Sunday, June 4, 2023

Fully Inclusive Trinity

Today is observed as Trinity Sunday throughout much of Western Christianity, celebrating the unity expressed through the doctrine of the Trinity. Today is also observed as Peace with Justice Sunday across The United Methodist Church. A reminder in an article, “What is Peace with Justice Sunday?” on the denominational website, says, “Our Social Principles call us to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict.”[i]

Inclusiveness is about justice, and justice is about peace, and peace is about love, and the Bible says, “God is love.”[i] The Bible starts with the Creation narrative by providing imagery to support the oneness of all creation as a reflection of the oneness of God. On the night he gave himself up for us, Jesus prayed in John 17 that we all “may be made perfect in one,” or as phrased in The Message, “the glorious unity of being one.”[ii] The “greatest law” Jesus quoted[iii] begins,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: [and continues] And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.[iv] [Jesus combined this law from Deuteronomy with another from Leviticus as the “second greatest commandment:”] Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.[v]

The prophet Amos, in his role as the mouthpiece of the Lord, declared in the Good News Translation,” Let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry.”[vi]

June is Pride Month,[vii] and yesterday our church participated in a ministry of presence at the Paducah PrideFest as one of the sponsors for the event. We also had a booth for providing information about Briensburg United Methodist Church and the Reconciling Ministries Network. We circulated among the crowd to meet people and share the love of Jesus. LGBTQ inclusiveness is a justice issue, not only in society but in the Church. It is a great and harmful injustice that people of the same gender are not allowed to be married in their own churches or by their own pastors in The United Methodist Church. It is a great and harmful injustice that practicing homosexuals are restricted from being ordained or appointed as pastors in The United Methodist Church. LGBTQ Christians are encouraged to participate fully in all other ministries of The United Methodist Church. We gladly recognize all the ways The United Methodist Church is actively and prominently engaged in many social justice issues worldwide. Still, we advocate for those harmful, restrictive, and unjust rules added to our Discipline as recently as 1974 to be removed this year at General Conference.

Every month of the year also has several days set aside for awareness of other important social justice issues. Health care, poverty, hunger, racism, gender inequality, gun violence, domestic violence, war, child abuse, and human trafficking are only a few of the countless grave injustices worldwide. Our individual power is limited in addressing these enormous spiritual challenges. Still, the Holy Ghost’s power to unite us has repeatedly proven to make a remarkable difference for the victims of injustice. The second of three United Methodist baptismal vows is to “accept the freedom and power God gives [us] to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”[viii]

The prophet Micah famously preached in Micah 6:8 in the Good News Translation, “The Lord has told us what is good. What [God] requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.” Working together in harmony and peace for justice and unity is what Jesus prayed in John 17 and what the prophets, apostles, and church leaders from Augustine to Wesley have preached. God continues to call women and men to preach social holiness in our generation. The more fully and inclusively we unite in Christian love and service, the more we reflect the oneness of the fully inclusive Trinity. Paul wrote to the Ephesians as phrased in the Good News Translation:

Show your love by being tolerant with one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together. 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.[ix]


Excerpt from the manuscript of the sermon preached by 
Rev. Bill Lawson on June 4, 2023, at Briensburg UMC.

For the Complete Sermon: [ PDF | MP3 Audio | E-Book & Other Formats ]

[ii] John 17:23 (KJV, MSG).

[iii] Matthew 22:36-40.

[iv] Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (KJV).

[v] Leviticus 19:18 (KJV).

[vi] Amos 5:24 (GNT).

[vii] Wikipedia Contributors. “Pride Month,” 2 June 2023. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.  2 June 2023.

[viii] The United Methodist Church. “The Baptismal Covenant I.” The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 88. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992. Print.

[ix] Ephesians 4:2-6 (GNT).

