Loving God

April 26, 2015

Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church

Sermon 1 in Sermon Series

“Five Marks of a Christian”

Adapted from: “Five Marks of a Methodist”

By Steve Harper

Matthew 22:36-38 CEB

1 John 4:16-21 MSG

Loving God…


A reading from John found in 1 John 4, verses 16-21, listen for a word from God to you and me, the people of God.


Prayer for God’s word to be heard through me or in spite of me…


It has been pretty great being able to be a parishioner instead of the pastor for the past couple of weeks. I have been able to sit back and listen to sermons instead of giving them. But to tell you the truth, I am so glad to be back in the pulpit this week. But sitting in the congregation has really given me things to ponder over.

A couple of weeks ago, Steve Curtis preached on the “rest of the story” after Jesus rose from the dead. He talked about how Jesus was seen by others after His resurrection and victory over sin and death. For some reason they were not able to recognize Jesus. Even Mary, who wept at the tomb because Jesus was not there, thought Him to be the gardener. Could it be that there whole faith was hinged on the visible rather than the invisible? Why do we not recognize Jesus at times when He is standing right in front of us? Could it be that theirs and our relationship with Jesus sometimes misses the mark so to speak…? We also learned about how we are given the commandment to go and do likewise as we share the story of Jesus to a world that is in need of a resurrection.

When Ray Foss preached last week, we saw how the story should change us. Not only are we called to make disciples but we are also to let the story change us into Easter people. We can’t preach the resurrection if we are not first transformed by it. How is that story changing you and me? How do we know that we are being changed by the story in order to become part of the story that began with Jesus’ resurrection, giving us new life in Him for all who believe? Is there some “tangible”…some “measurable” way…something visual…to tell if we are changing or not?


Now since my surgery I have been able to catch up on some reading I have been wanting to do. As I have been reading, there has been one book that has really caught my attention. It is written by Steve Harper and it is titled “Five Marks of a Methodist: The Fruit of a Living Faith.” It has been very interesting to read. But as I have been reading it one thing has stuck out in my mind. This book is not just for “Methodist”, it is for all who follow Christ. It gives five distinct ways to tell…to visually see…that you are being “changed by the story”, not just reading it.

The five ways are as follows:

A “Christian” not just Methodist:

  1. Loves God
  2. Rejoices in God
  3. Gives Thanks
  4. Loves Others

These are the five things I would like for us to take a look at over the next few weeks. I think it is important to not only change but to see the changes that have taken place in our lives since we decided to follow Jesus and let the story change how we live out our faith walks.

So the first of these character traits is that we love God. Now I am not just talking about your every day love but truly loves God from the bottom of our feet to the top of our heads. The love we have for God is what drives us in our relationship with Him. The more we are in love with Him the more we want to know Him. And the more we know Him the more we want of Him in our lives.

The scriptures that were read this morning were all about loving God…Loving God with all that we are…from the very depths of our soul. But as the scriptures tell us, we did not love God first but it was He who loved us. As a matter of fact He loved us to the point of sending His Son to die in our stead. Now I don’t know about you but that fact alone would make me want to get to know this God better. And as we draw near to Him and learn more about Him, our love for Him grows. But it began with His love for humanity not the other way around.

As Peter was asked by Jesus in John 21 “Do you love me” three times, we can hear Jesus asking us the same thing. As He asks us, each time we look deeper within ourselves and ask “what does it mean to truly love God…what would that look like…am I madly, truly, deeply in love with my First Love?”

Salvation means wholeness…we as Christ Followers need to realize that. It doesn’t just mean we are going to heaven but it also means living abundantly while we are here. But as the scripture from Matthew tells us…we must love God. For all that God has done we love Him in return with all that we are and have. We do this in every aspect of our life. We do it every day and to everyone. As we love God we love other people that God created as well…this is part of loving God. This is loving God…with all that we are…loving the One who loved us first.

Jesus is calling us to a radically different relationship as He calls to His disciples, past and present, asking “do you love Me”. How do we know that the story is changing us? We love God. But are we like Peter when the Lord asked Him if he loved Him? Do we get upset, not really understanding the question being asked or do we let the question resonate within us as we ask ourselves do we love God?

