Friday, June 24, 2022

Clothed in Christ

Our ability to love and serve comes from our relationship with Christ.

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27 KJV)

That's how it's written in the King James Version. And the Good News Translation says, "You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself." (Galatians 3:27 GNT)

 There are many other Biblical examples of the imagery "clothed" as a figure for being wrapped or dressed. The opening of our funeral liturgy includes the affirmation, "As in baptism [we] put on Christ, so now may [we] be clothed in glory." Clothed in Christ imagery is written by Paul here in Galatians and also in Romans, and the idea of being clothed in glory is highlighted throughout the Book of Revelation.

Transcript of the sermon preached on June 19, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

2nd Sunday after Pentecost & Father's Day

1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a
Psalm 22:19-28
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Many translations of the Bible have used the word "clothed" to illustrate the power and authority of the Holy Spirit working through the people of God as promised by Jesus at his Ascension. In Luke 24:49, where the King James Version reads, "Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49 KJV). The phrase "endued with power from on high" in the King James Version is translated as "clothed with power from on high" in most other versions. The Greek word enduo, according to the New Testament Greek Lexicon, literally is defined as "to sink [as] (into clothing)," and everywhere else in the King James translates it that way.

The idea being represented, then, is that our new life and opportunities and abilities come from God working within us and among us to empower us by the Holy Spirit, to love others as Christ loves us, and to effectively minister our spiritual gifts to each other and to the world. In his 1834 hymn "Solid Rock," Edward Mote prayed,

When [Christ] shall come with trumpet sound
O may I then in him be found:
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne.

Union with Christ brings us into a covenantal union with each other in ministry to the world. In our United Methodist Baptismal Covenant, in response to the query of the whole Church, 

  • [We] renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin
  • [We] accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves 
  • [We] confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races 
  • [We] promise to nurture each other in Christ's holy Church that by our teaching and example, others may be guided to accept God's grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life. 
  • [We] pledge, according to the grace given to us, to remain faithful members of Christ's holy Church and serve as Christ's representatives in the world. 

Christ casts out our demons, whatever they may be, and puts us in the right frame of mind

Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.    (Luke 8:35 KJV)

In the Gospel reading today, we find that Christ casts out our demons, whatever they may be, and puts us in the right frame of mind. "Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.    (Luke 8:35 KJV). Clothed, once again, is the word used in both Gospels of Luke and Matthew. The story is actually told also in the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But in two of those, Mark and Luke specifically highlight that the redeemed person was clothed. And both also noted that this newly transformed believer was in his right mind and that he went home and told everyone in his community about the great things God had done for him.

The mind of Christ. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5 KJV). Paul encouraged. He also encourages in his other letters that he wasn't ashamed of this gospel because it was not a gospel of fear but a gospel of love and a sound mind and power. (Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:7). The love of Christ, as Paul points out, is shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5).

I like this old song, "Give Me That Old Time Religion:" 

Give me that old time religion,
give me that old time religion, 
give me that old time religion
it's good enough for me. 
And it has this other verse, 
It makes me love everybody, 
makes me love everybody, 
makes me love everybody, 
and that's good enough for me.

This new state of mind is like our United Methodist Church motto, "Open hearts, open minds, open doors."

And the state of mind of this newly clothed person sitting at Jesus' feet is expressed in another old-time song I always liked. It's the hymn Bernie Elliott Warren wrote, Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory, and it has a verse that says, 

I have found His grace is all complete;
He supplieth every need.
While I sit and learn at Jesus’ feet,
I am free, yes, free indeed.

 

Our union with each other in Christ empowers us to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus

For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.      (Psalm 22:24 KJV)

The Psalmist in today's readings was just getting ready and warmed up for our favorite Psalm 23. In Psalm 22 verse 24, it says, "For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted. Neither hath he hid his face from him, but when he cried unto him, he heard." That's good news all by itself, isn't it? If that's all, there was in there. In the Good News Translation, that verse reads, "He does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering; he does not turn away from them, but answers when they call for help" (Psalm 22:24 GNT).

At Annual Conference this week, in one of his sermons, Bishop McAlilly listed several ministries throughout our conference that are giving help and hope to those who need it most, in the name of Jesus. He started that part of his sermon by describing the New to You shop, one of the cooperative ministries of our Briensburg United Methodist Church, along with the other 9 United Methodist Churches here in Marshall County. Together, our 10 United Methodist Churches are able to address needs that none of us would be able to address or able to meet alone. Those involved with UMCOR leadership described the ministries of the United Methodist Committee On Relief as they are being ramped up to address the unmet needs, that are continuing, of those victimized by the December tornadoes here in our region.

In Matthew 25, Jesus said, "I was naked, and you clothed me. In as much as you did it unto the least of these, you did it to me."

God is in the gentle, firm, persistent Voice of Love

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.      (1 Kings 19:12 KJV)

And then finally got the gentle, firm, persistent voice of love. In 1 Kings 19:12, "And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still small voice." The wind, earthquake, and fire grab the headlines and get the attention. Big fanfares and boisterous flamboyancy attract everyone and divert the energy. Elijah had plenty of these larger-than-life miracles in the Bible accounts of his prophetic ministry, calling down fire to consume the false prophets along with their altars, passing his mantle to Elisha as he was being carried off into heaven in a fiery chariot, and many other places.

