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Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Do You Value and Love the Most? (Luke 12:15-34)


15 Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy. ” 16 Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. 17 He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! 18 Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. 19 I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God. ”
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither plant nor harvest, they have no silo or barn, yet God feeds them. You are worth so much more than birds! 25 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 26 If you can’t do such a small thing, why worry about the rest? 27 Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 28 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, how much more will God do for you, you people of weak faith! 29 Don’t chase after what you will eat and what you will drink. Stop worrying. 30 All the nations of the world long for these things. Your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, desire his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. 34 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.

What does God want us to do with our money? That’s what we’re going to talk about today.  Now, I’ll make a deal with you: I’m only going to preach about money one Sunday a year, unless you indicate that you need to hear about it more often.  Okay?  If you’re visiting with us, I promise you we don’t do this every week!

There’s a direct link between our hearts and our wallets. I have a pastor friend, who, after inviting the congregation to grow in their generosity, was approached by several members who said, “Pastor, you let us worry about things like money, and you just focus on the spiritual stuff, okay?”  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”  Friends, the money is just as much a part of that spiritual stuff as worship and Sunday School and prayer groups and Bible studies.

So, my encouragement for you to be generous comes from my pastoral desire that you grow closer to God.  Simply stated, if you’re a disciple, you need to give as generously as your means allow.

And hear this part: I realize not everyone here has the same means.  I do understand that times are tough for a lot of folks, with unemployment and underemployment and wages that have been frozen for years and social security checks that don’t go as far as they used to.  So, hear me carefully, I know that times are hard for many people.  God knows that, too, and God understands.  Your church knows that, and your church understands.

You may be struggling right now because of a medical or family situation, you may be buried under debt and getting the Visa bill from hell every month - you may have circumstances in your life preventing you from living with the joy and generosity you earnestly desire.

If that’s where you are today, today’s message is that this church community is here for you, and will walk with you through your difficulty.  No one’s place or acceptance in this church is tied to their ability to give.  I want this church to be here to be a blessing for everyone, especially those who are going through a hard time, so if there’s anything we can do for you, please let me know.

For those of us with means, we are called to give as generously as our means allow, ensuring that this church is here for all who face life’s difficulties for generations to come.

Today’s Scripture is a sermon from Jesus that includes warnings against being anxious or greedy, about hoarding for ourselves and being stingy with what we give to God.  Instead, he tells us to seek first God’s kingdom, and then everything we need will be taken care of.  Jesus’ sermon reaches its conclusion when he says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”

What you do with your money shows what’s going on in your heart, and Jesus is interested in your heart!  He’s interested in what’s going on in terms of your commitments and priorities, your relationships, your time, your talents, and yes, your treasure.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too” – we understand that our wallets and our hearts are inseparable; they are like peas and carrots.  Looking for your heart?  First find your wallet; your heart will be in the same place.

Ashley and I had been together for about three years when our errands took us by the drive-thru ATM.  I was trying to be as quick as possible, because there were a few cars in line behind us.  I had several transactions to make, and while I was punching in numbers, I just handed Ashley my wallet, receipts, and cash.  As we drove down the street, she said, “Wow, I’ve never had your wallet before,” to which I replied, “Sweetie, you’ve had my wallet for three years, now.”

Any parent knows when you have kids, that’s where the money goes.  If you’ve got grandkids, the money really flies out to them!  Whoever or whatever you love, that’s where you’re going to spend your money.  It would just make sense, then, that if we love God, we’d give our money to God.

You’ve heard the saying, “Put your money where your mouth is.”  The message from Jesus goes one further: Put your money where you want your heart to be.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be, too. As goes your wallet, so goes your heart.  If you want your heart to grow closer to God, put more of your treasure in God’s hands.

When we give generously, our hearts are changed.  When we are generous—to God and to our families, friends, neighbors and others who are in need—our hearts are filled with joy and enlarged by the very act of giving.  Think of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  When he learned how to give, his heart grew how many sizes?  There’s that link between our hearts and our wallets again!

For our hearts to grow closer to God, we are called to put our treasure in God’s hands.  How much of our treasure?  The Bible teaches us to tithe - to give 10% of our income to God through our local church.  God blesses us abundantly when we tithe.  2 Corinthians 9:6-7 tells us, “the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop.  7 Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver.”

What we give are seeds of blessing.  Sometimes people ask, “Am I supposed to give 10% gross or 10% net?” and my response is it depends how big a blessing you want - a gross-sized blessing, or a net-sized blessing!  We cheerfully give everything we can, because God blesses generous giving.

Further, the Bible teaches us to give God our first-fruits (Proverbs 3:9).  We intentionally set aside God’s portion first, before we spend anything else.  We give God what’s best, not just what’s left.