Listen to the words of John Wesley and let them sink deep into your soul:

“God is the joy of our heart, and the desire of our soul, which is constantly crying out. “Whom have I in Heaven but you? And there is none upon the earth that I desire but you!” My God and my all! You are the strength of my heart, and my portion forever!”

These words open the door to our whole being, commencing a journey that moves us from the superficial to substance. We move from membership to discipleship. We move beyond churchianity to Christianity. A disciple loves God.

Loving God is something that grows each day as you learn to trust and obey. Loving God is not something that is a onetime thing. It is something that is a lifetime of growing and developing. Let the story change you into whom God would have you be. How much do you really love God? Listen; can you hear Jesus asking do you love me? How will you answer Him?



The End Is Just The Beginning…

April 5, 2015
Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church
Easter Sunday
Matthew 28:1-10 MSG
John 20:1, 11-16 AMP

The End Is Just The Beginning

A reading from the Gospel of John…chapter 20 verses 1 and 11-16. Listen for he word of God for you and me the people of God
Prayer for God’s word to be heard through me or in spite of me…

(Sponge Bob’s best day ever)
How many of you have ever had such good news that you just couldn’t contain it? I know I have. It seems as if I would explode if I didn’t share the news with someone…be it something about myself or someone else…I just can’t help but spread the news! How about if you had a great idea that would solve so many issues? It might be an easier way to do something or an idea that would help humanity…the possibilities are endless. There is no telling where we might have good news for some one. The only boundary that it may have is our own imagination. We might right now have some good news that needs to be shared. What’s stopping you?
We have come to the end of our Lenten journey. We have heard the seven last words, or statements, of Christ. We also visited the Upper Room and shared a meal and were given a new command from Christ…the command to love others not as we love ourselves but as Jesus loved and still loves us. We even sat at the foot of the cross and stood with those who stood by when Christ was put to death for all of humanity’s sake. But here…today…we celebrate Christ’s victory over death and joyfully…with enthusiasm…with all of our heart… can say “CHRIST IS RISEN”…YES HE IS RISEN INDEED!
But is that the end of the story? Are we to just say our thank you’s and good bye’s to the Cross of Calvary? Or, is there something more? My answer is NO! This is not the end but only the beginning of the story, the beginning of the new life…the beginning of a new age. Christ went to the cross not just to save you and me but to save all of humanity and there is so many who need the hope and forgiveness of the cross I just can’t imagine Jesus wanting us to keep it for ourselves. God wants all of humanity to be saved and we are here to share the good news so that it is. That’s part of mine and your mission here…part of the purpose of why we were created…to love, to share, to be Christ for the world.
There are so many in the world who feel that they have nothing but death ahead of them in life…they don’t know that there is victory over death in Christ and this victory is and will be ours through and by faith. We will all face death at some point in time…we will all experience the death of a loved one at some point on our journey of life and faith…we may even experience death to old things in our lives…death to things that just don’t “work for us anymore.” But, death is not the end…it is a beginning of another chapter in our lives that’s called eternity…death can make new things spring forth in our lives and the lives of others…
We heard this morning from the Gospel of John about the women who went to the tomb and found it empty. They were shocked and amazed by the angels message to them. And then…and then…they saw Christ on their way to tell the disciples the Good News. Jesus had brought forth new life with His resurrection. In order to spring forth with a new life that would make His people glad and rejoice in His salvation the old life of a shroud being cast over His people…the sheet spread over the nations…needed to be removed. Death needed to be swallowed up forever…now we are not talking about the physical death but the death to the spirit that was present because of sin. Death, O death, where is thy sting?
This promise was accomplished through the death and RESURRECTION of Christ that we heard about in the Gospel of Mark I read this morning. Victory over sin and death…victory in Jesus! Even though Jesus had told the disciples He would be back…He would rise again after His death, they still didn’t understand until it was accomplished on the first Easter Sunday morn. Death, O death, where is thy sting?
And the best news ever was when Jesus was actually seen…in public none the less…by others. These “sightings”; did nothing but only confirm Jesus’ victory over sin and death. They say that seeing is believing and did they ever see. Death, O death, where is thy sting?
Today, Easter Sunday, is not the end of the story. We have the best news ever to share. There are those out there who haven’t heard the good news and it is our commission to share this news with all who will hear. Are there people in your lives or mine that need a little bit of good news? Are there those around us that are suffering with the penalty of sin that need to be freed from their oppressor? Are there people in our live that are frozen in fear because of their uncertainty of their future of the future of their loved ones? Share the good news…shout it from the roof tops…give others a hope for the future. CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! Christ has conquered death for you and for me…for all of humanity! Alleluia He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!


