Sunday, January 17, 2021

All Believers


The church is made up of everyone who believes in Jesus.

Today, we continue our series through Epiphany, the best part of Heaven, in a word, relationships. The Apostles' Creed has a statement, "We believe in the Holy Catholic church," and the Nicaean Creed has a similar statement, "We believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic church." These ancient creeds have been passed down to us through the generations and have these different statements that we share as Christians, but we don't always share the same understanding of those statements. In this case, in our United Methodist materials, the word Catholic is spelled with a lowercase C indicating it is an adjective describing the word church rather than they a proper noun as the name of the church.

Then also, it was attended by an asterisk in our official materials and there's a footnote that is linked to that asterisk with the word universal likewise in lower case, not referring to the name of any organization, but to the nature of the church that is universal, all encompassing, all inclusive. Merriam Webster further describes that word universal as including or covering all of a whole or collectively or distributively without limit or exception, and also available equitably to all members of the society, and also occurring everywhere, existent or operative everywhere under all circumstances and conditions.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 17, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

Our gospel reading for this week is from John 1:43-51, where Jesus called Philip and Nathaniel to be his disciples. That passage ends with this verse, verse 51: "Hereafter you shall see Heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man." The words there of Jesus connect this back to the image of the event where Jacob was having a dream and in that dream, a ladder extended from where he was on the Earth to Heaven and angels were ascending and descending, hence the song that we have, "We are climbing Jacob's ladder."
Angels Descending
 Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. John 1:51 (KJV)
Also, that's alluded to in another famous hymn of Blessed Assurance With the verse, "Angels descending bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love." In our communion ritual, we have a part of the great Thanksgiving, the prayer, where we say, "and now with all of God's people here on Earth and all the company of Heaven, let us join their unending hymn of praise." There is a hymn by Charles Westland called Happy the Souls to Jesus Joined.
As we reflect on the words of this brief hymn, let's think about our family and friends scattered around the world, wherever they may be, whatever they're practices of the faith are, and all our brothers and sisters around the world with all their various different forms of worship and the organizations that they're a part of within the one body of Christ, and not only those on Earth, but those who have gone to glory before us, our family, our friends, our neighbors, and others who are a part of the body of Christ, the Heavenly part, the part that no longer has occupation in our body, but has laid aside the Earthly tabernacle and continues as one of our prayers says in strength to strength in service to the Heavenly kingdom.

1 Happy the souls to Jesus joined,
And saved by grace alone;
Walking in all His ways, they find
Their heaven on earth begun.

2 The Church triumphant in Thy love,
Their mighty joys we know;
They sing the Lamb in hymns above,
And we in hymns below.

3 Thee in Thy glorious realm they praise,
And bow before Thy throne;
We in the kingdom of Thy grace:
The kingdoms are but one.

4 The holy to the holiest leads,
From thence our spirits rise;
And he that in Thy statutes treads,
Shall meet Thee in the skies.

Jesus is Building

This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.   Matthew 16:18 (MSG)

The church is all of us working together and in the building of the kingdom of God, but we're being built together by Jesus himself, who said, "This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of Hell will be able to keep it out." That's from Matthew 16:18 in the Message Translation. He goes on to give us His church, the kingdom, the keys to the kingdom, reflecting on it the various powers and authorities that are ours in the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the people of God, the church that Jesus is building here.
Paul refers to the church in that architectural sense of putting together a building, as having the various stones all assembled together. Each of us is like a stone in the building. When you think of that analogy, then we can think about that, not all the stones have been put in a place yet. It's still being built and the stones that may not yet be a part of the building are all being prepared to become a part in the building. They're being shaped and they're being brought into the location that they need to be in and getting prepared. The rest of the building is being prepared to receive those stones. We think of the stones as all the people. Then all the people that who are, who will become a part of this church are all being prepared for each other, for the relationship, to be each in their own place, in their own relationship, in their own place in the structure, in the church, in this spiritual entity that Jesus is building.

Gathered in the Name of Jesus

 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.  Matthew 18:20 (KJV)

We're gathered in the name of Jesus in Matthew 18:20 in the King James, it said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them." Sometimes it's brought up that the context of this statement and perhaps with some placing some limitations there. I'd like to reflect on that just militarily, as we think of this church. The context of this gathering of two or three, where Jesus said that, begins as he's talking about some conflicts that people may have theoretically for seeing that we may, as the church, have conflicts to be resolved.

He says in verse 16 of this passage, this is in the Good News Translation, "But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or three witnesses." That is how that part of the conversation begins, with this a way of resolving conflicts. If you're not able to work something out with the individual that you feel is not living out the Christian fight properly, then take a couple of people with you and see if together you can work that out. If not, then perhaps with the whole congregation, you can work something out. If not, well, then you may have to go your separate ways.

That's not the end of the passage, and that's not all that Jesus is talking about here, because he builds on that. It's not a limitation to the two or three gathered in his name. It's just the starting point of this conversation. He builds on that and adds to that. I tell you in verse 18 in the Good News, "What you prohibit on Earth will be prohibited in Heaven. What you permit on Earth will be permitted in Heaven." To this conflict resolution, Jesus adds this authority to make decisions. If two or three of us are gathered together in anyway, we have authority to make decisions about what we're going to do in the name of Jesus. We don't have authority to make decisions for other people who aren't there, unless they've elected us as a representative and asked us to make those decisions.

We can't just like our church make decisions for what other churches are going to do. We make decisions for what our church is going to do, and we respect their decisions for what they do. If we're a small group or a larger group, we can decide when we're going to meet and what we're going to study and what we're going to do. If there is some project we're going to take up, or some somebody we want to help, or, or some type of thing that we want to do, it's all within the .... If there's any limitation to that, its limitations that we have set or have accepted for ourselves within the structure of other groups that we're a part of, or within our understanding of the scriptures and so forth.

