Sunday, January 22, 2017

Pie In the Now

Matthew 4:12-23
January 22, 2017 Upper Rogue United Methodist Church

Many years ago a letter to Dear Abby told of a nursing home resident who had lost her dentures. With a pillow case in hand, she roamed the halls, entering the rooms of sleeping patients and taking any dentures she found. Returning to her room, she tried them all on until she found one that fit her. She then retraced her tracks, returning dentures to each bedside...but without any regards to which dentures belonged to which resident! As you can imagine, the next morning there were lots of overbites, under slung jaws, and lots of bitter complaints about dentures that didn't fit.

Can you imagine what it was like for those poor people trying to adjust to someone else's teeth? In some ways it is a parable of the way many folks live today...disgruntled, out of sorts, snarly, and unhappy, not because their teeth don't fit, but because their theology doesn't fit. Some of them are even Pastors!
Somehow they've never grown past the simple Sunday School faith of their childhood. Their understanding of God is simply inadequate for life in the adult world. There are those who will argue that they aren't interested in the “pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-by-and-by” religion they perceive Christianity to be.

How do you respond to that kind of statement? What do you say to someone whose undeveloped theology is like that of the little boy who, when he pastor asked, “What do I have to do the get into heaven?” responded: “Well duh! You have to die.” What do you say to someone who doesn't think Christianity is about life in the here and now?

Well, you might begin by asking if they've ever read the teachings of Jesus. It's a pretty safe question. Most people haven't read, the Bible. They've heard little bits of it read in church; they've heard the pastor talk about it; but to have actually sat down and read it for themselves? Not likely. Most Americans are
almost completely Biblicaly illiterate. In one of his famous man-on-the-street interviews, Jay Leno asked a young man who, in the Bible, was swallowed by a whale: “Pinocchio” was the reply. When asked to name one of the Ten Commandments, a young college woman answered: “Freedom of Speech?”

If you are among those who have read the synoptic gospels; Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you are aware that Jesus spoke almost entirely of living in the here and now.
In today's reading from Matthew Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are used interchangeably by the gospel writers.) The kingdom of God is not some as yet unrealized prophecy. It is here. It is now. In Matthew 12 Jesus says:(Mat 12:28) “But when I force out demons by the power of God's Spirit, it proves that God's kingdom has already come to you.” In Luke he says: (Luk 17:21) There is no use saying, 'Look! Here it is' or 'Look! There it is.' God's kingdom is here with you." God's kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, is being created here and now.
Like a mustard seed, it starts out small and grows to an enormous size. “The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a woman mixes a little yeast into three big batches of flour. Finally, all the dough rises.” The kingdom is at the heart and soul of life here and in the world to come. If the only reason you come to church is to avoid the flaming pits of Hell, you have missed the entire point of Jesus' teachings.

Jesus invites you to live in and enjoy the kingdom now: today. He came not so much get us into heaven, as to get heaven into us. What would that take? Well, first Jesus says we need to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Repent. For many of us, repenting means we quit doing something naughty. And while I hope that if you are being naughty, you will quit, repentance is much more. To repent is to change, to turn around, to re-orient you life and thinking.
More than remorse, it mans to change your life. Have you been living for yourself? The kingdom is about living for God? Have you been concerned with satisfying your short term needs and wants? The kingdom is about concern for others; concern for creation; concern for your spiritual needs. Turn around. You've been wasting your life. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” Turn around. Turn your back on the past and face the wonder of life in the kingdom! Like our grandmothers in the days before wall to wall carpeting, we have all swept dirt under the carpet. We try to hide it, but it's there, eating away at our lives. Come into the Kingdom. The first word is repent.