The Finale…?

April 3, 2015
Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church
Good Friday
Final Words Sermon Series
“It Is Finished…Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit”
John 19:30a NIV
Luke 23:43-47 NIV
Adapted from Adam Hamilton’s book “Final Words From the Cross”

“The Finale…?”

A reading from the Gospel of John, chapter 19, verses 30 a and Luke 23 verses 43 through 47 Listen to the word of God for you and me His beloved children.

30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”

Let us pray…Pray for God’s word to be heard through me or in spite of me…

We have been journeying our way to the Cross of Calvary…stopping here and there to hear what Jesus said in His last words from the cross, His last words of ministry so to speak. These were the last words of His ministry here on earth. Even from the cross, Jesus was still doing ministry. His anguish on the cross was leading up of the climax of His ministry and the reason He was sent from above. It is to this place that we have stopped and pondered as we await the celebration of His victory.

We have talked about His words “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing…” and realized that we are part of the “them” that Jesus was praying for and about. We heard His words “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” which are words of hope for us knowing that we will one day be with Him where He is… We know there was an “adoption” at the cross when he proclaimed “Woman here is your son…here is your mother.” And then there was last week’s words…”My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”…Jesus knows our pain and our suffering for He Himself has been there… We have heard that Jesus thirst just as we do but what is it that is being thirsted for?

Now…here we are at the end…His very last words He spoke before His death…“It is finished” and… “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” What power is found in these words of Jesus…what hope and joy humanity has because of this redeeming work that was done this day… We would be lead to believe that this was the end…the big finally but is it? Ok…let’s look at these two phrases and see for our selves whether or not this is the end…

…“It is finished”
It is finished. These are some of my favorite words from the cross. They are words that let me know I have a future and a hope…they tell me that Jesus completed what He came to do. He came and accomplished a way of and for salvation for you and for me.
 It is Finished…the sin we carry no longer can hold us for ransom…Jesus paid the ransom note.
 It is finished…The curtain that was in front of the area that only the priest could go…the holiest of holies…was torn from top to bottom as the veil was lifted and we who believe are now given access to the throne room of God.
 It is finished …loves redeeming work was done. Jesus bore the sins of the world…no mere man could do that.
 It is finished…no more sacrifices were needed. Jesus was and is the final sacrifice. Jesus is the only way to God and it is only in, by and through His name we are saved.

… “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Jesus was done. He accomplished all that He came to do. Now He was returning to the Father to sit at His right hand. But is this the end? Is there all there is to the Easter Story? Well the answer to that was no but those who were around Jesus at the time…His disciples, His mother, the Religious Leaders…they all thought this was the end. They didn’t know any better. They saw Jesus die on the cross and return to God. Here is the Messiah…the One who would save God’s people…hanging on a tree. I am sure all of their hopes and dreams died right there with Him. How could this be? I am sure they walked away feeling something went wrong with God’s plan for His people. Jesus said He was the Messiah but there was no freedom…freedom in the way they thought it should happen.

2000 years later we still walk away at times thinking that something has gone wrong with the plan God has for our lives. Broken dreams. A life of heart ace. Our plans that we have worked so hard for falling apart before our eyes. Families are torn apart. Despair and addiction all around. How could this be? Where is the “Happily Ever After in that?” Our hopes and dreams are lying bare on the ground…

But…but…perhaps this isn’t the end. Maybe there is still hope for us yet. Maybe…as we see the sun rise on a new day…we will see something new on the horizon. But do we dare hope and pray? Perhaps things will be better in a couple of days. Let’s just wait and see… Is there a new day dawning full of hope and promise?


