Doing is believing

Galatians 6

Listen online at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21405156

We have been on a journey.the-end

Whether you realize it or not, over the last six months the church calendar has carried us through the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

The church year does not begin on the 1st of January, but on the first Sunday of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. We start the journey by preparing to encounter Christ born among us anew. We celebrate Christmas and then move in to the season of Epiphany where we hear the stories of Jesus’ life as a light that overcomes the darkness. After Epiphany we move in to Lent and focus on the journey that leads to the cross.

But we are not a crucifixion people, we are a resurrection people.

So we celebrate Easter and in the weeks following we seek to understand the meaning of resurrection in our lives. After the Easter season we then celebrate Pentecost–the birthday of the church–when the Holy Spirit was poured out and people could speak and hear the good news of Jesus Christ in their own language.

I love the seasons of the church.

I am a liturgical geek.

mlpgw_tatoo_1One of my favorite authors and pastors, Nadia Bolz-Weber has the liturgical calendar tattooed on her arm. I may not love the church calendar as much as she does, but I do find it extremely meaningful.

I love the focus and intention of the church seasons and the invitation to practice spiritual disciplines that come with them. This year, thanks to Pastor Kevin, many of us practiced “40 Days of Decrease” during the season of Lent and experienced what it meant to have a stronger relationship with God when we had less distraction in our lives. That practice had a significant impact on many of our spiritual lives.

But this journey, that began more than six months ago, has come to an end.

Today, the church calendar begins a new season known as Ordinary Time.

Ordinary time is not the most inspiring name and it is the longest season. Ordinary Time stretches across the next 23 weeks. 23 weeks without a Christmas or an Easter or any high holy days. 23 weeks without an invitation to fast or to feast. 23 weeks of an ordinary journey.

While I admit that I am not a fan of ordinary time, it is where we live our lives.

We don’t live most of our days gathered under Christmas Trees or wearing Easter bonnets, we live ordinary lives filled with going to work or school, doing laundry and cutting grass, cooking meals and paying bills, driving kids around or waiting for parents to pick us up, just living out our daily routines.

We have been on another journey over the last six weeks, throGalations Gospel of Grace Logo_finalugh the book of Galatians. In this book we have heard the dramatic stories of how God’s grace calls us and invites us in, transforms us and is always at work making us more like Christ. The letter to the Galatians is written by Paul who had this life-changing experience of being knocked off a horse by a flash of light and hearing the voice of the Risen Christ asking, why do you persecute me?

And yet while Paul had this dramatic experience, he spent the next three years in the Arabian desert in preparation for ministry. Days that were so ordinary he never talks about them in his letters. We know about this one day when Paul had a big experience and we really know nothing about the next three years.

But what we see in that is that God’s grace is as powerful and pervasive and present in the ordinary times of life as it is in the handful of life-changing experiences that mark our lives. It is God’s grace that sustains us on a daily basis that gives us the ability to live lives of endurance and perseverance.

A life of faith is not only marked by significant sufferings or excessive celebrations, but is found in the day-to-day ordinary moments.

So what is it that gives us the strength to keep going in the long journey of life?

As many of you know, last weekend I went on a long journey myself. I ran 100 kilometers, 62.1 miles, on a five mile loop trail in Canal Fulton.

Over the last week, pretty much everyone has said to me that they could not do that. The truth is, that with the right training, most people are capable of doing it.  But the secret to being able to run for a long distance is simply to have enough fuel: eat enough food, drink enough water, and have enough sodium and electrolytes. As long as you keep your body properly fueled, you can keep going.

And the race I was at did the best job I have ever seen of providing fuel. There was a never ending buffet of waffles and tortillas and pizza and everything you can imagine. The secret of running long distances is that it is the only sport where you run from buffet line to buffet line.

If you fuel your body properly, you can run a long way.62043443_2279904518771116_131777641115025408_o.jpgThe same is true for our spiritual lives. If we want to walk faithfully through the long, ordinary seasons of life we have to properly fuel ourselves.

So how do we do that? How do we spiritually fuel ourselves?

John Wesley called the fuel that keep us going “means of grace”. Most of the means of grace are things you would expect: prayer, worship, communion, reading scripture, music are all a means of grace. When we practice these we receive a gift of grace and we are strengthened to walk faithfully through the long seasons of our lives.

But there is a means of grace that I think we often undervalue and underappreciate and that is “doing good”.

When we do good for someone else a strange thing happens. We help someone thinking we are doing something for them, but in the practice of it we find that we are the one who is blessed. When we extend our heart to someone else, it is our heart that is filled.

This is the testimony of every person who has ever gone on a mission trip. Every person goes with excitement over the work that will be done and returns home saying I feel like I have received more than I ever gave.

This morning we are led by our children in worship, but that happens through the work of our Sunday school teachers. Why do they volunteer so many hours to teach? Because when they give of themselves their hearts are filled with grace.

This is Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians. He writes:

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right… whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. 

Let us work for the good of who? The good of All! As a Church for All People we are called to work for the good of all people.

We see this lived out every day in the Free Store and the Fresh Market.

The Free Store sees 150 people a day, this last week the Fresh Market had a day where they saw 500 people. It is not a few paid employees that make it all work, it is dozens of volunteers who give of their own time every day so other people can have access to food and clothes.

But why do they do it? Why come and volunteer when you could sleep in and binge watch Netflix?

Because there is an inherent desire in every person to serve, to give back, to help, to do good, to participate in something bigger than ourselves.

When we do good we receive a gift of God’s grace that strengthens us to walk faithfully through the long, ordinary moments of our lives.

