Sunday, July 15, 2018

Known by our fruit: peace July 15, 2018 Carroll First UMC

Known by our fruit: peace
July 15, 2018
Carroll First UMC
Sing with me “I’ve got peace like a river I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river in my soul. I’ve got peace like a river I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river in my soul.”
Do you? Do we?  We all want peace.  Boy, do we want peace! It seems like life is so complicated and conflicted and controversial sometimes that we would do anything for peace.
People want peace so desperately that the try to find it by escaping into a bottle of alcohol or pills. That doesn’t work.
We try secluding ourselves away from news or relationships. That doesn’t work.
Some find peace in nature, but then there is a hurricane or an earthquake that is anything but peaceful.
No, there is only one source of peace…God.  God is the source and the goal of all peace. In the middle stands the church called to bear the fruit of God’s peace to all creation.

 This series is called “Known by Our Fruit.” The premise is that the fruit of the spirit not only fills us as individuals, but they fill our church. In fact, they pour out of our church in our various ministries.
 We talked about Love: and we want people to say “Look how they love one another.”  We talked about joy: and we want people to say “Look how the joy of the lord gushes out in their worship.”  Today we talk about peace.

 Galatians was, of course, written in Greek, but the biblical concept of peace goes back to the Hebrew word Shalom.  Now Shalom is bigger than lack of conflict. The Hebrew root for Shalom means “nothing broken… nothing missing.”
Shalom is better defined as “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.”
Look at shalom this way. “God created the world to be a fabric, for everything to be woven together and interdependent.
 If I throw a thousand threads onto the table, they wouldn't be a fabric. They'd just be threads lying in a big pile.
 Threads become a fabric when each one has been woven over, under, around, and through every other one. The more interdependent they are, the more beautiful they are. The more interwoven they are, the stronger and warmer they are. God made the world with billions of entities, but not individual entities. Rather, God made them to be in a beautiful, harmonious, knitted, web of interdependent relationship with one another."
Shalom is the beautifully woven… harmonious… knitted… webbed interdependence of all creation. It encompasses us and all of creation
People beautifully woven, harmoniously knitted, into a web of relationship with God.
Neighbors and strangers beautifully woven, harmoniously, knitted into a web of relationship with each other.
Friends and former enemies beautifully woven, harmoniously knitted into a web of relationship with one another.
The rich and the poor, people of all sexual orientations, theological bents, political camps, nationalities, the prisoner and the guard, the criminal and the victim, the Christians and Muslims and Jews, all beautifully woven, harmoniously knitted into a web of relationship with one another and everyone else in the world
 And all of us beautifully woven, harmoniously, knitted into a web of relationship with creation caring for all that God has given us; the land, the water, the air, the sky, the trees, the animals and all living plants celebrating the interdependence of all creation. 
That is the way God made us.  That is the shalom of God. That is the fruit of peace we sang about flowing like a river over all the earth.

 That is the fabric of God’s shalom.…
but the fabric is torn. The weaving is broken.
Men, women, children go hungry.
People are separated from one another by race, language, nationality, and religion.
Families are homeless.
People live in loneliness.
We neglect our care for the earth.

To bear the fruit of the spirit of peace is to work for the universal flourishing wholeness of all people and creation.
Micah 6:8 the new international version puts it this way, “act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  Until all people are treated justly there can be no shalom.  Until all people receive mercy… which means being treated better than they deserve… there can be no shalom.  Until all people are walking humbly with God there will be no shalom.
To bear the fruit of the spirit of peace means to treat all creation with justice, mercy, and holy humility.
This is the work of Christ. In Chapter three of Luke Jesus reads Isaiah’s vision of the work of shalom “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, (He said) because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
To bear the fruit of the spirit of peace means to work for the end of poverty, captivity, sickness, and judgment. And that spirit of peace is upon the church. It is upon us.
In Matthew 25 Jesus got very specific.  He told us it doesn’t start with politics and policy.  You can’t solve all the world’s problems all at one time.  But that when we love an individual with justice, mercy, and humility we are loving Jesus.  One person at a time is the road to Shalom.
Yes.  It might require political action or lobbying.  Yes, it might be creating a program or a new ministry.  But that is not where it starts.  It starts is with one thread at a time. One person at a time. Seeking justice and mercy for that one person. Seeking “not brokenness” for that one person. Sharing the shalom we know with them. Weaving our thread over and under and around their thread to include them in God’s beautifully woven, harmonious, knitted web of interdependence that is shalom.

 What would it mean for our church to bear the fruit of shalom for the child who doesn’t have enough to eat this summer because the school lunch is their only meal most of the year?  I guarantee that child lives here in Carroll.
 What would it mean for our church to bear the fruit of shalom for the family that moved into town with nothing, not even an ability to speak the language?  I don’t care where they are from or what their status is they are part of that beautiful fabric of Shalom.
 What would it mean for our church to bear the fruit of shalom for the homeless families in our midst?  You think there aren’t any… the percentage is low, but the best guess is that 16 families are homeless in Carroll county at any given time.   What would it mean for us to weave them into the fabric of shalom in our community?
 What would it mean for our church to bear the fruit of shalom for the child facing depression who has to go to Ames to get an appointment with a psychiatrist at a time a parent can take them? What would it look like to wrap them in a blanket of shalom?
 One more… What would it mean for our church to bear the fruit of shalom for the isolated elderly? For instance, their eyesight has deteriorated so they don’t drive. Their medicines are expensive so we don’t meet them at the restaurants.  It is hard for them to walk so they don’t do much but go to the doctor and Fareway because it is the smallest of the grocery stores. They are almost invisible to most of us.  But what would it mean to weave them back into the fabric of God’s shalom?

