Vision 20/20 Church: Thyatira

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:18-29.

Devotion Focus: Ephesians 2:1-10.

What is a toddler’s favorite word? Statement? Question? Demand!?

(say it with me!)

Why!?

It is fitting to answer that question in context this week. Why are the people called Methodists called to the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? Why are the people called Methodist living out our of love God through our love of others?

Why? Because – deep within our hearts – the Spirit of the Living God is stirring an ever-greater awareness of humanity’s need for divine grace. And we, fellow friends and Methodists, can and are called to be the vessels that pour out grace upon grace to answer humanity’s need.

All humanity is created in the imago Dei – the image of God. Because of Original Sin humanity fell away from the imago dei. It is only by God’s grace that we will recover the image of God in which we were made. Living in God’s grace necessarily draws us to live in accordance with God’s will.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, understood God’s grace acting upon an individual and an individual responding to God’s grace in a participatory manner writing, “God does not continue to act upon the soul, unless the soul reacts upon God.”*

When an individual first experiences God’s prevenient grace – that grace that goes before us – he or she has the choice to either accept or deny God’s grace because, for Wesley, grace never compels.  Wesley believed that until a person responded to God’s grace, he or she “remains a willing servant of sin, content with the bondage of corruption; inwardly and outwardly unholy.”** Nevertheless, through grace, “God touches the heart of him [her] that lay asleep in [the] darkness” that is sin.*** The sleeper cannot awaken him or herself, but once awakened, the sleeper can cry out to God for salvation. This ‘crying out’ is the soul reacting upon God – this ‘crying out’ is the soul responding to God’s prevenient grace.

Justifying grace follows prevenient grace. Whereas prevenient grace stirs the “sleeping” sinner, in justification – which, for Wesley was a ‘double-moment’ of justification and regeneration – we are, in the same instant – made right and made new before God.  Wesley writes, “God in justifying us does something for us: in begetting us again (regeneration) he does the work in us”…justification takes away “the guilt of sin” whereas regeneration takes away “the power of sin.”****

Though justified and regenerated, individuals are susceptible to “backsliding” into sin. As Wesley conceives, Original Sin leads to actual sin, which has two branches: outward sin and inward sin. Outward sin is the sin physically committed, whereas inward sin is the inclination or disposition to sin. Inward sin is not a loss of faith, but outward sin is because committing outward sin does not yield the fruits of faith. Being made new through regeneration breaks the power of sin and causes an inward, spiritual change, which necessarily fragments the link between inward inclinations resulting in outward sins.

God’s sanctifying grace is the grace that draws us towards holiness throughout our life. Sanctification saves an individual from the “power and root of sin and restores [him or her] to the image of God.”***** While we seek complete restoration to the imago dei by way of entire sanctification, Wesley prescribes we wait in and be strengthened by the means of grace – those “outward signs, words or actions ordained by God to be the ordinary channels whereby [God] might convey to [all] preventing, justifying or sanctifying grace.”****** Chief among the means of grace are prayer, searching the Scriptures, and receiving the Lord’s Supper as they are attested to in Scripture; however, these are only the ordinary means of grace meaning that God still speaks and encounters individuals in extraordinary ways.

I am convinced I have experienced God’s grace through hearing Widor’s Toccata, through eating a piece of fried catfish at a church fundraiser, and through assuring a young girl that her infant sister was indeed – at that very moment – in Jesus’ arms.

As United Methodists – as members of Christ’s universal church and “in the midst of a sinful world – through the grace of God, we are brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. We become aware of the presence and life-giving power of God’s Holy Spirit…As servants of Christ we are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. We seek to reveal the love of God for men, women, and children of all ethnic, racial, cultural, and national backgrounds and to demonstrate the healing power of the gospel with those who suffer” (¶124 BOD 2016).

We work out our salvation through and because of the moments of prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. Through participating in this process – this way of grace with God – we are fully restored to the imago dei. By living in response to what God has done for us through this process – in reponse to what God has done for us through grace! – we alert those around us to their need for divine grace. It’s is God’s desire and dream that our message and witness be one of hope rather than condemnation. What God has done and is doing for us, God will and desires to do for others. It is our privilege and pleasure to join God in God’s grace-filled literal life-saving work.

