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.

 

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God Never Said That: It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 119:65-72 and Romans 3:21-22.

A couple years ago my dear friend Kelsey asked me to guest lecture in her AP Human Geography class. Her students were working their way through a unit on the five major world religions and Kelsey asked me to come in to represent Christianity.

Woah.

And by the way, the class is 50 minutes long and please leave at least 15 minutes for questions and answers.

Double woah.

Knowing my audience (and time sensitivities!) I decided to make a Top Ten List to share with the students – a sort of cross between a countdown on a late night television show and “you might be a Christian if…” With the help of my friend Magrey, this is what I shared with the students:

YOU MIGHT BE A CHRISTIAN IF…

10. YOU HAVE A THING FOR TABLES – We are a table fellowship people. The table is a place of brokenness, connection, and blessing. We bring our brokenness caused by sin to the altar table, we seek connection with Christ, and we receive the blessings of forgiveness and grace.

9. YOU’RE RELATED TO MORE PEOPLE THAN KEVIN BACON – Our participation at the table connects us to Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims, through the ages as we all share a common lineage in Abraham. This connection also reveals a number of ways to practice the Christian faith. Perhaps a more accurate description is Christianitiesrather than Christianity.

8. YOU HAVE A THING FOR THE GAME SHOW “FAMILY FEUD” – Why are there Christianities? Because people – through the ages and in the present – that practice Christianity quarrel about interpretation of Scripture, application of Scripture, teachers of Scripture, and more. They fight and think they are more right…it is not that they leave the table, more like they declare their own section at the table. This kind of quarrel is at the root of the Catholic-Protestant split, and to some degree, is the root of why we have so many denominations.

7. YOU’RE THEOLOGICAL VOCABULARY INCLUDES THE WORD, “WHOOPSIE.”– Our Christian history is not full of warm and fuzzy events.

  • The Crusades – the Spanish Inquisition – many Nazis claimed Christianity – to just name a few. It is not just other faith traditions that invoke the right to land and secure their access of it through mass genocide…Christians do it, too.
  • We struggle with Sin and sins. Sin refers to the Fall – when humanity abused God’s good gift of free will – and sins refers to the act, word, or thought – whether of omission or commission – for which we will be held accountable before God.
  • Our bondage to sin ruptures our relationship with God, with one another, and with the rest of creation. We are incapable of breaking the power that sin holds over us. This is why Christ’s atoning death is so needful – his immeasurable gift of love through his atoning death frees us from sin’s bondage, which allows us to live in renewed relationship with God, with one another, and with creation.

6. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT MATH, PART I: 1+1=1 – Jesus is one person with two natures. He is fully human and fully divine. As fully human, he lived as we live and endured what we endured; as fully human Jesus is able to stand in humanity’s place and take the punishment for sin. As fully divine, Jesus as God incarnate is able to save humanity from our condemned state and break the power sin has over us.

5. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT BIOLOGY, TOO – We believe in the resurrection of Christ, not the resuscitation of Christ. On the third day when the stone was rolled away, our Jesus did not come back to life; he was not resuscitated. Jesus was given new life. He was resurrected and his resurrection assures the eternal defeat of sin – the eternal defeat of death – for all that receive the gift of grace in Jesus Christ.

4. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT MATH, PART II: 1+1+1=1 – We believe our God is Triune – that our God is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in every moment God is all three of these persons; God does not cease being one person in the Trinity in order to be another.

3. YOU THINK THERE’S A GUY IN YOUR FOOD – Sacraments are the means by which Christians encounter the mystery of Christ. At the communion table Christians believe they encounter the mystery of Christ, but in different ways. Some Christians believe that once the communion elements – the bread and wine/juice – are blessed that they physically transform into the body and blood of Christ. Other Christians believe the real presence of Christ becomes present in the bread and wine/juice. Either way, there is a guy in the communion meal, and we are redeemed of our sin and equipped for service in the Kingdom through this encounter with the mystery of Christ.

2. YOU HAVE A WEIRD THING FOR CALLING PEOPLE “MINISTERS” – What is theology? The study of God. Who does theology? Everyone! We believe in the Ministry of All Believers. It is not just the clergy that attend to the work and service of God’s people. This is the work of all people! All people have gifts for ministry to use in the Kingdom. And our using our gifts – this work – our ministry – we share it together.

1. LOVE, BABY.  IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE – Like all faith practices – it is what you make of it. Some Christian traditions offer detailed prescriptions of what practitioners do and do not do to make of their faith while others are less rigorous. As for me and my making of faith I start here:

  • “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (Jn 13:34-35).
  • I live out this verse in conversation and accountability John Wesley’s General Rules: (1) Do no harm, (2) Do good, and (3) Attend upon the ordinances of God – or as Bishop Reuben Job said – “Stay in love with God.”

(Exhale!)

If you were to add anything to this list, what would it be? Take time this week to consider what it means to be a Christian to you. What are your foundational Christian beliefs? How do your beliefs draw you in closer relationship with Christ and those that are faithful to him?

Prayer: Holy God, “Although a difference in opinions may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works…Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart? If it be, give me thine hand.”* Help us, O God, to offer and receive one another’s hands. Amen.

*John Wesley’s Catholic Spirit – (http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-39-catholic-spirit/)

Community Instruction

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 2:1-7

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all (I Tim 2:5-6).

There is an abundance of theology packed into this credal statement from the Early Church.

