Francis Asbury United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Message from Reverend David Melville
“Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” Who uttered that alluring expression? That’s right: Gomer Pyle, USMC, always with a great big grin.
With age, and with a new bombshell in the news each day, we’ve become a little numb, a little jaded to being surprised, haven’t we? We’re prone to pronounce that “nothing surprises me anymore.” The writer of Ecclesiastes must have felt that way after lamenting, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” [Ecclesiastes 1:9]
But as Christians, life should be full of surprises; we should wake to each day exclaiming, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” Otherwise, we may miss out on the things which truly make life worthwhile.
I like to think of the Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas season ahead as the season of surprises. What surprises does God still have in store for us, regardless of our age … regardless of feeling on some days that we’ve seen it all? There’s nothing new under the sun. That’s not a good feeling, and it’s not a feeling we have to have. When we least expect it, God shows up.
This morning I want us to be open to the surprise of miracles. God can show up in the form of a miracle, but we fail to show up. One time I visited with a church member who truly wanted to make a miraculous change in his lifestyle. He was fed up with the status quo. He had been humbled, he was penitent, and he truly wanted to be different. But the one thing he wouldn’t do was submit to counseling … considering it a sign of weakness for a macho man. He believed in miracles, he wanted a miracle, but he wasn’t willing to do his part in bringing one about.
I suggest another pre-requisite for a miracle is to not be afraid. How many times did Jesus comfort someone with the assurance, “Do not be afraid. Let God surprise you.” [Well, I added the last part …] And if the person believed, God did. When was the last time fear prevented a miracle in your life?
This year at Francis Asbury I want us to be alert to the possibility of surprises as we, on December 3 – the first Sunday of Advent – offer a tangible expression of faith as to how much we will give monthly to the Lord in 2018. In addition to all other commitments for 2018, this one needs to be among our priorities. We think about and we budget for all our living expenses from the house mortgage to how much we are going to spend on Christmas. On December 3 we’re going to decide how much we’re going to spend on God.
Miracles can still happen … even in modern-day America. Even in our age of enlightenment and reason, I believe God is still in the miracle business, and that includes our personal finances.
The truth is, United Methodists don’t talk about money a lot; we’re kind of lackadaisical about money as we are about church attendance, about Bible study, and about sin. But the truth also is that for most of us it is a miracle that we make ends meet year in and year out. Unlike Washington, D.C., we can’t just print more money or borrow from China, and yet somehow as individuals, we make it.
On December 3, remember that miracles still happen in God’s world, and just as God’s generosity to you year in and year out is a miracle, our commitment to giving this year may be larger than ever before, or miracle of miracles, we may commit for the first time on December 3 … sign the dotted line. And you know the first time is the hardest.
On paper, it may not add up. After paying your other bills there is simply not enough left over for God. We convince ourselves that God will understand, and I’m sure He does. After all, God is all-knowing, right? So surely God understands our capitalist, free-market system, right? We are a Christian nation … a “city on a hill” … so surely God understands why and how our money is gone even before we get it.
Yes, I do believe God understands our personal finances because He gave us whatever resources we have. God determines our income; we’re the ones controlling our expenses. We’re the ones responding to the advertising and to keeping up with the Jones. We’re the ones deciding what we want, versus what we need.
No, I don’t believe God punishes us if we don’t give enough like the IRS punishes us if we don’t give enough. But I do believe we punish ourselves by missing out on the miracles of generosity. We lose out when we are no longer surprised by what God can do with a little … when we are no longer surprised to see God multiply the loaves and fishes. If we’re missing out on miracles, life becomes a rat race, a dog-eat-dog world, dull, and life becomes eeking it out month after month, payday to payday. It’s a shame when we’re no longer surprised by miracles in the most blessed and the freest nation in history.
Please be ready for a season of miracles this Advent in your home and here at Francis Asbury. Miracles didn’t stop when Jesus was killed. They only stopped when people stopped believing in them. Miracles ceased when people stopped looking for them and seeing them. Open my eyes, that I may see, glimpses of truth thou hast for me …
Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant Founding Father and renaissance type guy. When it came to religion, he famously cut out the miracle stories of Jesus; he literally cut and pasted a more streamlined edition of the New Testament. Jefferson admired a lot about Jesus but did not buy into the miracles unsupported by science and reason.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and didn’t see anything wrong with it. Maybe unbelief in the supernatural was why Constitutional Convention delegates didn’t consider and count a slave as a full person (they were 3/5 a person), and why they did not extend the right of liberty and justice, and the pursuit of happiness to all Americans … say women for example. Maybe such blessings of true equality and freedom are miracles … the kind of supernatural actions Jefferson cut out of the Bible with his scissors.
Perhaps a miracle is the only way to describe the transformation in heart and mind of abolitionists such as former slave trader John Newton and our own John Wesley, who led the way in England to end slavery … a century before Americans ended slavery.
Be sure in the season ahead … the season of gratitude and giving and plenty … that you recognize and appreciate the material miracles that have occurred in your life. Be sure to recognize and appreciate the miracles that tithing may produce in your life, in the life of your family, and in the life of Francis Asbury.
It’s a miracle when church members give when we don’t have to. It’s a miracle each time a church member increases his or her giving from the year before. It’s a miracle to witness what can happen when church members seriously pray about and honor their financial commitment to the church, in addition to giving their time and talents.
When you look at the renovation of this building (and it not costing us a red cent or a minute of our labor, and when you look at the total transformation of the sanctuary, there is no doubt God is still in the miracle business. Are you? On December 3 we will know.
Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) was promoted to Honorary Corporal in the United States Marines after serving as Private First Class for over thirty years. Sometimes miracles such as that are a long time coming, but they come if we wait long enough and if we do our part. Gomer’s response at the ceremony, after a salute: Well, gol-ly! I hope on December 3 God shouts, “Well, gol-ly!” And it’s alright if you, after being faithful and patient, after doing your part, receive a miracle in your life, to shout out to God, “Well, gol-ly!” But it’s really no surprise because you and I believe God is still in the miracle business.
Let us stand now and sing Open My Eyes, That I May See as a reminder to look for miracles in our lives.