Sunday, January 24, 2021

All Creation


The Communion of Saints is an active, living fellowship of all that is good in Creation.

"Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people."  Mark 1:17 (GNT)

We're more familiar with the way it's in the King James Version, "I will make you fishers of men."

"All holy persons and all holy things" is the way it's often historically defined.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 24, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

Our lectionary gospel reading for this week is from Mark chapter one, about the calling of Simon and Andrew and James and John. We continue this epiphany series about the best part of heaven, which in a word is relationships. And this week concludes the week of prayer for Christian unity with Ecumenical Sunday.

Our affirmation that we are considering along with this series, the Apostles Creed has a statement, We believe in... the communion of saints." That phrase is not in the Nicene Creed, but it does correspond with part of what we were talking about last time, "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church." That part about the apostolic church being the corresponding part to the communion of saints, because it is the church that is in harmony with that of the apostles. We continue to build on the unity that's expressed in earlier phrases that we've been looking at.

And keep in mind how Jesus said, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to me." Think also about John 3:16 with the emphasis on the world, "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."

These are universal expressions along with the craves that express unity. Even if we don't agree on what the phrases that we're saying together mean, how to interpret them. We may have different ideas and that's true about this about everything about our faith, is that the Bible and the creeds and the rituals of the church and the liturgies, and everything, we might have different ideas and understandings about what they mean and how they're to be interpreted.

But at least we have enough in common to express them with similar words a lot of times. Today is a special day for me and my family, as my dad would be 90 years old today. He passed away two months ago, this week.

But a lot of the comfort that I have sought is what had brought us to this series in the first place, because this particular idea of the communion of the saints, has been where I have been seeking my refuge in the scriptures, about the continuing life and everlasting life, and the resurrection and all that goes with the communion of the saints.

The idea of continuing relationship, which is the best part of what heaven is about the best part of earth as well. Relationships that we have and cherish with one another, and promise that the life that we share in Christ is eternal. And that we not only will be together again someday, but that there are many very real senses in which in the spirit we remain together, even when we lay aside our earthly tabernacle.

And we've been going over those throughout this series, but this particular part about the communion of saints, takes it to this other level. I think, last week we talked about the communion as applies to the church being one body in Christ. And we talked about the stones and all of us being fit together into the Church like stones in a building. And other stones being brought in and shaped and getting ready to be placed in the body and in the building. And those existing being fixed, to receive them.


… to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ... Ephesians 3:9 (KJV)


The word for Church that we talked about in previous was ecclesia, and that as well was translated from the Greek to the word Church. But this week, the communion of saints refers more to the koinonia dimension of our relationship, the fellowship, the community. So in addition to our being structurally a part of one body or one building, or however we might want to think about that connection that we have, this one is more about what we're doing as that connection.

How we're relating to each other, within that connection as a fellowship, as a community as an active living loving universal relationship. And it lets us open our hearts and minds as much as we're willing to do. Religious people often have a tendency to close their minds and hearts to each other and to anything that's different than their own experience, their own beliefs and their own practices.

But there's another aspect of faith whereby instead of closing ourselves, we open ourselves, open our hearts, open our minds to more people, more relationships. More inclusion of not only each other, but of all of God's creation, of all of humanity, and of all of the other species God's created. And of all the other things that God created on earth and then celestial bodies that God created. All of the universe that God has made.

And the communion of saints invites us to be adding to our experience in relationship, rather than subtracting from it, and to find ways to come. And when we come to those edges where we feel like that's as far as we can go with other people, just to press that envelope a little bit further, and embrace more ideas more people more of God's creation, which God created everything and he called all the people and called us good.

He created all the different parts of heaven and earth, everything that's in the creation story. God created everything and as he created them he said "This is good." So we should see it as good too. And the more we can wrap our minds around things and people that we don't agree with as still being good, and seeking the image of God in them.

The more we reflect the fullness of God's creation of what God is inviting us to have this everlasting life. In Ephesians chapter three in the King James it says to make all men say, what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world have been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.

I think at least we can try to wrap our minds around the idea that everybody who believes in Jesus is not only part of the same body and connection, but part of this fellowship of love. This fellowship of the redeemed. The community that is active and loving and growing together.

And as we do that then we do open ourselves to and we open ourselves to other people's ideas and opinions, then sometimes that's scary, because we might think we might end up believing something that's not true. But the promise of the spirit is that the Holy Spirit will come and lead us into all truth.

And we can't be led into the truth by the Spirit if we're not willing to open our hearts and minds to the ways that the spirit moves us and speaks to us, and to the conversations and relationships that will expand our understanding and bring us into living out that truth. So we don't need to be afraid of talking to each other.

We don't need to be afraid to learn from each other. We take what we hear and we study to show ourselves approved, rightly dividing the word of truth. We study it and we try to reconcile what we understand with what other people are experiencing and what they're understanding. We have this beautiful song, 

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above

And it has an extra couple of verses that are not usually in the hymnals, but you can find them pretty easily when you look it up (Blest Be the Tie that Binds, John Fawcett, 1782):

From sorrow toil and pain
And sin we shall be free
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity       

In first John, chapter one, John wrote, "we declare these things that you may have fellowship with us."  And later he said, "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another." I When Jesus went along the seashore there and began to invite the first disciples to come with him, he would make them fishers of men.

