Sermon transcript for October 26, 2014
Loving God’s Children
Matthew 22:34-46 and I Thessalonians 2:1-8
Belmont UMC—October 26, 2014
Susan Groseclose, preaching
Today, we conclude our financial campaign by celebrating Children’s Sabbath. We celebrate the presence and ministry of children that fill our hallways. We celebrate the children in our communities and around the world. We celebrate all of God’s children young and old.
Much of the violence today is targeted at children. Our nation allows millions of children to be hungry, homeless, uninsured, abused, and at high risk for a violent death. The Children’s Defense Fund compiles shocking facts about the devastation in the lives of America’s children. Among them are:
■ Persistent Hunger – day after day, hope-draining hunger affects the lives of 8.3 million American children.
■ Deep Poverty – the humiliations and pains of abiding need haunt the lives of 7.1 million children in our rich nation.
■ Gunfire Violence – suicides, accidents, and homicides take the lives of seven children a day.
For some, our tendency is to respond to these facts with apathy or despair. As people of faith, we can dare to comprehend the scope of injustices our children face because we know that, with God’s help, we can address them. We can help to bring about change and restoration. Today as we celebrate Children’s Sabbath we not only turn our attention to the needs of children but also affirm God’s call to use our resources, our skills, and our commitment to love all of God’s children.
A lawyer asked Jesus, “”Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians reminds us that being an apostle - being a disciple - is to deeply care for one another like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. As infants depend on their mother, we also depend on God - loving God with our entire being. It is through our dependency and love of God we care and love one another. We are called to care for one another….bringing forth righteousness, wholeness, and harmony.
What does it mean to love God with our entire being? In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus illustrates loving God with our entire being - our heart, our soul, our strength, and our mind - by telling a story about his friends, Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was busy welcoming Jesus into their home. She was probably washing the guests’ feet, providing a drink of water, preparing a meal, and all the other responsibilities of caring for the guests. Her sister, Mary, sat and listened to Jesus. Martha became upset with Mary for not helping with the work. However, Jesus told her that Mary was showing her love for God by sitting and listening to him.
For me personally, it is easy to to be a Martha - to be caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities but I know for my ministry to be faithful and fruitful, I must find ways to live out the Mary in me. I find that by making it a priority for personal devotion, reading, and prayer. I find the Mary in me through weekly worship - rarely do I participate in 8:15 worship leadership because that is the time for me to worship without thinking about logistics and to receive the gift of Holy Communion each week. I find the Mary in me by participating with 5 other sisters in Christ in a covenant discipleship group where we hold one another in love to our walk with Christ.
When we are rooted in God’s love, we are able to know and believe in God’s faithfulness. We are able to withstand the difficulties, disappointments, grief, and uncertainties in life because we trust and believe that God walks with us. When we are completely enveloped in our love for God all our thoughts, all our actions, all our decisions flow from our love of God.
When we are rooted in God’s love, we can trust God’s loving presence in the tragedy of a young man killed in the Edgehill community. We can believe that all God’s children, young and old, are of sacred worth and welcomed here at Belmont. We can welcome visiting families with a safe, loving, and nurturing place to worship and grow in our faith. We can work through our differences in communication, values, and customs to celebrate our diversity and our common ministry with the Golden Triangle Fellowship. We can proclaim that families who have a child with a disability will find a nurturing, caring, loving place where they can grow and share their gifts in ministry. When we are rooted in God’s love, we can open our hearts to receive and love those who are homeless in our midst with bus passes, food, and shelter. We can share out of our abundance to partner with Eakin Elementary to provide food for children’s backpacks, we can provide resources for young children and the oldest of God’s children at Bethlehem Centers, we can fill Christmas stockings for children in Grundy County, we can collect peanut butter and jelly for Community Care Fellowship, and we can move out of the walls of this church in ministry and service in the community whenever we tutor, build relationships, and advocate for justice.
It is a holy privilege to live out of our love for God as a witness of God’s love.
As we love God through our devotion and worship, we are moved to respond to God’s love by loving one another and responding with justice. God’s love propels us to go out into our communities, into our schools, into the prisons, along the streets of Nashville, and as far away as Mexico and Malawi. As we experience loving God and loving one another we deepen and transform our relationships with God and with others.
