Monday, March 27, 2017

Adventures... - April 2017 from "The Quincy Quill"

In the bulb, there is a flower, in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
(Hymn of Promise, v. 1, UMH 707)

Natalie Sleeth’s “Hymn of Promise” is a beloved hymn by many with its themes of new life, hope, and resurrection.  It is often sung for memorial services and during the Easter season because of these themes of new life, hope, and resurrection.  Dr. Michael Hawn, who recently retired as professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology, writes that “Hymn of Promise”

was written at a time when the author states that she was "pondering the ideas of life, death, spring and winter, Good Friday and Easter, and the whole reawakening of the world that happens every spring." Inspired by a T.S. Eliot line, the germ of the hymn grew from the idea "in our end is our beginning," the phase that begins the third stanza of the hymn.[1]

As I write this latest installment of Adventures, the line from this hymn, “in the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be” has been running through my mind these last few weeks.  Until the middle of March, it seems like we have been in the midst of a long winter that did not want to let up, casting some doubt if we may see Spring.  But amidst the long winter, I keep reminding myself to be patient and that we have to wait until something is unrevealed in its proper season.  It’s just like Ecclesiastes 3, in which there is a season and time for everything.  But now, our waiting is paying off, as the daffodils are blooming and other flowers are beginning to emerge from their bulbs.  Before long, our mountain valley will be a lush, green carpet and we’ll begin seeing the trees and wildflowers blossom (although may not always be nice for the allergies). 

Spring is oftentimes a time of renewal when the earth comes alive again.  The snow on the higher peaks will soon be gone and melt into our many lakes and streams, plus those of us with fish fever will be looking forward to visiting some of those lakes soon.  At the same time, as Easter rolls around each Spring, we are also reminded of Jesus’s resurrection and the new hope and life that Easter can bring.  We use the time of Lent to prepare our hearts, bodies, and minds for Easter by dying to old ways of life, old ways that might be destructive and prevent us from becoming closer to God and living life to the fullest.  Like Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Rocky Mountain/Yellowstone conferences said one time in a sermon, “you have to go through Good Friday to get to Easter,” just as we need to get through winter in order to reach Spring. 

Easter is a season of resurrection and new life and as we have also been living our baptismal calling.  The baptisms that would occur on Easter in the early church were a symbol of new life and new birth, as each of the three times candidates were immersed was like dying to an old aspect of life before rising from the water, being anointed in oil, then dressed in white to symbolize the purity and new life.  As we prepare to enter into the Easter season and live into the resurrection, what are you doing to renew your spirits and to give you a new sense of life this Easter season? 

As we live into this coming season of resurrection and new hope, let’s keep our eyes and ears open around us to the many signs that we see, thanking and praising God for the Springtime after the cold and snow of winter, thanking and praising God for the new life around us and for the new life that we get to experience in our own lives at Easter. 

Peace & Blessings,
Pastor Andrew



[1] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "History Of Hymns: “In The Bulb There Is A Flower” - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed March 14 2017. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-in-the-bulb-there-is-a-flower.


"Living Our Baptismal Calling: Nurture" - Sermon, March 26, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Living Our Baptismal Calling: Nurture”
March 26, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
John 9: 1-41

        As we begin winding down our series on our Lenten journey, “Living Our Baptismal Calling,” we come to the question in our baptismal vows that is asked of parents or sponsors and the congregation:
“Will you nurture these children/persons in Christ’s holy Church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?”

“Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?”

        It’s a great deal of communal responsibility on our part when we answer “I will/we will” because it’s up to each one of us as a community of faith to invite, guide, teach, welcome, encourage, and nurture each other and those who are new to the faith when people take that step into the baptized relationship.  So nevertheless, we have this wonderful opportunity ahead of us when it comes to nurturing people in the faith, especially for our children and younger people, which we have a constant desire to have in our church and want to keep inviting them, but also committing to nurture and guide them along the way as they grow up. 
        Back in 1995, Jim and Jean Strathdee wrote a song that quickly became popular in many circles, even used in morning sing in several schools.  It went like this:
                It takes a whole village, to raise one child,
                In love and beauty, undefiled.
                To grow in wisdom, or to run wild.
                It take a whole village, to raise one child. 

                It takes a whole city, to care for the poor,
                The homeless and hungry, at our front door.
                Open your heart, you’ll receive much more.
                It takes a whole city, to care for the poor. 

