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

Christ is Risen – Easter 2022

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Sermon Text

What would we do if we could walk in a garden with Jesus? Would we spend the whole time asking questions? Would we listen carefully as he spoke to us? Or would we both, in silence, walk through the morning dew that had blessed the new day? I like to think I’d listen carefully, but I also know myself well enough to say I’d probably start rattling off questions before I even realized what I was up to. To spend time with Jesus, just us and him, that is one of the dreams we all have as people of faith. Our beloved savior and no one else to distract us or get in the way.

Mary and Jesus in this moment show us a lot about what it was like to travel with Jesus. Though this interaction is brief, we get a glimpse of just how wonderful Christ was with those who followed him. Mary is distressed when she thinks he is gone. She does not notice who he is when he appears. She is instantly comforted when she hears her name said in his voice. Her amazement at Christ’s words to her lead her to go and proclaim his resurrection to all who will hear it, but first and foremost to all the others who knew the comfort and joy of hearing Jesus say their name.

It was not in the style of ancient writers to give us especially long accounts of individuals speaking to one another. Outside of philosophic pieces which go on and on with imagined conversations between great thinkers, the ancient world only records dialogue when it was public or when a general outline of what was said is known publicly. The average piece of writing in the ancient world was focused more on what a person did to impact the public sphere much more than they were what individuals did to impact those around them personally. We, therefore, only get brief glimpses of the personalities of our Biblical siblings, and only then through the lens of what they do out in the open.

This passage stands out to us because of how rarely we see someone just being alone with Jesus. It stands out because we all dream of this kind of open interaction with our God. It stands out because, when Jesus returned to life on that Easter morning long ago, Jesus did not do so with drums and trumpets, but with the quiet speaking of a single person’s name. Jesus showed us that day long ago, as Jesus did throughout his ministry, that there was more to the Kingdom of God than we dare to dream, and that God’s kingdom is always able to grab us unexpectedly and surprise us with just how different it can be.

I have always been fascinated by Mary’s inability to recognize Jesus in this story. Elsewhere, like in Luke when disciples on the road to Emmaus see Jesus, a similar problem occurs. Something about Jesus dying and being raised again has changed the way he looks. He still has scars in his hands and in his side, his body is still the same one that went into the tomb on Friday, yet he has been changed by death and changed once again by resurrection. As I understand it, this is a result of Jesus being the “first fruit,” of God’s resurrecting of the entire world. Jesus the man had become glorified, this was how Jesus was going to look for all eternity now, because Jesus had died and been raised as all of us shall one day be.

Some people talk about Heaven as though we will not exist the same way we do now. Some do this by talking about having completely new bodies, others by making it seem like we have completely incorporeal or spiritual bodies but no physical self. While I cannot speak to the time between our death and the establishment of Heaven on Earth, I can say that both these perspectives miss the ultimate point of our resurrected life in Christ. We are not going to one day get new bodies, or cease to have bodies, but be risen and perfected in the bodies we currently are in today. We are not souls who will some day be free from flesh or souls waiting for some new, different shell, we are a perfect unity of flesh and spirit, or at least we one day will be.

Jesus shows us what that sort of existence looks like. Jesus, despite having never sinned, was not fully revealed in all his glory until after the resurrection. In being resurrected, we see in Jesus what we will all day look like. Jesus was still who he had been before death, but was now somehow changed. Whatever roughness that human existence gives to our being is erased when God re-imagines us for eternity. We are the perfect example of who we should be, not in human terms, but in God’s terms. The beauty innate to all of us is exemplified in the beauty of our resurrected forms.

People often ask ministers like me how we’ll recognize one another in Heaven. Honestly, I think that we often times won’t at first. When we all rise in the resurrection of dead and get to meet one another again, I think there will be many moments like what we see with Jesus and Mary. As we make our way through eternity we’ll bump into all sorts of people, and only after talking for a bit will we have the sense to go, “Wait a minute! Are you who I think you are?” Then, seeing each other as we were always meant to be, I think that we will shed more than a few happy tears in our reunion with one another.

