Greater Works – September 27, 2015

“Greater Works”
Acts 7:55-60 John 14:1-14
We often hear the words from John’s Scripture at funerals. They are words of great comfort even when tears of grief are flowing and hearts are breaking with hurt for the one who has just been lost and for those who remain behind. They are certainly appropriate for the occasion. And…though the losses and the funerals may have occurred months ago…though hearts may still be hurting…the words of comfort are appropriate today…and as we go into the future. Jesus didn’t offer these words of hope and comfort at a funeral. It was at the Last Supper…right after he told his disciples that he would die. They were comforting words surely…words intended to brace the disciples for the eventful days ahead…words that should brace us at Jackson Grove United Methodist Church for the eventful days ahead. Just like the world of the disciples…our future isn’t what it used to be. Jesus offered comfort and hope for Stephen, too. As Stephen was going through his crisis…Jesus who was seated at the right hand of God…stood up…opened his arms…and prepared to be the advocate for Stephen before God. Stephen was so reassured that he accepted his fate…and…asked God to forgive those who were ending his life on earth. Like Stephen we must be so reassured that we ask God to forgive those who have hurt us. You and I may not have the opportunity…as the disciples did…to walk with Jesus in the flesh. We may not see him as Stephen did. There are times when you and I just have to believe when we cannot prove with physical evidence. We have to be able to accept what we can’t understand. This is what Jesus was telling his disciples as they faced their uncertain earthly future. Let’s look at his message this way. Just as a teacher does before the end of the semester exam…Jesus was recapping his time on earth and his teaching for the disciples. That same kind of review might be good in these days of great personal…church…community…state…national and international challenges…and hand-wringing. If in the darkest hours of life we believe that somehow there is a purpose in life and that purpose is love…then even the unbearable becomes bearable. Even in the darkness there is a glimmer of light. Jesus is the proof that God loves us so much. God gave us everything He had to give. God gave us his only son. God gave us his only son to be with us in our days of challenge and opportunity. Just like the teacher in the classroom…Jesus also reminded them to trust that he was telling the truth to them. “If it were not so, I would have told you.” Jesus was always honest and did not try to bribe any person with promises of an easy way. For us…individually and for our church family…there is a path forward. It may not be easy…but Jesus will walk it with us. There’s often someone in the classroom who challenges the teacher with questions…someone like Thomas. “How can we know the way? Thomas asked. Jesus said I am the way. It’s like this. Suppose you’re in a strange place and you ask for directions. The person you’re asking responds with words about a right turn here and a left turn there and three traffic signals and so on. Pretty soon you’re lost in the words. Now suppose a person took you by the hand and said come with me. That’s what Jesus does. He not only gives advice and directions. Through the Spirit He takes us by the hand. He strengthens us and guides us personally every day. He does not tell us about the way. He is the Way. Life with Jesus is life indeed. Jesus is the only way to God. No one gets to the Father except through him. It is in Jesus alone that we see what God is like. It is Jesus alone who can lead us on earth and to God’s presence…to our room in God’s house…without shame…without fear…without obstacles that can’t be overcome. As our church family goes forward…working together and with resources from the United Methodist Church and our community…Jesus will walk with us…if we let him. From the apostle Phillip came another challenge. Show us the Father. That will be enough, he said. After nearly three years…Phillip still did not get it. He had been looking at the Father all of that time. Jesus said that anyone who had seen him had seen the Father. That was a pretty bold statement to make in those days. People like Phillip thought God was different…that God was distant. Phillip…and the people of the day would never have thought they could see God. If you want to see God…Jesus said…look at me. God…through Jesus…participated in the most intimate parts of lives. God entered into an ordinary home and into an ordinary family…perhaps like ours. He was born the son of a carpenter…and lived most of His life in a carpenter’s home. Through Jesus God sanctified human birth and the humble home of ordinary people like you and me. God was okay doing the work