This is the fourth of a four-part sermon series preached at Ellendale UMC about our new vision statement: “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ.” Here are the links to the other sermons:

Part 1: “…to be the hands of Jesus…”
Part 2: “…to be the feet of Jesus…”
Part 3: “…to be the voice of Jesus…”

A sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-18 and Matthew 26:26-30

Something happens to our bodies about the time we turn 30, I’ve discovered. Things stop working like they once could and illnesses take a greater toll and become much more difficult to get over – harder to lose weight. I know, I know…some of y’all are saying, “Just wait till you turn 40…or 50…or 60…” But for now, just allow me to be amazed at this discovery and don’t take away my pity party. The Avett Brothers recently released a song that says this:

Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain’t forever and lunch isn’t free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don’t get to know everything

Get the young scientists, tell them come quick
I must be the first man that’s ever seen this
Lines on my face, my teeth are not white
My eyes do not work and my legs don’t move right.

–  The Avett Brothers, Smithsonian

Several weeks ago on the Sunday morning we began this sermon series on our new vision at Ellendale – “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ” – I woke up queasy and I knew it wasn’t just nervousness about preaching that sermon or anything. You see, my daughter had had a stomach virus a couple of days earlier that made her vomit. So when I woke up feeling unsettled on that Sunday, and then when my wife woke up a few minutes after me and she said she felt queasy, too, and threw up about 2 minutes later, I knew some rough hours were coming. I prayed right then and there – “God, if you can help me hold it together until 12:15 so that I can get this sermon preached in both services, after I get home you can let this hit me as hard as it has to.”

Well, God was faithful to God’s end of the deal. I kept my distance from the congregation that morning, and I made it to 12:15, put on my Green Bay Packers gear (that was the Sunday they played the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs) and then collapsed onto my bed, which I did not leave except to go to the bathroom for the next 36 hours. I couldn’t even get up and cheer when Mason Crosby kicked the winning field goal. Ugh…that was horrific…my body has never felt that badly in my whole life. I ached in places I didn’t know you could ache. My body was getting all out of sorts and I couldn’t get comfortable…just miserable.

Now after I recovered, I’ve had several weeks to ponder about this…not so much the getting older part, but the mystery of how a body processes and responds to an illness. The body is an amazing thing – sometimes extremely fragile, at other times remarkably resilient. It’s amazing how all the parts of the body are intertwined and interconnected…to such a degree that when one part, or shall we say, member, hurts, the whole body hurts with it. Yet at the same time, while the body might be wiped out, there are still some things that you have to do to sustain you through those rough times…even when you have the stomach flu, you have to keep eating and drinking – to stay hydrated, to get some nourishment, however small it is, to the body for the sake of its survival and recovery when the stuff finally goes away.

And then there’s that first meal you have after the virus is finally gone – is there anything quite like that satisfaction? I mean it’s not like you’re able to go after a filet mignon and lobster tail right away, but just the feeling of health and life and strength come back…it’s so refreshing to eat and you know it’s going to stay down.

To put it another way – during the sickness, at times it felt like I was getting dismembered – my body was being torn in pieces. And the last thing I felt I had the strength to do was to piece my body together and eat and drink. The other thing about it is that when my feet couldn’t get me to the kitchen, what had to happen? My wife or the kids had to bring me something.

So the point to consider: when our bodies are all out sorts and we feel dismembered, the way to get well again is through a process we might call re-membering, putting the members back together, and this is best done through nourishment of a meal – to practice and celebrate recovery from an ailment, to get healthy again, to gain strength so that the body, now made well, can go on about its mission…its purpose – vitality! Life!

There are times when the body, that is, the church, is all out of sorts too. Fractured relationships, broken trust, as Paul alludes to in his letter to the contentious Corinthians, jealousy over not getting to be the part of the body you want to be, pride – all of these and more that tends to dismember us, if not in actual people leaving the church, at least in a virtual distance even if we’re in the same space to worship or to learn in Sunday school or to break bread. There are times, probably, where you just don’t “feel like” it…like breaking bread with him or her or them. “Ugh! I have to share at the table with them?”

But Jesus has said that when we come together to break this bread and drink this cup, we are to remember him. Remember by recalling the mighty acts of redemption through Jesus Christ, but also by re-membering, that is putting the members of the body back together, through a meal of reconciliation – a meal to restore the fellowship, to practice the presence of God and be truly present to one other, to gain nourishment so that the body, being made well by the mystery of God’s grace, can go on as a body sent out into the world to share that grace with those who are broken and hurting, with those who for some reason or another can’t or haven’t made it to the table yet.


We come to the table and the words are spoken – make these elements Christ’s body and blood so that we…that is the church…might be the body of Christ for the world around us – the world outside these walls. This isn’t a private meal, but an open one so that we all can experience God’s healing grace and become more faithful and empowered to be, as we have envisioned – “…the hands, feet, and voice – yea, the whole body – of Jesus Christ.”

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is the third of a four-part sermon series preached at Ellendale UMC about our new vision statement: “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ.” Here are the links to the other sermons:
Part 1: “…to be the hands of Jesus…”
Part 2: “…to be the feet of Jesus…”
Part 4: “…to be the body of Christ…”

A sermon on Romans 10:17 & John 7:53-8:11

After a Sunday morning service one day there was a young boy named Philip who suddenly announced to his mother, “Mom, I’ve decided to become a pastor when I grow up.” She said, “Well, okay, I’m glad to hear this. But I’m curious, what made you decide that? Did you feel God calling you to do this?” “Well,” said Philip, “I’ll have to go to church on Sundays anyway, so I figure it will be more fun to stand up and talk than to sit down and listen.”

