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Sermon transcript for November 23, 2014

The Face of Christ
Matthew 25:31-40
Belmont UMC--November 23, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

It was during the holidays last year and I was standing in line at the grocery check-out with a few things that we needed. In front of me was a young man wearing a nice suit and he was holding a basket of groceries and waiting his turn. In front of him was a young woman with her little boy. The boy was sitting in the seat of the grocery cart and he was enjoying smiling at people while his mother checked out. The mother’s cart was pretty full and it was obvious that she was concerned. She was looking at the items on the conveyor belt as they moved toward the scanner. She watched the totals adding up on the screen in front of her and she looked at the money in her purse. When everything was totaled she sighed and looked at the clerk and said, “I don’t have enough for all of this; let me put some things back.” The clerk rolled her eyes and looked impatient. The young man in front of me, without hesitation, said, “Of course, you have enough.” He put his items on the conveyor belt and said, “Put her purchases on my bill.”

I watched the man. He was very relaxed about what he had done. He smiled at the little boy. The young mother, who had tears in her eyes, offered thanks. The man said, “You know, it’s really not that much for me to do for you” and then he looked away as though he wanted to preserved the dignity of the woman, or because he did not want her to see the tears that had formed in his eyes.

It was a brief moment but it was beautiful and rich and I’m sure I saw the face of Christ in all of them—in the earnest face of a young mother, in the smiles of a little boy, in the generosity of the man and in the surprise on the face of the clerk. And these words went through my mind, “And when was it that we saw you hungry, Lord, and gave you something to eat?”

Our Gospel text for today is a familiar one and every time I read it I find it more compelling, radical and profound. Everyday I encounter some of the “least of these” of whom Jesus speaks and every time I’m tempted to close my eyes and walk away, I hear Jesus saying, “Here are the least of these.” They are the persons who are vulnerable, strangers, hungry, weak, poor, voiceless, and imprisoned. Jesus did not say that we were to help those who appear to be deserving or more grateful, he said simply the “least of these.” What Jesus is saying is that we are to look into these human faces and to see his face in there’s.

Dorothy Day struggled to connect her faith to her social conscience—a struggle that gave birth to the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933. It started as a newspaper, but became a house of hospitality for the homeless and the poor. The first house of hospitality was Day’s own apartment because she could not turn away a homeless woman who read her newspaper article and came looking for her help. One hundred and seventy-five Catholic Worker houses were established under her guidance.

Day said that the core of her life was her experience of ultimate beauty—Christ’s face hidden in the faces of America’s human cast-offs. She once said, “Those who cannot see the face of Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.”

The Gospel text teaches us something radical about God. To quote John M. Buchanan, “The God of Jesus, the God of the Bible, is not a remote supreme being on a throne up there above the clouds or out there somewhere in the mysterious reaches of the universe. Jesus said, God is here, in the messiness and ambiguity of human life. God is here, particularly in your neighbor, in the one who needs you. You want to see the face of God? Look in to the face of the least of these, the vulnerable, the weak, the children.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A. Volume 4, p. 334)

I occasionally attended a Disciples of Christ Church when I was in college. In the narthex of the church was a print of a famous painting, “The Presence.” The original painting is in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland. The painting depicts the sanctuary of a beautiful cathedral. The light of the painting draws your eye toward the magnificent high altar, the candles, and all the altar ware. The sanctuary appears to be empty, but upon closer inspection you see a woman in the back of the sanctuary, kneeling in the shadows. She appears to be a poor woman who has come in off the streets. And behind her Jesus is standing reaching toward her to offer his help. Jesus is not standing in the spot light of the high altar, but in the shadows among the vulnerable one in need.

Bishop Ken Carder visited prisoners regularly on death row. He said once, “I thought I was going to the prison to take Christ, but when I arrived I discovered that Christ was already there.”

I like the Greek word for the Holy Spirit that is often translated in Comforter or Advocate in the Gospel of John. The word, parakaleo, literally means “the one who is called alongside of us.” That is where we find God—where people are, especially people in need.

Scholars remind us that this passage is the only description of judgment in the New Testament. And as such, it says something pretty radical about religious practices. A friend and I spent some time talking about different denominations and ways of understanding things like the sacraments recently. I told him about my many visits to the Church of Christ as a child and I was very aware that I was not allowed to take Holy Communion because of I was a United Methodist. And as United Methodists we have our own ideas of about theology and we feel pretty strong about those.

At our All Church Retreat this year Father Charles Strobel told us the story of a homeless man who was a very difficult and contrary man. Charles’ mother told him that the man would be his ticket into heaven. Charles said that he had to learn to love this man and when he did the man’s demeanor changed, because Charles had changed. Father Strobel brought up the issue of baptism to the man several times and the man refused baptism. When the man was dying, Father Strobel asked him again and the man shook his head and was adamant about not being baptized.  And Father Strobel said in passing, “That’s okay because God is bigger than baptism.” That line has stayed with me ever since the retreat.

I told Father Strobel, “We will be up here on this mountain interviewing candidates for ministry in March of next year. We will want to hear them articulate a proper theology of baptism or we will not approve them for ordination.” He smiled and said, “That’s because we care more about baptism than God does.”

