Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Sidney UMC - Second Sunday of Advent - 12/04/22 - Sermon - “Prepare The Way Of The Lord!” (“The Reclaiming Hope” Series: Part 2 of 5)

                                     Sunday 12/04/22 - Sidney UMC

Sermon Title:           “Prepare The Way Of The Lord!”                                         (“The Reclaiming Hope” Series: Part 2 of 5)                       

Old Testament Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10                                     

New Testament Scripture: Romans 15:4-13

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 3:1-12

          Last Sunday I started a sermon series for Advent called “The Reclaiming Hope” series. What I had said last week was that after the long and weary pandemic, we are back to a normal level of functioning. We have all lost a lot and have sacrificed a lot during the pandemic, but we are now back to a “new normal.” We are here in worship this morning without excessive amounts of restrictions, and we hope and pray that this pandemic is behind us. While have lost and sacrificed a lot, but I am challenging us all to seek new hope in Christ and in each other during this Advent and soon to be Christmas season.

          Since we had a reading from the gospel of Matthew 24:36-44 last Sunday, where Jesus spoke prophetically of his second coming, last Sunday my sermon once again was called, “The one who is, and is to come”. In this season of Advent, we are called to prepare for the memory of the birth of Christ, and to anticipate his second coming to the earth.

          With this said, there is a segment of our culture that very much believes in “pulling yourself up from your own bootstraps.” Or another term that I have heard is a “self-made man,” or a “self-made woman.” The idea that you and you alone prepare your path, then walk your path of success. In this way of thinking, you and you alone were responsible for your success and no one else.

          It certainly is a nice and rather “macho” theory, that we are “self-made,” or that we “pulled ourselves up from our own bootstraps,” but this is never entirely true. This is not to take away from the hard work and efforts of people that have achieved great worldly success, but we all had help along the way. For example, I am guessing that we did not feed and change ourselves as infants. I am guessing that we had help with school clothes, food, etc., as kids. Many of us can also cite family, friends, a spouse, etc. that helped us to get where we are now. So, while some say that they were “self-made” or that they “pulled themselves up from their own bootstraps,” nobody can fully do this.

          I say all of this on this Second Sunday of Advent, as Jesus had a lot of groundwork laid for him. Not only by his parents Mary and Joseph, and not only by the many prophets in the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible that prophesied his coming, but also this morning, from his cousin John the Baptist. Imagine if the Jews of Jesus’ time knew nothing of the prophecy of the messiah, or “Mashiach” in the Hebrew pronunciation. Not all Jews believed in the prophecy of the messiah or “Mashiach,” but certainly enough knew of the prophecy. As great prophets of old from the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah prophesied of this coming messiah, or “Mashiach,” the Jewish people had knowledge of this. Now Jesus of course was complete and was fully God and was fully human on earth, and he did not need anyone to prepare for his arrival. It certainly did not hurt though.

          Further, in living under Roman occupation during the time of Jesus, and the oppression of Rome, many Jews wanted a messiah or “Mashiach” now more than ever. So, Jesus had groundwork laid for centuries before him with the great prophets of old predicting his coming, and this morning Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist is specifically preparing the way for Jesus. This is why my sermon for this morning is called “Prepare The Way Of The Lord.” If Jesus started preaching, teaching, healing, loving, and forgiving, and there was little to no knowledge of the messiah or “Mashiach,” one would tend to think that it would have taken longer for the people to learn and to understand who Jesus was claiming to be.

          This morning then, on this Second Sunday of Advent, we are focusing on John the Baptist, and the fact he “Prepared The Way Of The Lord.” A lot was done to prepare the world for Jesus. As a lot was done for us all, for us to get to where we are today.

          As I said, many of the prophets of old from the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible prophesied about the coming of the messiah or “Mashiach.” Our reading from Isaiah 11:1-10 for this morning is another example of such a prophecy. Starting in Isaiah 11:1-10 for this morning, it says starting in 11:1, once again:

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see or decide by what his ears hear, 4 but with righteousness he shall judge for the poor and decide with equity for the oppressed of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist and faithfulness the belt around his loins (Isa. 11:1-5, NRSV).