The point I think, is that we have this authority and that this is in addition to this conflict resolution that began the conversation in the first place. There's another layer in there. While you're at it, let me just say that if two or three of you decide something, then that's a valid decision. Not only that, another layer is added. In verse 19, and this is also in the Good News, "and I tell you more. Whenever two of you on Earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven." I like the word agree because it helps us to see that our gathering does not necessarily mean that we're physically in the same location, but that our thoughts are gathered, that spiritually we have gathered.

That really reflects a lot about the body of Christ. It's a spiritual gathering, it's a spiritual entity, it's a spiritual gathering of hearts and minds around Christ Himself, in relationship to Christ, and that puts us in a specific type of relationship with one another. When we are in relationship with Christ, we are the group heart, the body, the entity of those who are in relationship with Christ, no matter really, how good or bad that we're doing in our part of the relationship or how new, or how old that we are to that relationship, or whether that is a relationship that we enjoy while we're in the body, or whether is a relationship continuing after the physical body has been laid aside, we're all in relationship to Christ. That puts us all in relationship to each other, and if two or more of us agree within that relationship on anything, then we have a prayer. Then we have something that God will respond to.

Maybe He doesn't rule out our individual prayers, either. It just is adding this and it's adding it to the conversation that's already gone on, which admittedly is, it began with a conflicts, but it didn't end there. It was added on to that. It's another layer. If two or more of you agree on anything, it will be done for you. That brings us into some, think about like on the day of Pentecost when everybody was in one accord. That's when the Holy Spirit came in, and in such a mighty way.

We're invited to continue that today, to pray together, to join together in prayer. We still pray as Jesus did in solitude on the night He gave Himself up for us, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." Again, I want to reiterate that doesn't exclude our prayers, our individual prayers. It just adds that extra layer of prayer and an extra identification as two or more of us, that Jesus is with us. I'd like to read that verse 20 now, in that context, from the Message Translation about the presence of Jesus. Hear this, "And when two or three of you are together, because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there."

One Foundation

God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid.  1 Corinthians 3:11 (GNT)

Paul in another place of describing the church and in the terms of building materials, to 1 Corinthians 3:11 in the Good News, he said, "God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid." Then right before that, he was saying how we each have to be careful how we build so we take care of how we build on that foundation, because if we build up some kinds of materials, then what we build will endure, but if we build with other kinds of materials, it may not last so long.

Just keep that in mind. That may be all right, but bear that in mind, when you select the materials, you're using to build in your own spiritual life and in the life of our corporate spirit, spiritual life together as the people of God, as a Bible study group, or a covenant group or prayer group, or some kind of team that we might be forming for various projects in the church, or as a congregation or a denomination, however, parts of it, whatever parts of the body of Christ that we're working on, that we're a part of, take care how you build. Make sure you're using the proper materials for what Christ has given you the opportunity to build

That beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame as the way we say it back home, but Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Notre Dame, that building is in the process of being restored, and even after much of it was destroyed, it's still a beautiful edifice. Right now, they have been in the process of building these various bracings and all to keep what remains there from further damage or collapse. That bracing is itself a work of art. Parts of the building were completely destroyed by the fire and other parts were damaged or threatened, but they still remain in place. The materials and the money and everything that goes into all the craftsman and laborers and architects and engineers, and then everybody that supports all of them, is all being brought to place to rebuild this cathedral over several years. That's all been gathered together and materials are being identified for the replacement work that is to be done.

That's a beautiful analogy of all of this that the Bible is talking about, about the church and about building with the best materials and the appropriate materials for what we're doing, and of taking care how we build, and of some parts enduring and some parts, maybe not, of each of us having our role and our place in the building, but of Christ being the one who is actually bringing it all together and bringing us all together as the body of Christ, the building, the temple of the Lord. There is a certain foundation that can't be replaced, and that is Christ Himself. We're all built. Christ is the one building this church. We're all built on this one foundation.

We have a hymn, the Church's one Foundation by Samuel Stone: 

1. The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

2. Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

3. Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

4. Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till, with the vision glorious,
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

5. Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.
We Are All the Church
All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.   1 Corinthians 12:27 (TLB)
We are all the church. In the Living Bible chapter one, and then chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, verse 27 says, "All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it." We are one single spiritual unity, the body of Christ, the church, regardless of what name that we may place over our particular part of it, what sign we put on the front of the church that we meet, where we meet, or what name we take for our particular theological approach to distinguish us from groups taking other approaches or involved in other projects, regardless of what organizational structure that we adopt for conducting what we feel that God has led us to do, we along with all those others who are doing similar things are all a part of the one body of Christ, all who believe in Jesus.

As the saying goes, "All means all, y'all." The great invitation was given this way by Jesus, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The church is all of us in Earth and in Heaven who have accepted that invitation and have come on to Christ. May God bless you in your quest as you seek a deeper spiritual relationship with your creator, with your fellow creatures, as a part of the church of Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

We Will Not

I feel like it should go without saying, but apparently it must be said anyway: I will not support sedition and insurrection against the government of the United States.

I realize this puts me (again) at odds with some of my family, friends, neighbors, colleagues in ministry, and parts of the Christian community. Yet, what some are standing for while invoking Christianity is so egregious I'm obligated to at least register my opposition.  

"For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Galatians 5:14, KJV).

Fomenting hatred and violence are the opposite of Christianity, and yes, even when done in the political sphere. Working to advance discrimination, racism, oppression, injustice, and deceit is a demonic endeavor no matter what the arena. That includes the recent and continuing threats against our democratically elected government.

