ORDINARY HEROES SERMON SERIES
Click here to download the 4-part sermon series by Rev. Nancy Cushman or read each sermon by opening the ORDINARY HEROES sermon titles below.
ORDINARY HEROES HAVE COURAGE
By Nancy S. Cushman
1 Samuel 25:14-28, 32
July 2, 2017 North Scottsdale UMC
SETTING THE CONTEXT
Today’s story involves a woman and King David. Now that I have your attention, the story takes place before he was a king. David was avoiding capture by living in and moving around the desert wilderness areas between Judah and Egypt. He was moving around the Wilderness of Paran with about 600 men (1 Samuel 23:13). He came to a town near Hebron called Maon where there was a very wealthy man named Nabal. The story tells us that Nabal was surly and mean. He was also a fool, Nabal means fool in Hebrew. David and his men had left Nabal’s herds and shepherds alone, in fact, they had protected them. David sent some men to ask for food from Nabal as he was feasting on his harvest. Nabal’s response was a sarcastic and harsh “no”. Predictably David took the insult and gathered his men to attack Nabal and his household. This is when we meet the person we’ll be focusing on this morning, Abigail. One of her servants came to her about the dangerous situation they were in. Let’s see how she responded.
Read 1 Samuel 25:14-28, 32-35
What does it mean to be heroic? I looked up “hero” on dictionary.com and they say, “a hero is a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character.” i It seems like more stories are being told of everyday heroes. The nightly news I watch features Ordinary Heroes who inspire America. Let’s watch this story about 7-year-old Rosalyn Baldwin.
(Watch video NBC Inspiring America: Girl Travels Country Hugging Police Officers story ii http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/inspiring-america-girl-travels-country-hugging-police-officers-966696515549
Rosalyn at 7 years old is an ordinary hero offering love, encouragement, and appreciation to other everyday heroes. Superhero movies and games are very popular, but life and history are full of ordinary heroes. Recently our children learned about God’s heroes through Vacation Bible School, people who show nobility of character according to God’s standards.iii I thought it would be helpful and inspiring to us to learn about the characteristics of some of those Biblical heroes and how we might apply them in our own lives.
The first characteristic we are considering is that “Ordinary Heroes Have Courage.” What does it mean to have courage? Does it mean being the toughest and meanest person around? Not in our Biblical hero’s story today. Abigail was the wife of a surly and mean man in a culture where wives were considered the property of men. She obviously knew her husband well and had learned to get around his arrogance. Imagine though being a woman and going out to meet a nomadic band of fighters, 2
fighters who had just been insulted by your husband. But her example of courage went beyond just overcoming fear, Abigail showed that courage includes being wise, shrewd, subtle and graceful.
At Annual Conference last month, we adopted a new vision statement to describe who we are as United Methodists in this region. It makes sense to me that we would use this statement to guide our ministry at NSUMC in the next few years. The vision statement tells us that God calls us to be “A Courageous Church: Loving Like Jesus, Acting for Justice, United in Hope.” iv
What does it mean for us to be a courageous church? In the contentious climate, we are living in, courage seems to get mixed in with hardened positions, contempt for the opponent, ugly confrontation rather than compromise. Courage gets mixed in with returning evil for evil. I think God calls us to a courage that is different from that; Abigail’s story shows us something different.
Abigail was gutsy, decisive, brave, wise and gracious. In her encounter with David, she enabled him to retain his self-respect and the respect of his men while giving him a peaceful alternative. Let’s look at the pattern for courageous confrontation that Abigail gives to us.v
First, she started her encounter with David by acknowledging his position and feelings. She showed him that she understood the dishonor he felt her foolish husband had given to him and his men. By acknowledging David’s position and compassionately respecting him, she created an opening to further the discussion.
