What do Methodists Believe?: The Canon of the Bible

Okay, friends, I am about to geek out on some manuscript issues about the canon of the bible. That is, about the choices made concerning which books are included in our sacred scriptures. 

Ever since the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered 70 years ago (as well as the Nag Hammandi Coptic scrolls a few years later) there has been a renewed cultural interest in the canon of the New Testament. Scholars have discovered the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and hundreds of others that were not included in the New Testament. The Dan Brown thriller, the Da Vinci Code, is based around an assumption that these texts were excluded from the New Testament due to the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church. While that theory may be the basis for a popular pulp novel and movie, it has little basis in history. In fact, all of these so-called ‘Gnostic Gospels’ were written far later than the canonical gospels and had a far smaller readership and importance. Though the New Testament canon was not finalized until the end of the 3rd Century, very few of the books were actually disputed (most arguments had to do with James (which made it) and the letters of Barnabas and Clement (which did not but are still seen as important). Most disputes about New Testament texts are fabricated for ideological purposes. 

In the 16th century, the New Testament was assumed, it was the Old Testament canon that was controversial. The dispute came out of the humanist resurgence in the 15th century when scholars began diving back into languages like Hebrew and Greek in large numbers. The Hebrew texts of the Old Testament had fewer books than the Greek texts (called the Septuagint), though the Greek manuscripts were actually far older. 

Martin Luther, himself, was a Hebrew scholar and so he argued forcefully for a limited set of Old Testament texts that matched the Hebrew rather than the Greek. The Latin Vulgate bible had, in large part, followed the Greek set of texts. The Church of England followed suit with Article 5 and John Wesley included this article in the text he sent across the pond after the American Revolution.

The biggest difference between Catholics and Protestants is not the sacraments or the priesthood or marriage and divorce, but the books we call Holy Scripture. The absence of the Wisdom of Solomon and Tobit and Sirach shape how we do theology and how we see God.

But more than any of this, it is important to know that historical critical scholars have not yet disputed the authority and authenticity of the Bible as we know it (even though they have tried). It will not ruin your faith to learn more about the development of the canon of Scripture. In fact, it may strengthen it. The bible was not written in King James English, nor was it handed down from on high fully formed. Instead it is the cooperative work of God and the apostles. The texts have been passed down from generation to generation. They have been prayed over. They have been worshipped with because God is here. 

May we continue to affirm the authority of the Bible and to remember that God is present here. Martin Luther called the Scriptures the swaddling clothes wherein we find Jesus. They are not Jesus but they hold Jesus. Thanks be to God.

Article V - Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testaments of whose authority was never any doubt in the church. The names of the canonical books are:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel, The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles, The Second Book of Chronicles, The Book of Ezra, The Book of Nehemiah, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, Cantica or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the Greater, Twelve Prophets the Less.

All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account canonical.

The Pastor's Study is Open

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One of my good friends from seminary came to visit a few weeks ago and we talked about pastor's being in the office or outside of the office. A big trend today is for preachers to go to coffee shops to write sermons and things like that. My friend reminded me that pastors don't have offices, they have studies.

We have a new sign in the Narthex for the church office because new people often miss where Liz is when they come in during the week. I hope this summer to use my router to make sign for the room where my desk is that says, 'Pastor's Study'.

It is a space to pray, to study, to share, to cry, to pray, to plan, to hope. It is a privilege to be in that space, to be the Pastor of Berkeley UMC during the week and not just on Sunday. It is a privilege to see Dominic and Ephraim across the courtyard at the Childcare Center.

But all of this is a reminder to all of you that, as your pastor, I am ready to talk about anything with you, especially what happens on Sunday, especially what I say during the sermon.

The past few weeks, I have preached on much more controversial fare than in the first few months of my appointment here. Part of this is intentional: on a spiritual level, I felt like I have avoided addressing the material consequences of the call to discipleship since I have come to Berkeley. I have spoken continually about the spiritual levels of the call to discipleship but not many of the material consequences.

That is, when Jesus calls someone, he bids them to lay down their nets in order to follow Him. We cannot follow him and hold on to our nets. We try. We all try, but Jesus tells us to love our enemies and this is not a metaphor. Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger and this is not a metaphor. Paul tells us not be conformed to the world and the world goes deep.

These past few sermons and the next few do not come from a place of secular politics but from my reading of the Bible and how I see God speaking.

