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In Christ We Have Hope (Sermon July 12, 2015)

Ephesians 1:3–14 (NRSV)

Hands, all together Avondale Pattillo United Methodist Church, Decatur, GA, USA

Hands, all together
Avondale Pattillo United Methodist Church, Decatur, GA, USA

Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

I have often said that the study of scripture is one of the most fascinating things one could do. The book of Ephesians is probably the very first book of scripture that I actually deeply studies. The reason I say bible study is so fascinating is because every time one reads it and studies there is another layer that opens up some different understanding. As we learn about the people that lived in the culture surrounding the book, learn the foods they ate, the clothing they wore, and the people they encountered all give a deeper understanding of what the passage is saying in ancient times and how that can affect us even today.

Ephesians is one of those books that God uses to enlighten my life in many ways. Just when I think I have learned all I could learn, someone has made another discovery that expands and enriches the text. The City of Ephesus is one of the most important cities in church history for many reasons. The first is that it was the recipient of one of Paul’s letters, but even more important is that Ephesus was the second largest city in Asia Minor during the first century. Not only was Ephesus one of the largest cities in the roman empire, it was also the city the Apostle John retired to later in life, where he died, and where he was buried. This city is the city the last of the Apostles lived.

There is a reason that John chose to retire to this city. During the years of exile the Jewish community was dispersed throughout the world. You can find ancient Jewish communities all across Europe, into Africa and East into areas of Russia and beyond. Ephesus was a city that became the home of many Jewish people. By the time Paul had visited this city the Jewish community had been in it for over three hundred years. There is deep history among the Hebrews to this city, but that is just one interesting aspect of this city.

Ephesus is also the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It is the home of the greatest temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis or the Roman goddess Diana. I mention this only because they mythology of Diana states that she was a huntress and would only interact with gods and men as hunting companions, but eventually fell in love with a hunter by the name of Orion. The religious leaders of these ancient Greek and roman gods would use the stars as backdrop for their teachings and right after the big dipper, Orion is probably the most recognizable constellation in our night sky. The connection with the constellations is important to understanding this passage and to understand the people of Ephesus. They were obviously people of great religious devotion with a major temple devoted to one of the most prominent Greek goddesses. Paul uses this to help teach them the Gospel.

The phrase, “in heavenly places,” is a direct reference to the gentile study of the skies. But there is something more to this introduction to the letter to the Ephesians, Ephesus is not only a city devoted to Diana but us also a city where for over three hundred years People of Israel lived and worshiped. Paul uses both the pagan and the Jewish faith to teach and encourage the early church.

There is one group among the first century Jewish people that we are only beginning to understand. We know the Pharisees and the Sadducees because they are often mentioned in the Gospels, but the group known as the Essenes have begun to gain recognition. This group is a group of very devout individuals, of which many believe John the Baptist was a part. They were not typical to the other groups, they did not worship in the temple but withdrew into the isolated places and structured their worship around ceremonial washing instead of sacrifice. These people are becoming more important in history because these were the people that provided what we know as the Dead Sea scrolls. This is very important to history because contained in these scrolls are the oldest known copies of Old Testament scripture. But along with the scripture are also books that the Essenes themselves wrote to encourage their group, the documents their religious order used as guidelines for their faith and practice. It is the teaching of the Essenes that Paul uses to connect the people of Ephesus with Christ. The interesting thing about the Essenes is that they too used the sky to teach their followers, so the phrase, “in heavenly places,” also connects the gentile population into the listening to the Jewish teaching from which the gospel of Christ emerges. The teaching that Paul begins in these verses and continues throughout the rest of this letter connects the teachings of the Essenes which we have only recently learned of with the teachings of Jesus. And along with that the adoption of gentiles into the promise through the mysteries of Christ.