Second, she did what she could to make things right. The slight against David and his men came from the inhospitality and stinginess of her husband. The desert in that area was very harsh, being inhospitable was more than just being rude, Nabal’s unwillingness to share from his prosperity could have meant the starvation or dehydration of David and his men. In that world, hospitality was expected and essential. The five sheep Abigail gave him was a minimal offering from the 4,000 sheep and goats that Nabal owned, but with that small gesture, she made things right with David.
Third, Abigail emphasized her positive view of David’s character. Rather than showing him contempt, she reminded him of the kind of person he was, God’s man. In verse 28, she reminds him, “you fight the Lord’s battles, and nothing evil will be found in you throughout your lifetime.” (1 Samuel 25: 28, Common English Bible) We live in a time where contempt for one’s opponents is the norm, where ridicule and character assassination of opponents are routine. Abigail shows us the value of appreciating our opponents, of looking for and reminding our opponents of the best of who they are and want to be. Sadly, it seems like today those who disagree with us (on just about anything) become everyday enemies. We must have the courage and commitment to be different than that and Abigail gives us an example.
Fourth, she appealed to David helping him to see the consequences of his desire for revenge. His rash decision to kill all the males would have killed a lot of 3
i “Hero” Dictionary.com. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/heroes
ii “Inspiring America: Girl Travels Country Hugging Police Officers.” NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. June 13, 2017. http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/inspiring-america-girl-travels-country-hugging-police-officers-966696515549
iii The Vacation Bible School theme was “Hero Central: Discover Your Strength in God!” Find out more at https://2017.cokesburyvbs.com.
iv This is the vision statement from the Initiative for Growth and Vitality in the churches of the Desert Southwest Conference. Find out more at https://dscumc.org/initiative/.
v This discussion is based on thoughts from Sue and Larry Richards. Every Woman in the Bible. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999) p. 123-124.
vi Richards, p. 123-124.
vii These questions were asked at our Holy Huddles during the Desert Southwest Annual Conference from June 15-18, 2017. See more about that at https://dscumc.org/initiative/.
innocent men and harmed so many women and families. He may have gotten his vengeance, but it would have been not only at a great cost to those families but to the harm of his own soul. There are two distinct Hebrew words one is translated “kill” and the other “murder.” The one word describes killing without moral judgment, like killing during warfare. The other Hebrew word is found in the Ten Commandments and it means “murder” or a personal killing that is condemned by God.vi In helping David rethink and turn aside from his vengeance, she saved his soul as well as her servants and workers. She helped him live his values. As we told the children in Vacation Bible School, “Abigail was a hero because she used her courage to make peace and help others” (even her opponents.)
As we consider how we’re going to be a courageous church, let us remember the example of Abigail. As we wrestle with the way to live out God’s will and further that will in our world by challenging people and systems, let’s remember Abigail’s lessons in confrontation. May we be gutsy, decisive, wise and gracious while we are being courageous. I’d like you to consider and pray about some questions this week. (They are also in my Pastor’s article in the upcoming newsletter.)
• “What is the most courageous thing we have done as a church in the past six years?
• What is the most courageous thing you have done as a servant of Christ?
• What is Christ calling you to do now that will take courage?
• What is Christ calling us to do together that will take courage?vii
May the Hero verse from Vacation Bible School be our mantra this month, “Do good! Seek peace and go after it!” Amen.
ORDINARY HEROES HAVE HEART
By Nancy S. Cushman
July 9, 2017 North Scottsdale UMC
SETTING THE CONTEXT
Today’s teaching happened in the context of a challenge. An expert on religious law wanted to test, Jesus. In other words, this wasn’t a friendly question or even a sincere one. “What must I do to gain eternal life?” “What must I do to get the full benefits of God’s blessing?” Jesus prompted him to answer his own question and the lawyer quoted two important Scriptures, the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and from Leviticus “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18). Then he asked Jesus to define which people deserve love and which do not, by asking “who is my neighbor?” In other words, who do I need to love to meet God’s standards?
