Sunday, July 30, 2017
Sermon Summary (7/23/17) “How God Changes Us: When You Fast” (Mt 6:16-18; 16:24)
“If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves.” Deny themselves, submission, not on of my favorite topics. Every Monday morning I take a “stupid pill,” stupid because I have to wait 30 minutes after it for my first cup of coffee. I can’t even fast for 30 minutes! We define a fast in my house as a nap!
But years ago, it was different. During Lent I fasted on Fridays, maybe the most spiritual thing I’ve ever done. With every hunger pang, with every false reach of my hand for a phantom cup of coffee, I knew I was doing for God. I knew my dependence on God. I was continually reminded to pray.
The early church fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. John Wesley fasted on Fridays and expected in pastors to do so. (I hope the DS doesn’t ask!) We fast, we practice disciplines of abstinence to make room for God. “In the early morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mk 1:35) Jesus practiced solitude (italics note disciplines) to make room for prayer.
We need silence to hear God. I once opened up a house on Cape Cod alone. The electricity was off, there wasn’t even a 60 cycle hum in the house. t was silence like I’d never experienced. We need that to hear God.
We practice fasting to make us aware of our dependence on God. When we experience physical dependence, we also find our need for spiritual dependence.
We practice frugality, controlling our abundance, and sacrifice, giving from our need, to place our treasure in perspective. (See the widow’s mite, Mk 12:42-44) We need to be free from our things. What if every now and then we just gave a day’s wage? Divide our gross income on our tax return by 365 and just give it away. Free from any entanglements, free from the need to plan how to spend it. Jesus told the rich young ruler, “One more thing, give away all you have and come and follow me.” It wasn’t the money, it was the attachment!
Remember, Jesus said “For those who want to save their live will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it prophet them if their gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Of what will the give in return for their life? (Mt 16:25-26) Mark Twain said “It’s no the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me, but the parts that I do.” I hope Jesus was using a little hyperbole here but he’s made his point. I find myself wanting.
The last of the disciples of abstinence in secrecy, not letting the right hand know what the left is doing. Secrecy makes room for humility, setting aside pride and bringing us closer to the imitation of Christ.
One more Wesley story about fasting. This is a combination of what we talked of last week and this week. Last week we said that John Wesley began preparing for The Lord’s Supper on Thursday night, preparing beginning Thursday to meet the Risen Lord at the Lord’s Table on Sunday morning.
He patterned his preparation on the Passion of Christ.
He began his fast after supper on Thursday. Jesus said he would not eat or drink of the fruit of the vine until he feasted at the heavenly banquet. Following the beginning of his fast, Wesley patterned his Thursday evening devotion after Jesus in Gethsemane.
On Friday morning in his devotion, Wesley was before the Sanhedrin and then in Pilate’s palace as Jesus had been. Where Jesus had been scourged and then made the long, painful walk to Golgotha. Where Jesus was crucified.
Then, on Friday afternoon at 3:00 , as Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” Wesley broke his fast. Jesus’ earthly fast was over.
Devotions Friday and Saturday contemplated the sacrifice of Christ for us and for our salvation.
And then, and then on Sunday morning, in his devotions, Wesley went to the tomb with Mary Magdalene, with Peter and with John to encounter the resurrected Lord.
And that’s who he met at the Communion Table, at the Table of the Lord on Sunday morning.
Wesley’s weekly devotions, including the fast focused on the Passion of Christ. It was the fast that was the channel of grace by which Wesley began his weekly preparations. By which God changed Wesley, transformed Wesley, sanctified Wesley week after week. It was through the fast, through his prayers, through the Table of the Lord that Wesley moved on to perfection throughout his entire life. May we too experience this transformation as we make room for God and connect to grace. Amen.
Saturday, July 29, 2017
We’re in a sermon series, “Connecting to Grace: How God Changes Us,” those spiritual disciplines modeled or instituted by Jesus. When I grew up, we had Holy Communion quarterly, a hold over from when the Ordained Preacher only frequently came by to marry, to baptize, to serve Communion. If we miss a service or two, it could be a year between Communions. And yet one of the few true directives, commands of Jesus was “Do this in remembrance of me.”
