Category Archives: Sermon

Jesus Is…We Are To Be…The Bread of Life – John 6:26-35 (Wednesday Night Worship)

If you don’t already know it, I love bread.  I love most all breads, with the exception of any that have onion or oats (because of allergies), and I am not a real big fan of banana-nut bread.  For years my favorite bread was the yeast roll at Golden Corral.  In fact, there were many times were I would eat an extra yeast roll or two instead of visiting the dessert bar (and that was on top of any that I ate during rest of the meal).  A few years back, I found a new favorite when my parents took us on a cruise.  It is Norlander bread.  It is good warm or room temperature with butter spread on it.  Unfortunately, while loaves of Norlander are plentiful on a cruise ship, I have yet to find it in any store or bakery in North Carolina.  That’s okay, though, because I have come to Harkers Island and light rolls, no other bread is really needed.

When it comes to folks watching their waist-line, bread tends to be a “no-no.”  When I was in seminary I went through a period of trying to lose weight.  I used a modified version of the Atkins diet, the biggest factor of which was eliminating the bread and pasta from my diet.  My friends would make fun of me when we would stop at Burger King, or somewhere like that, and I would order my burgers without the bun.  It was pretty successful and in a month’s time I had lost twenty pounds.  I happened to visit my doctor during this time and she commented on my weight loss.  I told her what I was doing and asked her if it was okay, as in healthy, in her opinion.  She said it was perfectly fine, and that I would be successful in losing more and keeping it off, if I was willing to make it a lifetime commitment.  I said, “you mean give up bread and pasta for the rest of my life?”  She said, “pretty much.”  I knew leaving the doctor’s office that I was done losing weight…and sure enough, within a couple of months of starting to eat bread again, all the weight was back, plus some.

Tonight we are beginning a new series.  In this series we are going to journey through the Gospel of John examining the “I am” statements of Jesus.  Through the Gospel, Jesus says, “I am” seven times—“I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the World,” “I am the Gate,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and “I am the Vine.”

When we hear these statements, if we have grown up in the church, or even if we are not a Christian, we don’t think too much about the significance or scandal that would have been heard and understood when Jesus first spoke them.  We may not think the statements much more than if Brenda was to say “I am the Church Council Chair,” or Ms. Ruth was to say, “I am the Pianist,” or Lee was to say, “I am the Groundskeeper.”

However, when Jesus said it, it was heard with a good bit of scandal.  To understand the scandal, we must go back to Exodus 3.  God had appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told Moses that he was to go back to Egypt (remember Moses had fled Egypt, though being raised in Pharaoh’s household, he killed a fellow Egyptian who was beating on an Israelite) and lead the Israelites out of slavery.  Moses, from the very beginning, was trying to find a way out, said, “If I go back to Egypt and tell the Israelites that the God of their ancestors had sent him, they are going to want to know who this God is and I don’t even know your name.  What am I supposed to tell them?”  God replied to Moses, “‘I Am Who I Am.’” God continued on, “‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, I Am has sent me to you…The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever and this is my title for all generations.’”[i]

“I Am” was understood as means of identifying and addressing who God was, is, and always will be.  Those surrounding Jesus in the Gospel of John would have known this immediately.  So now you can imagine the reaction of those who heard Jesus, not once, but seven times say, “I am….”  As they heard Jesus say this, they would have heard, and on more than one occasion Jesus was accused of this, as blasphemy.  The Israelites, the Jews, of Jesus day would have heard Jesus identifying himself with God…of saying that He was God.

For us, today, that is not controversial.  We know from the beginning of the Gospel of John that Jesus is to be understood as God made flesh.  We know, at least as Christians, that Jesus, the Son of God, is to be understood as God Himself—a member of the Holy Trinity.  We know that if we want to see what God looks like, we have no further to look than Jesus, the Word, God’s Word, in the flesh.[ii]

Tonight, we hear Jesus say, “I am the Bread of Life.”

Prior to our reading this morning, earlier in John 6, we find Jesus teaching on a hillside late into the evening.  It comes to be dinnertime and rather than sending the people on their way to eat in their own homes as one of the disciples suggested, Jesus takes the dinner of one young boy, the only one to volunteer up any of his own food, and used those five loaves and two fish to feed over twelve thousand folks.  Jesus and the disciples went on their way afterwards, trying to find some peace and quiet, they sail across the sea of Galilee.  The folks, so impressed with being fed off those loaves and fish track Jesus down, and innocently ask, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”  Have you ever done that before??  You track someone down intending to be where they are going to be and bump into them and act all surprised, “Oh, what are you doing here?” or “Oh, you came too?”

But you can’t fool Jesus.  Jesus confronts them.  “You didn’t just happen here…you tracked me down…and you didn’t track me down because you think God’s kingdom has come, you tracked me down because I gave you that food yesterday and you want some more.”  Jesus continued on, “If that’s why you are here, then you have missed the whole point of what yesterday was about.  You have got to stop chasing after the food that perishes and seek after the food that endures for eternal life—the food that only I can give you.”

Here is where the scandal began to erupt.  The people said what kind of miracle are you going to perform?  Moses gave our ancestors bread from heaven out in the wilderness.”  Jesus said, “Nope…you have misunderstood that too.  Moses did not give the manna for the people to have something to eat to sustain them each day, it came from God…and it is God who will give you the true bread from heaven that will give life, not for just day to day, but life to the world forevermore.”

The people begged for the food.  Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (Now before you start asking what does bread have to do with not being thirsty, we have to note that earlier in the Gospel of John Jesus has the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, promising her that if she asks it of Him, he will give her living water and she will never thirst again.)  Jesus provides the living water, and now He says that He is the bread of life, and if you partake of it, you will never hunger again.

The people came, maybe looking for all that bread left over in the twelve baskets, and Jesus told them that they had missed the point.  They were not looking for the right thing—what they were looking for would only satisfy them temporarily…Jesus said, “y’all make my case, I gave y’all the bread yesterday, and now you are back looking for more, you are hungry again—that kind of bread does not sustain you.”

How many times do we do the same thing?  How many times do we, in our hunger, go seeking after something that gives us a temporary satisfaction, only to find out that the next day (either literally or figuratively) we are hungry again, and go searching for it again…and maybe this time it takes a little bit more than it did the first day to satisfy us.

Maybe it started as one beer and pretty soon was a whole case or a fifth of whiskey…

Maybe it started as a small joint of marijuana and before too long we needed a syringe full of heroin…

Maybe it started out as a one-night affair and a few years later we found that we couldn’t name all the partners we had been with…

Maybe it started out as a new dress, a new suit, a new computer, a new phone, a new car, a new house, and it felt so good, we found ourselves looking to upgrade every chance that comes along…

Maybe it started out as working a little overtime to get a little extra “security” money in the bank, and now we haven’t had a day off in the last six months…

Maybe it started out as a nice scoop of ice cream and now, fifty pounds later, it is nearly a half-gallon every night…

Each time we think, this will be the time, this will bring me enough, this time I will be satisfied, and yet we find ourselves still hungering.  Jesus says, “you are chasing the bread…you are seeking bread that will leave you hungry…If you want to truly be satisfied then you need to come to Me.”

