Sermon: Seeing and Showing Jesus

April 28, 2019
Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Seeing and Showing Jesus

Spring Comes
“What a beautiful day!” This was my greeting when I visited some of our congregation members during the last week. Well, I know it had been raining during the weekend and it was a little chilly, but I like to see this rain as God’s gift for our gardens in our backyards. Sooner or later, we will get busy during our day-off as we plant flowers and vegetables and mow the lawns. After spending the cold winter season with lots of snows, finally we can open our windows, celebrate spring cleaning, and come outside to rejoice in the spring breezes.

Today’s Gospel also brings us a joyful greeting of spring. In this account, all the disciples look so terrific and excite, and I can almost hear them shout all together “What a wonderful day!” What’s going on in this story? They saw the risen Christ again coming into their gloomy upper room. Well, we need to go back a few days before Jesus was risen and see what happened to them, so that we can better understand why they were so excited to see Jesus Christ again.

Jesus’ Appearance in the Upper Room
On Thursday, Jesus and his disciples gathered in an upper room to share a meal together, which we now call “the Last Supper.” During the supper, Jesus knelt before his disciples and began to wash their feet one by one; he told them, “As I am your master, I have washed your feet; then you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” It was Jesus’s invitation and lesson for them to serve others

After the meal, he went to the Mount of Gethsemane with his disciples, and he prayed that God would empower him to obey God’s will as he confessed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Just after this prayer, he was arrested and handed over to the Roman power, and he was tried, beaten, and nailed to a cross with the title of King of the Jews written on a placard placed above his head. That was on Friday, the day he died.

On Sunday, Mary Magdalene and several women went to Jesus’ tomb to wash his dead body according to the Jewish custom for the dead. However, they could not find his body there because the tomb was empty. It was empty because Jesus was risen and came back to life.

In the meantime, all the disciples had run back to their upper room; they locked the door because they were afraid of the Jews who killed their Master Jesus. They were probably spending the most terrible weekend, worrying about their future life without Jesus. The women brought to them an unbelievable word that Jesus was alive. But they couldn’t understand it because they didn’t see what happened to the tomb where Jesus was buried.

It was these broken-hearted disciples to whom Jesus appeared. The first word that the risen Lord spoke to them was “Peace be with you” (v. 19). Right away, they came alive with rejoicing when they saw him speak to them in front of their eyes.

Yet, “Peace be with you” wasn’t the only message that Jesus proclaimed to them. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). He was breathing new life and new power into their souls. They became new creations, sustained and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

So what happened to the disciples who saw the risen Christ and received the Holy Spirit? They were no longer coward but bold enough to open the door of their house; they came out to the world to proclaim that Jesus is risen and he is the Lord of all. For that, they were put in prison and tortured by the Jewish officials, but none and nothing could stop them; they continued their teaching in the city of Jerusalem, and from there they went out into the Gentile countries and all over the world.

They were now totally different people. Until recently, they were afraid of the Jews, but now the Jews were afraid of them. What a big change it is! What motivated them to stand bold enough to challenge and change the world? The answer is in the story. That is, the risen Christ appeared to them and they saw him alive in front of their eyes.

But interestingly, there were some other disciples who didn’t believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They only considered it as a rumor. Poor Thomas was one of them. We have given him a nickname, “doubting Thomas.” His doubt was very simple, that is, he wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples. He left this famous word in John’s Gospel, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (v. 25).

Yet, Jesus didn’t leave Thomas stuck in his own doubt. A week later, he appeared to them again, and this time Thomas was there with his fellow disciples. The first word Jesus spoke to them was also “Peace be with you.” Then, right away, Thomas overcame all doubts and came alive with rejoicing and confessing, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).

We tend to laugh at Thomas and blame his unfaithfulness. But I don’t believe he was weaker than any other disciples or that the other disciples were more faithful than Thomas. They were all hiding in the upper room; they were all worried about the world; they all didn’t believe the resurrection of Jesus until they really saw the risen Christ in front of their eyes. Thomas just saw him little later than his friends.

Of course, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v. 29). This blessed one is Jesus himself. Jesus trusted his own resurrection and that’s why he allowed people to crucify him. But we are not like Jesus; we are like Thomas. Just as he needed to see the risen Jesus to believe, we also need to see, experience, and feel the risen Jesus first, so that we might believe in the power of God and all the promises of Jesus Christ.

Once again, seeing is believing. The disciples overcame their fear and doubt when they saw the risen Jesus in front of their eyes. Likewise, as we see Jesus, we can rejoice in our life, and as we show Jesus, we can challenge and change the world.

Showing the Risen Christ
How can we see Jesus, and how can we show Jesus to others? Do we see ourselves out of peace and out of hope in life? Do we feel like we are still caught in the power of darkness or sinfulness? Then, let us come forward to see Jesus Christ who is present in our gatherings. Christ comes in wherever his people gather in his name. Do we see people out there who still close their hearts, who are struggling in fear and loneliness, who don’t know God forgives and loves them? Then let us reach out to show the risen Christ as we touch their brokenness, wash their feet, and bless their lives in the name of the risen Christ who is delighted to offers us peace.

“Seeing Jesus” and “showing Jesus,” that is the point of today’s Gospel and that’s what we disciples are called to do for our worship and ministry. May the risen Christ come and breathe his peace and power into our hearts and may God empower us that we go to the world to become the Good News of peace, hope, and joy of life to all others. Amen.

Sermon: Come to the Table – “Thanksgiving and Generosity”

November 25, 2018
Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday

Matthew 25:31-46
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Come to the Table – “Thanksgiving and Generosity”

The Season of Thanksgiving and Generosity
Last week we enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday with our families and friends.  It is a time of joy and a time of saying “thanks” to God for his abundant blessings upon our lives.

Let us look around and look at our life. God has richly blessed us. Although times might be difficult for you, still there is so much for which to give thanks. You have a relationship with our gracious and loving God. You have this family of faith who love you and care about you. You have enough food, nice clothing, and a warm shelter. Your gifts of time, talents and possessions are ways of saying “thanks” for the blessed life you have in God our heavenly Father.