As we listen to Jesus’ response, I want us to try to get the full impact of the parable. So I’d like you to imagine you are the person who has been stripped, beaten and left for dead, is there anyone from any group about whom you’d rather lay there and bleed than acknowledge “he offered me help” or “she showed me compassion”? Is there any group of people whose members might rather die than help us? These are the faces to put in the face of the Samaritan in the parable.
Read Luke 10:29-37
When we lived in Prescott, we had some trees in our backyard die. We couldn’t figure out what had happened to them because there was no outward trauma to them. They were standing just like they had been for years; only there were no leaves, no life. When we went for a closer look, we discovered that they just pulled right out of the ground. The roots were gone; pack rats had eaten all the roots and the trees just fell over into our hands. Love is the root of Christianity. 1 John 4:7-8 tells us that “love is from God and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. … God is love.” The Great Commandment I quoted in the introduction is rooted in love “love God and love your neighbor”. Without love, the Christian faith and practice becomes a rootless tree or a dead shell.
Last week, we started talking about the characteristics of everyday, ordinary heroes according to God’s standards. A hero is defined as a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character.i Today we look at a foundational trait of the noblest character we can have, a Christ-like character, that trait is “Ordinary heroes have heart.”
In Vacation Bible School, our children learned about God’s Heroes. They heard the story of Samuel and God choosing David to be the next king of Israel. David was the youngest child; God did not choose the older brothers who were bigger and stronger. As 2
God explained to the prophet Samuel, “Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16: 7) “David was chosen not because of his appearance or achievements, but because he had a heart for God. In other words, he lived his life showing his love for God and others.”ii Ordinary heroes have heart.
Last week I shared with you, our Desert Southwest Conference Vision Statement that will guide us over the next three years. It is “God calls us to be ‘A Courageous Church: Loving Like Jesus, Acting for Justice, United in Hope.’”iii How do we express the heart of a hero? How do we live out that foundational characteristic of love? As Christians, we do it by loving like Jesus.
As I asked myself what loving like Jesus means, I decided to read through the Gospel of Luke to see how he loved. We get our first glimpse in the Gospel of how Jesus loved when he preaches to his neighbors in Nazareth. He laid out that he would express love by “preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, liberate the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And that grated on some people because “why should he do those acts of power and mercy for others in the surrounding towns when he should be taking care of his own first?” (Luke 4:18-19) It almost got him killed. Loving like Jesus may not always give you accolades and atta-boys (girls).
Loving like Jesus is fueled by compassion. He freed those held captive by demons and healed the sick. Rather than staying in one place, his love pushed him to more places, more people, across physical and social boundaries. (Luke 4:31-43) It pushed him to touch the unclean- those who were isolated from the rest of the community risking isolation himself. (Luke 5:13) Loving like Jesus means opening our hearts to our enemies. Since this is so hard, he was very clear about it saying, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. … You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.” (Luke 6: 27-36, Common English Bible)
Jesus drives the point home in our reading today. The two people who walked by the man who was beaten represented people with the same identity and faith who chose not to stop and help. In that day and time in history, the Samaritan represented someone who would have had nothing to do with the man on the side of the road or the two that passed by. The Samaritan would have been a long way from home in Judaic territory. A Samaritan in that area would have endured hostile stares and body language of revulsion at best and open hostility and harassment at worst. This enemy is who Jesus chose to be the hero. This story was jolting to the first hearers, offensive to them. I hope you could think of a modern equivalent for the Samaritan before I read the passage. (I thought of Palestinian and the Israeli people at the extreme poles, not the many people with moderate views, but the ones at the extremes on each side.) Jesus was being provocative. As one scholar wrote, 3
i “Hero” Dictionary.com. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/heroes.
ii The Vacation Bible School theme was “Hero Central: Discover Your Strength in God!” Find out more at https://2017.cokesburyvbs.com/ .
iii This is the vision statement from the Initiative for Growth and Vitality in the churches of the Desert Southwest Conference. Find out more at https://dscumc.org/initiative/.
