“Amazing Grace – The Power of The Holy Spirit”

This is the first message that I ever gave as a lay speaker. During a lay speaker class, I was asked how long it took to write my first message and I replied “three years.” I began thinking about being a lay speaker in 1988 but it was not until 17 November 1991 that I ever put together on paper the words for a sermon. Interestingly enough I never thought about the relationship between the title of this message and the fact that I was at Grace UMC when I gave it. I focused more on the hymn and what that hymn meant. That Grace UMC would make the turn around that it did (six months before this message, it was thought that the church was going to die; it survived those rough times and prospered over the years) is amazing and perhaps this was a way to foretell that.

Following the lead of my pastor, John Praetorius, I chose a reading and a text (as I have pointed out before, I didn’t start using the lectionary until 1995). I chose Matthew 28: 10 – 20 as the Scripture reading and 1 Chronicles 17: 16 – 17 as the text for my message.

The song “Amazing Grace” is an interesting one, both for its music and its message. This song is based in part on John Newton’s own life and experience (The Hymns & Hymn Writers of the Church, Tillet & Nutter, 1911). That experience can be understood from the passage from I Chronicles he used as the basis for the song:

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in thy eyes, O God; thou hast also spoken to thy servant’s house for a great while to come, and hast shown me future generations, O Lord God! (1 Chronicles 17:16 – 17)

At one point, he was a ship’s captain; more to the point he was a slave ship captain. One day, while on the regular run from Africa to the American colonies, he decided that what he was doing wasn’t right. He then turned his ship around and took the would-be slaves back to Africa. This was a rather dramatic move on his part, one that many people would have been afraid to make. Even Newton might have been afraid to make such a move, but the Holy Spirit gave John Newton the power to turn his boat around without fearing the consequences.

Saul also felt the power of the Holy Spirit when he was struck blind on the road to Damascus. More importantly, it was the same Holy Spirit which directed Ananias to go to Saul and help him.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosed to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:10 – 17)

Now Ananias may have been afraid to go see Saul on his own. After all, here was a man who had the power to throw Ananias in jail for simply believing in Jesus. But, with the power of the Holy Spirit, he was able to go to Saul.

It was the same power of the Holy Spirit which lead John Wesley to question his own faith and how the Church of England ministered to the people of England. Without that Power to lead him, it would have been very difficult for Wesley to lead the Methodist movement.

We have all felt the power of the Holy Spirit at some time in our lives. The first time it came to me was in the form of my mother’s right elbow. When I was 12 and my family was living in Montgomery, Alabama, I grew tired of my mother elbowing me to keep me awake during the sermon. As a result, I decided to sit by myself. During that time, I begain to think about what it was to be a Christian. Shortly after we moved to Denver, Colorado, that summer I approached George Eddy, the pastor at the 1st Evangelical United Brethen Church in Aurora, about studying for the God & Country Award given by the Boy Scouts. Under his tutelage, I earned that award and joined the EUB church in 1964. Even today, that still rates as one of my personal achievements. I am also convinced that it was the presence of the Holy Spirit that lead my family and I here from Odessa, Texas and to this church. I did not know about Grace Church until I walked by it while visiting the campus during the summer.

What these stories show is the impact the Holy Spirit can have on individuals. It is that power which change’s one life and gives them the strength to change others. The idea of leadership within the church is what this Sunday is about. Jesus, through his disciples, has empowered us, as the laity, with the task of ministering to the world:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (Matthew 28:18 – 20)

Finding leaders for the church has always been a problem. Consider Moses’ reaction to his nomination by God to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt:

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who make him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak. (Exodus 4:10 – 13)

Today is Laity Sunday, a day on which we honor all those who serve the chruch. Leadership is not limited to a select few, but is the responsibility of all members of the church. After all, when anyone joins the church, we as members also reaffirm our vows to “uphold it by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.” (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 48 (1989))

While I am a relatively new member of Grace Church, I still have an appreciation for its 130 year history. This is the most crucial time in that history. It is a time when this church can grow and expand its ministry in the neighborhood and the city. From the Talmud, we read

“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.” (I believe that I first saw this quote in Making of a President – 1960)

This is Grace Church’s time. Through the Holy Spirit, we are called to carry out the mission of this church.

How do we meet this challenge? First, our Church Conference is December 8th. As a member of the church, you are entitled to vote on matters before the church. We have started an Estimate of Giving program and you can return that card so that the church will be able to plan its budget. If you sing in the choir, serve as an usher, serve as a greeter after church, serve as a Sunday School teacher, or help with Fellowship Time between Sunday School and church, you serve the church. There are many other ways to help the church meet this great challenge.

The question that we as members of Grace Church must answer is “Are we willing to lead Grace Church in its mission and growth.” This is the same challenge John Newton faced when he turned his boat around and Ananias faced when he went to help Saul. If we do as John Newton, Ananias, John Wesley, and others have done and let the Holy Spririt guide and direct us, then we will be able to understand the meaning of the sixth verse of “Amazing Grace”:

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”

“Who? Me!”

Here is the message that I gave for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, October 4, 1992 at Grace United Methodist Church (St. Cloud, MN) and served as Laity Sunday. I based the message on Genesis 6: 11 – 14 and Mark 1: 16 – 20 (as I have previously noted, this was before I began using the lectionary as the basis for my message). This was also the third sermon/message that I ever presented.

And the Lord said to Noah “I want you to build me an ark”. What was Noah’s response? Did Noah check his calendar to see if he was available that week? Did he ask God to postpone the flood because he, Noah, wouldn’t be available? Maybe he thought that some of his friends were playing a joke on him? Noah lived in an area that got about one inch of rain a year so what was he supposed to think when God told him that it was going to rain for forty days and nights? We don’t know what Noah’s initial response was but we do know that he did what God asked him to do.

It hasn’t always been easy to get people to listen to God.  Consider Moses.  Here was the man God selected to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land; but what did he do?  He asked God to select someone else; “Who, me Lord?  Can’t you find someone else?” (Exodus 4:10 – 13) God did not let Moses off the hook but He did give him some help in the form of his brother Aaron.

It isn’t that we don’t hear God speaking to us, but that we often don’t know that He is.  In I Samuel 3:3 – 12 we read

the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down within the temple of the Lord, where the Ark of God was.  Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel!  Samuel!’ He said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’  But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’  So he went and lay down.  And the Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’  And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’  But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’  Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  And the Lord called Samuel again the third time.  And he arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’  Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.  Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears.’  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.  And the Lord came and stood forth, calling as at other times, ‘Samuel!  Samuel!’  And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for thy servant hears.’”

Samuel heard a voice but did not know that it was God speaking.  Fortunately, Eli understood and provided Samuel with the necessary guidance.  There have been others who have heard God speaking but, without guidance, could not respond.  Many others have probably never heard the voice of God.  Because of this, God sent His Son.

How did the twelve disciples respond when Jesus said, as we heard in the New Testament reading, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. (Mark 1: 16 – 20) Why should these men leave their livlihoods and follow Jesus?  Especially, as it was stated in the New Testament reading, since they did it immediately.  It wasn’t really practical to get up and leave their jobs and families behind.  There wasn’t anywhere else to go.  Wouldn’t it have been easier to stay as fisherman and eke out what living they could.  Times were tough and this man from Nazareth was asking them to leave their jobs and work for him, not knowing if they would every be paid for their efforts.  But they did, simply because they believed in what Jesus was doing.

Does God speak to us today?  In his book A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins describes his journey from upstate New York to New Orleans and his attempt to discover who he is.  During that journey, he was drawn to an old fashion church revival meeting where he discovered the Holy Spirit.  There it became clear why he was on his journey.  Later, in the second volume of his journey, The Walk West, Peter and his wife Barbara describe the events that lead up to their marriage.  While they were in love with each other, they still had some doubts. After all, Peter was not just asking Barbara to marry him; he was asking her to walk from New Orleans to Oregon through Texas.  As Sandra will tell you, west Texas is no place to take your brand new wife.  One evening, while at an evening church service, the preacher, referring to Ruth in the Old Testament, asked “Will you go with this man?”  To Peter and Barbara, this was the sign that all would be well.