My mom always used to quote this Proverb to me that always sounded a little Mark Twain-like to me: “Better to keep silent and people think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” It turns out there is a Proverb in the Bible that is remarkably similar to it. Listen to what Proverbs 17:28 says in the Message: “Even dunces who keep quiet are thought to be wise; as long as they keep their mouths shut, they’re smart.”

At some point or another, or perhaps throughout the lives of many of us, we have this tendency to put our foot in our mouth or to say something we shouldn’t say – something foolish, something hurtful, something irrelevant – just to fill the air. Let’s face it, the Scriptures are clear in multiple places about the power of our words – of our voices – of the significance of the content of what we say as well as the timing and the tone. James compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship, expressing wonder about how the smallest muscle in the human body has the power to inflict the most damage but also to bring about the best blessing and build up someone else through encouragement.

The spoken word is so potent that it is by the act of God’s speaking, according to Genesis, that the creation comes about. God spoke, “Let there be…” and so it happened. John begins his gospel with a take on the creation that speaks to this in saying, “In the beginning was the Word…” And like when some superheroes come to terms with whatever their superpower is, they go through a phase in which they wrestle with this power and how to control it or use it for good, when we discover the power of our words to wound or heal, we struggle with keeping our tongue in check. Some of us, anyway. The alternative, of course, is to just say whatever we want, regardless of how it affects others, or just to say whatever pops up and not care what others think.

But when it comes to things pertaining to the gospel, I think more often than not, we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing or of causing harm – to such a degree that we are reticent to say anything about God or Jesus or things pertaining to faith. One of the most beloved quotes we cite is attributed to St. Francis and it says, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” We love that because, honestly, we think it lets us off the hook from speaking any words of truth or grace or about Jesus.

To put it another way, there are two ways in which to share the gospel – through word and through deed. The reality, I think, is that it is so easy to do one and not the other. Some faith traditions are very, very good about sharing about the good news of Jesus Christ through their words, but are sorely lacking in following through with action and building relationships and being the “hands and feet of Christ.” But, conversely, there are other faith traditions, and I think that a lot of us Methodists fall in this other camp, that are very good about ministering through our deeds – by being the hands and feet of Christ, but are reluctant to say anything. Against these tendencies, we have Jesus, who married word and deed such that wherever his feet took him, he taught with his mouth while breaking bread with his hands…he touched and healed the ill and blind and issued the word of forgiveness and grace to set them free…he embraced the children and outsiders and taught about how they were first in the kingdom of heaven…with the miracles of his hands, he also preached with his lips. It’s all through the Gospels! Jesus wasn’t a mime! He didn’t just perform works with his hands, but also spoke grace with his voice. It’s in our liturgy: “Your Spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to announce that the time had come when you would save your people. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners.” Do you hear the marriage of word & deed?

It’s why, I think, it’s so important for us to include being Christ’s voice in our vision statement – to accompany the hands and feet. And this passage from the gospel is so revealing about what the voice of Jesus is all about – and what it’s not about. And that ought to make us give serious thought to the manner in which we use our voice for the sake of the gospel. For lessons about speaking abound in this story.

Jesus is teaching in the temple in the position of authority by sitting down. Jesus’ voice is found teaching and we as the church ought to find ourselves sitting as his feet as the one with authority by learning from Jesus and from one another about him. So that speaks to one dimension of what it means to be the voice of Jesus Christ as part of our vision.

But I’m particularly interested in how Jesus engages the situation that interrupts his teaching – when these scribes bring and expose a woman caught in the act of adultery. Now this raises all kinds of issues with me – where was the man that was committing adultery? It seems like these “scribes” were more PI’s trying to catch someone in an unholy act than to pursue justice, holiness, and peace. In any case, what becomes apparent is that for them, ultimately, this woman was just a pawn…to try to trick and trap Jesus. They demanded an answer – the Law says this; what say you, Jesus? If he says, “Yes, you have permission to stone her,” this would go against every sort of similar encounter where he had shown mercy directly to the offender and discredit what he had done and said elsewhere. But if he says, “Nah…don’t worry about it,” he gives them ammunition against him to accuse him as a teacher who was breaking ways with the Law of Moses. They thought he was predictable…that he would reply one way or the other, but they must not have imagined how he responded. How beautiful, his response. He stops talking…stoops down…scribbles something in the ground…what he was writing we don’t know…but interestingly this is the only time in the New Testament where it says Jesus was writing something with his finger, just as the only time when it says that God wrote with his finger was when he wrote the Law on the tablets of stone.


“Hello, Jesus! Give us an answer! Can we go ahead and stone her?” And then Jesus says what is one of the most quoted statements of Jesus – “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.” This statement seems so powerful to us…such a burn on the accusing mob. But we also know the end of the story. Suppose we didn’t know the rest of the story…that’s a risky challenge. It would take just one hot-headed self-righteous guy to say, “Psh…I haven’t sinned like her…” someone like what I have heard (or maybe I’ve tended to think)… “They needs Jesus more than I do…” and then the stoning could’ve commenced. What must that woman have thought or feared?

“If they were so scheming as to try to catch me in the act and not ashamed of dragging me out, what’s to stop them from following through?”

