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Sermon transcript for June 1, 2014

June 1, 2014
Joint GTF Worship
Sermon: Acts 1:6-14
Adam Kelchner, preaching

Audio - MP3

Let me begin by expressing my deep thanksgiving to God that I’m your pastor and have the honor of preaching at such a special service.

In our scripture text, Jesus makes a promise that the Holy Spirit would move among his followers. Next week, we will celebrate Pentecost and remember the story of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus’ church for the first time.

Jesus’ promise is that the power of the Spirit will lead us to witness, to give evidence of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in very key geographical places.

I wish that I had a map up here large enough so that even those seated in the balcony could see it. We need to know where Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria are to make sense of Jesus’ instructions.

We can imagine that ancient Jerusalem is like Nashville in some ways. It is an important and diverse city where people come to gain political power, to build businesses, to get educated, or to raise a family.

Judea is like the region of middle Tennessee that includes Nashville and then expands into the suburbs and rural countryside, out to Antioch, Springfield, Spring Hill, and Jackson.

Samaria is like another nearby region called Appalachia, East Tennessee, or southern Virginia, where people from the city might not want to normally go because of deep cultural and economic barriers.

And the ends of the earth are to us places like Puebla Mexico, Nasange Malawi, or Chaing Mai Thailand. These places may be difficult to travel to but the good news of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit goes to these places and many more. Around the world, the church is continually witnessing to God’s reign of justice, unfailing love, and compassion.

For the church, a witness is someone who tells a story of what they have heard, seen, and experienced God doing in their life.

Jesus instructs his followers to go into the parts of the city where they live, into the nearby regions and countryside where they work and travel, and to places far away to retell their stories of Jesus Christ. He instructs them to be God’s witnesses.

Each of us is a witness to the powerful work of God’s Spirit. We have life giving stories to tell. With the power of the Holy Spirit, go into your neighborhoods and tell the good news that people are being freed from their addictions in this place.

With the Spirit’s leading, call your friends and family and tell the good news that hurting marriages and divided families have hope of healing in Jesus Christ.

Call, email, and facebook your social circles and tell them that churches across TN are protesting this state’s use of the death penalty because it’s against the good news of Jesus Christ.

God’s Spirit is upon us to witness to the neighborhood and the city that Christ’s church is housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, educating children and youth, and resisting oppression in whatever form it presents itself.

With the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit, go into the city and the countryside and be a witness to God’s good news. Amen.

 

Sermon transcript for May 25, 2014

Hope for Creation
Psalm 104: 1-24; Romans 8:18-23
Belmont UMC—May 25, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3

The Psalmist says, “You have done so many things! You made them all so wisely! The earth is full of your creations!” (104:24 CEB)

Do we have hope for this creation? Does it seem hopeless or beyond our ability to turn the tide of ecological destruction? Have we drifted into a state of fatalism and despair?

I framdc this sermon around 4 things that lead to hope for creation. We begin with gratitude, like that of the Psalmist, we move toward some honesty about the condition of our planet, we will spend some time with confession, and then we launch into action.

Let’s begin with gratitude! This world is a beautiful place, teaming with life and the wonder and awe of the Artist’s creation. I decided this spring to spend more time in the woods and I made three trips to the farm of my friend Jack Corn. I took the staff members with me on one of those outings. I went three times because the valley of wildflowers at the Corn farm changes daily and I wanted to see those changes. Some of you have made similar wildflower outings and you have shared those with me or on Facebook.

I could not begin to name all the flowers that we found on those outings; it would take too long, but being there reminds me of the need to care for our world, being there restores my soul.

This year I met a man named Jonathan at the Corn farm. He was there on my first and third trips. Jonathan is a tall man with long gray hair that he braids into a ponytail that hangs down the back of his overalls. He’s a bit of a hippy and he has tromped through those hills and valleys looking for beauty and he finds things no one else has seen. On third trip Jonathan was coming up the trail as we were heading back and he said, “Ken, did you see the dwarf irises?”

“Yes, but there not blooming.”

Jonathan said, “You did not go far enough. Follow me.”  We followed him way up into the woods where he led us to a patch of irises in full bloom, about 50 to 60 of them, in a little opening where the sun had coaxed them to life. If you don’t know what a crested dwarf iris looks like, check out our art gallery where you’ll find a gorgeous photo of this special flower, taken by Deborah Arnold.

Then Jonathan took me to a ledge along the creek bed near the horse pasture and he showed me a saxifrage flower. This was new flower for me. The base of the flower is a cluster of green shoots like grass. Long, dainty stems shoot up from the base and hold a delicate white flower. Beautiful! The wildflower book says that this flower grows where others cannot. Jonathan said, “This little flower thrives on hardship.” There might be a metaphor for hope there.

