“All glory, laud and honor, To Thee, Redeemer, King, To Whom the lips of children Made sweet hosannas ring.”
Refrain from “All Glory Laud and Honor,” hymn written in the year 821
Today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. While today’s worship experience looks different than last year’s, we still join today the communion of saints before us who remember the story of a crowd shouting “Hosanna” while waving palms and placing their coats on the ground ahead of him. It’s astounding to consider that the words above were written about 1200 years ago. They are based on this scripture:
“When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that their master needs them.” He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.” The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.
Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!Hosanna in the highest!” And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 21:1-11 CEB via BibleGateway
On this particular Palm Sunday, our joy-filled processions of children and church members waving palm branches looked different. The picture is a screen shot of a few of our palm waving children today – a beautifully creative way to bring us together in worship. Palm Sunday looks different, but it is not canceled. Out of tremendous love for one another, we are sheltering in our separate places as we still celebrate in unity. We still join the procession of Christians who came before us as we celebrate.
This Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, so we can also remember that this triumphant entry and celebration will be followed by angry crowds calling out for the crucifixion of this same Jesus of Nazareth. This is a week when we remember the Last Supper, the darkness of crucifixion, and finally the joy of resurrection.
As we move into this Holy Week, my prayer is that you discover God anew. May you remember the faith stories deeply and without the distractions of over-commercialization. While this together-yet-separate experience is new territory for us, may you find ways to wave your own palms in celebration.
Hosanna in the Highest!
Prayer: Holy Triune God, we remember your triumphant entry into Jerusalem and we long to join the crowds shouting “Hosanna.” We celebrate that you are a good God who is always with us. Be with us this week as we find new ways to remember the joy and hope that is found in resurrection. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Reflection Questions: Where are you seeing goodness in others? What are you thankful for today?
“Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is waiting for you to notice the holiness in it.”
-Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World
Where is your vision focused today?
It is tempting, in the midst of troubles and uncertainty, to gaze toward an unknown horizon, one we imagine to be full of misfortune, fear and worry. We may wonder today, “where is God in all of this?” We may lament that it feels like there is no hope, it feels so overwhelming. If we have learned nothing else in this time of pandemic and so many canceled plans, we cannot control the future as much as we wish we could.
After enduring many trials and tragedies, a man named Job in the Bible faced many temptations to reject God. He remained steady in his faith. In Job 27, he exclaims “as long as breath is in me and God’s breath is in my nostrils – my lips will utter no wickedness.”
And so, dear friends, I ask you to draw your vision to the here and now, to this present moment. Be here now.
In this present moment, God is with you. God’s breath is in your nostrils. In this present moment we have our breath, an opportunity to breathe deeply and be still.
God is still good. God is still the God of hope. I urge you not to get caught up in the temptation to fall into fear and worry. While we cannot control our future, in this very moment we can sit in stillness and be thankful.
Consider these words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
“Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.
From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.”
Philippians 4:4-8 CEB
Cast your eyes on Christ in this moment, and be thankful. May the God of peace be with you.
Prayer: Holy God, thank you for the breath in our lungs today. Thank you for the gift of this new day. We embrace your presence in this moment and trust you to care for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“This is why it’s especially important for those of us who come to the Bible from positions of relative social, economic, and racial privilege to read its stories alongside people from marginalized communities, past and present, who are often more practiced at tracing the crimson thread of justice through its pages.”
-Rachel Held Evans, Inspired
I am finding it difficult to write about justice today. What we are all enduring now, a global pandemic, feels terribly unfair, doesn’t it? Yet it is something that ties us all together.
We are learning each that we have more in common than we thought – we are equal. Even though we try to separate ourselves from others, this coronavirus outbreak makes no distinction between nationalities, races, cultures, religions, occupations, socioeconomic status. The virus does not ask who it infects about their accomplishments, their religious beliefs, citizenship status, skin color, sexual preference or gender.
In our humanity, we are all vulnerable.
In our common humanity, this outbreak reminds us that, even though we make great efforts to highlight how different we are from one another, we are inextricably tied to one another. We are dependent upon one another and our actions affect the whole. While this has always been true, our perspective may change as we see glimpses of both the best and worst of humanity. It is my prayer that we as people of faith emerge from this with a new sense of community.
My heart aches with the tenderness of this truth: Each and every life is sacred, precious. Each and every day is a gift, not to be taken for granted. We can love one another best by all working together to limit the spread of a virus. As we move slowly through the days ahead of us, may we be people who honor one another with love and justice, kindness and generosity. May God be glorified by our actions.
Scripture for today: Psalm 146, Acts 9:1-20
Reflection Questions: How is it with your soul? What is something you can do today to help someone in need? Who do you need to talk to today?
