Sunday, June 25, 2023

God is in the Response

There is no satisfactory explanation for most of the tragedies and hardships of life. Some are caused intentionally. It is completely unfathomable to me as to why anyone would want to cause harm to others for no reason or even for selfish reasons. Others are caused by the weather or other acts of nature whose causes are completely mechanical according to physics, and people just happen to be in their way. Many are caused by accidents whose prevention can sometimes be anticipated but often only speculated about in hindsight.

 God is not the cause of our disasters, as the superstitious often assert. Rather, God is in the response. Where family, friends, and neighbors jump in to help with immediate needs, God is working through them. Where groups, institutions, and agencies back them up with longer-term assistance, God is working through them. Where we are able to be any part of these forms of response, God is working through us. We are so grateful for all the ways God helps us and others in all the different times of need. God is in the healing response.

 Our prayers are a vital part of our response to all degrees of misfortune. Prayer enables us to center our thoughts and feelings in the midst of any storm. The Holy Spirit meets us in prayer, and she calms our spirits, reaffirms God’s love, and reminds us of God’s promises. We connect to Creation in prayer, especially to those for whom we are praying in the difficulties they are facing. Through prayer, we begin to discover additional actions we can take to follow through in the answering of our prayers, some specific and some general, some in word, some in deed, and some in continuing prayer for ourselves and others.

William Batchelder Bradbury wrote in the first song my Dad taught me to play on the piano,

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless
And since He bids me seek His face
Believe His Word and trust His grace
I'll cast on Him my ev'ry care
And wait for thee sweet hour of prayer


Excerpt from the manuscript of the sermon preached by 
Rev. Bill Lawson on June 25, 2023, at Briensburg UMC.

For the Complete Sermon: [ PDF | MP3 Audio | E-Book & Other Formats ]

Cover Image by Mystics Art Design. “Nature Reserve,” 2014. Pixaby.  13 June 2023. 

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Father's Day Spirit

Today is Father’s Day, and perhaps should be celebrated as a form of “Parent’s Day” since Mother’s Day is also celebrated as the “Festival of the Christian Home.” In today’s readings, Sarah and Abraham were informed, in style somewhat reflected thousands of years later by the Annunciation, that, unlikely as it seemed, they were to become parents.

The Bible invites us to think of God in part as our Heavenly Parent. Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father which art in heaven.” Paul taught that the Holy Spirit within us creates a parent/child relationship, and she “calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” as phrased in the New International Version, on our behalf. The paternal term is meant to communicate relationship, not gender since God is neither female nor male and is both feminine and masculine. Our Creator is our eternal Parent. The Scriptures use both motherly and fatherly imagery to communicate that we are the beloved children of God. Paul reminds us that our Heavenly Father “proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us,”as the New Revised Standard Version says. As illustrated by Jesus’ “Parable of the Prodigal,” our Heavenly Parent is always watching for ways to reconcile and deepen the relationship with us.  

In my father’s sermon notes for today's reading from Romans, Dad wrote:

God’s love says, “I love you unconditionally. I’ve always given myself to you. What is your response?” God’s love does not depend on our virtue or achievements. The nature of God’s love is such that it does not leave us as it finds us. And it does not use us up. It refreshes and renews.


Excerpt from the manuscript of the sermon preached by 
Rev. Bill Lawson on June 18, 2023, at Briensburg UMC.

For the Complete Sermon: [ PDF | MP3 Audio | E-Book & Other Formats ]

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Invitation to Christian Discipleship

 We and all people are offered the same personal invitation of Christ as Matthew and others in the Bible, “Follow me.” It isn’t possible for us to follow Jesus physically, but his first followers only were able to do so at the very beginning of their discipleship. Most of their lives were spent following Jesus spiritually, just like we are invited to do. We feel the Holy Spirit moving within and among us. Her love stirs our hearts, drawing us ever more deeply into our relationship with Christ and each other. Just as Jesus promised, she teaches and guides us to respond to the impressions she makes in our hearts and minds, constantly inviting us – “wooing us to heaven,” as Philip Bliss wrote in his hymn, “Wonderful Words of Life.”