A few weeks ago my wife and I planted our little vegetable garden. As we dug into the earth, I marveled at all the discoveries to be made there. Grub worms and earthworms, beetles and little spiders. And of course, each one I found I pitched at my frustrated wife.

We need to teach our children to appreciate creation; it begins there. We need to help them connect with the earth in a more intimate way. I know families who go to Pigeon Forge each year for their vacation and never venture into the beautiful Smokey Mountains. There is a loss of intimacy with nature that must be reclaimed.

I am grateful for Bill and Mary Ruth Lane who are teaching our youth to raise vegetables. They are not only teaching them about gardening and where food comes from, and raising fresh vegetables for the Nashville Food Project, but they are connecting them to the earth in a new and intimate way.

We need to be honest about the condition of our planet. Paul says that all of creation is groaning and we know that full well. We have seen the oil spilling into Gulf of Mexico, gulls covered in oil and a fishing industry destroyed. We have witnessed the massive destruction of super storms caused by global warming. One and half acres of rain forests disappear every second. Polar ice is melting and the sea levels are rising. The news is not good.

We build cities in places that cannot fully sustain the life within them. I think I’ve read every Barbara Kingsolver book ever written but of my favorites is not a novel but the book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which chronicles her family’s year of trying to eat only local foods. At the beginning of that book she writes about her family’s decision to give up their second home in Tuscon, Arizona and move to their farm in southwest Virginia. “We wanted to live in a place that could feed us; where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles up out of the ground.” They liked Tuscon; a lot of people have moved there because of the weather and cultural opportunities. But Kingsolver continues, “Like many other modern U.S. cities, it might as well be a space station where human sustenance is concerned. Virtually, every unit of food consumed there moves into town in a refrigerated module from somewhere far away. Every ounce of the city’s drinking, washing, and goldfish-bowl-filling water is pumped from a nonrenewable source—a fossil aquifer that is dropping so fast, sometimes the ground crumbles.” Other water arrives via a 300 mile long canal from the Colorado River. When told of this new water source, residents were told by city officials that the water was “kind of special. They said it was okay to drink, but don’t put in the aquarium because it will kill the fish.” (pp, 4-5) And so they moved to a beautiful sustainable farm in Virginia.

All of creation is groaning and we need to hear the groans as words begging us to begin to be a little more honest about what we have done to the planet.

We need to spend a little time confessing our part in this destruction. When I served as a pastor in Clarksville during my college days, there was a man down the road who owned a small herd of goats. He bought goats to slaughter them for food, but he grew so attached to them that he had never slaughtered one and his little herd was growing. They were forever escaping the fenced pasture and I had helped him round them up many times, so many times that the neighbors would call me when they escaped.

One day he took me on a walk on his farm and he showed me the beautiful spring, which provided water for the household. He told me that he found a sink hole on the property when he moved there and he thought, “That would be a good place to throw my garbage.” Then one day the spring pump did not work and when we went to spring house, he found his garbage floating in the water. He said, “Everything is related to something else. Remember that.”

How I treat the environment is an expression of how much I love my neighbors, because how I treat it affects them. And it affects the neighbors that are yet unborn, who will inherit the effects of what I’ve done during my time on this earth.

We are terribly selfish in our country. We worry about me and mine right now and give little thought to others in the future. In the words of our traditional confession, “We have not loved our neighbors.” Our lack of concern for creation reveals this lack of love.

Politicians and pundits like to ask us if we are “better off today than we were 4 years ago.” That’s an incredibly selfish question. Yes, I think I’m a little better off, but the poor are not, many older adults are not, and the immigrants are not. And what difference does it make if I’m better off if the whole planet has died a little more every year over the last four. Our selfishness has made us short-sighted and has instilled in many of us a kind of controlling arrogance. Many persons who think green, vote brown, because they resent any threats to their present comforts and conveniences. We need to get real and honest and let go of our shameful selfishness. This confession would be good for the soul of our nation. 

Once we have spent some time with the reality check of confessing, we need to do some things.  We must not give into despair and give into the idea that the problem is too big and thus futile. We can do some things, some big things, some little things. Our Creation Care team can show you how to reduce your carbon footprint. We can change our purchasing practices and buy more local foods, support sustainable agricultural practices, conserve water and natural resources, switch to low energy light bulbs, use a rain barrel to collect rain for water gardens, install programmable thermostats,  recycle and compost. And we can insist that our politicians quit perpetuating lies that promote selfishness and shortsightedness. We can finish replacing those 60 year old single pane windows in our building. We’ve already seen a drop in utility bills since replacing a third of them.

