Bishop Leeland's Sunday Sermon
June 24, 2018
The scripture lesson is from Paul's letter to the ‑‑ we always thank God our father the Lord Jesus Christ, he is the visible image of the invisible God. The firstborn of all creation for in him all things were created in heaven and Earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, principalities, all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body of the church, he is the beginning, the first borne from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent or first. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell 12K3 and through him to reconcile all things, whether in Earth or heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
For this reason I became a minister, according to the divine office given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. The mystery hidden for ages, generations, but now made manifest to his Saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ, in you. The hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone, teaching everyone in all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, striving with all the energy that he mightily inspires within me.
This is why we toil, even me, even me, this is why we toil, why we labor, why we work. Different translations say it in different ways but we toil to make the word of God fully known that we might present everyone mature unto Christ, admonishing everyone, teaching everyone, and presenting everyone mature unto Christ.
Here's some of the things I have learned from those who have been my teachers. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
Just because you think it, you don't need to say it.
If your friend jumps off a cliff, does that mean you should do it too?
Respect others. Listen. More than you talk. Show your respect by saying please; thank you, yes, ma'am, no ma'am, yes, sir, no, sir.
As we watch young parents admonish, teach, present so that all may be mature. That's not a ma'am, that's a sir. What do you say? Yes, sir.
My great grandmother used to say to my sisters and I, "you cannot teach what you do not know. You cannot lead where you will not go." Can you demonstrate that you are genuinely sensitive, caring, respectful, generous, so John Wesley asked the question: what are we to teach? How are we to teach it? What are we to do?
He said if you want to live the biblical life, if you want to know what to teach, this is how you live the life of the kingdom. You do no harm, you do all the good you can, and you stay in the ordnances of God meaning the channels of God's prayer, worship, sacrament, small covenant groups where we watch over one another, fasting:
To be in worship as often as you can. To read the scripture as often as you can, looking at it just before the Sunday school lesson is just not going to get it.
To be shaped in the image of Christ. This is the mystery hidden from ages, it is Christ in you. This is why we labor and toil and work. To present everyone mature unto Christ. Wesley, knowing that not all of us would be prepared to preach and teach in the church made his sermons public. Here are a sampling of the sermons he hoped ‑‑
Obedience to pastors.
The character of the Methodist.
In that sermon it's fascinating. He says the character of a Methodist is ‑‑ who is, what is a Methodist? A Methodist, he says in that sermon, is anyone who loves the Lord their God with all their heart soul mind and strength and loves their neighbor as themselves. Somebody he says, in the sermon, that's what a Christian is. Wesley said, I am paraphrasing the Leeland translation, that's not the way.
He preached on Christian perfection that we will not willingly or knowingly commit harm or wrong, do another person harm. Not that we won't commit sins of omission, won't commit sins of things we didn't know were wrong, but we would never willingly or go knowingly speak or act in ways that would bring harm, discomfort, hurt to another person. The sermon ‑‑ the first fruits of the Holy Spirit is the removal of shame and guilt from all the things we have done wrong in our life and the removal of the fear of punishment. These are the first fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Salvation found in Christ alone. In the second chapter of Romans it points to the fact all nations, all tribes, all people have a sense of right and wrong. This is the light God has given to them. In Romans, if that law were written on their hearts to know it is right, but we have received a greater revelation of God and Jesus Christ that reconciles us to the one that created us and the means of grace by which we immerse ourselves and are shaped slowly into the image of Christ.
What are we to teach? How are we to teach it and what are we to do?
Last night the ordinands were ordained for service in the church and we teach not only the doctrine but the discipline and ‑‑ we are a unique family, we could have been anything, Presbyterians, Baptists, but when we said we wanted to be a part of the United Methodist family there's a unique way we live together. When we teach about how we make ourselves available to the church we use the biblical model of Acts ‑‑ they sent them off, as Paul said to Titus, I have left you behind that you might appoint the elders in every city. We do not wait for the church to call Peter, Paul, Ruth, Naomi, say that's the pastor we want. We lay hands on them. This biblical model the Methodists always used, and we send them off.
Bill Moxie is a lay man in one of our congregations and had a passion for stirring the hearts of laity in his church. He asked if I would go to this lay training with him and I agreed to go. The lay training was in Baltimore. We were going to be housed at Loyala College, you will stay in a dormitory, they don't have televisions and don't have coffee. If you go, take your small television set and your coffee maker. It didn't take long, after one day for a bunch of people in the dorm to hear there were two guys on the third floor that had a television and coffee. People were coming to our door every morning.
You listen to the news, you have the national news, it breaks away to the local news, for those who are from the Baltimore area, you know this is accurate. Every morning there was the report of another murder.
On this particular morning that I am thinking about, the news commenter said there are sections of Baltimore that are so dangerous the police are hesitant and slow to move into those communities. The fire department is slow and as a result created litigation in the city about whether those communities would be protected.
Because I drove to Baltimore, Bill said let me treat you to dinner and we went to Little Italy, there with a lot of Italian restaurants. We got back in the car to go home, I said Bill I think I know a shortcut back to the college.
In just a matter of moments I was hopelessly lost on the streets of Baltimore. Only thing I could think of was that news commenter ‑‑ I said I can find something familiar ‑‑ the light turned red, we stopped, a group of people at the corner, they pressed up against the car and looked in and you could tell there were no friendly looks, like "what are you doing here?" I said, Bill get out and ask somebody for directions. He said you keep driving.
