Sermon Summary 5.15.22
Due to sound system issues, we were unable to do a livestream yesterday, hence no YouTube post. My apologies. I hope to have that resolved this week. ~Pastor Christopher
CONGRATULATIONS GRADUATES! Abby Altec, Lee Davis, Dylan Hazelbaker, and Brennan Popp - all graduating from Fort Scott High School, as is Lindsay Majors. Tayton Majors with a Bachelors in Political Science from Wichita state University (grandparents are Carol and Bruce Majors) Aaron Eshelman - with his Bachelors in Communications from Dordt University Ian Eshelman - with his Masters in Education and Sports Leadership from Dordt University. Clara Cutbill (granddaughter of Ron and Barbara Wood) with a Master’s degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. Karley M Stark, (daughter of Peggy Stark) earns her Masters of Nursing Education from Kansas University. Support the Library Summer Programs The Fort Scott Library needs our help with volunteers and snacks for kickoff events June 1st and then other summer events. See this link for details. https://fortscott.biz/news/public-library-has-urgent-need-for-volunteers-donors-for-summer This is a great opportunity for First UMC to support our community and build relationships with young families! Seeking to Hire Nursery Coordinator Danette Popp has stepped down due to other commitments. We have several folks who volunteered to assist or sub - but we need a regular presence and think that needs to come from a person hired from outside our regular attendance. Duties will be: being present in the nursery each Sunday 9:15am to 11:45am to provide childcare; scheduling the 2nd attendant and any subs needed; and ensuring timesheets and attendance rosters are complete. If you know an adult who could be Safe Gatherings certified, is great with kids, and would like to consistently work a few hours each Sunday morning, please put them in touch with Pastor Christopher. Support for Andover: the Great Plains conference is working with UMCOR as a partner to address needs after the Andover tornado. You can donate by making checks or envelopes out to first UMC and putting Andover on the memo line. Those funds will be compiled and sent to the Conference to assist Andover resident’s recovery and rebuilding. Thank you. 301 Prayers: Each day at 3:01pm, you are invited to pause in prayer for our church, our community and our world. A regular practice of prayer, shared among a congregation, can be transformative. Center yourself, your work and family, and your church in God’s presence! Join the Choir! We practice Sunday mornings at 10:00am (after Sunday School) and again right after worship service. See You There! 5.18.22 Sermon Summary
Between the events of the week and our sound system amplifier refusing to turn on Sunday morning, this week’s sermon was far more improvised or extemporaneous than usual. As I said in the benediction - God has a tremendous sense of humor. Part of me thinks the sound system issue was the Holy Spirit prompting me to preach first hand instead of around the margins - and to say some things directly rather than relying on a video. I hope you are both blessed and challenged by these words - I know I am.
We led into the sermon with a beautiful hymn by Ruth Duck - it was new to us last week (although the hymn itself is now over 30 years old).
Womb of life, and source of being, .
home of ev'ry restless heart,
in your arms the worlds awakened;
you have loves us from the start.
We, your children, gather 'round you,
at the table you prepare.
Sharing stories tears and laughter,
we are nurtured by your care.
Word in flesh, our brother Jesus,
born to bring us second birth,
you have come to stand beside us,
knowing weakness, knowing earth.
Priest who shares our human struggles,
Life of Life, and Death of Death,
risen Christ, come stand among us,
send the Spirit by your breath.
Brooding Spirit, move among us;
be our partner, be our friend.
When our mem'ry fails, remind us whose we are,
what we intend. Labor with us,
aid the birthing of the new world made new,
ever singing, ever praising, one with all,
and one with you.
Mother, Brother, holy Partner;
Father, Spirit, Only Son:
we would praise your name forever,
one-in-three, and three-in-one.
We would share your life, your passion,
share your word of world made new,
ever singing, ever praising,
one with all, and one with you.
Words © 1992 GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission
I then continued by talking about how these lyrics remind me that each of us is created in the image of God and intended to work with God in God’s ongoing act of creation. We are to be Christ-like. As we were celebrating our graduates this day, I pointed out that while we celebrate milestones like graduation, we are never done learning and growing.
The Romans’ reading reflects the apostle Paul continuing to work out what it means, individually and as the church, to be Christlike. Let love be genuine. Hate evil - but don’t be overcome by it. Don’t respond in kind. If we become like that which we are fighting, then that which we are fighting has won. Our call is to love. Our call is to follow Christ - to do the things Christ does. And that includes loving the world - and doing so by loving specific people.
Including people who are not like us. Two weeks ago we heard the story of the Samaritan woman. Samaritans were despised by Jews - and this woman is an outcast among her people. She comes to the well at noon - not in the cool of morning or evening. For some reason (presumably multiple divorces) she is shunned and isolated. This day she finds a Jewish man at the well. Jesus is breaking all kinds of rules - but in doing so he changes her life and the life of her community. She regains respect, community and hope. She experiences salvation.
We didn’t read it - but there is another story of healing in John 4 - a royal official comes begging for his son. Jesus doesn’t go to the house - just assures him his son will live. The official believes and journeys home - learning that his son recovered just at the time he was speaking with Jesus the day before. It’s a small scene - but it again has us ponder who is in, who is out and what it means to believe.
We then turned to today’s reading from John 5. Jesus is back in Jewish territory - at a famed pool near the sheep gate, a site believed to offer healing. We have such sites even today - Lourdes in France, Chimayo in New Mexico. Places some people experience wholeness in miraculous ways.
