Nurture

John 9:1-12, 24-25, 35-41

We gather today with half of our journey through Lent behind us and Holy Week only two weeks away.  Remembering that the season of Lent was historically a time of preparation for people who wished to become followers of Jesus who would formally enter into this covenant through baptism on Easter morning, we have been working through the baptism covenant we make as United Methodists.

We have considered the need to resist temptation, to accept the power God gives us to resist evil in all forms, and the need to confess our experience of the living Christ to our world through all that we say and do.

Today we come to the part of our baptismal vow where we hear these questions:  “To parents and sponsors: Will you nurture these children/persons in Christ’s holy Church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?…  To the congregation:  Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?”

We have all heard these questions.  Many of us have answered: “I will” more than once.  Yet I wonder how many of us check in with ourselves to see how we are doing at keeping the promise we made.  I think this morning’s gospel lesson gives us an opportunity to consider how we are doing.

Our baptismal vow to nurture one another speaks to community.  We cannot teach, set examples, nurture in the Christian faith and life unless we have a relationship, a community where we spend time together praying, studying, working, playing together.  The time, stories, tears, and laughter we share with one another are critical to our fulfillment of this promise to one another.

As the writer of John weaves us through this story of the man who sits begging because he doesn’t not have physical sight, we encounter three distinct communities: the disciples of Jesus, the neighbors who had known the blind beggar and his family since the man was born; and a small group of religious leaders.[1]  All communities in which we would expect to find nurturing.

The Disciples have witnessed Jesus doing miracles, talking with many who were considered of no value by the world in which they lived.  They have heard the teachings of love and a new way of looking at things.  They have experienced a reversal of priorities that puts caring for those least able to care for themselves above personal gain of any kind.  They have witnessed the power of “God with us” first hand.  Yet as they look at this man who has been unable to see since birth, they look past the person and are distracted by why this would happen.  As many people of the day believed, the Disciples believe that when a person is suffering from a physical or mental ailment it is a punishment for sin.  It is not surprising from the world-view then, that they want to know if the man sinned or if he is without sight because of his parents’ sin.

As the story unfolds in John, we see little empathy from the Disciples for the man.  No efforts to nurture him in the faith or to get to know him.  Their focus is fixed on who to blame for his condition.

Jesus focuses on glorifying God through the healing of this person.  The man didn’t seek the healing, Jesus saw his situation and reached out.  In the context of the passage before this one, at the time he sees the man begging, Jesus is aware there are people in the area hoping to get an opportunity to stone him.  He is in the midst of his own personal crisis, and yet he sees and responds to the need of another, setting aside what many may consider the more pressing concern for his personal safety.  He stops, makes the mud out of spit and dirt, and spreads it on the man’s eyes.  An outward sign of the grace-filled work God of within the Man.  Nurturing body and soul with his touch before sending him to wash in the pool of Siloan.

This man’s life is transformed in many ways because of the actions of Jesus and yet the community of His’ closest followers make assumptions about this man’s condition that justify the wider community to continue to reject him.  Through the Disciples actions the community can infer that they don’t have to nurture him because his blindness is his own fault, they can ostracize him and deny him access to what those who have not committed the sin that leads to blindness take for granted, such as employment opportunities, a place to live, and friends and family who won’t deny knowing him in order to protect their own privileged status in the community.

The neighbors who had known the blind beggar and his family since the man was born should have known this man the best of anyone.  They saw him sitting begging every day, they know his family.  Yet when he returns with his eyes open, his barriers to experiencing the world as a sighted person, the community of his birth doesn’t recognize him.  They don’t seem to believe he is who he says he is.  They focus how it could happen, if this person is the one who was blind.  His community wants to see the person who made it possible.   To find the remedy.  By questioning and seeking the source.  They reject the person who stands before them.  There is no indication of joy in this miracle, of celebration.  No evidence they reach out to nurture this member of the community into all the possibilities for him that now exist.

Then there is the community of this small group of religious leaders.  They too seem to focus on things that are outside the understanding of nurture.  They are caught up in a discussion over whether Jesus is from God because he healed on the Sabbath, suggesting he is both a fraud and a sinner, and in so packaging Jesus, put the fact a healed man with who they are talking face to face is healed, into question.  When the healed man answers their questions as to what he has to say about Jesus with the declaration Jesus is a prophet, the religious leaders can’t accept that as truth and look for ways to prove the whole story is a lie.  The man’s parents, confirm that their son was born blind, but don’t acknowledge any further information.  They seem to want to stay clear of any association with the followers of Jesus for fear of what their religious community will say about them.  They don’t want to lose their position in their church by confirming the actions of Jesus on their son’s behalf.

