Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tiny Seeds of Faith


It's all a part of God's whole plan of salvation that we would just plant these seeds of love and kindness wherever we go, however we can.

"The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, which when it is sown in the earth is less than all the seeds that be in the earth. But when it is sown it groweth up and becometh greater than all herbs and shooteth out great branches. So the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it." (Mark 4:31-32 KJV)

Tiny seeds of faith. Our own faith, we can think of as a tiny seed, a mustard seed that planted in our heart grows. And so if we take that little tiny amount of faith that we may have, that hopefully we have at least a little tiny seed of faith, and we can have confidence and trust that it will grow and it will just keep growing. And as it grows, then we're growing into the kingdom of God. And we are growing into the relationships of that kingdom and all the blessings of the kingdom and it will just continue to grow.

We can have that same faith in others that if tiny seeds of faith are planted in the lives of the people around us, that that faith will also grow. And like Johnny Appleseed going across the country a long time ago, planting apple seeds, we're planting seeds of faith all around the world, mostly wherever we go. And so think of all the places you go and where you are mostly is going to be right around here probably, but then we travel and we plant seeds as we travel as well. And there's no telling exactly when or how that those will grow. And Jesus has several parables about that, about the soil that they are on and about how, all the other conditions that go into it, that we don't really have any control over, we just really have control over just how much seeds we're going to plant.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Audio] on June 13, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

And we just try to do the best that we can. And a lot of times the things that grow that make, get all the attention are the big things that we plan, like a big event or mega church, or a super big program, or a big get togethers and all like that. All the things that are big, that make a big splash. But those aren't really the things that are the most effective in the growth of the kingdom of God. It is those daily seeds of kindness like the song says, "Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, sowing in the noonday and so forth." As we sow those seeds everyday, that's the grassroots of it all.

That is where the day by day, year by year or century by century, and over these thousands of years, the kingdom of God has grown by the little things that we say and do that connect people, that plant the seeds in our hearts, that make the changes that grow within them. And so that mustard seed is one of the most famous parables because of that being such a tiny little seed, and then it grows into, and it just makes people's imagination go all different directions. When you think about all the ways that the seed can grow, and then what the results can be of that.

Debra Ann Butler wrote this poem,

Scatter seeds of kindness,
as today you make your way
you don’t know just how much
they could make someone’s day.

Spread a wide old-grin,
get someone else to smile
it could make them feel
useful and worthwhile.

Extend a happy greeting,
sing out a bright hello
it may bring a little joy
to someone you don’t know.

Disperse some generosity,
it can go a long, long way
to energize and cheer up
someone sad you meet today.

Scatter seeds of kindness,
let goodwill be what you sow
how they make other’s feel
you may never really know!

We can always plant a seed
It is good to say thank you to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all gods.  (Psalm 92:1 TLB)

We can always plant a seed. What we can always, that's something we can always do regardless of where we are, or what our situation may be. The Psalmist wrote, and this is in the Living Bible, "It is good to say thank you to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all Gods." This song that we began the service with today, is a song for the Lord's day. And later on in there, it includes this verse, also from the Living Bible, "Even in old age, they will still produce fruit and be vital and green."

And I like that promise as my time continues to grow and everything. That our whole entire lives, no matter what's going on, we're always able to plant a little seed somewhere. We may not be able to do all of the things that we would like to do, or all the things that we have done, but we can always plant these little seeds wherever we go. And we can always know that those little seeds are under God's control.

In this Psalm he talks about, not planting the seed, but in there he talked about... Well, I guess that's in Ezekiel that he talks about cutting a shoot, taking a slip off of a tree and planting that, and it grows.

So the Lord has a lot of these different views of how, as Paul wrote, "We plant the seeds but God gives the growth." And so we can only plant those seeds and start those shoots or whatever it is just to get something in there and God makes it grow. That's our part to trust that. That even in lots of situations that we think might be insurmountable or too difficult for any good to come from, God can make good come out of that planning of the seed.

So I don't usually make lists because you're all telling me not to make lists, but I've made a list anyway. And then you can add to this list today, some plants, some seeds that we can plant for free doesn't really cost us anything to plant these seeds. Thanks, as that Psalmist said, give thanks to God. If we're giving thanks to God in everything we're planting the seeds as we go, and smiles, and prayers, and good thoughts, and compliments, and encouragement, and nods of recognition, and food for thought. Those are things we can just plant away. We can just throw those seeds everywhere, doesn't cost us anything and they land all over the place and help people in ways that we can't begin to imagine.

We never know who will benefit or how from the seeds we plant
Birds of every sort and kind will live under it. They’ll build nests in the shade of its branches  (Ezekiel 17:23)

We never know who would benefit or how they would benefit from the seeds that we plant. And in our reading from Ezekiel God said through the prophet Ezekiel, "Birds of every sort and every tongue will live under it, they'll build nests in the shade of its branches." That's a lot like what Jesus said about the mustard seed in the gospel reading. And then this is back to the prophet speaking of those slips of Cedar that are being planted, they'll grow, and years later birds will be living in it. We had some birds living outside the kitchen window in the bush out there that was planted a long time before we ever moved there. And it's still there and the birds are still building nests there and we get to look out the window and watch them feed the little buddy birds in there, isn't that something.

And so you never know but as the seed grows, what will come of it, and there's just all kinds of stories about that, about people whose lives were changed and sometimes maybe a generation or two later, because of some seed that was planted in the past, somebody grew up to be a great leader. And because of just a little thing that somebody has done lives were saved over here without anybody knowing about it.

There was a story that my sister shared on Facebook the other day that was like that. It was about a person that was hired to paint a boat, little small boat. And so as he painted the boat he discovered a hole in the boat. And thought, "Well, that's no good, a hole in the boat would be sinking the boat." So he just fixes the hole, while he was painting the boat and he got done. Well the owner a few days later sent him a big check, way bigger than what he had planned on paying him.

And so he called him and asked him, "What was the purpose of this extra payment?" And he said, "Well," he said, "As it turns out, you plugged the hole in that boat and I want to pay for it." And he said, "Well, it was nothing. I just did it as I went, just plugged it up." And he said, "Yeah, but when I got home, I saw my boat was gone and my grandchildren were supposed to be there." And he said, "I was afraid they took that boat out on the lake with the hole in it. But here they came back, all happy, had a big time and everything like that." And he said, "Because you plugged the hole in that boat then the boat floated for my granddaughter and didn't sink."