Here’s what sometimes happens. I need a volunteer (who will play the part of God!)  God has given me these ten apples, representing my income.  God says, “Nine of these are yours; do what you want with them.  But the first one belongs to me, as a sign of your gratitude, and so I can continue what I need to do in the world.” So, here you go, God.  This one is yours. (give one apple to God)

Now, you know how this works.  You need to save for retirement.  You need to pay the mortgage.  And the car payment. And the household bills.  You need something to eat.  You need clothes.  Maybe you take a vacation, have a hobby – whatever, God said to do what you want with it.

Oh, and I forgot, Christmas is coming and God will understand, it’s his kid’s birthday, and it’s sort of like giving, at least to my friends and family. (take God’s apple back, and take a few bites)

ACC basketball season is coming, and that TV is on sale this week at Best Buy, and I can’t afford to take it from these other apples, so, I’m sure God will understand, just this one time. (more bites)

And the car we’ve got, it’s a good car, I mean, it’s fine, and I know it’s almost paid for, but I just saw this ad, and for another $150 a month I can get THAT car, and you know, I’m a child of the king, and God wants to me ride in style, so everyone will glorify God because I have a nice car . . . (more bites)

Little by little, there’s not much left, and we say, “Here Lord, this is your part.  Here Lord.  I give this to you.” (Give the core to God.)

How can we make sure we’re giving God what best, not just what’s left?  The way we do this in our house is to follow the 10-10-80 rule.  The first 10% of our income goes to God through the church, the second 10% goes into savings, and then we live off the remaining 80%.  We do it right off the top; we don’t even think about the first 10% as our money; that’s God’s money!  That’s one of the reasons we give electronically - not only is it convenient, but every month, God gets paid first. 

So, 10% goes to God, and we split that between the two churches who provide our income, 10% is invested in our savings where we can’t get to it easily, and then we make our lifestyle decisions and our spending priorities out of that 80% that’s left, and there’s something more: I call it “Jesus Math.”  Here’s how it works.  That 80% that we’ve kept to live off of – most of that is gone.  It’s gone to a lot of stuff we don’t have any more: cars and clothes that have worn out, gadgets and gizmos we’ve broken or lost, golf balls I’ve shanked into the woods.  But that 10% we’ve given to God, it still lives on, in the adults, youth, and children whose lives have been changed through the church.  That’s how Jesus Math works - what we kept for ourselves is gone, but what we gave away is still going.

Friends, our means may all be different, but we are each called to be generous according to our means.  Yes, I think we need to plan and budget carefully and make the resources we have go as far as they will go, but being thrifty is no excuse for being cheap.  We make spending decisions in our house precisely so we can afford to be generous.

I’ll speak from my experience here; God blesses generosity.  Every time we've made an intentional choice toward generosity, it was the right choice!  We’ve never missed the money we’ve given away.  And here’s the really interesting thing: the more we give, the more we seem to still have in our pockets.  Everything we’ve ever given, God has replenished and then some.  Our personal financial situation is better because we give generously.  We’re at a point in our lives where we can’t afford NOT to tithe – I wouldn’t even consider it.  I cringe to think how difficult our situation might be if we didn’t tithe!  Try it out for yourself and respond to God’s call to be a generous person; otherwise, you’re missing out on some big blessings!

Now, you may be looking at that figure of 10%, and thinking, “I’d like to, but pastor, there’s no way I can do that.”  Growing in generosity is sorta like training for a marathon; you don’t wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to run 26.2 miles today.”  The way to do that is to train, stretching yourself over time until finally you reach that goal and are ready to run the marathon.

When it comes to giving, moving toward tithing takes the same sort of intentional planning and determination.  So wherever you are, take a step that is reachable.  Here’s how to start.  Think about what percentage of your income you give now, and challenge yourself to give 1% more next year, and 1% more the year after that, until you reach that goal of 10%.  It may take some time to reach that goal of 10%, and that’s okay. As we grow in giving, we grow closer to God.  God will bless the step you take in faith.

Today, I invite you to take one step in your journey of generosity.  There’s a basket of cards that say, “Everything I have is a gift from God, and I am grateful.  Where my treasure is, there my heart will be too. Placing more of my treasure in God’s hands will help me grow closer to God.

And so, in gratitude for what God has done in my life, trusting that God will provide abundantly for me and my family, I step out in faith and believe that God is calling me to give                % of my income to God in 2014 through Morehead United Methodist Church.”

I invite you to come forward, pick up one these cards and spend the next several moments in silent prayer, discernment, and commitment.   You may feel led to fill that out right now, or you may need to take it home and have some time to mull it over.  The important thing is for you and God to spend some time together figuring out the percentage of your income you feel God calling you to give in 2014.  This really is a spiritual issue, not a financial one, and so I’m asking you and God to go ahead and clear on that percentage before you run the numbers.