iv Matthew L. Skinner. “Luke 10:25-37 Exegetical Perspective” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year C Vol. 3. David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) p. 243.
v A lyricalpraise video of Casting Crowns song “Love Them Like Jesus” found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6OYmmMicsA
“The lawyer wants to define who deserves his love, but Jesus’ parable suggests that love seeks out neighbors to receive compassion and care, even when established boundaries or prejudices conspire against it. Authentic love does not discriminate; it creates neighborly relationships, because by its nature it meets the needs of others.”iv
This kind of radical love is powerful. If one continued the story, I imagine that the wounded man would never have looked at Samaritans the same way again. How could he after such an experience of compassion and mercy? “Doing good to those who hate you,” isn’t just in parables, that’s what Jesus did from the cross when he said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” “Loving like Jesus” values everyone and does good to everyone.
In all of these stories and more, Jesus’ love was not transactional. He did not tell people, “I will heal you if you follow me,” or “I will heal you if you provide me or my disciples with this or that.” No, loving like Jesus is loving without “ifs”. Loving like Jesus means being compassionate whether the person reciprocates or not. Ordinary heroes have the heart of Jesus.
Someone put together this music video to the Christian band, Casting Crown’s song called Love Them Like Jesus. Let’s watch.
Watch Youtube video Love Them Like Jesus vhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6OYmmMicsA
I have some more questions for you to consider this week:
❖ How have we as a church loved like Jesus? What is the most courageous way we have loved like Jesus?
❖ How do you love like Jesus? What is the most courageous way you have loved like Jesus?
❖ How can you grow in loving like Jesus?
❖ How might we as a church help you do that?
Ordinary heroes have heart, they have the heart of Jesus. May we continue to live out our Hero verse, “do good, seek peace, and go after it!” (Psalm 34:14) Amen.
ORDINARY HEROES HAVE HOPE
By Nancy S. Cushman
July 23, 2017 North Scottsdale UMC
SETTING THE CONTEXT
Hope is a cornerstone of the Christian life. The hope that the Bible describes is not a superficial hope, but one that is born out of the suffering of the cross and the power of God to bring new life. This kind of hope’s foundation is the love of God shown through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The author of Colossians was “in chains” in prison when he wrote the letter (Colossians 4:10, 18), keep that in mind when the writer speaks of hope. He wrote it to a church that was clearly vital and engaged in ministry, but it wasn’t a perfect church. The letter was written in part to address teachings that were circulating around the church that ran counter to Paul’s teachings. Those false teachings were causing division in the church. Yet even in their imperfection and with these challenges, God was doing a good work in and through them using them to bring hope.
Read Colossians 1:3-14
“Who in your life has helped you to see the light of hope when it was difficult for you? How did they do it?” Those were questions our Vacation Bible School youth helpers considered in one of their devotionals.i “Who in your life has helped you to see the light of hope when it was difficult for you? How did they do it?”
