Sermon 12/06/20: Rule #3: Attending Upon All the Ordinances of God (Advent II)

At this time, due to surging Coronavirus rates, the United Methodists Churches of our Illinois Great Rivers Conference are not holding face-to-face services. Please click on the link below to watch the entire worship service as a video on your home computer, tablet or smartphone:

Link to Video

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If you would prefer not to view the video, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a new tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with the words of the Centering Prayer: Lord Jesus, today I am far less than the person I want to be or can be with your help. I ask today that you would be more and more the center of my life. Guide me to all that is good, cleanse me from all that is not. Teach me Your ways and form in me Your nature. Help me to serve you in flow as I am gifted. Help me to notice my neighbor and work through me to redeem my neighborhood. I am a sinner; please be my Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. Amen.

HYMN 221 In the Bleak Midwinter
In the Bleak Midwinter – Susan Boyle
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_dO91hQhkU

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN 413 A Charge to Keep I Have
A Charge To Keep I Have-Lyrics
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=a+charge+to+keep+i+have+lyrics

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Rule #3:  Attending Upon All the Ordinances of God
Text: James 4:6-10, Philippians 2:1-13, Ephesians 2:10
Series: Those Methodist Rules

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.

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SERMON NOTES

James 4:6 But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.

Philippians 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Rule #3: from https://www.umc.org/en/content/the-general-rules-of-the-methodist-church

Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:
The public worship of God.
The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.
The Supper of the Lord.
Family and private prayer.
Searching the Scriptures.
Fasting or abstinence.

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HYMN 230 O Little Town of Bethlehem
Gaither Vocal Band – O Little Town Of Bethlehem
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwfkGj51S2c
or
O Little Town of Bethlehem w/ Lyrics (Jeremy Camp)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grKx1YSeLr0
or
David Phelps – O Little Town of Bethlehem [Live]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Zj4vM3PM3w

BENEDICTION: Let us dedicate ourselves to the service of Jesus by joining in the Prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Amen

(If you wish, you can listen to this prayer being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

How are we to practice our faith in this new day?

Well, as I’ve been suggesting over the past couple of weeks, I think the early Methodist rules are a wonderful guideline for you and I today. The first one, by doing no harm. Certainly, anything that we’re doing that causes harm to ourselves or someone around us, that should stop. And what should replace it?

We talked about this last Sunday, by doing good. In fact, by doing all the good that we can. If you fill your hands up with good things to do, it will not be easy for you to find yourself doing things that are not good.

Wesley’s third rule, however, just a little bit complicated. The wording that he gives is this: attending upon all the ordinances of God. What does that mean?

People have tried to make it pretty in a variety of ways. Bishop Rueben Job suggested that what this rule means is that you should stay in love with God. And of course, we are called to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. But I have a problem with that wording of the rule because it seems to be very emotional. I know people whose emotions are in the right place, but in terms of what they do, not much gets done.

Another writer suggests that what the rule means is that we should practice showing up for God. And of course, we should show up. But once we’ve shown up, are we to do anything?

Other people suggest that the purpose of the church is to help us to be fully devoted followers. And again, that’s an emotional thing. It’s almost like a pep rally thing. What does it mean if you are fully devoted, if you are fully committed, but you don’t do anything?

The church has suffered over all the centuries for being accused of being a very safe place for hypocrites to get together. And if there is anything that John Wesley’s followers were extremely honest about, it was this: there is no place for hypocrites in the Methodist faith because John Wesley called upon them not just to think right, not just to have good-stirring feelings, but he called for Methodist people to do right. He called it holiness.

And this “doing” thing is there in the first two rules. We’re not just supposed to feel good, we’re supposed to do good. We’re not just supposed to feel kind toward people, we’re supposed to do no harm. Not just do kind deeds, not just do random acts of kindness but to do no harm to anyone, anywhere. And if we become aware of it, we need to do something different … to do all the good we can. And if we become aware that more good should be done, we’re supposed to do it.

So what can this rule mean, attending upon all the ordinances of God? What do we do to take care of ourselves spiritually? Well, here’s what I would suggest, if there is a tool that we can use to help ourselves to grow closer to Jesus Christ, by all means, let’s use all the tools.

The picture on the screen is seven doors. If what’s on the other side of the door does harm, we don’t want to go there. If what’s on the other side of the door does good, we do want to go there. But we want to attend upon all. We want to go through all the doors to help us to grow spiritually, that help us to become more like Jesus Christ, that help us to be more holy. We want to use all the tools. We want to do all the work. So that what’s inside of us in our spirits grows and strengthens to match the intentions that we have, to do no harm, and to do all the good we can. To me, that’s what attending upon all the ordinances of God must mean.

