Here is another piece that I think many will find interesting, especially if you are a lay servant interested in becoming a new lay speaker.
Monthly Archives: May 2013
Wesleyan take on predestination
When I was presenting seminars on the nature of information technology in the chemistry classroom, I would often saw that this particular presentation was “the fourth in a trilogy” (see “What is at the End of the Universe? – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/what-is-at-the-end-of-the-universe/
Anyway, this is the fourth in the trilogy of posts about being a Methodist and what it means to be a Methodist. My thanks to John, Scott, and Kevin for their work in bringing these points to our attention.
Asbury Seedbed has published an excellent summary of the Wesley approach to predestination.
Here is the summary the post offers of the Wesleyan Arminian position on predestination:
- It was on the basis of these two areas of concern that Wesley advocated for his evangelical Arminian position on predestination, which can be outlined in the following six points:
- Total depravity is affirmed by Wesley, meaning that the fallen human being is completely helpless and in bondage to sin. Contrary to popular misconception, Wesley does not believe that fallen human beings have an inherent freedom of the will.
- The atonement is universal in scope. Christ’s death was sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world, not only an elect few, as proposed by five-point Calvinism.
- Prevenient (or preceding) grace is universally available. God’s grace is present in our lives before we turn to Christ…
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What is Methodism Anyways?
This is another one of the blogs that I have received in the past week that speaks to the nature of what it means to be a Methodist. It is interesting that Scott is a Yankee in a Tennessee court and I am from Tennessee but in a Yankee court. 🙂
(A Remembrance on Aldersgate)
Over the last week, I had the opportunity to have a meal with a lifelong southern Baptist. During that meal the question arose of why I was so far from home. After I told him about why I was the Yankee in Tennessee court, there was a pause, followed by a scrunched brow and “what is a methodist anyways?”
Although I have some text-book answers to that question, the truth is you cannot answer that question, without asking and answering another question; who was John Wesley. Although it is Jesus in whom we put our faith, trust and love…It was John Wesley, whose life, sermons, teaching, and ministry serves to become a filter of just what a Wesleyan Christian looks like.
Who was John Wesley?
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Christian Perfection: The Reason for Methodism
As I noted earlier, there are many Methodists whose knowledge of Methodism is limited. I am not trying to be critical but if we do not have an understanding of what it is that we say we are, how can we tell (and show others) what it means to be a Methodist?
Holiness in new words
A comment was made to me about the state of knowledge about Methodism among Methodists and the state was not good. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will post links to other blogs that speak/write about key concepts about what it means to be a Methodist. This is a little convoluted because I am linking to John Meunier’s post and he is linking to the original. Hopefully, you won’t get lost in the clicks.
Ken Schenck of Wesley Seminary here in Indiana wrote a post recently about reformulating the language of key Wesleyan doctrines on holiness to communicate better to contemporary audiences. The whole post is worth reading.
Here’s one small piece.
The old language of eradicating the carnal nature is dead. Nobody thinks in these sorts of terms. I tried to see if I could sell the following language: the Spirit part of your life can so come to dominate the flesh part of your life that you love God and others with ease, overcome temptation with ease, and sometimes don’t even notice that your flesh part is even there.
“What Should We Be Remembering?” – Thoughts for Memorial Day, 2013
We have set aside this weekend (or rather, this Monday) as Memorial Day, a day to remember. But I sometimes wonder what it is that we are to be remembering.
Are we to remember all those who have died in all the wars that we have engaged over the past 250 years or so? If so, we are not doing a good job of it, for we keeping sending soldiers off to war.
Do we think that war is easier if it is made to look and feel like some sort of video game? Have we not noticed that people still die in a war, no matter if it is by guns, bombs, or rockets or if we are somewhere far away watching on a T. V. monitor.
I am one of the lucky ones. My grandfather served in World War I but he died at home during peace time. My father served in World War II but he also died at home during peace time. I know where their graves are and I know that a flag flies over their grave today. My family has the flags that a greatful government gave in honor of the service.
But how many families don’t have that sort of luck. How many families lost their fathers, their mothers, their sisters, their brothers, their sons, their daughters in lands far away? How many more must die before we truly realize that to honor the dead of past wars, we must not engage in wars again?
