June 6, 2021 – “A Fresh Start”
Grace and peace to you!
We welcome our online worshippers, as well as those here in the sanctuary at West Tulsa UMC.
Today we will be invited to the Lord’s Table to receive the bread and juice that represent the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. So, if you’re worshipping with us online, please have some bread and juice nearby so that you can receive Communion with us following the sermon.
When Jesus instituted the sacrament of Communion to His disciples in the Upper Room, He provided a way for people through out history to remember all that God has done for us, and to be reconciled into a right relationship with the Lord.
We need that. We need the opportunity to hit the pause button in our busy lives so that we take time to consider the blessings God provides.
And we need to be reminded that God loves us and forgives us, despite our flaws and mistakes. In fact, that was true for all people even before we were aware of God.
Here’s the thing: Communion is NOT like two friends sitting down to work out a problem by mutually confessing their fault in the matter.
When it comes to our relationship with God, there is NO mutuality of guilt.
WE are the ones who are guilty. WE are who sinned against God. We are who put that relationship at risk.
The Good News is that God knows how terribly humankind has failed to live up to His dream of all that COULD be…And yet, the Lord invites us to come dine with Him at the table of grace, where He will forgive and forget, reconciling us into a restored life.
We are here to worship God!
Let’s turn this service, and our hearts over to God in prayer before we sing our first song, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”
Eleven years ago, as I walked toward the lectern at First Presbyterian Church to read scriptures and speak at my father’s funeral, I faced the largest audience I’ve ever spoken to.
The memories are still fresh of the raw emotions I felt, my shaky legs, and not being very sure that I could do what I had been asked to do.
Somehow I reached the lectern, and as I spoke, I unconsciously picked out familiar faces from across the packed sanctuary that gave me encouragement.
The smiles and nods from several of Dad’s friends on my left, from my West Tulsa faith family in the middle section, and from my good friend Kurt in the from pew on my right, gave me the positive feedback I so desperately needed.
I’m not sure that I would have had the strength to speak so personally, to so many people without that support.
I suppose anyone who speaks publicly feeds off of the positive reinforcement that receive from the audience.
But, I think that’s especially true for preachers, because they are so vulnerable in those holy moments as they profess their faith, and hope that their message is being received and appreciated.
So as we speak, we’re reading faces, listening for responses. If the responses are good, it can be very up-lifting. If the response is not so great, it can be quite trying.
Tony Campolo tells a story about an experience he had preaching in a New Jersey church.
Tony says that as he stood in the pulpit, he noticed an elderly woman with an angry scowl sitting in the front row to his left.
He immediately decided that he wouldn’t be preaching in that direction!
So, Tony scanned the congregation as he spoke and there, to his right was ANOTHER elderly woman wearing a scowl…and she looked a whole lot like the woman to his left!
Tony says that he focused most of his attention on the center action that Sunday.
After the service he asked one of the church leaders about the two women.
The leader told him they were sisters. Tony asked why they were sitting on opposite sides of the church and was told the sisters had experienced a little disagreement.
Tony responded in his usual candor: “It’s a good thing they don’t live together!”, and the church leader answered, “They do!”
Tony writes, “I didn’t talk to either of these women after church, but if I had, I’m sure she would have said, ‘I’m a Christian woman! I’m willing to forgive my sister for what she did to me 25 years ago.”
“But, Reverend, in the 25 years since that happened, she has never once asked to be forgiven…Now, how can you forgive someone, if that someone never asks to be forgiven?’”
Tony ends the story by writing that if he had gone to the other sister, he’s sure that he would get pretty much the same story.
Can’t you just hear her say, “I’m willing to forgive my sister, but she’s never asked to be forgiven!”
So, the sisters attend the same church, but they sit on opposites sides of the sanctuary, and each is waiting for the other to bring reconciliation to the relationship by asking for forgiveness.
They’re at a stalemate, aren’t they? Their pride is postponing peace. I can only imagine the tension that brings over the whole church.
All I can say is that it’s a GOOD THING that God didn’t wait for us to come to Him, asking for forgiveness!
