Wind in Our Sails: Our Service

I’m a little late with Sunday’s sermon summary this week, but for a reason: in lieu of a written summary, I want to share with you a video of how we talked about Christian service during our fourth Sunday of Lent.

It took me a little while to retrieve and prepare the video for posting. In my clumsy handling of technology, I’m probably showing my age. I still think of e-mail as a rapid way to communicate, but a teenager told me not too long ago that such thinking is “soooooo 20th century,” and that I need to text more.

The Scripture we worked from is 1 Peter 4:7-11, where Peter warns us that Christ’s return is imminent, and then in that context tells us to love and serve one another to the glory of God. The folks in the video are Jim Belgeri, reading our text; and left to right, Linda Gordon, Wendy Gordon, Jill Kaufman, and Ron Porter. (I’m the guy in the robe.) Linda, Wendy, Jill and Ron are talking about their participation in a mission team that traveled to Alabama to provide tornado relief.

This, of course, is all related to the fourth mast on our five-masted Lenten sailing ship, the mast representing service. Next Sunday, we’ll close our series by discussing our pledge to witness.

You’ll find the video here.


Wind in Our Sails: Our Prayers

To move more swiftly as a church, we need to better understand the commitments we made when joining Cassidy UMC. You may recall pledging your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and, if you joined in recent years, your witness.

Think of a five-masted sailing ship. Each mast represents one part of our pledge, and we don’t want to let the sails on any of those masts go slack through inattention. If we do, we miss our opportunity to catch the wind that is always blowing, the Holy Spirit.

This week, I want us to focus on our pledge to pray. Few Christians would openly decline to call prayer important, but I’m also very aware of the large number of Christians who struggle with what prayer really means, how it works, or why it’s important.

Jesus, of course, taught us to pray. The classic example is where he said, “Pray then in this way,” and then taught us what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus also showed us how to pray while he was in more difficult situations, and I think it would be instructive for us to look at what may have been his lowest moment on earth.

I’m working from Mark 14:32-36; there are similar passages in Matthew and Luke. I say Jesus was at his lowest point here because the full reality of his impending torture and crucifixion had settled on him, but he had yet to find solace and strength from God the Father.

“In effect, Jesus stepped beyond the circle of light cast by God’s presence into pitch blackness in the jungle of evil,” writes biblical scholar and preacher David L. McKenna. “Before this moment, He had theoretically accepted the responsibility for bearing the sins of the whole world. Now, terror tells Him what it really means.”

Jesus’ humanity was on full display; he described himself to his disciples as “deeply grieved, even to death.” With no alternate routes around the cross visible, Jesus threw himself on the ground and began to pray, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

Even in his perfection Jesus did not want to face his terrible suffering to come. He prayed earnestly and in very personal terms to Father God, using the Aramaic word for “Dad,” the same word Jewish children might use in speaking in a familiar way to their fathers.

It was Jesus’ hope that God the Father, who retained full divine knowledge and understanding, perhaps knew a less painful solution hidden from the Son, who also was fully God but limited in knowledge by his temporal flesh.

In the prayer, however, there also was recognition that the cross very likely was the only way for the Father’s will to come to fruition. God’s will ultimately is a positive, wonderful result for all humanity. God wills that we do not suffer for our sins.

Only Jesus in his suffering and death could make fulfillment of God’s will possible, however, and his “not what I want, but what you want” shows us the deepest goal of prayer. Prayer should lead us to put aside our will, our desires, and replace all of that with God’s will in every circumstance.

This is a very Methodist concept. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, wanted people to understand the need for “sanctification,” that process Christians undergo after turning their lives over to Christ. It largely is a process of becoming more Christlike in our thoughts and actions, learning to love others as Christ has loved the world.

When we love in such a way, our will becomes more and more conformed to God’s will.

For those of you who want to pursue sanctification by deepening your prayer lives, I’ll offer just a couple of brief ideas. We can better develop these ideas in other settings, such as Sunday school or in prayer groups.

There are lots of ways to pray, ranging from highly formal to very informal. As we’re a supposedly busy people, I’ll group them broadly according to time commitments.

It is very healthy for any Christian to learn to commit a block of time to prayer each day. If you’re just starting to pray in an organized, committed way, it may be that 15 minutes will seem like a long time to you. Commit at least to that; in that time, find how you best commune with God, remembering that the goal is to understand and follow God’s will. If you want to discuss the “hows” of such prayer further, I’m always happy to have that conversation.

I also find it useful to try to lift up little prayers throughout the day. For example, if you see a person in need of prayer, pray then and there, even if it is with your eyes open, going about your business. Such prayers, I think, keep us constantly seeking the will of God in our everyday lives—we become more conscious of how God is working in the world and remember to seek God’s will in every moment.