So that's one of those examples, and there's a lot more on the internet and a lot of them in our own lives when we can think of where something little got done we wouldn't even give it a thought, except that it had amazing other types of results that went beyond it. And Jesus said that, "Even a glass of water given his name would produce results." One thing theologically it reminds me of is our doctrine of prevenient grace,  that we plant the seeds before, and the seeds were planted in our lives that we don't even really know about, but the people that nurture us in the faith and introduce us to Christ and love us and bring us together is what has brought us into the Christian faith.

And that's what brings others into the Christian faith too. It's God's grace at work in our lives to bring other people into the kingdom of God before they even really know it, even little tiny babies and everything else. We're reaching out and they don't know anything about God, but we include them in our fellowship, and they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ until they come to that justifying grace that enables them to make their own choices and choose this life of Christian faith, and discipleship, and then go on to the sanctifying grace that takes us and completes us in the love of Christ.

Christ has opened Paradise for us and invites us to to be part of this new spiritual creation
Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 GNT)

So it's all a part of God's whole plan of salvation that we would just plant these seeds of love and kindness wherever we go, however we can. And Christ has opened up to us paradise. For us and God invites us to be a part of this whole new spiritual creation. In the reading from 2 Corinthians in the Good News it says, "Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being, the old is gone, the new has come." And so now as that song, I think we sang that last Sunday would have been good for this Sunday, but now I'm living in a new creation, his banner over me is love.

"Heaven is all around us. In God," Paul said, "We live and move and have our being." And so the invitation for us in all of this is to step into this life of love. One thought, one word, one deed at a time. And if that's the invitation for us, it's the invitation for all. "Come unto me, all ye who are labor and heavy laden," and that's an invitation for us to help people find that one little thought that they can build on. That one little idea, that one little feeling, that one little relationship that they can start. That spark as we sang in the other song, that little spark that gets started and it all grows from there.

Bible is full of materials to help us understand how much God loves us
Jesus preached his message to the people, using many other parables like these; he told them as much as they could understand.  (Mark 4:33 GNT)

And the Bible is filled with materials to help us see that and to understand how much God loves us. Again, in the Good News, later on in this gospel reading, it said, "Jesus preached his message to people using many parables like these, he told them as much as they could understand." Now that's interesting isn't it because we have, not only the parables that gives us these little, this imagery to associate with our faith and communicate to us about our faith, and how it grows, and how it gets started, and how it works.

But then also that God has given us everything we can understand. As we grow, then we get more, as we can understand more than we get more. And it keeps growing and it's like that until finally God wants us all to have, be complete and to be all in and the kingdom of God. And so we have the other song, "If we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first began." We have a long, deep relationship in Christ and with each other that has no end and only just keeps getting richer and building larger and stronger and more beautiful.

John Denver has a song I love and it has a verse, 

It's long been on my mind,
You know it's been a long, long time,
I've tried to find the way that I can make you understand
The way I feel about you,
And just how much I need you
To be there where I can talk to you
When there's no one else around.

And that was a theme that we have seen going all the way through the Bible. From the first pages in the creation story, all the way to the final pages, with the fountain of, the water of life. That God is with us as John Wesley said in his final words and breath, "The best of all is, God is with us."

And in that just, towards the end of the Revelation as the city of new Jerusalem, came down from God out of heaven and John's vision. He said, "I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them and shall be their people and they shall be their God, and God himself shall be with them and be their God." And that's what God's dream has been all along and pouring out the spirit, wanting to pour God's Holy Spirit out on everybody, on all flesh men, women, children, and everybody. And wanted to be with, walk with Adam in the cool of the day and wanted to be our companions and walk in the garden with us. Once at the very end, to tabernacle with us, to live with us and dwell with us, God wants to be with us and invites us saying in the last few verses of the Bible saying, 

“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”
Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who[soever] will, come and drink,

Drink freely of the Water of Life! (Revelation  22:17 MSG)



Sunday, June 6, 2021

Extended Family


Let's learn to talk spiritual kin with everyone, so we can discover the connections that make us all sisters and brothers in the family of God.

 "For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother and my sister and my mother."  (Mark 3:35 KJV)

This idea of us calling each other brother and sister and being of the members of the family of God does not replace our biological families, but adds to it. As we see here, Jesus didn't mean to say that, or he didn't say, and we don't need to take it as though he did, but to make it a little more clear, that his biological family, his mother and his other family members were no longer his family, but that in addition to that, so was all the other people. So were the others. We are an extended family and we feel that often in the church, don't we? We think of our spiritual family, our church family, and we grow close to each other and we love one another. Some of our best friends are blood kin, and some of our closest brothers and sisters are our spiritual kin. So it's all meant to expand our understanding of what it is to be family and the family of God.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on June 6, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

I think one of the best demonstrations or backups of that idea we find at the cross where Jesus brought together one of his disciples and his mother, and made that an eternal relationship that became representative, not only of those two individuals, one, his birth mother and the other his spiritual friend, but of all of us in the church that we are all kin together. So it says, "Whoever does the will of God," that's how the passage ended in the gospel reading. "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

God's will is stated in a lot of different ways throughout the scripture, but it's pretty much summed up as the Bible says, although all the law can be summed up, or all with God's will can be summed up in this one word, namely, that we love one another. That was the commandment of Jesus, that we love one another as Christ has loved us. If we do that, then we're doing the will of God, and everyone who loves is doing the will of God. And a lot like the prodigal son, sometimes we may stray, but that we're still the children of God. We're just aren't enjoying the feelings and the benefits and everything of it because we've turned away from it. But when we are restored in our love for one another, when we turn back to God, then God is always there like the prodigal father with open arms ready to receive us.

So, I think that a lot of people don't understand that. They feel like that there's something about their life and their relationships that makes them no longer the children of God, if they ever did feel like they were. It's up to us to remind them that, no, you're a part of the family. You're made in the image of God. You're the child of God. You may not be acting like it. You may not feel like it, but come on home and you'll know. Come on home and you'll feel it. Come on home and you'll know that you're in the family and that your family loves you, and I think you'll love the family, too.