How many soldiers and sailors have come home to an indifferent nation, a nation that gladly sends them off to war but ignores them when they come home, some with physical injuries, many with internal injuries that no one can see? Why is that we are willing to pay millions for an unmanned drone but will cut veterans’ benefits because the budget is too big?
What are we doing this Memorial Day that will insure the peace? We must honor the dead because if we don’t, their deaths will be meaningless. But to truly honor their service, we must make sure that there are no more wars.
As long as we engage in acts of violence, any words said to honor those who have died will have no meaning. When we began to realize that war cannot solve the problems that create wars in the first place, then we will have taken the first step. Those who will have died in the past have not died in vain but it will be very difficult to think that what they fought for had any meaning if all we do is go off to war.
And one day we will look around and all we shall see are fields and fields of the youth of this country, killed in a war that no one understood and began for reasons that no once could remember. And with the youth of this country gone, then those who remain will understand too late that to honor the dead is to protect the living.
Right With God
This is the message that Gary Gomes of Goshen UMC (NY) gave at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen on Saturday, May 25th. The scriptures were for Sunday, May 26th, Trinity Sunday (C).
Romans 5:1-5 (ERV)
We have been made right with God because of our faith. So we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through our faith, Christ has brought us into that blessing of God’s grace that we now enjoy. And we are very happy because of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory. And we are also happy with the troubles we have. Why are we happy with troubles? Because we know that these troubles make us more patient. And this patience is proof that we are strong. And this proof gives us hope. And this hope will never disappoint us. We know this because God has poured out his love to fill our hearts through the Holy Spirit he gave us.
Hey, the short of it is, God loves us. Yeah, there are times when that might seem hard to believe, but what we have to remember is that God never promised it was easy. We mess up, we all mess up. One way or another in life, sooner or later we get it wrong. But faith brings us closer to Christ and Christ made sure we all got a share of God’s grace no matter what. If it seems like you have nothing else, know that you have that. Then, with that, move forward learning from our mistakes and taking each day as it comes. You see when we give thanks to God for our troubles, we are doing the opposite of what everyone else does…complaining to God and blaming Him for their problems.
In complaining we think God allows bad things to happen to us. This is not the case. Our troubles are the result of our earthly existence. Trials and heartaches are a part of the human condition that allow us to appreciate the good things in life. Besides, when it comes to our troubles, these things too, shall pass or as Charlie Chaplin, one of the greatest stars of the silent movie era, once said “Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles” and I can’t help but think he got this message well.
Now this all comes about because of God’s Grace or Love. Now, this Love of God is True Love. I’ve often wondered what the difference between Love and true Love is but I guess it can mean different things to different people at different times. For instance, right now I am thinking that Love is when someone makes you fresh hot ‘_________________’ on a Saturday morning. True Love is when they actually melt the butter to put on them!
Now knowing that this Grace of God is True Love it seems silly that we of so little faith are always asking ourselves the same question. “Yeah, but what if God gets fed up, what if God decides to stop loving me?”
But this is what Paul is trying to tell us when he says we are happy with the troubles we have. That through our faith we must realize that God still loves us, that these troubles only draw us closer to him. From that we will gain patience with our challenges and hope to overcome them. Maintain that hope and you will overcome disappointment. As was quoted by John Wesley, a man folks in this church should certainly be acquainted with, “Hope does not shame us. We glory in this our hope, because the love of God is held abroad in our hearts.”
Yes, Give Thanks to God! He has blessed us and everything that has been given to us, He has given freely with His love. Yet we take Him for granted because we forget. We forget how great He is and how much of a blessing it is to have such a great God who loves and nurtures us every day despite our shortcomings, a God who never forgets us, but forgets our sins, a God who loves us without reservation even when the world may shun us. He is truly the Light of the World! It is easy for us to give him thanks when things go right for us and we feel the light of God shining on us, but we must remember that he is there even when things seem to be going all wrong. God’s Grace is with you. God loves you. You are Right with God.
Lord, we thank you for this day and for your Love. We know we are not perfect and we know you don’t care. What you care about is that we remember your Love and let it build the patience in us to face our most troublesome days. We thank you for this time together in fellowship, for this opportunity to serve and be served as we were taught to do by Jesus. We ask you to look over all of us gathered here and elsewhere today and guide us on your path to greater Glory. We ask for all of this in the name of our savior Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“The Sound Of A Great Wind”
Here are the thoughts for Pentecost Sunday that I presented at Grannie Annie’s Kitchen on May 18th. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 1 – 21 (I used the Cotton Patch translation), Romans 8: 14 – 17, and John 14: 25 – 27.