                It takes a whole nation, to build our pride,
                Working together, side by side.
                Respecting all people, we have to decide,
                It takes a whole nation, to build our pride.


                It takes a whole planet, to set us free,
                From fear of extinction and misery.
                We’ll cherish our children, each river and tree,
                It takes a whole planet, to set us free.[i]

It’s still a favorite song of mine some twenty-plus years later.  Encouraging and nurturing our children in the faith is highly crucial, but it’s not just limited to children and youth either.  Just as it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes a whole congregation and a whole community faith to nurture and encourage each other.  And just as I’ve said earlier in the series and will keep saying, our baptismal vows are not just a one-time event; it is a constant journey, one that will sometime have its smooth roads, but also its pitfalls, bumps, and sometimes, dead-ends and u-turns.  The community aspect of this vow and the role of the entire community of faith really cannot be emphasized enough!!  
 For instance, take the story of the blind beggar from our Gospel lesson from John that we just read together.  We encounter the blind beggar whose sight was miraculously healed by Jesus using spit and mud, then washing in the healing water in the Pool of Siloam as Jesus and his disciples were passing along on their way to Jerusalem.  Now while the idea of spit and mud might gross us out a little bit, this passage from John is more like a guide of ‘how not to behave’ when coming across someone who needs the nurture and encouragement of a community.  You see, the Pharisees, the greater community, and EVEN JESUS’s DISCIPLES did anything but nurture or encourage this man who is now able to see.  They were too worried and hung up about why he was blind in the first place, or they had a hard time believing that such a sign, or miracle could even happen. 
See, the Pharisees who hold a very legalistic point of view, believed that the blind man’s parents sinned and caused him to be born blind.  Meanwhile, the disciples just can’t get past why the man is blind in the first place to even see or care that this young man had been miraculously healed by Jesus, or that he desired to become a part of his followers.  This poor man had no control over his situation, except there seems to be a reason to everybody else as to why he’s blind in the eyes of the Pharisees, Jesus’s disciples, and even the man’s neighbors.
 Jesus doing what he does best comes around at the right time and in this particular passage, identifies himself as “the light of the world” and fully restores the blind man’s sight (John 9: 5, NLT).  Yet the Pharisees also do what they do best and get ticked off with Jesus, mostly because he (dun-dun-dun) committed a sin of healing on the Sabbath (oh my), as the Pharisees absolutely cannot accept what has happened here.  Even the blind man’s neighbors could not accept what has happened and take him and his parents to the Pharisees who ultimately cast him out when the man who is now able to see sings Jesus’s praises. 
However, there is definitely not much happening in the way of nurture between Jesus’s disciples, the man’s neighbors, the Pharisees, and now even his parents who don’t want to be associated with Jesus.  It is only when Jesus invites this man who is now able to see into the community of followers is when things change for him and that he is able to find nurture and encouragement by following Jesus.  At the same time, Jesus deals with spiritual blindness here on the part of those who cannot accept this act of healing, but also more or less tells the Pharisees that they’re the ones who are blind.  Ouch! 
So, while we are dealing with the different communities between the Pharisees, the blind man’s neighbors, and disciples, it is Jesus who actually takes the initiative to invite this man who he has healed with spit and mud into the community of followers and offers this young man an opportunity for nurture and encouragement after the other communities show a lack of interest in nurturing him.  Jesus isn’t interested as to why this man was blind to begin with, but simply encourages him to believe, even when others cannot readily see what Jesus is doing, a theme we will deal with more along the way in John's gospel.  When it comes to nurture, shouldn’t we be doing the same?  Shouldn’t we be welcoming and nurturing like Jesus was, not worrying as to how or why people are here in our midst? 
Despite the blind man who is now able to see ultimately finding nurture at Jesus’s invitation, our Gospel lesson and our vow to nurture people in the faith says a lot about the role and importance of community in our life of faith together.  We can think that we can do things on our own, but we really do need the community of faith and really do need that connection with one another to nurture and encourage each other on this journey.  As I’ve shared several times about my own journey, at that time in my life ten years ago when I came back to the faith after running away for awhile made me see the importance of why we need each other, why we need the connection within the community of faith.  We need that nurture from others.  We need encouragement from fellow followers of Jesus.
 When I first had this crisis and began questioning God’s existence, several people, including our pastor at the time offered to talk, yet I rejected their offers, instead insisting that I didn’t need the church.  In fact, I felt like the church was the problem mostly because I saw behavior at times that was not always Christ-like, and some of that was my own jaded view at the time that the church should resemble a mini Utopia.  I ultimately didn’t want that nurture from others, as I thought I could do it all by myself.  I was blind to a few things, though. When I saw the light after experiencing God's healing touch after several months of excruciating bouts of sciatica due to a back injury, that connection with other followers led me back to God (although that could be another sermon too).  Yeah, some not so good behaviors still happen in the church and life in general here and there, but mostly because we’re all human, and each of us has our own issues, our own brokenness, and our own baggage at one time or another.  Except, what I didn’t see during that time until my eyes were opened is that the nurture we give and receive in and from the community of faith helps us along the journey, helps us through our brokenness and baggage, even though nurture and encouragement may not make it all go away.  Except that doesn't matter to Jesus as to how or why we are broken, as he takes us just as we are and loves us anyway, just as he did with the blind man.
Unfortunately, we do see instances in life and yes, sometimes even in the greater church where people are quick to judge, just like the Pharisees and blind man's neighbors.  Although it took the personal invitation from Jesus, we see how
—a man who had been born blind; who had been judged to be a sinner and rejected by his community, and even his own family, because of something that was beyond his control; who had suffered a lifetime of ostracism; and who had been reduced to earning a living by begging on the side of the road—found not just healing, but grace, welcome, and even love, in the community of followers of Jesus Christ.[ii]

