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March 17, 2019 SCRIPTURE READING

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
 
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
 
Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
 
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
 
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,
 
SERMON TEXT Philippians 3:17-4:1
 
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
SERMON                                          Making It Real                                  Rev. Kethley
 
Season of Lent is a time of reflection and preparation for the Great Lord’s Day / Easter. Our theme for these weeks is a call from the prophet Joel to the Lord with our whole heart. We know that a time of thoughtful preparation is important as we make meaningful plans, decisions and commitments. We are a people who sometimes obsess with preparation.
 
If we are going to take a trip on vacation for example the preparation begins with the selection of an open date on our respective calendars and moves on from there. . . .
 
We have a variety of tools to aid in our preparation time. Advice from friends, travel books, magazines, internet and especially YouTube. We research, discuss, plan sometimes for months before making a tentative plan. Then we worry about the cost and time away. But the trip doesn’t become real until we pay the deposits and by the tickets.
 
Preparation is like window shopping and/or day dreaming until you make a meaningful commitment.
 
Genesis reading about the promise of God to Abram and Abram’s belief and action is a demonstration of a relationship that is moving from a time of preparation to actual commitment. Abram believes God. God has called Abram to make a meaningful gesture of offering. Abram responds by giving what is called for and making sure that no one else – no human and no animal – consume what has been offered to God at God’s request. God passed between the sacrifice – smoking fire pot and flaming torch – accepting the action of Abram and confirming again their covenant relationship.
 
The difference between someone who claims to be “religious” or “spiritual” and a Disciple of Jesus Christ is a meaningful commitment of oneself to the relationship. Christ is committed to us. The call of Lent this year is to take a significant step in our Discipleship. To return to God with our whole heart.
 
A significant step might be to give something up for Lent or to take up a new intentional act of discipleship for Lent. The church is ready to help make plans into meaningful actions. There are three opportunities for us to engage in Bible Study:
  1. Sunday School
  2. Wednesday Nights – the Parables of Jesus
  3. Thursday at noon – Lenten Study on the Events of Holy Week
 
There are opportunities to serve in many ways from becoming an office volunteer to helping with meals for various occasions to teaching, to helping with Vacation Bible School (planning starts Thursday), helping with preparations to host UM ARMY this July, taking on a role in our May 4th Fish Fry fundraiser. And making a commitment to attend a special Discipleship Pathway Training on Saturday April 6th — this three-hour training will help the church become more intentional in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
 
In our Philippians reading today, Paul implores us to imitate his faithful action in serving Christ. For Paul there are those who live and act as Disciples and those who live and act as enemies of the cross. Faithful Disciples work on behalf of Christ to reach those who “set their minds on earthly things,” so that they too can claim citizenship in heaven.
 
All of this starts with an intentional meaningful commitment to return to the Lord with our whole heart.
 
Stand firm in the Lord. Amen.
March 10, 2019
SCRIPTURE READING
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
SERMON TEXT
Romans 10:8b-13  
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
SERMON                               God’s Generous Heart            Rev. Kethley
God is good – all the time.
All the time – God is good.
God is a generous. God’s Grace is overwhelming and God’s provision is unlimited. God – OUR God – is generous.
 
This is the first Sunday during Lent and many of us attended Ash Wednesday Service at Bethel Presbyterian Church. It was a very good service where we were challenged to “Return to God with our whole heart,” and to observe a Holy Lent. For some Lent is a new thing and we are trying to figure out if we are suppose to “give up” or “take up” something from now until we celebrate “The Great Lord’s Day,” or “Easter.” Really either is fine – the main thing is to prepare ourselves for what God is doing in our world. In other words, “the main thing is to make the main thing the main thing.” For the 40 days of Lent, Christians around the world will be putting their relationship with God FIRST in preparation for what God is doing in our world.
 
We have served the church in several locations and each location has its own identity shaped by history. Midway, Bascom, Ben Wheeler, Conroe, Rockdale, Lindale, Deer Park and West Columbia. Without a doubt West Columbia has the strongest historical identity of anywhere we have lived. It also has the most aggressive historians in the nation. As a student of history, I appreciate serving God in a places where people know and appreciate their history and how God has been a part of that history.
 
The passage we shared this morning from Deuteronomy 26 recognizes and affirms the relationship of God and the people. This passage makes clear the bond forged in covenant with Abraham and confirmed in the liberating action of the exodus. Deuteronomy 26 tells us not just to make an offering but why we should make an offering. In response to the generous God we serve. And that offering is a celebration of the generous God we serve,
You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. In other words, we act like God sharing generously what God has provided. We Christians are the spiritual descendants of the people of Israel.
 
We too celebrate how God has acted to liberate us from the power of sin and death but more than that we anticipate how God will beat work in our future. God’s generosity is not a thing of the past but it is our hope for the future and you know this Paul writes:
 
“The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
 
God is good – all the time.
All the time – God is good.
 
God is a generous. God’s Grace is overwhelming and God’s provision is unlimited. God – OUR God – is generous. Let us be generous and share God’s blessing of life through our witness. AMEN.
 
February 24, 2019
SERMON TEXT       
Luke 6:27-36
 
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
 
 
SERMON                                Spy v. Spy                              Rev. Kethley 
 
I grew up as a child of the “Cold War.” During that time there was a clear division in the world between U.S. and “them,” spelled U.S.S.R. The boundaries were clear and the issues were clear. Everyone that I grew up with knew that we, the U.S., stood for freedom and democracy and the U.S.S.R. stood for tyranny and oppression. There could be no doubt of this because everywhere you looked the message was reinforced. Television, movies, books and even the sacred pages of “Mad Magazine.”
 
Mad had a cartoon feature dedicated to the conflict titled “Spy vs. Spy” Two cartoon spies dressed in hats and trench coats used cartoon bombs and weapons in a duel between good and evil. One spy was drawn in all white and the other drawn in all black. Most of the time the operated in a black and white world. Frame by frame they tried to outsmart and trick each other until finally one would win. The reader never knew which spy would win. My friends and I were usually on the side of the “good guy” drawn in white, but sometimes we would pull for the one drawn in black “just because.”
 
In November of 1991 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the U.S.S.R. the “Cold War” ended. But “Spy vs. Spy” continued un-phased by the fact that peace had broken out. The two characters kept on fighting because they were created to be enemies and had no other purpose. Their comedic value was based in conflict, competition and cartoon bombs in exploding birthday cakes.
 
Jesus is teaching his disciples how to demonstrate their true nature. Jesus is teaching the disciples how to faithfully reflect the image of God which is within each and every human being. Jesus is calling us to live as we were created to live – not in conflict but in harmony with the will of God.
 
Love your enemies. Jesus challenges us by teaching, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, . . . . If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. . . Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
 
Do we listen? Will we follow the voice of Jesus and do as Christ teaches? Or will we continue to treat others as the world tells us to treat them. Will we allow Christ to identify all people as God’s creation or will we continue to accept the definition of others by the culture of the world in which we live.
 
Jesus’s teaching is clear and concise – he recognizes that loving our enemies will mean that sometimes we will be taken advantage of but Jesus counts that as the cost of faithfulness. Yes, you may be taken advantage of but you will be demonstrating the teaching of Christ. You will be demonstrating the love of God to those who the world calls enemy. Jesus on the cross demonstrates the love of God to a world that treats him as an enemy.
 
Love and live not motivated by what you will receive in return but because it is who you were created to be. Jesus asks pointedly, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”
 
Jesus may seem to be naïve in his instructions but he is very realistic. It is not that Jesus doesn’t think people will take advantage of him or us if we behave like this. Jesus knows people will take advantage. He is most realistic in his words. Jesus say to love them anyway just as God is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
 
Looking back at Spy vs. Spy we were never told who was the good guy or who was the bad guy. We didn’t even know why they were locked in eternal conflict. All we knew was that they were enemies because that was demonstrated in the action of the comic. Who defines those who are to be our enemy?
 
Who defines those who are not enemy? For disciples God defines our lives. We are people created in the image of God with the purpose of demonstrating God’s love and making disciples of all people. Jesus says, “you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” because that’s how disciples live.
 
February 10, 2019
SERMON TEXT   
Luke 14:25-33
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
SERMON                      The Cost of Discipleship                                       Rev. Kethley Scout Sunday
  • Philmont Trips – As the ranger inspected our back packs he said, “You’re not going to make it carrying all this.” Life is like that. We try to carry things – physically and emotionally – that we really don’t need to carry.
  • Scouting Skills for life and service. 
  • Eagle Projects, time management, Planning / Budgeting / Leading an event.
Church is a place of commitment and service. 
Time / Money / Volunteer hours = outcome
Stage 1 feverous burst of energy.
Stage 2 slow burn of resources.
Stage 3 Methodical application of resources.  
 
  1. Disaster Response is an example of stage one use of resources.
  2. Food Pantry is an example of stage two and three.  
  3. New Programs like
    1. Grief Support Group
    2. Apartment Bible Study need to be stage three use of resources.   
 
When we consider the possibilities and benefits of Faithful Discipleship we understand the call is to put Christ first and use everything we are and have to serve God by committing our time, talent money and resources to building up the Kingdom of God.  

February 3, 2019

SERMON TEXT Jeremiah 1:4-10
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
SERMON                               To Build and to Plant                                  Rev. Kethley
 
As we examine the call story of Jeremiah I want to begin with two questions of Discipleship:
  1. Why does God need / want us?
  2. How can we serve God effectively?
 
The first question reminds me of working in with my dad. From an early age – pre school – I would “help” dad work on the car, other things, build desk, trailers, and even rooms on houses. We were a good team. I learned how to identify tools he needed, to measure for cuts, how to mix glues and wall paste – everything a kid really needs to know to start kindergarten. But dad didn’t need my help. He could do all these things himself. Dad had all the knowledge and skills. I probably slowed his pace. But he wanted me to be there to learn from him – not necessarily to learn carpentry or how to work on an engine but to learn from him – how to learn, to solve problems, to read repair manuals and when to ask someone with more experience what to do. Dad wanted his children to benefit from his knowledge and his presence in our lives.
 