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. (Psalm 138:8 RSV)

So the Psalmist says in the Revised Standard, "The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Your steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands." We say in our communion ritual in just a few minutes, that even when we have rebelled against God's love, God's love for us has remained steadfast. That's just how it is. God loves us, and there's nothing we can do to undo that. There's nothing we can do to change that. There's nothing we can do to make it happen because it's already there and nothing we can do to stop it. His love endures forever, and his purpose is within that love. His purpose is that all of us would be in that relationship with God and with each other as a family for all of eternity. The promise of the Psalmist that's repeated in many other ways in the scripture is that the Lord will fulfill that purpose that he has for us. So we praise him and we want to be a part of that fulfillment. We are privileged to be part of the work, even though our part may be really small, it's a privilege just to be a part of it and to enjoy the progress as it's made toward the reconciliation of all of humanity.

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8-15 RSV)

In the creation story, it kind of picks up in the narrative where they heard the sound of the Lord walking, as we say in the King James, in the cool of the day. Then it points us to that God wants to be companions with us. That's brought out, again, throughout all the scriptures if we follow that thread. A lot of times we might forget that and think that there's some other thing going on here. There are a lot of things going on, but it's within that context of God's love for us. God wants to be companions with us, friends, and to hang out together and spend time, and he wants to be with us in the car, and in the house, and in the church, and in the yard, or wherever we go. God wants to be a part of that, and a sharing of the... Not to just to boss us around or get on our case about how we're doing things, or how we're not doing and everything like that, but because God loves us. He wants to be companions and walk with us as the song In The Garden tells us, how to walk in the garden. He wants to walk with us in the cool of the day.

But we sometimes are embarrassed or afraid of that because of our awareness of our disobedience. When Peter saw Jesus standing on the shore, then he was a little bit embarrassed. And other times that the apostles would say, well they're afraid because they just realized that they were not worthy of this relationship. But worthiness isn't in the equation from God's perspective. God knows our hearts. He knows our lives. He knows who we are, what we've been through, what we've put others through, and he loves us. He wants to be friends with us. That's what the forgiveness of sins is all about, that we know that God loves us, who we are, and works with us on the rest of it. So we're the children of God all the time, and so is everybody else. We need to find those connections and helping them make that connection.

My grandmother taught me how to talk kin. She believed that everybody in the whole world descended from Adam and Eve, and so that we're all family she said. We're all members of the family. She was on a mission to find out how we were kin with everybody she met. And she'd ask who they were. Well, then the next thing would be, well were they from there? Well, I know somebody over here and they're my third cousin or my 10th cousin or something like that. So that became something that she kind of instilled within me, not to the degree that she carried on. But she not only did that, but she made her mission also to go visit all the family. So she was all over the place visiting and traveling and meeting everybody, and finding out how we were kin. She was pretty good at figuring it out, too. If she didn't know, she knew it was in there somewhere and it'd get figured out somewhere.

But yesterday at Hugh Barksdale's funeral, I mentioned that a few years ago his wife Marilyn and I had compared some notes to confirm that Hugh and I were seventh cousins. We had descended from a common ancestor, a clergyman, William Barksdale and his wife Mary Adams that were both born back in 1629. So I said, (and much to Hugh's consternation because he teased me about that all the time, "Oh no, no, no. I'm not related to you)." But anyway. But I said that a long time before we knew we were cousins, seventh cousins, a long time before we knew we were cousins, we knew we were brothers. Brothers in Christ. I think that's important for us to recognize each other in that way. A lot of times people have, especially when we were at all younger, I guess, it was more common that in churches everybody called each other brother and sister, but we still kind of do that. It's important, though, whether we call each other that, that we treat each other that way, brothers and sisters, and carry that and extend that out to the people around us in the world.

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  (2 Corinthians 4:15 RSV)

Paul wrote, "Yes, everything is for your sake." A lot of time we think, well we do this for the sake of the Lord. We come to church for the sake of the Lord. We'll read the Bible for the sake of the... It brings glory to God, as he said, but it brings glory to God because it's extending God's love to more and more people is what he wrote. It's extending God's love to more and more people, and more people are giving thanks for God's love, and for this relationship, and for making us all this big, beautiful family of love. So yes, everything is done for your sake, for our sake so that we can have the joy that is complete, so that we can have the fullness of our happiness, and reality, and relationship with everybody, and be on good terms with everybody, and forgive each other and move along, and just enjoy life together in this world and in the life of the world to come, in eternal life.

And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! (Mark 3:34 RSV)

So finally, in the gospel reading, again, in verse 34 it said, "And looking at those who sat around him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers.'" And again, he did not mean to exclude anybody as some churches like to do. Some places you go, they believe... Well, I don't go there, but some places that there are, some cults and everything that believes that you should get rid of all your biological relationships when you become a member of their church. But we don't believe in that, and that's not what Jesus was talking about here. He wasn't saying that those family members should go away because these are his family now. But instead, that in addition, those people at the door that were of his blood kin, there also were these people sitting under his feet listening to him, and sharing and fellowship with him. They were also his kin, and we are also his kin. So we don't exclude anybody from the family. We're supposed to include each other and everybody else in the family of God, extend that relationship wherever we can, extend our love and God's love to every person around us, and find some way to talk kin with them, spiritual kin, and find out where they can make that connection, where we can make that connection to where we can call them brother and sister in Christ.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.


Monday, May 31, 2021

How Can These Things Be?

Humanity was already perishing from Injustice and oppression and discrimination and racism and homophobia and misogyny and violence and sin in all of its other forms before God sent Jesus to be our Messiah and to lead us into everlasting life as soon as we are ready to trust God's unconditional love.

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. (John 3:16 KJV).

These are the words of Jesus Christ spoken to Nicodemus early in the ministry of Christ. And they are so powerful to us today because they really summarize the entire gospel and really, the whole Bible. And the threads that you start pulling on those. And then following them and follow them through all of the themes of the scripture.