And remember, this is a good faith estimate.  It’s just between you and God.  We don’t have dues at this church; we’re not going to send you a bill.  If your circumstances change and you have to juggle your finances, God certainly understands that.  So does your church.  We’re going to love you and accept you no matter what.

But if you have an opportunity to be generous, I encourage you to take it.  Generosity is good for the soul.  It’s said that you make a living by what you get; but you make a life by what you give.

Jesus said that he came so that we would have life, not a living.  Not just any life, either; an abundant one.

What Do You Value and Love the Most? (Luke 12:15-34)


15 Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy. ” 16 Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. 17 He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! 18 Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. 19 I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God. ”
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither plant nor harvest, they have no silo or barn, yet God feeds them. You are worth so much more than birds! 25 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 26 If you can’t do such a small thing, why worry about the rest? 27 Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 28 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, how much more will God do for you, you people of weak faith! 29 Don’t chase after what you will eat and what you will drink. Stop worrying. 30 All the nations of the world long for these things. Your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, desire his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. 34 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.

What does God want us to do with our money? That’s what we’re going to talk about today.  Now, I’ll make a deal with you: I’m only going to preach about money one Sunday a year, unless you indicate that you need to hear about it more often.  Okay?  If you’re visiting with us, I promise you we don’t do this every week!

There’s a direct link between our hearts and our wallets. I have a pastor friend, who, after inviting the congregation to grow in their generosity, was approached by several members who said, “Pastor, you let us worry about things like money, and you just focus on the spiritual stuff, okay?”  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”  Friends, the money is just as much a part of that spiritual stuff as worship and Sunday School and prayer groups and Bible studies.

So, my encouragement for you to be generous comes from my pastoral desire that you grow closer to God.  Simply stated, if you’re a disciple, you need to give as generously as your means allow.

And hear this part: I realize not everyone here has the same means.  I do understand that times are tough for a lot of folks, with unemployment and underemployment and wages that have been frozen for years and social security checks that don’t go as far as they used to.  So, hear me carefully, I know that times are hard for many people.  God knows that, too, and God understands.  Your church knows that, and your church understands.

You may be struggling right now because of a medical or family situation, you may be buried under debt and getting the Visa bill from hell every month - you may have circumstances in your life preventing you from living with the joy and generosity you earnestly desire.

If that’s where you are today, today’s message is that this church community is here for you, and will walk with you through your difficulty.  No one’s place or acceptance in this church is tied to their ability to give.  I want this church to be here to be a blessing for everyone, especially those who are going through a hard time, so if there’s anything we can do for you, please let me know.

For those of us with means, we are called to give as generously as our means allow, ensuring that this church is here for all who face life’s difficulties for generations to come.

Today’s Scripture is a sermon from Jesus that includes warnings against being anxious or greedy, about hoarding for ourselves and being stingy with what we give to God.  Instead, he tells us to seek first God’s kingdom, and then everything we need will be taken care of.  Jesus’ sermon reaches its conclusion when he says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”

What you do with your money shows what’s going on in your heart, and Jesus is interested in your heart!  He’s interested in what’s going on in terms of your commitments and priorities, your relationships, your time, your talents, and yes, your treasure.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too” – we understand that our wallets and our hearts are inseparable; they are like peas and carrots.  Looking for your heart?  First find your wallet; your heart will be in the same place.

Ashley and I had been together for about three years when our errands took us by the drive-thru ATM.  I was trying to be as quick as possible, because there were a few cars in line behind us.  I had several transactions to make, and while I was punching in numbers, I just handed Ashley my wallet, receipts, and cash.  As we drove down the street, she said, “Wow, I’ve never had your wallet before,” to which I replied, “Sweetie, you’ve had my wallet for three years, now.”

Any parent knows when you have kids, that’s where the money goes.  If you’ve got grandkids, the money really flies out to them!  Whoever or whatever you love, that’s where you’re going to spend your money.  It would just make sense, then, that if we love God, we’d give our money to God.

You’ve heard the saying, “Put your money where your mouth is.”  The message from Jesus goes one further: Put your money where you want your heart to be.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be, too. As goes your wallet, so goes your heart.  If you want your heart to grow closer to God, put more of your treasure in God’s hands.

When we give generously, our hearts are changed.  When we are generous—to God and to our families, friends, neighbors and others who are in need—our hearts are filled with joy and enlarged by the very act of giving.  Think of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  When he learned how to give, his heart grew how many sizes?  There’s that link between our hearts and our wallets again!

