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Monday, December 8, 2014

The Word Became Flesh By Mike Powers

The Word Became Flesh
By Mike Powers
Sermon delivered December 7, 2014
Vespers Service, Edgewater

Scripture John 1: 1-5, 10-18 (NSRV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John [the Baptist] testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

When most people think about the Christmas story in the Bible, the natural inclination is to turn to the gospel of Luke with its story of Mary giving birth to Jesus in a manger or the gospel of Matthew and his account of the three magi.  The Apostle John’s account is quite succinct—just one verse really:    And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”(John 1:14)  That’s it—no shepherds, no star in the east, no angels singing.  Not much material for a Christmas play here.  But we soon realize there is a lot of meaning contained in just a few words. 
This gospel describes Jesus as “the Word” who is both with God and is God.  I think it is useful to know that “the Word” is the English translation that most biblical scholars use to translate the original Greek text which used the term “Logos”.  The Encyclopaedia Britannica, (we remember that, right?) defines “Logos” in Greek philosophy and theology to be “the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning.”  
When the Apostle John refers to Jesus as “Logos” or “the Word”, he is describing Him as the divine God which governs the entire universe.  On Christmas we celebrate the fact that the Word became incarnate and lived among us as a human.
The Bible shows that Jesus was in fact human and felt real pain and emotion. Jesus cried at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35).  Jesus wept when he contemplated the impending fate of his enemies the rebellious Jews who would soon crucify Him but would later be overrun by the Romans (Luke 19:41).  Jesus wept for Himself (Hebrews 5:7) as He contemplated the horror of His impending gruesome death.  The night before His death Jesus prayed “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
I would often think, why was it necessary for God, who is all powerful, to become flesh and undergo the pain and extreme sacrifice which Jesus endured?  Some Christians will immediately answer that Jesus sacrificed His life in order to redeem our sins and make salvation and eternal life available to us.  And that is true.
But why did God make us imperfect in the first place and since He did, couldn’t He just forgive us without going through the horrendous experience of Jesus’ death on the cross?
Certainly God has the ability at any time to make perfect beings which would never sin and thus not require saving.  However, when He made us humans he did not make puppets on a string or obedient robots.  He gave us souls and conscious minds with the gift of the ability to think and make choices.  In other words, He gave us life.  And naturally, not all of our choices are good ones.  Sometimes we hurt ourselves or someone else which means that others can also hurt us.
So God put us here with our free will and we immediately disappointed Him through our choices.   God could have fixed that simply by taking away our ability to make decisions or at least bad ones.  He could have programmed us to do exactly the right thing all the time.  We could be like the talking machines you see at Disney World—very lifelike but without a conscience or a soul.
So God took a different approach.  Why?  Think about John 3:16.  16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
God didn’t turn us into puppets or robots, he loves us so much that he wants us to both live the right way AND maintain our humanness with the power and responsibility of choice and consciousness.  That is why the Word became flesh and lived among us.  He became one of us to set an example of how to live a life expressing love for both God and our neighbor.  He showed what it truly means to humble oneself and to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of others.  He showed us how to forgive as He was dying on the cross saying, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)

The late Paul Harvey would tell the following story on his radio show every year at noon on Christmas Day. Perhaps you remember this.
“Now the man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men, but he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story about God coming to earth as a man.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you”, he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas eve”, he said he’d feel like a hypocrite, that he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. So he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later, he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another. And then another; sort of a thump or a thud. At first, he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly, he put on a coat and goulashes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn.
He opened the doors wide and turned on a light. But the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow making a trail to the yellow lighted, wide open door to the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried “shooing” them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction except into the warm lighted barn.
Then he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could let them know that they can trust me. That I’m not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led, or “shooed” because they feared him.
“If only I could be a bird”, he thought to himself “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm ----------
(Sudden recognition)
---- to the safe warm barn, but I would have to be one of them so they could see and hear, and understand.”
At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. He stood there listening to the bells, Adeste Fidelis. Listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Like the birds we need to stop flying into windows and pursuing false goals.  Our Savior came into this world as one of us.  The Word became flesh to show us the Way.  We just need to follow Him into the barn.   

