Saturday, June 16, 2018

"Fresh Every Morning"


               This Sunday (June 17th), we begin our summer sermon series, which is built around hymns from The United Methodist Hymnal.  Earlier in May, we asked members of the Christ United Methodist congregation to share their 3 favorite hymns and to tell us why these particular hymns were especially meaningful to them.  A total of 64 hymns were lifted up as favorites. 

            We are taking the top 8 hymns and focusing on one hymn for each of the next 8 Sunday’s of the summer.  Our sermons will focus on each of these hymns and the scripture which undergirds and grounds that particular hymn.  We begin the series this Sunday with the hymn, “Morning has Broken.”  This hymn’s lyrics go like this:

“Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

“Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

“Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev'ry morning
God's recreation of the new day”[1]
           
            The lyrics to “Morning has Broken” were written by Eleanor Farjeon, an English poet and children’s author.  She wrote the hymn in response to a request that she write lyrics giving thanks for each new day, which could be set to the Scottish tune, “Bunessan.”  The song was originally published in 1931.  In her other writings, Farjeon was the creator of the Mary Pippin series of children’s stories.  Born on February 13, 1881, Eleanor Farjeon came from a very literary family.  Her father was a novelist and two of her brothers were also authors.  Although her father was Jewish, Farjeon converted to Catholicism in 1951. 

            The United Methodist Hymnal lists Lamentations 3: 22-23 as scriptural foundation for “Morning has Broken.”  In this third chapter of Lamentations, we encounter a different speaker from the first two chapters.  This speaker is a “strong man;” perhaps a soldier who is committed to defending women, children, and innocent persons.  Just as previous speakers in Lamentations, this “strong man” has survived catastrophe.  As Kathleen O’Connor, a scriptural scholar, writes:  “The strong man is hopeful, reliant on theological traditions of divine mercy, and confident that  Yahweh has seen his suffering.  His arrival at hope, however, is through a convoluted journey, a tortured struggle, in which hope is asserted in the face of contradictory experience.”[2]

            Chapter 3 opens with the speaker lamenting how God has turned against him:

I am one who has seen affliction
   under the rod of God’s wrath; 
he has driven and brought me
   into darkness without any light; 
against me alone he turns his hand,
   again and again, all day long.  (Lamentations 3:1-3)

            Yet, after 20 verses of lamenting that God’s anger and wrath torment him, suddenly the strong man’s outlook is reversed.  He remembers God’s steadfast love and mercy.  This restores his hope and confidence.  In verses 22-23, the strong man re-claims God’s love –and then addresses God directly:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   his mercies never come to an end; 
they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.”  (Lamentations 3:22-23)

This is a powerful theological reflection.  The strong man affirms that even when God seems to have turned away from him, God’s love is still constant; still present.  Even in the strong man’s darkest nights of the soul, God’s love and mercy come again, new and fresh in the morning.  Eleanor Farjeon captures the power and assurance of God’s love coming new and fresh every morning.  I especially appreciate these lines from her hymn,

“Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev'ry morning
God's recreation of the new day”

If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, June 17th.  In addition to reflecting on “Morning has Broken,” we will also celebrate Father’s Day, as we recognize and give thanks for our fathers—as well as others who have been like fathers to us.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.



[1] The United Methodist Hymn, No. 145.

[2] Kathleen O’Connor, Commentary on Lamentations in the New Interpreter’s Bible, vol 6, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002), CD-ROM Edition.


Friday, June 8, 2018

"Sanctifying Grace"

This Sunday (June 10th) at Christ United Methodist Church, we will conclude our three-week reflections on God's grace.  Pastor Bob Neben, our minister of visitation, will be preaching on Wesley's third form of grace, "Sanctifying Grace."


  If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us this Sunday, as we reflect upon God's profound love for us and the infinite possibilities to grow closer to God through God's sanctifying grace.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

Next Sunday (June 17th), we will begin our summer worship series, devoted to hymns of the church, which members of our congregation have selected as their favorites.

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

“Justifying Grace: Crossing the Threshold”


            This Sunday, June 3rd, we continue our three-week series on the Christian understanding of grace.  As we noted last week, for the purposes of this series, we will simply define grace as “God’s free and unmerited love, which seeks out every person and assists us in developing a loving relationship with the Divine.”  Grace is pivotal within Christian thought because it forms the grounding for our understanding of God’s relationship with human persons—and with all of Creation. 

