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Sermon transcript for February 8, 2015

Everyone is Looking for You
Mark 1:29-39
Belmont UMC—February 2-8-12
Ken Edwards, preaching

As I prepared for this sermon I kept coming back to the phrase, “Everyone’s looking for you.” And I kept recalling a visit by a young man named Ben a year or so ago. He had made an appointment to talk about coming to church. He hadn’t been to church for a long time and something was pulling back. He had experienced some hurt and pain in the last church he had attended. People had been unkind and some had asked him to leave. He wondered if he would find a more hospitable place at Belmont. I assured him that he would find that here, but he asked, “How can you be sure?” He hasn’t come to church but I ran into him again in the village one day and he said he was still thinking about it. He’s fearful and reluctant. He is searching and trying to find his way back. Keep that in your mind as we look at this text.

There is a tone of urgency in the Gospel of Mark. Mark skips the details of Jesus’ birth and childhood and moves straight to John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, a brief mention of the wilderness temptation (no mention of fasting), the call of the disciples and then the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. And we are still in the first chapter. Mark’s favorite words are “at once” (or “immediately” in NRSV) and the words, which add to the sense of urgency, comes up frequently in the first chapter.

Today’s story needs to be set in this context. The work of Jesus had been focused on the area near Capernaum, which is alongside the Sea of Galilee, the home of the fishermen whom Jesus called as disciples. The people of the area have been astonished by Jesus’ teaching and even more so by his authority over suffering. Mark writes, “At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” (v. 28)

Today’s text finds Jesus and the disciples entering the house of Simon and Andrew, only to find Simon’s mother-in-law sick with fever. Jesus heals the woman and by evening the whole city has converged outside the door. Jesus begins to heal and restore those who ill. Sometime after midnight Jesus escapes to a quiet place to pray and here in the first chapter we get a glimpse of the pattern of Jesus’ life and the rhythm of service and prayer.

Simon and the other disciples do not understand Jesus’ need for solitude and they go to find him. The verb here has a hostile tone to it, and the Common English Bible translates it best with “they tracked him down.” They have come to tell Jesus, “Everyone is lookking for you.”  

“Everyone is looking for you.” Throughout the gospel stories crowds of people are attracted to Jesus. At one time he was standing beside the water and so many people came to see and hear him that he had to get in a boat and teach them from there. In our minds we can imagine the scene of people pressing in on him. (Mk 4:1-2) Another, more familiar time there were thousands who gathered to hear and see him and Jesus instructed the disciples to feed them. (Mk. 8:1-10)

Who are these people who are looking for Jesus and what do they hope to find?
Luke describes the people during the time of John the Baptist and Jesus as “being filled with expectation.” (Luke 3:15) One of my professors used to paraphrase this and say “the people were on tiptoe with expectation” or “on the edge of their seats” with expectation. They were people who felt the oppression of the Roman government and they longed for liberation. There was a deep longing within them for God to come among them and do something to turn things around. There was a deep spiritual hunger and thirst among the people. “Everyone is searching for you, Jesus!”

They were some people who were physically ill and desperate. In a time when health care was limited and when disease was often associated with God’s judgment, and often meant alienation from community life, there was a longing for wholeness. To be made whole carried with it the possibility of being liberated from suffering and a return to the fellowship of others.

Everyone is searching for you, Jesus! Those words continue to be contemporary. We have gathered here as those who are searching for Jesus. I worked alongside my good friend, David, for many years and he would always greet the church on Sunday morning with, “For whatever reason you find yourself here this morning, God greets you and welcomes you!” We have all gathered here with searching hearts. Yes, I’m here because I have certain responsibilities, but I come here each week searching and longing to be with you, to experience God’s presence in your presence. I come here each week, like you, with a deep hunger for God’s grace.

We may not know what brought us here this day, but we know that all those around us come with some human need. When I took a preaching class several years ago at our Lake Junaluska, NC, our professor took us through a series of exercises before we could begin to write. One of those exercises invited us to spend 15-30 minutes with the question, “Who is in the room?” And by that question he did not mean for us to answer with names, Mary, Bill, John, Amy, etc, but to answer with life situations and needs. Who is in this room? It’s a good question as you begin to look around your well loved seat. Who are the people around you and what are their needs? What are their greatest joys? What are the longings of their hearts? How can we make them feel more welcomed? Everyone is looking for Jesus!

