Monthly Archives: May 2020

Three Dependable Promises

IMG_024325-27 “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. 28 “You’ve heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away, and I’m coming back.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I’m on my way to the Father because the Father is the goal and purpose of my life. 29-31 “I’ve told you this ahead of time, before it happens, so that when it does happen, the confirmation will deepen your belief in me. I’ll not be talking with you much more like this because the chief of this godless world is about to attack. But don’t worry—he has nothing on me, no claim on me. But so the world might know how thoroughly I love the Father, I am carrying out my Father’s instructions right down to the last detail. “Get up. Let’s go. It’s time to leave here.” (John 14:25-31)

 

Introduction

Charlie Brown is one of my favorite cartoon shows, especially at Christmas.  In one scene, Linus is building castles in the sand. He tells Charlie Brown: “Working with your hands is good therapy . . . It takes your mind off your troubles . . . Whenever I feel depressed, I build sand castles . . . I’ve been feeling pretty depressed lately!” Behind him we see a dozen or so sandcastles. In baseball they tell the story about the rookie who faced the great pitcher Walter Johnson for the first time. Johnson was in his prime. The batter took two quick strikes and headed for the dugout. He told the umpire to keep the third strike–he had seen enough.

Have you ever felt like that? Jesus promised his disciples, “I will not leave you comfortless.” Have you ever felt comfortless? The RSV translation uses the term desolate. Have you ever experienced desolation? For some people this is no joking matter. Depression is the most prevalent and the least treated serious illness in America today. Because it is so prevalent and so potentially dangerous, I am going to list several possible signs:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Shifts in sleeping patterns
  • Lack of energy
  • Agitation or increased activity
  • Loss of interest in daily activities and decreased sex drive
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt or self-reproach
  • Thoughts of suicide

If you or someone you know has at least four of these symptoms and they have lasted for at least two weeks, professional help probably should be sought. Prayerfully, most of us are not troubled enough to need professional help.  There are times, however when all of us need to be comforted.[1]

It is precisely at the point of facing the frightening prospects of the future that we can find a common ground with the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord had spoken more frequently and clearly of His death in Jerusalem.141 During the last supper Jesus had revealed that He was to be betrayed by one of His most intimate associates (John 13:18,21). Finally, He had told Peter that before the night was over he would deny knowing his Lord (John 13:38).

All of this was a most perplexing situation to those who had given up everything to become the followers of the Savior (Matthew 19:27). They saw the future now as something to be feared, rather than that which was eagerly anticipated. They, like many of us, viewed the future as something to be dreaded rather than desired.[2]

Move 1

But Jesus did something miraculous.  He made three dependable promises that would guide his followers through such turmoil.  Beloved, we have those same promises because we follow that same Jesus. He promised the disciples and us, His Presence, His Power, and His Peace.  Let us explore these for a few moments today.

First, Jesus promised his presence. In John 14:18-19, Jesus said of his impending death: ”1-4 “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. He went on to say in John 14:18-19, 18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.”

He dealt with their lack of faith because they felt their situation would be too overwhelming to live with and to live through.

So, this morning as we face this pandemic with a prognosis of getting worse rather better, we too must examine our faith.  We must answer the question whether we believe in the promises of Jesus and if so, we have to confess and live by our faith.

The writer of Hebrews admonishes us that in difficult times, “35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. 36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. 37 For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”

We are the church that holds to God’s unchanging hand.  Our ancestors lived through World War II, the Great Depression, Spanish Flu, The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, the Middle Passage, Jim Crow, and all types of atrocities but they kept on praising God through it all.  And they did that largely because they kept the faith. We can do no less. Jesus promises his presence through it all.  Jesus said, “Lo, I’ll be with you even to the end of the age.

Second, Jesus promised his power.  “All power is given unto me, in heaven and in earth.” (Matthew 28) He said that power would be available and present with them.  According to Luke’s gospel account, Jesus said to them, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”  All you need do is wait for it and when that power comes, you will be able to make it in even the toughest of times.  Hallelujah!

Power to get results, to be in control of your circumstances and situations despite the enormous odds against you.  Power to live through pandemics, wars, and natural catastrophes.  Power to endure hatred, oppression, famine and pestilence.  Power to stand to declare that our God is an awesome God.  Power to be a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ to a world that is teetering toward hell without a path of victory.  We are benefactors of that same power!   Acts 2:38-39 reads, 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” And isn’t that good news.  Hallelujah!

