Faith that Works: A Million Little Choices (The Vanilla Ice Sermon)

Here’s the audio of my “Vanilla Ice” sermon:

(Note: This sermon followed the video clip with the same name:  https://www.ignitermedia.com/products/8665-a-million-little-choices)

Slide01This morning we are talking about how even our little choices impact our wisdom, and how to become wiser through the practices I am calling the “3 P’s of Wisdom,” in order to make it easier to remember. The 3 P’s are Pausing, Praying and Paying Attention.

So first, what do we mean by wisdom?

For starters, it’s worth noting that wisdom is not the same as knowledge –

Slide02

(image credit: shockinglydelicious.com)

To quote Miles Kington: “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.” (pause, hopefully for chuckles) (Side note: What I learned this week is that tomatoes in a fruit salad is a real thing people do!)

So, wisdom isn’t knowledge. Wisdom is having the ability to have insight about relationships and choices. It is a natural ability to understand things that most people cannot, and is a knowledge gained by having many experiences in life.

The opposite of wisdom is foolishness, silliness, stupidity. Nobody wants that!

Having wisdom makes your life easier…Where in your life is the lack of wisdom getting in the way?

I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest, one of the areas of life I struggle most with being wise is in how I spend my money – although some might argue that my biggest struggle is how much time I spend time on my phone. 🙂

Don’t get me wrong, I want to be wise in how I spend my money. I want to give generously to the church and to good causes worth supporting. I want to set aside enough money to send our kids to college (all FOUR of them!) and I want to save wisely so someday, probably quite a ways away, I want to retire. I want to be a good role model to those little people who are watching.

But if I’m honest, there is a lot of pressure to use money in ways that probably aren’t the wisest.

I spend money on clothes and shoes that are cute but I don’t really need, I buy things from Amazon, I feel the pressure to upgrade my phone and get the latest and greatest gadgets. I may or may not have a problem with buying too many Sharpies and art supplies.

In fact, really large corporations are banking on my inability to make wise choices. It doesn’t help that credit card companies are more than happy to extend credit to me to make purchasing more things easier. Actually, I just read a stat recently that, as of 2017, the average American household’s consumer credit card debt was over $15000, so I’m apparently not alone on this.

My husband jokes that our problem is we have too many resources and not enough good things we are doing. Consumerism solves that problem for us. Bang! Problem with having too many resources is solved!

And it’s not just finances, there are choices to make all the time on how to spend my time, (yes that includes how much I’m on my phone), what to eat or drink, how to treat others, what to pay attention to… What about you? What are the areas you struggle with when it comes to making choices? (pause) While the areas we are working through probably vary widely, deep down we all want to walk in wisdom.

It’s like our faith says one thing, but all the other messages we are seeing say something different. A lot of the choices are probably no big deal, but there are still so many choices. The thing is, nobody sets out to get his or her self in a bad or unwise place, whether it’s about our finances, relationships, addictions, health, or whatever – it’s almost like we wake up surprised one day wondering how we got here.

Consider this:

Slide03In Science class, there is a concept called “tipping point” and an experiment where you make a boat out of aluminum and try to see how many pennies you can put in the boat before it sinks. How it usually works is you put the pennies in one by one, and eventually a penny drops in and the boat sinks quickly to the bottom. (Side note: We tried this during youth group recently & one of the groups figured out a way to make a nearly unsinkable boat…so maybe we have some wise students in our midst!) In the same way, we make choices that, individually, are insignificant. But, like the opening video illustrates as well, the accumulation of several choices brings us to a place we never expected to be.

Isn’t it great to know that even though we all face this issue, God’s word has something to say about it?

Remember at the opening of worship when I asked you to think of the wisest people you know?

For me, my friend Bill came to mind, but I also thought of all the times I would visit with John Cash on Sunday mornings before he moved to Florida – there was a lot of wisdom to learn from his 9 decades of life experience!

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” James 3:13

The book of James reminds us that people who are focused on gaining God’s wisdom are known as being pure, peace-loving, considerate, full of mercy, impartial & sincere.  Think again about the wisest person you know – how do they measure up? (pause)

So, as we move forward from here, how do we become wise?

To become wise, you need to follow what I’m calling the 3 P’s on this path to wisdom. I’m calling them “Pause, Pray & Pay Attention,” but those who are Gen- Xer’s in the room might appreciate that Vanilla Ice’s word to “Stop, Collaborate, and Listen” also would work. 🙂

The first “P” is to PAUSE. (STOP)

In order to grow in wisdom and learn from experience, it is essential that we PAUSE for time to meditate/reflect/know yourself. We live in a culture that is constantly busy. We rush from one thought, one activity, one bit of information to the next.

The problem is, if we are so busy moving around all the time, we will absolutely miss out on opportunities to learn, miss out on opportunities to hear what God might be saying.

Slide06I love this movie quote from the classic Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This is so true. (image credit: quotesgram.com)

Life is full of choices. Every day we can make a million choices without thinking, so the first “P” is that we need to PAUSE and consider the impact of our actions before we move forward.

What does “Pause” look like? I’m a big believer in the practice of taking a “Holy Pause” between activities – just a moment to catch your breath. (pause) You can even taking a weekly “Pause” in the form or Sabbath rest which will give you the space to move forward with wisdom.

A huge benefit of this is if we pause to reflect on our own lives, our own shortcomings, we grow more patience with others.

The second “P” is PRAYER. (COLLABORATE)

James 1:5 says we need to ask for wisdom – that anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.

In Scripture there are several examples of people who struggle with wisdom. King Solomon, the son of David, is the best-known Biblical character for wisdom. In the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles, Solomon had just become king when God appears and tells Solomon “Ask whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.”

Solomon thought about all of the things he could request & wisely said, “Give me wisdom and knowledge so I can lead this people, because no one can govern this great people of yours without your help.”

In response, God, delighted that Solomon didn’t ask for things like wealth or power, gives Solomon not only wisdom but also wealth, riches and fame beyond any kings before or since.

We begin the search for wisdom by pausing and praying, but we can also gain wisdom in two ways: personal experience and learning wisdom from others’ experiences – as long as we follow the final “P”

The final “P” is Paying Attention. (LISTEN)

You gain wisdom either through your personal experience or – the great shortcut to wisdom – through listening to the wisdom of others.

Think of it this way: I believe people can be divided into two main categories: Stove touchers and non-stove touchers. Which are you?

Here’s how it works: there are people you can tell “hey, don’t touch the stove, it’s hot and will burn you.” They will touch the stove anyway, get burnt & learn that stoves are hot.

Non-stove touchers will hear the good advice, follow it & still learn that stoves are hot.

Whether it’s to gain wisdom through personal experience or through the experience of others, you have to follow the final “P” and Pay Attention to the available wisdom.

We can learn from Scripture quite a lot of wisdom from others – some things never change. We can learn to follow instructions and put the words into action.

Having a lot of different experiences helps you gain wisdom – but only if you let it.

It’s not enough to just have experience, you have to PAY ATTENTION to life as it happens around you.

Like in the video, we are often distracted by the screens and other things vying for our attention. We miss life as it happens when we are so busy trying to get a video or an Instagram image of it!

To grow in wisdom, you have to be able to see what is right in front of you

And also see the deeper meaning of life

My friends, in conclusion, here is the hope in this message:

We constantly receive messages from our culture about what we should do and how we should spend our time and resources in order to measure up to the world’s standards of success or happiness.

As people of faith, we have a unique opportunity and challenge to live lives that are markedly different than the world’s standards. As we seek God’s wisdom instead, we seek to live lives of grace, mercy and love. You have the opportunity to live lives that exemplify God’s love and especially God’s love for all people.

No matter where you find yourself, you can move toward wisdom. By following the 3 P’s of Pausing, Praying and Paying Attention, we can make a million little choices that move us toward wisdom.

It is my prayer that you will walk thoughtfully through your millions of small decisions, perhaps even learning wisdom from others often (as opposed to touching the stove yourself!) and live a life that brings peace and hope to others.