For our hearts to grow closer to God, we are called to put our treasure in God’s hands.  How much of our treasure?  The Bible teaches us to tithe - to give 10% of our income to God through our local church.  God blesses us abundantly when we tithe.  2 Corinthians 9:6-7 tells us, “the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop.  7 Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver.”

What we give are seeds of blessing.  Sometimes people ask, “Am I supposed to give 10% gross or 10% net?” and my response is it depends how big a blessing you want - a gross-sized blessing, or a net-sized blessing!  We cheerfully give everything we can, because God blesses generous giving.

Further, the Bible teaches us to give God our first-fruits (Proverbs 3:9).  We intentionally set aside God’s portion first, before we spend anything else.  We give God what’s best, not just what’s left.

Here’s what sometimes happens. I need a volunteer (who will play the part of God!)  God has given me these ten apples, representing my income.  God says, “Nine of these are yours; do what you want with them.  But the first one belongs to me, as a sign of your gratitude, and so I can continue what I need to do in the world.” So, here you go, God.  This one is yours. (give one apple to God)

Now, you know how this works.  You need to save for retirement.  You need to pay the mortgage.  And the car payment. And the household bills.  You need something to eat.  You need clothes.  Maybe you take a vacation, have a hobby – whatever, God said to do what you want with it.

Oh, and I forgot, Christmas is coming and God will understand, it’s his kid’s birthday, and it’s sort of like giving, at least to my friends and family. (take God’s apple back, and take a few bites)

ACC basketball season is coming, and that TV is on sale this week at Best Buy, and I can’t afford to take it from these other apples, so, I’m sure God will understand, just this one time. (more bites)

And the car we’ve got, it’s a good car, I mean, it’s fine, and I know it’s almost paid for, but I just saw this ad, and for another $150 a month I can get THAT car, and you know, I’m a child of the king, and God wants to me ride in style, so everyone will glorify God because I have a nice car . . . (more bites)

Little by little, there’s not much left, and we say, “Here Lord, this is your part.  Here Lord.  I give this to you.” (Give the core to God.)

How can we make sure we’re giving God what best, not just what’s left?  The way we do this in our house is to follow the 10-10-80 rule.  The first 10% of our income goes to God through the church, the second 10% goes into savings, and then we live off the remaining 80%.  We do it right off the top; we don’t even think about the first 10% as our money; that’s God’s money!  That’s one of the reasons we give electronically - not only is it convenient, but every month, God gets paid first. 

So, 10% goes to God, and we split that between the two churches who provide our income, 10% is invested in our savings where we can’t get to it easily, and then we make our lifestyle decisions and our spending priorities out of that 80% that’s left, and there’s something more: I call it “Jesus Math.”  Here’s how it works.  That 80% that we’ve kept to live off of – most of that is gone.  It’s gone to a lot of stuff we don’t have any more: cars and clothes that have worn out, gadgets and gizmos we’ve broken or lost, golf balls I’ve shanked into the woods.  But that 10% we’ve given to God, it still lives on, in the adults, youth, and children whose lives have been changed through the church.  That’s how Jesus Math works - what we kept for ourselves is gone, but what we gave away is still going.

Friends, our means may all be different, but we are each called to be generous according to our means.  Yes, I think we need to plan and budget carefully and make the resources we have go as far as they will go, but being thrifty is no excuse for being cheap.  We make spending decisions in our house precisely so we can afford to be generous.

I’ll speak from my experience here; God blesses generosity.  Every time we've made an intentional choice toward generosity, it was the right choice!  We’ve never missed the money we’ve given away.  And here’s the really interesting thing: the more we give, the more we seem to still have in our pockets.  Everything we’ve ever given, God has replenished and then some.  Our personal financial situation is better because we give generously.  We’re at a point in our lives where we can’t afford NOT to tithe – I wouldn’t even consider it.  I cringe to think how difficult our situation might be if we didn’t tithe!  Try it out for yourself and respond to God’s call to be a generous person; otherwise, you’re missing out on some big blessings!

Now, you may be looking at that figure of 10%, and thinking, “I’d like to, but pastor, there’s no way I can do that.”  Growing in generosity is sorta like training for a marathon; you don’t wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to run 26.2 miles today.”  The way to do that is to train, stretching yourself over time until finally you reach that goal and are ready to run the marathon.

When it comes to giving, moving toward tithing takes the same sort of intentional planning and determination.  So wherever you are, take a step that is reachable.  Here’s how to start.  Think about what percentage of your income you give now, and challenge yourself to give 1% more next year, and 1% more the year after that, until you reach that goal of 10%.  It may take some time to reach that goal of 10%, and that’s okay. As we grow in giving, we grow closer to God.  God will bless the step you take in faith.