My brothers and sisters, we all have a hole in our lives, a hunger in our lives, a part of our lives which causes us to hunger…and it does not matter how much pleasure or security we try to fill it with…it will never be filled outside of a relationship with Jesus.  Since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sought to eat of the one food that they were not to eat…when they sought to fulfill themselves in a way that God had not intended, humanity has hungered…sin has left us wanting…but Jesus Christ comes into the world to fully satisfy that hunger.  Jesus says, “come to me, and eat…experience the forgiveness, the love, the acceptance, the hope, the strength, the redemption that I offer, and find that you will hunger no more.”

That may seem like a place to end…but here is where our sermon may turn scandalous to some…note the title of the sermon, “He is…we are to be….”  Jesus is the Bread of Life, we are to be the Bread of Life.

I can hear it now, “Wait a minute preacher…now you are talking blasphemy.  It is one thing for Christ to make the claim to be the Bread of Life…to be God’s life sustaining presence in the world…but how can we make that same claim?  We are not God!  We are not Jesus!”  Well, that is right in one way, but not in another way…we are not God and we are not Jesus, but we have to remember what we are…and Paul leads us to understand.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we read that Jesus is to be understood as “the image of the invisible God…[that] in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things….”[iii]  Paul says that to look at Jesus, is to see God.  Yet, Paul says more than that.

Paul, in one of many places, tells the church in Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”[iv]  I hope you are tracking with me and understand where this is going.  If Jesus was the image of the invisible God, if folks in His day were to look to Him and see what God looks like, and if we, the church, are to be understood as the Body of Christ, it can be concluded that we are to be the image of the resurrected Christ in the world today.  What Jesus was when He walked the earth, what Jesus is, as He now reigns in Heaven and in our hearts, we are to be to the world.

What does that mean?  What does it mean for us to be the Bread of Life in the world today?  It means that we are to be that which brings the satisfaction that people need.  We as God’s people are supposed to look into the world and make sure that people’s physical needs are taken care of.  In doing these things we are doing good things…we are providing the day to day manna…we are giving them that which will temporarily halt their physical hunger, just as Jesus did with all those folks on the hillside, but we know that same hunger will be back tomorrow.  The hard question we have to ask is, “are we offing them the Bread of Life?”  Are we introducing folks who are hungering so much, that which will truly and forever satisfy them?  Are we striving to be that which helps restore them into a relationship with God?  Can the world look at us and see Jesus in the same way we look to Jesus and see God?  For He is the Bread of Life…and we are to be the Bread of Life.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[i] Exodus 3:13

[ii] John 1

[iii] Colossians 1:15, 19

[iv] 1st Corinthians 12:27.

Life Together: Accountability – John 8:2-11

Let’s play a game…Same or Different? I’ll ask you first if you think the two words are the same and if you think so, raise your hand. Then I’ll ask if you think they are different, and if you think so, you can lift your hand. Ready?
Let’s start with a simple one…
Cat and Dog…Same? Different?
How about…
Lunch and Dinner… Same? Different?
Let me try this way…
Supper and Dinner… Same? Different?
Okay…
Interstate and Highway… Same? Different?
Sea and Ocean… Same? Different?
Pink and Fuchsia… Same? Different?
Finally…
Being Judgmental and Holding Accountable… Same? Different?

We are well into our journey through our Life Together series. In fact, if you were wondering, we passed the half-way mark in the sermon series last week. We began by simply affirming that we are called to a “Life Together” and asserted with the words of Dietrich Bonheoffer that living in a Christian Community is a gift from God…being able to be here with our brothers and sisters is pure evidence of grace. Then we talked about the importance of humility…remember that we are called to serve on another and that none of us are better than one another. With humility we recognized how essential forgiveness is to our “Life Together.” All of us are sinners…all of us have fallen short…all of us are in need of forgiveness…and the forgiveness we need from God is tied directly to the forgiveness that we are willing to offer one another and others with whom we come in contact. Last week we touched on the key that holds it all together…it is what enables humility and forgiveness and becomes the springboard for everything else…Love…the greatest commandments are that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves…and that anyone who says they love God but not their brother or sister is a liar because if we don’t’ love our brother and sister who we have seen then we cannot love God who we have not seen…
This morning we gather to discuss accountability. Some of us may have trouble with accountability. “We’re not supposed to hold one another accountable, are we? We’d have to be judgmental to do that and we are not suppose to be judgmental, right?” It’s easy to get confused.
Jesus says…“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven…” And that verse has become a key verse that has told Christians that they should not tell anyone else what to do…because if you tell someone they are doing wrong, then you’re judging them. Right? I know that’s what I’ve been told.
However, we turn to the writings of Paul as he deals with the Church in Corinth and feeling that since sin has no hold on the Christian, they have tended to let an “anything goes” atmosphere take place, and Paul comes in to hold them accountable telling them that they cannot ignore the sin of a member of the Body of Christ…it must be addressed.
So what is the difference…do we judge or not judge…do we hold one another accountable for our actions or not hold one another accountable…is there a difference between the two? I would say to you that the answer is yes…there is a difference between passing judgment and holding someone accountable…and the difference can be seen in this morning’s reading.
The Pharisees and the scribes brought a woman who had been caught in adultery before Jesus, and in an attempt to trap Jesus once again, using the woman as the instrument of that trap, they say to Jesus, “The Law of Moses says that since this woman is an adulteress then she is to be stoned. What do you say? What should be done with her?” They wanted Jesus to either side with them and condemn the woman, or negate the Law of Moses, which would discredit Jesus among the Hebrew people. Jesus refused to answer them. He bent over and started writing in the sand. We don’t know what he was writing…he could have just been doodling…some folks have suggested he began writing the sins of the Pharisees and scribes in the sand…maybe he was writing the words, “Humility, Forgiveness, and Love” in Aramaic…we could postulate on it all day long…but it really doesn’t matter…what matters is that Jesus was ignoring their questions, refusing to engage in their argument…because as the Scriptures tell us, they continued to badger Jesus to try and get him to answer their direct question. You can hear them now, “Come on Jesus, we asked you a question. What should we do with her? Gotta stone her, right? You do know the Law, don’t you?” They pushed and pushed and pushed. Finally Jesus stood up, looked at them, and said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin throw the first stone at her,” then he went back to writing in the sand. When he looked back up, everyone was gone…not a single stone had been thrown. All that remained were Jesus and the adulterous woman. “Where’d they go,” Jesus asked. “Is there no one left to condemn you?” “No,” the woman replied, we can imagine the trembling in her voice, “they have all gone.” “Well then,” Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go on your way, and sin no more.”
I would suggest that in this scene we see the difference between being judgmental and holding accountable. The Pharisees and scribes easily fulfill the role of being judgmental. They look upon the woman and see a person that needs to be condemned for her past. They respond to her sin with a holier-than-thou attitude, placing themselves above her, ready to see her put to death (maybe before she writes a tell-all book naming some of them as her lovers). Theirs is an attitude of meanness, bitterness, and a desire to hurt. Jesus’ response to them is to offer them a lesson in humility. In saying, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus says to them, “which ever one of you who does not deserve punishment or even death for your own failings be the first one to condemn this woman.” Then, after their self-examination, there is no one left to pass judgment on the woman.
Well, there is almost no one…there is one left who was without sin…Jesus, standing there with this woman. Yet Jesus does not pass judgment, yet he does address her sin…the one who did not come into the world condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him…said, “Neither do I condemn you, go your way and from now on, do not sin again.” Jesus did not condemn the woman, yet he holds her accountable. He does not ignore the sin, but He responds to the sin with forgiveness and love, that does not condemn her past, but lifts her forward toward the future. Jesus’ response is one of love, compassion, and a desire to heal.
My brothers and sisters, we are called to not judge, to not condemn, to not cast stones…but we are called to hold one another accountable. We begin by learning humility…Jesus teaches us that elsewhere, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? … first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” As we take the log out of our own eye…as we remember that we are just as much a sinner as our brother and sister, we learn the humility with which we address our brother and sister’s sin. Once we have hold of the humility, then we remember that just as we have been forgiven, we are to forgive…and we address our fellow Christian with the saving love of Christ in our hearts. Even in this passage Jesus encourages us to hold our brother or sister accountable, for Jesus does not tell us to ignore the speck in our brother’s or sister’s eye, but after we get our log out, then we go to them.
How does this accountability play out? It can only be truly handled in a community of love and compassion…a community in which trust and respect for one another is lived out…a community in which we live a “Life Together” and not a “Life Apart”…a community in which we remember that we are connected to one another. We handle it by confessing our own sins and shortcomings to our brothers and sisters, and allowing their guidance, and humbly and lovingly offering our guidance and support to them overcoming their sins. It is about “being our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.” It is about meeting together, provoking one another to love and good deeds and encouraging one another. It is not about bringing out someone’s sins in a worship service or a church meeting. It is about spending time together with brothers and sisters in small group settings, building levels of trust, and enabling the confession of sin before God and one another…it means being able to say “I have a problem with gambling,” “I have been looking at pornography,” “I am addicted to drugs,” or “I have been stealing from my employer” and rather than having someone stand over you and condemn you to Hell for your sins, you find your brother or sister in Christ say to you, “Is there no one left to condemn you, then neither do I, let us both go forth in our “Life Together,” and sin no more.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What The Bible Doesn’t Say: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves – Ephesians 2:1-10 (Wednesday Night Reflection)