 I am not suggesting any specific ministry or legislation, or anything.  What I am calling for is for us to first be aware of the people around us… and then love them enough to walk humbly with them… to seek justice and mercy for them…and do whatever it takes to embrace their sacred worth and weave them into our lives, our church, our community, our state and nation and God’s kingdom.
The UMC has a long history of working for shalom as individual members and through the Board of Church and Society.   In fact, it is so important that we publish the social principles as a conversation guide and starting place for working for peace and justice for all people.
You will find a link to the social principles in your bulletin and up on the screen after the social creed.   Read them. Study them. Use them to guide you in your ministry of bearing the fruit of peace to all the world.
Let’s join together in reading the social creed.
OUR SOCIAL CREED (websites on back of bulletin)
Leader: God in the Spirit revealed in Jesus Christ, calls us by grace
People: to be renewed in the image of our Creator, that we may be one in divine love for the world.
Leader: Today is the day God cares for the integrity of creation, wills the healing and wholeness of all life, weeps at the plunder of earth’s goodness.
People: And so shall we.
Leader: Today is the day God embraces all hues of humanity, delights in diversity and difference, favors solidarity transforming strangers into friends.
People: And so shall we.
Leader: Today is the day God cries with the masses of starving people, despises growing disparity between rich and poor, demands justice for workers in the marketplace.
People: And so shall we.
Leader: Today is the day God calls for nations and peoples to live in peace, celebrates where justice and mercy embrace, exults when the wolf grazes with the lamb.
People: And so shall we. Today is the day God brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives, gives sight to the blind, and sets the oppressed free. And so shall we.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Known by our fruit: joy July 7&8, 2018 Carroll First UMC

Known by our fruit: joy
July 7&8, 2018
Carroll First UMC
What was that?  Seriously, what was that reading?  The thrones, and jewels and crowns and … those creatures… the lion, the ox, the human face, and the eagle… all with eyes in front and behind and with 6 wings each!!!  What in the world was that?
That was a description of worship in heaven.  There is lots of symbolism there all of which seems very strange to us. 
But is it really any stranger than our Sunday worship habits would appear to someone outside the church? When you stop and think about it, it must look pretty absurd. It almost defies logical explanation. Why would we voluntarily get up early on a weekend to go to church?  We gather in the same place with the same people every week. Kind of like a movie theatre, but without the popcorn.
Once we are together, we sing… Out loud. Sometimes even on-key. Where else would we do that? Maybe the 7th inning stretch at a ballgame but that’s about it. Then we listen while someone reads from a book and then talks…and talks…and talks. Nothing explodes, no aliens or monsters appear. In this visual age driven by soundbytes and computer graphics, just sitting and listening to someone talk must seem at best antiquated, and at worst a waste of time. If that is not strange enough, we do all of this in the shadow of an instrument of execution the cross.  And to top it all off, some of us even give away our money while we’re here. Are we completely out of our minds?
Some might think so.
So I guess it is a good thing that in some ways worship is not what it seems to be.
Worship does not come from the mind… it comes from the heart… worship comes from the heart overflowing with Joy.
In spite of the fact that we build churches like theatres, you are not the audience.  Actually, we are all actors and we have an audience of one…  God.
And contrary to the values of our consumer-driven culture, we don’t worship for what we can get out of it.

So why do we worship?
Why do I spend all week, … actually, many weeks planning for these two hours on Saturday and Sunday?  Why do we worship?
You might come to see your friends, but you can do that at the coffee shop.
You might come to relax and have a quiet hour, but you could get that by going for a walk in the woods.
You might come to learn something, but you can do that by reading a book.
You might come to be filled, but you can do that a pizza ranch… maybe in a different way but I guarantee you can be filled there!
You might come here because that is what you have always done on Sunday morning. But even old dogs can learn new tricks.
None of those are why we come to worship. 
We worship for one reason and one reason only.  When we encounter God our hearts overflow with joy. When we come into the presence of God we are so filled with joy that we can't help but worship. When the spirit of God touches our spirit as we are filled with the fruit of the spirit called joy and the natural response is WOW.
WOW may be the most authentic expression of worship.
When we have an experience of the living God we are literally Awed to Joy
We overflow with Joy. We ooze joy. That joy is deeper than happiness.  It is wider than gladness. It is higher than pleasure. Joy is the fruit of the spirit that makes us want to sing, and dance, and raise our hands, and whoop and holler, and shout from the mountaintop about the greatness of God… and the church that bears the fruit of joy lives that out in its worship.

 This series is called “known by our fruit.” Because when people see us we want them to know who we are by what we do. The fruit of the spirit is not a discipline we practice or a goal for which we strive.  They are what we become BECAUSE we have encountered the living God and because of that, our lives have been transformed.
Last week we talked about the fruit of love. Because we personally encounter the loving God, we are filled with love and people to say “look how they love one another and others.”
 This week we talk about the fruit of the spirit that is Joy.  Joy is the delight, the jubilation, the  exultation, the glee, the exhilaration, the exuberance, the euphoria that bubbles up inside of us because we have encountered the living God.   It is the result of the holy spirit bearing witness with our spirit…the Holy spirit touching our spirit.  Maybe you get shivers up your spine. Maybe you want to sing. Maybe you want to dance.  Maybe you want to stand on a mountain and tell everyone what you have experienced. Whatever form it takes the natural response to joy is to whisper “WOW.” And that WOW is at the heart of worship.