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Empowered to Minister Forgiveness


Today we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Some days of celebration on the Christian calendar come at times when current events in our daily lives make celebration difficult. The first Pentecost was celebrated shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension at the beginning of a great persecution of Christians that intensified over several hundred years. Yet, we, as they did, celebrate that God is with us in the midst of all our heartbreaks and sorrows to strengthen and guide us. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “Comforter,”[i] and we are so very thankful for the comfort she brings in difficult times. Francis Bottome wrote in his hymn,[ii]

The Comforter has come, the Comforter has come!
The Holy Ghost from heaven, the Father's promise given;

 The first empowerment of the Holy Ghost specified by Jesus after the Resurrection is the power to forgive sins. Paul further addressed in his writings the additional powers to minister spiritual gifts and to bear spiritual fruits. Together, these powers enable us to learn how to keep the commandment of Jesus, to love others as Christ has loved us,[iii] and to serve the world in the ministry of God’s unconditional, universal forgiveness and love.

 God’s dream always was to pour out the Holy Spirit on all humanity, inclusively and without exception, as Peter explained on the Day of Pentecost, citing the prophet Joel. We are empowered individually and collectively, as Jesus promised at his Ascension: “And, 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.”[iv]  

 Our acceptance of this empowerment is a personal decision we make in our relationship with God.

Excerpt from the manuscript and audio of the sermon preached by 
Rev. Bill Lawson on May 28, 2023, at Briensburg UMC.

For the Complete Sermon: [ E-Book | PDF | MP3 Audio ]

[i] John 16:7 (KJV).
[ii] Francis Bottome. “The Comforter Has Come,” 1890. Hymnary. Web.  26 May 2023.
[iii] John 13:34.
[iv] Luke 24:49 (KJV).

Image: Gerd Altman. “Pentecost,” 2018. PixabayWeb. 27 May 2023. 

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Christ Ascended Into Heaven


We celebrate the Ascension of Jesus as the completion of his transformation from the One in whom dwelt “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”[i] to the One who “filleth all in all.”[ii] But he didn’t leave us behind. Christ remains within and among us through the Holy Spirit and includes us all in the Church Universal, “which is his body, the fullness of [the One] that filleth all in all.”[iii]

During the forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared in many forms. Since the Ascension, Christ continued to appear in different ways in the Bible. Throughout the history of the church, many have reported various types of visual apparitions of Jesus. Most Christians can testify that we have experienced some sort of spiritual connection with the risen Christ. Methodism commemorates John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience, about which he wrote,

I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.[iv]

Manuscript and audio of the sermon preached by 
Rev. Bill Lawson on May 21, 2023, at Briensburg UMC.

Complete Sermon: [ E-Book | PDF | MP3 Audio ]

[i] Colossians 2:9 (KJV).

[ii] Ephesians 1:23 (KJV).

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] John Wesley. “Entry for May 24, 1738.”  The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M. in Four Vols, Vol. I. London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1907. Digitized by the Internet Archive, 2017. Web. 15 May 2023.

Copley, John Singleton. “Ascension,” 1775. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Web. 19 May 2023. Painting, Image. 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Mother's Day Spirit

The motherly attributes of God as well as the godly attributes of motherly women, are highlighted by the Mother’s Day spirit. Pope John Paul I, acknowledging the traditional patriarchal references to God as Father, added, “Even more, God is our Mother.”[i] Motherhood is even more spiritual than it is biological. We do greatly honor and are so very grateful for our biological mothers. We also honor all the women who manifest the motherly spirit, whether or not they are biological mothers. Both motherly and fatherly persons reflect the Deity. Juliana of Norwich wrote, “Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.”[ii]

Manuscript and audio of the sermon preached by Rev. Bill Lawson on May 14, 2023, at Briensburg UMC.

Complete Sermon: [ E-Book | PDF | MP3 Audio ]


[i] David McBriar. “The Feminine Face of God,” 2021. The Franciscans. Web. 10 May 2023.

[ii] Juliana of Norwich. “God is Our Mother,” 1416. The Holy See, reprinted from Revelations of Divine Love. Web. 10 May 2023.

Bouguereau, William-Adolphe. “Maternal Admiration” 1869. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 11 May 2023. Painting

Sunday, May 7, 2023

A Place for All Y'all

I recently had a dream about a great banquet table around which people of all the different religions in the world were gathered in groups according to their various faith communities. Each congregation had brought the sacred foods of their religion to this common table. For example, the Christians brought the bread. The wine or grape juice was furnished for all by the unseen Host. 