We should, in love, stand up for what we believe in (and against what we don't). The Biblical imagery of resistance by "The Three Young Men" provides an example: 
9 They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever.
10 Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image:
11 And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
12 There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king
14 Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?
15 Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, 
sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.  (Daniel 3:9-18, KJV)

Radicalized insurgents continue to demand our worship of their leader and our subordination to their malicious ideology. We will not. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Outward Sign of Inward Grace


"I indeed have baptized you with water, but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost" Mark 1:8 

Those are the words of John the Baptist as he was baptizing people in the Jordan River for the remission of sin and inviting people to become a part of the coming kingdom of God that Jesus Christ was going to be ushering in. While he was preaching and baptizing people, Jesus came to be baptized. And John was reluctant to baptize Jesus because he thought that Jesus should be the one to baptize him because he recognized Jesus to be the Messiah, the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. But Jesus insisted and John baptized Jesus in the river. And the Bible tells us that during this baptism, that the Holy Spirit descended in bodily shape like a dove and landed on Jesus. So we see all these outward signs. We heard the voice. We didn't. We hear it through the scriptures, but the people who were standing there heard the voice of God saying, "This is my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased."

Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 10, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

And ever since that time, from that time to this, people have been continuing to follow Jesus in baptism. In that moment, baptism took on a new and deeper significance. John emphasized how his baptism was a baptism with water. But the baptism of Jesus would be the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Forgiveness, Renewal, Empowerment, Sanctification

 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.   Mark 1:8 (KJV)

And with that spiritual baptism came the forgiveness that was pointed to in the water baptism of John, the repentance and forgiveness and remission of sins. But more because it also brought the spiritual baptism, the inner baptism that is pointed to with that outward baptism, brings renewal of our souls and empowerment with the spiritual gifts and sanctification, the continuous cleansing of our souls more and more all the time or, as John Wesley put it in Love Divine All Loves Excelling, "changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place."

It was a constant renewal, a constant improvement that we hopefully are making, even though sometimes it seems like we take one step forward and two steps back because we're still struggling with all of this and wading through it. An empowerment to minister our spiritual gifts and the power to love one another as Christ has loved us, even though we fall short in that also because another area that we're always kind of struggling with and maybe slogging through muddy ground, trying to move forward and not always knowing exactly how and coming up short. And that renewal that we experience in Christ is an ongoing daily, hourly, minute by minute, full of second chances, full of new opportunities, full of things being put behind us and other things opening up in front of us.

And the forgiveness that we experience in Christ also is ongoing, a constant process of reconciliation as we face ourselves honestly a little bit more each day. We try to encourage each other to take a look at ourselves at least every day, and to evaluate what we've been doing and what we have not been doing and think about where the improvements can be made so that the next day, perhaps, we can do better. And all of this is full of second chances, new life, new opportunity, laying aside that which is passed and picking up what lies before us and taking advantage of the opportunities and the challenges and the calling that God has for us for the future, the infinite future, the eternal future.

And all of this we consider today as we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, which we do annually in our denomination along with other denominations throughout the body of Christ and celebrating this time when Jesus came to be baptized. We celebrate that as a sacrament in our theological tradition, that is a sign act with words that has an impact on our lives, an effectiveness in our lives, this outward sign. I think of it sometimes like a wedding ring as an outward sign of an inward invisible bond. And so that's what this water baptism is. It's a sign of a connection going on deep within us, what the spirit is doing within us. And that's a gift from God that God gives us not by our own power or knowledge or belief or any of the work that we do or anything that we do, but as a gift from God. It's the grace of God that saves us. It's the grace of God that is pointed to in this baptism with water. Then we're brought into the fellowship of Christ with that.

And we've been looking at the best part of heaven as we go through Epiphany this time. Last time we talked about how we believe in the Holy Spirit. And this time we've been using the Apostles' Creed, and we're going to use the Nicene Creed along with that, because that goes right along, they go together. One is more expanded, the Nicene Creed, and one is more brief, the Apostles' Creed. But they have just about the same things and the same structure, except that the part that we're going to bring up today. And that I'm bringing up is with the baptism, because in the Apostles' Creed it doesn't say anything about baptism. But in the Nicene Creed it says, "I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins." The Apostles' Creed does talk about forgiveness of sins. And then we'll address that another week. But of course, I mean, that's a part of all of our conversations anyway, but focus more on that another week.

But this first part of that that's in the Nicene Creed, I believe in the one baptism. And so that is some pages for us to put our thoughts around today and this weekend as we reflect on the baptism of Jesus and our own baptism. And that we're grateful for our own baptism.

Born of water and the spirit

Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.

John 3:5 (MSG)

In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus said, talking about being born again and he said this. This is how it is in the message. "Unless a person submits to this original creation, the wind hovering over the water creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into new life, it's not possible to enter God's kingdom." That is kind of drawn out a little bit translation of a verse that says in the King James that more simply that unless we're born of water and the spirit, we can't see the kingdom of God. We can't perceive it. We can't realize it and see what... can't tell where it is or what it is. And of course, he goes on to talk about the Holy Spirit and how the wind blows where it will. You can't see it, but it's there working nonetheless. And so same thing with this.

And if we're not, as the message puts it, submitting to the original creation of God, of what he created us for. If we're not engaged in that, then we're not going to be able to perceive this heavenly kingdom, this invisible spiritual kingdom, even though it's happening all around us.

So well, the best part of heaven is our relationships. And the baptism does point to our relationship with God and with each other. This spiritual significance, this outward, visible sign of the inward and invisible grace. One way that Paul talks about it is as being clothed in Christ. And he said in Galatians, and this is in the message also translation, "By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe, Christ's life, the fulfillment of God's original promise."

