Sermon Transcript, July 10th, 2022
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/MnJ_Eo9gnLo
The sermon title “Here We Go Again” is drawn from a tradition of my soccer watching buddies. At the start of a game, we’ll chant “Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Goooo!” – then at halftime, some of the more obnoxious of us (me) will chant “Here We Go, Again (clap, clap). So I thought that might be a fitting way to start my 2nd year of appointment here at Fort Scott. But it’s also a hint about the scriptures we’ll read today – we’ll hear a story of the power of God at work in the world – and a healing that comes from a perhaps unexpected place.
It is good to be back. I want to begin by telling you a bit about what I’ve been up to for the past month. Robin and I went on the ASP trip that we celebrated a couple weeks ago, then it was off to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where I officiated my eldest son’s wedding. It was a warm but beautiful day. This is Ian and his bride, Jordan, heading off to their honeymoon and then Robin and I did a baseball tour. I married well. It was her idea. We went to Minneapolis and saw my Rockies lose to the Twins and then we went to Milwaukee and watched the Brewers and the Blue Jays. We went to Chicago and saw the Cubs actually win a game which was not my childhood experience. That's who I grew up rooting for and then they started getting good so I had to go to another bad team. I think that's how that worked. (laughter) But lovely time in Wrigley Field. Got to eat some good deep-dish pizza. Spend some time by Lake Michigan and that other photo up there is a photo of me by someplace I had always wanted to go. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but I had no memory of it. We were back here in Kansas. I was baptized at Saint Paul Lutheran in Wichita by the time I was six months old and I'd always kind of wanted to see the hospital where I was born - especially since I found out it's now on the National Historic Registry. You can draw your own conclusions whether me being born there has anything to do with that (laughter) Eh… probably not. But you know, not everybody's birthplace is on the National Historic Registry. So, I needed a picture. So, it was kind of interesting. We went, its apartments now and there's lots of no loitering signs. So, we kind of drove up, took a picture, and left, but it was a good anchoring thing for me and a wonderful time of relaxation and while I did some very intentional work of not being a pastor during this time of vacation, I also had some time to kind of think big picture. Instead of being caught up in the week-to-week grind of sermon prep and pastoral care, I got away from it for a little while. I wrote, I read six or eight books that had nothing to do with church and a couple that did.
The last time I really preached was Pentecost, the birthday of the church and we usually tell that story from Acts two. I actually preached on John 20 but we kind of mixed them together but Acts two is the story of Pentecost. The wind and the fire and the disciples going from a locked room bursting forth into public view sharing the good news. They are filled with the Spirit. They speak and Jews from seemingly every nation known to humanity at that time are gathered in for the great festival and they all hear and understand in their own language. It's not that Peter speaks different languages. It's that they hear and understand. This is a gift to the church. This is a gift to the world.
Their differences are not erased. They are celebrated together. Peter, in his speech, quotes the Old Testament extensively. He's speaking as a Jew to fellow Jews of the good news of Jesus Christ. He says, what's happening here, what you see, what you hear is what the prophet Joel talked about. “In the last days, I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Old men will dream dreams... Young women will prophesize.” The gift will given to everyone. Peter believes that that is what is happening in their midst then.
Peter gives this speech - by tradition. They've been hiding, they've been hiding in a locked room, the upper room, the very place that they had celebrated Passover with Jesus. The Last Supper, the last night before his crucifixion. Tradition says they've been hiding in this upper room and there's a place in Jerusalem that pretty good tradition points to this was the place and it's interesting that upper room would hold couple hundred people actually if you really pack together in ways we might not be comfortable doing but are common even to this day in the Middle East and you know we usually think of the last supper as Leonardo Da Vinci's painting with 13 guys all sitting on the same side of the table…. We think nobody would do that unless you come to one of my soccer watch parties where we do because that's the way the TV is and so you're all on one side. So, I don't know. Maybe Galilee was playing Jerusalem FC that day… but I joke. That painting was to show us who was there. It wasn't what happened.
What happened would have been a U-shaped table with the place of honor at one of the points of the U and descending around the U and it made a lot more sense to me when I got into this space. Whether this is the room or not, I was privileged in 2016 to travel and my tour group is wandering around this space and you can see how they would have had to go around the massive pillars that hold up the domes. This, by tradition, is the spot of the Last Supper, and by tradition, the spot where the disciples and their earliest followers who were hiding after the resurrection, and it happens to be directly upstairs from the traditional spot of the tomb of David.
