Christ, the Light of the World

May you experience the presence of Christ, the Light of the World, everywhere, in everyone, so that hope will abound in your life and the world you live in. There is no corner of the planet where Christ is not. And may you share the light of Christ that is within you with everyone you meet, wherever you are, everyday.

Wilfredo Juan Baez

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Are You Willing?

Are You Willing
Sermon delivered at the United Methodist Church of North Chili, July 10, 2011

Scriptural Basis: Genesis 22:1–14  and Matthew 10:40–42
I’m going to ask you a very simple question today.  “Are you willing?”  And when I ask it, I’m looking for you for a very simple answer from you, each time that I ask it; “Yes, I am willing.”  “Are you willing?”  “Yes, I am willing?”

Jesus asks this question of every would-be disciple, “Are you willing?  Are you willing to be my disciple?  Are you willing to pick up your cross and follow me?  Are you willing to go where I send you?  Are you willing to do what I ask you?  Are you willing to give up what is most important to you?  Are you willing to receive who God sends you as God’s messenger and spiritual and corporate leader?  Are you willing?

What a challenge!  The reason I have come here to North Chili to be your Pastor is that I am willing.  I am willing to listen to God’s direction, trust God’s direction, and obey it. 

“Because I’m willing” is the same reason I went to Gouverneur, to Danby before that, to Odessa before that, and to Adam’s Basin and Rochester: Lake Ave. before that.  And it’s the reason I left the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse field to enter pastoral ministry fifteen years ago.  When God asks, I respond “I am willing.”  And I’ve learned not to put up too much of a fuss about the details, because when I’ve trusted and obeyed the Lord before, the Lord has provided.

The people in Gouverneur wanted to know what I would be doing different in North Chili that I was doing in Gouverneur.  Oh, I imagined some things, but I told them this; “The truth is I don’t know.  I won’t know until I get there.”  What I do know is that God said, “Go” and I said, “I am willing.” They asked me if this is a bigger church or a promotion.   I was reluctant to answer that question, because I didn’t care.

 Really, it doesn’t matter what your size is.  It doesn’t matter how prestigious this appointment is.   I’m told Gouverneur was a prestigious appointment.  That is unimportant.  That is irrelevant.  There is something important that God wants me to do here with you.  There is something important for us to do together.  Wherever I’ve been, there’s something God wanted me to do while I was there with the people that were there. And we accomplished what God intended.  And I am willing to do it.  Are you willing?  Let me ask you again, “are you willing?”

There’s a group of Islamic mystics called the Sufis.  The Sufis believe that there is one God and many ways to God.  There’s a song that they sing that goes “Ishkallah ma buddallah, ishkallah ma buddallah.  Ishkallah ma buddallah, ishkallah ma buddallah.”  What this little phrase means is “God is love.  God is lover.  God is beloved. “

This reminds me of a Christian Trinitarian formula “God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit.”  They sing these words as part of dance performed by whirling dervishes or in folk dances.  In the folk dance version there is an added verse” “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.  All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.”

The dance goes like this.  In this case I will begin as God’s Partner.  Then you will be my partner. The dancers spin around, their hands in the air, looking skyward and sing “Ishkallah ma buddallah, ishkallah ma buddallah.  Ishkallah ma buddallah, ishkallah ma buddallah.”   They spin as they sing these verses to God.  Then, as they come out of the spin, they take the hands of the first person they see and dance first in one direction singing, ” “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you. All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you,” and then in the opposite singing the same.  Then you repeat the sequence.  It is a wonderful, spiritually intoxicating experience.

This song is an expression of the Great Commandment.  Are you willing to love God with all your heart, all your mind, and soul, and are you willing to love your neighbor as yourself with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul?   Are you willing?

What is willing?  Willing in this case is receiving your pastor as God’s gift, God’s messenger to you.  You know, when I enter this pulpit, I am no longer speaking for myself.  I have said things from the pulpit that I would not have said from my ordinary perspective.  I have challenged and encouraged myself as well as congregation from the pulpit.   It is God’s word, not mine!  And I’ve been willing to receive and deliver God’s word.  Are you willing to receive and trust and obey God’s word?  Are you willing?

And willing in this case is fulfilling the very vision, mission, core values, and core beliefs that you have set forth in your churches vision, mission, core value, and core belief statements.  Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?  Are you willing to proclaim the gospel by your actions?  Are you willing for the word that first became flesh in Jesus to become flesh in you?  Are you willing?

