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Sermon transcript for July 6, 2014

Romans 7:15-25
Year A 4th Sunday After Pentecost
July 6, 2014 - Chris Allen, preaching
"Thanks Be To God"

Wow. At first glance, the biggest hurdle to understanding Paul’s words to the Romans is the tongue twister that it is.

If you read earlier in Romans, you will recall that in the previous chapter, Paul’s straight talk to the church in Rome could be summed up as, “Come one now, you’re baptized. You are raised with Christ in conquering sin and death. Now start acting like it.” Now in chapter seven it seems that Paul is in need of his own advice. Its as if Paul is now floundering in excuses. "It is not me, it is sin's fault!"

Let’s take a moment and retrace Paul’s argument from chapter six. First, Jesus is victorious over sin and death. Paul makes this point clear. Second, at our baptism we are given the power to experience freedom from sin and death because of the work of Christ. This should sound familiar to our baptismal covenant when the candidate or sponsor is asked, “Do you accept the freedom and power God has given you to reject evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” Paul will go on in chapter eight to call this acceptance of freedom and exercising your power in Christ over sin and death, “life in the Spirit.” Life in the Spirit is where we welcome, experience, and delight in God’s law in our innermost being.  

Paul says, “I don’t do what I want to do. Instead I do the thing I hate.” The struggle that Paul describes is the reality of our actual experience. The persons we have been and the habits we have kept keep us from knowing, much less delighting in the law of God. We’ve been patterned by sin to respond in certain ways without even knowing. The pervasive power of sin in our lives forms us to seek revenge when we want reconciliation. The conditioning of sin deafens our ears to the cries of those who are in need. We’ve got a lot of unlearning to do.  

This isn’t just a you problem or problem for me. This is an all of us problem. These words from Paul in Romans chapter three can be unsettling but they are true. All have sinned and fall short of God’s God (Romans 3:23).  These words can be a tough pill to shallow but they’re true. It’s true about your life. It’s true about my life.

But, are you going on to perfection?  This is a question that is asked of all the candidates at ordination as part of what is known as “the Historic Questions." Ken, Linda, Pam, Susan and many others in this room have all been asked this question. Heather, Adam, and I look forward to the day when the Bishop asked this question. It is a question that goes all the way back to John Wesley. This question was not reserved to candidates for ordination as it is reserved today. (REPEAT). Wesley asked this question to all the women and men who served as leaders in the Methodist societies. These were the lay people, no just clergy, who lead Bible studies, prayer meetings, watched over the finances, visited those in prison, fed the hungry, and clothed the naked.

So are you going on to perfection? Notice that the question is not “Are you perfect?” it asks, “Are you going on to perfection?” If you are not going on to perfect, then where are you headed? The destination of the life of Christian discipleship is marked by loving God with all of heart, with all of your being, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength. Loving other people with the same love that God has shown to you marks the life of discipleship. The life of Christian discipleship is moving toward the love of God within each one of us becoming a visible reality of God in the world we live. It is unlearning the habits of sin and being formed by the Holy Spirit with the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If this is perfection, who doesn’t want to move towards that? What might the world look like if all of us are fully committed to going on to perfection?

There is a fancy Methodist word used to describe this movement towards perfection and it is called sanctification. It is word you probably don't use much in conversation. Sanctification is the ongoing process by which we are drawn into the likeness of Christ, into that full relationship with Jesus. The sanctification of our lives is truly by the grace of God, that sweet amazing grace that finds us when we are lost, guides us through the many dangers, toils, and snares, and never gives up to lead us home.

Sanctification is beautiful part of our tradition, the Wesleyan tradition. In the final verse of “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” Charles Wesley wrote these words.
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee.

Charles is talking about sanctification. Sanctification is not some otherworldly process. It is has happening right here and right now.  And I’ve seen it…

I’ve witnessed it in the lives of Kim Hawkins, Lori Pearce, and bunch of young women. Kim and Lori co-led the middle school girls small group for the past two years.  The on-going process of sanctification, of growing into the likeness of Christ, is at work in this group as they’ve studied scripture together, prayed for each other, and served alongside one another. I know God’s sanctifying grace is at work in this group of women because Kim and Lori have both come to me after youth group on Sunday night and said, “I just don’t know the answers anymore to the questions they are asking now asking me. I need to go home, read more scripture this week, and do some research.” You see, the grace of God loves us so enough us to meet us where we are. The good news is that God’s amazing grace doesn’t leave us there. God’s grace loves us so much as to transform our way of being into the likeness of Christ.  