The religious leaders still can’t accept the facts.  They go back to the healed man trying to establish proof that he is following a false prophet that he is still an unrepentant sinner who continues to practice a sinful lifestyle.  They reject his testimony and drive him out of the only community he has ever known.

Three communities which should love others as God loves them.  Three communities which should see beyond the labels and the things of the past to the transformed hearts and lives of those touched by Jesus.  Three communities which should have rejoiced, embraced, and nurtured this person witnessing to God’s work in his life.

Three communities that missed an opportunity to live out their faith through the nurturing of another person because they were focused on Why this would happen, How healing could have possibly taken place, and Finding a way to reject it as true because it messed with how things have always been.

Jesus discovers that the one healed is now rejected, without a nurturing community, and he reaches out again.  He invites him into the community of his followers, establishes a relationship which opens the man’s spiritual eyes as well, and provides the example that allows the man to become part of a community that will actually see him for who he is and nurture him in the faith.

In many ways the UMC of the Abundant Harvest is a nurturing community.  We take time to hear each other’s stories, to pray for joys and concerns of those within our faith community and the community beyond these walls.  We dream together as to how to witness to the world the healing power of Jesus in each of our lives.  We explore ways to support ministry in new ways.  We gather together to worship, pray, study, work, and sometimes even to play.

There are times, however, when we all can get distracted and fail to nurture.  We can get caught up in the history of things, not recognizing the amazing things that sometimes come with change and transformation.  We can be frightened by circumstances which make us feel out of control.   Sometimes we can find it difficult to accept facts that surface and we look for ways to discredit them so we can ignore them.

Jesus has healed each of us in some way, possibly multiple times.  Jesus reaches out to each of us welcoming us into His community of followers with a focus on loving us and equipping us to love others.  He calls us to watch out for each other, to love each other, to model Christ in each conversation and each action.  He moves us beyond the limited sight modeled by the Disciples, friends and neighbors, and religious leaders, opening our eyes to how things are in His Kingdom.  He calls us to look for ways to love and build each other up: those we know well, those we are just getting to know, and those we haven’t met yet.   He calls us to nurture in the most difficult times and places so that all will come to know and glorify God.

We have promised to live this way.

He has promised to give us the power to fulfill our commitment.

 

 

 

 

[1] Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser, Preaching Notes Fourth Sunday of Lent, Discipleship Ministries UMC

Confess

John 4:1-52

So Amazing!  Still trying to make sense of it, and yet I know it happened.   Such an incredible conversation!  I lost track of time as we talked, my innermost being connected to this stranger, who I discovered as we conversed, wasn’t a stranger at all.

I almost didn’t answer when he asked me for that drink of water.  Jews and Samaritans don’t talk.  We have a past that makes us distrust one another, makes us expect the worst just because of our heritage, our view of history, and how we worship God.  I couldn’t understand why he would even talk to me, let alone think I would help him.

What was he doing here anyway?  Jews don’t usually travel through Samaria.  They want to avoid us.  Conversation and sharing a drink, even if just water, not something they normally do.

Then there was the scandal of talking to a Jewish male.  Why was he risking ridicule to talk to me?  Jewish men don’t interact with any kind of women in public.  He might talk to his mother, wife, or however many daughters he has, but never to any other women.  If anyone saw us talking, the gossip mill would be up and running at full speed.  It wouldn’t really harm me, they already talk about me, all those men in my life.  I come to the well in the heat of the day to steer clear of those judgmental stares and comments as much as possible.  But what about him, what price would he pay for accepting a drink of water from a Samaritan woman with a questionable past?

So many questions, so many reasons to be about my business and get out of there.

Yet there was a gentleness in his request.  His eyes filled with respect and compassion for me, and somehow I knew I wanted to draw him some water.  There was something different in how he acted, and it eliminated my first impulse to ignore him and go about taking care of myself.  As I pulled up the vessel of water I thought, I’ll be cordial, but keep any conversation on a superficial level.  After all even if he is different, even if I’m drawn to know the answers to the questions surfacing in my mind, I can’t let my guard down.  Can’t let him know about all the messiness of my life, can’t reveal my pain and mistakes.  It is only a request for a drink of water after all.

At least I thought so at the time.

Then the conversation began.  He treated me as if what I had to say mattered, as if I mattered.  He began to dismiss all my preconceptions about why he shouldn’t or wouldn’t interact with me as he talked of God and God’s gift to us.