Worship means different things in different places.  Have any of you been in a church where they play tambourines and dance up and down the aisle?  That’s Joy, but so is the unprogrammed friends worship where they sit in pregnant silence for an hour listening for a word of the lord. 
Have any of you been to a worship where they pray in tongues and are slain in the spirit? That is joy-filled worship, but so is the 3-hour orthodox worship service in a 1500-year-old cold stone cathedral where everyone has to wear coats and stand because there are no pews. 
Have any of you seen the Nigerian worshippers dancing down the aisle with their offerings?  That is Joy, but so is the offering in churches like ours where people give generously and joyfully while their hearts are filled with beautiful music.
All of these are worship and all of them grow out of the joy we experience in an encounter with God. They are each unique as is each of us. None is better than the other. Because in their own way, each is expressing a joy-filled “wow.”

The 100th Psalm speaks of the relationship between joy and worship.  And it gives us at least three reasons to joyfully worship God.
The 100th Psalm starts out calling us into worship… “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” See the Joyfulness, the gladness that leads us to worship?

 We are going to focus on three sources of Joy in verse three. It starts out “Know that the Lord is God.”  
The Lord is God… that word LORD is the word “Yahweh,” the great I am; the one who was, is, and will be; the almighty creator of heaven and earth; the humble suffering servant, and the spirit that equips calls and sends each of us to be servants of the king. To say that the Lord is God is to say that God is the one and only, eternal, all knowing, all powerful all loving and all judging Lord of all that has ever been and all that will be. What do we say when we stand in the presence of such a being besides “WOW.”
To back up a word or two, the psalmist says we should “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.”  Because we KNOW that the Lord Is God.  He is not talking about knowing God up here, but something that happens down here….deep, deep inside in ways that we can’t explain or describe. My cell phone doesn’t’ know who made it, or who is operating it but we KNOW the Lord. How many created things have the privilege of knowing and being in a relationship with their creator. We should not take that for granted. God is God and we are mere creatures, God is not required to let us know the divine, yet we are honored with the unbelievable opportunity as mere finite creatures to enter into the presence of the Almighty Lord God. 
I remember when the kids were small watching them when we picked them up from daycare or the nursery, and they were OK as long as they didn’t know we were there.  As soon as they knew we were in the room they would either squeal with delight or burst out in tears.  I always told myself they were tears of joy. Both the squeal and the tears are responses to being emotionally overwhelmed.
Our natural response when we realize that God is here is to be overwhelmed. Sometimes that means we sing in delight, other times we cry for the joy of it, other times we want to dance or lift our hands and hearts in joyful worship of the Lord our God. All are joyful responses to KNOWING that the Lord is God. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” 

 The next line of verse 3 of Psalm 100 gives us a second reason why we worship. It says “it is he that made us and we are his.”  So the second reason we worship is because of what God does.  The Psalm refers to God creating us, but if we keep going the reasons to worship keep piling up.  God created us, called us through Abraham to be a great nation, lead us out of slavery in the land of Egypt, guided us through 40 years in the wilderness, and spoke to us through judges, prophets, and kings.  If that isn’t enough, God is just getting started.  God CAME to us, as one of us in Jesus Christ….that is way beyond what anyone ever expected god to do. He came us as one of us and lived and taught, and healed.  Then God sacrificed for us.  Sacrificed his own son.  Sacrificed his own life for us and for our salvation.  Then 3 days later he won victory over sin and death that we could be gifted with that same victory through him.   God saved us, called us, sustained us. Walked with us, and guided us every day of our lives.  What a God we have. 
As a child unwraps a birthday or Christmas gift and runs to hug the giver saying it is just what I wanted…  we come to worship to throw our arms around God to say “thank you, you are just we needed… just what we wanted” as we joyfully worship the Lord our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” 

 Finally, the psalm says in the next line of verse 3,  “we are the sheep of his pasture and we are his.” Did you hear that? Sometimes we hear things or read things and the significance does not really register.  We are the sheep of his pasture.  We are his.  We are God’s children. We belong to God.
Anyone can worship God because of what God is or what God does.  Not everyone can worship God because God has adopted them into his family.  To the folks to whom this Psalm was written, that meant they were Israel.  God’s Chosen people.  For us, it means that we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Jesus died for me, even me!! And we are his children. “The spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him (not everyone, but those who believe in him) will not perish.  We are God's chosen, loved, and saved people.
The child lost in the mall rejoices over the reappearance of the parent,  they run to them as soon as they realize that they have been found. God has found us, saved us and claimed us.  We belong to God. That should make us overflow with Joy that turns into worship.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” 

 How’s your heart?   Filled with joy?  I hope so.
I don’t preach this sermon to tell you that you need to do anything different, but to help you think about why you do what you do.
My experience of worship here, so far, is that it is an authentically joy-filled celebration of God and community and it is an offering of the best of ourselves to God as a holy and living sacrifice… Paul says “that is our spiritual worship.” Does It look like a charismatic congregation or a Nigerian congregation, NO, but that would not be authentic to who God has created us to be?
You have awesome worship here, and I am delighted to be part of that. But I just want you to step back for a moment and understand WHY we have awesome worship. We have awesome worship because each of you has the joy of encountering the living God in your daily life and we bring our joy here to share it in public worship. 
You know what I want people to say when they leave worship here?  I want them to say “WOW, look how they are filled with the joy of the lord.”
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, First United Methodist church. Worship the Lord with gladness; let us come into his presence with singing.” 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Known by our fruit:love

*Remember these texts are written in a verbal style that fits my preaching. Remember also that since I have started preaching without my text it doesn't always come out the same on Saturday and Sunday.  If you prefer to watch the video of the Sunday morning proclamation, you can do that by visiting and looking for the sermon videos.   You can also watch us live on youtube on Sunday at 10am. 