        Shouldn’t that be what a community of faith is all about; being a healing presence, offering grace, welcome, and love to ANYONE who walks through our doors?  And even more, a place where we nurture everyone who walks through our doors in the faith, but also nurturing each other.  Shouldn’t the church be the embodiment of the line “it takes a whole village to raise a child?”
        When all of us from the church who were involved began our rehearsals with the Star Follies last month, (which I think we all had fun in performing and hopefully all who attended had fun too) I admit that I felt like the stranger in the midst, maybe even like the blind man Jesus encountered just because I initially felt very out of place and very out of my introverted comfort zone, but also because I only knew a small handful of people from  being relatively new to Quincy.  I was also the only clergy in the entire cast, but unlike the blind man’s reception from the Pharisees and his neighbors, I was never ostracized or shunned, but warmly welcomed. 
Instead, there was nurturing from the get-go, encouraging each other.  However, when people do find out you’re a pastor, they want to know what it’s like to see as Jesus sees, but will also open up their own hearts and share their stories when they get to know you.  I think that’s one of the ways where we in the church can take a cue from the performing arts community and be that place of nurture when we live out the baptismal vow to nurture and encourage people while on their journey of faith, not worrying about what brought them here or why people may be broken or have baggage, or why they may have questions.  Just love everyone and nurture everyone.
        As we talked about in a sermon earlier this year, we are having to come to grips with the fact that the church is not what it used to be in the world.  The church does not always have the same influence that it once had.  People are finding other ways of experiencing nurture and encouragement, but not necessarily in the church.  Two pastors in Arizona, Rev. Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank and Rev. Rob Rynders have recently begun exploring how the sacred and secular intersect in the community in their book, The Sacred Secular: How God is Using the World to Shape the Church.  Rob Rynders, who has specialized in church planting in urban settings like he did in Downtown Phoenix, explains in the first chapter that people are looking to different settings where they can find such nurture and encouragement.  Rob goes on to say that
While many churches in the suburbs act as the community gathering places and social hubs of their neighborhoods, the culture created in the urban core often fulfills these needs.  For some, it’s community and connection without all the baggage of religion, but overall it’s just a more meaningful, diverse, and interesting way for many to experience those things.[iii]  

