Once again, I have been blessed to have conducted the worship service at Walland UMC. Below are the components of the service and my message. Thank you, Rev. David Fugatt, for allowing me this opportunity and congratulations on your promotion to Provisional Elder!
Almighty God, give us wisdom to perceive you, intellect to understand you, diligence to seek you, patience to wait for you, eyes to behold you, a heart to meditate upon you and life to proclaim you, through the power of the Spirit in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Call to Worship:
L: Who do we follow… A teacher? You were a good teacher,
P: You were a good teacher, full of wisdom, a moral compass, guidance for the journey.
L: Who do we follow… A prophet? You were indeed a prophet,
P: You were indeed a prophet, ringing God’s word of love, justice, and freedom for the journey.
L: Who do we follow… A friend? You were certainly friend
P: To outcast and sinner, feeding the weak, lightening the load for the journey.
L: Who do we follow… All of these, none of these, for as this world’s Saviour, you are all of these and so much more,
P: As you take the very least of us, And make the very most of us.
Who do we follow? Jesus Christ, Our Saviour.
Opening Hymn: Praise Him, Praise Him (Cokesbury 238)
Sharing of Praises & Concerns
And now, in the words your son, our Lord and Savior taught us …
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
First Reading – 1 Kings 21:1-10, 15-21
21 Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. 2 Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.”
3 But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.”
4 So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.
5 His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?”
6 He answered her, “Because I said to Naboth the Jezreelite, ‘Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’”
7 Jezebel his wife said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. 9 In those letters she wrote:
“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. 10 But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.”16 When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard.
17 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’”
20 Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!”
“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. 21 He says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.
Hymn: Whiter Than Snow (Cokesbury 146)
Second Reading – Luke 7:36-8:3
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
(The Parable of the Sower)
8 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Hymn: Jesus Saves (Cokesbury 131)
Third Reading – Galatians 2:15-21
15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[a] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”[b]
Offering & Doxology
Before: Living God, you are the source of life and renewal. Thank you for the powerful, even miraculous, ways that you provide for our needs!
After: O Lord, our God, your steadfast love surrounds those who trust in you. We are grateful for your faithfulness, even when we struggle to commit ourselves and our loved ones to your care. In times of trouble, your Spirit lifts us and carries us through. We rejoice that you call us to be part of this congregation where your love in Christ is made manifest. We dedicate our gifts and offerings to bless our neighbors through the caring ministries of this church, in the name of our risen Savior. Amen. (Psalm 32)
Message – “Let Me In”
May these words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh LORD, our Rock and our Redeemer.
Before we get started, I don’t know how many of you might have had the opportunity to watch any of the episcopal addresses made at General Conference this year. If you didn’t, I encourage you to look them up on UMC.org or on YouTube and watch them. They were so very inspiring. And they were brief. Very brief. In fact, they had a time limit of only twelve minutes to deliver what were powerhouse messages. Twelve minutes! That is SO not going to happen this morning, but I’ll try to be as brief as possible.
Also, parts of this message are going to be a little unconventional today, but Jesus was an unconventional guy, right? OK, let’s get started.
I like to watch those shows on TV about law enforcement profilers. Those profilers – at least the TV profilers – sometimes use a little trick to get someone to dig deeper into what they know than their conscious mind allows. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to do that with you, so please set your bibles, phones, etc., aside and make yourselves comfortable – well, as comfortable as one can be in a church pew.
OK … What I would like you to do is to close your eyes and take a couple of deep cleansing breaths, relax. Now picture a place that you love. It might be on the bank of your favorite fishing spot, or riding a horse down your favorite trail. It could be your front porch, your garden … someplace nice, someplace quiet, someplace you feel loved, safe, happy and content. Add yourself to the scene. Picture yourself relaxed, listening to the sounds around you, smelling the flowers or apple pie or coffee – whatever is around you. Feeling the breeze if there is one. Just relax and get comfortable in the scene.
Keep your eyes closed as I continue to talk and stay in the scene you’ve created in your mind. If, while I’m talking, other figures come in and out of the scene, that’s okay. Just let your mind’s eye go with whatever is happening. Just keep your eyes closed and listen to the words:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
If you who haven’t already, you can open your eyes now. If your neighbor nodded off, then please wake them gently before you leave the building, but let them sleep for now. That way I can add hypnosis to my job skills.
With any luck, those of you who did manage to stay awake might have seen a figure enter the scene. Hopefully, if you did, you also heard His voice, not mine. Because those questions ARE His.
