Monday, October 26, 2015

The Guiding Question

Psalm 34: 1-14; Mark 10: 46-52, by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
October 25, 2015
Reformation Sunday

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
- Psalm 34: 1-14

They came to Jericho. As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. - Mark 10: 46-52

He was searching. The text says he was sitting on the side of the road. His story is short. He had a family. At one time in his life he could see. Maybe he had used all of his resources in hopes to regain his sight. Whatever had happened, he was left pandering for hope from anyone who might help. As soon as Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was on the scene, he desperately tried to get Jesus’ attention. His eagerness caused Jesus to stand still. And then the question came: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). Knowing Jesus embodied the power of God, Bartimaeus asked to see again. His sight was restored as Jesus proclaimed that Bartimaeus’ faith – his trust in God – made him well. And then he followed Jesus as a disciple on the way.

The text today reminds me of another man who would probably say that he was blind at one time in his life. His name was Martin Luther. He was a native of Germany born in 1483. He had a family but his childhood was filled with memories of harsh and even severe discipline. It had such an effect upon him that Luther had a haunting desire to know the goodness of God. You see Luther had a difficult time seeing God as anything but a judge of the heart. As he walked through life, all roads led to either salvation or damnation.

Luther’s quest to find the peace of God’s salvation guided his decisions to become a monk and a priest. He spent much of his time and spiritual resources striving to be obedient to God. He labored over his studies and prayers. The more he studied and prayed the more he saw his own sinful darkness. And through all of his efforts Luther could not find a satisfactory answer to his question; if God holds us accountable for sin, how are we to truly see the love and grace of God?

The abbot whom Luther confided in knew Luther’s deep spiritual struggle. One day the abbot had a new plan for Luther’s searching. He asked Luther to teach the Scriptures at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. Luther accepted the opportunity. As Luther began the preparations for his teaching, the Word of God opened up to him in new ways. His study of Romans changed his life. Luther pulled apart the words of Romans 1:17, “For [in the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith, as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Have you ever had an experience where the Word of God really spoke to you? As Luther studied those words from Romans, maybe he heard Christ asking the same question Bartimaeus was asked: ‘What do you want me to do for you?” It was as if the Spirit of God stood still as Luther begged to spiritually see the love and grace of God in the text and in his life. The Word of God moved Luther to know that the forgiveness we receive through God’s righteousness is given by God as a free gift of grace. Faith and forgiveness through Jesus Christ are God’s work and there is nothing you and I can do to earn it. We are saved by grace through faith. In our brokenness Christ is enough because God loves us. That was freeing for Luther.*

During Luther’s time the only church that existed was the Catholic Church. His theological discovery from Paul’s letter of Romans was in conflict with the sixteenth century church’s teaching on forgiveness or penitence. In those days, one had to earn forgiveness through the sale of indulgences, or coins to purchase forgiveness from the priest.

Luther used his new spiritual sight to create a wider discussion about this and wrote the famous 95 theses, or guiding questions, for his colleagues in faith. Luther hoped forgiveness would be interpreted in a new way – solely through the Word of God in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517 and those questions caused a spiritual stirring. Luther’s spiritual struggles and new spiritual sight culminated into what we call the “Protestant Reformation.” We remember Luther’s story each year on the last Sunday in October as Reformation Sunday. It was a day that slowly began the shift of the church breaking away into a number of Protestant denominations. Reformations have continued to pulse through history and into the present day. Today Pope Francis is leading a new reformation in the Catholic Church for Christians to see the marginalized through ministries of compassion as Christ did.