We did, we made our way back. David Winter, in his book What's in a Word? He said being lost is an odd condition. You don't stop being who you are just because you are lost.
I am on the streets of Baltimore, still Janet's husband, the father of my three children, a pastor of a congregation but while I am lost I am not good to any of them. A lost article still has worth and value. We begin to search. We don't look for trash, we look for that which has meaning and purpose in your life. That's what Jesus was talking about when he talked about those who are lost.
All his illustrations bear this out. The woman who lost the coin. It has value but can't do anything while it's out of place. A lost sheep. Still has value but is not part of the flock as long as it's separated. The lost son. Can never restore the relationship of the father as long as it's lost and out of place.
We are so valuable to God. We mean so much that God sent his only son not created but begotten of the same substance of the father who poured himself out in the form of flesh, the first borne of all creation, all things are created and held together, the firstborn of the dead sent that person to us to seek and save that which is out of place.
We are not in the place where we need to be in relationship to God. It's bad to be lost. It's worse to be lost and not know you are lost. Not to feel you need to be reconciled to God. We live in a world that teaches us what are we to teach ‑‑ teaches us that the most attractive or powerful, those we emulate are the wealthiest, those that we hold up are the most prestigious, yet Henry ‑‑ said that the greatest three temptations of spiritual leaders is the need to feel like we are relevant, popular, that we are powerful. We have never had a preacher like you. We love you. What do you think we should do?
When we begin to feel this need to have our influence, our presence, our prestige, Henry Nowan says it's the beginning of the erosion of our relationship to God.
The gospel of Luke and other gospels, when we are focused on not the most prestigious or wealthiest ‑‑ that which is it out of place, the lost. As you discover looking through the gospels through these stories more than one time is that all people from genesis to revelation, all the people matter to God. This Annual Conference has been leaning into the great commission to go to baptize to teach to be obedient to the commands of God because we know those who are obedient will go to baptize, teach, to the commands of God, will go. It is cyclical, draws us in. Paul says for this reason I became a minister. If you read a more updated translation, it says this is why I became a servant. That's all of us. To admonish everyone, to teach everyone, to present everyone mature unto Christ.
Today we remind ourselves how important it is to tell the story, we want to tell the story as well as we can. Even when the Jesus story is told poorly, people still get the point. There's so many of us gathered here this morning for whom the Jesus story in our life was not told very well, but we still got the point.
I don't know if you so seen the movie Amistad, a ship, for years, locked in a battle, some claim these are slaves, others claim they are free. As these prisoners move from the place in which they are held into the place where hearings are taking place, if you see the movie, these prisoners are looking at crosses on the top of buildings and crosses that are hanging around Christians as they move through their path and passage. Somehow a book is placed in the hand of one of these prisoners ‑‑ it's well watching the movie, this prisoner is showing the book to another and shows the scene of the nativity and he says in his African language, with this birth the world changed. Then he shows the picture of Jesus healing and says with his hands he healed and shows him protecting the woman in adultery, he protected other people.
He shows him walking on the water, and shows Jesus at his trial and the prisoner says to his friend, I don't know what he did wrong, but they bound his hands and they killed him.
Then he came back, and his friend says "that's just a story." He says no, but the story is not over. He came back to life, and look, as the artist would depict the halos, the sun followed him everywhere he within the and he shows us where we will go when they kill us.
Even when it is taught poorly, somehow we get the point.
I remember my Sunday school class as a child, I was in church in Washington D.C., Lincoln Park United Methodist Church, not far from downtown an old apartment building was shoved up against our building and was then made into the building for Sunday school classes. The mine was down in the basement where they paint the cinder block walls and it smells like mildew, you have a little window. I had a teacher, I apologize, every time I think of that class I think about how I was acting up. He said Mr. Leeland, you can leave the class and I will tell your grandmother how you behaved today.
He taught me a new lesson. But in that Sunday school class there was a book shelf with books, had pictures of the biblical stories, I was learning names of the characters and stories. We didn't have the most up‑to‑date facilities or tools, I wasn't even sure we had the kind of curriculum ‑‑ I didn't understand the difference of the Methodist curriculum at that point. But I knew there was a man that taught that class that liked me. Seemed to take an interest in me and wanted me to know Jesus loved me and know the story. Even though it may not be have taught well, I got the point. Go from here to the places where you sit and engage in conversations, where you have the opportunity to teach and I want us to teach it well.
I want us to understand there will be times in our life where we don't do it well, sometimes where our efforts falter. Even in those times God can use it. You may not feel comfortable praying out loud in front of other people, but pray, God uses your thoughts to strengthen one another, admonish one another, teach one another, present everyone mature unto Christ. You might not sing well, like me, I can't sing like I was when I was 19, my voice cracks and I sing off key but John Wesley says sing it loud and for those around me, that's why I do it.
Even in those times God can use it, there will be people in class like Paul Leeland as a young boy, our task is not just to say the word, preach the truth, but offer in such a way that people's lives are changed by it and the world is changed.
This is why I became a servant. To make the word of God fully known, to admonish one another, to teach one another, to present everyone, everyone mature unto Christ. When he sings of glory I sing the old old song, it will be the new, new story that I have sung so long. I think I said that backwards. When I sing the new, new song it will be the old old story. Even when you don't do it well, preach it anyway.