Known by our fruit UMC: Love
Carroll FUMC

I’m going to put you on the spot today. If you don’t want to answer just wave me off as I approach you.
What is your first thought when I say “FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH” <<<4-5 PEOPLE>>>
Isn’t it interesting all the different answers we give?
I’ll give you your homework early this week… Sometime this week I want each of you to ask two people outside our church “what comes to mind when I say Carroll first UMC?” Remember their answers because I will ask you next week.

 Our first series of sermons is called “known by our fruit.” It focuses on the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” We will be asking the question, “What fruit is our church known for?” “As a Church, what fruit are we bearing?” And”How can we be more fruitful?” We will examine one fruit each week.

 This week we talk about LOVE.
The ancient church father from North Africa, named Tertulian, imagined what others should see as they look at the church. He wrote “Let them say Look . . . how they love one another; and how they are ready to die for each other. ” You might wonder about dying for one another, but let’s talk about the meaning of Love.

 First, we have to understand that God is, at the heart of God’s being, LOVE. I John says, “God is LOVE!” The entire Bible is God’s love story. Not like a Harlequin romance, thankfully. But God creates the world, through love. God protects the Israelites because of love. God sends a Savior out of love. The cross is a sacrifice of love. The resurrection is perhaps the greatest miracle of love of all time. Even the consummation of the world in Revelation is out of love… “Behold I make all things new”, “I wipe away every tear from their eye …There will be no more crying, no more pain.” That sounds like love to me, from beginning to end the Bible is a love story… the story of God’s love for creation. .God’s love for us… and God’s yearning for us to love God and one another.
  As the Pharisee found out in Matthew 22 the two greatest commandments are “Love God and love neighbor.”
From beginning to end, this is a book that is trying to send us a simple but powerful message. God loves you more than you can ever imagine. There is nothing you can do to change that. That message calls for a response… which is, of course, to love God and love neighbor. When we do that perfectly, we have mastered the faith… but I for one, have a long ways to go.
 So what is this fruit of the spirit of love? Let’s just say, it is not a feeling, it is not words, it is not the romantic love which is an entirely different word in Greek. It is not brotherly love, because Greek has a different word for that too. I Corinthians 13 gives us a list of things that love is not: “Love is not envious, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, resentful, and it does not rejoice in wrongdoing.”
 So what is love? First, Love is a verb which means action… and second, it is sacrificial …third it is unearned or unqualified.
Our scripture this morning is the well known Good Samaritan.
When we read the story we can imagine the Levite ran by on the other side of the road pretending that he didn’t see the man. The priest may have gone by on the other side and even though it doesn’t say, it would not be out of character for the priest to pray for the man or offer a blessing from afar.
 The Samaritan, however, loved.
First, he acted. He stopped, knelt down, bandaged, comforted, carried the man to the inn, and paid for his care.
  Second, he acted sacrificially. He may even have put his own self in danger by stopping on that dangerous stretch of road. The man could have been a decoy so robbers could attack anyone who stopped to help. He sacrificed his own supplies, comfort, time, and even his money when he paid for the man’s care.
 Finally, it didn’t matter who these two men were…Samaritans and a Jews had a long-running hatred of each other) They could just as easily been rich and poor, gay and straight, black and white and all shades of brown, liberal and conservative, democrat or republican, man or woman; it just doesn’t matter to love. When we are showing Christian love… everyone and anyone deserves to be loved. No qualifications, not criteria,
James 2:15 says, “ If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”  Really! What good is it to say we love each other if we don’t visit when someone is in the hospital, or take soup when they get home? What good is it if we don’t provide food or rent assistance or a tank of gas to a family is struggling? What good is our love if we don’t comfort one another in our grief, support someone in the midst of an ugly divorce, help a parent worn out by the kids. Offer to relieve an exhausted caregiver. What good is our love if we avoid the unpleasantness of fighting an addiction or depression, or temptation?
•             What good is it to say “good luck,” or the Christian equivalent “we are praying for you and we love you” if we don’t act.  If we don’t put those prayers into action we are missing the point of love!
•             Loving always costs us something… either time, or energy, or money…love is always sacrificial.
•             And love does not discriminate.  It doesn’t matter who it is. It doesn’t matter what they have done to us.  It doesn’t matter how different we are.
Think of the person or group that is hardest for you to tolerate… they just make your skin crawl.  Now show them love… that is Christian love acting sacrificially to love anyone and everyone. We have to put the love into action by visiting them, feeding them, comforting them, encouraging them, offering to take the kids to a movie, or offering to sit with an ill loved one, or taking them to AA or helping them to make that first difficult call to a mental health center, or offering them an alternative to temptation. THAT is love. Not just fancy words in the bible, but letting those words bear the fruit of actually acting sacrificially on someone else’s behalf.
God’s love is sacrificial action the sacrificial action of creating, leading, protecting, coming, living, dying, being raised again for each and every one of us.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”  God loved so much that he acted decisively, sacrificially, and on behalf of the world… each and every one of us.  And … and our love needs to be a decisive sacrificial action for anyone who needs to be loved… and isn’t that all of us?

Let’s get real with real with each other. If we want people to say, “See how they love one another” we have to actually love one another.
So, you know I am new here… what do we do in this church to love one another… people inside or related to our church family? <<< >>> SEE HOW THEY LOVE EACH OTHER <<<several times>>>
 And let’s take it a step further. What do we do in this church or in our lives to love others who are not yet part of the congregation? What do we do that makes people say “see how they love others?” <<< >>>SEE HOW THEY LOVE OTHERS <<<several times>>>
The fruit of the spirit is love. It sounds to me like we bear the fruit of love pretty well.  That is most of the battle… remember the most important commandments? LOVE GOD… LOVE NEIGHBOR.  I think that is why Paul put Love as the first fruit of the spirit. In fact, if the only fruit our church or our lives ever bore was love… the rest would fall in to place.
The apostle John is said to have gone deaf and spent the last years of his life repeating “Little children love one another.  Little children love one another.”  Let me leave you with a similar admonition. Love is the beginning and the end of being a church… friends, let us be a church about which they say… “See how they love” Go and love.

