Thursday, May 26, 2016
Sermon Summary from May 22: “Maggie” (Read Mark 1:40-42; 10:46-52)
I don’t know about you, but I find myself overwhelmed by the challenges of the world and the inadequacies of our response. We can put our finger anywhere on the globe: 66 dead in the Mediterranean, 5 million refugees in the Middle East. And we can place our finger in the center of Africa and find untold problems. Do you know that in the area of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda from 1993 to 2005 over 5.4 million people were killed in civil war? More people that in any other conflict since WWII. I didn’t know. Maybe we as Americans don’t care what happens there. But I’m glad that I belong to the body of Christ where people do care.
This sermon falls into the category of “See where God is working in the world and join in.” We may be overwhelmed. We may not know what to do, but we can look to see where God is working and join in. What you are about to see is the story about Margarete Barankitse, “Maggie.” If you don’t catch it, she was a secretary in a church. It’s amazing who God uses. I caught this story two weeks ago when she was given the first annual “Aurora Award for Awakening Humanity.”
The video you’ll see was from 2008. You remember the genocide in 1993? Maggie happens to be Tutsi, working in a church where the priests and the nuns were Hutu. They did not survive. Just a church secretary, but a Christian who has changed the world.
That was 2008. Since then the hospital is finished, the biggest hospital in Burundi. Want to know how the hospital was built? Asked how she was going to fund it, she said, “God is rich. He will help.” The next year she was given the World Award for Children by the Queen of Sweden. She built the hospital.
And homes. She decided she didn’t want an orphanage, she wanted homes so she found houses and trained foster parents. The says the kids have a future because when they leave school they say, “We go home now.” Her program is called Maison Shalom, “House of peace.” Peace, not the absence of conflict but a place of harmony. And she believes in the dignity of people. She equips them for life and tells them to “Stand up.” “We want people to help themselves in order to change their lives.” “Dignity is love. Humiliation is evil.”
See where God is working and join in. I would like you to think about this: Who would Margarete Barankitse be without the church? Who would have taught her that the “Vocation of Christians is to love”? Without the church, who would have taught her about the dignity of human life? She and the church are not just saving children, but giving them dignity. Equipping them by giving them a home, educating them to stand up, providing microloans for economic development, providing medical care to sustain them and bring new generations into the world. Such a program is also being done by Keith Jaspers, United Methodist lay person with Rainbow Network.
We cannot all be Maggie Barankitses or Keith Jaspers, maybe none of us. Yet at one point a single Christian came alongside each one of them and through the faith they passed on, tens of thousands of children have been helped. When we see someone like them making a difference in the name of Christ, it is our turn to come along aside and join in. May it be so with all of us. Amen.
Sermon Summary from May 15 (Pentecost): “Holy Spirit, Truth Divine” (Read John 14:15-17; Acts 2:1-4)
We didn’t talk about the Holy Spirit did we? When we grew up it was the Holy Ghost, ghost. My understanding of ghost was best shaped by Casper. For the next generation it may have been “Ghost Busters.” (The trailer talks of events of “Biblical Proportions.”) I’m not sure I had an inkling what the Holy Ghost was about.
Maybe if I had paid a little attention to Charles Wesley’s hymns, e.g. “Come ,Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire.” In the second verse we find how the Holy Ghost spoke in the Old Testament: “for by Thee the prophets wrote and spoke.” God was selective in his Spirit and in his choice of prophets and times, but then when I look at the wonder of Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel, I can see the presence of the Holy Ghost. Later the prophet Joel would tell us “Then...I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.” That’s what happened at Pentecost. God poured out his Spirit on all flesh. That’s all of us! All of us who make ourselves aware of the prompting and say “Yes” receive the Spirit!
In the story in Acts, the Spirit gave the ability to tell the Good News in many languages, but it was much more than just about communications. John tells us that this Advocate (a helper who comes along side) will abide in us and be in us. In John 16 he tells us he will teach us all truth. That is the Holy Spirit I want to talk about.
The New Testament moves from the OT “thou shalt nots” which seem easy to understand (but maybe difficult to obey), to open ended commands of Jesus. In John we are told to “keep the commandments,” to love one another, to believe (and not just to mentally believe, but to take it to heart and act on that belief) These are difficult things to know, let alone do. Who am I to love? How am I to love? What am I to do? (These are the Jiminy Cricket questions of the James series: “But how will I know?)” If we are listening to the Spirit, if we are to live by the Spirit, we will be guided by the Spirit. That’s how.
