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If You Wanna Keep the Faith (or get it) – "Stay in Love with God"

Gracious sakes. Did you hear those Scriptures just now? The story of a dying king way-back-when, and a perfume-pouring woman at the feet of Jesus. What on earth have these to do with us? Maybe this. Both are testimony to souls who learn to stay in love with God. And wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly what we’re aiming to explore today! Weeks ago, we got this word. Tell us how to keep the faith, or get it, in this messed up world of ours. All month we’ve been at work in answering. We’ve been listening to John Wesley, founder of Methodism, lay out rules for faith in life. Simple. Sensible. Memorable. We’ve added only one, right at the start. By now, if you’ve followed along, you might even be able to lift them from memory. 1. COME TO THE TABLE. (Come into Jesus’ company, don’t just read or overhear his biography.) 2. DO NO HARM. 3. DO GOOD. AND…4. STAY IN LOVE WITH GOD!

You know, nobody has to. Nobody can. No one can or has to tell us how to fall-in-love. I guess that’s why they call it falling. In the end, there’s really no accounting for love. It just happens. It only took Godself a few days of creation to discover. What’s in the Holy Heart is true of every heart from then to now. The heart wants what the heart wants. Even God’s. And God’s heart wants company! “Let us make humankind in our own image,” God declares. And it’s so. And despite all our mess-ups, slip-ups, and flair-ups, God has stuck-up for us and put up with us ever since. It’s almost like Heaven’s Highest Voice sings the band-aid song, slightly altered. “I am stuck on humans, and humans are stuck on me!” That’s how we love too. Love’s not rational or reasonable; it’s just reliable! ‘Not predictable or logical. ‘Just radical. My Nanny had a phrase for the situation. ‘Memorable, if not eloquent. (Brace yourself.) Said Nanny, “Love lands on a cow cake!” Inexplicable! Unearned. Mmph! We fall in love by the sheer life-force of how we’re wired. Falling in love is… easy… staying in love… that’s the thing. Recovering love, that’s the hard thing. ‘Nothing automatic here. So Wesley says, in the love between us and God, there are disciplines of the heart that help. ‘Old as King Hezekiah, ‘lavish as a perfume-packin’-sister, as new as now!

Our List Here’s another list for staying in love. Here’s a Methodist List to stay in love … with God
1. 1. Talk deeply: often 1. Praise God
2. 2. Praise regularly, put down rarely. 2. Do dinner with God often.
3. 3. Kiss well, every chance you get. 3. Take walks with God. (In Scripture)
4. 4. Date night. 4. Make room for God. (Pray. Fast.)
5. 5. Share something BIGGER than yourselves. 5. Love lavishly. (God, each other, God’s world)

To fall in love with God we need only see Jesus’ face. Eat Jesus’ meal. Touch Jesus’ cross. To stay in love, keep the faith, takes more. Much more. If I asked… top 5 things you do to stay in love with whomever you love, what would you say?

We Methodists say, Love is always a verb! Especially love for God. A constantly practiced, disciplined display of undaunted devotion! Bless her soul, Mrs. Jones was right (as I said weeks ago). She drilled it in. “To be a good 3rd grader you have to practice and practice and practice.” Keeping in love, especially with God, requires just the same.

You wanna keep the faith? Then stay in love with God! How? Practice praise. Keep on heapin’ praise on God! Don’t miss a chance, or a trick, a season or a reason. Not just for God’s sake, but for your soul’s sake. Nothing will give you a more reliable faith for today, or bright hope for tomorrow. Enter Mary, that perfume-pouring-sister to Martha and to Lazarus (whom Jesus has raised from the dead!) They’re havin’ a do. A dinner. Jesus is there. ‘Tellin’ stories.’ Teachin’ holy things in delightful ways. Folks are tummy-full and Spirit-fillin’. It’s one of those great, memorable nights any of us would cherish. But Mary’s a sensitive soul. She can see and hear where all of this is goin’. Not to a crowning, but to a cross. What can she do? Ahhh… that new perfume. Not the cheap one-and-done-dime-store-stuff. The best! The best thing she owns. She pours it out. ‘Empties it. ‘Nothing held back. She lets down her hair to wipe his feet with it. NO woman would do that, back then. ‘Too racy! But she is entirely unself-conscious. And the fragrance of praise she spills-out… fills up the whole household. No corner, crevice, nook or cranny, no nose and no soul is left unsweetened by it. Wow. And it lingers and lingers. Maybe it never goes away! Wesley says, Methodists say… praise like this, worship God in Christ like this, in private and in public, every day, week, month, year. Not just when you feel like, but when you don’t, too. Even, especially, when your life shows few crowns, but maybe a fateful cross just ahead! It’s like those intimate talks with your lover or your loves. The kind that keep you close and keep you ready for the times that test or tempt you to turn in or give up.