We often think of doing good as big things. In Matthew 25 Jesus says when you fed someone when they were hungry, clothed someone who was naked, visited someone in prison, then you did it unto me. We are lucky that we are a church that offers us the opportunities to do the very things Jesus talked about. We get to be a part of a church with the very people who Jesus called blessed in the Sermon on the Mount. So we have easy access to big works.

But doing good for others is not limited to mission trips or prison ministry or even volunteering in the Free Store or Fresh Market. There are opportunities to do good in the ordinary, everyday moments of life.

Look at the examples Paul gave to the Galatians.

“if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness”

This is a counter-cultural way of being.

As a culture, what do we do with someone detected in a transgression? We tear them down. We love to build people up, just so we can tear them down. In our own neighborhoods and schools and work places, what do we do when we hear of someone who has made a mistake? We gossip about them and say you can’t believe what I heard.

But Paul says, as followers of Jesus Christ, our role is to restore with a spirit of gentleness. Doing good happens when we are the means by which someone is restored, reconciled, and brought back in to community and not torn apart. And when someone else is restored, we are the one’s who again are nourished by grace.

Paul then says we are to “bear one another’s burdens”.

Doing good happens when we bear one another’s burdens. When we see ourselves as interconnected and interrelated and interdependent on one another.

It is easy to show pity to someone else or even to say that’s not my problem. But when we realize we are all in this together and that as Dr King taught us injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and we help to carry someone else’s burden, we are blessed.

In fact, Paul says that when we carry someone’s burdens, that is how we fulfil the law of Christ.

The law is not fulfilled by circumcision or uncircumcision. The law is not fulfilled by the type of clothes you wear or music you like. The law is not fulfilled by having a liberal or conservative view point. The law if fulfilled when we carry each other’s burdens.

After all, this is what Jesus did for us. Jesus came in to the world to carry our burdens, to restore us, and to give us life.

When we do these things, we not only are strengthened by grace to walk faithfully in the long journey of life, we are connected to God’ s work in the world and made in to a new creation.

 Paul says, a new creation is everything! 

How do we become a new creation?

Only by grace.

Today is not only the end of one journey, but the beginning of another. We have heard the stories of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, we have celebrated the birth of the church, so let us now be practitioners of God’s grace, let us seek to do good to all people, so we may ever more be made a new creation in Jesus Christ.Image result for beginning of a journeyAmen.

Transformed by Grace

Galaltians 1:11-24

Listen at https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21388167

How many of you are here today because you did everything right in the last week? You are here just because you want to glorify God that you didn’t make one mistake or commit one sin all week, you have reached Christian perfection?

How many of you are here today because you have it all figured out? You are here because you understand the mysteries of God. You are even able to comprehend why there is a suffering in the world when God is loving and powerful. You understand it all and you are here to praise God for your wisdom.

How many of you are here today because you live a life that you would describe as righteous and holy. You fully love God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength and you always love your neighbor as yourself and you even love your enemy?

No one?

Than why are we here?

Who do we think we are?

Who are we to dare to lift our joys and concerns up to the presence of God?

Who am I to stand up here and attempt to speak of the things of God?

Who are we to gather around the communion table and receive the body and blood of Christ?

As a people who have gotten it wrong and done it wrong, who do we think we are?

We are a people of grace.

It is all grace.

Who am I to stand up here the week after we celebrated the ministry of Pastor John?

It is all grace.

I know that I am only here by grace, because I know where I have come from.

When I was in grade school I went through a series of developmental tests. At the end of that diagnosis my mom was told that I would struggle to graduate high school and that I would have a difficult life.

She wept as the hopes she had for me changed.

She sat with a friend of hers who was a teacher and through her tears she asked, what do I do? Her friend said to just love me. Just love him.

And, that’s what she did.

She loved me and that is what we honor on mother’s day.

The first half of that diagnosis was true. I did struggle to graduate high school. I had to work hard to be a C student and graduated in the middle of my class.

And then something happened.

Today, I have five college degrees and am hoping someday to get a sixth. In those five degrees I got one B, one B+, and the rest were all As.

What happened to the boy who struggled to the man who now loves to learn?

It is only grace.

And I remember that. I remember where I have come from and I know it is not me that got me here.

Last week in the children’s sermon Camika described me as a pastor who quotes punk rock and rap lyrics.

How does a moderately reformed punk rocker become a pastor?

It is only God, it is only grace.

Paul makes this same statement about himself in the book of Galatians.

Galations Gospel of Grace Logo_final

After Jesus, I don’t think there is any one person who has had a greater influence on the Christian faith than Paul. Paul went on missionary journeys and started churches all around the Mediterranean, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote letters to these churches that make up almost half the books in the New Testament.

But Paul did not start out as Paul, he was Saul. Saul the legalist who tried to have a relationship with God by following the letter of the law. Saul the persecutor of the first followers of Jesus. When Stephen is martyred his clothes are placed at the feet of Saul.

And then Saul gets knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus. He sees a flash of light and hears the voice of the Risen Christ and is transformed.

Paul always remembered where he came from. He did not become the architect of the Christian faith from his own background and obedience, but it was all grace.

Among the 13 letters attributed to Paul, this letter to the Galatians is unique in many ways.

Galatia was both an area and an ethnic group. It was an area in what we know today as central Turkey, near the modern city of Ankara. But the Galatians were also a group of people. About 300 years before Jesus a group of people moved south from an area we know as Ireland. They were a Celtic people. The name Galatians comes from the same root as the Gaelic. This is not a Jewish, Greek, or Roman people, but a people who would’ve come from an ancient Celtic spirituality and who are figuring out how to live in a different culture and what it means for them to follow Jesus,

Many Bible scholars believe this could not only have been the first letter written by Paul, but perhaps the first book written in all of the New Testament.

