Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the 1957 ‘Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom’.
A Prayer for Those Who Govern
ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, first verse
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!
Lord of All,
As we draw near another Independence Day,
we confess our dependence on you.
Thank you for extending abundance, mercy, and protection
to our nation through the years.
Every resource, freedom, and opportunity we have is a good gift from you.
Without you, we are lost.
In humility, we seek your face.
In repentance, we turn from our ungrateful, destructive and selfish ways.
In faith, we call on your power to forgive our sin and heal our land.
ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, second verse
O beautiful for heroes prov’d in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov’d, and mercy more than life.
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness and ev’ry gain divine.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on those who govern our land,
Leaders of our nation, our state, and our community
and all who are running for office.
Grant them a love of justice.
Open their minds with wisdom and compassion,
so all people may be treated fairly and with dignity.
Open their ears to the cries of the desperate and powerless
so cycles of poverty, disease, and abuse may be broken.
Open their eyes to see how best to respond
and open their hearts with courage to do the right thing,
even when pressured to do otherwise.
Dawn a new day of integrity and servant leadership upon our land.
Shower down your Spirit of collaboration for the common good
that there may be lasting peace and plenty for all.
The congregation is invited to lift up their own prayers for our nation
We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Leader and Savior forever, Amen.
Option: We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Leader and Savior forever, who taught us to pray, Our Father, who art in heaven….
ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, fourth verse
O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.
Washington Post columnist, Gene Weingarten, and world-famous violinist Joshua Bell worked together to answer this question: If one of the world’s greatest musicians played some of history’s most beautiful music on one of the world’s most expensive instruments, but in an ordinary place, would anyone notice?
Video of Joshua Bell playing in a Washington, DC metro station
What did you notice?
Bell played for 45 minutes, playing 6 or 7 classical pieces, earning $32
Very few people stopped. 1,097 people passed by. Only 7 people stopped. One stayed for 3 minutes. One stayed for 9 minutes. The woman who recognized him stayed the last 2 minutes of his performance.
Everyone was busy.
7 years later, in 2014, Joshua Bell played in Union Station again. What do you think happened?
Why was it different this time?
Both times he played the exact same music
He had more people helping him
It was announced. They recognized him and his gifts. They knew who he was.
There was a sense of expectancy.
They acknowledged his presence.
The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote, Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.
What great extravagant gifts do we pass by- not expecting it, not acknowledging it? We’re picking blackberries with our face in our BlackBerries.
Even more so, we’re passing by the presence of Almighty God. The world is afire with the power, presence, and beauty of the Holy Spirit. Are we expectant for it? Are we awakened to it? Are we acknowledging it?
Who is the Holy Spirit? God’s presence with us now
Have you acknowledged the presence of the Holy Spirit? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to awaken you to the beauty and power of God all around you?
John 14:15-18, 23
This passage is part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. (John 13-17) Jesus is speaking at the Last Supper, the night of his arrest, less than 24 hours before his death. He’s preparing the disciples and reminding them of the promises of God.
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit, God’s Presence
John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you anotherAdvocate, to be with you forever.
Another = Just Like the First
We continue to have access to the presence, wisdom, healing, grace of Christ
Advocate = Parakletos in Greek, One sent from the Father, called alongside you
The parent who climbs in bed with a scared or sick child to comfort him or her
The person who takes the hand of a friend to walk alongside them through the situation
With you forever
Jesus walked this earth for a specific period of time. The presence of God in the Holy Spirit is with us forever.
We can see and know the Spirit. The Spirit is here! There can be expectancy, awakening, opening, acknowledging what others are just passing by. (John 14:17)
With you forever- with you and in you
Abides with you (John 14:17)
Will not leave you orphaned (John 14:18)
The disciples were feeling abandoned and orphaned by Jesus’ reminder that he must go. Jesus sends another just like him.
I am coming to you (John 14:18)
The Spirit comes to us. We don’t have to go searching. God always makes the first move.
You will see me (John 14:19)
We will come to them (John 14:23)
Make our home with them (John 14:23)
Consider the intimacy and immediacy of someone moving in with you
God makes a home with us and in us
Abides in you (John 14:17)
You in me, I in you (John 14:20)
1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
The Holy Spirit abiding with you and in you. How do I get the Holy Spirit?
Consider your baptism.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Family language, making a home with us and in us, belonging
Through the Sacrament of Baptism,
Sacrament means mystery. We can relate to God the Father as Creator. We can relate to Jesus Christ, who walked this earth and shared our experience. The Holy Spirit is a mystery.
we are initiated into Christ’s holy church. We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth by water and the Spirit.
We’re part of the Body of Christ, the Family of God, the church. We receive a calling on our life and are empowered to fulfill it. We are given new birth. We are made new.
All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.
In Baptism we recognize the Holy Spirit is already at work in our life, has a plan for our life, already knows us, loves us, is working and calling.
When we receive baptism and the Holy Spirit as babies, we don’t know what we don’t know because we are babies. When we grow up, we may still not know what we don’t know because no one has ever talked to us about the Holy Spirit.