Friday, June 29, 2018


Het friends, thanks for following me.  Just so you know, I am now, I am now at the Carroll Iowa First UMC. I will continue to post sermon texts as usual.  enjoy!!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Crazy #6 “This is my body.,.. this is my blood” RUMC 6/3/18

Crazy #6
“This is my body.,.. this is my blood”
RUMC 6/3/18
 Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Communion is one of the most beautiful, unifying, fulfilling rituals in the Christian faith. From outside the faith, however, it is also one of the most bizarre things Christian do.
 Communion, in fact, seems so bizarre to some outside the faith and in the early church, it actually drew charges of cannibalism and even accusations that Christians eat their children. Now, we know that none of that is true, but what did he mean?

 In order to understand this much criticized and at least borderline crazy sounding teaching of Jesus, I want to go to John 6. Now Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have passages just about like the one we read this morning. John doesn’t have the story of the institution of communion per say, but I think as we begin to peel back the layers upon layers of meaning in the Eucharist, or Holy Communion John 6 is a key to our understanding.
John 6 starts with the feeding of the 5000, then Jesus walks on water, and then the crowd chases him down looking for more bread. That is when Jesus begins to speak symbolically.

 He says something like, “You came looking for me not because you believed, but because you wanted another free meal. Don’t look a free meal that will fill you for 3 hours, but ask for that which will fill you to eternity.”
Of course, no literal food that can fill us for eternity. Jesus is obviously slipping into symbolism here
The crowd is still stuck on real live bread. In verse 30 the crowd asks Jesus, “ What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness.”
Jesus argues back “I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that whic] comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Any idea what he is talking about? YES HIMSELF! 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
 Finally, Jesus gets to the punch line… “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. whoever believes in me has eternal life.” Jesus replies, “Don’t you get it?” I am the bread. I am the Manna sent to save the people. The bread is my body broken for you… to borrow words from the last supper.

You see Jesus is not talking about cannibalism. He is not talking about bread. In John and at the last supper, Jesus is talking about faith, salvation, and eternal life. That’s why we always have to look at the context of a Biblical passage, especially if it seems crazy… What is around it, what other passages in the Bible help us to understand it. Now we see that eating bread--- whether it is in John 6 or at the last supper in Matthew 26-- is the CONTEXT of the conversation, faith, salvation, and eternal life is the real SUBJECT of the conversation.

So using the words of Jesus at the last supper,
 To do this in remembrance of him is to have faith in Jesus. To have faith, not that Jesus was, but that Jesus is. To have faith that Jesus is really present… Really active… Really working in our lives and our world. To have faith that Jesus brings salvation just as the Manna brought salvation in the wilderness. To receive his body broken for you and his blood poured out for you is to receive the gracious gift of salvation from our gracious God. It is one thing to believe it in our heads, but we are material beings living in a material world, and a sacrament is God using material stuff to teach us about a spiritual truth. To take the material substance of the bread and the juice into our material bodies in remembrance of him makes the spiritual truth that Jesus is our savior real in a way that reading a creed, or singing a song just cannot. Jesus IS OUR SAVIOR.

 .Second, to do this in remembrance of him is to proclaim Jesus as the son of God.
49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is (I am) the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
He says twice, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” To receive his body broken for you (in the material of the bread) and his blood poured out for you (in the material of the juice) is to also receive the holy and almighty God, the divine creator of heaven and earth, the one who is without beginning or end, who is the alpha and the omega, the one who is spirit and is beyond anything we can imagine or touch,… to receive the material of the bread and the juice is to proclaim that this God beyond all is in the flesh of Jesus Christ… in material form in Jesus Christ. It is one thing to believe the incarnation on the intellectually, but we are material beings living in a material world. To take the material substance of the bread and the juice into our material bodies in remembrance of him makes the spiritual truth of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ real in a way that lighting advent candles or singing “love came down at Christmas” just cannot.  Jesus IS GOD INCARNATE.

 Finally, to eat the bread and drink the juice in remembrance of him to is to remember that God loves you personally.
The Jews continued to argue with Jesus about bread, and life, and just kept missing the point. Finally, Jesus says bluntly “I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
This is a life and death decision, believe and live... Don’t believe and there is no life in you. To receive his body broken for you (right here and right now in this place) and his blood poured out for you (right here and right now in this place) is to understand that the life Jesus offers is not just for the Jews, or just for the righteous, or just for the good, or anyone else… it is for me. It is for you. To receive the bread and the juice-- the body and the blood-- into your own body is a very intimate experience of God abiding- living in us… and calls us to abide or live in God. To receive the bread and the juice-- the body and the blood-- into your own body is to know intimately that God loves you. It is one thing to believe that Jesus loves me on the inside, but we are material beings living in a material world. To take the material substance of the bread and the juice into our material bodies in remembrance of him makes the spiritual truth that God loves me very real and intimate in a way that prayer or scripture reading just cannot. Jesus loves you and lives in you personally.