Repentance invites us into new relationships. New relationships with God, new relationships with our neighbors. And that's our second word for today. Are you living in the kingdom? As yourself: “Am I able to love not just God, but other people? All people? Loving our fellow church members is easy, most of them are a lot like us: they look like us, they eat what we eat, they speak like we speak, they bathe regularly, they wear well kept clothes, and, basically live like we do. But what about that gay couple down the street? What about the homeless guy who wanders from spot to spot with his overladen shopping cart? What about the Muslim refugees who want to move to Shady Cove? What about that radical right wing conspiracy theorist who haunts your Facebook page? What about the youth walking through the mall with pants around their knees, not taking their eyes, or fingers, off their cell-phones? Can you love them? Can you love the African-American athlete who refuses to stand for, or recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Can you love the single mom in front of you in the checkout paying with food stamps? What about Hassan Rouhani President of Iran? Or Kim
Jong-un, Supreme Leader of North Korea? Do you love them? Or even President Donald Trump? How about Hillary Clinton? Bernie Sanders? Paul Ryan? How about ISIS? I think you get the picture. We are called to love them all, as much as we love ourselves. You don't have have to approve of them, you don't have to agree with them. You have to love them. I will never forget Fr. Evenson telling us in Confirmation class: “You don't have to like them; just love them.” That's what being a Christian means. That's what living in the kingdom means.

For his book Hard Living People and Mainstream Christians, Tex Sample interviewed people who are alienated from the middle class, and the church. He also interviewed pastors. Pastor Don Bakely told of working hard to bring together the white members of his inner-city church (Most of whom drove to church from the suburbs, with the hardscrabble African-American folks who lived nearby. He was just starting to earn the trust of some local teens, members of a gang. They began hanging out around the church because they were beginning to feel accepted. They were a rough group led by a kid called Big Mart, and not all members of the congregation appreciated what Pastor Bakely was doing. One day the matriarch of the church, Ella, had a run in with Big Mart who called her a
name she had probably never heard before. She was irate and demanded Pastor Bakely, to kick Big Mart and his friends out of the church.

Pastor Bakely asked her to listen to a story; then, after thinking about the story she could decide how to deal with Big Mart and company.

When Big Mart was just a child, his father came home drunk and angry one night. He lined up Mart and his siblings and forced them to watch while he murdered and dismembered their mother. Can you even imagine having to watch such thing? Was it any wonder Big Mart was rough around the edges. Was it any wonder he called nice little church ladies vulgar names?

Ella listened in silence to the story of Big Mart. In silence she left the office. What would she do? Pastor Bakely's entire ministry to the neighborhood rested
on her decision. After a while Ella returned to the Pastor's office: “You know,” she said, “I guess I'm just going to have to learn how to get cussed out.”

Ella was beginning to see what it truly means to live in the kingdom: it means loving those who cuss you out; loving those who would harm you; turning the other cheek. Jesus said Love God, Love Your Neighbor, Repent and Relate.

Lest we think the kingdom is all about doing, I would remind you that the Kingdom is also about receiving. The Kingdom isn't something we can think, work, give, or earn our way into. The Kingdom is a gift. Indeed, I probably should have put this part at the beginning of my sermon, because all the repenting, relating, and loving of others comes as a response to being a citizen of the Kingdom: to receiving God's grace. God's grace is waiting for each of us. It is freely given, without any precondition. It is ours for the asking, ours for the receiving.

George Wilson was a career criminal who, in the 1830s, was indicted on six counts of obstructing and robbing the U.S. Mail, including threatening a carrier with bodily harm, and violent assault (wounding a carrier). The violent assault carried a penalty of death. Rising public petition against the death penalty prompted then president, Andrew Jackson, to issue a pardon for the assault conviction.

Amazingly, Wilson declined the pardon. “And now, to-wit, this 21 October, 1830, the defendant, George Wilson, being in person before the court, was asked by the court … whether he wished in any manner to avail himself of the pardon referred to, and the said defendant answered in person that … he did not wish in any manner to avail himself, in order to avoid sentence in this particular case, of the pardon referred to.”

The district court was not sure how to handle the complexities of the case, and eventually the matter was referred to the U.S. Supreme Court which later ruled that, “A pardon is an act of GRACE, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws, which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed. … A pardon is a deed to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him. It may be supposed that no being condemned to death would reject a pardon, but the rule must be the same in capital cases and in misdemeanors.”

Further, Chief Justice John Marshall purportedly pronounced that the value of a pardon “must be determined by the receiver … It has no value apart from that which the receiver gives it . . . therefore, George Wilson must die." He was subsequently executed for his crime.

