Doing Life and Church in a New Way

Who could have imagined that life could change so quickly for our world, our nation, our state, and our community? Because of the COVID-19 virus, our lives have changed. Social distancing has become a buzzword and a way of life. For a while at least, we cannot gather in large groups. Almost all large group gatherings, including church services, have been postponed or canceled. We have had to live in a new way. We have been forced to do church in a new way.

church-online-heroInstead of preaching to a congregation, I am preaching to a screen. Instead of gathering in person for worship, we sit in front of a screen. Instead of leading a Bible Study live with a small group, I am prerecording it for viewing later. Like you, I have been forced to do things out of my comfort zone, such as speaking to a camera or becoming a video editor.

isaiah 43_19The good news is that we follow a God who is always asking us to do things in a new way. Isaiah 43:19 says “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” God is always in the process of doing new things, but we do not always see it. God’s promise is that even in the darkest of days, in the wilderness or in the desert, God will make a way for us.

Who knows? Maybe we will slow down. Maybe we will spend more time with our family. Maybe through living and doing church in a new way, God may speak to us in ways that would not have happened if life was “normal.” Maybe someone will see and know the message of God’s love and grace online, who would never physically venture into a church. Honestly, I am still uncomfortable with this “new” way, but it is what we must do right now for the safety of our families and our community.

There is much unknown about the future. What I do know is that even while living and worshiping in a new way, God has not left us or forsaken us. And maybe, this new way of living and doing church could be God doing a new thing in our hearts and lives. Do we perceive it?

Doing Life and Church in a New Way,

Kevin Smith

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

March means that spring is here. The days warm and lengthen. The flowers bloom. But the surest sign of spring, may be at the ballparks all over the country. The sound of ball hitting leather, bat hitting ball, and the umpire yelling “play ball” brings to mind memories of days and evenings spent at the ballpark. Spring training for Major League Baseball has commenced, and my beloved LSU baseball tigers are already several weeks into another season.

One sound you’re likely to hear at the ball park is the coach sayinbaseballg “keep your eye on the ball!” “Watch for your pitch!” “Focus!” Of course, focus is not exclusive to baseball and is needed for all sports such as basketball, football, track, and many others. What is true at the sports field and basketball court is true for life, we must maintain our focus and keep our eye on the ball on all things in life, including our faith.

 

Hebrews 12:2 reads “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, hebrews 12_2the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” It is easy to become distracted while playing ball, and it is easy to become distracted in life. In life, we can become distracted by the busyness of life, work, school, family, and so many other things. While those things are not bad things, they can distract us and take our focus off of Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Consider where your focus is. Is it on Jesus? Why or why not? What is keeping you from focusing on Jesus? Like the coach saying to his ball player “keep your eye on the ball! Focus!”, we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by anything around us. Keep your eye on the ball and, most of all, on Jesus!

Keeping my eyes on the ball and on Jesus,
Kevin Smith

Finish Strong

(Author’s note:  this article first appeared in the January 2020 edition of “The Cross and Tower” newsletter published by FUMC Winnfield)

It has been a successful and historic season for LSU football. As a passionate LSU fan and proud LSU Alum who witnessed one, count them, one, winning season dulsu football helmetring my three years at LSU (1992-1995), it is almost heaven to witness an undefeated regular season, a SEC Championship, many postseason awards, number one ranking, and a chance to win a national championship. Yet with those successes come high expectations. It would be a great season, but a disappointing one, if the Tigers fail to finish the season strong and come up short in the college football playoff. They must finish what they started.

So it is with Christmas. Christmas, with all of it’s wonder and cheer, wise men and shepherds, poinsettias and lights, and the wonderful gift of Jesus, God’s only son, is only the beginning. We cannot leave Jesus in the manger. The one born on Christmas grows to be a great teacher and leader, was crucified and buried for our sins, then rose on the third day, and now He lives in us. We remember and celebrate all of these facets of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection through the Christian year, which begins with Advent instead of a calendar that reads January 1.

My encouragement to the LSU Tigers is to finish strong! Play hard! Finish what you’ve started.

My encouragement to you and I after Christmas is to finish strong! Watch Jesus grow. Listen to his teachings. See him die for you and me. Witness the empty tomb. Watch for his return. Spread the good news about Jesus. It is our task to finish what Christmas has begun.

I found this Christmas poem by Howard Thurmon many years ago and it has become a favorite of mine.
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.

GEAUX TIGERS! Finish strong!

Go Christian! Share the good news about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection!

