Monday, February 8, 2016

"Transformed"-- thoughts and reflections from yesterday's sermon (plus the sermon)

Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday.  I was scheduled to preach at Flintstone UMC (the rock church) and Simpson UMC.  It doesn't always happen this way, but the sermon got written on Wednesday last week.  When that happens, there is rejoicing in my heart, mind, and soul!  It turned out to be a great thing, too, time-wise, due to needs in others areas of life.  I did some editing toward the end of the week, but nothing major.

The Calls to Worship are picked out in advance too, as the bulletins need to be printed and delivered to each church.  There are several different sources I use for these, some in print, some online.  I believe the ones I picked this time came from Ministry Matters.  Normally I use the same Call to Worship for both churches when I preach at more than one church on a Sunday.  This past week, however, there was something in my spirit that caused me to choose two different ones.   So, I did.

The Calls to Worship for Sunday morning were:

Call to Worship #1 (FLINTSTONE)

L: Lord, you have called us to the mountaintop.
P: Help us to look forward to where you would have us go.
L: Help us to listen carefully to the words of your healing love.
P: Open our hearts and spirits to receive your glorious directions.
L: Place your trust in the Lord in all your ways.
P: Lord, we have come here to give our lives to you. AMEN.

Call to Worship #2 (SIMPSON)

L: It is easy to stand here in the valley of our comfort.
P: We know what to expect and what is expected of us.
L: But Christ calls us to the mountain top to receive a new vision.
P: We are not sure we are ready for that.
L: Place your hope and trust in Christ, for He is your guide.
P: Let us open our hearts to Christ, ready for the vision he places before us. AMEN.

Sunday morning as I was preparing for worship, I spent some time in "listening prayer" or Centering Prayer.  I use a Centering Prayer App on my phone that allows me to focus with a prayer at the beginning, a bell, count down, a prayer at the end.  One can change that as desired.  It's from the Contemplative Outreach group and it has been helpful in my practice.  There are other such applications available too.  My normal phrase in prayer is "peace, be still".  But, not on Sunday.  It quickly became "fill me anew".  Hmmm... that is different.  By the time my prayer time was over, it wasn't just "fill me anew", but "fill us anew".  As I finished my time in prayer, I felt led to grab my little bottle of anointing oil to take to church with me.  I felt led to offer anointing to any who desired it during communion time, whether for them or for someone else after they took communion.  

All I can do is listen, trust, and obey.  Following the nudgings of the Spirit doesn't always make sense to me.  Sometimes they aren't as "normal" as taking anointing oil with me somewhere.  But Sunday was just that.  I wasn't sure how it would be accepted, though I knew that at Flintstone, during their Dreaming and Visioning session, they had expressed a desire for healing services.  

When it came to communion time at Flintstone, I explained that if anyone wanted to be anointed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on their forehead, to let me know.  I wasn't expecting the response.  It confirmed that it was the Holy Spirit nudging me during my prayer time and that "fill me anew" and "fill us anew" was part of the day's journey.

At Simpson, I gave the same offer.  I wasn't sure what would happen there.  I haven't ever asked if folks do anointing there.  However, there were many people who were anointed at the altar rail during communion.  God was filling anew.

The sermon spoke about transformation, hope, boldness, and not losing heart.  I think it was a message for me as much as for anyone else that heard it.  I know that I need to be bold in following Christ and in following the nudgings of the Spirit.  It isn't always easy.  Sometimes it's downright scary.  I am human, you know.  But, yesterday I was blessed by hope and encouraged once again.

At Flintstone we sang "Shine, Jesus, Shine", "Spirit of the Living God", "Eat This Bread".  After I left, they sang "Take Time to Be Holy" and "Sent Forth by God's Blessing".  

At Simpson we sang our introit "O Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord", "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling", "Take Time to Be Holy", and "O Jesus, I Have Promised".  We close at Simpson with "Go Now in Peace".

Songs minister into the places where words sometimes can't connect.  

The Scriptures, the sermon, and the songs talked about being transformed into Christ's image, from glory to glory.  Having been with one of our church members on Friday as he went to glory, things took on a different meaning for me.  I have "walked with" folks on many different journeys in life.  I have walked with on the death and dying journey for many, but Friday was my first time to be present (that I remember) in the moment when a person passes from this world to the next.  To live well and to die well are tremendous markers in our lives.  To be able to show ongoing transformation into Christ's image as followers of Christ... that truly gives us hope and therefore allows us to be bold and confidence in our witness.  We do not need to be discouraged. 

Okay, that's not the sermon.  Those are thoughts and reflections leading up to the sermon.  Here is yesterday's sermon.  As always, more or less.  I edited as I spoke, somewhat different at each location.  But, it gives you an idea of the message.

February 7th, 2016 (Transfiguration Sunday)
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (NRSV)
Flintstone UMC, Simpson UMC

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (NRSV)
12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. 4 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God"


What does the "since" refer to in verse 12???