George Wilson threw away his invitation to life. Don't you do the same. Jesus offers salvation, forgiveness, and a life where your dentures fit. Jesus offers a grown up theology that fits real life in the real world. Jesus invites you to live in and enjoy the kingdom now: today. Receive, Repent, Relate. The Kingdom of God is at hand. AMEN.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Isaiah 49:1-7 January 15, 2017 Upper Rogue UMC

I wouldn't say that I make a lot of mistakes, but Fay has taken to marking her calendar whenever I get something right. Has anyone here ever failed at something? If you haven't, I want to talk to you after church and learn your secret. Paul points out that all of us have failed: (Rom 3:23) All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. The question isn't “If” we fail, but, rather “When” we fail. How do we deal with it? How do we get through?

It is said that Thomas Edison had thousands of failures en route to the light bulb. His response: “Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward....” a concept borrowed from Ben Franklin who said: “I didn't fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.”
Isiah has just about had it. “I said to myself, 'I'm completely worn out; my time has been wasted' ”. He is in agony over the fate of his people. He has spoken out, but they have not listened. He feels his efforts were in vain. But even as he stares failure in the face, he is not ready to surrender. “But I did it for the LORD God, and he will reward me. Even before I was born, the LORD God chose me to serve him and to lead back the people of Israel. So the LORD has honored me and made me strong.” Even though he has not succeeded, Isaiah is not about to give up. And I think there's a lot to be learned about failure from Isaiah.

First, I would suggest that what we call failure is actually God preparing us for what's ahead. As a wise business leader once said: Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a person is to be instantly successful, because such success often teaches us the wrong lessons. Against all odds, New Jersey native Evelyn Adams won the lottery in back-to-back years — 1985 and 1986 — for a grand total of $5.4 million, Feeling lucky, and rightfully so, she took her extra cash to the tables and slot machines in Atlantic City.

She pushed her luck. Today, she's penniless and residing in a trailer park after gambling it all away.

In 2006, Lara and Roger Griffiths used their £1.8 million Lotto winnings to buy their dream home, with a price tag of £670,000, the Daily Mail reports.

They also bought a Porsche and two more properties to rent out, invested in the stock market, and Robert spent £25,000 making a record with his college band.

Unfortunately, six years later, every penny of their fortune was gone.

No, instant success, and unearned wealth is not what it's cracked up to be. Those who are truly successful are those who have been prepared by failure.
As Coco Chanel puts it: “Success is most often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable.” Or, in the words of Deni Waitly; “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is a delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead-end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” 

An article in Forbes Magazine some time ago said: “The simple truth is – no great success was ever achieved without failure. It may be one epic failure. Or a series of failures – such as Edison's 10,000 attempts to create the lightbulb or Dyson’s 5,126 attempts to invent a bagless vacuum cleaner. But, whether we like it or not, failure is a necessary stepping stone to achieving our dreams.”

What we call failure is simply learning and preparation, as long as we don't give up. Abraham Lincoln lost his job as a store clerk, was denied entrance into law school, he borrowed money to invest in a store only to have his partner die and leave him with a huge debt. The woman he wooed for four years turned down his marriage proposal. On his third try he was elected to congress, only to be voted our two years later. He ran twice for the Senate and lost as the vice-presidential candidate. Still he didn't give up. At the age of 51 he was elected President of the United States, and became one of the most admired presidents in history.

We've heard a lot about President-elect Trumps failed marriages, businesses and bankruptcies; but in spite of all his so called failures, you have to give the man credit for not quitting.

J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up, wrote: “We are all failures - at least the best of us are.”

Yes, without failure there can be no true success. But even more than preparing us to succeed, failure is a prelude to prayer. Let's be honest: When do you pray the hardest? Is it when everything is right in your world? I don't think so! We pray the most, and the most fervently, when we are faced with with the worst life can dish out. The worse the future looks, the harder we pray. And that's what Isaiah did with his failure. He turned to God. “ I said to myself, "I'm completely worn out; my time has been wasted.” But he knew God still had work for him, and he was right.
(Isa 49:6) Now the LORD says to me, "It isn't enough for you to be merely my servant. You must do more than lead back survivors from the tribes of Israel. I have placed you here as a light for other nations; you must take my saving power to everyone on earth."
Today, some 2500 years later, we are still benefiting from Isaiah's work. Prayer and perseverance turned failure into a resounding success.