He was inviting people into a relationship into fellowship with him. Not just into being a robot that followed trudged along or a slave or something that trudged along behind him. But a friendship a relationship in fact, the night he gave himself up he says not going to call you servants anymore or anything like that you're my friends. You're my friends.

And this friendship that we've entered into with Christ and with each other, is the best part about eternal life. It's what heaven is all about. It's what earth is all about really. Building these relationships and friendships and growing in into them and through them, and that's with God and with each other.

Growing into these friendships, we experience part of that eternal life as we grow in love. And those relationships become spiritual. That's more important than anything we have physically that we share. Even being able to shake each other's hand and smile at each other, all of that is wonderful and it hurts so bad when we lose that.

But that's not the most important part about our relationship. The most important part is the caring and the encouragement and support and friendship. All these invisible parts of the relationship that continue, even when the body is laid aside. And so that's the eternal life that we have. That's the part that we want to focus on that were invited in the scripture, and in our relationship with Christ, to focus on that everlasting part.

There's a hymn by John Oxenham:

In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

Saints are everyone to some degree, especially everyone who believes in Christ has placed their faith in Christ, that's comes down to the Christian definition of saints.

That's all the people that have ever lived, who have placed their faith in Christ, at whatever level of sainthood we may be. And most people never make it to any canonized state of sainthood. But we have some those through that the Church has elevated in that way by recognizing them in a special official Saint way, as examples for all of us to look up to and can follow and learn from.

But in reality, we all learn from each other and respect each other as saints hopefully. Trying to work our way along and help and encourage each other along the way. So everybody and that includes everybody in heaven, everybody on earth. All who are now believers and all who will become believers, which can take in a lot of territory because the promise of scripture, is that eventually "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." (Philippians 2:10-11).

And then however broadly we can understand that, we can at least know that everybody who's going to be a believer is going to be a Saint. So we're all either saints in the making or saints along the way. And we have a lot of songs about that and we have scriptures about it, building each other the saints of God.


And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.    Acts 2:1 (KJV)

 And Christ calls us to be in harmony with one another, all the saints. That's a part of what this communion of saints is, is the harmony that we share. The book of Acts tells about the Holy Spirit coming and it says, just prior to the Spirit being poured out on the day of Pentecost, said "and when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." (Acts 2:1).

That being of one accord is harmony. It's the kind of harmony by definition, it's the harmony that we find in music, when we play different notes that each have their own tones their own sounds. And when we play them together though, they can be brought into harmony or discord, but we don't really like to intentionally create discord, do we.

We try to create harmony with our music. And so notes are brought into harmony with one another and create beautiful sounds and become a melody or a song with various harmonies and it sounds good, it works. And as while we're called into by our faith is into unity that brings us all into harmony with each other, while we retain our individuality and we have our different ideas and our different ways and everything else.

We retain all this freedom, but we work together to be in harmony with one another. When Christ brought people into his group there at the beginning like these that we were talking about Peter or all of them. All of his apostles today was Simon, Andrew, James and John that he called to be fishers of men.

And then the other disciples that he called and those that he set apart as apostles, were called to be in harmony with them, who were in harmony with him. He brought them into this relationship, and then they all lived together and work together and talk together and grew together. Even though they were all different people into this relationship, where they were all in harmony with Christ and in harmony with each other.

And then as the book of Acts and the letters and all unfold as their ministries unfolded, then they brought other people into harmony with them, and through them with Christ, and together with each other. And everybody is brought in and they've made him these fishers of men went out and brought people in to this relationship of harmony, and love with God and with each other.

And it's been continuing all down through the ages as it's been passed down to us, and we pass it to others. We get together for bible study. And we all express our different understandings and views of what we're reading. And sometimes we might agree with just about everything, sometimes we might not agree with anything that somebody else says.

But in the process of discussing it and thinking about it and working through it, we come to some new understandings through those conversations. And so it's because we're all one mystical body as we talked about, with the idea of the church ecclesiastically, the assembly and the gathering of the church.

That also offers us the opportunity to be one mystical body in the sense of koinonia and the sense of community and fellowship, that we're one that we're growing together, that we're supporting each other, that we're in spiritual solidarity as some have called it. And we're like The Three Musketeers, "all for one and one for all."

What affects one of us affects all of us. Paul talked about this in talking about the body of Christ, that when all or one part or another, but each part affects the other and each part needs the other. Anything that happens to one part of our body, we can't really isolate that so much. We can see where something might have happened, we might have hit our thumb with a hammer or something and that part hurts more than the rest, but the whole body hurts with it. And as it's healed, the whole body is healed with it too. 


Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth.  John 4:24 (MSG)

 Talking with the woman at the well in John chapter four, Jesus said, talking about you must worship in Spirit and in truth. "God is Spirit and those that worship, must worship in Spirit and in truth." (John 4:24 KJV)

And the message translation it says, your worship, must engage your Spirit in the pursuit of truth. I like that, very engaging to say your Spirit engage, engage your spirit. And if we are engaged spiritually with each other, to the extent we are engaged spiritually with each other, then even those with different religions and different religious views than ours, no matter how different those may be, or how we may disagree.