Let me change the subject slightly. The view of what you’re seeing on the screen is a model of the temple in Jerusalem. And of course, it’s just a model. It’s there in Jerusalem today. But if we could look back into history, we would see this building very full of busy people. It is three football fields deep. It is five football fields wide. It is a gigantic building.

And it is full of people because people like going to the temple, and they like visiting with other people when they’re there. People like going to the temple because you’re always going to see someone that you know. People like going to the temple because there’s a need to pray, and there is a desire for our sins to be forgiven. And there, in that giant temple square, several football fields in all directions, there are the pens where the animals are, and you can buy one and be forgiven for your sin. If you want to make an offering, there are the tables of the money changers because you can’t use Roman money to honor God. It has pictures of the emperor on it, who’s worshipped as a god and considered to be an idol. You have to change that unholy Roman money for spiritually neutral Jewish money. And of course, a percentage is kept by the money changer. And although I have never read anything, I honestly have to believe that there were people there selling food. There were people there providing water to drink because this whole busy place in some ways kind of resembles a circus. Suddenly, we hear the trumpets ringing out. It’s time to stop all that visiting and it’s time for the worship to start. Multiple times a day, there were worship services and the horns would sound and the choirs would sing and the priest would talk to the people. And then, they could go back to busyness. That’s business as usual.

But all of a sudden, there came a day when the young prophet from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, came into the temple and saw all of that busyness. It says he took some cords and whirled them together to become a whip and he began to drive out of the temple, out of this gigantic area, all the sellers of animals. He began to turn over the tables of the money changers, and the coins in little stacks would roll everywhere. And he would tell them, “Get out of here. It is written,” Jesus said, “that my father’s house is to be a house of prayer, not a house of busy activity.” And in fact, he said that that busy activity, it was commercial in nature. It had nothing to do with spirituality. It had nothing to do with prayer. And so consequently, Jesus called their activities the activities of a den of robbers. He drove them out of the temple and the people came to him there and the Scripture says that he healed them and he helped them. And for that brief period of time, the temple again was a place of prayer.

Now, what do you think happened by the next morning? You guessed it. All the tables are set up again. All the animals are back where they can be sold for forgiveness. Everything went back to normal in the busyness of the temple. But Jesus had made his point.

But the point for us today, I think, is this. There were certain ways that people worshipped in the temple that became the normal for spirituality for them and nothing else seemed right. It was natural to do what they had always done before and they never really questioned whether it was what God wanted or God needed. They went right back to doing what they had always done before because as long as we have a temple– dare I say it– a temple that takes God’s place in our heart as long as we have a temple telling us what to do, that’s what’s going to seem normal. And of course, that’s what happened. Right up until 47 years later.

Forty-seven years later, the Jewish people rebelled against the Roman oppressors and they started a war. And the Roman generals came and they basically destroyed the temple. They set the parts of the temple, the wooden window frames, the doors, the decorations, the curtains, these were set on fire. There was lots of gold built into the decorations of the temple. The history says that the heat of the fire caused the gold to melt and run down in between the rocks. And in order to loot the gold, in order to steal the value of what was important to them, the soldiers tore up the rocks, tore every rock apart so they could get the melted gold out from under it. The whole thing became largely a pile of rubble.

And all of a sudden, the Jewish people did not have a temple. What were they going to do? There were no more sacrifices in the temple. The Jewish law called for those things to happen in the temple. There were no more tables of money changers. There were no more choirs. There were no more horns blaring that it was time to go to the same sort of worship service that they had multiple times every day because there was no more temple in their life. How do we be Jewish without a temple? How do we practice our faith without a temple? And they grieved and mourned. +

You see, this had happened before Babylon had destroyed the temple, took them away into exile and they wept because they could not do their faith the way they had done before. And now, the same thing happened when the Romans came. They could not practice their faith the way they had always done before. Well if that’s the case, what do you do? How do we practice our faith without a temple?

And here’s what the Jewish people did. In little gatherings, in little buildings, they called them synagogues. They began to intensely, more than ever before, study the Bible. And their faith became based on the words of the Old Testament, on the teachings of Moses, on the statements made by the prophets, on the Talmud, the interpretation of the Scriptures by Jewish rabbis and preachers throughout centuries. And they became a people whose faith rested upon a book and upon the study of a book and that is still true today.