            Our resurrection will be absolute. We will no longer know how to do evil, because the image of God will be fully restored in us. We will no longer know what it means to fear, because we have faced death and been brought into eternal life. We will know what it truly means to be joyful, to be united as a family, to sing God’s praises through all time. The miraculous power of God that shone out on that Levantine morning long ago is going to surge through all the earth one day and it will see all flesh made new. The work of God and God alone is to see us brought into this glory, the work among ourselves in the meantime is to get out of the way of what God is doing in the here and now.

            This morning, as the sun was rising on the world, we looked at how Luke tells the story of Jesus’s first morning back into the world. There we saw God showing God’s glory to the women disciples and the refusal of the men to listen to them. We are all at different times one or the other of these groups. Sometimes we meet God, and we know immediately that something miraculous has happened, going out to tell everyone we can about it. Sometimes we are unwilling to believe that God could still really be working in the world, so lost are we in our own fear and doubt and troubles. Obviously, one is better than the other, but both are endemic to our life on this side of eternity. The key is to try and move always from one to the other. Away from sorrow and into joy, away from jadedness and into trust.

            This isn’t always easy, and we in the Church seldom make it easy for others either. Despite our call to be people of the resurrection, we get caught up in the world-as-it-is. We do not dream of God setting things straight, only of God keeping them from getting worse. Without the divine imagination enlivening our visions of the future, we inevitably fall into despair and in that despair we fail to bring others into the joy of God’s kingdom. We are so convinced of our defeat that we cannot show the world that Christ has already won the victory.

            Now, I’ve got chronic depression, so I am not gonna stand here and pretend I do not struggle with this myself. My brain is wired specifically to focus in on the doom and gloom of life, so I am often chief amongst the doomsayers. Yet, despite all that, there is another inclination within me that I can never snuff out entirely. This is not something innate to my being, but something which I have to carefully watch over and foster. This is the first spark of something new, something special in a way I cannot begin to fully understand. This is the Spirit of God beginning the regeneration of my mind, body, and soul. This is hope made manifest. This is resurrection power.

            Though my inclination to negativity is not inherently bad, God made me this way after all, it can definitely impact my life in negative ways. The same is true for all of us. The God given inclinations of our heart meld with the evil we have grown on our own and the circumstances we find ourselves in to make a complicated mess of emotions and desires that are not always easy to sort out. The good news for us is that, when these complicated things grow up alongside one another, we do not find ourselves with a God who will just cut it all down and replace it with something else, but a God who is much more thorough and careful. I do not think it was a mistake that when Mary saw Jesus that day she mistook him for a gardener.

            The resurrection we are all going to know one day, that is already beginning in our hearts, is the transformation of ourselves into who we are meant to be. This is a constructive journey rather than a reductive one. God is not cutting away aspects of our personality till we are a carbon copy of some ideal apart from who we are. Instead, God is cutting away the things that are not part of who we are. Thinking to one of my favorite songs of the faith, God asks us all “Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?”[1] We are all slowly being shown that we are, in fact, beloved by God because of who we are and not in spite of who we are.

            The ideal self is, of course, not just the elevation of what we want in life, but of ourselves-as-we-ought-to-be. We become the most loving people we could be, the most joyful people we could be, the most Christ-like we could be. This does not erase who we are, but it does transform us. We may, if God truly shapes our soul, change enough that people do not even recognize us. Yet, when we call their name, they will have no doubt whose voice is behind it all. This Easter, let us all seek to be our ideal selves, let us all be who Jesus has always meant us to be. – Amen.

[1] The Summon. John Bell

A New Dawn – Easter Sunrise 2022

Luke 24: 1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Sermon Text

As the sun rises this morning, we welcome its light as a sign of our Lord’s resurrection. The darkness of Holy Saturday cannot stand against the Light of Easter Morning. Death has lost its sting this day, Sin all its power over our lives. The dread oppressors of humanity cannot hold onto us any longer. We have the power now to follow God as we never had it before, the power to do what is right in this life, and the assurance that our life shall carry on fully into the age to come. Today life wins out and today God has been established as the ruler of all things.