of a human. Jesus learned the carpentry trade. He knew all the difficulty of living in an ordinary home…in a family…and every problem that comes to those who work every day. Though the Old Testament might have made some of us believe that work is a curse…the New Testament tells us that work has glory in that it is touched by the hand of God. The work ahead of us…of strengthening God’s family at Jackson Grove United Methodist church…will also bring glory…maybe not accolades and publicity…but glory in that it will serve God…and be touched by the hand of God. God knows what it’s like to be tempted. Jesus showed us a God who goes through the struggle that we also undergo. Make this note Phillip…and everyone else…God is not like a commander who leads from behind the lines. God knows the firing line of life. We may be tempted to rest on our hands. After all…it takes time…talent and treasure to do God’s work. That lazy chair on a cold…rainy… weekend afternoon is awfully tempting. Keeping a distance from those who hurt is tempting. Just writing a check is tempting. The financial report for our church…on paper…shows us to be better off than many churches. We have reserves that are five times the annual operating budget. Can’t we just write a check and continue to do what we’re doing? For two reasons the answer is no. At this point our revenues are just paying the basic bills…and our ministries are not bringing new or renewed members to our church…not providing significant ministry. Continuing as we are means our cash flow decreases at an increasing rate and we eat into the reserves until they are all gone with no progress being made…no additional ministry being done. Secondly…most CEOs and financial advisors will tell us that we need a reserve of six months to one year of annual operating costs…not five times. There was a reason our CEO…Jesus…told a parable of the servants who were given talents to do their master’s work. We have the treasure that can help us find ministry paths that will strengthen our church family. Our challenge is to move forward…with Jesus…to create…then execute a plan for doing so. That’s the purpose of our gathering in January. In the meantime…ask God this question. How can we be in greater ministry in our church and community…and bring God’s answers with you to our retreat in January. God will be there. I pray you will be also. Jesus shows us God loving. In Jesus we see God caring intensely…yearning over people…feeling for them and with them…loving them until he bore the wounds of love on His heart and all over His body. How can we show such caring in our church and our community? Bring God’s answer to that question with you in January. Jesus made two promises that night. First, he told them they would do great works….greater works than he had done. Through the disciples a great many converts joined the church. The number continued to grow. The disciples and those who followed to this day carried the gospel out of Palestine to the entire world. It is still spreading. Jesus couldn’t do that while on earth. He was confined to Palestine. As far as we know…Jesus in the flesh never walked on Jackson Grove Road. That work he has left to us…with the promise that he will send the Spirit to walk with us. How will we do greater works in our church and community? Jesus also promised that any prayer offered in his name would be granted. He didn’t say all prayers would be granted…just prayers made in his name. The test of any prayer is whether it can be made in Jesus’ name. When we pray we should always ask, “Can I honestly make this prayer in the name of Jesus?” It’s not about prayers for revenge…or for personal ambition or gain…or for some unworthy object. Many of us who listened to 1960s rock ‘n’ roll heard Janis Joplin sing, “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.” That’s not the kind of prayer said in Jesus’ name. The prayer which can honestly be made in Jesus’ name…and which in the end says “Thy will be done” is the prayer that will always be answered. A prayer that is based on self will not. What is your prayer for Jackson Grove United Methodist Church…and the community we serve? Together…let’s offer it in Jesus’ name. “Do not let your hearts be troubled”…Jesus said. Not just words for comfort at a funeral…these are words that prepare you for every crisis in life…and words that should prepare you for every day in life…every act of ministry on earth…as well as those days of rejoicing in heaven. With those words of comfort and promise…for every day…not just at funerals…let us go forth…just like the original apostles…just like two of the servants in the parable of the talents…building on what has already been done by those who built and strengthened the Jackson Grove United Methodist family…using our time…talent and treasure…for even greater works.

