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"The Holy Spirit: Converting"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon 6/9/13

Galatians 1:11-24

“The Holy Spirit: Converting”

June 9, 2013

 

            There was a man who struggled with a lot of sins in his life; it would be pointless to name them all, there were so many and they were so obvious to everyone in the small, country town where he lived.  There came a time, though, when he felt the weight of it all in his life and he began to go to prayer meeting on a regular basis.  He would walk down the aisle during the altar call and fall to his knees and cry out, “Fill me up, Lord!  Fill me with your Spirit!”  Week by week, though, nothing in his way of life changed.  Even so, he would be back again, kneeling at the altar rail and praying aloud for all to hear, “Fill me up, Lord!  Fill me up!”  The next day it was as if nothing had happened.  After about two months of this there came the day that the invitation was given and he went forward as usual, calling out, “Fill me up, dear Jesus!” and a voice called out from someone toward the back of the church, “Don’t bother, Lord!  He leaks!”

            Do people change?  Really?  Well, yes and no. 

Let’s look at what the Bible might teach us on that score.  The apostle Paul used his own life as an example.  He pointed out how the Christians of his day said of him,

“The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” [Galatians 1:23]

            Paul’s conversion is a big point in the New Testament for two reasons.  One is that so much of the New Testament is made up of his letters to churches that he helped to start, and that were started on the basis of his testimony about what Jesus had done for him.  Really, that is all that any of us ever have to offer to somebody else.  You can talk in abstract terms as much as you want about how Jesus died for all humanity, but unless and until you are able to convey in a genuine and true way that you know he died for you, there will be no conviction in your words. (I was in the church kitchen last Wednesday, pre-cooking some of the sausage for last week’s pancake breakfast, when a group of the Montessori School kids came in.  One of them remarked, “You’re cooking sausage.”  Another said, “Sausage!”  That’s the difference right there.)

            Paul’s story is also a wonderfully dramatic one.  He wrote to the Galatians,

“You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” [Galatians 1:13-14]

In Acts, Luke (who traveled around with Paul and presumably heard the tale directly from him) tells it in vivid terms.  Paul, then known as Saul, was in Jerusalem when the first Christian martyr, a man named Stephen, was stoned to death because what he said about Jesus being the Son of God was taken as blasphemy.  In fact, the first thing we hear of him is that he stood by and held the coats of the people in the mob that were killing him.  The next thing we learn is that he decided to take things one step further, asking for and receiving authority from the religious leadership to go to Damascus and try to put down the growth of this new Jesus Movement there.  On the way, however, Jesus appeared to him in a vision that knocked him to the ground and left him blind until a believer who was praying somewhere else in the city also had a vision that sent him to pray with the persecutor that his sight might be restored and to share with him the news about Jesus, whose followers he was trying to arrest.  We call that the conversion of Saul, who even started using a new name to recognize the change, and was known as Paul from that point on. 

      That brings me to the second reason his conversion plays a prominent part in the New Testament.  It provides a model and a commentary on what conversion itself means for anyone else.  We have a misconception that conversion is the same thing as change.  It isn’t.  The same energetic, zealous person who was named Saul was an energetic, zealous person named Paul.  Conversion took the person he was and redirected him toward God’s goals and God’s will, shown to him by Christ.  Conversion means that the Holy Spirit grabs ahold of us as we are, created by God, created in God’s image and called good, and points us in the direction of the kingdom of God, converting what is potentially wrong in us into what can be for the good of all.

    I like to think of the word “conversion” in mechanical terms.  An engineer designs a hydroelectric plant to take the power present in a river that is just going its own way to the ocean and convert its motion into electricity that gives light and heat and cooling to the towns along its banks and far inland.  Again, the power of the wind is always there but a windmill converts it into the mechanical energy that irrigates a field and produces corn or soy beans.  A solar panel converts the sunshine into kilowatts. 