And in this passage here, we even heard today, that tells about a few more, but with an important twist in the plot, after the mountains shook and the wind and earthquake and fire had all passed by. We even use the figure of speech "acts of God" to describe huge disasters, but God is not in the disaster. God is in the response, in the recovery, in the healing. But God is in the voice, the still small voice. "Still," according to the Hebrew Lexicon, comes from the word that actually literally means "a whisper, calm. silence." "Small by that same lexicon's definition points to "thin, small, fine." And the voice. The voice. Listen. Listen as the voice speaks to your heart and mind. The voice of the Almighty.

At the baptism of Jesus and his transfiguration, a voice was heard saying, "This is my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased. Hear him." (Matthew 3:17, 17:5). God speaks to our hearts and minds through the scripture and through our spiritual conversations, through prayers and sermons and hymns. God speaks to our souls with clear impressions, inviting and encouraging, comforting and challenging, calling us together and sending us forth into the community.

The hymn by G.W. Briggs has three verses. They each start out this way... One verse starts out, "God has spoken by the prophets." The second verse starts out, "God hath spoken by Christ Jesus," and the third verse, "God yet speaketh by the Spirit." Listen. Hear. Respond to the still small voice that calls us and encourages us and invites us to unity with Christ and humanity and creation. To be clothed in a new, fresh right mind. To be the proverbial hands and feet of Jesus, loving as Jesus loves, speaking words of grace and mercy and hope, embracing a suffering world with healing and kindness. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Wonderful 1st TWK Annual Conference

I am so blessed, inspired, and encouraged because of how the Holy Spirit moved through the inaugural Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference this week!  

The Design Team's professionalism, along with everyone involved in the preparation and planning, enabled the event to flow freely like the theme of the conference, "The River of Life Unites Us." 

Through the inspiring worship services, the pure Word of God was preached and further communicated in liturgy, music, prayers, dancing, technology, and fellowship. I felt the sacred flame of love leaping from heart to heart shared by us who participated remotely, together with those who attended in person.

We in Marshall County celebrated the affirmation by Bishop McAlilly of our New to You Shop, one of several cooperative ministries shared by all ten United Methodist Churches in our county.

The prayerful words of goodwill and blessing offered by our leaders for disaffiliating congregations mitigated my sadness and helped me join in wishing them the best. Since many of them, it was noted, had long ago stopped supporting UMC ministries, their impact had already been incorporated throughout our connection.

The joy expressed in my post "All Kinds of Faith in the UMC" a few weeks ago was enhanced as the new and advancing clergy were licensed, commissioned, and ordained. The wisdom of the retiring class was very effectively sprinkled throughout the conference. During the Memorial Service, many friends who had transferred to the Church Triumphant over the past year were warmly remembered with appreciation and love, including one of my best friends, Hugh Barksdale.

Much more is to be applauded about how our new conference is beginning. These examples highlight some of the meaningful ways I was personally blessed by this session. I close this post by celebrating the leadership of Bishops Bickerton and McAlilly. Bishop Thomas Bickerton, President of the Council of Bishops, is providing the whole denomination with timely guidance. The Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference continues to be blessed by Bishop William T. McAlilly, who Cheryl and I agreed as we enjoyed the conference together, is one of the best church leaders we have ever known. Their preaching, conversations, prayers, and guidance are deeply appreciated. 

This, the First Session of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference, will help us all move forward with joyful anticipation into the spiritual opportunities the Holy Spirit is opening for us. We will continue to support The United Methodist Church's ministries with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

For recordings and other information about the conference, please visit twkumc.org









  

Sunday, June 12, 2022

God's Love in Our Hearts

God pours divine love into our hearts, empowering us to live into the command of Jesus, to love others as Christ loves us.

The Holy Spirit is our Guide

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.     (John 16:13 KJV)

These are the words of Jesus Christ. And Jesus talking to us about this Spirit of truth this evening on his way to Gethsemane, he has already told earlier in that same discourse, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Paul later would write, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty." And Jesus also earlier in the evening said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," And now he promises that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all the truth.

Transcript of the sermon preached on June 12, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

Holy Trinity & Peace with Justice
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

We gradually move into the fullness of God's truth led by God's own Spirit. And just as the Bible says about Jesus during the childhood narratives, that as a child, he grew in wisdom and grace, so we, God's children, all of us, grow into that same wisdom and grace by the guidance of the Holy Ghost. These eternal qualities of faith, hope, and love grow within us, expanding our ability to embrace all God's people with inclusiveness, forgiveness, and love.

And he said the Holy Spirit would show us things to come. Now, Jesus said this, remember, on his way to get arrested at Gethsemane. So, perhaps he was referring at one level to the things that were just about to be coming their way just that evening. But then there was the promise also that this Spirit would always be with us, always to guide us, and so on another level, giving us guidance and wisdom for each and every day. Not just those who first heard the words, and reported them, but those to whom they reported those words and that promise, that is to you and to me, to each of us forever in this life and in the life of the world to come, God's guidance, God's strength, God's assistance and wisdom.

