Following Jesus in Teaching

Following Jesus in Teaching

This Lent we’re following Jesus.  We’re following him by getting close to him:  carefully listening to the stories about what he did, imagining we were there with him.  Then, we’re following the example we’ve seen – putting his actions into our everyday lives. Today, we follow Jesus as he teaches. A few of you brave souls are living into this part of Jesus’ example by your profession.  You prepare lessons and head into a classroom full of students every day.  And some of you brave souls are teachers by volunteerism:  you come to a classroom full of students here at church once a week.  The rest of us don’t carry the official title, but that doesn’t mean we’re not teachers, too.  Teaching is the act of helping someone else learn something, and that’s something we all do. We teach our children how to walk and talk and use a Kleenex instead of picking their noses.  We teach our friends about the book we just read; we teach our relatives about great-grandma’s chicken casserole; we teach our buddy a new grip to try for his golf swing; we teach our coworkers about a shortcut to the office.  As we gain information, we want to share it – especially the information we find most important. Yes, we are all teachers.  Whether or not we are effective teachers – that is debatable. I bet you’ve been on the receiving end of some ineffective “teaching” moments.  Like: …you’re not in a classroom, but you’re being lectured as though you were a student… …you know you’re right but you’re being told you’re wrong anyway…...

Following Jesus in Healing

During this season of Lent, we are following Christ. Well, we should always be following Christ:  following him by staying close to him, and following him by following his example.  In the first century the disciples did this by walking with Jesus, seeing what he did, and then mimicking his behaviors.  Here in the twenty-first century we can’t literally follow Jesus around, so we do it by reading about him through Scripture and experiencing him through the Holy Spirit.  Then, like good disciples, we can mimic the behaviors we’ve “seen.” This Lent we at Andrews UMC are taking our role as followers of Christ very seriously.  We’re following Jesus through a careful look at the things he frequently did and we’re discovering ways to mimic those behaviors. On this second Sunday of Lent we look at something Jesus did a lot: Healing. Wanna see for yourself?  Open up the gospel of Mark.  You’ll find the first healing at 1:21, then another starting at 1:29, and others at 1:32, and 1:40, and 2:1… I think you get the drift. Today we follow Jesus as he heals a leper and a paralytic.  We watch closely to see what he did… so we can act similarly. First, Mark 1:40 – 45:  Jesus heals a leper.  A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.  After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to...
Following Jesus in Prayer

Following Jesus in Prayer

Mark 1:35-39 “Follow me.” That’s how Jesus invites people to be his disciples.  Open up a gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) and you’ll see Jesus asking people to “follow me” all over the place.  That’s why we Christians also call ourselves “followers of Christ.” But Jesus wasn’t the first one to ask his disciples to “follow me.” This expression was in common use in the first century Jewish world.  Rob Bell has explained it like this:  Rabbis were teachers who took on a large part of the male Jewish population as students, starting at a young age.  As those students grew older, some would be weeded out; only the best would continue their studies until the age of 13 or 14.  At that point, just the cream of the crop would be left – and those exemplary students would seek to become a “disciple” of a rabbi.  A young man would present himself to a rabbi and say, “I want to follow you.”  And if the young man passed mustard, the rabbi would invite him: “Come, follow me.” And it was a very literal invitation. The rabbi’s disciples followed him everywhere.  Through the streets, into the synagogue, into homes – everywhere.  A good disciple would aim to follow his rabbi so closely, Bell says, that he’d be covered with the dust that the rabbi kicked up while walking.  All this close-following had a purpose:  to see and mimic everything the rabbi did. So when Jesus invites his disciples to “follow me,” it’s with that same intention:  follow and mimic.  And for us, as well:  follow and mimic. This...
Shine