What if those of us who are regulars here at Belmont treated everyone around us as if they had come here searching for Jesus. Maybe they are here because they are wounded or grieving. Maybe, like Ben, they have been hurt by other churches where they were not welcomed. Maybe they feel uncertain about being here and you are the one who can make them feel at home. Every week we can and do create an environment that is welcoming, grace-filled, and hopeful

It’s hard to enter a new group for the first time. I recall my first weeks at Grace UMC. I had some computer problems and I had no idea how to resolve them. One day the Trustees sent a 15 year old boy came into my office. He said, “Hello sir, my name is Justin and I’ve come to help you with your computer.” He sat beside me and did some magic to clean up my computer and give me some space and speed. Then he showed me how to do things I did not know and he wrote the steps on post-it notes and put them around my screen. I kept those post-it notes for 6 months until I got used to doing what came natural for Justin.

I knew he needed a ride home and it was lunch time so I took him out for a burger. He and his family were new to the church and he said he wanted to go to the Youth meeting on Sunday nights but he didn’t know anyone and he not sure he’d be welcomed. I said, “You know me. I’ll go with you and introduce you to everyone.”

We met at my office on Sunday night at 4:45 and I walked him to the youth meeting and I introduced him. After 30 minutes or so it was clear he didn’t need me anymore. The next year he was playing his guitar in the youth praise band. By his senior year he was the president of the youth council.

How many people come in here and need to find others who will welcome them and make them feel at home in their presence?  Some of us in this room may have come anxious and reluctant, but everyone is looking.  

What about those out there who are looking for a deeper faith? I have a concern about reaching young adults who are moving into the city in large numbers, but are not in churches on Sunday morning. I suspect they are looking for experiences of faith, and some of them want what they find here week after week, but I doubt all of them will come here on a typical Sunday morning. I suspect they will find Jesus in a setting that is different from this. How do we reach out to them? I think about them and pray for them when I’m awake at 2 AM. Everyone is looking for you, Jesus.

Some of us are searching for healing and wholeness. Some of us have experienced brokenness and suffering. Some of us are grieving. Some of us are fearful. Some of us are trying to break free from addictions and unhealthy life patterns. Some of us are suffering from a wounded sense of self and we will have trouble believing that God loves us or that anyone could love us. Some are us on the verge of giving up. Some of us are optimistic and hopeful. Some of us are struggling with doubts. Some of us are joyful and celebrating. Some of us are lonely and isolated.

Who is in the room today? Everyone is looking for you, Jesus!



 

Sermon transcript for February 1, 2015

Nick Baird-Chrisohon
Sermon for Feb. 1, 2015
8:15 a.m. service
“Who is Our Prophet?”

Take a ride through history with me. Close your eyes and imagine the things I tell you:
You are walking down the main avenue of the city you live in.  The sun illuminates the bright, blue sky with little whisps of cloud interrupting the blue hues.  The shop to your right bakes bread; the morning air is laced with aromas of cracked wheat with a little bit of char.  Mmm, you think, that would be good with some honey drizzled on it.  You only take a moment to pause as  the dust of the street blows into your face and brings you back to reality.  “It’s time to eat,” you think.

On your way to get a quick bite, you pass along the shops highlighted by clay pots filled with flowers.  Orange and yellow flashes catch your eye, but you look at the shop owner, and he does not look pleased you are there.  You walk a little faster to get to your destination. The few coins in your pocket are all you carry, and you only carry those to pay for lunch. You walk in the back entrance to the place - darting your eyes left and right before you enter - lest you get the owner in trouble. You walk in.  *sigh* You made it.  Friends of yours covered in the same dust that hit you earlier sit in a long row against a stone wall eating their lunches. You grab your bowl of stew and eat your quick meal before heading to work. These few minutes with a hot meal are the most quiet you will have all day, so you try to enjoy the bliss of being alone.

When I was told that story, I couldn’t quite place where I was.  My professor was describing what it was like to be a Jewish person in a ghetto in New York at the turn of the century.  I, a child of the post-civil-rights era South, assumed it was about an African American man in Alabama.  My friend sitting next to me thought he was experiencing the life of a slave in Egypt or Assyria.  We could all make a pretty good argument as to why we were right, and that may have been my professor’s point.  History tends to find ways to repeat itself, and as much as we want to think otherwise, the basic experiences of living tend to only change in look.

So in preparing to work with this Sunday’s scriptures, I could not get my mind away from the news and how we continually seem to hear the same stories throughout our lives to the point we think nothing changes.  We just celebrated the life of Dr. King a few weeks ago, yet the conversation of race and class continues to be on our minds and in our hearts. I hear the same headlines of crime, traffic, and celebrity gossip that I heard when my mother drove me to school. That feeling of continuity and familiarity occurs when I read the Bible sometimes, so I attempted to hear these readings with fresh ears.  How can we continue on the righteous path of bringing heaven to earth?  What can we do to honor King’s work and legacy?

