Category: Sermon

Bishop Larry Goodpaster- Closing Worship

BishopGTurn on the Light!
Matthew 5:14-16

Jun 19, 2016
Bishop Larry Goodpaster

Jesus said: “You are the light of the world.” Is there any part of that audacious declaration that you do not understand? Say it with me: you are the light of the world. Now make it personal: pat your heart and repeat after me: I am … light … in … of … for the world. Remember Jesus is addressing a rather large crowd of disciples, believers, seekers, questioners, and hangers-on, and I suspect he waved both arms across the crowd for emphasis on “you.” We are in this together.

In the year 1893, the great World’s Fair captured the imagination of the people of Chicago. The World’s Columbian Exposition, as it was called, was built at Jackson Park near the shores of Lake Michigan, and attracted people from all over the world, in spite of a deepening economic depression at that time. The Chicago fair introduced many new products and some of the latest inventions for what promised to be a marvelous twentieth century that was just around the corner. Some things that were first seen at that 1893 World’s Fair: Cracker Jacks, long-distance telephone service, moving pictures, zippers, all-electric kitchen, Juicy Fruit gum and Shredded Wheat cereal.

Perhaps the most amazing display at the fair was the electric street lights that paved the way through the immense fairgrounds. In his best-selling book, The Devil in the White City, author Erik Larson describes that display this way:

“The lamps that laced every building and walkway produced the most elaborate demonstration of electric illumination ever attempted and the first large-scale test of alternating current. The fair alone consumed three times as much electricity as the entire city of Chicago … what visitors adored was the sheer beauty of seeing so many lights ignited in one place at one time.” (The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson, Crown Publishing, 2003, page 47)

Is it possible to imagine such “sheer beauty” shining forth from the churches of the Western North Carolina Conference? Can you picture the most “elaborate demonstration” of members and disciples letting their light shine? Envision thousands of lights ignited for one purpose: to shine the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and shatter the darkness that surrounds the people of our communities and world. Jesus said: “Let your light shine!”

Unfortunately as I have traveled across our conference for the last eight years, and around the connection for the last sixteen, I have heard a disturbing clicking sound. It is not the click of a computer mouse connecting to the internet, nor the clicks of a smart phone accessing information at the touch of your finger. It is the sound of light switches being turned off at our churches.

  • A church says, “we’re just about the right size now” … click, light switch is turned off.
  • Another church says, “what if we attract the wrong kind of people” … click, light switch is turned off.
  • Still another says, “our neighborhood is changing and we are afraid” … click, light switch is turned off.
  • And many continue to say, “we’ve never done it that way before” … click, light switch is turned off.

Yesterday we officially closed five churches and as I have felt every year there is sadness around that action. These were places where people had been baptized and professed their faith, where weddings and funerals had been conducted, where Vacation Bible Schools and revivals had occurred, and now the doors are closed. But I also know that the action yesterday was the result of light switches being turned off years ago.

Some of you may remember an advertising slogan that filled the airwaves during the last decades of the last century. It was actually named one of the Top 100 advertising campaigns of the entire twentieth century. Tom Bodett was the spokesperson for Motel 6 and ended each spot with the words, “we’ll leave the light on for you.” Four years ago Motel 6 changed the wording slightly: “50 years, the light’s still on.” Church: is your light still on?

Jesus said: “You are the light of the world.” Notice that he did not say, “You have to try harder to be a brighter light,” as if somehow we could get spot-light brilliance out of 60-watt members! Neither did he say that you ought to be light, as if we have any choice in the matter. “Let your light shine” he says. How shall we do that? Throughout Matthew’s Gospel I find signs of what that might look like. It is as if Matthew amplifies and illumines this word from Jesus.

One of those signs is recorded in the 18th chapter of Matthew. Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” We have all probably waxed eloquently on some required childlike qualities but notice that the word from Jesus begins with “unless you change.” Unless you change you will never glow with the brilliance of God’s grace and mercy and disperse the darkness of this world.

I have always get a good chuckle from all of those amusing sometimes insightful one-liners about changing light bulbs. I especially like the ones about Methodists. You know: how many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb? One answer: “Change! Are you kidding me, my grandfather gave that light bulb!” Or: “We’re not sure, but we will appoint a 12-person study committee to determine the feasibility of instructing the trustees to investigate the cost and benefits of changing that light bulb.”

There is an encounter between Jesus and a seeker that illustrates what Jesus is saying. Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night looking for some light for his soul. Like countless others since, he is puzzled over what he hears – this notion of being born anew, born from above. It’s like turning or changing or starting over again. “You mean,” He says, “I have to become an infant again.” That’s just it, Jesus says – you have to learn to depend on and trust God and the movement of God’s Spirit in your life.

Many act and think as if they need no assistance from anyone, that they can make it on our own and have it their way, or that their ideas and practices are better than others. In a world left to its own devices inhabited by people who believe they are better than everyone else, darkness prevails. As Nicodemus learned no light can fulfill its intended purpose if it is not connected to the power source. If we are going to be light, if we are going to let our light shine we must allow God’s power to flow into and through us.

A second revealing statement is found in the 10th chapter of Matthew where Jesus says: “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” That is an echo of “no one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket.” In the 24th of his 52 standard sermons (the 4th one on the Sermon on the Mount), John Wesley wrote: “Whatever religion can be concealed is not Christianity … it is absolutely contrary to the design of the great author of it.” Almost 200 years later Dietrich Bonhoeffer would sound the same theme in Cost of Discipleship. “Any community of Jesus,” he wrote, “which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.” (The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1995 Touchstone Edition, page 118)

Tell it, Jesus says. Proclaim it. Do not keep it to yourselves. We are called to be witnesses to the love, grace, and mercy of God, without which none of us would be here. In this world where a pall of darkness seems to have covered us – from global terrorism to domestic violence, from racist attitudes to irrational fears, from diseases of poverty to human trafficking, from angry shouting matches to mass shootings and senseless gun deaths – the need for bold witnesses for Jesus Christ has never been more necessary or more urgent.

It is my unscientific hunch that we have turned off more light switches in our churches because all of us (lay and clergy, young and old, rich and poor) have stopped telling and modeling the Gospel in compelling and relevant ways. Our talking has tended more toward arguing among ourselves instead of lighting the way for a dark, hurting world. While the world seems to be spinning out of control, we have spent far too much of our energy and burned up far too many light bulbs doing battle over worship styles, music tastes, dress codes and how many visible tattoos the youth director should have. It is time to quit squabbling and bickering over such things and let our light shine. Some of us may be incandescent bulbs and some may be fluorescent, some flashlights and others floodlights, but all of us … wait for it … Jesus says are the light of the world.

Finally, in the 14th chapter of Matthew, surrounded by a crowd of more than 5000 people, Jesus says to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” The people had been hanging around for hours, hanging on every word Jesus spoke, and now, honestly, they were hungry. The disciples, ever watching out to protect Jesus, come to him saying, “okay, it’s time to shut this thing down for the day; pronounce the benediction and let them go into town and beat the Pharisees and Sadducees to the café. No, Jesus says, you take care of it. You give them something to eat.

Now I think those disciples would have been good church members in the 21st century. You see they were able to volunteer plenty of information and give advice; they were able to analyze the situation, and they surely felt some measure of sympathy for the crowd, but they were not going to do anything about it. Let them fend for themselves they suggest. Or better yet, let someone else take care of it. After all, we have don’t have enough, our resources are scarce, we do not like special offerings, and besides we all left our jobs and are now on fixed incomes.

If we are going to let our light shine we must adopt a missional mindset. Have you heard me say that in the last eight years? We will have to take risks, move out of our comfort zones and into the mission field which starts at the front door of our church building. The theme song we chose for this Annual Conference session is the Chris Rice song “Go Light your World.” Some of those words capture this missional approach:

“Carry your candle, run to the darkness,

…seek out the hopeless, confused and torn;

…seek out the lonely, the tired and worn …

…carry your candle, go light your world.”

You give them something to eat. Light up the world with deeds of compassion and concern. Be missional. Shine your light so all will see AND give glory to God. Not to you; not for a reward you might earn; not for a recognition plaque; not even to increase membership. But so that all will give glory to God.