The Bible is meant to be read together. If you disagree with anything I have preached on, come and read the Bible with me. I would love that. If you have agreed with what I have said, I'm probably going to preach something that you won't agree with, and when that happens, please come and read the Bible with me.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Holy Spirit

Article IV - Of the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

Ghost is such a strange word to the modern tongue. My first thought is Caspar the friendly ghost, but that really refers to is the connection between ghosts and the souls of the dead who are neither in heaven nor in hell. This is not a biblical notion, but it is quite popular. Shows like Ghost Hunter and Ghost Whisperer point to a collective fascination with this possibility (not to mention A Christmas Carol or Hamlet).

Today, we mostly speak of the Holy Spirit, but Holy Ghost refers to the exact same thing. Ghost comes from an Old English root whereas Spirit comes from a Latin root, both refer to immaterial realities. Realities without substance or matter. 

So what does the Holy Spirit have to do with my life?

Jesus tells us quite explicitly in the Gospel of John: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit is the Love between the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is the bond that connects the church to God. 

In the Methodist tradition, we believe that the Holy Spirit is present with us from before we are even aware of God. We call this prevenient grace (which means the grace that comes before). When we say Yes to God, it is because God has said yes to us through the Holy Spirit. But more than that, the Spirit that is with us is not simply a messenger of God but is true God from true God.

We see a connection between the creation with the Spirit or breath (Ruach) of God flowing over the waters to bring forth life. We see the Spirit with Moses and the Bush, and with Jesus, the Spirit that descends, the Spirit that is sent out, the Spirit that is with us today. 

The reason why the church exists, why this church exists, is not due to the extraordinary actions of a few individuals but because God is with us through the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit were not with us, if the Spirit were not God, we would be alone to the whims of a tyrant like Zeus rather than the creator who is love.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Easter is the high point of the Christian year. Eastertide lasts between Easter Sunday and Pentecost. It is a season of resurrection. Eastertide takes place in Springtime, a time of new blooms and new leaves, when nature itself seems brimming with new life. Yet the resurrection we celebrate as Christians is unique. 

Trees lose their leaves in the fall and go dormant, budding in the springtime. Jesus Christ did not go dormant. He did not go to sleep. He died. And then the impossible happened. 

Resurrection is a belief that the God of all creation has defeated death and will make all things new, beginning with Jesus, continuing with all of us. The Christian hope does not rest in clouds and harps but in the new creation, in all things being made new. 

To live into resurrection is to imagine something more than the possible. We often times feel limited with what we can or cannot do. Resurrection points beyond these limits. Resurrection lets us hope in a concrete possibility of abundant life, but only if Jesus really did rise. Here is what the Third Article of Religion states:

Article III — Of the Resurrection of Christ

Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he returns to judge all men at the last day.

Another description of Resurrection that I appreciate is from a poem by the novelist, John Updike. Updike wrote it in his twenties for a magazine, but it has a lasting power because of the biological details: 'amino acids', 'valved heart.' The poem helps us to remember that resurrection is not a metaphor. Or, if it is, than it is truly worthless to us.

Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

What do Methodists Believe?: Jesus Christ

Methodists believe in Jesus Christ as the ultimate revelation of God, as the second person of the Trinity. As our savior, as the anointed one of God, the Messiah, as Emmanuel, God-with-us. The second article of the UMC Articles of Religion go into detail in the somewhat archaic language of the 16th century

Article II — Of the Word, or Son of God, Who Was Made Very Man

The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

I found the formulation of CS Lewis in Mere Christianity be more direct in confronting the difference between how Jesus is sometimes portrayed culturally and the God revealed in the Scriptures.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

It matters that Jesus is God for our worship. It matters that Jesus is God for our salvation from sin and death. It matters that Jesus is God for the way that we respond to salvation in loving our neighbor because, since Jesus is God, we find Jesus not in the positions of comfort but in the people of this world who are hurt, broken, and tired.