The story of this morning, as recorded in our scripture, shows people responding to Jesus’s resurrection. The women who gathered to give him a proper burial enter to find him gone. We are not given a description of their reaction in Luke’s gospel, the angels are too quick in appearing to tell them what has happened. The women hear of Jesus’s resurrection, and are reminded of his promise this would happen. When the angels bring Jesus’s words back into their minds, their hearts catch fire with the glory and love that God had shown them. They suddenly realize just what this day means, and they run off to tell the other disciples about God’s miraculous work.

No one believes them when they speak. The exact word used to describe their story, “and idle tale,” in English, is used elsewhere in ancient texts to describe the way people talk at parties. The disciples hear the Jesus was telling the truth, that angels appeared to confirm it, but are unwilling to believe it. The women who first witnessed that God’s salvation had come into the world were being told, essentially, that they sounded like they had been drinking when they said things like this. Only one disciple investigates the matter, Peter, and we are not told that he believes the story after going into the tomb. Instead, he simply is amazed that the events of this morning are taking place. He knows Jesus is gone, the resurrection is not yet revealed to him.

In the dawn of our own new day, we know better than the disciples did then. There are lessons to be taken from this story. Firstly, we see the value of good news, and the truth that it carries. We are so jaded as a people that we, like the disciples tend to hear people promising good things and we assume they must be selling something or that they have lost touch with reality. In truth, those who bring us the good news of God’s salvation – not of money, or power, or any other distraction – are some of the most wonderful gifts God could give us. Like those who went to bury Jesus properly, they speak the truth of the Gospel in adoring love of Jesus, and they sustain us in this life.

These women are able to spread this wonderful news, because they are reminded of God’s promises by the angels. Alongside our tendency to doubt good news, we also forget to tell each other the good things God has promised us. We forget that we are told there will be a day where there is no war. We forget that there is life and life abundant here and now. We forget that there will be a renewal, and not a replacement, of all things everywhere. When we proclaim God’s promises, we have the potential to relight the fire in the hearts of those around us.

Finally, we are reminded in this story that the morning sunlight of God’s new kingdom can sometimes be too much for us to comprehend. Sometimes when God is working, we are unable to see just what that work means for us. The light blinds us in some ways, and we like the disciples are left in our own doubts and preoccupations. Some of today may feel like, even if God is doing something wonderful, we simply cannot bring ourselves to see it. Well, let us all take heart in the truth of this Easter morning. There is light bursting into this world, some have seen it and some have not yet seen it, but it is there. God has brought life back into this world, and we will all know its glory, even if we cannot see it just yet. Remember these words, and count them as true, Christ the Lord, is risen. – Amen.

Salvation Approaches – Palm Sunday 2022

Luke 19:28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven,  and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Sermon Text

Welcome to Holy Week! We are seven days ways from Easter and our celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. Lent is nearly ended, and with its close we hopefully find ourselves a little bit stronger, wiser, and maybe even more virtuous than we were before. We end Lent with the slow march to the cross, the terrible price of our salvation, the most dreaded and fearful day in human history – the day that God was killed by our own selfishness. However, before we get there, we see the darkness of the days to come illuminated for a single shining moment as Christ is given his full due as the Son of God and King of Kings. Jesus enters Jerusalem, a crowd gathers to welcome him, and all the town in abuzz.

Every Gospel tells this story a little differently, each focusing on a different part of what is going on as Jesus makes his way into Jerusalem. Mark keeps the story pretty barebones, John focuses on just how many people were involved in the event, while Matthew is more interested in how it aligns with prophecy. Luke tells his own version of the story, an almost perfect mixture of Mark and Matthew, but with his own distinct emphasis that tells us an awful lot about who Jesus was and what his work was really about.

Luke tells us about Jesus going to Jerusalem for the Passover. As he makes his way, he sends the disciples to find a colt for him to ride on. Unlike in Mark, we are not told whether or not they told the owner it would be sent back to him, only that it was “for the Lord.” Jesus rides into the town and the disciples begin making some noise, bringing together all those who were in Jerusalem for Passover and knew about Jesus. They began to cheer for him, calling for the salvation that he was supposed to bring. They bless him as a King sent from God, and they treat him like one. There are those in the crowd though, whether there to rain doubt on Jesus, or disillusioned former followers, who tell him to silence this loud, singing crowd.

