Profile of a Prophet: Moses

Exodus 3: 1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
           Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
           But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
           This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Sermon Text

Today we start a new series looking at some of the prophets that brought us God’s word throughout scripture. We are blessed as Gentile recipients of God’s grace to have the legacy of God’s work through both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. One does not take precedence over the other, but both show us God’s glory in their own way. Throughout the history of God’s people there have been those who God has raised to a particular purpose – the articulation of God’s desires for God’s people. The prophet’s voice was a tool of God to bring about change, to give warnings, and to ultimately to reveal the nature of God to the people of God.

When we open our Bibles, we are well aware that there are prophets talked about in their pages. If we were to grab a Jewish Tanakh, that would be even more obvious to us. The name of the Hebrew Scripture is an anagram, Tov for Torah, Nun for Nevi’im, and Kaf for Ketuvim. In other words, the teachings of Moses, the prophets, and the writings. Tanakh. The prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible include the three major prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as well as the twelve minor prophets – just like we would see in our Protestant Bibles. Yet, they also include the books of Samuel, Kings, Judges, and Joshua – things we usually call historical books.

As we hop across the pages of our Bibles over the next few weeks, we will visit much of the Hebrew scripture and even jump into the Greek scripture of the New Testament at the close of our series. For now, we look into the distant past of God’s revelation to see the first prophet called to proclaim God’s salvation to God’s people. Today we look at the life of Moses, and how he shows us the pattern of a prophet and the wonders of God’s all-encompassing love.

Before we jump into Moses particularly, I want to talk a little bit about what a prophet is meant to be. When you all hear prophet, I’m sure you have your initial ideas. What comes to mind? Fortunetellers giving a forecast of future events? Doomsday preachers speaking about God’s final victory over the evils of the earth? A sword cutting between the lies we tell ourselves and the truth? Of those options the last one is closest to what the role of a prophet was defined by in scripture. While there was a paid position within ancient royal courts called “prophet,” this role is different from what the biblical prophets achieved. The paid position might ask God specific questions, getting back specific answers. They would say when a good time was to go to war or to begin projects. These were closer to our usual view of prophets than any of the Major or Minor ones of scripture.

Rather than being employees of kings, the Biblical prophets were usually lay people called out from their normal lives into their role as a prophet. This was not always the case, sometimes a paid prophet would be called to the higher role of a capital P Prophetic Voice, but on the whole it was more common for people to be called to this ministry rather than following the usual chain of command. There was still the ability to learn from another prophet or succeed someone’s work – like what we see with Elijah passing his work to Elisha, but the model for the named prophets in scripture is that they are plucked up and set aside for a specific work. I speculate about this to a certain degree, but it explains best why the eponymous prophets were so different from their contemporaries.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish philosopher of religion, explains prophets as critics of the sins of their era. Specifically, the prophet calls the people to see the ways they hurt one another and how we all have a part to play. He puts it this way, “the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible… In a community not indifferent to suffering, uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood, continually concerned for God and every [person,] crime would be infrequent rather than common.”[1]

The prophets act as a wakeup call for us to get our act together. The Biblical Prophets especially are crying out to people on the verge of collapse from one source of evil or another. We talked last week about avoiding God’s promise of redemption by never falling in the first place. That is the sort of thing that the prophet was constantly doing. They stated the problem as it was now, the consequence of that problem if it was not fixed, and then finally the opportunity that would exist if the people changed their ways. The goal was always to see people change, like what Jonah did at Nineveh, but often the prophecy of disaster is the one the won out.

Back to the focus of today’s message, we look to the ministry of Moses. The people of God had been enslaved in Egypt for a long time. Despite the fortune of Joseph in the Egyptian Court, shifting political power resulted in the Hebrews being a convenient scapegoat for the problems of the kingdom. A pharaoh came into power, “who knew not Joseph,” and the people soon found themselves the victims of genocidal programs meant to limit their numbers and reduce them to slave laborers. The land of Goshen essentially became a prison, with the people being kept there as wheels in the machine of industry.

One of the survivors of an early attempt to cull the Hebrew people was the son of two members of the house of Levi. After his birth, his parents feared he would be killed, and so he was floated down a river. A member of the royal household pulled him out of the water and, realizing he was a Hebrew, took pity and decided to raise him. The boy’s sister was nearby and convinced the noblewoman to hire the boy’s mother as his nurse, and the boy, Moses, was raised in Pharaoh’s court and with the full knowledge of the ways of his people.

Moses’s time in the court saw him divided in whether he could live as a member of the nobility when his family and his people were suffering under the rule of that same royalty. When a group of Hebrew men were being abused, Moses killed the assailant. Rather than earning him a place of pride among his people, it made him look reckless. Moses had made it worse for his people, the idea that they were a dangerous minority would be solidified by his half-baked plan to make himself into a hero. Moses fled Egypt and settled on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt. There, among the people of Midian, he made a life. He married into the people there and had children. He started a life as a shepherd and began to drift away from his time in Egypt, his identity as a Hebrew.

That was, until a bush caught fire one day. Burning as it was, it did not seem to be harmed in any way. The sight was enough for him to stop and look over at it. As soon as he did, he heard a voice calling his name. “Moses! Moses!” The source of the voice was unknown, but Moses was ready for whatever it had to say to him. “Here I am!” the call of so many prophets, set him walking toward that bush. The conversation that followed would change his life forever. Moses meets God, the God, and is told to go back to his people and proclaim the truth that they are soon to be free of their slave masters in Egypt.

The how of this is worked out as Moses goes through his ministry. He is not given a list of plagues that are going to appear in Egypt, nor does he even fully understand how long the trip from Egypt to Canaan is going to be. All he knows by the end of this conversation is that he is a prophet called to bring God’s word, and God’s law, to God’s people.

We can take a lot from Moses’s story, but I think that we can see in his call story a more direct vision of what prophets are hoping to achieve through their work. When God calls the prophets, it is not just God wants a better world – though God does. It is not just that God wants to see God’s people be holier than they were before – God certainly wants that. No, the work of the prophet is ultimately to bring God to God’s people and God’s people to God. The prophet acts as a bridge, showing the people the face of God through the face of the prophet. The prophet lays out God’s presence among the people. The prophet weeps, rages, laughs, and smiles as they show the world just what God is thinking. The prophet shows a light and a hope that God is never far away from us. Most of all, the prophet shows us that God is here to save us.

In this first meeting, God tells Moses that God has heard the cry of the Hebrews. Their many prayers have not been forgotten, the tears they cried are not ignored. God is hurt by the hurt they have suffered. In my darkest days, I want to know that God hears me. Praise God, I can hear it from God’s own lips as God speaks to Moses. Moses is chosen as the one to go forward, and though he gives many reasons as he makes his way to Egypt why he should not, God does not let up for a second. Moses is going to be the face of this liberation movement, and Moses is going to proclaim that the same God who loved Joseph, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham.

God could have just left it at that. But God keeps talking. You can call me, Ayah ahser ayah, “I am that I am.” Moses points out that this is not a name, it is a title. So, God finally goes one step further, God gives Moses a name so precious that it is not spoken even today in Jewish communities. You may know ministers who use it, its four letters long, but I do not. It is God’s actual name, and it is the thing we are asked not to take in vain. For this reason, I will use the name “Adonai,” or Lord, like our Bibles today do. Jews sometimes take it a step further, only saying HaShem, or “the Name.”

This revelation of God’s name seems small to us, but it meant a lot in the ancient worlds. Names hold power, and the ability to call on a deity was seen by the ability to say their name. A God without a name would become lost to time, and much like people there was an expectation that to be forgotten in this way would be tantamount to death. For the deity, revealing their name was an act of self-preservation, but also an act of vulnerability. When people knew your name, and called on you, you were expected to answer.

For God to give Moses the divine name was not an act of self-preservation. It was, however, a sign that God loved God’s people enough to open up another level of intimacy with them. It is one thing to sign a letter with someone’s title, another thing entirely to sign it with their name. God here makes it clear, in this moment and in all of Moses’s time on earth that to be a Hebrew, to be a person of God, is to be close to the one who called upon you. We speak with God name to name and face to face. God is not trying to keep a distance from us but is constantly knocking down obstacles and building highways for us to get from where we are to where God is. And for every step we take, God is running even faster toward us.

Moses would go on and lead his people from Egypt, he would lead them into battle and through hunger and thirst. He saw multiple rebellions, a very misshapen golden cow, and even two separate and very different incursions of quail into his camp. God was with Moses the whole time and even left Moses with a set of teachings to pass on to his people, to be recounted and memorized and lived. God gave Moses the Torah as the ultimate sign that God was always with God’s people, and that God was always pulling them closer. Moses died one day, and when he did, it was God who took him up and buried him, unwilling to let anyone else have the honor. Is there any clearer sign than this? The prophet brings God to us, and with their leadership we find God with us. – Amen.


[1] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Academic. 2007)

An End to Trouble – 06/19/2022

Isaiah 30:19-26

Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”

He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. On that day your cattle will graze in broad pastures; and the oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat silage, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water—on a day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. Moreover the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

Sermon Text

Theoretically, there is some control over the topics I preach when I get up in front of you all. Yet, as has often proven the case, circumstance and coincidences of calendars can shape a message planned a year a go into something radiant and unique compared to what I had initially planned. To have a Sunday fall on the nineteenth of June before this year might not have meant much. Now though, it means that we celebrate our Holy Gathering on a national holiday – on Juneteenth. Now, what does that mean for us? It means that we have a direct lesson from history and from life to help us understand what scripture has revealed to us.

