This is the text of a sermon delivered at Mackville UMC and Antioch UMC on July 3, 2011. It was my first Sunday serving at both churches.
It is almost cliche to say it, but I am going to say it anyways because I believe it to be true for this day.
I am excited to be with you this morning. I have been looking forward to this moment since I received the e-mail saying that I would be coming here to worship with you, to share life with you, and to grow with you.
Abbi and I have been blessed by your hospitality and your welcome, and please know how much each of you have meant to us in this time of transition. We are looking forward to what lies and ahead, and, in time, we will have some fellowship gatherings at the parsonage so that we may all get to know each other better. As we continue to transition, we need your help to know Mackville, to meet the people, and to learn the community. We know we have a lot to learn.
Please, pray for us, because we cannot do this without prayer and God’s strength and guidance leading us. For this is not about me, but it is about us serving God. I believe we are called to serve and glorify God by coming together as a community, being continually formed and shaped by the Holy Spirit, in order that we may be equipped to go out into our communities and our world to make a difference for Christ by leading people to Christ, helping people grow in their faith, and serving the Lord in all aspects of our lives.
It has been a long journey to get to this day. A journey that has had its own ups and downs, but by the grace of God I am here, a servant of the Lord, who desires to see all of God’s people come to a deeper relationship with God, to be a voice for the voiceless, and a proclaimer of God’s love and grace.
On this day, I recognize we are each trying to get to know one another and we each have our questions. How did I get my call to ministry? What is my vision for this church? And, what happened to all of my hair? Over the next few weeks, we’ll try to answer some of these questions, together – well, maybe not the hair one because I am still trying to figure it out myself.
One of the ways to get to know me is to know how I see the world – our little piece of it here in Kentucky, our country, and globally. For I believe the Christian faith has a lot to say about the world we live in, but we cannot proclaim the God of Love and Mercy if we do not first understood where we live, and what the world says and desires.
I believe we live in a world that proclaims that to have a “good life” you must live for your own self and your own desires. Our culture tells us that we can “Have it Our Way,” and, thus, can do whatever we want to do, because “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad,” right?
Turn on the television, listen to the radio, thumb through a magazine, or go to your favorite Internet site and you will see a culture that sells this “good life.” It’s a life of riches and financial success; a life of good health and beauty; a life of fame and celebrity. You can think what you want to think. You can believe what you want to believe. You can say what you want to say. Because, really, it is all about me, and what I want, and what I desire. That, my friends, is what the world is selling.
While there is nothing wrong with riches, success, fame or beauty, there is something wrong about a life that sees those things as both a means and an ends. When our life is dedicated to nothing but chasing material goods, then nothing we have is ever good enough. The money in our checkbook is never enough, even when our basic needs are met. Our car is never quite good enough, because it doesn’t have the right amount of horsepower, the right color, or even the right amount of cup holders. It even reaches into our relationships and our families, and a life that tells us that commitment is only required as long as you are “happy.” In searching what the world desires, we’re never happy and never satisfied. As theologian Elton Trueblood once wrote, “In following what comes easy, life ends in confusion and consequent disaster.”
This is not a life that is worth living. The life that is worth living is one that brings us closer to God, and deepens are relationship and need for God in our life. As we grow in our dependence and need of God, we realize that God’s will and desires for us are more meaningful than anything the world can offer.
But, what does it mean to live this life?
Romans 12 gives a glimpse as to what it means to have a life that is worth living. It is a life that recognizes that what the world is selling is wrong, but what God offers through the grace of Jesus Christ is worth making our own.
Paul encourages all of us us to give our “bodies to God because of all he has done for you.” He challenges the notion that we are called to live for ourselves and our desire for happiness. Instead, he says, we are called to live for God because of what he has done for us.
Because God brought our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt, we are called to live for God. Because God promised he would never leave or forsake us, we are called to give our entire selves to God. Because God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to show us the way to the Father, to show us the path of obedience, who took our sin, died on the cross, rose from the grave on that first Easter, and ascended into heaven where he sits at the right hand of God the Father, we are called to be obedient, ourselves, to walk in the path with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and live our lives for God.