Put on Christ

By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise. Galatians 3:27 (MSG)

In our funeral ritual, we have some of these verses that are so important to us throughout life that are taken in different ways, pulled together in the ritual. And one of them is this part here when we say, "As in baptism, we have put on Christ. So now may we," our family and friends who've gone on, "may they be clothed in glory as they have put on Christ. Now, may they be clothed in glory." And this putting on of Christ is a powerful image because just like our shirt, we put that on and that becomes our garment. That's what we're wearing. That's how we go out. That's how we go in. That becomes a part of our whole appearance and our whole approach to life that day, by what we're wearing.

There are several examples of this through the scripture where the attire is described for the priestly attire in the Old Testament to the wedding attire that Jesus talks about in his perils of the wedding feast about people can come from, doesn't matter where they come from or what they've been up to. They're invited to become a part of this fellowship, but they are expected, as the wedding they're invited to the wedding, they're still expected to put on the right clothes when they get there and come to it. And we still have those expectations that we will cloth ourselves in dressed in his righteousness alone as one song puts it, that we will close ourselves in love and goodness, and in good works and in a good relationship and reconciled relationship with God and with each other and with all of creation. So we put on this new life, we put this on as a garment and dress and it becomes an image of who we are.

Mystical Unity

There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, there is one God and Father of all people, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all.           Ephesians 4:4-6 (GNT)

In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he speaks this way, and this is in the Good News translation. He said, "There is one body and one spirit just as there is one hope to which God has called you. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. There is one God and father of all people who is Lord of all and works through all and is in all."

A part of the effective nature of our baptism or the part of that actually produces actual change for us, an actual result, it begins with the application of the water itself because everybody that gets baptized gets baptized by somebody who has been baptized by somebody else, going all the way back to the time when John baptized Jesus. And before that, when he was baptizing other people. It includes everybody who's been baptized by somebody who's been baptized. So there's a physical connection there.

In the laying on of hands for people who were baptized through an application of water in the hand and sprinkling or pouring, or in the immersion where somebody is held and immersed, all of those is a physical contact with the water and with the person extending the baptism to another person and bringing them into that fellowship of everybody who's ever been baptized in all time for all these thousands of years. That's quite a connection to contemplate and to think about where all those people are now. Most of them are in heaven and we'll all join them shortly. And we're all, in the meantime, scattered around the world. And there's a lot of us here in the world and a lot are crossing now as one of the Wesley hymns says, many have crossed before and it's a lot of crossing even now at this hour. People are crossing over from the physical, seen state to the unseen spiritual state. And yet that relationship remains that began with this baptism in water.

As we sort of migrate our thoughts or let our thoughts morph to the spiritual, more spiritual and less tangible part of this baptism, the spirit baptism part of it that John pointed to Jesus about, baptized with the Holy Spirit. Even the water that touches us and even when we touch water and apply it to ourselves or have it applied to us in a renewal of our baptismal covenant, or reaffirmation of our baptismal covenant, then even that water we know is recycled and it travels everywhere. Who knows where all that water has been over the centuries and over the millennia and since the beginning of creation, when the spirit of God moved across the face of the waters.

And that's something just keep your mind busy on to contemplate the unity of Christ and of God's creation. Just think about the water cycle and how the water that we touch and that we absorb and how then it goes and gets recycled and comes back to us again in the clouds from other parts of the world and is carried from here to other parts of the world underground and in the air and everywhere.

So that water is a pretty powerful image of something that is a part of our everyday life, a part of our existence. Most of our body, most of the earth, most of anybody else's body of all the other creatures that God ever made is, most of that is composed of water. And we need a continuous supply of it. Can't live without it.

That's how it is with the Spirit of God. We're connected together with the breath of God, with that invisible connection with God and with each other, with all who have gone before and all even who are yet to come and all who are scattered around the world, wherever they may be in this moment. Those that are being born and being received into the fellowship of humanity and then into this fellowship of the mystery. Paul also speaks out of him in Ephesians, as he's lifting this up. And becoming a part of the body of Christ, becoming a part of the love and fellowship and friendship and family of God and growing, and we grow and learn, and we nurture each other and encourage each other in faith. And together then, but we're one body in Christ and growing into the oneness and the unity of him that filleth all in all.

And that gives us plenty of room to think about things. All in all, that means, as I say, all means y'all and y'all. All of humanity, all of creation, all of everything that is a part of who God is, what God has created, what God has wrought in us and in eternity. So it's a mystical unity and a sign of our mystical unity in Christ. It goes beyond us as the people of God and the fellowship of believers. But we do have this distinction as the mystical body of Christ that is represented in the baptism and is pointing to this spiritual unity that makes us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in service to all the world. We are called and authorized in our baptism to extend the love of Christ to the rest of the world.

Bring Everyone into the Relationship

Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 28:19 (GNT)

We're called and empowered in our baptism to love everybody around us, regardless of what they believe or don't believe and to extend to them the grace and love and forgiveness that God has poured into us. This is where we become vessels they say of the living water. And we extend that to the world around us. We're united in our service as the people who are a part of the body of Christ. And we bring everyone else into it. That's the great commission that we have in Christ, where Jesus said, "Go then to all people everywhere and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." That's how Matthew 28:19 is phrased in the Good News Testament.

We go, we baptize, we bring people into discipleship. We bring them into the fellowship of the body of Christ, of people who are disciples of Jesus who are living into that role. We're learning how to live as Jesus has invited us to live. We're learning how to serve as Jesus has invited us to serve. That's our discipleship is to become who God has created us to become and to bring others into that same experience of learning and growing together, encouraging and strengthening each other.

So may God bless you in your quest as you seek a deeper relationship with your creator and with all of God's creation. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Seekers Seek

The best part of Heaven is our relationships.

"We have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2b, KJV).

