Sermon transcript for October 6, 2013
Nurture. . . A Way of Life
Belmont UMC—October 6, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching
As you learned earlier we are in a period of pledging for our 2014 budget to support the ministries of the church. We are using this time to focus on the 4 core values identified during the strategic planning process. We understand these 4 core values, diversity, nurture, hospitality and mission are not programs of the church but they are a way of life. They describe who we as Belmonters are called to be as Christ followers. (Next Sunday we will take a break from these 4 values because some of us will be worshipping here and some of us will be worshipping at the All Church Retreat.)
Today, we are thinking about nurture, spiritual nurture, and you’ve heard two wonderful witnesses today of how their lives and their family members’ lives have nurtured spiritually in this faith community. I think Lucy Cramer is spot on and I like all the things she likes: All Church Retreat, spending time with family and friends, and learning about our faith and how we treat each other with love and care.
And I have to say a rousing “amen” to the words of my friend, Virginia Kessen, because my family has been enriched by this church, too, especially the life of our youngest son, Aren. He is a wonderful young man with strong values and much of who is today has to do with the youth program, music program and a host of adult volunteers and youth friends who have loved him and supported him. Let me say thank-you for that. I always say that you can put a price tag on some things in church, like the cost of study manual or an overnight for a retreat, but the relationships our son has had with so many of you are priceless. (Sounds like an American Express commercial, but it’s true.)
For today’s sermon I found myself gleaning the scriptures for images and metaphors that relate to the theme of spiritual nurture.
The word “longing” came up a lot in the strategic planning sessions when people talked about spiritual nurture. People expressed a deep longing for spiritual practice, for worship, for prayer ministry, for small groups, for retreats and Sabbath times. The idea of longing is found in the words of scripture, especially in the Psalms. One of my favorite passages is Psalm 42:1-2, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” Hear the deep longing of the Psalmist.
I have often considered the possibility that we have been created with this sense of deep longing so that we will always be looking and seeking to fill an inner void, an empty place inside of us. This empty space can only be filled by God.
There are other metaphors that relate to this deep longing as well. The scriptures speak of spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5) This passage from the Beatitudes draws our mind’s eye to a well in Samaria. It is there that Jesus meets a woman who has come to get water to quench her physical thirst, but Jesus offers her spiritual water, water that can bring up into everlasting life. Jesus sees beyond the empty vessel she carries and into the deep spiritual thirst of her soul. (John 4)
Do you have a deep longing, a hunger or thirst for God? I sat in my office one day listening to a friend’s faith story. He said, “For a long time I was like the man who wakes up in the night with a craving, a hunger. He opens the refrigerator and stares until all the cold escapes. Then he goes to the pantry and stares again. But nothing that he sees is right. For the life of him, he cannot identify what it is he craves. All I knew is that I felt empty inside. But one day I walked into this church and knew immediately what I was hungry for. God has been so gracious to me.”
There is another image that is found in one of the lectionary passages for today. It is found in 2 Timothy and the Apostle Paul is writing to his young friend and disciple Timothy and encouraging him. The image here is fire. Timothy’s faith is waning and Paul urges him, “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands, for God did give you the spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love, and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6)
Do you remember the movie, Castaway, in which Tom Hanks plays a Fed-X worker who goes down in a plane crash. He manages to grab hold of a life raft as the plane goes down and winds up on a deserted island. After several days of eating coconuts and trying to eat raw crabs, he realizes that he needs fire, fire with which to cook fish, fire to keep warm, fire to signal for help and fire to keep him company on those long lonely nights.
Some of the most dramatic scenes occur while Hanks’ character is trying to rub sticks together to make fire. His hands become raw and bloody and he keeps giving up. One day the hollow stick he is using splits in two and the split allows air to come into play with heat and the small clump of dried brush he’s using for fuel ignites. He has success and does a little happy fire dance.
When getting fire is this difficult, what will you do? You’ll try to keep it lit so you don’t have start from scratch. The spiritual fire within us does not require us to rub sticks together until our hands are raw; it is a gift from God, but we will need spiritual practices and worship to keep the fire going.