          Quite a prophecy of the coming messiah or “Mashiach.” He will be a descendant of Jesse, who was the father of King David. God’s spirit shall rest on him, as the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus like a dove at his baptism in the Jordan River. He will rule righteously, judge fairly, and care for the most vulnerable among us. This prophecy written hundreds of years before Christ, predicting the coming messiah or “Mashiach.”

          Further when this savior returns in glory what will the earth then look like? Isaiah tells us continuing on starting in 11:6, saying once again:

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb; the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together, and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious
(Isa. 11:6-10, NRSV).

          Quite a prophecy, quite a prediction that the Prophet Isaiah is making about this messiah or “Mashiach” that is coming. Isaiah, like many other prophets of old, prophetically predicted the messiah and what his life would like. Isaiah, and many others “Prepared The Way Of The Lord.”

          We have a little bit of a different situation when it come to our Romans 15:4-13 reading for this morning, however. The Apostle Paul, who was formerly Saul of Tarsus, not only did not “Prepare The Way Of The Lord,” but Saul of Tarsus persecuted and tried to destroy the Christian movement. Then Saul of Tarsus encountered Christ on the road to Damascus and became the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul did not “Prepare The Way Of The Lord,” but he did preach the gospel of Christ and expand the church of Jesus Christ to the gentiles, or non-Jews. Isaiah and John, the Baptist “Prepared The Way Of The Lord,” but the Apostle Paul spread the good news of Christ and planted churches. In this Romans reading from the Apostle Paul for this morning, Paul quotes part of our Isaiah 11:1-10 reading that have for this morning. While Paul believed that the messiah or “Mashiach” would come one day, he was not convinced at first that this messiah was Jesus.

          The Apostle Paul in this scripture for this morning, once again tells the Romans that scriptures are meant to offer us hope. The Apostle Paul tells us to live in harmony with one another, and to be united in God through Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul then tells us to be welcoming to one another, and that Christ has fulfilled the promises of the ancestors. One such ancestor is the Prophet Isaiah, who the Apostle Paul quotes in Romans 15:9-12

“Therefore I will confess you among the gentiles and sing praises to your name”; 10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O gentiles, with his people”; 11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the gentiles; in him the gentiles shall hope”                              (Rom. 15:9-12, NRSV).

          Isaiah “Prepared The Way Of The Lord,” and the Apostle Paul who did not “Prepare The Way Of The Lord,” reminds all of us this morning what people like Isaiah did. God called the Apostle Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles or non-jews, but he knows that the prophets of old predicted that the messiah or “Mashiach.”

          This leads me to our gospel of Matthew 3:1-12 lesson for this morning, where John the Baptist will continue to “Prepare The Way Of The Lord.” John the Baptist was the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, and if you remember in the gospel, John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, when Mary, pregnant with Jesus came near her. So how did John the Baptist prepare the way for Jesus? Let us look once again starting in Matthew 3:1, where it says:

3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’ ”                        (Matt. 3:1-3, NRSV).

          There is certainly a lot of references to the Prophet Isaiah this morning, and the connection to the messiah, to Jesus. Isaiah, even prophesized about John the Baptist the one who was called to “Prepare The Way Of The Lord.” We even have a hymn in our United Methodist Hymnal called, you guess it, “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” number 207. This really pushes back on the idea of being “self-made” or “pulling yourself up from your own bootstraps.” Now Jesus was fully God and fully human on earth, so he was and is God. Nothing had to be done to prepare the way for Jesus, and yet much was done to prepare the hearts and minds people for centuries.

          A little bit about John the Baptist. He probably will not be on the cover of GQ Magazine anytime soon, nor was he probably a very eligible bachelor. Why? Well let us pick up in Matthew 3:4 where it says:

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham (Matt. 3:4-9, NRSV).

          So, John the Baptist lives in the wilderness, eats bugs and honey, and wears camel’s hair and a leather belt. He is calling people to repentance and baptizing them in the Jordan River. John the Baptist is letting people know that the savior is soon to be among them. John the Baptist is “Preparing the Way of the Lord,” 

          To emphasize that John the Baptist is “Preparing the Way of the Lord,” John the Baptist concludes our gospel reading for this morning from Matthew 3:11-13, saying once again:

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I, and I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:11-13, NRSV).

