, it says that the prodigal rose and came to his father. But when he was a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. The son came prepared to confess all his sins, but the father just went right past all that and said, "Grab a ring and a robe, restore this son of mine to his former position." The prodigal's extravagantly wasteful living was completely overshadowed by the parent's extravagant forgiveness and his love and acceptance. And the Bible invites us to fully and freely accept for ourselves, and to extend to others and offer to everyone else. God's love is mercy and His grace is, as C. Austin Miles put it in his hymn, 

God’s love, His mercy and His grace,
Combine to raise a fallen race;
His hand is ready, ere we call,
Held out with forgiveness for all.

We join Christ in his eternal work to replace injustice, suffering and war, with justice, peace and healing at every level of humanity, through the reconciling power of unconditional love for everyone.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Spiritual Food and Drink


 Spiritual sustenance is especially vital in times of tragedy so we can respond in the most helpful ways to the immense temporal and spiritual needs confronting us in our own lives and around the world.

The Bible is filled with invitations to receive God's providence. We heard one of those invitations as presented in the Message translation today from the book of Isaiah and I love just how it just began. It said, "Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water!" In the King James version it says, "Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters and he that hath no money come ye buy and eat. Yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Isaiah 55:1 MSG & KJV).

Transcript of sermon preached at Briensburg UMC on March 20, 2022 [Audio]

God promises to supply our greatest needs without money and without price. Paul put it this way, he said, "God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory." And that's a good place to think about it instead of the stinginess that sometimes we find among humanity in supplying needs. It's clear at the other end of the spectrum, according not to our lack of ability or are thinking that there's just so much to go around and we better make sure we get our part, but the generosity of God, according to his riches in glory."

And it describes in so many ways in our thoughts and in our Bible. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He created the heavens and the earth and we're always discovering how much greater all that creation is as they explore further into the universe. Basically, it seems to be infinite, doesn't it? And continuing to be created and God has it all. So there's plenty for everybody.

And he calls us into the spiritual realm where we can live into that prosperity of the kingdom of God, that wealth that is offered when Jesus says, "Seek you first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these other things will be yours, as well." So that's where Paul is leading us. That's where Isaiah is leading us. That's where the Bible is leading us into this spiritual realm of infinite wealth and prosperity. That is an eternal treasure that Jesus spoke of in heaven, and from that storehouse then to bring out the abundance to share with the world.

It's similar to the invitation of Jesus when he stood up and it says in The Living Bible, "On the last day, the climax of the holidays, Jesus shouted to the crowds, 'If anyone is thirsty, let them come to me and drink for the scriptures declare that rivers of living water shall flow from the inmost being of anyone who believes in me.'" And John went on to say in that passage that Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit who would be given to everyone believing in him.


Explore the spiritual dimension

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, (Psalm 63:1 KJV)

The Psalmist said in today's reading, "Oh, God, thou art my God. Early will I seek thee. My soul thirsteth for thee. My flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land." A dry and thirsty land can be more than just the geographical, but the spiritual famine is represented in these words. At times when things are so bleak we don't know where to turn, what to do, resources are scarce and options are insufficient to meet the overwhelming challenges, and in that situation the psalmist invites us to be diligent and intentional in exploring our relationship with God. Seek God early, as soon as possible to get the guidance and help we need for our thirsty soul.

Jesus promised in the Beatitudes that, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." 

Feed the soul 

And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.      (1 Corinthians 10:3-4 KJV)

And the reading from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he said, "And they all ate the same spiritual meat and did all drink the same spiritual drink for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them." And that rock was Christ. Christ is the spiritual rock who continues to follow us, to provide for us. The New Testament often refers to God's Word as nourishment. In several places Paul wrote about the Word as meat and milk, the milk and meat of the Word.

