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.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Spiritual Reconciliation

Jesus established the premise of unconditional, universal reconciliation when he prayed for the forgiveness of those who were torturing him to death on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

Christ sends us then to extend God's reconciliation to each individual in our lives, and to work for that wherever we can.

In the reading this morning from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians say, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. Not imputing their trespasses unto them and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:19 KJV) So our job is reconciling the world, but not just alone. It's all of our job as the followers of Christ. We're all working on that task. Reconciling the world, continuing His work that he was doing on the cross. Let's say John 3:16 together. "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." And verse 17, "For God did not send his only Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

Transcript of sermon preached at Briensburg UMC on March 27, 2022 [Audio]

The Christ is bringing everyone and everything into harmony. Some may think that our differences are because of our diversity, which we celebrate. Or some may think because of our sin, which we do not celebrate. Or perhaps some combination of both. The work of Christ, hence our work as His disciples is to cultivate spiritual friendships that transcend all our differences and bring us into one accord, as exemplified on the day of Pentecost by the diverse gathering, where the Holy Spirit was poured out on everyone present, even though they were from all different kinds of cultures and languages and different places and views.

Paul notes that God did not impute their trespasses unto them. That means He wasn't counting or holding anything against them. The same as when Jesus prayed, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." The same as the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen said, when he said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And as Jesus famously told one person, "Neither do I come condemn thee." Abraham, we recall, was counted as righteous. His righteousness was imputed to him the same way that Paul refers to, saying in this passage that their sin was not imputed to them. It wasn't counted against him, for Abraham. Neither was his sin accounted against him. Because his faith was counted as righteousness. That's that whole idea of imputation, that He doesn't look at necessarily what we have done or not done, or deserve or don't deserve, but what He counts about us, that He favors us with. He counts this as if we believe, He counts that as righteousness, we inherit that same righteousness of Abraham when we believe in God.

And going to Paul's letter to the Romans, we recall that he said, "Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead."

And just think what a little tiny mustard seed of faith, as Jesus would say, that that is inviting us too. And to offer to others, just that if we believe on him that ways, if we believe that confidence, that little tiny bit of confidence. We believe that overarches any kind of differences that anybody may have, or differences not only of an opinion or of knowledge or of culture or anything else. If we have that little tiny bit of faith, it will grow. And that is counted as our righteousness and unites us and reconciles us.

And then we've been entrusted with that message, as Paul called it in this letter to the Ephesians, the fellowship of the mystery. Jesus didn't call it this way, but he spoke of it this way and we named it this, the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:19. And on the evening of the resurrection, Jesus empowered us by the Holy Spirit. Said, whosoever sins you remit, are remitted unto them. And whosoever sins you retain, are retained.

All who have been forgiven are sent to extend that same forgiveness in the name of Jesus, to everyone that we can get that message through to, by word or by deed. Or sometimes just by prayer and thought. We're taught, and we reaffirm in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others, their trespasses against us." And immediately after giving the Lord's Prayer in Matthew, Jesus said, "For if you do not forgive each other their sins, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive you your sins." And he told a parable later on that bore that out to emphasize that among all of his other teachings, on this central subject of forgiveness. A parable of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven, but then refused to extend that same forgiveness to someone else. And so his forgiveness was revoked.

The world needs reconciliation now

 The Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.      (Joshua 5:9a KJV)

The world needs reconciliation now. As much, if not more than ever. There may be other times when it needed it just as much, but I don't think more. We need reconciliation between individuals and in between nations and between groups. We all need this reconciliation.

And the Lord said unto Joshua in the first reading today, "This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you." This day. And that comes up a lot in the Scripture, because the idea of all of the promises of God are not just for the future, but for the present. We're called into this present moment. Like the psalmist who brings us and we sing that song, sometimes this is the day that the Lord hath made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

John Wesley on a particular day at a particular time, records that, "An assurance was given to me, an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins." The day, the hour, the moment, someone receives that sense of assurance and love and acceptance, a whole new world of peace and reconciliation is opened to them. So why would we withhold that opportunity from anyone, when we have everything in our power, and as our command from Almighty God given by Jesus Christ, to love others as Christ has loved us.

It's not about their consenting to our religious words and beliefs that we express, submitting to our views and understandings. But it's about their being able to feel God's love for them through us, and through the way that we treat them. William Cowper wrote in his hymn, 

E'er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:

Rolled away. Reconciliation rolls away our differences and frees us from discord as completely as the stone was rolled away from the tomb of Jesus. In Matthew 28:2, it says “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: and the angel of the Lord came, descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.”

Every burden that separates us from each other and from God is rolled away by the reconciling work of Jesus. The proverbial reproach of Egypt is lifted. The scorn, the shame, the disgrace. Any failures that they may have experienced in continuing their relationship with God, their wandering in the desert for 40 years, which had been attributed to their lack of faith in God to provide His promise of the promised land.

In one short verse, the Psalmist wove three theological threads celebrating the joy of our salvation

Blessed [are they] whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1 KJV)

And then as we think of the psalm that was read at beginning of the service today. And we find that in one short verse, the psalmist wrote three theological threads celebrating the joy of our salvation. "Blessed are they whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered." There's a little bit of a nuance between the words transgression and sin in the Bible. Transgression leans more about rebellion where sin more towards the error.

Forgiveness also has a bit of a nuance. In the old Testament, the image leans more often towards sin being lifted or carried away or born away, as in Jesus bore our sins to Calvary. C. H. Gabriel wrote in his hymn that, "I stand amazed in the presence." One verse, he said,

He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calv’ry,
And suffered, and died alone.

In the new Testament, the emphasis tends more toward our sins being taken away, or us being released from them. Like the breaking of chains, as Wesley put in one of his hymns, and our cleansing and relief and freedom. As Charlotte Elliot wrote in her hymn, 

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God I come! I come!

 And then there's the idea that Peter set forth in his letter when he said, "And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins." And so if we can't quite grasp the idea of them being completely gone, perhaps we can grasp the idea of them being covered, concealed and clothed. Love reconciles people, like paint covers a variety of flaws. William Bradbury wrote in his hymn, 

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!

God’s love far outweighs even the worst sins of humanity

And he [the Prodigal] arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.       (Luke 15:20 KJV)

God's love far outweighs even the very worst sins of humanity. In the Gospel reading today, it says that the prodigal rose and came to his father. But when he was a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. The son came prepared to confess all his sins, but the father just went right past all that and said, "Grab a ring and a robe, restore this son of mine to his former position." The prodigal's extravagantly wasteful living was completely overshadowed by the parent's extravagant forgiveness and his love and acceptance. And the Bible invites us to fully and freely accept for ourselves, and to extend to others and offer to everyone else. God's love is mercy and His grace is, as C. Austin Miles put it in his hymn, 

God’s love, His mercy and His grace,
Combine to raise a fallen race;
His hand is ready, ere we call,
Held out with forgiveness for all.

We join Christ in his eternal work to replace injustice, suffering and war, with justice, peace and healing at every level of humanity, through the reconciling power of unconditional love for everyone.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.