     The Holy Spirit converts who we are already and puts that to work for God.  An encounter with Jesus changes you, but it doesn’t change you into someone else.  It changes you into a better you.

            A lot of the best and most enduring Christian literature consists of conversion stories.  The great classics include books like The Confessions of Augustine, whose title makes it sound like a crime novel, but is really about how a pagan philosopher became a Christian bishop.  He came to use his powers of insight and logic to explore what God might be doing in the world as he watched the Roman Empire begin to crumble and to explain to his fellow citizens that we are part of an eternal commonwealth, and not just an earthly one.  C.S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy tells about how Lewis fell in love with poetry when he was in school, how he survived World War I, became an English professor at Oxford, and finally after an encounter with Jesus, began to use his skills as a literary critic more creatively, and even to step out of his comfort zone and begin writing science fiction and fantasy and even children’s books, all as a man of faith.  The Long Loneliness is Dorothy Day’s autobiography, and tells about her life as a pioneering female journalist in early twentieth-century Chicago.  When she came to faith, she stayed the same person but she took the skills that she had and the gifts that were hers, and her personal quirks and her personal connections, all that made her unique, and she let herself be converted to a new use.to become the co-founder of the Catholic Workers’ movement and, later on, a peace activist. 

            A lot of the best stories that never get written down are about people’s conversion.  They are about how the Holy Spirit converts, how the Spirit re-purposes God’s people.  They are about how someone’s stubbornness becomes their steadfastness and patience.  They are about how somebody’s anger is converted to determination.  They are about how someone’s loneliness is converted into an appreciation of and commitment to community.  They are about how somebody’s hurt and heartache is transformed into understanding and compassion for someone else.  “Conversion” is when the persecutor becomes the protector.  “Conversion” is when the accuser comes to seek justice rather than punishment. 

    “Conversion” is when the artist takes a chance on something unusual because there is that creative Spirit that says, “Try this.”  Duke Ellington once said, “By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with.”[1]  But if you turn to #728 in our hymnal, you will find a song that is jazz that is a prayer that is his testimony:

“Lord, dear Lord above,

God Almighty, God of love,

please look down and see my people through.

I believe that God put sun and moon up in the sky.

I don’t mind the gray skies, cause they’re just clouds passing by.”

“Conversion” is when you or I give our hearts fully to the creative Spirit of God who takes the work that is already begun in us and goes a step further than we expect, and we have not changed but then again we have changed, and we are just ourselves, but, then again, more ourselves than we were before; the same old thing but new and improved.

            Charles Wesley put it like this:

“Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.

Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;

Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our

place,

Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love,

and praise.[2]

"The Holy Spirit: Revealing"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon 6/2/13

Galatians 1:1-12

“The Holy Spirit: Revealing”

June 2, 2013

 

            I don’t know if you’ve ever had to write a letter or make a phone call to someone whom you thought was doing something that was going to mess up their life in a serious way.  You don’t do it lightly.  I shared this story with the Conversation Class a couple of months ago, so if some of you have heard it, please bear with me for a moment. 

            When I was in college I shared an apartment with four other guys.  We all got along, and still do, but to give you an idea of the sort of live-and-let-live atmosphere, there was one of the crew who was not officially on the lease – he was a friend of a friend of someone somebody knew, and he needed a place to stay, so we sublet the sunporch to him.  One day he saw an accordion for sale in the window of a pawn shop and brought it home to learn to play.  That’s why it was a relief when a few weeks later he decided to give life in Los Angeles a chance.  After he was there a month, though, he wrote to see if the sunporch was still open, since things weren’t working out, and of course we said, “Yes,” but were relieved when he came back without the squeezebox.

            So you can see that it was an easygoing group, and that when I got a letter from not one but two of them over the summer while I was working in Maine asking me to try to have a word with the remaining member of this group, I knew it had to be serious.  They were concerned about some of the decisions that he had been making about the direction of his life, that maybe he hadn’t been thinking everything through, and was just reacting to some other events that were not in his control.

