Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

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March 8th, 2017 by Joel Watts

Christ the King Sunday, 20 Nov 16 (Ravenswood, WV, Sermon)

I know this is late… If you want to hear it, click here to download it from Dropbox.

Every day is a day to preach the Gospel of the Jesus Christ. The Gospel, however, is not something you do — it is something that is proclaimed. In fact, the Gospel — meaning good news — is a victory shout given by a returning army when they had conquered their foes. The king, you see, would send this victory shout back to the capitol and it would tell the people that a feast was about to occur. Our Gospel, then, is the proclamation of the victory of our Great King over the powers of sin and darkness. The kingdom it is proclaimed to is the Church.

In 1977, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest who is in charge of renewal ministries spoke this prophecy:

Mourn and weep, for the body of my Son is broken. Mourn and weep, for the body of my Son is broken. “Come before me with sackcloth and ashes, come before me with tears and mourning, for the body of my Son is broken.

I would have made you one new man, but the body of my Son is broken. I would have made you a light on a mountaintop, a city glorious and splendorous that all the world would have seen, but the body of my Son is broken.

The light is dim. My people are scattered. The body of my Son is broken. Turn from the sins of your fathers.

Walk in the ways of my Son. Return to the plan of your Father, return to the purpose of your God. The body of my Son is broken.

The body of the Son is broken. We see that in Christianity, we see that in our denomination, and we see that among Christians who worship at the same house.

We have set this Sunday aside to proclaim Jesus Christ our king.

Our King! Our Great King.

But what sort of King has a kingdom so badly fractured? Perhaps he is no real king at all. Perhaps this Jesus whose birth we intend to celebrate in a few weeks, whose death redeemed us, and whose resurrection saves us is not a good king at all. Perhaps he is merely a figurehead of a bygone era. Indeed, in today’s world, “kings” are little more than ornaments on democracy’s breast. Our leaders are those we choose to rule over us, or the ones with the most guns. Kings? As Americans we can honestly say, “who needs them!?”

Yes, Scripture tells us God has given us to the Kingdom of his Son (Colossians .13), but do we even really believe Scripture anymore? In that same passage, we are told that in Jesus is the sum total of what it means to be God — the Godly essence. Here, the very one who can only be called God the Son is the exact image of the Cosmic King, God the Father. So what?

Why “so what?” … because in that same passage, St. Paul tells us that Jesus is the head of the body called the Church.

So What.

So what that he is the beginning, the firstborn of all creation, the delight of the Father, the savior of the world, the messiah, and the resurrected one.

So what.

What bothers me about this passage is that now because of all of this, St. Paul wants us to believe that Jesus must have first place in everything.

Everything.

We are commanded that exactly because Jesus is the Son of God that He alone must be king — because in him alone can reconciliation take place.

Yes, the body of the Son is broken because Jesus no longer has first place in everything.

In our lives.

In our country, our denomination, our faith.

What have we made king instead of Jesus?

The irony cannot be lost on us that so soon after Election Day in the United States, the Church Universal celebrates the Feast Day of Christ the King. Think about it. How many of us have replaced Jesus with the Government? The State? A political party? A politician? A Church leader? How many of us when we say no king but Jesus really mean “No king but Jesus unless our party or our person is in power? Then, we are lose, we save Jesus for another day. We got this.”

The body of Jesus is broken because have placed our faith in something else.

In Psalm 46, verse 10, the Psalmist shouts against the forces of human anxiety to say, “Let it be.” Maybe your translation says, “Stop fighting” or “Cease Striving.” The meaning is all the same. God is tired of us fighting battles that He has already fought.

Let it be, by God. We have broken the body of the Son and wrecked the kingdom because we have replaced Jesus with our own fight.

That’s right, fight. We like to fight. We like to debate. We like to struggle. That’s who we are — and that’s exactly who we are called not to be. When we replace Jesus with anything — even with a false Jesus, we take away the only King who is fighting for us. We have removed our refuge and our shield. Yes, as Martin Luther would say, a might fortress is our God, but we look at that fortress and say “it’s not enough. I got this!”

So guess what? We have to fight. We pick up our swords and turn them against the enemy.

As the line says, we have met the enemy and the enemy is us. Friends, more often than not, we aren’t fighting a great enemy on the outside, but one on the inside. St Paul says that we aren’t wrestling with flesh and blood, but against the prince of the air — against Satan. And guess where Satan likes to get?