I read the first passage in Deuteronomy and stopped at the word “Prophet.”  The word is almost always ascribed to Dr. King, some have also ascribed the title to the current and some previous popes, many argue figures like Ghandi, Howard Thurman, various writers, thinkers, and activists, and others in recent history who they think deserve the term.  And, to be fair, for some it really should stick.  I felt it would be good if we asked ourselves, “who is OUR prophet today?”

We as Methodists love, for good reason, to point to our church’s founder John Wesley.  He and his brother formulated our polity, our hymnody, and our understanding of God’s love and grace that supersedes all.  But is either Wesley a prophet? What about people who work in the religious world now?  We have academics who devote their life’s work to understanding the language and intent of God’s Word, would that make them prophets?  What about pastors who put their credit and reputation on the line to stand with and even live with the marginalized peoples of the world.  Are they prophets? How do we know who is on the cusp of seeing God’s next move?

I think we are safe with King.  Letters from a Birmingham jail and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, along with countless others I am remiss to name individually, point to a world that need not be like the one we have.  He goes after the exact problems he sees and names them and says, “NO MORE!”  I think we could borrow the practice of naming our problems from our extended family in the black churches of America.  They know how to say what needs to be said.

Those who we call prophets go to great lengths to show our mixed up and sometimes sinful values in real ways.  I’ll admit I do not get the full effect of Ezekiel cutting off all of his hair and dividing it, but I do understand Ghandi literally standing against the British until the empire left.  Both suffered by pushing against the taboos and mores of their culture, and that is how we know they were willing to fight for the cause of the just.  God’s name may not always make an appearance in their words, but I believe in the mystery of our faith that says God moves in ways that we know in our hearts.

The sad reality is prophets by nature are on the leading edge of what God is doing in the world.  From what I know of history, most people we give the title of prophet were not seen as prophetic by the wider world of their day.  Prophets are tasked with swaying society back toward what God wants, and what we want often is in direct conflict with that.  The Bible tells us to share what we have with others, but the world tells us not to enable those who take charity for granted.  “Love your neighbors,” Jesus said, “…unless they try to steal from you,” the world adds, “then they deserve what’s coming.”  God’s will is often different from our will.  Our will usually has something to do with our wallets. God works in the currency of infinite love and grace.

When we look to Deuteronomy, the writer makes clear where our prophets will come from.  They don’t originate out of nowhere and they certainly cannot name themselves as such.  Verse 18 says, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people;…” For one, the prophet will have authority, because not everyone was versed in the law of the Pentateuch – the Jewish law from which Deuteronomy comes.  To know the law, one must have wisdom and patience to understand God’s will.  Similarly, that person will come from within the community.  No one who does not know the community can speak for it.  

1 Corinthians warns us that we must also be vigilant in discerning what is good for us.  When we hear someone speaking on our or God’s behalf, we must be mindful of what they say and do.  While this passage concerns food specifically, it talks about how we should know what is good for us.  We can have all the knowledge in the world but it is not good unless it serves love of God and love of neighbor.  Otherwise, knowledge runs the risk of ego.

Knowing who our prophets are sits well in the context of food and community.  I am a firm believer that you really get to know someone when you share a meal with them.  Community is based on what we do together.  It is no surprise that our two major sacraments of communion and baptism are both deeply personal actions – eating and washing – that are done in the presence of others.  Paul warns the community in Corinth to be mindful of what they do just as Deuteronomy asks we be mindful of what God wants for us.  This morning, while we celebrate communion, I ask that you take a moment to show appreciation for the God who loves you always and finds various avenues for you to be reminded that you are loved and cared for.

So, when we speak of prophets coming from amongst us, how can be sure we have found someone whom God has anointed to speak?  My first instinct is to point to the Gospels.  We see Christ as being so much more than a prophet, but he was still a prophet of his time.  He told people that empires did not dictate the ways of the world; God does.  The same laws passed through history were taught to Jesus as a boy.  He came from a Jewish family.  Given he was a craftsman, I can’t vouch for his education and knowledge of the law, but I think our faith in his Son of God status has a wisdom component.

Jesus shows us that God’s word and will can often be hidden like the parables.  Sometimes God is as plain as “love God, love neighbor.”  God’s will can hurt our plans as the rich, young ruler learned.  God also knows when we are poor and blesses us with loaves and fish.  If you ever need to know what a prophet looks like, I would recommend brushing up on the Gospels and look for the good news that God loves all of us, wants us to love each other, and is in the business of seeing the world serve for goodness for all and not just for some.  The Gospels and the Living Christ still challenge us to hear God’s words fresh and new.

