Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sermon: January 26, 2014 - Servants in the World




Luke 2:22-38  
Rev. Andy Ferguson

[BUCKET LIST]
            In the movie, *Bucket List*, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman meet in the hospital after both have been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. They have movie names, but those are irrelevant; everyone knows Nicholson and Freeman. They become friends as they undergo their respective treatments. Somehow, they got off on what they would like to do before they die, and then they decide to check off as many wishes from their list as they can. They go around the world seeing wonders, having experiences, and becoming great friends. In the end, they return home mostly reconciled to their lives and their world. Morgan Freeman renews his love for his wife and his sprawling family just hours before his death. Nicholson reconciles with his daughter and meets the granddaughter he did not know he had. When he meets the child, he bends down to kiss her on the cheek, then he checks off his list, “Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world.”(2)

These two actors and the movie put the term, “Bucket List,” into the vernacular: the list of things you would like to do before you die.
            Well, the term may be new but the idea has been around as long as the Bible. Simeon was an old man, righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. Guided by the Spirit, he went to the Temple on the day Jesus was to be presented. When he saw Mary and Joseph come into the Temple to present him according to Jewish custom, he took the baby into his arms and praised God speaking the famous words from the Presentation:
**“Divine Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.**

The *Presentation of Jesus* in the Temple was one of the last in the order of steps which began with the Angel’s annunciation to Mary. Each moment has been marked on the Christian calendar, although most of these days have disappeared from the popular calendar.
+       First, the Angel Gabriel gave the promise of a child to Mary -- the Annunciation.
+       Then, Jesus was born on Christmas. That gets most of our attention.
+       Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day.
+       Then, we observe the Visit of the Magi on January 6.
+       Now, at the end of Mary’s purification, they bring Jesus to present him to the Lord in the Jerusalem Temple. This is called “Candlemas” or the “Presentation of the Lord.”
This presentation and blessing is something we observe in a different setting at Church Street with the “Blessing of the Babies” on Christmas Eve.
+       The presentation Joseph and Mary performed came from the Jewish belief that the first fruits of any harvest were holy to the Lord. The first child for Mary was a “first fruit of her womb,” just as the first ears of corn would be the first fruits of the field.
+       We offer a blessing to the babies on Christmas Eve out of the conviction that, because God chose to enter the world in the form of baby, all babies are blessed and precious to the Lord.
The story of Simeon caught my attention because he was an older adult – just as some in this television audience are older adults. Simeon had been told by God that he would live long enough to see the Lord’s Messiah. That, of course, is very moving. But, what stirs me about Simeon is that when God made a promise to him, he kept a promise to God in return.
+       God promised that he would see the Messiah, so he never stopped looking.
+       God told him that he would meet the Messiah, so he listened for the call to come.
When the call did come to Simeon, he responded by coming to the Temple. There his dream was fulfilled as he held the Baby Jesus in his arms. Remember that Simeon was an older adult when all of this took place.
            In addition, remember that we are followers/disciples of Jesus as long as we have breath. Our abilities and ministries may change; our commitment to Christ never changes.
+       When you are young, you have the opportunities to serve Christ as a young person.
+       When you reach adulthood, you have the opportunities for service as a young adult.
+       When you become a parent, you have the opportunities for Christ’s service with and to your children.
+       When you are an older adult, you have the opportunities for Christ’s service that are unique to older adults.
Years ago in another church, we had a custodian who reminded me every day, “The work is never done!” In God’s Kingdom, the work is indeed *never done*. So, who are you working for? What promise of God are you watching for?    

[II. DISCIPLESHIP after waiting]

            Every age and every moment has its possibilities for service to our Lord. Often being a disciple just look like doing the right thing – and staying with it long after you expected to be finished.
            As you know, we had a snow event on Tuesday in Knoxville; in Atlanta, it was more of an icing event and a traffic event. It was the schools which played out the drama for that community – getting kids home or sheltering them in place was the story.

