Posts Tagged ‘Sue Haupert-Johnson’

Sermon 06-18-17: “A Loving Father and His Younger Son”

July 12, 2017

Detail from Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

For Father’s Day, I began a two-part series on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, otherwise known as the Parable of the Loving Father. This sermon focuses on the more popular part of the parable: the story of the younger son, from Luke 15:11-24. Even six or seven years ago, I thought the younger son’s story was for new converts to the faith—that it didn’t “apply” to those of us who have been Christians for a while. Of course, now I see how foolish that is. In this sermon, I challenge us to think about ways in which we’re a lot like the younger son.

Sermon Text: Luke 15:1-2, 11-24

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A couple of weeks ago, this headline appeared on The Babylon Bee, that satirical Christian news website: “Father of 3 Wonders When He’ll Get Chance to Influence Others for Christ.” This fake news article continues:

Stating that he had been feeling a sense of purposelessness and melancholy for some months now, local father of three Andrew Harbaugh recently began wondering when he would ever get a chance to impact anyone for the sake of Christ, sources close to him confirmed Thursday.

Harbaugh reportedly spends his days working ten hours at a desk job and his nights talking and playing with his three children.

“I just wish God would place a few people in my life for whom I could make an eternal difference,” Harbaugh told reporters, his head in his hands. “I just don’t have time to do anything for the Kingdom of God while I provide for my family and spend time with my three boys.”

“Surely the Lord will have something important for me to do someday,” he added sadly.

You see the irony, I hope. Like Mr. Harbaugh in this article, each one of us who is a father has a God-given opportunity—a God-given responsibility—to do the most important work for God’s kingdom possible, which is this: sharing with our children the love, grace, and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ through our words and through our actions. We are to live out what it means to be a Christian.

Now, I’m not saying that these words don’t apply to equally to mothers, but since it’s Father’s Day, I’m aiming them at us fathers. Or grandfathers—because this still applies to you: The most important mission that God has given us in life right now is to do everything we can to “go and make disciples” of our children and our grandchildren. And we don’t get to outsource this holy work of discipleship to our wives alone. Being a disciple of Jesus, being involved in church, praying and reading the Bible with our children, is not women’s work! Please, fathers, for the sake of our children’s souls, let’s not shirk our responsibility! If we are to be “imitators of God,” as the apostle Paul says[1]—and we can learn a lot about God our Father from this today’s scripture—then we ought to imitate God in his passion for bringing his children—our children—into a saving relationship with him through Christ! Read the rest of this entry »

The temptation to “go from house to house”

June 15, 2017

My friend Leslie got ordained last night. I met her on my first day of class at Emory in 2004. She often elbowed me awake in John Hayes’s 8:00 a.m. OT class.

Last night at Annual Conference, our bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson, preached a message to our conference’s newly ordained, commissioned, and licensed pastors and deacons. Her text was Luke 10:1-12, where Jesus commissions 72 disciples to proclaim the gospel and heal the sick in the towns around Galilee. The bishop related Jesus’ instructions to these disciples to our role as clergy.

Prior to her sermon, I’d never thought about the meaning of verse 7: “And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.”

Do not go from house to house.

In other words, Jesus says, when the disciples come into a town, and someone offers them a place stay, they should avoid the temptation to seek more comfortable, more spacious lodging in someone else’s home, even if it’s offered to them. Stay where you are and be content, Jesus says. Don’t look for something better.

It’s easy to see how this applies to us United Methodist pastors, who are itinerant. Each year the bishop either reappoints us to our present church or sends us to a new church (or churches). In theory, we go where we’re sent; it isn’t up to us. Whether we “like” our appointment is beside the point.

The danger, the bishop said, is restlessness: we clergy will be so anxious for our next appointment that we’ll fail to appreciate, enjoy, or learn from our present one. This restlessness becomes worse, of course, when we look over our shoulders at our clergy colleagues and compare ourselves to them and their appointments. “How do I rate? Am I falling behind? Am I moving ahead?”

As a naturally ambitious person, I can relate—and maybe you can, too. My temptation to compare myself to others has brought me nothing but misery.

Besides, we should avoid “going from house to house” for a deeper reason: Ultimately we’re appointed not by any bishop or district superintendent; we’re appointed by God.

In fact, wherever you are, whoever you are, you are there because God wants you to be there. You have an appointment. 

But what if you say, “I don’t like where God has appointed me”? Or, as the Talking Heads sang:

You may ask yourself, “Where is that large automobile?”
And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful house”
And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful wife”

Okay… As pastor and theologian Paul Zahl says: Blame God. He can take it.

But as you do so, remember this: We are “slaves of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Our life doesn’t belong to us. Our personal happiness isn’t the point of life. We are owned by the One who paid for us by the precious blood of his beloved Son. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, we live for one reason only: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Wherever God has appointed us, he has done so for his glory. The question all of us must ask is this: “Is living for God’s glory enough for me?”