We’ve made it to the final chapter of James, and the final message in this series called Faith Works. James has urged us to avoid showing favoritism to the rich, he’s admonished us to be slow to speak, but quick to listen, and he’s given us further instruction on taming our tongues. Last week, James compared heavenly wisdom to earthly wisdom, encouraging us to lean into wisdom that comes from God. We can recognize that kind of wisdom as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruit, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17), and the result of cultivating this kind of wisdom is “a harvest of righteousness.” (3:18)
When James compares heavenly wisdom to earthly wisdom, something else becomes clear, and it’s the underlying lesson James has been trying to teach us throughout this letter: wisdom from God focuses our attention on the needs of others, while earthly wisdom focuses our attention on ourselves. This whole letter is about how to behave toward one another, so our lives will reflect faith at work in us. Because when we work our faith, we develop a faith that really works. One place we can really see our faith growing is in the practice of prayer. You might think James is going to focus on how prayer connects us to God, but James knows the way prayer really helps our faith grow is in our prayers for each other.
Children’s Message Last week we heard the story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with bread and fish that kept multiplying until everyone had enough, and there was some left over. I talked about how, in Communion, we break the bread just as Jesus did, and ask God to make us be the Body of Christ for the whole world, as we eat it together. Today we will hear Jesus talk about himself as the Bread of Life, and I want to help you understand how we see Jesus giving himself to us when we receive Communion. Who knows what a symbol is? It’s usually a picture or an object that stands for something else. For example, we have a steeple on our church building, and that’s a symbol for our purpose as a church. The church is supposed to point people to God. Some churches believe that the bread and the juice we use for Communion are just symbols of Jesus to remind us that he gave himself for us. In the Methodist Church, we say the bread and cup become Christ’s real presence among us when we take them. They are more than just a symbol. So let’s go back to the steeple on our church. Did you ever play “here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people?” Let’s do it together. See, the steeple is just a symbol of what the church does – it points people to Jesus. But when you open the door and see all the people, they are the real presence of Christ in the world. It’s the people in the church who point others to God. Let’s pray. Jesus, help us point others to you for real, not just be a symbol of you. We love you, Jesus. Amen.
There’s a lot going on today – it’s Father’s Day, another one of those Hallmark Holidays that doesn’t necessarily get celebrated outside the United States. We have also just honored our high school graduates and prayed a blessing over them as they set out on the next stage of their education.
In the middle of all that, we are still keeping track of the Corona virus, working to keep everyone healthy and safe as the pandemic seems to be winding down. We continue to mourn the losses we have experienced over the past 15 months, and while some of us yearn to party like its 2019, others are wary of falling into the patterns of the past, noting that sometimes the “good old days” weren’t so good for everyone.
We are in that in-between, liminal season of change, but we can’t quite see what that change is bringing. Some of us face this uncertainty with dread, while others see possibilities the future promises. In fact, we aren’t so different from the disciples who followed Jesus through Galilee as he taught and healed and shared the good news of God’s kingdom coming into the world
Those disciples knew they were on the cusp of change, but they couldn’t imagine what lay ahead. Some of them were convinced Jesus would soon lead them in a military takeover. Others were confused by the way he turned upside down everything they had known to be true.
But there was one thing they could all agree on: Jesus was worth following. Staying close to Jesus was worth risking everything, even their lives. In today’s gospel reading, they get to do just that.
Note: this is the final sermon in the “Identity Crisis” series. The previous two weeks were preached by others, while I spent time with my family at my mother’s deathbed. Watch this sermon on Vimeo.
We’ve been exploring the idea of an identity crisis in Matthew’s gospel these past few weeks. We’ve learned that the crisis isn’t just about how we identify ourselves as followers of Jesus. The crisis also stems from how we identify Christ at work in our lives and in the world. Sometimes it isn’t so easy to recognize Jesus, even when he stands right in front of us. Sometimes we doubt who he is, as Peter did when he tried to walk on water. But when we can name Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God – also as Peter did – we find our own identity as well.
Many people operate out of a scarcity mindset – we are all too aware of what we don’t have. During the early weeks of the COVID shutdown, it was difficult to find toilet paper in the stores. Some of that difficulty was simply because most of the toilet paper being manufactured is for institutional use – office buildings, schools, hotels, for example. Suddenly, office buildings, schools, and hotels were empty. Everyone was at home, and the demand for Quilted Northern and Charmin Strong outstripped the availability of those products.
But there was something else going on, too. People were ‘stocking up’ on basic essentials like toilet paper because they were afraid. They were operating out of a mindset of scarcity, hoarding resources instead of sharing them.
The crowds following Jesus around Galilee were used to living a life of scarcity. Continue reading →
It’s been good to visit with a few of you this week, to learn what is on your heart as we begin the work of interim ministry together. You may remember a video that appeared on the church website a few months ago, where I explained the developmental tasks this congregation will need to address during this season.
Over the next several weeks, I will be explaining each of these tasks in greater detail, so that we can begin this important and urgent work with full understanding. The first task is to come to terms with your past. This might be the most difficult task of all, but the other steps of the process depend on getting this one right, so it’s a good place to begin. Continue reading →
“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me,” Jesus says to his disciples, “and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)
We like to think we would welcome Jesus if he showed up on our doorstep, don’t we? We would recognize him immediately, and we’d usher him into our homes with joy. More than likely, we’d find some way to set out a meal for Jesus, knowing that good food usually makes for good conversation, and the gospels all tell us that Jesus liked to eat with people.
But what if Jesus showed up at your door when the larder was empty? What if the beds weren’t made and the place was a mess? What if there was no place for Jesus to sit, because every seat was piled high with newspapers, unfolded laundry – stuff… you get the idea. What if you hadn’t dusted or vacuumed in weeks, and there were dirty dishes in the sink? What would your welcome to the King of Kings look like then? Continue reading →
June 14, 2020 My final Sunday with First United Methodist Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
How do disciples become apostles? When does following turn into being sent?
Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched those first disciples of Jesus gather in fear after the crucifixion, be amazed at Christ’s resurrection and ascension into heaven, and receive the Great Commission to make disciples. We’ve seen them return to Jerusalem with joy, praising God, and we’ve looked on as they gathered once more in a room together, praying to receive what Jesus had promised them, power from on high. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blows them out into the city to share the Good News, and the church is born.
Somewhere in there, they’ve been transformed from frightened followers to bold announcers of the gospel. Somewhere in there, they’ve changed from apprentice craftsmen to master builders in God’s kingdom here on earth. Continue reading →
There’s nothing quite like baptizing a baby to bring us hope. Thank you, Leah and Sean, for reminding us of the sure and certain hope we claim as followers of Jesus! But hope can be fleeting, and sometimes it seems like the tiniest challenge can shatter our hope.
The church in Thessolonica was facing a challenge like that. They had questions. When was Jesus going to come back? Had they missed it? Were they ‘left behind’ and putting their faith in something that wasn’t really true? Continue reading →