I mention the connection to the Essenes because most of this introductory prayer is derived from their teachings, this means that these teachings were probably fairly well known to the Jewish faction of the early church. It is from the mysteries of the Essenes that Paul derives the idea of destined or more commonly known as predestined. And when we begin to look at this concept through the teachings of the Essenes we begin to see something different than the teachings of the theologians that wrote prior to the finding of the Dead Sea scrolls. The Essenes believed that there was a divine plan within everything, a plan that was devised before the foundations of the world. This plan revolved around the coming of the Messiah. Of all the Jewish sects that focused on the Messiah the Essenes were the ones that studied it the most. They believed that everything revolved around Christ, and that in Christ the heavens and the earth would be united. Remember these were teaching that came before the Advent of Jesus. So this predestination is centered on Christ or the Messiah who was to come. They believed this plan was revealed in all of creation, written in the skies, the heavens and the earth groan for redemption.

Paul is telling the star gazers of both gentile and Hebrew decent that this Messiah that you have been watching for is Jesus, the plan or destiny that you have been waiting for is found in Christ. Our predestination has more to do with who redeems than who is redeemed. The concept of being chosen or adopted deals primarily with the pledge that God made in the divine plan to redeem the universe back to himself. We are chosen in Christ to be worth of redemption, not because of our own standing but because of Christ. We are chosen because God wants to reconcile and restore all of creation back to himself, this again focuses not on humanity but of Christ the means in which the divine destiny will be fulfilled. I find this to be very profound. The future of the church, does not rest on our shoulders but on the shoulders of God himself. He devised the plan and he will fulfill that plan.

What does this mean? If we want to participate in the predestined plan of redemption we need to be in or with Christ. Seeking Him in all that we do, seeking to reflect His character to the world we live. And when we seek him he will provide us with the mean and wisdom to accomplish what he has already set forth to accomplish. This should give us all relief. We do not have to save the world, because that is God’s job. We do not have to redeem the world because that is Christ’s job. We do not have to judge the world because those outside of Christ condemn themselves by rejecting the plan that God has establish from the beginning of time. Paul is then telling us focus on the Christ the Messiah in which all things will be redeemed.

This is the mission of the Church. We are to follow Christ, reflect his life in all that we do. Take on the holy lifestyle that he showed us and reflect that back to the world as we live with others. When we do this the hope within the divine plan is shared with those that are without hope. Imagine if that is how we lived? Imagine if all we did was seek the life of Christ and let the spirit of God work in the lives of others. This is exactly how Jesus taught his disciples to live. He taught them to withdraw often to isolated places to pray, He made it His custom to worship in the synagogues, and he ministered to the needs of those around him and all along the way he would teach. There was a difference between his teaching and the teaching of the other rabbis at the time. Jesus called out to the people, “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Have we ever really thought about what those words really mean? The religious community was doing their best to make their nation a holy nation. They were defining what every law meant and what one should do to keep that law. They taught this to everyone that would listen and they were very pious people yet far from God. The people were weary, they were trying their hardest to make themselves acceptable to God, and they made rules for everyone to live by that was becoming a burden. The people were weary and tired when they should have been celebrating. The yoke or the teachings were weighing them down holding them back. The very people that were trying to bring them to heaven were restricting them from even looking at the gate.

Oh but in Christ we have rest, in Christ we have hope, in Christ we have redemption, in Christ we have acceptance, in Christ we are beloved, in Christ forgiveness, wisdom, insight and a future. This all comes by following Christ by taking on his life and his lifestyle it is easy because all it requires is that we become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. But it is hard because to do that we must go to him, leaving behind our plans and taking on his plans. As we enter into this time of open worship I want us to consider just a moment the city of Ephesus, a city that was devoted to the goddess Diana. Paul went to that city and using their own devotion to the stars to teach them the mysteries of Christ using a similar Jewish spirituality. Consider for a moment the era we live, are we speaking and living hope to the world around us or are we burdening the world? We live in an era that desires the hope of Christ but are we speaking their language? Have we become so consumed with being right that we fail to live right? Do we even know how to discern the difference? God has a divine plan to bring hope into this world, into this community will we participate with him?