Following God requires faith and commitment.  When we have faith and a commitment to God, we can do anything.  Without either, our life is lost.  Ask Noah, Samuel, or any of the disciples what faith meant to them.  Ask the early circuit riders of the Methodist Church in America.  Without their faith in God, their efforts would have been meaningless.  Could they have survived the weeks on the trail as they traveled from one town to another preaching the Gospel if it were not for faith?   Francis Asbury, the first Bishop of the Methodist Church in America, made it a point to emphasize the physical struggles that they, these early preachers, would have to endure on their circuit.  It was not for the weak of body or spirit.  But for these early circuit riders, the Methodist Church might not have survived.

But it should also be noted that these churches would not have survived without the support of the laity either.  Because there weren’t enough preachers for all of the churches, the laity had to do the work of the church during the weeks when the preacher was not there.  How did those early congregations survive if it were not for faith and a commitment to God? Were it not for faith in God and a commitment to His work by the members of Grace Church, would this present building have been built?  That it was is a testament to that faith and commitment to do God’s work in St. Cloud.

Grace Church has a rich and distinguished history.  That is what today is about.  On this day we celebrate the role of the laity in the United Methodist Church, both in the past and for the future.  In picking the twelve disciples, none of whom were traditionally trained in the church, Jesus made the statement that it was the laity upon whom His church would be built.  It was the laity upon whom the foundation of the Methodist Church was built and upon whom the success of future churches lies.  But a history alone does not insure a future.

Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, stated that “We must disenthrall ourselves with the past and then we will save our country.” (What I Saw At the Revolution, Peggy Noonan) Lincoln was not saying that the United States should forget its past but that, if the country was to overcome the trauma and division that the Civil War brought, and move forward, it could not continue as it had.

Today God calls Grace Church.  He isn’t asking us to do something dramatic, drastic or beyond our capabilities.  God as never asked anyone to do something that they could not do.  It is just that many people don’t believe they have the capability of doing what God asks of them.  Nor is He asking us to forget our past.  He is asking that we look to the future.  For any church’s future to have a meaning, its members must work for it today.

Are you involved in the work of the church or are you committed to the work of the church?  There is a difference.  I am sure you have heard the story about the difference between involvement and commitment.  It happens every time you eat a breakfast of ham and eggs.  While the hen was involved in the successful production of the breakfast, the hog was committed to its success.  (I want to thank Hugh Bunday for this; he in turn will thank Dorothy.)  Are you involved or are you committed?

When we joined the United Methodist Church and when others join the church, we, along with the other members of the church, vow to “uphold the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.” (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 48 (1989).) What does this phrase mean? 

Do we meet our obligations to the church and the work of the church through our prayers?  Do you spend some time each day in prayer?  Will you pray for the success of next week’s Spiritual Renewal Mission?  There has been a sheet at the back of the sanctuary for the last four weeks asking people to sign up for one hour of prayer each day for the success of the Mission and for Grace Church.  Will you respond to the challenge by signing the sheet?

One month ago, John stood in this pulpit and told us how he prayed to  God for a sign that his ministry at Grace Church would be a success .  His prayers were answered.  He also asked for ten men to help rebuild the United Methodist Men’s organization here at Grace church.  Before he left church that Sunday he had six pledges.   This Saturday at 8:00, because of those six men and four others, we will be meeting to make that reorganization possible.

Next Sunday, Ken Krueger begins the Spiritual Renewal Mission.  Will you be here?  Will you come to each of the four evening services?  Will you bring a friend?  If everyone here today brought one friend, there would be more people in this sanctuary then have been in it for some 30 years.  IT CAN BE DONE!  But it requires a commitment.  Similar to the prayer clock, there is a sign up sheet for pew captains.  It is not necessary to be a captain for all five services; one is enough.  Will you take the challenge  put before you and sign up as a pew captain for one of those services?

What else can you do for the church?  Would you volunteer to serve as the lay reader one Sunday a month?  Would you sing in the choir?   Several members of this church, both old and young, new and long-time, have spoken to you about what Grace Church means to them.  I am sure that if you ask anyone of them, they would tell you that it can be very frightening to stand up here and say what is in your heart.  I am sure that everyone of them will also tell you that they did not come up here without first having spent some time praying and asking God for guidance and advice.  When the Holy Spirit is at your side, such things can be done.

Finally, our gifts.  We are currently in the midst of our Stewardship Campaign.  Two weeks from today is Stewardship Sunday.  On that day, we will ask you to make a financial commitment to Grace Church.  Between now and then, you will be receiving a note from the Stewardship Committee asking that you give serious thought to your financial commitment to Grace Church.  I realize that filling out pledge cards is a new thing for many in this church and that many will not return the pledge cards.  Grace Church struggled for many years but this year, because of the faith and commitment of the members of this church, is not one of them.  In returning the pledge card, you are making a commitment to insure that  the plans for Grace Church in the coming year are a success.

Commitment requires more than involvement.  Jesus could not have completed his task, his mission on earth, without a commitment to the cross.  His commitment to us was a total one.  Our commitment can never match his but we are never asked to do so.  We are asked to make a commitment so that others can understand the commitment Jesus made on the cross.

Today, God is calling Grace Church.  He is asking “Who will help me?; who will follow me?; who will do My work?”  Will your answer be “me?” or will it be “ME!”

“The Church Present Is The Church Future”

This was the message that I gave at Grace UMC (St. Cloud, MN) for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A), 25 July 1993. My scriptures for this Sunday were Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 9 and Matthew 25: 13.


The measurement of time is an interesting thing. The development of our civilization can be marked by how we measure time. While we use watches and clocks to measure the passage of the day, people in John Wesley had to rely on bulky and unreliable clocks. People in Jesus’ time marked the passage of time through the use of hour glasses. Early man had only the movement of the sun and stars. While we have calendars to tell us what day of the month it is, early man had to rely on the changing of the seasons. It was against that backdrop that the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven;

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to rend, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8)

But time meant more to this writer than simply passages through life.

“What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 9 – 11)

Against a background of day-to-day life and the struggle to make a living, the writer saw that God was a part of his life and that he was a part of God’s plan for the world. He knew that without God, life held no promise, that there was no hope in the future. The same is true for us today. As we begin to look towards the year 2000 and the new millennium, we ask what the future will bring us. Will the future bring us hope and good fortune? Or will it bring us pain and misery? Will God remember or forget us in the passage of time?

It has long been noted that the coming of a new century brings with it renewed anticipation for the Second Coming of the Lord. There are some who say that the all of the disasters we have endured this summer, the floods in the Midwest, the excessive heat in the East, and the drought in the South, are all signs that God is displeased with us and His return is imminent.

We are not the first generation to say this. Every generation before us has had someone who looked at society and all of its troubles and interpreted it to mean that now is the time for the coming of the Lord. But Jesus told us that we would never know when he was coming.

“Then the Kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’” (Matthew 25: 1 – 13)

Nor will we know how he will come. In Matthew 25: 31 – 46 we read,

“But when I, the Messiah, shall come in my glory, and all the angels with me, then I shall sit upon my throne of glory. And all the nations shall be gathered before me. And I will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and place the sheep at my right hand, and the goats at my left.”

“Then I, the King, shall say to those at my right, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, into the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes; naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison, and you visited me.'”

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Sir, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you anything to drink? Or a stranger, and help you? Or naked, and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?”

“And I, the King, will tell them, ‘When you did it to these my brothers you were doing it to me!’ Then I will turn to those on my left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry and you wouldn’t feed me; thirsty, and you wouldn’t give me anything to drink; a stranger, and you refused me hospitality; naked, and you wouldn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.'”

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And I will answer, ‘When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing help to me.'”

“And they shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into everlasting life.” (Matthew 25:31 – 46)

Jesus may come this afternoon and we might not know it. After all, even Jesus’ own disciples did not recognize him at first after the resurrection. So what can we do if Jesus should ask us what we did to help Him?

There are a number of possibilities. First, we could run away. But then we would be like Jonah. Remember what happened to him? When first called by the Lord, Jonah chose to flee. In chapter 1 of the book of Jonah, we read

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god; and they threw the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we do not perish.”