This month we have been looking at Biblical characters and the qualities that made them everyday, ordinary heroes. As people of faith, we’ve defined a hero as a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character according to God’s standards. In looking at the stories of Abigail, the Good Samaritan, and Esther, we’ve seen that “Ordinary Heroes have Courage.” They have “Heart.” They “Act in Faith,” even if they don’t hear God directly. Today our ordinary heroes in the Bible are the people of the church of Colossae and they witness to us that “Ordinary Heroes Have Hope.” Hope is an incredibly important gift that we receive from Christ, but also a gift to share. This hope is based on a trust in the eternal goodness of God and that we have a place with God in that eternal goodness. As one scholar said, “Hope links the present Christian walk with a heavenly existence already established by God.”ii We do see suffering in this world, no doubt but the Bible tells us that ultimately God brings us to a place where there is no more suffering, no more tears, no more death, a place where all is made right – this is our hope. (Revelation 21:3-4)
My father has severe dementia. I could hope that he could remember more. I might hope that he was more of the independent capable man he used to be, but that is more wishful thinking. The hope I am talking about accepts that he will never remember things like he used to and that he is valuable and precious as he is now and someday when he enters heaven he will be freed of the dementia and 2
freed of all the other physical limitations as he embraces the new existence. The goodness of God that recognizes his worth even with all the limitations, the goodness of God that gives him contentment even now, the goodness of God that will release him from what is and embrace him for eternity- that’s what I mean when I talk about hope. This definition of hope helps us find peace with what can’t be changed while giving us courage to change what we can. The scholar continues, “We cannot generate such joyful hope by ourselves or from ourselves, but Christ working within us can and does create and sustain hope, which in turn gives us courage to love.”iii
If you look at the people who make up our church, there are a lot of differences among us. What unites us though is this desire to know Christ and to experience this deep hope. What unites us is the desire to love, to love God and to love our neighbor. We may have different ideas on how to love and who we want to focus on loving, but the desire, the commitment, the putting it into practice unites us. Our vision statement as a conference and as a church is “God calls us to be a Courageous Church: Loving Like Jesus, Acting for Justice, United in Hope.” I think of this unity of purpose, this unity in desire, this unity in reaching out to and trusting God, this coming together to grow and practice this Christian life when I say, “United in Hope.” “God calls us to be a Courageous Church: Loving Like Jesus, Acting for Justice, United in Hope.”
The other day I watched a segment of “Inspiring America” and heard about Shannon Wasser who casts seeds of hope around her community. I’d like to share it with you. Watch Inspiring America: Woman’s Anonymous Notes Bring Hope to Strangers, http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/inspiring-america iv
I noticed on the note Crystal Turk picked up the words “God is working” so I wanted to learn a little more about Shannon Wasser. Shannon lives in San Diego. During that difficult time she mentioned from the age of 13 to 16, she had drug problems, she was in and out of group homes and juvenile detention. She reminds me of some of the young adults we work with through Trinity Opportunity Alliance. She said, “I basically did everything I could to destroy myself.” Shannon found hope in God. Her faith is what motivated her to start leaving these cards. She’s been doing it since 2012. The thing I love about it is not only is she spreading hope, but she invites the Holy Spirit to be part of it. She said, “I can’t explain how I know where to do it. I just stop, I just sit there for a second and take a breath. I get the card out, and I say, ‘Okay, what are we doing?” And then she writes words of encouragement. She calls this task, “Hope Drops” and she uses the hashtag #HopeSent. If people want to share their stories, like Crystal Turk did, they can, otherwise it’s like a seed cast in the wind, and only God and the person know if the hope took root. Shannon wrote on her Facebook page, “I got this idea – why not send cards to people who are hurting, who feel alone, who can’t find the light inside their dark? I know what it means to be one of those people. And I know what a life-changer it is when you realize – somebody sees me. Our heart begins to beat again and there is a flicker of hope, the beginnings of smiles. THIS is the purpose of Hope Sent. … I write what God puts on my soul. I write 3
i The Vacation Bible School leader devotional from “Hero Central: Discover Your Strength in God!” Find out more at https://2017.cokesburyvbs.com/ .
ii Susan Grove Eastman. “Colossians 1:1-14 Exegetical Perspective” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year C Vol. 3. David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) p. 235.
iii Eastman, p. 235.
iv “Inspiring America: Woman’s Anonymous Notes Bring Hope to Strangers.” NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. July 19, 2017, http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/inspiring-america.
v Find out more at the Hope Sent Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pg/HopeSent/about/.
vi Instructions for Hope Drop:
Get a blank card. Address the envelope to “Hello. If you find this card, it belongs to you. Go ahead, open it.”
Pray. Then write some words of encouragement on the card.