Prayer: Holy and loving God, our hearts ache as we consider how our world is hurting today. We pray for your loving arms of comfort to surround us. Heal those who are sick and brokenhearted. Help us to be agents of healing, justice and mercy for your people. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Come, let’s sing out loud to the Lord! Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation!
Let’s come before him with thanks! Let’s shout songs of joy to him!
The Lord is a great God, the great king over all other gods.
The earth’s depths are in his hands; the mountain heights belong to him;
the sea, which he made, is his along with the dry ground, which his own hands formed.
Come, let’s worship and bow down! Let’s kneel before the Lord, our maker!
He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep in his hands.
I invite you to be in prayer while looking at your hands as we pray:
Creator God, Ever-Present Help in Times of Trouble,
The Psalmist reminds us this morning that everything from the depths of the earth to the mountain heights are in your hands. All that is and ever has been, from the sea to dry ground, were formed in your own hands.
Shepherding God, today and always you are our God, we are the people of your pasture, the sheep in your hands. You are faithful to care for us.
As we consider the intricacies of our own hands – the way each of our unique fingerprints whorl and loop, it is astounding to consider that even these tiny details matter to You.
From the moment our hands emerged, our fingers were counted and held. We thank you for the hands who nurtured us as we began this life. Thank you for the caring hands along the way who wrapped fingers around ours, guiding us to safety and along life’s path.
Thank you for the hands who have written, typed and taught us, instructing us and modeling how to live and love.
We praise you for the good our hands have been able to do. For good food which has passed through our hands, for good work made by our hands.
We ask for forgiveness for when our hands have caused harm– for any times we acted in anger, neglected to love our neighbors, or caused brokenness in your creation.
We ask you to hold our hands right now. As we live with fear and anxiety, not sure about our future, concerned about those who are sick or who may become sick, we need to know your presence. Remind us of the peace that is found in you alone. Fill us with the assurance that we are still the sheep in your hands.
As we frequently wash our hands, fill us with the Living Water that we find in you alone. May we be instruments of your handiwork.
We pray this in the name of the carpenter, the one whose hands were pierced and the one who taught us to pray in unity, saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. God won’t let your foot slip. Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job. No! Israel’s protector never sleeps or rests! The Lord is your protector; The Lord is your shade right beside you. The sun won’t strike you during the day; neither the moon at night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; God will protect your very life. The Lord will protect you on your journeys – whether going or coming – from now until forever from now.
Psalm 121 Common English Bible
Our dog, Mig, is a wonderful dog but a relatively unreliable protector. In the face of harmless things like an Amazon package delivery, garbage trucks strolling by, or the neighbor across the street opening her garage door, she will faithfully break into a full-blown, barking attack mode. If we get excited about something, or if we are having too much fun, she will often bark at us until we settle down.
However, if someone else actually enters our home (thankfully it has not ever been an intruder), we are lucky if she lifts her head up from her nap or notices at all.
At least she looks intimidating, right?
We live in a culture in which we are inundated with scary news about anything from microscopic germs to worldwide destruction. It’s a natural instinct to want protection from our fears, real or imagined, and countless industries use our fear to manipulate us into buying protection in some form.
While a healthy amount of fear keeps us safe in the face of genuine danger, an exaggerated sense of fear can paralyze us. As people of faith, we are challenged to serve God, love others and do good even if we are feeling afraid. We are not to let fear stop us from our call to ministry.
Today’s Psalm reading is a pilgrimage song, believed to be speaking about God’s protecting the faithful as they were on a religious journey. It is my prayer that we can continue to remember that God is faithful to protect us.
Prayer: Holy God, thank you for your faithful protection. Help us to discern when our fears are keeping us from loving your children. Lead us to love in the face of our fears and doubts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Reflection Questions: 1. Where do you find security and protection? 2. When have fears about people kept you from loving them well? 3. What fears can you lift up to God?
Can you remember when God carried you through something very difficult?
Every week, members of New World United Methodist Church come around a table at a local family shelter for an evening of fellowship, prayer and creating art. Residents in the shelter are there for many different reasons – job losses, deaths in the family, fleeing domestic violence, unexpected illnesses or other expenses.
Art brings people together. The act of creating art has a powerful way of bringing about calm, healing and empowerment. We choose to create art with residents of a local shelter because many of the families are in desperate need of space for calm, connection, dignity and love.
Each week we have a different project and a different theme. In the picture, we are creating very special prayer beads, “ebenezer beads.” You might recognize the word “ebenezer” from the hymn “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” My favorite verse goes like this:
Here I raise my Ebenezer Here there by Thy help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
What in the world is an ebenezer, you ask, and why are we raising one? The Hebrew word literally means “stone of help.” The song is a reference to the book of 1 Samuel:
Samuel took a stone and set it up . . . and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12
In the story, Samuel is raising a special monument in gratitude for God’s faithfulness as the Israelites defeated the powerful Philistines. Samuel wants to make sure that all who come to this place remember what God has done for God’s people. We are called to remember.