On this day, in 1865, enslaved people in Texas were given a message. Their time as slaves had come to an end following President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the “Emancipation Proclamation,” freeing all slaves in Secessionist territories. There was, of course, celebration on that June 19th long ago, but also a bittersweet realization. While the enslaved of Texas were freed on that first Juneteenth in 1865, the document that freed them was signed on January 1st… 1963. Two and a half years from the time that they had been given their leave of their slavery, to the time they were first given freedom.

The people forcing them to work knew about this proclamation that had been given, but of course they were not going to let their victims hear about it. Afterall, they no longer acknowledged Washington as the seat of government, nor did they see any advantage in freeing people they benefited from oppressing. Romantic images of plantation life, so common in Southern Narratives of the war, melt away in the cold reality of Justice delayed, which we know is tantamount to Justice denied.

This history has a still darker layer. The reality of the proclamation that allowed the enslaved within Texas to be freed was conditional. Slaves were freed only in secessionist territory. In other words, a slave holder in Jefferson County, a part of our state that was heavily Confederate, would be compelled to free their slaves, while a slaver in Wheeling, a Union area, would be free to keep them. It would be three years from the Emancipation Proclamation that chattel slavery was finally abolished in the United States. As joyous as one act was, it was motivated by war, and it would take a horrible stretch of three more years for our morals to catch up to our guile. Three years from convenience moving to justice.

So, what does this have to do with us, with God lifting up the poor and the broken of Judah like our scripture puts forward. More than that, why, Mr. Langenstein, staunch advocate for keeping civil and religious observances separate, are you preaching from the starting point of Juneteenth, when Father’s day is a much more popular choice anyway? Let the Spirit testify that my love of controversy is separate from my prophetic call, though the two do sometimes align. I bring the civil into the sacred today so that we may hear Isaiah’s call to repent and avert the necessity of the promises we see in our text today.

Avoiding a promise from God! What in the world?! God gives promises to be kept. God keeps God’s word, so why would it be possible, even good, to avoid a promise from God? Well, walk with me and we’ll see. Isaiah spoke this promise to the people anticipating them to fall, it is a promise to be restored after complete destruction. God promised an end to exile and to trouble, but the fall God was bringing to the people was a fall they had engineered for themselves.

When we read the prophets, we hear about the rise of Assyria and Babylon, two empires that scripture describes as implements of God’s wrath. We usually suffice to say that God’s people fell into idolatry and were punished because of it. The worship of other God’s definitely is part of the prophetic critique, but the prophets are also clear that the rise of idolatry in the people is a symptom rather than the cause of their fall.

The book of Isaiah is split into three parts, the first is the stretch of chapters from the first to the thirty-ninth. This section focuses on the life of Judah before and during the Babylonian invasion. In the chapters leading up to the one our scripture comes from, Isaiah has given a long list of prophecies against the nations around Judah. He describes how Israel had fallen nearly two hundred years earlier. He looks at the many evils committed by all these groups, and then he looks to his own people, to Judah, and declares that they have managed to do worse than any of the others. Worse than the sins of all these people, are the sins of those who knew better and did it anyway.

And what was the chief offense of the people? They saw the poor as disposable, thy looked at orphans as a way to make a dime, and widows as obstacles to their money making schemes. Isaiah switches between poetry, sarcasm, and direct attack throughout his prophecies. Specifically the first six chapters of the book digs into the offenses of Judah. To name a few of them, Isaiah accuses the people of: sacrificing without faith, bribery, accepting bribes, abandoning those in need, murder, inhospitality, choosing evil over good, miscarrying justice, owning excess land, and choosing political power – and alliances – over God. Now, that list is probably incomplete and some of those are categories, not exact offenses, but the point stands – idolatry is a minor part of what God’s people got, or should I say, get, up to.

Isaiah mixes his doomsaying with prophecies of restoration and joy. Yet there is another message underneath it all. “Can you, people of God, stop this evil now, and avert the calamity? The answer, again and again, seems to be no. The force of evil is too great, the appeal of power is too strong, we bend the knee again and again to earthly things. When genuine idols appear, we collect them as yet another potential ally. We fail to do good, we fail to repent, we set ourselves up for a fall, again and again and again.

A lot of times we catch ourselves saying, “What is wrong with the world?” or “It never used to be this way?” But when we start down this path we hear God speaking to us and sating, “Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Eccl. 7:10) The reality is that all of human history is messy, full of heights of goodness and mercy, but also full of wicked evil. The same evil rampant in Judah is alive today and God cries out with the same voice, promising to lift us up if we fall, but asking us to turn away before we do.

That call has been ringing out for 246 in this country. From the moment we declared independence in the name of Liberty but denied that same liberty to those we found convenient to enslave. While ministers like John Wesley rained prophecy upon us about this hypocrisy, we carried on. We denied the prophetic call of God to repent as we massacred indigenous people, pushing them further away from their ancestral homes and to this day denying their full humanity. We freed slaves when it was convenient for us, then segregated the races until the oppressed rose up with voices, and marches, and sometimes arms to say, “No more!” We continue to ignore the call in our willingness to allow any and all evil, as long as it keeps gas prices low, our cell phones cheap, and our pay checks steady.

Some may see that review of history as overly negative, and certainly I highlighted some great atrocities in that quick retelling. Yet, I could also say I left out a lot. No mention of Tuskegee or of Monsanto. Not of Agent Orange dropped on soldiers and civilians, nor of housing crises and inflation booms when companies report record profits and houses remain empty. I tire of narratives that act like my generation is especially sinful or that Gen Z is somehow more depraved. Billy Joel said, “we didn’t start the fire,” when looking to his own generation.  Well, growing up in the Ash Heap, I insist I’m less responsible than he ever was.

As a country, we’ve been debating how to tell our history. Do we highlight our failures or our triumphs? Do we see our founders as flawed heroes or historical monsters? If we give into the controversies of the day, we might believe there is a binary here to take a side on. That is flatly untrue. Much of the controversy drummed up now is reactionary. People are asking us to question our national narratives, to see things from another point of view, and so conspiracies were made. Going back to McCarthy and the anti-communist movement, these criticisms were tied to communism, and a choice had to be made – accept an idealized vision of America or give in to the commies. The same people it should be said accused the Civil Rights movement of being communist.

Today, now there’s CRT which people accuse of being a communist conspiracy, and which isn’t taught outside of specific college programs. But the manufactured fight keeps us from having difficult conversations. We cannot, as Isaiah did, take a moment and think, “Maybe our national history isn’t all rainbows and butterflies.” More than that, maybe there are legitimate problems we need to fix in the here and now based on those historic problems. History is messy, whether its your family, your church, or your country, it can’t be all good or bad, but it does need to be honest.

Let me give you an example, my favorite founding father is John Adams. He had a presence of mind to him I just love to read about. On top of that, the love that he and his wife had for one another is something we should all aspire to. Adams, nonetheless, signed the Aliens and Sedition Acts. Taking rights away from immigrants and making criticism of the president all but illegal. That is the act of a Tyrant. Yet, my mixed admiration and terror remains.

My grandfathers both services in Viet Nam, my Great-grandfather in WWII, I’m proud of their service. Yet, especially for those that served in Viet Nam, I do no deny that they may have been forced to be part of the atrocities we committed there. Nor can I forget that the government rained Agent Orange on them, giving him a poison that sat in his bones and killed him with cancer. He should be here to celebrate Father’s day! But war and evil and greed took him from me.

Isaiah brings us two lessons, two visions. One is of us repenting now to avert disaster. We can see this begin to take root. When we put aside prejudice and our preconceived ideas of each other and choose to fight for each other, that is when the kingdom of Heaven breaks out on Earth. When the Spirit came down on the Pentecost and the walls between Greek and Judean lives melted in the light of God’s grace. When people sold their land to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and to house the homeless. Heaven came to Earth, and it has before and it will again, if we accept and learn from the past even as we charge into the future.

The second image Isaiah gives us is less immediate – not a restoration of Judah or any nation, but of the world as it was meant to be. In this we see what Christ will bring about in the world to come. There will be no pain or suffering, no death or worry. There will be God and people of all races, nations, and people. The sun and moon we be perfected alongside the souls within our dusty shells which are themselves made glorious. We all dream of a day when Christ returns to set things right. Yet, Christ did not leave us on Earth to stare up at Heaven and wait. Christ said to go forward to bring truth into the world, light out of darkness, life from out of death. Proclamations of liberation, that is what we are to the world. That means we must free ourselves from sins of greed, of power, of political games. We must advocate the case of the poor, the oppressed, those the world has said are not enough. Feed them, love them, free them! Do not let just be delayed one moment longer, but fight for those we have written off. Fight to

Harder than it Needs to Be – 06/12/2022

John 16:12-15

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Sermon Text

 This sermon is coming to my blog and to our weekly mailers on a week that I am out of the pulpit. That means that, outside of those who read it, it will likely not be preached aloud, at least not for a while. I love sermons like this, because in some ways it allows me to stretch my arms a little bit and ask, “What can I try and write about, and why not do something a little out of the usual scope of my messages.” Luckily, this year this day away from the pulpit falls on Trinity Sunday, and that means we can go for broke in terms of having conversations that we do not always get to have.  The Trinity is an essential part of our faith. It is the belief that God is three-persons in one single being, a diversity of unity. Yet, can we ever describe it?