Don’t misunderstand me. I think baptism is important and it is a beautiful experience of God’s grace. Every time we gather around this font for a baptism, I sense the presence of the Holy Spirit pouring God’s love all over us.

But here deep in the Gospels in the only passage about the judgment, there is only one criterion for being invited to inherit the kingdom. It is not baptism or denominationalism or orthodoxy or creeds or theology, “it is this whether or not we saw Jesus Christ in the face of the needy and whether or not we gave ourselves away in love in his name.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, p. 336) That is all.

“When you have done it for one of the least of these members of my family, you have done it for me.” Seeing Christ in others, seeing Christ in those in need is revolutionary. It changes the way we interact with the world and it requires a conversion, a changed heart, a new way of seeing the world around us. And when we are changed responding becomes second nature to us.

Many see the needy as intrusions, as lazy or losers. Some think they deserve their unfortunate positions, especially among the poor. So seeing them different requires a new way of seeing things—it calls us to see as God sees. And it is not easy. It is frustrating at times.

There was a young man named Scotty who came by Grace UMC when I served there. He seemed earnest and he had a way about him that was likeable. He always needed something. He worked as a house painter but he never seemed to have enough to make ends meet. His money always ran out before the end of the month, and over the years I had given him money, food and gasoline. I had bought some car parts so he could keep going to work. He did not always make good decisions. I would get hopeful that he could do better. One day I said, “You know Scotty, I think God has a better plan for you than the one you are living.”

One day I got a letter from Scotty. It came from the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, where he had been incarcerated for stealing. I was so angry and disappointed. He was asking me to help his family out for Christmas. The letter came when I was working on a sermon about this passage and I heard these words in my mind, “When you have done it for one of the least of these members of my family, you have done it for me.” My heart was changed and I knew what God wanted me to do.

So I sat down and wrote Scotty a long letter. I told him that I was disappointed in him but I loved him and I wasn’t giving up hope for his life. I told him that I saw Christ in him when we visited. I told him that we would send a gift card to his family so they could have Christmas gifts and food.

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink. And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”

We see the face of Christ all around us everyday. Everyday we are presented with the opportunity to give ourselves away in love in the name of Jesus.





As we make our financial commitments….as we prioritize our ministries…as we seek to be faithful in loving God and one another let us imagine communities where all God’s children are cherished, honored, and loved; where all God’s children are fed and clothed and live in safe homes; where all God’s children experience and know the love of Jesus Christ.

 

Music Ministry

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Music Ministry Mission Statement

The music ministry of Belmont United Methodist Church strives to glorify God through music in all gatherings and presentations.
The music programs at Belmont offer opportunity for:

- Education
- Spiritual Growth
- Fellowship
- Participation in ministry
- Stewardship of gifts and talents
- Outreach

All choirs are voluntary, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate, regardless of experience. All participants strive for excellence, dignity, reverence and integrity in all musical endeavors.

For additional information regarding the Belmont Music Ministry, contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Director of Music Ministries
383-0832 ext. 29, or click on these links:

Adult choirs
Youth choirs
Children's choirs

Music News


Belmont UMC's Pipe Organ Specs

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Sermon transcript for November 16, 2014

“Entrusted With the Gifts of God”
Matthew 25:14-30
Belmont UMC—November 16, 2014
Ken Edwards

We recently had a call from the broker who manages a modest IRA account for us. She likes to ask what our risk tolerance is. Can we make high risk investments without staying awake at night? Are we more comfortable with a lower risk and possibly lower yield investment?     

As I read this parable again I reflected on a few years back to 2008. I had been here about a year and the church had borrowed money to build the Community Center and to update this building. There was construction noise and dust everywhere and the stock market was going down dramatically. I’m sure the Belmont folks wondered if the new pastor was bad luck or they wondered why they would have a pastoral change in the midst of a building program and a global economic crisis. At that time we seem to have been entrusted with a lot of responsibility but the results were out of our control.

Jesus’ parable is about a rich and powerful master making the necessary arrangements for a long trip. He calls three servants together and gives them portions of his property depending on their abilities. He is entrusting everything he has to them.

This is a stunning thing for a master to do and he is treating the servants with unusual and surprising honor and respect. He offers them different measures of talents or  valuable coins. A talent is a huge measure of wealth. Charles Bartow writes, “There is a master who turns over to his slaves enough of his own wealth to scare half to death even the most confident Wall Street money manager.” (God’s Human Speech p. 154 quoted in Pulpit Resource, Oct-Dec, 1999, p. 28) A talent was worth between 5,000-6,000 denarii or about 15 years of wages. The amount for which they assumed responsibility was enormous. It was like a CEO mega bonus.

Jesus said two of the slaves took their money and doubled it. But the one slave, the one who was given only one talent, buried it in the ground. This was not unusual for the time. There was a long-standing rabbinic tradition that anyone who buried money in the ground is no longer liable for its safety. He had taken the safe, prudent course of action. Upon the return of the master, two slaves were rewarded with more and received the joyful affirmation of the master. The one slave lost everything and received the harsh judgment of the master.

