Sermon transcript for March 2, 2014
Belmont UMC—March 2, 2014
In Matthew 17, Jesus says, “you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” God always wants us to ‘face the mountain,’ but what does that mean? For me, it is about overcoming what seems impossible and the little fears that hold you back.
It’s fitting that my favorite movie is The Sound of Music. I remember as a child watching it with my dad, and I grew up with the lessons it taught me. As I grew older, I began to understand these lessons and how I could incorporate them in my life. Maria is terrified of the mountain in front of her. She runs away and returns to the comfort of the abbey. The Mother Abbess says to Maria, “these walls were not meant to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.” The Mother Abbess speaks on behalf of God. God wants every one of His children to reach the dream He has for us. But, He wants to challenge us to figure out what potential is by placing the mountain in front of us.
Ever since I was little, I have had a limited understanding of the world around me. I always say that I have grown up in the ‘bubble’ of my everyday life. I have had little variations of what it means to overcome the mountain in front of me. But after this past summer, my limited knowledge of God’s global village expanded. I participated in the Youth VIM team to Malawi, Africa and experienced different interpretations of facing your own mountain. Each one of the nine youth and four adults that travelled on the trip had to conquer one of their mountains God placed in front of us. I had to overcome my comfort zone and face the unknown. As the trip went on, I took little steps to get over the mountain until I reached the peak and realized that God would not challenge us with something unless He knew we could overcome it. Teaching and traveling is what I want to continue to do for the rest of my life. I heard God’s call to maybe be a teacher while I was in Malawi, playing with the children at the United Methodist Conference Office’s preschool in Blantyre. I began to understand that each obstacle He places before us are meant to be a challenge so we can grow from it and become better children of God.
God has told prophets such as Moses and Elijah to climb the mountain. For them, climbing the mountain was a way to receive the message that God wanted them to share with God’s people. As a result, more people began to see the miracles God performs every day, and they understood what it meant to be a Child of God. God told Moses the Ten Commandment, which spread through His kingdom and more people began to follow and belief, overcoming their personal mountains to do so.
As a result, God’s children realized why they were put on this earth: to utilize and glorify the gifts God has given them. They must grasp the idea that in order to apply their gifts, they would have to climb the mountain God has placed in front of them. Our ancestors passed this understanding to their children until it has reached us today. Therefore, more and more people were living to their fullest potential, and that is all God wants from us. He wants us to experience him in our everyday life, and in order to do so, we must know why we are put on this earth.
Some people never come to accept their gifts or realize their fullest potential of life. I would say the age we are living in makes it even harder to understand God’s dream for us. But I hope one day, you will reach the dream God has for you. It will be hard to climb over the mountains to reach it, but it will be worth it. He wants to challenge us to find our gifts, or else life would not be fun to experience. It might take years to understand why God make you the way you are. I know that I haven’t seen God’s full plan for me. I hope to know in the next couple of years as I move to a new adventure in college. And I also realize that there will be enormous mountains that I will have to climb. That’s the part I look forward to the most, overcoming the mountains to a new realization of God’s intentions for my life. Psalm 99:9 says, “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy.” Praise God’s mountain, because that is what allows us to live God’s dreams.
On the mountain... To stay, or leave?
Hello everyone, and good morning. For those of you who don't know who I am, my name is Kaleb Tench, I am the oldest son of Chris and Vicki Tench, and the older brother of Riley and Owen Tench. Most of you who know me will know that I'm usually disinclined to do things involving writing, and, as expected, this was done practically last minute, and as a side bonus, made my parents a little irritated, but, I digress.
The passage of Matthew 17: 1-5, tells of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John, up a high mountain, transfiguring before them, and presenting them with a vision of Moses and Elijah. Now, in all honesty, this seems like a story that isn't at all serious. I mean, come on, transfiguration of his clothes and face, and random visions of Moses and Elijah?? That's a little difficult to believe, even for the work of God. Yet, when Peter speaks, he doesn't want to leave, it's near paradise for him. He wants to make temples and monuments for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. He wanted to stay in the place where he could continue to feel the warmth of love and fellowship for as long as he desired. However, as he spoke, a large cloud overshadowed them all, and God spoke to them. And both of them were overcome with fear. Now, there's another question I have... Why fear? Wouldn't most of us be in awe if we encountered God's voice and presence? I mean, I know I would; I'd be fearful yes, but awe would overcome my fear, and I'd be like Peter. I wouldn't want to leave. Leaving a feeling like that would probably be equivalent to... Well, something that I don't know. Sometimes I think we all feel like Peter did. We sometimes don't want to leave the places and /or people that allow us to feel God's presence. I know I've felt like Peter before, and I can say for certain that I would definitely return to where I could feel His presence.