Right next to you.

There is an angst, the despair, and anxiety found in our society. I see it on the faces of those I speak with every day, of my classmates, of friends and loved ones. Nothing is calming us and it seems that things are only getting worse out there. People are getting nasty. All you have to do is to post something on Facebook that is remotely political and someone, soon enough, will hate you for it, finding a way to blame you for all that is wrong in the world.

Think about our state. We have lost job after job after job and now those who promised to make it all better again are suddenly telling us that it probably won’t get any better anytime soon, if ever.

The United Methodist Church is rending itself apart, with complaints and charges filed even now against Bishops. We must win. And in doing that, we will surely lose.

Simply, there is a spirit out there that demands hate, demands anger, and demands division. It is causing us anxiety, and the more so as we continue to lose our voice in society.

When anyone is faced with losing some power or control, an anxiety sets in. When something new — like a major change — happens, anxiety happens. When we are forced to be something, to do something, to meet new situations, anxiety naturally occurs.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m speaking in the theological sense about anxiety — that Sunday morning sense wherein we have lost sight of Jesus in our Christian life, so that we have replaced the hope Jesus gives with anxiety. It is this anxiety as a theologian (Moltmann) said that makes us “small and mean.” It is this anxiety that makes us afraid of being out of power, of new things, of loving our neighbor.

Friends, I give to you this proposition: that power and control we thought was ours was Jesus’s all along. What we feel “slipping” away is really us trying to take it from the Lord. We have turned the fight, then, against not you and me, or them, or the other, but we now fight against Jesus for power and control.

Yes, the body of the Son is broken and His kingdom lays in ruins. Why? Is it because the King is defective?

Is it because the laws of the kingdom are bad?

Because the people are weak?

No. Rather, the kingdom of Christ lays fractured because we are strong.

Yes, that’s right. We are strong. But God does not call us to be strong. Rather, we are called to be like Christ — weak, humble. In Philippians 2, Christ in all of his humility gave up His throne to put on the flesh of a slave to serve one purpose — to die for you and me. As St John says, Jesus has overcome the world so that we don’t have to. Yet, we are too strong a people to let someone else fight our battles for us.

Sometimes, we even find battles to fight.

The reason the body of Christ is broken is because we have broken it because when we removed Jesus as our King.

Brothers and sisters, if you want this to continue, then fight and fight with all of your might. Because it will be your might, and not the might of the word of God.

But.

But if you want to truly see the kingdom of God and to commune with Jesus Christ our only true king, then surrender. Surrender to God and stop fighting. Stop running. Stop meddling.

Friends, this is the feast day of the one great king of the universe — not of Israel, not of the Christian faith, but the entire universe. We are supposed to be his kingdom and we will be glorified therein — even if we are no longer a part of it.

If we continue with our Christian anxiety, our fights, our struggles, then we will continue to have no king. We will continue to have true Christian unity held at bay.

The body of the Son is broken. Will you help bring it together or will you get a piece of it for yourself?

__

I want to leave you now with what it looks like to have Christ as King, to simply, let it be.

In January, I had the chance to spend 11 days in Cuba. We got to visit numerous churches and church plants, spend time with the pastors, seminary students, and the Cuban Methodist people. These people live in conditions worse than the worse parts of our state. Many must skip meals. They don’t get the medicine they need. Some have lost children because the medical system is not what you’ve been told it is. Food is in short supply. The government watches them always. I was able to preach there one Sunday, but I was warned that there would be someone from the Cuban government there watching. In the airport, someone was there watching to see if we said anything negative.

Imagine that, if you will. Being a Christian in a place that persecutes Christians. Imagine having to watch what you say, what you preach, and what you teach.

I did not find anxiety among the Christians in Cuba. Rather, the Cuban Methodist Church is growing and they are strong. Why? Because their hope is in Christ the King.

__

We stand in an awesome moment, one of anxiety to be sure but one of hope. It is one of testing of the American Christian Church and of you and me. It is one that will either finally pull us together or wipe our memory out.

Yes, the light is dim and the people are scattered. But we stand not in angst or despair or anxiety. Those of us who are willing to stand today and declare that Jesus is King and we have no king but Jesus will dwell in hope and where there is hope there will be unity and where they is unity there will be peace, not because of our strength and our endeavors but because we have truly declared and settled it in our hearts, that Jesus Christ is king.

