By Don Sheffel, Lay Servant.
This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
In 1980, I joined the United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, CA and made a dear friend of the senior Minister John Corson. John suggested that I read a book written by a very senior English Methodist minister Leslie Weatherhead entitled the Christian Agnostic. His words are never far from my spirit and I would like to read a few of his thoughts to you. “ I live now near the sea. My garden is a hundred and fifty yards from the beach. I can see the sea from this desk at which I write, and in the deep midnight I can hear its ceaseless music as I lie in bed. I have only to walk down to the shore and get a beaker full of water and have it chemically analyzed to know the nature of the vast Atlantic of which it is a part.. But what can a beaker of sea water tell me about what goes on in the vast silent depths of the ocean, or of the majestic, terrifying storms which sweep across it or it’s incredible power? Jesus, if one may be allowed so to express the matter reverently, was a vessel full of God. Any man, to the extent to which he is good, reveals the nature of God. Christ tells me so much about the nature of God as I need to know or am capable of knowing. But because he remains man, he cannot tell me everything about the activities of God, nor could I receive it if he could.
Jesus, if one may so put it, contained as much of God as can be poured into a man without disrupting his humanity and making him a monstrosity, but because he maintained his unbroken humanity I cannot, even from him, learn all I should like to know about God’s activities. There are limitations in human nature, however glorified by the Divine, as there are limitations in a beaker when one seeks to explore all of the secrets of the Atlantic. But I know the sea is salt even from the contents of a homely vessel and I know that God is love even by contemplating the man Christ Jesus. Added to the limitations of Christ, because of his humanity, are the limitations of the receiving human brain when finite man seeks to follow the activities of the Infinite God, and the creature seeks to comprehend the Creator.
I am sure we can only recommend Christianity to the thoughtful men of today by a restatement which admits a large degree of agnosticism, eliminates magic, dispenses with imposed authority, and abolishes, from our conception of God, horror and cruelty which would degrade a man, let alone God. Such a restatement should not put up creedal walls, let alone allow them to exclude loving souls who seek to follow Christ. He never demanded from anyone support for theological propositions, but told us to love God and our fellows and to react in all crises in the spirit which animated him and which still calls forth our worship and adoration. Micah calls us with these words, “ What God is looking for in men and women; it’s quite simple. Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. Don’t take yourselves too seriously—take God seriously.”
In Corinthians Paul is quoted as saying, “If I speak with eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “jump”, and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always, “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of he sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when God arrives, our incompleteness will be canceled.
We don’t see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t belong before the weather clears and sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as He knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
Consider a new Gospel of a new Spirituality entitled, “We are All One. Ours is not a better way, ours is merely another way.” This can be a kind of spirituality that gives people back to themselves, to think their own highest thoughts about themselves and to announce it. Do not let a moment go by in which you have an opportunity to tell some one how magnificent they are. Do not let an opportunity pass in which you may offer praise. Give people the gift of self-esteem, and you will have given them a gift that many cannot find a way to give themselves. To change people's behavior, change people’s ideas about themselves. To change people's ideas about themselves, change their beliefs about Life and about God. If you believe that you are One with God, that you walk in step with the Divine, how, then will you behave? You are an angel, an angel for whom someone is waiting today.
Join me in journeying with the Spirit. We are the Spirit’s hands and feet, the Spirit’s muscle and voice. Nothing in this world or any world to come can separate us from the love that is God. God’s love is unconditional and universal, we can not “earn” it nor lose it. We can rejoice in his Love, this is the Good News!
Is there More? is the title of a small book containing only 77 pages in which Dr. Leslie Weatherhead expands his concepts that the physical body wears out and can no longer be a home for our spirit. That the spirit existed before our birth and exists after our bodies die is an understanding that the spirit exists separate from the body. Eternal life is a quality and not just a quantity of communion with God that begins now; the offer of eternal life begins now!
Life of the spirit and love are eternal. Live fully, Love wastefully, Be all that you can be.
Bishop John Shelby Song contemplated this question posed in Jobe. If a man dies, will he live again? He mentally wrestled with this question for at least 5 yrs; as he said that he knew a great deal about life as he was more than three score and ten and had been a pulpit minister for twenty years and a bishop for twenty five years. He knew a great deal about death as he had sat with his parishioners and his first wife in their final moments. But he said he knew precious little about life after death. He studied the subject extensively, prayed about it and arrived at a new understanding; seeing God as part of the universal consciousness in which we all share. We are part of what God is and we are at one with all that God is. We are part of all that exists past, present and future. We are finite, but we share in infinity. We are mortal but we share in immortality. We are beings but we share in being itself. Eternity is within us. Love is eternal and we are held in the love of family, friends and acquaintances.