If we're engaged in a pursuit of truth and we're engaged to Spirit, then the truth will rise in that and Christ will shine his light in that. And the Holy Spirit will move us forward in that, and everybody will find some growth. Everybody will find some blessing and some common ground where we worship on.

When we worship and when we pray, we're "surrounded by a cloud of witnesses." (Hebrews 12:1). That includes all these people that we love who have gone to heaven before us, and all the other company of heaven and everybody else, and all the angels, all the saints, everybody that's in heaven they're not that far away from us.

They surround us when we worship when we pray. We join them in what they're already doing. The Bible presents us plenty of energy, especially in the book of Revelation of those who have gone before us, and the other angels and everybody else in heaven. They're already worshiping God, they're already praising God, and they're already praising and blessing him.

And so we are invited to join in that ongoing worship service. And the times when we come together and when we pray, even when we go into our prayer place about ourselves, and we pour our hearts out to God and we pray and we worship God, we're joining with everybody else who's doing that. And a lot of people right now, in any given moment around the world are praying and praising God. And so we're joining them and they're joining us.

And we're all joining everybody that's in heaven too. In our communion liturgy in the great Thanksgiving, we pray we say

With your people on earth and all the company of heaven
we praise your name and join their unending hymn:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

We join the saints in glory in our prayer and in our worship. Charles Wesley put it this way, in one of his hymns:

Thee in Thy glorious realm they praise,
And bow before Thy throne;
We in the kingdom of Thy grace:
The kingdoms are but one.

 All of this really is inviting us to a spiritual relationship with God and with each other, that enables us to be sensitive to the presence of the beings we don't see, but who surround us.

The saints the angels our family and friends who have gone before us. And to have more than an ideological or a religious or creedal connection with the rest of the family of God here on earth. But rather to have a spiritual connection with them, and sense their presence, even though they might be on that side of the world.

But in the spirit, we're close together in our hearts and minds we're not very far away at all. In Christ, we're in a dimension that transcends time and space, and brings us spirit to spirit heart to heart, where we pray and worship and experience the love and life that Christ offers us by faith.

There's a song about higher ground it's called "Higher Ground." And it's about "Lord lift me up, put my feet on higher ground." It's about "a higher plane than I have found." And it has this line 

For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground           (Highter Ground by Johnson Oatman)

I find a lot of comfort in that. And not only comfort, but encouragement and not only encouragement, but invitation and a sense of closeness and of love and of inspiration.


And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.

Acts 4:32 (KJV)

In Acts chapter four, the Bible tells us some of the things the early Church was doing after the Holy Spirit was pointed out on them and they started worshiping together and living together and being in fellowship together. And in verse 32, it says, "and the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul, neither said any of them that all of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common."

The root of that word that's translated common in the King James Version, verse 4:32 is the same as this fellowship, the same root as koinonia (koinos). It's a fellowship of sharing. We share everything and not just our resources, not just our physical sharing, but sharing involve all that is good. All of the blessings of God we share.

God doesn't bless us so that we can just have these blessings for ourselves. God blesses us and part of the blessing that he blesses us is with the opportunity to have something that we can pass on. Something that we can share with others. That we can re gift. We share all the blessings of God. And we have this opportunity to be a part of the equitable distribution of all God's temporal and spiritual blessings throughout all of creation.

We can share the love and the goodness, and the encouragement that we find in Christ with other people and with other creatures, other objects of God's creation to make everything. To make the world a better place, to make the structures and organizations and institutions of the world better at what they are supposed to be.

To make our personal relationships with each other with people around us better, more fulfilling, more spiritual, more rich, more than they are always growing, always encouraging. And in doing that, everything then we can see as we unholy all the people.

Now we can see Christ and everybody, then that's a good thing. If we see the image of God, the God who created everybody in his image. So we have the opportunity then if we believe that to look for that image to find any image. To see the look through everything else and find the image of God, or find the reflection of God's love and spirit somewhere even in everybody.

Sometimes it seems it's more obscured than others. Sometimes it's a little easier to find them and others. But the joy of exploration in relationships is finding the best in other people, and letting them find the best in you and not hiding that lie.

So doing with sanctify and one another, we make one another holy in ways that we weren't before. It's true that relationship of love and consecration and spirituality, that we even can bring people into the fellowship of Christ, and into this relationship with God in Christ, that's what we're inviting people to.


Dear brothers [and sisters], you have been given freedom: not freedom to do wrong, but freedom to love and serve each other.   Galatians 5:13 (TLB)

 And so finally when part of our relationship is a relationship of service. In the living Bible for Galatians 5:13, "Dear brothers and sisters, you have been given freedom. Not freedom to do wrong, but freedom to love and serve each other." (Galatians 5:13 TLB). As in worship so in service, we're surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

Our family, our friends, wherever they may be in heaven and on earth. When we engage in Christian service that's pretty broad, but in serving and doing good and helping and ministering our spiritual gifts, all of those when we engage in service, then we're joining what Christ is already doing.

We're joining what other brothers and sisters in Christ are already doing. We're joining what our family and friends who have gone before us have been doing and what they're continuing to do in heaven. We're invited to be mindful of this communion of saints as we join with them and with Christ in loving Christian service.