Go! – September 13, 2016


Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 John 20:1-18


Dallas Willard…a professor at the University of Southern

California School of Philosophy…has written a book entitled Divine Conspiracy.  It is billed as a “…guide to living the life

Jesus intends for us.” 

Professor Willard starts with a most interesting story and

an observation to set the tone.  He

wrote…”Recently a pilot was practicing high-speed maneuvers in a jet

fighter.  She turned the controls for

what she thought was a steep ascent…and flew straight into the ground.  She was unaware that she was flying upside


“This”…he wrote…”is a parable of human existence in our

times—not exactly that everyone is crashing, though there is enough of that—but

most of us as individuals, and world society as a whole, live at high-speed and

often with no clue to whether we are flying upside down or right-side up.  Indeed we are haunted by a strong suspicion

that there may be no difference—or at least that it is unknown or irrelevant.” 

That’s the way it was for the disciples…and Jesus’

followers…during the week we call Holy Week.

Jesus led them triumphantly into Jerusalem on Sunday…riding a donkey

colt…just as had been prophesied.  But…on

Friday…just as the psalmist had prophesied a thousand years earlier…Jesus cried

out from the cross…”My God…My God…why have you forsaken me”…as the soldiers

cast lots for his garments.  Later that

day Jesus was buried in a tomb…believed gone forever…and the disciples were

hiding in fear of the authorities. 

The builders had rejected the stone.


Because of that, the disciples did not know whether they

were flying right-side up or upside down…just as Professor Willard described

people in our world today.  Bearings out

of whack!  Don’t know what to

believe!  People in leadership

positions…or trying to be in leadership positions taking liberties with the

truth in order to achieve their goals. 

John…the Gospel writer…at the end of the chapter we heard a

few minutes ago…wrote these words…”…these are written that you may believe that

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in

his name.”  In Mary Magdalene and John

himself…described as the disciple whom Jesus loved…we have strong proof of

belief.  In their story we have strong

proof of the truth…a truth…that we might…as Mary did…go and tell others. 

First…there was John…the disciple whom Jesus loved.

John is one of the most important figures in this story.  He looks into the tomb, sees the evidence,

and believes.  While not seeing the

resurrected Jesus, he sees what has been left behind; he sees the remnants of

divine activity in history in stone and fabric and decides to believe. 

In his Gospel…John has provided us with the best evidence he can muster to persuade us

that belief is not only a reasonable choice, but a necessary decision if we are

going to follow Jesus.  Jesus is not just

an idea.  He is a person, God

incarnate…in the flesh…in human history, and in coming into history he has left

marks that we can see and measure and trust.

The resurrection is the capstone that demonstrates the reality of what

has happened since the moment of incarnation. 

Though Mary was the first person to have seen the risen Christ….at first she could not

see Jesus because of her tears.  She was

like the pilot…flying upside down and not realizing it.  Her grief kept her from seeing the joy that

was being offered.  How often do we let

our reactions to the events in our day get in the way of seeing the joy that

could be ours? 

Also, she could not recognize Jesus because she had turned her back to him to look

into the tomb.  She was looking in the

wrong direction.  Do we find ourselves

and others doing the same?  Do we turn in

the direction of clever politicians… business leaders…television heroes and

heroines …athletes…and others…to find comfort and direction…often the wrong


But…Jesus called…and Mary recognized him.  She

probably attempted to throw her arms around him…as we would when we encounter

someone who we felt had been lost from our life.  Jesus told her not to hang on to him.  Jesus wanted Mary to understand that a deep

change was taking place in their relationship…and in his being.  Jesus was going to leave them physically…but

would be with them through the Holy Spirit.

He asked Mary to go to the disciples and tell them the good news…that he

had arisen and that he was returning to them.

He was returning to create a new intimacy with them…a spiritual

intimacy…an intimacy that lives to this day…with you and with me. 

Let us pause to note something quite significant here.

The resurrected Jesus first appeared to this woman…Mary Magdalene…not to

one of the apostles…not to someone significant in society.  He appeared first to someone whom society had

oppressed…a woman who had sinned greatly.

Christ fulfilled his promise.

“Blessed are those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of

heaven.”  He brought that kingdom

directly to Mary.  He’s call calling you

and me, too…to bring his ministry to us…to take it to others through us. 