Friday, November 7, 2014

All Saints' Day Sermon by Mike Powers, at Edgewater Retirement Community

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[w] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Sermon by Mike Powers
Delivered at Vespers Service at Edgewater Retirement Community November 2, 2014

November is a month of remembrance and thankfulness. Early Christians had a tradition of gathering to honor fallen martyrs on the anniversary of their deaths but under Roman persecution the deaths became so numerous they decided to pick one day and honor all of the fallen at once. That day was yesterday, November 1 and is known as All Saints Day. In the United Methodist Church on that day we remember Christians of every time and place, honoring those who lived faithfully and shared their faith with us.

Today, November 2 is known as All Souls Day in the Catholic Church and several other Christian denominations. In Mexico today is known as “La Dia de la Muerte” or the “Day of the Dead”. On this day, all who are deceased are remembered with a particular focus on honoring relatives who have passed away.

November 11 is Veterans Day or Armistice Day in many parts of the world. Here we honor the brave people who sacrificed so much so that we can live in a society with the many freedoms with which we are blessed. At the end of this month in this country we celebrate Thanksgiving. A day when we gather to give thanks for the many blessings that God has bestowed upon us.

As we take note of these special days, it is good that we remember the people who came before us and be thankful that they allowed God to work through them to make it possible for us to enjoy a better life today. But it is probably even more important that beyond being thankful for them that we learn the lessons that they teach us.

I picked the verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans for today’s reading for a special reason. A man was sorting through a trunk in an attic that contained his uncle’s possessions. That uncle had been killed in World War I and the trunk contained artifacts from the uncle’s time in the army. Inside the trunk the nephew found a Bible that his uncle had carried with him during the war. The nephew noticed that the Bible was well worn and it was obvious that his uncle had read this Bible frequently. The nephew then noticed that his uncle had underlined in pencil the passage included in our reading in which Paul was quoting from the 44th Psalm. “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

So let’s stop and think about that. Think about the horror that the uncle was called to endure during the trench warfare of World War I and the reason that this verse resonated with him. Death was all around him and he would soon pay the ultimate price himself. He viewed himself as a sheep about to be slaughtered.

But then the nephew noticed that his uncle had double underlined in pencil the verse that shortly followed: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Many people believe that the eighth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans is a summation of his Christian beliefs and this sentence really captures the central tenet of Paul’s faith. That is no matter what we are facing here on this earth, no matter how horrible it might be, nothing can separate us from the eternal love of God. That belief is where the uncle, who was surrounded by death and would soon die himself, had drawn his comfort.

We are not capable of understanding why we are called upon to endure the struggles that we face. Nobody here on earth knows why bad things happen to good people.

I think you know that because of his faith, Paul faced more than his fair share of pain and suffering throughout his life. Consider this list of the difficulties which he recounts in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27

24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;[e] 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.

Several years after he wrote this, Paul died the death of a martyr being crucified in Rome. So why did God call on such a faithful servant as Paul to go through all of these hardships? Maybe Pauls’ way of courageously facing all of these horrible things may have been a way of demonstrating the strength of his faith to others inducing them to follow him in embracing Christ and finding salvation. Perhaps the way that we face our own difficulties will inspire those who follow us to lead a better life. We need to trust and submit to God’s will and know that whatever we are called upon to endure in this life is nothing compared to the everlasting joy of God’s eternal love that is to come.

The uncle with the Bible and the Apostle Paul both faced life threatening situations and both ultimately gave their lives. These two people—one a true saint of the church and the other an ordinary man called upon to fight in a war, both endured hardship. Both drew strength from the knowledge that no matter what they were facing here on earth, they knew it was part of God’s plan and that what is really important and what will last an infinitely longer than the limited amount of time spent here on earth is the embrace of the love of Jesus Christ. That lasts forever. Our time here on earth is nothing compared to that.

