Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Methodist Rejoices in God

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
on Five Marks of a Methodist, by Steve Harper
Mark #2 of 5, A Methodist Rejoices in God
With Philippians 4:4-13 and Exodus 15:1-18

Exodus 15:1-3 (CEB)
15 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
I will sing to the Lord, for an overflowing victory!
    Horse and rider he threw into the sea!
The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation
This is my God, whom I will praise,
    the God of my ancestors, whom I will acclaim.
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.

Two people were walking down a country road.
One said to the other “Ah, the king must be home!” 
“How do you know?” said the other. 
“The castle is all lit up.”
When God lives in you, your castle is lit up.
And that’s what this book is about,
Five Marks of a Methodist, by Steve Harper.
Five marks that indicate “the king is home”.

• Who are we, and what are we about,
John Wesley asked and taught 300 years ago.
For one, we are people who receive the love of God –
the first mark: A Methodist loves God.
And last week we considered how God seeks us,
how we love because God first loved us.
We are people who receive the love of God,
and therefore we are people who rejoice:
A Methodist rejoices in God.
Why do we rejoice? Because of the love of God.
Nehemiah 8:10
(Don’t be sad, because the joy from the Lord is your strength), 
Exodus 15:2 The Lord is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation.
This is my God, whom I will praise.
We rejoice because we’ve been unlovable,
we’ve done unloving things…yet God loves us.

• DISCUSS: How do you feel when you’re driving along and a police car turns behind you?
Suppose the police pull you over to inform you [there’s something wrong with your car]
How do you feel now? Relief. Release. Joy.
In Exodus reading it is the song that results from the Lord victorious. It is praise.
In Philippians, it is the nearness of the Lord, eradicating anxiety. It is belonging to God.
John Wesley writes that Joy flows from God. It begins in happiness, produces peace and love… no fear. Joy facilitates shalom.
And btw, you can have sadness and joy at the same time… deep and long confidence in God, in spite of present circumstances which may produce sadness.
• DISCUSS: What is *opposite* of joy?
Despair, complacence, boredom, fear, anxiety, dread, bondage, cop-in-the-mirror
Joy is response to Grace. A disciple rejoices because the prodigal son’s relationship is restored, because what was broken is made new. John Newton wrote I once was lost but now I’m found – rejoice! Charles Wesley wrote Amazing love, how can it be that Thou my God should die for me?!
It’s remembering Romans 5:8, that God proves his love in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us & for our salvation.
Read John Wesley’s journal after his Aldersgate experience:
In the evening I went unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, 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.

•A Methodist loves God, and a Methodist Rejoices in God.
The second mark of a Methodist is joy. The king is home, and the castle is lit up.
•If you are wondering about or lacking a sense of joy, read today’s readings.
Respond to God’s grace, plus think on these things.
Read today’s readings. Pray to know God’s reconciliation.
• Into Hymn 371 I Stand Amazed in the Presence

Philippians 4:4-13     (CEB)
Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, rejoice! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.
From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.

10 I was very glad in the Lord because now at last you have shown concern for me again. (Of course you were always concerned but had no way to show it.) 11 I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. 12 I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor.
13 I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Methodist Loves God

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
on Five Marks of a Methodist, by Steve Harper
Mark #1 of 5, A Methodist Loves God

1 John 4:7-12     (CEB)
Dear friends, let us love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.
11 Dear friends, since God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.

• “Five Marks of a Methodist” by Steve Harper (a UM pastor and seminary professor from Texas, now retired) is based on an essay written by John Wesley in 1742 (age 39) called The Character of a Methodist. JW wrote it for the strengthening of believers.
For the same reason I write a MidWeek Shout Out.
And for the same reason I offer daily Bible readings.
And the first point of the essay and of the book: A Methodist Loves God.
“The quality of love is based in the lover, not in the one being loved.” – p. 6
• Loving God is about God loving US.
God’s love for us is complete, unconditional. It is the love of the shepherd who will search and search and search for us.
It is Romans 5:8, God demonstrates his love for us in this:
while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
• Have you ever felt like God rejected you?
Like you’re not worthy of God’s love?
• Story of Maria searching for Christina (accessed online)
Story in a Max Lucado book: (not in this Steve Harper / John Wesley book)
Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, 15-yo Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a mattress on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janiero. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her own picture—taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note.
Maria didn’t find Christina, and it wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended a set of hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure mattress on the floor. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother! Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.”
And she did.
Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, Multnomah Press, 1986, pp. 158-9.