Do this in remembrance of me… Jesus is our savior… the son of God … is intimately in love with you.
So, you see, that Jesus saying “this is my body broken for you, and this is my blood shed for you, is not just an isolated crazy thing to say. It sounds crazy but to those who experience it… truly receive the body and blood, it is an experience no sermon can ever explain. You only know by doing. So let’s share the body and blood of Christ.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Crazy things Jesus Said and how they have changed us #5 The first shall be last and the last shall be first. RUMC 5-27-2018

Crazy things Jesus Said and how they have changed us #5
The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
RUMC 5-27-2018
Is there anyone else here who was the shortest kid in their class?  I had a teacher, probably 2nd grade who always lined us up by height to march us down the hall to gym.  I was always last in line.  Oh, how I wanted her just once to line us up shortest to tallest so I could be in front.
Those of you who follow racing might be able to tell us who won the Indy 500 a year ago…I had to look it up. Anyone remember?  Takuma Sato.  But no one remembers that Ed Jones came in 3rd, or that Jay Howard came in dead last. No one remembers that.
You baseball fans might be able to tell me who has the highest batting average this year… Mookie Betts of the Redsox.  But can anyone tell me who has the lowest batting average this year?  Kole Calhoun of the angels at 151.
 Our world is bent toward the winners, the biggest, the brightest, the most beautiful, the fastest, and the best. Even though for every winner there is a whole slew of folks who didn’t win.
No child grows up dreaming of coming in last in the Indy 500, batting last in the league, being second runner-up or even first runner-up in anything.  No one brags about being picked last for kickball or graduating last in their class.
 So when Jesus says, “The last will be first, and the first will be last” it is a shock to the system.  When he says, “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.”  We have this gut reaction that screams “NO! That’s not fair!”
So what kind of crazy talk is this?  What does Jesus mean when he says “the first shall be last” or “the greatest must be your servant?”

 I think to understand Jesus’ teaching we need to back up a whole chapter. Chapter 19 of Matthew starting with verse 16, on page 21, tells of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and said he has fulfilled all the laws.  Jesus tells him if he wants to be saved he must go sell all he has and give it to the poor.  He goes away sad because he is very rich.
In discussing this with the disciples, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.
 Then there is an interesting line. In verse 27 of chapter 19, Peter said, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” You can hear it in his voice.  He is thinking whohoo! Score… we will be in for a bonus because we left everything we had, and on top of that, we are following Jesus around the countryside.  “So, Jesus, those of us who have left everything and sacrificed much and followed all your teachings… what will be our reward?”  Jesus’ answer concludes with the sentence “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
You can almost hear the question marks in Peter’s silence.
 Then as we move into chapter 20 Jesus tells that parable that so many of you hate. I have had many discussions about this parable of the workers in the vineyard because people can’t get around the “unfairness” of it.
It is the parable in which the owner of the vineyard hires folks to work and promises a denarius, a standard days wage for a laborer. Then he goes out a few hours later and hires more, and a few hours later and hires more and then just before the end of the day hires one more crew.
At the end of the day, the vineyard owner lines them all up from the most recent hire to the ones who had been there all day. To everyone’s surprise, the short timers receive a denarius. So do the ½ dayers, and by this time those who had worked all day were sure that they would receive a bonus above and beyond the denarius.  But they were wrong. They received the denarius too.
When they grumbled, the owner replies, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
 And once again Jesus repeats, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Do you think that might be an important teaching?
 Now hang in there with me. 4 verses later, Salome, the name we traditionally give to James and John’s mother, has a question. I have to wonder… was she asleep… was she just a bargainer… was she out at the well when Jesus said the part about first and last? What’s the deal?  Only 4 verses after Jesus teaches “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” Salome begs Jesus to let her sons be first in the kingdom of heaven; one sit on the right and the other on the left means that one would be vice president and the other the next person in the chain of command after the vice president.
 Jesus is indignant and says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I really don’t think she was asleep, I just think she couldn’t understand this crazy idea that the first would be last and the last first.  That’s not the way the world works.
But just think about it a minute… the first are first, but they will in some way be the last. And the last are last but they will in some way become first…there is only one way that can happen.  If everyone is to be first and everyone is to be last simultaneously, then it must be that everyone is in a tie. Everyone is exactly equal. Everyone is at the same time both First and last.
 Ah, now the parable makes sense too, doesn’t it?  Some worked 8 or 10 hours.  Others worked an hour and each was paid the same, one denarius. Everyone is exactly equal. Everyone is at the same time both First and last.
This is where it gets funny… usually, we completely miss Jesus point because we are looking through our particular set of glasses. We grumble that it is unfair because we ASSUME that we are among the long-term faithful who deserve more than those other people.  Jesus’ point is. God loves us all the same!
How long you have been a member, how faithful you are, how hard you work, the office you have held, and the amount you have donated don’t make you better than the 7th grader that just gave her life to Jesus at camp, or the homeless guy who has nothing, or the thief who stole an old lady’s life savings, or anyone else. We assume that we are among the faithful and hardest workers, the most deserving so when we see God loving others whom we believe to be undeserving, we scream “NO! That’s not fair!”
But that is missing Jesus point. He is teaching about the universal, unbelievable, incomprehensible, grace of God.  He is teaching that in God’s eyes there is no first or last, no rich or poor, no great for small, no first or last… only children in need of love. And just as the vineyard owner pays them all the same, God loves us all the same. No distinctions, no class ranks, no Mercedes for mother Theresa and pinto for pastor Terry thank goodness. No mansion for you and pup tent for your neighbor. No gold crown for church members and baseball cap for non-members.
Folks, God’s love is universal and equal. Nicodemus the Pharisee who followed Jesus, the disciples and the thief who up to his last breath mocked and spit upon Jesus and then asked Jesus to “remember him when he comes into his kingdom”… they all hear the same words.  Today you will be with me in paradise.  The lifelong Methodist, the missionary who died sharing the gospel, the preacher who just did his best but was always considered average, the drug addict who turns their life around, and the murderer who is converted just before he receives the lethal injection all hear exactly the same thing… “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Let me ask you something… who says we are among the first, the faithful, or the deserving anyway? When you place yourself in the parable, have you ever considered that in some way you might be among the last hired? Granted I would say you are among the finest people I have ever known and this is a great church doing great things, but if we can stop patting ourselves on the back long enough to hear what Jesus is saying, he is saying “God bless you for what you do, but don’t think that makes you better than anyone else.”  If we make the mistake of thinking we are God’s favorite (the first) … we can plan on being knocked down a couple of pegs because God loves us all just the same. The very fact that we can only imagine ourselves in the first group of those who deserve favor and extra reward is reason enough to question whether our self-inflating egos might actually make us among the least rather than the greatest.
If we can in any way see ourselves as the least or the last then our response to the parable would not be “NO! That’s not fair!” but rather “praise God for God’s wonderful grace.”