When we began our journey together in 2008 we had no idea where God would take us, what road we would travel, or how we might more faithfully and fruitfully serve Christ Jesus. We started in the midst of an economic collapse that was deeper and went on longer than any could have imagined. In that dark time we chose to turn on the light of Christ Jesus in new and creative ways. Out of that time has been birthed a missional movement that challenges all of us to get outside the walls of our buildings, hit the streets, and make a difference in our communities for Jesus Christ.

Our missional networks have opened doors and shined the light of Christ in astounding ways across our conference. Welcome tables and open hands projects provide food to those who struggle daily to survive. Children not only return to school with supplies at the beginning of the year, but also get connected with a mentor, a tutor, a relationship with someone who genuinely cares. We heard this week that more than 540 schools are now connected with our churches providing light for thousands of children. Our churches and our networks are shining the light of Christ is other ways as well.

  • In the Denver area of Catawba Valley a ninety year old woman raising her great-grandchildren now has a well to provide water for her home, and in other houses of that area there are now new roofs and repaired floors … a network turning on lights and making a difference!
  • In central Charlotte immigrant and refugee families receive clothing, household goods, furniture and appliances along with tutoring, work support, healthcare screenings and most important personal relationships. A network turning on lights and making a difference!
  • Two weeks ago at a service in Asheville to bid farewell to one superintendent and welcome another, I met a person who had started coming to one of the “welcome tables” supported by our churches. A good meal and a welcoming spirit provided what she needed. As a result she has now been clean and sober for 2 years, and has made a profession of faith and joined the church. Two years ago she had no idea what a DS was and now here she worshipping with us. Turning on lights and making a difference!

Here, then, is the Jesus Strategy of illuminating the world with the light of the Gospel: be connected to God as our power source; be walking and talking witnesses to the love, mercy, and grace of God; be fully engaged in your community by reaching out to those who are hurting and those most vulnerable. I hope the next clicking sounds we here all over this conference will be lights being turned on and shining brightly. When we do that what a sheer beauty that will be!

Jesus says: “you are the light of the world.” Go … light your world!

 

 

Bishop Cynthia Harvey- Ordination Sermon

BishopHarveyAnd They Saw and They Went

Bishop Cynthia Harvey

June 18, 2016

John 1:35-46; 1 Samuel 3:1-11

 

And they went and they saw or is it they saw and they went?

Here is the scene: John is standing by with two of his disciples when Jesus comes along.  John says, “hey you see that guy?  He is the Lamb of God.”  The two heard what John said and they followed Jesus.

In one verse they followed Jesus!  They didn’t ask any questions.  They didn’t ask, “You sure that’s him?  How do you really know John?”  They didn’t ask their spouses and family if it was okay to follow.  They didn’t even call a meeting to be sure they were certified candidates ready to follow.

Then it was like a domino effect.   Andrew, one of the two, went straight to his brother and said, “hey bro we have found the Messiah” and he led him right to Jesus.

The next day it says that Jesus FOUND Philip.  I wonder if he was lost?  Ole Phil, we don’t know much about him but he follows Jesus then Ole Phil FOUND Nathanael (lots of lost and found going on here) Phil said to Nathaniel, we have FOUND the one Moses wrote about.  Nathanael is a bit sarcastic and that’s when we hear his famous line, “can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Then it’s as if Philip double-dog dares him and says, “Come and See.”  See for yourself!

This calling of the disciples comes pretty quickly.  I guess word traveled fast even in Biblical times.

There is a lot of seeing and hearing in this gospel.

The gospel writer employs all the senses which helps me understand why seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling might be important to believing.

Once you meet Jesus – once you see, and hear and taste and smell life in Jesus, you don’t see things the same way ever again. It is risky business to enter into conversation with Jesus.  Who knows where it might take you.  Sometimes it just takes two words.  Follow me!

When we traveled to the Holy Land with the ordinands in 2013, we had a magnificent guide.  Wisam is smart, knows his Bible and knows his history.

He also comes from a long line of olive wood carvers actually they are more than just carvers, they are artists.  His father and grandfather were both artists and now he is following in their footsteps.

On the trip I fell in love with one of his pieces, truly a piece of art, it is Jesus washing the disciple’s feet.  He agreed to carve a special piece for us that would be shipped to us later.

Several weeks passed and a magnificent and I would add huge piece of olive wood art arrived at the episcopal residence.  It is far more than I ever imagined.  We found a perfect place for it in our home and it has become the center of a lot of conversation.

Last year, Wisam came to Baton Rouge for a visit and we invited him and several people that had traveled to the Holy Land for dinner.

Of course the olive wood piece was once again the center of conversation. Friends the carving is so intricate.  Jesus’ hair and eyes are unbelievably detailed. Someone asked Wisam if he had a picture to follow as he carved.  He said, “no that is just how I see Jesus in my minds eye.”  I turned to him and said there is no way.  In order to carve with this kind of attention to detail you have got to not just see Jesus in your mind but you have to see him from the very depth of your soul.

I believe this is the kind of “seeing” going on in this gospel.  People see, they come and see, they saw and they went, they see greater things, you will see the heavens open – this kind of seeing is much deeper.  It is not just visual.  Today’s leaders are called to see with more than just their eyes.

In a Longing for Holiness John Wesley wrote, “where the loving eye of the soul is continually fixed upon God, there can be no darkness at all.  To see with your soul is to see through the heart of God.”

Today we are called to “See” through the heart of God.

There are several times in this gospel when people see and hear with more than just their ears and their eyes.

There is the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well and she cannot contain herself.  A Jewish man talking to a Samaritan woman and at high noon!

She runs back to her village and says, “Come and See this one who knows everything about me and loves me anyway.”

She is so moved by her experience of Jesus and is in such a hurry to tell everyone in her village that she leaves her jar behind. As soon as her friends hear her story they leave the city and are on their way.  I envision that the people were so moved to hear what the woman had to say that they too wanted to experience what she had experienced.  They probably left their soup pot on the stove and forgot to lock the door.

Then there is Mary Magdalene at the tomb.  She didn’t recognize Jesus until she heard her name.

Maybe seeing and hearing is believing.

Are these the kind of experiences that have moved you to say, yes, I am willing to leave my jar behind and maybe even the door unlocked to follow you, Jesus.  Remember it is risky to enter into conversation with Jesus.  It might lead you to places you don’t want to go.

Jesus has a knack for that and for making unlikely choices.  He didn’t stand outside the temple waiting for holy people.  God shows up most of the time when you are minding your own business.

Today, those of you who are to be ordained, reach this point in your ministry and you have made some pretty amazing sacrifices for what is pretty close to a super natural call.

You know that it is not going to be easy but you are people of faith after all who believe that the one that has brought you thus far will carry you through.

This call is a super natural call.  If it was easy, everybody would do it.  It is costly and at the same time it is joyful.

You have a story to tell.  People invest in dreams they are part of.  People want to be a part of your kind of story.

I have this pesky problem when I read a book or watch a movie or a sporting event.  I become a character in the movie or the book.

If I watch a basketball game, I play every minute of the game or every down of a football game.  I even get really nervous on the Food Network cooking competitions like Chopped when they have only minutes to prepare an entree.  I am exhausted when it’s over.  I invest myself in the story.

So much so that sometimes I stay up all night trying to “finish” the story or change the outcome of the game or think “you know if she had only remembered the secret ingredient.”

People want to be a part of a great story.

Do you dream of a love story of ministry filled with the life giving breath of the Spirit?

I know you must, otherwise you would not be here.  And I am speaking to all of you not just the one to be ordained and those to be commissioned!

Clergy are not the only Christians with credentials.  Thanks be to God for that!  By your baptism you too are credentialed, you too are called.

So while you might think you are eaves dropping on this conversation, know that this too is for you.

You have been attentive to the stirring of the Spirit.  You have heard and you have seen with your heart and you believe.

I love Proverbs 20:12 – Ears to hear and eyes to see – the Lord made them both.  Not sure you can just see or just hear but perhaps it takes both to fully grasp the working of the Spirit upon your life.

