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Sermon transcript for September 15, 2013

Belmont UMC—September 15, 2013
Chris Allen, preaching

Audio - MP3

Celebrate With Me

After finishing my first year at Duke Divinity School, I was sent as a seminary intern to a small, remote, rural church in western North Carolina. My very first task was to teach the children’s Sunday School class. The children ranged in age from about five to nearly eleven. The first lesson I taught was a compilation of Psalm Twenty-Three, The Good Shepherd from John, and the first part of our text for today. As the young pastoral intern I dove right into my first children’s lesson. I was well versed in Jerome Berryman’s God Play. As the children entered I gathered them in a circle on the floor and opened the gold colored parable box with curiosity on my face.
Then I laid out large pieces of green felt that act as the green grass pasture and proceeded to tell the children the story how this shepherd had flock of one hundred. This shepherd led the flock to greenest grass and coolest water. When the shepherd led the sheep in the sheepfold, he noticed that one was missing so the shepherd went out to look for the one missing sheep. The shepherd went even to the darkest of valleys to find this one sheep. When the shepherd found the one lost sheep, he put it on his back and carried it back to the sheepfold.

After the telling the story, the children and I spent some time imagining what it would have been like to be the lost sheep. Do you think the sheep thought it would ever be found? How do you think the sheep reacted when it saw the shepherd? How do you feel when you are lost?
I surmise that we often put ourselves in the perspective of the lost sheep, the one who is lost because when we are honest with ourselves that is the truth. It is something we have in common. We get lost. We get disoriented. We get confused. We get turned around. We go down the wrong path. We end up separated and lost from God, from others, and ourselves.
This separation from God, others, and the best of who we are is called sin. Sin is the broken relationship. It’s missing the mark. It’s getting off the path and losing our way. We are tendency to lose our way. We deliberately, and even sometimes unknowingly, choose the to miss the mark. Our choices will often lead to destructive consequences for others and ourselves.
But hear the good news! God is like the shepherd who cares for the one. God is like the woman who sweeps and searches for the one missing coin. God celebrates when one is found.
The good news is that God is not like me. I am much too cautious to leave ninety-nine to go look for one. I would count my losses and just hold on tighter to the ninety-nine to make sure that does not happen again. If a youth turned up missing on a trip, I would definitely look for them but before heading up the search I would make sure that the other ninety-nine were properly supervised by another adult. And most certainly I would not search for a coin, finally find it, and then throw a party that costs much more than the other nine coins. Call me cheap or frugal but that’s just fiscally unsound.

The good news is that God never gives up on searching for us. In verse five it simply states, “when he finds it.” Again in verse nine it says, “when she finds it.” There is no mention of how long this search takes. It doesn’t say after 20 minutes or an hour of searching the coin was found. We can only imagine how long this search may have taken. God is always doing everything God can do, even all the way to the cross, to search and bring us back into the fold of God’s love. If you feel like a lost coin this morning, know that God is not going to give up searching for you.

This is called grace. God searches for us before we even know we are lost. When the sheep is found there are no condemnation, no guilt, and no questions – Where have you been? What were you thinking? Do you know how long I have been looking? The shepherd is only thrilled to have found the sheep. This is the offer to free grace. It is grace that stirs our whole being to sing, “I was once lost, but now and found.” God search does not end there. God carries us back to fold. In searching God cleanses. Grace continues to sweep away the brokenness.

What happens when we change the perspective in the story? Instead of being the lost sheep or the lost coin, what happens when you are the shepherd or the woman? When was the last time you turned the house upside-down, swept every nook and cranny until you found the one lost coin? When did you last risk everything by leaving behind the ninety-nine to search and find the one? What happens when God uses us to search, sweep, and light the way for others with the same love that found us?

Justice for Our Neighbors, self-described as “scrappy” have turned the house upside down searching for the one as their team helps immigrants navigate the complicated legal system. The Golden Triangle Fellowship Committee saw how the young people were getting lost and further behind in the public schools. They responded and searched out a way to prepare these young people for high school graduation, employment, and college. This is what it looks like when God uses us to search, sweep, and light the way for others with the same love that found us.

When you take the perspective of the shepherd or the woman you care much more about the ones who are not here. I have to admit this is very hard for me. I do not always do a good job of this. In working with the youth, it much easier shepherd the ones that find their way back into the sheepfold each Sunday. The youth, who show up each Sunday, keep the youth program going. We’re able to have a bible, UMY, a basketball team, and a summer trip to Malawi. This interest in the ones who are not here does not make much sense. The ones that are here, the ones that put money in the offering plate, the ones that are in leadership positions are the ones that keep the spokes of the institutional church moving. Those are the ones that matter the most, right?
The gospel sends us to the ones who are not here. God wants to use us. God wants to use Belmont to bring others back to the flock. God wants to put brooms in our hands to be a part of the sweeping. When we’re brought into the frock, we have a choice celebrate or look down upon. But the temptation is the longer we are part of the flock, the longer the flock exists we are tempted for it to become about us. “Hey shepherd! Pay attention to me!” But we can’t do that there are loss sheep. When we have the focus on us we lose the focus on what is going on in our neighborhood. We lose what’s going on outside. We forget to search after the lost coins.

But do you remember what happens when the lost is found? There is a party, a celebration with our friends and neighbors. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a celebration? Will you celebrate with me?