Shine

Exodus 34:29-35 “Moses came down from Mount Sinai” (Exod 34:29). This sentence sounds like an everyday thing… at least where I live.  Here in far-western North Carolina we talk about how someone went “down the mountain” from Nantahala into Andrews, just like we say we went “up to Happy Top” when we go to the neighborhood on the upper end of town, or that we went “through the gorge” when we travel through the Ocoee to Chattanooga.  These opening words look much the same:  Moses is simply going “down the mountain” from Mount Sinai to the Israelite camp. But this isn’t simple.  This is far from everyday. Moses wasn’t just coming down from a mountain – he was coming down from an experience with God.  When Moses was up on Mount Sinai, God spoke to him “face to face,” “like a friend” (Exod 33:11).  Moses even got a rare glimpse of God’s glory (Exod 33:22-23).  Sure, it was just a glimpse; but that’s more than my two eyes have ever seen. Moses’ descent isn’t so much topographical as it is spiritual.  Moses is returning after a close encounter with our Creator God. And it shows. “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Exod 34:29). Moses has a very important delivery for the Israelites:  the “two tablets of the covenant,” i.e., the Ten Commandments.  This would be special, anyway, but this is actually the second time Moses...

How to Love (Your Enemy)

Luke 10:25-37 My first sermon of 2019 must have been for me more than my congregation… because I can’t get it off of my mind. It was about the wise men, and how they followed a star to find Jesus.  How we don’t get a star to follow but we do get clear commands to love God and love our neighbors.  Those love commands are like our star; if we keep moving closer toward love, we’ll be led closer and closer to Jesus. Normally, once I preach a sermon it leaves my brain to make room for the next one.  Not this one; it stuck with me.  It wasn’t that it was a new concept; I learned that we’re supposed to love God and neighbor in children’s Sunday School.  But it’s surprising how easily one can get distanced from the love commands.  At least this “one” can; I get buried under statistical reports and filling staff positions and an almost-finished new church website and articles for the local paper and… Well, “love” slips to the bottom of my to-do list.  It can even fall right off the page.  I can forget that my #1 responsibility is LOVE. This reminder came like a diagnosis of my spiritual health:  I need to give love more priority.  Then, as I worked my way through the gospel of Matthew during my devotional reading, I came across what felt like the prescription for treatment: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute...

All About It

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 I want to tell you what I’m all about. In my teens it was music.  I’ve always liked music; I can remember spending many middle-school hours listening to the radio in my room.  But in 9th grade my relationship with music changed forever, because in 9th grade I met Michelle.  During our fourth period freshman art class my new friend would slip me CDs to try by bands I’d never heard of.  My mind was blown.  As it turns out, some of the best stuff never even gets played on the radio!  Who knew?! As the year went by our friendship grew… and so did my music collection.  Once we got our driver’s licenses Michelle started taking me to concerts in small little venues downtown.  I bought my own CDs and began listening to those bands almost exclusively.  We made friends from the music scene, and my clothing started to resemble theirs:  hooded sweatshirts and big, baggy jeans and skateboarding shoes.  I put band stickers on my car and patches on my backpack. I was all about it. I honestly thought I’d be all about music forever. But in my 20s I found another love:  the outdoors. The summer before college, I worked for a backpacking ministry for the first time.  Then, as a college freshman, I discovered that my school had an awesome outdoor club.  From then on out – through college and seminary – my world became more and more about the outdoors.  I spent my summers on the Appalachian Trail; I spent my falls and springs day hiking; and winter was for snowboarding.  When...

A Love that Doesn’t Disappoint

Romans 5:1-11 This month I want to talk about love. Because it’s February, and because Valentine’s Day is on Thursday.  Because love is already on our minds (that, or the lack thereof).  And it should be on our minds, always – but not the swooning, cupid-and-his-arrows, rom-com kind of love that dominates this month.  The kind of love that should fill our hearts is more like this: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus said “all the law and the prophets” hang on those two greatest commands.  Doesn’t that sound like a sweet deal?  I mean, there used to be 10 and now there’s just 2!  And all we have to do is love! But love isn’t easy.  It’s hard.  We know this about romantic love:  once you get beyond the meet-cute and the infatuation, things get real.  The same is true for our two greatest loves.  During the retreat or the mission trip, loving God with our whole selves is easy!  But in the regular, day-in-and-day-out, loving God first and most is a challenge.  It’s not so different with loving our neighbors:  it’s easy in theory, when we’re imagining friendly Wilson-like characters waving at us from behind white picket fences.  But what about all those really annoying neighbors, the ones that walk across our yards without speaking to us after we’ve had a long, hard day at work? Loving God and loving our...
How to Take a Leap of Faith