Usually, the Trinity does not come up in our daily life. In the midst of going through Kroger, people don’t usually see my clergy collar and as, “Do you see Christ as one with God in substance or simply in will?” Typically, they are just hoping I do not hand them a tract to read or a “gospel,” dollar in the midst of my payment for my groceries. I could list more examples, but you see my point. The Trinity is not a hot topic for the average person and certainly a thorough understanding of it is not going to win hearts and minds to the Gospel (usually…)

The idea of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit begins in scripture, but developed into a full-blown belief of the Church in the first few centuries of Christianity. You will never find the word “Trinity,” or anything like it in Scripture. The closest that we get to it is the word, “Θεοτης” (Theotes,) which means something like “God-ness.” Throughout the New Testament we see all three members of the Trinity given this description, they all take part in “God-ness,” so then we have to accept one of two things. Either they are all each a God in their own right – something that goes against our monotheism – or they are all, somehow, equally the same God – the thing that we as the Church have decided upon.

We have tried to explain the Trinity in many ways since then. Sometimes we talk about it as the three parts of a tree – the roots, the trunk, and the branches – all different but all still part of that one thing, “Tree.”[1] A more poetic image comes from St. Augustine, who describes the Trinity as being like love, the object of that love, and the person who loves.[2] Still, I like to be a bit more sciencey and imagine the Trinity as being like water at its triple point. When this point is achieved, of a certain temperature and pressure for any given substance, then the solid, liquid, and gas stages of the substance become indistinguishable from one another even as they remain distinct.[3]

Clear as mud, I’m sure. The problem, I think, is that we want to understand everything about how God is simultaneously a single being, and three individual persons. Part of us shouts out to the heavens, “If I cannot know it all, why know even one part of it?!” Much like the hobby that we pick up, find we are not immediately good at, and then put in a drawer never to look at again (in my case, cross stitching,) the Trinity is something we easily get frustrated with. Talking about it with a minister friend of mine I described it as a wall that we run against, wide as we can see in either direction, and try to wrap our arms around. We want to hold it in our hands, but it is just too big of a topic to every fully grasp.

Yet, I think, it is important because the bit that we do understand shows us something about God. That God, from before anything else existed, was already expressing love. God the Father loved the Son and the Spirit, and God the Spirit loved the Son and the Father, and God the Son loved the Father and the Spirit. All working in tandem, they shaped the universe. All in concert dreamed of a future where you and I would exist, and come together as a Church, and continue the legacy of Love that had existed from before the foundations of the earth were laid.

The Trinity is a complicated theological concept. Reading our scripture where Jesus lays out even a shred of the relationship he has with his fellow members of that union, we only begin to glimpse what it is like to know the fullness of God. We see Jesus, our beloved savior who loved all people with a passion like no other. We think of the Spirit, the small voice within us as well as the burning fire within our heart. We learn about the Father, who sends both and who constantly bends heaven down to earth to know us even just a little more, and love us just a bit more tenderly.

The Trinity is tough, but we often make understanding it harder than it needs to be. God is a multitude and God is a singularity. God is confounding and God is someone we know like a best friend. Like any big concept, we cannot always see how the two extremes are part of the same thing. When we see the beauty of sunrise and sunset, we know they are connected and can appreciate their beauty. When we really think of how the rotation of a oblate spheroid held in place by folds in space time in a small backwater of the Milky Way Galaxy causes this lightshow to occur, then we can begin to be overwhelmed, even if we discover new dimensions to that beauty through such exploration.

The Trinity tells us a lot about God, but it also tells us that we have an infinite amount to learn about God going forward. There’s a podcast that, while I have only listened to its first season, I quite enjoy. It’s called Welcome to Nightvale, and is an approach to horror and comedy that scratches a very particular itch of mine. At the close of that first season, the narrator sits either on top of or beside an Arby’s (it’s been a bit,) looks to the sky, and describes what he sees.

“We understand the lights. We understand the lights above the Arby’s. We understand so much. But the sky behind those lights, mostly void, partially stars, that sky reminds us: We don’t understand even more.

[4]

When we encounter any aspect of God, there are questions that will be left unanswered. We can see that as a frustration, like me reaching my arms as wide as I can against a wall trying to encompass it, or we can see it in more fantastic terms. Rather than frustrating us, maybe the great wall we run into can inspire us. We are not truly hitting something big, imposing, preventing like a wall. We are encountering something more wonderful than we can think about all at once. It is seeing the sun at the horizon, then looking out to see the colors it casts on the clouds around it, then the shadows falling through the trees, then the glint in the eyes of someone beloved by us. It is the slow uncovering of love, understanding it more and more as we behold it.

I could spill even more ink on this topic, but I think any longer and I’ll begin working across purposes from myself. Today the Church celebrates the Trinity. This Trinity is the unity of three distinct persons. Each is fully their own self, and each is inescapably that singular being we call God. What a grand mystery we are made aware of. The deeper we dive into it, the more we understand that we do not understand, but instead of fear or dread, this should inspire us to even more praise. The slow, gradual revelation of who God is always leads us to discover that God is more wonderful than we ever knew. Sometimes the immensity of that reality scares us, sometimes it makes us feel that there is no point to learning more, but such moments are temporary.

God is constantly revealing more of who God is to us: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let us praise God for the mystery and the community God opens to us.


[1] Tertullian. Against Heresies. VIII

[2] Augustine. On the Trinity. VIII: 14 & IX: 8

[3] This phenomena can be seen here: https://youtu.be/Juz9pVVsmQQ

[4] Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. “One Year Later”, Welcome to Nightvale, podcast audio. June 15, 2013, https://radiopublic.com/welcome-to-night-vale-3GZp96/s1!0aaca

Our Continuing Legacy – Pentecost 2022

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Sermon Text

The past month we have been on an exploration of our history as a denomination. As a formerly United Brethren Congregation, this building has seen two mergers over its history. Now as we sit in a United Methodist Church, we see a fractured space outside of our walls. This country is split across all kinds of parameters. Our Church is fractured across ideologies and theological stances. The world is split in availability of life saving medicine, as we experience a relative drop in the danger surrounding this pandemic and many others face the dangers of a virus that still runs rampant among those with no defenses. We all tremble in the face of the wars and rumors of wars that grip our hearts.

Yet, as we saw in this past month, none of this is too terribly new. The Church across all space and time has known fractures and conflicts. People called by Christ have landed on both sides of battlefields and borders. There have seldom been moments where the world has known peace or a great abundance of resources. The legacy of the Church is of conflict and of in-fighting. The legacy of the Church is war and oppression and chaos. Yet, this is the image of the Church, not as it was called to be, not as an ideal that we all need to emulate, it is simply the Church as it has often given itself over to be.

The image of the Church that we all chase after is seen in two places – the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the surge of enthusiasm and love that came with the Pentecost. Today our scripture describes the latter, the moment that the Church received the Holy Spirit, and we all knew, once and for all, that something new had broken out into the world. The Spirit of God was poured out on all flesh, and we all were given the chance to respond to it. The Gospel was sitting in the hearts of all the apostles, and now with the fire of the Spirit boiling that story within them, the chance was there for it to break out.

For us today, we stand in a conference that is richly blessed with an understanding of how the people of God are meant to come together. In just a week, we will gather together and celebrate our annual conference. This is a time when the worshipping body gathers to celebrate God’s goodness together. We tell stories, we send in reports (that part is less interesting,) and we pass legislation so that we can be better as the Church together. When we talk about this gathering, we sometimes do so with a level of trepidation, like we are being asked to do something tedious and unnecessary. The vision of these conferences is that we come together for a family reunion whenever we hold conference, not a business meeting. All the representatives from all our different churches come together to share what God has done that year.

To make this even clearer, this year we have will be having a Day of Service across the conference. Churches and ministries are going to hold events to reach out to the people around them. In honor of the many years we have served our communities, we are taking definite steps to show those around us that we are here for them. The Church is gathering, not just for paperwork and singing, but for showing all the world the glory of God and the love of this divine community we call the Church. We are not doing this to look good, not doing it to make some grand statement, except that we truly care for those around us and we will do all we can to help them.

If I were to summarize what the four weeks of history we embarked upon last month teaches us. It would be this, the Church does best when the Church is concerned with the good of all people. More than that, a Church that does not ask people to be part of the community, not by asking them to change overnight, but by being safe for people in all seasons and places of life will not grow, flourish, or even survive. Wesley was a great innovator because he stood up for the downtrodden, the Methodist movement floundered when it chose power over goodness, and the EUB stood strong because it was willing to go to bat for those that others had cast aside.

Again, even in these broad generalizations there is nuance. Wesley was far from perfect, he favored narratives not unlike the idea of “noble savages,” when he talked about foreigners. The Methodist Church did a lot of good work, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked across the world. Even our beloved EUB ancestors have sins to answer for, if in nothing else than they created notoriously hard necked congregations (I say as a child of an old EUB Church myself.)

The reality of the Church is that it has never just been one thing. It has been, “all things for all people, that by all means some may be saved.” It has been a prop for horrific abuses of power and the means by which dictators have fallen. The Methodist Church has fought long and hard against racism and discrimination and turned a blind eye to the same issues time and time again. Dig deep enough and you will find the treasures the Spirit has brought to pass and the evils that we humans have covered them up with. There is no perfect Church, just as there is no perfect person, but we have a vision for what a perfect Church might look like, and again I say – it is in Jesus Christ and in Acts 2.

If we can believe it, Christ asked us to be like him. To love all people, to resist temptation, to chase off the forces of hell and death through the power of God. This manifested in the Acts community through their love of one another, selling their property to feed the hungry around them. They went out and proclaimed the salvation which Jesus had brought into the world proudly, with the full power of the Spirit behind them. There were wonders in Jerusalem in those days, and no greater wonder was present than the unity of a Church that was working to serve and include its neighbors.