--- In other words, people are finding other settings for that place of nurture and encouragement because they may not always find it in the church.  Something to chew on here. --- But at the same time, I’m not giving up hope, because as I like to tell people from my own experience is that they really don’t know what they are missing by missing out on the connection with other people who are also on this journey of faith and in different places on this journey.  Ultimately, we are on this journey together.  Thankfully from what I have seen in our own community of faith here in Quincy is that we are a place where people can find nurture and encouragement when they walk through the doors of our church, whether it's here in worship each Sunday, the Lifestories group on Tuesday, the Bible study that Charlotte leads on Thursday, the community supper on Wednesday followed by my small group in the office, Curmudgeons for Christ on Saturday, or through the choir and bell choir.  I think about the people who come through our doors for the first time, the many who have found a welcoming environment and place where everyone can experience grace, healing, acceptance, encouragement, nurture, and hope.  I know that I have found nurture along this journey of faith in this church since arriving here in July as a brand new pastor.  It really does take a whole village to raise a child and a whole congregation to nurture and encourage everyone in their faith journey. I believe that's good news in itself.
So, as we go into this new week and think about what it means to nurture people in the faith, I want to encourage everyone to think about the people around us who need our nurture, especially people outside of the walls of our church.  --- Who are people that you know who might be struggling in their lives that need some encouragement and nurturing presence, in which you can be that presence for them?  And like the slogan on top of our bulletin, is there someone or a family who you would like to invite into a deeper relationship with God, someone or a family member who you want to welcome into your life, share your story and faith with, and encourage from our church or community?  During the rehearsals for the Star Follies, what a wonderful experience it was to sit and talk before or after rehearsals and share each other’s stories.  But even better, what a wonderful example of nurture we gave each other in coming together and learning our parts, each step of the way.  As a community of faith, let’s keep on striving to do the same, but also love and nurture like Jesus did for the blind man.  Let’s keep on being a place of nurture as we teach people what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ in our community and world, just simply being an example of nurture and encouragement with EVERYONE we encounter.  It really does take a whole village and a whole congregation. 
                It takes a whole village, to raise one child,
                In love and beauty, undefiled. 
                To grow in wisdom, or to run wild,
                It takes a whole village, to raise one child.[iv]

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN.


[i] "It Takes A Whole Village | Licensing Online". 2017. Licensingonline.Org. Accessed March 22 2017. https://www.licensingonline.org/en-us/sku/26974.

[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "Fourth Sunday In Lent | Nurture — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed March 23 2017. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/fourth-sunday-in-lent-nurture-preaching-notes.


[iii] Dottie Escobedo-Frank and Rob Rynders, The Sacred Secular: How God is Using the World to Shape the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 9. 
[iv] “It Takes a Whole Village” 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Living Our Baptismal Calling: Accept" - Sermon, March 12, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Living Our Baptismal Calling: Accept”
March 12, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
John 3: 1-17

