Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blessed to Bless With Our Prayers

Our Stewardship/Discipleship theme is Blessed to Bless. With this theme in mind we embark on that annual journey of renewing our faith commitments to uphold the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. These five things are the marks of discipleship for us. What does a Christian look like? A Christian prays, presents him/herself in worship and study, gives, serves and witnesses in the name of Jesus Christ.

So, at this time of the year we call each other to account and ask: “How have we done?” or “Where can we improve and move forward in our commitment to Christ?”

Last Sunday, I invited the congregation to see how they were doing with their prayers. John Stott, great evangelist, was speaking to a conference. He started his remarks by saying: “We all know that we need to pray more…”

One could look at this Pharisaically and ask: “What is enough?” Maxie Dunnam says that there are some things that God will not do unless we pray. Some say that the world is such a mess right now because Christian are not praying. I offered Sunday three things about prayer.

1. Prayer is naming God. This means that when we pray as follower of Christ, we call on God as Father. We name God as the God of our lives. We acknowledge that prayer is a hunger here. Psalm 42 says: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, O God, so my soul longs for you.” The text was Luke 18:9ff. It’s the story of the two prayers: the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee stands up at the altar physically but is far from God when he says; “I thank you God that I am not like other people…especially this tax collector. The tax collector then cries out for God’s mercy. The one who asked for mercy went home right with God, says Jesus.

2. Prayer is name ourselves as we are before God. We don’t come to God pretending to be something we are not. We come as we are- named as a child of God through Christ. My friend says that he told his spiritual director: “Sometimes I don’t feel that my prayers get through the ceiling.” The spiritual director leaned over and touch my friend’s chest with his finger and said: “ Your prayers only need to get this far.” Bring your needs and your wants/desires to God, just as you are.

3. Prayer is allowing God to name us. When we are praying and offer God our own needs as honestly as we can, God comes to us giving us the assurance of his presence with us. Isaiah 43 says that when we pass through the waters they will not overwhelm us…when we pass through the fire…it will not burn us…God will be with us wherever we go, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.

How are you doing with this gift of prayer? Are you using prayer to bless others? Are you growing in your prayer life? Are you moving from praying only about yourself to praying about others and to the point where prayer is listening to God- when prayer is as important to you as breathing? We are blessed to bless with our prayers.

Dave Nichiols

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blessed to Bless

Yesterday, we started our next sermon series which laid the foundation for our Stewardship theme: Blessed to bless others! Our text was Genesis 12: 1-9, that wonderful passage in which God approaches a 75-year-old man, Abram, with a calling.

When the Jews begin to tell their/our story they say of Abram: “My father was a wandering Aramean…” Abram and Sarai were nomads who wandered the desert, settling wherever they found precious water. Some think that they were worshippers of pagan gods, not unusual for people in that day and time and place. Then, our God appears and calls him to go…That’s how God’s call most always comes to us: “Go.” Go to another place in the world, to another space in your mind, to another idea than your present one. Take your body and your life and your family and your time and go…”

Of course, the Promised Land was the destination. God would create for himself a people to be a light to the world. And, he would carve out a place in this world for them. So, as we come to that time of the year when we bring each other to some account for our Christian walk, as we ask how we’re doing with our journey of faith, our foundation is laid in Abram and Sarai who were blessed by God to be a blessing to the whole world.

So, yesterday, Sunday, I invited the worshippers to turn to their neighbors and say first: “I am blessed…” Since by extension we, as followers/believers of/in Jesus Christ, we are, too, a blessed people. Psalm 103 says: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…” There are benefits to this walk of faith in the God of Abram. We are blessed with many blessings. So, think of yourself as blessed…”

In our culture, our world, which is largely pagan, we are taught to think of ourselves in two ways: lucky or unlucky. If you’re doing relatively well, we consider you lucky. If not, then unlucky. Of course, our God is not involved in luck. Luck involves a pagan trust in the stars, or something, in a lottery, or some other form of superstition.

We don’t believe in luck; we believe in Jesus. Not that everything that happens to us is God’s will, or is good, but we believe that even when things are bad that our God can/will bring good out of the worst things.

I guess that are some of us who think of ourselves as cursed, not blessed. We certainly are prone to think of ourselves as lacking instead of prosperous. To say “I am blessed” is to walk by faith trusting God to be with us, to help us, to love us through whatever we’re going through, to lead us forward with all that we need to be and do God’s will.

Next, I asked the worshippers to turn to their neighbors and say: “I am a blessing…” We are blessed to be a blessing. I suggested four ways that we are blessings to others: with a loving touch, a kind word, friendship, and making a difference.