We know so little about what is coming our way each day. We kind of get some general ideas about those plans always tend to not work out just exactly how we were thinking. And even if they're pretty close, there's usually some kind of little nuances to it that were unforeseen. But the Holy Ghost provides us with wisdom for each moment, and the strength to move forward through even the most difficult days.

Wisdom was alive with God before Creation

The Lord possessed me [Wisdom] in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.     (Proverbs 8:22 KJV)

This wisdom, according to Proverbs and other places in the Bible, this wisdom was alive with God before creation. "The Lord possessed me," said in Proverbs in verse 22 of the reading for today. He said, "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old." Wisdom is literally older than dirt, older than dirt is old. Wisdom has always been with God in eternity.

Wisdom is personified in the Book of Proverbs and elsewhere in the scriptures as a woman, calling to people, inviting everyone to listen to her guidance. In Isaiah 11:2, it said, "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of council and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord." Sometimes that verse is referred to as the Seven Spirits Before the Throne or the Seven-fold Spirit of God. Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1:17 was that God would give us this same Spirit. So, having entered into a personal relationship with God, a saving relationship, a very personal saving relationship, each of us, we are growing to love more and more like God loves.

Having entered into a personal saving relationship with God, we are growing to love more and more like God loves

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:     (Romans 5:1 KJV)

In our reading from Romans today, 5:1 said, "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ." We are justified by faith as a gift of grace. We're made right. We're set right with God. And in our theological way of explaining that grace or of studying that grace, we are first given this prevenient grace whereby God reaches out to us. As Paul wrote, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." God reaches out to us and to our friends and to our family. Before anybody ever reaches back to God, God's the one making the first move to reveal God's self, to reveal love, to reveal nature, and to reveal creation, to reveal the Spirit.

And by this Spirit of God, moving among us and within us, God is seeking out each and every person and pushing our buttons for response, looking for us to respond favorably to the love that we're being offered. And looking for us to accept the invitations, the many invitations that come our way every day, to go more deeply into love with God, by the Spirit. God is doing this. And so, we encourage ourselves and each other and the world to hear and to respond and to accept those invitations.

And as we do, then when we begin for ourselves to acknowledge and accept that invitation, then we enter into a relationship that continues to grow throughout eternity. It may be very fragile to begin with, it may be fragile for a long time, but we have entered in, and we're growing and they're growing. And so, that's something we can praise the Lord that it's not just us in this room, not just us in other rooms like this, but everyone everywhere, as they hear and accept this invitation to be in a relationship with their Creator, by the way of the Spirit. Then they find themselves coming into a rightness, little by little, day by day, teaching on teaching, precept on precept, relationship with God.

And as that continues to grow then, and we classify that in our theological heritage as sanctifying grace. And this grace, this faith and this grace, continues to grow, and to help us to learn more about love, and to continue to apply the principles we're learning in our daily lives, by the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit. Holiness, holiness of heart and mind, sanctification, being made perfect in love. That's where God's leading us to be just as perfect. And as Jesus said, when he was talking about love and he said, "You must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect," because he knows that may take a while, and it may take some work and it may take eternity. But this is the life that we have that will lead to that, and into that.

It's a life where the love that is in us, God's love, that's already perfect. Now we're living into it, where our love matches the love that God has put in us, God's love. And where we see that it doesn't, then that's where we know we need to make adjustments until it is, and then move on to other places, other points where we see more changes are needed in our life. But not only in our life, but the life of the world around us, whatever we can do to influence the community and the nation, the church and the world, to be more perfect in love, to love better, to love more widely, to embrace everyone in this love, because that's where our peace comes. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.

Today is Peace with Justice Sunday in the United Methodist Church, and we emphasize the importance of what Wesley called social holiness. And often now we call it social justice. Social holiness, when he wrote, 

The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection. 

That's what John Wesley taught. He wrote that. And Wesley's mission for the church was defined like this, "To spread scriptural holiness throughout the land." That was what he thought was the mission of the church, to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land. And we continue this emphasis with today's mission statement in our United Methodist Church, "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

In Micah 6:8, God famously spoke through the prophet, "He has showed thee, O man, what is good. And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." This faith, this holiness, this walking towards love, the life of love, this is the grace that brings us a "peace that passeth understanding," as Paul phrased it. Christ said, "My peace, I leave you. Not the same as the world's peace, my peace." We all want that. Amen. We want that not only for ourselves, but for those we love, and for people we don't even know. We hope they all find peace because if they do, then they find love and joy, and they'll be a whole lot nicer to each other. And the world will be a whole lot better place if we have peace, Christ's peace, not the world's peace, Christ's peace, that comes when we love one another as Christ has loved us.

That's his commandment, "Love as I have loved you," and St. Paul wrote about it, and a song was written about it, "Joy unspeakable, and full of glory." (Barney Elliott Warren, 1900). How wonderful God is to have this kind of a whole plan of salvation. Amen. How wonderful to think about what God wants for us is to join God in this heavenly state of love and peace and confidence and joy, the thing that completely transforms our lives and the life of the world, and to spread that, little by little, word by word, person by person, through the whole world, generation to generation, that we can be a part of that. 