I’ve heard it two different ways: either “pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” It pretty much means the same. It means that you should improve your situation by fixing it yourself. That’s all well and good if you are like me and wear boots with bootstraps. However, what is a person supposed to do that wears clogs or tennis shoes, high-heels or flip-flops, or operates in my preferred mode, barefoot? See how those statements could be problematic? Maybe we should seek out some advice that is a little more comprehensive, since we are a church maybe something Biblical might cover things better…
How about this? “God helps those who helps themselves.” Can anyone tell me where this particular statement about God appears in God’s Word? If you said, “Nowhere,” you are right. Good thinking since we are in the midst of our “What The Bible Doesn’t Say” series. This often-quoted statement, attributed to God, and mistaken as Biblical, is of uncertain origin. Some suggest it is from Benjamin Franklin and some trace its origins as far back as ancient Greece and Aesop’s Fables. I have heard faithful Christians quote this passage over and over again through the years. The thing is, my friends, the phrase actually should be problematic for Christians to accept, rather than cherished. The notion behind it is that God is only going to help those who do something about their plight—in other words, God is only going to help someone who really doesn’t really need any help.
Someone may ask, “so what is the problem?” The problem is that the notion that God is only around to help those who can help themselves is actually the opposite of what we read in all of Scripture. From the time of God’s covenant with the people of Israel, God has always stressed the importance of caring for those who cannot care for themselves.
God repeatedly reminds the Israelites that they are to care for the orphans, the widows, and the aliens in their midst—those whose status meant they had no standing in the public square and therefore could not do anything to improve their situation…they had no bootstraps to pull themselves up by. Isaiah puts it this way: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
Jesus, Emmanuel, God in the Flesh, comes along and when criticized for hanging out with the sinners, those who couldn’t help themselves, rather than hanging out with the religious elite, those who claimed to have helped themselves, Jesus tells them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” In other words, Jesus says, “I didn’t come to help those who think they can help themselves, but those who can’t help themselves.”
What we have to understand is that truly none of us can help ourselves. Without the help of God, without His grace being extended to us, none of us can do anything for ourselves. That’s what God’s grace is all about. God reaches out to us before we are even aware that we need help and draws us toward himself (John Wesley called this prevenient grace), God declares that we are righteous based not on our helping ourselves, but based on the righteousness of Christ, his willingness to die in our place for our sins (justifying grace), and then through the power of the Holy Spirit, not our own power, God begins to transform us, making us Christlike (sanctifying grace). All these things God does for us because we cannot do them for ourselves.
Paul reminds the Ephesians of this very fact:
All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works….
So, if God only helps those who can help themselves, those who can pick themselves up by their own bootstraps, then none of us would ever be helped. However, Paul tells us that while none of us could ever help ourselves, God, out of His love for us, in His mercy, reached out and helped us, took us from certain death, and gave us life. Just in case any of us were to think that God did this because we made an effort, because we tried to help ourselves, Paul reminds us that God’s helping of us is a “gift…not the result of works….”
We were helpless. God helped. God calls each of us to do likewise, for God created us in His image…we are called to live out our lives as a reflection of God to the world…we are called to be the living body of the resurrected Christ to all of those around us. We are called to help those who cannot help themselves…to help those who cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
We are called to look out into the world and search out those who cannot help themselves:
Those who cannot help themselves because of their age…they are too young or too old to help do anything about their circumstances.
Those who cannot help themselves because of their health…physical impairments prevent them from doing anything to help themselves.
Those who cannot help themselves because of their education…they do not know what needs to be done to improve their status.
Those who cannot help themselves because of their social status…their gender, their skin color, their language limitations, their ethnicity, keep them from having the same opportunities as everyone else.
Those who cannot help themselves because of their upbringing…they were never taught any life skills to care for themselves, they were never taught personal responsibility, they were never taught anything other than to lie, cheat, beg, or steal to get what they need.
To operate in God’s grace means to reach out to each of these, right where they are, without expecting them to do anything to make them deserve our efforts. God’s grace comes to us where we are, it does not demand that we meet Him halfway…likewise, we are called to go to those who need our help where they are, not demand that they come to where we are, or even meet us halfway. We cannot demand they make an effort first, any more than God demands that we make an effort before He offers us grace.
I can hear the concern now. Why should we help anyone who won’t make an effort to change or who keeps doing the same thing? Before we say that, we must remember that God reaches out to us before we make any effort to change. He keeps reaching out to us while we keep sinning. Some would ask, “If we help those who could do something to change their circumstances, won’t that just enable them to continue to live where they are, without changing, without doing anything for themselves…won’t it continue to foster a society where folks just depend on everyone else to do for them? Don’t we see that now?”
Not if we help as God helps. God helps by reaching out to where folks they are and entering into a relationship with them…and as He pours forth His grace, as He enters into relationship, and His grace has expectations…
Adam and Eve were expected to tend to Creation…
Noah and his family were expected to repopulate the earth…
Abraham was expected to trust God and surrender all things, including his son to God…
The Israelites, freed from slavery to those in Egypt, helped when they couldn’t help themselves, found themselves at Mt. Sinai were given the Ten Commandments, and other laws to live by…
The lepers Jesus encountered and healed by the side of the road were told to go and present themselves in the Temple and re-enter the community (rather than continue to beg for their livelihood).
The woman caught in adultery and pardoned, though she had done nothing to deserve pardoning (she was guilty), was forgiven, then told to go and sin no more.
Every act of grace that God offers comes as a free, undeserved gift…and as we open that gift, we find that to fully experience the grace that God has offered, we are called to surrender our lives in service to God. Paul tells us that we have been saved by grace through faith, not by our own efforts, but that we have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” God has saved us and begun making us more and more like Christ—the One who was sent not to help those who claim to be able to help themselves, but to help those who may not even have a bootstrap to grab hold of. We are called to enter into the lives of those who cannot help themselves with the same grace God extended to us, helping those who cannot help themselves, entering into a relationship with them, as God has with us, and walking alongside of them as instruments of God’s transforming Grace.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Life Together: Love – 1st Corinthians 13