When you grow up in the South, you learn real quick the signs of a possible tornado. In Georgia, for example, it is said that you should listen very carefully when the wind goes silent.
In Missouri, they will tell you that a tornado is probably eminent when the sky is green.
And every person who has ever survived a tornado will tell you that you will never forget the sound of a tornado as it roars by your house.
And whatever the signs might be, you learn quickly to heed them and to know what to do if one should come. Unfortunately, we were reminded of this with all of the death and destruction that took place outside the Dallas/Fort Worth area this past week.
As we view the destruction that took place in Texas and which will undoubtedly see again through this summer, we can begin to imagine what the people gathered in Jerusalem must have felt when they heard the roaring winds that Clarence Jordan described as a tornado.
And surely they must have thought they were in the midst of a summer thunderstorm when the room was filled with fiery bolts of lightning.
And what did those outside the room think as they rushed to see what was happening, imagining death and destruction but finding celebration and rejoicing? We know that they were confused and convinced that those who had just experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit must have been drunk.
Here were all these people, gathered from every part of the world, speaking in their own language and yet understanding what everyone else was saying. It was a reason for rejoicing, a reason for celebration.
Peter will speak of the prophecy of Joel and how the young will once again have visions of the future and the old will again begin to dream. He will speak of the new community that begins on this day.
For those who remember, there was once a time when all the people of the world basically spoke the same language. But their own pride, their own greed, and what the Greeks called hubris lead them to build the tower of Babel and seek to be the same as God. God, perhaps rightly so, created the different languages to separate the people and force them to find new ways to work together.
Our history tells us how well we have done in that regard and how well we understand the cultures and personalities of other countries.
And so it is on this day, this Pentecost, that people have come together and the Holy Spirit gave each one the ability to hear others and speak to them. It brought back the sense of community that was torn apart so many years ago but which Jesus sought to build during his ministry.
Howard Snyder points out that Jesus probably gave as much or more to building a community of disciples as He did proclaiming the Good News.
He did this because it is in the community where individuals can grow in faith. Our task today is to recognize each individual’s responsibility before and to God (and not God’s responsibility to the individual as many people think) and recognize that we gather as a community so that Spirit can grow in all who gather together. (adapted from The Community of the King by Howard A. Snyder)
Pentecost will have no meaning for us if we see the church as a collection of saved souls and not as a community of interacting personalities.
Paul wrote to the Romans about the life we received when we came to Christ,
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him
We have said before and we will continue to say that this time together on Saturday mornings was never meant to be just a meal but the beginning of a new community.
Jesus told the disciples before He ascended into Heaven that He had shown them the way to the Father and He would send the Holy Spirit to give the ability to show others the way.
The challenge before us is perhaps daunting but not impossible.
For some, it is to help the church today regain the sense of community that it once had. It means tearing down the walls, both physical and spiritual, that keep people apart. It means seeing worship in a new way, offering new opportunities for people to come to Christ.
For others, on both sides of these spiritual and physical walls, it also means removing the barriers in their own lives that keep Jesus from being a part of their lives.
Today is the day 2000 years ago that the church began. It began as a community, a community for all, not just some. It was community that offered to all, not just some, the Hope and Peace that is Jesus Christ.
Today, in 2013, we celebrate that community of Christ and we invite all who seek Him to join this community today.
“The Gift Of Love”
I am at Monroe UMC (Monroe, NY) this morning; services are at 8:30 am and 10:15 am and you are welcome to attend. The message for Mother’s Day and Ascension Sunday is based on the lectionary readings for the 7th Sunday of Easter: Acts 16: 16 – 34; Revelation 22: 12 – 14, 16 – 17, 20 – 21; and John 17: 20 – 26.
Monroe UMC is contemplating a program similar to what we are doing at “Grannie Annie’s Kitchen”. While the specifics of such a program are for another time and place, I felt that this message should provide a reason for doing the project. I hope I have achieved that goal.
I could easily begin this message with a tribute to my mother and/or my grandmother as I have before; for that is what this day is about. But it would be much easier to speak about what my mother gave me and what that gift of love means to each one of us today.
