Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Sidney UMC - 6th Sunday of Easter - 05/22/22 - Sermon - “Keep My Word!”

Sunday 05/22/22 - Sidney UMC 

Sermon Title: “Keep My Word!”                                              

Old Testament Scripture: Psalm 67                                      

New Testament Scripture: Revelation 21:10, 22-27, 22:1-5

Gospel Lesson: John 14:23-29

          So, I can vividly think of times in my life when I was told what I could and could not do. When I was in school, my teachers would say no talking in class, without raising your hand and being called on. Of course, no students ever violated this! We were told to not pass notes or to sleep in class, and we never did these either! We were told to do our homework and to be on time to class. I think you are getting the idea at this point.

          How often do we not want to do what we are supposed to do? How often have we consciously known that what we were about to do was wrong, but we did it anyway? Anyone here ever drive excessively fast because you were running late? You were asking God in those moments to not let you get pulled over, as you knew driving 85 Miles Per Hour was not good. How many of us have ever lied to a spouse or a member of your family? How many of us have done something else not good and gotten away with it?

          I think if we are honest, we all break the rules sometimes, and sometimes we do it over and over. The allure of sin sometimes is powerful. Sometimes we know full well that what we are doing or about to do is wrong, and yet we do it anyway. When we come to Jesus, repent of our sins, and put our trust in him, we still face the realities of this world every day.

          The Apostle Paul wrote about his struggle to do what God, what Jesus commanded him to do, but still struggling with his own sin. In fact, in his letter to the Romans, or the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul says in 7:15-20:

15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that the good does not dwell within me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do the good lies close at hand, but not the ability. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me                             (Rom. 7:15-20, NRSV). 

          So, what the Apostle Paul is telling the church and Rome and us, is that it is not always easy to do the right thing. Sometimes we do not want to, or sometimes we just sin anyway. In coming to Christ, in becoming a Christian, in being saved, we are forgiven of our sins and brokenness and offered eternal life through Jesus Christ. Yet, we are still people that have sin within us. All of us do. For the rest of our earthly lives, we are called to walk with Christ and each other, as we continue to become more like Jesus. As we walk with Christ and with each other over the course of our earthly lives, the hope is that we become less sinful and increasingly more like Jesus. While heaven, eternity with Christ is a free gift, while being for forgiven in Christ is offered freely, becoming like Christ is the process of a lifetime. Salvation, forgiveness, eternal life are offered to us all, but to become a mature Christian, to become more like Christ, well this is Sanctification. As we grow in our lives and in our faith, the hope is that we become holier and holier. In the scripture that I just read from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in 7:15-20, the Apostle Paul is not doubting his salvation. The Apostle Paul is not doubting that he will spend eternity with Jesus. The Apostle Paul is admitting though that even though that he has been forgiven, even though he will spend eternity with Jesus, and has salvation in Jesus, that he is still struggling with sin and brokenness.

          One of the biggest problems in Christianity then, especially evangelical Christianity, the branch of Christianity that I grew up in, is that some Christians seem to think that salvation means you are now perfect. Being forgiven, being offered salvation, and spending eternity with Christ, does not necessarily mean that we will never struggle or suffer ever again. It is possible that God could make us fully like Christ in an instant, but for most of us it is a lifelong process. A lifelong process of meeting Christ and then trying to live and love like Christ.

          I really think that one of the reasons that people leave the church and sometimes even abandon their faith, is feeling like that they just cannot be a good Christian. Being forgiven and being offered eternal life in Christ, is offered to us all, but we will all continue to struggle sometimes. There is no perfect Christian or perfect person, but we do serve a perfect God, and a perfect Jesus. After we come to faith, we still live on this earth, we still experience the pain and the brokenness of this earth. Does this make us bad Christians? No, it makes us human.

          I have discussed a few times in church the idea of living and loving like Jesus and comparing our faith to an Olympic high jump bar. The bar is high, and Jesus has set the bar high. The bar should be and needs to be high though. You might ask though, “But Pastor Paul how can I ever get over that bar?” Many of us feel like this sometimes. Maybe we feel like that we will never truly be the Christian that we should be. Friends, as the founder the Methodist Movement John Wesley said, “We are going on to perfection.” We are become more like Christ, as we pursue Christ. This pursuit, this spiritual growth is lived out individually, in our churches, in our small groups, at work, with our families, in reading the Bible, in praying, and in drawing closer to Christ.

