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, May 1, 2016

Sermon (May 1) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Putting a Faith to a Name"

    Is it just me or are you also getting tired of trying to remember your twenty-five different passwords and pin numbers?
     I was at the car dealer waiting room during an oil change.  I had my laptop with me and they offered wireless internet, so to pass time, I thought I’d check my e-mail. I go up to the desk and ask them for the password and username so that I could access the internet.
     The woman behind the counter pulls out a sheet that has the password information and asks me if I could bring this sheet back to her when I was done since she only had one copy.  And I said, “Oh, I won’t need to take that with me because that’s easy enough to remember.”
     I go back to my seat, silently repeating this information over and over so I won’t forget.  There’s a TV news update that distracts me.  I enter the password – no problem.  But for the life of me, I can’t remember the username.  Now, I have a choice to make.  Do I go back to the woman and tell her that I am incapable of remembering two tiny pieces of information in a matter of three minutes?  Or do I forget the whole thing and read a book? 
      I decide to swallow my pride and go back to the desk. Picking up on my forgetfulness, she says to me, “Don’t worry.  I can’t remember anything either.”
     Our Gospel reading this morning is part of what Bible scholars call, “the farewell discourse of Jesus.”  The scripture passage we just heard read for us comes at the beginning of this three chapter long farewell speech in which Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he would be leaving them.
      Of course, all of this is confusing to them because they’re not getting why he will be leaving them in the first place.  And secondly, like a lot of our learning experiences, it only begins to make sense once we are put into real life circumstances.
      …Like before I went off to college, one of the last things my mom reminded me was to not wash my white color clothes with any of my bright color clothing.  I never understood why this was such a big deal until the first time I did my own wash and all of my whites became this pinkish color.
      “Oh, that’s why she always does two loads of wash,” I remember thinking to myself.
     In some ways, Jesus’ disciples had it easier than we do because they had three years to travel with him, to talk with him, to eat meals with him, and to go through all kinds of life’s experiences with him.  But for us today, our relationship is of a different kind, similar, but also very different.
     Jesus, knowing that the disciples are about to face a huge transition in their relationship with him, offers this farewell discourse and specifically in our scripture passage today, says to them, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
     Yes, the disciples’ relationship is about to change in a very real way, but Jesus is already anticipating that change, and assures them that they will have the benefit of the Holy Spirit who will remind them every step of the way of what he had already taught them.
     The Holy Spirit will help them to be able to put their faith to a name.  Even though Jesus will be leaving them, his name will continue to guide and direct them thanks to the Holy Spirit.
     The Holy Spirit is like a deteriorating memory equalizer, helping us to not forget what Jesus has taught us, and what it means to live as his disciples. 
     This past November, a very dear friend and mentor passed away. When I went online to read his obituary, I also read through the several comments left by people on the virtual guestbook.
     It was interesting to read what people had to say about my friend. “I’ll never forget how he used to tell us to trust in Jesus,” wrote one former member of a church he had served.
     Another wrote that she will never forget the comforting words he had offered at her mother’s funeral.
     Someone else said how he she will always remember how he had always encouraged the church to be involved in missions and to not just be inwardly focused.
     It was incredible to read all of these comments because it gave us an opportunity to remember what this great man of faith had taught each of us through his words and by his example.
     It’s amazing how much of our faith can stick with us as we go through life, even for those of us who can’t remember our passwords and PIN numbers even if our life depended on it. Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit will make sure of that.
     What does that look like when the Holy Spirit reminds us of everything that Jesus taught us?
     So you’re at a church meeting and after several thoughts and ideas have been shared, the committee is still unsure of the direction they need to take.  And just when everyone seems ready to throw in the towel, something reminds you to speak up, and you say, “I think what we’re talking about is bigger than what any of us can handle.  I’d like to offer a prayer and invite God to see us through this.”
     That’s putting a faith to a name.
     In the course of a conversation, someone begins to share with you about a family member who is throwing his life away because of a heroin addiction.  You listen with compassion and concern as this person shares with you their heartache and feelings of helplessness.
     The conversation could have easily ended with a few polite words of support, but something reminds you to go one step further and invite this person to attend church with you so they can receive additional support and hope for their difficult journey ahead.
     That’s putting a faith to a name.     
     Several years ago, I was serving as an Associate Pastor in a church and I was helping to lead worship one Sunday morning.  A young girl who was about twelve or thirteen years old at the time, played a piano piece while the offering was being received.  She was a very gifted pianist, especially for her young age.
    When she got to the middle of her song, for some reason, probably just out of being so nervous because of so many people in worship that day, she missed a few notes, and then a few more.  She barely was able to finish the song.
      When she finally made it to the final note, the organist played the doxology and the ushers brought the offering plates forward.  I went over to the ushers, received the offering plates, took them to the altar and said a prayer of blessing over the offering.
     When I turned around to head to my seat, and as the organist began to play the closing hymn, there in the first pew of the church, was this little girl crying.  But sitting next to her, with his arm around her and whispering words of comfort, was the Senior Pastor. 
