Friday, June 24, 2022

Clothed in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

2nd Sunday after Pentecost & Father's Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Wonderful 1st TWK Annual Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









  

Sunday, June 12, 2022

God's Love in Our Hearts

God pours divine love into our hearts, empowering us to live into the command of Jesus, to love others as Christ loves us.

The Holy Spirit is our Guide

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.     (John 16:13 KJV)

These are the words of Jesus Christ. And Jesus talking to us about this Spirit of truth this evening on his way to Gethsemane, he has already told earlier in that same discourse, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Paul later would write, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty." And Jesus also earlier in the evening said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," And now he promises that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all the truth.

Transcript of the sermon preached on June 12, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

Holy Trinity & Peace with Justice
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

We gradually move into the fullness of God's truth led by God's own Spirit. And just as the Bible says about Jesus during the childhood narratives, that as a child, he grew in wisdom and grace, so we, God's children, all of us, grow into that same wisdom and grace by the guidance of the Holy Ghost. These eternal qualities of faith, hope, and love grow within us, expanding our ability to embrace all God's people with inclusiveness, forgiveness, and love.

And he said the Holy Spirit would show us things to come. Now, Jesus said this, remember, on his way to get arrested at Gethsemane. So, perhaps he was referring at one level to the things that were just about to be coming their way just that evening. But then there was the promise also that this Spirit would always be with us, always to guide us, and so on another level, giving us guidance and wisdom for each and every day. Not just those who first heard the words, and reported them, but those to whom they reported those words and that promise, that is to you and to me, to each of us forever in this life and in the life of the world to come, God's guidance, God's strength, God's assistance and wisdom.

We know so little about what is coming our way each day. We kind of get some general ideas about those plans always tend to not work out just exactly how we were thinking. And even if they're pretty close, there's usually some kind of little nuances to it that were unforeseen. But the Holy Ghost provides us with wisdom for each moment, and the strength to move forward through even the most difficult days.

Wisdom was alive with God before Creation

The Lord possessed me [Wisdom] in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.     (Proverbs 8:22 KJV)

This wisdom, according to Proverbs and other places in the Bible, this wisdom was alive with God before creation. "The Lord possessed me," said in Proverbs in verse 22 of the reading for today. He said, "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old." Wisdom is literally older than dirt, older than dirt is old. Wisdom has always been with God in eternity.

Wisdom is personified in the Book of Proverbs and elsewhere in the scriptures as a woman, calling to people, inviting everyone to listen to her guidance. In Isaiah 11:2, it said, "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of council and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord." Sometimes that verse is referred to as the Seven Spirits Before the Throne or the Seven-fold Spirit of God. Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1:17 was that God would give us this same Spirit. So, having entered into a personal relationship with God, a saving relationship, a very personal saving relationship, each of us, we are growing to love more and more like God loves.

Having entered into a personal saving relationship with God, we are growing to love more and more like God loves

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:     (Romans 5:1 KJV)

In our reading from Romans today, 5:1 said, "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ." We are justified by faith as a gift of grace. We're made right. We're set right with God. And in our theological way of explaining that grace or of studying that grace, we are first given this prevenient grace whereby God reaches out to us. As Paul wrote, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." God reaches out to us and to our friends and to our family. Before anybody ever reaches back to God, God's the one making the first move to reveal God's self, to reveal love, to reveal nature, and to reveal creation, to reveal the Spirit.

And by this Spirit of God, moving among us and within us, God is seeking out each and every person and pushing our buttons for response, looking for us to respond favorably to the love that we're being offered. And looking for us to accept the invitations, the many invitations that come our way every day, to go more deeply into love with God, by the Spirit. God is doing this. And so, we encourage ourselves and each other and the world to hear and to respond and to accept those invitations.

And as we do, then when we begin for ourselves to acknowledge and accept that invitation, then we enter into a relationship that continues to grow throughout eternity. It may be very fragile to begin with, it may be fragile for a long time, but we have entered in, and we're growing and they're growing. And so, that's something we can praise the Lord that it's not just us in this room, not just us in other rooms like this, but everyone everywhere, as they hear and accept this invitation to be in a relationship with their Creator, by the way of the Spirit. Then they find themselves coming into a rightness, little by little, day by day, teaching on teaching, precept on precept, relationship with God.