            That was when I wrote the only letter I have written in my whole life that I think I may permanently regret.  It wasn’t so much what I put into it – that I would stand behind to this day – or that it didn’t need to be written; it did.  It was the opening words, which were (and I quote):  “Dear [Name], You’re being an idiot.”  It’s amazing that our friendship survived my words, but it did.

            When I read Galatians, which is a letter that Paul wrote to people whom he saw headed in a terribly wrong direction, I know in my heart that he would not have written it lightly.  I also appreciate one verse in the whole book more than any other: the one where he says, “You foolish Galatians!” because I can hear him losing it the way I did.  That only happens when you care enough to get upset over something important.

            What was so important to Paul was that the Galatians had fallen into a belief that would lead them straight away from the gospel that he had shared with them. 

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”  [Galatians 1:6-7]

What he had shared with them was the good news about, in his words,

“the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” [Galatians 1:3-4]

Some people were teaching that our salvation comes from the way that we observe the proper rules and procedures and ceremonies, rather than relying totally on him for our freedom from the world, and that stuck in his craw.

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!” [Galatians 1:8-9]

It mattered to him, because he saw the good news of freedom through Christ to be something that God himself, the Holy Spirit, had shown him.

“For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” [Galatians 1:11-12]

            People both inside and outside the Church will constantly tell you about the hoops that you have to jump through and the requirements you have to meet in order to be acceptable to God.  There was an incident at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City last month that’s a good illustration.  Cardinal Dolan had written an article on his blog in April where he compared participation in the life of the Church, and I suspect he mostly had taking communion in mind, to sitting down to a family dinner.  He told about how, when he was eight, a friend of his was invited to stay for supper.  As Cardinal Dolan tells the story,

“’Freddie, glad you’re here,’ dad remarked, ‘but…looks like you and Tim better go wash your hands before you eat.’”[1]

So far, so good.  A few people, however, tested the limits some days after the blog appeared.  A group of gay Catholics and some of their straight supporters rubbed their hands with ashes and then proceeded to the cathedral.  They must have alerted someone ahead of times about their symbolic action because when they got there they were greeted by the cathedral’s director of operations and, as one of the protestors reported,

“Mr. Donohue advised us that if we entered St. Patrick's Cathedral with dirty hands, we would be arrested and charged with criminal trespassing.”[2]

So they stood outside and held their hands open in witness as people came and went.

            Meanwhile, there are people outside the Church who would look at Cardinal Dolan and say that he has acted so much unlike the Jesus who got into trouble with the religious establishment because he ate with tax collectors and sinners [Mark 2:16] that he could not possibly truly be part of Jesus’ circle. 

            It is so hard to hear, clearly and with certainty, that you don’t have to meet any requirements, and this issue is a perfect example, to be loved by God.  Whoever is right, whoever is wrong, we are all sinners and we are all loved by God for who we are, not for what we do or don’t do.

            There’s another meal story that is worth considering.  In To Kill a Mockingbird, the central character, a young girl called Scout, invites a new friend to dinner.  She is the daughter of a lawyer, raised in a slightly genteel way in a Southern county seat.  Her guest comes from a more countrified and poorer background and when he pours syrup all over everything on his plate, she cringes and makes a comment that humiliates him.  That’s when the family’s housekeeper and cook pulls her up from the table, takes her aside, and tells her,

“That boy is your company. And if he wants to eat up that tablecloth, you let him, you hear? And if you can't act fit to eat like folks, you can just set here and eat in the kitchen.”[3]

            The point is that we are all guests in God’s house, and his adopted children.  We don’t come into his household because we’ve earned our way in.  We are invited.  The problem is that we get so comfortable that we forget that.  It takes the Holy Spirit constantly reminding us who we are, both as sinners and as forgiven sinners, to keep us from looking down on one another and, in some cases, to keep us from looking down on ourselves, too.  That’s why Paul had to keep warning the Galatians and us never, ever, ever to forget that it’s God’s grace alone that gives any of us a place, and then to live that way because, let’s face it, that’s easier said than done.

