March Sermons

March 24, 2019
Well, y'all! If Sunday wasn't just a gift from God I don't know what is! What a beautiful worship service and dedication of baptismal font. My heart is full! HSUMC was full of family of the late Rev Robert Lewis for the dedication of the font. His brother, Jim and his wife, Mary Lou, Robert and Dorothy's sons Dale and Kenneth were there, and Dorothy's sisters family, Donna, Dave and Dawn. Of course, the Loggins family was there, too! It was just extra special to have all of them there with us for the dedication of the baptismal font. Dorothy gave a special shout out to Terry Tanner who helped her acquire the font and have the plaque engraved. It was just a beautiful moment all in all. 

And our Scripture reading was so fitting! We read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. This text is also read a lot during Baptisms! This is Paul's discourse on New Creation. Paul is urging this Christian community to have new vision, to see things differently than they have in the past. Paul is suggesting that we need a whole new way of understanding one another, evaluating and perceiving. This is big change he's talking about. 

When I took pastoral care at Candler, I attended a number of 12 step meetings throughout the semester. There was a common theme among people that spoke who had been sober for a while. They all talked about being fundamentally different people. One person even said, I may look the same from the outside but nothing about me is the same. That is profound change. That is a person who is in touch with transformation and has experienced it first-hand.

Paul goes on to say "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ." So, this is the sentence I really got stuck on last week. God reconciled US to himself THROUGH Christ! This is great news. God did all the work already! God sanctified us through Christ. God made us worthy and acceptable through the work of Christ. So then Paul says, "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation."

We are the new creation, folks. We're it! It's us. This is why this is a baptism text because God did this amazing thing-- we had nothing to do with it. This isn't a reward we deserve or earned. It's all God. But then a promotion comes with this gift of reconciliation. 

We got a promotion. Maybe even a promotion we did not want dare I say? Paul says we are reconciled and given the ministry of reconciliation. That last bit is the promotion, do you see it? Given the ministry of reconciliation. Then he says we are ambassadors for Christ, here is a bit more clear about the promotion because it comes with a job title. 

As ambassadors we walk through the wilderness of life with one another and strangers. As we walk through the wilderness we have opportunities to share with others the living water. This is our job as ambassadors of Christ, we carry the message of God's reconciling act through Jesus Christ. 

Kate Bowler, one of my theologian heroes, said something like this last week on her blog. We grapple with our mortality during lent knowing from dust we come and to dust we will return. She said we are a speck, and confronting our mortality is disorienting. We search for a sense of fairness given the constant tragic news cycle and often don't find any. We become afraid to say things aren't always getting better. And what should this fact make us do she asks. She says it should make us kinder. She says lent does force us to confront our mortality but remember the light is coming. Our bodies are temporary and so will be our suffering! 

The world will never understand God's vision unless we embody it, friends. We must love like God wants us to love with big wide open eyes and hearts. We are the New Creation and have been reconciled to God through Christ. This is good news! Amen.
March 17, 2019
This last Sunday we read Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18. In this pericope Abram questions God and laments. Abram wants to know why God has not given him children, choosing to focus on what God has not done for him rather on what God has done and continues to do. This line of questioning gives me great peace! If God can put up with Abram's shenanigans and still be faithful, then He can definitely put up with ours. Praise God!

While Abram is questioning God, God shifts Abram's attention to the stars. God tells him his descendants shall number the stars in the sky. #1 That's a lot of descendants! And #2 I love that God shifted Abram's attention away from himself. It's such a parental tactic to try and change what's going on in the immediate field of vision that might be upsetting a child. And, might I add, what a wonderful thing to have ones attention turned towards - the night sky! The night sky can evoke so many feelings - feelings of insignificance, awe, and wonder to just name a few.

I recounted a story from my youth when I watched a meteor shower from a hilltop in the mountains of North Carolina. The display of streaks of light across the night sky left me in awe of God's creation. When God shifted Abram's attention to the night sky, not only was he saying your descendants will number the sky but he was also saying (or reminding Abram) He created this, too. 

