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With All My Heart

October 6, 2019

Scripture: Joshua 14: 6-15 (NRSV) – 6 Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal; and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land; and I brought him an honest report. 8 But my companions who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God. 9 And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God.’ 10 And now, as you see, the Lord has kept me alive, as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lords poke this word to Moses, while Israel was journeying through the wilderness; and here I am today, eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was on the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war, and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day; for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; it may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out, as the Lord said.” 13 Then Joshua blessed him, and gave Hebron to Caleb son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. 14 So Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholeheartedly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.15Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba; this Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim. And the land had rest from war.

Theme: Caleb is a good example of perseverance and not losing sight of goals and purpose. He received God’s promise; wholly followed God; didn’t fear the giants; didn’t allow delays or circumstances to make him bitter or cause him to give up. If we are wholeheartedly committed to our membership vows and to making God’s kingdom a reality through our efforts as a church, there will be no mountain we can’t climb; no giant that will stop us. The discipline of prayer enables the believer to practice wholehearted following. Focus on prayer by leading a special prayer time for the church at the end of the service. This could be done at the altar, special stations, etc.

Let the River Flow

October 13, 2019

Scripture: John 7: 14-18; 37-39 – 14 About the middle of the festival Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. 15 The Jews were astonished at it, saying, “How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?” 16 Then Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. 17 Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. 18 Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him… 37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Theme: Jesus has already begun to create controversy with his ministry. He slips into the festival of the tabernacles quietly but eventually ends up in the temple courts, where he begins to teach. His teaching authority is immediately questioned, prompting the response that begins in verse 16. Those who follow wholeheartedly, as we saw in Caleb’s story last week, will be able to discern the difference between teaching that comes from God and teaching that is self-promoting. This relates to our membership vow to be present here, where we hear the word of God proclaimed; where we share prayer, study, and mission service. The more “experienced” we are as followers, the greater our ability to discern what is authentic.

Jesus gives a beautiful promise in verses 37-38: if we drink the living water he offers, rivers of it will flow out of our hearts. We will be alive, both as individuals and as a church, and be able to share the blessings of faith with others. Our worship each week offers us a drink of the living water so we might stay spiritually refreshed and let the river that flows from us carry the gospel to others. If our thirst for it is not quenched, we cannot do this. This is why our presence here, together, is of vital importance to the kingdom.

Guided by the Spirit

October 20, 2019

Scripture: Galatians 5: 22-25; Proverbs 11:24-25 – 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit…. 1 Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. 2 A generous person will be enriched, and who gives water will get water.

Theme: Across Northern Africa stretches the largest desert in the world, the Sahara, almost as large as the United States. From east to west, it measures thirty two hundred miles, farther than the distance from New York to San Francisco.

Mile after mile of scorching, shifting, sand dunes make up the Sahara, where temperatures reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer –so hot that breathing is nearly impossible. Yet at the eastern edge of this mammoth oven lies one of the richest, most fertile valleys know to human kind –the Nile Valley.

Flowing through the valley is the great Nile River, the longest river in the world. It was not the river alone that made the valley so abundantly fertile. It was the fact that prior to the building of the Ashwan Dam, the Nile river overflowed each year generously depositing all over the valley layer upon layer of rich tropical soil, washed down from the jungles of Central Africa.

What the Nile did until it was contained is a picture of our Proverbs verses: A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water. It is when your heart overflows generously that you are enriched to the point of life being meaningful. It is when your heart overflows generously that you provide refreshing water for all the parched lives around you.

Some of the sharpest teachings in Scripture are about money. For example, the incident of the widow’s mite, the parable of the talents, the alabaster box, and other stories, deal with money. In the early church the tragedy which overcame Ananias and Sapphira was a money matter and an example of how many who started out to follow Christ fell out over money and its use.

Our dilemma is easily stated. The church cannot do without money. This was true from the first and is increasingly true in our economy which is a “money” economy. But the church also teaches that money can be (note I didn’t say “is”) the root of all evil. We find ourselves balancing our focus between wanting to provide everything we can through our ministries and being able to pay the bills. History reminds us of times when the church exploited its people by setting up a church culture that promoted the selling of indulgences. When the church gives her heart away to money, she offers a false witness. Last week we talked about our consistent presence in the church enabling us to discern truth from false teaching. That discernment will also tell us when the church’s bank balance is more important to us than what we are doing to bring in the kingdom. Of course, this brings us around to the original dilemma. The church cannot do without money.

The church tends to apologize for her need of money, but we shouldn’t have to do that. You understand, I’m sure, that everybody doing their part keeps us afloat and allows us to support our ministries. We are deliberately not using a money focus story from the Bible today. Rather than talk about the actual dollars, we want to talk about generosity of a spiritual nature.

Leonard Bernstein once said: “I fully confess that nothing exists in this life of ours until or unless I can share it with others. Sharing, if I may be so bold, is the whole meaning of my life, whether it be with one single person or five or five million.”

When we are generous with our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, the church will always be able to pay its bills. And we will be a congregation filled with glad and generous hearts.

Make a List

October 27, 2019

Scripture: Mark 9: 2-8; 2 Kings 2: 1-14 – 2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.