But Jesus’ words, Jesus’ voice does something else…in this case as he spoke and then stopped, returned to his scribbling…his voice disarmed the stones of condemnation and judgment. One by one, they dropped their stones and left. Left her alone with the one who was without sin. I love what St. Augustine, one who struggled with lust and sexual sin, said about this – He wrote:

They left the woman with her great sin in the keeping of him who was without sin. And because she had heard, ‘He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone at her,’ she most likely expected to be punished by one in whom no sin could be found. But he who had repelled her adversaries with the voice of justice lifted on her the eyes [and I would add the voice] of mercy.

To be the voice of Christ in this world, like in this story, is to speak mercy where others speak judgment, to disarm the condemnation that even the most rigorous and well-known scholar of the Bible spews to belittle others, to know when to not speak as much as when to speak and when (not if) the right time comes, to speak grace and truth though it may cause others to scratch their heads or drop their stones and move forward in pursuit of a holy love.

When the opportunity came along for Jesus to give a word of judgment, of condemnation, of ridicule, of putting her in her place, he bent down to the ground – called out the judgmental hypocrisy of the scribes – and practiced mercy all the way through. And in mercy, he also isn’t afraid to challenge this woman either – go and don’t sin anymore. “He proclaimed release to the captives.” You’re free – you don’t have to do that anymore. That mercy, that antidote to condemnation, is what inspired Charles Wesley to pen what is my absolute favorite hymn, And Can It Be, the last verses of which say this:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
No condemnation now I dread, Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
Alive in him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown through Christ my own.

Preach the gospel at all times – with your hands, with your feet, and also with your voice – for the times will come when it’s needed. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is the second of a four-part sermon series preached at Ellendale UMC about our new vision statement: “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ.” Here are links to the other sermons in the series:
Part 1: “…to be the hands of Jesus…”
Part 3: “…to be the voice of Jesus…”
Part 4: “…to be the body of Christ…”

A sermon on Mark 5:21-43 and Ephesians 6:15


Confession: There are a handful of movies that, while conjuring up lovely memories in the minds of many people my age and older, give me nightmares and I envision them not as fantasy and wonder but horror. I include among these: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, and The Wizard of Oz. I mean for real…those flying monkeys with their zombie-like expressions and movement… *shudders*. I’m no fan of horror movies, and neither is my wife, Carrie, but she loves all things Oz – the books, the movies, she has a collection of Christmas tree ornaments from the movie, and on and on. (I only knew of one Wizard of Oz growing up and his last name was Smith and he played shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals. But I digress…) Now there’s this new TV series called The Emerald City, which is putting a new twist on the story. And I have to admit, I’ve gotten into this last one…intriguing. No flying monkeys yet, but I am drawn in by the story telling. It’s been pretty suspenseful so far.

Now the thing about suspense is that it makes us want to get to the resolution. It is symptomatic of our way of living in the Western world that we long for closure. While we hate to see our favorite TV shows or series come to an end, we do, nonetheless, long for that closure. And so relative to that baneful movie from 1939, to avoid all the mess and heartache that Dorothy experienced along the road, I would like to tell her as soon as she got to Oz, “Hey, Dorothy, click those red ruby shoes together three times and say, ‘There’s no place like home!’!” You can avoid all the nonsense and the horror along the yellow brick road. To be immediately brought to the resolution. What must that experience be like? Or to speak to more recent cultural expressions than the old Wizard, what it would be like to be “Beamed up, Scotty!’? But isn’t this what we’re obsessed with – getting where we need to go…and quickly…no delay…no detours…minimal pit-stops or layovers… are… we… there… yet?

C. S. Lewis once said that “The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it ‘annihilates space.’ It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.”

I think sometimes even in the church we get caught up in this seeming light speed pace of the world and we get impatient when things don’t move fast enough to get done what we know needs to be done. It may help us to remember that Jesus didn’t save the world traveling at the speed of a NASCAR, but at a simple walking pace. Jesus saved the world at a pace of about 3 miles per hour. Even in emergency situations, Jesus remained calm – he was deliberative, yes – but he was never in a hurry as far as we can tell.

And this is what brought me to the Gospel passage this morning. Perhaps there could have been better or more detailed stories or examples of Jesus’ feet and what we see them doing elsewhere in the gospels. Like we learned last week about Jesus’ hands, his feet can be found in many other modes – in some passages, they are found to be on the receiving end of being anointed and/or kissed by a woman, they can be found walking upon the water in a shocking miracle displaying his authority over the created order, there are the instructions Jesus gives to the seventy disciples he sent out with preparations for their feet, the way in which he washes the feet of his disciples, and of course, the fact that his feet, like his hands, were pierced by nails, shedding his blood. This last one in particular is potent just as we saw the hands of Jesus at the cross display the vast, immeasurable expanse of God’s love. So also the feet, shedding blood, are the means by which Jesus makes peace through the blood of the cross.

But there is something more vital about Jesus’ feet that is subtler and can be seen underneath the surface in what takes place in this passage from Mark. And I believe it is this quality that speaks to what is central to our new vision at Ellendale – to be the hands, feet, and voice of Christ – and that is this: about Jesus’ pace, or the way he moves his feet, and how this speaks to the manner in which Jesus carries out his mission. That is, Jesus’ feet are the vehicle of carrying his grace to the hurting world. Whenever you see a reference to Jesus going or coming, always think this – his feet got him there – and its always on purpose. Jesus walks with resolve to do his Father’s will…and that means, like what we see in our text today, that he takes unexpected (and undesired) detours even when they’re puzzling to his followers.