Jim asked his friend Tony whether he had bought his wife anything for Valentine’s Day.
“Yes,” came the answer from Tony, who was always a bit of a chauvinist.” “I’ve bought her a belt and a bag.”
“That was very kind of you,” Jim noted. “I hope she appreciates the thought.”
“So do I,” Tony replied. “And hopefully the vacuum cleaner will work better now.”

After she woke up, a woman told her husband, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for my birthday. What do you think it means?”
“You’ll know tonight,” he said.
That evening, the man came home with a small package and gave it to his wife, “Happy Birthday,” he said.
Excited, she quickly tore through the paper to find a book entitled, “The Meaning of Dreams.”

Men, I hope when we give gifts to our wives, we do better than these two guys. Gifts and cards are supposed to be acts of love…however, after hearing about these gifts from Tony and the thoughtful book-giving husband, we can understand why Tina Turner’s 1984 hit went all the way to number one as she asked, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”
My brothers and sisters, we have come to the next stop along our journey of rediscovering the gift we have been given by the greatest gift-giver…we are seeking to recapturing what it means to live “Life Together.”
We began this journey after hearing the words of Dietrich Bonheoffer telling us that it is only by God’s grace, a gift from God, that we are still allowed to be gathered together as a Christian community. Since we have this gift, we must learn how to use it, how to reclaim it from years of abuse, misuse, and neglect.
We discussed the importance of humility in “Life Together.” Humility reminding us that we are to put others before ourselves, that we are not better than anyone else in the community, and that we are to live our lives in service to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Two weeks ago, we considered forgiveness and the role it plays in our “Life Together.” Forgiveness is essential to life together because to not forgive not only causes problems between us as brothers and sisters in Christ, but it also disturbs our relationship with God. We remembered the words of Christ as he was teaching the disciples how to pray, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, then the Father will also forgive you; but if you don’t forgive others their trespasses, neither will the Father forgive your trespasses.”
Today, we come to “Love.” Why put something as important as “Love” in the middle of the series? It is because “Love” is central to our “Life Together.” “Love” is what truly enables us to live a “Life Together.” We talked in both the areas of humility and forgiveness how difficult those aspects of our “Life Together,” are. We will find, in the coming weeks, that it is through the scope of love, that we must focus all acts of our “Life Together.”
How important is “Love”? All we have to do is look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul was writing this letter to a newly formed community of faith. This community was just learning how to live, “Life Together,” as the Body of Christ. They were experiencing one conflict right after another…conflicts that involved boasting and looking down on others…conflicts over using God-given gifts…conflicts over understandings of the resurrection…what was okay to eat…how to handle sin…you get the idea…Corinth was a church in conflict…and in the midst of his letter, Paul stresses the importance of “Love.” You will hear me say this repeatedly over the years, but let’s start with today. Paul did not write 1st Corinthians 13 for weddings…he wrote it to help a church in conflict find its way.
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I had over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Paul goes on to describe what this love looks like, and then concludes, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” According to Paul, “Love” is so important that without it anything we do is worthless and a bunch of noise… “Love” is the greatest aspect of our faith that we are called to exercise…the key to our “Life Together.”
How important is love? Well, the word “love” occurs over 280 times in the New Revised Version of the New Testament…
Jesus said, “But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
“The greatest commandment is this, ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
How about, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever should believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Jesus told his followers, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
And moving from the Gospel of John to John’s first letter, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love…Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us…Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from Him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
God’s Holy Word leaves us no doubt as to how important love is and how central it is to our “Life Together.” Without “Love” when we gather together, we are just making a bunch of racket, not a sound pleasing to the ears of God. If we do not love our brother and sister in Christ, then we cannot even claim to love God.
So if love is so important, what does this love look like? That’s where the limits to the English language are made evident.
A pastor once pointed out that depth of our English word “Love” is limited because we use it in so many ways it makes it difficult to understand what God’s word is getting at. Think about it, we use the same word, “love,” for loving our car, loving fried shrimp, loving trips to the Cape, loving the idea of warmer weather, loving a kitten, loving our spouse, and loving God.” While we use the same word, we know that our feelings are different for each one.
So how do we know what the love that we are supposed to have in our “Life Together” is supposed to look like?
It should reflect God’s love for us and Paul gives us a description of that love in our reading this morning. Paul describes to us “agape” Love…God’s free giving, selfless love:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all thins, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends…”
This is the kind of love that we are to have with one another in our Life Together. This is the kind of love that enables humility and forgiveness. We are called to be patient with one another, kind to one another. We are not to be envious of one another. We are not to be boastful or arrogant or rude. We are not to insist on our own way. We are not to be irritable or resentful. We are not to rejoice in wrongdoing. We are supposed to rejoice in truth. We are to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. Just as God’s love for us does not end, in this community of faith, this community of love, our love for one another is to never end.
To answer Tina Turner’s 34-year-old question, “What has love got to do with it?” In our “Life Together,” Love has everything to do with it. And unlike Tony and the other husband, God’s gift of Love in Christ is the most amazing gift of love anyone could imagine…and it is that same self-giving, sacrificial love, that God calls us to have for one another in our “Life Together.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Who’s The Fool? — Matthew 28:1-15

