On Sunday, September 8, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached a sermon titled “Where Are We Going?” from the sermon series “Come! Journey With Jesus.” The Scripture for the week is from Mark 8:34-9:1, Mark 12:28-34.
At the Great Commission, recorded in Matthew 28:19, Jesus calls on his followers to make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We continuously refer to discipleship when talking about curriculum, tithes, work, mission, or even Christ’s disciples, but do we know about what we are discussing? Likewise, do we know what we mean when we talk about a destination? Let us hear from one another. Where does our following of Christ take us ultimately? What is our goal in our journey of discipleship? Where are we headed? Heaven, Salvation, Kingdom of God, Heart of God, Unity of God, Holiness, Cross and Resurrection, Total Sanctification, Christian Perfection? Jesus talked a lot with his followers about what his way was. He often asked, “Who am I?” He was the Messiah – the only one, and constant hope. Messiah was the right title but with the wrong understanding.
Peter doesn’t want to hear about suffering and death. Jesus gathered huge crowds and presented them with a set of paradoxes. “Deny yourself and take up the cross; to save your life, you must lose it; lose your life to find it,” he said. Surprisingly, there were followers left after listening to him. The map of Christ is full of mystery, tension, things beyond our grasp. It is not a Da Vinci Code style, nor is it a trick or a game. It is an unfolding of truth and life, always pointing us more deeply into the unfathomable mystery of God’s love and grace. There were disciples left resonating with the deep need and longing for something Christ embodied. But they and we also try to cheapen it by avoiding cross and suffering or by thinking we have to do the work by ourselves. But more disciples mean more burden and responsibility. We despair of a destination we can never actually reach.
In response to a Scribe who asked which commandment matters most, Jesus said, “Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself.” This type of love is fierce, all-embracing, healing, transforming, and world-changing. A passion that starts with God, not demanded or coerced but evoked by God. Love that costs something when we love God and neighbor fully. It embraces suffering and death – our own and that of others. The story of love is not complete until we see the cross of Christ and the power of God in the resurrection. And Christ invites us into this story, to journey with him. It is not unattainable. Christ came precisely to embody agape love for the world and to show us the possibility and priority of such a love (Paul Ramsay).
Christ presents us with this love because he first loved us. So he invites us to embrace this love and let it change us. It will free us to joyfully respond with our love of Christ and neighbor, love of self, and love for the world. Along the way, we too will pick up our cross, lose our lives only to find that life and love await us.
Discipleship is, therefore, a journey through which God’s grace transforms us, opening us to see ourselves as God sees us, teaching us how to love so we can love God, others, self, and creation as Christ loves.
Invitation to Follow
~by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Abandon the illusion you’re a self-contained individual.
Be a part of this wounded world,
and find yourself with Christ.
Set aside your own desires,
give yourself fully for others;
be the hands and heart of Jesus.
accept your brokenness,
and reach out for love.
Let go of your own plans.
Join in the healing of the world.
You will not be alone.
Follow your soul, not your ego.
Follow it right into people’s suffering.
Follow it right into the heart of God.
Pour yourself out;
let the world pour in;
then you are one with the Beloved.
The sermon is a podcast on this webpage under the category “worship.” Here is the link
Here is the link for the complete video of the September 8 service at the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page.
On December 2nd, 2018, the 1st Sunday of Advent, Rev. Jenny Smith Walz preached a sermon titled “From Fear to Love” from the series ‘The Bethlehem Trek’. Her text is from Jeremiah 33:14-16, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 and Luke 21:25-36
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”.
Have you ever wanted a reset button? To reinvent the world or some part of it? To go back and correct a mistake or to choose a different path?
Advent is for YOU!
● New Year in our Christian calendar
● church gives time before Christmas to get ready, make room in our hearts.
● already and not yet
● History, mystery, majesty
● remember first coming, look ahead to the second
● with longing and need and lament and hope
● tension between the nostalgia of our beloved Christmas memories and all of the magic, warmth, and beauty of the season, and our real need to cry out in need because our world is broken and we are too, and there is a gap between the kin-dom (what we long for and the promise we seek) and now.
We are vision-challenged –
● we are often complacent and despondent at worst, afraid to dream of what might be. We tell ourselves, “it’s ok. We’ll make do.”
● At best we often dream in muted tones, smaller ways, afraid to ask for what we really need, what our souls most long for. Advent is our opportunity to dream and vision, to see the gap, to hear our longing.