Jesus offers us a litmus test for knowing who our modern day prophets are.  They must be willing to be honest yet unyielding to naming and ending injustice. They must achieve justice without violence or manipulation. They will be one of us.  Prophets will come and go, but those who will lead us to a new tomorrow will look a lot like Christ, because they have God on their side.

If you are looking for our prophet, start by looking around you.  Belmont serves a single community in a single city, but its members are doing some good things.  Who is to say OUR prophet for today is not sitting in a pew here this morning or at the 10:30 service. We are a community striving to love God and neighbor as best we can by opening our doors to people who need love.  I say this community, and communities all around Nashville, Tennessee, and the world, are building up their members to do great works in the name of God.  May we be so blessed as to find our prophet.  Amen.

   

Sermon transcript for January 25, 2015

Come, Follow Me!
Mark 1:14-20
Belmont UMC—January 25, 2015
Ken Edwards

The obvious question that comes from the Gospel text this morning is why these men follow Jesus without question. He speaks to them, “Come, follow me,” and right away they follow him. The Gospel of Mark begins with a flurry of things happening. There is no long birth narrative and here in the first chapter Jesus is baptized, spends time in the wilderness with the wild beasts and then begins calling disciples.

What motivates these four to become disciples? The two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew, James and John, are all fishermen. Some wonder how successful they were. We see them mending worn out nets and casting nets into the shallow water on the wrong side of the boat. The only time they seem to catch fish is when Jesus shows them how.

In another place James and John have the nickname, Sons of Thunder. One has to wonder how they got that name. I picture them in preschool, a whirlwind of activity in the corner of the classroom, destroying all the other kids’ toys. I heard Tony Campolo say he could imagine them riding into Capernaum on Harley Davidsons, wearing black leather jackets, with the words, Sons of Thunder, emblazoned on the back.

Some have suggested that they were disciples of John the Baptist and already had some interest in the teachings of Jesus. What motivates them to be Christ followers?  

What motivates us to be Christ followers? When I was a child, fear was a motivator. I recall going to revival services in which the preachers could paint some rather scary pictures of the consequences of not following in the way of Jesus. It doesn’t appear that Jesus uses fear to motivate these four brothers.

When my older sons were in youth group they came to my office one Sunday and asked if they could go to something called Judgment House at a nearby church. Judgment House is what I would call a “Christian” haunted house, set up around the time of Halloween each year. I brought the boys in and told them that Judgment House was a series of fictional scenes that depict teenagers who have made some questionable decisions, got killed in an accident and wound up in the torments of Hell. I said, “You are not going. If you are going to become followers of Jesus, I want you to be loved into that decision, not scared into it.” They agreed.

Fear is not a very good motivator and it doesn’t have a lasting impact on our lives.
Neither is guilt. A lot of us were raised on unhealthy doses of guilt. It can move us to fulfill obligations but not because we want to but because we want to avoid feeling lousy about ourselves. Guilt doesn’t have a lasting impact on us either.

But love does. The Jesus that Andrew, Peter, James and John decide to follow is the one who heard God say at his baptism, “You are my child. I love you. In you I find happiness.” These four and many more after them will hear God say the same thing to them and so do we. Love is a powerful motivator.

Parents of preschoolers meet with disappointment on weekend mornings when they hope to sleep a little later. But their children wake up early and need their attention. It’s usually not a good idea to allow these young children to have free run of the house.

One morning when our oldest was about 4 years old he got up early on a Saturday morning. His mother and I did not hear him and we slept through the whole thing. He appeared beside our bed, which is a high four-poster bed and all I could see was his little face, which was smiling from ear to ear. He said, “Daddy, I made you some breakfast.” And though I grew up on a farm where big breakfasts were served, I am not a fan of breakfast. I like to get up early, drink a couple of mugs of coffee (preferably in silence), get some exercise, and then eat some yogurt, or if I’m really hungry, I’ll eat some fruit as well. I eat because I’m told I need to, not because I want to.

I looked down at the large bowl in my little boys hands. He said, “I made you a salad; I know you like salad.”  I do like salad but I do not like salad at 6 AM on a Saturday morning. In this bowl there was unwashed lettuce, crude chunks of carrots that were neither peeled nor washed, some whole radishes and a few things I could not identify. On top he had poured a pint of blue cheese dressing. I like blue cheese dressing but not at 6 AM on a Saturday morning.