It speaks of the unconditional love of God, reminding us of the Apostle's words that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." This was to save humanity, that before Christ came. And Christ was sent to be our savior. Not after everybody was doing good or believing right, or doing everything they were supposed to do. Or loving as they were supposed to love or anything else that we associated. But while we were yet sinners, while we yet did not understand. While Nicodemus, who Jesus loved, a great leader in the congregation of the people of God. A leader in the community and a teacher of the law.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on May 31, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

But he didn't understand how these things could be. And he came to inquire. And so, God loved the world so much, sinners though we may be, off track that we may be. Everything else we may be, or not be. God loved the world so much, he sent Jesus to be our savior. And a lot of times the emphasis was put on the perishing part, that they should not perish. And that is true. It does say that. And we don't want to perish and God doesn't want us to perish.

But a lot of times people get crossed messages about this, by people almost giving the idea that God wants everybody to perish, unless they can come up to this standard of however they define that standard to be. And so, we have to be careful about that, I think. Is to help people find the correction in that.

God doesn't want anybody to perish, but people were already perishing. That's why God sent Jesus. God doesn't want anybody to perish, but people are perishing already. That's what God wants to save people from. From perishing. To prevent them from perishing. To stop the oppression, and heartache, and the inhumanity. And all the things that we not only read about in history, but even the things that people today don't want taught in history. That everyone is ready to ignore. And even the things that are continuing today, that people often want to be ignored, the oppression and the hurt.

And with it being Memorial Day, I think we have to remember that even just in these days, people are still falling. We had people falling at the Capitol just a few months ago. We have people falling in and around our country and when they take a stand for what is good and right. And they are persecuted for that. And many times, suffer horribly. And oftentimes, lose their life.

And so, in addition to those in official capacities on the battlefield, we have people unofficially standing up for what is right and paying a price as well. And all of these things that we see on the news and all of the things that we oftentimes speak about, that we abhor and that need to be changed.

Humanity was already perishing. That's the point. That it's not that God wants to throw people into that. That's why Christ came to redeem us and prevent people from perishing. And to invite us to share in the glorious inheritance of Christ that is everlasting life. And that's God's will.

St. Peter wrote that it's not God's will that anyone should perish, but it's God's will that everyone should come to repentance. And St. Paul promised that every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. God's will and God's grace calls us to life, eternal life. Out of this sense of perishing, out of this sense of wrath, and of hurt, and heartache, into the light of God's love.

And I was often reminded in talking about this, about Paul on Mars Hill. And the respect that he had for the people who were there, who didn't know God. But now they do know God because he respected them enough to not to just chew them out because they didn't know about God. But instead, to tell them about God, to tell them about Jesus, about Jesus and God's love for them.

And then, many people on that same day believed and became followers of Christ and became blessed by entering into this relationship with God, while others took some time and others maybe didn't for a long time. But what Jesus says to Nicodemus here, "That who so ever believeth in him should not perish." And that word believe is that put our trust and confidence. Whoever does have, and Jesus talked about this a lot of times, faith in his preaching.

And he talked about a mustard seed that if we had just enough faith, just like a mustard seed, we could plant that and it would grow. And then it would become a lot more. But you got to have that little tiny speck of faith first and plant that. And so, today being Trinity Sunday, we speak of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And we don't really know all about what that means, do we? And we haven't scratched the surface yet. We're still trying to explore them. We have some concepts and some ideas, but some have been all of our lives, being taught that and studying it and discussing it and everything like that. And we're not very deep in that in understanding what all that is.

Or in our relationship, as it's going to be "when we've been there 10,000 years." And as we would like it to be even now. We have to grow into this relationship with God. And in the growing into the relationship, we grow into the understanding of what that relationship is.

And some of the doctrines of the church are not for us to ascribe to, and then prove out. But it's the other way around. The doctrines are given there to point us to beyond themselves, to the love Of God and the truth of Christ.

And so, when somebody doesn't know Christ, they don't have to know all about the doctrines of the church in order to become a Christian. Or in order to even find this life and love and faith. What they need is to take whatever little bit of faith they may have, in whatever their concept of God may be. And understand or feel that God loves them. That God loves them.

And God does not want to destroy them, but loves of them. And when they take that little, tiny seed of faith and plant it in God's love, then the relationship begins in a whole new way. And then that unfolds. And as that grows, as our relationship with God grows, then these other teachings of the church become signposts that lead us and guide us and help us to find our way through. And so, it's not so much about the doctrinal beliefs that we have or the theological perspectives that we have, but it's about the relationship that people have with God, the God who loves us.

In this passage, Jesus talked about being born again. And later, John would define that a little further in his letter. And my favorite verse is verse John four, seven, and eight. "Beloved, let us love one another. For love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God. Those who do not love, do not know God. For God is love."

So it's not about condemnation, but about salvation and healing of humanity, both collectively and individually. The passage goes on. It goes on the very next verse to say that God did not send his only son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, might be saved, healed, made whole.

And so that's an important thing for us not only to know ourselves, but to find ways to communicate that and encourage other people with that. That is know that Christ does not want to condemn them. God, whatever concepts they have, or whatever religion they practice, or whatever faith they may or may not have. If they could know that God loves them, regardless of what else, unconditionally, if people can know that, then they can start to feel that. And they can start to live into that love of God. And then they can grow into that. And this is, we have been growing into it and continuing to grow.

For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we really are God’s children. (Romans 8:16 TLB)

In Paul's letter to the Romans that was read, the passage read, this morning said in the living Bible, "For his holy spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we really are God's children." Can we just help people hear that? I don't know how, all the time. Sometimes people close their ears, but if there's some way that we could help people sense those impressions of the holy spirit, moving in our relationship, in our conversation, in the world in nature. However, they may need to hear and feel the spirit moving and communicating to them.

And then, giving them understanding this, that we are God's children. And when you feel like you're God's children, doesn't that make you feel different? And there's a lot that goes along with it that was read in the reading today. But one of the things that goes along with that, that is important, of the other many important things, is that our creator is our heavenly parent.

Everyone is made in the image of God. God created everybody. God loves everybody. God loves each and every one individually, as well as the world collectively. And so we're invited to call and to address our creator, not as some cosmic czar way out in space, but Abba, father, dad. As Jesus taught us in the prayer that we share frequently, "Our father, which art in heaven."