This text in the lectionary cycle comes to us every third year in the fall of the year, at the time when many churches are conducting stewardship campaigns. It often gets tied to those well used stewardship sermons about using our talents. I’ve preached a few of those sermons myself. But this parable is about more than that—more than using the talents God has given us. It’s about what we do with all that God has given us—like a master who entrusts everything to the servants. It’s about our entire response to God’s incredible generosity.

God has entrusted us with so much--with the grace and love of God, with the powerful message of good news, with the work of the kingdom, with many gifts for service, with resources to share with others, with the resources of creation and the environment, with the gift of God’s self in the life of God’s son, with time and energy, with strength, courage, and resolve to serve and with the gift of the church, our community of faith friends. It sounds like a thanksgiving litany as we name all that God has entrusted to us.

And the reality of these gifts with which God has entrusted us, compels us to respond, summons us out of our complacency and comfort zones to use what we’ve been given. How can we do anything other than respond?

But some respond by playing it safe! People play it safe because they are afraid. They bury their heads, hearts, hands and the gifts of God in the sand. Fear paralyzes them and undermines the accountability that God wants from them. They don’t respond to being entrusted with the gifts of God because they are afraid of failure.

There is an old saying in baseball that “you can’t be charged with an error unless you touch the ball.” Some are afraid to touch the ball.

I’ve known churches that were afraid to respond to what God had entrusted to them. It’s too risky and they rest on their past achievements, lose their spiritual vitality, institutional maintenance is about all they can muster and begin to die. I’ve challenged churches to quit ringing their hands in fear and take some risks. When those churches said, “You’re right!” and began to take risks, then I was afraid we would fail. It is human nature.

The church is to be about the work of Jesus and the work of Jesus is often not safe or comfortable work. The work of Jesus will create some tension and it will seem fearful at times, but it is the work to which we are called.

In the 1960’s Connell Memorial faced the issue of racism head on. The pastor at the time was a civil rights activist and planned to go to the march on Washington. Many of the well-heeled members were angry asked for a meeting. They planned to leave the church if they did not get their way. Older members told me how afraid they were, but agreed that they must be faithful to the equality of all persons. At the meeting, the faithful would not back down, and the well-to-do members left the church. But God had faithfully blessed the church by the time I arrived many decades later. They believed that God had blessed them because they had used what was entrusted to them.

People play it safe because they have underestimated the value of the gift of God. Only one coin? Better play it safe! But Matthew’s parable is about the enormity of each coin—everyone is given a lot. We live with that scarcity mentality. We are the culture that looks into a full pantry and finds nothing to eat. We look into a full closet and find nothing to wear.

We forget what God can do with willing hearts. We forget who has entrusted us with these gifts. We forget what God can do with a few loaves and fishes. We forget what God can do with fishermen, tax collectors, and everyday folks who were given the responsibility as Christ’s followers.

People play it safe because they have become complacent.
This parable may be another jab at the complacency of Israel. Jesus is trying to drive his hearers out of a spirit of complacency, because complacent people accomplish very little. The status quo is not enough for the followers of Jesus Christ. It is not enough for this Christian community. We must move beyond being satisfied with things as they are or as they have always been.

Bishop Willimon has written about the Grimke sisters of South Carolina, courageous ante-bellum anti-slavery activists and leaders of the early women’s movement in America. The two sisters grew up in privileged household in Charleston, South Carolina. They were raised to be cultured, but uninvolved upper class ladies. The great challenge in Angelina Grimke’s life came when she heard this parable read in church. She went home, sat in her chair and asked herself, “What have you done with the talents committed to your care?” That question led her to a dramatic change in her life, a change which helped transform a nation.    

The last line of this parable is surprisingly harsh.
It alludes to the judgment of outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth. When we read this in our staff meeting, we said, “Wow!” It’s hard to remember anything else about the parable. Jesus seems very harsh with the little guy who got only one talent.

But the real shocker is the first line. “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. . .” Who would entrust slaves with everything? It is the surprise of grace!



As we make our financial commitments….as we prioritize our ministries…as we seek to be faithful in loving God and one another let us imagine communities where all God’s children are cherished, honored, and loved; where all God’s children are fed and clothed and live in safe homes; where all God’s children experience and know the love of Jesus Christ.

 

Adult choirs

Sanctuary Choir

This is the primary choir for 10:30 a.m. Sunday worship. In addition, they present several musical programs each year and sing for other various church events. No audition is required for membership and rehearsals are every Wednesday 7:15-9:00 p.m year-round. Childcare is provided.

Belmont's Sanctuary Choir has released Song in the Night, a CD collection of worshipful music from various cultures. All selections on the recording have been performed in Belmont worship services. The CDs are $10 each, and you can place your order now by downloading and filling out the order form posted here. Please return your order form to the church office or e-mail in your order to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Bell choirs

Carillon Ringers - A group of intermediate/advanced handbell ringers with music reading abilities. They rehearse on Sunday 5:30-7:00 p.m. August-early May.

Celebration Ringers - A group of beginning/intermediate handbell ringers who rehearse on Thursdays 1:00-2:00 p.m.


   

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