While Paul’s other letters move from a greeting to a statement of thankfulness, Paul gets right to the heart of the matter in Galatians and says “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ.”

Paul doesn’t pull any punches but gets right to the heart of the matter.

For Paul, this is a key moment. It has only been about 15-20 years since the death and resurrection of Jesus. What it means to be a Jesus’ follower is still being determined.

For Paul, there is great freedom found in grace. but if the church requires people to follow Jesus plus a series of other rules and practices, including circumcision, we are giving up that freedom.

Today, we often fall for this same trap. We could call it Jesus-plus. Jesus plus, the type of clothes we wear. Jesus plus, believing the right creed. Jesus plus, having the right politics or theology or social status.

But Paul very vehemently says no, it is not Jesus plus anything else, it is only grace.

Paul is not always the most calm, mild mannered person. He can be a person of strong opinions and actions. But in this case I can understand that for Paul everything is on the line.

If we recognize that Jesus lived and died and rose again to surround us with the grace of God, and then we through the 613 rules of the Old Testaments on to all of that, what have we done?

Paul says no, it is all grace.

It is God’s grace that surrounds us from the moment we draw our first breath, long before we ever recognize it. In the United Methodist Church we call that prevenient grace. In his letter to the Galatians Paul says it is the grace that has “set me apart before I was born and called me”. For some of us it may have taken decades for us to recognize that grace, but then we realize it has been there all along.

God’s grace not only surrounds us, but makes us right with God. We call that justifying grace. Imagine you are typing in a word processing program and you hit the button called “justify”. All of a sudden the right margin goes from staggered to straight. That quickly, we are made right with God. Paul makes this point too, that he is justified not in his resume or relationships, but by God alone.

Grace not only surrounds us from the moment we are born and makes us right with God but is ever at work in our lives to make us more like Christ. The term for that is sanctifying grace, but we can also understand it as transforming grace.

Paul has been transformed to the point that other people recognize it. Paul makes the statement that other people who have never met him describe him as ‘The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.’

This is something that we all have in common with Paul.

We may not have audibly heard the voice of the Risen Christ like he did,

We may not have traveled the world starting churches,

We may not have the deep, theological understanding that he has.

But I think even Paul would say, none of that matters.

What matters is that we are the ones who have been transformed by grace.

That is what shapes us and unifies us as the United Methodist Church for All People.

We come here in our diversity. We don’t all look the same, think the same, love the same, or have the same background. Some have grown up in deep poverty and all that means, some have grown up in deep wealth and all that means. But we have all been transformed by grace. God has lifted each and every one of us from somewhere down here to somewhere up here.

We all have some stuff in our past that would make us the most unlikely people to be church people and we can all look back at where we have come from and say, it is only grace.

It is God’s grace that unifies us together as a church in our diversity and binds us together in our brokenness.

It is how that grace has transformed us and the potential it has to transform the world that calls us forward as a church.

All you have to do is walk out the front doors of the church to see it.

I have only been here four years and Parsons Avenue and the neighborhoods to the east of the church look very different than they did in 2015. A drive thru liquor store is now a fresh market, a new library, new businesses, a job training center, and hundreds of abandoned house rebuilt and made new.

It is all grace.Image result for it is all grace

Now, we know God is not finished with us yet.

We can walk out the doors of the church and around the neighborhood and we can still see that addiction and violence and hunger and homelessness are still very real.

But grace is more powerful than any of those.

It is God’s grace that will overcome all of those!

And it will be God’s grace working through us.

We are a people who have been transformed so that we may go and transformed. We are a people who have been healed so that we may go and heal. We are a people of have been repaired so that we might go and repair.

Paul finished this first chapter to the Galatians with the statement: they glorified God because of me.

Let us live our lives in a way, let us work for justice in a way, that restores creation and seeks to bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, so that other people will glorify God because of us!

Not because we’ve done it all right or got it all right, but because of the grace of God shining in us and around us and through us.

Amen,

 

 

 

 

 

Created for Connection

Luke 18:35-19:10

Listen to the sermon: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/main/main/21354197

This morning I would like to start with a game called, “Would you rather?”

In this game you are given a choice of two options. Would you rather do one thing or the other?

The game often asks thought provoking questions like, Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or one hundred duck-sized horses?1-duck-sized-horse-vs-100-horse-sized-ducksThe questions I’d like to ask you are a little simpler than that.

Would you rather go out with a big group of friends on a Friday night or would you rather stay home in your pajamas?

Would you rather have 1,000 friends on Facebook or would you rather not have social media at all and three close friends who you only saw in person?

Would you rather have a conversation with one person or would you rather hang out with a group of people?

Would you rather be the center of attention or would you rather not have anyone notice you at all?

The way you answer these types of questions can indicate whether you are an introvert or an extrovert.

We might think of an introvert as a quiet or shy person who keeps to themselves or an extrovert as a loud, charismatic person who has never known a stranger.

introvert_extrovertBut the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is not as much about volume as it is about what gives you life, what charges your batteries. If what fills your soul is being around people, you are probably an extrovert. If you are a person who enjoys contemplative prayer and taize music and going for a long run in the woods, you might be an introvert.

You might not think of me as an introvert, but I am. I enjoy being around people, it is why my office is right there, but I also need to balance that with time in prayer, reading, listening to music, and running.

In fact, most pastors I know are introverts. Kevin and I are both introverts.

The other thing to realize is that while we often categorize people as introverts and extroverts, almost everyone is a combination of both. There are very few people who are 100 percent one way or the other. You might be 60-40 or 70-30, or 95-5, but we all have some element of getting energy from being around people and some element of needing to be alone.