The 8th century hymn, Be Thou My Vision, ends with this verse:

High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Amen.

October 28th, 2015 by Joel Watts

recent sermon at Thornville UMC

This was delivered, not precisely as below (but when you are talking…), at Thornville United Methodist Church, 17 Oct 2015. I’ve not edited much. 

I used to collect bibles.

In some ways, I guess, I still do, but anymore, they are usually electronic. However, when I did, there were a few I cherished. I liked the Cambridge bible, made with real leather, fine India paper, and art-gilded edges. This one you see before you is the Cambridge KJV but like the original KJV, it includes the Apocrypha. It has two ribbons, lots of cross references, and some other useful tools. I have another Cambridge KJV, but it doesn’t have the Apocrypha. But this bible is rather special. I used this one to preach. Then, I would put it back in the box. In fact, I haven’t opened this bible since I last preached in my previous religious tradition, over 7 years ago.

There are some fine boxes to put bibles in, though — boxes that unlike this one, do not get worn out like this one. I’ve looked for some nice handmade ones to put my more collectible bibles in. They need to be well built, with a glass front, and air tight to keep the humidity out. I like my boxes because they protect my bibles from being overused, torn, or otherwise worn down over the ages.

Because no one wants and overused bible…

But, in a grander sense, we work desperately to put not only Scripture in a box, but so too Jesus. Think about the boxes your friends and family — the boxes you construct for Jesus. This box makes it easy to carry around the elements of our faith. We have our Creeds and our doctrines and our theology, but we also have the boxes that keep Jesus from behaving in a way that makes us feel bad — that convicts us.

In a recent column on the Huffington Post, a blogger wrote about his return visit to the church of his baptism. It is a progressive congregational church and maybe would sound much like our services do. They read from Scripture, sang a few songs, and a minister preached a sermon. He notes that this perfect-for-him church was LGBT friendly, pro-choice, and didn’t believe in hell. Just one problem. The church preached a Jesus he wasn’t comfortable with.

Yes, this church by all accounts should be growing and should be much larger than the 40 or so present. That’s what church growth experts tell us, that if we want young people, we need to be these things. He goes on to write that he would never return to the church that he was baptized. You see, it didn’t offer to him what he wanted. What he wanted was a Jesus relevant to him.

Rightly so, the writer bashes attempts at making Christianity relevant. He doesn’t like the attempts to make Christianity masculine or hip or cool — he doesn’t like the terms revival or tradition. None of these answers to the church’s problem fits him. But, he has an answer, he assures us.

Like many, he wants to re-market Jesus to be something he can relate to. The Jesus he requires is one that is angry at the establishment. His Jesus, like many of our Jesuses, does in fact overturn the tables of the wealthy elite. His Jesus fights for the oppressed. He wants a Jesus that is pure prophet (as he defines it) and a Jesus that is only a man. There is not the divine Jesus, no Jesus that dies for our sins, no Jesus that calls us back to God. In fact, I would wager that many of us want to ignore the sins for which Jesus died, believing, rather, that Jesus died because he made people angry.

These are the stories we want to tell about Jesus. He was a fighter. A hero. But don’t bring up the idea that Jesus died for our sins, because that would mean we are somehow at fault.

What this writer and so many want is a Jesus that tackles only the result of sin, but never the cause of sin. Yes, in the Gospel of John, Jesus does attack those who abuse others in the name of God. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sets out principles and ethics for a community that fights oppression. But this same Jesus is in the Gospel of Mark forgiving sins and in the Gospel of Matthew chastising those of us who believe following Christ is easy, requires nothing — no sacrifice, no cross, nothing.

This same Jesus is the Jesus of St. Paul who died, was buried, and rose again to unite us to God in this new creation — this new creation where sin is real and we are commanded to struggle against it.

Yes, the Jesus of Scripture is the Jesus that demands we fight against the result of sin, but so to calls us to live towards a sinless life so that sin is crucified and there is no more oppression.

We aren’t the only ones that built a box for Jesus.