How do you replace a temple if you don’t have access to a temple? You can build your faith and base it on the Book of Faith. Love does no harm to a neighbor, we talked about that a couple of weeks ago. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And we can base our faith on a rule that is easily found in scripture, a rule to do no harm. We can base our faith on a rule that is easily found in Scripture, a rule that says that we should be doing good. And in fact, we can draw instructions from the Bible about how to live and what to do. To answer almost any human question. The Bible is a good foundation for our faith. And the stones that provide the very best foundation of all, I would suggest for us as Christians are the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. He will tell us what to do.

So what do we do now? We open up the Bible and pay attention to what it says. Here’s a verse from James chapter four. But he, God, gives more grace. Therefore it says God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Verse 7 – there’s an instruction; there’s a rule – “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.” Skip a couple of verses to the 10th verse. James summarizes by saying, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

In Philippians 2, beginning with the third verse, we find these words, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit. But, in humility, count others better than yourselves. Let each one of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.”
Verse 5, “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus.” And with the very next verse, there is an image that is drawn of Jesus giving his life, first, to come among us – that’s the first Christmas – then, to live among us as a servant, not someone who went his own way but did what God wanted in everything … even though that meant that he would die upon a cross for you and I. In this scripture, some scholars believe, based on the way the words are in Greek, that it actually was a hymn that people sang. And they sang it to remind themselves of what it is like to be like Jesus. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. In other words, be like Jesus.

Verse 12, right after the hymn is finished: “Therefore, my beloved, as you’ve always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence,” Paul writes, “but much more in my absence.” And then, Paul says this, “Work out your own salvation–“ get to work and work on it. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” And verse 13, “For God is at work in you.” God is working on you. It’s time for you to get to work too. There are things that you need to believe. There are things that you need to feel but even more than that because this is work: There is work that needs to be done. There is work that you need to do, for God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

So the third rule– of course, we do no harm to our neighbors. We do all the good that we can in our world. But, the third rule, there is work to be done on overhauling and renewing our own spiritual life. And the early Methodists were very intense about that.

“These are the general rules of our Society,” John Wesley wrote, “All of which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule both of our faith and our practice.” With regard to what we believe and what we do, we are able to point to Scripture to support it. “And all these we know,” John Wesley wrote, “His Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts.”

Friends, if you believe, I’m happy and thankful. If you have feelings of deep love toward God, I think that’s wonderful. But the plain fact is that you and I also have work to do. And what we believe in our hearts and what we know in our heads needs to reach our hands, needs to reach our feet. So that we are not just simply people who believe and people who study, but we are people who live by what we read in Scripture. What do we do now? It’s time for us to work on ourselves, on our own salvation, on our spiritual lives so that what we do matches what we believe and what we feel.

How do we practice our faith without a temple? You open up the Bible and read it, and when you find Jesus Christ telling you to do something, then, go do that.

There is a custom … Kim said that the women’s Bible study did this a couple of years ago. A friend of mine on Facebook has suggested it to our churches and to our people. Beginning December 1st, each evening, read one chapter of the book of Luke in the Bible. On December 1st, read the first chapter. On December 1st, last thing before we turned out the lights, Kim read that chapter and reminded me of why we do it. What was put on Facebook goes on to say there are 24 chapters. On Christmas Eve, you will have read the whole account of Jesus’s life, and then, you will wake up on Christmas morning knowing who He is and knowing why we celebrate Christmas.

Well, friends, I haven’t had the chance to encourage you to do this on the 1st or on the 2nd. It’s now the 6th. But if you start reading one chapter a day starting tonight, by New Year’s, you’ll know those things, who Jesus is, and why we celebrate Christmas. Or you can catch up and read it with us together on Christmas Eve. But how we practice our faith without a temple, how we be faithful in what we do, is to turn to Scripture and, in particular, the words of Jesus and the words about Jesus as a foundation for our faith.

John Wesley writes about attending upon all the ordinances of God and he gives us the actual list. The first one is the public worship of God and unfortunately, if we try to gather us all together into a room it’s likely that this would do harm. And that’s why you’re watching me on a little screen instead of sitting here in the sanctuary with each other. We’ve had to learn how to be faithful without the comfort of assembling together in the temple for a brief period of time. But that’s not the only knife in the drawer. That’s not the only tool in our toolbox.