We know where these pools are - they’ve been excavated by archeologists and even today when the limestone of the region reaches critical mass it releases stored water and the pools bubble up. At the time they attributed this to angels. We now know more… but maybe it makes us too skeptical of miraculous claims - but we live on a small rock orbiting a small sun at the edge of a small galaxy among the vastness of the universe. Life itself is a miracle. Everything is a miracle
Friday I attended my son’s graduation from Dordt University and heard the best commencement address I ever heard by Dr. Walker Cosgrove Professor of History. I didn’t read this verbatim Sunday but I’ll share a bit of a direct quote here: “I lay the choice before you this day and every day of the rest of your life will you choose the love of self which pursues power and strength and violence and wealth and upward mobility and influence, or will you choose the way of love? The love of God. the love of neighbor and the love of creation - love which moves through humility and self-sacrifice and which always seeks the good of others. including the good of the creation. I hope that here at Dordt, we've helped you move deeper than simply knowledge as information into a more self-reflective lifelong process of knowledge as formation which ultimately leads to the most profound place in the cosmos, that still points to the turning world, the very love of God as Augustine so deftly puts it in his Confessions: “for you've made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Dr. Cosgrove’s distinction between knowledge as information with which to seek power and control and dominance vs knowledge as formation seeking wisdom and drawing us closer to God and neighbor is a powerful one.
So back to the story in John 5. Jesus arrives to the porticoes - many blind, lame and sick people are about - one man in particular, it is said, has been there for 38 years! Jesus zeros in on him - “Do you want to be made well?” The man replies with excuses… and Jesus simply says “pick up your mat and walk.”
The man is not healed by his own great faith - he doesn’t even know who Jesus is when asked! Jesus simply calls him to change - to renewal - and he obeys.
For God so loved the world. For God so loves specific people - that lives are transformed. Jesus comes not to condemn, but to save. Jesus challenges - go and sin now more - but the focus is on renewed wholeness - not condemnation.
I pointed out that some folks - my own theology - leans heavily on this understanding of grace - but sometimes we can go overboard and make it seem like it doesn’t matter what we do - God forgives and makes us whole. Others lean heavily in to judgment, even punishment. Faith becomes about believing exactly as they do or you’re going to hell
John’s Gospel challenges both positions. It is a gospel of love - and Jesus talks about judgment. He promises that: ‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
How do I, one who leans heavily on grace, understand that last line. I think we condemn ourselves. We condemn ourselves when we refuse God’s grace - and when we dare think our understanding is the only way. Jesus is the way - not us and not our understanding. The people Jesus challenges most are the “religious authorities” who think they have it all figured out and that they are the enforcers.
The Bible does not give us a single story. The Bible gives us challenge and comfort. The bible gives us multiple stories that sometimes push against each other - that we might ever learn and grow, never settling for a simple, simplistic, or harmful single answer. Ezra says “divorce your foreign wives” - and Ruth celebrates a Moabite woman who marries Boaz, restoring Naomi’s community and becomes King David’s grandmother. The issue in Ezra is temptation - but we err when we think only “outsiders” can be guilty of leading us astray or believing or behaving falsely. Certainly we should avoid those to lead us astray - but absolute and simplistic answers do more harm than good.
I was unable to play a video clip by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her TED Talk “the Danger of a Single Story” is brilliant and helpful. The full video is 19 minutes long and I encourage you to watch it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg
I will hopefully get the sound system figured out this week and b able to come back to the clip I planned to show. The point is that single stories deny the fullness of one another’s humanity.
Saturday in New York, a self-proclaimed white supremacist drove 3 hours to shoot 13 people in a grocery store in a predominantly African-American section of Buffalo. He believed a single story of “replacement” - what he did is evil. But it is not an isolated act - rather it is the end result of systemic racism and fear. Both our nation and our churches have failed to live up to our ideals and been far to quiet. We have violated the Imago Dei (the image of God). Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King pointed out that Sunday was the most segregated hour in our nation in his lifetime - and very little has changed. Yes it can be about “style” and “music” but the bottom line is we fail to see each other as children of God created in the image of God and we - however subtly - encourage the kind of racism, suspicion and hatred that led the shooter to target Buffalo. I shared a t-shirt that I bought as part of a fundraiser for a group I support. And I shared that really I didn’t want to buy it
I fully support the group and the cause - and yet the shirt made me uncomfortable. It did so because it says “Resisting evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” I don’t like that active verb. It indicts me. I want it to say something like “called to resist…” give me some wiggle room, y’know. But “resisting” -that’s active. That means I have to be doing it. Which is, after all, what being Christlike is about… I’m glad for the lesson and the reminder - and yes, I have that same struggle and debate every time I see it in the closet. I reflect on my running late today and grabbing it - fully intending to cover it up with my robe. God has a tremendous sense of humor - and God is always leading us to be more fully what God intends us to be. In the next few weeks we’ll continue to hear from John’s gospel and wrestle with its call to love and the images and actions Jesus shares. Feeding the 5000, healing the man born blind (who sinned?), confronting those accusing a woman of adultery simply by drawing in the dirt, and the “I Am” statements - including one we don’t often talk about - “I am the gate.” I’ll close this summary with our reading from Romans 12:9-21: Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Let us be active verbs. Let us always be learning and growing, becoming more Christlike. Let us be who we are created to be - made in the Imago Dei. Amen. Pastor Christopher