Sermon transcript for August 24, 2014
Belmont UMC—August 24, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
It was the first Administrative Board meeting at the new church to which I had been appointed. There was the usual business and reports given at Board meetings. And then someone made a motion that we have the Pepsi machine in the fellowship hall removed and replaced with Coca Cola machine. The discussion that proceeded was heated and had been going on for almost 45 minutes, when someone said, “Let’s ask the new pastor and see what he thinks.”
The new pastor did not drink colas very much and the new pastor had been sitting there thinking, “This discussion is ridiculous and I doubt it’s about Coke or Pepsi but about a church that has lost its way and has other underlying tensions. What have I gotten myself into?”
Everyone turned toward me and I smiled and stood up. I said something like, “I’m a little concerned that we have spent so much time talking about something that has little to do with our mission as a church. You are very fine people so I’m going to suggest that I offer a prayer and that we adjourn and all go home and talk to Jesus about what it means to be a church.” The place grew quiet. I prayed and everyone walked sheepishly to their cars.
Over the next months we began each board meeting with a reading of Romans 12. We read from different versions and I offered a time of centering around portions of the chapter. It helped us to focus on our true identity as followers of Jesus and as a community of faith.
The chapter begins with a call to give our lives to God and to find transformation in the process. I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases the opening verses, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him (God). . . . You’ll be changed from the inside out.” (The Message)
When we give our lives to God without reservation, it changes us, it transforms us. It changes the way we think about God, about the world and all those who are in community with us. We see things through a new lens, God’s lens.
After the opening paragraph of Romans 12, Paul paints a picture of what this transformed church looks like. We prefer our image of what church should look like.
We carry around an image of the perfect church and there are lots of folks who have been shopping for the perfect church for a long time.
We have acquaintances who always like to tell us about the church they are attending. It’s always the best church, but it’s always a different church from the last one they told us about.
Who among you has left church on Sunday and said, “I wish they would. . .” I wish they would sing the hymns I like best. I wish Ken’s sermons were twice as long. I wish they’d put a cappuccino machine in the foyer. I wish the church could be more entertaining, less demanding. The Properties Committee wishes for a building where nothing ever breaks or needs updating. The Finance Committee wishes the offerings were so large that meetings were held to discuss ways to deal with the surplus in a responsible way.
Pastors have their own ideas of the perfect church. Some of my friends in the Holston Conference asked me to transfer to their Conference in East Tennessee. I said, “Tell your Bishop to find me a church that pays well, has a light work load and is located near hiking trails and waterfalls.” That was a decade ago and I never heard back from them.
I suspect we’ve made an idol of the Perfect Church. Our images of the Perfect Church are often exclusionary and self-interested.
Paul describes a church that is not perfect but is transformed into a new way of being. It is a place where each person discovers their gifts of ministry and uses them for the glory of God and the good of the community.
Again Peterson’s paraphrase, “If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else. If you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching, if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aide to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.”
And this new transformed community embraces a new way of treating each other and a new way of relating to the world around us. This transformed church is a place of authentic love—no pretending—and out of that love flows mutual affection for one another. In chapter 13 the encouragement is to “owe no one anything except to love one another.” It sounds simple but it requires a transformation to a new way of seeing and being. Paul does not say that we have to agree with one another, but we must love one another with genuine love.
We live out that love by honoring one another—yielding to our pet agendas, not being afraid to play second fiddle (The Message), remembering that second fiddles can still make beautiful music.
The transformed church is a place where people have a firm grasp on what is good and right and just. The do not give up easily when they are serving God and God’s purposes.
It is a place of prayer and hope, a place where we try hard to make sure no one is lacking anything—we help each other during times of need.
Adam Kelchner and I visited with the principal of Eakin Elementary School on Thursday. Dr. Tim Drinkwine seems like a fine person who cares about the students of his school. When one of the students was acting out on Monday morning, he brought him into his office and talked with the young boy. He discovered the boy’s problem—he had gone home on Friday to a place where there was nothing to eat for two days. We are going to partner with this school and help Eakin fill their food pantry so they can send food home with children in need on Fridays.
The transformed church is empathetic. We rejoice at celebrations and weep with each other in times of sadness. We sacrifice for each other when homes are burned or flooded. We invite you to be members of our family, especially when your family lives far away.
The transformed church has a new way of interacting with the world. We are hospitable with strangers. We bless our enemies. We do all we can to live in peace and harmony with one another. We avoid retaliation. We take the high road of good, not the low road of evil.
So the church that argued over Pepsi versus Coke began to see their role in the world in a new way. They began to love each other again with authentic love. They laughed more and joy in being together. They began to look beyond their walls and seek places of service. They started to let go of their personal agendas and ask where God was calling them as a church.
Today, I invite each of us to take our every day, ordinary lives, and give them to God without reservation. Are we willing to do that? If so, we need to brace ourselves for change!
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:
- Spiritual Growth
- Participation in ministry
- Stewardship of gifts and talents
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.
383-0832 ext. 29, or click on these links:
Belmont UMC's Pipe Organ Specs