The Lord gives strength to his people and blesses them with peace.  (Psalm 29:11 GNT)

The Psalmist read it in the good news translation. "The Lord gives strength to his people and blesses them with peace." Of that whole reading, it went all through all of these characteristics with God how powerful and strong God is. How mighty above all and a creator of heaven and earth and all the things he could do.

And that just keeps us thinking about how magnificent God is and how, with just a word, God could speak worlds into being, or speak them out of being. And all the power and majesty that God has and yet the psalmist concludes that by saying that He gives us such strength. The Lord gives us that strength and blesses us.

That's what he wants to do with all that power. That's what he wants to do with all that glory of heaven, where God lives. He wants to share that with you and with me, and with all of our friends and family, and everybody else. So, it is partly about perishing. As each of these passages highlight, we don't want to perish, but we're already perishing. And through injustice and oppression and discrimination and racism and homophobia and misogyny and violence and sin in all of its other forms.

The perishing has already been happening. It's the salvation that we're called to. All the evil in the news and current and history. It's not about God wanting to condemn anybody, but wanting to save everybody. Less about what we're being saved from and more about what we're being saved to.

In our communion ledger there is a table dismissal, I like to use one of the old table dismissals that says, "May the body and blood of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, given for us at Calvary, preserve our bodies and souls unto everlasting Life. And that is the invitation of John 3:16 and others like it. The whole invitation of God throughout the scripture is to come into everlasting life. To have this life of love and peace and joy, and to enter into it and keep growing into it throughout this lifetime and into the life of the world to come.

Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? (John 3:9 KJV)

And that could be why Nicodemus was puzzled in the middle of this conversation. He just asked, "How can these things be?" It reminded me of Pilot, just before he allowed the crucifixion of Christ, when he said, "What is truth?" Some of these questions don't really have that direct of an answer. And we can even make it say, "Well, how can anything be?"

But I think we grow into our understanding of how these things can be as we grow into our relationship with God. And we find that they can be, because God loves us. We can have this birth into love. We can have this rebirthing of ourselves and of our culture and of our country and of our world and of our generation. Or whoever needs to get brought into the love of Christ in him, that relationship and in the spirit. Because God wants us to, and God offers it. And God reveals it.

And so, that's how. It's a gift. It's grace. It's a gift from God. And it's open for free, for everybody who will receive it and enter with just a little, tiny whatever belief that they may have. The story that Jesus told as as illustration to Nicodemus was how Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. When enough people had got into this snake pit and they thought that it was all over.

And because these poisonous snakes were biting people and for them, it was a pandemic of a soothsayer because it was happening to all of them. And so, they didn't know what to do. And so God gave him this as a sign and with the instruction that if they would just look over there, had just enough faith or confidence to look up there at the snake on the pole, then they would be healed.

And so, a lot of them did. A lot of them didn't, but a lot of them did. And if they did, then they were healed. And so, that's why he's trying to point out here. If you just have enough. You might not know all the answers to your questions of spirituality, or humanity, or anything else. But if you could just try it, I can just say. You can have just enough faith just to glance and try it, then God will reward that with growth.

And that tiny mustard seed will sprout. And become faith. That grows into, as Jesus put in on his parable, a large bush that birds could land on. It's kind of a funny story, really, when you think about it that way, but that's what he said. It would be like a large bush that birds could land on. And wouldn't that be nice if we could think of our faith that way? As a larger bush that gives life to others.

Then I heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?” I answered, “I will go! Send me!”  (Isaiah 6:8 GNT)

And so then, in conclusion, I would go way back to the reading from Isaiah. And this is in the Good News translation. "Then I heard the Lord say, 'Whom shall I send, who will be our messenger?" I answered. I will go. Send me. Some are more reluctant than others in our response to that kind of a question, but still, we do respond. And we accept this missional invitation to let the people know that God loves them. And to try to bring peace and justice to humanity.

This passage incidentally, is the first in our denomination, many other denominations, that those who respond to the call to preach are asked to study, and to pursue, and to discuss with leaders in the churches they respond to the call to preach. Thinking about Isaiah's call and the way his took place in the imagery that was there. But most importantly, the question that was asked, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for me?"

And what is your response? Will it be you? We have this hymn. "Here am I, Lord? Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." That hymn By Dan Schutte.

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. (John 3:16 KJV).

And so, it was an invitation not only to believe, but for those who do believe, to share that. To share that love and faith with each other, bring people into the relationship where they can grow and have life, everlasting life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Trees & Grass - Reflection on Revelation 8:7


After our Bible study group discussion last night on Revelation 8, the seventh verse continued to whirl in my mind, awakening me through the night, spinning off a variety of thoughts until finally I was moved to get up and write.

My focus is on the phrase, "the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up." (KJV) Perpetuating my line of thinking is John Wesley's Notes on this verse, "Some understand by the trees, men of eminence among the Jews; by the grass, the common people. The Romans spared many of the former: the latter were almost all destroyed."

Considering current events, those of eminence among us (excepting those represented by "the third part of trees") tend to be spared the difficult impositions of poverty, disease, and oppression while so many (represented by "all green grass") tend to suffer unbearably. Political and economic deference is given to the trees, while all the grass is sacrificed. 

For the past year or so, the global pandemic has been raging around the earth like "hail and fire mingled with blood" (the other part of verse 7). The horrific racial injustices perpetuated for centuries has been more recently coming into full public view as witnesses are becoming able to share videos of many tragic incidents. Massive populations around the world are displaced by starvation, war, homelessness, discrimination, human trafficking, and every imaginable kind of severe brutalities. Cruel politicians advocate for enacting legislation to further bolster the privileged at the devastating expense of the disadvantaged.  

It is as though the proverbial first angel has sounded the trumpet and all these calamities "were cast upon the earth."

But were they? 

Perhaps this Revelation imagery reveals more about our own personal responses to the conflicts of humanity than of an arbitrary design of the Deity.  

How does it make us feel when we consider the gruesome plight of innocent masses of children and adults, not only in the ancient past or distant future, but in our present time?  How can we pray? How can we advocate? How can we act? Moreover, what can we change in our own personal lives to diminish our participation in anything that contributes to the suffering of others and to expand our cooperation for the betterment of all Creation?

Jesus taught us to understand all the Scripture through the lens of love. 

