Holy and loving God, the one who is rich in mercy,
So often we feel heavy laden with the weight of all that feels wrong in our life. We worry about our future, we worry about the suffering around us, we worry about our health and our finances and our relationships. We carry the load of this stress on our shoulders, often feeling alone in our struggles. Often feeling too proud to ask for help.
Yet you, God, are our burden lifter.
When we feel overwhelmed with stress and worry, when the baggage that comes with living this messy life feels like too much to carry, you gently whisper to us:
“Cast all your anxiety – cast all your cares – on me. I love you, my child, let me share the load.”
We lift up this morning the people who are struggling to hear your whispers of hope.
We pray for our brothers and sisters who are trapped in broken systems of injustice. We pray for our kindred who are mourning the loss of a loved one. We pray for children who have lost their parents, no matter their age. We pray for your whispers of hope and your arms of love to bring comfort and peace.
We do not need to be anxious about anything, but with our prayers we can bring our requests to you and you are faithful to mercifully help us with our burdens.
We pray that through all of our past, present and future suffering, we can remember that you call us to acts of mercy. As you are our burden lifter, you call us as your children to help others in need. Grant us the courage and wisdom to walk boldly and mercifully so that, in all we do, you may be glorified.
We pray this in the name of the One who carried our sins to the cross, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name…
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.”
7 Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. 8 The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.
11 Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us. 13 This is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world. 15 If any of us confess that Jesus is God’s Son, God remains in us and we remain in God. 16 We have known and have believed the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. 17 This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.
What’s Love Got to Do With It
Key point: Love has everything to do with it; Following God means sharing Christian love that is honest, hopeful and humble.
A few months ago I posted on my Facebook wall, “What are your unpopular opinions?”
It started a long thread of comments about what people liked and disliked – a surprising number of people didn’t seem to think pizza was all that. I also noticed that we use the word “hate” too easily. My unpopular opinion was that I hate musicals – which prompted an unexpectedly strong reaction and so many people telling me I just haven’t seen the right ones…it’s just not my thing. But we use “hate” loosely, as in, I hate traffic, I hate certain collegiate rival football teams to my alma mater (but I wouldn’t dare say that in front of a crowd!), I hate roaches! (shudder)
“Love” is a funny word too, isn’t it? I use that word to describe my love for a lot of things – coffee, English toffee, TexMex food, Chick-Fil-A waffle fries.
I love Jesus and my church.
I love a lot of people, of course (with a special shout out to my parents, husband and 4 kids)
But I also say love the shows “This is Us” and “The Office.”
We use this word to describe things we like a lot, we use the word easily and take it lightly.
Love is a word that’s hard to define. It’s slippery. It’s easier to explain the effects of how it feels to be loved than to try to explain what it is.
Love has everything to do with what it means to be a follower of Jesus, yet sometimes we make it too complicated. We mess it up.
In the next few messages, we will deepen our understanding of characteristics of the biblical love mentioned in the passage I just read.
We are called to give and receive love in all directions – we love UP when we love God, we love IN community when we love one another, and we love OUT when we offer that love to the world. We’ll look at the obstacles that keep us from loving well, and hopefully be sent from this place equipped to love just a little bit better.
What are some characteristics of biblical love? 3 H’s Honest, Hopeful & Humble
This Christian love we are talking about is HONEST.
Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.”
When we disagree with someone, we have a lot of options nowadays, don’t we? The easiest option could be just to walk away from that relationship altogether. We can vent online or to our other friends, we can get busy and ignore each other. But if we look at this line in Matthew, then we are challenged that to love one another, we cannot just go about carrying on grudges. Intimately tied to our love for God, we have to make things right and settle our differences with each other before we honor God.
Honest, genuine love for our sisters and brothers is determined to set things right, but reconciliation is hard, vulnerable work.
Norman Vincent Peale used to tell a story was about an African boy who gave his missionary teacher an unusually beautiful seashell as a Christmas gift. The boy had walked a great distance, over rough terrain, to the only place on the coast where these particular shells could be found. The teacher was touched. “You’ve traveled so far to bring me such a wonderful present,” she said. The boy looked puzzled, then his eyes widened with excitement: “Oh, teacher,” he explained, “long walk part of gift.”