Good Morning. What a blessedly busy morning it has been today. I don’t know how many of you had an opportunity between the sunrise service and breakfast this morning and the start of our service just a short while ago to sit back and catch up on the latest news. It was reported this morning that after further environmental studies and cost analyses that rather than put in a new high-rise bridge for Harkers Island, they will immediately begin deconstruction of the drawbridge connecting Harkers Island to Straits and bring one of the Cherry Point-Minnesott Beach ferries to the Island and run a permanent service from the Westard to the Waterfront in Beaufort, in an effort to boost Beaufort’s economy after the impact of the new bypass high rise.
If you didn’t catch that news story, maybe you caught this one: The BBC reported that due to unusually warm temperatures in Switzerland, and the eradication of the spaghetti weevil there has been an abundant crop of spaghetti being produced by the spaghetti trees in the region. How many of you are ready to go out and purchase a spaghetti tree? This news story from April 1, 1957 had people from all over calling the BBC asking where they could buy one. It is considered by many to be the best April Fool’s Day hoax of of all time.
It is a day that is observed by many with a deluge of hoaxes and practical jokes, all of which are followed with the traditional “gotcha” of “April Fool’s”. Today is April 1st and it just cannot be ignored as it is the first time in more than 60 years that Easter has fallen on this day…and we gather this morning to declare that what the chief priests tried to claim was a hoax is nothing but the Gospel truth. Easter almost begs us to ask the question on this April Fool’s Day, “who’s the fool?”
We reflected last week how Jesus was betrayed…he was arrested…he was turned over to the authorities…and from the Chief Priests and the Sanhedrin to the soldiers to the crowd to one of the thieves hanging with Jesus, they cast him as the fool.
Standing before the Sanhedrin Jesus, having been falsely accused of blasphemy and repeatedly questioned by the high priest, who demands that He confesses as to whether He is the Messiah, the Son of God—Jesus’ answer, that the high priest has said that he is the Messiah, and that the high priest will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven, brings a torrent of hate from the high priest and others gathered there…as they spit on him, struck him, and say, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?” Jesus is played as the fool.
Later, after Pilate has handed Jesus over to be crucified, the Roman soldiers take a scarlet robe and drape it across Jesus’ shoulders. The form a crown of thorns and put it on Jesus’ head. They gave him a reed for a scepter. They knelt before him and mocked him, as King of the Jews…they spit on him, they struck him on the head…all before taking him to be crucified. Jesus again is played as the fool.
Those who witness Jesus being crucified, called him to him, mocking him, saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” The religious leaders again cried out, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trust in God; let God deliver him now…”. Jesus and his faith are now played as the fool.
The bandits who were being crucified along side him mocked him, derided him, and played Jesus as the fool in the same way.
And when Jesus breathed his last…and when he was laid in that dark stone tomb…all Jesus’ enemies believed they were right. Jesus and his followers were the fools…for there was nothing special about that man…he was just flesh and blood and died just like everyone else…. We might even image that some of those who had followed Jesus felt like the fools for having believed anything at all…for having thought that Jesus might be different…for having lived that things might change. They were left in the same darkness that they had before they started hoping in that Jesus was something special.
The Pharisees wanted to make sure that everyone felt that way, so they went to Pilate and said, “Pilate, when that imposter, that fool, was still alive, he said that he would rise again in three days. You need to go and post a guard to makes sure none of those disciples do something foolish like steal his body and give folks hope.” Pilate told them that they had their own guards, to go and place them outside the tomb. So they did.
And if that’s where things ended, with Jesus’ bones rotting in some stone tomb then each of us sitting here could be pitied as fools, particularly as beautiful a day as it is out there…Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Corinthians: “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised…If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Yet, my brothers and sisters, we are here this morning because we claim and believe with Paul, “…in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” We are here to testify with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary that the tomb is indeed empty…guards or no guards. We are here to testify with them that Christ has risen from the dead. We are here to praise God and give witness to our faith…a faith that is rooted and grounded not simply in the cross, but also in the empty tomb.
For it is this empty tomb that declares that Jesus was no fool—that he truly was, is, and always will be the Son of God—born in a manger to declare our value…died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins…and raised from the dead to offer us the promise of eternal life.
This empty tomb declares that the disciples who left everything the held on to behind were no fools—for they exchanged their earthly security of family business and steady income for the eternal security of life in the Kingdom of God.
So who’s the fool?
The guards who fainted at the sight of the angel and therefore could not testify to the Sanhedrin what really happened?
Maybe it was Pilate who gave in to the pressure of Rome to keep peace and the pressure of the religious leaders and had Jesus crucified?
Maybe it was the thief who did not repent alongside his partner as they were being crucified with Jesus, dying with ridicule still dripping from his lips?
Maybe it was religious elite who were more concerned about losing their popularity and power and failed to realize their Messiah had come?
Maybe it was death that failed to keep the Son of God in the tomb?
All I know is that everyone of those who claimed victory on Friday looked foolish on that morning when the stone was rolled away and our Savior appeared to the women and later to the disciples…
You know what else looks foolish in light of the empty tomb?
Alzheimer’s, cancer, strokes, heart attacks, and any other disease…
Job layoffs, bankruptcy, stock mark crashes, and every other financial crisis…
Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, and any other natural disasters…
Plane crashes, car accidents, boats sinking…
Terror attacks, serial killers, war…
Anything and everything, anyone and everyone, who tries to lay claim to having final word in our lives and the lives of those we love…
While they may seem to have the upper hand for a day, maybe two, the third day dawns and through the empty tomb God declares that each of them, and even death itself is nothing but an April Fool’s day hoax.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Can’t Find Jesus – John 20:1-28 (Sunrise Service Sermon)