The next one is the ministry of the word. You’re listening to a sermon. I dearly hope that the sermons are worthwhile. I dearly hope that you find them encouraging and I sincerely hope that this one blesses you. But I’m not sure that you realize I’ve been recording my sermons and putting them on the internet since 2009. I have hundreds of sermons that you can listen to and you can listen to more than once. [Online at KinmundyChurch.org.] In fact, some of them may help you to drop off to sleep and sleep a very calming and soothing night, all night long!

But the ministry of the word, that’s one tool that you can use. Whether you read my sermon or listen to it. Whether you read the sermon of someone else. Whether you read in a spiritual book, a book written by an author that helps you to grow in your faith. The ministry of the word whether it’s expounded (which is preached so that you can listen), or whether it’s printed and you can read it. It will help you to grow.

Another tool that will help you to grow is Holy Communion, the supper of the Lord. If you miss having Holy Communion – I had this in the bulletin for week after week after week – if you feel spiritually the need for Holy Communion let me know and we’ll find a way to make it happen. We are still able to have this tool for our spiritual growth. We may need to do it in a slightly different way but we still have this tool.

What shall I do now? You also have the tool of family and private prayer. It’s a wonderful thing if you pray before you eat but it’s probably even more wonderful if you pray before you get up or soon after you get up. If you pray before you fall asleep. It’s a wonderful thing for you to spend time each day in prayer. We have tools like the Upper Room and other materials to help you with your prayer life because you see, if you are going to be a Christian, you’re going to be praying at home on days when you can’t pray at the church building or the temple. If you’re going to be a Christian, you are going to be learning about the Bible at home not just in the church building.

You’re going to have questions. What does Bible say about this? What does Jesus say about this? I would like you to know. I get very excited, whenever somebody calls me on the phone, sends me a message, and asks me a question about the Bible. When I went to graduate school and I went to seminary I thought this would happen all the time, but I’ll be honest with you, it doesn’t happen all that often. But if you have a question about the Scripture I would love to talk about it with you. Let us Search the Scriptures together! It’s not that I’m waiting by the phone for you to call, but I would love to talk to you.

The final one on the list of John Wesley’s tools is that of fasting or abstinence. Fasting is a spiritual thing that people do in the Bible, and I’ll be honest with you, I’m someone who has learned to fast for my health. Not so much for spirituality but for its benefit for my health. I would love to talk to you about how fasting can be helpful to you with regard to your health or spiritually. Abstinence has to do with that whole “do no harm” thing. If something is harming you, too much peanut butter, too many cookies, too much of anything that’s not good for you, abstinence means I’m going to eat less, I’m going to do less, I’m going to back away from doing that because it’s doing me harm. Fasting or abstinence from anything that harms us spiritually is certainly a spiritual tool.

You and I can go through these doors. You and I can use ALL of these spiritual tools in this time, when we’re unable to gather together, to have the worship that we enjoy so much and find so meaningful.

Well, the Coronavirus has brought an end to the business as usual in the temple, least for a little while. The Coronavirus has forced us to do things that are different, things that are not our personal preference, but we are people who make a choice to be faithful. The Latin phrase or motto ‘always faithful’ in Latin is ‘Semper Fidelis’. If you shorten it, it’s Semper Fi. Semper Fidelis, always faithful, has been the motto of the Marine Corps since 1883, and it embodies the promise to always remain faithful, no matter what. And certainly, Marines are intense in their practice of always being faithful.

Friends, as Methodists, as followers of Jesus Christ, as people who wish to do God’s will, we also need to be faithful, no matter what. Whether the churches are closed, whether the churches are open, whether worship is happening inside the church building, or if worship is happening in your own home, we need to always be faithful.

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, I am thankful that as I read the Scripture today, as I review the commands that you give for us to follow today, I cannot think of a single command, Lord Jesus, that you give to us that requires us to be in a temple. Everything in Scripture, Lord, that I know about, we are able to be obedient servants of you inside the church, inside the church building, and outside the church in our homes or on the streets. Lord, I’m thankful that there is nothing whatsoever in this pandemic that would cause us or force us to not practice our faith. There is nothing about wearing masks, there is nothing about being socially distant, there is nothing about this pandemic that means that we cannot be faithful Christians serving you out there in the world where you sent us to be salt and light in a dark and grim world at a difficult and hard time in the history of our world. Lord, remind us that we can always be good and do good. That we can always be kind and do no harm. If we make a mistake, Lord, we’re always able to make it better. Lord help us to always do right, always be faithful. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.
 

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