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, on whose account this evil has come upon us? What is your occupation? And whence do you come? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Take me up and throw me into the sea; the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they cried to the Lord, “We beseech thee, O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood; for thou, O Lord, hast done as it pleased thee.” So they took up Jonah and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1: 1 – 15)

Jonah did not simply go to the next city or county to get away from God. He tried to put as much distance as he could between himself and God. It would be like trying to hide from the authorities in New York by going to Los Angeles. But it doesn’t matter where we hide, God can still find us. And, like Jonah, when we get trapped by our efforts to escape, until we come to the Lord, He will not help us.

Second, we could ignore the problem. After all, if God is angry with this country, He has the power to simply wipe it off the map. But, if we choose to take no action, we are like the servant given the single talent. Turn to the parable of the servants and the talents, Matthew 25: 14 – 30. I want to use this parable in its literal terms, using the word talents to mean the skills and abilities we bring to the church. If you recall, the first servant was given ten talents which he used wisely. Because he did so, he returned twenty talents to his master. Likewise, the second servant, given five talents, returned ten talents to his master because he too had used them wisely. But look at what happened to the third servant in this parable, the one who choose to hide his single talent and not develop it. In Matthew 25: 24 – 30 we read

“He also who had received the one came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ (Matthew 25: 24 – 30)

Just as this third servant lost his single talent because he failed to use it, if we do not use our talents, those skills and abilities that God has given to us, we will die. This death may not be a physical death but it will certainly be a spiritual death, leaving us without any hope for the future. A church which ignores its responsibilities to society, a church which does not seek to be a positive force in its community, will likewise die.

Finally the third possibility. Instead of running away from the Gospel or ignoring it completely, we can accept the Gospel message in our hearts and take the Gospel message to the people. Jesus knew that the Gospel message must be taken to the people. He sought a ministry outside the temple walls. In closing the Sermon on the Mount, he told the people

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 13 – 16)

To take the Gospel to the people is undoubtedly the toughest choice we can make. It is tough enough to accept the Gospel; it is even tougher to live the Gospel message. Stephen was stoned to death because he chose to preach the Gospel and challenged people to choose a life in Christ.

John Wesley understood that challenge. He knew that if English society was to change, it’s heart must change first and that could only be done through the Gospel. Forbidden by law to preach in the Church of England, Wesley and his followers, our forefathers in the United Methodist Church, took the message of the Gospel into the fields and the streets of England. On more than one occasion, crowds were encouraged to harass and physically abuse Wesley and the other Methodist preachers. Many an earlier Methodist preacher was put into jail for preaching the Gospel. But we cannot expect others to know the Gospel message if we do not let them know.

But there are rewards. Because they were kind to three strangers, Abraham and Sara, both in their ninety’s, became the parents of the future nation of Israel. Because Wesley preached the Gospel, because Wesley sought to make fundamental changes in English society, many historians feel that the violent revolution which occurred in France was avoided in England.

We do not know when Jesus will come again nor how he will do so. But how we as individuals and as a church act today determines our tomorrow. If we run away from God, we will never receive rest. We will be like Jonah, trapped and with no hope of escape. If we ignore God, we will be like the writer of Ecclesiastes crying that all our work is in vain. We will have no future.

Accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Savior will not solve society’s problems. But by placing Jesus in our hearts and in our souls, we gain the power by which those problems can be solved. We can become like the other two servants whose talents, whose skills and abilities multiplied when they did the work of their Master. We go beyond a simple day-to-day existence. Through our acceptance of Jesus Christ, we receive that special guarantee of the empty tomb, the promise of everlasting life as our future.

“The Road Taken”

This was the message that I gave for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, 10 July 1994, at Grace UMC (St. Cloud, MN). The Scriptures that I used for this message were Psalm 23 and John 14: 5 – 7.

I will use this title and the passage from the Robert Frost poem from which it comes in later sermons, sermons which mark the end of my time at that particular location. I do not remember if that is part of the reason that I used the poem in this message; I would again stand in the pulpit two weeks later and let every one know that I was leaving St. Cloud to return to Kansas.

The return to Kansas in 1994 did not go as I had hoped but it did mark the beginning of my lay speaking and ministerial career.

I want to take you on a little journey through the Ozarks. You start in the southeast corner of Kansas in the town of Oswego and head south on US 59. You will pass through several small towns until you are south of Miami, Oklahoma. There you turn east on US 60. Follow 60 until you get to Sikeston, Missouri, where it intersects US 61. Turn right on 61 and go one block. You now turn left again onto US 62. You then take 62 west down into Arkansas to Imboden where you come into US 63. Follow 63 south to Memphis where you pick up US 64. Take 64 west back through Arkansas through Little Rock to Conway. In Conway, go north on US 65 to Springfield, Missouri. This, by the way, will take you by Missouri 76 which is the cutoff to Branson. Try to time your drive so as to avoid most of the congestion (that would be about 2 in the morning). When you get to Springfield, take Interstate 44 to St. Louis. I-44 is the old US 66. Once you get to St. Louis, just a little south of Busch Stadium and the Arch, you intersect US 67. Take 67 south past the eastern edge of the Ozarks and the western portion of the Missouri bootheel until you get to Little Rock where you will get on Interstate 40, which is also US 70. Don’t worry about the skip in numbers. US 68 is somewhere in Ohio and a little too far away for this trip. Take I-40 towards Oklahoma. Now you have two options; you can stop at Fort Smith and go north on US 71 to Joplin or you can continue on until you get to US 69. For this trip the second option is the one you want. Once you get to the US 69 exit, go north on 69 to Columbus, Kansas.

Now I know that you probably haven’t got the slightest idea where you are. But, when you get to the intersection of US 69 and Kansas 96, assuming the Kansas Department of Transportation is through for the season (yes, Kansas has the same seasons as Minnesota – winter and construction), turn left and follow K-96 for about twenty minutes. If you do that, you will be right back where you started in Oswego, Kansas. I might also add that if you follow 96 for about another forty miles or so, you will be in Independence, Kansas, where Sandra lives. Stop by and say hi if you have the chance.

Now, it is one thing to get lost in the Ozarks. At least you know where you are and it is easy to get back to “civilization”. But what happens if you don’t have a map or directions to follow.

We are fast approaching the next century. The recent issue of U.S. News and World Report(July 11, 1994) notes that tomorrow, July 11th, there will be 2000 days until January 1, 2000. In the same report, it was reported that only 26% of Americans feel that the world will be in better shape when the next century comes around. Forty-two percent (42%) feel that the world will be worse. The road we are traveling on is coming to a fork. We must decide today which path to take.

We must also realize that we cannot turn to the government to provide the direction we should take. What Abraham Lincoln said some one hundred and thirty years ago is still true today. Governments are of, by, and from the people. If the people are lost and confused, the government will be likewise. If people are to have a firm sense of direction for the coming year, that direction must come from us, both as individuals and as the church, and no one else.

The United Methodist Church began, in part, because of the direction society was taking. Though the upper class may have benefited from the Industrial Revolution, the lower class were often forgotten. It was only the members of the upper class that were immune to the problems of long hours working in intolerable conditions and with limited health care that the working class and poor had to contend with every day. To cope with the stress that such conditions and the attitudes of society produced, many of the working class and poor turned to drugs and alcohol. I do not for sure but I would not be surprised if the statistics on domestic violence then are similar to the statistics today.

Wesley contended and argued that society could be changed and that it was the church that could make that change. It was through Wesley that the first Sunday school was started; not as we know it, but as a way of educating the populace (keep in mind that many children worked six days a week in the factories and Sunday was the only day when they could go to school). It was also Wesley and his followers who took the lead in dealing with the alcoholism and substance abuse so prevalent in English society at that time. Historians today agree that it was primarily because of the work by Wesley and his followers that England did not undergo the violent revolution that France did at the same time.

John Wesley understood the need for the church to present a message the people understood but a church blind to the needs of its members or its community cannot do its work. You cannot preach of the power of the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ when people are hungry, homeless, or suppressed by an indifferent society. John Wesley also understood that an individual, having accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior, had the responsibility to show that he had done so. This meant helping the community.

