Listen! Tuning In To The Voice Of God: Turn Up The Volume

On Sunday, August 25, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached a sermon titled “Turn up the Volume” from the sermon series “Listen! Tuning in to the Voice of God.” The scripture was from Ephesians 4:1-4.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What would you give up to dwell fully in God’s Kingdom?

God’s kingdom is what Christ was about. Christ ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven as being here but elusive. He bore it in his every action, healing, casting out evil spirits, and helping the poor. He taught about it, often in challenging ways such as in the Sermon on the Mount and in Parables.

Jesus told us that God’s Kingdom is all around us. Sometimes we find it by accident, like a treasure. Sometimes we find it after a long search, like a pearl. Sometimes we have to sift through a lot of things to find it, like for a fish. We also heard three short parables about what people did to get there:

  • One sold everything they had to buy a field where there was a treasure  
  • One bought this extraordinary pearl so they might have it in their possession
  • Another bought fish

Jesus told us the Kingdom of God can be elusive unless we have eyes to see it and ways to know this. He explained that the kingdom is like a mustard seed or like finding a loaf of bread.

In response to the Pharisees who asked him about the kingdom of God, Jesus said that it is like this pearl and it does unexpected things. It demands an extravagant response like selling all you have and giving it to the poor. What are you then willing to give up to dwell in God’s kingdom? Give away everything that you have?

There is a hunt for the kingdom of God. Something obscures it from our vision, from our understanding. We must, therefore, listen to God’s voice. God is always inviting us to have a more perfect love for each other. When we talk about discernment – seeking God’s will, direction, and guidance – we are seeking God’s kingdom. God will lead us to abundant life for all, with wholeness and restoration in his perfect love. A banquet that isn’t complete until all of God’s children share in it peaceably. We must look daily for God’s presence, which brings consolation. Feeling distant from God only brings desolation. You will find God’s kingdom by daily looking and observing where God has been. 

God is asking you to not do all of that by yourself or on your own. We can hear God’s voice more clearly when we are with others than on our own and when we allow others to help us. So think of who can help you. Try to rally a group of people around you. Turn up the volume so you can hear from God when you are with other people. The point is that we are fiercely independent and want to do everything on our own. However, we need to share our burden with others and trust them to help us. I, therefore, invite you to give yourself over to others to let them also bear your burden.

Here is the link to the podcast of Pastor Jenny’s sermon

Here is the link for the complete video of the August 25 service, go to Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page.

 

Sermon “God’s Home: Freedom Lives Here”

On Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday, November 25, 2018, Rev. Jenny Smith Walz preached a sermon titled “Freedom Lives Here” from the series ‘God’s Home’. Her text from Psalm 132:1-12 and John 18:33-37. 

To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page

Also the sermon will be podcast soon on this webpage under the category “worship”.

Sermon sentence: 

In a world of competing Kingdoms, it’s only in the Kin-dom of God that we truly find freedom from fear, insecurity, violence, stress, addiction, -isms, and more.

A number of years ago – in Washington, D.C., at some building on Capitol Hill, with a bunch of other young UM pastors. One of our Senators had agreed to come talk with us. Program of the General Board of Church and Society. Anti-gambling bill. But few of us wanted to talk about gambling. We wanted to talk about immigration, for this senator was one from AZ and had been doing a lot around immigration enforcement in ways that challenged many of us and our understanding of how God works in the world and what God’s people are called to do. So people started asking him questions. At one point he said to us “you’ll need to take off your clergy hats and put on your US citizen hats.” As if that were possible. You could feel the shifting in the room, the anger rising, At that moment it was clearer than it had ever been: I was in the middle of clashing kingdoms. And it wasn’t just in that moment that this was true, but that moment exposed this reality in my life in a stark and powerful way. 

Perhaps you’ve experienced this too, when some situation has asked you to decide which hat you are putting on – your Christian hat or some other hat. Maybe it was a choice between your 

  • Christian / work hats.
  • Christian/ socially acceptable hats
  • Christian/ family hats
  • Christian/ economist / political / business hats
  • Christian / don’t make it hard and complicated hat

Problem 1: perhaps you’ve felt it, our Christian hats aren’t meant to be slipped on and off so easily. We are asked to clothe ourselves with Christ, to put on the whole armor of Christ. Not just wear a hat.