Because God has touched each and everyone of us; because he has reached out to us, comforted us, healed us, and even corrected us, we are called to give our lives over to God as an act of obedience and to be a living witness of the Risen Lord working in our lives, and working through us as we live and engage the world around us.
God doesn’t just want a little piece of us. God desires all of us. The concept of body is not one where we can say God is satisfied if we just give him what we think will suffice. That’s not enough. God wants to know all of us. God desires that all of us – both our personal and how we interact with the world – be given over to God as an act of obedience in remembrance of all that God has done for us and through us. Everything that we do, everything that we are, and everything we desire is to be lived in a way that honors the Lord who loves us, seeks us out, and wants the best for us.
A life worth living is a life that seeks to live every aspect of our lives for God. This is the sacrifice that is holy, acceptable, and pleasing to the Lord. It is the life that says our lives, our families, our children, our careers, our passions, our energies, our interactions with our communities, our jobs and our world, everything is given over to the Lord. The life worth living is a life that allows God, through the Holy Spirit, to work in us and through us to proclaim the name of Christ, in order to make a difference in this world.
When we give our entire life over to Christ, then we get to the heart of what it means to worship God, as Paul describes. Worship is not something we attend for an hour each Sunday morning. Worship cannot be limited to just this space and this time. Worship is intended to include every moment of our lives. We are encouraged to make worship a daily part of our life, and recognize that everything we do has the potential of being an act of praise and worship to the Lord.
Indeed, we worship the Lord when we call a friend who has been going through hard times. We worship the Lord when assist those who are in need. We worship the Lord when we interact with grace and love with the person who makes life difficult for us. Everything we do is can be an act of worship and living sacrificially.
But, Paul is quick to make us think about this for a moment. He says “Do not copy the behaviors and customs of this world.” Paul recognized the struggle in those days to be a faithful witness. Paul saw the world as being opposed to the faith, and, even more, that there were forces at work that would attempt to stymie the growth of the church, its message, and its witness to the world. We can see this throughout the Gospels, where the Pharisees would essentially say, “Jesus, if you were only like this then we would believe that you are the Messiah.” “Jesus, if you would perform this sign, then we would believe.” “Jesus, if you would stop talking to that person – that sinner – then we would come and hear what you have to say.”
My friends, the world today attempts, to this day, to have the church to conform to its desires and wishes. “Church, would you stop proclaiming that Jesus is the only way, the truth, and the light, to the Father.” “Church, if you would only let us live the way we want to live, let us believe what we want to believe, and honor that, then we would believe.” “Church, if you would only stop talking about things that I find good to be a sin, then I’ll come to church on Sunday morning.”
And when we conform to these desires we essentially weaken the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ in order to be more appealing to the masses. When the church conforms to the image of the world, we lose our ability to be a true and holy representative of the Risen Lord to those who need the hope, grace, and love of the Lord the most.
We are called to be transformed by the hope of the Lord. Paul is imploring us not to be transformed by the message of the world – its desires for self – but to live for God each moment of our lives. This is not a once for all time moment, as if to say we have given our lives to God and that is enough. No, to be transformed is something different. It is a daily and ongoing process of being shaped and formed into the image of God, and the person God desires for each of us. Our old self become no more, and we take on more of what Christ desires for us. As we are transformed, we become more loving and filled with joy. We live in peace with one another. We become more patient. We become known for our kindness, our goodness, our faithfulness, our gentleness, and our self-control. This becomes our new nature, and we want this new nature.
This does not happen on our own. It happens because of the Resurrection and because the Holy Spirit lives in us. It is the Spirit that is transforming us, because we must be willing to allow the Spirit to work in us and through us, so that we may fully live this life that God desires for us.
Friends, I want this life for us. I want us to live a life that is full of the hope and promise of the Risen Lord. I want us to be a community that is known for being concerned for others, not because we want the attention, but because we want Christ to be proclaimed through our hearts and care. I want us to be known as a community that is welcoming of all of God’s people, because we were once welcomed by God. And, I desire for us to be a community that is not afraid to be a true and living witness in a world that would rather us change our witness.
And, I want this for me as well as I grow in what it means to be a pastor, a follower, and a friend.
For us all, may we live this place transformed and desiring to live our lives fully for God. AMEN!