Sermon: “More Precious Than Gold”

peter-heals-1024x626.jpgSometimes it’s difficult to believe what’s in the Bible. In Acts 3:1-16, Luke tells us the story of how Peter healed a man “lame from birth” simply by telling him, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up an walk.”

In 2017, with our scientific and medical knowledge, how are we supposed to believe that this actually happened. And if it is that easy to heal people, why aren’t Christian churches around the world doing similar acts?

Although we find it difficult to believe this story word-for-word, we can all point to a time in our own life where we believe a miracle occurred. Whether it was surviving a disastrous accident, having a loved one overcome a debilitating sickness or witnessing an act that doesn’t seem humanely possible, we have all been filled with the Holy Spirit and something we can only describe as the work of God.

That’s what Luke was aiming for in Acts 3:1-16. We’re called, like Luke to be witnesses of God’s work. Like Peter, we’re called to be share experiences of God that do not fit scientific logic.

Sermon

“More Precious Than Gold”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Acts 3: 1-16
June 18, 2017

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 10

by Joe Dennis
March 10, 2015

2 Peter 3-10: His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.

Everyone had a Nintendo, except me. My parents thought the Commodore 128 we had was sufficient enough for video games, but they were wrong. I couldn’t play Super Mario Brothers, Blades of Steel or Punch Out on a Commodore. In my bedtime prayers every night, my 9-year-old self would include a request for a Nintendo. But after several unanswered prayers, I asked my dad why God wasn’t listening. He told me this story:

A man prayed every day to God that he would win the lottery. Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year, the man made the same daily request. But he never won. After the man died in his old age, he went to heaven and saw God.
“God, how come you never answered my prayers?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” asked God.
“Every single day for the past several years I prayed that I would win the lottery. But I never won,” he said.
“Son,” God said. “You never bought a lottery ticket.”

I understood what my dad was saying. So I continued praying and picked up some extra chores around the house, and volunteered to do chores around my aunt’s home. And I still prayed. After a few months, I had a lot of money saved up, but not nearly enough for a Nintendo. But God answered my prayers, as my parents – seeing the effort I put in to achieve my goal – agreed to pick up the difference so I could finally get my prize.

Of course, 2 Peter 3-10 is not about video game systems or lottery tickets. But it is about the effort we willingly put into our life. God has empowered us with “everything needed for life and godliness,” but the impetus is on us to “make every effort to support (our) faith.”

It’s easy to question God when we see injustice in the world. We may pray that God will thwart the injustice and overcome evil, and when the injustice persists we question God. But we really need to question ourselves. We prayed and prayed, but did we buy that lottery ticket? Did we do anything to help change the situation? Did we “make every effort to support our faith”? Or did we just pray, and continue on our lives in the same fashion, leaving the entire responsibility in God’s hands?

Prayer: God, thank you for giving me everything needed for life and godliness. Help me use these gifts to support my faith with goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, affection and love. Help me put my faith into action and be the impetus for change in this world. Amen.

Prayer: God, thank you for giving me everything needed for life and godliness. Help me use these gifts to support my faith with goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, affection and love. Help me put my faith into action and be the impetus for change in this world. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: March 5, 2015

by Adrienne Bumpers
March 5, 2015

Ever since my teenage years, I have always taken the season of Lent seriously. Every time I begin the season, I am ready for the challenge of sacrificing something in order to learn something new. Because I look forward to that challenge ahead I easily miss the ways that God is moving in my life. It’s not why I begin my 40-day sacrifice every year. Lo and behold, God shows up every time, usually adding new perspectives to the challenge I thought I was setting forth on.

Let me walk you through the first two weeks of this lenten season. This year I decided that I would like to abstain from eating items of food with added sugar. This takes away most sweets and several processed foods from my diet. This has brought a daily challenge of consciously saying no every day, even several times a day to something that I use to relieve stress. I have a high stress work environment that is constantly reminding me how often I snack on sweet things. Not only have I realized that I eat way too much sugar, but I have acknowledged to God…what was I thinking?!

God has showed up like usual. In addition to my challenge of abstention, I have been reminded of how weak my daily prayer and devotion is and how much more I can love others. I have received several growth opportunities at work … not the fun ones that people look forward to, the ones that make you shed tears, feel week and incompetent, feel powerless and break you. I have been broken by a challenge to overcome criticism, misunderstandings and mistrust with love, compassion and understanding. My authority was challenged. I am a woman in an authority position and not only did I feel disrespected, I felt a bit oppressed. I experienced anger, confusion — all of my thoughts spinning. I was not excited in the least about this opportunity but I know that I needed it.

1 Peter 1 has been very comforting to me during this wall hitting situation. I encourage you to read it as I share the highlights that have hit close to home. I relate to the encouragement given to the exiles in this story. I myself feel a bit displaced right now with my emotions going haywire. This scripture is instructing displaced groups spreading God’s word that although they experience trials during their displacement, they rejoice and sing praises to the Lord (v.6). They also are encouraged to prepare their minds for action, disciplining themselves as they hope for God’s grace (v. 13). Lastly they are reminded to “love one another deeply from the heart” (v.22).

