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Lexington United Methodist Church

Lexington, AL

Sermon Notes

Bro. Michael's sermon notes are posted here each week.

"Christian Hospitality" - Matthew 10:40-42

June 28, 2020

There are a lot of good teachers, and a lot of good events out there to help churches become stronger and healthier. In fact, it was at an event like that where I first heard the suggestion that most visitors at a church make up their minds about whether or not they are coming back within the first ten minutes of their arrival. Not within ten minutes of the beginning of worship. Within ten minutes of their arrival. Unfortunately for most of us preachers, that means that visitors are making up their minds about our churches long before we ever start preaching.


But if it is not the quality of the preaching that persuades a first-time visitor to become a second-time visitor, what is it? What could be so powerful, what could be so persuasive that in less than ten minutes visitors are already making the decision whether or not they will ever set foot in a church again?


In a word, the answer is hospitality. More important than the preaching, more important than the style of worship, more important than the time or the architecture or theology or anything else, is whether or not visitors are made to feel welcomed when they come to our churches. As Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes others welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”


Now when I was preparing my sermon originally, this was going to be the part of the sermon where I was going to include some general thoughts about how we might show even greater hospitality in the days ahead. But when I arrived at church to worship and preach this message, something caused me to reconsider things.


As I stepped in to our fellowship hall, I saw a couple of people in our kitchen area. Hayden, one of the musicians in our praise team, was making coffee for Stephen, a visitor whom he had brought to church with him. Even though Stephen is a member of a neighboring church, he wanted Hayden to bring him to our church this week. Even though our scripture reading for the day promised a blessing for one who shared a cool cup of water, it occurred to me that surely there was also a blessing for the one who shared a hot cup of coffee, too. Thanks to my friend, Hayden, for a real-life object lesson that was better than anything I would have come up with on my own!

"Some Things Are Worth Fighting For" - Romans 6:1-11

June 21, 2020

Most of the things we fight about are not worth fighting about. To fight over things that are silly or childish is itself silly and childish. To avoid fights over things like that, on the other hand, is the mark of a mature and sensible person.


However . . .


While most of the things we fight over are things not worth fighting over, there are some things that are so important that not only are they worth fighting for, we are obligated to fight for them!

Family is worth fighting for. Friends are worth fighting for. Our community is worth fighting for, and our neighbors are worth fighting for, too. Righteousness is worth fighting for, but justice and mercy and forgiveness are worth fighting for, too.


Our faith, our church, and our Lord are worth fighting for, too.


Jesus thought so, too. He thought fishermen and tax collectors were worth fighting for. Jesus thought good people were worth fighting for, but he also thought those who were not so good were worth fighting for.

Jesus thinks we are worth fighting for, too.


If Jesus thinks we are worth fighting for, then we can fight for him, too. And one of the ways we can fight for Jesus is found in today’s scripture reading. Though Paul is clear that salvation is by our faith—that is, a gift—we can still stand up for that gift. And one way to fight for that gift is to not take it for granted.


Though some seemed to suggest that our sins are an opportunity for God’s grace to abound all the more, Paul was horrified by that thought. Rather, the best way to honor such a great gift is to appreciate it, and to fight for it. One way to fight for that gift is to allow the power of Christ to transform us so thoroughly that we allow him to help us become the disciples he created us to be.     

"Like a Good Neighbor" - Genesis 18:1-15

June 14, 2020

In June of 1996, I stood up in the pulpit of my own church for the very first time. Of course, I was nervous. To make things even worse, the organist and the song leader were gone on vacation that day, and the people they had arranged to take their places that day forgot. Preaching for the very first time was hard. But leading singing for the first, and last time in my life, was even worse!


Even though my first seminary class didn’t begin until a couple of months later, I did receive some very good, if abbreviated, training at Licensing School at Camp Sumatanga. And one of the best bits of advice I received there was this: “Whatever you do, make sure your church members know before you drop in for a visit!”


Abraham’s three visitors must have missed that day in Licensing School.

Though he was not expecting guests, Abraham went above and beyond when it came to offering hospitality to his unexpected guests. Abraham didn’t realize it at the time, but his guest that day was none other than the Lord himself! Before the Lord left that day, Abraham and Sarah were promised that she would have a son before the Lord returned. Sarah laughed, because she and Abraham were so old. But it was exactly as the Lord had promised.