All three passages are dreaming of and longing for the Kin-dom
● Jeremiah – in the midst of exile and dismantling of his nation. Weeping for his people. Everything has been cut off. There’s just this one thread of hope, of promise. David – highly flawed – still the best he could remember. For Jeremiah, the most hopeful, promising thing was to envision a shot from the family tree of David / Jesse
● Luke – a transformative chain of events was launched at the announcement of the coming of the infant, God-incarnate, the strangeness and peculiarity of which can be proclaimed only with the help of this frightening apocalyptic imagery.
● Thessalonians – oldest book in NT. Paul’s 1st church plant. Can you imagine? No common practice or theology. Maybe not common morality even. Dared to envision a new, beloved, Christ-community. Audacious, daring, Hard, courageous work.
People of God, followers of Christ – we do things differently. In the face of fear and turmoil:
● we move toward it, calm and anchored
● we pray – root in God, which opens us to be able to
● love one another, which results in
There is so much that could be said about loving the world, but I have a specific, immediate challenge and vision for us:
Do we, here at PUMC deeply love one another?
● Not a corrective – openness, desire, affection, deep seeds of love. Already on the path. In the already, but not yet. Love Live On group. The Philippians group. Members Caring for Members project.
● Move from supportive and enjoyable to co-operative and deeply loving.
● Do we care for one another with the same passion with which God loves us?
● As we serve the community, outreach – do we love them as God loves us?
● Fear stands in our way
○ beyond niceness
○ hard conversations
○ their concerns become ours
○ show up
As we as a faith community think together about what life in community means for us, I share with you this quote from a favorite author/thinker, Eugene Peterson. He says, “There can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life, apart from an immersion in, and embrace of, community. I am not myself by myself.”
Each of the Old Testament passages for this month, Isaiah, Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Exodus speaks about God’s intentions around our living in community. This month we will explore what it means to live and serve as God’s people not just as individuals but also in community.
Looking about him at the needs of the homeless, the hungry and the oppressed, Isaiah could no longer keep still. The self-indulgent displays of sackcloth and ashes, he declares, are not acceptable to God! The only true way to observe a fast is by liberating the oppressed, sharing your bread with the hungry, and opening your own house to the homeless!
So let’s go right to the Isaiah text and examine it in a few different ways. At the literal level, and this may be the only time you ever hear me talk about a Bible passage literally, this passage is a prophetic encouragement to the people of God (1) to actively do justice for the oppressed and (2) to show mercy to the most vulnerable. The prophet lists these most vulnerable as the hungry, the homeless, and the naked, all of whom, he says, are “your own flesh.” By this last phrase the prophet relies on the teaching of ;Genesis. 1 and 2 all humans are bone of each-other’s bones and flesh of each-other’s flesh. The prophet understands that all humans are family, for we share a common ancestor. For the prophet, it is only sin that keeps us from acknowledging that we are family, and living as family.
The prophet says that doing such acts of justice and mercy will result in the rapid healing of the people of God. It will result in a renewed and improved relationship with God, in which God’s people communicate with God freely: “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.” God’s people will experience God’s presence.
To ponder an allegorical sense of this scripture, think of Christ’s own example of doing justice and mercy. This passage gives the people of God in the Old Testament an early glimpse of the heart and way of Jesus Christ, and it refreshes our vision of the same. In Jesus’ life and ministry we see him feed the hungry, defend the oppressed, he stands up for women’s right, he loves the outcast, the despised, the rejected, and the sinner, and calls on the rich and powerful to give their money to the poor. Similarly, by sharing in Christ’s merciful self-offering, we share in his merits, most especially in the eternal life he has merited.
With an eye to the moral sense of this passage, we find it right on the surface: we must do the works of justice and mercy the Lord’s prophet tells us to do, using Jesus as our example: both in the things Jesus himself did in the flesh, and in the ways Jesus’ way is multiplied before our imagination by the Christ-patterns of the saints.
Finally in the anagogical sense: Surprisingly, the inspired prophet says “your light will break forth like the dawn.” God’s light becomes our light, for the Church is betrothed to Christ. When we do acts of mercy and justice, we genuinely participate in the eternal and intelligible light who is the Holy Trinity.