Prayer: “I come with joy to meet my Lord, forgiven, loved and free, in awe and wonder to recall his life laid down for me, his life laid down for me. As Christ breaks bread and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now are friends, and strangers now are friends.”*******

*“The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God,” John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology,  III.3.

** Ibid., I.7.

*** Ibid., II.1.

**** Ibid., Number 2.

***** “On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, II.2.

****** “The Means of Grace,” John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, II.1.

******* “I Come With Joy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 617.

Vision 20/20 Church: Pergamum

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:12-17.

Devotion Focus ~ Matthew 6:5-15.

At the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes care to teach on prayer, providing clear and specific instructions that shape both the disciple’s practice of prayer and the disciple’s heart that offers the prayer.

First – prayer is not an attention-seeking behavior. Prayer is a behavior for seeking the holy, which is accomplished in humility rather than in show.

Second – prayer is to be done in secret. Secret comes from the Greek word kruptos meaning ‘concealed so as to not be made known.’ And yet our God says through prayer in secret God will make the concealed known – God will make Godself known to the one that draws away in prayer. Jesus says in Matthew 10:26, “So have no fear of (coming persecutions); for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” This uncovering – this revealing and making known – displays the power of Almighty God.

Third – prayer is not a floor exercise of thesaurus-al and syntax-ical gymnastics. (Neither should that last sentence have been, if I am honest!) In prayer, speak plainly. As Jesus reminds us, God already knows what we need before we ask.

Fourth – prepared now to pray, we are to pray this way:

  1. Name God and our relationship with God – Father, our Father
  2. Articulate our understanding of God’s preferred future – Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
  3. Ask our petitions – which recognize God as the wellspring of our resources and our redemption – Give us this day our daily bread / forgive us our trespasses

So be it – which is the translation of the word Amen.

This prescription for prayer is quite purposeful. It serves as a guide and as an accountability check. Here Jesus speaks plainly to us about how we should prepare for prayer, offer our prayer, and speak plainly to God in prayer. If we get off track, Jesus’ words are once again our plumb line so that we can come back into proper alignment with God.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, in a similar fashion, articulates our process – dare I say method!? – a for carrying out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In a way, this particular prescription serves as a United Methodist plumb line to both guide and align – check and balance – that we are attending to the work of God before us in ways that are becoming of the gospel as well as embodying our United Methodist history, theology, and polity.

We make disciples as we:

Proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome, and gather persons into the body of Christ;

Lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ;

Nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing;

Send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and

Continue the mission of seeking, welcoming, and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.

(¶122 BOD 2016).

Take note that it says what we are to do, but not always how we are to do it. I find this to be both liberating and infuriating. This is our invitation to discernment with God’s Holy Spirit. God has set us this task and by assessing and accessing individual and collective skills, disciple-making will occur. What sets this process into motion is our making ourselves available to be used by God – is our response to God’s Spirit stirring our hearts and then committing to do something about it.

I am also comforted that disciple-making occurs without us, even, at times, in spite of us if we are really in a spiritually-mutinous season. This truth does not mean that we should not try. This truth means that while we are invited to join God’s work that accomplishing God’s work is not solely dependent on us.

God is moving. God is speaking. God is saving. You. Me. All. I believe deeply that everything we do as the Church is about and should promote the Kingdom. If it is about and does promote the Kingdom, then we will and should keep doing it to the health and growth of God’s reign on earth. If it doesn’t, then we need to stop it or modify it until it does. Because friends – because Church – the Kingdom has had to wait long enough.

Prayer: “Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere; open my heart and let me prepare love with thy children thus to share. Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!”* Amen.

*”Open My Eyes That I May See,” The United Methodist Hymnal 454.

Vision 20/20 Church: Smyrna

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:8-11.

Devotion Focus ~ Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 22:37 and 39.

The United Methodist Church draws upon two passages of Scripture as the rational for our shared mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are united under Jesus’ Great Commission as we fulfill Jesus’ Greatest Commandment.