The Bible tells us that while we were yet sinners, God sent His only Son, Jesus, to give His life on the Cross for the sake of our forgiveness.
In today’s text from 2nd Corinthians, Paul explains:
“He included everyone in His death so that
everyone could also be included in His life…a resurrection life.”
(2 Corinthians 5:15 MSG)
Forgiveness, and the reconciliation that results from forgiveness ought to be one of the most important things that this church can be involved in!
That is especially true as Tulsa attempts to come to terms with the pain caused by the Tulsa Race Massacre. It took place 100 years ago, and we’re just now saying sorry and asking for forgiveness!
Since this church was under construction at the time of the massacre, don’t you think it would be a great legacy to be involved as peacemakers?
Now, we don’t have a lot of influence on the whole city, but on Phoenix Avenue, in this community; West Tulsa UMC can help make forgiveness and reconciliation rise from the ashes of hate and distrust!
What better legacy could you possibly have?
We worship a God who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, teaches us to imitate Jesus and take the initiative by creating a spirit of forgiveness.
God is in the business of restoring broken relationships…
And guess what! In the Hebrew Bible God restores whole cities!
You may not realize it, but you as a church are already tapping into the power of God to make all things new! In the future, when I think of my time with WTUMC, I will remember it as a refuge, a safe harbor for people of all types.
You have made, and I urge you to continue to make, this church a sacred, safe sanctuary in which any person can feel welcome, appreciated, and loved; regardless of their ethnicity, and their socio-economic background.
“‘Who are my mother, my brothers and sisters?’ Jesus asked a crowd. Looking at those who sat around Him, He said,
‘Here are my mother, my brothers and sisters!
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”
(Mark 3:33-34 NRSV)
Look around you and see your brothers and sisters in Christ…It’s a wonderful sight!
The Good News is this: God restores by making all things new!
“If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation…
Everything old has passed away. See, a new life blossoms and thrives!”
(2 Corinthians 5:17 NRSV & MSG)
“Everything old has passed away.”
Everything old includes our ugly past, our selfishness, the grudges we hold against people, teethings we wish we hadn’t done, the things we wish we hadn’t said.
All of that, and more goes away when we let Christ take over. Then a new life blossoms and thrives!
Don’t you love that? I do! It means that God allows “do-overs.”
God generates new beginnings. God ordains fresh starts. God hovers over the chaos of our lives and creates design, purpose and order…Just like the Lord did in the very first 6 days of creation.
Out of a formless, empty darkness, God separated light from dark. God created the oceans, the sky and the heavens. God made the land to produce fruit and vegetation. The Lord spoke “STARS!” and the heavens were filled with billions of sparkling points of light.
God’s voice spun the sun and the planets into the precision of their orbits.
God showed amazing creativity when He filled the earth and seas with living creatures.
And the God spoke:
“Let us make human beings in our image, make them to reflecting our nature, so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle. And yes, Earth itself…and every animal that moves on the face of Earth. God created human beings; He created them god-like, reflecting God’s nature. He created the male and female. God blessed them. God looked over everything He had made; It was so good, so very good!
(Genesis 1:26-28, 31 MSG)
I have kept a Tulsa World article for several years in which World reporter Bill Sherman quoted Reverend Anthony Scott, pastor of First Baptist Church-North Tulsa.
Reverend Scott said,
“The true Gospel as preached by Jesus reconciles us
to God…and to each other.
The Gospel preached in simplicity brings us together…
That’s a tremendous key.”
(Rev. Anthony Scott)
I agree with Anthony Scott. Jesus spent every ounce of His energy…Jesus sweat blood trying to persuade us to understand that God the Father calls us into a harmonious relationship with Him, and with each other that is based on love and forgiveness.
Oil and water don’t mix. That’s a concept we can see in any bottle of salad dressing where ingredients have settled, and the oil and water have separated.
That bottle has to be shaken to bring the oil and water back together, but the togetherness won’t last forever. When the bottle sits for a while, the ingredients will segregate again.
They go back to separate schools or their own office cubicle. They go back to separate bedrooms. They go back to separate seats in the diner or bus. They go back to separate communities and houses of worship.