It was a year and a half ago that we bought our college-aged son a Tile. No, not tile, a Tile. Tile are used to tag things that you might lose so that you can use your smartphone to locate the lost item. The thing about the Tile is, though, that individually they cost $20, or you can purchase four for $60, and they only last a year. So, what would make us spend that kind of money for a 2”x2” square piece of plastic. We had made our way to the other end of the state to watch Davey run in the Cradle to the Grave 30k run in the Pisgah National Forest. We ended up in the mountains well before he did. We kept trying to get in touch with him, and finally did. We found out he was running behind because he had lost his wallet…with all his cash, debit cards, and ID…and had never found it. He had $20 and was driving through the Blue Ridge Parkway with his gas warning light on, coasting down every mountain in an effort to stretch the gas to Brevard. We met him when he finally got of the Parkway and we could meet up with him. We filled up his car with gas…had a great couple of days in Brevard (well, as good as you can have in the mountains) …and on Sunday, he found his wallet…while looking for something else in the backpack he had carried with him all weekend. This is not the first time he had lost his wallet, just the first time that we were close enough to be a rescue for him.
To be honest, when I purchased his Tile, I thought about picking up some to tag the stuff I misplace and lose. However, if I was to try and tag everything that I typically misplace with a Tile, I would almost need to purchase their warehouse. I would need to tag my keys, my wallet, my phone, my glasses, all the remotes in the house, my coffee thermos, my water bottle, my car in the parking lot of any shopping center or hospital, and many days I would have to find a way to Tile my mind.
Most of us have things we lose or misplace and if the Tile was less expensive, we might all have things we usually lose tagged to be able to find easier. However, not many of us have the problem losing what Mary Magdalene thought she had lost, what she knew someone had stolen.
Mary Magdalene and the other women had watched exactly where Joseph and Nicodemus had put the body. Tears most likely filled their eyes as they watched the man they loved so much, who had loved them so much, placed in this nearby garden tomb. They watched the two men seal the tomb with the huge stone. They could not come back the next day for it had been the Sabbath, so here she was, prepared to say her final goodbyes and anoint his body with perfume one last time.
Something was wrong. The stone was moved. The tomb was no longer sealed. Slowly she peered into the darkness. It was just as she feared. She couldn’t find Jesus. He wasn’t there. She turned and ran as fast as she could. Somebody had taken Him. She didn’t know what to do, but she knew who would—they might even know where His body was—maybe one of them had moved the body for some reason. Mary’s legs couldn’t carry her fast enough, and she found them…they were gathered in the room where they had secluded themselves waiting for the courage to come out of hiding. They may have even spent the Sabbath hiding away in that room. She found all eleven of them and told them that she couldn’t find Jesus, someone had taken His body.
Peter and one of the others, most figure it was John, took off running. She had to be wrong. They knew that they would get to the tomb and find Jesus’ body. Mary just hadn’t looked very well. Maybe the shadows had fooled her. Maybe she had looked in the wrong part of the tomb. Maybe she had just seen the stone moved and let it spook her and she never really looked in. They knew they would find Jesus—his cold body in that cold tomb.
They arrive. Mary was right about the stone. It was moved. Once they found Jesus’ body inside, they would have to check with Joseph and Nicodemus and see if one of them had come back for some reason, and just not been able to get the stone back in place. The two of them slide into the darkness to confirm that Jesus was still there. What they found was that Mary had not lost her mind or her skills of observation. She was telling the truth. Jesus was gone. Someone had stolen his body, and left the burial clothes behind. The two men looked at one another, exchanged a sorrowful hug, then slowly walked to their homes, sorrowful that the grave of their friend had been so terribly desecrated. Again, they decided they would definitely have to check with Joseph and Nicodemus…just maybe for some reason, they had to come back and move Jesus. Surely, they would know what was going on. All Peter and John knew was that, like Mary, they couldn’t find Jesus.
How many of us have had times in our lives where we looked, but felt like we couldn’t find Jesus?
Maybe we have been like Mary in a season of mourning. A loved one has died. Maybe we knew it was coming—maybe we had watched them suffer and struggle, for weeks, for months, maybe for years, and then they weren’t with us anymore. Maybe that sudden absence came quickly, either from a sudden illness or a tragic accident. In the midst of that pain and loss, we try and search for Jesus and through our tears, we can’t find Jesus. It seems as if we are alone and abandoned.
Maybe the absence seemed to occur on a larger scale. It has been almost seventeen years, but I still remember the response of so many following 9/11. It was there after Hurricane Harvey. I’m sure it was there after the attacks at Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, and Parkland. It happens with almost every disaster, almost every attack. Many folks questioning their faith, many more questioning our faith. They say, “We don’t see your Jesus. He’s not here. He’s still in a cold tomb somewhere.” Maybe the shock of a sudden tragedy even leaves us searching for Jesus and not able to find Him at first.
Maybe we find ourselves in the middle of a place we should never have gone. We found ourselves surrounded by the sin we have chosen for ourselves. The bills are piled high and the collection calls keep coming in. We anxiously await the test results after years of promiscuity. Every joint from our hips to our knees to our ankles ache from carrying the weight of yet another round four trips through the buffet line. We find our reputation taking hit after hit as our name travels through the same gossip lines that we have so often used talk about others. We find ourselves standing before the judge as our temper has led us beyond words to actions of violence we never thought ourselves capable. We struggle to catch our breath and focus our minds after years of taking abusive substances into our bodies. We can’t find Jesus in the midst of any of it.
That is when we need to know the rest of Mary’s story. The disciples had left. Mary was alone. That is, she was alone until she sensed the presence of someone else. Thinking him the gardener, there to make sure everything was in order, and thinking that maybe he had moved the body, she pleads with him to reveal the location of her teacher, her friend, her savior. That’s when she hears it, “Mary.”
She hears her name…she knows the voice. It is Him. She had looked for Him in the tomb, and He wasn’t there…He wasn’t there because no longer bound by the tomb, He was alive and there with her. She couldn’t find Jesus, but Jesus found her.
That’s the story of Easter. We constantly look for life in the places of death—not realizing that Life has already found us.
We might look for Jesus and not be able to find Him in the face of illness and accidents thinking Jesus is only to be found in the cure and miss seeing that He is there carrying our loved one and walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death…that we may never experience the true touch of death and its finality, the darkness of nothingness.
We might only look for Jesus in the prevention of disasters and attacks thinking that if Jesus were to be found, the tragedies would never have happened. We fail to realize that the reason that we can’t find Jesus is because He is not to be found in the prevention but in the providence—in the strength and resource that God gives us to survive the tragic events of a fallen world.
We might have trouble finding Jesus in the midst of our sin…because we are in the midst of our sin, because with sin comes death…when we hear the voice of Jesus calling our name to turn from the paths and places of death and turn toward Him and find not death, but the opportunity of a forgiven, new, and resurrected life with Him.
My brothers and sisters, we may find ourselves having trouble finding Jesus…our lives may feel overwhelmed with the darkness of an empty tomb…but let us remember that the empty tomb is not there because we’ve lost Jesus, we simply need to become still and listen…listen for Him to speak our name—for when we can’t find Jesus, He will find us, and as He wipes away our tears, we will realize that He has never gone anywhere, that He is with us, and that He will never abandon or desert us—and our darkness can turn to dawn as we announce to the world, “My Savior has found me, and I have seen the Lord.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Life Together: Forgiveness – Colossians 3:12-17