The future of the United Methodist Church is uncertain, but I’m confident that here in West Virginia we will stick together to love those around us. Here in our parish, we will continue to minister to those in need, especially the unhoused people who need resources to be safely housed and to grow. The Churches here in North View will gather whenever we can to serve the immediate neighborhood we have here across the bridge. Finally, for North View itself, well I would say the sky is the limit. We have so many people around us, people hungry for the Gospel and hungry for a community that loves them. We can be that community.

This means we have to be a place of welcome, a place full of love and warmth, a place where we go beyond being casual to being aggressively hospitable. If someone came in here next to naked, I hope that they would feel comfortable to take a seat in a pew, sitting in the warmth of our company while someone runs to get them something from our clothing closet. I would love to see people who come in for our food pantry feel like they can come around anytime we are open and find people willing to talk to them and be a part of their life. I hope that kids in the neighborhood see our open lots between here and the parsonage and find a place they can play and enjoy the good days God sends us.

That begins in this room, right now. When we accept the Spirit is truly moving, that it is here in our hearts now, that the Pentecost is really alive when we gather and celebrate God’s power. When we travel beyond these doors, the Spirit is still there. God is on the move, life is on the move, and with every step we take in the life that God has made for us, we will see fruit springing up around us. The continuing legacy of our Church is not in recapturing the magic of the past, nor in abandoning it for a completely unrelated future. We hold the same Spirit in us that inspired our ancestors, let us go forward and release the Gospel for yet another generation to take part in. – Amen.

Our Legacy – the EUB

1 John 4: 1-12

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Sermon Text

 It is hard sometimes to find a history of the Evangelical United Brethren. Outside of devoted people like our Anna Jeane, it seems that people just did not sit down and record the history of denomination in the same way Methodists did. It does not help of course that the United Methodist Church has existed in the digital age, while the EUB merged with the Methodists in ’68. Still, to know the full history of the EUB takes some time, and I do not think that I could possibly do it real justice from the few weeks of research I was afforded in putting this series together.

Still, we can talk about the faith that inspired some faithful people years ago to build a Church on 19th and Pride, and to last through several mergers since then. We start back at the dawn of a new nation, the United States of America, and a German immigrant living first in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and then in Baltimore, Maryland. His name was Philip Otterbein, and he had a story to tell the nations about salvation and the power of community.

Born to a clergy family, Philip was raised with some expectation he would continue the work his family had begun. He attended seminary and became a minister in the Pennsylvania colony. He was not a particularly good speaker, but claimed that God opened his mouth one day as he was plowing a field. Whatever that religious experience consisted of, this seminary graduate could now call himself a preacher, and preach he did. His work brought him into contact with a Mennonite in the area, Martin Boehm, and he eventually moved from German Reform churches to Mennonite Churches where he became a Bishop.

Otterbein was closely tied to Methodists in his work, especially when he came to Baltimore. He eventually organized societies based off of the Methodist model and began to take on a form of ministry betwixt and between German Pietism and Anglican Methodism. This culminated in the formation of the United Brethren in Christ. This group modeled itself after the Methodist Church, adopting their governing structure as soon as German editions of the Book of Discipline were available. Ottebein himself never saw this church form, being a member of the Evangelical Reformed Church till he died. Yet, the work he did at his church, now called Old Otterbein – just down from Camden yards in Baltimore, set the stage for the Brethren to flourish.

The Brethren changed their constitution and liturgy up a few times over their existence, but unlike Methodism which saw many shifts in power and agency, the Brethren remained largely static. Unlike Methodism, they never stopped being abolitionists, standing firm by their beliefs that all people were of value, they fought against slavery as long as it persisted. This eventually led to the expulsion of all slave-holders in the Church, something that kept them from growing in the South but that secured their authentic obedience to Christ as advocates for all people. They did experience one major schism over the organization of the Church, but again this was mainly an issue of polity.

The Brethren would join with the Evangelical Association in 1946. The Evangelical Association was founded in the same year that the Brethren came to be. They believed much the same things that Methodists and Brethren did but were not necessarily an offshoot of either one. The resulting merger of the two churches would form the Evangelical United Brethren, the church some of the people in this room may remember well, and that we are using the liturgy of today. The Evangelical United Brethren was a short-lived denomination before its merger into the Methodist Church and the formation of the United Methodist Church that we know and love today.

I was expecting when I set out to put this month of services together that somewhere along the line I would find some major differences between the churches that make up United Methodism. Surprisingly, there was very little differences on paper. They all had Bishops and super-intendents that kept things running, they all appointed ministers and lay preachers. They all believed that we chose to follow God and that faith alone saved us. Even our communion liturgy kept being nearly identical. Our origins may be different, but at the root of all churches that came to be the UMC, there was a devotion to God, to one another, and to study of scripture and prayer.

The Brethren showed something that we could learn from today, and that was the power of consistency. The Brethren were able to flourish in the way they did because they never stopped acknowledging that all people had their place in the Kingdom of God. While the Methodist movement kept hitting the roadblocks of slavery and segregation, the EUB kept largely united in its fight for human rights. While Methodism shattered time and time again, forming Free Methodists, Methodist Protestants, Pentecostals, and so many others, the EUB only split once en masse and that was over whether lay people should be able to vote at conference.

Now, I do not think it would be fair to look at the present lack of evidence pointing to issues within the EUB and then say there were none. I doubt that they carried the torch of their high calling perfectly through all their years as a Church, and I know the people in the pews had plenty of failures because I was raised up among people who were raised up as EUB and they were far from perfect. Instead, what I hope to suggest is that while the EUB faced their own problems, they were not the same problems that led to schism in the Methodist theological tradition. They maintained a unity the other could not because they were willing to stand up for the least of these no matter what other people might have pushed them to do.

We’ve been looking at the book of 1 John as we’ve been looking at our history. Admittedly, these sermons have been less exegetical than my usual ones because we are talking about so much history. Yet, there are two reasons I chose 1 John. Firstly, it was John Wesley’s most quoted book of scripture, the one he claimed as his favorite. Secondly, it is a letter from an elder of the Church to a congregation he loves in a time of trouble.

The issue at hand seemed to be a disagreement about the nature of Christ’s incarnation. Was Jesus flesh and blood? Or was Jesus an incorporeal Spirit? Now, there was a right answer to this question in a way our modern issues are not quite as black and white. Jesus was flesh and blood, and was also the eternal Son of God, that could not be debated. In the midst of this trouble, it would be easy for the author to come up with a thousand different criteria and tests to show who was in and out in the Church. Instead, he came up with two – do they proclaim Christ in the flesh? And do they love one another?

I get frustrated sometimes looking at the state of the Church because we have invented a thousand different ways of defining a Christian. Christians look this way, they speak this way, they vote this way, the do any number of things in very specific ways. This comes out of a place of insecurity on our part. We are not willing to challenge our own views or ways of being, and so when a Christian comes to us praying differently or differing in one or another belief, our first instinct is to say that they aren’t really Christian or that they’re doing this Christianity thing wrong. Sometimes this is slight, our little complaints about how other churches are doing things. Other times they are major, the hundreds of years of conflict between Protestants and Catholics over how we worship the same Risen Lord.

Personally, these are my definitions of Christianity. Do they proclaim Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and that he lived a human life and died a human death and then rose again? Do they love those around them with all their heart, and all their soul, and all their strength? Those are the only two I really care about, and differences that arise within those bound need to be worked on case by case.

I have friends who are reformed, who believe that God appoints who is saved and who is not. I disagree with them and find that vision of God’s to be something I cannot hold to. But they are still Christians and I still see them as siblings. I love the liturgy and reverence of the Catholic Church for all the ordinances of God, but I cannot abide their refusal to ordain women. Still I see them as Christians, and as Siblings in Christ. I do not condone the shattering of a Church and the refusal to acknowledge the call of God upon all people regardless of who they love and how they were born, and yet the Global Methodist Church is still an association of Christians and my siblings in Christ.

I believe that the way we can continue on, as a singular Church and as a denomination, is not it creating more stringent guidelines for who is and is not part of us. Instead, it is in a more discerning attitude toward the teachings we accept. There are many pop preachers out there who get in pulpits every Sunday and tell their congregation who to be afraid of or angry at or who is tearing down the fabric of society that week. I can’t do that. I think instead that we must take every teaching in our hands and ask ourselves, “Do I proclaim a risen Christ in believing this?” If so we take up the next line of thought, “Do I love my neighbor better by believing this?” If we answer one, but not the other, than it is not a true teaching from God.

Is that an easy calling? No, not at all. Yet, it is a better litmus test than any other for plumbing the depths of our hearts. We understand who Christ is and what Christ is doing, not through cutting off all dissidents, but by collecting all siblings. We are the Church together, and if we are only ever worried about running away to be with people who are like us, then we will never know the blessedness of, to be obnoxious for a moment, being United Brethren. – Amen.

Our Legacy – The Methodists

1 John 3: 7-18

Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

Sermon Text

Nothing ever ends with the death of its founder. John Wesley lived a long life, born three years into the 1700s and dying nine years short of 1800. 88 years on the Earth saw him traveling across the Atlantic to bring the word of God to the colonies, but he would flee his own mistakes back to England. There he would find his faith reawakened and send forth ministers all throughout Britain and Ireland, sending still more to begin societies in the American colonies. He mourned the American Revolution and recognized that he could no longer be the head of a movement that did not acknowledge the Crown. He sent two ministers to lead in the colonies, Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, who were both made bishops of a new Church. This new denomination would grow up alongside the United States, and it would call itself the Methodist Episcopal Church.