Today, I thank especially my parents in heaven and of the other parents in heaven, family and friends who have gone on to glory. I think about the nature of their relationship on earth. My parents and your parents other people's parents and everybody's parents through that relationship, they nurtured their love for one another.

And they encouraged and strengthened and served and all these things we've just been talking about, they do that in the marriage. So that's a sacramental relationship that reflects their relationship, as what Paul said reflects the relationship between Christ and his Church. But then in heaven, that nature of that relationship changes as it does for all of us for the married couple and for everybody else.

Our relationships take on a different quality and a different nature in heaven. Even when one is in heaven and one is on earth, that changes the relationship. And when the other one then joins the first in heaven that changes begin. I know all about that, we just know that as it says when he appears, we will be like him. When we get there, we'll see what that hell means.

But we get a little glimpse of it in the way that we relate to each other now and in the scriptures, the things that Jesus says about that relationship. So when you think about that relationship is the same relationship in heaven. So our parents, everyone's parents, who have gone on before, and all the people in our family tree, then we study and look back through some times with our study of our genealogy and everything.

All those relationships they continue, but in a different way. But it's the same love that they nurtured and fostered and grew in on earth. And likewise for us in all of our relationships, not just in marriage, but in all of our relationships are reflected in that relationship with Christ that we begin here on earth continues forever.

It changes forms here on earth as we move along. And we can expect that it will continue to change in heaven. Our relationship with one another that has begun here, has worked out over the years with each other. It will continue to change as long as we're here on the earth. And as each of us takes our place in laying aside our earthly tabernacle and takes our place in heaven, that relationship will be adjusted accordingly. And yet, it will continue.

And we continue from one realm of glory to the next in love. In our rituals of the church, we have this blessing in the wedding ceremony, that there's some of our wedding ceremonies [we can apply to all our friendships]. 

By the same Spirit bless [us],
that [our] love for each other
may reflect the love of Christ for us
and grow from strength to strength
as [we] faithfully serve you in the world.

That's where they're nurturing that service. Where they're nurturing their fellowship their love, all these dimensions of fellowship and communion that they have with one another in that little community of a family. And they're nurturing and they're building and they're growing in whatever ways that it does.

Some might be better than others, but whatever they can get done there, however much progress they can make, they're doing that. And then that's what continues when they leave the world behind. And that's a reflection of all of us are doing with each other. We're all making as much progress as we can.

Some of our relationships are stronger and some are less. Some are more of a blessing and some less. Some grow well and some need a little extra tending. We have all these different relationships and we're in different places with each other. And everybody that we're in relationship with is at a different spiritual place themselves with Christ.

We're all in line working things through together. And with an understanding that this is a spiritual relationship that we can keep building on and growing into for all of eternity. 

I'd like to close with this prayer that I prayed at dad's graveside two months ago. And is a prayer of the church and ritual for the funeral service. But it also is one that brings hope and imagery of this continuing eternal spiritual communion of the saints [of which we each are eternal members]:

Gracious God,
we thank you for those we love but see no more.
Receive into your arms your servant[s],
and grant that increasing in knowledge and love of you,
[we] may go from strength to strength
in service to your heavenly kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

All Believers


The church is made up of everyone who believes in Jesus.

Today, we continue our series through Epiphany, the best part of Heaven, in a word, relationships. The Apostles' Creed has a statement, "We believe in the Holy Catholic church," and the Nicaean Creed has a similar statement, "We believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic church." These ancient creeds have been passed down to us through the generations and have these different statements that we share as Christians, but we don't always share the same understanding of those statements. In this case, in our United Methodist materials, the word Catholic is spelled with a lowercase C indicating it is an adjective describing the word church rather than they a proper noun as the name of the church.

Then also, it was attended by an asterisk in our official materials and there's a footnote that is linked to that asterisk with the word universal likewise in lower case, not referring to the name of any organization, but to the nature of the church that is universal, all encompassing, all inclusive. Merriam Webster further describes that word universal as including or covering all of a whole or collectively or distributively without limit or exception, and also available equitably to all members of the society, and also occurring everywhere, existent or operative everywhere under all circumstances and conditions.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 17, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

Our gospel reading for this week is from John 1:43-51, where Jesus called Philip and Nathaniel to be his disciples. That passage ends with this verse, verse 51: "Hereafter you shall see Heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man." The words there of Jesus connect this back to the image of the event where Jacob was having a dream and in that dream, a ladder extended from where he was on the Earth to Heaven and angels were ascending and descending, hence the song that we have, "We are climbing Jacob's ladder."
Angels Descending
 Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. John 1:51 (KJV)
Also, that's alluded to in another famous hymn of Blessed Assurance With the verse, "Angels descending bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love." In our communion ritual, we have a part of the great Thanksgiving, the prayer, where we say, "and now with all of God's people here on Earth and all the company of Heaven, let us join their unending hymn of praise." There is a hymn by Charles Westland called Happy the Souls to Jesus Joined.
As we reflect on the words of this brief hymn, let's think about our family and friends scattered around the world, wherever they may be, whatever they're practices of the faith are, and all our brothers and sisters around the world with all their various different forms of worship and the organizations that they're a part of within the one body of Christ, and not only those on Earth, but those who have gone to glory before us, our family, our friends, our neighbors, and others who are a part of the body of Christ, the Heavenly part, the part that no longer has occupation in our body, but has laid aside the Earthly tabernacle and continues as one of our prayers says in strength to strength in service to the Heavenly kingdom.