I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie, “Facing the Giants,” but about halfway through the movie, there is a scene in which Coach Grant Taylor challenges one of his players to a major test of strength. Coach Taylor has felt like his players, especially one of his seniors and team leaders, Brock Kelly, is not putting 100% of his effort into playing. The coach feels like his poor attitude is bringing the rest of the team down with a defeatist attitude causing them to lose the games before they even play them. After just doing a 10-yard “Death Crawl” in which a player, on his hands and feet (without his knees touching the ground) carries another player on his back, Coach Taylor challenges Brock to carry Jeremy (another player) in a death crawl from the end-zone to the 50 yard line…however, Brock must be blindfolded to do the drill. The drill begins and Coach Taylor is beside Brock all the way, encouraging him, asking him to give his absolute best. Brock keeps asking how far he has been and the coach tells him not to worry about it, just give him his best, and Brock keeps going. Brock is crying out, “it’s hard”, “it hurts,” and “it burns.” Coach Taylor says he knows, but just to give him, his best…Coach Taylor tells him, “it’s all heart.” Brock keeps pushing until he collapses, saying he knows he has to be at the 50 yard line…Coach Taylor tells him to remove his blindfold and look up. He’s in the end-zone. What a test of strength.
There are folks that would question why at the end of March would I be using a football illustration in a sermon. Wouldn’t something from basketball or baseball be more appropriate? You might be right. But in my defense, of the sporting news that I have seen over the last two weeks, if it wasn’t about the NCAA Men’s Tournament, it was about what NFL Team is going to sign or draft what player next month. It also helps that I was readily familiar with this scene and how it applies to this morning’s message.
WhileFacing The Giants is a fictional movie, there are many things that NFL athletes do to build up their strength. While there are the usual workouts and weight room bench presses, there are some that are unusual. Sports Illustrated once reported that Walter Jones, a former left-tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, in addition to his regular workout, twice a week Mr. Jones would strengthen his lower body by pushing his brother-in-law’s three ton Escalade 25 yards.
Football is a team sport, in which each person must play their role to be effective, so illustrations from the football field provide a nice lead in as we continue our series on Life Together. We began realizing that we are called together into a community of faith, and, as Dietrich Bonheoffer reminds us, that being able to be part of a community of faith is a gift: “It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.”
We are on a journey to reclaim that gift of living in the Christian Community. Last week, we reflected on “humility,” hearing the call to all of us to have the mind of Christ…to realize that pride and arrogance are not fit to be part of our lives as Christians and are detrimental to a “life together.” We are called to a life of humility, realizing that we are not better than anyone else, and that we must put others and their needs before our own, and be willing to serve one another…to refuse to do so would be to place ourselves above Christ.
Today, we come to our next stop along this journey, “forgiveness.” Forgiveness plays a significant role in our lives as Christians and in our “life together.” It is only through the forgiveness we receive from God because of Christ’s death on the cross that we are even able to bear the name Christian. However, “forgiveness” has an even great role in our lives.
Paul writes the Colossians: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Hear that again, “…forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Forgiveness is essential to our attempts at “life together.” Why? Because folks will disappoint us…we are not perfect, just striving for perfection…we are sinners saved by grace…and we will make mistakes. We will, even accidentally, hurt one another, through word and deed. If, when we become hurt, we refuse to forgive, we want revenge, we hold on to bitterness, it drives a wedge amongst us as community. It starts a crack that can, if it is continually hammered upon, split the community. We must be willing to forgive one another. To refuse to forgive, is to intentionally do damage to our community.
To refuse to forgive also damages our relationship with God. To refuse to forgive others is an affront to the Word of God. To refuse to forgive is to disobey God…leaving us in need of further forgiveness from God…and there lies in a major problem. If we disobey God by refusing to forgive and then need more forgiveness from God, then we may find ourselves hurting. Colossians says that just as Christ has forgiven us, so must we forgive others. The lessons from Jesus, himself, put the dangers of unforgiveness a little more clearly. Hear these words of Christ as recorded by the Gospel of Matthew: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” If we refuse to forgive, then we find ourselves telling God to not forgive us. In other words, if I hold on to the wrongs that ________ has done to me and refuse to forgive them, then I am asking God to hold on to any wrongs I have committed against me. If God does that, then I will find myself eternally separated from Him. According to God’s Word, if we refuse to forgive, then we will not be forgiven.
Forgiveness, true forgiveness, in which we let go of any animosity or desire to get even with the one who has wronged us, is not easy…and this is where football strength training comes in…
The world will tell us that to forgive someone is an act of weakness…that turning the other cheek instead of striking back is weak…that letting go of the desire to see someone “get what they deserve” is weak…but I would challenge that they are very wrong…
Even those outside of the Christian faith can see how wrong it is to consider forgiveness a sign of weakness…Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, once stated, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”
It takes strength to forgive. It is the weak who get even. It is easy to strike back. It is easy to hate. It is easy to feel bitterness. It is easy to refuse to talk to someone. It is easy to be petty. It is hard to let go of anger and bitterness. Holding on to a grudge is like taking the parking brake off a Volkswagen Beetle parked on a hill and watching it roll away. Forgiveness is like pushing that 3-ton Escalade. It is hard to not want to get even. It is hard to control ourselves, our physical response and our mouths, in order to not strike back. However, my brothers and sisters, as we live together in Christian Community, we are called to, actually commanded to, forgive one another.
Some of the pains and wrongs we have experienced run deep or we have held onto them so long they have become part of us, and to start to let go of them is like doing the death crawl blindfolded. We are blindfolded because we do not know what is going to happen to us or to those we forgive once we forgive them…and we strain under the burden of letting go. We may find ourselves crying out like Brock carrying 160 lb. Jeremy down the field…we may want to tell God, “it’s hard, it hurts, it burns.”
And God will understand…imagine how hard it was for God to forgive us…imagine how much it hurt for God to forgive us…imagine how much it burned for God to forgive us…How did God experience the difficulty…the hurt…the burn? Imagine the weight of the cross that Jesus could barely carry to Golgotha, and actually needed help carrying…Imagine the hurt of the nails being driven through His hands…and imagine the burn of the muscles as He hung with his hands nailed to the cross beams…and yet, as hard as it was, as much as it hurt, as bad as it burned, Jesus looked down from the cross upon those who had put him there and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Through the difficulty, pain, and burn, Christ forgives…and Paul tells us, “just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.”
Despite the difficulty, the pain, and the burn, we are to press on to forgive…and Christ is there beside us, telling us to push on…that it is a matter of the heart…and that we can do it…just to give him everything we’ve got, which is everything He’s God, for it is the strength of God residing within us that we are dependent upon…it is the presence of Christ through His Holy Spirit and the Word of God constantly with us, that will help us move even beyond the halfway point of forgiving someone and go all the way to true forgiveness…
It is then, when we have gained the strength to forgive one another, and we return to living in harmony with one another, that we will even more greatly appreciate this gift God has given us of “life together.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Giving Up Apathy For Good – James 1:22, 27; 2:8, 13-19; 4:17 – Wednesday Night Reflection

It’s a wonder we ever end up anywhere to eat. The conversation usually starts out this way, “What’s for supper?”
“I don’t know. You want me to fix something, or do you want something from somewhere?”
“I don’t care. What do you want to do!”
“It doesn’t matter. Well, since I have a meeting, let’s get some thing out. Do you want to eat there or bring it back home?”
“I don’t care. What do you want to do?”
“It doesn’t matter. What do you want to get?”
“I don’t care. What do you want?”
You see what I mean. Like I said, it’s a wonder that we ever eat anything. (Of course, these are the times that Joshua is not part of the conversation, because depending on what he wants, he’ll be quick to tell you exactly where he wants something from and that we’re bringing it home to eat.)
It’s one thing to not care what you eat and where you eat…however, I would even suggest that if someone were to pick somewhere you didn’t like or wanted something you didn’t really have a taste for…suddenly, you’d care. However, like I was saying, it is one thing to not care about what or where you eat, but it is quite a different matter to look into the world and not care the things you see.
We look into the world and see:
– Someone with their arms full trying to open a door.
– A waitress who is behind in serving us because the rest of the waitstaff have called in sick.
– A family struggling to care with their special needs child.
– A parent struggling to raise their child after they have been abused or abandoned by the child’s other parent.
– Violence being carried out against students, teachers, and staff in our schools.
– People viewed and treated differently because of the color of their skin or the language they speak (or don’t speak).
– Children who are hungry. Children who are abused. Children who are neglected.
– Women, men, and children abducted and sold into sexual slavery.
– Men, women, and children without shelter in sub-freezing or 100+ temperatures, snow or tropical-storm-like rains…the kind of weather we wouldn’t leave our pets out to endure.
– Elderly who are forgotten or who have outlived their family or who are abused or neglected by their family members or care staff.
– A world where trees are dying, water is poisoned, the ground is contaminated, and God’s creatures are disappearing.
– Companies making profits off of slave or substandard labor while we enjoy their products.
– Ethnic or faith groups being eliminated by violence because they are the minority in their country and/or seen as a threat by those in power who want to stay in power.
I could go on and on listing the difficult, tragic, or just plain evil situations that we see when we look out into the world. It can become almost overwhelming. The trouble is that there are those, possibly some of us, possibly me, that look at some or any of these situations, and we turn our backs…we walk away…we just don’t care
Why don’t we care? We don’t care because the situation doesn’t affect us directly. We don’t care because we think something else is more important. We don’t care because we’ve tried all that we can think of and nothing has worked so it is easier not to care. We don’t care because we’ve decided it is easier to be callous than to have our hearts breaking daily. We don’t care because it would be inconvenient to do anything about it. We don’t care, because doing something might cost us. We don’t care because we like the lifestyle we have. We don’t care because we want what we want, it doesn’t matter how it affects anyone else. We don’t care because those people are not like us—they don’t look like us, they don’t talk like us, they don’t smell like us. We don’t care because it’s happening on the other side of the world. We don’t care because those people look like our enemies. We don’t care because those people are our enemies.
Into this we hear James, the brother of Jesus, say through his letter to those seeking to follow Christ, but find themselves scattered:
…be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves… Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress…You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”… For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith… Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”
My brothers and sisters, we have to care. We either need to continue caring, or we need to start caring, or we need to learn to care. Any of those excuses that we might use to not care could have been used by God to not care about us. He has tried and we have ignored. He is holy, we are sinful. Saving us was not only inconvenient, it was painful and costly. He came to us as Jesus…and James watched and learned as his older brother, regardless of how tired He was, regardless of how emotionally wrenching it might be, regardless of knowing ahead of time He would be betrayed and deserted, He cared. He cared enough to journey to the cross. He came and cared, despite knowing that He would end up on the cross. He cared enough to offer his very life for folks who did not, and some who still do not care.
My brothers and sisters, if we have struggled with apathy, let us take it to the cross of the One who always cares, nail it there, and leave it—that we have hearts that are moved to action with all that we see.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Life Together: Brought Into Community – Ephesians 2:12-14