But our personality type does reveal our natural disposition. We usually have an inclination one way or another and that particularly reveals itself when stuff happens in our lives. When we face a crisis or stress or trauma our natural inclination comes out. We might be able to fake it on a good day, but add some tension to someone’s life and we see the true colors shining through.

So if you are a person who is naturally an introvert, who finds energy in being alone, what happens when stuff happens? You might tend to retreat even more. Our guard goes up and we isolate ourselves even farther.

Even for the extrovert, who usually gets their energy from being around people, when bad things happen they might not feel as safe or accepted in the community and can withdraw from the very thing that normally gives them life.

social-isolationIsolation is a dangerous thing.

The physical health effects of being socially isolated are as strong as obesity and smoking. Isolating yourself literally hurts your heart. People who are socially isolated are 43 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 39 percent more likely to have a stroke.

Isolation doesn’t only happen to us when we internally withdraw within our own self, but isolation can happen when the culture around us pushes us away.

What happens if you quit drinking when all of your friends are going out to get drunk on a Friday night?

What happens if a teenage girl gets pregnant?

What happens if a young man contracts HIV or AIDS?

The world pushes them away and people become socially isolated.

Our scripture today is the story of two isolated people. Isolated by themselves and isolated by their culture.

The first is a blind man. In the gospel of Luke he is unnamed, but in the gospel of Mark he is given the name Bartimaeus.

From all appearances, Bartimaeus is an extrovert.

I imagine Bartimaeus as someone loud, who  made his presence felt. The kind of person we would tell to be quiet waiting for the Free Store to open.

Bartimaeus can’t see what is going on, but he can hear and feel the commotion of a crowd of people around him. He asks what is happening and he is told that Jesus is passing by. When he hears the news he shouts, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And what do the people around him do? They tell him to be quiet. Shhhh. Hush. All this does is make him shout even louder, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 

As a blind man, he is hushed, he is isolated, he is told to be quiet.

In the year 2019 we are still learning what it means to show hospitality to people with disabilities. We might be getting better, but the world is not a friendly place to people who can’t see or hear or walk.

In the ancient world, a blind person would have been even more isolated. People did not have the scientific understanding of how the human body works that we have today. There was a belief that if a person was blind it was a result of God’s judgment and punishment.

Even the disciples thought this way.

In John, Chapter 9, there is a story of another blind man, a man born blind. Jesus heals this man by making a mud pie out of spit and placing that in his eyes.

But before Jesus performs this somewhat gross miracle, the disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Related image

The disciples. Not the Sadducees or Pharisees who we often see as the gatekeepers of grace, but the disciples.

Jesus continually pushed against this theology that if bad things happen in your life it is because you did something wrong. People thought that back then and people think it today.

Not only is that kind of thinking contrary to what Jesus taught, it results in isolation.

Jesus hears the cry of the blind man over the noise of the crowd and he stops.

This parade, as Jesus is entering Jericho, comes to a stop. I can imagine the people around Jesus getting quiet and whispering, what is he going to do?

He asks Bartimaeus, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you’ and Bartimaeus can see. Salvation has happened. The crowd goes from the hush of watching Jesus to the joy of a praise dance. I can hear them singing hallelujah and quoting the prophecies of Isaiah, the blind receive their sight.  

The very next thing to happen after Bartimaeus is the story of Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who is up a tree, just trying to get a glimpse of Jesus.

What if Zacchaeus is up in that tree not only because he was a wee little man, as the old song goes, but because he didn’t like crowds. Maybe he was an introvert.Image result for ZacchaeusZacchaeus may not have only been a natural introvert, but he was socially isolated. He was a tax collector.

Today, what do we think of taxes and tax collectors? It is March 24, April 15 is coming. I still have to do my taxes and I am dreading it.

In ancient Israel the situation was worse. Taxes weren’t collected solely for the government and infrastructure of Jerusalem. Taxes were collected to go to the Roman Empire. Heavy taxes were imposed on people as a way of controlling them. And the money taken out of their pockets went to the very people who controlled them.

And Zaccheus had to eat too. A tax collector got paid by taking a little extra.

But Zaccheus took more than a little extra, he is described in the scripture as a rich man. He got rich off the backs of his fellow people on the way to giving money to the oppressor.

For that, he was socially isolated.

In fact, when Jesus goes to Zaccheus house, the crowd that was doing a praise dance when Bartimaeus got his sight stopped worshiping. The scripture says they grumbled.

All people don’t always like all people.

Everyone is glad when they are included in the circle of God’s grace, but don’t you know what he did?

But Jesus is never limited by our judgments. He invites himself to Zacchaeus house and salvation happens again. Zacchaeus gives his wealth to help the poor and promises to repay anyone he has defrauded.

Jesus says, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

Salvation has come to this house.

How did salvation come there? Surely, Jesus showing up had a big part to do with it. But what if the salvation of Zaccheus is not an isolated story.

When we read the stories of Jesus’ miracles we often treat them as isolated incidents, but what if they are connected.

Many of us in the church are reading a book called “40 Days of Decrease”. We are studying it in our Tuesday afternoon lunch group and our Tuesday evening Bible study; you are invited if you would like to join us. The book has challenged us to fast from things like regret and avoidance. In one of the chapters this last week the book asked an interesting question: what if the lives of Bartimaeus and Zaccheus are interrelated.

What if Bartimaeus receives his sight, follows Jesus, and then one of the first things he sees after that is Zacchaeus up in the tree?