As everyone received their cup of wine or juice and started to eat, we began to realize that the sacred food each group had provided was intended by the Host to be shared with all. We had all come to the table thinking that our food was only for ourselves – only for those who shared our beliefs and practices. We discovered that each group’s sacred food was part of a great shared meal, like a giant potluck dinner or maybe a wedding feast… perhaps what we might think of as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. And the Christians brought the bread. 

Internet Archive: [View, Download, or Listen]

I woke from the dream and immediately associated it with the sermon I would be preaching today. I thought of the words from Psalm 23, “Thou preparest a table before me.”1 I thought of the promise Jesus made in today’s lectionary Gospel reading, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

As I continued to reflect on the dream between then and now, the vision only kept expanding in my mind. The ideas were fed in part by the context of the festive atmosphere at the place where we were staying, whose motto is “Love all, serve all.”3 Cheryl and I were surrounded by people from all over the world. One spectacular group from India was celebrating a week-long wedding party with participants wearing their traditional attire of brilliant colors and beautiful designs. Mesmerizing music of their culture filled the air. They were happy and friendly. One couple gladly shared with us a little bit about what they were doing. 

My waking dream continued to unfold as I imagined the vast array of spiritual music from each of the religions gathered around the banquet table, flowing together harmoniously. I remembered personal experiences of multi-cultural worship services where the types of bread from various countries and cultures were placed together on the Communion table, then shared during the Sacrament. I thought there must be multicultural versions of the various foods that are sacred to all the other religions as well. I could almost smell the blending of aromas wafting among us. 

I thought about all the various languages of the earth represented in this vision. Each brought to the table their sacred texts, with favorite passages memorized for sharing their faith. The Christians were quoting John 3:16 and 1 John 4:7-8, and others were quoting representative verses of their Scriptures. I thought about the sacred arts that have graced humanity, transcending all its spiritual communions. I remembered visits to the worship spaces of other faiths and sacred spaces I’ve only seen pictures of and others I might not even be able to imagine. Still, the ideas keep flooding my mind with a magnificent sense of unity in diversity. 

I have been so excited to come here this morning and preach this sermon. I love being pastor of a congregation that shares a passion for inclusiveness and harmony. It’s like Jesus prepared a place for us – this place. 

But, as John Lennon expressed in “Imagine,”4 we’re not the only ones. We are part of the Reconciling Network of United Methodist congregations and other groups and individuals who share this dream 2 along with other like-minded people in our denomination and other people all around the globe. Norman Rockwell conveyed a similar vision in his painting, “The Golden Rule.”5 Martin Luther King, Jr. powerfully shared his vision for inclusiveness in his speech, “I Have a Dream.”6 John Wesley began his sermon “Catholic Spirit” by writing, ”It is allowed… that love is due to all mankind, the royal law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," carrying its own evidence to all that hear it.”7 St. Paul captured the yearning of humanity for unity in his letter to the Ephesians as he wrote, 

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [person], unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.8 

The aspirational prayer of Christ embraced the highest possible vision for humanity as Jesus prayed in John 17, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”9 

The places Christ is preparing for us are just what we need.  

In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2 KJV)

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. (John 14:2 NRSV) 10

This passage from John’s Gospel contains the kernel of many conversations, sermons, articles, and books. The first six verses are especially comforting at times of bereavement. Yet the original context for this promise is the death of Christ and his return to those who were continuing to live. He would be returning to take them to their dwelling places in this life as well as in the life of the world to come.

Christ is preparing places for everyone, not just in heaven but every day in this life, too.  There are many kinds of dwelling places. My mother used to keep “Mansion Over the Hilltop”11 on the piano, and I can still see and hear her sing it every once in a while. The imagery of “many mansions” and “many dwelling places” communicates the many types of physical and spiritual places God makes available to us.

Cleland Boyd McAfee wrote in his hymn,12

There is a place of quiet rest…

A place where sin cannot molest…
A place of comfort sweet…
A place where we our Savior meet…
A place of full release…
A place where all is joy and peace…

Near to the heart of God.