To respond to God’s abundant blessings, we designate this Sunday as a “Commitment Sunday,” and on this special Sunday we want to bring our offerings and pledge cards for the year of 2019. (Just last week, we learned that Christian stewardship is not just a fundraising, but more about our loyalty to God through our time, talents and treasures.)  When we celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday, we know there are still people who have suffered from disease, people who go to bed hungry every night; people who have no medical care; people who have to go to a T-station to sleep overnight. They live without much of the hope we have for our normal lives.  We collect offerings and money, not just to pay the bills of our church utilities, but to support Christ’s ministry for the sake of people in need.

I hope we celebrate this “Commitment Sunday” as a reminder that we are blessed in order to give and share. When we give, we don’t want to give out of obligation, but out of genuine love, for we know “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Jesus the Shepherd King
Liturgically, today is the final Sunday of the Church’s year. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent, and we will start the year afresh as we prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world. This Sunday we consider Christ as a King, and as a King we think of him as a Shepherd to his people.

The Shepherd is the most favorite image of our Jesus when we think of what he looks like. Don’t we see Jesus as everything good? He loves us; he heals the sick; he seeks the lost; he forgives and saves us from death to eternal life. When we are in trouble, we think of our Shepherd leading us to green pastures and still waters, and we feel so good. Our Shepherd Jesus is a man of compassion, mercy and everlasting love.

Yet such is not the only image we have from the Scripture today. The Christ in Matthew’s Gospel is shown as a King who is to judge his people; if we love and serve him, then he rewards us; but if we do not love and serve him, he punishes us. Christ is our King, and we must respond to him, or face the consequences. This is what Jesus says to us in his parable this morning.

We need to know where to find Jesus, so that we can reach out and serve him. The answer is written in today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.”

Reflecting on what Jesus just says in this parable, don’t we see so many Jesus walking and passing by us? He is hungry standing in the Food Pantry lines. Or as a homeless man, he is living on the streets and waiting for the gate of the Salvation Army to be opened so that he can get a coat. Or he is in the nursing home, or more likely, he is homebound because he can’t afford to go to a hospital. Or he is in prison, feeling hopeless about his life.

Don’t blame me. I didn’t say it, but Jesus said it; “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (v. 40). Taking Jesus’ message literally, he is more likely to be found in the downtown of our communities, looking for arms from us. And he is not just there to comfort those in suffering, but he is also suffering along with them. That’s where Jesus is.

As our Shepherd, Jesus calls each one of his flock and feeds and nourishes our spirits. That’s why we want to come into God’s house to give thanks to him. Yet we need to remember that as our Lord, he sends his flock (disciples) out to the world and commands us to feed his lost sheep. That’s why we need to bring our generosity to the world. In this regard, Church is the place where we worship Jesus our Shepherd and where he sends us to carry out his caring and serving ministry to all people living around us.

What does all this have to do with our Commitment Sunday? Biblically, thanksgiving and generosity are two sides of the same coin. Jesus just says in his parable what we did to people (generosity) is what we did to God (thanksgiving)! We start our worship with thanksgiving and end it with generosity. When the Israelites of the Old Testament came to their sanctuary to worship their God Yahweh, they brought their offerings and tithe of their produce. It was a way of saying “thanks” to God for his blessings upon their lives. After their worship in the sanctuary, they went out to share their offerings with neighbors in need. Generosity was a way for them to say “thanks” to God.

Likewise, we gather together to worship the Lord as we bring our own tithe, offerings and donations as a sign of our thanks to God. But that’s not all. Just a few minutes later, we are going to put them all together, bless them all, and bring them back with us, so that they will go back into the world, the world where Jesus lives and suffers along with his people. If thanksgiving is the foundation of worship, generosity is a completion of worship.

On Commitment Sunday
I really care about your worship attendance, about your fellowship with one another, and about your commitments here in our church. Yet, what makes me most impressed to you is your own willingness to reach out to Jesus who is out on the streets and to respond to the needs of our neighbors in our communities. I am glad that our Church is full of the sheep, full of the shepherds, full of servants who like to gather together and reach out together to serve Jesus Christ sitting out in the world.

On this Commitment Sunday or Christ the King Sunday, I give thanks for you all who know how to serve God. I give thanks to Jesus our Shepherd who feeds us, leads us, and blesses our lives every day. And I give thanks to Jesus our Lord who is himself joining the people in suffering and calls us to serve him in everything we do and every place we go. Amen.

Sermon: Obituary for a Hero

Obituary for a Hero
Deuteronomy 34:1-12
RUMC November 5, 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

One of the things I like to do in my spare time is to read biographies of famous people such as presidents, kings and queens, politicians, entertainers, sports heroes, and military commanders. What really piques my interest is how these people lived their lives at the end. What they had done in the twilight of their careers or what they said on their death bed speaks volumes of what they felt was important.

My scripture text for this morning is Deuteronomy 34:1-12; it is about the death of Moses. This fascinating account of how Moses approached the end of his days can inspire us to be faithful to the end.

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. 4 The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-Peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.
10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel. This is the Word of God.

By the time he died, Moses had lived a very long and productive life. If we carefully look at his life, we can see the important phases were neatly divided into 40 year increments. The first 40 years he lived as the Prince of Egypt. The second 40, he was the shepherd of sheep. And the final 40, he was the leader of God’s people.

Now as Moses’ life drew to a close I’m sure he felt as if he could have continued, but God had a different timetable, just as he has for all of us. On that unforgettable day, Moses said his final goodbyes and made his final climb to the top of the 2600 foot Mt. Nebo. At the summit, Moses was shown the Promised Land, and Jewish tradition tells us he went into an unknown cave and died.

On my first visit to Israel, our tour group took a very long bus ride through the Jordanian desert and made its way up the long and windy Mt. Nebo. At the summit we were greeted by a very old, dark skinned, toothless Arab who was the caretaker of a Franciscan Church.   He showed us around and told us nobody knew where Moses was buried. Over the centuries people have looked, but to no avail. However all of us who were on the tour came away with the realization that Moses was a special human being who walked with the Lord to the very end of his life. He is a good example for us as well.