Ex: Fulton County had 3,145 kids stranded overnight. At south Fulton’s Westlake High School, cafeteria manager Henry Smith made it home but then decided to walk back to school in the snow. He prepared 800 dinners and then 450 breakfasts. It was the longest shift of his life.

Ex: Lin-Sheng Lee is an Atlanta school bus driver, who tried to take kids home from school on Tuesday afternoon. He still had seven teenagers on his bus when he got stranded. Little heat on the bus. Eighteen degrees outside. Stuck in the dark on an interstate on-ramp: no cops, no rescue, no options.
Three hours come and go. About 10:30 p.m., three teenagers emerge from the dark and tap on the bus door. “We have food,” they say. Lee replies, “Oh my God” and gratefully accepts the candy bars and water.
Midnight: still no rescue. The kids are tired, hungry and desperate for a bathroom. The cold is just getting worse. Around midnight, Lin-Sheng Lee got another knock on his bus door. It was the same three teenagers who had brought snacks hours earlier, back with more food.
Soon, Lee got the call he’d been waiting for: the DeKalb County police were nearby.
They couldn’t reach the bus, and he was instructed to walk with his charges back up the ramp. Up they trudged. He was worried until he saw the flashing blue lights. The best part of the rescue, said Lee, 65, was that “the car was warm.”
The police took them to the school district police headquarters on Memorial Drive, where they got meals and rest. Then, Lee accompanied the police to direct them to the teenagers’ homes. That bus trip did not end until after daybreak.
Lee said people thanked him for staying with the kids, but he said he was just doing his job. He was just thankful to the three youths who appeared bearing food (1).
Sometimes being faithful means sticking with it longer than anyone else thinks you should.


[III. BLESSINGS OF FAITHFULNESS]
Certainly, we serve Christ out of gratitude. When we consider all that Jesus has done for us, there is nothing more that we could require of Him. Still, there are blessings of living the Christian life. There are blessings to giving your faith to Jesus Christ. You are not finished when the baptism water dries from your head. Serving Christ yields blessings throughout our lives.
            Holy Communion recalls how Christ knelt down to serve us – first the 12 and now each one of us. Think about it: the Son of the Living God knelt to serve the likes of us. Knowing this, we know that we must be servants of the world in Christ’s name.

[IV. DISCIPLESHIP]
            Simeon and Anna were just two old people; there was most likely nothing very remarkable about them. Except that, they trusted God to keep His promises. Trusting God, they lived their lives in listening – listening for the day that God would tell them that the promise was being kept. Can we live such lives? Can we listen for the voice and the leading of God? Can we?




Notes:
1. Tahami, Ty and Teegardin, Carrie, “On their Own, drivers and Teachers turned Hero.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb 1, 2014.
2. “The Bucket List,” directed by Rob Reiner, released in 2007.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Sermon: January 12, 2014 - Baptized!



Matthew 3
Rev. Andy Ferguson, Senior Pastor

[ILLUS: The Glad River, Will Campbell]
            In Will Campbell’s novel, The Glad River, he explores the friendship of three Army buddies through WW-II and now back home. Like a lot of old friends, they are known by nicknames that no one else can use. On the day that I want to share with you, the one known as Model-T is in prison waiting to be executed for a crime he did not commit. Doops has decided that he must be baptized. With the freedom of novels, Model-T has become the priest of their group.
            Doops crowds into the jail cell with Model-T. The third friend, Kingston, stands near. In addition, they invite the jailer, the Prosecutor and a nurse from their war years. Three other prisoners, handcuffed together sit on the bunk nearby.