God has been at work in the world long before we human beings were here / long before we human beings were aware / long before we individuals existed. God has always been involved in human history – we ignored God’s involvement. God seeks a relationship with us and must break into the world because we have very rigid understandings of the world and how it is suppose to work.
 
For most of human history humans have assumed the world is suppose to be and stay the way we understand it to be. We cling to what we see and perceive as truth until we are forced to see the world as God created it. 500 years ago people knew the world was flat but God didn’t create it that way and when the truth it was revealed people struggled to make since of the fact that the earth is round.
 
For thousands of years people assumed that God lives in God’s place and we lived here on earth. Visits were forbidden for us and rare by God. When Moses came down the mountain the people said, “You speak to God and tell us what he says.” The understanding of our relationship with God accommodated our fears and barriers. But when God is ignored or forgotten then God breaks in anew. Using any means necessary. God uses an elderly couple – Abraham & Sarah, fighting siblings – Jacob & Essau, a stutterer – Moses, many flawed men and women, and in our reading today a youth – Jeremiah.
 
God is the one who takes away excuses and removes barriers. “A Thousand Excuses God Wouldn’t Accept” would be a great title for a Bible study. I would predict that such a study would have a full room at the beginning with fewer and fewer in attendance as people realized that God wasn’t going to take their excuse any more seriously than he took Jeremiah’s.
 
Some would complete the study when they realize that God takes away fear by his very presence. God empowers us to be witnesses. God gives us the ability and the resources to accomplish the work at hand. The work of a prophet is to speak the truth – revealing God’s judgement and future. For God’s intention to be revealed and made real many things will have to change. Some things will be destroyed, some things will be rebuilt, some new things will be built and some will be planted.
 
Dad also had a gardening obsession. We had a backyard garden that measured 50 feet by 110 feet. There were 10 rows of tomatoes, 10 of new potatoes, 10 rows of corn, rows of peppers, beans, okra and beds of squash, cucumbers and cantaloupe. Planting was sometimes fun and gathering was fun at first but weeding and cultivating is no fun at all. Dad would often interrupt the lives of his five children work with him in the garden. Sometimes it was a simple as his declaration that, “On Saturday, WE will be planning potatoes.” Sometimes it meant canceling or postponing other activities to “get the garden back in shape.” Always it was with the aim of having fresh produce in the future.
 
To build and to plant are acts of creating the future. God wants us disciples to be a part of planting and building. How will you be involved in building and planting?
 
Opportunities abound here in the church and in our community. Be a Disciple that builds and plants for the future.
 
Amen.

January 27, 2019 SERMON TEXT

Luke 4:14-30
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
 
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,     because he has anointed me         to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives     and recovery of sight to the blind,         to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
 
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
SERMON                               Home Town Prophet                                   Rev. Kethley
 
Most popular in school were Wendy, Holie, Leslie, Darrel, Phil and Phillip. When they had an idea everyone thought it was a great idea. When they declared something cool or uncool it was so. They individually and as a group had the ability to influence students, teachers, and parents – up to a point. They were not prophets in any since of the word. They were influencers with the limit of influencing those who admired them. They had no influence with the anti-establishment hard core head banging rock-n-rollers or the I’m too cool to be in high school crowd. Prophets may or may not be popular.
 
Prophets may or may not draw power and influence from established groups. Prophets may or may not influence the majority of those around them. Prophets ALWAYS declare / speak the truth and seek to reveal God’s will and God’s justice – regardless of the consequences.
 
In the passage that we share today from Luke, Jesus has returned to his hometown and the community has really turned out to welcome him. The leaders ask Jesus, the starting to be famous young rabbi to speak in the synagogue and he reads a very popular passage from Isaiah. The people are pleased. Then Jesus speaks a shattering truth –  “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” The crowd responds – But we like you / you’re one of us / show us the power.
 
Why doesn’t he just use the power of God to satisfy the crowd? I believe it is because the crowd didn’t come to see the Son of God but the son of Joseph and Mary, the local boy who was doing good things. He is not being accepted as a prophet and certainly not as the messiah he is being greeted as a celebrity and a miracle worker.
 
Jesus uses examples of two great prophets Elijah and Elisha to make his point. “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” Jesus spoke the TRUTH and exposed their lack of understanding and was rejected. John 1:11-13:
 
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
 
It would have made a great story to say Jesus preached in his home town and everyone liked what he had to say but the truth is more challenging. It raises questions for us about how we respond to Jesus, how we respond to prophetic voices and how we witness to God’s justice in our world.
 
There was a prophet in my class her name is Pam. She was on student council, drill team, band, played sports and was known by everyone. Pam never covered for anyone and that made her less popular than the others. But if someone was being picked on Pam would intervene – and the thing that made her intervention different was that Pam didn’t have to like you to intervene – she just did it because it was the right thing to do. Pam told people the truth not to embarrass them but because they needed to hear it.
 
As Messiah, Jesus has many roles to fulfill, he is prophet, priest and king. Jesus speaks the truth, heals the sick and comforts the sorrowful and is Lord of all. When we call Jesus our Lord and Savior we not only ask for his comfort and assurance but also for his words of truth and justice so that we can live more faithfully in an authentic relationship with Jesus, the Son of God.
 
Amen

January 20, 2019

SERMON TEXT         
John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

January 13, 2019 SCRIPTURE READING

Isaiah 43:1-7
But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;     I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom,     Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
    and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away
    and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”  
 
SERMON TEXT
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
 
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
SERMON                                         Holy Spirit Baptism                           Rev. Kethley
 
The wise theologian, Rev. Grady Nutt, was asked a question about Baptism and told the story of a Methodist and Baptist preacher having an argument on the subject. The Baptist insisted that true baptism meant being immersed fully under the water and nothing less would do. The Methodist asked, ‘What if I stand in the water but you pour water over the rest of me?’ ‘No! Fully under the water,’ was the reply. Again he asked, ‘What if I was waist deep’ ‘No! Full immersion.’ And so the argument went the Methodist getting deeper and deeper into the water until he asked, ‘What if only the very top of my head was above water and you then put water on it?’ Again the Baptist said ‘No.’ to which the Methodist replied ‘You’ve proved my point then – it’s only the bit on top that counts.’
 
Promises / claims made by:
Individual or Parents – not insignificant but not the most important part.
Church – not just words of welcome but a declaration of inclusion.
God – through the Holy Spirit is present and claims the individual. God through the presence of the Holy Spirit takes his proper place in the life of the individual.
 
The part that counts is God’s promise and claim upon the individual.
 
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
      have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
 
Creation and the New Creation          
Genesis 1 God look at all creation, including humans and says. It is good.
Gospel accounts of Jesus Baptism God says, ‘This is my son I am pleased.’
At our baptism through the liturgy of the church those word are echoed to us.
 
It is not just the part on top that counts. We really must be fully immersed – not in water – but in God’s presence, the Holy Spirit.
 
The act of Baptism it two parts:
  1. I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
  2. The Holy Spirit work within you that being born through water and the spirit you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.
 
Recognition and promise which bind us to God.
 
Amen.
 

January 6, 2019

SCRIPTURE READING
Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come,     and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth,     and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you,     and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light,     and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around;     they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away,     and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant;     your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,     the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you,     the young camels of Midian and Ephah;     all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense,     and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.    

SERMON TEXT  Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him,
“In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
 
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,     are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler     who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
 
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
SERMON                                          Actions and Reactions                       Rev. Kethley
 
New Year Resolutions are an opportunity to identify things that we think need to change in our lives and in our world. I need to lose 50 pounds and get regular exercise. Feels good to say it but without the dedication to follow through, the support of family and friends and the understanding of others it is just a statement of the obvious. But with a proper plan and support resolutions can lead to actions which cause desired reactions and outcomes. I have purchased a bicycle and ridden it as weather has permitted. And recognizing the need for an indoor fitness activity that contributes to accomplishing my goal I have decided to focus on Pool. I know you are thinking that pool is not an active exercise but when you compare it to playing hearts on my iPhone it is a pretty hefty step up on the aerobic scale. And pool reinforces several important lessons for keeping a resolution. Pool looks easy – like a resolution – but is really quite complex.
 
The Physics of Pool — An object at rest will remain at rest, an object in motion will remain in motion, until acted upon by an outside force. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Mindful of these simple rules anyone can play pool. Understanding the complex nature of what is meant by “motion” and “outside force” can make one an expert at the game.
 
Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12 tell of the Saving Action of God by sending Jesus to save all the people of the world and the Reaction of the world as represented in the Three Wise Men. While everyone had the opportunity to respond like the Wise Men not everyone did and some – like Herod – reacted violently.
 
Discipleship is not just the simple act of declaring oneself a believer and follower of Christ Jesus. Discipleship requires dedication to follow Jesus, understand the complex nature of relationship to God and our neighbors and a willingness to learn and to be changed by our experience of God’s grace. Discipleship also requires a supportive community of believers – a church – that provide both encouragement and discipline as we grow in the faith. Discipleship looks pretty simple:
God’s Action – creation and redemption through Jesus.
Our Reaction – repentance, acceptance and dedication.
 
And it is simple to take the first steps and establish a foundational relationship. But as we grow into the likeness of Christ Jesus we will be challenged by:
Outside Forces – human sin both individual and corporate.
 
It is in how we react to the “Outside Forces” that we show our faith and understanding of God’s grace in our lives.
 
Discipleship is our response to God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. AMEN.
September 30, 2018
SERMON TEXT          Mark 9:38-50
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
 
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
 
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
SERMON                     Seeing the Big Picture                                 Rev. Kethley
 
Flat Stanley is a character from a series of children’s books. Because he is flat he experiences the world differently and is able to be mailed from place to place for great adventures. Flat Stanley is a two dimensional representation of a person. Too often we fail to see the full character of a person because we do not take the time and effort to truly get to know them.
 