Applying that method of interpretation to this verse challenges us to hear and respond to the inherit invitation to not only observe the Tribulation, but to actively mitigate its effect. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Be at Peace

When all the world is in turmoil around us, and when it seems like we have the fewest reasons why we would be at peace, yet we are because the peace of Christ is in our hearts and minds in the midst of it all. 

Then Jesus said to them, "peace, be with you. Peace, be unto you. As my father had sent me, even so send I you." 

Jesus appeared twice in this passage. It covers one event that spans two occasions. The evening of the resurrection, Jesus appeared to 10 of the apostles behind closed doors, where they were hiding. Still trying to put all this together, still trying to wrap their mind around what the events of the day and the week that had just transpired. We can certainly relate to that, even trying to imagine it ourselves. The reports that they had heard and some of them had seen and given it to each other, and all of them were talking about. Jesus appeared behind the closed doors demonstrating one of the limitations that had been removed that we normally experience in the flesh, but now no longer. In his resurrection body, because the doors were all locked and he was able to come into the room anyway. That begins our minds exploring and wondering what other limitations that are lifted in the resurrection body. They greeted him, they greeted each other. He greeted them with this greeting that seems to have been a kind of a hallmark in his life. "Peace, be at peace, peace be with you."

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on April 12, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

It's a little bit of a tribute to David Atkinson this morning, too, because he often said that to everyone. So that's why I went ahead and named the sermon. "Peace, Be at Peace."

When David would say that, you could just feel a little bit of peace coming.  It just turned your mind and thoughts to that direction. It may last for a long time. It may just last for a moment when somebody seeks peace to you, but it has an affect. Doesn't it? It makes you think. It makes you think about what you need to do in order to make that happen. The whole idea of peace is so comforting. That's something that we all need, and we can really kind of put up with anything if we can be at peace about it. Without that peace, even the smallest problems just become untenable. But with peace, then everything becomes manageable. 

I think Jesus had a habit of saying this because he said it several times, he even said it in the midst of the storm -- even to the storm "peace, be still." At his birth, the angels sang "Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth." When he set out the missionaries, he said, "Go and everywhere you go. In every single house you go into, as you enter say peace, peace, be upon this house."

We could probably find a lot more examples in the Bible. As the Bible says, so many more things were written than a lot could even be over done by Jesus and said by Jesus, even could be written down. I think we're on the right track to think that he spoke peace, to everybody and said, "Like David, be at peace" and invites us into the peace that passes understanding, as the Apostle wrote about that. When all the world is in turmoil around us, and when it seems like the least reason why we would be at peace, yet we are because the peace of Christ is in our hearts and minds in the midst of it all. Maybe that's why Jesus was called the Prince of Peace.

And why, as one of his Beatitudes, he said, "blessed are the peacemakers for, they shall be called the children of God."

I like how he didn't say "peace hopers" or "peace sayers." He said, "peacemakers... peace makers." That reminds us of that peace is not just something to say. We say it and we speak it and it turns our hearts and minds to that. But we have to follow those words with actions like the saying "no justice, no peace." Peace is something we make, something we forge, something we create, something we create space for. If there's injustice, then the peace is lost. Jesus pointed this out in some of his teachings also in saying that people go around and they go a "peace, peace" when there is no peace. We are invited to the work of making peace. As the children have gone with all those other children, regardless of who they are, where they are or what they're up to, to find ways to bring about the peace and harmony and justice that love requires.

Justice is love in action, as all of this ties together. If we want that peace that passes understanding then here's the path follow Christ. Join him in the work of peace, join him and seeking peace to the world around us and living out that peace like the hymn, says, "Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me."

Peace for All
How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God's people to live together in harmony!
(Psalm 133:1 GNT)

This peace is for everybody, it's not like peace for members of certain church or denomination, or even a certain religion or a certain culture or country or anything else it's for everybody. If everybody's not at peace then peace is allusive. You can't have two people in one of them is at peace. And the other one is at war with the person that's supposed to be at peace. Then it's still not peace. Is it? That's something to keep working on. It's for everybody. We want everybody to be in harmony. As the good news says "how wonderful it is, how pleasant for God's people to live together in Harmony."

The Agnus Dei is one of the most ancient hymns or chants of our church. Included in our official liturgies, even though we don't use it very often, but I like for us to reflect in its words just for a moment as we continue. 

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Grant us peace.

The peace that Christ offered. He said, "it's not going to be the peace like the world gives, but it's my peace. My peace I give to you."

It was that peace that in all of the doubts that they had. In the following week, Thomas was there and he had already been expressing his doubts. Then the same thing happened again Jesus said, "Peace to you." When he did Thomas just realized it was alright. He was safe. He was safe to believe he was safe to follow. He was safe to join the others in the work. It was safe. His thoughts and feelings were healed. Because the peace of Christ, is not the illusion of peace, but the reality.

Pax Christi in contrast to Pax Romana

 With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God poured rich blessings on them all.    (Acts 4:33 GNT)

So often the world gives the illusion of peace by forcing peace, as an outward expression of it. Back in those days, they had the Pax Romana, "The Peace of Rome," and we can see how that went. They got everybody to settle down about the events of the Holy Week, not by bringing everybody into a reconciled state with one another and bringing them into a place of understanding and joy and peace with one another, but by executing Jesus on the cross, along with a lot of other people that were being executed, not only that day, but on all the days before and after, and by force and violence, they enforced what they called "peace." I think we still see that happening in the world, down through the centuries, to our time as well, a peace that is not rather peace.

But it's forcing people into some kind of a position where it might look peace because they're all submitting to whoever the authority is and doing whatever they're told, whether it's good, bad or not. So it's mingled with so much injustice and so much disparity and inequality and victimization that it's just a complete corruption of the word and idea of peace. Now the other Latin word that is handed down to us through the centuries Pax Christi, "the Peace of Christ."

In the reading from Acts in the King James Versions was that "great grace was upon them." What a beautiful statement. Great grace was upon them. The good news that says "with great power, the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord, Jesus and God poured rich blessings upon them all." That's the peace of Christ. One where people love one another and want to bring each other into greater joys and greater depths of justice and true peace. It's a gift from God. It's God's grace and blessing poured out upon us and through us to each other. It's a gift that we receive and we share. It comes from God to me and with me to you. They come from God to you and from you to me. Say God gives us all that blessing and pours it out on us then we share it with the community around us and the other people are brought into the Peace of Christ.