            Think about it, though: if God had to wait for us to be ready to be part of his kingdom, who but Jesus would be there?  Instead, Jesus came to be with us, to open the gate and bring us in, solely on the basis of friendship with and trust in him.

“O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing” is a great hymn, but we usually only sing six or seven of the original nineteen verses.  Let me read some of the ones that Charles Wesley wrote but that we rarely get around to:

Look unto Him, ye nations, own
Your God, ye fallen race;
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
Be justified by grace.

See all your sins on Jesus laid:
The Lamb of God was slain,
His soul was once an offering made
For every soul of man. …

Harlots and publicans and thieves
In holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

Murderers and all ye hellish crew
In holy triumph join!
Believe the Savior died for you;
For me the Savior died.

With me, your chief, ye then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.

"A Miracle of Hearing"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon 5/19/13

 

Acts 2:1-21

“A Miracle of Hearing”

May 19, 2013

Pentecost

 

Paul Harris died last year.  He was pastor to different segments of my extended family at different times over the years and to my immediate family for a couple of years.  He did a great job of staying in contact with people, usually by sending little notes, which was a lot easier for him than phone calls and sometimes even than visiting, because Mr. Harris was hard of hearing most of his adult life and toward the end he was just plain deaf.

When I was in high school he could still manage pretty well on his own.  He made sure to face people directly and pay close attention, and he was not afraid to ask you to repeat your words.  He wore hearing aids, but sometimes, for all the good they did, you got the impression that they were more of a fashion statement than anything else.  In large settings it was even harder, but he had the help of his wife and more than once when someone was saying something in church and he didn’t realize that anyone was speaking, Jane would stand up and wave her hand and say, “Paul!  Paul!” and point toward the speaker.

            When Mr. Harris retired, the congregation gave him a TTY machine.  Anyone who wanted to reach him by phone could then call a central number and an operator would type their words, which would appear on a screen by his telephone.  Years later, I saw him at Cornwall Manor one time and he was told me about their fiftieth wedding anniversary party. There were speeches, so one of his grandsons stationed himself next to his grandfather with a laptop and typed out what was being said.  Somewhere around the fifth or sixth speech he began to type the first few sentences and then, “Blah, blah, blah.”  No one understood why the two of them were giggling.

            From Mr. Harris and his efforts I learned to appreciate that communication has those two sides: speech and hearing.  On the day of Pentecost, when

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” [Acts 2:4]

the Lord brought about a miracle of speech that the crowd also experienced as a miracle of hearing.

            What happened on Pentecost was not what people call “speaking in tongues”, although “speaking in tongues” in the modern usage of the term, is connected to a deep awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit: that is true.  But when someone “speaks in tongues” the listeners generally cannot understand what is being said.  Personally, my explanation of “speaking in tongues”  is to say that religious experience can leave someone so overcome with emotion they can become tongue-tied and their feelings flow so quickly that speech simply cannot follow.  That’s why I agree that somebody touched by the Spirit may at times be heard to babble incoherently.  Mind you, I can be skeptical when it seems to be turned on and off at predictable times.

            On the day of Pentecost, the miracle was that something was said and that it was heard clearly.  The good news of Jesus was shared by people who thought they couldn’t reach the strangers around them, and people who by all rights should not have understood a syllable got every single word.

            My friends, that has not changed.  That is a miracle that has repeated in various forms and will continue to do so as long as the Holy Spirit fills the people of God with creativity and imagination.

            I’m not suggesting that faith-sharing should rely on gimmicks.  There are enough of those.  I recently googled “evangelism ideas” and saw dozens of sites recommending that churches hand out bottled water or popcorn or donuts or newspapers, each with the church’s name and information clearly attached.  I saw sites that listed all kinds of service projects, each of which had some value, but each of which had the feel of a publicity stunt.  Real giving and real service aren’t about what comes back to the giver or the servant.

