I've been invited to preach at Reagan and Kosse Texas Methodist churches this Sunday. Here is the sermon I've prepared for the occassion and pray that God uses me to say what He wills.
I am so blessed to be here today and to celebrate this New Year with all of you. For me and my family it has been a wonderful Christmas season. And as to celebrating the New Year, I think Bill Vaughn said it best. He said, “Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s eve, Old age is when you are forced to.” So bless all of you for coming to Church this morning to worship our blessed Savior, especially if you stayed up to celebrate the New Year.
New Year’s celebrations always remind me of our rebirth in Christ, how we are renewed by His grace, and sustained in His love for us. I also often think about those New Year’s Resolutions we so often make this time of year.
You know, things like going on a diet, losing all the weight we gained from Thanksgiving to New Years, getting more exercise, being a better friend, father, mother, grandparent, or son or daughter.
I teach US History to 8th graders and my favorite historical American is Ben Franklin. He said, “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.”
As Christians I think we can agree with old Ben Franklin. What can we do to “be at war” with our vices, have peace with our neighbors, and become a better person?
To do this we must hear the word of God and allow it to change our hearts and our minds, so that we might show Christian Action and represent Christ to others. Only through this growth in the Christian life can we overcome our vices, and live a life of peace and joy.
Our founder, John Wesley was concerned for social issues of his day, the oppressed, the poor, the hungry, the needy. The early Methodist groups in England set out to identify the problems in their communities and then to take action to rectify it.
Now some people get a little nervous when we talk about “social justice.” For some it may sound like we are advancing a liberal gospel based on works. They argue that we should simply preach the gospel. That is true, and I wholeheartedly agree!
However, the power of the Gospel transforms lives. James the brother of Jesus, was very concerned about social justice from a Christian perspective. He instructed that we should take care of orphans and widows, and warned that the rich and powerful could take advantage of those less fortunate. James had a social conscious.
God’s word tells us how to live, it speaks truth and we can rest in what it says, everything it affirms is true. James holds the same high view of scripture. He states the word should be implanted into our hearts. The word in our hearts should produce fruit. We should be doers of the word. It should have an effect on our lives.
Jesus’ parable about the sower of seeds reflects this idea. In Matthew 13:3-8, Jesus said, “A farmer went out to sow his seeds. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path and the birds came and ate them. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop- a hundred, sixty or thrity times what was sown.” We as Christians, must plant the seeds in fertile soil, this comes from Christian Action.
We must hear the word with humility and seek understanding and be willing to change our ways, our habits, to serve God as He wills, not as we would, but as he wants us to. Christian faith should provide change in our lives that brings about new habits in our lives. Habits that serve him and seek justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Now if you are like me, you may be a bit of a hothead. I find anger rises pretty easily with me when I am confronted by unexpected or unwelcomed change, or by social injustices. Can we truly spread the love and grace of Christ when we are angry?
In the Book of James Chapter 1 verse 19, James tells us, “You must understand this my beloved, let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” We must learn to confront these things with love, grace, patience, and being effective in our community trying to work for change.
Don’t have worthless religion. Some come to Church but make no changes in their hearts, and do nothing with the instruction of the word within them. If we don’t take this out of the walls of the Church, then we are not doing what we have been called by Christ to do. James speaks in the second chapter of those who profess to have faith, but have no works. Remember works come from our Faith, the change in our lives provided by Christ’s sacrfice and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We do works because we are new creations, acting in joy and love to share th grace of God with others. Christian faith produces ACTION. This is shown in the life of our founder John Wesley. He travelled many miles daily preaching and sharing the good news. Now we are not all called to be ministers, but we are all called to represent Christ to the others we meet in our lives. Our family, our friends, coworkers, and those in our community need us to reflect Christ to them.
It is so important that we walk the walk, not just talk the talk. St. Augustine said we should go preach the good ne ws and use words if necessary.
Jesus told us what to do. Normally He taught in parables and stories, but in this instance he told us exactly what each of us are to do in simple, very understandable words. And when God speaks so directly, we-who profess His love and grace, had better listen and take it into our hearts and let it show in our actions towards others.
Jesus was teaching in Matthew 25 versus 34-45, about the judgment of mankind, when God will divide the people. On his right are the righteous, on the left those who are to be cursed due to His divine judgments. He said, “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for as I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison, and visited you? And the King will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
And those on the left? He said, “You are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
Like the righteous, they also plead and ask when was He hungry, naked, in prison? Again he answers, “Truly I tell you just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
So, what does this mean for us as Christians? This is Jesus telling us to take Action, to make a new resolution to truly serve him by sharing the grace of the Lord with others. Take a moment to reflect on the past year, the year that was 2011. In Texas we saw horrible drought, wild fires, a bad economy. Take a moment and prayerfully consider the following questions:
1. What have we done to help the hungry in our community and state?
2. Have we welcomed strangers into our Church? Our town, our neighborhoods, and our businesses?
3. Have we helped those in need by visiting the sick, those friends who are homebound, bedridden, or dying? Have we done anything to help those fellow Texans who have suffered so much in the summer wildfires, or from the drought?
4. Can someone look at our lives and tell by how we have lived that we were Christians?
Friends these are heavy questions. As for me, I can tell you that I have done some of these things, but not enough, and definitely not all of them. I pray that people will know me as a Christian man, but have my actions shown this to be true?
Remember, we don’t do good works to be saved, we do good works because we are saved! We are called to represent Christ on earth to a hurting world, to share the good news that Christ has paid the costs of our sins, that He is Risen and that through Him we may all have eternal life!
So lets become active doers! Let us act on the Gospel. Don’t simply just listen to the word and go about our normal lives. God is calling. Let us make a change. It could be a big one, or even a small one, but seek what God has in mind for you. James Chapter 1: verses 22 to 25 says, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves, and on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act- they will be blessed in their doing.”
So, back to our New Year’s resolutions. Only God knows what fortunes and misfortunes await our communities in the coming year, but the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, will provide each of us with everything we need to represent Christ on earth to others. We just have to be willing to step out. Welcome that stranger, feed the hungry, help the poor, visit the homebound, give a smile even when you don’t feel like cheerful, help spread joy. Share God’s grace wherever you go to whomever you meet, as well as you can, for as long as you can.
God Bless you this New Year’s Day and may He bless you throughout the coming year.