Sunday, July 18, 2021

Shepherding Us Into Heaven


"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." (Psalm 23:1, KJV). 

Our role as the royal priesthood of believers and under-shepherds of Christ is not to further scatter the sheep, but to gently encourage them into the heavenly fold of our Chief Shepherd.

This verse I just read from Psalm 23:1 is put this way in the Message, "God, my Shepherd, I don't need a thing. You have bed me down in the lush meadows. You find me quiet pools to drink from, true to your word. You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction." (Psalm 23:1-3, MSG)

All the different ways that this Psalm has been used and translated in all of its different forms, it still speaks to each of us, a word of comfort and encouragement and strength. And it becomes like one of the greatest affirmations of faith, of the people of God in both Christianity and Judaism, and becomes... It speaks to us with such grace and comfort as the Lord's prayer gives us, the many blessings of God as the whole Bible might describe to us. And it's a part of our funeral liturgy at the grave side especially, to use to comfort those who mourn, like the beatitudes, to insure us of everlasting life, everlasting relationships that take on new and different forms as our relationships continue, but the love that binds us together is eternal and it has no end.

Transcript of sermon preached extemporaneously
on July 18, 2021 at
 Briensburg UMC | [Audio| [Video]

This is brought out so beautifully in the few words of Psalm 23. We should follow this great Shepherd, and we look now and see that the Shepherd... We identify this Shepherd as Jesus himself. But prior to Jesus, everybody saw this as our heavenly Father being our Shepherd. And we see Jesus and our heavenly Father as one, along with the Holy Spirit as the Holy Trinity. In the gospel reading, one verse says, "And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people and was moved with compassion toward them because they were as sheep, not having a shepherd. And began to teach them many things." That's the example we should follow. Just like a couple of weeks ago, we talked about when Jesus went to Nazareth, His hometown, He went around trying to teach people and help people and heal people, but there was such hostility and such polarization and division.

Follow Jesus, the Chief Shepherd

And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.  (Mark 6:34 KJV)

We're all familiar with those ideas to this day, that it became hard for Him to really even help anybody. But His response to that was to go around and teach people and heal them and help them. That was His response, unlike the response that a lot of times, people call for today, and not only today, but back then, too. Religious people have this tendency to do the exact opposite, to shun and reject anybody that won't accept what they say or do, or that doesn't help out or doesn't become a part of their vision or their work, whatever it may be, for better, for worse. But in the Bible, in the gospel reading, it doesn't say that He had contempt for these people who were like sheep without a shepherd. No, it says He had compassion for them. And it doesn't say that He condemned them for their lack of faith and knowledge. His response was to teach them many things.

And it certainly does not say that Jesus drove them off for any reason. As the passage unfolds, the events that follow His looking out and seeing everybody as sheep without a shepherd. He taught them. He gathered them. He appreciated them gathering around and looking for Him. They were drawn to Him and He seemed to enjoy them, to bring them together in various ways. He loved them. And then even as it goes on as next week's gospel reading describes, He even took a... He fed them. He took a meal that would be maybe a little bit meager for one small family. And He blessed it. And He multiplied it until it fed over 5,000 families with plenty leftover.

True Shepherds Love the Sheep

 And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord.  (Jeremiah 23:4 KJV)

Contrast that with what... A lot of times, people I think misinformed or less informed, or perhaps even with ulterior motives, like to project, when they drive people away from the church, when they drive people away from faith, when they drive people away from this closeness that we experience in Christ. That's just the exact opposite. So we can follow their example and scatter the sheep. Or we can follow Jesus' example and bring everybody together in love, encouragement and support and appreciate who we are, who each other is. Love one another as Christ has loved us. True shepherds, that's what they do. True shepherds love the sheep. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God spoke and said, "I will set up shepherds over them, which shall feed them. And they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed. Neither, shall they be lacking, saith the Lord."

I always kind of feel like a pause and a time to just let that sink in, whenever I come across those words, "thus saith the Lord." And then it kind of seems like that means it's not... It's something to listen to. To me that sounds like it's something to take notice of. This is God's view. The prophet Jeremiah also wrote this in the beginning of the passage we heard today about how false shepherds scatter the sheep and drive them away. "Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, saith the Lord." I kind of like the idea better in some of the other translations. It hits me a little softer and spreads the blame out a little further, than when I use the word pastor, when I'm occupying that particular office.

And so, but it's there. It's of like, if the shoe fits wear it, I guess. Deal with that. And we have to listen and be careful with that, because the, "Woe," or the warning is to those that would scatter and destroy the sheep, in contrast to how Jesus does of nurture them and love them and bring them together. True shepherds bring the sheep together and feed them and nurture them.

