“It is Not What You Think and Why That is a Good Thing”
Fourth Sunday of Easter “It Is Not What You Think and Why That is a Good Thing”
Greeting and Announcements
Opening Hymn “There’s Something About that Name” #171 – is a single verse hymn.
Mike Carrick is going in for brain surgery this morning because of his cancer.
Brenda James’s mother is going in for surgery for lunch cancer May 7th and becausLive Stream
e of Covid 19 she is unable to have family with her in the hospital. Please be in prayer for her family.
Names I have had come to me in the last two weeks for prayer are
If you have other praises or concerns, please e-mail or call the church office so we can make sure those people are prayed for.
Opening Prayer: Psalm 138
138 I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
2 I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.[a]
3 On the day I called, you answered me;
my strength of soul you increased.[b]
4 All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth,
5 and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
6 For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
and your right hand delivers me.
8 The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
- Psalm 138:2 Or you have exalted your word above all your name
- Psalm 138:3 Hebrew you made me bold in my soul with strength
Hymn#: 261 “Lord of the Dance”
Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,
and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he
- I danced on the sabbath when I cured the lame,
the holy people said it was a shame;
they whipped and the stripped and they hung me high;
and they left me there on a cross to die
Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,
and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
John 3:9-15 ESV
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you[a] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[b] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.[c]
When I was in seminary I worked at job at the Asbury University Challenge Course. The Asbury University Challenge course was one of those ropes courses and team building places. When people would show up at the course one of the first questions the director would ask is, “How many of y’all have ever been to a place like this before?” Very often there would be one or two who would raise their hands. Some times there would be several people to raise their hands. And every time the director would say, “Well, you have never been to this course so you can stop thinking you know what is going to happen right now.” The reason the director would say this is because he did not want people to be over-confident and then not pay attention or learn the very valuable lessons a person can learn out on ropes course. I wonder. Do you think the same is true of going to church? (pause) Do you think the same is true of being a Christian? (pause) If I were to ask how many of y’all are Christians I bet a lot of you would raise your hands. Maybe most of y’all would raise your hands. But I wonder if I asked you, are you sure you have been saved…? How many of y’all would raise your hands. Should the choir, should I even raise my hand? Do we know we are saved? Maybe we don’t have it all figured out the way we thought we did. Maybe not having it all figured out is a good thing.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a teacher of the Law of Moses in Jerusalem and a member of the Jewish ruling council called the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus had come to Jesus in the middle of the night because he wanted to better understand what Jesus was preaching and who Jesus really is. Jesus very quickly helps Nicodemus understand that even though Nicodemus was a teacher of the Law, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus for all of his learning and teaching did not really have it all figured out. When we look at the Book of Acts, Saul of Tarsus thought he had it all figured out until Jesus stopped Saul on the road to Damascus. Even John Wesley thought he had it all figured out until his failure in Savannah, Georgia revealed to him just how much he was lacking for salvation.
John Wesley was a brilliant practical theologian who very soon out of seminary accepted Governor Ogelthorp’s invitation to be a priest in the Americas. John Wesley hoped to convert the American Indians whom he assumed were a naïve people just waiting for the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. How wrong he was. John Wesley never made it to the Indians. John Wesley was very “high church” in the low church rural colony of Savanah, and this caused him problems professionally. While tutoring a young girl, Sophie Hopkey, he thought they were falling in love. This caused John problems personally. John was torn by his commitment to God and his desire to be with this woman. She grew tired of waiting and accepted the proposal of William Williamson. Then Wesley, who thought he knew how all of this was supposed to come together barred Sophie Hopkey in front of the whole church from celebrating Holy Communion because Sophey did not tell John before it was made public about her engagement. Legal proceedings insued and John Wesley was ejected from the colonies and forced to return to England. This is the kind of thing that can happened when we think we have it all figured out.
I once heard a pastor put it this way, coming out of seminary a pastor is taught the steps to God’s dance of ministry. Then a pastor enters the local church and discovers two things. Number one, every church plays its own music in its own style so the dance is different in every church, and sometimes God adds or takes away steps for a specific community. It is often a painful transition. Toes are often stepped on. In some cases broken. And still the dance goes on. What are we to learn from this?