I ended my sermon with the story of Mr. Chen Si. Mr. Chen was listening to his radio one day and heard the terrible report that the bridge over the Yangze River in Nanjing was known for the number of people who jumped from it. 1000 people have jumped from it. Mr. Chen decided to do something about it. He wears binoculars in his off hours and walks the bridge looking for people who are ready to jump. He has saved some 170 people. People tell stories of how they went over the side and were grabbed by Chen. He is called the “angel of Nanjing”. Wow.

In what ways are you being an “angel” a blessing to others? That’s the foundation. In the next five weeks we will call each other to our covenant walk asking how we can bless others with our prayers, presence, service, witness, and gifts. Each week you will be asked to measure your own faithfulness and see where you might do better. Are you with me in this?

I trust you and I trust God. We are blessed to be a blessing!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Top Ten Questions God Asks Us- Number Ten

I feel a little bit like Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. I acknowledge that most of you probably don’t know who Johnny Carson was. Carson was the host of the Tonight Show for many years; when he retired, Jay Leno took over. Anyway, Carson did a routine call Carnac in which he was a soothsayer who would give the answers to questions having never before seen the questions. His sidekick, Ed McMahon, would hold the questions in an envelope. Without fail, he would hold the last envelope in his hand and say: “I hold in my hand the last envelope.” And, the audience would erupt into wild applause.

This is the tenth question that God asks us in our series of ten questions God asks us. This is the last question. Do I hear wild applause? The question is: “Do you know what I have done to you?”

The question comes in chapter 13 of John’s Gospel. It’s after the Passover meal with his disciples. Jesus gets up from table and takes off his outer garment. He takes a towel and a basin of water and starts to wash the disciples’ feet. Peter is first and he protests that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, should not be washing his feet. Jesus says: “If I don’t wash your feet, you have no part in me…” Peter says: “Then, not just me feet, wash my hands, my head, my whole body…”

It’s an utterly absurd act. Everyone walked in those days, you remember. The roads were dusty. Someone’s feet would be dirty after only walking a short distance. Feet would perhaps be wounded by rocks or sticks along the way. When you arrived at someone’s house, the host would order the servant to wash your feet.

You knew is someone was rich if they had a servant to wash your feet. A host would never wash feet. So, when Jesus, Mr. Savior of the world, gets on hands and knees to wash feet, it seems totally out of place.

Jesus washes all their feet and then asks: “Do you know what I have done to you?” This is a teaching moment. Jesus is teacher and Lord. But what about this? In my sermon on this, I said that I thought Jesus was saying three things here. He was saying first: I touched you. I touched you at the place where your pain is most real. I touched you at the place where the filth and dirt of the world have collected. He also said: I gave you example.

This was kind of an acted-out parable. Since I have washing your feet (loved you), you ought to wash one another’s feet (love each other).

There are some churches in which this foot-washing action is a sacrament. Just as we see in Holy Communion and Baptism the action of God, they see in foot-washing the sacramental action of God.

It was 1991. I was pastor at Socastee UMC. It was Maundy Thursday when we read this text and talk about it with the congregation before we have Communion together. My mother was there in a wheel chair. She had been diagnosed with Scleroderma, which is an arthritic condition with no treatment. It attacks the major organs of the body. It was attacking her lungs and that caused all kinds of problems.

I served her Holy Communion at church; I’ll never forget it. Later that night as I was helping her get to bed in my bed my mother said: “David, will you rub my feet; my feet hurt so much.” A light went on. Just as I have done this to you; so you…Do you know what I have done to you. In a kind of sacrament I returned the grace that she had given me and rubbed her feet.

In millions of ways, Jesus example is lived out in the church as you serve and love each other. Do you know what I have done to you? Yes, you took a towel, a basin of water, and a cross...

Dave Nichols

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Top Ten Questions God Asks Us- Number Nine

The ninth question in the series of Top Ten Questions God Asks Us is: Why are you Weeping? Remember that this series of sermons is based on the book by Trevor Hudson called Questions God Asks Us.

This question comes in the resurrection narrative of John’s Gospel. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early. She peeps into the tomb and sees two angels and they ask her: “Why are you weeping?” She says: “Where is my Lord? Have they taken him away? Tell me where they have taken him that I may take him away.”

Looking for a dead body, not expecting that Jesus was alive, even though Jesus had told them, she weeps. In the garden, someone appears and asks: “Why are you weeping?” Mary says: “They have taken away my Lord…” Jesus says: “Mary.” And, Mary recognizes Jesus and says: “Rabboni”.

The Bible is filled with weeping. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the writer says: “There is a time to laugh and a time to weep.” Life is this mixture of joy and sadness; laughter and tears. Without the tears we would not know the meaning of laughter.