Problem 2: you’ve no doubt felt – our Christian hats (practices, world views, relationships, ways of being, understandings) sometimes clash quite loudly with the other hats we are asked to wear in our world. 

Our experiences of these clashing kingdoms are but echoes of this episode between Jesus and Pilate. Very end of Jesus life. After last supper, Garden of Gethsemane, and his arrest. He’s already been through a couple of pseudo trials, and now he’s with Pilate – the Roman official in Jerusalem whose main job is to keep everything calm, to make sure there are no revolts or revolutions. The religious officials have brought Jesus to Pilate as the last step toward crucifixion. 

Picture the scene – the Patio where the religious official are and the headquarters where Jesus is. In the fuller passage, Pilate goes back and forth 7 times. He is also in the middle of clashing kingdoms. Not just two, but three, and he’s at the top level of one of them. He knows what’s right, that Jesus doesn’t deserve death. But he also knows what’s easy and expedient. He may not have known completely what truth is, but he knew enough to know that the kingdoms were clashing. Not unlike the senator I mentioned before. He couldn’t have asked us to take off our clergy hats if he didn’t know there was dissonance between the kingdom we were operating from and the one he was operating from.

Pilate chose easy, and we can understand. It’s not easy to choose right because:

  • clearly defined rules, regulations, expectations and knowns are easier than ambiguity and unknowns.
  • It’s simpler, less challenging, less risky
  • basic self-preservation
  • When you stand up to privilege, to systems that rely on sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, institutions that survive and thrive on fear, we will get shut up, silenced, discredited, disregarded. We might well end up like Christ.
  • it’s hard enough just to get by.

Yet in God’s Kin-dom Freedom lives here.

● Jesus in this moment with Pilate is completely free. And his freedom was contagious. He was constantly setting people free – from fear, from isolation, from oppression, from physical ailments, from demons, from sin.

Paul was more free in prison than he ever was in his role as persecutor and power wielder

● Me with the senator – after that session with the large group of clergy, I had a small group audience with him because he happened to be one of my state senators. I had been struggling with what to ask him. On one hand I was terrified – what would I say? This was the most powerful person I’d ever sat and talked with. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be significant. At the same time, my realization about the clashing kingdoms helped me. It emboldened me, and freed me to be in Christ’s kin-dom and ask questions from that realm, including telling him I can’t take my clergy hat off as he’d asked me to do.

● Disciples – freed from fear, free for leadership, for celebration, for sharing the good news of Jesus.

From what do you need to be freed? What is holding you captive?

  • believing we aren’t enough
  • fear
  • compulsion
  • frenzy
  • stress
  • insecurity
  • empire
  • consumerism
  • acquiescence
  • individualism
  • injustice
  • oppression
  • the abuses of privilege and power
  • sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism
  • Advertisements
  • addiction
  • stigma
  • past
  • shame
  • bitterness
  • sin
  • death

What do you need to be freed for?

  • peace
  • joy
  • contentment
  • belonging
  • connection
  • enough-ness
  • meaning
  • worth
  • love
  • celebration
  • gratitude
  • to confront
  • speak truth

In a bit will we sing “I love Thy Kingdom Lord“, say “Thy Kingdom Come” in the Lord’s Prayer, speak words about God’s Kingdom in our creed. As we say this, may we pray that the kin-dom will also come to us, that we may participate in it, be part of it. God’s Kin-dom is coming, with or without us, but may we be part of it, may we long for it, and know the love, sacrifice, strength, and freedom that can only come in the Kin-dom!

Amen. 

 

Sermon: “God’s Home: Sacrifice Lives Here”

On November 11, 2018, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Jenny Smith Walz preached a sermon titled  “Sacrifice Lives Here” from the series ‘God’s Home’. Her text is from Mark 12: 38-44 and Hebrews 9:24-28.

To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page

Also the sermon will be podcast soon on this webpage under the category “worship”.

 

 

 

As we look around today – here and elsewhere – what draws our attention? Who draws our attention?