Mary was now piloting right-side-up.  She ran

to tell the others what she had seen.

She had seen the Lord. 

Let me share some of today’s reality and ask if we might apply lessons from Mary in order

to fly right side up in our world. 

When I was ten years old a boy named Mikhail showed up in my classroom weeks after the

school year had begun.  He was one of

three children of a couple who were refugees from war-torn Hungary.  His dad had been a doctor in Hungary.  His mom had been a teacher.  All that they possessed when they arrived in

Syracuse, New York that fall was the clothes they were wearing.  They didn’t even have a change of


My classmates and I embraced Mikhail.  His

family was embraced by a church.  They

were supported and guided in making their transition.  Mikhail’s dad eventually became a nurse in

one of the hospitals.  His mom got work

as an elementary school teacher. 

Mikhail grew to become the chief executive of a very large company…and from his

earnings he contributed generously to the church that had supported and guided

his family…and to the university that gave him an education.  He died a couple years ago…leaving a significant

estate.  His widow is well cared for…and

the university and church have received significant gifts. 

The first church I attended when I moved to Greenville in 1981…Aldersgate United

Methodist Church…was in the process of adopting a family of refugees from

war-torn Viet Nam.  This family of seven

had nothing when they arrived…other than the clothing the church had provided

them.  The church provided them guidance

and support.  This family of seven has

grown…two generations have been added…and they are contributing greatly to our


Today millions of people are now refugees from war-torn Syria…escaping only with

their damaged lives and the clothing on their backs. 

And…the leaders of our nation…a nation that was started by refugees trying to escape

the tyranny of a king…a nation often claiming a

Christian heritage…our leaders are saying we should only allow

ten-thousand of the millions to enter our country. 

Let’s look at reality before we match today’s lesson with this travesty.


If ten-thousand refugees were distributed equally across the entire United

States…that would be a little more than three people added to each county in

our nation. 

If ten-thousand refugees were distributed proportionately in just the top one

hundred metropolitan areas in our country that would mean 31 new residents of

Greenville County. 

If all ten-thousand were re-located to Greenville County that would be a population

increase of just over one-point-five percent…near the average annual growth

rate of our county over the past decade. 

It’s not about numbers, folks.  It’s about

Xenophobia…and people playing off that terrible disease.  Xenophobia is the big word that means fear

and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or

foreign.  It’s a fear that has no reason

for existing…but it does…and some of our leaders and wannabe leaders…are

playing on that fear to further their cause. 

Are we going to be like Mary that first Easter morning?  Are we going to be so fearful that our eyes

tear up and we can’t see Jesus in these people?

Are we going to look in the wrong direction…toward the

noisy…fear-mongering leaders? 

Or are we going to take the good news of Christ and his love to our upside-down

world?  We have a significant ministry

opportunity here…just as Mary did. 

You may ask if I’m suggesting we adopt one of these families.  That’s a major undertaking…but a group of

churches and non-profit organizations in the Upstate are working to make that


Each of us can…and should…have a more immediate ministry impact.  Instead of being fearful…let’s get to know a

refugee or someone who is different.

You’ll find in doing so that your eyes might fill with tears…but they’ll

be tears of joy as you hear the stories of the many obstacles these folks have

overcome and the stories of those who aided them along the way…who showed them

Christ…Christ inside them. 

Instead of looking in the wrong direction…to those who play upon fears let us speak up

and tell them…and those who support them what we think Christ would do…the love

he would share…the support he would offer


We are among those they are asking to support them.

We are among those who influence those they are asking to support


Professor Willard is right in saying that much of the world is without clear knowledge of

whether they are right-side-up or upside-down.

Because of this many will crash in some way.  Despite being in that same condition the

disciples’ world was righted…because Mary had gone to them with the

message.  She was in personal ministry

with them. 

Ministry is not a passive activity.  Ministry is

not just writing a check.  Ministry is

the interaction of persons…each of us and someone else…just like the ministry

of Mary to the disciples. 