This Church is when what we call “Methodists,” truly began to exist. Before this, to be a Methodist was to be part of the Church of England committed to being a better Christian through the Societies. Now, it meant being a part of a church that – while very similar in worship style to the Anglicans – was distinct in the communion it called its own. However, this new Methodist Communion had failed to learn something from its mother church, it failed to learn that when a split like this happens, everyone is not going to agree that the right steps were taken. Some other groups began to form out of and alongside the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The problems that led to the schisms that marked the Early Methodists probably sound familiar to us. There were some people that thought too much power was invested in the bishops, then only two people, and so they wanted to strike out and reaffirm congregational, democratic governance. These were the Methodist Protestants, some of the first to leave. The other denominations that formed were based in the big issue of the time, the evil of slavery.

The Methodist Church was abolitionist from its beginning. John Wesley devoted a lot of time and money to fighting against slavery in the British Empire. During the American revolution, he and other ministers wrote letters pointing out that the American call to be liberated from taxation was not compelling unless they also fought for the liberty of enslaved peoples. Wesley’s treatises on slavery are beautiful examples of how, no matter how far back we go, there were people who were able to look at the world around them and see that something was broken. There is no excuse for historical figures found in saying, “That’s just how things were,” as long as even a single voice spoke out in protest.

The Methodist Episcopal Church was willing to bend on this issue, allowing slavery in cases where slaves could not be legally freed. This included allowing slavery as long as the slaves were “manumitted.” In other words, as long as you planned to free them eventually, you could hold slaves in the Methodist Church, the exception being bishops who could not own any. This allowed for a huge loophole, one seen in the life of Henry Foxall, the Methodist industrialist who made canons for the Revolutionary Army. He would buy slaves, manumit them, and then when their term was up buy more slaves. While this did lead to people being freed – eventually – it also fed the slave trade and perpetuated its evil.[1]

Early on, those disgusted by Methodist accommodation of slavery left. The failure to integrate congregations led to black parishioners sitting in raised galleries while the whites sat in directly in front of the chancel. Black members were served communion last and those who were enslaved were preached to from slave gospels that were edited to exclude any mention of God freeing the Oppressed. Because of this, the minister Richard Allen left and formed his own denomination – the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a place where black believers could be treated with respect. Another group the Free Methodist Church, were abolitionists who opposed slavery and who resented the introduction of pew rent into the Church.

Finally, a major split occurred when the Methodist Episcopal Church appointed a slave holder to the office of Bishop. As you will remember there was only one unalienable rule with the Methodist concessions, and that was that Bishops were not to be slavers. This conflict led to a split in the Church that foretold a much darker chapter for America. The Methodist Episcopal Church, North and South had formed. One group supported slavery and the other opposed it. The Northern Church was not free of evil either. In the North, they supported the Colonization movement, believing that Whites and Blacks could not live together, they wished to support the formation of Liberia and to send them “back where they came from.” No one was willing to truly create an integrated Church like Wesley had once dreamed of.

The Civil War came, fought over the same issue that had divided Methodism. More denominations spun off of both sides of the Methodist Episcopal Church, until finally the Methodists – North, South, and Protestant – sat down and formed one Church together. In 1939, almost one hundred years after they split, a new Methodist Church was formed. It is that Church’s liturgy, published the year they came together, that we have been using today. Slavery was no longer an issue, and Liberia was no longer a popular option, so some of the key issues separating the Church were gone. Unfortunately, they all agreed on one thing – segregation – and created a conference just for people of color, the central Conference, a term we still use today for any church not in the United States.

This is a messy history that is only made messier when the Methodist Church joins with another to form what we now call the United Methodist Church. The story of how we come to sit in a Church with a cross and flame emblazoned on its side is not an easy one, and we are not even done talking about all its constituent parts! History has a way of showing us things we would rather not admit, things like how our modern problems go much deeper than last week.

Today, in many Methodist churches, the story of John Wesley hearing a Moravian preacher read Luther’s preface to the book of Romans will be read as people celebrate our Wesleyan Heritage. I think that that is a beautiful way to spend a Heritage Sunday. I think that it is no less beautiful, no less holy, to sit here as we just have, and see that the word “Methodist,” is a tangled mess of good and bad and could-have and should-haves. We are the inheritors of one of the greatest theological traditions there is, and we are the bearers of a legacy tainted with blood and sin and shame.

Our scripture today separates out the world into two categories. There are the children of God who do what is right and the children of the Devil, who do what is evil. We are known by our fruits, and those who are unable to love one another prove above all else that they are not fit for the kingdom they are called to be in. We are defined as being with God or against God by whether we can understand that being loving, that doing what is right, is worth more than any fight that we might have as one part of the Church against the other.

Many of the schisms we highlighted today were important, sometimes people left for legitimate reasons. The Free Methodists and the Methodist Protestants saw that we were going astray in accepting slavery, they were right to fight against it, and while I am against schism of any kind, they may have even been justified in dusting off their sandals and leaving the larger church to its own devices. Yet, the main thing that caused people to leave, again and again and again, was that the Church was unable to do what was right, and instead chose to do what had always been done. They accepted the past that the world had a chance to leave behind, rather than the future that was laid out before them. Rather than the progress of abandoning past misgivings, they were embracing the past as something sacred above all else.

In our modern world the specter of slavery is all around us. Though some people want to deny it, having our foundation of a country dependent upon forced labor and the denial of human rights has made it hard to escape those legal and societal mindsets. Even beyond discussions of race, we are ready as a people to throw other people into the wheels of industry as long as it makes our products cheap and our pockets a bit more full. We don’t care if a fast food worker needs three jobs to sustain their family, because that McDouble costs a dollar fifty now, and if we raise their salary it might cost a dollar seventy-five instead. We don’t want our appliances to cost what they really should, because then they’d be luxury goods, so we let businesses pay pennies to children in foreign countries so our smart phones can be affordable, even as those children starve and suffer and die to bring us the latest and greatest thing-we-already-own.

In the more specific discussion of race, I do not have to tell you that we have not yet figured out how to atone for the sins of the past. There are those who rightly point out that we were not there two hundred years ago to have an impact on slavery, but we are alive now, can make a difference now, are we doing anything? We wish to believe we live in a free and equal society, but so did slave-owners, so did governors standing on the steps of schools shouting, “Segregation now, segregation forever!” We all want to be heroes, but are we willing to do the work to make the world a better, more equitable place? I hope so, or else the Church will continue to lose its witness time and time again.

We saw last week an example of how passive resistance to things like racism are simply not enough. A killer, motivated by the conspiracy that non-whites are being shipped in to replace the white population of the United States, entered a Supermarket and killed ten people. We can talk all we want about how “Lone gunmen,” are beyond our control, but they almost always have the same motivations. Either they hate women or they hate people of color. We might say we have nothing to do with this, but we are part of the environment – online and otherwise, that allows this kind of thing to fester and grow.

We may not advocate the killing of people of color, but we openly act like its unreasonable to have multiple languages available when we call our bank’s national branch. We can pretend we’re egalitarian, but when women lay accusations at the feet of men in power, we suddenly trust politicians and actors to tell the truth. We may not have memorized the fourteen words, but we openly express our discomfort that the places we visit are browner than they used to be. It may all seem disconnected, but it all comes back to this, a willingness to let even one tenant of white supremacy stand unopposed – inevitably allowing the rest to grow up in its shadow. It might not fully take root in our own hearts, but it will in the hearts of someone, and that someone will do unspeakable things in the name of an ideology we tacitly endorse with our silence.

Today we struggle with issues of human dignity, who is really allowed to be who they are in a church? Is it only white people? We say quickly, no, but do we fully believe that? Is it gay people? Now we start couching our acceptance with all kinds of conditions, but why onl for this, and why so very strongly? Underneath the surface of any conflict are a thousand, thousand more little bits and bobs of disagreement and struggle. The truth is, that we are not a denomination for whom this is new, nor a tradition who has not had these kinds of fights before.

The lesson I hope we take today is a complex one. When we look at our history as Methodists, we see a million things that mark us as Children of God. We did a lot of good work to bring equity into the world, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry and to tear down unjust systems. Yet we also tolerated and perpetuated evils, we failed to lead the way of righteousness and therefore might have given a great many people the impression that we were children of another entity altogether. In our own lives, in this congregations shared life, I’m sure we could say the same. No one is wholly good or wholly bad, not just yet, and no church is either.

Thanks be to Christ Jesus, who gave himself up for us that we might be better. That we might as individuals and as a Church have a chance to change the trajectory we are on, to do more good and to love more intensely. Praise God from whom all blessings flow, and who most of all has given us the gift of second chances, the gift of another go round, the gift of transforming our hearts, and therefore the world around us. Thank God I’m a Methodist standing in this pulpit today, and thank God he forgives abundantly, the sins of a Methodist like me. – Amen.


[1] Jane Donovan. “ “ in Henry Foxall: Methodist, Industrialist, American (Nashville, Tennessee: New Room Books. 2017)

Our Legacy: The Wesleys (Final Version)

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Sermon Text

There’s an idea in the Methodist Church that we are to be “Connectional.” This means that every church is in constant communication with one another, that those churches communicate as a unit we call a district, and each district works together as a conference, and so on and so forth. This connectional mindset is meant to ensure that we band together to support everyone’s ministry, that we live out our lives in individual churches as disciples pursuing goodness together. It also means that we learn from the examples other provide to us of holy living, and change the way we are headed if it means that something better is on that new path we have been shown. But, I will come back to this idea after I tell you about the founder of the Methodist Movement we are a part of today.