There is a beautiful passage from 1 Peter 1:24-25 that I want to share with you.

“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

I acknowledge that the struggles that many of us may be facing here today-- be they significant medical issues, broken relationships with friends and family, financial issues or other things may seem daunting and insoluble.

I am not here to diminish them and I applaud all who struggle for the courage they have in facing their own personal challenges. If you are in this situation, draw strength from God’s eternal love as it provides help and hope which cannot be taken away. Let’s listen to Paul’s words again.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul wrote these words after enduring many of the challenges that he had to face. The uncle double underscored these words while struggling through the ongoing horror of war. These two men—one a saint and the other an ordinary person placed their faith completely in God’s love.

Life on earth is temporary—a flash in the pan. God’s love is forever. That is the shelter that I seek and I hope you do the same. That is what we should honor and remember in November and throughout the rest of the year as well.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Celebrating Our 60th Anniversary

On Sunday, September 21 we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the move of West Des Moines United Methodist to it's current site at 8th and Grand Ave.  The following is the prayer that was given by Mike Powers to commemorate the day.

Dear Lord

Sixty years ago, our predecessors stood on this site after completing their march up the hill.  Their march took them from a location where they had worshipped you and lived as good servants of Your will.  But they also knew that to enable the church to grow and spread the good news of your Word that a sacrifice was called for on their part.  That sacrifice was manifested not only in their selfless contributions of time and money but also a willingness to take a risk and embrace change for the benefit of those to follow them.   

We are the beneficiaries of the sacrifices that they made.  Today we honor the legacy which we have inherited from them and others who have come before us. 
We thank you Lord for inspiring the work of your servants in the past which not only allows us to enjoy this beautiful church but has also propelled our mission to change lives in your Name.

We pray that just as the sacrifices that our predecessors made have benefited us, let us be willing to make sacrifices to help other people whether they be in need of food, shelter, clothing, education, medical care or compassion.

We place our trust in you Lord that you may enable us to remember and honor our heritage but at the same time maintain our focus on the future and be open to looking for new ways in which to carry forward the Good News of Your Word.

Thank you Lord for this beautiful church and all of the blessings you have bestowed upon us. We realize a church is more than just a building.  The real essence of a church is the spirit of the people who gather in your Name to worship together, to pray together, to have fun together and to grow together.  Lord give us the collective wisdom to ascertain how we can best move forward together and use the gifts we have received to benefit those who will follow us.  By doing so we will truly honor You and those who have come before us.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Selfishness to Servanthood

Someone once said that the two most significant days in a person's life are the day that they are born and the day that they discover why.  

Discovering our personal why may come easily to some; for others only after much soul searching and perhaps trial and error.  For the unfortunate, it may never be uncovered.  Without knowing why we are here, it is difficult to know the how and what of life.  It is neither too early nor too late for each of us to answer this question for ourselves.

As we sort through the process of figuring it out, we should be mindful of being influenced by the cultural values of the society in which we live.  American culture is one that is very competitive and in any competitive environment there is a natural desire to want to win—to be the best.  Nothing wrong with making the most of the talents that God has given us but we need to be thoughtful as to how we define success.

What is a successful life?  Is it the accumulation of personal wealth and honors?  Is it wrong to be selfish and look out for #1?    After all, hasn’t our country been successful because everyone is incented to take care of themselves?   

In today’s reading, Matthew 20:20-28, it is clear that Jesus does not encourage us to seek to place ourselves ahead of others.  To recap the story, the mother of the apostles James and John approached Jesus with a request.  Their mom's request was a big one--that Jesus grant her sons the privilege of sitting by his right and left side in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Although their mom started the conversation, both James and John seemed on-board with the request which was essentially to place themselves in a position of honor ahead of everyone else in the Kingdom of Heaven.  That was certainly the way the rest of the Apostles interpreted it as they became quite upset when they learned what was going on. 