I think most people are uncomfortable when the subject of death comes up in conversation. When I served for a time as a hospital chaplain, there were occasions when a patient wanted to talk about the end, but didn’t for fear it might upset the family, and the family was afraid to talk about the inevitable for fear it might upset the patient. My job was to help bring everyone together, where they could discuss these things. When families make that special connection, it can be some of the most memorable times ever in the relationship, and those special conversations will carry you through the grieving phase.

Since I asked Christ into my heart and have made peace with my maker, I do not have fear or anxiety when it comes to the afterlife, but I do identify with the chorus of that hymn: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone; because I know he holds the future and life is worth the living just because he lives.”

In 1914, the Canadian steamship, The Empress of Ireland, collided with another ship on the St. Lawrence River and eventually sank. Back in those days, they did not have the safety concerns as we do today, and there were not enough life jackets to go around. One hundred-nine of the one hundred-thirty Salvation Army workers on board gave their lifejackets to other passengers; each one of them said, “I know Jesus, so I can die better than you can.” I hope all of us can have the same confidence when it comes to eternal life.

Death for someone who does not know the Lord can be dismal, but for the believer, it is bright with all kinds of wonderful possibilities.   Someone once asked John Wesley what was the secret of the success of the Methodist movement and he said, “Our people die well.”

I have conducted lots of funerals for faithful church members, and it is a comfort for families to know that their loved one is with the Lord. I have also conducted other funerals of those whose faith was not a priority, and there was an underlying feeling of uncertainty.

Many years ago a missionary told an Indian Chief that Jesus was the way to heaven. The aged chief agreed. He said “The Jesus road is a good road, but I have followed the Indian road all of my life and I cannot change now.” One year later, as he lay on his death bed, the chief asked the missionary, “Can I turn to Jesus now? My own road stops here. It has no way through the valley.”

The Jesus road to heaven is the hope we have as found in these scriptures:

  • John 14:6 “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father except through me’.”
  • John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”


Another way that we can look at eternal life is to observe what often takes place at airport terminals. Family members are let off at the airport curb side, and they quickly say their good byes. Yet inevitably someone in the car will say, “Well, he or she is gone.” But the truth is that they are only gone from their sight, but not gone forever. Later on in some distant airport, the plane will land, that same family member will depart the aircraft and go to the baggage claim area. While there, someone else will spot them and say “he or she is here”, and there will be handshakes, hugs and kisses of welcome. Death’s pattern is very much like a one way airline ticket. It takes a person from our sight to the other side of eternity where we will literally pass from one existence to another.

Our story of Moses did not end with his death. There was one more incident that took place about 1500 years later. It comes from Luke 9:29-30: Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up on a mountain to pray. As he was praying the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. The event was called the Transfiguration, and it is a confirmation that there is life beyond the grave for the believer. If we know the Lord, we have nothing to fear.

When I was pastor in NH, we invited a Baptist Minister named Don Piper to come to our church. Reverend Piper related the story about a car accident in which he was injured; he was clinically dead for 90 minutes, but later revived. Reverend Piper said that he was able to see the other side of eternity, and he spoke to the Lord and his deceased relatives. After recovering from all of his injuries, which were many, Reverend Piper made it his life’s mission to tell everyone that there was life beyond the grave and not to miss it.

Let me close. Moses’ legacy was that he was an instrument of God and faithful to the very end. May we be active in our faith to the very end like Moses was.

Sermon: Andrew’s Big Contribution

Andrew’s Big Contribution
John 1:35-42
15 January 2017 RUMC

In the spring of 1992, a group of fourth grade students from Portland, Maine carried out a social and scientific experiment. They had learned how the Gulf Steam flowed along the East Coast where it turned toward Europe.  I suppose if they were to do this today it would be frowned upon by environmental regulations, but their 4th grade teacher encouraged her students to put messages in empty wine bottles with their return address.  The teacher had arranged with a local fisherman to take the twenty-one bottles several miles off shore to drop them into the ocean.  As you can imagine, the students were pretty excited as they crafted their messages and sealed the bottles.  They had great hopes that some of the bottles would follow the Gulf Stream and drift to England.  About three months later, two of the bottles washed up in Canada, and the students heard from the people who retrieved them.  The class heard nothing more and assumed the other bottles were lost at sea.  Two years later one of the students, Geoff Hight, received a surprise letter from a girl in France who found his bottle on the beach.

When we share the love of Christ with someone, it may seem like tossing a bottle with a message of hope into the ocean. We may not see any response and think what we had done or said is forgotten.  But years later, we are surprised to see how the Spirit of God, like the mighty Gulf Stream has carried our message to its destination.

My scripture text is how the Apostle Andrew shared the love of God with his brother Simon. It is a message of how we can use those opportunities that may come our way to share the love of God with others.  My text is John 1:35-42.
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
This is the Word of God.

This morning, I would like to focus on three verses: 40, 41 and 42. “One of the two who heard John the Baptist speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”   He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas.”

In those early days, when John the Baptist preached at the Jordan River, he pointed out to others that Jesus was the Messiah. When Andrew heard that message, he immediately began to follow Jesus and, in his excitement, told his brother, Simon, about his new relationship with the Lord.  Even though Andrew would eventually become less famous than his older brother, he too was used in the Kingdom of God, but in a more quiet way.

The story of Andrew and Peter is similar to what happened in 1934 North Carolina. A 24 year old farmer named Albert McMakin went to a tent Christian camp meeting and became a new believer in the Lord.  Albert was so enthusiastic about his new found faith, that he would go around town in his pick-up truck and take his neighbors to the Camp Meeting, which back then had lots of music, testimony and preaching.  Now there was one particular young man that Albert wanted to bring to the Camp Meeting, but he was difficult to persuade; it seemed that he was too busy falling in and out of love with different girls, nor was he too interested in Christianity.  Somehow Albert managed to persuade the young man to go to the Camp Meeting with him.  Once there, this young man became “spell bound.”  He went back night after night until he invited Christ into his life.  Since that day, that young man was used mightily by God.  The name of the young man was none other than Billy Graham.

You see, the Billy Grahams’ and the Apostle Peters’ are few and far between. They are the ones who write the books, preach sermons to thousands, and get most of the attention.   But most of us can be like Albert McMakin or like Andrew the Apostle; we can do things for God without much fanfare or attention.