Seeing and hearing require us to be attentive.  Attentiveness is a gift from God and it causes you to pay attention sometimes to what we don’t want to see.  Think of all the times you haven’t paid attention.  And an accident occurred.  Or you missed the laughter of a child.  The homeless woman.  The hungry child.  The sunrise.

My grandmother lost her sight when I was young.

She lived across the street from us and it became my job to walk her to church, to be her eyes.

She was truly an amazing woman.  She could see better than anyone I knew.  Better than any sighted person!  She saw from the heart.  She saw from the very depth of her soul.  She did not have visual sight but she could see 20/20!

She was attentive to everything around her.  She never missed a thing.  She could even put on her own make-up.  She did it by touch.  She didn’t have to see you, she could smell you coming.  She recognized your walk.

She could see!

How I wish more of us could see like this.  With attentiveness that is open to the movement of God all around us.  The world and the church would be much different.

Let’s flip back to the Old Testament story for a minute.

There is old Eli.  His eyes had grown weak and he was unable to see.  Samuel is lying  down near by and is awakened by a voice.

He says, “I’m here” and he hurries to Eli and says,  “you rang?”

Eli in his old man voice, says, “son, I didn’t call you / go back and lie down.”

A second time Samuel hears a voice and runs to Eli and once again Eli says, this time he has taken out his false teeth and says “sonny boy it ain’t me.  You must be hearing things.  Go and lie down.”

A third time Samuel hears the voice and runs to Eli and the wise old man realizes that it may be the Lord calling Samuel.

Samuel did not know the Lord’s voice – he didn’t have ears to hear.

At this point I am guessing they are both exhausted and maybe a little exasperated with each other.  They just want to get some sleep for heaven’s sake.

The wise old man tells him to go lie down and if he hears the voice yet again, respond, “Speak! Lord! your servant is listening.”

The Lord calls on Samuel a fourth time, “Samuel, Samuel” and Samuel follows the old man’s advice and says Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

The Lord says, I am about to do something in Israel that will make everyone’s ears tingle.

It took four attempts before the Lord got Samuel’s attention. He did not yet have ears to hear.  He didn’t know the Lord therefore did not know the Lord’s voice.

Sometimes God shows up when we are minding our own business.

Each time Samuel hears the voice, without hesitation, he gets up runs to the nearby room where old and almost blind Eli is sleeping – Here I am!  For you called me.  Each time the old man says, “I didn’t call you go back to your room.”

It is Eli, old and almost blind; the one who cannot see with his eyes that perceives or “sees” that it is the Lord calling Samuel.

Even though everyone knew that it was rare that God spoke to people in those days.  It is the feeble old man that understands what is going on.

He gives the young Samuel some very wise counsel, a little coaching from the old man  “GO” and when you hear the voice again say “speak for your servant is LISTENING!”

Often others perceive the call of God on our lives long before we do.

But we are the ones that have to respond, “Speak Lord for your servant it listening.”

Let me stop for a moment and point out that there is a big difference between hearing and listening.

Many years ago, my husband was going in for his annual physical and I suggested he might get his hearing checked.  So, as he sat at the audiologist she asked him if he had problems hearing and he said, not really, but my wife thinks I should have my hearing checked.

She checked his hearing and said Mr. Harvey your hearing is fine perhaps it is your listening that you ought to check. I promise I didn’t even pay her to say that!  To listen requires us to pay attention. Listening is much more than hearing.

Rhodes Logan, of the United Methodist Foundation in Nashville reminded me of a great truth in one of their newsletters.

When children’s television host Mr. Rogers was asked why he talked so slowly, his answer was that the time between speaking and hearing was sacred.  It is in this piece of time that the spirit can take what is said and translate it for the hearer.

This world is in a rush, and we rarely do one task at a time.  We are multi-taskers.  We don’t just drive; we talk on our cellphones and drive and juggle multiple tasks at work.

The Spirit can work within all of our rushing around, however are we as good at noticing the Spirit if we never slow down?

It is not likely that our world will slow down. However, maybe within the rush we can be like Mr. Rogers and create a space for the Spirit to move.

Instead of listening and forming our reply, we can listen first for the Spirit.  Then with fuller knowledge and understanding, we can reply.

Perhaps the space between the first and the fourth time the Lord called Samuel was sacred, the Spirit used it so that he might gain fuller knowledge and understanding and THEN was able to reply, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”

Some of us require more space than others.  It took me about 25 years.

Sometimes our hearing and our vision are perfect, we just cannot hear the voice of God or we choose to ignore it.  We only hear and see what we want to hear and see.

It took a blind old man to point out to Samuel that it could be God calling.

What about you?  I sure hope that by now you understand this calling upon your life.  But I also know some others of you have probably heard the same call.

You don’t have to be ordained to respond to God’s call on your life.  By your baptism you too are called, you too are credentialed.

Did it strike you as it did me that the voice of God was unexpected – in the Temple of all places?

Could this have been more of a museum than a place where people encounter the living God?  Like some of our churches?

“Then the Lord said to Samuel See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears tingle.”
I find the use of the word TINGLE odd in scripture.  It is TINGLE in every translation I checked, Tingle just does not sound like a biblical word.

Tingle – Something different is about to happen.  God is going to do a new thing.  It is so new that it will make you tingle.

It might make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.  It will give you chill bumps.

It is an incredibly complicated time to lead the church.

This is not our momma and daddy’s church.  We have got to stand strong and remain in relationship with one another and with God.  This years General Conference talked of schism and division.  There  is a lot of hurt, a lot of trash talking that prevents us from seeing what God has in store for God’s people – you and me.

We get distracted from what we have been called to be and do.  We actually spent more time at General Conference talking about the rules that we di the mission of the church.

God is not finished with us yet and not even General Conference can stop the tingling – I am about to do something new it will make both ears of anyone who hears tingle!  Be ready because nothing can separate us from the love of God not even General Conference!

You get this! You are here because you want to make a difference. You want to do a new thing!  There is a whole world out there that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

You have to share your own experience of the living God.  You have a story to tell.

The same God who called Samuel is calling you.

The same one who called Andrew and Simon Peter and Ole Phil has called you.

I think I must say this every year at ordination – God does not call us once and for all but time and again.

We are called to risk, maybe risk it all so that the world might be changed.

We have to focus on that which will make for a different place for your children, your children’s children and their children.  That they may have a story of faith to tell.

Can you imagine what might happen if we focused – laser like focused – on leading people to Christ that they might be changed people?  Can you imagine living in a changed world?

God is going to use you whether you are ready or not.  You may be like Samuel.

You may not yet have eyes to see or ears to hear.

But I promise even then the Spirit will twist and turn and churn and weave your life into a legacy that will set the world on fire.  It will be more than you could ever imagine.

“““

When Jesus turned and saw them following he asked what are you looking for?

They said Rabbi where are you staying?  He replied, “Come and See.”  So they went and they saw.

Are you ready? Come and See!

 

 

 

 

 

Celebration of Life- Dr. Ken Lyon

KenLyon

Things Worth Remembering

Rev. Dr. Kenneth Lyon

 

[this sermon text was adapted from a transcription. This is not meant to be seen as an exact replica of what was heard in the auditorium]

Bishop Goodpaster, members of the Annual Conference, I thank you for this opportunity and great privilege and you who have gathered here to allow us to share in these moments of memory and hope.

Those that we honor on this day have been our friends, mentors, and have been our colleagues in God’s kingdom work. Each of them individually gifted, uniquely crafted for the work God has called them to do and that served with great measures of faithfulness.

The diversity of the places they serve, circumstances in which they found themselves, whether it be in the Parish, classroom or other avenues of Bible ministry beyond the local church, they have been living examples and witnesses of God’s grace in their lives and have faithfully proclaimed the gospel both in word and in deed.

As the bishop said, I am one of those newly minted retirees and we had a gathering of us in this graduating class and were given a minute to speak about ministry and we all expressed gratitude, but it was unique that several people mentioned how surprised they were when they moved from the view in the pew to the view from the chapel, people tend to look at families and ministry a bit differently.