Sign it “Hope Sent” and put on the bottom #HopeSent and put it in the envelope.
what every heart longs to know – You are loved. You are seen. You are not alone. I do not preach. I encourage. I do not give advice. I send hope.”v The cards that go out are anonymous neither the person receiving the card nor the sender know each other, but the Holy Spirit knows both and with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26), the Spirit speaks the receiver’s name, lifts up their situation, lays it before God and uses the card to bring hope.
So many of our acts of love are like that, aren’t they? They are like seeds cast on the ground, thrown into the wind, some take root and are fruitful and some are not. It sounds like a parable Jesus told, doesn’t it? (See Matthew 13:3-9) Yet, in casting the seeds of love we are casting hope into the world and cooperating with the Holy Spirit. I am grateful that we are not all alike, because it means we are drawn to different places, different people, different situations where we can cast seeds of love. I am always grateful when new people join our church like the folks today because I know it means our fields of love are continuing to expand and the reach of our hope in Christ grows.
I’d like to invite you to join me in doing a Hope Drop, in leaving cards around this community as messages of hope. We’ve made a card for everyone with instructions inside (use can get one from the church office or use your own card and see the instructions below).vi We are asking you to address the card with something like “Hello. If you find this card, it belongs to you. Go ahead, open it.” Pray for and then write some words of encouragement, sign it “Hope Sent” with the hashtag on the bottom and place it somewhere where someone else will find it. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.
Ordinary Heroes have Hope. Through Christ, you are forgiven. You are accepted. You are loved. Let us share these gifts and the hope that comes from them, casting the seeds of hope everywhere. Amen. 4
Place it somewhere where someone else will find it. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.
(Optional) Take a picture of your card before you walk away and send it to me.
ORDINARY HEROES HAVE POWER
By Nancy S. Cushman
Galatians 5:16-25 (CEB)
July 30, 2017 North Scottsdale UMC
SETTING THE CONTEXT
Paul tells the church in Galatia, that through Christ they are freed. They are freed from the long list of religious rules and requirements their former religions demanded of them. Freedom gives us power, power to choose. This freedom though is not license; it does not mean “anything goes.” It is not only “freedom from” things, but it is “freedom to” live united with God. This freedom is to be guided and empowered by the Spirit of God. One can look at a person’s life and see evidence if they are living in cooperation with the Holy Spirit or opposed to it. Through the letter, Paul teaches the Galatians about the nature of God’s gift of freedom – it is an important lesson, for as Eugene Peterson says, “freedom is a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverted and often squandered.”i
Read Galatians 5:16-25 (Common English Bible)
The opening stories of the Bible share that God gave humans power from the very beginning. In the creation story, God gave the first humans the power to take charge of creation and care for it. In the second creation story, the Bible shows us that God gave humans freedom of choice to eat anything in the garden except one tree. It goes on to show that humans used that freedom to rebel against God, to choose the opposite of what God told them to do. We continue as humans to have that gift of freedom. We continue to have the ability to choose to follow God’s will or to rebel against it. We don’t have to look very far to see the aftermath of those choices – to see the good that comes when we are united to God’s will and way and the harm that comes when we violate the Divine command to love.
Jesus clarified for us God’s will and way as he lived a human life intimately connected to God, a life lived in sync with God’s will and way. Before he died, he promised that his followers would not be abandoned, but would receive the Holy Spirit to continue empowering them to be like him. Someone asked United Methodist pastor, James Harnish what it meant to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” His response was, “it means that every inch of my personality, every fiber of my being, is soaked, saturated, drenched, and permeated with the love of God that we see in Jesus Christ.” I love that image “soaked, saturated, drenched and permeated with the love of God.”