Are you earnestly striving after it? So you say you are going on to perfection and you believe it can happen here and now, so what are you doing about it? Grace invites us to respond. This is where the rubber meets the road. Its one thing to look up on Google Maps how many miles Dallas is from Nashville but it’s quite a different thing to jump in your car actually make the drive to Dallas. So what are you doing to move in the direction of Christian perfection?  

The are a number of opportunities to help you move in that direction, no matter if you are still exploring the faith, just getting started, or seeking to take the next step to deepen your faith. Throughout the history of the church there have been certain practices that lead us towards perfect love such as studying scripture, prayer, community, service, and worship. If you are just starting out maybe its just join us again next week for worship or becoming a part of one of our affinity groups. If you are seeking to take a deeper step, I invite you to be apart of one of the upcoming Covenant bible studies groups or be a mentor to the young people of our congregation through our youth and children ministries. As we gather around this table today, may the spirit work within all of us, no matter where we are on the journey, knowing that God’s grace leads us home.


1 Unlearning the pattern of sin is a term borrowed from L. Gregory Jones in Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis.
2 Book of Discipline 2012, ¶336.
3 Steve Manskar, “What’s Christian Perfection got to do with Leadership?” http://wesleyanleadership.com/2010/03/15/whats-christian-perfection-got-to-do-with-leadership/

 

Sermon transcript for June 29, 2014

A Cup of Cold Water
Matthew 10:40-42
Belmont UMC—June 29, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

During our college days, Kathryn, my wife, and I participated in a sociology class project with a number of other students. Our project involved volunteering for the county health department and doing a health needs survey of a poor pocket of the county. We were given a list of questions and a road map of the area we were to survey. We were told to expect rejection because the people in that area of the county were wary of strangers.

On several Saturday mornings we set out to see how many households we could survey. We did meet with quite a bit of rejection. People were suspicious of us and of government programs and they did not want us meddling in their lives.

One very hot sunny morning we parked our car on the side of the road and looked at the house in front of us. It was very run down, bushes were overgrown all around the place, the grass had not been mowed for a long time, paint peeled from the siding, gutters hung loose from the roof line. We would have assumed the house to be abandoned, except for the smoke coming from the chimney.

We went to the front door and knocked—no answer. We knocked again and louder and we waited. Finally, an older disheveled woman peered out the glass in the door frame. “What do you want?” she asked. We explained who we were and that we had a few questions to ask. She said, “I’m  not going to do that.” Then she cracked the door and said, “Wait a minute; I have to get my cornbread out of the oven before it burns.”

We waited a long time and almost decided to leave, when she returned to the door. She had a tray in her hand with three wedges of cornbread and three glasses of sweet ice tea (Southerners make their tea so sweet you could put it on your pancakes if you ran out of syrup.)

There were no chairs so the three of us sat on the edge of the porch with our legs hanging over the side. She told us she didn’t like to be asked a lot of questions, but we looked hot and she wanted to give us some tea and cornbread. She explained that she cooked on a wood cook stove, because the food tasted better than food coming out of those electric stoves. She told us that her husband was sick with cancer and resting or she would invite us in the house. She told us much of her life story and somehow over the course of the next hour she inadvertently answered all the questions we would have asked.

In a act of surprising hospitality the walls between us came down and the three of us began to feel very much at home with one another.

The Gospel text today comes on the heels of Jesus sending the disciples out to share the good news. He sends them warnings about the consequences of being a Jesus follower. They can expect rejection and they can expect division and name calling. He reminds them of how important they are to God, every hair on their heads counts to God.

But Jesus said to them, “Those who receive you are also receiving me, and those who receive me are receiving the one who sent me.” Those are powerful words. Today, across the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences, pastors are experiencing their first Sunday in a new appointment. There couldn’t be a more appropriate text for this new beginning. I remember being in that place 7 years ago, standing before you for the first time. I was nervous and I written the word “BREATHE!” at the top of my notes for feat that I would forget. I had a dream the night before that my cincture fell around my ankles and I fell down the chancel steps. You were so gracious to this stranger among you and you welcomed me and my family, and in welcoming us you were welcoming Jesus.