Today we begin a series through the Epiphany season and it will be called "The Best Part of Heaven." The short summary of that is our relationships with God and with each other and with our fellow creatures, with other people and with all of creation, The Best Part of Heaven. So we'll be exploring that as we look at the lectionary readings for this throughout this next several weeks. And going along with that, as a bit of a framework, is a third section of the Apostle's Creed, and it has several affirmations that go well with the lectionary and with the themes and ideas of The Best Part of Heaven. And so we'll use those to give us a little bit of a connection with the ancient church. And so this week, the affirmation is "we believe in the Holy Spirit."

As it's stated in the Nicene Creed, "we believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the giver of life who proceedeth from the Father and the Son who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets."

Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 2, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

So today's sermon is "Seekers Seek." There are so many sermons in this passage of scripture [Matthew 2:1-12]. As we know every year at this time, preachers all around the world of every different denomination read this passage and preach on it and have all different sermons, not only from each other, but from themselves. So much material here planning to go on that covers a lot of territory. And it actually covers territory because people come from a long distance across a wide terrain to see Jesus. And this is reminiscent of some people who came to the disciples later in Jesus' ministry and said, "Sirs, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21). People want to see Jesus.

Seekers are people who seek and sometimes were more of a seeker than at other times. But in general, we're all seekers. We're hopefully all enthusiastic about seeking spiritual things and finding more out about ourselves and about all of the kingdom of God that has been open to us. And so seeking is a lifelong, and that's an eternal lifelong, quest to find out more, to explore the great depths of God's love and to find our own way of continuing to connect with each other and to be a part of each other's lives, regardless of all the different things that may be going on in the world or beyond. And we are seeking that connection in this lifetime and in the life of the world to come. So ours is a spiritual journey, a spiritual quest to remain in communion with each other, beyond the grave and to continue in this fellowship that is eternal.

And so there are parameters that the Bible helps us to find, but there are more invitations really than there are parameters. So we come, each time we turn our thoughts to spiritual discovery, then we do so with it as open as a mind as we're able to have. Some of our open-mindedness is limited by some of the beliefs that we have, preconceived beliefs and understandings, beliefs that we've been taught, beliefs that people have imposed on us. And some beliefs that we have discovered for ourselves and set as boundaries for ourselves. But I think as open as we can be in our quest and in what God will show us, then I think that is what the Bible invites us to "Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy-laden. I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me for I am meek and lowly and I will give you rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-30)

Open minded quest for spiritual engagement

 “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”  Matthew 2:2b (MSG)

We long to open our hearts and minds to let God show us as we explore this kingdom. And these people are a good example of that. These people are framed in the scripture as three wise men, and they came from somewhere in the East, and there are a lot of things we can study about this and preach sermons on, but they came from over in the Persian area where Iran is now. And they came all that distance with their own customs and their own ideas about how things could be done. When we see, I think in the scripture, that they came with an open mind, outside of some of the things that were a part of their customs and traditions, ready to discover something new and not really knowing what it was. But they had looked at a lot of different sources for their information, including the stars in the sky, the texts of various religions. They even talked with the religious and political leaders at Jerusalem to get some guidance. And they also received some guidance from a dream, an angel speaking to them in a dream.

So that covers several of the bases that we all look at in our exploration of spiritual life. And in the Message Translation, it said, "Where can we find and pay homage to the new born King of the Jews? We observed a star in the Eastern sky that signaled his birth. We're on a pilgrimage to worship him (Matthew 2:2b).

So we want to have a spiritual engagement. They give us a good example of wanting to find out more about spirituality, to make discoveries that we haven't made yet. And to be open to hearing and seeing some things that we haven't experienced yet.

Prioritize spirituality

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33 (KJV)

The Bible and really spiritual people encourage us to prioritize spirituality. The way Jesus said at one place was, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." And that's in Matthew 6:33 in the King James Version. And it says the same thing in other translations, different ways. To put spiritual quest as a top priority, really the top priority and that if we will, then everything else will fit in around that. I think I have an image in mind of the Stephen Covey's illustration of a jar, where in a little exercise, if you've been to one of those group workshops where you take a jar and you put in the small rocks first, and then there's no room for the big rocks. But if you put the big rocks in first, then there's plenty of room for all the small rocks as you put them in the jar, too.

And if we can do that with our spirituality, I think the lesson would be learned, would be lived out, if we see our spiritual life as the most important, then we put that in first and fill in everything else around it. And that's what Jesus is saying here. We'll seek God's kingdom, the kingdom of the spirit. We seek that first and all the things that pertain to that, all the love, all the justice, all the relationships, all the way that we have of relating to each other, if we make that the top priority, then everything else will work out as it should or if it doesn't, it will be something less important that will be left undone. But the most important thing will still be done. And that's the thing that gives us the most happiness and the most joy.

That's the best part of heaven. It is the life in the spirit, because that's where our connection is with God and with each other. And even with our own true self. That's where our connection is with those who have gone on before us. And those who are even yet to come. That's our mystical connection with the whole body of Christ throughout the ages, and with all of creation in our own tiny corner of the world where we're sitting right now, across the world and across the cosmos. It's all that life in the spirit. And everything else might come and go. But that life in the spirit is eternal. And that's what we're invited into with the invitations of Christ and the apostles and the scriptures and the church and all who are seeking spiritual life and extending invitations to others to join us in that quest.

Promise: We will find what we are looking for

Those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks.  Luke 11:10 (GNT)

The Bible gives us a promise that we will find what we're looking for. Jesus phrases it this way in saying, "Seek and you shall find. Those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks." That's in Matthew. And it's also in Luke, this one that I just read that from Luke 11:10 in the Good News Translation. But he goes on to say, "If your earthly parents know how to give you good things when you ask for them, think how much more your heavenly parent will give good things." In Matthew he said good things. In Luke he says, "How much more will your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit?" And so we're promised that we're going to find and really that's a good thing to search out in itself.