As we grow in the faith and our understanding of faithful discipleship, Jesus becomes more and more real in our lives. When we are new to the faith Jesus is like Flat Stanley – a two dimensional character. As we come to know Jesus and include Jesus in our daily living we understand that Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s grace ever.
 
Ecclesiology is the part of theology that strives to describe the church. Our understanding of the church is crucial to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Jesus is not just the savior of ancient Galilee, or even the Jewish people, Jesus is the savior of all humanity. Christ established the church as an instrument through which the Gospel will be proclaimed, people can make a response to the Gospel, and we can practice / demonstrate faithfulness in all our relationships.   
 
On Tuesday, I met with area clergy for lunch. There were 9 of us, the Catholic priest, the Episcopalian, the Presbyterian, 2 Methodist, and 4 Pentecostals. As we introduced ourselves, and gave very brief descriptions of our congregations, we each gained an appreciation for one another. We discussed common concerns like the hungry and the poor of our community and how we each respond to calls for help. We spoke of working together more closely in projects like Columbia United, disaster / flood response and sometime in the future a one stop community assistance ministry. We invited each other to special events and serviced coming up this fall. We committed to meet again next month to build our relationships. In short we came together celebrating the things that unite us in the ministry of the church. It was a good beginning to what I hope will be many years of fruitful common ministry.
 
These meetings are not always like this. In one town where we lived the clergy only showed up to gatherings at their own church. Sort of limiting. At one meeting a distinguished member announced that the local Mormon Bishop had contacted him about attending the meeting and he had let him know that he was not welcome in our “Fellowship.” The last of these sessions that I attended ended with several of us restraining a member from going to the local Catholic church and calling out the priest as an idol worshiper. The group was destroyed by concentrating on the things – ideas and traditions – that separate us. It was an exercise in how to not be the church.
 
In the Gospel that we shared today, John proudly announces that he has stopped someone from casting out demons because “he is not following us.” In John’s understanding being “one of us” is more important that freeing a person from demon possession. Why on earth would you stop someone from doing good? John only sees the narrow part of the world where he is living / working with Jesus. John does not see that the world of Jesus includes so much more than he can see or imagine.
 
Jesus says that those who act in his name are doing his work / will. Those who offer acceptance / hospitality – cup of water will be rewarded. Because they act in his name.
 
The writer of Mark is the only Gospel writer to move from this encounter of John and the unknown exorcist to warnings about putting stumbling blocks in the way of those who are new to the faith. Matthew and Luke both contain these accounts but separate the encounter of john and the unknown exorcist and the following teaching. Mark includes it here, I believe, because he wants to underscore the importance of Jesus response to John and for us to understand that our actions and words make a difference in the lives of the “little ones who believe in me.”
 
How important is it that we not cause others to stumble? It is more important than our body parts. How important is it that we represent the Christ that comes to save all people? More important than any of our personal ideas, interest or biases. How important is it that we see the big picture? It is a matter of eternal life or eternal death.
 
Pieter Story, South African Bishop, likes to remind people that when we say, “Jesus come into my heart.” Jesus replies, “OK, but I’m bring all my friends with me. And I expect you to care for them.”
 
Judgement is coming for all, “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

September 23, 2018  

SERMON TEXT      Mark 9:30-37
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
 
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
SERMON             Who is the Greatest?                         Rev. Kethley
 
Do you know Flat Stanley? Flat Stanley is a character from a series of children’s books. Because he is flat he experiences the world differently and is able to be mailed from place to place for great adventures. Flat Stanley will be attending worship during the month of September. Flat Stanley is a two dimensional representation of a person. Too often we fail to see the full character of a person because we do not take the time and effort to truly get to know them. As we grow in the faith and our understanding of faithful discipleship, Jesus becomes more and more real in our lives. When we are new to the faith Jesus is like Flat Stanley – a two dimensional character.
 
As we come to know Jesus and include Jesus in our daily living we understand that Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s grace ever.
 
Most of us have a pretty good idea of how to measure greatness. Name a subject and we can argue about who was/is the greatest athlete, statesman, teacher, general or the greatest even villain real or fictional. Google any subject and among the results will be a top five or ten list for that subject included in the results. Even when we shop we are able to rate the product through surveys to tell others why we believe the product is the greatest. You might say we have an obsession in naming / using the best / top / greatest in any category.
 
So Jesus and his disciples are once again on the road. He has recently feed the 5,000, and cast out a demon from a boy. Between these two events Jesus took Peter, James and John with him up the mountain and there was transfigured before their eyes. His appearance became as pure and white as light. They, Peter, James and John, saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah and then heard the voice of God declare, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Now the whole group is together again. These three disciples must have felt special to have been selected to be with Jesus on the mountain.
 
Now as the disciples share stories of how they engaged in ministry in the name of Jesus at the foot of the mountain and Peter, James and John share what they experienced at the top of the mountain. I can tell you that in my experience there is no group that practices “one ups-man-ship” like a group of pastors. I was with a group of Methodist clergy at Lakeview on Monday and Tuesday for a retreat. We engage in a verbal ballet of modesty and pride as we share how things are going at our respective churches.
 
On this coming Tuesday I’ll be with a group of clergy for lunch here in West Columbia from the area churches and I can assure you it will be the same. But when we start our verbal ballet I will be leading off with “Flat Stanley” and our emphasis on how we are striving to “Love all God’s Children.” Why – well I have to be honest an admit that partly because our Bishop, Scott Jones, came up with a great conference focus called, “We Love All God’s Children.” “We Love All God’s Children” is an initiative of the United Methodist Church for under resourced children. The United Methodist Church partners with other organizations to provide resources for children related to literacy, health and discipleship (faith-based learning). 
 
But more compelling than the Bishops initiative is the scripture we shared this morning. The disciples are arguing about who among them is the greatest. I can hear them as they are each listing accomplishment and/or ways that Jesus shows favor to them. I’m sure the are going back and forth about who answered which of Jesus’s questions correctly and who has been rebuked. I can even imagine that when Peter, James and John say, “He chose us to accompany him up the mountain,” that Matthew replied something like, “Of course he did, because you all needed extra tutoring.”
 
In response to the Disciples argument about who is the greatest, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” The greatest is the one that makes a child welcome.
 
Notice that the greatest is not the one that teaches a child or plays with a child or tolerates a child or notices a child but one who makes a child welcome. To be welcome is more than being allowed to be welcome one must be comfortable and included. To be welcome is to be made to feel at home. Being welcome is knowing that you truly belong.
 
If you have been able to take part in Wednesday Connection these past few weeks I think we have seen the act of welcoming children. We do eat together and then we sing together (with motions) and then we play games together that are designed to help us understand the Proverbs and get to know one another. I have seen children teach adults how to play games. I have seen adults race children in the Proverbs 31 relay race. We have laughed and learned. We have welcomed the children and made them the priority of the evening. Members of the choir stay to help us sing before going on to Choir Rehearsal. The Adults have set aside their own Bible Study for September to be a part of the lesson time. I believe we have all become better acquainted and more comfortable with one another.
 
Who is the greatest? Those who welcome children and youth and adults in the name of Jesus. Those who help others find their place in the family of God. Amen.
September 16, 2018
SERMON TEXT          Mark 8:27-38 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
SERMON                     How Do You Say Who I Am?                    Rev. Kethley Do you know Flat Stanley? Flat Stanley is a character from a series of children’s books. Because he is flat he experiences the world differently and is able to be mailed from place to place for great adventures. Flat Stanley will be attending worship during the month of September. Flat Stanley is a two dimensional representation of a person. Too often we fail to see the full character of a person because we do not take the time and effort to truly get to know them. As we grow in the faith and our understanding of faithful discipleship, Jesus becomes more and more real in our lives. When we are new to the faith Jesus is like Flat Stanley – a two dimensional character. As we come to know Jesus and include Jesus in our daily living we understand that Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s grace ever. Everyone has an idea of what they would like in a savior / hero. It is rare that our expectations are met and even more rare that when our expectations are met that the hero turns out to be a really good guy. If God had surveyed the people and asked what they wanted in a hero / savior they would have said a warrior king like David. But David was a deeply flawed man. Not the kind of Savior the world needed. Instead God sent Jesus. The son of a man we might describe today as working poor from a troubled part of what use to be the land of Israel. Not what we expected. “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” Then as Jesus began to explain what it meant to be a disciple / follower openly and honestly – Peter tried to rebuke Jesus. But Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” So the question we consider today is not only “Who do you say that Jesus is?” But also “How do you say who Jesus is?” How do you say who I am? “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus said, let them:
  1. deny themselves
  2. take up their cross
  3. follow me 

Lloyd Rollins – UMCOR supplies held up for a bribe in Africa. Lloyd refused to pay because to pay would use money intended for those in need. Instead Lloyd spent hours on the phone with government officials until he found one to help. He also mentioned that he was talking to CNN about a possible story if they didn’t help. But Lloyd knew that the integrity of the ministry depended on his action and refused to participate in the corrupt system of bribes. Diane Wimberley – associate pastor of St.Paul’s UMC, Houston, went on a mission trip to Bolivia. When she returned to Houston she could not stop thinking of the people in Bolivia. She worked to help others understand their situation and eventually became a missionary to Bolivia. She learned to speak Spanish. Diane put aside her career path and moved 3,700 miles to live in Bolivia for more than 10 years. Among other things, she trained preachers to preach the gospel in their native languages. We helped purchase video equipment for this ministry. A few years ago a college student skipped lunch and ended the week with $5 extra. That $5 was donated to a local food pantry. The next week that student told a friend and together they donated $10 to the local food pantry. Before long it became a thing among students to skip lunch and give the money to help the hungry. Now several organizations with feeding ministries have adopted this idea to raise awareness of hunger and money buy food. How do you say who I am? “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus said, let them:

  1. deny themselves
  2. take up their cross
  3. follow me 
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? How will you say who Jesus is?
September 9, 2018
Proverbs 22:1
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.
 