Today, I invite you to take one step in your journey of generosity.  There’s a basket of cards that say, “Everything I have is a gift from God, and I am grateful.  Where my treasure is, there my heart will be too. Placing more of my treasure in God’s hands will help me grow closer to God.

And so, in gratitude for what God has done in my life, trusting that God will provide abundantly for me and my family, I step out in faith and believe that God is calling me to give                % of my income to God in 2014 through Morehead United Methodist Church.”

I invite you to come forward, pick up one these cards and spend the next several moments in silent prayer, discernment, and commitment.   You may feel led to fill that out right now, or you may need to take it home and have some time to mull it over.  The important thing is for you and God to spend some time together figuring out the percentage of your income you feel God calling you to give in 2014.  This really is a spiritual issue, not a financial one, and so I’m asking you and God to go ahead and clear on that percentage before you run the numbers.

And remember, this is a good faith estimate.  It’s just between you and God.  We don’t have dues at this church; we’re not going to send you a bill.  If your circumstances change and you have to juggle your finances, God certainly understands that.  So does your church.  We’re going to love you and accept you no matter what.

But if you have an opportunity to be generous, I encourage you to take it.  Generosity is good for the soul.  It’s said that you make a living by what you get; but you make a life by what you give.

Jesus said that he came so that we would have life, not a living.  Not just any life, either; an abundant one.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Little Brothers and Big Gifts (John 1:35-42)


(Delivered as a Guest at Stokesdale United Methodist Church, Stokesdale, NC)

The next day John again was stranding with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”  They said to him, “Rabbi,” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and see.”  They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.  It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).  He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John.  You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

It is a joy to be with you in worship this morning.  I am grateful for the invitation of your beautiful, kind, compassionate, wise, and overall “Git-R-Done” pastor to be here today.  Being part of a clergy couple carries both certain joys and challenges – one of those challenges is that though we are both called with a deep passion to lead the in life-transforming worship, ministry, and mission, we rarely get to do that together.  And so, as a spouse, it is simply a rare treat for us to be in worship together.  We enjoy getting to work together, so thank you for letting that happen today.

I am also grateful for this congregation and the role you play in this community.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but your authentic commitment to a distinctly Wesleyan theology and way-of-life is not only unique, but is a tremendous gift to your neighbors.  That is something our world today desperately needs, and you have it here!  You should be proud of that, because you have something here worth offering!

Ashley has probably told you this many times already, but let me reiterate how happy we are to be here, to call NW Guilford County home, and to be so warmly welcomed and graciously received into both the Morehead and Stokesdale church families.  Thank you for helping both of us feel right at home; we are glad to be here.  Let us pray.

Little Brothers
Today, I’d like for us to think about little brothers.  Who in the room has a little brother?  Take a look around, I want everyone to note this.  Now, who in the room is a little brother?  Those of you who raised your hand the first time, I want you to take special note of these little brothers around you!  Little brothers have it tough, growing up in the shadow of their older siblings.

I am both a younger brother and an older brother.  I did have the advantage of being the first boy, however, so as I grew up and went through school, many teachers did not expect me to be very much like my older sisters, which was a good thing, because our personalities are very different.

However, six years after I came along, my younger brother, Dave, went through the same teachers, and those who made the connection about who he was and who he was related to expected him to be like a little mini-version of me, which—thanks be to God—he’s not.  I know what’s it like to be a little brother, and what a pain in the proverbial they can be, and I know what it’s like to have a little brother, and the great gift they can be.

In today’s text we find Andrew, kid brother to Simon Peter.  We hear all about Simon Peter throughout scripture: his questions, his doubts, his walking on water, his confession of Jesus as the Messiah and then his denial of ever having known Jesus.  Before the story is over, we will remember him as chief among the apostles and the primary leader of the early church. 

But what do we know about his kid brother, Andrew?  Not much.  His personality fades in comparison to that of his outgoing, gregarious, head-strong older brother.  Andrew all but disappears in his older brother’s shadow.  But, as both a little brother and an Andrew myself, I know that little brothers and Andrews play an important role in the story of Faith.  And indeed, had it not been for ordinary, little Andrew, Christianity as we know it may not have even gotten off the ground.

Who was Andrew?
So, who was Andrew?  Andrew was Simon Peter’s kid brother.  When they played a game, who decided what they would play?  Simon Peter.  When a joke was being told, who was telling it?  Simon Peter.  When someone asked them a question about fishing, who jumped in with an immediate response?  Simon Peter.  In the background, playing second fiddle, was Andrew.

Andrew is much more ordinary than his gregarious older brother, Simon Peter.  Simon Peter loves the limelight and has no problem being the life of the party.  Make him the center of attention and know that he’ll share his opinion on anything, whether he knows what he’s talking about or not – anyone here know anyone like that?  No finger pointing!  Because he’s so much larger than life, Simon Peter is a rare species – you distinctly remember meeting someone like him.