Gee, Abraham was willing to place his child Isaac on the altar to sacrifice him to God!  And God was willing to place his own child Jesus as a sacrifice on the altar of the cross?  Are you willing to sacrifice?  Are you willing to make a living sacrifice of your life?  Are you willing to go where you have not gone before?  Are you willing to go where no man or woman has gone before?  Are you willing to go, as a Church, to where this church has not gone before; where no church has gone before?  Are you willing?

You see, I am and you are, like the first disciples, ordinary people.  But God has used ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.  It is my intention, as God is willing, to be an extraordinary Pastor of an extraordinary church.  And what will make us extraordinary is living out our mission.

God has given you a vision.  Without a vision a people will perish, but you have a vision!  God has given you a mission. Without a mission a people have no direction and purpose, but you have a mission! God has put certain core values in your heart.  Without core values a people’s life is worthless and meaningless but you have core values!  Without core beliefs, people flounder, but you have core beliefs.

Now God wants you to live into that vision, fulfill that mission, and express those core values and beliefs in your lives as individual Christians and as a Church.  And for this to work you have to be willing.  As individuals and as a church:  Your will has to be God’s will.  Your heart has to be the heart of Jesus.  Your mind has to the mind of Jesus.  Your body has to be the body of Christ.  Are you willing?
What pleased God about Abraham was his willingness, his commitment to act upon his beliefs, to receive God’s word, heed God’s word and respond positively to them.  The reason Christianity, Islam, and Judaism exist today is because of Abraham’s willingness. 

And don’t you think that what God asked of Abraham was easy!  Yet look what happened for Abraham.  God provided!

What pleased God about Jesus was the same; his willingness, his commitment to act upon his beliefs, to receive God’s word, heed them, and respond positively to them.  And he did this so completely he was the embodiment of God’s Word.  And here we stand because of Jesus’ commitment.  As God looked at Jesus God proclaimed, “This is beloved son.  With him I am well pleased!”  And when Jesus obeyed God, even dying on the cross, God provided, rising Jesus from the dead!

What pleased Jesus about his disciples is that they did go out and preach, heal, drive out demons, and baptize in his name.  And, pleased as they were with the results of their actions, he told them that they had not seen anything yet, that they would do even greater things than that, if they were willing to follow through, follow through even when he was no longer with them.  Look what the original 12 and 72 have become!  Look around you in this sanctuary, across the United States and around the globe!  Are you willing?  When you are willing to do God’s will you will succeed!

God has more in store for us! The work Jesus has left the Church to complete remains before us!  Are you willing?  Are you committed to God’s Word?  Are you committed to following Jesus?  Are you committed to God’s Reign?  Are you committed to life in the Spirit?  Are you committed to the Vision, Mission, Core Values and Core Beliefs God has given you?    Are you willing?

Are you willing to care for the least and last of these; for the children, the outcasts, the poor, the people different from you?  These are among the people you have determined to welcome.  Are you willing to go out and meet them, greet them, join them, invite them, welcome them, include them in the Church, the community of all God’s people as a sign of what God’s reign on earth will be like?   Are you willing?

Remember God is 100% committed to you!  God is100% invested in you!  God believes in you 100%.  God has entrusted you, the Church, the disciples of Jesus with the Gospel!  God has and is giving you everything that belongs to God!  That is God’s promise to you! 

How willing are you?  10% . . . 20 . . . 30 . . . 40   . . . 50 . . . 60 . . . 70 . . . 75 . . . 80 . . . 90 . . . 95 . . . 100?  100 % willing?   Can you see yourself 100% willing now!  Wow!  Are you willing to try?  Are you willing to succeed?  Are you willing to exceed all expectations?  This is what constitutes the reign of God!  100% in! 

Remember what Jesus said; “As you sow, so you reap.”  And he said, “Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will they pour into your lap. For with the measure you give, it will be measured back to you.”  Are you willing?

Monday, July 4, 2011

First Sunday in North Chili

A beautiful day, a wonderful service . . . Lourdes, the pianist (and quite accomplished) called it "majestic."  The message, which I have already posted seemed well received.  People responded during the sermon as I hoped that they would.  What I mean by responded, is responded during, as I utilize call and response.  There was excellent rapport.  Afterwards I attended a picnic where a number of church members/attendees were present. Some made off hand remarks about the sermon.  That, too was enjoyable.  Marcia (my wife) seemed pleased as well.  Of course, she connected to the children right away.  The only bad thing about this move, besides the boxes not unpacking themselves, is that our older cat George is missing.  Pray that he returns.

Friday, July 1, 2011


A Children’s Story
Rev. Dr. Wilfredo J. Baez
July 3, 2011

It happened one Christmas day.  Santa Claus had placed a little toy doll inside the child’s Christmas stocking.  That little doll had a precious name, “Freedom.”