The irony of Holy Week is that it plays backwards from how a typical story would be told. Rather than beginning with someone being down on their luck and ending with them being celebrated for all that they have done, it begins with celebration and ends in the silence of a sealed grave. From now till Holy Saturday we are watching the light of Christ slowly dim in the world, until it looks – for three terrible days – like it was completely snuffed out. Holy Week is a time where our rejoicing and waving of palm fronds becomes weeping and wiping away of tears. We know that Easter is coming, but the mountain we have to climb to get there is the most beautiful and terrible days of human history.

Our scripture shows us a side of Jesus’s ministry that we are not always able to see. Luke tells the story of the Triumphal Entry without much creative flourish, and so we get to see the events unfurl as distinct story beats. He is not afraid to show the slow cascade that leads to a large celebration along the road. It begins with just Jesus and the disciples, then when the disciples start making noise other people begin to join in. The massive crowd which gathers outside the city is not something that just exists, it is created by the enthusiasm of the disciples as they bring Jesus into the city. The shouts of “Hosanna,” get louder and louder as more and more people join in, this is spontaneous, and Spirit filled worship.

Luke presents the chant which the crowd sings slightly differently than the other Gospels. While other Gospels see the crowd yelling out, “Blessed is the one [ὁ] who comes in the name of the Lord,” Luke is intentional in saying the crowd called Jesus the “King,” who comes in the name of the Lord. This makes the implicit message of Jesus’s procession into the city clear for anyone to see. This reenactment of 1 Kings 1: 32-49, in which Solomon enters Jerusalem on a mule and takes his rightful place on the throne over and against his brother, referenced elsewhere in Zechariah 9, is a clear statement that Christ is the rightful King over Caesar or any Herod.

The explicit nature of this cheering from the crowd is probably what makes the pharisees in the crowd tell Jesus to stop them from yelling. The Passover brought a lot of people into Jerusalem and those people were from many different religious and political groups. Rome had ruled over Judea for about seventy years at this point, and there was never a moment of peace between Rome and Jerusalem. The current governor, Pontius Pilate, had previously put down rebellion in the territory, and had bungled his response to it so badly that he was essentially on probation as a governor. Gathering together such a massive amount of people, in the place that was the symbol of what all this conflict was about, was a risk in itself, it certainly did not need someone riding in and claiming they were the rightful king.

The conflict of Holy Week is established in this one story. There is Jesus, riding in to fulfill the long-prophesied work he has been brought into this world to do. There are the crowds of people ready to proclaim that salvation. In opposition there are the religious authorities who see him as a threat and a provocateur and the Roman authorities who are trying to suppress even the smallest hints of dissent. These would all coalesce into the drama of that week, the conclusion of one story and the beginning of another. In one event, small compared to the rest of the celebrations happening that week, the entire story could be seen unfurling bit by bit.

As particular as the first Palm Sunday was to its own context, it still teaches us things about our own world today. There are still authorities that push against the work of the Church, there are still religious people who are more concerned with appearances than doing what is right, and there are still crowds of people that need ministered to. The players may have changed over time, but the central conflicts are largely unchanged. We simply have to look at where we fit into it all, and how we can carry the wonder of that day long ago into our own lives.

There is an anti-authoritarian streak in the Church today that is sometimes very helpful, but oftentimes just causes trouble. Two plus years of mask protests show that some people just want to get into fight without actually caring about whether it is worth it or even good to start the fight. Yet, there are powers in this world that need someone to oppose them. There are people who have actively worked to make the world more unsafe for other people, to make it legal to plow cars into groups of people, to forbid people from living their fullest lives, to actively sue people just for teaching hard truths about history. Even here in West Virginia we have seen such legislation argued in the legislature, sometimes passing and sometimes being defeated only because time ran out to pass it. With all the problems in the world, love for others was chosen as a crime. When that sort of thing happens, the church has no recourse but to oppose authority.