            Doops and Model-T moved to face each other squarely. The others moved closer together, leaving them as much room as they could.
            “You have shown me the truth, my friend,” Doops began. “Now I am asking you for the sign.” He spoke in a clear eloquent, and oratorical fashion.
            “Are you asking to be baptized?” Model-T said with equal fluency.
            “Yes,” Doops replied. “I am asking for the sign.”
            “Are you heartily sorry for all your sins?”
            “Yes.”
            “Do you desire the baptism?”
            “Yes.”
            “Who will forbid me, that I should baptize him?” Model-T said, looking around the room at the group.
            “No one,” Kingston, the Prosecutor, and the nurse said in unison.
            “No one,” the three prisoners mumbled in hushed tones after them.
            “Humble yourself before God and his Church and kneel down,” Model-T said. Doops, wearing seersucker trousers and a new white shirt with the collar unbuttoned and the cuffs turned up, knelt as close to the small washbasin, already filled with water when they came in, as he could get. Model-T cupped both of his hands together and dipped into the water.
            “I baptize you in the name of God the Father,” he said, letting the water trickle over the tips of his fingers and onto Doops’ bowed head. “God the Son,” pouring another handful of water. “And God the Holy Spirit,” the water running off Doops’ cowlicked head, down his back and onto his shirtfront.

            A little later, Doops and Kingston, having left the prison, are driving down the road. “It’s a long way from Bethlehem, isn’t it?” Kingston said as they drove away from the jail.
            “No,” Doops said. “Not really. That’s as close as we’ll ever come” (1).

            Jesus was not baptized in the isolation of a jail cell, as Doops was that day. Nor was Jesus the only one baptized that day. According to Matthew, people from Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to John, and many were being baptized with John’s baptism for repentance. Actually, Matt outlines several groups of people who came. These are the sort of people who might have been standing close by when Jesus was baptized.
1.     First, there were the common people of Jerusalem and all Judea. These are the people with whom we likely identify. They came in religious sincerity and fervor. They came because John’s witness was compelling. They came, it seems, because they were hungry for the presence of God among them.
2.     The second group Matthew identifies are the Pharisees and Sadducees. For these, John had scathing criticism: Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? These people were Jesus’ consistent critics. You can almost imagine John’s unhappiness that he had offered such a generous gospel. Did you ever feel a bit stingy with grace? Maybe if he had been a little less clear about his message, they would have missed the baptism he was offering with its repentance for sin and acceptance from God.
The sense I get from these first two groups is that people were hungry to return to God. They felt that they were not as close as they wanted to be. They were bothered by accusing sins that troubled them.
            Think about the scene: John stands out in the countryside near the River Jordan. There he condemns the sins of the people and calls them to return to God in repentance. History tells us that there were renewal movements at work in Judea in those days. They mistrusted the complexities of city life and the mixing of nationalities  in the cities that was happening under the influence of the Romans. These renewal movements encouraged those who were serious about their faith to pull themselves away from all of that. They formed communities like the one at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Other times, they lived in holy solitude. When we were in the Holy Land, we saw isolated huts at the base of Mt. Sinai that were used by religious mystics. On the stark landscape you could see the network of paths that led to the huts. I looked at them, and I was mostly astonished as such chosen isolation. What kind of religious conviction would compel a person to withdraw so completely? Scholars wonder if John might have been one of these.
            Reflect on this with me; we also are drawn to that seriousness of religious purpose that would lead John into the wilderness. Imagine a faith so strong that it would become your clear purpose for living. This, I think, is the attraction of the mystic and the revival preacher. Their certainty and their passion invites us to consider our own faith.

[My Call]
            I recall sitting in this nave, when I was in high school, listening to the preacher speak of a conviction about Christ that has the power to turn our lives in a new direction. (Lectern-side, second pillar back, about 5-6 places in from the outside wall. Who is sitting there this morning? Be careful there; God has dealt with people who unwittingly sat in that very seat.) I do not recall the text of the sermon that day; I could not summarize the message. What I received there was the conviction that Christ was dealing with me. Christ was calling me to put aside every other calling to share the healing I had found in this place with others.
            I found healing here. Life here made sense. Direction was here. Friends who cared about the outcome where here. In addition, there was and still is a Presence here – the Presence of the Holy One who calls us to come near.
            My call was to take the healing that I had been given in this place and build healing, holy communities of faith wherever I was sent. To share the touch of the holy that I had found here. I guess that God was into social networking before Facebook was even figured out.