Jesus used this as a teaching moment and told the Apostles “…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.”  He cited Himself as an example having come to this world not to be served but to serve--serving to the point of sacrificing His life for the benefit of all mankind.

This isn’t the only time that Jesus makes this point.  At the Last Supper he demonstrated his servitude to His followers by washing their feet. 

So why is Servanthood important to Jesus?  Is this a way that He sees for each of us to undergo suffering as a means of punishment for our sins—a soul cleansing penance?  Or is it to function as some kind of test, similar to that endured by Job, to measure the level of our faith? 

I don’t see either of those as being the reason.  While Servanthood may involve sacrifice, it is not punishment, it is not humiliation and it is not an obligation imposed upon us by God for no reason other than to test our faith.  Servanthood does not mean that we need to minimize our sense of self-worth.  Jesus did not think less of Himself because He chose to act in Servanthood for all of mankind.  Servanthood does not mean that we must think less of ourselves.  It means thinking of ourselves less.  There is a big difference.   

I think one reason that Jesus set the example of Servanthood for us to follow is that the outward focus of a servant is far more capable of positively impacting the world around us than someone with an inwardly pointed self-centered frame of mind.  In thinking about the “why” question, we need to ask ourselves if we want to be remembered for how we sought to triumph over our fellow humans or instead, how we tried to put others before us and make our world a little more like heaven.  The good news is that Servanthood is an effective way of making positive changes in the world around us. 

Jesus placed himself in a position of servitude to the Apostles and then empowered them to go forth into the world to serve others and spread His Word.  Using some modern terminology, the Apostles took the gift of Jesus’ servitude and paid it forward.  That process has continued to repeat itself for almost 2000 years and now there are over 2 billion followers today.  It is our responsibility to continue to pay it forward by serving others and spreading the Word for the benefit of those who will follow us.

The greatest achievements that our country has accomplished are a result of individuals placing the good of the country ahead of their own personal interest.  The most vivid examples of this are the millions of our fellow countrymen who have sacrificed their lives to advance the cause of our freedom and self-determination.

Conversely, you can look at our country’s history to see what happens when self-interest overwhelms looking out for the common good.  Arguably, unrestrained greed by so many parties is one of the primary causes of the great recession that came upon us a few years back and from which we are still today trying to shake off the effects.  

In business, over the past forty or so years, our most progressive companies have adopted some element of the philosophy of servant leadership where management seeks to provide support and empower the workforce to develop solutions to business issues in a collaborative fashion.  By helping the employees succeed, the companies as a whole succeed.

The most successful missions of our own church take place when we set aside our own self-interest and seek to work together to serve others.  A great example of this is taking place right now at the State Fair.  Volunteers at our food stand are called upon to work very hard for long hours in often-times challenging weather.  They make this sacrifice for various reasons—to support the continuation of a long-standing tradition, to provide financial resources for the church to use to help people, or to take the opportunity to demonstrate to the patrons of the stand that our congregation does care about people.  Whatever, the reason, the volunteers are placing others ahead of themselves and that is what has allowed that mission to thrive for 65 years.

Here is what you might think of as an odd analogy but it is the way my mind works and I think will illustrate the difference between selfishness and servitude.  In astronomy, a black hole is a mass of incredible density that has a tremendous gravitational field that pulls in all nearby matter which can never escape.  As a consequence of this, a black hole emits no light and is a destructive force to things around it.  Like a black hole, we can choose to act selfishly and draw everything inward to ourselves.  Through selfishness, always taking and never giving.  In doings so, like a black hole, we will emit no light by which others can see and grow. 

Alternatively, we can act like the sun and serve all in our surroundings by projecting out life-giving light and energy.   Selfishness is an inward focused self-contained existence which will drain the environment of all positive energy and is ultimately a dead-end.   Servanthood is focused outward and makes possible growth on the part of the world beyond ourselves.

Servanthood is also the right way to treat people.  Acting as a servant to others is what it means to live the golden rule.  It is the essence of treating others as we would want to be treated.  Servanthood is an act of love.

