Commitment and Conviction: Sanctification

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Thessalonians 2:13-15.

This past week I had the opportunity to gather for prayer with a group of the South Shore youth before they left for their summer camp experience. They were fully equipped for camp – pillows, donuts, energy drinks, and portable chargers for all.the.devices.

(Let us pray…for their leaders!)

Before leaving the youth leader, Toni, invited the students to sit to review their covenant for their trip together one final time so that everyone was on the same page as far as behavior expectations and accountability.

I submit to you – some of the language and expectations in that document strengthened – a.lot. – from previous iterations.

Why? Because of me.

I could tell some of the students had their feathers ruffled…and so I quickly identified myself as the source of the updated behavior expectations and accountability. In fact, I congratulated the students on being the first group at South Shore to live into new behavior expectations and accountability in our shared ministry together!

They thanked me…? Kinda?

At the end of my conversation with the students I referenced a grout line on the floor of the hospitality area, saying that once they crossed that threshold they would be “going onto perfection” within the boundaries of their new behavior expectations and accountability. One of the adult leaders was already on the other side of that grout line – I affirmed that Jeremy was already before them a shining example of going onto perfection!

They laughed. Heartily!

(I feel like they know something I don’t…!?)

“Going onto perfection” is the work of Sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we are made holy. We are made holy through our relationship with and experiences of God.

John Wesley uses beautiful imagery of the breath in describing how our souls act and react with God as we are made holy. He writes, “God’s breathing into the soul, and the soul’s breathing back what it first receives from God; a continual action of God upon the soul, and re-action of the soul upon God; an unceasing presence of God, the loving, pardoning God, manifested in the heart, and perceived by faith; and an unceasing return of love, praise, and prayer, offering up all the thoughts of our hearts, all the words of our tongues, all the works of our hands, all our body, soul, and spirit, to be [a] holy sacrifice, acceptable to God in Christ Jesus. And hence we [may infer] the absolute necessity of this re-action of the soul (whatsoever it be called) in order to the continuance of the divine life therein. For it plainly appears God does not continue to act upon the soul unless the soul re-acts upon God” (The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God III. 2 and 3).

As we grow in our relationships with God and experience God we are continually introduced to greater depths of our covenant with God. This necessarily means that we are also held to higher behavioral expectations and accountabilities as God’s Spirit wholy and holy transforms us into the people that God desires us to be. As I mentioned last Sunday, sometimes this gets under my skin…ruffles my feathers. It is in those moments I am called to meet God in the quiet to share my heart…and ultimately receive God’s heart for that moment and season in my life.

Wesley believed that when we achieved perfection – achieved entire Sanctification – that we would inhale God’s love and exhale God’s praise – in all times in all places with all peoples. That is a goal of mine. Sanctification has the trajectory of my life and my life of faith coursed in that direction.

I am so grateful. I am going onto perfection.

Prayer: “Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure-store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.”* Amen.

*”Take My Life, And Let It Be,” The United Methodist Hymnal 399.

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Lessons in Leadership: You Are That Man

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Samuel 11:26-12:13a.

The story of David and Bathsheba is a story of uncontrolled lust.

Lust is not just an intense desire in the body; it is also a strong passion for something that does not belong to oneself. That which we lust after is something that must be learned, experienced, or acquired. It could be a lust for knowledge, laziness, or food. It could be a lust for power, pleasure, or possessions.

When we lust we do not think rationally. We are immune to counsel. We are driven by appetites that demand to be fulfilled – even if fulfilling them results in our own detriment or the detriment of others.

I believe we can all relate to struggles with lust; it is part of the human condition. We have experienced (or are experiencing) lust running rampant through exuberant eating or spending; through the pursuit of perfection; through judgment, promiscuity, or keeping up with the Jones. Likewise, we have been exposed (or are being exposed) to offerings of wisdom, arguments, and counsel from God, others, and our own selves in the midst of our struggles with lust.

At times, we have accepted.

At others, rejected.

That which we lust over – and may eventually achieve – does not satisfy. When our lust runs rampant, we are not the only ones that suffer. We may be oblivious to the suffering we cause because we are so consumed by our lust; even worse, we may turn a blind eye to the suffering or claim ignorance so we can persist in the enmeshment of our desire.

When lust runs rampant we harm

  • Those whom we share relationship,
  • Those who could benefit from the resources and assets (presence, time, funds, effort, and passions) we pour into our obsessions,
  • Those we use and abuse to achieve our own ends,
  • And last, but certainly not least, we harm our relationship with God as the items, persons, and/or pursuits of our lusts become idols that we seek to worship and serve.