A synagogue leader asks Jesus to heal his dying daughter. And Jesus responds by going…not by asking, “Hey, you need to bring her to the synagogue” or “to the church”…no. Jesus goes. Now it doesn’t say that Jesus was walking with a particularly slow pace, but I imagine if I’m the synagogue leader and Jesus is walking with me to heal my daughter who is on the brink of death and I don’t have an ambulance, yes, I’m probably doing my best to rush him. Perhaps he was walking briskly, but this was stifled at least to some degree by the crowd pressing in on him, when all of a sudden, Jesus pauses…and takes a detour.

“Who touched me?” His followers said, “Who touched you? More like, who didn’t touch you? Ugh. Somebody needs to go to Sam’s to get some Lysol and hand sanitizer.”

But there’s more to what Jesus is saying…he felt healing power going out from him when a particular person touched him. And he goes…off the path…off the script…his feet veer away, momentarily, off of the way we think he should go. But instead Jesus goes aside, he kneels, he speaks, he makes whole. Jesus took the time to walk to this woman and make her whole before he resumed his course to the young girl. By then it seemed too late for her. But allow this One to be fully present with her, too, and she will be made well – and that is what happened. The feet of Jesus walked to enable him to be fully present and minister wherever he went. And here’s the kicker—no pun intended—his feet took him outside the walls of the worshiping community because the world outside the walls was where the hurt was.

And that’s why this vision of being the body of Christ, including being his feet, is not ultimately about what we want to take place inside the walls of this building, but more importantly about what we desire to take place in the community – in the lives of the people who come here and the people with whom we come in contact as we walk, and run, and jog, and drive, and fly, through life. It’s taking each step on purpose and being fully present in every circumstance. Only we should let God’s grace shine with us wherever we are. It’s not about mere engagement here on Sunday morning. It’s about taking the mission out there, about sharing God and grace as we go.

This is why we also heard from Ephesians 6:15 earlier – feet fitted with readiness to share the gospel of peace. John Wesley commented about this passage:

Let this be always ready to direct and confirm you in every step. This part of the armor, for the feet, is needful, considering what a journey we have to go; what a race to run. Our feet must be so shod, that our footsteps slip not. To order our life and conversation aright, we are prepared by the gospel blessing, the peace and love of God ruling in the heart. By this only can we tread the rough ways, surmount our difficulties, and hold out to the end.

Feet then, in Wesleyan terms, serve as prevenient grace – that which goes before and enables us to share the gospel of peace – of God’s reconciling love through deed (expressed with the hands) and word (expressed through our voice). When we are serving as the feet of Christ, we are expressing that God’s grace comes to us on its way to another and we are invited to hop on board and follow – not clicking our heels together, not getting beamed up, but walking in step with the Spirit at the pace of Jesus.

The prophet Isaiah speaks about the feet of the messenger – how beautiful they are in bringing the good news that God is King and our good God reigns!

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of them
Who bring good news, good news,
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness,
Our God reigns, our God reigns…

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is the first of a four-part sermon series preached at Ellendale UMC about our new vision statement: “…to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ.” For the other sermons in the series, click on the links below:
Part 2: “…to be the feet of Jesus…”
Part 3: “…to be the voice of Jesus…”
Part 4: “…to be the body of Christ…”

A sermon on James 2:14-17 & John 9:1-12

A few Christmases ago, Carrie gave me a print of the painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son by the great artist Rembrandt van Rijn. It’s a remarkable piece in so many ways and you’ll likely hear me refer to it multiple times in sermons in the future. But there is one feature that I’ve been drawn toward multiple times, including this week as I’ve been pondering about the significance of the work of our hands in reference to being the hands of Christ, which is the first part of our new vision at Ellendale UMC.

The central figure in Rembrandt’s painting, as in Jesus’ parable, is the lovesick father who at long last welcomes home his wayward child. In Rembrandt’s portrayal of the encounter, there is something fascinating and beautiful about the father’s hands, which is featured on the cover of your bulletin.


Do you notice the difference between the hands? One hand appears more rugged and masculine – wide and with thick fingers and appears more calloused. The other hand, however, looks softer and more feminine – narrow, caring, nurturing. Together these go “hand-in-hand”(I know…I know…preacher’s humor can be the worst) to give us a picture of the strong, yet tender love of God – gentle enough to embrace us without causing us harm; strong enough to rescue us and hold us secure. I went back to that painting this week and as I reexamined it, I saw the hands of my grandparents.

That rugged hand looked just my Papaw’s. I remember those hands well…hands that held onto a piano bench pad in the living room of his home. We grandchildren turned their living room into a rodeo frequently. He would hold the piano bench pad down between his chair and Granny’s, pretending that the pad was a gate holding in the bull, which was one of my uncles or my father with us, the bull riders, on their back…those rugged hands that grabbed me while I was giggling and kicking and screaming while he pulled me into his “bear trap” every Sunday (there was no getting out of Papaw’s bear traps)…hands that, when we had sleepovers at Papaw and Granny’s, would rub us down with Vick’s 44 vapor rub even though we weren’t sick, because we needed that “calming down” that only Vick’s could provide after those rodeos…hands that were rugged and calloused from feeding cattle or bloody from messing with the barbed wire fencing…hands that went through his garden and fields picking vegetables not only for Granny to prepare and cook but also to give to needy families in the area…hands of service…hands of work that as I’ve shared before gripped a hammer and fence post as he breathed his last.

That other hand is Granny’s, though. Papaw’s hands worked the earth. Granny’s work was more delicate – handiwork, needlework, crafty. The quality of her hands, while different from Papaw’s, was just as much needed. Her hands were caring…not inflicting Vick’s 44. Those hands were artistic – she played the piano some, but one of her best gifts was the care she gave through hospitality and cooking – preparing meals for family and guest, for friend and stranger alike…hands that frequently held a book, usually a Bible or a hymnbook as she loved the Lord and sang with all her might…hands that were well trained in serving and loving.