In our prayer bead project, each participant was invited to include a few handmade beads made the week before. As they pray with their beads, these special beads serve as a reminder that God will faithfully bring each family through life’s difficult times of transition.
May we all remember that God is faithful.
Prayer: Dear God, we remember the times in our life when you brought us through difficult circumstances and we thank you. We pray for people in our community who are experiencing homelessness. Lead us to be messengers of your mercy, love and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night.When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness.I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you.Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands.God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.
2 Timothy 1:3-7
Remember a time you went through something difficult. How did God bring you through that? How can you thank God for God’s faithfulness?
“The kingdom, Jesus taught, is right here — present yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. It is at hand — among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. The kingdom of heaven, he said, belongs to the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for God. It advances not through power and might, but through missions of mercy, kindness, and humility. In this kingdom, many who are last will be first and many who are first will be last. The rich don’t usually get it, Jesus said, but children always do. This is a kingdom whose savior arrives not on a warhorse, but a donkey, not through triumph and conquest, but through death and resurrection. This kingdom is the only kingdom that will last.”
– Rachel Held Evans Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
What does it mean to hunger for God?
When I was working in youth ministry, one of my favorite events to lead was the World Vision 30 Hour Famine. During this event, students and brave adults fast for 30 hours, drinking only juice at mealtimes and skipping out on a dinner, snacks, breakfast and lunch. While fasting, we would play games, learn facts about world hunger, do service projects, and experience first-hand how going without food affects your mental and physical abilities. We developed empathy for the world’s hungry.
After 30 hours, we relished the opportunity to break our fast with communion followed by dinner. Nothing tastes sweeter than a generous helping of communion bread when you long to be fed.
In my privileged life, I have never really had to worry about whether I would eat again. The practice of fasting helped me to appreciate the sense of being empty, longing for nourishment and being filled.
Fasting from food helped me realize my deep hunger. I longed to be nourished with real food, not empty calories.
In the spiritual life, we long for real connection, not shallow faith.
I pray that, in the same way I anticipated that first bite of communion bread, I can also long to be filled with the spirit of God.
Dear God, we thank you for being a God who meets our needs faithfully. Teach us to be people who hunger and thirst for you. Amen.
Suggested Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12
Shout loudly; don’t hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their crime, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 They seek me day after day, desiring knowledge of my ways like a nation that acted righteously, that didn’t abandon their God. They ask me for righteous judgments, wanting to be close to God. 3 “Why do we fast and you don’t see; why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?” Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want, and oppress all your workers. 4 You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast; you hit each other violently with your fists. You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today if you want to make your voice heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I choose, a day of self-affliction, of bending one’s head like a reed and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes? Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? 7 Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family? 8 Then your light will break out like the dawn, and you will be healed quickly. Your own righteousness will walk before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.” If you remove the yoke from among you, the finger-pointing, the wicked speech; 10 if you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon. 11 The Lord will guide you continually and provide for you, even in parched places. He will rescue your bones. You will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water that won’t run dry. 12 They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account; the foundations of generations past you will restore. You will be called Mender of Broken Walls, Restorer of Livable Streets. (Source: Biblegateway.com)
This is the third of a three part series called “I Want to Know What Love Is” on agape love. This particular sermon was delivered on Sunday, March 3, 2019, the first Sunday following the United Methodist Called General Conference 2019. Other parts of the series include What’s Love Got to Do With It and You Give Love a Bad Name.
Love each other
9 “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love.10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. 17 I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.
The Power of Love
Who needs hugs?
Now, I think because I have shared a couple of times that, while in Haiti I’ve had to adjust to that different culture’s concept for personal space (in that they have none), people have got the impression that I’m not a big hugger. To be fair, I am not one to be proactive about hugging, but we all need hugs.
What kind of hugger are you? (Here is where I demonstrate different hugs with a brave volunteer – a reluctant hug, awkward side hug, back pat, big I haven’t seen you in a while, this hug is lasting long enough that I feel uncomfortable hug, etc.)
Interesting “facts” – the average person craves a hug 13 times a day. The average hug lasts 3 seconds, and yet, the amount of seconds a hug needs to be to have medical healing properties is 20 seconds. We physically need hugs.
On Tuesday, Connor McMains (remember him? former organist on staff) asked me if New World UMC was doing anything in response to the General Conference vote. To be honest, that night my boys had soccer games and what I really needed was to regroup and be with my family.
On Wednesday, though, I was able to come up to the church in the evening since my daughter started confirmation class. I used this to focus on serving people when words just aren’t enough – I offered up free hugs to anybody here.
