Week of May 4-10 – Previews of coming attractions
When I have the opportunity to go to a movie, I like to arrive early enough to catch the “previews of coming attractions.” I like to know what is in the “works” and what I can expect in future days. Life doesn’t always afford us this chance when it comes to storms and hurricanes and circumstances and challenges. With this in mind I offer you a brief glimpse of some “coming attractions” at John Wesley.
May 9— Mother’s Day. In worship, we will celebrate the place Mothers hold in their children’s hearts. Our prayers will include a prayer for moms, those who have been a blessing to their children, for those who have not been able to be a blessing to their children, and for women in the church who, though having no children of their own, have loved all God’s children with a Mother’s love. I do not preach Mother’s Day sermons. Through the years I have learned to mention moms, but I do not preach a Mother’s Day sermon. It is a day of some discomfort and struggle for those who did not have a great home situation and for those who have not been able to have children. On this day, I will be preaching about “looking upward rather than down” when life is hard. The sermon comes from Psalm 29 and speaks about “ascribing’ to the Lord. Hint: “Ascribe” means surrender. It is a day that will have some tears and lots of joy as I remember my own mother who has been in heaven since 2010.
May 23—Pentecost. Red will be the liturgical color of the day as we remember the “fire” of the Holy Spirit giving birth to the Church. In those early days thousands were being saved and the church grew quickly. The name of the Lord was being praised and the church was early in its life. The mission today remains the same. We are “fueled” by the Holy Spirit to speak about what we know to be true about God. On this day, I will preach from Romans about how “all things work together for those who love the Lord.” We have the high and holy privilege of bearing the “image” of the Spirit. We continue to watch Covid-19 protocols. It is my plan now to offer Holy Communion on Pentecost at all services. Our Church leadership continues to advise that we exercise caution and so we will offer Communion with the clergy being masked and wearing Nitrile gloves. We will use bread and individual plastic cups, and there will be receptacles for disposing of the cups.
May 30 —Memorial Day. As a part of worship today we will pause and remember all who have given their lives in service to this nation. Their memory is sacred. We will include the singing of “America” and “God Bless America” as a part of our service. The Sermon is about “Singing for Joy” from Zechariah 2:10-13.
May 23 and 30 — May 23 will be our final livestream from the LMR. Equipment must be moved back to the Sanctuary and tested prior to our date for getting back in. On May 30, the configuring of the LMR will be different. The Altar will be moved beneath the windows and the seating will face that long wall with the windows. The May 30 service will be recorded and put up on the John Wesley YouTube Channel for viewing later in the day. We apologize for any inconvenience this will cause viewers. The process is necessary as we prepare to return to the Sanctuary. It is the livestream equipment that must be moved to the Sanctuary.
Other coming attractions include our target date for getting back into the Sanctuary. All renovations are scheduled to be complete by the end of May. Sanctuary worship returns June 6, 2021, with the focus at 11:00 a.m. on our High School graduates and recognizing their achievements and plans for the future. We will also honor college graduates by having their graduating school listed as well as their degree. Please let the office know which service you plan to attend. We will list College Graduates according to the service you plan to attend. College graduates are welcome to wear their cap and gown for these services. We will read the names and honor their achievement. The College graduates will not enter in procession, but may sit throughout the Sanctuary or LMR.
Stewardship Emphasis is something all of us must consider regularly. My hope is to see Sunday School attendance growing. We are greeting more new faces as Covid–19 numbers reduce and people are vaccinated. We thank people for being cautious. We were not made to be the church minus blessed fellowship that is “like to that above.” Let our prayers be directed to seeking God’s help with returning to degrees of normalcy slowly and surely. The pace at which we do this will not be satisfying to all points of view. Most people feel one of two ways. Our leadership is committed to doing what is believed to be in the best interests of all who attend and worship at John Wesley. Getting the church back to some degree of normalcy will take effort, choices, decisions, and faith.
The Lord does his work all the time and nothing stops it. God invites us to be participants in the church’s work. Our job is not to think “if” but “how” we get the Lord’s work accomplished. The Lord knows where we are and where we are going. God knows the future that we cannot yet see. God offers his hand to us and invites us through trust and faith to take his hand and walk with him to what he has in store for John Wesley. The one thing we know is that God’s plan for John Wesley Church is to be “built up and strengthened” and to lift up God’s voice speaking to and in Charleston.