I had the opportunity two weeks ago to hear Dr. Rose Sims preach at Red Rock Camp. As John told you last week, she was asked to take over a church in south Florida that had 7 members, all over 70 years of age. It was also in a part of Florida that some had described as part of the Third World. For all practical purposes, the church was closed and she was there to perform the funeral. Yet, today that church has over 350 members and is perhaps the central strength of a small town. If you get a chance, you should read the book she wrote describing the rebuilding of churches in Missouri and Florida. The best description of her work with the Florida church was written by a reporter, George Lane, of the Tampa Tribune. He wrote

“Once the rural church was the strength of America, and the Methodist Church in Trilby and hundreds of other towns like this are fertile soil for the church’s rebirth in Florida., America, and maybe the world. What is happening at the Trilby Methodist Church offers new hope. When the world is at its worst, that is when the church must be at its best.” (New Life For Dying Churches, Dr. Rose Sims)

If you ask Dr. Sims how all of that was accomplished she will tell you it was because the work done at Trilby was done for Jesus. The secret of the rebirth of the Trilby Church was that the preaching of the Gospel was accompanied by work in the community.

We are being asked to do God’s work. The call to do God’s work is a very frightening thing. It is a call most people would probably not want to receive. And I am not talking about people just in our time. Consider the following statements.

“But, Lord, I have never been a man of ready speech, never in my life, not even now that you have spoken to me; I am slow and hesitant.” (Exodus 4:10)

That was Moses’ response when God called him to go the Pharaoh and begin the journey to the promised land. And then there was

‘Ah! Lord God,’ I answered, ‘I am not skilled in speaking; I am too young.’ (Jeremiah 1: 6)

That was Jeremiah’s response to being called by God to be a prophet.

Remember Jonah?. Jonah didn’t simply protest the call of God. He tried to put as much distance as he could between himself and God.

But to escape from the Lord Jonah set out for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board to travel with it to Tarshish out of the reach of the Lord. ( Jonah 1: 3)

Even Peter, the disciple on whom Jesus wanted to build his church, denied his Lord at the most crucial time.

Yet, there has never been a case where God called on someone to do his work and then left that person alone. He always provides the skills and the means to accomplish the task. To Moses, God said

The Lord said to him, ‘Who is it that gives man speech” Who makes him dumb or deaf” Who makes him keen-sighted or blind? Is it no I, the Lord?’ Go now; I shall help you to speak and show you what to say.’ (Exodus 4: 11 – 13)

To Jeremiah’s cry that he was unprepared, God replied

But the Lord said, ‘Do not plead that you are too young; for you are to go to whatever people I send you, and say whatever I tell you to say.’ (Jeremiah 1: 7)

In writing Psalm 23, David showed that God would provide the comfort, support, strength, and security one needed to do unpleasant tasks. Israel in the days of David was not a hospitable place. The valleys were not well lighted avenues but deep and dark inlets in the hills. The darkness of the valleys offered robbers excellent places in which to hide. One did not go into such valleys unless there was a very good reason. When Jesus spoke of shepherds seeking lost sheep, people understood the dangers involved and the extra effort it took needed for such searches.

God said the same to Jeremiah, “Fear none of them, for I shall be with you to keep you safe.” (Jeremiah 1: 8) If we accept the Lord in our lives, then we have nothing to fear from whatever road we travel.

So it is for us. We are like the disciplines at the Last Supper, wondering what will happen next. Turn to John 14. Jesus has just laid out the betrayal by Judas and the indicated that Peter would deny Him. But he also said

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you , I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14: 1 – 8)

When I began working on this talk, I thought of the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. It is the last stanza of the poem which I turn to now.

I shall be telling this with a sigh,

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.(“The Road Not Taken”, Robert Frost)

We are at a junction in our lives. Two roads stand before us. One looks like a pretty good road and it is the one that everyone else seems to take. The other road seems to be about the same though not many people take it. It is hard to tell which one we should take. But the decision is very simple. One road has a sign, an empty cross, which say to each one of us “Follow me”. And that is the road taken.

“Simple Gifts”

This was the message that I gave at Grace UMC in St. Cloud, MN, for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 19 July 1992.  This was the 2nd time that I had been in the pulpit and I was still using the model of a specific verse rather than the lectionary.  The scriptures that I used were Matthew 25: 31 – 46 and 1 Peter 4: 10 -11.

Have you ever wondered why John Wesley, an ordained minister in the Church of England, wanted to change his church?  Can you imagine how his father Samuel, also an ordained minister in the Church of England, must have felt?  Here was his son, a good son no doubt, trying to change the Church of England.  It must have been very embarrassing for the senior Wesley to meet with other pastors who wondered what John was trying to do.  I have a fairly good idea what my father would say if I were to try and make radical changes at St. Cloud State but I cannot nor do I dare repeat those words in church. 

Now, it should be pointed out that Wesley never considered himself a Methodist nor was he interested in creating a new church.  All he wanted to do was reform the Church of England.  The development of the Methodist Church, later the United Methodist Church, came as a result of Wesley trying to answer two questions:  What was the nature of salvation and what was the role of the church in dealing with society’s problems.  It is that second question that I will address today.

England in Wesley’s time was undergoing a series of rapid changes brought about in part because of the Industrial Revolution.  We tend to think of the Industrial Revolution in a positive light because it enabled more people to work, earn more money, and, in general, improve their way of life.   At the beginning, however, that was not always the case.  For many workers, the pay was low and there were no retirement or health care plans.  Because there were no child labor laws, it was not surprising to find children as young as 10 working in the factories.  People worked from sunup to sundown six days a week and dare not take a day off for any reason because they were likely to get fired.  If they owed someone money, they were likely to be put in a debtor’s prison until their family could get the money to pay the debt.  Alcoholism was not uncommon.  Welfare was dependent on the whim of the rich and the patience of the poor.

Against that background was the belief that being poor was a fate given to you by God and there was very little you could do about it.  If you were poor, it was because you lead a sinful life and were to be pitied.  To this, Wesley responded

“Has poverty nothing worse in it that this, that it makes men liable to be laughed at?…Is not want of food something worse than this?  God pronounced it as a curse upon man, that he should earn it “by the sweat of his brow.”  But how many are there in this Christian country, that toil, and labor, and sweat, and have it not at last, but struggle with weariness and hunger together?  Is it not worse for one, after a hard day’s labor, to come back to a poor, cold, dirty, uncomfortable lodging, and to find there not even the food which is needful to repair his wasted strength?  You that live at ease in the earth, that want nothing but eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand how well God hath dealt with you, is it not worse to seek bread day by day, and find none?  Perhaps to find the comfort also of five or six children crying for what he has not to give!  Were it not that he is restrained by an unseen hand, would he not soon “curse God and die”?  O want of bread!  Want of bread!  Who can tell what this means, unless he hath felt it himself?  I am astonished it occasions no more than heaviness even in them that believe.” (From John Wesley’s sermon “Heaviness Through Manifold Temptations”)

Wesley asked “How should the church respond?”  There were those who felt that the troubles of society at that time – the terrible working conditions, the lack of care the upper classes showed for those less fortunate, the terrible health conditions, the alcoholism – were an indication that God had lost faith in the people on earth. The Shakers, whose hymn “Simple Gifts” was the basis for the title of my sermon, were a Christian group formed as a response to these social conditions.  For them, the only solution was to leave the present society behind and create a new one dedicated to the glory of God.  The Shakers may have had the right idea because the movement flourished here in America during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  However, the Shaker movement did not last because the evils which caused the problems in the first place were never corrected. 

It was Wesley’s contention that society could be changed and that it was the church that could make that change.  It was through Wesley that the first Sunday school was started; not as we know it, but as a way of educating the populace (keep in mind that many children worked six days a week in the factories and Sunday was the only day when they could go to school).  It was also Wesley and his followers who took the lead in dealing with the alcoholism and substance abuse so prevalent in English society at that time.  Some argue that Wesley’s concerns and actions were one reason why there was no social unrest in England at that time. 

How would Wesley react if he were preaching today instead of the 1750’s? Historians are already calling the 1980’s the “Decade of Greed” or the “Me Decade”.  The prevalent attitude of these last few years has been that it is perfectly alright to earn as much money as you could and not worry about others because eventually the riches would reach them as well.  For some, Michael Milliken and Ivan Boesky are heroes.  Milliken is credited with finding a way to use what we call “junk bonds” to finance corporate takeovers.  For his work in 1985, Drexel Burnham, the company Milliken worked for, gave him some 550 million dollars as bonuses for his co-workers and himself.  He gave 50 million to his co-workers and kept the remaining 500 million dollars for himself.  Boesky was one of many who bought and sold companies using the bonds Milliken sold.  To earn this money Milliken and Boesky used a technique known as insider trading.  This procedure is illegal and both these gentleman went to jail and paid substantial fines.  The resulting legal problems also put Drexel, Burnham out of business even though many of the people who worked in the firm did nothing wrong.