But if you grew up Roman Catholic you know that the focus of every service is the Eucharist, Greek for thanksgiving. Somehow, I never think of it as thanksgiving. What am I missing?
How is it you think of it? The Holy Mystery? (Mysterion, Greek for sacrament). Holy Communion? (the giving, sacrificial relationship with God and one another. It is done in community). The Lord’s Supper? (Christ is the host). Mass? (from the Latin Missio from which we get mission. We are equipped by the meal and sent forth). Eucharist (our hymnal calls it “The Great Thanksgiving”).
So what does it mean to us? What do we think of when we sit at table? What does our liturgy say?
Thanksgiving. We begin by saying “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”
Fellowship. Communion is not done in isolation. Jesus gathered his disciples around the table. We say “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body.” We prepare with confession and we become a forgiven and reconciled people ready to greet one another in the name of Christ.
Sacrifice. This is a re-presentation of “Take, eat, this is my body broken for you; my blood poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Grace. Holy Communion is a divine act through the ever-present Holy Spirit, the very definition of grace that transforms us. “May them the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ.
Heavenly Promise. To participate at the table is to give us a foretaste of the future. We say, “Until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.”
And we remember that all are invited. In the Methodist Church we mean all. It is our altar call. Not even baptism is required. “Christ our Lord invites to the table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.” You are invited. Amen.
Monday, July 17, 2017
Sermon Summary (7/9/17) “How God Changes Us: The Word of Life” (Phil 2:3-11)
I can remember at 12 or 13 setting up machinery with my Grandpa at the shop. I particularly remember setting up a sickle mower. Grandpa told me to hold the A-frame as he attached the undercarriage (heavy). Later, reading the instructions I found out that there was a special structure included just to do that! We need assembly instructions. More importantly, we need to read assembly instructions.
We have assembly instructions for our lives. In fact, the first ones were read to us: “You may eat freely of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge and good and evil, you shall not eat.” Remember that? These are instructions not just for Adam and Eve, but for every generation, including us. Yet we don’t heed the manual. In fact, this is a disassembly story. But if we heed the manual, it is a re-assembly story because of the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ. With the manual, we assemble our lives.
Hebrews tells us that “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. (Heb 1:1-2). Jesus gave us two commandments that he told us summarized all the law and the prophets, “Love God and Love neighbor.” Yet these simple rules to “Do” are far more difficult than the “Do Not” instructions of the prophets. We continually wrestle with sins of omission that we may over look or not heed. We need the power of the Holy Spirit with us to guide us and to hold us accountable.
Life is difficult. Assembling our lives is difficult. CS Lewis notes that we can almost never take Jesus’ words literally. We need to be able to read between the lines. Jesus spoke in parables. Our Spirit-guided interpretations are individual and universal and timeless. And under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they are life-changing!
We read the Bible for four reasons: Information (context, we need to interpret passages within the context of the whole). In Relation (The Bible is a Theology Book. We need to ask, “What does it tell us about God, us, and In Relation to God and us). Inspiration (We need not only breadth, but depth; we let the Spirit focus on a passage, a verse, even a word that reaches into our depths. My favorite is Phil 2: “Think not of your own interests, but the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” We could solve the wolrd’s problem if we “looked… to the interests of others with the same mind as Jesus.).
And lastly for Transformation (Consider a broken young woman reading the incomprehensible Mt Ch 1, the genealogies. She sees a single word, Tamar! If God could forgive and honor Tamar, he could her. The realization is to her is transforming! So may it be with you. Amen.
Sermon Summary (7/2/17) “Prayer: Drawing Close to God” (Phil 4:6-7; James 5:14-15)
We’re in a series “Connecting to Grace: How God Changes Us.” Grace, God’s loving action through the ever-present Holy Spirit pervades our understanding of Christian life and faith. Today “Prayer.”