When I was a sophomore in college back in 1969 I was very involved in the anti-war and civil rights movements on campus. Now, I thought that being involved in such things was the right thing to do and I also thought that doing the right things was what would get me into heaven. I still believe that my involvement in those activities was the right thing to do and I would do it again if presented with the opportunity (of course, if you read my blog you know that I never stopped being involved).
I would, however, find out that spring that simply doing the right thing would not get me into heaven and that it was only by God’s grace that the door to heaven would be opened. And perhaps the story could end there but I was also reminded that having said that I was a Methodist I was obligated to do the right thing.
Now, as Mother’s Day, 1969, approached, I sought to find the perfect Mother’s Day gift. What I found was a pendant with the words “War Is Not Healthy For Children And Other Living Things” engraved on it. It came from an organization known as “Another Mother For Peace”. Now, admittedly it was not the most elegant piece of jewelry one could conceive; in fact, it was rather clunky and probably very garish. But it expressed my thoughts and what I thought was right; so I bought one for my mother.
Now, you have to understand that my parents raised my two brothers, sister, and myself to be independent, to think for ourselves and to take responsibility for our actions. Our parents and especially our mother laid the foundation so that we could choose our own path, knowing that no matter where it might lead, we would be supported in our efforts.
Also, my mother was never one to get involved in politics and her guiding words to me on more than one occasion were to “not rock the boat”. So it was that this particular gift and my involvement in the on-campus civil rights and anti-war protests didn’t set well with her and she let me, in no uncertain terms, know that she (and my father) disapproved of my actions.
I probably have the letter she wrote to me somewhere in the various files I received when she died two years ago but I don’t really need a copy to remember what it is that she wrote. While she wrote that she did not approve of what I was doing I was still her son and she would still love me.
But I think that is what this day means and what love is about. It is the love that one expresses for another that goes beyond the moment and is unconditional and eternal. I know of too many parents and people today for whom love is very much conditional; people who put conditions on their love.
By the way, my mother would later tell her third granddaughter that she was glad that neither my two brothers or I were drafted and sent to Viet Nam. It should also be noted that the organization from which I bought that pendant in 1969 still exists and has its own website (Another Mother for Peace) and it still sells the same pendant. I guess we haven’t quite learned what the gift of love means on a broader, more global basis.
And as I was thinking about this idea of love on Mother’s Day and what is required of us in today’s world, I remembered Senator Edward Kennedy’s words when he eulogized his brother,
My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. (from http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ekennedytributetorfk.html)
Edward Kennedy closed his eulogy with the following words, a quote that I have always kept in my mind and my heart,
As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:
“Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.”
These are the words that we remember, as perhaps we should. But in finding these words that so many of us remember, I also found words about love and our responsibility to others, words that I think we have forgotten or never remembered.
Senator Edward Kennedy, in speaking of the love he had for his brother said,
A few years back, Robert Kennedy wrote some words about his own father which expresses [sic] the way we in his family felt about him. He said of what his father meant to him, and I quote:
“What it really all adds up to is love — not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement, and support. Our awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength, and because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, we could not help but profit from it.”
And he continued,
“Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off.”
In one sense, these words from a son about his father echo the words I expressed about my mother this day.
But in today’s society, such unconditional love is funny because it works so much against what we think this world is about and how it works. We expect something in return for what we give; we expect to put strings on our love and concern for others.
The Scriptures for each Sunday are compiled in what is called the lectionary and are designed so that over a three year period it is possible to read through the entire Bible. What this means is that for every three years you get the same set of readings for a particular Sunday in the church calendar.
This Sunday happens to be one of the Sundays where the preacher, pastor, or lay speaker has a choice of two sets of readings. This is the 7th Sunday of Easter; last Thursday, May 9th, was the 40th day after Easter and is the day on which Jesus ascended into Heaven. Next Sunday will be Pentecost Sunday and the day on which the Holy Spirit descended on all those gathered in Jerusalem.
As it happens, I picked the readings for the 7th Sunday of Easter because I felt they were more appropriate for Mother’s Day. And as it happened, these were the same three readings I used in preparing the message that I gave for this same sunday, the 7th Sunday of Easter, three years ago.