What I observed on Wednesday – some were ready for great big hugs. They needed them, they held on, we might have even cried together. Other hugs were frankly a little awkward. Some people were glad to give and receive hugs, they felt comfortable with them. With others – a quick little awkward side hug was stretching their comfort zone. I think at least one person didn’t want a hug at all…I didn’t take it personally and I won’t name names. (smile)
But there we were – a church family just trying our best to show love to one another, to share God’s love, but we each came to the space with our own spectrum of unwritten rules on what was okay and what wasn’t.
No one has ever confused legislative action with a hug, have they?
In case you were wondering, this was a really hard week to be a United Methodist Pastor. I was talking to my husband Dennis about it – and I pretty much came to the conclusion that this was the toughest week yet. I’ve wept, I’ve spent a lot of time exercising and trying to eat right, I’ve lost sleep and have had trouble concentrating…I’ve needed to care for my soul a lot this week.
In case you missed it – last weekend through Tuesday, a special meeting called General Conference met in St. Louis, Missouri with some 860 representatives from United Methodism around the world. Unlike other denominations, the United Methodist Church is a global church. It was started around the same time as the United States was founded, so its structure is kind of like our U.S. government. About every four years the General Conference meets to, among other things, decide what we are all going to agree our denomination is about.
This particular conference was called to make a decision about whether or not the rules should be changed on if people can be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. With such a wide range of countries and cultures represented, it is challenging to agree on what is the right answer.
In the end, around 53% of this global gathering selected the traditionalist plan, effectively keeping the rules and language the same as it has been since 1972. It remains to be seen in April if the plan will be ruled as constitutional (by the UMC constitution, not the US one) and nothing changes until January 2020.
In the meantime, no one “won” the General Conference. With so much division and disunity, everyone walked away hurting. While some faithful United Methodists are pleased with the vote results, other faithful United Methodists are devastated. We have long been a denomination that is filled with different and deeply-rooted beliefs – like most families, we are a denomination filled with different opinions and diverse ideas. Unfortunately, we seem to have had a huge family feud with the whole world watching, and the future of our denomination seems unclear.
As a lifelong United Methodist – the niece of two United Methodist Pastors – I like many of you, deeply love the United Methodist Church. This week I hardly recognize her, and I can hardly articulate how painful this is.
But, as I said earlier this week: General Conference is NOT the church. We are the church.
When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he made reference to the church as the Body of Christ. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it…” Paul also said other things, and I don’t always agree with him.
As an ordained clergy woman, I can identify with how it feels to have Bible verses pointed out to tell me that I shouldn’t be in ordained ministry. I am thankful that men and women along the way evolved in their thinking and recognized that even I could be good enough to be ordained. I stand here before you, wearing a clergy collar as an outward symbol of my credentials, precariously perched on the shoulders of the advocates and trailblazers before me.
General Conference’s vote not only hurt the people present in the convention center, it caused further harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ who identify as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus). This isn’t a far off issue. I’m not asking anyone to raise their hands in here if you are affected: We are talking about people in this room, plus the literal brothers and sisters, parents, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins of people in this room. People who have been baptized and confirmed in our midst, people who sat next to me in seminary classes, people who have heard God’s call on their lives and now hear from their church home “we think you’re sacred, but no, you are not good enough.”
Our future is uncertain – has it ever been certain? – but God’s faithfulness can be counted on. We are a resurrection people, and I’m hanging on to the truth that resurrection means the worst thing will never be the last thing. My prayer is that we can all stick things out together and can be the church to people who are hurting right now.
Where do these unwritten codes of behavior come from?
For me, I can think of so many different forces that have shaped my worldview:
my family of origin – I’m sure that my concept of personal space and how to express love primarily came from my family. I’m thankful they taught me that “anything boys can do, girls can do,” and I wonder where I would be today if it wasn’t for that encouragement.
my faith formation – raised in the particular United Methodist congregations I attended, influenced by attending a Southern Baptist University, and making my home church Church Under the Bridge in Waco shaped how I view who is okay to hug and who isn’t (hint: we all are worthy of hugs!)
my education – my family taught me to value education, and I know my thinking has been shaped and transformed through my education through seminary
my culture/language – how I learned to speak taught me what words were okay, which ones built people up and which tore people down
the country or nation-state we live in, politics, and media have shaped and formed my worldview
many of us have been shaped by trauma, fear, insecurity
just being the age I am has shaped me into becoming a pastor who thinks it is acceptable to have a sermon series based on 80s music because, well, it’s totally rad, like for sure! (smile)
Through all of these influences, different for each one of us, we all come to this place with a different worldview. We might sit here and wonder, how on earth could someone think differently than me on this issue? Can’t they see what is so clear?
The answer is probably no – we can’t see, we can’t automatically understand where the other is coming from. And our viewpoints are constantly evolving – my theology isn’t the same as it was 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 20…..
But I do know you each to be faithful people.
