Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What's Our Part?

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in(to) the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Matthew 28:18-20
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve talked about the honor we have of being God’s people, the church. Everything we do is motivated and led by Christ, our Head. We discussed, therefore, that what Jesus said carries special weight.

Many people have died for causes they believed in, but Jesus did something utterly unique: not only did he die for a cause, but he also defied history by his resurrection. Is it any wonder that when his disciples came to him that some doubted?

After all, their worldview didn’t include someone physically rising from the dead, yet here was Jesus, who had done so. Now his words held even more sway than they had before. Before, the Bible tells of Jesus speaking as one who has authority – as contrasted with the religious leaders and teachers of his day – but now he has gained a new authority.

Have you ever wondered what gives someone authority – the right to be heard? Often it seems that if someone has been on TV, then their authority stock seems to skyrocket. Why should I trust an actor just because he’s shown himself able to act? (commercials come to mind here, as do Christian celebrities) If there was really truth in advertising, they might have a sign that says, "TV has given authority to me…"

Jesus made the statement that he had been given all authority, but he had something to back it up. Rising from the dead seems to give greater credibility than just claiming that you’ll do it!!
Because Jesus did just that, he has authority. And because he had authority, his words have weight.

Listen to what he said: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Jesus told his followers to go and make disciples. Notice that he didn’t qualify this with "those of you with the gift of evangelism" or "those who are good public speakers" or "those who are extroverts" – but simply "go and make disciples."

This is the job of Christians. Friends, these aren’t my words; they’re Jesus’ words. If you want to offer an excuse why you don’t share Jesus Christ with others and help them to follow Him, don’t come to me with them. You can argue that with Jesus, because he’s the one who said it.

Our job is to be disciple-makers. This is officially the mission statement of the UMC – to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Every Christian is called to be a disciple-maker.

So, who are we supposed to make disciples of?

All nations. Everyone. Not just your friends or church members, but everyone. Last week, when I told you to love someone unlovely… they are included in those who Jesus’ followers were called to make disciples of. Of course, they’re not the only ones, but they are included in that number.

If we’re supposed to be about disciple making, what’s a disciple?

A disciple of Jesus is someone who is publicly identified with Jesus and is following him with the purpose of becoming like him.

To be identified with Jesus is to answer his call. In Matthew 11:28-30, He says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

We become his disciples by responding to that call, counting what it will cost. He doesn’t ask us to blindly become his disciples, but rather to count the cost. Is it worth it?

Are we willing to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow? Are we willing to give up our old lives and to take upon ourselves the identity that he has prepared for us? Are we willing to do so even when it means turning away from family and friends, when it means giving up a profession or our possessions?

This is not some sort of higher calling for some Christians to aspire to. This is the normal call for all Christians.

So, if we agree to be Jesus’ disciples, what’s our part? What are we supposed to do? Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples. That’s our part.

So, how do we make disciples?

Jesus listed the two components of making disciples:

First, it includes baptism into the name of Father, Son, and Spirit.
As we are baptized, we publicly identify with Jesus – baptism by immersion especially helps us to identify with his death, burial, and resurrection. This act, and the name we are baptized into, implies an allegiance with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Now we are on God’s team.

This is one reason that I take baptism very seriously; it’s not just a job for parents to "get their children done" (I’ve heard that phrase), but a very serious act to only be done by those who understand what they’re getting into. If you’re simply baptized because "that’s what people do" and you have no real plan to ally yourself with God, to be in God’s army, to be on His team, there’s a word for someone like that. It’s "traitor." In Dante’s Inferno, the lowest level of Hell was set aside for traitors.

Discipleship also includes teaching obedience to all of Jesus’ commands.

Jesus calls us to follow him by imitating him. In Jesus’ time, disciples were characterized by their literal imitation of their rabbi. They would follow their rabbi around, imitating him in hopes that someday they might become like him. Being a disciple is more than just intellectual assent. It is obedience.

How do we teach obedience to Jesus’ commands? By first knowing Jesus. When you know him, you’ll know his will. He doesn’t hide it – it’s not a secret that only certain people can get. But once you know his will, your job is to share it with others, teaching and encouraging them to follow as well.

This is done on several levels – from the first time someone is introduced to Jesus to their encouragement in their journey with him. We are committed to make this happen – and one of the main ways we will be doing this is through small groups. Small groups are designed to be places where we can study God’s word and encourage one another in following it. In fact, I believe in small groups enough to say that if you’re not willing to do life together in a small group, there’s something wrong. Some of you have already gotten a head start on this. You’ve been in touch with what God’s doing, you’ve taken The Process of Redemption and Hermeneutics classes – perhaps God’s calling you to lead or host a small group.

One thing’s for certain; we were never meant to be Christian alone. We were made for community, and the way the community grows is by discipleship.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What's Most Important?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matthew 22:34-40

Last week we discussed who we are as a church: God has called us out, and we have answered, gathering together for his purposes. I also reminded you that Jesus Christ is central to the church.