Mark 7:24-37 
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
 
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

SERMON                     What’s In A Name           Rev. Kethley

Do you know Flat Stanley? Flat Stanley is a character from a series of children’s books. Because he is flat he experiences the world differently and is able to be mailed from place to place for great adventures. Flat Stanley will be attending worship during the month of September. Flat Stanley is a two dimensional representation of a person. Too often we fail to see the full character of a person because we do not take the time and effort to truly get to know them.

As we grow in the faith and our understanding of faithful discipleship, Jesus becomes more and more real in our lives. When we are new to the faith Jesus is like Flat Stanley – a two dimensional character. As we come to know Jesus and include Jesus in our daily living we understand that Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s grace ever.

What’s in a name? If I say, Jones, what comes to mind? Perhaps a location or a friend with that last name. If I say Dr. Jones? – a physician or may be a professor in college. And if I say Indiana Jones? The hero of a series of films about an archeologist / adventurer. In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we learn about the relationship between Indiana and his father Dr. Henry Jones. In an argument about why they haven’t spoken in years the elder Dr. Jones says, “You left, just as you were becoming interesting.”

Relationship begin with relatively simple rules. Parent child relationship seem pretty straight forward. Keep the baby well fed, dry and safe. Then the baby starts to think on his or her own and suddenly what was simple becomes very real.

Jesus has called his disciples and is moving about the country teaching, preaching and healing. He is demonstrating the Grace of God as he proclaims it to the Jewish people. At a private home in Tyre, Jesus is approached by a woman. A Gentile woman, of Syrophoenicia. The woman has come to ask Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter. Jesus responds that he has come to the children of Israel and they should come first. But the woman, a gentile, pleads / begs Jesus and he grants her request. Jesus is responsive to the passionate request of a mother.

What’s in a name? We are never told the name of this woman. We only know that she did not have a Jewish name. She had a foreign name. She is remembered though because she called upon the name of Jesus to cast out the demon. She is known to us as one who Jesus responded to and valued.

Jesus is not a simple savior. Jesus is not a two dimensional deity. Jesus is not like the scribes, the Pharisee and the Sadducees who have a simple follow the rules religion. Jesus represents the true God who responds to the impassioned pleas of a mother on behalf of her daughter – never mind the fact that she is a gentile.

Next the Gospel tells us of Jesus’ encounter with a disabled man. The man is unable to hear or speak – presumably from birth. Jesus leads him away from the crowd, touches him on the ears and tongue and says be opened. Be opened. Open to hear, open to speak, open to express his desires and to hear the stories of others. Be open to participate in life.

Again we do not know the name of the man who is healed. We think he was Jewish because there is no mention to the contrary. We do not know his first words or his impressions of sound for the first time. What we do know is that he was a person that Jesus valued and Jesus wanted to hear him. The man’s friends called upon the one name Jesus to give their friend the ability to hear and to speak.

Jesus represents the true God who not only speaks to his children but wants to hear us speak, sing and praise God. Jesus gives the ability to listen and speak to a man who could do neither before their encounter.

Some names we are given and some names we choose for ourselves. At the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Sallah asks Why the elder Dr. Jones refers to Indiana as Junior? Henry Jones Sr. replies, “That’s his name: ‘Henry Jones, Junior.’” Indiana Jones: “I like Indiana.” Henry Jones Sr.: “We named the dog Indiana.”  Sallah: “The dog? You are named after the dog?” Indiana: “I’ve got a lot of fond memories with that dog.”

Disciples of Jesus Christ choose to be known as Christians for much better reasons than fond memories. A real relationship requires consistent communication, listening and learning as well as expressing ones on desires. A fully developed relationship with Jesus requires more than a few representative memory verses and the sinner’s prayer. Discipleship requires consistent communication, dedication to Jesus as Lord and a willingness to not only learn from the teacher but to be reshaped by the teachings of Jesus.

September 2, 2018

 SERMON TEXT      Philippians 4:10-14

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

SERMON                     Faithful Action                                   Rev. Kethley

Today we come to the end of our series on Philippians. In the letter thus far we have seen how Paul calls us to make the Gospel agenda our agenda, to imitate Christ, to imitate the faithfulness of Paul’s life and to stand firm in the faith to which we have been called. Today in our final lesson from Philippians we are called to faithful action.

What are we to do? We, who have faith, ought to practice the teachings of our faith but what are we to do?

For Paul a faithful witness and faithful action go hand in hand. It is by our faithfulness to Jesus Christ that we are of use to family, friends, community and the world. It is by living out our faithful relationship with Jesus that we demonstrate community.

What is faithful action? Wesley had three rules to help the Methodist know faithful action.

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do all the good you can.
  3. Attend to the ordinances of God – that is worship, study the scripture and pray.

 

For the apostle Paul Faithful Action is to share in another’s distress.

In both cases Faithful Action is about being involved in the lives of those around us. Think of how we might share in another’s distress. We do this openly and honestly when we are with others at funerals. In fact funerals are formal arrangements where we openly and clearly declare that Christ is victorious over death and we the church mourn not for the deceased but share in the heartbreak and sorrow of the surviving family. We share in their distress.

Grief Support group will begin meeting on September 13th at 10:30 a.m. in the Men’s Sunday School Classroom and our whole purpose is to share with one another and support one another in our distress caused by the death of someone. We will rejoice in the promise of God that one day we will be together again but we will also share and support one another in grief.

I have mentioned in past sermons work we did on suicide prevention while in Fairfield.

Ask a question save a life. Being an interested concerned person is what is required. The estimate is that 8 of 10 suicides are preventable if people would express genuine concern for others. By sharing with someone in their distress. I also think about the recent cases of violent events where people committing the violence in schools, homes or workplaces felt themselves to be under such pressure that they lash out at others. No one shared in their distress so they struck out in violent attacks.

Paul has a relationship with Jesus Christ that gives him strength. He is able to endure all situations of life because he knows the love of God as revealed in Jesus the Christ. Paul says I can do all things through him who strengthens me. How do I know this/ Because of the faithful witness of others taking part in my life (the church at Philippi).

In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress. Your willingness to be a part of my life makes a difference.

Faithful Christian living and Faithful Action involve both an understanding of our relationship with Jesus and our intentional sharing in the lives of God’s people.

August 26, 2018

SERMON TEXT          Philippians 4:1-9


Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

SERMON                     Stand Firm                        Rev. Kethley

If you’ve been part of the Methodist church for long enough you’ve been through a couple of pastor changes. With each new pastor comes a new personality and preaching style. And a new set of preacher stories and illustrations based largely on their children and in his or her experiences at previous congregations. Yes, you and everything that happens while a preacher is assigned here is a potential sermon illustration at the next church. If the story is grand enough then we, preachers, even use stories about what happened to other preachers in their churches. Why is it that the stories most of us remember are the stories of controversy and some form of dramatic resolution?

Our text today instructs us to rejoice in the Lord, to give thanks to God, to concentrate on the excellent things of the faith and we are all wondering “What happened between Euodia and Syntyche that was so bad that Paul had to call them out by name?”

We only know that Euodia and Syntyche have had a falling out – we do not know any of the details. Maybe Euodia rearranged the chairs in Syntche’s choir room or perhaps Synche moved the flowers from the left side of the altar to the right side of the altar – flowers that Euodia had placed there earlier. These are silly examples from churches in my past that caused two church leaders to not speak for months. I would hope that the problem between Euodia and Syntyche was of more substance but we just do not know.

What we do know is that Paul believed that the church – the members of the congregation – had a role in bringing these two back together. Paul knows that ignoring disagreements / controversies leads to more problems and division. The church is a community of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation for the world and for the members of the church. I urge Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord and I ask you . . . to help these women . . . because they are co-workers . . . whose names are written in the book of life.

Rejoice / Pray / Give Thanks / Receive

Rejoice to live in an anxiety free attitude of peace and joy rooted in the knowledge that the Lord is near. Paul is not calling on people to pretend that everything is OK but to live in the knowledge that Christ is with us. From that knowledge we find reason to rejoice in every circumstance.

Pray and make our request know before God. Not just listing our concerns but begging God to act on behalf of others.

Give thanks for the grace of God at work in your life and in your world.

Receive the peace that is promised to us in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

In our cynical world it is easy to dismiss these words. Our culture simply tunes out the idea of virtues that guide our thoughts and actions. But Paul knows / is convinced / that those things that occupy our minds are reflected in our lives and our actions.

If our minds are filled with conflicts and controversy generated by “reality TV” or the “24 hour news cycle” or other attention dependent enterprises then our view of the world is eschewed those thoughts and idea. We view the world through the perspective of the images in our minds and thoughts. Be it financial, political, racial, philosophical or religious.

Paul understands that we Christians need to be on guard and concentrate on things of value and worth not things of divisiveness and destruction. This call to virtue is a call to live life from the Christian perspective.

Our challenge is to proclaim the Good News in a world that is consumed with controversy and destruction. The church is a community of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation for the world and for the members of the church. The message of the church is one of hope for the future, forgiveness for sinners and reconciliation of all people so that we might all be of one mind in Christ Jesus. We must stand firm in our calling to be the church in a world that is opposed to peace.

August 19, 2018

SERMON TEXT          Philippians 3:1-8

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.