        Back in the mid-90’s and being a child of the media, I remember watching TV in the afternoon after school and seeing the promos for the first of the “Mission Impossible” series of movies in 1996 starring Tom Cruise.  Based on the 1960’s and 70’s TV show, the movies started with the catchy little theme song <> that then said from a tape recorder “your mission should you accept it…” with some details sprinkled in before the tape recorder self-destructed.  Well today, our mission, should we accept it is to “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” Kind of a lofty mission should we accept it, but also worth thinking about today as we continue our Lenten series, “Living Our Baptismal Calling.”
        As we began our series and Lenten journey last week, we thought about the first question from our baptismal vows, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this word, and repent of your sin?”  It’s the first question that is asked when we are presented for baptism as infants or adults, but this week we take this idea a little bit further when asked, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves." This weeks’ question about accepting the power God gives us builds on last week in renouncing evil and wickedness, but now adds injustice and oppression to what we are asked to renounce and resist. 
        Now I need to admit that I struggle a little bit when trying to think of what is evil, what is injustice, and what is oppression.  See, what might be evil, injustice, and oppression in my eyes may be something totally different in someone else’s eyes.  In keeping things real, we live in a world today where evil, injustice, and oppression can be found in many shapes and forms around us.  However, while watching the news or perusing social media, it is hard not to see violence, acts of vandalism, or looting which I see as one form of evil, or different phobias and pure hatred, which can lead to injustice and oppression if left unchecked.  The list can go on and on and on.  Yet, it also seems that in this recent election cycle, that we have seen a rise in violent rhetoric, acts of violence, and  various phobias manifesting themselves in frightening ways, particularly because we have more access to visual media today and it’s put before our eyes.  Or, I think back to November when I arrived to church one morning to find that someone threw an egg at our sign, then wrote the words ‘devil idol’ using peanut butter.  Without flinching, a few of us were able to clean up the vandalism before the congregation arrived, and got a clean sign out of it.  We could have given the people who did this free publicity by going to the newspaper and fighting an evil act with equally evil words about the people who did it, but instead we resisted evil by acting quickly and praying that the people who did this find peace.  Even amidst different ideas of what may constitute evil, injustice, or oppression, I am also thankful that we are a community of faith here who are able to still love each other while having different ideas, as it is a blessing to be a part of a theologically and politically diverse congregation.  However, it’s up to us to keep seeking what is true and show others how to use the freedom that God gives us to resist the powers of evil, injustice, and oppression, regardless of where we stand. 
        As we encounter the text this morning, it might seem a little murkier to see how the text fits in with this question on accepting the freedom of resisting evil, injustice, and oppression.  Although the translation that Leslie, you, and I read together is slightly truncated, we first encounter a Pharisee, Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night.  Being a Pharisee, which was a teacher of the law in the Jewish tradition, Nicodemus obviously does not want others to know he is coming to see Jesus.  It’s like trying to conceal something you don’t want anyone else knowing about.  Now this is our first encounter with Nicodemus who we will only see in John’s Gospel, but Nicodemus is obviously intrigued by the signs, or miracles that Jesus is performing, although when he inquires more of Jesus, Jesus tells Nicodemus about the idea of new birth, which Nicodemus struggles with upon hearing. 
        In some ways, I empathize with Nicodemus here, as new birth is something I really struggled with for a long time the first time I heard it.  Whenever I would hear the saying ‘born again,’ it left me scratching my head, like Nicodemus, who asked how could we “enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (Jn. 3: 4, NRSV).  But as I got older and began understanding my faith a little more, this kind of new birth that Jesus is talking about is birth by the Spirit.  As Jesus will explain, it’s a re-birth of our faith and quite honestly, after spending those eight months in the desert, away from the faith ten years ago, but then feeling a change of heart about not being part of a faith community, I felt like I had been born again when I re-engaged with the faith and with a community of faith. 
     And when we are asked to renounce the powers of evil and wickedness, and resist evil, injustice, and oppression in our baptismal vows, we are each taking part in this new birth through baptism as we think about the vows we made or were made for us as infants.  Furthermore, we have the power and choice that God gives us to accept or reject the freedom to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in any form that it takes.  When we do accept these powers, it becomes more about new life in Christ that Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus, but also to us. 
        Also in this text is one of the most beloved and well-known statements, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3: 16-17, NRSV).  Now this is one of those feel-good verses that is often cited, as it speaks to God’s love for the world and all of humanity.  Hence why it is vital for us to accept the freedom and power to resist evil, injustice, and oppression because God still so loves the world.  When we enter this baptized relationship as infants or at another time in life, we have to keep doing our part in renouncing evil and wickedness, as well as resisting evil, injustice, and oppression, no matter what form they take.  It’s all a part of this life-long journey of faith.  Furthermore, we cannot fight evil with evil, injustice with injustice, and oppression with oppression, as our resistance to such is in how we do good in our community and through our kind actions with each other and with those who are outside the walls of this church.  Each Sunday during the prayers of the people, we have been lifting up the need for truth, for healing, and reconciliation in our country and even our world, especially in light of the deep divisions of today.  While I generally try to refrain from politics while preaching and am trying to do so on social media these days as well, I can’t help but address the elephant in the room. 
A couple weeks ago, I was watching one of my preaching professors’ sermons online on YouTube.  In this sermon on discipleship, Rev. Dr. Matt Poole, lead pastor of Glen Mar UMC in Ellicott City, MD pointed out that since this past election cycle, there has been more conflict and division, both as a society and even within the church (universal), an indication of the broken political system that we are living in.[i]  Being the thinking person and pastor that I am, I have been chewing on the fact that if God so loved the world, God still loves each of us, as broken as we may be and different and diverse as we may be.  But as I also said earlier, what I personally may see as evil, injustice, and oppression might be something totally different to someone else, which is perhaps a good way to open up channels of conversation.  I admit that my reluctance to be able to address things that are happening in our nation and world and how it intersects with our faith is like being Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the cover of night.  Even though I get mixed messages, with some saying not to get into political stuff or some saying I need to speak up more, I believes that we all need to be able to bring things into the light, talk, pray, and work through such differences when we accept the power that God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression, whatever form they may take.  
Now I know that I probably hold some views that some of you will not agree with me on, AND that’s okay.  God still loves each of us, even when we don’t agree politically or theologically.  As we have lifted up prayers for healing, truth, and reconciliation in our broken world, Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser at Discipleship Ministries writes that “the work of healing and reconciliation must start in our religious communities. It begins in our local church communities. But true healing cannot even begin unless we are able to be completely honest with one another. Deep healing, reconciliation, and movement toward unity will not happen if leaders act like Nicodemus and keep their true beliefs hidden in the shadows.”[ii] And doing such is risky and may ruffle some feathers here and there, although we still have this opportunity for new life in Jesus Christ by being born of the Spirit when we are willing to be saved by Jesus regardless of where we stand, but we also need to continue seeking what is true and taking the high road by accepting such power that God gives us.  At the same time,
It is critical that we let the gospel of Jesus Christ speak to our world, not just in the past, but today, and every day, every week, every year, every decade, for every generation until Christ comes in final glory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Because what is at stake is great. It is greater than any election. It is greater than any worldly success or any worldly failure. What is at stake is life itself.  What Jesus offered Nicodemus was something much greater than anything the world could give him. It is something much greater than anything the world can give us.[iii]