  • There is one God
    • A statement affirming monotheism – the belief in one deity, rather than
    • Polytheism – the belief in many deities or
    • Henotheism – the belief in one deity with an allowance for other deities in a hierarchy under the lead deity.
  • One mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus
    • A statement affirming that Christ Jesus proceeded from the one God, and is of the same substance with the one God, to be the physical, tangible, living, breathing, dying, saving link between God and humanity.
    • Christ Jesus is not a separate deity under God; they are the same, just as the Holy Spirit is the same with them. Together those three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are the Trinity – One God in three persons.
    • The need for Christ Jesus to be our mediator indicates a rupture in our relationship with God. This rupture is caused by sin and we cannot fix our sickness with sin on our own. We need God’s power and God’s power is available to us in Jesus.
  • Himself human – A statement affirming the humanness of Jesus.
    • We believe that Jesus has two natures; he is fully human and fully divine.
      • As fully human Jesus is able to stand in humanity’s place and take the punishment for sin.
      • As fully divine Jesus as God incarnate can save humanity from its condemned state due to sin and break the power of sin over humanity.
    • Jesus did not ‘appear’ human or ‘appear’ divine as some speculated; he was God incarnate.
  • Gave himself as a ransom for all – A statement affirming that our sins are atoned for through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
    • Through atonement we are made at one with God once again.
    • Hebrews 2:14-18 describes Jesus atoning actions writing, “Since, therefore, the children [humanity] share flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

Most theological education took place through oral tradition in the Ancient World and in the Early Church. Much of the society had very little or no formal education; so, learning occurred through telling the same stories or lessons repeatedly to help all members of the community – children by age and children at heart – commit them to memory and behavior.

The more ‘meaty’ the statement, the more learning to be ‘digested’ and ‘converted into lived energy’ for each individual. 

The above credal statement contains 25 words. If you were to write a credal statement for your faith using only 25 words, what would your credal statement say? What concepts would you include? What teaching would you name? Spend some of your devotional time this week writing your statement and then share it with someone. 

My credal statement reads:

God created out of chaos. God created Jesus to atone the chaos. God creates out of my chaos. God forgives our chaos. We are redeemed. 

Prayer: “Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way. Thou art the potter; I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still. Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way. Search me and try me, Savior today! Wash me just now, Lord, wash me just now, as in thy presence humbly I bow.”* Amen.

“Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 382.

Blessed Trinity

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 8:12-17

This Sunday we will celebrate Trinity Sunday, which kicks off the longest season in the Christian year known as Ordinary Time or KingdomtideOrdinary Time refers to the part of the Christian year that lays outside of the seasons of Lent-Easter and Advent-Christmas. It is an in-between time where the Church celebrates the mystery of Christ not in one particular aspect but in all its aspects. For example, in Advent we focus on the particular aspect of Christ’s incarnation and in Lent we focus on the particular aspect of Christ’s coming Passion and Resurrection from the dead. In Ordinary Time our focus is Kingdom-minded, which is why some refer to this season as the Kingdomtide. During this season Christians consider texts that invite us to apply in our lives what we have learned from the example of Christ and help further bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.

Bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth is anything but ordinary…so do not let that name fool you. It is extraordinary work and, even more amazing, God invites us to be part of this work.

My childhood best friend Laura and I are the kind of friends that may not speak to one another face to face for a length of time, but when we finally do, we pick up right where we were last. This past Saturday Laura contacted me to share that her Pop had passed away; she and her family wanted me to know. She also invited me to her Pop’s graveside service and her Memaw wanted to be sure I knew that “Sarah Beth-Ann was invited to lunch afterwards.”

To that family I will always and forevermore be Sarah Beth-Ann.

The family planned a very small graveside service because that is what Pop always wanted. Pop was a very strong and sensible man. He made sound investments throughout his life; to him it did not matter that the latest and greatest gadget was just released because his version that he purchased in the 1950s was still working. “If it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it” was his policy. His contentment with his material possessions freed him up to really invest in immaterial possessions, specifically his relationship with God and with his family and friends. The fruit of his investment in relationships was evident at his graveside as the quaint corner of Oak Hill Cemetery was overcome by people who loved Pop – family members, friends, folks he mentored, business colleagues, and more. The small graveside service became a large graveside service. We were there for Pop and his family. I was there for Laura.

After the service Laura and I connected, first, by eye contact and second, by embrace.

“How are you doing?” “I’m okay…actually I’m not okay.” “And that’s okay.” “I’m glad you’re here.” “Me, too.”

Laura and I say that we have been friends from the womb. Our mothers were pregnant during the same time and we met in daycare as toddlers. We went to the same elementary school…and our parents quickly learned that we should not be in the same class together because while we had a great time together it was not always the great time that the teachers wanted us to be having. All our lives we have been family to one another and family comes a-running when a member is in need.

Laura and I share this understand of being family to one another because of our relationship with Christ. Individually we know that we are God’s children and because we are God’s children we understand our call to be our sister’s keeper. Jesus teaches that we serve him and build and reveal the Kingdom before our own eyes each time we provide food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, care to the sick, companionship to the imprisoned, and clothes to the naked. This work may at times seem mundane or ordinary but in fact it is the extraordinary work of the Kingdom! It is work that God desires us to attend to and participate in daily.

I find in my own experience that I receive so much care for my soul as a product – and gift – of caring for another’s soul. This is the lesson I was reminded of as I attended Pop’s service with Laura on Wednesday. Jesus participated in this work and he is an heir to God’s Kingdom. Our participation in this work joins and extends the work of Christ and, as his sisters and brothers, we become heirs to God’s Kingdom.

During this Ordinary Time may God lead us in Extraordinary Work!

Prayer: “Everlasting God: you have revealed yourself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and ever live and reign in the perfect unity of love. Grant that we may always hold firmly and joyfully to this faith, and, living in praise of your divine majesty, may finally be one in you; who are three persons in one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*”Prayer for Trinity Sunday,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 412.