          Since John, the Baptist was baptizing people by immersion or dunking them under the water of the Jordan River, an entire branch of Christianity has emerged out of this. Since Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by immersion, in the Baptist tradition, all baptisms must be done by immersion or dunking them under the water. First called “Anabaptists” meaning “Re-Baptizers,” as some adults after getting baptized as an infant, then got rebaptized by immersion as an adult. This branch of Christianity is directly connected then to the ministry of John the Baptist, which in part is why Baptists are called Baptists.

          John the Baptist also says in our gospel lesson that he baptizes with water, but that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. As result of this, some Christian Churches, like the Salvation Army have no water baptism. Instead, they believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

          On this our Second Sunday of Advent may we prepare our hearts, our minds, and our souls, for the memory of the coming birth of Jesus Christ, and may we anticipate Christ’s return. May we all “Prepare the Way of the Lord.” Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Sidney UMC - First Sunday of Advent/UM Student Sunday - 11/27/22 - Sermon - “The One Who Is, And Is To Come!” (“The Reclaiming Hope” Series: Part 1 of 5)

Sunday 11/27/22 - Sidney UMC

Sermon Title:         “The One Who Is, And Is To Come!”                                       (“The Reclaiming Hope” Series: Part 1 of 5)                   

Old Testament Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5                                         

New Testament Scripture: Romans 13:11-14

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 24:36-44

          On this the First Sunday of this the season of Advent, we are gathered here this morning without COVID-19 restrictions. We are not required to wear masks, there is not social distancing, no sitting every other pew, no sign-in for contact tracing, and no covering yourself in a gallon of hand sanitizer.

          As I said yesterday, at George Wambolt’s Memorial Service, we have all been through a lot in these past few years. For example, I remember visiting Dorothy or “Dot” Drake with Bill Dann, and we visited Dot from outside through the windows of the Chestnut Park Nursing Home. Dot did not understand why we could not come in, and it was most distressing to her. I remember when Aggie DeShaw was sick in the hospital, her own family could not see her, but were finally able to see her, on a very limited bases, when she was in the Norwich Rehabilitation Facility.

          During these past few years, we have lost church members, friends, and family. We had to go grocery shopping at Price Chopper following arrows, we needed to have masks on, etc. I hope and pray that we are through this COVID-19 Pandemic, and I am happy that we are here this morning without major restrictions.

          I wondered for awhile when we would actually get to this “new normal,” and it has finally arrived. I looked at a Christmas Eve service video of ours from last year, and we still had roped pews, and many wore masks. As I was preparing to create a sermon series for this season of Advent, through Christmas Day though, I felt hope. I felt like for the first time in three years that we are truly and fully “Reclaiming Hope”. We are now living in a country that is largely free from COVID-19 restrictions. It does mean that COVID-19 has gone away, but it many ways, we have slayed the dragon. In fact, in my annual pastor’s report for our church Charge Conference, last year I reported fifteen deaths and or transfers of church members. For our annual church Charge Conference for this year, on Sunday December 11th at 1:00 pm, here at Sidney, we had 6 deaths and or transfers.

          I am not saying that this is all because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, I am just saying that we have all been through a lot in the last few years. I am also saying, once again, that I am excited to be are here this morning with no restrictions, and the other things that we had to endure for the past few years.

          For those to whom the season of Advent is a new thing, the church over the centuries developed this season as season of preparation for the birth and the second coming of Jesus Christ. The church also developed the season of Lent to prepare for the death and then the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We do not have to celebrate the season of Advent, but it has become part of the tradition of many Christian Churches to do so. We do not have to have an Advent Wreath, decorations, and a Christmas Tree, but these things have become incorporated into our Advent season leading to Christmas, and Christmas itself. It certainly is a highly decorated and loving time of the year.

          In this season of Advent, we await the memory of Christ’s birth on Christmas Day, and we await the return of Christ to earth. Advent is all about the “The One Who Is, And Is To Come!” In fact, in our lectionary scriptures each week we are given scriptures from the Old Testament and New Testament. The Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, is the story of the Jewish people. This story includes prophecy about the coming savior or messiah. This is why in many churches on Christmas Eve, we read prophetic scriptures from the Old Testament pointing to the coming of Christ, and then we proclaim this reality in our New Testament readings.

