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Isaiah 2:1-5

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36 -44

Every time we have family coming to stay at the house for a weekend or holiday, the first thing I do is clean.  Not clean what is already clean, but a: get out the dusting and vacuuming supplies, make sure the kitchen and bathroom are passable and all of the green biology experiments are out of the refrigerator; washing sheets and making beds, and anything else I can blitz in what is usually a very short window, because I am a master at over booking.

If someone stops in unexpectedly I have an entire list of reasons why there are clean clothes on the living room couch and dirty dishes in the sink.

It is rare that I would feel comfortable welcoming someone into my home without prior notice which allows me time to prepare for their visit.

Advent is prior notice for all of us that the Son of Man comes into our lives at an unexpected hour and we need to always be prepared to recognize and embrace His coming.

Advent is a season calling us to remember God came to us as one of us, as a vulnerable flesh and blood baby boy.  It is also a season that reminds us God breaks into our world at unexpected times in our ordinary activities and through people we would least imagine, and a season which calls us to rest and rejoice in the Hope Christ’s coming brings.

In the Isaiah passage this morning we see that someday:

The Lord will establish a home on the highest mountain and all the nations will not only be drawn to it, they will stream to it.

Many peoples will seek the wisdom of the Lord and try to walk in his paths.

The Lord will mediate all the many disputes between the nations

Wars will end and peace will reign.

All will walk in God’s light with God’s perceptions and priorities

This passage calls us to a vision of a place and way of life in which to center our hope.[1]

Just reading a newspaper or turning on the evening news lets us know we aren’t to that someday yet.  We can find it difficult to keep hope that it will ever come.  We can be like the early Christians we talked about last week who were just sitting around looking at the sky, passively watching for Christ’s return, and we can let our impatience in waiting for that future draw us to seek hope in other places.

With Halloween this year came notice that Christmas was coming.  Ads for the latest, greatest gadgets, cars, and clothes began to build expectation of what we should want to find under the Christmas tree and how we should allocate our time and funds in preparation.  Retail stores jumped over Thanksgiving, right into Christmas displays and specials.  The messages clear that you need THIS to have a very Merry Christmas and you need to buy it now.

I expect our schedules are filling with many obligatory holiday gatherings for work and community, adding to the incessant call to make all that glitters, glows, whirls, and enhances status the priority of Christmas.

Persuasive and Pervasive messages calling us to a hope based in the temporary values of this world.

In a way, the Disciples were hearing those messages as well.  They were caught up in the crowds that were coming to hear Jesus speak, in the excitement of multitudes hailing his leadership as he rode to Jerusalem.  Their dreams of what it would be like under his leadership focused on the beautiful Temple which they envisioned as the center of Jesus’ power, and where they, his trusted executive staff, would work.  It is into this vision of the future, which had captured the attention of the Disciples, that Jesus issues some God perspective.

Jesus reminds the Disciples and us that this world does not offer hope and a long-range future.  Even our lives can be gone in an instant.  Only God knows how long the present age will last, individually and for humankind.  “Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

The treasures and triumphs of the world are not what last, if we put all of our hopes in the transitory values of this world, we are setting ourselves up to be robbed.  Watching and preparing for Christ’s return requires us to adopt a radically different set of priorities.

Readiness comes in walking in the light of the Lord, Isaiah tells us.  Lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; Paul encourages the followers of Christ.

Preparing for Christ’s coming requires setting priorities based on the example of Christ.  Prayer,  study, and active watching for where God breaks into our worlds every day helps us to live honorably, to keep from falling victim to the attractiveness of the world’s definitions of fun and success,  to help us listen in love to others so quarreling and jealousy ends. If our desire is for God, we receive the gifts that never break or wear out: faith, hope, joy and peace.

One of the members of this congregation shared an interesting blog this week.  It encouraged those figuring out what to give this Christmas to consider giving experiences rather than things.  I didn’t save the post so can’t share the examples the blogger gave but my interpretation was: Give a few hours of one-on-one time and a trip to the Zoo, or a couple of hours curled up reading a book together, or maybe a cooking lesson on that recipe they love.  Over the past few weeks I have heard some young parents raise concerns they can’t complete a conversation without disruption or use the bathroom without interruption.  The perfect gift may be providing the way someone can get some quality time, alone or with a spouse.