These themes are quite simple (and very common throughout the new testament) and yet they have deeply affected my outlook of the challenged I am facing. My anger had to be swallowed when I read “rejoice.” I identify with the action of discipline and pray that God is shedding grace on me as I have emotionally reacted. Then, to be reminded of the simple theme of love, what a refreshing idea of how I can move forward in my challenge: I must love those that have angered me. This took me from absolute discouragement to hopeful, a much needed perspective as I work to overcome my obstacle.

These are just the few things that I have taken away so far in my lenten journey this year and I yearn to see things even more deeply as I move forward.

Meditation to think of throughout the day:
I will not turn back.

Prayer: Gracious and Loving God, I so easily miss the ways you are moving in my life. You continue to use every opportunity to mold me, to teach me, even by giving me the same instruction over and over. Thank you for your patience and encouragement to press on despite the obstacles that I face. I ask that you continue to move me past those obstacles, regardless of how difficult the journey is. All glory and honor is yours. Amen

Sermon: The Courage to Change

“The Courage to Change”
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
Matthew 14:22-33
February 22, 2015

Audio for this sermon is unavailable.

Lent is traditionally a time of taking inventory of our lives and preparing for a rededication of ourselves to God. This inventory involves identifying those barriers of thought and action that keep us from being the person God intends for us to be. It is a time to seek new direction, to turn around and go another way. But change is difficult even though in many areas of our lives it is inevitable, even as we struggle against it. Letting go of the familiar is hard and can be frightening, and yet once done, there is the possibility for a freedom that we might never have otherwise dreamed of or hoped to find.

Each week during Lent our worship will begin with the song “Ready for a Change” that Robert and the choir sang this morning. Maybe you heard the words, and if you didn’t today, listen for them next week, the words that say “Give my life a new start and plant in me afresh, seed that grows and blossoms into the fruit of blessing.” That’s the kind of change we’re all looking for – a new start that leads to blessing.

It takes courage to change, to seek that fresh start. Courage is not fearlessness in the face of danger or challenge; it is instead acting in spite of the fear that holds us back. Is there anyone here who has never been afraid? Did you know that over 100 times in scripture, we can find the admonition “Do not fear”?

In today’s gospel lesson the disciples are afraid. At the end of a busy day when 5000 people had been fed, Jesus instructed them to get into their boat and go across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, saying he’d catch up with them later. So, they do as they’re told, and as evening falls, they find themselves in their little boat alone. But a storm comes up quickly, and they turn their total attention and strength to rowing across the rolling waters. The wind was against them, so they didn’t make good time; they rowed all night it seems. And then tired out from the exertion, early in the morning, looking towards the shore that is still in the distance, they see something that they can’t make out.

Now, they weren’t afraid of the storm particularly, storms are a part of life on the Sea of Galilee; they’d rowed against the wind before plenty of times. But they’d never seen what they were looking at now – a figure, walking toward them, on the water. What could it be but a ghost? People don’t walk on water! And they’re terrified by that apparition. I would be too, wouldn’t you? They cry out in their fear, and receive an immediate response; it’s Jesus, saying “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

And Peter, often impetuous and speaking before he thinks, asks, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter takes a few steps out of the boat, but then he looks around, and begins to sink into the waves. Afraid that he will drown, he calls out to Jesus to save him. And Jesus reaches his hand out to him immediately, not waiting for him to go down for the third time before offering help, and says to the floundering Peter, “You of little faith, why do you doubt?”

Consequently, Peter is often used as the example of what happens to people whose faith is inadequate. He is the poster boy for that questionable theology which asserts that if our faith is strong enough, no harm will befall us; we can walk on water and we will be sink-proof in all of life’s difficulties. Consequently, when bad things inevitably happen, it’s our own fault and we are prone to blame ourselves because our lack of faith must have caused whatever hardship we are experiencing and we berate ourselves for our failures and feel guilty that our faith was not sufficient for the day.

But I don’t think that’s what this story is meant to teach us. I find it interesting that Peter asks to be commanded to come to Jesus. He doesn’t just jump up and shout “Here I come, ready or not!” In asking for the opportunity, he surely realizes that venturing out on the water isn’t something that he can do alone under his own power. He knows that his ability will have to come from Jesus. There is some tentativeness in his request, “If it is you,” he says, “command me to come to you on the water.” But even though he’s not completely sure who that mysterious water-walking figure is, he asks to be commanded to leave the boat, and when he receives the command, he obeys despite his fears and doubts.

And then, naturally enough, once in to and over his head, he gets scared. I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in “The Message” of Jesus’ response to Peter. Instead of “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peterson’s Jesus says, “Faint-heart, what got into you?” Faint hearted, frightened Peter shows his courage, acting in the face of fear and doubt, and asking for help when he needs it. If he had waited until he had it all figured out which was not until after Jesus had died, he wouldn’t have made his request; he wouldn’t have stepped out, and he wouldn’t have experienced the saving hand of Jesus. He and the others would not have worshipped him, that day or called him the Son of God.