 

 

Sermon transcript for September 8, 2013

Belmont UMC—September 8, 2013
Pam Hawkins, preaching

Audio - MP3

 

   

Sermon transcript for September 1, 2013

Belmont UMC—September 1, 2013
Adam Kelchner, preaching

Audio - MP3

There is a feast set on that table. It is a simple meal of baked bread and the fruit of the vine. And in its simplicity there are deep, mysterious, and sacred characteristics. Some how in the setting of the table, the blessing of the cup and the breaking of the bread, this community of faith discovers the eternal saving grace of God. In our celebration of this feast at the Lord’s table, we live into one of Jesus’ last instructions to his disciples before his death. ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’

Years ago upon the death of my grandfather’s eldest brother, my great aunts, beloved cousins, and I sat around the dining room table looking at old discolored photographs. The particular photo that caught my eye was of a wedding banquet: there were tables stretched end to end across a room as wide as this sanctuary, candelabras adorning the tables every few feet, loaves of bread as big as tree trunks, and finely dressed Sicilian men and women dwarfed by the high backs of the banquet chairs. Indeed it looked like a party to remember-a feast of a lifetime. I doubt anyone went home hungry after that wedding banquet.

As I think back through my childhood and all the times I gathered around table with this extended family of Sicilians, I realize they probably inherited their table manners from aunts, uncles, and grandparents who planned that wedding feast captured in that dusty photograph. Often after dining on salad, homemade buttered bread, olives, cold cut deli meat, lasagna, coffee, delicately crafted cookies from the local bakery, and biscotti, I’d have to insist to my Aunt Rissa and Aunt Mae I couldn’t possibly eat anymore food. And despite my insistence another plate of noodles and sauce would make its way onto my place mat. Around Aunt Rissa’s dining room table I began tasting the fullness of grace. Maybe this is why Jesus spends so much time at dinner parties and ministering with food-indeed the Gospel of Luke has more stories of Jesus and food than Matthew, Mark, or John-these dinner situations can be powerful experiences and signs of the abundance of God’s grace.

So here we find ourselves in the middle of another one of Jesus’ teaching moments while he’s at a Sabbath meal at the home of a Pharisee. The lesson is one on humility and hospitality. After he sees guests jockeying for the place of honor he begins to teach. Don’t assume you should be sitting at the head table-you might embarrass yourself if the dinner host has that place assigned for someone else. Pick a place of low esteem so that you might be lifted up. No need to cause undue embarrassment for yourself.

Then Jesus goes on as he turns to his host to offer a few instructive words. I can just imagine the host’s eyes open wide as he hangs on each word wondering if Jesus is going to criticize the manner in which he prepared the Sabbath meal. Don’t invite the powerful and privileged-that’s self serving. If you throw a fine party and your close circles come, well then of course they’re going to invite you to their next get together. That’s not much more than an insular self serving cycle of private parties.

I’ve dined around many of your tables, sometimes for business and other times for celebration. I know that in the love you have for one another you break bread together often. You generously open your homes and make sure that guests are well fed. You understand the abundance that comes forth from God’s grace and your dinner menus reflect that.

And I suppose that the dining etiquette of Jesus’ contemporaries is not a far cry from the way we still plan who to sit by, what to wear, what to say, what not to say, and how to conduct one’s self at the dining table, when we break bread together as family, colleagues, business partners, fellow Christ-followers, and wedding guests. We do all these things for esteem and so that we might be invited back to dine another day.

But have you ever heard after the fact about a party or a dinner gathering that a close friend held? Perhaps you waited day after day for the invitation for an upcoming gathering but it never came. And you always thought that your relationship with this friend or family member guaranteed you a seat at their table? You know, a table, a meal, an invitation-they have a way of being very effective tools of bringing some people close and keeping others away-in other words, discrimination. This is the underside of a feast as we know it-a guest list that has been carefully culled over means someone isn’t getting an invitation. Our private parties are meant to be exclusionary but Jesus points out so clearly that the Lord’s Table is far from a private party.

Let’s get back to those words Jesus has about the guest list- do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, those who are disabled, the lame, and the blind. As much as Jesus is giving sound practical advice on how to be invited to the place of honor, this teaching points to something much deeper about what God is doing in the world. It’s a strong word to the church about who needs a place set at the table. Who desperately needs an invitation to Christ’s table because they are not welcome at any other table of power and privilege?

This table, Christ’s table, is set first for those who are at the greatest social and spiritual disadvantage-you who typically have no table on which to eat your meals, if you eat at all; you who have no place to call home anymore because your families despise you; you whose hands are blistered and calloused from work but still struggle to pay rent and put food on your child’s plate; you who have come to Christ’s table before to experience grace and all you found on the menu were plates full of condemnation and cups full of hatred; you whose sexual identity marks you for discrimination in the church, you who by the color of your skin can’t live and work in places without the weight of discrimination bearing down on you-Christ’s table is set for you. The good news of Jesus the Christ is that if you’ve ever been turned away at another table, it is time for you to come and feast on God’s grace. No one is turned away at this banquet feast. Come and be filled.

 

Sermon transcript for August 25, 2013

Belmont UMC—August 25, 2013
Pam Hawkins, preaching

Audio - MP3

   

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