The verses I just spoke to you are the first four stanzas of the lyrics that John Bell wrote in 1987 to an old Scottish folk tune. Bell’s version of the song is called “The Summons”. In the Summons, Bell does something very unique that most songwriters are unable to accomplish. He asks thirteen questions that Jesus asked in the Gospels. Granted, Bell paraphrased the questions, but – none the less – they are questions that Jesus asked.
On the surface, we probably all nodded agreeably at each question. “Of course, Lord! Of course, I’ll follow you!”
We know from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that large crowds followed Jesus wherever He went, and that He praised their faithfulness for doing so, but He didn’t call them. On the other hand, He DID call His disciples.
Simon, or Peter as we best know him, and Andrew landed their boat, dropped their nets and immediately followed Jesus when He called them. James and John did likewise, except they responded so quickly, they left dear old Dad sitting there still IN the boat with the hired help! Matthew literally stood up and walked away from the booth where he collected taxes when Christ called him.
But could WE, really, literally … do what the disciples agreed to do? What did they agree to and what is the song asking us to agree to? Let’s look at that for a moment.
We’re agreeing to drop everything; with no time to plan or prepare or price shop or put our affairs in order or pack a few things and say goodbye to our families … just leave.
Leave with no knowledge of where we would be going, how we would get there. No pre-employment discussion of wages, benefits, vacation and sick days, reimbursable expenses. No information on what our responsibilities were going to be? Could we really, literally, “come and follow Him, if He but called our name”?
How many of us would struggle to say yes to everything in even the first two lines of that song?
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
And then, there’s the rest: Are we able to care as much and as well for the cruel as we do the kind, caring for the kind even though they’re not like us or don’t believe in what we believe.
For those that are blind from lack of moral understanding of God’s Word, will we be able to let them see, to show them the Light that is Christ?
Can we bring ourselves to “kiss the lepers” of today – the unclean, the unwanted, the outcasts, the untouchables – all those considered by “society” to be somehow lesser or unacceptable or unfit, even those that are considered unworthy of Christ’s forgiveness, undeserving of God’s love?
Will we find it in ourselves to invite them to our table or join them at theirs? Walk with them? Talk with them? Witness to them without condemnation or judgment? To call them sister and brother, and to show them the love of Christ through our own actions?
Are we ready and willing to free the prisoners of oppression or of the self-imposed imprisonment of hopelessness, fear and guilt by telling them the Good News, teaching them about Christ, and letting the love of Christ show through all that we do?
If we still say, “Yes, Lord, yes. I’ll follow you,” and we do these things – things that, in today’s society, go against the grain and flow of the majority, against most of the electorate, sometimes even against those who are closer to us – our family and our friends; things that are called radical, that may be considered subversive, and even dangerous, things that may attract the attention of those who oppose what we’re doing or who we’re doing it for … things we’re doing and in who’s name we do it that may frighten others who don’t see what we see or know what we know or agree with us …
As the song asks, are we ready to “risk the hostile stares”? Do we have in us the strength to survive the angry comments, the hateful slurs, and the ridicule that may follow our actions because of our actions? When our friends and family condemn us, call us names, or even turn their backs on us, will we still say, “Yes, Lord, yes. No matter what the cost, I will follow You …”?
I’ve been avoiding the hardest questions to answer, at least for me.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Are we – you, me, we – are we ready to die to self with Christ on that cross? I know we all want our sins forgiven, we all want to know we are guaranteed our place in the Hereafter through our profession of faith. But that’s done through grace. That’s a gift – not earned. This is something else. This … This is why we’ve been given that gift of grace. This is what we’re being summoned to do.
Are we willing, ready, to let Christ transform our souls so that He can grow within us? Are we willing to be steadfast in growing our new life in Him and only Him? Are we ready to do the very best we can to become as close to living, breathing, walking, talking imitations of Christ in this earthly life as possible?
Will we allow Him to use us to answer prayers – the prayers of those who cry out to Him? The prayers of those who are sure they’re crying out to no one? The silent prayers no one but He and our Father will ever hear?
Are we able … can we be humble enough to do all these things without expecting or accepting any accolades or rewards or even recognition; to admit that it is not us who do these things, but Christ? Do we have the courage to stand up and say that we are only His hands and feet, that what we do is all to His honor and His glory?
Will we let go of the “me” we each think we are and become new each day in Him? Can we leave that “me” behind? Are we going to be able to love the new “me” … even if the new “me” is nothing like we ever thought “me” would be?