These are the hands of my grandparents…and they give me a glimpse, albeit imperfect, into what the hands of Jesus were all about. Our gospel lesson tells us one way in which Jesus’ hands go to work. Jesus’ hands in this passage worked with dirt and water. I’ve always been curious about Jesus’ use of spit and dirt, mud…it seems so, well, unsanitary, dirty, unclean, odd. But he does this here and on some other occasions, where he uses spit and dirt to form mud and rubs it over the eyes of a blind person to bring them vision, to give them, in a sense, new life. And as I pondered on this, I realized, as some of the ancient Christian writers did, that Jesus was revealing his relationship with the God who fashioned humans from the dirt all the way back in the account of creation in Genesis 2:7.

In the second century, there arose a teaching that challenged the notion that Jesus was truly and fully human but taught, rather, than Jesus only appeared to be like a human. You see, this teaching couldn’t grasp how someone could be both truly and fully God and truly and fully human. Yet one of the key leaders in the church at the time was a bishop named Irenaeus, who helped guide the church into maintaining belief in both Jesus’ full humanity as well as his full divinity. Irenaeus was a student of one of the Apostle John’s disciples. Irenaeus wrote about this connection between Jesus in the flesh and God’s work in creation by pointing out the work of Jesus’ hands:

Jesus bestowed sight on the one who was blind from birth – not by a word, but by an outward action. He did this neither casually nor simply because this was how it happened. He did it this way in order to show it was the same hand of God here that had also formed humans at the beginning. And therefore when his disciples asked him why he had been born blind, whether by his own fault or his parents’, Jesus said, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God might be manifested in him.” The work of God is, after all, the forming of humans…for the Lord took clay from the earth, and formed man. Notice here too how the Lord spit on the earth, and made clay and smeared it on his eyes, showing how the ancient creation was made. – St. Irenaeus

Hmmm…When the disciples get into a debate about some philosophical or theological argument about the origin of this suffering, about the problem of evil, Jesus’ takes them to a new level and his hands go to do the work of God. Maybe there’s a lesson there for us. For the disciples could’ve just said, “We’ll pray for you, blind man,” and then gone about their merry way. Just like the negative example depicted in the passage from James. But, if when walking down the road and our hands have the cure or the ability to supply the actual need of someone in search for it, we keep our hands in our pockets and just ask the theoretical question, then, well, we’re not being the hands of Christ and James tells us our faith is useless.

What sorts of things do we see Jesus doing with his hands in the gospels? Healing (as we have seen in our passage this morning and many, many other places where he touches an ill or dying or dead person, or in some cases where an ill person touches him); Jesus’ hands can be found drawing artwork in the sand one chapter earlier in John 8; they are touching the disciples who were afraid at the transfiguration in Matthew 17; Jesus’ hands washed feet; blessed, broke and dispersed bread; served others; touched the untouchable; got dirty by reaching to the unclean; and in the end were wide open as they were wounded and nailed to the cross to show the full expanse and embrace of God’s love. And that’s what the hands of Jesus convey – love!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!

And if our vision, I would say, is that we would be the hands of Christ to the world around us, then well our hands ought to be doing the same things that Jesus’ hands did in the gospels – creating, healing, giving grace, offering hope and encouragement and faith, getting dirty, washing feet, feeding the hungry, touching the untouchable, and willing to be wounded for the sake of God’s love.

Legend is told of a church that was destroyed during World War II.  Among the ruins there was but one item left standing, a statue of Jesus with his arms reaching out. However, his hands were severed in the midst of the wreckage. The church was rebuilt and a sculptor offered to make and attach new hands to restore the statue but the members of the church opted to let it stand as it was saying, “For Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work on earth.  If we do not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, entertain the stranger, visit the imprisoned, and clothe the naked, who will?”

One last word – my grandparents’ hands, like everyone’s, withered over time. Granny’s hands weakened to where they couldn’t cook or create or serve like they once could. I had to come to terms with the reality that the work of the hands I witnessed in my grandparents would have to continue in people like me. The work is now ours. John Wesley made this observation when he talked about the transfer of ministry and leadership from Moses to Joshua in the Old Testament as they approached the promised land. Wesley made this statement: “Let not the withering of the most useful hands be the weakening of ours.” We are here because of useful hands…some of those hands have withered, some have gone…but those hands have designed to strengthen ours so that when the time would come for us to take up the task, we would be able to do so. So, let not the withering of those useful hands be the weakening of ours. Let’s be the hands of Christ.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
Show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.

Kneels at the feet of his friends, silently washes their feet,
Master who acts as a slave to them.

Neighbors are rich and poor, neighbors are black and white,
Neighbors are near and far away.

These are the ones we should serve, these are the ones we should love;
All these are neighbors to us and you.
Kneel at the feet of our friends, silently washing their feet,
This is the way we should live with you.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Offer Them Christ

Primary text: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

(A Sermon preached on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B – World Communion Sunday, 2015 – Jackson First UMC; Jackson, TN)

Have you ever just failed something miserably? Perhaps you went into some project with the highest of expectations of how successful and fruit-bearing it would be. Then perhaps at the very start, or perhaps a few months into the process chaos ensued and you were losing your grip and the desired outcome became far out of reach. You ever felt like a failure? Well, you’re not alone.