Israel is exiled from her homeland. The Babylonians come and take away the most educated and skilled people and scatter them throughout the empire. The Jews who were left in Jerusalem were either enslaved or murdered. The Babylonians destroyed their homes, their temple, their city, and their lives.

Years later, Israel is set free to return home. God uses Cyrus the Persian who writes an edict setting Israel free. Ezra and Nehemiah lead the Israelites home. There’s a wonderful scene in which all Israel is gathered. Scripture is read and preached all day. The people weep. At one point it says that the Jews were shouting in praise of God and weeping at the same time. You couldn’t tell one from another.

The shouts of joy were mingled with tears of sadness and grief. Why are you weeping?

I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of the talk shows where people are paraded out in front of everybody. There’s yelling and screaming and lots of tears. Sometimes I feel that we are awash with tears in this culture. People cry and they think they’ve done something. You can’t watch a TV show without seeing/hearing someone crying.

And yet, I have to acknowledge the importance of our tears. Loss, pain, grief, or just the passing of time lead us all to emotion. Ray, on Everybody Loves Raymond, comes home early one day and catches his wife crying. Immediately he tries to fix it, to get her to stop crying. Ray tries and tries. Finally, his wife says; “It’s OK Ray; I’m fine. Sometimes I just need to cry.”

If we’re honest, we all need to cry sometime. Something like a movie sets it off. We all have reason to cry.

Even Jesus, the savior of the world, Mr. Word made flesh, wept. It’s the shortest verse in scripture: “Jesus wept.” It’s the most precious verse in scripture.

Church at its best is the place, the people, where we can cry and not worry about it. Christians are the people who understand tears, if nothing else, and don’t rush to stop them, but seek to understand them. On Sundays, as we praise God, the tears are flowing. It’s good.

We know, you see, that our tears, all our tears, are not the last word. We worship a God who dries our tears and will one day bring all our tears to joy in that kingdom which has no end.

Why are you weeping? It’s ok to cry in church.

Dave Nichols

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Top Ten Questions God Asks Us- Number Eight

The eighth question that God Asks Us is: Do You Want to be Made Well? This question is found in John 5. A man is lying on his mat by the Pool of Bethzatha. Jesus comes in from Bethany to Jerusalem and is about to enter through the Shepherd’s Gate. Now there are Lions on either side of that gate, but it is called the Shepherd’s Gate. If there was a threat to humans and animals they could run through this gate to safety.

Outside the gate were originally two huge pools. The Romans tied the two pools together and built five porches (porticos) over them. They were built to honor the Roman god of healing. So, people would gather about the pools waiting to be healed. The myth said that at certain times an angel would stir the water and the first one in the pool after that would be healed.

Jesus comes to the man lying on his mat who has been sick for 38 years and asks him: “Do you want to be made well?” Now, every time that I hear that question I want to say: “Sure, of course, doesn’t everyone want to be made well?”

And yet, I know that the implication is that maybe we don’t really want to be made well, to be made whole? The change that would come from being made well or the change that would have to be made to get well…might be too much for us.

I imagine that those about the pool are camped out waiting on healing. It reminds me of those who gather in the intensive care waiting room. You’ve seen them. Maybe you’re been a part of them. They bring pillows and blankets, food and drinks. They camp out waiting on the time to see their patient, waiting on the time to see the doctor, waiting on some news, hopefully good news, but any news at all.

They waited at the pool for healing. It was sort of a “culture of the five porticos”. We do the same here. We are promised healing from every corner. Gurus, witch doctors, whoever will make a promise, all get out attention. Just visit the local bookstore. One of the largest sections in the store is the self-help section, God help us. We go to a pool, a porch, a pill, looking, waiting for healing.

Jesus says: “Take up your mat and walk.” Put one foot in front of the other. In response to the man who said: “I have no one to put me in the water; I can’t get there first.”, Jesus says: “I am here; now you have someone to help.”

Now the Greek word here is not the word for “cure”. There is a Greek word for “cure”, but this word is the word for “wholeness.” Of course, our word salvation has its roots in the word for healing. Do you want to be made whole?

She came to me about her marriage. She was in her fifties. Her children were all gone and she was left with her husband. Her husband was a religious man but a brutal man. All her married life she had suffered under his stern criticism and mean language. He never laid a hand on her, good nor bad. In fact, he stopped touching her soon after all her children were born. She lived with his bitterness and anger. I listened as she told me about it.
A few weeks later she told me she had left him. But, she said, “How do I know if I’ve done the right thing.” I said: “How does it feel.” She said: “I feel free…” I said: “Then take your wings and fly; find your voice and sing.” Take up your mat and walk.

What is it that is holding you bondage? Take up your mat…

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