          I say all of this, because this morning in our gospel of John reading, Jesus tells us “Keep My Word.” Jesus tells us to keep and obey everything he has said and told us. Yet, the Apostle Paul tells us in the Book of Romans, that sometimes he failed to follow and obey some of these words and teachings. Jesus tells this morning to “Keep My Word,” but sometimes we fall short. When we do, we ask Jesus for forgiveness, we get up and clean ourselves off, and we keep moving forward.

          Faith in Christ, being a Christian, is not just about salvation and going to heaven one day, it is also about bringing heaven to earth, until Christ returns to perfect earth. We are called to live and grow, as we fall and stumble, until we go to be with Christ, or until Christ returns in victory to restore us and the earth. So, if we ever fail or struggle to keep Christ’s words and teachings, then we are not alone. That high jump bar of being completely made completely into the image of Christ can seem high and out of reach. Keep walking, keep reaching, for Jesus is with us, as we rise and as we fall.

          In our reading for this morning from Psalm 67, we are reminded, once again, in 67:1-2:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations                        (Ps. 67:1-2, NRSV).

          Knowing God, knowing Christ, feeling God’s love and blessings, and sharing it on the earth among all nations. We will fall short at times though, and we will fail at times. Yet, we are pursuing Christ, and becoming increasingly like Christ. That high jump bars is getting a little closer and closer. As we go on, we can sense God’s love and grace in our lives more, and this helps us to be better equipped to share the saving power of Christ on the earth, to all nations.

          In looking at our reading for this morning from the Book Revelation once again, we are towards the end of the twenty-two-chapter book, and we hear about the eternal reign of Christ. We heard about this in last week’s Book of Revelation reading, but now hear even more about the coming kingdom of Christ.

          Starting in Revelation 21:10 the Apostle John writes:

10 And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God                              (Rev. 21:10, NRSV).

          The Apostle John is being given this part of the revelation of Christ’s eternal kingdom. Imagine no war, no pain, no suffering. The Book of Revelation tells us of this coming kingdom of Jesus Christ, and in eternity this is what it will be like.

          As Jesus is compared to the Passover Lamb in the Old Testament we hear, continuing on in Revelation 21:22-27:

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:22-27, NRSV).

          In this eternity with Christ, there is no church or temple, as Christ is the church or the temple. There is no sun or moon, and God is the light. The lamp of God is Jesus Christ. The people of the earth will live in harmony, will praise God, and there will never be darkness. Nothing unclean will enter the city, and sin and harm will cease, and the people of Christ will live in love and harmony forever.

          Lastly, our Book of Revelation reading for this morning says in Revelation 22:1-5 again:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Rev. 22:1-5, NRSV).

          Another scene of eternal beauty, peace, abundance, light, love, and life. Yet, Jesus this morning tells his disciples and us, that we are to love Jesus and keep his word. We all continue to stumble and fall at times, but we can be forgiven and keep “moving on to perfection.”

          Throughout history various leaders have tried several types of economic systems and systems of government to achieve a perfect society or world similar to one laid out in out Book of Revelation reading for this morning. I think that we can make the world much better than it is now, but only when Christ returns will it be truly perfected. Why is there still so much hurt, pain, suffering, war, and struggle in the world? I truly think that a lot of it happens because of us. Again, it is not that we are evil, but sometimes some people can do evil things. If we continue to try to live and love like Jesus Christ though, then we will continue to get closer and closer to that Olympic High Jump bar of being like Jesus Christ.

          In this way, we continue to strive, grow, learn, love, and move towards holiness and righteousness. Or we walk away and are consumed by darkness. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, and it is indeed a very high, high jump bar. What is the alternative though? Souls will be saved, lives will be changed, and we will continue to walk in love and light. In doing this Sidney and the world will change for the better.

          In looking at our gospel of John reading more closely, it says starting in John 14:23 once again:

23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe                    (Jn. 14:23-29, NRSV).