It is truly a privilege to do things for God. Share an encouraging word.  Give people we know the Upper Room magazine.  We can provide some food assistance, or tell someone that we will pray for them.  We can invite those without a church home to come to ours.  If a person starts to ask questions about what you believe, you can go a step further and tell your story.  This is not supposed to be a burden to bear, but just another way to be partners with the Lord.

Let me go back to my gospel text with additional background information. Andrew followed John the Baptist and Jesus for about a year before he returned home to the fishing business.  The returning Andrew was a changed man, and his brother could see that.  The change in Andrew helped Simon see his path to Christ.

You see the Gospel is supposed to be good news, and for most Christians, it is best shared in personal encounters. Unfortunately we have all seen negative examples: the television evangelists with their strong appeal of money that turns people off; perhaps you had someone from a fringe cult come to your door wanting to convert you; or the religious relative everyone wants to avoid because he or she is too pushy.  I am sure you have seen people preaching outdoors and how they looked and what they said made you cringe.  Then there are those who talk the talk on Sunday, but do not walk the walk on Monday.  Because of all these things, it is easier and safer to keep your mouth shut.  You don’t want to be ridiculed; I understand and I get that.

However when the Gospel is shared in the right way–among friends, acquaintances, certain family members–it can be a beautiful thing; that is how our church is to grow. When our District Superintendent comes to visit our church, he will give a benediction where he quotes St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel, when necessary use words.”

Here are more quotes.
“May your life preach more loudly than your lips.”
“Be careful how you live: you will be the only Bible some people will ever read.” William Toms.

There is a story of how a Christian traveled to China and met with the pastor of a fast growing Baptist church. The tourist asked the Chinese pastor how he was able to get so many people to come to his church.  His answer was a surprise.  He said, “I don’t do much searching out for people.  They come to me.”  He further explained that during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s, he had been forced to leave his church and work in a radio factory.  The pastor was not allowed to speak about Christ, but he whistled while he worked.  That was significant, for nobody in the factory could summon up the joy to whistle.  When the days of the Cultural Revolution were over, the man returned to his work as a pastor.  Soon a steady trickle of people from the factory knocked at his office door. They wanted to discover the secret of his joy and learn  how it carried him through those difficult days.

In sharing our faith, we don’t need a 13 week theology course on what to say. If someone was to ask what gives us hope, we could mention our faith and how Rockville UMC helps us in our spiritual journey.  If you are not comfortable with words, then make a prayer sign or point up towards the sky.  That works.

Matthew 5:14-16 gives us good advice. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Tradition tells us that Andrew left Israel and went into Turkey where he shared the gospel with others until he was arrested and sentenced to die on the cross. As he hung on the cross for two days, he urged others to come to Christ.

Let me close. Do you remember how the fourth grade students sent messages in empty bottles off the coast of Maine?  In the course of time there were three responses out of twenty-one.

When we are ourselves and do things in Jesus name, it is a privilege and honor. So as we go forth, be aware of what we have and at the right time and place be open to share.

Sermon: Why Should We Go to the House of the Lord

Why Should We Go To the House of the Lord?
Psalm 122
27 November 2016

One day the telephone rang in the rector’s office at Christ’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia; it was the church where President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended. On the telephone line, an eager voice asked.  “Tell me, do you expect the President to be in church this Sunday?”  The Rector answered, “I cannot promise that, but we expect God to be here and we believe that will be incentive enough for a reasonably large attendance.”

Here at Rockville United Methodist Church, we believe God is with us and there is an assurance that he is in our lives. That is why we attend church every Sunday morning.

My text for this morning is Psalm 122 and it is about the love a believer has for a place of worship.
1 I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. 4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David. 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you. 7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.” 8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.”
This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

Psalm 122 was a song sung by Jewish pilgrims when they got into view of the temple. As they began to walk up the slight incline into the city, they began to sing in preparation for worship in the temple.

In February of 2014, I went to Israel with about 40 ministers and Bishop Devadhar. When we arrived in Jerusalem, I found that once we began to walk up the gradual incline to the old temple area, it was not an easy climb.  You had to be in somewhat good shape to walk those long and hilly slopes.

As I meditated on Psalm 122, I thought of the routine that many family members use on a Sunday morning when they are about to leave their homes. This expression will sound familiar to many of us as we have all called something like, “It is time to go to church” to get the family moving.  Let me suggest a phrase with a richer meaning, verse 1 of this psalm. “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

As you entered the doors of this sanctuary this morning, it is my hope and prayer that each of us felt God’s presence. I hope as we spend time together in service, we will each experience the presence of God, the holy, the divine, the peace and assurance of God.  That is why we come.

As a child, I was fortunate to have parents who instilled in me a desire to be in God’s House. As I look back on it, that provided me with the framework for me to find Jesus as my Savior and a foundation to go into the ministry.  In those early years, I got into the habit of attending worship services on Sunday.  Even today, if I am not in the house of the Lord on Sunday, I feel incomplete and as I get older, I don’t ever want to get in the habit of staying away for whatever reason.

Hebrews 10:25:  Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 

Incidentally, the church I attended as a youth, Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church in Quincy, MA closed its doors a couple of years ago. It was sold this past year to a developer who had it demolished on Columbus Day weekend.  Prior to the demolition, I contacted the developer and received permission to go into the church one final time.  When I went inside, the church was just a hollow building with most of its sacred items removed, but in my mind it still felt like the house of God.

For those who do not have a personal relationship with the Lord, a church is a building where nice people go on a Sunday. But for those who have Christ in their hearts, a church building is more than that.  It is a sacred place to meet God and hear his word.

I have great respect for the people needing a cane or walker who come to church. Sometimes they come in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank.  I know it is an effort for these people to be here and I appreciate their faithfulness.

I remember in the first United Methodist Church that I pastored we held a Saturday afternoon worship service. A 96 year old church member would have his health aide drive him, and they would sit together.  On one Saturday afternoon, I saw that the health aide was alone.  After the service, I asked where the man was and she said the parking lot.  He had a bad cough and didn’t want to disturb anyone.  I gave him a one minute sermon and served him communion.