Our loving God and loving one another is rooted in the Wesleyan Way of Life. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that persons grow in their faith following a rule of life. There are three simple rules, or principles of a Christian life:
First: Do no harm.
Second: Do all the good you can.
Third: Stay in love with God through the public worship of God; ministry of the Word; the Lord’s Supper; family and private prayer; reading and studying the Bible; fasting or abstinence.
Through this General Rule of Discipleship – we love God through our devotion and worship and we are a witness to Jesus Christ’s love in the world through our acts of compassion and justice. We all practice and learn to live as Christ lived, to forgive as Christ forgave, to serve as Christ served, and above all to love as Christ loved. As we learn and grow in our faith, others see and experience the love of God through, with, and in us.
Think for a minute about the children and families in our day who are suffering, powerless in the face of overwhelming political forces, displaced and feeling abandoned. We want every child to be comforted in the assurance of God’s presence with them through the affirming and loving times of their lives as well as the scariest, most difficult times in their lives. How do we as Belmont UMC congregation communicate not only through our words but more importantly through our actions that all children are precious in God’s sight - that they are honored and that they are loved? How do we love our own children and children around the world? How can we help children from their earliest days have nurturing and supportive experiences at home, in school, at church, and in our communities?
Justice is more than loving another person. It is becoming aware of unjust issues and learning the deep causes for the injustice. It is being a voice for those who are voiceless or marginalized by society and standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. It is changing our own behavior or encouraging others to change their behavior toward another. It is serving others, speaking out on behalf of others, and acting in ways that restore community so that all creation is treated with fairness, respect, and dignity. It is standing alongside the oppressed and restoring each other’s dignity and sacred worth.
As people of faith, we are called upon to make a different choice. We are called upon to persevere in the face of injustice, and to stand strong while we address the violence of our own day. We are called upon to proclaim our Christian conviction in God’s final victory of justice over evil. When we resolve to persist, we are empowered to seek out the injustice that afflicts our communities and replace it with just and merciful options. As God exposes the failures of our society, our trust in God allows us to use the tools of truth and justice to act as agents of restoration.
As we make our financial commitments….as we prioritize our ministries…as we seek to be faithful in loving God and one another let us imagine communities where all God’s children are cherished, honored, and loved; where all God’s children are fed and clothed and live in safe homes; where all God’s children experience and know the love of Jesus Christ.
Sermon transcript for October 19, 2014
Thank God for All of You
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Belmont UMC—October 19, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
Paul usually begins his letters to the churches with gratitude for the people, even in those letters where he proceeds to take them to task for something they’ve done wrong. But he had a deep love for the people of Thessalonica and he prayed for them and longed for them, especially in their struggles and persecution.
And as I read this passage again, and as we looked at this passage and others from the Pastoral Letters a few weeks ago in Covenant Bible Study, I was touched by the phrase, “Thank God for all of you.” As I look out at all of you this morning that phrase goes through my mind, “I do thank God for all of you.”
On Monday and Tuesday of last week, I was at gatherings of clergy from the Memphis Conference (West Tennessee) and then the Tennessee Conference (middle Tennessee) and I received such warm greetings from so many friends gathered over the course of several decades of ministry. I even received some warm hugs. As I looked out over that group, people so different in so many ways and yet bound to the same call to serve, I thought, “I thank God for all of you.”
I was telling a young clergy friend recently that I still get anxious before preaching. He asked, “What do you about that?” My answer, “I look at the people and the anxiety is dispelled.” That seems counterintuitive to some folks but looking at the people who I have come to know and love, helps calm any fears I have about what I am about to do. “I thank God for all of you.”
I like the theme for our operating campaign, “Joy in Giving” but it’s in this shared community, this community of people who love one another and serve alongside one another, that we find that real joy, that deep gladness in giving.
Community, church, and family have always been important to me. It’s how I was raised, surrounded by family, church and the simple traditions that accompany them. I knew every acre of our farm when I was a kid, but I knew every acre of all my cousins farms as well. We worked on all those farms and shared meals in all those farm houses. We were surrounded by family and friends. Holidays meant being around lots of those folks and eating some delicious food.
We were in California in September, visiting our son and daughter-in-law in Berkeley. We had a conversation about Thanksgiving and holidays away from family. I knew that Lars and Laura would not be coming home for Thanksgiving so I asked about their plans. They have a group of friends, friends who also live far from their families, and they share holidays with them with pot luck dinners. These are the people who give them rides to the airport or take care of their pets and plants when they are away. These are the people who step in and do the things that families normally do.
