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first sermon for new congregation

Well, I don’t know you and you don’t know me. But, we’ll find out in due time who’s who and who’s not. For me, an extrovert, getting acquainted is fun. I’ve never met a stranger although I have met some very strange folks. I don’t think you will find me odd, I’m pretty much like you. I grew up in the south. My folks are gone now but they raised four of us. I’m the only daughter and I have three brothers. We were pretty normal. My daddy was a deputy sheriff and my mother was a pentecostal minister. Wait, did I say that we were normal? Well, for sure we stayed out of trouble. Or, at least I did.

My home state is Louisiana. (Geoux Saints) I’m a graduate of LSU (Geaux Tigers) and ministry is my second career. (yay Jesus?) I used to teach children how to talk. I was a speech pathologist in my first lifetime. My husband was an attorney. His Alma Mater was Tulane. So, ours was a mixed marriage. Our three children were all born in Baton Rouge. I have two sons and a daughter. I’m a grandmother. And, you are so very right. I am indeed waaay too young to be a such a thing. 

A year and a half ago my husband passed away. His health had been fragile for quite a long time. He got to see our kids get grown and he loved that granddaughter. He called her a pistol. He also got to see our boys do what they do-- which is music. They are bona fide rock stars. Ian, the oldest one is on his own up in Chattanooga and the youngest, Chas, is still on the dole while he is in college--not so far away, in Waleska, Ga, Reinhardt University where he is studying music performance.  My beautiful daughter, Camille, and my EXCEPTIONALLY beautiful, gifted and witty granddaughter, Ellen, live out in Texas. I am for the first time a true empty nester. I’m not sure, yet, if that suits me. I do intend to live graciously, and gratefully, here in Carroll County. I intend to serve Bowdon First remembering all of my blessings and giving the Lord thanks every day for every step of my journey. 

I’ve told you a little about myself. We will get to know each other better, as we share with one another day to day and week to week. Here, in the beginning, because the Bishop sent me here, I am a preacher, a teacher, and your official Methodist presence in this small part of west Georgia. When the names were read, down in Athens at Annual conference, all of that became a done deal. What has not been decided is whether or not, you will allow me to be your pastor. That is a privilege that cannot be forced. I hope to earn your trust and your confidence as we figure out how to do ministry together. 

I sense your good will. I have been praying for you since I received the call from Ed Tomlinson that I was on my way to Bowdon. I am expecting a good time and a whole lot of hard work. There is much to do. Let’s get to it.

First a word about how to pick a scripture for a first sermon. I am a lectionary preacher. That’s neither good nor bad but I am happy to find out that you know what one is. Today’s readings are rich with some of my favorite passages in God’s Word. In fact, today each reading is quite appropriate with the theme of journey, and God’s provision along the way. Psalm 42: As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you... Galatians 3: Faith has come... we are baptized and clothed with Christ... and we are heirs to a great promise because we belong to Christ. It is an embarrassment of riches! There are great speeches and scenes in each one. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God!” “There is no longer Jew or greek, slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus! And, In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus heals a man tormented with demons. It is a very dramatic exorcism. I believe that we could dive into any one of these texts with the expectation that God would meet us and feed us well. It’s all true. It’s all Good News. And, like a table spread with a balanced diet it doesn’t really matter if we begin with the desert or the entree, it’s all good for the Body.

With that said, since we are about to embark on a journey together. Let’s begin with the journey of Elijah in First Kings. Do you know the story? 

Well, it begins as a war between the prophets. Prophets were advisors to the kings and they were paid to tell the king what God expected him to do. As in any administration there were good advisors and bad advisors. Under the advice of his wife Jezabel, Ahab had been killing off all the good prophets so that he would have a palace full of ‘yes men’ who told him what he wanted to hear  These were not the Living God of Israel’s men, but the prophets of Baal--the pagan Canaanite’s god. This ends with a dramatic standoff between the great Man of God, Elijah and the people who were thoroughly confused about who to serve. Who were they to believe? The country was in --literally-- a hot mess because of a drought. The people were suffering and couldn’t agree on anything. They had almost forgotten who they were supposed to serve. There was a great contest, where after a lot of showy fanfare, Elijah prayed for God to show up in a fire. Long story short, not only did the fire come down but rain for the whole land followed. The people had been reminded and worshipped God with sincere relief and gratitude. In Elijah’s zeal... and without being told to do so by God... he seized and killed all the prophets of Baal. This greatly angers the King’s Wife, Jezabel. Jezabel sends word to Elijah that he is going will die. Elijah got afraid. He got up and ran for his life. Here we pick up the story from the text:

Beginning in verse 4 of the nineteenth chaper of 1 kings:

4 he ...went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus;

Maybe this is not fit for a “first sermon” text. I mean, it’s all about people who have forgotten who they are supposed to be serving. And, here’s the prophet of God running for his life. Just to be clear... I haven’t killed anyone with a sword. 