How wonderful God is

O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!     (Psalm 8:9 KJV)

And with the Psalm/Psalmist, we can exclaim, "O Lord, our God, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth."

We are created in the image of God. Every person, every person who has ever been created is created in the image of God. And we're redeemed by Jesus in mercy and love, given always new opportunities in life, and chances to expand our ever-widening circles of friendship and love. We are sustained by the Holy Spirit, this Trinity: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We're sustained by the Holy Spirit as we stand in the name of Jesus against injustice and oppression, "in whatever forms they present themselves." We're sustained by the Holy Spirit as we stand in the name of Jesus for love and goodness and unity. We're sustained by the Holy Spirit, as we stand together as friends to support, encourage, and care about each other, and the new friends we'll be making today and tomorrow and in the weeks and years to come. 

In the name of Jesus, amen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

All Kinds of Faith in the UMC

My heart is so full of joy today as new and continuing clergy are presented at their various stages of relationship to The United Methodist Church.

These people are such a big part of the answer to whatever questions are raised about the future of The United Methodist Church. They are continuing to respond faithfully to God's call to service as UMC clergy.  They are studying to show themselves "approved unto God, workers that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). They are dedicating themselves to various forms of service in the name of Jesus, according to the gifts and graces of their callings.  They are sacrificing the infinite other options they could be choosing with their lives for the opportunities Christ offers them as clergy of The United Methodist Church, "for the joy that is set before them" (Hebrews 12:2 KJV).

We praise God for these clergy, whose sacramental service and commitment is a sign of God's continuing grace and presence as manifested in The United Methodist Church.  We look forward to the many other ways the Reign of Christ is being extended through all our members and constituents, and through our congregations and ministries!

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Loving with God's Love

God loves through us.

And I have declared unto them thy name and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.    (John 17:26 KJV)

 Jesus declares the name of the creator God.

o   “In him dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9 KJV)

God's love that is in Christ is also in us. The command of Christ to love others as Jesus loves us. But how can we do this when we don't even know that much about what love is? And even we've spent our whole life studying it and trying to figure it out and trying to live it out in our own lives. The answer is that we are endued with power from on high, as Jesus promised at his ascension, not to love in whatever ways we think might be best, but to love as we have been loved and as we are loved by Christ.

Transcript of the sermon preached on May 29, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

Paul phrased it also in his letter to the Colossians, “Christ in you the hope of glory”  (Colossians 1:27 KJV)    The power of love is not ours, it's God's. We are enveloped with the eternal, universal, unconditional love of Christ. We will spend the rest of eternity living into this life of perfect love. As we love others the way that Christ has loved us, they are connected to this same eternal, universal, unconditional love that we are sharing. We are loving each other into the Kingdom of God just as others have loved us into the Kingdom of God and just as Christ is loving us into Heaven.

We plant the seeds of illumination and fulfillment that others have planted in us

The psalmist wrote, Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. (Psalm 97:11 KJV)

And as it is phrased in the Message: Light-seeds are planted in the souls of God’s people, Joy-seeds are planted in good heart-soil.     (Psalm 97:11 MSG)  Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world." And Nehemiah said, "The joy of the Lord is my strength."

Seeds of love are sown in us and through us. Jesus told the parable of the mustard seed to illustrate how the tiniest seed of faith grows and bushes out to the benefit of all creatures. There are several other cases in the New Testament where Jesus spoke of these seeds being planted. He told the parable of the seed sown on different types of soil to illustrate the different ways the seeds of love are received that are beyond our control. Ours is to plant the seeds. We can't control how people will respond or when, but we know that they will in all different ways. And as Paul affirmed, “one plants, another waters, and God gives the growth.”

Knowles Shaw expressed that in his 1874 hymn.

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves
  

Experiencing how Jesus loves us makes us want to love others that way

And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.     (Acts 16:33 KJV)

The Good news translates this verse:

At that very hour of the night, the jailer took them and washed their wounds; and he and all his family were baptized at once.  (Acts 16:33 GNT)

 Immediately, this person rushed to start doing good and loving and kindness, attending to the wounds of their imprisonment and exacerbated a little bit probably by the earthquake, and in gratitude for their doing good to him in not running off which kept him out of trouble.

The second general rule of the United Methodist Church is "Do good." From the earliest days of Methodism, this saying has been handed down:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

We might not always know what to do, but we have this compulsion to do what we can. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:5, "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us."

The jailer in today's reading was baptized immediately. The sacrament of baptism is an outward and visible sign pointing to an inward and invisible grace. Our souls are indelibly marked as those who have forever become connected with each other in the Body of Christ and are growing in the knowledge and grace and love of Jesus. We might tend to consider it as a sign of our faith in God, but even that faith comes to us as a free gift from God. So baptism is, even more, a sign of God's faith in us than our faith in God. In our baptismal ritual, those being baptized make a commitment to the church, but the weight of the covenant is the commitment made by the whole church to support and encourage each other and our new member in faith and love.