One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is taking the “long walk” of reconciliation. It may be tempting to just let differences slide, ignore the problem and hope it goes away. But, the problem is that the problems are still there under the surface. Think of love in Christian relationships like car maintenance – you can choose to ignore the transmission problem or neglect getting an oil change and the car will probably keep going, but eventually it will deteriorate. Or like nourishing a garden – if we don’t take care of our relationships, pulling out the weeds of disagreement and dealing with them, eventually the whole garden suffers.
Life makes it difficult to love well – we get too tired, too busy or too proud to love well. But fear is the primary thing that keeps us from love.
1 Corinthians 13:7 “Love puts up will all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”
We live in a culture with a 24 hour, 7 day a week news cycle of doom and gloom, conflict and division. It is hard to hear a story without the narrative of “us vs. them.” We are bombarded with messages telling us to fear people who are different, warning us about whichever-group-thinks-differently-than-you and all of the bad things that could happen if the “bad guys” get their way. The news reports want us to live in fear, but “there is no fear in love, perfect love casts out fear.” Which brings us to the second H:
In addition to being honest, Christian love is full of HOPE.
Augustine once said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
The problem with putting other people in categories, making them issues, is we lose sight on their God-given humanity. God’s love is a love of hope. When you hope in others, you see them as God sees them. You cannot help but realize that everyone (yes everyone!) is worthy of God’s love.
No matter our differences and no matter the circumstances, if we can grow to a place where we are seeing the wonderful in one another, that is a love full of hope.
The third H – Christian love is a love full of Humility.
Philippians 2:5-8 “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
We know that Jesus modeled humility when he died on the cross. He also recruited unlikely disciples from humble positions and associated with the lowest of the low. It’s beautiful to consider that, although we are unworthy of God’s love, God loves us anyway.
When we disagree with one another, which happens, a model of Christian love is to remember that we are all beloved children of God, even when we disagree.
With humility as our guide, we can look past the faults of others, look past our differences of opinions, quit casting people away into categories and issues, and care for one another.
What keeps us from love?
The opposite of these three H’s honest, hopeful and humble? Deceitful, doubtful and proud. When we live from a place of deceit, doubt, pride and fear, we struggle – it’s pretty much impossible – to create love, empathy, compassion or care for one another. While the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, the fruit of fear is distrust, suspicion, slander, resentment, grudges, murder and violence.
God’s love is a love for all directions.
We are called to both give and receive God’s love, love one another, and even love ourselves.
As we close this first message on love, I want to end with this video about what it means to follow Jesus.
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.
Our morning started with a Methodist worship service – 2 beautiful hours of singing, praying and listening in French and Creole. Our sermon was on the body of Christ – what a beautiful setting to be reminded that ALL of God’s children are valued in the Body of Christ.
About 200 people filled the pews today. A surprise before worship was the chirping of of a baby chick inside the church:
After a lunch of Mamba peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we headed out in a “tap tap” (a Haitian style taxi) to see a little more of Haiti:
I’ll post videos of Haitians driving when I get to a space with more internet capabilities.
It’s evening now – time for bucket showers and nighttime devotional time. Tomorrow we begin our water filter program with VBS-type time in the afternoon.
God is alive and at work – so evident in the deeply moving worship, infectious laughter and community of hospitality. We thank you for your continued prayers and support!
If you are reading this and want to support the ministry of bringing clean water to Haiti, please consider donating to through this link.
Our adventure has begun, and already we started practicing our abilities to have humor and flexibility! Our 5:30am flight was delayed an hour, requiring us to change connecting flights to Port-au-Prince. This adds a few more hours in Miami as we travel to tonight’s destination, the Methodist Guest House in Pétion-Ville.
Allow me to introduce you to our team (going left to right in the photo above):
Linda is a retired schoolteacher and avid traveler. A member of New World UMC, she is known for her calm presence, sweet energy, and for being a yoga teacher. This is her first trip to Haiti.
