Saturday, December 23, 2017

THE JOY OF A SAVIOR


Sermon Summary, 12/17/17, “The Joy of a Savior” (Luke 1:39-53)

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Lk 1:52-53)  This passage has always bothered me.  Certainly compared to the peasant girl, Mary, I am one of the rich if not also one of the powerful.  By this time Mary had everything going against her, yet she sings this powerfully joyful song we call the “Magnificat” (Latin for magnify).  “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  The joy of a Savior.

How is it we make ourselves happy?  We live in most privileged society the world has ever known, yet we are ever increasingly treated for depression, despondency, addiction.  We certainly have rich and powerful who are not happy: Harvey Weinstein is not happy, Al Franken is not happy, Roy Moore is not happy, and as I write this, a Kentucky state representative has committed suicide over sexual allegations. 

What is it that makes us happy?  We find from our scriptures that like grace, in fact related to grace, joy is a gift. Joy is something we are given.  Joy is something we cannot do for ourselves.  If we reflect, we will find that our greatest moments of joy are moments that happen to us, not what we do ourselves.  My personal understanding of joy is the deep assurance that God is at work in our lives.

If we return to the announcement of Gabriel to Mary (Lk 1:26f), we find “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you.” (NRSV)  Or “Hail! Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” (KJV)  Greetings and Hail are translated from the Greek, “Chairo” which is related to grace, “Charis” (Gk).  Chairo is more often translated “Rejoice!” “Favored” in from the Greek, “Charitoo,” also related to grace, meaning “endowed with grace or joy.”  We could translate this, “Rejoice! Mary, full of joy, the Lord is with you.” Joy! The joy of a Savior.

Mary responds in verse 38, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Two things: servant, Mary has great humility; and two, she is filled with generosity, giving all that she has, her very self.  How is it that we, the rich and powerful are fill with joy?  My placing ourselves in a position to receive it like grace, being humble (rather than thinking less of ourselves, thinking less about ourselves) and being generous, giving. 

Paul tells us (Phil 2:4f) “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”: humility and generosity.  From that we receive the joy of a Savior! 

POINTING TO A SAVIOR


Sermon Summary, 12/10/17, “Pointing to a  Savior” (Mk 1:1-8)

I’ve always wondered about this guy, John the Baptist, and why he got so much press?  I mean, Jesus did get top billing, but by verse 2, John is pushing himself onto the stage, “See, I am sending my messenger before you.”  I’ve always wondered why this guy was thrust right into the middle of the Christmas Story.

John the Baptist was a “Rock Star.”  Israel had heard no prophets in hundreds of years.  Then John “appeared.”  You would have thought that a Rock Star would pick the biggest venues available, maybe the Coliseum, or someplace like that.  He picked the wilderness and people flocked to see him. 

Looking at the Scripture from the top, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mk 1:1)  I’ve always thought the introduction to Mark was weak.  After all, Matthew has the genealogy, the angel appearing to Joseph, King Herod, the flight to Egypt.  Luke has the Christmas story we so like.  John has soaring poetry.  Mark, not so much.

But looking at it now, it’s huge.  “In the beginning.”  Anyone knowing of the Creator God would return to the Creation narrative.  “Good news, glad tidings, clarion call.  Something life-changing is coming.  Jesus Messiah, Christ, anointed one.  Who was anointed? Prophets who speak for God, Priests who bridge us to God, Kings who act for God.  Jesus, who spoke, bridged, acted and more; he died for you.  Good news.  Son of God.

We then find who John is, the one who points to Christ.  Elijah whom Malachi prophesied would proceed the Messiah and prepare a way for him.  Elijah on the hearts of everyone also just appeared (1 Kings 17).  Jesus would later tell us that John was Elijah who was to come.  A Rock Star, yes, but one who would set aside his notoriety to point to Jesus and then fade away.  “The Lamp of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)  A humble servant.

We recognize through John that humility is a Christian virtue.  And we see that role models, Elijah and Jesus, are important.  We are role models for good or for bad whether we like it or not, for our families, in our workplaces and where we socialize. 

Here’s our question, “Do our lives point to Jesus?”  Will our actions and the charities we select to support this Advent reflect the virtues of Christ.  Will we pray for those with whom we disagree?  How will we prepare for Christ?  Will we point to him?  May it be so with all of us. 


Friday, December 8, 2017

ALTERNATE ADVENT GIVING


Transformational Christmas Gifts

Some ideas for Alternate Christmas Giving, to give “light” at Christmas.  Jesus is Savior of the World.  He came to change us.  We can be transformational too, while we wait.

Haiti Water Plus.  Donations are administered by the Missouri Conference UMC, to place filters in homes in Haiti.

Missouri Annual Conference
Attn: Haiti Clean Water
3601 Amron Ct
Columbia, MO 65202

or give online at
http://haitiwaterplus.org/

There are 65 million refugees in the world today.  Today is “Global Migration Sunday,” with donations administered by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  Make your check payable to ADVANCE GCFA. Write the name of this offering (Global Migration Sunday) and the Advance code number (#3022144) on the memo line of the check.  Or donate directly at www.umcor.org.

