Sermon: Christ’s career as a home-wrecker

As a Christian, the problems of society can be overwhelming. Children are being separated from their families at the border. War is devastating regions around the world.  White supremacists are staking claim to our country.

Jesus says we cannot solve any of these problems without getting to the root of the issue: evil. Jesus tells us that the world is in need of salvation and the medicine of God is the only thing that can heal humanity.

That doesn’t mean we should sit and wait for change. The Holy Spirit gives us the power  of God to help heal the world. But are we ready to accept this huge responsibility? We have to come to the place in our lives where we have to have the humility to change the place that we live, our life situation, and be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

“Christ’s career as a home-wrecker”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 3: 20-35
June 10, 2018

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 3

by Erin Barger

Romans 8:26-7: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

As 7-year-old boys are prone to do, our firstborn son, Lazarus, brightened my day with a flower. As a flower is prone to do, days later with no access to its root system, this little friend shriveled and lost its luster. It was more than nearly dead. Lazarus was a bit distraught, realizing that a gift he intended so earnestly, was no longer a sufficient gift in his view. So, I did what any scrappy mama would do. After he left for school I, the steward of the garden, replaced the dying flower with a living substitute. It was my joy to do the thing I could do, as the gardener, which was out of his grasp.

This option occurred to me because of our Sunday reflection of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Our prayer lives can suffer for so many reasons. They might be lacking in adoration, bearing the weight of self — being more focused on what we can get versus the praise we might give and the people we might therefore become. It is here, in our struggles to speak to God, that we open a door to the cares of the world. As fleeting as they may be, they offer just the distraction we prefer, though we know it is at the throne of grace that our deepest darkness is resolved.

Yet, rather than sitting quietly with the deep fear, the convulsing grief and the terrifying questions … rather than go to the garden for a new flower, we go to the sewer instead. And we may even wonder, as we stare at waste and refuse, why we feel less than fulfilled. Perhaps we waste time on sewage (insert your favorite meaningless and sometimes harmful distraction here) because we fear that nothing we have to say is something God wants to hear.

Then the Holy Spirit enters. God’s own Spirit intercedes … making the dead come to life, the self-serving gaze turn outward. The plea may begin in desperation but ends in adoration … eventually, when seeing the flower (and the sewage) for what they are. In Isaiah 59, one of my favorite passages, God looks down at the lack of justice, and his people, moaning “sadly like doves … [while] justice is turned back and righteousness stands afar off.” And what does He do?

Isaiah tells us that, “His own arm brought salvation.” Regarding God’s sufficiency, we often turn our thoughts first to the great Redeemer, brother and Savior Jesus, the Son of Man. But immediately relevant and required is God’s own Holy Spirit, whispering the words in our ear (or maybe rather translating our words into God’s ear) in a way that guarantees our connection. While Jesus mediates and covers us with his life and its sacrifice, the Spirit changes us into a flower that is not only smells sweet to our Creator … it actually begins to resemble God himself.

And guess what, friends? As Lazarus’ mama, even — no, especially — his dead flower was beautiful to me…made all the more because of his desire to love me and bring me joy. As any mother or father figure can attest — the desire, the attempt, was enough.

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, come …. cover my voice with your song, a resonant combination of power and grace. God, my offering is lacking. Your righteousness and justice worked our solution and salvation and for this we give you praise.  God, when my offering of prayer is shriveled and wasting away, and I see no path to you, thank you for sharing your Holy Spirit to comfort, convict and guide. According to your will, hear the cries of my heart that are even hidden from my understanding. As you know me better than I know myself, cover me with your Spirit and give me the courage to step aside, making room for the sweetness that only you bring.”

Sermon: Of Doubts, Dovetails, and Discipleship

Like the disciples when Jesus gave them The Great Commission, we find ourselves caught between doubt and faith.  But the great thing about Matthew 28 is that we see that it’s OK to have doubt.

It’s impossible to fully understand God, but we can continue to have faith and trust in God, because God fully understands us. We can go out into the world, just like the disciples, and do the work of God not because have absolute understanding, but because we have absolute trust in God.

Sermon

“Of Doubts, Dovetails, and Discipleship”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 28: 16-20
June 11, 2017 • First Sunday After Pentecost

Sermon: Conditions Necessary and Insufficient

Today is Pentecost, which marks the coming of the Holy Spirit unto the disciples, empowering them to spread the word of God across nations.

Although we celebrate Pentecost every year, many of us feel like we have few – if any – “Pentecostal moments” — that inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In order for these moments to happen, Luke tells us that we need to have some things in place.

First of all, to be a church we need to come together — not when it’s convenient, not when we feel like waking up, not when we don’t have a soccer game — but every Sunday as a church. If you want to be in the life of the Spirit, you have to be together with God’s people.

Secondly we need diversity. The church is a group of people, gathered across cultures and across time. Inherent in the story of Pentecost is how the Holy Spirit empowered disciples to speak in languages to communicate with all people.

Lastly, we need unity. That can be difficult to come by, and without diversity, we can develop a sense of false unity. However, the truth of Pentecost is that we are working toward a day when God will sweep across our diversity and turn in into true unity.

Sermon

Listen to Oconee Street UMC Choir perform The Word in Song, “Be Filled With The Spirit.”

“Conditions Necessary and Insufficient”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 2: 1-21
June 4, 2017 • Pentecost Sunday

Sermon: Our work must be inspired by God

hands-1222866_960_720Although we may work for justice, our service needs to be inspired by something bigger or else we will falter. If you don’t have a vision of what God is doing in the world, you can’t wake up every morning and go work in the soup kitchen, because one day it will finally wear you out.

Jesus wants us not to just see the miracles he performed, but to understand the significance of them — the purpose of God to bring salvation, healing and restoration to the world. We must attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit to see what Jesus saw, and to hear what he heard.

Sermon

“Do You See What I See?”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 11:2-11
Dec. 11, 2016

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, Feb. 24

By Steve Williams

1Samuel 4-10: 4
Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Sometimes, it takes a long time for us to recognize and respond to God’s word. Fortunately, God is persistent. In the spring of 1999, I was completing my 22nd year as an attorney and partner in a Philadelphia law firm. I had not intended to stay so long; I had always had an itch to be a teacher. But the years had gone by, I had enjoyed the work I was doing, and I had gotten comfortable in my place. The itch was still there, but I scratched it by teaching Sunday School and coaching high school hockey.

​Then, one Sunday morning, my pastor gave a sermon that unsettled my comfortable place. I don’t recall his precise words, but I remember feeling as if he was speaking directly to me. What he was saying was that I needed to rethink my priorities and plans. Still, I hesitated. I was almost 51 years old, too late to start over and too uncertain that I could make a difference.

A few weeks later, on April 20, 1999, two senior students at Columbine High School in Colorado opened fire with automatic weapons they had brought to school that day, killing 12 students and one teacher before turning the gun on themselves. As I watched the news reports that evening in shock and disbelief, I felt a chill go through my body. Then, and this is the only way I know how to describe it, the words came into my head, “You should be there.” And I knew instantly, without giving it any thought, what that meant. Not that I should be in Columbine, but that I should be in a school, somewhere.

​While I was not quite like Peter and Andrew, who being called by Jesus “immediately left their nets and followed him”, I did set my course that day on a different path that in due time led me to Athens and a thirteen year career in teaching. I did so with the certain feeling that God would be with me on the journey. Through my experiences, I have come to believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, does indeed speak to us in many and varied ways if we choose to listen.

Prayer: Open our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds, O God, that we may hear your voice and do your will. Amen.