Peace through Forgiveness

 If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. (1 John 1:8-9)

That's pretty good contrast, I think. Don't you see the difference between the peace that the world offers and the peace that Christ offers? The peace that Christ offers comes through the forgiveness of sins. It's so vital that reconciliation and peace that we experience here's outside in the message. If we claim that we're for you to sin, we're only fooling ourselves a claim like that as errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins, simply come clean about them, he won't let us down. He'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrong doing. The more we recognize that, if we confess our sins, God forgives us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That goes through as individuals and as a society. Forgiveness removes the discord and immediately establishes peace to the extent of the forgiveness. If we can't forgive completely maybe our piece won't be complete yet either, but we'll grow as our ability to forgive grows.

Sent on a Mission of Peace

 Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”  (John 20:21-23)

That forgiveness is so important to the wellbeing of our peace and harmony. Jesus sent us on a mission of peace through his forgiveness.

"As the father has sent me so I send you." Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them."  Receive the Holy spirit." He said. "If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?" I love the way it's phrased. The message there. Jesus breathed on them "receive you the Holy Spirit. Receive you the Holly Ghost. And gave the empowerment and the authority and the anointing to those who follow him and believe in him to minister this forgiveness of sins to minister reconciliation in such a powerful ability and gift that we're given and mission that in the history of the church and for most Christians today. It's even still elevated as one of the official sacraments of the church, not in our denomination, but not in any way to diminish it, but even to elevate a little bit further about those not reserved for the clergy to minister but it for all of us to minister.

To hear each other, as we open ourselves in honesty and to encourage one another and to assure each other about forgiveness and absolution, and to bring each other into reconciliation and to support and encourage everybody around us.

We're big believers around here and appreciative to the believer, really proponents of that. That's one of our missions as believers in, Jesus, is that if this power and anointing through the Holy Spirit receive freely, the grace that God has given you in forgiveness of your sins and continue to receive that.

Extend that as abundantly as freely as we receive it let us extend that then to the whole world around us in every way that we possibly can find to do. We communicate the free and full forgiveness by sending it to others around us and bringing peace, making peace, forging peace, through forgiveness and acceptance and love and justice. It's a wonderful calling and it's wonderful to be sent. We're all sent to do this and, and to share in the blessing of the Peace of Christ.

In the name of Jesus, "Be at peace."

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Lift Jesus Higher

We're not lifting up our particular ministries, whatever they may be, but we're lifting up Christ. Our various ministries become opportunities to offer Christ.

Jesus said that if he is lifted up, then he will draw all people to him. And so during this period of Lent, we have been looking at lectionary readings through the lens of spiritual exploration, and what it is that's out there for us and what it is that's in here for us. All around in the spiritual realm, the things that God has for us, and the things that we want to discover in Christ, the things that we want to discover about ourselves and our relationship with God and God's creation.

In this passage of the gospel, [John 12:20-33] Jesus emphasized his lifting up as the way that he would be crucified at the end of his earthly ministry. And throughout his time, he predicted that he was going to be killed in this way and that then he would be raised from the dead, and so that's a part of our preparation as we come to the conclusion of Lent over the next couple of weeks. But he also promised that because of that, there would be a plentiful harvest and that his being lifted up would draw everybody to him.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on March 21, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

He spoke about this in the beginning of his ministry that we talked about last week, in John chapter 3, where he talked about being born again. And then he talked about the people in the wilderness who were being bitten by the snakes, and that Moses had set the pole up for everybody to look at, and if they would look, they would be healed or saved. And that in the same way, Jesus said, "In this same way, the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." And now he says this about being lifted up and drawing all people to him.

Jesus is the draw
And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me. John 12:32 (MSG)

And I think sometimes in the church, we might all have recognized that there's a tendency to want to try to get ahead of Jesus maybe a little bit, get ahead of the cross a little bit, and to find other things that might draw people together and draw people in. And they might do that, but you know, I like to think that when we came together here at church today, we came to praise the Lord. We just came for Jesus. We came because we want to worship. 

And I think it's better if we have fewer people who all want to worship than a lot of people who came for a lot of other reasons besides Jesus.

And I think that our mission and ministry and the other things that we do as the church to help people are not to manipulate them or to make them want to come and be a part of the church. But they are because out of this love that we have growing within us and the gifts that we have that empower us to ministry, that we want to serve Christ and all the people in this way. And so we're not doing ... Some of the other things that we do are not in order to get people to come and be a member of our group, but they're because of we love them and we want to help and serve them.

And then through that, we want to lift up Christ in all that we're doing so that they're drawn in to Christ, and not to us or not to our ... We're not lifting up our group. We're lifting up Christ. We're not lifting up our particular ministries, whatever they may be, but we're lifting up Christ, and those become opportunities for us to lift up Christ. But if we do it the other way around, then we're getting the horse before the cart. And you still need a horse. Well, that's where it belongs, isn't it? We're getting the cart before the horse. If you're going to draw a cart with a horse, you're going to need a cart and a horse, but it does make a difference what order they come in.

And so that's how it makes a difference with us. We're lifting up Christ, and we want to lift up Christ in all we do, and point to Christ, and help people come into a personal relationship with Christ. And he promises that the harvest is plentiful, and that he wants people to follow him. Why? So that where he is that we can also be there, wherever that may be. And that's a promise that he made a couple of chapters later on his way to the cross, when he said that, "If I prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also." So, there's a couple of places right together there where Jesus is emphasizing that he wants us around. He wants us with him, and that's why he's drawing everybody to him.

But I also like to highlight that in The Message translation, the word everyone, and in the King James, the word all, will draw all people to me, it's a promise that keeps coming up in the scriptures, that there are texts that can be used to argue against it, and a lot of people do. But Jesus and the apostles and the prophets tend to have this all idea, this idea that all people are being called, all are invited, and that "God's will is that all should be saved," as Peter said. It's not God's will that anyone should perish, but that all should come to this knowledge of Christ. And so, that's the attitude that I think this passage invites us to have is that it's for everybody, that we celebrate our differences and our diversity, and not use it as walls to separate us, but as bridges to unite us and to bring us together, and to look at everybody as a child of God, being saved, being healed, being transformed into the image and likeness of him that filleth all in all. So, lift Jesus higher.