 How has this crazy idea changed us?  Over a lifetime of hearing it, I hope you are starting to believe it.  I am still working on it. Some days I believe God loves me the way I am, others it is harder to accept. 
 The other way it changes us is when we realize that God freely and completely loves us… we have to come face to face with the fact that God freely and completely loves our enemy too.  And not just our enemies, but those who have hurt us and never apologized, people who look different or think differently than we do. People who belong to every conceivable kind of church and those who belong to no church. Those who deserve it (or think they do) and those who do not (or we think they don’t). God loves each and every one of them…and each and every one of us just as we are.
I know, that’s not how we would to it. That’s not fair. That’s not the way the world would do it.  It is backward, upside down, inside out, and just plain nuts. But it was God’s crazy idea to die on the cross for the righteous and the unrighteous, for you, and me, and everyone we would consider unlovable.  That is the crazy love of God!

Please take out your index card. It says I (blank) but God loves me anyway.  Fill that in … it could be a habit you have, a personality trait, a deep dark secret of the past. Like I robbed a liquor store but God loves me anyway.  It is more likely something like I have anger issues, but God loves me anyway. Or I don’t treat my spouse well, or I am a racist, or I’m not sure I believe in God… but God loves me anyway. Those will be completely anonymous, but the ushers are collecting them in the noisy offering buckets and we will use them in a litany after this.
It is hard enough to say “God loves me anyway.”  But I want to make it just a little harder. On your know, grow, go sheet where it says, “God loves _______________. God help me to love them too.”  Fill in someone’s name that is really hard for you to love.  (You will not hand this in. this is for you.) If not a name maybe a group of people: immigrants, conservatives, liberals, homosexuals, blacks. Arabs, Muslims, you get the idea.  Fill that in for yourself.
When we get to the end of the litany we will have just a moment f a Korean style of prayer in which everyone prays an individual prayer out loud at the same time.  We will pray “God help me to accept that you love me anyway… and help me to love____(and we will all name our person or group)______ as you love them”  I promise you everyone will be praying their own, so no one will hear yours… even if they did… we are all together in the struggle to love.
L: Someone here ____________
P: But God loves you anyway.  (x 5-10)
L: God help me to accept that you love me anyway… and help me to love  _______ as you love them.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Crazy things Jesus said #4 Give and you will receive May 20, 2018 RUMC

Crazy things Jesus said #4
Give and you will receive
May 20, 2018 RUMC

How much would it cost me to get you to eat a worm?  Would you eat it for $1?  NO?  how about $100?  $1000?  In a recent survey, 26% of people said they wouldn’t consider eating a worm for less than $1000. 21%, however, said they would wolf down a worm for $300.
How much would it cost me to get you to shave your head? 59% said it would take $10,000.  What surprised me is the 41% who wouldn’t do it for $10,000.  Maybe I’m weird, but it wouldn’t cost anywhere near $10,000 to shave my head. 1 in 8 would commit murder for a  $million, 15% would shoplift for $1000, and 20% would flash a stranger for $10,000?  
Is there anything Americans won’t do for money? Your approach to money probably says more about you than anything else you do. Jesus knew that. He said, “where your treasure is there will your heart be also. Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth but treasures in heaven.” (Matt 5:24)

We live in a culture obsessed with money, the higher the salary the more important the job is perceived to be. The more expensive the car the better. Big houses, big 401k’s.  And those who don’t have those things should want them. The message of the culture is if you can’t afford a fancy vacation you are less of a person. If you can’t’ afford a fancy new car you are less important. If you get paid less than I do, we know who is more important. The chorus in our culture is   “Get, get, get,--grab, grab, grab-- more, more, more-- I want --I need --I have to have.”
But maybe it isn’t just us. I suspect every culture in history at some level experienced this same phenomenon. Greed and pride are part of human nature.  The bible is pretty clear about that, most famously in saying that “the love of money is the root of all evil.”  And Jesus taught about money a lot. 1 out of every 6 verses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke deals with money in one way or another. Of the 29 parables, Christ told 16 (just over ½) deal with a person’s relationship with their money.
Jesus knew money was important, but more importantly, our use of money is a pretty good thermometer to whether we are fundamentally greedy or generous people. And   Generosity, or the lack of generosity in all areas of life are good indicators of our spiritual health.       

