Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Sky - Dominion & Exploitation" from "Season of Creation," Sermon, September 16, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Season of Creation: Sky – Dominion & Exploitation”
Rev. Andrew Davis
September 16, 2018
Psalm 19

            When I look at the words of our Psalm this morning, the tune “the Heavens are telling, the glory of God” by the classical composer, Franz Joseph Haydn immediately come to mind.  I did ask about the choir singing it this morning, although that’s one piece that requires some extensive rehearsal, considering the choir only began rehearsing a few weeks ago.  Nevertheless, we will have the choir back next Sunday and it will be nice to hear their voices once again.  When it comes to Psalm 19 and music, even Beethoven and Handel have used this psalm in choral settings, which goes to show the power of word and song, the same way I get a sense of awe by just looking at the vastness of the sky. 
            Last week, we began our series, “Season of Creation” and began with talking about good beginnings, as we reflected on Genesis 1 and part of Song of Songs, then looked at the mountains and how they are a place of protection when we reflected on Psalm 125.  With all of God’s creation and the season of creation, we get a reminder that each of us has a responsibility to care for and to continue being good stewards of our environment, landscape, waterways, plants, and animals all around us as we reflect on God’s creations, but particularly the non-human creations, in this case the animals, physical landscape, waterways, trees, etc..  
            As we heard in our Psalm this morning that Anna read for us, we hear about the praises of the sky and how the sky and heavens proclaim God’s glory.  When we look up at the sky, we see many things…birds, clouds, the sun, sometimes thunder and lightning, and at night, we see the many, many stars around us, especially when we go to a dark, remote place that isn’t polluted with light.  Plus, we do see the human creations, such as different aircraft, which reminds me of how fascinating aviation and flight are too.   Like the mountains we talked about last week, we can feel and see God’s presence in the skies, as the skies are infinite and can feel God’s presence in the wind, which reminds me of ruach, or spirit or breath of God.  Across the globe, the sky is something that is common no matter where you go, as the sky is something that binds ALL of us together in God’s creation.[i]  In a re-reading of the first six verses of Psalm 19 from The Message, I absolutely love this perspective of the sky:
1-2 God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
  God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
    Professor Night lectures each evening.
3-4 Their words aren’t heard,
            their voices aren’t recorded,
But their silence fills the earth:
    unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
4-5 God makes a huge dome
            for the sun—a superdome!
The morning sun’s a new husband
    leaping from his honeymoon bed,
The daybreaking sun an athlete
    racing to the tape.
That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies
            from sunrise to sunset,
Melting ice, scorching deserts,
    warming hearts to faith.

            I remember earlier this year being asked by a youth about knowing God how is present and my response was to take a look around us; but especially look up at the sky when we see the sun, moon, stars, clouds, or the sunset.  Or, take a look at other parts of creation.  Just being in and looking around God’s creations, especially the sky is one of the ways how God is revealed to us.  While The Message’s translation of Psalm 19 reads a little bit like last week’s reading from Song of Songs because of its sensual imagery, the sky has its own quality in God’s creation.  In verses 6-8 of Genesis 1, God called the dome that separated the waters the sky, which in the account of Genesis, took place on the second day.  When we think more about it, the sky is God’s dominion of the earth, in which dominion in this case means sovereignty, or the place in which God dwells.  Even with the words dominion and exploitation that are today’s theme in the season of creation, some negative connotations may arise at hearing them because they talk about power, yet it’s how power is used.  For example,
The word dominion often has connotations of power and “lording” it over something of lesser power. Interestingly, in Genesis 1, God exercises dominion over creation and gives humanity dominion. Our dominion should reflect God’s nature and character because we are made in the image of God. We have been given the privilege, dignity, and responsibility of stewarding God’s creation…[ii]

            Even in the case of the word ‘exploitation,’ exploitation in the case of creation can “be defined as ‘use or utilization.’”[iii] If we look at exploitation as utilization and use, God intended humankind to utilize the landscape, the plants, and animals for basic needs such as clothing, food, companionship, or shelter.  However, as time has gone on, the word exploitation has changed to how things are used, more so for profit, which is where those negative connotations arise.  Even today, we see exploitation of many of our resources to the point where we may not have some of our resources left, as things may not have always been utilized to how God originally intended them.    When we utilize the sky, I don’t really believe that there is a firm way that we as humans have any dominion over the sky at all given how vast and unending it is, except maybe when we fly our aircraft through the sky, although aircraft are still small compared to the great, unfathomable vastness of the sky.  
To explain how the sky is God’s dominion and dwelling place, scholar Diana Butler Bass explains in her book, Grounded: Finding God in the World, a Spiritual Revolution that
God is in heaven; God inhabits the sky.  It is an ancient and universal answer, so ancient and universal that we do not know when or where human beings first articulated it.  And it may well be the first answer that people know in their own lives – learned in Sunday School or taught by parents or heard on the wind.[iv]