          Is this gospel lesson, Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon ascend into heaven, and Jesus also tells us that Holy Spirit or the Advocate will show up soon to reveal even more to us, as we will celebrate the Holy Spirit moving through the disciples on Pentecost Sunday.

          Jesus once again this morning, tells us to keep his word and his teachings. Like the Apostle Paul admitted in Romans 7:15-20, he fell short of that sometimes. We all do to, but remember meeting Christ can happen in moment, but becoming like Christ is the process of a lifetime. Do not be discouraged, as we all seek to be like Jesus, as Jesus said, “Keep My Word!” Amen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Sidney UMC - 5th Sunday of Easter - 05/15/22 - Sermon - "See, I Am Making All Things New!"

Sunday 05/15/22 - Sidney UMC

Sermon Title:        “See, I Am Making All Things New!”                             

Old Testament Scripture: Psalm 148                                        

New Testament Scripture: Revelation 21:1-6 

Gospel Lesson: John 13:31-35

          How many of us can remember the challenging times in our lives? How many of us have ever felt like we were at an impasse, or at a fork in the road in our lives? How many of us have ever felt like we were in a pit? How many of us have ever felt like that our lives were missing something? How many of us have ever felt that we just needed a change or something different? What is it like to feel this way?

          Perhaps for some of you, at some point in your life, you had some relationship struggles, work struggles, personal struggles, financial struggles, felt that something was missing in your life, that your daily routine had become common and lack luster, that your health was or is in question, or that you lost someone you loved. What is like to feel stuck, in a pit, or at an impasse?

          I am sure that in different ways that we have all felt this way before. If have been through some things in my life, which we all have. Hopefully, we now can look back and see and reflect upon how we got through various challenging times in our lives. We hopefully now can look back and see where God was present, and how God has been faithful through the ups and downs in our lives.

          I bring all of these ideas up in conversation this morning, to bring us back to the core reality that we all need Jesus. I do not mean just a mental understanding of who Jesus is. I do not mean just a mental understanding that Jesus was born, was crucified, was resurrected, and will one day return in glory. Instead, I mean knowing Jesus personally and spiritually. Many of us, or all of us here can say that our lives are much better with God in them. I can also personally say that because I know Jesus that my life is way better.

          One of the things that has gotten me through challenging times in my life, is Jesus. My relationship with God is very much the core of who and what I am. Having Jesus in our lives, having God’s love in our lives, does not mean that we will not struggle or that we will not have challenges. You can be a person of faith and still have challenges and hardships. In fact, if you know Jesus and if you never struggle ever, well this is a new one for me. It is the knowledge that Jesus is always with us. What is like then to go through something hard, and to not have in God, to not believe in Jesus or the power of the Holy Spirit?

          For me, I cannot imagine going through some of the challenges I have gone through in my life without Jesus. We will all struggle and suffer and times, but God is with us, and we have each other. We heard over and over this morning in our reading from Psalm 148, how we should Praise the LORD (Ps. 148, NRSV).

          It is interesting that the great King David, who is considered by many scholars to be the author of many of the Psalms, was in various Psalms sometimes crying out to God, and sometimes praising God. The great King David who had strong faith in God, who had times of great struggle, great triumph, and great sin. Yet, God was always with him.

          Knowing God, having a relationship with Jesus Christ is the bedrock of the Christian faith. This does not mean that every day of our lives will be perfect or easy, but I believe that my life is much better with Christ in it. By reaching out to Christ, he will reach out to us, even if things are hard and challenging. Having a relationship with Jesus is great, and we get to share that together as a community. The Jesus who offers hope and love to everyone and brings us together in love.

          A scripture that has sustained me in challenging times, and one of my favorites is Romans 8:38-39 that says:

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord                  (Rom. 8:38-39, NRSV).

          Yet, what about when hard times or struggles come? The Apostle Paul tells us also in Romans 5:3-5:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5, NRSV).

          Having God in our lives, knowing Jesus is amazing, but we still live in the realities of this earth. Sometimes we also grow closer to Christ in our times of struggle, not in our times of triumph.