Spong's answer to Job's question, "if a person dies, will they live again?" is YES, YES, YES!!!
Yes, there is MORE!
Remember--God Loves you, embraces you, forgives you and there is nothing that you can do about it. God is Love!
By Reverend Kristina Russell, Associate Minister
Good morning! Happy Birthday to you! Today is the birthday of the church, the holy and wholly exciting day of Pentecost. It is one of my favorite days in the church calendar. In my former church in Elk Grove we always wore fire colors on Pentecost (red, orange, yellow etc.) and were invited all year round to blurt out WooHoo every time the word Pentecost was uttered! On the actual Sunday we had a “birthday party” for the church complete with cake and balloons.
Let’s talk a little about Pentecost and the amazing story in today’s reading. Pentecost, in the time of Acts was one of the holidays Jews celebrated every year. They still celebrate the holiday as the giving of the Torah. The word Pentecost actually means 50, or 50 days after Passover on which day fell the festival of the first fruits or Shavuot according to the Jewish Encyclopedia.
So let’s have a quick recap of the events in today’s passage. I’m indebted to a wonderful article in Huffpost for some of my facts today.
The end of the gospel of Luke and the beginning of Acts is a primer on birthing a church. Here the disciples and Jesus’ family process the life, death, resurrection and ascension of their master and what their lives would look like without him. Towards the end of his ministry Jesus promised that he would send his spirit, the comforter to aid his friends in focusing those lives. These disciples and many other Jews from around the Mediterranean world have gathered in Jerusalem for this feast of Pentecost. They are all in one place when a loud wind is heard and the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, descends upon them with tongues of fire over each one. Then something amazing happens. As the disciples share the good news with a zeal they had not previously had, everyone in attendance hears it in their own language. This is a diverse crowd from around the known world with different languages and cultures and suddenly the Holy Spirit makes them one. They are suddenly a family of believers despite their differences.
Today we will be welcoming some folks into Evergreen’s family. What a lovely day to welcome you into the family, the birthday of the church. Soon we are going to reaffirm what was said the first time we encountered the Holy Spirit, at our Baptism. We are going to promise to take the high watch for each other and promote our individual spiritual journeys. We are going to welcome new friends, new family, new preachers.
This is what Pentecost has done. The promised comforter came to diverse people to make them one in love. God shouts hallelujah at what can be done with our diversity. The Spirit makes us family and makes preachers of us all. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a firm believer in the ministry of believers. So all of you today are celebrating your entry into ministry as preachers of good news and love to each other and to the world.
Lastly the two evidences of the Spirit that special day were tongues of fire and a rushing wind. You can see the flame in the symbol of the Methodist church, the cross and the flame. The flame is not there for decoration, it is a prayer to be led by the spirit. To share the breath and fire of God across the world. When we join a congregation or affirm someone else joining we are apostles of that fire and wind. We are particles on the breath of God that come together to coalesce into Christian Unity. Pentecost reminds us who and what we are and whose we are. We are preachers of the Good news, we are transmitters of the Holy Spirit, we are sharers of the breath of God. Fire and Wind are a powerful combination. In the wrong hands fire and wind can cause disaster but when manifested as God’s Holy Spirit they are healing and unifying. The fire purifies and the wind refreshes and we are made new every single day in the fellowship of love. So happy birthday to you! Happy renewal of your baptism and to our new members, welcome to the family! Amen
By Gordon Barbosa, Lay Leader
Based on 1 John 5:1-6 & John 15:9-17
When God freed the Israelites from slavery the people soon began to assimilate the practices of the Egyptians in the ways that they worshiped – forgetting about their Abrahamic covenant that they had with God. Keep in mind that they had been captives for about ten generations, around 400 years.
Though scripture tells us that God was leading them, dwelling in their midst, the people continued to make images to worship, to look for God on holy mountains or at sacred springs.
Later on, the temple becomes for many the place where God dwells. I don’t know about you, but I think this is true for most of us, I like to organize my surroundings and my thoughts, so I think we have an inclination to limit God to one place, one location – maybe even to one nation, one people, one creed.
Our nation is a “Christian” nation and therefore God must be with us. We are Christians and therefore we are God’s people, not those other religions. We follow the Nicene Creed and if you don’t, you are doing it wrong! The problem with this view is we end up trying to corral God and put him a box – not realizing we’re actually putting ourselves in the box.
Writer Susan Palo Cherwien says an ancient definition of God says that “God is an intelligible circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” We can try all we want to compartmentalize or limit God, but God is limitless!