That’s why we’re doing it now. It’s a tremendous gift. The promise of presence that we can know now. We can acknowledge now. That’s how you get the Holy Spirit because the Spirit is already there.
Lord, give me eyes to see. Lord, give me ears to hear. Holy Spirit, I want you in my life.
John 16:7 Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
You have God with you here forever and ever and ever. You have the Holy Spirit.
Will you acknowledge? Will you receive? Will you awaken? The world is afire and there is One who wants to abide with you and in you. Will you say, “Yes!”
Based on Genesis 13
Abraham and Lot end their conflict peaceably
God’s generous promise to Abraham of land and children
You are the God of Abundance
God of Provision and Plenty
Generous Creator and Sustainer
So many do not have enough
So many are burdened by too much
So many squander what they have
So many do evil to get more
Corruption, Injustice, Oppression, Greed, Graft, Violence…
Lord, have mercy
Help me choose You and your ways
Gratitude for all you entrust to me
Collaboration over competition
True love of those I’m working with
Eyes to see all people as you see them… beloved
Forgive and heal my fears when there doesn’t seem to be enough
You know my worry and lack of faith
God of Abundance
I trust you to provide everything I need
and everything others need
Increase my faith and trust
Help me approach every need and conflict
with fairness, generosity, openness
Help me see all you are providing
Help me hear and listen to all you are saying
Your ways, always. Amen
Matthew 6:7-8 Jesus said, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
You are there in the midst of my prattle
and my hiding
Thank you for your patient presence
Thank you for calling me again to what is deeper and true
Forgive me for defaulting to well-worn words
Empty language borrowed from ritual or even scripture
Help me come to you honest and real
nothing veiled, nothing hidden
Help me come to you present and fresh
new every morning
Matthew 6:9-10 Jesus said, “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Glory to You, Heavenly One
Abba, Maker, Creator
I long for your kingdom, the fullness of your grace and victory
The longing is a sign of you in me
Abide more and more, so I not only long but look and see
Abide forever, so I not only long but pray and speak and act
Full-filling your words
Matthew 5:1-12 NRSV When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We receive your blessings and pray for the Holy Spirit to make them real in our lives.
Renew a right spirit within us, a poor spirit, a spirit which knows our deep need of your grace and deliverance. Free us from trying to save ourselves. Free us for the fullness of your kingdom.
Soften our hard hearts with the gift of tears. Help us mourn our brokenness and the brokenness of our world. Help us feel it fully. Help us welcome the refreshment of your comfort and share it well with others.
Generous Savior, you fill each person with gifts, talents, and strength. Open us to meekness, that we may gladly surrender them to your authority and discipline. In our hands, they are often weapons. With you, they are refined for your glory and the common good.
Bread of Life, sour every false and destructive appetite, that we may hunger and thirst for righteousness alone- a right relationship with you, a right relationship with others, a right relationship with ourselves, a right relationship with your creation.
We bless you and honor you for your unending mercy, a flood of grace, pouring out and spilling over. Make us mercy-full. May all people know you like this.
Suffering One, break our hearts as yours is broken. In the breaking, create in us clean hearts, pure hearts, undivided hearts. Our deepest desire is to see you at work in us and all around us and to one day see you face to face.
In your grace, please don’t stop with our hearts. Re-Birth us fully in the breaking and creating. Named your beloved, your children, forever.
One with you and each other
One in your great work of peace
One in your words and ways
One in commitment to reconciliation and righteousness
One in the face of falsehood
One in the bloody bonds of persecution
One in your joy
One in your promises
One on earth and one in heaven
Romans 5:5 Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Last week we read the story of Pentecost. (Acts 2) Over and over again it talked about pouring and filling and pouring and filling. Romans 5:5 is another scripture which talks about the Holy Spirit being poured into our lives.
These scriptures draw us to a very important question: Why do you want a relationship with God? Has your why changed over the years?
Some would say, “It’s the right thing to do.” Others would say, “I was raised this way. I was carried into the church in the arms of my family. I’ve always had a relationship with God.”
When I first started pursuing a relationship with God, I was 15 years old and I didn’t want to burn in hell. I was scared to death and scared of death. I’d seen a TV show about the end of the world. There wasn’t an adult around to tell me this was opinion, not necessarily fact. The idea of “turn or burn” was reinforced at the neighborhood church I began attending.
Over time my why has changed. Instead of being a fearful slave of God, it changed into a relationship of grace, love, and hope. I’m eternally grateful for that.
The “why” of us wanting to have a relationship with God is really important because it colors everything.
How we see God and understand God
How we read scripture
How we look at serving, grace, hope, and eternal life
It’s important to check our motivations from time to time. Our motivation can be like a faucet. It can direct the flow of the Holy Spirit in our life. If our motivation is twisted in the wrong way, it can turn off the flow of the Holy Spirit.
Today, we’re reading a cautionary tale. The scriptures are full of examples to follow and examples to avoid. This is one to avoid.
Side Note: There is nothing wrong with magic. The problem is Simon’s heart, not that he’s a magician.