          Even during the pandemic, we awaited and celebrated the memory of the birth of Christ, and we waited in anticipation for the return of Christ. I may have told you this a few times before, but it wasn’t until I was a pastor for about 3-years, did I realize that this season of Advent was not just about the memory of the birth of Christ, but also the return of Christ. How else can we explain our gospel of Matthew 24:36-44 lesson for this morning talking about the return of Christ? I mean why would we talk about the return of Christ, in a season where we are awaiting the memory of Christ’s birth? The answer is, Advent is about the memory of the birth of Christ, and the return of Christ.

When we look at our reading for this morning from the prophet Isaiah 2:1-5, a scripture that was written centuries before Jesus Christ, we have a prophecy of the coming Messiah. In fact, our reading for this morning from Isaiah 2:1-5 says in 2:3-5, once again:

3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more. 5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! (Isa. 2:3-5, NRSV).

            In this prophecy from the Prophet Isaiah, we hear of this messiah who will come and judge between the nations, who will draw all of humanity unto himself, and who will end war, suffering, poverty, and pain. Under this messiah and savior, Jesus Christ, we will have perpetual peace and harmony. Sounds amazing to me!

           In this season of Advent, we prepare for the memory of the birth and the return of Jesus Christ. We are preparing for and celebrating “The One Who Is, And Is To Come!”

          In looking at our New Testament reading from the Apostle Paul for this morning, once again in Romans 13:11-14, the Apostle Paul tells us of the return of Jesus Christ. Picking up in Romans 13:11-14, the scripture beginning in 13:11, once again, says:

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is already the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone; the day is near. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us walk decently as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in illicit sex and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires                      (Rom. 13:11-14, NRSV).

          The Apostle Paul is telling the church in Rome, or the Romans, to be ready for the return of Christ. Live upright and righteous lives, and know that Christ will return one day, to finally make this world into what humanity has failed to try to make it into.

Since the season of Advent is supposed to be a joyous time, some of us might find our gospel of Matthew reading this morning to be a bit dark and ominous. Why do we have this Matthew 24:36-44 reading for this morning? Well, once again, the season of Advent is about preparing for the memory of the birth of Christ, and being ready for his triumphant return. Jesus instructs us this morning, once again, starting in Matthew 24:36 saying:

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so, too, will be the coming of the Son of Man                        (Matt. 24:36-39, NRSV). 

          So, in this joyous, hope filled, loving, and peaceful season, where we are called to prepare our hearts and our minds for the memory of the birth of Christ, Jesus instructs us this morning. Jesus tells us, live righteous lives, and be ready, for one day I will return. For Jesus is “The One Who Is, And Is To Come!” Jesus then continues in this reading from Matthew 24:36-44, talking about what will happen he returns. He says picking up in 24:40, once again:

40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matt. 24:40-44, NRSV).

Living like Christ is present in our lives, and living like Christ will be returning soon, changes us. It gives us a sense of urgency, and it directs us to live holy and righteous lives. I don’t think that it is a mistake then that this Sunday is also United Methodist Student Sunday. For the students and the clergy that will trained from the scholarship monies generated from giving to this special United Methodist Church giving Sunday, will help the love and the hope of Jesus Christ spread far and wide.

There have been times in all of our lives that have been dark and challenging. The season of Advent reminds us of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and it encourages us that Jesus will return to perfect his creation. After a long and arduous pandemic, how amazing is it to know that we are now moving into our “new normal,” and that the work of the gospel of Jesus Christ can continue with little to know restrictions!

          Dear friends, during this season of Advent, pray, reflect, read scripture, love, give, have hope, have joy, and embrace the peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our savior who is “The One Who Is, And Is To Come!” Amen. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Sidney UMC - Christ the King Sunday/Reign of Christ Sunday - 11/20/22 - Sermon - “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”

                               Sunday 11/20/22 - Sidney UMC

Sermon Title: “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”                                    

Old Testament Scripture: Jeremiah 23:1-6                                         

New Testament Scripture: Colossians 1:11-20

Gospel Lesson: Luke 1:68-79

          For so many years, I have watched and have seen things about Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. There is even a show on Netflix called “The Crown” that follows the life of Queen Elizabeth II from a child, to, I am guessing her recent death. We of course are not in a county that has titles of nobility, or knights, or kings and queens. Yet, part of me has always been fascinated with kings and queens. I mean you rule over a country, a territory, or an empire. In some cases, you can say and do anything you want. Not always, but some kings and queens, or pharaohs, etc., had absolute power.