            I know growing up, even before regularly attending church or Sunday school that I learned from various family member that God inhabits the sky and looking down on us or have heart God referred to as “the person in the sky.”  Yet, that is where I can see God the most clearly, particularly when I see the moon or stars at night, given how brilliant the stars are.  When I see the vastness of the stars stretching out over like our hymn of praise calls, ‘the spangled heavens,’ there is no way we humans can have complete dominion over the sky or the heavens, unlike the other creations God gives humankind dominion of.  Diana Butler Bass further explains that in our experience as humans with the sky,
The sky is not static.  The firmament is not fixed.  Instead, a dynamic sphere of activity surrounds.  Sometimes we pay attention to it and sometimes not.  To say that God is in the sky is not to imply that God lives in a certain address above the earth.  Instead, it is an invitation to consider God’s presence at both reaches to the stars and wafts through our lives as a spiritual breeze.[v]

            Just like last week when I mentioned how small we are compared to the mountains around us, we are even smaller when it comes to the sky, something that we may never be able to comprehend when it comes to how vast the sky is.   And it’s a main reason why only God has dominion of the sky, which contains the clouds that produce water through the rain, provides us light by the sun and moon, and provides the air that we breathe.  It’s all part of how God is revealed to us in the sky, how God has dominion through the vastness of the sky, and how God utilizes the sky to give us water, light, and air. 
            As we spend some time in reflection this week and perhaps step outside to look at the sky (just don’t look directly at the sun), how often do we pay attention to the sky and how often are we taking time to enjoy God’s creation and observing what God does when we look at the sky?[vi] As God gives us dominion over creation, how are we, who are created in God’s image, practicing good stewardship with God’s creation? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say Amen!!

[i] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 13 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Sept18_Season-of-Creation-Series.pdf.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid. 
[iv] Diana Butler Bass, Grounded: Finding God in the Spiritual World, a Spiritual Revolution (New York: Harper One, 2015), 99. 
[v] Butler Bass, 103. 

[vi] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 13 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Sept18_Season-of-Creation-Series.pdf.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Planting & Mountain Sunday: "Good Beginnings, Protection, and Care" - Sermon, September 9, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Good Beginnings, Protection, & Care” from Season of Creation
Rev. Andrew Davis
September 9, 2018
Song of Songs 2: 8-13
Psalm 125

        Here we are, one week into the Fall season now that Labor Day has come and gone, ending one season and beginning a new season.  As I’ve walked through the neighborhood here down Jackson Street this past week, I see beginnings of Fall around us, as trees are starting to display a few red or gold leaves and feel it with the cooler nights.  It’s not going to be long before the American Valley is awash in brilliant reds, oranges, and golds, one of the many things I love about Fall. 
            As we get back into the rhythm of life here in the church after the slower pace of summer, we begin a new series, the “Season of Creation.” What is the “Season of Creation” all about?
The Season of Creation is an ecumenical observance during the month of September begun by a Lutheran pastor in Australia in 2000 and expanded and spread worldwide with the support of the Uniting Church in Australia beginning in 2004. The idea was to create a season, a period of at least four weeks, leading up to the observance of St. Francis Day, October 4, a time often observed with a blessing of the animals.[i]

            Throughout our series, we will talk about God’s creation, particularly non-human creations which include the mountains, trees and fruit, sky, then the animals.  Likewise, we can think about how
in a day when the fruits of creation are often exploited and so much chaos pervades the world in which we live, it is imperative for us to take a moment to pause and breathe in the same Ruach (Spirit of God) that was at work in the beginning of creation. God is still at work! Do we see it in the world around us?[ii]