For those who don’t have a house filled with moving, vocal, loving, wonderful children, maybe the perfect gift is an invitation for dinner at that hope-filled energizing home.  The entire family may see God in the eyes of a total stranger they stop to visit in the local nursing home or in the smile of someone making a donation to the Salvation Army kettle they are staffing for an hour or two.

The children who receive the gifts from the Mitten tree and MACC barrels, those able to purchase gifts they can afford at the Clothing Depot, those who have a hot meal because of donations you made, will all feel the warmth of God’s love through you, the body of Christ becoming Christ for the world.

We prepare for the coming of the Christ-child through our actions with those who have lost hope, who struggle with the pressures of this world, who are alone, who can’t see what difference a baby in a manger makes.  We actively watch for God to come into this world when our priorities center on preparations which reflect Christ’s love in our schedules, our shopping, our words, and our actions.  As we learn all we can about God’s ways, work for peaceful resolutions in all areas of our lives, end habits and priorities that keep us from following God’s wisdom, we hone our vision to discover every sign of His coming with wonder and joy, so we can offer our own witness to the coming One.

Many things are pulling at us every day, particularly during this season of the year.  Feelings of loss; dissatisfaction with finances, jobs, relationships; activities and responsibilities, wanting just the right gifts for our children and others we love, and more.  The voices are calling us to the world’s priorities nonstop.

Jesus calls us to stay awake, to watch for those things that keep us from being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man.  It is a call those committed to following Him need to hear as well as those who are uncommitted.

Sometimes Advent comes with all of the decorations, familiar carols, familiar passages, but we are sleeping through it, content with what the world offers and not really recognizing Christ in our midst, not feeling the Spirit of God among us.  Real discipleship lived in the real world is not neat, it requires dogged discipleship through the messiness of uncertain times, disagreements, and the death and destruction all around us.

We are living during an “in-between time.”  In-between the birth of Jesus and His Second coming.  It is not a time to sit and look up at the sky, talking about what everyone else is doing.  It is about living into God’s kingdom where all listen and live according to God’s law.  It is a time of Hope which empowers us to keep watch on how we live out our faith as we prepare to welcome Christ once again, watching for all the unexpected wonderful ways that happens every day.

Prepared and watchful we will experience God with us with increasing frequency, and in turn share that amazing grace-filled understanding with others.

[1] http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/first-sunday-advent

A Specific Kind of King

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Colossians 1:11-20

It seems that human beings have a love-hate relationship with monarchies, often intensely disliking the sovereign power of Kings and Queens as they set the rules and direction for their country, communities, and families, while at the same time, romanticizing the grandeur and pomp and circumstance that comes with being a prince or princess, King or Queen.

The Israelites were led by religious leaders for years, but begged God for a King, asking Samuel to “appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”[1]   Samuel prays to the Lord about their pleas and the Lord tells Samuel,

“Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

Samuel does as the Lord instructs, laying out the consequences of an earthy King reigning over them:

The King will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots;

 He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.

He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.

15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

The facts were laid out in terms they could understand.  They knew the consequences and costs of moving from God as King and their only sovereign, to a leader from among them.  This earthly King would benefit from their work and resources, determine their quality of life, control their economy, and yet they pleaded for a leader as other nations had, and we know from history that didn’t turn out so well.

Kings are no longer the leaders other nations have.  Of 196 countries in the world only 26 of them have monarchs.  Twenty-four of those are male: kings, sultans, emperors, sheihs, princes or grand dukes.  Two are queens.  However, twenty-three of all of these are constitutional government with varying degrees of democracy.  Only three are absolute monarchs.[2]

Once a colony ruled by a monarchy, our country fought valiantly to oust a King so the People of the United States, could form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity by establishing a Constitution for the United States of America.  All the wars of which our country has been a part were called for by our leaders in the name of liberty, justice, and our general welfare.

Yet we are a country which continues a fascination with following the royal families of the world, particularly Queen Elizabeth and her family.  Our magazines, newspapers, news programs, and internet often feature something they are doing.  Millions of us watched a few years ago as Prince William and Kate were married, and watch with interest when photos of their children surface.

We often lift our leaders to the culturally defined status of King.  President and Jacqueline Kennedy’s rule  named “Camelot.”  We are enamored with all of the Disney Princesses and as a country tune in to watch “red-carpet” events in droves.