Because God first loved us in Jesus Christ, we love. As Christians, as Methodists, this is because Jesus is God and that he has been revealed to us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

What do Methodists Believe?: Trinity

What on earth does the Trinity have to do with me? God is three in one? How is that supposed to work? These are not stupid questions. The Trinity is the first article of religion and by far the most difficult to understand. In fact, you cannot understand it. I can’t understand it. Not in the way we understand every other object or form of knowledge in creation. You may not understand exactly how a computer works, but someone does. And, if need be, you can find the expert and given enough time and interest, you can learn how computers work to the point that you would understand. God is not an object like other objects. God is not a creature like other creatures. God is not this really powerful being really far away telling us what to do, controlling us like puppets. God is the source of all existence, all being. As Paul says in Acts 17, God is the one in whom we live, move, and have our being.  We believe that God is triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons, of one substance, because it has been revealed to us. It is an act of faith. Here are three analogies that I find helpful when approaching the Trinity. Each has its virtues but each is also limited. Fire: It is written, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29) Fire can be used as an analogy for the Holy Trinity for fire generates light and heat. Nevertheless, the flame, its light and its heat are one entity. From the moment the flame begins, from that moment light and heat also begin. Water: It was written, “The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook” (Prov 18:4) The well, spring and stream have been used also as an analogy for the Holy Trinity: Just as the spring and the stream produced from a well are not separate and yet there are in fact three visible objects and three names yet they all have the same water. Love: Lover, Beloved and Love. "And he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love and with him I am well pleased’" (Matt. 3:16-17). God the Father loves God the Son through the Holy Spirit.  So why should we not forgot about the Trinity since it is so complicated. Many people have done this over the years. Unitarians came into exist because they denied the Trinity.  Basically, though, the reason to keep proclaiming the Trinity as true is because of who Jesus is and has been revealed to us through Scripture. If there is no Trinity, Jesus is not God and the Holy Spirit is not God. Therefore, Jesus has no salvific power and his crucifixion and resurrection have no world-altering effect beyond the whims of some tyrant god. If there is no Trinity, the Holy Spirit has no power to be present with us, to comfort and advocate for us because the Holy Spirit is not God.  Finally, prayer: if God is not triune, than the Spirit is not present with us in prayer. If God is not triune than God does not desire friendship with us but servitude. Trinity frees us to follow the God that is love fully, only limited by our weakness. And even then, free to be transformed by the God that is love through power of God’s triunity. From the UMC Articles of Religion Article I - Of Faith in the Holy Trinity There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and good; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.


What on earth does the Trinity have to do with me? God is three in one? How is that supposed to work? These are not stupid questions. The Trinity is the first article of religion and by far the most difficult to understand. In fact, you cannot understand it. I can’t understand it. Not in the way we understand every other object or form of knowledge in creation. You may not understand exactly how a computer works, but someone does. And, if need be, you can find the expert and given enough time and interest, you can learn how computers work to the point that you would understand.

God is not an object like other objects. God is not a creature like other creatures. God is not this really powerful being really far away telling us what to do, controlling us like puppets. God is the source of all existence, all being. As Paul says in Acts 17, God is the one in whom we live, move, and have our being. 

We believe that God is triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons, of one substance, because it has been revealed to us. It is an act of faith. Here are three analogies that I find helpful when approaching the Trinity. Each has its virtues but each is also limited.

Fire: It is written, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29) Fire can be used as an analogy for the Holy Trinity for fire generates light and heat. Nevertheless, the flame, its light and its heat are one entity. From the moment the flame begins, from that moment light and heat also begin.

Water: It was written, “The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook” (Prov 18:4) The well, spring and stream have been used also as an analogy for the Holy Trinity: Just as the spring and the stream produced from a well are not separate and yet there are in fact three visible objects and three names yet they all have the same water.

Love: Lover, Beloved and Love. "And he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love and with him I am well pleased’" (Matt. 3:16-17). God the Father loves God the Son through the Holy Spirit. 

So why should we not forgot about the Trinity since it is so complicated. Many people have done this over the years. Unitarians came into exist because they denied the Trinity. 

Basically, though, the reason to keep proclaiming the Trinity as true is because of who Jesus is and has been revealed to us through Scripture. If there is no Trinity, Jesus is not God and the Holy Spirit is not God. Therefore, Jesus has no salvific power and his crucifixion and resurrection have no world-altering effect beyond the whims of some tyrant god. If there is no Trinity, the Holy Spirit has no power to be present with us, to comfort and advocate for us because the Holy Spirit is not God. 

Finally, prayer: if God is not triune, than the Spirit is not present with us in prayer. If God is not triune than God does not desire friendship with us but servitude. Trinity frees us to follow the God that is love fully, only limited by our weakness. And even then, free to be transformed by the God that is love through power of God’s triunity.