Let us be like Mary…let us go…leave this sanctuary today…celebrating not just for ourselves…but,

as Mary did…joyously taking the same message to others we encounter. 

Let us show how the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone

of our lives and our living. 

To whom can we go to tell the good news…  to

whom can we go to live the good news in ministry with them…to share the Christ

inside us?

Better! – September 6, 2015


Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23         Mark 7:24-37


          The former CBS

newsman…Hugh Rudd…got home late one night after presenting the late news.  He was let off by a taxi at his home on the

East Side of New York City.  As he

stepped away from the cab…four scruffy-looking youths surrounded him and said,

“Give us your money.”  He did.  Then one of them took a pistol and beat him

over the head.  Rudd fell into the

gutter…just a few steps from home.  For

seven hours on the fashionable East Side of New York…he lay on that

street.  He was semi-conscious.  A whole parade of people went by:  milkmen…people coming home from

parties…people going out to work on the early shift.  As they passed by him…Rudd kept saying…”Help

me, help me.”  They would shrug and look

the other way.  His wife…quite

worried…finally called the police.  They

arrived and found him at 7:00 the next morning.


Compassion and caring were not popular in Bible times.  They are not popular today.  In fact…it’s not hard to find someone who

says, “Why bother?”…or…“I don’t have time.”…or…”That person is not like


Mark’s story of Jesus’ “deep sigh” is…however…a healing balm…because of the compassion

it shows.   Jesus’ sigh comes from his

deep feeling for the poor man…even though Jesus knew exactly what he was going

to do for him in the next few seconds. 

This is the way Jesus always was.  At Lazarus’ tomb…John (11:33) wrote…”When

Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping,

he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

The word for “deeply moved in spirit” came from the ancient Greek word

that described a horse snorting.  Here it

described Jesus’ involuntary gasp.  Then,

he went on to weep for them.  Such

compassion.  Perhaps…when he got the poor

deaf and dumb man alone…when he saw closely the devastation…his shyness…his

crumpled ego…hurt upon hurt upon hurt…it was then that he sighed in

compassion.  Perhaps the sigh was also

for what lay behind it: man’s sin…the fallen creation…the Devil’s work. 

What our scripture is teaching is that Christ’s compassion

was part of his healing process for the world.

Those of us who desire to minister Christ’s healing must also share his

compassion for hurting humanity.  There

is a hurting world out there…with thousands who are hurting every bit as

much…or more…than the deaf man.  We need

to go to them “with a deep sigh.” 

George Eliot wrote, “If we had a keen vision and feeling of

all ordinary human life…it would be like hearing the grass grow and the

squirrel’s heart beat…and we should die of that roar which lies on the other

side of silence.”  None of us…who

are  believers…are meant to go through

life with dry eyes.  We need to be like

Jesus…and Jeremiah…who said…”Oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes

a fountain of tears.” (Jeremiah 9:1) 

The world Hugh Rudd experienced that night is the real

world.  But…Christ’s sigh is just as real.  When the church sighs like him…in

genuine compassion…power comes to those who hurt.  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn….”    And, “Blessed are the merciful.”  (Matthew 5:4, 7) 

Are we compassionate people?  Have we ever wept over the deformed?  Have we ever sorrowed over a life distorted

by sin?  Have we done anything about

it?  Does the evening news sometimes make

us cry?  Do we sigh over divorce?  Poverty?

Abortion?  Broken relationships?  Homeless refugees?  Homeless neighbors?  Are we tender and caring?  If we are deficient here…we need to pray for


It is significant that Jesus looked to Heaven and then sighed.  When we truly and fully look to heaven…we can

see the world through the Father’s eyes…as it is…and as it could be. 