As we close, I want to offer an opportunity for you each to practice the 3 P’s of wisdom. In a minute I will pray and the band will come forward to play a song. During their song I invite you to spend time perhaps with your worship guide and a pencil, and take a moment to PAUSE and reflect on your life, PRAY for God’s wisdom in decisions you need to make, and PAY ATTENTION to what God might be saying to you. You can write down a prayer, or ideas on what you might want to work on, or spend the time in prayer as we reflect on God’s word for you.

Let us pray:

Spirit of wisdom,

This morning we confess that all too often we make choices that pull us away from you, distract us from the path you have for us. Forgive us for the choices we make. We ask for your true wisdom to be a guide in our lives. Thank you for being a God who never leaves us nor forsakes us.

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

 

 

Faith That Works: Contagious – A sermon on James 3:1-12

Contagious sermon slides

Slide01

Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly. Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in
us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of [Gehenna.]
People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!
-James 3:4-10
Has anyone ever said something to you that changed you?
Slide02
I was a teenager on a joint Polish Catholic/United Methodist youth group retreat
when I heard a few words that completely changed my life. My friend, Bill
Kozlowski, was a couple of grades ahead of me. His mom was one of the youth
leaders at his church and every spring our two youth groups had a spring retreat
together.
I remember Bill saying to me, “Erin, one of the things you need to realize is that
you’re not better than anyone else.” 
Those words alone could have hurt my feelings, but the important part was that
Bill kept speaking.
He added, “You also need to know that no one is better than you either. God made
us all, and no one is better than anybody else.”
It was a simple truth. I doubt that 16 year old Bill had any idea that the words he
said then would so positively affect the rest of my teenage years and beyond.
I mean, imagine being an insecure, self-conscious adolescent, constantly
comparing yourself to others and feeling like you were coming up short…and
then you hear, really hear, and choose to believe, that you are genuinely okay,
that you are enough, just as you are. Believing those words as a teenager was a
game changer – I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I was measuring up
or how I compared to others.
His words helped me to navigate a pretty challenging season of my life with quite
a lot more grace and confidence. His words changed me. His words may have
even been part of why I later felt called to youth ministry.
A few short years later, when Bill tragically died in a Coast Guard accident, I was
all the more grateful for the words we shared during his all-too-brief time with us.
Can you remember a person in your life that said something to you that changed
you?
You see, our words are powerful.
In fact, let’s do a little survey:
Consider your closest relationships – perhaps you are married, or think of your
best friend, your parents. Or even consider the people sitting right around you.
How many of you think that you could say/text/tweet or do something in the next
30 seconds that could dramatically improveyour relationship? Go ahead and raise
your hand. (pause)
Okay, how about this – how many of you think of something that you could say
that could really hurt/destroy/cause harm to your relationship?
Whatever you just thought of – DON’T SAY THAT!
Sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit for the good choices that we
make all of the time – there are plenty of times we don’t say something mean and
it keeps our relationships better.
We can know words are powerful if we consider we worship a God who spoke
the universe into being…we can look at the beginning of the Gospel of John and
see that in the beginning was the Word, the logos, and the Word was with God
and the Word was God…
Slide04
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, the words you speak come from your heart.
Our words are rarely neutral – they give insights into the heart of the person
speaking. Whatever we say isn’t just random words – what comes out of our
mouth comes from the same place as our convictions, aspirations, dreams, hopes,
doubts and emotions. Since our words are rarely neutral, what we say always has some intended result even when we don’t think about it.
Most of our life is built around words. We’re a culture that is always talking one
way or the other – if we’re not literally speaking, we’re texting, typing, updating
our status, tweeting, emailing, or writing. We even sing words. Words are a part
of everything we do, they are a part of all of our relationships.
When I reflect on my life, on conversations I’ve had, conversations people have
overheard, I’m not always proud of the words I’ve spoken.
I imagine I am not alone in realizing there have been times in my life when I’ve
said unkind things, yelled out of frustration, complained and made people feel
bad. With my words, with my tone of voice, with my impatience…there have
been so many times when I’ve hurt others. I’m not proud of that – but I also
imagine that I’m not alone in feeling regret about things I’ve said.
You may have said things you’ve regretted too. There may have been times when
you talk too much.
Today’s passage in James is focused on the incredible importance of “taming our
tongue” – the importance of taking care with our words.
I believe that our words have unprecedented power today.
Consider this: When this letter was written, the audience was the twelve tribes of
Israel who were now living as refugees in foreign lands. The letter was written at
a time when communication was only as fast as the messengers could walk, run,
or perhaps take a horse. It was like an Oregon Trail type of journey – To get the
word out to the next village might take a few days or weeks.
Even when my husband Dennis and I started dating (way back in the last
century!), we lived in different states for a while and wrote letters to each other,
so we can remember that it would take 3 or 4 days to send our messages.
Times have changed since then – and especially the way we communicate. While
this passage focuses on taming our tongues, if it were written today it would
encompass all of the ways we use words.
Just how powerful are our words today?
Consider this example – if I were to sit down and have a conversation with
(church member) today at lunch or even over the phone, and things got a little bit
snarky or I said a few things that were kind of harsh, some damage will be done. I
have the ability, even in that conversation, to have a change of heart, to apologize
for my carelessness, and to try to make things right.
Now, if I were to stand up here at the pulpit and say the same careless thing – now
I’ve multiplied that impact times the 150-200 or so people in this room. We don’t
have a live feed, maybe I could get to the audio recording and edit things before
the sermon is posted online. The damage said here feels like it is pretty
containable.
In today’s culture, we have so many more ways to communicate our words than
just speaking.
Now let’s imagine that instead of just speaking, I decide to put my unkind
thoughts out on Facebook, Twitter, or to vent a little in an email or text message.
What I have learned is that typed words often can take on a life of their own.
(Especially words taken out of context, which is something our soundbite culture
loves to do.) In just a few keystrokes, an email can go from one person to
hundreds. Emails passed from one person to another, even what starts as more or
less well-meaning emails from good people, have broken relationships, caused
people to lose jobs, and caused great damage. Faith communities have suffered
from the words of its members.

 

Added to this is the tricky element that we don’t know which words will be contagious, which will go viral – a few years ago I wrote a blog post about St. Barnabas’ tornado damage that was widely shared, and we ended up with more people sending Easter eggs than we could have ever imagined. I had to do some damage control to stop the flood of responses.

Slide06
In 2013, I posted this Instagram picture as part of a Youth Ministry photo blog
challenge with the topic “where would you like to be in 10 years.” I was very
surprised a few months later when I received messages from friends in California,
New York, Ohio and Texas letting me know that the same photo was picked up
by a Buzzfeed/clickbait type Facebook post full of pretty unfavorable 10 year
change illustrations of celebrities like Brittney Spears and Will Smith. I no longer had any control over the context around my original words.
Words are powerful…and words are contagious.
Emails get forwarded, posts get shared – unlike the days of James’ letter when
we’d have to carry it by horseback, in an instant we can spread images and
messages around the world.
I invite you to take a moment to focus on this part of our Scripture from today –
it’s also printed in your worship guide: “People can tame and already have tamed
every kind of animal, bird, reptile and fish. No one can tame the tongue, though. It
is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father
and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. Blessing and cursing come from
the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!”
What strikes me about this text is that we have the power in our words for both
blessing and cursing.
You may have expected to hear a message about not saying bad things, but…
This means we have the unprecedented power to do good work with our
words, too.
There’s a Harvard Business Review article that investigated the impact of using
either positive feedback to constructive criticism to change team behavior.
Slide09
They called the ratio the praise-to-criticism ratio, and monitored results in
companies and teams and different performance levels. The highest performing
teams used an overwhelmingly higher amount of praise to motivate behavior.
Interestingly, there is a similar study that shows effects of praise and criticism in
the success of marriage relationships and the results are similar. The research
varies, but the general consensus is that it takes about 5 or 6 positive comments to
beat out the negative messaging we hear.
If that’s accurate, let’s work out some math here in this room then.
Let’s say there are 150 people in the room to make the math easy.
If each of us made a commitment to have a positive impact with our words and
our witness once a day this week, that would be enough to overcome about 30
negative things a day. If we commit to each saying just 5 positive, life affirming
messages a day, that should work to even things out.
And yet, imagine what impact we could have if we all decided to be all in on this
project, if we all committed to doing our best to be positively impacting people
whenever/however we communicated this week – what kind of positive, life
giving force could we become?
What dreams and ministries and visions could we accomplish if we all vowed to
use our words to build one another up? 
Our words are so powerful.
The tricky thing is, we never really know when we are saying words people are
hearing. My friend Bill probably had no earthly idea that he was saying something
to me that would be a sermon illustration a couple of decades later. He caught a
moment when I was ready to listen. We don’t know when we’ll have an impact or
who we are impacting, so let’s just commit to assuming each moment we have is
that moment of truth that can impact another life.
I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to think about what could happen to us as
a faith community if we committed to treating one another with that kind of care,
if we committed to lifting one another up with encouragement and put a stop to
grumbling, gossiping and complaining to one another. And then if we extend this
power of words beyond our walls…
We have the power to be an absolutely transforming force in the world. Let it be.
Amen.