And just like last week, we are a diverse group of faithful people who are just doing our best to love God, love neighbor and make disciples of Jesus Christ. No matter how much we may disagree with one another on this, I have no doubt that, should a natural disaster strike or someone be in need, we would all pitch in together to help one another, serving side by side just like we always have.
Sometimes people will say, I see why you picked that verse this week…Which brings us to our scripture reading for today – one that was set up way before General Conference.
Today’s scripture reading includes a commandment to love each other, just as Christ has loved us. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.
We are continuing to talk about agape love, the unconditional love that is honest, hopeful and humble.
Such agape love is first and foremost interested in the good of the other person. It never attempts to squelch the best out of another. In fact, so great is this love for others that it follows the very pattern Christ modeled for us – care and concern for others, even to the point that we will lay aside our very lives for our friends.
Now, it is rare in this day and age that we have to love all the way to death, Christians are not persecuted now the way they were in the years immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection.But I do think there is an important message for us even today, and that is that we must be willing to set aside our agendas, our opinions, in order to work in unity as the body of Christ; that we love others enough that we are willing to lay down our own beliefs, have the courage to speak up, or even risk our credentials in order to love our friends.
In the body of Christ, if one part suffers, all suffer with it.
At a time when life seems to be scattering more and more, we know what it means to have friends. And here, as Christ is speaking to his disciples, he knows that he is about to leave them, so he is proclaiming to them a new relationship. At the very time when those disciples are feeling the least secure and will soon abandon him, Christ calls them his friends, bringing them to a new level of discipleship, and even community, as he calls us to emulate him, the pure embodiment of love.
So what does it mean for us today to be Christ’s friends? It means that we live as a community, united in Christ’s love. We show solidarity in suffering, we share our spiritual gifts for mutual up-building; we confront conflict not with hostility but with reconciliation. We don’t focus on our differences, but rather celebrate our unity as friends in the body of Christ.
We have within us the power of love, a love that can transform and make things new. A love that overcomes disagreements and shows mercy.
Choosing to love is not the easy path. We have a “love your enemy” faith, and it is perhaps the hardest and most difficult path.
And while we’re busy arguing, the world looks at us and wonders what’s so great about God because Christ’s church – the United Methodist Church in our case – is just as ineffective as every other institution in the world. And the truth of the matter is, that’s because you can’t legislate for love. But God, through Jesus, can command love, calling it out of his disciples, his followers, his friends.
My hope is that, when we disagree, we can take the time to listen and try to understand one another instead of making someone out to be our enemy. I struggle with this too.
We have an opportunity to be something far, far greater than any other human institution because we are not a human institution, we are the friends of Christ; his very body. So let’s do what Christ did; let’s demonstrate the power of love to help and heal one another.
And maybe even hug often.
I close today with a song that has been weighing in my heart all week. Last night I was able to see The Brilliance play this live at Kessler Theater. I invite you to reflect on the words of the song as we prepare our hearts and minds for communion, Christ’s ultimate demonstration of how the power of love can bring us all together.
This is part two of a three part message series called I Want to Know What Love Is. It was preached originally on the same weekend as United Methodist Special General Conference 2019. See What’s Love Got to Do With It and The Power of Love for the rest of the series.
Our scripture reading:
Ephesians 4:1-16 CEB
Unity of the body of Christ
4 Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God.2 Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, 3 and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. 4 You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.
7 God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ.8 That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.
9 What does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth?10 The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.
11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16 who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.
May God add a blessing to the hearing, understanding and living of this Holy word. Amen.
Sermon: You Give Love a Bad Name
Have you ever been on a family road trip? How did that go?
Many of you know that I am a mom of 4 children – at one point it was just the three children. In the summer of 2011, my oldest children were 10, 8 and 5, and I had an unexpectedly open summer schedule.
It seemed like the perfect time to create a road trip that would knock a few things off of my bucket list like seeing The Grand Canyon.
The perfect 2 week road trip was mapped out. We mapped out the perfect route – first west through New Mexico & Arizona, then up through Nevada & Utah, to Washington State….We came back swinging by Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful… and the Rockies in Colorado.
Small hiccup in the plan, my husband Dennis had a mandatory graduate school orientation, meaning it would just be my mom, three kids and myself for the adventure. (We brought “flat daddy” along). We also had to switch to a smaller car without the three rows of separation…
Well (sigh) sometimes road trips look great on paper…but reality might be a different experience!
A few things I learned while having 5 people on the road for two weeks, with three of the people being kids:
Not every hotel has a swimming pool, but they all should.
There are only so many kid appropriate Redbox rentals in the American West.
Traveling with small children – you need more snacks than you think you need & nobody is at their best when they’re hungry.
Driving with a car full of whining, fighting, and crankiness is no fun at all.
Those little dots on the maps in the American West are not really towns, they might just be a couple of houses. There are no places to use the restroom or buy snacks there. I think they just put them there so you’re not scared of being so far between rest stops.