The Bible as our guide for challenging times – Week of April 13-18
When I was a little boy, we had a nightly ritual in the Timmerman household. My brothers and I would each kneel by our bedsides and with Mom or Dad watching we would say our prayers: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.” (My childhood prayer time preceded the “word-sensitive” concerns of our present day.) Following our prayers, we got into bed and mom read to us. To this day I remember those times. She had a big Bible story book and she would alternate nights sitting at the foot of each of our beds and peacefully read us its stories. We had a small house and all three of our beds were in the same room. Togetherness was never a problem.
I grew up knowing about Samson and his strength, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Moses and the burning bush, and Ezekiel and those dry bones. I listened as she read stories of Jesus and told us how he took little children on his knee and loved them. I learned about Saul who did not like Jesus very much, but changed his heart and became Paul. I met many people in those Bible stories. The widow, the little boy with fish and loaves, a woman by the well, and a soldier at the cross who said, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” What a treasure my memory possesses because I was reared in a Christian home where Bible stories were sacred.
My mom and dad made an investment in our future by sharing the Bible with us. That’s one reason I am thrilled that John Wesley gives third-graders a Bible and encourages them to read it. One of the profound things I have learned about reading the Bible through many years is that the Bible actually “reads” me. There’s a great song about the sacred text of the Holy Bible:
“The B-I-B-L-E. Yes! That’s the book for me!
I stand alone on the word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!”
Our mission is to “stand alone on the Word of God.” That “Word from above” provides a foundation upon which we build our lives. The Word from God grants direction for living and “matches” us to Jesus. This Holy Word speaks about important matters like forgiveness, resisting temptations, avoiding sin, and seeking redemption for all. It teaches us not to act like the world acts because the culture and the world relies upon opinions and situations that bring comfort “to people doing whatever they want to do.” Thinking about God will “cramp” the lifestyles some people desire. So, the Bible is left behind in the name of other pursuits.
1. Cancel Culture: There is a movement to “cancel” people who do not think the right way. The “acceptable way” is determined apparently by committee and individuals are expected to “fall in line” with prevailing mindsets and attitudes that cover a multitude of subjects. Cancel culture does not believe in anyone “begging to differ” with their ideas or values. Historically, cancel culture has been around for quite some time. Groups and individuals have always tried to “silence” ideas and opinions that were contrary to an established way. Even when Jesus walked among us it was alive and well. Certain groups attempted to reject what Jesus taught. The cross was the means for his way and voice to be “canceled.” The cancel culture continues today as difference of opinion or speaking against prevailing thoughts is now met with repercussion. Cancel Culture loves “group thoughts,” “majority wisdom,” and not “individual thinking.” And even though Jesus cautions people against tearing others down or insulting others, “cancel culture” eliminates Jesus from most of their ideas. Unconditional love that the Lord taught is not part of “cancel culture.” The world in some ways continues to “crucify” the Savior and in so doing misses out on truth from God. It is clear to me that cancel culture is not something the Lord admires. Do not fear the cancel culture efforts. They will not last.
2. Government: The Bible encourages people to obey the law established by government. Yet, the Bible also indicates that there is a Higher Law than the one created by people. Elected officials must lead and govern with one eye on the people and the other eye on God. I’m pretty certain that the Lord doesn’t intend for people to declare themselves to be Blue States or Red States. I am certain that loyalties should not be to political parties as they “square off” against one another. Jesus was neither a Republican nor a Democrat, and there are too many times when neither of the parties seems to be “crowding” the Lord much. I am certain that our Lord doesn’t intend for elected officials to fight and squabble with each other over ideologies. The unity to which we are called is to be Americans. As Americans, we remain connected and committed to God. Patriotism for country and faith in God are not the same thing. We only worship God. We ask leaders to serve the common good of the people and not special interests. All laws should reflect Godly truth, character, and influence. Every elected official “answers” to God…and should reflect God’s grace within. Term limits could help.