We are often drawn to the power and prestige of this world and those who seem to have it.  In many ways we, like Israel are clamoring for a King with the power of legions and all the glitz of Hollywood.  We have all of the admonishments shared by Samuel as well as many from prophets, disciples, and Jesus as to what God’s kingdom and Kingship looks like, and yet our actions often indicate we think an earthly King is the answer.  That, if just the right leader gets put in place all our problems will be solved.

The Kings we choose over God can come in following misleading leaders as well as in the form of temptations and habits that take us to kingdoms separate from God; that keep us from becoming more and more like Christ, that misalign our priorities.

We look to Kings who can make us richer, prettier, more popular and those who we think will help make sure that all our plans work out for the best. Those Kings often lead us to accept elitism, racism, indifference, and intolerance.

The Jeremiah passage highlights how much these Kings and other political leaders get it wrong.  How they live out the prophecies of Samuel and fail to take care of those they were called to lead.  It also lifts the hope of a righteous leader, a specific kind of king, one who will reign wisely executing justice and righteousness, providing safety.  This King is a righteous Branch.

Colossians tells us God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of which Christ is eternally King, doesn’t look anything like those led by the leaders and priorities I mentioned this morning.  God’s kingdom comes to us through Christ.  It is reflected through the healing of the sick, concern for the poor and oppressed, and raising people from the dead literally and figuratively.

It is a kingdom reflected in our God becoming human, breaking into our world, that we truly have a path of salvation.  It is a kingdom where those who follow Jesus have received citizenship, where we honor our brothers and sisters, seek to understand one another, work to mend our ways when we have harmed others.

Christ’s work on the cross enabled him, as king, to open the doors of paradise to the thief who asked to be remembered when he came into his kingdom[3]  In recognizing his own unworthiness, and the blameless life of Jesus, the thief recognized the one true eternal King.  Christ was full of mercy and love, giver of life in the face of tormenting, persecution, and a gory and cruel demise, and in so doing, conquering all those things that hurt us in this world and as well as death itself.

Through Christ the King, Colossians tells us we gain strength, endurance, patience, joy, and thanksgiving filled with power from the Holy Spirit to experience life, faith, hope and love in God’s kingdom here and eternally.  True peace coming through the cross.  Any time we do and say things which lift the human spirit, that makes room for human dignity for all, that reflects the King of God’s Kingdom, we honor Him.

True power, power that conquers evil and death, power that resides in the Kingdom of God is the power of a King, a Messiah, who suffers on behalf of the people, who serves those he leads, who takes up the burdens of others in the name of the Lord.

One of the examples we have of Jesus showing true leadership, helping us see what Kingship is about, came when in the upper room he got down on his knees and washed the disciples’ feet.

These earthly Kings and Queens, may seem to have power and the ability to save, but as you gather here today to thank God for the many blessings in your life, as you worship on this Christ the King Sunday you already know who has all of the power.

You know that we celebrate our King not because of his regalness, but because of his humility; not because of his military power, but because of his compassion; not because of his triumph, but because of his travail; not because he fixes our lives, but because he shows us the way to live.[4]

It is only through God’s power through Jesus Christ that lives are changed and history altered because of forgiving love.  It is only through Christ the kingdom of God breaks into our world.

Bernard a monk in the 1100s recognized Christ’s Kingship and the distractions of this world which kept him from fully living into that kingdom.  His struggle shared in these words:

“Oh that Jesus, out of the love he has for his people, may remember me, a sinner, when he comes into his kingdom!  Oh that he may deign to come and save me on the day when he delivers up his kingdom to his God and Father, so that I may see the joy of his chosen ones and rejoice in the gladness of his people.  Then I too shall be able to praise him together with his inheritance.

And now, Lord Jesus, come and remove the stumbling-blocks within the kingdom which is my soul, so that you who out to may reign in it.

Greed comes along and claims its throne in me; arrogance would dominate me; pride would be my kind.  Comfort and pleasure say: We shall reign!  Ambition, detraction, envy, anger fight win me for supremacy, and seem to have me entirely in their power.

But I resist insofar as I can; I struggle against them insofar as I receive your help.  I protest that Jesus is my Lord,  I keep myself for him since I acknowledge his rights over me.  To me he is God, to me he is the lord, and I declare: I will have no king but the Lord Jesus!