As first his words about offering me water, which would quench my thirst from that moment on sounded so good.   It would be wonderful to stop these daily trips to the well in the mid-day sun and the struggle to pull up the water from the depths of the well, and then the long walk home with the weight of the pitcher on my head.  But as deep as the source of the water I gave him to drink, was the depth of his words as he spoke of eternal life, worship, God, and the Messiah.

All my plans to keep my private life private blew away as sand in the breeze.  He knew things about me, the number of husbands and non-husbands I had, my understanding of the scripture and differences between Jewish and Samaritan beliefs, my desires for the Messiah to come and explain how we should worship and live.  His intimate understanding  of who I was, how my life’s story had evolved, for that which my soul was thirsty, touched me and changed me.

To me, an invisible woman, unimportant to, if not disdained by most, he revealed his identity.  He is the Messiah, He is the one who explains everything.  He revealed that true worships will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.  “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Amazing!  Not confined to a particular place or people, not limited to a prescribed style, but set free in our relationships to God and one another, opening our eyes to each person’s stories through the eyes of this caring compassionate man who looks into who we are and offers us what we need to never thirst for love and acceptance ever again.

All that I had learned from the religious leaders over the years became so much clearer, this man at the well was who he said he was.  His words, his actions, his knowledge of who I am revealed truth to my yearning heart.  He is the Messiah and he is interested in talking to me.  Remarkable!

Just as I was trying to make sense of this revelation, his disciples returned.  They didn’t challenge our conversation, but somehow I thought I needed to get back to town, to let people know who was at the well, to give them an opportunity to have truth revealed for their lives.  I am not sure they will believe me, but if they hear my story, the astounding truth that he knows everything about me, they might be curious.  They might take the walk to see him before he leaves, so I better hurry up and tell them.

They need to know that the time has come when what we are called doesn’t matter and where we go to worship doesn’t matter. It is who we are and the way we live that counts before God.  Our worship much engage our spirit in the pursuit of truth.  That is the kind of people God is looking for those who are simply and honestly themselves before God in their worship.  When we come in worship we come before God who knows our every thought and our every hope, our every gift and our every broken place, every single beautiful thing about us, every wonderful story and even the ones that aren’t so wonderful.  We come before God, and God offers us a cool drink of water, and a place to rest, and listens to our stories. [1]

He knows all that I’ve ever done, yet he loves me, and openly reveals his identity to me.  He has so many reasons not to and yet, he does.  He is the One promised, He is the Messiah.  We know we can’t survive without a good steady source of refreshing water.  I know now we can’t really live without the truth He reveals.  Please hurry, come and see for yourself!

(out of character)

So Amazing!  Jesus reveals himself – Confesses who he is – to someone the world has identified as unimportant.  Jesus reveals God’s desire for our lives – Confesses that it is more about what we say and do than where we worship.  The woman is self-aware of her limitations and her needs.  She has taken advantage of the opportunities to learn about God offered in her culture and is not afraid to ask questions that help her grow spiritually.  The barriers in her life do not hold her back from seeking to know more or from recognizing the presence of the Messiah breaking into the routine of her life.

Once experiencing the presence of the promised One, her priorities change, the water jug sits at the well and she hurries to invite others to come see for themselves.  Her passion, her confession that “he knew everything about me,” so compelling that many go to see for themselves and believe.

This morning we look at the question raised at our baptism.  Do you confess Jesus Christ as Your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as Lord, in union with the church Christ opens to people of all ages, nations, and races?  Will you commit yourself, according t the grace given in you, to be faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representative in the world?

The woman at the well lived out this confession, trusting what Jesus told her was true and serving as Christ’s representative in the world.

In our baptism we take up the calling of the church to intercede for the world, and to continue to live more deeply into the mind of Christ.  In the lifelong pilgrimage with the church begun in baptism, we discover again and again that our purpose in life is deeply tied up with giving ourselves in service to others. In baptism, we step into the flow of living water, and in it we experience, now, already, a foretaste of heaven.

Jesus told a Samaritan woman he could offer her “living water.” He said, “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty” (Jn. 4:13). When we receive this living water, says Jesus, our deepest needs are satisfied. More than that, initiated into the flow of living water, we become part of God’s blessing to the world, participants in that “spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

Becoming a part of that gracious flow satisfies many of our deepest longings, for God created us to “give ourselves for others.” Self-giving is at the heart of the life of the Trinity into which we are baptized. We are at once most deeply human and closest to God when we give ourselves in love. [2]

The woman at the well discovered that the living water offered by Jesus Christ is available to all, regardless of personal history, ethnicity, place of worship, gender, socio-economic status or any value set by this world.