Rainbow Network may be the most efficiently run charity and served 144 locations and 44,000 people in Nicaragua.  For $30 a month, $60 a year, you can provide a fully funded high school education.

The Rainbow Network
2840 E Chestnut Expressway
Suite A
Springfield, MO 65802
or give online at
www.rainbownetwork.org.

Central Asia Institute focuses on education, especially for girls, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.  If we want to solve the problem of extreme terrorism in this century we need to education Muslim girls.

Central Asia Institute
PO Box 7209
Bozeman, MT 59771
or give online at
www.centralasiainstitute.org


WE NEED A SAVIOR


Sermon Summary, 11/26/17, “We Need a Savior” (John 3:17)

When I was growing up, Advent wasn’t part of our church calendar. At some point the church Christmas tree went up, on Christmas Eve we had a children’s program, Santa arrived, brownbags were distributed.  No getting ready for “Christ is coming.”

So why do we bother?  It is intended to get us ready for Christ—not only the infant Jesus, but the second coming, the second Advent, too. Now I remember that.  Sunday School scared me to death.  I wasn’t ready.  I didn’t know how to get ready.  How could I ever be ready.  And know one knew the hour or the day!  Was this God’s gotcha’ thing?

I had no concept of Jesus as “Savior of the World.” I didn’t understand why the world needed a Savior. Maybe that would make all the difference.

In 1994, Ruth Bell Graham published a Christmas book, One Wintery Night.  She didn’t start with Luke 2 like most of us.  She started with the Creation story.  Her story began with “why we need Jesus.”  Remember that God placed Adam and Eve (and us) in a garden along with a tree that she called the “testing tree.”  We didn’t pass.  We need a Savior.  Then Cain listened to voices of pride and envy.  Even after God spoke to him, “Sin is lurking at your door, its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Ge 4:7b)  He still chose sin.  We need a Savior. Then Babel and the flood.  The whole world needs a Savior.

We would like to believe that we are more sophisticated today, but the 20th century had more wars, we did more harm to one another than in all the centuries combined.  The World needs a Savior.

And not just us, all of Creation.  Paul tells us, “All of creation groans.”  But he has good news, “in hope we have been saved.” (Ro 8:22-24)  The world needs a Savior, and here’s the good news: We have a Savior!

And in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we get a glimpse of what will be at the Second Coming: sins are forgiven, diseases are healed, storms are stilled (all of chaos is overcome), hunger is satisfied, and in his resurrection, decay is rolled back.  We have a Savior and we have hope! 

So, as we wait this Advent Season, let us bring a little heaven to earth as we pray “Thy kingdom come...on earth as it is in heaven.”  Just as Jesus came and is coming to transform the world, let us be transformational in his name: Let us find those charities that truly change people’s lives, like clean water, aiding education in refugee camps, educating girls in third world countries.  Most are available through the United Methodist Committee on Relief.  You can’t go wrong.  Your dollars will be spent transformationally and efficiently if you give to UMCOR.  Give while you wait.  Be Jesus to someone, somewhere.  See a complete list at our website www.prairiechapelumc.com in the sermon link.


WHERE THE GOLDEN RULE, RULES


Sermon Summary, 11/26/17, “Where the Golden Rule, Rules” (Ex Matthew 5:48; 7:12)

Today is “Christ the King” Sunday.  You know about kings?  They make the rules.  The earliest Christian creed was “Jesus is Lord.”  For the first century Christians who lived where “Caesar was Lord,” their creed, “Jesus is Lord,” came with great risk.  For us, it is but a slogan.  What would it mean for us if Jesus was really Lord of our lives?  How would we make that normal? 

This is the second in a two-part series on Wesleyan based small groups.  Wesley believed that Christian conferencing, coming together in a group to talk matters of faith was a means of grace, a means by which the Holy Spirit formed us.  Wesley believed in sanctifying grace, the grace that draws us toward Christian maturity.  “You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  The Greek is “teleos,” meaning mature, whole.  Wesley believed we needed to become “grown-up Christians.”  For Wesley, becoming grown-up Christians would for us make “Jesus is Lord” normal.

Groups come in all forms.  Bowling teams are groups, great fellowship.  We would call them “affinity groups.”  Sunday schools and bible study are small groups.  We would describe them as “informational groups.”  Information is great, but by itself it doesn’t change you.  Wesleyan groups are intended to be “transformational groups.”

Rev. Tom Albin, Dean of the Upper Room, says that three things are required for transformation: Information (necessary but not sufficient); experience (spiritual or from a mentor), and community.  I recently talked to a young man just our of rehab.  He told me that the meetings he attended were far more important to him than the counselors, the psychologists, anything.  Being with and sharing failures and successes was vital to his journey.  Transformation requires community.

Community groups are lay-led.  No preacher, teacher, counselor, advisor.  That is not the purpose.  Simple known questions are posed, eg “Are you enjoying your prayer life?” and group members can respond or not.  It is not a place where are deepest, darkest secrets are shared.  But just knowing the simple questions will be asked, makes us accountable.  If I’m going to be asked about prayer, I’ll pray.  I might even pray differently.  Even if I don’t vocalize, the community is holding me accountable.  