            John Wesley, the founder of United Methodism, suggested that there were three different forms of grace, corresponding to different stages in the Christian’s spiritual journey:

1.      Prevenient Grace.  Prevenient grace is God’s initial love, which seeks us out and invites us into a loving relationship.  It is God calling us—even luring is—into a relationship.

2.      Justifying Grace.  With justifying grace, God gives us the confidence and courage to completely put our faith and trust in God.

3.      Sanctifying Grace.  After we have entered into a relationship with the Divine, sanctifying grace is God’s nurture and encouragement as we grow in our relationship with the Divine.

In order to explain his three-fold distinction of grace, Wesley used the metaphor of walking up and into a house.

a.       Prevenient Grace.  Walking up onto the front porch of the house.

b.      Justifying Grace.  Opening the door and crossing over the threshold into the house.

c.       Sanctifying Grace.  Once inside the house, exploring all of the rooms. 

Last week, we began our series by examining “prevenient grace.”  We saw that prevenient grace is God calling, welcoming us into a loving relationship with the Divine.  This week we continue our reflections by reflecting on “justifying grace.”  In the proclamation, I will use Romans 4: 1-5 as the foundation for my reflections on justifying grace:

“What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’  Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

In this passage, Paul is trying to demonstrate that the covenant which God made with Abraham was always intended to include both Jews and Gentiles.[1]  To understand the context of Paul’s claim, we must refer to Genesis 15.  In this chapter, God promises Abraham, who is currently without a male heir, that his descendants will be more numerous than all the stars in the heavens.  “And he believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). 

The claim that Abraham’s belief—or, faith—was reckoned as “righteousness” refers to Abraham’s membership in the covenant with God.  In other words, Abraham’s faith in God and belief in God’s promise meant that Abraham had entered into covenant membership with God.  As scripture scholar N. T. Wright writes, “Abraham’s faith was the sure sign that he was in partnership with God; and God sealed this with the covenant…”[2]

In the next verse (v. 4), Paul uses the metaphor of bookkeeping to develop his argument.  He notes that for someone who works, the wages from that work are not reckoned a gift, but rather the money which is due for the labor performed.  Paul’s point is that Abraham received covenant membership not because of any work, or accomplishment which he performed.  He did not earn covenant membership through obeying God’s Laws or any other sort of good works.  Instead, he entered into covenant relationship with God because of his faith.

In verse 5, Paul switches metaphors, moving from a bookkeeping metaphor to the metaphor of a law court and his understanding of covenant.  Those who trust God, without relying upon their own good works, are received into covenantal membership with God.  At this point, a caveat is in order.  It is easy for Christians to see their faith as a sort of substitute or alternative form of work, even if they recognize that God’s gift of covenant is free and unmerited.  That is, justification by faith is not something we do or gain.  Instead, it is more of a state that we find ourselves in, when we wholly and completely trust in God.

This is where Wesley’s concept of God’s justifying grace proves helpful.  For Wesley, even trusting God is not something which we can do without God’s love and assistance.  Justifying grace is God’s free and unmerited love which seeks us out and assists us in trusting God so that we can become covenant members with God; entering into a growing relationship with God.  Justifying grace gives us the confidence and courage to completely put our faith in God.  Justifying grace gives us the strength to turn to God and accept God’s love and reconciliation. 

Sometimes we refer to a “leap of faith.”  In some sense, justifying grace makes the “leap of faith” possible.  Yet, we must be careful in how we use this term.  A leap of faith is not unthinking, but rather carefully considered and rational.  Further, a leap of faith is not groundless, but rather based upon our experience of God’s Presence within our lives.  The leap of faith is more a state in which we realize that—just as Abraham, before us—we believe and trust in God’s love and care for us. 

For Wesley, this moment of realization that we really do trust God marked the point when we crossed over the threshold of God’s house.  In Wesley’s personal life, this moment was profoundly and poignantly transformational.  It was the threshold of a new life, with new possibilities.  As United Methodist Bishop Kenneth Carder writes, “That is justifying grace, turning toward a new future.”[3]


If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, June 3rd, as we explore God’s profound love for us, demonstrated through justifying grace.  During the proclamation, I will share several fascinating illustrations of how justifying grace has been experienced in the lives of individual Christians.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.


[1]N. T. Wright, Commentary on Romans in the New Interpreter’s Bible, vol 10, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002), CD-ROM Edition.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kenneth L. Carder, “A Wesleyan Understanding of Grace,” Interpreter Magazine, November-December 2016.  Accessed online at http://www.interpretermagazine.org/topics/a-wesleyan-understanding-of-grace, 19 May 2018.