If Jesus Christ is central to church, then it’s probably a good idea to determine what Jesus found important. A few years back, the movement was to determine "what would Jesus do" – this was supposed to help us figure out how we were supposed to act. Though it’s a good thought, it morphed into silly speculation like "who would Jesus vote for" and "what would Jesus drive."
Anyway, the important thing isn’t necessarily what would Jesus do, but what did Jesus say? What is most important – in His words?

Jesus was asked this very question – and likely in the same sort of context that it’s asked now. Which is the most important commandment? It’s a trick question, intended to trap Jesus into stratifying the commandments. Now, this is a good question to ask – namely because the expected outcome is that "I’m better than so-and-so." In this case, probably that the Pharisees were better than the Sadducees.

Now, when we think of Commandments, we usually think of the Ten Commandments. But by Jesus’ time, it was traditional to speak of the 613 individual statutes of the Law. It’s all about stratifying sin and good deeds – and it’s usually done in this manner: "well, of course I ______, but at least I never _____."

Do you know what this is? That’s a wrong attitude. Why? Because it makes the assumption that my sins aren’t bad because they aren’t those so-called "bad sins." Then we get to the debate about which sins are bad. Tony Campolo, famed pastor, author and public speaker, played to that tendency when he said this:

"I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a _____. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said ____ than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night."

He was right – many, many people got more riled up at his use of profanity than about the 30,000 dead children. They unconsciously stratified his cussing as worse than starving children.

Truth is, a sin is a sin.

So in this, the question posed to Jesus was a trick question; the law expert was trying to trap Jesus into stratifying sin. Jesus’ answer settled the matter. What is the most important commandment?

Love God with everything you are and love others as yourself.

Pretty simple, eh?

All Jewish people would have recognized the first commandment. In fact, this is part of one of the most memorized scriptures of all time: Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – known as the Shema. This is how it goes:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

This was most important. Loving God was so important that it was recognized that this was the context into which he gave the Ten Commandments. It was so important that they should be the topic of daily (and nightly) conversation, that they should be taught to our children, that they should be carried with us wherever we go as visible reminders and placed so we would see them whenever we left or returned home.

Loving God is important. Of first importance. We love God because of who he is. We love God because he first loved us. We love God because of what he has done for us and continues to do for us. We love God because he keeps his promises even when we don’t. It’s easy to see why loving God is the first commandment.

Did you notice that when Jesus was asked for the most important commandment, he gave two? Love God and love neighbor. The reason he gave two is because you cannot separate the two. James 2:18 says: Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds." But I say, "How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds."

The key to showing our faith and our love for God is how we treat others. Jesus is clear about how we’re supposed to treat others – we’re supposed to love them!

Easy, right? Love your neighbor as yourself. What does that mean?

1. Love: This isn’t just about feeling some warm, fuzzy feelings about them. Love is a verb, and it doesn’t mean anything until it does something. So what kind of things does love do? In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes about love: Love is patient and kind. Love isn’t envious or boastful. Love doesn’t insist on its own way and isn’t irritable or resentful. Love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails.

Is this how you are characterized? Does everyone notice how patient and kind you are, or are you known as someone who always demands your own way and carries a grudge? Let’s get something clear: if you call yourself a Christian, if you have accepted Jesus Christ’s free gift of forgiveness and reconciliation, then this is necessarily who you are becoming. And you don’t become that without struggle. Have you ever prayed that God would give you patience? You know how God answers that, don’t you? By allowing you to be in a situation in which you need patience! By putting people in your life who push every last one of your buttons! Which brings me to the next point:

2. Neighbor: the recipients of our love are our neighbors. Last week, when I talked about metaphors the Bible uses for the church – one of them is "family." Remember that saying: you can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family?

Neighbor is something like that. As Christians, we don’t get to pick who we love. Jesus spelled this out by describing "neighbor" as enemy. How easy is that? We’re supposed to love our enemies? It’s hard enough loving my family, and now you’re telling us WHAT?

Let me tell you something: following Jesus Christ is radical. It’s completely different from the world’s standards., and loving our enemies is how we demonstrate our love for God. If you think about it, that’s just what God does for us. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We behaved as God’s enemies, but Christ still died for us.

If you’re serious about being a Christ follower, try this experiment: love someone who is unlovely this week. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4- 8 every day - then put your name in place of "love" and see if you match up. If you don't, continue to pray that God would transform you into that - remaking you into Christ's likeness.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Who Are We?

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?

Acts 2:1-8

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

Who are We?

Last week, I talked a lot about myself. I did that on purpose, but I won’t do it often; though I am the main speaker here, this service doesn’t have any more to do with me than it does with you. We are here as the church.
So who are we?
I’ve been meeting you – trying to learn your names (please forgive me as I ask your names again and again), and finding out who’s related to whom. I also spent some time this week looking through old documents and pictures that I found in the church office. I saw a bulletin from the 1964 dedication service of the Millersport Evangelical United Brethren Church – that’s where we get the "United" in United Methodist, by the way, from the merger between Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Church. I saw the original blueprints of this building and read the 1990 doctrinal statement and purpose statement.
But who are we? We are the Millersport United Methodist Church.
  • Millersport: the town we are in – founded by Mathias Miller in 1825 on the Ohio-Erie Canal.