The New Testament even gives us a checklist, an examination of where we have been each day. For example, we ask, “Because of what I’ve done today, is there more love in the world than yesterday?” Or joy, or peace, or patience, or kindness, or goodness, or faithfulness or gentleness, or self-control? We call these the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). We seek to be faithful to the commands of Jesus, we listen to the Spirit to see how we are to do that, we review our lives in terms of the Fruit of the Spirit we produce. A powerful helper indeed! Amen.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Sermon Summary from May 8: “Mother’s Forgiveness” (Mt 6:14; Col 3:12-15)
Happy Mother’s Day! One of our recently requested sermons was on forgiveness, and since I believe that mothers are the most forgiving creatures in the world, I thought this would be a great day for that sermon. Of course mothers are incredibly forgiving of their own, but they are also protective of their own. It’s in their DNA. And when that protective instinct is challenged, forgiveness can be difficult.
When that protective instinct is challenged, feelings of anger, retribution, contempt or judgment arise. Without forgiveness it can harm us, harm our relationships, harm others. Hear this: Jesus does not want you harmed! He has given us a pathway to forgiveness (“as we forgive those…), and he says we must! (“You must forgive.”)
A Story: Scarlett Lewis prepared her six year old son, Jesse, for school, followed him out to his ex’s car, took a picture of him before he drove off. It would be her final picture, because Jesse was being dropped off at Sandy Hook elementary. Here’s the question, will Scarlett allow herself to be consumed, destroyed by bitterness or will she find a pathway to forgiveness?
Before answering, another story. A pastor and his wife lose a son to a crackhead murderer. The husband, Walt, cannot get over it, pushes his wife away, is transferred to another congregation, his life in shambles. Eventually, he attends the killers sentencing and a month later writes him, then later visits him in prison. Four years later he testifies at Michael’s parole hearing and five years after that he marries he and his bride. Forgiveness was reluctant, slow, but Michael has become a productive member of society, Walt a productive pastor once again.
I wish I could say that Walt’s wife Izzy’s life had been restored, but it was not. Sometimes when we harm others, the harm cannot be undone.
That’s why God insists we forgive. He gives us no choice. Forgiveness is a choice, our choice, but we can’t do it alone. We need grace present with us, nudging us, prodding us. The most difficult part of loving our neighbor is forgiving them. But we need to say “Yes.”
Scarlett Lewis says that without forgiveness it was like she was tethered to Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook killer. Forgiving him set her free. Eventually, through stops and starts she learned to have compassion for him and for his mother who enabled him. For her forgiveness was choice girded by grace, and it saved her. So may it be with us. Amen.
Sermon Summary from May 1: “Jimmy’s War of Words” (Read James Chapter 3:1-10; 4:11-12)
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of name calling. Words can be off-putting; or words can inspire you. Can’t we have more of the latter. Can’t we hear Churchill inspiring a nation to fight on and win, “We will never surrender.” Can’t we hear Kennedy leading a nation to “put on man on the moon in this decade and return him safely to earth”?
Unfortunately, words can harm. James (Jimmy as I call him) warns us that the tongue is a fire that can set a whole forest ablaze (James 3:5-6). A tongue can do harm.
John Wesley admonished us to “First, do no harm.” We can do harm with our words and once spoken can never be recalled. I think that’s why Paul told us in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths , but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that words give grace to those that hear.” Let that be a reminder that even when we need to critique another, we need to use words gracefully or they will not be heard.
James concludes, “with [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made n the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. By brothers and sisters this ought not be so.”
So what are we to do? We can’t stop talking. The antidote come from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the pure in heart…” With a pure heart we see the world in a positive light. We treat others with respect. And before we speak, we listen to our conscience. Stephen Covey teaches that between any stimulus that might make us respond inappropriately, is a space, a moment in which we can choose. We can choose to respond gracefully. We can choose to respond with respect. We can choose to respond civility. It may required sacrifice on our part, but we can choose.
One of my favorite authors is Stephen Carter, Yale law professor and lay person. In Civility he writes, “Civility is the sum of all the sacrifices we make for the sake of living together...The rules of civility are also the rules of morality. It is morally proper to treat others with respect, and it is morally improper not to.”
