Saturday, October 22, 2011

Further Along the Road: Serving Others

The Lay Speakers at Fairview offered the message, "The Road of Discipleship." The first two portions of that message, "Loving God," and "Loving Others," were posted in the previous two Blogs. You may want to start there. Jesus tells us that the "gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few that find it." (Matthew 7:14) The Good News is that there are resting places, way points, dwelling places along the road. We like to picture them as park benches. Please join us as we travel the road that leads to life.

(Laity Voice Four) And the last Park Bench is “Serving Others.” The work of serving others is another form of love.

Scott Peck teaches us that love implies effort. We are to extend ourselves against the normal inertia of laziness and fear. Loving, extending ourselves, overcoming fear is not sedentary, it requires effort. Love requires effort. In fact, Scott Peck emphasizes that if our act is not an act of work or courage, it is not love.
Serving others is an act of work or courage that nurtures the spiritual growth of another and therefore it is an act of love. That understanding may help us bring together what most of us believe are difficult passages. Remember this passage from James? (2:14-17) “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has not works is dead.”

Or how about this one from 1 John? (3:17-18) “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help? Little children, let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
If our actions involve work or courage, they are love. James could have easily said, “faith without love is dead.” I think we can understand that.

So, how are we doing? How is the love of serving others playing out at Fairview and in the Missouri United Methodist Church? I thought I take a few minutes to follow up Serve2011, the day the church left the building to serve our communities.

(Show Mission Cast: )

We work to change lives, to transform lives, to nurture the spiritual growth of another. For Serve2011, Fairview worked on Jim’s house. Jim suffers from Cerebral Palsy. There is no doubt that as a result of our efforts, Jim was able to see God more clearly and because of his improved circumstance to pursue a relationship with God more easily. What happened that day in Jim’s house was love. Love is a verb! And it takes place during the time we dwell around the park bench of “Serving Others.”

Close (Laity Voice One)

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and road is hard that leads to life, and few will find it.” (Matt 7:13-14)

Most of us are on the interstate, four lanes, limited access as we speed through life without the time, the effort or the courage to love, to develop relationships with God and others, to make a transforming difference in the lives of others through service.

That is the narrow road, the one few will find. It is the road less traveled by, and it is the road that leads to life. To life. That is what being a follower, a disciple of Jesus Christ offers, Life.

It is the road any one of can take if we will choose the rest stop and give God our time through prayer and reading Scripture and listening to him.
Then to give him our time through weekly worship, being here, dwelling on that park bench that focuses our lives on Him, connects to Him, begins that journey of love of Him. We really begin our journey on the Road of Discipleship by “Loving God.”

But it’s not just a solitary walk in the woods, it is a hike we take with others in community where we connect with others, love others in obedience to God’s command. The second park bench where we dwell in “Loving Others.”

Then, we learn to “Serve Others,” changing lives in Jesus Christ.

And through it all, God loves us, we grow spiritually, and we too are changed.

And it’s not just a stroll, but a journey, one where we invite others along, sharing the Good News of the love of God as we learn to Love Him, Love others, serve the world, changing lives in Jesus Christ. It is the journey on the Road of Discipleship. So may it be in all of our lives. Amen.

Along the Road: Loving Others

The Lay Speakers at Fairview offered the message, "The Road of Discipleship." The first portion of that message, "Loving God," was posted in the previous Blog. You may want to start there. Jesus tells us that the "gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few that find it." (Matthew 7:14) The Good News is that there are resting places, way points, dwelling places along the road. We like to picture them as park benches. Please join us as we travel the road that leads to life.

(Laity Voice Three) The second step, the second park bench, the second way-station on the Road of Discipleship is “Loving Others,” connecting to others, learning from others through God’s gift of community. Jesus was very clear, “By this you will be known as my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John says, “Because God first loved us, little children, we ought to love one another.”

The early church gives us the best examples, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers….they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread together at home and ate food with glad and generous heart.” Acts 2:42,46

Paul’s churches that we read about in the New Testament were not buildings, but gatherings of small groups in homes, house churches.

Wesley reenergized the Church of England with small groups. Wesley was asked, “How do we escape the wrath to come?” another way of saying, “How do we become disciples?” Or “what is the Road of Discipleship?” Wesley gathered people in diverse groups across the English country side and in so doing set the stage for the transformation of a nation. They did so because they experienced the power of Community and the love of community and they were nurtured in their spiritual growth through community and they were changed.