All Christmas morning that Christmas stocking hung on the mantle over the fireplace.  The child didn’t even see it. 

The first thing the child saw when he awoke was the Christmas tree.  It had changed overnight.  Underneath it and all around it were Christmas presents in packages of every imaginable size and shape.   One present stood out from all the others, as it wasn’t wrapped, a shiny red tricycle.   Because it was cold and snowing outside he couldn’t take it outside, but he rode it up and down the hallway, until it was time to go to the Christmas program at the church.  When he returned he road it up and down the hallway.

His mom took down the stocking from the mantle and emptied its contents on the table.  First, a ball with jacks.  The boy immediately began playing jacks with his mother.  Then, a jar with bubbles; He removed the cap, took the wand to his lips and began blowing.  Then, a jump rope; he took the jump rope and began jumping.  By the time he was done looking at his presents and playing with them he was tired and took a nap.  The little doll, “Freedom,” remained on the table.  His mom took the doll in her hands and said to her husband, “He didn’t even look at Freedom.”  She took the doll and placed it beside the boy’s pillow as he napped.

In the days to come the boy hardly noticed “Freedom.” It would end up next to the bed on the floor, under the covers and under the bed, but every night his parents would find Freedom and place him beside their child’s pillow as he fell asleep.

Years went by.  The boy grew up to be a young man.  It was time for him to go to college.  That tricycle became a bicycle and now a car.  The little jack ball, become a pinkie, a softball, a baseball, a basketball, a soccer ball and basketball.  The bubbles became a trombone.  He was packing his bags with the things he’d be moving to his college dorm.  His eyes fell upon “Freedom.”  All those years, “freedom” has been there, first on his bed, then his dresser, and lately on a shelf next to his trophies.  He picked up Freedom, wrapped him in a soft cloth, and placed it in his bag.  Freedom would be joining him on his journey.

I Am Free

A sermon based upon Galatians 5:1-25 and John 8:31-36                                                                               The Reverend Dr. Wilfredo J. Baez
July 3, 2011

Often times I hear people talk about why they are so happy to be American.  Who here is happy to be an American?  Oh, there are things we can complain about no matter who’s President or Governor or Mayor, or what party is in power, but we’re able to complain and express our concern, and we’re able to vote!  The number one reason I hear people give, for being happy to be an American is “because I am free” . . . “because I am free!”  Will you answer this question for me, “Why are you happy to be an American?”  Because I am free?  Why?  Because I am free!  Alleluia. 

What are some of the freedoms you enjoy as an American?

1.  Freedom of speech.
2.  Freedom of religion
3.  Freedom to assemble.
4.  Freedom of travel within our boundaries.

Are there any other freedoms that you value? What are some of the freedoms you value? ______________________________________________________________________

I appreciate these freedoms and many more!  These are freedoms worth having, worth fighting for, and worth dying for, for ourselves, our children and our children’s children! Do you agree? _____ They are important!  They are essential!

I am grateful for those who have put their lives on the line for my freedom and all of our freedoms, from the first freedom fighters of the Revolutionary War, through WWI, II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Aren’t you grateful for what these men and women have done for you?  And for our firemen and policemen and rescue workers, too?  Aren’t you grateful! 

In addition to being happy being an American, I am happy to be a Christian.  The number one reason I’m happy to be a Christian is “because I’m free” . . . because I’m free!”   If you are happy to be a Christian will you say after me, “I am happy to be a Christian?”  Why are you happy to be a Christian? “Because I am free.”  Why?  Because I am free!  Alleluia!

I am grateful for all those saints that have come before me, preserving the gospel, even dying for it.  The Church has made some ghastly mistakes over the centuries, Church splits, the Crusades, the Inquisition, ignoring injustices and human rights, supporting slavery, but overall it has carried forth the Good News of God for all people, that the Kingdom or Reality of God is near, inside of us, and among us.  A glorious future is fast approaching.  Don’t you have reason to be grateful as Christians!  Alleluia!
Not only am I outwardly free, I am inwardly free! Not only am I physically free, I am spiritually free!  If you are grateful for your freedom will you say after me, “I am free?” ________ If you realize that Christ is alive and well inside of you and outside of you, will you say after me, “I am inwardly free” and “I am outwardly free.” ______________ If you realize that your life is in the Holy Spirit, will you say after me “I am spiritually free.” ______________ Alleluia! 

What are some of the freedoms you enjoy as a Christian?