It said that his whole family, perhaps including even his extended family and servants and others who shared his house, were baptized with him. I was struck by this passage when it says, as it was being read, how it said that he and his whole family believed and were baptized. There are several other cases in the New Testament where not just individuals but whole households were baptized together.

Another striking part of this story was not only that they believed and were baptized, but that the promise was made when the jailer asked, "What should I do?" And Peter said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you'll be saved." But then he went on to say, "you and your whole family." It was part of the whole promise. It didn't just happen. It was part of the promise. You and your whole family are included in this. You and your whole household. You can extend that just as far as your heart is able. You and your whole bunch.

That includes a lot of people, doesn't it? When you think about your whole circle of the people you love and who is really family to you. It didn’t try to limit that in any way. It didn't just say, "The ones currently who have registered your addresses as theirs, or who have a biological relationship, or who live in the building there," but your household.

How far do you extend your heart? Well, that's how far the love of Christ extends through you, and that brings people, and encompasses them, and connects them with the body of Christ. Some of those might be fragile connections, admittedly, but it's a connection. It's a start. It's the mustard seed Jesus spoke of. Because we're a family, we're a network, a connection of people who are conscious that God loves us and invites us to love each other the same way Christ loves us.

We're not sent in the Great Commission to go place conditions on other people to make them conform to our culture or our politics or our way of thinking or our preferences about anything. We're sent to make disciples, to introduce everyone to God's love in Christ so they can feel it for themselves and grow in their own personal relationships with God who is in Christ, who is in us.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:19 KJV)

 

I turn now to the last page of the Bible. After that, it says "Bible Helps" in my Bible, with some maps and things like that, but the very last page of the Bible...

We freely extend to everyone the invitation to love as Christ loves

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

The parable of the wedding feast emphasized this directive from Jesus to, 

  “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23 KJV) 

 These others had their chance and they turned it down. They will come around eventually, but meanwhile, we won't just sit around waiting for them to get ready. We'll keep the invitation open for them even as we intentionally seek out those who are ready to join us in spreading love and advocating for God's Kingdom to come and God's will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Bill Gaither wrote the song, "Get all excited. Go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is King." Wouldn't it be great to flash mob Briensburg United Methodist Church? Or flash mob Heaven? Here's a place where everyone loves each other. Look around the room. We all love each other. Amen? Plus we love everyone else, too. Amen? Come on. Let's build a community of love right here, right now. Pass the word as fast as you can, let everyone know that the doors and hearts of our congregation are wide open and all of our facilities and resources and structures are here for one thing and one thing only: to spread God's perfect, universal, unconditional love.

The great invitation of Jesus is, 

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 KJV)

In this context, our congregation offers this inclusiveness statement to clarify that

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

Everybody might not be ready to receive that, to accept that invitation, but we're ready to extend it, aren't we?

And as we do, the seeds are planted, seeds of love and kindness that will grow. And who knows how they will grow besides God? Who knows who else will plant seeds, who else will water, and how the growth will come? But our part is to extend the invitation, to plant the seeds, to love as Christ has loved. And that's what it means in this last page of the Bible, as I read again this last invitation, not only to come but to invite others to come. 

We invite everyone to join us in advocating for love and mercy and justice. Maybe some people aren’t ready to do that just yet, but for all who are ready, the final invitation on the last page of the Bible as phrased in the Message is:

“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride. Whoever hears, echo, “Come!” Is anyone thirsty? Come! All who will, come and drink, Drink freely of the Water of Life!  (Revelation 22:17 MSG)

In the name of Jesus, amen.

 

Monday, May 23, 2022

At Home with God

Heaven is not a tourist attraction for the future but a spiritual home for today and forever. 

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.     (John 14:23 KJV)

Keep my words. That is pretty much how it's translated in most translations, the word "keep" or "kept." The word tereao is the word that it's translated from, and literally talks about attending, and carefully defined as being "attend carefully, take care of, guard, observe." Sometimes we think it means that if we make any mistakes about it, that's what it means, "Don't make any mistakes." It doesn't mean that. It just means to make this an essential priority in our lives, to cherish God's word, hold it close, and try to do the best you can with it. And if we do make mistakes, we've seen an example over and over of how Christ helps us move on and try again and try to do better again.

Transcript of the sermon preached on May 22, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

So the invitation that we extended around the communion table is to all who love God and wish to live in peace and harmony with each other are invited to join us. And that is a sacramental invitation that reflects the whole invitation to the fellowship that we share with one another in Christ. Everybody who loves, everybody who wishes to be in peace and harmony with each other and with God, with God's creation. That's not something we just automatically are, but we grow into that peace. We grow into that piece of Christ and the harmony. We grow to the invitation that Christ offers all of us, all who are living into the love that Christ taught and exemplified.

This chapter in John begins with the familiar passage, 

Let not your heart be troubled: ye 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, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. (John 14:1-6 KJV)

A beautiful passage that paints for us a picture of Christ preparing these dwelling places for us personally, and as a group, as all of God's people.