This founder was a man named John Wesley, and he was a nervous wreck and all-around difficult person. His father and mother were members of two separate parties within the monarchy, and so were known for their fights. That same father spent many years in debtors’ prison while his children were young, missing some of the key moments he could have spent with them. All three of the Wesley sons became ministers, Samuel, John, and Charles. These three would take overwhelmingly different positions on matters of the faith, Samuel a quiet minister who made few waves, Charles a staunch advocate for the Church of England and amazing hymn writer, and John, the troublemaker and reformer.

John and Charles first practiced their ministry in the American Colonies, landing in the penal colony of Georgia, they ministered to the people of Savannah. Charles served as rector to a small island congregation and as a secretary to a prominent politician. Scandal from the politician and rumors from his congregation eventually led to him leaving Georgia as quickly as he could. John remained a while longer, forming many small groups devoted to helping the poor and studying scripture. He dreamed of converting the local Muscogee people but found out upon arrival that they were mostly Christian. He eventually fell in love but was unwilling to commit to marriage. His beau found another man who would marry her, and John responded as poorly as you might expect. He denied her and her fiancé communion, a public act suggesting they had sinned in a major way. John was soon chased out of town by her father.

John landed in England dejected, feeling as lost as he ever had. He finally found a group of Moravians, Bohemian’s committed to study of scripture and service to community, and began to learn from them. It was during a meeting with them that John felt his heart, “strangely warmed.” For the first time, John felt that even a screw up like him was worthy of God’s love, and that God did not love him in spite of those flaws, but because John simply was who John was.

Wesley would continue to have his highs and lows in life, but the occasional conflict never stopped him. He was a person who was hard to criticize, because he genuinely tried to do good in all things. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited prisoners, and tried to bring the complacent Church he lived in into the modern era with a Spirit of ministry in their hearts. John would die the most beloved man in London, living the better part of a century devoted to God and those around him. Books are written about this man’s life, his sermons, and his general teachings, so do not think I’ve captured it all at once here, but know that we follow his example as a disciple of Christ for a reason.

In particular, John was able to bring people together in a way few before or since have managed. He knew that we are social creatures, and that we have to work together to grow. I can only learn if someone teaches me something, and I can only become a better Christian if I am surrounded by a church full of people trying to do the same. “As iron sharpens iron,” so a church becomes more like Christ when they climb that steep hill of perfection together. John achieved this by creating “societies,” that were broken down into “classes,” that were broken down into bands. Members of one were members of each other group, identifying first as members of the class and then working down. These were not churches in themselves, but groups born out of churches where the more serious members would meet outside of Sunday service to study scripture and serve their community together.

Originally, these groups were made up of the people in the pews and not many other people. They organically came out of people who wanted more out of church meeting together and pursuing Godliness together. Wesley knew that this tendency existed, and so he formalized the process. These associations that were created then had a community beyond themselves constantly supporting them. The Methodist Movement was not born just from people getting together and studying scripture. It only began to truly become something bigger than loosely organized small groups when it turned its eyes outward.

Service had always been part of the Wesleyan movement – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners in prison. These acts of mercy were expected of every member, and as they went out and did this work they felt that they were growing to be more like God. Despite this service orientation, there was something missing from this early movement. While they went out and helped people, they were not going out to really know people. While I cannot say this in too general of terms, after all there are always those ahead of the curve, I would say that Wesley was at first interested in ministry to people rather than ministry with people.

A change happened in him when he listened to the nagging advice of a friend. George Whitefield, a loyal friend and sometimes intellectual enemy of John, was known for going out and preaching in the streets and in the coal fields. He had traveled to America several times and earned the admiration of people like Ben Franklin for the ability he had to entrance a crowd, and to preach loudly enough to be heard across several city blocks.[1] This outdoor preaching was something that John was not willing to do for sometime, finally capitulating and finding, probably to his horror, that the Spirit was present outside of the safety of a pulpit.

Wesley said that day that he had “submitted [himself] to become more vile.”[2] I have fallen in love with this phrase over time. It is so visceral and honest about how he saw what he was doing. While the usage of the word was probably different in the 1700s than it is today, it is no less clear – John saw that he was becoming less prim and proper in doing what he was about to do. In more modern parlance, he was about to get his hands dirty, and like a gardener digging into the dirt, he found that the fruit of the Spirit flourished in the midst of his work beyond the walls of the Church.

I wrote a draft of this sermon that was far more general about John and what his ministry could teach us as the Church today, and I have uploaded that to my website for anyone who is interest to see. However, when I went and heard the bishop’s speak recently, the vision they had of the Spirit moving in our pews and pushing us out into the world awakened an old fire in my heart, a fire lit by the Spirit that calls out the same bittersweet phrase Wesley used so long ago. It said, “John, submit thyself to be more vile.” And I saw in that phrase, a mantra I have always longed to see fulfilled in myself, the real lesson which we must take as a Church if we wish to thrive and grow and do so much more than survive. We must give up civility in exchange for humanity.

I don’t mean that we should all be uncivil, in the sense of being mean, but that we need to stop being worried about looking a certain way or acting just so. We have standards and ways of doing things for a reason, safe sanctuaries exists to keep children safe, our charge conference programs and financial rules to keep church business transparent. However, beyond the things we do to keep people safe and keep our hands ethically clean, there are the ways we carry ourselves that exist only to set ourselves apart from the people around us, and not in a holy way.

As I look around this sanctuary, I see people who do not differ much from one another. Yet, we differ quite a bit from the people outside our door. If we took everyone who is in here, and sat down with all the people who walk up and down the alley behind the church on a daily basis, all those who walk in front of this church to pick up their kids, all those who go to the Kompak to buy groceries – would the people sitting across from us feel like they were like us or like we have somehow separated ourselves from them. If a backpacker came in off the street, smelling like they had slept rough and hauling around all their worldly goods on one should as they rode a bike around town, would they be welcomed into our pews – or would they feel they had to sit in the back away from judgmental eyes.

We all want to say yes, that no one would feel out of place if they came in our doors, but if that is so, then why do we not see more people coming in, sitting down, and giving the community we offer a try? I would say it is in part that we do not know our neighbors, we do not know the people of North View, except the ones who were here back when the glass factory was booming, before street signs were put up on the corners, and before the last farm was plowed over to build housing.

North View has changed, but has the composition of this Church? As our neighborhood has gotten poorer, have people with less felt comfortable sitting among us? Or do they see us as well-to-do people on a hill. Do we look at our new neighbors as potential new friends, or fret over what they might do to our property values? Out beyond this door is a city that has changed a lot from when many of you were children – neither for good or bad in many ways, but inescapably different than it once was. Have we changed to welcome those around us in? Are we willing to adapt to reflect the demographics around us? Can we dare submit ourselves to become more vile than we might think we really are.

The lesson that John Wesley really offers us is that we cannot ever see ourselves as apart from those around us. We are all given community to be together. Not just the rich with the rich, the poor with the poor, the middle class with the middle class. Not just white with white and black with black and latino with latino. We are all of us called to be one people together, distinct in our histories and traditions, but united in a love and a community that transcends and enraptures all of that. We area called to be all things to all people, but yet we so often to be fully ourselves for one another. We must go out and meet our neighbors, we must be friends with any and all people.

I hope that our church will see a shift to look more like our neighbors. I hope that we look less put together. I hope that anyone who comes in here would see people of all income brackets, all races, all political ideologies, education levels, and sexual orientations, living and loving and working together. Because a Church that is not willing to branch out, to learn about its neighbors and really invite them in to sit and stay a while, is a Church that will become an artifact of the past, rather than a bastion of the Kingdom. Submit to become more vile, whatever that means to you, and see God working through the hands you are willing to dirty. – Amen.

An earlier version of this sermon was written, but not preached. It is available at:


[1] National Humanities Center, 2009: nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds. As published in Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography: An Authoritative Text, eds. J. A. Leo Lemay & P. M. Zall (W. W. Norton & Co., 1986) Available at: http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/becomingamer/ideas/text2/franklinwhitefield.pdf

[2] John Wesley’s Journal, April 2, 1739.

Our Legacy: The Wesleys (Initial Version)

1 John 2: 1-14

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, because you have conquered the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one.

Sermon Text

Last week we talked about the way that the Anglican Church formed out of a history of conflict. Calvinists fighting Arminians, Catholics fighting Protestants, and all manner of disputes in between. Sometimes we talk today about how unbelievable the division in the United States seems to be, but I do not think that it is exceptional when compared to history as a whole. While there are plenty of reasons we should work against the disunity which has become the norm in our society, we are not the first country to find itself divided on important matters, nor will we be the last. Yet, as a divided people, and a divided Church, the way that we chase after Unity cannot be a hollow mandate of compliance, but a real commitment to one another’s good.

The Epistle of John, which is walking beside us as we look at our Wesleyan heritage, tells us that when we come into faith we learn how wonderful it is to have an advocate working on our behalf. Jesus Christ, from his birth to his ministry to his death and even beyond his resurrection has worked to save our souls. In birth he became like us, in life he showed us what we could be, in death he freed us, and in resurrection Christ transforms us to be the glory of his Father in Heaven. This glory is manifested in commitment to Christ’s commands in the world, and those commands are restated again and again throughout the New Testament with one chief governing principle – that we love one another.

As simple as that seems, and as trite as we make it, there is nothing in the life of faith that is not rooted in love. Love for God and love for one another. I often find that if I do anything out of love for God, it naturally manifests as love for my neighbor, there is no separation in those two commands. When we love one another, we discover what it means to love God, and God’s love toward us shines upon us and reveals the truth we might have otherwise missed. There is, as a wise man once said, no holiness but social holiness, no goodness without love for each other.