That came home to me years ago when we were serving a three‑point charge. when I was a seminary student at Duke. In these three churches they had a parsonage in a rural area, a hard‑surfaced road that went by with a long gravel drive way. Across the field one other house, across the road, one house, then no houses for the longest way until it intersected with another hard surfaced road and another one in the opposite direction.

My wife Lydia, always a fitness buff, decided to up the physical fitness regimen. She decided she would take up running. I think running is a good idea, if there’s a good sized bear after you. I con fess there were days she came back in looking like a bear had been after her.

But one day she came in gasping not only for air, but from laughing, said she was jogging up this hard‑surfaced road, across the street was the neighbor’s house, the neighbor boy was in the front yard with another young boy we surmised must have been his cousin.

As Lydia jogged by the neighbor punched that neighbor boy and said look at that woman running, the neighbor boy punched him back and said don’t be funny, that’s not a woman, it’s the preacher’s wife.

It became clear people have a different perspective about ministerial families, the truth is you all have stories. Some I hilarious, some poignant, all speaking to the gift of having shared life together with those you loved so deeply.

I urge you to name those stories. To speak of them often. To find a way to preserve them. For generations yet unborn. To be able to look back and experience the quarry from which they are hewn and know the values not just for the current generation, but values that shaped and molded families for perhaps generations. That’s especially important to me because as I matured I notice I don’t remember as well as a used to. When it comes to names, they don’t come as easily. Have you had the experience of running into somebody you haven’t seen for a while and you can tell anything in the world about them, name their dog, but you can’t call their name?
The name always arrives, usually at 3:00 a.m. in the morning when it’s inappropriate to do much with it. I asked my wife to help me with that name challenge. But she said she won’t do it, she absolutely refuses to wear a name tag.

Friends, there are some things I may forget, but there’s some things I want never to forget. There are things I see in the lives and witness of those we honor this day that need to remain with me as long as I have a mind to remember and any of us are on this Earthly pilgrimage. That passage of scripture read was foundational in their lives, for God so loved the world that he gave his only son that who so ever believes shall have everlasting life. For God did not send his son to condemn the world. It was a ministry restoration.

The folks that we honor this day believed it, received, and they lived it. I invited my congregation, it was a sneaky way to get them to read the scriptures. I was running out of ideas to get them to read scriptures, I said read and come up with the time when Jesus whispered in their ear and said you are fine, don’t need a thing I have to offer. Nobody could and come up with something.

These folks believed that Jesus had something substantial to offer them. In turn, they embraced it, wanted to live it out. There hangs outside my office door, at least for a couple more weeks, a print of John Wesley bidding good‑bye to a small group of missionaries heading to America. These missionaries do not know if they will ever set foot in their homeland again. It’s a journey fraught with uncertainty, some will not even survive, yet John Wesley bids them, “offer them Christ.” That was their mandate, their call. They went forth with great confidence they were in the keeping of the holy one. Because they offered, people came to Christ.

You read the names of all of these folks, all the clergy, all the spouses and you see all the places they have served. Think about check collectively because of their faithful service, thousands of people, men, women, boys, girls have said yes to the invitation to life Jesus offered through them because they were willing to say this is substantial, matters to me, impacted my life and I believe it is worthy of yours.

Because of their witness, those thousands of persons not only came into God’s kingdom family, but relationships were restored, character was redefined, eternal destinies redirected. Powerful change of addiction and destructive behavior was broken.

Because they offered. I think under lying their ministry and lives, both clergy and spouses, was this strong current of urgency. They all recognized however long life it, it is brief We live in a more transient society than we have ever experienced. People come and go, used to be only the occasional schoolteacher and a Methodist preacher, now they are about the only ones that hang around for a little while. We don’t know how long we have to touch, to invite. This sense of urgency says every life is a sacred journey. Every life is holy. And God claims every person to the work of the Christ to be embraced and into the great work.

These folks have done it in season and out of season, worked, made a decision never to withhold.

Remember the story about the sewer that went out, worst farmer on the face of the planet. Through the seed willy‑nilly, he knew there were thorns, hard‑packed dirt, birds would get it, but kept sowing, sowing, in a generous way trusting that some would fall in the right places, that maybe looked inhospitable. And life would spring up.

So it was with the lives of those we honor, willing to reach deep in themselves and offer what they had. There’s Moses reluctant to do what wanted him to do. God says, Moses? What’s in my hand? A staff, it’s a staff, just a shepherd’s staff. But it is the symbol of his identity, livelihood, and God says release it to me. Moses releases it, it is empowered in a way far beyond anything Moses could possibly imagine.

So it is, the folks we honor on this day knew themselves well, they knew their capacities but also knew their call was not to compare themselves with others with different gifts or bring gifts, their call was to offer to God that which they had in their hand, and to say here it is and here I am God, send me, use me, deploy me, let me be your person.

They spent their lives inviting people to the larger family of God. When I was growing up, one thing we did was go to something called the Lyon Family Reunion. How many of you ever went to family reunions? Okay. Ours is like a church potluck on steroids.

The Lyon clan has roots up around the Elkin area, Track Hill, North Carolina. We would go up every first Sunday in June. There was a little place they hollowed out ‑‑ the food was 15 kinds of fried chickens, colonel Sanders would love to have. Biscuits as big as a cat’s head with a pinch of country ham.

Fresh vegetables, banana pudding, black berry cobbler with lattice crust, but one thing I didn’t look forward to.

In my family there were four sisters and they were called the Hayes girls –

Cornelia, my grandmother. The girls were as wide as tall. Folks called them ample women. They were amp women. I knew when I arrived, my dad pulled up on that grassy place that all four of those sisters, two of them my grandmother and a sister married Lyon brothers, the other two showed up anyhow, weren’t Lyons, all sitting on the bench, waiting, in their ampleness, and I knew when I walked up one of them was going to call out to me and say, come here child and let me hug you.”

I would hide behind my mother’s skirt. She would pull me around and one of my ample aunties would step up ‑‑ did I tell you they all did snuff expect my grandmother? Yeah.

She would reach with for me with those fleshy arms and pick me up off the ground and push me into her ampleness. My arms were swaying, legs were swaying, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe, and just when I was about to lose consciousness, she would release me, leaving me breathless with the ampleness of her embrace.

Well, the food would be eaten, the cousins would all play, the sun began to set. We would gather up what food was left, wouldn’t be much, pack up the car, get ready to leave. My dad put the car in reverse, look over the back seat to see where he was backing, I was laying down on the back seat from too much banana pudding. He would pause and a, “Ken, don’t ever forget, these are your people. This is your heritage.”

So it was, the writer of Hebrews may have picked up his pen and he began to write of a community of the people of God who were faces challenges. Some hardships, some maybe even times of loss. Over in chapter 11 he begins to name folks, heroes of faith, men and women, every one of them flawed in some way, he honored them each with different capacities, abilities, all with a willingness to give themselves to the purpose of the holy one. For God’s good kingdom.

Then he began in chapter 12, therefore since we are surrounded so great a crowd of witnesses, let us lay aside every sin that clings so closely and run the race with perseverance that has been set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. He calls out to that long‑ago church and says, “Look at your forebears, you are not the first to walk the path, but also calls to the mountaintops of challenge and the deepest valleys where the dark shadows look and loss may come.”

God was faithful to them and God will be faithful to you. Take heart, he says to them, and take heart across the centuries he says to each and every one of us.
He says that same God of faithfulness will embrace you as that God of holiness and grace has embraced those who have gone on before. Friends, they are all gone now, Aunt Fannie, Aunt Mamie, Aunt Myrtle, Grandma, they joined that great cloud of witnesses as have these, that we remember this day, but their legacy remains. That legacy calls to us and beckons us and we remember, we will never forget.

These are our people. This is our heritage. Let us then in Jesus name and in theirs, live and love, lead and serve, as they have taught us in such a way, in such a way, that we leave the word breathless with the ampleness of God’s loving embrace of grace, amen?

Amen

Saturday Morning- Laity Report & Other Business

UpchurchFollowing the Laity Address, Robert Upchurch, the Conference Lay Leader for the past quadrennium, was recognized by Bishop Goodpaster, and introduced the speakers speakers for the Report of the Laity.