          This leads me to the core of my message for this morning, drawing from our reading from Revelation 21:1-6. In this scripture reading once again, we are in the second to last chapter in the Book of Revelation, and the Bible itself. At this point in the narrative, evil, hatred, and suffering has been destroyed on earth, and Christ returns to reign on earth. In this scene, humanity comes together, there will be no more suffering, no more hatred, and no more pain. Really a beautiful scene that we have in our scripture for this morning from the Book of Revelation. In looking at our reading from Revelation 21:1-6 more closely for this morning it says starting in 21:1:

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:1-2, NRSV).

          In this scene in our Book of Revelation reading, evil and hatred has been destroyed, and Jesus comes to the holy city of Jerusalem to reign as the king and the lord of all. This will be city and a world with no pain, no suffering, no hatred, and perpetual peace and harmony. The scripture gets more specific picking up starting in Revelation 21:3 saying:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and be their God; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4, NRSV).

          Jesus, the Lamb of God, the King of Kings, come to earth to rule in peace, harmony, love, prosperity, with war, pain, or hatred. This is a beautiful scene indeed. For those of us that know Christ, we have his love with us always, and as we are reminded in our Book of Revelation reading for this morning once again, we have his love for eternity. For Christ and his kingdom of mercy, justice, hope, peace, and love will reign eternal.

          The scripture once again tells us God will again be among us, will dwell with us, and that Christ will wipe every tear from our eyes. The days of death, mourning, crying, and pain will be gone. For Christ makes all things new. In fact, picking up in Revelation 21:5 it says, once again:

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life (Rev. 21:5-6, NRSV).

          Jesus is saying that he makes all things new. When we come to Christ in this life, we are made new spiritually. We are new creations, even as we continue to struggle, to grow, have victories, and have failures. Christ can be a present reality, comfort and hope in our hearts today, knowing that one day we will fully be in his presence. One day we will be with Christ and there will be no more suffering, no more pain, and Jesus will wipe away our tears.

          In coming to know Jesus, we are on a journey with him and with each other. We are called to live out our faith daily, as we draw closer to Christ, closer to each other, and as God uses us to make Sidney and the world better. Our faith, our church, our friendships, our community strength, and Jesus in our lives is very important.

          It is interesting to me that have a gospel reading for this morning from John 13:31-35, which is actually part of our Maundy or Holy Thursday reading, during Holy Week, leading up to Easter. In our gospel lesson for this morning once again, Jesus is giving a new commandment to love each other. The Last Supper has just ended, Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet, and then he give the disciples and us the “Mandatum” in Latin, or “Mandate” in English. In this command, or mandate, Jesus tells us to love each other.

          If we want to know how far we have come in our faith and how much closer we have drawn to Christ, the biggest way that we can measure this is in our love. Looking at our gospel of John 13:31-35 reading for this morning, it says once again:

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

          So, friends, despite the slings and the arrows of this world, despite the war in Ukraine, if we turn to Christ, he is with us. He is with through this life, and we are with each other. We walk with Christ and each other through thick and thin. To come to Christ is to be made new, or a new creation. Christ tells us this morning, “See, I Am Making All Things New!.” He can make us new now, we can continue to walk with him and become more like him. Further we have the promise that we will be with for eternity, for Christ makes all things new. Amen.             

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Sidney UMC - Mother's Day/4th Sunday of Easter - 05/08/22 - Sermon - “Moms And All Women!"

Sunday 05/08/22 - Sidney UMC 

Sermon Title:        “Moms And All Women!”                                                

Old Testament Scripture: Psalm 23                                         

New Testament Scripture: Revelation 7:9-17

Gospel Lesson: John 10:22-30

          Today, once again, is Mother’s Day. So happy Mother’s Day to all women, as all women are mothers to someone or something. Some women raise and care for children, some mothers care for animals, other children, or something else. Some women care for plants or other things. All women, in their own right, are mothers to someone or something.

          This is why my sermon title for this morning is called, “Moms And All Women!” Being a mom though, I can imagine, is not always an easy job. Kids do not always listen, and sometimes are not always thankful. Some of us have heard the famous phrase from our mothers, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of this world!”