        The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our primary means of resistance to evil, injustice, and oppression.  It helps us tell Satan to take a hike!!  After all, “God did not send [Jesus] into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3:17, NRSV).  Despite acts of evil, injustice, and oppression that may happen around us, we have the good news of a savior in Jesus Christ, and the opportunity to be born of the Spirit when we choose to accept this power that God gives us.  But we also cannot be like Nicodemus and do it in the shadows of darkness, but we all can be open and honest.  We can definitely disagree on what may constitute evil, injustice, and oppression, but we can definitely love each other out of the same love that God has for each of us and for the world.  As we lift up the concerns in our nation and world through our prayers, it’s going to be up to each of us, the body of Christ to keep facilitating the process of telling the truth and working towards healing as we work towards unity.  God so loves the world, God so loves our community, and God so loves each of us so much, broken and messed up as things may be, that God sent his son, Jesus to save us, not condemn us.  As New Testament scholar David Lose explains,
Notice that God does not ask the world if it wishes to be the recipient of God's love. God just goes ahead and loves, and not only loves but gives the world God's only beloved Son over to death. The one who dies for you clearly has a significant claim on you, and John makes that clear. God's love -- surprising, all encompassing, unasked for and undeserved -- is also given unconditionally. God loves us, that is, whether we like it or not. In the face of that kind of love, we will likely either yield to God's love or run away screaming, for no one can remain neutral to such extravagance.[iv]

Like we talked about last week, these vows that we make at our baptism are not a one-time event, but an ongoing part of this journey, and we need each other on this journey.  Nicodemus took a great risk in seeking out Jesus at night and as the body of Christ here in Quincy, let us not be afraid to take a risk or two in sharing the love that God has for this world and our community. Let us not be afraid to talk openly and honestly about the things that affect our nation, world, and even our community as we seek truth.  Whatever the form of evil, injustice, and oppression there is out there, we as the body of Christ can accept the power that God gives us to resist it each and every day that we go along on this journey.  That is our mission together, should we choose to accept it! <>
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!



[i] "The Year Of Discipleship: Part 2 - Pastor Matt Poole". 2017. Youtube. Accessed March 9 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aT3P9NbkohE.

[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "Second Sunday In Lent | Accept — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed March 9 2017. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/second-sunday-in-lent-accept-preaching-notes.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] "Commentary On John 3:1-17 By David Lose". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed March 9 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=903.

"Living Our Baptismal Calling: Accept" - Sermon, March 12, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Living Our Baptismal Calling: Accept”
March 12, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
John 3: 1-17

