February Sermons 

February 24, 2019
Well, I would be lying if I said I wasn't anxious today. Today, this morning, right now and later today I will be tuning in and watching the live broadcast of the Special General Conference going on right now in St. Louis. There are 862 voting delegates and Bishops presiding over this conference. Because of the sheer volume of people, multiple languages being spoken and translated, and the constant enforcement of Robert's Rules of Order, it is a slllllooooooowwwwww and painful thing to watch. It is painful for a few reasons. The speed of things unfolding is high on the list but wondering, "How will this unfold?" is definitely anxiety provoking. 

I keep coming back to the text I read yesterday at Worship and another text I had the privilege of reading at Joann Marlow's memorial service. The first was Luke 6:27-38 the love your enemy text and then John 3:11-21. Specifically I am thinking of this text, "God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (CEB). Today a pastor at the General Conference recited this Scripture and he said that his children's friends only hear the word "judge," and that they feel as if they have been judged before they even step inside a church. This breaks my hearts, friends. He said, "How will they hear the good news, the saving part, the grace part, if they only hear the word "judge" from the outside?"

I know we all do not agree on Scriptural interpretation. And I believe that is ok. There is still room for all of us at the table. We are still all wanted and needed even though we may not agree on every detail. What is important is that we keep our focus on Christ!  What's important is that we stay out of the judgment business and that we keep the doors of the church wide open. We want to bring people to Christ, not scare them away before then even meet us. 

God is in St. Louis! I know that He is! He is around us, before us, and in us. He is always at work! I pray that His will be done. I pray that we move closer to God's perfect image of us all the time. What I don't know right now is what that will mean for us - for the UMC. God is in the resurrection business, God can work with broken things and broken people-- we know this to be true, but right now we wait in limbo for an outcome, for someone else far away to tell us how to do church. 

Today I am deep in prayer, glued to my computer and my twitter feed, watching the delegates do a difficult painful thing. Please join me in prayer today, tonight, right now, when you wake up at 2AM, in the morning, tomorrow afternoon, all the times. God needs to know we care about the UMC and that we want to move forward as the body of Christ, the singular body of Christ, not the divided body of Christ. 
February 17, 2019
We are starting a new series called "Seeing all the People."  This will be a three-part series in which we turn our attention to all the people that surround Christ in his ministry. The aim of this series is to make connections between the people that Christ sees and the people within our communities. We began by reading Luke chapter 6, verses 17-26.

This is the "Sermon on the Plain." It is similar to the Beatitudes in Matthew but not exactly the same. Luke for starters takes place on a plain and not on the mountain. And, this difference is important! Jesus comes down in order to be on a level plain with the people from Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon. This very diverse group of people is blessed with the presence of Jesus who is very close to them. They all came needing something from him, too - to hear him, to touch him, to be healed or to be cured. It says in Scripture that he felt his power leave him and all the people were cured.

Could you imagine this scene? It must have been thousands of people from all over the area, Jews, Gentiles and others, all wanting to see what this Jesus Christ was all about. I love imagining myself as one of the crowd in need of Christ' healing presence. Seeing yourself in Scripture stories is a spiritually imaginative way of reading Scripture. I imagine being eager, curious, hungry and poorly prepared to deal with the crowd (I'm not much of a crowd person. I don't care for them), I'd probably have anxiety from being around that many people. Then finally seeing Christ would probably be an overwhelming moment. I imagine I'd cry and would want to get closer to him. Being healed by him would make me want to run back to wherever I had come from and share the news widely, even if I knew some wouldn't believe. 

Next week in St. Louis the UMC meets for the Special General Conference and they will discuss the options laid out before the church. It is a time to be in prayer for the clergy and laity that is going and representing the body of people that are as diverse as those that gathered to hear Jesus speak on the plain. This gathered group of Methodists has the big task of listening to all people, stories, and options while employing their understanding of God in order to guide the church forward. We pray that they will allow the Holy Spirit to guide their thoughts, words, and open their hearts to a greater understanding of the future of the church. It is my prayer that we do not split. I want this church to stay unified in order that it can focus on the work of God while affirming the humanity of each individual that makes it Christ' church. 

Please join me this week in prayer for our church and all the people that make it so. And, join me next week as we further explore the Sermon on the Plain. 
February 10, 2019
Well, this past Sunday, the 10th, we were blessed beyond measure to hear a good word from Rev Dr Chuck Beattie II. (I just started sneezing when I wrote this so it must be true!) Rev Chuck read to us from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 5 verses 1-11, and he didn't talk about the fish! Instead, with great care and thoughtfulness, Rev Chuck lead us through the call on Simon Peter's life. First, Rev Chuck situated us in Luke's Gospel. Luke is intended for Jews and Gentiles, encompasses all of Christ's life and a clear way of salvation. It is made clear that Christ's salvation is "prepared in the presence of all peoples" (Luke 2:31). This way of salvation which is prepared for all people comes with a call and an invitation. 