But Andrew is just a normal, ordinary guy – someone just like you and me.  And that’s what I want us to remember about Andrew – he is a regular, ordinary, normal person – someone just like you and me.

For every Simon Peter, there are 10,000 Andrews.  Abraham Lincoln said, “God must love ordinary people; he made so many of them!” The amazing thing is that God can and does use all of those ordinary people, you know, people like us.  It’s easy to overlook someone as plain and ordinary as Andrew, but if faith has taught us anything, it is that God so often uses the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary.  So it was for Andrew!

Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, whose message was one of preparation for Jesus.  In our text today, Jesus walks by when John the Baptist whispers.  “Pssst.  Hey Andrew.  That’s him.  That’s the guy.  You know, the one I’ve been telling you about from the beginning.  You know, the Lamb of God.  The one who will take away the sin of the world, who will change the world, the one who will bring about reconciliation between all the world and God.  That’s him!”

Andrew doesn’t need to hear anything else.  Before John has even stopped speaking, Andrew is off.     Andrew follows Jesus and ends up spending the better part of 24 hours with him.  We don’t really know what they talked about, or what happened.  We simply know that spending time with Jesus changed him, and Andrew, who up until now has been a disciple of John the Baptist, will become a follower of Jesus.

I doubt he knew what he was getting himself into in following Jesus – honestly, who among us does!  But whatever happened to Andrew, whatever he and Jesus talked about, whatever it was like to spend time with Jesus, it must have been wonderful, because Andrew just couldn’t keep the news to himself.  First thing the next morning, Andrew ran to find his larger-than-life big brother and shared the wonderful news, “We have found the Messiah.  The one for whom we have hoped for so long is here, he is among us.  I have met him, and I want you to meet him too.”

Andrew is an evangelist.  The term “evangelist” comes from the Greek word euangelion – which means “good news” or “gospel.”  Andrew is an evangelist in that he shares the good news of Jesus, with others, including his big brother.  Andrew knew that Jesus was good news, plain and simple, and he just had to tell someone about it.  He simply said “I have met Jesus, and I would like you to meet him too.  Let me bring you to Jesus.”

You ever have someone tell you something, or you come across an article or a piece of news or some particular experience, and you think, “Oh, this is just too good not to share!  I just have to tell someone or I will literally burst!

Back in the early 80s, Apple Computers hired a special group of salesmen who they called “Apple Evangelists.”  It was their job to spread the good news of Apple Computers, which was easy because these guys were so excited and believed with every geeky fiber of their being that Apple Computers were the best thing to happen to humankind since perhaps sliced bread or the invention of the wheel.

It’s easy to share good news when you genuinely believe it, and believe everyone else needs to experience it, as well.  Friends, good news is meant to be shared, and what greater news do we have than new life in Christ?

Andrew – an ordinary evangelist
Andrew was an ordinary person who met Jesus and wanted others to meet him, too.  And so, he went and found his brother and brought him to Jesus.  Andrew did not try to convert his brother.  Andrew did not try to change his brother or convince his brother.  Andrew just said, “Come and see.  I would like you to meet Jesus.”  Andrew’s life had been transformed because he met Jesus, and he just wanted others to meet him too.

In fact, everywhere we meet Andrew throughout the rest of the story, he brings people to Jesus.  When Jesus had been preaching to a great crowd that was starting to get hungry, Andrew had been talking to a little boy who had a sack lunch with five loaves of bread and two fish in it.  Andrew said, “I would like you to meet Jesus.”  Jesus transformed that little boy, transformed his meager meal, and transformed the crowd.  Then later, Andrew meets a few Greeks and he says, “I would like you to meet Jesus,” and they become disciples.  Andrew doesn’t make many appearances through the Gospels, but every time he does, he is bringing people and introducing them to Jesus, and lives are changed because of it.

Be an Andrew
Sometimes we think that evangelism is best left to the professionals.  Leighton Ford tells this story:

“I was speaking at an open-air crusade in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Billy Graham was to speak the next night and had arrived a day early. He came incognito and sat on the grass at the rear of the crowd. Because he was wearing a hat and dark glasses, no one recognized him.

“Directly in front of him sat an elderly gentleman who seemed to be listening intently to my presentation. When I invited people to come forward as an open sign of commitment, Billy decided to do a little personal evangelism. He tapped the man on the shoulder and asked, ‘Would you like to accept Christ? I'll be glad to walk down with you if you want to.’ The old man looked him up and down, thought it over for a moment, and then said, ‘Naw, I think I'll just wait till the big gun comes tomorrow night.’”