When John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, was in his early 30s, he set out from England to the colony of Georgia with a grand vision of converting the Native Americans and establishing a grand movement that would spread from Savannah throughout the land. On the trip, however, he realized his own need for depending on God’s grace through a series of unfortunate events. He fell in love with a lady named Sophia Hopkey in Georgia, but he didn’t make a move quickly enough and she got tired of waiting on him so she married someone another man, William Williamson. (Seriously, William’s parents? You couldn’t get any more creative than “William Williamson”?) Well, Wesley got jealous and for reasons to minute to go into detail in this setting, Wesley used his pastoral authority and refused to offer them Holy Communion on the next occasion of their attendance at worship. The husband sued him, some reports say that he challenged Wesley to a duel, and a warrant was put out for his arrest. The trial ended in mistrial but by then the trust in Wesley’s leadership had declined and it became clear he needed to leave. To put it in our terms: it was time for the S/PPRC to inform the bishop they desired a move. If Wesley had a twitter account, he would’ve tweeted out: “Gotta get Georgia off my mind. #MissionFailed” (See what I did there? h/t Ray Charles.) So he went back home to England and never came back. That was in the mid 1730’s.

Fast forward about fifty years. Wesley had matured a lot over those years. The Methodist movement had really taken off, both in England and in the colonies that were now becoming the United States. The Revolutionary War was coming to an end and many ordained clergy were returning to England and this was going to leave many, many Methodists in America with no access to the sacraments. Wesley knew that he couldn’t go back to America. He was over 80 years old and loyal to the crown. But he was a pastor and saw the American Methodists as sheep without a shepherd. So he ordained Thomas Coke with the purpose to go to America and ordain and commission Francis Asbury, a Methodist preacher in America, to be the superintendent, or presiding elder, and begin a new denomination. Wesley was in his 80’s and as he was saying goodbye to Thomas Coke on the boat heading to America, Wesley said the famous words, which were his last to Thomas Coke: “Offer them Christ!”

John Wesley, sending Thomas Coke to America in 1784, saying, "Offer them Christ!" (Photo credit:

John Wesley, sending Thomas Coke to America in 1784, saying, “Offer them Christ!” (Photo credit:

Offer them Christ! Fast forward about 230 years: the movement had become an institution and established roots across the globe and throughout America, including where we are in the Memphis Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Under the leadership of our current bishop, Bill McAlilly and the Nashville Area Strategic Mapping Team, a mission statement for our conference was revealed last year after a year-long process of discernment, prayer and conversation on many levels. The mission statement that was the fruit of those efforts was adopted at Annual Conference in 2014 reads thusly: “The mission of the Memphis Annual Conference is to discover, equip, connect and send lay and clergy leaders who shape congregations that OFFER JESUS CHRIST TO A HURTING WORLD, one neighborhood at a time.” That is, our mission is to be the church, then, that follows Wesley’s call: “Offer them Christ!” How are we living up to that?

What does all this have to do with Hebrews? Well, let’s rewind and go back to the first century and ask what is going on in the opening parts of Hebrews. This is one of the beautiful poetic passages in the New Testament that speaks to the supremacy of Christ. Here the author of Hebrews speaks of how Christ is superior to all that has gone before and is superior even to the angels. Then there is this clear allusion to the psalms as the author quotes Psalm 8, which reflects on the magnificence of creation and ponders on how amazing it is that God esteems humanity so highly even given the vast expanse of the universe and how small we are in comparison to it all. But then the writer of Hebrews turns the psalm on its head when applying it to Christ. While the psalm wonders soaring heights, Hebrews voices amazement over surprising depths. Ponder the depths of the exalted Son, who is supreme over all, nonetheless stooped to a status ‘lower than the angels,’ to be joined to the lowliness of the human condition. As Tom Long, preaching professor at Candler School of Theology at Emory, notes, “Hebrews does not wish to argue that Jesus…came just to the edge of human life and dipped his little toe into the pool of suffering. Rather, he wants to claim that, for a brief moment in time, the eternal and exalted Son purposefully and redemptively plummeted to the depths of human suffering and weakness.”

The author of Hebrews is well-acquainted with the brokenness of the world. He or she would have read the headlines that doom our newspapers, that run across the ticker on the bottom on the screen, that fill the trending topics of bad news on twitter, and said – Here is a world that is hurting and broken: a hole in the ozone and a fragile created order – offer it the Christ who according to Scripture is the One through Whom the creation came into being; the torn fabric of a society that is stripped of grace and bent on death as innocent people get senselessly slaughtered from a college campus in Oregon to the streets of Jackson – offer them Christ who offers a peace to a world at war; a people spreading destruction in the non-redemptive act of putting someone to death as though “an eye for an eye” demonstrates the justice of a forgiving God – offer them the Christ who is rich in mercy and came to give life; bodies are plagued by cancer that advances and is so aggressive as to bring bones to break – offer them Christ who heals; the broken places of the human heart and fractured relationships – offer them Christ who reconciled us to God and one another! This world and our lives are broken. Chaos reigns, it seems. But, Hebrews reminds us that if we would see Jesus…that he entered the chaos and lived among the brokenness and took it all on, all the way to death, then maybe we too would see that resurrection is on the other side of this, that we might cling to the hope that Christ brings us, his brothers and sisters, to glory.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face – [a face that was scarred and crowned with a wreath of thorns piercing his head];

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. – [but the path to glory goes through Calvary. What depths of love!]

The world is broken. This town, this neighborhood is broken. Our lives are broken. Christ entered our brokenness. Offer the Christ who heals to the world who hurts, for Christ brings us, the children of God, to glory.