Remember at the last breakfast, when Jesus, after the resurrection, came in with some of the disciples, fixing all the breakfasts and then he said to Peter, "Do you love me?" And three times he asked that question and three times, Peter responded, "Lord, you know I love you." And the three times Jesus said, "Feed My sheep, feed My people." We love the shepherd. We love the sheep the shepherd loves. I often like to say that what better tribute can we give to anybody than to love the people they love. What better honor and glory can we give to Jesus than to love the people Jesus gave His life for because He loved them so much. We're sent. We're all sent to cast out all fear, as the apostle put it. Apostle John said, "Perfect love casts out all fear."

The result as described in this very passage from Jeremiah is that "they shall be fruitful and increase." What a wonderful promise. The people that we love in the name of Jesus, we can watch their lives grow in the love and knowledge of Christ. We can watch the relationship grow, not only our relationship with them, but theirs with God. And we can love them, and we can encourage them, feed them, strengthen them in whatever ways that we can. And we will see this promise come true. That those people we love will be fruitful and increase. They will be people who also are able to extend that same love and blessing to the people around them.

We Each Have a Place in God’s Eternal Future

 Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.  (Ephesians 2:21-22)

We each have a place in God's eternal future. In the passage from Ephesians, this is how it says in the message translation, " Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home." What a beautiful expression that Paul wrote there to this church at Ephesus and through them to our church here at Briensburg today, and other churches, of course. But we're not other churches, so we'll take what he writes for us, that each one of us and everyone that we connect with, as we make those connections, it is in this imagery like this building, with the bricks that hold it all together and all of the mortar and everything that goes into this building, it's like each one of us being a component of this sanctuary building, only it's spiritual and God lives within us and among us in this eternal spiritual house not made with hands.

Paul gives it a lot of different other ways. Other people in the Bible and give us other ways, but they have the same... With all the different imagery, it communicates the same message, whether it's a body or a building, or however we communicate, it is that we are all a part of this. We're part of this tapestry, this puzzle. We're a part of whatever other imagery we communicate that of being the one, even though we're many, even in the sacrament, we speak of one bread but that many of us are a part of that one loaf. And everybody is supposed to be a part of that. Everybody was made to be a part of it. Nobody was made to just be destroyed or cast away. Everybody was made to be a part of this work of God.

There's a Wesley hymn that begins with this verse: 

Come sinners to the gospel feast. 
Let every soul be Jesus' guest.
You need not one be left behind
for God hath bidden all mankind. 

No one has any right to edit the guest list that Christ has sent out to all of humanity. Ours is not to turn anyone away. Ours is not to quench the spirit. Ours is not to reject those whom Christ has not only accepted, but invited. Ours is to feed. Ours is to nurture. Ours, it is to encourage and to strengthen each other and all of God's people, as together we minister the spiritual gifts to the world and extend to everyone else the same invitation we ourselves have accepted.

Jesus gave us this wonderful comfort in John 14, that connects so well, even with the 23rd Psalm that we reflect on today. "Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in Me. In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, then I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also." And whither I go, you know, and the way, you know." Heaven is the eternal home that God has provided for everyone.

Heaven is the Eternal Home God has Provided for Everyone

 I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live.  (Psalm 23:6)

The Psalmist said, "I know that your goodness and love..." -- this is from the Good News Translation, as it concludes Psalm 23, "I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life and your house will be my home as long as I live." We not only dwell in that house, we are part of that house. The house is not complete until all the proverbial stones are in place. God doesn't want anyone left out in the cold, or as some people like to say, in the heat. God doesn't want anybody cast away. God wants everybody to take their place and work their part and be their part. Through the 23rd Psalm, I hear God's say that God's goodness and mercy will follow us every day of our lives. We will be at home with each other in God's own heaven for all eternity. I'd like to close with this hymn by James Montgomery.

Pour out thy Spirit from on high;
Lord, your assembled servants bless:
graces and gifts to each supply,
and clothe us with your righteousness.

Within your temple when we stand
to hear your truth you taught, may they,
Saviour, like stars in your right hand
true pastors of the churches be.

Wisdom and zeal and faith impart,
firmness with meekness, from above,
to bear your people on their heart
and love their souls with your own love;

To watch and pray and never faint,
by day and night strict guard to keep;
to warn the sinner, cheer the saint,
nourish your lambs, and feed your sheep;

Then, when our work is finished here,
in humble hope our charge resign,
when the Chief Shepherd shall appear
O God may we and they be Thine.

 Each one of us has people to whom we actually are ministering this spiritual gift of pastor and teacher, along with whatever other gifts we may have as primary gifts, and however we may think of those spiritual gifts. Each one of us also is a pastor to somebody. And we're invited to join together in this prayer, for the Lord's spirit to be poured out on us, that we might be the under-shepherds that bring people together in love, that others may be driving apart. 