Over the past summer I went with the choir on a tour to Charleston, South Carolina. While we were there we visited quite a few places, and sang at most of them. To be more specific in this story, one church we sang at was the Trinity United Methodist Church, in Charleston. About a three to five minute walk from where we were staying, unless you're with Gayle and you REALLY have to be somewhere -now-; in which case more like a one to two minute walk. In any case, we sang for the church that Sunday morning and were presented with a rather fantastic spaghetti lunch and afterwards sang for the cooks in the small chapel room that was on the same floor. The fellowship of this trip, and the friendliness and happiness that the people we met at Trinity showed, gave me this near overwhelming feeling of God's presence. One person and particular stood out, yet, sadly, her name eludes me; but, I digress. She was extremely friendly and incredibly nice, and this lady did something that I don't think many people have done for the Belmont UMC Open Door Singers. Because when we left Trinity UMC, and made the three hour drive to our next stop at Greeneville UMC. We sang for the people who came and afterwards discovered that the lady from Trinity UMC had driven all three hours from Charleston to Greeneville simply to see us perform again. This gave me an increased abundance of God's presence and although there wasn't fear in my thoughts, the sheer awe that this lady had driven just to see us sing again was... More than I usually have. The love and friendship and fellowship this lady gave off took me completely by surprise and, to tell you the truth, I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay in this place and just bask in the feeling of it. But, as Jesus told Peter, and as I realized shortly into wanting to stay, I had to head down the mountain and rejoin reality and the people of the world. However, unlike Peter, I was able to tell of what I experienced. I was able to go into the world with a feeling of pride, and a continued presence of God on my shoulder. Peter wanted to stay with the Presence of God and the presence of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, in his near paradise; but in the end, he had to come down to reality and do what everyone else has to do: Go with the presence of God, remember friendliness, fellowship, and kindness, and never miss a chance to present them to other people, even if they may not need it.
In Matthew 17, the story of the Transfiguration begins with Jesus leading Peter, James, and John up the mountain. Suddenly Jesus undergoes a transformation, God speaks to the disciples and says “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” After the disciples quivered in fear, Jesus came to them and said, “Get up and do not be afraid.” In this story, Jesus brings comfort to the disciples with a few simple words. Not only does God show the disciples His power, but He also shows them His love. God is pleased with the work Jesus is doing on earth, just as God is pleased with the work each of us are doing in the kingdom of God. A little before the reading that was shared today, Jesus tells his disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). This applies to us today, as we are called to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.
One way I have applied this to my life is through service opportunities Belmont has given me. Throughout the planning of the youth mission trip to Malawi, I was excited, but also nervous to travel to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anyone. Plus, it was my first time to travel out of the country without a member of my family. While I was nervous about the adventure I was about to embark on, there was no other group I would rather experience the trip with than the youth of Belmont. During our time in Malawi, I had the opportunity to hear the stories of people who daily pick up their own cross and follow God. One of these people is Joyce, who runs Kayesa Inn, a place we made our home for four nights. Before opening Kayesa, Joyce served as a Malawi Member of Parliament. She quit her job, because she no longer felt like she was helping others. Joyce donated land to local non-profits and kept some of the land she owned to start Kayesa Inn. Joyce has opened her home and her heart to several children in Malawi, who now help her run the inn. The Sunday we were staying at Kayesa, we were going to the farm for worship and Joyce came with us. Her presence in Sunday school and at church was a blessing to every one present. Joyce walked away from wealth and a comfortable lifestyle to follow God’s call. I know that God looks at Joyce’s life and the lives she has changed and says “This is my daughter with her I am well pleased”.
The theme for this year’s youth Sunday is facing the mountain. This mountain can be a literal mountain like Mount McKinley, Mount Rainer, or the Appalachian Mountains. Or the mountain can refer to a difficulty a person has to overcome in life.
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about the word mountain is Beersheba. Every year for the past 18 years, I have spent one weekend on the mountain celebrating and feeling the presence of God in my life and at work through Belmont. It provides a place to be together in community with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. People of all ages gather together to learn more about Christ, as we take in beautiful landscapes and escape from daily life. Beersheba creates community and family bonded by our love for one another and our love for this church. Some of my favorite memories from my childhood have occurred at Beersheba. Whether it was a hike led by Dr. Cooper, four square with Cato, or Vesper’s led by the youth, Beersheba always proves to be a rewarding weekend full of laughter and fun. The memories I have of looking at the stars and realizing the beauty of God’s earth sustain me as I go through everyday life. At the end of a long week, made longer by my excitement for the weekend ahead, Beersheba is a reward. As we leave the mountain, we are reminded of God’s call in our lives. Whether that call looks like going across the ocean to Malawi or being in relationship with people in our every day lives, we trust that God will guide our footsteps through the journey.
