I enjoyed delivering my first sermon.
Our pastor, Rev. Katie McKay Simpson is on maternity leave, so the church asked if I would be interested in delivering the message.
I jumped at the chance.
The sermon was the final installment of a four week series on John Wesley and our Methodist roots.
We’ve come to the end of the four week sermon series on John Wesley and our Methodist roots.
There’s a great quote by John Wesley that I absolutely love –
“Catch on fire and others will love to come watch you burn”
And we’ve got this interesting text this morning – the ascension verse, which I think we read together about five weeks ago.
More on that in a moment – but let’s start with some more history – the fascinating story of how Methodism took off in a massive way in our country.
In 1784, John Wesley named Francis Asbury as one of his co-bosses of the work in America.
Like Wesley, Asbury preached in a bunch of places: courthouses, public houses, tobacco houses, fields, public squares, wherever a crowd would gather to hear him.
Throughout his ministry he gave more than 16,000 sermons and he travelled nearly 300,000 miles on horseback.
He was often sick and he had no permanent home.
In fact, he was still traveling when he died at 70 years of age.
In 1771 there were just 300 Methodists in the American colonies led by four ministers.
By the time of Asbury’s death in 1816, Methodism could claim 2,000 ministers and over 200,000 members!
The scrappy Methodists did not have what the big mainline churches had back then – namely resources and social prestige…but they were up to something…
They had faith – and it was through that faith that they were willing to risk everything in order to create something new – something that would transform and ignite new believers to Christ.
They took to heart the idea that Christ, though not here in the physical sense, is very much with us through the holy spirit.
They believed and took to heart the idea that we are the hands and feet of Christ.
Have you ever heard that phrase?
The hands and feet of Christ.
Picture – this is a statue of Christ at the Catholic Church in downtown Baton Rouge.
It has always fascinated me because the hands have been vandalized.
Here’s a great quote from Saint Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
The early scrappy Methodists took this to heart – like I said, they were on to something….in just 45 years – the numbers bear this out:
In 1771 just 300 Methodists in the American colonies – four ministers.
45 years later, 200,000 members and 2,000 ministers.
I am not a math whiz but…
That’s 100 new members a week- every week.
4800 a year
In about a hundred years, they went from having about 20 churches to more than 19,000.
How did they do it?
They went out and became the HANDS and FEET of Christ, taking the ministry TO the people. FOR the people.
This is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he left us physically and gave us the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1: 9-11
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
This is what we find in this verse – Jesus leaving us physically. Remember, later he’ll give us the Holy Spirit.
But check out how the disciples didn’t get it at first….
In fact, they just stared up into the cloud. Waiting for him to return.
Let’s go to the 10th verse – they were staring intently when suddenly two men dressed in white stood next to them.
It was as if God said – fine – let’s get some angels down there and tell them what to do!
Why are you staring into space? Get moving!
I really resonate with this verse…
How many times in our lives have we just stared into the sky – waiting for God to take away some problem of ours…when in reality, he is calling us to move, to take action, he’s calling us to go love someone.
Why did he do this?
I mean – he could’ve just stuck around on Earth and been like Batman – we’d get into a little trouble, shine the Bat symbol, which I guess would’ve been that fish thing symbol – and bam, he’d appear, I would think like a cloud, a rush of wind – I’m sure there’d be a robe and some sandals, beard, smiling…and he’d say something like “Truly I tell you – and the problem would…just…go away”
But he’s not a super hero, is he?
Jesus wanted us to do this because – well – he knew we would be greater.
In fact, he said it.
John 14:12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Now this doesn’t mean greater in the sense that we are greater than Christ – it means greater in number.
He also knew that by doing these things, our relationship with him would grow – our love for him would grow.
Instead of just relying on some Batman signal, we would have a partner in heaven to help us do His work.
Have you ever been a part of this kind of work?
I have and its exhilarating.
As some of you know, because I seem to talk about it all the time – one of my passions is prison ministry.
I can tell you – if you had asked my wife if I would go into a maximum security prison and talk to murderers about Jesus, she would have laughed at you…literally…laughed at you…
But my journey to that prison is an example of Christ’s work in my heart, his work on my soul, and – perhaps just as important – other Christians inviting me, pulling me and in some ways, conspiring to drag me deeper and deeper and deeper…
I could share story after story after story of how we, as a Kairos team, together with Christ and for Christ – saved souls at Angola and there’s no doubt we did.