          In truth, everyday should be Mother’s Day, but I am glad that we have this day every year in the church calendar and the secular calendar. I do not know if this is still true, but when I was in seminary, we were told that Mother’s Day was quickly becoming one of the most attended church Sundays every year. Why? Well, when mom and grandma were asked what they wanted for Mother’s Day, many would say, “I don’t want anything, but can you come to church with me?” Then mom or grandma would get taken to lunch after church.

          For many of us in fact, we might be in church right now, in part or completely, because of the women in our lives. Many of our grandmothers and mothers took us to church, and sometimes dragged us. I was one such child that sometimes did not want to go to church. Many of can say though that we are who are, have the faith we have, and were taught what we were, in large part because of our mothers, grandmothers, and or other women in our lives.

          You know when I spent four years in seminary, I learned all kinds of things. I read books from some of the great historical saints of the church, I read books from some the best theologians and Christians minds to ever walk this earth over the past two-thousand years. With all of this great learning though, I still learned an incredible amount about the Christian faith from my mother. In fact, I still do.

          The founder of the Methodist Movement, John Wesley, who was an incredible pastor and theologian said this of his mother Susanna Wesley:

I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England (https://quotefancy.com/quote/1464473/John-Wesley-I-learned-more-about-Christianity-from-my-mother-than-from-all-the).

          John Wesley, a man who attend the University of Oxford in England, one of the best universities in the world. One of the sharpest and best Christian minds in history, but he learned more about Christianity from his mother than all the best religious experts of his own country.

          Maybe some of us do not or did not have mothers that were loving, holy, and kind, or maybe we do or did. I am sure though, either way, that there are or were some women in your life that loved and cared for you. This reality, this sharing of faith, this making us better, is what women like John Wesley’s mother Susanna did.

          For many of us, our mothers, our grandmothers, and others, were or are people that were sources of encouragement, strength, faith, hope, and love. These were or are people that had or still have an incredible impact on our lives. It is interesting that when soldiers are on the battlefield, suffering in pain, or when maybe we are struggling that some many want their mother. The love of a mother, a grandmother, and the sacrifices they make, is what we are honoring this morning.

          It is so timely this morning that we have been given our reading from Psalm 23. Many of us know this Psalm, as I read it at just about every funeral I officiate. It is a Psalm about God being with us in the hardest and the most difficult of times in our lives. For some of us, in addition to God, our mothers and our grandmothers where with us in those times. For as the Psalm 23:4 says once again:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me (Ps. 23:4, NRSV).

          Now this verse from Psalm 23, and Psalm 23 itself is, once again, talking about God being with us in our darkest moments, but for many of us our mothers, grandmothers, or some other women in our lives were there for us when we were walking through the valleys of our lives. The founder of Methodist Movement, John Wesley, learned more about God from his mother than from all the Christian theologians or experts in all of England.

          In our reading for this morning from the Book of Revelation 7:9-17, we once again have the beautiful scene of the great heavenly multitude gathered before our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. This scene is full of countless people that love Jesus. Once again, our reading from Revelation for this morning begins in 7:9 saying:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10, NRSV).

          All of God’s people standing before the risen Christ, enthroned as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. All of the followers of Christ gathered, robed in white, the color of purity and holiness. I sometimes where a robe, as this is what it historically represents. In this scene, the countless multitude of the followers of Jesus Christ are waving palm branches, just as many did on that first Palm Sunday.

          Further, the scripture continues, picking up in Revelation 7:11 saying, once again:

11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:11-14, NRSV).

          What a scene of unity, of the love of Christ, and the mercy of God. Maybe your mother or grandmother read these words to you. Maybe your mother, your grandmother, or other women in your life showed you love and grace like this. For as John Wesley said:

I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England (https://quotefancy.com/quote/1464473/John-Wesley-I-learned-more-about-Christianity-from-my-mother-than-from-all-the).

            This beautiful and visual narrative of Jesus Christ on his throne, ends for this morning with Revelation 7:15-17 saying, once again:

15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

          I know about the love of Jesus, I know about scriptures like this, because of people like my mother. I would not be standing here today literally, or as a pastor without my mother. Fathers and grandfathers are very important to, and I will talk a lot about them on Father’s Day. Today though is mother’s day. As our Book of Revelation reading ends this morning with God wiping away every tear from our eyes, maybe our mothers and grandmothers do or did things like this for us too.