To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

SERMON                     Imitate Paul                                                Rev. Kethley

How do you know you are part of a group? How do others know you are part of their group? We have ways of signaling to others who we are – subtle ways and overt ways – temporary ways and more permanent ways. The more important the group the more permanent the signal. For example: if you want to gently signal that you are an Astros fan you mention a player’s name or a dramatic play. If you want to show a bit more of your commitment you might relate a story of going to a game and the stadium. BTW – I have been to the holy places. I’ve been to Texas Stadium, The Astro Dome, ATT Stadium, NRG Stadium, The Ball Park at Arlington and Minute Maid Park even once when it was Enron Field. See how that makes me a little more of an Astro’s fan. Then there are the real hard core group members that display their membership. Like the vanity plate I saw – “JJ WATT” I’m pretty sure it was a fan and not actually JJ’s car because I saw the vanity plate one day in the Texas Medical Center on the back of a late 90’s Pontiac with blue smoke coming out of the exhaust. And the top level super fan / group member are the guys with a red and blue oil derrick tattoo – true Houston Oilers group member for life.

As Paul writes to the Philippians there are people who are trying to insist that disciples must be circumcised to truly belong. But Paul locates the true mark of our belonging not in the flesh but in the deep joy of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!

The “Dogs” are those who would put misleading conditions on discipleship. In Paul’s time these are people who taught that circumcision of the flesh was a requirement for discipleship. Be aware of those who consider the mark of the flesh as something to boast about. They obviously do not understand the mark of circumcision and mistake the importance of it to a meaningful relationship with God.

The church seems to be constantly distracted by identifying marks of faithfulness or fruitful discipleship. In some churches that Paul wrote to they were using gifts of the spirit to make distinctions between themselves. The church seems to be obsessed with identifying those most faithful or most loyal by the strangest measures. In reality the church should not be in the disciple measuring business at all. That is God’s responsibility. The church rather is in the disciple making business. Helping people into a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ.    

Here Paul takes a unique approach in his example. While other writers or speakers would continue their persuasive argument by listing the mistakes of others / those misleading people / Paul uses his own testimony and experience as a more persuasive argument.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:

In others words Paul says, “If the mark of circumcision, the rights of birth and zeal could save me – I would not need Christ.” Paul had all of that but he gave it all up in order to claim Christ.

I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Not only did Paul give up the old marks of faithfulness he also came to understand them as useless. He regarded them as rubbish or trash to be discarded. Meaning that these old measures are no longer useful in measuring or identifying our relationship with God.

How are we to demonstrate the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?  

By recognizing that Christ is the center of our lives and the source of our joy. Joy that is more that superficial happiness but joy that comes from a deeply felt knowledge of God’s abiding presence.

Paul writes to remind us of our true joy in Christ Jesus. Our relationship to Jesus redefines our lives and can be seen by others. There is no other sign necessary than to live the life that God makes possible for us in Jesus Christ. To imitate Paul is not to look like him or act like him but to live for Christ like him – counting all else as a loss for the greatest gain.

August 12, 2018

SERMON TEXT       Philippians 2:12-18

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like starts in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad to rejoice with all of you- and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.

SERMON                     Imitate Christ                              Rev. Kethley

School days – I can still remember some of my favorite teachers from grade school. Mrs. Lane was my math teacher – she instilled a love for geometry and taught us the relationship between shapes and number. Ms. Powers gave me a reading diagnostic test and brought me up to reading level in 4th grade. Probably the most important person in my formal education. Reading on grade level in the third grade is a leading indicator of future academic success. Reading to and with children is critically important to their education. Research has consistently shown that children who start school knowing the basic shapes, colors, the alphabet and how to count to twenty are able to succeed. Research also shows that who fall behind in reading almost never catch up without intentional intervention. The church / school partnerships for tutoring and reading to children are intentional interventions to help children learn.

My grade school teachers were very important people in my life. I would do my best to please them by completing my assignments and making good grades. I really only remember one substitute teacher – Ms. Cole in the 10th grade physics – she was beautiful. But substitute teachers were not the same. Having a “sub” was an excuse to play. On one such “play day,” the principal showed up in our classroom. As we scrambled for our desk the speech began. I only remember one line. “Character is demonstrated when the teacher is absent.” In other words, our conduct and willingness to learn should not depend on the teacher in the room but on us students. 

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Imitate Jesus with no selfish ambition – humbled himself. / It is by your witness that I can boast.

August 5, 2018

SERMON TEXT       Philippians 1:12-26

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

SERMON                               Gospel Priority                                           Rev. Kethley

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a favorite of many. In this letter the apostle declares the works of God that motivate his ministry. He reminds the church of the bonds which bind all Christian people together. Paul gives us the church a glimpse of what it means to be totally committed to the cause of Christ. Philippians is a witness and a call to action for the church. Philippians is a guide to life for we saved sinners.

From ancient times to present day people have a need to understand the events that unfold around them. Today an entire 24 hour industry, which includes a variety of political perspectives, ideologies and world views seeks to interpret all manner of events so that we can better understand our world. From war and terrorist actions, to sporting events and player trades, to how it is that a black bear ended up in a backyard hot tube, drank a margarita ate a sandwich and had a soak before moving on. People need help making sense of these events so that they can better understand the world, decide to support their team of the player who was traded and prepare for unexpected guest.

To many of Paul’s time his arrest needed explanation. How could being arrested be a good thing. To most people getting arrested was something that happened to thieves and trouble makers. Today it is the same – maybe even worse because being publically accused now comes with immediate commentary which asks the public to make a judgement even before the facts are fully known. Paul addresses the church at Philippi with a letter that reveals the Gospel Priority in the midst of all that is happening in their world.

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel . . .

  • To the imperial guard and those in the prison / justice system
  • Other Christians have be embolden to speak out and proclaim the Gospel
  • Rivals
  • Co-workers
  • Those seeking my benefit
  • Those seeking my harm

The net effect is that “Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.”

And because of the new boldness of others who now proclaim the Gospel – Paul has a renewed commitment to the Gospel. Paul is recommitted to his ministry even if it means putting off the time when he will be with Christ in glory.

As the world looks at the situation – Paul is a disgraced evangelist, arrested with his rivals moving in on his churches and people. But Paul sees a church growing in strength and numbers. Paul sees these events from a Gospel Priority where everything is measured by how it is bringing people into a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

When we live for ourselves we seek to profit ourselves. We seek to be seen as important, wealthy and powerful. When we live for ourselves we live as sinners who seek to show the world our self-reliance. But when we live for Christ we strive to show others our weakness and how Christ has saved us. Once you strip away personal ambitions and agendas you can see the situation as Paul sees it – “living is Christ and dying is gain.

The challenge of discipleship is to know that it is Christ that gives meaning and value to our lives – we must not accept the interpretation of the world but proclaim Christ to a world that is deceived by its own understanding. We must live the life of the redeemed in freedom or captivity, with wealth or in poverty, in health or sickness, in all times and in all places we must live for Christ. Our lives are governed by the Gospel Priority.

July 22, 2018

SERMON TEXT          Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

SERMON                     The Best Part                 Rev. Kethley

The iPhone guy in the mall in Dallas is named Justin or Jacob or Jason or Jordan or some “J” name. We met J about 15 minutes after purchasing Cynthia’s first iPhone at the AT&T store in the mall. Our contract made it a better deal to get the phone upstairs at the AT&T store so we did. She began to asked me several questions from the set up screen and I quickly took her down stairs to the iPhone experts at the Apple store where she met J. An hour later she was an iPhone user, our relationship was happy and we went to eat. It’s a simple story, a true story and one that is repeated day after day as frantic iPhone users walk up with a problem and J helps them solve the problem. J is a miraculous combination of information and patience. As people approach him in a panic with a barrage of questions – he makes eye contact and says, “Push the home button,” and he points to it on the phone. Everyone who hears looks at their phone and does the same. The questions come fast and furious. “How do I . . . and J smiles and says “Push the home button,” and answers the question of the person closes to him – which is also the question of between a third and half of the group. Then the questions begin again and J says, “Push the home button,” and repeats the process all day long. People take selfies with J, call him friend, want to adopt him. J is not a genius or a particularly kind and gentle technical guru. J is following the iPhone help script. Although people will return and ask for him by name – any other employee with the training will offer the same advice and guidance. But people are fiercely loyal to the brand because they believe they have a relationship with J.

Luke tells a simple story about Jesus visiting a home. And it is easy to identify with a character. But sometimes familiar simple stories are deeper than they appear. This is not just a story about two sisters who relate to Jesus and others in different ways. One through active service and one through purposeful attention. It is not just the story of a sister doing all the work while the other listens to the teacher. It is not just a story of choices and/or rewards but a story of relationships and discipleship.

This is Martha’s house. The conversation is between Martha and Jesus. Mary never speaks or moves. Martha is actively tending to the needs of Jesus and his disciples. It is Martha that notices that Mary is not helping her and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her.

Jesus accepts the invitation to Martha’s home. This is very unusual for a man, a rabbi, to accept an invitation from into a house belonging to a woman. It is even more unusual for a rabbi to teach a woman. Jesus not only allows Mary to listen / overhear but gives her a place among his disciples – sitting at his feet as he teaches. Jesus responds to Martha’s protestations by saying

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.

Martha you are distracted by many things. Jesus knows Martha and is speaking to her about her life. She needs more focus. Martha is busy but is she engaged? Is she busy in the way that builds relationships and truly serves others in love.

Jesus says, “There is need of only one thing.” Surely he is not saying that Martha is preparing too much food. He is trying to focus her attention of the better part. The fact that Jesus is with her and is available to her. The better part, which will not be taken away from her – Mary is taking advantage of her time with Jesus. Not to impress him but to be with him. To learn from him.

The placement of this story in Luke follows the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus tells us to, “Go and do likewise.” Here he says, “the better part” is to sit still and listen to his teachings.

Both examples of the Samaritan and Mary are to be emulated because both are vitally important in our lives as disciples. The Christian life is a live in relationship with Jesus Christ and ordinary people. There is not a prescribed action list that fits every situation. But if we live in relationship we will know when to go and do and when to sit, listen and learn.

Responding to people we are in relationships with differently than following a script.

In your relationship with Christ and others choose the better part so that you may be faithful.