Martin Luther’s new spiritual sight upheld “the Word of God as the starting point and the final authority”* instead of any priest or spiritual leader of the church. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, is the One who searches our hearts and minds. Jesus Christ is the One who embraces our joys and struggles with compassion. Jesus Christ is the One who offers us new life through the cross and empty tomb. Jesus Christ is the One who restores our spiritual sight when we cannot see beyond our brokenness. Jesus Christ empowers us to see and walk towards the goodness of God, the way of our Teacher and Savior, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Bartimaeus and Martin Luther experienced times of blindness, we encounter spiritual blindness too. We experience seasons of difficulty where there is an obstacle that we cannot move past. It is a situation that creates difficulty truly seeing the love and grace of God. Family relationships are strained and there seems to be no clear path ahead to reach towards forgiving hurts. The nature of our work changes significantly with our employer and we no longer find a sense of joy or purpose in the daily grind. The diagnosis comes with uncertainty that overwhelms our faith that once felt so secure.

We encounter spiritual blindness in the stories of the larger church and world too. Pew polls say that the overall church is declining which creates fear for the church’s future. The media daily confronts us with the reality of growing racial tensions and school shootings that push us to consider what it means to be our brother’s keeper. The political arena asks if there is anyone with a sincere spirit of integrity that might lead the people.

And through all of our searching to truly see the love and grace of God, we find ourselves sitting along the path of life. We become dismayed and we can’t see past our sinful darkness. And then we hear Mark's good news that Jesus is still on the scene. Trust that through the difficulty that you are experiencing in your life that Christ is here. Trust that through the troubles our world continues to face that Christ is present. Jesus Christ comes to us in the midst of our searching. If we might be still enough to listen to the Word then we just may hear the guiding question. The Word speaks into our lives asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Will we confess our spiritual blindness and ask to see God’s possibility? Will we humble ourselves and trust God is working in the silence and difficult places to reshape our understanding of faith and God, of ourselves and the world?
In a recent article this past week in Relevant Magazine, pastor Tom Hughes says:

Questions alone do not have the power to deepen our relationship with God. However, they are often the way in which God invites us to discover some things about God or ourselves. God will then use those questions to move us into a deeper relationship with God. A prayerfully curious and humble faith that is willing to live into the answers one day at a time will over time become a deep faith that sustains us even in the most trying of times. *

May we listen to the guiding question Jesus Christ is asking. It is not a trivial question. It begs for our deep reflection. In the spirit of the Reformation, may we engage the ongoing struggle towards new spiritual sight through Jesus Christ. The Incarnate Word is searching our hearts so that we might see the love and grace of God working through the obstacles of life. Each time we gain new spiritual sight it is a gift of being reformed and reshaped by the goodness of God, the Word of Christ, and the power of Holy Spirit. As our eyes are opened, may we have the courage to follow Christ with a growing obedience and a deepening trust in this Way we call faith.

We trust this to God and God alone. Amen.


Justo Gonzalez, “The Story of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day” (New York: Harper One, 1985), pp. 14-32.

Tom Hughes, “Four Questions That Will Deepen Your Understanding of God,” Relevant Magazine, October 19, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

Remember Whose You Are

Hebrews 5: 1-10, by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
October 18, 2015

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you’;
6as he says also in another place,
‘You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.’
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

– Hebrews 5: 1-10

It is one of the most humbling experiences in the life of faith. Many have shared that it brought them to tears. It is the ritual called “the laying on of hands.” It is a moving experience to circle around an individual to lay hands upon them and pray for anointing or healing. Rituals like this reveal the mystery of the Holy Spirit in palpable ways.

We also embody this ritual at the ordination of ruling elders or teaching elders. It is hard to put into words the way the mantle of God’s grace feels through all of those hands. It is humbling for a person of faith to feel the physical weight of prayer. It is moving for a person of faith to be called from the body of Christ to serve the people of God with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

The liturgy in the Book of Common Worship says that “Ordination is Christ’s gift to the church, assuring that his ministry continues among us, providing for ministries of caring and compassion in the world, ordering governance of the church, and preaching the Word and administering the sacraments.”

