Past Sunday Sermons
May 24, 2015
Today is Pentecost Sunday. You may notice a bit more red in the sanctuary as we mark the transition from the Season of Easter. Pentecost is a Jewish festival so Jews from across the world were gathered in Jerusalem. Fifty days have now passed since Jesus was publically executed. The resurrected Jesus has shown up a handful of times to disciples over that period. During this time, the disciples are a rather motely crew. They have spent most of their time hiding out – behind locked doors seems to be their favorite option. Now on Pentecost, Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples. The Holy Spirit sends them out from this room where they are all gathered and into the streets. This is the birth story of the church.
Birth stories are important. Parents know this well. The birth of a child causes things to change. Your relationships are different. Your sleep pattern is different. You talk about things you never thought you would talk about. Things changed for the disciples who were gathered at the birth of the church.
I grew up in Tampa, Florida at church called Hyde Park and our pastor often told the story of the birth of our congregation. The story he told went something like this: Hyde Park was a newly developing neighborhood across the river from downtown Tampa. The bridge across the river frequently washed out when the waters rose too high. This left many families, who lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood frequently unable to get to the downtown Tampa First Methodist Church. So in March of 1899, 12 children and adults gathered for Sunday School on the corner of Magnolia and Platt where the church now sits. It was recorded that the Sunday School group sang “I Love to Tell the Story of Jesus and His Love.” At this first meeting of what would eventually be Hyde Park Methodist, there was no ordained clergy. There were only lay people. You can say Hyde Park was born because of lay people, lay people who were committed to sharing the love of Jesus with those families in their neighborhood. Hyde Park was born out of a deep commitment to teach children about Jesus. Hyde Park was born because people committed to do whatever necessary in order to accomplish that Spirit-filled mission.
I probably heard this story of our church’s birth about once a year. For some reason this story never seemed to get old. The story of their birth was that important because it was the story of who God called us to be then and it was a story of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our church now. The story of the church’s birth permeated down into the life of the congregation. I can give a witness that my family ended up at Hyde Park because coworkers of my parents and parents of boys on my soccer team invited us to be a part of the church. The seed of reaching out was planted in 1899. It was at Hyde Park that my faith was nurtured in vacation bible school and the youth group on the corner of Magnolia and Platt where that first School Class was held. Hyde Park tells the story of their birth because they still are congregation committed to teaching young people about Jesus and making God’s love real in their neighborhood – even if it looks different than it did in 1899. Their birth story matters.
As Pentecost is often called the birthday day of the church and I am well versed in the birth of my home church. I spent some time digging into Belmont’s story. How did the Holy Spirit move in this place? The church history says that our church, Belmont was born because Nashville was growing. The population was growing. The local economy was growing. New buildings were expanding the city skyline and new neighborhoods like Belmont-Hillsboro were blossoming on the outskirts of downtown. Construction was happening all around as roads improved, streetcars lines were laid, and residences formed around the college community.
As the population shifted, the Spirit nudged many to birth a new Methodist church in this area. The first church meeting took place in a home and those in attendance agreed to purchase land at the corner of 21st and Acklen. They agreed to purchase the land where we are right now. The group believed this would be an important center of the future neighborhood. They heard the Holy Spirit move in this place and the story of Belmont was beginning to permeate into their lives.
Like Hyde Park, Belmont had a humble start. At the beginning, there was no beautiful sanctuary or magnificent choir, just a vision for sharing the love of Jesus with a neighborhood undergoing transition. In those early days, Belmont was dependent on the financial support of other congregations and the annual conference. Those early Belmonters were right and knew that the corner of 21st and Acklen would be central spot in the community – a spot where we still are in ministry with this neighborhood and the college community. I believe the Holy Spirit was guiding and directing and working through them as they planned to gather on this corner. It is from this corner that Belmont has continued to be a missional church.