During this same period, many individual bought stock in various companies. In doing so, the price of the stock rises.  In this way, and it is perfectly legal, they would make a profit when the stock was sold. However, other individuals combined this idea with a threat to take over control of specific companies if those companies did not buy back the stock at much higher prices.  In order to get the money to pay this “greenmail”, companies had to let workers go or sell parts of the company.  While some may have made money in this way, many others found themselves out of work.

While some may say the 80’s were a successful time for America, there are some economists who wonder if the current amount of corporate debt is too much and if we are not going to see more and more companies go bankrupt. Also forgotten in the joys of people earning more money than ever before is the fact that the number of homeless has increased; that the number of unemployed continues to rise; and substance abuse, both alcohol and drugs, is increasing.  We read where the R. J. Reynolds tobacco company has been asked to stop using “Joe Camel”, the symbol for Camel cigarettes, because it gives the wrong message to young children.  I find it very frightening that we have to spend time in school teaching our children what not to do rather than focusing on more positive things. I truly wonder what John Wesley might think of our society today. Keep in mind that Wesley was not against the rich or becoming rich. On many occasions, he preached that we should “gain all we could” and “save all we could”.   But we should do so in a manner that does no harm to others and to be careful that our gains are not made at the expense of others.  

But we need not worry, because it is not our fault.  All last week, we listened to the Democrats tell us that society’s problems today are the fault of the Republicans.  I do not doubt for a moment that when the Republicans meet in Houston next month, they will tell us that these same problems are the fault of the Democrats.

Now I chose the idea and scriptures for this sermon before the conventions began.  I feel, as I am sure Wesley would, that the solution to these problems will not come from the government.  In preaching that we should gain and save, Wesley also told us to “give all we could”. 

It was his feeling that the only way that someone will ever know that the Holy Spirit is present in you is through your works.  Wesley sought a church which cared for society and which would make the world a better place.  After all, as I read from the Scripture, Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or take care of the needy, not the government.  Jesus also warned us what the penalties would be should we ignore the needy:

“‘There was a certain rich man,’ Jesus said, ‘who was splendidly clothed and lived each day in mirth and luxury.  One day Lazarus, a diseased beggar, was laid at his door.  As he lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.  Finally the beggar died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham in the place of the righteous dead.  The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went into hell.  There, in torment, he saw Lazarus in the far distance with Abraham.'”

“‘Father Abraham,’ he shouted, ‘have some pity!  Send Lazarus over here if only to dip the tip of finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in these flames.”

“But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing.  So now he is here being comforted and you are anguish.  And besides, there is a great chasm separating us, and anyone wanting to come to you from here is stopped at its edge; and no one over there can cross to us.'”

“Then the rich man said, ‘O Father Abraham, then please send him to my father’s home — for I have five brothers — to warn them about this place of torment lest they come here when they die.'”

But Abraham said, ‘The Scriptures have warned them again and again.  Your brothers can read them any time they want to.'”

“The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham, they won’t bother to read them.  But if someone is sent to them from the dead, they will turn from their sins.'”

But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even though someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19 – 31)

The message today is not about giving money to the church nor is it advice on how to vote this coming November.  Those are choices made individually and privately.  It is a message of action and using the gifts and talents that God has given us to bring the Holy Spirit, the same spirit behind Wesley’s words to “give all we can”, to St. Cloud today.  As Peter wrote

“God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings. Are you called to preach?  Then preach as though God himself were speaking through you.  Are you called to help others?  Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies, so that God will be glorified through Jesus Christ – to him be glory and power forever and ever.  Amen.” (I Peter 4:10 – 11)

There is no doubt in my mind and heart that Grace Church is alive and growing and that the Holy Spirit is present among us.  But for that growth to mean anything, we must go beyond ourselves.  A church which sits idly by will surely die.  E. Russell Praetorius, John’s father (the pastor of Grace UMC, St. Cloud, then and, as of this writing in 2012), wrote some twenty-seven years ago:

“Some churches die of self-centeredness because they never get beyond themselves.  They fail to recognize that the real purpose of Christ’s Church is not to enjoy itself but to save the world.  These lack a vision of world conquest for Christ and are satisfied with the status quo.” (A. B. Utzman and E. Russell Praetorius, 1965 Official Record of Minnesota Conference. Evangelical United Brethren Church.)

Jesus sought a church of action.  He was not content to sit in the temple, read the words of the Torah and wonder what they meant.  He was in the countryside ministering to the needs of the people.  As Wesley knew, the most difficult time any church faces is that moment when it decides to take its ministry outside the walls of the building and into the community.  By putting our beliefs into action, we earn the freedom from sin gained through Jesus’ sacrifice.  The question before us then is how do we use our talents?

We can use our talents in many ways.  Now, the work of the church is never easy but it is made easier when we work together.  And as Jesus promised, the rewards for doing his work are much greater.  Look at what is ahead for Grace Church and ask yourself “What can I do?” Our greeter program starts again in two weeks.  Will you be there when it is your turn to greet friends and visitors to Grace Church and make everyone feel like they have friends here?  Irene stills need Sunday School teachers, both as regular teachers and as substitutes.  Perhaps that is where you can help.  Will you be helping with the painting of the church this week?  Will you be here on October 11th to hear Ken Krueger preaching?  Will you help to see that each of one of these pews is filled for the services on the 11th, 12th, and 13th?

The UMW Bazaar, scheduled for October 3rd, promises to be the best Grace Church has ever had but that promise can only be met if you take part.  Today, the UMW starts “Operation Schoolroom”. This mission project provides students in Sierra Leone and Liberia the school supplies they need for the coming year.  You can help this project either by buying the supplies indicated on the insert in your bulletin or by helping put the kits together on September 12th.

Our Hog
Roast is also set for September 12th as a way to mark the beginning of our Stewardship Campaign and the beginning of Sunday School.  It has not been decided what we shall do with the money we raise from this event but with your help that will be a substantial amount.  There are many ways to help with this and I trust that when you are called to help you will do so.

(I will add some comments about the hog roast at the completion of this message.)

Are you a member of one of the work areas of Grace Church?  Do you participate when there is a meeting?  As chair of the Finance Committee, I am asking each of the work areas to consider how we can best serve the needs of the church and the community.  Can we find ways for Grace Church to answer Jesus’ call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and help the homeless?  These need not be big steps nor will we have to do it all by ourselves.  But what we give must be, as Wesley asked, all that we can give. 

Through your help, by participation or pray, the mission work of Grace Church, both in St. Cloud and elsewhere, can be accomplished.  As Peter wrote, our talents are gifts from God.  We have also been given a far more important and far more simpler gift.  In John 3:16 we read

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

I close by asking what will you do with that gift?

Some thoughts about the 1992 Hog Roast –

The year before, in 1991, we came up with the idea of a hog roast, even though no one in the church had any clue how to roast a whole hog. But everyone thought it sounded like a great idea and we went to work.  At that point in the discussion, I wasn’t involved.  Came the day of the hog roast, a Saturday, and we found out that it was also the day practice for the hockey season began (remember this was Minnesota).  So the turnout wasn’t that great and there was about 200 pounds of roast pork left.  What were we going to do with all that pork?

This is where I came in.  At the church in Odessa, Texas, where we had been members, each of the Sunday School classes was responsible for a meal each week during our mid-week services.  So my wife and I said that we would make sandwiches and sell them after church on Sunday. 

Sandra spent the better part of Saturday night preparing baked beans, chopping the pork while I went out and got the other materials we needed.  Following service on Sunday, the congregation gathered in the community room for a wonderful lunch of BBQ sandwiches.  When all was said and done and the expenses were paid for both Saturday and Sunday, we netted a profit of $4.50.