Acts of justice and mercy, because they are acts of love, allow us to partake in the divine nature. Acts of justice and mercy are acts of worship, by which we glimpse the comforting presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we sense that “the glory of the Lord” is our “rear guard.” God protects us, and we glimpse God’s glory (behind us, guiding & protecting us) out of the corner of our eye, though we do not yet see God face to face. We should not miss the opportunity to give acts of justice and mercy to all, especially those in need; for we are most in need ourselves, and God has given us mercy and justification. St. Gregory Nazianzus reminds us that Christians do not just have altars inside church buildings; anytime we see a beggar, there is God’s altar, awaiting our offerings. Continue reading “Life in Community”
This morning we begin a new series of sermons on the one-liners we may read on people’s Twitter messages, or TWEETs. Twitter is one of the cyberspace ways that people stay connected. The question before us as we proceed weekly through this series is how do we stay connected to God, even with our more casual inclinations during the summer months
Today’s one line TWEET is, “Did we forget anything.”
Jana thought, thinks I am well suited to address this topic. We won’t repeat that conversation here. Envision with me a family one hour into a ten-hour drive to their vacation destination. One parent turns to the other and asks: Did we forget anything? My own answer to this question is realistic: I assume that I did… Experience has taught me that I will have forgotten something. So far, I am glad to say, that something has not been a some-one.
You probably will not be surprised when I say that Jana is the queen of list makers, and advanced planners. She often brings on our trips what she thinks I might forget. So, when I need that item, and she hands it to me, I lower the volume of my complaining about the quantity and weight of her luggage. It’s an artful tactic that works for her… and – for us.
In Joseph and Mary’s day, planning ahead for a trip was not merely an operational preference made by disciplined people, like Jana: It was a necessity. Nothing could be wasted, and forgetting to take something needed could be fatal. Ancient journeys required careful planning. It was best to travel in groups, because rogues and brigands haunted some regions, despite the Pax Romana. There likely would have been discussions about who would bring what, and in what order they would walk or ride, where they would stop for the night, and who would take the first and second and third watches.
Let’s start TWEETING our responses to this week’s question: Did we forget anything? Not as likely if we made a list and started preparing early.
We forget more than things, and not only on vacations. I refer first to those many, many times each DAY when perhaps I should speak for myself – when I give credence to the phrase, “absent-minded professor.” You may be able to relate to some of the following examples, in question form, even beyond the stereotype of walking into a room and forgetting why you entered it. Do you look at your cell phone and wonder why you took it from your pocket or purse? Do you sit and stare at the icons on the phone hoping to remember the one you should press? Do you drive down the highway and, at some surprising moment realize you do not remember driving from point a to point b? Do you ever get a phone call from the bank asking you to return the canister to the drive-thru. (That may be just me. It was an embarrassing moment.)
Ours is a forgetful generation, and it is not just because some of us spend too much time with our minds elsewhere. We are drawn toward lifestyles that are mentally fragmenting. Television and radio, cellphones, computers and so much more are over-stimulating; and so, overwhelmed, we disassociate from the present, and we forget. I suggest that (I am working on this one now) in order to reduce mental fragmentation and enhance our focus on the here and now we may benefit from pausing, just pausing: perhaps before beginning our day in earnest, or between tasks, or in the evening, or all of the above. We read in the gospels that Jesus often went into the wilderness to be alone. He knew that rhythm is essential to nature. It is written in the fabric of this world. That we will benefit from taking a few minutes regularly to reflect on where we were, where we are, and where we are heading probably is in our DNA.
SECOND TWEET: Did we forget anything? Not as likely if we paused before we left. (SUBTWEET: Even less likely if we have included pausing in the rhythm of our days.)
Still beyond things and vacations alone: Forgetting has consequences both for individuals and communities. There are three journeys in our lesson from Luke’s Gospel, and they are interesting as they were motivated by community memory. I begin most days with a reading from the Christian Testament, the New Testament, if you prefer. I read it in Greek, which is the language of composition for most of its documents. I am not special in this: Many professors of theology are able to read an ancient language. When reading in Greek, I often discover something new to me, a detail I did not see before, one that both stimulates and focuses my thinking. Sometimes I relearn something I once knew. Have you noticed that life’s lessons are easily forgotten and must be relearned many times? Like individuals, a community with amnesia repeats the mistakes of the past. Just two generations from the holocaust, anti-semitism is on the rise again in Europe, along with anti-“otherism.” (Europe is a not-so-distant mirror.) Fascism is an expression of anarchy disguised as nationalist loyalty. Fear is the great enemy – the demonic force behind hatred and scapegoating.