Finishing Strong,
Kevin Smith

THE Way Forward

winding-road-1556177_960_720(Author’s note- this article was written for the October edition of The Cross and Tower Newsletter for FUMC Winnfield)

For over 40 years now, the United Methodist Church has been in turmoil over homosexual marriage and ordination of homosexual clergy. In 2016, the General Conference, the worldwide meeting of the United Methodist Church, elected a group of 23 persons from a range of theological perspectives, called the Commission on a Way Forward, to help us (hopefully) reach a solution to this impasse. They have presented three options to a called session of General Conference will take place February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis. You can access the entire 93 page report here: Commission on a Way Forward or a shorter 2 page infographic summary here: Overview of Proposals for 2019 General Conference. Other options and petitions could also be presented, discussed, and voted on at the General Conference meetings.

What will happen at General Conference? Will one of the plans be approved? Will the United Methodist Church split or dissolve altogether? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else knows either.

But I do know the answer to the question is there a way forward. The answer is clearly YES! Actually, I know not only A way forward but THE way forward. THE way forward is to follow Jesus each and every day. THE way forward is to follow the one who said “I am the way the truth and the life” in John 14:6. THE way forward is to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” in Hebrews 12:2. THE way forward is to follow Jesus.

THE way forward is to be faithful to our mission. Our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Our mission is to make a difference, to make disciples, in our community and around the world. We accomplish this through the many ministries and programs of our church- Sunday School, Sunday morning worship, Wondrous Wednesdays, acolytes, youth, Kids World, Helping Hands, Kairos, Chancel Choir and so many others. This is our mission. This is our task. Obviously, this mission falters or even fails without your support through the giving of your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. We cannot forsake our mission. Jesus is depending on us.

What will happen in February? I don’t know. But I do know that I plan to come to work on February 27. I do know that we will have Sunday morning worship on March 3. I do know that Jesus will still be Lord, working and moving in the world and in my life. I do know that our mission will still be the same- to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I want to encourage you (and me) to not be distracted or in despair over the called session of General Conference and a way forward. Instead let us focus on THE way forward, following Jesus and being faithful to our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Following THE way forward,

Kevin

Carolyn Sue Smith Window (Lyre-Dove with Olive Branch and Ark- Lamb on Book of Seven Seals)

IMG_2741(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on August 5, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the ninth in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. My sources are listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)

I. Introduction

Over the last weeks we have been looking at the reminders of God all around in the symbolism of our church building and stained glass windows.  Today we come to window number 8 in memory of Carolyn Sue Smith.

Carolyn Sue Smith was born March 23 1939 in Winnfield.  She died Sep 6 1950 (aged 11) in Winnfield.  She is buried in the Winnfield Cemetery.

Her obituary reads: Tragedy struck suddenly this week in Winnfield with the untimely death of Carolyn Sue Smith, 11 year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Troy Smith. Carolyn became very ill Tuesday afternoon at her father’s store, the Jitney Jungle supermarket, and was taken to a local hospital, where she died at 2:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Funeral services were conducted at the First Methodist Church with the pastor, Rev. P. M. Caraway, the former pastor, Rev. Fred S. Flurry, of Hammond,, and Rev. Alwin Stokes, officiating. The Methodist choir sang, “Lead, Kindly Light.”

Carolyn was born in Winnfield on March 23, 1939 and had lived here all her life. She was in the sixth grade in Winnfield School, where she was especially interested in science and math and did excellent work in this field.  She was everyone’s friend, having a sweet disposition and a habit of being kind to everyone. Her classmates loved her and showed this by electing her to several positions of honor in her classes.

She was a member of the elementary chorus and the band at school, and was a member of the Girl Scouts. She was active in the Junior Department of the Methodist Church and was a member of the Methodist junior choir.  Surviving, besides her parents, are one brother, Troy Lynn; her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. F. O. Lattier, Winnfield, and Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Smith, Timpson, Texas.[i]

Carolyn was the sister of Troy Lynn Smith- Missy Smith’s husband. She had an Aneurysm upstairs at the store and died next day.  Died Sept 6 on Missy’s birthday, whom she had just met. It was a tragedy that affected their family for many years to come.  But even in her few years on this earth, she seems to have made a positive impact on those around her.  We remember and celebrate her short life, as well as the beautiful gift of this window in her memory.

II. Body

A: Lyre

IMG_2733The lyre again represents praise or worship. Psalms 33:2 reads, “Praise the Lord with the lyre, make melody to Him with the harp of ten strings!”

The lyre dates from before the Bronze Age (400-3200BC) and may have evolved from ancient harps.  “The fundamental difference between a lyre and a harp, is that in a harp, the strings enter directly into the hollow body of the instrument, whereas on a lyre, the strings pass over a bridge, which transmits the vibrations of the strings to the body of the instrument – just as on a modern guitar.”  Concerning the number of strings, each lyre varied in design. Typically there were three, four, seven and sometimes ten strings, each representing certain patterns of frequency (sound) considered appropriate in the design of the instrument i.e. meaning and purpose of the communication.[ii]

The ancient Hebrews had two stringed instruments, the “kinnor” (harp) and the “nebel” (lyre).  In both instruments the strings were set in vibration by the fingers, or perhaps by a little stick, the plectrum (as Josephus says). The strings were made of gut, metal strings not being used in olden times. The body of the instrument was generally made of cypress (II Sam. vi. 5) or, in very precious instruments, of sandalwood (I Kings x. 11; A. V. “almug”).

