Yesterday’s youth-led worship services were the perfect antidote to the unrest in our community and denomination. For all the alarming vitriol that has tainted the public discussion over the school referendum, we experienced the gift of talented and wise and joyful youth worship leaders. It was a visible reminder that they are giving us their best and deserve our best in return. For all the angst about what will come out of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference when it concludes tomorrow, we were reminded that the heart of it all is following Jesus who, as we were reminded by their challenging gospel lesson (Luke 6:27-38), commands us to love our enemies, to give and forgive generously, to not judge or condemn, acts that Jesus both demanded and demonstrated.
Beginning tomorrow, 864 voting delegates of the worldwide United Methodist Church will gather in St. Louis for worship, prayer, and deliberation. It’s what our denomination calls “General Conference” (GC) and is the only official decision-making body for the UMC. Normally GC meets every four years. In the last meeting (2016), it was determined to have an additional GC for the express purpose of addressing the United Methodist Church’s policies regarding human sexuality.
Here’s your pop-quiz for today: How many sacraments does The United Methodist Church recognize? You got it: 2 – Baptism and Holy Communion. Enjoy quizzes? Take this one about the UMC’s beliefs about baptism: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/united-methodist-baptism-quiz.
One way we describe sacraments is to say they are those things that Jesus did and commanded us to do. He was baptized (Luke 3:15-22) and he commanded us to baptize (Matthew 28:16-20). He communed and commanded us to – “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:14-23).
There are t.v. “specials” and websites aplenty to satisfy our interest in “Where are they now?” If you want to know what happened to your favorite teenage star after the show ended or what happened when the bright lights and big money of major sports faded, the information is out there. I’d like a similar (if less salacious) follow up on some Biblical characters. Where did the rich man go after Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor and follow him (Luke 18:18-30)? Did he sell any and give some? How much? Did he ever meet back up with Jesus and follow? What was next for Mary Magdalene after Jesus’ ascension? And, more related to yesterday’s gospel lesson (Matthew 2:1-12), what did the magi do after they left Bethlehem having knelt before Jesus?
The following is a prayer from The United Methodist Book of Worship (#294). It’s intended use is New Year’s Eve or New Year’s. Sometime in the next 24 hours (now is a perfectly fine time to do it!), make space to pray the prayer attentively. Rather than just reading the words or saying them aloud, pause on them – what are your new desires? What are your old fears? Etc. Let them lead you into reflecting on the good and bad of the year behind you and on what you hope to make of the year ahead. Reflect on God who is in the midst of all of it and will continue to be. Let the prayer lead you into prayers of your own.
As a church this weekend we hosted the Parking Lot Mission and fed warm breakfasts to financially-poor neighbors, helped 48 children in Florence County receive beds and bedding of their own, were led in worship by children of God from ages 4-84, and invited the community to hear the story of God’s love while joining us in supporting The CARE House of the Pee Dee. It was a good weekend of sharing what God has provided us (Luke 3:10-11) and honoring the God who gives us far more than we can ever give in return.
One of the mysteries of our faith is that God transcends space and time and connects us across barriers that otherwise divide. We are united in Jesus with Christians who gather in other places of worship – not just those down the street, but those across the world. We are united in Jesus with Christians who came before and those who will come after us. The carols we sing together Sunday have been sung by people on other continents in other centuries and by people who held us close on Christmas Eves long ago. As we sing those familiar carols, those we love, but who now sing their praises “upon another shore” may well come to heart and mind. Sing with them once more.
While we are comfortably gathered in Central’s sanctuary Sunday afternoon for The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, there will be people in our community and far beyond in very uncomfortable, sad, and vulnerable situations. There will be people outside our doors and throughout the world who are physically and spiritually hungry and don’t know where to turn. Even as we know plenty and joy Sunday afternoon, the Bidding Prayer demands we have on our hearts those who do not.
I don’t think enough about what would “rejoice Jesus’ heart.” I have the ratio out of balance – I think too much about what would bring me joy and not enough about what would bring Jesus joy. The Bidding Prayer tells us that our concern for God’s world, God’s people, for peace and goodwill on earth, and for love and unity in the church brings Jesus joy.