You may have heard the story of the man who was sleeping alone in his cabin when the room filled with light and the voice of God spoke: “There is a large rock in front of your cabin. You are to push against that rock all day, every day. And the man did just that. Day after day, in the heat, the cold, the rain and the snow. Day after day pushing against that rock to no avail. The rock simply would not budge. Each night he would return home tired and discouraged, thinking his time had been wasted.
Enter Satan, (who loves to attack when we are down) “Why are you still pushing that rock? Don't you know it will never move? If I were you, I'd quit trying so hard. Just lean against the rock and save your strength...that'll be good enough.”
That sounded sensible to the weary rock pusher. But before he let off, he decided maybe he should pray about it. “Lord. I've been pushing that rock all day for months, and nothing has happened. What am I doing wrong? Why have I failed at such a simple seeming task.”
My child,” God answered, “Who said you were to move the rock? All I asked you to do was push. And you have been obedient in that. And who says you failed? Look at yourself. Your shoulders are broad, your arms are strong, and your abs are a perfect 6 pack! You have grown stronger than you ever were, and your abilities surpass that which you used to have.
True, you haven't moved the rock, but that wasn't your job. Your calling was to be obedient, to exercise your faith, and to trust in me. You have done that; and now, my child, I will move the rock.”

We humans, it seems, have tendency to use our brains to try and determine what God wants us to do, rather than to simply trust and obey. Our humanness tells us we must move the stone, when all God asks is to push the stone. Yes, we should exercise the kind of faith that moves mountains, but remember the mountains are moved by God. Our job is to PUSH—to pray until something happens! That what Isiah did. That's what Paul and Silas did. And that's what we are called to do. Rough day at work? PUSH.
Bad news from the doctor? PUSH. More month than money? PUSH. Feeling misunderstood? PUSH. Feeling worthless? PUSH. See nothing in the future? PUSH. And the more you PUSH, the more something will happen.

Don't give up. Keep on PUSHing, keep on looking for the lesson, keep on praying, and God will lead you to success. AMEN.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

What's It All About?

Matthew 3:13-17
Upper Rogue United Methodist Church January 8, 2017, Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Every preacher has stories about baptisms gone awry. I remember the first baptism I performed. It was the family of a single dad who was in recovery from alcoholism. To be polite, they were a bit rough around the edges. I arrived at the church two hours before the service and filled the font with tap water. It was a warm day and I figured the water would warm to room temperature by the time of the baptisms. It did not. When I poured the water over the head of the six year old, he hollered for all to hear: “Damn that's cold!”

Our friends in the immersion traditions have their own set of baptismal stories. You may have heard about the inebriated chap who was stumbling through the woods on his way home when he came across a Baptist church holding baptisms in the creek. Overcome by the smell of alcohol, the preacher turns to the drunk and asks: “Are you ready to find Jesus?”
Yeth, I am.”
Grabbing the drunk, the preacher dunks him in the water. Pulling him up, he ask: “Have you found Jesus, Brother?”
Nope. Haven't seen him.”
The preacher dunks him again, and asks: “Have you found Jesus?”
No, I haven't.”
The preacher dunks him a third time, and this time holds him down for a full minute before pulling him up and asking again: “Have you found Jesus?”
The drunk wipes his eyes and catches his breath before replying: “Are you sure his is where he fell in?”

With all the stories and jokes about baptism, we may be tempted to think it isn't all that important. Nothing could be further from the truth. While it is not a requirement for salvation, baptism is important; vitally important.

First, Baptism is important because it marks us as claimed by Christ: as a member of Christ's family. It is not a guarantee of health and wealth, but it does mean that we are part of the God's covenantal relationship with humanity. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, as well as Simon Peter, Paul, and Jesus, himself, that same God, is our God, and we, like they, are his people.

Baptism means we are called by the name Christian. And that is an important concept,” though it is a hard one for us to grasp.