Christ has prepared a place of full inclusion in the life and ministry of the church.

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5 KJV)13

Reginald Fuller, in his book Preaching the Lectionary, suggests that this passage is perhaps designed to inform new converts of “the nature of the community into which they are being admitted.”14 Like the grand idea of America as a melting pot, Christ, as we say in our baptismal covenant, “has opened [the Church] to people of all ages, nations, and races.”15 Our Inclusiveness statement, adopted unanimously by the church council five years ago, says,

We invite everyone to share fully in the worship services, life, ministry, and leadership of  Briensburg United Methodist Church, inclusive of age, race, nationality, gender, LGBTQ, theology, politics, and legal status.16

I loved hearing this excerpt from the Coronation Prayer of King Charles, 

Grant that I may be a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and belief, that together we may discover the ways of  gentleness and be led into the paths of peace.17

Christ prepares a place of wholeness, love, and mercy for all people.

Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies' sake. (Psalm 31:16 KJV) 

Look on your servant with kindness; save me in your constant love. (Psalm 31:16 GNT)18

It is not a far stretch to add to the examples Jesus gave in Matthew in his parable about the Judgement of the Nations, something like, “I was homeless, and ye gave me shelter, a refugee, and ye gave me sanctuary.”  “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these… ye have done it unto me.”19 Mercy and kindness urge nations and their citizenries to emulate Christ in preparing places for everyone, especially their most vulnerable populations.

Most people want to live in peace and harmony with each other and accord everyone the freedom and rights, and fairness they want for themselves. In other words, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”20   Sacramentally, we express that longing as we gather around the Eucharistic Table.  Gordon Thompson 21 taught in a class on Sacraments that for us as United Methodists, the mystery is not only what is happening on the communion table but also around the communion table in the hearts and minds of those who gather. We share this point of intersection, that we love God and desire to live in peace and harmony with each other.

We are invited to network with others who share the vision of Christ “that we all may be one.” We are invited to meet those who join us at each table we gather around in those places Christ prepares for us every day. We are invited to embrace what other people bring to the table, even as we share with them what we bring to the table.

And the Christians brought the bread. 

In the Name of Jesus, Amen.


A Place for All Y’all
Manuscript of the sermon preached by Rev. Bill Lawson on May 7, 2023, 
at Briensburg United Methodist Church
Bible Readings for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14



Maicon Fonseca Zanco. “World Globe,” 2016. Web. 8 May 2023. Image.

Revised Common Lectionary. Copyright © 1992 Consultation on Common Texts. Web. 4 May 2023.

The Revised Common Lectionary. Vanderbilt Divinity Library. 2008. Web. 4 May 2023. 


© 2023, William H. Lawson, Jr. All rights reserved. Unaltered copies may be freely circulated in electronic and print media. For other uses, please email the author at

Bible quotations are from the King James Version and are in the Public Domain, except as otherwise indicated. 

Scripture quotations marked (GNT) are from the Good News Translation in Today’s English Version - Second Edition, Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission. 

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 


 1 Psalm 23:5 (KJV) 
 2 John 14:2 (KJV)  
 3 Hard Rock Hotel Motto. “Love All, Serve All.” Hard Rock Hotels. Web. 6 May 2023. 
 4 John Lennon. “Imagine,” 1971. John Lennon Official Website. Web. 6 May 2023. 
 5 Norman Rockwell. “Golden Rule,” 1961. Painting. Norman Rockwell Museum. Web. 6 May 2023. 
 6 Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream,” 1963. National Public Radio. Web. 6 May 2023. 
 7 John Wesley. “Sermon 39 – Catholic Spirit.” John Wesley Sermons. ResourceUMC. Web. 6 May 2023. 
 8 Ephesians 4:13 (KJV) 
 9 John 17:1 (KJV) 
10 John 14:2 (KJV, NRSV) 
11 Ira Stanphill. “Mansion Over the Hilltop,” 1949. Word to Worship. Web. 6 May 2023. 
12 Cleland Boyd McAfee. “Near to the Heart of God,” 1903. Web. 6 May 2023. 
13 1 Peter 2:5 (KJV) 
14 Reginald H. Fuller. Preaching the Lectionary, p. 83. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1984. 
15 The United Methodist Church. “The Baptismal Covenant I.” The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 88. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992. 
16 Briensburg United Methodist Church. “Inclusiveness Statement,” 2018. Web. 7 May 2023. 
17 King Charles III. “King Charles’ Coronation,” 2023. The Telegraph. Web. 6 May 2023. 
18 Psalm 31:16 (KJV, GNT) 
19 Matthew 25:40 (KJV)5 
20 Matthew 22:39 (KJV) 
21 Thompson Family. “Obituary of Rev. Dr. Gordon G. Thompson,” 2009. Mayes Ward Dobbins Funeral Home. Web. 7 May 2023.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Lift Us to the Joy Divine