(GRB/AB 58)

Wanna keep the faith? Then stay in love with God! How? Do dinner, but skip the movie after. Instead, go on frequent walks. And the long ones are the best. OK. Old John Wesley doesn’t say it quite like this. He says, take the Lord’s Supper regularly, and search the Scripture diligently. But we’ve already talked of the Table. And we urge you constantly to read the Book. And we give you, right now, 14 classes to study it. (Which one are you in? It’s not too late to start … in any of them!) So today I invite you with a different image. A walk. A conversation that drifts on and on with every step you take with Jesus. ‘With Christ the love of your life. There are, “Do you remember when stories” to share. And, “Now what?” questions to answer. There are love songs to sing softly or lustily to each other. (How beautiful, on the mountaintops, are the feet of those, who bring your peace. J. Wise. And…O, Lord our Lord how majestic is thy name in all the earth!) There are accounts to be settled, plans to be laid. (And what does the Lord require of you…? And a new heaven and a new earth… God himself with us; every tear dried, death no more, nor pain… all past tense at the last.) This (Bible) is not an inscrutable reading assignment. It’s a lovers walk!

Don’t be sittin’ around. Step up & step out to stay in love with God!

Discipline yourself to make room for God. Lovers do that for each other, you know. There’s always a measure of self-revealing and self-denial (for the sake of your beloved) in every good match. Methodists call this prayer and fasting with God. Jesus knew this story. ‘Mighta told it, though we have no record of it. Good King Hezekiah, a real religious reformer. A listener to the lessons of the prophets to trust in God above all. A vigorous, wise king whose engineers figured out how to keep water flowing in Jerusalem. ‘Even with bad-guys surrounding it and cutting off the tap. Well. The King gets a word he’s sick unto death. But because of a lifetime of practice, he knows just what to do. He prays. I love this. He “turns his face to the wall” and prays. He draws within. And apart. He repairs to personal fellowship with God, so nurtured and nourishing, not even all the courtiers and wanna-be doctors of the day can distract him. It’s just the king, and the King of Kings. And God knows his familiar voice. God spares him. Because Hezekiah has “walked with God” and spoken (prayed) with God over and over, over a lifetime of loving one another. Jesus followed his example. He taught us disciples to pray. His counsel and his followers’ is, “Pray without ceasing.” May our every breath be a prayer, not just for another breath, but for another moment to be in fellowship with God. ‘To be filled with God. And to be emptied of all that would compete with, contradict, or contend with God in Christ in our souls. Hezekiah, our Holy Jesus, and our Father Wesley all had a word for this. Fasting! Skip a meal or more. Exchange it for prayer. Use the time to ask yourself what fills up your life that is not of God. ‘What clutters your life and crowds your spirit. ‘What has you facin’ in another or the wrong direction, not facing God. ‘What leaves you body-full, but spirit-hungry. (I’ll be saying more about this next Sunday.)

One more thing. And quickly. To stay in love, to keep the faith, practice love lavishly. God, our neighbors, the world. Love actively, consciously, regularly, without holding back. Be a perfume-pourer and a hair-wiping helper as often as you can. However you can. To the least able to return the favor as possible. (Wesley: alms.) Don’t let it be lost on you that when God made the world, he called it good. Very good. But NOT PERFECT. The rabbis, including Jesus, have always reminded us of this. And said another thing. God is counting on us to bring God’s perfection to a good-but-imperfect world. “God’s love comes to perfection through us.” (Jn’s Lttr.)

Keep the Faith. Fall in love.

Stay in love with God. Practice makes perfect!

