Archive for October, 2016

Raise the Dead; A Look at New Life

invasion-part-1We at Lanark UMC are in the middle of a worship series called “Invasion of the Dead” and we are looking into topics of life, death, and resurrection. This week we looked at new life. So here are some excerpts of that message.

What does it mean to be alive? What is life? Maybe we should look at the opposite here. What does death mean? I know, it’s not normally a topic to discuss in a worship service or even in public for that matter, but maybe it is. I mean really…look at where we are today.

I could say that our fascination with death is recent, but I would be wrong. I mean think of all the T.V. shows and movies that are based on death, especially as we look at zombies. The walking dead, night of the living dead, world war Z, the zombie apocalypse, and so many others show our interest as a culture in death but also the life thereafter, even looking at the meaning of life right here.

I could draw some similarities and comparisons from these shows and our fascination to zombies or the walking dead to scripture too. Think about it for a minute. Lazarus being raised from the dead, walking out of a tomb, still wrapped up like a mummy. Certainly could be a scene from a zombie movie. We can also take the book of Mark, especially the stories we find in chapter 5.

We find a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years and never being healed. Although she was among the living, she didn’t share in the life that many around her enjoyed. She wasn’t welcome in certain places, wasn’t looked at favorably, couldn’t go to her friend’s house, and many times was shunned in public. She was left alone, she was dead to the world around her, she was the walking dead.

Then we have this little girl who everyone else thinks is dead, even though Jesus lets us know that she is only sleeping. Everyone around her thinks that she has died, that Jesus was too late in coming to rescue her. Notice the servant that comes out to tell Jairus that his daughter has died and to not bother the teacher anymore. They all think she is dead.

Both examples in scripture, the little girl and the woman on the crowd, seem to be dead, well at least to the world around them. Many times I think we are like this in our spiritual lives. We are among the walking dead, or maybe the living dead. We travel from program to program, meeting to meeting, maybe even attend a bible study or help around the church with activities. We look like we are strong Christians, like we have a strong spiritual life outside of the church. But when we look at our lives a little closer, we see spiritual death. We don’t spend 15 minutes alone, reading scripture, talking with God, listening for God, and we slowly become the walking dead.

But you must see that there is a different perspective here. We find it in our scripture passage today. We find it in the story of the little girl who is “sleeping.” The family believes she is dead, but Jesus has other words, she is only sleeping. Notice this. When the world and all the people around you see you as among the walking dead, as a lost cause, maybe as someone who has traveled too far to make it back, remember that Jesus sees you differently.

Jesus saw Jairus’ little daughter as only sleeping, he saw all the potential in her life. He saw all the things she would accomplish in her life, all the lives she would touch with the witness of her life story, all the people she would infect with the love of God, and all the people she would direct to the saving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus also sees all of us in our worst of times, in our doubts, in our rejections, in our walking away, as only sleeping. He sees us as asleep, ready to be awaken from our slumber into new life. This new life that the woman in the crowd experienced when she touched his robe. This new life that Jairus’ daughter experienced when Jesus said “little girl, get up.” And it is this same life that Jesus is offer to you today.

It is this new life that removes us from the walking dead. Jesus offers this new life which lifts us from our old life, plants us firmly on the ground of a reconciled relationship with him, and begs us to go, go in faith, go in love, and go in life.

Now before I let you go with this, I want to remind you of the woman walking in the crowd, can you see her? Can you see her wandering through the crowd, bumping into people, hoping that she doesn’t bump into you, that she doesn’t get too close? She is the one who was in need of healing, the one who we considered one of the walking dead. But you know what? She’s not alone. There are so many walking dead everywhere we look. We need to be concerned about them, not that they would come after us, but that they do not know the new life that Jesus Christ offers. We need to pray for them. We need to help them. We need to love them.

Back for More?

back-for-moreThere is a scripture passage from Luke chapter 17 where we find the story about ten men with leprosy who were healed. But this is more than just another story about someone with a visible disease, more than just another miracle healing story, it is a story about the human condition.

Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests and as they left, they were healed. All ten notice that they are healed, but only one turns back; doesn’t finish the task of seeing the priests. He comes back to praise God that he has been healed. He bows down and gives thanks to Jesus for the miracle that he has just been a part of. He is a Samaritan.

We can see the difference between the Samaritan and the other nine in their actions. Many commentaries talk about this being about gratitude, and certainly I can see that. But is there more than just gratitude here? What else can we see in the Samaritan’s choice to come back?

Here is what I see. The other nine were Israelites, followers of the law, so caught up in the politics and rules of the church that they miss Jesus Christ. The Son of God has just come by and healed them, but yet they are so worried about the law, about going to the priests to get cleared, that they miss the person whom they just met. The Son of God.