What if Zacchaeus is looking down from the tree and sees the blind beggar walking with freedom with the rest of Jesus’ followers?

What if their lives were even connected before that?

For those of you who went to the Holy Land a couple of years ago, you know that Jericho is a small town. In Jesus day, it would have been even smaller, maybe only a couple thousand people. The chances that Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus knew each other, or at least knew of each other, would have been high.

What if Zacchaeus took taxes from Bartimeus that resulted in his poverty?

What if the healing of Bartimeus opened Zacchaeus heart? The salvation of Bartimeus may have contributed to the salvation of Zacchaeus.

Salvation never happens alone. It is in the community of the church that we find healing and life and strength and hope.

Going all the way back to the creation stories in the book of Genesis, it is not good for man to be alone.

As Dr King taught us “all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

We are all connected to each other, created to live in community with each other, and the well-being of any of us effects the well-being of all of us.

The salvation of one of us brings the salvation of all of us.

And so this week I am going to give you some homework. I want you to spend some time with a brother or a sister from this church. Call someone. Take someone out for lunch or a cup of coffee. Check on a church member who you haven’t seen in awhile. Reach out to someone you have missed. Comfort someone going through a hard time, help someone who needs it.

When you do this you will find that when you reach out to someone you might think that you are checking on them, but that you too are the one who is comforted and helped.

Extroverts and introverts alike, do not isolate yourself. Love one another. And in doing so, we will experience salvation together.

Amen.

Why I Am Still a Methodist

A week ago at this time I was preparing to lead Bible study with a wonderful and diverse group of people. Every Tuesday evening people white and black, wealthy and poor, conservative and liberal, LGBTQ and straight, gather to hear what God’s word says to their lives today. Being a part of this group is a rich experience and one of the highlights of my week.

At this time last week I welcomed people to Bible study while glancing down at my phone. On the small screen was the livestream of General Conference 2019. Four days of Roberts Rules were quickly coming to a culmination and THEE vote was about to happen. In reality, the vote was a foregone conclusion. After watching days of preliminary votes and parliamentary procedure it would take a miracle to have a different outcome. The miracle didn’t happen, the previously unexpected did. One minute before Bible study, the United Methodist Church democratically voted to double down on its exclusion and make LGBTQ people modern day untouchables. In the words of Adam Hamilton the so-called traditionalists “won the battle and lost the church.”

Love should never be up for a vote

I have been to two general conferences and have seen how things work. I can vividly remember tears running down my face in 2008 when the church voted once again for exclusion. But I never imagined we would make it worse. Yet, we did.

In the days that followed I was in a depression malaise. I first came to the United Methodist Church in 1998 believing in the motto of “open hearts, open minds, and open doors.” It is the church that shaped me, formed me, and sent me in to ministry. I have often said if it wasn’t for the United Methodist Church I don’t know if I would be a Christian. And now, 21 years later, I felt like I was discovering that the church was not what I thought it was.

I half jokingly Facebook messaged my former boss asking if I should update my LinkedIn profile. Fortunately, my current boss reminded me of the work of the Swiss theologian Hans Kung who published a short book, “Why I am still a Christian,” in a world where the church had a waning influence on culture.

Below, in bold, are Kung’s answers to this question. My responses follow each of his three points as to why i am still a Methodist.

So, why am I a Christian (Methodist)?

1. Kung: First of all, simply because—despite all my criticisms and concerns—I can nevertheless feel fundamentally positive about a tradition that is significant for me; a tradition in which I live side by side with so many others, past and present.

Henneman: Like Kung I am humbled to count myself among the eternal priesthood of all believers. I get to walk side-by-side with Kierkegaard and King, with John of the Cross and John of the Free Store, with the dead saints of old and the living saints of the streets. Nothing spiritually nourishes me more than living side-by-side with people in an inclusive and diverse community. I get to experience that at the United Methodist Church For All People every day.

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2. Kung: Because I would not dream of confusing the great Christian tradition with the present structures of the church, nor leaving a definition of true Christian values to its present administrators.

Henneman: Someone recently asked me what I thought John Wesley would say about our recent general conference. I believe that Wesley would be furious to find the very thing he fought against continued in his name. Wesley got himself in trouble because he overstepped ecclesial boundaries. He went out to those who the church excluded. He oriented his life around sharing the good news of grace in Jesus Christ with all. Church institutions have a bad history of devolving from spiritual movements to frozen bureaucracies. It breaks my heart that the United Methodist Church has taken this path, but historically it is not surprising. And most importantly, it is not who God is. Institutions may exclude, but God always includes. I img_4366am still a Methodist, not out of denominational loyalty, but because it is ultimately God who has called me to widen the circle of love to include all people, particularly those marginalized by the church. I will continue to live in to this calling within the United Methodist Church.

3. Kung: In brief, because—despite my violent objections to what is called Christian—I find in Christianity a basic orientation on the question of the great Whence and Whither, Why and Wherefore, of humanity and the world: a basic orientation for my individual and social self. And at the same time I find in these things a spiritual home on which I do not want to turn my back, any more than I want in politics to turn my back on democracy, which in its own way has been, and is, no less misused and abused than Christianity. But admittedly, all this only hints at the decisive factor. I must make myself clearer still.

Henneman: It is within the United Methodist connection of personal piety and social holiness that I most clearly see the lived out vision of God’s kingdom coming “on earth as it is in heaven”. The arc of justice is too long and too slow for my liking. Moses did not make it to the Promised Land, King did not make it to the mountain top, and I may never see an international church where ALL people, and especially my LGBT sisters and brothers, are fully affirmed, heard, respected, and honored. But I do get to witness a foretaste of that at the United Methodist Church for All People and will continue to work from the inside until the global church can exhibit the same radical hospitality as the local church.