In a similar way to Joyce, I see Belmont carrying out God’s call of creating disciples out of children and youth. Belmont has shaped and strengthened my relationship with God by providing me with opportunities to experience new adventures. I first discovered my passion for service on a VIM trip to Slidell, Louisiana in 2005. Every mission trip I have participated in since then has strengthened my call to be in service with others. Through Appalachia Service Project, I spent time repairing houses to make them warmer, safer, and drier. I have seen God’s work within the Golden Triangle Fellowship through tutoring and leading Mission Nashville. I see people within this church, who daily pick up their cross to follow God and their own personal call. The youth group has taught me the importance of making a change in this world, not only through mission trips, but also through living out your daily life for Christ. It has helped me to grasp the importance of a personal relationship with God and challenges me to think harder and delve deeper into the word of God. The music ministry has shown me that music can serve as more than a beautiful sound, but can be an outlet to share the word of God with others around the world and in our own community. I have grown into the person I am today because of the impact several members of this congregation have made on my life.
For me, Belmont has always been more than a place to come to worship. Belmont has given me friends that I could not find anywhere else. Most importantly, Belmont has given me a home to come to when I am weary and when I am in need of spiritual renewal.
As I travel in the fall to Elon University in North Carolina to start my college experience, I will hold the memories created through trips and experiences with Belmont close to my heart. I will face the mountain that is created with a new school, a new state, and being hours from my family. But most importantly, I will remember that Belmont has shaped me and has given me the power and the knowledge to know I’m not facing the mountain alone. And I have a home waiting to embrace me with open arms when I return to Nashville.
Belmont is more than the church on 21st and Acklen. Belmont is a family daily striving to serve God’s kingdom in whatever way possible. And I am thankful for this community, where we are challenged weekly to answer God’s call in our individual lives.
Sermon transcript for February 23, 2014
Who are your people?
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Belmont UMC—February 23, 2014
Pam Hawkins, preaching
Audio - MP3
“Who are your people, child?” the woman asked as she poured me a glass of ice-cold lemonade. I was sitting with a passel of other hot, sweaty children on the stoop of the woman’s front porch in Columbus, Georgia. “The Cunninghams on Eberhart,” I replied, to which she said, “Hmm, Annie Tom and Leon” before going back inside, seeming satisfied with my answer. I was about seven years old at the time, and during that long summer learned that belonging to my grandparents was a good thing – edged with privileges of new playmates, trips to the community pool, and fresh lemonade. Knowing to whom I belonged was good.
But before I turned nine, I learned something else about belonging that, to this day, is also imprinted on my heart.
Because of my father’s work, we moved overseas the year I was to begin third grade and one day, as part of getting to know each other at my new school, our teacher asked my classmates what church we each belonged to. One by one, some of the more confident children named things like “Baptist,” “Quaker,” and “Catholic.” And when I finally got the nerve to speak up, I said – “Christian.”
I still remember the giggling and snickering that made my whole body blush in embarrassment when I gave my answer. Even the teacher laughed as she said something like, “we’re all Christian. Don’t you know what church you belong to?” But the fact was, I didn’t. For whatever reason – ignorance or forgetfulness – I could not remember “Methodist” for the life of me.
I knew I was a Christian, but that I was a certain kind of Christian had not yet invaded my religious identity. At the age of eight, I didn’t yet know that what Christian faction I belonged to would matter to other people. But on that day I had my first painful lesson that being a Christian for one person is not the same thing as being a Christian to another.
When Paul writes the letter from which we read today, he too is facing a painful lesson about Christian divisions. Even though the new Christian community at Corinth is still wet behind the ears, having been founded by Paul just a few years before this letter is written, word had already spread that the once-enthusiastic community of Christ-followers is beginning to bicker and compete within itself about who are the better and “real” Christians.
Although many factors contribute to the growing fractures in the young Corinthian church, one of the striking obstacles to unity is rooted in their diversity. Corinth was an urban center where wealth and poverty, free persons and slaves, Jews and Gentiles, refugees and locals made up strands of the city’s fabric. Consequently, the church too was made up of diverse ranks – uneducated poor, slaves, those who had won their freedom, patrons, clients, and at least a few community leaders. And each baptized member brought into the church different and often competing cultural biases and social experiences. It would take time, patience, and love to bring all hearts and minds together in the ways of Christ - a truth we are still learning today.
Paul knows this – and he knows – personally – that shedding old ways, prejudices, and beliefs in order to take on the “mind of Christ” is not easy for anyone. For the people of Corinth it means that they can no longer equate poverty with inferiority. It means that the socially accepted practice of boasting at the expense of a neighbor must stop, and that shaming and ridiculing “undesirables” – a politically correct way of Corinthian life at the time – can have no place in the church. But Paul also knows that the roots of social, cultural, and political “belonging” run deep in the veins of every human being – so deep that only Christ can clear them for new life to flow.