In John 5 (v39), Jesus is speaking with the religious leaders of the day. They take Jesus to task because he does not measure up to their expectation of the Messiah. For them, the Scriptures — no, that isn’t fair, it is not the Scriptures but their interpretation that they use to measure Jesus. They built a box for the Messiah out of the same Scriptures you and I use to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, the hope of Israel. But in their box, they could dispense with what they found unlikable and instead require a Messiah that was superhuman, a general, and a king. They chose to read a passage one way and thereby deny what God may be saying.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author there tells us several times that today the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Scriptures to tell us something. That writer refused to put the Scriptures in a box, but rightly surrendered them to the One who authorized them in the first place, God. In doing so, in this act of righteous submission, God the Spirit began to speak through those dried old sheepskins and pointed the early Church Fathers to continuously examine everything — every word — through the lens of Christ. Indeed, if we read Hebrews 1.1, it tells us that God now speaks through His Son, who is Jesus Christ.

When we begin to put the Scriptures into a box of our creation, we are telling the Holy Trinity that their work is done, that what we read and see and hear and say is by our own choosing. When we put Jesus in a box — when we pretend Jesus should be marketed, can be bought and sold, and used as a ploy to bring people into the Church – we make a grave error. We make Jesus our own creation, deny the Holy Trinity, deny the salvation from sins, and make ourselves God.

When I see people doing this, it grieves my soul and immediately I am reminded of 2 Thessalonians 2.4, “He will exalt himself…sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.” St Paul says this person leads us into ruin.

How often do we attempt to make Jesus our own creation? He is our superhero, our best friend, our playmate and sometimes, we want him to be our bank. Sure, we believe Jesus is God the Son unlike others, but does this really make our boxes all that much better?

No, it doesn’t.

Rather, we are committing the same sins as those who deny Jesus really performed miracles, rose from the dead, and really was the only begotten Son of God. In our attempt at making Jesus relevant to us, we remove him from his throne, blur the Holy Trinity, and make him look more like us than the Jesus who walked this earth 2000 years ago. We have the American Jesus, the Southern Jesus, the Methodist Jesus, the Jesus who will destroy our enemies — the Jesus who cares if your football team wins, and so on.

jesus-christ

#beardenvy

Picture Jesus for just a moment. How many of us, right now picture the Jesus that we often see in those paintings? The tall, European Jesus with bright blue eyes, and long soft flowing hair, surrounded by children and angels?

When I look at that picture, I could not imagine a Jesus caring much whether or not I sinned. I could not imagine a Jesus caring much about anything except for the little children.

That’s not to say Jesus is never our defender, never our hero, never our counselor and friend. But, Jesus is never just one of these things.

What image of Jesus do you have, right now?

What do you think we should do to change this image to bring more people into the church?

Let us turn now to our Scripture passage (Hebrews 4.12-16).

Now, there are several ways to read this passage — one is that it is Jesus who is the Word of God, or that the author means the prophecies from God. I can tell you that I believe that the phrase here points to Jesus, especially since it is the same phrase John uses in his Gospel. But, let us give room for both views here.

Let us say that Scripture is meant in Hebrews 4.12-13. What God says, God means and it will not come back void. In Isaiah 55.11, God tells the prophet that his word shall leave his mouth and that it will not return to him until it has accomplished everything that God has intended for it to do. God’s intentions will never fail, nor his promises waver. Indeed, when God says something must not be done or else, God means don’t do it.

Many of us fighting the battles within the church have lost faith. We are ready to move on. We are ready to throw in the towel — but God has promised us victory if we follow him. He has promised us that no stone or arrow or harsh word will ever win over His chosen will. Jesus told St Peter 2000 years ago, that the Church will never die. If God truly said this, then this is still relevant today. If the Trinity really told St. Paul and St Jude and the Apostles that the faith they had was the only faith — the only religion, we might say — they would ever need or get then who are we to change it?

And this is why Hebrews says that the word of God is living. It is active. It is razor sharp and will cut you coming and going. It divides. It divides the good from the bad — not we, but the word of God. There is not Creature that can remain hidden from the Creator when he decides that judgment has now come.

Is this all that different than seeing Jesus in this passage? Jesus says he has come to bring a sword. He has come to divide those who love God from those who do not.

How’s that for a box, Jesus? Does this Jesus  — the one who says that he hasn’t come to bring peace but a sword — fit into the same box of the tall blond man who loves the little children?

I have no issue with Jesus being the Word of God here.

When there is sin, God answered with Jesus.

Where there is hurt, God answers, “Jesus.”

Where there is no mercy, God answers, “Jesus.”

Is there oppression? Is there darkness? Is there evil?

God answers, “Jesus.”

Jesus is the Word of God – the way God has answered the evil of this world that separates us from the love of God.

How do you get more relevant than Jesus Christ?