And I've gotta admit to you, when I was on my tour in 2016, I was somewhat skeptical of these traditions. After all, Jerusalem has been razed twice since David died. Destroyed by the Babylonians and then destroyed by the Romans. What are the odds of this place being the site of the tomb and what are the odds of the Upper Room being directly upstairs and why… if you're hiding from the Jewish authorities, would you hide directly above David's tomb?
But while we were there, my tour guide read from Acts and he pointed out the extensive quote of Psalm 16 and he pointed out how in Peter's speech, he talks about David dying and we still have his tomb to this day. Why would he bring that up in this moment? Unless, maybe they're standing in the courtyard… near where the tomb is. Unless they're immersed in this history. Is it proof? I don't know. but it makes a lot of sense.
These traditions are bound together. David was the great king. Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise. The lineage of the house of David would rule forever but not in the way we expected, not in a narrow “throw out the Romans” kind of political power but a life-changing power, a world-changing power The power of life itself. Death cannot hold him. The tomb cannot hold him. Our sin and our violence cannot stop him. He risen and we are his witnesses.
Peter says, and you are the witnesses.
If we go back to Psalm sixteen, “Protect me, oh God, for in you I take refuge. You are my lord, I have no good apart from you. Those who choose another God multiply their sorrows, their drink offerings of blood, I will not pour out or take their names upon their lips. The lord is my chosen portion and my cup. You hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places. I have a goodly heritage.” The path is before me. this fruitfulness that I experience in my life is all good from God. The Psalmist, the great King David, proclaiming God's goodness, proclaiming the way, the way, the truth, and the life that Jesus then shows us. That the disciples now finally begin to understand and in their understanding, they have to tell others. They have to share this good news. I saw the lord always before me for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart was glad and my tongue rejoice. Moreover, my flesh will live in hope. this is Peter's message to the the assembled people and then they ask, what should they do? They see this overflowing help. They see this man who had denied, who had hidden, suddenly boldly proclaiming, repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promises for you, for your children, for all who are far away, for everyone whom the lord God calls to him. Peter is not in charge. Peter is recipient of the gift and Peter's charge is to give that gift to others freely What does faith mean to you, our guest pastor, Don Fuller, asked last week, how does it make a difference in your life? Am I my neighbor's keeper or guest pastor Yolanda Byers asked a couple weeks ago, how does my faith affect my relationship with others? Those who are like me, those who are different from me. What are we to do? Repent. Be baptized. Become part of the church but not just our church, not just our way, or our understanding, but the great multitude of all those from every nation that God calls, that God equips, that God sends. The book of Acts is powerful and challenging.
And I'd like to take a moment and tell you a story. It's the kind of story we often read in the Gospels. It's about a man with a physical ailment. He can't walk. This man, Scripture does not give us his name. He's been lame since birth. For some 40 years, he has gone to doctors and priests. No one has been able to identify his ailment or cure him. He's leaned on his neighbors but things have just gotten worse and worse until he's all but given up hope. About all he can do now is lay by one of the gates of the temple. The temple, the place the holiest people go to worship, and beg for alms of all who pass him by.
Over the years, he's heard some stories. Stories about a group led by this guy who are really stirring people up, healing people even. Man, if that could only happen in my life, how I would dance and praise God, but you know how it is. Council had that guy killed, disrespecting the Sabbath or some such thing. Anyway, those stories seem far away. Not the sort of thing that really happens around here. All I can do is lay under the blistering afternoon sun yet again, hoping just one of these folks hurrying to get into the temple will take notice or at least pity and help a fellow get by.
Hey, he rattles his chained cup. Maybe these guys will help. They stopped. And their leader is looking at me right at me, Why is he staring at me? You know, sometimes people walk by. Occasionally, they'll drop a few coins in the cup but nobody ever takes notice, not of me. He's really looking at. What does this guy want?
And then he says to me, look at us. I do. Holding up my cup. Something's happening. The leader says, I have no silver or gold but what I have, I give to you and he holds out his hand to me. Who is this guy?