We Need Each Other – a sermon on Social Holiness

Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.

Sermon: We Need Each Other – on Social Holiness

 “Haiti has been devastated by an earthquake and people in and around Port au Prince are in desperate need of help. We have a plane full of supplies ready to leave Dallas Love Field at 2PM today. We are looking for any volunteers who can get to the airport with their passport on time. We can get anyone who is available to Haiti at no charge, the plane is ready to go, although we don’t have any information yet on how or when you will be able to return. Is there anyone here willing to go?”

The date I heard this announcement was January 13, 2010, the day after a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. This was the lunch announcement made at the SMU Perkins School of Youth Ministry to a room full of United Methodist youth workers.

Would you have volunteered to go help? 

I didn’t get on a plane to Haiti that day (although I did go in 2017 and will go again this year) but how remarkable is it that one of the few places they thought to announce this mission need was to the highest concentration of United Methodists gathered together in Dallas that day. It makes sense when you consider that the UMC has a rich heritage of responding quickly and working together to alleviate suffering, especially for the world’s poor.

This morning we are concluding our Back to Grace series on United Methodism. In week one we looked at the Wesleyan concepts of prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace. Last week we talked about personal holiness & for those who heard my sermon, you were challenged to pick 1 or 2 personal faith practices and “just do it.” How’s that going so far?

Today we are learning about the Wesleyan concept of social holiness. Social holiness is the combination of acts we do as a faith community to grow closer to God, and is often found at the intersection of faith and good works, service and justice. This morning we will look at how we grow in social holiness both inside and outside of the church, including a look at the global United Methodist Church, and most importantly, we will look at why social holiness is critical.

First, we will look at the role the local church plays in nurturing our social holiness.

What is the purpose of a church?

A quote from the Book of Discipline:

“Finally, we emphasize the nurturing and serving function of Christian fellowship in the Church. The personal experience of faith is nourished by the worshiping community.”

If we look at today’s Scripture reading, we are told to “Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another…we were called in the one body. We are to teach one another in wisdom.” There is an emphasis on the one another and the working together as one body. As Christians, we believe that faith isn’t something you get to have all on your own. Wesley once said that no one can be a solitary Christian, we must be in community to grow in our faith. As the sermon title says – we need each other.

Consider the sacrament of baptism.

In our baptismal vows, here’s a question the faith community is asked:

 Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life
and include these persons now before you in your care?

And how do we respond?

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news
and live according to the example of Christ.
We will surround these persons
with a community of love and forgiveness,
that they may grow in their trust of God,
and be found faithful in their service to others.
We will pray for them,
that they may be true disciples
who walk in the way that leads to life.

When anyone is baptized, we promise as a faith community to nurture not only the baptized, but also one another. We need each other to grow in our faith.

We also nurture each other in the faith when we sing in worship.

Now, I don’t know about your typical week, but in my week, there are no other places besides during worship when I am being asked to sing. As we sing together, we connect with one another in praise and we also learn the basics of our faith. Like memorizing Scripture, the act of singing writes what we believe on our hearts. It lifts our spirits. We need each other to sing.

We need each other in small groups. As John Wesley was beginning the renewal movement we now know as Methodism, they began by forming small Methodist societies and class meetings. The purpose of these small groups was so they could encourage each other in holiness, and a distinct way they grew in their faith as a small group was to give to the poor, visit the imprisoned, and to work for justice and peace. Similarly, in our local church, we meet in small groups and grow in our faith. We spur one another on as we discuss our faith, even disagreeing from time to time. Ideally, if we have done the nurturing work right at the local church level, our natural response will be to find ways in our small groups to love and serve our neighbors.

A beautiful feature of United Methodism is that social holiness extends way beyond the local church – we are connected to other United Methodist churches around the globe.

Even this past week, we showed a bit of this connection in our city by participating in the Back to Grace multi-UMC event. Many from New World were there last Sunday night as The Way led worship and Rev. Felicia Hopkins of FUMC Abilene preached on grace. In fact, I’m excited to share that the churches represented raised over $1000 each for Arlington Urban Ministries and the UTA Wesley Foundation.

Consider the global impact of our Church. Unique to church denominations, all United Methodist Churches are connected. This culture of reaching out to the world is a rich part of Methodism’s DNA and makes us a witness and force for peace and justice around the world.

A beautiful example of how we as a connectional church model this sense of social holiness is UMCOR. A quick story: In 2013, a chemical fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded – many of you may even have heard the explosion if you lived in South Arlington/Mansfield at the time. At this disaster, as with almost every disaster around the globe, many first responders were on the scene to assist people in need. Laraine Waughtal from the UM Central Texas Conference and members of our conference’s early response team were there early among the American Red Cross, United Way and FEMA’s first responders. Laraine reported that, as a trailer pulled up full of supplies with the United Methodist cross and flame symbol on the side, a trailer from UMCOR, she could hear the other first responders say, “Oh thank God! The Methodists are here! Now we can begin to get things done.” UMCOR is known throughout the world as the United Methodist Church at its finest – quick to respond to those in need and willing to stay until the long-term recovery is complete.

Beyond disaster relief and recovery, the worldwide United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Wesley and the early Methodists expressed their opposition to societal brokenness such as slavery, smuggling, inhumane prison conditions, alcohol abuse, and child labor. We are known as a denomination involved with people’s lives, with political and social struggles. As part of our global connection, we are still engaged in speaking out against injustice and working in social justice work today.

From The Book of Resolutions of The UMC: The United Methodist Church believes God’s love for the world is an active and engaged love, a love seeking justice and liberty. We cannot just be observers. So we care enough about people’s lives to risk interpreting God’s love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex. The church helps us think and act out a faith perspective, not just responding to all the other ‘mind-makers-up’ that exist in our society.”

As we take a closer look at today’s passage (text is in bulletin), I want you to see the action words. We are to: teach, warn, sing and do. In fact, Verse 17 says “And whatever you DO, in word or deed, DO everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” The life of Christ is a life of action. We are called to be in mission and service to the world.

Wesley said, “The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness. You cannot be holy except as you are engaged in making the world a better place. You do not become holy by keeping yourself pure and clean from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world’s hurting ones.”

Why don’t we get it right?

John Wesley also struggled with the same question – why don’t we get it right?

At age 86, near the end of John Wesley’s life, most people would have considered him a resounding success. Around the age of 35 he had begun a movement that had spread throughout the British Empire and, by the end of his life it had grown to be the largest church in America. He was widely published and well respected.

But at 86, he was contemplating the significance of his life’s work. A question he asked himself was, “if the Methodist movement he had begun was so successful, as it was, why wasn’t the world a better place?”  For John Wesley, the measure of the success of a minister, of a church, of a spiritual movement, of Methodism, wasn’t the number of members who joined the church or the size/number of buildings they had. The true measure of success was whether the world was a better place, a more just place, a more compassionate place.