In the words of my Lutheran heritage: here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.

You have only to keep still

What are you most afraid of right now?

Last year a recording artist named Amanda Palmer posted this question to social media.

What are you most afraid of right now?

It was a Sunday evening and she had booked time in a recording studio for the coming week, but she needed a song.

She looked around at the scraps of paper that surrounded her, bits of songs and recycled ideas, but she wanted to do something fresh, something different. So, she asked her followers to respond to this question: What are you most afraid of right now?

She had two hours on her calendar to write a song and posted the question hoping for a few responses that would stimulate her curiosity.

In her post, Amanda gave the following instructions, she said: “in LESS THAN 50 WORDS, tell me this:

what are you most afraid of right now?

it can be anything…

personal

political

old

new

big

small

strange

etc

and you can answer as poetically or literally as you want….

whatever it means to you.

obviously if the answers are just “death” and “climate change“ i won’t have much to work with.

so go.

what are you afraid of…right now.

don’t think twice

just comment – i’m reading.

i love you

xx

afp”

Amanda had no idea the type of response she would get. In less than two hours she got almost 1,200 responses and she spent hours reading every one of them.

The responses she got were deep and emotional and personal. In looking through them I didn’t see simple answers where people said things like they were afraid of the dark, or afraid of snakes, or afraid of public speaking.

Instead, people said things like:

“I’m afraid of my family’s history of mental illness

I have ongoing nightmares of someone walking into my school one day and shooting my students and me.

I’m afraid of getting older and getting alzheimers which my mum has and is in her history. I’m alone and have noone who will help me.

I am afraid of losing the people that I care about.

I’m afraid of being swallowed by the deep deep dark that is my depression.

I’m afraid of coming out to my parents and afraid of the wall that this is putting between us, me not being able to tell them a lot of stuff that are going on with my life, them for clearly seeing something not being right with me but not knowing what it is.”

These 1,200 comments are remarkable.

What strikes me about them is fear and the pain that so many people carry.

Amanda Palmer is not a well-known singer. In fact, she is an independent artists, without a record label or a recording contract, she did not even have an album for this song to go on to. And yet, people are carrying so much weight, just below the surface of the image they project, that within a couple of hours 1,200 people poured out their hearts on the comment section of a webpage.

Fear is a powerful force, it probably one of the powerful and prevalent feelings in the world today.

Fear can makes us retreat to ourselves and close us off from others.

Fear can make us lash out and cause harm.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. He spoke these words at the most difficult time of the Great Depression. He was trying to communicate that people’s fears, and the actions people took based on fear, were only making the financial crisis worse.

But to say “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” does not take away the very real power that fear holds.

Our scripture today is a story of fear.

Over the last couple of Sundays we talked about the people of Egypt living in Egyptian slavery. Pastor John spoke on the call of let my people go; Pastor Kevin shared with us the story of the burning bush and what it means to stand on holy ground.

We heard in those stories the hardness of pharaoh’s heart. After all, the Israelites were free labor. The wealth and power of the Egyptian empire were built on the backs of Hebrew slaves.

From the banks of the Nile River to the Mississippi Delta 4,000 years later, the same argument has been made throughout history to justify slavery:  We can’t let the slaves go, the entire economic system would collapse. In our own country, slaves made cotton king and slaves built the White House and the US Capitol building.

Why would pharaoh let God’s people go? He is getting rich off them.

But then Passover happens. The first born in every house dies.

Immediately, pharaoh calls in his cabinet and even Moses and Aaron are summoned in the middle of the night and pharaoh says to them:

‘Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!’

Fearing for their lives, the Egyptians push the people of Israel to leave immediately. But as they get to the Red Sea, pharaoh again has a change of heart and pursues them with 600 chariots.

In this scripture, the Israelites look back and see this army coming at them and they are afraid.

And for good reason.

The Egyptian chariot was not a means of transportation, it was a weapon of war and intimidation. It was the chariot that conquered nations and held people in slavery and now the people of Israel have chariots coming at them from one direction and their backs are against the Red Sea from the other. They cry to Moses, it would have been better for us to stay in slavery than to die out here in the wilderness.

They are a people filled with fear.

And while I would think they had good reason to be afraid, Moses response to the cry of this desperate crowd is very interesting: ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’

All you have to do is keep still?

Look Moses, the chariots are coming.

Imagine if we were backed up against Lake Erie and hundreds of armored tanks were coming down on us and Pastor John said, don’t be afraid, God’s got this, keep still.

This is not a normal human response to fear.

Psychology tells us that there are two ways to respond to fear: fight or flight. Either we engage the thing that’s coming at us or we run away from it.

When stressful things happen in our lives we take it on as a challenge or retreat and hide.

But Moses offers a third way: faith.

Moses doesn’t say lets put together what we have and build some weapons to fight back and he doesn’t say to retreat or run away.

He says, God’s got this.

This story gives us a picture of an entirely different way of being. One in which the world is not changed by taking up arms against arms, chariots against chariots, or guns against guns.

The world is not changed by retreating in fear, closing in on ourselves, isolating ourselves from what is going on in the world.

But standing tall in our faith, trusting in a God that makes a way out of no way, is what changes the world.

It is that persistent faith that fueled the non-violence of Gandhi, that brought an end to apartheid in South Africa, and that continues to push for equality and civil rights here in the United States.

It is the kind of faith that dares us to trust in a God through whom all things are possible.
All things.

Is that right? If so, how far does this go.

It goes all the way to the empty tomb.

Think about the disciples.