3. The first profane word ever spoken in a movie was in “Gone with the Wind” as Rhett Butler told Scarlett “he didn’t give a _____.” The first profane words spoken on television were spoken by Ben Cartwright on Bonanza and on Star Trek by Captain James T. Kirk. The word begins with the letter “h.” Since those days back in the 1960’s, a floodgate has opened. In virtually every show on TV and in most all movies, the Lord’s name will be taken in vain and profanity will be guaranteed. (I think that’s what the rating PG means.) Nudity and what are called “adult situations” are displayed and are called “amazing and brave” presentations. Taboo subjects receive the same accolades. I mention this because “television is actually instruction” and television situations reflect what is going on in the world. When preachers are used in television programs, they are often seen as “compromising buffoons” or persons who are confused about God and faith. They also portray the “humanity” of clergy as the norm…taking great efforts to show how preachers don’t want to be worthwhile examples of faithfulness and fidelity. Also, when one preacher makes a mistake, the entire profession is indicted by most media. The Bible calls “taking the Lord’s name in vain” a sin and also warns that we need to be careful about what comes out of our mouths. Filthy words are not a sign of a clean heart. Yet, almost everywhere I go I hear them. In my lifetime, I have even heard people at church use them. I wonder if the people who curse so frequently realize that Jesus stands beside them and hears it before anyone else does. The reality of Scripture when it comes to profanity is pretty clear that it is a “no go.”
4. When people have their names in the newspaper or on television, social media buffs have a “field day” with it. Gossip spreads like wildfire. “Have you heard about _____?” becomes the lead in too many conversations. The difficulty with social media passing along information is that too often only one side of the story is communicated. Judgment reigns. I’m hurt in my heart when people who have “trouble” say, “I don’t think I can go to church because people look the other way or avoid us altogether. We already hurt enough. We don’t need the pain increased by judgments.” Ouch! The church is not a place just for “right” people. It is a place where “sinful” people find redemption. When the ‘sinful” came to Jesus or were brought to Jesus…he offered them grace and forgiveness…and a word that said “go and sin no more.” Those words were spoken in love and in promise that no sin has to be a permanent condition with God. The church would always do well to make sure that the Biblical teaching of mercy is present. God erases the debt of sin…it’s people who have a hard time moving beyond the wrong that others do. Check it out…it’s in the Book.
5. The last pursuit to mention is ‘civility.’ Agreeing to disagree in Christian love is becoming a lost art. I will almost always differ from those who tell me that there is only one way to see issues and current events. The only one with a word that I always automatically accept is the Lord. Every person is God’s creation and given the ability to think and believe. The Lord’s way is different than our culture’s ways. The Bible states that truth. The Lord says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.” When you live in the Bible, it causes one to see cultural truths in a different way. In our current world and state of affairs, there are numerous things presented as the “right way” or the “best way” or the “new way” to view life – and I beg to differ. I look at some things in the world today and wonder whether God is found in them or not. Many of the “ways of the world” I cannot find affirmed In the Book.
In coming weeks…I am going to speak about what it means to “give our entire heart” to God’s care and keeping. Jesus said it is important to love him as much or more than even family. When the Lord addresses faith, he speaks not in general ways but in specific ways. It could be that faith means more than admiration or a casual acknowledgement. The foundation of all we talk about will be the Scriptures. The Bible is where “disciples” go to discover truth for life. The B-I-B-L-E. It is the thing to stand on when formulating belief in God.
A Reminder and a Call to Prayer…
God’s love makes us all family. In Jesus Christ, we are brothers and sisters, though we may not know one another. The recent, tragic shootings in Rock Hill, S.C., remind us of our connection. All human hearts today hurt and our spirits are wounded. In times such as this, it is important to pray. Our prayers will not yield answers, and “why” is rarely understood in this life. Life has many aspects to it, and tragedy is certainly one of those aspects. God does not manipulate life or people, and unpredictable circumstances often happen. In the face of such horror, we bow before our Creator and ask for help. In our bowing and prayer time it is okay to hurt and to weep and to grieve. In our praying, it is okay to express our outrage and hurt and anger. I have a clergy friend who tells me that “God has a big chest and it is perfectly acceptable at times that we beat on it. The Lord understands our pain and the fragility of life. In our praying, let us ask God to come close to us, to hold us, to give us hearts that are not without hope, and let us always thank God that, in Christ, we have a tomorrow. Let us pray for Rock Hill, the families impacted by this tragedy, and for healing by God’s own hand.
Charleston is well familiar with tragedy as we remember Mother Emmanuel Church and the loss of life that happened there. Let us lend our best praying spirit to friends we may never meet as we pray for the good people of Rock Hill. And may we all depend upon God’s Amazing Grace and the promise of a tomorrow in a Kingdom where life with God is forever and heaven uses all of eternity to make up to us what was wrong here.