            I am suggesting, though, that real and true outreach is what happens when a believer ignores the barriers that normally exist between people to share what is important to him or her as a human being and trusts that the common humanity that God has created in both the speaker and the hearer will respond to the message of God’s love in Jesus.

            There’s a watercolor painter whose work I really like.  He lives near Harrisburg and his name is Larry Lombardo.  One of his paintings[1] and shows two people sitting on opposite ends of a park bench.  One is a teenage girl wearing a sort of punkish/Goth-ish outfit with black jeans and a studded collar and black makeup on her lips and eyes.  The other is an older woman in a purple print dress with a white jacket and tinted glasses.  The girl is looking at her, sort of out of the side of her eyes, and the woman sits calmly, looking straight ahead, and you get the feeling that if only one or the other of them would just start a conversation, each has something to say that would help the other. 

            Called “The Child Has Grown The Dream Has Gone”, the painting takes its title from some Pink Floyd lyrics that say,

 

“When I was a child 
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown, 
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.”[2]

 

Although the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, the Holy Spirit can also be called the Great Discomforter, the Nudger, the Elbow-in-the-Ribs-of-the-Soul.  The Holy Spirit is the one who  pushes us out of our comfortable numbness to speak to the person at the other end of the bench, whether or not we think they’ll understand the way we speak or look or think.  The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us words when we need them.  The Holy Spirit is also the one who opens our eyes to the world around us, and who opens the world’s ears to hear what we have to say about it, and to it.

            And what we have to say is simply this:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16]

 

The "Trust Fall" Tags: trust faith team building black rock retreat center ropes course

 

The “TRUST FALL”

 

Do you know what a “Trust Fall” is?

A “trust fall” is when you stand in front of someone and fall back.  You must trust that the person standing behind you will catch you before hitting the ground!

I never attempted this feat until Saturday when our Youth Group and I attended a Low/High Ropes Course in Quarryville, PA.  A scary thing to do, Yes!

All the kids seemed to do it very easily and without hesitation.  Hey, no problem, I can do that!  Well….not so easy for me.  How am I supposed to fall backward and trust that I will not fall to the ground? 

So, it was my turn.  All the kids were watching.  I spent some time standing in front of Kirt- thinking very long; he’s not going to catch me and I am falling hard!  Trust!  I needed to trust Kirt.  Here I go, just do it Cheryl, he has my back, he’s not going to let me fall…right?

This event was one of the many team-building activities of the morning schedule.  We learned to build our communication skills, to listen to one another and to collaborate effectively.   We gained a mutual respect for one another.  We learned to trust one another, something we quickly appreciated when we attempted the ropes course later in the day. 

Trust is powerful, sometimes giving up control and allowing someone or something to guide you.  We strengthened our trust in God on Saturday, also.  We learned He is who He says He is, and He will guide us.  He is our peace, our peace when we doubt, our peace when we don’t understand and we can Trust Him.

He knows what He is doing!

I leaned back, let myself fall, I trusted, and Kirt caught me…. 

                                                                        ~Cheryl Cini

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

~Proverbs 3:5-6

 

Gift Cards
Category: Archive
Great Lakes Scrip Program

Stop by the Scrip table after church and purchase gift cards to some of your favorite stores (Walmart, Staples, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond etc.). Many cards are available for immediate purchase. It's a win win for everyone.......support FUMC scrip!

 

Funds for this program go towards the Capital Fund Campaign. We take orders Sunday morning after each worship service. Orders are available for pick up the following Sunday at the Scrip table. We now have several of the most popular cards ordered available for you to purchase and pick-up on the same day. Please contact the church office with any questions (610-933-5936).

 

Check out the Great Lakes Scrip Program website - www.glscrip.com for a listing of the many gift cards that are available for purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

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