Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Season of Harvest: Losing to Gain

As the month of September comes upon us, that means that the season of Autumn is also (almost) here! OK, so technically the Fall Equinox is September 22nd this year. That is the date when the "Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s Equator – from north to south...On the equinox, night and day are nearly exactly the same length – 12 hours – all over the world" (http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/september-equinox.html). So, this day has not quite to us, but the season of fall is also marked by other things: Labor day (this coming Monday), the beginning of the school year, the college football season, and the slight change in weather from the kind of heat that requires 3 shirts a day, to maybe not such an unbearable level. We can at least say together that the season of Fall is upon us.

Fall is a season of harvest. Some etymology (where the word comes from) says that the term "harvest" is a noun meaning, in Old English, literally "autumn" or "season of gathering crops." This includes the activity of reaping (to cut a crop for harvest; to obtain a reward), gathering, and storing grain and other crops.

In our spiritual lives, we go through seasons, too. There are times when life seems to be getting the better of us; where we suffer the chilling winter or scathing summer. There are also times in our lives where things are going well: we benefit from our hard labor in ways that prove our efforts worthy of the sacrifice. We heal from things that pain us; we learn from struggles that life gives us; we reap what we sow. We benefit from the challenges of life, and this gives us hope to continue along life's topsy-turvy journey.

Fall is a season of harvest, where the grueling heat gives way to a bountiful harvest.

During this season of Fall, we will be exploring this theme as we worship together, learn together, and grow together. Our first message "Losing to Gain," will focus on Luke 14: 25-33.

In this passage in the gospel of Luke, Jesus talks about the cost of discipleship, even going as far to say that whoever does not hate their family, carry their cross, or give up their possessions, can follow him as a disciple. It is my opinion that Jesus does use hyperbole here, speaking to a mass crowd, admonishing them to take his words seriously and examine what it means to follow him. There are costs to discipleship. While our allegiances and loyalties most of the time do balance out, in times of crisis, certain relationships take precedent. When a family member becomes ill, sometimes other friendships take a back seat, as our attention is devoted to them, for example. That does not mean that the person does not love their friends, but that we are only human beings with limited time and attention; we have to choose when crises come about.

This passage from Luke tells us that in order to follow Jesus into a life of discipleship, it must take precedent. There are costs to it, and most of them relate to the idea of security. The road of discipleship is bumpy, dirty, there are turns and hills and climbs...and it takes sacrifice.

In order for crops to harvest in the season of Fall, they must withstand the bitter cold of winter and the grueling heat of summer. They must sacrifice. Trees must lose their leaves in order to prepare for the upcoming cold weather. Sometimes weak plants will wither and fade away. Sometimes they keep their roots in the ground and see the harvest of the Fall, staying true to the process of growth. Will you? Will you remain faithful to God, trusting the process of discipleship and growing in Christ? That is your invitation. May we all walk faithfully together.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

We Believe in Resurrection and Life Everlasting

This Sunday, continuing with our "We Believe" sermon series, which explores the Apostles' Creed, we come to the Scripture readings Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Luke 24:36-49. Ezekiel tells the story of the valley of the dry bones, and Luke tells us about one of Jesus' appearances to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. The final statement of the Apostles' Creed is "(I believe in) the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting." Both of these passages, I believe, relate to this statement.

Both the resurrection of the bones in Ezekiel 37 and the resurrection of  Jesus demonstrates that death does not have the last word. That last word belongs to God, who continues to redeem and shape this world to the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed.

Ezekiel 37: 1-14 tells a remarkable story:

One day, Ezekiel is by a river in Babylon when he sees a remarkable vision that reveals the glory of God.  He hears God’s voice speak to him.  God tells Ezekiel that he will speak God’s Word to his fellow exiles, fellow Israelites (they were in the foreign land of Babylon).  God says, “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear.” And then, the most bazaar thing happens.  God hands Ezekiel a scroll with the Word of God on it.  And God tells Ezekiel to eat the scroll; to literally consume it; to put it in his mouth and swallow it.  Then God says, “Go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them.” What an image, huh?  It is as if Ezekiel will be regurgitating God’s Word for his fellow exiles/Israelites.  Friends, God’s word was never intended to lay dormant on a page.  God’s Word needs to get inside of us; we can consume it. Why?  Because they are words of life; words that bring life.

That’s what Ezekiel experiences in the valley of the dry bones.  God tells Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” Ezekiel preaches the Word of God to a valley filled with nothing but dry bones (talk about a tough audience).  But that Word has an immediate effect.  Something happens: bones join together; muscle and tissue and flesh form around those bones. They have been resurrected.

And Jesus, as told in Luke 24: 36-49, is also raised from the dead, making appearances to his friends. He offers them peace, proves that he's not a ghost (by showing them his wounds and eating fish with them). After this, he tells them that they are witnesses to these things. That he died and was raised and came to be with them. And we are, too. Though Jesus hasn't shown up in bodily form for us, his presence through the Holy Spirit is with us. God has provided a way for us to have eternal life through him. God has given us new life, showing us that death does not have the final word.