Finish! (Sermon June 28, 2015)

2 Corinthians 8:7–15 (NRSV)leap-joy-medium

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written,

“The one who had much did not have too much,

and the one who had little did not have too little.”

Although I am sure everyone’s minds have pulled various directions this week due to the topics on the news, I would like us center down for a moment and focus on faith, truth, and the holy rhythm of life that Jesus taught us. I challenge each of us, including myself to center on this because if the holy lifestyle of Christ is not at the center of our lives every moment of every day we will look at current events, and every other aspect of life there skewed lenses of personal perception.

Paul wrote these words to a community that was saturated with icons of entertainment and luxury. A culture that was devoted to commerce, athletics, sensual pleasures, and religious devotion. I want us all to remember the last statement I mentioned the most. Corinth was a devout city. Their entire culture revolved around their religious devotion. It permiated every aspect of their lives and livelihoods. Their athletic games were religious celebrations, their commerce was a blessing of their deity, and they gained great pleasure at their places of worship. They in many ways were not unlike us. The main difference was the deity they honored.

They lived and breathed their faith, it was something that affected every aspect of their lives. And Paul visited them and shared the Gospel of Christ. When he spoke to them, he spoke to them in terms that they would understand. He likened the holy lifestyle of Christ to the training an athlete would engage in while preparing for the games, a life of discipline and devotion. Not one that is easy but requires sacrifice and work. He then went deeper letting them know that this holy lifestyle we know as being a disciple of Christ focuses on loving God, embracing the Spirit’s leading and gifts, and living the love of Christ with others. He begins to speak with a language that they understand and then he goes deeper and deeper until the rhythm of God has so saturated their being that it begins to flow out of them to others.

Our mission in this Meeting is similar to that of Jesus and Paul, of all the apostles and the Church throughout the world. Our mission is to completely saturate individuals in the love and devotion to Christ to the point that that love will ooze out of us and flow to others within our community. This is why we considered our mission statement with careful consideration and discernment. Our mission statement, the statement we declare each week is, that we are a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. It was not something that came out of worldly leadership manuals, but it emerged among us as a group through prayer, careful consideration, and discernment. And that mission is constantly being supported though scripture.

I declare to you that our mission has not changed, and it will not change. I will continue to encourage everyone I meet to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and to live the love of Christ with other where ever I am and with whomever I am with. It is a mission centered on building the relational kingdom community that Jesus began centuries ago and pass on to those that follow him, first in Jerusalem, then to Judea, and to the ends of the Earth.

I say that this is our mission statement, but it really is not ours alone. It is the vision of Christ, it was the mission of Christ, with the foundations that go down to the very beginning of time. It has always been God’s mission to bring mankind back into relationship with him, to restore and redeem the world that was once launched into chaos by our first parents, when they sought to be gods instead of living life with God.

I say all of this because Corinth was a devoted city. Paul introduced the gospel of Christ to them and many embraced the Holy lifestyle that Paul showed them through his life and ministry. Yet they veered off course. They allowed the things to distract them. They once lived with a holy rhythm but they allowed that rhythm to get out of sync, and the beatings of their hearts stopped mimicking that of Christ and began instead to reflect something else entirely. Their heart beat with rhythms of commerce, games, and pleasure once more yet they still held to religious devotion.

Paul tells them, “[You] excel in everything – in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you – so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” These people were amazing people. Ancient myths speak about great kings that could turn everything they touch into gold, well these people could do this. They excelled in everything. If they had a goal set before them they could make it happen. That is what built their city, and their culture, if they decided to do something they did not just do it, they did it in such a way that it was great! Paul tells them this because he knows and they know that it is true. But with that statement he challenges them too.” [We] want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” The undertaking he is challenging them with is to devote all of that excellence into supporting the continued ministry of Christ.

