On Thursday, I went to the Centenary United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City for a United Methodist clergy meeting. Since it was our first meeting in this new year, we read and prayed our way through the liturgy of the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Service. That service, found in our United Methodist Book of Worship, has been in use by Methodist people for more than 200 years. The Tongan pastors who were at the clergy meeting told us they use the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Service every year on New Year’s Eve, at a worship service that has an even bigger attendance than Christmas Eve.
What makes the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Service so important? It’s a call, at the beginning of a new time, to repent of sin, and to turn our lives over to God. The covenant renewal calls us to “consider the laws of Christ, how holy, strict, and spiritual they are, and whether [we], after having carefully considered them, are willing to choose them all.” It’s a call to dedicate ourselves afresh to the practice of holy living.
That sounds a lot like where we are in our sermon series on the Ten Commandments. After the free-for-all of the holiday season, our bodies, minds, and spirits crave some structure and clarity, some law and order. So, last Sunday, we began the New Year with commandments one and two and heard that we must worship God first and only. Today, as we move on to commandments three and four, I invite you to carefully consider these laws with me to see how we might practice holy living.
So, here we are on the first Sunday of 2018. The old has passed away; the New Year has come. If you’re like me, you’ve not only put away your Christmas decorations, but you’ve made a resolution to limit the high calorie treats and take off some pounds. After indulging in the festivities of fall and winter holidays, my body is definitely ready for some discipline. I’m sure you know what I mean. For those who’ve abandoned exercise routines, it’s time again to get up off the couch. For those who’ve had vacation time from school and work, it’s time again to embrace those important endeavors. For those who’ve overspent their budgets on Christmas gifts and travel, it’s time again to get frugal and pay the bills. Frivolity and freedom are good for a while, but we also need some routines and rules to guide us.
So, as we embark on this New Year, I thought it might be helpful for us to gain some structure from the Ten Commandments. In October, in anticipation of our church’s tenth anniversary here at this location, I preached a sermon from Psalm 119 on the overall goodness of God’s commandments. But, now that we’ve actually arrived at this anniversary year of 2018, we’ll spend some time on the Ten Commandments themselves. Each Sunday, beginning today, we’re going to talk about two of them. Today’s pair is found in Exodus 20, verses three and four. As we consider “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol,” I invite you to consider what it might mean for us to worship God first and only.
SERMON TITLE: “The Time Has Come”
SERMON TEXT: Luke 2:21-40 (also read Galatians 4:4-7)
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: December 31, 2017, at First UMC
On Wednesday morning, I noticed that my watch had stopped. So, later that day, I took it to a repair shop and got a new battery installed. While they were replacing the battery, they cleaned my watchband and shined it up. So now, my favorite timepiece is all ready to count down the minutes to the New Year.
That’s what we’ll all be doing tonight, right? Those of us who can stay awake that late, at least! We’ll be watching the clock to see the time of one year passing into the next. If we’re watching TV in the hours before the big ball drops in Times Square, we’ll likely hear and see all kinds of reviews of 2017. If it’s a typical New Year’s Eve, time will seem to flash before our eyes as we hear about people and events that were significant in the past 12 months. Then, I suspect, we’ll also be given a preview of 2018, as various pundits, scholars, musicians, philosophers, politicians, scientists, sports commentators, and pop culture gurus all make their predictions of what will come in the time ahead.
Even though we who are alive on this final day of 2017 are probably more obsessed with time than any humans who ever lived, concern about time isn’t unique to us. Just look at the Bible. What did our reading from Galatians 4 say? “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son.” Even God was concerned with time. And our Gospel reading from Luke 2 tells about two important times for the newborn baby Jesus. This morning I’d like to look at those times which had come back then, and also at the time which has come to us today.
SERMON TITLE: “Good News of Great Joy”
SERMON TEXT: Luke 2:1-11
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: December 24, 2017, 10:00 a.m. at First UMC
I love Christmas music. Every December, I pull out my Christmas CDs and sing along while I’m baking cookies and wrapping gifts. If you were to quiz me on what year-round music is popular today, I’d probably bomb completely. But Christmas carols I know. And, even though I’m at every church service we have, I never get tired of singing the sacred music of this holy season. There’s just something so wonderful about songs like “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” and “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” The feeling of “Joy to the World” is so uplifting.
And we need that joy, don’t we? Just like the people of long ago, we need the light and salvation that Christ brought into the world. Through the melodies and lyrics of Christmas carols, we rise above the cold darkness of winter. We beat back the dreariness of depression. We join voices with others in relationships of support and nurture. Like the host of angels in the heavens above the shepherds, we Christmas carolers light up the sky with praises to God and the proclamation of good news for the people of earth.