The kinnor and nebel are often mentioned together. As in the case of all instrumental music among the Hebrews, they were used principally as an accompaniment to the voice. Instruments were used on joyous occasions, such as banquets and festive processions (Gen. xxxi. 27; I Sam. x. 5; II Sam. vi. 5; Isa. v. 12), and especially in the Temple service (Ps. xxxiii. 2, xliii. 4; Neh. xii. 27; I Chron. xvi. 5); here also in accompaniment to songs of praise and thanksgiving (I Chron. xvi. 16; II Chron. v. 12; Ps. xxxiii. 2, lvii. 9, lxxi. 22). They were never used on occasions of mourning (Isa. xxiv. 8; Ezek. xxvi. 13; Lam. v. 14; Ps. cxxxvii. 2; Job xxx. 31). The nebel, the lyre, seems to have been reserved exclusively for religious occasions (Amos v. 23; Ps. cxliv. 9). In connection with secular events (Amos vi. 5; Isa. xiv. 11), its use appears to have been regarded as unseemly and profane. It is evident from the Old Testament that the lyre could be played while the performer was walking (I Sam. x. 5; II Sam. vi. 5; Isa. xxiii. 16); hence they must have been easy to carry.[iii]  The lyre reminds us of the joy of music and praising God through song.

B:  Dove with Olive Branch and Noah’s Ark

IMG_2735The dove with olive branch is a symbol of peace. When Noah’s ark is used, it stands for salvation or more particularly the salvation which the Church affords. Thus it is often used as a symbol of the Church.

We already examined the symbolism of the dove on two prior windows, so this morning I’m going to focus on what Noah’s Ark Represents. This morning we shall examine briefly certain aspects of the story of Noah’s ark and how it relates to Christ. If we fail to see Christ in the story of Noah’s ark, we miss the point.  The image of Christ portrayed in the Ark offers many parallels.

-The ark was constructed of wood.  The cross upon which Jesus died was constructed of wood.

-Noah was instructed to make a single door in the side of the Ark; it was the only entrance into the Ark, and access was controlled by God.  Likewise, Jesus said that He is the door, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.

-The Ark carried all of its passengers safely to the destination that God had prepared for them.  Jesus said:  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1-3)[iv]

-The word Noah means rest or comfort. Christ is our comfort and rest (Heb 4:4-11).

-Noah built the ark according to God’s revelation, not his own wisdom or imagination (Gen 6:15). This is symbolic of Christ and Christ’s workers, building the church according to God’s plan and not their own plan (Matt 16:18, John 6:38, 1 Cor 3:10-15, Eph 2:20-22).

-The dimensions of the ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high (Gen 6:15).  We lose the significance of these measurements when we translate them into English dimensions. The number 3 signifies the Trinity (Matt 28:19). The number 5 signifies the creation (four, Rev 4:6-9) plus God (one). 5 (four plus one) is creation in God, or strengthened creation. God created humans with 5 fingers, 5 toes and 5 senses (hear, see, smell, taste, touch).

-Like Christ, the ark was for the salvation of all living things, not just mankind (Col 1:20).[v]  Pictures depicting the ark can even be found in the catacombs where the early Christians gathered.[vi]  Noah was saved from the water, but through the waters of baptism we are saved.  The dove with olive branch and Noah’s ark reminds us God’s salvation through the ark and through Jesus.

C: Lamb on book of seven Seals

IMG_2738According to John 1:29, when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” This and a similar statement in John 1:36 have brought into being two of our most meaningful symbols of Jesus Christ. One form of this symbol shows a lamb reclining on the Book of the Seven Seals mentioned in Rev. 5:1. The Easter banner symbolizes Christ’s victory over death.

The lamb represents Jesus. A lamb summed up all the sacrifices of the Old Testament.  A lamb was described it as “the theological shorthand for all the sacrifices of the Old Testament.” This lamb showed the evidence of having been killed, yet it was alive! Here is Jesus, the One spoken of in prophecy; He is a man, yet sinless; He has been crucified and has been resurrected! Death could not hold Him! He is worthy to break the seals and shower blessings upon the human race by redeeming it.  A lamb is the epitome of weakness. As the Lamb of God, Jesus portrayed perfect weakness – He did nothing in His own power; He remained on the cross and died for His enemies!