The acolytes bring the light of Christ into the sanctuary and light the candles on the altar and paschal candle on the stand. At the end of the service, they do not merely extinguish the candles but they relight their wick to symbolically take the light of Christ out into the world. Our acolytes are well trained and conscientious. We’d had a few missteps in worship one day and I thought the sermon was rather flat and disappointing. Unfortunately, I was the preacher. I was standing down at the chancel during the last hymn when the acolyte came around the side and his wick was not lit and he rather apologetically said, “My fire went out.” I responded, “So did mine, son. So did mine.” Do you ever feel like your spiritual fire has gone out?
Until I was nine we lived in a house that was heated by two coal burning fireplaces in the front rooms and cast iron stove in the kitchen. I used to watch my Dad bank the fire before we went to bed. He would take the scuttle and scoop ashes from the hearth on top of the fire. This caused the fire to die down a bit and hold the heat, but not go out. It also meant that we’d need an extra quilt about 2 AM because the house would grow colder. In the morning we’d run downstairs in our pajamas and wait for Dad to stoke those glowing coals back to life. Then we’d warm ourselves by the fire.
Spiritual nurture is about rekindling the fire with us that is gift from God. It’s about worship, study, prayer, fasting, Sabbath keeping, retreating, small groups; it’s about making space for God in our lives. It is good for us to gather around this table, to share in this sacred meal that reminds us of the gift of God within us.
As we come to the table today, may our prayer be something like this, “Rekindling fire, bread from heaven, water that springs up into eternal life, come within and draw us closer to our God. Renew us, nourish us, strengthen us, to be your people. Amen.”
Sermon transcript for September 29, 2013
“Diversity. . . a way of life”
1 Corinthians 12
Belmont UMC—September 29, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching
As you learned earlier, we are beginning a focus on pledging gifts to support the ministries of our church in 2014. As a part of that emphasis we decided to design worship around the 4 themes that emerged during our strategic planning sessions. I’m calling these our 4 core values as Christ followers: Diversity, Nurture, Hospitality and Mission. The theme of our campaign is “I’M IN. . .” because we want to emphasize our full engagement in the life of the church and in these 4 core values. Diversity, Nurture, Hospitality and Mission are not programs of the church, but a way of life, a part of our spiritual DNA. They are not someone else’s responsibility; they are mine; they are yours.
I have suggested to the staff and others that we might use these core values as points for accountability as Christ followers. In the early Wesleyan small groups called class meetings, the people would go around the circle and ask, “How is with your soul this week?” We might ask ourselves: How did we celebrate diversity this week? How are we enriching our lives and the lives of others through spiritual formation and worship (nurture)? Where did we offer genuine hospitality to someone this week? Have we gone to the places where God is calling us in mission?
Today, let us think together about diversity as a way of life. The creation story of Genesis reveals how God created a diverse world. And the story of the creation or birth of the church in Acts 2 reveals how the church came together in diverse setting where people from all over the Mediterranean world gathered in Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost and the disciples were given the gift to speak in the different languages of the people. We were born in diversity.
There are many ways in which we experience diversity in the church. We are blessed with different age groups from tiniest babies brought to the chancel for the covenant of baptism to the oldest adults.
At Belmont we are blessed with a diversity of cultures and that diversity brings depth, meaning and great joy to our gatherings. I am fortunate to be here on weekdays when ESL classes are in session. I am fortunate to be greeted by smiling faces from all over the globe. The whole world gathers at Belmont on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Our lives have been enriched by church members from many countries. We continue to learn from our members who came here from Burma, Thailand, Laos, India, Mexico, Uganda, Afghanistan, Hungary, Russia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Canada, China, Korea and the list goes on. We celebrate diversity as it reminds us of the wideness of God’s love and reach. If we showed up here on a Sunday morning and every body was a 61 year old man named Ken, we wouldn’t come back because it would so very boring and uninteresting.
Our text today is about the diversity of spiritual gifts in the church. In this chapter Paul uses the metaphor of the human body for the church and calls the church “the body of Christ.” The human body has many parts, many different parts that work in concert with one each other, many diverse parts that dependent on each other. The diversity in the human body creates unity. Paul is saying that the human body needs diversity or it cannot survive. The church needs diversity or it will not survive.