Neil Brown, President of the United Methodist Men of Western North Carolina, led off the speakers.  Bishop Goodpaster interrupted his speech, to recognize the national award that the United Methodist Men received in March. Our Conference organization was recognized as being the top organization in the connection. He reported on upcoming events and opportunities for local churches and United Methodist Men’s groups. PowerPoint Presentation

Tonya Lanier, President of the United Women, gave her address to the congregation.  Here is a link to the text of her address. | Video shown in presentation

Ryan Clark, a youth from Zion United Methodist Church, a recent high school graduate, gave the report of the Conference Council of Youth Ministry. He ended is address with these words: “Everyone needs to be shown the grace and love of God. No matter what our age, it’s up to all of us to ‘make disciples of all nations,” of all people and to ‘teach them to obey’ the words of Christ.  When we do this, we transform the world.  This is what CCYM has set out to do, and this is what we as a church are supposed to do! Today let’s go, and make disciples!”

Robert Upchurch followed with the introduction of Ms. Jane Boatwright Wood, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Evangelism, and the new Conference  Lay Leader for the 2016-2020 quadrennium.

Then the Board of Laity surprised Upchurch with a recognition at the end for his years of service as Lay Leader.

Final Business

The morning session included several other items of business:

The Harry Denman Award, in recognition of exceptional evangelism, was given to Luke Edwards of King Street Church. See Video

PDavisDennis Carroll of Jamestown UMC and Provost at High Point University presented the Francis Asbury Award to Rev. Preston Davis, Chaplain at High Point University.  He mentioned this in his remarks: “Anything we have done has been in partnership with the students in particular…I am grateful to them and ‑‑ raising up leaders in the church today, tomorrow.  Thank you, I share this with you and I am deeply grateful.”

The Call & Vocation Team led by Rev. Sally Queen and Rev. Jim Parsons presented a shorter version of their     report (this report was postponed from Thursday afternoon).  They spoke of their work with persons answering the call to ministry. Queen ended the presentation with these words:  “If we leave Lake Junaluska tomorrow and go back into our communities and places we live and serve, might we live out God’s call to ministry because that truly is what will transform our world.  What ever your name is, you are called.”

They prepared two videos for conference: Short Promo Video | I am called- Jasmine Isaac

The Order of Deacons celebrated their 20th anniversary this year. Rev. Michelle Foster-Beckerleg and Rev. Brad Potter spoke to the success of this work, and the major contribution of deacons to ministry throughout the entire conference. Potter summed up the work of a deacon in this quote:

“The deacon is distinctive in their calling in that we have the privilege of offering servant leadership and ministries of compassion and justice.  The establishment of the order of deacon provide the opportunity for clergy to offer leadership in ways that connect the church in the world.  Essentially operating as a bridge with the privilege of interpreting the concerns and needs of the world to the local church and being able to lead the church ministries of comp passion.  Doing this in a variety of ways within the local church and actually beyond the walls of the church as well.”

A video was prepared for the celebration- view video.

Rev. Amy Coles handled the cabinet resolutions related to the closing of churches found on pages 38-39 in the supplement.  There was one extra church added to the list that did not make the publishing deadline.  Burgess Chapel UMC in the Appalachian District will be officially closed effective July 16, 2016. These five petitions were adopted.

After a few announcements, the business side of conference ended, and we conclude this year’s meeting with the Celebration of Life and the Ordination Service on Saturday, and Closing Worship on Sunday morning.

Dr. William McClain- Friday Morning Commissioning Service

MClain-400SO, NOW,  WE GO…

by

William B. McClain
Mary Elizabeth Joyce Professor of Preaching and Worship, Emeritus
Wesley Theological Seminary
Washington, D.C.

Texts:  “…and as you go,  preach the gospel…” [ Matt. 10:7].

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father,  and of the Son and of  the Holy Spirit… and lo, I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matt. 28:19-20].

I am honored and humbled always to preach at commissioning and Ordination services.  I find that it is an opportunity for me to renew my vows made at my ordination in the Central Alabama Conference in the  racially segregated Central Jurisdiction on a hot June day in my home church: Sweet Home Methodist Church in Etowah County in Gadsden, Alabama.  I am the last person living from the class of ordinands in that Annual Conference.  I invite all of those who have been commissioned and/or ordained to do the same: to renew the vows you made before the Lord in whatever place you made them.

Martin Luther, the 16th century Protestant Reformer-theologian, used to offer some advice to his preachers that is probably especially applicable to Sermons at Annual Conference.  Luther told his preachers:

“#1. Stand up!  #2. Speak up!  And, # 3. Shut up!”

Well, over the years I have offered my students some advice which I hope I can practice today myself.  I have said to them:

Start low; go slow;

Rise high, strike fire;

Sit down.

 

There are at least two recordings in the Gospel of Matthew of where Jesus commissions his disciples “to go.”  One in Chapter 10 and the other in the closing words of the Book of Matthew in Chapter 28,  which we just heard read today.  In verse 7 of the tenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says “Go  to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, [PAUSE],  and as you go, [PAUSE],      preach the gospel…” [PAUSE]   And in the 28th chapter we hear the words of the Great Commission: “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all I have commanded …;”  and then he adds a promise of his continuing presence in these words: “And remember, I  am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

We will not tackle the hermenuetical problem of whether the first commission was an exclusive “missionary command” to preach to the House of Israel and the second, a universal “Great Commission, ”  and whether the former was rescinded and consumed and replaced in  the latter…  I am satisfied that both commands and commissions came from  the same Jesus, [PAUSE],  “SO, NOW,  WE GO…”

 

We do not go because we know the world is desperately and anxiously seeking to know what happened to the Jebusites and where Pamphyllia and Phrygria are located,  and whether 100 angels can stand on the head of a pin, but rather we go because we are called,  commanded, and commissioned to go by Jesus and we know that the people come asking: “What word is there from the Lord today that speaks to my conditions, my hurts, my problems, my conflicted soul and spirit? We go because the people still ask “is there a word that speaks to our world and all of its desperate  needs, the ethical decisions with which I and those around me are struggling to make?” We go because people still ask “Can the Gospel that you preach, teach, and live bring peace, love, and  justice to a troubled soul and a world filled with ambiguities?  and a world in which the currents of history are churning into rapids, sometimes sweeping away the long familiar places where the anchored floats used to mark the safe and navigable channels for our lives.   “In times like these,” “ they ask can you speak to the deep yearning and wonder of my soul for an anchor that grips a solid rock?

 

Well, that is what I have been about in theological education  all these years  I have spent at Wesley Theological Seminary:  to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts through an academic, spiritual and social search to discover more of the ways of God, and the way God is in the world.  And to discover and interpret what we have found  in a world that is more complex, more intercultural, more interreligious and more interconnected than ever before. It is also a world besieged by war, xenophobia, violence, race-baiting, bigotry, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and so many other attitudes and actions that divide and violate God’s beautiful rainbow creation whom God called “the children of God!”  God blessed all of creation and said it was good.

The goal in my ministry in theological quest has been to enable my students  to go from the Seminary being able to say as the blind man said after encountering Jesus and getting a new perspective: “I was blind, but now I see. “ And,  SO, NOW,  WE GO…AS ORDINANDS and we go to help others to see WHO and WHAT we have seen.  In the words of Jesus in the Matthew text:  “…teaching them to observe all the things I have taught you…” [Matthew 28:20].

There is the temptation in such  questioning  and disorderly and frightening times, and especially when fear-mongering seems more important  than facts and saber rattling seems easier than  an effort at just peace,  for theologians and persons in roles of religious leadership to simply accommodate the people who want their answers clear, clean and easy.  But it is not the task of those whose  eyes have been opened to offer easy answers and quick, unexamined,   slick and glib slogans,  and easily-remembered “sound bites.”   Not just to offer  simplistic answers that represent a rearrangement of the facts of life which will inevitably lead to disenchantment and despair.  As my late friend, William Sloan Coffin,  used to say to his students at Yale: “Answers that begin by explaining all too much end up always by explaining all too little.”