October 16 was the anniversary of my ordination. It is day I remember and give thanks to God for all the special people that nurtured God’s gifts in me. I remember the weight of the hands upon me and how it was a burden and a blessing. But I am so grateful the day was not about me. The day was to celebrate God’s faithfulness among us. It was a day to celebrate God’s steadfast love among all the people of God.

Our text this morning from Hebrews speaks to the experience of calling spiritual leaders. They are called from the body to serve the larger whole. We hear of the burden and blessing of this calling in the responsibilities given to the high priest in those days. The high priest was to create a space of worship to lift the brokenness of humanity into the light of God’s grace. And then the author of Hebrews quickly turns our focus to Jesus Christ. God’s only Son fulfilled the prophecies to be the high priest for all time. Christ was chosen and called to lead God’s people into God’s eternal restoration.

As God continued to weave a vision of ministry in the biblical story, Jesus Christ embodied a new way to pour God’s grace into the brokenness of God’s people. He was chosen from the beginning as Emmanuel, God with us. We hear those words of Christ’s choseness in today’s text– “You are my Son” (Hebrews 5:5). Those words echo the words of Jesus’ baptism in the synoptic gospel accounts: “You are my Son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). As the mantle of God’s grace rested upon Jesus in the Jordan River, he was anointed as God’s beloved. The One who would pour out God’s steadfast love through his death and resurrection so that all who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Christ lived into his choseness as our high priest unlike any who came before. Jesus took on the humbling identity of a servant leader. Hebrews describes Christ’s humble response saying, “Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest. He did this through faithful obedience in prayers and supplication, with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5: 5,7).

Jesus’ faithfulness is noted in the gospels as he said he came to serve and not to be served (Mark 10:45). It is Christ’s humble and servant leadership that invites us to be a part of God’s vision of ministry in the biblical story. That vision is the cornerstone of our Reformed faith and it is called the priesthood of all believers.

I recall my pastor saying at my ordination service a number of years ago that even as a pastor comes alongside God’s people, the ministers are the ones who are in the pews. Christ works through each of us so that we may minister to one another. I wonder if you have ever thought of yourselves as ministers in the priesthood of all believers?

I like the way our Presbyterian liturgy says it: “We are all called into the church of Jesus Christ by baptism, and marked as Christ’s own by the Holy Spirit. This is our common calling, to be disciples and servants of our servant Lord.” *

Whether we were baptized as a young child or in adulthood, our baptism is sufficient for our calling to serve in the body of Christ. By water and Holy Spirit we share in Christ’s dying and rising to new life. We are initiated into the greater family of faith, the Church Universal. We are joined to Christ’s ministries of faith, love, compassion, peace, and reconciliation. And together we are sent to continue Christ’s ministry into a hurting world.

The waters of baptism help us to visualize Christ pouring out God’s grace into the brokenness of humanity. Christ poured himself out to give us new life. Likewise we are to take our spiritual cups, which are full and filled with the Holy Spirit, and pour out God’s love in life-giving ways for others. We experience the priesthood of all believers in so many ways. When someone inspires another to dive a little deeper into faith; when laughter pours out of stories that strengthen bonds of faith and friendship at retreats; when we share the bread and cup with our homebound members; when we lay hands upon another in prayer for anointing or healing; when we gather food for those in need; when the local congregation recognizes her potential to be the church in beautiful ways during interim periods.

This afternoon some of us will see the priesthood of believers at work in our fall stated presbytery meeting. I will have the humbling experience to be examined by the members of Providence Presbytery. I will answer questions regarding theology, worship, sacraments, and polity. I pray for God’s faithfulness as we enter into these next steps towards my installation as the next pastor of Van Wyck Presbyterian. And I would covet your prayers as we continue in this process. I am grateful and humbled to walk this journey of faith beside this congregation and this presbytery. And as we celebrate God’s faithfulness, let us remember God’s vision of ministry.

Our text this morning encourages us to pause and give thanks for the common call God has placed upon all of our lives through Jesus Christ. We are called to respond to the gift of faith and our common call in baptism as Christ did with humility and servant hearts.