Barbara is a member of Central UMC in Waco. While serving at the United Methodist UMCOR mission Sager Brown Depot, she learned about our trip from retired NWUMC deacon, Gordon Johnson. Barbara’s love for Haiti runs deep – she’s lived there for months as a missionary and she jumped at an opportunity to return. We joke that we’ll have to watch her closely to make sure she doesn’t “accidentally” get left behind when we return.
Keith represents Water to Life, our partner organization, and is a member of Keller UMC. Keith led my trip to Haiti in October 2017. Water to Life works to build long-term, sustainable relationships with the communities it serves. When we enter the village of Mellier tomorrow, the fruit of this will be evident when people warmly welcome their “Mr. Keith.”
I’m the fourth one in the picture, Erin, associate pastor at New World UMC. (Photo credit goes to my dear husband Dennis who woke up to drive me to DFW airport at 4am.) This is my second trip to Haiti. I am excited about giving hugs to the sweet people in Mellier. It is my hope that this mission trip marks just the beginning of a long-term connection between our congregation and Haiti.
Anna is also a member of New World. She has been to Haiti twice on medical mission trips. A great story about Anna’s connection on our team: when Anna met Barbara at our pretrip meeting, they both sensed the other looked familiar. The ladies went through all the possible ways they could have met. It turns out that Anna met Barbara many years ago while volunteering at Sager-Brown Depot. It was Barbara’s love for Haiti that inspired Anna to follow God’s call on her heart to serve in Haiti, too.
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.
39 Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. 40 She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. 43 Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”
Oh, how I love A Charlie Brown Christmas! You know this scene from the classic Peanuts “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The now 53-year-old television special tells the story of a depressed Charlie Brown trying to find holiday cheer during an over commercialized season. His best efforts are mocked by the other children when the movie plot is coming to a climax, and Charlie Brown shouts out in exasperation: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” Have you ever felt that way? It’s funny how little things have changed.
What is Christmas all about?
It’s a question we still pursue today in this busy season as we wade through the familiar waters of shopping trips and busy calendars, Christmas parties and holiday traffic. We rush from one thing to the next, rushing as fast as traffic will let us anyway, all the while we long in our souls to catch even just a glimpse of what it’s all really about anyway.
I don’t think I’m alone here. For me, there is always this tension about what we’re supposed to do at Christmastime. On one hand, we have the church part – special worship services, service projects, and celebrating the story of Jesus’ humble beginnings in Bethlehem. On the other hand, we have mile long to-do lists of packages to ship, photos to take, gift exchanges to participate in, teacher gifts, baking and all sorts of Pinterest-inspired ideas. It’s easy to miss the answer to Charlie Brown’s question in the holiday madness, isn’t it?
Why is that? Why do we often miss the real meaning of Christmas?
My friend Kevin put it this way – it’s like we are celebrating two holidays. There’s one holiday that’s all about shopping, presents and the latest toys. It’s a holiday full of stockings and elves – ugly sweaters and never-ending doorbuster specials.
There’s another holiday about Jesus, the Emmanuel, God With Us, being born in Bethlehem. That’s the holiday with the manger and the sweet baby.
Then my friend Kevin adds: The confusing thing is both of these holidays are celebrated on December 25th and we call them both “Christmas.” No wonder we’re confused! (His theory has really helped me to have some patience and understanding when the some of the young people in my life have sent me long wish lists!)
I have come to peace with the commercialized version of Christmas – I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas – because of all of the jingle bells, reindeer, Christmas lights and excitement, eventually people will ask Charlie Brown’s big question – What is Christmas all about?
This morning, with Kevin’s theory in mind, we are going to focus on the second of the two “Christmases,” starting with today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke.
Our passage today tells of a short encounter between two relatives, Elizabeth and Mary. In the midst of the bigger Christmas story, we might miss this key story’s significance.
To set the scene: In the verses right before today’s reading, Mary had just had a conversation with an angel of the Lord. The angel announced that Mary was going to conceive and give birth to a son called Jesus, the Son of the Most High. Awestruck, young Mary agrees to her role, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” She sings a song to the Lord we call the Magnificat, the band sang a version a few minutes ago.
