IThis Sunday Sermon- March 29, 2020
John 13:33-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Sermon: I Believe: in the holy, catholic church.
(singing) I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together.
We’re looking at the church today. Specifically, we’re looking at what the Apostles Creed says about the church because we’ve been in a sermon series on the Apostles Creed during this Lent - and we’ve come to that bit where it says, I believe in the holy, catholic church.
Now that word “catholic” can be like a red flag to some people. Because we’re Protestants, right? We’re United Methodists, we’re not Catholics. But if you look at the spelling in the creed – you see that it’s spelled with a small “c” and not a capitol “C”. It’s not referring to the Roman Catholic Church - Capitol “C”. No, this word catholic is an adjective, it’s a describing word – its describing what the church is. And that word “catholic” comes from a Greek word that means universal. It means it’s everywhere. It’s the shorthand version of “All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together.”
“I believe in the holy, catholic church.” That word “holy”, that’s also an adjective, it’s a describing word, it also comes from a Greek translation and when we say it, we’re saying the church is “set apart for God,” “it belongs to God.” It’s God’s church, it’s Jesus’ church, it’s not ours. So, when we say “I believe in the holy, catholic church,” we’re saying “I believe in Jesus’ universal, it’s everywhere - church.”
What’s church? Well, the first verse of that song I’m singing goes like this: “The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is not a resting place, the church is a people.”
The church is a people – who’ve been set apart and called out to do something important, who belong to Jesus, and who are trying to be more like Jesus and to do what Jesus told us to do.
He told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love our enemies, he told us to always forgive, he told us to live sacrificial lives, to lose our lives, “to let go of it, is to save it,” Jesus said. He told us to tell people about him and make disciples … He told us a whole lot more than that, but one of the last things that Jesus told us – was to love each other.
In the Gospel of John, beginning in the 14th chapter and all the way through the 17th chapter, we have what’s called the farewell address. The backdrop here is the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is telling his disciples that he has to go away. And there’s a feeling of urgency in his voice. This is his last teaching. And throughout this last teaching of Jesus, we hear an amazing, repetitive, almost redundant use of the word “love” that we’re called to consider.
In it, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
And then he goes on and says, “Guess what? This is how the world’s going to know that you are followers of mine. Because of how you love each other.”
Now, I imagine one of the disciples going, “Wait a minute, Jesus. Are you telling us that the way folks a going to know if we’re following you is by how we treat each other?
“Jesus, we were thinking about all of us maybe having the same kind of robes. You know, we had this idea that if all of us all had the same kind of robes and maybe the same kind of cool haircut, you know, the people would say, “Ooo, you’ve all got that great spiky haircut and that nice robe. You must be following Jesus.” What do you think of that one, Jesus?
“You know, Peter, he was thinking about a fish. You know, it means ‘Jesus, Lord and Savior’ in the Greek and we could all use that one and put it on the back of our cars. What do you think about that one?
“Jesus, it’s kinda boring, this idea of our loving each other. Nobody’s gonna know anything about that. How are they gonna see that? I mean, how do you market something like that? Do we run around, saying, ‘Excuse me. But do you know that we love each other?’”
It was a real problem Jesus had, because he turned to his disciples and said, “The way people are going to know your disciples of mine, is that you love one another just like I’ve loved you.
This love, that Jesus is calling us to isn’t touchy-feely stuff. That touchy-feely stuff comes and goes. The love Jesus calls us to isn’t even, primarily, an emotion. The love Jesus calls us to is an act of the will. It’s a decision that you make. It’s saying, that because I have decided to follow Jesus, I am willing to care for your well-being, even if it sacrifices some of my own. It’s saying, because I’ve decided to follow Jesus, I’m going to set my course on trying to love others like Jesus loves me.
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Isn’t it amazing that Jesus said our evangelism was going to be based on how we treat one other?
The church of Jesus Christ has been harmed, by people looking at us and seeing nothing different than what they see in their own mirror.
But just imagine, if in this divided, hostile, competitive, dog-eat-dog, one-upmanship world, what if – what if all the churches around the world, what if all the 2.2 billion Christians in this world, what if we all decided to live differently together - all decided to love each other like Jesus has loved us, regardless of whether or not we even like each other. We don’t have to like each other, in order to love each other in the way Jesus tells us to. Though maybe if we practice this loving long enough, some liking might come into it.
But can you imagine what a different world this could be, if everybody who followed Jesus, loved like Jesus. Jesus imagined it.
I mean, where in the world can people go? There is nothing that attracts people, there is nothing more attractive in a divided, hostile, competitive, stressed-out world than a place and a people of love, honest, genuine, sacrificial love. Standing with somebody. Caring for somebody. What an antidote.
We don’t have to have it all together. God knows we don’t. And so does anybody looking at us. I believe the church is more like a school, we’re all learning Jesus’ way of love together.
Do you want to hear my favorite definition for the church? It comes from Norman Wirzba, he’s a professor of theology and ecology at Duke University Divinity School. He says the church is "the merciful and indispensable classroom in which people face their confusion about love, repent of their unloving ways, and switch from strategies of self-protection and self-enhancement to projects that seek the well-being of others."