If you just look in the Bible to see all the places that have to do with seeking and searching, you'll find a lot of them and a countless how many, well, maybe not countless, there's a finite number, I suppose, but lots. A lot of them and you'll go through and you can find a lot in the Bible about just seeking God and seeking God's kingdom and seeking what's good and expecting to receive what you're asking for and to find what you're looking for.

And really that's true of life. Cheryl gives an example of having an extra pizza one time. And so she started looking around to see if anybody might need one as she's driving down the road. And she saw somebody and pulled up and turned out that there was a person who was out looking for something for supper for herself and her granddaughter, and because they didn't have any food. And so in seeking somebody that needed a pizza, she found somebody that needed a pizza, who themselves were seeking for some food and found somebody then just out of the blue showed up and gave them a pizza.

And we probably all might have different ideas of the experiences like that, where we while we have on our mind while we're looking for, that's what we ended up finding. And in the Bible, that's the same thing. You can look in the Bible and find just about anything. If you're interested in hell, you'll find all about hell. And if you're interested in heaven, you'll find out all about heaven. That's what I'm interested in. So I find out a lot about it, because that's what I'm looking for in the scripture. Look for love. You can look for love in all the wrong places and find all kinds of wrong kinds of love, but you can look for love in the scriptures and you'll find the right kind of love and on and on. What we have on our mind, what we're focused on, that's what we're going to see that's where we're going to find out more about and discover, and the same as with our spiritual life. It's the same with God.

God said to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 19:13, he said, "You will seek me and find me." So that's a wonderful promise. Our quest for a deeper spiritual life, our quest to explore the kingdom of God and to find out all the best parts of heaven is not in vain. We will find what we're looking for. So look for that.

The Holy Spirit guides our exploration

The Spirit of truth... will guide you into all truth. John 16:13 (KJV)

And we're not alone in our exploration. We do have each other, we have our friends and family, and we have our books and our religious resources and other people's religious resources and all kinds of information. But more than all, we have the Holy Spirit to guide in our exploration, like a tour guide to take us around and show us around the good things of heaven. That's why I'm going back to that promise of Jesus to seek and how much more will your heavenly Parent gave you the Holy Spirit and good things. So the Holy Spirit guides us and gives us.

Well, Jesus promised this as he was getting ready to finish up his earthly ministry the night he gave himself up for us actually. And he said, "The spirit of truth will guide you into all the truth," in John 16:13 in the King James. But we have that affirmation in the Apostles Creed, we believe in the Holy Spirit. And it's stretched out a little bit in the Nicene Creed, with some extra information about that, about how the Holy Spirit spake by the prophets, that that's the same Holy Spirit that we're talking about, that this is a part of the Trinity and some other theological ideas, one of which was the basis of the great schism between the church East and West over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. So whether it's and or through. And so at the time, that seemed to be an important enough argument to everybody that they split the church and ex-communicated each other and everything.

And now even they look back on that and those churches are in full communion with each other over centuries later. It took them a long time to reconcile that. Still not one organization, but they are moved on past that argument a little bit. So it makes us think about some of the things that we are engaged in and do we led to what future generations will look back and think, well, that's not a very big argument. It shouldn't be, but yet it is. And really all the different splits in churches that people have had have been over such things. That's just seemed like well you just couldn't live with somebody if they believed that, or if they didn't believe this, that you just couldn't, how could you love them? How could you be in a relationship. That kind of shows us that it's really the relationship itself is what all of this is all about. The love that we have that overcomes those differences is what all this is about.

And that is what the Holy Spirit is leading us into, into ways of being reconciled with each other, in ways to overcome those differences and to not make a mountain out of something that, no matter how important it is, is not more important than our spiritual life and our relationship with God and with each other. And so we want to almost look at it as an opportunity to find deeper reconciliation when we come to those impasses with each other, if we can, but sometimes that's easier said than done.

The quest begins with prayer

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

And so finally, the quest begins with prayer. In the II Chronicles, 7:14, way back to the Old Testament there, it said "If my people, which are called by name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then when I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." Whenever any quest that we began any next step that we begin, it just has to begin with prayer. And that prayer has to be not what somebody else tells us to say and even not just for someone else as with our intercessory prayer, but for ourselves and for what we're seeking today, while we're searching out in the Spirit for this hour.

And so it begins with our personal understanding of prayer that we have arrived at this point in our lives. And if we look back on years past, might recognize that our ideas of prayer have been formed and shaped by the experience of prayer and by the ways that they've been answered or seem not to have been, or by the prayers that we have used that have been handed down to us by the church in different forms, prayer books, and prayer guides and prayer groups, that we've shared prayer with each other. So we've come to some understanding at this point in our spiritual journey as to what prayer is for us.

And that's where we take our next step, is by going to the Lord in prayer and meditating and studying and gathering our thoughts and seeking God's guidance and the leadership of the Holy Spirit to move us forward. And then we pray for what we're seeking and we bring in to that what's the burden on our heart. We bring into that the burden that we have for other people and for ourselves and for where we want to go now. What are we looking for? What are we seeking out?

And if we look at that through this lens of the best part of heaven and the relationships we have, then we bring to our prayer and this quest that we have for continuing connection with family and friends who've gone before us, with each other around the world, and even the prayer of Christ that we pray in the Lord's Prayer, that "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10) So we seek out, well how is that? How are people relating to each other in heaven? What is that perfect life of heaven, that spiritual life that is brought to its fulfillment in the word heaven, and how are those relationships that are eternal, that we begin here in earth and we continue in heaven. And those that with other people we may never have met until we get to heaven. And how did all those all come together?

So this is our quest, to seek out the deeper spiritual life and to find where God is inviting us to go next. So we begin that with prayer, with our best understanding of prayer, and we'll spread that out in our hearts, and then we follow as the Spirit leads.