            Where do we see God at work around us?  I don’t think we have to look too far considering where we live.  Whenever I drive along Indian Creek on the way to Lake Almanor, or up that steep, winding road up to Bucks Lake, I see God’s creation at work. 
Or whenever I take a walk along the trail and road beyond Gansner Park near the old county cemetery, there is an area along Spanish Creek where I can see our church in the distance at the foot of Claremont Ridge, I am always blown away at how small we are compared to the mountains and sky.  Even as I look at the trees around us, the many wildflowers in their blues, reds, purples, pinks, and yellows, I think about the seeds that were planted long ago, either through the wind or by the birds who ate those seeds and let nature do its work.  If we look in Genesis 1, it says that ‘in the beginning God created the earth…’ and all other creations that followed were called good, or in the case of humankind, very good.  It was a good beginning indeed. 
            As we look at the text of Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as it’s also known as, we have a very sensual text that is quite vivid, comparing the attributes of creation to those of a person the narrator deeply loves.  When we see the sensual nature of Song of songs, theology professor Elaine James explains that Song of Songs can be seen as “an allegory about God’s love, or it is erotic poetry about human love.”[iii] Now, I don’t want to get to scandalous here, but Song of Songs can also be seen as “love of the land,” which I think is how such a passage can be seen in the context of creation and the good beginnings of God’s non-human creations.[iv] God’s love of the land is seen in the animals and plants, as the imagery of the lover the narrator uses includes plants and animals, such as gazelles, ravens, doves, water, and lilies to name a few as
the author was intimately connected to God’s creation and paid attention. The author found joy in the observation and experience. In this Scripture, there is an invitation to go outdoors. From the inside, the woman is observing her lover. He comes to her, but he doesn’t invite himself into her world. He invites her outside to witness the new life that happens in spring. They use their bodies to experience God’s creation through their physicality and their senses.[v]

            Whenever you step outside, take a really good look around you during each season.  What do you see in God’s creation?  What joy do you experience?  What new things might you witness in God’s creation, not just in Spring, but all throughout the year?  For my sabbath day on Friday, I decided to get outdoors, something I haven’t done enough of this year.  One of my favorite places is the Mill Creek Trail along Bucks Lake, and while I didn’t hike as far as I wanted to, it was nice to sit for a while in the midst of the trees as the wind rustled through them, listening to the birds, and the sound of the water lapping against the growing shoreline as the lake level continues to drop.  To me, it was very meditative and a place I experience being closest with God, thinking back to the beginning of time how this creation was good, yet how we can continue to maintain and take care of God’s creation.
For many of our schoolchildren here, they get many experiences to step outside and learn about the landscape, plants, animals, and nature thanks to Rob Wade and the outdoor education program our schools here in town have.  Our text invites us to really look at the landscape around us, to protect, and care for it too.  While our school children and many of us get this experience of the landscape around us, Professor Elaine James explains that
People are losing knowledge of landscapes. This is a well-known phenomenon, and it is happening faster in wealthier, western nations than anywhere else in the world.1 Children are no longer able to identify native animals and plants, a kind of knowledge that was once taken for granted. We do not know the world around us. Perhaps the most alarming consequence of this is also the most basic: if we do not know the natural world, we will neither enjoy it nor protect it. With this loss come other losses, including widespread species extinction. The ramifications of such losses are not yet known.[vi]

Hence why we need to have a sense of urgency in how we care for our Earth and the landscape around us.  Perhaps it’s time we plant new seeds and see how our landscape is much like the lovers in Song of Songs, renewing our love and passion of caring for this wonderful creation of God, always remembering that ‘in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...’ (Gen. 1) 
            The same goes for the mountains around us too.  As we see in Psalm 125, there is an imagery of the mountains and ascending the mountains.  Just like in Jerusalem in the Psalm, we are surrounded by mountains here in the American Valley.  As we look all throughout the Bible, we can see mountain imagery in many of the different texts.  If we look closely at some of the mountains throughout the Bible,
Mount Ararat is the mountain where Noah and the Ark landed after the flood. This is where Noah saw the rainbow of God’s promise. This is the mountain where the people came off the ark and praised God. It is the mountain where God made a covenant never to destroy the earth again. God provided Abraham a sacrifice instead of his son on a mountain (Moriah). God, as a burning bush, called Moses to free God's people from slavery on a mountain (Horeb). God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on a mountain (Sinai). God gave Moses a glimpse of the Promised Land on a mountain (Pisgah). It was on a mountain (Carmel) that the great prophet Elijah proved to the people that his God is the one true God. Jesus was led into the wilderness to fast for forty days; then was led up to a mountain (known as the Mount of Temptation), where he demonstrated how to resist temptation. It was on a mountain (possibly Mount Hermon, the highest in the area) that Jesus was transfigured and showed the glory of God to some of his disciples. When Jesus was struggling with the task before him, he went to a mountain (Olives) to pray…And, in Revelation, The Lamb of God stands on a mountain (Zion) and shows us the ultimate destination for those who are faithful. It could be said that mountains serve as a bridge or a halfway point between heaven and earth, where God meets and does business with humanity.[vii]