Jesus said, “I assure you that everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded.” He did not say give them cold sweet tea, but it would still work.

This text is about how we receive others in the name of Jesus. It echoes the call for genuine hospitality, the kind of hospitality that breaks down barriers and creates a space for relationships to form.

We are called to the ministry of hospitality—all of us. This is not the responsibility of The Inviting Team of Belmont UMC; it is the work we are all called to do. It is one of the 4 core values of our church. From the Hebrew Scriptures where God reminds the Hebrew people to “welcome the immigrant, because you were once immigrants in Egypt (Deut. 10:19) to the Gospels where Jesus models the gift of hospitality, especially toward those who are not being welcomed by others, we are hearing this call. Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Paul implored the people to welcome the stranger (Romans 15). And the writer of Hebrews gave us this: “Do not neglect to welcome the strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (13:2)

Henri Nouwen noted that contemporary Americans are nomads, “a world of strangers estranged from their own past, culture, and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God.” He proposed that “if there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is the concept of hospitality.” Hospitality is the creation of free space “where strangers can become friends.” (Reaching Out)

Genuine hospitality is not always easy. It means stepping outside our comfort zones. It means radical inclusivity. It means offering the welcome of Christ to persons who are different from our selves, persons of different classes, life choices, races, political parties, and cultures. Many of the people of our church have come from refugee camps in Burma. They feel at home and safe in our church. That’s what they tell us. Many of them do not speak English but they will understand a friendly greeting that comes with a warm smile.

Jesus’ disciples were not always comfortable with the boundaries he crossed. They were uncomfortable with his conversation with a Samaritan woman, with children and with persons who had diseases that made them ritually unclean. Jesus modeled this kind of genuine hospitality, reaching out to those who were marginalized and unwelcomed in their own culture an by their own places of faith.

Genuine hospitality is transformative to both host and guest. Nouwen wrote, “When hostility is converted to hospitality, then fearful strangers can become guests . . . and the distinction between host and guest evaporates in the recognition of newfound unity.” (Reaching Out)

Diana Butler Bass says, “Hospitality is not a tame practice.” She tells of being at Cornerstone UMC in Naples, Florida, a church with a rich practice of hospitality and watching a preppy retired man chatting with a man covered in tattoos, a Haitian man chatting with teens, and 3 black-clad teenage girls with pierced noses and Goth makeup approach an elderly lady in a wheelchair. One by one they bent down and kissed her and asked how she was doing.”  (Christianity for the Rest of Us, pp. 77-87)

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” Jesus said to his disciples. In hospitality we see Christ and we offer Christ to a hurting world. We are too often apologetic for being the church and reaching out to others in evangelism. We have forgotten what it has meant for us to be here, among this wonderful community of faith and how much it has meant to our lives.

We sometimes forget that the people who come through these doors are people in need. Look around you on Sunday mornings. Chances are we have no idea of the needs represented in this place. Some have come here seeking and they may not know what they are seeking—only that there is an emptiness that the rest of life is not filling. The people sitting around you may have huge struggles to face. They do not expect us to meet all their needs. And all they need from us is a warm welcome, a welcome gracious enough that they feel at home in our presence and in this church.

Everyone here is in need. Everyone here is in need of God’s grace. Everyone here needs to know that God loves them and values them. Everyone here needs forgiveness. And they will find what they need if we give them a hospitable space in which to find their way to God.



Let us live with these words this summer and see where they take us:  Put things in order, respond to my encouragement, be in harmony with each other, and live in peace.  

Then Paul says, “Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”

   

Sermon transcript for June 22, 2014

“Divine Disruption”  Matthew 10:24-39
Belmont UMC—June 22, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

When I was a teenager, growing up in Springfield, Tennessee, our church was pastored by Vanderbilt Divinity School students for the most part. One Sunday, in my 17th year of life, when I was wrestling with my faith and wondering if I should run away from the church or try to help bring transformation to the church, we had a guest speaker, a young man from Malaysia, who was a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School and a friend of our pastor. That Sunday my parents had invited the pastor, his wife and this young man, named Boon Chin, to be our lunch guests.

Over lunch I asked him a lot of questions about his faith and I never forgot what he told me. He said, “I was converted to Christianity after reading the Gospels at about the same age as you, Ken, and I came home to tell my family. I knew they would not approve but I was not prepared for their reactions. My father beat me with a stick and kicked me out of the house and out of my family. I haven’t seen them since that day.”