          I also find our gospel of John 10:22-30 reading for this morning interesting, as I think it is just so appropriate for Mother’s Day. You see, Jesus had a problem with some people doubting him or just plain not listening to him. I am sure that no mothers or grandmothers here have ever had kids or grandkids that do not listen to you. I am sure that you have never had to talk to them over and over before they “get it.” Yes, I am being a little sarcastic!

          With this said, let us look at our gospel of John reading for this morning once again, picking up starting in John 10:22. It says:

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep (Jn. 10:22-26, NRSV).

          So, the religious leaders are questioning Jesus, and they are asking him if he is in fact the Messiah, the savior. If he, is they say, then just tell them plainly? Jesus then said, that he had told them, but that they do not believe him. How many mothers or grandmothers have had to tell us something over and over? They tell us over and over, but it is just not sinking in.

          This morning, Jesus is telling the religious leaders that he has told them over and over, but they are not listening. Maybe your mother or grandmother did or still does tell you over and over, and we just do not listen. In fact, our gospel of John lesson concludes this morning with Jesus saying picking up in John 10:27:

27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one”                      (Jn. 10:27-30, NRSV). 

          When I think of the devotion that Christ has for us, for his flock, I sometimes think of the devotion that mothers and grandmothers have for so many. Sometimes mom or grandma are the very glue that holds our family together. Jesus loves us all, and nobody can change this. The love of a mother or a grandmother for their children, is also an amazing thing. It is so powerful in fact, that soldiers in pain on the battlefield often cry out for there mother, we often want our moms or our grandmothers when we are struggling. Once again, the founder of the Methodist Movement, John Wesley said of his own mother:

I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England (https://quotefancy.com/quote/1464473/John-Wesley-I-learned-more-about-Christianity-from-my-mother-than-from-all-the).

            Today we honor mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, great great grandmothers, and all women. We would not be the people we are today without them, and we should show them our love and our devotion today and always. So, who do we honor today? “Moms And All Women!” Amen.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Sidney UMC - Compassion Sunday/Native American Ministries Sunday/3rd Sunday of Easter - 05/01/22 - Sermon - “From Saul to Paul!"

                                    Sunday 05/01/22 - Sidney UMC

Sermon Title:        “From Saul to Paul!”                                                  

Old Testament Scripture: Psalm 30                                        

New Testament Scripture: Acts 9:1-20

Gospel Lesson: John 21:1-19

          From the earliest days of the Methodist Movement, we have always emphasized the power and the importance of having a personal conversion experience with Jesus Christ. What is like to feel the love and the grace of God in Jesus Christ? What is it like to feel the Holy Spirit moving in and through you? What is like to truly have that moment that you know that God loves you, that Jesus died for you, that your sins are forgiven, and that you are eternally loved?

          When we become Christians there are often things that we believe, such as the Trinity, who Jesus was and is, etc. Have we ever felt God’s presence inside of us though? Have we had a conversion experience? Some people call this being “Born Again,” or “Saved,” but it is the idea that we know, feel, and believe in Jesus. Our sins are forgiven, we feel God’s love, and we know that Jesus died for us and rose again. It is a powerful thing to have a conversion experience. I had one and have many more lesser ones since my first one.

          The founder of the Methodist Movement, John Wesley attended a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, England on May 24, 1738. While at this prayer meeting John Wesley wrote in his journal that he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” Methodists call this John Wesley’s “Aldersgate Experience,” and in having this experience, what John Wesley had known and believed in his head, became something alive in his heart and his soul. He felt God’s presence, he believed Jesus was his savior, and from that day forward the Methodist Movement grew like wildfire

(https://www.umc.org/en/content/holy-spirit-moments-learning-from-wesley-at-aldersgate).

          When we are opened up to God, to the love of Jesus Christ, and to the power of Holy Spirit, we begin to see the world differently. Hopefully, we begin to see the power of the mission of the church, of bringing people to Christ and equipping them to transform the world.