There is a certain degree of irony in all of this. Three years ago, I offered the following thought:
The reading from Acts today starts off with a young slave girl who offers visions for a price. There were a number of things in this piece that spoke of labor practices and their application to today’s society but I will save such a discussion for later. (from “Should We Explain This?”)
In light of what has transpired around the world these past few weeks, it would appear there is a need for that discussion today.
Let us review what transpires at the beginning of the reading from Acts. We have a young slave girl who sees visions for the benefit of her owners. She follows Paul and Silas around proclaiming that they are servants of God who can show the people the path to salvation.
Now, one would think that Paul and Silas would be greatful for such pronouncements; after all, that is what they have come to Philippi to do, preach the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer a path to salvation. And I would think that they were greatful.
But then again, the people came to this girl because they wanted to hear the truth and they were willing to pay her owners (not her, mind you) for the truth. Though she was speaking the truth, others were profitting from her skills, not her.
So Paul removes her ability to prophesize and then the trouble begins. This young slave girl must have been very good at what it was that she did because those owners go after Paul and Silas for taking away their livelihood. Yet, according to the laws and customs of that time, Paul and Silas did nothing wrong and the corresponding court action is not about the welfare of the girl but rather the loss of income for her owners.
And how can we not see, in light of the tragedies in Bangladesh and perhaps the financial problems of this country today, that our love of money is greater than our love and concern for people.
As a society we turn a blind eye on the working conditions in the 3rd world just along it does not interfere with the production of low cost goods for the people in 1st world. And how is that the rich have kept getting richer in today’s society while the rest of society struggles?
Some 1700 years later, John Wesley would put it this way – it is okay to earn as much as you can but don’t do it on the backs of others.
What happens when we put the love of money above and before our love and concern for others?
As I was re-reading Edward Kennedy’s eulogy I found other words of Robert Kennedy that speak to this time and this moment. They were spoken when Robert Kennedy was in South Africa in 1966 and speaking to a group of young people.
“There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember — even if only for a time — that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek — as we do — nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again. The answer is to rely on youth — not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to the obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress.
Robert Kennedy concluded his remarks in South Africa by saying,
*The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.* Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.”
Those words of Robert Kennedy, spoken almost fifty years ago, seem so eerily prophetic when read again today.
Over the past few weeks, as we have concluded the season of Easter and approach the Day of Pentecost, we have journeyed through the Book of Revelation. For some, this book is the culmination of life, with victory in Heaven for a select few. But I have come to understand that this is not the end but only the beginning. The Good News is that God wins and evil is defeated. The vision of John the Seer is one of hope and promise for all, not just a select few. But it is also a call, a call to respond, a call to action.
Who will step forth? Who will answer the call from Christ to offer the drink from the Tree of Life that John the Seer foresaw in his visions recorded in the Book of Revelation?
Who will be the ones that prepare the table for the hungry, offer the medicine for the sick, and comfort for the needy? Who will be the ones to remind and show others the love of God that was expressed by Jesus?
Some fifty years ago, my mother told me that her love for me was unconditional. Two thousand years ago, God sent His Son to this world to die for my sins because of His love for me, unconditional and with no questions asked. How can I not express that same unconditional love for others?
On this day when we express our love for our mothers, how will you show the gift of Love that God has given to you this day?
“What Does Your Church Look Like?”
I am at Sugar Loaf (NY) United Methodist Church this morning (May 5th). The message is “What Does Your Church Look Like?” and is based on the Scriptures for this Sunday, Acts 5: 27 – 32, Revelation 1: 4 – 8, and John 20: 19 -31. Services are at 11 and you are welcome to attend.
I will be at Monroe UMC (Monroe, NY) on May 12th; services are at 8:30 am and 10:15 am and you are welcome to attend. The message for Mother’s Day and Ascension Sunday is “The Gift of Love” and is based on the lectionary readings for May 12th, Acts 16: 16 – 34; Revelation 22: 12 – 14, 16 – 17, 20 – 21; and John 17: 20 – 26.
When I began thinking about this message, it was first based on the last lines of today’s reading from Acts,
After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Here was a woman, who at the very moment of her conversion, opened her heart and responded to the Gospel message of Paul. Now, in an effort to understand this moment, I turned to one of my favorite references, the Cotton Patch Gospels of Clarence Jordan.