It gives us comfort. It gave His disciples comfort on this night as He was preparing to give Himself up for us. But we still, even though Jesus said, "Don't let your heart be troubled," we still get a little troubled about all that because it does hurt. And even with our faith and our confidence in eternal life and resurrection and everything else, it still hurts when our friends and loved ones lay aside their earthly tabernacle. And it did for Jesus too, because that was the time when it said, "And He wept when He heard about Lazarus." And even though, knowing that He was on His way and in just a matter of a few hours Lazarus would be called forth from the tomb, yet it still hurts. There's still that earthly tie that hurts to be separated, but it is mitigated a lot by our faith and our assurance of the resurrection and of the ongoing life, and that our spirit returns to God who gave it.

And now we have a home that Christ is preparing for us, that our family and friends have this home prepared for them. Maybe the imagery seems to speak that he's going to this other place, and in that other place, there'll be this home prepared, then he'll come back and get us and take us to this other place. But as his discourse continues to unfold toward today's reading, then we're talking about how Christ and the Father, they will come and live with us. And so this place he's preparing is not some remote, distant place, but someplace so close that we hardly can get there without the Spirit helping us get right there. It's in our hearts, and it's in our fellowship. It's right here among us.

He will come and live with us. That's that glowing place. That's where those many mansions are so close and so immediate that we're invited and not in some distant time, but now in this place, in this time, in this moment, we're invited to be at home with God. 

There's another wonderful invitation in the Bible along this line, it's depicted by the artist William Holman Hunt, in his painting "The Light of the World" as "an overgrown and long-unopened door" with no knob on the outside, and it can only be opened from the inside, as the artist describes, "representing the obstinately shut mind" ("Light of the World," Wikipedia is the artist's way of phrasing why he did that. No knob on the outside; you've got to open the door from the inside.

That refers, then, to depicting the incident and the division in the Revelation, chapter three, where Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will sup with them, and they with me." That's pretty personal. That's pretty immediate, isn't it? That's pretty close, as close as you can get to where you're sitting right now to where we are, close as our next heartbeat, as our next breath.

The Trinitarian sense of family is reflected in the unity and fellowship of the church. Father, Son, Holy Ghost; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. We affirm in the breaking of bread together that "even as there is one loaf, we, which are many, are one body in Christ." (United Methodist Communion Ritual). 


God wants us to enjoy and to share the happiness of Heaven

 God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. (Psalm 67:1 KJV)

And God wants us to enjoy and to share the happiness of heaven. The Psalmist wrote, "May God be merciful into us and bless us and cause His face to shine upon us. Selah." And so, with this Psalmist, we pray for God's mercy and blessing for ourselves and for our families, for our friends, for our community, state, nation, and the world, even for our enemies, and even for those who seek to divide and cause destruction.

"Selah" is defined by the lexicon as a pause to accentuate, lift up, to exalt what has just been said while we reflect on it. And what has just been said is this: "May God cause His face to shine upon us." Sometimes just sit and think about God shining divine light on you, on me, on each of those for whom we are praying, the divine life of God's face. Priestly blessing prescribed by Moses back in the book of Numbers, we've heard all our lives, probably have memorized, 

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

 

Through the imagery of the Revelation, God invites us to enter into our spiritual home

 And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.      (Revelation 22:4 KJV)

A metaphorical branding of those who are true disciples of Jesus Christ pointing symbolically to the actual demonstrative way we treat each other, that marks us the same way a brand or mark on the forehead might. That marks us true believers in Jesus that we love one another as Christ has loved us. That's our brand. That's our mark. That's the sign.

John Wesley notes regarding this verse, "This is the highest expression in the language of scripture to denote the most perfect happiness of the heavenly state." I want that, don't you? And we just have to grow into... There's a song about, "Heaven came down, and glory filled my soul." And so it's right there for us, heaven has come down, glory has filled our soul and we have a certain wholeness that we are growing into learning to appreciate, learning to engage like the song A Higher Ground and different songs that we sang about how just precept upon precept, teaching on teaching, practice day by day, thought by thought, feeling by feeling, we're just building and adding.

There's lots of different imagery like that too, about climbing Jacob's ladder and everything else, but that we're just gradually living into the love of the heaven that Christ has for us. The happiness of the heavenly state, as much as possible today and tomorrow, and throughout this whole lifetime plus more and more complete, even in the life of the world to come, for myself, for you, for each of you, for everyone, everywhere.

The most perfect happiness of the heavenly state. This heavenly happiness is expressed by Carrie Ellis Breck in her 1898 hymn: 

Face to face with Christ, my Savior,
Face to face- what will it be
When with rapture I behold him,
Jesus Christ who died for me?

Only faintly now I see him
With the darkened veil between,
But a blessed day is coming
When his glory shall be seen

What rejoicing in his presence,
When are banished grief and pain;
When the crooked ways are straightened
And the dark things shall be plain.

Face to face- oh, blissful moment!
Face to face- to see and know;
Face to face with my Redeemer,
Jesus Christ who loves me so.

Face to face I shall behold him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all his glory,
I shall see him by and by.

