First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Committed to Christ

Committed to Christ; Ephesians 6:10-20
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; August 29, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer

Life is hard.

It can be good and blessed and wonderful…and sometimes it can be good for an extended period of time, one good thing after the other, like you’re riding a wave.  Other times it’s just the opposite: you wonder when the other shoe is going to drop.  What’s next? What now? How can this be? 

Life can be hard.

We’ve been dealing with Covid.  With the Delta variant.  With an uptick in cases and the need to increase our diligence.

Wildfires out west.  Extreme temperatures.

Hurricane Henri. Tropical Depression, Hurricane Ida heading to Louisiana.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan, citizens of other countries and Afghan citizens fleeing Kabul, seeking asylum, safety.  Suicide bombers.

Mercedes Lain…6 years ago it was Serenity Wilson…

It’s an accumulated burden; one thing piles on top of another.  Our hearts ache. Even though we may not be personally impacted by all of these things that are happening, none of us has been exempt from witnessing the pain, from feeling the loss, from needing to hold the children in our lives a little tighter, and wondering what is this world coming to?  In those darker moments we might ask God, how can this happen?  Where were you? Where are you?

We can feel lost.  We begin to wonder if the world is lost.

There are 3 stories in the Gospel of Luke about what happens when someone is lost.  In chapter 15, we read first about the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep who aren’t lost to find the one who is.  We’re reminded that God doesn’t want any one of us to be lost.

After that story there’s another one about a poor widow. She has 10 silver coins and loses one of them. And so she searches her house with a flashlight and meticulously sweeps until she finally finds it. Then she throws a party for all her friends and neighbors because she is so happy. We’re told there is joy in heaven among the angels when someone who is lost and then their heart and life is found.

The last story is about a man with 2 sons, one who demands his inheritance (which is an insult considering his father is still living), and then squanders it.  He decides to humble himself and returns home in shame. When he arrives, his father is so thrilled that he throws a party because it was as though his son was dead but has now come back to life.  He was lost and then found, and that’s reason to celebrate.

There are times when we’re like lost sheep.  When we could be the lost coin.  When we make bad decisions.  When life gets so difficult that we lose track of who we are, and of whose we are. When we lose our direction…our purpose…our ability to see straight. We get distracted, we lose our focus, we wander off course.

Sometimes that happens and we don’t realize it. But then we do; we’re way off course.

Today we’re introducing the series “Committed to Christ.”  The series will begin on the 12th of September, after next week’s holiday weekend.  Yes, we’re having church next weekend, both services at their usual times, but I know some of you leave town when the blueberries enter, plus this gives us more time to receive the surveys that we’ll talk about in a bit.

Over the 6 weeks of our series, we’re going to talk about the various disciplines that lead us toward wholeness.  Disciplines that can help us—in the good times and in the times when we’re feeling lost—to hang on, to have faith, to persevere, and to stand strong. We’re going to go “back to the basics” to remind ourselves of what God has called us to do and to be. The journey we’ll take and the disciplines we’ll discuss are not to earn our salvation, but are instead—a response to what God has given and has already done for us.

Today we’re going to talk about accepting Christ, about making a commitment to being his disciple. In the weeks to come, we’ll talk about prayer, about reading our Bibles, about worshipping together, about witnessing to others, about giving and about serving. Our purpose over this series isn’t to be instructional, but invitational. It’s not to say—you’re a slug because you’re not doing what you should be doing, or “what’s wrong with you?” But it is an opportunity.

If you’re thinking, okay, been there, done that, we’ve talked about these things a gazillion times before, okay, that’s true. But as United Methodists we believe we’re moving on to perfection and not already there.  And that our faith isn’t an intellectual pursuit, but is a journey of the heart.  And the heart is both a stubborn and fragile thing.

As I said, life is tough. And we all need encouragers, reminders along the way, in order to be our best selves, in order to be faithful, growing, healthy disciples of Jesus Christ.