The invitation of this call we receive on our lives, when we accept Jesus, is a call into the deep waters of life to do unexpected things, to rely on faith, and can take us to unfamiliar places. Rev Chuck told us about his call. He wrestled with his call for a long time before he ultimately accepted it and ended up at Candler School of Theology. Based on his preaching yesterday, I'd say he's definitely doing the right thing. 

After Simon Peter filled his nets and boats with fish, he fell down at Jesus' feet and said, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" Luke 5:8. Simon Peter did not feel worthy to be in the presence of the Lord. We may never know all the reasons, or the exact reason, Simon Peter didn't feel worthy, but I know as a human myself that I often don't feel worthy. Rev Chuck said that God continues to call imperfect people in order to do the perfect work of God. And isn't this a blessing, friends? Thank God! Thank God calls us, all of us, to do His work! Because we are all imperfect and yet, all needed. 

This always gives me so much peace -- that I am called even though I am unworthy. I had never heard the language of "call" until I started to vocalize my desires to go to Candler six years ago. Here's the thing about the word "call" or "calling," it honestly drove me nuts. I use it now, however. But, when I started the process years ago I thought it sounded elitist, like there are some people that are called and some are not. However, I think of it differently now.

I believe all Christians are called to do the work of God in this world. Some people are called to ministry in the church building but some are called to teach, and others to leadership outside the church, you can be called to construction - just look at Terry Tanner and all of the good work he does. Do you know he volunteers his time and materials and helps other churches that are in need of repair? Tell me that's not a calling! God needs each and every one of us. No one is excluded from this. So, if you haven't received a "call," I wouldn't get hung up on that word if I were you. Where does your heart lead you? Do you pray to God for direction? God will lead you. The Holy Spirit will lead you! There's way too much work to be done for God to turn anyone away. 

As you walk through this week know that God needs you. You are needed to be an active part of the body of Christ. God loves you very much! 
February 3, 2019
This past Sunday we read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, commonly known as the wedding text. I asked everyone, "Ok, who used this text in their wedding?" And SUPRISINGLY not one hand went up?!?! I was shocked. I thought every hand would have gone up (except for the kids, of course). Oh well. I don't have statistics to back this up, but I'm pretty sure a lot of people use this text during their wedding ceremonies. The funny thing about it though is that it's not talking about romantic love. Paul is describing the love God has for us to a community that is having difficulties getting along. 

There were members of this community that were taken with their newfound spiritual gifts. Some had the gift of prophesy and others were gifted in speaking in tongues, and basically, they thought they were really hot stuff. They were judging each other and neglecting the moral demands of their calling. Today Paul writes to tell them the highest expression of the Spirit is self-sacrificing love-- not your gifts. 

Paul walks through all of the popular spiritual gifts of the time and tells them that if they put anything ahead of love, they will have nothing in the end. I nicknamed this Paul's theological math, the value of A is your spiritual gift, minus B, the value representing Love, equals 0, nothing, nada. If I apply it to modern grievances in the church it looks something like this. If someone puts doctrine in front of love, they don't have sound theology they essentially have meaningless tradition. If someone puts knowledge in front of love they don't have answers, they basically have glorified opinions that will only further divide people. 

Another way of looking at this text is thinking of putting idols ahead of God. If you make an idol out of anything, you are breaking a commandment and not loving God with all of your heart. It sounds to me like the people of Corinth were making idols of their spiritual gifts and had replaced their worship of God with their worship of the gifts. All of this to say, whenever we put anything ahead of God and love, we are moving in the wrong direction. 

Last week during Bible study I asked the group the question, what do you think Paul would say to the United Methodist Church ahead of the Special General Conference that is convening at the end of this month? I think Paul might point to this text and the call to be like God in our love of one another. Paul even says this, "Love does not insist on its own way." Wow. Paul also goes on to call our knowledge of things, our understanding only partial, still immature, still in the process of developing. In Paul's eyes we won't completely know or comprehend until we meet Christ. And then when we meet Christ  - then we will understand. Obviously I have no way of knowing what Paul would say to the church today, but it gives me great hope that he might tell us to focus on loving one another as God loves us. 

This love described is a tall order. Anyone that's been married knows that it's difficult to love your spouse like this. Sure, we aim to love our partner like this (I hope) but many it's hard - somedays we are resentful, somedays we do insist on our own ways. This love described by Paul is agape love, the love God has for us. I don't even know if it's achievable here on earth. Sure, we can strive for it, but can we accomplish it? I don't know but we can try. Each day we get a new chance to show up for people and aim for this gold standard of love. God wants us to love each other like this. 

God has high expectations for us. Paul has high expectations for Christian communities. Paul essentially says here, get over yourselves, love one another as God loves you. (That's very boiled down but a solid elevator pitch of the text). 

As we approach the general conference let us keep this text in mind. Let us remember what Paul says about love, that it does not insist on its own way. It doesn't insist because it is secure. It is not threatened. It is not resentful. 

In the name of our Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. 
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