Yet, we often find ourselves like the pharisees in this story. We see the need to change the world around us for the better, but to really change would be to give up our comfort or our power. To change the world would me changing ourselves – shifting our viewpoints, changing the way we worship to be more inviting, maybe even mixing up the music we use to be something other than “what we’ve always done,” or “used to do.” We would rather have the models of ministry that worked twenty years ago than imagine what the world needs for us today, accepting that when Jesus comes to us and gives us a mission to fulfill, we cannot dictate what he is going to ask of us.

Finally, we must see in this story the way that a movement can grow. It is not effective marketing that made the Church burst to life in the first century, it was simple enthusiasm. People came to welcome Jesus into the city because the disciples were excited about him coming to save them. The people did not know this new song the disciples sang, but they joined in anyway. It was not the old standards, it was the outpouring of their heart and soul into what they had been handed. The song itself meant very little, as long as the people were pouring themselves into it.

Something lost on us today is that when this crowd that gathered around Jesus is described, they are called an “ochlos,” which might be better called a “rabble.” This term is often used in Greek to refer to the unwashed masses. This is not just a group of people, these are the sort of people that angry opinion pieces are written about. If Jerusalem had a version of the Exponent Telegram, you could picture the sorts of things they would have written. “Homeless Crowd gathers outside of town: Backwater Populist Leads the Mob.” Other Gospels describe the people inside Jerusalem being afraid of this group outside the city, the well-to-do inside the walls terrified of this rural mob.

Jesus brought together people who were enthusiastic about the coming Kingdom of God. The most enthusiastic people were those who had nothing to lose and everything to gain from this Kingdom. These were the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden and the rejected. These were the sex workers, the drug dealers, and the drug users. These were the backpackers riding around town on their bicycles, the people who slept with chains in their hand in case they needed to defend themselves. These were the people whose tents were bulldozed in the middle of the night without warning, these are the wretched and the uncounted. These are God’s Children, and these were the people who came together to welcome Jesus in.

Today we stand as the disciples, ready to bring together people who can be as enthusiastic as we are about Christ’s coming. Yet, where is our cheering, where is our loud singing? Is it lost in the sea of what was or what we would like to be? We must begin to be enthusiastic about our salvation, because it is coming to be among us – not with loud trumpets and pomp – but with a poor, homeless man, riding a donkey surrounded by others like him. – Amen.

The Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love – 04/03/2022

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Sermon Text

Our scripture for today is something that we all know well. If a person has never read the Bible they can probably rattle through a few of the characteristics of love. They may fall off after “insist on its own way,” but patient and kind, everyone knows that! Beloved in and out of the Church, the way Paul talks about Love here carries an amazing amount of weight. Everyone knows what love is and we all strive to be loving people. Love is the crown of human experience, more important than being strong or smart or talented, there is the ability to love.

We have spent our Lententide looking at the virtues. Courage, Temperance, Prudence, and Justice. All these things are found behind every good action which we take part in. Still, there are three virtues which are lifted up above them all, these are the virtues of faith, of hope, and of love. Without these three, the other four are left inert. There is no point to being courageous, if your courage is not in hope of something else. There is no true prudence that does not hold faith in the outcomes of our discernment. Most of all, there is no justice which is not rooted in love of other people.

Faith is the foundation of our lives in Christ. We talked in February about how faith justifies us and equips us for all the works which God has put before us. The two are not competing impulses in our life, but work hand in hand to see us perfected. There is more to faith than just simply believing what we have been told about God. Any person can say that they believe in God, any person can say they have faith in Christ. Faith is instead a combination of belief, commitment, and above all trust. To have faith in Christ is to have trust that Christ will see us through. To have faith in Christ is to accept the life we are called to live. To have faith in Christ is much more than reciting creeds and memorizing scripture.

Faith in Greek is pistis, (πιστις) and comes from a word meaning, “to convince.” Yet, that convincing is not about making arguments that cause someone to agree with us, instead it is about bringing someone into a place of trust. One of the biggest gripes I have about how ministry was taught to me in High School, was that it focused on having the right answers for people when they came to you asking questions or picking fights. Sometimes its good to have a few answers up your sleeve, but no one has ever converted to Christianity because they heard a really good argument. Instead, we accept Christ into our lives because we have been given a reason to trust the good news, and that trust begins when we trust those who tell it to us.