We have work to do, my friends. We need to heal the world, make it a better place.

We can think of the church as a body.

As today’s scripture says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” The Greek word for bind in this verse is the same word as “ligament,” like the part of the body that holds us together. Think like a human body – When we as a faith community are in great shape, bound together in love, when we are doing social holiness right and taking care of ourselves…

We as the Body of Christ can do amazing things.

When our body is out of whack, the binding of love is replaced by distrust or personal agendas, distracted by politics and division and trying to prove others wrong, we become immobilized, powerless.

(Perhaps worse – when we sit idly and don’t exercise the body at all – there’s no inspiration in that!)

It’s easy to be like John Wesley was – contemplating our progress and wondering why the world is not yet a better place. The work of justice and reconciliation, the work of transforming the world, the work of God….it’s slow work. It takes time, and we need everyone to work alongside each other in order to make an impact.

But please take a moment with me and imagine what our future could be like if we committed to getting social holiness right. If we, as the Body of Christ, work together to grow in discipleship and work together to be a force for change in the world, if we connect with one another and have the courage to stand up against the world’s injustices and brokenness – we have (with the help of God’s spirit working in us) the potential to be a force that brings God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. We have the potential to truly make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

We need each other to make transformation happen.

Remember the Haiti announcement at the beginning of this sermon?

Raise your hand if you went on that trip (should be no hands). I didn’t go then either.

But raise your hand if you’ve been on an international mission trip? (keep your hands up)

An out of state mission trip? Any mission trip? (keep your hands raised)

Now raise your hand if you have been engaged in mission work locally – you’ve volunteered, handed out a manna bag, collected donations?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever contributed to the offering at church (hopefully all hands are raised)

This is social holiness – all of us working together to transform the world. God will call each of us in different ways to use our gifts and resources, time and talents for God’s service.

It is my deepest prayer that each of us will Listen to that call.

That we will Have the courage to respond. To get our hands dirty.

It is my prayer that transformation will happen and God’s reign will be on earth, and that we will move forward with passion and excitement as we trust in the slow work of God!

Amen.


Things to consider:

  • Where is God calling you to be in service?
  • Are you giving your fullest to God? If not, why not?
  • Who do you need to connect with in order to be held accountable in your discipleship?

Giving credit where credit is due: The Scripture passage used was from the Common English Bible. Several quotes in this sermon were from umc.org. Quote from Laraine Waughtal found in Vance Morton’s post “UMCOR – the Methodist Connection at it’s Best” on ctcumc.org. Story about John Wesley at age 86 found in sermon “Social Holiness: Our Wesleyan DNA”  by Rev. Dean Snyder.

Be Made New: A Sermon on Personal Holiness

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Listen to the Sermon Here: 

Be Made New Sermon Slides

Scripture Reading

This morning our Scripture passage is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. To give a little background: Paul is writing to a new Christian community that has a Gentile (or non-Jewish) background. As Christians, this faith community is being encouraged to stop their former pagan behavior, and to model kindness and compassion, imitating God’s forgiving and loving ways. Picking up at verse 20:

20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

I know that this is Back to School time, but, as we talk about being made new this morning, I want you to go back in time with me today to the beginning of the calendar year. There are a few things you can count on seeing every January:

  • Exercise clothes and running shoes are going to be featured in sale ads
  • The gyms are pretty crowded
  • There will be good coupons for foods like Special K cereal and Lean Cuisine meals
  • Shelving and organization tools will be on sale and in demand

Who here, like me, makes New Year’s resolutions?

Who here has failed at keeping them?

Perhaps it would have helped if we had listened to a really great motivational speaker, like this video: (VIDEO – “Just do it” Shia LeBouef: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXsQAXx_ao0)

If you’ve had trouble keeping resolutions, no worries, you are in good company. Even in today’s passage, Paul is writing to a church that started with great resolution to live differently, but then they slipped in to old habits.

We are talking about the distinctly Wesleyan emphasis on holiness this morning. What do we mean by “holiness?”

(SLIDE)

Holiness is “the state of being holy, of having total devotion to God” Interestingly, when you Google search “holiness,” the first term that comes up is that it’s a title used to address the Pope. The second reference is to the Holiness Movement started by John Wesley, “A Christian movement emphasizing the routines and faith practices that help us grow closer to God.”

To understand it, we first need to understand a little bit of Methodist history:

Methodism became its own denomination completely by accident. John Wesley, his brother Charles and a few other Oxford college students had grown up in the church but refused to be satisfied with the shallow, superficial faith they witnessed around them. They thought people were going through the motions but missing out on the deeper faith practices.

So, longing to grow in their faith and to grow closer to God, these young men began to live an ambitious schedule:

  • Fasted until 3pm on Wednesdays and Fridays
  • Took Holy Communion once a week
  • Studied and discussed the Greek New Testament and theology each evening
  • Visited prisoners and the sick
  • Systematically reviewed their lives
  • Studied the Bible, prayed and worshipped together

Even in the 1700s, this was unusual behavior! What was even more remarkable was that this small group held each other accountable to stay on track. Their changes in behavior didn’t go unnoticed. They were teased about it, called names like “Bible Moths” “Holy Club” “Sacramentarians” and, the one that stuck, “Methodists”

Here’s what John Wesley said about it in his sermon “The Character of a Methodist”

“I say those who are called Methodists; for, let it be well observed, that this is not a name which they take to themselves, but one fixed upon them by way of reproach, without their approbation or consent. It was first given to three or four young men at Oxford, by a student of Christ Church; either in allusion to the ancient sect of Physicians so called, from their teaching, that almost all diseases might be cured by a specific method of diet and exercise, or from their observing a more regular method of study and behavior than was usual with those of their age and station.”

This group of young Christians did not set out to break away from the Church. What they wanted more than anything was to see renewal within the church.

As we go through renewal here, it’s also my prayer that as a community we will move to deeper relationship with God.

I don’t know about you, but I can see where the Wesleys were coming from. Having grown up in the church, I’ve sometimes felt like the Church was getting distracted and missing out on its main mission to develop Christ followers.

There are practices that I have done that have brought me closer to God. I don’t always get it right, but when I do, it’s beautiful.

When I take the time for silence, prayer, Bible study, quiet walks in nature, retreats…there is a sense of peace that’s hard to fully explain.

You know that holy feeling when we all sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve? Those special, sacred moments when you can sense that the Holy is happening?

That’s what it feels like to do the practices that bring personal holiness, the things that bring you closer to God.

So how do we get there?

To grow in our faith you can really look at our church’s mission statement. (Love God, Love Neighbor, Make Disciples)

There are several practices you can make part of your daily living that will draw you closer to “Love God.” You are in church & participating in regular worship is one of those practices (keep it up!) Bible study, fasting, prayer, fellowship with other Christians, and deepening your knowledge for God are other faith practices.

Loving Neighbor is another way we grow closer to God. A very Methodist practice would be to find ways to respond to human needs and work for justice in our communities.

As we move along the path toward becoming perfect in our love for God, eventually our inner thoughts and motives line up with God’s.

So why aren’t we there yet?

I believe there is a temptation to look at this new faith beginning in the same way as we too often look at New Year’s resolutions. You know what I mean? We can start off with the best of intentions –

  • I’m going to church every Sunday
  • I’m joining a Bible study or Sunday School class
  • I’m volunteering at the Salvation Army, Arlington Life Shelter, Arlington Urban Ministries, Arlington Charities….or even better, I’m now going to volunteer to help out with the youth or the children’s ministry
  • I’ll pray every day…I’ll read my Bible every morning.
  • I’m even tithing.

And we may even start off strong.

Until we don’t. We somehow fall off the discipleship wagon – sleeping in preempts church and Bible reading, you miss a study, you forget to pray. You pick up or take back up habits and addictions and all of the things you swore to yourself you wouldn’t do now that you’re a better Christian person….

