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.