Is anything to wonderful for the Lord?!


You and I have the same opportunity today to show the kind of hospitality to others that Abraham and Sarah showed in days of old. Although the writer of Hebrews would later remind Christians that some have entertained angels unawares, we don’t need that kind of reward to do what we ought to do anyway. It is enough for us to know that the one two whom we show hospitality is a child of God, created in God’s own image. After all, none other than Christ himself reminds us that whatever we do for others, we do for him as well.


Where there is hospitality, there is Christ. Where there is no hospitality, there is no Christ.  

Matthew 28:16-20

June 7, 2020 - Trinity Sunday

Key verse: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (v. 20)


If you live long enough, you realize that most things are not as permanent they seemed at the time. Childhood friends are not permanent. School is not permanent. Even jobs are not permanent. When I was a young man serving in the United States Marine Corps, my discharge date, 12 APR 1988, seemed like an eternity away. And yet thirty-two more April the Twelfths have come and gone since that date has passed!


One response we might have to all this change and impermanence is just to throw up our hands and decide that nothing is permanent. We are just doomed to be tossed to and fro, like so much seaweed floating in the surf.

Another option—the more theologically sound option, I might add!—is to do a better job of distinguishing between those things that are only temporary, and those things that are indeed permanent. One of those things that is genuinely permanent is Christ’s promise that he will be with us always, even to the end of the age.


That’s not the first time the LORD noticed that we needed company, of course. Did you know this concern goes all the way back to the very beginning of the Bible? Despite all the vast menagerie of creatures that called Eden home, not one of them was a suitable companion to Adam. “It’s not good for Adam to be alone,” God said.


And yet, I have always wondered how was it that the LORD knew it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. Was it simply a case of one of those things God knew because God knows everything? Or was there another, more personal, way that God came by that insight?


I think the LORD knew it was not good for us to be alone because not even the LORD is alone. When Christ commanded his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I think he intended for us to understand that we are to be in relationship with him, and with one another, as the three persons of the Trinity have always been in relationship with one another! The theology of the Trinity might be one of those things that theologians continue to work out, but maybe it’s enough for us to understand that our faith starts with the notion that we are not alone, just as God is not alone either.


Happy Trinity Sunday, Brothers and Sisters!

Michael Burgess  

"The More the Merrier" - Acts 2:1-21

May 31, 2020 - Pentecost Sunday

The “what” of Pentecost is easy to spot: The wind, the noise, and most of all, the tongues as of divided fire alighting on each of the Twelve. The “why” of Pentecost, on the other hand, is not always as easy to discern. Sometimes lost in the spectacle of Pentecost is the purpose of Pentecost. As a “Pentecostal” people, that is, those who believe in God’s presence in the Holy Spirit, we owe it to the Lord to try to discern God’s Kingdom purposes in the Pentecost story!


As soon as the Twelve received the Holy Spirit, the rushed out of the room in which they had gathered, and they boldly marched into the heart of the city to declare the message that in the day of the Spirit’s arrival everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!


Under normal circumstances, even their best efforts would have still been limited, as there were many Jews in Jerusalem who spoke only the languages native to their homelands. But these were not normal circumstances.


Despite the fact that those in the crowd came from the fartherest flung points of the known world, the Spirit enabled the disciples to declare the Good News in all of the languages necessary so that everyone present would have the opportunity to hear, and to respond, to the preaching of the Twelve. And respond they did! Thousands poured forth to lay claim to the promise made by Peter and the others.


The good news for us is that the “everyone” in his promise was even bigger than Peter himself probably imagined. For it was not long before gentiles in gentile lands also heard of the same promise, and they, too, wanted to be a part of the new Jesus movement. Eventually, that word made it all the way to us in Lexington, Alabama.


We may not speak Parthian or Phrygian or any of the other exotic languages Acts mentions in the Pentecost story. But we can speak to our friends and neighbors and others, and we can share our story with them in a language they can understand, too.


Grace and peace,

Michael

"Gone, But not Done" - Acts 1:1-11

May 24, 2020

There is a lot to be said for knowing a Bible story so well that we don’t really have to listen too closely when that story is being read to us. Only someone who has spent a lot of time in church and reading his or her Bible would ever think such a thing in the first place.