In our mobile world we see the development of makeshift families. The church often has a role in these new communities of friends.
In The Shelter of Each Other, Mary Pipher writes, “When I speak of families, I usually mean biological families. There is a power in blood ties that cannot be denied. But in our fragmented, chaotic culture, many people don’t have biological families nearby. For many people, friends become family. Family is a collection of people who pool resources and help each other over the long haul. Families love one another even when that requires sacrifice. Family means that if you disagree, you still stay together.
Families are the people for whom it matters if you have a cold, are feuding with your mate or training a new puppy. Family members used magnets to fasten the newspaper clipping about your bowling team on the refrigerator door. They save your drawings and homemade pottery. They like to hear stories about when you were young. They’ll help you can tomatoes or change the oil in your car. They’re the people who will come visit you in the hospital, will talk to you when you call with a dark night of the soul and will loan you money to pay the rent if you lose your job. Whether or not they are biologically related to each other, the people who do these things are family.” (pp. 21-22)
Friends become like family in some of these settings. They become communities that support and care for one another. I recently spoke to a group of United Methodist young adults who meet in the Nashville area on Tuesday nights. They are called Anchor and they agreed that their lives reflect that quote from Mary Pipher.
And we also agreed that there are two ingredients to building that kind of community. One is food. There is an old saying that “A friend is someone who has eaten a peck of salt with you.” That’s a lot of salt but it means you’ve eaten a lot of meals together. I still believe that something wonderful and sacred happens when we sit down at a table and share a meal together. Something happens in that setting that doesn’t happen anywhere else. We recently shared a meal together with some clergy friends. We’d each brought something to add to the meal. Our conversations were light-hearted but our time in each other’s presence was beautiful and holy. I looked around the table and thought, “I give thanks for all of you.”
The other ingredient to build community is our stories. We learn each other’s stories, where we were born, how we were raised. We learn about struggles and successes. We share our faith stories. We talk about our children or our siblings and our crazy old Uncle Harold. To really know someone we must know their story.
Is it no wonder that the center of our faith is this table, where we share the food that Jesus gave us to share and to remember him by. And when we come to this table we retell our story and God’s story. And we look around and think to ourselves, “Thank God for all of you.”
I believe we need these communities of friends. We were created to live in community. Yes, we need private space and solitude, but even the introvert among us needs to know that there are people who care about them, love them and will be there for them.
I like social media and find it to be an efficient way of connecting with lots of people. I like having Facebook friends, even if the definition of friend there is very loose. But we need personal, face to face, encounters, like sitting at Fidos over a cup of coffee in the late afternoon, sharing stories and laughing until your face hurts. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The church is one of those special communities and I’m not sure I know how to live without it. We are not perfect but we can do some amazing things together as a community. We believe that it’s in the presence of community, where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus that we experience something holy, something beyond ourselves.
Bishop Ken Carder used to tell a story of his seminary days. He was an excellent student but he had gotten a paper back and he’d been given a “C” and he thought he deserved a better grade. He wanted to talk to the professor but he couldn’t find the words. One day he saw the professor walking across campus. The professor spoke to him but Ken ignored him. The professor stopped him and asked, ‘What’s wrong?” Ken told him and the professor could see that Ken was tearful and hurt. The professor literally put his arms around Ken and held him and said, “I gave you that grade because you can do so much better.” Ken Carder said, “He held me and he held me accountable.” For Ken Carder that was a metaphor for the church.
This is the place where we hold each other. We love each other. We express this love in many ways. Our doorbell rang one afternoon and there were several men and women standing at my door with covered dishes in their hands. They were at the wrong house but the food in their dishes smelled wonderful. The house on the cul de sac up from our house has a similar address and we often get their mail and deliveries by mistake. The woman who lived there had cancer and these folks were members of her Sunday School Class bringing food to support the family.
We hold each other accountable. We need people who will tell us the truth in love and help us be better people. We need to hang out with folks who are better at keeping their spiritual disciplines, who understand the joy in giving, and who pray for us. There are people in this church who will cause you to be a better disciple just because you hang out with them. And in this place we grow to understand the words of Paul, “I give thanks for all of you.”
Look around this morning. Look into the faces of these dear friends. Remember their stories. And give thanks.