Vincent Carroll and David Shifflet contend the spread of early Christianity was due in no small part to plague and disease. Among the Romans, it was common practice to abandon sick and dying family members in order to spare the healthy ones from contagion. Victims of epidemics were thrown out into the streets and left to die. But the Christians did just the opposite. Rather than abandon the sick and dying, they took them in, nursed and cared for them, often becoming infected and dying themselves. This sacrificial love astounded the Romans, many of whom were so moved that they became Christians. The historian Rodney Stark quotes a letter from a Roman citizen Dionysius, to a friend.
Most of our brother Christians shown unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of any danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”

If you've been baptized, this is your tradition—willingness to lay down your life for another, just as Christ lay down his life for you. Your baptism signifies you are a disciple, a student, a follower of the Great Physician who went about doing good. It signifies that you are a part of Christ's family.

In other words, Baptism means you are a part of the church. You weren't baptized into the PTA. You weren't baptized into the Republican or Democratic Party. You Weren't baptized into Square Dancing or the Kiwanis. You weren't baptized Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Baptist. You were baptized into Christ's Universal church.
In our tradition, when we baptize and infant or small child, we ask the parent's and sponsors:
Will you nurture this child in Christ's holy church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God's grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?”
I truly wish more parents would take that promise seriously. Too often it's like the three preachers who were talking about ridding their church buildings of bats. One said he had installed a electronic device that emitted a shrieking sound that only the bats could hear. “It was guaranteed to drive them out.” he said: “And it did. For a week.”
The second pastor told of sealing the belfry at night so the bats couldn't return. They clawed their way through the chicken wire and came right back.
The third pastor reported he no longer had and problem with the bats. “I baptized them, put them on the church roll, and I haven't seen them since.”
But all kidding aside. Christianity is, at the core of it's being, a communal faith. You cannot separate Christian discipleship from involvement in the church. Yes, it is true that you can worship God on a mountaintop, waist-deep in a trout stream, or even at a football game, and I hope that when you are in those places you do praise and worship God. But when you attach the word Christian to your name, you are acknowledging your baptism into the faith. And while, I know, Church may not always be the most exciting hour and a half of the week, it is the most important. And while a lot of preachers go to great lengths to keep their congregations entertained, that's not why we gather. This is the time to reconnect, recharge, and revitalize your faith. This is not a country club for the self-righteous, it is a hospital for sinners. And if, like, me, your discipleship is less than perfect, it is the place to know and experience love and forgiveness.

I will not even attempt to argue that the church is always what it should be. But
what I will argue is that if you are a baptized Christian, you are part of the church; either a building block or a stumbling block. What you cannot do is abdicate your responsibilities. It upsets me to read that about 80% of Americans identify as Christians, but less than 40% are meaningfully involved in the life of a church. You can't have it both ways. You're in, or you're out. I know that sounds harsh, but this is serious stuff. If you are not a part of the church, just what do you think your baptism means?

Baptism means we are part of God's family. Baptism means we are part of Christ's church. But best of all, baptism is an acknowledgment of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Baptism is an act of grace. It signifies that we are loved and accepted by God—not because we deserve it (we absolutely do not), but because it is God's desire all should be saved and none should perish. “(Joh 3:16) For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. (Joh 3:17) For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.”

William B. McClain, former professor of preaching and worship at Wesley Theological Seminary once met with a South Korean tailor in Seoul. He was surprised when the tailor introduced himself as Smitty Lee. Fascinated by his non-Korean name, McClain asked how he came to be called Smitty. The Korean told him how, many years before, during the Korean War, his life had been saved by a courageous American GI from Virginia name Smitty Ransom. He went on to explain a familiar custom in that culture in two simple sentences. “He save my life. I took his name.”

And that, my brothers and sisters is what it's all about. That's what makes our response to our baptism so vitally important. Christ saved our lives. We took his name. We are claimed by Christ, we are part of his family, the church. We have been called to his service. Remember your baptism, and rejoice,


Ecclesiastes 3:1-7 Epiphany Sunday 2017 Upper Rogue UMC

Today is the first day of 2017, and across the land and around the world people are making resolutions and wondering what the new year will bring. You may relate to the fellow made two resolutions: one was to clear off his desk, and the other was to find last years list of resolutions. I can relate to that! If you really want to get 2017 off to a good start, read the 1999 book: You Are Worthless: Depressing Nuggets of Wisdom Sure to Ruin Your Day.” In their spoof of self-help books, Drs. Oswald T Pratt and Scott Dickers list, among other things, eight things you can do to feel worthless; they include:
Call a relative and tell them you're going to turn you life around. Let their laughter echo in your mind.
Draw something. Take your time and make it as beautiful as you can. When you're done, stand back, look at it, and realize what a lousy artist you are.
Fall and break your collarbone. Blame it on your clumsiness.
Wear something that makes you look fat.