The invitation to Christian discipleship is not a one-and-done demand but a continuing attraction, new and fresh every day. I hear the invitation of Jesus not like a command but like the lyrics of John Denver’s love song with the same title, “Follow Me.”  Don’t you just want to take Jesus’ hand?


Excerpt from the manuscript of the sermon preached by 
Rev. Bill Lawson on June 11, 2023, at Briensburg UMC.

For the Complete Sermon: [ PDF | MP3 Audio | E-Book & Other Formats ]

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Fully Inclusive Trinity

Today is observed as Trinity Sunday throughout much of Western Christianity, celebrating the unity expressed through the doctrine of the Trinity. Today is also observed as Peace with Justice Sunday across The United Methodist Church. A reminder in an article, “What is Peace with Justice Sunday?” on the denominational website, says, “Our Social Principles call us to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict.”[i]

Inclusiveness is about justice, and justice is about peace, and peace is about love, and the Bible says, “God is love.”[i] The Bible starts with the Creation narrative by providing imagery to support the oneness of all creation as a reflection of the oneness of God. On the night he gave himself up for us, Jesus prayed in John 17 that we all “may be made perfect in one,” or as phrased in The Message, “the glorious unity of being one.”[ii] The “greatest law” Jesus quoted[iii] begins,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: [and continues] And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.[iv] [Jesus combined this law from Deuteronomy with another from Leviticus as the “second greatest commandment:”] Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.[v]

The prophet Amos, in his role as the mouthpiece of the Lord, declared in the Good News Translation,” Let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry.”[vi]

June is Pride Month,[vii] and yesterday our church participated in a ministry of presence at the Paducah PrideFest as one of the sponsors for the event. We also had a booth for providing information about Briensburg United Methodist Church and the Reconciling Ministries Network. We circulated among the crowd to meet people and share the love of Jesus. LGBTQ inclusiveness is a justice issue, not only in society but in the Church. It is a great and harmful injustice that people of the same gender are not allowed to be married in their own churches or by their own pastors in The United Methodist Church. It is a great and harmful injustice that practicing homosexuals are restricted from being ordained or appointed as pastors in The United Methodist Church. LGBTQ Christians are encouraged to participate fully in all other ministries of The United Methodist Church. We gladly recognize all the ways The United Methodist Church is actively and prominently engaged in many social justice issues worldwide. Still, we advocate for those harmful, restrictive, and unjust rules added to our Discipline as recently as 1974 to be removed this year at General Conference.

Every month of the year also has several days set aside for awareness of other important social justice issues. Health care, poverty, hunger, racism, gender inequality, gun violence, domestic violence, war, child abuse, and human trafficking are only a few of the countless grave injustices worldwide. Our individual power is limited in addressing these enormous spiritual challenges. Still, the Holy Ghost’s power to unite us has repeatedly proven to make a remarkable difference for the victims of injustice. The second of three United Methodist baptismal vows is to “accept the freedom and power God gives [us] to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”[viii]

The prophet Micah famously preached in Micah 6:8 in the Good News Translation, “The Lord has told us what is good. What [God] requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.” Working together in harmony and peace for justice and unity is what Jesus prayed in John 17 and what the prophets, apostles, and church leaders from Augustine to Wesley have preached. God continues to call women and men to preach social holiness in our generation. The more fully and inclusively we unite in Christian love and service, the more we reflect the oneness of the fully inclusive Trinity. Paul wrote to the Ephesians as phrased in the Good News Translation:

Show your love by being tolerant with one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together. There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; there is one God and Father of all people, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all.[ix]


Excerpt from the manuscript of the sermon preached by 
Rev. Bill Lawson on June 4, 2023, at Briensburg UMC.

For the Complete Sermon: [ PDF | MP3 Audio | E-Book & Other Formats ]

[ii] John 17:23 (KJV, MSG).

[iii] Matthew 22:36-40.

[iv] Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (KJV).

[v] Leviticus 19:18 (KJV).

[vi] Amos 5:24 (GNT).

[vii] Wikipedia Contributors. “Pride Month,” 2 June 2023. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.  2 June 2023.

[viii] The United Methodist Church. “The Baptismal Covenant I.” The United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 88. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992. Print.

[ix] Ephesians 4:2-6 (GNT).