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.
If it surprises you that Jesus would disturb people to the point of them wanting to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:14-30), you may have forgotten that that wasn’t the last time people attempted to kill him. You also may have forgotten the last time you had a difficult discussion with people you love and respect. It’s easy to dismiss some talking head on television as an idiot or mean-spirited or whatever when all they are to you is a caricature of a position with which you disagree. It’s far more difficult to let go of a strong word or criticism or different point of view when it’s someone with whom you spend time, work or worship alongside, share vacations or even homes. The closer the person is, the deeper the comment is felt and the longer it lingers
A prophet announces things. Sometimes those things are about what is to come, often based on what has already occurred. (It didn’t take a crystal ball for Old Testament prophets to predict that Israel would drift away from God – there was a well-established cycle of drawing near and fading away across the centuries.) Too much emphasis has been placed on the prophets’ reputation for announcing messages about the future. A primary job is to announce what is the current reality – that’s the form of Jesus’ prophecy in Sunday’s gospel reading (Luke 4:21-30).
Jesus initiated exactly one act in Luke’s gospel prior to the Father proclaiming, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). That one act was not a pleasing act to Mary and Joseph. He cost them three days of worry by remaining at the temple while they began their return to Nazareth (Luke 2:41-52).
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?
This Christmas Eve, as we do most every year, we will hear Luke 2:1-20. It’s the familiar story of Jesus’ birth and the shepherds arriving after the angel’s announcement. It’s what expect to hear on Christmas Eve.
Near the end of the service, we will do something that’s become expectation: we will light and raise our candles. That’s in keeping with the Christmas Day scripture: John 1:1-14. We stand firm on the promise of John 1:5 – The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
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.
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.
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.
If my sermon yesterday left you wondering how can someone be truth, ask John or go straight to the source and ask Jesus. Jesus is the one who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
We might be better equipped to think of Jesus as way and life. Way gives us the sense of a path, as in Jesus is the model for living, and conduit, as in Jesus is the means by which we approach the Father. Life is unsustainable without air, water, and blood. Jesus breathes into us (John 20:22), washed us in baptismal waters, and sustains our lives through his blood. But how does this “truth” metaphor work?
What motivates you? If you’re answer is, “That depends,” I think that’s a fair response. There are times when competition pushes us to try hard, sacrifice more, dig deeper and there are times when too much competition motivates us to quit. There are times when proving someone wrong is a driving force (“Don’t tell me ‘I can’t’”) and times when we’re defeated by their negativity (“He’s right. I can’t.”).
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.
I marveled at the large crowd at yesterday’s prayer service at the County Building. That the service was planned at 2 p.m. yesterday, announced after 2:30 and by 5:30 there was a strong crowd of people ready to stand together and pray is the result of both people wanting an outlet for our heavy hearts and of the growing interconnectedness facilitated by Helping Florence Flourish. People rose above what often puts us into factions and united around a common purpose: a prayerful response to an awful community tragedy.
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.