The Holy Spirit has given each of us gifts to serve within the church. We have diverse gifts. We are not all teachers or pastors or administrators but we are all gifted and called to serve. To be fully engaged in the life of the church we must discover our spiritual gifts and find ways to use them to enrich the life of the body of Christ.
In the text today we learn that each person’s gift is to be valued. This was very countercultural for Paul to say in the first century and it continues to be so in a culture that esteems some over others. Listen to what Paul says, “Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary (we can’t live without them). The parts of the body we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most.” (verses 22-23 CEB) Do we hear how counter-cultural this was and is even now? Do we value diversity of gifts in the body of Christ in that way or do we think some people are more important than all the others?
I was away from the church on the morning of September 11, 2001 when terrorists attacked our country but I quickly returned. I found the administrative assistant answering the phone and she indicated that the phone was ringing non-stop. Lots of people were calling the church and many of them just wanted to talk. A deacon from the Publishing House, which had been closed, came to the church and offered to help answer calls. In between calls the staff conferred about ways to respond to the needs of our church members.
One of the calls I received came from a young teenager, a teen who really hadn’t been on my radar until that day. She was crying as she said, “Pastor Ken, I was wondering if we could gather at church tonight and worship?”
I knew immediately that I needed to listen to her. I asked, “What time do you think we should gather and what do you think we should do?”
She said, “Seven would be a good time for worship. I think we simply need to be together and we could sing some hymns and read from the Psalms and maybe we could write prayers and bring them to the chancel.” I asked her to call the other youth and tell them that we would be gathering for worship at 7 PM.
I went into the outer office and called all the staff together and said, “We are going to gather for worship at 7 PM because we need to be together. We will sing some hymns and read from the Psalms and we need 3 by 5 cards so we write prayers and bring them to the chancel. Let’s get the word out. And by the way, this great idea was not mine but one of our teenagers who is very wise for her age.”
Because this young woman used the gift God had given her, we did gather and we could not seat all the people who showed up that night. Dozens of people stood around the walls. For a number of our folks this was a night of spiritual transformation and renewal. For all of us it was a night of healing and hope. Everyone has gifts of ministry and all are important to the vitality and unity of the body of Christ.
We need to admit that we have diverse ways of looking at the world. We are not all like-minded nor are we called to be. We are called to love one another and sometimes our diverse points of view make that more challenging. But as Christ followers we are always up for a challenge.
The first Disciple 1 Bible Study I taught was an interesting group. Disciple Bible Study is an overview of the entire Bible and it spans 34 weeks and requires a commitment of time and preparation. It also requires a covenant of the members to be present, to pray for one another and to respect one another’s opinions.
There were two people in that class who were as different as night and day. George was a single older adult. He had only been at the church about 6 months, having moved from Texas. He had warm heart, a big smile and a very, very conservative, evangelical view of the world. Nell was an older widow who was active in serving the poor and in other aspects of social justice. She had huge heart and a very, very liberal, activist view of the world.
On the second week of the Study we were focusing on the creation stories from Genesis. Nell was sitting next to George that night, and about 30 minutes into the class Nell said, “I don’t know why we are spending so much time on these stories; everyone knows they are myths.”
George’s face turned a deep red color not normally seen in nature and I think he stopped breathing for a few seconds. Then he turned toward Nell and said, “I beg your pardon.” I took a deep breath and shot up a prayer that said, “Dear God, I am going to need some help with these two.” I explained that we were going to read these stories and ask what they told us about God, about ourselves, and about our relationship with God and we are going to respect each other’s point of view.
Each week Nell and George set next to each other. There were more disagreements but things seem to be less heated. One night George came in my office and asked me to pray for him. He was scheduled for an arteriogram that week and he had some heart problems. Knowing that he lived alone, I asked if he needed me or someone to drive him to the hospital for the tests. “No,” he said, “Nell is taking me.” Then he winked at me. Unbeknownst to me and the rest of the class, these two had become good friends. We may not always agree with one another but we will still love one another.
Diversity is a gift from God and we celebrate this gift knowing that it is in diversity that we find strength and unity to live as followers of Jesus Christ. During the next few weeks, let’s agree to reflect on the diversity of the church and the community. Let’s ask God to help us discern the unique gifts of ministry we have been given. And let us find some quiet moments to celebrate the gift of diversity.