Now, those of us who have encountered the Bible before are used to stories like this. We're so used to them when we encounter them again, we might gloss over the power of the details I mean, we start into the story and we all know what's coming. This man is about to be healed.
But I think it's essential as we consider this story that we note that the story is not about Jesus. It's about Peter and the disciples. They offer this man their presence, their hand. They offer this man Christ. The story I was telling comes from the third chapter of Acts. It follows immediately on the second chapter of Acts. We get hung up on our chapter breaks and we tell this story and we don't realize how it connects to that story and the next one and the next one. Acts, of course, takes place after the crucifixion, after the resurrection, after the ascension is told in Acts 1, after the Pentecost that's told Acts two, and Acts goes on and suddenly there's some 3000 followers! Peter's sermon is wildly successful, people join the ranks. The church grows exponentially and then they start having to figure out how to be the church.
Acts 2 ends with a beautiful scene where they're all sharing things in common. They all get along. They all see things the same way.
And it doesn't last. Acts 3 and Acts 4 and the rest of the book is all about how we navigate our differences and our disagreements. Sometimes our sharp disagreements. but the striking to me in Acts 3, Peter doesn't ask the man what he believes. He doesn't ask the man what he's going to do with the gift. He doesn't even invite the man to church. He offers what he has.
And what he has is the Spirit and power and presence of Christ. The man stands, his ankles are suddenly strengthened. He dances for joy. He attracts a crowd.
I don't think Peter and John were intending to try and attract the crowd. The plan after all had been to go to the temple to worship. But Peter in Acts 3 seizes the moment and he continues his witness and his testimony. He says to the crowd that is gathered, Why be surprised at this? He says, “why stare at us as if we had made the man walk by some power of godliness of our own? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has given highest honor to the servant, Jesus.” Peter connects what's happening to the story of God's people and to the story of Jesus, the Christ. He connects it to resurrection. He connects it to God's power and presence that is beyond the life of Jesus, to a church that is filled with everyone who is filled with the Spirit.
So, as he did the day before on Pentecost, he preaches with power and enthusiasm and many more repent. Many are converted. They see their lives differently. They see their faith differently. They see themselves as part of the story in a new way. They see the relationship to God and neighbor in a new way. It's a great story. But that's not the end of the story either. It continue use in Acts 4. “While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priest, the captain of the Temple, the Sadducees came to them much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus, there is resurrection from the dead. So, they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day for it is already evening but many of those who heard the word believed and they numbered about 5000. The next day, the rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem with Anas, the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high priestly family. When they had the prisoners stand in their midst they inquired by what power and name do you do this? Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said to them, rulers and people, and elders, if we are questioned today because of the good deed done to someone who was sick, and ask how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by the builders. It has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
One of the things I was reading on vacation talked about being an Acts 2 church. and it's a beautiful image of us all hearing, understanding, believing, acting in accordance with one another. But I think it's maybe more important to be in Acts 4 church because we know that we don't all get along. We know that we have differences of opinion, disagreements over important topics. Everybody doesn't get along. Everybody doesn't respond to our invitations and our encouragements. The good news often faces opposition not just from outside the church but even within it. These stories remind us that there are many factions in Judaism in the first century. Some were zealots who wanted a violent overthrow of Rome. Some were essence dedicated to withdrawing from society altogether. Pharisees and Sadducees that made up the council but disagreed on how to be Jewish. The group that became Christians was among the smallest and least powerful. But they had something profound. A radical, inclusive love of neighbor. Service to all. Power of the Holy Spirit.
These stories of healing that challenge our understanding to this day. We know that not everyone was healed instantly. We know that not every ailment is fixed. We know that we still live in this now and not yet where our loved ones passed before us. And yet we live in a time when our witness and our love can continue to change the world.
Another one of the books I was reading wasn't really a theology book but it was a book that was a science fiction based on a time travel premise. And when you read one of those, there's always this heavy, heavy emphasis on how if you go back in time and you do the smallest thing, it completely changes the whole world! And that has to be carefully avoided!