Sometimes, however, such lifelong familiarity might cause us to overlook things a new Christian might not precisely because the stories of the Bible are so new to them! Because scripture lives and breathes in the lives of the faithful, even those of us who are old hands at this still need to read and to listen for those new things the Lord would have us understand.

The Ascension is one of those stories.


It would have been an easy thing for the disciples to stand silent and awestruck at the sight of the Resurrected Jesus ascending into the heavens. In fact, that seems to be exactly what they did! Who knows how long they may have gazed at the heavens, hypnotized, had the angels not interrupted them?

But the angels did interrupt them.


“What are you guys doing standing around, gaping at the clouds?” they asked. “One of these days, Christ is coming back. But until that day comes, you have work to do!”


As any adult could tell last night’s graduates, although graduation day may seem like a grand conclusion—and it is!—graduation is really mostly a new beginning.


It is the same way in the life of a Christian, too. Just as the disciples were not allowed to remain atop the mountain following the Transfiguration, just as the disciples were shoo’d away by the angels after the Ascension, so also are we to continue in our walks of faith, even when we reach important milestones along the way, too. And the One who sits at the right hand of the Father, the One who is coming back one of these days, will be with us every step of the way!


Grace and peace,

Michael    

"A Good Word for Words" - Acts 17:22-32

May 17, 2020

“Talk is cheap.”


We have all heard that before. Maybe we have all even said that before. We say things like “talk is cheap” or “actions speak louder than words” or something similar because we know that words sometimes can be used to mislead, and sometimes even to completely deceive us. To be told that one speaks like a fast-talking politician or used car salesman is usually not a compliment.


But this message, based on Paul’s encounter with the Athenians at the Areopagus, is based on the notion that words also can be used to convey the greatest and most profound truths imaginable. The Ten Commandments were God’s words for us carved in stone. The gospels are words written by the evangelists so that those who were not eyewitnesses can still know what we need to know about Jesus in order to come to saving faith in his name. The whole Bible is given to us by the one who is himself “the Word”!


That’s why this message is entitled, “A Good Word for Words.”


The Athenians are a great example of how to listen to words. Because mature, healthy people know that character and reputation matter, we should weigh and test those things spoken by those we don’t know. That is exactly what the Athenians did. They gave Paul a fair hearing. They even promised to hear more from Paul. But they also allowed themselves time to consider the things Paul was talking about—especially the Resurrection.


But if the Athenians are a great example of how to listen, then Paul is a wonderful example of how we might witness to, and persuade, others. Rather than beating them over the head with scriptures they did not know, Paul spoke to Athenians using language and ideas they did know!


Of course, by the time the story ended, the Athenians were still thinking about the things Paul said. But he gave them a chance to believe. And they gave themselves a chance to believe. Thanks be to God!


Grace and peace, Michael

"A Mother's Love" - Matthew 23:37

May 10, 2020 - Mother's Day

In August, 1969, my grandmother presented me with a small, black New Testament. The inscription read, “To Michael Bailey, With Love, Monnie.”

The name my grandmother used to sign that New Testament is a story unto itself. But the more interesting thing about that inscription is the name by which she called me: “Michael Bailey.” Without going into all the details, Bailey was my natural father’s name.


Unfortunately for us, Bill Bailey was not a very responsible husband or father. And it wasn’t long before my mother packed up her meager belongings and brought us back to Anniston to live with her mother and father. A few years later my mother remarried, and her new husband was responsible enough to adopt my brother and me. Ever since that day I have been Michael Burgess.

I mention the inscription in that New Testament because it reminds me of the image Jesus used to describe himself in our gospel reading this morning. 


Standing in the heart of the city that would shortly be witness to his crucifixion, Jesus called out, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather you up under my wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” While scripture is rife with masculine images for God the Father and God the Son, this is surely the most powerful feminine image Christ ever used for himself!


My mother drew her two sons close to her heart, and she protected my brother and me by taking us to the one place she knew we would be loved and cared for the way she thought we ought to be—her own mother and father’s house. I thank God for all those mothers and grandmothers who have sacrificed so much that their children and grandchildren might be loved and protected. And I thank God for his Son who loves us in the same way, and even better! Happy Mothers Day to all who have blessed us! 

