A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sermon (April 19) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Use Your Words"

    Sometimes Penny has to remind me that she’s not a mind reader so she’ll say to me, “Use your words.”
     I’m probably not the only person who needs to be reminded of this from time to time. It’s funny how we often think that people know exactly what we’re thinking about in any given moment.
     We assume the other person knows our schedule for the day or that we no longer like to eat spicy foods. As much as we’d like to believe that the other person should be able to read our mind, putting our thoughts into words is a much better way to go.
     Many of you are probably aware that Calvin Coolidge, our nation’s thirtieth President, was a man of few words. The story is told of a time when an important hostess demanded that Coolidge speak to her.
     She said, “You must talk to me, Mr. Coolidge. I made a bet today that I would be able to get more than two words out of you.”
     Coolidge looked at this woman, paused for a few seconds and said, “You lose.”
     Sometimes, I think that there are many of us who are Calvin Coolidge Christians. We have a faith story to share, but we don’t use our words.
     Following his resurrection, Jesus encouraged the disciples to use their words. He reminded them about the words he shared with them while he was with them during his ministry.  These were words that told the story of God’s love for the world. These were words that offered hope and good news. These were words that offered a peace that passes all understanding.
     Jesus was telling the disciples to use their words. Words are vitally important. They tell a story about our relationship with God. Why is it that we often get tongue tied when it comes to sharing our faith with others?
     There are probably a number of reasons for our reluctance. Maybe it’s because we live in a culture where religion is viewed as a private matter and something that shouldn’t be imposed on others. Most of us don’t want to come across as a religious fanatic.
     But I don’t think we have to worry so much about that. Let me put it this way. If you’re concerned that you might be a religious fanatic, trust me on this, you don’t have anything to worry about. Religious fanatics are not the least concerned about how they’re coming across. They rarely take the hint that they’re being obnoxious.
     Probably what keeps most of us tongue-tied is that we grossly underestimate what a difference our personal faith story can make in someone’s life. We think that faith sharing is only for people with who have really dramatic stories to share.
     For those of you who do not have a dramatic conversion story to share, welcome to the club. Mine is not that eventful either. I know that most of you think that I was once in a motorcycle gang and carried a switchblade and was always getting into trouble with the law before I found the Lord, but here’s the real scoop.
     I was a boy scout. I never got a detention. And I attended church every week. If my faith story was made into a movie, it would be in the Disney section with a “G” rating.
     My faith story doesn’t include any lightening or walk on the wild side. It all began when I was just a few months old and I was baptized in a Methodist Church located in a small town of south central Pennsylvania.
     Throughout my life, I was surrounded by God’s grace at every turn. My home church surrounded me with a community of love and support. My family, pastors, youth leaders, Sunday School teachers, all provided me with a spiritual foundation from the very beginning of my life.
     Whenever I had doubts or strayed from my faith, people in the church were there to listen, provide guidance, and offer encouragement.  The church also invited me to serve in a variety of ministries and step out of my comfort zone.
     Yeah, this is my faith story, kind of boring, I know. I wish it involved more drama, but it is what it is. What I like about my faith story is that it shows how incredible God’s grace is. God’s grace was present in my life even before I was aware of it. Asking me when I first knew that God loved me would be like asking someone who grew up with loving parents, “When did you first realize that your parents loved you?”
     God was always reaching out to me through a loving church family. For as long as I can remember, I knew that God loved me and sent Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. I can remember key times in my life when I renewed my faith like the time I went on a summer youth retreat and the time when I was struggling with what direction to go in my life when I was in college.
     Our faith stories are not all the same. Some are more dramatic than others. When Jesus tells the disciples that they are to be his witnesses, he’s telling them that sharing their faith with others is important.
     I wonder if the disciples had doubts that their stories would have an impact on the people around them. Fast forward two thousand years. We wouldn’t be worshipping here today if they would have remained silent. They used their words and shared their faith with those around them. They didn’t underestimate the power of their words.
     So I’m a living example that you don’t have to have a dramatic conversion story to be an effective witness. Any story that has God at the center of it will do.
     Since using our words is important, our church has been encouraging people to participate in a small group where we can share our faith with each other on a regular basis. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism liked to ask the early Methodists, “How is it with your soul?”
     What a great question! “How is it with your soul?” When we respond to that question, we are living out Jesus’ invitation to be his witnesses.
     We are encouraging people who are in small groups to answer that question by responding to three other questions every time they meet. Those three questions are:
·       What was your closest to Christ moment?
·       When did you deny Christ?
·       When were you the heartbeat of Christ?
     Let’s look at these questions one at a time. The first question is “What was your closest to Christ moment?” This refers to a time since your small group last met which might be weekly, every other week, or once a month.
     Your closest to Christ moment is when you felt particularly close to Christ. As you think back since you last met, you will probably think of a number of times you felt close to Christ. Share that time with the group.
     The second question is “When did you deny Christ?” This isn’t meant to be a Debbie Downer type of question. OK, maybe it is. But it can be a freeing experience to be able to confess to others a time when you fell short in living out your faith. Don’t worry about being embarrassed by answering that question. All of us fall short from time to time in our walk with Christ. The whole point about being in a small group is that we can receive encouragement from each other.
     And the third question we want each small group to ask is “When were you the heartbeat of Christ?” This refers to when did you serve someone in the name of Christ?
     And again, our individual responses to these questions do not need to be overly dramatic. They can be very simple and ordinary, but also very meaningful.
     It just so happens that we have a small group in our church who have decided to have their weekly meeting right now in the middle of the sermon. They are going to help us see how a small group might answer each of these questions.
    Let’s ease drop on their meeting.

[Small Group Simulation]
     So how easy it can be to be witnesses. By answering these three questions on a regular basis, it helps us to then share our faith with those outside our small group as well.
     It’s no coincidence that today is what we are calling our small group emphasis Sunday. You’ll notice in your bulletin that there is information on how to become part of a small group or to start your own small group.
     Jesus tells us to use our words and to be his witnesses. It doesn’t matter if we have a dramatic story to tell or if you’re more like me and have a non-flashy but meaningful story to share with others.
     The point is that you and I have a faith story to share, a faith story that has God at the center of it.

     Today is about using your words. Next Sunday, our focus will be on using our hands. Go and be a witness!

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