This translation of the New Testament is a distinctly Southern version of the New Testament written by a Southern Baptist preacher and Greek scholar who sought to make the words of the Bible relevant to the people of the South and in terms that related to the world of the South in the 50s and 60s to the time when Jesus walked the roads of the Galilee. Sadly, Dr. Jordan died while working on the translation of John so I am not able to read how the Gospel of John or the other books attributed to John would have been expressed.
This, I think, is important. If you cannot put the words of the Bible into the context of your own time, then the words of the Bible become somewhat meaningless. I knew when I was in high school where the church in Corinth that Paul was writing to was but I am sure that many people in the Memphis, Tennessee, area where I went to high school would have first thought of Corinth, Mississippi, before thinking of Corinth, Greece. And when I hear of Mount Moriah I am as apt to think of the most dangerous streets in Memphis as I am to think of the place where God told Abraham to take his son Isaac.
So it was when I read of Dr. Jordan’s translation describing Paul’s journey through Louisana and Mississippi and going to St. Louis, I could not help but think of my own journey and my ties to St. Louis and Missouri. As a graduate of the University of Missouri, I can relate to the Holy Spirit telling Paul not to go to Kansas. But I should also add that my own journey as a lay servant/speaker began in Odessa, Texas.
So while I was thinking of the hospitality of Lydia and what it means for us today, I was also thinking about my own journey throughout the South and up here in the North. I began thinking about the fact that I can often tell if a particular church that I see before me is a United Methodist Church long before I see the sign in the front. That was the case when I first came here to Sugar Loaf.
Sometimes you can see what you know is a church from miles away. I still recall the first time I ever saw the cathedral in Conception Junction, Missouri rising above the plains of northwest Missouri. I don’t know how far away I was but I could see that it was a church and it was something that I wanted to see up close (I wrote about this encounter for the Fishkill UMC back page in “A Reminder”.
Sometimes, that’s not the case though. There is a church in Springfield, Missouri, that looks like a three-story office building, square in shape and in the middle of a parking lot. It is not that different from the other office building along its street. The only way that you could ever know that it was, in fact, a church (besides the sign) is that the windows on the street side of the building form a cross.
And in the hills of eastern Kentucky you will see houses that could only be best described as run-down shacks; yet they are the homes of active Pentecostal churches.
Now, I have never been inside that church in Springfield, Missouri nor the Pentecostal churches that dotted the roads of eastern Kentucky (probably because I was on my way to my own small non-descript but decidedly United Methodist Church in Neon, Kentucky). I have been inside the church at Conception Junction and can understand why the people built it as an expression of their faith in the late 19th century.
But I also know of the massive cathedrals in Europe, built as an expression of faith, but now, for the most part, lie empty or serve more as tourist destinations than places to find God.
But it is not the outside but the inside of the church that tells you what a church looks like. I return to Lydia and her act of hospitality. Luke, the writer of Acts and companion on the journeys of Paul, probably included that note in his recording because Lydia probably began a church in her own home as did so many others in the early Christian church.
You may recall that many of what are know established United Methodist churches in this country, especially in this area began as gatherings in homes because the religious establishment would not let them meet in churches or build a church of their own.
It was the faith and desire to meet God that brought people together, even when it was perhaps difficult and possibly illegal to do so. And we can only imagine what it might be like to have been invited to visit one of these early home-churches or even a church today. (There was a great discussion on a blog that I follow on whether or not to invite a fellow Christian to one’s church.)
Some of us, I know, first came to church because someone invited us to come with them. Others, perhaps, were dragged kicking and screaming and not necessarily as children (though that perhaps describes my own situation).
There is a pastor in the New York Annual Conference who will tell you about the time before he was a Christian when he was told that he needed to be in a particular church on a Sunday morning for the baptism of a sibling’s child. And he will show you the bulletin for that Sunday that he still keeps on his desk so many years later that reminds him of that day and the lady who helped him get a cup of coffee after the service.
He will tell you how he found that bulletin a few weeks later and how he came back to the church, not kicking or screaming or rather reluctantly, but quite willing. He will gladly show you the spot at the altar rail where he answered the call and gave his life to Christ. This, by the way, was and is a United Methodist Church. It was the church that gave him the push and the backing to change his life and become a minister.