          In this way, part of what I like to do as a pastor, is to offer various opportunities for people to pursue the mission of the church. Today is Native American Ministries Sunday, and as such, today is an opportunity to pray for and financially support Native American Ministries and create programs and seminary scholarships for United Methodist Native Americans. So, this is just an option. It is like a missional buffet at a restaurant, and I want to make sure that I am offering various opportunities for us to fulfill the mission of the church.

          For this reason, we are having our first ever Compassion International Sunday today. Through Compassion International you, your family, or a few friends chipping in together, can sponsor a child from up to twenty-nine different countries in the world. These countries are among the poorest and the most poverty stricken on the planet. Through giving thirty-eight dollars a month, the money is balled together for many children for better purchasing power. This allows a child to be fed, clothed, receive an education, and be taught the Christian faith.

          Melissa and I have sponsored two children now, and they are both from the country of Bolivia in South America. We have been sponsoring kids from I think about 2008 or 2009. Our first sponsor child, Guadalupe graduated from high school, and aged out of the program. She was the first woman in her family to graduate from high school. Then in December, 2017 Melissa and I started to sponsor Arianne, also from Bolivia. Arianne is now 14 years old, and her birthday is February 28th. We get letters from her, she draws us pictures, and I have the pictures of her that I showed the kids this morning. I have to admit that Melissa and I have not been too good as of lately in writing letters to Arianne. We have to get better with that, but we are so happy that for thirty-eight dollars a month we able to give Arianne a better life. So, this is another opportunity to pursue the mission of the church, and feel free to check out our Compassion International table in the church narthex after church. There are little pictures of kids from all different countries, and you can sponsor one of these kids if you want. It is an option, another thing on the mission buffet, but I thought it would be a good thing for us to consider. It shows us how to live our faith, and how to love like Christ.

          So, as I said, a conversion experience can be powerful. Coming to Christ can be a powerful thing, and it cannot only transform us, but it can also show us what is possible in fulfilling the mission of the church. This could include giving, praying, serving, helping, and maybe sponsoring a child in a country where people have very little.

          In talking about the power of conversion and how it opens us to the mission of the church, this morning we have the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Well, just who is Saul of Tarsus? This is the Jewish Rabbi or priest that converts to Christianity. We now know this person as the Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament of our bible. Without a doubt the Apostle Paul is the most traveled Apostle in the Apostolic Era, or the Era of the first twelve disciples. Further that conversion experience that Saul had, that John Wesley had, that I have had, and that hopefully you have had, is the start of our walk with Christ. It gives us salvation and eternal life, but we are called to keep going deeper daily.

          As we get closer to Christ, may we proclaim as the Psalmist proclaimed this morning in Psalm 30:12:

“so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (Ps. 30:12, NRSV).

          In looking at the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to the Apostle Paul, we have our reading from the Book of Acts 9:1-20 for this morning, once again. Remember Saul of Tarsus, a Jewish religious leader hated the Christians. He persecuted them, arrested them, mistreated them, and wanted them to be destroyed. Saul of Tarsus could have very well have been the next high priest in Jerusalem. He was a young whip, and he got things done. He likely had a lot of wealth, education, social status, and power. He nothing to gain from becoming a Christian. Yet, when we have a conversion experience, it changes us, and we become more like Christ.

          Our reading from the Book of Acts for this morning, once again starts in 9:1 saying:

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2, NRSV).

 

          Saul of Tarsus, as we can see, once again, is not happy with the first Christians, who were called the Way, as they were not yet a separate religion from the Jews. Saul is headed to Damascus, which is in modern day Syria, to crush the Christian movement. 

          As Saul of Tarsus was approaching Damascus, starting once again in Acts 9:3 this happened:

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do”                    (Acts 9:3-6, NRSV).

 

          So, Saul of the Tarsus, the rich, educated, Jewish religious leader, and young whip, encounters the living Christ on the road to Damascus. This conversion experience changes him forever. At this point in the scripture, Saul, who will soon be Paul, is temporarily blinded. The men who were traveling with Saul led him by the hand into the city of Damascus. For three days Saul could not see, nor did he eat or drink.