What do the seals signify? Only the Lamb, whose very life has overcome death, is worthy to open the seals and to redeem humanity. [vii]  This seems to be an appropriate end to the windows ringing our sanctuary, for this window panel, more than any other, looks toward the victorious second coming of Christ when the lamb shall become the lion of Judah.  The lamb reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus and that he is coming again.

III.  Conclusion

We love our stained glass windows and we should.  But what do people see in us?  Does the light of Christ shine through us?  The lyre reminds us of the gift of music and the songs of praise to the Lord. The dove and Noah’s ark remind us of God’s salvation through Noah and Jesus. The lamb and the seven seals remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice and the day when he will return.  The short life of Carolyn Sue Smith reminds us that there are no guarantees in life and that we can impact lives in only a few short years.    The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?

[i] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/59211940/carolyn-sue-smith

[ii] https://designconsciousness.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-significance-of-lyre.html

[iii] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7266-harp-and-lyre

[iv] http://www.icr.edu/what-noahs-ark-represents

[v] https://www.talkjesus.com/threads/the-significance-of-noahs-ark.49679/

[vi] https://earlychurchhistory.org/christian-symbols/the-deluge-as-a-biblical-symbol/

[vii] http://www.thegoodseed.org/insights/revelation5.html

F.C. Wren Window: Winged Lion of St. Mark-Faith, Hope, and Charity-Winged Man of St. Matthew”

IMG_2631(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on July 8, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the fifth in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. My sources are listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)

Introduction

Wren 1Today we will focus on Window Number four in honor of Dr. and Mrs F.C. Wren.  Funeral services for Dr. Floyd Carr Wren, prominent retired dentist and civic leader, were held at 3 p.m. Friday, February 10, 1967 in the First Methodist Church of Winnfield with the Rev. Richard Walton, pastor, officiating. He was assisted by Rev. Fred Flurry, Sr., and the Rev. R. H. Staples, former pastors.  Dr. Wren died at 12:20 p.m. Thursday, February 9, 1967, in a Winnfield hospital following an apparent heart attack. He was 87.

A native of Webster Parish, Dr. Wren received his degree in dentistry from Vanderbilt University, and first located in Jonesboro, where he served as Mayor while also practicing dentistry.  He came to Winnfield in 1916 when he became a part of the religious and civic life in the community being active until the time of his death.  He practiced dentistry until his retirement in 1945. At one time during his career he experienced an arthritic condition and operated a Winnfield dairy until his recovery.

Dr. Wren was Winn Parish registrar of voters from 1940 to 1948, and served as chairman of the Red Cross for 12 years. He was also active in the Salvation Army and other civic movements and was honored by the Winnfield Jaycees and Woodmen of the World for his vigorous activities as a senior citizen.  A charter member of the Winnfield Rotary Club, Dr. Wren also served on the City Council and was a member of the local school board in the early years.  He served as Sunday School superintendent for 30 years and was a retired steward of the church.[i]

wren 3Funeral services for Mrs. Leta O. Wren, 87, of Winnfield, were held at 3:30 p.m. Friday, June 5, 1970 at the First Methodist Church of Winnfield with Rev. J. C. Skinner and Rev. Robert Gage officiating. Mrs Wren died at 11:15 a.m. Thursday, June 4, 1970, in a Winnfield hospital. She was a native of Caldwell, Ark., but lived in Tennessee during the early years of her life.

The widow of the late Dr. F. C. Wren, a Winnfield dentist, Mrs. Wren was an active and devoted member of the First United Methodist Church where she taught for many years. She held other offices in the church, including the presidency of the W. S. C. S., a women’s organization of the church. She was also a member of the Reader’s Review Club.[ii]

Dr. and Mrs. Wren were survived by; a daughter, Mrs. Thomas H. (Margaret) Harrel, Sr. of Winnfield, and two grandsons, Thomas Harrel, Jr., and George Harrel, all of Winnfield.  They were preceded in death by a son, Floyd C Wren Jr, who died in a fire in August of 1953.  The Wren’s were pillars of the church and were often relied on by the pastors.  Dr. Wren was a fine Christian man who rarely uttered a cross word and actively gave out tracks to talk to others about faith.  Their grandson, Tommy, described Dr. Wren as one of the greatest men he has ever known and is still his hero to this day.  The Dr. Wren Sunday School classes was started and named after him in his memory.  Dr. Wren wrote much of the original history of the church that I am using as a source for this series.  The Wren’s and their family have passed a great tradition of faithfulness to us, as well as a wonderful gift in their beautiful window.

Body

A: The Lion of St. Mark

img_2632.jpgThe lion, as king of beasts, represents the royal character of Christ and refers to the opening verses of the Gospel in his reference to John the Baptist, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness . . .” The halo of light, the nimbus, behind the head denotes sanctity.