Over two weeks is a LONG time to be in close quarters with anybody at all – even the people you love the very most.
Somehow, we survived the adventure and we still love each other. I’m not proud of this, but there may have been moments along that route when I gave the empty threats like “do I need to pull this car over?” and “do I need to leave you all out here by the road if you can’t all stop fighting?!”
Almost 10 years later, I still get flashbacks to that trip if the kids start to argue in the car…But we’re family, so we know we’re going to stick together, right? For the record, I was never going to really leave them there – but I bet I did pull the car over a few times.
Which brings me to this great quote I heard in a podcast recently:
CLAUDIA RANKINE QUOTE: Poet, essayist and playwright Claudia Rankine said, “I spend a lot of time thinking about, how can I say this so that we can stay in this car together, and yet explore the things I want to explore with you?”
I love this metaphor! Rankine was referring to hard conversations about race relations, but it’s a question that speaks to all sorts of conflicts and division between people.
We live steeped in a culture that constantly tries to put people in one camp or the other, dividing us into our own little factions and groups. We are divided politically and socially, but we even disagree about things like Little League games or whether toilet paper is supposed to go over or under the roll.
While we disagree about many things, it doesn’t have to become an ugly fight.
“How can I say this so that we can stay in this car together, and yet explore the things I want to explore with you?”
As the Body of Christ, this is a question worth pondering before we speak to each other and especially before we speak about each other. As we may have vastly different life experiences and vastly different understandings, how can we speak to one another in a way that creates unity, in a manner that increases understanding, one that keeps us together?
Every community of people has disagreements, every church has disagreements. Change is hard, especially within the walls of a community we hold so closely in our heart. I can’t tell you how many complaints I hear if we make a change from the “way things always have been.” What are some from year’s past that you can remember having here at New World? (carpet color? Worship times?)
I confess, it might not be 100% coincidental that this sermon title was assigned to this week of the series…
This weekend, 864 representatives from the global UMC are having a called general conference to decide the denomination’s official stance on whether a church building or a clergyperson can perform same sex marriages, and on the full inclusion of our LGBTQ siblings’ ordination as clergy. This is a conference that may end up with a fight. While we do not yet know the outcome, the decision is one that will impact our global denomination in ways we cannot yet see.
As you might guess, I am connected to a LOT of United Methodists through social media. I estimate that 70% or so of my FB connections are tied to The United Methodist Church in some way. It has been a tough few weeks for me to even look at what people are love and respect deeply are posting and commenting. I’ve hidden my FB icon on my phone so I don’t easily click on it.
Our culture loves a good fight, doesn’t it?
The problem is, when Christians fight, all the world sees is the fight. It doesn’t usually happen on a big, global denominational level, we fight among ourselves about all sorts of things. We all probably know people who have left because of something or someone, perhaps a change that upset them.
No matter the final vote, there will be people who will decide they cannot take anymore, they will make the decision to exit the denominational car, so to speak. It’s hard to watch.
At the local level, here in our local church, there is no requirement that we fight too. We can choose the long road of unity, we can choose to “stay in the car.”
As Christians, we are called to be people of love. When the disagreements happen, especially in very public ways, we “give love a bad name.” We miss out on the opportunity to share the witness of a God who loves all.
This all brings us to our scripture reading for this message. This is a letter to a church that was having disagreements too, the young Christian church at Ephesus (churches have been disagreeing about theology for as long as there have been churches.)
In this short passage from Ephesians, the theme is unity and oneness. I’m going to repeat the first few verses & invite you to count with me the number of times Paul uses the word “one” : Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God.2 Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, 3 and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. 4 You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.
“One” is used seven times. In the chapters right before this, the writer is talking about our identity in Christ, like last week’s reminder that we are all made in the image of God, we all matter to God.
This is an important lesson for any Body of Christians. In the church, even if we know we should connect to one another, we selfishly pursue our own agendas. Whether it’s politics, religion, whether toilet paper goes over or under…We make other Christians (ones who disagree with our positions) the “bad guys.” When we do this, we are participating in the tearing apart of Christ’s body.
It’s worth pointing out that we are not required to all have the same opinions on things. We are however, called to watch how we conduct ourselves and accept each other with love.
Now, more than ever, an important question to consider: how can we witness to the world that we can be one, that we can give “Love” a good name?
This is where we come back to the idea of agape love. Remember, God’s agape love is freely given, offered without condition. Do you remember the 3 H’s about agape we covered last Sunday – It is a love that is honest, hopeful & humble. It is a love that is looking for the good in other people.
In the Gospel of John, Christ paints a beautiful picture of what it looks like to abide in his presence in love. He says, “I am the true fine, and my Father is the gardener…Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…”
Jesus explains to his followers in this beautiful image of love and charity, friendship and community, that just as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, his disciples cannot love one another, much less bring others to faith, apart from the abiding love of Christ.