I’ve relied heavy on Helen Couch’s account on Belmont’s history and she says came into being as a mission church. We were an outpost of faith dependent on funding from other people. Many believe it is from this beginning that shaped Belmont to continue to live as a missional in support of God's mission. Through the years, we sent missionaries all across the world. We supported the birth of the United Methodist Church in Malawi. In Nashville, our missional heritage was at the start of Belle Meade United Methodist Church, Nashville Korean United Methodist Church, and the Golden Triangle Fellowship.
With Nashville's current status as an "it" city, we are undergoing many transitions. Like what those early Belmonters saw in 1909, Nashville's population and economy are growing. Neighborhoods are once again shifting. When Belmont first started, missionaries came from beloved congregations like Tulip Street in East Nashville to be a part of what God was doing on the corner of 21st and Acklen.
In June, I will be heading across the Cumberland River to pastor Tulip Street and Aldersgate along with participating in a new church start led by my wife Erica. I will be heading across the Cumberland with a new Spirit-filled birth story because Belmont’s missional commitment has permeated deep within me. I’ve been surrounded by missionaries at Belmont like Dot Anderson, Jeff and Kara Oliver, Bill and Beverly Lovell, John and Lori Pearce, Christy Perkey, Sally and Hugh Wright and John Kennady. This is just a handful. Yes, some fit the typical idea of a missionary that packs up and moves to foreign country. But Belmonters also live their birth stories as a mission church in the homes of Appalachia and state prisons and through gifts of farm animals.
For two years, Erica and I have prayed that God would send us as missionaries to East Nashville. The story of Belmont’s birth as a missional outpost will be woven into the birth of the new church. The new church start will be called East Bank Church. Right now, the birth story of East Bank is a lot like those early Belmonters meeting in a home with just a vision – a vision to see God transform lives and the community of East Nashville. We sort of get to be the research and development department of the United Methodist Church. There is no doubt that Nashville is growing so the Spirit must be our guide as we ask how does the church help Nashville grow in grace as well? We’re going to make some mistakes along the way but we’re listening and watching the Spirit move and do something new in East Nashville. If doing something new excites I would love to talk with you.
Even after the Holy Spirit descend on the disciples here in Acts chapter two, it isn’t until chapter 8 the scripture tells us the “the church was scattered” into those other places that Jesus said to go to. It took some for the new birth story of the Holy Spirit to permeate deep into lives of the disciples so they could go and tell the story.
The Holy Spirit nudges us to take risks, to engage the new frontier of what you know. In the Pentecost scene from Acts, everyone was bewildered and confused because the world they knew was forever changed by the birth of the church. It was not just about Israel but now it was all the nations. The disciples were nudged into something new. The disciples were called to something different. And so are we!
God is at Work in You
Belmont UMC—May 17, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching
Today is Confirmation Sunday and the words I have written have had the Confirmation Class in mind, but they certainly relate to all of us. These young people have been on quite a journey these last few months and I want to thank Pastor Heather Harriss and Richard and Martha Hooper, the class members, faith friends and ministry staff members and a host of others who have had a hand in this experience.
In Ephesians Paul writes that God’s power, the same power that was at work in Jesus Christ, is at work in us. Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus is that God will give them a spirit of wisdom and understanding, and that the eyes of their hearts will have enough light to see the hope of God’s call and the richness of God’s inheritance.
I have a friend who describes the work of God in us as giving us a new way of seeing the world and a new way of being in the world. Some people might call those conversions or life changing experiences that happen all at once or over a long period of time. These changes come when we receive God’s grace. When we get too close to God’s grace, we find that grace changes us in unexpected ways. The Greek word for repentance (metanoia) literally means a new mind set—a new way of thinking.
Have you ever had an experience that changed the way you thought about things? A friend told me that he had always avoided people who lived on the streets until one day he was at a fast food place in the city. A man who was homeless asked him for money and my friend said, “How about I buy you something to eat instead?” The man who was homeless followed my friend into the restaurant and he said to the clerk, “I’ll have whatever he’s having.” To my friend’s surprise the man followed him to his table and ate with him. They talked for two hours and my friend realized that there was not that much difference between the man’s story and his. It changed the way he looked at the homeless and caused him to want to make a difference in their lives. We call those experiences paradigm shifts.