Jesus never backed away from laying his hand on hurting

humanity.  On one occasion…a  man full of leprosy…loathsome…lion-like… grotesque…came

and lay prostrate at Jesus’ feet.  Jesus

looked on him as the man had never before been viewed.  According to Marks’ gospel…Christ was moved

with compassion indicating that Jesus was so touched by what he saw that he

touched the man.   Perhaps it had been

twenty or even thirty years since the leper had been touched by a non-leprous

hand or had received any touch…gentle or otherwise.  Now he received the touch of Christ.  The word used is often translated as “to take

hold of.”  Jesus…at the very least…placed

his hand firmly on the leper. 

How beautiful Christ is.

He could have just spoken a word or simply willed it.  But he chose to lay his hand on the poor man

in front of the multitude.  The onlookers

and the disciples were shocked.  Jesus

was now ceremonially unclean.   To their

way of thinking…he might catch the disease.

Why did Jesus do it?  There are

perhaps several reasons.  Reaching out…of

course…was the instinct of his loving heart.

But he also wanted to clear away any fears the man had.  He wanted the leper to feel his willingness

and sympathy.  The touch said…”I’m with

you.  I understand.” 

Those were the human reasons…but there was an overshadowing

theological reason.  The touch of his

pure hand on the rotting leper is the parable of the Incarnation.  Jesus in the Incarnation took on flesh…became

sin for us…and thus gave us his purity.

“God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf…that we might

become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Jesus touched us and healed us.  Here Jesus’ handling of the deaf man…his

fingers thrust in his ears…his spittle anointing the man’s flopping tongue…was

instinctive and natural.  True compassion

doesn’t’ just feel.  It reaches out. 


If we are to minister…there must be touch.

Historically…this is where the established Church of England blew

it.  John Wesley came with a heart for

the poor…those outside the Church whose needs were not being met.  The Church was so repulsed by Wesley and his

methods that Wesley had to take to the fields…ministering and touching people

where they were.  Almost 200 years later

General Booth found a similar rejection by the Church and society in general as

he ministered to the urban poor in London.

As a result…he was forced to found the Salvation Army. 

Practicing evangelism or outreach which shies away from real contact with sin and pain has

no effect.  The surest way to harden our

heart is to fail to do something when we feel compassion.  Coldness and hypocrisy are the result.  The ring of truth is noticeably absent from

such lives. 

The hands-on touch is absolutely necessary to health…and wholeness…to authentic

Christianity.  While we must send

missionaries… and we must give money to the Church and to missions…we cannot

touch by proxy.  When faced with a need

right before him…Jesus did not ask Peter to be his surrogate hands.  Neither did he throw money at the

need…thinking that would fix things…and be sufficient involvement.  The question for us is…are we reaching out to

others…truly touching them in their misery?

Are we giving time to listen to the needs of others?  Are we willing to be uncomfortable to help

others?  Do we ever run the danger of

getting dirty in the process?   That is

what made Francis Schaeffer the great American theologian what he was.  He wrote about theology and he wrote about

compassion.  But the real genius in his

life lay in his touch. 

The story goes that at one time Schaeffer had a successful architect friend who had

“dropped out” during the disillusionment of the 1960s.  He had not yet come to Christ, and he said,

“I don’t know if what Francis Schaeffer is telling me about Christianity is

true or not.  But I do know this, that man

loves me.”  This was Christ’s touch

through Francis Schaeffer.  Later that architect

became a believer. 

Let us bring it all together…the look…the sigh…the touch…and the word.  God’s Word is enough.  It can do it alone.  But God has chosen to minister through people who pray…who are compassionate…and who are willing to get their hands dirty…who

truly reach out.  This is Jesus’ lesson

to us who would reach our hurting world.

Jesus was in profound communion with God.  He had exhaled a sigh of deep compassion over

the man.  His hands…his very saliva…had

anointed the man…and then he spoke… “be opened.”  Those words sailed through the ears of the

man and into his brain.  His tongue was

loosened…and he began to speak and keep on speaking. 

As we come to the Lord’s Table this morning…to be with Jesus…to be with our brothers

and sisters…as we take Jesus inside us…let us ask how we can let Jesus guide

us…so that we may touch as he did…may sigh as he did… may indeed be for the

hurting world…the body of Christ.