The Resurrection culminates the teachings and example Jesus demonstrated of a spiritual realm coexisting among all the world’s opposing forces. One approach to life promotes a culture of fear, violence, and authoritarianism. The other is a path toward love, peace, and freedom. One kind of society grows within the other like the bread leavened by yeast in Jesus’ parable about the Kingdom of God. One is timeless and eternal, extending even beyond death. The other is not. God’s goodness and love will eventually completely overcome every evil dominion in the universe. We choose which way of life we will resist and which we will nurture.

Violence, racism, and all forms of intolerance and discrimination are heralded by some as “good Christian values.”  Regulations against corporate fraud and pollution are decried as government overreaching while, often in the name of faith, the same people demand government regulation of women’s choices about their own bodies, parental decisions for their trans children, and loving relationships shared by LGBTQ couples. Individual and mass shootings seem to have become the norm rather than the exception. Autocratic nations, not content to dominate their own citizenry, reach across their borders to intimidate, start wars, commit war crimes and atrocities, and unlawfully detain citizens of other countries. And all that is just the tip of the iceberg of things going on this week!


Manuscript of the sermon preached on April 16, 2023, at Briensburg UMC
Bible Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

We live in a dual culture, characterized by Jesus in his Parable of the Wheat and Tares, and in other religions and philosophies by various similar imagery of good and evil in constant conflict. There are people of all different religious views who desire the good for the betterment of humanity through love, peace, harmony, spirituality, and cooperation. And then there are those who seek the opposite, often in the name of the same religions. The whole Bible narrative assures us that eventually, good will entirely overcome evil, and all sorrow will be displaced throughout Creation with perfect love and true happiness. We are invited to support this vision of Christ, individually and collectively, as we cultivate relationships and nurture faith. We pray as Henry Van Dyke wrote in “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,”

Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.


God invites us into eternal spiritual relationships of true happiness.

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.     (Psalm 16:11 KJV)

The 17th-century friar, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, emphasized “The Practice of the Presence of God.” He invited us to cultivate increasing awareness of God’s presence through our ongoing natural conversation with God. At my Dad’s memorial service, a woman told me that years before, Dad had taught her about “conversational prayer” and said that her life had never been the same since. This kind of natural flow to our relationship with God is much like our relationships with the people we love. We share experiences and talk freely together.  We encourage each other, and it makes us happy just to know someone who loves us is around.

The more we think about God and the people we love, the more we feel spiritually connected. The more we intentionally engage God as a spiritual friend and companion, the more our fears of God subside and our love for God increases, and with that love comes true eternal happiness and endless joy. Cleland Boyd McAfee wrote,

There is a place of full release,
near to the heart of God,
a place where all is joy and peace,
near to the heart of God.

On the way to the Garden, Jesus told his disciples, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11 KJV). The invitations and teachings of Jesus, and of the whole Bible, are meant to offer us a vision of joy to accept and vanquish the visions of despair within and around us. Maybe that’s why “Just a little talk with Jesus makes it right,” as Cleavant Derricks wrote in his song.


How we understand God’s presence makes all the difference in how we understand our faith.

Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.     (Acts 2:28 KJV)

You have shown me the paths that lead to life, and your presence will fill me with joy. (Acts 2:28 GNT)

The Bible presents two opposing realms of thought and addresses the conflict of choice for humanity.  This dichotomy comes from how people have historically understood God’s presence and speaks more to who we are than to who God is. Today as in Old Testament times, there are those who choose to invoke an irrational terror of the kind of God they present as enraged toward humanity, only reluctantly allowing the possibility of a few to escape eternal wrath. Others, now as then, have embraced the relationship with God described in the familiar imagery of Psalm 23, who “leadeth me beside the still waters… restoreth my soul… leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for [God’s] name sake” (Psalm 23:2-3 KJV). We choose which relationship we will accept. The Bible has plenty of material we can interpret to support our decision either way, so the actual choice is ours to make.    

Love resolves that choice. Consider the reconciling position of Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God…” “Thou shalt love thy neighbor…” “love one another as I have loved you…”  “Perfect love casteth out all fear…”  (Matthew 22:36-40; John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:18).

Jesus reassured Nicodemus in John chapter three that God’s presence is not one of scorn and condemnation but of love and merciful salvation.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:16-17 KJV)


Our hope and joy come from believing in the loving presence of our Creator.

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:    (1 Peter 1:8 KJV)

In today’s Gospel reading from John, Thomas famously doubted the Resurrection until he saw Jesus for himself. Jesus told him, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29 KJV).  Peter repeated that idea in his letter, emphasizing that we love Christ even though we have not seen him, yet are filled with amazing happiness because of it.

Why might it be a greater joy to believe what we have not seen?

Perhaps because of the way we come to faith “having not seen.” It isn’t just blind faith without any reason, because that kind of faith does not produce the kind of love and joy Jesus and the Apostles described and demonstrated. This faith comes as a gift through love. We are being loved into believing, and through our love, others are coming to believe.

The kind of faith Jesus taught is reflected in his Parable of the Mustard Seed suggesting that the tiniest amount of faith will eventually grow into something remarkable. True faith is a contagious confidence that spreads not only throughout our own personal hearts and minds but throughout the hearts and minds of those around us. The seeds of faith Jesus planted in his day continue to spread from person to person, community to community, and generation to generation.   

We plant seeds of faith by uniting at points where our beliefs intersect with those of others. The Golden Rule… The Good Samaritan… Love thy neighbor… These are the kinds of seeds that take root and grow. These are the seeds that transcend religious differences. Many Christian faith seeds are shared concepts with other religions and even with people who profess no religion.

In his hymn, “Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory,” Barney Elliott Warren wrote this poetic imagery,

I have found that hope so bright and clear,
Living in the realm of grace.
O the Savior’s presence is so near;
I can see His smiling face. 


We believe in God because God believes in us.

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

We may have trouble believing what some people insist we must believe about various particulars and interpretations coming out of the Christian religion.  

People believe what they choose to believe, based on their own experiences and understanding. We understand that and respect that, just as Paul respected and affirmed everyone on Mars Hill with all their various beliefs. Then he told them about Jesus.

We share a variety of creeds in our worship services. Sometimes, someone will tell me they don’t believe this or that tenet in one of the creeds. My response is, “That’s fine, just don’t say that part.” Some people and some churches don’t believe in freedom of thought, but we do.  The personal and group affirmations of faith are not intended to be imposed on others, but only to share with others these particular opinions we find helpful as spiritual guideposts. Those who do agree with the statements made in a creed may also disagree as to what those statements mean.

To believe in Jesus is not just to believe facts about him, as James pointed out in his letter when he wrote, “the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19 KJV). To believe in Jesus is to believe in what he is doing. To believe in Jesus is to believe in what Christ is about -- his love, his compassion, and his vision for humanity. We believe in his goal of transforming everyone from sorrow to joy.

Talking to Nicodemus, Jesus illustrated what he meant by “whosoever believeth” with the story of the Serpent in the Wilderness. Everyone only needed to believe just barely enough to peek up at the symbol Moses had put on a pole, and they would be saved – they would be healed.

In her hymn, “Freely, Freely,” Carol Owens wrote, “Because you believe, others will know that I live.” 