From the UMC Articles of Religion

Article I - Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and good; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

What do Methodists Believe?: Introduction

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When we look back to the history of the United Methodist Church, one of the biggest turning points was the American Revolution. Before then, Methodists had simply been a group within the Church of England. However, once England no longer has authority over the colonies, all the Anglican priests go home and so John Wesley knew that the Methodists in North America still needed guidance and sacrament. 

Thus, he ordained Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury and sent them across the Atlantic. As well, he edited a copy of the Book of Common Prayer (which he titled the Sunday Service) and a version of the 39 Articles (which was and is the doctrinal standard of the Church of England) called the Articles of Religion.

In 1968, with the merger between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the EUB Confession of Faith was added as a doctrinal standard to the Articles of Religion.

Now, doctrines in and of themselves sound about as stale as a sandwich left out over night. Doctrines are simply things about God, humanity, reality that have been revealed in the Christian faith to be true. Not true in an abstract, ivory tower kind of way. True in a way to describe our own experience of life. Doctrine is not a tool of oppression but a way to see the world rightly and to live and act in right relationship with our Lord and our neighbor through grace. 

And so, over the next few weeks (months) every week that I can, I will publish a blog post on one of the articles of religion with the express aim of describing the purpose and relevancy of each article for the Christian life today. Methodism has been described as a religion of the head and the heart. Doctrine is usually put in the category of the head. I want to show that it is of the heart as well. Some of the language is archaic, but the meaning is not. I hope you will be able to follow along with me on this journey. The first four articles are the most important, and so I am publishing them now.

Article I - Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and good; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Article II - Of the Word, or Son of God, Who Was Made Very Man

The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Article III - Of the Resurrection of Christ

Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he return to judge all men at the last day.

Article IV - Of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

May you find in these words not the stale bread of the 16th century but the living water of the body of Christ throughout all ages.

Liturgy: Benediction

Worship begins when we enter the space and are welcomed. Worship ends when we are blessed and sent. Worship always has a point. A person does not leave worship. They are sent. Sent for what? Sent to love and serve the Lord. Mission comes from the latin 'to send'. The mission of the church is what we do when we leave worship. Jesus tells us things to do in this way. The Great Commission, the exhortation Jesus gives at the end of the Gospel of Matthew is to Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The mission of Berkeley United Methodist Church is to make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This is what we are to do when we are sent. It would be an impossible task, were we to be charged with this alone. However, one way to understand the entire worship experience is to understand what we are to do when we are sent.

Worship is a time to come together as the body of Christ. To greet each other in peace, to sing praises to God, to hear God's word read and proclaimed, to pray together, to offer ourselves up to God, and finally to be sent. All of the specific actions shape us to be disciples. Our church understands discipleship as encountering the risen Christ, loving God above all else, and responding to a costly a joyful relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. Worship is the encounter and the loving of God, our response is found in mission and it is found in mission together. Mission cannot be separated from evangelism, from sharing the Good News that Jesus is Lord and we are forgiven and you can be forgiven, as well. You are loved. You are special. 

The benediction is an encouragement, a reminder, and a sending. As you go from worship, may you remember that you are sent on a mission and that God is with you.

Liturgy: Prayers of the People

Prayer is not a means to an end. That is, prayer is not an action one undertakes in order to get a result. Prayer is a goal in itself. Prayer is life with God. The Bible is full of people at prayer. The psalms are known as the Prayerbook of the Bible. Each psalm is a prayer. The Christian tradition is filled with a multitude of witnesses to the power of prayer and the possibility of prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorts the people not to pray on the street corners like the hypocrites but to go into your secret place to pray for your Father who is in secret will hear you there. A vibrant personal prayer life is what many Christians strive for, but most of us feel like we always fall short. John Wesley preferred private prayer as a means of grace, a way that God acts in our life. Another means of grace is corporate prayer, and this is what we do on Sunday morning with the prayers of the people.

We lift up prayers together for two reasons: to intercede on behalf of others, and to remember that we are one body. Intercessory prayer is prayer for another, and when we lift up the names of people on our life who are sick or in need, we collectively ask God to intercede in their lives with healing in grace. This is the first and more obvious reason. The second is just as important. When we voice our prayers, we remember that in the church, truly, the words of John Donne are true, "no man is an island unto themselves." We are connected. When one of our members hurts, we all hurt. Just like when a single part of your body hurts, you hurt. If my feet are hurting, I am hurting. When my sister in Christ is hurting, I am hurting. When my brother in Christ is grieving, I am grieving. 