Simon the Magician desired a relationship with God so God could be a means to an end. Jesus was a Divine Santa Claus to give him everything on his wish list. The Holy Spirit, a Cosmic Insider to hook him up with power, fame, and social status.
Am I like Simon? Simon’s story is a cautionary tale – full of wrong motivations. When we come across a story like this it’s important for us to pause, hold up a mirror, and ask, “Am I like Simon?” What’s my motivation for desiring a relationship with God? Why do I want the Holy Spirit?
It matters. It matters a great deal. It can be the difference between the Holy Spirit flowing in our lives and the turning off of the Spirit of God.
Wrong Motivation: Draw Attention to Yourself
Right Motivation: Draw Attention to God
Acts 8:9b-10, Simon likes showing-off. He is hungry for attention and fame. [Simon boasted] saying that he was someone great. 10 All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.”
Acts 8:12-13, Philip draws attention to God 12 But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.
Phillip is filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news and perform real signs and wonders, not magical illusions. Lives are being transformed and he keeps pointing them to Jesus. He does nothing for personal gain or status. He’s like Vanna on Wheel of Fortune, he points to the Word, constantly pointing people to Jesus.
Matthew 5:16 Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
We let our light shine so others say, “Look what God is doing! Yay God!”
Example: Trinity Director of Traditional Music, LaTerry Butler, always replying to a compliment with, “Thanks be to God… Glory to God… Blessed be the Name…”
Wrong Motivation: Be THE Leader (Not be a leader. Phillip, Peter, and John are all leaders.) Who is sitting on the throne of your heart?
Right Motivation: Follow Jesus
Acts 8:10, 11 both report the crowds listened eagerly to Simon. The people followed him and treated him like a god. Simon did not correct them. He liked it.
God is my co-pilot. No, God is the pilot.
Wrong Motivation: Build up Myself
Right Motivation: Build Up Others
Acts 8:18-20, Simon wants to buy God’s power for his own benefit 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!”
Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin, Bob Neuwirth, Michael Mcclure
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends. So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV? Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me. I wait for delivery each day until three. So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town? I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down. Prove that you love me and buy the next round. Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?
James 4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
1 Corinthians 12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
What are we to do? Phillip, Peter, and John model it for us. They are always following Jesus and always pointing to Jesus. Jesus is the leader and forgiver of their lives, their Lord and Savior.
Peters speaks the truth in love to Simon. Your heart is wrong! You need to repent. You need to turn away from this and turn towards God.
Simon says, “Pray for me.” (Acts 8:24) Simon is open to change and that’s the good news for all of us.
God keeps reaching out to us again and again and again. To create in us a clean heart, to renew in us a right spirit, to restore to us the joy of our salvation, and place in us a willing spirit.
It is a journey. We can turn and learn and become the people we were meant to be.
There’s good news in the awakening. There’s good news in realizing I haven’t given that over to God yet. There’s time to do it.
Why do you want a relationship with God? Who’s sitting on the throne of your heart? How can you more and more point to Jesus?
Psalm 51:10-12 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”
If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you have a testimony. Yes, you!
Never dismiss or underestimate the power of sharing your encounters with the One True Living God. People remember and are moved to action by stories, especially true personal stories, far more often than by facts or debate.
Your story, your witness, your testimony needs to be heard. Don’t worry if you don’t have a dramatic testimony. Your authentic voice and experience are enough. Like the little boy’s loaves and fishes, offer Jesus what you have and watch him make abundantly more than you could ask or imagine.
REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF TESTIMONIES:
Type #1: Conversion How did you come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
Type #2: Character What character traits of God and/or promises of God are most meaningful to you? Why?
Type #3: Calling Where do you join Christ in serving others? Why this place/project? What have you seen God do in you, through you, or in spite of you? How does serving shape your faith?
Type #4: Circumstance
Tell of an important event which shaped and/or strengthened your faith.
Type #5: Commendation
For centuries, the faithful wrote their last will and testament, aka their testimony. What spiritual message would you like to leave your loved ones?
IMPORTANT POINTS FOR ANY TYPE OF TESTIMONY:
1. Pray first and often as you prepare. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, empower you, and draw the right situation to mind.
2. Focus on Jesus more than any other person or detail of your testimony. Point to Jesus again and again so it is clear who deserves the glory.
3. What scripture speaks to the main point of your testimony? Include it! If you’re having trouble finding one, ask for some help.
4. Speak as you usually speak. There’s no need for formality or fancy church words.
5. Be vulnerable, honest, humble, and real.
6. Write your testimony down. Be prepared to write several drafts with some time in between each one. The writing process will help you organize and clarify your testimony. Take a breath, it won’t be graded. It doesn’t have to be grammatically perfect.
7. Testimonies include a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
The beginning focuses on what life was like before your transforming experience.
The middle focuses on your awakening. You awaken to your need of salvation, to God’s presence, to God’s action on your behalf, to God’s healing, to a need or injustice you are to address, etc. What brings you to the moment of decision and action?
The ending focuses on God’s action in and through you. Your life is now different, and hopefully the lives of others. How so? Consider including an invitation or call to action as part of your ending.