George Burns had something to say about families before he died. He was recorded one time as saying, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family…in another city.”
Dietrich Bonheoffer, had something a little different to say about living together. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian, church leader, and seminary professor during the reign of Adolph Hitler. While leading a congregation in the anti-Nazi Confessing Church in Germany, he was arrested, jailed, and later hung for his efforts to take a stand against Hitler and the Nazi movement. Bonhoeffer is best known for writing The Cost of Discipleship. However, he has written many more, among them is Life Together, a reflection of the life of Christian Community he established at Finkenwalde Seminary, a community that was involuntarily shut down by Hitler’s Gestapo. Bonheoffer writes about what a blessing and gift of God it is to live in Christian Community:
It is easily forgotten that the community of Christians is a gift of grace from the kingdom of God, a gift that can be taken from us any day—that the time still separating us from profound loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.”
It is by God’s grace that we are blessed and able to live in a community of faith. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget that this community is a gift from God. We take it for granted, we abuse it, we misuse it, or we ignore it. Remembering this precious gift of Christian Community, for the next several weeks we are going to reflect on what it means to lives as part of the community of faith.
Today, we begin with seeking to understand what brings us together as a community of faith. What binds us together as a community? At a country club, folks are usually drawn together by their social standing. Groups, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Chess clubs, Bridge clubs, hunting clubs and Carver’s guilds are all usually drawn together because of a common interest. Support groups come together because of common needs. Family reunions come together because of blood or marriage relations. So, what is it that brings together the group we call the Christian community of faith?
It is Christ that brings us together. It is Christ that unites us. It is Christ that makes us a community and not just a community, but, a family. Paul writes:
“…remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
Prior to coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we were not part of God’s people, unless, by chance, we are of Jewish heritage. God called Abraham, and from Abraham’s descendants rose God’s people, the Hebrew people. Jesus came as the Messiah of the Hebrew people, and all of the first Christians were Jewish. However, through the life of Jesus and the work of the Disciples, it was made clear that God’s family extended far beyond Jewish bloodlines and that God’s grace was extended to the Gentiles, to the rest of the world…so that those who were near to God, the Jewish people, and those who were far off, the rest of the world, were brought together as one, united only through the blood of Christ. We mark our entrance into this family through our baptism.
Bonhoeffer, he would say that there are three points of significance that come from the fact that we are brought together only through the blood of Jesus Christ.
The first thing to consider is that “a Christian needs others for the sake of Jesus Christ.” When we come together through the salvation that we find it Christ, we are forced to acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves. We are not self-sufficient. Surrendering to Christ we realize that we are dependent upon others. That has been part of the fabric of who we are since the beginning when we encounter the only thing that God declares to be “not good” during His Creation. After creating Adam, God looked down and said, “it is not good that man should be alone.” He then created Eve to be his helpmeet, means literally means his “completer”. We are only complete when we are in community with one another. Since Adam and Eve, God has constantly called His people into community, and brought that to fulfillment in the community brought together through His Son.
Secondly, we have to remember that we “come to others only through Jesus Christ.” As Christians, the only way we are to relate to others is to relate to them through Christ. Everyone we come in contact with, everyone we see, when we look at them, we have to look at them as if looking upon them through the eyes of Christ. Paul would remind us that regardless of who they are, regardless of what they have done, we no longer regard them from a worldly point of view, but we are to see them as Christ would see them. We realize that everyone we encounter are our equals, we all stand equally unworthy before the throne of God and because of that, Christ has equally extended his grace upon us all. It means that folks are not less than us because they come from different parts of the state, different part of the country, or have different backgrounds or have different skin colors or speak a different language or have a different political affiliation, it means that we are all beloved children of God. It also means that when we look upon those outside of the community that we don’t look down upon them but look for ways to draw them into the community the same way that Christ has drawn us into His family.
Thirdly, coming to into this relationship through Christ means that “from eternity we have been chosen in Christ, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” This means that God, out of all eternity, has chosen to draw us into His family. God declared our value and chosen us. God came out of all eternity and took on our very flesh and blood. Taking human form God, in Christ declared that we were worthy of salvation…and as we are joined together with Christ through the waters of our Baptism, we are bound not only to Christ, but to one another, in an eternal bond that is not meant to be broken. Through the grace of God in Baptism and in Holy Communion, we are made One with Christ and One with each other. Christ lives in us, and we in Him, and together we live as the Body of Christ, present in the World.
Considering it is the blood of Christ that draws us together, we need to take very seriously the community we have been brought into. As I mentioned earlier, too often we take it for granted, we abuse it, we misuse it, or we ignore it. To do this is to take the sacrifice of Christ for granted, to abuse Christ’s body, to misuse the blood of Christ, or to ignore the work of Christ altogether. How do we do this?
We take the community of faith for granted when we deiced that it is only important to be part of the community once in a while…you know, we don’t need Sunday School or fellowship gatherings or mission trips, we’ll just show up for worship…or “hey, it’s not important that I’m in worship every week…maybe just once or twice a month…or maybe if I just show up for Christmas and Easter.”
We abuse the body of Christ when we mistreat other members of Christ Body—when we speak hatefully to them or about them or when we refuse to speak to them; when we lie to or deceive our brothers and sisters; or when we ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters.
We misuse the God’s family when we come to it only seeking to get what we can for ourselves…rather than first and foremost offering ourselves to God in worship and service and to our brothers and sisters in fellowship and care.
We ignore Christ’s work by suggesting that being part of the community is just not that important. We keep to ourselves and feel like it is just between God and me and no one else.
My brothers and sisters, this community, this thing that we have been made a part of, is a gift from God, a true gift, one that can be taken from us at any moment, we must cherish it, we must honor it, we must thank God for it. Regardless of how we have treated this gift in the past, let us look for how we may more faithfully live into it as we spend the next several weeks learning once again how to live together in community as the “large, loving, caring, close-knit” Family of God, together, in this place.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.