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.