Who was St Mark? While we are not certain, most scholars believe St. Mark the Evangelist was most likely a Hebrew and likely a priest of the tribe of Levi (as St Bede the Venerable teaches). Most scholars believe that St Mark did not know Christ during his earthly life but was converted to the faith by St Peter some time in the first years after Pentecost. This is the most natural read of Scripture, when St Peter testifies that St Mark is his spiritual son (“Mark, my son”, 1 Peter 5:13).   He accompanied Peter to many places, even to Rome. Later, he was sent by St Peter to preach the Gospel in Egypt and was Bishop of the Church in Alexandria. Here he gave witness to Christ through martyrdom.

Why is St Mark pictured as a lion?

The images of the four Evangelists are taken from Ezekiel 1:5-10 and Revelation 4:7-8 and in large part from the manner in which they begin their Gospels. In Mark, interestingly, there is no birth narrative of Jesus or description of his early years.  Instead, the Gospel of St Mark opens with the mighty roar of St John the Baptist’s call to repentance.  So the gospel of St. Mark is often pictured under the powerful image of the lion.  St Mark is also thought of as the founder of monastic life and of the desert fathers. Since St Mark is the father of the Church of Alexandria and this Church produced the great movement of consecrated religious life as hermit, anchorite, monk, or nun, St Mark is rightly considered by St Jerome and John Cassian to be the founder of monasteries and hermitages. Therefore, the image of the lion calls to mind St Mark’s connection with Alexandria and his role as the spiritual father of religious life in the Church.[iii]

The Lion of Saint Mark, is the symbol of the city of Venice and formerly of the Republic of Venice. It appears also in both merchant and military naval flags of the Italian Republic. The Lion of Saint Mark is also the symbol of the award of the Venice Film Festival, the “Golden Lion”, and is prominently featured in the city of Venice.[iv]

The oldest and the shortest of the four Gospels, the Gospel of Mark emphasizes Jesus’s rejection by humanity while being God’s triumphant envoy. Probably written for gentile converts in Rome—after the death of Peter and Paul sometime between A.D. 60 and 70—Mark’s Gospel is the gradual manifestation of a “scandal”: a crucified Messiah.[v]  The lion of Mark is the roar to repentance by John the Baptist and throughout his gospel.

B. Faith, Hope, and Charity

Faith, Hopimg_2633.jpge, and Charity are referred to by Paul in I Cor. 13:13- “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”KJV Faith is belief and trust in the triune God; Hope signifies our promise of eternal life and triumph of truth and justice; Charity, or love, is the center of our religion as taught by Jesus in many ways.

Faith

Representing faith is the cross. We spoke quite extensively about the symbolism and meaning of the cross last Sunday.  Often when faith, hope, and charity are shown together the cross often stands taller than the other symbols.  Faith is also the confidence and the strength to complete a larger task. The symbols of faith, hope and charity together in harmony remind us that God is there to help us each and every day.[vi]

Hope

The anchor represents Hope. It was a relevant popular symbol at a time when seafaring meant that a loved one may never be seen again.  The anchor to moor the ship gives solace and comfort to the wayward ship, as it finds a home. Hope is fundamental to the principals of what it is to believe in a better future.  At a time when danger was typical for travel, the anchor represented hope for home in this life and in the life to come.

Charity

Charity is often represented by the heart, though in our window it is symbolized by an open Bible.  Charity is a derivative of ἀγάπη (agapē), the word used by the English translation of the Bible in the 16th century. It was only in the Challoner Douay Rheims Bible of 1752 and the King James Version of 1611 that the term ‘charity’ was used for the similar ideal of Christian love.  Today, many modern translations use the word “love” instead of charity.  Charity represents the idea the believers should strive to love God and to love others as God loves them. Charity symbolizes the desire to love everyone, including one’s enemies, neighbors and the poor. The three symbols are bound by charity. Charity cannot be achieved without faith and hope because charity is love for all.[vii]  Faith, hope, and charity go together to teach us about our faith and the way that we should live.

C: The winged man of St. Matthew

img_2634.jpgMatthew traced the human lineage of Jesus; therefore, the symbol used for him is a winged man. He emphasized the humanity of Christ. Here again is the nimbus of sanctity.

St. Irenaeus saw Matthew as corresponding to the man’s face because the gospel opens with a human genealogy of Jesus and because, in the view of Irenaeus, Jesus’ humanity is emphasized throughout the book.[viii]

Matthew, meaning gift of God, was a common Jewish name after the Exile. He was the son of Alphaeus, and was a publican or tax-gatherer at Capernaum. On one occasion Jesus, coming up from the side of the lake, passed the custom-house where Matthew was seated, and said to him, “Follow me.” Matthew arose and followed him, and became his disciple (Matt. 9:9). Formerly the name by which he was known was Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27); he now changed it, possibly in grateful memory of his call, to Matthew. The same day on which Jesus called him he made a “great feast” (Luke 5:29), a farewell feast, to which he invited Jesus and his disciples, and probably also many of old associates. He was afterwards selected as one of the twelve (6:15). His name does not occur again in the Gospel history except in the lists of the apostles. The last notice of him is in Acts 1:13. Although traditionally regarded as the author of the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, modern scholarship questions this attribution. Matthew’s symbol as an evangelist is a man, and in art he is often depicted with sword and money bag.