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

How to Treat Yet-to-be Believers


Treat those who are beginning their faith journey with the same love and respect and care that we have for those who have long walked the spiritual pathways.

 Jesus' response to those who had a lack of faith was to teach them and to demonstrate faith by helping them and healing them. 

That is a sharp contrast with what a lot of times religious people do, isn't it? They get called names and they have words that they use to describe them, to describe those who have yet to believe, and derogatory terms. They threaten people and they like to give them a hard time and everything else they can and try to argue and make life miserable for them if they don't believe and not only if they just don't believe in general, but if they don't believe exactly like a lot of times they think they should believe, somebody thinks they should believe.

Transcript of sermon preached extemporaneously
on July 4, 2021 at
 Briensburg UMC | [Audio] | [Video]

That is just exactly the opposite of what we see Jesus doing in the face of unbelief. Here He was with all these people that He had known all His life. If anybody He was going to be angry with, it would have been them, but instead He was loving them and He went around that community and other communities there around about and He taught. That's how He responded to faith, by teaching people and helping them and healing them. So our job is to encourage faith, to include everybody. We do that sacramentally at the Lord's table as we gather around and the table of the Lord and all are welcome.

Encourage Faith

Then Jesus went to the villages around there, teaching the people. (Mark 6:6 GNT)

This is one of the Wesleyan heritages that we share with all those denominations I was telling you about in the World Methodist council that continue that also, because John Wesley brought that up, that the best place for people who don't know the Lord to meet the Lord. He's right here at the Lord's table with the Lord's people with the sacrament of Christ and celebrating Christ's presence and love for us. 

Recently, there was an article that several of you might have seen because I shared it on Facebook. It was an article about the Methodists doing that, just how our table is open and how everybody is welcome and how it is not our job to go through the guest list that Christ has sent out and decide which ones to take off the Lord's guest list. Everybody's invited and everybody's welcome. So that kind of approach is what Jesus had right from the beginning, that everybody is invited into the kingdom. Everybody is welcome into the kingdom. So we treat each other as members of the family. Everybody is made in the image of God.

Christ gave His life for each and every one. So people might say, "Well, they need to be warned about all this." Well, they are. But they are missing things. Just think about one of the readings that we had today talking about being carried up into heavenly realms to see things that have never been seen before, the experiences that we have in our lives that come from knowing Christ and from walking through the Christian pathway and from growing spiritually and all that.

That's what people miss out on if they're not engaged in a spiritual life. So they're missing out on those things already. But our job is not to make it worse for them, but instead to make it better, to open the doors and make it easier and to encourage people in their faith, wherever they are in their faith journey. Maybe some people haven't even hardly thought about it, and some have thought about it and gone different paths than we would have gone and others in all different other kinds of places.

New People Come to Faith Every Day

We pondered your love-in-action, God, waiting in your temple: Your name, God, evokes a train of Hallelujahs wherever It is spoken, near and far;  your arms are heaped with goodness-in-action. (Psalm 48:9-10 MSG)

New people are always coming to faith in Christ. They always have been, and they always will be, even now. As the psalmist said, "We pondered..." the Message put it this way... "We pondered your love-in-action, God, waiting in your temple. Your name, God, evokes a train of hallelujahs wherever it is spoken. Near and far, your arms are heaped with goodness and action." What a wonderful word of praise that gives us that picture that people all over the world gradually, one here, one there, another there, all around the world, all of a sudden, coming into a personal relationship with God and Christ and having their soul blessed and beginning their spiritual journey, others moving forward step by step, even they, even you, and even us, even in our community, and all around the world.

People are moving forward in their relationship with God and learning to praise Him and being blessed by Him and getting to know God and getting to have a relationship. That's what we want. We don't want to chase people off. We want to bring people in. We want people to come together around the Lord until finally the promise of the apostle is completed and fulfilled. where He said “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” You know sometimes people have even put a harsh twist on that too, like they're getting beaten into submission.

Trust God with Those Who Have Yet to Believe

And whether they listen or not (for remember, they are rebels), they will at least know they have had a prophet among them.  (Ezekiel 2:5 TLB)

But they're being invited and they're accepting the invitation. So we just have to trust God with them then and those that have yet to believe, just trust God with them. God said to Ezekiel in The Living Bible, "And whether they listen or not, for remember they are rebels, that they will at least know that they have had a prophet among them." I love that parenthetical statement, "For remember they are rebels." We can remember that a lot of times, people that are just having a bad attitude about everything and like to condemn people.

They reject any kind of science or medicine or anything and make politics out of everything and cause trouble and everything like that. They are rebels. That's the whole idea. They have their mind closed and they don't want to hear what we have to say. They don't want to hear the good news. They don't want to hear about faith and about God and things like that. They have other things that they want. That's the whole idea. So whether they listen or not, because they're probably not going to, but whether they listen or not, at least they'll know that time they have had the witness borne to them.