Jesus referred to himself as the living bread which comes down out of heaven. We pray as we just prayed this morning, "Give us this day our daily bread," as a short form of trust in God to provide all of our spiritual and temporal needs for the challenges we face this and every day. Notably in this passage today in the reading from First Corinthians, Paul wrote that, "All drank together the same drink from the same rock." We share this nourishment provided, not just for some, but for all.

Spiritually healthy people see God in the Love that overcomes tragedy

Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? (Luke 13:2 KJV)

This passage that was from the Gospel reading for today, there's several times in my life when it has come around in electionary cycle and spoken to certain times of tragedy that have been just history changing moments. And especially the one time that stood out to me that it does that, was right after 9/11. This was the reading for the Sunday after 9/11 and it's been a cycle that's been ongoing through all different denominations for, I don't know how long. For a long time.

And it goes around, it comes around and it came around then and it came around now with the tragedies going on that we face now, that the world faces, and is trying to reckon with. And within these passages, is this question by Jesus, "Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all Galileans because they suffered such things?" And one of the tragedies was a ruthless dictator mingling their blood with blood that was being offered to idols and considering human life as worthless only for his own purposes. And the other was of a building that collapsed and many people were killed.

And so those very images and the very questions that Jesus asked is one that comes down to us through the century in the tragedies of humanity and is still asked today, "Why? Why do these things happen?" And a lot of people like to speculate about that and then we can't help but speculate in some way or to ask why, but it's hard to find the answer to why. And sometimes when people speculate, the answers they come up with just make the situation worse almost and blame the victims for the tragedies they're going through. And so it's difficult to answer why evil and injustice happen.

And evil and injustice, they come to us in so many forms: natural disasters, self-inflicted problems. And probably one of the most difficult to understand, though, is those that are intentionally inflicted by individuals or by groups or by nations. Why would anybody want to hurt somebody, especially for no reason? Why? And it's so hard to wrap our minds around. It's impossible, really. And just as impossible as often as to stop those who are intentionally trying to hurt others.

It's often said that those that are out there trying to protect us and protect us from terrorism, for example, the terrorists, in their attempts, they only have to be successful once to get done what they want to do. And those protecting us are always facing these challenges over and over. It makes it pretty difficult. And apply that into other things. It's hard to stop people who want to harm others and it doesn't seem sufficient to punish them or to take vengeance. What we pray for is that they would stop, that they would repent, that they would see things from a different point of view, that they would have the peace that we just described here that we feel in this room today, that they could have some of that, if somehow we could extend to them that peace that passes understanding.

And so all of this is very confusing in there. It's difficult to know where God is, even sometimes in those things and they raise so many questions in our minds. But one thing is very clear and that is that God is actively and visibly, in the response of humanity, to help the victims. We can see that. We can point to it, and we can even be a part of it.

Recognize the spirit of Christ in times of storms and wars and disasters. Take a stand against evil and injustice and oppression in all its forms as we commit to doing in our baptismal vows that we share, that we ask of everybody when they become a part of the church and we reaffirm that then and at other times, and perhaps even now, when we ask on behalf of the whole church, 

On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?
And we say: I do.
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?
And again we say: I do.
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?
And we all say: I do.

The General Rules handed down to us from the earliest days of Methodism begin like this: They say, "Firstly, do no harm." Don't make the situation worse. Don't inflame the situation. Don't create obstacles. Remember the millstone example Jesus gave one time for anyone making things harder for others. Jesus also said that, "Some religious people tend to bind heavy burdens," as it's stated in Matthew 23: "They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be born and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."

"Secondly, do good." As our saying goes, do all the good you can. Find some way to offer encouragement and assistance, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem trusting that every tiniest seed will grow. We do good by absorbing our share of the social burden and the cost of helping those who are going through difficult circumstances.

Ina Duley Ogden wrote her hymn, "Brighten the corner where you are." The ripple effect from making the world better right around us spreads to others who may be closer to the situation and better able to address it because we have been supportive of them. Think about missionaries on the mission field or humanitarian workers in areas of war and conflict, our disaster responders in our own community and abroad.