We pray each other's prayers to remember that we are not alone. God is with us. In worship, God is with us. In pain, God is with us. As we pray together, let us not forget our connection to each other and to this world. Lord in your mercy, here our prayers.

Liturgy: Offering

The most important offering at any worship service is the offering of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for us and for our salvation. This is central. The original offertory was the time in the service after proclaiming the Word of God that the bread and the wine would be brought forth to the table. 

God has offered himself for us. Yet even before that we were created by the miraculous action of God in creation. On Sunday mornings, when we pass the plate, our actions are responses to what God has done in our lives and with our livelihood. To give to the church is an act of discipleship first and foremost. It is not the paying of dues. It is not the purchasing of services. We give in response to God's gift to us. God has been generous to us in love beyond measure. Holy generosity responds to that love.

A tithe is an act of faith. It is not an easy thing to do. Think to the words of Jesus when he describes the how the scribes and tax collectors flaunt their gifts at the Temple, while the widow gives only a penny but gives all that she has. She gave out of faith believing in God's faithfulness towards her. 

When we offer what we have to God, it is an act of faith that God will continue to bless and support us. It is not easy to give. Each of us have a myriad of financial obligations. Financial stress is continuously increasing in today's age. Our offering is not a salve to stress but an act of faith.

And so during the offertory, whether you give in person or online, may you reflect on Christ's offering for us and remember that each gift is an act of faith and faithfulness.

Liturgy: The Sermon

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When many people think of church, they think of sermons. When many people think of churches that they have attended, they think of sermons that they have heard. What a sermon functionally is, though, differs from church to church. For some, the sermon is an extended set of anecdotal stories marginally related to the Christian theme. For others, it may be a series of scolding claims about how nobody is as good as they used to be. Others may be about how everyone is going to hell unless you follow these three simple rules. 

In secular society, the TED talk has virtually replaced the sermon. As my brother has pointed out to me, a TED talk basically is a sermon, a preachers basically have to do one once a week. As I mentioned in my sermon on Proclamation, there are many different styles of preaching. For all of these parts of the liturgy, this is the least likely to be confusing to people walking into the building. Few people enter a church and think to themselves, "Why is this person going on and on about the bible?" 

Some people think all preaching needs to be relatable. Others think all preaching needs to be much more bible based. Some people think sermons need to be relevant for today while others think sermons need to point a future hope.

I am not an expert on preaching or sermons. But I do know they should not be boring. Because if a sermon is boring, you know for sure that Jesus Christ is not being proclaimed as Lord. We often bring so much of our own baggage that we cannot even hear what is being said. Frederick Buechner puts it far better than me. 

WHEN A MINISTER reads out of the Bible, I am sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening at all hear not what is really being read but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson, something elevating, obvious, and boring. So that is exactly what very often they do hear. Only that is too bad because if you really listen—and maybe you have to forget that it is the Bible being read and a minister who is reading it—there is no telling what you might hear.

Liturgy: Reading Scripture

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We read together at church. This is not a minor thing. We read together from a Holy Book. The point of the Scripture reading is not simply a jumping off point for the sermon. Often it is seen as this way, as if the purpose of the Bible is to give us, preachers, an avenue for as many funny anecdotes as we can manage.

Sometimes after Scripture readings I don't feel the need to even stand up and say anything because Christ is proclaimed so clearly and with so much conviction in the reading itself.

In the Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church that John Wesley adapted from the 39 articles of the Church of England, Article 5 says the following:

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

The scripture itself contains what we need to have life and life abundantly. It is not the preacher it is the Scriptures. Because in the word of God is the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus is here in this strange, old book. Sometimes the book may seem dated, but Jesus is here. Part of the preacher's job is to remind you and themselves that this book is not dated or irrelevant because Jesus is here.

We read together and those who cannot read listen. We read for those who cannot listen. We read for each other. We read for ourselves. We read for the one who gives us life. We read and we worship our Lord, Jesus Christ.


Blessings,
Wilson

Liturgy: Prayer of Confession

Every Sunday we confess our sins to God. In the modern world, this may seem strange. It may look like we Christians are just saying sorry a lot. To some people, saying sorry is a greater sin than almost any act you can commit. As long as you never say sorry, you never need to be forgiven.