ANOTHER TWEET: Did we forget anything? Not as likely if we are attentive to our lessons.
Forgetting is not always a problem. We need to be able to forget in order to make room for what our conscious minds can hold. On the other hand, some forgetting damages our ability to enjoy the present. Memories that are repressed sometimes contribute to our driven-ness, our sense of urgency and fragmentation, our diving in and swimming with very little if any sense of direction. Repetition compulsions (neurotic habits) are another subject for another day – I’ll not share any of mine today…
I WILL TWEET this much: Not as likely if we look for what we may have overlooked.
The first journey is about Jesus’ birth – a familiar story. Jesus’ father and mother traveled to Bethlehem. Upon their arrival, there was no place to stay, and Mary was giving birth. We may relate to their fear and anxiety. Some journeys include dramatic events: illness, hospitalization… we might substitute in Mary and Joseph’s case updated language. Instead of no room in the upper room, where guests were lodged, we might say there was no room at the hospital, no room in the maternity ward, or there were no medical facilities nearby.
TWEET: Did we forget anything? Not likely if we anticipate possible surprises along the way. (Of course, we cannot anticipate them all.) Still beyond things and vacations alone.
The second journey in our story was motivated by the covenant God is said to have made with Abraham, and detailed through Moses at the giving of the Law. The newborn male child would be circumcised as a sign of belonging to the people of the covenant: God’s chosen, God’s elect; and if he was the first boy, he also went through the rite of cleansing at Jerusalem; hence the journey [It is interesting that rites so essential to Jewish identity were set aside by the Apostle Paul. Christians typically believe that in this he understood the spirit of the law. There has been much argument over the centuries about the status of the law, even to this day.]
TWEET: Not a response to the question but an insertion – Remember why you went on the journey. (Don’t let arguing over the route spoil the trip.)
The third journey is the trip made by an apparently large contingent from Nazareth to Jerusalem for an annual festival. The journey was an annual event; perhaps this year Jesus’ coming of age also was celebrated. As we have heard it read, at the end of the festival the contingent began their return journey to Nazareth. We read that Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, discovered after a few days’ on the road that Jesus was not with other family members, as they had assumed. Can you imagine their panic? Perhaps theirs was a unique panic? Now, according to Luke, the parents had been through a lot of convincing experiences, enough to say to themselves, perhaps, something like this: “Dear God we’ve lost the Messiah!” What a Tweet that would be… going viral wouldn’t even begin to capture the power of that one.
I think, though, that they really were just worried about the boy they loved. I remember my parents, with five children, counting heads in order to avoid a personalized “yes” answer to today’s question: Did we forget any… one? Mary and Joseph returned quickly to Jerusalem and looked frantically for Jesus, only to find him astonishing the elders by his wisdom, which is evidence that this was his “bar-mitzvah” year.
TWEET: Did we forget anything? Not likely if we keep our minds on what matters most.
The story of this journey is a little vexing. Jesus responded to his parents: “You should have known I’d be about my Father’s business.” Never mind he had worried his parents half-to-death.
Upon hearing, “Oh, I stayed behind to do God’s work,” I might have responded, “Maybe God will do your extra chores when we get home to Nazareth. It may have been that Jesus felt a tension at this, a tension we too encounter: to attend to the need of the moment, perhaps a mundane need in which people are depending on us, or to do pursue our calling, Do I leave my Sabbath moment in order to respond to the urgent, or do I stay? A word of caution: I have heard excuses that put a veneer of prayer on a matter that required action. Pausing, even if for prayer does not necessarily make holy things or holy people. On the other hand, not pausing to reflect and think and pray potentially leads to undiscerning commitments, and unholy alliances.
TWEET: Did we forget anything? Not likely if pausing leads to more meaningful and timely action.
I have mixed metaphors with some license today. It’s been a fun frolic for me. Suffice it to say that we are on a journey, individually and all together. Love for God, love of neighbor, and a healthy love of self. On these commandments lie all the law and the prophets, that is also, all the memory of community identity and meaning. The fruits of the spirit are faith, hope, kindness, welcoming the stranger… against these there is no law.
FINAL TWEET: Above all – remember love – Love should be on our list! Then it will not be likely that anything really necessary will be forgotten.
Did you forget anything? Are we forgetting anything? This summer, let’s take the time for a second look at our packing list.