Looking at American history, George Washington’s pastor once said, “No company or visitor ever kept him away from church. The pastor went on.  “I have often been at his breakfast table which was filled with guests.  But to him, there was no excuse for neglecting his God and losing the satisfaction of setting a good example.  Instead of staying at home out of imaginary courtesy to them, he used to constantly invite them to accompany him to church.”  President Theodore Roosevelt, in spite of all of his duties and responsibilities, did everything in his power to never miss a church service.  He took the promise he made at his confirmation seriously when he pledged that he would be faithful.  If Roosevelt could not attend a worship service, he sent a letter to his pastor and explained why he had to be absent.

Unfortunately for today’s society, we have had at least two, maybe three, generations where the parents were not as faithful in raising their children in the Christian faith or bringing them to church.  For faith to work, parents have to teach, to set the example and bring their children to the house of God.  Otherwise, if you let a child make the choice, most likely they won’t.

When I look at Psalm 122, there is something else that jumps out at me. It is verse 1 which says.  I was glad when they said to me. Let us go to the house of the Lord.  Notice there is no hint of reluctance, nor is there a sense of duty or obligation.  The psalmist is glad and looks forward to the experience.  I hope that is our experience as well.

Have you ever seen the Olympic ice sport of curling? Curling is like watching shuffleboard on ice with brooms.  It is not terribly exciting except to those who have a genuine interest.  To me it doesn’t exactly get the blood flowing, but if you are a true fan, you are passionate and it is exciting.  When it comes to worship, if a person does not have Christ in their life or does very little to nurture their spiritual life, church worship could be like curling.  It will become irrelevant, and people would rather stay home.

However when a person’s spiritual life becomes renewed and that person becomes born from above, church becomes the House of the Lord, and worship takes on new meaning.

A good worship experience requires some concentration and preparation. In Biblical times, when Jewish pilgrims came within sight of the temple, they began to sing 15 of the Psalm of the Ascents; Psalm 122 is one of them.  As they sang, they began to prepare themselves for worship in the temple.

I think our worship experience would go much better if we had some preparation when we get up on Sunday mornings. Perhaps we should keep the TV off and hold off checking our messages on the computer.  We can listen to some type of spiritual music in the car as we ride to church.  With the proper preparation, when we arrive in the parking lot we can say, “I am glad when they said to me.  Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

In many third world countries, people who have to walk to church have rich worship experiences. It does take an effort to get there, but when they arrive the songs are sweeter, the prayers are richer, and the meditation is life enriching.  On that same trip to Israel with the Bishop, we were given a chance to do anything we wanted on the Sunday in the middle of our tour.  I decided to attend the English speaking St. George’s Anglican Service in East Jerusalem.  To get there I walked from my hotel, which gave me time to think and prepare my heart for worship.  When I arrived, I discovered that there were many similarities to our United Methodist worship service.  But this time, because of my spiritual preparation as I walked to the church, I was more than ready for worship.  After the service was over, I walked back to the hotel and I found myself deep in the thought of what I had heard and experienced.  It was rich.  Normally when I come to the House of the Lord, I just jump in the car and within minutes I am here.  But when I had to walk, what a difference it made.

Let me close with this thought. When you come to worship, I encourage you to prepare yourselves.  Then you can say, “I was glad when they said to me. Let us go to the house of the Lord.” 

Sermon: Mustard Seed Faith

Mustard Seed Faith
Luke 17:5-6
2 Oct 2016

Former CNN journalist Larry King once told this story of three farmers who had gathered each day to pray in a field stricken by a severe drought. The three men got down on their knees and prayed that the skies would pour forth the much needed rain.  They had done this day after day without any results.  One morning, a stranger approached and asked the three farmers what they were doing. They all responded, “We are praying for rain.”  As the newcomer looked at each of them, he shook his head and said, “No, I don’t think so.”  The first farmer protested, “Of course we’re praying.  Can’t you see we are down on our knees pleading for the rain?”  The stranger then advised them that their efforts would never work.  The second farmer jumped in and said, “We are not asking just for ourselves, but for all the families and livestock in the area.”  The stranger said, “You’re wasting your time.”  The third farmer, now a bit angry, asked, “Okay, what would you do?”  The stranger said, “If I were in your shoes, I would have brought an umbrella.”

My topic for this morning is Mustard Seed Faith. It is the anticipation that God will answer our prayers, and that he can move the unmovable and accomplish the impossible.

My text is Luke 17:5-6.   It is only 2 verses.  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”  He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

The mustard seed is about the size of the small letter o, 12 pitch, Times New Roman: o.  It is indeed very small.  For a size demonstration, here is a photo with a mustard seed inside an earring, sitting next to a quarter.


But when you take this very seed and plant it in the ground, it can grow almost 10 feet tall with branches strong enough to hold small birds. The yellowish green flowers have four petals, and some say it is formed in the shape of a cross.


In this passage of scripture, Jesus used the example of a mustard seed to show how faith can move obstacles.

Here is an example of mustard seed faith at work: A number of years ago, a young boy in Edinburgh, England attended a church prayer meeting   He confided to the lay minister that he wished his sister would start reading the bible.  The boy was sure if she started reading the bible, his sister would make her profession of faith and have Christ in her life.  The lay minister asked, “Son, do you really think so?”  The boy replied, “Yes sir I do and the next time there is a prayer meeting, will everyone pray for my sister?”  The lay minister said, “Well it shall be done?”  The next week, the lay minister mentioned to those assembled that this young lad was anxious that this sister would begin to read the Bible, and requested people pray for her.  The boy got up and left.  The next week, when he came back, the lay minister said, “Son, I thought it was very rude of you to get up during the prayer service and leave, especially when we were praying for your sister.”  The boy said, “But sir I didn’t mean to be rude.  I thought I would just go home and see my sister reading her Bible for the first time.”

The boy clearly had mustard seed faith. With that type of faith, we expect to watch and see that our prayers are answered, just as that little boy did and just as the stranger suggested to the farmers that they should carry an umbrella.

As a pastor in my first United Methodist parish, our church was preparing to participate in a parade where we were to have a float. The trailer was in the parking lot along with all the materials, but there were no workers to help.  I wanted to panic, but instead I committed it to prayer; I knew everything would turn out okay, and that God would come through.  I just wasn’t sure how.  I made one phone call, and a man with carpentry and electronic skills came over.  He put most of the difficult part of the float together by himself.  We had a successful parade; I believe we won a trophy.