God’s grace is offered to all who will drink of it.

We who have drunk of this living water, we who have come to faith and who claim faith in Jesus Christ, can only testify to what drinking of the living water of Jesus Christ has done for us. We cannot give the living water of faith to others. But we can become part of God’s blessing in the world. We can join in God’s mission by giving ourselves in love. And we can commit ourselves anew, according to the grace given to us, to be representatives of Jesus Christ in the world, and, through our words and self-giving actions, point people to the only one who can give us the living water that we most need.[3]

With all we say and do we can confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, in essence saying to those we encounter to “Come with me. See the person who has told me everything I have done! Mightn’t this be the Christ”

[1] Kathryn Matthews, Sermon Seeds, March 19, 2017

[2] Mark Stamm The Meaning of Baptism in the United Methodist Church (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2017),

[3] Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser – Living Our Baptismal Calling. Discipleship Ministries UMC – Confess – March 19, 2017

Accept

Genesis 12:1-4a

John 3:1-17

This morning’s scripture is filled with conversations between God and humanity:

We are able to listen in on God speaking to Abram.

God in essence tells Abram, “It’s time, I need you to pack up and leave everything that is familiar to you.  Your daily routine, the morning coffee break with your friends, your extended family, your place of worship, everything.  The only road map you need is me.  Accepting my invitation will change you and the legacy you leave forever and many people will be blessed because of your choice.

Abram’s response is, “Sure God,  I’ll go.”  At the age of 75, comfortable in the life he had, knowledgeable in how things worked in his community and how to be successful, confident in his comprehension of how things should be, he listened, put the past in the rear-view mirror, and moved into the unknown because the Lord he loved offered an opportunity and the power for him to make a difference for others.  God’s promises enough for him to pull up stakes and head into unfamiliar territory.

We don’t have as many pieces from God’s conversation with Moses that leads to the example Jesus shares with Nicodemus, but if we go back to Numbers 21 4-9 we hear,

“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way.  The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.

Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.  The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.  And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”  So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”[1]

The Israelites had experienced God’s love and care for them, had witnessed promises faithfully kept many times before this complaining begins.

Yet it is not the first time we have read about the people of Israel complaining about their journey from Egypt to the promised land, there were the complaints about food not long after they began their journey, there were complaints Moses was gone too long when he was up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, then there were complaints about lack of water, and now, the journey is taking too long and the impatience overflows into complaints, some of which contradict one another

They say they have no food but at the same time say they detest the miserable food.

They are having a difficult time with change and a culture of negativity develops as they loose sight of God’s faithfulness.  God responds by sending poisonous snakes into where the people were.  Snakes were biting and people were dying.

They quickly repent, acknowledging that they had sinned by speaking against God and by speaking against Moses.  They recognize it was wrong to be negative about God as well as to be negative about others sharing their journey of faith.

Moses prays for the people at their request and the Lord tells him what needs to be done.

He fashions a sculpture of a poisonous serpent and puts it on a pole – the instructions are if you get bit look at the serpent of bronze and you will live.

As their focus turns from complaining, to focusing on what God has provided as a means of healing and life, they are saved.

There is healing found in the serpent lifted up at God’s direction.  Blessings come from embracing what God provides for the journey.

That conversation starting with God saying let’s take a trip.  I’ll guide you and provide for you and when you get there it will be better than anything you can imagine.  The people respond, “sounds great, let’s go”  and then things get difficult, don’t move at the pace and way they envision and the conversation turns to complaining about God, Moses, and each other.  “What are you thinking making us walk this far and making us eat this stuff?” they moan.  They learn how quickly things can go downhill when they take their focus off God, and the conversation turns to: “Opps, we got it wrong.  We accept your power to move forward in the midst of anything this world throws at us.  Thank You Lord.”