The founder of the Methodist movement was a man named John Wesley, and he was a nervous wreck and all-around difficult person. His father and mother were members of two separate parties within the monarchy, and so were known for their fights. That same father spent many years in debtors’ prison while his children were young, missing some of the key moments he could have spent with them. All three of the Wesley sons became ministers, Samuel, John, and Charles. These three would take overwhelmingly different positions on matters of the faith, Samuel a quiet minister who made few waves, Charles a staunch advocate for the Church of England and amazing hymn writer, and John, the troublemaker and reformer.

John and Charles first practiced their ministry in the American Colonies, landing in the penal colony of Georgia, they ministered to the people of Savannah. Charles served as rector to a small island congregation and as a secretary to a prominent politician. Scandal from the politician and rumors from his congregation eventually led to him leaving Georgia as quickly as he could. John remained a while longer, forming many small groups devoted to helping the poor and studying scripture. He dreamed of converting the local Muscogee people but found out upon arrival that they were mostly Christian. He eventually fell in love but was unwilling to commit to marriage. His beau found another man who would marry her, and John responded as poorly as you might expect. He denied her and her fiancé communion, a public act suggesting they had sinned in a major way. John was soon chased out of town by her father.

John landed in England dejected, feeling as lost as he ever had. He finally found a group of Moravians, Bohemian’s committed to study of scripture and service to community, and began to learn from them. It was during a meeting with them that John felt his heart, “strangely warmed.” For the first time, John felt that even a screw up like him was worthy of God’s love, and that God did not love him in spite of those flaws, but because John simply was who John was.

Wesley would continue to have his highs and lows in life, but the occasional conflict never stopped him. He was a person who was hard to criticize, because he genuinely tried to do good in all things. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited prisoners, and tried to bring the complacent Church he lived in into the modern era with a Spirit of ministry in their hearts. John would die the most beloved man in London, living the better part of a century devoted to God and those around him. Books are written about this man’s life, his sermons, and his general teachings, so do not think I’ve captured it all at once here, but know that we follow his example as a disciple of Christ for a reason.

The Wesley’s offer many messages to the Church today. Firstly, John was committed to true Unity in the faith. When he began creating small groups and Methodist “societies,” he did so as part of the Church of England rather than a separate part of it. Like our Davis Bible Class, the Methodist societies were people committed to meeting and studying scripture, to serving together, and to praying together, but that identity never made them distinct from the Church they were a part of. John was born and baptized and Anglican, and he died an Anglican, and if he had his way we would be standing here today.

I do not think that we would be any happier as Anglicans, nor am I elevating Anglican theology above all others as I talk to you today. However, John’s commitment to pursuing work where God was leading him, while staying part of his Mother Church, is a lesson we can all benefit from. In your Heart, you may want to do ministries that you do not see happening in North View, or maybe in our denomination. What if I told you that that ministry might just be a valid call upon your life? What if the thing bubbling up inside you was lifted up and affirmed? We can be doing different things in the same spaces, as our purposes remain aligned. Maybe we should see Church, both this one and the wider association of all houses of worship, in the same way.

Secondly, the Wesley’s show that the community we form together is the real foundation of the Church. Christ establishes us as a group of people together so that we can support one another. Those early societies grew as much as they did, not just because they grew out of Anglicanism, but because they spent all their time in service and study and prayer. The money that the Methodists gave under John Wesley would total in the millions today, and John often oversaw how it was spent. Despite millions of dollars crossing his hands, he died with only about  $20 to his name. He never dipped into the pot, he spent his own money to fund the ministries he started, and that ethic bled through into all he did.

Thirdly, I think that we see in the movement begun by John and Charles a move of the Spirit to see the Church come together more tightly with other believers. The differences in the Wesley household growing up prepared John for what life would be like later on. When he befriended George Whitefield, the greatest orator to ever grace Colonial America, the two began a life together defined by fighting. They would come together, drift apart, write public letters insulting each other, but ultimately they would always reconcile. Both men wanted the other to preach their funerals, and at the end of the day only one of them won that battle out, John outliving George.

We all of us fall short, we all of us sin. We all want to scratch and fight at one another. Yet, God is good enough to show us the way we ought to be. That way is the way of love, and that love manifests in us being willing to serve one another. It manifests in us standing beside one another in hard times. It manifests us in putting our identity as a Church together, over the idea of us as a saint alone. The holiness we chase is a holiness lived together, let us take one another by the hand and run this race well as we only can together. – Amen.

A second version of this sermon was written and preached following the writing of this draft. It can be found here:

Our Legacy – The Anglicans

1 John 1

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Sermon Text

This Methodist Heritage Month we are going to be looking at the major denominations that have come together or split apart to form the United Methodist Church that we live in today. Now, very easily this could become a series of boring history lectures given from a pulpit for no real purpose other than to fill our heads and maybe help us win at some very specific bar trivia nights. So let me lay out the particular reason I think we need this kind of reflection now more than ever. Some of you might not know this, but United Methodism has been having some trouble over the last few decades. From the moment the EUB and the UMC merged in 1968, there has been a building up of all kinds of conflict, culminating in the dreaded business that has begun today.

A new denomination has formed, the Global Methodist Church, and it has for several years now, in the form of influence from the Wesleyan Covenant Association and its related movements, been pushing for churches to leave United Methodism and join them. I do not know how many churches across the world will actually join in with this denomination but having read their founding documents I do not think that a change of the sign outside a church will make much a difference. Other than changing the way the church is run to look more like what it did thirty years ago, this movement is a lot of fuss and trouble just to regress to the past.

I will be upfront in saying I was called to be a United Methodist and I don’t see God changing that trajectory in my life. I’ll be more upfront and say that I think the creation of a new denomination, without the careful deliberation of a general conference and without collaboration, only invites more fighting and conflict. We are called to be one Church together, and it is an absolute travesty that we would rather pick up our ball and go home than figure out how to do that. Especially when the only posted goal of those leaving is to be less inclusive.

My goal this month is to walk through our history as a denomination, and to tell the stories of each of our predecessors, because those stories are important. They remind us that the issues we face today are not new or different in anyway from what people faced long ago. We have always been people, we have always been the Church, and when people meet together in the Church, struggle is bound to ensue. So today we are going to begin our journey of understanding our past so that we can begin to dream of what our future might be, and we do that by joining together in the liturgy and the history of the Anglican church.

The Anglican Church was born out of a time of great uncertainty in the British Isles and the larger world. In mainland Europe, a monk turned Bible Scholar had recently made a stink about the Catholic Church’s failure to reform on several immediate issues. Bishops were in charge of too much land to be useful, money was being accrued for building projects rather than to help people, and a lack of Biblical literacy led to a stratification of piety between the rich and the poor, the clergy and the laity. All in all, there were problems that needed fixed. The current Pope, Leo X, was not pleased with this monk named Martin Luther, and so he excommunicated him for his trouble.

Luther became popular among certain monarchs in Europe because he allowed them to make a clean break from the Vatican. While the Holy Roman Empire kept Catholicism as the dominate power on the Continent, many of its constituent kingdoms were working to separate themselves from Catholic influence. For reasons that were as political as they were religious, the Church experienced its second major schism – the Protestant Reformation had begun.

England was ruled by a devout Catholic, and that kept any Protestantism from taking hold for some time. King Henry VIII was deeply religious and had married a Spanish princess known for her own piety. With the leadership of his Lord High Chancellor, St. Thomas More, it seemed that little could encroach upon this Catholic bastion floating in the Atlantic. Of course, we know this would not remain true forever. Henry fell in love with a young woman, Anne Boleyn, a woman with protestant leanings. Add to this a fear that he had entered his first marriage wrongfully and a desire to see himself rid of Vatican taxes, and the stage was set for Henry to follow the example of other monarchs of his time. This culminated in Henry forming the Church of England, placing himself as the chief authority of it, and furthering shattering Western Christianity.

Henry’s Church was essentially Catholic in all but its name and leadership. The ritual remained the same and Latin was still the primary language of scholars and priests. Henry would change some of these things before his death, but for the most part Anglican Christianity was just Catholicism sans-Pope. His daughter Mary would reinstate Catholicism in England, and her harsh treatment of the Protestants who had banished her and her mother led to her being dubbed “Bloody Mary,” by her enemies. Mary Tudor would eventually die, and her sister Elizabeth would assume the throne in her place. Elizabeth was not as hotheaded as her father or sister, and established the Anglican policy of the Via Media, “The Middle Path.”

This concept sought to walk between the ways of the Lutherans and the Calvinists on one side and the Catholics on the other. Over the course of just three monarchs, Christianity in Europe had become a lot more complicated. There were now the foundations of what would become Presbyterians, Puritans, Baptists, Quakers, and all other manner of sects mixing and mingling in England. A monarch who sided too quickly with one would face the wrath of others.

This policy had obvious problems. As we talked about when we looked at virtues – picking the middle option in any given conflict seldom makes anyone happy for long. Not having an opinion, or forming only moderate ones, can lead to a great deal of unrest. Elizabeth ruled over a fairly prosperous England and a vibrant Church, but her successors struggled. James I, one such descendant, was the first Scottish monarch to take the throne, ruling over a United Kingdom for the first time. James was seen as a quiet, thoughtful ruler, but was also controversial because of his various romantic affairs with men and women throughout the nobility. Nonetheless, he won a great many people over by commissioning a definitive English version of the Bible. The King James Bible, or the “Authorized Version,” as it is sometimes called, came together under his reign.