In Hebrews 4.14–16, there is no disagreement here. Jesus is our great high priest. He has really risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. Because of this, the writer here says to hold fast to our confession of faith. This is the same faith St. Jude says is the faith once delivered. What does it mean that Jesus is our high priest?

The Jesus that I worship is the one that passed every test that we face. He is the judge of what is holy. He is the one that is both sacrifice and the bringer of the sacrifice to God. This Jesus is the one who stands in the presence of God and says “he is forgiven and redeemed by my blood”

How’s that for relevancy? The same message proclaimed 2000 years ago is still good today because the same Jesus that really rose from the dead and really ascended into heaven then is the same Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father, ready to bestow upon us grace and mercy and to give us help in our time of need.

Is grace ever irrelevant?

Is mercy ever irrelevant?

Is there ever a time or a generation the Church and the world does not need the help of God?

We are killing ourselves and other.. We are laughing at God’s ancient laws. We are demanding God obey us. We are refusing to believe in God unless God measures up to us. We are promising ourselves that if we would change the Gospel, if we would change the Church — if we would just change Jesus — our churches would flood once more. What social issue today was not around then? Does Scripture not provide us the answer today as it did the apostles?

Friends, what we need is the same Father, the same Son, and the same Holy Spirit that was preached in the New Testament, that was preached before Caesar, that was preached in war, famine, and before the face of death. We do not need a Jesus of our own making, but we need the Jesus that truly walked this earth all that time ago, that preached forgiveness of sins, that fought to free the captives, that loosened oppression, really died, truly was raised, and is right now in heaven as our high priest.

What box do we have Jesus in? Is it a box that is preventing Jesus from acting in our lives and in the life of the Church? If you think it is, I challenge you to throw away the box. Jesus doesn’t need your box.

Amen.

July 7th, 2015 by Joel Watts

“Where is King David? In Sodom” (“sermon”)

The destruction of Sodom as illustrated by Seb...

The destruction of Sodom as illustrated by Sebastian Münster (1564) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak (a  lay person can’t preach unless they are approved, licensed, and knighted by the Queen I guess) at Victory Chapel UMC in Jackson, Ohio. This is the sermon. As always, this is not as it was delivered, but serves as the base. I depart from the text to explain better, either through detail or story, what I mean.


Let me start with introducing myself….

And you have to start over. That’s what I did. I faced those times of doubt and cynicism, of fear, of hopelessness. I flirted with atheism, with attending Church only on the major holidays. But, God was not finished with my destroyed life — with all of the sin I had committed and the vileness done in his name. Rather, he took that and began to rebuild me and my family. He began to polish out the tarnish, made the crooked placed straight, and ordered my in ways I am still coming to understand.

So you see, in my own life, I came from the shattered remains of what I thought was Christianity, of what I thought was love, of what I thought was God. Each of us, or maybe we know someone, who came from a life so bogged down in sin that we may have thought it was impossible for God to save them, that it was impossible that God could work in such a situation. Scripture tells us of many instances of such things.

You and I know the story of Sodom well. Lot, seeing the wealth and ease of the land of Sodom and her children chose his way. Sodom was a land given to greed, horror, uncontrollable desire. The people of Sodom believed that everything was their’s, including visitors.

You and I know the story well. Sodom was a country unto itself. It had no need for God or the things of God. Ezekiel says it abused the the poor and themselves. Jude said they exchanged the message of God for sexual sins.

You and I know the story well. God sent several angels to see what had caused the great cry. Abraham begged the Lord to save Sodom if there was just enough righteousness, but God could not find even just enough. So, as the Psalmist says, the land was laid waste because of the wickedness.

While the sexual sin never occurred in our story, those saved committed their own acts. After the destruction of the cities of the plain, incest was committed and born unto Lot were the ancestors of Moab and Ammon, both sworn enemies to Israel. Yes, we know the story well.

Sin continued, unabated, calling God from His throne. He destroyed all of the cities around Sodom, saving what amounted to be 3 souls. These souls, then, carried the sin with them, to produce peoples that would plague Israel for the centuries to come.

But this sermon is not about sin or wrath of judgement. Rather, I want to preach tonight about hope and the joy that comes in the morning, especially after the destruction.

In Psalm 30, the Psalmists calls us to remember that while God may be angry for a moment, his Grace is eternal, and that in our darkest days, there is hope.