Friends, inviting people to meet Jesus is not just a job for the big guns, it’s for the small shot, the little brother, the regular, ordinary person.

Scripture is filled with examples of people who didn’t feel qualified to be about the task to which God had called them.  They offered all sorts of excuses: “I’m too old” or “I’m too young.”  “I’m not experienced enough,” or “I’m too tired.”  “I’m not trained” or “I am not a good public speaker.”  Those are human excuses, and they are no barrier to God.  The difference was made by those who simply responded to the call, regardless of their qualifications.

If you’re here this morning and you’re thinking, “I’m just a regular, ordinary person,” then let me tell you this: yes, you are!  You are wonderfully ordinary!  The good news today is that God uses the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary; the more ordinary you are, the more extraordinary things God can do through you.  So, thank you for being an ordinary person!

Andrew simply says, “I would like you to meet Jesus.” Simple words of invitation are more crucial to the life of faith than our carefully worded theological statements.  The church begins with an invitation, and it spreads, person to person, with the simple words of a heartfelt invitation.

Andrew invites Simon Peter to come and see; Andrew welcomes because he was welcomed himself.  Likewise, we invite others to come and see; we welcome because we were welcomed ourselves.  We invite because we were invited.

The world could use a few more Andrews.  Stokesdale could use a few more Andrews! We could use a few more people who bring people to Jesus.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (Revelation 21:1-6a)


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

On this All Saints’ Sunday, we celebrate the lives of those who have finished their course in faith, who now rest from their earthly labors, whose lives shine like so many twinkling stars in the heavens.  We join with Christians through the centuries, a great cloud of witnesses who testify with one voice to our resurrection faith.

While the patterns and symbols are fairly standard and straightforward from place to place – names read, bells tolled, candles lit – each community will still celebrate in its particular way, for the life of each person is a delicate and unique strand of a complex tapestry we call “life.”  For every person whose individual thread has made the entire piece a closer reflection of the goodness and beauty God intends for this world, we call one such person a “saint.”

On this Sunday each year, we take a few moments to remember the saints who have moved their membership from this church into the Church Triumphant, and this year we remember Margaret Robinson, Eazora Cummings, Fred Williams, Sr., and Willie Maude Michaux.  We remember other saints – persons in our own lives and total strangers – who have made that same journey, whether recently or a long time ago.  We give thanks for their witness, and for the faith they have given to us.

All Saints’ Day is one of those days where a grab bag of emotions flood our senses, moving us seamlessly from grief to hope, tears to smiles, sadness to joy, and then back around again, because we not only remember their lives with us on this side of the resurrection, but we celebrate that God has restored them and healed them fully – their tears are wiped away, death has passed away, and mourning, crying, and pain are no more.  Thanks be to God!

My family, like many of yours, is remembering the lives of our saints this year.  A month apart in August and September, Ashley’s Grandma Alice and my grandfather, “Papa” Bill Breese, joined the Church Triumphant.  Many people asked if I conducted the service, having done how many dozen funerals before, surely I was qualified to do it!  I just smiled politely, and said, “There is a time for me to be a pastor, and a time for me to be a grandson.”

Grandma chose a gravesite in the back corner of the town cemetery, almost within throwing distance of the fields Papa had worked for 65 of his 86 years.  As the breeze blew on a warm, Pennsylvania fall day, Grandma and Papa’s pastor commented on something I have also witnessed in my years of ministry – that when a family is one of faith, yes, there is crying and mourning (I mean, even Jesus wept at the grave of his friend, Lazarus), but that is accompanied by the calm assurance and hopeful confidence that death is not the end of the story.

The tears are for us, not for our departed loved one.  Friends, our faith is a resurrection faith – death is not a final stop but rather a beginning.  Jesus promised that he is making all things new – and for the saints, death is but the beginning of the next chapter of a life lived in the sunshine of God’s delight.

My Grandma Thomas spent her last few years in a nursing home because of advanced dementia.  Now, if you want to get a picture in your mind of my Grandma Thomas, think Driving Miss Daisy, and other than the part about being Jewish, there she is.  She and her sisters were the quintessential proper, Southern women.  On the morning she died, she awoke early in the morning, called down to the nurses’ station and asked that they come and get her dressed.  They said, “Miss Elsie, it’s not time to get up for a few more hours, so go back to sleep, dear,” but she insisted they come down to her room and get her dressed.  As soon as she was dressed, she said, “I’m tired now, and I’d like to lie back down,” and she laid back down on the bed fully dressed.  They came to check on her a few hours later, and she had passed away quietly.