 

God sends us to connect with others in ways that extend happiness and life and love

 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.      (Acts 16:10 KJV)


The call to spread the love of Christ is an impression on our souls. It may come to us through an audible voice and bright light as with Paul on the road to Damascus. It may come to us through an interactive vision as with Peter on the rooftop, or here to Paul in the night, the Macedonian pleading with them, "Come over and help us," as it's phrased in the Living Bible (Acts 6:9 TLB). It may come through any of the infinite ways God communicates personally to individuals and collectively to those who love, laying on our hearts the wonderful opportunities to be blessed by being merciful as God is merciful and blessing others from the abundant life with which Christ is blessing us.

We respond with the same enthusiasm and assurance John Wesley expressed 284 years ago this Tuesday at 8:45 PM as he wrote in his journal entry for May 24, 1738, "I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation. And an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." 

These lines selected from the 1890 hymn by Charles Gabriel invite us to enthusiastically respond to God's call on our lives as individuals and as a congregation,


There's a call comes ringing o'er the restless wave,
"Send the light! Send the light"
There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save,

We have heard the Macedonian call today,

Let us pray that grace may ev'rywhere abound,
And a Christ-like spirit ev'rywhere be found,

Let us not grow weary in the work of love,
    Let us not grow weary in the work of love,
        Let us not grow weary in the work of love,

Send the light, the blessed gospel light;
Let it shine from shore to shore!


In the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

You Might Have Life

 

We continue to celebrate the abundant life of Jesus as opened to us through his resurrection.

 On the evening of his resurrection and again, a week later, Jesus appeared in a room where his disciples were behind closed doors. Thomas was absent that first night and had a hard time believing that Jesus had risen until later he saw Jesus for himself. Jesus continues to invite everyone to faith through the words he spoke to Thomas, "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29 KJV).

Transcript of the sermon preached on April 24, 2022, at Briensburg UMC | [Audio Podcast] 

Eternal life is offered to everyone. "But these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through his name" (John 20:31 KJV). John concluded his gospel account by telling us that the whole world would not be able to hold all the books that would have to be written about what all Jesus had said and done during his earthly ministry.

Eternal life is offered to everyone

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

The Bible is just the tip of the iceberg, an executive summary, highlighting a few of the main points to help us get the picture. As we begin and continue to wrap our hearts and minds around the love Jesus, the love that Jesus has for us, his vision becomes our vision. his dream becomes our dream, his work becomes our work, his life becomes our life.

To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, you just might have life if...

  • you feel your sins are forgiven, you might have life. 
  • If you love others as Christ has loved you, you might have life. 
  • If you have a desire to share your faith, you might have life. 

The tiniest amount of faith like a mustard seed even will grow from "Hmm..." to "Aha!" 
Let's say John 3:16 and 17 together, (we do that a lot around here).  

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

Faith makes us witnesses

And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.      (Acts 5:32 KJV)

Faith makes us witnesses. In our reading from Acts today, it said, "and we are his witnesses, witnesses of these things and so also is the Holy Ghost whom God has given to them that obey him." We testify from our own experiences just as these first disciples testified from their experiences. We engage others in spiritual conversations, not to control their thinking and their living, but to bring them into their own personal saving relationship with God and Christ and to encourage each other to continue building our lives around that spiritual, eternal friendship as it continues forever to develop. Through faith conversations, we elevate our relationships with family and friends and others, even strangers, even enemies, to what Paul described as "the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6 KJV).[These heavenly places are] expressed in the hymns Christians sing in the midst of sorrow and suffering and injustice, even in the very face of death: 

  • "Higher Ground," 
  • "Dwelling in Beulah Land," 
  • "Sing with All the Saints in Glory... sing the resurrection song!" 
  • "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul!" 

The psalmist invites us to  join all Creation in the “unending hymn of praise”

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.      (Psalm 150:6 KJV)

The Psalmist invites us to join all creation in this unending hymn of praise. "Let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord."

The Bible tells how in the beginning, God breathed the breath of life into Adam. Saint Francis in his hymn extends the same kind of invitation as the Psalmist, 

All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice, and with us sing,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

In today's gospel reading on the evening of the 2nd Sunday of Easter, which is what we're having now in our lectionary year. On the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." Edwin Hatch echoes this event in his hymn, 

Breathe on me breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what you so love
and do what you would do.

Breathe on me breath of God
until my heart is pure,
until with you I will one will
to do and to endure.

Breathe on me breath of God,
my will to yours incline
till all this selfish part of me
glows with your fire divine.

Breathe on me breath of God,
so shall I never die
but live with you the perfect life
of your eternity.

We are sent into our community as the priesthood of believers

[Jesus Christ] hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father;(Revelation 1:6 KJV)

We are sent into our community as a priesthood of believers. And today's reading from the Revelation says, "Jesus Christ has made us Kings and priests unto God his father." In the Sacramental ministries those who are called to administer the word and sacraments and order of the church, occupy sacerdotal offices of the church as a sign of God's presence in enveloping us all and including us all in the universal life and ministry of the body of Christ. Believing in Christ makes us each a part of this priesthood of believers. Martin Luther reflected the broad term emphasized by the reformers:

We are all consecrated priests through our baptism. Peter phrased it, you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.

Our United Methodist discipline describes it in paragraph 126: 

The heart of Christian ministry is Christ's ministry about reaching love. Christian ministry is the expression of the mind and mission of Christ by a community of Christians that demonstrates a common life of gratitude and devotion, witness and service, celebration, and discipleship. All Christians are called through their baptism to this ministry of servanthood in the world to the glory of God and for human fulfillment.