It is through our small groups like Joy Group, Disciple Bible Study, Dinner Groups, Small Studies, Sunday School, that relationships are formed, that friendships are made, that caring occurs, that growth happens, that love prospers, that disciples are nurtured.

Bishop Schnase emphasizes that there are many things you simply cannot do alone. You cannot learn to love alone. You cannot learn to be patient alone. You cannot learn to be kind and considerate alone. You cannot learn to forgive alone, you cannot learn to care for another alone, you cannot be held accountable alone. It is in community that we learn to love others.

And just as in Loving God, connecting to others, learning from others, loving others takes Time. We learn in relationship and it takes Time. And because it is so important, small groups, community will receive increased emphasis here at Fairview in coming months. We need to dwell there. So the next park bench on the Road of Discipleship is “Loving Others.”

The Road of Discipleship

On October 9th, The Lay Speakers at Fairview United Methodist Church were offered the opportunity to speak. We chose to talk to the congregation about the pathway to discipleship, in this case based on Jesus' guidance to take the "narrow road." How is it that we become a disciple of Jesus Christ? Because of the length, I've chosen to break it into three parts. The last two segments can be read in subsequent blogs. Join us along the "Road." Jesus said, "It is the road that leads to life." It's a road you don't want to miss.

The Road of Discipleship
(Matthew 7:13-14)

Introduction (Laity Voice One)

Robert Frost ends his classic poem, “The Road Not Taken,” saying, “And I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” All the difference.

In 1979, M. Scott Peck released his book whose title was built on the teachings of Jesus and the poem of Robert Frost. Scott Peck entitled it The Road Less Traveled. It was a gift of love. It remained on the “New York Times” best seller list for over 10 years. It is a book about love and about spiritual growth. It is the road of discipleship, one few take. It is the narrow road. If you haven’t read it, you should. If you’ve read it, be kind to yourself by reading it again.

It begins with the statement, “Life is difficult.” We know that. Jesus’ disciples knew that. Peck’s book is a gift to those of us who choose the narrow way, the road less traveled. It begins with a practical, workable definition of love and becomes a guide for my Christian walk.

How we define love makes all the difference. Jesus says to Peter at the close of the Gospel of John, “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus, what do you mean by love? Peter didn’t know. Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus, do you mean physically or spiritually? Jesus, what do you mean by love?

Jesus said, “By this you will be known as my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Do we know what he means by love?

e said the greatest commandment was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Are we to embrace everyone we meet? What does Jesus mean by love?

James said, “You will do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is certainly some physical aspect, but there is more to it than that.

Jesus said, “No greater love than this, that one would lay down their life for their friends.” If we run around trying to find ways to do that, we are only going to have one shot at it.
So how do we define love? How does Scott Peck define love? Peck says that love is “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” (p 81) (repeat for emphasis) Love is will. Love involves effort. Love results in transformation. Think of what God did for us, to transform us. It is the ultimate will. To think that he would will himself to come into the world for our sake. That he would extend himself, not just himself, but his arms on a cross for us to show us that there was no limit to how far he would go to show his love for us. And he would do it of course to nurture our spiritual growth, our relationship with him. Certainly there is not greater love than that.


So where does the road of discipleship begin? It begins with God.

Everything we do begins with God. Wesley described it as God’s nudging grace, what he called prevenient grace, grace before we even know. We are incapable of making that first step by ourselves. We make it in response to God’s nudging.

Even prayer begins with God. (Lift your hands heavenward.) I want you to take a few seconds to pray. Bow your heads, close your eyes, lift your hands heavenward. Listen, feel God’s direction for your prayer. Amen. Our prayers begin with God. And that’s where the Road of Discipleship begins.

(Laity Voice Two) All of our road, our prayers begin with God. As this presentation was coming together, I was lying in bed, saying my prayers when I decided to say the Lord’s prayer. “Our Father.” I often pause at that point and listen, feel for what God is directing me to pray for or to say to me in answer to prayer. Just then, there was a notice on my iPhone on the bedstand beside me saying the Cardinals had beaten the Phillies 5-nothing! Now let me tell you. We were on the farm. Down in a hollow. No Service. Prayers come from God! There may have been more to managing the Cardinals down the stretch than Tony La Russa knows. Enough “Angels in the Outfield” stuff.