Those moments when we stared at the wonder of Christ – and all of humanity including our selves just disappeared. As the Psalmists say – we were weened from ourselves.
At times, the work – the stuff that was happening – the things that would just fall into place – the miracles that would happen – the unexplainable? It can be explained – it was and is the Holy Spirit.
Because when we call on Jesus to help us do His work – he is right there, sitting at the right hand of God and ready to do the unexplainable in order to help spread his message of love.
But those are the high where we become the hands and feet of Christ. As we would say in the business world, those moments are “low hanging fruit” – we know those moments are the hands and feet of Jesus.
What about tomorrow?
Monday morning at work?
Because tomorrow you’re not going to be in a prison – or even a church…
What about Tuesday afternoon with that cranky co-worker after the 4pm conference call?
Those moments that happen in the everyday.
Those dugout moments – the moments before we go to bat?
Recently, a friend shared a rather interesting story about a friend of his who was about to graduate from nursing school.
The story isn’t about the graduation. It’s not even about nursing.
It’s about awareness. It’s about people.
My friend was sitting next to a young nursing student who was studying for an upcoming final exam.
The extent of her studying seemed to focus on a huge binder.
Really thick. Lots of pages, lots of notes, lots of really complicated nursing stuff.
The stuff I would never read.
He asked her, “So this binder…this stuff…you have to know all of it? All of this material for your final exam.
“Yep,” she answered. “I have to know it all. You never know what the final exam will be about. There could be questions about this part, or this part, or even this part.”
A few days went by and my friend ran into the student.
Remembering the big binder and all of her studying, he asked her, “So, how was the exam?”
She paused and said, “There was just one question.”
But…she had that huge binder? All that material?
How could the final exam be summed up in a single question?
“Well, what was the question?” he asked.
She looked at him and said, “The final question was ‘Who is the janitor on the 3rd floor?'”
Who is the janitor?
On the third floor.
What is it?
In the end, the lesson for the nursing student was that nursing is about people, not stats, not databases, not protocols.
Yes, all of the stuff in that binder was and will remain vitally important, but if we can’t relate, if we can’t stop and communicate, if we can’t look up from our phones and say hello, if we can’t do some of the most basic of human interactions…what are we here for?
Jesus talks a lot about human interaction.
In fact, when asked about the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34), he said we should love God with all our heart, all our soul and all all our strength. Immediately after, he said the next greatest commandment is to love one another.
It’s hard to love someone when we don’t take the time to know them.
We can easily complicate matters can’t we?
Over-analysis can lead to paralysis – but it’s really simple.
Love one another.
Why do we complicate that so much?
I want to share a video – it’s a story of how, when we do things out of love, amazing transformations can occur
Steve Hartman is a fantastic storyteller – and he does an amazing job with this one.
Perhaps the reason I love it so much is because Steve realized the story is as much about that cynical wide receiver as it was about the kid who scored the touchdown.
Remember what the wide receiver said, he probably wouldn’t have thought to do that.
You know what – I am like that too…
But thank God – I have you surrounding me, encouraging me.
My teammates – my Christian teammates, conspiring in that gym to get me to do a Kairos.
Teammates who push me deeper, showing me how to be the hands and feet of Christ – because, trust me, I can’t do this stuff on my own.
What do you think the odds are Justice does that again – maybe not another scheming touchdown – but the odds he goes out of his way to love someone different?
I bet he does it again.
It’s probably exactly how Asbury and Wesley felt when they preached in a field and converted 10,000 people.
Yes! Get back on that horse and go to the next town and build another church!
Yes! Go to a maximum security prison and show someone the love of Christ!
Yes! Start a new worship experience where we preach to the RV lot after LSU home football games.
Because Just like God sent angels to the disciples to wake them up, to stir them up, to move them into action, the Spirit did the same to early Methodists – the spirit has done so in this church and my prayer today is that the spirit does the same exact thing to you – go from this place and be the hands and feet of Christ.
Catch on fire with enthusiasm, and they’ll come from miles to watch you burn.
Yes, John Wesley – they will!
Come Baton Rouge – come watch us burn!!!