     Immediately after she finished her song, he had noticed that she was upset and embarrassed, and he had discreetly left his seat by the pulpit in order to sit there with her so that she wouldn’t be alone.
     That’s putting a faith to a name.   
      Several years ago, Sports Illustrated ran an article on Jermareo Davidson, who was a 6’ 10” University of Alabama forward.  Just three nights before the start of his senior season and with hopes of eventually making the NBA, Jermareo’s brother was shot by an unknown assailant.
      Four days later, Jermareo and his girlfriend visited his brother at the hospital.  That night, as they returned to Tuscaloosa, Jermareo and his girlfriend were involved in a car accident.  His girlfriend had lost control of the car and as she swerved to avoid another car, their car flipped several times before landing on its roof.
     Jermareo survived the accident, but his girlfriend ended up dying several hours later in the very same hospital where they had just visited Jermareo’s brother.  Sadly, Jermareo’s brother also ended up dying about a month later.
     On December 27th, the night before his brother’s funeral service, Jermareo stunned his mother by telling her that he wanted to be baptized in the United Methodist Church that he and his brother had attended as children.
     The next day for the funeral service, Jermareo gave the eulogy for his brother and told the congregation that he wanted to recommit his life to Jesus Christ.  And in front of a filled to capacity church, a grieving giant with tears streaming down his face, knelt down, asked for forgiveness, and gave his life to the Lord.
     During those tragic events, the Holy Spirit reminded Jermareo of the faith that he and his brother shared together as children in that Atlanta United Methodist Church, a faith that Jermareo was now ready to reaffirm through baptism and profession of faith.
     Jesus tells his disciples, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.”    
     When our daughter, Naomi, was only about 4 or 5 years old, I took her to the Dayton airport with me to pick up my brother who was flying in from out of state for Thanksgiving.  The flight ended up being delayed a long time and it got kind of boring waiting there in the terminal.
     During that long wait, I remember taking her over to one of the large windows to look at the different planes on the runway.  And as we were looking out the window, she totally surprised me when she started repeating these words. And remember, she was only like 4 or 5 years old at the time. I heard her say…
     “On the night when Jesus was betrayed, he took break, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat.  This is my body broken for you.” 
     And without missing a beat, she kept on going.  “And then he took the cup, and after he blessed it, he gave it to his disciples and said, ‘This is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins, and as often as you drink it, remember me.”   
     Over and over again, she repeated these words from the communion ritual as we waited in the airport.  She had heard these religious phrases so many times during worship services.
     She also heard them countless numbers of time from me since she often joined me in visits to the shut-in members of the church. Those visits often ended with me serving the Sacrament of Holy Communion and sharing the words of the sacrament.
     The liturgy of Holy Communion had now become her language of faith.
     There are just some things the Holy Spirit won’t let us forget, like someone with dementia still being able to recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Lord’s Prayer.
     In my last church, I visited a lady who had been a member of the church for 89 years and she still lived in her own home. She joined the church in 1925 when she was just ten years old.
     During one of my visits at her home, she said to me, “I need you to help me figure something out, Pastor Robert.”
     “I said, ‘Sure, Mary. What do you need to know?”
     She said, “Just yesterday, I started reciting the books of the Bible.”
     I said, “Do you mean all 66 books of the bible from Genesis to Revelation?” And she said, “Yes.” She went on to tell me that she had learned how to recite all the books of the bible while in Sunday School, but it wasn’t until just a day or two ago that she started to recite them out loud again.
    Not that I didn’t believe her, but I said, “Mary, how about reciting the books of the bible for me?”
     She said, “Sure.” And she nailed it. She named all the books of the Bible and in the correct order. She didn’t stumble even once, even when she came to “Habakkuk.” She said, “How’d I do?”
     I said, “Mary, don’t ask me, but it sounds like you got ‘em all.”
     She said, “I can recite the 12 disciples, too.” And right there, she recited all twelve of them. It was amazing.
    She asked me again, “Why do you think I’m beginning to recite all of this after all of these years?”
     I said, “Mary, God must not want you to forget about what you learned when you were a young girl in Sunday School.”
     I remember leaving her house that day and thinking to myself, “I need to ‘up my game.’”
     They say that by Wednesday, we forget 70% of what was said in the sermon. 70%. That’s kind of depressing!
    But take heart. Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit will remind you of everything you need to know.”

     Thanks be to God!

A Faith with a Name
Small Group Questions
John 14:23-29
May 1, 2016

In our Gospel reading from this past Sunday, Jesus offers the disciples what is known as “The Last Discourse.” Jesus was preparing his disciples for when he would no longer be with them in person. He told them that he would send them the Holy Spirit to remind them of everything he had taught them. Someone once said that the Holy Spirit is the presence of the risen Christ.

Share a recent experience where you have felt the presence of the risen Christ in your daily life.

Pastor Robert shared in the sermon how rituals in the Christian faith can help us remember Christ’s teachings. Some of these rituals include reciting The Lord’s Prayer, memorizing scripture, receiving Holy Communion, singing hymns, etc.

What rituals help you in your faith journey? How do they help you?

Small groups are designed to help us remember who we are and to whom we belong (God.)

Share a time when someone in your small group said or did something to help you remember that the presence of the risen Christ is with you.

Close today’s small group time by dividing into pairs or triads and pray together one of the most important “rituals” of our faith, “The Lord’s Prayer.”

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