It’s right after this angel encounter that Mary travels to a city in the highlands and enters Zechariah’s house. Zechariah’s wife, a very pregnant and older Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, greets Mary. A little background on Elizabeth – she is miraculously pregnant in her old age with the child we later know as John the Baptist. But more significant than her being John the Baptist’s mom is the fact that here, in this short little passage, she is the first to publicly declare that Jesus is Lord. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she says, “Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Elizabeth is the first one to announce Jesus’ role to the world – he will be Lord. (pause)
Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?
Elizabeth knows. Christmas is about the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we honor his birth.
To declare that Jesus is Lord (Greek: kyrios lesous (KEY ree ohs LEE soos)) means a few things – “Lord” at the time meant your ultimate ruler – it was a title reserved for kings and emperors. To declare Jesus as Lord meant causing political and social upheaval. Jesus is Lord – It’s a bold statement of faith that today remains one of the first and shortest Christian creeds, it honors our belief that Jesus was both fully man and fully God.
What is Christmas all about? For the Christmas we are talking about here, it means we celebrate and declare that Jesus is Lord of our lives, that God lives and reigns among us. With the Christ as our leader, we are called to live full of reckless love for our neighbors. With God among us, we are called to live differently, called to live not out of fear but from a place of hope, peace, joy and love. Fear Not – that’s what Christmas is all about.
This brings us back to our symbols of Christmas and their deeper meanings.
The star leads us to this place. With the candle, we remember that we need to prepare our hearts and homes, we need to do our own “nesting” to prepare for the arrival. We need to make room. The candle also reminds us we have a light unto our path.
In the Christmas story, Mary and Elizabeth are preparing the way for Christ’s arrival. Even the little town of Bethlehem with its humble manger are “nesting,” getting everything ready for the arrival.
Which brings us to today’s symbol of the wreath at the door. There are two kinds of wreaths we could talk about. We have over here (point) an Advent Wreath – usually it’s on a table or horizontal, filled with candles to mark the countdown to Christmas. (We’re getting close!)
We also have Christmas wreaths (point) – traditionally hung on doors vertically.
Either way, the wreath is in the shape of a circle, reminding us that in God there is no beginning, there is no ending.
The wreath is a circle, and with Jesus, Scripture comes full circle. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” comes full circle with Jesus.
The prophetic declarations come full circle in Christ. Isaiah 7:14 declares “Therefore the Lord will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel,” and the Gospel of Luke fulfills this with an angel speaking to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) Micah places the birth in Bethlehem; the predictions of Daniel, Zechariah, Jonah, Malachi and others come full circle in Jesus.
The wreath is traditionally made from an evergreen – significantly symbolizing strength and the everlasting life we find with Jesus Christ as Lord.
Finally, the Christmas wreath today is a symbol of welcome and hospitality. We are being greeted this morning at Christmas’s doorstep. As we’ve traveled along on this Advent journey together, starting far away with the star, moving in with the candle, we are here prepared for company to arrive. Are you ready for company? Do you have room?
This is where the tension between the two Christmases seems to peak. As we feel the pressure to rush around, buying, wrapping and even more rushing, it gets so difficult to make room for the holy to arrive. How can we intentionally make the space in our lives?
The wreath is an everlasting symbol of God’s grace and hospitality greeting us. In our Scripture today, we can visualize the greeting between relatives Elizabeth and Mary. Elizabeth, further along in her pregnancy, is so excited to see Mary. The baby within her leaps for joy. Who are you in this story? Are you Mary who is being welcomed in by family? Are you the child within Elizabeth’s womb, leaping for joy, excited to be in the presence of Christ?
It’s comforting to be reminded when we see the wreath that God offers hospitality and grace to all of us. Even if we feel unworthy, if we feel like there is no way God could accept us, we can remember that God’s grace is available to all people. God wants to be in relationship with humanity – so much so that God dwelt on earth among us. God wants us to be in relationships with one another – especially acknowledging that there are people around us who are hurting and mourning this time of year. God cares deeply for the poor and the marginalized, and God cares deeply for those of us who feel marginalized because we are so busy rushing around.