They go back because it is fundamental to their natures that they will not stay mixed.
Mayonnaise, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be shaken even though it is mostly made from oil and water.
That’s because mayonnaise also contains an emulsifier – Egg.
An emulsifier brings things together that wouldn’t come together otherwise.
The egg in mayonnaise brings together two entities that would not normally mix with one another. It does that by infiltrating both the oil and water so that they come together in a solid substance.
Well, we have an emulsifier too!
The Cross of Jesus works as an emulsifier to bring people together…and to hold them together…Even those who would not normally come together.
How else would an elderly black man named Mr. White visit a mostly white church like this and bring people to tears when he would sing “The Lord’s Prayer” acapella?
How else could a Native American feel free to sing “Amazing Grace” in Cherokee, but in a church like this that is emulsified by the Cross?
How else could people who are “born and raised” in the Baptist tradition, feel welcome but in a church like this that is held together by the Cross?
How else could a white man regularly provide a ride to church to a black man, a black woman who was raised in the Catholic tradition feel free to shout “Amen!” during worship, and a ministry that weekly feeds the “least of these my brothers and sisters” but in a church like this one that is held together by the Cross?
These are just a few of the things I will always cherish. I praise you for allowing the Cross to be the glue that holds you together, and I encourage you to never stop pursuing the things that Jesus would have you doing.
“Reconciliation.” It’s kind of a big word, Isn’t it? Actually, it’s a word that carries big dreams and big aspirations…Important dreams, goals and aspirations. It means to “reunite” or to “restore.”
God’s reconciliation plan for humankind took place on a cross, some 2,000 years ago… God’s reconciliation plan is based on bringing us back, restoring us to; the Garden Creation that was intended for us…before sin entered the picture.
Reconciliation is God’s action plan to reunite us and God Himself in friendly relations. When we become a “new creation in Christ”, it is a re-establishment of God’s dream of Eden…It is a re-creation of the way things were originally designed to be….
When we choose to enter into reconciliation with God, we are admitting that we have done a lousy job of taking care of Eden, and we are giving control back to the One who created us in His own image.
Today, we come to participate in Holy Communion.
The Lord’s Table is a place for reconciliation. Communion is a time for being reconciled to God. This reconciliation begins with recognizing that our sin creates a barrier to our relationship with God.
God has NOT sinned against us…WE have sinned against God, and not a single one of us is innocent.
Isn’t it awesome that although God knows how miserably we fail to live up to His desires and expectations. the Lord still invites us to come dine with Him at His table of grace?
The table is where God restores us to life through His forgiveness.
Aware of our sin, we come to the table in humility. We come with our confessions, trusting that God will remove the burden of our guilt and raise us up with new life.
During Holy Communion we come to dine at the banquet table as prodigal children who have run away from home and squandered the good name the Father gave us.
Even when we pour our hearts out to Him at His table, half expecting to receive the scolding we deserve, we are surprised when God whispers in our hearts, “I love you my child…You are forgiven…Be strengthened by by my love and sin no more.”
The thing is, it’s important to see the Lord’s Table as a place for reconciliation with God.
Through Bread and Wine, the Body and the Blood of Jesus, Christ comes to us to reconcile us to Himself by His forgiveness.
The Lord’s Table is also a beginning place for reconciliation with our neighbor. At the Lord’s Table we are reminded of an awesome responsibility.
That is: Just as He has forgiven us, we are to seek forgiveness with those we have sinned against, and reconciliation with those who have sinned against us.
That means that if we are following Christ’s example, we will be forgiving people who have hurt us and who have done wrong by us.
We have hard choices to make, and no easy answers. The thing we have to keep in mind though, is that genuine reconciliation is impossible without genuine forgiveness.
The elements of bread and wine that we will receive this morning represent the fresh start, the “do-over” that God extends through His Son, Jesus Christ.
This is my final Communion with you, and I want you to know this:
The most special, holiest moments in my entire life have been serving you communion.
I want you to know in the depths of your being that it’s life you receive.
In these gifts of bread and wine you receive the life of Christ Himself!
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”