The work of the ever-maturing child of God is to interrupt and disconnect from our lustful appetites. John Wesley, the founder of the people called Methodist, offers a method to do just that.

Wesley understands all Sin as having two components – inward and outward. Inward sin is not a loss of faith whereas Outward sin is. Lust begins as Inward sin; lust begins in thoughts alone. Wesley argues that these thoughts alone are not sinful, but actualizing them – acting them out, moving them from the abstract to the concrete, incarnating them from the ideal to the real – that is the sin. And Outward sin is a loss of faith.

We are all sinners. We have all “fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We have all experienced losses of faith.

We are also redeemed by God’s grace. We are all “justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). By God’s grace in justification we, who are sinners, are declared righteous before God. By God’s grace the power of sin over individuals breaks, causing an inward spiritual change that interrupts and disconnects the link between inward inclinations resulting in outward sins.

Our challenge – our invitation – is to growth in God’s grace and to seek the interruptions to and disconnections from lust. This happens through prayer, through being held accountable, and through implementing boundaries in your life that guard your heart from lust(s) and keep your heart attuned to God.

This work is needful. This work is on-going. This work is essential to our development as disciples.

Prayer: “Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Just as I am, thy love unknown  hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”* Amen.

*”Just As I Am, Without One Plea,” The United Methodist Hymnal 357.

Jesus Said What!? ~ You Must Be Perfect

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 5:43-48.

Last week in Tuskawilla’s 11:00 Worship Service I referenced Wesley’s Historic Questions which are asked of those persons being ordained since the beginning of Methodism. There are 19 questions in all and they are all structured on a version of the verb form “to be” – Have you, Are you, Do you, and Will you? Questions structured on a version of the verb form “to be” have two possible answers – yes or no.

(And if your discernment and desire is to be ordained, your answer is yes – to all 19.)

The second of John Wesley’s Historic Questions shows he is batting for the fences. He wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter:

2. Are you going onto perfection?

Which is followed in the next breath:

3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?

And given that the answers to 2. and 3. are both yes, he rounds out with:

4. Are you earnestly striving after it?

I answered yes to these three questions (and the other 16 as well!) before the entire Annual Conference the day before my ordination. I answered sincerely and confidently. I do believe I am going onto perfection. I do expect to be made perfect in love in this life. And I am earnestly striving after it.

At the heart of these questions for John Wesley is the work of sanctification – the work of being made holy – the work of recovering and restoring the image in which we were created – which is the image of God – which is perfect.

Sanctification is not a matter of works righteousness. We cannot work ourselves to righteousness through the acts that we do, the words that we say, or the money that we give. Titus 3:4-7 says, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Because God acted on our behalf, we are able to act in response to God’s grace and with God’s help so recover and restore the image in which we were created. 

Through sanctification we go onto perfection – we are made perfect in love in this life. This perfection does not mean that we will not make mistakes or have weaknesses that cause us to backslide – meaning revert to behaviors before or early on in our relationship with Christ prior to our maturing in faith. Rather, Wesley understood this perfection to mean a continual process of perfecting our love for God and neighbor by reducing – and ultimately removing – our desire to sin. When sin does not have a hold on us, we are free to love as God intended – love God first and love neighbor second, and then all else in the world will fall into place by keeping these two at our forefront.

Are you going onto perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Are you earnestly striving after it? Share how you are earnestly striving after it with someone this week. I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Prayer: “Take time to be holy, let him be thy guide, and run not before him, whatever betide. In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord, and, looking to Jesus, still trust in his word.”* Amen.

*”Take Time to Be Holy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 395.

 

Vital Elements of Worship: Wash Your Hands

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:4-11.

During my hospital chaplaincy internship I encountered (and sometimes endured) a variety of different experiences. From late night pages to the Emergency Room to early morning chats with Food Service employees, from wandering the halls of the ICU *literally* watching the eyes of Jesus follow me to watching life-flight helicopters transport persons from one hospital to another. I learned so much about humility and humanity. I learned when it was better to speak and better to remain silent. I experienced joy and sorrow and pink eye.

That’s right. Pink eye.

My brother had pink eye several times growing up, but I eluded its havoc until my chaplaincy internship. I remember sitting in urgent care and asking the physician how I contracted pink eye; I consider myself a generally healthy person. “Probably,” he said, “because you touched a door handle at the hospital and then touched your face. The person that touched the handle before you likely had germs on their hands that developed into conjunctivitis for you.

How kind.

By the end of my internship I knew the location of every automatic door in the hospitals. I opened doors with my hips and elbows like a champ! Having come out of “the valley of the shadow of pink eye” I was not taking any chances on a repeat visit.