1 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of prophets[a]who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” 4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” 6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7 Fifty men of the company of prophets[c]also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

Theme: The Transfiguration of Jesus as recorded in Mark 9:2-8 parallels that of Elijah. This time it is a mountain rather than a river that separates. The mountain carries the same high symbolic weight as the river. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on a high mountain. There he is transfigured before them; his garments glow intensely white, and Elijah and Moses appear with him. Peter is beside himself at this revelation and calls out, “Let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Then a voice comes from a cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Peter, James, and John had been privileged to experience the transfiguration of the Christ. What followed from this revelation? Though they were not perfect, the mantle was passed on to them. Just as Elijah continued miraculous works after Elijah passed the mantle to him, Peter, James, and John came back down the mountain to assume the role of discipleship in a new way. They moved ahead and began the work of growing into the daily meaning of their inheritance. To do this they worked: no sooner were they down the mountain than people flocked around them for nurture and healing. It was not till much later that they were able to wear the mantle of Jesus in a way that befitted the experience.

The mountain is a symbol similar to that of the river. Moses received the commandments on the mountain; he came back down to wrestle with the people until they understood what it means to be in covenant relationship with God. Jesus went onto the mountain at the beginning of his ministry in Matthew; and he came back down to carryforward his work. As miraculous as a transfiguration may be, it still points to the same two consequences: the spirit is passed on, and the meaning of it does not rest until embedded into everyday faithfulness. It’s as simple as that.

We receive the faith, and our lives are transfigured. We are convinced we shall be loyal forever, faithful in every phase of life. How easy it will be. Are we not clothed with the mantle of the Spirit? What then is there to do? When I have a lot to do, I make a “to do” list.When I go to the store, I make a shopping list. When I have decisions to make, I make a list of pros and cons. There are many reasons we make lists.

We have given you a list of discipleship opportunities. It’s a list of things you can do to have your faith embedded in your daily life. It’s not service TO the church. It is service THROUGH the church for the sake of God’s kingdom. Before you check things off on this list, you might want to consider a list that will help you make a decision about your service.

Make a list:

  • To find out what you still have to learn
  • To play with possibilities
  • To get to your learning edge
  • To notice what you might have missed

We may be tempted to ignore discipleship and service once we achieve our spiritual transfiguration. Why not just stay in a state of wonder and bliss? Crossing rivers and climbing mountains is hard work. I can make a list of reasons to become an active disciple. It’s a simple list of two items. (1) We would cause a delay in someone else hearing and embracing the gospel. (2) The Word is more relevant when it is woven into the daily lives of those who carry it and those they touch. Isn’t that the essence of the Incarnation? We live out all our faith and embed it into the world.

Where Do You Get That Water?

November 3, 2019 (All Saints/Commitment Sunday)

Scripture: Psalm 34: 1-5; 1 John 4: 1-14 – 1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. 3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. 4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. 5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.

1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Theme: Those we honor and remember on All Saints Sunday tasted the living water. It has become in them a “spring gushing up to eternal life.” At some point they asked for a drink of this water, and there was someone there who could offer it to them. They received a Christian witness, just as we did when we asked for the same drink. It is essential to the kingdom that we be willing to offer other people a taste of the living water. We offer it both as individuals and as a church. It is offered verbally and by our life witness. Part of our life witness is living out the membership vows we have preached about in the previous weeks of this series. We know that we can do much more when we function collectively than what we can accomplish individually. The mission of our church is to manage the mountains ahead of us, cross the deep rivers, and continue to do what we have been doing for 219 years: We offer the truth of the gospel, the bread of life and the living water to those who hunger and thirst for God.

We are in line behind 219 years of Middletown UMC witnesses, many of whom made a difference in the lives of others. They left their mark on those who followed. You may be aware that when people visit Jewish cemeteries, they often leave a stone on a grave to indicate they were there. They remember. Stones and rocks are frequently mentioned in Scripture. People gathered stones to build memorial markers, Ebenezers, to acknowledge what God had done for them in a certain place at a certain time. Twelve different stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were a part of the high priest’s breastplate. And then, there are the stones that Jesus said would cry out his praise if we do not; the stones that he was tempted to turn to bread in the wilderness.

We have baskets of stones at our altar area. I invite you to remember those who introduced you to the living water; to remember those we have honored today along with others who have been life witnesses for Jesus Christ. Remember the memories you have of how God has moved and acted in your life. You will pick up a rock and let it represent all these moments in your faith journey. Then I ask you to let it represent one more thing. Let it represent your commitment. I ask you to use it to pin your discipleship form to this altar. It’s a sacred altar. For countless years it has held the Bible and the candles and the cross, symbols of our worship. It has witnessed countless youth and children’s programs; Christmas and Easter worship celebrations and testimonies of changed lives. It has witnessed and been a central part of all the sacred moments of the lives in this church, baptisms, weddings and funerals. It is a place, but it is also an item of remembrance. It is also a sign and symbol of our commitment to support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

Place your stone of remembrance and commitment at the place where others have done the same for over 200 years.

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