Teach Christ, follow Christ, belong to Christ, Paul preaches and the church begins to flourish and grow. Then when the time comes for Paul to leave Corinth for Ephesus, he leaves it in the hands other committed, trusted preachers and teachers, including Apollos, Cephas, and Chloe, and he stays in touch through letters, some of which – like our reading today – remain for us to hear.
But the news from Corinth, once good, doesn’t stay good for long. Rumors of problems begin to spread – members of the church are returning to ways that are not Christ-like. Paul hears that the new Christians are choosing sides about which preacher is better, whose baptism is real, and whose spiritual gifts are most important. Cliques in the church are sprouting over worship and Holy Communion, church finances and beliefs. Devotion to Christ is being overgrown by devotion to favored church leaders, and even Paul’s ministry is becoming suspect, criticized, and set aside as less than stellar.
Sisters and brothers, this letter may be old, but the message has no expiration date, for we also know how hard it is to follow Christ together – to hold in holy tension, perspective, and love what can divide us, if we let it – our cultural biases, our social experiences, our interpretation of scripture, our political perspectives.
What was happening in Paul’s day is still happening in ours. One group in the church pits itself against another, both claiming to be the more faithful interpreter of Word and tradition. Threats to follow one leader over another cast a shadow of separation over a once united faith community. One set of church members ostracize another because of deeply held convictions that differ so much, neither group can find a way to listen to the other. Sadly, we know, from first-hand exposure that factions, cliques, and differing opinions can and do exist within the church – and we know that harm is often the result if not held up to the forgiving light of Christ.
And I believe that we know as well, in the depth of our souls, that when one of us is harmed by the divisive words or actions of another, all of us are harmed. And all of us have been on both sides of such harm – adding to it and bearing under it.
Friends, if we do not place Christ at our center, as the compass point of our life together, then the gift of our differences, of our diversity, can become the source of pain and disunity. This is what Paul is writing about to the church. What makes life together possible in the church - with all of our unique, colorful, one-of-a-kind, God-given stories and ideas, callings and opinions, agreements and disagreements - is that we all belong to Christ first, before we can find our way of belonging to each other through love.
And Christ does not ask us to leave our differences at the door of the church, but rather to bring them inside, to use our differences, one beside the other, generation by generation, like building blocks – in Paul’s words again – to “build people up.” “Love build’s people up,” Paul writes to the disintegrating church of Corinth, if that love is grounded in the love of Jesus.
When Christ’s love is the foundation into which God traces our names side by side, like children on a freshly smoothed sidewalk, then Christ’s love will always be there to sustain us and remind us, as we come and go our separate Christ-following ways, that we all belong here.
We belong first to the Christ of love, and that foundational love makes us one, which means that we belong to each other. Isn’t that the beauty and power of the welcoming statement that some of you wrote for all of us and that is always in our bulletin now at the bottom of the insert? In those few lines, by which I think the apostle Paul would be deeply moved - we claim Christ first. And then we bless and celebrate each other – unique and different as God has created us – before following Christ out into the world again and again and again.
And then, when we are out wandering through God’s neighborhoods around the corner or around the world, someone’s likely to wonder out loud -“Who are your people, child?” “Whom do you belong to?” To which we can reply in unison, “we belong to Christ. We are each other’s people – all of us – no exceptions.”
May it always be so, for together we have much work to do.
Sunday's Closing Prayer
At the end of our sermon on Sunday, Pam closed with a prayer that she wants to share again. It comes from the Upper Room Worship book: Music and Liturgies for Spiritual Formation (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2006), and was written by Chuck Wilhelm.
I pray that Christ may come to you early in the morning, as he came to Mary that morning in the garden. And I pray that you find Christ in the night when you need him as Nicodemus did. May Christ come to you while you are a child, for when disciples tried to stop them, Jesus insisted that the children come to him.
I pray that Christ may come to you when you are old, as he came to old Simeon’s arms and made him cry: “ Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
And may Christ come to you in your grief as he did for Mary and Martha when they lost their brother. May Christ come to you in joy as he did to the wedding of Cana. And may Christ visit you when you are sick, as he did for the daughter of Jairus, and for so many who could not walk, or stand straight, or see, or hear till he came.
May the Lord Jesus come in answer to your questions as he did once for a lawyer and a rich young ruler. And in your madness may he stand before you in all his power as he stood among the graves that day before Legion.
May Christ come to you in glory upon your dying day as he did to the thief hanging beside him that Good Friday. And though you seldom come to him, and though you often “make you bed in hell,” as I do, may you find Christ descending there, where the apostles in their creed agreed he went – so you would know there is no place he would not come for you.