We will have an opportunity to respond to God’s grace following the sermon by remembering our baptism. It is a ritual that invites us to recommit ourselves to God’s story of serving in ministry together. It helps us to feel the presence of God’s Spirit moving in our lives. Hear the blessing of God’s grace through the Scriptures, liturgy and prayers. Experience the mantle of God’s grace as you touch the water in the font – the womb of spiritual renewal.

Remember you are God’s beloved. Give thanks for the saints who have poured out God’s love to you in life-giving ways. Praise God for the ways the Spirit has nurtured the unique gifts and talents in you and in me. Your baptism is sufficient for your calling to be a minister in the priesthood of all believers. Remember your baptism and remember whose you are. You are a daughter, a son of the living God.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

*“Ordination and Installation of Deacons and Elders,” Book of Occasional Services (Louisville: Geneva Press, 1999), p. 19.

Susan Andrews, Pastoral Perspective on Hebrews 5: 1-10, "Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 4" (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 182-186.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Bold Words

Hebrews 4: 12-16, by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
October 11, 2015

12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

- Hebrews 4: 12-16

They were overwhelmed by the living Word of God. There was singing. There was dancing and clapping. There were tears. As the plane landed in West Papua, Indonesia, the pastor and elders of the Kimyal Tribe had the privilege of receiving the first lot of Bibles translated into their native language. They praised God for being claimed under God’s promises. They praised God for bringing the Word of Christ to their land. They praised God for the ability to pass down the stories of God’s love through the Kimyal generations. It was a day to celebrate that God is with God’s people through Jesus Christ. It was a day to remember that by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word changes things.*

The Animate for Adults Sunday School Class saw this celebration unfold together through a You Tube video last week. It was meaningful to see how deeply the class was moved by the Kimyal Tribe’s experience. But the class was insightful to notice something so important in their discussion afterwards. That insight was how often we take God’s Word for granted because it is so accessible to us.

Seeing the gift of faith through the eyes of the other often empowers us to truly experience how alive and active God’s Word is. It is why local and international mission opportunities quickly shift our perceptions of God, the world, and self.
It points us to the fundamental truth of the Hebrews text this morning: God’s Word is living and active when we live in relationship to it.

We are created to live in relationship with the Word of God. The beginning of John's Gospel tells us about this relationship: “All things came into being through the Word [our Savior] and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1: 3-4).

As we grow in our relationship with God’s Word, it becomes a light that shines into our darkness. John Calvin often said that Scripture is like a pair of spectacles or glasses that we need to put on our spiritual eyes. It empowers us to see the world and ourselves rightly. We begin to see God’s activity in the world around us and God’s activity in our lives. That activity is God’s grace breaking in to transform our lives into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

I remember the first time I truly began studying Scripture as an adult. The more I read and learned, the more I craved to learn. God’s Word unlocked the doors of my heart and freed me to trust in the promises of God’s presence, reconciliation, healing, and wholeness. Scripture gave me the language of faith, belonging, and community. Scripture opened my spiritual eyes to see that through the gift of faith God is able to do far more than we can ever hope or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). That was comforting and it made my soul sing, dance, clap, and even cry in praise as the Kimyal Tribe did.

The active and living Word of God does not always embolden us with peace and comfort, however. If it came only into our individual lives for the sake of individual change, then we would have “accepted the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). The author of Hebrews says the Word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword. It pierces and divides soul from spirit (Hebrews 4:12).

If we are striving to build our relationship with God through the Word, then we must make room for the Spirit to challenge and shape us. It is hard to sit next to God and accept God’s will over our own. We like to be the ones in the driver's seat of life. Isn’t it easier to be the one who knows how to handle our situation? When we go to Scripture searching for God’s direction and the Spirit convicts us, it can be incredibly uncomfortable. The Word has the power to pierce us right between our soul and our spirit. You and I know that space. It is right between the seat of our affections (our will or soul) and the spiritual vessel which holds eternal things (our spirit).