Come then, Lord, rout them by your power and you will reign in me, for you are my King and my God, who grant victories to Jacob.[5]

Christ the King reigns in all of creation throughout time.   We are welcomed into his kingdom through his love and forgiveness, his conquering of death on our behalf.  We praise and thank Him this day because it is through his gift of the Holy Spirit that we can live a Kingdom life of humility, love, and service, keeping Him King in all areas of our lives.  Christ is the specific kind of King God promises, we reign with him when we live and love the way he calls us to live and love.

 

[1] 1 Samuel 8

[2] Preachingtip.com/archives-year-c/Pentecost-year/c/proper-29

[3] Luke 23:42

[4] Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton, posted November 16, 2013 by jpcontent

[5] Hom. IV super Missus est, 1-2: PL 183, 78-80)

Grounded

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

The leaves were swirling as I left the office on Thursday.  Brightly colored dancers caught in an upward spiral then scattering across the parking lot in many directions.

Some of us may feel as if we’ve had that kind of week – swept together by a common event only to be scattered by the outcome.  Some celebrating a new direction, while others feel concern over what that direction will be.

Those images may bring the recent election to mind, but it can be true of many things happening in our families, circle of friends, our faith community, and/or our community at large.

We may be caught up in the chaos or excitement of something which puts us into a swirl of emotions that can push us away from others or distract us from what is really important.

The Thessalonians passage this morning reflects this kind of situation.  Paul is writing to the Christians in Thessalonica.  Some of them have become so focused on the Second Coming of Jesus they have stopped doing anything else.  Their energy expended only on sitting and waiting for Jesus to appear in the sky.

This decision to become idle concerns Paul.  It is clear to him that no one knows when Christ will come again.  Jesus told his followers that no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the son, only the Father.[1]

In the chapter before this one, followers were afraid they had missed Christ’s return, quickly shaken in mind, and alarmed by rumors to that effect.  Paul urged them not to be deceived in any way regarding the Second Coming, encouraging them to continue to live according to the good news they had received, focusing on reflecting God’s love and grace through everything they said and did.

He called them out on accepting salvation through a relationship with Christ and then choosing not to reflect it in their everyday lives and occupations, not sharing it with others.

In essence, those who believed Christ was coming back any minute and had stopped doing anything else but watching the sky, had received the good news of God’s grace but were safeguarding it as if it was a fragile personalized gift that they were afraid to take out to use, to play with, or to share for fear something or someone would take it away or get more enjoyment out of it.  Their concern so consuming that they never fully understand the joy the gift can bring to them or to others.   Their focus on one small piece of the big picture keeping them from fully living.  Paul seeks to broaden their focus, to ground them in the example he had set.

He reminds them that he didn’t have to work, but did, and encourages them to do something good if they can do it; give something good if they can give it, even when they are required to even if they have a right not to.

Many have used this passage to defend social political systems.  Some to say we should eliminate social services because everyone needs to pull their own weight or do without.  Others to push for policies that limit the ability of wealthy individuals, who live off the profit made through the physical labor of others, to keep the resources they amass.

It seems either of those directions takes this passage out of context.  While Paul does talk about earning one’s own living, we know that scripture calls on us repeatedly to care for those in circumstances that make it difficult for them to care for themselves.  “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land,” we hear in Deuteronomy 15:11;  “Give to everyone who begs from you (asks, requests, pleads for, demands) and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you,” we hear Jesus urge in (Matthew 5:40-42).

If we look at verse 11, we see Paul raise as the major concern that they have stopped working, they are just sitting around protecting that unused gift.  He points out that if that wasn’t bad enough, they are using their time to talk about their brothers and sisters, not building them up, but being busybodies, finding fault with their actions and perceptions.  They aren’t pulling their own weight in the church and are pulling others down.

This group of followers are being disruptive, making others wonder if they should quit contributing their gifts and talents to the community, if they should stop telling others what Paul taught them.  Their understandings are incomplete.  They are focused on only one puzzle piece.  Paul calls them to get back to their main mission, to share God’s love with everyone in every way.  They can’t do that sitting down looking up at the sky, and the other followers can’t do that standing around the parking lot or the water cooler listening to them.