A Teachable Moment

Maundy Thursday
April 2, 2015
Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14 The Message Bible
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 The Message Bible
John 6:47-51 The Message Bible
Psalm 116:1-6, 12-19 The Message Bible

A Teachable Moment…

We have almost come to the end of our Lenten journey together. On our journey we have learned that through Jesus, God pours out so many blessings but the most important is the free gift God Salvation only found through Jesus. As Psalm 116 said, God heard our cry for help…He heard and came to help, He knew our need for a Messiah. God did not come and help in the form of a Davidic king taking Rome by storm but in the form of a helpless babe who grew up to be the King of all kings freeing all of humanity from a fate worse than death…freeing us from our sin. How interesting it is that He would come in the form of a helpless babe to help us in our helplessness of sin…He became like us to conquer for us…And this gift…is absolutely FREE!
We now enter the upper room where Jesus taught His disciples then and now one of the most important lessons in His ministry. There was one last thing He needed to show them…example for them…before He completed His work on the cross. Jesus took something that they were taught as they grew up…the Pass Over Seder…and turned into something new…something different. They were taught that the Seder was a remembrance of how God delivered the Israelite’s from the tyranny of the Egyptians as is stated in the Exodus scripture I read this evening. Now this new thing was about remembering Jesus and His teachings…about remembering how Jesus acted and to go and do likewise.
At this Seder, Jesus did something that a teacher would never have done. Instead of having others wash His feet…instead of claiming the rights of one was above others…Jesus did a new thing. He was the one who washed the feet. Taking on the posture of a servant instead of being served, He taught the disciples and us to live a new way…one that puts others above our selves.
I can understand how Simon Peter felt…he knew who Jesus was. Peter understood that Jesus was special. Peter felt unworthy of Jesus washing his feet but Jesus told him that if He didn’t, Peter could have no part of what Jesus was doing…this new way of life. In taking on this new lifestyle… of a servant…Jesus also gave them and us a new commandment. To love others not as our self but as Jesus loved. To be willing to put aside self and take up theirs and our own cross and follow Jesus’ example.
Jesus taught the disciples many lesson as they learned from their Rabbouni. We continue to this day to remember those lessons by reenacting the Lords Supper. This too was a new thing that night when the celebrated the passover meal together. You see not only did Jesus become their servant and gave that servant example to them, He also changed the meaning behind the whole “Lords Supper”. It not only was a remembrance of what God did in Egypt but also what God did in Christ Jesus…He became that Pascal Lamb…He proclaims that He is the “Bread of Life” as in the John scripture from tonight. The disciples then and now celebrate this meal that Jesus offers so that we may live life with Him. Through Him there is life eternal instead of a life of death. Through His death and resurrection we have new life in Christ…1 Corinthians reminds us that each time we celebrate…reenact this meal, we are drawn back to the Upper Room and suit with Jesus. May we always cherish these moments and never get to the point that we become so familiar that we just go through the motions and miss out on the God inspired moment in the Upper Room…
So…now Jesus gives one of His final lessons at this meal in the Upper Room. They and we are called to live in a new and radical way…much different than the world around us as Jesus’ disciples. Now…they and we are called to serve…to set aside ourselves our titles…our degrees…our self-interests…our ego’s…we are called to not see color…we are called to not see economic realities…we are called to be a house of prayer and not a house of despair…we are called to be the hands, feet, voice and image of the Servant of the Lord. We are called to roll up ourselves and get involved with a hurting world who needs acts of Radical Hospitality.
We are called to love unconditionally. We are called to serve others with the love and joy that Jesus did. We are called into the family business, as beloved children of the Most High God. We are called to be Christ to the world. Imagine what the world would be if we were more interested in the family business than branching out on our own? Maybe the world…humanity…needs to return to its original form and walk in the cool of the evening with our God? What to do you think would happen if you and I would unconditionally be the hands and feet of Christ? Just imagine.