In Scripture, we are give examples of this time and time again. In the story of Noah, the world comes to an end when the flood of God’s wrath washes sin away from the face of the earth. In Genesis 5.29, the prophecy over Noah’s birth tells us that he was born to take away Adam’s curse of painful work. Who are we to judge how this occurred? God took Noah and his family and gave them a plan of escape. Here, we know that this wood becomes a symbol of the cross of Christ by which we are all saved. Out of the destruction comes not only a new world, but a world pointing more surely to Jesus Christ.

Jacob lost his youngest and most favored son to robbers. You and I know the truth. Joseph was sold by his brothers because of jealousy. Joseph was cast into prison, forgotten by everyone, except for his God. During a famine, when Egypt and the Canaan was suffering, it was Joseph the forgotten and thrown-away brother who saved not only the Egyptians but the family that had forsaken him. You and I know this story well. The story of Joseph and Israel in Egypt did not end there. Whereas God has placed Joseph well, it was not too long before darkness overtook the land and enslaved the Children of Israel.

In the second most powerful redemptive moment in Scripture, God took the Children of Israel out, destroying the Egyptian army, liberating the slaves, and defeating the Egyptian gods.

What was left behind was complete chaos and carnage. What Israel took with them was only what they could carry. The night was dim. They could not see what lay before them. But God  was in the middle of the people. There, he took them and began to mold them into a people. He gave them a Law when chaos reigned. He gave them food and drink when the famine was high. He never left them in a place of desolation. During these time, when all seemed lost – what was really lost was the faith of the people in God. Imagine a place so destroyed you could not see God? Now, as yourselves: Is there ever a place God cannot move?

The prophet Jeremiah preached against king and country of the coming wrath of God. He was not listened to. They brought in false gods, did unspeakable things, and ignored their covenant with the only God of Israel. In Jeremiah 52.12-16, we read of the Babylonian king who destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord to the ground. It was not enough to conquer the Israelites, but he had to wipe them off the face of the earth. He destroyed the walls of the city, the Temple, and kill all of those who could not escape. Those who did escaped to Egypt. The king of Babylon took the ornaments of the Temple with him, along with slaves, believing that he had defeated the people of God.

But you and I know the story well. Out of this destruction would come a new temple. The slaves in Babylon would go to preserve the Torah and one day return. A new Temple would be rebuilt and God would get back that which was taken from Him. And the community of Jews in Egypt would build an outpost for exiles and wondering that would one day be temporary home for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. What man saw as destruction and the end, God saw as only another step to fulfilling his plan. Everything that man did to destroy the people of God, God used to point to Christ.

St. Paul says in Romans 8.28, that all things work together for the good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose. Yet, many of us do not care enough to let God’s plan work. We are offended on behalf of God. We are angry that something has happened in our world that we believe God either doesn’t know about or is too small to have seen coming. Where is our faith when we insist on retreating? We bull-dozed by the ebbs and flows of what many call history.

We are told to cower before history as if our God is in not control of it, as if — perhaps — it is a god in of itself. I’m not just talking about bad arguments, uses of logic, and silly displays of self-important knowledge by those who share our church. Rather, I am speaking about the entire argument that the Church must follow society or else it will cease to be relevant.

The day the Church becomes irrelevant is the day Christ says so, and not because we have stood for the truth of Jesus Christ.

Let me tell you of another story along these same lines.

You and I know the story well. At the dawn of this creation. God created a man and a woman. He gave this man one stipulation to the covenant. “Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Yes, we know the story well. While our verses and our chapters end, the story does not. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree. God gave them a curse, removed them from the Garden of Eden, and they died. Their descendants faced famine, war, murder, sin and destruction. It was not enough to simply be removed from a life of ease, but even in death they were tormented. Yes, the whole of the earth suffered ruin because of the act of this one man and this one woman.

We as Wesleyan Christians are not limited in our understanding of Grace. We believe that God is ever-present in the life of the person. This prevenient grace calls us, molds us, and pulls us to God. When we accept it, we are give justifying grace. It is here that the ruin of sin, the destruction of a life without God, is ended. But, it is under sanctifying grace that a new creation is began. This is our journey of rebuilding, when God is taking the ashes of our sin, the embers of our failure, and the barren landscape of a life without Him and making something new. This is our journey in Christ. This is when we are being saved.