Third, Jesus promised his Peace.  Listen to his words in John 14:27,” 27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” What is this peace?  Well, it is peace that comes when you have unquenchable faith in the word of God.  It is peace that orders your life when chaos is rampant in your world.  It is peace that is as serene as the picture of a great storm, waters raging, floods destroying, winds ravishing the land,  lightning flashing, and the thunder roaring, and there perched upon a branch in a teetering tree is a little bird, sitting, singing, and unmoved.  That is the peace that passes all understanding that in the face of such odds against his survival that little bird, helpless to the human eye is unmoved.  Why, perhaps because he knows the one that controls the elements, he knows the one that calms the storms and she believes that One will never leave her nor forsake.  That is the peace that Jesus left his disciples and that he has left with those who believe and have faith in His word.

Move 2 (Conclusion)

And how is all this possible.  Because all of it is contained in the promise of the Holy Spirit.  All three promises are contained in the gift of the Holy Spirit which we have received.  Here what Jesus said about the Spirit in John 14:15-18, “16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. 18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”

A story was written some years ago about a man who had discovered an amazing inner spiritual peace. He had lost his entire fortune in the stock market crash in the 1930s. He was drinking himself to death. He decided to take his life by walking out into the ocean and swimming past the point of no return. As he came to the edge of the water, he noticed something sparkling in the sand. It was a pale, delicate shell. He stood there, completely captivated by it. Finally, he picked it up. It was so delicate that the least pressure of his fingers would crush it. Yet it was undamaged and perfect. He was puzzled by this fact as the waves roared in upon him. How could a shell remain intact and unbroken in the midst of the tons of seething water?

Suddenly it dawned upon him that the shell did not panic, fight the forces of the water, and seek to forge its own path in the ocean. The shell simply yielded itself to the waters. It has accepted the storms with calmness, just as it had accepted the stillness of the depths of the water where it had its beginning. By yielding itself to the water, it survived. Suddenly the man saw himself. He had been fighting God, disobeying him, and trying to defy the spiritual forces at the heart of the universe. He realized now why his life was troubled, and his days were not worth living. He dropped to his knees and placed his life in God’s hands. He walked away into a new life of faith.[3]

Jesus said the Holy Spirit will comfort, guide, and inform us of how to live in a chaotic world.  Because of the Holy Spirit, we can depend on the presence, power, and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ to endure this current pandemic when hearts are filled with anxiety and frustration.  We can have peace, the peace of God if we continue to trust his word.    I look forward to Pentecost, don’t you?  On May 31, Pentecost season will arrive.  I look forward to another season of being infilled yet again with the presence, power, and peace of Christ through the Holy Spirit.  Let me conclude with this:  Is your life safely in the hands of Jesus? Have you come to know Jesus through repentance and baptism?  If not, I offer Christ to you today!  Only through accepting Christ, can you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Only then can you depend on the promises of Christ’s presence, power, and peace.  Let us pray.

[1] https://sermons.com/sermon/i-will-not-leave-you-comfortless/1348276

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/32-facing-future-prescription-peace-john-14

[3] O. Garfield Beckstrand II, The Word From The Upper Room, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.

A Mother Cries From Anxiety and Frustration

15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” (1 Sam 1:15-16)

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

 

Introduction

Black Mothers are so tired. Tired of seeing their young men killed, gunned down, murdered, abused, mutilated, and treated like they are 3/5th of a human being, treated less than one would treat their own canine or feline.

What can young black men and black women do in America?  One unknown writer wrote:  We can’t livestream (#Sean Reed); We can’t go jogging (#Ahmaud Arbery); We can’t relax in the comfort of our own homes (#Bothem Sean and #Atatiana Jefferson); We can’t ask for help after being in a car crash (#Jonathan Ferrell and #Renisha McBride); We can’t have a cellphone (#Stephon Clark); We can’t leave a party to get to safety (#Jordan Edwards); We can’t play loud music (#Jordan Davis); We can’t sell CD’s (#Alton Sterling); We can’t sleep (#Aiyana Jones); We can’t walk from the corner store (#Mike Brown).; We can’t play cops and robbers (#Tamir Rice); We can’t go to church (#Charleston9); We can’t walk home with Skittles (#Trayvon Martin); We can’t hold a hair brush while leaving our own bachelor party (#Sean Bell); We can’t party on New Years (#Oscar Grant); We can’t get a normal traffic ticket (#Sandra Bland); We can’t lawfully carry a weapon (#Philando Castile); We can’t break down on a public road with car problems (#Corey Jones); We can’t shop at Walmart (#John Crawford); We can’t have a disabled vehicle (#Terrence Crutcher); We can’t read a book in our own car (#Keith Scott); We can’t be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#Clifford Glover); We can’t decorate for a party (#Claude Reese); We can’t ask a cop a question (#Randy Evans); We can’t cash our check in peace (#Yvonne Smallwood); We can’t take out our wallet (#Amadou Diallo); We can’t run (#Walter Scott); We can’t breathe (#Eric Garner); We can’t live (#Freddie Gray).