They gave up everything to follow Jesus. They left their jobs, their families, their fathers-in-law sitting in fishing boats to follow Jesus.

Why?

They believed, they had faith that he was the Messiah.

He was the one who came to bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

They saw the miracles, heard the teachings, and knew he was the one.

And then, as suddenly as he had come on the scene, he was killed on the cross.

Beaten, nailed to a cross, dead.

It was over and they were afraid.

In their fear they hid. Most of them hid before Jesus even made it to the cross and all of them hid after.

Only the women had the courage to get up on Easter morning and pay their respects.

But on their way to the tomb there was an earthquake, a flash of light, and an angel saying do not be afraid. Do not be afraid, the body isn’t here, He is risen!

The scripture says that the left the tomb quickly, the same way that the people of Israel left slavery in Egypt, and with fear and joy.

But on their way to the disciples, Jesus meets them and what are his first words?

Do not be afraid.

But go and tell others and there you will see me.

Once again, as people of faith, as followers of Jesus we are called to a different way of being. Not an impulsive response of fight or flight, but a grounded response of faith.

A faith that love conquers all.

A faith that in Jesus Christ death is overcome, sin is overcome, pain is overcome.

A faith that dares us to believe in God, all things are possible and we aint gonna let nobody turn us around.

Because of our faith in God, we know that all things will be redeemed, all crooked paths will be made straight, all justice will flow down like waters and aint nothing gonna turn us around.

No addiction, no neighborhood violence, no racism, no government shutdown, no infant mortality, no sorrow, no grief, no morning, aint nothing gonna turn us around because we know that God is with us, always.

Of the 1,200 posts that the singer Amanda Palmer received, there was one that stood out to her. One person said, I’m not afraid of anything anymore because he embraced life as a ride. A ride goes up and down and twists and turns and people scream and cheer but that we are all in it together and all will be okay.

What do you do on a ride? The same thing that Moses said to the fearful Israelites, “you have only to keep still”

From this response, Amanda wrote a song called the ride in which she tried to capture the essence of all the things people are afraid of. Part of the song says:

“Everyone’s getting real scared to come out because coming out’s going down badly
Feel the city breaking and everybody’s shaking
And I just want someone to hold me
Some are too scared to let go of their children
And some are too scared now to have them
Suicide, homicide, genocide, man, that’s a ton of sides you can choose from”

And the she speaks to those who shared their fears and says in the song:

“I want you to think of me sitting and singing beside you
I wish we could meet all the people who got left behind
The ride is so loud it can make you think nobody’s listening
But isn’t it nice when we all can cry at the same time”

While I love this song, as people of faith we know that life is more than a ride, it is a journey.

There is stuff in life that does happen to us.

We get scared. There are things that are worth being afraid of.

But we don’t have to cower in fear or run in flight, but we can stand firm in faith because we know that God is with us, always. Even when we can’t see where it is all going, even when we don’t understand, we know that one way or another that God has got this.

Sometimes all we have to do is keep still and watch as God parts the waters of our fears, keep still and see the Risen Christ in front of us, keep still when we live in fear of the news that swirls around us, keep still and do not let anyone turn you around.

Inescapable Mutuality

Jeremiah 29:1-7

Where do we find redemption?

As Christians we find healing, forgiveness, and redemption in Jesus Christ.

But in the Hebrew scriptures, redemption and restoration was found in the temple. People would bring their offerings, first fruits, and sacrifices to temple to heal their relationship with God.

Around 600 years before Jesus, the temple was destroyed. The people of Judah were conquered by the Babylonians. They were pulled out of their communities, their homes ravished, the walls of Jerusalem torn down, and the temple destroyed. The temple was more than just ‘a church’ it was thee church: the place with the Holy of Holies, the arc of the covenant, the temple was the presence of God and now all of it is gone.

It was all gone, all lost, all destroyed, and the people taken from their homeland and forced to live in a country not their own.

It is to these people that the prophet Jeremiah writes this letter.

When we think of the prophets of the Old Testament we normally think of them addressing kings and the powers of the world, calling them to do God’s will and to return to righteousness.

But this letter is not written to the kings of Babylon, but to the people in exile. In particular, Jeremiah writes to the religious leaders, the elders, priests, and prophets, saying here is how you live as a people in exile.

You would expect that a people being forced to live in a land not their own would not be happy about it. In Psalm 137 it says we sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept.  Their captors asked them to perform the songs of Zion and they asked how can we sing our songs in a foreign land?

But Jeremiah writes and calls on them to live differently.

Jeremiah’s first word to them is to continue to live your lives.

Build houses

Plant gardens

Have children

Yes, what has happened to the children of Abraham is horrible. They lost everything and their lives are difficult and not their own. But, live well anyway. Live well in the face of the injustice that has been done to you. Your land might have been conquered, but you have not.

Some of you may remember from a sermon I gave a few years ago that my real heart music is punk rock. It was not in punk rock that I first heard the call toward for social justice, it was in a music that came from the streets.

My favorite album of 2018 is by a new punk band called Idles. Song after song on the album lifts up social justice issues from immigration to racism. But the album is called “Joy as an act of resistance”. The point the album makes is that while there are all kinds of injustices in the world, the invitation is to live as people of joy in the face of it. Not in a Pollyanna naivete, but in the face of the injustice in our lives, live joyful as an act of resistance. Stand tall in the face of anyone who tries to keep you down.

This is Jeremiah’s word to the people in exile. On its own it is a radical, counter-cultural message that challenges us to live differently: not as a defeated people, but as a thriving people. However, the second part of this is even more challenging.