The hubris found in this ideology cuts across the mission and ministry of Jesus. Over and over, throughout the Gospels, Jesus says that he came to save the sinners and not the righteous. Paul writes that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This is the starting place of Christian hope. In confession, in acknowledging our sin, we realize that we cannot save ourselves and that we are in need of a savior.

In saying a Prayer of Confession, no one should ever feel sorry for themselves. Confession is not a pity party. Confession is a sober account of reality. Confession is the ability to see the world clearly and not for our own advantage. Confession is letting go of the power games of the world in order to follow the power that created the world.

Methodists do not confession as a sacrament on par with communion, as Catholics do. However, we believe that God acts in our confession, God forgives us of our sins as far as we are able to forgive others, as far as we are able to be truly contrite. By praying the pray of confession early in our worship time, we are able to free ourselves to fully encounter our risen savior. When we hold back from admitting our faults, we hold back from seeing our Lord. 

Liturgy: Hymns

 

Christians sing together. In worship, we sing together. We sing hymns of praise to the Lord. We stand as we are able and we sing. Sometimes we sing the old hymns, the ones we knew from childhood. For people who grew up in the Methodist Church, that usually means the Cokesbury hymnal. The irony is that, by and large, the old fashioned hymns are newer than most of the hymns we sing in the large United Methodist Hymnal. The old hymns were written around the turn of the last century, with few going back to the 18th century even. 

The point of singing hymns is not nostalgia for years gone by. St. Augustine defines it simply in his commentary on the Psalms:

Do you know what a hymn is? It is singing to the praise of God. If you praise God and do not sing, you utter no hymn. If you praise anything which does not pertain to the praise of God -- though in singing you praise, you utter no hymn. A hymn then contains these three things: song, and praise, and that of God. Praise then of God in song is called a hymn.

We can sing together and it not be a hymn if the song is not to God. The goal of singing is to glorify God in what we do. The early Methodist movement was based, in large part, on hymn-singing. When many people were illiterate, they could still learn the words of songs and learn about who God is and how God loves us and forgives us through songs of praise. Still today, the hymns we sing shape us. If we don’t pay attention to what we are singing, we can’t be singing praise to God. We can go through the motions, but it is not a hymn.

I will close with John Wesley’s rules for singing found in the front of the hymnal. How we sing matters. Not that we sing in tune. That is not the point. The point is singing praises to God. If we are not singing because we are ashamed of our voice, we are not singing praises to God. If we are singing too loudly because we are in love with our voice, we are not singing praises to God

  1.  Learn these tunes before you learn any others, afterwards learn as many as you please.
  2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
  3. Sing All – see that you join the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
  4. Sing Lustily – and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.
  5. Sing Modestly – do not bawl so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation that you may not destroy the harmony, but strive to unite your voices together so as to make one melodious sound.
  6. Sing in time – whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before and do not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
  7. Sing spiritually – have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

Liturgy: Greeting

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At Berkeley, we have a unique greeting system. Vikki, our music director, says good morning and then immediately calls people into song and praise with our gathering song. 

Before announcements and introductions and anything else, we sing together. The greeting covers everything from the first words out of Vikki’s mouth to our opening hymn. 

This is a deliberate and intentional part of worship. The Greeting is when we have been gathered. Of course, some people come in late. Sometimes preachers come in late, but the worshipping community Greets the Lord. 

In Old English the word, greet comes from gretan which can mean attack but also salute or take hold of. hearpan gretan means to play the harp. A Greeting in worship is not just a vain “Hi, how are you?” It is not an ice breaker. It is the people saluting God and God taking hold of us. 

We sing together. We hear about the life of the church. We pray during the prelude, and then we receive a call to worship the Lord.

This is intentional time, even though it may seem ad hoc. We greet the Lord and the Lord takes hold of us. This is God’s time, kairos time. Let God take hold of you. May the greeting not be passive for anyone, but an active intention to be present before God and the community of the faith. A time to discern if there are new people who can be welcomed and greeted. A time to contemplate who God is and what God has done during the prelude. A time to worship the Lord. 

Liturgy: Gathering

Worship begins before Vikki or I even say a word on Sunday morning. Worship begins as the people gather together because we gather for a purpose: to glorify the Lord's name, Jesus Christ.  Officially, the services at Berkeley begin at 10:00am and 12:00pm. That is when we list times. That is usually when someone starts talking from the front of the sanctuary. 

