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.

Jesus Said What!? ~ Let The Dead Bury Their Dead

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 9:57-62.

This Sunday the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins a new sermon series entitled Jesus Said What!? In this series we will study words of Jesus that are possibly lesser known to us and definitely a shock to our system. When I think of Jesus’ words, I think of words that are kind and hospitable; many of the passages we will study over the next two months are “a completely different animal” as my Gramps would say.

Let us remember that the words we have in Scripture circled for generations in oral tradition before they were written down. This fact troubles some folks; they question the truth of Scripture because it is a re-creation of these moments rather than an up-to-the-minute breaking-news account. In our world of 24-hour news media that provides instant gratification when we hunger for headlines, it is at times hard to accept how the Scripture we hold so dear came to be and came to us.

I believe the Bible is true because Scripture contains the word of God. Scripture reveals the actions of the Triune God as truth and is the foundation of our knowledge of God. Scripture proclaims Jesus as the Word of God – who was made incarnate in the world – in order to serve, teach, love and save humanity. Scripture is the means by which we encounter the Holy Spirit, who guides us in our service to others; service is our appropriate response to what the self-revealing God has done for us. Scripture proclaims that, through the mercy of God and the salvific death of Christ, humanity’s broken relationship with God is reconciled and restored.

The Holy Spirit’s movement in the lives of the biblical writers inspired and guided their writing. The Bible does not claim to be inerrant or require literal interpretation at all times; it is a human construction – inspired by the Holy Spirit – and it expresses the word of God in a variety of literary forms. I believe Scripture is not meant to function as a science textbook; it tells its readers the Who and the Why, not necessarily always the When and the How. Just as the Holy Spirit spoke to and guided the writers of Scripture I believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us through Scripture and shepherds us in interacting with Scripture in fresh ways.

Scripture continues to be relevant and true for us today. It serves as our primary source for theological reflection and study as we grow in our knowledge and love of God. It connects us to the history and faith of God’s people. It reveals to us the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as individuals and as the Church. It informs our response in service to the world in the manner of Christ.

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, “Take thy cross and follow, follow me.” Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him all the way. “.* Amen.

*“Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal 338.