In many ways Corinth pulled away from the larger church, they pulled away from engaging the culture in which they lived, and their message began to suffer because of it. They pulled away from the church because they had issues that they needed to deal with at home. In the first letter Paul sent to them he called them out on many areas of their individual and communal lives that had strayed from the rhythm of Christ. Because of this they tightened their belts and used their excellence to become a more devote church. They focused on making themselves better, exceling in speech, in knowledge and eagerness live correctly. Paul and the Church as a whole loved them for their devotion, but through this excellence they neglected a very important aspect of devotion to Christ, they neglected living the love of Christ with others. We might see that as being a minor thing. They had excellent worship services, they had excellent theology, excellent dedication to right living we might say they turned themselves into the model church after being the example of what not to do. But in all that excellence they dammed up the flow of grace to the world.

When we neglect living the love of Christ with others we cause the grace of God to become stagnat and the church fails. We fail because the church is not about perfect worship, it is not about perfect theology it is about His will being done on Earth as it is in Heaven. His will is to redeem and restore all of creation back to harmony with each other and with God once again, uniting Heaven and Earth through the hearts of mankind. Paul is saying to them join with us in this generous undertaking. Join with us as we allow the grace to flow to the people God loves and gave his Son to redeem.

As I reflect on this passage my mind wonders to the Gospel of John and the third time Jesus, well the third time John records Jesus meeting with the disciples. Peter and the other fishermen decided that they were done with waiting around in the upper room and return to their fishing boats. They labored all night with no return and in the morning Jesus calls out to them from the shore and tells them to throw the net over the right side.  They were each struck with a case of Déjà vu, and they come to the shore to eat with him. After the meal Jesus talks with Peter, asking if he loves him and peter answers three times that he does. With each answer Jesus encourages Peter to feed his lambs, tend His sheep, and to feed His sheep. This story is the very passage that God used to call me into the ministry I have pursued for the past thirteen years. And it is the passage that often Jesus brings me back to when He again reassures me that I need to continue down this path. But as I reflect this week I am drawn to the encouragement that Jesus gives to Peter, feed the lambs, tend the sheep, and feed the sheep. This is a call to get involved personally, and generously with the people. Feed, tend, and feed some more. This is a calling to live the love of Christ with others.

Paul, like Jesus to Peter, is challenging the people of Corinth with the question “Do you Love me?” He is not commanding that they participate in the outreach ministry of Apostles, but he is challenging them to consider their faith, devotion, and love for Christ. If you were to read the verses prior to this section you would find that Paul mentions the ministry of the churches in Macidonia and the way they had greatly advanced the kingdom even though they were impoverished, and Paul then asks the people of Corinth if their faith and love for Christ compares to theirs. They had and still have nothing yet they gave it all. Is your love any less?

“Do you love me?”  Jesus asks his disciple. “Do you love Him?”  Paul asks the people of Corinth. Do we love him, do we trust and believe to such a degree that we would be willing to not only love God and embrace the Holy Spirit, but to live the love of Christ with others? Do we not only love but do we trust Him? Do we entrust into his care our very lives and livelihoods? Will we be willing to give all that we have to excel in this generous undertaking?

All have sinned, all have been distracted from God, and all including each of us have allowed things both righteous and unrighteous to disrupt the holy rhythm of our lives with God. Yet while we were still and in some cases are still sinners Christ died for us. He left his lofty thrones in heaven to dwell among mankind on earth. He lived among us showing us what life with God looks like, and he did it while living in poverty. He grew up living and working with a handy man, he entered ministry after an entire career in that line of work, and he did it to show us how to live. And then he took on our sin, our guilt, and our shame hanging them on a cross and then burying them within a tomb. The wages of sin are death, but Christ came so that they may have life and have it abundantly. We are dead in sin but in Christ we are alive, made new, and have the hope of heaven even when we are on earth. Paul asks us, “do we love him, is our love for him any less than theirs?” Paul then encourages them to finish what they started. Finish strong like an athlete that has been well trained and disciplined for the race. Finish it. Do not let the world distract us from our vision and our mission. Let our vision be centered on Christ, and let our mission continue driving us to be a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Let us finish what we started…what He started in us, let us join and finish with excellence the generous undertaking set before us, sacrificing everything so that the world might see life in Christ.

