Friday, March 27, 2015

A Servant

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was John 12:20-26:

Today we conclude our series looking at the spiritual disciplines by looking at the discipline of service.  I’ve opened up the other sermons in this series with a joke, but I’m not doing that today not because I think this topic is more serious, but instead for the simple reality that I couldn’t find a good joke to use, as all the jokes I could find had to do with worship services, but that’s not the service we’re talking about here.  The service we are talking about is about reaching out to others, and yet it’s about so much more than that as well.  As part of today’s service we are going to be receiving new members into the church, and that involves vowing to support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.  None of those things are independent of each other, and all of them go back of course to the earliest days of Methodism.
Methodism began at Oxford University when Charles Wesley, who was a student there, asked his brother John, who was an Anglican priest and also an Oxford Don, which is a fancy English word for professor, to come and help he and his friends deepen their faith lives and spiritual practices.  And so together they formed what came to be known as the holiness club, and they gathered together several times a day to pray and read scripture, and they fasted twice a day, and they asked each other how it was with their soul to have mutual accountability for their lives and what they were doing.  But one of the members, William Morgan, said this wasn’t enough, and persuaded John and Charles to visit one of the prisons in London, which they did, and continued to do so, and so a faith lived out became one of the key characteristics of Methodism.  Indeed, John Wesley was always much more concerned about orthopraxy, that is right action, over that of orthodoxy, right belief, a tradition which carries on today, with some of the most famous organizations helping people in need, like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, originating in the Methodist church.

Monday, March 16, 2015

We Had To Celebrate

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 15:11-32:

On the day that Pope John Paul II died, he was greeted at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter, and is told that he has complete access to heaven and can go anywhere anytime that he likes, but first that God would like to meet him.  John Paul said he would love to do that, but wanted to know if heaven had a library.  Peter said, “Well of course,” and John Paul said “well there is something that I have been puzzling over for a long time and could never find a satisfactory answer in the Vatican’s archives, and so I wonder, before I go a meet God, could I go to the library first?” “Of course,” St. Peter replies, and so they head off to the library.  The Pope spends two years in solitary research, never coming out, never interacting with anyone else, and then one day, people hear a cry of anguish coming from one of the study tables.  When people rush over they find the Pope there, with a large book in front of him pointing to one line and crying out “there’s an r! There’s an r!  Look, there’s an r.  It says is celebrate not celibate!”

Today we continue in our series on the spiritual disciplines by looking at the discipline of celebration.  The two words, discipline and celebration, don’t really seem like they go together, after all that appears why some people aren’t having a lot of fun, or celebrating much, because they are being disciplined.  But celebration is a discipline because it is something we have to decision about; we have to choose to be joyful and to choose to celebrate.  In Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, he has celebration as the last item that he talks about because he says that all of the other disciplines put us in such relationship with God that they lead us directly to the practice of celebration, of making a joyful noise to the Lord as Psalm 98 and 100 both say.  And so as I was putting together this series, I originally had celebration as the last topic, which would then lead us into the celebration at the beginning of the service for Palm Sunday.  But today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, has some significance in the tradition and history of the church.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Whatever You Ask For In Prayer

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Mark 11:22-25:

A Pastor had a kitten that climbed up a tree in his backyard and was afraid to come down. The Pastor coaxed, offered warm milk, etc.  nothing worked---the kitty wouldn't come down. The tree was not sturdy enough to climb, so the Pastor decided that if he tied a rope to his car and drove away so that the tree bent down, he could reach up and get the kitten. That's what he did, all the while checking the progress of his car. He then figured if he went just a bit further, the tree would be bent sufficiently for him to reach the kitten. But, as he moved the car forward, the rope broke. The tree went "boing!!!" and the kitten instantly sailed through the air---out of sight. The Pastor felt terrible. He walked all over the neighborhood asking people if they'd seen a little kitten. No. Nobody had seen a stray kitten. So he prayed, "Lord, I just commit this kitten to your keeping," then went about his business.  Later that day he was at the grocery store and met one of his church members. He happened to look in her shopping cart and was amazed to see cat food. This woman was a cat hater and everyone knew it so he asked her, "Why are you buying cat food when you hate cats so much??" She replied, "You won't believe this," and told him how her little girl had been begging her for a cat, but she kept refusing. Then, a few days earlier, the child had begged again, so she finally told her little girl, "Well, if God gives you a cat, I'll let you keep it." She told the Pastor, "I watched my child go out in the yard, get on her knees, and ask for a cat. And really, Pastor, you won't believe this, but I saw it with my own eyes. A kitten suddenly came flying out of the blue sky, with its paws outspread....and landed right in front of her!!!"  Never underestimate the Power of God and His unique sense of humor.

Today in our series on the spiritual disciplines, we look at prayer.  Although prayer is a spiritual discipline in and of itself, it also plays a role in nearly all of the other disciplines as well.  When we looked at fasting two weeks ago, I said that while you could pray without fasting, that you cannot fast without including prayer.  It’s integral to that process, at least to be fasting for spiritual reasons.  In confession, which we covered last week, it too involves prayer.  It can be part of a prayer, which is certainly what we do when we say the Lord’s Prayer, but even if we are making a confession that is not part of a prayer, that confession should be bathed in prayer, both before and after the prayer is made.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned, But I Have Several Excellent Excuses

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Psalm 32 and 1 John 1:5-2:2:

Years ago, the chaplain of the football team at Notre Dame was a beloved old Irish priest.  At confession one day, a football player told the priest that he had acted in an unsportsmanlike manner at a recent football game.

"I lost my temper and said some bad words to one of my opponents."

"Ahhh, that's a terrible thing for a Notre Dame lad to be doin'," the priest said.  He took a piece of chalk and drew a mark across the sleeve of his coat.

"That's not all, Father.  I got mad and punched one of my opponents."

"Saints preserve us!" the priest said, making another chalk mark.

"There's more.  As I got out of a pileup, I kicked two of the other team's players in the in a sensitive area."

"Oh, goodness me!" the priest wailed, making two more chalk marks on his sleeve. "Who in the world were we playin' when you did these awful things?"

"Southern Methodist."

"Ah, well," said the priest, wiping his sleeve, "boys will be boys."