Offer them Christ! But do not miss this: before you can offer them Christ, you must receive Christ. Receive Christ in your life. Receive Christ in the bread & wine; in his body & blood. Receive Christ in the holy meal, the holy mystery. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up,and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.”

“I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.”

We know these passages well, and others like them, about “running the race.” That in many ways the journey of discipleship in which we follow Jesus the Christ is a race that stretches us, grows us, challenges us, shows our weaknesses or proneness to fatigue, but ultimately perfects us (in love) as we persevere in the race.

I’ve added the daily spiritual discipline suggested by the folks at Rethink Church this Advent in the photo-a-day challenge. Today’s word, “steadfast/steady” kept running (no pun intended) through my mind as I went for a walk/jog this morning in the gym at nearby Camden First UMC.

When I go for a walk/jog/run and listen to music, I often get caught up in the flow of the lyrics or the beat of the music. At the onset of a particularly upbeat song, I have found myself all of a sudden picking up the pace, beating drums in the air (yeah, I’m sure I’m the laughing stock of the other walkers who use the facilities at Camden First UMC), kind of losing myself in the flow of things only to find several laps later that I’m winded and the unsteadiness of the changed pace takes its toll. This is particularly challenging to a person with asthma. Going through some change of rhythm is necessary in preparing for longer distance runs/jogs, but it takes training, and the body has to adapt to the change in physical tolerance. It can’t be done (well) through random erratic or spasmodic bursts. Again, it takes training.

I began reflecting on the pace to Bethlehem in Advent and my mind went to pictures like this one:

steady advent

In our typical lives where we find ourselves rushed and hurried in so many ways, we often forget that Jesus saved the world at a pace of 3 miles an hour. In several emergency situations, Jesus is depicted as deliberative, yes, and perhaps urgent but not rushed. For instance, consider the episode(s) of Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter who was on the brink of death and the woman with an issue of blood for 12 years. At the pleading of Jairus, Jesus followed behind him to help Jairus’ daughter but allowed himself to be interrupted by the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak that she might be healed. In his healing mission, Jesus was steadily deliberative.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall bring justice for the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. – Isaiah 35:1-4

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him…” Steady. Dependable. Faithful. Ongoing. I like what John Goldingay said about this notion of the steadiness of Jesus’ pace:

The supernatural presence of God’s gifting might not have to be tumultuous and spasmodic. It could be steady and continuous. It is such a gifting that the community needs from its Davidic branch, as it does of any king.

If Jesus in his mission went at a pace of 3 mph, the preparation for his arrival came even slower on the back of a lowly donkey, as legend has it. The road of Mary & Joseph to Bethlehem was a long journey that required steady pacing.

And Advent is about that. On one level it’s about “slowing down” and not getting caught up in the “hustle and bustle” of the commercialism that often sweeps us away this time of year. But casting out the demon of rampant consumerism is not Christian discipleship in itself. Advent also, it seems to me, ought to be about inviting the abiding Spirit of God to steady us in the world, seeking God’s “wisdom and understanding,” “counsel and might,” and the “knowledge and worship” of the Lord. To join in Christ’s mission of bringing good news and “justice to the poor.” Advent is about steady preparation and pacing in growing as Jesus’ disciples and continuing this mission as we celebrate his first arrival and await Christ’s return.

Some would advise that what the world and the various communities within it need in the meantime is a sudden burst of energy or enthusiasm in what has been experienced beforehand as revivalism. And while in some ways that may be what is needed in part, if it is not accompanied with the steady, abiding dependence on the presence of God’s Spirit in the mundane, ongoing day-to-day living and work of the Church, then we will have invested our energies on something fleeting and we’ll find ourselves too winded to carry on. Because the length of the race we’re set to run requires steadiness. Let us pace ourselves that we might finish the race.

Come, thou long expected Jesus!

“For congregational health and mission, the ‘family’ metaphor is a double-edged sword.” This thought was raised a few months ago at an event for emerging leaders in the Memphis & Tennessee Conferences in Dickson, Tennessee sponsored by the Turner Center. Why a “double-edged sword”? What could possibly be the downside in using the metaphor of ‘family’ when a church describes itself? After all, it can be a very uniting message if a congregation has recently been rent asunder by a scandal. It can be an image of healing for a church that has been devastated by a natural disaster. You practice, preach and sing ‘We Are Family’ in moments like this as a way of reestablishing trust and rebuilding toward a brighter future.

Even in moments of stable or exponential growth, churches can use familial language to welcome newcomers, outcasts, those rejected by others. But the other side, one of the potential downsides, is often delivered unintentionally (and unfortunately, sometimes intentionally). As it turns out, many times churches who use the ‘family’ metaphor end up envisioning a family more like Jack Byrnes’ ‘circle of trust’ in Meet the Parents than one that opens itself to embrace the stranger. Ever known or been part of a church that looks a little like this? (Disclaimer: Ben Stiller’s character is named Greg Focker, which is what DeNiro’s character says midway through this clip…)

Trying to become a member of such a ‘family’ is next to impossible. And even if you pay your dues (or tithes in our case), offer your services and bend over backwards, the ‘inner circle’ may never let you in. This is how the ‘family’ metaphor can end up causing a church to implode or at the very least slowly erode away into irrelevance.