Okay. I want to begin the Road of Discipleship in a very unusual place. A place I would daresay none of you will ever visit. But it’s a story about not only place but of time. It’s a place on US Highway 18 in Gregory County South Dakota. It is in the town of Herrick, the town Rosemary grew up in. When she grew up there, it was a town of 300 with five or six institutions of significance: The small Methodist Church that still thrives, Fortuner’s butcher shop, the Post Office, Anhorn’s Grocery, the Pool Hall, and you might throw in the school. The town is only a hundred now. The school is closed. The grocery store is closed. The Post Office will be shortly closed. The butcher shop where hunters used to say had the best bologna, Herrick bologna, in the world, is closed. But the Pool Hall is still open, Bernie’s place. It is the town gathering place. The Hunters used to say it had the best chocolate ice cream anywhere. The chocolate ice cream is gone, but it was and still is the only place in town to gather. After church on Sunday, where do you think we go to gather? Bernie’s Place, the Pool Hall.

I don’t think I would ever be able to adequately describe Bernie’s Place to you. Suffice it to say, I tell Rosemary it’s the place where you go to get you immune system kick started.

But it’s more than a place. It’s time. Bernie and Marilyn, now in their seventies, raised their six children there. Their grandchildren spent time there. Bernie and Marilyn live there. Live there. It is not just their place, it is time. Marilyn’s smiling face is always there, all the time. Bernie is there unless he’s fishing with one of his grandkids. Fishing—time. Reba McIntyre said she learned more about the Bible fishing with her grandmother than she ever did in church. Time.

When we were there in September, their oldest daughter Janet, now middle aged, was there helping her parents, she was canning pickles while talking and serving the customers. She was spending time with her Mother. By the way, the place is no longer known for its chocolate ice cream, but for Janet’s cinnamon rolls. While we were there another of the grown children, Dan, came through to spend time with his parents. Time.

Oh, and if you want a dozen ears of corn, you simply spend time at the card table or at the bar while Janet goes out back a few steps to the garden and picks a dozen ears. The same with tomatoes. By the way, Janet doesn’t have to be there. She has a successful career of her own and is the wife of a successful farmer and rancher. Dan doesn’t have to be there. He runs a successful seed operation. It’s about time.

And the grandchildren had spent time there. Not all successes but on the wall is one granddaughter’s picture playing basketball for the University of Nevada. Pictures of two others playing basketball for the University of Sioux Falls. One grandchild is a school superintendent. Another is a grade school principal.

How did this happen? Certainly not riches from a pool hall in a town of one hundred. Bernie and Marilyn just get by. They are poor by any economic standard. In terms of life, they are rich. How so? I would say that it was about time. Parenting, nurturing is about time.

This is what Scott Peck says about parenting and time: “Parents who devote themselves to their children even when it is not demanded…will perceive in the subtle needs for discipline… they will take the time to make..minor adjustments, listening.. responding.. tightening.. loosening.. giving little lectures, little stories, little hugs and kisses, little admonishments, little pats on the back….” It is about nurturing our children, giving them the tools for life. It is about time. And time is about love. With God it is no different.

It is amazing what time will do when almost no other resources are available.
When we give our time to Jesus, we learn to be like him, we learn the skills for walking the narrow path, we grow spiritually. We become more and more like him, and we become his followers. We are on the road to discipleship.

How is it that we come to love God? We begin with our time. Isn’t that true of all the things we love? We give them our time. We give time to our children, we give time to our hobbies, we give the things we love our time. To learn to love God, we need to give him our time.
We follow the example of Jesus. Jesus gave his time. Luke tells us that “[Jesus] went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.” (4:16)

We follow the example of Jesus, and we come to church. We make it customary. We give God time for our prayers, time for our presence, time for our worship, we are here on Sunday morning, giving time to hear the scripture read, time to hear the word expounded, time for our prayers, public and private. Worship is a time we give our love to God.

Our love of God begins with time, and over the course of time we are subtly changed. As we begin our love of God, we experience the love of God in return and we are changed, transformed, we grow spiritually. That’s what love is about.

We grow spiritually because God first loved us. He had the will to step out of eternity into our time to extend himself for us and our salvation through his mighty acts in Jesus Christ to bring us into a right relationship with him. For what? So that he could nurture us and our spiritual growth. We love because God first loved us.

So we’re on the road less traveled, the narrow road, the road that Jesus told us would be hard. But there is good news. There are rest places, way stations, dwelling spots along the road. I like to think of them as park benches, because we can dwell there. The first “park bench” on the Road of Discipleship is, loving God, connecting to God, learning from God, dwelling with him, giving him our time. This dwelling place is our worship and it is the starting place for “Loving God.”