Yet the Gathering happens before this time. In the United Methodist Book of Worship, it says that "this time is both an outward and visible gathering of the people and an inward and spiritual gathering—a focusing of awareness that they are a people gathered in the presence of the God known to us through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit." Some people are raised in traditions where the Gathering time is quiet and meditative. At Berkeley, it has been the tradition to take the time before the service to fellowship. It is usually loud and boisterous with the joy of seeing brothers and sisters and in Christ gathered together. 

It is a work of the people to gather together under the name of Jesus. The preacher has little to do with this part of the service. We cannot control who comes but it is in coming that worship begins. It is in deciding to take the time to be with God and walking through the doors that worship begins. And in this time, we each have an opportunity to focus our awareness of God. This can take place in boisterous greetings. It can take place in contemplation. It can take place in a cup of coffee, or holding the door open, or glimpsing through the bulletin. 

The important thing in all of this is that from the beginning, worship is not a passive action. Worship is not a concert. Worship is not a lecture. Worship begins in coming. It begins when you come, when Christ draws you close.

So as we continue to worship together, may we gather as one, aware that we are doing something special, aware that we are called to this action, aware that we are truly together in worship.

Liturgy: Introduction

Liturgy is the word we use to describe what goes on in a worship service. Every service of worship has a liturgy even if they don’t have one written down. The most contemporary or charismatic services still follow a pattern. I have a friend who sometimes leads worship at a contemporary mega-church in Austin, and the worship team there has every minute of the service scheduled out, including (sometimes) space for spontaneous prayer. They just don’t give the schedule to people who attend. 

Liturgy comes from two greek words: Leitos (meaning public) and ergos (meaning work). It is a public work. Liturgy does not mean incense and frocks and other accoutrements, it is a public work. The liturgy is what we do in worship.

We all participate in the liturgy. It is not something that any one of us can do. Vikki can’t do it. I can’t do it. 

Worship is not about the passive transfer of information. Even though I sometimes quote Greek, a sermon is not a lecture. Even though our musicians are amazing, an anthem is not a concert. We sometimes call it a worship service. It is a service in that we do something for others. We do not worship for ourselves. We cannot worship for ourselves. We worship for God or we don’t worship at all. We worship together or we don’t worship at all. 

Starting in January, I am going to use this space to talk about the different parts of the worship service at Berkeley. Each is intentional. Nothing is haphazard. 

We are not the first people to worship our risen savior, Jesus Christ. We learn patterns from the past, from our Scriptures, from the ways that we have come to grow closer to God, and we continue them, doing the public work of worship together. This is what we do on Sundays. This is what we do on Christmas eve. Together we worship our Lord.

Vows: Our Witness

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The Greek word for witness is martyr, which has quite a different connotation in English. It was a legal term as much as anything else, the same way we would understand a witness in a trial today. In the connotation that we know it today, a martyr is someone who dies for the faith. A martyr points to God by pointing to the cross, by witnessing to a faith larger than any fear of death. Pretty intimidating.

Something far less intimidating is one of my dad’s favorite movies, My Cousin Vinny. In the movie, Joe Pesci plays a fast-talking New York lawyer who goes down south to try and get the Karate Kid (or the actor who played the Karate Kid, I can’t remember) off a murder charge. The movie has a number of great courtroom scenes, but the whole trial hinges on the testimony of Marisa Tomei, who plays Vinny’s girlfriend. She doesn’t know why she is on the stand. The judge doesn’t know why. The prosecutor doesn’t know why. What happens, though is quite relevant for us today. Fairly quickly, Vinny is able to establish that she has an expert knowledge of cars due to growing up in a family of mechanics. She then is able to point out that the tire tracks to the getaway car could not have been from the Karate Kid’s car due to a peculiarity of that year's model. She witnessed to his innocence without even realizing it. He was able to walk free because of something she didn’t think important and didn’t realize was relevant.

Witnessing to something is not just about intentionality. Being a witness to Jesus is as much about the things you don’t realize you do as it is about the things you try to do. God calls us to faithfully respond to the amazing gift of mercy and love found in grace. When we try to limit that response, we limit God. When we look to the holy people in our lives and think that we could never live like that, we are limiting God’s grace in us. We are saying our God is not big enough to cover our frailties.

To witness to your faith is to point to the object of your faith, Jesus Christ. It is to validate it, through words and actions. It is to not be ashamed of the faith, it is to not hide from the faith. Peter exhorts us to “honor Christ the Lord [in our hearts] as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). To make a defense, there must be hope in you, or else it is just hollow words. 