            Mountains play a significant role in my faith journey too.  While growing up, a trip to the mountains was always a highlight, whether it was for a day of fishing, or just relaxing, the mountains were a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the heat and smog of the Sacramento Valley.  At my first national convocation of the FUMMWA in Colorado Springs in 2011, the theme that year was ‘Journey to the Mountain’ and during that time, one of the morning meditations talked about how mountains can be a world of beauty, of protection, yet a world of danger too.  Little did I know from that time of hearing God’s call to ministry after one vocational door was closed, did I think that five years later I would be living in the mountains.  Just as we see a world of beauty around us, there is some danger too.  As we saw last year during our scare with the Minerva Fire and the fires near Oakland Camp, and as fires continue burning in other parts of the state, there is the threat of wildfire, or when they are enveloped in fog, can be a hindrance to pilots and aircraft.  Yet the mountains can be a place of protection, kind of how they are for us in our valley, as storms seem to bypass their way around us. 
            Whether we see the mountains as a world of beauty or danger, we have a responsibility to protect our mountains and care for the resources around it, as our mountains are home to numerous trees, wildlife, birds, plants, streams, etc..  As we have seen in the news before, harmful illegal activities such as marijuana crops run by cartels have been spotted; in other mountain ranges, the tops of mountains back east are blown apart for coal mining which disrupts the natural order.  Aside from harming the natural ecosystem and with toxins that run off into the streams and waterways from the illegal grows or blasting from coal mining, one consequence will be that “if we lose these places where God can do business with us, then we become more and more disconnected from God.”[viii] It’s why we need to protect and care for our resources, as we don’t want things to wind up like Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, where all resources are wiped out because of failing to protect and care for the resources we once had. 
            So, as we begin this new season of Fall, stewardship often comes to mind and instead of preaching all about the stewardship of money so much, let’s allow this month’s series to focus on how we can be better stewards of our land and environment.  As we begin this fall season and think about protection and care, how are we best caring for the land, trees, mountains, and sky that God has created?  Or like in Song of Songs, how are we loving our creator and creation, along with loving our neighbors?  What will you see when you step outside next time? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church Say Amen!! 

[i] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 5 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Sept18_Season-of-Creation-Series.pdf.

[ii] Ibid. 

[iii] "Commentary On Song Of Solomon 2:8-13 By Elaine James". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed September 6 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3760.

[iv] Ibid. 

[v] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 5 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Sept18_Season-of-Creation-Series.pdf.

[vi] "Commentary On Song Of Solomon 2:8-13 By Elaine James". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed September 6 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3760.

[vii] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 5 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Sept18_Season-of-Creation-Series.pdf.

[viii] Ibid. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

"Just Do It!" - Sermon, Sermon from September 2, 2018

Americana Bluegrass Festival, Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds
“Just Do It!”
Rev. Andrew Davis, Community UMC, Quincy
September 2, 2018
James 1: 17-27