Our Gospel reading from John 15 deserves repeating. “Love one another; abide in my love.”
In preparing for today’s message, I looked at what others had to say about today’s gospel reading. Emily Askew, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky, reminds us what it meant to be a friend of Jesus. She says, “Being a friend of Jesus’ is neither a subjective state nor a disinterested glance. Love is radical action, and friendship is getting out into the world to “bear fruit” (v. 4), and “bearing fruit” in this first-century context is dangerous business—it can get you kicked out of the synagogue, persecuted, and even killed.”
Askew goes on to say that we can assume that God’s love takes the form of what we want it to be, what we have come to call “love” in the present, but in reality “God’s love is that which creates something new, restores what has been broken, completes what is unfinished, heals what has been hurt, and gives itself to the point of death.”
So, we abide in Christ’s love with our response of gratitude to God through our actions of love toward others.
Lindsay P. Armstrong, Executive Director, New Church Development, Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, writes that, “…friendship is a primary setting in which we love one another and grow in the skills needed to refresh the world with our way of life.
As workers log longer hours, as people relocate, and as technology changes the contours of relationships, friendship is often among the first things to be sacrificed. There are lonely people who live with feelings of failure when it comes to friendship. Others do not grasp what they are missing.”
Armstrong goes on to say, “Into this reality, John 15:12–17 places friendship at the center of what it means to live faithfully. Jesus calls us friends and not servants. He states that he chose us, not the other way around. Jesus then instructs that, as his friends, we are appointed to go and bear lasting fruit, blessing the world.
As he lay down his life for his friends, this is what Jesus asked us to give our attention to: growing resplendent in the love and goodness of God; able to astound others with our Christ-centered way of life; loving others as we have been loved.”
Robert M. Brearley, Pastor at St. Simons Presbyterian Church, St. Simons Island, Georgia, says, “Other Gospels will invite us to love strangers, enemies, and foreigners, but John takes up the challenge of loving those near at hand, perhaps in the pew right beside us. Sometimes it is the most difficult task to love those we have known the longest in life and in church. Someone once remarked that when we get angry, we do not get hysterical, we get historical! The closeness of the community of faith is intended to be a blessing, but the proximity over time can be difficult.”
Brearley continues writing, “I’m scared when I look at myself. That’s why I’m here—because I’ve heard there is a better way. I’ve heard that some take Christ seriously. … Could I talk to you about it? Would you laugh to think successful me needs you? Or would you be compassionate because you know I’m scared? Maybe you’ll be the one to tell me. Or are you just another person in the pew that I’ll never know?
The command of Christ is to love one another in the church. It is not the easiest command, and it is not the easiest mission field. For John’s Gospel, it matters the most. They out there will know us by our love in here.”
The Greek’s had multiple words to describe different kinds or levels of love. The word that John uses here is “agape”. The Gospel of Mark never uses it; Matthew and Luke use agape once. John uses the noun seven times, mostly in chapters 13-15. In 1 John, he uses the word agape 18 times. Agape is an intentional love that expects nothing in return – it is unconditional. It is where God and Christ abide. This is the kind of love God wants us to have for one another. Now, you may be thinking, “I don’t know how to love unconditionally.”
Did you ever make a Mobius strip when you were in school? Start by holding the two ends together, then give one a half-twist, then hold the two ends together with one hand to form the loop.
Now, our minds tell us we have two sides and two edges. One side may represent our love for God and the other side God’s love for us. But if you take a finger and trace it along one side of the strip without lifting your finger, you eventually end up back where you began. See the Mobius strip is one continuous side.
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
Friends, there is one love, one continually divine love that flows from God to Christ to the community (that’s you and me) and from the community back to Christ and God and back again. There is one loving presence in the universe, in Christ, in us. God is love.
Remember at Christmas services when we light the candles at the end? First the Christ candle enters the dark space as a single flame. As the other candles are lit from it, its light is not depleted: Each candle flame is the same, and the light spreads through the space until the room is full of light.
Selfless love is a sign of the indwelling God.
Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin believed that the natural movement of God’s creation is to move toward becoming Christ – or Christ-like – and that every act of our lives has the potential of moving the world toward Christ’s reign. All of our smallest acts, lived out of love, have the potential of helping God’s kingdom come.
Agape love is an intimate love. The vulnerability of it can be challenging, and frightening. But Christ is the true Vine and if we are his branches we must abide in him and love one another and this world that God so loves.
So go into the world, with hope and grace, with courage and love, to confront the pain and grief that hold so many hostage. Go forth as people of God to share the good news! Amen.
Diana Hunter is our Senior Pastor;