Now, let’s fast forward to the summer of 1992 and the plans for the next Hog Roast.  There were some on the administrative council who felt that the 1991 Hog Roast had been a failure and something not worth repeating.  I rose to defend the work and proclaimed that we had made a profit.  I did not mention how much of a profit it was; only that it was a profit.  And I took on the big step of organizing the 1992 Hog Roast.

We had learned from the previous year that the date was critical so we made sure that it did not conflict with other things, such as hockey games.  This allowed us to invite local college students.

Obtaining the hog was no problem; a member of the church was a hog farmer and all we had to do was give him a letter thanking him for the donation of the hog.  I came home from the administrative council meeting and told my wife to work on getting people to donate beans, salads, and deserts.  Then I had to focus on getting the cook since we had found out that no one really knew how to roast a hog.

But there was one member of the church who did but he didn’t come to church all that often.  So I went and asked if he would help roast the hog and he agreed.

The 1992 Hog Roast was a success.  I don’t recall how much money was raised though I am sure we did make a profit.  But then again this was never intended to be a fund-raiser.  It was designed to bring people to the church and in that regard it was very successful.  Not only did quite a few college kids come to the dinner and come back to church but the individual who I asked to roast the hog found his niche in the church and he became a big part of the church and the revival of the United Methodist Men.  I was able to turn the 1993 Hog Roast over to the UMM and go onto other things.

When I hear people talk about fund raisers as a way of balancing the budget and things like that, I cringe.  I don’t like fund raisers and I have said so.  In my sermon/message for today (“To Honor The Future”) I pointed out that there are many individuals who focus on paying the bills so that there is a church; for many such individuals, fund-raisers are a part of the process. But if we focus on the people first, then fund-raisers become superfluous.  In Grace’s case, the 1992 Hog Roast was part of the turn-around of a dying church and its rebirth.

All I will take credit for is getting the cook.  The rest took care of itself.

The Challenge We Face

This was the message that I gave at Grace UMC (St. Cloud, MN) for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 27 June 1993. This was the fifth message of my lay speaking career and I was using the format that my pastor, John Praetorius used. The Scriptures that I used were Hebrews 11: 33 – 35 and James 1: 5 – 8.    

In May of 1961, President John Kennedy presented to a joint session of Congress what some consider the greatest scientific challenge of this generation’s lifetime:

“First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space. And none will be more difficult or expensive to accomplish.” (We Reach The Moon, John Noble Wilford, Bantam Books, 1969)

This challenge was made as a response to the actions taken by the Soviet Union in successfully orbiting Yuri Gagarin. President Kennedy recognized that a quick and decisive response was needed, even in the face of the difficulties that our space program was undergoing at that time. As those who grew up in the late 50’s and early 60’s might remember, the United States space program seemed more a comedy of errors than a precisely run scientific effort. One cannot forget the number of launches that ended with the rocket exploding on the launch pad rather than sending a satellite into orbit. If we could not launch a relatively simple rocket, how were we going to be able to launch a rocket carrying men?

There were also skeptics who felt it was impossible to land a man on the moon because, as one theory suggested, the surface of the moon was covered by a thick layer of dust. As such, any landing craft attempting to land on the moon would be swallowed up. But nothing had been done to prove or disprove this theory. It was not until the Ranger series of satellites crash landed on the moon and the Surveyor series soft landed on the moon that this theory was shown incorrect. Had we chosen to accept the theory without obtaining the facts, we would have never landed on the moon.

Today this nation faces another challenge. It is a challenge which cannot be resolved through a nationwide commitment of resources, talent, and technology. It must be resolved in our hearts and in our souls. We have forgotten to put God first in our lives and, in doing so, have lost our spiritual direction.

Our society is split by race, creed, and economic status. We see the problems these differences cause but we want others to solve them. We willingly let others tell us how we should act, what we should wear, how we should think.

Because we have no commitment to God, because we receive so many conflicting directions, our lives are in constant turmoil. And this is because we do not have faith that God will provide us with the direction we should take and the protection we need, despite the fact that He has repeatedly promised to do so. If our faith in God is strong, our accomplishments will reflect the Glory of God. If our faith is weak, then we will struggle. As James wrote

“If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; and every decision you then make will be uncertain, as you turn first this way, and then that. If you don’t ask with faith, don’t expect the Lord to give you any solid answer.” (James 1: 5 – 8)

Peter Jenkins was a college student who questioned the direction his life was taking. His inner turmoil led him on a journey which has been chronicled in his books Walk Across America and The Walk West. His walk from New York to New Orleans was highlighted by his acceptance of Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. But what impact did this acceptance have on his life?

When he discussed the journey and the resulting story with the editors of National Geographic, they asked him what he felt was the major point of the whole journey. To their amazement, he said that it was his acceptance of Christ as his Savior. It was to the editors’ credit that this part of the story was kept in the article so that others could read about the power of the Lord. Later, during a train ride in China, far from his home and family, and unable to openly worship God, Jenkins became aware of just how dependent his life and the direction it took was upon his relationship with Jesus Christ. He wrote:

“And I wrote down that I really missed God. I didn’t expect Him to come and sit down beside me, but I missed what He was in my life. He was my ultimate security. He was my guide through life and my main source of discipline. He was my friend, more faithful than any person, the most faithful presence on earth. He was profound wisdom and pure love. I yearned for His arms of love to hold me. But He seemed so far away.

I knew He was here, but I felt so lonely just the same. And there was no one around to fellowship with. Lying on that bunk I realized more clearly than ever before how important my relationship with God was.”(The Road Unseen, Peter and Barbara Jenkins, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, page 5)

How important is a strong relationship with God? All we have to do is look at the Israelites as they left Egypt for the Promised Land. Every time the Israelites faced a crisis, they sought a return to the seemingly secure life of slavery in Egypt. What did the Israelites do when they faced the Red Sea with the Egyptian army coming after them? Did they rejoice that God would protect them? In Exodus 14: 10 – 14 we read

“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord; and they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” (Exodus 14: 10 – 14)

Yet, even as they watched God drown the Egyptians in the Red Sea, the Israelites still had a hard time accepting the idea that all they had to do was follow the Lord.

It must have been tough on the Israelites moving from the security of Egypt to the uncertainty of the Promised Land. How did they react as they crossed the wilderness without sufficient provisions? In Exodus 16: 2 – 8 we read

“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, ‘At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your murmurings against the Lord. For what are we, that you murmur against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you evening flesh and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your murmurings which you murmur against him – what are we? Your murmurings are not against us but against the Lord.” (Exodus 16: 2 – 8)

Consider their actions while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 32 we read of the people going to Aaron and asking him to make them a false idol. Later, in Numbers 13 and 14, we read of the spies Moses sent into the Promised Land lying about what was there and how the people cried to return to Egypt where they were safe and secure. Time and time again during this journey, we hear the Israelites crying to return to Egypt and the security of their slavery; all because their faith in God was weak. How many times have we encountered this journey from the wilderness to the Promised Land? How many times have we doubted our own faith? Don’t we feel lost and without direction when we have ignored God’s presence in our lives?

Even our own John Wesley struggled with the idea of what God wanted him to do. Sent to Georgia as a missionary along with his brother Charles, he returned to England in 1738 feeling that he had failed. Prepared as he and his brother were with the understanding that one cannot find peace in life outside Christ, neither man felt that they had truly found the Peace of Christ. Despite their training, despite their background, neither Wesley was willing to say they trusted the Lord.

Only after that moment in his life, which we call the Aldersgate moment, could Wesley write

“I felt my heart strangely warmed. 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.”

Only by accepting Christ as his personal Savior was John Wesley able to understand what direction his life was to take. It was only through trusting Christ that Wesley gained the confidence needed to make the Methodist revival possible. The writer of Hebrews 11: 33 – 35 also points out that every great leader of our Christian heritage also trusted in God completely and followed Him faithfully:

“These people all trusted God and as a result won battles, overthrew kingdoms, ruled their people well, and received what God had promised them; they were kept from harm in a den of lions, and in a fiery furnace. Some, through their faith, escaped death by the sword. Some were made strong again after they had been weak or sick. Others were given great power in battle; they made whole armies turn and run away. And some women, through faith, received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were beaten to death, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free – trusting that they would rise to a better life afterwards.” (Hebrews 11: 33 – 35)

Our challenge today is the single most difficult task we will ever face. Yet it is the easiest to accomplish. It is difficult because it forces us away from the comfort zone our life in sin has created. However, while we may feel free, a life in the slavery of sin is not freedom. The direction our life takes, the choices we make, the things we want to do, all are chosen by others. Had the Israelites chosen slavery in Egypt rather than to follow God, they would have never reached the Promised Land.