Next week, we’ll talk about filling the sails on our second mast, presence.

Wind in Our Sails

I plan to spend the next five Sundays in a seafaring mood, talking about how our church can have the weather gauge in our battle with the devil.

Now, I’m no sailor. And “weather gauge,” used in the context of ships going to war, is an antiquated term, better suited to the wind-driven ships of Admiral Horatio Nelson than the nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers of today. But I like the metaphor all the same.

What little I know of sea battles comes from books, specifically stories in what fans call the “Aubrey-Maturin series.” Through 20 books, author Patrick O’Brian tells an ongoing tale of early 19th-century British captain Jack Aubrey and his close friend, Stephen Maturin, a shipboard surgeon who occasionally disembarks to work as a spy. During the last three years or so, I’ve read 15 of these books. Yes, I instead should have been deepening my understanding of theology or New Testament Greek, but we all have our weaknesses.

What makes these stories fun is simple: These sailing men (and the occasional woman, sometimes smuggled aboard) are going places all over the world. As any dog or small child will attest, it’s just fun to go. And in the early 19th century, if you were going to go somewhere far fast, you needed the wind to fill your sails.

Having the wind working for you also helped when you encountered the enemy in your travels. Having the weather gauge meant that you were windward of the enemy, capable of charging down upon them at the time of your choosing, guns blazing. Such a position didn’t guarantee success, but

Battle of the Nile

most captains preferred to have the weather gauge. In the words of the aforementioned Nelson, “Never mind about maneuvers, go straight at ’em.”

Despite how grounded our church buildings may seem, the church itself moves through an ocean of time, headed for a place so spectacular as to be almost unimaginable. The Enemy hopes to sink us before we arrive, of course.

The Holy Spirit is the wind that keeps us moving and gives us the weather gauge against evil Captain Scratch. When you join the Methodist Church, you promise to do your part to keep our sails rigged using five tools: your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.

Prepare to weigh anchor.

New Year’s Commitments

I’m not much into New Year’s resolutions. Even though the concept is rooted in the word “resolve,” it seems that resolutions are made to be broken.

If you don’t believe me, just ask some gym managers to tell you what months their treadmill and weight room usage peaks, and how quickly that usage declines. Resolutions are mostly about us saying, “I’ll give it a shot and see what happens.”

Christian living is about year-round commitment, the kind of wholehearted, “I’m in” attitude that raises our level of joy dramatically. Christian commitment drives Christian ministry, changing the world for the better. And because Christian commitment has a huge spiritual component, it also is sustained by the Holy Spirit, helping us avoid burnout.

All of us in church, myself included, need to take time occasionally to measure our commitment. The first of the year is as good a time as any.

As a starting point, here’s a basic question: How are we responding to the salvation freely given to us by Jesus Christ? Because all Christians are called to spread the good news, I would suggest that our commitment should in some way sustain the church’s primary mission: to offer Christ to those who don’t understand that salvation is available.

When you commit to pray, you are changing the world. Pray for the lost, pray for the hurting, pray for the church to be effective. I’ll admit that how prayer works is often a mystery. Pray anyway. We pray in faith, knowing we’re pushing creation toward full reunion with God.

When you commit to be present in the life of the church, you empower your local congregation to better do God’s work in the local community. You help your church worship well; you help your church serve the world. For example, at Cassidy UMC, you might find yourself feeding the hungry, something this congregation particularly likes to do. Or maybe you’ll help us grow our children and youth into the Christian adults the world so desperately needs. There are lots of opportunities to serve.

When you commit your gifts of money, you make ministry happen. Yes, the church needs your money; every institution in our culture needs money to operate, and in a church run by good stewards, the money is used in holy ways. I feel I’ve been at Cassidy long enough to affirm that buildings and staff are in place so that people may know Christ. Also, Cassidy’s budgets are designed so that others may know Christ through our ministries.

An unfunded church is like a car without gas—it’s going nowhere. Can you commit a percentage of your income in 2012? A church filled with tithers, people who commit 10 percent of their income toward ministry, can do great ministry quickly. Few American churches are full of tithers, nor even committed givers. Too few Christians are carrying the load for others.

When you commit to be a witness, you promise to know the story of Jesus Christ well enough to tell it. Therefore, you also are making a commitment to study. You then find people who need to hear the story, building friendships along the way so you earn the right to tell it.

When Jesus died for our sins, he didn’t do it halfheartedly. The cross took commitment. And in committing to the cross despite his anxiety, best revealed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus became all his Father intended him to be.

For us, too, commitment is not about rules. It is about becoming what God would have us be, in the process helping the world become what God says it will be.