Matthew’s Gospel concludes with Jesus saying to the disciples, “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Of greatest importance is that Jesus’ disciples then – as well as Jesus’ disciples now – teach all people to love God with all that they are – with the entirety of their minds, hearts, souls, and strengths – and to love others as they love themselves. Jesus learned this lesson of loving God and neighbor from the Levitical or Priestly Code. Later the Apostle of James, believed to be the brother of Jesus, would call this teaching The Royal Law and thereby reference Jesus as living and reigning King. Our King lived by this law, and we – the persons in his Kingdom – should likewise live by the same standard.

United Methodists believe that we appropriately and rightly live out our love of God through our love of neighbor. In doing so we join with others in seeking the fulfillment of the reign of God in the world. We also affirm that as we are about the business of loving God through our love of neighbor that we do so with greatest respect. “As we make disciples, we respect persons of all religious faiths and we defend religious freedom for all persons” (¶121 BOD 2016). God created each of us. God claims all people as God’s children and desires relationships with us. As children of God, all people and their beliefs are of value. God’s children have developed into different cultures, traditions, and beliefs; one groups is not created holier than another, though at times individuals and religious groups perpetuate this understanding.

Our Social Principles – while not church law – “are considered a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference (the official voice and governing body of The United Methodist Church) to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation” state that United Methodists “deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation” (¶Preface Social Principles and ¶162 BOD 2016). United Methodists hold fast and deeply to the inherent dignity of all persons, and so in love, we apply ourselves to the work of “recognizing and protecting the universal, indivisible, and inalienable rights” of all persons (¶162 BOD 2016).

We are the truest version of Church when we apply ourselves to the work of transforming the world by making disciples through sharing about and serving to multiply God’s great love. This work takes many visible forms. Sometimes it is writing a letter to a lawmaker. Sometimes it is visiting someone sick or recovering. Sometimes it is inviting a friend or family member to worship. Sometimes it is stopping to lend a helping hand or to prepare a meal.

Every time we do this work, we are drawing near what is holy. Every time we lean into and live out God’s love through our lives, we – the Church – help make the Kingdom of God a bit more visible…a bit more real.

Prayer: “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty; let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us; sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.”* Amen.

*“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 519.

 

Vision 20/20 Church: Ephesus

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 2:1-7.

Devotion Focus ~ Matthew 16:17-19.

South Shore’s opening sermon series for the New Year is “Vision 20/20 Church.” For the next seven weeks we will study The Seven Letters to Seven Churches found in Revelation. We will learn from their experiences and practices of church as we attend to the work of reframing and refining our experiences and practices of church.

Through this sermon series, the invitation before us – which is both important and timely! – is to

  1. Look at our practices of church through the eyes of Christ
  2. Process what we observe through the mind of Christ, so that
  3. We will see the vision God is revealing for our church.

Each week of our “Vision 20/20 Church” Series, I will share a devotion focus that lifts up both a Scripture text and a learning from The United Methodist Book of Discipline, which is our book of church governance and order. This book organizes and guides the service we provide as the people called Methodist in the Body of Christ.

In these verses from Matthew 16, Jesus tells Peter that on his shoulders, his name, his legacy, Christ’s church will be built. Wow! What a tall order. And Jesus shares this news with Peter at Caesarea Philippi, which still stands today, as one of the most monolithic sites of pagan worship in the world. Before this towering rock face – complete with idols and statues to foreign gods and even what those in Biblical Israel considered the very mouth of the underworld – Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ – not any of the present idols, but Jesus! – and Jesus confesses Peter as the bedrock of the church – the church which continues in and through us today.

This is one of Peter’s shining moments…but we know that not all his moments were shining. Peter walked with Jesus; he also walked away from Jesus. Peter defended Jesus; he also denied Jesus. Peter pledged his love and fidelity to Jesus and his mission; still, there were moments where his heart, spirit, and faithfulness waivered. Even so, on him and others like him, the church was and is built.