But we never really think about the small thing we do today having that kind of impact on the future. Why? Why do we think only the past can be changed and only the past can be messed up? Why don't we think that the small acts of love we do here and now can radically transform the world? I've been thinking about that ever since and I've got a confession to make. I've been thinking about that. Robin and I had dinner late one night in Chicago. We found a place that was still open and walking distance to the hotel. Had a wonderful meal and we split a sandwich and some hummus and some of the best tahini sauce I've ever had in my life and we had these leftovers. We're in a hotel. You know, what do we do? And I even said, while we're sitting in the restaurant, I even said, well, we should box it up in case we run into a homeless person… and we didn't… And then we did.
And I've been seeing that guy sitting there ever since because I should of had a sandwich in my hand. I should've offer him that food, I should have offered him humanity. I should have offered him Christ… and I let my insecurity and my vacation and my fear overcome that very, very simple act that might just have been life changing for him.
Instead, I walked by. and that's been on my heart ever since. What do I look away from? What do I walk by? What do I value my own comfort? Overseeing God and my neighbors. What am I offering? I don't have easy answers for you. The book of Acts doesn't have easy answers.
Peter continues to struggle with what it means to be a devout follower, what the boundary lines are. when he has the power to change things, when he doesn't. What it means to eat with Gentiles, he and Paul get into a huge row over that. The early church was not a blissful and peaceful place where everybody got along. The early church constantly fought with itself over what the rules were, how we are to live, but what the early church got right, was that their highest calling was to love, and even in the disagreements, the folks that became the church that wrote the New Testament Scriptures, the councils that adopted the scriptures always defaulted to that radically inclusive love of being Christ like, of feeding the hungry, of caring for the sick. They will know we are Christians, not by our dogma, not by our proclamations, not by our buildings, not by our symbols. Certainly not by our holier than thou pronouncements, they will know we are Christians by our love.
That is what we are called to do. That is what it means to be the member of a church. Now, we as United Methodist, we are certainly good at fighting with each over all sorts of things and you may well have heard that the congregations near to us have just voted to leave the denomination, possibly join another, possibly do their own thing.
What does it mean to be a member at First United Methodist Church? Why is it that we gather here and not for example at First Presbyterian or Community Christian? Each of us has made a decision and when we become members of the United Methodist Church, we make a simple vow. One of the things that led me to be a United Methodist is we don't start our membership with a creed - although we honor the ancient creeds and we affirm their message, but we don't start with a statement of belief.
We start with a statement of action. “I will faithfully participate in the church, in their ministries by prayers, my presence, my gifts, my service, my witness.” I will cover everything I do in prayer. I will show up. I will give my gifts - both monetary and spiritual.. talents, time, I will serve others inside and outside the church. And I will bear witness to what God is doing in my life. It's not about telling other people what to believe. It's not about making people agree with me. It's about giving what I've been given. Offering, being active in my faith.
One of the best known quotes from John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, who sought to revive what had become a moribund and class-bound Anglican church to include the workers and the poor and those different from one another.
And his whole thing was, whether we believe the same way or not, we may not think alike, but we can love alike. Put your hand in mind and let us go serve. Surely, there is some place that we can overlap.
I was just having a conversation with a fellow pastor who will be leaving the denomination and yet we served together in a particularly powerful ministry and we have both committed to continue to serve together in that particularly powerful ministry that happens to be hosted right here at First United Methodist Church because it's not about our differences, it's about sharing God's love.
Our differences matter. But if we make them so defining, if we make them overwhelming to our service ,if the world knows more about our differences than they know about our love, then we are failing to be the church and it doesn't matter which denomination we say we're a part of.
The reason our pews are so empty these days here and elsewhere is because we have done a ____ poor job of being the church for too long. Christians in the United States are known for being judgmental and exclusive and holier than thou. It's the reason I didn't attend church for a long, long time. But when we get the Spirit poured upon us, when we begin to repent of our sins - and I'm certainly not done of the doing that. But when we open ourselves to God's grace.
Well, God can accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine. God can transform lives. God can transform the world. Let us be known for our love. Let us offer what we have, that we offer Christ, not our understanding, but Christ. That's what I believe. Thanks be to God. Amen.
To repent is not to beat ourselves up. It is to open ourselves to the possibilities of Christ's love. To remember our sins is not to humiliate ourselves. It's to open ourselves to the humility of Christ. It's to be filled with the spirit that when we know better, we might do better. Life is a constant journey of growth. Wherever it is now, you have the opportunity in God's grace to take a next step towards God's love and love of neighbor. Let it be so. Amen.