1.  Freedom of conscience.
2.  Freedom from sin.
3.  Freedom from death.
4.  Freedom to love.

Are there other freedoms you enjoy as a Christian?  What are they? ______________

My conscience is free!  I am free to think for myself.  One law binds me; “a law of One”, the one true God, a Spirit of love, truth, righteousness, justice and peace.   I know intrinsically what is right and wrong.  And when you are a Christian, so do you!  Your conscience is free!  You are not controlled by any force outside of heaven, but you are controlled by the leading of the Holy Spirit.  You know the moral truth and you live by it!  The only guilt you feel is the guilt that tells you that you’ve gone the wrong way.   Your conscience is your God-made moral compass. If you accept this freedom, given to you by God, will you say after me, “My conscience is free?”  My conscience is free!  Alleluia!

I am free from sin!  I am free negativity. I am free from greed, hatred and delusion.  I am free from ignorance of the truth.  I am free of those patterns of thinking and behaving that keep me separate from God and the promises God has made to me and from true human community.  My faith has led me to Jesus, to knowledge of God and new life.  I am free from the restrictions, distortions, and generalizations of ego and mortal life.  By the life and death of Jesus I am free from sin!  And when you are a Christian, so are you! You are free from sin!  If you accept this freedom from God will you say after me, “I am free from sin?”  I am free from sin!  Alleluia!

I am free from death!  This body can die!  It certainly will!  This ego can die!  It certainly will!  I am free from worry, fear and depression and from the limitations of time, space and corporeality that have defined me.  I have this body and enjoy and love it.  I have no intention of turning it anytime soon, but I am not restricted by it.   And I am free of this world and its direction, although too I’m not in favor of it ending any time soon.  I am just not controlled by it.  I am a spiritual being who abides with Christ in eternity; who abides with Christ in God.   By the resurrection of Jesus I am free from death!  And as a Christian, so are you!  You are free from death!  You have eternal life!  If you accept this freedom from God will you say after me, “I am free from death?”  I am free from death!  “And I have eternal life.”  I have eternal life! Alleluia!

I am free to love!  I am free to love God, to love myself, to love my wife and children, to love my parents and siblings, to love my in laws, to love my neighbor, to love you, to love and befriend the stranger, and to love my enemy.  And when you are a Christian, so are you!  You are free to love!  No longer are you afraid to love; to engage yourself and others with a fully open heart, mind, and life.  To love is the greatest freedom!  It’s also the greatest commandment!  If you accept this freedom from God to love, will you say after me “I am free to love?”  ___________I am free to love God._________ I am free to love myself. _____________ I am free to love my neighbor as myself.  I am free to love my brothers and sister is Christ. ___________ I am free to love my enemy.  __________

John Lennon once wrote, “Some say that I am a dreamer. But I am not the only one.                                                                     I hope someday you join me and the world will be as one.”  This isn’t idealism.  It’s seeking after and realizing the ideal life, the kingdom or the reign or the reality of God here on earth right now and forever.   “Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened up to you.”  Will you open your eyes to see the world the God has revealed to you in all its glory?  Will you open your ears to hear that world?  Will you open your minds and hearts to know that world?  Pay attention now.  The Kingdom of God, the realm of God, the reality of God is in and around you now and in the future!

As a Christian I am going on to perfection in love in this lifetime.  I am free.  My conscience is free.  I am free from sin.  I am free from death.  I am free to love.  As a Christian are you ready for that commitment to the freedom only Christ can give?  Will you make that commitment to God to that life of freedom as a disciple of Jesus in the Holy Spirit?  Will you set aside your fear?  Will you set aside your excuses?  Will you use the freedom God has given to you to accomplish anything and everything? If you will make that commitment will you say after me, “I commit myself to the spiritual freedom of a disciple of Jesus?  ____________ Are you willing to live into the promised perfection of human life and community?  We are, you and I are, living in the promises of Christ our Lord, right now! 

As a Christian I am going to experience life in the reign of God in this lifetime.  This is what life in Christ is!  I’m not putting it off until later. I’m going to build a bridge, by my life and love that carries me into forever, into the new heaven and new earth.  This is the promise Christ has made to us; that we will be with Christ, where Christ is!  There will be a new heaven and a new earth.  And we will live in it.  I will live in it.  You will live in it.   God will be our God and we will be God’s people; my God, your God, all people’s God.  And God will abide with us – you, me, and everyone - forever.  God is good!  All the time!  All the time!  God is Good!  Alleluia!  As a Christian, are you ready to receive that promise fulfilled?   If so, will you say so after me, “I am ready!”  I am ready!  Alleluia