My teacher and mentor at Boston University, Howard Thurman,  used to always remind us that we must speak to the heart and to the mind.  In other words, don’t ask congregations to check their minds at the door because we are in church!  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to warn us about ‘softmindedness” in religion.  He used to say such leaders in the church have re-translated the Beatitudes to read: “Blessed are the pure in IGNORANCE; for they shall see God.”

The people whom we are called to go and serve and with whom we minister need  priests to stand  with them as well as prophets to stand over against them.  Prophets to speak truth to power as well as priests to nourish their souls and to help to heal their hurts and pain.   [PAUSE] .   Our generation and our church need priests who preach like prophets and prophets who serve like priests.  The challenge before the church and this Annual Conference  is to raise our voice as a trumpet in the discordant  sounds  of the public square,  and  to be the voice of conscience that  speaks truth to the power of the state, the market, and the body politics, even as it speaks peace to the troubled soul,  and preaches good news to the poor  [paraphrased from Allen Dwight Callahan, an unpublished paper on ordination presented at Harvard University Divinity School, 1997].

The Great Commission  is to GO!  “And so now,  you go,  feed my sheep, tend to my lambs, hold  together my flock.  Preach the gospel.  Teach.  Baptize. Make disciples.”

And, now, we go, not because we have reached  perfection, but we are  trying; so, we go, and you go,   not because you will have a degree behind your signature and you will have a title in front of  your name as “Rev. or Doctor,” but because you have been  called to be a servant leader for the people; so, you go,  not to be pampered and served, but you go because you have been called, commissioned, prepared and sent from this place as “workers who do not have to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

And Jesus had no rose-colored, overly romanticized notion about the world to which we go.  He  was very realistic about the world to which you go.  He knew that there are serpents who will threaten to poison your  blood stream and wolves out there who will try to tear you apart limb from limb and devour your flesh, and he warned that some will be close to you as brothers and sisters, and thus he warns that when we go we must be “wise as the serpents, and harmless as doves.”  I learned from Martin Luther King, Jr. long ago when I was in Alabama with him that that means that we must have the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove,    —–  having “a tough mind and a tender heart”  [MLK, Strength to Love, “Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” p 13].

There is a commission to go, but there is also a promise in this Great Commission.  And I know a little bit about making a promise.

I made one more than  60 years ago in Alabama, that I would give my life and my gifts and such talent that I had to the church and the Christian ministry and to preach the Gospel. [PAUSE].

When I went to teach at Wesley 36 years ago I made a promise to Wesley Theological Seminary that I would give the best of my service to teach preaching and worship and be a  scholar and  leader in theological education.  That  institution believed me and granted me full professorship and tenure many years ago and installed me as their first endowed professor [and by the way, that endowment came from a woman from Reidville, North Carolina: named Mary Elizabeth McGehee Joyce.  Just about 13 years ago when there was talk of retirement,  I promised the President of the seminary that I would teach and serve Wesley Theological Seminary  until I was 75 years old – that occurred 3 years ago.  I’ve tried to faithfully keep those promises as best I could, but I know It was  not always  as unfailing and as sure as it ought to have been about these promises.   The Lord knows I  tried.

But the One who makes the promise in this text has never faltered or failed: “… and lo, I will be with you ALWAYS, even until the end of the age.”     The PROMISE OF THE NEVER-FAILING PRESENCE OF CHRIST.  “I WILL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS!”  Which means there is the promise of always being there!

Always means “All    the    days…”   The days when the sun is shining  and the days when it’s cloudy; the days when there is a large crowd and the days when they are few; the days when the people are on your side and the days when all seemed arrayed against you.  The days when there is plenty and the days when the budget is hard to meet.

The ministry can be a lonely profession.  There are times when, in the words of the old Black preacher, we seem to have to “tread the wine press alone,”  but we are not alone, he promises never to leave us alone! No never alone!

I’ve seen the lightning flashing,

I’ve heard the thunder roll,

I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing,

Trying to conquer my soul;

I’ve heard the voice of Jesus

Telling me still to fight on:

He promised never to leave me,

Never to leave me alone.

Refrain

No, never alone, no, never alone –

He promised never to leave me,

Never to leave me alone.

I am willing to stand on his promise, not on a partisan platform, but on his promise; not on a fleeing and fleeting philosophy, but on his promise; not on an ideology, but on his promise; not on an unwavering and changing theological position, but on his promise.     When the howling storms of doubt come, I’ll stand on his promise.  When the assailing fears come, I’ll stand on his promise!  When the world crushes me down and my enemies assail, I’ll stand on his promise!   I’m standing, standing, standing on the promises.

A promise is as good as the one who makes it.  I’m standing on the promise because I know the One who made the promise.  He’s never failed me yet!  as I told you yesterday morning:

I’ve come too far from where I started from.

Nobody told me that the road would be easy.

But I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me.

[Curtis Burrell]

And he will  not leave you, either!

 

The One who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.  Morning by morning new mercies I see.  Great is God’s faithfulness!    But my hope is built on nothing less…

So, Now,  GO! Go into all the world, and as you go, PREACH THE GOSPEL!  Not simply a FULL Gospel, but preach “the whole counsel of God” BUT PREACH TO ALL THE WORLD AS YOU GO!  In season and out of season, in fair weather and in foul; in the cities and in the country; in large steeple churches and in clapboard way stations.  In the words of the old Isaac Watts hymn the AME Church still loves to sing:

“Go preach my gospel” saith the Lord,

Bid the whole earth my grace receive.

Explain to them my sacred word;

Bid them believe, obey and live.

[Isaac Watts, 1674-1748]

 

 

Dr. Bryan Collier-Thursday Evening Worship

BryanCollierAs Those Who Know Him Best

John 15

June 16, 2016

Dr. Bryan Collier
The Orchard
Tupelo, MS

Introduction

On my last visit to North Carolina, I was asked to preach at a church which was preparing to launch their associate pastor out to plant a new church.  I arrived on Saturday, spent some time with the new church planter and then with the Senior Pastor as we prepared for Sunday’s service.  We talked details, music, order, scriptures and then he said “I need to tell you about Cowboy.”  I need to tell you about Cowboy because I don’t want you to be distracted.  The conversation then went something like this—“When you stand up to preach tomorrow, there on the front row about 4 feet away, will be a man in a cowboy hat, with a long gray beard—like the guy in deliverance, (now he has my attention!) and with him he will have his pet squirrel.  A stuffed squirrel?  A toy squirrel?  Nope—a live squirrel; but don’t worry he has it on a leash!  Now sometimes the music freaks that squirrel out, but if it does he will slap that squirrel and it will settle down.  And (there’s an and?)…he wears a loaded revolver, AND he brings his wife with him (Oh this ought to be good)—well her ashes in a pouch—which is a whole other story.  I remember thinking, “I am so glad you are telling me because there is no way I am going to be distracted by an elderly gentleman who has a beard like the guy in deliverance, with a cowboy hat and a pet squirrel and a revolver and his wife’s ashes in a pouch!”  Then the pastor friend corrected me and said, “oh he doesn’t look like the guy from deliverance—he IS the guy from Deliverance—he played that character!”  Now I am distracted for a wholly other reason—I am a backpacker and I am thinking “how cool is that!”  Distractions of every kind, everywhere!  But what I was really thinking was, “FINALLY a unique story I can tell about a unique person from somewhere other than Mississippi!”

My pastor friend didn’t want me to be distracted and the context of our reading tonight is that Jesus is trying to help the disciples focus as they enter the greatest days of distraction they will ever know.

And so Jesus, knowing what is just ahead gathers them in an upper room and prepares them for a time when he will no longer be with them in body—so that they may be faithful to the mission he has begun in the coming days of great distraction.

I don’t want to begin in chapter 15 where Jesus begins; before we get to where Jesus begins and ends—I want to point out that in the face of enormous distraction Jesus issues a…

Clear Call (16)

Right in the middle of chapter 15, Jesus says simply, “You didn’t choose me, I chose you to go and produce lasting fruit…”

Jesus obviously uses multiple metaphors to call the disciples to his mission in the world.  The one of this annual conference, “Go Light your world” is one of them as is this call to bear fruit. 