        Back in the mid-90’s and being a child of the media, I remember watching TV in the afternoon after school and seeing the promos for the first of the “Mission Impossible” series of movies in 1996 starring Tom Cruise.  Based on the 1960’s and 70’s TV show, the movies started with the catchy little theme song <> that then said from a tape recorder “your mission should you accept it…” with some details sprinkled in before the tape recorder self-destructed.  Well today, our mission, should we accept it is to “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” Kind of a lofty mission should we accept it, but also worth thinking about today as we continue our Lenten series, “Living Our Baptismal Calling.”
        As we began our series and Lenten journey last week, we thought about the first question from our baptismal vows, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this word, and repent of your sin?”  It’s the first question that is asked when we are presented for baptism as infants or adults, but this week we take this idea a little bit further when asked, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves." This weeks’ question about accepting the power God gives us builds on last week in renouncing evil and wickedness, but now adds injustice and oppression to what we are asked to renounce and resist. 
        Now I need to admit that I struggle a little bit when trying to think of what is evil, what is injustice, and what is oppression.  See, what might be evil, injustice, and oppression in my eyes may be something totally different in someone else’s eyes.  In keeping things real, we live in a world today where evil, injustice, and oppression can be found in many shapes and forms around us.  However, while watching the news or perusing social media, it is hard not to see violence, acts of vandalism, or looting which I see as one form of evil, or different phobias and pure hatred, which can lead to injustice and oppression if left unchecked.  The list can go on and on and on.  Yet, it also seems that in this recent election cycle, that we have seen a rise in violent rhetoric, acts of violence, and  various phobias manifesting themselves in frightening ways, particularly because we have more access to visual media today and it’s put before our eyes.  Or, I think back to November when I arrived to church one morning to find that someone threw an egg at our sign, then wrote the words ‘devil idol’ using peanut butter.  Without flinching, a few of us were able to clean up the vandalism before the congregation arrived, and got a clean sign out of it.  We could have given the people who did this free publicity by going to the newspaper and fighting an evil act with equally evil words about the people who did it, but instead we resisted evil by acting quickly and praying that the people who did this find peace.  Even amidst different ideas of what may constitute evil, injustice, or oppression, I am also thankful that we are a community of faith here who are able to still love each other while having different ideas, as it is a blessing to be a part of a theologically and politically diverse congregation.  However, it’s up to us to keep seeking what is true and show others how to use the freedom that God gives us to resist the powers of evil, injustice, and oppression, regardless of where we stand. 
        As we encounter the text this morning, it might seem a little murkier to see how the text fits in with this question on accepting the freedom of resisting evil, injustice, and oppression.  Although the translation that Leslie, you, and I read together is slightly truncated, we first encounter a Pharisee, Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night.  Being a Pharisee, which was a teacher of the law in the Jewish tradition, Nicodemus obviously does not want others to know he is coming to see Jesus.  It’s like trying to conceal something you don’t want anyone else knowing about.  Now this is our first encounter with Nicodemus who we will only see in John’s Gospel, but Nicodemus is obviously intrigued by the signs, or miracles that Jesus is performing, although when he inquires more of Jesus, Jesus tells Nicodemus about the idea of new birth, which Nicodemus struggles with upon hearing. 
        In some ways, I empathize with Nicodemus here, as new birth is something I really struggled with for a long time the first time I heard it.  Whenever I would hear the saying ‘born again,’ it left me scratching my head, like Nicodemus, who asked how could we “enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (Jn. 3: 4, NRSV).  But as I got older and began understanding my faith a little more, this kind of new birth that Jesus is talking about is birth by the Spirit.  As Jesus will explain, it’s a re-birth of our faith and quite honestly, after spending those eight months in the desert, away from the faith ten years ago, but then feeling a change of heart about not being part of a faith community, I felt like I had been born again when I re-engaged with the faith and with a community of faith. 
     And when we are asked to renounce the powers of evil and wickedness, and resist evil, injustice, and oppression in our baptismal vows, we are each taking part in this new birth through baptism as we think about the vows we made or were made for us as infants.  Furthermore, we have the power and choice that God gives us to accept or reject the freedom to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in any form that it takes.  When we do accept these powers, it becomes more about new life in Christ that Jesus is trying to explain to Nicodemus, but also to us. 
        Also in this text is one of the most beloved and well-known statements, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3: 16-17, NRSV).  Now this is one of those feel-good verses that is often cited, as it speaks to God’s love for the world and all of humanity.  Hence why it is vital for us to accept the freedom and power to resist evil, injustice, and oppression because God still so loves the world.  When we enter this baptized relationship as infants or at another time in life, we have to keep doing our part in renouncing evil and wickedness, as well as resisting evil, injustice, and oppression, no matter what form they take.  It’s all a part of this life-long journey of faith.  Furthermore, we cannot fight evil with evil, injustice with injustice, and oppression with oppression, as our resistance to such is in how we do good in our community and through our kind actions with each other and with those who are outside the walls of this church.  Each Sunday during the prayers of the people, we have been lifting up the need for truth, for healing, and reconciliation in our country and even our world, especially in light of the deep divisions of today.  While I generally try to refrain from politics while preaching and am trying to do so on social media these days as well, I can’t help but address the elephant in the room. 
A couple weeks ago, I was watching one of my preaching professors’ sermons online on YouTube.  In this sermon on discipleship, Rev. Dr. Matt Poole, lead pastor of Glen Mar UMC in Ellicott City, MD pointed out that since this past election cycle, there has been more conflict and division, both as a society and even within the church (universal), an indication of the broken political system that we are living in.[i]  Being the thinking person and pastor that I am, I have been chewing on the fact that if God so loved the world, God still loves each of us, as broken as we may be and different and diverse as we may be.  But as I also said earlier, what I personally may see as evil, injustice, and oppression might be something totally different to someone else, which is perhaps a good way to open up channels of conversation.  I admit that my reluctance to be able to address things that are happening in our nation and world and how it intersects with our faith is like being Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the cover of night.  Even though I get mixed messages, with some saying not to get into political stuff or some saying I need to speak up more, I believes that we all need to be able to bring things into the light, talk, pray, and work through such differences when we accept the power that God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression, whatever form they may take.  
Now I know that I probably hold some views that some of you will not agree with me on, AND that’s okay.  God still loves each of us, even when we don’t agree politically or theologically.  As we have lifted up prayers for healing, truth, and reconciliation in our broken world, Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser at Discipleship Ministries writes that “the work of healing and reconciliation must start in our religious communities. It begins in our local church communities. But true healing cannot even begin unless we are able to be completely honest with one another. Deep healing, reconciliation, and movement toward unity will not happen if leaders act like Nicodemus and keep their true beliefs hidden in the shadows.”[ii] And doing such is risky and may ruffle some feathers here and there, although we still have this opportunity for new life in Jesus Christ by being born of the Spirit when we are willing to be saved by Jesus regardless of where we stand, but we also need to continue seeking what is true and taking the high road by accepting such power that God gives us.  At the same time,
It is critical that we let the gospel of Jesus Christ speak to our world, not just in the past, but today, and every day, every week, every year, every decade, for every generation until Christ comes in final glory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Because what is at stake is great. It is greater than any election. It is greater than any worldly success or any worldly failure. What is at stake is life itself.  What Jesus offered Nicodemus was something much greater than anything the world could give him. It is something much greater than anything the world can give us.[iii]