While working in the business center in New York Center on Friday while Ken was at a NYPA Board meeting, a young man at the computer next to me was having a difficult time getting the printer to work and asked if I had printed anything.  Working together we were able to get his pages to print.  Then he asked me if he could ask me a question.  I said sure and he asked me if it seems everything around us wants us to be defined by how much money we make, how many things, we have, what vacations we take, how successful we are.

That question led to a long conversation about spirituality and what is important to determining who we are.  He, like many in our world today, is searching for his identity and purpose separate from the material things our world is trying to push on us.  He has a more difficult task than some as he lost two mothers and a father to death by the time he was in his early 30’s.  He has no siblings, grandparents, or extended family.  He feels tentative about the friendships he has, fearing that if he doesn’t measure up to their expectations, they will push him out of the group.  He finds that the religious people he has known over the years are, judgmental and unforgiving.  He is searching for direction and on Friday afternoon, decided to welcome me into that search.  I shared some of the faith stories of people I know who have faced similar feelings.

One of the stories I shared was an image of a cracked clay pot that one of my seminary classmates shared when we were talking about God’s grace and how it addresses our brokenness.  A clay pot with cracks compromising its structural integrity will leak, its brokenness keeping it from being what the potter created it to be.  It will not hold water, but if immersed in water, the cracks will fill and equalize, and thenwater will remain inside.  God’s grace is like that body of water, flowing in and through us, filling in the cracks of our brokenness, helping us to hold water again.  The brokenness doesn’t go away, but God’s grace holds us together, allows us to be what God has called us to be.  It is not a perfect illustration, and likely I have left out some of the pieces my seminary friend included, but the image was one that this young man could see and he left saying that kind of relationship with God seemed pretty good.

This young man believed there was a reason the paper jammed on Friday, that it was more than coincidence that he felt comfortable talking to me even before he knew I was a pastor working on a message for Sunday.  I share his belief, and felt the Spirit lead me to stories which gave him examples of how God loves us in our brokenness, even before we recognize we are broken, how God wants us to know that no matter what is going on in our lives grace can hold us together.

We talked for nearly two hours before he apologized for taking up my time and excused himself to go check into the hotel.  Before he left I asked if I could keep him in prayer, an offer he seemed to welcome.  I don’t know where that conversation will lead.  While we exchanged first names and a little about our lives, we didn’t give each other contact information, and follow-up is in God’s hands.

He left very much still searching, of not being sure Christianity had the answers he seeks.  His experience with too many of us who identify ourselves as Christian similar to the one Friedrich Nietzsche, the son and grandson of Lutheran pastors who became a harsh critic of the Christian faith in the late nineteenth Century had.  That being that so few of us demonstrate the resurrection joy Christianity claims.

I think that how we demonstrate the resurrection joy to those we know, those with whom we work, as well as strangers who we meet, reflects how we hear these words from Paul regarding never tiring of doing what is right, of doing good,  of always lifting up those around us if we can, even if we don’t have to.

No matter what has scattered us across the parking lot.  No matter what left us feeling discouraged or focused on protecting one small piece of what we believe or how we think things should be.  God reminds us God knows the complete picture.  Remember the puzzle pieces from a couple of weeks ago.  The different shapes, colors, and designs?  They are all important.  All part of God’s kingdom now and into the future.

Neither the disappointments in our lives or the resounding successes define us.  Our willingness to hear the hopes and fears of others even if for a brief moment; our willingness to remember Jesus died for all and extends God’s grace to all through his life, death, and resurrection; our willingness to keep working quietly in every part of our daily lives to share that grace with others – Those are the things that set our identity.  These are the things in which we can be encouraged by Paul’s words, “do not be weary in doing what is right.”  These are the things that keep us grounded when the winds spiral us upward only to scatter us across the parking lot.

We can’t give up, we can’t tire of trying to walk in Jesus’ footsteps and making the world a more humane and loving place.  We must keep working.

Let us pray

Ever creating God, you have work fit for each us, work that rejoices our hearts.  There is work we simply must do.  And there is work that we hate to do, that even seems to demean us.