July 15, 2018

SERMON TEXT          Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
SERMON                    Love and Serve                Rev. Kethley

So what is my question? My daughter, Ashley, doesn’t like it much when I ask her this question because she knows a life lesson is about to take place. Usually a life lesson about money or relationships never anything fun. Ashley will be laying out plans to do or buy this or that and I will smile and say, “So what is my question?” and reality comes flooding into the conversation.

Jesus teaching style is to help us learn life lessons. He engages the student, ask for details of question and has the student answer his own question and reality comes flooding into the conversation.

What is written in the law? What do you read there?

An expectation that followers, those in relationship with God, will know God through the scriptures. Not only that we will know there are scriptures but we will know them through reading them and applying the message / teaching to our practical living.

Reading occurs at multiple levels. Surface reading is just that – a quick reading to get the main point or idea. Active reading or reading for comprehension requires more engagement of the mind and maybe even the process of taking notes. Meditative reading is when we read and think deeply on how this information can and/or should be applied in our living.

Jesus knows the Lawyer is familiar with the Law so he asks him to state what the Law teaches – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

If only life were as simple as getting the right answer. The right answer is only the knowledge to act. The right answer is not the end goal – it does not suddenly transform those who possess the right answer into super humans. The right answer informs our faithful living in community with God and neighbor.

Who is my neighbor?

We have had neighbors in eight towns during our marriage. Best ever neighbor was in Bascom – Alton Hobbs. Most interesting was in Lindale Bob Staton. Most unusual shall remain nameless but in one episode he was shooting squires out of his pecan trees with the aid of a certain preachers wife directing his fire. Most “well informed” Debbie in Deer Park. Neighbors come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments.

In answering this question Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. “Who was neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” In truth all participants of the story are neighbors. The robbers are really bad neighbors who take advantage of others, the victim is one who is taken advantage of, there are always busy neighbors who see things but don’t get involved and then there are the dependable neighbors who always seem to turn up at just the right time.

Do the robbers not know the law prohibits theft? – they know the law and act against it.

Do the priest and Levite not know that the Law requires them to care for the traveler / sojourner / and render aid? – they know the law they simply do not act upon it. They know the right answer they just don’t apply it to their living.

The one who shows mercy is demonstrating both a knowledge of the Law and the practical application of the right answer. The Samaritan is the good neighbor that shows up at just the right time to help. The Samaritan demonstrates what it means to DO mercy.

Go and do likewise.

What kind of neighbors would you like? What kind of neighbor will you be?
 
 

July 8, 2018

SERMON TEXT          Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

SERMON                     The Mission Trip                                                  Rev. Kethley

 The toughest sermons I preach are when I am at St. John’s UMC in Port Acres – where I grew up. As I started my preaching ministry I offered a sermon to the congregation on change. I used the image of a sand scape – a frame containing layers of colored sand and oil which produced beautiful patterns every time you turned it over. The point being we can do things differently proclaiming the Gospel with the resources we already have and that sometimes we need to shake it up a little. The response was a thunderous silence. On the way out someone told me that they had a sandscape but it leaked and had to be thrown out. Another wanted to know where to buy one. Another – the most truthful said, “I know you’ll be a good preacher – someday.”

Jesus had much the same reception in his home town of Nazareth. His message was not received because the people couldn’t believe that Jesus – son of Mary, the carpenter, the brothers and sisters of which live here – was the Christ, the messiah.

People all over the world believe in a messiah, a savior figure who will set things right but not everyone believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the messiah, the savior the Christ. They seem to be blinded by what they think they already know and unable to hear his teaching clearly or experience his healing power fully because they know he cannot be the messiah.

Mark 6:1-6 relate the story of Jesus teaching with authority, healing those who would allow him to and being rejected by those who knew he was just Mary’s boy. As sharply as the New Testament states it anywhere, this text presents Jesus in what theologians sometimes call the scandal of particularity. Meaning that Jesus is a person with a particular history and in a particular setting – not an idea of messiah but a flesh and blood messiah. Many people like the idea of having a savior but are not able to accept that Jesus is the savior they are expecting. The central proclamation of the Christian faith is not that there is a messiah but that Jesus of Nazareth if the Messiah. Messiah = Christ = Savior.

The people of Nazareth largely reject Jesus because they think they know him. In reality they only know about him – part of his history and his family. Jesus is able to teach with authority and heal those who will receive him and after acknowledging the disbelief of his home town he moves on, continuing his ministry of teaching and healing in the surrounding villages. Note that the power and authority of Jesus are not diminished but rejected by those who refused to believe.

Our world today is much like Nazareth. There are people we meet every day that think they know all about Jesus. Some of them think Jesus is a nice person with good ideas. Others think Jesus is a moral philosopher. Some think Jesus is keeping score of their sins and good deeds getting ready to judge them. Others think Jesus is the one to save them and their world. None of these ideas reflect the Jesus of the Gospel – Jesus of Nazareth who was sent by God to offer full and complete salvation to all people – Jesus is the Messiah / the Christ / the Savior of the World. And no human misunderstanding can make him anything less.

Our reading today concludes with Jesus demonstrating and sharing his authority and mission through his disciples. Jesus continues after his rejection to go through out the villages teaching, casting out demons and healing. Jesus calls his disciples and sends them out two by two into the mission field of the villages. They go completely dependent on the authority of Jesus and the reception of those villages. The result is that they are part of spreading the Gospel message through word and deed as they live their faith. Note also that Jesus acknowledges that some will reject them but they are to shake off the dust and continue with the work of teaching, casting out demons and healing. Do not let the rejection of others define your ministry calling. Be faithful to Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the World.

July 1, 2018

 SERMON TEXT         Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

SERMON                     Reaching for Jesus                          Rev. Kethley

Another trip across the sea of Galilee. And Jesus is again among the Jewish people.

Jarius comes to Jesus seeking help / healing for his daughter who is gravely ill. Jarius is described as a leader of the synagogue – a person of some prominence – yet when he sees Jesus he begs him to heal his daughter. Jarius humbles himself / falls at the feet of Jesus and begs. This is an act of desperation / an act of faith. Jesus is the only hope for Jarius. Jesus agrees to go with him and they start toward the home of Jarius.

The Crowd follows Jesus and Jarius as they move. Who is the crowd? There are the curious, the believers and the doubters. The crowd is a collection of folks caught up in the event of Jesus’s visit but not really a part of the visit. Most of the time most people are part of the crowd. Most of the time most of us are part of the crowd. We are concerned, we want to see what is happening but we really are not directly affected by what happens. At least not in our minds.

This week we celebrate the birth of our nation with food, friends, fireworks and patriotic music. With pride we will imagine what we might have done if had we been alive in 1776. But the truth is that even if we had been alive in 1776 most of us would have been part of the crowd watching to see how things would turn out.

As Jesus and Jarius moved toward his house there was woman in the crowd who like Jarius was intentionally there to meet Jesus. As the crowd moved she reached out and touched the hem of his garment / was instantly healed and began her encounter with Jesus. Jesus never heals indiscriminately but acts personally in the life of an individual. He stops the crowd and ask to meet the person who reached out and touched him. The disciples want to keep moving but Jesus insist that he meet the person who has been healed. The woman comes forward humbles herself / falls at the feet of Jesus and tells what happened. This is an act of gratitude / an act of faith.

Messengers arrive declaring no hope because the daughter of Jarius has died. At this point Jarius has a decision to make. He can believe the messengers – that all hope is lost – or he can continue to place his hope in Jesus.

Mark does not tell us the reaction of the crowd to the news that the daughter of Jarius has died but I can imagine their outpouring of sympathy and grief for Jarius and his loss. Jarius would certainly be in mild shock at the news. Jesus is the hope of Jarius and Jesus will not disappoint Jarius. Jesus continues to offer hope to the man who met him at the sea side.

Jesus takes just a few disciples with him and they continue to the home of Jarius. Jesus rebukes those who have started mourning and enters the house. Jesus raises the daughter of Jarius restoring hope and demonstrating the power of God over life and over death.

Most of the time most of us are part of the crowd. What will it take for you to reach out to Jesus – to humble yourself and in blind faith reach out to encounter the risen Christ? Jesus specializes in hopeless causes, hopeless relationships, and restoring hopeless people. Jesus is with the humble as the face health challenges, family struggles, legal problems or even death. When the world sends messengers that it is time to give up – Jesus continues to faithfully move toward the hopeless with the purpose of restoring hope and life that is everlasting.

Amen.

June 24, 2018

SERMON TEXT          Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

SERMON                     Storm Chasers                                                    Rev. Kethley

Storm chasers in Oklahoma and hurricane hunters.

When I was in high school my oldest brother bought a sailboat. We spent many days sailing on Lake Sabine. On one particular morning it was clear as we went out but the weather changed as a “squall” moved over the lake. “H” and I are both strong swimmers, life guard rated in fact, and we are very familiar with Lake Sabine. We know our location, where the bridge is, where the marina is and we know that except for the forty-foot-deep channel which has been dredged for shipping we could walk to shore. But the storm moves in fast. We drop the “jib sail,” turn away from the storm and get ready for the ride. Then my brother says, “Paul, you need to go up and secure the jib or it will drag in the water.” No problem, I move to the bow with a rope in hand just as we feel the full force of the storm. Hanging on for dear life, gathering the jib under me and tying it down. That’s when the lightening got our attention. Scared? You bet. Afraid? Without a doubt one of the scariest times of my life. But then the weather shifted, the sky cleared and we sailed on Lake Sabine until dark.

Marks Gospel tells us that several of the disciples of Jesus were fishermen. They were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. They would have been familiar with the local weather patterns, water depth, and would have been able to navigate from place to using “dead reckoning.” They were familiar with their surroundings because the sea was their work place.

In the Gospel passage we share this morning, Mark related the first of at least four crossings of the Sea of Galilee by Jesus and his disciples. Jesus literally moves from Jewish settlements on one side of the sea to gentile settlements on the other side of the sea. On both sides of the sea Jesus teaches and demonstrates the power of God over the forces of evil. Jesus teaches as one with authority, heals the sick and cast out demons in the presence of the disciples and the crowd.