Jesus provided several strong metaphors in his parables for the difference each person or group can make, no matter how small or inconsequential we may feel our contribution is. Light shining in the darkness… seeds planted in good soil… the tiniest of seeds growing into large plants… yeast spreading throughout the bread… all speak to us of love growing by the power of the Holy Spirit working within and among us to spread faith and happiness and unity.

Love may seem to grow slowly and tediously. Think about how Christianity began with a handful of people who were scattered at the Crucifixion and then reunited around the Resurrection. Little by little, over the years and centuries that followed, generations of people have encircled the globe with Jesus’ vision of love, right in the midst of all the opposing forces. Even today, even here, even now.

Love grows within us throughout our lifetimes and into eternity. Love grows among us in our congregation and spreads throughout our community and the world at large. Love “lifts us to the joy divine.”

In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Monday, April 10, 2023

The Spirit of Easter

Easter affirms that love works! There are no limits to God’s love!

Easter is first and foremost a day of celebration. We join with all the various expressions of the Western Church in each successive time zone today, and with all the expressions of the Eastern church in their time zones next Sunday, in celebration of the Resurrection. For the next forty days, we will continue to celebrate the different forms by which our risen savior appeared to his disciples during the forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. As part of that celebration, we will also explore some of his teachings about his vision for humanity from the perspective of the empty tomb.


Manuscript of the sermon preached on April 9, 2023, at Briensburg UMC   [Audio Podcast] 

Bible Readings for Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord:

Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6;  Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24;  Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43;  John 20:1-18;  Matthew 28:1-10

[Video of readings by Briensburg UMC lectors


The Resurrection is not only an event in the life of Christ but stands as an eternal metaphor for universal new beginnings that are constantly happening in our lives and will be forever, even beyond the death of the body.  In our Service of Death and Resurrection at the passing of our loved ones, we reaffirm the resurrection promises of Jesus even as we “look to the resurrection of the dead in the last day and the life of the world to come.” (UMC Internment Liturgy). Hear what comfortable words the Scripture saith to all who truly believe.

I am the resurrection, and the life: [they] that believeth in me, though [they] were dead, yet shall [they] live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:25-26 KJV).

Because I live, ye shall live also (John 14:19 KJV).

Prophetic voices of compassion such as those expelled from the Nashville legislature, ironically on Maundy Thursday, can never be silenced. The voices of the martyred Old Testament prophets still speak of mercy and justice. The voices of the martyred New Testament apostles still speak of hope and inclusion. The voice of the crucified Christ still speaks of unconditional, universal love. The Resurrection promises that such voices will resound from both sides of the grave.

The Resurrection paints a picture of a life – our life – that continues regardless of our body’s condition.  Jesus came from Heaven, was born as a baby, became a man, died on the cross, was raised from death, and ascended back to Heaven. He was the same person in all of these stages of life. Likewise, we are the same person in all the stages of our lives. We grow and mature spiritually even as our bodies age. Eventually, when we lay aside our earthly tabernacle as Peter described (2 Peter 1:14 KJV) we have another as Paul wrote, “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 5:1 KJV).

Like the mystery of Christmas, we celebrate the mystery of Easter. The Nativity begins to unwrap the mystery of the life and teachings and vision of Jesus. The Resurrection begins to unfold the mystery of our own eternal lives as participants in the divine nature of Christ. The Resurrection finalizes the new and everlasting covenant in his blood and spiritualizes the Promised Land “flowing with milk and honey.” The Resurrection we celebrate at Easter is echoed each Sunday as we gather for worship and invites us to constant renewal every day and every week.

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let [them] that heareth say, Come. And let [them] that [are] athirst come. And whosoever will, let  [them] take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17 KJV).

In Matthew’s account, Jesus sent women to men as the first preachers of the resurrection.

Then said Jesus unto [the women], Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me. (Matthew 28:10 KJV)

In the "Gospel According to St. John," Jesus sent Mary Magdelene to preach his resurrection instead of the two men who had already been right there at the empty tomb.