Anytime you see a "since", "so", or a "therefore", that's a clue to go back into the reading to find out what is being discussed.  Today, we have to go backwards in order to address our passage.
What is this "since"?  In the preceding verses in chapter 2, Paul is talking about his time in Troas and how he needed to leave there and go on to Macedonia because he couldn't find Titus there in Troas.  Paul writes these words directly before the passage we're looking at today: chapter 2, verses 14-17: "14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence."

Paul says that God in Christ leads us to triumphal procession, through us spreads the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  Paul later calls that fragrance the "aroma of Christ" and says that we are that aroma to God and among the perishing.  In Christ we speak as persons of sincerity and we are sent from God.  It is in this context, that the "since" comes.  "Since, then, we have such a hope..."  All that Paul states prior shows that we have hope.... and what do we do with that hope?  "We act with great boldness." (another word for "boldness" here could be "confidence" or "assurance")

We are just now scratching the surface of verse 1 today.  We may not get through all of this passage.  There is just too much to cover. 

Do we really have HOPE?  Do we act as though we believe we are persons sent from God and standing in his presence?  Do we give off the aroma of Christ?  If we truly have this hope that Paul talks about here, then we can act with great boldness and confidence, can we not?!?!  Are we bold and confident living into our relationship with God the Father, through Christ the Son, with the help of the Holy Spirit? [PAUSE]

Let's continue.  In verses 13-16 Paul talks about Moses and the veil covering his face.  This is a reference to when Moses ascended Mount Sinai and his face shone brightly because he spoke with God (Exodus 34:29-35).  Moses covered his face with a veil because he was shining so brightly after being with God.  Wow.  Today is Transfiguration Sunday.  We are looking at the Epistle lesson (Paul's letter) in the lectionary readings for today.  Today's Gospel reading from Luke gives the account of the Transfiguration on the mountain in detail and mentions Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses.

What is Transfiguration Sunday?  Transfiguration Sunday is now for the majority of Protestants located on the calendar the Sunday prior to Lent and therefore is a bridge into Lent  It identifies who Jesus is and anticipates what will happen in Jerusalem (Stookey, Calendar, 136).

What can we learn about Moses' face shining brightly after having spoken with God?  What about this veil?  Quickly, in verses 13-15, we see that a veil is no longer needed to cover us because it was taken away by Christ. "Paul uses "veil" as a metaphor for what prevents us from seeing the truth about God.  (Callista Isabelle, Feasting on the Word Year C, Volume 1, 448).  NOTE:  As a metaphor, we are not talking about literal veils used for identity, modesty, or faithfulness. Veils can serve a positive role.

What does this mean for us today?  The answer is in verses 17 and 18: "17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit."

Because of Christ, our faces are unveiled.  And in Christ, there is freedom.  In this freedom, we are being transformed into Christ's image.  WOW.  If that doesn't give us hope, boldness, and confidence to live our lives as followers of Christ, then what can!?!?  We are being transformed into the same image (that is Christ's image).  This is what Transfiguration Sunday is about-- remembering that Christ leads us to freedom and away from the bondage of sin.

Transformation takes time.  Moving from bondage into freedom in all areas of our lives takes time. I imagine we all recognize that.  Like the potter with clay.  Like the photographer in the studio with the negatives and the chemicals.  Like the writer and the poem or the book.  Like the athlete getting stronger and better.  Transformation takes time, degree by degree.

Even though it takes time, we ARE being transformed.  God IS working in us and through us.  What does Paul say to us next?  Chapter 4, verse 1: "4 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart."  Therefore.....  Because we ARE being transformed and because it IS by God's mercy, we do not lose heart.  Do you hear that?  We do not lose heart.  We do not become discouraged.  Oh, it can be easy to lose heart or become discouraged if we don't see the results that WE want in ourselves or others.  BUT, it's NOT about us, it is about God.  So, let's ask ourselves:  are we truly submitting personally and collectively to who God wants us to be and do?!?!   
Let's remain faithful in prayer, in studying Scriptures, in gathering together for worship and taking Holy Communion. 

As we encounter the risen Christ today face to face, may our vision become clearer and may we be transformed more into Christ's image.  
May 2 Corinthians 3:18 be lived out in our lives, our church, our community: "18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit."

Blessings on your journey, 


TWO VERSIONS OF "Shine, Jesus, Shine"

Monday, February 1, 2016

Extravagant Love-- sermon from January 31st

I have been posting some sermons lately, but not all of them.  That's because it takes time to post them and there are plenty of other things for me to do weekly. I wasn't going to post this past week's sermon.  But, this morning when I was at the funeral for one of our church members who recently passed, wouldn't you know that the very first passage of Scripture that was read was the same as yesterday's that I chose from the lectionary choices?!?!  And, not only that, he also read from The Message, Eugene Peterson's translation.  I don't often choose The Message for Sunday morning worship times, but yesterday was one of those days that I did choose it.  And to have it read again today in the same version, well, for one, it made me smile.  Then it caused me to think that if these Scripture verses in this version impacted me, then maybe someone else might want or need them too.

Yesterday's message at Fort Oglethorpe UMC was about love, God's love.  As with every message delivered during a service, what is written below isn't necessarily exactly what was shared during our time together.  It could have been added to, subtracted from, etc.  But, it is a guideline as to what was shared.