I pulled myself up in the bed and took the bowl from the little boy. I patted the bed beside me and he climbed up and sat there. I put my arm around him and drew him close and said, “I love you so much, son.”  “I love you, Daddy.”  And I proceeded to eat the entire bowl of unwashed, disgusting food because of one thing: love. Love like that will make you do some foolish things. It might even make you put down your nets and follow a stranger.

So the Gospel text is not about what motivates these 4 persons to become Christ followers. Rather the Gospel is about what motivates God to call us in the first place and the answer is love. For God is love. (1 John 4:7)  God calls each of us God’s child. God loves each of us and God finds happiness in us. I will follow a God who loves me that much.

The other question that comes naturally out of this text is: Who is this Jesus that we are asked to follow? I’m not sure the disciples fully understood who they were following. And we have to confess that we fall into the temptation of recreating Jesus in our own image. Jesus is 62 year old white man who doesn’t like dirty salad covered in blue cheese dressing given to him at 6 AM. Jesus is a Democrat or a Republican. Jesus is my buddy who has all the same habits and traits I have. Jesus is easy-going and predictable. This Jesus we have recreated in our image is not very challenging or threatening to our status quo and we like it that way.  

This Jesus who calls us to follow him is the image of God. I recently sat at my desk and reread the little book, Three Simple Questions, by Bishop Rueben Job. At Rueben’s memorial service last Sunday I spoke of his stewardship of words. And in just a few short paragraphs, Rueben tells us who we are asked to follow in Jesus, the Christ. Listen to his words.

“The God Jesus reveals shatters all our little ideas about God and reveals a God who is author and creator of all that is. In Jesus we see a God who reverses the values of our culture and turns upside down our scheme or priorities, leaving us gasping at the sight of such bone-deep love, justice, and mercy. In Jesus we see such bold and radical truth that we tremble in awe and then cry out for help as we try to practice the faithful way of living he demonstrated so splendidly.”

“In Jesus we see a God who does the unexpected and the unpredictable. We see Jesus choosing to be the friend of sinners and being just as comfortable with the very wealthy as he is with the homeless beggar. We see a God who refuses to accept the boundaries that culture establishes and who moves with ease among scholars, religious leaders, soldiers, prostitutes, farmers, fishermen, tax collectors and demon-possessed men and women—inviting them all into a new way of seeing the world, a new way of living, a new kingdom.”

In Jesus we see a God who is not swayed by popular opinion, loud adulation, or noisy rebellion. In Jesus we see a God who is not controlled by any ideology, philosophy, concept, force, or power. In Jesus we see a God who is never under our control. . . . Jesus reveals a God who is always and forever beyond us, completely other than we are, yet who wants to come and dwell within us. Jesus reveals a God of love.” (pp. 21-22)

I was in Junior High School and I was sitting on the back row of church with a bunch of other young people. Our District Superintendent was preaching. We were passing notes to one another and giggling. Several times we got that scolding look from our parents as they turned and glared at us.

The District Superintendent was a kind and gentle man and I kept hearing him use the word love. He repeated, “God loves each of us.”  “God is love.” He kept saying it and I found myself listening, against my better judgment. He looked at us and said again, “God loves you.”  I knew this. We sang, “Jesus loves me, this I know,” in Vacation Bible School. I heard it in Confirmation, but on that day it was like I was hearing it for the first time. The Holy Spirit was delivering this message to my heart and my mind and I found myself transfixed.  

The sermon ended and the preacher invited persons who wanted to pray to come forward during the hymn. We were standing and all of sudden I realized that I was walking, walking down the aisle and toward the chancel. I fell on my knees at the kneeler. I came face to face that day with the One who has said to me all my life, “I love you. You are my child. You make me happy.”

Kneeling there, I heard Jesus say, “Come, follow me.”


Jurgen Motmann wrote, “The message of the prophet is a message for the people, a message sent into the camps of the exiled, and into the slums of the poor. It is a word against the captains of the arms industry and the fanatics of power. If we really understood what it means, it bursts the bonds of Sunday worship. For if this message really lays hold of us, it leads us to Jesus, the liberator, and to the people who live in darkness and who are waiting for him—and for us.”  (The Power)

This Advent may we hear our call to be witnesses to that light and hope that came to us in Jesus Christ. In Christ light and hope have come into our dark world.

   

Sermon transcript for January 18, 2015

“Your Servant is Listening”
1 Samuel 3:1-20
Belmont UMC—January 15, 2012
Ken Edwards, preaching

There must have been times when the young Samuel wondered what his mother had gotten him into; he had spent virtually his entire childhood assisting in the temple at Shiloh, training to become a full time servant of God, loyally waiting on the priestly family of Eli.