One of the things we have lost in the Church is the trust of the average person. Some of that loss of trust is unfounded, sure, but a majority of it we earned fair and square. People see the Church as a greedy thing, restricting people’s lives while squeezing them of every last penny. They see the people in the pews as judgmental and cruel, and they doubt the sincerity of the love they give when it is so often tied to a conditional – “but!” The Church is shrinking for many reasons, but one is that we are unable to convince people we are trustworthy, and so we make it hard for them to trust the savior who sent us.

For those who do find that trust, there blossoms yet another gift of God. This is hope. When we trust God, we hold onto the promises God has made and do not give into despair. That’s not always easy to do, not when the full weight of the world bears down on us. Even Christ, in the midst of his passion, cried out asking why God had forsaken him, yet he knew that the resurrection was ahead of him. Hope, that furtive force that sustains us in the midst of all our troubles, is something we exercise just as much as we exercise any other capacity of our being. We become better at holding hope when we learn to hold it out no matter what comes our way. That does not mean we deny reality, even hard realities, but it means we believe God can make the hard things of life into something new and beautiful.

I am fairly open about my persistent depressive disorder, and anyone else who struggles with mental health will have their own stories they could tell. Hope is an even harder thing to grapple with when thing that sorts out all our emotions and perspectives is actively taking us down far less helpful roads. How do you hold onto hope, when your brain lacks the chemicals to see a happier outcome? How do you manifest a vision of a better future, when the wires just won’t connect to imagine such a thing? Willpower isn’t enough – only good friends, good therapy, and maybe a few milligrams of medication here and there can break through that wall. For me, Hope is an endangered thing without my Lexapro to lean upon.

Yet, small as it can be amidst the constant beating on the walls which has defined our past few years, hope never disappears. I have an image in my mind, from a book about Greek myths when I was a kid, of Hope floating out of Pandora’s Box. The illustrator chose to show hope as a small wisp of smoke, pinkish purple, forming the shape of a butterfly as it drifted out into the world. I think that that captures something of what hope is. It does not always bowl us over, frequently we barely even notice it coming into the room. Yet, when we feel it flutter onto us, we know that we can keep going, it sustains us through even the toughest days of our life.

Yet, Paul is clear that even these two things are not eternal. There will come a day, when we all are together in the New World that God is bringing, that we look out to the future and know that there is no darkness to fear, and so we have no need to hope of what will come later. Likewise, we will not need to have faith in anything, for we will trust out of what we know to be true rather than out of anything we have to reason or be convinced of. We will trust simply because there is no other reality than the goodness of God present in all things.

There will be no need to be temperate with the many gifts of God, nor no evil to stand up against, no fearful thing to be brave in the face of, not a single injustice to be righted. In the world that is to come, the utility of our virtues is transformed into something else. In a perfect world, there is only a single thing which transcends the needs of a person and define the very essence of a person. That is the virtue, the pinnacle, the absolute immensity of love. When all is said and done, the universe will not be composed of any force except for love. God will pour out the Spirit and all the world will be bathed in the communion it was always meant for, no separation between you and me, but only the knowledge that in Christ we are all one.

Paul makes clear in our scripture today that if we want to be good at anything in this life, anything that is really important, we should practice being loving first. A person who loves another person is not going to treat them poorly, a person who loves another person will stand up and take risks when necessary for them, they will fight for their justice, they will ensure all the right steps are taken to see them through this life. When we hear that “God is love,” or that, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” we should take that seriously. No other metric matters in this life as much as our ability to love one another – even and especially when we love the difficult people in our life.

Over time I have fallen in love with different parts of our Methodist liturgy. Lately, it’s the assurance and pardon which we give during communion that really tugs at my heart. “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, that proves God’s love toward us.” When we go into our life, we have faith that this is the case. We can truly have hope that Christ cares for us. We know all this because God has proven God’s love to us, again and again, and again. Let us join God’s work and let us love one another. – Amen.