Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"Stories of the Saints" from the series, "A Season of Saints" - Sermon, November 12, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“A Season of Saints: Stories of the Saints”
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 12, 2017
Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25

            During the holiday season, we are oftentimes inundated with commercials on TV, print, and radio about the latest and greatest new gifts and gadgets.  A few years ago while beginning winter break in seminary, one commercial I saw had me nearly in tears, as there are quite a few commercials around this time of year that really tug at the heartstrings (like the Santa balloon commercial during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year).  This particular commercial was for the iPhone, in which a teenage boy is recording moments throughout his family’s Christmas gathering and although it does reinforce the notion that young people are always glued to their phones, it ended up being poignant when the boy goes up to the TV and stops whatever was on TV much to everyone’s annoyance.  However, when a video montage of the family’s gathering set to the song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” begins playing, almost everyone begins crying.  Even though we often want to fight technology, or as I said a couple weeks ago when talking about idols, we might want to throw those phones and gadgets into the fire and grind them up, technology can be a powerful storyteller in itself when seeing videos of family gatherings of the past and recalling the different memories.  It’s why I also love going through family photo albums, previous church directories, or the digital albums on our social media platforms, seeing the changes in people, the kids growing up, and remembering those who have joined the company of saints.  I am reminded of the stories of the saints both in my family, and in the life of our church family.
            As we just read in the book of Joshua, Joshua who succeeded Moses as the leader of Israel is reminding the leaders that they are part of God’s story and need to keep it going.  Joshua is reminding the leaders that Israel’s story is about how God chose an ordinary man in their ancestor Abraham and promised Abraham offspring and land if he would follow God.  Much later following Abraham and his descendants, God called Moses to lead the Israelite people out of slavery and oppression in Egypt to go to a promised land, although it would not be an easy or fun journey.  The people go on this long, sometimes unbearable forty-year journey through the wilderness until they reach Canaan, the land God has promised them.  Moses would only get to see it from a distance, but did not get to enter it because he died and Joshua became the new leader that will led the people into Canaan. 
            We are at the point in this morning’s lesson where Joshua is about ready to die and the leaders are renewing the covenant that God made with the people, although Israel is still struggling over whether to serve the Lord their God or the gods of their ancestors.  They can serve one or the other, but not both.  The people ultimately choose to serve the Lord God, as this is the same God we worship today.  Even all these years later, we too are a part of God’s story just like Israel had been, just like Joshua, Moses, and Abraham.  Of course many years later, Jesus would become a part of the story when God came down to earth in human form, then Paul came along and had a profound conversion experience in which he dedicated his life to serving God through Jesus Christ.  Because we are part of God’s story, it’s up to us to keep the stories of our saints going.  These “are stories of a God who called us while we may have been…in a place far away from where God was calling us to go,” similar to Abraham.[i] 
Some of us have different reasons why we are here and different stories in our own faith journey and life.  Some of us may be here because want to know God and know more about what loving and serving God is all about.  While I know I have only known and served one God, some of us here may have only come to believing recently.  Whatever the case, God called us and we said yes.  It’s along the lines of what the founder of Methodism, John Wesley refers to as prevenient grace, which is the free, unearned gift of love that God has for each us before we even began to believe in God.   
I know that for me, I come from a family whose faith identity is Christian and I’ve only known the Lord our God and no other gods.  However, faith has played a significant role.  In learning the story of my ancestors, I have learned that my mom’s side dates all the way back to the Mayflower, as one of my ancestors on her father’s side, William Brewster was the reverend elder aboard the Mayflower (I remember getting all excited about it in 11th grade English when seeing his name in “On Plymouth Plantation”).  That’s the furthest back that I have knowledge of in my family’s story from my four grandparents, as I have not really sat down to trace the history of the Lindbaum, Davis, or Hills side of my family yet and perhaps where their journey of faith has led them (although I also learned last year that another not-sure-how-many-times-removed great grandfather was a Methodist circuit rider).  Even though I don’t know as much of their stories as I would like to, they too are part of the stories of the saints, and a part of God’s story among humankind just like all of our ancestors from our different families. 
On the other hand in our text, Joshua reminds the Israelite people that “Abraham was not always connected to the God they knew as their God,” just like we may not have always been connected to God in our lives because there are times we may drift away or go through the desert or just not believe until something moved us towards wanting to know more.[ii] I know that in my own story, I wandered away from God by my own choice eleven years ago, except God never left me and I came back to God because God wouldn’t stop calling me, leading me to where I’m at now, even amidst dead-ends and U-turns along the way. Regardless of what we do in our lives or in the instances where we might ignore God, “God does not ignore us [as] God is calling us toward the fullness of life in Christ.”[iii] 
The good news is that God doesn’t stop calling us and wants us to be part of the stories of the saints and keep the story going, especially among our younger generations so that their children and grandchildren can do likewise.  I think of the people who answered God’s call and founded this church around 1858.  Even though the town and church have changed since that time, God’s call is still the same today as it was then.  We are still called to bring a word of hope and good news to our town, to be the hands and feet of Christ, to love one another and our neighbors too, and to love God and serve God.  We’re keeping the story going that the saints before us began, as they are now part of that great multitude we talked about last week.  I saw our faith in and God’s call in action this last Thursday at the Fall Dinner, as everything came together in time, even though Kitty and Jackie expressed concern a couple weeks ago that we still needed help in many areas, but they had faith that it would happen.  As the Holy Spirit moved about, everyone stepped up and we had an amazing Fall Dinner that was appreciated by the many in our community who came to eat or take their food home.  It was the love of God in action, and that’s the main part of the stories of the saints, as they served our God of love faithfully just as we continue to serve a God of love.[iv]
As we get ready go all-in with the holidays and beyond with Thanksgiving a little over a week away, tell your stories to each other, especially during your family gatherings this Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And even tell others the story of how you said yes to God, while perhaps telling the stories of your ancestors.  Then at 2:30 this afternoon in the Fellowship Hall as we gather for our annual charge conference, we have an opportunity to hear the stories of this past year and the how the saints of this church here and now are loving God and serving God here in this church and in the greater community, so that we too may share the stories of the saints of this church beyond these walls.  Many years have passed since the days of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Jesus, and Paul.  It’s up to each of us to continue the story, share the story, and live into the stories of the saints, yesterday, today, and in days to come.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!    

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2017. "Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost 2017 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed November 9 2017. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/twenty-third-sunday-after-pentecost-2017-preaching-notes.

[ii] Ibid. 
[iii] Ibid. 
[iv] Ibid.  

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