To witness to your faith, there must be faith in you. This is not found in going door to door or stopping people in stores; it is found in living a life of discipleship that points to Jesus, that points to the church as a place where Jesus is found. Is Berkeley a place where people find Jesus? Is Berkeley a place where people find forgiveness and encouragement and the joy that passes understanding? If it is not, how can we become that place? If it is, how can we cease from singing? We will witness to Christ when we don't realize it, and God will be glorified in all that we do.

Vows: Our Service

Jesus asks a lot of his disciples. Follow me. Take up your cross! Do not forget widows and orphans. Let the little children come unto me. And on and on. One thing Jesus never asks his disciples is to be a good person. He never asks them to try their best. He says love your neighbor as yourself. 

The Christian idea of service comes from the life of Christ. When we stray from this biblical foundation, it is too easy for us to turn service into a work to earn salvation rather than a grace-filled response to the free gift of love and forgiveness in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. 

Jesus gives us a lot of images of what true service, service as a response to love, can look like. The primary one for me comes from John 13.

Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Peter doesn’t understand. Footwashing is dirty. Not footwashing like a special service where people take a shower ahead of time. I mean washing the feet of someone who has worked in a field all day barefoot and stepped on all manner of gooey substances that retain an odor. This is not an easy thing to do. This is service. This only happens if you love the other person more than you love your own comfort. I remember trying to do a foot-washing service with youth and nobody would do it. Nobody would take their shoes off. Nobody would wash another's feet. If our primary concern in life is maintaining our comfort and hygiene, the love of neighbor will not look like the of Jesus. 

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”

This is not the love of romantic comedies or past-times. It is the love of the God who became human so that we could be free from sin, to give of ourselves sacrificially to God and to each other. The love God speaks of is love our neighbor more than our comfort, more than what is easy, more than what is convenient. We cannot do this alone. We cannot do this if it is a burden. We can only act in such a way if we truly believe God has acted for us. If we truly believe that God is with us. 

The vow of service is a vow to not be so settled in your faith that you cannot see the need of your neighbor, the need of your church, the need of your Lord. It was we hold each other up to because in truly serving, no matter the challenge, God gives us joy.

Vows: Our Gifts

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Gift is a central concept to the good news of Jesus Christ. if we don’t understand what a gift is, we don’t understand what God is doing in the world through the Holy Spirit, bringing us friendship with God. 

A gift is entirely free with no obligation or strings attached. Think about someone who you haven’t seen in a while and they bring you a birthday present. If part of you says thank you, but the other part says, “Darn, now I need to bring him a present,” you are missing out on the gift. A gift is not a courtesy. A gift is a free offering of what you have for another. Imagine a gift for a child. When I give Dominic a present, it mostly doesn’t matter what it is, he is ecstatic about it. He says thank you and starts playing. That is a gift.

The free gift of grace is something much more. It is being blind and then seeing. Imagine losing your sight completely. And then one day, thanks to God, you can see again. There would be a gratefulness in this so much more than a present. In fact, you can’t repay it, but you can honor it.

In the church, we talk about Gifts of the Spirit. These are aspects of who you are that has been bestowed upon you by the Lord for a purpose. If you use those gifts for God’s purpose, you will flourish and bear fruit. If you do not, the gifts will atrophy.

When we are asked to support the church with our gifts, this is a profoundly spiritual discipline taking place. Do you see your life? What you have and who you are, as gifts from your creator? Do you see the sweat of your brow as a gift of your creator? Do you see the free gift of God’s forgiveness, that you do not need to strive for your own salvation? God has set us free from captivity to the slavery of sin and death. How are we going to continually respond to this freedom?

When the church talks about gifts, we talk about a lot of things, but we are also talking about money. We would not be here were it not for the financial gifts of many. We would not have this building. We would not have these ministries. I would not be here. Before going into ministry, I thought the worst thing about it would be talking about money. Yet next to the amazing miracle of God’s love, money is a straight forward thing. We are doing great things here. And I am happy to continue to ask for money because if we are not giving to God we are shutting ourselves off from a means of grace.

The thing about our gifts, though, spiritual and financial, is that it is much easier to hide them under a bushel basket than to share them. It is much easier to use them to support ourselves than to stretch who we are to be God’s hands and feet. 

Prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, these all flow together as responses to God’s love. The vows of membership are made to God and to each other. 

Peace to you all this day,

Pastor Wilson