1 Happy the souls to Jesus joined,
And saved by grace alone;
Walking in all His ways, they find
Their heaven on earth begun.

2 The Church triumphant in Thy love,
Their mighty joys we know;
They sing the Lamb in hymns above,
And we in hymns below.

3 Thee in Thy glorious realm they praise,
And bow before Thy throne;
We in the kingdom of Thy grace:
The kingdoms are but one.

4 The holy to the holiest leads,
From thence our spirits rise;
And he that in Thy statutes treads,
Shall meet Thee in the skies.

Jesus is Building

This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.   Matthew 16:18 (MSG)

The church is all of us working together and in the building of the kingdom of God, but we're being built together by Jesus himself, who said, "This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of Hell will be able to keep it out." That's from Matthew 16:18 in the Message Translation. He goes on to give us His church, the kingdom, the keys to the kingdom, reflecting on it the various powers and authorities that are ours in the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the people of God, the church that Jesus is building here.
Paul refers to the church in that architectural sense of putting together a building, as having the various stones all assembled together. Each of us is like a stone in the building. When you think of that analogy, then we can think about that, not all the stones have been put in a place yet. It's still being built and the stones that may not yet be a part of the building are all being prepared to become a part in the building. They're being shaped and they're being brought into the location that they need to be in and getting prepared. The rest of the building is being prepared to receive those stones. We think of the stones as all the people. Then all the people that who are, who will become a part of this church are all being prepared for each other, for the relationship, to be each in their own place, in their own relationship, in their own place in the structure, in the church, in this spiritual entity that Jesus is building.

Gathered in the Name of Jesus

 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.  Matthew 18:20 (KJV)

We're gathered in the name of Jesus in Matthew 18:20 in the King James, it said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them." Sometimes it's brought up that the context of this statement and perhaps with some placing some limitations there. I'd like to reflect on that just militarily, as we think of this church. The context of this gathering of two or three, where Jesus said that, begins as he's talking about some conflicts that people may have theoretically for seeing that we may, as the church, have conflicts to be resolved.

He says in verse 16 of this passage, this is in the Good News Translation, "But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or three witnesses." That is how that part of the conversation begins, with this a way of resolving conflicts. If you're not able to work something out with the individual that you feel is not living out the Christian fight properly, then take a couple of people with you and see if together you can work that out. If not, then perhaps with the whole congregation, you can work something out. If not, well, then you may have to go your separate ways.

That's not the end of the passage, and that's not all that Jesus is talking about here, because he builds on that. It's not a limitation to the two or three gathered in his name. It's just the starting point of this conversation. He builds on that and adds to that. I tell you in verse 18 in the Good News, "What you prohibit on Earth will be prohibited in Heaven. What you permit on Earth will be permitted in Heaven." To this conflict resolution, Jesus adds this authority to make decisions. If two or three of us are gathered together in anyway, we have authority to make decisions about what we're going to do in the name of Jesus. We don't have authority to make decisions for other people who aren't there, unless they've elected us as a representative and asked us to make those decisions.

We can't just like our church make decisions for what other churches are going to do. We make decisions for what our church is going to do, and we respect their decisions for what they do. If we're a small group or a larger group, we can decide when we're going to meet and what we're going to study and what we're going to do. If there is some project we're going to take up, or some somebody we want to help, or, or some type of thing that we want to do, it's all within the .... If there's any limitation to that, its limitations that we have set or have accepted for ourselves within the structure of other groups that we're a part of, or within our understanding of the scriptures and so forth.

The point I think, is that we have this authority and that this is in addition to this conflict resolution that began the conversation in the first place. There's another layer in there. While you're at it, let me just say that if two or three of you decide something, then that's a valid decision. Not only that, another layer is added. In verse 19, and this is also in the Good News, "and I tell you more. Whenever two of you on Earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven." I like the word agree because it helps us to see that our gathering does not necessarily mean that we're physically in the same location, but that our thoughts are gathered, that spiritually we have gathered.

That really reflects a lot about the body of Christ. It's a spiritual gathering, it's a spiritual entity, it's a spiritual gathering of hearts and minds around Christ Himself, in relationship to Christ, and that puts us in a specific type of relationship with one another. When we are in relationship with Christ, we are the group heart, the body, the entity of those who are in relationship with Christ, no matter really, how good or bad that we're doing in our part of the relationship or how new, or how old that we are to that relationship, or whether that is a relationship that we enjoy while we're in the body, or whether is a relationship continuing after the physical body has been laid aside, we're all in relationship to Christ. That puts us all in relationship to each other, and if two or more of us agree within that relationship on anything, then we have a prayer. Then we have something that God will respond to.