I believe in the holy, catholic church. I believe it’s my best chance for learning how to lose my life. And I believe it is for you, too. I believe it’s our best chance, like Jesus said, “to let it go - is to save it”.
My friends, school is not out because of this corona virus. Go on, be the church. There’s somebody you need to call. You think they may be having a rough time. Call them. Say, “How are you? How are you feeling? I care about you. Is there something I can do for you? Keep practicing Jesus’ way of love.
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Sunday Sermon- March 21, 2020
Scripture Reading: John 14:25-26 New Revised Standard Version
Jesus says “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14:25-26
Sermon: I Believe in the Holy Spirit
Well, this is a bit spooky. In my 30 years of ordained ministry, I’ve never preached a sermon without company. I’m missing your faces. I miss the joys and concerns we share and the prayers we say over them. I miss that feeling we get when we’re together in worship, that somehow we become something bigger, more than the sum of our parts, because God is with us when we gather.
But for a time, we are no longer worshipping together because of something spookier still: the Corona Virus. And so, at the end of the week, I’ll continue to send sermons via email and on our website until it’s safe to worship together again.
During this Lent, we’re in a sermon series on the Apostle’s Creed and we’ve come to that place where it says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” That’s it. That’s all the creed says, unless you look up in the previous section about Jesus Christ where it says Jesus “was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” But still, there’s just not a lot to go on here in the creed. The Holy Spirit sounds a bit spooky to a lot of people. The King James version calls it the Holy Ghost, and that’s spookier still. So, who is the Holy Spirit?
In the Bible, the Holy Spirit becomes clearer as the revelation of God unfolds. The Old Testament is full of references about God’s spirit or the Holy Spirit. Right on the first page of the Bible, in the creation story, we see the Holy Spirit who broods over chaos and this Spirit creates order and creation out of chaos. But throughout the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is kind of hit and miss. The Holy Spirit comes to particular men and women, at a particular time, to empower them to accomplish a particular task.
Turning to the New Testament, the first four books are called the Gospels. They tell the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, each in their own way. God’s spirit or the Holy Spirit acts in much the same way as you find him in the Old Testament. It is sent and it acts – in particular circumstances, in particular people’s lives. The Holy Spirit shows up in the very first story in the New Testament, at Jesus’ birth. And he was there at Jesus’ baptism, descending on him like a dove, there when Jesus leaves the Jordan River to face his temptation in the wilderness. Jesus begins his earthly ministry of teaching and healing by unrolling the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reading. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Luke 4:18
Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit on numerous occasions. Jesus promises to the disciples that the Holy Spirit will come to them and to those who love him when he is gone. He promises that the Holy Spirit will help them and be with them forever and he will live with them and be in them.
But its when we leave the Gospels and turn to the next book, the book of Acts (which is the story of what happened after Jesus ascended into heaven) that we see, quite literally, an explosion of the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts starts out on Pentecost, the day of the giving of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and those who heard and believed in Jesus Christ. And a sea change occurs. No longer is the Holy Spirit given to one particular person, at one particular time, for one particular purpose but now it is given to all believers, to empower them to live radically different lives – free, liberated, empowered lives. Throughout the rest of the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament, we begin to see what that looks like. These followers of Jesus are brave, confident, fearless, able to face incredible adversity, filled with joy. And they change the world.
Jesus promised them this would happen. In the Gospel of John, beginning in the 14th chapter, we have what’s called the farewell address. Jesus is telling them that he has to go away and he says, in effect, “It’s better for you if I go away. I will send another comforter, whose presence will be with you. As long as I’m here in this one body, in this one place, at this one time, there’s only so much I can do. But if I go, the Holy Spirit will come to you, and I will not just be with you, but IN you. I’ll never leave you alone. I will not leave you orphaned. I will send you the Holy Spirit and the power of God will rest upon you.”
You see, the coming of the Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection is also the coming of the Son and the Father to live within his people. Of all the religions in the world, the particular gift of Christians (that which is particular to us) is the Holy Spirit that is given to all of us as the permanent, active, dynamic presence of God in Christ within us and among us. When we say, in the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”, part of what we’re saying is that we trust this particular gift of Christians: that the whole enchilada, the fullness of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is with us always, closer to us than our own breath.
We need to remember that right now. We need to remember that it’s not only when we gather in worship that God’s presence can be felt. But that no matter where we are, no matter what we are facing, no matter the danger, the fear, the uncertainty, we are not alone for God is with us.
Trust that. Hold on to that during these days. Remember, this too shall pass. I pray for you strength and courage. And I close with these words from Pope Francis:
“Tonight before falling asleep
think about when we will return to the street.
When we hug again,
when all the shopping together will seem like a party.
Let's think about when the coffees will return to the bar,
the small talk, the photos close to each other.
We think about when it will be all a memory
but normality will seem an unexpected and beautiful gift.
We will love everything that has so far seemed futile to us.
Every second will be precious.
Swims at the sea, the sun until late, sunsets, toasts, laughter.
We will go back to laughing together.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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February 16, 2020
The Chicago Southern District Voices choir rocked the Sanctuary at Crete UMC with Gospel praise music on Sunday, February 16, 2020. The CSD Voices Choir is the combined voices of adults from all around the District. Dr. Colion Greene serves as the director of The Voices Choir.