Jeremiah says to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

The people of Israel would have rightly seen the Babylonians as their captors, their oppressors, and their masters. The Babylonians were in every way their enemy, who have been victorious over them. And Jeremiah says to pray for them. Jesus taught that we are to love our neighbor and our enemies, but that can sound like an abstract idea. Maybe we can even dismiss it as a word only for Jesus and the apostles.

Here, Jeremiah gives a real example of how far that reaches.

Jeremiah not only tells the people to pray for them, but that the welfare of the Babylonians is connected to the welfare of Judah. The welfare of the oppressed and the oppressor are interrelated and interconnected. The welfare of anyone effects the welfare of everyone.

In the words and actions of Jeremiah, we see the inspiration for the words and actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose life and legacy we celebrate today.

Like Jeremiah, King was a prophet. King called on people, from the powerful to the  powerless, to live in to God’s righteousness.

One of King’s best known prophetic works is his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.

King had left the relative safety of his home and church in Atlanta to work for justice in Birmingham.

King described Birmingham as “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. There were more unsolved bombing of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation.”

And yet, King did not have to go to Birmingham. King wasn’t from Alabama, he was from Georgia. He had his own church to tend to, his own family to care for.

Birmingham is about 150 miles from Atlanta. For us, imagine if we heard of an injustice going on in Pittsburgh or Indianapolis. We might say what has happened in a different city is horrible, we might even pray for someone else, but we have our own lives and work and responsibilities here.

But not King.

He left his home and his church to work for justice in Birmingham.

To say this was inconvenient for King would be an understatement.

During a protest in Birmingham he was arrested on Good Friday. He spent Easter, not kingwith his congregation in Atlanta, but in prison in Alabama.

And while in prison, eight of the pastors in Birmingham wrote an article published in the paper calling on King to wait.

Wait

Instead of standing in solidarity with King, these pastors said: just slow down. Change takes time, you are pushing too hard and too fast. Wait.

Wait was the message King had her from President Kennedy.

Wait was the criticism against him over and over.

The Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a response to this and is addressed to “My dear fellow clergymen”.

To his fellow clergymen, King says, in the wake of all the injustice we have experienced, how can we wait? It is easy for you to say wait because you haven’t been through what we have been through. You didn’t go through 340 years of slavery and Jim Crow. You haven’t been denied access at a lunch counter, you haven’t had to sleep in the back of your car because a hotel would not rent you a room, you have not been attacked by police dogs.

How can we wait?

But again, it strikes me that it would’ve been easier for King to wait. After all, Birmingham wasn’t his city. It wasn’t where his church was or where his people lived.

But in his eyes, it was.

King saw himself as deeply connected to the struggle in Birmingham.

In his letter he said:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

King not only saw himself as an oppressed person in Atlanta connected with the oppressed in Birmingham, but he often spoke of working for the liberation of both the oppressed and the oppressor. In fact, at the end of his jail letter he expresses a hope that the very pastors who have criticized him will be transformed and join him in God’s work for justice.

King operates under a vision of a very large community, where all people are connected in an inescapable network of mutuality. The good or the harm done to anyone, anywhere, effects everyone everywhere.

King would live out this ethic for the rest of his life. In his last years many of his earlier supporters who stood with him when he offered his dream would leave him and join the chorus of those pastors who said “wait” when King began to organize the poor people’s campaign and call for an end to the Vietnam War.

King saw connectedness as much farther than the 150 miles from Atlanta to Birmingham, but that as all people are children of God, we are all called to see our own well-being connected with the well-being of everyone.

This last week, from this stage, we hosted a town hall meeting that was reported on from the front page of the Columbus Dispatch to several television channels. We gave people in our community the opportunity to share how the shutdown of the federal government will impact them if the government is not reopened. People talked about the impact of potentially losing SNAP and WIC benefits, housing vouchers, and delayed tax returns.Image may contain: one or more peopleWe, as the Church for All People, do a good job of giving face and voice to what might otherwise be an abstract conversation about numbers on a budget report or in a political debate

One of the voices that stood out to me was Theresa who talked about using her own SNAP benefits to help provide formula for a baby who has food allergies. She talked about how expensive one can of formula is, how the community works together to give this baby life, and how all of that will be undone if the federal government does not reopen.

That is a powerful statement.

But as we read the letters of Jeremiah and King, I want to challenge us to see our work for justice, and our connection with others, as broader than the impact on the South Side of Columbus.

More than any other church I have been a part of, we believe that every person is created in God’s image. In the eyes of every person we see Christ. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight, republican or democrat, a punk rocker or a blues musician, all people have divine value and sacred worth. From this understanding we can see our connectedness as much broader than that with our immediate neighbors.

The safety of a Syrian mother who sneaks her children across a border seeking refuge is connected to our safety.

The security of a Native American man in South Dakota who stands for the protection of his land is connected to our security.

The health of our environment is directly connected to our health. The first job given to Adam was to care for creation, but we have forgotten our first calling.

As a Church for All People, we are sacredly connected with all people, everywhere.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

So the invitation and the challenge that King and Jeremiah leave us with is not to simply shrug our shoulders at the evening news, but to see ourselves as living in mutual relationship with all people, everywhere.

Of course, we can’t be everywhere around the globe and we don’t have the resources to work for every cause. But that is the gift of being part of the United Methodist Church. As a global church we are in mission with people in 136 countries. And as a church here, we have changed our noisy offerings this year to not only support our work here in Columbus, but to provide opportunities to be more connected with the global church.

As the Church for All People, let us connect our thoughts, hearts, prayers, and actions anywhere that injustice exists. Like King, let us work for the redemption of people who are oppressed and people who are oppressors everywhere, and in doing so may we find our own redemption.

Amen.