Then they'll know that a prophet has been there or somebody who they may not even call it that, but they'll know somebody has talked to them about the spirituality. They'll know that you have demonstrated love to them. They'll know that you have cared about them and that you have tried to help them in whatever way you could. They'll know that, and that'll be a part of their whole consciousness for the rest of their lives. So treat them gently. Treat them as you would hope years later they would remember being treated by you, because they will remember that, just as we think about ways that people have treated us many years ago.

We remember those things, don't we? I didn't know I remember. I didn't know I remembered the things that I've done and the way that I've treated people either, for better or for worse. But we do, and they do too. So treat people that way, not cursing people, not calling down balls of fire on them if they don't believe or anything, but loving them and gently leading them, gently moving. And then and ourselves gently move on to others and minister our spiritual gifts to others who are ready to receive them.

Trust God that others will follow where we were and they will continue in ministry and eventually it will all of this come together for these other people and they will come to faith. In our Wesleyan tradition, we say that prevenient grace, grace where God sends us into each other's lives and sends us into different situations. That all adds up and moves people gently along toward justifying grace where they place their faith in Christ and it all comes together for them. It clicks and they realize and they place their faith in Christ. They are justified and they're saved and they walk with Christ.

And then they continue in that holy path to sanctification till their love is complete and everything. It's all done and their live is complete in spirituality. That's why we're all in that process somewhere. Everybody is, those that have been walking the path for a long time and those that are just beginning. So we trust God with that. Remember that at any rate, whatever else happened, they will remember what you said. They will remember how you treated them, and they will think about that. That will have an effect on their future spiritual growth and will be included in how they develop their faith going forward, and they build on those memories.

Let God Convince

Each time he said, “No. But I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people.” Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities.  (2 Corinthians 12:9 TLB)

Let God convince people. That's why Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convince people of sin and righteousness and judgment. Let God be the one that convinces them of those things. Our job, even the best salesman can't just convince somebody of spirituality. They can win some arguments but the Apostle wrote that some will plant, some water, but God gives the growth. In the reading from the letter to Corinthians from Paul, he wrote, "Each time they said no, but I am with you and that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people. Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am. I'm glad to be a living demonstration of Christ's power instead of showing off my own power and abilities."

So it's not us who is saving. We are not the ones who are able to save anybody. It's Christ who saves. We're not the ones who can convince people of anything. It's the Holy Spirit who does the convincing. Our job is to make the proclamation. Our job is to be the witness, to point the finger to Christ and say, "There He is. There He is. Look and receive His love." Ours is to make the introductions and say, "Here is the church. Here are God's people. Here is Christ. Here is the love. Come on in and make yourself at home."

Our job then is to extend that invitation and say, "Come on and be a part of what we're up to here. Come on and be a part of the kingdom of God. Come on and be a part of the love and friendship." We get to be the conduits of the power and love that is much greater than anything we are ourselves could even imagine or be able to do. So then we watch for the results. It said in the gospel reading, "They cast out many devils and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them."

So a lot of times we wish we could see these immediate results in other people's lives, but we can't always see that. Sometimes we never are the ones who see that. But the most immediate effect and result that we get to see is the effect on our own lives, is what is happening in our own lives when we are witnessing, when we are loving, when we are teaching and helping and anointing and on and on the list goes of these things that Christ invites us to be and to do.

Watch for the Results

And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.  (Mark 6:13 KJV)

When we are loving others as Christ has loved us, then we get the blessing of doing that immediately. We get the blessing of being the hands and feet of Christ. We have the privilege of extending the love and grace and healing of Christ to every person that we're willing to extend that to. Sometimes we even get to be the one who has scorched someone over that line, that thin line from unbelief to belief, but always remember that many other people have already been helping them along the way, have already been witnessing to them and loving them to that point.

Just like that many of the people that we love and we witness to and we minister our spiritual gifts to, we might not see them make that leap of faith, but somebody else will. They'll be blessed to escort them across that divide onto the other side. That's just the way it works and so altogether. Others have brought them that far just as we have helped others get closer. We think of John Wesley again and his moment that he wrote about when he felt his heart strangely warm just thinking of the whole lifetime of teaching by his parents and by his school where he learned the theology and where he taught and his friends in the holy club that they were calling or derisively calling Methodists because they were so serious about the way they were approaching love and faith.

But yet he came to that moment with a little group of people in a side street in London and, in that moment, that's where this faith was ignited into something new and beautiful that moved him further along and that gave birth to the feelings we have in our hearts this morning when we think about it. So now, we walk people across and other people walk people across. Together, we all rejoice with each other throughout the world, throughout the church, throughout the spiritual realm, throughout heaven. We rejoice in God's unconditional and persistent love. Amen.