Will we let ourselves trust fully in Him and let go of fear, of doubt, of worry … just let the Spirit lead us?
Will we, with all sincerity, genuinely, openly and joyfully admit to anyone we encounter what He means to us, what He means IN our lives?
I’ve got to tell you, it took me a long time to get this message straight enough just to deliver it this morning right here to you – to a room full of believers!
But WE’RE being called BY HIM to deliver this same message to everyone – other believers, non-believers, outright God-haters, people convinced God could never love them – and not just to tell them, not by posting it on Facebook or Instagram or a blog … but to SHOW them through our lives and how we live them. Are we able AND willing … to do that?
The vast majority of us will fail, you know. Oh, we’ll try. There’s a Japanese proverb: Fall down seven times. Get up eight. And we WILL fall down at this seven times, and then seven more and seven more. But I know in my heart of hearts that we will get up EIGHT times. And, if we CAN do that and if we CAN say at this point, Yes! Yes, yes, YES, Lord, I WILL follow YOU! …
Then we will have found faith in him and we WILL change the world by seeing it through HIS eyes, feeling it through HIS touch, speaking HIS words and being HIS voice.
We just need to let Him in. He’s asking us to. He’s saying, “Let Me in.” He’s given us the instructions and example we need to begin working toward becoming Christ-like, to be the best imitations of Him we possibly can.
We just need to let Him in.
We all have A-Ha moments. But have you ever had an Arghhh moment? Have you ever, literally, grabbed your head as if to tear your hair out or keep it from exploding? Do you sometimes cover your ears because you just didn’t want to hear another word? Have you ever clapped your hand over your mouth to keep from saying something you’re pretty sure you’ll regret later, grabbed your chest because something angered or hurt you so deeply, or simply thrown your hands in the air in exasperation and a mental sign of surrender?
My mom tells a story about when she was a little girl. She got sideways with my grandmother, and she raised her arm up as if to strike. When my grandmother gave her that look – you know – the look moms around the world are famous for? My mom looked at her, thought twice, and said, “See my elbow?!”
If you embark on this journey to become more Christ-like, you’re going to have those days, those “arghh” moments. I want to give you a “see my elbow” route out of those bad situations. It’s also a great way to start the day, and to invite Him in to your life.
This is a short prayer called a body prayer. You can remain seated, but you’re going to need your arms and hands, so if you’ve picked your bibles or phones back up, please set them down again.
When you find yourself in those Arghhh moments, remember this and do it instead … Repeat after me using the same movements:
• [Touch top of head with both hands] Christ be in my mind and in my thinking.
• [Touch ears] Christ be in my ears and in my hearing.
• [Touch mouth] Christ be in my tongue and in my speaking.
• [Place both hands over heart] Christ be in my heart and in my loving.
• [Place hands out to sides] Christ be in my life and in my living.
• [Palms upraised] Amen.
In closing, there is one more stanza to that song, The Summons, and it goes like this:
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.
I’m going to do my utmost best for the rest of my earthly life to make that last stanza my answer. I’m going to let Him in.
Closing Prayer (based on Matthew 16: 21-28)
You call us to follow;
to turn away from our own selfish interests,
and to take up our cross and follow after You,
even if the path is difficult to see,
or is heading in a direction we would never have chosen for ourselves.
Forgive us for being so quick to question
and so hesitant to follow.
Help us to see with the eyes of faith,
rather than from our own human point of view.
Teach us to follow without fear,
knowing that You are always with us,
leading the way.
Closing Hymn: Softly & Tenderly (Cokesbury 137)
There’s a cartoon that circulates the Internet, especially if you follow a lot of church related sites or posts. In the cartoon, church has been dismissed, but all the congregation is standing in the aisle – not moving – just kind of stopped dead in their tracks, and they’re staring up above the door leading outside. Over the door is a big sign that says, “The Mission Field Starts Here.” There are two pastors standing back a little from the crowd. One pastor looks at the other and says, “I wonder if we’ll ever get them to leave the building.”
The mission field starts at those doors, folks. Christ is here with us now, most assuredly, but He’s calling us to go out THERE. To BE His hands and feet. To BE deliverers of HIS love, HIS voice, HIS touch. To BE examples of HIS life. To lift up HIS name.
He’s calling to us. Will you come and follow me?
Softly, tenderly … if you listen with all your heart, you can hear him … just there at the edge of that scene we created when this message started … We just need to let him all the way in. We just need to let him in.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.