I looked around the table at my family. My mother’s eyes filled with tears and she reached out and put her hand on Boon Chin’s shoulder. I couldn’t imagine what it might be like to lose my family for my faith.

In our Gospel lesson Jesus is preparing the 12 disciples to be sent out in the world. He’s painting a very stark and somewhat frightening picture of what might happen to them out in the world. This is a difficult and troubling passage, especially if we take it out of the context of the disciples’ commissioning.

My friend, who says he reads the Bible with the book in one hand and a bottle of White Out in the other, will need to get his bottle out before reading Matthew 10.

In some ways the text seems a bit foreign to us. In our culture we are not apt to have to make the hard decisions of discipleship, between family and faith, or between friends and faith. We are taught to be fairly tolerant and we do not have a state religion. We live in a culture in which politicians use their faith stories to campaign for office.  No one is going to kick us out of our family or put us in prison for practicing our faith.

But even still, we may experience the presence of Jesus as a disruption, if we take Jesus seriously, if we take the call to discipleship seriously.

If we take discipleship seriously then we experience Jesus as the disrupter of complacency. The Hebrew prophet declared, “Woe to those sit at ease in Zion.” Or the Edwards’ paraphrase, “Woe to those who have become too comfortable and complacent.”
There are those to whom church is not a place of discipleship but a place to show up once in awhile, to have a place to call their “church home” even if their relationship with the church is superficial at best.

There is a wonderful scene if one of Garrison Keilor’s stories about the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Wayward Catholics have returned to their home town for the Christmas Eve mass at the only Catholic Church in town, Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. Father Emil roused himself from bed where he had been down with cancer since Columbus Day.

He wanted to offer the Christmas Eve homily, inspired by the sight of all those lapsed Catholics with their unbaptized children, and he gave them good tongue lashing. When you’re sick and vulnerable, you can become a little more passionate about things. He left the pulpit and walked right down to the first row and put his hand on the back of the pew to brace his self. It scared the people all around and they moved away from him.

He said, “Shame. Shame on us for leaving what we were given that was true and good. To receive a great treasure in our younger days and to abandon it so that we can lie down in the mud with swine.”

“They came for Christmas, to hear music, to see the candles, and smell incense, and feel hopeful, and here was their old priest with hair in his ears whacking them around.” The people were afraid of him.

Keilor wrote, “He stopped. It was so quiet you could hear them not breathing. Then he said that this is why Our Lord had came, to rescue us from dullness of spirit, and so the shepherds had found and so shall we, and then it was Christmas again.” (Garrison Keilor, “Exiles” in Listening for God, pp. 199-220)

I would never preach like that on Christmas Eve, but it does seem surprising that so many people come to hear of such a great truth, a great disruption to the whole world and to our lives, and go away glowing as if it didn’t matter that much.

Jesus came into the world and he disrupts our complacency. But when I was awake at 3 AM the other morning and imagined looking out at you on Sunday morning and I thought, “Belmont is not a complacent church or an apathetic church.” When I was in college someone had written on the restroom wall in the library, “Apathy abounds at this institution.” Someone came along later and wrote under those words, “Who cares?”
But you care and you’re not complacent.

But we may need Jesus to disrupt our inertia borne out of feeling overwhelmed. I arrived home in time for the nightly news one night last week. It was terrifying:  more violence in Iraq and Syria, unrest all over the world, twin tornadoes destroying a town in the Midwest, and gun violence on campuses. I went out into the backyard and pulled weeds in the perennial garden, reflecting that at least I could have some control over this small part of my world.

I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of need and sometimes it paralyses me. Do you feel that way? And then I remember those words of Mother Theresa, words I’ve quoted to you a dozen times. When asked, “How do you feed all the hungry people of India?” She replied, “One at a time.”

We cannot solve all the world’s problems. But we can do something. We cannot stop malaria on our own, but we can buy nets and save some lives. What we do will a difference. I cannot stop gun violence, but I’m sure our governor and our two senators wish I would stop sending emails about sensible gun control legislation. I cannot solve the homeless problem in our city but I can buy the Contributor and I help provide services for the homeless neighbors. The needs are so great and we are called away from our inertia to respond in ways that make a difference.