            Being a child of the media and into pop culture, one of the more endearing slogans of our time that I can remember is Nike’s “Just Do It!” Although I haven’t seen Nike’s slogan as much in print, on television, the internet, or radio lately, the words of “Just Do It!” were a call to go out and do our best in everything we do.  Go out and do your best whether you’re climbing a mountain, running a race or marathon, riding your bike, even playing music, writing a novel, and so on and so forth.  Just do, and be your best!! 
When I was working in the concessions at Raley Field and then in my nine years at Raley’s, self-confidence was not always my strongest gift, yet I would get this reminder quite frequently from friends or family to just do it…just do your best, even though it may not always be the best in others’ minds.  Well when it comes to matters of faith and how we live and act as followers of Christ, how are we doing our best in God’s eyes?  How are we speaking with?  How are we acting?  And how are we being doers of God’s word and not just hearers? 
            Our text from James this morning is not exactly the easiest text to work with.  Then again, as I tell my congregation, Jesus never said the way would be easy, so it’s fitting that we have a text from the early Christian church from James that is giving us moral advice on how to live, or to go out and just do it, not just merely hearing the word.  So, what is James saying in order to live more holy, to live as a Christian?  As we see in our text, James is encouraging Christians in the early church to give generously; listen more carefully, not speaking too soon; being slow to anger, and showing a sense of humility.  While James was instructing the early church to act in such a way, we too can act in such ways today, some nearly two thousand years later. 
            As I read the text, I’m reminded of the Spiritual, “Lord, I want to be a Christian, in’a my heart…” then the verse, “Lord, I want to be more Holy, in’a my heart…” James’ epistle is encouraging us to live more holy in our hearts by not just listening to God’s word, but by rolling up our sleeves and putting that faith into action.  Although it’s from another epistle, last week in the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians in our worship series the UMC, “in Love,” we were encouraged to move in love by letting our actions speak louder than our words.  We can show and tell the love of God and neighbor all we want, but it’s through our actions that people will know us, just like the song “they will know we are Christians by our love” and will hopefully see that we are Christians by our love.  People want to see people of faith being generous in their time and service; listening empathetically and non-judgmentally, which means we are slow to speak; and not letting our anger getting the best of us, as we see enough anger and hostility in our world today as it is each time we read the newspaper, turn on the tv, or scroll through our social media newsfeeds. 
            To get another perspective on our text, I would like to read for you another version of James 1: 19-27, this time from The Message, which I find helpful in understanding the epistles a little better:
19-21 Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.
22-24 Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.
25 But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.
26-27 Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world (James 1: 19-27, MSG).

            I believe that the works that James talks about here is more like what John Wesley, founder of Methodism calls ‘works of mercy,’ which in this particular translation says to “reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight.” Or as it says in other translations, those works of mercy include taking care of the widow and orphan, although could include the sick, or the imprisoned.  In his sermon, “Justification by Faith,” John Wesley talks about how our works should be done with love by saying, “all our works should be done in charity, in love, in that love to God which produces love to all [humankind].  But none of our works can be done in this love while the love of [God] is not in us.”[i]
            In order for our actions to speak louder than our words and to be doers of the word, we need to have the love of God in our hearts, just as God loves each and every one of us who is gathered here this morning.  We might not exactly live perfectly and God may still be working on us; we may be quick to speak, quick to anger, while some of us may be dealing with things within our control and out of our control, yet God loves us anyway and still calls us into action and to be doers of the word.  One example of being doers of the word that comes to mind is a friend and colleague of mine in Denver, CO, Rev. Jerry Herships and his church, AfterHours Denver.  AfterHours Denver puts their faith into action each week when they serve Holy Communion to the homeless and anyone else who wishes to partake at City Center Park by sharing the love of God with everyone they encounter.  One of the things that Jerry tells each person during Holy Communion when he hands them a piece of bread that “this is a reminder of much God loves you” and has had some powerful responses, because some of those who partake of Communion have been convinced to believe that they don’t deserve God’s love.[ii]  Jerry points out in his book, Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus that he has seen God’s love in action through people we would least expect, including the homeless.[iii]
Yet Jerry’s church is not your ordinary church, as they meet in a bar each Monday and many are people who are searching for God’s word to be put into action.  The people of AfterHours spend a good portion of their gathering time each Monday evening making sack lunches for the homeless, while engaging in conversation around God’s word.  Although AfterHours is not a church you would ordinarily find, being doers of the word by their feeding the hungry and sharing a word of hope with the homeless, the lonely, the impoverished, drug addicts, prostitutes, and the like is a strong value for them because being doers of the word means showing the love of God and neighbor with everyone they encounter. 
            Even here in our own community in Quincy, we have ways to be doers, not just hearers of the word.  Starting with us, it takes each of us listening to each other, listening to our neighbors, sometimes even having to take a long look at ourselves in the mirror when we have been quick to anger or quick to judge.  We have ways of putting our hands to work by feeding the hungry by helping with the weekly community supper on Wednesday, by volunteering with CAN or other social service organizations in our town, in our schools.  Just do it!!  But regardless of what we do, let us have the same love of God and neighbor in our hearts when we are doers of the word, because there are people around us who need to not just hear, but to see how God’s love is in action through each of our own actions.  However, it does take a change of heart and allowing God to enter into our hearts and transform our lives for the better.
            As we enjoy the rest of this Labor Day weekend and as summer gives way to the shorter and cooler days of Fall, how are you putting your faith into action?  How are you sharing a message of hope and God’s love not just through your words, but through your actions?  As we prepare our hearts for the sacrament of Holy Communion, we have this opportunity to come to the table of love, grace, and hope, and we have the opportunity to be nourished, so that our bodies and our hands can go out and do God’s work.  So, don’t just hear the word today…go out and show God’s love in everything you do.  Just do it!!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!!   