“Prayer brings us into the deepest and highest work of the human spirit. To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us.” (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline) Wow!
If you want to read a challenging Scripture, try Luke 14:25-33. You may remember “If one does not hate father, mother...even life itself...you cannot be my disciple.” Another Wow! We’ve talked often that Jesus used prophetic hyperbole, extreme exaggeration to make a point. He doesn’t mean “hate,” but what he does mean that discipleship is our highest priority; discipleship is the main business of our lives.
To become disciples, we need prayer. We need to prayer. Prayer changes us, but prayer also brings into partnership with God. Prayer changes God! (Read Ex 32:11-14 and Jonah 3:9-10. In both cases the Bible tells us that God changed his mind.) God needs our prayer too!
In this series we are using the example of Jesus. Jesus prayer the Scriptures. Remember these verses? Ps 22:1 “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Ps 31: 5 “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” Both prayed by Jesus from the cross. Praying the Scripture is “pleading the promises of God.” Healing is a big deal in our congregation right now. We can rephrase James 5 to pray for healing: “Dear God, we have sick among us. We are the elders gathers to place our hands upon them, to pray for them, to anoint. We pray that you will save them, raise them up, forgive them their sins. For we know that the prayers of faith are powerful and effective. In the name of the great healer. Amen.
Just as the Psalms were Jesus’ songbook, the hymnbook is ours. We can pray the hymns. In fact, by praying the hymns outloud, it allows us to be physically part of the prayer in the way we cannot be praying silently. If we were to pray these hymns as part of ACTS: Adoration (UMH#77, “How Great Thou Art”); Confession (UMH#357 “Just as I Am”); Thanksgiving (UMH#92 “For the Beauty of the Earth”); Supplication (UMH#140 “Great is Thy Faithfulness”). And we can intersperse our prayer, our requests among them. Psalm and Song lifts us.
Simone Weil, mystic from the early twentieth century tells of experiences that as an agnostic brought her to her knees. In one, reciting the poem “Love,” she says it took on all the virtues of a prayer, and “Christ himself came down and took possession of me.” Prayer changes us!
Sermon Summary (6/25/17) “A Devotional Life” (Mark 1:35; 2 Cor 5:17)
My faith made a big turn at age 45. When it did, it was like a new thing. I could not wait to get down to my table in the morning. To read, to pray, to meet God. As we mature the newness fades. John Wesley admonishes to keep a time fixed for our devotions “whether we like it or no; it is your life!”
Why? (The why is a big deal. It changes everything!) We need to do so because Christ calls us to be changed so that we can change the world! “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that changed a wretch like me!” (Written by John Newton, a former slave captain who became an Anglican priest and part of the abolition movement in Great Britain.)
We’re talking about connecting to grace, God’s unmerited, undeserved favor. Grace is our “Why.” Grace changes us. Methodists believe that “Grace pervades our understanding of Christian faith and likfe. Grace is the loving action of God through the ever-present Holy Spirit.” While we believe that grace is ever-present and undivided, us “methodical” folks like to break it into three pieces to better understand it:
Prevenient grace (nudging). We believe that we are incapable of saving ourselves and need to say “Yes” to God’s nudging grace. After our son died, my only prayer was “Lord, let me believe.” I prayed not because of any motivation of my own; it was God’s loving action that nudged me and continued to nudge me until I said “Yes.”
Justifying grace (saving or converting). Grace that forgives us and brings us into a right relationship with God. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17) John Newton kneeled on his ship deck, repenting of his part in the slave trade and was brought into a right relationship with God. He was justified by grace.
Sanctifying grace (perfecting, maturing, changing). The third activity of grace is live-long, taking us from where God finds us to becoming what God calls us to be. Wesley says that as we become perfected (matured); we become “habitually filled with the love of God and neighbor.”
Our task is to connect to grace. Wesley believed the Jesus had shown us certain means by which we could do that, practices that he participated in or instituted. Ove the next six weeks we will be examining them so that we can connect, be changed, be part of Christ’s transforming movement in the world. Stay tuned. Amen.