Bulletin for Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bulletin for Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why Am I HERE? Because I Want to Grow Like Christ

… OF FIRST IMPORTANCE. That’s the phrase Paul uses. Wow. What is of first importance with you?… ‘Need to think about it? Not Paul. His answer is certain, immediate, passionate, clear. First things first in his life, in ours. That’s what Paul says. First: Christ died for our sins in accordance with scripture. He really died: ‘was even buried. But second, on the third day he was raised in accord with scripture. Third, real folks have really seen him! Peter. The twelve. Hundreds! James saw him. Paul, too. Paul knows he’s an unlikely candidate for such blessing. But of first importance, Paul knows, “by the grace of God I am what I am.” For all his efforts, even working harder than the rest, he’s become what he is, not by himself, but by, “the grace of God which is with me.” I Cor. 15: 10

Thank God for first things first… if we know them. But this is no place to stop. Not in life or in faith. There’s another imperative. In life and in faith, we simply have to grow…or we will shrink and die. Even Jesus! Don’t miss what Luke writes. Even twelve year old Jesus, home from his adventures at the Temple [Poor Mary and Joseph, scared witless they’d lost him (many a twelve year old’s parents have known the feeling)], even Jesus needs to grow. And not just in height. Jesus, “grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” Lk. 2: 52 … OF FIRST IMPORTANCE, you and I need to know, to our bones, what’s of first importance. And then we require a good stature-stretching. Friends, we’ve been asking of late, “Why am I here?” In church. In worship, study, fellowship and praise. In life. Here’s why. Because we desire to know and declare what’s of first importance with us. And we want to grow; we want to grow like Christ!

It’s June 22. You’re in church. Lots of others are already at play. So why are you here? I pray, to get and keep first things first. It’s not easy. The world and the devil will see to that, even here, holy as we try to be. (Cue “Dude DVD: Begin to .44 gum) We get caught up in ourselves. (Cue “Dude DVD: .53 to 1.20 phone) Other messages seem more urgent. (Cue “Dude DVD: 1.30 to 1.51 asleep) We’re too exhausted to focus. [(Skip “Dude DVD: 1.58 to 2:11 piano) Occasionally we get it. (Cue “Dude DVD: 2.22 to 2.42 ear phones) [More] often we prefer to hear what we want. (Cue “Dude DVD: 2.50 to 3.11late) God does not seem urgent to us. …So-it-goes-out-there all week, and even in here sometimes, as we’ve seen. So let Paul and me give you the first things first. And let a picture (in your head and on your heart) be worth a 1000 words.

The wooden cradle.

The outstretched hand.

The footprint in the sand.

The sinner called. (“Zaccheaus, come down.”)

The sinner by the cross forgiven. (Adulteress.)

The evidence He’s risen. (Tomb.)

Now, if six-things-first is far too many, picture this, first above any.

(Cue “Dude DVD: 3.21 to end. Jn. 3: 16)

It’s not that any of what we’ve shared is new, at least not to most of us. It’s just that it gets crowded out, pushed aside, missed ‘cause we’re just too tired to see. Christ-first gets tuned out by all our me-first tunes. Our Ipod wrestles with our God. As we counsel our kids, we counsel each other. Think of where-you-live-and-how like a box with six sides. Step into it today. Cradle, hand, footprint in the sand; sinner called, sinner by the cross forgiven, Christ is risen. A life so bordered, so first-things-first, graces the best and bests the worst!

But this box keeps getting bigger, deeper, wider, higher. We, too. God has programmed growing into us. Shall we follow the program? Only Luke gives us Jesus as a youth. And he can’t let Jesus get more than 32 verses from the manger without noting that the Savior can and must grow. The body-thing is obvious. Not so, the heart, the mind, the spirit, “Favor with God and man.” O, I’ve had numbers of well-meaning, deep-believing souls tell me over time. “Jesus came into this world knowing everything about everything. Afterall, he was God. Jesus could do anything… from birth. Afterall, he was God. Jesus understood everything, foresaw all things. Afterall, he was God.” Well, one thing’s Biblically right here. He was one with the Father. He says so. ‘More than once. But Luke insists from the start, Jesus grows. The other gospels join in painting the picture. Christ tempted, 1ce, 2ce, 3ce in the wilderness, each time passing the test, putting to use the learnings of his youth for the calling of his soul. His only teachers were the rabbis. But time and time again, counseled by the Spirit, he says, “You have heard it said of old… but I say unto you….” He grows in relation to the disciples and in his teaching. On the one hand, he refuses help, saying God’s people Israel first; on the other, the hated Samaritan a hero and, “I have other sheep who are not of this fold.” On his knees in the Garden, “Let this cup pass.” On his feet before Pilate (who executed him), “You have no power over me.” And “Freely I lay my life down, that I may pick it up again.” Friends, Scripture is clear, if we want to go with Jesus, we will have to grow like Jesus! I believe that’s why we’re here. Because even on summer’s 1st Sunday, we are those who want to grow like Christ. We’re up for the journey, the Discipleship Adventure!