The last time I reflected on this story I was particularly taken with fact that Peter was venturing out onto the water, an alien place where he had no business to be, It was the lace for Jesus as the Lord of the wind, waves, water, and sea to walk on water, but Peter is not Jesus. And so, I concluded, the appropriate place for Peter to be is safely in the boat waiting for Jesus to cross the sea and join him and the others on their journey across to the other side, to care for new people, people who needed their presence and their ministry.

But I have changed my thinking a bit since then. The boat is a good place to be – it was, after all, one of the earliest symbols for the Christian faith and for the church. Matthew may well have been saying to his group of believers, and to us as well, that in the midst of the chaos of the world and of our lives, we have this seemingly fragile but sturdy and tested craft to preserve us and buffer the stormy winds of conflict and hardship. And safety and salvation are experienced with Jesus in our midst – in the boat with us – regardless of what is going on around us.

Although all that is certainly true, there are times, however, when we are called – commanded – just as Peter was, to step out of the safety of the boat, and into the fray not knowing what is next or what will happen, being afraid but doing it anyway. . Martin Luther King, Jr. was called out of the safety of the good ship Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to confront the evils of discrimination and segregation. He spent most of his life out there, walking in areas where by any stretch of the imagination a less courageous person would have sunk to the bottom and drowned. But I believe he held the hand of Jesus as he walked. It isn’t that he was fearless. When he sat at his kitchen table at midnight after have received death threats and threats to firebomb his home, he was afraid. But then he prayed, and heard God command him to get out of the boat and walk. He heard God say,  “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for Justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.”

There are also times when less famous people, people like you and me, are commanded to get out of the boat. Jamie wrote about that kind of courage in his devotion for Friday – he said, “recently nine young people, five UGA students and four undocumented individuals allowed themselves to be arrested in a sit-in. They were also protesting our state’s unjust law requiring undocumented students pay four times more in tuition while prohibiting them completely from going to UGA and the other top state universities.” And he concluded, “Undocumented and choosing to be arrested…that is courage I don’t need in the safe confines of my privileged life. “ They stepped out of the boat, and Jamie’s right, that is courage that challenges all of us.

In the boat or out of the boat, the needs of the day and the call of God determine where we should be. But, God calls us to live adventuresome lives of faith; lives that may involve risking ourselves, taking chances and embracing change; lives that call us to seek the welfare of others; lives that demonstrate courage and hope. It is courageous to believe the word of God when it comes to us, and not to allow our fears to stop us from becoming who God wants us to be or doing what God has called us to do. We can choose be defined by our fears or by our faith. One holds us back, restricts and limits us; the other, as Joel read earlier in Jan Richardson’s poem, stands beside us in the boat, places its hand in the small of our backs, and pushes, never leaving or forsaking us until we are borne up by the hands that reach toward us and the voice that calls our name. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Monday, March 24

Every day during Lent, members of Oconee Street UMC will write a Lenten devotional and share with the congregation.

by Katie Calkin
March 24, 2014

1 Peter 4:10 – 11

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.

I don’t get up ready to serve. Ruby and our dog Rosie often have to coax me into getting up at all. Sometimes as I drag out of bed I tell myself, “just get through the day, you don’t have to give it your all.” I am so grateful for the people that I serve through my job. They make me wake up and show up in a real, engaged, spirit-filled way. As a health educator doing outreach for a hospital, I work daily with people who are struggling and suffering. I have the honor of witnessing both their brokenness and their beauty. They are often my spiritual teachers…

J. went from working 70 hours a week to being unemployed, uninsured and drastically slowed down by a colostomy bag. She has been waiting for repair surgery for 6 months. She feels cast aside and has periods of shame that she can’t work or pay her medical bills. But in classes she laughs and talks wisely about managing stress and maintaining hope. She chooses to spread joy despite her pain and limitations.

I’ve know C. for years and he frustrates me with his black and white rules about faith. But then I remember that he killed another person, that he met Jesus in a prison cell. The clear cut rules that outline his faith are very important for him in living a clean life and feeling restored with God. He is a steady reminder to me that everyone’s faith is shaped by life experiences and to be careful of the ways I judge my Christian sisters and brothers.

I have a soft spot for R. who wants to quit smoking. He lives in a friend’s car or tent or occasional couch. He cries every time we talk about strategies for quitting and what his life will look like without smoking. His most consistent relationship has been with cigarettes. He carries much shame about choices he has made and things that have been done to him. Hearing the creative ways he survives each day is humbling. He is an example of the incredible resilience of the human soul.
My God, we’re a mess. We are all carrying wounds and causing wounds. Thank God, that’s not the whole story. When we are fully present with each other, when we approach each other with servants’ hearts, we make space for the Holy Spirit to move among us and help us towards wholeness.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for this day. I let go of my ego and fears…may your will be done through me. May I be your love and compassion, your justice and mercy in the world. May I see the Divine in everyone I meet…may everyone I meet see the Divine in me…together may we create moments of heaven on earth. Amen