[i] John Wesley, “Justification by Faith” in John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, 111-121, ed. Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 117. 
[ii] Jerry Herships, Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 152
[iii] Ibid., 141-145

Sunday, August 26, 2018

"Move...in Love" - Sermon, August 26, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Move…in Love”
Rev. Andrew Davis
August 26, 2018
Ephesians 6: 10-20

            It is GOOD to be back with you this morning.  These last two weeks, I have literally been on the move from driving to Sacramento, then flying to San Diego, doing a lot of walking in San Diego, flying back to Sacramento, driving back to Quincy for a brief minute, then to Lake Tahoe this past week.  Talk about being on the move!!  Yet amidst the busy-ness of these past two weeks, my mind has been moved too, as I have learned a great deal at the School of Congregational Development and look forward to sharing more with the lay leadership of our church.  Of course, there was a lot I was challenged to think about, especially this last week at Residence-in-Ministry at the Zephyr Point Retreat Center with fellow residents seeking ordination as deacon or elder in the UMC and CA-NV Conference, as we focused on theology and heard some deep, thought-provoking lectures from Dr. Carmichael Peters from Chapman University.  But now, it’s time to be back in the saddle and ready for things to really move in the church as we begin ramping things up for Fall. 
            As the new school year has begun here in Quincy and as we are preparing to begin a new year of Fall programs and small groups, we have this opportunity to move in love as we conclude our series, “…in Love” this morning.  Throughout our series, we have been working through parts of chapters 4-6 of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and what it means to build each other up, live together, and give thanks in love.  Like Paul’s other letters, following the greeting and prayer to the communities he’s addressing, Paul spends chapters 4-6 of Ephesians giving practical advice and admonishments to the church in Ephesus, which includes building up, living, and giving thanks in love, with love being the common thread.  This all culminates with a call to action to move, as Paul talks about putting on the armor of God in this morning’s lesson before concluding with a benediction. 
            Our lesson this morning follows some of Paul’s reinforcement of the Roman household codes that aren’t included in this morning’s reading, yet following the codes, Paul calls the Ephesians and us to action.  Now, I’ll be honest that this is one of those passages that I am not entirely comfortable with, as there is a lot of militaristic and battle language in it, as it is a form of Apocalyptic literature in addressing the cosmic forces of good and evil, something Paul’s letters do contain.  One reason for the urgency and the in-your-face nature of Paul’s letters is that there was an expectation at that time that Christ would return at any day or time, what is known in stained-glass-language as the parousia.  So, it comes as no surprise that Paul is using such imagery, as “Christ has triumphed over powers at work in the present age [and that] his exultation provides the energy at work in believers and in the ministry of the imprisoned apostle,” as Paul is writing Ephesians while in prison.[i] 
            In light of the work and energy that Paul is prescribing to the Ephesians, Paul calls the Ephesians and each of us today to move, to change our hearts, to transform our lives, as even today as back then, we are being called as “Christians to [build up] the body of Christ until all attain maturity [and] the fullness of Christ.”[ii] At the same time, moving in love may feel like a race or battle at times, especially between good and evil.  I know in his letter to the Philippians, Paul uses the analogy of the race, while here at the end of Ephesians, he talks about battles ahead when it comes to reckoning with the forces of evil and wickedness in the world, something we are called to renounce in our baptismal vows (UMH 33-34). 
            While I might be a little uncomfortable with the battle imagery and militaristic language that Paul is using in this morning’s text and given the amount of psychological and physical violence we see a lot of in the world today, we will always have opportunities to renounce the forces of evil and wickedness in the world as we move in love, even if it involves a battle, whether it’s external or internal.  One way of re-thinking the armor of God is to see the items that Paul has named as tools we will need in order to move in love and away from wickedness and evil.  Rev. Geoffrey C. Moore explains that when it comes to such battle imagery, we “need to read critically against the historical structures, culture, and language of the Roman Empire,” which the early church was often at odds with until the emperor Constantine’s conversion during the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, similar to Paul’s own conversion on Damascus Road in the Book of Acts.[iii]  Geoffrey Moore goes on to explain that when it comes to the armor of God imagery,
The whole armor of God is put on in this case for protection as in [anger, wrath, and bitterness that we read a couple weeks ago], but rather [its now] for good communication!  Almost every time the armor is geared toward communication: truth, righteousness (right relationship), proclamation, faith (kerygma), word, the whole metaphor of armor is inverted.  Instead of something that is designed to protect the bearer, the armor of God is something that is designed to engage with the one s/he encounters. In fact, the gospel of peace (v. 15) draws on Isaiah 52: 7, in which the one who bears the gospel of peace is a messenger.[iv]