And as that continues to grow then, and we classify that in our theological heritage as sanctifying grace. And this grace, this faith and this grace, continues to grow, and to help us to learn more about love, and to continue to apply the principles we're learning in our daily lives, by the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit. Holiness, holiness of heart and mind, sanctification, being made perfect in love. That's where God's leading us to be just as perfect. And as Jesus said, when he was talking about love and he said, "You must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect," because he knows that may take a while, and it may take some work and it may take eternity. But this is the life that we have that will lead to that, and into that.

It's a life where the love that is in us, God's love, that's already perfect. Now we're living into it, where our love matches the love that God has put in us, God's love. And where we see that it doesn't, then that's where we know we need to make adjustments until it is, and then move on to other places, other points where we see more changes are needed in our life. But not only in our life, but the life of the world around us, whatever we can do to influence the community and the nation, the church and the world, to be more perfect in love, to love better, to love more widely, to embrace everyone in this love, because that's where our peace comes. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.

Today is Peace with Justice Sunday in the United Methodist Church, and we emphasize the importance of what Wesley called social holiness. And often now we call it social justice. Social holiness, when he wrote, 

The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection. 

That's what John Wesley taught. He wrote that. And Wesley's mission for the church was defined like this, "To spread scriptural holiness throughout the land." That was what he thought was the mission of the church, to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land. And we continue this emphasis with today's mission statement in our United Methodist Church, "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

In Micah 6:8, God famously spoke through the prophet, "He has showed thee, O man, what is good. And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." This faith, this holiness, this walking towards love, the life of love, this is the grace that brings us a "peace that passeth understanding," as Paul phrased it. Christ said, "My peace, I leave you. Not the same as the world's peace, my peace." We all want that. Amen. We want that not only for ourselves, but for those we love, and for people we don't even know. We hope they all find peace because if they do, then they find love and joy, and they'll be a whole lot nicer to each other. And the world will be a whole lot better place if we have peace, Christ's peace, not the world's peace, Christ's peace, that comes when we love one another as Christ has loved us.

That's his commandment, "Love as I have loved you," and St. Paul wrote about it, and a song was written about it, "Joy unspeakable, and full of glory." (Barney Elliott Warren, 1900). How wonderful God is to have this kind of a whole plan of salvation. Amen. How wonderful to think about what God wants for us is to join God in this heavenly state of love and peace and confidence and joy, the thing that completely transforms our lives and the life of the world, and to spread that, little by little, word by word, person by person, through the whole world, generation to generation, that we can be a part of that. 

How wonderful God is

O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!     (Psalm 8:9 KJV)

And with the Psalm/Psalmist, we can exclaim, "O Lord, our God, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth."

We are created in the image of God. Every person, every person who has ever been created is created in the image of God. And we're redeemed by Jesus in mercy and love, given always new opportunities in life, and chances to expand our ever-widening circles of friendship and love. We are sustained by the Holy Spirit, this Trinity: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We're sustained by the Holy Spirit as we stand in the name of Jesus against injustice and oppression, "in whatever forms they present themselves." We're sustained by the Holy Spirit as we stand in the name of Jesus for love and goodness and unity. We're sustained by the Holy Spirit, as we stand together as friends to support, encourage, and care about each other, and the new friends we'll be making today and tomorrow and in the weeks and years to come. 

In the name of Jesus, amen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

All Kinds of Faith in the UMC

My heart is so full of joy today as new and continuing clergy are presented at their various stages of relationship to The United Methodist Church.

These people are such a big part of the answer to whatever questions are raised about the future of The United Methodist Church. They are continuing to respond faithfully to God's call to service as UMC clergy.  They are studying to show themselves "approved unto God, workers that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). They are dedicating themselves to various forms of service in the name of Jesus, according to the gifts and graces of their callings.  They are sacrificing the infinite other options they could be choosing with their lives for the opportunities Christ offers them as clergy of The United Methodist Church, "for the joy that is set before them" (Hebrews 12:2 KJV).

We praise God for these clergy, whose sacramental service and commitment is a sign of God's continuing grace and presence as manifested in The United Methodist Church.  We look forward to the many other ways the Reign of Christ is being extended through all our members and constituents, and through our congregations and ministries!