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols Bidding Prayer continues:
Therefore let us hear again from Holy Scripture
the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our sin
until the glorious redemption brought us by this holy Child;
and let us make this house of prayer glad with our carols of praise.
I concluded my sermon yesterday saying that now is the time to hope. Hope, Biblically speaking, is more than wishing. Hope is a bold expression of faith. Hebrews 11:1 teaches us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hope is clinging to the belief that something better will come because God is good and loving and righteous and wants something better for his creation.
For many Thanksgivings in my early childhood the routine was the same: wake up in Rock Hill, enjoy the Thanksgiving Day parade in Charlotte, ride 3 hours east, and join family at the already-in-progress gathering. In my teenage years, we stopped attending the parade, which meant getting to my grandfather’s home earlier, which meant more time for playing (and watching) football, picking up pecans, and feasting with family. In recent years, we’ve shifted our gatherings back to Charlotte, enjoying time with Sally’s side of the family first, then my side in the evening.
We’re thinking of military veterans these days. We’re remembering the end of World War I. No soldier carried every single fallen soldier off the battlefield, but plenty of soldiers carried one or two. Only Jesus can carry the weight of the world, but his people can carry the weight of a child or a few of God’s children. Be refreshed by his Spirit and by the invitation to do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.
So begins Psalm 84 and so we heard in the sanctuary yesterday as the choir offered a beautiful rendition of the Brahms setting. Sitting in a lovely space dedicated to worship, hearing those notes, knowing the saints we were preparing to remember, I was moved.
As promised in yesterday’s sermon, you can read my 2015 sermon that focused on divorce by clicking here. Yesterday we heard a sermon on most of the same verses, but the focus was more on the joining than the dividing. It’s not that all concern about divorce ended in 2015, but that Jesus seems to address the concern about divorce by raising the seriousness with which he takes the joining. Both are serious, of course. I’ve never discussed marriage with anyone who divorced casually. No, everyone I’ve talked with who has divorced has acknowledged the painful toll that it took on everyone involved.
As we heard in yesterday’s gospel reading (Mark 9:38-50), Jesus challenges his disciples about their resistance to someone outside their group doing good in his name, warned them about putting a hurdle between a child and him, told them to cut off their hands and feet and tear out their eyes if those cause them to stumble, and cautioned that not practicing self-discipline can lead to an unquenchable fire. He concluded, for them “be at peace with one another.” The transition is startling.
In the epistle lesson for this Sunday (James 5:13-20), James asks a question that is never without an affirmative response. “Are any among you sick?,” he asks. Tell me a single day, a single hour when there is no one among us who is sick. This week alone our congregation remembered the lives of three of our church family, all of whom died after a sickness. Family of our church family have died. We have had several people experience hospitalizations for their physical needs. We know of too many people with on-going sicknesses. Those that come to mind are the ones dealing with physical sickness, unless you are caring for or experiencing mental illness, then the ongoing challenges of that kind of sickness aren’t lost on you. There are spiritual sicknesses, too. Yes, James, there are people among us who are sick.
Rev. Cattenhead’s sermon yesterday invited us to be friends of God. My sermon reflected on Jesus’ frequent call to humility. I think the two concepts dovetail nicely.
Jesus returned to the subject of humility because the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest (Mark 9:30-37). It tells us something about humanity that people who had spent time learning from and watching Jesus continued to be influenced by worldly rankings within their band of brothers.
I trust you’re doing okay today. Florence, for the most part, was spared devastation. If you need some assistance, however, please let us know. If you don’t, you know others do. The worst of the flooding is yet to come. Continue to pray, but also consider giving financially. Maybe a good way to look at it is the think about the money you might have spent evacuating this storm, but didn’t have to. Could you give a portion of that to assist those who will be dealing with the storm’s aftermath for some time? If you want to give through Central, note the gift is for UMCOR and we’ll contribute the money to their efforts to help. They have already awarded our Annual Conference a $10,000 emergency grant to get relief support in motion.