If you (and I) want to grow/walk/be like Christ, then surely how he grew will guide our growing. Let me suggest 4 very practical things to guide our gait this summer. 1) Jesus constantly brings his circumstances before God. Do you? Do I? We frequently feel our lives turned upside down. Like a tipped-over turtle, rarely can we get right again by our own struggling. Jesus knew the feeling. O, he never gassed a donkey at $4/gal. ‘Never saw his IRA drop 450 points with the Dow. ‘Never got that word from the doc, “This is no Stage 1 illness; you’re up to #3 already.” But when deeply challenged, he constantly drew apart. He laid it before God. He listened. Deeply. He encountered God, living between the awful and the awesome, and having seen, saw new ways for his days. He carried scripture in his heart. There were no books then. But he went to the Word like a parched lip to a full ladle. This summer, bring what’s on top of you, over you, against you… before God. Jesus will help. You will grow, more and more like Jesus. 2) Christ never forsakes the worshipping community for long. He travels more than we-in-summer. But his constant refuge is the synagogue or Temple. Jesus always lashes the unknowns of his journey to the knowns, the assurances of worship and praise. We can learn from this. We can grow like this. 3) Jesus grows by constant contact and deep fellowship with the community of faith. He doesn’t travel alone. He never tries to believe alone. He never claims a victory alone. How many summers give us recreation but not renewal because we lose our spiritual way, apart from the spirit community?

One last lesson. Jesus saw every step as a mission, not just a misery or a moment. For him, this remained of first importance. Many have been saturated with memorials to Tim Russert. One printed word described him as a “Sermon-on the-Mount-Catholic.” OK. But can’t we grow a little more ourselves to live as “Sermon-on the-Mount-Christians”, seeking to grow more and more like our “Sermon-on the-Mount Savior?” Like Jesus: our God talk always a God walk. Maybe that’d set us right-side-up, and others all around.

I want to grow like Jesus. First things first. Nearer, closer. I wanna get to the place where folks can look at me and see more and more of him. It’s why I’m here. And you? Together with Jesus, we’ve got some walking to do.

In the Discipleship Adventure – Be PASSIONfruit… for the Sake of Christ

You and I come and go by different names. The one on our license or our notebook. Our baptized name. The names Christian, Seeker, Believer, Disciple. Each is a journey. Maybe disciple best captures that. It means: to be a follower… of Jesus. This movement leaves us all with a past, present and future. Part of my past: in my youth, my schoolmates knew me as “The Safeway Demon”, from high school through college a lean (125 lb.), mean, grocery clerking machine. My favorite task: produce! Supplying, displaying, trimming, etc. Best of the best: just watching the goofy ways we all pick good fruit: squeezing, sniffing, stroking, sneaking a taste. And my all-time favorite, laying a broomstaw on the spine of a watermelon. (If it lies lengthwise, leave it. If the straw pivots sideways, buy it. Weird! But, I’ll be, it works!) I knew every veggie and fruit and species of apple. But one thing I never saw or sold. Passion Fruit. O, I’d remember that! At 17 I’d have found that fascinating. I’d have figured it’d clear my zits, promise me more and better evenings with young ladies. Alas, ‘never happened. But then, I was spared the disillusion of learning Passion Fruit gets its name from the Spanish missionaries of South America. The inside of the fruit looked to them like a crown of thorns, so they named it for the suffering, sacrifice, passion of Jesus.

Wouldn’t you just know a preacher would somehow find a way to connect anything, even produce, to preachin’? Why not? Even Jesus did. Paul, too. Jesus says we will be known by the fruit we bear. He urges us to bear good fruit. Paul pictures the same image. He calls these the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. He contrasts these to the bitter fruits that deny us the kingdom. It turns out, you don’t have to be a Safeway Wonder, just a Wannabe Saint to have a vital interest in produce! Jesus does, too. For him, the best of the best is passion fruit. Granted, Mary may never have shopped for it, but Jesus did and does prefer it, even demand it over all else.

