Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sermonizing

“Preach faith until you have it”
-Peter Bohler

For Laity Sunday, 'tis tradition for the Lay Leader of the church to preach the sermon and lead worship that morning. This year, our Lay Leader refused to preach, so I was volunteered. Quite a task for someone who is pretty unsure of what she believes. Here's what I said (posted mainly for my mama to read):

“Bursting at the seams”

"I went to high school at one of the best schools in the state of Louisiana. I was taught by some of the best teachers in the state. But even among that caliber of teachers, you could easily tell the difference between a really good teacher and a spectacularly awesome, super duper teacher. I realized in my senior year that despite being afflicted with all-too-common “senioritis,” I was genuinely looking forward to my academic classes.

Why was that year so different? Because all of my teachers that year were passionate about what they taught. They lived and breathed calculus, physics, literature, and even art. And as a student in their classrooms, it was almost impossible not to get swept up in their enthusiasm.

Some of you may know that I’m currently pursuing a career change toward teaching, and these are the teachers that most inspired me. I, too, want to ooze with the love of learning, inspiring students and the next generation.

But who else do I hope to inspire?
My family… my family of today as well as Rob’s and my family of the future. My friends. My coworkers. And even the people that I walk by on the street.

I think that we would all agree that we have the power to stir other people with our words, with our silence, with our actions, with our emotions. So what message do we want to send? And more importantly, what message are we sending?

What would happen if the Holy Spirit and our love of God just overflowed out of us? If you could see it seeping out of our pores. Out of us as individuals, onto the streets as we walk by, out of our mouths as we speak, out of our eyes as we smile. Could it happen? Does it happen?

Does the Spirit spill out of the doors of the church on Sunday mornings? What about every other day of the week? Pouring out onto the sidewalks, into the community…. a visible sign of our commitment to Christ.

Psalm 64:10 says,
“Everyone sees it. God's work is the talk of the town. Be glad, good people! Fly to God! Good-hearted people, make praise your habit.”
Make praise your habit. What does that mean?

David Crowder, a contemporary Christian musician, says that praise is something we are, not something we do.
If that’s the truth (and I believe it is), then being a follower of God, means to live a life of praise. Bursting at the seams with an enthusiasm for the Lord. Praise must be an expression of our whole being. Not only with our voices, but also with our actions and our emotions. We tell the glory of God with our very existence.

Before we return to the passage, let me give you a little historical background:
The letter in 1 John was written in around 85-90 A.D. to the second generation of Christians by John, one of Jesus’s disciples who has firsthand knowledge of Christ’s life and death. At this time in history, the Church had faced and survived severe persecution, and the main problem that the Church was confronting was declining commitment. Sound familiar?

In today’s Scripture, John explains that by living in praise, you can grow in community and also bring people to Christ.

Let me read you an excerpt from The Message:
“3-4We saw it, we heard it, and now we're telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!”

We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!
Isn’t that the point of being a part of a church community? To share this wonderful Gospel with each other. To learn from each other. To rejoice with each other.

And what is the message that he’s talking about? John continues in the next verse, “This, in essence, is the message that we heard from Christ and are passing onto you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.”

God is light. That which is good, pure, true, holy, and reliable. His Word sheds light on the world. As opposed to darkness, which is sin, evil, and the lack of God. Living in the light means that we no longer have to stumble in the dark.

I can get really wrapped up in metaphors, and I struggled not to make this whole sermon a giant light vs. dark metaphor. I mean, you’ve got to admit, this is an awesome metaphor. Light, where everything can be seen clearly vs. darkness, which might be a little exciting and alluring, but you have no way to see what you’re doing or to see what’s ahead.

But it’s important to remember that God’s light isn’t the physical electromagnetic spectrum, but it’s a spiritual light, a light sensed by our heart and by our conscience.

John says: “If we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another.”
By walking in the light, we grow closer together in our fellowship. With God and with one another.

The whole chapter of 1 John can be condensed into three sentences:
God is light, God is love, God is life.

John’s letter is an attempt to put the believers back on track as well as to encourage the Church to grow in genuine love for God and for one another. The key is genuine, real love. Not just on Sundays. Not just when we’re rested and worry-free. Not just when it benefits us.

Sure, it’s difficult to praise God when the world seems to be falling apart. In his writings, St. Augustine himself asks the same question. "Do you really expect me to sing alleluia to you in the midst of my anxiety?" He concludes that yes, because God is faithful and always sees us through… anxious, doubtful, stressful times are as good of a time as any.

On my sixth grade choir tour with our church youth choir, I was asked to sing a solo in one of our songs, the hymn, “I want to walk as a child of the light.” I’m sure many of you are familiar with it, but the chorus goes like this:
“In Him there is no darkness at all
The night and the day are both alike
The lamb is the Light of the city of God
Shine in my heart Lord Jesus.”
I think one of the best things about this song is that as you read the lyrics, you realize that you don’t have to understand it all, everything doesn’t have to make sense, and you can still call on the Lord to shine in your heart.
--
For 4 summers in high school and two in college, I attended my church youth group’s annual weeklong mission trip to the Appalachia Service Project in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. We worked to repair homes for families in the county, making homes warmer, safer, and drier.

I made some really strong friendships on these trips, and I was always disappointed when we arrived back home and those friendships weakened as we returned to our everyday lives. I remember my mom trying to explain that the trip itself was what we had shared, and that maybe back at home we actually had little in common.

That might be part of it, but looking back, I think that there was something more. We were united by something more than the trip itself. We were united by God. United by our worship for Him. Worship, in the traditional sense, with singing and prayer, but also, and perhaps more importantly, our worship out in the world, as we worked, as we drove, as we spoke to the families, as we enjoyed simple pleasures like an ice cream cone. Someone called this awesome feeling, “the ASP high.”

These weeks definitely weren’t easy; in fact, they were some of the most physically strenuous, mentally challenging weeks of my life. I sweated, cried, and I even took home a few scars as souvenirs. But I also laughed, sang, discovered, and cried many happy tears as well. I was inspired by all of the luxuries that I am lucky to have, I was inspired by the families who lived with much less, and I was inspired by a group of teenagers who were willing to sacrifice a week of their summer to take on this work.

But when the vans pulled into the parking lot back in Louisiana, it was back to real life: back to work, back to other friends, back to school… and the awesomeness of the ASP experience was pushed aside to make room for these day-to-day activities.

The challenge is learning to live the “ASP high” after you’ve left—to live the “Epworth high” after you’ve walked out the door—to live the “Christ high” in a seemingly apathetic world.

Living in praise brings people together, it brings people to Christ. If God is shining in your heart, then you will reflect that light for the world. Live in the light, live in praise.

And sometimes that light and our praise are impossible to contain. Praise for our God should flow forth uninterrupted from our lives. We can find God in the pew this morning at Epworth United Methodist, in bedtime prayers at home, and even in the lunch that you’ll eat as soon as I get finished talking. Isn’t that awesome?!?! God is here among His people. If nothing else, I give praise for that.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"

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