Before you know it, you might not even recognize how you got where you are, exactly how far away you fell from where you hoped to be as a Christ follower.

And at this point, you’re tempted to totally give up. Or you beat yourself up and tell yourself stories like “I’ll never be able to do it.” You tell yourself lies like “Oh well, I’ll just mess up again. Why bother trying?” or “I won’t ever have enough time.” Or “I’ll get back to that next week.”

Instead of these lies, you need to hear some truth here.

God has a better plan for you. And God loves you. But you don’t get to waste all the gifts God has given you because it’s more comfortable to believe all of these lies.

I’d like to draw your attention to the stained glass up to your left, the one with the butterfly.

That butterfly, like all butterflies, was once a caterpillar.

Caterpillars are pretty spectacular. I mean, few things creepily crawl along in a garden like a caterpillar. But if a caterpillar stops there, just comfortably creeping along…we all will miss out on what the caterpillar is meant to become.

Please, if you hear nothing else this morning, hear this:

You – and you alone – with the help of the Holy Spirit at work are responsible for who you become and how you grow in holiness.

To become the best you you can be, you have to really commit to the hard work of change. And like any change – think diet or exercise – it takes time and commitment to build up muscles and habits.

Imagine you have made the resolution to train for running a marathon. (stick with me, non runners!)

You make this great decision & you even begin to tell your friends and family about it.

They are genuinely excited for you & full of encouragement. Everyone knows it will be a lot of work to train for a marathon, but everyone believes you are capable.

In order to prepare for the big race, you join a marathon training club and go to a training session designed for potential marathon runners. There is an amazing motivational speaker. She’s really top notch and knows her stuff. The convention has an air of excitement about the marathon – you can practically feel it. They’ve hired a cover band that plays songs like “Born to Run,” “Eye of the Tiger,” and “We are the Champions” so well, you even picture yourself leading a few races. The training is great – you are really motivated.

At the end of the training, you are invited to come back next week to hear the training again.

At the end of the next week’s training, you’re invited to come back again…

All of this motivation and training is helpful, but you need much more than this in order to physically prepare for a marathon.

And, so it is with faith and this Wesleyan idea of “personal holiness.”

When it comes to growing spiritually, I can stand up here and list off all of the practices you could do to grow closer to God…you can mediate, alleviate, and try not to hate…but only you have control over your life.

So you try some of the practices. Maybe you will try 40 different things and 2 will be meaningful and the rest won’t resonate. You’ll have seasons where you fail or forget or avoid…that’s all part of how the journey works.

But like the caterpillar…like the marathoner…you keep on training in spite of the times you make mistakes.

And you can even choose to celebrate your small victories, knowing that sometimes you’ll leap forward and sometimes you’ll inch forward… but you can just celebrate that the movement is forward.

My challenge for you is that you will select 1 or 2 practices that you will resolve to try this week. Think of them now.

Picture who you will share them with, perhaps in the connection time after this service or during Sunday school, so you can hold one another accountable.

Which brings us back to our Scripture.

Paul was writing to a group that was excited about being Christ followers but still struggling with temptations to fall into behaviors they shouldn’t be doing. We’ve all been there.

Be encouraged in knowing you are not alone in the falling to temptations, but also know you are called to move forward, “to put away your former way of life, your old self… and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Just do it. 🙂

Amen.

 

Grace is For All

Update: Here is Audio of the Sermon: 

However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus.  God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of.  Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.                                                                    – Ephesians 2:4-10

Video: https://www.sermoncentral.com/church-media-preaching-sermons/sermon-video-illustrations/grace-4856-detail?ref=MediaSerps

(Followed Scripture reading with the above video “Grace” from Igniter Media)

I love that: “God has us right where God wants us – to shower us with God’s grace.”

As a mom, I can only imagine what fun it was for those boys to get the assignment to cover themselves in mud first thing in the morning! And how beautiful to go from that moment of knowing they are in big, big trouble, to realizing they were forgiven, loved, and baptized in grace.

You are saved by God’s grace.

One of the privileges of being a pastor is the gift of making hospital visits. As members of our congregation, friends and family are in the hospital, I get to visit with patients, listen for a while, and pray with them.

Sometimes I get called in to rooms of people who are not part of our church.

Several months ago was one of those occasions. I came to visit a patient named Steve before he faced a serious heart surgery. Steve had been in and out of the hospital several years with health issues, and this surgery was a final medical effort to help him. This particular surgery was risky, and Steve was given about a 50% chance of surviving the procedure. (pause)

While there are classes in Pastoral Care in seminary, nothing really prepares you for what to say in these moments. What would you say? I don’t know the “right answer,” but here is what I said.

As I met with Steve in this sacred, pre-surgery space, Steve was very quiet. I could sense that Steve had been spending a lot of time reflecting on his prognosis, on his life and on his choices. I asked him how he was doing, what he was thinking. What I learned was that Steve had made some questionable choices throughout his years and lived kind of a wild life. He struggled with various addictions and hurt a lot of people. Because of his choices, he was estranged from his fairly religious family. He had been rejected from his church and from his family for decades.

What I learned as Steve was possibly facing the end of his life, was that he was afraid he had done so many bad things in his life, was so far away from God, that he really believed there was no way he could be forgiven.

He believed he had just messed up too much to be saved. For Steve, this was a message that was reinforced by the church he grew up in, a church that labeled him a “sinner” and kicked him out of the faith. Maybe there have been times when you felt like that too.

As I sat with this man who had been suffering for so long, it struck me in our conversation how important the messages we teach as a church are, and the amount of emotional and spiritual damage we can do with a harmful, judgmental theology.

I have been United Methodist my entire life. I’m curious, are there any others in this room who would consider themselves lifelong United Methodists?

If my grandmother were still alive, she would tell you that I was “born Methodist.” I tell you this upfront because it’s probably fair for you to know that United Methodism runs deep for me. My aunt and uncle were United Methodist pastors. United Methodism is the lens through which I see the world. It is how I have always experienced and processed my faith.

And, maybe it sounds corny, or maybe it’s what you’d expect from a pastor, but I love being United Methodist.

I am telling you this first because, in the interest of transparency, you need to know that you are not about to get a three week sermon series on United Methodism from an unbiased source.

Just the same, as a pastor, some of the questions I hear often are: “What does it even mean to be United Methodist?” “How is it different than other types of churches?” “If we are all Christians, why does it matter?” Those are fair questions.

In the next three weeks I hope to share with you some of the most meaningful distinctive characteristics of United Methodism. I believe that our Wesleyan theology (called that because Methodism’s founder was John Wesley) is powerful and beautiful. I also have seen the pain and damage that even well-meaning churches can do to people labeled as sinners.

Today I will talk about our unique understanding of Wesleyan Grace – in particular the three-fold kind of grace that John Wesley called prevenient, justifying and sanctifying (Hang in there! I’ll explain those words as we go along).

My encounter with Steve made me appreciate the theology of grace I’ve always learned about – the knowledge that God’s grace is available for me no matter how messed up I might find myself. I tried my best to share this grace with Steve…and I am so thankful for that heritage of hope, and the blessed assurance that comes from experiencing God’s grace.

Like the kids in the video that opened this message, like Steve, sometimes we may feel like we have gotten ourselves in such a mess that we are beyond redemption. And that’s where grace steps in.

So what is Grace?

Grace is the love and mercy that God gives us because God wants us to have it, not because we have earned it.

It is an undeserved gift and loving action from God through the Holy Spirit. Because God loves us so much, God wants us to experience God’s grace.

John Wesley preached about different types of Grace.

The first type of Grace Wesley called Prevenient Grace, or literally, “the grace that comes before” we are even aware of it. It’s a term most people don’t know, but it just means all of the ways in which God comes into our lives before our conversion.

God is actively present in our entire lives, whether or not we even notice.

Imagine God has the gift of grace just sitting there, ready for us to notice it. We have the option of refusing to accept the gift, but it’s still there waiting for our discovery.