As I think back on this experience, I am struck by the fact that perhaps I would not have contracted pink eye if someone else had taken the time to wash their hands. Hospitals have hand sanitizers and sinks all over! And yet maybe someone thought they would skip that stop at the sink or dispenser just that once…

And then God – as God usually does – turned this situation on me – and I began to think about all of the times that I “skip a stop” or activity or gesture that would make the path of the person coming behind me easier. It could be picking up a piece of trash so that someone else does not have to see it or do it. It could be stopping to write a quick note or text message to someone that has been on my heart. It could be taking the time to complete a chore that needs to be done that is not necessarily on my plate, but on the plate of someone I love.

If I take time for these small, simple gestures I believe God’s care and generosity shows through my action. And if we each took time – made time – for small, simple gestures so that God’s care and generosity shows through all of us – what a wonderful world it would be.

What might those small, simple actions be for you this week? In his teaching with the Early Methodists John Wesley established Three General Rules to guide the life and practice of faith for the people called Methodist. Wesley invited people to consider how (if) their thoughts, words, and/or deeds upheld the following:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Attend upon the ordinances of God through prayer, the searching of Holy Scripture, and receiving the sacraments.

I invite you to take time this week to consider how your thoughts, words, and deeds uphold Wesley’s General Rules. How are your decisions leading you to do no harm, do good, and attend upon the ordinances of God? How are you creating space for the necessary and needful stops along the way to make the path easier for persons coming after you?

How many times have you washed your hands today? (*wink*) 

Prayer: “I am thine, O Lord, I have heard thy voice, and it told thy love to me; but I long to rise in the arms of faith and be closer drawn to thee. Consecrate me now to thy service, Lord, by the power of grace divine; let my soul look up with a steadfast hope, and my will be lost in thine. Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to the cross where thou hast died. Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to thy precious, bleeding side.”* Amen.

*”I Am Thine, O Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal 419.

 

Mountain Meditation: The Narrow Gate

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 7:13-14.

Early on in my undergraduate studies my professors taught me that every one is a theologian; each individual person is engaged in the work and study of God. Theologians like Karl Barth and Paul Tillich were known to recommend doing the work of theology with a Bible before you, a pint in one hand, and a newspaper in the other. With this recommendation came the understanding that theology was – and is – meant to be lived. We do not practice theology or grow in our study and understanding of God in isolated laboratories. We enter a certain space week after week for concentrated exposure to theology and as we leave, it is not as if we place our work on hold to be picked up again the next week. We are meant to carry what we have learned, what we have seen, what we have felt in worship into the world with us to see how it carries, how it sustains, to determine whether or not what we have ahold of is the wheat or the chaff.

A question of theology that comes up with regularity is the question of pre-destination – does God predestine some people for exaltation and others for condemnation? A person could read any number of texts from Scripture – including our passage for this week – and answer the question of pre-destination in the affirmative. But does God really?

“Pastor Sarah, what do you think?”

The doctrine of pre-destination states that God has selected some for exaltation in glory and others for condemnation in eternity. The doctrine states that God has this decision made from the outset of time, that our works can neither argue our case for the better or deteriorate our position for the worst. If this doctrine holds, it smacks up against the understanding that we (humanity) have free will; are our choices really our own – really free – if God has pre-destined everything?

United Methodist Theology – based upon the sermons, journals, and speeches of John Wesley – does not ascribe to the belief of pre-destination. Now, John Wesley was a theologian and a cracking preacher, but he was not a systemitician – a person that constructs a rational or coherent system of thought. While some theologians spent a bulk of their work articulating their understandings of the foundations of the earth, which then connected to their understandings of the foundation of faith, Wesley accepted work from fellow theologians as his starting place and continued the dialogue in agreement with or resistance to that theological thought.

Wesley strongly believed that humanity has free will – that we are free to choose or refuse the gift of God’s grace – and that God’s grace would not be forced upon us because then it would not be a gift. Wesley also strongly believed in the benevolence of God; therefore, in his thought, there was no way that God would choose some for exaltation and others for condemnation. Wesley believed all humanity would be held accountable for our actions before God and that because of God’s grace we would be able – and strengthened – to stand on the day of judgment.

Theologians after Wesley’s day continued the quest to offer a response (resistance) to the doctrine of pre-destination. The response that settled in my heart is this one – that God chooses all people for exaltation and chooses sin of condemnation. “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21). The Ecumenical Apostles’ Creed includes that Jesus “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.” When Jesus descended to the dead, he descended to conquer sin, and to conquer the consequence of sin, which is death. His rising on the third day shows his triumph over what humanity thought was our ultimate defeat, and in rising, Jesus secures hope of resurrection for all that died before and will die after him.