But not once had he perceived God’s presence in the temple or God’s purpose for his life. Samuel had been dedicated to God, but where was God? What was he supposed to do now? The text says that there were not many words from God being heard and there were no frequent visions to guide him. It was a quiet, barren spiritual environment.

Because Samuel did not yet know the Lord, he must have been directionless, wondering, and confused. Why was he at the temple? Why was he dedicated to this barren life? His role models for life did not offer much encouragement either. As priests, Eli’s sons were greedy, gluttonous and completely self-centered. They cheated the people, stole from the temple and desecrated it.

Eli was Samuel’s mentor. Apparently, he was kind, wise and obedient, but he was incapable of controlling his sons’ behavior and the sanctity of the temple had not been maintained under his leadership. He was a weak leader. With no vision or experience of his own, all Samuel could hope for was a lifestyle like that of Eli and his corrupt sons.

Samuel lived in Shiloh and Shiloh was thought to be God’s dwelling place, where the light always burned to symbolize that God was at home and where an oracle could always be obtained by priestly rites and rituals. At Shiloh the Israelites believed that they had God’s presence as a captive audience. At Shiloh Samuel literally slept in front of the Holy Ark of the Covenant. But the word of the Lord had not been revealed to him. It was a visionless, voiceless, experience. Where was God? Why was Samuel in Shiloh? What was God’s purpose for him?

And then one night the word of God came to young Samuel in an exchange that was both comical and tender. It was comical because Samuel thought Eli was calling him and he woke the old priest up three times before Eli was convinced that the word was from God.

Where had God been all this time? Have we not asked ourselves this question at one time or another? Where was God during difficult days? Where was God when answers did not come? Where was God when depression or confusion came over us? Where was God when we went to church week after week and felt nothing of God’s presence?

The Psalmists often asked God this same question. Were you hiding from me God? Were you asleep? Did you turn your face away from me? Were you angry? Will you always remain silent?

Is God no longer around? Does God have no words to speak to our generation, our culture, our church? Does God no longer offer us visions of hope and direction for our future? Will God reveal God’s purpose for us?

These are fair questions but they may be the wrong questions. It’s possible that we, like Samuel, have been face to face with the holiness of God but unable to perceive God’s presence because our spiritual senses have been dulled by a dark night of the soul or our busyness, or because we have forgotten how to come into God’s presence and hear God’s word.

Henri Nouwen once wrote, “The question that must guide our organizing activity in the parish is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in the silence.” (source unknown)

Where has God been? God has been in Shiloh, near the Ark of the Covenant. But the vision and hearing of the Eli, his sons and their attendant and trainee, Samuel, have been dulled to the possibilities of communicating with this revelatory God.

Where is God? God is here! And God has a word and a vision for the people of this church, but we will need to have our spiritual senses awakened! God has been here all along. God has a purpose for our lives and we will need to learn to listen for it.

In last week’s text on Jesus’ baptism, a voice speaks from heaven, “You are my son, whom I dearly love. In you I find happiness.” (Mark 1:11 CEB) We want to be able to hear God say to us, “You are my child, whom I dearly love. You make me happy.”

Bishop Rueben Job wrote of that passage, “Like a sharp clap of thunder God can get our attention. But at other times God gets our attention with something that may be more like a gentle breeze touching our cheek, or a simple thought or urge that will not let us go. . . . Our task is to listen and pay attention so that we do not miss the gentle whisper or that sharp clap of thunder. They often come unannounced from many sources, such as Scripture, prayer, worship, events of the day, and other totally unexpected sources.” (When You Pray, pp. 33-34)  

From the text we find clues for being able to hear God when God speaks. The first is to lie down! Be still! Samuel did not hear God in the moment of activity or when he was going about his daily temple duties, he heard God when he was lying still in the quiet of the night, alone, at rest, at the shutting down time of the day. We will need to be still, stop moving, stop our frenetic activity, our multitasking.

Mary Pipher described her journey to wholeness in Seeking Peace. She was learning to practice meditation and learning to be fully present to one thing at a time. She writes, “I have a long history of doing two or three or seventeen things at once. I am cooking, but planning my next road trip. I am talking on the phone but wondering if I have a can of tuna handy for lunch. I am bird watching but wondering if I have offended someone. I am walking, but even as I smell the French lilacs in the air and notice a heron on the lake, I am thinking of presidential politics.” (p. 218)

Through the Psalmist we hear God say, “Be still and know that I am God.”
If you are like me you have trouble being still. We have a work ethic that does not want us to take moments of stillness and quiet—it always seems like wasting time to us. There are times when I’m alone in the car, or running (not still physically but quiet and experiencing some level stillness is inside of me), at times when the house is quiet and I’m caught up with work or too exhausted to keep going. And in those moments I may experience some clarity about the God’s presence and purpose in my life.