One thing that we do know is that Jesus thought that love was pretty important.  When the Pharisee lawyer asked Him what the most important commandment was, Jesus told him:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)

So let’s think about that.  Jesus didn’t just say that it is good to love God and love others or even that it was important to love.  He said that ALL of the Law and the Prophets hang on loving God and loving our neighbors.  In other words, love is THE foundational core principle that God has given us to govern how we live our lives. 

There are numbers of other virtues that God could have chosen as a foundational principle—righteousness, courage, justice, freedom, or honor to name a few.  But God has decided that we should build our lives on love.  There is a stunning level of poetic beauty in that don’t you think?
The Apostle Paul gives us a clue in his letter to the Romans as to how Jesus expects us to love each other.  Paul told the Romans (Romans 12:9-13)

 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

What Paul is telling us is to love God and one another means to place their needs above our own.  In other words-- to serve them.
I think most of us recognize that a good servant will seek to help satisfy another’s physical need if they are sick or hungry or homeless.  But sometimes being a good servant calls for paying attention to needs that are more intangible such as being there for them through the emotional peaks and valleys of life—rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn.

An old Swedish proverb says: “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.”  I think most people would agree with that.   Whenever we receive good news our first inclination is to tell somebody else about it.  Likewise, when bad news strikes, it is comforting to have the support of others.  Think about why we have weddings and funerals.  The need to share both our highs and our lows with others is ingrained in us by God as human nature.  Being there for others in good times and bad is an act of Servanthood..

To wrap up, Servanthood is not about lowering ourselves; it is about lifting up others.  Servanthood is not a punishment.  It is an opportunity.  It is an opportunity to impact the world in a positive way while fully living the principles that Jesus taught us—to love our God and to love our neighbor.  As such, let us seek out these opportunities to put the needs of others above our own. 
•    Let’s serve others and reject the allure of selfishness.
•    Let’s serve others to alleviate their physical needs by sharing our resources.
•    Let’s serve others to heighten their exhilaration by celebrating their joys.
•    Let’s serve others to lessen their pain by comforting them in illness and grieving their losses.
•    Let’s serve others and help the downtrodden recover their sense of self-worth. 
•    Let’s serve others and seek to radiate out our positive energy setting off a chain reaction of good things which will benefit an ever-widening circle at home, at work, in our church, in our community and beyond.
•    Let’s serve others to help them find the road to eternal salvation by setting an example of what it means to live out the principles that Jesus taught.
If we do these things, we will have used our time here on earth to make it a better place.  That sounds like a pretty good why to me.  Amen

Mike Powers

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Only the Best Resources

Listen here:

Believe it or not, I was a child who was on the receiving end of a good amount of discipline, if you've talked to my mother, I'm sure she’s mentioned it. Truth be told my claim to fame is throwing 3 hour temper tantrums, which was usually the result or cause of a good amount of discipline. The traditional timeouts, groundings, privileges being taken away and some more creative options such as cold showers and soap in the mouth. As a mother myself now, discipline is a tricky thing. We know it's necessary for all of us, but no one likes it and I don't know many people who feel like they do it well or without unintended harm. But like it or not we know that discipline makes us better people, we know that under the best circumstances it's done out of love and genuine concern for the other person in the long run. In the scripture for today Paul is telling the Hebrews that discipline is a part of life, they know it from their own lives, but he invites them to consider the hardships of life in a new way, not as something God is doing to punish them, but as a means of growing and becoming more like Christ.
Will you pray with me? God as we listen for your voice this morning, we pray that you open our hearts and our minds, that you help remove distractions and worries, that in this time you would teach us, comfort us, challenge us and give us your grace and peace. In Jesus name, Amen.
We're in the middle of a sermon series called Spiritual Makeover and we've been talking about this spiritual makeover and making a connection to the physical makeover that we hope to do with in the Friendship Room. A couple weeks ago we talked about the real goal of the Friendship Room makeover, which is to create a welcoming, inviting space for those not yet here. And so today I really want to be clear about the goal of our own spiritual makeovers.
Now when we think about what a spiritual makeover really is, we can think of lots of different things we can do differently: coming to church more, praying every day, being nicer to people we work with, giving more money to charity. All these kinds of things might be what a spiritual makeover might look like for you. But for our purposes today, as we try to understand this as a community, we really have to define the broader goal of a spiritual makeover.  And I'm here to tell you that this is nothing new, as Christians we are constantly in the process of a spiritual makeover with the goal being: be more like Christ! Seems pretty obvious right? If we were to be totally made over spiritually, we would be like Jesus.
Now I'm going to throw out a big word to make myself look smart, but my confirmation kids should know this one too. The word is sanctification. Sanctification is the fancy word for becoming holy, becoming more like Christ. John Wesley who's the founder of Methodism was a big fan of sanctification; he firmly believed that sanctification is God's plan for us, that sanctification is the way that God fulfills God's promises to us. And I think Wesley really understands sanctification in the very best way because he not only talks about it as a way to be holy or more like Christ, but the way for us to be whole, and I’d add it’s the way that we become fully human, the way God created us to be. Sanctification is the path to our holiness and our wholeness.
So, now that we have a pretty good idea of what we're trying to do with our own spiritual makeovers, how do we go about that? I'm betting you all could make a list of things you could do to be a better Christian, I thought about making a list this week for you all and frankly it was depressing so I didn't. It's depressing and overwhelming and not very encouraging, right? It’s like saying, “Here are all the ways you're failing at being a human being, congratulations, now fix it.” Now take comfort in the fact that we all could make a list like that, you're not alone. But God does not want to leave us there. Which is why God has given us resources, I want to talk about 3 of them today, the BEST resources for our spiritual makeover, the BEST resources for becoming more holy and whole. Now these resources come out of our tradition as Christians, these are things that those who have gone before us have practiced and trusted in their journey of faith.
As I've mentioned, I think John Wesley totally gets sanctification and one of the most helpful things that he emphasizes is the role of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the #1 best resource that God gives us to help us become more like Christ. The way that John Wesley talked about it is called sanctifying grace, the grace that God freely gives us that works in us to make us more like Christ. And this is the #1 resource because it's not about anything that we do. Remember that list we just talked about? It probably involved a bunch of things that you would have to DO something about. Get yourself out of bed and go to church more often, pray every day, give money to charity, say and do nice things to people at work. But sanctifying grace is not about you doing something to be more like Christ, it's about the Holy Spirit working in and through you so that your heart is more like Christ's. I'm here to tell you that you can force yourself to sit in a pew every Sunday or be nice to that person at work through clenched teeth, and I trust that through those God can work to change your heart, but it's still not about your actions. Your actions might be more Christ-like, but your heart won't be different, you won't be more whole. As Methodists we understand grace in 3 different ways, which is a whole other sermon series, but the definition I like to use for grace in these three ways is: “the Holy Spirit enabling us to believe, love and serve God.” The Holy Spirit enabling us to believe, love and serve God. The Holy Spirit does the work in us that enables us to be more like Christ, to trust God more and to take bigger risks. The Holy Spirit gives us the power, the strength, the heart to be more like Christ. One of my favorite things that I learned in seminary is the role of the Holy Spirit. So so many times I know people who are so concerned about how do we change people? How do we save people? (although I strongly dislike that terminology) How do we convince people that Jesus is the way? And what I learned that’s not my job. That’s not your job. THAT, my friend’s is the Holy Spirit’s job. Don’t go trying to do the Holy Spirit’s job. Our job is to love people, to care for people, to share our faith with people, to change our communities, SO THAT the Holy Spirit can do her job. The best resources we have as Christians to make ourselves over spiritually, or to be more like Christ, to be whole, is the Holy Spirit. We open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, we invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives and we tune ourselves in to what the Holy Spirit is doing around us.