I take courage from the witness of Peter. The church is not made up of perfect people. Neither does the church demand perfection. The church welcomes people that share a desire to be a new creation, to be students and followers of Jesus – which is the definition of a disciple! By being a new creation, by following the teachings of Jesus, by pursuing the heart of his mission in the world, we are transformed. And when we are transformed, we believe that the world is transformed.

God told the Apostle Paul that God’s power is made perfect through weakness (II Cor 12:9a). Our imperfections could definitely be understood as weakness; they can also be understood as a way for God’s power to be displayed through us. When we overcome a weakness, surpass a shortcoming, and especially celebrate forgiveness of sin, let us first and foremost point to and give glory to God for the work God has done and is doing in us, through us, and because of us. This is why Paul said, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (II Cor 12:9b-10). Paul shares this good word in the context of the church at Corinth, which Scripture tells us was made up of a people far from perfect. And yet they gathered together in order to learn and to become more Christ-like. From this and other New Testament witnesses The United Methodist Church draws our learning that the “local church [and extension ministries of the local church] are the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs” (¶120 BOD 2016). It is in the local church that strength is made perfect in weakness and the imperfect is drawn towards perfection through the power of God in Jesus Christ.

At South Shore UMC we worship. We fellowship. We disciple. And I truly believe that each of these, our practices, will be further strengthened in their presence and witness when we align them in response to fulfilling a need in the Kingdom:

  • When we align them in response to bridging a gap in our community
  • When we align them in response to something that breaks God’s heart breaking our own hearts.

I am hopeful for this work of visioning for South Shore UMC in 2020. It will be the result of our church family praying, listening, serving, and seeing together. And we can do this work. Everything we need to do this work we already have. And best of all, friends, God is with us.

God is with us. Emmanuel.

 Prayer: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu, alleluia!”* Amen.

*“Seek Ye First,” The United Methodist Hymnal 405.

20 in 2020

New Year’s Day Scripture ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-11.

“For everything there is a season, a time for everything under heaven,” writes Ecclesiastes. As we celebrate the new year, we look to the new year with hope.

I am a goal-oriented individual and so I prepared 20 for 2020. These goals address my whole person – physical, emotional, nutritional, relational, financial, familial, experiential, educational, and spiritual. This list is ambitious and I believe I am up for it.

Often I say, “How is it already (insert a day of the week or month of the year)!?” and then accompany that statement with a sigh. By framing my year in terms of these goals I hope I will say “Wow!” instead of “How!?” as a result of time well invested in the pursuit of the goals below.

I may not complete them all; they are not just “to do’s” to be transformed into “ta da’s.” They are invitations for me to more intentionally be – and hopefully be better.

20 for 2020

  1. Complete 20 consecutive chatarunga push-ups
  2. Read 20 new books
  3. Listen to 20 new artists
  4. Attempt 20 new recipes
  5. Drink (at least) 20 ounces of water per day
  6. Asana in 20 yoga classes
  7. Enjoy 20 coffee dates
  8. Volunteer 20 hours
  9. Watch 20 documentaries
  10. Support 20 local causes
  11. Learn from 20 experiences of truth-telling
  12. Identify 20 formational passages of Scripture
  13. Intentionally opt outside 20 minutes a week
  14. Engage 20 opportunities that push me out of my comfort zone
  15. Take 20 trips to the library with Joshua
  16. Reduce my wardrobe by 20 percent
  17. Incorporate 20 conversational Spanish phrases into my vocabulary
  18. Adopt 20 environmentally conscious living practices
  19. Connect with 20 new people
  20. Articulate 20 new hopes

What are your hopes, resolutions, or goals for the new year? Share them with a loved one and start pursuing them!

Happy New Year, Friends! Join us for worship this week. We return to our regular worship times – 8:30am Traditional and 11:00am Contemporary. We welcome Ms. Samantha Aupperlee in worship leadership. Samantha is a third-year Master’s of Divinity candidate at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Thank you, Samantha, for your service with the South Shore UMC Family this Sunday!

Prayer: “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning, born of the one light Eden saw play. 
Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s re-creation of the new day.”* Amen.

*”Morning Has Broken,” The United Methodist Hymnal 145.