This is frustration produced by anxiety from being Black in America.  Despite raising decent sons and daughters, taught to be respectful, honest, and God-fearing, Black sons and daughters find themselves too often attacked and maimed for no reason.  Murdered, killed, brutalized for being Black in America.

Yes, Black mothers are tired; we are all tired. Tired of making hashtags on social media. Tired of trying to convince America that our #BlackLivesMatter too. All this Spring Quarter we have been studying about justice in our Sunday School Lessons, the same lessons white America reads on Sunday Morning.  Somehow, at the same time white people are learning about justice, most white churches and some black churches are woefully silent on the atrocities being perpetrated on people of color in America and the world.

Throughout history, when anxiety and frustration set in a community, it has been praying mothers who made the difference.  Praying mothers who went before the throne of grace and sought help from a living God, a God able to make a difference and to raise up leaders who would allow peace and justice to reign.  Women who would band together and appeal to the powers that be for justice, action against oppression, and equitable treatment based upon the dignity of all persons and based on the standard of equal justice under the laws of the land.  Beloved, a praying mother, one who cries through her anxiety and frustration due to experiencing evil in the world, is a mighty force for good in the land.  Never underestimate the power of a praying woman.  Hallelujah!

 

Move 1

Hannah is a case in point.  She is miserable.  She is living in a polyamorous relationship with her husband Elkanah and his other wife Peninnah.  Peninnah had sons and daughters while Hannah had no children. Peninnah provoked her often and belittled, humiliated, and frustrated her every day.  The fact that Hannah was barren caused unbearable friction in Elkanah’s household.

Hannah wanted a child, yearned for a child, and she understood that if she got in the presence of God, God would answer her plea.  She prayed so diligently, until she had prayed herself weak.  Her voice was gone, but her lips were still moving.  Her voice was gone but her heart was still praying.  Her voice was gone but her spirit had touched heaven and it appeared as if she was in a spiritual stupor.  She had become so engrossed in the act of prayer until Eli thought her drunk, that tells you how out of touch he was. Lord, have mercy! Sometimes, those we expect to be able to tell when we’re in the presence of God, just are not there.  They are dealing with their own drama and mistake you getting your breakthrough for foolishness.  But hold on, God knows and God hears your heart’s cry.

Hannah said to Eli, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Hannah had pressed her way into the presence of God, she knew the key was getting before the throne and getting her petition before him.  So, she pressed her way and once the man of God knew what was going on, he added his faith to her faith, and said, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” I’m telling you this morning that a praying woman, a determined woman who lays it all on the altar will hear from heaven beloved.  God will hear and God will answer!  Hallelujah!

 

Move 2

Nothing is more powerful than a woman who cries out of her own personal anxiety and frustration when evil has come and devastated her world.  Evil has come inside her front door and taken the life of her child.  Such is the case of the mothers of those children whose names I called.  Imagine the anxiety and frustration each mother feels. What sustains her, what calms her, what allows her strength to be emboldened rather than weakened?

The key can be found in Hannah’s actions and in following the advice of the writer of Hebrews.  Hannah demonstrates the power of prayer to effect change in your situation.  The Hebrew writer suggests prayer as the key to getting God’s attention and bringing justice to bear on unjust situations.

According to Jack Scott’s May 8th article in The Red & Black Online Newspaper, “On Feb. 23, Gregory and Travis McMichael killed Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black jogger, in Satilla Shores in Brunswick, Georgia. After two months, a full video of the killing and a wave of public outrage, the men were finally arrested on May 7. The case will go to a grand jury, but only after the end of a statewide judicial emergency currently in effect until June 12. The two-month delay is a failure of justice all on its own, but even more so because the case’s outcome is legitimately uncertain.”[1]

From February until May 8, Wanda Cooper, Ahmaud’s mother had to cry out of her anxiety and frustration.  No news reports on CNN or MSNBC, ABC, or CBS.  No headline news or NBC coverage.  For 90 days, this mother had to suffer the disrespect and disinterest of white reporters on the local and national level.  In their eyes, it was just another story about another black child killed in America.  It was not frontline news material, rather the antics of Donald Trump and his handling of COVID19 received their attention.

But God heard the cry of this mother.  How do you know that God heard her Reverend.  Because she declared on her Facebook page, “God is My Strength,” even before this incident occurred.  And since this tragic killing of her son, she has had the support of the Lord as she goes through frustration that would certainly destroy a person who does not depend on God. This is her baby boy, a son that she had just celebrated his birthday and encouraged him to continue being the son she knew and to accomplish those things she knew he could accomplish.  Running for him was regular, not some strange occurrence.  And so she never thought two white men would pull up on her son with a third trailing in the rear and take his life.