For some reason, we seem to live as if we were sent in this world to compete with one another, to quarrel and fight. Jesus did not choose us to live a life reflective of the world; Christ did not call us to bring the division of the world into our churches. Rather we are to represent Christ in the world. Jesus chose us, first to come to him and then go out to the world. And that must be the daily pattern and rhythm to our lives.
As friends of Christ, Christians, we are called to a commitment of solidarity toward unity as we witness in a broken and divided world. We are to live in such a way that we show what is meant by loving one another. We are not sent out to argue people into Christianity, nor to threaten them into it, but to attract them into it through our love; so to live that its fruits may be so wonderful others will desire them for themselves.
We have to figure out ways to have difficult conversations but work through our differences. We have to set aside our own pride and personal agendas in order to work hand-in-hand to reach out to the world.
When Christians focus more on the differences than what unites us, we are not reflecting the love of Christ, we are not bearing fruit. While we are busy arguing, the world looks at us and wonders, what’s so great about God because Christ’s church seems just as ineffective as every other institution in the world.
When we are divided over differences of opinions, love must prevail.
Christ has come so that we will bear fruit that will last, whether in terms of a single life changed because we loved somebody as Jesus loved us, or in terms of a single decision we had to make or tasks we had to perform, through which the world became a different and better place.
Love makes both the lover and the beloved more like Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I want to be more like Jesus. I think we all do. I want to love like Christ loved.
I want to affirm that you are worthy of receiving that love too. You are a worthy, precious child of God. When I say that, I am saying that to each and every one of you.
You are a worthy, precious child of God.
I am tired of the fighting and the division. I’m tired of having to try and defend a church that looks less and less like the body of Christ and more and more like the divided world around us.
New World, it is my deepest prayer that we can be countercultural in the best ways imaginable. That we can be a community of faith who loves God and loves neighbors unconditionally. That we can give love a good name by how we love one another.
CLOSE IN PRAYER/CUE FOR BAND
Let us pray:
God of deep and abiding love, God of all people,
We confess that there are moments when we fail to love you with our whole hearts, and when we fail to show grace to one another as your children of God. Forgive us for failing to see the harm we inflict when we use the excuse of “speaking the truth in love” to really mean “telling others what they are doing wrong.” Instead, lead us to treat one another with grace and love, especially those with whom we disagree.
This weekend, we pray for our global church, the delegates at General Conference, and for the decisions being made. We recognize and lament that decisions made have the potential to cause deep harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray that your Holy Spirit fills the conversations and decision making, and we trust that you are still God.
No matter the outcome, we pray to be a community that loves you with our whole hearts, people who share your love with all of our neighbors, and to “give love a good name” as your representatives.
We pray to be worthy of the name “Christ follower.”
Upon returning from our mission trip to Haiti, members of the New World team shared a message about how God has worked through mission. Enjoy.
Let us pray:
God of Living Water,
Open our hearts and minds this morning that we may hear your Word for us. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
As many of you know, Anna Lee, Linda Connor and I spend this last week on a mission trip in Haiti. We partnered with the Methodist Church of Haiti and an organization called Water to Life to bring 100 water filters to the rural village of Mellier, population 2500. This morning we are going to share about our mission trip as we close our 5 week series on a Balanced Life. Our hope is that, by telling you our story, you too will be inspired by what God is doing in the world through God’s people. It’s my hope that when you hear our story, perhaps the Holy Spirit will whisper onto your heart to do whatever it takes, to step out in mission or service to others in some way, too.
First, an overview of our trip:
Our work team consisted of 5 Americans – Anna, Linda, Barbara Hickerson of Central UMC Waco and Keith Bierley from FUMC Keller. We also had two Haitian translators, Caz and Lamaire.
Several other Haitians from the local church and community joined our team as outreach recruiters finding families to receive filters, night time security, water carriers and cooks.
We stayed on the second story balcony of the Methodist Church in Mellier. The building pictured here was constructed by American and Haitian mission teams since the 2010 earthquake toppled the original church building.
Our mission was to bring 100 water filters to the people of Mellier. BUT, what I learned is that an even greater mission was that we were called to practice being fully present for others. To love and to be loved. The way we did this best was through spending time with lots and lots of children.
The children LOVED to have their photos taken. And they LOVED to see the photos and videos we took of them.
This was my second time to visit the same village, and the biggest blessing was being able to see some of the people I connected with the first time. This is my friend Nadege….
This is her daughter Guetchaina….
One of the most remarkable gifts of returning to the same village is that the relationships have grown deeper over time. I firmly believe this is a healthier way to be in mission partnership with others than just coming in once for a short term trip.
I now would like to invite Anna Lee to share about her experience.
I wanted to share with you how I came to go to Haiti in the first place because it is intertwined with how I came to New World.