When Jesus calls for good fruit from us disciples, our passion is his passion. Jesus is not looking for us merely to be convinced. He

wants us to be converted. He really wants our all for his sake, for God’s sake! Ahh, passion for God in Jesus Christ! Have you got that? Be careful how you answer. I mean, do you really know what passion is? Passion = absolute affection plus unreserved energy. Absolute affection. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus while Martha’s out there in the kitchen, rustling those pots and pans. Absolute affection. A woman outpours perfume on Jesus’ feet. Remember his feet, wiped by that woman’s hair. Absolute affection. The healed beggar says, “Whether or not Jesus is this or that I do not know, one thing I do know. I once was blind, but now I see.” A father with a stricken child looks at Jesus. He says, “I do believe. Help me [please, as only you can] with my unbelief!” Thomas, implores the other disciples, “Let’s us go [to Jerusalem], too, that we may die with Jesus.” Absolute affection. Now add to this unreserved energy. Peter’s out of the boat, walkin’ on the water to meet up with Jesus. John’s there at the foot of the cross. Stephen won’t stop preachin’ and witnessin’ while they stone him. Unreserved energy. Paul will endure shipwreck, imprisonment, trial and guile and “endure unto the end”, the very last. John (in his 90’s, tradition says) receiving the vision we call The Revelation. Unreserved energy. Passion for God in Jesus Christ, have you got that? Absolute affection plus unreserved energy. This is a tall, tall order.

Says Jesus, the way you tell the true from the false teacher/believer is you look to their fruit. Is it good/passionate for heaven? How are we doin’? Bad news folks don’t really believe, much less bring the Good News of Jesus Christ. The little Letter of James, tucked to the back of our bibles still rings true, “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and hungry, and one of you says, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving the things they need, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Absolute affection plus unreserved energy. I give you Ruth Magellan, age 84, Jones Mem’l UMC, at Conference. I wish you could have seen the sheer joy in her radiant smile, framed by time-darkened skin and silver plaited hair. Many, a fraction her age (like me) fussing of fatigue, she, up with every song, hands lifted to her Lord in praise. You knew she knew by life and heart the meaning of the words, “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come, ‘tis grace hath led me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

When we recognized the chaplain back from Iraq and spoke with thanks for God’s protection on those we send, Ruth rose. Bearing witness to the boys of her youth and of her age, and the Savior who watches each, she broke into Major John McCrae’s immortal, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below… we lie….” Every pore of her presence spoke absolute affection plus unreserved energy… passion, for our Jesus and his passion-from-birth. Peace on earth, God’s Kingdom come. Good fruit. Ruth has become PASSION Fruit for Christ. Let it be that more and more of us are on our way.

But be assured. You and I need not, do not, walk this way alone. The Spirit guides and gifts us for the journey. And the Church, the whole church, this church, is our companion and our inspiration. You recall that list of Fruits-of-the-Spirit Paul reels off? They aren’t just given to a saintly few. The Spirit gives them to the church in the struggle with the culture and the world.

  • LOVE To Overcome enmity
  • JOY To Overcome drink & carousing
  • PEACE To Overcome anger & party spirit
  • PATIENCE To Overcome strife, envy, jealousy
  • KINDNESS To Overcome selfishness
  • GOODNESS To Overcome impurity
  • FAITHFULNESS To Overcome idolatry & sorcery
  • GENTLENESS To Overcome dissent & party spirit
  • SELF CONTROL To Overcome fornication, license

I don’t expect you to grasp all that at one hurried hearing. But I invite you to your Bibles at home. Galatians 5: 18-23. YOU read the lists. YOU match the gifts to the guts-of the-human-dilemma, if I may say it so. The point is to see that we needn’t lean on our own goodness, but God’s-in-Christ to become the Good Fruit Heaven hopes to see. And you can see in those around you here (and elsewhere) those who have accepted these gifts/found their passion!

BE Good fruit! The BEST. BE PASSIONfruit! Why, take a taste of it today. The fruit of the grain: the wheat from the chaff, crushed like Christ to be bread for the world. The fruit of the vine: the cup of his blood, poured out in passion for you and for me. No greater love. No holier passion. For us! And for us to give… for all!

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