I hope you don't take these ideas as a recommendation from your pastor. I would trust that none of you want to feel worthless, especially at the start of a brand new year. The new year should bring hope, not dread. As Christians we look forward in the sure and certain hope that things can, and will get better.

The Magi, the wise men, were surely hopeful as they traveled to Jerusalem, and then Bethlehem in search of the new king. The story says that, after leaving Jerusalem, when the star again appeared over the house where the child was, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The term Magi, indicates they were Zoroastrians. Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions. It was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster in ancient Iran approximately 3500 years ago. As Magi is also translated Wise Men, it is quite likely that they studied such things as Philosophy, science, astrology, medicine, dream interpretation and magic, as well as the holy scriptures of other faiths. The priests of Zoroaster advised governors and kings, oversaw and blessed sacrifices, and carried out other priestly duties.

It was their study of the stars, and the Jewish scriptures, that led them to Jerusalem, and ultimately Bethlehem. Scholars today think the star may have been a super-nova or a conjunction of Jupiter, Mars and Saturn; but whatever they saw, they equated it with the birth of the Messiah. And so they came, looking for the One; the One who would lift the veil that separated humans from God; the One who John describes as being full of truth and grace.

As much as we humans search for knowledge, we value truth more. Hugh Ross, from a young age, was fascinated by the study of physics and astronomy. The more he studied, the more he learned; and the more he learned, the more he became convinced that there was a creator. He commenced a study of the scriptures of the world's major religions; and in the Bible he found what he was looking for. “My education,” he writes, “Led me to the stars: My faith led me beyond.”

The Magi and Hugh Ross all found the truth they sought in a baby born in a barn and laid in a feed trough. A baby who would grow up, and the song says, to become King and God and Sacrifice. The baby we know as Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. The One who would conquer sin and death and open to us the gates of Heaven. The One who would bring light and hope to the darkest corners of the world.

Today is not just New Year's Day, it is also Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany means a manifestation of God. An anonymous poem describes such manifestations.

I saw Jesus last week.
He was up at the church building:.
He was alone and working hard.
For a minute he looked like one of our church members.
But it was Jesus; I could tell by his smile.

I saw Jesus last Sunday.
He was teaching a Bible class.
He didn't talk real loud, or use long words,
For just a minute he looked like my Sunday School teacher.
But it was Jesus; I could tell by his loving voice.

I saw Jesus yesterday.
He was at the hospital visiting a friend who was sick.
They prayed together quietly.
For a while he looked like our pastor.
But it was Jesus; I could tell by the tears in his eyes.

I saw Jesus this morning.
He was in my kitchen, making my breakfast.
He then packed a lunch to take with me.
For just a minute he looked like my mom
But it was Jesus, I could feel the love from his heart.

I saw Jesus today.
He was praying on his knees, all alone.
He then began to cry for those he prayed for.
For just a minute he looked like a lady from our church.
But it was Jesus; I could see the compassion poured out in his prayer.

I saw Jesus the other day.
He was at the grocery store talking to friends.
For just a moment he looked like a young mother
in our ladies class.
But it was Jesus; I could see the concern for others who hurt.

I see Jesus everywhere,
taking food to the sick,
welcoming others into his home,
being friendly to a newcomer,
And for just a minute he looks like someone I know.
But it's always Jesus. I can tell by the way he serves.

John Wesley called for his followers to be in covenant with God: to give ourselves over to God's will, and in so doing become an epiphany to those around us. I invite those of you who will, to now join me in renewing that covenant as we pray together the covenant prayer found as #607 in your hymnals. Let us pray:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee, or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant that I have made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven. AMEN.