On this trip across the sea Jesus is resting – asleep in the boat – as the disciples manage the boat toward the other side. The disciples are on a journey not of their own choice but at Jesus direction / command. They are not alone but they act as if they are alone. Their world becomes one big storm and everywhere they look is waves and rain and water.

The storm arises and seems to be more than the disciples were expecting. They become concerned. They begin to fear. They begin to panic. So they wake Jesus and ask him:

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The disciples call Jesus “Teacher” in this moment of the storm. Why? Because that is how they see him and how he relates to them so far. They accuse Jesus of not caring about their safety – this trip was his idea.

Jesus commands the storm to stop and it does. This is a demonstration of the power of God that the disciples alone witness. It is to help them understand that Jesus is not just a teacher but that Jesus is the Son of God. In the journeys across the lake the disciples will witness Jesus casting out demons, healing the sick and teaching. They will be learning that Jesus is more than a teacher.

Notice that after Jesus wakes and rebukes the storm he chastises the disciples for their lack of faith and understanding. This lack of understanding is not the kind that results in poor grades but shows that they do not really know who Jesus is. It is after the storm and after Jesus speaks to them that the unsure disciples are filled with “awe”

Fred Craddock suggest that we miss the meaning by using the word “awe” in translation. We stand in awe of great things and talented people. Awe in our language has come to mean greatly admired. Craddock suggest that a more literal translation would be – they feared a great fear. So the disciples feared with a great fear and asked who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?

There is no doubt that the church answers the question of the disciples – “He is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

June 17, 2018

SERMON TEXT                   Mark 4:21-34

He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

SERMON                                Parables                                                      Rev. Kethley

Power of Story. Human beings are hard wired for a good story. We listen to stories, we tell stories, we live into stories and we share stories. Nothing fully engages the human mind like an interesting story. Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable was such a story. A few months ago Cynthia and I were scrolling through Netflix and came across a documentary called Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable it was an amazing story well told of the recovery of the greatest treasure ever found. As the camera pulled back from the amazing display of coral covered artifacts on display in the museum it was stunning to see the coral covered likeness of a man holding hands with a child size mouse. It was all fiction. But a well told tale that entertained just the same.

Some stories entertain and some stories teach. Aesop’s Fables are simple story used to illustrate or teach a moral point. Fables may use extraordinary means to convey the message – talking animals and great demonstrations of strength or speed for example.

Parables are also a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson but I note three major differences. First the setting of the Parables of Jesus is ordinary everyday life, second the purpose of parables is not simply to teach good or wise behavior but to reveal the nature of God, and the third is the Parables of Jesus are true.  

There are two groups to which Jesus is speaking – the crowd and the disciples.  The casual listener will understand the surface of the parable but the actively engaged listener / reader will understand the deeper lessons of Jesus teaching. So what are the lessons of the lamps and seeds.

Lamps are for lighting up dark places. If you bring a lamp into your home you should expect the light to penetrate the dark places and reveal what is present. A few years ago we started to notice that the florescent lights in our house were different colors and brightness so we decided to replace them with “Full Spectrum” bright white. That’s when we began to see the interior of the house was not quite as well maintained as we had thought. Every tiny flaw appeared in every surface. We could see better, the plants loved the new light but it showed the flaws in everything it touched. We almost changed them back to the old bulbs. That’s what the kingdom of God is like. Jesus, the light of the world, the lamp, enters your life at your invitation and when he does all flaws are exposed so he can correct them. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Almost everyone is familiar with seeds. Even those who have never planted a seed have seen them and understand that plants grow from seeds. I remember my father taking a damp cup towel folding it over a handful of dark round seeds. He put it on a pan on top of the refrigerator and when he uncovered it some days later he had spouted okra plants. How, why, who taught you to do that? The Kingdom of God is like a planter who plants seeds. The planter does not know everything about how the seeds become plants and produce food. The planter trust that the seed will sprout and the plant will grow. The planter is willing to plant and ready to harvest when the time is right.

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows and produces shade and a place for many of God’s creatures. From the smallest seed comes the greatest growth. That’s what a relationship with God is like.

Remember the two groups listening to Jesus. Group one the disciples get to be with Jesus all the time and he will explain the teaching of his parables to them when they are alone. Group two is the crowd overhearing the teaching in parables. On them and us the seeds are scattered and are allowed to take root. Even if the smallest understanding of God’s Grace is allowed to take root it can flourish into a life giving relationship with Jesus Christ.

True stories are powerful. Your story of how God is part of your like can be the seed planted in someone’s life.

June 10, 2018

SERMON TEXT              Mark 3:3135

 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

SERMON                                         Family                                               Rev. Kethley

Recognition of children’s choir and the work of our volunteers.

Any brothers or sisters in the choir? Any of you have family come this morning to hear you sing? Moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents? Families are important aren’t they? I remember when I was much younger – about you age – I would look for my mom and dad at school assemblies, church programs and ball games when I was part of the presentation or team. Truth is I still look for my wife every time I preach. It is comforting to know that someone out there knows me when I am up here.

In the Bible reading we just heard, Jesus is inside teaching a very large crowd and they are glad to be with Jesus. They are listening and learning from Jesus about God and how to do what God expects us to do – to Love God, Love our neighbors and serve both. People are crowded into the house and there is not enough room for everyone that wants to be there. Crowded like the choir room this week. 

This passage is the conclusion of a longer encounter between Jesus, the crowd, the scribes and his biological family. Mark 3:20-35.

Two groups of people are mentioned as being outside. The Scribes are a group of religious leaders that don’t like Jesus and are threatened by the success Jesus is having teaching the people about God. They try to get Jesus in trouble and talk bad about him. The scribes are so jealous that they will say anything to try and get people to stop following Jesus. They even accuse Jesus of having a demon. But Jesus say to them that he does not and he cannot have a demon because he teaches about God and how to defeat demons.

Because the scribes are spreading rumors about Jesus and trying to get him into trouble – his mom and brothers and sisters come to try and protect him and take him home. They send word to Jesus while he is teaching that they are waiting to take him home. Isn’t that the worst thing? I remember being at youth group or Vacation Bible School having a great time with friends and an adult would come in – stop the fun – and say “Paul your mom is here and you have to go.” I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay with my friends and sing and play. But I had to go.

When Jesus gets the message – he looks at all the people who are listening to him teach about God and he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Whoever does the will of God is my family.

You know how I got to be in my family? I was born into it – I had no choice. My wife married into my family and I into hers – we chose to be family. Sometimes I find myself at weddings, funerals and family gatherings completely surrounded by family I have hardly met but we have a common bond of blood and history that unites us. We may have passed each other in our lives without knowing we were related but in that moment when someone – usually an aunt or grandmother – lays out our pedigreed we come to know and appreciate our relationship.

We Christians, are all part of Jesus’s family. Whatever church we usually go to on Sunday – we are part of Jesus family. We have brothers and sisters who are Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, Nazarene, Lutheran, Methodist, Church of Christ, and many of other congregations. Because what unites us as family is our relationship with Jesus Christ and our desire to serve Jesus by doing the will of God.

I want to thank our guest again for being a part of our worship this morning. It really means a lot to us that you would be here today, that you entrusted your children to us this week and that you are part our family. I want you to know that we pray for the success of your ministries on a regular basis.  

In ministry we plan and work to help people know and experience God’s presence. It is often the case that we see the Kingdom of God made real in our community when our children and youth come together for events like this, Vacation Bible School and Columbia United.  As we stand to sing our closing this morning I invite you to prayerfully consider how you will support the ministry of strengthening the whole Family of God.
 
 

June 3, 2018

SERMON TEXT           Mark 2:23-3:6

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

SERMON                      Lord of the Sabbath                                              Rev. Kethley

Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.

Jesus was a trouble maker

  • Plucking and eating grain on Sabbath
  • Healing on Sabbath
  • Healing the children of foreigners
  • Touching the dead
  • Eating with sinners
  • Not directing his followers to fast
  • Talking with women
  • Interrupting a perfectly legitimate stoning

Jesus was a trouble maker. And in the words of Buford T. Justice, sheriff of Montague County Texas, (Smokey and the Bandit) “What we are dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.”

But Matthew 5:17 says, “Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil the Law.” How is Jesus’s apparent disobedience to the Law fulfilling the Law? In Luke 10 a lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. In response Jesus asks the lawyer to tell him what the Law reveals.

Luke 10:27-28

27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

And as Jesus reveals in the story we refer to as the “Good Samaritan,” Loving God and Loving neighbor requires us to serve both.

Every time Jesus comes to the choice of observing the Law for the Law’s sake or showing love for God and neighbor he chooses to show love. It appears that the purpose of the law is not to deprive people of life or mercy but to make it possible for flawed human beings to live together in community and to extend love and mercy to one another.

In fulfilling the Law, Jesus, redefines our understanding of God’s justice and mercy. In fulfilling the Law Jesus does not call for stricter enforcement or harsher sentencing but for justice and mercy that reflect the Love of God.

Restorative Justice v. Criminal Justice – most of the time when a person is sentenced for a crime they are given a term to serve in the criminal justice system. We often even refer to this as their punishment for the crime. Sometimes persons in the TDCJ system have an experience of redemption through a religious experience or education and are able to use their time of incarceration learn from their past mistakes and re-enter society as more productive citizens. These persons experience Restorative Justice. I believe that Jesus fulfilment of the Law requires us to seek to participate in acts of Restorative Justice.  

By the way – Jesus could have argued the point of the law about plucking and eating grain on Sabbath if he had wanted to. Deuteronomy 23:25 allows persons to pick and eat on Sabbath so long as nothing the pick is put into containers and/or taken home. Picking is not the work of harvesting unless one gathers what they have picked into a container and/or takes it home. But Jesus would not be content to win a legal argument when he had an opportunity to teach about the nature of God’s redemptive love and his role as messiah.