John Kennedy concluded his challenge to make the trip to the moon by saying that the mission would require a complete commitment of the nation’s resources and by us. He knew that was the only way the challenge would be met.

So it is for us. By making a complete and total acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior, we too can forsake a life in the slavery of sin and make that trip to the Promised Land.

What Do You Do?

This was the message that I gave on 24 October 1993 at Grace UMC in St. Cloud, MN as part of Laity Sunday. While this was the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, it was still early in my lay speaking career and I was still “picking and choosing” my Scripture readings instead of following the lectionary as I do today.

I wasn’t supposed to give the message this year. Though it was only October, I knew that I would be moving to Kansas after the current school year was completed and I wanted to begin a transition from “leader” to “observer”. I had organized the previous two Laity Sunday services and felt that others should begin getting involved. But on the Saturday afternoon before this Sunday, the person scheduled to give the message called and told me he was unable to be in church on Sunday and I would need to fill in. As this was early in my career, I wasn’t quite ready to do so but when you are a lay speaker you have said that you would answer the call when it is made and that is what I did. Because of the time frame of preparation, I liberally borrowed from messages I had given elsewhere figuring that no one present at Grace had been present at the places in Missouri and Tennessee where I had preached earlier. Unfortunately I forgot that one of those messages had been videotaped and I had shared that tape with some of the congregation. J

I based my thoughts for this message on 2 Corinthians 4: 1 – 6 and Matthew 15: 24 – 25.

One of the churches where I have been a member is large enough to have a senior pastor and an associate pastor. During the Sunday worship, the associate pastor takes care of the lectionary readings, the prayers of the congregation, and the offering. There is also a youth minister to take care of the “Children’s Moment”. This leaves the senior pastor to concentrate on the sermon. At this church it is the custom for the children, following the “Children’s Moment”, to go to another area of the church where they have a Children’s service. One Sunday, as one young girl walked by the pulpit, she looked at the senior pastor and asked “What do you do?” For you see, every Sunday this child saw the associate pastor lead the congregation in prayer and other activities. She would go up to the altar to be with the Youth Minister for the “Children’s Moment”. But all she saw the other man do was sit in his chair because she, along with the other children, left before he preached. In answer to her question, the senior pastor did the “Children’s Moment” the next week.

“What do you do” has been a question for the church for a number of years. As we look at the world around us today, we have to ask ourselves “What do we do to change the direction of the world from its path of sin and desolation?” What do we do when society around us is intolerant of poverty and shows no concern for its less fortunate members? These questions are not unique to our generation; they have been with us since Jesus began His ministry.

John Wesley struggled with these questions for many years. He could not sit idly by and watch his church ignore the plight and conditions of the lower classes. In an exchange with Joseph Butler, the Bishop of Bristol, Wesley made it clear what he felt he must do.

Bishop Butler — “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence.”

John Wesley — “My lord, my business on earth is to do what good I can. Wherever therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do the most good here. Therefore here I stay.” (Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal”, 16th to 24th August, 1739.)

John Wesley understood that a church and a nation which ignores members of its society can never expect worldly success, let alone success in Heaven. Having accepted Christ as one’s personal Savior, you could not sit back and wait for the Glory of the Lord to come to you. You had to take the message of the Gospel out into the world, both in thought, word and deed. To the elders of the Church of England, this call for action was unconscionable. How dare a pastor call for such radical action. This was a time when more and more people were getting wealthy every day so it was permissible to ignore those few who were not quite so fortunate. Remember poverty in Wesley’s time was thought to be a reflection of one’s sinful life. If you were rich, it was because you had lead a good life. If you were poor, it was because you were not living the right kind of life. It wasn’t the church’s fault that people were homeless and hungry; that medical care for the lower classes was almost non-existent; that only the rich could afford to go to school. Wesley would have felt right at home in the United States these last few years when concern for one’s own well-being was more important than a concern for members of society.

John Wesley understood that the church must present a message people understand. But the message must also be accompanied by actions. To Wesley, preaching the Gospel was more than a Sunday experience; it was a daily occurrence. Preaching the Gospel alone is not enough when people are hungry, homeless, or suppressed by an indifferent society; you must help people overcome such barriers. If people are hungry, they must be feed; if people are sick, they must be healed; if the people seek to improve their lives through education, there need to be schools. If the church is to be a vital and living part of the community today, it must offer the hope and promise of the Gospel message to all who seek it.

Yet, instead of supporting the work of Wesley and his followers, people in the Church of England barred them from preaching in the churches. Yet this did not stop the Methodist Revival. Wesley and the other early Methodist ministers simply began to preach wherever they could find the space. If that meant preaching in fields, then they preached in the fields.

When conditions cry for revolution, there will be a revolution. Many historians have looked at the conditions in England, both economic and social, and wondered why England did not undergo a violent revolution like that of France at much the same time. The difference between the revolution in England and the revolution in France can be attributed to the nature of the Methodist revival. Wesley and the early members of the Methodist Revival, by working to bring the Gospel to the people of England and changing the conditions of society, removed the threat of a violent revolution.

It was the same for Jesus. There was a need for a revolution in his country. Not the political revolution many people sought but a spiritual revolution. For people no longer heard a message of a Loving Father who cared for His children. Many people at that time probably did not even know that their God cared for them. The rules and regulations of the church made it impossible for them to do so. It wasn’t that they had left their religion but that their religion had left them. The message they did hear held no promise or hope. As Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians,

“He (speaking of Jesus) is the one who has helped us tell others about his new agreement to save them. We do not tell them that they must obey every law of God or die; but we tell them there is life for them for the Holy Spirit. The old way, trying to be saved by keeping the Ten Commandments, ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives them life. (2 Corinthians 3: 6)

In his message and in his actions, Jesus sought to bring people back to God; to show them that their Father in Heaven did care for them and did truly love them.

The same thing is true today. The world is crying for a spiritual revolution. People are leaving the church today because they see a church which no longer cares about them and is indifferent to the needs of society. Today churches are seeking ways to bring back that generation we call the “baby boomers”. And, whatever actions are taken, they must be taken quickly because we could lose the next two generations, the “baby busters” and the children of the baby boomers. The church’s actions must reflect its mission. Such actions must also reflect the genuine compassion that Jesus felt for those who sought Him. Elton Trueblood offers the following thought:

“Because we cannot reasonably expect to erect a constantly expanding structure of social activism upon a constantly diminishing foundation of faith, attention to the cultivation of the inner life is our first order of business, even in a period of rapid social change. The Church, if it is to affect the world, must become a center from which new spiritual power emanates. While the Church must be secular in the sense that it operates in the world, if it is only secular it will not have the desired effect upon the secular order which it is called upon to penetrate. With no diminution of concern for people, we can and must give new attention to the production of a trustworthy religious experience.” (From The New Man for Our Time by Elton Trueblood)

When Jesus began to preach the Gospel, the message He gave was for everyone, not just a select few. Jesus never turned away anyone who sought His ministry. His ministry was open to all who sought Him. Jesus took his ministry to the people so that the people could come to Him.

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” And he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Sending her away, for she is crying after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me”. And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”. She said, “Yes, Lord: yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” An her daughter was healed instantly. And Jesus went on from there and passed along the Sea of Galilee. and he went up on the mountain, and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the throng wondered, when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.” (Matthew 15: 21 – 31)

The salvation we gain by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior is not a two-way path. There is no way for us to gain salvation without going to Jesus Christ. But, if people are to come to Jesus, there must be a path available. Consider the desire of people who truly want to come to Jesus. In Mark 2 we read

“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.” (Mark 2: 1 – 4)

This man and his friends did what it took to get to Jesus. But not all people have such capability. If the path to Jesus is blocked, the people will turn away.