One mother said, “My emotions have not changed much. I still look to God for revenge and justice. However, I am very angry and I am very tired. And if Ahmaud’s mother isn’t, then something is severely wrong. I am numb in some way. I found myself asking what more does God want us to do? Asking God what is it that we are not doing as a people, to where we are forever bound to this life of torture, this fast track to death, and this existing but not living state. But when I think I hear the answer, I feel exhausted and paralyzed from depression and weariness. That’s where I am.”

When you have reached your breaking point, remember God is working behind the scenes.  The writer of Hebrews declares, “14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The video surfaced garnering national outrage.  The cry for justice drowned out the cry for racism and bigotry.  The campaign for justice is in full effect.  Arrests were made and the investigation is ongoing.  Ahmaud Arbery’s deaf will not go quietly into the night.  His blood is crying from the ground and our God is orchestrating the actions to follow.

God’s grace and mercy will sustain Wanda Cooper and Ahmaud’s father because God is their strength. And so finally, we have come to far to be tired.  Evil is ramping up its attacks on our personhood and our liberties.  There is too much work to do for us to get too tired to fight these atrocities.  So rise up church, rise up and call on the Name of the Lord.  The battle is not over, let us lift high the royal banner of the Lord. This battle is not ours, it is the Lord’s.  And our God hears the cries of a mother out of her anxiety and frustration with the troubles of this world.  Amen. Amen. Amen.

[1] https://www.redandblack.com/coronavirus/opinion-georgia-must-change-laws-that-enabled-ahmaud-aubrey-killing/article_32f3962e-9106-11ea-9815-af9094cf42ee.html

Embracing A New Normal

IMG_0243

This is an exciting time for Christendom. I’m reminded of the scripture found in Isaiah 43:16-21, MSG Bible, “This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, The God who summons horses and chariots and armies—they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.  It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ —the coyotes and the buzzards—Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sunbaked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.”

COVID19 has created a new normal in this global society for years to come. Even the church has been affected. I illustrate:

  • Churches have remained empty, but functional
  • Ministers are learning to adapt from traditional building worship to online, teleconferencing, and live streaming platforms.
  • Steward Boards and Officers are creating ways for members and friends to give online, by mail, or text to give.
  • The class leader system is resurfacing due to necessity of the hour.
  • District, Regional, Episcopal, and Connectional meetings are being reshaped for online delivery.

Indeed, this is a new normal. When I was in the military, we had an exercise called running in place. It was excellent for getting our heart rate up but did little for moving forward. There was forward momentum nor forward progress. I wonder if we are changing to reflect God’s new move or just running in place, waiting for things to return the way they were.

I believe this is a time to examine our ways as a denomination. I believe we should ask the question what rituals, meetings, gatherings, modes of operation and methods have become too cumbersome to serve this present age. This is a challenge for our College of Bishops, General Officers, Presiding Elders, Pastors, and Lay Leaders.  We can not assume that we will ever go back to business as usual. Can we discern what God’s new normal is for our church?

Matthew 9:14-17, MSG Bible, reads, “A little later John’s followers approached, asking, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don’t?”

15 Jesus told them, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!” 16-17 He went on, “No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.”

In the age of G5 and Corona Viruses (of which many other strains will arise in the coming months) what of our structure can we renovate to “serve this present age.”  In a cultural slang, we have heard it said, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” Meaning, preserve the essentials, throw out the excessive or nonessential. This is the question for every leader and the College of Bishops are wrestling even now to establish such distinctions.

This is new for us all and we all must support our leadership, adjust to the new normal, and remember our theme for this quadrennial which I doubt was designed to address this pandemic but which certainly is apropos for this pandemic.  Our theme is “Getting back to the basics as we envision our way forward taking care of God’s business.”  This is both prophetic and relevant for our present circumstances and for moving forward into our new normal.

Let us unite to pray, fast, and seek God’s hand at work in this present age.  Are we the church being led by God’s Spirit, able to answer this challenge, and meet the needs of the present age or are we kicking and screaming to return to the old way?

Well I believe conditions force us to rethink what is Methodist and what it means to be a Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. I believe we have the right leaders, in the right places, to receive from the Lord – through collaboration, deliberation, and experimentation – to guide us boldly into this new normal.

The Louisiana Region Annual Conference is strategically forming a plan to move from the precautions of social distancing due to the Corona Virus pandemic to one which will address the critical facets of the brick and mortar Annual Conference in light of the new normal.  To that end, we have cancelled our normal Annual Conference and are looking at the legal and traditional requirements to necessary for the Teleconference Annual Conference format.

We trust that the good people of the Louisiana Region will engage in this discussion with your Pastors, Presiding Elders, and your Bishop.