The Power of Love

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.

power of love

Scripture reading:

John 15:9-17

Love each other

“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

hugging people

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.)

hug needs

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? 

love cubesIn 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.

stained glass eye

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.

chalk heart

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.

(See https://www.ignitermedia.com/products/8416-brother for music video)

Amen.

images used with permission from istockphoto and igniter media, scripture from biblegateway.com 

Haiti Mission: Day 0

In about 20 hours, our mission team meets at the DFW Airport. We meet at 3:25am to give plenty of time to divide up team supplies and get checked in. We fly to Miami first, the Port Au Prince.

Between now and then, my to do list is long:

  • Pack my own luggage
  • Pack team supplies
  • Make sure Lucas gets to wave at the garbage men (it’s Thursday and he’s 3)
  • Remember to take anti-malarial medicine
  • Pick up about 8 things from a store – tarps, clothesline, markers, hand sanitizer, a big bag of candy (“bon bons”) to pass out to the kids in Mellier…
  • Fill out trip insurance information
  • Check in for flight
  • Send team email with gate information and remind them to remember their passports
  • Go to bank to get cash to pay our Haitian team
  • Work up a plan to complete our fundraising
  • Greet kids when they get home from school
  • Hopefully have a family dinner
  • Spend time with Dennis
  • Spend time wondering what I may have forgot (might as well add this to list since I’m doing it anyway)

It’s a lot. I’m excited and a little daunted.

So, in the quiet of my home this morning, I start with the most important task I have to do today, I pray (feel free to join in from wherever you are):

Holy and gracious God, we thank you and praise you for this opportunity to travel to Haiti. We know that you are already there. We ask for your safety as we travel, we ask to be made aware of your presence. As we rush to get all of the details completed, calm our spirits and remind us that you have got this all in your hands. We commend this trip to you, we ask for your blessing. May we as your servants share your love with others, and may we receive your love through the hospitality of strangers. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.

Click here to contribute to the Haiti mission

Tree – Thought to get you through the day

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” Acts 5:30 (Common English Bible) 

A wise church member shared this thought with me on Sunday:

“It’s not all the gifts under the tree that matter, it’s the Gift that came on a tree.”

In case you haven’t heard, there are only 12 shopping days left between now and Christmas. Yep, the “doorbuster specials” are long gone and we’re in the “last minute shopping” territory! 

It is so easy to get caught up in the frenzy of last minute shopping, isn’t it? Companies who sell us stuff are counting on this.

But I hope you’ll find time to remember the real reason for the season, the gift that came on a tree, Jesus Christ. It’s not about all the stuff.

Today I challenge you to take a moment to just look, really look, at a tree…or consider the birds of the air. Remember that God is the kind of God who is faithful to provide for all of our needs. We don’t need to be harried,  and rushed. We have all the Gift we need.

Waiting – An Advent Devotional

During Advent this year (Dec. 2-25) we are having an Advent Photo Challenge! You are invited to participate for any of the topics. Each day I will also send out an accompanying short devotional on the day’s topic. Feel free to share it. Be blessed, Erin

Waiting.

This little art piece by my favorite artist, Kelly Rae Roberts, sits on a shelf in my office. It serves as a great little reminder that sometimes we just have to wait.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
– Isaiah 40:31 ESV

Do you believe in the power of prayers to change things? I do…but I have learned that I don’t always get to expect prayers to change things the way I want them to be changed.

That’s one of the tricky things about prayers. Sometimes we pray and God’s answer seems to be a clear “Yes” or “No.” But, way more often it seems the answer seems to be “maybe” or “not yet.”

It’s hard to wait. Like an expression I’ve heard, the problem seems to be “the same as it always is – I’m in a hurry and God’s not.”

Sometimes we wait a long time. Even when the answer to our deepest prayer seems to be silence, we can still trust.

I take comfort in knowing that while we wait, our strength can be renewed.

While we wait, may we be blessed with people who come into our lives offering comfort and peace. While we wait, may we grow in wisdom and faith. While we wait, may we continue to trust.

That is our prayer. Amen.

Light – An Advent Devotional

During Advent this year (Dec. 2-25) we are having an Advent Photo Challenge! You are invited to participate for any of the topics. Each day I will also send out an accompanying short devotional on the day’s topic. Feel free to share it. Be blessed, Erin

Today’s word: Light.

Photo of downtown Grapevine, Texas, the “Christmas Capital of Texas”

From John 1:1-5 ESV:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Throughout Scripture, light is used as a symbol for God, faith and holiness. We are reminded in Psalm 119 that God’s word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

In the northern hemisphere, Advent takes place during winter. The hours of daylight are limited. At my house it means the dinner dishes are barely put away and already it is dark outside.

What a perfect time of year for Christmas lights to remind us of the light of the world. No matter what kind of darkness we face – whether it’s natural disasters, financial stress, physical ailments, loneliness – there is no darkness that cannot be overcome by light.

Even the smallest glimmer of light can be a source of hope and faith.