  • United: traces our heritage to the Evangelical United Brethren Church, formed by the 1946 merger of the Evangelical Church with the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.

  • Methodist: John Wesley founded a movement within the Anglican church, a movement characterized by the methodical nature by which its participants "attended to the ordinances of God" – which earned them the mocking term "Methodist."

  • Church: yeah, we’re a church, too.

What does it mean to be a church? When I was a little kid, I learned that "here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people." Of course, if you messed up and didn't clasp your fingers in the right way, it would end up being "open the door and break your fingers."

This was not a helpful way to learn who the church was, because (besides the potential risk to your fingers) the church is the people. In a hymn in our hymn book called "We are the Church," the first verse goes like this: The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.

So what kind of people are we?
If we look back to Acts 2, we find out about the birth of the church. On that day, when people from all over were all together for a holiday gathering, the Holy Spirit showed up.
Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, took the opportunity to teach about Jesus. He ended his message by telling them to repent and be baptized, to save themselves from a corrupt generation. And on that day, about 3000 people accepted Jesus’ gift to them.

The church was characterized by what its people did. Remember, there were no "church buildings" yet. It wasn’t until the 3rd century that Christians owned specific property for the purpose of worship.

Since the word "church" was used well before the 3rd century, it must be more than the building!

Here’s what happened:
Christ followers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

So what does it mean to be a church?
The Greek word that we translate "church" is ekklesia. This word’s comes from a word meaning "to call out." The ekklesia was originally the assembly of people who gathered to make political decisions, but (get this) the ekklesia only existed when it gathered.

When we move from the political ekklesia to the biblical concept, we find a group that is characterized by its purpose: to hear the word of God and to worship. In fact, the ekklesia was usually called He ekklesia tou theou: the Church of God – God is the source and origin of the church’s life and existence, summoning men and women to himself through the preaching of Christ crucified and forming them into his ekklesia. God’s act of founding the ekklesia is mediated through Jesus Christ and his gospel.

If you get nothing else from this message, then get this: Jesus Christ is central to church. Apart from Jesus, we're wasting our time. Sure, we can do some good things, but if Jesus isn't central, they're not good enough.

The Bible uses several metaphors to talk about God’s people.
It speaks of God’s people as His Temple. Just as the Temple in Jerusalem was known as the dwelling place of God’s glory, we, as the church, are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. God’s dwelling place is not apart from us, but in us! Furthermore, the Temple is only whole when it is unified.

Again, this doesn’t mean that we are clones, but it means that we find our unity in God, our source, in Christ, who died for us, and in the Holy Spirit, who empowers us.

The Bible also speaks of God’s people as a Body. The local church and the church international both constitute this Body with Jesus Christ as the Head. Just as our brains control our bodies, so should Jesus Christ control the church. What’s more, this underscores our need for unity – we’re all in this together. If one part of the body hurts, the rest suffers as well (if you sprain your ankle, you limp. If you limp for a while, your knees, hips, back, and other leg will start hurting, too).

This is true in the church as well. When one member suffers, so does the rest of the body. If you have secret (or not-so-secret, for that matter!), unrepented sin, it doesn't just hurt you; it hurts the whole body.

Also, if you are hurting and don't let anyone know, you are depriving those with spiritual gifts of using those gifts! Think about it: someone with the gift of encouragement should be allowed to encourage. Just like - I'll always offer the chance for an offering, because some people have the gift of giving, and to not give them the chance to do so would be to deprive them of using their spiritual gift - thus hurting the whole body!

The Bible also speaks of God’s people as Family. You’ve probably heard that you get to pick your friends but you’re stuck with your family. This is true for church, for better or for worse. You have family members who you love to be around. I am one aunt’s favorite, and she makes it clear that she likes me best. I’ve always liked to be around her. But there are other family members who are less pleasant to be around. I won’t give those details about my family right now! Figuring out how to deal with them is important, and showing them love is vital for our mission.

So what does this all matter?

God calls us together for a purpose. We are meant to do life together; to encourage each other and help point one another toward Jesus Christ. When we meet together, we meet with Jesus Christ, and our gatherings should be centered around Him. And we get to celebrate together what God has been doing for us all week.

So let’s continue the celebration!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

New Things Coming

This will be the home of my sermon manuscripts in the future. I accidentally saved over my first sermon: "Who Am I?" so that won't appear here, but in the future, you can come here and re-read what I preached on Sunday.

Please note that I write my sermon as a manuscript pretty much in the way I'd speak it, but then I pare it back to notes for Sunday, and the actual delivery won't be exactly like it's written. So if you want to know verbatim what I said, you'll have to show up to hear it.