A friend of mine told me about the way his faith helped him navigate through conflict with a co-worker. He was at a crossroads and knew if he spoke his mind that he would ruin the possibility of reconciliation. He felt the Spirit leading him through passages of Scripture on conflict. And it amazed him how the Word convicted him to move from a position of being right and feeling angry to having a spirit of gentleness and sensing compassion. God’s Word convicts us so that our hearts will break for those things that break God’s heart – be it conflict, natural disasters, hunger, poverty, injustice, racial tensions, you name it. God’s Word emboldens us to do the right thing as the body of Christ.

As we take life steps to mature in our faith, we keep learning that God’s Word is a trusted companion on the journey. It becomes our guide in how to live and respond to the twists and turns of life. If we are committed to make room for God’s Word to guide us, then you might be surprised that Scripture begins to read us.

God’s Word senses our limitations and weaknesses. It gives us words to frame our insecurities, our temptations, our disappointments, and our needs. God’s Word covers us in the compassion of Jesus Christ, “who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). How many of us have found solace in the psalms during those difficult days. How many of us have been emboldened by God’s prayer book in search of grace during times of need?

The Psalmist says, “God you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely” (Psalm 139: 1-4).

When was the last time you were overwhelmed by the Word of God? Maybe it was this morning. Maybe it was last week. Or maybe it has been a long time. There is an ebb and flow to our faith journey as the excitement decreases and increases within our hearts. I encourage us all to rekindle our time with God’s Word by taking up a Breath Prayer this week.

A breath prayer is is an intentional pause throughout the day to focus prayerfully on a short phrase or bible verse through your breathing.

Right now I want you to close your eyes. Slowly breathe in. Slowly breathe out. Let the solitude of silence claim you.

Breathe in these words: “God’s Word”
Breathe out these words: “Is alive.”
Breathe in: “God’s Word”
Breathe out: “Is alive.”

Focus on these four words. How is God’s Word alive in you? What area of your life is God bringing peace? How is God’s Word convicting you? What situation needs grace? As you reflect this week also consider this breath prayer in regards to our community. Now open your eyes.

May you be overwhelmed by God’s bold Word this week.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

* “The Kimyal Tribe, West Papua, Indonesia, Welcoming First Lot of The Bible in Their Language,”

Monday, October 5, 2015


John 15: 1-11 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
October 4, 2015
World Communion Sunday

'I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. - John 15:1-11

This past week I was blessed to travel to Indiana for a week of continuing education. I spent the week with twenty-five PC(USA) pastors from across the country for some Sabbath time and reflection of our lives in ministry. All of the pastors who gathered are in the first seven years of ministry. The conference retreat is called CREDO, which is Latin for “I Believe.” The conference is modeled after one used for clergy in the Episcopal Church to decrease pastor burnout. I deeply appreciate the way our denomination is caring for pastors and helping us to cultivate a healthy sense of self in ministry.

Through the week we were led to reflect on six areas: vocational identity, spiritual health, physical health, emotional health, financial health, and leadership identity. The key was not to focus on our skills in these areas. The key was to reflect on what gives us life.

As we gained more insight into these areas, we were charged to write a Rule of Life – a spiritual map – to integrate the many parts of ourselves into one. This idea goes back to the fifth century where monks wrote a Rule of Life to grow in their spiritual relationship with God in the community of the monastery. The Rule included practices or disciplines centering upon prayer, Bible study, and actions to be faithful to God.

My colleagues and I wrote four important practices to live by over the course of this year. As I wrote my Rule of Life I focused on my spirituality, physical and emotional well-being, my family relationships, and growing as a disciple of Christ. I could not think of these practices as something I had to do. It is hard to find joy in something that is an obligation. It soon becomes something we dread and it loses its intention to be life giving. Instead I felt the Spirit’s encouragement to consider practices where I might abide more deeply in God’s love.