Romans 10:17 “So faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God.”

Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

A religious life with a neatly packaged set of beliefs, such as the golden rule or the 10 commandments is not enough. We need to believe.  Mustard seed faith believes God will help us overcome the difficult and the impossible.  For our mustard seed faith to grow, there must be the combination of personal prayer and Bible reading.  With mustard seed faith, we will have to put a lot of effort into feeding our faith; this will give us the confidence to believe God will meet our needs.  But in the beginning, all we need is to start with a little faith and watch it grow.

In 1972, NASA launched an exploratory space probe called Pioneer 10. Its primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph the planet and all the moons, gather additional information about the planet’s magnetic field, and send this information back to Mission Control.  The Pioneer 10 space mission was supposed to last 3 years.  Remarkably it lasted about 30 years with a tiny 8 watt radio transmitter still working.

In the spiritual realm, a faint message can go a long way. Our prayers with just a little bit of faith can reach the heart of God.  With Mustard Seed faith, we know beyond a shadow of doubt that God hears and will answer our prayers.

Mustard Seed Faith Quotes:

  • Faith is seeing the light with your heart when all your eyes see is darkness.
  • Sometimes all you need is faith as big as a mustard seed and God will do the rest.

Now we also need to be careful and sensible about this. When we lived in Ft. Knox, KY, we knew a young lady who took her mustard seed faith to the extreme, which didn’t meet the common sense test.  She wanted to get married in the worst way and asked God to send her a husband within the coming year.  This woman bought a wedding dress, rented a hall for the reception, and ordered a cake even though there was no man in her life.  To make a long story short, she got involved with someone who was totally wrong for her.  Fortunately, she broke off the engagement.  A couple of years later, she did get married, but this was in God’s timing.

When it comes to Mustard Seed Faith, answers to prayer will be in God’s will and in His timing. Mustard Seed Faith means to embrace a way of life that contradicts most of life.  As a church we need our mustard seed faith for the following:

  • We need mustard seed faith for adult children to find the Lord and come back to church.
  • We need mustard seed faith for those loved ones to be delivered from certain addictions.
  • We need mustard seed faith to deal with impossible situations.
  • We need mustard seed faith for those to find employment.
  • We need mustard seed faith for those who need a healing.
  • Some need mustard seed faith to tithe or give 10% to the work of the Lord.
  • We need mustard seed faith for a spiritual awakening in this area.

Is there a situation in your life where you need mustard seed faith?

Sermon: The Strength of My Life

The Strength of My Life
Psalm 27:1-9
14 August 2016

In the beginning of Walt Disney’s animated cartoon feature “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” the seven little men had begun to return home, only to see that the lights were on in their log cabin with smoke coming out of the chimney.  Instinctively they knew something was terribly wrong and with crippling fear, they cracked open the door, only to discover that the beast was on the second floor.  With terror in their hearts, they crept up the stairs to the bedroom.  And as they lifted up their pick axes to slay the monster, the sheets were thrown back revealing the lovely Snow White.  Even though this is a well-known fairy tale, we love it because we can identify with the dwarfs and what they had experienced.

My scripture text is Psalm 27 which teaches us how to handle our fears.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. 4 One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tents and sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. 7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! 10 If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. 11 Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. 3 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.

King David, who wrote Psalm 27, was a man after God’s own heart. As a shepherd boy, he protected his flock of sheep from wolves, bears and lions.  As a teen, he slew Goliath the giant.  As a young adult, he had escaped the grasp of a mad King Saul.  And when he had become king, he himself faced the pressures of enemy armies.  But through it all, with his trust in God, David was able to conquer all of his fears.

Verse 1 begins with a declaration or personal confession: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Because the Lord is our rescuer or deliverer, we can be at ease.  You see, faith in God is not some obscure concept that is found in a theological textbook or some unreachable spiritual quest, ultimately it is a relationship with the Lord.  Because of this, we can be encouraged because we are not alone.  Although our problems and difficulties may not disappear, the fear of what troubles us can be replaced with trust.

There is an old Arab fable that speaks of that: Once there was an evil character called ‘Pestilence’. It seemed when this sinister creature was about to overtake a caravan on its way to the city of Baghdad, an old Arab chieftain spotted the creature and said:  “What are you going to do when you arrive in Baghdad?”  To which ‘Pestilence’ replied, “I shall claim 5,000 lives through sickness and disease.”  When all was said and done, 50,000 people died, not 5,000.  When the Arab chieftain later saw ‘Pestilence’ he said, “You promised to take only 5,000 people, but 50,000 died.  You were unfair.”  ‘Pestilence’ replied, “I kept my word.  I took only 5,000.  The other 45,000 died of fear.”

Many studies have shown that 80-90% of the things that we worry about never come to fruition. I have to continually remind myself of that fact.

  • Winston Churchill once said, “When I look back on all my worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
  • Mark Twain-“I have had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

If we are not careful, worries can cripple us or cause us to act out of fear.

The second part of verse one tells us, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” It reminds me that the best way to live out our faith is to be anchored to the “Rock of Ages.”  If we stay connected, the Lord will give us the inner strength, his Holy Spirit, to face those challenges and the things that we fear the most.  Here are some scriptures that speak to that:

  • Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
  • 1 John 4:4 “Greater is He who is in you, than he that is in the world.”
  • Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink about your body, what you will wear.”
  • Philippians 4:6 “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything.”

Learning to trust God is easier said than done, and I have to learn this lesson over and over again. But once we have the inner strength of the Lord, regardless of what has happened, we can be calm.

There are a number of studies that document what Americans fear most. Many of the studies are found on the internet, and they often overlap.  Let me list some of the common fears; people are…

  • Afraid they will be in a car wreck.
  • Afraid they will be diagnosed with a terminal illness or Alzheimer’s.
  • Afraid that Social Security will run out when they retire.
  • Afraid they will become a victim of violence or identity theft.
  • Afraid to speak in public.

These are the general fears, and certainly there are others. As adults, we may or may not be afraid of spiders, snakes, and mice, but there are countless other things that could paralyze us with fear.  King David gives us good advice and that is not to rely on our own strength, but on the power of the Almighty.