We ask that you refresh us that we may do all the work before us with grateful and generous hearts, expecting the Spirit to drive us to labor with boldness, power, and grace in all the places and all the ways, doing good to all the people among whom Jesus leads us.  Amen.[2]

 

[1] Matthew 24:36

[2] Board of Discipleship Lectionary resources

Surrounded

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Hebrews 12:1-3

We heard these words from Hebrews 12:1 this morning:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.  Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

When immersed in fog, the way most of us experience being surrounded by a cloud, it can be difficult to see very far from the vantage point in which we find ourselves.  We can lose sight of the landmarks we use to navigate safely to the place we want to go.  It is difficult to understand then, how a great cloud of witnesses helps us live the way God calls us to live, to witness to the grace and power that comes with loving God with all our heart, and soul and strength, how these saints provide the encouragement for us to never give up on moving toward perfection in God’s grace.

Fog forces us to focus, to set a course on the basics that keep us headed in the right direction.  A cloud of witnesses can do the same for us, closing out the influences of the world which entice us to stray when faced with the challenges which come when we seek to stay on the course God calls us to follow.  The example and words these witnesses have shared create the white fog line, provide the fog lights, as well as the experience to help us adjust our speed and direction to get through whatever we face unharmed.

This morning’s message is interactive.  Much like the relationship between each one of us and the saints who preceded us as well as between us and those who will look to our example for encouragement.    In your bulletin insert is a litany with parts for Leader and for All.  When prompted by the words: “And All said” please lift the next “All” statement.

Let’s begin

Leader: It’s not always easy to live the way God wants us to live.

And All Said: It’s not always easy to do what God wants us to do instead of what our friends want us to do.

The younger Sunday School Classes shared the story of David and Goliath with some of us last week.  In that part of scripture we see David steadfast in his understanding of God’s ability to bring him through the most challenging situations.  David was committed to using the resources, training, and experience he had gained which enabled him to protect his father’s flocks to help remove this giant threatening his family and nation’s well-being.

He was not distracted from the task before him when his brother taunted him with accusations about bad motives.  He was not distracted when King Saul counted all the reasons he would not be successful.   David didn’t rely on the plans of others, refusing to accept the armor from King Saul because it would only weigh him down.  He trusted God, stayed focused, and the giant fell.  When we focus on God, on the example of countless saints in scripture whose trust in God results in a positive outcome, even when circumstances would suggest giving up, we can do those things which are not easy.

Leader: It’s not always easy to find time to pray and read our Bibles every day.

If we think about the name of our denomination, we are reminded that while not easy, there is a Method to finding time.  The “Methodist” name was a nickname given to those gathering in Class meetings and Societies led by John and Charles Wesley because of their “methods” for bible study and prayer: John Wesley suggested: setting apart a little time every morning and evening for that purpose; to read a chapter out of the Old and one out of the New Testaments each time you have an opportunity; To read looking only to know the whole will of God and a focus on doing it, taking time to reflect on areas we are falling short.  He presented methods of evaluation which looked at scripture, tradition, experience and reason and called for it all to be bathed in earnest prayer.[1]

I am sure you have saints in your lives who you know were up early in the morning, or late at night taking time to study scripture and to pray.  Saints who pushed you to evaluate faith statements made by others by listening to God in scripture and prayer and conversations before accepting them as truth.   Saints who you were able to call, or are able to call, to pray with you, to work through what a particular passage says to you today, as you handle those situations facing you now.

It is not easy to find time for anything.  The Saints in our lives model making prayer and faith formation study a priority and show us how it is done.

And All said: It’s not always easy to tell others about our faith.

The Saints help us share our faith with others with their life stories.  We can talk about how the Apostle Paul encouraged those who faced difficult times to stay true to the example of Christ, and how that shaped their lives; we can talk about St. Augustine’s prayers and struggles with faith questions, Martin Luther calling us all to accountability, John and Charles Wesley giving us methods, the grandmother who took us to church every Sunday, the pastor who helped us make sense of questions that we couldn’t share with family, the Sunday School teacher who made sure we knew God loved us, the person who brought groceries and Christmas presents to the house when our family was having a difficult time, the person who just called to check in for no other reason than he or she cared.

These stories open the door to our stories.  To sharing faith in a way others will come to experience God’s grace.

Leader: The scripture says there are people who can help us.

And All said: People who can help us? Who are they?

Leader: A great cloud of witnesses” they are called – people from every time and place who have tried hard to live the way God wanted them to.

And All said: That’s the way we want to live!

Leader: We can learn from their lives how to be faithful to God.  Sometimes we call these people saints.