What happened to Matthew after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension we have only legend. St. Irenæus tells us that Matthew preached the Gospel among the Hebrews, St. Clement of Alexandria claiming that he did this for fifteen years, and Eusebius maintains that, before going into other countries, he gave them his Gospel in the mother tongue. Ancient writers are not consistent as to the countries evangelized by Matthew, but almost all mention Ethiopia to the south of the Caspian Sea (not Ethiopia in Africa), and some Persia and the kingdom of the Parthians, Macedonia, and Syria.  There is a disagreement as to the place of St. Matthew’s martyrdom and the kind of torture inflicted on him, therefore it is not known whether he was burned, stoned, or beheaded.

His Gospel was probably first written in Aramaic and later translated into Greek.  Since Matthew was a Jew, he wrote with other Jews in mind. His gospel spends much time discussing the Old Testament prophecies and pointing out how Jesus fulfilled them.  Mathew’s gospel contains more than 130 Old Testament quotes and allusions[ix].  The man of St.Matthew reminds us of Jesus’ humanity and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.

Conclusion

We love our stained glass windows and we should. But this song from Johnny Cash reminds us that they are not the most important things.  God Ain’t No Stained Glass Window God never keeps His window closed.  What about us?  Do we keep our window closed or allow the light of Christ shine through?  The lion of St. Mark reminds us of his roar to repentance by John the Baptist.  Faith, hope, and charity are central themes to our faith from 1 Corinthians 13.  The man of St. Matthew reminds us of the humanity of Jesus through his grand genealogy and fulfillment of scripture.

I close with this editorial by George Larson, editor of the Winn Parish Enterprise.  “Dr. F.C. Wren is gone from this earth but the memory and influence of this rare man will live long in this community and wherever his life touched other people.  He lived unselfishly and fully, holding fast to high principles in every endeavor he undertook.  He was a true Christian, a ‘prince of a man and a great man’ as Rev. Richard Walton of the First Methodist Church described him.

Dr. Wren’s kindness to all men was one of his outstanding traits.  Always interested in his community and its progress, he never ceased to talk and write about its good points and its future possibilities.  He had the courage to speak up for what he believed, whether it concerned a political question, a local bond proposal, or some other controversial issue.

Dr. Wren’s life really centered around his church, to which he gave a lifetime of service in nearly every capacity a layman could fill.  Living, working, and serving were joyful to him.  He was a participant and not just a spectator.  He remained young at heart.

He died as he wished it- being useful and active until the last days of his 87 years.  His passing leaves a void, but his life will always be an inspiration to those who knew him.  Dr. Wren was a great and good man.”  The Wren window reminds us of their faith and generosity.    The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?

[i] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/25613536/floyd-carr-wren

[ii] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/62098564/leta-wren

[iii] http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2016/04/who-was-st-mark-and-why-is-he-pictured.html

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion_of_Saint_Mark

[v] https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-mark/

[vi] https://artofmourning.com/2014/12/25/faith-hope-and-charity/

[vii] https://www.reference.com/world-view/symbols-faith-hope-charity-e40cce894175cf56

[viii] http://www.moodycatholic.com/Saints_Symbols_of_Gospel_Writers.html

[ix] https://www.jesusfilm.org/blog-and-stories/gospel-of-matthew.html

Dickerson Window:(Dove with Olive Branch- Bible over Cross- Easter Lily)

 

IMG_2377(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on July 1, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the fourth in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. My sources are listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)

Introduction

Today we will focus on Window Number three in memory of Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Dickerson.  John Joseph “J. J.” Dickerson was born October 6, 1824 in North Carolina and died August 9, 1913 at the age of 88 in Winnfield.  He is buried in the Winnfield Cemetery.  Because of the age, I was unable to find an obituary for Mr. Dickerson but his wife’s obituary also tells us about him.

dickersonHis wife, Mary Margaret Jackson Dickerson died at 8 a.m. Tuesday, May 19, 1925, age 90 years.  Mrs. Dickerson was born in Tennessee February 25th, 1835, moved in early childhood with her parents to Spanish Lake, Natchitoches Parish, where they lived until they moved to Winn Parish, La., in 1859.