These are the stories that we want and need to hear; of people finding Christ and people, through simple acts helping some one to Christ.
This pastor told his story in that very church a few weeks ago. Unfortunately and rather sadly, there were some in the congregation who did not want to hear the story and who were complaining, before the service was over, how long the service was going. Instead of being time with Christ, church was, for them, a brief moment on Sunday mornings and not to interfere with their daily routine.
My own journey is perhaps a little different. Yes, I was brought kicking and screaming to church when I was in school and I could think of so many Sunday mornings when I was in college when I would have rather stayed in bed. But I made a decision to follow Christ when I was in high school on my own and the Holy Spirit spent much time and energy reminding me of that commitment. And while I may not have wanted to go, I also knew that I needed to be in church on Sunday morning, perhaps for reasons not yet evident.
I do know this; were it not for Marvin Fortel, the pastor of 1st United Methodist Church in Kirksville, Missouri, when I began attending college there, my own journey with Christ, let alone my journey as a lay servant/speaker would have taken a different path and I probably would not be standing here today.
His words and his actions showed me the walk that I needed to walk; his counsel and the counsel of others at that time put the Gospel message in the context of my own life and gave me hope for the future. But I also know that Reverend Fortel’s words, thoughts, and deeds, with regards to the civil rights movement and his opposition to the war in Viet Nam which were similar to my own words, were not easily accepted by the other members of that congregation and he was asked to move on.
It does not matter what a church looks like on the outside; what matters is what is in the hearts and souls of the people inside the church. Have they built walls that exclude others? Have they built walls which they think protect them from the world outside but actually lock them in a prison?
The first Christian churches were in the homes of the followers because there was no other place to meet and to meet in public somewhere almost certainly meant the followers would be arrested. The first Methodists in this country met in homes as well because they were barred from meeting in the churches and they built meeting houses because the laws would not allow them to build churches of their own.
They met because they wanted to be with Jesus and help others meet with Him, even when the establishment would not allow it.
But there are no such rules and laws in place today in this country that prevent us from meeting openly in a church of our own, no matter what it may look like.
But what is it that people see. In the Gospel reading for today, Jeuse tells us that a loveless world is a sightless world. The world cannot see Christ if the love of Christ is not present. It was perhaps that knowledge of the love of Christ that prompted Lydia to extend her hospitality to Paul and Timothy. It was that expression of hospitality that allowed one man to get a cup of coffee and begin walking a new path.
It is that hospitality that says to the world that this is a place where one can be among friends and find Christ. John Wesley once said (I hope) that the world was his parish, that his call to ministry extended beyond the walls of the church where he preached.
There is a crisis in this world that is not just a counting of the number of wars or acts of violence. It is a crisis in that we see war and violence as the answer to our problems. We as a society, not just here but throughout the world, are not willing to seek other solutions, even when present solutions do not seem to work.
The other day, I heard Willie Nelson say that one person could not change the world but that one person with a message could. The message that Jesus carried across the roads of the Galilee and to Jerusalem is the prime example.
Many people today see the words of Revelation as the end, the end of everything. For them, these words are dark and exclusionary, meant only for a select few. But John the Seer may have written them knowing that darkness could not win, that darkness and evil will not and would not prevail. If we read the Book of Revelation with the thought that God has won and that evil in whatever form it may take has lost, then we see and hear words that tell us what we must do.
John wrote that the Tree of Life will yield twelve kinds of ripe fruit but who is to pick the fruit and distribute it? The leaves of this Tree are for healing nations but who will heal the nations and the people?
There are people outside the walls of the traditional church seeking to come in and find Christ. Would it be better if, perhaps, the people inside the church were to go outside and show them what Christ is like through their words, their deeds and their actions? What might happen in this world today if we extended the love of Christ to all we meet?
It is a frightening thought but perhaps no more frightening than that first time you came into the church, perhaps reluctantly, perhaps kicking and screaming. Jesus told the disciples
I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.
So we know that we can go out into the world, we know that we can as Lydia did, invite the world into our homes, perhaps not all at once but surely one person at a time.
The call goes out today to follow Jesus, to accept Him as savior. And the call goes out to allow the Holy Spirit into your life, to empower you and provide you with the strength for the task before you.
What does your church look like? I think it looks like each one of us for in each one of us, people will see Christ and we will see Christ in those we meet.