How to Take a Leap of Faith

Jeremiah 1:4-10 Have you ever had the sneaking suspicion, “I’m supposed to do that” – “that” being some out-of-your comfort zone, new kind of thing? Okay – that’s kind of vague. It’s hard to describe what it feels like when God calls us to do something, partly because it hits many of us differently. Very seldom does it happen like it did for Jeremiah, a James-Earl-Jones-sounding voice telling us to “GO, THEREFORE, AND PREACH!” And very seldom is the thing we’re supposed to do as epic as Jeremiah’s: taking God’s message to a whole nation. For most of us, God’s call is more like an urge or an out-of-nowhere thought. The thing we’re supposed to do can often be done right in our own neighborhoods. It can be like this: Noticing a group of people that’s underserved, and feeling like someone’s got to do something about that. Or seeing a need in your community and thinking that you’ve got a skill that could help meet that need. Or feeling like you’ve got a message in your heart and there’s a Sunday School class or a pulpit where that message needs shared. All of those can be the Holy Spirit communicating God’s call to us. Which is kind of exciting to think about. Out of love, God created us: “before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” God tells Jeremiah, and we can imagine God saying those same words to each one of us. Out of that same love, God saved us from our sin; and then, God loved us enough to make us like partners in God’s...
How to Listen to the Bible

How to Listen to the Bible

Nehemiah 8:1-10 Have you ever daydreamed through the Scripture reading in worship? Yep – me too.  And not just back when I was sitting in the pews; sometimes, I’m thinking so much about my sermon that I miss it. I don’t want to miss it.  I don’t want you to, either.  So today, we’re going to learn from the story of when Ezra read the Law to the Israelites… and it they heard it so deeply, they cried.  But first, a little historical recap to set the stage.  The southern kingdom of Judah was taken by the Babylonians in 586, destroying the Temple in the process.  For almost 50 years the Israelites lived in exile, until the Persians came to power in 537.  The Persian King Cyrus told the Israelites that they could go back home and rebuild the Temple.  That project wasn’t a quick one, but finally in 516 they were able to dedicate the Second Temple.   Today’s Scripture takes place in 458 BC – another 58 years down the road.  Ezra, a priest and a scribe, was sent to Jerusalem by the Persian King Artaxerxes.  In a letter, Artaxerxes tells Ezra, “You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand” (Ezra 7:14). The implication is that they’ve been without the Law (read:  first five books of the Bible) all that time.  In Nehemiah 8 we get the story of the first reading of the Law to the people.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder...
How to Be More Positive

How to Be More Positive

“Do all things without murmuring and arguing… …and in the same way you must be glad and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:14, 18)   Do you want to make 2019 a better year?  A lot of us do.  So let’s talk about how to bring more positivity into the next 12 months… …by addressing the opposite. I’m taking this sideways approach because of my Methodist roots.  Our denomination started with a guy named John Wesley, a church of England priest who lived in the 1700s.  John Wesley was really… methodical… about how he lived out his faith (get it?).  Among his methods were three simple rules:  (1) do no harm; (2) do good; and (3) stay in love with God. It’s that first rule that applies here.  If we want to be more positive, then we can start by avoiding the harmful opposite:  being negative.  And the everyday way most of us are negative is by complaining. Complaining is annoying, and harmful, and counter-productive, and – did I mention, annoying?  And I speak as one with authority, because of my backpacking experience. There’s something about backpacking that lends itself to complaining.  I spent a few years leading 4.5 day backpacking excursions for youth, and let me tell you:  4.5 days is plenty long enough to hear a lot of complaining. “My feet hurt.” “How much farther?” “I smell bad.” “Why are there so many bugs?” “Why are there so few toilets?” “This water’s too cold.” “This weather’s too hot.” “Where is camp?” “There’s dirt in my macaroni and cheese.” Okay, so some complaints are legitimate.  But some complaints are...