“Whatever you have done,
whatever you have become,
it doesn’t matter.
Please come home.”
Such is God’s love for us.
God’s love for us is not based on what we’ve done – good or bad – but on who we are and who God is, and God is good. Nothing we can do can separate us from God’s love for us.
•Today’s scriptures are about US loving God,
but this first chapter  and indeed this first point is that God loves us First.
God loves you first. God chooses you.
You hear me say it: “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it,”
but my saying it is a mere sliver of God’s BEING it.
GOD loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it!
•The first step in loving the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength
is receiving God’s love.
• God is the joy of our heart, and the desire of our soul,
which is constantly crying out,
“Whom have I in heaven but you?
   and there is none upon the earth that I desire but you!”
My God and my all!
You are the strength of my heart, and my portion forever!    -- John Wesley

• Into Hymn 408 The Gift of Love

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Extravagant Generosity

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
on Matthew 18:21-35

•This parable made me consider anew
the extravagant generosity of God.
•It starts off with Peter asking a question,
thinking 7x forgiveness is probably generous.
No, says Jesus, 77x.
It’s valid to read the Greek as 70x7 (490),
and based on the numbers in the parable, I favor 490.
•Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like this… a king went to settle accounts with his servants. Slaves. His staff, perhaps, managers of his affairs. One man owed him 10,000 “bags of gold” (in CEB. In Greek, “talents.” A rough estimation might be $3.12 billion. It’s not a payable debt. Jesus uses an astronomical number to demonstrate God’s extravagant generosity in forgiving such a debt.)
The king forgives the massive debt. The servant then imprisons a man who owes him “100 gold coins” – nothing to sneeze at, something like $8,000, but payable. ($8,000 compared to $3.12 billion is like one dollar to $40,000). And you know the story…
•It made me consider anew the extravagant generosity of God.
I ask myself “What is the cost of my sin, the weight of my sin?”
More than I can pay. More than I can lift.
My sin causes separation from God,
and on my own I can’t return, reconcile.
It’d be like trying to pay a billion dollar debt.
And God forgives me. You. Us.
How does that feel? Like a weight lifted.
It inspires joy, praise.
Know what else it should inspire? Forgiveness.
I am inspired to forgive because I’ve been forgiven.
I am inspired to be generous
because I’ve received from God’s extravagant generosity.
•Imagine living generously in spirit.
Generous in love, in forgiveness, in grace,
in attitude, in understanding.
Not living in conflict but in grace.
•Forgiveness inspires forgiveness.
Generosity inspires generosity. 
And we live in a world
that could use more forgiveness and generous living.
The opposite is also true:
Unforgiveness inspires same.
Stinginess does not inspire.
The world is a bitter place when blessed people don’t share.
•So live generous in spirit (and grace and attitude and understanding and patience and love, you get the picture)
because you’ve been extravagantly loved and forgiven
by a generous God.
• Into Hymn 206 I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light

Matthew 18:21-35       (CEB)
21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”
22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times. 23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold. 25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.
28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’
29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.
31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Sunday, July 5, 2015

I Pledge Allegiance...

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
with Galatians 3:1,13-14

• In the musical Les Miserables,
the main character Jean Valjean has a quandary.
He has a history that includes running from the law
(breaking probation), and he has since turned his life around, becoming a successful manufacturer.
But one day the law catches up with him… and is about to pin his history on an innocent man who looks like him.
“Who am I?” he sings. Can he sacrifice this man for his life?
Perhaps the old Jean Valjean could’ve. But not the new JV.
And the new JV identifies himself,
turning himself over to the custody of the law.
Jean Valjean did not “use his freedom to be an opportunity to indulge himself” (Gal 5:13)
but loved his neighbor as himself…(Gal 5:14)
• Lot of questions of identity the last few weeks as nation has dealt with issues of race and sexuality. Everybody has an opinion, and frequently, folks want to make their opinion known. Am I a liberal or a conservative, do I think the Confederate flag is a symbol of heritage or of hatred, do I think marriage equality is a sign of justice or a sign of a nation that’s turned its back on God? Does God’s favor rest on the US of A in particular or does God care for all nations (&creeds!) the same?
And when we share these opinions,
would we rather hear, or be heard?
Understand, or be understood?
• One way of evaluating or prioritizing our communications
is through our mission statement.
• I have a mission statement. INCH. To Illuminate, Nurture, and Celebrate Hope among the hopeless and the hopeful. This should inform everything I do, should influence every interaction I have with people.
Ask myself if what I’m doing or planning does anything to INCH.
• First Church has mission statement which should inform everything we do:
“To share the love of God with people in a hurting world.”
We need to always ask ourselves if what we’re doing or planning (worship, mission, fellowship, outreach) has anything to do with sharing love of God with people in a hurting world.
• The United Methodist Church has mission statement which should inform everything it does (everything we do):

“to make disciples of Jesus Christ 
for the transformation of the world.”

How are the things that we do as a church 
connected to this mission?
• Finally, Jesus had mission statements.
Well, reading the gospels you can pull a few statements out
that refer to why Jesus did what Jesus did:
-          Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17)
-          Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10)
-          Jesus came to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37)
-          Jesus came to minister to people, and give his life as a ransom (Matt 20:28)
-          Jesus came that we might have life abundant (John 10:10)
-          Jesus came that through him the world might be saved
(John 3:17)
• Jesus knew who he was, and why he was here.
It wasn’t to serve himself, but to serve others.
You and me and the world. And this is the gift of God.

• Into Celebration of Holy Communion

Galatians 5:1, 13-14       (CEB) 
1 Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again.
13 You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. 14 All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. [Lev 19:18]