          In a vision from God, God told Saul the name “Ananias.” God tells Saul to get up and go to a specific place. When Saul arrived, Ananias laid hands Paul. Ananias then says to God, why should I help this man who has done so much evil to the followers of Jesus Christ? God tells Ananias however, that he has chosen Paul to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, kings, and the people of Israel. God also says that Saul will suffer for his faith.

          After Ananias hears all of this from God, he enters back into his house where Saul was, and laid hands on him. Ananias speaks the power of Christ, and the scales fall from Saul’s eye, as he regains his sight. Saul is filled with the Holy Spirit, is baptized, spent many days with the disciples in Damascus, and began preaching the gospel (Acts 9:7-20, NRSV). He will soon be known not as Saul or Tarsus, the Jewish religious leader, but the Apostle Paul, the Christian leader. The Christian leader that we today call the Apostle to the Gentiles.

          Quite a powerful conversion indeed that Saul had this morning to become Paul. Have you ever had a conversion experience, a spiritual encounter with Christ? Would we like to have one? If we have had one, how did it change us? How has it made us see the world differently, and how it has made us want to pursue the mission of the church, to bring people into relationship with Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world. This transformation can be sought through giving, serving, praying, and many other things. On this Compassion International Sunday and this our UMC Native American Ministries Sunday, I am but offering a couple of options to pursue the mission of the church.

          It is also important to note that after we come to Christ, after we are converted, “Born Again,” “Saved,” or whatever term you call it, we will still have struggles. Just because we are forgiven of our sins and offered eternal life with Christ, this does not mean that we will not still struggle with brokenness. It does not mean that we will not still struggle with temptation, or sin, or the hardships of this earth. Becoming more like Christ and living more like Christ is our pursuit and our goal after conversion. Even though life will be hard at times, Christ is with us. This is also why we are starting an 8-week book study this Tuesday called “The Wesleyan Journey”. This book is about continuing to pursue and live like Jesus Christ from conversion until we go to heaven.

          This idea of continuing to grow in faith is proven through our gospel of John 21:1-19 reading for this morning. The disciples were with Jesus for three years. They pledged to love and follow him, yet on Good Friday almost all of them, except John and Jesus’ women followers fell away. Jesus appears to them and many others after his resurrection to further convince, encourage, and let them know that he is risen, that his gospel is true, and that he is Lord. This morning Jesus appears to the disciples for this very thing. Jesus will also ask Peter three times is he loves him, to counter the three times that he denied Jesus on Good Friday.

          In our gospel for this morning, once again, Jesus appears to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, or the Sea of Galilee. This was similar to the first time that Jesus appeared to call the disciples by the Season Galilee. Like his first visit, the disciples were out fishing. They were having no luck catching anything, so Jesus told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. The net then had so many fish they the disciples could not haul it in. John then notices that is in fact Jesus on the shore.

          When they arrived, Jesus had prepared a charcoal fire for them, Jesus asked them to bring him some of their catch. Peter then hauled the net ashore, with one-hundred and fifty-three large fish. Jesus then has breakfast with the disciples, as this was the third time, he had appeared to them after his resurrection.

          After the breakfast, Jesus then asks Peter three times if he loves him, as Peter denied him three times. Jesus commands Peter to spiritually feed and care for the followers of Christ, or his sheep or lambs. Jesus lastly tells Peter that for preaching this gospel and taking it forward he will die when he is older for this faith (Jn. 21:1-19, NRSV).

          Having a conversion, coming to Christ, “Being Saved,” “Being Born Again” are all great things, as Saul had a conversion this morning. Beyond this though, we must keep seeking Christ, keep growing closer to Christ, and becoming more like Christ. We will make mistakes, we will fail sometimes, but Jesus will still pursue us.

          Given this, how do we live out our faith? Do we give? Do we serve? Do we sponsor a Compassion International Child? How do we continue to live out our faith in the risen Christ? Even though Saul of Tarsus becomes the Apostle Paul this morning, he will continue to walk daily with Christ, as we are invited to, as well. One of the ways that Melissa and I live this out is by sponsoring a Compassion International Child, to give them a better life. This calling for us all started with something similar to conversion “From Saul to Paul.” May we continue to be brought closer to Christ today and always. Amen.