And so may God bless you as in your quest to seek a deeper relationship with your creator and with your fellow creatures in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, August 31, 2020

JUSTICE: Harmony with All


Racial injustice, gender inequality, LGBTQ discrimination, are prevalent in our community, along with other injustices that continue to be persistent in our community, in our denomination, across our country -- certainly in other denominations and other communities as well. 

Live in harmony with one another.  Romans 12:16a (ESV)

 But we're responsible for influencing what goes on in our community. In our congregation, our community, our families, and in our church and denomination. So it's hard, then, always to feel like we're able to be in harmony, as the Bible invites us in so many ways to be in harmony. And yet in this passage really addresses... Paul addresses ways that we can do that. Ways that we can be in harmony, even with people who are on the other side of the issues that are so important to us. Without losing our stance or anything like that. It's important that we take a stand for what is right and for justice.

Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on August 30, 2020  
for Briensburg UMC

So during this season after Pentecost, going up through Christ the King, we're focusing our lectionary readings on looking at our lectionary readings through this lens of justice. In doing so then I kind of... I don't know how I could ever stop doing that really... because it's always going to say that, it's throughout the whole Bible. That's what God calls us to. That's what Christ demonstrated: was fairness for all people, equality, and acceptance and love.

And so we have this challenge, that when we take a stand for an issue of justice, that automatically puts us in a discord with the people that are on the other side of that issue. And yet, so we're called to be in harmony with each other. But you know what? Here's the great thing, I think, is that whichever side of the issue we're on, we're going to be in discord with the ones on the other side. So we want to make sure we're on the right side of it. We're wanting to make sure we're on God's side of the issues. Because the way that this will all resolve, is that everybody that's on the wrong side will be converted, and get on the right side. So that's where we need to start out ourselves.

When we look at what Christ did, He went out with his ministry, and He stood on the side of the oppressed. He wasn't trying to pick a fight with the oppressors, but it automatically put Him at odds with those who wanted to continue their oppression. But little by little, some of those people were converted. And that conversion process is continuing to this day, and we're part of it. So when we stand with Christ, we stand with those who are being discriminated against, those who are experiencing inequalities, those who are experiencing injustice: we stand with them.

And then we are to love everybody else into that position. And the temptation is to fight fire with fire. Or as that... Christ brought out in the sermon on the mount and said, "You've heard it said", you heard it right in the Bible really, the Old Testament, "You heard it said, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, "love even your enemies." I believe especially, because that's where the change will come from. From people being loved into the Kingdom of God. Loved into the law of love. And if we try to use those other tactics that they use, then we'll all have the same result. Everybody will just be mad at each other and nothing will be accomplished. That love will conquer all. So that's what caught me in this passage. I think that's maybe a little overview of that passage from it, from this view of justice.

Be reconciled with God and all who believe in universal love.

Live in harmony with one another. Vs 16a (ESV)

Going down to verse 16 the passage, you see that in English standard version, it translates, "Live in harmony with one another". That just really stood out to me enough to make that the title of our message today. Harmony with all. Because we're invited to be reconciled with God and with all who believe in universal love. And not everybody does. We're going to be reconciled with somebody. We're going to be on some side of every issue. Why not choose today, and every day, that when we're confronted with those choices to take our position and be in harmony and reconciliation with those who believe that God loves everybody and that he invites us to do the same thing. So that as God loves, to love as Christ loves, let's do that, amen? Let's love everybody the way Christ loves us. We can't go wrong. The worst that's going to happen is that they don't love us back. But this passage addresses that, too. I love everyone, even those who don't love everyone.

Love everyone, even those who don’t.

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.    Vs 9a (MSG)

And again I say,  maybe especially those. Extra love for those who don't love everyone. Who only love those who are like them, or who support them. Take extra effort. And I like how it's said in the Message on this verse, "love from the center of who you are, don't fake it." Love takes a lot of different forms. So we might not be able to love in every way, all the time. We're going to have some struggle with that. But then that comes back to our own self reflection and self examination and spiritual growth within our own lives. To learn how to love better. Like we sang at the beginning of the service, "Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine" (Ode to Joy). Be genuine, at least in your intention to love, intentionally love in every situation.

We go back to 1 Corinthians 13, there's all these attributes given of what love is. These are the kinds of things that love does, love is, and activate those in our lives. And if we see a situation where we're having some trouble feeling the love, at least go to those attributes and show that love. Not from pretense, but from the intention of being able to love better. From an intentional purpose of bringing conversion to a situation, and to a person, to a problem and changing it, transforming it. Really, that's how the transformation of the world happens. One little tiny sliver, one tiny little moment in time. One relationship, one issue at a time. 

It would be nice to just think we can all just make a speech or, read a book or do something and everything in the whole world would all of a sudden be all right. But I think we have all been witnesses to the fact that's not going to happen. But what we can be witnesses of in our own lives are the times that we have just planted the seed, or watered, or given a word of encouragement. And we've seen that it's gone into a little river of likewise things that have been taking place in someone's life and came out to be transformative, contributed to the conversion, contributed to the happiness and the joy of someone and the change of someone's heart. One thing I have found, if I argue with somebody about something, they tend only to come up with more reasons to defend their position. In our congregation here, we took the path of standing up for what we believe in, but without arguing about it with everybody. We just say "this is fair." And we have the resources, a list of them on the website on why we think about that. You go there and read about that. We refer you to that. You can Google it or find out why we take the positions we take. We hope you'll change also. But we love you anyway, even if you don't and this is just where we are.

Hope and pray while working patiently to build harmony.

