Easter Sermon Series 2016 - Week Four Preaching Notes
Key Word: Serve
Notes for Acts 9:36-43
Last week, we ended by talking about our vow to serve the Lord. This week, we will spend a little more time thinking about what that looks like as we consider another vow in our baptismal covenant:
“To confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put their whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as their Lord.”
In the notes from a week ago I explained how, when I was a teenager, I noticed that some of my Christian friends from other denominations had a different understanding of conversion. For them, conversion happened in the moment when people realized that through Jesus Christ their sins were forgiven. Coming to this belief meant that because of what Jesus did for them on the cross, from that time forward, they were set free from their sins and promised eternal life in heaven. Their future was secure, no matter what else happened.
Of course, in these other denominational belief systems, the idea is that once a person has an experience like this, he or she will live in a different way. Ideally, a person who has been saved should “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Like Paul on the road to Damascus, once we encounter Jesus Christ, our lives should be completely changed. When we are born again by water and the spirit, we become new people, enabled by the grace of God to live into our call to be disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But the reality is, we all know that it is impossible for most of us to be without sin. It is deep within our humanity to “sin and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
When candidates in The United Methodist Church are approved for ordination, they must, as one of the final steps in the process, stand before the bishop and the annual conference and answer the historical questions that John Wesley asked of his preachers:
- Have you faith in Christ?
- Are you going on to perfection?
- Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
- Are you earnestly striving after it?
Part of the reason John Wesley asked these questions was that he believed it was possible to be made perfect in love in this life. But one had to work at it all the time, for the rest of one’s life. The Wesleys developed a program for Methodists to use in striving for Christian perfection, which we talked about last week: accountable discipleship through the regular practice of class meetings. Through these meetings, people could actively work together on practicing the means of grace to become more holy as they lived as disciples of Jesus Christ.
At this point in the sermon, it would be great to tell a story about someone you have personally known who, through the practice of the Methodist way, exhibited holiness of heart and mind in living. I will share a story from my own life as an example.
My Great Aunt Elsie was a true Methodist in her practice of the faith. Aunt Elsie, my grandmother Clara, and their other sisters and brothers grew up in a small town in eastern Nebraska in the early 1900s. Their father owned the local mercantile, which served the entire county and provided everything from staple food items to cloth to farm equipment. The family practiced their faith in their local Methodist church. It was there that they learned the basics of Methodist piety that would shape them for their entire lives. They learned the practices of private and family prayer from their church. They learned the value of tithing. They learned to fast, to search the Scriptures, and to attend worship every Sunday. They learned to practice accountable discipleship. They learned to do no harm, to do good, and to attend to all the ordinances of God.
My grandmother Clara and her sister Elsie both felt called to attend school to become deaconesses in the Methodist Church. In school, my grandmother Clara met her future husband, Ross, who was training to be a Methodist minister. Elsie felt called to serve in the mission field. And so, in her twenties, Elsie was sent into foreign service through the Methodist Church to serve as a missionary in China. She served in China until she was called to return home because of increasing unrest and civil war as the Chinese Communist Party began to seize control of the country shortly after the end of World War II.
When Elsie returned to the United States, she found that because so many men had died in the war, there was a shortage of men available to serve in the smaller churches of western Nebraska. And so, even though the Methodist Church was not yet ordaining women, my Great Aunt Elsie was recruited by the Nebraska Conference to serve as a local pastor at a circuit of small, rural Methodist churches in the late 1940s and early 50s.
Although I never heard her preach, I imagine that my Great Aunt Elsie was a fire-and-brimstone kind of preacher. She had a very strong and clear understanding of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It meant, for her, strictly adhering to holiness in every part of her life. She was very disciplined about the way she lived her life, always seeking to keep a balance between caring for self and caring for others in all that she did. My grandmother and my Great Aunt Elsie taught me to get on my knees and pray for a long time, out loud, before going to sleep. Great Aunt Elsie taught me how to use the Upper Room Daily Devotional in family prayer time. It was Great Aunt Elsie who taught me never to eat a meal without giving thanks first. And it was Great Aunt Elsie who showed me by example that a woman could be a missionary or a preacher or whatever else God called her to be.
My Great Aunt Elsie never married. She devoted her entire life to serving Jesus Christ in all that she was and did. I am so grateful for her witness, because she showed me that being a follower of Jesus was not about a one-time moment of conversion, but a lifetime spent in disciplined, intentional action.
I will never be the kind of Christian my Great Aunt Elsie was. But I am glad to have her as an example of what I might strive to be. And I hope that in some way, my life can and will be an example for others. While I don’t expect to reach perfect love in this life, I believe it is possible, so I will keep striving toward it -- as Great Aunt Elsie did. And I do know that I will reach it one day; and on that day, I will join her and my grandmother and grandfather and all the saints who have gone before me to become part of that great cloud of witnesses that lives forevermore in the kingdom of heaven.
How do we put our whole trust in the grace shown in Jesus Christ? By serving him in all that we do for all the days of our lives.