Every time we look around today, we see more reasons why the Church should be a part of society. Today, numerous studies tell churches how to revitalize their congregations, how to bring life back into dying congregations. Every time, the same answer comes through back. It is the members of the congregation which must do the work. That is what today is about. Laity Sunday honors the work of all those who do the work of the church. It also points out the role the laity has in bringing the Gospel message to the world.

Today Jesus is calling you. He is asking you to be a part of His community; to do His work. What will you do? Samuel heard God calling him and answered “Here I am Lord.” The disciples dropped what they were doing when asked by Jesus to follow Him. Paul did not want to become the missionary to the world; he wanted to put a stop to the mission of Jesus. As Saul, he saw Jesus and his followers as a threat to a way of life. Yet, after encountering the Holy Spirit on the road to Damascus, Paul understood what a life in Jesus Christ meant.

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of god. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is only veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world (meaning Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of god. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”. (2 Corinthians 4: 1 – 6)

Today, Jesus asks us the same question the little girl asked the senior pastor, “What do you do?” How will you answer him?

“Journey to the Promised Land”

This is the message that I gave at Grace UMC, St. Cloud, MN for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, 31 July 1994. The Scriptures that I used for this message were Exodus 13: 17 – 22 and 2 Timothy 1: 6 – 7.

This is (was) the 11th sermon I ever wrote. I am not sure what Sunday in the church calendar this particular Sunday represented nor what the regular lectionary readings were. I was still developing as a lay speaker and followed the pattern used my pastor of one reading and a selected verse that may or not have come from the reading. My own style would begin to develop the following summer when my role as a certified lay speaker would change from an occasional Sunday or two to a weekly service and message to three churches in Kansas (see “Hide and Seek”).

The significance of this message, at least for me, is this is the first time that I had to say good-bye to a church where I had been more than just a member. Grace was a church that had given me an opportunity, and a church where I may have helped change it’s direction.

An interesting note – after the service was over and I was greeting everyone (and saying good-bye) a visitor came up and said that she wasn’t sure about coming to a Methodist church. She had been at the other Methodist church in town and the pastor there was leaving. She came to Grace and I was saying good-bye. I pointed out that I was not the pastor and that he would be back next week and she should come again. Of course, since I was gone, I never found out what she did.

This has been edited since it was first published.


A recent report on CNBC stated that the average American makes eleven moves during their lifetime. This is an interesting piece of information. First it tells us that our society is a very mobile society. This mobility is also increasing because a few years ago the average number of moves an individual made was three. We have become a society seeking a direction.

This report also tells you something about me; something that my mother has known for some time, that I am definitely not average. Because my father was a career military officer, a job that required that my family move often and the other moves I have made professionally, the move I will make at the end of August will be something on the order of my fortieth move.

Now, moving from one place to another can be a traumatic event. The same report that gave us the statistics about moving also reported that moving is the third leading cause of stress, behind death and divorce, in families today. It is not easy to move from familiar surroundings to strange or new ones. All you have to do is ask Sandra about our first move to Odessa, Texas, back in 1989. Even the Israelites would have rather stayed in slavery in Egypt than move to the new and yet unknown Promised Land. In Exodus 14: 10 – 14 we read

“When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord; and they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.”(Exodus 14: 10 – 14)

But even if you were never to move from your place of birth (and there must be three people who have never moved in order for the statistics to work out), the journey through life can still be frightening and uncertain.

Consider two individuals, both young men in their mid-twenties. The first young man, fresh from college, was uncertain about what the future held and was also uncertain as to what was in the world. He was not ready to venture out into the world. The second young man, also just out of college, was certain that he knew the secret to life and the promises it held. With this confidence, he set forth in his life to make the world better.

The first young man was Peter Jenkins, whose travel across America I have discussed before. When he graduated from college in the mid 1970’s, he felt lost and unsure of his future. In an effort to answer these unsettling questions, to find out who he was, he decided to walk across America. That walk led him to Mobile, Alabama, one early spring night in 1975.

After finishing dinner and promising to meet a friend at a party, Peter saw a sign advertising a revival meeting in downtown Mobile. More curious than anything else, he went to that revival. After all, he had been to parties before. And besides, as many young people have come to find out, the thrill of alcohol and drugs quickly wears off. At the call of the evangelist, Peter began to feel like

“I was going to die. The deepest corners of my being were lit with thousand-watt light bulbs. It was as if God himself were looking into my soul, through all my excuses, my dark secrets. All of me was exposed in God’s searchlight.

When the question ended its roaring echo, I decided for the first time to admit I needed God. This must be the God I had been searching for, and the same One they worshiped back in Murphy (N.C.) at Mount Zion.” (Peter Jenkins, A Walk Across America, page 261)

With the revelation and knowledge that Jesus Christ had died for him, Peter Jenkins accepted Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior. He then could appreciate how the Holy Spirit could guide him and how it can guide us today.

In the dark in downtown Mobile as I walked home, I felt the smile on my face and the glow of heaven around me. My soul had been like a wavering compass needle, but now it finally pointed to true north. I had found my lifetime direction. (A Walk Across America, page 261)

Even the Israelites were afraid of the trip from the certain and safe surroundings of Egypt into the unknown wilderness they called the Promised Land. Yet they still knew that it was God who guiding them.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13: 17 – 22)

The other young man in my story was John Wesley. Some two hundred years before Peter Jenkins began his walk across America, John Wesley came to America. While Peter Jenkins may have not been certain as to what he was going to do, there was no uncertainty in the purpose of John Wesley. Having recently graduated from Oxford, Wesley was ready to put into practice the methods that he, his brother Charles, and their friends had worked out during their studies at Oxford. It was tehse methods which he felt were the key to achieving Salvation.

John Wesley came to Georgia with a great deal of joy and expectation. But he left in a cloud of fear and failure. Prepared as he and his brother, Charles, were with the understanding that one cannot find peace in life outside Christ, neither felt that they had truly found the Peace of Christ. Despite their training, despite their background, neither Wesley was willing to say they trusted the Lord. John Wesley returned from Georgia feeling that he was a failure because he had not fully accepted the Holy Spirit.

The symbol for the United Methodist Church, as we see in the tapestry to my left, is the Cross and the Flame. It is by the Cross that we have the promise of Salvation through Jesus Christ and it is the Flame of the Holy Spirit which guides and illuminates us.

Only at that moment we have come to call the Aldersgate moment when Wesley accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior did the movement that became the Methodist Church become successful. Only when he accepted Christ as his personal Savior did John Wesley understand the direction his life was to take. By turning his life over to Christ completely and fully, did Wesley gain the confidence needed to make the Methodist revival possible and successful.

Neither the success of Grace Church these past few years nor the success of Grace Church in the future will be because one person did great things. No single person present today has the power or the capability to accomplish what Grace Church has done. Just as Paul wrote to Timothy

“That is why I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God which is yours through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1: 6 – 7)

The success of Grace Church today is because we have allowed the Holy Spirit to become the empowering force in our lives. When Sandra, the kids, and I first came to Grace Church some three years ago, only one member of this church other than Pastor John and his family said hello. Now, visitors often say they cannot leave without everyone in the church saying hello. Three years ago the average attendance was around 70 and the discussion of each Administrative Council meeting was which bills to pay. Today, the average attendance is over 110 and tonight we are having a special Ad Council meeting to discuss the purchase of land for the new Grace Church.

If we let the Holy Spirit into our lives, it creates a fire which cannot be put out. It is like magnesium burning, hot and intensely bright. Magnesium was the metal used in the first flash bulbs (remember Christmas past when someone took your picture and you had a dot in front of your eyes?). It is that flame, the flame of the Holy Spirit burning inside each one of us which provides Grace Church with its power and strength. And as others receive the Joy brought about by the Salvation offered by Jesus Christ, this fire gets hotter, brighter and larger.

We are at a time when many people have lost their direction and are looking for guidance. Just as the Holy Spirit guided the Israelites through the wilderness with the cloud by day and the flame by night, so too does it guide Grace Church today. And it is the Holy Spirit which can let Grace Church be the guiding light to St. Cloud and Minnesota. As Jesus said

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14- 16)

But the choice is yours. Will you today accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Will you let the Holy Spirit light the fire that warms your soul and provide direction to your life? Without Him, we wander through the wilderness. With Him, we can complete that journey to the promised land.