On February 5th, 1861, she was married to John J. Dickerson, who soon after the marriage enlisted in the Confederate States Army and served faithfully and loyally during the four years of the Civil War.   Mrs. Dickerson joined the Methodist Episcopal Church South at the age of nine years and gave eighty years of her life in service to Christ and His church. Those who knew her well know that hers was not a profession without possession, for every day of her life was a testimonial that the spirit of Christ filled her soul being daily reflected in her Christian living. The Dickerson home always had a preacher’s room in it where the preachers were received and entertained, such godly men as John Hearn, John F. Wynn, Eddie and Albert Galloway, Dan C. Barr, and others down through the years. Hers was a consecrated, Christian life, opposed to sinful worldliness, in dress, in speech, in manners or any form, always striving to influence those with whom she was associated to lives of simplicity and holiness.

After funeral services at the Methodist Church conducted by her pastor, Rev. P. M. Caraway, assisted by the Presiding Elder Rev. K. W. Dodson, and a former pastor and special friend, Rev. Dan C. Barr, of Oak Ridge, La., her remains were buried in the Winnfield Cemetery amidst a host of grief stricken relatives and friends. The abundant and beautiful floral offerings attested the high esteem in which she was held in the community.

The Dickerson’s were survived by their children: Mrs. H. L. Brian of Verda, La., Mrs. G. M. Wyatt of Couley, La., M. M. Dickerson, Mrs. J. R. Hall, Mrs. B. W. Bailey, and William F. Dickerson, of Winnfield, La.  Published in The Winn Parish Enterprise (Winnfield, LA), May 21, 1925.  The Dickerson’s and their family have passed a great tradition of faithfulness to us, as well as a wonderful gift in their beautiful window.

  1. Body

A: The dove with the olive branch

IMG_2371The dove with the olive branch depicts peace, victory, and the expectation of new life. This symbol comes from the account of the cessation of the flood recorded in Genesis 8:11 (Noah sent out the dove to see whether the flood was receding. When the dove returned with a “freshly plucked olive leaf” in her beak, Noah knew that the waters were receding). Hence the olive branch may be said to symbolize deliverance from the hardships of life and a peaceful life with God in the world to come.

The dove and olive branch is one of the most ancient symbols of peace.  We looked at the dove a few weeks ago in the Hyde window, so this morning, I will focus on the symbolism of the olive branch.  The olive branch symbolizes deliverance from the hardships of life and a peaceful life with God in the world to come.  The olive tree was so important that the reward for winning an event in the ancient Olympic Games was not a gold medal, but a wreath of olive leaves with which the winner was crowned.  The olive also appears in many ancient texts in relation with peace. In Virgil’s Aeneid, for instance, the main character holds an olive branch to offer peace, and in other texts there are records of Roman generals holding up an olive branch to ask for peace after being defeated in battle.

Extending an olive branch meant the ending of hostilities between two parties and signaled the end of the conflict. The United Nations flag contains an olive branch for this very purpose; to end all hostilities between waring nations.  It’s also found on many of the nation’s symbols, like in the 1885 Great Seal of the United States.

In an olive grove, called The Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. The name Gethsemane means “olive press” and there Jesus had all the world’s sin all pressing down upon Him, as if to crush Him. Here it was that Jesus, “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).  It’s as if the olive press was squeezing Jesus by the weight of all of the sins of humanity that have ever been committed and will yet be committed. Olive oils are extracted from olives when they are pressed and Jesus was hard pressed in a garden of olives which are pressed or crushed to produce oil. In this same way, Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).  The dove and olive branch remind us of peace, victory and new life.

B: The Bible and Cross

IMG_2373The Bible and the Cross go hand in hand—both represent knowledge of God’s redeeming love. Bible is Greek for “book” and is accepted by Christians as inspired by God with the divine authority on which the Christian religion is based. With 39 Old Testament books, 27 New Testament, it has been called the window through which we see God and the mirror that reflects our true selves. The cross is the focal point of the Bible—everything before Christ set the stage for His coming; the deeds thereafter pay tribute to His power on earth.  We spoke extensively about the Bible in the Hyde window.  I will focus on the cross this morning

What is the meaning of the cross? Simply put, the meaning of the cross is death. From about the 6th century BC until the 4th century AD, the cross was an instrument of execution that resulted in death by the most torturous and painful of ways. In crucifixion a person was either tied or nailed to a wooden cross and left to hang until dead. Death would be slow and excruciatingly painful; in fact, the word excruciating literally means “out of crucifying.”           Using the cross as a symbol of Jesus is like using a gun to symbolize John F. Kennedy.  The cross was the instrument of Jesus’ death, yet it is the nearly universal symbol of Christianity.