Prior to the beginning of the sermon I shared a short 3 minute video of pictures that I had taken and gotten from other people from Resurrection 2016 the weekend before.  I bought the song "Helicopter" by B-Shoc and put the song into the video.  The purpose of the video was to give the folks at church a glimpse of what the youth and leaders heard, learned, and did at Resurrection 2016.  One cannot do it justice in 3 minutes or even more than that, but my hope is that folks will take time to talk with the youth about their experience(s).


"Extravagant Love"
January 31, 2016 (4th Sunday after the Epiphany)
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (MSG)
Fort Oglethorpe UMC

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (The Message)

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.



Today is the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany.  This is "ordinary" time in the church calendar, meaning that ordinal numbers are used to mark the time on the calendar.  We will soon enter the Lenten season.  

Today's Scriptures speak of love.  We might be very familiar with them as these verses are often used in wedding vows, but that wasn't the original setting of these verses.  That's one of the reasons I chose a different Scripture version for us today.  I wanted us to see these words fresh and anew.  When Paul wrote these words to the church at Corinth, he was addressing the body there as they were fighting over their spiritual gifts-- who had what gift, which gift was more important, etc.  This letter to the church at Corinth was to help them see that the most important thing for their focus was love.
It is the same for us.  It may not be spiritual gifts that divide us, but the message for us here today is that LOVE is to be our focus.

Let's look at today's passage one more time. Let's read it together.  [Put on screen again.]

What stands out to you in this passage today?

Where do you hear God speaking to you?

Remember that God has gifted each and every one of us for the good of the whole body.  We are to use our gifts together, with and for one another so that the body not only works as it should, but so that the kingdom of God here on earth is able to function properly.  In this passage, Paul reminds us that love is the more important thing, above all our gifts, above all our differences, above all.

We know that we can love only because God loved us and God's love flows into us and through us.  God is the source of our love.  Love seeks the good of others, what's best for others.

I don't know if you've been in this situation or not, but it happens to me frequently:  Whether it's a topic I'm teaching, preaching, or learning it just somehow happens that there is almost always a life application in the moment.  When I took bioethics two years ago, my grandmother died right before the class and we had her memorial service days before I went to the class and my brother with the traumatic brain injury was going through some stuff.  I honestly didn't know if I could handle the bioethics course.  It ended up being a blessing.  This past Friday we buried my grandmother's ashes.  She had donated her body to Emory University and it took a year and a half to get her ashes back.  It just worked out to be two years to the date when we had her service.  

In the midst of making plans to head to Dalton Friday afternoon, my stepson called Friday morning and started a situation that challenged me to be loving as I prepared to speak on "extravagant love" today.  There were phone calls and texts within our family unit to figure out the truth of what he was doing and saying.  He told one thing to one set of us and another to the other.  In the end, we did him a favor and it all worked out, but there was a portion of time that due to the frustration of the matter, "love" wasn't on my forefront of responses.  I wasn't wanting to respond with agape love to someone who was attempting to play the family units.  Oh, how God allows us opportunities to love the unloveables in our lives.  And sometimes the unloveable is me.

How gracious is our God!!  Our God who loves us and helps us to love others when it isn't easy!
We know that God loved us enough to sacrifice Christ for us.  And we know that God loves us enough to pursue us incessantly.  God does NOT give up on us.  God's love does not fail us.

You may be familiar with the contemporary Christian worship song with the words:  "Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me".  The song is entitled "One Thing Remains".  It was written by Brian Johnson of Jesus Culture:

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
One thing remains

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

In death, in life
I'm confident and covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid
There's nothing that can separate my heart from Your great love


There is NOTHING that can separate us from God's great love, if we will allow God into our lives, to take control, to flow into and through our lives.  Love is the greatest thing that God has given to us, that God has for us, and that we can share with ourselves, and others.

Love builds up.  This divine love that we read about here in today's passage is one that will guide us as we listen together for the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us in joining God's direction for our church and community.  

As we contemplate these verses today, they become a way for us to gauge how we are doing in our spiritual growth.  Bob Mulholland writes in his Invitation to A Journey:

"If you want a good litmus test of your spiritual growth, simply examine the nature and quality of your relationship with others.  Are you more loving, more compassionate, more patient, more understanding, more caring, more giving, more forgiving than you were a year ago?  If you cannot answer these kinds of questions in the affirmative and, especially, if others cannot answer them in the affirmative about you, then you need to examine carefully the nature of your spiritual life and growth."  (Bob Mulholland, p. 42, Invitation to a Journey)

There are days when I can see spiritual growth in my own life and I hope others can see it too.  There are other days when I know I struggle and it becomes important for me to reconnect with my Creator, renew my relationship, and refocus on the greatest of these..... LOVE.

How will you allow God's love to flow into your life, into this church's life, into this community's life?  

May God's love permeate every aspect of our doing and being, from our worship times to our committee and meeting times to our fun and fellowship times to our outreach times to whatever God has for us.

May it be so.


Though it wasn't used in the sermon, here is a video of the song "One Thing Remains":

Blessings on your journey,