Paul tells the Galatians that when you are drenched in the Spirit it is evident in your actions and interactions. I want us to give some attention to the lists he gives. When I read them my first instinct is to ask, “do I do any of the things on the “bad” list?” I think it goes deeper, though, than a list of do’s and don’ts. Remember he is talking to 2
them about freedom. The selfish motives list are examples of desires that are distorted by selfishness. Christian Ethics professor, Mark Douglas put it this way, “Paul’s problem with the flesh is not that it desires, but that its desires are disordered; it wants the wrong things or wants good things in the wrong way- usually too much or too little. Wanting sexual intimacy, it pursues [promiscuity or sex without commitment]; wanting contact with the Divine, it pursues idols; wanting joy, it carouses.”ii It is settling for something less than God intended or twisting or corrupting God’s intention. The appropriate antidote to selfish motives and the aftermath of them according to Paul is to desire properly which is made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us the power and guidance to live with the character of God which we see in human form in Jesus.
All month, we’ve been talking about what this character looks like using images our children experienced in Vacation Bible School five weeks ago.iii Ordinary everyday heroes have courage. Ordinary heroes have heart. Ordinary heroes act in faith. Ordinary heroes have hope. Having courage, having the heart of Jesus, acting in faith, having and sharing hope all take power; they take the power of the Holy Spirit.
We have also been talking about our vision as a regional church (Desert Southwest Conference) and as a local church that aligns with these characteristics. That vision is “God calls us to be a Courageous Church: Loving Like Jesus, Acting for Justice, United in Hope.”iv In order for us to live that out, we will need not only the desire to be courageous, loving, acting for justice, united in hope, but we will need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us turn desire into reality.
There are almost 150 references to the Spirit of God and Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes as is the case in the Gospel of John, God and Jesus send the Spirit to the faith community, not to individuals. In the other gospels, in the Book of Acts, and in Paul’s letters, like Galatians the Spirit is sent to and acts through the individual as well as through the community. The good news for us as individuals and as a faith community is that God’s Spirit is available to us. So, the challenge to us on both levels is the last verse we read from Paul. Here’s how the Message Bible paraphrases it, “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.”v (Galatians 5:25, Message Bible)
Does this mean we’ll always get it right? No, even the disciples who walked with Jesus messed up. We will fall back into those selfish motives from time to time (hopefully less often as we practice and grow.) We are unfinishedvi and after every fall we have the freedom to choose to turn back to God. We have the freedom to turn back to the power that brings life and love and reshapes our lives into Christ-likeness. 3
i Eugene H. Peterson. “Introduction to Galatians.” The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002), p. 2113.
ii Mark Douglas. “Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Theological Perspective” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year C Vol. 3. David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) p. 188. Mark Douglas is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia.
iii The Vacation Bible School was from June 19-23, 2017 and the theme was “Hero Central: Discover Your Strength in God!” Find out more at https://2017.cokesburyvbs.com/.
iv This vision was shared during the Desert Southwest Annual Conference from June 15-18, 2017. See more about that at https://dscumc.org/initiative/.
v Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002), Galatians 5:25, p.2123.
vi Our special music this week is “Unfinished” by Mandisa. You can hear it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ejycllx5iwA.
vii Watch the Vacation Bible School children singing “Discover Your Strength in God” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zb_ehD6l7xM.
I’d like to close this sermon series with the ones who inspired it; with our children encouraging us to “Discover Your Strength in God.” Watch video of NSUMC children singing in Vacation Bible School https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zb_ehD6l7xM .vii
Each of us are called to be Ordinary Heroes. Each of us are called to have courage, heart, and hope acting in faith. Each of us are called to the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. “Feel your heart beat calling loudly feel the power God’s given you. Discover your strength in God today.” Amen.
Share your sermon
Rev. Julius Keller, senior pastor of Cross in the Desert and Board of Ordained Ministry Chair, shares his sermon series on implementing the vision at his church. Listen to the sermons and use what you need to implement the vision in your faith community.
How do we love like Jesus?
What does it take to be courageous?
How do we act for justice?
United in Hope
The audio files below were submitted by Rev. Tony Dawson. Both are recordings of his sermons on implementing the vision. Want to hear more from Rev. Dawson? Watch his video on measuring vitality.