They called us to let us know, and recounted this story, which they were having trouble making sense of.  We just laughed, which was even more puzzling to them, until we explained: we think she knew it was time to go, and being the proper Southern woman she was, even with her advanced dementia, she wasn’t going anywhere until she was properly dressed.  There’s no way she was going to meet Jesus wearing just a nightgown!

Friends, the saints have gone on to a better place, but they haven’t left us – that’s another promise of our faith.  We are not separated from the saints who have finished their course ahead of us.  The verse of the hymn says,

“Yet we on earth have union with God, the Three-in-One,
And mystic, sweet communion with those whose rest is won.”

We call this “the communion of the saints,” it’s one of the things we affirm in the Apostles’ Creed, and by it we mean that nothing shall separate God’s saints from each other or from God’s very self.  We are connected to each other – all members of the body of Christ are joined to one another with the ligaments of love.  Even through the thick, dark curtain of death, the light of God’s love is strong enough to shine through.

A young girl in Sunday School was asked, “What is a saint?”  She paused for a minute, thought of the saints depicted in the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, and said, “A saint is someone the light shines through.”

And that’s really all there is to it.  Sainthood is not reserved for some special brand of super-Christian, or something that only an elite few will ever attain.  It’s something we can all do, by the grace of God.  It is less about who we are and what we do than it is about being open for what God will do in and through us.  God’s light can and does shine through anyone.

Further, we don’t have to wait until we die for God’s light to shine through us.  Sometimes after funerals, people will tell me what a beautiful and fitting service it was.  Can I tell you the secret to that?  I work with the material at hand; it is easy to craft a beautiful service for a person who lived a beautiful life.  Every day, we are given an opportunity to write our own eulogy.  The surest way to get into heaven when we die is to let heaven get into us while we live. Though our days on earth are numbered, the saints are those who made their days on earth count.  Their love still shines brightly because it is really God’s love shining in and through them.  May it be so for us.

On this All Saints’ Sunday, we celebrate lives of love that live on beyond death.  The candles in this room represent the light of their love that still lives on.  In a few moments, we will light these candles, first Margaret, Eazora, Fred, and Willie Maude, represented by the pillar candles on the altar table, which will be lit by members of their families who are here today.  Then, we will celebrate Holy Communion together, and after you have received the bread and wine, you are invited to light one of the candles along the side to remember the beloved holy ones in your life who have gone on before us, and to proclaim that they live on still.

Death is not the end of the story.  To be sure, the saints are always with us, but on this day, when the light of their love fills this room and warms our hearts, we press up against a thin place in the veil between this world and the world to come, and we realize that our loved ones may, perhaps, be much closer than we first thought.

Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Because of them and because of one another and because of the God who binds us all together we can do more than any of us had dreamed to do alone.”

In life, in death, in life beyond death – we are not alone!  God is with us, and we are with each other.

There is yet one more place where the reality of our enduring connection is realized – around our Lord’s table.  Again, there’s a reason we say we believe in the communion of the saints. Holy Communion means many things, but an emphasis I want you to remember today is that, at our Lord’s table, the connection we have with the risen Christ is made real, as is our connection with all others who ever have or ever will take their place around this table.

At one point in our Communion liturgy, the presiding minister says that we praise God and celebrate this meal, not alone or in isolation, but “with God’s people on earth, and all the company of heaven.”

Belton Joyner, a retired United Methodist pastor from the eastern part of our state, tells of a friendship he and his wife had with another pastor and his wife. For decades, these two couples had been close friends, doing the things that friends do – trips, time in each other’s homes, meals around the table. Susan, the wife in the other couple, died a few years ago, and a few months later, both pastors found themselves at a worship service that would include Holy Communion.  Belton leaned over to his now-widowed friend and said, “I sure am looking forward to having dinner again with Susan.” With that, they went, together, to the Lord’s table.

The other night, Ashley told me that she thinks about my mom every time she comes to Communion.  My mom died of breast cancer only a few months before Ashley and I met.  She said, “I hope to have 1000 meals with your mom before we ever meet face-to-face.”

Today, we celebrate the communion of the saints – and guess who’s coming to dinner!  We are looking forward to having dinner again with Margaret Robinson, Eazora Cummings, Fred Williams, Sr., and Willie Maude Michaux.   Our friends who have gone before are already enjoying the fullness of the heavenly banquet; this meal of bread and wine is for us a foretaste of the joyful reunion that awaits us.

Today, I am looking forward to having dinner again with my mom and her dad, my Papa Breese.  Today, I am looking forward to having dinner again with Ashley’s Grandma Alice and Papa Sam, with Grandma and Papa Thomas, and countless others who have finished their course in faith.

With whom are you looking forward to having dinner again?  We are looking forward to having dinner again with all the saints of light whose love already shines around us in this room.

Dinner’s on the table; let’s not keep the saints waiting any longer.