In 2014, after my daughter graduated from High School, I decided I would go on an “adult” mission trip for the first time since I had always been involved with youth trips. I ended up going to Sager Brown, UMCOR Depot in Baldwin, LA. While there I had two instrumental encounters. The first was meeting Candy and Gordon who were there with the Central Texas Conference. I have worked with Sheri Lucas for years and she had invited me to New World since she knew I was looking for a new church home. However, I just had not got around to visiting. After Gordon gave me his card, I knew God was nudging me again. I remember saying to myself, “Ok, God, I hear you, I will go visit” and the rest is history.
The second person I met was the woman who was hosting the teams arriving at the depot. Exactly what Gordon and Candy have been doing these last couple of years at Sager Brown, in Illinois, and in Nashville. I was on a fact finding mission about the VIM program through the UMC and while we were talking, she mentioned she had lived and worked in Haiti. Until that time, I had never considered going to Haiti, but the seed was planted. After I got home, I continued to do more research and came across HPUMC’s clinic in, of all places, Haiti… “Ok, God, I guess I am going to Haiti.”
Fast forward to the “pre-trip” meeting for our trip. I am looking at Barbara from Waco and trying to figure out where I knew her from. Then she mentioned Sager Brown and I knew she was the one I had talked to 4 years earlier. I never would have thought I would end up going to Haiti with her.
Why I continue to go back to Haiti? I can’t honestly tell you other than I continue to feel that nudge to serve in whatever capacity is needed. I don’t know where it will lead or how it will all end. The water filters are undoubtedly lifesavers, but I learned the program involves so much more. It is all about building a stronger community where neighbors share their filters with others until they can get their own and start to look at how they can positively impact the environment.
Good morning! For those of you who do not know me, my name is Linda Connor. I’m a charter member of this church and I’m proud to tell you that my dad, Rev. Dewitt Seago was our first associate pastor. This was my first time to visit Haiti and it will always have a very special place in my heart. I truly hope it will not be my last time to be a part of this very special mission. Every evening after a wonderful supper cooked by Dina and her staff we had a devotional time. Pastor Erin would always start us with a prayer and then ask us to tell where we saw God at work that day. So I want to tell you about one of the God moments I had. While playing with the kids outside the church close to the school I looked up to see a high school age boy motioning me to come to see him and saying “Madam, madam!” He was in the doorway of one of the classrooms. He wanted me to help him with some sentences he had written in English on the chalkboard. The God given talent of being a former first grade school teacher went into high gear. We worked on everything from biology to sentence structure with the smallest pieces of chalk you have ever seen. His English was quite good. Barbara came in and since she spoke Creole, we understood some things he didn’t know how to say in English. By the time Pastor Erin arrived he was pantomiming what he wanted to get across because we had gone to the limit of Barbara’s Creole. It was such a fun moment. This young man’s name is Samendji and he is 17 years old. He told me he wants to be a translator. At that moment, I felt God had brought me to Mellier to help Samendji. That is just one of the many God moments I had while on this trip to Haiti. Thank you!!
Erin: This brings us to our Scripture reading for the day. As a mission team, we studied this passage both before our trip in a pre-trip orientation meeting and on the trip near the end. Once you have been inside buildings with roofs like this bakery (point), the story takes on a new imagery.
The story of Jesus healing the paralytic is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the story we have a cast of characters – Jesus, the crowd, the four friends, the paralytic and the teachers of the law/Pharisees. When you hear this story, who do you relate to most?
As we studied this passage, we talked about how we all have times being in these different roles. We want to be the four friends willing to do whatever it takes to help someone in need. Sometimes we are like the paralytic, in need of having both our sins and our physical ailments healed.
Often, we are the crowd, standing in the space, observing from the sidelines.
Tragically, we are often playing the role of the Pharisees, judging and questioning the motives of someone who does ministry differently than us or who doesn’t follow the same rules and traditions.
Whoever you find yourself to be in the story, there are a few things we have in common.
We are the body of Christ. When one part suffers, we all suffer. When we extend ourselves and our resources to others, when we help others flourish, it helps the whole body. It helps us to release our grip on stuff, loosens our grip on self-sufficiency and selfishness. It helps others by relieving their neediness, offering provision, teaching us all to both give and receive love.
Most importantly, as we strive to be Christ’s disciples, when we do whatever it takes to help others, we are more like Christ.
In a few moments, we will move to the sacrament of communion. Like we say in the communion liturgy:
“Holy are you, and blessed is your son jesus Christ. Your spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind. You healed the sick, fed the hungry and ate with sinners….”
My challenge for each of you is to pray deeply for ways God may be calling you to serve others. I challenge you to find ways to get out of your comfort zone, to be in relationship with people you serve, even dare to receive help from others. Let us build up the body of Christ by seeing Christ in others.