Jesus said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

What God has provided, God provides to all people as an act of love. God in Christ Jesus, acts to restore a broken people and a broken creation. The Law and Grace both have the same purpose – to reveal God and to restore us to a right relationship with our creator. Jesus fulfills the Law by showing Love and Grace.
 

May 27, 2018

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

SERMON                               Vision and Response                                   Rev. Kethley

Maxfield Parrish, was considered one of the most prominent painters and illustrators of the 20th century. He bought land across the Connecticut River from where his father lived and designed a home to sit squarely with a view of Mount Ascutney in 1898. The move would herald a renaissance in his artistry. Parrish painted scenes around his land, which he named “The Oaks’’ for its giant trees. These 45 acres were his playground, where Parrish the successful illustrator flourished as a painter. He created some of America’s best-known art at “The Oaks,’’ including “Daybreak,’’ a 1922 painting reproduced so many times it was called “the decorating sensation of the decade.’’ 

Parrish would gravitate toward landscapes, announcing to the Associated Press in 1931 that he was done with illustrations, done painting “girls on rocks.’’ He’d paint only what he loved: landscapes, “unattainable’’ scenes people don’t see every day. Parrish’s encounter with the overwhelming beauty of creation changed the direction of his life and work. As an artist he could do nothing less than try to share his experience with others through his art.

Isaiah is a man caught in the grips of life. He is a person that knows the world is not as it should be but cannot seem to change things. Even in his role as prophet he is ignored and after delivering the messages it seems the people do not respond as indicated in Isaiah 5:25 “For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.”

Isaiah lives as a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips who finds himself in the very presence of God.

Encounter with the Holy – an unexplained breaking into our world by God.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. . . .”

Confession – the act of acknowledging that we are out of place in creation / God’s world.

And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Absolution / Forgiveness – the action that restores us to wholeness as God’s children.

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 

It is only after Isaiah has his sin blotted out that he is truly able to hear the voice of God. Before he could only hear the condemnation and judgement of God. Now he hears the desire of God to redeem the world.

Commitment and Response – our expressed desire to be a part of God’s work.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

We are people of unclean lips and we live among a people of unclean lips but we have seen the King, the Lord of Host. How does your encounter with God shape your live / your relationships / your work / your life?

In the 1840’s a group of people settled this part of Texas. Encountering a variety of challenges and blessings they responded to expected and unexpected God’s presence in their world by establishing this congregation. They were motivated by a variety of influences but at the center of it all the establishment of this witness in this place was a response to their encounter with the Holy. They needed a place to express their relationship with and response to the Holy.

The current elected leadership of CUMC is about to engage in a long range planning exercise to chart our response to God’s presence in our world. We invite you to prayerfully consider your participation in this process. Please pray for the Long Range Planning Group. Consider being a part of the planning meetings. The first meeting is on Tuesday, June 5th at 6 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall.

God acts in real time       in the year the King Uzziah died – Isaiah responded.

in 1839 the Methodist organized a church.

in 2018 the Methodist seek to serve God by coming together to love God, love our neighbor, and serve both.

How will we respond to God next?

May 13, 2018

SERMON TEXT          Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, O The-oph?ilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

SERMON                     Why Are You Standing Around?                              Rev. Kethley

Mothers have amazing memories. They know where everything is supposed to be and usually where things are most likely to be misplaced. They remember with clarity the small and large achievements of our lives. They also remember our promises, our weaknesses and our failings. You might say mothers are obsessed with us and they study our lives with the purpose of enabling us to become better sons and daughters.

I remember promising to buy my mother a Karman Ghia when I was about 8 years old. She remembers that too and every once in a while she reminds me of this, even though she hasn’t driven for several years. I take it as her way of reminding me that promises never expire and that the expectation of having a promise fulfilled keeps it alive.

40 days ago we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus / Easter. On that day we remembered promises and some of us made promises. In the early church these forty days between Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus were a time of recollection and anticipation. A time to recall the teachings of Jesus and to anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God.

Time of recollection of Jesus teaching, healing and earthly ministry but were unable to fully set aside their previous notion of Israel. It has been 40 days since the resurrection and the disciples still ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

The disciples, even in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, are unable to see the future that God has prepared for them. They are looking back and trying to make since of these events by making the events fit their idea of how the world should be. They still long for the “good old days,” and hope that times past can be restored. The early church is caught between its past and God’s future.

Caught between our past and God’s future is a familiar place for us isn’t it? As individuals we come to a relationship with God and we come with a past. We are not able to ignore our past and sometimes it is an excuse not to fully accept God’s future / new life.

Churches also get caught between our past and God’s future. Sometimes we spend more time reminiscing about the “good old days” than we do living in the present or anticipating the future. As disciples we are called to live in the present while anticipating the future.

Anticipation – looking forward to the coming and living into the kingdom of God.

. . . you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Notice that Jesus promises to send the disciples the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings clarity to the mission of the church. The Holy Spirit brings energy and strength to the church. The Holy Spirit brings a liveliness to the church. The church live in the present by the power of the Holy Spirit but not only in the present but in anticipation of God’s future. By the power of the Holy Spirit the church is able to participate in what God is doing. The Holy Spirit enables us to see our role in God’s Kingdom. We recall what God had done for us in Jesus Christ, we live in the present world as believers, we anticipate the future when God’s Kingdom will be established on earth as it is in heaven.

This afternoon, we are going to see my mother in Port Arthur. I hope you will take time to spend sharing memories and promises of the women who raised you. But more than that anticipate the ways that you will use the life you have been given by God.

So why are you standing around? Go, live in the present serving God and anticipating God’s good future.

May 6, 2018

SermonText      John 15:11-17

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Sermon                                    Red Letter Commandment                          Rev. Kethley

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 

Farewell discourse. Jesus is preparing the disciples for his death and telling them why he is about to die.

Jesus calls his disciples friends because he has shared God’s revelation with them Jesus has withheld nothing. We are not slaves but friends of Jesus. Jesus chooses us. Jesus approaches and offers a relationship. Jesus initiates the friendship. Jesus says, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

Tom Clancy, the fiction writer, has a wonderful way of defining friendship in his spy novels. He writes that the true test of friendship is to share your secrets with another person. When a person gives you their secrets they put themselves and their very future in your hands.

No greater love than to lay down ones life for ones friends. To give oneself expecting nothing in return.

Love has its source in God and its full expression in Jesus as he gives his life for the salvation of all.

Love means to act / live with the best interest of others. But what does it mean to love?

First century Greek words translated as Love

Storge – empathy bond.

Philia – friend bond.

Eros – erotic bond.

Agape – unconditional “God” love.

The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love. Unlike our English word love, agape is not used in the New Testament to refer to romantic or sexual love. Nor does it refer to close friendship or brotherly love, for which the Greek word philia is used.

Agape / God Love unconditionally celebrates the relationship that gives life.

I recently saw a commercial that reflects real life agape. The commercial begins with a man in the bleachers at what appears to be a sporting event. As the camera shot widens out to reveal that the man is at a dance competition the narrator says, “Remember when staying at Hampton Inn was for college football? Now you drive 300 miles for this, flag dancing. Don’t get me wrong you love flag dancing all 8 hours of it. But what you really love is your little girl.”  

Agape / God Love unconditionally celebrates the relationship that gives life.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 

But what about the way they treated me? – Do you really want to compare how others treated you to the way people treated Jesus?

What about the things they have done? – Jesus love includes forgiveness and our love of to others must also include forgiveness.

What about the other reasons we have for not loving certain people?

No exceptions, no excuses, no history lessons about what they did . . . Love one another as Christ has loved you.
 

April 29, 2018

 SERMON TEXT          John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

SERMON                     The True Vine                                                       Rev. Kethley

Tomatoes. Dad’s garden. Setting out tomato plants. Watering tomato plants. Pruning tomato plants. Dusting tomato plants. Staking tomato plants. Finally eating tomatoes. 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes himself using the declarative statement “I am _____.”

John 6:35        “I am the bread of life.”

John 8:12        “I am the light of the world.”

John 10:7        “I am the gate for the sheep.”

John 10:11      I am the good shepherd.”

John 11:25      I am the resurrection and the life.”

John 14:6        I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

John 15:1        I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.”

Our passage today occurs toward the end of the “farewell discourse,” of Jesus. This passage comes just after Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled neither let them be afraid . .  .” and just before the new commandment to, “Love one another.”

Stressing the connectedness of disciples to Jesus he declares, “I am the true vine, and my father is the vine-grower . . .” The image of grape vine would immediately come to mind for the disciples. Grape vines were part of their world. Jesus had used the image of a vineyard several times in his teachings.

First century people would have understood that vineyards were long term projects. Once a new vine was rooted it would be several years before it was allowed to bear fruit. The vine dresser would not allow the vine to bear fruit until the root system was firmly established. The vinedressers would shape the vine allowing stronger portions of the plant to grow while removing or pruning away those part of the plant that were of little use or benefit. Pruning was a necessary part of the process.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me. Branches and leaves cannot exist without a vine. The vine is central. The vine is the core of the plant. The vine is that which gives life and purpose to the rest of the plant. Leaves and branches have no purpose without the vine. Their purpose is to nourish and feed the vine to grow and bear fruit. Deciduous plants produce and shed leaves in the service of the plant.

You can’t just have fruit there must be a healthy plant.

You can’t just be a leaf or a limb there must be a healthy plant.

Jesus says I am the vine you are the branches, abide in me and bear much fruit.

Of all the “I am,” statements of Jesus. His claim to be the true vine is the image that most integrates his disciples and Jesus. We must be as one with Jesus as a part of a vine is part of the plant. If it is cut off it dies and is burned as fuel for the fire. If the leaf becomes a branch and produces blossoms and fruit it is performing its intended function.

 Jesus says, I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in him and produce fruit.