I used to sit down and pray something like this each morning, “Okay, God, tell me what you want me to do today? What can I add to my already extensive list?” I prayed that prayer for 50 years and never got an answer.  I have changed my prayer practice. Most mornings now I will find time to sit in my favorite chair and say to God, “Here I am again. Allow me to be in your holy presence.” I don’t talk a lot and tell God what to do; I try to allow myself to be with God, to be still, to be quiet, and to wait. And God prepares my heart and mind for the day ahead and for what may come.

We need to be still! And we need to be quiet! Soren Kirkegard said that if he were a doctor and were allowed to prescribe one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, he would prescribe silence. Most of us fill our lives with sounds and most of us find silence a little unsettling. But Elijah heard God in the stillness and the silence of the holy mountain, at a time when he was too exhausted to go on his own energy and he had to rely on God.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. heard God in the quiet of his kitchen in Montgomery, Alabama, late one night. King had not set out to be an activist or a crusader but the day after Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus, Ralph Abernathy talked King into accepting the leadership of the Montgomery Improvement Association and King accepted assured that the bus boycott that had begun would be over in one day.

By the end of the second month of the boycott, King was feeling the weight of his role and began to despair. He offered his resignation and was refused.

Later in the month he returned home after a long day of meetings. It was around midnight and he was exhausted and he longed to join his family who had already gone to bed. A threatening phone call was keeping him awake—he was getting 30-40 threats a day. He made a pot of coffee, sat at the table with his head in his hands and he cried out to God. There he met the living Christ in an experience that would carry him through to the end of his life. He said, “I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. No never alone. No never alone. He promised never to leave me, no never alone.” (Welcoming Justice, God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community, Charles Marsh and John Perkins, pp. 16-17)

When we are still and quiet we will want to listen! I’m not suggesting that I have ever heard God speak in those moments of quiet stillness, but sometimes in those moments there will come an inner knowing, a certitude, about something. Sometimes I come away knowing that I need to be quiet and still more often, but that’s a good message for me to hear. Sometimes I am inclined to check on a friend or a church member because they came to mind in those moments of quiet. Sometimes I hear that I need to let something go or pay more attention to my family. Sometimes I simply enjoy the quiet stillness and that is enough.

Today a story about a boy named Samuel allows us to imagine God calling our name in the quiet, stillness. God is calling us to fulfill God’s purposes in our world. God is calling us to something beyond ourselves. God is preparing us for the words, “Here I am!” “Speak, Lord, for your people are listening!”


Jurgen Motmann wrote, “The message of the prophet is a message for the people, a message sent into the camps of the exiled, and into the slums of the poor. It is a word against the captains of the arms industry and the fanatics of power. If we really understood what it means, it bursts the bonds of Sunday worship. For if this message really lays hold of us, it leads us to Jesus, the liberator, and to the people who live in darkness and who are waiting for him—and for us.”  (The Power)

This Advent may we hear our call to be witnesses to that light and hope that came to us in Jesus Christ. In Christ light and hope have come into our dark world.

   

Sermon transcript for January 11, 2015

“Remembering Our Baptisms”
Mark 1:4-11
Belmont UMC—January 11, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching

Marianne was a bright and precocious 8 year old who decided she wanted to be baptized. She mentioned it to her mother one Sunday after a worship in which we had baptized an infant. She asked her mother if she had been baptized as an infant and her mother said, “No, we did not attend a church when you were a baby.”  

Marianne had asked, “Can I be baptized now?” Her mother promised to ask the pastor and so I got a call the next day. I met with Marianne a couple of times with her mother present. It was good opportunity for both of them to learn about baptism. I told Marianne a lot of what I will tell you in this sermon today and that we practice 3 modes of baptism and each mode has a special symbolism. She perked up and asked, “So what are my options?”

I told her that most baptisms are called sprinkling and the sprinkling of water or placing the water on the head of a person symbolized cleansing. We also pour water on the person’s head as a symbol of God’s Spirit being poured out to each of us. We immerse people in water as a symbol of the old self being buried and raised to new life. She had lots of questions, but when she asked me about pouring I told her that I had never done that but I had idea of how would do it. She said, “Let’s do that so both us can have a new experience.”

On the Sunday of her baptism Marianne knelt at the chancel with her parents standing behind her. I took a shell and dip it into the font and poured the water over Marianne’s head. She looked up, water dripping down her face, and smiled and I gave her the shell to keep as a remembrance of this special moment of grace.