So the growing edge for a church that wants to keep the family image is to continually and honestly ask, “Is our ‘family’ language and image enhancing or inhibiting our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ?” And it was this question that filled my preparation for preaching at Post Oak UMC’s homecoming a couple of weeks ago, because ‘family’ is a metaphor that I’ve heard used at Post Oak frequently and I’ve seen it used quite well here. Below are a few of the highlights from that message. The texts I chose for that Sunday were Genesis 1.26-28 & Matthew 28:18-20.

Genesis 1:26-28: Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Reflecting back over the course of the past year and my experience in this church has led me to conclude that my initial intuition about the character of this Post Oak community has been confirmed. That is that this church is in many ways a family. I saw it the day we moved in when there was a crowd gathered to help us unload the truck and get settled in. I heard it just a couple of weeks ago when I met with the visioning team someone made the observation about the closeness of the people in this church that reminded that person of a family unlike other churches they had been at prior to moving here. I witnessed it as over 40 from the church went out to Eva Beach last Sunday to take part and celebrate the baptisms of three of our youth. Even though it was a holiday weekend, they took time to support and welcome them outside “normal church hours.” These are things that family members do for one another.

The gift of family can bring with it some moments of tremendous joy and humor. Cherishing those memories and enjoying those times of fellowship are important parts of being in God’s family. But there’s something else that’s true about healthy families, and that is often measured by how the members of a family respond and relate to one another when the times get tough. When disaster strikes, when a financial hardship comes one’s way, when we lose a loved one, how do we respond? Jesus said to his disciples on the night he was betrayed, “This is how the world will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That is, despite whatever differences may exist (and there certainly come times when there are differences among family members, right?), if you can at least learn to love one another and unite to serve then you will make the world of difference.

I’ve been reading the History of Post Oak Church over the last few weeks and have been truly inspired by the rich history that resides here. Did you know that in the roughly 180 year history of this church, there were at least two times when something occurred to damage the building and the people had to work together to rebuild? In 1912, there was a fire that destroyed the building one night after a revival service. Maybe the preacher said something someone didn’t like or something; I don’t know. Then there was a violent storm only 25 years later in 1937 that brought irreparable damage to the new building. At the end of both disasters, the history says this: “The members of the church began to construct another building donating their time, labor, and materials.” The one built after the 1937 incident was completed in 1938 and is the one we’re sitting in this very morning. A dedicated family will come together: when enemies attack, when the creation seems to wreak its own havoc, when a building collapses, when death makes its unwelcome visits.

But this week as I was preparing to talk about this notion of ‘family’ I thought I would try to think biblically about the purpose of the family. And that is what led me to these two passages this morning, because in these two passages we have two different sorts of families. And the similarities between these two passages begin to unfold as we take a deeper look at them.

In Genesis, humans are given authority or dominion over the earth.
In Matthew, Jesus says that all authority in heaven and earth are his.
In Genesis, in light of this authority and the grace given to humans as being made in God’s image we find the first commandment in the whole Bible: “Be fruitful and multiply…and fill the earth…” (The first commandment is not a “Thou shalt not…” but a positive one.)
In Matthew, in light of Jesus’ authority, he gives authority to the disciples a new commandment and commission: “Go, and make disciples…of all nations…”

My pastor back in Nicholasville helped me see this connection: when we compare how God created the world in Genesis with how God saved the world through the resurrection of Jesus, we will see that being a part of God’s family means that we are commissioned to re-produce what God has produced. God tells the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply…and fill the earth!” Jesus tells his disciples, “Go and make disciples…of all nations…”

In other words for both biological and spiritual families, for our first parents as well as the disciples, we see that the commission is one and the same: “Go and make some more…” God gathers us and commissions the family of God to go and make some more.

(Again, be careful not to take this too far. We’re not called just to make more who outwardly ‘look like us’ or are ‘kin.’ Remember that we have been adopted into God’s family, a family who welcomes ‘people of all ages, nations, and races.’ But the point is if we are wholehearted followers of Jesus, then Jesus wants that replicated: “Go and make some more like yourselves!” Or as Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”)

If you think about it, this commission even rings true for other beings in creation as well, doesn’t it? Part of our church’s name bears that of a tree: an oak tree. Now, I suppose that the image of the tree may evoke in our minds the stability of a deep-rooted tree, and we may think of psalms and hymns like ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’: “Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters, Lord, I shall not be moved…” That image does give us a good picture of faithfulness and remaining true to our roots. But there’s something dangerous about just holding onto that side of the image of a tree if we ignore a tree’s purpose, which is the same as that of a family. If it doesn’t bear fruit, if it doesn’t re-produce what God produces, then that tree (be it an oak tree or a family tree) will stop right there and will gradually weaken and erode away.

We are commissioned to re-produce what God has produced. (Photo credit:

We are commissioned to re-produce what God has produced. (Photo credit:

On several occasions, Jesus had little patience for a fig tree that didn’t bear fruit because he saw how God’s people had become like those fruitless fig trees. To bear fruit, however, means we mature and live into Jesus’ commission to “Go and make some more.”

This morning I look out and see many people who are here to remember and to honor those who are our roots, whose lives have gone before us proclaiming the faithfulness of God. The monuments surrounding this building indicate the lives of those who were sure to bear fruit by re-producing the seeds of wisdom and faith that had been passed to them. They were intentional to grow their biological & spiritual families so that we could carry on that legacy that began long before them.

So our strength, brothers and sisters, will be twofold, so long as we follow their legacy: to remember and remain connected to our roots, that is to recognize that we are continuing a larger story than ourselves, a story of God’s loving faithfulness; but the second part is crucial for anything to remain alive and thrive. We must be fruitful and multiply; let us “Go and make some more.”