Jesus saith unto her… go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17 KJV)

Jesus sent the women to proclaim the Resurrection. Last month was Women’s history month, and this appointment at the first Easter is a momentous historical affirmation for women in ministry. The only disciples not scattered at Jesus’ arrest were women. Women accompanied Jesus along the Way of the Cross. Women, except for John, were the ones who were present with Jesus at the Crucifixion.

Persons called and sent by God to minister any spiritual gift should not be discriminated against for any reason, especially for any issues related to gender. All persons should be encouraged in fulfilling God’s call on their / our lives. God promised to pour out God’s own “spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17) regardless of any age, gender, social economic position, or any other distinction used by some humans to divide and oppress others.

The Jesus who came out of the tomb is the same as the one who was placed in the tomb.

How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.     (Acts 10:38 KJV)

How can so many people portray Christ, “who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed” as being in any way capable of suddenly and wholly changing his entire divine nature to turn on the most vulnerable people and shower them with eternal wrath because they are unable to wrap their minds around some abstract theological concepts we have come to affirm from what Paul Tillich expressed as “the leap of faith”? (“The Leap of Faith by Paul Tillich).  Such a dramatically diametrical reversal of God’s nature from Love to Hate is not even remotely possible. God loves the world so much that God sent Jesus to be the savior of all. Any scriptures that may seem to suggest otherwise need to be reinterpreted.

In his hymn, “Come O Thou Traveler Unknown” Charles Wesley wrote these words I use as the tagline for my emails:

Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy mercies move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

The Bible says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 KJV).

Jesus turned out to be the most important stone in God’s whole spiritual building.

The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.     (Psalm 118:22 KJV)

The psalmist uses the cornerstone as a metaphor for the Messiah. Rejected by the religious leaders, the Messiah would become the most important part of human society. Paul continued this imagery in his letters, comparing us all to stones in the temple God is building. Each person has their place in the building with Christ as the chief cornerstone, built on the foundation Jesus has laid. We all fit together in this building of God, and until every stone is in place, the building is incomplete. Likewise, everything in our individual lives, everything in our relationships with others, and everything in our connections to all of Creation is built up around our centering friendship with Christ.

The resurrection affirms the everlasting and eternal nature of God’s love.

The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.      (Jeremiah 31:3 KJV)

What part of “everlasting love” do we not understand?

The spiritual concept of sacramental Israel is a sign that the whole of humanity is the family of God. God repeated in Revelation 21 the promise spoken through the prophet Jeremiah,

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with [people], and [God] will dwell with them, and they shall be [God’s] people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.


 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4 KJV)

My mother sent me a letter at a discouraging point in my life about a half-century ago, and she included this verse from Deuteronomy 33:27, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” The voice of God through the voice of Moses through the voice of Mom still resonates through my soul to this hour, and will from everlasting to everlasting, through this life and the life of the world to come. God’s love has no time limits, no end, no conditions, no exclusionary clauses, and no death. God’s all-encompassing, universal love envelopes everyone everywhere; it always has and always will.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 KJV).

Something of our nature has already been resurrected through our affirmation of the resurrection of Christ. Can you feel it?

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1 KJV)

Rather than trying to bring God’s nature down to our level, the Resurrection invites us to follow Jesus up to God’s level. We are invited to learn how to see humanity through God’s eyes.  We are invited to learn how to love everyone the way Christ loves everyone. As Paul phrased it, we are invited to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5 KJV).  Let God’s vision for humanity become our vision. Let us find ways to implement the teachings of Jesus in all our decision-making.


Let us take the resurrection spirit as we experience around this table in this room with this group of people, to the next table in the next room, and to the next people. Let us establish that as our pattern throughout this life and into the life of the world to come. Room to room, table to table, person to person.

 We believe in the resurrection as pertinent to Jesus, ourselves, our family and friends, and the world at large. We proclaim the risen Christ and God’s love for humanity as expressed and demonstrated in the person of Jesus. God is stretching our thoughts to ever-increasing expanses of heavenly possibilities for life and love and fellowship and unity

Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today,"

Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted head! 

May we each come alive in new and fresh ways today! May our congregation come alive in new and fresh ways today! May we bring our community and world to life in new fresh ways today!

This is the spirit of Easter.

In the Name of Jesus, Amen.