I met a young father who said he didn’t have much time on his hands, but he wanted to do some good. When he gets his paycheck, he gets $50 in one dollar bills and he buys contributors on every corner he passes until the money is gone. He said, “It doesn’t take extra time and I don’t miss the money. Maybe it makes a difference.”

Following Jesus can mean a disruption of our plans. I didn’t plan to be here. When I was sitting at lunch, listening to Boon Chin, I was planning on getting a degree in English and signing up for the Peace Corp. God had other plans.

Jesus can change your life plans. He changed the plans of those first disciples and in Matthew 10 he’s helping them understand the consequences of following him.

And at 18 years of age, when I became reacquainted with Jesus and decided to follow his plan for my life, there were some friends who were uncomfortable with that and didn’t come around me anymore. And there was a girlfriend who decided that I was not the one for her.

When Bishop Willimon was the dean of the chapel at Duke he would get calls from troubled parents. They weren’t troubled about their children’s promiscuity or alcohol abuse, but they were alarmed that their sweet daughters and sons had decided to go on a mission trip over spring break to Haiti to help with the earthquake relief effort. They worried that their children were becoming religious fanatics.

I have the privilege of mentoring, officially and unofficially, a number of young adults who are entering the ministry of the United Methodist Church—some of the finest young women and men I’ve ever met. They are bright and gifted and they could do anything. They could have careers that pay better. (we promise them a salary of $38,000) They could be ambitious. But they made the decision to get on the Jesus’ journey, and Jesus has other plans for them. And they want to make a difference in the lives of others. They inspire me and I’m a better pastor and a better person because of them.

Following Jesus can disrupt your plans. Following Jesus can create tension around your life or in the life of a church. Following Jesus comes with some risks, but they are the kinds of risks that can make difference in our world, the kind of risks that lead to transformation, the kind of risks that usher in the kingdom of God.

Today we hear Jesus asks, “Will you come and follow me?”


Let us live with these words this summer and see where they take us:  Put things in order, respond to my encouragement, be in harmony with each other, and live in peace.  

Then Paul says, “Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”

 

Sermon transcript for June 15, 2014

Put Things in Order
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Belmont UMC—June 15, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching

If you’ve read through First and Second Corinthians you know that the church at Corinth was not a healthy church. Paul had helped birth this church, had lived among the people for a time and had made two visits to the church. The make up of the church was diverse, especially with regard to economics. Some people were wealthy, some were very poor and it appears that some were even slaves. Huge divisions developed within the church. And by the time Paul wrote this second letter, some had rejected his leadership and had turned to following what scholars call “super apostles.” Some bragged of being followers of these various personalities and some bragged that they followed Jesus. Some boasted of having gifts of the Spirit that gave them a sense of self-importance.

The church existed in a city that was quite corrupt. In the Greek language there was a word, korinthiaesthai, that meant to live like a Corinthian, to live a drunken, hedonistic and immoral life. Above the city toward the hill of Acropolis, stood the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, a temple that housed approximately 1000 temple prostitutes.

Corinth was a metropolitan city and a center of trade. It was at the crossroads of trade and merchandise, but it was at the crossroads of ideas as well. And many of these ideas influenced the new church.

Paul had heard of the church’s divisions, of people’s tendency to follow after spiritual leaders (they longed for the good old days when Pastor _______ had been their pastor), of their idolatry, their bickering and grumbling and their misuse of spiritual gifts.
And he seeks one last chance to bring them back to order.

(I have to admit that during many years of back roads travels, I still marvel to find little churches that have taken on the name of Corinth. Fortunately, they are not often United Methodist Churches. But one has to wonder if the founders had read the letters of First and Second Corinthians. Maybe they only read the beautiful love poem in 1 Corinthians 13, which itself is part a corrective.)

Paul ends the Second Letter to the Corinthians with some declarative appeals. “Put things in order!” This is sometimes translated “Be perfected,” “Be restored” and one scholar suggests the translation, “Pull yourselves together!” (Stephen A. Cooper, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, p.41)

It is a call to do some self-evaluation and get things back on track. It is a call to remember who they are and whose they are. It is a call back to what is most important in life. Sometimes churches lose their way; they lose sight of what they are called to do and be, and they drift into divisiveness or focusing things of little importance.
I was with a financial adviser who was taking care of our tax preparation. He told me of couple he was helping who had $35,000 in credit card debt and they were in trouble financially. He said that people don’t get in debt like that in one big shopping spree. Usually, they begin to make a series of small steps in the wrong direction. There are subtle compromises and lack of discipline and before they know it, they have dug a deep hole.