I believe we have free will. I believe it is our choice to follow Jesus through the narrow gate and up the path that is beyond it. I believe God holds us accountable for our words, signs, and deeds. I believe God’s grace emboldens and redeems. I have seen and continue to see evidence of this in my life – my Bible before me, a news source in one hand, and a pint of coffee in the other.

How have you experienced your faith intersecting with your daily life? How do you consider yourself a theologian and apply yourself to the work and study of God?

Prayer: “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it, mount of God’s redeeming love.”* Amen.

*”Come, Thou Fount,” The United Methodist Hymnal 400.

Messiah: O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 40:9 and 60:1.

The older I become, the more of an early riser God invites me to be. I used to fight it, but now I am in the acceptance phase.

I used to think if I woke up early, I could go back to sleep – eek out a few more minutes – and then I would wake fully rested.

Wrong.

That method actually makes me (makes everyone?) more groggy. So no more fighting – and no more alarm clock setting. I wake up – I get up. No matter the time – no hitting the snooze.

I arise.

I spend intentional time in the morning greeting God for the day ahead. This usually involves scrolling through headlines and checking messages received overnight. Then I turn to my calendar to see where – and in who – I will meet God that day. Some days are planned to the minute while others are wide open and ready to surprise. And in the quiet of the morning – knowing a little or a lot of what has happened over night or what will happen in the hours before me – I am thankful. For God. For my relationship with God. For God’s good news that I have received. And for the opportunity to share God’s good news in the new day.

Each time I have heard Rev. Adam Hamilton speak he shares (reminds) his listeners that he begins each day praying a version of John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer that reads

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee.
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.*

In the early hours of each day Hamilton once again offers his life to God in response to God offering that day to him. What a gift! And it is the same gift that God gives to each of us.

I have heard it said, Each day is a gift- that is why we call it the present. So then, what will you do with the gift of today? Tomorrow and the next?

How do you greet each day – are you eager to meet it or begrudgingly asking for five more minutes?

When do you acknowledge God in your day? What do you say? How do you act?

Consider these questions as you consider what offering you will make when you arise the remainder of this week.

With each new day God draws us further into his light and promise of salvation. What a gift! Arise each day – receive its gifting anew – and share it once more.

Prayer: Spend a few moments in silence and then offer Wesley’s Covenant Prayer.

*”A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition,” The United Methodist Hymnal 607.

Messiah: And He Shall Purify

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Malachi 3:1-3.

It is said that Martin Luther would offer a doctoral robe from the University of Wittenberg to anyone who could successfully reconcile the Apostle Paul’s salvation by faith alone with faith without works is dead from the Apostle James. From my studies of John Wesley I believe he deserves this robe! While he constantly preached salvation by faith alone, Wesley equally advised the need for works that signify an individual pursuing and maturing in the Christian lifestyle.

Wesley learned from a young age that works were needed alongside faith. His mother, Susanna, wrote about the faith development of John and his siblings in a letter she sent to her son:

The children of this family were taught, as soon as they could speak, the Lord’s Prayer…as they grew bigger, were added a short prayer for their parents, and some Collects; a short Catechism, and some portion of Scripture, as their memories could bear.*

Wesley continued his practice of Scripture study, prayer, and faithful conversation in small group and the assembly throughout his adult life. His devotive work – personal and communal – led him to regularly visiting prisons and hospitals and establishing literacy programs. Later Wesley impressed this lifestyle of faith – the combination of private devotion and active participation – upon the Early Methodists involved in classes and bands. Wesley defines these groups as communities “having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.”** We receive salvation from God and we work out our salvation with God. Wesley understood this to be the nature of salvation and how the people called Methodists mature in our faith.

The season of Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of our Lord and one way to prepare for Christ’s coming is to consider our place at the intersection of faith and works. How are you engaging in private devotion? How are you engaging in active participation? What do you receive from these works? How have these works matured your faith? Recalculating to the course of this intersection and/or continuing through this intersection leads us in the ways of holy living – in the ways of holiness. In working out the salvation we have received, we are made well; we are forgiven of our sins and purified in this life.

How will you prepare for Christ’s coming through your faith and works this week? How will you meet, love, and grow with your Savior at your intersection of faith and works?

Prayer: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand. Rank on rank the host of heaven spread its vanguard on the way, as the Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day, that the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.”*** Amen.

*Letter from Susanna Wesley to John Wesley, July 24, 1732.

**Albert Outler, John Wesley 178.

***”Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” The United Methodist Church 626.