Questions might be as simple as the Golden Rule. “What did you do this week for others, that you would have like them to do for you?”  Or “What did you avoid doing this week…” Simple questions to lead us over time, and as a part of a community, to become a grown-up Christian.

November “Reader’s Digest’s” cover story was “The nicest places in America.  The criteria?  Kindness, respect, and most importantly, a place where everybody agreed that “the Golden Rule, rules.”  Teleos.


VETERAN'S VALUES


Sermon Summary, 11/12/17, “Veteran’s Values” (Exodus 17:8-13; Joshua 24:15; Phil 4:8-9)

Have you ever thought of the Veterans in the Bible? With all the campaigns in the OT, there were many: Abraham (against the five kings, confidence in God and the tithe); Moses (defeating the Amalekites, dependence on God), Joshua (the conquest of Canaan, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”), and of course David (courage, loyalty, faithfulness). 

Ever wonder how these great veterans got their values? Books have been written on character development.  We want to know. A story about another Joshua.  This one a Civil War veteran, Josh Chamberlain.  He got his name at Gettysburg, but he served in 20 major battles, was wounded six times, has his horse shot our from under him six times, received the Medal of Honor, and was selected to receive the surrendering Confederate Army at Appomattox.  He was so popular when he was shot of his horse near the end of the war, when he remounted he was cheered by both sides.  He wrote in his diary, “What world am I in?”

Born in Maine in 1828, his father wanted him to choose a military career, his mom the ministry.  He actually attended seminary but chose college teaching instead of the ministry as an avenue of service.  As an undergraduate, he attended lectures by a professor’s wife who was writing and lecturing on a series that became Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Of course she was Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Josh Chamberlain was nurtured in service and faith.  Such faith that when he believed he was mortally wounded he wrote his wife, “Christ is my all-sufficient Savior.  I go to him.  Do not grieve too much for me.  We shall meet soon.”  Faith.

The Biblical Joshua too was nurtured in service and faith.  “As for me and my family, we shall serve the Lord.” 

What about us?  We have two obligations to nurture values, for ourselves and for the next generation.  The Bible commands us to pass its values on the next generation (“teach them diligently to your children.” (Deut 6:7)). We do so through the culture we create.  Culture is the means by which we pass our values on to the next generation.  Values.  Paul tells us to think of the noble things in life. (Phil 4:8-9) 

We end with another veteran, another Abraham.  Lincoln.  He closes his Second Inaugural Address with “With malice toward none, with charity towards all.”  Need we say more?  What if that was the culture we were leaving our children?  Veteran’s values, for us and for our children.  Amen. 


Monday, November 13, 2017

FIVE HUNDRED PLUS FIVE


Sermon Summary, 11/5/17, “Five Hundred Plus Five” (Romans 1:16-17; 3:24)

Five days ago our first Trick or Treaters were a Dad dressed as Martin Luther, 1st daughter as a hammer, 2d daughter as a nail, 3rd daughter as the 95 Theses, and Mom as the door to the Castle Church.  What is the big deal about Martin Luther?  Quite a lot.  Five hundred years and five days ago, he nailed his 95 Theses on the door and became the major player in the Protestant Reformation.  We are sitting in these seats today because of that.  John Wesley was profoundly influenced by Luther and because of that there was a Methodist movement.

Before Oct 31st, 1517, laity did not sing in church; laity were prohibited from reading the Bible, it was too dangerous for them; Priests were exempt from being prosecuted (what abuse that allowed), laity only had access to God through the Priests; and most importantly, it was believed that we were saved by works and not by grace!

Luther as a young man struggled with his faith, as John Wesley would 200 years later.  Luther was not able to even see a Bible until he was 20, but his reading of the Bible, especially Romans, opened his eyes.  When Pope Leo X, decided he would build St. Peter’s Basilica and use indulgences to raise the money, Luther wanted a debate on “The efficacy and Power of Indulgences,” his 95 Theses.  Pope Leo directed that Luther be silenced and recant, his writings burned.  Martin Luther responded by burning the Pope’s letter!  The Pope excommunicated him and the Holy Roman Emperor convicted him.  Before he could be imprisoned his friends hid him in the Castle Wartburg where he spend his time translating the New Testament into German, the vernacular of the people.  Luther felt that the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common man in the marketplace should have access to the Bible themselves and direct access to God.

From “Romans” he had come to understand that we are saved by grace through faith in God’s acts of salvation though the cross.  Two hundred years later, upon hearing Martin Luther’s “Preface to the Romans,” John Wesley declared “that his heart was strangely warned, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  On this conversion experience of John Wesley, the Methodist movement was born.

Luther and Wesley both experienced doubts.  Wesley, asking how could he preach without faith, was told “Preach faith until you have faith and then because you have faith, preach faith.”

We too, experience doubts, and to paraphrase, we should “Live faith until we have faith and then because we have faith, live faith.”  We are saved by grace through faith.  That is Luther’s legacy for us.