But then of course, it’d be helpful to know how do we connect with the Holy Spirit? How do we best connect to what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives and the lives of others and the life of our community? Well I’m glad you asked! This also could be an entire sermon series, but it’s worth getting the shortened version. The second best resource that we have for our spiritual makeover is the spiritual disciplines. Going back to the scripture for today, this isn’t the type of discipline that I think that Paul was talking about, but it has the same effect. These are ways that we grow in our faith, that we learn and practice how to be more like Christ and where we open ourselves up to what the Holy Spirit is doing. Towards the end of the passage, Paul says this about why all this discipline stuff: “in order that we might share in God’s holiness” and so that “no one fails to obtain the grace of God”. That’s the point of disciplines.  
So many of you are probably familiar with spiritual disciplines, these are those things that Christians who have gone before us have practice and come to believe that they work. Here’s a short list, there are plenty of others: prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, service, worship, Sabbath, spiritual friendship and I would add bearing hardships like the scripture talks about today. These are all things that we can actively do to become more like Christ and open ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit. While I don’t want you to forget that #1 resources, I want to be clear that there ARE things that you can DO and should do. But not for the sake of crossing them off your list or for impressing others, but for the sake of giving the Holy Spirit a chance to do her job.
The last couple of trimesters I’ve led a LifeGroup that tries different prayer practices. It’s not about becoming experts at any of them, or event liking all of them, but it is about trying new things, new ways to connect with God. And both times that I’ve led this group, every single week I’m honestly kind of surprised that God very clearly shows up, that people experience change and growth just because they’re opening themselves up to the possibility. The truth is that many of you probably have more spiritual practices than you realize. Fishing or running or gardening or cooking. These all can be spiritual disciplines when we use them to help open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, not only so that we can be holy, but so that the Holy Spirit can bring healing and peace and direction so that we might be more whole. So I encourage you to find at least 1 spiritual discipline to practice. Try it for a month, see what happens, try another one. It is a dynamic process, one where we have to keep moving and growing and being changed.
And the last resource that I want to talk about is community, because we weren’t designed to do this alone. We’re a very individualistic society and so often we have this idea that our spirituality is really just between me and God, that we can become like Jesus on our own. The problem is that Jesus wasn’t on his own either. The Bible is based in community, it’s always been God’s people, not God’s individual persons. Jesus modeled the importance of community with the guys that he surrounded himself with, community is the way we do life together.
Community is important for us as Christians and as people who are undertaking a spiritual makeover because it tells us who we are, it helps us understand what we believe and why we believe it, it gives us a place to ask questions and express doubt, it provides care and comfort when life is inevitably difficult, it keeps us on the right track and it widens and deepens our understanding of God and the kingdom of God. We are more whole when we are in community. Just like the scripture that talks about the body of Christ like a human body, we are more complete when we are a part of a community, a body.
My prayer LifeGroup would have been a whole lot different if it had been a take-home course. If I had given out the instruction sheets to everyone and told them to go practice them, I imagine that maybe 2 of us would have actually done it. I wouldn’t have been one of them. But ask anyone in that group, the impact and the power of what God was already doing in our lives was amplified because we were doing it in community. Because we practiced together, because we shared our experiences, because we helped each other interpret and understand what God might be saying to us, because we prayed for each other. We needed each other, the experience would not have been the same if one of those people hadn’t been there.
We have LifeGroups at this church because we believe that community is important and that LifeGroups give us the opportunity to do life together. Not just Sunday morning, not just Bible studies, but running together, gardening together, even texting each other. These are all ways that God works through the Holy Spirit in and through and among us, to make us more holy and whole. Our summer LifeGroups are about to start so I again encourage you to find one, find a way to connect in a new way to this community and to God.
A spiritual makeover isn’t something that we undertake once, or only while we’re doing a sermon series on it. This is the journey of the followers of Jesus, so remember that God has already provided the best resources for you: the Holy Spirit, spiritual disciplines and community. But more than that, that God is in this with you and that God has been, is and will be in the process of making you more holy and more whole. Amen.
Pastor Jen Hibben