This morning I’d like us to think about the Christmas story and the joy that it proclaims. In what circumstances did the Christmas characters receive the message of good news of great joy? What did that joy mean for them? And how can that good news of great joy be for all the people even today?
CANTATA MESSAGE: “O Come” as interlude message
GOES WITH CANTATA: “Oh, Come, Let Us Adore Him” arranged by Larry R. Beebe
MESSSAGE WRITTEN BY: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: December 17, 2017, at Ogden First UMC
“O Come, Let Us Adore Him” . . . “O Come, All Ye Faithful” . . .
“O Come” is the Christmas invitation we hear over and over again this time of year.
Christmas invitations are like other invitations.
Some you eagerly want to accept.
Others—you know right away that you don’t want to go.
Yet other invitations are more intriguing.
You might be interested if you knew more--
if the inviter gave more information about what would happen at the event,
what you should wear,
who else would be attending,
and what benefit you might gain by going.
“O Come, Let Us Adore Him” sounds like we’re being asked to . . .
SERMON TITLE: “Donation of Life”
SERMON TEXT: Ezekiel 37:1-14
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: November 26, 2017, at First UMC
Last Sunday, when I illustrated my sermon by telling you about one of the TV shows I like to watch, Chris Hicks plugged her ears and tried not to listen to what I said. It wasn’t that our Lay Leader was refusing to hear her pastor’s message. It was just that she hadn’t seen that episode yet and didn’t want her good TV program to be spoiled. Well, maybe some of you will need to plug your ears today too because I’m starting this sermon with a recap from the TV show Chicago Med.
In the first episode of the new season, a couple came into the ER after being in an auto accident. The husband was dying, and the doctors had to ask his wife if she would give permission to donate his heart to another patient there in the hospital. It was an awkward moment because she was suffering from her own injuries, emotionally distraught about the argument they had been having just before the accident, and now faced with the fact that her husband wouldn’t survive. Having to make an organ donation decision in that moment had to have been hard. But her husband’s driver’s license didn’t indicate that he was a donor, and the doctors were persuaded of the need and potential to save a life, and so the wife agreed. The heart wasn’t the right size and had to be re-shaped. But, the surgery appeared to be a success, and the wife was able to see and feel that she had made a good decision.
Today I want to talk with you about organ donation. It isn’t a very normal topic for sermons. But every year, the United Methodist calendar designates the second Sunday in November as “Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday.” Usually we’re too busy honoring veterans on that day to make any mention. And then it’s Thanksgiving and Advent, and the whole topic gets by-passed. But this year, we have this extra Sunday between Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent. So I thought, why not? Why not talk about the donation of life?
SERMON TITLE: “Give Thanks!”
SERMON TEXT: Psalm 107:1-9, 33-43
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: November 19, 2017, at First UMC
I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to ask, “Why?” I’ve never liked it when someone tells me to do something without an explanation. It’s not that I’m contrary. I usually try to get along and do whatever is expected of me. But, if I can understand why I should do something, it makes doing it so much easier.
At Thanksgiving time, we’re reminded that we should give thanks, but little explanation is usually given to us about why we should do that. Of course, we know that expressing gratitude is polite and usually makes other people feel good. When we’re in a happy mood and have a desire to please others, good manners and kindness might be reasons enough to get us saying, “Thank you.” But, just in case some troubles are causing us to feel less grateful this year, then we might want to look at giving thanks in a different way. Not to say that we should be crass and self-centered, but it might help us to understand some ways in which being thankful helps us. So, whether you’re already feeling the Thanksgiving spirit or you need some encouragement, I invite you to consider Psalm 107 with me this morning. Let’s see what it says about why we should give thanks.
SERMON TITLE: “What Can We Do?”
SERMON TEXT: Philippians 3:2-14
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: November 12, 2017, at First UMC—Veterans’ Sunday
I don’t know about you, but this week has felt weird to me. At the very same time that we’ve been honoring our veterans for their service to our country, we’ve been saddened and angered that a former airman killed 26 people in a Baptist Church last Sunday. At the same time that we have rallied in support of the various branches of the military which keep us safe, we have this profound sense of vulnerability, that maybe we’ll never be safe—not in the workplace, not in school, not in the public square, not even in church.
Because we aren’t in agreement about how to prevent these acts of violence, or even about what causes them to occur, it seems like we just wring our hands again, pray again for the wounded and grieving, and once again feel impotent to do anything about it. Because last Sunday’s shooting happened in a church, this one’s been harder for me to put out of my mind. Early in the week I found myself talking with some of our Trustees about a safety plan for our church. If something terrible like that happened here, would we be prepared? How would we manage the emergency?