        The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our primary means of resistance to evil, injustice, and oppression.  It helps us tell Satan to take a hike!!  After all, “God did not send [Jesus] into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3:17, NRSV).  Despite acts of evil, injustice, and oppression that may happen around us, we have the good news of a savior in Jesus Christ, and the opportunity to be born of the Spirit when we choose to accept this power that God gives us.  But we also cannot be like Nicodemus and do it in the shadows of darkness, but we all can be open and honest.  We can definitely disagree on what may constitute evil, injustice, and oppression, but we can definitely love each other out of the same love that God has for each of us and for the world.  As we lift up the concerns in our nation and world through our prayers, it’s going to be up to each of us, the body of Christ to keep facilitating the process of telling the truth and working towards healing as we work towards unity.  God so loves the world, God so loves our community, and God so loves each of us so much, broken and messed up as things may be, that God sent his son, Jesus to save us, not condemn us.  As New Testament scholar David Lose explains,
Notice that God does not ask the world if it wishes to be the recipient of God's love. God just goes ahead and loves, and not only loves but gives the world God's only beloved Son over to death. The one who dies for you clearly has a significant claim on you, and John makes that clear. God's love -- surprising, all encompassing, unasked for and undeserved -- is also given unconditionally. God loves us, that is, whether we like it or not. In the face of that kind of love, we will likely either yield to God's love or run away screaming, for no one can remain neutral to such extravagance.[iv]

Like we talked about last week, these vows that we make at our baptism are not a one-time event, but an ongoing part of this journey, and we need each other on this journey.  Nicodemus took a great risk in seeking out Jesus at night and as the body of Christ here in Quincy, let us not be afraid to take a risk or two in sharing the love that God has for this world and our community. Let us not be afraid to talk openly and honestly about the things that affect our nation, world, and even our community as we seek truth.  Whatever the form of evil, injustice, and oppression there is out there, we as the body of Christ can accept the power that God gives us to resist it each and every day that we go along on this journey.  That is our mission together, should we choose to accept it! <>
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!



[i] "The Year Of Discipleship: Part 2 - Pastor Matt Poole". 2017. Youtube. Accessed March 9 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aT3P9NbkohE.

[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "Second Sunday In Lent | Accept — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed March 9 2017. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/second-sunday-in-lent-accept-preaching-notes.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] "Commentary On John 3:1-17 By David Lose". 2017. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed March 9 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=903.

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