 I think it is important to understand that generosity is bigger than money. In this passage, Jesus is talking about all of life, including money, but not limited to money. The best way I can explain this is to read Eugene Peterson’s version of the Bible called THE MESSAGE verse 31-38
 31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.
 35-36 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.
 37-38 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.
 Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

 Generosity begets generosity. That is the crazy economics of the kingdom of God.
•            The world says hang on to it or you’ll lose it. Jesus says give it away or you’ll lose it.
•            The world says to treat others the way they treat you, Jesus treats them the way you WANT THEM TO TREAT YOU if you expect to receive love and forgiveness.
•            The world says the righteous judge the unrighteous, Jesus says Give away your right to judge or you will be judged.
It sounds crazy, ludicrous, impossible. But which is upside down? Are we being more godlike when we are shouting “mine, mine, mine,” or when we are generously sharing whatever we have, money, time, forgiveness, grace, joy hope, or love?  The more you give the more you will receive and the more you receive the more you can give, and the more you give the more you can receive, and pretty soon there is this a crazy generous, gracious, kingdom experience of being filled so full and so fast that we can’t give ourselves away fast enough to keep from overflowing.
This is one of those crazy teachings of Jesus that doesn’t make sense until you do it. 
 Let me introduce a term I heard this week. Cheap giving.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about cheap grace as the “preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.”  Cheap giving is giving without any sacrifice. Cheap giving is giving from the leftovers… or giving IF there are any leftovers: Leftover money at the end of the month, leftover time at the end of the week, leftover love given to those whom it is easy to love, leftover energy if we have anything left at the end of the day.
God will not be satisfied with cheap giving.  God will not be satisfied with leftovers.  Jesus is teaching that God expects nothing less than God gives…crazy, unbelievable, incomprehensible extravagant generosity That includes money, yes, but it also includes, time, energy, and love. Our whole lives are to be characterized by extravagant generosity rather than easy giving.

Now I want to stop there and reject what is called the prosperity gospel.  I am not saying that if you give an extra $1000 to the church, God will bless you with a new car or miraculous deposits of money into your bank account. Do those things happen, occasionally, but that is selfishly bribing God for our own benefit, which is definitely not extravagant generosity.
The rewards Jesus is talking about may include material stuff, but may also include less tangible things like joy, peace, hope, love, and grace. We live our lives modeled after God’s own extravagantly generous character, and that is enough.
So, what are some examples of extravagant generosity you have seen around here? <<<<<     >>>>>>
There are some remarkable examples… but I have to admit It is a little harder to identify growth in extravagant generosity around here than it is to identify how we have grown in love or mountain moving faith.
Let me say, this message was planned two months ago but it turned out to be very timely. The ongoing financial struggle in this church has one and only one cause. Fear. Fear of generosity. While some of us give generously, there are way too many folks to hold back out of fear and only give begrudgingly when the situation becomes critical as it has this month.  That is cheap giving… it requires no sacrifice. We need t become extravagant givers whatever that means for your situation.
A personal testimony. My salary is public information.  You can all look it up.  When we came we started tithing for the first time in our lives and it has changed the way I look at what I have, it has changed my relationship with money, and it has taught me that generosity really is a spiritual issue. Try it out by tithing or giving proportionally on a regular basis.  You will grow spiritually and if enough folks do that, I guarantee the church will never have to go begging to meet expenses again. When there is an appeal we see extravagant generosity… but we need to make it a habit or a lifestyle, rather than the exception.

But there is something more important than money. Making up a deficit in the cash flow is easy compared to sustaining ministry.   I have been preaching “every member in ministry” for over two years now, the leadership team has been trying to model it and encourage it, but I just don’t know if it has caught on.  There are some isolated people who have taken up the challenge and run with it. Thank you! But most have not. Too many of us give out of the extra or leftover time… I am thankful for what they do, but it is cheap giving… it requires no sacrifice.  Way too often, I hear “I’ve done my part.” Sorry, but that’s crazy and not in a good way. There is no such thing as even coming close to having “done your part” for the kingdom of God as long as we are breathing. That’s not even easy giving. It’s just cheap.
I’m not going o belabor this because you know what I am talking about. But let me tell you a couple of stories.
We started Family Food and Fun this year. A new program, new excitement and a great opportunity to minister to families. We had a great new director.  The director notified me several months ago that they will never be director again because they are tired of begging people to help and being turned down with a flat “no.” We are losing a great volunteer and the ministry suffers because of cheap giving.
How many years have you had porkburgers in the park? A lot. This year we will only have a stand at the church. Why? Well, we can point to competition, and we can point to age, but really it comes down to there are only a handful of folks who end up doing it.  The vast majority could, but simply will not take a couple of hours out of a whole holiday to be part of the one thing the church has consistently done year after year that reminds the community that we are here. Sure, the money is handy but the visibility is the important part of the porkburger stand and that will be decreased this year.
That’s enough examples but you know what I mean and can probably think of your own examples. I leave that as a challenge to all of you.

 The kingdom of God is a kingdom of extravagant generosity. God’s generosity to us… our generosity to God and neighbor… which encourages others to be generous to us …which feeds into God’s generosity… which calls for our generosity and round and round we go.
I chose to stick with the series rather than preach Pentecost this year… but as I studied I realized that this IS a Pentecost sermon. Listen to this description of the early church after the holy spirit was manifest on Pentecost.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
They did it with glad and generous hearts… why… because the holy spirit empowered it. Luke could not be clearer that extravagant generosity is the work of the Holy Spirit. 
So, my friends, we are a work in progress.  We have a ways to go but that is OK… that is  OK because God has already generously poured upon us the gift of extravagant generosity on Pentecost and by the Holy Spirit in our midst.
Acts reads:                        ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Go, chase your visions, and dream your dreams of being a holy spirit powered extravagantly generous church. You can do it… or rather the Holy Spirit can do it .. or rather the holy spirit has already done it… and we just have to live into that extravagant and sometimes crazy generosity that comes with being part of the kingdom of God.