After breathing on his disciples and inviting them to receive the Holy Ghost, Jesus said, "Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven." The heart of the gospel message and our central role as the priesthood of those who believe in Jesus is to communicate by thought, word, and deed, God's forgiveness. Some situations are more difficult to forgive, but if we don't, who will? Jesus seems to be asking as he goes on to say, "Those whose sins you retain are retained." Out of divine forgiveness flows reconciliation and healing and wholeness and love and eternal life.

Then Jesus said to them again, "Peace be unto you. As my father had sent me, even so, send I you." During these weeks after Easter, leading up to our celebration of the Holy Spirit being "poured out on all flesh" at Pentecost, let's be each thinking about new ways to intentionally communicate God's love and forgiveness to everyone whose path we cross, "that believing they might have life." 

You might have life! 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2022

A Whole New Vision

God has been preparing us for something new and we don't know quite what it is yet, but we know it will be good. 

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8


Brand new opportunities are unfolding for us like the spring blossoms.

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:29 KJV)

A new thing. John the Revelator's spoken, quoted God, talking about as Isaiah quoted God here, talking about, "Behold, I make all things new." And he wrote about a new heaven and a new earth.

Notes for sermon preached on April 3, 2022 at Briensburg UMC | [Audio] 

We often sing the chorus, "Now I'm living in a new creation. His banner over me is love." God's bulldozer makes a way where there is no way. New projects, new ideas, new understandings. In his letter, one of his letters, St. John wrote as it's put in the New Living Translation, "Dear friends. We are already God's children, but God has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him. For we shall see Him as He really is." (1 John 3:2 New Living Translation)

"Streams of water," as the Good News Translation for this verse speaks of regarding the rivers in the desert. Streams of water, living water, as we discover in the New Testament: The Woman at the well, the invitation at the Feast of Tabernacles, the Holy Spirit flowing through us.

We have to let go of some old things in order take hold of the new.

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. (Philippians 3:7 KJV)

 We all eventually come to realize is that the things that were most important before have become less important with new revelations. This verse that I read from the King James has in the Living Bible, "But all these things that I once thought very worthwhile, now I've thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone." (Philippians 3:7 TLB)  Isaac Watts wrote (1707)

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died 
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

Sometimes the things that have moved us forward have also held us back in other ways. We do build on the legacy of the past, but we also add new designs and plans and activities appropriate to the future. Whether our goals in the past did or did not hold us back, still they are being replaced by even better things for the future, eternal spiritual relationships. The eternal vision of heaven, a vision renewed daily when we pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." 

Celebrate what is ahead, when all the obstacles will have been overcome.

Then Mary took a whole pint of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard, poured it on Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house. (John 12:8 GNT)

Notice the extravagant generosity of Martha and Mary and Lazarus in opening their home to all the guests, including some who would even begin that evening to plot the deaths of Lazarus and Jesus over the next few days. Martha prepared a great meal for everyone. Everyone could enjoy the smell of the perfume that evening, that began to waft through all the rooms of the house, along with the smells of the cooked food cooking. The festivities communicated love for all their guests as well as Jesus most especially.

Their hospitality expressed on behalf of all the guests, their value and devotion to Christ. He was a family friend. He raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. He was giving his life in love every day in everything he said and did. The gathering took place on the Eve of Palm Sunday. And the next day, Jesus would enter Jerusalem triumphantly as the spiritual leader and teacher. Through the next week, he would teach in the temple and then celebrate the Passover meal and institute the sacrament of the Lord's supper. By the following Saturday, he would've already been crucified and would be awaiting the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come.

We look forward to what God has in store for us and our congregation & community & world.

Those who wept as they went out carrying the seed will come back singing for joy, as they bring in the harvest. (Psalm 126:6 GNT)

The world has been going through difficult times for everyone, personally and collectively. The pandemic and other maladies have brought sickness and death and suffering to family and friends. Economic stress, whether gain or loss has brought many changes. Injustice churns in all its forms at home and abroad.

Even in our tears, we do bear "precious seed," as the Psalmist continues in verse six. Especially in the face of challenges, we scatter those seeds of faith, hope and love, that Paul lifted up as... And saying that, "When all else fails, those three remain as eternal assets." We continue to plant and water the seeds of kindness that sprout in others. Each seed we plant has the potential to be just what someone needs as it takes root and grows in their life. Uncertain as we may be about how the future will unfold, we know we will be rejoicing when God has brought us all through everything. When we've come through it all, we will come rejoicing.

Our hope is in Christ, who loves us and is our continuous salvation. Our joy is in the deepening spiritual relationships we share with each other and establish with others as their seeds of faith grow. "Bringing in the Sheaves" by Knowles Shaw (1874) begins,

Sowing in the morning,
sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide
and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest,
and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing,
bringing in the sheaves.

May the remainder of this Lenten season be a time of joyful anticipation as we look through and beyond the suffering, sorrow and death of the cross, to the mystery and elation of the Resurrection. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.