As humans we can scarcely imagine God's vision for us or the ways in which God works. God reminded Abram that not only would his reward be great but that He had delivered him in the past. This passage gives me great peace and reminds me that we have a relational God. We have a God we can talk to! Our God wants to interact with us. 

This last week brought an unspeakable crime against innocent faithful lives in New Zealand. These people went to their Mosque to commune with God and were ripped away from their lives in yet another act of gun violence. This breaks my heart and I know it breaks God's heart, too. I read parts of Psalm 44 aloud during the sermon on Sunday because we are given the Psalms of lamentation for a reason. We are given them to speak aloud when our hearts our broken and we feel unheard by God. God wants to know what breaks our hearts and makes us cry. Having a relational God means reading Psalms aloud. 

Friends, God's heart breaks and rejoices like ours does. God can also handle our questions. So, as we grapple with a broken world with acts of hate, bring your questions to God. Bring your fears and worries to God. God can handle anything we throw at the Creator's feet and let's be thankful for that! Amen. 
March 10, 2019
We have started our journey into lent. Lent is a season we prepare our hearts and minds for Christ' certain walk to the cross, Good Friday. Lent can be characterized by fasting, prayer, meditating, giving things up, or a host of other spiritual practices. This past Sunday we focused on the Confession of Faith found in Deuteronomy 26:1-11. 

In this text, Moses gives instructions on what Israelites should do during the harvest of first fruits. Once taken to the priest at the temple, people are to say the following: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” 

This is a confession of faith meant to remind the Israelites of their story, where they come from, the trouble they've had, and ultimately who delivered them. A good confession of faith is like a security blanket to hold onto during scary dreams. A good confession of faith roots us firmly in the present by reminding us that we've been through difficult things in the past and that God has always seen us through. 

During lent, many of us will try and do the awesome work of self-reflection which will put us face to face with out shortcomings and pains we have caused others. This work can be hard and can leave us feeling very alone at times. As we do this journey, my request to you is that you do not forget your confession of faith. We are children of God and God has not left us alone. We are not alone when we look at our mistakes or when we are in a wilderness of hardship, God is always with us, beside us, and will deliver us to a land of milk and honey. 

Be brave as you walk through lent. Be brave because you know how the story began and how it ends, you know you are loved, you know you are not alone, and your deliverance is near. Peace and love to you, friends. 
March 3, 2019
This Sunday we read Luke 9:28-43 the Transfiguration of Christ. This text is awesome to me because it is a mystical experience. Peter, James, and John witness something unique that changes them. Every time we encounter Christ we are changed and this is good news. 

Important things happen on mountains in Scripture. Abraham and Moses encountered God on mountains. And, Jesus is no stranger to praying on mountains. After he fed the 5,000 in Matthew he went up the mountain to pray. In Luke 6 after he heals a man with a withered hand on the sabbath he goes up a mountain to pray.

Mountains are special. Prayer is special. Praying on mountains is, you guessed it, extra special. Jesus is transfigured in front of his disciples into some sort of radiant light and Moses and Elijah appear. I wonder if they could even detect his human form? I wonder if it frightened them? Peter at this point tries so very hard to please Jesus, exclaiming they should make dwelling places for him, Elijah and Moses right here at this site. I think this is such a natural instinct. 

When something wonderful happens in life, something that fills your cup or makes you bask in a joyful moment, don't you just want to wrap it up and make it last forever?  I honestly think this is where Peter was coming from. It came from a place of deep love of Jesus, a desire to preserve this experience, to contain it. But, God had other plans. God comes forth in a cloud and says, "This is my Son. Listen to him." God puts the emphasis on the words of Christ, not the location of the event. 

The message of Christ isn't meant for one certain geography or people. Christ's message is meant for all! Shortly after the transfiguration, they come off the mountain into a sea of people. One man is waiting for Christ to heal his only child. Christ heals this child and returns him to his father. It says at the end of the pericope, "And all were astounded at the greatness of God." 

The people that were waiting at the foot of the mountain were amazed at the power of God. Christ walks with us and changes us through our own mountain top experiences. When we are changed it is our responsibility to walk down the mountain into the sea of people. When people see are own transformations they too will be astounded by the greatness of God. 
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