I have been partial to this chapter and this fruit-bearing imagery for the last 18 years, not only because it is the place from which we draw the name of the church I serve, but also because the word fruit if very instructive throughout the New Testament.  If you look at the word fruit throughout the New Testament, it occurs about 43 times (depending on translation) but those 43 uses gather up nicely into 3 baskets—people who are introduced to Christ; people who by the work of the Holy Spirit grow up to be like Christ, people who go out into the world to act like Christ.

And so when Jesus says to the disciples; I have appointed you for this—to go bear fruit! He is calling them to introduce people to Him; teach and help them to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to grow up to be like Him, and to go out into the world to act like him.

In a day of distraction…a clear call.  But Jesus warns them at this point that there will more than distraction.  There will be…

Clear Opposition (18-26)

Jesus uses one word 7 times in 7 verses—that word is hate and it is used to describe the reception that the disciples and this message of Jesus are going to get from the world.

Jesus could have used a softer word, or a different word, but he used the word hate.  Do you know what this word in the original language is—to detest or to pursue with hatred.

Makes you wonder if we are announcing the message of Christ when the world embraces a message our Lord said the world would hate.

We don’t have time, but Jesus points out in verse 21 that some hate the message and messengers out of ignorance and some hate the message and messengers out of conviction.  I think Jesus explains this to the disciples so that they will not be surprised that, for any number of reasons, the world’s reception of the message and them as messengers will be hatred—detestable, pursuant hatred.

But Jesus (26) promises them the power of the Holy Spirit in order to remind and strengthen them in the face of this opposition.

That the work of ministry is difficult and opposed is not surprising or new to many of us.  When it is, we are in the company of Jesus and the disciples, and in the company of our forefather, John Wesley.  I keep taped in the back of my Bible, a copy of one page of John Wesley’s journal that records a particularly difficult stretch—and I read it during particularly difficult stretches.

A single page from the journal of John Wesley:

  • Sunday a.m., May 5 – Preached in St. Anne’s; was asked not to come back anymore.
  • Sunday p.m., May 5 – Preached at St. John’s; deacon’s said, “Get out and stay out.”
  • Sunday a.m., May 12 – Preached at St. Jude’s; can’t go back there either.
  • Sunday p.m., May 12 – Preached at St. George’s; kicked out again.
  • Sunday a.m., May 19 – Preached at St. Somebody Else’s; deacons called a special meeting and said I couldn’t return.
  • Sunday p.m., May 19 – Preached on the street; kicked off the street.
  • Sunday a.m., May 26 – Preached out in a meadow; chased out of the meadow when a bull was turned loose during the service.
  • Sunday a.m., June 2 – Preached out at the edge of town; kick off the highway

When we preach and live the message of Christ there is clear opposition.  But…Jesus also marks for the disciples in every age a…

Clear Path to Faithfulness (and Fruitfulness) (1-7, 27)

And that clear path is not the next program, or emphasis, CEU opportunity, special Sunday or (excuse me bishop) episcopal initiative.

The clear path to faithfulness of mission in the face of opposition is simply this—an ongoing, intimate relationship with Jesus.

And this is true no matter what Scriptural image for the mission of God that we connect too.  We cannot Go Light our World if we are not connected in an ongoing intimate relationship with the Light of the World.  We cannot share living water if we have not drunk deeply ourselves.  We cannot bear fruit if we are severed from the vine. 

Jesus chooses the word abide in our text and by it he means intentional, ongoing, vibrant relationship.  He goes on for 7 verses about His being the Vine and we being the branches and includes both a warning for being disconnected—fruitlessness and uselessness and being discarded and a promise for remaining in him—bearing much fruit.

But there is a verse, the very last verse, which ties both the mission and the path to faithfulness together perfectly (27)—“And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.”  My favorite translation of this verse says it this way, “You must tell others about me as those who know me best.”

Tell others about me.  And do it as one who knows me best.

The world is full of distractions—programs, emphases, causes.  Our one call is this—tell others about Jesus.  Our message must be singular and our living no less.  I am not suggesting that we lay aside programs, emphases and causes—but the Gospel must drive us to the cause and not the cause drive us to the Gospel.  We are called to tell others about HIM.  That is clear.

And to do it as those who know him best—This is the difference between me telling you about MY wife and Bishop Goodpaster’s wife.  I have known Debra my whole life—and yet I know her in a decidedly different way than I know my wife Wendy.  I have no idea what Debra’s favorite color, or food, or hobby it (though I might guess it has something to do with grandchildren).  But my wife loves pink, boiled peanuts and shopping—where else do you find that combination except in a Mississippi woman?  I know her exceedingly better than I know Debra. 

We are invited to tell others about Jesus as those who know him best and because of this call–we can not be a church distracted by what we want, wish, hope or prefer that Jesus do or say.  We cannot be a church that tells others about him as those who knew him or heard of him or met him once.

Your church and my church and our church (UMC) must recapture the priority of an ongoing vibrant relationship with Jesus or there will be no fruit—because apart from him we can do nothing.  And this must begin with out pastors and leaders because what we want to see in the world, we must first see in the church and what we want to see in the church we must first see in our leaders and what we want to see in our leaders we must first see in our pastors.

Jesus marks out a clear path to faithfulness—relationship with him out of which there is a…

Clear Result—Fruit. (8)

In the spring of 1998, I was finishing up a 1-year residential Doctor of Ministry program and I was in a class called Anthropology for Christian Missions.  As a church-planter-to-be it was a very helpful class but one assignment was particularly interesting.  We were assigned to do an ethnography—a study of a sociological system—in this instance a church.  We had to study and write a report about things like, who did they say was in charge as opposed to was actually in charge and how did they say they made decision compared to how they actually made decisions.  There was one caveat, you had to choose a church that was unlike any you had ever been a part of; so my study partner and I got out the yellow pages and looked through the churches and decided on The Greater Soul Deliverance Apostolic Tabernacle and Revival Center in downtown Lexington, Kentucky.  We came to find out that it was named The Greater Soul Deliverance Apostolic Tabernacle and Revival Center because there was already a Soul Deliverance Apostolic Tabernacle and Revival Center—this one was clearly the greater one.  GSDAT was a Multi-racial, Jesus only congregation led by Bishop Booker and First Lady Booker.  There are lots of stories I could tell I want to tell you just one.  My study partner and I showed up for prayer service on Wednesday night and we walked into the back of an old downtown sanctuary that seated about 400.  We couldn’t see anybody, but we could hear everybody because they were all on their knees, elbows on the pew seats praying out loud at the same time.  You know the Korean way of praying outlined in the back of our hymnal where we all pray out loud together at the same time and we do it in respectful, considerate voices?  Well it was nothing like that!  They were all praying loudly, at the top of their lungs at the same time.  So this was about the time that I knew I was headed back to Tupelo to plant a new church and I had been working for the better part of a year on a vision or goal and so I found my way down the aisle and knelt down like the others on one of the first pews and said to God, “I have a vision for you God, I have an offer.  What if in the first 5 years of this new church we had 500 people who have come to faith in Christ or back to the church after being far away from you.”  I thought that is a pretty big deal!  That is a pretty awesome offer.  Not literally, but you imagine me sitting down across the desk from God and sliding my offer sheet across the desk to him, sitting back, folding my arms and saying, “How do you like that?”  And as audibly as I have ever heard the voice of God, he said to me, “Is that all?”  Is that all it is going to be about Bryan?  What you can do?  How many you can count?  What you can manufacture?  OR, OR, OR could I do something so amazing that when people see it they say, “That has got to be God because it isn’t that guy”?  And I repented and said, God I will never talk to you about numbers again, I want to be in an ongoing conversation about what it means to be faithful.

This is what Jesus means in 15:8 when he says, “By this my Father receives great glory; that you bear much fruit. 

This is The Orchard’s story—I could have never imagined what God had planned AND God wants to do something so amazing in your place and my place and our church that when people see it they say, “that must be God.” 