 Within a generation, the Anglican Church would crumble following a Puritan revolt. The Puritan government was brutal, but ultimately short lived. King Charles II took the throne back and re-established the monarchy. His rule would see the writing of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, a version of which is still used today, and a book whose Communion liturgy we are using for our eucharistic celebration. There was still plenty of disagreement among British Christians, with dozens of sects vying for political power under the larger umbrella of Anglicanism. Still, a path was set to find a more meaningful space where all these different groups could come together and worship, a more central Church that could really make a difference in people’s lives.

We’ll look next week at how John and Charles Wesley came to begin a revitalizing mission in the Anglican Church, but this week I want to talk about the lessons we can begin to take from this bit of history. I have gone over about two hundred years of stuff in just a few minutes, I simplified a lot and skipped over a little more, but I hope that we can see that our earliest direct ancestor in Christianity was a complicated, mixed bag of good and bad. From our origins in a man wanting a divorce, to the warring madness of the English Civil War.

Yet, Anglicanism has been willing to grapple with its missteps, and to try and change. It has survived to this day, not just in England but in the Episcopal communions around the world, precisely because it has embarked on the difficult self-reflection that allows for new growth. As our scripture reminds us, we all are sinners redeemed by Christ’s work on the cross. We all are equal in our need for Christ, and we all come together to worship that selfsame savior. For the Anglican Church that meant not the moderate view between extremes, but the views which were central to the faith. The Via Media, morphed over time to capture the essential nature of Christianity, not just its least offensive permutations.

Recently, in a meeting where discussions about the divides in the United Methodist Church were being held, someone suggested we strive to find a new Via Media. It is not easy to find a solution to our present disagreements that will make everyone happy. There is not an easy middle road on matters of human sexuality, for example, which is the issue many claim this most recent schism of ours is about. How can we be neutral when the question at hand is whether all people are worthy of love and respect and acceptance? I do believe in a church that allows people to have different perspectives on this sort of thing, but only to a point.

The reason that this issue is so strongly felt, is that it impacts the very essence of who a person is. I can disagree with someone’s politics and see them as reasoning differently than I can. When I disagree on something as large and as core to a person as their sexuality or their gender identity, then the stakes are often higher than just occasional arguments. The issue is a person’s human dignity. Disagreements are inevitable, but human dignity must be nonnegotiable. As we delve forward into our history, we’ll see when we as a Church failed in that mission time and time again. As we chase the Via Media together, let us not accept apathy or bigotry as moderate stances, but excel in love and excellence toward one another. – Amen.

The Spirit is Coming – 04/24/2022

John 14:15-31

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.

Sermon Text

 Last week we celebrated Easter. The first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox, but more importantly the day we mark to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like all our holidays, we find ourselves busy with every possible distraction. Eggs need made and sold, or else stuffed or deviled. Our family gathers to share ham or other roasted meat and our children busy themselves with whatever goodies are put away in their baskets. On the other side of the long week of celebration that we all had, do we remember that it was really all about the resurrection of our Lord and Savior? Are the lingering feelings we hold within us about the busy schedules we keep or the miraculous work of God?

There is a push and pull within our minds, the immensely important and the immediately interesting. There is nothing wrong with being diverted from the important things of life, I would say that that is inevitable. All of us here probably had more than a few times over Easter where the object of our celebration fell behind the ways that we were celebrating. The same is true for Christmas, or Lent, or any time we set aside for our religious devotion. There is a limited amount of focus within our human minds and as human beings we will often find ourselves locking into the more mundane aspects of life simply because they are always near to us, always right in front of our face.

I think one of the problems with how we talk about keeping our focus on the important aspects of life, especially on our life of faith, is that we talk about it as though people wake up one day and find that they are very good and very serious and very pious. I hope that our look into virtue made us all realize that it is never so simple. We all have to practice being focused and serious and committed. It takes time to learn how to do anything well and that includes being a person of faith.

The good news is that we are not in this training period on our own. As we fight to overcome the negative aspects of ourselves and to sharpen the positive, we find that every step we take is onto ground that has already been prepared for us. We are always preceded in life by God, God who is clearing the way to allow us to move more efficiently toward our goal of perfection. God is with us and active and working, because God has sent us an advocate who will never leave us. God who proclaimed the truth of the Torah from Sinai came to dwell among us. The Son who came and lived, Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth for thirty years to show us what holiness could be. The Son left us our eternal comforter and helper, the eternal and Holy Spirit.

God has always been near to God’s creation. There has never been a time when God was not looking over and caring for all people of the earth. An old German hymn sees God’s provision in the coming and goings of the seasons, “We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. God sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain, the breezes, and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.”[1] If we think of God in this way, as always seeking to be close to what God has made, then the flow of scripture’s narrative makes perfect sense.

After humanity and God were torn from one another by Sin’s interference, God set out chasing after people. Genesis describes God as clothing Adam and Eve, as watching directly over Cain and Abel. Even those directly working against God receive God’s care. The rest of scripture focuses in on Israel and Judah, but the message is still clear. God is working to be close to God’s people. Exile cannot separate them, nor can empires or war, God is eternally near to them. Through God’s prophets the Word of God was proclaimed, as the Spirit rested on individuals.

Eventually, at a time and place no one can fully comprehend the significance of, God sent part of Godself to dwell among us. The Son, the eternal Word of God, took on flesh and set up a home among us. Cut off from the eternal power and knowledge he once knew, but not ever from his Godhood, Jesus of Nazareth lived as a poor son of a wood worker. His mother was an object of scandal, and his family was poor as could be. After his step-father died, he walked from his hometown to Jerusalem again and again as he preached a penniless gospel of salvation. Christ’s ministry ended in his death on a Roman cross, his burial, and his resurrection, all of which we remembered last week.

But what comes after? God has come and dwelt among us, and we are given a reason to celebrate that Sin is finally defeated! Yet, even in the face of the resurrection, Christ has told his disciples he will not be gone from this world very soon. The resurrection is cause to celebrate, but the ascension gives the disciples another reason to mourn. Even though they are given yet another sign of God’s presence in Christ, they now live with Christ far away from them. There is no friend, no teacher there to guide them through life. The sorrow they feel is made to bubble up in them once again, and there is uncertainty seeping into every aspect of their life once again.

They do have a reason to hope though, because before Jesus is raised into Heaven, even before Jesus goes to die on Calvary, the disciples are promised a helper that will not leave them. From the moment that a divine wind sweeps through their lives to the triumphant return of Christ at the end of all things, there will not be a moment that God will not be right with them. Not only will God be with them, but God will dwell inside them. We all are promised to know what it is to join in God’s Trinitarian life, through our unity in Christ, by the power of the Spirit.

The next forty-nine days will take us through the Great Fifty Days that lead to Pentecost. In Jewish congregations, these fifty days are counted from Passover to the Feast of Weeks, a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest and of God’s gift of the Law. For we Christians, we count those days from Easter Sunday, and when we reach the Feast of Weeks, or as we call it, the Pentecost or “The 50,” we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The visitation of the Spirit in previous eras led to people speaking God’s truth and in the working of wonders. The habitation of the Spirit on that Pentecost long ago led to the birth of God’s new community, the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, the Church.

We here in North View will spend the next few weeks focusing in, one Sunday at a time, upon the various traditions that have birthed our specific flavor of faith. This building we stand in was founded by the United Brethren, it became the Evangelical United Brethren, and eventually the United Methodist Church. So, to understand how we are who we are today we must look at the Anglican tradition that birthed John Wesley and the Wesleyan tradition that birthed Methodism. We also must see how Philip Otterbein and his Brethren came together with the Evangelical Church to make the Evangelical United Brethren. Then we must look at the United Methodist Church they formed, and finally what the future might hold for the legacy of our denomination.

So, in other words, we will be working through some history throughout Pentecost. Every Sunday will be a communion Sunday, and every Sunday the communion we celebrate will be modeled after the liturgy that each denomination utilized. That means that we will have new Eucharistic prayers to pray over the next month or so, and that we will be enjoying a lot of prepackaged juice and wafers. However, I hope that as we look into our history we will see the truth that God’s Spirit has always been with us, always moving us toward something better.

We will see a lot of missteps in our foray into our past. We will see denominations refuse to show mercy and love, refuse to accept all God’s children, refuse to do what is right in the face of evil. We will also see the great good we have worked again and again. Live’s transformed by Christ, people fed and clothed and cared for, and all manner of wonders worked through the love of God and the Spirit’s emboldening power. There will be a lot to take in, but I hope that you all will embrace this journey as more than just historical facts being proclaimed from a pulpit, and see in it a testimony that our past is never too far from us, and that we are all working toward the future God has prepared for us.

We on an individual level strive to be more focused, more intentional, in our relationship with God. However, that is only truly manifested when we come together with one another as the Church. The Spirit of God is not given so that individuals may become holy, but so that God’s church may grow and prosper and become God’s kingdom. The light of this world is shining out from the Spirit which dwells within us, but to see it really overcome the darkness, we cannot shine alone – we must shine together. With God’s Spirit within, beside, and before us, we will see ourselves overcoming all trouble. With a mind of where we have been we will understand that God’s Spirit has moved behind us to bring us to the ample mission field we have today.

We begin a journey now, an examination of our past and its manifested light and darkness, and we look to our future together. The disciples spend the fifty days between Easter and their enlivening visit by the Spirit in prayer and study, seeing how God had been working toward their present reality throughout all of history. We will be doing the same together, because the Spirit which dwells among us is also the Spirit that is coming to be with us. The past is the present is the future in a Kingdom that is truly eternal. Let us walk this long road together, and trust God will see us through it. – Amen.


[1] Wir pflügen und wir streuen. Matthias Claudius. Trans. Jane M. Campbell