Prevenient grace has a way of preparing you to respond to God when the time is right. Before you even realize God’s grace for you, you may have a sense of how to choose good over evil. God is actively seeking you, wooing you to notice the gift.

Prevenient grace looks like a longing for God in our lives.

In my faith journey, I mentioned that I was “born Methodist.” This means I was baptized as a small child, I grew up going to church and Sunday school. Even though I was going through all of these practices to prepare me, I wasn’t fully aware of God’s grace, or of the importance of that Grace in my life.

We have a tradition in our church of baptizing infants, and this practice is a great illustration of prevenient grace. In infant baptism, we recognize the grace that God has for the baptized, even though the child may not yet understand. The grace is already there.

In the video, it’s the patient dad figure with the garden hose waiting to be noticed.

The second type of Wesleyan grace is “Justifying Grace.” With Justifying grace, or justification, we realize that our sins are forgiven and we can have a restored relationship with God. Everyone’s experience is different, you can think of this as the moment or moments when you realized that Christ’s love for you is real and, in response, you began to live differently.

This can be a grace experienced over a lifetime, or a grace that happens in a sudden moment. With justifying grace, we face a time of conversion or a new beginning in our relationship with God.

In my faith story, I point to a moment at a Christian rock concert when I was 14 years old as my key moment of justifying grace. Although I had the gift of learning about God’s grace my entire life, up until that point I was being prepared for a moment when I would have said “I accepted Christ.” It was a change of heart that was prompted by grace and guided by the Holy Spirit.

In John Wesley’s story, he was raised in a Christian family and had been around church his entire life. His moment of justification was on May 24, 1738 on Aldersgate Street in London when he felt his heart strangely warmed and sensed that he was saved through the Holy Spirit.

In the lives of many, justifying grace happens without all the fanfare – it’s a sense of assurance that God loves you, forgives you and leads you to transformation…to a sense of healing and wholeness.

In the video, it’s the precious moment when the kids realize they are not going to be punished for their mischief. They are forgiven and loved.

Have you experienced this kind of grace? When did you first know that Christ was real in your life?

Finally, the third type of Wesleyan grace is called sanctifying grace.

The word “sanctify” means to make something holy, set apart. It means to make something clean.

How it works is this:

Once we realize that God’s grace is a gift to us, once we accept that gift and are convinced to turn our ways toward Christ, we enter the lifelong process of sanctification. In simpler terms, once we know and experience God’s grace, we begin the process of learning to be more like Jesus. This is the ongoing experience of God’s graciousness transforming us into who God intends us to be.

There is so much good news in the theology of Grace. Grace means we are all welcome here. No matter what kind of messiness has taken you away from God, God’s grace is for you. We have the opportunity to grow together in our faith, learning together what it means to be Christ followers.

Today in our Back to Grace series, explored John Wesley’s view of Grace, including prevenient grace (the grace that comes before we realize it), justifying grace (the grace that happens when we are justified or converted), and sanctifying grace (the grace that we experience over a lifetime of growing in the faith.)

In the next two Sundays, we will take a closer look at personal and social holiness, the faith practices we can do in response to God’s grace in order to become more like Christ.

We all come in to this space on different parts of our faith journey. You may have always known about God’s love for you, God’s gift of grace and forgiveness for you. Or you may be in a place where you have been deeply wounded, you not only have felt rejected by the Church but you’re even rejecting yourself….keeping yourself from accepting God’s gift of grace.

There may be someone in here this morning who finds they are feeling lost and hurt like Steve I visited in the hospital. If you find yourself in a place of pain, needing to know God’s grace and forgiveness, I want you to really hear these words:

You are forgiven. You can find hope in knowing God’s grace is here for you. You are forgiven.

On the other hand, if you’re in this place and you really are feeling okay, blessed even, I would like to take this message in to a slightly different direction. This morning we have focused on God’s grace for us. Made in the image of God, we are called to accept God’s grace and then, in turn, extend grace to one another. I have a prayer and a challenge for you:

As we move forward as a community of grace, prayerfully seek out those who need to know God’s grace.

Who are your neighbors who desperately need to know about the hope and grace you have found?

Who do you need to invite to know God’s love for them?

My prayer is that each of us can be like the dad in the video. Get out the hose and shower others with God’s grace through your actions.

That is a relaunched vision I would love to see. Amen.

Will you pray with me?

God of grace,

We thank you for being a God who calls out to us, laying down the groundwork so we can discover the love and forgiveness, grace and acceptance you have always had for us. Open our hearts to realize who it is in our lives who needs to experience some of your grace. We pray for our friends and neighbors who are missing out on knowing the love you have for each of us. God, please forgive us when we neglect to show grace to one another, or refuse to even give our own self some grace. Soften our hearts toward all of your children. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Questions to Consider:

How have you experienced God’s grace in your own life?

To whom do you need to extend grace?

Lament for the Separated

hand holding istockphotoThis is the pastoral prayer I gave on Sunday (Father’s Day) in response to current crises along our borders. I offer this as a prayer to share with people of faith everywhere, for truly we should lament the suffering of others, and ask for mercy for the silent ways we unwittingly cause harm. Based on Psalm 130:

Out of the depths we cry to you, O GOD.

God, hear our voice! 

Let your ears be attentive to the voice of our supplications! 

This morning we are celebrating the love that fathers have for their children, and the never-ending love you have for us, your children.

We remember the special times we may have had with fathers in our midst – our earthly fathers and people who have come alongside to serve as role models and guides to us.

  We struggle in our hearts and in our churches to know the truth of what is happening to other fathers and mothers and their children along the borders of our country:  Open our hearts to the voices of the world.

  We confess that too often the church has been little more than a silent witness to evil deeds:    We have prayed without protest, and without action for justice.   As we remain silent, we have been made complicit in the cries of the hurting.     Lord, have mercy upon us. 

We wait for God, our souls waits, and in God’s word we hope;    

In the midst of our lament we may give thanks –    for pastors and laity who have raised courageous voices; for humanitarian groups who have come to the aid of others, for people who continue to bear witness to the Gospel  under intense pressure and fear, for public officials who have challenged unjust policies risking reputation and career. The Gospel witness has not been completely silenced, and we are grateful.   

Our soul waits for God more than those who watch for the morning,  More than those who watch for the morning, we wait. 

Today we call for humility and courage to accept the futility of our current path.   Today we cry out for creativity to seek new paths of peacemaking and hospitality.  

O People, hope in GOD!

May we join protest to prayer, support ministries of compassion, and cast off the fear that has made us feel helpless in the face of injustice. May we return again to the way of Jesus. May heartbreak end and cries be transformed to the harmonies of justice and the melodies of peace. 

For with GOD there is steadfast love, and great power to redeem. 

For this we yearn, for this we pray, and toward this end we rededicate ourselves as children of a loving God who gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and welcome to the stranger.

O GOD, redeem your People from all iniquities, as we pray for your kingdom to come on earth as it heaven praying as Jesus taught, saying, “Our Father….”.

 

Be blessed today and always,

Rev. Erin

 

Giving credit where credit is due: To read more about Psalm 130, check it out on Biblegateway.com. Thank you to this website for inspiring my prayer of lament.

Central Texas Conference Responds to Migrant Children Crisis in emergency resolution

With the addition of a last minute emergency resolution, the 2018 Central Texas Annual Conference closed its items of business with a response to the proposed tent cities for migrant children. By voice vote, the delegation overwhelmingly supports the following response:

“Central Texas Annual Conference Response to Proposed Tent Cities for Migrant Children

Whereas The United Methodist Church, in our Social Principles, “recognizes, embraces, and affirms all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God.” And “We urge society to ‘recognize the gifts, contributions and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.'”

Whereas Holy Scripture in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy call us to love sojourners, as indeed the Israelites were, as ourselves and to work for the redemption of the most vulnerable.

Whereas our UMC Social Principles in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church state that “Any legislation to reform the US immigration system must affirm the worth, dignity, and inherent value and rights of migrants, and must also include: eliminations of indefinite detention, incarceration of children, and the expanding prison population.”