So, the title of today’s message is the title of the series: Committed to Christ. What does that mean? 

Paul answers that as he speaks to the young church of Ephesus, telling them to put on the WHOLE ARMOR of God.  So they can persevere.  So they can endure.

The Ephesians are a religious minority, living in a time before Christianity is even legal. Persecution, harassment, discrimination: they know what these things feel like. They’re experiencing these things. Paul is writing from prison. To survive—and even more than that—to LIVE with hope and expectation, to be able to rise above and to see beyond the troubles of the day, Paul tells them to put on the WHOLE ARMOR of God. Don’t just pick up a helmet or a sword, don’t just pull the breastplate over your head and hook it on and think that’s good enough.  Cover yourself with what God has to offer.

It’s not a pick and choose kind of thing, it’s a commitment.

It’s not just putting your toe in the water, it’s jumping in and getting soaked to the bone.

It’s making a decision to follow Christ and to be all about what he’s doing, rather than trying to get him to bless everything that you want to do.

It takes thought and in a whole lot of ways, it takes time to understand what that means.

When Olivia was almost 4, she told her mommy that Jesus died for dry skin. When her mommy asked her to repeat what she said to be sure she heard it correctly, Livy said very clearly, you know how you rub lotion on my legs because my skin is dry? Jesus died for dry skin. Dominique said, O, Livy—Jesus died for our sins!  To which Livy responded, Oh, what’s that?

Our almost 4-year-old didn’t understand sin, but she did understand dry skin—she had it—so she translated those words into something that made sense to her.

We have different abilities to understand for a variety of reasons—age being one, our experiences, our peer groups—and probably a whole list of other factors that didn’t seem all that important at the time, but actually were.  Its different for each of us. And honestly, sometimes I think I had an easier time believing and understanding as a teenager than I have as an adult.  So, I wouldn’t say that the older you get the more mature your faith will become, because we’re all different. 

Some of you may remember a particular time when you were 4 or 18 or 42 when you told your Sunday school teacher that you believed, or when you for some reason realized—in a powerful way—God’s love and forgiveness.  When you recognized that you belonged to God no matter what.

You knew you weren’t lost.  You weren’t alone.  And that God would find you no matter where you were.

There’s no “right” way or “wrong” way of receiving Christ as your Lord and Savior.  There are no particular words you must recite to make it happen. There’s nothing magical about it.  The whole process of salvation began when Jesus died for us.  For all of us.  When we become aware of that fact, when we believe it, accept it, receive it, we can’t help but respond.

We began making commitment cards available last Sunday, and I’ve tried to make sure everyone has received one today.  I’d like for us to take a few moments to look at the card together and I’ll read it through.  Then you can decide which response makes the most sense to you. If the answer is easy for you and there’s a next step possibility, then I encourage you to stretch a bit.  I’d like for you to sign the card when you’re done, and put it in the turquoise box as we sing.  Each week I’ll tally the responses and share them with you the following Sunday.  Only Kathy and I will see names; and they won’t be shared with anyone else.  She and I will then place the commitment cards into envelopes with your name on it, and in January we’ll send them all back to you.  You can see what you were thinking, if you’ve followed through, or be reminded of what you planned to do. 

If you’re listening from home, we’d like for you to be included, as well.  The results of today’s survey won’t be reported until September 12th, so please send us an email, call the church office, or note in your response to Facebook, and we’ll make sure you have the commitment cards before the 12th.  I’d like to include your responses each week in the numbers I report, so you can let me know how you’ve responded by returning the commitment card to the church in person, by mail, email or phone call, however it’s convenient to you. 

If you have any questions or any better ideas, I’m happy to hear them.

We’re on this journey together.  We’re not alone, but we’re together with Christ and with one another.  There are some days when the journey is smooth and other days when it definitely isn’t.  But each of those days take us forward.  They teach us.  They grow us.…in our relationship with Christ and with one another, his Body in our world.