Jesus taught his disciples about the practice of abiding. Did you catch how many times he said the word “abide” or “abiding” in the text? He says it ten times. That must be important.

“Abide in me as I abide in you” (verse 4). Through the years these words have become a life verse for me. I hope they will become a life verse for you too. How do we find real ways to position ourselves in Christ’s way of life? How do we abide?

In order for us to live more deeply into Christ’s example, we have to remove all the stuff that gets in the way. God sees those things in our hearts and minds that are not bearing fruit. God wants to remove every branch that bears no fruit. But first God invites us to look inside ourselves and to be honest about what we see. It is important for us to have the courage to be vulnerable with God.

It is not easy task to look into our lives and even into the past hours of the day and remember how we have denied God. Old habits, stress, and apathy are just a few obstacles that choke the roots of our faith. The Spirit moves us to confess the ways we have focused more on our situations than trusting God’s promises to work through them. That kind of vulnerability begins to prepare a place for Christ’s example to abide in us.

God clears away the obstacles to our faith and redirects our trust and faith priorities. As God does this spiritual work within us, God looks for the buds of faith that have taken root in our lives. And God begins to prune or shape the good that we are doing. Think about the branches of faith in your life that have shown glimpses of Christ working through you. That moment that you prayed for patience with your children as chaos surrounded you. The year when your friend’s deep faith inspired you to be more faithful to God. The time when your marriage was tested and you reached towards grace instead of resentment.

Reflection is necessary for our faith to grow more fully into the likeness of Christ. When our faith helps us to take the next right step we may not do it perfectly or as often as we should. But that is just part of being human. Only Christ lived in perfect relationship with God. As we look at our lives and consider how we are abiding in Christ’s way of life, God honors our efforts with love and grace. God continues to shape our faith so that it may bear more fruit. A colleague of mine shared with me last week, “Don’t get ahead of God’s grace.” The best we can do is to open ourselves to God’s transformation in our lives.

If we can focus on a few significant ways to truly abide in God’s presence, Christ’s grace, and the Spirit’s embrace then we truly see our faith bud and grow. Later this morning we will be joining sisters and brothers in faith from all across the world at the Lord’s Table. We all will have the opportunity to see, touch, taste and experience God’s amazing grace in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Christ invites us to consider how we might abide in his love more fully. The bread of life and the cup of salvation nourish and strengthen our faith.

As we share in the feast I invite you to consider a few ways that you might deepen your commitment to abide in Christ as he abides in you.

Take a pulse in those areas of faith we talked about earlier this morning:

Do you spend meaningful time in prayer and Bible study?
Are you taking care of your nutrition and physical health in life giving ways?
How are you tending to your significant relationships?
Do you honor God through your gifts of time, talent, and treasures?
What are you curious to learn about to deepen your faith?

Consider two things you might put into regular practice to abide more deeply in Christ. As I think about my own faith practices I have made a commitment to be with God every day to sit in Scripture and to pray. Sometimes prayer will be just listening for God. Sometimes prayer will be through activities like exercise or coloring. Sometimes prayer will be talking with God on the behalf of others. Another faith practice of mine is to be intentional about nurturing the significant relationships with my family. How might you consider abiding?

Ask God to remove the obstacles. Invite the Spirit to help you redirect your faith priorities. Where have you not trusted God in your life? What parts of your faith have been life giving? Look for Christ living through you in such a way that this gift of faith bears fruit. The fruit you and I are looking for is what the Apostle Paul calls "the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5: 22-23).

God wants us to abide in Christ for one purpose. “That Christ’s joy may be in [you and me] and that our joy may be complete (John 15:11). Joy is not happiness in our circumstances. Joy is having a keener awareness of God’s grace in our lives. Take the next right step in God’s life giving grace. Abide in Christ as Christ abides in you.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.