This Advent, I invite you to look at Christmas lights anew. As they twinkle, they are beautiful. As reminders of God’s ever-present hope and faithfulness, they are breathtaking. May you pause this year to remember that.

Prayer:
God of light, in you there is no darkness at all. We pray that, whatever we may face, we can remember that you are faithful to bring us hope. Allow us to be a light to others who may need to know your love. Amen.

 

Hope – An Advent Devotional

December 2-25, our church is participating in an Advent Photo Challenge.  No matter who or where you are, you are invited to participate. Each day a different keyword is given for people to try to capture in an image.

Today’s word is “Hope.” To accompany the challenge, here is a short devotional to go along with the day’s word. Feel free to read this and share it with a friend. Be blessed!  -Erin

Hope.

From Psalm 46:1-3 ESV:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

The above mixed media artwork is one I created as part of the Mission and Art Nights at a local family shelter. Each week, volunteers from my church and residents in the shelter (primarily mothers temporarily without homes) met in creative community. We met together to create art, to share a devotional, to laugh and heal, and to share our lives together.

Whenever we go through difficult seasons of our lives, it is comforting to know that we have a God who is faithful to be our very present help. No matter what happens in this world, we can rely on God to carry us through. We do not need to be afraid.

As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, let us remember that God’s promises give us hope for the future.

A prayer:

God of hope, thank you for being a God who is always present, even if we struggle to see or feel your presence. Help us to trust in you. Remind us we can be hopeful about our future and to share that hope with others. Amen.

 

Star – a sermon on Luke 21:25-36

scott sigrist night skyThis photo was taken by a friend of mine, Scott Sigrist, and used for this sermon with his permission. You can see more of his work at www.sigristphotos.com. (thank you, Scott!)

This is the second day of our Advent Photo Challenge and the keyword is “Star.” Since I preached a sermon with that title yesterday, I thought I’d share the text of my sermon with you today.

Scripture Reading

Our Scripture reading comes from Luke 21. Adult Jesus is talking his disciples in the temple and this is the last chapter before the Last Supper and all that follows. It’s an odd way to start the Christmas season, but we will understand why before the morning is over.

Luke 21:25-36 CEB

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26 The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. 27  Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28  Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.”

A lesson from the fig tree

29 Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near. 32 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.

34 “Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life. Don’t let that day fall upon you unexpectedly, 35  like a trap. It will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth. 36  Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to escape everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Human One.”

(scripture from Biblegateway.com)

Video: What is Advent? From SermonCentral

Sermon: The Star

I love going to places where you can see all of the stars, even the stars in between the stars.

One of my favorite things about getting away from the city is being able to see the stars. I’ve even been known to pull my car over at night on an empty Texas state highway in order to make my entire family endure my making them all look at the stars. (I’m sure they appreciate it.)

scott sigrist night sky

So, I was really excited when, about five years ago, my family planned a weekend vacation at Canyon of the Eagles in the Texas Hill Country. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a nature park west of Round Rock, in a part of the Hill Country that is an official “dark sky” area. There’s very little lighting in the park to cut down on light pollution. When you walk around the park at night, they give you special little flashlights to carry around. It is home to the “Eagle Eye Observatory” and one of the best places to see the stars at night, because, of course, they are big and bright, deep in the heart of…

Canyon of the Eagles is a migratory path for eagles, so we also hoped to catch a glimpse of one of those too. (pause)

Well, I wish I had a better star story to tell you. What ended up happening was that it was cloudy and rainy the entire weekend. The mosquitos ate us alive. And although we had a nice video tour from the resident astronomer of what we could have seen if there were no clouds, it just wasn’t the same as we had hoped. (side note: We didn’t see an eagle either – total bust.)

But isn’t this picture beautiful that my friend Scott Sigrist took at Dinosaur Valley State Park? We didn’t get to see the stars like that on our weekend, but we know they were still there.

Stars are a constant – throughout history, sailors and travelers have used stars to navigate and keep their sense of direction.

When was the last time you noticed the stars? Do you have a lucky star or a favorite constellation?

Today we begin the Christian season of Advent.

The word “Advent” comes from the latin word “adventus” which means “to come toward, to draw near, to approach.” It is a time of expectation, a time of waiting.

Waiting…How are you at waiting for things?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not very good at waiting. Just so you know that I’ll go to extremes to prepare for a sermon (smile) I spent my Friday afternoon waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles so we could get my son’s driving permit. Oh the waiting! This time I paid attention to what people do while waiting – it’s no surprise that most people spent that time distracted by their phones or TV. A few people read books. Very few just sat there, waiting and watching.

Not all waiting is terrible – as we spend this season waiting, we can be on the lookout for what is to come. It’s the perfect time to look for signs as we wait.

Advent is an “in between” time of year. Obviously it’s in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it also marks the time between the “already” and the “not yet.” In fact, during Advent, we are waiting for three things at the same time. I’ll explain:

The first thing we are waiting for is the obvious one – the “already” – we are waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. When we celebrate this, we are celebrating something earth-shattering  that has already happened.