Back in the early days of black and white television, there was a live circus act that featured a couple of Bengal tigers. On this one particular show, the trainer went into the tiger cage to do a live performance.  As the bright TV spotlights zeroed in on the animal act, the trainer skillfully put the tigers through their paces.  Then there was a power outage and the lights went out.  In pitch darkness, the tigers could see the trainer, but the trainer could not them. After 30 long seconds that seemed like an eternity, the lights came back on and the trainer calmly finished the performance.  When asked how he felt, the trainer admitted he had a great deal of fear.  However he pointed out that the tigers did not know he could not see them, so he continued to talk and crack the whip until the lights came on.

The trainer’s experience in that situation gives us a perspective of how fear works. Some people face the terrifying fear of fighting tigers in the dark.  But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, rather than focus on our fear, we will make it.

The way King David channeled his energies is found in verse 4: “One thing I ask of the Lord. This is what I will seek after, that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in the temple.” 

The House of the Lord was a special place to King David; just being in God’s house and the atmosphere that surrounded it, he received an assurance that everything would be okay.

Again if we focus on God as our light and salvation, we will be able to face any situation. When we come into the sanctuary that should lend itself to quiet strength, it doesn’t mean our struggles will go away, but we will not be alone.

Most of you have heard the poem Footprints in the Sand which speaks of the struggle that we face and how the Lord is present. It is below:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord,
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me,
so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Let me close. As with the seven dwarfs, our fears can be monsters in our own minds. When things happen, they will not be as painful or as bad as we expected.  Worry is something we all struggle with, but with the help of this psalm, perhaps we can take steps to replace it.

Sermon: The Faith of the Centurion

The Faith of the Centurion
Luke 7:1-10
RUMC 29 May 2016

As Allied forces swept across Germany, towards the end of World War II, American soldiers looked for enemy snipers as they went form one building to another in a concentration camp.  In one abandoned building, a squad of men with flashlights went down into a dark basement and saw something on the wall; it was the Star of David.  Underneath was the following message:

I believe in the sun-even when it is not shining.
I believe in love-even when I am alone.
I believe in God-even when he is silent.

My scripture text is Luke 7:1-10; this passage is about expectant faith.  It is the story of the Roman Centurion.

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

The main character in today’s scripture passage was a military man.  The Roman Centurion’s rank was equivalent to a modern day US Army captain.  A Centurion had 100 soldiers under his control.

In Bible days, the centurion was easily recognizable.  For one thing, he wasn’t young, but he was a middle aged man who wore a metal helmet with flaps down over his ears and with a purple plume on top.  With a metal breastplate fastened to his chest and a sword attached to his side, he certainly was an imposing figure.

But there was something different about this centurion that set him apart.  He was concerned about the Jewish people, to the point that he even built them a synagogue with his own money.

I think there is this stereotype among some, that all military persons are lean, mean fighting machines, but that is not necessarily the case.  When I was deployed to the country of Honduras, we had soldiers who volunteered on their own time to deliver food and medical supplies to a needy orphanage in Honduras.  We have all seen pictures of US service men and women who have cared for refugees, have rescued women and children from harm’s way, and performed all manner of acts of kindness.

It was the same thing with this Roman centurion.  He was greatly concerned that his servant was gravely ill and perhaps at death’s door.

When it comes to expectant faith, this next story hits home.  Pastor Jon Bisango of Houston, TX described a time, when his daughter Melodye Jan, age 5, came to him and asked if he could make her a doll house.  Pastor Jon promptly nodded and promised to build her one.  Then he went back to reading his book.

But Pastor Jon happened to glance out the window and saw his daughter with her arms filled with dishes, toys and dolls.  She made trip after trip after until there was a big pile of her play things in the middle of the yard.  Pastor Jon then asked his wife why his daughter had done this?  His wife replied, “Oh don’t you remember that you promised to build her a doll house and she believes you.  She’s just getting ready for it.”  Pastor Jon said “You would have thought I had been hit by an atom bomb.  I threw aside that book, raced to the lumber yard for supplies and quickly built that little girl a doll house.  Now why did I respond?  Was it because I wanted to?  No.  I did it because I had given her my word; she believed and acted upon it.  When I saw her faith, there was nothing that could keep me from carrying out my word.”

It is the same thing with expectant faith in God.”  The Roman centurion had expectant faith.  As a military man, he knew when you give commands, soldiers are expected to carry them out.  It was also natural for the centurion to apply that same type of logic in the spiritual realm to the healing of his servant.

Many times when we go to God in prayer, let’s be honest, we don’t really expect God answer.  It is sort of like going into a casino and pulling down the lever of a slot machine; we hope the numbers or pictures will line up.  When it comes to prayer, we hope and hope and hope.  And when it happens, we act surprised.

But for us to develop this expectant type of faith, the best thing is to put time into our relationship with the Lord.  Read his word and let faith grow.

Hebrews 11:1 says “Faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God.”

Here are several more quotes that speak of faith:

  • Feed your faith and your doubts will starve to death.
  • Faith makes things possible; it does not make them easy.
  • Faith is not believing God can, it is believing He will.
  • Prayer is the key to heaven, but faith unlocks the door.
  • Faith in God includes faith in His timing.
  • “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” MLK Jr.

Missionaries Robert and Mary Moffat had that type of faith.  For ten years this couple had labored faithfully in the African country of Botswana, yet they had nothing to show for it.  The directors of their mission board began to question the wisdom of the Moffats continuing their mission work.  Some board members thought it best that the Moffat’s return home, but that only distressed the missionaries further, because they were convinced God would bring a harvest.  One day the Moffat’s received a letter from a friend in England who asked what type of gift they would like for their ministry.  With expectant faith, Mrs. Moffat sent back a reply.  She said, “Send us a communion set; I am sure it will soon be needed.”  God then honored Mrs. Moffat’s faith.  The Holy Spirit had moved upon the hearts of the villagers and soon a group of six converts were united to form a church.  The communion set arrived just one day before their first service.

Like I mentioned earlier, expectant faith not only believes in God, it believes he will.  The centurion believed that all he needed to do was speak the word, and his servant would be healed.  Melodye Jan believed her father would build the doll house, and he did.  Missionaries Robert and Mary Moffatt believed God would begin to save the souls of the people in Botswana, and He did.