Why did Jesus have to die?  To redeem us. In Genesis, God created a perfect heavens and earth, yet because of sin, our relationship with God was broken and marred.  God the Father sent Jesus to take on human flesh and to be the Savior of His people. Born of a virgin, Jesus avoided the curse of the fall that infects all other human beings. As the sinless Son of God, He could provide the unblemished sacrifice that God requires. God’s justice demanded judgment and punishment for sin; God’s love moved Him to send His one and only Son to be the sacrifice for sin.

The cross not only describes Jesus, but his followers who Jesus called to take up their cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). This concept of “cross-bearing” today has lost much of its original meaning. Typically, we use “cross-bearing” to denote an inconvenient or bothersome circumstance. However, we must keep in mind that Jesus is calling His disciples to engage in radical self-denial. The cross meant only one thing to a 1st-century person—death.  There are places in the world where Christians are being persecuted, even to the point of death, for their faith. They know what it means to carry their cross and follow Jesus in a very real way. For those of us who are not being persecuted in such fashion, our task is still to remain faithful to Christ. [i][ii]  .  The Bible tells us the story of the cross, of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and call to take up our own cross

C:  The Easter Lily

IMG_2375No specific scriptural justification is found for using the Easter Lily but it does aptly describe our hope in the resurrection. When the bulb is buried in the earth, a rebirth comes forth in the beauty of these white lilies with a new bulb for future”

The Easter Lily is the traditional flower of Easter and is highly regarded as a joyful symbol of elegance, beauty, spirituality, hope, and life. The lily has come to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus because of its delicacy of form and its snow white color. The popular Easter lily we use today to celebrate the holiday is referred to as ‘the white-robed apostles of hope.[iii]  Their color symbolizes the purity of Christ, who was free from sin. In many paintings, the angel Gabriel is depicted as handing Mary white lilies, which symbolizes her purity as well. The trumpet shape of the Easter lily represents a trumpet sounding the message that Jesus has risen, and the nature in which lilies grow is symbolic of the resurrection as well. From ugly bulbs that are underground for three years or longer, they become beautiful flowers. This process is reminiscent of Jesus’s brutal death and holy resurrection. Thus, lilies represent rebirth and hope, just as the resurrection does in the Christian faith.

Although Easter lilies are symbols of new life and purity, their history of getting to America is actually rooted in war. Following World War I, soldier Louis Houghton brought a suitcase of lily bulbs from Japan back to the U.S., specifically to his home state of Oregon. Houghton gave the lily bulbs to his horticultural friends, and soon enough, the area along the California-Oregon border, which happened to have prime growing conditions for the flowers, became known as the Easter Lily Capital of the World. After Pearl Harbor, Japanese shipment of Easter lilies was cut off, which brought high demand to the Oregon and California growers, giving the flowers yet another nickname—White Gold.

Oregon and California now produce the majority of the world’s Easter lilies, although there are only about 10 growers left. Easter lilies are difficult to grow, and the process to the final product is a long, precise one. The bulbs have to be cultivated in fields for at least three years, during which they require care, moving, and tending as they progress through growth stages. Once the bulbs are ready to be shipped, they’re placed under strict temperature restrictions to ensure they bloom on time for Easter, which can be a gamble, considering Easter doesn’t fall on the same day each year. So when you pick up an Easter lily at the store, keep in mind the years of work that got it to you.

The following poem by Louise Lewin Matthews captures the spiritual essence of the Easter Lily:  Easter morn with lilies fair  Fills the church with perfumes rare, As their clouds of incense rise, Sweetest offerings to the skies.

Stately lilies pure and white Flooding darkness with their light, Bloom and sorrow drifts away, On this holy hallow’d day.

Easter Lilies bending low in the golden afterglow, Bear a message from the sod To the heavenly towers of God.  -Louise Lewin Matthews[iv]

  Conclusion

People are a lot like glass.  Glass can reflect, like a mirror, or transmit light, like a window.  Our windows are at their most beautiful when they permit the light to flow through them.  The light also shows the flaws and quality of the glass.

Like glass, we need to have the light of God shining through us.  Like glass, we can merely reflect, or transmit light.  Jesus offers inner light to those who accept him.  He is the light of the world according to John 1.  We can accept the light, or reject it.  If we believe, that inner light becomes ours.

We love our stained glass windows and we should.  But what do people see in us?  Does the light of Christ shine through?  The dove with the olive branch reminds us of peace, victory and new life.  The Bible tells us the story of the cross, of Jesus sacrifice for us and call to take up our own cross.  The Easter lily reminds us of the resurrection of Jesus following his death on the cross.  The Dickerson window reminds us of their faith and generosity.    The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?

 

[i] https://www.gotquestions.org/meaning-of-the-cross.html

[ii] https://www.crosswalk.com/special-coverage/lent/what-is-the-meaning-of-the-cross.html

[iii] http://www.dgreetings.com/easter/easter-lily-history.html

[iv] http://www.appleseeds.org/easter-lily.htm