Jesus and disciples sitting in the Temple observing. It’s easy to see the Scribes of the Temple doing their ritual thing. It’s easy to see the grandeur of the temple itself, its large stones. It’s not so easy to see the widow who is giving her two tiny lepta coins – it’s easy to overlook her, but it’s also hard to really see her because she exposes something in us we don’t particularly like to see. (but we’ll get to that in a moment).  What or who draws your attention – this morning while in worship, but also as you go about your day?

 

 

Taking a tour of God’s Home – Yes, God is everywhere. Particularly focusing on the Kingdom of God /Kin-dom. Peace, sharing, balance, let God be our God, love lives here. So does sacrifice.

Sacrifice – really risky to talk about because in today’s world sacrifice often means something very different from an act of devotion or worship, which it’s Latin roots would indicate it means. Comes from:  “sacred” and “to make” – sacrifice is something of value offered as an act of devotion or worship to God. 

In the US often it means: 

  • ● giving up more than should be given up;
  • ● asking those in the working class and those who are poor to bear the weight of tax cuts that benefit those who are wealthier; 
  • ● it often means expecting people to stay in exploitative situations in the name of
    • ○ virtue or
    • ○ some diminished concept of love
    • ○ the American Dream
    • ○ in order to just get by
  • ● It often carries an expectation of loss of self, sometimes in the hope of gaining power or reward or favor as a result;
  • ● Our non-sacred version of sacrifice often means holding up women like the widow in our story as a beautiful example without looking a little more closely.

She is where a lot of women in our world end up (Karoline Lewis reminds us) – sandwiched between violence and power. She is overlooked. Partly because she is exactly where she’s expected to be and where people in power like to keep her, lest they end up like her. It’s easy for us to look around this story and observe the widow and identify with her, even though few, if any, of us will actually do what she is doing. She is giving everything she has away. Everything. She’s completely trusting God and the system in which she lives.  Rather we are much more likely to overlook the widows of our day as the Scribes are so good at doing. We don’t want to be powerless like her. And we are afraid that to actually help her might demand the kind of sacrifice she demonstrates. 

It’s tricky because Sacrifice does indeed live here in God’s Kin-dom. Yet, it’s so easy for that sacrifice to fall off the thin edge into exploitation at the hands of us who are terrified to sacrifice in the ways God actually asks, terrified to sacrifice our own power or position or privilege or security or wealth. Not unlike the particular Scribes Jesus is observing that day. No one was going to overlook them! These were men who had PhDs in the law of Moses, the Torah. They were credentialed specialists. They were the insiders at the temple, among the Jerusalem elite. And their power is given largely by Rome at this stage in history. They were not easily overlooked because the system was designed to entice our attention toward them. 

We, like the Scribes Jesus is observing, love our power and our symbols of it – long robes, long prayers, public adoration, best seats in the temple and at the banquet table. 

What symbols of power, position, privilege, wealth do you wear? Which ones help you and others know your position in the world? What might it mean for us to take them off?

This is the last scene of Jesus’s public ministry. This is the last week of Jesus’s life. Not long after this, Jesus will sit with his disciples and take off his robe. He will take on the role of a servant and wash the feet of his disciples. He will tell them to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.  No one has greater love than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I have called you friends. 

 

Jesus gave his whole self as a sacrifice, He died, gave himself over to death. He did this without losing himself – he didn’t become less of Jesus, less Christ, less son of God. Yet he gave up his power. He allowed others to have power over him. And he did this all in love – an act of love, laying down his life for his friends. 

Sacrifice is about giving away power for the sake of love that others might be free and have life more fully.  It’s about offering ourselves fully, our whole selves, that we might make our lives sacred.

What draws the attention of God?  Sacrifice. Not because God needs it or demands it or because God is keeping score. In that temple – Jesus is telling his disciples – right here in my presence and in this widow’s, you find yourself in God’s home. Because here’s where sacrifice lives, whole trust, love of God, 

What robes of power are you being invited to take off, to sacrifice today?

Who needs you to lay down power and privilege and your own safety such that he or she might be able to live more fully, more freely? To whom is God sending you to love in this most difficult and powerful way?