Whereas Bishop Mike McKee expressed grave concerns in Sunday evening’s worship for the separation of children from parents at our borders

Whereas Bishop Mike Lowry has also called for immigration reform

Whereas the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and other news organizations have just reported a plan to house migrant children, separated from their parents, in tent cities near El Paso.

Therefore, be it resolved that the Central Texas Annual Conference states our opposition to this inhumane treatment of God’s most vulnerable persons – children.

Be it further resolved that the delegates of the Central Texas Annual Conference affirm the value of all persons and support the humane treatment of all vulnerable persons.

Submitted by

Jerrilyn Woodard-Entrekin, Lay Delegate from First United Methodist Church of Arlington”

I am partial to this handwritten, quickly drafted response because I was able to witness youth and young adults discussing its writing before it was presented to the larger body. The author of the response, Jerrilyn Woodard-Entrekin, wrote it during the conference between morning break and lunch, knowing she did not have much time.

Jerrilyn graciously allowed youth leaders to get a preview of the draft, and they discussed the importance of the response with youth over lunch. Appropriately, this timely discussion was over lunch in the back room of World Cup Cafe in Waco, Texas, at a table of Central Texas Youth and young adults. How beautiful is it to consider that these young people were surrounded by a fair trade market full of items that offer dignity and a living wage to people from around the world!

I love that it was discussed as a teachable moment youth and young adults – not the “church of the future,” but the church of the now. I love that it was discussed over a meal in a restaurant that helps develop dignity for “all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God.” I love that the author did not hesitate to do God’s work, but instead submitted a handwritten response quickly photocopied and distributed after lunch.

Let there be no confusion, separating small children from their parents and housing them indefinitely in tent cities/detention centers will traumatize and harm the most vulnerable. As people of faith – as moms and dads, as people of compassion and understanding, as people obligated to offer mercy to the the least, as people who have ever loved children – we have an obligation to speak out for the protection of the most vulnerable.

The Holy Spirit is alive and well in the Church, and I am hopeful for our future. God is good, y’all.

(And now we have work to do.)

Blessings,
Rev. Erin

 

Central Texas Conference Overwhelmingly Rejects “One Man, One Woman” Resolution

img_5653-1On June 13, at the 2018 Central Texas Annual Conference meeting in Waco, Texas, delegates overwhelmingly voted to reject an “Aspirational Resolution” presented to the body by Dr. Tom Robbins and Dr. Dean Posey. After tense debate limited to 3 speakers for and 3 speakers against the resolution, and a paper ballot vote, the statement of resolution was overwhelmingly rejected 385 to 267.

The text of the rejected resolution follows:

“Aspirational Resolution

Whereas, the large majority of United Methodists as represented by the most recent General Conference continue to affirm the sanctity of marriage as it exists only between one man and one woman,

And whereas, approximately 95% of worldwide Christians affirm the same,

And whereas, the adoption of the “One Church Plan” would change our definition of marriage from one man and one woman to any “two adults,”

And whereas, this would isolate United Methodist from the worldwide Christian community and isolate American United Methodists from the great majority of Global United Methodists,

img_5651-1And whereas, we believe the Bible is normative for defining our sexual ethics,

And whereas, many faithful United Methodist pastors and laity would feel compelled to leave a church that adopted a definition of marriage that compromised their closely held beliefs,

And whereas, those beliefs have been considered the orthodox doctrine of the Christian church for 2000 years,

Be it resolved, the Central Texas Annual Conference aspires to be a conference who affirms the historic, traditional, and Biblical definition of a marriage as being one man and one woman, 

And be it further resolved, we aspire to have a General Conference delegation to the called 2019 session of General Conference that at least proportionally reflects the vote of this aspirational resolution affirming our historic, traditional, and Biblical witness of marriage.

Submitted by Dr. Tom Robbins and Dr. Dean Posey”

Impartial observers may have expected that, in a Red State like Texas, especially within a generally more conservative Conference, with the typical conference attendee being older and more conservative, this resolution would have been a slam dunk. Having the resolution rejected overwhelmingly, however, is surprising news. There are different opinions on the complex issues of faith and human sexuality, but at this point it seems clear that, even in this part of the country, a substantial majority is ready to move forward together.

With a simple “Yes” or “No” vote and limited discussion beforehand, it’s also unclear as to which parts of the resolution were cause for its rejection:

  • Delegates may have rejected it due to the harm this statement would cause to an already marginalized people, especially the LGBTQ community.
  • Another potential cause of its rejection could be the unsubstantiated claims contained within the resolution statement, such as “the large majority of United Methodists…continue to affirm the sanctity of marriage as it exists” and “approximately 95% of worldwide Christians assert the same.”  
  • Delegates may have rejected its Scriptural claims such as “the Bible is normative for defining our sexual ethics”
  • Many may simply reject the last paragraph altogether and the prospect of re-electing a General Conference delegation based on pre-determined theological stances.

It’s not possible to know at this point how much each factor played in the resolution’s rejection.

After seeing this vote in action, I am hopeful that we can move forward in a way that offers Christ’s unconditional love, grace, and human dignity to all people, even those with whom we disagree.

Fearfully and Wonderfully – a sermon on Psalm 139

Based on Psalm 139, this is the sermon that I preached on Sunday, June 3, 2018, at New World United Methodist Church, Arlington, Texas. You can listen to the sermon online on the church’s website.

Introduction

tree original mixed media erin sloan jacksonOn April 29th, our congregation wrapped up the Healthy Church Initiative weekend. After our consulting team’s four prescriptions were read (including the one that could mean I will begin preaching regularly), we were walking out the door. A church member caught me on the way out and said offhandedly, “Well, I guess we’re going to get to know you a lot better.” 

Oh. I’d considered how my work schedule would be impacted by the change, but I hadn’t thought of it that way. Yes, I imagine as I write sermons and share bits from my life from here and there, you will get to know me better.

I went home and shared that comment with my husband that night over dinner, and his reaction was great: “Oh yes, they’ll definitely get to know more about you…and if I mess anything up they’ll probably hear about me, and they’ll get to know stories about the kids. Every time one of us messes up or says something funny, you’ll be thinking, “oh, that’ll preach.”” (I may or may not have already threatened one of my kids that he was about to become a sermon illustration…)

So I’m not so sure how I feel about all that sharing. I’m pretty introverted, but most of my family is not. I know that my bigger kids are a little mortified about their lives being exposed from the pulpit.

But that did get me to thinking… What is it about sharing about our personal lives that made us so uncomfortable? Why did we all have basically the same reaction?

We will take a look at what it means to be known, what keeps us from wanting to be known, and what it means for us as a community of faith to know one another.

Today’s Psalm reading, Psalm 139, is one of my favorite passages of Scripture – it’s my go-to passage for my art and prayer workshops. As I move through the sermon this morning, I invite you to open to the Scripture in a Bible or the New Living Translation version on your smartphone so you can follow along.

What does it mean to be known?

Psalm 139 begins with Verse 1: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.”

There are a couple of ways to look at this word. It’s pretty common today to be satisfied with being “known” in the sense that people know your name, your image, they recognize you.

Instagram as a career

In fact, I learned recently that some people have made a lucrative career just out of being “Instagram known.” Instagram is a social media application that allows you to post and share photos. Like other social media, you can follow your favorite Instagrammers to see their latest posts & people can follow you back. The app keeps track of how many followers you have. You know you’re a cool kid if you have more people following you than you are following.

If you’re a professional Instagrammer though, you can capitalize on having a high number of followers. People who have more than 100,000 followers are considered “macro influencers” by savvy marketers and are often paid by companies to visit their businesses and post about it.

Once these influencers get into the range of about 400-500K followers, they can make something like $3-6K for a single sponsored post. This is one way of being known – in the sense of being famous or recognizable.