Maybe it would have been better to preach on coming to a new place and casting out devils... No?

I suspect that the word that God would have for us is contained in the verses about listening for God. We try so hard. We long for God to quench our thirst and when we find God, we realize that nothing else will do. When we try to do things on our own we make a mess of it. We want to be the promise of Christ to the world but sometimes, the world crowds in on top of us and we struggle to breathe from the weight of what we’ve brought upon ourselves. 

There are a great many winds that would distract us. We get caught up in earthquakes and sometimes we stir up our own. How do we hear God? We listen for the still small voice and it has to get real quite before we can hear it.

We live in difficult times. Some of our times are really, really tough. Through all of life’s occasions--for everything that happens between the great brackets of {birth--and--death} trials of the major and minor variety toughen and strengthen us. Sometimes they kill us. But, mostly they are just tedious. The most tedious time of my life was when my own children were little. There were so many voices telling us how to get them raised.  And, that was for just routine maintenance. It was hard not to get caught up in the little things. There were some big things, too. And, there were a few fires. But, I always had some hope. Now, I just cross my fingers and hope that whatever we did, that it was enough. We taught them as right as we knew how to. Now they’re on their own. Did I mention that I am a grandmother? She calls me YaYa. In her, I see hope. 

She is tall and lanky like her daddy. She’s filled out some since I saw her last. But, one of the last times I held her she was very still... listening to a story... folded up in my arms...  like a cricket. Like if you stretched her out you'd pull off a leg, or an arm, or a wing, or an antennae. But, then she springs up!! and nothing breaks off!! Those quiet moments with little ones are quite precious. God tells us that we are precious. 

So, here’s the thing: we do the best we can. We trust God that God does indeed speak. While we’re doing the work we listen the best we can. And, then sometimes, we just have to stop. Let things get good and still. Then, God will ask: “What are you doing here?” When we stop and listen, we’ll hear God call our name and ask, “What are you doing here?”

We all have to answer that question. And, as we do? Let’s expect God to lead us to hopefullness. Bowdon has much work to do. I suspect there is going to be a wilderness period ahead. How long we’ll need to tarry there I don’t know. I just know that we do not go alone. 

Hear the Good News! Christ is born, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!


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Comment by lovie on June 25, 2013 at 11:52am

Sharon, my best wishes to you as you enter a new chapter of your ministry. I am sure that you and your congregation will develop equal respect and love for one another as you continue to get acquainted. Lastly, from one Louisiana girl (and LSU fan) to another...Go Get 'Em...TIGER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Comment by Lori on June 24, 2013 at 6:36pm

Sharon, this is beautiful and shares who you are is a very real way, they are blessed to have you as their pastor.  I sat listening to the sermon in church on Sunday and got goosebumps as i heard the reading and remembered you would have delivered yours on that very scripture.  Love the unity of the body!

Comment by Angela on June 23, 2013 at 7:13am

Sharon, Beautiful sermon. Best of luck in your new church.

Comment by only1sue on June 23, 2013 at 3:43am

It was my preaching day today 8am, 9.30am and 6pm and I preached on the Luke reading and on bringing harmony into storm driven lives and treating people how we want to be treated ourselves.  I preach four times a year.  I have been offered once a month and may do that later.  I am in an Anclican church but our young minister believes we should have a range of ages and voices preaching so I am one of three lay readers. Enjoyed your sermon and good luck with wnning the congregation onto your side and hope you make them into a cohesive team and with a community focus.


Comment by recent loss(Ron)>>Recently Found on June 22, 2013 at 11:22pm

Shaeon  this is a wonderful 1st sermon for a new church. I say Amen and wish i was in your new church to watch the reaction of the people.

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