Abide In Love (Sermon May 10, 2015)

friend-template-960x2501 John 5:1–6 (NRSV)

Faith Conquers the World

5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Testimony concerning the Son of God

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Over the course of the years many groups among the religious have made lists of who are Christian and who are not. It might surprise many about who are on which list. For example the author CS Lewis is considered by some as being a heretic because of his belief in purgatory and the possibility of evolution explaining aspects of creation, on this same list the reformer Martin Luther was considered a non-Christian because he raised questions about the numbers and figures in scripture. That is right the great reformer that took a stand for scripture over tradition questioned aspects of scripture and as a result some today question his very faith because of what? Honesty about doubts, differing philosophies about how God may have brought the world about or what the afterlife may be like? Great leaders today like Billy Graham are brought into question over differences of theology. Theology can only get us so far, because theology is the study of God and God is beyond our comprehension. So we must tread softly when we make claims in regard to God, we must always leave space for the possibility of a skewed human perspective.

These lists, denominations, and theological perspectives can all lead to division. Who is right, who is wrong? Which church is correct or which perspective is the most accurate? If we make a claim in any direction we risk demonizing an entire segment of the faithful and history. This is one of the reasons why Friends are very slow in making decisions and why they leave room within their theological statements, because when emotions are raised and arguments are made we can lose perspective and possibly follow our own wills instead of the will of God.

But how do we know God? How do we know which way to turn or what truth is? From the dawn of Christianity there have been different perspectives that have pulled on the faithful. Throughout the epistles we can read about various struggles that the early church faced. Every era of church history has faced something that threatens to pull the church apart or propel it into the next age. Today is no different. John wrote during one of those periods of history that faced these very things. There were people that proposed that the true faith was found only in following the ancient rites of the Jewish religion, others claimed that there was secret knowledge that could only be received by initiation and participation in secret ceremonies. We know the struggles because each epistle tells us about these struggles. John, the last apostle, writes to those that were faced with the end of an era. They have watched the apostles one by one pass to death, and as they witnessed this they began to question their faith. Things were not going exactly as they thought they would, and the ones that founded the church were no longer there to direct their steps. They lived through persecutions, they witnessed dehumanizing violence. They had also saw the miraculous, healings of diseases, people freed from bondages, and the feeding of thousands. Yet darkness always seemed to be gaining on them.

As darkness approached some began to rise up prophets calling people to walk one way or another, people began seek answers to direct their paths, yet they only saw a faint light. They cried out to God wondering if they had missed something, they began to listen to the words of man instead of waiting on the Spirit of God, and John their last apostle watched as a unified church began to divide and fragment. He watched as people of the church began to rely on their own wisdom instead of that of God. He watched and just as Jesus wept he too began to write through his tears because so many were seeking and lost yet were looking in the wrong direction.

Very quickly people began to question the faith, they deemed it in their own minds that they must do more at very least they should follow the Torah, and the fact that darkness was creeping into the world around them must mean that they must do more.  John says to them, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” Yes that is what we said the prophets begin to argue, we must follow the law. But what are the commandments that John speaks of? They begin to consider the words that John the elder once spoke when he was younger. The words that he heard the Lord speak.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15:9-17 NRSV)

Abide in the love of God. Abide is an interesting word, because it is one that is so difficult to do. It means to remain in, to tarry, to stay in, and to dwell. So John lovingly reminds them of the commands of Jesus to wait, and dwell in the love of God. This is the most difficult thing for mankind to do because we like action. To sit around and wait is so contrary to our nature. “We must do something…anything to keep the darkness at bay.” The prophets say to the people. Yet John tells them, “abide, just wait, remember the command of our Lord. Love one another. It is not burdensome. You do not have to add to it, just remain and love.”