Maybe He doesn't rule out our individual prayers, either. It just is adding this and it's adding it to the conversation that's already gone on, which admittedly is, it began with a conflicts, but it didn't end there. It was added on to that. It's another layer. If two or more of you agree on anything, it will be done for you. That brings us into some, think about like on the day of Pentecost when everybody was in one accord. That's when the Holy Spirit came in, and in such a mighty way.

We're invited to continue that today, to pray together, to join together in prayer. We still pray as Jesus did in solitude on the night He gave Himself up for us, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." Again, I want to reiterate that doesn't exclude our prayers, our individual prayers. It just adds that extra layer of prayer and an extra identification as two or more of us, that Jesus is with us. I'd like to read that verse 20 now, in that context, from the Message Translation about the presence of Jesus. Hear this, "And when two or three of you are together, because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there."

One Foundation

God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid.  1 Corinthians 3:11 (GNT)

Paul in another place of describing the church and in the terms of building materials, to 1 Corinthians 3:11 in the Good News, he said, "God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid." Then right before that, he was saying how we each have to be careful how we build so we take care of how we build on that foundation, because if we build up some kinds of materials, then what we build will endure, but if we build with other kinds of materials, it may not last so long.

Just keep that in mind. That may be all right, but bear that in mind, when you select the materials, you're using to build in your own spiritual life and in the life of our corporate spirit, spiritual life together as the people of God, as a Bible study group, or a covenant group or prayer group, or some kind of team that we might be forming for various projects in the church, or as a congregation or a denomination, however, parts of it, whatever parts of the body of Christ that we're working on, that we're a part of, take care how you build. Make sure you're using the proper materials for what Christ has given you the opportunity to build

That beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame as the way we say it back home, but Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Notre Dame, that building is in the process of being restored, and even after much of it was destroyed, it's still a beautiful edifice. Right now, they have been in the process of building these various bracings and all to keep what remains there from further damage or collapse. That bracing is itself a work of art. Parts of the building were completely destroyed by the fire and other parts were damaged or threatened, but they still remain in place. The materials and the money and everything that goes into all the craftsman and laborers and architects and engineers, and then everybody that supports all of them, is all being brought to place to rebuild this cathedral over several years. That's all been gathered together and materials are being identified for the replacement work that is to be done.

That's a beautiful analogy of all of this that the Bible is talking about, about the church and about building with the best materials and the appropriate materials for what we're doing, and of taking care how we build, and of some parts enduring and some parts, maybe not, of each of us having our role and our place in the building, but of Christ being the one who is actually bringing it all together and bringing us all together as the body of Christ, the building, the temple of the Lord. There is a certain foundation that can't be replaced, and that is Christ Himself. We're all built. Christ is the one building this church. We're all built on this one foundation.

We have a hymn, the Church's one Foundation by Samuel Stone: 

1. The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

2. Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

3. Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

4. Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till, with the vision glorious,
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

5. Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.
We Are All the Church
All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.   1 Corinthians 12:27 (TLB)
We are all the church. In the Living Bible chapter one, and then chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, verse 27 says, "All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it." We are one single spiritual unity, the body of Christ, the church, regardless of what name that we may place over our particular part of it, what sign we put on the front of the church that we meet, where we meet, or what name we take for our particular theological approach to distinguish us from groups taking other approaches or involved in other projects, regardless of what organizational structure that we adopt for conducting what we feel that God has led us to do, we along with all those others who are doing similar things are all a part of the one body of Christ, all who believe in Jesus.

As the saying goes, "All means all, y'all." The great invitation was given this way by Jesus, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The church is all of us in Earth and in Heaven who have accepted that invitation and have come on to Christ. May God bless you in your quest as you seek a deeper spiritual relationship with your creator, with your fellow creatures, as a part of the church of Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

We Will Not

I feel like it should go without saying, but apparently it must be said anyway: I will not support sedition and insurrection against the government of the United States.

I realize this puts me (again) at odds with some of my family, friends, neighbors, colleagues in ministry, and parts of the Christian community. Yet, what some are standing for while invoking Christianity is so egregious I'm obligated to at least register my opposition.  

"For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Galatians 5:14, KJV).

Fomenting hatred and violence are the opposite of Christianity, and yes, even when done in the political sphere. Working to advance discrimination, racism, oppression, injustice, and deceit is a demonic endeavor no matter what the arena. That includes the recent and continuing threats against our democratically elected government.

We should, in love, stand up for what we believe in (and against what we don't). The Biblical imagery of resistance by "The Three Young Men" provides an example: 
9 They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever.
10 Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image:
11 And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
12 There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king
14 Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?
15 Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, 
sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.  (Daniel 3:9-18, KJV)

Radicalized insurgents continue to demand our worship of their leader and our subordination to their malicious ideology. We will not. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Outward Sign of Inward Grace


"I indeed have baptized you with water, but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost" Mark 1:8 

Those are the words of John the Baptist as he was baptizing people in the Jordan River for the remission of sin and inviting people to become a part of the coming kingdom of God that Jesus Christ was going to be ushering in. While he was preaching and baptizing people, Jesus came to be baptized. And John was reluctant to baptize Jesus because he thought that Jesus should be the one to baptize him because he recognized Jesus to be the Messiah, the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. But Jesus insisted and John baptized Jesus in the river. And the Bible tells us that during this baptism, that the Holy Spirit descended in bodily shape like a dove and landed on Jesus. So we see all these outward signs. We heard the voice. We didn't. We hear it through the scriptures, but the people who were standing there heard the voice of God saying, "This is my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased."

Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 10, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

And ever since that time, from that time to this, people have been continuing to follow Jesus in baptism. In that moment, baptism took on a new and deeper significance. John emphasized how his baptism was a baptism with water. But the baptism of Jesus would be the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Forgiveness, Renewal, Empowerment, Sanctification

 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.   Mark 1:8 (KJV)

And with that spiritual baptism came the forgiveness that was pointed to in the water baptism of John, the repentance and forgiveness and remission of sins. But more because it also brought the spiritual baptism, the inner baptism that is pointed to with that outward baptism, brings renewal of our souls and empowerment with the spiritual gifts and sanctification, the continuous cleansing of our souls more and more all the time or, as John Wesley put it in Love Divine All Loves Excelling, "changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place."

It was a constant renewal, a constant improvement that we hopefully are making, even though sometimes it seems like we take one step forward and two steps back because we're still struggling with all of this and wading through it. An empowerment to minister our spiritual gifts and the power to love one another as Christ has loved us, even though we fall short in that also because another area that we're always kind of struggling with and maybe slogging through muddy ground, trying to move forward and not always knowing exactly how and coming up short. And that renewal that we experience in Christ is an ongoing daily, hourly, minute by minute, full of second chances, full of new opportunities, full of things being put behind us and other things opening up in front of us.

And the forgiveness that we experience in Christ also is ongoing, a constant process of reconciliation as we face ourselves honestly a little bit more each day. We try to encourage each other to take a look at ourselves at least every day, and to evaluate what we've been doing and what we have not been doing and think about where the improvements can be made so that the next day, perhaps, we can do better. And all of this is full of second chances, new life, new opportunity, laying aside that which is passed and picking up what lies before us and taking advantage of the opportunities and the challenges and the calling that God has for us for the future, the infinite future, the eternal future.

And all of this we consider today as we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, which we do annually in our denomination along with other denominations throughout the body of Christ and celebrating this time when Jesus came to be baptized. We celebrate that as a sacrament in our theological tradition, that is a sign act with words that has an impact on our lives, an effectiveness in our lives, this outward sign. I think of it sometimes like a wedding ring as an outward sign of an inward invisible bond. And so that's what this water baptism is. It's a sign of a connection going on deep within us, what the spirit is doing within us. And that's a gift from God that God gives us not by our own power or knowledge or belief or any of the work that we do or anything that we do, but as a gift from God. It's the grace of God that saves us. It's the grace of God that is pointed to in this baptism with water. Then we're brought into the fellowship of Christ with that.

And we've been looking at the best part of heaven as we go through Epiphany this time. Last time we talked about how we believe in the Holy Spirit. And this time we've been using the Apostles' Creed, and we're going to use the Nicene Creed along with that, because that goes right along, they go together. One is more expanded, the Nicene Creed, and one is more brief, the Apostles' Creed. But they have just about the same things and the same structure, except that the part that we're going to bring up today. And that I'm bringing up is with the baptism, because in the Apostles' Creed it doesn't say anything about baptism. But in the Nicene Creed it says, "I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins." The Apostles' Creed does talk about forgiveness of sins. And then we'll address that another week. But of course, I mean, that's a part of all of our conversations anyway, but focus more on that another week.

But this first part of that that's in the Nicene Creed, I believe in the one baptism. And so that is some pages for us to put our thoughts around today and this weekend as we reflect on the baptism of Jesus and our own baptism. And that we're grateful for our own baptism.

Born of water and the spirit

Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.

John 3:5 (MSG)

In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus said, talking about being born again and he said this. This is how it is in the message. "Unless a person submits to this original creation, the wind hovering over the water creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into new life, it's not possible to enter God's kingdom." That is kind of drawn out a little bit translation of a verse that says in the King James that more simply that unless we're born of water and the spirit, we can't see the kingdom of God. We can't perceive it. We can't realize it and see what... can't tell where it is or what it is. And of course, he goes on to talk about the Holy Spirit and how the wind blows where it will. You can't see it, but it's there working nonetheless. And so same thing with this.

And if we're not, as the message puts it, submitting to the original creation of God, of what he created us for. If we're not engaged in that, then we're not going to be able to perceive this heavenly kingdom, this invisible spiritual kingdom, even though it's happening all around us.

So well, the best part of heaven is our relationships. And the baptism does point to our relationship with God and with each other. This spiritual significance, this outward, visible sign of the inward and invisible grace. One way that Paul talks about it is as being clothed in Christ. And he said in Galatians, and this is in the message also translation, "By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe, Christ's life, the fulfillment of God's original promise."

Put on Christ

By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise. Galatians 3:27 (MSG)

In our funeral ritual, we have some of these verses that are so important to us throughout life that are taken in different ways, pulled together in the ritual. And one of them is this part here when we say, "As in baptism, we have put on Christ. So now may we," our family and friends who've gone on, "may they be clothed in glory as they have put on Christ. Now, may they be clothed in glory." And this putting on of Christ is a powerful image because just like our shirt, we put that on and that becomes our garment. That's what we're wearing. That's how we go out. That's how we go in. That becomes a part of our whole appearance and our whole approach to life that day, by what we're wearing.

