First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Sermons and Messages

Our Resurrection story this morning reminds us that at the end of Luke’s Gospel, Peter and the other disciples are discouraged and feel alienated and abandoned by Jesus, who went willingly to his death and then disappeared from the tomb. When the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples, he has to regain their trust before they will realize their potential for confident living and eternal life.
When Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he is reminding them of the things he told them that evening. He shows them his hands and his side, as if to say, “Here I am. It’s me. I’m not a ghost. Just like I said when we shared that last meal together, ‘I am going away [for a few days], and I am coming [back] to you.’
It is natural for us to wonder why they didn’t recognize him. They had received Jesus’ teaching. Like Mary, they had probably sat at his feet. Perhaps there had been times when they spoke to him face to face. And yet…here he is, walking with them now. And for some strange reason, they don’t realize who he is…until he does something familiar.

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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.
Although I believe that God expected and deserved the faith and trust of Israel, it was not until the incarnation of Christ that humanity really understood what it means to experience God with us. I don’t think the Israelites complained anymore than we do in our everyday lives. The difference is that we aren’t struggling for our survival in the wilderness.
Both lessons this week remind us of God’s generosity and this is one of those times when we have to take a God-view of the world. At this time of the year I often think of the early settlers in Plymouth. With the onset of winter following a poor harvest, I wonder if they looked back on their lives in Europe and forgot about the persecution and poverty they faced there.
In our gospel today, Jesus reminds us that there are no shortcuts when it comes to the Kingdom of God. When Peter asks, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often shall I forgive? As many as seven times?” And Jesus says to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Seventy-seven times? Other translations say seventy times seven. Either way, that’s a lot of forgiveness.
But here’s the thing. God doesn’t simply invite us into the Kingdom of God. God offers us a drink and that is the cup of salvation, or the opportunity to live and love as Christ did. We are called to be in right relationship with God and with others, but as humans living in the 21st century, we tend to minimize the importance of relationships.
As the Church, I think we have to seriously consider how we react, or respond, to these situations, because how we respond defines who we really are. It’s human nature to want to choose one side or the other. But Jesus challenges us to live like he does. Throughout the gospels, we don’t see Jesus taking sides. Jesus responds to each individual situation in the same way – with compassion. Whether a person is mourning, chronically ill, disabled, immoral, hungry or frightened, Jesus offers compassion.
We have forgotten that we have a God who loves us so much that he sacrificed his only son so that we won’t perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus went to the cross and died and was resurrected so that we could discover that God’s love is, in fact, for all; that God is working in us and through us to make this world a more just and equitable place; that God will grant us courage and grace sufficient to meet the challenges of the day; and that when we stand with and for those who suffer or are persecuted, we encounter God in a powerful and palpable way.
The topic I believed needed to be addressed was how we get so focused on the problems that we don't look for solutions. We get so wrapped up in what is wrong with the world, the church and each other that we forget the reason we are here, our purpose, our goal, and our reward. I wanted so badly to pick at a wound that needed to heal.
Are you hiding anything today? Instead of owning your sin, is it owning you? Does lack of forgiveness make you want to flee? Verse 3 says that keeping silent about sin can also make us feel sick: "When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long." When he tried to ignore his iniquities, his bones felt like they were decaying.
I think sometimes relationships are undervalued. We often measure our happiness by the number of things we have, but our real treasure is in our relationships. In our scripture today, Jesus reminds us that life’s greatest treasure is to be a part of God’s kingdom through our relationship with Jesus Christ.
When we try to figure out God’s specific plan for our own lives, sometimes we have to accept circumstances and situations that we may not agree or be comfortable with. God challenges us to use the innate talents and gifts we have been graced with and God also challenges us to live the portrait of the kingdom that Jesus reveals to us in the gospels.
The point is, dirt is dirt, regardless of where you live, and some soils are going to produce more fruit than others. But as I read Jesus’ explanation for this parable, I don’t think we are supposed to throw our hands up in despair when we plant seeds in rocky ground, or on the beaten path, or in Indiana clay. I think Jesus is asking us to consider what kind of soil we are going to be.
Isn't that amazing? God knows everything that we go through. Nothing that happens to us that he doesn't know about. When we feel lonely and totally abandoned, when it seems that our prayers are unanswered, when everything seems hopeless, God knows and God cares.
You may be wondering why I am giving you instructions about birdwatching when there are so many other important things going on in our world today. The point is that in order to be a successful birdwatcher, you have to pay attention. Today’s gospel is about paying attention.
In the parable, Jesus tells us that the seeds being sown can only take root and grow into a strong plant if the soil has been properly prepared. Usually, we internalize this message and recognize that it is important for us to take great care to keep our hearts open and ready to receive God’s desires for our lives. And while this is true, we also have to remember that God has already acted in our lives to prepare us to do this.
I think before we try to figure out how to carry out this commission, we have to understand what it is that Jesus actually said. Jesus commands us to go out and teach and baptize, but did you ever notice that at the end of this Commission Jesus makes a promise? Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Throughout these passages, we get the sense that the Spirit isn’t some kind of super hero sent to rescue us, but rather the one who equips, encourages, and stays with us, helping us perceive the needs of our neighbors and community and then rise to the occasion to meet those needs with equal measures of tenacity, competence, and courage.
When we face change, or an uncertain future, we still have a story to tell. We can get hung up on the details of that change, or of that future, or we can remember who and whose we are, and we can carry out our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ. The disciples spent the time between the Ascension and Pentecost “worshiping Christ and continually blessing God in the temple.”
Every choice that we make in this life should be made with the awareness that we are able to have a relationship with God because God has a relationship with us through Jesus Christ. As Christians we need to be honest about the hope we have that Jesus has never left us, that he remains with us by the Holy Spirit, and that he is faithful. He is not a placeholder in our lives, he is an advocate for God’s never-ending love, and it is through us that he continues his ministry. 
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.