And its not just death that we worry about, its the things that death represents. It's the evil in this world. I'ts the injustice, the fear, hate, prejudice, racism, poverty, sickness, and negativity. There is no doubt that these are powerful forces in this world. And they matter. They really matter. These things hurt people, contributing to the state that our world is in. All this means that we are in need of a savior, a loving God that would do something as drastic as provide a way out. And that is Jesus. That is embracing God's love and grace for you. These dry bones will cry out. We are witnesses to these things, and what God has done.


Lord, help me to accept your invitation to live a new life, full of grace and peace. When life gets most difficult, help me to keep seeking you. Stay close to me, O God, for you are my comfort. In you, I receive life everlasting. Thank you for laying down your life for me, so that I can live life abundantly with you. In your Son's name I pray, Amen.

In Christ,


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

We Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins

Last week, I jokingly called the last paragraph of the Apostles' Creed a "junk drawer." You know, that drawer in your kitchen or bedroom that you just throw everything that doesn't fit anywhere else in. The first two paragraphs talk about God and Jesus in excellent detail and description, but the last paragraph simply "throws in" a bunch of other beliefs:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic (universal) church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

This past Sunday, though, we determined together that this is not just the junk drawer of the Apostles' Creed. These last few sentences contain such rich beliefs, though, that they deserve some more attention.

So, this week, we come to the statement "(we believe in) the forgiveness of sins." Not coincidentally, we focused on forgiveness as we explored the Lord's Prayer as well. And here it is again. Forgiveness is so essential to our Christian values and beliefs, that it shows up in almost every statement of belief we have (we confess our sins and seek pardon from God, too, when we gather for Holy Communion).

God is not the only one doing the forgiving; we could be forgiving each other, too.

To help guide our focus on forgiveness, read  Romans 5: 12-21 and Matthew 5: 38-48

And remember, the Lord's Prayer says:

Forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us

Likewise, if we believe in the forgiveness of sins, we have the opportunity to treat one another as forgiven people. God uses us to be the hands and feet of God in the world; God could be using you to forgive someone else!

I like to look at this last paragraph of the Apostles' Creed as a sort of staircase. The Holy Spirit has given birth to the Church, so the Church can be the entity in which we commune, receive forgiveness, and ultimately have our lives transformed and receive eternal life. All of these beliefs work together that way, and the Church is where/how it happens.

Now I don't mean the physical church building, but we receive things from God through the Holy Spirit. This happens relationally with God and others as we seek God together.

And forgiveness has so much to do with this. We are not perfect, and God loves us anyway. We can treat each other that way, too. Let's be the Church, practicing forgiveness...with God's help,

To read my previous post on Forgiveness, click here

In Christ,



You who are over us,
You who was one of us,
You who are:
    Give me a pure heart, that I may see you;
             a humble heart, that I may hear you;
             a heart of love, that I may serve you;
             and a heart of faith, that I may abide in you. Amen.

* Adapted from the United Methodist Hymnal, 392.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

We Believe in the Holy Spirit

Through the first two weeks, we have focused on what we mean when we say "I believe in God" and "I believe in Jesus Christ." This week, we turn our focus to the Holy Spirit. This hymn, "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine," is a great one of praise and prayer to the Holy Spirit. Take a moment to consider and reflect on the words of this hymn

Holy Spirit, Truth divine,
dawn upon this soul of mine;
Word of God and inward light,
wake my spirit, clear my sight.

Holy Spirit, Love divine,
glow within this heart of mine;
kindle every high desire;
perish self in thy pure fire.

Holy Spirit, Power divine,
fill and nerve this will of mine;
grant that I may strongly live,
bravely bear, and nobly strive.

Holy Spirit, Right divine,
King within my conscience reign;
be my Lord, and I shall be
firmly bound, forever free

I love this hymn because it talks about who the Holy Spirit is (Word of God and inward light, King within my conscience) and it prays to the Holy Spirit (wake my spirit, clear my sight, kindle every high desire, fill and nerve this will of mine, be my Lord). Finally, it declares our relationship to God through the Holy Spirit...that we may be firmly bound forever.

Another hymn that I love is "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," which says: There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place, and I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord." This is a popular hymn in United Methodist Churches, and its writer was Doris Mae Akers. She was a choir director, and here is some of her story, as told by author Lindsay Terry:

"[S]he related to me that one Sunday morning in 1962, while directing the Sky Pilot Choir, she said to her singers, 'You are not ready to go in.' She didn’t believe they had prayed enough! They were accustomed to spending time with her in prayer before the service, asking God to bless their songs. She said, 'I feel that prayer is more important than great voices.' They had already prayed, but this particular morning she asked them to pray again, and they did so with renewed fervor.

"As they prayed, Doris began to wonder how she could stop this wonderful prayer meeting. She said, 'I sent word to the pastor letting him know what was happening. He was waiting in the auditorium, wanting to start the service. Finally, I was compelled to say to the choir, We have to go. I hate to leave this room and I know you hate to leave, but you know we do have to go to the service. But there is such a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.'"

May this sweet, sweet Spirit, who lights your path, kindles your passions, fills you, and is your Lord, be with you now and always.

In Christ,


"Holy Spirit, Truth Divine, United Methodist Hymnal, 465

Doris Mae Akers, http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-sweet-sweet-spirit