Called by God
Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.   Hebrews 5:10 (KJV)  

And then Hebrews 5, that reading talks about the priest, Melchizedek, who came and took and worshiped with Abraham and received the tithes from Abraham back in super primordial times, I guess super primeval times. That was a long time ago, the days of Abraham. We celebrate Abraham and being the children of Abraham's faith, and that was far back in the Book of Genesis. And I was interested to see that that Abraham was born in 1948 AM, Anno Mundi, the year of the world, in the way that they were measuring time, some people measure time in their religion. And so in what they felt was 1948 ...

And I thought that was kind of a interesting little connection there to think about, but that was still a long time ago. It was not the 1948 that we usually go to in our minds. It was a long time ago, and a long time before any of the rituals that we have, any of the prayers in the Bible, anything about the Bible was ever written, anything, any kind of the forms that we follow, or any kind of practices that we have. And so his priesthood preceded the priesthood that was established by Moses by a long, long time, and all of the things that we think of in connection with religion are preceded by this priest, Melchizedek, coming and being a part of Abraham's life.

And that's who the Bible lifts up, that Jesus is a priest after that order, the old time one, the real old one, the one that precedes all the others. And that is very personal and it is deeper than ... And so that includes, really, all of everything that came afterwards, but it goes back deeper, to something deeper that we're invited to really be a part of when it's brought up that way.

And there's not much to know about him, but John Wesley brought that up as a high point. He said, "The Holy Ghost seems to have concealed who Melchizedek was on purpose, that he might be the more eminent type of Christ." 

And I can add a word that was in The Message that he was designated by God, that we use the word called in the King James, but in The Message it said designated. And that's kind of an interesting way to think of it too, that our calling is a designation, and God has called you and gifted you to something then, that the Holy Spirit has designated you to do that job.

The Holy Spirit has designated us and called us and specified that this is our assignment, and that's what God would like for us to do. And if we do, then it's not just because of a whim that God might have that day. It's because it will be what will fulfill you in your life and make your life, and not only you, but the people around you and the people who receive the benefit of your ministry.

Everyone will know God
None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the Lord, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken.  Jeremiah 31:34 (GNT)

And then the prophet Jeremiah spoke as an oracle of God, spoke the Word of God, that "everyone will know me." That promise, there it comes again, everyone will know me. "None of them will have to teach a neighbor," it says in the good news, "to know the Lord, because all will know me from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken it."

One of my favorite commentaries, Daniel Whedon, wrote, he translated it this way with a little paraphrase, "I will break down the barriers of separation and bring back the lost harmony." Yeah. I love to think about it like that, because that's part of our salvation is that the disruption in our relationship and the discord that we experience and we see around us, in our own relationships and on the news and every place else, there's that sense of discord. But there's that sense of where people will put people in different categories and then hate that group, whatever it may be, and there's so much of that. And it becomes so intense and so violent and so connected with religion, so that people start getting a sense of that's what they should do. It's their Christian duty to hate someone and to express that hatred in whatever ways they can get by with. And nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that we're invited into love and fellowship with one another, and that God expects us all to be a part of this, that we all, that everyone, everyone will know God. Maybe eventually, and it may not have happened yet, but it's happening. That's in the process. And we're a part of that process as we come to know Christ and as others around us come to know Christ, and we all relate to each other, and as people who are coming to know God better in that process.

And it's not just something that Jeremiah thought might be a good idea, but Jeremiah said, "I, the Lord, have spoken." And we have a hymn that sometime you might like to look up. It's in our hymnal and it's online and everything, but it has this, the hymn's name is "God Has Spoken by the Prophets." And I think that's a good thing to think about when we think about who's saying what, and whose opinions that we're following or implementing in our lives. What has God actually said? What did the prophet say God said? And here's something the prophet said "God said." The prophet Micah and the prophet Amos said some sayings like that too that we bring up a lot that go along those same themes about loving and about taking care of people. And they'll say, "And God said this. God will do this."

Restore our joy
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.  Psalm 51:12 (KJV)

The purpose of it is not for our condemnation, as we see from what Jesus said right after John 3:16 in John 3:17, in the very next verse that often gets marginalized or left out of the conversation about where he said that "He didn't come to condemn anybody, but to save or to heal everybody." And so, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit," as it says in the King James. Now that passage from the Psalm 51 that we began the service has several other verses that we might be familiar with from some of the songs that have been made out of them are from. Otherwise, they're used in so many of our services and our liturgies, "Create in me a clean heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Blot out all my inequities. Cast me not away from my presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me," are just a few of the things in that verse that have become a part of our whole praise and our whole worship and our whole relationship with God.

God wants to restore us to joy, and just to restore the joy that was intended in our creation that we would have. "Uphold us with his free spirit." I love that idea of the free spirit, because we all probably know some people we would describe that way, as a free spirit, and it just ... It's a very attractive trait, I think, when we find people to be free and in a way of just freely loving and freely giving and being happy and making others happy around them. And the Bible here invites us to think of God that way, and that that's who's upholding us, a spirit that is sovereign and free and loves us just freely and wants us to be happy. 

Enter the Relationship
“Sir, we want to meet Jesus.”   John 12:21 (TLB)

And so the invitation, going back to the gospel message, again, as it began, we're invited to enter into a relationship with Christ. And then to extend that invitation to everybody around us, to enter into this kind of a relationship that the people who came looking for Jesus, they said, "Sir, we want to see Jesus." That's really what people need and want above anything else that we have to offer.

John Wesley, in sending the Methodists over here in the first place to form the missionary group into a church, he said, "Offer them Christ." That's our mission. That's what we offer. That's what we have to offer that the world doesn't have to offer, but the church, not just our church, our denomination, but the body of Christ, the church has to offer, is Christ. Who he is, what he thinks, how he loves, how he wants everybody to be in love and harmony and union with each other, and be blessed and to be filled with joy, and to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you." And all the things that he sends us to teach and invite and encourage, that's what people need. That's what people want. 

They want to meet Jesus, and so let's help facilitate that. Amen?