"Ordinary Miracles" - Acts 2:42-47

May 3, 2020

There were miracles aplenty in the early Church. For what else would you call it when someone as notoriously unreliable as Peter was able to stand up in the very city that crucified Jesus, and proclaim the Lord’s name with such power and such conviction that three thousand people rushed forward to be baptized, and to become part of the early Church?!

And it wasn’t just Peter. After Christ ascended into heaven, the disciples picked up right where Jesus had left off. They healed the sick. They cast out demons. And on at least one occasion, both Peter and Paul brought the dead back to life!

If only we had such miracles today. Who knows how full our churches might be?

According to our scripture reading this morning, we already have all the miracles we need. They may not be especially spectacular miracles. But even these ordinary miracles had then, and continue to have today, power to draw others into the faith.

For what was it that those in this morning’s lesson saw? They saw the apostles teaching and fellowshipping and breaking bread together. They saw the apostles sharing with one another, and selling their possessions to help the poor. They saw the apostles filled with glad and generous hearts, and they saw them praising God.

There was not one lightning bolt or parted sea in sight. And yet, these ordinary miracles were enough to draw new Christians to the apostles every day.

The best news of all? There is not one thing in this entire scripture reading that you and I can’t do as well!

Let us break bread together, and see what happens.

"Half a Sermon" - Acts 2:14, 22-39

April 26, 2020

When Peter had finished his famous Pentecost sermon, the crowds cried out in response, “Brothers, what should we do?” (v. 37)


That got me to thinking. Most preachers spend a lot of time praying, studying, and preparing our sermons; usually a lot more time than people realize. As you can probably imagine, given all the holy work that goes into a sermon, it is a satisfying thing indeed when those effort results in a message that is not only effective, but faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.


However, the cry of the crowd in this week’s scripture reading reminded me of something I always knew, but sometimes lose sight of. Even the best prepared, most eloquently preached sermon does not end just because the preacher says, “Amen.” Whether it is Billy Graham, or the Pope, or a small-town preacher in extreme north Alabama, we preachers only get the sermon started. We only get us halfway there.


When the crowds cried out at the end of Peter’s sermon, “Brothers, what should we do?” they remind us that no sermon is ever finished, no sermon is ever really complete, until those who hear that sermon supply the conclusion.

That’s why this week’s message is entitled “Half a Sermon.”

When I was a seventeen year old recruit at Parris Island, South Carolina, I learned a very valuable lesson. If a recruit ever tried to do something his way, instead of the way the drill instructors taught him to do it, Sgt. Thomas was immediately there to holler out, “We don’t have any John Waynes in this platoon!”


It occurs to me that the Church doesn’t have any John Waynes either. Everything we do, including the sermon, we do together, as a church family. As Paul once said, there may be many members, but there is only one body (1 Corinthians 12:12). Amen. 

"A Good Word for Thomas" - John 20:19-29

April 19, 2020

It’s really not fair that we should know Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” It’s true that he didn’t believe the other disciples when they told him they had seen the resurrected Jesus. They hadn’t believed either; at least not at first, or not until they saw Jesus with their own eyes. When Thomas, who wasn’t there that first Easter Sunday evening, saw Jesus with his own eyes, he believed, too. Just like they had believed.


In fact, Thomas took his belief one step further. Whereas the other disciples remained silent after Jesus appeared to them, Thomas offered the best, and most complete, confession of faith to be found in the entire gospel: “My Lord, and my God!”


Jesus did not remember Thomas in his lowest and most embarrassing moment. Instead, Jesus gave Thomas everything he would need to believe, and everything he would need to be the kind of disciple Jesus needed him to be. Just as he will give us, too.


Sometimes lost in the story of “Doubting” Thomas is the promise Jesus made at the end of the story. After making his powerful confession of faith, Jesus asked Thomas, “Do you believe because you have seen me? I tell you this. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet still believe!”


Because none of the disciples believed before they saw the risen Jesus, he was not talking about them. But if Jesus was not talking about the disciples, who was he talking about?

He was talking about us. For we are the ones who have not seen, and yet still believe.


May the Lord give to all of us everything we need to believe in him even more. And may he give to us everything we need to do all the things he needs us to do for his Kingdom, and for his Church. Amen.