There are several examples of this through the scripture where the attire is described for the priestly attire in the Old Testament to the wedding attire that Jesus talks about in his perils of the wedding feast about people can come from, doesn't matter where they come from or what they've been up to. They're invited to become a part of this fellowship, but they are expected, as the wedding they're invited to the wedding, they're still expected to put on the right clothes when they get there and come to it. And we still have those expectations that we will cloth ourselves in dressed in his righteousness alone as one song puts it, that we will close ourselves in love and goodness, and in good works and in a good relationship and reconciled relationship with God and with each other and with all of creation. So we put on this new life, we put this on as a garment and dress and it becomes an image of who we are.

Mystical Unity

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.           Ephesians 4:4-6 (GNT)

In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he speaks this way, and this is in the Good News translation. He said, "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 and works through all and is in all."

A part of the effective nature of our baptism or the part of that actually produces actual change for us, an actual result, it begins with the application of the water itself because everybody that gets baptized gets baptized by somebody who has been baptized by somebody else, going all the way back to the time when John baptized Jesus. And before that, when he was baptizing other people. It includes everybody who's been baptized by somebody who's been baptized. So there's a physical connection there.

In the laying on of hands for people who were baptized through an application of water in the hand and sprinkling or pouring, or in the immersion where somebody is held and immersed, all of those is a physical contact with the water and with the person extending the baptism to another person and bringing them into that fellowship of everybody who's ever been baptized in all time for all these thousands of years. That's quite a connection to contemplate and to think about where all those people are now. Most of them are in heaven and we'll all join them shortly. And we're all, in the meantime, scattered around the world. And there's a lot of us here in the world and a lot are crossing now as one of the Wesley hymns says, many have crossed before and it's a lot of crossing even now at this hour. People are crossing over from the physical, seen state to the unseen spiritual state. And yet that relationship remains that began with this baptism in water.

As we sort of migrate our thoughts or let our thoughts morph to the spiritual, more spiritual and less tangible part of this baptism, the spirit baptism part of it that John pointed to Jesus about, baptized with the Holy Spirit. Even the water that touches us and even when we touch water and apply it to ourselves or have it applied to us in a renewal of our baptismal covenant, or reaffirmation of our baptismal covenant, then even that water we know is recycled and it travels everywhere. Who knows where all that water has been over the centuries and over the millennia and since the beginning of creation, when the spirit of God moved across the face of the waters.

And that's something just keep your mind busy on to contemplate the unity of Christ and of God's creation. Just think about the water cycle and how the water that we touch and that we absorb and how then it goes and gets recycled and comes back to us again in the clouds from other parts of the world and is carried from here to other parts of the world underground and in the air and everywhere.

So that water is a pretty powerful image of something that is a part of our everyday life, a part of our existence. Most of our body, most of the earth, most of anybody else's body of all the other creatures that God ever made is, most of that is composed of water. And we need a continuous supply of it. Can't live without it.

That's how it is with the Spirit of God. We're connected together with the breath of God, with that invisible connection with God and with each other, with all who have gone before and all even who are yet to come and all who are scattered around the world, wherever they may be in this moment. Those that are being born and being received into the fellowship of humanity and then into this fellowship of the mystery. Paul also speaks out of him in Ephesians, as he's lifting this up. And becoming a part of the body of Christ, becoming a part of the love and fellowship and friendship and family of God and growing, and we grow and learn, and we nurture each other and encourage each other in faith. And together then, but we're one body in Christ and growing into the oneness and the unity of him that filleth all in all.

And that gives us plenty of room to think about things. All in all, that means, as I say, all means y'all and y'all. All of humanity, all of creation, all of everything that is a part of who God is, what God has created, what God has wrought in us and in eternity. So it's a mystical unity and a sign of our mystical unity in Christ. It goes beyond us as the people of God and the fellowship of believers. But we do have this distinction as the mystical body of Christ that is represented in the baptism and is pointing to this spiritual unity that makes us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in service to all the world. We are called and authorized in our baptism to extend the love of Christ to the rest of the world.

Bring Everyone into the Relationship

Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 28:19 (GNT)

We're called and empowered in our baptism to love everybody around us, regardless of what they believe or don't believe and to extend to them the grace and love and forgiveness that God has poured into us. This is where we become vessels they say of the living water. And we extend that to the world around us. We're united in our service as the people who are a part of the body of Christ. And we bring everyone else into it. That's the great commission that we have in Christ, where Jesus said, "Go then to all people everywhere and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." That's how Matthew 28:19 is phrased in the Good News Testament.

We go, we baptize, we bring people into discipleship. We bring them into the fellowship of the body of Christ, of people who are disciples of Jesus who are living into that role. We're learning how to live as Jesus has invited us to live. We're learning how to serve as Jesus has invited us to serve. That's our discipleship is to become who God has created us to become and to bring others into that same experience of learning and growing together, encouraging and strengthening each other.

So may God bless you in your quest as you seek a deeper relationship with your creator and with all of God's creation. In the name of Jesus. Amen.