Morally proper: First, (choose to) do no harm. Next, “Do unto others as you would have then do unto you.” Build others up with your words. Show them grace. Amen.
Saturday, May 7, 2016
Sermon Summary from April 17: “Jiminy Judgment” (Read James Chapter 2:1-13)
The Letter of James, “The Gospel According to Jimmy,” is a letter of grace, of prevenient grace, a book of conscience, nudging us to do what Jesus says to do. When we respond to that nudging we have the opportunity to change. We Methodists call that nudging grace. Some would call it conscience. At Easter we talked of God loving us just as we are. God loves us just as we are, but doesn’t leave us as we are. He nudges, uses conscience. We respond, we change. Last week we said that the Letter of James was a side-kick to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and we introduced another side-kick, Jiminy, conscience too, as he did for Pinocchio, show us right from wrong.
So we jump in. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God.. is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction..” Widows and orphans are at the bottom of the totem pole in biblical times. God favors them even when we do not. James calls us our for our favoritism, favoring the rich and well dressed over the poor and shabby. We dishonor the poor! We are partial. We are judgmental! (Read again James 2:1-13)
You had to be there for the story about Wilkes Blvd UMC, but let it be said, we are partial even in the present day! James, Jimmy, says “If you show partiality, you are guilty of transgressing the whole law!” Jesus says (and you know this one even if you’ve never opened the Bible) “Judge not, lest you be judged.” “Why do you see the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye but do not even notice the plank in your own eye?... You hypocrite.” How many specks of sawdust in a plank? A trillion? Before we judge we must remember our own condition is a trillion times worse!
Important distinction between discernment and judging. With discernment we compare things, right and wrong, an essence part of conscience. We must discern. With judgment we compare others and diminish them. Judge not! Unfortunately, there is a little judgmental Pharisee in each of us. When we find ourselves beginning to be partial or judgmental, we must listen to the promptings of Jiminy, of conscience. Judging, whether economic, social or racial, is evil. Even the Church is in trouble because we are perceived (and rightly so) as judgmental. We as the Church are witnesses to Jesus Christ and must do so by following his footsteps, doing as he would do—Judging not. So may it be with all of us.
Sermon Summary from April 10: “Gospel According to Jimmy” (Read James Chapter 1)
I’ve often wondered what it would have been like growing up in the same house with Jesus. Precocious, right? Do you suppose he tried out his ideas on James whether James liked it or not? Pretty obvious Jesus didn’t convince his brother Jimmy who it sounds like came with his mother one time to “take him away.” But, but, Paul tells us that the Risen Christ appeared to James and changed his life. He was the leader of the mother church in Jerusalem from 36 ad until he was martyred in 62 ad. Another who gave his life for the sake of the Resurrection.
James is a very practical book, a companion or sidekick to the Sermon on the Mount in many cases telling how we are to live out Jesus words. Jesus talks about the “pure in heart.” Jimmy tells us “religion that is pure and undefiled…” Jesus says, “Whoever hears these words of mine and does them. “ Jimmy says “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” It’s almost as if James places the role of conscience.
Another sidekick you may remember that played the role of conscience was not Jimmy but “Jiminy,” Jiminy Cricket. “I’ll tell ya’ what conscience is, Pinocchio, it’s that still small voice that nobody listens to. That’s the problem with the world today.” Now we have “The Gospel According to Jiminy.”
The first phrase is a matter of conscience: James, slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ… Our relationships dictate our behavior and our response to one another. What if we took our relationship “as slave” to Jesus Christ personally? What if?
James talks of trials leading to maturity. Jesus of becoming perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. We become spiritually mature by listening to the proddings of grace, of conscience. James says to ask for wisdom instead of leaning on our own understanding. A practical guide.
He talks of temptation. We need conscience, Jiminy, to help us distinguish between right and wrong. Interestingly, James tells us that generosity is the counterpoint to temptation. When we succumb, it is out of self-interest. Generosity leads us in another direction.
Most of all he tells us to be “Doers of the word and not hearers only.” Wesley taught us to “First, do no harm; the do all the good you can.” We need conscience to do both. We need to listen, be hearers, yes; and we need to ask, “What good can I do today?” Then be doers.