We are to learn to be careful when we think we have it all figured out. Nicodemus thought he had it all figured out. Saul thought he had it all figured out. John Wesley thought he had it all figured out. And even though all three of these were highly educated men there was much more to learn about Salvation.
On May 24th 1738 John Wesley was dejected and depressed. He had failed in Savannah and he was looking for salvation. Wesley could tell you all about salvation, but that is not the same as a saving faith in Jesus Christ. That evening he attended prayer meeting where they were reading through Martin Luther’s preface to Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. That evening John Wesley gave his life to Christ and felt the power of the Holy Spirit come upon him. Wesley’s faith became alive and he knew what the hymn writers would talk about when they sing,
“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my savior all the day long.”
John Wesley came to understand and we must understand that salvation is not simply a matter of reason or understanding that there is a god who is the God, the Lord God Almighty. Saving faith is about more than understanding that God rewards those who seek God diligently by coming to church on Sunday, giving the full tithe and sitting through Sunday school. Even the gang bangers, drug dealers and harlots would agree there is a God and that God is supposed to reward those who seek God with all of their heart, mind, soul and strength. Even Wesley believed this much when he went to Georgia. However, there is so much more to saving faith.
Saving faith is more than believing that there is a God and that Jesus Christ is God’s only Son our Lord. Even the devil believes that through God’s loving grace God sent God’s only Son that world would be saved instead of condemned. Yes, even the devil believes this much and shudders and rages at the very thought. Even the devil believes this much.
Saving faith is more powerful even than the faith of the Apostles who were given the ability to heal all manner of diseases and to cast out demons and charged with spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God. Saving faith is something still more for there were some demons they could not drive out because of their lack of faith.
Saving faith is not limited by what we can reason or understand. Saving faith is not dependent upon the works we do because we cannot earn our way into salvation. It does not matter how many years we have attended church, or how many meals we have helped prepare for church fundraisers or how much money we have put into the plate. What really matters is if we have been touched by grace. Have we been touched by grace and accepted the upward call of God through Jesus Christ so that from our heart and not merely our head we can confess with our tongue that Jesus Christ is in fact our Lord and Savior, the Son of God and the ransom paid for all of our mistakes, willful sins and transgressions against God. Saving faith is the heartfelt belief that Jesus Christ had to die on the cross to pay the price for all of our sins. Saving grace comes from God and is poured through our hearts that we would know the resurrection of Jesus Christ paved the way for fallen man to be redeemed and enter again into eternal life. Saving faith is a reliance on the blood of Jesus Christ as the only way a person can be saved and know that peace which passes all understanding. That Christ died for us and is living in us that we might run the full race of our lives with endurance. The resurrection is the start of a better life. Our baptism and initiation into God’s holy family is the start of a better life.
My sisters and brothers maybe the shutting of church doors is a good thing during this time of social distancing. Or maybe social distancing can be a good thing if it helps us to better understand we can worship anywhere. Jesus is just as much the Lord of the dance in our living room as Jesus is the Lord of the Dance in our church sanctuary. We believe God is everywhere which means God is definitely at home as much as God is in church. What must change is our reliance on a place of worship as opposed to the God who loves us. We will return to worship in this sanctuary, but in the meantime perhaps we should use this social distancing as a time for self-reflection. Can you go and look yourself in the mirror and know that you are saved? Do you have that blessed assurance to know God is God and that Jesus is the Lord of the dance and not us. We are to follow God’s steps and sometimes we won’t know what to do. Sometimes we will be scared, but the bottom line is God is still God, and even when we feel lost and alone the dance goes on. If we believe the dance goes on, and if we know we are saved then we have to make a choice. Will we follow the Lord of the dance, or will we sit on the side of the room and wait for the end. I’ll tell you from experience. Life is much more abundant if we will dance.
By God’s Good Grace,
Our Closing Hymn is number 707 “Hymn of Promise”
Let’s have our closing benediction together.
As it was in the beginning
It is now and ever shall be
World without end