          These people could order that someone be put to death, or simply decide to make war with another country. Often these kings and queens and other similar rulers had great wealth, lived in a massive palace, and had incredible power. One of the primary reasons that the American colonists of thirteen colonies fought the British in our American Revolution, was because we did not want King George III of England ruling over us. As Americans we have always had this strand of a cowboy like mentality. So many people want freedom, less government, and low taxes. Not everyone feels this way, but I think part of this mentality comes from being oppressed by the British King, King George III. We do not want to be subjects, we do not want to be controlled, and we want freedom and democratically elected government.

          With all of this said, today in Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday. Today is the last Sunday of the Christian liturgical calendar. Next Sunday, on the First Sunday of Advent will be the first Sunday in the Christian liturgical calendar. The Season of Advent starts the liturgical year, as prepare for the birth and the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

          As I said, our country has a strong tradition of not liking big government or kings telling us what to do. To declare that Jesus is the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” on this Sunday is interesting thing as Americans. For if Jesus is the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” are we not losing are rights and freedoms? Or maybe the problem historically has been there have been enough corrupt kings and queens that many people do want or trust kings and queens. I mean do we want one person to have complete control over our lives, and do we want to submit to the authority of a king?

          I ask all of this once again, because the scripture tells us that Jesus is the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” Of all the kings and or leaders throughout history, none of them have been as great as Jesus. If we were to declare on this Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday that Jesus is the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” is he worthy of such a title? Is Jesus worthy of being our king and out Lord?

          Certainly, the American Colonists, did not think that King George III was worthy of ruling over us, which once again, is why we fought our American Revolution. So is Jesus Christ worthy, if King George III was not? The answer is yes. Why? Jesus was the only person who has every crossed the horizon of this world who was perfect, sinless, and was truly God in the flesh. Jesus Christ is the only person that has even been on this planet that meets the qualifications to be all-sufficient savior. Only one who is without sin, can die for the sins of humanity. Jesus our pure and spotless Passover lamb, the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” In a country where do not want kings and queens, Jesus is the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”

          After Queen Elizabeth II of England died, many of us learned that while she was indeed the queen of the United Kingdom, that Jesus was her “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” The former Queen of England bent the knee to the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” and so do I. Do you?

          In just coming off of our mid-term elections, I don’t know about you, but I am glad that the elections are over. So many commercials, and the mail, etc. So many politicians that want to present themselves to be like someone like Jesus, but there is only one “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”

          In our reading from the prophet Jeremiah for this morning, once again, we hear in Jeremiah 23:5-6 the prophecy about Jesus Christ saying:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:5-6, NRSV).

          There have been so many kings, queens, emperors, pharaohs, etc., but only one “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” This Sunday, at the end of the Christian year, we focus our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We elect leaders to run our government, but my king is Jesus Christ. As Jesus is the very center of the Christian faith, this why our liturgical church calendar year ends with a focus on Jesus.

          In looking at our reading for tonight from Colossians 1:11-20, the Apostle Paul says of Jesus, once again, picking up in Colossians 1:15:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (Col. 1:15-20, NRSV).

          So, the Apostle Paul is telling the church in Colossae or the Colossians that Jesus is God in the flesh. All power, authority, and dominion rest under the feet of Jesus. Jesus is the sovereign head of the church, is the beginning, the end, and fullness of God. God sent his son Jesus to reconcile the world to himself, through the blood of his cross. The only one who is worthy to be the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” As Americans we don’t have kings and queens, knights, Lords, Earls, Dukes, etc., but I do claim Jesus Christ as the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” Do you? Is he worthy to be your sovereign leader? Is he worthy to be the head of the church? Is he worthy to be the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” in your life? As Christians, may we every day try with God’s help, to live and love like Jesus. Becoming more and more like Jesus is the goal of the Christian life. To love more fully, care more deeply, and serve more joyfully, to become more like Jesus.

          In looking at our gospel of Luke 1:68-79 reading for this morning, we have the prophecy of Zachariah. This is not the Prophet Zechariah, but the father of John the Baptist, Zachariah. John the Baptism had just been circumcised and named on his eighth-day of his life, which is the Jewish custom. After this his father Zachariah shares with us a prophecy this morning. Or to put it another way, Zachariah is making a prediction about the future. What I do not know however, is if Zachariah predicted that his son John the Baptist would live in the wilderness, cover himself with camel hair and a belt, and eat bugs and honey. Who knows!