Then we join Jesus as he talks with Nicodemus.  Nicodemus seems to be someone who has it all together, someone who doesn’t need a Savior.  There is no evidence he is in duress physically, emotionally, or financially.  He seems by all measures of the world to be a success story.  He has achieved the Jewish Dream.  He is a Pharisee, a member of the ruling class, and a leader among the Sanhedrin.  Yet he is drawn to Jesus and his words indicate he yearns for something deeper and more meaningful in his life than what the world has to offer.  He comes to Jesus under the cover of night seeking information on who exactly Jesus is and where Jesus get his miraculous power..[2]

“I know you are of God,” Nicodemus affirms, “the evidence proves it, but what do I do with that knowledge?”  “You must be changed,” Jesus tells him.  “You can’t make the world priorities your priorities, you must live according to God’s priorities.”  “You can’t just believe I am of God, you must live that belief in all of your relationships – relationships with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, enemies, as well as those you have never met.”  “You must go to new places, love in new ways, affirm one another.”  “To build my kingdom you must move ever forward, trusting I’ve got you, even when you have to hear my message in a new song or worship style so that others can hear it too.”  “You need to turn yourself completely over to me,” I hear Jesus tell Nicodemus and each of us

Life is lived in the current of flux and flow.[3]

Often it is exactly when we think we have it all together, that we completely understand God and can just do it on our own; when we believe we know exactly how everything should be done and where and how others should experience God; and begin to focus on how we want things to be – that God calls out to us.  “If you want to share my love with others, you need to leave the familiar and go where they are.”  “If you want to survive the snakes of this world you need to look to what I provide to guide you.”  “If you want to see the kingdom it takes more than belief, it takes change.”

We have been talking about welcoming people to join us on our faith journey.  I think this excerpt from a blog posted by a mother of two young children, who lost her husband to cancer, takes what I see in this morning’s scripture and shapes it in the story of those with whom we hope to walk.

“When church leaders sit around and discuss how they can reach people, I don’t think they have the widow in mind. I don’t think they have the cancer patient in mind. I don’t think they have the children who are growing up without a parent in mind. I am not paying attention to the church décor when I walk through the doors. I don’t want to smell fresh brewed coffee in the lobby. I don’t want to see a trendy pastor on the platform. I don’t care about the graphics or the props on the platform. I am hurting in a way that is almost indescribable. My days are spent working full time. My nights are spent homeschooling and taking care of two young children. I don’t have shared duties with a spouse anymore everything is on my plate. And when I go to church I desperately want to hear the Word of God.

“Because there are days I am running on empty and a coffee bar in the lobby isn’t filling me up. There are days when the pain is so brutal and a concert like setting is not providing healing. There are days when the tears won’t stop and a trendsetting church is not what I need. I need Jesus. There are days I wonder if the pain is ever going to end and a couch on the platform is not providing answers.

“The lighting, coffee bars, relevant messages, graphics and other things are secondary and serve no assistance to me during the darkest hour of my life. This is in no way a criticism of churches that have coffee bars, nice lighting and catchy sermon titles. However, in everything that is done, we need to make sure that Jesus is at the center. It is a also a reminder that there are hurting people sitting in your congregation. There are people whose marriages are crumbling, people whose finances are deteriorating, people whose children are rebelling and people like me, whose husband has passed away after a brutal fight with cancer. And these people are not impressed with the stage lighting. They could care less about the coffee flavor. They don’t need to be pumped or hyped. They need and are desperate for Jesus. And they may actually be turned off by all that they consider gimmicks to get people to go to church.

I scroll down my social media feed and I see churches with pictures of their coffee bars, their concert like settings, their graphics, their trendy sermon series and those don’t appeal to me. I want to see how Jesus has changed a person’s life. I want to see the power of prayer. I want to see how the Word of God can be applied to one’s life. I want to see how Jesus can help the hurting. I want to see how Jesus can heal the sick. I want to see how the broken heart was restored. I want to see how the mourners were comforted. I want to see how lives were restored.”[4]

At our baptism we, or those who bring us to be baptized, answer the question we shared together earlier in the service:  Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

God provides us with freedom and power to be who he calls us to be to share Jesus with a hurting and broken world.  We need to accept it.

We accept it with the help of God, and move forward by doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all people, by giving, visiting, instructing, reproving, and exhorting.  That means being born into and living the nature of Christ so others may be see how lives are restored.

It means treating each other with love, not complaining when things aren’t going our way, making every action and decision reflective of God’s love extended to us and through us.  We need to be ready to change direction and to trust in God’s power to help us go where we are called to share the love we know in Jesus Christ with those yearning to know more about him.

When we do, we are living the Baptismal Calling.

 

 

[1] NIV

[2] Preaching Notes- Discipleship Ministries, Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser Second Sunday in Lent 48

[3] Len Sweet, Preach the Story March 12

[4] Why the Church doesn’t mean any more coffee bars” Wednesday, March 8, 2017  http://kimberlilira.blogspot.com/2017/03/why-church-doesnt-need-anymore-coffee.html?spref=fb&m=1