In the same way, may we remember as Advent and Christmas people that we are challenged to extend God’s grace and hospitality to all who come to our own doorsteps. We are called to live differently, to make room for our neighbors, and, like Elizabeth, to forever acknowledge that Jesus is Lord.
Let us pray:
In all the excitement and anticipation that comes with this season, remind us of the real meaning of Christmas. Forgive us when we get sidetracked by all that glitters and jingles. Remind us that we are people who declare that Jesus is Lord because we want to live differently, we long to be people who share God’s gift of grace and love to all of our neighbors. We thank you for the ultimate Christmas gift, the gift of our savior Jesus Christ. It is in his name that we pray, Amen.
As we close our message this morning, I want to return to the message of Charlie Brown’s Christmas.
Times have not changed all that much since this television special was created. We still live within this tension between the pressures to buy just the right presents for our loved ones, to decorate and celebrate just right, and to sit in stillness and worship as we watch for our Savior’s arrival. May our hearts be transformed this Christmas as we remember what Christmas is all about. Let’s revisit the clip:
(Video clip through “And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown”)
Last Sunday I preached a sermon called “The Candle” that included a sermon illustration about getting ready for when company is coming. John the Baptist is preparing the way for Jesus ministry in Luke 3:1-6, we too can use Advent to prepare our hearts and minds for an arrival. There’s only so much a person can fit in a sermon. (Well, I imagine I could make my sermons longer and fit in as much as I can, but nobody wants that!) Today’s Advent devotional is from my “cutting room floor,” a part of the sermon that I didn’t quite get to fit in last Sunday’s message.
Today’s Advent word is “Open” as part of our Advent Photo Challenge. I am interpreting the word as an Open Door, a place of welcome.
As people filed out the sanctuary door last Sunday, shaking my hands as they do, at least one person said, “now I feel like I need to get home and clean the house!” Giving folks stress wasn’t the sermon goal.
I want to share today about my “messy house friends.”
See, my sermon was about getting the house clean, and I mentioned that if I know you’re coming, my house will be clean for you. But my closest and dearest friends fall into a special category – they’re my “messy house friends.”
By that I mean that we’ve agreed we’re going to love each other no matter the condition of our homes. We are going to have the kind of friendship that values relationship over a sparkling clean house (think of the story of Mary and Martha with Jesus in Luke 10:38-42 to get the idea.)
In the same way, Jesus loves us no matter where or how we are. Jesus can be like a messy house friend, full of grace for you and accepting you with all of your imperfection. The door is always open.
Even better, Jesus is not only a messy house friend, Jesus will not leave you drowning and suffering in the mess. You are accepted, loved and welcome how you are and you are loved enough that you’ve got company who’ll help you and love you through the messiness of life. That is grace.
God, help me to get past the temptation to get caught up in making my life seem perfect. Instead, God, help me to open my door and my heart to offer hospitality and love to all God’s children. Thank you for the grace you offer me. Amen.
“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12
I come from a family of quilters. Not that I quilt, I don’t. But my grandma, mom, aunts, cousins and countless other relatives love to make quilts.
There is a really sweet ministry in our church called the Stitchers that makes quilts. They are passed on to people in the hospital, people who are grieving, kids who graduate from school. Each quilt is put together with knots of yarn, little ties to show the prayers that have been uttered over the quilt. It’s a ministry of sharing comfort, love and prayer. We also have a ministry of knitters who make prayer shawls for the same purpose.
Extra quilts are folded neatly over the back rows in our sanctuary, available to provide warmth and comfort to anyone in need.
There really are few things as comforting as the warmth that comes from a blanket or shawl handcrafted with deep love and prayer. There is warmth to be found in the love and kindnesses of others. I am so thankful that people are using their gifts and talents in ministry of love to others.
What are the gifts you have that you can offer to others in ministry? May today be a day that you find ways to use your gifts in ministry. Whether it is through handmaking something or a warm smile, may God’s love shine through you and warm the hearts of others. Amen.