Thirdly, attending upon all the ordinances of God, or, as we often say, "Stay in love with God." Feed and nurture the soul to keep each other spiritually healthy. Jesus asked Peter after the last breakfast, "Do you love me? Feed my sheep."

We connect our spirits more closely and more meaningfully in ways that transcend our differences in beliefs and cultures and politics. Spiritual vitality enables us to be centered and engaged and focused, guided by the Holy Spirit, led by the Lord step by step through our own difficulties and discovering how best to help others in their times of need.

During this Lenten season, we intentionally focus on strengthening ourselves and each other spiritually to better address the massive challenges of our time.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Citizens of the Spiritual Realm

 

Second Sunday in Lent


Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35






The Bible invites us to center ourselves on Christ in Heaven, and from that spiritual home to do all we can to transform ourselves and the world around us.

Notes for sermon preached on March 13, 2022 at Briensburg UMC | [Audio] 

Heaven is our spiritual home, even in this lifetime

 Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:.      (Philippians 3:20 KJV)

 

·       Politeuma  pol-it'-yoo-mah  (like our words “politic, political, or polity”)

o   Translated “Conversation” in KJV

o   Often translated “Citizenship” in other translations

o   Strong’s definition:

1.     the administration of civil affairs or of a commonwealth

2.     the constitution of a commonwealth, form of government and the laws by which it is administered

3.     a state, commonwealth

·       the commonwealth of citizens

·       This same verse in the RSV: Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.      (Philippians 3:20 RSV)

·       Two or more citizens of heaven, gathered in the name of Jesus and engaged in a divine conversation constitute a form of body politic with the power to make decisions and carry them out to manifest some facet of God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

o   In another context, Jesus said,
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:18-20 KJV)

 

Our heavenly Parent is always ready to receive us

 How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!    (Luke 13:34 GNT)

  

·       Spoken to Jerusalem, and through Jerusalem as a word to all humanity from our heavenly parent through our spiritual brother, Jesus, offering

o   Shelter

o   Sanctuary

o   Home

·       Ecclesia: Gathered community

o   Church home / church family

o   Faith community / faith family

o   Spiritual home / spiritual family

§  Transcending all earthly geo-political boundaries

§  Eclipsing our physical environment

§  Gathering our thoughts, feelings, relationships and powers and uniting us through the divine nature in which we were created

 

 

God dispels our fears and strengthens us to face even the most challenging circumstances

 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?      (Psalm 27:1 KJV)

 

·       There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18 KJV)

·       As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love, 1992).

·       The Psalmist concludes this passage, Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. (Psalm 27:14 KJV)

o   Can we trust God to bring us through the chaotic and horrifying issues confronting us in the news, and challenging us in our own lives?

§  Wait

·       Isaiah “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 KJV)

§  Be of Good courage, the Psalmist says

·       Phrase appears 17 times throughout the Old Testament in KJV

·       The idea appears many more times in various ways throughout the Bible

·       For example, Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9 KJV)

§  Let God strengthen our heart

·       Jesus said as he was facing the cross, Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. (John 14:1 KJV)

 

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 KJV)

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

  

·       Stated several ways throughout the New Testament

o   This concept is foundational to the idea of salvation by grace through faith

o   We have been studying this concept in our Wednesday Bible Study group:
Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness (Romans 4:3 KJV)

·       Great Question at tomb of Lazarus:

o   Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

·       Summary of the Christian Faith, John 3:16-17

o   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)

 

Today, the world stands in desperate need of what we have: spiritual gifts ministered in good faith and perfect love in the all-powerful authority of the name of Jesus

We have our gifts. We have our place in the work of transforming the world. It’s right where we are in the relationships we have around us and in the work that lays before us.

Throughout this Lenten Season, may we work on addressing the challenges and issues in our own lives and around the world from the perspective of our divine citizenship and spiritual empowerment as the daughters and sons of God.