And lest you think I am simply talking about numbers of people here I would remind you that fruit is people introduced to Jesus, people growing up to be like Jesus, and people going out into the world to act like Jesus—so they can introduce people to Jesus.

This is what fruit looks like and it is the promised result when our church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, on mission, in the face of opposition, from an ongoing vibrant relationship with Jesus tell others about him as those who know him best!

Conclusion

We live in a World full of distractions…but in this age of distraction we must return to the clear call of Jesus.  We did not choose him, he chose us to go and bear fruit!  Hear the words of John Wesley in one of his 12 rules for preachers: “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work.

We live in a world of opposition to the message of Christ; in the power of the Holy Spirit we must faithfully persevere–Permit me to finish what I started earlier…one more day from Wesley’s journal—it started as all the others started and ended…

  • Sunday a.m., June 2 – Preached out at the edge of town; kick off the highway
  • Sunday p.m. June 2 – Afternoon service, preached in a pasture; 10,000 people came.

[pause]

In this age of distraction, answering a clear call, in the face of clear opposition, by walking a clearly marked path to faithfulness—so that we may tell the 10,000 people who show up about Jesus as those who know him best. 

When we do that, we will once again be a faithful, vibrant, Kingdom instrument in the hand of God.  Not before.  Not until.  Amen.

 

Dr. William McClain- Opening Worship Sermon

McClain-400DO YOU LOVE JESUS: ANSWER OR RESPONSE?

by

William B. McClain
Mary Elizabeth Joyce Professor of Preaching and Worship, Emeritus
Wesley Theological Seminary
Washington, D.C.

Text: “… Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”…

John 21:15ff.

I am delighted to return to Lake Junaluska.  I was first here as a teenager 61 years ago with the Rev. Joseph Echols Lowery, the Rev. William Curtis Dobbins, Loretta Free, and DeWitt Dykes who was the next year my college roommate.  We were some of the first African Americans to come to Lake Junaluska after Junaluska  made the monumental  decision to practice integration.  It was even more monumental for my white male roommates — but a life changing experience for us all.  Nina Reeves from the North Alabama Conference made sure of that as she led us in moving and creative worship experiences  and then led  all of us into  square dancing — and I DO MEAN ALL! And that was truly a FIRST in more ways than one!

Because we are gathering as United Methodists on the Lake at Junaluska, long before I knew what the theme of this Conference would be,   I thought I would take us back to another Lake  — the Sea of Tiberias or the Sea of Galilee near the town of Tiberias where Jesus has his communion breakfast of bread and fish  with some of his disciples and raises three times that all important   and gut wrenching, probing  query  to Peter: “… Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  A matter which we all must face  — not just  fanatics, zealots, and right wing evangelicals, but a serious concern for all who would call themselves “Christians.”

Let me say before I begin that I am honored and humbled that your bishop and my friend would so graciously invite me to preach at this Western North Carolina Annual Conference.  Let me thank him for such a kind invitation.  But I wonder about his judgment, inviting a professor of preaching to preach!  Maybe he has hear what that old British wit had to say.  He said: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”  And I am a teacher of preaching at Wesley.  I have also lectured at every one of our United Methodist seminaries, taught at four other seminaries, and as best Jo Ann and I can do the math:  I have taught between 8,500 and 9,000 students who have gone into various aspects of the ministry.

I am retired after 35 years at Wesley, but as the old Gospel song says:

Lord, I don’t feel no ways tired;

I’ve come too far from, where I started from;

Nobody told me, the road would be easy,

But I don’t believe he brought me this far

To leave me.

Let us pray:

Now, Lord, despite the imperfections of this preacher’s

speech, and the glaring discrepancies in his character,

Grant that the monstrance of Your Gospel may be lifted up.

O Crucified and Risen Lord,

Give tongues of fire to preach your Word.

And the people said: A-MEN.

 

The communion breakfast is over after Jesus offered them fish and bread. As the Gospel writer records it: “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish…” [John 21:13].  But the event is not over.

Jesus breaks the silence as he must have looked over across those dying embers of that charcoal fire upon which he had prepared the communion breakfast and looked straight into the eyes of Simon Peter and called him by his whole name.  Now we know something serious is about to happen when your parents or your teacher call you by your full name, [William Bobby McClain!], so Jesus calls him the  name he had first called him on that same lake when he was first made a disciple. Or maybe he called him that former name because he was acting like his former self.   And so he says to Simon Peter:  “Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Peter, assuming that that is a question gets ready to give an answer, but before he does, perhaps being at that same lake, that very spot where his life was changed,  brought back to Peter’s mind the first call.  Before he offers his answer,  maybe the coals of fire on which Jesus had cooked the fish reminded him of the coals on the fire in the courtyard where  he had denied the Lord.  In any case, he manages to get an answer out:  “Yes, Lord, you l=know I love you.”

What  did Jesus mean by saying loving  him “more than  these?”  Did he mean more than the fish, more than his nets and fishing equipment?  More than his occupation as a fisherman that he has returned to?  And that is a question we have to ask ourselves, too.  Do we love prestige and power more than we love Jesus?  Do we love the titles more than the tasks of serving?  I just wonder what could happen in our churches if we got rid of titles and offices and all of us saw ourselves as ministers.  And, instead of asking what office you hold, we asked each other: “How is your ministry going?” After all, to be baptized is to be called into the ministry.  St. Jerome said it more eloquently and succinctly  in the Fourth Century: “Baptism is the ordination of the laity.”

But I don’t think Jesus was asking Peter about things  — although he might have;  what I think he was asking Peter was whether he loved him more than the other disciples did.  Wasn’t that the claim that Peter had made earlier  that he would show more fidelity than the other disciples:  “they may leave you, Lord, but I will never forsake you. I will lay down my life for you” {John 13:36-38].    Well, Peter it is confession time!

Peter heard this statement as a question that he could glibly mouth an answer: “Do you love me  more than these?” and Jesus was really issuing a challenge: “If you love me,  feed my lambs”   It was not simply a question to be answered, but  a challenge requiring a response:  “Feed my lambs.” The role of the fisherman is transformed into the role of the shepherd. Take care of the children.

The most recent research I have seen tells us that three-fourths of those who personally and intentionally choose to embrace Christianity and the church do so before their 18th birthday!  Those are the lambs that Jesus is talking about —  and I don’t mind that we don’t use the label “Christian Education” anymore and use language such as Christian Formation as long as we are intentional in ministering to children and youth.

I believe that it is still true that “a nation is judged by how it treats its children.  Then why Is it  that  when cuts must be made, education is the first to go?  Is that  anybody with the money can go and buy AK.15 assault rifles and SIG Sauer MCX rifles?  Not to shoot deer or pheasants or wild turkeys, but children in schools  at Sandy Hook and San Bernadino, and children in theaters in Colorado, Our AME sisters and brother in Bible study and  prayer at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina a year ago tomorrow,  and 103 people enjoying their night life in Orlando, Florida.   What is the judgment on our nation that continues to allow assault weapons to be bought and sold to brutalize and  murder  our people?  Those who love Jesus more than  these should speak out and act or the rocks will cry out. I used to hear  Martin Luther King  say: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”  It is time for the church to speak out boldly and clearly less we betray that young and fearless prophet of ancient Galilee who continues to ask: Do you love me more than these?”

Peter was challenged  two more times and his answer is the same and Jesus” commission is the same:  If you love me, then “Feed my Sheep, Tend my sheep.” Peter is restored by God’s grace mediated in Jesus, the Christ and is told on the shores of the lake as he been before — for the Gospel of John begins with “follow Me” and ends with “Follow Me.”

If there is anyone or anything who or that is taking away our love of Jesus, then we love them more than we love him.  We cannot claim to love Jesus and continue to hate, to think we are superior to others who love differently and worship in a different style, and to claim special privilege.  He said it clearly:

“if you say you love me and hate your brother, you are a liar and  the truth is not in you!

But in the end, then, it not our love for Jesus, but rather His love for us, in that when we were yet sinners He died for us and became for us “Grace upon Grace”  — no cheap grace, but grace by cross of Calvary and the resurrection in that garden.

Marvelous Grace  of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mound outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.