First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Sermons and Messages

I have known people in my life in whom the very Spirit of Christ was manifest in such a way that I could see it and feel it. People who exhibit this depth of faith are like leaven. They literally spill the Spirit out on to everyone they meet, so that it infects the people around them. As I sit here writing these words, I feel myself surrounded and embraced by the great cloud of witnesses who, like Paul and the people of the Thessalonian church, infected me and continue to infect me with the Spirit of the living Christ.
I don’t think that I was able to grasp the depth of this particular parable until a few years ago when I stood in the check-out line at Kohls and the person in front of me was purchasing a huge pile of dress-up clothes – dresses, suits, dress shirts, ties, socks, shoes, those types of things. It looked like everyone in the household was getting a new set of clothes. Because there wasn’t any major sale going on, the final cost was around $700.
Jesus said that his followers would be marked, and known, by their love. John Wesley believed that worship was one of the means of grace, but not the entire experience. Love becomes an embodied expression of one’s faith through acts of mercy carried out in the community. In other words, church is an action word. Church is a verb. Church is love enacted.

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As the way, Jesus is our path to the Father. As the truth, he is the reality of all God’s promises. As the life, he joins his divine life to ours, both now and eternally. Jesus is the visible, tangible image of the invisible God. He is the complete revelation of what God is like.
He reminds us that a shepherd gains access to the sheepfold, the place of protection, through the gatekeeper, and that once he enters the sheep will follow him out, into the place of danger, because they trust him and they know his voice. The intimacy of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep is demonstrated by the sheep’s ability to recognize the shepherd’s voice and the shepherd’s ability to call “his own” by name.
It’s Spring. It’s Easter. It’s the beginning of a new year. I know most of us believe that New Year’s Day is on January 1, and we make resolutions and try to live better or live differently this year than we did last year, but Easter actually gives us a second chance to rethink how we are living our lives in light of the resurrected Christ.
I imagine the disciples gathered in the Upper Room in a very similar mindset. After the awful reality of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial on Friday, they had been required by tradition to stop everything in order to observe the Sabbath.
She had the honor of being present at the death of Jesus; she remained at the cross when all the disciples went away; and Jesus appeared to her first and made her an apostle to the apostles. Nobody has a testimony like hers to the life, the love, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus—and of herself. But then, nobody has a testimony like yours or mine, either.
When Peter realized that he was sinking in the waters on a stormy sea in Galilee, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” At first, he dared to trust that he could walk on the waters, even as Jesus did. But his daring faith would be-came diverted from Jesus and be fixated on the strong winds and roaring waves. That’s when he began to sink.
Paul’s journey to that grace started when he was a Pharisee who persecuted the church of Christ. In his religious zeal for the Law and its traditions, he thought that the church was upending all that he believed was sacred. And so he was most proud of his role and his commitment to the Law.
When we live in denial, we live in isolation. We have something so difficult to bear that either we do not wish to burden others with it, or we are so ashamed of it that we keep it buried, perhaps also to ourselves. We live in fear, doubt, and anxiety. But how do we become free?
This blindness is our Lenten confession. We are blind to the multitude of sins from what we do or from what we leave undone. We can only confess that we are blind sinners in need of God’s gracious mercy and sight.
Jesus befriended sinners and tax collectors. These are the kinds of persons one would find on the very margins of society. They are not the type you would generally invite home. Indeed, many would not even wish to be seen with them. But Jesus held table fellowship with them, welcoming them to a meal in his presence.
Have you ever despaired? Has there ever been a time when meaningless and hopelessness seem to pervade your spirit, and where you cannot find light beyond the darkness? If so, you are not alone. Many, indeed most, of the faithful have gone through such times, along with the vast multitudes of humanity.
I personally don’t have very much experience with the kind of fear that the disciples experienced on the mountaintop that day – the mouth-drying, heart thumping, knee-buckling fear that paralyzes you momentarily as you try to escape from the situation that you are in.
Have you ever taken the time to observe the kids who gather at the local skate park? I noticed that we have one located near the entrance of Centennial Park. Unlike organized sports, like basketball or tennis, most towns don’t have an organized skateboarding or BMX league to teach kids the basics of the sport and I’ve always been intrigued with the way the kids teach themselves how to do it.
The trip involved several extreme adventure activities such as white water rafting, rock climbing, hiking – those type of things. About halfway through the second day, one of my friends asked me why I was so distracted. My response was to begin reciting a list of projects that were not getting done because I was in the middle of the woods in Tennessee instead of at work in the office.
A quick look at Facebook and Twitter shows how many people today feel #blessed. In our social-media world, saying you’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble. College scholarship? #Blessed. Unexpected raise? #Blessed. Wonderful family? #Blessed. A good cup of coffee? #Blessed We even have one from the Upper Room! Be a blessing each and every day. #blessed
No wonder Isaiah called it “land of deep darkness.” It wasn’t an ethnic or racial epithet. It was a reference to just how difficult and gloomy life had become there, and there appeared to be no likelihood of any improvement in the near future. Things never substantially improved for this region of Palestine, even centuries later by the time of Jesus.
There is so much hidden in the words that we use when saying hello that we often overlook their complexity. We can tell, for example, when someone is genuinely glad to see us or when our appearance is a burden. We know whether we can continue from where we left off the last time together – whether that was a day ago, or a week, or ten years – or whether we have to start all over and repair what was broken.
God, however, wants to be known. God wants to be recognized on the streets, and God wants to receive a million likes. And Christmas is about the lengths to which God will go to be known and loved. Rather than relying on a Tik Tok video, the Bible tells us that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
The third Sunday of Advent is sometimes called “Gaudete” Sunday – Gaudete meaning “rejoice” in Latin. It is the midpoint of our Advent journey and a moment to rejoice, for we are drawn ever closer to the celebration at Christmas.
Today’s advent word is “love.” The sacrificial love that Jesus describes throughout the gospels is lived out everyday by ordinary men and women who make a choice. It takes a lot of love to stand up for something that you truly believe in.
During the darkest hours of the morning when I was in my deepest dreams, my sister would walk into the room where I was sleeping, gently shake my shoulder, and whisper, “It’s time.” The two of us would tiptoe through the house, hoping to catch Santa Claus in the act, but somehow we always arrived after he had been there, and then after looking through the wrapped packages to see which ones were for us, we would go back to bed and wait, anxiously anticipating the moment that our parents would wake us up so we could begin our Christmas morning festivities.
It's interesting that pain and grief are not mentioned in either of these lists, and yet Jesus spent the bulk of his ministry addressing the pain and grief evident in the people he encountered, offering healing and compassion almost every place he went.
“It is finished.” These are the words Jesus spoke moments before he died on the cross. What “it” was varies depending on who the audience happens to be. The Romans thought they had finished a potential insurrection.
Reading scripture can sometimes be like learning and remembering difficult vocabulary words. Unless we engage with scripture regularly, we may forget what the words mean. The more familiar we become with the Word, or the more we use it, the more it becomes a part of our embodied faith