And All said: Saints! Can we be saints, too?

Leader: Yes! Saints aren’t perfect people.  When we try to do the things that God wants us to do, when we love God and follow Jesus, we can be saints, too.

Saints are people through whom God shines.  Each saint shows us a different part of God: Each part important to our faith journey and light for others.  The Holy Spirit can make our lives into examples of holiness for others, right here, right now.  We have a long list of witnesses in scripture and in our life experiences who show us how.

Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the pacemaker, lived in poverty for many years while he worked on an idea that wouldn’t let go of him.  He loved God and had faith deep enough to take him through the tough times, trusting his failures along the way were necessary for success to be achieved.  Ultimately his invention earned him significant amounts of money, prestige, and in many ways power.  He remained steadfast to putting God first, with prayer, Bible study, and worship always a priority.  He made things right for customers regardless of any costs incurred, he made sure his employees received livable wages and their children had money for education, he gave out fellowships to fledgling scientists, he lived as simply as when he had few resources.  He was a saint, though whom God continues to shine, although he has ended his earthly journey.   His gifts, graces, and finances continuing to make a difference for others.

While preparing for this message I asked for brief descriptions of how someone in your life witnessed God’s love to you through the way they lived.  I will share these words Robyn shared.

Many of you .knew my dad. I truly believe my dad is now a Saint. He was the kindest, gentlest man I have ever known. He loved children, animals, life itself. He had a special way of making everyone feel loved. But most of all he loved the Lord. He attended church every Sunday. If he did have to miss because he was hospitalized or there was a storm, he would pray to God because he believed he let Him down. .Even at 96 he attended church, sang all the hymns from memory because he was pretty much blind. He would have times when he wasn’t always lucid or was sleeping but under his breath he would repeat the Lord’s Prayer over and over again. At 92 he had major surgery, which he came through amazingly. The next day, he asked my mother if she had seen all the little boys singing the Lord’s Prayer on the steps of the church. She said no, he said, it was beautiful, you should have seen it. He said he tried to sing with them but he couldn’t get to them. Dad lived four more years. I am sure he is singing the Lord’s Prayer now with all those angels he saw.

We will not all invent something that makes such a difference for so many people as Greatbatch did, but like Robyn’s dad, we all have gifts, talents, and resources we can use to reflect God’s love for each of us to all those with whom we come in contact.

And All said: We can be saints, too!  That’s good news!

Let’s look to the saints in scripture, the saints around us in the great cloud of witnesses, the saints whom we encounter in our daily lives for the truth and traditions that will help us persevere, to run the race in such a way we are Saints, people through whom God shines.

Let us pray.

Prayer:   loving God, thank you for your saints in history and those today who help show us what it means to live according to your will.  Help us to follow their example and to be part of your cloud of witnesses.  Amen[2]

 

 

[1] If you desire to read the scripture in such a manner as may most effectually answer this end, would it not be advisable, 1. To set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening for that purpose 2. At each time if you have leisure, to read a chapter out of the Old, and one out of the New Testament: if you cannot do this, to take a single chapter, or a part of one 3. To read this with a single eye, to know the whole will of God, and a fixt resolution to do it In order to know his will, you should, 4. Have a constant eye to the analogy of faith; the connexion and harmony there is between those grand, fundamental doctrines, Original Sin, Justification by Faith, the New Birth, Inward and Outward Holiness. 5. Serious and earnest prayer should be constantly used, before we consult the oracles of God, seeing “scripture can only be understood thro’ the same Spirit whereby “it was given.” Our reading should likewise be closed with prayer, that what we read may be written on our hearts. 6. It might also be of use, if while we read, we were frequently to pause, and examine ourselves by what we read, both with regard to our hearts, and lives. This would furnish us with matter of praise, where we found God had enabled us to conform to his blessed will, and matter of humiliation and prayer, where we were conscious of having fallen short. And whatever light you then receive, should be used to the uttermost, and that immediately. Let there be no delay. Whatever you resolve, begin to execute the first moment you can. So shall you find this word to be indeed the power of God unto present and eternal salvation. https://peopleneedjesus.net/2015/06/16/john-wesleys-seven-tips-for-personal-bible-study/

 

[2] Discipleship Ministries The United Methodist Church: Family Litany for All Saints Day