 Let your hope keep you joyful, 
be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 
Vs 12 (GNT)

 And we want to. We have found that to be helpful. To kind of diffuse situations. Not entirely, not for everybody. And neither did the disciples. They still ended up getting in trouble with people. Didn't like their positions. But we hope, and we pray and we work patiently to build harmony wherever we can. With whomever we can, and whatever ways we can build that harmony. And the good news translation verse 12 says, "letting you hope keep you joyful. Be patient in your travels and pray at all times." This is our hope. Hope is not just wishful thinking or just wishing something would happen. It's an anticipation, at least in a way that it's used here in this passage. It's anticipating what is going to be the result.

"Our hope is in the Lord, who made Heaven and Earth." Our hope is that His dream for humanity will come true. Our hope is that when He says, "every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" that eventually that's going to happen. Our hope it has that when Jesus... When God said that His desire, as Peter's expression was, that no one would perish, but all people would come to this knowledge. Our hope is that God is able to meet His goals, and accomplish what He has set out to accomplish. And that dream of God's will come true, just like the dream that He had of pouring out His holy spirit on all flesh and all the people would prophecy and they would dream dreams and they would have visions. And it would be everybody equally. That was poured out on. That was expressed by Peter in a sermon at Pentecost and quoting the prophet Joel.

Stand up for what is right without trying to pick fights.

 Do everything possible on your part
to live in peace with everybody.  
Vs  18 (GNT)

And so we're invited to stand up for what is right. Not trying to pick fights over it. When we took our... When we made our inclusive statement a few years ago, then when we joined the Reconciling Ministries Network, well, we got some pushback on that. But all I saw the people from our church doing was loving people and trying to explain if it wasn't going to be causing trouble to do so. And pointing to the resources, inviting people into conversation about that. And some people got really mad. Some people unfriended us. But some people appreciated the honesty of it all and the ability to engage, even if they didn't agree. And so, we probably all have friends on both sides of some of those issues. And they're still our friends, some of them. Because they, like us, hear this word, inviting us to try to be at harmony with each other, even if we don't agree.

Harmony is not a matter of every note being the same. What it is a matter of, every note being played in ways that are... that work together to make beautiful music. Then let the Lord strike the right note at the right times to make the song. If we look at harmony and other setting like with a machinery --aAnything that has gotten more than one part has got to have harmony between those parts for that machine to work. And then it only takes one little tiny part in your automobile, for example, to go out and you're stranded on the side of the road. And it might not be, seem like a very important part, but if it goes out, then you find out it was. Because you want all parts of the machine to work together, to do the task that the machine is supposed to be doing. So likewise, all of us work together. We all have different things, different places we're coming from, things that are important to us - priorities, beliefs, everything else.

We're not any different than these people back there when these words were written in that regard. But yet, Christ still calls us into that same harmony. The one expressed on the day of Pentecost when they were all in one place in one accord and the Holy ghost descended on them - empowered them - beyond any amount of imagination. So we stand up for what we believe in, but we do everything possible on our part to (this is how it is translated in the Good News Translation), "do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody."

Paul maybe wrote this. Now they also have in mind some of the ways that he had tried to do that and it didn't work; there were still people who wanted to get him and who punished him in many ways throughout his ministry. And yet he still worked at that. And out of that came a whole lot more people who joined into this cause of love and harmony, than those who were against it.

And in Christ, the message has always met similar resistance. Sometimes most of the resistance has been from other people in their church. Because the people outside the church probably didn't hear the message so much. But the people inside the church, (not our church, of course), we have some churches, inside the body of Christ. And that's where the pushback comes a lot of times. Because we all come together, hear the word of the Lord and we all hear that. Then not everybody likes it. Not everybody responds the same way. Well maybe everybody could hear this message to do it as much as we can to be at peace with one another, regardless of how we feel about these issues. But yet still just stand for them.

When we left off our live services for awhile because of the virus, we had been doing meant a special series on putting on the full armor of God. We made about halfway through that. So I'm thinking maybe next week we finished this time of emphasis on justice that maybe we'll finish up that series. But the whole purpose of putting on that armor, is so we can stand. Put on the full armor of God, so you can stand. Then, "having done all to stand, stand." We take our position, we take our stand. We stand for what is right, but we also don't try to cause trouble doing it. It's going to cause enough trouble on its own.

And so we try to be reconciled with one another. That's one thing I like about being a part of the Reconciling Ministries Network is that we're part of a group that is taking the position that we need to be reconciled with one another, that everybody needs to be brought into harmony. And that's the work that Christ was doing on Calvary. We talked about that Wednesday in Colossians in our Bible study, that Christ was at work on the cross reconciling all things to himself. Everybody, everything in heaven and in earth, and we might be one tiny part that we might think that we're not so significant, but that's where the whole thing breaks down if our part fails.

Change the world by doing good.

Do not be overcome by evil, but be overcoming evil with good.   Vs 21 (DLNT)

And so we're invited to change the world. Our mission statement for the United Methodist church is to make disciples, to transform the world by making disciples for Jesus Christ. "Making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" is how it's actually said... We're invited to change the world. And we do so by putting these teachings of Jesus into practices on our personal lives, in our relationships, in our community, our choices and doing that as a church. Verse 21, the disciples little new Testament that said, "Do not be overcome by evil, but be overcoming evil with good." And that stood out to me, that particular translation of the verse, instead of just like overcoming with good, be overcoming. Because it kind of gives us a little bit of a sense that this isn't all going to be over in one day.

The world's not going to be set right in just a short moment. But we're doing our part to be overcoming, we're in that process. We're a part of that process. Each of us. Even here, even in our congregation, even in our relationships, in our friendships, we are in the process of overcoming the world. Not by lording anything over people, not by force. But by the power of love. By loving one another as Christ has loved us. Not meeting evil with evil, but meeting evil with good. And knowing and hoping and trusting and praying that that good will overcome the evil. 

That's our invitation to be that kind of a disciple of Jesus that believes in love. We believe in the power of love to conquer and overcome whatever else may come against it. In the name of Jesus. Amen.