Apparently I wasn’t the only church leader asking these questions. Midweek, I received an email link to an article titled, “Churches and Gun Violence: 7 Practical Preparation Tips.” The seven tips came “from Rev. Derrek Belase, a former certified police officer turned pastor, with two degrees in criminology . . . Derrek believes that you can’t completely prevent gun violence from erupting, even with the best laid plans or the best legislation.” But he did give seven fairly simple and practical ideas that included the importance of establishing relationships with first responders, training ushers to be more alert, and being mindful of the church building. Suggestion number six was to avoid expensive security plans that that would “ratchet up [both] expectations and fears.” Then the final item on his list was to focus on what we’re here to do: worship God, preach the gospel, give people hope, provide opportunities for spiritual growth, and reach out in mission to the community and the world.1 The bottom line was that, while there’s no absolute way to prevent violence or guarantee our survival, there are a number of important things we people of faith can do to improve our quantity and quality of life.
That positive note connects us to our scripture reading from Philippians, a letter the Apostle Paul wrote under threat to his life. He had been imprisoned for preaching about Christ. Yet, somehow—in spite of that state of punishment, limitation, and deprivation—Paul was able to write an amazingly joyful, thankful, and optimistic letter. Let’s dig into chapter four and discover Paul’s answers to the question, “In the face of adversity, what can we do?”
SERMON TITLE: “Celebrating Our Tenth with Gratitude”
SERMON TEXT: Luke 17:11-19
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: November 5, 2017, at First UMC
A couple months ago, when I told my history-loving husband that I was going to preach a sermon series on “Celebrating Our Tenth,” Steve went straight to a shelf in our house and pulled out book. He flipped through it for a few seconds and then pointed me to an essay titled, “The Talented Tenth.” I didn’t get around to reading that essay until this week. But I’m glad I finally did.
“The Talented Tenth” essay, written by W.E.B. DuBois in 1903, was about the natural talent and great potential of African American people in our country. His opening example was a free and self-educated African American named Benjamin Banneker, who lived in the 1700s. Banneker studied astronomy, built clocks, wrote almanacs, and worked as a surveyor helping to lay out the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C.
We get a sense of Banneker’s eloquence and leadership in a 1791 letter he wrote to then-secretary of state Thomas Jefferson. In that letter, Banneker was trying to persuade Jefferson to turn away from the practice of slavery. Gratitude to God figured large in his argument, as Banneker wrote,
I freely and cheerfully acknowledge that I am of the African race, and in colour which is natural to them, of the deepest dye; and it is under a sense of the most profound gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, that I now confess to you that I am not under that state of tyrannical thralldom and inhuman captivity to which too many of my brethren are doomed, but that I have abundantly tasted of the fruition of those blessings which proceed . . . from the immediate hand of that Being from whom proceedeth every good and perfect gift.
After expressing gratitude to God for his own liberty, Banneker turned Jefferson’s attention to the recent, dangerous, and successful American effort to throw off servitude to the British crown. In such contemplation, wrote Banneker, “You cannot but be led to a serious and grateful sense of your miraculous and providential preservation. You cannot but acknowledge that the present freedom and tranquility which you enjoy, you have mercifully received [as] . . . a blessing of heaven.”*
According to historian and essayist W.E.B. DuBois, Benjamin Banneker was in the top tenth of his people in intellect and ability. If so, we can see from his letter to Thomas Jefferson that Banneker didn’t take his blessings for granted. He was celebrating his tenth with gratitude.
Since we started celebrating our congregation’s tenth year at this Marriott-Slaterville location, we’ve been celebrating our tenth with the guidance of God’s commandments. We’ve been celebrating our tenth with the community of God’s people. And we’ve been celebrating our tenth with hope for our individual and congregational future. Today, as we finish up this series, I invite you to consider the importance of celebrating our tenth with gratitude.
SERMON TITLE: “Celebrating Our Tenth with Hope”
SERMON TEXT: Jeremiah 32:1-17
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: October 29, 2017, at First UMC
To help celebrate our congregation’s tenth year here at this location, we’ve been studying scriptures that have to do with the number 10. So far we’ve talked about the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ parable of the woman who lost and found one of her ten coins. Next week, we’re going to reflect on the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. In today’s scripture, the number 10 isn’t quite so obvious.
But it’s right there, in the first verse. In Jeremiah 32:1, the word of God came to the prophet Jeremiah “in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah.”
If David had stopped reading after verse one, we might have thought, “Oh, the tenth year. Maybe the Jews were having a celebration like we are. Maybe King Zedekiah’s staff was planning an anniversary party. Maybe they were going to have a royal ball.” But the situation in Jerusalem wasn’t that festive. There was conflict and stress, and something really bad was about to happen. But, just like today, God never leaves his people without a spark of optimism. Let’s dig into this story of Jeremiah and find out how that piece of Jewish history can inform how we go about celebrating our tenth with hope.