Just wait…just love…just do what Jesus has commanded. Do not worry about the darkness closing in around us it is merely an illusion, as long as we abide we will overcome the world. John can say this because he has seen it. He has seen the power of God working all around him. He had witnessed God coming into the lives of Jew and Gentile and totally changing everything. He has seen cities totally devoted to the worship of idols become cities earnestly seeking the one true living God. He was most likely writing this letter in the city of Ephesus, a city that contained one of the largest temples in the world devoted to the roman god Diana, and the city that Jesus spoke to in his Revelation about their zeal for truth and right doctrine. John saw many things. He saw these things because he learned the holy rhythm of Christ. A lifestyle devoted to worship, prayer, and service to others. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.

When people participate in this holy lifestyle they begin to see change at first with one person, then multiplying as each person actively lives and participates. One by one as people turn to the lifestyle of Christ the trappings of the world begin to fall away, the darkness is overcome by the light and faith conquers the world. But is all begins with abiding in the love of God. Sitting in the love of Christ. Waiting for God and listening to His voice.

We do not have to have all the right answers, we do not have to have a theology that can answer every question of God. We do not have to save the world, because that is not our job. Jesus is the one that conquers the world. He is the one who came by water and blood, who was born and crucified for our salvation and who rose again to lift all mankind back into the glory of God. It is Jesus who does the work, we are only required to abide in him and love those he leads us to.

John encourages us to adopt the lifestyle the holy rhythm Jesus taught us to live for a reason. When we move away from this rhythm we begin to rely on our own strength and our own minds. We begin to think that we are the ones that are doing the work, that we are the ones that conquer the world. I said that Jesus said that Ephesus was seekers of truth and right doctrine, they were the strongest of the seven churches of Asia because they were earnest in their seeking of what was right, but Jesus spoke against them because they lost their first love. They pulled away from the holy rhythm and began to trust themselves and little by little they fell away from Christ and as they began to fall away darkness began to take hold of them again. So they began to seek more truth and right doctrine only to have more darkness close in, because they did not abide first, they did not abide in love.

What does this say about us today? We are living on the edge, many of us see darkness all around us. We see the world conquering the church instead of the church conquering the world. We feel as if we need take things into our own hands to speak out and force righteousness onto the people all around us. I ask one thing as we set off down this road, how long have we remained in the love of God today, yesterday, the day before, and how long will we abide in his love tomorrow? Have we adopted first a rhythm of life that reflects Christ a lifestyle that mimics Christ in all we do before we go out to conquer darkness? Have we been people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others? I ask because John says that that is the lifestyle that will conquer the world and bring light into the darkness. Abide in love first.

The writings of John are important to us as Friends. We derive our name from the words that he pinned at the closing of the era of Church history. Our original name The Religious Society of Friends means that our religion is a society based on becoming Friends with God. The only way for this to happen is for us to abide first and then live that love with others. We base our entire belief system on the idea that we can know where God leads us if we abide in His love, and then we can respond accordingly. Ephesus sought truth above all else, they sought righteousness and were great at exposing the false teachings of many, but they lacked one thing love. They left their first love behind as they moved forward into the world they were called to minister to. They walked into the darkness without carrying the light of Christ. Their eagerness to be right above all else caused them to live in infamy throughout church history because they forgot the main point. Love conquers the world.

As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends, I encourage each of us to examine our lives and our lifestyles are we abiding in love or are we walking into the darkness without our first love? Are we focusing on being right in our own minds or are we allowing the Spirit to work through us? Are we making lists or are we encouraging all we meet to abide in the love of God where they are and walking with them as they begin to enter into the holy rhythm of Christ’s life? Do we as followers of Christ fear the darkness of the world or do we trust that Jesus Christ can overcome the world just as he overcame the grave? Do we truly believe and live in the power of the resurrection of Christ?

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