John Wesley, in his sermon on Christian perfection, understood well the words of the Lord found in Ezekiel 36.25–36. He used this passage to speak well to the goal of grace, that of renewing of the ruined so that we may serve God. “Thus saith the Lord your God, In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities,—the Heathen shall know that I the Lord build the ruined places;—I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it.” Wesley’s theme of the restoration of ruin is a Godly one as is the theme that God’s grace is behind it, under it, over it, and through it all.

Sometimes, we have to wait. Sometimes, even in the darkest of times and places, God is still working out things towards our salvation.

When Adam and Eve fell, God gave them the hope of one who would bruise the head of the serpent, not merely in the here and now, but for all eternity. He made a sacrifice of blood and covered their sins, showing us more fully the needed sacrifice in Christ. As St. Paul says, as by one man, Death entered into all the world, so that by one life enters in. Adam was not destroyed and forgotten. Rather, God was working together all things for our good.

But, let me return where I started.

You and I know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah well. Even now, this is a byword for a place in need of a good cleansing. But, what we may forget is what the Rabbi learned a long time ago. When God went looking for the messiah, God went to Sodom.

Let me explain.

In the midst of all of this sin and corruption, there is the  messianic promise of Jesus Christ.

In Genesis 18.22–32, Abraham negotiates with God. He asks that if 50 are found righteous, would God spare the place. God replies in 18.26, that yes, if God finds 50 righteous, he will forgive the whole of the cities. We know that Abraham finally ends the begging with but finding ten righteous. We can look at it in one way, that Abraham wants the 50 or the 40 and so on saved and is willing to save the rest, or we can take the words of God who says that if there is just enough righteousness in Sodom, then we will not only spare the city but forgive it.

By the way, this is not the only time God acts like this. In Jeremiah 5.1, God is willing to spare Jerusalem if the prophet can find but one person who is keeping the Torah.

But back to Sodom. The story does not end well. We know the cities are destroyed because of the sin of Sodom is so great. What escapes, eventually, is a group of 3 people… three sinful people. The daughters are incestious with their father and give us Moab and Ammon, both enemies of the people of God. The Ammonites are later wiped out. The Moabites are later required to always remain outside the land of Israel.

But, there is a book in our canon that tells us of the time when that did not happen. The book of Ruth tells us of a love so powerful that a Moabite princess leaves all she has to work as a servant for her mother-in-law. And yes, we know that story well.

But at the end of that book, we are told that her grandson is none other than King David. Where did King David come from? His story begins in Sodom.

In the midst of sickness and perversion, God was busy preserving a line that would give us Jesus Christ.

When you look at the world today, do not ignore the sin that is happening, but do not think that God has lost control. Job was right, that not one of us can make something clean from something that is unclean, but I believe you and I serve one who can touch the leper and say “Be clean.” I believe you and I serve one who can look at the unclean woman and say “be clean.” I believe you and I serve the on who can look at our lives and say “be clean.”

If you think this is the end, don’t.

Hear this then: When the world and our leaders tell us that this is not God’s plan, that this is beyond hope, or that we can do nothing but retreat… when they utter the words of Job rather than Jesus, remember… we serve a messiah that was NOT found in peace, or in wealth, or in a sinless world. We serve a messiah that has restored the ruins, made the unclean clean, made death into life, the sick whole, and he is still in control. 

March 20th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Sunday Morning Sermon @Ravenswood1UMC

I… I just got here. To the United Methodist Church, I mean. I didn’t survive the time the conservatives split to support slavery while the progressives supported abolition. I didn’t survive the battles against women ordination when conservatives threatened women pastors, ridiculed them, and left the UMC because of it. I didn’t survive the rounds of talk about divorced and remarried clergy and how we should affirm a call rather than a mistake.

I believe Scripture, however, therefore I do not believe anyone should leave. As a matter of fact, progressives need conservatives to provide a Scriptural foundation. Conservatives need progressives to provide them a heart and grace.

My sermon is based on Genesis 12.1-4. It is about the move from one place to another, from fear to faith. It is essentially a “why the UMC” sermon. The first sermon was for inspiration and authority of Scripture but against inerrancy, infallibility, and being locked into a “bible only” or a “bible must” mentality. The second was about Grace. So, it was a build up, a lead in series.

Anyway, here you go.

March 19th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Here it goes… my Sat. evening talk at @Ravenswood1UMC, on the topic of sin

So, if you want, you can watch me speak/sermonize/lecturize/preach/destroy Romans 5 if you want:

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