            Communication is highly important when we move in love, as are the words we use and the manner in which we speak, whether it’s one-on-one or in a group setting.  As I’ve sung before, there’s that little song of “be careful little lips what you speak,” or as we are in the social media word, “be careful little fingers what you type/tweet/post.” When we think of the armor of God in an inverted sense towards communication instead of battle, are we striving for truth, right relationships, and faithfulness in what we proclaim and in the words we speak and through our actions?  Are we using our words and actions to build up the body of Christ, live, give thanks, and move in love with each other and throughout the community and world?  How are we using such armor/tools today?
            To look at another perspective of our lesson this morning, I’d like to share verses 13-18 from The Message:
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (Eph. 6: 13-18)

            Paul is saying that our actions are just as important as  our words, while saying that we cannot go this journey of faith alone either, although we have these very tools that Paul has named for us and can still apply them today.  God’s word can be a very powerful tool in renouncing the forces of evil and wickedness in its own right, but be very careful in how you use God’s word, because God’s word and the Bible have been used as a weapon to bring harm to people too, something we do see happen today!!   Instead, let’s use God’s word to move in love and be messengers of peace.  Make sure that when we do put on the armor of God, that it is for good, or like John Wesley’s general rules say, to do no harm, do good, and to stay in love with God.  Likewise, “it is important to remember that we have already been reminded that Christ, the one, true Word of God, is love.  We must also speak the truth in love, and for any one who claims to ‘know’ the only true path, the love of Christ surpasses knowledge.”[v]
So as we build up the body of Christ, live, give thanks, and move in love, it is with the love of God and neighbor, watching over each other in love, speaking the truth in love, and trusting in Christ, the one whose love “surpasses knowledge” that moves us in love.[vi] In The Faith We Sing, on page 2219 is a song with a text attributed to Archbishop Desmond Tutu called “Goodness is Stronger than Evil.”  When I think about putting on the armor of God and using these tools God gives us to renounce the powers of wickedness and evil, I want to share this text that “goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is ours through him who loved us.” We may feel like the world around us today is a constant battle, but let us let the Christ in each of us out and the Christ outside of us in as we move about to do good over evil, to love instead of hate, to live abundantly and bring hope to everyone we meet.  We may not see eye to eye in everything, but we can certainly stand side by side when we choose to build each other and build up the body of Christ, live, give thanks, and move in love.  As Paul concludes in verses 18-19, “don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all…” (Eph. 6: 18-19, MSG).  Let that be our call to action this week as we use these tools God has given us to go out into the world to proclaim with courage God’s love to everyone we meet and encounter, so that they will always know we are Christians by our love.  How are you going to move in love this week and beyond through your speech, actions, and prayers? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!! 

[i] Pheme Perkins “The Letter to the Ephesians” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 458. 
[ii] Ibid., 360

[iii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed August 25 2018. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/august-2018-post-pentecost-worship-planning-series/august-26-fourteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b/fourteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-2018-preaching-notes.

[iv] Ibid. 
[v] Ministries, Discipleship.  2018.  “Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost 2018…”
[vi] Ibid. 

"Sky - Dominion & Exploitation" from "Season of Creation," Sermon, September 16, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy “Season of Creation: Sky – Dominion & Exploitation” Rev. Andrew Davis September 16, 2018 Psalm 19   ...