Some of you are doing lots of these things and are modeling the way for the rest of us. I’m grateful to be a part of a church that has a Creation Care Ministry and to know how you have led the way in this important work.

Today, I’m honored to share this sermon with Caroline Cramer. You can go to the church’s Facebook page and find an article about the Cramer’s home and see a wonderful photo of their backyard garden, but Caroline is going to tell us some of the things her family does to care for the earth and live the good green life. 

Caroline Cramer's words:

“God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.”  

These are the words from Genesis.  We are reminded that every part of our world has been molded by God.  And we are reminded that God found each and every part to be supremely good.

My sisters and I are reminded of this every day.  We see this when we go hiking in the mountains.  We see this when we kayak on the river.  And we see this when we play in our backyard.

However, wherever we go, I am reminded that we often fail to remember the words of Genesis.  Mountains are polluted by acid rain and rivers are littered by trash.  I recently learned that because of climate change, St. George Island where my family enjoys going on summer vacation will disappear within my grandchildren’s lifetime. 

My mom and dad have taught me and my sisters to remember Genesis.  We create our own electricity with solar panels.  We recycle everything in our house and compost our food scraps.  We use something called a Nest for our heating and cooling to save electricity.  And we grow a lot of our food.

Doing these things are not only the right thing to do, but they are also fun.  I can remember when my youngest sister was 1 year old.  She would escape through the dog door and my parents would find her picking strawberries in the garden.  My little sister would eat the strawberries fresh off the vine and also share a few with our dog Otto, who had learned to follow her around. 

We have a lot of fun with our garden.  We grow rainbow tomatoes, purple carrots, red okra and other things you cannot get in the store.  And in the Fall, we love digging up sweet potatoes.  It is like finding buried treasure.

Creation care to me is about recognizing that God made everything around us and that it is supremely good.  I am so thankful for all of you in this Church who have taken care of God’s creation so that me and my sisters can enjoy it.  And we promise to make sure that those generations that follow us will have the same opportunities by doing our part.

   

Sermon transcript for May 18, 2014

5-18-14  Belmont UMC
Heather Harriss, preaching

Audio - MP3

 

Sermon transcript for May 11, 2014

“The Shepherd’s Voice”
John 10:11-18
5-11-14  Belmont UMC
Ken Edwards

Audio - MP3

We like the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who knows us and calls us by name. We recognize his voice and we follow him. Where he leads us we will follow. It’s a comforting and idyllic image and one that we cling to in difficult and uncertain times.

The trouble is most of us do not know much about sheep or shepherding. I grew up on a farm but we never had sheep. We had cows and I know a little about cows. We had beef cattle on the farm and those cows were stubborn, they liked to be driven not lead. They could be very uncooperative, especially if we had a plan for them.

As a young pastor I made a home visit to see a man who had been in the hospital. The matriarch of this family was a woman named Gertrude, but everyone called her Pert, which fit her active personality. Pert was in her 70’s, still working and playing golf, and she owned about 100 head of cattle. During my visit, she came in the back door and said, “I’m glad you are here. I know you were a farm boy and I need you to help in a calf in a barn stall.” I looked down at my suit and knew I was not dressed for this. “Oh, just take off your coat and tie and roll up your pants. You’ll be fine.” An hour and half later I returned to the house, covered in sweat, manure and straw. Pert announced to the family, “The Lord has sent us a wonderful pastor. He can even herd cattle.” This was a successful pastoral visit on many levels.

I was always amazed at the cooperative spirit of my cousin’s milk cows. He owned a small dairy operation with an elaborate sterile milking barn. His cows wanted to be milked twice a day. He could stand on his porch with his coffee cup in his hand, making a whooping sound, calling the “ladies,” and they would come to the barn and line up. His cows were orderly and impressive.

Now I’m more of cat herder. I wake up every morning, make the coffee and begin herding cats. Cats do not like to be herded. I often wonder if Jesus knew anything about cats. If he had he would surely have given us some parables and metaphors about cat herding. But Jesus prefers the shepherding metaphor.

The Model Shepherd
The shepherding image is one that is used throughout scripture, from the Hebrew Scriptures and into the gospels of the New Testament. In Ezekiel we hear the promise that God will be a shepherd and will set a good shepherd over the people (chapter 34). King David of Israel is the heroic Shepherd King and represents a type (though flawed) for this model shepherd. The Psalm (23) exemplifies the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep that is knowing, loving and eternal.

It should be noted that the word we translated as “Good” as in Good Shepherd (kalos) does not mean the opposite of “bad” but it means “model.”  Jesus is the Model Shepherd. This model shepherd’s task is to feed the sheep adequately, care for them in their suffering, keep them gathered together, and put their well being before his own. It might mean laying down one’s life to protect the sheep.