          Once again, the prophecy or the prediction of the John the Baptist’s father Zachariah begins in Luke 1:68 saying, once again:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his child David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness in his presence all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. 78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace”
(Lk. 1:68-79, NRSV).

Zachariah says that someone is coming soon. This person will be related the great King David of Israel. This person will deliver and save us from ourselves. This person will change the world. Further, Zachariah’s son, John the Baptist will prepare the way of this savior, this Jesus Christ, the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”

I now want to show you a great video, taken from a sermon from the late Pastor S.M. Lockridge. This video is called “That’s My King,” and I truly believe that this video sums up all that Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday is.

(Show Video)

Friends, have a blessed Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday, for Jesus Christ is the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Sidney UMC - Veterans’ Day Sunday/Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost - 11/13/22 - Sermon - “Believers Who Are Living In Idleness”

                               Sunday 11/13/22 - Sidney UMC

Sermon Title: “Believers Who Are Living In Idleness”

Old Testament Scripture: Isaiah 12                                     

New Testament Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Gospel Lesson: Luke 21:5-19 

         I remember going to a church men’s breakfast early on a Saturday morning about twenty-years ago. At this church men’s breakfast, an old farmer in his late 80’s got up to speak and gave us the devotion for the men’s gathering. This man reminded me of my now late Grandpa Winkelman. This old farmer had jeans, a button up shirt, and notepad and pens in his shirt pocket, just like Grandpa Winkelman would.

          This man did talk some about Jesus, but I was shocked when his devotion was about Adam and Eve. The man said, in his brief devotion that he wanted to talk to us about Adam and Eve. Well, I figured that he would talk about Adam and Eve eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and them then getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2-3, NRSV). Yet, he didn’t talk about any of this.

          The man did talk about God creating Adam and Eve, and then he talked about their role in the Garden of Eden. I remember thinking at this breakfast as this older farmer was talking, “well this is interesting”. Then this man asked a question I will never forget. The man asked us all, “When God created Adam and Eve, why did he put them in the garden?” I remember everyone was silent, even me! Now for those that know me well that alone is a miracle!

          Someone then said, “Well God put Adam and Eve in the garden to serve Him”. The man said, “That is true, but it is not the primary reason that God put Adam and Eve in the garden. I think someone else said, “God put them there to pray and worship him”. The man said, “That is true too, but it is not primary reason that God put Adam and Eve in the garden”. There might have been a couple of more guesses, but as you can imagine, at this point we were all racking our brains trying to figure out what this man was getting at.

          So, maybe you can think about this to, “Why did God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?” I mean God did not have to have a garden. Well, what this man said next shocked me. I opened my bible, as I had never even noticed the verse of scripture that this man then read to us. The man read Genesis 2:15 that says:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it (Gen. 2:15, NRSV).

          Well, this really blew my mind, because I have always seen the many paintings of Adam and Eve wearing a leaf for undergarments. It always seemed to me that they were relaxing and kind of just sitting around in the Garden of Eden. Yet, this nice old farmer at this church men’s breakfast said that Adam and Eve were put in the garden to work the garden.

I tell you this story because we have an interesting scripture on this Veteran’s Day Sunday on working and or not being idle. I remember growing up learning the concept of the “Puritan Work Ethic”. This idea of hard work, the sweat of your brow, and things of that nature. I also learned that hard work can be combined with strong faith in God. For as our reading from Isaiah 12:2 says for this morning, once again:

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and will not be afraid, for the Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation” (Isa. 12:2, NRSV).

          My Grandpa Winkelman, worked hard and loved the Lord, as do many. This idea of work then is not something that we always think about when studying the scriptures. Yet, this is exactly, what the Apostle Paul tells the church in Thessalonica or the Thessalonians in his second letter to them this morning. The Apostle Paul is talking about work. In looking at reading from 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 for this morning, it says, once again, starting in 3:6:

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate         (2 Thess. 3:6-9, NRSV).

