Sunday, July 24, 2022

Prayer is a Relationship


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

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

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

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

7th Sunday after Pentecost 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


God answers prayer.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, July 11, 2022

We Are All Each Other’s Neighbors

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

5th Sunday after Pentecost 

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


God’s love encompasses all people.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


All truth leads to perfect love.

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

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

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

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

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

In the name of Jesus, Amen.  

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Unexpected Miracles


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

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

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

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

4th Sunday after Pentecost 

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


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

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

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

 Everything we do eventually has its results.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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