The Model Shepherd is one who develops a wonderful bond of trust and recognition between the sheep and the shepherd. We imagine ancient times when the shepherd would lead the sheep to a watering hole. There might be lots of other herds gathered there for the same reason (this would be disastrous with cows). The herds would mix together, but when the time came for them to move on, the shepherd would call their names and every sheep would know to follow. Sheep go where they are led. They develop a close bond with the shepherd. They hear the Shepherd’s voice, and the bond of familiarity calls them to follow.

The passages we have read today are among our favorites. They invite us into relationship with God, and remind us of one who cares for us and watches over us. Several years ago I conducted the funeral of the father of a church member. At the graveside we recited the words of the 23rd Psalm. Later my church friend said that moment brought her the greatest sense of peace and comfort—listening to the familiar voices of her friends and family affirming the presence of the one who would shepherd her through her journey of grief.

Other Shepherds
The Gospel reading suggests that it isn’t always perfect and idyllic. Sometimes the Model Shepherd would call after the sheep and they would be tempted to follow other voices. Some of those voices were thieves, fraudulent, and misguided. Some were persons who had no vested interest in the wellbeing of the sheep, but are more concerned with their own ambition. Some offered promises but could not deliver.

Over the years the sheep have been fleeced by false voices. From the Jim Jones types to those who promise shallow prosperity. The sheep have followed after voices that have led them to mistreat the Jews, justify slavery, advocate the abuse of women and children, and exclude certain groups from the fold. Sometimes those voices are not outside of our selves, but they are the voices of our own fears, prejudices and preconceived notions.

We like the image of the sheepfold. We like being inside the circle with other sheep like us and being protected by the Good Shepherd. But later in John 10 Jesus throws a wrench into the gears of this comforting image. He declares, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.”

But how do we discern the authentic? How do we know that the voices we hear are the voices of the model shepherd?

Samuel Goldwyn, the great movie mogul, was quoted as saying, “The most important thing about acting is honesty. Once you’ve learned to fake that, you can do anything.”

How do we discern? It was theologian, Albert Outler, who noted that John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement, taught us to look at 4 sources to discern the authentic:  scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

Scripture: Wesley referred to scripture as the plumb line of faith. The scriptures contains God’s story, a story of God’s covenant keeping, faithfulness and love over a long course of time, among people who were at times primitive and other times quite sophisticated, among people who were sometimes obedient and sometimes impossible. God’s love remained constant.

It is true that we have often misused this story of God to justify our own misguided actions. One of my favorite cartoons depicts a young man who is flipping through his Bible. When his sister asks him what he’s doing, he says, “I’m looking for a passage to back up one of my preconceived notions.” We, too, have looked in the Bible to find verses to back up our preconceived notion. We quoted it out of context of placement, consistency and time. But in the broader picture of this story we come to know the voice of the Good Shepherd.Is what we are being told consistent with the story of God and the Jesus of the Gospels?

Tradition is about the way the church has understood our connection to God and our beliefs over a long period of time. Tradition gives strength and validity to those ideas.

Reason: We are to be thinking Christians. Reason allows us to ponder and question. Reason gives vitality to our faith and keeps us moving on this journey with a spirit of wonder and awe.

Experience: This is about our experience with God and an appreciation for the experiences of others. We ask ourselves if what I’m being told is consistent with these spiritual experiences. Tom Long writes, “Authentic ministry shares the cadence of Jesus’ own words, Jesus’ own work, and Jesus’ own promises and demands.”

The Sheep
“We are the sheep of his pasture.” And as the sheep we are to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow. And most of the time we do that. But the Bible also says that “all we like sheep have gone astray.”

Kathryn and I made a long westward trip in the years before we had children. We camped and hiked in some of the great national parks taking the southern trek through Colorado and New Mexico and up toward Montana and Wyoming. It was a great adventure. We had camped at Mesa Verde National Park. One day we were traveling back to our campsite after driving into Durango for supplies. The landscape was open and beautiful and we were the only car on the road that day. In the distance I could see a small boy riding on a horse along side the road. As we got closer, I could see that he waving a red bandana on the end of a stick and his facial expression was saying to us, “Slow down!” It was obvious that something was wrong. We did slow down and as we came over the next rise, we could see the reason--dozens of sheep in the middle of the road. We sat and watched the boy and his frantic family trying their best to move the sheep off the road. One stubborn sheep stood in front of our car as if to dare us to move forward. The whole scene would have been funny, except for the farm family’s predicament. At last the sheep heard the owner’s voice and made their way off the road and back toward their farm. 

“All we like sheep have gone astray,” and we come to this place again and again to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and to hear the call to follow.

   

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