Is there a situation in your life where you need an answer?  Let me encourage you to spend time with God and build up your faith.  Hebrews 11:1 “Faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of God.”  And with that expectant faith, believe God will answer your need.

Sermon: Jesus’ Surprise Announcement

Jesus’ Surprise Announcement in the Synagogue
Luke 4:14-21
RUMC January 31, 2015

            In 1790, there was a mutiny on His Majesty’s Ship, the HMS Bounty.  To escape the arms of justice, the mutineers sailed some 8000 miles across the South Pacific Ocean to a deserted place called Pitcairn Island.  At the time, there were a total of nine mutineer sailors along with eighteen Pacific Islanders who were involved in the rebellion.  When the mutineers finally got to Pitcairn Island, they rammed the ship onto the sand, and they removed all the things of value that they could salvage.  Finally they burnt the ship to escape detection from the British Royal Navy, who was out on patrol for looking for the Bounty.

Once the mutineers were settled on the island, they began to distill alcohol and it wasn’t long before the little colony was plunged into debauchery and vice.  After a turbulent 10 years, the only survivors that remained on the island were one sailor and a handful of natives and their children, who were half English and half Pacific Islander.  As the story is told, the one and only surviving sailor found a Bible in a chest salvaged from the Bounty.  With nothing else to do, he began to read it.  He in turn taught it to others and the end result was that his own life and the lives of those on that little island were changed by the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now eight years after the time the old sailor found the bible in the sea chest, which was about 1808, the American ship, the USS Topaz, stopped at what they thought was a deserted island.  To the amazement of the captain and the crew, Pitcairn had become a prosperous island.  There was no jail, no whiskey, no crime and no laziness.  And it was reported that all the inhabitants on the island had a strong faith in the Lord Jesus.

What happened on Pitcairn so long ago is an excellent example of what God can do with the lives of broken people.  The early settlers on Pitcairn were guilty of many grievous sins, but the Lord saved them and transformed them by his grace.

Jesus said he would come to help the poor.  That is to help men, women, and children who are entangled in the things of this life see the truth of god’s way.

My text is Luke 4: 14-21. 

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
This is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God.

In today’s gospel, Jesus was in the beginning phases of his ministry.  Already he had a reputation as a dynamic religious leader.  He got people’s attention when he was baptized by John.  Then he disappeared for a time in the desert to be tempted by the devil, only to emerge, 50 days later, in Galilee with a small band of followers.  And after what we would consider a successful preaching tour, Jesus finally came home.  Verse 16.  And he came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue.

In the first century, the synagogue did not have a minister as we would know it.  But what they had was a synagogue ruler whose job was to preside over the service.  In the worship service itself, there was the invocation.  Then a priest and levite read from the law.  This was followed by five laymen who also read passages from the first 5 books of the Bible.

After this, the synagogue ruler would invite any of the distinguished visitors or rabbi’s to read from the prophets and preach.  Since Jesus had recently gained a reputation as a preacher and since he grew up in that synagogue, had his bar mitzvah there, of course it was fitting that he would be asked to take a prominent part in the service.

Verse 17 tells us.  The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.  As Jesus unrolled it, he found the place where it was written and read in the Hebrew language.

Ruach, adonoi, Elohim alee,ya ar mishach
Adoni oti kabsah anoyim, shetini shin
Namid phet alun anyol machiesch la nosh va reer
Leave ma ca re era she voim deroer releaf so reem
Pa ca ko heem
Recray shenar, ratson, radonoi, veyong nar keem
Elohaynew, leneehem kuhl avzalim


The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners
and recover of sight to the blind
to release the oppressed.  To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 

             After Jesus read this passage of scripture from Isaiah, he rolled up the scrolls and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  In a Christian worship service, the minister, like myself, stands.  But in the synagogue, the preacher or rabbi sat.  The first thing that Jesus said after he wat was “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And so Jesus ministry to the needy continues to this very day.

Jesus said he came to preach the gospel to the poor, to those who did not have anything and to those who were sorrowful for their sins.  Jesus said he came to bring deliverance to the captives.  To release people from any type of bondage and when we give our lives to Him, there is transformation.  Jesus said he came to bring recovery of sight to the blind, both physical and spiritual.  John Newton the author of “Amazing Grace” wrote, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  It is that type of thing that Jesus does in the heart of the believer.

Jesus came with good news for the world’s trouble people.  He came for those desperate people on Pitcairn Island with their all their vices.  They accepted the message and lives were changed.

Jesus said he came to preach the gospel to the poor, to those who are truly sorrowful for their sin, who are downtrodden or underprivileged.  .

Jesus said he came to bring deliverance to the captives.  To release his children who may suffer from any type of physical, psychological or political bondage.

Jesus said he came to bring recovery of sight to the blind.  To give physical and spiritual light to those who sought it.  John Newton, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace wrote that he was blind, but now he could see by the grace of God.

Jesus said he came to set free those who struggle.  To include the depressed, those who battle codependence and abuse, he will provide strength.

Jesus said he came to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.  To let the world know his Father was willing to be reconciled to them.  These are all the things that Jesus came to do.

With the Lord, we receive hope and dignity.
We receive freedom from bondage.
We recognize God’s perspective and new life.
In Christ, we receive freedom from forces holding us down.

            We need to receive before we can do.  What can we do?  Share the gospel with others.  Help others to be free to really live.  Perform acts of mercy.  Celebrate God’s grace to disheartened people.

Who are the people God desires you to care for?  How might you do so?

Earlier, I mentioned that it was a mutineer, an old seaman living in gross immorality, who found a Bible gathering dust in a sea chest.  As he read it, he confessed his sins and became a Christian.  Everyone else on the island followed his example and became a believer.  The island that once was a sewer of moral filth was now a safe haven of godliness.

Eventually Queen Vitoria heard about this little colony of believers and sent missionaries to help them with their new found faith.  If you were to sail to Pitcairn Island today, you would find an island that has not changed too much in the last 200 years.

There are currently 56 people who still live on the island.  There are few luxuries and according to recent books I’ve read, the people are friendly and the majority have a strong faith in God.