These other nine probably continued on, presented themselves to the priests and then went back to their old lives. Sure they were healed of the disease, but they missed out on the other healing, the spiritual healing that Jesus Christ offers. So many people are like the other nine, going about their lives the same way they did before they were changed, before they were healed. They blend back into society, into their normal circles, almost acting as if nothing has happened.

I know how this feels. I had a few experiences in my life when I knew that God had changed my life. But after the change, I went back to the life I knew, whether it was college, family, or work. I went back as if nothing had changed. If people observed me before and after the healing, they probably couldn’t tell there was any substantial difference in my life. That is sad. How can I say that I was living a changed life when those around me didn’t see any difference? What kind of testimony was that? I was so worried about what everyone else was thinking about me, that I just blended in. I acted the way I thought they would want me to act. I did what society required of me. I was like the other nine going back to the priests.

But in our story we have another person, a Samaritan. This man after noticing he was healed, comes back to Jesus, acknowledging who it was who healed him, and praised God, giving glory to the one who is responsible for the change in his life. He doesn’t go back to the priest; he doesn’t blend back into his old life as if nothing has happened.

This is how I want to be. I want to be the one who comes back to Jesus and proclaims his glory. I want everyone to see the change in my life. I want to be a testimony to all of those around me that God is still in control, and he is still in the business of changing lives. He is still healing, physically and spiritually.

I don’t want to be one of the other nine. So I cry out this morning, Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me! Is that what you want this morning? Have you been living a life that others don’t see as a changed life? Maybe you’re looking for that change today. Maybe you’re listening today in hopes that Jesus Christ sees you, right where you are. That he can see you in your broken life, and that he will call out to you, asking you to get up and go your way because your faith has made you well, your faith has healed you.

Brothers and sisters, I have good news for you. God is still changing lives, and he offers that to you this morning. God is speaking today. He is calling out to all of us, offering healing, offering a changed life. Won’t you accept it today?

A Global Community

a-global-communityThis past Sunday was world communion Sunday where we celebrate Holy Communion in union with the church universal throughout the world. And every time I approach this wonderful celebration, I am humble by the Church, what it is, and what it is not.

So let us define what the church is. I grew up thinking the church was this building. In fact, that it was the building that was placed on the corner of Huffman and Pierce street in Rockford. That was the church. People would ask me where my church was and I could give them an address, somewhere to point them to.

Maybe for you too? When asked where the church is, do you respond with the exact location of your church building? Do you tell people where they can find you on Sunday morning? People have been conditioned over the years to respond like this. We feel the need to express the church in physical terms, in concrete terms, in buildings and facilities. But is that really the church?

Historically speaking, the Roman Catholic church roots the church in providing the sacraments as well as apostolic succession, linking the church back to the apostles, back to Peter. Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.’ The church began with Peter, and therefore must link back to him through this apostolic succession.

The protestant church looked at the church as the place where the pure preaching of the word was found and to the right administering of the sacraments. But John Wesley took it a bit further. When he thought of the church, he looked to Ephesians chapter 4.

For Wesley, the church is not a building, it is not a static structure. The church is not a building, it is not a sanctuary, not an old gymnasium, not even a place in nature. It is not an object. The church is the body of Christ. The church is those doing the work of Christ. The church is you. The church is me. That’s what the church is!

The church is also more than just those gathered in Lanark United Methodist Church on Sunday, it’s more than all of the United Methodist churches in this state, this country, even this world. The church is ALL people, all over this country and this world. The church is not defined by denominations. It is not defined by membership with one congregation or another. It is defined by the belief in Jesus Christ.

Thinking about the church, the body of Christ, it is described so well by the passage in Ephesians. We see that the church is not something that is solitary. Many people claim to be able to worship God in nature, alone. They feel most connected to God when in these places.

Now I don’t doubt that we can worship in solitude, in nature, the mountains, at the lake, because I have done it. I have had many times when I was able to be alone, whether it was fishing or just spending time in a boat, that I felt incredibly close to God. It is very possible.

But if this is the only way you worship, if you are not connected with a group of people, a body of believers, then you are disconnected from the body of Christ. We need the connection. God designed us that way.

John Wesley once said that “the church is the communal dimension of salvation.” We see this throughout scripture. We see it in the description of the church in Acts chapter 2:42-47. (Read Scripture)

Salvation is communal, it is all about community. Please know this, the gospel is a social religion, to turn it into a solitary one is to kill it. The love of God flows through each one of us, creating a community of believers who build each other up, care for each other, and love each other. We need each other, we need other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Which brings us back to our service this past Sunday as world communion Sunday. We celebrated with all of those brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world. We celebrated with believers from many different walks of life, different cultures, different nations, and different languages.