For the people who went to meet John in the wilderness, it was just that simple and just that life-changing. I hope that at some point in your life, you also find a hungering for God that will not be satisfied until you follow that urging to know God more.

II. According to Matthew, what follows is John’s examination of the baptism he offers. In today’s language he could have said, “You might think that the baptism I offer is a big deal, but it is not.”
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (v.11-13).

Matthew is preparing us to see John step aside. John believed in what he was doing. He believed in his message. He was convinced that God had called him to prepare the way for the coming of an anointed leader that he did not know. He was also convinced that the baptism he offered was puny in the presence of the baptism this anointed one would bring.             And then, Jesus stood before him. The details are so sparse, it is hard to do much more than guess about the scene.
1.     Was Jesus just one in a long line of people coming for baptism? OR, was Jesus’ approach to John something that happened after-hours, after the two men had talked and shared their faith? We will never know. [This is the faith sharing that moves me!]
2.     Was Jesus a stranger to John on this day? OR was Jesus a disciple of John who was really getting the message and understanding the depth of John’s call? Again, Matthew is not clear on this.
But, in that moment, John recognized the one for whom he had watching; the anointed one stood before him. He protested: “I should be baptized by you!” Jesus answered, “Let it be so for now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15).
            Often we fret that this exchange revealed a secret, unsavory side of Jesus – that he had things he was not proud of as any ordinary person might be. But, I think that misses the point.
1.     The point is that John and Jesus are demonstrating this passing of attention from the forerunner to anointed one.
2.     The point is further that Jesus is demonstrating how any of us might come to God in faith and renewal of our lives. Now, we too know how to come to God in renewal!
3.     The point is, in addition, that Jesus is demonstrating the great things that will follow, which only Christ can bring.
If John had prevailed in his protest, recorded history would have missed one of the great moments in God’s history on this earth. Yes, this needed to happen just the way Jesus set it up.
[CONCL:]
            We come to the end of the passage. Do you hear the invitation  woven throughout its story? It is a story of invitation and response, you know. God invites us now; what will be your response? Can anyone come to God? And will God notice anyway? Yes, we can come to God as the people of Judea and all Jerusalem came so many years ago. We can come seeking baptism, confessing our sins and seeking the forgiveness that only God can bring. We can come seeking baptism, knowing that God is paying attention, claiming us – as God claims every child who is baptized – as one of God’s own children. What response does faith compel you make?





Notes:
1. Campbell, Will. The Glad River, Kindle location 4894-4921.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Schedule Update for Wednesday, January 8

The church (including the Kay Center and Preschool) will open at the regularly scheduled time tomorrow, January 8. However, the Pastor's Bible Study scheduled for tomorrow night has been canceled.


Help Support the Kay Center With Your Kroger Plus Card

There’s an easy way to raise money for the Kay Senior Care Center. Through the Kroger Community Rewards Program, you can link your Kroger Plus Card to the Kay Center and begin earning money for the center every time you shop. All you need is a Kroger Plus card and a Kroger Rewards Account.

If you have a Kroger Rewards Account, sign in and click account setting. Then scroll to the bottom of the page, click on edit in the Community Rewards Program box and follow the instructions.

If you do not have a Kroger Rewards Account (the website will walk you through the process). Go to www.kroger.com and create an account and add your Kroger Plus Card to the account. Scroll to the bottom right and click on edit in the Community Rewards Program box and follow the instructions. The Organization Number for the Kay Senior Care Center is 80410. Now you are ready. Just swipe your registered Kroger Plus Card at the register and each purchase you make will count towards the Kay Senior Care Center. If you have any questions, please contact Judith Winters at 521-0293 or jwinters@churchstreetumc.org.



Monday, January 6, 2014

Update: Schedule for Tuesday, January 7

Church building will open at 9 a.m. tomorrow, January 7. Preschool & Kay Center will open at 9:30 a.m. 

Office Open at 10 a.m. Today

The CSUMC Office will open at 10 a.m. The building will close at 4:30 p.m. and all evening activities are cancelled for Monday, January, 6.

Check back later today for updates on the schedule for Tuesday.