          This is a very challenging scripture from 2 Thessalonians for this morning. This does not mean that whoever works the most is the biggest hero, rather the Apostle Paul is telling us more broadly to contribute. To do our part. Retired people are usually no longer working a fulltime paid job, but are often working in many many other ways. I have heard many retired people, for example, tell me that they are busier in retirement than were when they were working a job. If someone is disabled, they cannot work. The Apostle Paul did not address any of these other categories of people. Yet the Apostle Paul is saying that we should be productive and not be idle. We should seek to contribute to our family, our communities, on this Veteran’s Day Sunday, to our country, and to our world.

          Whether we are working a paid job or not, we should try to contribute and do what we can. If someone is bone idle, and does nothing to help anyone else, that we are living in idleness. Now someone in a nursing home might be living in idleness, but this is because of there health. So, once again, the Apostle Paul does not address these other categories of people, so I would say we need to seek to be productive. This does not mean burn ourselves out, but to be active in our lives, and to be living and loving like Jesus.

          I remember, my father in Illinois once told me a story about a fellow construction worker like him. After many years of hard work, this construction worker retired, and he then largely sat all day in his recliner. The man died after nine-months of retirement. Then I remember my dad saying, you need to stay active, you need to keep doing things. The Apostle Paul warns the Thessalonians and us this morning, to not live in idleness.

          For example, say that you inherited an unbelievable sum of money tomorrow. You never had to work or doing anything ever again. Would you literally just sit around and do nothing? The Apostle Paul warns us this morning against idleness. Not to work ourselves sick, but to not be idle. There is a big world out there, and Jesus needs you to serve, love, and help others.

          In completing our 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 scripture for this morning, the scripture ends, once again, with 3:10-13 saying:

10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right (2 Thess. 3:10-13, NRSV). 

          What I do not know, is if much of the church that the Apostle Paul was writing to was young. If so, I can see where he is a bit harsh here. Young people that are strong and are able bodied can-do stuff. I am not sure, but what I think what the Apostle Paul is trying to say, is do what you can. Contribute, serve, help, and make things better.

          On this Veterans’ Day Sunday, when I think of many service men and women that I have known, I have not really known many loafers. Our service men and women are often far from idle, and sometimes are working unbelievable hours. If you are in a combat zone, you do not generally work an eight-hour shift and come home. Soldiers, our veterans, are often people that are far from idle. Since this is Veteran’s Day Sunday, I chose to preach on our 2 Thessalonians scripture, as I think that most soldiers are people that are not idle. Our soldiers on D-Day in World War II were far from idle, and they were in countless other places, as well. We have a strong and free country, because millions of men and women, like some here today, served in the military. So, thank you to our veterans!

          In briefly looking at our gospel of Luke 21:5-19 scripture for this morning, once again, we have Jesus speaking prophetically and apocalyptically. Jesus is telling us about an event in the future, and is talking about his return to earth one day. Starting in Luke 21:5, it says, once again of the great Jewish Temple in Jerusalem:

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them (Lk. 21:5-8, NRSV). 

          Jesus is saying that the great Temple, the great edifice that was built in Jerusalem, will be destroyed. Not a single stone will be left standing upon another. In fact, about 30-40 years after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, there was an uprising in Judea against the Roman occupation. The Jews rose up, and the Roman Army put down the insurrection. In fact, the Roman Army even destroyed the temple that Jesus predicted today would be destroyed. All that remains of this great temple, almost two-thousand years later is the wall or fence of sorts that was around the temple. This “wailing wall” as some call it, is a place to pray, place notes and prayers, but the wall or the fence is all that remains of the great temple in Jerusalem. This morning Jesus said that the great temple would be destroyed, and it was.

          Jesus then says do not be fooled or led astray by teachers telling us to deny him, and who he is. Jesus then goes on to say that before he returns to earth that all manner of bad things on earth will occur. Yet through such times, and in general stay faithful to Christ, and live and love like him. Do not give up on the love and the hope of Christ, and do not give up on offering this love and hope to a world that needs it now more than ever.

          Jesus tells us that we might experience persecution and or oppression, but to never give up on his love and his mercy. Stay the course, keep the faith, and keep believing in better world now and in the world to come. In doing this it keeps us from being idle, and it also shows us what God can use all to do for Christ and his gospel.

I am thankful to all followers of Jesus Christ that serve, love, heal, and forgive. On this day, Veteran’s Day Sunday, may we also be thankful for our heroes in uniform, that are far from idle. May we serve, love, and care for each other like Christ. Amen.