Our spiritual lives are like that. We take small steps in the wrong direction and before we know it we have lost our way and any sense of who we are called to be. I read somewhere that sheep get lost because they graze in a straight line and they simply nibble their way to lostness. We lose our way one nibble at a time.

Friends, let us hear the call to put things in order.  I like our mission statement because it takes us back to the basics of who we are. Our mission statement is based on the words of Jesus when he was asked about the greatest commandment. Jesus quoted the shema of Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And he added, “And the second one is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Our mission statement is simply this: “Belmont is a community of Christ followers, growing in our love of God and neighbor. This is what we, at Belmont UMC believe Christian discipleship is, what we are to be, and what Jesus meant when he sent his followers to ‘make disciples.’” We are Christ followers, not Ken or John or Linda or Pam followers.  If we wake up every morning and say, “Jesus, I will follow you today, not other personalities, not the desires of my own heart, not the many calls and summons of this world, but I will go where you lead me, then we are on the right path.”  

And we are “growing” in our love of God and neighbor. We added the word “growing” because it means we are not there yet. We need spiritual nurture and daily spiritual disciplines to enable to grow in our love of God and others. John Wesley would have called this “being perfected in love.” Put things in order.

Let’s allow ourselves some time this summer for self-evaluation, as individuals and as a church. Let’s pull ourselves together and agree to live toward this simple and clear vision of who we are called to be.

Then Paul says to the Corinthians, “Be in harmony with each other and live in peace.”  All churches need to hear this, but the Corinthians especially needed it. Some versions of this passage will say, “Agree with one another,” but “be in harmony” or “be of one mind” is a better translation. It’s reassuring to know that we don’t have to agree with one another (because we don’t), but we do have to love one another.  

In one of the churches I served there was a rather large young adult class that met in the fellowship hall because they had outgrown all the other rooms in the church. Their teacher asked me to teach a series on the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. I declined the invitation but he was persistent. The Social Principles contain statements on all sorts of things, like abortion, the environment, human sexuality, genetic engineering, drug and alcohol abuse, capital punishment, etc. I said to the teacher, “Let’s allow that pot to simmer; no need to stir it up.”

My fear was not that the class members would disagree with some of the social principles; I disagree with some points there myself. But I was afraid the classes would highlight their disagreements with each other.

I did teach the class and I did warm them about the risks. And sure enough by the third session there was a fairly heated exchange between two men who were very good friends, and it worried me. But the people in this class had known each other for a long time and they had shared many social gatherings and retreats, and they had grown to love each other. I watched as these two men stood beside each other at Room in the Inn on Wednesday night as they served food to homeless guests. I watched them embrace one another after class one day. I watched as their love for one another trumped their opinions. I watched love win.  

Recently, I was part of a team of clergy who led a spiritual life retreat for ministers from the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences. One of our worship services was a Service of Healing and Wholeness. At the end of the service people were invited to come forward for prayer and to be anointed with oil. I was at one of the prayer stations and I would ask persons who came forward if they wanted to be anointed and if they had specific prayer request. I was stunned by how honest and vulnerable persons were when they came forward. United Methodist ministers are not usually very honest about their personal struggles and hurts. But this group seemed liberated to admit a lot of deep need for healing and almost everyone in the conference hall came to the front.

At one station, two men came together, two pastors. They asked for prayer for their relationship. They had a falling out with one another some months ago and they had grown to hate one another. They were trying to put things in order and forgive one another. They had their arms around each other and they were both weeping.

We are human and frail and that is why the scriptures constantly remind us to be at peace with one another, to forgive one another. We pass the peace of Christ on Sunday morning as a sign that we are in right relationship with one another. We cannot always hope to do this on our own power but the power of the Holy Spirit and can move us to forgive and be reconciled with one another. When we allow that to happen, the church can become the model of the love and peace of Christ. Where are you in your relationship with others, in your family, in our church?

Let us live with these words this summer and see where they take us:  Put things in order, respond to my encouragement, be in harmony with each other, and live in peace.  

Then Paul says, “Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”

   

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