Do you remember your baptism? I don’t remember mine because I was a baby but I have an image of what it must have been like. I was baptized in the Mt. Zion Methodist Church, a small white-framed church in rural Robertson County. I imagine my young 24 year old parents, holding my 2 year old brother. Martin and Georgie Edwards, my paternal grandparents, and Sadie Watts, my maternal grandmother, would have been standing with them.

There are lots of other people in my imagination:  Lots of Lipscombs, cousins on my father’s side of the family, Aunt Maggie Watts, the Postons, the Hudgins, Fykes, Nichols, Ponds, Felts and Balthrops. In the small church we knew everyone and were kin to most of the people in one way or another. There are no photos from my baptism. My parents had not yet bought the little Brownie camera they used to take most of our early photographs.

When I moved to Lebanon in 1986 to serve a church there I was visited by an older retired pastor one day. His name of Raymond Qualls and he had lived near us when I was a child. He was in his 80’s and had thick white hair. He came by to welcome me to Lebanon and to share some coffee with me. He was telling me stories one day and he stopped in mid-sentence and said, “You know I baptized you when you were just a little baby.”  I had not known and I felt such happiness in hearing this and become acquainted with this dear man.

The language of Baptism of the Lord Sunday is “remember your baptism” but a lot of us don’t remember. The words mean “remember that you are baptized.” And for those who have never been baptized it means, “remember what baptism signifies to all of us.”

Baptism is primarily about God’s love for us. It is a celebration of God’s choice to love us from the beginning of our lives. When I talked to parents of infants about baptism I tell them the same thing I once said to a 70 year old man who wanted to be baptized. I tell them this is not about our choice to be baptized but about God’s choice to love us. God loves you and me and all of creation and the reality of that continues to be a joyous surprise for me.

Baptism is not only an experience for the person being baptized, but every baptism is an experience of whole community we call the church. Baptisms do not happen in isolation but in places where we are surrounded by those who have loved us unconditionally and sometimes sacrificially, people God has used as agents of prevenient grace (the grace that leads us to God) and the persons God will continue to use in our lives.

I mentioned all those people at the Mt. Zion Methodist Church because those were the people who loved me and my family, nurtured us in our faith, encouraged us when we were down, brought us casseroles when we were in crisis, stood beside us in our grief, and taught us the stories of Jesus. As my young parents stood at the chancel and handed their baby to Reverend Qualls, they had no doubt that everyone in that room loved them and wanted the best for them. And as the waters of baptism were placed on my head, everyone in the room experienced the grace of God.

Remembering our baptism means remembering the promises we made or were made on our behalf. We affirmed our faith in God through Jesus, the Christ. Baptism does not mean that we have all the answers or that we have reached any kind of perfection, but it means we are willing to go on this journey with Jesus. It means we acknowledge God’s love for us. It means that we believe that the grace of God has the power to change us.

At baptism God calls us and sets us apart for service. Remembering our baptism means remembering that God has work for us to do in the world and God has gifted us for that work. As we come forward today, may we ask ourselves, “Where do we hear God calling us?”

Several years after Marianne’s baptism, I went to the Mt. Juliet High School to watch my son play in a soccer game. At the Sports Complex I heard someone calling my name and looked over to my right and saw Marianne standing there. She was a young teen in her first year of High School. She was standing next to one of her friends. (I have to tell you that not every teenager wants my attention when I show up at the High School, but some do.)

Marianne looked at her friend and said, “This is my Pastor, Ken, and he baptized me when I was 8 years old.”  She looked up at me and said, “I still have my shell on the table by my bed.”  Here was Marianne, a teenager, about to go into a soccer game, and what was she doing, remembering her baptism with much joy and promise.

Today we are invited to come to remember our baptisms and what it means to us. Let us remember and be thankful.

If you are here today and you’ve never been baptized, you are invited to fully participate in this act as a hope for a future baptism and a celebration of the reality that God has loved you, and all of us, from the beginning of your life.


Jurgen Motmann wrote, “The message of the prophet is a message for the people, a message sent into the camps of the exiled, and into the slums of the poor. It is a word against the captains of the arms industry and the fanatics of power. If we really understood what it means, it bursts the bonds of Sunday worship. For if this message really lays hold of us, it leads us to Jesus, the liberator, and to the people who live in darkness and who are waiting for him—and for us.”  (The Power)

This Advent may we hear our call to be witnesses to that light and hope that came to us in Jesus Christ. In Christ light and hope have come into our dark world.

   

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