But what you are seeing in the photos isn’t even real. What you don’t see is the effort behind the photo. They are seated at tables with ideal lighting. There may be strategically placed beautiful people in the shots trying to make the venue look cool without looking like it was a staged photo. People may even come with their own makeup and lighting crew, use a professional photographer, then airbrush the photo to create that perfect Instagram moment the brands want.

So…if you want to go ahead and follow me on Instagram right now, I’ve only got about 400,000 more followers to go.

Culture of putting image first

So, we live in a culture permeated with the pressure to project our best images out to the world. This pressure has always been around (consider even Adam and Eve tried to pull one over on God), but Social media in general has intensified the pressure and given us a platform for choosing what images we share – including the humble-brag highlights of our weeks peppered with a few carefully filtered pictures of the food we eat. Through this lens, we live in to these roles as caricatures rather than sharing our true character. Your likeness… your image… is made known rather than your character.

It is really easy to live our lives in this safe, superficial mode of relating to one another. The problem is – if we live our lives at this level, we are missing out on the essential part of being in community in one another.

There is a different meaning of the word “known”

The Psalm continues: “You know my thoughts even when I’m far away…You know what I’m going to say even before I say it, O Lord…such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too great for me to understand.”

There is a different meaning of the word “known” that deep down we all long for. It’s a messier, more vulnerable kind of being known that goes much deeper. It requires a willingness to let people in to see your junk, to let people know your struggles, your sin patterns, and even your heartaches.

Methodism’s founder John Wesley formed small groups that developed deep community through hard questions like “How is it with your soul?” and “Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?” Wesley seems to have realized that we all crave this kind of community where we are known, but it’s a practice we are tempted to hold at arm’s length.

What keeps us from being known in this way?

This kind of being known requires that we risk rejection, recognize our worthiness, and put forth the effort.

Fear of rejection

A primary fear that keeps things superficial is a fear of rejection. We don’t let people get to know us because we are afraid they will discover something about us that they won’t like and they may reject us.

Even clergy writing sermons are tempted to keep sermons safe and unobjectionable because of the fear that people will leave the church if their toes get stepped on. (for the record, you don’t have to always agree with what I say in my sermons, but please don’t reject me….)

Sense of unworthiness

A second fear that keeps us from being known is a fear of being unworthy. It is tempting to believe at times that you are somehow not worthy of being known and loved by others. I love how this Psalm reminds us that each of us are “fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful (or marvelous) are God’s works.” God’s character goes into the creation of every person. When you feel worthless, or even begin to hate yourself, you can remember that God’s spirit is ready and willing to work within you.

You are worth knowing. Every person with whom you lock eyes is also worth knowing.

Distraction/Too Busy

A third barrier to knowing one another is that we are just too busy to put forth the effort. With so much to do all the time, it’s a lot easier to just be friendly than to really be in community. Honestly, it’s a lot of work to get to the point that you are really known. Just think of how we greet each other with niceties like “How are you?” “Fine, you?” It takes more work to think about how you really might be feeling, and even more work and risk to share that information with other people.

To really get to know one another takes time, listening, and sharing life with one another. It’s easier and quicker to make sweeping assumptions about how other people are based on the boxes we put people in like politics, race, gender and education, than it is to really get to know one another as fellow human beings.

The question to consider is, which fears and excuses are you willing to give up in order to risk being known?

What does it mean that God knows us so well?

How well God knows us

How well does God know us? God knows us completely. God has examined our hearts and knows everything about us. God knows us in minute detail, God knows the number of hairs on our head. As the Psalmist reminds us, God is inescapable and always with us, even in our dark and secret places.

God has been with us from the very beginning, since before we were even knit together in our mother’s wombs. God is never going to abandon us.

God is a faithful & trustworthy knower

Although God knows us completely with a knowledge that is “too wonderful” for us to comprehend…God still abides with us and loves us.

What we can learn from this is: God is a faithful and trustworthy knower.

God also wants to be completely known by us. John Wesley preached on a concept he called “spiritual respiration” or breathing. Just as we must have breath in order to live, we must have God as part of our existence in order to be spiritually alive. A challenge with this is that, unlike breathing, to be in relationship with God takes conscious effort on our part. We can grow to a point of deep community with God through developing habits like regular prayer, Scripture study, and life in Christian community. We can grow to a point of deep community with one another through developing habits like praying for one another, studying Scripture together, and working toward really knowing and understanding each other.

Conclusion

Words of hope and a Call to action

As people of faith, we are also called to grow to a point of deep community with the all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. As Rev. Joseph Nader reminded us last week, we each have unique and important gifts and talents to bring to the Body of Christ. As a community, we need to know one another and to allow ourselves to be known. As a group of people with diverse views on a lot of subjects, we have a beautiful opportunity to model healthy Christian community. I challenge you to take someone out to lunch and get to know one another. It’s worth the risk. And as we move forward as a faith community no matter the results of today’s vote, we can have full confidence that God is present even as we venture in to uncharted territory.* My prayer for each of us is that we be willing to see the image of God in one another.

Let us pray:

O Lord who searches and knows us, we praise you for your constant presence and love in our lives. We are reminded today that there is no darkness we can encounter, no circumstance we can face, no place we may venture, no choice we may make that can separate us from your complete, all-encompassing love for us. Help us to lean into remembering that you, God, are always with us. Help us to risk getting to know one another so that we can be the kind of people who are known for how we love you, love one another, and strive to be your disciples. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Discussion:

What key takeaways do you have from this message? What keeps you from being known by others? Who do you know that needs to hear this message?

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*Later in the day on June 3, New World’s congregation voted 133-3 to adopt and move forward with the Healthy Church Initiative prescriptions. Go to nwumc.org to learn more about New World United Methodist Church.

Giving credit where credit is due: Scripture links are to the New Living Translation version of the Psalm on Biblegateway.com. Instagram career link is to an article on Elle.com. To learn more about John Wesley’s questions, check out umcdiscipleship.org. Be sure to read up on John Wesley’s sermon too. Follow me on Instagram @erinjackso.

Thanks for visiting and reading all the way to the bottom of the page! I hope you’ll leave a comment. Be blessed!  ESJ

Mission and Art Workshops

Not too many years ago, I was struggling to find my sense of identity. Much to my surprise, I uncovered a wellspring of joy when I was given the opportunity to put a paintbrush in my hand. I fell in love again with painting and creating, and the process helped me to discover my way in ministry. There is something soothing, healing and empowering that can be found in the act of creation. For me, a path to lightness and health was uncovered through art. What a joy it is to be in a ministry that allows me a space to use my gifts and talents – I now have the privilege of guiding others on this journey through “Mission and Art Workshops.”

For the last few weeks, it has been a joy to lead weekly art workshops in our local Salvation Army shelter. The shelter is a haven for families, and many of the residents have also found themselves to be in dark places, struggling to find their own identities.

Each resident’s story is different, and I hope to get to learn the stories in time. Many of the women here are homeless because they have fled unhealthy relationships, domestic violence. The shelter creates a safe place to land temporarily as these parents begin to rediscover their individual senses of identity.

This is where the “Mission and Art” ministry steps in. As we gather together, we share small stories about our lives and get to know one another. We pray, read Scripture and create. We talk about really important things and we laugh about silly things. It is a sacred space for women to gather. So far we have played with mixed media art, acrylics, and watercolor painting.

 

The rules are simple here:

  1. Accept that you are an artist. We were all created in the image of a creative God – we are each inherently creative!
  2. Have fun and play.
  3. Be kind to yourself and others. No criticizing words for your own artwork or for others allowed.
  4. Do art for the process. Know that you will create whatever you were meant to create here – and that is enough. There are no mistakes, no mess-ups, no perfection allowed.

It is my prayer that through our times of creating art together, the women of this shelter will enjoy moments of celebrating their innate creativity and enjoying one another’s company. May the work be empowering, healing and stepping toward wholeness.

 

 

 

 

Here are a few examples of the beauty that is being created here:

If you have been inspired by this post and would like to learn more about the Mission and Art ministry, feel free to contact me at erin@nwumc.org. Be blessed today!