For our Confirmands this means that today is a very important day for you, but it is not the end of your journey. It means you are on the journey and have been for a long time, and God will continue to be at work in you and changing you and allowing you to grow closer to God and grow deeper in the way you see the world. You will always be changing and growing in God’s grace. That’s the adventurous part of the journey.
The work that God is doing in us is ongoing. When I was in UMY we used to have these buttons we’d wear with these letters on them: PBPGIFWMY. The idea was that others would ask you what the letters stood for and the answer was: Please Be Patient, God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet. That’s pretty sound theology.
In Life Abundant theologian, Sally McFague, writes about “four conversions, four experiences of such importance that they changed my thinking about God and my behavior.” (p. 4) I’d never really thought about my faith journey in that way, but I realized that most of us experience these shifts in the way we look at the world and the way we are in the world, as God is at work in us. I can trace my own faith journey through these transitions and shifts in my thinking. This is God at work in me, giving my heart enough light to see more clearly. God will continue to be at work in the lives of these young people and all of us if we are open to what God wants to do.
God is not only at work in us but God is at work through us. God has been at work through this Confirmation Class and their long time commitment to Heifer International. Through this global organization, people can donate money to buy farm animals and create systems of sustainability all over the world. These young people have been making a difference in ways they may never fully know. And they have learned, during their time at Belmont, that this journey of faith is about something bigger than them selves. God is at work through them.
God will continue to use us. Trust this! We do not know where God will use us but we can trust that it will happen if we open ourselves to God’s guidance. In 1977 I knelt at the altar of this church and a bishop laid his hands on my head and I was ordained a deacon, which at that time was the first step toward being ordained as an elder. If you had asked me then where God would send me and where God would use me, I would have told you I have no idea. I certainly did not expect to be appointed to Belmont exactly 30 years later. And I have no idea what the future holds for ministry.
And we do not always know when God is using us. We have to trust that our God will use our faithfulness. Over years of ministry I have had people tell me that something I did for them years ago made all the difference. More often than not, I don’t even recall the act of faithfulness. We are called to faithful, not successful. If we are faithful we can trust that God is using us.
A good way to begin each day is with a simple prayer, “Lord, I give you this day. I do not know who I will encounter, and I do not how you will use me, but let me move through this day with your Spirit guiding me. Let me be faithful to your call.” The day that is before us becomes an adventure!
Many of you know I like to read Anne Lamott’s books. She has a refreshing way of allowing us to peak into her spiritual journey. She can be authentic and funny and a bit edgy at times. In Traveling Mercies there is a chapter titled, “Why I Make Sam Go to Church,” Sam is her son, and at the time of the writing, he was very young. Lamott started going to the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, a small multi-ethnic church, when she was pregnant with Sam. She had found her way to the church one Sunday morning when she was hung over and shaky from alcoholism and she heard the sweet sounds of hymns floating out the windows and into the little flea market nearby.
One Sunday at the end of the service she stood up and told the congregation that she was expecting a child and everyone clapped and clapped. She reported that even the people who had been raised in those Bible thumping churches of the deep South clapped. She was not married and this was not the reaction she expected.
The people reached out to her and brought her clothes and casseroles. They kept referring to her baby as “our baby” or “my baby.” They gave her money. An older woman named Mary Williams, who lived on Social Security, would bring her baggies filled with dimes.
Long after Anne Lamott was on her feet financially, Mary Williams would still bringer her baggies filled with dimes. Lamott would give them to the homeless people on the street corner. She wrote, “Why do I make Sam go to church—none of his other friends go? I make him go to church because someone brings me dimes.” Lamott wrote that when she looked around St. Andrews, she saw the face of God.
God was at work in Anne Lamott’s life through these people. God was changing her and giving her a new way of seeing and a new way of being in the world. God was at work through her as she faithfully shared God’s love with others.
To these young people today and to all of you, know that God is at work in you. God is at work through you making a difference in the world.