Think of it this way: imagine that you ordered a package from Amazon (not too hard to imagine.) You are so excited that it’s on its way. Then you check the app and see that, much to your surprise, it’s already delivered. You check your front porch and, sure enough, all of the great stuff you’ve been waiting for has been there all along. It’s already arrived.

The second thing we are waiting for is the “not yet.”

Our Scripture passage today talks about all of these signs of that the end is near. There will be signs in the sun, the moon, the stars, it says. Throughout history, there have been times when doom and gloom preachers have pointed to naturally occurring events like eclipses, earthquakes, and meteor showers to declare the end of all civilization. “Repent! The End is Near!” they’ll shout.

This is a really odd way to start the Christmas season, isn’t it? Here we are ready to hear the good, predictable news that sweet little Jesus is going to be born in a manger…but then the scripture is all about the end of time. What’s going on?

With wildfires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and natural disasters, coupled with human evils of wars, oppression, violence, intimidation and discrimination, dominating our news cycles, it may even be tempting to fall into “fear and foreboding,” to see what is going on and wonder, is this a sign of the end of the world? In the face of all that is going on in the world today, it is tempting to be overwhelmed by all of the brokenness we see around us.

But if we pay close attention to today’s scripture, our message is not about doom and gloom at all. It’s a message of hope!

“Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near.”

Notice that adult Jesus is talking here, pointing out the signs that something good is happening as we notice the leaves sprouting – summer is coming, not winter! As humans in an unpredictable world, we look for signs that will predict what’s coming. Yet, as people of faith, we know that there will come a time of final victory – this is the “not yet” that we wait for – a time when everything is restored and God’s reign is on earth as it is in heaven. So we wait for that day with hope.

We wait for the “already,” and the “not yet,” and the third thing we wait for during Advent is the “right now.” It’s the signs and symbols of God at work today.

It’s tempting to look at our world with fear and despair, isn’t it? But if we’re not careful, we will totally miss where God’s kingdom is breaking in to our world right now. When God’s people work for justice, for mercy, for wholeness and compassion – that is God’s kingdom on earth right now. The exciting thing is we get to be a part of that! Every time we – individually and as a community – work to restore the broken systems and people in our lives, the more we bring glimpses of God’s reign on earth, we bring the signs of hope in a world that desperately needs to be reminded.

Which brings us to the symbol of the star at Christmastime.

During Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, we often place a star on top of our trees. The star reminds us of the star that shone over Bethlehem, guiding the magi to the place where Jesus could be found. It is a symbol of something that guides us – a divine guide, a constant presence.

Especially times in uncertainty, it’s comforting to look for reliable signs to follow.

Funny thing – Do you know when it is hardest to notice the stars? During the brightness of day.

As it turns out, even during the brightness of day, they are there. It may be that the biggest challenge we face is finding God’s guidance when things are going well for us, when we are in our own bright days…when we are tempted to believe we can do all things on our own. (pause)

As we journey through advent together during the next few weeks, I challenge you to fight the pressure to rush to Christmas. Prepare for Christmas by praying, becoming aware of God’s guidance, and doing good work for God’s glory. Be the “right now.”

It is so fitting that we begin Advent with the sacrament of communion. I invite you to remember during communion today of all that God has already given you, to reflect on the promise of hope for the future, and to find ways to bring God’s restoration on earth today. Let us begin…

Be blessed,

Erin

Reflection Questions:
Where have you seen God at work recently?

What is something you are really looking forward to?

Advent Photo Challenge Day 1: Bells

IMG_7374-1.jpeg

This sweet little jingle bell started as a preschool craft project for one of my big three kids. It was delightful to have our littlest one put it on the tree this year!

The jingling of bells reminds me of this passage from the book of Psalms:

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

(Psalm 150:1-6 ESV – source: Biblegateway.com)

How can you give praises to God today?

Be blessed,

Erin

Slide2

Here’s a link to the instructions for the photo challenge.

Tomorrow’s word will be “Star”

Advent Photo-a-Day Challenge

Slide1.JPGAdvent, the Christian season that leads up to Christmas, begins on Sunday, December 2 this year. (It also marks the beginning of the Christian liturgical year, so Happy New Year!)

It’s easy in all of the hustle and bustle of commercialized Christmas to get caught up in being stressed out, rushing from one thing to the next.

This season, I invite you to join me in participating in an Advent photo challenge.

How it works:

Each day has a topic/keyword assigned to it. As you go through your day, try to find something that captures the essence of the keyword for you. (Example – the first word is “bells” – this could mean jingle bells, doorbells, bell curves, alarms. Be creative!)

Then post the picture on social media, with or without any explanation, using the hashtag #NWUMCAdvent. By sharing with the hashtag, we can all look up each other’s pictures and share in the challenge together!

I hope you’ll find this to be an exercise that helps you to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas this season.

Be blessed,

Erin

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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.